A Jerusalem State of Being
The Mideast Crisis is not something that the West is equipped to handle, or will ever be. The Israelis and Muslims understand this, but won't state it. Our press and leadership are not even aware of it. I am going to submit that the problem runs far deeper than most people realize.
What Israel and Judaism both share in common is a land-based religion. In order for the Jews to perform the requirements of the Torah, with its sacrificial system, the Temple must be built in Jerusalem. This is not negotiable. The Torah will not permit otherwise. Judaism is not a religion that can be picked up and moved elsewhere. It has a sacred space.
Islam has the holy cities of Mecca and Medina; and claims Jerusalem, which it mislabels as Al-Quds. It also has the Ummah (the Islamic homeland). Once a land becomes Muslim, it must never revert, which is why the Muslims still want Spain back.
These geographies are religious imperatives. A Muslim has to make a hajj to Mecca. An observant Jew has to live in Israel, which is the only place his religious obligations can be fulfilled. To a de-Christianized West, religious imperatives do not matter. To Orthodox Jews, and to Muslims, they are the breath of life. To Muslims, especially, their salvation depends on obedience to them.
This is foreign to the Western mind, where religion is often intellectual and philosophical. One can be just as good a Baptist in Europe as in Kentucky. There is no geographic center. Catholicism has Rome; but doctrinally there is nothing in Catholicism that requires a Roman center. Rome exists merely as an administrative office, nothing more. Protestantism, with its emphasis on doctrine over ritual, places its sacred geography in the individual's mind and heart.
Even at their worst, Western religious wars often had ulterior motives. There would have been no later Catholic Armada against Protestant England, if Henry the VIII had not divorced the Spanish Catherine of Aragon; and insulted Spanish honor. The Celts were fighting the English before the Reformation. The Crusades were against Arab aggression as much as anti-Islam. Western struggles were often aggravated by religious fervor, but not usually caused by religion. Religion was a major issue, but not the root cause.
This really is not so when it comes to the Holy Land. Even the names of the cities speak of a religious sense that we Westerners cannot begin to comprehend.
Bethel (Beit El), an Orthodox Jewish settlement in the contested areas, means "House of God," where El is one of the sacred names of the Deity in Hebrew. Jerusalem can mean "Rain/City of Peace," and not just peace with men, but with God. Hebron, that much fought over city, is where the patriarchs of the bible are buried. Now, quick! Tell me what do Chicago, and New York mean?!
Personal Hebrew names carry this imprint. Daniel means "God is my judge." Israel means "God prevails." Joshua means "Jehovah is salvation." Dinah means "judgment" An Israeli could get up in the morning and say hello to his children, and mention God's name three or four times, before he had a cup of coffee. This would be clear to him in his own language.
We find similar in Islam, where Abdullah means "slave of Allah;" and where Jihad and Mohammed are common names.
Once in a while, we Westerners might name girls Faith, Grace, or Felicity. In general we name our kids according to fads, ethnicity, and after relatives; but we need books to know what the name means. Names like Michael or Paul might come from the bible, but their meaning is not evident in our Western tongues. They are imported. No one would name their child, "God is my Judge Jones," in literal English; yet that is what is done in Hebrew. No one would name his son "Holy War," yet that is what is done in literal Arabic. These names are common, and clearly understood.
Indo-European languages are secular. We can say Jesus is God; but some can also say Elvis Presley is god; and many have ... and far too many still do. The problem is that Western languages describe the Deity using a noun, which necessarily limits God in our minds.
However, in Hebrew, the sacred name for God YHWH is actually a form of the verb "to be." It connects the Deity to the concept of being. Only the Deity can truly self-exist. Only the Deity can truly say I AM. Unlike nouns, the verb "to be" is not limiting, but places God at the center of reality, at the center of existence.
We might think we self-exist apart from the rest of creation, but remove food, water, and oxygen from us, and that hubris quickly disappears. Hebrew is very careful with its use of the verb "to be," and does not use it in the present tense, to avoid this problem. One does not say, "I am American." One says, "I American." One does not say I AM. Only the Deity can truly say that.
