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January 5, 2014 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Beschallah

This week’s portion begins with the Exodus from Egypt.  God refuses to lead the Hebrews on the shortest route, because “if the people met with armed resistance, they would become discouraged.” (Exodus 13:17).  But some translations say that the Hebrews themselves were “armed” (13:18).  Why would they be so discouraged if they are armed?

One interpretation is that they were simply too traumatized from their years of slavery; no matter how heavily armed they are it would never be enough.  This mentality reminds me a bit of the United States; although our defense budget is approximately a gajillion times that of everyone else, some Americans seem to be afraid of smaller countries on a fairly routine basis.  If I had a dollar for every time someone compared Iran or Syria or some other small dictatorship to Hitler, I’d have a lot of dollars (OK, at least enough for a pizza!) .

Similarly, some supporters of Israel see their regional enemies as Hitler-like threats only a few centrifruges away from world domination, despite the fact that Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons, and no one else in the region has any.  Even if these other countries (such as Iran) got a few nuclear weapons, they would surely be wiped out if they dared to attack Israel.    Even some tiny group of fools calling for divestment from Israel gets headlines in the Jewish press, evidently because Israel cannot stand the economic pressure of the mighty American Studies Association (sarcasm intended).

I admit that there are  geopolitical reasons for worry, but I also think like the freed slaves, some of us are so traumatized by past wars that we overestimate Israel’s fragility.*  North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is much smaller than that of Israel, yet I don’t think North Korea is in much danger from anyone.

Having said that, Scharfstein has a simpler translation: the word chamushim, which could mean “armed” also could mean “loaded.” He suggests that the Hebrews were loaded with all their possessions.  This explanation certainly makes sense in context, but I can’t make a sermon out of it!

Or maybe I can.  North Korea is unafraid to antagonize people because it is a poor country and thus has little to lose: the only way to retaliate against North Korea is to wipe it out, which no nation wants to do at the risk of being attacked itself.   By contrast, the United States and Israel are so “loaded” with possessions that we have more to lose, and worry about the economic impact of any geopolitical setback. Like us, our ancestors were perhaps too loaded to be as self-confident as a poorer nation might have been.

*Now, of course, one might say: what if someone gets nuclear weapons and then puts them in the wrong hands?  I think the possibility of being wiped out by Israel makes them a rather farfetched concern.

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