Shaarei Shamayim

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Do you know who Leo Durocher was? For those of you who are under 50 and for the many Israelis here today for Ori Kimchi’s Bar Mitzvah, let me tell you. Leo Durocher was a mediocre baseball player who became a great manager—1st with the Brooklyn Dodgers and then with other teams. The most enduring image of Durocher is of him standing toe-to-toe with an umpire, vehemently arguing his case until he gets thrown out of the game. He was ejected more than 2,000 times—a record only exceeded by the likes of our own Bobby Cox with the Atlanta Braves. In assembling his teams, Durocher valued the same characteristics in his players. His philosophy is best expressed in the famous phrase for which he is now best remembered: “Nice guys finish last!” In other words, stand up for yourself or you’ll get eaten alive.

Picture a family making arrangements for a wedding. What’s the most difficult part? Getting the caterer, florist or invitations or the band? No problem! Where does the problem arise? When is the moment of truth? When you have to make the seating arrangements—who is going to sit up front and who is going to sit near the kitchen. “Miriam, she’ll scream bloody murder!” “Sam, he’ll never forgive us.” “Shirley, we’ll never hear the end of it!” “What should we do? Ah—I know what—let’s put uncle Charley’s family there. He never complains. After all, he’s a nice guy!” And so the loudest person gets front and center to appease him while the nice guy sits in the rear and gets it in the back.

From the beginning of our history, we Jews have always been victims of a remarkable misconception. It pictures the Jew as the defenseless object of scorn. It’s the image of the Jew as the “nice guy.” By now it has almost become a proverb, and most of us are sick and tired of hearing it.

The pattern was set already with the 1st Jew, Abraham, in last week’s Torah reading. Abraham eventually made it to Israel. I don’t know how much territory he occupied. I don’t know how much of a threat he was to the people around whom he lived. But he was somewhat successful, and, of course, that bothered his neighbors. So much so that the “big shot” of the area, whose name was not Ahmadinejad or Assad or King Abdullah, but Avimelech, decided it was time to pay a visit to Abraham and have him agree to treaty.

The substance of his remarks have struck our sages, even as they ought to strike every perceptive reader, as being quite remarkable. Avimelech sits down with Abraham and tells him (Gen. 21:22): “I see that you are successful. I see that Elokim imcha b’chol asher ata oseh, “that Gd is with you in all that you do, and, therefore, I feel the time has come for us to make a deal.”

Now listen carefully to the deal. Says Avimelech to Abraham: “I want you to swear to me and to my children and even my grandchildren, I want you to promise, I want you to say in no uncertain terms, that you will not deal falsely with me, that you will not attack me, that you will not undercut me, that you will not transgress boundaries, that you will do this and that you will do that. I want you to promise that you will always be the good guy, that you will never do anything that is wrong.”

We listen to these words and something seems to be missing. It’s all so one sided. This is what Avimelech is asking of Abraham, but what does Avimelech promise? We find not a word of that! And why is that? Because here we have the perfect illustration of the principle, the misconception which this story clearly indicates and which we as Jews have constantly been victim of. Avimelech turns to Abraham and says, “Come on, you can make me these promises. I know that you will make me these promises, because you’re the nice guy, aren’t you?” And here we have the typical illustration of the “nice guy” gets it in the back syndrome. A syndrome that we are all too familiar with. It was true with Abraham and it’s true today with the State of Israel.

It’s a scary time for the State of Israel—now more than ever.

  • Israel’s 32-year safety net of peace with Egypt is in jeopardy of collapsing. Some of the candidates in the upcoming elections for president are linked with the Muslim Brotherhood and have called for the destruction of Israel. Every other week the natural gas pipeline from Egypt that supplies Israel with 40% of its natural gas is sabotaged.
  • Israel has the most sophisticated anti-missile system in the world. But Hamas now has 10,000 rockets it can launch from Gaza and Hezbollah has 50,000 rockets it can launch from Lebanon. No anti-missile system can keep up with that. Even now, rockets continue to be launched from Gaza into Israel.
  • Syria has an arsenal of chemical warhead missiles. What will happen to those if the current government falls? They could easily wind up in the hands of Hezbollah or Al Qaeda terrorists.
  • And of course there is Iran. Iran supplies Hamas and Hezbollah with their missiles. And Iran is on the brink of nuclear capability. And that, of course is the greatest threat.

