Doing what we can in an unredeemed worldThe Times of Israel
Rabbi Dr Donniel Hartman is President of Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem and Director of the Institute's iEngage Project
The foundational obligation and responsibility of every nation is to protect its people. When it comes to Israel, this obligation has a particular twist of a profoundly secular nature. Rising out of 2,000 years of powerlessness, and 2,000 years of belief that salvation of Israel is in God’s hands, the modern State of Israel chose to live by the credo that God helps those who help themselves.
Instead of waiting for God to repeat the Exodus story and again redeem God’s people with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” with the rebirth of Israel, the Jewish people have chosen to wait no more. We recognize that we don’t live in a redeemed world, in a world where God ensures that everything will work out, that everything will find its right place. It is a world in which the just do not necessarily prosper, nor do the wicked by definition fail.
If we are to achieve, it will only be the result of our efforts on our own behalf, and even then with no guarantee of success. To be a Zionist is to embrace this reality, not as a curse but as a responsibility, if not a gift. To be part of shaping one’s own destiny and defining one’s peoples’ history in the midst of the uncertainty of an unredeemed world is the privilege which Israel has bestowed upon modern Jewish life.
It is critical that we remember the above as we assess our actions and responsibilities in Operation Pillar of Defense. First, we simply have to do what we have to do. What any nation not merely has the right to, but the obligation to do. Our citizens cannot be terrorized, nor our soldiers attacked, without attempts on our part to prevent them and stop them from occurring in the future.
While the world is filled with Monday morning quarterbacks, questioning the efficacy of every move with the benefit of hindsight, the targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari and the destruction of the long-range missile capacity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad was at the very least a plausible attempt by Israel to fulfill its obligations and responsibilities as a sovereign nation.
Living in a non-redeemed world, in a world where the just do not necessarily prosper nor the wicked by definition fail, obligates us to act to protect ourselves and better our future. However, precisely because the world is not redeemed, actions which are just, actions which are necessary, and even acts which are prudent, are not guaranteed to succeed. In a non-redeemed world we must remember that not every problem has a solution, and doing the right thing will not necessarily lead to a positive result.
I dream of an Arab peace partner who will want to join with me in working to make our region truly bloom. As a Zionist I recognize that my dreams will only come true to the extent that I fulfill my responsibilities and pursue every possibility for peace to reign. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, however, are not peace partners and when promulgating an approach to Islam which makes Jewish presence and independence in Israel an affront to Allah, they create a nightmare.
In their world, Jewish civilian casualties are a legitimate military goal, while Muslim civilian casualties a public relations success. In their world, success is not measured primarily by their ability to better the life of their people, but by their ability to endure suffering on the altar of a distorted version of Allah’s will.
As painful as this reality is, the responsibility of one who has chosen to recognize that one’s world is not redeemed is to see this reality for what it is. It will not be changed by the saving hand of God, nor will it be resolved by a military operation, whether limited or extensive. We must avoid the Messianic temptation of believing that our military is God and that because our cause is just, we will by definition prevail.
The dream of seeing Hamas and Islamic Jihad waving a white flag, or the population of Gaza repudiating their leadership and tactics is precisely that – a dream. It is not a reality, and certainly not one which will be ushered in through military action. A substitute will be found for every terrorist leader who is killed, and every missile which is destroyed will inevitably be replaced.
For some, the above will be depressing. The danger in this perception is that depression is all too often a fertile ground for Messianic fantasies, for belief that because it ought to be so, it is in our hands to make it so. Messianic fantasies lead to irrational demands of our politicians and military leaders. In such an environment, one is tempted to reach beyond one’s grasp, and ineffective, not to speak of dangerous policies and operations inevitably ensue.
With the rebirth of Israel, the Jewish people have embraced reality and our responsibility to do our best within it. We have relinquished the need for salvation as a standard of success and have chosen instead the beauty, complexity, and responsibility of living in a non-redeemed world. One of the “advantages” of the Middle East is that it always brings one back to the incompleteness of reality. This is our world, and our task is to create pockets of decency, sanity, safety, prosperity, and yes, even holiness within it. It is normal to want more. However, if you need more, you undermine Israel and the Jewish people’s ability to continue on our journey.
In our world, you can do the right thing, the necessary thing, the prudent thing, and still not achieve the desired outcome. In our world, there is a simple truth:
"It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it."
The Ethics of the Fathers