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Rabbi Berel Wein

(July 13) Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has made a farewell gesture to Ezer Weizman, our retiring president. The remnants of the sefer Torah that went into Egyptian captivity at the outset of the Yom Kippur War, and which was until now exhibited in the Egyptian War Museum in Cairo, has been returned to Israel as a goodwill gesture to Weizman.

According to the Midrash, every sefer Torah has its own mazel - fate and fortune. This sefer Torah was a constant reminder of the failings that led to our narrow escape at the onset of that bitter war. The fact that it was in the hands of our hopefully former enemies served as a galling memory of our near defeat.

Now that the sefer Torah has been returned to Jewish hands, perhaps we will have better memories of that war, though I doubt it. One of the great failings of modern Jewish life is a complete failure of memory, especially of painful memory. This stems from an abysmal ignorance of our history by the masses, coupled with a distorted, revisionist and basically anti-Jewish view by many of the professional Jewish historians of the last 150 years. Thus we have no real sense of memory. The Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel have become the sum total of Jewish history among most present-day Jews.

Since these events are remembered without any historical perspective, their true value is diluted and many times distorted. The Zionist culture, which denigrated the accomplishments and story of the Jews in exile, cut off the Jewish story from its past and removed the frame which housed the Jewish picture. The socialist Jews and Labor Zionists decided to begin the Jewish story with Marx, to our everlasting sadness. Therefore, many of the lessons of Jewish history have been lost to our current generation.

And this loss is reflected in everyday life here in Israel, as well as in all of our social tensions and even in our regional and international policies.

JEWISH HISTORY warns us against three failings that have always weakened the Jewish people.

One is arrogance. The runup to the Yom Kippur War is the most expensive example of what arrogance cost the people and the State of Israel. "The Arabs would not dare attack us!" was the slogan of the time. Thus our arrogance almost destroyed us. The return of the remnants of that captured sefer Torah should somehow remind us of the folly of arrogance, especially if it's unwarranted. The words of Solomon that "pride goes before a fall" are still as true today as they were when he wrote them millennia ago.

The State of Israel, its political and social leaders, its media and its intellectuals, can all stand a strong dose of humility. We are not a superpower, we cannot afford to casually alienate large sections of our own population (haredim for example), nor should we ignore how the rest of the world sees us.

Knowledge of our history will make us at one and the same time proud and humble. But pride is not arrogance - it is self-worth and self-confidence.

The second failing that Jewish history highlights for us is the danger of being too current with the non-Jewish culture that has always surrounded us. The sexually liberal society, with all of its breezy philosophy to justify hedonism, is not a new phenomenon. The Jews faced promiscuous and homosexual societies in the classical era of Greece and Rome. The Jewish response - controlled, legitimate, family-oriented, and striving for sanctity and not merely pleasurable exploitation of one's partner - eventually proved to be stronger than the permissiveness of Greek and Roman society.

The secular wagon in Israel is not empty. It is filled with the extremes of Jeffersonian democracy, Marxist history and economics, and Greek and Roman licentiousness and violence. We are just too up-to-date. Neither feminist innovation in Jewish traditional lifestyle and ritual nor calling non-Jews Jews will guarantee any measure of continuity or survival.

Lastly, Jewish history teaches us the folly of internal warfare. It is obvious that there are great differences among the Jewish people today. The factions involved therefore should not seek to needlessly provoke confrontation. The Jewish people need less issues being brought before the Supreme Court, a more tolerant attitude and behavior pattern towards other Jews and certainly a disdaining of violent words and deeds by Jews against Jews. Vandalism, violence, public demonstrations that demonize others, and bitter personal disputes are nothing new in our history. Jews will not be brought closer to Torah by Knesset laws or harsh words. Our country can never be united as long as the press, media and political parties vilify entire sections of Jewish society and denigrate their cherished beliefs and way of life.

All of history has taught us that this open and hostile disunity is most dangerous. Memories of our past may be painful. But they are necessary and vital to cleanse us of our present malaise.

Copyright 2000 by Rabbi Berel Wein and Project Genesis. We welcome your comments.



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