Friday, June 20, 2014

"Ism" You Is Or "Ism" You Ain't My Baby - Relections on Parashat Korach 5774

Professor Jonathan Goldstein has noted that the three great "isms" that dominated prewar Jewish European thought were the Romantic ideas of Pacifism, Communism and Zionism. Based on both this week's and last week's parshiot, I suggest that these ideals are much older than the 19th Century, and, to the contrary, were embedded in the Jewish psyche very early in our national consciousness.

Pacifism views the opposition to war or violence of any kind as the highest moral imperative. Many people are attracted to this noble idea, and I grant you, it's very compelling in the abstract. But if you actually think the concept through, pacifism means that there is no principle worth fighting for, no life worth defending, no ideal for which we are prepared to give our lives. Pacifism is capitulation to evil; it is venal cowardice cloaked in high-minded rhetoric. To paraphrase George Orwell, pacifism always rewards the aggressor.

Pacifism is at the heart of the crisis in last week's parashah of Shelach Lecha. The spies return with a "bummer report" that rationalizes their refusal to go up and fight for the Land. Their arguments are quite persuasive; their dramatic language is rich with hyperbole and outright lies, and is even interspersed with sarcastic barbs against Moses and Gcd Himself. Better, they moan, to return to Egypt as slaves than to take up arms to recapture the Land of Israel. 

We see a hint of communism in this week's parashah, in Korach's declaration that "that entire people are holy, and Gcd dwells in their midst; why do you (Moses) presume to set yourself above the proletariat?" Well spoken, Comrade Korach! Workers of the Party Unite! We don't need or want Moses and his leadership. Off with his head! And what of Aaron and the Cohanim? The proletariat declares: every person is his own priest, capable of bringing their own incense and offerings. As Huey Long's famous populist campaign ditty promised, "Every Man A King."

Of course, Korach was familiar with the verse that states: "Were it not for government, people would swallow each other alive."  Korach's secret plan was to dispatch the current Jewish leadership, allow the leaderless people to descend into the basest depths of human behavior (reference William Golding's Lord of the Flies) and then swoop in and rescue them from themselves. A Dictatorship of the Proletariat, with Korach in the lead (and only) role as Stalin. 

The Kli Yakar notes that the language of the Mishnah, "bolayah" to swallow each other alive, is the same language used in our parashah to describe how the earth swallows Korach alive. As always, the punishment fits the crime.

Like their modern counterparts, both these "isms" failed; and also like their modern counterparts, their lofty utopianism caused untold (and unnecessary) suffering and death. 

Rav Kook noted the disproportionate number of Jews at the center of the great Utopian movements of the 19th Century. He understood this phenomenon as follows: the Jewish soul naturally seeks to bring redemption to the world; to "prepare the world for the sovereignty of the A-lmighty." The proper way to accomplish this mission is through the study of Torah and the performance of its mitzvot. But when a Jewish soul is cut off from Torah and mitzvot, the impulse of the Jewish soul to perfect the world finds expression in these flawed and ultimately destructive Utopian fantasies.

And what of Zionism? The roots of Zionism are obvious and abundant in the Torah. It is the ephemeral yearning of the Jewish soul for the restoration of the Land; for the mystical reunion of the Land of Israel with the Torah of Israel and the People of Israel; a spiritual fusion where the whole is vastly greater than the sum of its parts. You can hardly read three verses in the Torah without tripping over Herzl and Jabotinsky.

All the "isms" of the 19th century were washed away by the blood spilled in the world wars of the 20th century. In one way or another, each utopia has proven to be a false and corrupt messiah. 

Except for Zionism. And so it is that all the modern-day "isms" stand in opposition to Zionism, the political movement of the Torah. The world begrudges the Jews, who constitute a mere 1/500 of the world's population, a tiny sliver of dirt 1/10,000 of the land mass of the world. 

The verses of Psalm 83 ring in my ears:

Hashem, don't keep silent,
Don't hold your peace, and be not still O Gcd.
For behold, your enemies are in an uproar,
They that hate you have lifted up their head.
They plot conspiracies against your people,
And hold counsel against your treasured ones.
They say: Come let us obliterate this nation,
That the name "Israel" never be uttered again.
They have united in this common goal,
Against You they have made a covenant.
The tents of Europe and the Arabs, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia,
Gebal, Ammon and Amalek, Palestinians and the residents of Lebanon.
Iran and Iraq are also joined with them, they have enabled the others, selah.

Do to them as you did to Midian of old,
As to Sisera, as to Yavin at battle of the Kishon Brook,
Who were destroyed at Ein Dor, their blood soaked into the earth.
Make the fate of today's haters like the fate of the leaders of old,
Who said, "Let us despoil the Jews, and take the habitations of Gcd.'
O my Gcd, make them like the whirling dust, like stubble before the wind.
As the fire that burns down forests and sets mountains ablaze,
So pursue them with your tempest and affright them with your storm.
Fill their faces with shame, that they may do teshuvah and seek out Your Name.
But if not, let them be ashamed and scared forever, and let them perish,
That they may know that it is You alone whose name is Lord,
The Most High over all the earth.

One week ago, three teenage boys were kidnapped at a "trampiada", a bus stop, in the central Gush Etzion. Their only crime was that they are Zionists; of having the temerity to be Jews, living unabashedly as Jews, in the Jewish Land. No word has been heard from them since; nor any message or ransom demand from their barbarous kidnappers. 

Please, please pray daily for them until they are safely returned to the bosoms of their families and the hugs of their mothers.

Shabbat Shalom.

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