In her opening remarks following U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 (which states that Jewish settlements are impeding the peace process in the Middle East, have no legal validity and must stop ), U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power begins with a quote:
“The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transitional period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.” (Ronald Reagan 1982)
That statement, said Ambassador Power, “underscores the long standing position of the United States that … continued Israeli settlement activity in the territories occupied in 1967… harms the viability of a negotiated two state outcome, and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region.”
Never mind that the Middle East is going up in flames all around us, that hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been murdered and butchered by Iran, Russia, Syrian President Assad, and so many terrorist groups one loses count. Never mind that Yemen, Libya, Iraq and the Egyptian Sinai see more death and destruction in a week than in all of Israel’s wars combined. It’s the settlements: that’s what is holding up the peace process.
And never mind that Israel actually implemented a settlement freeze for nearly a year when President Obama first demanded it, only to see the Palestinians and Abbas refuse to sit at the table. It’s the settlements: that’s what we need to fix.
And never mind that Israel has repeatedly said it is willing to live side by side with the Arabs. We can and do shop in the same markets (come visit the Gush Etzion shopping center even after nearly 30 years of violent intifada), work on construction sites together, and frequent the same malls (come visit the upscale Jerusalem Mamilla promenade or Malcha malls), while the Palestinian Authority insists a Palestinian state will be judenrein. It’s the settlements: that’s what is “eroding” the peace process.
And never mind that while Jewish children by and large are taught that every human being is created in the image of G-d, and Israeli soldiers are put on trial for possibly firing on a terrorist enemy who may no longer have posed a threat, Palestinian Authority and Gaza (Hamas ruled) children are taught to emulate terrorists and suicide bombers and public squares are named after terrorists who murder innocent women and children. It’s not Arab education, it’s the settlements.
And never mind that countless archeological digs have uncovered an endless treasure trove of Jewish history in Israel, dating back three millennium, with biblical names on ancient seals like the 2,600 year old seal with the Hebrew letters IMER (Aleph, Mem Reish), a priestly family name mentioned in the bible as serving in the Temple during the first Temple period, found in the rubble remaining from an illegal dig up by the Muslim Wakf on the Temple Mount, while the Arab and Muslim public deny any Jewish historical connection to this land. It’s the settlements.
How do hundreds of thousands of people still believe the Holocaust never happened? And how are there still people who believe that Stalin was a savior to the poor people of the world? How do people look at the same scenario and see completely different realities? How, nearly 25 years and countless terror attacks, missile launches, and suicide (homicide) bombers after Oslo, can some people remain convinced that Oslo could have and still might work, while others view it as the greatest calamity since the Holocaust?
Our purpose is not to take a particular political position, but rather to question how it is that we seem to become so ensconced in the positions we have taken.
This week’s portion, Miketz, and its place in the story of Joseph and his brothers, presents us with a fascinating perspective on this question.
Sold by his brothers into slavery some 20 years earlier, Joseph, who has now taken the Egyptian name Tzofnat-Paneach, has, by Divine design, been elevated to viceroy of Egypt, the second most powerful position in the most powerful empire the world had ever known.
In the midst of a devastating famine the brothers are forced to come to Egypt, standing before no less than the viceroy himself who, unbeknownst to them, is the same Joseph they mercilessly sold into slavery.
Joseph is presented with the chance for a most delicious payback. But revenge does not seem to be on his mind and instead he orchestrates a series of puzzling events until eventually they find themselves opening their packs on the road to discover all the money they were meant to have paid (for the Egyptian Grain they were carrying) still in their possession. Are they being set up? Will they be accused of theft from the Egyptian crown (a crime punishable by death)?
“And each said to his brother, my money has been returned and behold it is in my pack; and their hearts went out and they trembled, one to his brother saying: what is this G-d has done to us?” (Bereishit 42:28)
Clearly, the brothers see this as a calamity. The thought that the mightiest empire on the face of the Earth, the personification of evil that was ancient Egypt, might now be hunting them is clearly cause for concern. And yet, they immediately seem to question no less than G-d himself! “How could Hashem do this to us?” is the question that immediately escapes their lips. Considering that the brothers clearly still have guilt over having sold their brother into slavery years earlier, one would imagine they might consider this to be warranted due to their past behavior, instead of immediately questioning G-d?
Why does it not occur to the brothers that Joseph might be connected to the events at hand. (Remember, all those years ago, Joseph told the family of his dreams in which the brothers’ bushels are bowing to his, and the moon, sun and stars are bowing before him — and here they are, bowing together before a ruler they ought never to have met.) How is it that when they are brought before Joseph none of them recognize their own brother whose face (being sold into slavery) must still haunt their dreams? And why is this viceroy so interested in their father Yaakov, constantly asking if he is still alive?
To top it all off, when the brothers return to Egypt with Binyamin, and are invited to the viceroy’s home for a feast (ibid. chap. 43), they are inexplicably seated in the precise order of their birth which, while causing the brothers to “wonder” (42: 33), incredibly does not cause any of them to think Joseph might have something to do with it! How on earth else would the viceroy know the order of their birth?
What is really going on here?
The Torah (Shemot 23:8) says, in discussing the prohibition against bribery of a judge: “For bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.” The Torah suggests that once bribed, a judge is no longer capable of seeing truthfully. And this, perhaps, is the brothers’ undoing. A long time ago they made an assumption, that Joseph’s motivations were impure, that he was simply after their birthright, and that perhaps ego and greed were coloring his actions and flavoring his dreams.
To actually recognize that the assumption which forms the core of a person’s entire life journey could be completely mistaken takes an enormous amount of strength and inner resolve, not to mention character. Rare is the individual who is prepared to make such an admission, but this is, perhaps, the level the Torah wants us to aspire to reach.
To see the obvious, the brothers must admit that the dream has come true, and that they are in fact bowing to their own brother, and that would mean they were wrong, and their lives have been based on a completely flawed assumption. And if Joseph is a tzaddik, then they are the villains.
We need look no farther than today’s newspapers to find this lesson all around us.
If Oslo in 1993 was a failure, because we had no real partners, then that would mean all the death and violence since then was the result of that failure and we need to completely change directions, and that is a very hard pill to swallow. And of course this applies equally in our personal day to day lives.
If I am miserable as a lawyer because I chose the field for the wrong reasons then I might need to accept 20 years of mistakes, in order to make life better. And if the fellow or relative I am angry at actually had a point, then I might need to accept that I have been walking a path of behavior based on a completely mistaken assumption.
It is no accident that Miketz always falls on the Shabbat of Chanukah, because this is the essence of what Chanukah was all about. Too many Jews were living lives based on Greek assumptions that from a Jewish perception were completely flawed. The festival of Chanukah is all about lighting the menorah, because the solution to correcting flawed assumptions is to hold them up to the light of impartial analysis, the light of objective truth, which from a Jewish perspective is the ancient and ever beautiful light of Torah.
And as for Samantha Power, the soon to be (good riddance!) former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. (to paraphrase): All that it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to stand by (read: abstain) and say nothing. You should have resigned. Perhaps soon the world will merit to start seeing things a little differently, but it seems we are not there yet.
Shabbat shalom and Happy Chanukah.