I was honored and privileged to be asked by Robert Avrech of Seraphic Secret to undertake the Ariel Avrech Memorial Lecture in memory of his son Ariel, who passed away at an early age.
Robert and Karen are incredible people who have managed to transmute their loss into a search for meaning. And it was a great responsibility to be part of that and to follow speakers like David Horowitz and Larry Elder who have delivered the lecture in the past. It was also a pleasure to meet up with fellow bloggers from Bookworm Room and Rob from Joshuapundit, as well as having colleague Mark Tapson and Kyle Kyllan, producer of The Enemies Within. And thank you also to those who came from as far away as Marin County and Orange County. I was happy to meet everyone and privileged to be able to participate in this event.
The following is the text of my remarks. You can see the video above. My speech begin after opening remarks by Robert, Karen and a friend of Ariel’s who shared some beautiful memories of him with us.
Year after year has passed and once again we are gathered here to remember an incredible young man. I have participated in these memorials remotely by watching them from afar. It’s an honor and also a great responsibility to stand here and to speak to you.
This day is a tribute to the impact that Ariel Avrech had on his community and that his parents continue to have on all of us.
Sooner or later we all pass on. The day will come when we all have a tombstone in some quiet place. When we are only a memory. We live on in two ways.
We continue on in the spiritual realm in the presence of G-d. And we live on here in the memory of our friends and our loved ones. And in the positive impact that we make through them.
The conversations you have with your children will echo in the conversations they have with theirs. The wisdom you learned from your parents is a faint echo of men and women whose names have been forgotten, but who were your ancestors thousands of years ago stretching back all the way to Sinai.
One day, hundreds of years from now, a descendant you will never meet, will pass on an echo of yours into a distant generation. And a part of you will live on in his words and the impact that they make.
As Jews, we know that we are a people of the book. But before much of the Oral Torah, the Torah she’Baal peh was set down, it was passed on through word of mouth.
We are a people perpetually in conversation with each other. Thank you for coming to join us in this conversation. There are many kinds of conversations. And there’s a saying.
Small minds talk about people. Great minds speak about ideas. It is a tribute to Ariel and to his parents, Robert and Karen, that their conversation is about ideas. And that Ariel’s conversations, the words that echo, are of ideas.
“Look in the Thesaurus under greatness — you get importance magnitude fame, size, immensity. Such are the values of our culture.” That was a quote that Ariel carried around with him.
We know how different his values were. And those values live on through the way that we remember him.
Ariel is no longer with us. But he is changing the world. And he is changing all of us. In his honor and memory, I want to speak about a world that he never saw. But which, through us, he is having an impact on.
Our world of today.
When Ariel passed away, the world was on the verge of the major challenges we face today.
Since then things have gotten much worse.
Anti-Semitism has hit unprecedented levels. Defending Israel is harder than ever. But why is that?
It’s 2017. Gay marriage is legal. Everything is more multicultural than ever. Everyone is tolerant of everything. Except the things they’re intolerant of.
If Anti-Semitism were just a garden variety bigotry, then things should be better.
And if Israel is being attacked because of the so-called Occupation, then its situation should be much better than it was since 1967. Look how many peace deals Israel has made and how much territory it’s given away.
Israel should be much more popular now. It should be much easier to be pro-Israel now than it was after the Six Day War.
So why doesn’t it work that way? Why instead does it seem as if the more tolerant society gets, the more intolerant of Jews it becomes? Why are Jews fleeing some of the most multicultural cities in Europe? Why is Berkeley a safe space for everyone except Jews?
Why is the anti-Israel movement much stronger after all of Israel’s efforts to make peace than it was when Israel refused to negotiate with the PLO?
Why is everything backward for the Jews?
When we try to do the things we’re supposed to do, when we work for a more tolerant society, when we try to appease our enemies, things get worse instead of better.
What we’re doing isn’t working.
The fact that it’s 2017 and I’m giving a speech about how to fight anti-Semitism and defend Israel shows it isn’t working.
The strategies we learned have failed. And we need to talk about why they failed.
And, taking a page from George from Seinfeld, I’m going to suggest that what we should be doing is the opposite of what we think we should be doing.
And for the same reason.
Instead of doing all the things that we think will make people like us, we should be true to ourselves. And then we might actually be liked. And more importantly, we’ll deserve to be liked.
I’m not going to devote this speech to going on about how terrible those who hate us are. If you’re sitting in this room, you already know that. I’m not here to talk about the enemies of the Jews. I’m here to talk about the Jews.
We’re a minority. That means we’re other directed. We’re insecure. We’re neurotic. We’re self-conscious. We care what everyone on the outside thinks of us.
And when we talk about anti-Semitism or Israel, we focus on them. Not us.
