By Larry Gordon
We have turned the calendar page on the New Year which is, at least emotionally, somewhat similar to reaching the apex or the turning point of one of those Coney Island roller-coaster rides. While we are not heading downhill by any means, we are hurtling full speed ahead into the heart of winter, quickly followed by Purim at the end of February, and then Pesach, believe it or not.
But we are jumping ahead of ourselves, so let’s use this column to take stock of what is taking place around us at this point–a midpoint between autumn and spring–of the year.
The frenzy that surrounded the release from prison of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin has subsided, as we all knew it would. Donald Trump announced that the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital even though that has been the reality for more than 3,000 years. A lot of folks believed that the Middle East was going to explode following that announcement. So far, it has not.
The Democrats in Congress want Trump impeached and do not want to be distracted by the fact that there is no basis for this type of radical approach to disagreeing with many of the president’s policies. They just want it done.
A friend of ours was in Hawaii on vacation last week and on Saturday night sent us a voice note saying that for about a half-hour on Shabbos morning he thought that his life was going to end. Throughout the island an alert was broadcast that there was an incoming ballistic missile that was going to make impact and explode imminently. The hunch was that this was headed to Hawaii from our friends in North Korea.
We later found out that a wrong button was pushed, and the person in charge of the controls will have to be retrained or at least re-read the manual on the procedures governing incoming-missile drills.
Prime Minister Netanyahu spent part of this week in India. Among others in his entourage was Moshe Holtzberg, now 11 years old. Moshe was miraculously rescued when the Chabad House in Mumbai was attacked by terrorists in 2008. His parents, Gavriel and Rivki, were murdered along with five other Jews from around the world who happened to be passing through town.
I recall being in Israel when the news broke about the attacks in Mumbai nine years ago. The news filtered down to us on erev Shabbos of a long Thanksgiving weekend. Everyone was stunned at the time. Though we were far away and safe, we felt vulnerable and confused about how something like this could happen. Despite the news, we got dressed for Shabbos, went to shul, and even went to dinner at a friend’s house in the Old City of Jerusalem, overlooking a brightly illuminated Har HaBayis.
Then there was the time that once again we were in Israel when the news hit that the three boys who were kidnapped at a hitchhiking post in Gush Etzion were found murdered near Hebron. Earlier that day we had met with Racheli Frenkel in Nof Ayalon. As the mother of one of “the boys,” she was busy taking calls and answering questions for the security services. Later we found out that everyone involved pretty much knew that the boys were murdered by the terrorists shortly after they were abducted.
We were in a store on Ben Yehuda Street when we heard the news. People were once again stunned at how such a thing could happen to these kids, in Israel, to us. We watched people who were moments ago walking along, going about their own business, now stopped in their tracks, sobbing. We were all crying for the boys, for their families, and for all of Israel.
It occurs that the transpiring of these events is not that dissimilar to what occurred to the ancient Hebrews in Egypt after more than two centuries of rather intense servitude to Pharaoh, which comes to a head of sorts in this week’s parashah, Bo. The fledgling Jewish nation was victimized and brutalized but ultimately managed to exit Egypt triumphantly and with great riches and fanfare.
So maybe that is who we are and who we were always intended to be–a people destined to endure struggling, with an ebb and flow of ups and downs and losses and victories.
There is a major dichotomy between studying these events through the Chumash or in the history books and then living through them in some fashion, as might be the case today.
Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority sounds like and perhaps even looks like a modern-day Pharaoh, but in a suit and tie. In a sense, he is similar to the ancient Pharaoh but also quite different in terms of both his objectives and accomplishments.
The Pharaoh of Biblical times enjoyed quite a bit of success for an extended period of time. Abbas, on the other hand, while managing to hold on to power for an unusually long period of time, is quite an abject failure. His obduracy is about to result in an unmitigated fiasco. Not only has the U.S. had enough of his shenanigans; his Arab brethren have made it quite clear that they are moving on and getting down to business with Israel, thereby leaving Abbas and the Palestinians in a cloud of dust.
We study the last few makkos brought by Hashem on the stubborn Egyptians and their unelected leader–Pharaoh–and here, too, we see an arrogance turned on its head, resulting in the devastation of the ancient Mitzrim. Looking back at those events that we both study this week in the parashah and also recount at our Pesach Seder, we are able to see the big picture and understand it all.
But how about today, with the pieces of this contemporary puzzle being put in place right before our eyes? Not only did Donald Trump defy conventional American wisdom and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, but he also tells the Palestinian leaders that he did them a favor by recognizing Jerusalem and taking the potentially most challenging part of the peace process off the table.
The Palestinians are flabbergasted by the gumption and shrewdness of the Trump strategy. The Europeans are speechless and aghast, and now the U.S. is seriously considering defunding the parts of the United Nations that have turned the Gaza Strip into a feckless and penniless terror state on the Mediterranean.
You know, there might even be a hint at some modern-day version of the ten plagues. Upon reflection, I’m sure many of us realize that Pharaoh made many mistakes that resulted in his eventual demise. If nothing else, it is a classically great story. The one we see unfolding before our eyes might be just as good.
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