Much as the Jewish People have been preserved by God and Anti-Semitism, Israel has been preserved by God and the irrational hatred of its Muslim neighbors. And between these poles is where the ordinary heroism of its people emerges. This is not the heroism of brazen trumpets and endless victory parades– but the heroism of survival.
Men glorify war in order to deny the mortality of the killing fields. But day-to-day survival is a much less glorious thing. It is not inspiring in the same overtly transcendent way. It is merely life. It is the routine of surviving from one battle to the next, one generation to the next, moving slowly toward the future, reciting Kaddish for the dead, and then going into the earth, while your children go on.
The Jewish people are survivors, not only of one Holocaust, but of many great and small. We have walked the road from a burning Jerusalem to Europe and back out of a burning Europe to Jerusalem in a mere few thousand years. That journey is the heroism of survival. It is the only heroism that matters in the long run, because it is the only kind that sustains itself.
Israelis have struggled with accepting that their heroism will not be fundamentally different than that of the Galut, the heroism of the exile, the heroism of survival. That the difference between their past and present is not fundamental, but is their ability to fight and a land to fight for. It is a transcendent difference, but not one that transforms the fundamental conditions of life for the Jewish People.
The Six-Day War was a glorious victory that came out of the ordinary necessity of survival, and it was followed by the ordinary necessity of survival. Israel after the Six Day War was bigger and more defensible, but it was not a fundamentally different place. Israel after the Oslo Accords is not a different place either; it is just weaker, more endangered and less defensible. Neither war nor peace can provide transcendence, they only change the parameters of survival.
No matter how many songs are sung about sticking flowers in a barrel and no matter how many doves of peace are released over Kikar Rabin, there is no fundamental transcendence to be found in a peace treaty. Especially a treaty that has been proven to be worthless by Israeli governments from every side of the spectrum. There is no hope to be found in change, only in survival.
Israel did not win the Six Day War because its generals were brilliant. It won it because it had no choice. The alternative was death. The mass death of millions. If Israel breaks the Iranian nuclear program, it will be for the same reason, because it has no choice.
‘Ein Breira’ is in some ways the only Israeli doctrine that matters. It says that we must survive because the only alternative, the ‘Breira’ of the left, is death. Ein Breira means that there is a clear choice between survival and destruction. Life and death. The left has repeatedly chosen death, for itself and for others. It would be nice to say that the right has chosen life, but most often it was the left and the right which found survival thrust on it through a single stark choice, such as the one that they faced in the Six Day War. Ein Breira. Fight or die.
“Against your will you were born,” the Sayings of the Fathers teaches, “against your will you live, against your will you die and against your will you are destined to give a judgement and accounting before the king, king of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.”
The sentiments are fatalistic, and yet the modern State of Israel was born against the will of its leaders, who would have signed an accord that would have left a rump state easily consumed by the Arab armies, it lived against the will of its leaders, who would have signed it away in a hundred accords, and if it dies, it will paradoxically also be against their will.
When all the schemes and conferences come to naught, when Washington D.C. is the crutch that fails, as it always fails, then Israel discovers its survival instinct. The moment of Ein Breira that crystallizes the will of a nation that has survived for thousands of years, whose cultural integrity led it back to the land of its forefathers, and whose abilities are the result of a Divine blessing and curse; the gifts of Jacob and the curse of the greatest and most prolonged test to destruction experienced by any people on earth.