Pragmatic Fish Eaters

Many are familiar with the ancient parable about the slave who cooked for his master a stinking fish. The master gave his slave three options: Either eat the stinking fish, receive 100 lashes, or pay with his money for the fish. The slave opted for the punishment to eat the stinking fish, but after eating more than half the fish with great effort, he could not take it anymore, and announced to his master that he can’t continue, and would like to receive the lashes. The master began thrashing the slave, and after several lashes, again the slave could not stand the pain, and chose the third punishment – to pay. And so, in the end, he ate the fish, received lashes and paid a high price to atone for his sin….

One can easily remember this parable when watching Prime Minister Netanyahu in action. While one may pity the poor Prime Minister, one can not forgive his wretched and dangerous deeds. Behold, at the beginning of last week, the Prime Minister apparently had made a positive decision concerning the settlements. What was the decision? It wasn’t what he had originally intended, which was to add a new neighborhood to Bet-El, because America and the Shin Bet vetoed the move. And so instead, he decided to give the settlements preferential housing incentives. To all the settlements? No. According to reports, only 20% of the settlements were to fall in such preferential categories. Did this decision have any practical ramifications? Probably not, since the government itself publicly informed the United States that the decision was only a “declarative” one.

But none of this helped in the slightest. For a full week the entire world, from the U.S. to the U.N., to the Arab world, to the Israeli left, to part of the Likud party rose up and sharply attacked and condemned the Netanyahu government in a fashion we have not yet seen, as if the Israeli government at the very least had began an all-out war against the Arab world at large, expelled the Arabs from Israel, and as a late-night snack, annexed all the territories. Ah, the eaters of stinking fish – suffering the lashes and having to pay for it in the end, anyway.

In the middle of last week, an announcement was made from the office of the Prime Minister that could have made one think that we have a government which could bring the Messiah. Here is the exact “Maariv” headline story quote a week and a half ago: “Israel: American Criticism Will Not Dictate To Us Our Way Of Life”. Awesome. Tremendous. Just what we had been waiting for! But only a few hours passed, and Israel was already back on it’s knees, pleading to the U.S. they “didn’t mean it”, and there was a “misunderstanding”, and “things were taken out of their context”. Did this groveling impress the U.S.? Hardly. This was the reaction of the American foreign department to the Israeli children who had the audacity to almost raise their heads up: “This is not a polite way to relate to the words of the President. President Clinton is friendly to Israel, and when it expresses it’s opinion, we hope that friendly governments will treat it respectably.”

As of this moment, the Israeli government has backed down completely. If a week ago it had appeared that someone in the government had some idea about building houses in the Land of Israel, nothing of the sort will be raised today. It’s like we said: Eat stinking fish, receive the lashes and in the end, pay full price.

If the Israeli government had a modicum of pride, it would casually remind Mr. Clinton about his blatant interference in the Israeli elections in support of the losing candidate, and that he should “chill out” a bit. In the meantime, a normal Jewish government would establish new settlements as something taken for granted. For in the Land of Israel, Jews settle the land. The world gets excited? Condemns? The U.N. security council will stay up all night to draft up an Israel-bashing decision? Great. That’s precisely what happened last week, and unfortunately, it was all about nothing. If they are going to condemn us anyway, shouldn’t we at least get something out of it, like start some new settlements? If the security council is going to stay up all night to discuss Israel, wouldn’t it be preferable to give them a good reason to do so – for instance, to expel a few hostile Arab villages near Ramallah from the borders of Israel?

What is there to be afraid of? Did not King David say in Tehilim (2): “Why are the nations in an uproar, and people utter a vain thing? The kings of the earth raise themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His annointed, saying, Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision”.

Goyim? America? The U.N? It is dandruff you brush off, for the Master of the World stands with us, and it is He who changes the hearts of kings and determines the destinies of the nations.

This is what Netanyahu does not understand. Anyone whose world outlook is not based on faith in G-d can never understand this. And so, Netanyahu looks as he does only six months after taking office. He is deteriorating every step of the way, and taking the State of Israel down with him. And he has no other option – because if he is afraid of what America will say, then he will constantly be rubbing them the wrong way no matter how much he tries to placate them, and by doing so, he will bring our country to greater tragedythan the Labor party would have brought us to.

