Monday, June 18, 2007

Order of the Phoenix and fighting the right battles

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, coming out in theaters in July, we see Harry Potter's world immediately after Voldemort's return, in which a few dozen people are fighting Voldemort, but the rest of the magical world is denying that Voldemort has in fact returned. Throughout the story Harry and Dumbeldore are treated as troublemakers by people who don't want to admit that Voldemort is back. Only in the amazing final scene does the rest of the world realize the truth, that they've been fighting the wrong battle for a year.

We see, then, the importance of seeing the truth and fighting the right battles. Only when the whole world realizes that Voldemort is back, can they fight the right battle on the true side of good. The same lesson can be seen in the Torah, and is applicable in our modern life as well.

In the story of the spies, when the spies were giving their report of what they saw in the Land of Israel, they included the somewhat offhand comment "the Amalekites are dwelling in the Negev region" (Num 13:29). Now, in the torah portion of Chukat, the Jews get closer to Israel, we the Torah describes that "the Canaanites dwelling in the Negev region heard that the Jews were coming" (Num 21:1). If we're paying attention to the details, we're left with a simple qusetion: Who was actually dwelling in the Negev region, the south part of the Land of Israel? Was it Amalekites or was it Canaanites? And why does the Torah appear to contradict itself?

Rashi's commentary quotes a Midrash that gives a perplexing answer: In fact, it was Amalekites that were living in the Negev region. But as the Jewish people approached, they deliberately talked in the language of the Canaanites, so that the Jewish people would hear them and think that they were Canaanites and not Amalekites. Their goal was that the Jews would pray for success against the Cananites, not for success against the Amalekites, and would therefore lose in battle.

What's going on here? This Midrash is obviously trying to tell us something. Even before we think about what it says about prayer, what's the point of the whole story of Amalekites trying to pass themselves off as Canaanites?

I heard an interesting explanation of this that relates to what each of these nations symbolize in Jewish thought. The Canaanites were the people living in the Land of Israel before G-d gave the Land to Abraham. Since the time of Noah the Land of Israel had belonged to the Canaanites. They were the ones with a legitimate gripe against the Jewish people for dislodging them from their land, albeit at G-d's command. The Amalekites, on the other hand, were actually descended from Abraham's grandson Esau. They had land in the Edom region, but as Esau's descendants, hated the Jewish people on principle, out of anger and basic hatred, not for any practical reason. They attacked the Jewish people soon after the Exodus from Egypt (as I discuss briefly in Harry Potter and Torah in the chapter on magic wands), and anti-semites throughout time are considered in Jewish thought to be descended from the Amalekites.

The Midrash is telling us that sometimes Amalekites, who act out of hatred and anger, will try to take the appearance of Canaanites, who have a legitimate complaint about land. Sometimes Amalekites will "talk the talk" of land, as a means of covering up the simple fact that they're driven by hatred and anger. They want to be seen as Canaanites with a legitimate complaint, when in fact they're Amalekites acting out of anger and hatred.

The point for modern times is probably obvious to everyone reading this, but I'll spell it out anyway. Today's Palestinians are trying constantly to take the appearance of Canaanites (even when they chose 50 years ago to call themselves "Palestinians"). They talk constantly of the legitimate desire for land for a state. HOWEVER, when we look at what's really going on, we see clearly that their true actions are the actions of Amalekites, not of Canaanites. Their drive is not to make a state, but to experss their hatred and anger.

If today's Palestinians were metaphorical Canaanites, they would have been thrilled to get control of the Gaza Strip 2 years ago, and would have built their society there and lobbied to then get control of the West Bank (as Israel was planning at the time to give them next). If they were Canaanites, they would have accepted Barak's offer at Camp David of 99% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to build a peaceful state. If they were Canaanites, they would have accepted the United Nations Partition Plan in 1948.

But instead they've been consistently acting like metaphorical Amalekites, not acting to get a state but acting out of anger and hatred. Gaza wasn't built into a functional society, but rather into a springboard for missiles. Same for Lebanon. And West Bank regions such as Bethlehem were the launchpad for most terrorist bombs during the last intifada, not built into functional cities.

I'm not writing this to advance my own proposal for what should be done here. That's not my point. My point is that WHATEVER we do, we have to first recognize the truth, that the Arabs are not acting to create a state, but rather are acting to destroy Israel. Once we acknowledge that, but only after we acknowledge that, can we see where to go from here.

Some people will disagree with me, and my answer is simple: I'd love to be proven wrong. Israel withdrew from Gaza hoping that the Palestinians would use it as Canaanites to build a functional society. Israel offerred 99% of the West Bank hoping that the Palestinians would use it as Canaanites to build a peaceful society. The Palestinians can prove me wrong very easily by doing something, anything, to show that they're committed to building a peaceful society side-by-side with Israel. But after 50 years of Amalekite behavior, the world needs to see the (metaphorical) Amalekites for what they are. First we admit the truth, then we work from there.

In the final scene of Order of the Phoenix we see Harry Potter's world forced to admit the truth about Voldemort's return. They don't know what to do next, but once they see the truth, they can try to solve the true problem instead of the fake problems they'd been looking at until then. If we can do this as well, hopefully we, like Harry Potter's world in the final book, can reach a peaceful conclusion to our saga.


Anonymous said...

I guess there is no hiding on the Internet (from anyone). I look forward to reading your book.
LS (

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