The following is a transcript of Episode 65 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.
Donniel: My name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and this is For Heaven’s Sake, a podcast from the Hartman Institute’s iEngage Project. Major support for For Heaven’s Sake comes from the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation. Our theme for today is, when does civil conflict turn into civil war?
In each edition of For Heaven’s Sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior Research Fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem, and Elana Stein Hain, director of the Hartman faculty in North America, together, we’re gonna explore and discuss current issues central to Israel and the Jewish world.
In addition, Elana will also enrich our discussion by adding in classical sources that are critical in shaping our thinking. Let’s begin.
For those of us who oppose this government’s far-reaching plans to weaken the independence of our judiciary by making it subservient to the politicians, this is one of those essential moments that we feel are determining the face of our nation. Last Saturday night in a pouring rain, between 70 to 1000,000 Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv, and in fact in Haifa and Jerusalem as well against the new policies.
Even Yossi and I, Yossi, you and I, we never go to demonstrations. The only demonstrations that I go to are ones that I’m asked to talk at, but we’re not demonstrating type of people. We have opinions, but the demonstrating process is not natural to us. We both felt that this was a different moment. And in fact, I personally have decided that every Saturday night if there’s gonna be a demonstration, I’m going. The challenge we’re facing,
Yossi: I made, I made the same decision, Donniel. Yeah.
Donniel: But Yossi, like you and I, we went to Tel Aviv, I think though, even though Jerusalem is the smaller demonstration, I think we could compromise and, and decide that we should go to Jerusalem.
But in any event, this is a critical moment. Now while we feel it’s critical, people who disagree with us politically, people who are staunch supporters of the coalition also feel that it’s a critical moment. Everybody’s feeling that right now, the other side is endangering something essential, and these are moments which become sectarian moments.
It’s not as if one side has ideology, and the other side has political interests. We have two sides with profound, profound ideological perspectives. You know, I could think that one side is right, the other side is wrong, but that’s irrelevant. We are at a moment of unbelievable tension in Israeli society.
Just now, a few minutes ago, the Supreme Court ruled 10 to 1 that minister Deri, it should be forbidden for him to hold a position as a minister in the Israeli government. And so the swords are out, the battle lines drawn. Some people on both sides are invoking the language of civil war. Is it possible, the question I want us to think about together, is it possible to resist one’s government? Or is it possible to have a profound, profound argument of this tenor and commitment without it deteriorating into civil war? What are the boundaries? Or are there moments when civil war is called for? When lines are crossed and it requires not merely a political and intellectual and a cultural struggle for the force for the future of the country, but is more than that ever called for? Are there limits to protest? does civil conflict turn into civil war? What would this mean for Israel? What’s permitted, where do we draw red lines?
I think it’s self-evident to most of us, while I added this as a conceptual possibility, that all of us believe that the move to civil war is a move that we need to avoid at all costs. And if anything is gonna bring about the destruction of Israel, it’ll be that civil war. But how do we draw the red lines?
And so we’ve spoken a lot about red lines on different issues as a group together. Red lines for criticism from America. Red lines ideological. Oh, now it’s the red lines of protest. How do we understand them? How do we think about them? How do we educate towards them? This is our issue, and For Heaven’s Sake seems every week to deal with an issue, not an esoteric issue. These are some of the most concrete, specific and, and critical issues that we need to think about as, as, as a society. Are there differences between red lines in Israel and red lines for people who live outside of Israel?
Yossi, Elana, it’s great to be with you and, uh, I look forward to our conversation. Yossi, do you wanna kick us off? Civil, civil disobedience to, uh, to civil war? What are the red lines?
Yossi: Before, um, before we start getting into the practicum of policy and determining how this plays out on the ground, I think there are a few things that, that I need to unpack. The first is that the very notion of civil war is so profoundly antithetical to everything that I learned growing up as the son of a Holocaust survivor. The Jews may be a dysfunctional family, but we are a family, and civil war is a line that under no circumstances, should the Jewish people in the aftermath of the Shoah, and for me, we are permanently in the aftermath of the Shoah as we are permanently in the aftermath of the Exodus from Egypt.
