Friday, April 27, 2007

Acharei Mos: The Yom Kippur Goats

When one sins, he brings a goat as a chatas, or sin offering. Rabbi Hirsch explains the symbolism of this offering. The goat represents the individual sinner's obstinacy, his egotistical desire to do his own bidding, and obey no one external. A naturally stubborn animal, the goat is full of its own vigor and will. It symbolizes the fact that when one sins, he has cast off the yoke of Heaven for that time, and acted without subjugating himself to God's rule. This symbolic goat is brought to the Temple, where submits itself to slaughter. This represents man's ideal, which is submission to God's will. This is an ideal which the sinner has lost, and he brings the offering as a lofty reminder of what his relationship with God must rest on.

The goat is then brought to the fires of the altar, and its blood sprinkled on the sides. When this happens, the sinner learns the lesson that by submitting to the yoke of God, we take our temporal, transitive existence in this world, and convert it into immortality. By keeping our actions in tune with the desires of Hashem, we sublimate our lives, and they become part of the eternal. The altar represents the processing of God's will on earth. Our actions, indeed our very bodies, are to be "לחם אשה ריח ניחוח לה." They are to serve as fuel for the flame of God.

On Yom Kippur, however, a double goat offering is brought. The two goats are to be as identical as possible; they should be bought together, and of the same height and appearance. They represent not only one man, but mankind in general. A lottery decides which one will be for Hashem, and which will go לעזעזל. In other words, no outward properties decide if a particular human will do good or evil. It is truly up to each individual. This is the foundation of free will, that we each choose to do good or evil. Our actions are not predestined or determined by genetics.

The goat that is chosen to be for God immediately submits to slaughter and becomes fuel for God's fire. Meanwhile, the one destined for azazel stands in its own vigor and power. It continues to live. However, it comes to the door of the Temple, but no further. It represents people who choose to turn their backs on God's teachings. He heads out to the desert. One who chooses to live outside the bounds of free-willed subservience to God really has no place in the ideal human society. This person has decided to make his life a hedonistic celebration of his own ego. While he may have a pleasant life (symbolized by his staying alive longer than the goat that was sacrificed), he ultimately is thrown off a cliff in a barren land. His existence and his life's meaning ends with his death. He has chosen not to be fuel for God's glory on earth, and so, has missed his chance at immortality.

The everyday sin offering is enough for us generally. It is enough to teach us how to act with positive reinforcement. However, once a year, the nation gets a symbolic lesson demonstrating the spiritual excision of one who chooses not to live the life delineated by God, with negative reinforcement.

Perhaps this can be a lesson to educators. Negative reinforcement has its place, but positive reinforcement must be the way that discipline is mostly accomplished. Incentives and positive messages awaken the nobility in a child's soul, instead of engendering fear and malice.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Great Demographic News (II)

Another report that talks about the Israeli demographic issue in optimistic tones can be read here.

It seems that the Jewish orthodox birthrates guarantee the Jewish majority and will in fact increase it. It will also, by great coincidence, make the Torah more visible in government, as the future, more numerically religious generation votes orthodox people into government.

This reminds me of the Vilna Gaon's statement about the return to Zion. He writes that it may well start with secular Jews. In fact, he held, it will start that way, just as the Second Temple period was ushered in by Darius.

He further writes that this must be, for the redemption to take place. Satan will do his utmost to uproot the seeds of redemption before they have a chance to grasp the land of their fathers firmly. If the movement back to Israel is one with loud overtones of religion, Satan will immediately know to sabatoge those plans. Therefore, the beginning of the settlement will be initiated and controlled by unorthodox, even anti-orthodox, Jews. Satan will say, 'these surely cannot be part of God's great plan of redemption!' He will then leave the fledgeling state alone, focusing his powers on other things. Only when it is too late, and the process of redemption is no longer derailable, will it become clear that those first frontiermen were a cover for the redemption!

May God allow us to see the day when his plan is revealed to the world in all its glory.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Threatening Truth and the Free World

As reported by the Daily Mail, educators are beginning to leave the Holocaust out of their curricula, in fear of anti-Semitic reactions from Muslim students. The Islamic threat that only 30 years ago endangered Israeli society, is now spreading, by virtue of its high birth rate and scathingly fundamentalist voice, and threatens much of the Free World. What is going on?

The Free World has become so egalitarian that it is able to morally equate the terrorist's actions with those of defensive victims. It is able to compare the calculated murder of innocent children with the tragic, accidental deaths of military reactions to those murders. In short, we have lost our ability to distinguish between morally complex situations. And so, it should be no surprise that the world begins to cave in to the squeakiest global wheel, giving in again and again to evil, in an attempt to gain short term peace. However, the blurring of moral distinctions is never cost-free; eventually, evil catches up, and the debatable short-term peace becomes the catalyst for long-term disaster. Evil slowly peels away society's willingness to stand up for truth and justice, and ultimately, the World stands naked, unarmored, at the brink of a battle that is finally too important before which to bow.

As a world, we have allowed the Muslim fundamentalists too much slack. First, we gave their denial of Israel's right to exist credibility, since it is easier to allow terrorists a pulpit than to destroy their ability to make terror. Then, we allowed them to use our media to paint themselves as victims in a global conflict that is their own creation entirely. We have bought their lie that the West is the root of the world's problems. Why? Because it is easier to accept what they say and rail against moderate democratic governments and elected officials, than to go to their countries and demonstrate against their despots, and be tortured to death in a prison by their police. In short, it is easier in the short-term to tip-toe around brutality than to destroy it head on.

Finally, we are willing to remove the Holocaust from our schools rather than engage the inevitable anti-Semitic vitriol from Muslim students. No teacher would be able to effectively discredit or discipline a screaming Muslim child, and so we rather side-step the whole issue. And by doing so, do we pay notice to the fact that it is the very activity of the Holocaust that these Islamists gather their strength to carry out? No! Because, ultimately, the Jews are easier to reason with. They understand the need for classroom decorum. They will nod their heads with age-old patience and shuffle quietly to the crematoria yet again. The Arabs, however, will cause a ruckus. They will verbalize the unspoken truth that we all know is their dream and prayer: that Islam will wipe out all us heretics by the sword in due time. A Free World teacher does not have the tools to deal with this in the classroom. We simply cannot teach these issues if they raise such a furor in school.

I do not fear for the Jewish people. God saw how much the world does when Jews are butchered in 1939. He and we will never forget the atrocities allowed by an apathetic world and a seething, hateful enemy. And so, he gave us Israel, and an army, and bravery, and commanded us to trust no one but Him and ourselves. And although Israel presently does not put its faith in God only, I know it will. We hope that by choice, and yet, if not, by necessity, Jews will return to their Father in Heaven. He has a teleological goal in store for them, and they will rise to the occasion and their legendary glory eventually.

I do, however, fear for the Western World. It fails to see that by giving in to these fundamentalists, it simply pushes the ultimate battle up one more notch. By removing the Holocaust from their textbooks, teachers lead society down a dangerous road, the road of forgetting history, and being bound to repeat it. The new enemy, with its hateful screams and suicide attacks, will destroy a world that has forgotten what it is to fight for justice, morality, and its own right to exist.

The world must wake up before it is too late. It must root out this Muslim threat while it is still at the stage of its teen-hood, full of fury, but controllable. The world must develop a way to act in a way that befits the merciless masses of hate-filled Arabs bent on destruction, and avert catastrophe. May God give us the resolve and courage necessary, for this is already a hard and morally confusing battle, and it will only grow more so.