Saturday, August 05, 2006

We Did Not Listen, Therefore This Trouble Has Come Upon Us

Genesis 42:21. When the brothers stand for the first time before Joseph, they realize that the hand of God is at work. They have been brought low, and they know this is because of their past sin. And so they say to each other, "Indeed, we have sinned and are guilty because of what we did to our brother. We witnessed the pain of his very life when he pleaded with us and we did not listen. Therefore, has this trouble come upon us."

This principle is later transformed, as is always the case in the Torah, from narrative into mitzvah, law, and commandment. The Torah uses the very language of the Joseph narrative when it teaches about suffering.

God says, "For indeed if he or she cry out to me, I will hear their cry, and I will become enraged with you. … and it will be when he or she cries out to me, 'I will hear, for I am compassionate.'"

Exodus 22:21. Thou shalt not molest a stranger, nor afflict him: for yourselves also were strangers in the land of Egypt.You shall not hurt a widow or an orphan. If you hurt them, they will cry out to me, and I will hear their cry and my rage shall be enkindled, and I will strike you with the sword, and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

It is obvious that we may not commit evil against another person. In this verse, the Torah is teaching us something new. A person may not be in a situation in which there is suffering and someone is crying out and the response is that of the brothers of Joseph: callous indifference.

We must hear the cry of their suffering in Lebanon. Evangelicals must hear the cry of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim citizens of Israel. Likewise we must also come to hear the cry of the nation of Israel.

What are the principles that we should use to understand what is happening, to more clearly discern the cries of the innocent? Yes, it is true that Hezbollah kidnapped "only" two soldiers, killed "only" eight, and fired many dozens of inaccurate missiles into Israeli towns on that day two weeks ago that initiated this latest conflagration. Yes, it is true that Israel responded with war against Hezbollah. That seems disproportional. Can the world hear that Israel's response is proportional to the threat? Or how does it imagine the proper Jewish response to the demonization of Israel, in which only one party to the conflict is held responsible from its very birth for all evil in the region?

Israel unilaterally withdrew from southern Lebanon six years ago. Despite sporadic hostilities inflicted across the border by Hezbollah, Israel has kept the peace by not responding to the provocations, Israel's message was clear: peace at almost, but not any, price.

During those six years, Hezbollah (with the blood of more than 200 American Marine peacekeepers on their hands) was allowed by all those who sat in Lebanon, by all those who were in witness, to function as no group may function in a civil, democratic society, to run a military state within a state, to arm itself with thousands of rockets and missiles that have no target other than Israel's civilian population, to develop an armed force of its own, unaccountable to the struggling democracy that is Lebanon and supported by two states that have called for the "erasure" of Israel.

It is the responsibility of the Jewish people in relationship with Christians to assert at one and the same time the moral obligation to practice self-defense and the acknowledgement of the suffering that brings upon the innocent. This is the dilemma of the moral person in an immoral world. There is shared responsibility.

The Christian who sits in Lebanon must acknowledge that he or she, with nary a word of protest in the past six years, has witnessed this murderous group build huge stores of rockets with the purpose of raining down upon the civilian population of Israel, and to embed themselves in the midst of the civilian populations. How was it allowed that armed terrorists could take up residence in hundreds of Lebanese homes to play upon Israel's excruciating difficulty in attacking the wicked who dwell in the midst of the righteous?

And in response to this, Israel does what no other army in the world does: She announces in advance where she will bomb, thus giving the enemy the opportunity to flee. Or worse yet, to lie in ambush. When Israel bombs, and Lebanese civilians die, that is a mistake, a failure, and unintentional—and it is mourned, painfully regretted, and not forgotten. When Hezbollah rockets fall on Israeli civilians, it is purposeful, a success, and intentional—and celebrated as a victory.

Already palpable is the Jewish people's anguish for the loss of civilian life and for human suffering in Lebanon. There will be more of this accompanied by deeds in the days and weeks to come. This will be based on the Torah's standard that even where there is no guilt, there is responsibility Deut.21:1-9.

1. If a man is found slain, lying in a field in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who killed him, (2.) your elders and judges shall go out and measure the distance from the body to the neighboring towns. (3.) Then the elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked and has never worn a yoke( 4.) and lead her down to a valley that has not been plowed or planted and where there is a flowing stream. There in the valley they are to break the heifer's neck.

(5. )The priests, the sons of Levi, shall step forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the LORD and to decide all cases of dispute and assault.

(6.) Then all the elders of the town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, (7.) and they shall declare: "Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. (8. )Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, O LORD, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent man." And the bloodshed will be atoned for.

(9. )So you will purge from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the LORD.

Indeed, Israel has in the past affirmed this principle for its armed forces. And how will the evangelical world learn to hear the Israeli sense of the threat that awaits on borders where evil crouches?

excerpts from an article by Rabbi Yehiel Poupko

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