Friday, November 23, 2012

Clashing civilizations

Last week saw a battle between Israel and Hamas. At the surface level, the conflict was about deterrence, Hamas had to be convinced it lacked the power to shower rockets on Israel. 

At a deeper level, the roots of conflict are civilizational- Judaism and Islamist Hamas have incompatible claims to one and the same territory. These opposing claims emanate from two competing narratives of God’s Creation, both of which constitute their civilization's sense of legitimacy and its law. 

In both cases, to be legitimate, National sovereignty must be an extension of Nature created by God. The Created world has a law for every one of its parts, for the most remote galaxies, the Solar system and for Earth. Man is no exception to this general rule, as another part of Creation occupying space on Earth we too must act in accord with His law that controls all aspects of Creation.

For Islamists, the proper method for extending law to man is Islamism. Each and every man must live as a citizen in a world wide Caliphate- under Muslim sovereignty. This world wide Caliphate may begin in areas of Muslim power, ie where the "prophet" Muhammed first dwelled. But this merely a practical issue, from the initial staging ground the Caliphate is meant to extend outward to mankind generally.

 As a Non Muslim State within the immediate bounds of sacred territory dwelled in by Mohammed, the existence of Israel is a desecration of scripture, the height of affront to nature. The Islamists interpretation of religion demands that the territory currently under Israeli illegitimate occupation be made part of the emerging  Muslim Caliphate. The rocket attacks staged by Hamas are a stage in the larger campaign to liberate the land and establish the full Caliphate through Holy war of Jihad.

For Jews, sovereignty is also a matter of extending law into the domain of man, this extension is also to be done by scripture. It is in precisely this light that the restoration of Jewish Sovereignty in the territory of Israel is a fulfillment of scripture. Abraham received a covenant from Hashem that the Jewish people would inherit this land. The return of Jewish sovereignty is a redemption of the land, the end of a forced expulsion from our natural home. In the words of Israel’s declaration of independence:

The Land of Israel, was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma'pilim (Hebrew) - immigrants coming to Eretz-Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation] and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country's inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.

While this particular clash with Hamas is getting headlines and dominates conversation, in principle there is nothing new about it- Hamas is but the current opponent in a historic process. The Jewish nation was founded upon a core underlying dialectic about the nature of man’s place in the world, the legitimate way to extend natural law into the political arena and its laws for citizens. This dialectic Judaism brings into mankind is the basis of redemption and is the central thread of the Torah story. 

We will deal with this central thread of the Storyline of redemption in the next post. It is in the context of exploring the dialectic about extending the concept of natural law into terms applicable to legitimacy in sovereignty and law that we will move toward an answer to the original question. How does one preoccupied with material security afforded by Goel Yisrael ever come to recognize the Creator of Shamayim V'aretz.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The centrality of Redemption

In discussion with my friend David Guttman an extremely important topic came up, one I would like to clarify my thoughts about and receive feedback from others. See here . The discussion emerged from reading Jim Holt’s new book “why does the world exist”.  As the ambitious title implies, the book deals with the question known today as: “why is there something, rather than nothing”?

The central tenant of Judaism is that nothing but God is a “first existent”, necessarily existing without need of any cause. Attaining deep knowledge of the contigency of Creation upon God the ‘first existent” is therefore the very foundation of the Mitzva system- it is the ultimate goal the Torah guides us to attain.

But how do we reach this lofty goal? Rather than meditating on the Cosmos' need for His causal force, as Avraham Avinu did, our interest in “needs” is self-centered.The focus of our prayers is our material security, as individuals and as citizens of the Jewish nation and the world. We seek his Kingship, his powerful Hand acting to decimate our enemies and secure Israel’s well-being.

This preoccupation with material well being starts from the earliest times, from the sojourn of our forefathers in Egypt. We did not cry out to Hashem the Lord of our father’s to aid us in solving Father Abraham’s question “why there is something rather than nothing”. Our interest was much more material than that, we called out only when our personal existence was in crisis.

23 And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.25 And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them. {S}

Our forefathers in Egypt came to believe in God through illustrations of Yad Hashem, His beneficent power to sustain us in material security and to deliver Israel from crisis.This interest in Hashem's mighty "hand" reaches its height at yam Suf, instigating the song of Az Yashir.

28 And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, even all the host of Pharaoh that went in after them into the sea; there remained not so much as one of them.29 But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.  30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore. 31 And Israel saw the great hand which the LORD displayed upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the LORD; and they believed in the LORD, and in His servant Moses. {P}
Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spoke, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider has he thrown into the sea. 

This central fact, that our service is centered on Hashem’s "hand", is canonized in the culmination of Keriat Shema. We conclude Shema and enter tefilla focused upon recalling the event of Yam Suf, the quintessential illustration of His power. 
Shira chadasha shibechu geulim... the redeemed ones sang a new song (az yashir). All together they gave thanksgiving and recognized His Kingship saying : Hashem will rule for all eternity!
How is one whose service to Hashem centers on attaining security ever to be led to seek the "First Existent"?  How are we to move from focusing on the mighty hand of the Goel Yisrael, to seeking the cause of the Cosmos / Boreh Shamayim V'Aretz?

I will attempt to answer this in the next post exploring the centrality of the notion of "Redemption" as a preliminary stage in service to Hashem.