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Missing Mindset

Could the Deal of the Century really resolve a cosmic conflict of 4,000 years?


Well, the dream is over. Jared Kushner, the faithful envoy to the Middle East, has brought all the dreamers back down to earth. President Trump’s recent decision to publicly recognize Israel’s sovereignty over contended parts of Eretz Yisrael had many of us on a high, and it certainly was uplifting, and even somewhat intoxicating, to hear such unprecedented words from a world leader. Now the president’s highly influential son-in-law has broken the spell and brought down the soaring expectations of many Israelis. It turns out that sovereignty over the territories in Judea and Samaria isn’t going to happen so fast.

One pin to the pink balloon. The other pin, of course, was aimed from Ramallah. Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen as he has long been known, has told the world in no uncertain terms that he will play no part in the Americans’ show. He’s been busy rounding up all the evil forces in the international community to back him in opposing the Deal of the Century, which he refuses even to discuss. Trump, savvy businessman that he is, thought that dangling billions of dollars in front of the Palestinians would tempt them into accepting the status of an independent mini-state no bigger than a Swiss canton. But he and his entire staff thereby demonstrated their lack of understanding of the proud Arab character. These sons of the desert sands will fight to the bitter end to defend their honor, though they pay for it with their lives.

So Jared Kushner comes along to clarify the matter and inform us all that the situation is, in fact, rather complicated. To the disappointment of the dreamers on the right, who were infected by the complimentary words of the US president, the reality is that even annexing the Jordan Valley territories is not quite within Israel’s reach at this point in time, all the American good will notwithstanding. This is the Middle East, after all, and Western concepts don’t apply here. How did we fail to think of that before, when the media was broadcasting so much excitement, and even some of the frum news outlets heard echoes of Mashiach’s footsteps in the president’s warm and stirring words? Some even deluded themselves into thinking the Arabs would accept a plan that was, from their point of view, humiliating. For those who aren’t familiar with their culture, it is a very serious thing to humiliate an Arab, and no logical calculation will affect his response. Kavod is the be-all and end-all of the Arab spirit, and the Americans’ failure to take this major factor into account when they sat and talked among themselves about their Deal of the Century meant that their plan was doomed from the start.

All this, of course, is in the political realm. But we know that the roots of the conflict go much deeper. They are implanted in a spiritual reality that the sponsors of the peace plan did not, could not, have taken into account. In essence, this is not a war between Israelis and Palestinians, but one more round in an age-old struggle between our respective patriarchs, Yitzchak and Yishmael. It is a conflict that cannot be resolved through diplomatic channels, nor by political maneuvering, nor even by military might. The solution is not in human hands at all; it’s entirely in the Divine realm. The holy Zohar teaches:

“Woe for that hour when Hagar preceded Sarah, when Sarah said to Avraham, come to my maidservant, and Yishmael was born. This was Hagar’s hour, and she had a son from Avraham, and Avraham said, would that Yishmael live before You. Although HaKadosh Baruch Hu had promised him a son from Sarah, Avraham Avinu clung to his son Yishmael to the point where HaKadosh Baruch Hu promised him and Yishmael, ‘I have heard you….’ Woe for that hour that Yishmael was born, and in the merit of the mitzvah of his circumcision, he won an enduring place in the Holy Land until Yitzchak was born.

“Come and see: For 400 years the minister of the Ishmaelite people stood and petitioned before HaKadosh Baruch Hu. He said to Him, does one who has the mitzvah of milah have a portion in Your Name? He answered, yes. If so, then I have a portion in Your Name…. Woe to that time when Yishmael was born into the world and was circumcised. What did HaKadosh Baruch Hu do? He removed Bnei Yishmael from their cleaving to the upper world and gave them a portion below, in the Holy Land, because of that merit [circumcision]. And the children of Yishmael are destined to have control over the Holy Land when it is empty [of the Jewish People] for a lengthy period of time, just as their circumcision is void and incomplete. And they will obstruct the children of Israel from returning to their place until such time that the children of Yishmael have been fully rewarded for that merit.

“And the children of Yishmael will instigate harsh wars against the children of Israel when they return to the Holy Land, as long as their circumcision gives them rights over the Land.”

These excerpts from the Zohar teach us that the roots of our struggle are far removed from the mundane politics that we get so caught up in. While we try to deal with existential threats through political channels, the Zohar shows us a fundamentally different map of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It dates back not to 1948 or to the First Zionist Congress; it is a cosmic struggle that began in the days of Avraham Avinu, and will continue for as long as Bnei Yishmael’s zechus hamilah endures.

As people of faith, we have a duty to look beneath and beyond current political developments and instead qualify current events in the light of Torah. With this deeper insight into the age-old conflict, so resistant to resolution, we’re not surprised that the ancient argument — Yishmael’s specious claim that as Avraham’s firstborn, Eretz Yisrael is rightfully his — still echoes in the mouths of Abu Mazen and the rest of the terrorists at the helm in Ramallah and Gaza. And so it will be, until the cosmic balance shifts and the wheel turns, ushering in the Geulah Sheleimah.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 797)

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