THE STRUGGLE AHEAD
By Rabbi Chaim Strauchler
Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, Toronto
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In 1925, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. In this book, he told the world about his political ideology and his plans for removing Jews from Germany. In retrospect, he was amazingly honest in how he described his methods for gaining power and then his intentions to abuse it.
Over the course of this past year, we have learned of Iran’s plan to destroy Israel from the pen of its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Khamenei claims that Israel will not exist in 25 years. In a 416 page book published in Farsi this past summer and in an English language Nov 2014 tweet – he lays out the broad plan.
He plans to lead Iran into a war of attrition and alienation – weakening Israel’s physical, emotional and spiritual resolve. Iran does not plan to bomb Israel – it plans to use the potential for such a bombing to demoralize and destabilize Israel. He proposes a mixture of terrorism as well as economic and political pressure to push Jews into emigrating from Israel. Finally, he envisions a referendum to redefine the state in which the majority of voters would be Muslim.
When our enemies tell us they want to destroy us, we should believe them. We must do now what we did not do after the publishing of Mein Kampf. We must take our enemy seriously. We must not dismiss this as rhetoric. We must not pretend that our enemy is creating this for domestic consumption. We must act to counter this plot.
My question to you this evening is, “What do we do about it? How do we create a Jewish people able to withstand terrorism, growing anti-Semitism, and international de-legitimization?”
I have an answer – but I don’t necessarily believe that my answer is the only answer. I ask that each of you – every person in this room – and every Jew alive today – please weigh the question. How will we win the upcoming war of existential attrition?
So here’s my answer. In Jewish history, we have met two kinds of anti-Semites. We have met those who seek our physical destruction and those who seek our spiritual destruction. We meet one type on Purim and the other on Chanukah. An example of an enemy that sought our physical destruction is Haman; an example of an enemy who sought our spiritual destruction is Antiochus. Haman wanted to kill every Jew. Antiochus wanted to kill Judaism.
Until this year, we have believed that Iran was a Haman type threat, and we responded accordingly. We now learn from the supreme leader that he is in fact an Antiochus type. He wants to break our spirit and destroy the Jewish nation if not individual Jewish persons. Khamenei wants us to give up on the Zionist project and to become good second class citizens in a future Palestine. Iran does not want to break our bodies; only our individual and collective spirit. This is a crucial distinction, if we are to prevail in the coming conflict.
We will not defeat this threat with material weaponry alone – we must defeat it with an intellectual and spiritual arsenal. lo bechayil lo bekoach ki im beruchi amar Hashem tzevakot.
To face these challenges, we must think as Zionists in new ways. We cannot use the same tools of Zionism’s first century as we face the challenges of second century Zionism. The first century of Zionism required a radical break from the past – a severing of the generations. Zionism conceived of a new Jew who was able to confront his destiny as a political actor and not as a victim. This led to creativity and flexibility. It led to the kibbutz movement and to the Haganah. Yet, it also created a certain rootlessness. To transfer the tree of Israel to its ancient land, Zionism had to cut some of its roots. It is this rootlessness that our enemies now seek to exploit. They argue that Jews will only stay in Israel so long as they are comfortable and well-liked by the international community. The Supreme Leader believes that our autonomy, our love of freedom, and our social links to the West will mean that we can be dislodged from our land.
If we are to survive this onslaught, we must develop the intellectual and spiritual roots necessary to weather the storm ahead. If Zionism in its first century required rootlessness, Zionism in its second century requires deep roots. If Zionism in its first century required an ability to overlook and overcome history, Zionism in its second century requires a deep appreciation for our history and the sense of mission that comes from it. In this, our second century, Zionists must not see themselves as members of a Western society like any other. We cannot simply choose the best life-experiences for ourselves. We, Zionists, must see ourselves as the standard bearers of the Jewish people across time.
Zionists must cultivate the faculty to think inter-generationally. I spoke on Rosh Hashanah about how this way of thinking can help us in our work place and with our home life. I explained that “Intergenerational Thinking” is the ability to see our lives as linked to that of our grandparents and our grandchildren. This approach to life allows us to ask things of our children, and it demands that we hold ourselves accountable to both our forbearers and to our descendants. “Intergenerational thinking” means that we live for more than what we own or how we look – it asks us to reconceive our identity in light of the long trajectory of our people’s history and destiny.
How does this apply to the Iranian threat?
