Yesterday was Shabbat Zahor – the Shabbat before Purim, which comes this week. Zahor means remember. After the regular Torah reading there is an additional reading – Deuteronomy (D’vorim) 25:17-19 – that all are obligated to listen to:
“Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt — 18 how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. 19 Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”
“Amalek” was a people (the Amalekites), seen as singularly evil because of the way they behaved.
Much discussion by Jewish thinkers is devoted to the paradox of how we wipe out Amalek’s memory and also do not forget.
Sam Shore, one of the rabbis in my shul, addressed this with a powerful relevancy yesterday, which I want to share:
More than Amalek was a people, it was an ideology of evil. At one and the same time, we must work to defeat – wipe out – that ideology wherever we find it and we must remember what Amalek did so that we stay alert to what evil is possible in this world.
What is more, we Jews, having been commanded to remember, are charged with alerting others in the world about evil when we see it.
Netanyahu’s speech, he told me after his talk, is holy work.
This is a very powerful reading of our current situation. The world does not want to remember. People prefer to gloss over evil and pretend it is something else. They would rather believe that evil is too “judgmental” a term, and that it is more appropriate to think in terms of “understanding” the position of the other, and generating opportunities for inclusion and dialogue. You know the routine. This is Obama’s route to dealing with Iran.
Of course, then, Bibi’s plan to speak is like a thorn in the sides of those who would deny evil – a provocation, as they see it. And of course the response to him would be heated.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the UK, wrote a compelling article about this very issue – “The Face of Evil” – about a month ago, which I share here (emphasis added):
Rabbi Sacks alludes to the question asked after 9/11 – “Why do they hate us?” – and to books written by American thinker Lee Harris, who provided thought-provoking answers:
“…we in the West had forgotten the concept of an enemy. Liberal democratic politics and market economics create a certain kind of society, a specific way of thinking and a characteristic type of personality. At their heart is the concept of the rational actor, the person who judges acts by their consequences and chooses the maximal option. He or she believes that for every problem there is a solution, for every conflict a resolution. The way to achieve it is to sit down, negotiate, and do on balance what is best for all.
“In such a world there are no enemies, merely conflicts of interest. An enemy, says Harris, is simply ‘a friend we haven’t done enough for yet.’ In the real world, however, not everyone is a liberal democrat. An enemy is ‘someone who is willing to die in order to kill you. And while it is true that the enemy always hates us for a reason, it is his reason, not ours.’ He sees a different world from ours, and in that world we are the enemy. Why do they hate us? Answers Harris: ‘They hate us because we are their enemy.’
“…We can become mind-blind, thinking that the way we – our society, our culture, our civilization – see things is the only way, or at least that it is the way everyone would choose if given the chance. Only a complete failure to understand the history of ideas can explain this error, and it is a dangerous one…Not everyone sees the world the way we do, and, as Richard Weaver once said: ‘The trouble with humanity is that it forgets to read the minutes of the last meeting.’”
Circling back to a discussion of the Amalekites, Rabbi Sacks cites Exodus (Shemot) 17:14-16 (emphasis added):
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.’ Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, ‘The hand is on the Lord’s throne. The Lord will be at war with Amalek for all generations.’”
Rabbi Sacks then compares the Egyptians – who did the Israelites, our ancestors, enormous harm over time – and the Amalekites, who attacked us just once, and asks why the Lord is not at war with Egypt for all time. The answer: the Egyptians were rational actors, trying to eliminate us because they feared they would be overpowered by the Israelites. While the Amalekites attacked us when we were “weary and worn out,” because we were weak. “Causeless, baseless hate lasts forever.”
Writes Rabbi Sacks, “There comes a point at which rational actors understand that the pursuit of self-interest has become self-destructive, and they learn to co-operate.
“It is not so, however, with non-rational actors. Emil Fackenheim, one of the great post-Holocaust theologians, noted that towards the end of the Second World War the Germans diverted trains carrying supplies to their own army, in order to transport Jews to the extermination camps. So driven were they by hate that they were prepared to put their own victory at risk in order to carry out the systematic murder of the Jews of Europe. This was, he said, evil for evil’s sake.
