Sunday, October 31, 2010

Chayei Sarah: Rabin, Ben Gurion and the Question of Sovereignty

"And an ongoing dispute arose between the shepherds of Abram and the shepherds of Lot. And the Canaanite and the Perizzite then dwelt in the land. (Bereshit 13:7)

"An ongoing dispute arose" - Lot's shepherds sent their flocks to graze in the fields of others. When Abram's shepherds rebuked them for this thievery, Lot's shepherds responded, "The Land has been given to Abram, whose sole heir is Lot; thus, we are only taking what is rightfully ours." Yet the Torah comments: "While the Canaanites and Perizites were still resident in the Land".
(Rashi / Bereshit Raba 41:6)

Like many other North London Jews, the night of Rabin’s murder found me at a fireworks party. My first response was to assume the shooter was Arab and that Rabin was only injured (two assumptions that temporarily reduced the cognitive dissonance of the event). It was only hours later that I realized the horrifying truth. That an elected Prime Minister – someone present at every major juncture of the state’s history – had been murdered by a Jew believing he spoke in God's name, someone who, like me, wore a knitted kippah.

Last week, to mark his anniversary, my colleagues at Reut discussed Rabin's legacy and style of leadership. We held the discussion in the context of Harvard Kennedy School Professor Ron Heifetz’s theory of leadership, on which Reut’s own thinking is based.

Rabin was an impressive leader in many ways, and was arguably ahead of his time in realizing Israel had to separate from the Palestinians for its own national interest. However, the fact he was assassinated is actually testament to a major failure – his inability to bring the country with him.

In fact, Rabin failed to properly manage what Heifetz terms the ‘Holding Environment’, an environment that balances the stress levels, or 'temperature,' of those required to adapt their values and priorities in light of a new policy.

According to Heifetz, if stress levels are too low, no one is forced to adapt. If stress levels are too high meanwhile, things spiral out of control.

Unfortunately, Rabin failed to employ several measure that may have theoretically ‘lowered the temperature’ amongst those in Israel finding it hardest to come to terms with his plans to divide the land.

He could have slowed down the peace process, or promised to bring any agreement to a popular referendum.

Additionally, rather than calling them ‘propellers,’ Rabin could have shown greater sensitivity to the beliefs of those who viewed the West Bank as part of their religious heritage.

Ultimately, the failure of all sides to keep the level of stress at a level Heifetz calls 'tolerable' had tragic consequences.

- - - - -

The same weekend that thousands gathered in Rabin square to mark the 15th anniversary of his assassination, thousands of others flocked to Hebron to mark the ‘anniversary’ of Avraham buying the Cave of Machpelah (and to indirectly support continued Jewish presence in the city).

Visiting Hebron has become popular with many in the Anglo Olim community. But this year, some friends of mine attended an alternative Shabbaton in Sde Boker, Ben Gurion’s final resting place.

While my Shabbat was spent in neither place, I did take time to think about what Hebron and Sde Boker represent, and how they signify contrasting responses to one key question integral to our future, an issue too little discussed by those on both the right and the left - do we distinguish between territory we feel belongs to us, and territory we want to exert sovereignty over?

Those in Hebron and their supporters say no. Because the Jewish people have a religious and historical connection to the city, the State of Israel needs to apply sovereignty there. This position is similar to Lot, who contended that because his (uncle’s) family had been promised the land, he could allow his sheep to graze wherever they wanted.

In other words, connection equals sovereignty.

Ironically, despite being on the other side of the political map, Rabin also made no distinction. For him, absence of sovereignty meant absence of connection, and anyone who disagreed could could 'continue to turn like a propeller.'

David Ben Gurion and Avraham Avinu took a different position.

Ben Gurion's acceptance of the 1947 UN Partition Plan didn’t contradict his belief that all the land ‘belonged’ to the Jewish people. He just didn’t believe that ownership needed to be translated into political sovereignty.

Avraham was the same. He too understood the importance of distinguishing between theoretical ‘ownership’ (which he and his progeny had acquired due to God’s promise) and current control or ‘sovereignty’ (which needn’t necessarily be implemented).

Neither believed that there had to be a connection between what is ours and what we control.

- - - - -

Fifteen years on from the fireworks of that fateful night, the schisms in our society haven’t healed and we are still failing to maintain a tolerable range of stress in discussing the country's future.

Yet perhaps one component in the healing process is to draw a line that both right and left too often fail to portray.

Perhaps, following in the footsteps of our Jewish and Zionist founding forefathers, we should emphasize that not everything we feel belongs to us has to be 'grazed' on.

And that not every territory we may ultimately decide to withdraw from means disengaging from our emotional, historical or religious attachment to it.


Michael Gormley said...

God alone initiates salvation. He always turns toward man first and seeks him, as when God walked in the Garden (Genesis 3:8). Man does not seek God or turn to him without God first calling man to Himself (John. 6:37, 44; 1 John. 4:10,19).

Second, God’s initiative does not exclude man’s free response, but demands it (Catechism of the Catholic Church [Catechism], nos. 154, 155, 2002; Philippians 2:12, 13). In other words, God wills that man be free to choose His grace or reject it.

Third, salvation is extended to each and every human person, not limited to just some, and one can fall away from grace (Hebrews 2:1-4; 6:4; 2 Peter 1:10; 3:9; 1 John 5:16, 17).

Furthermore, it is imperative that once one is touched by grace, he perseveres in charity lest he forfeit the free gift of salvation (Lumen Gentium [LG], no. 14). Within the confines of these principles, Catholics have sought to understand the mystery of predestination.

Though opinions and formulations have varied among Catholic theologians, with these principles left intact, there is room for legitimate speculation.

The only proper framework to understand predestination must be rooted in the notion of a communion of persons in love. Why? The nature of God as Trinity is this very kind of communion and God created man to share in that “blessed life” (cf. Catechism, no. 1).

Anonymous said...

what has any of MG's comments got to do with the contents of the blog - except to use it as an excuse to publicise Christian Theology