And I think that the influence of the post-Holocaust era is only going to grow with time. The imperative, the Halakha of the post-Holocaust era is no civil war. And if you think about the times when Israel came very close to Civil War or could have crossed the line into Civil War, once on the side of the left, which was when Ben Gurion sank the Irgun weapon ship Altalena in 1948. We could have very easily had a civil war then. And the other time was coming from the right, which was the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin.
And in both of those seminal moments, Israeli society pulled back and we pulled back because we, we intuitively understand that the Jewish people is forbidden to turn against each other violently. Especially in the aftermath of the Shoah.
Donniel: I would add a third critical moment. And that was the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.
Yossi: Right. Yes.
Donniel: Where the religious Zionist community was on the verge, and for many of them, they even felt there was a commandment to sacrifice your life for the sanctity of the land of Israel. And they said, excuse me, we’ll protest well, but we’re not going to go there. And they left, they violated a biblically obligated commandment, for the sake. So that was a third moment, and
Yossi: It is, it is.
Donniel: and they don’t get credit. They don’t get credit for it.
Yossi: No, no. Ab absolutely right. I think though that, what’s unique though about the Altalena and the Rabin assassination was we actually did cross the line into murder.
Donniel: Okay, fine, some people did.
Yossi: A Jew murdered a Jew.
Donniel: So let me ask you, is civil. The definition of Civil War. I just wanna clarify your point. Civil War, the line is violence?
Yossi: That’s the practical
Donniel: Is there Civil war without violence?
Yossi: No, no. The violence is the inevitable, practical expression of a mentality of civil war. And what is the mentality of civil war? It’s when it’s when anger turns into rage. And when opposition turns into hatred. And once you’ve created that emotional infrastructure for Civil War, physical violence follows.
If your opponent, your Jewish opponent is evil, I hate you, and I am in a state of permanent rage and despair. Despair is another crucial element here. You need to resist rage, despair, and hatred because those are the preconditions for civil war.
Donniel: You know, Yossi, I, I, here we’re gonna have a slight disagreement cause I think there can be civil war without violence. And I wanna unpack that a little bit because even you, yourself, were speaking about rage, anger, hatred, and I’m not sure that in every instance, rage, anger, hatred, there are instances that it’s called for, but, here we have to, I wanna unpack that a little more. Cause I don’t think violence is the, I think violence is a manifestation, but not the definition of civil war.
But Elana, what’s your feeling about this?
Elana: I’m so American on this. I, I wanna say two things.
Donniel: I, I forgive you on Elana.
Elana: The first is, I, well, it’s only cause you’re Canadian in, in origin, right? I’m half Canadian. I’m half Canadian. I’d like to be an a Canadian citizen right now. I’ve gotta be honest.
Donniel: Your accent is actually Canadian, so like, it’s quite,
Elana: My mother, my mother is Canadian.
Donniel: It’s cause, you’re not talking like a, like a New Yorker at all.
Elana: I don’t talk like a New Yorker, it’s true. So two things. Number one, this very conversation about the mentality of civil war is exactly what Americans were experiencing starting in 2016. We literally were asking ourselves, is it, is it maybe the Civil War never ended, as in the American Civil War never actually ended, and the basic narratives of what America is supposed to be are actually at odds with each other and people are still fighting that war in different permutations, and that’s what we’re looking at.
But I have to say that watching what’s played out for the last seven years in America, instances that I would call civil war would not be violence, and they would not be the mentality of rage and anger. They would actually be when you try to undercut the structures that are supposed to govern. So for example, you try to topple them.
So, for example, major allegations of election fraud in America that led to the January 6th, 2021 riot on the Capitol. That was a group of people trying to take over a government institution to undermine the rule of law in an official way.
And that’s not something I thought I would see in my lifetime, obviously, but to me, civil war was essentially saying, forget the structures that are supposed to govern us. We completely undermine them. All of the processes that we come together and, you know, the way that, the rabbis say that we should be thankful that we have government, cause otherwise people would eat each other alive. People who essentially wanna get rid of government as it exists. So that’s my first point, is that what I’ve seen makes me think it differently.
I wanna say one more thing, which is because I live in a country that was shaped by a civil war that was necessary, I also think long and hard about what makes Civil War necessary, right? We had a civil war in the 19th century and it was necessary because not having a civil war would’ve done more harm than having a civil war. And I think that’s also an important question.
When you think about civil war, no Civil war, it’s not just Jews love each other and care about each other. It’s, it’s gonna do more harm than good in this situation.
