6/11/2018—I attended a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday. It was lovely. The Torah portion was from the Book of Numbers—the story of the 12 spies sent into the promised land to scout it out. Ten came back and said the land was too fortified. But two, Joshua and Caleb, said the Children of Israel would conquer the land with the help of God. Because the people agreed with the ten, God determines the generation of slaves is not ready for freedom. Therefore, there must be forty years of wandering in the desert, though Joshua and Caleb are rewarded for their faith.
The Bat Mitzvah concluded from this story that we must face our fears and persevere.
As I said, a beautiful event.
But I was filled with sadness. The story of the spies is the story of genocide. The only way to possess the land where people are already living is to kill every man, woman and child. God is not telling the Children of Israel to conquer people living there as a new governing elite, but to start afresh in a new land.
As you would expect, in the Old Testament, having begun by conquest, murder and displacement, there is never peace in the land. There are constant wars until the Greeks come and subdue everybody—followed by the Romans.
I don’t mean this as a criticism of the people in the story. They had just left Egypt and slavery. They were returning to their ancestral lands. But, there were now people living there. It would have taken a real miracle for the story to end peacefully.
Now, why wasn’t the story told this way in the very liberal congregation? If it had not been for 1948, it might have been. But we now know that essentially the same thing happened then—-what the Palestinians call the Nakba—-the catastrophe.
Americans have no idea of this history. They imagine the Palestinians chose to leave. Many did. Most were forced out. People living in Gaza tell stories of their villages only a short distance away. But they are not allowed to return.
Of course the Nakba is more than just forcible displacement. Even if all of the Palestinians had stayed, they had lost much of their land.
The parallels are just too obvious and painful. Again, it is impossible to blame the Jews who were entering the land. They had just survived the Holocaust. But, by and large, they did not come to share the land but to start afresh. The UN mini-state was the result. Those lines were erased in a war the Jewish occupants did not start.
Judaism and Islam each has its own personal God. Each religion tells of all these injustices in ways that justify its people. There is no path to peace without acknowledging all these wrongs. Sometimes, history puts innocent people in the way of each other. It is not clear how justice will eventually come, but it must.
None of us is innocent. The US began in the very same way. There were people here. They were displaced and killed. They are not getting their lands back either.
But if perfect justice is unattainable, reconciliation is not. It will probably require the end of the personal God of justification, however, to get to reconciliation. And that will take a long time.