By Rabbi Shawn Zell
Because my formative years were spent in Canada, it wasn’t until after I moved to New York City, that the American national anthem took on special meaning in my life. Thanks to Hamas and its desire to turn everyday life into a living hell for Israelis, there is one particular phrase in the Star-Spangled Banner, that I can’t seem to get out of my mind: the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air. In light of these last few weeks, this phrase has suddenly taken on an entirely different meaning.
For Francis Key Scott, author of the Star-Spangled Banner, these words spoke of victory against the British, in the war of 1812. For me and others, these words conjure a relentless attack by Hamas, sending Israeli citizens running for cover, as barrage after barrage of missiles streaked through the air, aimed at civilian centers such as Ashdod and Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I took great comfort in the Iron Dome air defense system that intercepted and destroyed most of these missiles (I would take even greater comfort if a system were developed to transform the missiles of the Hamas enemy into boomerangs so that they rained down on the heads of those who launched them). I take no comfort whatsoever, knowing that despite Israeli prowess as well as the damage Israel was able to inflict upon Hamas, the victory that Israel will be able to proclaim, will be a hollow one. No matter how much carnage Hamas wreaked upon its own, it is just a matter of time, until Hamas once again builds up its arsenal of missiles, once again placing innocent Israelis along with its own, in harm’s way.
The victory of the Americans over the British in the War of 1812, was a true cause for celebration. Not only has there been peace for over two centuries, but commerce, trade, and warm relations soon followed and remain in place until this very day. Acrimony was replaced by harmony and distrust was supplanted by trust. With a cease-fire in place between Israel and Hamas, acrimony is sure to remain. It is to the benefit of Hamas to incite anger among its people toward Israel. For without Israel as the target, everyday Palestinians would begin to vent their venom against Hamas’ own corrupt leadership, in that Hamas cares little if any about its own people. It has been close to half a century since the idiom “sleep with the fishes” has become popularized. It means that the body of the person in question can now be found sleeping with the fishes, at the bottom of the deep blue sea. Long before “sleep with the fishes” attained idiom status, Jacob, while blessing his two grandsons Ephraim and Menashe, prayed that they proliferate abundantly like fish (Genesis 48:16). Our commentators point out, that as a people, it is important that we sleep like the fishes. That is to say, that we remain vigilant even while sleeping by keeping our eyes peeled. Because there is absolutely no reason to trust Hamas, the citizens of Israel along with their leaders must continue to sleep like the fishes with their eyes open.
The rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air were reassuring to the American troops at Fort McHenry. They signaled that victory against the British was at hand. If only Israel had similar reassurance, signaling victory against Hamas. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. Even though important Hamas operatives were neutralized and significant devastation was brought upon Gaza, victory – ultimate victory for Israel, remains as elusive as ever. Because of the world in which we live, where the differences between perpetrator and victim have long been blurred, Hamas can never lose. Regardless of the damage and loss it incurs, Hamas will come out as the victor. Hamas leaders will proudly point to the havoc they wreaked against Israel, by the number of missiles it launched; Hamas leaders will be quick to remind its people, that they were able to weaken Israel to such an extent, that despite media reports, Israel pleaded for a cease-fire. Most of all, Hamas leaders will revel in the fact that they now have the sympathy and support of much of the world, while Israel has brought condemnation and dismay upon itself.
The rocket’s red glare and the bombs bursting in air tug at the heart of the citizens of the United States. As for Israel, it will have to come to terms, that given its respect for human life and its high sense of morality, it has escaped the rocket’s red glare of the enemy, with a clear conscience and clean hands.