Sunday, December 16, 2007

Derashah: Vayyishlach 5768: Our obligation to a minority

Note: This was the third of three speeches delivered in honor of Israel's 60th birthday.

The derashah:

Dealing with a non-Jewish minority
For twenty centuries, Jews have been accustomed to viewing non-Jewish populations large and small as enemies. We have looked to Yaakov’s actions at the start of this morning’s parshah as precedent for every encounter with a foreign group - whether dealing with biblical empires, feudal lords or hostile mobs, we have been, perenially, on the defensive.
But in Israel, at the age of 60, we are no longer a true exile nation, a minority without political clout; instead, we make the rules. Yaakov’s precedent cannot inform the actions of today’s Israel, a land in which no matter how hostile the minority population may be, they will never, in the normal course of affairs, pose a serious existential threat to the country as a whole. Instead, it is the Jewish population that has the non-Jewish population at its mercy; everything from basic municipal services to civil rights depends entirely on Jewish say-so.
This became a major issue last month, during Druse riots in the Israeli city of Pekiin, when questions were raised about the way Israeli police handled the Druse citizens.
When dealing from a position of power, how do we address a non-Jewish minority? Must all non-Jewish nations be viewed automatically as the enemy, or can we admit the possibility that another nation, and a minority among us, might have a claim upon our aid and support? And if so, then what happens when resources are limited, and we need to divide them between the Jewish majority and the non-Jewish minority? In short: Does the Torah present us with a model for Jewish government of an Arab minority?
The answer, of course, is Yes - or this would be a very short speech.

First: Support them, if they keep the שבע מצוות
First, the Torah tells us that every society, Jewish and non-Jewish, is expected to live by a minimum standard of morality, as defined by the Torah.
When HaShem first tells Avraham that He is going to evict the Canaanites in favor of Avraham’s descendants, He tells Avraham that the reason for this eviction is כי לא שלם עון האמרי עד הנה, that the sin of the Canaanite Emori is not yet complete. Meaning: Gd has certain expectations of the Canaanites, and the Canaanites are not meeting those expectations. In Avraham’s day their guilt is not quite great enough to warrant their destruction, but Gd expects that by the time the Jews emerge from Egypt, the Canaanites will be so corrupt that the time will have arrived for their punishment.
This message of obligatory moral standards underlies numerous catastrophes in Bereishis. The Mabul, the destruction of the tower of Bavel, the demolition of Sdom, all of these speak to the idea that a population must meet an expected standard of moral behavior, in order to deserve survival.
This minimum standard is the שבע מצוות בני נח, the seven Noachide laws: Not to worship idols, Not to kill, Not to commit sexual immorality, Not to steal, Not to blaspheme against Gd, To kill an animal before taking its flesh to eat, and to set up a judicial system.
A population that accepts this standard deserves survival - and then we are obligated to help them survive. As Rav Aharon Soloveitchik explained (in Od Yisrael Yosef Bni Chai) based on the Rambam, we are obligated to support them with tzedakah, providing them with the means to survive. If they live in Israel they are also obligated to pay taxes to the government, but we are responsible to take care of them, in general, and make sure they have what they need.

Second: Create Kiddush HaShem in dealing with them
Second, we are obligated to create Kiddush HaShem, acting toward them in such a way that they will come to respect HaShem and HaShem’s Torah.
The best illustration of this obligation is Yehoshua’s pact with the Givonim.
Gd told the Jews, before their entry into Israel, that they would have to carry out the mission of evicting the 7 nations. However, we are taught that before the Jews first entered Israel, they sent messages to those seven nations, offering a chance for peace and acceptance of the seven Noachide laws. None of the nations accepted this offer.
Then, once the Jews had entered Israel and won a couple of wars, the Canaanite residents of Givon, also known as Givonim, decided that peace might be a good option after all. But they had a problem: The Jewish peace offer had already expired! So the Givonim sent messengers who pretended to have come from far away, wearing torn clothes and bringing stale food, so that the Jews wouldn’t realize that they were actually from the seven nations.
The ploy worked; the Jews agreed to spare the Givonim, and only afterward did they find out that these were people who were supposed to be evicted. The pact had been signed on fraudulent terms!
On discovering they had been cheated, Yehoshua and the Jews could have legitimately voided their pact - but they didn’t. Instead, they upheld their contract because they had given their word. They were concerned about what people would think, if they heard that the Jewish people had reneged.
This is the element of Kiddush HaShem, of making sure that our actions toward the minority are Kiddush HaShem, sanctifying the reputation of the Torah we uphold.

Third: Worry about their welfare, even at our own expense
So we have said that a Jewish majority is obligated to support its non-Jewish minority if they keep the seven mitzvos, and that we are further obligated to fulfill Kiddush HaShem, sanctifying Gd’s Name. But there’s an additional, punitive step: If we don’t take care of this minority, we will suffer for it. The evidence is in the further story of the Givonim.
As punishment for their fraud, the Givonim were put to work supplying water and wood for the Mishkan. In return, they were supported by the Kohanim. Many years later, Shaul haMelech destroyed Nov, a city of Kohanim - and the result was that many Givonim, who had depended upon Nov for support, died of starvation.
After this, there was a three-year famine in Israel - and Shaul’s successor, Dovid haMelech, was informed prophetically that the reason his nation was starving was because the Givonim were suffering.
HaShem thus provided us with a harsh lesson: We are responsible for the welfare of the minorities in our midst.

Application: Israel, and us
Before anyone runs away with this, let me state explicitly that I’m not suggesting this applies fully to the Palestinian Arabs, many of whom have a problem with a couple of those Noachide mitzvos. But the underlying principle is still relevant: We don’t treat all other nations as automatic enemies, and when they live among us we are responsible for their welfare. For the Druse, and for any other Arab population which might choose to live in peace in Israel, we are obligated to follow this model of the Torah.
This applies far beyond Israel, too; whenever we are in a position of power, even if we have the moral ground, we are still responsible to look out for the welfare of those around us.

ויירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו, we read this morning, as Yaakov prepared to meet his brother, Esav. “Yaakov was afraid, and he was troubled.” The midrash explains that Yaakov was afraid of being killed, and he was troubled that he might kill another. Although Yaakov knew he was dealing with an enemy, Yaakov did not wish to kill, even for his own survival.
As Yaakov’s descendants, we, too, would avoid such actions. מעשה אבות סימן לבנים, the lesson of our ancestors is clear: We must be prepared for all options, just as Yaakov was prepared for all options in the beginning of our parshah, but if true peace is offered by a minority prepared to observe its Noachide mitzvos, then we ought to be glad to accept, to provide them with their needs and even at our own expense, and to act toward them in a manner of Kiddush HaShem.

Further thoughts:
1. What happens when you believe the minority is working against you?
2. Who is the arbiter of "Kiddush HaShem" and "proper support" when you believe you are doing enough, and they disagree?
3. How does tie in to Zer-Kavod's concept of the Ger vs the Ger Toshav, in

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