Donniel: If I could add to that. I, I hear you. It’s really interesting. It scares me when you talk like, and part of what scares me is that as you were talking, I was being convinced, and I know how necessary it could be, but I don’t know if, if the Jewish people could survive such a moment.
Elana: Oh, I wanna make it clear, I don’t think there should be,
Donniel: Oh, I’m with you. I know, I know, I know, I know. But I’m just saying there, there’s something about it. Maybe this could help because see, I feel we’re, for, some people today are in a civil war already today. I don’t think civil war is only manifested in violence. I think your criteria of undermining the institutions of government is a, is a nice addition. It’s adding a layer.
There is another layer, which the rabbinic tradition adds, not using the word civil war, but when it tries to speak about who is the unforgivable deviant in our tradition. And they have a category called min, m i n, sometimes mistakenly translated as a heretic. They’re not.
The literal translation or the way it’s used most of the time is an enemy deviant. An enemy deviant is someone, it’s not someone who you disagree with, but it’s somebody who is actively campaigning to undermine your legitimacy and ability to be. You could hate me, you can, knock yourself out. But the minute my existence is being undermined, sometimes it could be by violence, sometimes it could be by legislation, sometimes it could be by speech and advocating a certain ideology. The fact is that there are multiple manifestations of civil war, or I would argue for them, and I think where part of where we are today is we’re in the midst of that.
But, and I think precisely when the line is violence, Yossi, I think that’s almost too easy. I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying it’s too easy. It’s not meant as a criticism of you. It’s meant as a reflection. Because as long as a person could say, I’m not violent, I don’t, I’m not, I’m not using violence.
Yossi: No, Donniel.
Donniel: I’m not, I don’t violence, cause like, in fact,
Yossi: What I’m trying to say though is that there is an emotional precondition. Violence is only the final stage of a process that is in itself a state of civil war. If you come to the point where you hate large parts of your fellow citizens, you are already in the emotional condition of a civil war.
Donniel: Isn’t it legitimate, Yossi, can I push on that a little bit? Cause I think when we make that distinction, there’s, we have to, here it has to get very specific. Do I hate Netanyahu? No. Do I hate Levine? It’s getting close. Do I hate Deri? No. Do I hate the ultra-Orthodox parties? No. Do I hate Smotritch? No. There’s differences between Smotritch and Ben Gvir. Not, even if I find some of their policies abhorent, but there are people who are, I believe, are advocating for immoral ultranationalist racist. A racist, I believe I’m commanded to hate, Yossi.
Yossi: Yes, but I don’t believe,
Donniel: But making those distinctions are critical.
Yossi: No, I don’t believe that you’re, I don’t believe we are commanded to hate anyone. We are commanded to hate evil, the deed itself, not the evil doers. Either of you will be able to find the relevant verse much more readily than I will. But my instinct, my spiritual instinct tells me that we are under no circumstances allowed to hate, for that matter, anyone, but we are commanded to hate the evil.
Elana: I think it’s also, you’re talking about two different things. It’s not just about when you hate a government official or you hate the government or the administration. It’s when citizens hate each other. That’s what leads to civil war. When citizens look at each other and say, how are you undermining my country? I hate you.
And that’s a very natural feeling when you have this kind of ideological conflict.
Yossi: That’s a, that’s an important distinction, and which is why, where I’m at personally today is I am in a struggle, maybe in a kind of war with a government that I feel is threatening Israel’s most basic wellbeing, but I’m not carrying that war over into the people who voted for this government.
I understand why people voted for this government. I understand the security fears. I understand, to my mind the misguided perceptions that led many people to vote, especially for the far right, but I understand it, and they’re not my enemies.
Donniel: You see Yossi, but I, I, the distinction between citizens and leaders, all of that is fine. It can make us sleep a little better at night. But part of what we have to realize is that we are at potentially a cataclysmic moment in the future of Israeli society. Now doesn’t mean that a new government can come. And so even if all the legislations pass, is the country gonna shut down? No. It’ll be repaired. It’s, it’s not the end of days. It’s not an apocalypse.
