Tuesday, September 19, 2017

  • Tuesday, September 19, 2017
  • Elder of Ziyon
I received a J-Street pseudo-Rosh Hashanah greeting, written by their Rabbi John Friedman, asking
for money and then twisting the Torah for its own ends:
[T]he Torah reading that we hear on the first day of Rosh Hashana provides us with some important lessons -- lessons that ought to resonate with us as we continue to advocate for diplomacy and the pursuit of peace.

In the reading from the Book of Bereshit, we learn of a water dispute between the patriarch Abraham and Abimelech, a local chieftain based in the land of the Philistines. Abraham has dug a well to provide for the needs of his sheep and cattle, but Abimelech’s men have been stealing the water. Abimelech comes to confront Abraham, bringing along with him the head of his military forces. The text describes their negotiations in some detail. Faced with a difficult and hostile opponent and a situation that could easily erupt into violence, Abraham instead chooses a path instead designed to safeguard his community and avoid war.

Abraham offers Abimelech compensation in the form of animals from his flock, in return for an admission that the well belongs to him. Abimelech agrees. The two leaders conclude a treaty and loss of life is avoided.

What lessons does this story have for us? First, that wise leaders resort to diplomacy to resolve their disputes, and see the use of force only as a last resort. According to the text, Abraham is clearly in the right, but also understands that what is most important is securing the long term interests and safety of his family and community. He negotiates a prudent compromise to do so -- and avoids an unnecessary war in which both sides would likely have suffered.
... The biblical text teaches us the crucial lesson that simply winning the dispute is not the highest goal. For Abraham, achieving a durable peace and protecting his tribe is far more important than proving that he is right, or suppressing the arguments and goals of his opponent.
This is a completely backwards description of the story.

Here are the verses for the episode (Genesis 21), which occurred after Abimelech saw that God was on Abraham's side in the previous chapter - after God explicitly told him in a dream that Abraham was special and was protected.

At that time Abimelech and Phicol, chief of his troops, said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything that you do. Therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my kith and kin, but will deal with me and with the land in which you have sojourned as loyally as I have dealt with you.”

And Abraham said, “I swear it.”

Then Abraham reproached Abimelech for the well of water which the servants of Abimelech had seized.

But Abimelech said, “I do not know who did this; you did not tell me, nor have I heard of it until today.”

Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a pact.

Abraham then set seven ewes of the flock by themselves, and Abimelech said to Abraham, “What mean these seven ewes which you have set apart?”

He replied, “You are to accept these seven ewes from me as proof that I dug this well.”

Hence that place was called Beer-sheba, for there the two of them swore an oath. When they had concluded the pact at Beer-sheba, Abimelech and Phicol, chief of his troops, departed and returned to the land of the Philistines.
[Abraham] planted a tamarisk at Beer-sheba, and invoked there the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.
Abimelech didn't come to "confront" Abraham over the well; he didn't know anything about it. He didn't come with any aggressive intent - on the contrary, he came with his general to pay tribute to Abraham! (See Rashi who lists the things that Abraham did that Abimelech was awed by - he had left Sodom safely, he had fought against the kings and won, and that his wife had been remembered in his old age and gave birth to Isaac.)

Once Abimelech was there, Abraham told him about his troubles with the well and Abimelech took care of the situation. Because that was the right thing to do. In no way did Abimelech claim the well.

Abraham's gift was simply that - a gift - given by the clearly stronger party to the weaker one, as a goodwill gesture. And the seven ewes were a symbol of Abraham's ownership of the well, as well as the surrounding land where he planted the tree (or built an inn according to some.)

This is a dramatic difference from what reform Rabbi John Friedman claims. There was no negotiation and no compromise. Abraham was in the right and everyone knew it. Abimelech has zero desire to mess with Abraham, especially after what happened to him and his court in Chapter 20. Abimelech's language as he comes to pay his respects to Abraham even imply that any land that Abraham traveled through in Philistine belongs to him, and begging to be treated kindly.

Abraham was indeed like Israel today, and Abimelech shows exactly how the Palestinians should act - by trying to work together with Israel, who holds all the cards. Israel, like Abraham, is more than willing to be very generous - after there are assurances of peace!

But the Palestinians do not have the wisdom of Abimelech. They act the way J-Street pretends Abimelech is acting, confronting Abraham without having any real legal claim for their position. And J-Street is saying that such behavior should be rewarded! That Abraham should give up his possessions without any assurance that there will be any real peace!

If Abimelech had actually been aggressive, claiming the well as his own, Abraham would have been offended by the lie and he would never, ever have rewarded that with a gift. He would have fought for his possessions. Abraham knew how to fight a war - and win - which he did earlier (Genesis 14) to rescue his nephew, defeating five kings with a small force. Abraham didn't compromise for peace - he established peace with overwhelming force.

There are a couple of lessons here. One is that you really can learn from the Torah that are relevant today.

Another is that J-Street is eager to twist the Torah for its own narrow, sick political goals.

And yet another is that J-Street's average supporter is too ignorant to even know that J-Street's "rabbi" is purposefully twisting a Torah story.





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