Our sages taught us that the redemption is dependent on faith. And when we finally seize onto this weapon of faith, we will realize that no one and nothing is relevant, other than our firm decision to go in the way of G-d, even if the way of G-d means provoking the gentiles.

Balak: Learning of the Hypocrisy of Nations

If someone would read Parshat Balak objectively without any previous knowledge, he can easily get the impression that Bilam is, at the very least, a righteous man. During the entire parsha, Bilam proclaims that he will only do what Hashem tells him to do. What piety! And let us not forget the wonderful blessings he bestows upon us. The fact is, we do not see any serious references in the text to feed Bilam’s image of a vicious anti-Semite.

In sharp contrast, someone who reads Rashi’s commentary from the outset of the parsha will notice an interesting pattern. In each case where Bilam comes off sounding righteous, Rashi is there to correct our misconception, placing Bilam’s words and actions in a totally different light, attributing to him all kinds of strange motives. How can Rashi deviate so sharply from the simple understanding (“pshat”) of the text?

The fact is that Rashi is indeed giving us the “pshat”. For Rashi notices from the very beginning something strange about Bilam’s behavior. In his capacity as a prophet, he is requested to curse Israel. What is his answer? Does he reject the idea from scratch as one would expect from a decent person? No. Instead, he issues all kinds of statements – “Wait until morning”, “Let us hear what Hashem says”, etc. – as if our “tzadik” somehow thinks he can pull it off!

Most importantly, Rashi gains insight into what Bilam is all about by having an overview of the entire parsha. He knows that after Balak’s scheme fails at the end of the parsha, it is Bilam who decides completely on his own initiative to advise Balak on how to destroy the Jews. In Parshat Matot, when the Jews take vengeance against Midyan, the Torah emphasizes: “And Bilam Ben Beor they killed by the sword” (31-8), for he was one of the major culprits involved in the sin with the Midyanite women. It is clear now. The Torah takes the trouble to expose the true face of Bilam the Jew-hater, who did not curse the Jews due to circumstances beyond his control, but his venom found a different outlet in his scheme to entice the Jews to prostitution. From this we see that all the apparent righteousness of Bilam is but an illusion. Bilam is a fraud.

In today’s world one can find many “Bilams”. A superficial look at the Clinton’s of the world might detect a lot of good intentions and even a certain “love of Jews”. It may appear that the saying of the sages, “The Halacha is known, Esau hates Yaakov”, does not apply. However one who reads the parsha of the gentile, Parshat Balak, accompanied by Rashi will see the situation for what it really is. The gentile’s friendly demeanor and even the praises he may heap upon us is a cover for the “final act” he has in store for us.

Like Rashi, we must have the foresight to see what they are really planning for us at the end of the “parsha” – total retreat to the 1967 borders, dismantling of nuclear capabilities, and total submission. Only then will it be clear that all their sweet talk is a smoke screen for their demonic devises. Like Rashi, we must use foresight to interpret their deeds from the very outset of the parsha in the proper light.

Vayechi: Sometimes, It’s Good to Be Deaf

Even after Yaakov died, Esau continued to seek revenge against him for the taking of the birthright, attempting even to sabotage his burial in the Cave of the Patriarchs. The Gemora (Sota, 13) recounts how the children of Yaakov arrived at the cave to bring their father to burial, and behold they found Esau waiting for them there, with some interesting “news”: The remaining burial plot in the cave belongs to me. The stunned sons tried to remind Esau that he sold the spot to Yaakov. After an exchange of words (brought down in the Gemora), it was agreed that Naftali would run to Egypt and bring the document confirming that the burial plot was indeed sold to Yaakov. In the meantime, they waited…

One of those waiting was Hushim, the son of Dan. Hushim was deaf, andtherefore did not hear the discussion that had taken place between thebrothers and Esau. At a certain point, he asked them what is happening. The brothers told him that Esau is delaying the burial, and everyone is waiting for Naftali. Hushim was shocked: “And all the while that Naftali is in Egypt, my grandfather will lie here in dishonor!?” He immediately took a stick in his hand, struck Esau in the head, and killed him. The story concludes with Esau’s eyes falling out of their sockets by the legs of Yaakov, and on this it is written, “Happy is the righteous who saw vengeance, he will wash his palms (of his legs) in the blood of the wicked.”

