Reeh: ISIS Beheadings and Clarity


Behold, I place before you today a blessing and a curse… These are the laws you must carefully keep in the land that G-d, Lord of your fathers, is giving you to settle in it all the days that you live on Earth – Opening of this week’s Torah portion (Deuteronomy 11:26; 12:1)

All your children will be taught about G-d; great will be the peace of your children… They may gather to attack you, but it will not be from Me; whoever comes to fight you shall fall because of you. Behold, it is I who created the smith who blows beneath the forge, and makes a weapon for his work. I have also created the ravager to destroy. No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper – This week’s Haftorah (Isaiah 54:13-17)

Now that the United States, Britian and the Western World have witnessed yet again – almost thirteen years from 9/11/2001 – the horrifying ISIS beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, while Israel is entangled in its war against Hamas terror – you would think that it’s high time to revisit the issues at hand and come up with a game plan.

But it’s not that simple.

No one likes to be rudely awakened in middle of a peaceful slumber. But like every war, the longer we wait the greater the danger. The quicker we wake up, recognize and take on the enemy the less we will have to suffer, and the faster we will vanquish those that want to hurt us.

Yet the key to any battle is to define the reality of the situation before you. Can one launch any successful campagin without a clear pictuire of the terrain? There is no hope in winning a war if you can’t define its parameters, dissect the anatomy of the enemy and spell out our goals: Who is the enemy? What does he want? What is the cause of the hostilities? And then what possible solutions are available?

The greatest blessing one can receive is the blessing of clarity: To see with crystal lucidity the situation around you. As so poignantly stated at the open of this week’s chapter: Behold, I gift you today a blessing and a curse. The gift endowed to us is not just the blessing but also the curse — to see both the blessed path and the cursed path. To know what road not to take is as important, if not more, than to know what road to take.

In contemprary terms this is called “intelligence” — an area where clearly the West and even Israel are failing.

Though Islamic terrorists have declared war on Israel, the United States, Europe and the Western world – and have acted on their declaration on 9/11 and the subsequent attacks over the last decade, not to mention all the thwarted plots – it is quite clear that the countries of the world have not come to grips with this war. It doesn’t take genius to see that President Obama and most other world leaders today are seriously lacking the moral clarity necessary to fight this war, not merely a war that is going away just because we don’t like it.

The only thing that is clear is that… there is no clarity.

Our inability to acknowledge this challenge is most obviously due to the unusual and unprecedented nature of this war.

Who exactly is our enemy today? In a conventional war, the enemy is clear and defined. Your enemy has a country, a capital, and armed forces in distinct uniforms. In the current terrorist war the enemy has no face, no place, no land – nothing to lose, and nothing to fear. We don’t have a target to attack, no cities to bomb which will serve as a deterrent.

In a conventional war the enemy also has tangible objectives: Conquest of land, resources, power, and money. What is the objective of the Muslim fascists when they attack Western targets? What do they want? In every war, each side states its terms, and what they want their enemy to surrender. What would satisfy these extremists? What would it take for them to stop their attacks?

All these questions testify to the mysterious nature of our current war, and the resulting prevailing confusion and debates on how to deal with this adversary.

Indeed, this is the first time in history when people are wondering whether this is even a war or not! And if yes, what type of war is it?

How in the world can one fight with any direction, fortitude or confidence if we don’t even know or acknowledge that we are fighting a war?!…

So, once and for all we have to decide one way or another: Are we are fighting a war or are we not fighting a war?

Which is why it so aggravating to see the world pouring its wrath on Israel despite it simply defending itself against the unprovoked attacks by Hamas. Even Israel seems at times to be ambiguious about this war: On one hand Israel correctly exercised its fundamental obligation to protect its citizens by seeking out the terror missles and tunnels built by Hamas in Gaza, behind civilian cover. But then Israel concedes to one “cease-fire” after another (how many are they by now: eleven? Who’s even counting?). Why? So that negotiations can begin? Can you negotriate with a sworn enemy calling for your annihilation? These talks break down, and we’re back to rocket launches and Israel repsonding yet again — in a vicious cycle with no end in sight. Back and forth, back and forth.

On one hand, Israel correctly argues that you can’t negotiate with terrorists that don’t play by any rules, hide behind civilians and wantonly attack innocent people. On the other hand, they keep putting things off awaiting a diplomatic solution. And even if a cease-fire is imposed, what happens next? Next month? Next year? Has the problem been solved, the enemy vanquished? Has Hamas disappeared? And what about ISIS, Hezbollah, Qatar and the others hiding in the deep crevices of the Middle East?

