Latest update: March 29th, 2013
In the spring of 1981 Menachem Begin faced one of the most difficult decisions of his premiership. Iraq had indicated its intentions to build a nuclear bomb and left no doubt as to the designated target. Israeli intelligence had estimated that Iraq would have a working bomb within two years. Despite diplomatic efforts, Iraq continued with its efforts to develop her nuclear program. Once his military leaders presented him with a viable plan of attack against the Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak, Begin had to decide whether to give the mission a green light. Time was not on his side, as it was believed that only a few months remained before the plant went hot. If that happened an attack would no longer be viable because of the radioactive fallout that would result from the plant’s destruction.
Although Begin realized there would be an international outcry against the bombing, he nonetheless felt it was necessary to ensure Israel’s future. On June 7, 1981 Israel successfully neutralized the Iraqi threat. As Begin suspected, many countries, including the United States condemned the attack. But with the passage of time most of these same countries realized that Israel had made the world a safer place.
In a speech delivered to the Knesset that June 26, Begin explained his reasons. What follows is a partial translation of his speech.
“My dear friends, we have experienced many awful days and nights since we discovered that in Osirak they were planning to develop atomic bombs. We faced a terrible dilemma. Assuming we did nothing what would happen to us? What would happen to our children? We have fought and won five wars. We do not want a sixth one….But now, with Iraq, a cruel enemy, possessing atomic bombs, when we went out to the streets and saw five year old children playing, we wondered what would be in two or three years when they will be seven and eight. What will happen to them when Saddam Hussein will have two to three bombs the strength of those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Tens of thousands of these children might be killed or injured….We therefore asked ourselves what should we do? How could we forgive ourselves if G-d forbid we didn’t act?”
From this speech, as well as from internal cabinet memos, we see that Begin was focused on the children’s future. He believed that he and his government had the responsibility to do all that they could to safeguard it. That is what compelled him to order the bombing.
What does this have to do with Pesach? Pesach is the holiday that celebrates the future of our children and their education in the ways of the Torah. But to successfully educate our children and prepare them for their future challenges we must look at them now and determine what needs to be done to ensure that they grow into outstanding Bnei and Bnot Torah. Regrettably, all too often we focus on teaching our children how to address our current adult challenges and not the challenges they will encounter when they themselves will become adults.
I believe a careful reading of the third son’s (the tam) question provides us with insight into this issue. Based on the pasuk in the Torah (Shemot 13:14) the Haggadah relates that the tam’s question consists of two simple words: “Mah Zot (what’s this)?” In response, the Torah relates how the son’s parent should explain to him how G-d took us out of Egypt and freed us from our bondage with a strong hand. When we look in the Torah the preamble to the questions is: “And it will be when your son asks you tomorrow saying what is this…” There is something striking about the word tomorrow. Rashi explains that the word connotes some future distant time. Accordingly, for some reason the son described in this pasuk will not know why we perform the rituals connected with Pesach (or why we redeem firstborns, which is the immediate topic of the Torah section).
The commentators offer many explanations for this unfamiliarity. The common denominator is that the question is a function of his limited intellectual abilities. However, let us take a moment to collectively take a step back and look inward. What if the reason the son asks such a simple and shallow question is not because of unfamiliarity but because we failed over the years to instill within him the importance and relevance of the Seder night. The wise son is also described as asking his question in the future. But unlike the tam’s unidimensional question, the wise son asks detailed and penetrating ones. Arguably, the real difference is not in their intellectual abilities but in their understanding of the importance and relevance of the evening.
When a son asks, “What’s this” it means that we took certain things for granted along the way and failed on some level to impress upon him the centrality of the evening. The answer therefore that the Torah prescribes is a return to basics. We must give him a quick history and theology lesson. The wise son reflects a situation when we thought correctly about the future and presented our children with a curriculum appropriate for their needs. The tam reflects a situation where we did not properly align the curriculum with his needs.
Menachem Begin had it right. Our current decisions must be in line with our future needs. Leaders, teachers and parents must always remember this. Peter Drucker framed this very interestingly. “Long range planning does not deal with future decisions. It deals with the future of present decisions.”
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. Comments can be emailed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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