Israel Update – Week of April 9, 2023
Megiddo: Last week, Jews around the world celebrated the holiday of Passover (Pesach), commemorating the exodus of the Jewish People from Egyptian slavery more than three thousand years ago. Most places of work in Israel are closed for the entire seven-day holiday. While the first and last days of Pesach have the status of Shabbat, in which all creative labor is forbidden, the middle five days do not have such a lofty status and they are usually spent touring the local parks and nature reserves. The problem is that there are so many Israelis touring the local parks and nature reserves that the traffic can become an unbearable morass. We, as a family, implement the “30-Minute Rule,” meaning that we will go to a place only if it is at a distance of less than 30 minutes driving (without traffic).
This year my family went to visit the Tel Megiddo National Park, located 30 minutes to our south, at the northern tip of the Jezreel Valley, near the city of Afula. A “Tel” (as in “Tel” Aviv) is a small man-made hill consisting of the accumulated and layered debris of a succession of consecutive settlements at the same site. Tel Megiddo contains the remains of no less than thirty settlements, each one built on top of its predecessor. Potsherds found at Megiddo prove that there was already human settlement at the site in the 6th millennium BCE. Megiddo is mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions describing the campaign of Pharaoh Thutmose III (1468 BCE). The Egyptian king set out for Israel to put down an uprising among the Canaanite cities who had rebelled against him. According to the Egyptian description, Megiddo surrendered after a harsh, seven-month siege.
Megiddo is mentioned eleven times in the Bible. In the Book of Judges, it is mentioned as a city that the tribe of Menashe was unable to capture. In the 10th century BCE, Megiddo was unable to withstand the Egyptian Pharaoh Shoshenq, who conquered the town. In the 9th century BCE, Hazael king of Aram came to Megiddo and destroyed it. Megiddo reached the peak of its development in the days of King Ahab, but it was captured by Tiglat-Pileser III, king of Assyria (732 BCE), who then controlled the entire Galilee. It was in Megiddo where the battle between King Josiah and Pharaoh Necho (609 BC) took place. King Josiah was killed in battle, heralding the beginning of the end for the Judean Kingdom. The destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was only a matter of time. Megiddo then entered a decline. In the 2nd century BCE the community moved from Megiddo to the village of Otnai, closer to today’s Megiddo junction. After the Bar Kochba rebellion, the Roman Sixth Legion camped near the village, and its name was changed to Legio. At Legio, a rare 3rd century mosaic was found that explicitly mentions the name of Jesus.
Today, Megiddo is laid out as an archeological park where visitors walk between archaeological treasures. Scattered between the sites are popup opera singers that while they are admittedly historical non sequiturs, they most definitely add to the historical aura, especially if you enjoy hearing arias from La Bohemme. Our favorite part of the park is a thousand year old underground waterway that delights my grandchildren and scares the wits out of their parents.
Megiddo has had an important role in modern times as well. During World War I, a decisive battle took place in the area, between the British and Ottoman armies. The British Army triumphed, and as a result General Allenby, commander of the British forces, won the title of “Lord of Armageddon.”