What is going on? If this is a war – fight all the way. And if not don’t fight at all. The worse thing to do is to fight with one hand tied behind your back…

Which explains why after four weeks of fighting people question what has been achieved? Clearly, leadership is lacking – to put it mildly – or perhaps they simply are inept…

Amidst all this confusion, suddenly we see the chilling images of ISIS beheadings streaming from Iraq and Syria, with the most recent dreadful one of an American journalist in full view of the entire world! Is this what it has come to?! How can your blood not boil when you witness the sickening horrors perpetrated by these… what do we even call them? And even worse: as they decapacitate their victims that yell “Allahu Akhbar,” God is the greatest…

And what are we doing about it?

Is this latest repulsive murder a coincidence? Or is it perhaps a rude and horrific reminder that we are indeed engaged in a very real and persistent war that must be fought to the very end, or else we will continue to be haunted.

Imagine: In middle of World War II the Allies enter into diplomatic negotiations with Hitler and Nazi Germany. One shudders to think what would have happened if the UN and… CNN would be intervening in that conflict.

The single most critical component in war is clarity – a very clear definition of the targeted enemy, an unwavering commitment to fight the enemy, and above all an absolute crystal-clear conclusion to the war, in which there is a clear winner and loser.

Hitler and the Nazis, for all their abhorrent behavior, made their objectives very clear: Control of the earth for the pure Aryan race, and annihilation of all Jews and anyone else they saw fit. This “clarity” made it far easier (though it did take some time) to define the enemy and cultivate the willpower to fight him to the bitter end.

The Allies demanded unconditional surrender from the Axis powers – Germany and Japan without any face-saving, diplomatic measures. Why? Because when you are fighting a sworn enemy, who has demonstrated its objective to destroy you, there is no room for loopholes, ambiguity and fluctuating attitudes. Allow the enemy any small opening, and they will never go away.

The twisted irony in the case of Israel is, as Abba Eban put it (aftert the six-day war): “I think that this is the first war in history that on the morrow the victors sued for peace and the vanquished called for unconditional surrender.” Tragic, tragic, especially considering that Israel empowered the loser to feel like a winner…

No one wants or likes war. No one wants innocent people to die and be displaced due to war. But when there is a sworn enemy, who challenges the very right of innocent people to live in peace – and assaults the basic foundations of civilization (no matter what grievance and excuse the enemy may have) – then war against this enemy is an act of peace, and act of preserving life.

How many people have to die or be threatened with death before we realize that the world is at war with a new enemy: terrorism?

Just look at how airports around the world have been transformed since 9/11. How populations around the globe are being paralyzed and held hostage psychologically by the fears of potential terrorist plots.

What will make things get better and not worse?

We can put off the inevitable confrontation, but there is no doubt that we are dealing with a sworn enemy, who wants to destroy the Western way of life, Israel, Europe and the United States.


Some students of history may argue that its naïve and even arrogant to draw such stark lines and state that the Western World is in the all right and the Islamic fundamentalists is all wrong. They may point out to the many flaws in European and American society, and who gave the West the right to take the moral high ground and insist that they have a monopoly on truth and demonize the Muslims.

All wars, the argument goes, is not about absolute right and wrong. With this approach some could go as so far and say that even the Nazis were not absolutely evil.

Without beginning a theological discussion on the definition of good and evil, the universal law that governs us all is that no one – absolutely no individual, nation, religion or culture – has a right to compromise the rights or kill other people. What you believe in your heart is your business, but when you attack others you will be held accountable.

Others recognize that the war against Islamic terrorism is war, but not our war. It is Israel’s problem not ours.

Inevitably there will be those that will scapegoat Israel and the Jews for all “our problems” – the claim made by anti-Semites throughout history. Several years ago Richard Cohen wrote in a Washington Post column, “Israel itself is a mistake . . . an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable [but which] has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now.” Citing these words, Kurt Andersen wrote in New York Magazine, that “Sixty years on, there can be no revising or reversing that mistake—and when the choice is Israel versus unaccommodating Islamist fanatics, we must be for Israel. Is there any more inconvenient truth?,” “Israel is a good and miraculous nation that deserves the support of civilized people, but the great unfortunate fact about its creation—being carved by the U.N. out of Arab land in 1947—cannot be ignored or wished away. We have no choice but to support Israel.”

