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Appeasement or Resistance?

Friday, 16 December, 2016 - 1:24 pm

Israel wants a seat on the UN Security Council.

President-elect Trump has selected a stalwart Israel advocate to be his Ambassador to Israel.

Are these developments good for Israel? Are they advances for the future of the Jewish people?

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An interesting passage in the Midrash blames Yaakov for reaching out to his brother Esav (Esau).  This week’s parsha, Vayishlach, opens with Yaakov sending messengers and gifts to Esav, who was marching forward with 400 armed men, some 36 years after he pledged to kill his brother.  The encounter concluded without negative effects for Yaakov.  Nonetheless, the Midrash suggests that Yaakov should have avoided it altogether.

This is comparable to a robber sleeping by the wayside, and a traveler comes and awakens him, saying, “Wake up! There are dangerous thieves around here!” The robber gets up and begins beating him. He cries out, “I awoke the danger!” The robber says, “I was silent, and you awoke me.”

Hardliners and resistance advocates will undoubtedly point to this Midrash to demonstrate that pacifying our enemies is always dangerous.  The Midrash also criticizes Yaakov for calling Esav his master 8 times!  When we look at ourselves as sheep, we invite the wolves…

On the other hand, the famed Rabbi Yehuda, editor of the Mishna, once signed a letter to the Caesar, “From your servant Yehuda to our Master King Antoninus.”

When his secretary asked him, “My teacher! Why do you degrade your honor?” he replied, “Am I any better than my grandfather? Did he not say “Thus said your servant Jacob”?”

Rabbi Yehuda seems to agree with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, the leader of the Jewish people during the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple), who advocated for diplomacy versus war.  The Talmud extols the durability of the Jewish people and attributes it to their flexibility, similar to reeds that sway in the wind, but remain standing tall.

So, which is the real Jewish approach, diplomacy and conciliation, or pride and resistance?

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The mystical work of the Zohar teaches that when Yaakov approached Esav and bowed, he wasn’t quite bowing to his brother. Rather, he was prostrating himself to Almighty G-d.  Yaakov knew and trusted that Hashem is the ultimate decision-maker. G-d would determine his lot.

G-d has many messengers and many methods.  The key to Jewish survival is not one approach or the other. Rather, it is the deep conviction and steadfast commitment to G-d’s destiny that allows us to prevail.

Without G-d, the most cunning diplomacy will fail.  Without G-d, the mightiest army will crumple.

Our secret of survival is knowing that ultimately Hashem is in charge. And being willing to utilize whichever emissary or opportunity He sees fit for our future.

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