/ articles for review

War on Hamas a time to stay close to one another and to our family in Israel

The big picture is that the Jewish people have the right to defend ourselves. We have the right to live without rockets landing on our heads


We have come to the end of the book of Genesis. One of the big questions of the book is: Will the family make it? Now the question is answered. The family will make it. It will be saved. Joseph manages to rescue the family from near destruction. The family will not only survive, but there will be some healing from its wounds.
It is fascinating to closely examine Joseph’s strategies. At the center of his approach is an inclination to re-contextualize, to reframe, to look at what has happened with a wider lens. Joseph teaches us that one key to survival and healing is exactly this willingness to look at what you are going through in the largest way possible.
You might say the strategy is, think big, don’t think small. Joseph’s brothers are thinking about the day they threw him in the pit and their overwhelming guilt and shame, and Joseph tells them, "Don’t be afraid. Am I a substitute for God? Besides, although you intended me harm, God intended it for the good, so as to bring about the present result – the survival of many people. We have Joseph to thank for this crucial bit of spiritual psychology. When times are tough, try to imagine the bigger picture.
I can tell you that times are tough for our people in Israel. Fully 800,000 Israelis are now within range of Hamas rockets. Three quarters of a million people are living in or close to shelters. Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva was closed for a time, and the students were sent home briefly. Imagine if the University of Arizona or U.C. San Diego were closed because of rocket fire from Mexico?
The threat of suicide bombing has returned to our lives. Two days before we invaded, the guard at the Hartman Institute told me that we were now on high alert, which means you don’t go to restaurants, you don’t ride buses if you can avoid it, and you definitely try to stay away from any place where 10 or more people are gathered together.
And now the international community, the United Nations, Europe, and even the United States are all leaning on Israel to stop. The pressure is mounting. Israel is accused of all kinds of cruelties and acts of inhumanity and even war crimes.
At just such a moment it is crucial to follow Joseph’s example. We must look at the big picture. The big picture is that the Jewish people have the right to defend ourselves. We have the right to live without rockets landing on our heads. When we pulled out of Gaza a couple of years ago we hoped the Palestinian leadership might recognize this as a decent act, as an attempt to push the peace process forward, as a way of saying, "We don’t want to rule over you."
We hoped they would do two simple things: recognize our right to exist and concentrate on building their own lives. Unfortunately, they have done neither.
The big picture is that the Jewish people learned from the Zionist movement that we must not leave our fate up to God. We learned that we must take history into our own hands. The Holocaust sharpened that lesson for us. We learned what happens when you have no power.
The big picture is we have learned over and over what Hillel taught us, "Im ain ani li mi li?" If I am not for myself, who will be for me? The French won’t stop Hamas rockets. The Germans won’t stop Hamas suicide bombers. Somebody has to.
As pressure mounts on the Jewish people I ask you to be strong and not defensive. Tell your friends and neighbors and relatives that there is no choice. This is no time for us to act like Joseph’s brothers acted. Full of insecurities, they raise with Joseph again their guilt. Though we are sickened by war, though we are nauseated when civilians are killed, we must not be insecure. We don’t target civilians. That’s what terrorists do. These Hamas terrorists not only intentionally target our civilians, they intentionally endanger their own civilians by the way they fight. This is a time for strength.
Eight years ago, when the second intifida broke out, I spoke one Shabbat evening as I am speaking tonight. A young man who was considering converting to Judaism walked out. He said, "I didn’t come here to hear about war. I want a religion that is about love and peace." He never did convert.
What he didn’t have time to learn was that our Torah is not about some ideal that has no connection to real life. Our Torah is about how you manage to survive in a brutal world. Our Torah is about how you heal from life’s wounds and keep you and your family going. It is about how you bring a bit of godliness into a cold universe.
This week’s Torah portion teaches us to think big. I don’t know what God thinks about Gaza. I do know that the world should be grateful that a little tiny country, composed of a very small people, is willing to do its share to put a stop to terror, a stop to those who worship death, a stop to those whose ideology is so thick they can’t see that we, too, are human beings.
The big picture is, this is a time to stay close to one another and to our family in Israel, and to be proud of who we are and what we are willing to give.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

Join our email list for more Hartman ideas

Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics