Friday, June 21, 2002
Catch-up #3: Rav Riskin's drash on this Shabbat's portion, Chukkat-Balak. He discusses the sin of striking the rock, and why that resulted in Moses' being forbidden from entering the land. The answer: because Moses underestimated the capacities of his people. Here's the key paragraph:
The rock is an inanimate object, but it also symbolizes the Israelite nation, a stiff-necked people, hard and obstinate as a rock. "Speak to it", says G-d, with words of persuasion and love, and you will extract life-giving and Torah-true waters even from this stubborn nation. Moses misses the point. Instead of seeing a frightened, thirsty people in need of help, he sees a willful band of upstarts. "Listen now you rebels" (Deuteronomy 20:10), he shouts at them, striking out against the rock - nation, instead of loving them. (see Maimonides, introduction to Avot). This time in his assessment of the situation he under-estimates his people, refusing to recognize their objective suffering as well as their ability to repent under the proper loving guidance of speech and persuasion. Now G-d punishes him - divinely understanding that a shepherd who underestimates his flock, who loses proper love and appreciation for them cannot continue to lead them.
He then goes on to compare Rabin to Moses in this situation:
Soon after the initial Oslo accords, and while terror attacks were still raging, then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (May his soul rest in peace) armed the Palestine Police Force with automatic weapons. At a personal meeting with him, I questioned the wisdom of such an action. He maintained that the Palestinian Authority would use the weapons against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. I raised the possibility - which unfortunately came to pass - of their joining hands with the terrorists and using the weapons against us. "We've got to take the risk," he said. "Our people are too tired for another war."
Tragically Mr. Rabin was wrong on the first issue; fortunately Mr. Rabin was also wrong on the second. Despite these most difficult and precarious times, the Israeli populace - and especially my people in Efrat - are standing courageous and resolute, proud to be fighting in our extension of the War of Independence, proud to be protecting Jews the world over, proud to be waging the battle of the just and the free against the primitivism of terrorist suicide bombers. Mr. Rabin, sadly underestimated his nation - and we are now paying a bitter price.
This resonated with me very strongly. Rabin is one of the truly great, tragic figures in Israel's and in Jewish history. No one can doubt his absolute and total love for the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and no one can doubt that he understood the risk he was taking by bringing Arafat into the tent, arming him with international legitimacy as well as weapons of war and murder.
And I don't know that Rabin wasn't right, that much of Israel, especially the elite, wasn't tired of war, tired of eternal vigilance - most of all, tired of ruling another people by force. If he was wrong, why did Israel withdraw from Lebanon? And why was Barak's decision to do so broadly popular? If he was wrong, why is there so much enthusiasm for a fence today, a quick fix that will make it possible (supposedly) to prevent attacks without fighting?
And besides, in the early 1990s, the auguries were good. We forget this, how different the world looked then, when we look back in anger at the disaster that was Oslo. Arafat had been badly weakened by the Gulf War; he sided with the wrong guys, and lost his principal patronage sources as a result. The Soviet Union was gone, and U.S. troops were operating all over the region. Moreover, the PLO had been making noises that suggested they wanted to actually achieve something before they were eclipsed by Hamas. They made noises about recognizing Israel, gestures toward renouncing terrorism. I understand why Rabin, along with much of the Ashkenazi establishment, wanted to believe that Arafat could be enlisted as a partner. I thought they were wrong from the beginning, and I thought that some among them - notably Peres and Beilin - were thoroughly detached from reality and, in a basic way, unpatriotic. These two, and their supporters, looked forward to the peaceful extinction of Israel, not through war and violence but through absorption into the EU, into a world where borders and armies and nations would not matter. They wanted Israel to assimilate into Europe, and they thought that "peace" with the Palestinians was the entry ticket. I think they were mad in their assessment of the enemy, but I also never agreed with them on the objective. That's not the case with Rabin, and it never was.
All Rabin ever wanted was to protect Israel and save Jewish lives. He was, from the beginning, a sentimental person, too aware of the risks of action to be steeled for their necessity. Remember his "crisis" in 1967? Oslo was of a piece with that episode. Rabin saw all the dangers facing the state in the future, how hard the battle could get, and he didn't want his granddaughter to have to go through it. He wanted a better life for her, and he thought he could get it by running away - just a little; withdrawing - just a little. I understand, even though I know he brought a tragedy on his people by doing so.