Parshat Shemini - 5763
Between Persia and Egypt
– And Now Iraq!
My apologies to the readers for devoting
an inordinate amount of space to politics, as if I really had the answers.
Parshat Shemini falls between Purim and Pesach, between the terrible threat
posed to the Jews by the tyrant Haman and the crushing slavery imposed by
the Pharaoh of Egypt, who presided over the House of Bondage, from which no
slave ever escaped.
As Spring arrives in the year 5763, a complicated drama envelops the entire
world. The United States, under President George W. Bush, is at war with
Iraq, headed by the tyrant Saddam Hussein, who rules with terror and has in
the past used poison gas on elements of his own people.
This war was opposed by a majority of the world’s population, or at least a
majority of the world’s governments. This includes the Muslim world, whose
members may hate Hussein, but who still less want to be invaded by an army
of “infidels,” as they were in the time of the Crusades.
But other sources of opposition have come to the fore, including the
triumvirate of Russia, France and Germany. Russia need not be discussed at
length, because it remains an enigma, and has not fully emerged from its
anti-western leaning of the Cold War. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and
Chancellor Schroeder of Germany, the nation that raised the technology of
genocide to new heights in the last century, don’t seem aware of the
hypocrisy involved in their lecturing the United States (and Israel) about
confronting an individual who, among the other items in his arsenal,
possesses poison gas. Perhaps the worst of the three, since it seems to
share a basically western (i.e. Judeo-Christian (i.e. Judaic)) set of
values, is France, under President Jacques Chirac. Exposed recently was the
degree of their cooperation with the Nazis during World War II, when they
shipped nearly one hundred thousand Jews to certain death in Germany.
Embedded in their national character is also a goodly measure of arrogance.
An example of this is when France, that had been the main supplier of
aircraft and heavy armament to Israel, followed the directive of President
Charles de Gaulle to boycott Israel for having the nerve to disobey de
Gaulle’s order and launch the Six-Day War, when its national life was at
stake. The embargo included undelivered orders, that Israel had already paid
The war with Iraq has not gone as smoothly as hoped by military planners at
the Pentagon. Perhaps there was too much confidence in the overwhelming
advantage of American firepower. This brought us (the US) into conflict with
at least two p’sukim, even though we were wearing, ostensibly, the “white
hats” in the conflict. In Zechariah (4:6) we find the prophet assuring
Zerubavel, one of the rebuilders of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, not to
fear the enemy because victory is obtained “not by might nor by power.”
Neither bunker-busting bombs nor any other manifestation of great physical
strength is significant, for it can be overridden instantly by the Almighty.
Kohelet also tells us in 3:15 that “...the L-rd is on the side of the
pursued.” One must be very careful because even if one’s opponent is wearing
a very black hat (in the “cowboy,” not Charedi or Chassidic sense), HaShem
is generally not on the side of bullies.
HaShem also detests arrogance. Names reflecting excessive hubris, such as
“Shoch and Awe” are like lightning-rods for punishment. Awe should be
reserved for the One who is described in Devarim (8:15) as “the Almighty Who
is great and mighty and awesome.” This hubris may partially explain the
blinding sandstorms that enveloped the region of conflict, that were
described as the worst in decades, and by one of the American soldiers as of
In the “Shirat HaYam,” Moshe and the People of Israel sang of the invincible
might of HaShem (Shemot 15:9-10), “The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will
overtake.... I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ You did blow
with Your wind, the sea covered them; They sank as lead in the mighty
HaShem is the “One Who makes the wind blow and the rain fall,” as we pray
three times a day in the fall and winter. In Tehilim 147 (17), we find “He
casts forth His ice like morsels; who can stand before His cold?” Regarding
one’s enemies, David assures us in 147:18, “He sends out His hand, and melts
them; He causes His wind to blow; they run as water.”
Let us be quieter, less arrogant, less super-confident of victory. As we
read in I Kings 19:11-13, “And He said to Eliyahu, ‘Go out and stand upon
the mountain before the L-rd.’ And behold, the L-rd passed by, and a great
and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke the rocks in pieces before the
L-rd; but the L-rd was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake;
but the L-rd was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire,
but the L-rd was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still, small voice.
And when Eliyahu heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out,
and stood in the entrance of the cave.”
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel