(Photo: Gal Twig/IDF Spokesperson)

Together We Will Win

בעז”ה בְּיַחַד נְנַצֵּחַ

BY RABBI DORON PEREZ

The past five years have been some of the most divisive in Israel’s history. The fabric of society significantly weakened, and we experienced a phenomenon almost without precedent in the history of democracy – five rounds of elections within four years (2019–2022), unrelenting delegitimization of other Jews and the invalidation of the views of others. The country faced years of paralyzing political stagnation.

It turned out that the years of “Just Not Bibi” versus “Only Bibi” and the Prime Minister’s unparalleled court case were just a gentle warm-up for what was to follow. Even when the political deadlock was finally broken in the election of November 2022, the situation only worsened.

One side wanted to change the legal system at all costs while the other protested against it at all costs – even if their protests would damage the economy and the IDF reserves. The internal crisis threatened to cause a rift between the State of Israel and many Diaspora communities. Everything became a zero-sum game and everyone was unequivocally right, in their own eyes. Appalling demonization and the inability to listen to anyone else’s opinion became commonplace. Most concerning to me was how moderates had become extremists. Few people were willing to listen to anyone else. We were left with echo chambers of self-righteousness and fundamentalists on both sides who were absolutely convinced that only they possessed the absolute truth. 

The two sides were like high-speed trains hurtling towards a head-on collision, with neither train prepared to change course. I remember asking a government minister whether he was waiting for an assassination attempt before backing down. I sit on the board of the World Zionist Organization and on many occasions called for the board to be a unifying influence and not a divisive one. During a recent board meeting before Rosh Hashanah, one left-wing board member said that it was the right-wing that murdered an Israeli Prime Minister, not the left. I asked for permission to speak and said to him, “Are you waiting for the murder of a right-wing prime minister by someone on the left, so it will be 1-1, and then things will be equal?” What has happened to us?! 

The climax came on Yom Kippur. Who would have believed that on the holiest day of the year, in a Jewish state, we would see videos of Jews protesting the right of other Jews to pray in public? Almost every red line was crossed – an ominous sign that catastrophe was not far away. 

And then came October 7.

We knew it would take something extraordinary to make us rethink it all. But even in our darkest nightmares, we never imagined the wake-up call would come in the horrific and devastating way that it did. On one dark day, everything changed.

On that Shabbat morning, the Gaza Envelope became the most dangerous and unprotected place for Jews on Earth since 1945. We witnessed atrocities on an unimaginable level, with more Jews murdered in a single day than on any day since the Holocaust. As a people, we suffered a terrible blow.

The covenant 

What unites us is not a social contract as articulated by Rousseau and Hobbes, but a totally different and uniquely Jewish idea: covenant. It is one of the most revolutionary principles of the Bible. Covenant means a connection that does not stem from personal interest and the preservation of private rights but rather from mutual destiny, purpose, trust and eternal commitment to the divine and historic task that we bear. Hashem Himself, so to speak, bonds Himself to this covenant and links the Jewish people’s destiny to the spiritual destiny of humanity. G-d enters the covenant and calls on the entire Jewish people to bind themselves to Him and to each other with bonds of mutual care and love, for the sake of the Jewish people and the entire human race.

Within a few nightmarish hours on October 7, our mutual covenant of fate that had been profoundly compromised was renewed once more – through unbearable suffering, horrific scenes and shared remorse.

No more were we split into camps of supporters and opponents of legal reform. No “Just Not Bibi” or “Only Bibi,” no left and right, no ultra-Orthodox and secular, no reservists and those refusing to serve, no coalition and combative opposition, no Israeli Jewry and Diaspora Jewry.

Once again, we are one people. One national unity emergency government.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis returned from overseas to defend their homeland, and thousands of global Jewish leaders are coming to support us and to strengthen themselves. Every day, solidarity groups from all around the Jewish global community arrive in Israel. Though people normally flee from war zones, three hundred thousand Israelis have returned during the war, growing the Israeli population by 3%! “Who is like your People Israel, one nation in the Land?” (Shmuel II 7:23).

No longer are we “a people spread out and divided,” as Haman said of us, but one People, united at last. But what price we have had to pay. 

Our own son, Daniel, who fought in the Gaza Envelope on that fateful Shabbat, is one of the hostages presumed to have been taken captive in Gaza.

The world after Shabbat Simchat Torah 5784, October 7, 2023, must not be the same as what it was before. It needs a complete recalibration; a more enlightened Jewish world must rise from this darkness. 

We must conduct our political and public interactions in a totally different manner. The culture of mutual denigration must end. Destructive splits and baseless hatred gave rise to internal implosion and national fragility, which the enemy could sense and identify with ease.

The culture of self-justification, accusations and finger-pointing is a corrosive impulse that only weakens us and eats away at us from within. We’ve experienced it for years in Israel and, to put it mildly, it has not led to any positive results.

The time has come to regroup and press restart, heeding the words attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” 

Woe to us if we revert to the same behaviors of recklessness and belligerence, of self-righteousness and canceling the views of others. This wonderful unity must continue – not only during wartime but, most importantly, after the war is over. Creating a new political culture of consensus, empathy and broad agreement must dictate all of our country’s major decisions at every stage of the war and beyond. Obviously, at some stage, after the war and, please G-d, the attainment of all our goals, there will be a commission of inquiry. That will be a big test for Israeli society. The commission should be composed of people free of any political agendas and personal interest and void of any pre-ordained outcomes. It must be acceptable to as broad a majority as possible, or it will not be trusted. It must be part of our society’s rehabilitation and not an encore to its deterioration. Not a committee that will deal only with military and political failure, but a forum that will be part of a process to rebuild mutual trust and solidarity, the very foundations of a healthy society.

With enough humility and generosity of spirit, I believe it possible to usher in a renewal of our national covenant. No one person or sector has the exclusive possession of truth, and no tribe has all the answers. We are all in the dark. Only G-d has the solutions.

We must not ‘waste’ this challenging time of crisis. We must transform our suffering into a time of mercy and goodwill.

Transforming darkness to light 

Chanukah is the only Jewish festival to take place in the heart of winter, during the darkest and longest nights of the year.1 The Jewish response to darkness can only be light – rekindling the menorah lights in the Temple and bringing the light of the chanukiah to every Jewish household. 

Ancient Greece is seen by our Sages as a kingdom of spiritual darkness, while Israel is viewed as the kingdom of spiritual light. The light of the spirit can and must transcend the darkness of the physical world.

Darkness descended on Israel on Simchat Torah. Yet the light of Hashem, His Torah, the incredible courage and heroism of our soldiers and civilians as well as the power of our common spiritual fate and destiny will transcend this darkness. 

Jewish unity is the flaming torch that will guide us through the darkness. The motto of Israel facing this conflict is “בְּיַחַד נְנַצֵּחַ, together we will win.” If there is one thing Jewish history has taught us it is that genuine Jewish unity is our spiritual Iron Dome. 

With G-d’s help, we will not only win but usher in the next stage of Jewish redemption, when all of Israel will stand together as one people with one heart. No one knows for sure what the solutions will be going forward. But we do know that the best way to overcome the hurdles ahead is to face them together. 

Together indeed, we will win.

רַק בְּיַחַד נְנַצֵּחַ בעז”ה

 

1 The Torah’s calendar is linked to the northern hemisphere, where Biblical and Talmudic history transpired. 

 

Rabbi Doron Perez is the Executive Chairman of World Mizrachi.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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