Thursday, October 18, 2007

Avraham, the Palmach and the issue of Blindness

Last month, Reut took us to the Palmach Museum in Tel Aviv commemorating the pre state Yishuv's underground military organization and its national institutions. Apart from it always being a bit embarrassing to be British in these places, it was an extremely interesting morning.

And while, there wasn’t any overly patriotic statements, one come's away with an appreciation and admiration for the sacrifices people made for a cause in which they believed.

I grew up in this type of atmosphere - the importance of living one’s life according to ideals, of being prepared to sacrifice for the greater good. And while I still believe in those values, still feel that if nothing's worth dying for, then nothing's worth living for, a lot of nationalist and ideological values now seem a bit hollow.

While I'm an ideological person myself, I'm simultaneously suspicious of ideology, of the sacrifices it often demands from its adherents.

Next week we read about the Akeida, a story I’ve had difficulty with for years. How can we praise Avraham for being willing to sacrifice his son? Does he act as an example for us? How can someone who so strongly argues against God to save the city of Sdom so readily acquiesce in something immoral?

Although all ends well and Yitzchak stays alive, his relationship with his father is destroyed (they never have a conversation again) and the Rabbis explain that this experience ‘blinds’ him, a disability that later causes his inability to choose between blessings for his two sons, Esav and Yaakov.

One of the best commentaries I’ve read comes from an Israeli educator name Shai Zarchi who argues that Avraham and Yitzchak represent two different generations;

Avraham is reminiscent of great innovators, those who sacrifice everything on the altar of a revolutionary idea. Yitzchak meanwhile, reminds him of his own generation.

Like Eliezer Ben Yehuda’s children who weren’t allowed to interact with other kids because they
spoke Yiddish and not Hebrew (he once bought his children a pet dog and cat to help them practice their masculine and feminine tenses); like the chalutzim who closed their eyes (or were ‘blinded’) to their cultural roots to completely dedicate themselves to the Zionist project; like Mohinder Seresh’s father in Heroes, ‘Avrahams’ follow the logic of ‘either / or,’ either family or reviving an ancient language, either European comfort or malaria in a nascent State; either the love of God or the life of children…

Having seen the painful price paid for either / or, Yitzchak is blinded by his emotions and isn’t prepared to choose between his children – he wants both. Yitzchak prefers what Zarchi terms, ‘gam vegam’ or ‘both one and the other.'

This indeed is our generation. We no longer want to have to choose.

Its not that we've given up on ideology - after all views like those of
Bar Refaeli or Jacko Eisenberg are still marginal, and most of us do see a difference between Israel and Uganda. It’s something more subtle.

It’s getting drafted, but not leaving political views at home.

It’s a film like
'Walk on Water' in which a successful Mossad agent experiences moral soul searching.

It’s stopping an important operation because soldiers get injured or the political echelon is
too sensitive to casualties.

Our generation is still prepared to sacrifice, just not too much.

I find Avraham’s actions alien because he belongs to a different generation… And while I believe its impossible to build a State without them, I want Gam veGam, veGam veGam, to have a western European quality of life but in the Middle East.

To be a part of the first sovereign Jewish experiment in 2000 years but to earn a good English salary.

To see our soldiers protect us from those celebrating death but maintain their sanity and gentleness…

According to Zarchi, both Avraham and Yitzchak are ‘blinded.’ Yet in many ways we are all 'blind' to some things, all forced to ignore parts of reality that cause us too much pain or dissonance, whether that be ignoring the plight of our neighbours 40 minutes drive from the coffee shops of Tel Aviv or in our personal relationships with friends and partners.

Yet the real question - for those who live in an era where Palmach fighters are slowly dying out and believing its good to die for your country is passé - is whether our generation’s ideology is enough to maintain our sovereign presence in this area?


Anonymous said...

Nice piece.

Im not sure one can talk about a "generations ideology".

A "generation"? Thats quite a lot of people my friend. Im quite sure that most people will at least have subtle differences between their opinions at the very least.

As for dedicating oneself to a cause above all other things, I still believe that there are a lot of people like that around.

I have many friends here who, when receiving that telephone call to go to miluim, jump at the chance to leave work, spend time with the best friends they know, and do some hard graft securing the safety of this country.

Some people dont necessarily know they have it in them, to dedicate themselves to a cause - when the situation arises where they have no choice then they awaken.

Blindly following a cause is quite daft to be honest. On that note I dont agree, respectfully, with what our ancestor Avraham did.

Being informed before you follow, or following because you have no other choice at that specific point in time - thats another matter entirely.

Calev said...

I just came across a beautiful dvar torah on the Akeida by a Reconstructionist Rabbi

its well worth a read (for anyone who 2 months on reads the comments on this page)

he concludes with some questions all of us should consider:

The Akeida speaks to the necessity of being willing to sacrifice for values we hold dear. It speaks to the necessity of risking, or at least coercing our children.

The Akeida tells us that there are some values that are worth sacrificing for, but does not tell us exactly what these are. How do we know when it is God speaking to us, or when it is just our fears, insecurities, and inner daemons that we hear?

The Akeida tells us that some sacrifices that are necessary, but that others are clearly inappropriate. How do we know which are which?