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A Perpetual State of War

Friday, 15 November, 2013 - 1:00 pm

Should the United States strike a deal with Iran?

Secretary of State John Kerry has been promoting negotiations that he believes will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He also said that a bad deal is worse than no deal. According to Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu it is an absolutely terrible deal. A majority in the US Congress has voiced opposition to the deal currently on the table.

It seems that both the US and Israel agree that Iran should not be allowed to become a nuclear power. But how you get there is the question. Ultimately, many pose the question as follows, “Are we meant to be in a perpetual state of war with Iran?”

For the US the answer to that question is easier than for Israel. The USA isn’t exactly in Iran’s backyard. Plus, the USA is a world superpower.

But for Israel, living in what is likely the world’s most hostile neighborhood, the margin for error is effectively nil.

Should diplomacy be advocated with the shady and suspect Iranian regime?

***

In this week’s parsha Vayishlach, Yaakov meets up with his brother Eisav for the first time in over three decades. Eisav had pledged to murder Yaakov, causing him to flee.  His pledge was not simply bombastic rhetoric. He backed it up with action, sending his son Eliphaz to pursue Yaakov.  Many years later – with no upgrade in the relationship – Yaakov was heading back to Israel.

The report was not encouraging: Eisav was heading his way with 400 armed men. The blood-hungry Eisav had not changed.

What did Yaakov do?

The Torah informs of three steps that Yaakov took:

1)      He prayed to the Almighty.

2)      He prepared for war.

3)      He sent gifts to Eisav to appease him.

Ultimately, Yaakov and Eisav met briefly. They embraced and parted ways, never in their lives to meet again. The commentaries differ on Eisav’s intent at the moment he encountered Yaakov. But what’s clear is that – other than perhaps this moment – Eisav and Yaakov were in a constant state of war.

                                                                                                    ***             

The mystics describe the struggle between Yaakov and Eisav as the cosmic struggle between good and evil.  How do we ensure the victory of good over evil?

The key to resolving the conflict between right and wrong lies in our approach and attitude. Evil is here for a reason – a challenge for us to overcome.  Our duty is – as the upcoming festival Chanukah teaches – to transform darkness into light.  Overconfidence in dealing with evil is misplaced, however. At the end of the day, the terrain is awfully dangerous. But it is nonetheless our mission: our job is to uplift the material world by infusing it with holiness.  We do this by saying a blessing on kosher food; sharing with our neighbor; inscribing the Shema on a piece of parchment and affixing it to our doorposts.

Yaakov set the tone for how to deal with evil in our world:

1.       Prayer: Recognize that we depend on a Partner above.  He is here to encourage and assist us when we do our part.

2.       Warfare: Recognize that there is an enemy.  Hopefully, fighting will not be necessary. But we must always be on guard, lest we stumble in this truly hazardous environment. If necessary we will fight the darkness around us.

3.       Diplomacy: Recognize that the challenge is really an opportunity.  G-d would not put us in a world that we cannot fix. By fulfilling our mission, the spiritually perilous world will become a perfect one.

Following the Torah’s advice we can maintain the upper hand in a confusing and trying world.

***

What happens in Geneva may very well stay in Geneva. But if we are looking for advice in the Torah, it is clear:

To maintain the upper hand with a proven enemy like Iran, it is in Israel’s and America’s best interest to pray, prepare for war and lend an ear.

Throughout our history, we have artfully adopted all of these methods. Absent even one of them, we would not be here today.

War without diplomatic overtures may be unnecessary. Diplomacy without the threat of war is treacherously foolish. And either of them without help from Above are destined to fail.

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