Then there are those that recognize that this is a war against us all. And they do not forget the lesson of the miners’ canary: Throughout history Israel and Jews always stood at the front line; fascists and killers of all sorts attacked the Jews first and then terrorize the rest of the world.

Is it a coincidence that the Middle East quagmire keeps spilling over to the rest of the world?

An attack on one innocent person is an attack against all innocent people. Once the line is crossed in compromising the basic dignity of life in one corner of Earth it is only a matter of time when it will come to haunt the entire globe. An unstemmed attack against innocent people in Israel foretells what will inevitably – and sadly – happen around the world.

Unfortunately this isn’t just a theory, but the call of Islamic jihad against the “infidels of the West,” agents of the Zionist/Crusader/American plot. They specifically state time and again that their war is not with Israel alone but with the entire secular West. Tragically these aren’t mere words. The attacks of September 11 in the USA, and again in Spain, London and other cities around the world only demonstrate what the world is up against.

So, how do we proceed? What is the true nature of this war, and what is the solution?

Some, perhaps most, choose denial. Ignore the situation and go on with our lives. Especially when the situation becomes complex, most people simply do not want to look at the issues head on. “Let us rest in peace,” is the popular cry of denial.

Others argue that we need to join forces with other countries and not behave unilaterally, and work at solutions together. But what do you do when countries have their own interests in mind – for instance, economic interests as in oil and the Middle East – that taint their positions regarding Middle Eastern regimes?

And, finally, others feel that we have no choice but need to go to declare war against terrorism, against all extremists who have declared jihad against Israel and the Western World. Following 9/11, America had embraced this approach. It’s not clear whether it still does.

And as America becomes more uncertain, the nations of the world, some argue, lose confidence in this country. The world, they say, always admired the United States (albeit with envy) for its naiveté and eternal optimism. America offered the world a buoyant message of hope and confidence in a better future. Today, they claim, the nations feel that America is promoting a dark message of despair, defensiveness and fear.

Whether this is correct or not, the current war on terrorism definitely behooves America to not just advocate the vices of the enemy, but the virtues of freedom.

And this brings us back to the nature of today’s war, unlike any war ever fought. Today’s war is fundamentally an ideological one. Perhaps for the first time in history this war is driven by purely religious and faith based forces. Millions of Muslim children are indoctrinated from young age with a radical vision of a secular, Western world of infidels that must be destroyed and replaced with Islam. Martyrdom is deified. Children are brainwashed that the greatest thing they can do is give their lives for Islam against the infidels.

All you have to do is listen to some ex-terrorists, who describe in frightening detail how they were programmed from early age to kill Jews and Westerners, and thereby be rewarded with heaven. When asked what they suggest should be done with Muslim terrorists, they unequivocally reply: Do not negotiate. Go all the way and destroy them all. They will never understand words, logic and dialogue.

As the most powerful country in the world the United States must lead this war with a powerful moral vision. It is not just a defensive war against terrorist attacks; it is an offensive battle for the ambitious vision of a world that will live in peace, while respecting the diversity of nations, cultures and faiths. We are fighting a war for a vision – first promoted by Abraham and then delivered at Sinai – which guided the Founding Father: That all people are created equal, with inalienable rights granted by virtue that we are all G-d’s children, created in the Divine Image. Everyone has the right to practice and believe in their unique way. The enemy is anyone who breaches the universal and absolute law of hurting or killing another person; of denying and robbing any person of their fundamental, G-d given rights.

Beyond resources, strategy and tactics every triumphant battle requires, above all, cause and confidence. Nothing is more vital for success. You can have the strongest army, the most advanced technology, state of the art weaponry, but if you don’t believe that you are fighting for a just cause you will not have the fortitude to fight and see it through. Viet Nam is a case in point. The American army lost (or never had) its morale, never understood the purpose of the war and therefore never fought with resolve.

In sum: To effectively protect the future of our and our children’s lives and create a better world several things are necessary:

  • Not go into denial and gravitate to our comfort zones.
  • Define the enemy.
  • Believe in the justness of our cause.
  • Not negotiate with sworn enemies.
  • Use all available tools – dialogue, pressure, economic influence and if necessary, war – to vanquish the enemy.
  • If you must fight, do so with resolve and determination.
  • Demand strong leadership with moral vision and authority.
  • Focus on a positive vision for the future of the world.

