Sunday, February 19, 2012

Eydar - Shiloh and Jewish Heritage

Dror Eydar..
Israel Hayom..
17 February '12..

The Israelite tribes had just endured a long, hard day of bitter battles. After suffering their first defeat, they decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant from the capital city, Shiloh, to their battlefield encampment at Aphek (present-day Rosh Ha’ayin), 35 kilometers away. Upon the arrival of the ark, the Israelites rejoiced while listening to the loud blast of the shofar. Their roar could be heard in the Philistines’ encampment. Their informers told them that the Israelites had brought a weapon that would tilt the balance of power in their favor. The rumor spread like wildfire among the Philistines. “God has come to the camp of Israel,” they thought. Our end is near.

The Philistines’ propensity for idol worship led them to believe the ark itself was the leader who was going to bring the Israelites salvation. It appears the Israelites also viewed the ark in this manner, as evident in their belief that its mere presence would usher in a miracle and that their enemies would be vanquished.

The very act of bringing the ark was far worse than the corruption and sins committed by Hophni and Phineas, the sons of Eli, the high priest of Shiloh. It was worse than defacing the sanctuary in full view of the pilgrims. This act marked the beginning of the tribes’ spiritual descent, since it demonstrated that their attitude toward godly powers was akin to their approach toward inanimate objects.

The Israelites entered the battlefield with a sense of complacency, thinking they were protected by divine providence. The results were disastrous: “The Philistines fought, and Israel was struck, and they fled every man to his tent; and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel 30 thousand footmen.” The ark was taken captive, while the sons of Eli, who represented the next generation of leaders, were killed.

The bad news had to be delivered to the capital. With the Philistines having won, great danger loomed over Shiloh. One of the most courageous warriors, from the tribe of Benjamin, volunteered. “There ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn, and with earth on his head.”

Some 550 years later, Pheidippides ran a similar distance from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens where he was to spread the news of the Greek victory over the Persians. But our marathon runner, the man of Benjamin, ran to spread word of defeat.

The city’s scouts, who had kept a close eye on everything that went on near the towers and hills that surrounded the city, identified the runner. His fatigued expression, his torn garments and the dust on his head portended bad news. He entered the city’s gates and proceeded to the Tabernacle so that he could inform Eli about the deaths of Israelite soldiers, including his sons, and the ark that had been taken captive.

The altar of the God of Israel was in a tiny building in the northern part of the city, and the runner had to traverse the city, unleashing panic among the residents. “And all the city cried out!” Eli heard the ruckus. At age 98, he was unable to see, for his eyes had “gone dark.” His heart, however, sensed the bad news. He remembered well the prophecy of Samuel, the young boy who was brought to him recently by his mother Hannah in order to serve him: “God said to Samuel, ‘Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which the ears of everyone who hears it shall tingle.’”

The unrest outside grew, and the runner was finally admitted inside, and declared: “I am he who came out of the army, and I fled today out of the army.”

“How did the matter go, my son?” Eli asked. The young runner broke the news about the defeat, the death of his sons, and the captured ark. The rumors were now confirmed, and word spread quickly to the city’s inhabitants who were anxiously waiting outside. The people erupted in hysteria, crying and screaming in agony. The pain was exacerbated further when the inhabitants were told that their elderly leader had been unable to withstand the shock of the news, and had died.

The Bible does not tell us what happened to Shiloh afterward, but clues from other books and archaeological findings suggest that in all likelihood the Philistines made good on their threat and stormed the mountaintop. When they reached the capital, they laid waste to it before setting it on fire. This marked the end of a chapter in the history of the Jewish people. From this point, the capital would shift south. In the next century, it would be found in the City of David, which became Jerusalem.

In recent years, I visited the biblical site of Shiloh. The area is in serious need of upkeep and renovation (although it already has a quality website), so the government’s decision to allocate significant funds and designate it a national heritage site comes just in time. The usual naysayers are crying foul and saying: “This is a controversial decision because of the site’s location in the heart of Samaria, between Ramallah and Nablus.” Indeed, much like the state of Israel, which is like a bone lodged in the throat of the Arab world, wedged between Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

This is exactly the point. To withstand the blows and face down the threats, including those from Iran and its evil satellites; the deceptive Palestinian propaganda which continues to falsely claim that there is no tie linking the Jewish people with their land, and that they would never recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people; we are presenting our formative story, which leaves no doubt that our roots in this land are planted tenfold more firmly than all the lies spewed by the gang of fabricators from Ramallah and Gaza.

“Ariel University?” -- coming soon

Speaking of usual naysayers, these cult figures once again sounded grievances upon hearing the great news that steps were being taken to turn the Ariel University Center of Samaria into a full-fledged university. These naysayers consist of the boycott champions and slanderers who denounce everything that does not fit their worldview, crying out, “Stop Ariel University -- a Threat to Academia in Israel.”

A petition has been circulated by Dr. Nir Gov, a known advocate of boycotts who, I am ashamed to admit, works not far from me at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Obviously the opponents are trying to amass signatures on the English version, including enlisting the support of “an impressive colleague from abroad,” as part of the glorious campaign to sully the state of Israel’s name in the eyes of the world.

What is the danger in establishing a university on grounds that an overwhelming majority of Israelis agree should be part of the state in any future peace accord? According to Gov, the establishment of a college in Ariel “is part and parcel of the overall settlement effort” and “stemmed from political considerations that are disconnected from the needs and challenges facing academia in Israel.”

There was, of course, the obligatory mention of the catchphrases like “occupation” and “oppression.” Wow. What does Gov know about the needs and challenges facing Israeli academia? Don’t his outlandish statements stem from political considerations? Don’t they blind him to the prevailing realities on the ground?

The chief of staff and the erased prayer

From biblical Jewish warrior we move on to contemporary Jewish warriors. Two weeks ago, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz attended a bar mitzvah celebration for the son of a childhood friend of mine. He brought an old friend, a retired American general, with him. Perhaps Gantz was intent on demonstrating his affinity for Jewish culture for his friend.

When he approached the microphone to speak, he recounted how he had just returned from a trip to the Western Wall and the Generations Center. He said the visit there enabled him to make a deep, personal connection with his nation’s history. When Gantz left the center, he wanted to stop by the foot of the Western Wall and say a short prayer. What does the army’s top officer pray for? There is the prayer for the wellbeing of IDF soldiers and the prayer for the security of the state.

He took a prayer book and flipped to the right page, when he noticed the prayer for the IDF soldier had been blotted over with ink. He turned the page and saw that the prayer for the wellbeing of the state had been also vandalized. “Someone who is Jewish, unfortunately, someone who apparently is quite detached from life, chose to blot out the prayer,” he said.

A veteran warrior like Gantz would not let this pass. He chose to fight back, defiantly stating that the person who scribbled out the prayers failed in his duty. “I went through with my original plan and read the text that was supposed to be erased,” the army chief said.

Heroism is not measured solely in terms of pulling wounded comrades out of the battlefield. Rescuing holy texts from ruins is also an act of heroism. These are words. These are the remnants of life. These are our hopes. A prayer that is erased and then uttered anew at the Western Wall on Sabbath eve, just steps away from the Temple Mount, by the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces.


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