Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images
When Israel is attacked, you often hear people say of “the crisis in the Middle East” that it has been going on for decades. But Jews know better than that. It’s been going on for thousands of years.
What is happening in Israel today is not about “settlements” or “disputed territories.” It is not about “occupation.” There are no Israeli settlements in Gaza, and Israel long ago ceded that land to the Palestinian Authority. Nor is it about the blockades or Israeli control over Gaza’s borders. Gaza also has a border with Egypt, which the Egyptians have kept sealed since 2006. But you never hear of Hamas terrorists targeting Egypt.
What happened last week, when terrorists blazed into Israel, deliberately murdering hundreds of citizens, including women, children, and the aged, kidnapping scores of people, raping, torturing, and tormenting Jews, is not about geopolitics. It’s about hatred toward the Jews and what Judaism represents: the rock-solid moral foundation of Western culture.
Every year on Passover, we Jews read a passage from our festival prayer book, the Haggadah: “In every generation, they rise against us to annihilate us. The Holy One, blessed be He, however, saves us from their hand.”
Indeed, the earliest archaeological evidence of Israel’s existence (other than the Bible) is the Merneptah Stele, which includes the line: “Israel is laid waste—its seed is no more.”
Whether it’s the Holocaust, the Russian pogroms that preceded that event, the forced exiles, the Inquisition, the Egyptian enslavement, or the attacks of Amalek on helpless Jews in the desert, the children of Abraham have been the targets of hate and violence since the beginning of recorded history.
How can it be that God’s chosen people, “a light onto the nations,” are so reviled and attacked? It’s not in spite of, but because the Jews are a light onto the nations.
It is precisely because the Jews advanced a moral system that doesn’t tolerate murder, theft, rape, or mistreatment of the weak, and demands we care for other human beings, that other peoples have tried to wipe them out. The spree of killing and rape committed by Hamas is, among other things, a cry for freedom from a Jewish moral system that forbids such things.
Hitler himself was reported to have said (the authenticity of the quote has been questioned, but it aptly captures what’s behind antisemitism): “Conscience is a Jewish invention; it is a blemish like circumcision.” He added that he was “freeing man from the restraints of an intelligence that has taken charge, from the dirty and degrading self-mortification of a false vision called conscience and morality …”
The Hamas terrorists may claim that they are committing murder in the name of God, but, in fact, they do so because, like the Fuehrer, they hate the limits He has placed on human beings through the Torah, through the example of the Jewish people. In so doing, they follow in the path of Pharaoh, Amalek, the Romans, the Nazis—all people who sought Jewish destruction but are now themselves remnants of history.
Indeed, Hamas’ denial of Israel’s right to exist is a direct contradiction of the Bible, a war against God’s work. Rashi, the greatest commentator on the Torah, famously asks why the Bible begins with an account of creation (which, interestingly, happens to be this week’s parsha). The Torah, he says, is not a history book but a blueprint for life. So why begin at the beginning?
The answer Rashi gave a thousand years ago, when the Jews were still in exile and only a tiny remnant remained in the Holy Land, was that one day, “the nations of the world [would] say to Israel, ‘You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [present-day Israel],’” and that the Jews, could point to the Torah and answer, “The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it … and gave it to whomever He deemed proper. When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.”
Yes, Israel was granted the right to exist as a modern nation by the United Nations in 1947, and before that by the Balfour Declaration in 1917, but the Bible is the original, the genuine charter of the nation of Israel, and those who deny Israel’s sovereignty over its land deny the Bible.
So, what can we do, we who deplore the recent events unfolding upon Israel and recognize that antisemitism is a form of nihilism, of hatred against a moral order? What can we do as we watch in horror the merciless murders, maiming, and kidnappings of Jews in the Land of Israel? What can we do here, good men and women of all religious backgrounds, to contribute to the war effort against the enemies not just of Israel or of the Jews but of a Western civilization founded on Judaic and Christian ethics and principles?
“One action is better than a thousand sighs,” it has been said. The Torah teaches that the measure of good is far greater than the measure of evil. Let us counter the terrorists by uniting together and unleashing the greatest power of good the world has ever experienced.
Now is the time not only to stand with Israel but also with God. We can do so by openly and proudly stating our belief in Scripture and in the moral system it propounds. Even more importantly, we can take this time as an opportunity to live a fuller and deeper spiritual life in alignment with God’s word. Embrace everyone you meet with love and kindness. And pray not only for Israel but for all of humanity—because that is what this fight is about.
Thomas P. Balazs is an essayist, fiction writer, and perplexed Jew living in Atlanta.
Yonatan Hambourger is a Hasidic rabbi serving rural Georgia.