Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Peace House and Peace

Update and Disclaimer: I wrote the following essay before learning that there are a number of youth in Chevron who are instigating violence. I want to be clear: I do not condone violence against innocents. I do not condone spray-painting cemeteries. If the media is being honest (which is quite a דן לכף זכות), then I reject the actions of the few who purposely attack to satisfy their own desire for "action". Of course, the media has a track record of mis-reporting to make it look as though settlers attack innocent Arabs, when in reality the Arabs attack first, and the Jewish response is taken out of its proper context. Again, if the media is honest, then I reject the attacks on innocents.

However, I have been assured by many who are in the know that these youth are in the small minority. Most Jews who made their way to Chevron are using their time there learning Torah, and trying to use their bodies as tools to prevent the gross injustice of evacuating a legally owned home. It is in their support that I wrote the following lines. I support the non-violent resistance to injustice that was so successful in the United States civil rights movement, and hope that this model carries the day. Ultimately, I am not sure we should be willing to pay the price of civil war, even if it is instigated by the other side.

I have been reflecting upon the drama in Chevron that, as I write these lines, unfolds under a blanket conspiracy of silence from the traditional media in Israel and abroad. Young and old, loyal Jews have packed into the house that was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, purchased by a Jew from an Arab. For obviously political and ideological reasons, the Supreme Court of Israel willfully ignored video footage recording the sale, and ordered the residents of the building out.

While rockets smash into fields, streets and homes of southern and not-so-southern Israel (testimony to the wisdom and foresight of previous governmental withdrawls), those in power are intent to show a band of "settlers" that they have been singled out for abuse and injustice, in a way that would raise the ire of the EU and UN, if only applied to the Arabs. A blinder, more obtuse heavy-handedness and simple hatred is hard to imagine.

I was in a cab in Jerusalem recently, and the driver stated passionately that, "the Supreme Court has ruled, and this is a country of laws. They must obey the law..."

How short-sighted an opinion. How dangerous to justice, morality and the fiber of our national position. For it is a moral duty to oppose injustice, and justice requires the opposition of immoral laws. At times, obedience is a vice. It becomes so when, in its service, we abdicate our moral responsibility to oppose evil and injustice. In the words of Albert Einstein, we must "never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it."

It is a moral duty to oppose the law of the land when that law attempts to remove a rightful owner from his property. However, many argue that there is danger in tipping the status quo in Chevron. The situation there is volatile, and peace must be preserved at all costs.

In response to this are three points. First, the court's decision in no way made the argument that civil unrest was being fomented by Jews residing in the Peace House. Their argument was that, blind to all evidence to the contrary, the building's ownership was questionable, and as such, must be evacuated until the legal owner is ascertained.

However, on a practical level, the interest of civil peace is ill served by this eviction notice. Over the past few days, Arab rioters have continually rained cinderblocks upon Jewish passers-by, with the army and police force arresting not one of these attempted murderers. In fact, a Jewish teen-ager is presently in the hospital with his head smashed in by a cinderblock, fighting desperately for his life. The Arab violence is the practical and immediate result of Jewish demonstrations of weakness. Furthermore, the damage done to the fabric of Israeli society, when the police and army are used for political purposes against citizenry can be seen in the damage from the infamous Amona pogrom. The peace of Israel is seriously damaged by these shows of executive and judicial force.

Finally, a philosophical study of the nature of peace demonstrates that opposing this immoral law is anything but a danger to peace. In Bamidbar, when Pinchas kills the prince of Shimon and the Midianite woman he sins with, he is given "בריתי שלום", the covanent of peace, by God. How can his actions vest him with the blessings of peace, when he fomented infighting and anger amongst the people? The answer given by our sages is that, "true peace is the following of justice, the setting right of wrongs in this world, as God's law desires it. Peace is not the absence of violence, but the reign of morality and of truth." And so, fighting for truth and justice is a search for peace, not a step away from it.

The American consciousness, suffused with the lofty oratory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement's call to fight injustice, will understand implicitly the importance of fighting unjust laws. To the policemen and soldiers of Israel, I quote Thoreau, who bade: "If... the machine of government... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law." The Rambam states it centuries earlier: "If a king decrees against the moral word of the Torah, he is not to be obeyed." Stand up for what is right, and you will have a clean conscience. Stand up for right, and you will have peace of mind.

Sometimes, the path to peace is broken and unpaved. Those who choose to reach that goal may have hard times ahead, but they can take comfort in the fact that they have not sold their consciences. To our brave brothers and sisters in Chevron today, I send my sincere thanks and prayers. May God grant you success.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mazal Tov!

הדרן עלך תלמוד בבלי, והדרך עלן!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

True Faith in a Doubting World

In the fifth book of the Torah we begin this weekend, God warns us to keep His commandments. If we do not, we will be sent into exile, and 'we will be singled out for suffering' (Deut 29:20). The nations will stand in wonder at the torture and destruction of God's beloved nation, and they will say, 'it must be punishment for turning away from God's covenant' (29:24). And yet, no matter how far we fall, God will redeem us. 'God will return with our exiles, and have mercy; He will gather us from the lands of our dispersion', into Israel (29:3-5). God promises us this.

In Amos (9:13-15), we are again promised the vision of salvation, this time even more clearly and in far more detail:

"יג הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים, נְאֻם-יְהוָה, וְנִגַּשׁ חוֹרֵשׁ בַּקֹּצֵר, וְדֹרֵךְ עֲנָבִים בְּמֹשֵׁךְ הַזָּרַע; וְהִטִּיפוּ הֶהָרִים עָסִיס, וְכָל-הַגְּבָעוֹת תִּתְמוֹגַגְנָה. יד וְשַׁבְתִּי, אֶת-שְׁבוּת עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּבָנוּ עָרִים נְשַׁמּוֹת וְיָשָׁבוּ, וְנָטְעוּ כְרָמִים וְשָׁתוּ אֶת-יֵינָם; וְעָשׂוּ גַנּוֹת, וְאָכְלוּ אֶת-פְּרִיהֶם. טו וּנְטַעְתִּים, עַל-אַדְמָתָם; וְלֹא יִנָּתְשׁוּ עוֹד, מֵעַל אַדְמָתָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָהֶם--אָמַר, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ."

"'When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,' says the Lord your God."

In Makot (24b), Rabbi Akiva and his friends visit Mt. Scopus. They witness a fox scamper through the ruins of the Holy of Holies. While his friends break down in tears, Rabbi Akiva laughs. Astonished, his friends ask, "How can you laugh?" He counters, "How can you cry?" The rabbis answer, "The Holy of Holies, concerning which God commanded that any stranger who enters it shall die, now is desecrated by foxes, and we should not cry?" Rabbi Akiva responds, "This is precisely why I laugh. Uriah prophesied that because of Israel's sins, the Temple would be plowed into a field. Zechariah foretold of elderly men and women once again inhabiting the streets of Jerusalem. Before seeing the fulfillment of Uriah's prophecy, one might have doubted that Zechariah's would come true. But now that we see the realization of the first, we can be sure that the second will also come true!" His friends took solace in this, and said, "Akiva, you have comforted us."

