The Fallen Statue of Dagon

I often look through Torah portions or Jewish historical narratives and find parallels with issues and events of the day in preparing sermons and when teaching classes. Certainly, reminders such as that we “were strangers in the land of Egypt” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” apply to a whole host of modern day issues, so when those occur in a weekly Torah portion, they are fairly easy to connect.

Quite a bit less often, I find parallels with modern issues in the miracle stories in the Books of Samuel and Kings. I have decided that may be because I don’t look often enough. This week, some parallels are glaring. Pull out your Tanakh or whatever you have to use to read I Samuel and take a moment to read Chapter 5, which contains the story of the time that the Ark was captured by the Philistines and was relocated in the Temple of Dagon in Ashdod.

After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.

For those who do not know, Dagon was believed by the Philistines to be the father of Baal and was the Philistines’ primary divinity. The above narrative is pretty simple. The Ark representing the presence and power of the God of the Israelites, defeats the statue of Dagon representing the presence and power of Dagon, the god of the Philistines. Most of us simply read through this story and largely ignore it. “Of course, our real God will defeat an idol of a fake god.” No real need to comment further, right?

Well, let us for a moment consider this conflict slightly differently. Instead of Adonai vs. Dagon, let’s see it instead as reality vs. delusion. The modern parallels will start to flow. We just have to word the text slightly differently. Try this version.

After the Philistines had the ability to create their own narrative, they brought reality to a place of delusion. Then they brought reality into the Temple of delusion set it beside the primary delusion. When the people of the land rose early the next day, there was the delusion, fallen on its face on the ground before reality! They took the delusion and put it back in his place. [Defending it strongly] But the following morning when they rose, there was the delusion, fallen on its face on the ground before reality! The pieces of the delusion had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only its body remained.

And so we have President Abbas leading a charge arguing that Jews have no connection to Jerusalem at all, the Palestinian Authority arguing that the “Al Buraq (Western Wall) was, still is and shall remain Palestinian, Arab and Islamic, and insisting on Palestinian control over East Jerusalem including the Old City and the Holy Basin, while seeing these delusions come crashing down. They can try to stand them back up again, but they will fall again and break more and more each time that they do.

But the I Samuel text’s relevance doesn’t end there. The text goes on to mention how other cities become involved and suffer consequences. Perhaps, in our modern midrash, perhaps other nations, forced to attempt to maintain the delusions? Perhaps, just perhaps, Arab nations having had enough of trying to maintain Palestinian delusions and suffering the consequences of war and suffering in their own nations and across the region, nations like Saudi Arabia, are now feeling like the people of Ekron in I Samuel:

11 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.”

The message today may well be, “Delusions are causing us tremendous suffering! It’s time to recognize reality!” Or as King Salman of Saudi Arabia did the other day, essentially recognizing that Jerusalem is indeed Israel’s capital, when he offered that East Jerusalem, also left undefined, could potentially be the Palestinian capital.

The anger and threats of violence that we are seeing are normal responses when dearly held delusions have fallen. And don’t for a moment think that the delusion that Jerusalem would not be recognized as Israel’s capital or even the delusion that the entire Old City would be part of a Palestinian capital are the most dearly held delusions yet to be dispelled. The greatest one yet to be dispelled is the delusion that all of the multitudes of people whose lives have been lost in fighting, so many young lives among them, for those delusions and other delusions will have been lost for nothing other than prolonging and deepening the suffering of the Palestinian people for decades instead of recognizing reality and having achieved peaceful coexistence long ago in better circumstances for the Palestinian people than might be possible today or in the foreseeable future.

That delusion is not one that the Palestinians are willing to allow to be confronted. In the words of I Samuel 5:5:

That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.



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