Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pinchas/Three Weeks: Hasbara?

The real beginning of the sequence of events that results in Pinchas’ eleventh hour action can be traced to a Rashi in Balak [Num. 22:4]: the bitter enemies of Midian and Moav made peace between themselves due to their Jew hatred. This may actually the first time we see Rashi specifically delineate Jew-hatred [we have an example of “Hebrew” hatred in Miketz [Ber. 43:32], but even if one glosses over the semantics, there were a lot less of us]; even in the Rashis expounding the milchemes Amalek in Beshalach [Shemos 17:8-16], not a word is mentioned about “hate” or “sinah”, even though Amalek is assumed—pace his grandfather—to be the hater par excellence, the paradigmatic anti-Semite.

There are many eerie parallels between this notion and the current political situation in the Middle East, particularly as regards the Gaza flotilla and the worlds reaction to it.

The first is simply how applicable Rashi’s description of the situation is today: “asu shalom beneihem”. Everyone knows about the deadly internecine strife between Sunni and Shiite, the political rivalry between Persian and Arab for Middle East hegemony , and now Turkey’s seeming willingness to actually reestablish te Ottoman caliphate.

Re the nature of the hate--both nations in this case had fears of being ‘swallowed up’, but for no good reason: wars were about passage [like 1967, with the Suez], and Bnei Yisrale couldn’t touch Moav by divine decree…so did the hate come before the fear, or the other way around? It seems as if the fear caused the hate [witeness the diff bet Balak’s and Bilaam’s hate].

More poignantly, re the nature of the responses: Zimri tried to make his response a religious response. As I've discussed before, Zimri was almost trying to tell his fellow Jews: you fools. You want to “score”—just do it, and forget the idols. Bad enough; but he turned it into a vehicle for a personal power crusade—as the gemara notes, he told Cozbi he was more of a higher-up than Moshe [her intended target], and he did his deed in the ohel moed in full view, as if he was now the top cat. This was what Pinchas put a stop to.

[Interestingly, when Pinchas ostensibly makes an appearance later on in Sefer Shoftim in the Yiftach incident and pilegesh begivah, he’s not speaking truth to power [albeit in Zimri’s case, illegitimate power]: he IS the power, and he is notably les usccesful in both cases. Pilegesh beGivah, in fact, is almost a case of Zimir in reverse: its noted that much of the carnage that results was because Bnei YisrY were makpid on the kavod of the pilegesh but not the Kavod Hashem in the immediately preceding story of Pesel Micha. In this case not only did Pinchas stand up for the honor of Hashem---Hashem, as it were, waited for him to do it [by not smiting Zimri immediately].

Now, does this mean we want to “read out” jews who are less than stellar in their support of Israel, seeing as how their ostensible “dual loyalties” [Jewish vs Progressive, or what people call “liberal” nowadays] might lead to more Jews getting killed? While it might be a stretch to call them Erev Rav [Netanyahu may be right about Axelrod and Emanuel], one can be justified in casting opprobrium towards those who are formulating “responses” to the crisis as the authentic “Jewish” response. Some deserve to be called out by name, like J Street and its claim to be pro-Israel while accepting funds from known bastions of anti-Israel machinations [e.g. Islamic think tanks and the like.] Or Neturei Karta. Or Naomi Klein [who I’m sure is a member in good standing at her shul in Montreal]. I might not place Peter Beinart’s recent essay in the New York Review Of Books [possibly THE current flagship of anti-semitic Judaism]; he was describing a phenomemon rather accurately. The fact that he was saying that these students’ impressions were correct was another matter; but there was going to be a point where Jews with little or no religious affiliation were going to become uncomfortable identifying with a state whose foundations are so clearly religious.

Still, while one should not say that they elicit the response of kana’in pogin bo, said kana’in should find a Pinchas-like method [within legal and non-lethal limits, of course] of putting a stop to, or at least rendering much less effective, the “illiberal” impressionism that seems to be the biggest “PR” obstacle to support for Israel among our own. And, should we still be—with some justification—to start reading people out as erev rav, we might be pointed to the Gemara in Sanhedrin 37a, which, as a play on the posuk in Toldos 27:27 “re’ach begadav”—the pleasant odor of the clothing—transforms it to “re’ach bogdav”, that G-d finds even the aroma of our TRAITORS pleasant.

We need to be careful.

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