all politics are as local as a tree in the wilderness

Last week’s haftarah for Parashat Bechukotai contained a phrase that overwhelmed me. It took me this long to process it, or at least to put it into some context. And context is the name of the game, actually.

The haftarah, especially this chapter of Yirmiyahu,  contains some of the most familiar phrases. For example, this one, from Birkat HaMazon:

  בָּרוּךְ הַגֶּבֶר, אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בַּיהוָה; וְהָיָה יְהוָה, מִבְטַחוֹ. 7 Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose trust the LORD is.

and this one,

יד  רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא, הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה:  כִּי תְהִלָּתִי, אָתָּה. 14 Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for Thou art my praise.

But I, of course, hyperfocused on this sentence earlier:

ו  וְהָיָה כְּעַרְעָר בָּעֲרָבָה, וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי-יָבוֹא טוֹב; וְשָׁכַן חֲרֵרִים בַּמִּדְבָּר, אֶרֶץ מְלֵחָה וְלֹא תֵשֵׁב.  {ס} 6 For he shall be like a … in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, a salt land and not inhabited. {S}

I’ve wiped out the translation of the word כְּעַרְעָר, if you’ve noticed.  The Stone Humash has as its translation, tree. I think this becomes the “normal” way that this phrase is used–“like a tree alone in the wilderness”.

Israel these days seems to be the lone tree. And is it because of the previous verse in the chapter?

ה  כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, אָרוּר הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בָּאָדָם, וְשָׂם בָּשָׂר, זְרֹעוֹ; וּמִן-יְהוָה, יָסוּר לִבּוֹ. 5 Thus saith the LORD: Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.

Could this be what the wearisome Satmar/anti-state Jews of all stripes could be thinking?

There’s another very interesting article I read a few weeks ago in the Week. Here’s the subheading:

Since political beliefs are rooted in emotions, says Chris Mooney, the facts are often irrelevant.

Is this true? Are all the articles and letters that we write into newspapers all for naught? People have already been swayed by their emotions and you can’t get them to change their minds?

No, the point is to lead with emotions. That’s why photos of “victims” are so often powerfully effective, even if they are posed and so effectively fabricated.

Here’s another quote from the article:

The upshot? Left or right, conservative or liberal, we all wear blinders in some situations. Then the question becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature itself? Given the power of our prior beliefs, one idea is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.

So that’s why you have this article about Hamas: Agents of terror, partners in peace, or both?

There is another way to view [Hamas], said Alastair Crooke, author of Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution and a member of the Mitchell Report on the causes of the second Palestinian intifada.

“Hamas sees resistance as the means to generate the feelings that go into building community cohesion and self-respect,” Mr. Crooke said.

The group “does not believe that their armed resistance, per se, can bring about the defeat of Israel militarily.”

Rather, by “refusing subservience,” he said, Hamas seeks to create “a psychological balance with Israel that may eventually facilitate a political solution.”

In an interview with Mr. Crooke, Mr. Meshaal explained that Israel “needs to understand that, in Hamas, there is a tough negotiator, but one that, unlike others, stands by its commitments when given.

“We in Hamas,” he said, “like most of the Palestinian factions, have accepted the idea of a state with the borders of 4 June, 1967. However, we have said that we will not recognize Israel.”

Why is that? “It is because the Palestinian people are convinced that the land which Israel occupied is their land.

So, while they accept a state with the borders of 1967, they do not want to give legitimacy to those who occupied their lands 60 or 70 years ago.”

The Hamas formula, Mr. Meshaal said, is simply this: “If through politics we come to agree to a Palestinian state with the borders of 1967, why should we be forced to renounce our beliefs and feelings too, by recognizing Israel?”

But wait! I wanted to identify the עַרְעָר!

Is it tree? bush? juniper? tamarisk (as I deleted from the Mechon Mamre translation)?

Or another kind of tree?

Hmm. I think I’ll continue in another blentry with what I found out.


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