But it is a cataclysmic moment where certain ideas are being put forward. And part of the challenge we face is, is knowing whether it’s the person or the ideology. The fact is that hatred towards some part of it might even be morally required. That when somebody gets up and says, or advocates for clear discrimination, those level of responses and to understand that there’s a profound emotional level and the Holocaust is not gonna help me, it’s not gonna help me, it’s gonna make me more cautious,
Yossi: But okay. Well, yes. It will make us more cautious. That’s exactly right.
Donniel: One second, and it’s only because Yossi, but Yossi. But it’s only because that we recognize the severity of this moment that we have to have this conversation. So one red line, like I think our ability to control hatred is very, very marginal and we have to talk about it. Because there’s real issues on the table here. Real, real issues that if you are advocating for no reason, I believe, or for a completely illegitimate reason, the removal of all checks and balances in our country, I am scared. And this is not a simple issue.
So I wanna push a little bit. We are, I believe, in a civil war of some form. Whether it’s against governments, whether it’s against ideologies, and I know there’s groups of people who look at me and look at the, listen, I personally, the Hartman Institute, we are on a number of people who sit in the government’s, their official blacklist, as we are called Hartman Institute, has been deemed the enemy of the state. We are called the enemy of the state. So I wanna respect the severity of this.
And in the midst of that, how do we not cross other lines? How do we not cross other lines? How do we stop? How do we help each other? Just to say I’m gonna love you, is not, I don’t, it’s like, it’s hard.
Yossi: No, no, not I’m going to love you, but I’m not going to hate you. That for me is the line. If you are drawing the line on violence, it’s too late because you’ve already, you’ve created the conditions for violence. I don’t hate Ben Gvir. I don’t even hate Netanyahu. I want to, but I don’t, I don’t.
Donniel: No, I don’t hate Netanyahu.
Yossi: I don’t hate any of them. I hate what they’re doing. I hate what they represent. But the red line for me, it happens before we get to violence in the streets. It’s hating my fellow citizens and for that matter, my leaders.
Elana: I think we have to talk about the role of rhetoric, about the role of speech, because hatred is an emotion, a feeling, violence is an action,
Elana: And speech is the thing that comes between them. When you look at the run up to Rabin’s assassination, there was a lot of hate speech against Rabin. There was a lot of rhetoric against Rabin. There’s this unbelievable Hayehudim Baim sketch, which is like an Israeli comedy show, you guys know what it is, but some of our listeners probably don’t, where they have Yigal Amir’s family sitting down for breakfast and they’re all saying the most disgusting things about Rabin and other people. And then Yigal Amir says, I think I’m gonna kill him. And they all say, no, no, no, no, no, you can’t do that.
But essentially what they’re trying to show you is that the hate speech that was so pervasive in their circles, it’s like they thought, no, it would never get that far. So I think we need to talk about rhetoric as a red line and how you use speech.
Donniel: I, I, again, I resonate with that cause I think telling people not to hate, I appreciate that and I respect it, but I think part of the reality of the disagreements that are on the table now, the ability to control emotions is, is, is, is not, is much more difficult. And we have to think of other lines. I think that violence is a line, rhetoric is a line.
There’s another thing that for me, I had a, an emotional epiphany a couple of days ago, when I heard Netanyahu speaking, and he simply said as follows. He said, we’re gonna pass this legislation, and you could have 80,000, 100,000, half a million people showing up for any demonstration you want. I have 2 million people who voted for me. hey gave me this mandate and I’m gonna do whatever I wanna do.
And I sat and I had the anger and the hatred of the experience of impotency cause he has the power. He has a government. 64. Unbelievably united, completely behind this. A coalition of people who are all for passing laws and policies and allocations and which for me are abominable. And I’m sitting there and then I had this moment. And it freed me, and I wanna share it with you and with our audiences and see how you think about it.
I realized Netanya I was right. He was voted in a clear, free, democratic election. He was voted and the job of a government and a coalition is to use their power given to them by the citizens to further the policies that they believe are for the good of the country, and they do. Part of what I have to realize is I was getting so angry because I was trying to change Netanyahu. I was trying to de-legitimize him. I was trying to create a social movement that could coerce him otherwise.
That’s futile. We have an, a legitimately elected government. You follow your policy. Do you know what my job is? If I disagree with you, my job is to protest and to try to change Israeli society so that in four years time when there’s gonna be another election, it will be, what, now, the minute I became empowered again, this, and by the way, I feel this very often with, with North American Jews, like there’s such a asymmetry of power.