With the new type of war upon us – with no defined boundaries and targets – the time has come to adjust our sensors: Not only our airport metal detectors to detect insidious, innocuous liquids, but also our consciousness to detect the devious enemy lurking within our society.

Once you know that you are fighting a sworn enemy, and at the same time you carry a deep sense of a positive vision of life, you have the necessary strength to do what it takes to protect the innocent and build a better world.

For all it’s gruesome horror, and with all sensitivity to the family of James Foley, there is nothing as crystal clear as a beheading. Will the beheading of an innocent American journalist wake us up? If not, what will it take?


Did you enjoy this? Get personalized content delivered to your own MLC profile page by joining the MLC community. It's free! Click here to find out more.

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
9 years ago

Dear Holly Rabbi: I truly believe the following is worth your time .You cold not be more correct in your views With All Good Wishes Bernard Rosenberg Gaza: does this guy get it right!

Out of the mouth of a humble, American Indian comes more insight than all of the media pundits and their “intellectual,” elitist and biased analysis of the Gaza conflict. His comment was a response on the CNN website to a story about Hamas rejecting a ceasefire.

I am Creek Indian. My family fought against the Europeans for hundreds of years and it was a losing fight. After the Civil War, the federal government of the US decided to rout out the last of the resistance, and my ancestors were faced with choices: 1) Death. The reality was that the Indian nations in no way had anything like the military might to defeat the US. AT BEST they could have continued to fight a guerrilla war, keeping themselves in grinding poverty and throwing away their lives and futures and those of their children. 2) Being moved to reservations. 3) Assimilate into the new nation as citizens.
Thank GOD my ancestors were wise enough to choose wisely, and we became US citizens. As my Grandfather told me when I was starting to learn about our history, You have a choice. You can choose to live in the past, in bitterness and anger, or you can choose to excel in the world as it exists today. If you live in the past, you are only hurting yourself. The people living today bear no guilt for what happened generations before. They were born into todays world the same way you were. Hating them would be unjust, and only hurts you. Choose instead to excel in todays world as best you can.
And frankly the US is far superior to the world of my ancestors in myriad ways (I am not excusing what went before, simply recognizing the reality). The lifespan of a Creek used to be less than 36 years. Infant mortality was 9 in 10. We were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers. Starvation was common & part of life. The noble savage is a PC myth. An invention of propaganda. I wouldnt want to live that way and would fight anyone trying to force me to do so.
As a result, our family has prospered beyond the wildest dreams of my ancestors. My Grandparents lived into their 80s and 90s with one exception, and he was killed in an accident. My parents are in their 80s now. Active and healthy. Of the six children they had, all are living, and all have masters or doctorate level educations and are financially successful. Of the 22 grandchildren, all are living, and all those who are old enough are in college on academic scholarships.
I am proud to be a US citizen. An American.

The point is this: Palestinians. You have the same choice. Israel is a reality. Your decades long efforts to destroy it have been miserable failures and have only really served to show how laughably one-sided that conflict is. At one time, decades ago, I had some sympathy for you. No longer. I grew up watching the efforts to help you. Youve stupidly spit in the face of those efforts every time. You pick a fight, then go whining to the press when you start getting your behind kicked. Over and over. It is pathetic. And who are you really hurting?

Israel is doing just fine, thank you very much. Israel has real universities, real industry. Israel contributes to the advancement of science and technology. Israel is a Republic where anyone who is a citizen has a vote. Women arent forced to live in mobile tents, and arent killed for trying to get an education. If I had to choose today which culture I want there, then I am going to choose them 10 times out of 10.

So you can continue living in your past, which is about as accurate as the noble savage myths the PC crowd tried to sell me as a child, or you can grow up & show you ACTUALLY care about your children & quit committing mass suicide.

I dont doubt that MOST Palestinians would rather live in a 1st world country with clean water, good sewer systems, plentiful food, easily achievable education. So really, this appeal is to you. The radicals in your midst are screwing you. They have been screwing you for 40+ years, and they are never going to stop. Choose civilization. Choose a future for your children.

What does that mean? If you are in Israel, thank your lucky stars, and start benefiting from living in a first world country rather than trying to return it to the stone age.

If you are not in Israel, but you can see people who are firing rockets into Israel, take them out. Report their locations. Band together with neighbors who dont want to be bombed or shelled, and kill the people responsible for drawing the fire to your neighbourhood.

Because lets be real. This is all over but the dying. Israel is there, and it is there to stay. If you keep attacking them, then the most likely outcome will be the genocide you seem so hell-bent on asking for. Only it wont be genocide, it will be mass suicide.

