Shelach: Six-Day War

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Fearing the Promised Land

The 40th anniversary of the miraculous Six-Day War victory (June 1967-2007) corresponds with this week’s Torah portion in which we read about Moses sending scouts to survey and discover the best way to conquer the Promised Land.

And now, just as then, great opportunities were squandered; grave mistakes were made. Then, just as now, a people rose to great heights only to fall into dark depths.

Following their miraculous deliverance from Egypt and the unprecedented Sinai revelation, the Jewish people were ready to enter the Promised Land. The scouts were sent to help pave the way for Israel’s easy conquest. Had they stuck to their mission, they would have facilitated the process and within a few days the Jewish people, led by Moses, would have entered Israel with pride, victory and celebration. The sages tell us, that had Moses entered the Promised Land, the world would have been brought to complete redemption.

Instead, the scouts returned with a terrifying report, “slandering” the land and inciting the entire nation to mutiny, against marching onward into the Promised Land. “We cannot go forward…they are too strong for us,” it is a “land that consumes its inhabitants.”

As a result, instead of a smooth entry, the Jewish people had to wander for forty years in a desolate wilderness – one year for each of the forty days the scouts spent exploring the land with slanderous intent. And the entire nation, including Moses, would end up perishing in the desert, never to enter the long-sought Promised Land.

A tragedy of immense, yes, Biblical, proportions.

Now, over 3200 years later, an uncanny similarity of extremes cannot be ignored. The Six-Day War fought in June 1967 – close to the same time period when the scouts were sent to explore the land (end of the month of Sivan) – marked one of the highest points in modern Jewish history. Twenty-two years after Auschwitz, the fledgling Israel was surrounded from all three sides – Jordan to the East, Egypt to the South and Syria to the North – all determined to drive it into the sea. Mass graves were dug and fear consumed the land; would there be a second holocaust, this time in the Promised Land?

Then in a mere six days, Israel triumphed and tripled in size. The unprecedented victory of a tiny country, the size of New Jersey with a population of under 2 million, over the surrounding Arab countries numbering hundreds of millions, stunned the world. The miracle became the source of unparalleled Jewish euphoria and pride. Religious and secular alike, believers and cynics, could not contain their tears when touching the stones of the newly reclaimed Western Wall.

What happened next remains one of the tragedies of Jewish history. From a state of euphoria, today Israel is embroiled in enormous conflict from within and without. Peace seems as distant as ever. Israelis themselves cannot agree what sort of Israel they want. Israel’s vision – so powerfully celebrated 40 years ago – is now in shambles. Hope has turned into resignation.

What transpired during the last forty years? What mistakes were made following the victory in 1967 that allowed for the never-ending downward spiral that has led to the stalemate in 2007? How was such great victory and pride squandered?

Many answers can be gleaned from studying the events that took place 3318 years ago and their parallels to today’s situation. The mistakes made then by the scouts were meant to be lessons not to be repeated in 1967 and in the forty years hence.

Here are some of the lessons:

G-D’S PROMISE

1) The only right that Jews have to Israel is because G-d granted them the Promised Land.

Why else would several million Jews insist on planting themselves in a small sliver of land surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims who don’t want them there?

HOW NOT WHETHER

2) We do not have the power, and were not given the right, to challenge the mission we are charged with. Our role is to figure out how to fulfill our calling, not whether to do so or not.

Jewish leaders then, leaders in 1967 and leaders today have allowed their own subjective perceptions and philosophies – and doubts – to dictate policy whether to hold on to and advance into the Promised Land. Your role as leaders is to explore ways to ensure security and peace; not to question your right to the land.

Before and during the Six-Day War Israeli leaders were questioning whether to proceed forward. The Israeli Defense Minister at the time declared unwillingness to conquer the Old City of Jerusalem, stating “who needs this Vatican city?” The miraculous conquests continued despite the initial opposition of the leaders.

After the war, these same leaders declared a policy of returning “land for peace.” In one of the greatest historical ironies, it was President Nasser of Egypt and the other Arab leaders – humiliated in defeat – that rejected the offer, arguing that taking back land for peace would be a declaration of… defeat.

No one asked for or wanted the Six-Day War. But once it was fought and won, behave like winners not like losers.

[Moses’ scouts refused to enter the land because they feared it would compromise their own deep spirituality. Today the reasons are far different; some actually fear that Israel’s spirituality will compromise their “free” lifestyle. But regardless, both positions, as different as they may be, are rooted in personal agendas overriding the Divine command to enter the Promised Land].

