This article is the next installment of The Jerusalem Herald's ongoing series excerpted from the author’s book, Go Up Like a Wall, which discusses the Ingathering of the Exiles and the Redemption. To read other selections from the series, click here.
llustration: Netanyahu and Abbas Shake Hands as Secretary Clinton Looks On by US Department of State via flickr [Public Domain]
Several burning issues face modern Israel. Some would argue that these issues are extremely complex, and that there is no clear right answer. Fortunately, we do not have to come up with a right answer on our own; we will let the teachings of our prophets guide us. After all, that is what they are there for. We can then proceed confidently in the face of the grimmest challenges.
The cynic would contend that even the teachings of our prophets are subject to so many interpretations that they cannot factor into the discussion. We believe this argument is nonsense; the Torah is meant to be studied, understood, and practically applied. Torah study is not meant to be an endless intellectual exercise to keep men off the streets, but an instruction manual for how to deal with all of life's challenges. The answer will not always be clear to us, but we must do the best we can to derive guidance from the Torah.
Sometimes, however, the answer will be so clear that it will practically hit us over the head. If only we simply listen.
It has become ingrained in the psyche of today's Jews that giving away land belonging to Israel in exchange for peace — or even some faint, wistful hope of some semblance thereof — is the proper course of action. Only a nation as clever as the Jews can devise some of the creative arguments in favor of this idea. After all, how does one demonstrate brilliance by doing the obvious?
What has escaped so many of our “enlightened” brothers and sisters is one simple, though terribly inconvenient fact.
Land for peace is a declaration of war.
After all, the inverse of the proposal is: “No land, no peace.” It is not an offer, but an ultimatum. Surrender your land to us, your enemies, or we will attack you.
Hence, land for peace is not a negotiation for peace, but a negotiation for surrender. The Jewish people are probably the only nation in the history of the world that won a war and then negotiated its own surrender. We are certainly the only nation that has done so repeatedly, both in ancient times and modern times. This is likely because any other nation that may have tried such foolhardy behavior quickly became extinct. The fact that we have continued to survive in spite of our repeated groveling after defeated enemies should be proof enough of G-d's existence for even the most hardened skeptic.
Our ancestors faced a proposal of land for peace thousands of years ago, and they bequeathed to us the appropriate response. This is outlined in the 11th chapter of the book of Shoftim (Judges).
Not long after the Jewish people first settled the land, during the period of the Judges, the nation of Ammon raised an army against the Jews of Gilad, which was located on the other side of the Jordan River. The elders of Gilad were terrified, and pleaded with Yiftach (Jephthah) to lead them into battle. Yiftach was a rough fellow who had been driven out of the land by his own brothers, but he eventually agreed to help those who had previously betrayed him.
Yiftach sent a message to the king of Ammon asking why he was picking a fight against them. The king responded that the Jews had stolen their land when they left Egypt, and demanded that they “return it to them in peace.”
Sounds eerily familiar.
Yiftach was by no means a Torah scholar, but he had strong Jewish pride and faith in Hashem. It would not be unreasonable to compare and contrast him with some of modern Israel's not-so-religious heroes.
Yiftach's response to this land for peace proposal was essentially three-fold:
1) The king of Ammon was distorting history and inventing a false claim of ownership. Yiftach surely knew that giving him a history lesson and setting the record straight would not result in an apology for an honest mistake. Hence, Yiftach's reply was meant to demonstrate that the Jews would not cater to false accusations.
2) Hashem, our G-d, drove out people from our land to give it to us as an inheritance. The nation of Ammon keeps the land that their god gives them as well. Why should the Jews relinquish their inheritance that Hashem had given them?
This is something of a cynical retort, for Yiftach in no way meant to imply that the god of Ammon was legitimate. The message here is clear: it's our G-d versus your god. Let the stronger god win. We're not giving away what He gave us.
3) Your predecessors understood that this was our land. What makes you think you are superior to them to challenge our rightful ownership after all these years?
Yiftach clearly recognized land for peace as a declaration of war. Instead of trying to negotiate a gradual defeat for Israel to avoid an immediate war, he utterly rejected the demands. You want the land? Come and get it.
The next verse says that “a spirit of G-d” settled upon Yiftach. He struck a mighty blow to Ammon, “and the sons of Ammon were humbled before the sons of Israel (Judges 11:33).”
Yiftach — who, it must be emphasized, was neither a prophet nor a sage — rejected the surrender that is called land for peace, put his trust in G-d, and defeated the enemies of Israel.
Then there was peace.
Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness and the author of seven books, including “Go Up Like a Wall” and "How to Not Get Married: Break These Rules and You Have a Chance," an illustrated book that is humorous yet serious in its examination of the issues facing singles. Many of his writings are available here. He is also the director and producer of a documentary on the shidduch world, “Single Jewish Male,” and “The Shidduch Chronicles” available on YouTube by clicking here. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org To read other selections from this series, please click here.