This leads us to Megiddo’s greatest claim to fame. The 38th Chapter of Ezekiel describes a war between the nations of Gog and Magog, a global war to end all wars signaling the eschatological end-of-days. According to Christian theology, this war will be waged in a place called “Armageddon” – the Greek translation of “Megiddo.” Over the years, Jews and Christians have often tried to map the nations and geographical locations in Ezekiel’s war between Gog and Magog onto the current geopolitical situation. This first happened during the Napoleonic wars. More recently, people have tried to map World War II onto the War of Gog and Magog, where Gog is the Axis and Magog is the Allies. Support for this hypothesis comes from a verse [Ezekiel 38:9] that refers to the war coming like a "storm," in Hebrew – "Shoah," the term commonly used to describe the Holocaust. Whether or not any of those wars were truly the war predicted by Ezekiel is anyone’s guess. As a rule, Jewish People try to stay away from those sorts of calculations. The Talmud teaches that there were thousands of prophets who lived over the years and yet the only ones who had their prophecies written down for prosperity in the Bible were those whose prophecies contained an eternal message. The eternal message of the war of Gog and Magog is clearly stated [Ezekiel 39:23-29]: “The nations shall know that the House of Israel were exiled only for their iniquity, because they trespassed against Me, so that I hid My face from them and delivered them into the hands of their adversaries, and they all fell by the sword... They shall know that I am their G-d when, having exiled them among the nations, I gather them back into their land and leave none of them behind.” Whether Gog is Rome, the Third Reich, Stalin's Russia, Iran, or even China, G-d will always have mercy upon the Jewish People. Two and a half thousand years since Ezekiel’s prophecy has shown how eternal these words are. The fact that the members of my own family, originally from Canada, the U.S., Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, Romania, Germany and Ethiopia, gathered together to hold a picnic at Armageddon last week is perhaps the greatest proof that Ezekiel knew precisely what he was talking about.
And yet… This Pesach is different from all other Pesachs in that this Pesach, we find ourselves fighting a four-front conventional (so far) war with Iran. On April 5th, the eve of Pesach, Israel faced a salvo of 34 rockets from Lebanon – the largest rocket attack from Lebanon since the 2006 Lebanon War. In addition, six rockets were fired into Israel from Hezbollah-controlled Syrian areas with two of those rockets crossing the border into Israel. Simultaneously, violent clashes have been taking place from the within the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem as young Moslem hotheads barricaded themselves in the mosque, armed with guns and fireworks. Not wanting to miss out on the party, Hamas has renewed firing rockets from Gaza to nearby Israeli towns of Sederot and Ashqelon. On top of all this, Israel now faces a renewed wave of terror attacks on its civilians. Most recently, three members of the Dee family, a mother and her two daughters, were brutally murdered when a passing car opened fire on their car with AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles. The terrorists, who have still not been apprehended, stopped their car and went back to the Dee’s car to ensure that all the inhabitants were dead before fleeing to Nablus. Although different groups were officially behind the different attacks, they are all linked to Iran. They include Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and others that may go by different names, but all are proxies of Tehran.
How are Israelis reacting to our new security situation? The Chief of Police has asked people who have licenses to carry their guns on their person. What is the violence doing to Israelis as a society? Perhaps the most poignant part of the Pesach Seder – a dinner replete with ancient text that reenacts the exodus – is when all of the participants raise their wine glasses and sing in unison: “This has stood (Vehi she’amda) for our fathers and for us. In every single generation someone comes against us to kill us and yet G-d saves us from their clutches.” At one time it was Nebuchadnezzar. Then it was Haman. Hadrian. Titus. Khmelnytsky. Hitler. Stalin. Nasser. Assad. Arafat. And now it is Raisi, Nasrallah, and Soleimani. The names have changed and perhaps the tactics have improved but the end game – the extermination of the Jewish People – has not budged one iota. Nevertheless, in each and every generation, G-d extends His Hand to protect His people. About ten years ago, a new tune was written for Vehi She’amda. The tune is ghostly and yet empowering. It was created to be sung by a large crowd. And this Pesach, the people sung
1) at the funerals of Rina (15) and Maya (20) Dee,
2) from the bomb shelters in Shlomi near the Lebanese border and Sderot in the south,
3) and from nearly every synagogue in the country during every part of the Pesach liturgy.
We sang that tune because we needed an outlet for our emotions. We sang it because we could not hold it back. Mostly, we sang it because we believe in it. To paraphrase the prophet Ezekiel, just as G-d has kept His promise to gather the Jewish People back in their land, we are certain that He, too, will keep his promise to leave none of us behind. The road might be treacherous, but we have infinite trust in the Driver.
Wishing you a quiet week,