OpinionTorah Portion

‘Peace through strength’

When does the world respect Jews?

A monument of the biblical Samson in Wrocław, Poland. Credit: Barbara Maliszewska via Wikimedia Commons.
A monument of the biblical Samson in Wrocław, Poland. Credit: Barbara Maliszewska via Wikimedia Commons.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from Ktav.com and Amazon.

What do you think most impresses the non-Jewish world about Jews?

Our brains? Our creativity, ingenuity? Or perhaps our philanthropy? Or that we are the People of the Book?

All of the above are 100% true and accurate as the values that the Jewish people have espoused, lived by and taught the world for centuries, even millennia.

But my question is what is the world most impressed by? Not us. Not the Jews. But the outside, non-Jewish world. What impresses them?

Do they laud us for our intelligence and love of learning, and our winning so many Nobel Prizes that it’s embarrassing? We are less than 1% of the population, and we have won more than 20% of Nobel Prizes across every field.

Do they hail us for being the most charitable people on earth? Supporting not only our own but almost every single deserving charity on earth!?

Frankly, I don’t see that.

Think back through the history of the last 75 years of modern-day Israel. When, in our own generation, has Israel been most respected and admired by the outside world?

I think you will agree that it was in June 1967 after the Six-Day War and our lightning victory over a combined Arab attack, and in July 1976 when the Israel Defense Forces pulled off the most incredible, miraculous rescue of 102 hostages at the Entebbe International Airport in Uganda. (If you’re too young to remember, go watch the YouTube video, “Miracle at Entebbe,” which I produced some years ago. In six and a half minutes, you’ll get the whole story.)

What does that tell you? That while we, the Jewish people, may be most impressed with our intelligence and our philanthropy, the non-Jewish world is most impressed by our military prowess. By our successes on the battlefield.

That’s the reality of our world. Who is the bigger hero and celebrity: the university professor, the wise rabbi, or the sportsmen and women who achieve success in their chosen sport? You all know the answer.

Rav JB Soloveitchik makes this very point from this week’s parshah.

After the World War of the Five Kings against the Four Kings, Abraham is hosted and toasted by the King of Salem.

Why? What was this non-Jewish king acknowledging Abraham for? His wisdom? His chesed? His hospitality? That he was the father of monotheism? That he brought faith in the One G-d to a pagan society?

No way!

He was acknowledging Abraham for his military success. He went into a war against greater, mightier armies, and he won. And in the process, he rescued his nephew Lot, who was a prisoner of war.

Says Rav Soloveitchik, this is the reality of our world. The nations of the world only respect us when we are strong, rich and influential.

Years ago, when I was producing and hosting the only Jewish radio show in South Africa, I interviewed Dr. Israel Singer, then the Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress when he was here to speak at a board of deputies conference. It was not long after they had come to a successful agreement with the Swiss banks and insurance companies concerning compensation and reparations for all the Jewish wealth lost during the Holocaust. He told me that at first, they offered a measly few million dollars. But when they saw Jewish representatives coming to a meeting in Geneva in their private jets from all over the world, they knew their goose was cooked and that they’d better pay up or risk losing much more in the future. Eventually, a settlement was reached for a few billion dollars!

Of course, it shouldn’t be that way. Wisdom and philanthropy should be more respected than money and might, but that is the sad reality of our world.

So, unlike The New York Times, The Washington Post and some Democrats in Congress, I, for one, have no qualms whatsoever about Israel’s response to the Hamas holocaust of Oct. 7. My only concern is that our own will and resolve may weaken, and that we falter before the job is done. G-d forbid!

David Friedman, the past U.S. ambassador to Israel and one of the architects of the 2022 Abraham Accords, argues that the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East is through strength. His now famous byline is “Peace Through Strength.” But long before Friedman, King David taught us that peace comes through strength. As he wrote in Psalm 29: “G-d will give strength to His people. G-d will bless His people with peace.”

The West still doesn’t understand that in the Arab world, if you show diplomacy and reconciliation and offer compromise, they interpret it as weakness and only become more brazen. Just look at what we got from being nice guys and giving away Gaza.

If you want to achieve peace, you must be uncompromising on security and unconditionally strong in your philosophy and your politics. Only then will we be respected—and safe.

This week’s Torah reading tells the whole world how—on a majestic night some 4,000 years ago—G-d Almighty took Abraham, the first Jew, outside and made an eternal covenant with him. He promised him Israel (that’s when it became “the Promised Land”) for his descendants. And he stated categorically that it would be through Isaac and not Ishmael.

That pledge and promise have been fulfilled. Now it’s up to us not to squander it. Not to show weakness. To be strong and proud that, as the Exodus song goes, “this land is mine, G-d gave this land to me!”

I pray that we will achieve peace through strength.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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