TORAH MINUTE - VAYECHI
The concluding chapters of Genesis, which
comprise the portion of VAYECHI, recount the final days of our Patriarch
Jacob. As his twelve sons gather at his bedside, Jacob offers each a final
blessing. Vayechi concludes with the deaths of
Jacob and his son Joseph and the deeply human saga of our Patriarchs comes to
an end. I would like to compare the blessing that Jacob offers to Simeon and
Levi with that of Judah, because I believe this beautiful Hebrew poem provides an important
insight to our time.
It is more accurate to say that Simeon and
Levi were admonished rather than blessed, because of the particularly vicious
manner in which they avenged the dishonor of their sister Dinah. "K'LEI
CHAMAS MECHEROSECHEM, Instruments of terror have become their trade ...
Cursed be their rage for it is powerful, and their fury for it is cruel".
Jacob reminds Simeon and Levi that brutality and terror are the legacy of Esau,
not the children of Israel and that their uncontrolled anger made them forget
who they were. Jacob curses not them, but the blind rage that turned Simeon and
Levi into killers, and would make rebels of some of their descendants - even to
We are still under the threat of KILEI
CHAMAS, not as much from the fundamentalist Islamic terrorists who bear that
name, but from radical elements within our own people whose rage makes them act
without thought and who may do more to destroy the dream of Zion than any
external enemy. A few weeks ago, a visionary Israeli Prime Minister concluded
the framework of a peace agreement with present and former Arab inhabitants of
our land. The key effect of this pact, despite its minor
concession of land which can easily be reversed by the Israeli military, has
been to place the PLO, and the Arab States on the public relations defensive
for the first time in twenty years.
Finally, the onus is on the Arabs to make concessions for sake of peace.
Unfortunately, this monumental turn-around
is, at best, tenuous. In the light of right-wing half-truths and outright lies
such as those we see printed weekly in the Jewish Press, it is easy to foresee
the rise of armed opposition to these peace overtures. To these radicals
amongst us, I urge you to heed the warning of Jacob, your father. Do not allow
your rage to transform you into an ignorant fanatic, so like the enemy which
seeks to destroy you. Israel's security depends not only on its military
strength, but on the support of the moderate nations of the world.
Unfortunately opinion in these countries, my country included, is largely
influenced by a biased press. A press that condones such Arab atrocities as the
MA-ALOT massacre as the "necessary actions of freedom
fighters" and condemns even the smallest Jewish outburst as "brutal
repression of the legitimate aspirations of a stateless people". This
double standard is the reason we cannot embrace the KILEI CHAMAS of Simeon and
Levi. Our way must be the courage, cunning and skill of the Lion of Judah.
"Judah, your brothers will pay homage to you. Your hand
shall be on your enemy's neck. Your father's sons will bow to you. Judah is a young lion." So begins Jacob's blessing to
Judah. A lion is swift but not as
swift as some of the animals it catches, nor is it as strong as some animals it
overpowers. The lion survives because its superior intellect allows it to
effectively use its gifts of speed and strength. In 1967, outnumbered and
seemingly at the brink of extinction, Israel drew the admiration of much of the world as its Army
performed with such skill during the Six Day War. Twenty-five years later,
despite a generation of high
profile Arab terrorist incidents, Israel became the target of condemnation when that same
Army was photographed daily, in flak-jackets and helmets, firing heavy weapons
at stone-throwing teenagers. The Israeli Army today is probably stronger than
it was in 1967, but Israel is not as secure. What the Arabs could not achieve
on the battlefield was carefully and brilliantly achieved through the
manipulation of public opinion by maneuvering a gullible Israel into misusing its strength.
Jacob promises that the descendants of Judah will rule over Israel until the coming of the Messiah. The Meam Loez notes that the text of Judah's blessing does not contain the Hebrew letter ZAYN.
He translates the word ZAYN as "weapon" and teaches that its
omission indicates that Judah's power will arise mostly from wisdom and not
weapons. Clearly the founders of modern Israel remembered and emulated the traits of Judah. They cleverly exerted the exact amount of political
pressure necessary to persuade the World Community (and the Jewish Community)
that Israel must be born. At the same time they honed the sword
of Israel to perfection as its soldiers assured Israel's survival in 1948 and restored it to its Biblical
borders in 1967. Since then, Israel's leaders have come to be driven by the blind rage
of Simeon and Levi. Emulating the fanaticism of the Arabs, their overreliance on military power has seriously weakened Israel. pray that modern Israeli's
are not lead to the same fate as Levi's descendants who were scattered
throughout the promised land without a portion of their own.
Being a descendent of Levi myself, I wish to
exercise my prerogative to comment on this blessing. Twice Jacob indicates that
Judah will have the respect of his brothers. The first
phrase, using the word ACHECHA (brothers), clearly alludes to Judah's reign over the people of Israel. King David and his dynasty were of the tribe of Judah, and from David will arise
the Messiah. I wonder however, if the second phrase, which uses the expression
BINEI AVECHA (your father's sons), might refer to our struggle for recognition
by the Ishmaelites - who are the sons of our father,
Abraham. I firmly believe that we, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
should be able to inhabit our homeland prior to the coming of the Messiah. But
I also believe that the descendants of Ishmael will always be nearby,
occasionally slinging an arrow towards us. Modern Israel will not fend off the onslaughts of the Ishmaelites with military power alone,
they will have to continue to cultivate the support of other nations. Thus,
always with the help of HASHEM, their survival, our survival, will depend on a
blend of CHUTZPAH, diplomacy and the ability to shape public opinion through
careful attention to our image on the nightly news. This synthesis, according
to Jacob, is the heritage of YEHUDA (Judah) and we, after all, are YEHUDIM
(Jews - "People of Judah).