Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Retelling of a Begin Vignette

By Rabbi Stewart Weiss:-

...So what happened at Sinai?

I WOULD LIKE to respond to this classic question with a story from our recent history, one that is as relevant today - perhaps even more relevant - than when it first occurred. In 1978, the Camp David summit with Egypt resulted in the return of the entire Sinai Peninsula. US president Jimmy Carter, delirious with joy that Israel had decided to give two-thirds of its land mass to an enemy nation, decided he would try to push the envelope. He told prime minister Menachem Begin that, before ending the summit, he would like to discuss the issue of Jerusalem, that he wanted Israel to consider either ceding part of it, or internationalizing all of it.

Begin flatly refused Carter's request.

"At least think about it for a few days," said Carter.

"No!" said Begin defiantly.

"What?!" answered an incredulous Carter, "You won't even think about it? Why not? How can you be so obstinate?"

Begin replied: "I think it's time to tell you about Rabbi Amnon."

He then proceeded to relate to Carter the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz. Pressured incessantly by the bishop of that city to convert to Christianity, he finally asked for three days to think about it. He was then so overcome with guilt that he begged God for forgiveness. "How could I ever even contemplate such an act of heresy?" he lamented.

When he did not return to the bishop, Rabbi Amnon was cruelly tortured, his limbs amputated one by one. Yet through it all he did not relent. Maimed and mutilated, he was finally brought home. Three days later, on Rosh Hashana, he asked that he be brought to the synagogue and placed before the Holy Ark. There he uttered his famous prayer that has become the centerpiece of the High Holy Day liturgy - Un'taneh Tokef, Who shall live, and who shall die - and there he expired.

When Begin finished the story, he turned to Carter: "There are some things in life, Mr. President, that a Jew cannot even think about - and relinquishing Jerusalem in any way, shape or manner is one of them." With that emphatic statement, Begin returned home.

It is true that, normally, we weigh our important decisions with great deliberation and give pause to consider all the pros and cons.
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