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Give In, Get More

Could the elections no one wants have been prevented with a little humility on all sides?

In Israel they’re calling it “the plonter,” a Yiddish word that best describes the knotty state of the country’s attempts at forming a democratically elected government. Assuming readers are looking on with concern at this impasse and wondering how Israelis will be going to the polls for the third time in less than a year, the answer to that question, at least, is simple. The root of the problem is bad middos — gaavah in particular. That favorite tool of the yetzer hara has a firm grip on all the key figures in this political traffic jam: Bibi, Benny, Yair, and Avigdor.

Gaavah, foolish and unwarranted pride, is dictating the behavior of all these men, shaping their view of the problem and triggering their responses. Their sense of self has prevented them from engaging in meaningful, productive dialogue and finding a way out of the plonter.

Each of them, dazzled by the vision of his own competence and confident that he’s right and must therefore emerge victorious, fails to see that he’s actually a victim of his own bad middos. Each of them is sure that his motives are ideological, that they stand only for the pursuit of justice, only want to uphold the rule of law. Never mind that the law permits Bibi to continue to serve as Prime Minister as long as he has not been convicted by a court of law; the righteous Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid could never sully themselves by sitting in a government with a leader who’s been indicted. Never mind that if we were to dig into their own pasts, we could easily find similar indictable offenses, and they know that. “Anything but Bibi” has become not just a slogan, but the guiding principle of their lives for which they’ll apparently do anything, including leaving their country in this ridiculous stalemate.

Truth be told, the Blue and White Party has no unified ideology. It’s essentially a shopping cart of politicians and retired generals, leaning both leftward and rightward, with only one goal in common: knocking Bibi off his perch. If resolving the stalemate were truly important to them, some form of compromise would have already happened.

If all the players in this very expensive and pivotal game were to seek enlightenment from Rav Chaim of Volozhin, they would learn to act completely differently. In his tzava’ah, he enjoined his children to be mevater to one another, for “through the quality of patience, a person achieves his aims much more than by all the aggressiveness in the world.” That is, by patient acceptance, making room for others and not trying forcibly to impose one’s own will, a person achieves not only success, but has a much greater chance of getting what he wants in the end.

Life experience confirms the truth of Rav Chaim of Volozhin’s words. The vatran wins in the end. But this cadre of generals that has sprouted up out of nowhere doesn’t know the secret of making space for other points of view, and their hands are seemingly tied by the blustering statements they’ve made. If only they would have let go of the imaginary honor they still think they’ve gotten from a show of strength, and had listened instead to the voice of humility, they could have certainly built a coalition and a unity government in which even our (gasp!) indicted Prime Minister could have served as leader in some capacity or other. Yes, it would have required some concessions, real ones rather than mere political spins, on all sides, and these concessions would have enabled both Netanyahu and Gantz to lead the government in partnership — whether in rotation, as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, or any other configuration that would give power to each of them and build up his political status for the future.

By giving up some of their own aims to accommodate each other, both sides would have gained tremendously, for “through the quality of patience, a person achieves his aims much more than by all the aggressiveness in the world.” But their gaavah wouldn’t  let them do that, and more’s the pity.

People who believe in power struggles, who think that insisting obstinately on their position will get them the results they desire, are so sadly wrong. The political traffic jam we’ve witnessed, horns honking and nobody moving, is a lesson for us all. With the attitude prescribed by Rav Chaim of Volozhin, with a little bit of anavah, a solution could have certainly been found without dragging the country through another exhausting election, at a cost of billions to the state coffers. But as long as nobody is willing to compromise, we can only assume that the results will, for the third time, be much the same.

DECADES AGO, RAV MOSHE SHAPIRA ztz”l wrote a startlingly prescient essay clarifying the difference between the concepts of oyev (enemy) and sonei (hater). The oyev feel hostility, eivah, and intense dislike, but he won’t go out of his way to harm the one he distains, as long as he’s not provoked. The sonei, on the other hand, is a dedicated hater. He wants his enemy, whose very existence is like a thorn in his side, wiped off the map.

The following is a (loosely translated) excerpt of Rav Moshe’s complex dvar Torah, which is relevant to the situation we find ourselves in today:

“In the curses of parshas Bechukosai the Torah says, ‘I will set My Face against you, and you will be stricken before your enemies, and your haters will rule over you [bachem in lashon kodesh].’ Rashi explains, ‘Your haters will rule over you [bachem]’ — I will cause haters to arise from within your own people, for when foreign nations arise against Israel, they seek only what is visible… But when He causes a sonei to rise up from within, they search out your hidden treasures…

“This Rashi tells us that the sonei is one of us, who arises from within the people and is not satisfied with persecuting and abusing Am Yisrael, but also goes after the hidden treasures. That is to say, while the oyev hates the Jewish People and wants us to keep out of his sight, the sonei is the one who wants us to cease to exist, and this sonei will arise from within Am Yisrael itself.”

What this means is that our sonim will arise from among us, from those who know the secrets of our people’s continued existence, those who know the great secret (the hidden treasure) of limud haTorah and fulfillment of the mitzvos which are the essence of our existence. These hidden treasures are known to him, and he hates them.

Rav Moshe Shapira continues: “And he will persecute our very essence, Torah and mitzvos, and do all this to intimidate us, to enforce conscription of lomdei Torah, to uproot Shabbos, and abolish marriage kedas Moshe v’Yisrael. This is the understanding that arises from our reading of Rashi, that this is the goal of the sonei, this is his banner.”

So, who is playing the role of the sonei in our times?

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 790)

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