A Test of Wills

A Test of Wills

An ancient Midrash recounts a conversation between Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael asserts his superiority over Isaac on the grounds that his circumcision took place at 13, when he was fully conscious of the ordeal, while Isaac was only eight days old at his circumcision. Isaac replies that if God were to request him to give up his life he would gladly do so.

That conversation, according to the Midrash, constituted the immediate prelude for the Binding of Isaac. Ishmael and Isaac were disputing which one of them is the true inheritor of the Divine promise of the Land to their father Abraham. And both understood that the answer to that question turns on the measure of mesirut nefesh – self-sacrifice – each demonstrates for the right to inherit the Land.

Ishmael’s descendants remain faithful to that understanding. It is we Jews who give every indication of having lost our will, in large part because we have lost our belief in the Divine promise to Abraham.

At the outset of the Oslo process, the late Gerrer Rebbe remarked: “The Zionists regret having established a state.” At the time, the statement seemed unduly harsh. After all, does not every Jew consider peace to be a desideratum, and had not almost all of the greatest Torah leaders expressed their belief that territorial compromise is permissible for the attainment of peace?

Only with the passage of time has it become clear how far-sighted the Rebbe was and how deep goes the malaise.

During the Second Lebanon War, even Haaretz was full of op-eds lamenting the loss of national will. Ari Shavit declared reconstituting our national will to be the most important task confronting Israeli society, and lashed out at the country’s elites for having sapped all the sources of the old Zionist spirit in their headlong pursuit of money and pleasure.

But his clarion call has not been answered. Ever since the reservists’ demonstrations in the immediate aftermath of the war, the country has sunk into a profound apathy. The prime minister’s personal popularity consistently hovers near the single digits, and every poll shows that his prescriptions for peace through compromise are rejected by the overwhelming majority of the public. Yet he goes on pirouetting around the world as if he actually spoke for the nation, and no one takes to the streets to protest.

IT IS HARD to believe that any new revelation would provoke real anger, even a finding by the Winograd Committee that 33 IDF soldiers lost their lives in the final days of the war in a ground operation undertaken solely to save the government’s face and with the clear knowledge that it could attain none of its objectives prior to a cease-fire going into effect. We act as if we have achieved the leadership we deserve.

Nowhere is our loss of belief in our right to be here more evident than in the conduct of negotiations with our Palestinian neighbors. Yossi Beilin, one of the authors of the Oslo process, says that his grandfather, a prominent early Zionist leader, erred in not accepting the British offer of Uganda. If we cannot achieve peace with the Palestinians, he has repeated many times, there is no future for the state. He assumes that peace is in our hands to make, and he writes as if the attainment of peace, not the creation of a state for the Jews, was the primary goal of Zionism.

Meanwhile the Palestinians are confident that the Land will one day belong to them and that time is on their side. Apart from a tactical decision to sit with Israelis at the bargaining table, it is hard to think of a single Palestinian demand that has been modified in any respect since the beginning of Oslo, if not since 1949. As a consequence, the West has long since stopped pressing them to do so.

Nor is the Palestinian confidence demonstrably misplaced. What else should they conclude, when even after the withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza have blown up in our faces, Israel’s leaders are soon back with offers of further territorial withdrawals?

Already in 2000, George Will wrote that the Oslo process had succeeded “in destroying the absolute prerequisite for successful negotiations – the insistence that something is non-negotiable.” For us there are no red lines, nothing that is sacrosanct.

Prior to Annapolis, every day brought new Palestinian Arab demands that Israel must meet as a condition for Palestinian attendance, as if peace is only of benefit to the Jews. And we, in fact, acted as if we were the party suing for peace, in the hopes that the Palestinians would allow us to live in some part of their Land.

PRIME MINISTER Ehud Olmert’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state was a salutary attempt to reverse this trend, and to place Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s existence where it belongs – at the beginning, not the end, of the process. For, as Bernard Lewis has observed, as long as the dispute is about Israel’s creation in 1948, not the borders of 1967, no possibility of compromise exists.

But no sooner was the demand raised than it was abandoned, after being summarily rejected by the Palestinians.

Our obsession with world opinion bespeaks a nation that has lost the belief in the justness of its cause, and signals that we can always be pushed a bit further. True, a country that does not manufacture its own F-16s and is by no means self-sufficient must be mindful of international opinion. But no country that believes in its right to exist allows one of its cities to be terrorized by rocket fire that it has the power to end, especially when doing so only sets the stage for ever more citizens coming within missile range. By our relative inaction, we have caused the world to view rocket attacks on Israeli cities as normal.

WE HAVE just completed celebrating the Maccabees’ victory – that of the weak over the strong, the few over the many. That victory was only possible because the Maccabees saw themselves as the righteous ones battling evildoers, the pure struggling against the impure, those learning God’s Torah combating those who willfully defiled His image.

History shows, writes Daniel Pipes, that, in the long run, victory usually goes to the side not with the stronger military or more vibrant economy, but to that with the greater belief in its own cause. Once, the Jews were the greatest proof of that proposition.