A question must be asked here: Why of all people, was it the grandson Hushim ben Dan who reacted this way? Why was HE shocked at was happening, and arose to wipe out the reproach? Did not the rest of the sons care about Yaakov’s honor? Where was Yehuda, or the zealots Shimeon and Levy, for example?

From here we learn an awesome lesson which is especially related to matters of national honor and “Kiddush Hashem”. The difference between Hushim ben Dan and the rest of the sons of Yaakov was that Hushim was the only one who was not involved in the negotiations with Esau. Psychologically, the moment you hear out the other party and weigh his point of view, even the most outrageous claim begins to be “understood”. The very discussing of it desensitizes you, and gets you used to the idea.

Without a doubt, if someone were to tell the sons of Yaakov before hand that Esau is waiting for them in the Cave of the Patriarchs to thwart the burial of their father, they would boil over with holy rage, and guarantee that they know how to deal with the situation.

But what happened was that the moment they arrived, Esau stated his case: “It’s mine”. Sure the sons of Yaakov were shocked and angry, but it is human nature not to want to leave an argument or claim unanswered, without an appropriate rebuttal. And so they reminded him that he sold it. Esau immediately countered: I only sold the birthright, not the grave, etc. At this point, too, the brothers know that Esau is wrong, but in any case, he makes an argument which demands some kind of answer. And most important of all: At this stage, the sons of Yaakov find themselves in the heat of a negotiation process. An onlooker from the side can easily get the impression that both sides make reasonable claims. They would certainly have great difficulty realizing that what we have here is a scoundrel whose entire goal is to degrade Yaakov.

In contrast, the deaf Hushim ben Dan cannot hear all the claims. He knows only one thing: “Grandfather is lying here in disrespect!”. Sure, Yaakov’s sons knew exactly what kind of derelict, cheater and murderer Esau was. But because they entered into negotiations with him, they began to think that perhaps he is sincere this time, and said to themselves: all we need to do is to convince him that we are right, and everything will be O.K. But Hushim did not have the opportunity to become “convinced” of the justice of Esau’s wicked and bogus claims, and he did not understand how his brothers allowed this low-life to delay, even for a moment, the burial of Yaakov, the father of our nation. And so he arose and took action!

Sometimes, it is forbidden to negotiate. What’s so bad about it? After all, you are only talking! But no! For even if you know that your “partner” is a liar with evil intentions, you begin to “understand” him and think there might be “something” to what he is saying after all.

Unfortunately, for years we have been exposed to the lies and falsehood of our enemies. Recently, even those faithful to Eretz Yisrael are beginning to “adjust to the realities”. We have grown used to things that would never have entered our minds only a few years ago. G-d forbid! Let us be zealous for truth, and not have inferiority complexes when facing false claims from the lowest of peoples. We are right! It is our land, and no foreign nation shall dwell in it!

Vayetze: When It Comes to the Jewish Idea – No Changes!!

The last two Torah parshas of the week have portrayed Yaakov as quite a con-man. Every step of the way he is using his cunning to achieve his desired goals – at first in attaining the birthright by putting the pressure on a weary and vulnerable Esau, and afterwards in his outright theft of the blessing from his father. In our parsha this week, we see this guile directed now at Laban, his cheating uncle, as our sages tell us: “If to deceive he comes, then I, too am his brother in deceit, but if he is an honest man, than I, too am the son of Rivka, his honest sister”. (Rashi 29:12) And indeed, when the dust clears Yaakov comes out of the Laban situation a very wealthy man.

The problem is that all this is in sharp contrast to the very first words the Torah uses to describe Yaakov – “And Yaakov was ‘tam’ (in Hebrew, the word ‘tam’ has the connotation of pure, whole, simple or naive). Couldn’t the Torah find another word to characterize Yaakov other than ‘tam’?? In our simplistic eyes, Yaakov is the very antithesis of ‘tam’, full of savvy and even an outright liar when need be.

The question is magnified ten fold when we remember that Yaakov Avinu represents, of all things, “Emet” (truth), as it is written, “And you will give truth to Yaakov”, (Micha 7). And so again, couldn’t the sages come up with a more appropriate characteristic for Yaakov other than “Emet”?

