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Pastor's Message - November 2023

The Three Armies Problem

At some point, most of you will have been presented with the Three Armies problem. In this exercise, you and your opponent each have three armies, one each rated with a strength of 3, 2, and 1. In the game, the stronger Army always wins, while equally matched armies have a 50/50 chance of winning. You task is to arrange your armies in order to win the war.

The answer, of course, is to sacrifice your army with only 1 strength to the enemy's 3, then your 3 against their 2, and 2 against 1. Except people often struggle to sacrifice an army. Of course, this would be a different calculation if we were talking about real humans rather than abstractions.

I've been thinking about the Three Armies problem a lot lately in relation to the war against Hamas. On October 23rd, I listened to an Anti-defamation League official simultaneously distinguish and conflate opposition to the policies of Israel's elected hardline government with antisemitism. Students at Harvard who spoke out against Israeli policy in wake of the terrorist attack have had their faces placed on rolling billboards labeling them antisemites. Their families have been harassed. Billionaires have called for the creation of a “never hire” list that reeks of McCarthyism.

In the meantime, the innocent suffer, on the West Bank, in Israel, and in Gaza.

There are bad actors on all sides. Israeli hardliners violated long-standing agreements around Al- Aqsa Mosque. Hamas responded with a terror campaign targeting civilians. Some on the left have tried to characterize that organization as a liberation army. Liberation armies do not slaughter children. Israel has responded in turn with overwhelming and brutal force. And since Hamas has embedded its operations in high population civilian zones, thousands of innocent Palestinians have been added to the casualty list. Though I do not trust every statement made by the Israeli government or military, I find the claim that it was a misfired rocket from Gaza that struck the hospital credible.

We could speak out on the current conflict, wrapping ourselves in a cloak of self-righteousness. It would have zero impact on what is actually happening. And in the process, we'd make ourselves a target and undermine our own ability to effect change in Elmira. I'm not happy about any of this. I weep for the children of Palestine and the children of Elmira. And do my best, every day, to make the world a better place, for I believe in the lesson in the parable of the sheep and the goats. We will be judged by what we have done for the least of us.



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