There is a repeating pattern in Jewish history. Again and again, we fail to recognize the independence and power of Hashem. Again and again, we overemphasize our own pride and our own names. And again and again our names and our pride and our free will and even our lives are stripped from us.
And then we are redeemed.
We are brought out from Ur Kasdim – from the Destroyers of Light – by Hashem. Each time, our task is simple: we are to recognize that we have been redeemed by Hashem and that as a result we must internalize and spread His values in this world. Ultimately, we are to build a bridge between the human and the divine.
But again and again, we fail. We fail to recognize Hashem’s redemption and we fail to internalize His values. And so, again and again, the cycle repeats.
I am originally from rural Oregon. For a week at least, it is a place as much on peoples’ lips as my new home – Israel. Both have recently suffered from serious attacks. Innocents have been murdered. And in both cases, people have jumped to what seems like a simple solution: suppress the entire population in order to stop the killing.
The problem is that this solution does nothing to counteract the much more fundamental causes of the violence. In both cases, the violence is driven by a sickness in values, not by weapons. In the United States, the drive for relevance pushes young men into terrible acts of destruction. The Torah repeatedly speaks of Men of Name as enemies of G-d. Their desire for acknowledgement pushes them towards evil. And the evil these young men have chosen is remarkably effective at spreading their names. This is the root cause of the increasing rash of killings. If there are no guns, it is not hard to imagine these same young men using knives to behead children in order to establish themselves. It is no longer an impossible concept.
In Israel, the ideological enemy is a more complex one. There have been Arabs in this area since the days of the Ishmaelite’s. The Nabateans built cities in the region. And, since the early days of the Arab Caliphates, the population has been more substantial. While we Jews have a legitimate claim to the land, it does not require an evil person to imagine that Arabs do too. The challenge is not competing claims, the challenge is the parties’ approach to those claims.
While the conflict itself is an opportunity to spread our values, our approach has yielded exactly the opposite result. Since the Oslo Accords, we have at times tried to make a terrorist organization our de facto ally. We have defended it and empowered it. Thinking it could protect us, or even wanted to, we have encouraged it to treat its own people in criminal ways. At other times, we have cracked down on the population ourselves, directly limiting the creative and peaceful potential – the human potential – of the Arabs under our rule.
In an effort to protect ourselves, we have taken an evil germ and we have fertilized it and watered it and we have helped produce two far greater enemies. We have produced enemies of G-d the Creator. Even as many of our national neighbors have grown more peaceful, those who dwell with us in the land of Israel have grown ever more violent. We are running short of options; banning kitchen knives is not a simple thing.
To cut through this morass, we must remember that our war is not with kitchen knives. To paraphrase – “kitchen knives don’t kill people, people kill people.” The key is to undermine the conditions that drive the violence. I am not speaking of grand peace agreements with violent governments or of yielding territory to murderous populations – those actions would only encourage the destroyers.