You’re gonna send your leadership mission and we’re gonna tell Netanyahu, or we’re gonna send our mission and we’re not gonna speak with this. It’s like, okay, if it, I, again, you don’t wanna speak, don’t speak, but the asymmetry of power and here, yes, we’re the ones, we’re the donor. We’re coming and we’re, because we’re used to, we come to Israel and we always meet with Prime Minister and he’s gonna meet with us, or we’re gonna tell him.
The reality is it’s a huff and puff. Netanyahu right now has complete and total power, which was afforded to him democratically and legitimately. It was. Now is it exactly what he advocated for? Listen, politicians always, after they’re elected, act in ways that unpack the policies that they didn’t speak that clearly about. Is Netanyahu so completely violating his electoral electorate mandate? No, no more than Gantz when he joined Netanyahu and no more than Bennett did when he decided to leave the right-wing bloc. You vote for a person.
But leaving that aside, do you know how I avoid my hatred, Yossi? It’s not the Holocaust or commanding me. It’s by giving me an avenue of action productively. There are policies now that are my enemy. Policies that I feel are destructive. Okay, Donniel. Now how do you win at the ballot? You now have four years. What do you do? Is it demonstrations? Is it education? What’s your theory of change?
The minute you have a way to channel. The minute it stops being that the only way I could win is by harming you, delegitimizing you. It’s when I become a min, when I become the person who says, or I wanna remove the institutions, I become the person who, you become illegal.
No, I have a different policy than, then I’m able to channel my energy. And right now I want to tell you I’m, I’m, I’m concerned, I’m frightened, but now instead of hatred, I have work to do. How do I solidify my base? How do I convert 10% of those who supported the right wing, who might be liberal, but supported it for whatever reasons?
How do I get 5% of Israeli Arab society over those who support Monsour Abbas to join? How do I create a new national coalition which also makes room for Haredim? Like, how do I do that, now I have a mission, it’s finding that, it’s the zero-sum game of this disempowered, more the fire, the power where the hatred will emerge. Yossi, Elana?
Yossi: I think we each work in different ways, Donniel, you know, for me, uh, I also had a kind of epiphany, uh, in recent days, that took me in a very different place. It was a, uh, it was a spiritual epiphany and it was this realization that uh, in the end, what will determine things here is not what I do. I have to try to do whatever I can, but this is all much bigger than me. And, uh, we can take this, uh, to the God place, which is where I do take it. But, uh, that may not be the context for this conversation.
Donniel: Why not?
Elana: Yeah, why not?
Yossi: But, uh, but, uh, you know, for me, it, God is in this story. God is, is in the Jewish story.
Now, that doesn’t give us any guarantees. That’s where I deeply disagree with the religious right. They think that, oh, God’s in the story that gives us, that gives me card blanche. It’s actually the opposite. God is in the story. You better watch out because everything we do, everything we say has consequences.
And so, this is one of those moments where I feel as a person of faith, it’s put up or shut up, and that means that it doesn’t mean that that, that it’s going to turn out well or turn out the way I want, but it means that God’s will is going to be done ultimately, however that plays out.
Donniel: And that’s why angst. So then your level of angst is, uh
Yossi: My level of angst is reduced. It doesn’t, it doesn’t go away. It’s not only on me, it doesn’t go away. Because I know what, you know, what God can do to us, what we can do to ourselves, or what God will let us do to ourselves. And then there’s the karma, there’s the consequences.
But yes, as soon as I remember that I’m not alone in this, then some of the burden is eased. And especially, the temptation to take this to places of hatred.
Donniel: You know, the saying, you know, in the Psalms, “Gam ki elech b’getz halmavet… atah imadi.” “Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, God, you are with me.”
And throughout history, one of God’s primary roles wasn’t to shape history. God helps those who help themselves, but God gave the sense that as your work, you’re not alone. And that comfort, that strength, and maybe part of what you’re saying is, see, I don’t have your God. You know, we’ll, we, I don’t know if, For Heaven’s Sake, it would be interesting if in a podcast of For Heaven’s sake we could ever talk about heaven.
That would, that would be a revolutionary idea. That’s like an idea, but,
Elana: I’m here for that.
Yossi: Maybe we should. Imagine that.
