a new jew

Parshat devarim

The book of Deuteronomy is  a summary, some would say re-interpretation of all that is before and preparation for all that lies ahead.  It is the beginning of a paradigm shift.

 ‘You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. (Deuteronomy 1:6)

 רַב לָכֶם שֶׁבֶת בָּהָר הַזֶּה

As if to say “move on”, it is time to shift from a group of freedom fighters and to join the family of nations.

The fact that this book was first written (“discovered”) in the middle of the reign of King Josiah (ruled 640 – 608 BCE)  [see Kings II, 22:10-) and embellished over time, makes it even more interesting as a record of a paradigm shift from Exodus/Revelation to Nationhood/Exile. [The First Temple was destroyed in 587 BCE, a mere 21 years after the reign of Josiah]

What is striking is how negatively it begins.

In verse 2 Moses points out that the journey that took more than 40 years should have been accomplished in eleven days! Rashi quoting the Sifrei paraphrases Moses: “See what you caused!”

In verse 9 Moses complains that ‘I cannot carry you alone.”

  לֹא-אוּכַל לְבַדִּי, שְׂאֵת אֶתְכֶם

And continues: “How can I bear your trouble, your burden, and your strife all by myself?”

  אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא, לְבַדִּי, טָרְחֲכֶם וּמַשַּׂאֲכֶם, וְרִיבְכֶם

The author of this intro to Deuteronomy and Jeremiah in his Book of Lamentations use this same word “how” אֵיכָה to lay blame on the Jewish People.

Moses proceeds to recount every divine intervention during the forty year wandering in terms of the overwhelming burden on him and the failings of the Jewish People… (appointing administrators and judges, sending the scouts, unsanctioned military operations).

Depending on whether this is Moses speaking or God… It really sounds like “bitter party of one” or “bitter party of ONE”, respectively.

No surprise that one interpretation given by the Sifrei for “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain” substitutes “bad” רע   for “long” רַב

רע הוא לכם ישיבתם בהר הזה

“It was bad for you to have dwelt at this mountain”

It’s almost as if Moses and the author of Deuteronomy have bought into the theory offered by latter day Christians and Moslems [1] that the Jews were given the myriad of commandments and prohibitions at Sinai as a punishment for their sins…. Not a reward for being the chosen people….

Following this deflating introduction, Moses (and the author(s) of Deuteronomy) begin to introduce another concept.. namely that if and when the nation of Israel loses a battle or is cast into exile it is because of it’s sins.

This self-pummeling, guilt-ridden and power-phobic aspproach to life and state-craft is the ultimate message of the upcoming fast-day of Tisha B’av and it’s text; Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations.. see for instance Lamentations 1:8:

Jerusalem hath grievously sinned, therefore she is become as one unclean; all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness; she herself also sigheth, and turneth backward.

חֵטְא חָטְאָה יְרוּשָׁלִַם, עַל-כֵּן לְנִידָה הָיָתָה; כָּל-מְכַבְּדֶיהָ הִזִּילוּהָ כִּי-רָאוּ עֶרְוָתָהּ, גַּם-הִיא נֶאֶנְחָה וַתָּשָׁב אָחוֹר

This perverse belief that failure shows the disapproval of God, especially when it comes to the use of power, appears first in Deuteronomyץ In the context of Jews of the Exodus generation who decided that they did not want to die in the desertץ  Unsanctioned by God, they began the conquest by attacking the Amorites.  It was not a successful campaign and they were chased and killed by the Amorites “as bees do”

So I spoke unto you, and ye hearkened not; but ye rebelled against the commandment of the LORD, and were presumptuous, and went up into the hill-country.
And the Amorites, that dwell in that hill-country, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and beat you down in Seir, even unto Hormah.
And ye returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD hearkened not to your voice, nor gave ear unto you.

Says Rashi: but the LORD hearkened not to your voice: As if possible [to say of God], you made His attribute of mercy as though it were cruel.

ולא שמע ה’ בקלכם כביכול עשיתם מדת רחמיו, כאלו אכזרי

Moses continues this rant to it’s logical conclusion in Deuteronomy 4: 23 and 26

Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which He made with you, and make you a graven image, even the likeness of any thing which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee.
I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over the Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.

This “you sinned therefore the nations of the world punish you” might work for a Saturday morning sermon, but it is dangerous stuff for statecraft and for public consumption by your enemies.

Ruth Wisse in her book Jews and Power refers to this inward-looking response as a “long-range strategy of accommodation to defeat.” (p24).

“In a cyclical pattern, adjustment to exile reinforced the habits of self-accountability, which permitted adjustment to exile.”

Wisse goes on to argue that the rebirth of the State of Israel was made possible only by an implicit rejection of this type of self-accountability that leads a people to adjust to exile and persecution.

Liberal intellectuals, religiously motivated anti-Semites and even-anti Zionist Orthodox Jews who disproportionately criticize Israel for real and imagined injustices, share the same pernicious belief. That when Jews are attacked it is self-inflicted and when they defend themselves or take their destiny into their own hands they are somehow sinning by not accepting the punishment meted out  by a God…  Or in the non-theistic version, they sin against an idealized  liberal ethic by daring to live in a real world.  In either case the Jew who dares to stand in defence is an affront to their belief system.

In the irony of ironies, the source for this “accommodation to defeat” is itself, self-inflicted and appears for the first time in the Hebrew Bible itself.

We have dwelt long enough at that mountain… fortunately there is a New Jew.  The resilient citizens of modern-day Israel and the brave soldiers of the IDF represent a new generation of Jews who do not have a problem with defending themselves… and what is best in our religion and in liberalism.

Postscript -

This year more than most, I really have no desire to commemorate Tisha B’av [2], read Lamentations or sit on the ground wondering “how” אֵיכָה..

I will continue to do what I have been doing over the last few weeks of the current conflict between Israel and it’s enemies.  I’ll watch CNN and Israeli TV, read the news feed in concern and solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Israel… and I’ll stand proudly with Israel.

—————–

[1] See for example Quran sura IV:160 and will add other sources in due course…

[2] I also have no patience for anyone who says the the three weeks and Tisha B’av is an inauspicious time to defend oneself or engage in life threatening endeavors… we have dwelt long enough at that mountain too.  enough with the magical thinking…

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, Israel, Judaism, social commentary, Torah, Zionism

One response to “a new jew

  1. Now I have something to think of during the fast of Tisha b’av

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