Yes, it’s a very scary time for the State of Israel. The existential threat to Israel is very similar to that of 1967 as Arab armies gathered on her borders. And what does the world now ask of Israel? Same as always—restraint! Don’t respond when missiles hit a school bus and kill your children. Don’t allow Jewish communities in Jerusalem to expand in the face of a housing shortage. Allow Palestinian refugees to return to their old villages near Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem and overwhelm the Jewish population with hostile Arabs. “We know you can do it,” says the world. “We know you will do it because—after all—you are the nice guy!”

Let me tell you how Abraham responded to Avimelech when he expected him to be the nice guy. Abraham said: “I’m ready for peace, but 1st we have some unfinished business.” The Torah (Gen. 21:25) then tells us: V’hochi-ach Avraham et Avimelech, “And Abraham rebuked Avimelech for the wells of water his servants had stolen from Abraham.” What is Abraham saying? No more Mr. Nice Guy! No more backing down! No more one-sided concessions! Our sages glorify him and praise him for this approach. Says the Midrash: M’lameyd sh’tochecha meyvi lidey shalom, “this teaches us that rebuke and holding firm is what leads to real peace.”

Who does the world blame for the lack of peace? Israel, of course because Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, won’t be the nice guy. It was obvious from that mistakenly recorded exchange between France’s Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Barak Obama, when Sarkozy said:  “Netanyahu, I can’t stand him. He’s a liar!” And Obama replied: “You’re sick of him? I have to work with him every day.”

Now the world just wants Israel to give the Arabs what they ask and make the whole problem go away—all in the name of keeping alive a fantasy of peace. But the truth is that the only reason there isn’t a Palestinian state already is that the Palestinians won’t take “yes” for an answer. Arafat was given 98% of what he asked for by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the rest was to be given in land swaps. The same thing happened with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. We now have a Likud Prime Minister endorsing a 2-state solution—something that was unthinkable until now—and the Palestinians still refuse to negotiate.

The Palestinians need to know that there are real consequences for doing everything but negotiating and that making an end-run for statehood at the UN will not accomplish anything. Right now, Abbas is choosing reconciliation with Hamas over peace with Israel because he never really wanted peace in the 1st place. As he has said many times to his own people in Arabic: “I will never accept or recognize Israel as a Jewish State.” Thank Gd Bibi Netanyahu will not be the nice guy and back away from at least insisting on that.

I remember 10 years ago meeting Netanyahu in the lobby of the Kind David Hotel. I told him how brilliant I thought he was on CNN after a terrorist attack that killed 11 in Jerusalem the Saturday night before. His point essentially was that if you have camps for kindergarten children training them to be suicide bombers…if the textbooks you use to teach your children emphasize over and over again that the Jew is a pig; the Jew is the devil; the Jew is your enemy…if you teach your children to hate the Jew, and that there is no alternative but the destruction of Israel, how can there ever be peace.

In the beginning of today’s Torah reading Abraham purchases a burial place in Hebron for his family in order to bury his wife Sarah. Gd had given him that land but he bought it nonetheless. Although he was in grief because of his loss, he negotiated with the local residents and agreed to pay an inflated price just so there will be no mistake then or ever that this land is now his and his descendants.

Gd has given us the Land of Israel. The deed for much of that land is recorded in the Bible which is accepted by all the world—including Islam—as the word of Gd. Nevertheless Israel agrees to negotiate and give away some of their Gd-given land for the sake of peace. All polls indicate that Israelis are still willing to make tremendous concessions for peace—despite the Intifada, despite the hurling of thousands of missiles into Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, despite the terrorist attacks, despite everything. But the negotiations cannot and must not be one sided for in this sense Leo Durocher was right, “Nice guys finish last!” Amen!

Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis



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