The fact is that this subject is a very delicate one, and it is one that my father, Rabbi Meir Kahane, HY”D, had to deal with his entire life. Obviously in this short space it is impossible to delve too deeply into the subject, but it certainly must be touched upon. Everyone used to ask Rabbi Kahane: “Why don’t you change a little?” Just change a little to outmaneuver your enemies and then get into a position of power when you can then say the truth. Without exaggerating, he was approached by literally thousands of people with advice of this sort. He never listened to these “advisors” and insisted on clinging to truth. There are enough liars and cowards out there already, he would say. SOMEONE has to speak the truth.

Rabbi Kahane was the only one to get up and shout the truth without changing an iota, and without taking into account the “ifs” or “buts”. From this point of view, he was the epitome of “And you will give truth to Yaakov”. On the other hand, when it came to less important matters not concerning the essence of the message, the Rav was as sly as the best of them, making a mockery of his opponents, often using “gimmicks” to expose their fraud or get himself press. But all this cunning was used for TACTICAL matters, not ideological ones. When it came to the message of the Jewish Idea, there was no place for even the tiniest of compromises. He knew that if he would make the slightest change, even for a short period of time, he would lose everything he had worked for – he would be selling out, and the power of his message would be emasculated.

It seems to me that through this actual, live example of my father in our generation, we are given insight into the behavior of Yaakov in hisinteraction with Esau and Laban. Sure Yaakov knew how to manipulate and fend for himself when need be. But when it came to the message itself he was willing to sacrifice himself even for “little jars”, for it was a matter of principle to retrieve what he earned. He was ready to go face to face with the angel of Esau for even the slightest reason.

This ability to separate what is important and what is not important; what is the message and what is only tactical; when to compromise and when not to – this made my father so special. It is the lesson we learn from Yaakov Avenu.

Chaye Sarah: There is no Placing Trust the Gentile

 The negotiations between Avraham Avenu and Efron the Hitite in this week’s parsha provide great insight regarding how a Jew must approach any negotiation or bargaining situation with the Arabs. There is an old saying: “You cannot trust the gentile even forty years in the grave.” Though such a saying might sound somewhat crude, it expresses a healthy
and natural understanding that has been acquired through several thousand years of experience.

Through the parsha concerning Efron, the sages teach us about the hypocrisy of the gentile and convey to us the vital lesson that “the wicked they promise a lot and even a little do not do.” For here is Efron promising the world: “Listen to me. I have already given you the field. I have also given you the cave that is there. Here, in the presence of my countrymen, I have given it to you. Bury your dead.” (Breishit, 23:11) But in the very next verse, Efron takes 400 shekels, a hefty sum, without blinking an eyelash. So much for his generosity.

Big Talk, No Action
As the parsha illustrates, Efron starts out incredibly big-hearted, expressing an unlimited willingness to give. He behaves in such a manner that no one could possibly doubt his sincerity. Or so it appears. But Avraham is not naive, and he well understands the true nature of Efron and others of his ilk. He knows that the greedy Efron has no intention of giving up something without making a profit, and all his smooth talk and flattery is void of content. Thus, Avraham makes it immediately clear (in the very next verse) that he is not looking for handouts, and wants to pay full price.

The ball is now in Efron’s court, and he certainly does not react as one would expect after such initial “righteousness” and generosity. He takes the money. Indeed, much, much more than the actual value of the cave, and all this without even the slightest guilt or effort to justify his original piousness. Efron’s own words at the conclusion of the bargaining
process best express his very special brand of hypocrisy and decadence: “My lord, listen to me. What’s 400 silver shekels worth of land between you and me? Bury your dead.” On the verse, Rashi comments: “Between lovers like you and me, what is it important…” Avraham accepts the verdict without a flinch. He never expected any favors or any “chesed” from the gentile in the first place. His sole intention was to acquire the cave, without developing any “special relationship” with his neighbor. With this singluar goal in mind, he gets what he wants, and ignores all the rhetoric and hollow words of Efron the Hittite.

The Moral of the Story
What is the lesson for us? The Jew cannot trust and must never expect to build any relationship between himself and the Gentile. Between Jews and Gentiles there is an unbridgeable gap. No agreements, no “faith-building”, and no “normalization”. All the more so when dealing with the Arabs, who are especially endowed with the characteristics
exemplified in Efron. Any attempt to be “nice” and to make “peace” with him will just create illusions that will eventually explode in the Jew’s face. The only healthy approach is to distance ourselves as much as possible from dialogue and deals. Only thus will we prosper. Only thus will we avoid dangerous and unnecessary illusions.

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