A light unto the nations

December 24, 2008 at 4:45 pm 5 comments

jerusalem_sunset2

… and two nice ladies at a

felafel stand

By RALPH DOBRIN

Ralph Dobrin is the author of “How to Avoid Armageddon”
To order the book click: www.amazon.com  type: how to avoid Armageddon

I was feeling great and it probably showed. I had just ridden eight kilometers into Jerusalem’s city center on my bicycle, so I felt that surge of energy and joy that can come from physcial exertion. I went into my favorite felafel stand near the top of Ben Yehuda Mall, where the felafel is especially deep-fried on an individual basis. There’s always a crowd of people waiting to be served but it’s worth it.

So I’m standing there waiting. Two nice-looking middle-aged women are standing next to me. One of them says to me: “Hello, I sometimes see you here.” Now, I’m at that age where in my eyes a middle-aged women is really a youngster. I don’t recognise this particular lady, but we begin to chat. She tells me that she’s from Fort Worth, Texas. She introduces her companion to me. She’s from a small town in Western Australia. They’ve been in Israel for about a year and they love being here.

I try to sum them up. New immigrants, I wonder. Naah, they’re too enthusiastic about Israel! Ordinary tourists, maybe? But ordinary tourists don’t stay for a whole year. They ask me about myself. I joke a bit and ask them about themselves. “Oh we are here to help people,” says the lady from Fort Worth.

Immediately I have them pegged as part of those misinformed contingents that come to help the downtrodden Arabs in Gaza or Judea and Samaria. They look the type – kind-hearted, concerned, middle-class westerners. I enjoy verbal sparring with people like these – apologists for the Palestine cause. Most of them have a one-sided view of the Israel-Arab conflict and its background, and for me personally, meeting such folks is always a good opportunity to help set the record straight.

So, I prepare the stage for an interesting conversation while we wait to be served. I ask how they help people. “We give food parcels and clothes,” is the smiling answer. “Yeah, that figures,” my mind registers.

“Do you work for some organization?” I ask.

They hesitate. I can imagine their minds wondering who I am. Can they trust me, they ponder? Am I in the Secret Service, perhaps? Their permanent smiles freeze somewhat.

I take another tack. I talk about the Arabic language and how similar it is to Hebrew. I talk about the Arab skills as stone masons and builders. I talk sincerely because I have always admired Arabic as well as the hardy diligence of Arabs engaged in building construction. But the two ladies just listen politely and there’s no smile on their faces.

So, what are they doing in Israel, I wonder, and with which organization are they connected.

So I ask them outright. “Do you distribute food and clothes to people living in Gaza or the West Bank?”

“No!” they both blurt loudly. Then quietly, the Fort Worth lady says, “We help mostly new immigrants.”

“Gotcha!” I say to myself. Obviously they are missionaries. Not that I care. What counts for me is common decency and national loyalty of my fellow-Jewish Israelis and not whether they have two separate sets of dishes for meat and milk or whether they believe in the divinity of Jesus or whether they are agnostics.

Anyway, I say: “That’s interesting. So, you help new immigrants? Who else do you help?”

I can see on their faces that they are wary of me. They know about Israel’s concern regarding the erosion in Jewish loyalty that missionary work might cause.

The Aussie says in a low voice, “We are not missionaries. We are connected with a group that has no interest in missionary work. We just love the Jewish people and want to help Israel.”

“That’s great,” I say sincerely. “Which group are you connected with?”

They tell me. It’s a very pro-Zionist Christian group that takes great care not to spread the Gospel among Jews. I won’t mention their name because there are people who mistakenly lump all Christians in the same missionizing mold. I have known this particular group for about twenty years now. As a writer I have occasionally met the founders and some of their associates over the years; I have also met other Christians who care about Israel, who come here for a few months or years and who work in one of the splendid Christian associations that supports Israel in whatever way they can. I know these people and I have no doubt that they are among the finest people who walk God’s earth.

And I expressed these sentiments to the two ladies. They looked relieved and I could feel that we were striking up a fine rapport. Meanwhile, the three of us were served and sat on the bar stools, munching away at our felafel with informal gusto and a nascent sense of camaradie.

They told me about their families and their respective professions. They were educated, intelligent, charming people and they had twinkling eyes that beamed at me and made my heart do a little jig. That’s one of the great things about being a guy – no matter how many years you’ve rambled on this planet, the attention of fine looking women always makes your heart do that little jig.

AN EMBARRASSING BIBLICAL QUOTE

But then the Texan said something that broke the mood for me. We had been talking about the readiness of the international community to condemn Israel exclusively for the plight of the Arabs of this region and she paraphrased, “People must realize that Israel is actually the light unto the nations.”

My heart stopped doing that little jig. I find it hard to contend with praise or positive remarks directed at me, especially when unwarranted. So personally, this light unto the nations thing regarding Israel sounds unbecoming and inappropriate. Furthermore, lots of nations have been a beacon in some field or other. These same nations also have a lot in their pasts that is pretty shameful. Actually I don’t think that the Jews have much reason for any deep national shame – not like the British, Spaniards or French with their exploitative imperialism or the Germans with the Nazi era. Although each of these nations, in common with the ancient Greeks, Romans and Chinese, as well as the Mohammedans, also gave immensely to humanity in the fields of philosophy, science, technology and the arts.