The two prophecies that Rabbi Akiva mentions are essentially re-formulations of the verses from the book of D'varim. Akiva saw the dreadful destruction of the Temple in its full effect, an epic destruction which, though horrific, demonstrated God's continued involvement and fidelity to His promises to our nation. Thus, the fulfillment of the exile was intrinsically a promise for redemption.

However, the Talmud also states in Sanhedrin that one possibility is that the ultimate redemption will come only after Israel despairs of it, and loses hope. Indeed, throughout the intervening two thousand years, we have, as a nation, become numb from our pain and suffering, slipping into national depression. Paradoxically, by suffering so much, we may lose the conviction that our suffering comes from God and is the fulfillment of a plan. And the way history plays out subsequently, faith in God's plans for history are further in danger.

In the past millennia, Jews and gentiles have accepted prima facie the authenticity of the Torah and other books of the Bible. Even without the fulfillment of the positive prophecies of reconstruction, they have survived with their faith in God and His word. They lived and died for a day when their children and grandchildren would be able to witness the fulfillment of God's promises. They needed no proof.

However, around the turn of the last century, scholars and skeptics have begun to question, not only the dating of certain works, or the exact authorship of certain parts of some books, but the very concept of God's revelation of His will and future plans to Mankind. Whole sections of Jews may not believe in the divinity of our scripture, or even in the existence of God! Humanity has become cynical, and so, have chosen to question God's revelation.

And so, the laugh of Akiva that echoed for more than a thousand years began to dim. The epic nature of the destruction is forgotten, and perhaps we are like all other nations, with no special divine providence guiding our suffering to ultimate redemption. This is the despair which is discussed by the passage in Sanhedrin. We might lose our faith!

However, we must pay attention to the historical currents that surrounded this movement. The return of Jews to Zion with the intent of rebuilding the land and Jewish culture gained steam. Eventually, European Jewry was destroyed, and out of the fire, like a phoenix, the modern state of Israel rose. The remnants beat back blood-thirsty hordes of Arab soldiers, intent on destroying them. This happened, not once, but five times. Jews returned and continue to stream to their land, and even the anti-Zionists admit that, if not ראשית צמיחת גאולתינו, we are living through, at least, עיקבתא דמשיחא.

This is God's most poetic answer to the skeptics. God counters their questions by making the living word of His books come true! Hashem always keeps us open to faith. Sometimes we are sustained by faith in the word, as the generations before us. However, if we begin to question its authenticity, he makes it come true, so we can no longer doubt it.

In Nitzavim and Amos, God promised us redemption, and placed his name on it as a seal of truth. Before, the destruction was enough of a promise to believe in the redemption. But in a world where this is no longer enough, God gives us the redemption to re-ignite our faith. It happens now as we watch! And yet, we are blinded by its shining light, even as we live through it. Future generations will ask us, did you not see the obvious fulfillment of God's word?

I realized, while speaking to a skeptical friend, that what we are witnessing with our own eyes is the irrefutable realization of the prophecies of God. These verses are our generation's personal Har Sinai experience; this is our revelation! We ourselves bear witness to the fact that God exists, and that He keeps his promises to Israel. Thus, the laughter of Akiva is renewed, and our faith in our future is strengthened.

God's hand forces history, and history, against all odds and against all precedent, favors Israel (by all accounts a dead nationalism) and the nation of Israel rises again in the land of Israel, just as the Torah and prophets foresaw.

The Talmud discusses two ways the redemption can play itself out. If we merit, it will be upon the wings of an eagle, in a glorious way, and can happen "hayom", any day. However, if we do not merit it, we will be forced into a redemption process of "in its time", with messiah as a poor man, riding on a donkey. This is a process where the Jews may suffer greatly, until they call out to God as a last resort.

It seems the redemption we witness today is a hybrid. There are aspects that are tremendously glorious, and some that are as sad and full of suffering as possible. This validates the thesis of the Vilna Gaon, that there is no binary choice between the glorious and inglorious redemptions, but a sliding scale. Any action we do, any show of true faith in the God of Israel, brings us one unit closer to the achishena, and any action in the opposite direction leads us towards the other pole of the scale. It is all actions that apply, but especially those that demonstrate Israel's fundamental reliance only on God, not on other nations (as evidenced by the haftarah of Shabbat Shuva).

Thus, while there of course is a messiah we await, who brings the process to its conclusion, the Vilna Gaon places the responsibility and merit for an easy, glorious redemption directly in our hands. How empowering! Each of our actions affects the redemption, and we are all, in a sense, messiahs.

The day of Tisha B'av is different from other fasts, in that it is not only a day of mourning, but also of repentance. If we learn this lesson, and redirect our actions towards our Father in heaven, we can contribute our lives to the task of bringing the national scale of geula towards the achishena scale, and further from be'ita.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Who Really Wants Peace?

Israel just wants to live. We don't ask anything of the world, whose history towards our people is blood-spattered. We just want to live in peace, without bombs, terrorists and hostile armies probing us constantly for any sign of weakness of which to take advantage.

What other country has army musicians who sing of dreams "when we will no longer need guards" on the walls of our cities?

Here is one of my favorite Israeli songs, by Dan Almagor and Beni Nagri, called Guard of the Walls:

אני עומד על החומה
עומד בגשם לבדי וכל העיר העתיקה
מונחת לי על כף ידי אני מביט בה מאוהב
אני עולה לכאן תמיד סתם להביט
אבל עכשיו אני נמצא כאן בתפקיד.

כן, כן, מי חלם אז בכיתה
כשלמדנו לדקלם על חומותייך ירושלים
הפקדתי שומרים
שיום יגיע ואהיה אחד מהם.

אני עומד על החומה
עומד מקשיב אל הקולות
קולות השוק והמהומה
קריאות רוכלים ועגלות
הנה הוא קול המואזין
הנה דינדון הפעמון אבל עלי להאזין
אם אין שום נפץ של רימון.

אני עומד על החומה
רועד מקור ומסתכל הנה שקעה כבר החמה
שומר מלילה מה מליל אור הירח במלואו
שוטף חומות ושערים מתי יבוא היום שבו
לא נזדקק עוד לשומרים.

I stand on the wall,
In the rain, alone, and the Old City
Is in my palm, while I gaze at it, enraptured,
I come up here often to view it,
But now I am here on duty.

Oh, who dreamed back then, in school,
When we learned to recite "Upon your walls,
O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen,"
That one day I would be one?

I stand on the wall,
Listening to the voices
of the bustling marketplace,
Calls of merchants and sounds of carts,
There is the voice of the Muazzin,
And the ting-a-ling of a bell, but I must be certain
That there is no explosion of a grenade.

I stand on the wall,
Shivering with cold, and watching the sun set,
Standing guard from night, under the full moon,
As it bathes the walls and gates.
When will the day come when
Finally we will need no more guards?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Prophecies of Destruction and Redemption

On the arid plateau of Masada, the dry, hot wind has parched all that was left after the deaths of the Jewish rebels. Among the archeological finds in the area were a number of desiccated seeds from the now extinct Jerusalem Palm tree. In the past few years, scientists in Israel have induced these seeds to sprout forth new life -- life that has been two thousand years frozen in time, waiting for the return of the land's rightful inhabitants. Yechezkel prophesies, "ואתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנו ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל כי קרבו לבא". Rashi explains, "כשתתן א"י פריה בעין יפה אז יקרב הקץ ואין לך קץ מגולה יותר": "When the land of Israel gives forth its fruits freely, the redemption is near, and there is no clearer sign of the redemption than this..." What a miraculous realization of this Rashi! This inspired part of the following ideas.

