Shoftim: Happy Birthday Shimon Peres

You won’t find any 'settler', nor any true son of Israel celebrating the career of Shimon Peres. The parsha helps explain why.

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

Shimon Peres shattered three myths:

a.that history should dictate decisions about our future; b. that the settlers represent the bridge between past and future; and c.that political (sic) decisions related to security would be led by the army ..with its narrow, shortsighted security considerations” ( Uri Savir, who heads the Peres Peace Center in an oped on the occasion of President Shimon Peres’ 88th birthday).

Two weeks ago, we were doing what everyone in Israel does after Tisha B’Av: we went on vacation. Israelis do this because the schools are closed and there’s nobody to babysit for the kids (unless you join that significant Israeli minority who bring their kids to work with them, which explains the annual drop in getting anything done in this country in August).

We had a wonderful, exhausting day, starting at 7 am in the Gilabun waterfallin the Golan, and finishing in the Banias-Jordan River next to Sdei Nechemiah in the Galilee. That night, we settled down in our room in Alonei Habashan, and watched the news on Israeli television.

Yonit Levy was interviewing Pres. Peres for his birthday, and started thus: “How do you explain it that you went from the most hated man in Israel, who never won an election, to such a unanimously beloved figure?” . I can’t report his answer to you, because of the mixture of laughter and loud gagging sounds in the room (next year, to ensure quiet, I’ll leave the kids at my work and the two of us vacation on our own).

“The very survival of the nation hinges on the unity of life, in its entirety (“kol”) – including physical, spiritual and ethical aspects. Just as a physical injury can pose an existential danger to a person (“Adam”), so in the case of Israel, in regard to the its spiritual health… every disturbance and withdrawal in our natural constitution is liable to paralyze our national Life, damming its natural flow, stopping the connection between vivifying soul and the body( “nefesh and guf”) by darkening and strangling the illumination of the Light(ohr) of the national Soul to the national Body.. Wholeness (“shleimut ”, both complete health for the life of the soul and wholesomeness for the strengthening of our practical physical lives, depends on Israel living in the Holy Land, and not in Exile: only here can we flower and flourish” (Rav Tzvi Y. Tau, Emunat Iteinu ,vol. 8,pages 209-211; in explanation of Rav Kook, Shmoneh Kevatzim).

Rav Matis Weinberg shows how far this idea goes in considering Parshat Shoftim and these days of Elul that lead up to Rosh Hashana, the day Adam crowns G-d as King (Malchut) of the Universe. This Malchut is not “King” in our ordinary understanding of the word, but rather the all-inclusive self-organization of everything in Creation, from Time immemorial to the distant future.

This is the basis of the Zichronot prayers of the Amida Service of Rosh Hashana .

The week's parsha deals with the king of Israel, but the advice applies to every Jew- to incorporate all aspects of one’s self, all physical, emotional, spiritual sides of oneself, from birth to present, into a whole (“kol,shaleim”)personality. The king, or Malchut, is seen on any level of organization, be it a man, business, school, or nation.

The parsha singles out the king, and Rav Weinberg notes that Rabeinu Bechayei turns to one of our greatest kings, Shlomo (Solomon) HaMelech, for elucidation of this topic. Shlomo’s very name derives from the root “shleimut”, the wholesomeness of which Rabbis Kook and Tau write. Furthermore, Shlomo failed in this crucial point of “incorporating the kol/all”:

Our parsha says that the king should not take many wives, nor acquire many horses nor much silver, for reasons stated in the Torah (Devarim, 17, verses 16-17). Shlomo, wisest of all men in history, reasoned that the underlying rationales for these prohibitions didn’t apply to him, so he could have 1,000 wives, etc.

But one ignores basic evolutionary biology, and history, at one’s peril: the wives ultimately did “turn the king’s heart astray” (Kings I, chap. 11, verse 4). In the words of the master, Rav Weinberg:” History (take that,Uri Savir) bears witness to advanced societies who deigned no nod to those old maps.. proud and unaware of disintegration even to the point of socially-condoned murder; history chronicles the drift of demons-denied as they move in from the peripheries to assert control over a progressive political structure (Malchut) deemed , absurdedly, free of the very drives that created it , twisting all (“kol”) to depraved ends”.

These demons are the ones that lead to the trivialization of human life, and to the negligent murderer who must be exiled to the City of Refuge(Devarim,chap.19).

Rabeinu Bechayei’s introduction lists numerous examples of this “shleimut” of Malchut, including the preliminary call to peace (“shalom”) that is to precede going to war against an enemy(Devarim,20,11). He notes that the Almighty’s very name is Shalom(Judges 6,24);Torah is called Shalom: “It’s ways are pleasant, and all its roads (including,Rav Weinberg says, those noted in Devarim ) are peace( Proverbs 3,17).

R. Bechayei finishes: “HaTorah koola( all) shalom, the Torah is entirely shalom, and all its commandments are Shalom laGuf v’lanefesh”- Shalom for the body and the soul (again words reminiscent of Rabbis Kook and Tau).

R. Bechayei concludes that our Parsha begins with a treatise on Justice, “ki haMishpat kiyum haShalom”, because the existence of this wholesomeness depends on Justice. Without Justice, the Law of the Jungle would let loose the primitive demons of which we must always be conscious in our interactions with others.

The Aznayim L’Torah remarks that one of the laws listed here is that, in contradistinction to all other societies which employ hangmen, Jewish law does not. “The hand of the witnesses shall be against the murderer” ( Devarim 17,7).

For us, capital punishment is not merely a deterrent. The witnesses who saw the crime are the ones who warned the murderer beforehand, not to kill. They saw him ignore that warning, calculating that his hatred and Law of the Jungle trumps good and Torah.”This murderer is dangerous to the soul and spirit of an Israelite, and lest these witnesses learn from the murderer to surrender to physical, animalistic demons, they must execute this murderer in order to obliterate Evil from their own hearts”.

This is why you won’t find any 'settler', nor any true son of Israel celebrating the career of Shimon Peres. Many a young Yonit Levy has witnessed his shameful career, and learned to “ignore history” and its demons.

His is a history from Pinchas Lavon to the famous “stinking maneuver”, from Oslo/Disengagement to the undermining of Pres. Katzav (you could not convict anyone in the US of rape without physical, medical evidence taken from the woman immediately after the alleged attack; no such evidence was presented in the “Justice”  rendered to Pres. Katzav).

There are good reasons he never won any election: Peres’ is a history of a road (Devarim 19,3) littered with victims either ruined or buried. Peres may be President of Israel, but the faithful in Israel still await, this Elul period, the real “Return of the King”.

As this week’s Haftorah concludes (Isaiah 52,7) : “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings( the “mevaser”), that proclaims Shalom; the mevaser of goodness, that proclaims salvation, who says unto Zion: ”Thy G-d is King."