Quit being idiots and actually prove you care about your children.

James Acree
9 years ago

You need to pay closer attention and realize the corruption of the United States. The U.S. is responsible for much of what is happening over in the Middle East.

Chaya Gross
9 years ago

BH The beheading was to remind us of the level of barbarity we are dealing with. How evil can be manifest so blatantly…and then life somehow goes on anyway. Daniel Pearl was the first..and his dying words…I am a Jew…and as we know what begins with the Jews…rarely ends there.
As for the lack of clarity, I beg to differ. Living in Jerusalem for over 30 years I tend to see the picture more globally. I moved to Israel without assistance from any organization believing it was a privilege to be able to do so. I understood then as I do even more today that the Jewish future is here. The redemption is unfolding and we are on the front lines. Life is vibrant and challenging every moment every day. We are truly blessed as is obvious by the 3000 plus missiles that have barely made a dent. Clearly the miraculousness of such a reality should be obvious by now. In spite of that awareness we are vigilant 24/7 and our soldiers are outstanding on every level, and each loss is a loss felt by all of Am Yisrael without a doubt. Having said all that I want to get to my main thesis which is He who ultimately runs the world.
This war is extremely complex especially for Israel, because as we all know, only recently our best ally with the largest Jewish community abroad, withheld a weapons shipment to Israel and closed our airport! These are not insignificant gestures…all the while forcing our hands at ceasefire negotiations which everybody knows will lead no where. So it is not a question of lack of clarity as much as looking at the very very complex reality not only here but worldwide. Antisemitism is at unprecedented levels and Jews still want to pretend that a Rabbi being shot in cold blood in the light of day, is a robbery gone bad?? Talk about lack of clarity. First it was knock out, not murder…when will the Jews begin to get it? What ultimately is G-ds message to His people? You are needed here now more than ever. The status quo is crumbling and as I said recently…I am more worried about world Jewry than I am about us here in the front line. We have been on high alert for 66 years and before that too. 1929 was long before the State and before the settlements too, and in Hebron 67 Jews were murdered in one day. Our struggle is an ongoing one and even when we retake Gaza which inevitably we will have to do, we are still not there yet. The only solution is the complete and final redemption and each of us must do everything we can wherever we are to bring that about.
The beheading was vicious, just as the cold blooded murder of three teens on their way home from school was. Finally the world is beginning to get it, but of course we are still hated and truth is who cares? I only care because my people are in danger and dont even really understand to what extent. For me thats the scarey part. That we will ultimately triumph, is a given because there is no alternative and this IS the promised land. You are asking important questions and for that I commend you, but what is obvious to me, is not yet to you…and I only pray that the awareness comes through your own clarity and choice, not G-d forbid out of necessity. Shabbat shalom from the Holy City of Jerusalem…who awaits your arrival.

9 years ago

I agree with your remarks completely. And, I also admit to my hesitance…not to the vision, but the actions necessary.

It is so easy to take an unequivocal line in dealing with OBVIOUS lunatics. The problem, though, rests in the grey areas…those who are smart enough in their hatred to blend into the community of the sane, waiting for the right moment to perpertrate their horror. Since we, of all people, know what it means to be blanketed as the enemy, we must be careful not to blanket.

How do we pick out those who are the menace? Its easy to say kill them all but we Jews could/should never subscribe to such an approach!

Jeni Adler
9 years ago

Your article scares me – the tone is somewhat aggressive, self righteous and xenophobic…and yet my gut and my intelligence see grains of truth in your analysis and suggestions. EEEK.

Johana Nadler
9 years ago

Excellent article but what can we do do to speed up some action for the World leaders? When UK is intimidated by its own Muslim population, and France as well and Belgium, and Obama who is unsure as to what action to take, how are we able to go to war against this evil enemy?

Leslie Windman
9 years ago

Thank you for providing such understanding.

Reid Friedson
9 years ago

Be a radical democrat and destroy terrorists who have declared war on Jews and America in pursuit of a world conquering Islamic state of brutal tyranny. It is your sacred duty. ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. are all part of the same poisonous tree of death and it is our duty to destroy this fascist cancer that is, as they openly say, coming for us. We are at war. Destroy the terrorists full force.

9 years ago

Brilliantly articulated…but is Anyone in power listening?

9 years ago

Thank you for this clarity. I look forward to sharing this fine article with friends and relatives.

The Meaningful Life Center