Surely Not Paradise

Apr 28th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Portion of the Week
“Paradise is not of this world and those who set out to look for it or to construct it here are irremediably condemned to failure (“Traces of Gauguin” – Mario Vargas Llosa)

How could I not read Vargas Llosa’s “Piedra de Toque,” or Touchstone? First of all, “Touchstone” is too similar to Foundation Stone to resist. What is more important is, that since marrying a certain Argentine, I have discovered Latin writers; Llosa, Borges, Saramago, Fuentes, Zafon and more, and have been fascinated by their perspective on good and evil and the struggle to develop a more just society. In their mutual contempt for authoritarianism, they automatically identify with the weak, accept that the Palestinians are “weaker” than the Israelis, and use their intellectual heft to criticize Israel no matter what she does. The irony is that these thinkers share a vision with Israel: A world in which the weak fight back by building a more moral world. These writers are torn between their vision of victims rising, not in rebellion, but with moral conviction and their visceral hatred of anyone who has more power than the other. Their  anger wins. The hatred is more powerful than the vision. Israel is wrong.

That, is the great moral victory of Israel: Her commitment to perfecting the world always wins against her suspicion, fear, and hatred of a world that tortured her people for thousands of years. She still believes in her vision of a better world, and continues to examine herself to find ways to be more just. The world assumes that Israel wants to avoid the unceasing criticism of the media, NGOs, intellectuals and the UN, but, it is not so; Israel wants to be able to look in the mirror and see that she continues to reflect the same vision of a better world.

We are charged with a commandment, “Kedoshim tihyu!” Be Holy! We can debate, study and examine what it means to be holy, but take a people, just three years after the Holocaust, that does not feed off its anger, but its vision; Is that not holy?

Take a nation that has fought numerous wars for its existence and still does not choose anger over moral vision; is that not holy?

Take a country that is committed to its vision of justice even as she fights people firing thousands of missiles into her, and does not use the violence of battle to spew anger; is that not holy?

Look at a country that knows that no matter what she does will be condemned for its lack of humanity by countries that are murdering their own citizens, that continues to live its vision without resentment and hatred: Is that not holy?

I grew up in a community that ignored Yom Hashoa because it is also v’haGevurah; a day of Power, the day of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and they infer that there is an implicit criticism of those who did not fight back, who “went as lambs to the slaughter.” We can debate that point. But what if the Gevurah/Power celebrated is not the fighting back, but the Power that feeds us with a vision of justice and right; the power that allows our vision to constantly overcome resentment and hatred? Is that Gevurah/Power a criticism, or a celebration of what makes us holy?

Is Israel “holy” in the classical sense? I am not qualified to judge. Certainly things that contradict ‘holiness’ are common.  It is surely not Paradise.

Is Israel holy in its vision? I have no doubt. Is Israel holy in her constant commitment to always have her vision overpower the resentments and fears? No question. That Power is the greatest honor of the memory of the strong and the weak who died at the hands of the Germans.

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