Let me give an example, it is a story that I told just this past Shabbat. Two thousand years ago, shortly after the destruction of the second temple, four rabbis were walking towards Jerusalem. When they reached Mount Scopus [from which it is possible to see the Temple Mount], they tore their clothing. When they arrived at the Temple Mount, they saw a fox running out of the area where the Holy of Holies had been. Three of the rabbis began to cry, but R. Akiva laughed. They said to him, “Why are you laughing?”…. Rabbi Akiva replied, “Isaiah the Prophet said, ‘I will bring two reliable witnesses regarding my people, Uriah the Priest and Zecharia ben Yeverchyahu.’” … the verse in Isaiah makes Zecharia’s prophecy dependent on Uriah’s. In Uriah’s case, it is written, “Therefore, because of you, Zion will be plowed under like a field.” In the case of Zecharia, we find, “Yet again, elderly men and elderly women will sit in the streets of Jerusalem and children will play”…. Now that I have seen Uriah’s prophecy fulfilled in full detail, I know that Zecharia’s prophecy will also be fulfilled.” Hearing that, R. Akiva’s colleagues said to him, “Akiva, you have comforted us. Akiva, you have comforted us.
- Akiva possessed intergenerational thinking – he thought historically. He saw not only the suffering of the moment, the terrible attacks and humiliations that our people have suffered through time. He saw them and acknowledged them, and at the very same time he saw hope. He saw the long trajectory of our history – and he sensed the old men and women who would once again walk the streets of Jerusalem – he heard the sounds of my children playing in Jerusalem’s playgrounds, this past summer. Rabbi Akiva saw a loving God who would one day bring us back to our land.
This strong sense of history will allow us to withstand losses in the pursuit of our destiny. Jews who think inter-generationally understand the significance of Jewish independence after two thousand years. They understand what it meant to create a state in 1948 with only six hundred thousand Jews who fought not just for themselves. In 1948, each person understood that he or she fought for the millions of Jews, including their parents and grandparents, who perished in Europe. In 1948, each person understood that he or she fought for the millions who would soon come to Israel and their unborn children and grandchildren.
Intergenerational thinking allows us to see past the headlines in our newspapers that might cause us to lose perspective. It empowers us to see past Washington and Teheran. It gives us the strength to overcome the sadness we experience every time we hear about another terrorist attack or a new vote condemning Israel at the UN. Intergenerational thinking allows us to laugh like Rabbi Akiva. “Why are we laughing?” In the last 12 months, 168 thousand babies were born in Israel. 28 thousand people made Aliya. And a record 7,000 people participated in a week-long Torah study conference – in Alon Shvut; I was one of that 7000. What would a Jew living a hundred years ago have said about this? A Jewish state with 8 million people? Thousands of people studying Torah? That is why Rabbi Akiva was laughing – and that is why we must continue to laugh.
So how will we survive the Khamenei’s War of Attrition? By adopting the perspective of our grandparents as we build a future for our grandchildren. This is my message: There will be an Israel in 25 years – because we will see the world through the eyes of grandparents as we build a future for our grandchildren.
I could end here. But I must make one final observation.
So let’s say we make it 25 years. What will happen during the following 25 years and the 25 years after that? How do we continue to introduce Rabbi Akiva and his way of thinking to future Jewish children – Israeli and Canadian? How do we make sure that they will have the spiritual grit to think of themselves as linked to their grandparents and their grandchildren?
The answer is Jewish education. We have for too long divided our priorities. We have said support Jewish education here and support Israel here. We have pretended that they are two different things. They are not – they are one and the same.
We have thought of Jewish education as butter and not guns, as a consumer good, as a luxury. In this war of attrition, Jewish education is no luxury. In a war of spiritual attrition, Jewish education is a security issue. Israel and Zionism will not survive without it.
If we cannot raise Jews who see the world as Rabbi Akiva saw it;
If we do not raise Jews who define themselves in relation to their grandparent and their grandchildren; if we will not raise Jews who put their Judaism at the center of their identity – Zionism will not survive.
Until now, the cost of Jewish education has been borne by a small segment of our community – this is no longer sustainable. We must make Jewish education affordable. Families are dropping out of the system. We are losing our soldiers. We are losing our future. As Zionists, we must see Jewish education the way we see the IDF.
Tonight, as we commit ourselves to our God and to our people – let us commit ourselves to intergenerational thinking – let us commit ourselves to Jewish education.
A long battle lies ahead. Get ready.
Let’s fight with everything that we’ve got.