Donniel: Imagine, imagine that. Like, I don’t, I don’t, I’ve walked through the valley of shadow of death literally many times in my life and, um, that comfort was never part of my religious world. I, I don’t believe that at the end, God is gonna decide. I believe that God created us in God’s image and said, okay, now you decide. But it is,
Yossi: Now here’s, this is what we should be arguing about. Daniel. This is what really matters.
Donniel: Maybe at another time, but not, let’s not, let’s not get here. Like I, I, I just don’t ha but I could understand, but I wanna even conceptualize it if I can, Yossi, that the minute the level of fear is reduced to some degree,
Donniel: the response of hatred is not as
Yossi: That’s a great way to put it. And it almost doesn’t matter what is causing the level of fear to be reduced.
Donniel: But it does mean, and this goes back to Elana and I want to turn, that rhetoric could also not just galvanize and not just point to an evil that we have to combat. Rhetoric could also elevate the fear component and that, by the way, is happening. And when that happens, there’s no way to control the emotions.
Elana, do you have any, uh, any
Elana: Some Torah? I got some Torah. I got some Torah.
Donniel: Do you have a Torah to add for us?
Elana: So I was actually, I was talking to my son Navon, who is eight, who was so excited that he saw me preparing for a podcast a few weeks ago and he said, ma, what are you thinking about? I said, I’m thinking about what happens, like what’s a model in Torah for, you know, family against family, a confrontation.
So he says, mommy, mommy, mommy, Yosef and Yehuda! And I said, you’re getting on the podcast, kid. One of these days, you’re getting on the podcast.
Donniel: Before this goes forward, let’s just, you know, I have a rule, this is like a general rule. When people ask me to, wanna show me pictures of their children or grandchildren, the fundamental rule is, it’s called the equal time principle for, so, if you wanna show a picture, you have to be willing to see a picture.
So let’s just hear. Elana got to do my son is a genius for her thing, and I’m there, he was fantastic.
Elana: It’s not a genius. It’s not a genius. Although he is a very, he is a genius. But that’s not my point. My point is that he’s a ben Torah, he loves Torah.
Donniel: Next time my grandchildren are, I’m gonna come up with some story, by the way, I don’t know if it’s gonna be true or not, but my gra I, I like Yossi and, and by the way, Yossi, you know, is, inshallah, God willing, in two months it’s gonna become a grandfather, and god willing, everything should, bli ayin harah,
Yossi: For the first time, for the first time.
Donniel: Bli ayin harah, we don’t talk, poo, everybody collectively poo poo poo. And so soon, Yossi, you’ll be able to show us how his, the first word that he spoke about was in defense of Zionism or something. They’ll be something that we’ll be able to do. But right now, Elana.
Yossi: I have photographs. I already have photographs from the ultrasound. I’ll, uh, I’ll show you when, uh, when, all you have to do is ask.
Elana: The kid is holding an Israeli flag, the kid is holding an Israeli flag in the womb.
Donniel: Okay, but, but Elana, I couldn’t stop, but now I’m sorry. Go.
Elana: So my dear Navon Stein Hain, who loves Torah, was so excited, and I said, you know, I actually wanna see, it’s a few weeks ago in the Torah portion, of Vayigash. You have this moment where Yehuda is standing before Yosef. Judah is standing before Joseph. And what that confrontation really is. The rabbinic homilies about that confrontation are really profound, actually, and I, and I wanna read one. Okay.
It’s from Midrash Tanchuma, which is a later rabbinic homily, and it goes like this: Then Judah drew near to him. He came near to him and said, hostily, oh my Lord, this is Judah talking to Joseph, do not transgress the laws of justice because of us. Let thy servant, I pray thee speak a word in my Lord’s ear. It would’ve been more fitting, says the Midrash, if Judah had said, “in the presence of my Lord,” rather than speaking to him more directly, “oh my Lord.” Hence those words teach us that he spoke both harshly and gently. And let’s see what the harshly and the gently turned into.
Joseph retorted to Judah, why are you the one speaking on behalf of all your brothers? I have discovered through my divining cup that you have older brothers, and here you are the garrulous creature who’s talking to me. And Judah replied, what you see is correct, but I’m compelled to speak because I pledged myself as a surety for my brother.