In one of his sichot to his students, Rabbi Lichtenstein chooses to compare the task and prophetic endowment of Moshe to that of Yirmiyahu, whose calling by God is the substance of our haftarah. In reading his words, I developed what I believe to be an interesting take on the distinction between Moshe and Yirmiyahu, which I hope to expand upon as the years progress.

Let us examine the inception experiences of both Moshe and Yirmiyahu. The first difference that immediately presents itself is age. Yirmiyahu is a young man, while Moshe was chosen when he was already a mature man, at eighty years old. Also, it is important to note the manner in which each candidate responded to God's invocation. Moshe protests against his appointment as messenger of God for days, and when he finally culminates with his speech impediment as an excuse, God loses patience, as it were. On the other hand, Yirmiyahu seems quite willing, and his only hesitation is that he is too young to be a leader. As soon as Hashem assures Yirmiyahu that He will be with him, the young prophet moves forward with faith and complacency. Why is it that Moshe, the more mature one, searches for more excuses than Yirmiyahu?

Upon closer reflection, we notice that the two prophets are actually being called to quite different tasks. God summons Moshe to the unimaginable task of raising a nation of slaves out of the sweltering heat of their oppression. He then would have to bring this stiff-necked people through a desert, fighting them each step of the way. He would feel so strongly the futility of his task at times, that he would ask to be relieved of his position. And he would bring the nation from the heights of Sinai to the depths of the golden calf, finally leaving them, his dearest desire unfulfilled, and leave his student to bring them into the Promised Land. God tells Moshe, "I will be with your mouth" (Ex. 4:15). "With" implies a dialogue, a co-participation. Almost in a partnership with Hashem, Moshe is to be the prophetic leader of the Jews.

On the other hand, Yirmiyahu is to walk the streets and alleys of Jerusalem, prophesying its destruction. He was not meant to be a leader. Indeed, more often than not, reviled by his brothers, he finds himself the outsider, and the very enemies of Israel release him from his fraternally induced incarceration on the eve of the burning of the city. Yirmiyahu is most definitely not a leader. Whereas God is "with" Moshe's mouth, and there is an element of teamwork, God "places his words" in Yirmiyahu's mouth (compare to the prophetic experience of Bilam). There is monologue here, no dialogue. He is a prophet only, a mouthpiece for the message of God.

Because of Moshe's role as leader and prophet, he is a completely public figure. He separates from his wife, and is praised by Rashi (Ex. 19:14) for his neglect of his own affairs, finding time only for the matters of the nation. For Moshe, no national suffering can be dealt with as a tragedy with private mourning. When God threatens the nation with destruction for the sin of the Golden Calf, Moshe draws his dialogue with God into sharp relief, carrying on a spirited, almost disrespectful argument with God, in which he successfully arbitrates the salvation of Israel. All of the nation's troubles are his, and he responds to them as an intercessor, not as a private citizen.

In contrast, we do not find Yirmiyahu attempting to change the decree against Jerusalem. And when it is finally enflamed, he joins the chained ranks of Jewish prisoners. He seeks no audience with God, he has no special connection to utilize and mitigate the suffering. Instead of the monologue of God which he faithfully transmitted, now all that Yirmiyah can produce is a dirge-like monologue of his own, the book of Eicha. In it, and as an equal to them, Yirmiyah is found lamenting the suffering of his brothers, crying into the howling wind of the dark abyss, receiveing no particular response from God. Relieved of his mission as mouthpiece, he reverts to the status of individual member of Israel, pained as they are by hester panim, that iron curtain that has descended between God and His people.

And through these distinctions emerges the defining characteristic of the two men's roles: exile and redemption. Moshe represents a vivid image of the redemption: the rise of Israel's honor and respect, and with this, the rise of that intimate dialogue between God and His chosen ones. Moshe leads the Jews through his special relationship, his interactive prophetic nature. On the reverse side, Yirmiyahu is the prophet who ushers in the exile. He is no leader, for the Jews will have no centralized leader in their dispersion. He is rather a prophet of doom, and he signifies the beginning of the end of prophecy. Eventually, as the Rambam implies, God's word to Man became so mundane in the eyes of humanity, that the phenomenon of prophecy ceased altogether.

This is so because of the general principle that the leader of the nation reflects the spiritual position of Israel at that time (Arachin 17a). When the Jews follow the law and are on a spiritual and national high, they are in the redemptive mode. When this is not the case, the prophecy takes on the form of Yirmiyahu's, and eventually ends.

This interaction with God changing from dialogue to monologue can perhaps be encapsulated as the seed of the Jerusalem Palms. When the dialogue relationship begins to lose its potency, Hashem allows it to desiccate, as it were, into the monologue. Indeed, as the Jewish people spread out over the world in their exile, prayer took the place of sacrifice, and the monologue of the Jewish nation represents the freezing of our special intimate national relationship with God, preserved by Him until the time that redemption again becomes the paradigm, when humankind finds a new hunger, "no hunger for bread or thirst for water, rather for the word of God!"

When Man finds himself parched for a taste of this life-giving intimacy, this dialogue with God, then the shift from exile to redemption (begins) is made. However, this process is also a long and arduous one, and according to the Gaon from Vilna, must begin as our present history teaches us, with a physical re-awakening and movement towards Israel, and then the spiritual one.

Rabbi Hirsch teaches that the purpose of our three weeks of mourning is not to simply to grieve over the past. We are particularly meant to reflect on where we are in our present situation, and compare that to the ideals of the Torah. And so, as his first message to the Jews, and the last verses of our Haftarah, Yirmiyahu begins his book with a prophecy of the youthful vigor of Israel. This is not only a look back at the Mosaic prophetic paradigm, but a look far into the future, past all the suffering that will fill the sad pages of the book of Jeremiah, into the redemption of the distant future, whose stages we today are experiencing.

We look during these three weeks not only at our defection from our mission that led to Jerusalem's destruction, but also at the "youthful love" of our nation, following God into the wilderness, and we remind ourselves of our purpose in this world: to bring ourselves back to that reality, and to be willing to sacrifice for it!

With this, our Tish'a B'av takes on meaning not only as a period of mourning, but one of renewing our strength, re-aligning ourselves to our task, and rededicating ourselves to the redemption, which we pray and act for every day.

May we merit it quickly!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bilaam's Lion

In this week's portion, Bilaam is asked by Balak to curse the Jewish nation. He comes, and is literally reined in by God Himself, forced to praise the very nation he wishes to obliterate. In two parts of his praise for the nation, he refers to Israel as a lion. In the first (Bamidbar 23:24), he states: "הן עם כלביא יקום וכארי יתנשא", "The nation, like a (young) lion will stand, as a lion will rise up". In the second (24:9), "כרע שכב כארי וכלביא מי יקימנו", "[the nation] bends and lies down as a lion, and as a lion (cub) who will raise it up?"