Nowadays people in Israel have centered their lives on becoming an independent nation again, against demonic odds. But much of the present effort is fraught by stupidity at all levels and selfishness and conceit at the higher levels. Nationally, at this point, I feel there’s not much justification to reckon that we are a light unto anyone. Actually, in many ways some of the nations can be a light unto us. After, we are still learning basic moral stuff like how to stand in a queue or get into a bus or an elevator without a scuffle. And at any given time about a dozen Israeli parliamentarians are being investigated for corruption, embezzelment or sexual offences. Also, moral wrongdoing is not limited to secular people. Our religious public officials have proven just as prone as anyone else to stray morally.

So please don’t give me any of  that “Light unto the nations stuff.”

Apart from which, anyone who claims to be a “Light unto the nations” reveals a huge conceit. That alone negates any claim to luminariness. 

The Texan must have noticed a frown on my face, so she repeated her quotation about Israel being a light unto the nations and added, “That’s what the Prophet Isaiah said. Chapter 42, verse 6.”

“Yes, I know,” I said, taking a bite of my felafel. She bit into hers and some tehina dripped off her chin. The Aussie lady noticed and dabbed it clean. Embarrassed smiles.

“Actually there are many interpretations to this quotation,” I said. “Just like in many other parts of the Bible.”

They nodded.

“Personally, I just cannot accept that Isaiah meant that the Jews are such a fine people that they will teach the rest of the world morality. 

“What about monotheism?” the Texan interjected.

“You’ve got a point there,” I admitted. “Nevertheless, half the world has no idea who Abraham or Moses were or what they really represent, or even Jesus for that matter. Take all the Buddhists and other eastern religions, for instance. When I visited Thailand and Singapore, I swear I had never seen such common decency and patience anywhere else in the world. I had never seen such deep respect and consideration for others, as well as kindness and gentleness. Certainly not in this land of the chosen people.”

“Yes, but the Jews brought monotheism to humanity – the idea of one God, as opposed to the dozens of deities in eastern religions,” the Texan emphasized.

“So what?” I responded.

They both looked shocked.

“One God or a hundred gods – what difference does it make?” I asked. “No one really knows anything about what you call God.”

One of them said to me, “Don’t worry. I can see that you are a good man and one day you will see the light.”

“The light that I am supposed to spread among humanity?”

We all laughed.

I continued, “Look, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about me. While I might be embarrassed when people say that the Jews are a light unto the nations, I can entertain the notion that what Isaiah meant was that the existence and sovereignty of God will be proved to all the nations through the Jewish people.”

“A very apt sentiment,” said the Texan.

“That’s not my idea,” I said. “A French guy called David Kimhi who was also known as the Radak, came up with this idea. He lived in the twelfth or thirteenth century.”

I took another bite of the felafel and continued. “Many serious Jews accept this interpretation, together with the call for a high standard of personal morality. They understand that what the Radak meant was that all those prophecies regarding Israel’s redemption would come true, including the wars of Gog and Magog, and thus the nations of the world would recognize God and repent.”

The two ladies nodded enthusiastically. One of them said, “And then we will see the advent of the Messiah.”

“Yours or mine?” I laughed.

“Both of ours,” they chorused.

BELITTLING THE ALMIGHTY

“Well, I don’t like it,” I said. “I think this is a terrible indictment on what you call God and what I am for a lack of better word, prepared to call the ‘Creator of the universe’.”

They looked perplexed. The Aussie said, “I am sure that you can see what is happening in the world today. You can see how the nations are arraying themselves around Israel. Can’t you?”

“I can’t ignore it,” I said.

“Well that’s been predicted in the Bible,” she said.

I nodded. “I know and it’s absolutely amazing to see stuff that was written thousands of years ago unfolding before our very eyes. It’s uncanny.”

“It’s prophesy coming true,” said the Texan. “It’s God manifesting Himself.”

The Aussie looked at me and shook her head. “How can you deny it?”

“I don’t,” I said. “But I just find it hard to accept that the Creator of all this inexpressively incredible and wonderful world has to go to such lengths just to get some attention from the beings He himself created … in his own image.”

They both sighed and shook their heads. One of them said, “Don’t be such a skeptic! You yourself said it’s amazing to see what was written in the Bible unfolding before our very eyes.”

“A lot is coincidence and a lot is grist for contention.”

“It’s all the Truth!”

“If it’s all the Truth, then surely Truth should unite people rather than drive them to war against each other, as religion has done over and over again, up to the present day.”

“That’s so as to tally with prophesy,” one of them said.

“I told you what I think of that idea,” I said. Then I repeated: “I can’t accept that the Almighty, the unfathomable, ineffable Creator of this wonderful world, has to go to such lengths just to get some attention from the foolish creatures He himself created … in his own image.”

