THREE FATHERS OF FOREIGN POLICY
This week, in Afghanistan, we see an opportunity for the West to step into a conflict and create a government.
This week, in Afghanistan, we see an opportunity for the West to step into a conflict and create a government. This particular landscape has been visited many times, from Japan in 1945 to Kosovo and East Timor in the late 1990s. Always, there are questions about how involved we should in the process and about what type of government we should create.
This week, in the Torah, Jacob leaves Isaac's house and begins to build his own. Jacob is a complex character. Jacob's life is filled with deceptions - not only of Laban, but even of his own father. While his deceptions are ultimately justified, they certainly create a more questionable character and one about whom an alternative and much less flattering history could easily be composed. The history composed by the Torah itself is not flattering. Indeed, we see in this portion that the Torah gives full voice to Laban and his sons' version of events. They accuse Jacob of stealing Laban's daughters and grandsons and tricking Laban's family out of their flocks. Of course, Jacob retaliates with a blistering response - completely undermining his father-in-law's argument. But despite this, Laban's accusations have some truth - Jacob's response, which unbeknownst to him isn't entirely accurate, results in the death of Rachel, his much beloved wife.
Laban reminds me quite strongly of the typical Jew-hater of today. Taking certain Palestinians as an example, they accuse Jews of all sorts of crimes. For the most part, they deal in complete fabrication. Despite what they say, we don't drink the blood of Palestinian children on Passover. However, there is a 'crime', namely the establishment of the State of Israel, for which they have a history that is very similar to our own. The Palestinian Jew-haters, by subtly adjusting facts, have created a story of planned Jewish aggression that continues until today. Is the story true? Of course not. But it wounds nonetheless.
Jacob lived in a world and in a situation very similar to our own. The question remains, can we question Jacob's approach? I believe we can. Jacob's approach towards the world is strongly contrasted by Abraham and Isaac's approaches. While each path shares the trait of being carried out by a Tzaddik (righteous man) who has the protection and support of Hashem, the Torah shows us that not all righteous paths are equal.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob each lead a fundamentally distinct lives. The distinctions are no clearer than in their relationships with the outside world.
Abraham, a shepherd, was very involved with the outside world. His mission was to bring people to recognize monotheism. He welcomed strangers into his tent and expended every effort to spread the word of Hashem. Abraham's most famous traits were his hospitality and his mercy. Abraham even argued with Hashem to rescue Sodom - a place so vile that they tried to kill both strangers and those who gave them shelter. Abraham's 'foreign policy' was one of outreach and forgiveness. However, even as he tried to spread the word of monotheism, and even as he gave people food and shelter - his own son Jacob was forbidden from marrying outside the extended family.
What were the results of Abraham's approach? Abraham certainly had his troubles. He found himself in the occasional war, and he suffered multiple disputes over wells and over Sarah. In addition, his many attempts to negotiate settlements between his family and other tribes of the area were not always successful. As we read his life story, it seems that Abraham got the worst of every deal. Nonetheless, he died a very wealthy man, a father of one good son and of no bad ones. He died a man recognized by the nations as "A prince of G-d in our midst."
Isaac bore little resemblance to his father. Isaac was an isolationist. He closed his eyes to the outside world - not even seeing that his own son Esav was of poor character. Isaac was pursued and harried by other nations. Isaac was not a shepherd - a leader and protector of those weaker and less knowledgeable than himself. Instead, Isaac was a farmer - a trade that in Israel displays the greatest dependence on Hashem's mercy. Isaac was a holy man, dependent on Hashem, who tried not to interact with the rest of the world. Because of his holiness Isaac was the only forefather not to have his name changed. Isaac, like Abraham, died a wealthy man, but he left behind two sons, one of whom, Esav was a bad apple in the orchard of forefathers. We can see that Isaac's isolationist approach left him blind to evil in his own house. He died "old and fulfilled of days", but not as a "A prince of G-d in our midst."