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post on December 13 2007.

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16 Responses

  1. Chareidi Leumi says:

    I think the following poem by Natan Alterman was nothing less than prophetic and pretty much sums up the point of this post:

    _ _ אז אמר השטן:הנצור הזה
    איך אוכל לו.
    איתו האומץ וכשרון המעשה
    וכלי מלחמה ותושיה עצה לו.

    ואמר:לא אטול את כוחו
    ולא מורך אביא בתוכו
    ולא ידיו ארפה כמיקדם,
    רק זאת אעשה: אכהה מוחו
    ושכח שאיתו הצדק.
    _ _ _

    כך דיבר השטן וכמו
    חורו שמים מאימה
    בראותם אותו בקומו
    לבצע המזימה.

    Here is a loose translation:

    Then Satan said: “How will I overcome
    this one who is under siege?
    He possesses bravery, ingenuity,
    weapons of war and resourcefulness.”

    And he said: “I’ll not sap his strength,
    Nor fill his heart with cowardice,
    nor overwhelm him with discouragement
    As in days gone by.
    I will only do this:
    I will cast a shadow of dullness over his mind
    until he forgets that justice is with him.”


    This is what the Satan said and it was as if
    the heavens trembled in fear
    as they saw him rise
    to execute his plan.

  2. Chaim Davids says:

    This article implies that Annapolis was a conscious decision by Israel to continue in the vein of the Oslo talks. This is not true.

    The Annapolis talks were created by George Bush on the basis of his “road map,” (not Oslo!), and were forced upon a relatively unwilling Israeli government.

    I know the writer of this article is a huge fan of Bush. But when will it be time for him to stop protecting his friend? Bush should get much more blame for Annapolis than any Israeli, leftist or otherwise.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Chaim Davids wrote, “The Annapolis talks were created by George Bush on the basis of his “road map,” (not Oslo!), and were forced upon a relatively unwilling Israeli government.”

    How do you know they were relatively unwilling, and what does that phrase mean anyway? Couldn’t they have stayed home as long as the meeting continued to be set up to degrade them and their country in public?

  4. mb says:

    At least the Zionists gave the Gerrer Rebbe and his Chassidim a place to live, learn and grow. The reverse was not and is still not true.

  5. A True Believer says:

    Chaim Davids: The 1993 Oslo “peace process” was the brain-child of Yossi Beilin, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin. It was conceived in secret without U.S. knowledge or blessing. It was Oslo that sanitized Arafat and the PLO and made him a “peace partner”. When Oslo was made public, naturally the U.S. and the rest of the world quickly jumped on the band -wagon. Oslo is the progenitor of Annapolis and all the other subsequent failed attempts at peace making. So you are quite wrong in blaming Pres. George Bush for the present depressing situation Israel finds itself in to-day. Why in the world would you expect Bush (or Rice) to be more Zionistic than Olmert (and Livni)? Israel has only itself to blame for its present predicament.

  6. Chaim Davids says:

    Bob Miller:

    The Israeli government displayed their relative unwillingness a number of ways I can think of offhand:

    1. They dragged their feet going into it, and they downplayed the significance of the conference with statements like “we shouldn’t get out expectations up.”

    2. They leaked comments like, “This is just a lame-duck US administration effort that’s going to go away.”

    3. They refused to sign the joint statement until the last minute.

    4. Remarkably, they had the Bush administration pull a proposed UN resolution supporting Annapolis off the table just before it was sure to be approved–a first in UN history!–with the threat that they would pull out of the talks.

    5. If they had stayed home they would have to have made an even more historic step: breaking with their United States benefactor on a critical issue. Breaking with the US in the peace process has never been done.

    True Believer: neither Bush nor Rice ever compared the road map to Oslo. I actually believe they said Annapolis was in the spirit of a Saudi initiative that had come up before hand. Take a look at the history. Oslo wasn’t original. Israeli never patented the idea of giving back the territories. That idea had been floated around, even by Israel, for quite a while. In fact, Begin had already returned huge amounts of territory taken in the ’67 war to Sadat back in 79.

    And Bush is not being just as liberal as Olmert. He is being more liberal. He created a conference that started with return of Jerusalem and all the territories as givens already. That is far to the left of Olmert and Kadima.

  7. YM says:

    mb, it is because of the avodas hashem that is carried out by the Gerrer hassidim, the other hassidim, and the bnei yeshivas that Israel continues to exist. They are the ones giving secular Israel life.

  8. Charles B. Hall says:

    Land for Peace has been the policy of all eight US Presidents since 1967. Bush said that his vision was for a Palestinian state just three weeks after 9/11/2001 — the speech was conveniently given during Yom Tov Sukkot so most of us missed it. The Road Map confirmed it in 2003:


    We do not know, and many never know for many years, how much pressure the Bush administration is putting on the Olmert government, or even if there is any pressure at all. What is not in doubt is the Bush administration does support a Palestinian state in much of Eretz Yisrael, and that starts with the President himself.

