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3 Cheshvan 5764 - October 29, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Just Put Out the Fires -- A Torah View of Yishmoel

by Mordecai Plaut

Former director of the CIA James Woolsey says that the war against Islamic fundamentalists will drag on for decades. In a speech that he has given around the world in various places since the Moslem attacks on New York City and Washington DC on September 11, Woolsey argues that the world is now engaged in World War IV (World War III was the Cold War), and he expects it to drag on for many years. "This is the long war of the 21st century, and I might add it is not against terrorism but against Islamist movements and their fascist supporters like Libya, North Korea, and Syria," Woolsey says.

While the US has scored some successes such as the toppling of tyrants in Iraq and Afghanistan, he adds, "we will see more large-scale attacks in the US and abroad."

Woolsey says that the war has been going on for about 15 years, but the United States did not accept this fact until the attacks of September 11. Before then it treated the different attacks, such as those in Lebanon and in Africa, as isolated incidents. Only since then has the United States approached worldwide Islamic terror as a fight against a single force.

We have our own tradition about the oppression of the heirs of Yishmoel. One of the clearest sources is the Eitz Hadaas Tov by HaRav Chaim Vital on Tehillim 124. He says that the final (fifth) exile is the exile of Yishmoel, citing sources in Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, midroshim, and Zohar on parshas Lech Lecho towards the end.

HaRav Chaim Vital explains that the other peoples who impose their will on us in our exiles are compared to various animals -- but not Yishmoel, who practices milah and is the son of Avrohom and is called odom. Lulei Hashem shehoyoh lonu bekum oleinu odom; azai chaim belo'unu -- Were Hashem not with us when the odom rises up against us, he would swallow us alive (Tehillim 124:2,3).

Yishmoel, he explains, is inexperienced as a ruler since he is used to living in tents in the desert -- but suddenly attains power over others. The oppression in other exiles was directed against our souls, "the malicious waters that deluged our souls" (posuk 5). HaRav Chaim Vital notes that the references to malicious waters allude to baptismal waters of Christians, who were primarily interested in converting us and only when we refused did they harm us. But to those, "Boruch Hashem who has not given us over as prey to their teeth" (6).

"But . . . Yishmoel [they] want to murder souls and bodies, and seek to destroy all the property of Yisroel, to swallow them alive, leaving no root or branch . . . they will cause strange and different troubles, whose like was never seen before . . . " (HaRav Chaim Vital)

From our perspective, there is no sense in pursuing a "final resolution" of our conflict with Yishmoel. Throughout the generations, Jews always knew that until Moshiach, there is no permanent respite from the nations of the world. The proper goal for Jewish people is short-term, to put out the fires that flare up. We just have to roll with the waves and try to keep our heads above water.

As HaRav Chaim Vital continues, " . . . we have no hope aside from our trust in Hashem . . . the reason for our confidence in Him, may He be blessed, is that He made the Heavens and the Earth, and we know that He created them only for Yisroel to fulfill the Torah. As Chazal said, "Bereishis boro . . . for the sake of the Torah that is called "reishis", for the sake of Yisroel that is called "reishis" . . . he must help us and save us from their hands and redeem us in the Geulah Shleimoh, speedily in our days, so that the Heavens and Earth will continue to exist, since they have no basis for existence without Yisroel."

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