Rosh Hashanah 19
The State of Israel is the most humanitarian nation in the world. Which other country drops letters alerting the local population to an impending attack so that innocent civilians can clear the area in time? We place our soldiers in the most precarious situations to avoid endangering civilians who are often purposefully standing right in front of terrorists to shield them!
Some people say that Israel goes too far to placate world opinion. They suggest that we should just do what we need to do and G-d will take care of us. Judea and Samaria came under Israeli rule following the 1967 self-defensive war. Instead of worrying what everyone else will think, perhaps it’s time to annex it already and let everything fall into place. Prior to 2005, we were worried about the demographic problem, but under current conditions, that’s no longer a concern.
Is it time for Israel to do what it needs to do and stop worrying about what the world will think?
In the second century, the Romans decreed that the Jews could not learn Torah, perform circumcisions, or keep Shabbos. Rabbi Judah ben Shamua went to seek advice from a noblewoman who was frequented by the great men of Rome.
“Go and protest tonight!” she said to them, and so they did.
This is what they said: “For Heaven’s sake, are we not your brothers? Do we not share the same father and mother? Why are we different to any other nation and people such that you have made harsh decrees against us?”
The Romans annulled the decrees and the Jewish people established that day, the 28th Adar, as a festival, the day that “good tidings reached the Jews that they would no longer be separated from the Torah.”
Sadly, it took a couple of generations of persecution before we figured out how to work the political system in Rome. Only a few years earlier, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was hiding in a cave to learn Torah and Rabbi Akiva was being martyred for teaching. During that period, we humbly accepted the Divine decree and did what we needed to.
And then, one day, Rabbi Judah ben Shamua woke up and wondered, ‘What if I were to go out and seek advice on how the Roman political system works?’ Off he goes to a wise lady of Rome who explains their system of democracy and that one can transform the system through citizen engagement.
‘Go and demonstrate for your rights,’ she says, ‘Present your case as a question of religious discrimination and equal rights for all citizens.’ Sure enough, Rabbi Judah and friends follow her advice and the laws are changed.
Who knows? Had we figured out the system sooner, countless lives might have been saved! The Romans might even have had mercy upon the Holy Temple and chosen not to burn it to the ground.
But we’re a stiff-necked people. We think that we should do whatever we think is best and G-d will take care of us. And yet, the Talmud teaches us that G-d helps those who help themselves. He placed us in this world and each time and place has a political system that dictates how the world operates.
We don’t have all the answers. In Rabbi Judah’s case, he recognized that he needed to ask the Roman noblewoman how the system works. And when he took her advice, voila, the decree was annulled!
Israel is not an island in the middle of nowhere. We must be cognizant of world opinion and do whatever we can to succeed as a nation-state in the global society of nation-states. Of course the world has higher expectations of us and nobody else is held up to the same standard as Israel is. But that’s because we’re the Jewish people and we should strive to be a ‘light unto the nations’ – a model for all peoples as to how to be the most moral human beings on the planet.
Thank G-d, the world for the most part recognizes that Israel has bent over backwards for the peace and security of all peoples. Let’s continue to do whatever we can to make the world think the world of us!