By DONNIEL HARTMAN
One of the interesting features of human nature is our deep yearning for clarity, certainty, and some form of resolution. This yearning is often in inverse proportion to an individual’s personal strength. The stronger an individual, the more they are able to live in uncertainty; the frailer erect myths of certainty on which to build the foundation for their present and the future.
One of the interesting aspects of the biblical retelling of the story of our people is that it is devoid of this certainty and resolution. The Bible tells of a number of great moments that purported to be turning points, moments of resolution and clarity representing either the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end. These moments, the most prominent of which are the Exodus from Egypt, the receiving of the Torah at Sinai, and the entering of the Promised Land, promised to project us on a new and clear path, with a bright future.
, however, lived up to its promise and led to this type of transformation. The Exodus from Egypt was followed by the story of the desert and the tumultuous relationship with God which ensued and that accompanied us throughout the biblical narrative. The revelatory moment at Sinai was accompanied by the sin of the Golden Calf and our subsequent ongoing rejection of God and God’s Torah. And our great climactic moment of national entry into the land and the victory at Jericho was followed by sin and the defeat in the city of Ai
, and the instituting of a cycle of sin and defeat that accompanied us throughout the process of inhabiting of the Promised Land. In the Bible we are taught that in this world there is no end of the beginning or beginning of the end. Such a moment is never achieved in the present, and is reserved as a promise/fantasy to be aspired after in the eschatological moment of messianic redemption.
As Israelis who yearn for peace and independence for ourselves and our neighbors, we would love nothing more than to have this war in Gaza be the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end. We would love for it to provide us with a clear resolution that would lead to the quiet, peace and ultimate reconciliation that we yearn for.
As we have learned from the Bible, however, and from all of Jewish and human history, such moments only occur tomorrow – never today. The meaning of the rebirth of our nation in Israel is not simply to express our national independence and political power, but to embrace real life and our decision and commitment to live in the here and now. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of living in the messianic fantasy of tomorrow.
There are two visions that enticingly seek to answer "now what" and to portray the "what’s next?" scenario. Both are tempting in that they purport to offer us a way out of the uncertainty that plagues us. Nevertheless, they are both, I believe, false – and their chief proponents – nothing more than false messiahs.
The first argues that somehow, as a result of this war, there will be a transformation of the Palestinian people’s psyche. That war can, in effect, "reboot" the beliefs of Palestinians in general and those in Gaza in particular. That after the resounding defeat they experienced, they will rediscover their desire to re-embrace life and coexist with us Israelis in the small space we inhabit between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. This messianic vision would have us believe that the outcome of this war can be a strengthening of peace. Our 60 years of war and military confrontation and even domination over our Arab and Muslim neighbors should have taught us already the futility of this dream. Peace was never attained through military means alone, but only when it was rejected as "a continuation of politics by other means" ( Carl von Clausewitz
), by both sides.
The other vision argues that the "now what" must be a national decision to "really win," with this being achievable by fighting just a little longer – a day, a week, a month. Fighting longer will not merely provide quantitative gains, but transformational, qualitative ones as well. If we do so, they promise, we will defeat Hamas once and for all and rid our neighborhood of the cancer that is making war and human suffering on both sides our destiny. This approach believes that final victory is always but one more military operation away, an operation that we must have the courage to embark upon perpetually.
In many ways, both fantasies suffer from the hubris of power and the weakness of spirit that requires certainty and resolution in order to function and survive. Both yearn to help us deal with the present by selling a false vision of tomorrow.
We fought because we had to. We fought because we could not allow the suffering of our citizens to continue. We fought because, as a people, we must exhibit the deepest sense of care and loyalty to each other. We fought because we are morally required to attempt to limit the extent and severity of the damage that our enemy can inflict upon us. Dayenu. That is enough.
We won. We won in the sense that we did everything that ought to be done to attempt to communicate to our enemy that the blood of Jews is not cheap and that we will stand steadfast by our people. We won because we did everything in our power to put in place a process that we hope will limit our enemies’ abilities to rearm themselves and cause us further damage. We won a real victory in the world of today. Let no one lie to you. It was not a messianic victory. It did not have to be. Dayenu. It is enough.
We did not, nor can we in the foreseeable future, fight and achieve the certainty that this will be our last war. Such a victory will never be achieved on the battlefield. It will be achieved when Palestinians redefine their national agenda, as we Israelis have, and accept peace and coexistence with the other as a religious, moral, and national aspiration. It will be achieved when they rewrite the curricula they teach their children and the sermons they give in their mosques. It will be achieved when the Palestinians take the lead – not when we engage in war, regardless of the outcome.
One of the problematic features of Israeli society is the deep-seated need for messiahs and for their messianic promises. It causes us Israelis to yearn constantly and search for the next leader who will sell us tomorrow’s myth of certainty. We are constantly disappointed with the present, for it can never provide us with the redemption that we seek. As a result, after every election, the majority of Israelis immediately want a new one, as no leader can live up to the promise and expectation. After every war, we either want it to continue a "little longer" until some mythic outcome is realized or we fall into depression.
Let’s not ruin the victory we have achieved, either through false projections with regard to what was achieved or through an over-addiction to the use of power. We live in a dangerous neighborhood where uncertainty is our destiny. As Jews we have learned to live with "dayenu" – it is enough – as a permanent feature of our history and to accept process and stages. It would be a profound contradiction if the rebirth of Israel, which signifies our re-grounding in reality, would be the source of obsessive fantasy. We fought; we won. We might have to fight again and again, maybe not. We don’t choose war. We don’t celebrate violence. We use it in order to survive today in the uncertain reality of our contemporary lives. Now what? We continue to live in our unredeemed world. Dayenu. It is enough.