First of all, I point out that traditionally, the word לביא has been taken to mean lion cub, as opposed to ארי which seems to be a full-grown lion. I have not been able to confirm that there exists this distinction in biblical Hebrew or in related languages, and would appreciate any input from others in this matter. However it is clear that traditional sources seem to make this distinction. My translation above injects the traditional sense in parentheses.

What is interesting about these verses, which appear in separate prophecies of Bilaam, is that they seem to complement each other, and the second seems to finish the train of thought left incomplete by the first. First, a young cub (clearly representing the nation of Israel) rises up, and then is a grown lion, and afterwards, we see the grown lion lie down, and a cub rise afterwards. What is going on here?

I believe that these prophecies, from the mouth of one of the worst enemies of Israel, contain not simply blessings, but fundamental information regarding the eternity and ultimate recognition of Israel's special task and teachings that is being transmitted to Moav, and, also, any nation that decides to engage in the extermination of the Jewish People. After all, Bilaam did not speak to Israel, but to her enemies; clearly his message was pertinent to them. What could be more relevant to those who wish to destroy us, than to teach them of the purpose of Israel, and warn them of their eternity, and the futility and suicidal nature of attempting to destroy it?

And so, what is the lesson? It seems to me that these verses are a hint to the ever-renewing vitality of Am Yisrael, the concept of בדמייך חיי. Let us follow the stages of the prophecy. First, Israel grows in strength from a לביא to an ארי. This is in the context of "getting up", קימה. The cub first rises, and then, after it is established as a nation, it becomes great, powerful and respected as it reaches maturity, יתנשא. This rise in prominence is a direct result of its maturing attitude towards its teleological purpose in the world. עם ישראל is special precisely when it follows the dictates of the Torah, and produces a society within geographical boundaries. When we accomplish this, we demonstrate the sublime truth and fidelity of God and His Torah. The nations will marvel, רק עם חכם ונבון הגוי הגדול הזה...אשר לו חוקים צדיקים. (Although Judaism rejects Calvanistic theories of success implying Divine approval for the individual, it is clear from the second chapter of שמע that these principles do hold true for the national life of Israel.)

And thus Israel continues, worthy of its strength, as a powerful lion at the height of its perfection, as long as the Jews remain standing, upright, in their fulfillment of their Torah.

However, when the nation falters and becomes less than steadfast in their convictions and actions, when the ארי of Israel begins to lie down, kicking out in disdain for its national destinity and mission, things change. As the second passage relates, the grown lion can end up lying down, and lose the respect and position that it had before, כרע שכב כארי. When the nation leaves the path of קידוש ה, which it maintains only through national felicity to God's Torah, then even as a mature lion at the pinnacle of his strength, it cannot continue. It begins to weaken, lie down, and its vitality flags. Exile, debasement and condemnation await the nation of Israel when it does not follow God's Torah.

And yet, the story is not over, and the weakened lion's demise does not end with his death. Rather, the verse wonders at his re-emergence once again as a לביא, as a young, versatile lion cub, ready to rise in the ranks again. כלביא מי יקימנו: who would have thought to raise him up again as a young lion poised again to rise in prominence? No nation in the history of the world has survived exile and degradation as long as Israel has and still maintains its unique position amongst the other nations. We never stopped yearning and planning our return to our land and our Father in Heaven's graces. And when, finally, we do rise again, it is with the vigor and vitality of a cub again! Who would have believed this possible?

And yet, this wonder at the rise-from-the-ashes regeneration, is precisely what our national life consists of. From the depths of our greatest failures we rise to ever-new heights, demonstrating the miraculous nature of our national existence. This is the symbolism of the New Moon, the regeneration out of the lowest point and this is why the moon symbolizes Am Yisrael. When Israel returns to God, God comes forward, as it were, to accept her, and glorious victory is snatched from the depths of the dark despair. בדמייך חיי!

Israel's enemies, with their missile launches and militaristic posturing, would do well to remember this lesson from their prophet. עם ישראל חי!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Quick Thought on Prayer and the Occult

There are two issues that we have touched upon on this blog, concerning which I had small insights today. Neither as it stands really merits its own post; the ideas can be deduced from the previous posts on the subjects. However, I would like to explicitly state them. Perhaps they will grow into posts of their own, and perhaps commenters will have something to add or criticize. They are works in progress, and represent unfinished lines of thought. Either way, they are presented here as kernels, for future expansion.

Previously, we have discussed different aspects of prayer. The question has been raised, why is it that we find no empirical evidence that prayer is effecacious? Perusing the internet for scientific studies done on the subject, one is not struck by any evidence that those who are prayed for heal more quickly than others.

First of all, the assumption that prayer should lead to immediate amelioration is dismissed: God knows what is best, and He does not need to take orders from us. Furthermore, to assume that we know what is best physically and spiritually for a subject is hubris. What we really want when we petition God is the best for our subject; complaining when it isn't what we think it should be is short-sighted.

Prayer gives us a way to commune with God; it is the language of our relationship, and, ultimately, we pray to become sensitized to the suffering around us, and to learn what is important to us. When we pray, we refocus our thoughts on what is important. We change ourselves as well, it is true, and demonstrate that the subject of our prayer matters to us, and is part of our circle of importance. These elements are new realities that grow from prayer, and help perhaps to change the lot of the subject.

However, even from a completely empirical perspective, the studies I have seen turn prayer into a formulaic, uninspired repetition of chosen words. It is a far cry from the prayer that religious people engage in usually. However, even if the study adequately demonstrated what it set out to, it would not change the deeper and more holistic benefits of prayer.


I have written about the Rambam's view of שדים or demons. It is clear that he dismissed the possibility of dark forces that can do evil without God's permission. I just wish to add to this that this is different than accepting the existence of, say, viruses. Viruses are a natural phenomenon that have no will of their own, and they function exactly as God intended, never straying from His will. The idea of supernatural evil entities with the ability to act independently is unacceptable to the Rambam. It is this belief that free will could have been given to a creature other than man that he finds so repulsive. The world is an ordered one, which we approach in an honest way. Only Man has free will. That there be an entity to fear that mankind must take into account other than God -- this borders on idolatry.


Who Would Have Thought?

Report of Gazan Arabs firing a mortar into Israel today show how much of a sham this "cease-fire" was.

I just never understood the idea: if they are a terrorist entity, why are we having a truce, anyway?

Either way, as everyone knew, it is now over, and the only one to benefit was the Hamas. Way to go, Olmert.

Speaking of him, it looks as though Olmert's government will fall in a long overdue vote of no-confidence. The man should be ashamed at how corrupt, weak and ineffectual the office of Israeli Prime Minister was under his command. I pray we vote for a real leader this time around.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rabbis Can Make Mistakes

...Or, The Rabbis Were Not Infallible

Many readers will realize that this post presents no new idea and should not challenge anything we believe. I wish this post were not necessary, but it seems we must constantly remind ourselves of the basics of the halachik process and the dangers of hero-worship.

And so, the Talmud (Chulin 57a) discusses defects and injuries that render an animal (in this case, bird) טרפה, and unfit for consumption.

