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Time for a Unified Voice

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken

This week we buried 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass, targeted by a sniper in Hebron. We also commemorated the yahrtzeit of Alisa Flatow, killed by a suicide bomber on 10 Nissan 1995. Remembering these young victims, while commencing the Book of Leviticus this past Sabbath, has set me thinking.

Leviticus begins with the humility of Moshe, who was "more humble than any man on earth." He wrote "Vayikra el Moshe," "[G-d] called to Moshe," with a minimized letter aleph in "VaYiKRA" -- as if to imply "VaYiKaR," used when G-d "called" the evil prophet Bilaam [Numbers 23:4]. Commentators explain that "Vayikar" indicated a casual, even degrading meeting. Moshe did not want to write that G-d called him with the love of the angels "who called one to the other" in Isaiah 6:3.

Humility includes the capacity to admit error - also characteristic of Moshe, and expected of all our leaders. Leviticus discusses the Temple offerings, and turns almost immediately to the sin-offering, brought after mistakenly transgressing G-d's Law. The Torah provides one offering for an individual, and others for the leaders: if the High Priest sins, he brings a unique offering; the King, too, has his sacrifice. In fact, the Torah says "when the King shall err" -- the King is also human, and will certainly err.

The Torah also discusses "the people" sinning. How could the entire nation sin? Our Sages explain: the Sanhedrin, the High Court, ruled incorrectly, causing all to transgress. Then, that same Sanhedrin declared that it had made a mistake. This is the hallmark of Jewish leadership -- willingness to admit error and change course.

In 1993, Israel made a terrible mistake, which we called a "Peace Process." We gave the PLO tens of thousands of automatic weapons and territory now under its Authority. In return, Arafat was to swear off violence and use these weapons to maintain order and round up terrorists -- not, of course, for terrorism.

Today, the trampling of this promise is known to all. The Bush administration now appropriately calls this Intifada pre-meditated, and agrees that Arafat is fully in control, encouraging violence rather than acting to reduce it. In Israel, leaders of the "intellectual left" have admitted error, apologizing for the headlong rush to "peace" and the demonization of Israel's right wing that accompanied it.

Yet we are not yet unified. In Israel, the Meretz fringe remains adamant. In America, groups like Americans for Peace Now and the Shalom Center assert, against all evidence or logic, that further concessions will suddenly bring about a true renunciation of violence. The New Israel Fund bestows millions upon organizations which petition for the release of murderers and support a Palestinian "right of return" which would eliminate Israel as a Jewish state.

They blame Israel, not to mention Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, for the current warfare. They condemn Israel for blockading Arab towns (do nations maintain open borders with hostile territory?), for destroying trees which sheltered terrorist gunmen, for the "extra-judicial killing" of Force 17 terrorists -- in short, there is no counter-terrorism effort that they do not condemn. In their view, the "Jewish" response is to invite Arab gunmen to take over Jerusalem.

No. The Jewish response is to admit error.

Seeking peace is not merely commendable. It is an expression of longing for the highest ideals of the Jewish soul. But we must face reality when the man holding the Nobel Prize is sending snipers to murder babies in Hebron.

Arafat is making war, and those who most ardently favored the "peace process" should now most furiously denounce him. "Israeli-Palestinian violence" is no more apt a description for this than "Jewish-Cossack violence" would have been for Russian pogroms. To invite him to speak, to discuss Israeli "causes" for this six-month battle, encourages its continuation. It sends the message that his methods are acceptable.

Giving the PA machine guns was, in effect, delivering murder weapons. We know that now. But until now, those who favored this course could legitimately argue that they were attempting to make peace and save lives. This is no longer true. To continue to talk about Arafat as a dignitary, to say his "frustration" justifies his actions, to recommend new Israeli concessions, is to accede to violence. To put it bluntly, to "dialogue" with Arafat today is to invite the murder of more Israeli innocents.

Unlike what came before, today it is a deliberate crime. And for deliberate transgressions, says our Torah, no sacrifices will atone.

Yaakov Menken



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