Why do they hate us? Why don’t they like us? Why is the world so unfair to us?
Those are good philosophical questions. But we can’t change the world. We can only change ourselves.
Anti-Semitism has existed since there were Jews.
The Jewish people come into being at the beginning of the Book of Exodus. Shemos.
Two verses, after they come into being, Pharaoh comes on stage and announces to the Egyptians, We have a Jewish problem. We’ve got to wipe them out.
Anti-Semitism comes into being 19 words after the Jewish people do.
If history is any guide, anti-Semitism isn’t going anywhere. In different countries and times it can get better or worse. But we are never going to wake up one morning in a world without anti-Semitism.
We have two options. The same options every minority group has. We can try to make the world like us. Or we can learn to like ourselves. The greatest anti-Semitic threat we face today is Jewish participation and collaboration in anti-Semitic movements. It’s Jewish insecurity, self-hatred and psychological trauma.
Yes, Iran wants to nuke us. But who campaigned in support of Iran’s nukes. Who provided aid to every effort to stop Israel from bombing Iran’s nuclear program?
Scratch the BDS movement and you find Jews eager to be out front
But most Jews don’t knowingly collaborate with genocidal anti-Semitism. Instead they spend so much time being afraid of what the anti-Semites might think of them that they never resist them.
They worry about how to be liked. They’re insecure. They want to be nice.
Being nice is nice. Except when you’re too nice to defend yourself. When you’re so nice that you give up everything, including your self-respect, just so your enemies will like you.
And then, to add insult to injury, they hate you even more.
Let’s talk about a coat. That’s right a coat. The story of the coat comes from the Gemara, the Talmud.
It’s one of the most basic parts of Jewish legal scholarship.
When I stood in Ariel’s room, I was awed by the number of seforim, of Jewish scholarly books, that he studied. And Ariel would surely have been familiar with the famous Mishna in Baba Metzia. It’s the story of two men and a coat.
Shnaim Ochizin be’Tallit. Two men are fighting over who owns a coat.
A coat??? What does a Talmudic coat, some moldy old garment that was being argued about, have to do with our modern problems today?
It’s part of that eternal conversation I mentioned. We become immortal through our conversations. Even an argument about a coat from thousands of years ago shapes our lives today.
What’s the argument about a coat?
One man says it’s my coat. The other says, no it’s my coat. They come to court still playing tug of war with the coat. And a Jewish court in a Solomonic decision, says they have to split it. But if one man says, the whole coat is mine. But the other man is willing to compromise. He says, we can split the coat. I’m only going to ask for half the coat.
You would think he’s being reasonable. He should be rewarded for it. But… no.
The one who claims the whole coat gets 3/4s of the coat. The man who claimed only a half gets half of what he claimed. One quarter.
We are brought up to value compromise so that seems wrong to us. Being reasonable should be rewarded. But let’s look back at the original Solomonic decision. Two women come to King Shlomo with a baby. Both claim the child. He declares that the child will be cut in half and half will be given to each woman.
The true mother turns out to be the woman who won’t compromise and cut her child in half. Because when you truly value something, you won’t compromise on it. Compromise can be good in some areas. But when there are compelling issues at stake, it shows a lack of conviction.
Two peoples walk into the court of international opinion. One says that the entire land of Israel, which is really Palestine, is mine. The other says that while the Jewish people do have a great historic attachment to the land, this was where our kings once ruled, where our temple once stood, from which we were exiled and desperately sought to return to for thousands of years, et cetera, yadda yadda, but we’ll be nice guys and take half the baby, the land and the coat.
Is it really that hard to see why we’re losing the argument? Why a terrorist organization that only came to its current position that it has the right to Yehuda and Shomron after the Six Day War, which can’t point to a single historic Palestinian state, king or dog catcher, has its demand widely accepted, while we, whose claim is recorded in the holy books of most of the world, can’t seem to convince anyone of it.
We can’t convince anyone, because we haven’t convinced ourselves.
On the wall of Ariel’s room, I saw a map of Eretz Yisrael. Many of us have maps like that. But how many of us have the conviction that goes with it.
The other side has made it abundantly clear that they won’t compromise. From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free. You can hear that chant at terrorist rallies and at University of California campuses. We announce as often as we can that we are eager to compromise. Take half the coat. Take 51% of the coat. Take our baby. See we’re the nice guys.
And then we wonder why everyone blames us for the lack of peace. Don’t they see that we’re willing to cut the baby in half?
But are we really nice guys? Why are we really compromising?
The other side believes that we’re compromising because we know we’re in the wrong. We’re that guy coming into court clinging to a coat who doesn’t dare lay claim to the entire coat, but who at least tries to get some of it. We’re more willing to make peace because we’re wrong. The other side is unwilling to make peace because it knows it’s right.
