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Desert Camp

Despite everything that Hamas, Hezbollah, and Co. throw at us — we’re still a nation that’s camped out around the Mishkan


wonder how many Israeli journalists know that the foremost media cliché about the Hezbollah threat is actually lifted from Yirmiyahu. “Mitzafon tipatach hara’ah — From the north the evil will be released upon all the inhabitants of the land,” the prophet is told early in his career. Such is the phrase’s ominous resonance that thousands of years later, it’s become the secular headline writer’s platitude of choice when discussing the threat from the Lebanese terror group.

If the Israeli media were minded to try something less hackneyed, they could open a Maseches Sotah. Among the eerily prescient descriptions of the pre-messianic Ikvesa D’Meshicha period — which a tradition from the Chofetz Chaim says is upon us — are two words that could be a headline today. “V’hagalil yechareiv  — and the Galil will be destroyed,” says the Mishnah.

Looking at the burning hills and abandoned, blasted towns of Israel’s north, it’s hard not to think of those words. Strip away the hollow declarations of Israeli military achievements, and the harsh truth emerges: a terror group has made a vast swath of the country uninhabitable. With what X-ray vision did Chazal utter these words so many years ago?

The norm-defying, metaphysical nature of Israeli existence has been a major theme of this column since Simchas Torah. It’s given voice — and sometimes form — to what many people know to be true. As Ben-Gurion’s famous quote about miracles being Israel’s realism indicates, there’s even a secular version of that emunah, because there’s no other way to explain Israel’s high-wire existence.

Watching the split-screen reportage of Israel’s burning north alongside the attack on the yeshivah world in the Supreme Court because of the chareidi draft, I found myself reverting to that theme again.

As the eminent justices (some of them religious) grilled the government’s lawyer about how to enforce “equality” in the draft, I found myself scratching my head about the impeccable timing of the whole thing. With the country in a crisis unlike any since the Yom Kippur War, could they not think of any better time to undermine the spiritual protection afforded by Torah learning? With Israel heading for an iceberg, is it necessary specifically now to drill a hole below the waterline as well?

Obviously that argument won’t convince the secularists who brought the appeal to the court. But it should matter to the many religious voices in Israel and abroad calling to draft bnei Torah. The exact halachic status of this war is beyond this column’s scope; likewise, how to deal with the thorny issue of bochurim who aren’t learning. I also don’t for a moment make light of the disparity in risk of those on the front lines versus those at a shtender. But all of that is largely moot because the big picture is that — especially now — we desperately need more Torah learning, not less.

The environment facing the Jewish People has, almost overnight, grown shockingly hostile. All the initiatives to fight back on campus and lobby the White House are good, but does anyone who opens a Chumash really think that they’re enough? Even a cursory reading of Krias Shema shows that the material state of the Jewish nation is always an outgrowth of its spiritual level.

Mirroring the Jewish heroism and self-sacrifice of Israel’s soldiers on the front lines, there’s a spiritual battle underway about Am Yisrael’s survival in Eretz Yisrael. No one in their right mind would say that it’s time to send the army on furlough, so why the calls to empty the beis medrash?

The sad existence of a debate around the centrality of Torah in a Jewish country brings to mind a midrash about the Mikdash. “Rav Yehoshua Ben Levi said; ‘If the nations of the world had known how good the Mikdash was for them, they would have protected it with military encampments and ramparts.”

Substitute the yeshivos for the Mikdash, and the 2024 parallel is obvious. It’s sad that for some secular Jews, the central lesson of the Simchas Torah attack is that less Torah is needed in the Jewish state. But that’s wrong, because we aren’t a normal nation. We should be herding people to a Gemara at gunpoint, not discussing which financial penalty will take them away most quickly.

As we celebrate Shavuos, another oft-overlooked fact about the great desert encampment of Am Yisrael speaks to the current zeitgeist.

Think about how big cities are constructed: In the center are the value-generating industries and the big cultural institutions that define what the city is. Everything else radiates out from that core, and by definition is less valuable. For that reason, it would be unthinkable to replace the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a duck pond, because city centers are meant for cultural icons, not duck ponds.

And so it was with the world that Shavuos created and the Mikdash implemented. At the heart of the teeming city of millions, there was no central business district. Instead, the Mikdash became our downtown, our central business district. Why? Because we became a nation whose focal point and central mandate is Torah, with everything else subordinate.

As we report for all-night duty in shuls all over the world, we’re declaring that thousands of years later — despite everything that Hamas, Hezbollah, and Co. throw at us — we’re still a nation that’s camped out around the Mishkan.


Good Riddance, UN

Israel’s outgoing UN ambassador Gilad Erdan wants to bring down the United Nations. At the third annual Jerusalem Conference staged by Arutz Sheva a short distance from the UN’s Midtown headquarters, Erdan spoke of Israel working to persuade allies to defund the institution. “We need to erode the institution’s legitimacy, and unless it undergoes fundamental reform, we should create a democratic alternative, John McCain’s ‘League of Democracies.’ ”

To me, this sounds like a ready-made program for a second Trump administration, working with right-wing allies such as the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, and Argentina’s Javier Milei. The idea would be a tough sell overall, but as the rise of Trumpism and Brexit show, fringe ideas can become mainstream.

With the genocide allegations in international courts, the UN’s anti-Israel bigotry has crossed from unpleasant to dangerous. It’s time for the organization to follow its predecessor, the League of Nations, into the history books.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1015)

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