Rabbi Berel Wein

JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review July 12, 2000 /9 Tamuz, 5760

The return of a Torah scroll and confronting painful memories

By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT, Hosni Mubarak, has made a farewell gesture to Ezer Weizman, Israel's retiring president. The remnants of the Torah scroll that went into Egyptian captivity at the outset of the Yom Kippur War and which was until now exhibited in the Egyptian War Museum in Cairo, has been returned to Israel as a goodwill gesture to Ezer Weizman. According to Midrash, every Torah scroll has its own mazel --- fate and fortune. This Torah scroll was a constant reminder of our failings that led to our very narrow escape at the onset of that bitter war. The fact that it was in the hands of our hopefully former enemies served as a galling memory of our near defeat. Now, that the Torah scroll has been returned to Jewish hands, perhaps we will have better memories of that war, though I personally doubt it.

One of the great failings of modern Jewish life is a complete failure of memory, especially of painful memories. This stems from an abysmal ignorance of our history by the masses, coupled with a distorted, revisionist and basically anti-Jewish view of Jewish history by many of the professional Jewish historians of the last 150 years. Thus we have no real sense of memory. The Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel have become the sum total of Jewish history among most present-day Jews. Since these events are remembered without any historical perspective, their true historical value is diluted and many times distorted and perverted.

The Zionist culture, which denigrated the accomplishments and story of the Jews in galut -- in their exile -- cut off the Jewish story from its past and removed the frame which housed the Jewish picture. The Socialist Jews and Labor Zionists decided to begin the Jewish story with Marx, to our everlasting sadness. Therefore, many of the lessons of Jewish history have been lost to our current generation of Jews. And this loss is reflected in everyday life here in Israel, as well as in all of our social tensions and even in our diplomatic regional and international policies.

Jewish history warns us against three fundamental failings that have always weakened the Jewish people. One is arrogance and hubris. The runup to the Yom Kippur War is the most expensive example of what arrogance cost the people and the State of Israel. "The Arabs would not dare attack us!" was the slogan of the time. Thus our arrogance blinded us and almost destroyed us. The return of the remnants of that captured Torah scroll should somehow remind us of the folly of arrogance, especially unwarranted arrogance.

The words of Solomon that "pride goes before a fall" are still as true today as they were when he wrote them millennia ago. The State of Israel, its political and social leaders, its media and its intellectuals, can all stand a strong dose of humility. We are not a superpower, we cannot afford to cavalierly alienate large sections of our own population (the fervently Orthodox for example), nor should we disregard completely how the rest of the world sees us. Knowledge of our history will make us at one and the same time proud and humble. But pride is not arrogance --- it is self-worth and self-confidence.

The second failing that Jewish history highlights for us is the danger of being too relevant and current with the foreign culture and value system that surrounds and has always surrounded us. The sexually liberal society, with all of its breezy philosophy to justify hedonism, is not a new phenomenon. The Jews faced rampantly sexually promiscuous and homosexual societies in the Classical Era of Greece and Rome. The Jewish response -- controlled, legitimate, family-oriented, and striving for sanctity and not merely pleasurable exploitation of one's partner -- eventually proved to be stronger than the permissiveness of Greek and Roman society. The secular wagon in Israel is not empty. It is filled with the extremes of Marxist history and economics, and Greek and Roman licentiousness and violence. We are just too up-to-date in our thinking and behavior. Neither feminist innovation in Jewish traditional life style and ritual nor calling non-Jews Jews will guarantee any measure of continuity or survival for Israel and the Jewish people.

Lastly, Jewish history teaches us the folly of continued internal warfare. It is obvious that there are great differences that divide the Jewish people today. The factions involved therefore should not seek to needlessly provoke confrontation one with another. The Jewish people need less issues being brought before the Supreme Court, a more tolerant attitude and behavior pattern towards other Jews and certainly a disdaining of violent words and deeds by Jews against Jews. Vandalism, violence, public demonstrations that demonize others, and bitter personal disputes are all not new events in Jewish history.

A study of our history will reveal to us how counter-productive and self-defeating these attitudes and behavior patterns are. Jews will not be brought closer to Torah values and behavior by Knesset laws or harsh words. Our country can never be united as long as the press, media and political parties vilify entire large sections of Jewish society and denigrate their cherished beliefs and way of life.

All of history has taught us that this open and hostile disunity amongst us is most dangerous.

Memories of our past may be painful. But they are necessary and vital to cleanse us of our present malaise. We cannot afford to walk whistling past the graveyard indefinitely.

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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05/22/00: Strength and Weakness
04/04/00: The message of spring
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