That’s not the truth. But if you want to understand why we’re losing the argument, it’s a good place to start.
A compromise is still a negotiation. To negotiate successfully, you have to do it from a position of total conviction. And we lack conviction. Why do we lack conviction? Because we are afraid that they won’t like us. Who won’t like us? Everyone. We’re a minority. We’re outsiders. And we desperately want to be liked. We have always wanted to be liked.
There are two types of nice guys. There are those who are genuinely nice. And those who are insecure. Who want you to like them because they don’t like themselves.
That is who we are as a people. We lack conviction because we don’t value ourselves. We can give religion to the world, win impossible battles, invent, create, paint and transform history.
And we still go around needing everyone to like us.
We need to be liked so badly that we’ll argue against our own interests. That we’ll cut our own baby in half just to show we’re good people. There is a good reason for that inferiority complex. Jewish history is a history of persecution. Our calendar is covered in cemeteries, burning towns, destroyed cities and the daily grind of being told that we’re bad people by the majority.
And we’ve been told it so often that we believe it.
How many of you know the Yiddish phrase, Shande fur di goyim. Let’s go back to the first time in history that it appears. Long before Yiddish, German and the European galut. Let’s go all the way back to ancient Egypt.
G-d sends Moshe to free the Jews. They have a talk with Pharaoh. He reacts badly. The Jewish overseers come to him and plead with him. He throws another tantrum. And then the overseers see Moshe and Aaron. And they blame them. What do they say to the Prophet of G-d and the future High Priest of the Jewish people?
Heibastem et Reheinu. Literally, you made us smell bad to Pharaoh. Before, while Pharaoh was murdering Jewish babies, he enjoyed our fragrant sandalwood and vanilla aroma. Now he kicked us out of there as if we hadn’t taken a shower in a week.
Look what you’ve done to our image with Pharaoh. Now he doesn’t like us anymore.
Now let’s get into our time machine and go forward. Not too far ahead. Just to the next parsha.
Why did our first conquest of Israel fail?
Moshe sends in the Meraglim, the spies, to Caanan in the upcoming parsha. They’re good leader. But when they come back, they’re angry and hateful toward Moshe and G-d.
What transforms them? We hear it in their climactic argument. Against entering Israel VeNihye Beineinu KeHagovim, when we looked at the Caananites, we saw ourselves as nothing more than insects. Little insects. VeKein Haayinu Beeineichem.
And that’s how we appeared to them.
The spies came back seeing the Jews from the perspective of those who despised them. And they adopted that perspective. They were filled with anger and hatred for the Jews.
Sound familiar. It’s a capsule history of Jewish anti-Semitism that continues today. Now let’s go forward in our Tanach time machine.
Before his passing, Ariel was studying Tanach. There are some who study Gemara but neglect Tanach. And some who study Tanach but neglect Gemara. Ariel studied both. And both are important because they tell us who we are.
And now we’re going back to one of the most pivotal and forgotten moments in Jewish history.
Ancient Israel just got its first real king. But Shaul doesn’t have much of a kingdom.
The Philistines are running the country. And they have spear control. They have tight spear ownership regulations in place. No Jews except Shaul and Yonatan and some of those around them have managed to get their hands on a spear because the Phlistim don’t allow the Jews to have any blacksmiths. If you want to sharpen your kitchen knife, you have to go to a Philistine blacksmith.
The Phlishti commissioner who really runs the land sits on Har HaElohim, on the Mountain of G-d. When the prophets go to the Mountain of G-d, they have to be aware that above them sits the idol worshiping representative of the enemy.
And many of the Jews are in league with the occupation. Some work in the lands of the Philistines. Others might even carry weapons for them the way that Jews did for Antiochus and for the Roman invaders. And the Tanach uses a specific name for them. They’re Ivrim. Hebrews. They’re not Am Yisrael because they’re not really part of the Jewish people. They’re just different. They carry the old name that reflects the Ever HaNahar, they’re members of a people different from the rest of the world. But they’re not proud of that. They’re ashamed of it.
And Jonathan, King Shaul’s son, he goes up and he kills the Philistine commissioner squatting like a toad on the mountain of G-d. And Shaul blows the Shofar, he blows the horn, and he sends a message to the Ivrim, to the Jews who have gone so far off the derech that they are in the camp of the enemy. And the wording used is, Ivrim Yishmau, let the Hebrews here.
And now that Prince Yonatan struck the first blow for Jewish independence and the Shofar is blown, what do the Ivrim do? What is their first reaction. A shande fur di goyim.
VeGam Nivash Yisrael Ba’Pelishtim. The Hebrews were saying the same thing as the Jewish overseers. This Jonathan guy made us seem disgusting to the enemy whose respect we want so badly. What will they think of us now?
