MOSES found it necessary to remind people what’s in the Torah just before he died.
Reminders are OK.
The necessary reminding at this hour is about Israel.
Israel — the eternal heritage of the Jewish people.
And Israel — the contemporary Jewish state at war.
Moses said: The Torah is too much to take in at once. Genesis is packed full of history, genealogy and ethics. Likewise, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers — plus, laws.
Moses said: Deuteronomy is my chance to remind and summarize; and to instruct the people just before their entrance into the land of Israel.
If Moses found it necessary to remind the people why they were entering the land of Israel, this is a lesson for the rest of us.
Let us begin with the current war.
Why is Israel still fighting? Here are eight reminders:
This war began not in 2008, when Israel first attacked Hamas’ rocket stockpiles. It began in 2005, the day after Israel withdrew from Gaza. On that day, Palestinian Gazans destroyed the Israeli greenhouses generously left behind as a symbolic gift to the people to build a “Switzerland in the Middle East.” From the first moments of their exclusive possession of Gaza, Palestinians in charge showed that they hated Israel more than they wanted a good life for themselves.
The blockade of Gaza began not with Israel’s withdrawal in 2005. The blockade began only with Hamas’ takeover of Gaza in 2007 as a means of self-defense against a terrorist organization bent on Israel’s destruction in word and deed.
Word: Hamas’ charter calls for the murder of Israelis and Jews. If there is a distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, Hamas doesn’t draw the distinction.
Deed: Upon its assumption of power, Hamas began firing what would turn out to be thousands of missiles on Israeli civilian targets.
Hamas demanded humanitarian exceptions to the blockade, and included concrete as one of these exceptions — in order to build new homes. This was a lie. Hamas used the concrete to build a sophisticated network of terrorist tunnels with which to (a) hide kidnapped Israelis, such as Gilad Shalit; (b) stockpile rockets and other arms, handcuffs (for more kidnappings) and IDF uniforms; and, c) places from which to launch massive, surprise murder attacks against Israelis.
The IDF blockade notwithstanding, Hamas has obviously succeeded in importing more, and more sophisticated, lethal weapons for use against Israel. It is the tunnels that have enabled this. This elaborate tunnel labyrinth is as much an existential threat to Israel as Iran’s plans for a nuclear bomb. That is why Israel insists on “neutralizing” all of these tunnels — every last one it can find.
As the IDF puts it, in response to the terrible tragedy of the deaths of civilians in Gaza: “The IDF uses its weapons to protect its people; Hamas uses its people to protect its weapons.” Uses its people: as human shields in hospitals, homes, schools.
A ceasefire without the destruction of Hamas' tunnels and arms is a guarantee of another war. If people truly want an end to the suffering of civilians in Gaza, they will provide the moral support, the financial aid and the diplomatic cover for Israel to destroy these tunnels and weapons, so there won’t be another war.
There is no way to demilitarize Gaza other than via Israel’s destruction of Hamas’ and other terrorist groups’ weapons there. Proof: When Egypt offered a ceasefire July 15 (before Israel’s ground invasion), Israel accepted it. Hamas rejected it. Hamas has rejected, or broken, every subsequent ceasefire. If Hamas will not even agree to stop firing its weapons, it will not voluntarily give them up. Gaza will not be demilitarized other than via the power of the IDF.
It won’t be pretty. The reason for that? See above, Reminder Five.
Why did the current fighting begin? It was not because of Hamas’ missile attacks on Israel after Israel’s aggressive search for the Hamas kidnappers of the three Israeli boys. I see nothing wrong in Israel aggressively going after the Hamas criminals who kidnapped and, as it turned out, murdered three innocent teens. But if you think Israel’s search of Hamas hideouts and homes was excessive, the fact is that Hamas missile attacks on Israel began the day of the kidnappings, that is, June 12, 2014, not after the Israeli search for the criminals. Current Israeli attacks on Hamas in Gaza were not precipitated by Israel’s aggressive search for the kidnappers of the three boys.
SO much for reminding ourselves why Israel is still fighting in Gaza.
Now, what is the basis of the Jewish claim to the land of Israel in the first place? This too needs a reminder.
A good way to get a laugh, a snicker or rolling eyes is to say that Israel belongs to the Jews because G-d gifted this land to His people.
This is ridiculous — if you don’t believe in G-d, or if you don’t believe that the fundamental ideas of justice, fairness and holiness originated in the Hebrew Bible.
But if the idea of fair weights and measures; of respite from seven days of work for oneself, one’s servants and one’s animals; of settling disputes via a civil law; of protecting society and the accused via a criminal law; and of traditions as a way to sustain family, history and loyalty — if all this speaks to you, they originated in the Hebrew Bible.
So did this: the idea of a holy land gifted to the Jewish people.
This is worth repeating.
It’s the basis of the Jewish claim to the disputed land of Israel.
Take away that Divine claim, and what are you left with? Historical claims and counterclaims, arguments and counterarguments. Try arguing why Israel is Jewish on the basis of historical claims, minus the claim of Divine right, and you will be outargued.
Ultimately, you will lose.
It may be true that the Jewish link to Israel is long and important.
But so is China’s history. So is Greece’s. Anyway, why should ancient history trump the residence in Israel of other people during the past few hundred years? Try as you might, if you dispense with the Divine right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, you will be outargued.
People may reject the idea of a Divine right, to be sure; but Divine right lifts the debate above all other claims and counterclaims.
That G-d gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people is not a contemporary political argument for or against any particular Israeli policy or plan; certainly not an argument against a two-state solution. People with an absolute right to something may limit that right if they deem it wise to do so.
The Mosaic point here — the reminder — is that Israel is the Jewish homeland not because the British affirmed this in 1917, with the Balfour Declaration. Not because the Romans denied this in the year 70 with their destruction of the ancient holy Temple and dispersion of the Jews around the globe (which we mark next Tuesday on Tisha b’Av). Israel is Jewish not essentially because of history, though that is important, but because G-d granted this land to the Jews.
Rashi makes this point on, of all places, the very first verse of the Torah. Rashi asks: If the Torah is a book of laws, why should it bother with the story of creation and the genealogy of the Jewish people — with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the fate of their descendants?
Because, writes Rashi, G-d, as the Creator of the world, is the owner of the world. Therefore, He can give the land of Israel to whomever He chooses. He chose to give it to the Jews. The extra-legal parts of the Torah form the necessary prelude to the Jewish exercise of their right to the land of Israel.
Last week’s Torah portion concluded the story of Israel’s journey in the Sinai desert.
This week begins Moses’ review of the Torah in Deuteronomy.
It’s all prelude to the book of Joshua, which tells the story of the Jews’ entrance into and conquest of the Promised Land.
It’s why Israel is still fighting in Gaza.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News