So just point 1. Joseph says to Judah, what, why are you the one making a ruckus? You have no rights here. There are other people who maybe could speak, but not you. I find that happens all the time in confrontations. The Midrash continues: then why were you not as surety for your brother when you sold him? Judah had tried to argue, he had a reason to be the one speaking, he’s a surety for Benjamin, he was trying to argue with Joseph, I wanna say Benjamin, but Joseph retorts back. Then why were you not a surety for your brother when you sold him to the Midianites for 20 pieces of silver? And why did you distress your father by telling him that Joseph is torn to pieces?
Joseph didn’t do anything wrong. This one, Benjamin, who I’m about to keep has stolen a goblet. Go tell your father, the rope has followed after the bucket. To me this is point.2. Joseph says to Judah, you have no right to be arguing against me because look at what you’ve done in the past. You’re no saint. You’re telling me that I’m doing something wrong. You’re no saint.
And then point 3, Judah said forthwith to one of the other brothers. Go count the number of central markets in Egypt. The brothers hurried away, and when he returned, he says, there are 12 markets in Egypt. So Judah said to his brothers, perfect, I’ll destroy three of them, and each of you destroy another. Don’t let anyone survive.
The brothers retorted. Judah, if you destroy Egypt, you’ll be destroying the whole world. I know that in the past we destroyed Shchem to save our sister, but here we can’t destroy this entire. and as soon as Joseph heard that the brothers had destroyed Shchem to save their sister, he couldn’t help himself and he had to tell them who he was.
At the end of this scene, this whole argument back and forth of Joseph, says to Judah, why are you the one speaking, after all, you’ve done bad things too. You have no rights here to tell me that I’m doing bad. And Judah saying, well, you know what? I’m gonna destroy your whole Egypt now because of what you’re doing. I’m gonna go on a tear.
What ends this conflict is that Joseph hears that the brothers who didn’t care about him and did him bad in the past, that since he last knew them, they had gone to bat for their sister. They had actually been willing to sacrifice something, to put themselves in danger on behalf of their family.
And Joseph says, wait a second. We can’t have this argument. We’re family. We need to be family. And he identifies himself as who he is. And to me, that’s actually what prevents Civil War where people actually look at each other and say, we’re still family, and we’re willing to sacrifice for each other. Yes, it’s true. You’re doing this wrong. I might have done that wrong. We can talk about where judicial reform came from. Maybe it’s also coming from overreach by the Supreme Court. And now this is a terrible thesis-antithesis moment going back and forth.
But the point is, if people are still willing to sacrifice for each other, they still feel that sense of responsibility for each other, that’s what prevents civil war. And I thought that was very touching that Joseph saw that and felt that in the way the rabbis tell the story. It’s not saying there aren’t ideological differences. It’s not saying there isn’t hatred. It’s not saying there isn’t a desire to tear everything down, and it’s not saying that people have always been saints on both sides. It’s saying we still are willing to sacrifice for each other, and that’s what I hope continues to be part of the ethos here, and it doesn’t get lost.
Donniel: Thank you Elana. Yossi, last thoughts?
Yossi: I uh, very much appreciate what you’ve said, Elana, and, you know, there’s an interesting paradox here in the Hebrew phrase for civil war. Uh, civil war is a war between citizens. The Hebrew phrase is milchemet achim, a war between brothers. And the paradox is that in order to reach the condition of a war between brothers, you have to stop feeling like family.
As long as we keep using that phrase, milchemet achim, that in itself can be a deterrence to actually getting there.
Donniel: Thank you both. We’re gonna be testing this. One of the things that I think this is not a counter, but very often, hatred amongst brothers and sisters is the most severe. So I don’t know if family is gonna help us or if our problem is, we’re too much family right now. But let’s, but let’s just leave that for a side.
My friends, For Heaven’s Sake is the product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman with support from Michal Taylor. Our audio engineer for the episode was Yoav Friedman, who was edited by Gareth Hobbs and Corey Choy at Silver Sound NYC. And our music was provided by Socalled. Our managing producer is M. Louis Gordon.
Major funding for For Heaven’s Sake is provided by the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation of Los Angeles because of our shared commitment to strengthening the connection between Jews in North America and in Israel.
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See you in two weeks. Thank you for listening, Yossi and Elana, it was a pleasure being with you.