    What I do find distressing, however, is how irrelevant religious Jews are to this entire process. While many rabbis of great stature have endorsed the idea of Land for Peace, including Rov Soloveitchik, Rav Shach, and Rav Ovadiah Yosef, and there was some religious support for the Oslo process, I am unaware of a single orthodox religious figure who was enthusiastic about the Gaza disengagement. And today I am unaware of a single orthodox religious figure who is supportive of the Annapolis conference and the possibility of dividing Jerusalem. Charedi rabbis have joined dati leumi and modern orthodox rabbis in public opposition. Possibly for the first time since all the religious parties combined on one parliamentary list for Israel’s first election in 1949, essentially the entire religious Jewish community is speaking with the same voice on an issue. And it is having no evident effect.

    Two days from now we have a fast day. Fast days can be an opportunity to examine where we have fallen short in what HaShem wants. Is it inappropriate for us to examine why our fellow Jews who are non-religious are so disinterested in something we all see as so important, and, more importantly, to look at what part we as religious Jews have had in creating this distressful situation?

  9. Seth Gordon says:

    I see very little mesirut nefesh from the Arab world regarding Eretz Yisrael. There are plenty of Arabs who talk about driving the Zionists into the sea, and some occasionally contribute money to the cause, but very few of the non-Palestinian Arabs have volunteered to sneak into the West Bank or Gaza and take up arms on behalf of their bretheren.

    As for the Palestinians themselves, why haven’t other Arab countries had offered them full citizenship and integration into the countries where they made refuge, the way that the Israeli government absorbed Jews fleeing Arab countries?

    Do not confuse a game of “let’s you and him fight” with mesirut nefesh.

  10. mb says:

    mb, it is because of the avodas hashem that is carried out by the Gerrer hassidim, the other hassidim, and the bnei yeshivas that Israel continues to exist. They are the ones giving secular Israel life.

    Comment by YM — December 17, 2007 @ 12:22 pm


    This is a mantra that I presume is given at lower grades of Cheredi Yeshivas. Sadly it is intellectually vapid. You know enough about the Zionist enterprise to surely admit the Zionists gave the Gerer and every other religious and non religious group life. Just once, I would like to see the anti-Zionist Cheredim ackowledge it.

  11. Bob Miller says:

    MB, The fact that HaShem gave some Zionists a role in saving Jewish lives, something we should thank Him and them for, in no way validates their Zionist ideology. The imbalance of that ideology paved the way for the distressing current events we are discussing here.

  12. Ori Pomerantz says:

    YM: it is because of the avodas hashem that is carried out by the Gerrer hassidim, the other hassidim, and the bnei yeshivas that Israel continues to exist. They are the ones giving secular Israel life.

    Ori: Would you be safer walking down the street in Ashkelon, which is protected by the IDF, than you would be in Gaza, which isn’t? If so, then the IDF must have some effect on the safety of Jews in the land of Israel.

    If I understand Orthodoxy correctly, you believe in Yeridat haDorot, that each generation is further removed from the giving of the Torah and therefore not as capable as the previous one. This means that the quality of modern worship, Avodat haShem, isn’t as good as it was, say, in Rashi’s time. Yet we have a lot more Jews living in Israel now than then, and I think in greater safety. Why?

  13. Chaim Davids says:

    Charles Hall:

    I’m sure you understand that the fact that Rabbis might allow land for peace doesn’t mean they have to be enthusiastic about it. why promote it?

    It’s like a marriage counselor saying it’s okay for the battling couple to break up. He still won’t cheer on the divorce.


    Yeridot haDorot also applies to the non-observant. They have now crawled so deep into the garbage can of tayva that any small amount of Avodas HaShem just shines like the sun.

    If it were not for the Orthodox maintaining the Jewish people, there would have been no place for the IDF. The non-religious would have taken Uganda, except that they would not have, because they would long before have abandoned their Jewish identity completely.

  14. Ori says:

    Chaim Davids, are we (the non-observant) worse than those who passed their sons through the fire for the Moloch during the first temple, or those who went for Greek culture during the second?

    I agree that without keeping the Torah there would be no Jewish people today to have an IDF. My point is that right now the IDF is essential to having Jews in Eretz Israel.

  15. mb says:

    The non-religious would have taken Uganda, except that they would not have, because they would long before have abandoned their Jewish identity completely.

    Comment by Chaim Davids — December 19, 2007 @ 2:31 am

    Please examine the history of Britain offering Uganda, and the response by WZO. And apart from a few, the Cheredim didn’t want Israel either. Please examine the history and raison d’etre of Aguda, for example.

  16. Chaim Wolfson says:

    “And apart from a few, the Cheredim didn’t want Israel either.” (Comment by mb — December 19, 2007 @ 2:14 pm).

    Mb, were the talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov and the Talmidim of the Vilna Goan Chareidim? How about the the talmidim of the Chasam Sofer? And one of the stated goals of Agudah was to encourage “yisuv Eretz Yisrael”. Don’t make the mistake of confusing Israel with Eretz Yisrael.

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