Jacob called for his sons and said,
"Gather and I will tell you what will happen to you
at the end of days” (This week’s Torah portion,
(revealed to) them the wars that would take place at the end of days [in Babylon
(Basra) and Edom – Isaiah 34:5-6], he showed them the building and destruction
of the Temples (Midrash, Bereishis Rabba 98:2)
Babylon – modern day Iraq
– is in the news yet again. And so is Nebuchadnezzar, its leader. You see,
Saddam Hussein, executed in a most humiliated fashion last Saturday, modeled
himself after his predecessor, the king Nebuchadnezzar who ruled Babylon in
the 6th century BCE.
Though Saddam Hussein
was vanquished several years ago, and this tyrant who once terrorized millions
and paralyzed his country in fear has long become insignificant, his being
symbolizes so much of the essence of Babylon, and his execution represents
a stage in the demise of Nebuchadnezzarian power.
We are taught that “the
heart of kings and ministers are in the hands of G-d” (based on the verse
in Proverbs (21:1): “The king's heart is in the hand of G-d, as the rivers
of water: He turns it whatever way He wills”). Thus, the rise and fall of
world leaders, whether noble or cruel, signifies a major event – a key milestone
in the narrative of history. Indeed, our sages and mystics always read much
meaning into the historical and spiritual shifts defined by the death of the
kings and leaders of nations.
The toppling of Saddam’s
reign and now, his recent execution, is a benchmark in the bigger, cosmic
picture. Especially considering that Saddam was not just another leader, but
(in his own words) an incarnate of Nebuchadnezzar, and Iraq is not just another
nation, but the perpetuation of ancient Babylon, and indeed the root of all
civilization: The Garden of Eden, Abraham’s birthplace, the Tower of Babel
and more (click
here for a comprehensive list of the Babylonian past).
In case we should for
some reason overlook this significance, it’s impossible to ignore the key
dates marking Saddam’s fall, capture and execution:
- Gulf War I – which resulted
from Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 – ended on Shushan Purim,
when the Jews experienced a major victory precisely in that same region
in the times of Persian King Achashverosh, who replaced Nebuchadnezzar (and
his grandson, Babylonian King Belshazzar). Though Hussein was not toppled
at the time, in retrospect, 1990 was the beginning of his end.
- Gulf War II (in March 2003)
began on Purim. See Shushan
- Saddam Hussein was captured
on Yud Tes Kislev (December 2003) – a powerful day of liberation, which
symbolizes the beginning of a new stage in the sublimation of “Esau” and
“Ishmael,” the forbearers of the Western and Muslim world respectively –
19 in Babylon.
- Hussein was executed on the
on the 9th of Teves, one day before we commemorate the beginning
of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, the king
of Babylon, Saddam’s great mentor. On the 10th of Teves 2400
years ago Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, eventually destroying
the First Temple, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Jews, and sending
the rest into exile. The 10th of Teves has since been established
as a fast day among the Jewish people.
Many of the major milestones
in history can easily remain unnoticed, like the forest that is overlooked
because of our focus on the local trees. As we live through our lives moment
by moment we tend to ignore the underlying big picture of the human chronicle.
We therefore are blessed
with minds, with the power of insight, to look beyond the superficial, to
peer beneath the surface. Often, as if an invisible hand is helping us along,
certain outstanding patterns will emerge.
Is it possible to dismiss
the geography and the dates that mark the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein?
“My enemies have made
me wise,” says the Psalmist. To understand the historical significance of
Hussein’s end, we can learn much from his own representation.
In 1979, Hussein was quoted
by his semi-official biographer as saying: “Nebuchadnezzar stirs in me everything
relating to pre-Islamic ancient history. And what is most important to me
about Nebuchadnezzar is the link between the Arabs’ abilities and the liberation
of Palestine. Nebuchadnezzar was, after all, an Arab from Iraq, albeit ancient
Iraq. … That is why whenever I remember Nebuchadnezzar I like to remind the
Arabs, Iraqis in particular, of their historical responsibilities. It is a
burden that should… spur them into action because of their history.”
