A Jewish and Democratic Israel! – Parashat Vayishlach: “Put away the strange Gods”
Sometimes it feels like Torah is knocking on the door of our reality!
This week we read “Parashat Vayishlach”,Genesis 32:4 to 36:43, which interestingly contains an important message to our politicians and people!
One of the stories in our Torah portions is “Maase Shechem”.
It is narrated that Dinah went out to see the daughters of the land when the President of the land, Shechem the son of Hamor, saw her and lay with her; the interpretation is divided between by force and with her consent. Most Torah translations have chosen to write “rape” or “violation” but this is not written in the Hebrew version. You can also take a look at “The Red Tent” of Anita Diamant who offers a different point of view (Dinah’s agreement).
And his soul cleaved to Dinah the daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl and spoke to the girl’s heart (34:3).
And Shechem spoke to his father Hamor saying, “Take this girl for me as a wife.”(34:4)
Hamor went to meet Jacob and told him that Shechem loved Dinah, and asked Jacob to give her to him for a wife. He said that their two People might intermarry and live and trade together and offered to give Jacob and his sons whatever they wanted. Jacob’s sons answered that they couldn’t give Dinah to a non-circumcised person. Then they proposed to facilitate the relationship by circumcising all the men in town. Hamor and Shechem agreed and did so without delay.
On the third following day, when all the men were in pain, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi took their swords, went to the city, killed all the men, including Hamor and Shechem, and took Dinah. They also took to themselves money, children and wives.
This is a terrible story. Most (not all) of Torah commentators have a struggle with this deed and try to justify it. However Jacob himself – Dinah, Simeon and Levi’s father – condemns the barbarian act, the expression of hatred and violence toward an entire society. And we see the punishment at the end of the book of Bereshit (Gen49:5-7):
Simeon and Levi are brethren; weapons of violence their kinship. 6 Let my soul not come into their council; unto their assembly let my glory not be united; for in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they houghed oxen. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel; I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.
Simeon and Levi won’t have a part in the land of Israel, the “nachala”.
Immediately after all this happens in Gen 34:30 Jacob says: … Ye have troubled me, to make me odious unto the inhabitants of the land…
Jacob gathers his family and implores (Gen 35:2):”Put away the strange gods that are among you, and purify yourselves”
The word “strange” is a translation of the Hebrew concept of nechar נכר. Elohei Hanechar, the strange god.
Moving to the modern Israel, the word nechar is also used to refer to “Eretz zara”, diaspora, but with a negative connotation. For example, a common saying: “When we were in the nechar we were killed” – refers to times when Jews were persecuted in the diaspora.
The idea of Elohei nechar points to the need to rethink the concept of God, it refers to a way to observe the world which is strange to our present. Similarly, the mind of the persecuted Jew in Russia, trying to survive pogroms, can and should be present in the collective conscience and in the memory of the state of Israel; but the desire to revenge our past cannot be a factor in decision-making or in the constitution of our laws.
The God we had in Russia, in Germany, during the Inquisition, when we founded our state, should be part of our living memory. But if we keep it as a drive to act we will convert it into a strange-foreign God.
After a crisis in the coalition this last Thursday the Israeli parliament voted for its dissolution. Probably one of the most remarkable triggers of this conflict was the Nation State Bill driven by some of the right-wing parties in the coalition.
The main problem with the Nation State Bill is that it doesn’t empower the Jewish state; Not only does it not add a thing in terms of Judaism and democracy that weren’t written in the Declaration of Independence, but it aggressively subtracts from our country’s democracy by not recognizing minorities. For example: “The State of Israel is a democratic state, established on the foundations of liberty, justice and peace in light of the vision of the prophets of Israel, and realizes the individual rights of all its citizens under law”. By recognizing populations as individuals you immediately ignore their educational system, religion, languages…
This kind of laws, which also ask for the already obvious – to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, usually come from people who can’t let go of past concepts and live with “Elohei Hanechar”, they apparently don’t get that it’s done, we have a Jewish state, we are the Jewish state.
When some who “live in the past” lead our government we needn’t ask ourselves why we are not managing to find new solutions for old conflicts, why the process of peace is stuck. The answer is easy; A lack in the connection with the reality, not in understanding who the others are, but in understanding who we are.
When David Ben Gurion read the Declaration of Independence of the state of Israel he left the “God of the nechar” at the nechar, and brought a new vision; a vision of deep connection with the Jewish History, a deep connection with Jewish sources and with the spirit of our prophets. And of course with lots of self-confidence he was reaching out to connect with our neighbors and cohabitants.
“The State of Israel shall… realize absolute equality in social and political rights for all its citizens without regard to religion, race or sex,” the Declaration promises, and it continues, “will ensure freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; will protect the holy places of all religions; and will be loyal to the principles of the United Nations Charter.”
After 2000 years of Diaspora, Megilat Ha’atzmaut – Declaration of Independence – was the raised voice of the children of Israel saying as a nation: put away the Elohei Hanechar – strange gods!
It seems that nowadays some of our brothers refuse to live the present, and by this they are creating huge challenges and tying us to the past.
In another three months Israel is going to election. Some of our brothers will raise the flag of fear and hatred. But now more than ever we should remember that only two of Jacob’s sons were involved in “maase Shechem”. Today we, the other 10, should raise our voices finding a loving basis for the unity of our people. We should remember that the punishment of our ancestors was not having a part in the land, and we cannot let it happen.