It hit me in the middle of Vice President Pence’s speech. I suddenly understood. When journalists listen to a speech, they are on the lookout for the word “but.” When all the greetings and compliments are dispensed with, then comes the nitty-gritty, the main course, the headline.
The opening lines of the speech state the obvious and then midway comes the sentence: “BUT … I have come here to tell you something,” and then the speaker states his or her new plans, criticism, or demands. When Obama spoke, he was obvious and blunt. He would speak at length about the special relationship between the US and the State of Israel, and would compliment us in his charming, smooth manner (he mentioned that Bibi and he provided ample material for the Eretz Nehederet satirical show, and the audience roared with laughter), he would quote the Tanakh and Ben Gurion but then he would drop the bombshell. For example, when he addressed thousands of students at the Jerusalem Congress Center he began with warm words of praise but then added: “It’s not fair to limit freedom of movement of Palestinian students and to transfer Palestinian families out of their homes. They deserve to be a free nation in their country.”
In his speech, Pence opened with compliments, continued with compliments and ended with compliments. We waited in vain for a scoop, to hear what we were not doing right, but it didn’t come. Like Trump, Pence admires us and will not impose anything on us. This new reality forces us to adopt a new lexicon and recalculate our route.
To quote Trump: “Old problems require new solutions.” The days of Pavlovian conditioning in which we waited for the White House to rebuke us and limit our moves are over.
Now the big question that remains to be answered: What yes? We became so accustomed to always being scolded and to having security deals imposed on us. Maybe there was something comfortable in that arrangement. All the prime ministers from Shamir to Sharon, from Barak to Olmert, had to withstand pressure, to a greater or lesser extent, from the Americans. And Netanyahu certainly had to. But now the rules of the game have changed. Maybe the time has come to announce what our plan is, what it is that we do want.
But hey, who has time for such trivial matters when he have to spend so much time dealing with truly important issues, ones that affect our very lives here: Did Mandelblit or did he not bless the New Moon in his synagogue? What did Yonatan Gefen say about Ahed Tamimi, what did Liberman say about what Yonatan Gefen said about Ahed Tamimi, and of course what did Gidi Gov say about what Lieberman said about what Yonatan Gefen said about Ahed Tamimi?
This week’s Torah reading is about the Splitting of the Red Sea, about the Exodus from slavery to freedom. Pharaoh, the evil king who tried to enslave the Jewish nation and who was drowned at sea. The Jews managed to walk free from their repressive Egyptian masters. Countless commentaries have been written about the Exodus. This week Simcha Goldin, father of Lt. Hadar who fell in Gaza in Operation Protective Edge, sent me his late son’s commentary on this famous story.
The Goldin family is continuing its campaign for Hamas to return Hadar’s body, using political, judicial and diplomatic channels. At the same time, the family continues to preserve the legacy of this impressive young man. Hadar studied the book Mesilat Yesharim (Path of the Just) a classic mussar (ethics) text written three hundred years ago by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, (and known by the acronym of his name, Ramchal). Hadar added his handwritten notes at the sides of the pages. This timeless text deals with the need for everyone to free himself from subordination. Hadar added a note to himself at the side. “I need to look inward. Looking inward is the antithesis of the Evil Inclination.” In another corner of the page he wrote: “Everything depends on time, on sanctifying time, on taking note of time. If you start taking note of human world within you, then the whole question of time will change. Because time is a question – what are we doing in this world? What are we busy with? What is our overall goal? There is no such thing as ‘no time’. No time = I made the decision about what is important, it’s all a question of making a decision.”
In another note, he wrote specifically about Pharaoh that it is not an ancient story but it is very relevant for us: “Pharaoh says – there is no time. No time for what? To think about your identity. Because if you think about it, then a nation will be formed. You will think about who you are, the foundations upon which you are built, what your values are, what kind of personality you have? If you think about your identity, the chances are that you will reach the earth-shattering conclusion that you are called – a person. And for one moment you will think and be reminded that the spirit of God rests in you, that you have a soul.”
I have something very important to say about mindless blabbing that gets blown out of all proportion and creates a “storm.” It’s not simply that what is said is nonsense, it is that time and time again it ruins any chances of having a serious discussion about the issue in hand. We need to have such discussions and not have them nipped in the bud.
For example, a discussion about the relationship between the IDF and the religious sector. Such a discussion needs to be held, to be frank in asking whether the IDF wants to become one of the most liberal and feminist armies in the world and to discuss how this will affect the IDF’s strength, and how the more traditional and conservative sectors will serve in it. We have to talk about this. However, as soon as Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu called for the Chief of Staff to be dismissed, the focus of the discussion shifted. No serious discussion ensued about the very real concerns, everyone talked only of Eliyahu’s comments.
Another example is about what has happened to what was once the cultural elite of the country. It is both sad and important. Why Yonatan Gefen thinks that Ahed Tamimi is comparable to Anne Frank and what happened to the founding fathers (and mothers) of Israeli culture such as Gila Almagor, Chava Alberstein, Rivka Michaeli, Yair Garbuz and many, many more. Time and time again they speak frankly of their feeling that “they stole our country, as we knew it, from us.” However, as soon as Liberman forbade the army radio to air Gefen’s songs, the wider discussion was halted, and the focus shifted solely to Liberman.
Whenever interesting twists as these appear in the plot, take note of what occurs next. They draw attention away from the actual topic under discussion.