By Doron Krakow
Time and Clarity
This week’s Torah portion, Beshalach | בְּשַׁלַּח, begins with the Israelites on the far side of the Red Sea, the pursuit of Pharoah’s chariots thwarted by the hand of God. Beshalach’s opening lines reveal that God did not lead them to Canaan by the shortest road but rather by a roundabout route through the desert. Interpretations vary as to the rationale: Was it, perhaps, to forestall war with the nations then settled in Canaan? Or was it an acknowledgment of those voices amongst the people urging a return to the familiar reality of slavery in Egypt instead of the unknown and likely deprivations of war that lay ahead?
With the benefit of hindsight, we understand the narrative and the long and winding sequence of events that ultimately delivered our people to freedom and independence. A recent article in The Free Press by William Deresiewicz, “There Is No Right Side of History,” reflects on the impossibility of recognizing an historic turning point until long after the event or events have taken place and suggests that being on the right side requires an historical context.
Perspective necessitates distance and time, two elements that run contrary to modern society’s insatiable need for immediacy in both judgment and action. Such expectations tend to make us less inclined to thoughtful reflection and increasingly reactionary—and the issues we face as a community, as a society, and as a people are rarely simple. Our problems and challenges as well as our hopes and ambitions are not often given to easy answers, rapid resolutions, or quick achievements.
Looking at the major issues that currently confront the Jewish world, we find ourselves acutely attuned to the newly elected religious right coalition in Israel and the saber rattling around proposed changes in the balance of power among its branches of government. We watch with extraordinary interest as tensions rise in the face of appalling acts of terror and reminders of the geopolitical complexity across territories—governed by a Palestinian Authority in frequent life-and-death struggles with Hamas and forces of Islamic fundamentalism—all within the boundaries of Israel. Escalating security issues ahead of the arrival of the U.S. Secretary of State or other senior U.S. officials is an altogether too familiar dynamic.
Here at home, not a week goes by without reminders of the rising tide of antisemitism—desecrations like this week’s attempted firebombing of a synagogue in Bloomfield, N.J., a painful indicator that only 75 years removed from the Shoah, the fight goes on.
Concerns of the Jewish people unfold against the backdrop of other concerns—ours and those of friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens. This week we witnessed the criminal depravity of officers of the law in Memphis, Tenn., and watched as Russia’s attacks on civilians in Ukraine continued unabated in the final days of what will soon have been a full year of brutal assault. Resistance to the mullahs in Iran continues, with the country’s women still in the vanguard. This as the regime steadily advances its nuclear weapons program amidst the growing disquiet of Western leaders who had hoped diplomacy could forestall the country’s nuclear ambitions and the existential implications for nations in range of its ballistic missile arsenal.
Yet, this week we also saw Second Gentlemen Douglas Emhoff head a U.S. delegation in Europe that visited Auschwitz and other sites across Poland and Germany to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. These visits underscore America’s determination to honor the memories of the six million and affirm its commitment to the fight against antisemitism by reminding the world of the heights to which such hatred rose during the lifetimes of those who still walk among us—survivors and eyewitnesses to humanity’s worst excesses.
Israel’s actions in Jenin may well have prevented far more serious terrorist attacks on innocent Israelis. Chad’s president, Mahamat Idriss Deby, visited the Kotel (the Western Wall) ahead of the dedication of the Chadian embassy in Jerusalem. The new embassy follows resumption of diplomatic ties between the two countries in 2019 after having been severed by Chad in 1972 at the urging of Libyan strongman Muammar Khadafi. And a visit by Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to Sudan produced an announcement of Sudan’s intention to join the Abraham Accords later this year.
The heroic words of Tyre Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, helped ensure that protests over the unforgiveable actions of five rogue police officers would not give rise to further violence but to a commitment to the continuing pursuit of justice instead. New pledges to provide weapons and financial assistance to Ukraine ensure the country’s defense will stiffen further and that a once unimaginable victory may yet be achieved. Finally, the West’s allied effort to confront Iran and take whatever steps may be necessary to end its nuclear ambitions seem also to have been emboldened.
Our reflexive inclination to rush to judgment and impulsive action based on momentary insights and limited perspective should be tempered by our people’s unique, millennia-long experience with the inexorable flow of time. They crossed the Red Sea and the shortest path to the Promised Land lay before them, but God saw fit to send them by a more circuitous route. Now we understand.
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America