During the discussion, Chizkiyah (the Amorah, not the king) posits that birds do not have lungs. The rabbis immediately say, but we see empirically that birds do, indeed, have lungs! (Interesting fact: bird's lungs are circulatory as opposed to the "bellows" lungs mammals have. Air is not brought in, stored, and expelled tidally, but continues through a maze of para-bronchi that allow the air to travel in one direction from the moment it is brought in, until expelled. Of course, there are animals without any lungs at all, like the lungless salamander.)

After clarifying that this, ideed is what Chizkiyah meant, and could not be reconciled reasonably with the facts, Rabbi Yose concludes that Chizkiyah was not knowledgeable about avian anatomy.

The important point here is that the rabbis challenge Chizkiyah not from study, verses, or masorah, but from anatomical evidence. The conclusion of Rabbi Yose is that Chizkiyah lacks secular knowledge, and this renders him incapable of ruling on avian defects and injuries.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

B'ha'alotcha: Just Desserts

In this week's portion, the Jewish people are blessed with the gift of manna. The ultimate food, it was so light that no waste remained after consuming it. It looked like "z'ra gad" white seeds (11:7), and tasted wonderful. (Contrary to the verses, the midrash tells us that it could taste like anything one liked.) And what do the rabble of the nation complain of? "We recall the fish (dagah) that we ate in Egypt with a free feeling, the cucumbers, melons..."

It is extremely hard to understand this type of complaint in the context of the food of angels that the nation enjoyed at that very moment. What could motivate such an ungrateful, disrespectful complaint against divine leadership?

In order to understand this, Rabbi Shulman, in an article, turns to the Mesilat Yesharim. There, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato explains that, as a perfectly good Being, it is God's nature (as it were) to bestow good upon others. This is part of the reason for the creation of the world. However, it does not take one a long period of time treading the face of the globe to notice the tremendous lack of justice and thus, good, in our earthly domain. Infants suffer ghastly torture at the hands of monsters, and saintly men and women die in mass graves at the hands of murderers. On the other hand, evil men prosper, and abuse the advantages given to them. It is clear that the true good with which God blesses his creations is not to be expected to be fulfilled fully in this world. The world to come, the world of souls, and the world post-messiah, where humanity will enjoy a perfect harmony between the physical and spiritual sides of its existence, are the places one can hope to find this holy grail of "good", and soak in the bliss of God's radiant beneficence.

In this case, we must understand why Hashem would choose to place us in this world first? Why not put humanity in the redeemed world, instead of first in this world, where evil so often seems to triumph?

In response to this, Jewish thought responds with nahama d'kisufa, or the concept of shameful sustenance. God made us with a keen sense of shame at receiving things we do not deserve. The Ohev Yisrael (the Apter Rebbe) quotes the Talmud (Shabbat 104b) which explains that the letter gimel in the Hebrew alphabet stands for gomel, one who does acts of loving-kindness towards his peers. The letter dalet, on the other hand, stands for dal, a poor man. And why does the letter dalet face away from the gimel? Because it is human nature to be embarrassed at receiving charity. However, when the poor man is given a chance to do something of value for his patron, small as it may be, he thus is able to assure his benefactor that he is cognizant of his indebtedness, and this tempers his feeling of shame. He knows he owes the kind man, and he knows the kind man knows he knows. This is, at least, something.

And now, we can understand more sympathetically the actions of the rabble and the Jews who joined in their complaints. They were receiving manna, described as z'ra gad, from God. The gimel comes before the dalet, and the dal turns away in shame. The Jews felt the shame of receiving a tremendous blessing from God, even in their lowly spiritual level! They knew they did not deserve it. This hurt their human pride tremendously.

And so, they recalled the dagah (dalet before gimel, facing the gimel without shame). In Egypt, they were able to eat food without embarrassment. What they received there, at least, they knew, they deserved the little they got. Perhaps this is the meaning of "chinam" in the passage: they received the food in Egypt free of shame -- free of nahama d'kisufa. They longed for this feeling of self-sufficience, without worrying about the shame of receiving something for nothing.

If so, this seems an admirable trait. What is wrong with this feeling? And why does the Torah go out of its way to remind us that it was particularly the rabble who complained?

In order to understand this, we must recall that the foundation of the Jewish national life was the Exodus from Egypt. The fact that God took us out of the land of our captivity with an outstretched arm forms the basis of our relationship with Hashem. As the Talmud states, this was one of the three episodes that God arranged to occur in the middle of the day, as if to say, anyone who would like to attempt to stop me, is welcome to try.

In fact, the Torah made sure we would never err to think that Moshe was some type of charismatic leader who was able to, by the strength of his personality, redeem the Jews in a natural manner. He had a speech impediment; not exactly your first candidate for public speech. In addition, Rav Hirsch points out, immediately after the Exodus, Yitro is horrified by the lack of organizational skill Moshe demonstrates in his judicial system. Moshe so needs Yitro's help in these matters that he practically begs his father-in-law to stay with the nation earlier in our parasha. This lack of leadership ability is also meant to highlight to us that it is only an all-powerful Divinity that could effect the Jewish release from bondage. This is also the reason that Moshe's name does not appear in the Pesach Hagaddah.

In the same vein, God made our experience in the desert one which we could never attribute to our own powers. We were not to slaughter our own animals to support ourselves. On the contrary, God made our clothes grow with us miraculously, and fed us through direct heavenly decree. The lesson is clear: we had no part in our own salvation. We were completely dependant upon God for everything, and we continue to be indebted to Him to this day for his undeniable care then, as well as His continued care now.

It was this lesson that was so painful for the rabble, the asafsuf, to internalize. They would rather be chinam min hamitzvot, free from the yoke of the mitzvot, from this "debt" to God, even if it meant eating fish and melon instead of heavenly bread.

When we internalize this lesson and base our personal and national actions upon the miracles of the desert, may we come to deserve the ultimate redemption, quickly in our days.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Yom Yerushalayim

Jameel sent me this link, which allows you to read and listen to the radio transmission from the liberation of the Temple Mount. It is haunting and gave me goosebumps.

It really drives home my point about modern history as our generation's Har Sinai revelation, and my post for Israel's Independence Day.

May we continue to build our state and land, and may we not lose sight of the real and practical goal of redemption!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Prophetic Nature of Minhag

I have posted before on Rav Kook's concept of minhag. He holds that God endowed our national soul with a prophetic uniqueness. Its acceptance of practices is a type of prophecy. This national n'vuah-spirit is something that has real consequences. Here I simply want to quote a passage from the Talmud (מנחות לב:א) which supports this view:

"Rav holds that minhag prevails: If Eliyahu were to come and tell us that we may use a soft shoe for the chalitzah process, we would listen. If he were to tell us that we may not use a sandal [as is the custom and halachah today], we would not heed him."