And now. We’re still doing the same thing. How often do we respond, internally or externally, with, “What will they think of us now?”
If we don’t compromise, we’ll seem disgusting to them. Warmongers. Oppressors. Occupiers. We point to a Jewish scapegoat. If it wasn’t for him or her. If it wasn’t for the settlements. If it wasn’t for the time that Israel took out a terrorist and killed his son. If it wasn’t for the existence of Israel… they would like us. But now… hevashthem reheinu. What will Pharaoh think? What will the Phlishtim think? What will the world think?
The world would love us if we hadn’t shot first in the Six Day War. It would love us if we had compromised harder before declaring independence. It would realize that the lack of peace isn’t our fault if it wasn’t for all those settlements that are making our odor disgusting in the eyes of the world.
That is not negotiating from a position of strength, but weakness. Moral weakness. We lack conviction. And so we give up the strongest position on every argument in our own defense.
The Zionist leader, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, wrote, and let me quote, “The time for apologies is over.
“…We think that our continual readiness to subject ourselves without a murmur to searches, to turn out our pockets, will finally convince humanity that we are honorable people. We are constantly saying, “Look at us! We are such gentlemen! We have nothing to hide!’”
“But that is an outright error. Real gentlemen will never allow anyone to search their apartments, their pockets, or their souls for any reason whatsoever.”
That means not allowing anyone to dig through the pockets of your coat. Or your soul.
Moral authority, real moral authority, doesn’t come from accepting the moral authority of your enemies, but from rejecting it.
That is why we are losing the argument. The enemy rejects our moral authority. We accept theirs. And when you accept the moral authority of your enemies, when you accept the premise of their arguments but argue about the details and interpretation, it’s over.
The Two State Solution accepts the moral authority of the enemy. We thought that it would make our claim to the land stronger. Instead it destroyed it. It didn’t neutralize anti-Israel sentiment. Instead hatred of Israel is bigger and more widespread than ever in countries that were once friendly to Israel.
Why? Because we admitted we were wrong. Every argument we’ve made since then suffers from that same fatal flaw. Jews are smart. We’re reasoned people. We think that we can prove anything. But the most important things in life can’t be proven. They’re a matter of inner conviction.
The reason that we believe in G-d is a matter of conviction. It can’t be proven in a court of law. The love of parents for their children isn’t logical. The love that leads us here to this lecture, of parents keeping their son’s memory alive year after year, can’t be studied under a
microscope. The deepest and greatest parts of ourselves are not subject to scrutiny.
They express who we are as individuals and as a people. Nations and peoples don’t exist because they have a valid argument. No one comes to Norway and asks the Norwegians if they have a good reason for existing. No one walks up to a parent and demands that they present a good reason for loving their child.
Our best arguments for Israel and against anti-Semitism can’t be put down on a page. We’ve tried to do it and we failed. Our best arguments are who we are.
When we try to be reasonable, when we compromise our convictions, then we stop being certain of who we are. We begin to think that maybe we should be someone else.
Maybe our enemies have a point.
You express conviction by refusing to argue some things. You don’t get into a discussion about cutting your baby in half.
It’s always unacceptable.
When we talk about a two state solution, we show a lack of conviction. If Israel was really our baby, we wouldn’t be talking about cutting her in half.
It may seem paradoxical, but the best argument we can make for ourselves is living by the conviction that we are right. Anti-Semitism, hatred of Israel, is inversely proportional to our confidence in ourselves.
There’s a reason that bullies pick on some kids. It’s not the fault of a child that he becomes a target. But there’s something about him that draws the bully. Two things.
1. He’s better than the bully in some way. He’s smarter. He’s more talented. He has qualities that the bully lacks and despises.
2. He lacks the strength and self-confidence to fight back. Sound familiar?
There’s anti-Semitism in a nutshell. We can’t and don’t want to do anything about our good qualities. Minimizing them doesn’t work. Just as it doesn’t work in the schoolyard.
Abandoning our religion didn’t work. Endless philanthropy didn’t do it. Insisting we’re no better than anyone else to anyone who will listen has achieved exactly zero.
But on the second matter, we found the strength to once again fight back.
After thousands of years, we went to the gym and we discovered muscles we never knew we had. But we still don’t have the inner strength of self-confidence.
Having armies isn’t enough. You can be strong and be bullied.
When we’re strong, the bullies turn from physical bullying to moral bullying. They tell us that we’re bad for defending ourselves. And then, when we’ve been morally bullied into not fighting back, they punch us in the face.
Moral bullying uses our need for acceptance against us. It says that if you’re really such nice people, you’ll prove it by not fighting back when the terrorists kill you.
