Yom Ha’atzmaut 5762: The World Should Be Protesting Right Now

April 16, 2002

This extract was delivered by Rabbi Sacks as part of his Yom HaZikaron-Yom Ha'atzmaut address at the Bnei Akiva ceremony on 16th April 2002 (4th Iyar 5762), at Finchley United Synagogue.

Partial Transcript

….the Gemara is telling us that [regarding Purim] the words Haman and hamin are connected, their letters are the same. What is the Gemara saying? Are Haman and hamin truly the same? Is it a pun, a joke. They have no connection with one another ostensibly. Haman is a name, hamin is a question. On the face of it they have nothing to do with one another at all.

But now listen to the astonishing answer, given by one of the Ba'alei Musar, one of the great ethical teachers in the previous century. He asked this - what do we know about Haman. He was a man who had everything, he had power, position, wealth, fame. Vayesaper lachem Haman, he told his family, et kevod ashro, the glory of his riches, verov banav, his multitude of children, v'et chol asher gidlu hamalach, and how the king had promoted him. He had everything except one thing. Mordechai wouldn't bow down to him. And because he lacked that one thing, everything else seemed to him worthless. B'chol zeh, he says, eino shaveh li, none of this is worth anything to me, b'chol et asher ani roeh et Mordechai hayehudi yoshev besha'ar hamelech. So long as Mordechai is still there, and because of that one thing that he lacked Haman lost it all - his job, his wealth, his life. Because he wanted everything, he landed up with nothing.

And now we understand the Gemara that says hamin haetz Haman min hatorah minayim. Where do we see that Haman was not unique, that this is a recurring tragedy in the human situation? In the words hamin haetz asher ztiviticha, in those words, did you eat from the tree which I commanded you not to eat, God gave Adam and Eve everything. He gave them paradise, gan eden everything except one thing, one tree they weren't allowed to eat. And what did they do? Instead of being content with what they had, they wanted the one thing they couldn't have. Hamin ha'etz asher ztiviticha vilti lechoh mimenu, the one tree they were not allowed, and because of that one thing they lost paradise. If you are content with much, you will have much. But if you want all, you will lose all.

Friends, for 18 months the people of Israel have been under siege. They have not been at war. They have suffered something much worse than war. In war there is a battleground. In terror, a trip to a shop, a meal in a restaurant, a ride in a bus, can suddenly become the battleground. In war you know the enemy. In terror anyone, the person standing next to you can be the enemy. War has a logic, a beginning and an end. Terror has no logic, no obvious beginning, no rational end.

The people of Israel are a brave and courageous people. But nobody can live like that. What do I say to my sister-in-law who is afraid every time my brother goes to the local supermarket because the local supermarket was bombed a month ago. What do I say to my nephew, aged 18, when a few weeks ago on Erev Shabbat he had to attend in one morning, one after the other, the funerals of his three closest friends, all 18, all aidel young men who were sitting at the time in a Bet Midrash learning Gemara when a Palestinian gunman broke in, murdered 5, injured 27. No people, no-one can live like this.

And we ask why. I do not intend to compare, God forbid, the Palestinian leadership with Haman. But what on earth have they hoped to achieve by these 18 months of bloodshed and terror. What did they hope to achieve by breaking the fundamental principle of the Oslo Accords which they agreed, not to turn to violence, not to use it as an alternative to negotiations. What did they hope to achieve? A Palestinian State? Ribbono Shel Olam the Palestinians could have had a state at Camp David, they could have had a state at Taba, they could have had a state in 1967 when Israel offered peace after the Six Day War and the Arab world responded with their three famous No's. No to peace, no to negotiations, no to recognition of the State of Israel. They could have had a state in 1948 merely by not attacking Israel, they could have had a state in 1947 merely by agreeing to the United Nations vote on partition. They could have had a state in any one of the Green papers, White papers and Commissions over the previous decades. And if they had wanted such a state they would today be celebrating their independence, their prosperity, who knows, their own Yom Ha'atzmaut.

And why do they not have it? Because they did not want part of Eretz Yisrael, they wanted it all. They wanted a Palestinian State, in their always repeated words, that extends "from the river to the sea". And because the part they weren't going to have mattered to them more than the part they would have, because they couldn't have everything, the result is they lost everything.

Friends, that is a tragedy. that is the tragedy the world should be protesting right now.

It is almost beyond belief that so many people, so many politicians, journalists, reporters, believe that to make peace in the Middle East you have to put pressure on Israel. Ribbono shel olam, on Israel, on Israel which always sought for peace, whose longing for peace is forever enshrined in David Ben Gurion's words, 54 years ago today, when he made Israel's Declaration of Independence. Friends, if peace has to come, and it will come in the Middle East, pressure must be brought to bear on those who say no to peace. And the Palestinians, their leadership and their allies, who said no to peace this year, no to peace last year, no in '73, no in '67, no in '48, no in 1936, no in 1929, and as a result have brought suffering to their people because, seeking to harm Israel, the greatest harm they have inflicted is on themselves.

Let us refuse to let Israel take the blame for something it never sought, for something it never wanted from the day Israel was born to today. Friends, let a clear message go out form this gathering to the people of Israel. I say to you, l'chvod haShagrir, and to am yisrael b'eretz yisrael, you have done more than replant a desolate land, more than rebuild the ruins of Jerusalem, more than rescue threatened Jewries throughout the world, more than create one of the great economies of the modern world, more than sustain an open democracy in a part of the world where it was, and to this day is, unknown. You have done more than that. You have taken our scattered people and gathered them together again. You have taken a people shattered by the Holocaust and made it live again. You have taken a people bowed and bent with twenty centuries of suffering and led us komemiut l'artzenu to stand upright in our land. You have given the Jewish people a home and a hope. We say tonight to the people of Israel: We are with you, we are proud of you, we support you, and we pray that Hashem oz l'amo yitein - God give strength to His people, and Hashem yevarech et amo b'shalom, may God bless the people of Israel with peace. Amen.