Gathering at Sinai: A Parable for Israel

 Louis Rene Beres - Professor of International Law

 Department of Political Science - Purdue University




 Many people prowl round Mount Sinai. Their speech is blurred, either they are garrulous or they shout or they are taciturn. But none of them comes straight down a broad, newly made, smooth road that does its own part in making one's strides long  and swifter.


 Franz Kafka, Mount Sinai



 Gershom Scholem, an authority on the Kabbalah, associated Franz Kafka with what he called the "light of the canonical," a quality of special texts that compels exegesis. Focusing this light in very brief parables - a genre in which he deploys image and motif with strictest possible economy of language - Kafka positively forces the reader to unravel and examine in order to understand. A "heretical kabbalist," as Scholem called him, Kafka gives us a secular representation of the sacred world, a mystic fiction that bears messages of great consequence.


 An example, indeed a splendid example, is Mount Sinai. Embedded in this text are many particular lessons and many particular truths. But it is up to the reader, obstructed by difficulty, to make the necessary effort. And the effort must be preceded by a theme, a motif wherein exegesis may be undertaken.


 Let us make the effort! What is more, let us determine that the effort be directed toward the question of Israeli security, a question that would assuredly have pleased Kafka himself. A keen student of Jewish texts who saw destruction of the first and second Temples as a cosmic catastrophe, Kafka - laboring in Prague over his crafted prose - would have been grateful for an opportunity to help preserve the Third Temple Commonwealth as it encounters "Palestine."


 The people who "prowl round Mount Sinai," the emancipated Children of Israel, seem afflicted by their wanderings. Although a "newly made, smooth road" might be followed to the top of the holy mountain, to a much- higher level of emancipation, these people - all of these people - avoid the direct road. Instead, they remain at the base of the mountain, at the periphery of solemnity, unclear, talkative or shrill or silent. Gripped by confusion and beset by an entire range of communications and miscommunications, this people, we should not be surprised, will have difficulty making correct choices.


 So it is today with the People of Israel, living still in roughly the same bad neighborhood, with a now-reconstituted State to protect, with a new enemy Arab state about to declare its independence. Overwhelmed by gibberish, some of it from governments, some of it from prior governments, some of it from academic sources, these citizens of a beleaguered State prowl aimlessly round the margins of suffering and survival. Confusing rough roads for safe paths, they mumble, scream, shout and become mute, daily, alternately, all in the search for direction that must surely be guided elsewhere.


 How shall they climb to the top of the mountain? "Support the Palestinian state," say some (like Shimon Peres) with diplomatic largesse. "Commit more fully to the Peace Process," say both the gracious and those who shout. "Climb slowly," with "confidence building measures," say the taciturn (for they are scholars, and not inclined to loud noises or other untoward sounds that point to lack of breeding). Yet, none of these roads is the smooth one; none is capable of making one's strides "long and swifter."


 Where shall we find this road, the shorter and surer path to the summit? It exists, to be sure, but it is far, far from the road favored by the blurred, garrulous, shouting and taciturn people. Constructed by those who remember the meaning of "civilization," it is discoverable not by the many, but only by the few, specifically by that tiny minority of thinking and believing persons who understand paradox and are willing to act accordingly. Aware that smooth roads can be awfully rocky and that seemingly easy roads are often the most treacherous, this small number holds the secret injunction of Sinai: Look beyond the crowd, beyond "experts," beyond geography. Look in hidden places, where no one else is looking, where looking is distinctly frowned upon and unfashionable. Look to roads "newly made" and to roads not yet constructed. Look not for ease or painlessness, but for access. Seek not for the most obvious, but for the least.


 Understood as a condition of security for the present State of Israel, Sinai's summit is accessible only to those who will heed this injunction. Detached from government policies that are rooted in error and from scholarship determined by public or paymasters, these few climbers can consider roadways that are harder to identify or that might still be built. Although there are no guarantees that freer, reverent minds will always see clearly, it is certain that unfree minds will never navigate successfully.


 Sinai's summit is blocked by enemy armies and enemy weapons that will not bow to reason and negotiation, and that are about to grow larger and more ominous. To reach the summit, those who prowl round the base of the mountain will have to contend, intermittently, with these (increasingly) formidable obstructions, preparing, if needed, for protracted conflict that appears "uncivilized" and is enormously unpopular. Because these enemy armies and weapons could, left alone, reach a level that would forever prevent ascent upon the Mountain, Israel will, from time to time, have to strike enemy positions first. Most perplexing of all, perhaps, and most difficult to accept, will be the discovery that the summit can never be fully accessible, that all roads are temporary, even the best among them, and that the "smooth road" (which is sometimes rocky) is both indispensable and only partially navigable.


LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of fourteen books and several hundred scholarly articles dealing with international relations and international law. His work is well-known to the Prime Minister, to the Chair of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, to the IDF General Staff and to Israel's intelligence communities.

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