What Do They Want From Us?
The latest media circus around Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s words about the role of Hitler and the Mufti in the Final Solution captures the compounded tragedy of current events in Israel.
Obviously, Hitler was the demonic force behind the extermination of the six million Jews in Europe. No one in their right mind would try to absolve, or diminish in any way, him and the Nazis of their unequivocal responsibility for perpetrating the greatest systematic genocide in history.
At the same time no one can equally deny the culpability of Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in supporting, inciting and encouraging the destruction of the Jews.
This — not Bibi’s words — is the issue at hand: That the hatred demonstrated by Palestinians in Israel today, leading to young Arabs randomly attacking any Jew they can find, is not related to any of their current grievances, but to an ongoing genocidal attitude to Jews, which precedes modern Israel.
The mufti’s rabid despise of Jews shows that the forefathers of the Palestinian nation, without a country and without the so-called ‘occupation’, without land and without settlements, even then aspired to systematic incitement to exterminate the Jews.
The fact that the media can so easily become obsessed with Netanyahu’s words, instead of the real headline — understanding the root of Arab rage — reflects on the second tragedy taking place today: In addition to the obvious outrage due to the wanton murder of innocents comes the gross distortion of facts and perversion of information committed by the media – diverting focus from the real story: Why do the Arabs/Muslims hate Israel and the Jews so much?
What lies behind their rage against Israel? Compared to the millions of Muslims slaughtered by other Muslims in Sudan, Syria, Iraq and other countries, Palestinian deaths in Israel are relatively few. Yet the millions massacred and millions more repressed does not evoke Arab outrage as do the events in Israel. Why the double standard? Some argue that this double standard in the Middle East is due to the fact that Arab countries are shame-based societies, and Israeli repression of Arabs is seen not just as brutal, but also as humiliating.
They cite Arabs stating that, “Israel is a colonial outpost and that as a result while Israeli Arabs may have ballots and free speech, they have no dignity. The Israeli occupation represents a total humiliation of all the Arab regimes. It’s a continuous reminder of the weakness of the Arabs as people, of their society and political system, as well as an indication of the impotence and corruption of their regimes.”
Arab humiliation seems to have become a mainstay since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Arab world can simply not get over their lost pride as a people who once ruled and represented the epitome of civilization, and now are relegated to Third World status. Israel and America represent for the Arab world the source of this humiliation – so the argument goes.
Many other speculations are offered to explain Arab rage and frenzy against Israel and the West.
Understanding the underlying causes for Arab sentiments is not academic; it is the only way to get to the bottom of the issues. Understanding their mentality is the true key to help provide us with a meaningful strategy. We can never devise a workable plan as long as we focus on the superficial causes, and do not understand the driving force of our adversary. Does the Arab world just want justice for the Palestinians? Equal rights (rights they do not have under any Arab ruler)? Some land to live peacefully? Or perhaps they want something more that they simply are not telling us?
I submit that the true reason and core root of Arab anger is religious and not political.
The Arab world’s opposition to Israel is not due to any Israeli actions, but rather to the very existence of the Land of Israel and Jewish control over the land. This control is a perpetual thorn in their side, and the root cause for their “shame” and humiliation.
Why? Because Muslims fundamentally believe that Israel’s existence – and Jewish control over Israel – in what they consider to be their ‘conquered land,’ is a desecration of their religious vision.
This is the reason why Muslims have always built mosques on the sacred land of Jews and Christians (e.g. the Temple Mount, Bethlehem) to demonstrate their absolute belief that Muslim control over these lands fulfills and realizes the Divine will.
This religious belief is the true cause for the rage of the Arab/Muslim world against Israel. It is not about human rights, Palestinian sovereignty, Arab dignity, oil, money, harems, or any other issue. No amount of land return, no concessions will satisfy them – other than the elimination of Jewish control in Israel.
As uncomfortable as it may be, we will never be able to resolve the issues until we realize that this is a religious war not a political one.