And indeed, Hussein’s
final words, as the trapdoor opened beneath him, “Palestine is Arab!” tell
us about his innermost feelings. Despite the noose around his humiliated neck
and the taunts of his captors, he didn’t forget his most innate instincts
about Israel. Even without an in depth Freudian analysis it’s quite clear
that Saddam was obsessed with the destruction of Israel. Who can forget those
dark days in 1991 when Saddam Hussein, unprovoked, was shooting Scud missiles
at Israel, or his bankrolling of Palestinian suicide bombers?
But what lies at the heart
of his obsession? Indeed, what is root of Nebuchadnezzar’s drive to conquer
Jerusalem and destroy the Holy Temple? And later –
the Romans, the Ottomans,
and earlier – the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the
Crusaders – basically every empire and superpower throughout history felt
compelled to attack, conquer and destroy Jerusalem and then turn it either
into ruins or into a city in their own “pagan” image.
Why did Roman Emperor
Hadrian insist on renaming Israel “Palestina,” obliterating its Jewish past
and replacing it with the derogatory name that means “foreign invaders? And
renaming Jerusalem “Aelia Capitolina,” dedicating the city to the Roman gods
of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva?
The root of the battle
between Babylon and Israel – and the universal obsession with Israel, Jerusalem
and the Holy Temple – can be understood by studying their Hebrew names. Hebrew
is a metaphorical language; a spiritual language. Each word is filled with
layers of meaning and spiritual significance, and each Hebrew name expresses
and reflects the essence of the entity that goes by that name.
Babylon means confusion.
He named it Babel, because this was the place where G-d confused (balal)
the world’s language, and it was from there that G-d dispersed [humanity]
over all the face of the earth (Genesis 11:9). Babylon represents the chaos and confusion
of life – both physical and psychological (see By
the Rivers of Babylon).
Israel is the name given
to Jacob by Esau’s arch-angel, after they struggled all night long, meaning
“you have struggled with the divine and with man and you have triumphed” (Genesis
Jerusalem is comprised
of two words: “Yirah-Shalom,” complete awe.
As the spiritual epicenter
of the universe – the “gate to heaven” – all the nations throughout history
sensed the power surging from the vortex. They therefore felt (con or unconsciously)
that controlling Israel and Jerusalem was the key to controlling the world.
Conversely, as the center
of the universe, Israel and Jerusalem – like the central cosmic nervous system
– was the first to become aware of how broken the world is without its soul
connection. The Holy Temple was destroyed and Jerusalem was left barren and
lonely because the world had disconnected from its purpose.
Babylon and Jerusalem
cannot co-exist. Similar to the Esau/Jacob dissonance captured in the verse
(Ezekiel 26:2): “I shall become full from the destroyed city,” Tyre became
full [gained power] only from the destruction of Jerusalem, they will not
be equal in greatness; when one rises, the other will fall (Megillah 6a. Pesachim
42b). When Babylon-confusion prevails the complete awe of Jerusalem and the
spiritual dominance of Israel is compromised and hurt, or even destroyed.
When the spiritual clarity of Jerusalem (and Israel) is at full strength confusion
Therein lays the obsession
of Saddam Hussein, King of Babylon, and all those before him: They represent
the forces that resist and battle the complete and seamless integration of
spirit and matter represented by Israel and Jerusalem.
Babylon was a source of
chaos 2400 years ago, and even farther back – 3800 years ago (when the Tower
of Babel was built), and continues to plague the world till this very day.
Good old Iraq – Babylon – will just not go away easily. (see Iraq
- Yesterday and Today).
Christianity (born out
of the Esau, ancestor of the Roman/Western world) has over the centuries slowly
learned to temper religious intolerance and integrate faith with respect of
individual rights. Today, Islam (born out of Ishmael, forbearer of the Arab/Muslim
world) has to come to terms with balancing religious passions and life in
a material world.
Saddam Hussein, like his
hero Nebuchadnezzar before him, represented the blunt force of Babylonian
Now, Saddam Hussein’s
hanging on the day before the 10th of Teves, marks another stage
in the decline of Babylonian strength. Hopefully, this will lead to the total
conquest over the Babylonian quagmire, replaced by the Jerusalemite spiritual
In personal terms, this should stir us all to muster strength
to battle our own inner turmoil and confusion. As we enter
a new stage in history, we have the opportunity to access
our inner “Israel” which empowers us to battle
the forces of the divine (within Esau) and of man and to
* * *
Question for the week: What do you
do when you get confused?
a question for future weeks.