Clearly, this passage tells us that in the future, when Eliyahu the prophet comes to clarify all confusing or complicated issues in Jewish law, he will not be contradicting any practices that have become universal to all Jews, and it seems that Rav Kook's concept of national n'vuah-spirit explains this.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Education for Individuality

"Once a week, we had a Current Events period. Each child was supposed to clip an item from a newspaper, absorb its contents, and reveal them to the class. This practice allegedly overcame a variety of evils: standing in front of his fellows encouraged good posture and gave a child poise; delivering a short talk made him word-conscious; learning his current event strengthened his memory; being singled out made him more than ever anxious to return to the Group." - To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

"Why was Avraham referred to as "עברי"? For the entire world was on one side, and he was on the other." - Midrash, ב"ר מב ח.

A peculiarity is noted at the beginning of this week's portion. The first verse states, ויאמר ה' אל משה אמר אל הכהנים בני אהרון ואמרת אליהם לנפש לא יטמא בעמיו. "God said to Moshe: Speak to the priests, sons of Aharon, and tell them that they shall not become impure through contact with the dead." Rashi wonders, why the redundancy? It would have been enough to tell Moshe to tell the kohanim about impurity. Why first command him to "speak to the priests"?

To answer this question, Rashi quotes the Talmud (Yevamos 114a): Both אמור and ואמרת are used in order to warn the adults regarding the children. Though minors are not technically included in the many positive and negative commandments of the Torah, grown-ups are forbidden to give them forbidden food, or make them commit sins. Indeed, this is a source for the concept of חינוך, preparation or education, through which parents prepare their children for their adult lives as committed Jews. We teach our children and train them in observance of the commands, so that by the time they reach bar- and bat-mitzvah, they will be motivated and intimately familiar with their duties.

Why is it that the Torah places the hint for the idea of חינוך here, embedded in the laws of the priesthood, of all places? Rabbi Yakov Weinberg provides a fascinating insight into this. Rabbi Frand explains with an allegory: Imagine a town where the children play baseball in a vacant lot next to the cemetery. When the inevitable home-run is hit over the wall of the cemetery, one of the children will have to run in and retrieve the ball. A kohen father must tell his son, "when you play baseball, you must be certain to never go after the ball if it goes into the cemetery." The child asks why, and is told, "no matter what the other children do, you are a kohen, and you are not allowed to enter a grave-yard. The fact that everyone else does it is does not mean that you may. You are different."

The situation of the young kohen and his father reveals a critical message of Jewish education: be your individual self! We must impress upon ourselves and our children that God made us unique, and this uniqueness is not something to squelch, but something to treasure and nurture.

How often do we find ourselves judging our level of commitment to Torah learning or שמירת המצוות by those around us? How easy it is to fall into that trap! We may tell ourselves, "well, I learn more than my neighbor", or "I don't speak as much lashon hara as my friends", but that is not how we should measure our strengths or weaknesses. We may say, "my son is about as studious motivated as his friends", but this is not the attitude that will lead us to raise children in greatness. To quote Rav Zushia, "God will not ask my why I was not a towering Moshe Rabbeinu; he will ask me why I wasn't the best Rav Zushia."

When we internalize this message, the peer pressure that is so damaging to people of all ages will have less sway. It will remove excuses for mediocrity and allow us and our children to emerge as great individuals, instead of average Joes.

This is also the key to the fight against assimilation. Avraham's greatness was not that he was good "for his time" (as was the case with Noach), but because he grew with no thought to where his journey took him, as long as it was towards truth. And so, he ended up on the opposite side from the rest of the world, and began our "nation of priests".

Too often, as evident from Scout's experience in her Maycomb school (in To Kill a Mockingbird), our educational institutions attempt to manufacture children who see the value that the anonymity of "blending in" provides. Judaism rejects this doctrine resoundingly, encouraging individual expression and creativity. Within the bounds of halacha, this brings about a nation of constant youth and vigor, able to confront all issues it is faced with, as a strong group of cherished individuals.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Memorial Day

ת נ צ ב ה

Woe to the nations of the world, who have no atonement. For Yeshayahu wrote that, instead of the copper will be gold, instead of iron -- silver, in place of wood is copper. All property destroyed by the nations will be replaced and forgiven. However, the saintly Jews who were murdered throughout our two-thousand year horror, what can replace them? Concerning this, Yoel wrote, "I will forgive them, but for the blood they spilled I can never forgive..." (Rosh Hashana 23a)

Israel is not a widow -- our God lives, and demonstrates His power through our miraculous return to Zion after two millenia of destruction. He will not forget the horrors of our past, and he will not forgive the murder of our innocent. God will not forget, and neither will we.

May the days of our mourning turn to days of exhuberance, with the completion of the universal redemption.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Responsible P'sak

I read an article today that incensed me. I do not want to link to it, or even hint to it, but I am sure that many people have read it. I would like to respond to it, however, and so, I will give a general summary of the article, and then respond.

The article basically quotes a rabbi as issuing a ruling that is not found in the Shulchan Aruch. Basically, it is a situation where something that is permitted according to all Jewish halachik sources is turned into something that should not be done, and the reasoning is absurd. It is not supported by judicial sources, nor can it be. (I know this is not very specific, and I would love to be more explicit, but I do not want to hint to who said it, or what he said.) Now to my response:

When deciding halacha, especially for a public forum, one must be extremely careful in everything he says. In order to demonstrate that what one writes has authority, there should be quotes from earlier sources and explanations as to how the author reached his conclusions. In the absence of this type of transparency, the writer essentially expects people to accept what he says because he says it. This either will lead people to reject his words outright, or (just as dangerously) to follow what someone writes just because of the persona they radiate, instead of based on reason and understanding. In Judaism, we prefer reason and understanding to blind obedience.

Furthermore, when the descision contradicts clear halachik precedent, the author simply knocks another nail into the coffin or rabbinic reliability and authority.

Extra caution must be taken to assure oneself that the p'sak will not have unintended negative consequences. I am reminded of a true story told to us in our ordination classes by Rabbi Brownstein from M'chon Pu'ah. A rabbi once convinced a secular army wife in Israel to keep the laws of Niddah, family purity. The rabbi was quite impressed with how the husband handled it. One day, after complimenting the military-husband, the husband said to him, "Rabbi, it really does not bother me. When my wife says that she is forbidden to me, i just take care of myself with the girls on the base." Certainly, the woman was doing something good, and the husband was wrong. However, this story illustrates how careful a rabbi must be of unintended consequences. They must be assessed and addressed, even when all seems fine. How much more so does this apply when a rabbi decides to write a p'sak or article which encourages people to act as if something historically permitted is forbidden: there will be unintended consequences, and in this type of case, the rabbi cannot justify his decision in the face of these consequences.

When dealing with an issue, for example, like a new stringency in modest dress, tznius, there are many consequences. (This example of modest dress is simply used as an illustration of the problems that can come up when a rabbi is not extremely careful in the way he issues rulings.) Our present cultural milieu is one where it is common for women to dress in a less than halachikally mandated way. In the Talmud, a woman who did not follow the socio-religious mode of dress was considered a p'rutzah, a wanton woman. However, today, I would not be willing to apply that label, since a wanton woman is one who eschews the norms of social behavior. Although a woman who does not keep to the standards of tznius is not going against halacha, she would not, in our day and age, be considered a wanton woman (in my opinion).