They didn’t have an answer. So I continued. “The fact that I am an agnostic doesn’t make me a complete non-believer in the existence of what you call God,” I said. “Billions of people all over the world believe in God and nobody knows what the hell they are talking about.”

“Oh yes, we do,” said the Aussie.

I lowered my voice because I didn’t want to sound too offensive. I said slowly, “What you know is what you’ve read or heard from other people who had read or heard going back in time to what was probably the rantings of some overly imaginative or opinionated recluse, village dreamer or lunatic.”

They both shook their heads. By now we had all finished our felafel. I didn’t feel comfortable that our conversation, which had started off so pleasantly, had taken this confrontational turn. These were two very good people and I had no right to upset them. So, I said, “Look, I’m sorry to have been so outspoken about belief and religion.”

“Oh that’s all right,” they said. “We found talking to you very stimulating.”

I replied: “Well I found talking to you very stimulating too. But I would like to add just one thing to what I had said, and maybe we can part having agreed with each other.”

“Go on,” they said.

I continued. “Whether what’s happened in the last seventy years with Israel and what is happening now, is the result of some divine hand or purpose, I am not prepared to accept or reject. But what I can see is that we in Israel, and in fact the whole world, are facing a very perilous future. Muslim fundamentalism, pollution, weather change, economic havoc. And here in Israel, we face a dreadful line-up of nations preparing to annihilate us. What all this means is that firstly we in Israel have to face the truth of the situation. In order to survive, we have to gather all our resources and work wisely together. This means, for Israel, the highest possible level of integrity and a strong personal dedication on the part of every Jew to the cause of national survival. It means respecting each other and accepting our differences of opinion without forcing ours on others. It means honest pragmatisim. On the individual level it means being a thoroughly good person, with or without the trappings of religion. Can you accept that?”

They thought for a moment. The Aussie shrugged her shoulders and said, “You could be a good diplomat.”

Her colleague added, “After Gog and Magog, if we meet again, we can compare notes.”

“It’s a deal!” I said.

We shook hands and parted. I got on my bicycle and pedalled up Ben-Yehuda Street towards Bezalel Street. A car behind me brought me back to reality as it honked loudly and the driver glared at me as he passed, while his exhaust fumes momentarily constricted my breathing. A few minutes later another car almost knocked me off the road and I was actually forced to stop so as to avoid crashing into the pavement. Fairly typical on Israel’s roads and not a good harbinger for the future. Why on earth should the Lord of the Universe want to help this obtuse, self-centered people? Why were we given this incredible opportunity to renew our sovereignty in our ancient Land once again? A crucial question we should all be asking ourselves if we want to survive – whether one is religiously observant or not.

Actually, Israel has a cosmic opportunity to show that good can prevail over lies and evil. We are living in an age when Israel faces impossible, diabolical odds, compounded by a global blood libel that supports her many mortal enemies. The only way that tiny Israel can prevail will be by forging a lifestyle for all its people that could really be a light for others to see. But we ourselves should allude to it very, very rarely – so as to avoid the pitfall of conceit.

Riding a bicycle in the center of Jerusalem is a good way to gauge where we stand at the moment. 

For more see: www.israelandtruth.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Entry filed under: In order to survive, Religion and belief, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Shira Nahari  |  December 25, 2008 at 9:21 am

    Rafi, “A light unto the nations” is such a brilliant article! You have managed to work your raison d’etre into a wonderful story that is illuminating in so many different ways.

    Thank you for being! And for caring enough to go to all this trouble to try to wake people up. You’re doing a great job.
    Just never measure your success by results you can see. The ripples from the stones you throw into the water spread farther than you can ever perceive, I am sure of it.

    Reply
  • 2. Batya  |  December 25, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Rafi, fantastic article.
    Have you read my reports about the BBC?
    http://shilohmusings.blogspot.com/2008/12/one-of-my-dumb-questions.html

    Reply
  • 3. someIntegrity  |  December 25, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    oil spot worked in vietnam. atheists should send out missionaries into religious strongholds to spread decency through secularism.

    Reply
  • 4. Peter  |  December 26, 2008 at 7:53 am

    this was a very captivating article

    and sadly we surely avoid the pitfall of conceit

    Reply
  • 5. Barbara  |  December 28, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    I think there’s a confusion here about what is and what should be. As Jews we’re meant to be ‘witnesses’ to the existence of the Creator. That’s what we should be, and we’re not, we’re certainly a long way from the high moral and ethical standards that we should be exhibiting – but that doesn’t absolve us from our responsibility.
    I also have a problem with a finite human being trying to ‘second guess’ the infinite Creator. Quote ‘I can’t accept that the Almighty, the unfathomable, ineffable Creator of this wonderful world, has to go to such lengths just to get some attention from the foolish creatures He himself created … in his own image’ i.e you say you are unable to accept something which you yourself have postulated and which may bear no relation to reality, at least to the extent that we can understand it

    Reply

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