One thing people forget about the Iraq war was that it could have been avoided and Sadaam Husain could have remained in power had he only cooperated fully with the UN inspectors. Thousands of lives could have been saved were it not for the ego of one person. And now we are witnessing the same again with North Korea, and a similar crisis with Iran is visible just down the road.
The main responsibility of a democratic government is to protect and carry out the will of its citizens: however, theocracies and dictatorships are chiefly concerned with defending their own positions of power and if they ruin and destroy the lives of their citizens in reaching this aim so be it. This leads them blindly to choose lose-lose situations over win-win. So we find Iran and North Korea going down an illogical nationalistic ego driven road that if taken to its ultimate conclusion will spell cataclysmic disaster for themselves and for others.
Interestingly the Talmud complains of exactly this phenomenon. The Hebrew Bible (Number 29) tells us that over the week of Sukkot 70 bullocks are offered up as sacrifices on the altar of the Holy Temple. The Talmud (Sukkah 55b) states that the ancient Jews offered 70 bullocks over Sukkot in order to beg God to protect the 70 nations of the world – representing the entire human populations on earth besides the Jews.
In this vein, the Talmudic sage Rabbi Jochanon said that it is tragic that the gentiles destroyed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem without knowing that they themselves lost out on the deal. “When the Temple stood the altar atoned for [the sins of the nations] and now [that they have destroyed it] there is no one to atone for them” concludes Rabbi Jochanan. A Midrash states that had the nations of the world understood the significance of the Temple for their own wellbeing they would have sent armies to protect it rather than to destroy it.
History seems to attest to the nations’ awareness that Jews offered sacrifices upon the altar in their honor as well. However, they chose not to understand this fact. The Babylonians who destroyed the first Temple and the Romans who destroyed the second one ignored the win-win option for the Temple to remain in place and continue to protect them. This tragic and egotistical behavior has plagued us throughout history. A mere sixty years ago the Nazis wiped out some of the most productive and valuable of their citizens – the Jews.
Jews understand more than others how dangerous and illogical dictators can be. However, the fact that in Temple times Jews used their holiest place to beg protection and atonement for other nations proves the extent of Jewish responsibility and concern for others.
We Jews have little diplomatic influence on either North Korea or Iran. However the prophet Hosea said, “We will render, instead of bulls [the offering of] our lips” (14:3) and the sages understood this to mean that prayers are equivalent to sacrifices (Yoma 86b).