Monday, February 9, 2009

Chaval al d'Avdin - A Tribute to Menachem Begin

Pre-Election Special from my Autobiography

As the Israeli elections are about to take place, I sense that the Israeli public feels at a loss. From A (Avigdor) to Z (Zippy), the "Belgian waffles" that are running for office are undoubtedly the biggest group of self-serving mercenaries that have ever graced the ballot tickets. Not a single candidate can sincerely say that he (or she) has lived up to their previous promises. Bibi has disappointed the right and Barak has disappointed the left. As for Olmert and Tzippi, the heads of an illegitimate party who are sitting in office and making policy with 29 mandates - i.e., less than 25% of the population - they personify the terse line: If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. At least Rafi Eitan and his pensioners didn't disappoint anybody because nobody had any expectations from them to start with. Even the National Religious Parties with their lukewarm opposition to Arik Sharon over disengagement, Shas with its support of Oslo, and the chareidi parties with their incessant bickering has let down their adherents. Perhaps the untested Lieberman is the most reliable of all and that is why he is flying so high in the polls. The electorate craves more than anything somebody who means what he says, and the Russians were never known for diplomatic doublespeak.

Alas, there once was a time when people of conviction held office. Whether we were with them or not, we knew where they stood. And, after the votes were cast, we knew what to expect. With regard to Israeli politics, at least Ben Gurion and Golda displayed pride in Zionism as they trampled over Judaism. But we were only zocheh to one national leader who was not afraid to wave a banner of Torah-based heritage together with the blue and white. This was the "Brisker kofer" - Menachem Begin.

As much as he was a Zionist, Begin was a committed Jew. AFAIK, he wore tefillin on a daily basis and he certainly only ate kosher. I was told that he once undertook a state visit to the US that coincided with Purim. He had American Secret Service agents stalking the streets of Washington DC on the lookout for Orthodox Jews to round up 9 people for a private minyan to hear Megillah. His audiences with the Moetzes Gedolei Torah (A"H) and the Lubavitcher Rebbe (A"H) have been documented and photographed for posterity.

When he addressed the Knesset, he was always quoting relevant sources from Tanach and peppered his speech with "B'Ezrat HaShem". The story goes that on one occasion when addressing an unruly Knesset session (i.e., a typical one), a left wing MK heckled him, "Mar Begin, you neglected to say 'B'Ezrat Hashem'". Begin immediately responded, "Tzadakta, but it was worthwhile that for once in your life it comes out of your mouth!"

Before I made Aliya, the most potent dose of Eretz Yisrael that I ingested came over the course of the year that I came to study in Mir Yeshiva in 1980-81. This was the absolute hey-day of Menachem Begin's political career and I got a cl0se-up glimpse at it as I relate in the embedded document. And I came to admire him greatly. And, boy, I sure do miss him.

Now, a word about the embedded document.

One of the "extra" features of my book was the partial autobiography in the Appendix. All the time that I was writing and arranging my book, I was torn by the dilemma of the autobiography. Should I include it or not? All of it or some of it? Will readers appreciate it or be put off by it? Will it enhance my work or detract from it?

I went so far as to write a complete chapter to air out my dilemma as a foreword to the book. I wrote that I took the middle road to include certain excerpts which I hoped would fulfill the purpose that I had in writing it but would not be "overdoing it". Even then, I prefaced the chapter with a wordy note repeating my reservations. That's how torn I was over it.

I still am. Did I accomplish anything with it?

I may never know. I put a line in the Author's note on page 270 that if anybody is truly interested, I will send them the full autobiography by email. To date, about 4 or 5 people (about 50% of my total readership) took me up on the offer. For everybody else, what was strewn on the cutting floor remains there.

In any event, I wrote very extensively about that year of study that I went through here and how it impacted my life. The final cut only discusses the progrom in Toldos Aharon and the siege on Mir Yeshiva but that was only a fraction of the whole picture. A good deal of that pivotal year was the inspiration that I got from Menachem Begin.

And so, I present an additional excerpt from my autobiography. A fuller (but still not complete) account of my year in Mir Yeshiva from the edited portion. The key points of the excerpt are the parts that discuss Menachem Begin which I highlighted in yellow.

Chaval al d'avdin! If only the ensuing leaders of the State of Israel had a fraction of his resolve and any measure of [his] Yiras Shamayim! How much better off we would be in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world.

Something to think about before we vote.

Menachem Begin Excerpt


kurkevan said...

How about putting up the whole autobiography? Interesting stuff there!

Anonymous said...

On the other hand - and with full realization that "acharei mos, kedoshim emor" - it should not be forgotten that Begin was the first to actually give away territory for "peace." Not only did that deprive Israel of important natural resources such as oil/gas wells (and in return for nothing more than a piece of paper), but it opened the door for all of the subsequent "land for peace" deals that have bedeviled Israel's security to this day.

Yechezkel said...

>>it should not be forgotten that Begin was the first to actually give away territory for "peace."

It seems that the worst thing we can say is "Begin was the first to actually give away territory for 'peace.'" But we must take into account the following:

1) Begin did not initiate the concept of land for peace for the territories captured in 1967. Moshe Dayan rushed to offer land for peace immediately following the Six Day War - presumably a lot more land for a lot less peace. The Arab response were the 3 no's from the Khartoum Conference. What happened in Begin's time is that Sadat took us up on Dayan's offer.

2) The only land that Begin was ready to trade was the Sinai Penninsula. Begin publicly and formally rationalized this by saying that this land is not a part of Biblical Israel so we do not have a historical claim to this land. He was correct in that regard.

3) At the same time as he ceded the Sinai, he formally annexed the Golan Heights with the exact same rationale: it is part of Biblical Israel. It seems that subsequent governments do not stand behind this annexation.

4) Even though you write land for "peace" (with quotation marks) we must recognize that, for what it's worth, we actually got "peace" for the surrendered land and this "peace" has been holding for 30 years.

Kol Tuv,


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response. Some comments:

#1 - so? If Begin didn't consider himself bound by the precedents of previous Israeli leaders (e.g., as you mentioned, his public affirmations about Hashem's help), he might well have said that Dayan's earlier offer is null and void too, especially since, as you mentioned, it was roundly rejected at the time.

#2: Not necessarily true - see Rashi and Radak to Yehoshua 13:3, who identify "Nachal Mitzrayim," the southwestern border of Eretz Yisrael, with the Nile. (Though indeed others, such as Ibn Ezra (to Bamidbar 34:5), disagree.) But anyway, whether the Sinai is or isn't "part of Biblical Israel" is neither here nor there as far as its strategic importance. You mention Begin's audiences with the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l; are you aware that his consistent position was that giveaways of territory to non-Jews - unless deemed tactically or strategically necessary by military experts, not politicians - is in violation of a halachah in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 329:6, where no distinction is made between Israel and anywhere else?

#3 - good for him. Doesn't excuse his actions with the Sinai, though.

#4 - you mean Egypt's decision to give up frontal attacks (which had already cost them dearly three times, and which there was good reason to believe that they weren't going to attempt again anyway), and their shift to clandestine (and not so clandestine) supplying of Israel's enemies (see Tunnels, Gaza)? Some "peace."