This hubris is especially evident in English where one says, "I am hungry," as if our being contained the essence of hunger. Spanish renders it: I have hunger (tengo hambre), which is more logical. Neither is this a linguistic sleight of hand. When one gets down to fundamental reality, in quantum physics, common concepts of being, and location, have to be discarded. The observer cannot stand apart from the observed.
In Hebrew, to say there is no God, using the sacred name, would be linguistically equivalent to saying, "There is no IS/AM," a logical absurdity. Hebrew grammar does not permit atheism; and renders it as linguistic madness. This does not come across in translation.
Descartes' signature statement of Western philosophy: "I think therefore I am," cannot be easily translated into Hebrew. It either becomes "I think therefore I AM" (the name of God), which implies that God exists; or it implies that the individual considers himself self-existent, a competing I am, and therefore considers himself deity. The chief statement in Western philosophy becomes self-centered folly; and borderline blasphemous, in its usual understanding.
Indo-European grammars assert autonomous self-existence with the use of " I am ..." which unknowingly embeds a concept of individualistic autonomy that borders on self-deification. We Christian Westerners have trouble recognizing this since our languages drill this into our thinking processes. This may explain why Republican Democracy arose in the West, not the East. We have an exalted sense of the individual.
My understanding is that Descartes was aware of this irony; and eventually worked it up to the Hebrew understanding that any sense of being ultimately points to God, and not the individual. Only God can truly say I AM.
This is no more evident than in Israel. A generation ago, Jews in the West were famous for being semi-atheistic. Now, three generations into the land, and three generations embedded in a resurrected Hebrew, religious belief is reasserting itself. This is as much a function of the Hebrew language as history.
Zeph 3:9 For then will I turn to the people a pure language
The idea here is that once returned to the land, their language would be purified, and the Hebrew language would simultaneously purify them.
The battle for Jerusalem is a spiritual battle. A battle over men and God. Judeo-Christian theology speaks of "the adversary" (Hebrew: ha-Satan), from whence we get our borrowed word: Satan.
This "adversary" knows that the Deity has made promises to the Jewish people. If "the adversary" can prevent the Deity, the I AM, from fulfilling those promises, then "the adversary" (ha-Satan) will have shown the Deity to be a liar. If the I AM is shown to be a liar, then a contradiction is introduced into the I AM -- is introduced into the author of existence itself. The I AM would cease. Existence would cease. Of course, "the adversary" would cease, too; but he is willing to commit suicide, rather than face the judgment of the I AM. The "adversary" is the original suicide bomber.
Consider this the next time you hear of an Islamic suicide bomber. The Muslim suicide bombers have become like the god they unknowingly serve.
We Western Christians barely grasp the fundamental gravity of this struggle. Mercifully, the I AM, knowing the battle was grave, placed the battle in the hands of His Son, since no one else was found competent.
But our Western languages still deceive us into this thinking this battle over the Holy Land is solely political. We think we can stand apart from the fray as objective observers -- to give advice to the warring parties -- when we can't. This battle is not a regular war. The battle over Jerusalem will not allow neutral observer status.
To ask a Jew to give up Jerusalem is to ask a Jew to give up the "Rain of Peace," between him and God. The concession is more than one of geography. It cuts to the heart of existence. Not merely self-existence, but existence itself. To ask a Hebrew to give up his connection to God is to ask him to stop "being." This is an existential battle not merely for the Jewish people, but for everything.
None of this comes across in our Western Christian thought patterns, because our language divorces the individual from his circumstance, as if we existed apart from the creation in which we find ourselves. We don't! Such autonomy is reserved only for the Deity.
The battle for the Holy Land is not merely a battle over geography. It is a battle over absolute existence. We Western Christians have no clue how fierce this fight will be. It is more fundamental than we realize. One does not negotiate away existence. It is a logical absurdity.
None of this is negotiable. Sadly, our Western language and philosophies are not up to the task.
Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who is not Jewish, Latin, or Arab. He runs a website, http://latinarabia.com/ where he discusses the subculture of Arabs in Latin America. He wishes his Spanish were better.