A Blessing in the Midst of the Earth
IMAGINE A SUPERHIGHWAY starting in Aswan in southern Egypt and following the Nile, running across the Sinai, up past southern Jordan, crossing the river and then up through Israel, the West Bank, into Lebanon, crossing northern Iraq, past Aleppo in Syria, into Iran, and ending in Turkey. That’s what the prophet Isaiah envisioned for the future when he wrote:
On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.” (Isaiah 19:23–25)This vision in which God declares “Blessed be Egypt my people” and “Assyria the work of my hands” is so unrealistic from a political perspective that it seems more like wishful thinking than prophecy. It’s hard to reconcile this vision with the current situation where Egypt and Jordan are the only Muslim nations that recognize Israel’s legal right to exist.
In 1998, while on a Compassionate Listening tour of Israel, West Bank, and Gaza, I was fortunate to meet the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, chief rabbi of the settlement of Tekoa, who taught that we should live as if our dreams of peace really can come true. He affirmed Isaiah’s vision that someday “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:4), and “the wolf shall live with the lamb.” (Isaiah 11:6). Froman was a modern prophet living in a settlement in what some call occupied territory, some call disputed territory, some call the West Bank, and others call the heart of the ancient Jewish homeland.
We visited Froman in Tekoa, the ancient city of the prophet Amos, located between Hebron and Jerusalem in the West Bank. He was one of the founders of Gush Emunim, the right-wing settler movement formed after the Six-Day War. If you read about him, or check out his internet interviews, you’ll see his politics defy simple categorization. After our meeting I said, “He’s so far right wing that he comes out on the left, but never gives up the right.”
At interfaith gatherings Froman loved to ask people to raise their left hands, then their right hands, and at his command bring both hands together and start clapping. This was based on a teaching about unity from the nineteenth century mystic Rebbe Nachman. Froman’s followers were religious Palestinian and Israeli Muslims, Christians, Druze, Jews, and a ragtag assortment of Israeli peaceniks, all of whom smiled when he had everybody clapping. Sadly, there are not enough religious leaders today who dare to get people clapping or smiling together.
How was Froman a right-winger? He maintained the settlers should never leave the ancient land of Judea and Samaria even if it would eventually be governed by Palestinians. When the settlements in Gaza were being evacuated under the orders of Ariel Sharon in 2005, Froman was there hugging a Torah, announcing that the settlers should never leave as they were being evicted by the IDF.
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Tikkun 2017 Volume 32, Number 2:36-37