Richard Holbrooke, Self-Knowledge, and the Jewish Idea of Repentance

George Packer’s biography of the American diplomat Richard Holbrooke exposes its subject as a social climber, prevaricator, serial adulterer, and disloyal friend, not to mention a man who took pains to keep his Jewish origins secret. Having recently read Packer’s book, Shalom Carmy finds himself reflecting on the author’s claim that his subject’s fatal flaw was a lack of self-knowledge, and on the nature of self-knowledge itself:

T’shuvah means return, and return in the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish legal tradition means return to God. It is the word for repentance. Some prominent modern Jewish thinkers have used the term t’shuvah to refer to the individual or the community’s return to itself. The list includes ḥasidic rabbis and influential figures such as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and my mentor Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Few have spoken about the apparent conflict between defining repentance as turning to God and defining it as the discovery of some deep metaphysical or psychological resources within oneself.

Theological liberals may not notice the problem. Many of them are not overly impressed by the otherness of God and the sizable gap between talking about God and celebrating the supposed powers of renewal within. As they see it, romantic effusion and contemporary therapies happily converge with mystical yearning, bringing together the object of religion, which is right relation to God, with whatever is admirable in us. The same cannot be said of authoritative Orthodox texts and the interpreters mentioned above, all of whom reject liberal or modernist trends in Judaism. Perhaps they assume a solution to this conflict between return to God and return to self that is so obvious it need not be spelled out. The solution exists, but it is not so obvious, at least not in our times.

If knowing yourself means knowing your capacities and knowing what you want in life, Richard Holbrooke seems to have known himself much better than most people. If repentance means being faithful to oneself, then he had little of which to repent. Holbrooke’s problem was that when others came to know him, they had reservations about what they saw. Based on the biography, I’d say Holbrooke’s tragedy is not lack of self-knowledge, but an insufficient understanding of everybody else, which can become a great liability in life.

It is this distinction between Holbrooke’s quite accurate self-knowledge in a limited sense and his lack of self-knowledge in its broader, relational sense that illuminates t’shuvah. When our Orthodox thinkers teach that returning to God is also returning to the self, they don’t mean being sincere—renewing loyalty to my hopes and ambitions. The true self they urge us to return to is the self that is summoned by God.

Read more at First Things

More about: Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism, Repentance

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security