You’ll prove it by giving up your country and committing suicide.
You can be the strongest country in the world and still be morally bullied. America experiences it all the time.
You need inner strength. You need the conviction that you are right. And then when you are nice, it’s because you choose to be. Not because you’re afraid not to be.
Jews have a long history of exile. That taught us to be non-threatening. To give in. And sometimes that’s a necessary survival mechanism. But there’s a price to pay for that.
A price in honor, in dignity and in credibility. After a while the survival mechanism becomes your identity.
And then instead of being the people of the book, we become the people who are willing to see the other side more clearly than we see our own side.
Our conviction becomes that the other guy has a better point than we do. That he has a better claim to the baby, the coat or the country than we do.
Being a victim of abuse risks developing a perverse empathetic link to the abuser. That’s what the survival strategy means. You try to keep yourself safe by becoming sensitive to what the guy who might attack you is thinking. You try to get inside his head.
Because you don’t want to set him off.
And the risk of that kind of thinking is that you begin to identify with him. That’s Stockholm Syndrome.
This is where so many Jews are. We identify with the guy punching us in the face.
It’s a survival strategy that we learned in exile, in Galut. Because you have to know where the next pogrom or the Holocaust might be coming from. But if you do that long enough, you start to think that maybe the people killing us are right and find ways to part ways with the Jews.
That’s our message to the wicked son at the Seder who separates from us. Ihlu haya shom lo haya nigaal. It’s the message of Mordechai to Esther. Revach ve’hatzala yaamod la’yehudim mimakom aher. And as we’ve seen it goes back all the way to Egyptian slavery. We sometimes call identifying with the guy punching us in the face. Rachmanut. Mercy. It’s more accurately, Rachmanut shel Tipshim. The mercy of fools.
We all know the elementary principle, Kol HaMerachem AlHachzorim, he who has mercy on the cruel will eventually be cruel to those whom he ought to have mercy on. The principle is derived from Shaul, who had mercy on the leader of Amalek, yet went on to slaughter an entire city of Kohanim. Why are the two necessarily intertwined? Isn’t it possible to be nice to everyone? Or is there something in that desire to be nice to evil that reveals how we identify with evil?
Is mercy toward evil itself a seed of evil growing in our own hearts? Was Shaul’s mercy toward Amalek a foreshadowing of the atrocities he would commit against Jews?
Are those Jews who empathize with Islamic terrorists actually growing in cruelty toward other Jews?
Let’s get in our Tanach time machine one more time.
King Ahav and his worse half, Izevel or Jezebel, are ruling in the Kingdom of Israel. You probably know both of them from another story.
But that’s not the story we’re going to talk about now. Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram, decided to throw his weight around. So he sent a message to Ahav. Your gold and silver belong to me. Your wives and even your favorite sons are mine.
And Ahav said, “Sure boss, whatever you say.”
So Ben Hadad, like a good bill collector, followed up. And he told Ahav, I’m going to send some of my people around tomorrow and they’re going to look through all your stuff. And everything that is precious to you, they’re going to take away.
And Ahav said, “Uh-oh, he really means it.”
So Ahav talked it over with his advisers. And they said, “Don’t do it.” And Ahav sends word back to Ben-Hadad, “Can’t we be reasonable about this.”
And Ben Hadad offers a 300 moment. He threatens Ahav. The dust of the Shomron won’t be enough to cover all my armies.
Ahav takes his shot at a comeback. And it’s weak. Just like him, “The guy putting on his armor shouldn’t brag like the guy who’s taking it off.”
Ben Haddad doesn’t even bother answering back. Instead he invades.
Ahav is afraid. He’s a coward. When he finally dies later and the dogs lick his blood at the end of that story you probably know, it’s because he tried to disguise himself in the next war against Aram and exposes the King of Yehuda, Yehosophat, to the arrows of Aram. He’s afraid of Ben Hadad. He wouldn’t protect his wives or sons against him. But a prophet shows up and tells Ahav, it’s going to be okay.
Ben Hadad and his kings get drunk in their tents. While they’re getting drunk, 7,000 Israelis attack this huge army, over a hundred thousand men, and smash it to pieces.
Ben Hadad runs away. But his advisers have a great plan.
“Don’t worry,” they tell the Aramean king. “We only lost because the G-d of the Jews is the G-d of the mountains. But next time we’re going to fight them in the valley.”
Also we’re going to get rid of the whole drunk kings command structure. We’ll have a professional army. And we’re going to invade and win.
And Ben Hadad goes for it. Round 2.
The Israelis are vastly outnumbered. The Arameans are everywhere. And G-d sends another message to Ahav through the prophet. “Thus says the Lord, because the Arameans said that G-d is a G-d of the mountains and not of the valleys, I’m going to give this entire horde into your hand. And you will know that I am G-d.”
