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The formula for Israel's triumph

Tags: Advocacy, Bible, Am Yisrael, Antisemitism, Judaism, Jerusalem, Zionism

By David M. Weinberg

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Anti-Semitism rears its ugly head for the first time in recorded history against the first ‎person born as a Jew -- against our biblical forefather Isaac -- in the chapters read in ‎synagogues around the world this weekend.‎

The story of how Isaac's detractors nevertheless came around to embrace him is a tale ‎pregnant with deep policy relevance for the modern State of Israel. It suggests a ‎spiritual, diplomatic and defense path forward.‎

The biblical narrative is well-known: Isaac settles in Philistine Gerar (after being ‎instructed by God not to migrate to Egypt, despite a famine in the promised land). ‎God blesses Isaac with great wealth. His crops succeed a hundredfold; his flocks and ‎herds grow large. ‎

The locals become intensely jealous of Isaac, then contemptuous of him, then spiteful. ‎They seal the water wells that Isaac has successfully dug, despite the fact that this is ‎self-destructive. Philistine malice ruined a precious resource they could have shared.‎

‎("Sinah mekalkelet et hashura," taught Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Hatred messes people up. ‎It destroys the hater, as much as it targets the hated.)‎

The local chieftain, King Avimelech, then expels Isaac from the city, because, he says, ‎‎"you [Isaac] have been become too powerful [wealthy] for us."‎

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Nahmanides, a prolific 13th-century biblical and Talmudic scholar, explains that ‎Avimelech was shamed by the fact that Isaac was richer than he; setting in place a ‎pattern of resentment and violence that has characterized Jewish-Gentile relations for ‎centuries since. ‎

Isaac settles in a nearby valley, but here, too, the locals pick a series of fights with him ‎over additional wells that he successfully digs. These include water holes that Isaac's ‎father Abraham had dug in earlier years, but they too had been malevolently potted. ‎Brazenly, Isaac reopens them. Only when Isaac moves farther away, first to Rehovot ‎and then to Beersheba, does he find quiet.‎

And then a strange thing happens. Avimelech and his top general come running after ‎Isaac seeking a peace treaty; a blood covenant, no less. "But why are you all-of-a-‎sudden so solicitous of me?" Isaac asks incredulously. "Just yesterday, you detested ‎me and booted me out!"‎

Now listen to the beautiful punch line of the story: "It's because we now see that God is ‎with you," the two Philistine leaders exclaim. "We realize that you are blessed by God, ‎and we're better-off partnering with you than alienating you."‎

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What brought about this significant turnabout in the Philistine approach to ‎Isaac? What turned their antipathy into admiration, and their bitterness into respect? ‎

The traditional Jewish commentators suggest that three factors weighed on the minds of ‎Avimelech and his army chief of staff. First, they were awed by Abraham's faith and Isaac's persistence. ‎

Abraham and Isaac were true believers who didn't cut and run when the going got ‎tough. They played the long game, cleaving to their belief system. ‎

Isaac, especially, had the courage to continue his father's ideological journey, even ‎though few expected Abraham's monotheistic mantras to last beyond his charismatic ‎lifetime. That's why Abraham's wells (perhaps these were his "kiruv," or outreach, ‎centers) were shut down when he died. It was assumed that Abraham's oddball ‎religious insurgency would die along with him. Yet Isaac dug in and forged ahead with ‎his father's revolution. ‎

Second, you can't argue with success! Isaac was clearly blessed -- whether by divine ‎power or by fortune. He showed creativity, ingenuity, and, we might even say, ‎technological prowess. Why not benefit from such a source of bounty, rather than ‎besmirching and battering it?‎

Third, Isaac was powerful. Nahmanides posits that Isaac maintained his father's army ‎of 300 armed mercenaries, as well as alliance understandings with other tribes in the ‎region. Isaac was someone to be feared. And while Isaac hadn't fought back when ‎pushed out of Gerar, Avimelech had to be concerned that one day Isaac would come ‎roaring out of the desert to clobber him -- just as Abraham had once defeated the ‎powerful armies of four other local kings.‎

The lessons for the modern State of Israel are vividly clear. ‎

First, the nations of the world will respect the people of Israel for adherence to faith, ‎just as Avimelech honored Isaac for his devotion.‎

Jewish fealty and authenticity, not the flight from Jewish identity, is what guarantees ‎both Jewish continuity and non-Jewish admiration. When we are loyal to the biblical ‎moral codes and the demands of Jewish history, world powers will reward us with ‎their loyalty, too. When we evince high regard for our traditions, the world will express ‎high regard for our aspirations. Respect our own culture, and we will earn their respect, ‎too.‎

By the way, this is an explicit divine promise. See Deuteronomy 4:6-8. ‎

The takeaway is that reintroducing basic Jewish and Zionist identity studies in the ‎Israeli school system, after decades of neglect, is critical to Israel's domestic and ‎diplomatic future. A further takeaway is that Israel must play the long game, like our ‎forefathers: hewing to the land and trusting that Providence will help in overcoming ‎all adversities.

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Matam Hi-Tech Park in Haifa

Second, Israel should continue to invest in its high-tech, cyber tech, biotech, water tech, ‎environmental tech and other cutting-edge competencies. It must maximize its ‎expertise in these fields, and in development work, immigrant absorption, early ‎childhood education, disaster management, and so much more -- to build alliances ‎around the world. People don't argue with success, they rally round it! Like Isaac, we ‎have every reason, altruistic and selfish, to share our advances and blessings with the ‎world.‎

Third, keep our gunpowder dry and muskets at the ready. Maintain a large, fierce ‎army. Be judicious about the use of force, like Isaac, but resolute in achieving ‎legitimate military objectives, like Abraham. ‎

In specific terms, this indeed means buying updated Dolphin submarines and F-35 jet ‎fighters, and investing in large ground formations as well as in intelligence technology.‎

Take heed of the biblical Isaac story: Faith, fortune and power are the ingredients that ‎guarantee Israel success against its adversaries.‎

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David M. Weinberg is director of public affairs at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.




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Tags: Advocacy, Bible, Am Yisrael, Antisemitism, Judaism, Jerusalem, Zionism


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