“The Amalekites function in Jewish memory as “the enemy” in Lee Harris’s sense.”
Rabbi Sacks explains that the Amalekites as a people can no longer be identified. We are not bidden to try to destroy them physically.
However, “Amalek has become a symbol rather than a reality.
“…Judaism marks a clear distinction between an ancient enemy who no longer exists, and the evil that enemy embodied, which can break out again at any time in any place. It is easy at times of peace to forget the evil that lies just beneath the surface of the human heart. Never was this truer than in the past three centuries. The birth of Enlightenment, toleration, emancipation, liberalism and human rights persuaded many, Jews among them, that collective evil was as extinct as the Amalekites. Evil was then, not now. That age eventually begat… some of the [most] brutal tyrannies ever known, and the worst crime of man against man.
“Today, the great danger is terror…
“…Evil never dies, and like liberty it demands constant vigilance. We are commanded to remember, not for the sake of the past but for the sake of the future, and not for revenge but the opposite: a world free of revenge and other forms of violence.
“Lee Harris began Civilization and its Enemies with the words, ‘The subject of this book is forgetfulness,’ and ends with a question: ‘Can the West overcome the forgetfulness that is the nemesis of every successful civilization?’ That is why we are commanded to remember and never forget Amalek, not because the historic people still exists, but because a society of rational actors can sometimes believe that the world is full of rational actors with whom one can negotiate peace. It is not always so.
“Rarely was a biblical message so relevant to the future of the West and of freedom itself. Peace is possible, implies Moses, even with an Egypt that enslaved and tried to destroy us. But peace is not possible with those who attack people they see as weak…Freedom depends on our ability to remember and whenever necessary confront ‘the eternal gang of ruthless men,’ the face of Amalek throughout history.”
My friends, it has been in my mind to write about so many different subjects – what is happening with Egypt and Gaza, what Abbas is doing these days, etc. But as I see it, all of this is trumped by what I write about today.
There is a horrendous disinclination in the Western culture to confront the reality of evil and the absolute implacability of our enemies – be they the mullahs in Iran or those heading ISIS and al-Qaeda. This disinclination can lead to the demise of the West.
What Binyamin Netanyahu is doing, then, has enormous import. Let there be no misunderstanding about this: Speaking to the Congress is the most effective way of delivering his message so that the maximum number of people hear and attend to his words. A speech in AIPAC would not substitute, nor would private meetings.
I, of course, am not privy to what Bibi is going to say.
In the most basic terms only, what I can tell you – keeping in mind that Iran has sworn to eliminate Israel – is that available information on the prospective deal indicates:
There are no controls in place on Iran’s development of delivery systems such as intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Neither is the entire issue of Iran’s hegemonic behavior and sponsoring of terrorism addressed. (Remember that Iran is in process of placing Iranian proxy terrorist groups on several fronts to surround Israel and is the single biggest fomenter and funder of radical terrorism in the world.)
Iran would be permitted to retain thousands of centrifuges, which would be available for uranium enrichment to 90%+ – for weaponry purposes – when the time was right. The Iranians are patient, and know how to “play the game” until the time is right. Originally, the West was committed to structuring a deal that would deprive Iran of this potential capacity, and that is now very far from what is emerging.
What is more, the IAEC has already reported that responses from Iran on its current situation are fuzzy and suggest the impossibility of tracking whether Iran is adhering to required stipulations. And this, in spite of the fact that an agreement is predicated upon IAEC monitoring. The Iranians have a consistent record of cheating on prior agreements. Extending them any sort of trust here is akin to suicidal insanity.
And then this latest bomb-shell: a “sunset clause” or “phased deal” seems to be developing in the US-Iranian talks. According to this, over a period of perhaps ten years, if Iran has demonstrated “good behavior,” constraints on its uranium enrichment would be lifted. By the end of this period – which is being referred to as “an on-ramp to developing a nuclear weapon” – the time period for completing that weapon would be very short indeed.