The men of Israel don’t just win. 7,000 Jews kill 100,000 enemy soldiers in one day.
Ben Hadad escapes with 27,000 men. He still outnumbers the Jews 4 to 1. And then a wall falls on all his men. He has no army left.
This is a bad situation. The Aramean king hides in his room. And his advisers, who got him into this mess, come up with their first good idea.
Hinei no Shamanu, we heard, Ki Malchei Beit Yisrael ki Malchei Chesed Hem, that the kings of Israel are merciful, they’re nice people. Let’s beg for mercy.
And Ben Hadad’s advisers carry a message to Ahav. Let me live. Don’t kill me.
And how does Ahav respond to the tyrant who wanted to take his wives and his children. “He’s my brother.”
And Ahav brings Ben Hadad into his chariot. And they make a peace deal. Ben Hadad leaves. The prophet finds Ahav and says to him, You idiot.”
G-d wanted Ben Hadad dead. You spared his life. And now Aram is going to kill you and instead of Aram being defeated, Israel will be defeated.
We think of this kind of thing as medieval. We all know that Ahav did the right thing. He extended a hand in friendship to a defeated enemy. He made a peace deal.
Ahav knows it too. But G-d seems to disagree.
And Ahav is unhappy. And this is where the story that we know about him begins.
What does Ahav do to cheer up when he’s down in the dumps? He plants a herb garden. That’s kind of strange, but let’s not be judgmental. But the herb garden he wants to plant is in the vineyard of a guy named Navoth. Navoth won’t sell the vineyard. Ahav and his worse half, Yezevel, have Navoth killed.
And Eliyahu HaNavi comes to Ahav with a message. Where the dogs licked the blood of Navoth, they’re going to lick your blood.
In the next war, an Aramean archer kills Ahav and the dogs end up licking his blood.
And Melachim Alef, Kings 1 ends.
But how are the two incidents, the war with Aram and the vineyard of Navoth, related?
Is G-d punishing Ahav for not killing Ben Hadad or for killing Navoth?
The answer is both.
When Ben Hadad’s advisers said that the kings of Israel were merciful, what did they really mean?
Omri, Ahav’s dad, got the job of king by attacking Zimri who set the palace on fire and died. Zimri got the job by wiping out the entire family of Baasha. Baasha got the throne by killing the previous king.
You get the idea.
How did Ben Hadad’s advisers look at this succession of murders and think the kings of Israel sure are a merciful bunch?
Did they really mean that Ahav and the rest of the gang were nice guys?
Ben Hadad’s advisers meant that they were weak. Ahav let Ben Hadad push him around. And the advisers were betting that Ahav was still weak even when the Aramean king had no armies left.
Why was Ahav weak?
His dad Omri despised Israel. He brought in the Phoenicians and married his son off to Yezevel. He drove out Judaism and replaced it with the worship of Baal.
But he still had a problem. He was the King of Israel. And Israel was inferior in his eyes.
That was why Ahav was so insecure, why he couldn’t stand up to Ben Hadad. He wanted to be like Ben Hadad. He wanted Ben Hadad to like him. And when G-d beats Ben Hadad for him, when Ben Hadad begs him for mercy, Ahav raises him up to “Brother”.
Does Ben Hadad call Ahav brother? No. Ben Hadad despises him.
Like Pharaoh’s overseers, Ahav desperately wants Ben Hadad to like him. He senses that foul odors of Jewishness on himself and rejects the G-d who brought him victory.
Is Ahav merciful? Shortly afterward he kills a Jewish man over an herb garden. But he calls the monster who demanded his wives and children as trophies, Brother.
Ahav is evil, but also pathetic. He’s despicable in the unique way of Jewish anti-Semites who aspire to be loved by those who hate them. Who call enemies brothers and murder their true brothers.
It wasn’t Ben Hadad who was the real problem. It was Ahav who wanted to be Ben Hadad. It’s the Ben Hadads sitting inside our own heads.
It’s how flattered we feel when an enemy seems to be willing to give us the time of day. And how we resent those Jews who proudly stand up for themselves. Who aren’t nice to the enemy.
What we want isn’t really peace. It’s what Ahav wanted. Acceptance.
Think about Kastner praising Kurt Becher. Or the Jews who met with Arafat and now meet with Abbas.
The tragedy of Jewish history is not that we are hated. It is that we have absorbed that hatred. That we have learned to hate ourselves. We don’t love our enemies because we are virtuous. We do it because we despise ourselves. The foul odor is not in the nose of Pharaoh of the Philistines, is it in our own noses.
