Rabbi Berel Wein

JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review May 22, 2000 /17 Iyar, 5760

Strength and Weakness

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- ONE OF THE FAVORITE STATEMENTS bandied about in today in Israel's confused political and diplomatic atmosphere is that "since we are so strong, we can afford to be generous in making peace with our neighbors." Without dwelling on whether or not such a statement, even if it were true, makes any real sense or is just the usual pap fed to the public, I am searching for the source of our belief that we are strong.

For strength is not only a measure of military might, of divisions and battalions and missiles and planes, but more importantly of inner confidence and purpose. And I feel that in that area we can use a lot of help.

Stalin once mocked the Pope by asking: "How many divisions does he have?" And yet the truth be said, it was the current Pope who bested Communism in Eastern Europe in our time. He stared down the evil empire with a sense of moral courage and vision that all the divisions of the Soviet army could not match. So, in the long run, the Pope was stronger than the Soviet system and its despots. For strength is not only a measure of physical prowess. It is surely a byproduct of purposeful behavior and inner serenity.

The Rabbis of the Talmud said that Israel is the strongest and boldest of all nations. This was meant both as a criticism of Jewish brashness and aggressiveness and a compliment to the tenacity and singleness of purpose of the Jewish people. Only a very strong people could have survived the centuries of the Jewish story.

The strength of Jewry was built upon an inner sense of self-worth, of being chosen and unique. It encompassed an iron determination to build and create and prosper and survive, no matter what the odds. Our strength was built upon a vision of a better world and a holy future. It provided strength when we were obviously physically weak and persecuted.

I was struck by the fact that at the recent Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day commemorations in Israel, almost all of the official speakers made reference to the fact that Israel is strong and therefore is the guarantor that the horrors perpetrated on the Jewish people in the past century will never be repeated. But that can only be true if there is real evidence that somehow we really do care about other Jews and are willing to do something about it.

We must also realize that even if we wish to do something about the persecution of Jews, we are limited no matter how strong we think we are. The case of the 13 Jews on trial for espionage in Iran is only one example of the impotence of the strong in difficult situations. The IDF is stronger than the Hizbullah, but our northern border is far from serene.


King Solomon had it right when he said, "Victory in war is not necessarily to the mighty." The source of meaningful strength lies in the shared vision of a society. It lies in a commonly held value system. It lies in a society that is unified in its understanding of itself in spite of all political, social and religious differences. There was an old Yiddish song that summed up the feelings of Jews in such a society. Its refrain was: "Whatever we are as individuals we are, but we are all Jews."

Somehow, that attitude of strength and unity has been lost in our current world. Today's refrain sounds like: "Whatever we are as individuals we are, and those who are not like me are wrong." There is no national consensus any longer as to goals and visions.

Selfishness has consumed us, and the sense of sacrifice and idealistic morale that was a Jewish hallmark throughout the ages has been submerged in narrow parochial interests.

We need a political leadership that seeks to conciliate and unite and not to demonize and divide. The leaders of the Israeli political parties should awake to the fact that they represent not just the narrow constituency that voted for them, but the entire people. We are in a very difficult time and a very tight situation. It will require enormous strength to extricate ourselves safely from our present entanglements. That strength is not purely dependent on our armed forces. It is largely dependent upon our national will and courage.

While the expenditures on developing armed might are justified and essential for our survival, an equal expenditure of effort and wealth to build a national vision of hope and determination is necessary. To build that consensus requires honesty of expression and the development of moral and spiritual resources.

We should stop boasting about how strong we are and instead dedicate ourselves to attaining that inner strength which alone will guarantee serenity and peace.

JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He resides in Jerusalem. You may contact Rabbi Wein by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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04/25/00: Ritual's role
03/09/00: The hubris trap
02/28/00: Denial
02/17/00: The individual and the state
02/04/00: Going it alone
01/27/00: Hang together or hang alone
01/11/00: Hope and good sense: A Jewish recipe for survival
12/06/99: Trendy vs. tenacious
11/15/99: Legacies and remembrances
11/08/99: The joy -- and responsibility -- of being a grandparent
10/28/99: Imperfect solutions
10/21/99: 'Holy loafers'
10/07/99: Earthquakes --- 'natural' and otherwise
09/28/99: Beauty
09/17/99: Blessing the children
09/10/99: A good year

© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein