Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author of the new book “A Prophet for Today: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Yehoshua” (Gefen Publishing House).
It is as unpleasant as it is impolitic to point out – in wartime, especially – that, despite all protestations to the contrary, the emperor indeed has no clothes. Neither spin nor sloganeering can conceal from the Jewish public and world opinion the obvious deterioration of Israel’s security situation.
While we all pray for the IDF’s success in dealing Arab terror a death blow, demolishing its infrastructure and silencing its proponents, as this is written little has been accomplished – after a month’s fighting – other than the devastation of Northern Israel and of Lebanon.
How did we arrive at this state? For sure, prudence would ordinarily dictate that we wait for a postwar investigation to uncover failures, blunders and errors. During wartime there is a natural and healthy tendency to rally around the flag and to settle accounts after hostilities have ceased.
My fear, however, is that Jewish leaders are never held accountable, never do a cheshbon hanefesh, old crises are quickly supplanted by new crises – and nothing ever changes. This is especially true since clear and obvious lessons are not being learned from the past and mistakes are doomed to be repeated with even more disastrous consequences.
No one wants to hear bad news, and the Jewish people have a depressing history of suppressing bad news until it is too late. Years before destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash, the prophet Yirmiyahu sent messengers to deliver to King Yehoyakim the Book of Eicha (Lamentations) and its dire prophecies. After listening to each chapter, Yehoyakim sliced each scroll with a sharp blade and threw the fragments in the fireplace (see Yirmiyahu, Chapter 36).
One mode of destruction was insufficient: Yehoyakim cut them to display his contempt for the prophet’s words but burned them as well, as if to say, these words never existed and were never uttered. Who could have predicted the churban?
The sin of Yehoyakimism is alive and well, to our great detriment. Having just returned from a week in war-torn Israel, there are three ironies that struck me as apparent to anyone with eyes and a mind (even as I concede that I do not know how God runs His world).
First, the two places from which Israel fled ignominiously in the last six years – from Lebanon like thieves in the night and from Gaza like marauders at high noon – have both risen against Israel with a vengeance. From those two places that are redolent of Jewish self-destruction, the missiles and rockets of the enemy flow incessantly. In 28 years, nothing has changed in Lebanon, except that to the traditional targets of Kiryat Shmonah and Metulla have been added Haifa, Safed, Tiberias and Hadera.
Second, exactly one year after Jews made 10,000 other Jews refugees in their own land, we now have more refugees in the land of Israel than we ever could have imagined in our worst nightmare. Refugees caused by our own hand begat refugees caused by the enemy, and the destruction of Jewish homes and businesses in Gush Katif and Shomron by our own hand begat the destruction of many more Jewish homes and businesses by the enemy. Those who sow destruction will reap even more destruction.
Have any lessons been learned? No, unfortunately. Prime Minister Olmert himself has announced that this war will be followed by further retreats from Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem, and the Left and media elites have already started the new drumbeat. “Peace” will again require the expulsion of Jews and surrender of territory, and those who would save the State of Israel by dismembering and relinquishing the land of Israel have only been – bizarrely – emboldened by this conflict.
And that engenders the third irony: the havoc and mayhem in the north of Israel did not filter down to the center of the country, in which life – except for the influx of refugees – proceeded as normal. Shops, cafes, malls and playgrounds were full of vibrant activity. Baruch Hashem. But for many, this illusion of serenity simply ratified the policy conclusions of the government that retreat has no consequences, weakness has no real penalty, and a multinational force (as if that has never been tried before) can work its magic in the rest of YESHA as well as in Lebanon.
There is afoot a concerted effort to deny that the expulsions and retreats of the last few years have any connection or relevance to the current crisis, as there is an ongoing effort to whitewash the difficulties the IDF – which was cynically exploited and used to expel Jews – is experiencing in this conflict. Certainly, we must express our gratitude and appreciation for our soldiers’ professionalism, self-sacrifice and bravery, and pray for their success and welfare. But is it not true as well that we are the ones who exult that “they come with chariots and horses, and we come with the power of the remembrance of the name of God” (Tehillim 20:8)?
As much as we value and encourage human endeavor, it is ultimately God’s will that prevails and we are only successful when we subjugate our hearts and minds to Heaven.
We need to look back with contrition and humility in order to look ahead with any confidence to the new challenges and confrontations. We cannot change anything in our national lives – and nothing will change – unless and until we repent the sins of Oslo and the crimes of Gush Katif. Those twin events – spiritual calamities and strategic disasters – are still the underpinnings of Israeli political life and gloomy harbingers of a darker future unless we the people, the Jews of Israel and of the exile, evince a desire to change and transform the foundations of our national existence.
Yehoyakim was killed long before the churban. Although his brother Tzidkiyahu had his eyes put out by Nevuchadnetzar, it was Yehoyakim who could not see, and who in his arrogance renounced the Torah and denied the reality that was before him.
It is not too late, but the point of no return is rapidly approaching. The strategic conduct of the war will yet be scrutinized, but the spiritual dimension must always be paramount for us. Anyone who thinks that this is all about Iran and Syria is as foolish as those who thought the churban was all about Babylon and Rome. It is not about Nasrallah, any more than the churban was about Nevuchadnetzar and Titus. That shortsightedness is a symptom of the disease – the sin – of Yehoyakimism.
One can argue, on a strategic level, that Israel must learn to target the assets of the enemy, and they have failed to do so, preferring the sound and fury of a relentless aerial bombing. But as the Arabs perceive this as a religious war, religion is a powerful tool that must be utilized against them.
There are certainly Islamic assets in the land of Israel whose existence might be endangered if Islam pursues a war of extermination against the State of Israel. We need not fear “riling up” the Arab world – it is always riled up about something, whether perpetrated by Danes, Spaniards, Dutchmen, Englishmen, Russians, Frenchmen, Americans or Jews. Identify those assets, and fight terrorists and guerillas on a different battlefield. And let the government apologize for, and forever renounce, the policies of retreat, surrender and expulsion that have brought us today’s predicament. It is imperative, even at the war’s end, to recall the proximate cause of the war’s beginning.
More important, on a spiritual level, we desperately need a new generation of Jewish leaders imbued with the wisdom, spirit, and values of Torah to emerge and finally bury the illusions of the past, spark a wave of teshuvah, rekindle the mystique of the Jewish people that has been lost, lead the fight against the evil that threatens to consume the entire world, and be the catalysts for the spiritual revolution of mankind.
That is our task and our destiny; only Yehoyakimism can hold us back. The future of the world may depend on our internal success in this noble undertaking.