Jacob led a very different life than his fathers. First, Jacob was the first to have a job. Jacob was not, to borrow a phrase, master of his own domain. Instead, he was the first 'Court Jew.' His son Joseph outshined him as a 'Court Jew', but we had to start somewhere. Jacob, like Abraham, was involved with the world. But he wasn't a spreader of ideology. Instead, he was more like the French, using his relations with others as a way to get what he wanted. Of course Jacob had relationships with particularly unwholesome people like Laban, but Abraham had his demons as well. As Jacob's life progresses, we see his approach falls short. Jacob's family is wracked by turmoil, and while he grows very rich he loses his beloved wife Rebecca to his own missteps. Eventually, Jacob recaptures the independence of his fathers'. But that independence is destroyed by Hashem - Jacob and his family are driven to Egypt by a famine in the land of Israel.
Of these three approaches, Abraham's is the most successful. He is actively engaged with the world, spreading his ideology and mercy - even as he holds himself at arms length from it. Abraham obeys only Hashem - and he leads the rest of the world to recognize his master.
In Afghanistan, the western world should do what Abraham did. Our driving principles should be engagement, mercy and the spread of our ideology. We have the opportunity to teach the ideology of liberty and life - and we must take it. We must take this chance not only in Afghanistan, but throughout the unfree world. Just as monotheism applied even to the Canaanites, the principles of liberty apply to the entire world.
If we are to be engaged with Afghanistan, what are our goals to be? Afghanistan, like Yugoslavia and East Timor, is a country fraught with ethnic and tribal differences. In this week's portion we see another nation, Israel, in the same boat. Rachel and Leah (as well as Leah's children), compete with each other in a very vindictive and ugly game for Jacob's love. There are two roots of the conflict, both seen in this week's portion. The first is Isaac's love only for Rachel - which made Leah jealous of Rachel. The second arises from when G-d: "saw that Leah was unloved, so He opened her womb; but Rachel remained barren." G-d, because of his complex plan to move Joseph (as the hated son of a resented mother) and then the entire family to Egypt, fostered Rachel's jealousy of Leah. As a result, we see a family divided against itself. Hashem, of course, succeeded in his plan. However, Hashem's goal for Jacob's family is very different than our goal for Afghanistan. We can't execute anything nearly as complex as Hashem. As outsiders seeking peace in the family of Afghanistan, we must do the opposite of what Hashem did. We must not try to balance the rewards of one tribe against the rewards of another. In fact, to reunify the Afghan nation, we must refuse to 'see' any differences between tribes. We must treat them, on some level, as members of the same corpus - the corpus of Afghanistan.
In recent conflicts (Bosnia comes to mind) the West has tried to legally balance one ethnic group against another. However, by codifying the differences between groups, the West has made those differences permanent. The West has created color-blinded constitutionalism. Even the US itself, with affirmative action, has gone down this path. Instead of trying to codify the separation and distinction between groups and tribes, we must try and create a system that balances the different groups' interests while at the same time not even mentioning their existence. The US Constitution, which balanced the divergent interests of the rural and urban areas through the two houses of legislators (one population based, one roughly geographically based), is a good but not perfect example of this. Both the rural citizens and the urban citizens could see themselves as members of the same country even as they voted for representatives who battled it out with each other politically.
As we talk about the West spreading liberty throughout the world we are left with the question of Israel - what of its relationship with the Palestinians? As we learned from Abraham, there is nothing wrong with an arm's length approach to foreign policy. Even as we preach and practice liberty, our sons should not marry their daughters - the Jewish nation is a nation in and to itself. However, what we are currently doing, fostering and supporting a Palestinian dictatorship in the hope of using it to secure our own peace, is something Jacob or the French would do. This sort of approach led Jacob to the loss of his beloved Rachel and will lead us to the loss of our own beloved moral beauty.
Osama bin Laden said in a recent interview, "We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us."
As Osama tries to spread his religion of coercion and death - we must respond not just by stopping him, but by just as aggressively spreading our belief in liberty and life.
Cox, a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family, is the founder of
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