Thursday, June 25, 2015

International Relations - Reflections on Chukat 5775

(Numbers 19:1 - 22:1)

Knock knock? How to get in.

That was the problem for Moses and the Jewish People. After forty long years of perambulating in the desert, they were itching to settle down, plant fields and vineyards, and get to work. But every route was blocked; how were they going to get in to the Land of Israel, long promised to them by Gcd?

Edom controlled the region south of the Dead Sea, straddling the Negev and the Arabian desert. When Moses sends emissaries asking to transit through Edom, he is met by a threat of war. 

What could Moses do? Israel had no quarrel with the nation of Edom; they inhabited their ancestral homeland of Mount Seir and surrounds, on which Israel had no territorial claim. Edom had every right to grant safe passage through his land - or not. His answer was 'no', and the Children of Israel withdrew.

Similarly, the Moabites and Ammonites resided on their ancestral homelands and (up to this point in the history) Israel had no quarrel with them either. 

But this state of affairs effectively blocked both the southern and eastern approaches into Israel. There was simply no way to sneak three million people, and untold millions of head of livestock, through the cordon set up by these nations.




And then the status quo changes dramatically. Sihon, the king of the Amorites, attacks Moab. Why? The Torah doesn't say, but wars are usually started over one of three reasons: power, wealth or women (Helen of Troy comes to mind.)


The Torah also suggests that the Amorites were an unstoppable military force: 

"Thus did the troubadours say: 
A fire came forth from Heshbon, a conflagration from the city of Sihon...
Woe unto you, O Moab, you are lost, O people of Chemosh,
His sons became fugitives, his daughters captives...(22:27 ff.)
Blitzkrieg! When the dust of war settles, the new map looks like this:


The Torah records that the Amorites conquered a large swath of Moabite land east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, from the Arnon River in the south to the Yabok River in the north. 

The Amorites were an altogether different beast: unlike Edom, Ammon or Moab, they were one of the Seven Nations whom we were bidden by Gcd to expel from the Land for their evil and perverse behavior.

Sihon's little military adventure temporarily gained him territory, riches and fame. But without his even realizing it, he had also solved our problem, for in displacing Moab he had also created a corridor for the Jewish People directly into the Land of Israel. 

When the Jews request safe passage through his newly-won territory, Sihon, drunk with victory, responds to the overture by waging war against us. The Jews not only repel his unprovoked attack, but the unconquerable Sihon and his army are swept aside like so many bowling pins. In a Six-Day-War-style rout, the Jews conquer and subdue all Amorite territory east of the Jordan River.  

In an amazing about-face, the Jews suddenly find themselves standing on the threshold of the Land of Israel. Yesterday, every door was slammed in their faces; today they stood within grasp of the dream.

We must conclude that the evil, pagan king Sihon, in launching a war against Moab for his own craven ends, was, in some crazy way, actually doing Gcd's will.

Like the Pharaoh, who, by refusing to free the Jews from bondage, was doing Gcd's will.

Like the early Zionist pioneers, who thought they were building a socialist utopia, but with every whack of the hammer and cut of the saw were unwittingly heralding the coming of the messianic age.

In 1898, Kaiser Wilhelm II visited the Holy Land. Theodore Herzl arranged for an audience with the Kaiser in Jerusalem. There, Herzl made an impassioned plea for the case of a Jewish State in Palestine.

The Kaiser replied (in a very patronizing tone) that in order for there to be a Jewish State in Palestine, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, and the German Empire would all have to consent. Alternatively, all four dynasties would have to fall. 

The Kaiser dismissed him by concluding, "And neither, my dear Mr. Herzl, is ever going to happen."

Image result for Kaiser wilhelm Holy Land 1898

Kaiser Wilhelm was a prophet. For not only did those four great powers of 19th Century Europe get thrown onto garbage heap of history, so, too, did the British Empire, which worked tirelessly to prevent the Jews from getting to the Land of Israel, both before WWII and and after. (They even threatened death camp survivors with deportation directly back to Germany if they attempted to enter Palestine illegally.)

"Our enemy said, 'I will hound them, I will overtake them, I will dole out the plunder; I will fill my lust for their blood, I will unsheathe my sword, and I will take everything from them.'  [But what happened?] You [Gcd] blew your wind, he [the enemy] was covered by the sea; he sunk like lead in the deepest waters." (Exodus 15:9)

Even in our day, there are those in the world who still attempt to close Israel's borders with boycotts and sanctions; who attempt to wrest Israel from her rightful owners, by diplomacy if possible, or by war and nuclear weapons if necessary.

They should pay heed to the fate of their predecessors. Presidents and potentates may craft foreign policy based upon their narrow self-interests, but it is the King who reigns over all kings that directs the events on the stage of history - and often in the most unlikely and unexpected ways.

Shabbat Shalom.

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