CONFIDENCE

3) In opposition to their ten colleagues, Caleb and Joshua declared

“we must definitely go up and take possession [of the land], we are definitely capable of it;” “the Land through which we passed in our explorations is a very, very good land. If G-d is satisfied with us and brings us to this land… He can surely give it to us. But don’t rebel against G-d. Don’t be afraid…G-d is with us.”

HUMILITY

4) When we are blessed with miracles, we must never ever become arrogant. Blessings must elicit in us humility. Humility enables us to review our own previous positions and perhaps change them, instead of stubbornly holding on to old attitudes. And humility leads to sensitivity, instead of aggression, which is the only sure way to true peace.

VISION

5) Entering and living in the Promised Land is not somebody’s whim or personal desire. It reflects a global vision for life – the Divine promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give them the Land of Israel – the Holy Land, a place that would be sanctified and transformed into a spiritual haven. A land that would be a “light unto nations” – “a house of prayer for all people” – illuminating the entire world, serving as an example to all nations, peoples, races and cultures, how to live a life according to the highest spiritual standards. The Holy Land is meant to inspire every man, woman and child on earth to fulfill his or her Divine calling, and civilize his corner of the universe into a home for G-d.

As the prophet Isaiah foretold:

“It shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of G-d’s house shall be established on top of the mountains and all the nations shall flow unto it. And [they] shall go and say, let us go up to the mountain of G-d and He will teach us of his ways and we will walk in his paths, for from Zion shall go forth the Torah; and the word of G-d from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:2-4).

The scouts back then, and the “scouts” entrusted with Israel’s security today must never forget the purpose and mission of the Promised Land.

When leaders are driven by faith, confidence, vision and humility, they combine both fortitude and wisdom to face every challenge that will come our way. No where is this more important than in the hotbed of the Middle-East – a vortex that has been consumed with battles over the last three millennia.

“Leaders” who lack these vital features will waver from doubt to aggression (to compensate for the doubt), to paralysis and more aggression – fluctuating extremes – as  witnessed in the Israeli approach to last year’s Lebanese war. Instead of leadership, we end up at best with “administrators” and “fire-fighters,” offering temporary band-aids for deep rooted wounds.

We cannot turn the clock back to 1967, but we can learn from past mistakes – and from errors made thousands of years – and adopt new policies and approaches, and perhaps finally offer Israel, the Middle East and the entire world the vision it expects and deserves to see emanating from the Holy Land.

Do we have such leaders? And if yes, will they rise to the occasion and make us aware of their presence?

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Question of the Week: How do you anyalyze the events of the Six-Day War and its aftermath?

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Alizah Hochstead
13 years ago

The events of the 6 Day War were a revealed miracle. There is no question that this was a chance to show us what emunah in the HaShem would grant us. HaShem was giving us a black and white opportunity to see how important Eretz yISROEL IS and what we needed to do. The difference in Eretz Yirsoel and Midanat Yisroel is that Eretz Yisroel has no boundaries and is based on emunah and Midnat Yisroel is bounded by gashmus borders and practicality. Jews go be yound the physical and are based in the spiritual

Menachem Zevin
13 years ago

By way of analogy. Like the Exodus and then the Golden Calf.

Deborah L Renert
13 years ago

Klal Yisrael were so much in a need for a Jewish homeland that not by might, nor by power, but by spirit and determination they reached upward and HaShem responded with miracles and the faith of many Jews was restored.

Richard Grazer
13 years ago

Certainly we agree that the Six-Day War was brilliant, necessary and, in military terms, the only reason that the state of Israel continues to exist today. But the mandated use of Biblical analogy, authorization and the like as the sole lens through which the events of that period and afterward can be viewed has always struck me as problematic. The Jewish fundamentalists, of course, can argue that the ongoing regional conflict is inevitable and will only be resolved when the requisite level of fundamentalism is internalized and uniformly expressed by the entire Jewish population. Curiously, this end around mea culpa position easily explains anything that goes wrong on a military/political level with the state of Israel. In essence, it posits, were a bunch of screw ups who cant seem to remember that G-d expects us to kick – not lick – Muslim butt. Until we get it right – and that could take a while – we have to expect to have our own butts kicked as cash karma from the Big Guy for not kicking first, harder and longer.

I dont live in Israel. My perspective is, by definition, different from yours. And I recognize that when were talking about home, we can see things in a very different light.