Many of us would like to conveniently believe that the issues are political ones, because that would make the situation a lot more manageable and the problem a lot simpler. We know how to deal with political challenges. But if this is a religious war, we simply do not have the tools, experience or interest to fight such a war.
Our existing modalities are secular ones. Our political systems and governmental institutions have been built with secular goals in mind, without much consideration to spiritual and religious values, which we have relegated to the private sector. We therefore do not see the world in context of religious and spiritual vision. That’s why we cannot fathom or understand the rage of the Arab world today.
But what lies beneath and behind – what fuels – this Arab rage and passion? To understand this we need to enter into the secret world of religious passion.
Balance between the sacred and the mundane is a central theme in the Torah and in Jewish literature. We read time and again about passionate souls who are challenged to find balance between transcendence and existence. We are clearly instructed to live holy lives. “Be holy, because I, your G-d, am holy.” But how do we do that in a deeply secular and mundane world, without annihilating our existing institutions and infrastructures?
Sanctifying yourself in the material world is no simple feat. Spirit and matter are dichotomous. Our physical existence consumes us so that it leaves little room (space and time) for spirituality. Our struggle for survival – eating, sleeping, work, shelter – hampers our search for transcendence, the pursuit of our calling and higher purpose. Material life lends itself to corruption, which explains why the scouts sent by Moses to Israel returned with a negative report, arguing that Israel is a “land that consumes its inhabitants.” Who among us does not have the struggle between our own personal higher standards and the temptation to conform to society’s standards, between home and career, between focusing on our transcendental needs when we are so preoccupied with our material ones?
The challenge of creating harmony between body and soul is twofold. When we are immersed in our daily needs it is increasingly difficult to access our souls. When we are inspired by a transcendental experience, we find it difficult to reenter regular life. It seems as if the extraordinary and the ordinary are mutually exclusive, like two different worlds that can never entirely converge.
How often do we find someone caught up in spiritual ecstasy that they cannot return intact? Being burned out by the fire of a passionate high, unable to reenter ordinary life? Case in point the famous Talmudic story of the ‘four who entered the garden,’ three unable to return unharmed. This explains why some mystics have chosen the ascetic path, separating themselves from regular life, so that they can pursue the life of the spirit.
In the book of Leviticus we read how Nadav and Avihu succumbed to this temptation. In their great passion and love for the Divine, they entered the Holy of Holies, and they… ‘burned out’ and could not return. The Torah then proceeds to define the necessary guidelines on how to enter holiness and how to internalize and integrate the experience and not self-destruct.
Of course this fear of being spiritually ‘burned out’ can lead one to argue the merit of the exact opposite position: We should just immerse ourselves in our material lives and forget about our spiritual dreams and fantasies. The argument goes: In our mundane world it is simply naïve to live a life of spiritual and ethical integrity. If we do embrace the sublime, we stand the great risk of ‘burn out’ and being unable to cope with ordinary life. Why take the risk, better to just resign ourselves to a mundane life, as close as we possible can to ‘animal bliss.’
But that type of resignation is a cop-out. Can we be healthy human beings if we repress our soul’s restless thirst for transcendence? Indeed, we are obligated to sanctify our lives. And this precisely is life’s challenge: To fuse both worlds – matter and spirit, to spiritualize our material existence. This requires a delicate balance – a delicate dance – to synthesize both experiences, without one annihilating the other.
What is sanctity? Sanctity is recognizing that that every aspect of your life is not self contained but meant to become a channel for a Higher presence. Kedusha (holiness) is bittul (see Tanya chapter 6), suspension of self that allows the Divine to enter. Selfishness and narcissism does not allow anything else in.
“Where is G-d?” the future Rebbe of Kotzk was once asked as a child. He replied: “Wherever you let Him in.”
The command “be holy” instructs us to sanctify all aspects of existence – time, space and human. We must sanctify our personal behavior, through kindness and love. Then we sanctify time – we realize the preciousness of each moment and fill it with meaningful and Divine activities. Shabbat and the holidays are sacred days. Yom Kippur – the holiest day of the year, the Holy of Holies – is the epitome of time sanctification, serving as the source of sanctity for all days of the year.
