Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Debt of Honor Owed The Arab Peoples

Last night I read an excellent article on Al Jazeera America about the unfortunate phenomenon of rape in America's high schools. Through one victim's story it showed vividly the lifelong trauma of being first, violated and second, punished by a system which sweeps the problem under the rug, ignoring Federal law to enable the attacker and bury the attacked.
I thought about how inspired I have always been by Muslim values and how unfortunate it is that the situation in Israel seems to polarize people by faith.

Way back when in 2003 I began to cover my hair in a traditional Jewish way. I was not inspired by my own faith. No I had seen a Muslim woman praying quietly and devoutly on the Metro in D.C., and I thought to myself, I want to be as spiritual as her.

The idea of "inner jihad" also makes so much sense to me. That the essence of strength is to stop yourself from doing bad things. Not to fight the rest of the world. There's a similar concept in Judaism, in Hebrew: "Azehu gibor? Hakovesh et yitzro," or "Who is strong? He who conquers his own evil inclination."

Notice that the Hebrew wording is in the male, not the female. Gender in religious language is a whole other topic in and of itself. But it is not unimportant.

The Arab nations are very much identified with the religion Islam. But Islam came much later on, after their forefather Yishmael (Ishmael) was born.

I thought about the issue of honor among Arabs and why it is so important. Reflected that there is a debt of honor owed to them by the Jewish people. On a conversation I had with my daughter regarding the Biblical story of Ishmael.

The Bible tells it straightforwardly: Abraham had a son with Sarah's servant, Hagar. The logic was that Sarah was infertile; Hagar was an available womb.

We're not supposed to look back and judge Biblical figures according to the logic of our day, but that seems like a negative experience at best, if you look at it from Hagar's perspective. She was an object owned, a thing to be taken, she had no choice in the matter. Sarah (and of course Abraham) dictated even the most intimate of experiences.

Then Ishmael is born, and things seem OK for awhile...until Sarah conceives and has Yitzchak (Isaac). Now what are she and Abraham supposed to do? Hagar and Ishmael are very inconvenient.

That sounds horrible to say and do you know what? It is horrible. It is shameful and painful and wrong from where I sit. But the Torah (Bible) doesn't shade the story this way or that - it is what it is.

So Hagar is exiled with Ishmael, a single mother and her child. What are they supposed to do? How will they live?

Regardless of any other factor involved, Hagar's honor was violated, and Ishmael was immediately tasked with the burden of recovering it.

Right there is the conflict over Israel.

It is 100% a spiritual conflict, a spiritual debt, and although we humans can't necessarily "see" what the problem is, it is possible to put two and two together.

Any solution to the problems taking place in the Middle East right now have to begin with repairing the debt that is owed...making peace on a spiritual level...ensuring that all parties have not just subsistence but the honor they are due.

Jews and Arabs are not enemies because of what happened to Hagar and Ishmael, any more than Jews and Germans are enemies because of the Holocaust.

Regarding the former, G-d determined what the Jewish lineage would be, and told the Jewish people to conquer and inherit the land of Israel in a very specific way and with very specific distinctions as to who should do this and who should not.

Similarly, G-d determined that a Holocaust would take place and chose the person who would try to carry out the "Final Solution."

At the same time, Jews are responsible for making right what we can in this world - Tikkun Olam ("repairing the world.") One way to do that is to honor and respect all people, specifically and especially people who have been harmed because of our actions, even inadvertently and even before we were born.

This means more than just words. It means working to make the Arab peoples spiritually, emotionally, and materially whole, and not just focusing on ourselves.

* All opinions my own.