However, two – maybe three – thoughts come to mind. The first is the exchange we had a few weeks back analogizing Kabalistic notions of the G-d within to the Atman of Hinduism. The notion of a divinely mandated geopolitical state does not exist within Hinduism. This is so even though the subcontinental region has a long history of external invasion, conquering and destruction to rival that of any locale on the planet. Its just that the notion of a divinely promised geopolitical territory is categorically meaningless within the broader context of Hindu thought – for reasons that I wont go into here.

Second thought. For Jewish fundamentalists, the preservation of an unshakeable belief in divinely prescribed property rights appears to be tantmount to the preservation of the core Jewish identity. But how does the fundamentalist deal with the vast majority of secular Jews who see the preservation of the state of Israel in more commonplace, political terms? Can they be thought to be accidentally doing G-ds work? Wouldnt G-d be offended that, even when they inadvertently promote the longer-term goals of true believers, the fruits of their labors are fundamentally ill-motivated, impure and unworthy of divine imprimatur?

Continuing with this thought: Assuming G-d intends that all this strife will conclude with a happy ending for His people, who do you envision the beneficiaries will be? Can the (what? 85%?) secular Jews of the state of Israel expect to get in on the action? How about assimilated Jews world wide? Must the end of days be preceded by some sort of internal cleansing of the ranks? Is there some Jewish equivalent to the (infinitely misinterpreted) Apocalypse of St. John that must be put into play? And if so, how many more centuries/millenia must pass before the average Jew can stop looking nervously over his/her shoulder into the wrathful, impatient eyes of his/her own G-d?

Im quite serious about all of this, Simon. I find fundamentalist positions on all sides little more than a common formula for perpetual strife. If the fundamentalist notion is to predominate, the observant Jew can never experience a basic inner peace because the absolutist policies of G-d are, observably, not being fulfilled. Amazing, isnt it, that the innermost relationship with the divine can be altered by the unsanctioned acts of a group of politicians. Or so it would seem. I imagine all this must make for one very unhappy G-d. And if Im not happy, youre not happy. Period.

So why bother trying to discover the G-d within when all youre likely to discover is a malcontent? I would really appreaciate your thoughts on this.

Best wishes,

Richard///

Hi Richard,

As always, your thoughts are poignant and well articulated. I dont know if I can adequately convey in this writing the way I understand the Torah politico/theological/religious position on Israel and its peaceful co-existence with its neighbors. I will, however, share a few points.

You have clearly identified the root and essence of the Israel problem: biblical history is the only reason Jews have any right to live in that region (as I wrote). Can you give me any other reason why a nation of several million should insist on living there — like a thorn in the side of all its Arab neighbors. Secular Jews see this history in nationalistic, cultural and political terms. The religious (including many Christians) see the return to Israel as part of a higher Divine plan. Frankly, these two contradictory positions would be tenable if the region was at peace. But once there is a state of war (due to religious passions on the Arab side as well, as discussed below), I dont really understand why any secular person (Jew or non-Jew) would insist on staying in Israel, where you are constantly under attack, your children drafted in an army that battles daily.

The Muslim/Arab position (which I also have written about at length) is also a theological one. Though there are variations, the general Muslim view is that after Judaism and Christianity failed, G-d sent Mohammed and gave birth to Islam to finally fulfill the Divine plan that the Jews and Christians were unable to fulfill. Thus, Jewish or Christian control of the Holy Land defiles, according to Muslim thought, the Divine plan. (Here is some documentation on this topic).

So how do we get out of this mess? Eliminating the religious/theological drive is simply not going to happen. Some argue that ultimately secularism will prevail, and once religious passions are eliminated on both sides everyone will be able to live in peace. I dont see that happening, nor do I agree that to be the solution.

I personally advocate — and believe that this is the true Torah approach — a spirituality that is rooted in the Divine Biblical promises, but one that is not driven by ego, aggression and self-interest. I firmly believe that this is not about the Jews beating the Arabs or vice versa. If there is a G-d (I say if only to make the point), a G-d that created all humans, both Jews and Muslims (and all others), than the Divine plan for Israel and its neighbors an only be one that will allow them all to live up to their true spiritual destinies, while maintaining their uniqueness and geographical boundaries.

But for this to happen (and now I speak to my fellow Jews) we will need Jews with this spiritual vision. A person of peace and love — infused with deep spirituality. I submit that a leader with such vision — like Moses — would be embraced not just by Jews but also by Muslims.

Am I naive, idealistic? Perhaps. But give me another option.

Much more to say.

Love,

Simon