Anti-Semitism, here or in Israel, isn’t going anywhere. It’s up to us how we respond to it. When we are insecure, it gets worse. When we are on the defensive, we will be bullied. The more excuses we make, the worse the attacks will become.
It’s wonderful that Israelis are incredibly inventive. But the Hasbara that emphasizes it is the same old defense that Jews have always put on against anti-Semitism.
Look how many Nobel prizes we have and how many diseases we cured.
But that doesn’t dissuade those who hate us. It’s one of the reasons why they hate us.
The more we keep dishing out reasons not to hate us, the more we’ll be hated. If we really want anti-Semitism to end, we have to stop worrying about it.
I know that’s paradoxical and a little insulting. Caring about persecuted Jews is important. But being sensitive to hatred is self-defeating. It invites us to fall into Stockholm Syndrome. To start trying to see ourselves as our enemies see us and to change so we are less offensive. And then to find Jewish scapegoats for anti-Semitism whom we will accuse Heivasthem et Reiheinu. You make us look bad.
The answer to self-consciousness is to stop worrying what everyone thinks of you. And to live as your best self.
That is what we must do as a people. Not because it will make us liked. But because we can. We should never stop fighting for our rights, individually, religiously or nationally. But we should never do it from a defensive position. And we could never surrender an inch of moral authority to those who hate us no matter what we did or did not do.
We must never apologize for our existence.
The best forms of resistance to hatred of Jews and Israel are pride, dignity and success.
It is not the politicians and presidents who will determine our worth. No president will move the embassy to Jerusalem, not Obama or Trump, until we decide that it is our eternal capital, in deeds, not just in lip service. Their policies will not change until we change ours.
No president will save us from ourselves. Terrorism against Israel will not end until we stop tolerating it. Anti-Semitism will not go away with a clever new gimmick. This 30 second video will not stop support for BDS from growing on college campuses.
We make great efforts to get others to believe in our worth. No one will believe in us, in our right to be free and to live, until we believe in ourselves.
The State of Israel was reborn because we worked for it. And we believed that we could do it because we had a right to it. That right hasn’t gone anywhere. Only our conviction in it has faltered.
President Trump’s visit to Israel was surrounded by drama over whether the administration would recognize that the Kotel, the Western Wall, was in Israel. We parsed every administration utterance. Yes they admitted, the Wall was in Jerusalem, but did they mean that it was in Jerusalem, Israel.
There was widespread disappointment when this administration, like almost every previous administration, promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem. And then didn’t do it.
But that’s the way it’s always going to be. No one is going to recognize Yerushalayim as our capital until we do it 100 percent. Until we make it clear that no part of our holy city is on the table.
If we lack conviction, why would we expect any other country to have more conviction than we do?
We keep waiting for a new Pharaoh to come around who will know Yosef, a new administration that will finally recognize the truth and be pro-Israel and save us.
And then we’re disappointed when the new Pharaoh, no matter what he promised during the campaign, still doesn’t know Yosef. And we go on playing the same game.
What’s the current strategy?
We show how nice we are by cooperating in the peace process. We impose freezes, we make concessions and then surely Trump will see that Abbas and the PLO are the ones who don’t want peace.
This strategy has been tried for decades with different presidents. It has never worked. Why do we think it’s going to work now? When we are more willing to make concessions than the terrorists, we don’t prove that we’re the good ones.
Instead we show that we’re the easiest to pressure, that diplomats can get the most results by shaking us down, and that we are the most willing to compromise because we’re wrong.
We are never going to prove that we deserve the whole coat by being willing to take half. And we are not going to win the respect of President Trump by making more concessions.
The strategies we’re following have been discredited over and over again.
We aren’t following these strategies because they work. But because we want to be liked. Because we’re afraid to be hated.
We’re still waiting for someone else to believe in us when we don’t believe in ourselves.
We’re waiting for President Trump to give us permission to have our capital in Yerushalayim. We’re waiting for someone else to take care of Iran. To recognize that we have a right to our own country. That we have a right to exist. But that’s not how it works.
Even when a temporary recognition happens, it’s quickly withdrawn.
The Balfour Declaration was followed by the White Paper. Partition in the UN was followed by a long string of condemnations and Zionism is Racism.
The Jewish reliance on the British for a homeland ended with an invasion of Jerusalem by Muslim troops under British officers. Israel’s golden age of alliance with France ended with Cherbourg.
Israel doesn’t exist because the British or Truman handed it to us. It doesn’t exist because of Czech arms, the United Nations or anyone else. Those were factors that occasionally aligned in our favor and occasionally against us. Israel exists because Jews worked for it, prayed for it, wished for it, lived for it, fought for it and died for it.
The patron theory of the existence of Israel holds us back.
Other peoples invent independent founding myths. We invent dependent founding myths. We have Israel because Eddie Jacobson was Truman’s friend.
