War

“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?” 

–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

War was born to Israel on October 7, 2023, a new creature that burst like fire through its mother, who had born many other wars, but never one like this. There she was, in her kitchen, readying the Sabbath meal. “Suddenly there was a sound of rattling, and the bones came together, bone to matching bone, with sinews, and flesh and skin”. The labor pains were brutal, and unexpected, folding the mother unto herself in blinding agony on that bright holiday morning. She could not speak, but she motioned to the others around her, and hordes upon hordes came to help her deliver. War came roaring into the world on that day that was neither night nor day, but an accumulation of moments calculated by the mounting horrors, by burnt and mutilated flesh, by kidnapped babies and raped girls. It was stillborn, almost – “sinews and skin – but there was no breath.” The mother herself would have to breathe life into this new being.

We – Israel – are the mother. A month ago, we caught our collective breath, and all together, we breathed life into the war. We breathed life into it as easily and as naturally as we ourselves breathe and feel our hearts beat. We did not need to think, or to calculate. Just as the body instinctively knows how to labor, Israel knows instinctively how to survive, and how to rise to the moment. 

And this is our moment: not just an historical moment, but a transcendental one. This is the moment of our national reckoning, and of our collective glory. This moment is “the time for war.” War reasserts reality. It cuts through all of the petty and false constructs we have made for ourselves, and exposes what is authentic and true. We now plainly see how very much we are “a nation dwelling apart, not reckoned among the nations.” We are still reeling from the great and horrifying shock of discovering the depth of the visceral hatred towards Israel. We wear our loneliness as if our skin was turned inside out, raw and open. But we do not feel alone. In our loneliness, we understand that we have God, and He has us, and that we have each other. And that understanding has been chiseled deep into the hearts and souls of everyone who feels his place is with Israel. 

In the aftermath of the birth of this war, we are each of us like the handmaiden at the splitting of the sea, כשפחה בים, taking in that which even prophets couldn’t fully comprehend. This is an event that will live far beyond the limited scope of our time in this world. But we are tasked to live through it. We have to make sense of what hasn’t ever existed in the world before: the newness of Yisrael-as-nation that will fight כאיש אחד, as one man, in full unity of purpose and mission. We will no longer accept the savagery of an enemy that has sworn our destruction; we will hunt them, and dwell securely. Yet right alongside the pain sits serenity, and awe. They both inhabit our souls in equal measure. 

This war has brought us to a simple, pure recognition of who we are, and of our place in this world. The pain tears and claws at us without letup…yet who is not profoundly emotional at seeing the glory of Yisrael? What Jewish heart does not burst with pride and hope, and with the strongest sense that God is present here – that He is with us in our sorrow, and in our triumph? We sense the transcendental moment with startling clarity, like the handmaiden witnessing the sea parting before her. Zeh eli v’anvehu, elohei avi, varomimenhu. This is my God, and I shall praise Him; the God of my fathers, and I shall exalt Him

There is a quickening felt in Israel, as a single body straightens and tightens into itself in preparation for a prolonged and vicious fight. And yet at the same time, there is an opposing drive to return to how things were, to blunt the process of real change, to reduce our present circumstance to a terrible inconvenience involving “what one needs to do during wartime.” We crave comfort and routine. We crave returning to the familiar, to what our lives looked like before October 7th, even if the status quo back then was to remain beleaguered and terrorized. The point of this war should be the restoration of a reality that has always been present, if generally unacknowledged by us and definitely mocked by our enemies: we are Yisrael, a nation that dwells apart from other nations, a people united in God’s Name, an old-new people who want to live in peace in the Land that God had promised to our forefathers. We should not allow that clarity to be muddled by fanciful delusions or nostalgia. What was before cannot and should no longer be. 

Hatred of Jews is not the result of a narrative that paints Israel as the oppressor and Hamas as the oppressed; it is the basis of that narrative. It is the root, not the consequence. This war is being waged in service of narratives, and the time has come for us to mobilize around ours. Remarkably, this is exactly what is happening. The awakening of Israel to its identity, to its core values, to its shared purpose and deep mutuality, is genuine and true. The spontaneous mobilization of the collective Jewish people, and for those many who have the moral clarity to support them in their fight, have helped us discover who we are. Our charge is to sustain everything that we have achieved, lest all be lost: 

…I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the Holocaust will be upon us. (Eric Hoffer, The Longshoreman Philosopher) 

A mother has arisen in Israel. She has birthed a war – now let her raise it, and let it do what it was born to do.

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