21:25– After Yitzchak’s miraculous birth, Avimelech, king of Gerar, approaches Avraham with his military general Pichol, and they request to enter into a covenant of peace with our forefather. Magnanimously putting aside his complicated history with the Pelishti King (actually, their history was pretty straightforward… the latter abducted our matriarch Sarah, and then put the blame squarely on Avraham for not properly warning the ruler that his wife was off the market… but this is beside the point), Avraham acquiesces and they agree not to harm each other’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The pesukim note that Avraham very quickly tells off Avimelech for previous wrongdoing, petty robberies that had not even been mentioned in the text of the Torah until now: “וְהוֹכִ֥חַ אַבְרָהָ֖ם אֶת־אֲבִימֶ֑לֶךְ עַל־אֹדוֹת֙ בְּאֵ֣ר הַמַּ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר גָּזְל֖וּ עַבְדֵ֥י אֲבִימֶֽלֶךְ.”
Radak explains that, despite the lack of its mention in the pesukim, Avimelech’s servants had been stealing wells from Avraham for a very long time. Avraham, however, exercised great restraint and did not say anything, as it was better not to start a fight with a neighboring king. However, now that they were bnei brit, and Avraham had made the hefty promise of him and his descendants refraining from attacking four generations of Pelishti rulership, it was more than appropriate to tell Avimelech off for this blatant thievery that he was at the very least ignoring, if not sanctioning.
Seforno takes this even one step further, and explains in his commentary that the “עַבְדֵ֥י אֲבִימֶֽלֶך” weren’t Avimelech’s servants in the most literal sense, but rather his subjects. Avraham very validly claimed that by entering a brit with Avimelech, the latter would not only need to keep himself from harming four generations of Ivrim, but even his household and his servants, and his subjects as well. Even though the Pelishti leader could have easily dismissed their actions as out of his control, it’s pretty clear that the Pelishtim would have heeded a firm and serious decree from their king to stop stealing from Avraham, and the fact that this decree was not yet forthcoming was already sufficient grounds for our leader to complain as they signed a brit- only through setting realistic and fair boundaries could lasting peace be sustained between the Ivrim and Pelishtim.
I believe that we can learn a very important lesson from these teaching in the context of current events in the Middle East. In the past sixty eight years, the State of Israel has been forced to wage many defensive wars against its neighboring enemies. In the beginning, the surrounding Arab states would unite against Israel and force it to fight several battles on different fronts, the Jewish State terribly outnumbered every time- nevertheless, they never succeeded in defeating us. In more recent times, however, the strategy changed.
Rockets are fired into Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza, Israel retaliates and destroys the firing posts which were often hidden in schools, homes and UN-funded facilities, drawing the ire of the international community. Under undue pressure from the United Nations and our greatest ally, the United States of America, Israel is politically manhandled into making a humanitarian ceasefire with an internationally recognized terrorist organization bent on its destruction. לא נורא, at least there’s quiet on the Gaza Front, right? Wrong! More rockets are fired at Israeli homes in Sderot and Ashdod, and Israel asks its so-called partner in ceasefire what happened. Hamas, the democratically elected ruling party of Gaza, responds with more than a little irony via diplomatic cables that it didn’t fire those particular rockets, and cannot be held responsible for them. The humanitarian experts of the UN and the US of A seem less concerned about the sanity of the Israeli residents of Sderot and Ashdod living under the constant threat of rocket fire, and the “stray rockets” are mysteriously missing from the morning report of the US Department of State’s media spokesman, who nevertheless manages to stick in a small threat against the Israeli military breaking its ceasefire at the end of the briefing.
Not realistic enough? Let’s try another scenario:
Let’s say that residents of a certain UN non-state observer, formed by the merging of Yasser Arafat’s PLO, Fatah, and Hamas, were unhappy about the delayed cleansing of Palestine from Jewish souls, and decided to expedite the process by beginning a campaign of stabbing innocent Israeli citizens and policemen to death, in order to expedite their one state solution to peace in the Middle East. Let’s say that the mainstream media, loving a good underdog story, labels this as popular resistance and lovingly names the campaign “the silent intifada” (because the screams of innocent people dying clearly do not count as noise). Let’s say that Israel’s greatest allies in the West have already warned them to “exercise caution” and not to attempt a “disproportionate response” to the blatant terrorism. What is Israel to do? Knocking one mole down seems to cause three more to pop up, and international pressure has removed the effective solution of unplugging the Whack-A-Mole arcade game. Israel decides to reach out to Jordan, a neighboring country who has signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state despite its overt hostilities in 1948 and 1967, and covert hostilities ever since. Israel beseeches its peace partner to pressure the Palestinian Authority to stop the sanctioned terrorism, and Jordan, despite funding both the PA and Hamas, claims that its hands are tied, as the terrorists are from the Palestinian territories, and not from their own country.
What is Israel to do?
Ideally, Israel should have followed the example of its forefather Avraham and made active prevention of Muslim terror a precondition for any ceasefire or treaty. Hopefully the Israeli government will learn this lesson moving forward, and will make this part of the next ceasefire that will inevitably need to be signed with Hamas-controlled Gaza during the next surge of rocket fire. But, in the meantime, what is the Jewish state to do? How can we ensure there will be peace with a partner who refuses to take responsibility for its avadim?
I can’t say for sure exactly what should happen, but I think it’s clear from what we’ve seen above that accountability is the only way to ensure a true and lasting peace. Absorbing blatant acts of war and forgiving the responsible parties will only cause the masters and their avadim to get more bold, and will only lead to further loss of Jewish life. We must hold our neighboring enemies responsible for their subject’s terrorism- anything short of that will ensure that the Avimelech mentality will keep on continuing. Hierarchy will be restored, and “avadim” will listen to their rulers, only when the rulers are reminded of the price of letting their subjects run wild.
May we all merit to see a lasting peace in Israel, very very soon.