A Lesson on Freedom from the Biblical Story of the Spies

June 16 2017

In this week’s Torah reading of Shlaḥ-l’kha (Numbers 13-15), Moses and the Israelites are poised to enter the promised land, and send twelve spies in advance to scout it out. When ten of them report back that the land, inhabited by fortress-dwelling giants, is unconquerable, the people lose their faith and sink into despair, and God decrees that they must wander in the desert for 40 years until the adults have died off. Thus it will be the next generation, raised not in Egyptian slavery but in the desert wilderness, that will inherit the land. Jonathan Sacks comments:

According to Maimonides, . . . the verdict [was not] a punishment as such. It was an inevitable consequence of human nature. It takes more than a few days or weeks to turn a population of slaves into a nation capable of handling the responsibilities of freedom. In the case of the Israelites, it took a generation born in liberty, hardened by the experience of the desert, untrammeled by habits of servitude. Freedom takes time, and there are no shortcuts. Often it takes a very long time indeed.

That dimension of time is fundamental to the Jewish view of politics and human progress. . . . Unlike in Christianity or Islam, there is, in Judaism, no sudden transformation of the human condition, no one moment or single generation in which everything significant is fully disclosed. . . . There are some things a parent may not do for a child if he or she wants the child to become an adult. There are some things even God must choose not to do for His people if He wants them to grow to moral and political maturity. . . .

One of the odd facts about Western civilization in recent centuries is that the people who have been most eloquent about tradition—Edmund Burke, Michael Oakeshott, T.S. Eliot—have been deeply conservative, defenders of the status quo. Yet there is no reason why a tradition should be conservative. We can hand on to our children not only our past but also our unrealized ideals. We can want them to go beyond us; to travel farther on the road to freedom than we were able to do. . . . That is the lesson of the spies. Despite the divine anger, the people were not condemned to permanent exile. They simply had to face the fact that their children would achieve what they themselves were not ready for.

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Read more at Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

More about: Edmund Burke, Freedom, Hebrew Bible, Michael Oakeshott, Numbers, Religion & Holidays

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy