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Rabbi David Wolpe

By Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles

As Passover approaches, very few Jews seem to be talking about Passover. We are all still fixated on Purim.

On Passover we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.  But Purim was the holiday in which an ancient Persian anti-Semite sought to destroy the Jews.  If you are looking for today’s script, Purim is your holiday.

Of course, as has been said, history teaches only that history teaches.  Which lesson you choose to draw depends upon which incident you decide is relevant.  In thinking about the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear bomb, you can choose Northern Ireland and conclude that negotiations and not violence are the answer.  You can look at Iraq and conclude that making war in the Middle East is a misguided and ultimately disastrous choice.  

But you can also look at World War II and think that appeasement, or not believing tyrants when they threaten destruction, is the deep lesson here.  You read the page you want and draw the conclusion you probably began with anyway.

So the battle lines are joined here in the States. On one side are  those who think the President is being prudent and thoughtful and deliberative in restricting Iran’s nuclear program without a cataclysmic confrontation.  

On the other side are those who believe that his world view of reasonable people and his ill concealed irritation with Netanyahu’s self-regard are leading him to the nuclearization of Iran, and in short order, of the entire Middle East. 

I was among those who thought that Netanyahu misplayed his hand. His speech to congress came about polarised the electorate and made Israel a partisan issue for the first time in decades. Nonetheless, his address was eloquent and urgent and he deserves enormous credit for shouting the truth for years while the world barely took note. Now we have reached a pass where every alternative looks worse than the preceding.

The map of the Mideast grows increasingly more complex, with ISIS, Syria and now Yemen in the mix. The Saudis, who for years funded the Wahabist ideology that bred extremism, are suddenly making common cause with the West to escape the tidal wave of terror they helped unleash. And Israel is in the position of a goalie facing multiple balls, never knowing when the next salvo will be fired.  

For the moment our focus has to be on Iran and the prevailing attitude has to be a deep scepticism of a negotiated solution. 

In his most recent post Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic asks what Saudi Arabia will do in response to a deal if there is one. 

 If the terms are unconvincing, will that drive them to Pakistan to purchase a preventative nuclear bomb?  

A Churchillian sense of evil can do great damage if misplaced.  Demonization of the other is a syndrome Jews know too well.  

But a Churchillian sense of evil in the face of evil is salvational.  Mordecai took Haman seriously and the Jews survived. 

And to return to one more oft repeated bromide about history, it may not precisely repeat itself, but it does rhyme. 

The prospect of bombing Iran is fearsome.  It is a country larger than France and Germany combined.  Its population is sophisticated and educated and one cannot imagine what would be the result. Both the Purim and the Pesach story ended in cataclysms of different kinds.  

   Yet the alternative to some severe deterrent is an Israel facing extinction in a single blast.  In the story of Jacob the rabbis explain the phrase, “Jacob was afraid and distressed” (32:7) as follows: Jacob was afraid he might be killed and distressed that he might cause killing.  Both are terrifying.  But as Jacob prepared his family to meet Esau, his first fear was that they would be killed. No matter the holiday, Purim or Pesach, Jews know what it is to be left defenseless.

As our seder approaches, every Jew knows in his heart that it is the one condition we can never allow again. And we know the deep irrationality in the heart of the hater.  As long as this regime is in power, what tactic could possible suffice? No negotiation can placate people whose deepest desire is to see a world ‘freed’ of Jews. 

I suppose Pesach might be the right holiday for the time. We could use a miracle.