Henry Kissinger and the problem with double loyalty:
In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob passes away. Shortly before his death, he tells Joseph his final wish:
“Please do not bury me in Egypt.”
Joseph immediately acquiesces: “I will do as you say.” Nonetheless, Jacob isn’t satisfied. “Swear to me,” he tells Joseph — and Joseph takes an oath. And then, Jacob bowed at the head of the bed.
What exactly does the Torah mean by saying that Israel bowed at the head of the bed? What was he doing? What is the message here?
Jacob was thanking G-d that all his children followed in his path. “Joseph was a king, and moreover, he had been kidnapped and taken among the non-Jews — and he had preserved his righteousness.” Jacob felt it necessary to demonstrate his thanks towards G-d.
But why now? Why did Jacob wait 17 years to thank G-d for Joseph’s righteousness? He should have done so as soon as he arrived in Egypt and saw Joseph’s character, which hadn’t changed over the 22 years of their separation. He should have thanked G-d then!
The answer is tied into the sad story of Joseph’s sale.
Jacob’s favorite child was Joseph, but he knew that it didn’t make Joseph more popular in his family. When Joseph told him about his dream of the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing to him, he rebuked him. Later, when Joseph became the second in command to Pharoh, Pharoh had requested that Jacob be buried in Egypt, since he knew he would be a source of blessings for the land.
At the moment that Joseph took the oath not to bury his father in Egypt, he demonstrated that his loyalty to Jacob was greater than his allegiance to pharaoh.
When Jacob saw that his son was ready to bring him to the land of Israel; when he “passed the test” of the clash of interests between Pharaoh and Jacob, he was finally convinced that his family was complete — and he turned to heaven to thank G-d.
This problem of double loyalty has often been a test for the Jewish people.
Henry Kissinger who was the first Jewish Secretary of State, was by Divine Providence, appointed only two weeks before the Yom Kippur war. At the time, he was attacked from all directions. Jews accused him of being not supportive enough of Israel during those difficult days, while antisemites accused him of prioritizing Israel’s interests over those of the United States.
Kissinger himself often said that in the days before the war broke out, he personally questioned the American and Israeli intelligence, and they both told him that war would not break out according to their information.
When the war actually broke out, the United States assumed that Israel would be victorious as in the previous war. But on the third day of the war, when they saw the tremendous disaster, Kissinger promised aid to Israel — even before consulting with Nixon. He told Israel to empty their stocks of ammunition because America would be replenishing the supplies.
Indeed, The United States kept its promise, and during the 32 days of the war, the American Air Force transported over 22,000 tons of tanks, artillery, and ammunition in the air, while a ‘seatrain’ brought 33,000 tons of supplies.
Kissinger always said that his identity as a Jew who escaped Germany in 1938 from Nazi persecution profoundly impacted his work and his support for Israel. He always ensured that Israel would remain strong and powerful, because he knew that a weak Israel would allow the Arabs to take advantage of them.
In the moment of truth, Kissinger’s Jewish instinct led him to be loyal to the Jewish people and come to their aid.
When G-d chose the first Jew, Abraham, what characteristics did he look for? We find the answer in the prayer we recite daily about Abraham: “You found his heart to be loyal before you.” It’s all about loyalty. When our interests clash with the interests of the Creator of the world, where do our loyalties lie?
P.S. Henry Kissinger’s Jewish name was Abraham.