by Mordecai Plaut
Just Put Out the Fires -- A Torah View of Yishmoel
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
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
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
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