Passover is a holiday that marks subjugation and freedom, despair and redemption, plagues and miracles. There are many lessons to be learned from the emergence of the Hebrew slaves and their journey to become a free nation.
It is telling that those who lived through those incredible events were held back from the next step in their evolution as a people. They were not to set foot in their new homeland. They were destined to wander for 40 years. They were doomed to die in the desert.
A totally new generation was needed to enter Israel: a population born in freedom that would not be saddled with a slave mentality. One’s body may be free, but old mindsets are hard to break.
Unfortunately, those who left Egypt were not the last group of Jews to need major deprogramming.
In June 1967 Israel found itself surrounded by well-armed enemies. The bloodcurdling cries of “Itbah al Yahud” – “Kill the Jews” – rang out from all sides.
The Israeli military went into action. The soldiers, some only teenage boys, fought with mesiras nefesh, true self-sacrifice. Many lost their lives.
IDF paratroopers entered the Old City of Jerusalem on June 7. The victory was stunning. Not only had Israel won the war, it had liberated the ancient Jewish holy sites. The joy of Jews worldwide was unbounded.
The outcome was a miracle with staggering implications. It defied all odds. The world stood in awe in the aftermath of Israel’s victory. Everyone understood the carnage that would have ensued if the Arabs had won the war.
There are certain practices that remain constant wherever and whenever they occur. The acquisition of property is a good example. An individual obtains a deed to a house, moves in, and puts up curtains. A country annexes territory it wins in a war, declares it as its own, and takes over. These are the ways of the world.
When something is yours, you take it. You declare your ownership by your words and deeds. There is no hesitancy.
It is now 2014. Nearly 47 years have passed since the Six-Day War. Israel, incredibly, has still not formally annexed the land. And in the many years since Israel’s victory, the capricious tide of public opinion has swung. Revisionist accounts now portray Israel as the big bully and the Arabs as hapless victims of an unjustified occupation.
After 2,000 years of bloody exile – of Inquisitions, Crusades, expulsions, pogroms, and, finally, the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust – the Jewish nation finally came home in 1948. Unfortunately, it had picked up some very bad habits along the way. Jews had learned to seek refuge and safety in the hands of others as they wandered from place to place.
Again we see that old habits are hard to break.
Perhaps Israel is afraid to rock the boat, to upset the United Nations or the European Union or the United States or “world opinion.” Sadly, it is the same world that stood idly by while 6 million innocent Jews were slaughtered. Jews have brought the baggage of the galut (exile) mentality to the modern state of Israel.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin has no such problem. Putin invaded Ukraine on March 2 and took over the Crimean Peninsula. There was no threat of war. There was no ongoing conflict. There was no provocation. The incursion was a unilateral invasion and seizure of territory.
Less than three weeks later, Putin signed a treaty to officially annex the area. His parliament gave him a standing ovation. The “world” responded with tepid sanctions.
Putin’s action following the invasion was quite effective. The officially executed annexation created the impression of a done deal. One thing is certain: the takeover of Crimea is now a fait accompli.
Certainly no responsible person would want to use Vladimir Putin as a role model of conduct. However, as Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) asks, “Eize hu chacham? Ha lomed mikol adam” – “Who is wise? He who learns from every man.”
Putin acted with lightning speed and now the takeover of the Crimean Peninsula is viewed as an indisputable reality. Israel’s long-delayed reunification of its liberated lands, on the other hand, is a matter of great contention.
We have much to learn from the Russian president’s approach.
There is a critical period for action and reaction when events occur. The adage to “strike while the iron is hot” may be trite but it contains a great deal of wisdom. Opportunity fades with the passage of time.
About the Author: Shelley Benveniste is South Florida editor of The Jewish Press.
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