In such a cultural situation, it is imperative that our halachik standards of tznius conform to the halachik requirements, and little more. If we try to set ever-higher standards that are not required by baseline halacha, we will end up pushing women away from keeping the baseline requirements. You simply cannot hoist such a g'zerah on the public, which they will not be able to keep. Also, a Jewish marriage, one of sanctity and reciprocal trust, must be able to keep both partners excited and satisfied with the most intimate parts of their relationship, and this is almost impossible if, in such a society, we put more and more new restrictions on what the standards of modesty are.

Telling the public to keep stringencies which are not halachikally mandated by solid precedent will simply push more and more women and men off the edge, and out of Torah observance, and destroy the shalom bayis the supremely important family-peace, that should rest upon a Jewish home.

(There is an important caveat to this: No way of life places such a primacy on individual study as does Judaism. It behooves individual Jews to learn as much as they can, so that they can judge for themselves, with guidance from someone they have reason to trust, what writings to seriously consider, and what writings to reject. We have access to any sources we need, and we should hold ourselves responsible. It is reasonable to expect us to be able to make judgements, and decide what rabbis we feel have proven themselves to be worthy of our reliance upon them.)

Only through transparency of halachik sources, a deep understanding of the public, and a thorough examination of potential unintended consequences, should a rabbi issue a public ruling. To be any less strict upon oneself would be to issue חומרות דאתי לידי קולות, to try to strengthen observance on one side, while accidentally creating larger problems on another side. Hand in hand goes a warning to individuals to research what they find to be problematic, and to choose halachik authorities with utmost care.

Friday, April 18, 2008

An Empty Chair for Justice

This year, at many Pesach sedarim, there will be empty chairs. The empty chairs represent people who we wish we had with us, but are not able to come. We remember Ron Arad. We remember Udi Goldwasser, Elad Regev, and Gilad Shalit. We are angered that our government does not force the issue diplomatically and militarily. And yet, we recognize a certain amount of impotence: without clear knowledge of where they are or how to retrieve them, there is not much the military can do, and we understand the need to be strong diplomatically, and not trade terrorists for POW's, as painful as that decision is. The chairs for these heroes represent the work of terrorist groups that the free world denounces, however weakly.

There is one empty chair which represents another Jewish captive. His name is Jonathan Pollard. This chair is unique, however, because it represents not only the absence of Jonathan, but also the absence of justice; more, the trampling of that justice under the oppressive boot of anti-Semitism. This chair sits bereft of both Pollard himself, and the fairness he deserves, not because some declared enemy of the Jews has kidnapped them together one night in a cowardly attack. No, no. This chair sits in tragic vacancy partly because of our own antipathy. It embodies a debt of justice that has not been paid by a country we consider good, and our friend. And we do not demonstrate the fortitude and determination to free either Jonathan or our beloved ideal of justice and righteousness.

For more than twenty years, Jonathan has been imprisoned for turning treaty-promised intelligence over to Israel from the US. He acted to correct an illegal policy that withheld information promised to Israel by agreement. And yet, when discovered, he was traitorously turned over by Israel to the US, where he was treated as a spy to an enemy country, and given a sentence that astounded the world. While four years is the average prison term given to a person convicted of charges similar to his, Pollard received a life sentence. A plea bargain was breached by the government, after it had been signed. The life sentence was imposed based on documentation of alleged crimes that were not part of the trial, and were not aired and challanged in court.

Jews in America have the power to speak out against this injustice, until "judgment runs down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream". We can do more for Pollard than we can for the other captives. Let us use our position as citizens of the United States to right a wrong: to bring Jonathan back to the Pesach table, and the light of justice into the gloom of his small cell in North Carolina. Let us all keep a chair empty for them. Let us act, relentless, until Jonathan can thank God, as we will tomorrow night, "who took us from bondage to freedom, from the depths of sadness to the height of happiness, from mourning to celebration, and let us sing before Him a new song, הללוי-ה!"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Matter of Faith

At Josh Waxman's blog, I found a quote from Shadal relevant to our previous discussion. A skeptic of the Zohar's authenticity is chided by Shadal:

"After the matter is so, behold I choose to believe in the sefer haZohar, such as is the consensus of the majority of the congregation of Israel, and all its Rabbis and its Sages, from the time of its revelation until today. Of their portion should be my portion, and of their lot should be my lot . And you, if you want to cast your lot together with those of little faith, cast it, and who is holding you back?

And while engaged in them, I hurried to enter my house, and I closed the door behind me, and I slept until the light of morning, and I arose in the morning and went to the house of prayer. And when I returned to go to my house, this man attached to me and greeted me.

I said to him: Are you the muddier, who comes to muddy my heart with your doubts? Go in peace, and what is between me and you?

And the man answered and said: I am astounded at your words, my master, and I have heard about you, saying that you are always the lover of truth, and in truth this is not the way of lovers of truth, to berate a person who says things of reason, before you hear his claims.

I answered him: You are not speaking correctly, for even if this is my approach in all matters of understanding, and all my days such was my trait to learn from every man, and to accept words of truth from he who said it, still in things which touch on the matter of the faith, there is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel opposite Hashem. {A quote from Mishlei 21:30.} And behold, you are to my eyes like an enticer, and the Torah says "you should not consent unto him nor hearken unto him."(See Devarim 13:9) Our Sages have already said not to respond to an Israelite apostateת and certainly one who is extremely skeptical {/irreverent}, and therefore my word is already spoken. My brother, do you wish אo go to the right or to the left? Believe or deny according to all that is good and right in your eyes, but me, why do you call to travel with you?"

Of course our faith should be founded on reason. However, "reasonable" is far more flexible a barometer than "empirically evident". Since the latter cannot be applied to matters of faith, our will ultimately shapes what we reasonably accept in our lives. Although the subject of faith being discussed is different, I have echoed Shadal's words here, where John Wisdom illustrates the situation where empiricism alone will not decide how we interpret the facts and events that we witness. I write:

"It comes down ultimately to will. I cannot 'prove' spiritual matters for proof does not operate in the realm of "why or what" but in the realm of "how" (the realm of science). Therefore ultimately one cannot solely use facts or data to decide whether or not to live a life believing in God. He must rely on his experience. If so, it all comes down to willing oneself to allow experience to help one see God and not brush those experiences off as chance or something irrelevant. This is the idea of "Free Will" in its muted yet most glorious lyric: truly giving Man the opportunity to will himself to do right."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

God, Torah and Morality

Over the past few days, I have taken part in a discussion about morality and the existence of God. I will recap the major points, and then present the question that my beloved (really) opponents do not seem able to answer.

1) I said that I (and some others) accept the Torah as the binding word of God. Therefore, telling me that a Muslim can make the same argument does not really resonate for me. X said, "When a Muslim says that something is the word of God you don't just accept that uncritically, right? I know it's a little over the top in this particular discussion but it's been famously said that religion can make good men do evil."

2) I responded: "The nature of faith is such that it cannot really be proven or disproven. It can be based on reason, and does not have to be (and should not be) irrational, but it is outside the realm of facts, science, and empirical evidence. I have discussed this in many places, including my blog. And so, if the totality of my experience on earth has lead me to believe that the Torah is the word of a God who exists and is involved in the life of mankind on earth, I will accept the words in it a proiri.

