Once upon a time, il etait un fois, habia una vez, hayah hayah….there was a boy, bored with his chores. If only he had some excitement, people might pay attention to him. So he hollered to the people of his village, “Wolf!” “Wolf!” and they came running. Upon discovering there was no wolf, his parents punished him and people went back to their jobs, mumbling under their breath. Yet another time, disconsolate and lonely, the boy cried, “Wolf!” “Wolf!” and everyone once again came running. Of course, upon learning there was no wolf, well, we know the story. And then, one day, when the boy stood in the field, all alone, the wolf did come…
As a Rabbi, who strives for the middle on most everything, I find myself in a very difficult position (and I have to imagine that I am not alone amongst many of my colleagues). The geo-political realities of our day are not pretty. It would seem that none of us, not the Americas nor Europe have learned much of anything, even as far back as the origins that led to the spinning of the fairy tale above. For let us not pretend that the boy who cried wolf was ever truly a tale for children, a stern warning to them not to play with fire. No, the boy who cried wolf is a tale about discernment and honesty but even more importantly, about patience and wherewithal. We Americans have been declaring “Wolf” far too often and for far too long, and for a good long while, our neighbors were willing to grab their pitchforks and join the hunt. Even in Cuba and Korea. Even in Southeast Asia. Even in Grenada! Our allies solidly emerged in 2001 when none of them looked at us askance as we set out and into Afghanistan. Back then, the most unimaginably terrifying wolf didn’t threaten or attack us on the margins. No, that wolf came right into the center of our village, with blood thirsty fangs ready to devour American and Western flesh. Encouraging our international friends to gather their pitchforks for that fight was like shooting fish in a barrel. For in that moment, every peace-seeking nation choked on the dust of the collapsed towers.
But then, something in our mindset went terribly wrong and we Americans got right in line, as the fear of the wolf returned to feed away at our last vestiges of patience and wherewithal. “To Iraq!”, was the boy’s cry to the village. It did take a bit of convincing, but not much and we went. And after a half million dead Iraqi civilians, hundreds of thousands maimed and disabled US vets and almost 5,000 American soldiers killed, we discovered what we already knew – that despite his bark, the Iraqi wolf had very little bite left at all. We, on the other hand, despite our best efforts, became the new wolf like never before. For not only was the result of our hunt a most unimpressive catch; it yielded a more open field for even less impressive wolves to grow in strength and power, in a world with less and less villagers willing to run at the call of “Wolf!”
This boy who cried wolf analogy does break down however. Because most every time the US has called “Wolf,” our neighbors did, most of the time, not only come running. Even in the face of a less than accurate accounting of what had been championed, they fought. And they too lost lives and arms and legs, and some, their souls. After Iraq, however, all bets were off.
See, this is the piece that angers me the most and that neither side of the “Iran Debate” seems willing or able to articulate. We have cried “Wolf” too many times and too many times, the world has come running at our behest. It is not that anyone who is promoting the Iran Deal be passed by Congress believes that Iran will truly be contained by this deal. Be honest with yourself. To suggest that Iran, who still boldly exclaims “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” will be encouraged by this deal towards a pacific attitude and action is hard to fathom. However, to suggest that walking away from the table will amount to anything productive is equally so. As they say in the world of psychology, “Insanity is the insistence to continue doing things the same way and expecting a different result.”
The trouble is that we have set our sights on the wrong wolf. The resolution to our conflict with Iran lies not in negotiations between Iran and the US before it lies in negotiations between both sides of the debate here at home. You want to know what keeps a wolf away? The unwillingness to be placated, the insistence on solid fences on the right and the left, built around a center post that can hold both sides with strength. When Iran understands that it cannot play our ends against our middle, that is when the Wolf sulks away in defeat. Our extremism, our polarity, our insistence on a zero sum game for each other, in our own village, is what makes us the weakest before our enemies. And most especially what makes us the weakest before ourselves.
The rift within the Jewish community is something we Rabbis should not tolerate. If we are not speaking out against extremism, on both sides, who will? I am tired of being on the defensive for maintaining that the middle is the only place from which peace can come. No matter which side we take, it is clear that we are still too much a people stuck in the mindset of the shtetl, where mean and nasty wolves did indeed come to tear us apart. However, as much as we can identify with that memory, we are not that memory. As much as anti-Semitism is still able to rear its ugly head, the Jewish people has become so much more than a people on the run. Let us act like it! We are better than the politics of the right or the left. Politics is and will always be a dirty business and we cannot live by politics alone. For when we do, all of us end up as lonely villagers in lonely villages waiting for the next wolf to come. These days, far too often, the wolves we fear the most are each other. And as long as that is where our attention lies, the real wolves will come to pounce with abandon.