I don’t know how well Golda Meir knew Rashi’s commentary on the Torah, but one of her most famous quotations comes right out of this week’s parshah.
As Esav approached Yaakov’s camp with his 400 men Yaakov was afraid. The Torah uses two words to describe his fear. “He was frightened and distressed.”
Rashi says, “he was frightened that he might be killed, and he was distressed that he might have to kill others.”
Golda Meir once said, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”
Many have adamantly disagreed with her first assertion. We should not forgive them for killing our children. But I can understand her second point. Israel does not want to kill anyone. The heroic combat soldiers that I have had the honor of knowing are proud that they risked their lives to defend the Jewish state, but they don’t, God forbid, boast about killing the enemy.
One of the great American films of all time, Taxi Driver with Robert De Niro, was about a young man who returns from Vietnam completely confused and disturbed. He has become so accustomed to war that he cannot adjust to normal life.
Yaakov did not want his sons to turn into a Spartan clan. Understanding this mindset of Yaakov also sheds light on his reaction to the very next episode in his life, the story of the rape of Dina. At the end of his life he curses Shimon and Levi for choosing violence as their craft. It was exactly what Yaakov did not want for his children.
But what can you do? They were born into the hostile situation with their grandfather Lavan who ultimately chased down their father and said in their presence that he wanted to kill them. Then they had the traumatic experience of preparing to meet Esav. This was their whole life. Should we be surprised about their reaction to Dina’s rape? They never really knew tranquility the way that their father did at the beginning of his life.
People are surprised that Israel, generally leans right of center. Given the circumstances that Israelis live with, I am surprised that Israel has a left wing at all.
But there is. And when there is an individual act of extremism in Israel it is widely condemned by the full spectrum, from left to right. Because even the right wing in Israel does not want to kill Arabs. They just want to end the killing of Jews. They don’t hate Arabs. They hate Arab violence.
Shame on those enemies of Israel who say that they don’t condone the acts of terror from Arabs, but they can understand them given the terrible conditions under which they are brought up.
Arabs are not the only ones who experience poverty. There is poverty in Israel as well. And Israeli children grow up in an environment that is hostile and can be traumatic as well. But Israeli parents do everything that they can to make sure that there children do not become killers.
Like Yaakov, they prepare for battle and they defend themselves. But also like Yaakov, his descendants are constantly vigilant that we do not lose our humanity in the process.
If Israel can do it, Israel’s enemies should be capable as well.
Golda Meir was correct when she said, We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.
May that day come soon.