The reality is that Truman did as little as possible for Israel. And his reasons for doing so had nothing to do with Eddie and everything to do with the Jewish vote in an election that he was worried about.
But we like the story about Eddie and Harry. Even though Harry Truman was an anti-Semitic bigot who never allowed a Jew into his house.
Because we like to think that we got Israel because a president liked us. On some level, we would rather be Eddie than King David.
The fact of the matter is that Truman gave us nothing except a throwaway vote, no de facto recognition, and an arms embargo to a country he expected to see destroyed by the Arab invaders.
It was the young men and women who held out in small numbers in small villages, it was the Holocaust survivors fresh from the DP camps with a rifle and a tattoo on their hands, who made Israel possible. It was G-d who gave us the land and gave us the ability to fight for it, as he did to Moshe and even Ahav.
Israel doesn’t exist because anyone liked us. It exists because enough Jews realized that the Communists, the French who wanted Dreyfus’ head, the British, the Arabs and so many others would never like us.
Israel’s independence represents the end of that need to be dependent, to be a minority dependent on the goodwill of the majority. Some thought that creating Israel would end anti-Semitism.
But, more importantly, it did not end Jewish insecurity.
Israel is unfairly treated by the world in the same way that the Jews are treated unfairly. Anti-Zionism is a symptom of anti-Semitism. But the great thing about anti-Zionism is that Jews get to play. They get to participate in anti-Zionism since it seems to be only a national critique. And self-hating Jews can pretend that it’s not about them. It’s about Israel. If we all turn around and go back to Egypt or Europe, Pharaoh will like us again.
Israel is treated unfairly by the world. But it sets itself up for it because it cares about what the world thinks. Israel was strongest in its Um Shmoom days when it dismissed the UN. When it didn’t allow itself to become dependent on any single country. When it acted first and apologized later.
99 percent of the world does not care about being liked.
The French do not sit around worrying what the world thinks of them. Neither do the Belgians, the Nigerians or the Easter Islanders.
The more we demand recognition, of Jerusalem, of Israel, of our right to exist… the less likely we are to receive it.
The more concerned we are about anti-Semitism, the more of it there will be.
Searching for approval won’t win us friends, only invite critics, enemies and foes. Only conviction in our cause and living our best lives will. Im tirtzu, ein zo agada. If you desire it, if you have the conviction, it is no dream.
That is the life that Ariel lived. It was a short life, but also a glorious one. He confronted challenges as if they weren’t there. He followed his dreams.
That is also the story of the Jewish people at our best. At our best, our talents are astounding. Ariel had the belief that he could anything. That is what we often lack.
We lose faith in G-d. And then we lose faith in ourselves. We become contemptible in our own eyes. And then in the eyes of our oppressors. And then G-d redeems us out of our exile.
But the exile isn’t just around us. It’s inside us.
When we lose the certainty of our divine origins, we become exiled from the first and founding source of our greatness. Oppression destroys our confidence and our identity.
Our eternal identity is built on faith. We carry it with us wherever we go. It is our conversation of millennia. By taking part in it Ariel, became immortal. He lives on in the Jewish people. When we take part in it, we also become immortal.
Physical exile alone cannot kill us. Gas chambers and bombs cannot destroy us. Only when we forget who we are, that we are the sons and daughters of kings, do we lose our part in the conversation and die.
My speech is ending, but the Jewish conversation must endure. The faith that we pass down in words, must be lived in deeds. Resistance to anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attacks begins with the conviction that we pass down to our children, as Robert and Karen passed down to Ariel. It ends with the pride that we take in our G-d, our people and our country.
Ariel had always wanted to visit Israel, but he never had the opportunity. Late in his life, there was a plane ticket, but he could no longer fly.
We can fly. Part of paying tribute to someone who has passed on is living their dreams. Ariel’s dream is part of that great mass of Jewish dreams that began with Avraham’s dream. It is a dream of a people in a holy land forever close to G-d, to our past, our present and our future. It is easy to lose sight of that dream. That is what happens so often to us in exile,
But our best defense is still not in our arguments, in the Hasbara that we try to assiduously teach, but in passing down the passion and conviction of that dream to our children.
Anti-Semitism in the world at large may never end. But let Jewish self-hatred end among the Jews. As much as we like to argue, we cannot argue ourselves into existence. But we can dream tomorrow into existence by living in the past, present and future, in this world and the world to come, in the secular world and in the Torah world, in exile and in Israel.
And when we straddle both worlds, our world and the world of G-d, we are immortal. Not only in the face of death, but in the face of evil as were the Chassidim who sang and danced into the gas chambers, and in our worries about what Pharaoh and the New York Times think of us. We are lifted above hatred and self-hatred.