Finally we sanctify space, the homes, land and countries in which we live. The Holy Land of Israel is the epitome of space sanctification, serving as the source of sanctity that spread to the entire globe. [This is one reason why we pray facing the East – Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple Mount].
Jerusalem – especially the Temple Mount and specifically the Holy of Holies on the Mount – is the center and nucleus of Holiness on Earth. No wonder everyone always wanted to control Jerusalem. Not just today but throughout history. How many battles have been waged over that holy real estate?
So, Jewish control of the Holy Land and particularly of the Holy of Holies is no small matter. Arab rage against Israel may have many ostensible causes. But at its core root, it stems from the Holy of Holies – from the need and will to control that vital region. As long as Jews control it, they feel utterly weak.
The Talmud gives us a profound psychological insight. At times your unconscious – your mazal – may sense something that causes a strong physical reaction. The holiness of Israel and Jerusalem is the cause for the profound enmity of the Arab world, even if there are other perceived causes and not everyone may be conscious of the true cause.
But to devise a successful strategy requires a true diagnosis of the problem. And sometimes (more often than not) the truth is something no one wants to hear or acknowledge. The war against Israel is rooted in religious belief (albeit distorted). And this is very difficult for us to accept. Why? There are many reasons. One compelling reason is this: After all, our modern secular world still lingers in the long shadow of the war between science and religion, a war many thought was won long ago by science and secularism. Suddenly religion comes back on the scene, and is threatening not just the Middle East but New York and Washington – mighty secular America.
That is too much to absorb in one shot. That’s why people are in such shock. We need to get accustomed to this new reality — a religious global war being fought, a war that will determine what G-d really wants of us, a war that will define and crystallize once and for all what is true Islam, what is true Christianity and what is true Judaism. We need to learn to reintroduce a long forgotten G-d into our lives, to reacquaint ourselves with G-d after a long hiatus, fueled by prosperity and its inevitable complacency and spiritual lethargy.
As a Jew, I know that our role is to use every platform available to us today to advocate the universal message of Torah – what Abraham taught to all his children, how G-d wants all of us to live, Jew, Muslim, Christian and all people.
The Torah’s essential message is that we can and we must sanctify the material world. We need to integrate the sacred with the mundane. One extreme or the other is simply not acceptable: Violent passion – even in the name of G-d – is destructive and therefore un-G-dly. Too much untempered chesed (Ishmael) annihilates the universe. Conversely, overabundant gevurah (Esau) and immersion in the material, or its antithesis, radical disassociation with the physical (as in celibacy), is equally destructive.
The holiness of Eretz Yisroel is complete when it creates harmony between the physical land (Eretz) and the Divine (Yisroel, meaning “You have battled with the Divine and with man and you have prevailed”).
We are now experiencing perhaps the greatest ‘market correction’ in history – in defining the truth of the world’s religions; a reality check of the vastest proportions – the final battle – and ultimate reconciliation – between the sublime and the secular, between spirit and matter.
Are we really surprised that Palestinians have taken to the streets looking for Jews to stab and kill? And their leaders are calling for a new intifada?
Sometimes the most obvious truths are not stated and acknowledged because we fear the unknown. But then when we do acknowledge them we begin to realize that we have the power to face the challenge.
Let us hope and pray that we do not have to pay with any more lives to realize the truth of our situation and act accordingly.
Our hearts, condolences and prayers go out to all thoise that have suffered recent losses, and to all our brethren in Israel. .
WHAT IS THE MOST POWERFUL THING YOU CAN DO TO HELP THE SITUATION IN ISRAEL?
Create a passionate spiritual revolution for the good.
As passions of violence have been released on us, against humanity, our most powerful response is to counter with a passionate revolution of purpose, with no less passion and drive than the evil being waged against us.
Please see War in Israel: What We Must Do for a list of practical suggestions.
For an elaborate related discussion on this topic, please go here to view Rabbi Jacobson’s latest classes and articles on the topic of confronting a terror.