On Friday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and ranking member Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), as well as Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) advanced a bill that would provide Congress with the opportunity to approve or disapprove any comprehensive deal Obama would strike with Iran. Obama has already said he would veto any such legislation.
Corker, in response, has now slammed the president’s position, and we have not heard the end of this.
On Friday, Caroline Glick wrote a column addressing these issues and Netanyahu’s determination to confront them (emphasis added):
“It is hard to get your arms around the stubborn determination of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today. For most of the nine years he has served as Israel’s leader, first from 1996 to 1999 and now since 2009, Netanyahu shied away from confrontations or buckled under pressure…
“For his part, for the past six years Obama has undermined Israel’s national security. He has publicly humiliated Netanyahu repeatedly…
“He has delegitimized Israel’s very existence…
“But Netanyahu said nothing publicly in criticism of Obama’s destructive, dangerous policy.
”He held his tongue in the hopes of winning Obama over through quiet diplomacy.
”He held his tongue, because he believed that the damage Obama was causing Israel was not irreversible in most cases. And it was better to maintain the guise of good relations, in the hopes of actually achieving them, than to expose the fractures in US-Israel ties caused by Obama’s enormous hostility toward Israel and by his strategic myopia that endangered both Israel and the US’s other regional allies.
”And yet, today Netanyahu, the serial accommodator, is putting everything on the line. He will not accommodate. He will not be bullied. He will not be threatened, even as all the powers that have grown used to bringing him to his knees – the Obama administration, the American Jewish Left, the Israeli media, and the Labor party -grow ever more shrill and threatening in their attacks against him.
“As he has made clear in daily statements, Netanyahu is convinced that we have reached a juncture in our relations with the Obama administration where accommodation is no longer possible.
”Obama’s one policy that Netanyahu has never acquiesced to either publicly or privately is his policy of accommodating Iran.
”Since Obama’s earliest days in office, Netanyahu has warned openly and behind closed doors that Obama’s plan to forge a nuclear deal with Iran is dangerous. And as the years have passed, and the lengths Obama is willing to go to appease Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been left their marks on the region, Netanyahu’s warnings have grown stronger and more urgent.
”Netanyahu has been clear since his first tenure in office in the 1990s, that Iran’s nuclear program – as well as its ballistic missile program – constitutes a threat to Israel’s very existence. He has never wavered from his position that Israel cannot accept an Iran armed with nuclear weapons…
“But now we are seeing that far from being an opportunist, Netanyahu is a leader of historical dimensions…
“Whereas Israel can survive Obama on the Palestinian front by stalling, waiting him out and placating him where possible, and can even survive his support for Hamas by making common cause with the Egyptian military and the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, the damage Obama’s intended deal with Iran will cause Israel will be irreversible.
”For his efforts to prevent irreparable harm to Israel Netanyahu is being subjected to the most brutal and vicious attacks any Israeli leader has ever been subjected to by an American administration and its political allies. They are being assisted in their efforts by a shameless Israeli opposition that is willing to endanger the future of the country in order to seize political power.
”Every day brings another serving of abuse…
”Netanyahu is not coming to Washington next Tuesday to warn Congress against Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, because he seeks a fight with Obama. Netanyahu has devoted the last six years to avoiding a fight with Obama, often at great cost to Israel’s national security and to his own political position.
“Netanyahu is coming to Washington next week because Obama has left him no choice. And all decent people of good will should support him, and those who do not, and those who are silent, should be called out for their treachery and cowardice.”
Last night, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the Kotel.
Credit: Reuters/Marc Sellem
As I write this, he is in the air, on his way to the US. This morning, before departing, he said:
“A few days before the Fast of Esther [immediately prior and connected to Purim], I’m going to Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission. I’m going on behalf of every citizen of Israel and the entire Jewish people, including those who do not agree with me. I feel deep and sincere concern for the security of every Israeli citizen and the fate of our country and our people. I will do everything I can to ensure our future.”
What I request of each of you is that you pray for the success of this mission.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.