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22 Adar 5762 - March 6, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly
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Opinion & Comment
The Rambam's Insight into Our Arab Problem

It is interesting -- and perhaps more surprising than it should be -- that we can find a thoroughly appropriate description of our predicament and our feelings in words written over 800 years ago by that great sage who provides us with so much guidance in so much of what we do: the Rambam.

It is not certain exactly when in his life he wrote his Iggeres Teiman, but the general background is known. The Rambam was prominent in Egypt and throughout the Jewish world, especially North Africa and the Middle East. The Jews of Yemen were under pressure from without -- in the form of Shiite Moslem rulers who bid them covert or die -- and from within in the form of a moshiach sheker who undermined their steady faith with his apocalyptic pronouncements.

The Rambam replied with his long Iggeres Teiman, much of which seems addressed to us as well as the residents of long ago Yemen.

"And you, our brothers, it is known to you that Hakodosh Boruch Hu has cast us, as a result of our sins, among this nation, the nation of Yishmoel, whose evil is mighty, and they exert their minds to do us harm and to despise us as He, yisborach, decreed upon us: "Ve'oyveinu pelilim" (Devorim 32:31). There will not stand against Yisroel a nation with greater enmity nor a nation that has done us greater and more extreme harm by wearing us down and making us smaller and despised as they have. Even Dovid Hamelech o"h, upon seeing with ruach hakodesh all these tzoros that are to come upon Yisroel, began to cry and wail in the name of the nation about the harm that will come from Bnei Yishmoel: "Woe is me . . . that I lived among the tents of Keidar" (Tehillim 120:5).

"And we who endure their oppression and deceit and lies beyond our capacity -- that it is not within the capacity of man to endure this -- and we are, as Dovid o"h said, " . . . as a deaf man who does not hear and a dumb man who does not open his mouth" (Tehillim 38:14). Our Rabbonim have taught us that we must endure the deceit of Yishmoel and his lies, and be silent, and they attached this to a posuk that is written about his children: UMishmo veDumo uMasso (Bereishis 25:15) [which they have interpreted homiletically:] `Hear, but be silent and endure!' And in fact we have, all of us, young and old, agreed to suffer their oppression, as Yeshaya o"h said: `I have presented my body to beaters and my cheeks to those who pluck out beards; I have not hidden by face from embarrassment and spit' (Yeshaya 50:6).

"And with all this, there is no way to escape most of their wild evil. And whenever we run after them to make peace, they run after us with war and destruction, as Dovid Hamelech o"h said, `I am peace and when I speak -- they make war' (Tehillim 120:7). And all the more so when we try to protest to the king, we endanger ourselves and can come to death."

The Arab problem has been going on for more than 800 years. As the French say: The more things change, the more they remain the same.

We must take heart from the strong words of the Rambam to understand that this is part of Hashem's plan for us, as reflected in the words of the Torah.

All the "answers" are worthless; neither the might of Tzahal nor the dream of a New Middle East can free us of the burden of Yishmoel.

What is the Jewish Answer to the Jewish Problem?

There are no permanent or complete answers until Hashem sends Moshiach. Until then there is no point -- and it is usually counterproductive -- to look for a "solution." We must endure and suffer the golus with its shibud malchuyos as best we can, searching for little answers to local problems -- which means of course taking whatever steps we can to stop the bloodshed including fighting when reasonable and negotiating when reasonable.

The complete and permanent solution will only come with the Geulah Sheleimoh, bimeheiroh veyomeinu Omein.


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