You are right, this can be done by any member of any religion. And the fact is, there is no way to definitively prove that they are wrong or that I am right. However, that does not stop me or them from taking the position in which we have faith -- ie, holding of our respective tenets.

That being said, you are right, the fact that a Muslim says something is the word of God does not make me accept it. However, that is not because I reject the dimension of faith, but because I reject his faith in preference to my own.

For someone who finds the concept of faith fundamentally inferior to sciences, this is hard to swallow. I personally see science and empiricism as wonderful tools in their sphere, and yet recognize that they are limited, and are not useful within matters of faith and spirit.

I hope this explains why the fact that Muslims and other religionists do things I do not support in the name of God, does not make me unable to follow my Torah, in the name of God.

I know it's a little over the top in this particular discussion but it's been famously said that religion can make good men do evil.

By what standard? I personally agree with you that the crusades were evil, but the religious leaders of the time held that it is good to rid the world of non-believers, if they choose not to convert.

The judgment call of "good" men doing "evil" implies a moral code that the actions are being measured against. Which moral code are we using? Is it modern secular humanism? Buddhism? Judaism? The fact is that every code of morals or ethics accepts that certain acts may be unsavory but are necessary for the greater good of the community, nation or world, even secular humanism.

So, I do not think that the aphorism you quoted really says much. "Evil" implies a moral code. If within that moral code, an action is required, it would cease to be evil in that code."

3) X took this to mean that I had no basis in rational thought, and that therefore I was no different than Hamas members who kill innocent civilians. After a lot of misunderstanding, Holy Hyrax asked X: "Don't you have faith in a God? Don't you have reasonable arguments behind that faith of yours, that other skeptics can start attempting to tear apart at? Don't you think that people also have reasonable arguments behind their faith in a religion?"

4) X responded: "No, I believe in God based on reasoned arguments which I have discussed at length elsewhere. I don't have faith in that regard. I do have faith in free will though. I do not believe people have reasonable arguments that successfully make a case for the claims of Orthodox Judaism." I then realized that X had misunderstood me, and assured him that my faith is certainly bolstered by plenty of circumstantial evidence, and pointed him to my writings where I discuss some of this, for example here and here. Obviously, my belief is that matters of faith can never be demonstrated empirically, but there are plenty of reasonable arguments to accept God and also the Torah. X conceded that I was now not morally bankrupt, because my faith (I call it so because I have no empirical evidence for it) rests on reason. However, based on his reasoning, X believes that I am wrong. This is fine, I respond, because it shows how reason is also relative -- as long as it is not drawing from empirical evidence.

5) X then moved on: "My question to you then is - are you so certain in your belief system that you would kill a man for lighting a match on the Sabbath (supposing you lived in a time and place where this could be a realistic scenario)?" To that, I responded, "In my belief system, a person who lights a match on sabbath does not get the death penalty. This is because the death penalty is only meted out when the perpetrator follows a formulaic response to warnings from witnesses. In essence, a person will only be killed for this if he wants to be. Look here" for some of the reasoning.

6) X pushed on, "Ok, even so. You would perform the execution of a man who "wants" to die?" Here is my response: "I don't understand your problem with the death penalty for sabbath observance. At the very least, it can be seen as a social contract, and the Jewish society accepts these strictures. If you want to be part of the society, you have to play by its rules, just like in the US. You can't sleep with your daughter in the US and say, hey, its my life. If a Jew decides he does not want to keep sabbath and actually feels the need to say verbally , "I know it is a sin that receives death, and even so I commit it," when warned by two witnesses before he does the action, then he should live in some other country among other people. The fact is that Jewish Law is extremely limited in how the formulaic death penalty is meted out, much more so than the US today, where "ignorance of the law is no excuse"."

7) Meanwhile, Y was trying to show that his secular humanistic view of morality is better than a God based one. I pointed out that if morality is just what reason dictates to be good and right, Hitler could conceivably claim that his actions were based on reason and therefore moral. Y wrote: " umm... could you make a listing of reasons from Hitler so I can prove them as unreasonable." Y claimed to be able to prove, even to Hitler, that his actions are not rational, and therefore, immoral.

8) I responded with this:
"Hitler's Reasons to Euthanize or Sterilize the Mentally Handicapped:

a) they take up valuable resources (food, water) without contributing to society.
b) caring for them takes away doctors and therapists from non-mentally handicapped people who need these resources to recover from illnesses and become productive members of society.
c) mentally handicapped people are awkward to have around.
d) they also suffer physically and emotionally more than normal people, and this can be alleviated by euthanasia.
e) They keep bad genes in the national or worldwide gene pool.

This is reasonable to Hitler, and to many others, even today. How is it irrational to you? And whatever you say, please show how this proves that it is irrational even to Hitler. Without that, all you will have shown is that reason is relative."

9) Y wrote: "If someone thinks something is within reason and in fact it is not this is called a delusion." I lost my patience a bit and wrote, "What the heck gives you the right to feel that you have the patent on reason! Your opinion demonstrates sublime faith in your own power of reason to the exclusion of other humans' abilities."

10) So, Y wrote: "I can't even prove to you that Hitler was not within reason. How could I possibly prove to Hitler, who is dead, and even in his life was a sick ****, that he was irrational and illogical? I lose HH and Mev, You are right." Is Y being facetious, or is he really conceding this important point?

11) HH wrote to Y: "You simply don't like what Hitler did. That in no way shows he was not a reasonable man." I wrote: "Calling someone as sick **** does not prove anything. I am interested in your logical response to the euthanasia and sterilization issue, Y."

12) Y: "I said "you are right" and you still hound me? I give up!" A bit later, he said: "I do believe in objective reason and morality. I can't prove it to you though so that means nothing to you unless you feel the same way." HH responded:
"If you think of reason as subjective then reason is not provable.
Now you're getting the hang of it.
I do believe in objective reason and morality. I can't prove it to you though so that means nothing to you unless you feel the same way.
An Orthodox Judaism can say that exact same line."

13) So far, the conversation stands with my last comment, directed to both X and Y:

"Ok, even so. You would perform the execution of a man who "wants" to die?

First of all, you seem to get the idea that reason as a basis for moral argument is subjective. Y kept saying over and over again that he can prove that it is immoral what Hitler did. When I challenged him with 5-6 rational reasons to sterilize or euthanize the mentally ill/handicapped, he gave up! He admitted that he can't prove that. It's all based on his reasoning (which I have yet to hear. Pray tell, Y, why is it immoral to euthanize a person who is a burden to society and himself and please, no more links. If you can't formulate a reason yourself, then concede. I don't send you off on chases to read some stuff from some internet site without explanation of what I hold.), and Hitler had darn good reasoning to euthanize.

The only way there can be true morality regarding this is if some higher Power says that it is wrong to euthanize them.

You ultimately admit that my faith in God and Torah can be (and is, I say) based on reason. Therefore, although you may like to say "but your reasons are wrong", you see how this is a subjective argument. I think your rejection of my reasons ignores mountains of good circumstantial evidence, and is dangerous. So two can play that game.

I think secular humanism sets up the position that humanity is the highest end of moral concern.

This is very nice, X. Do you think you can explain to me the problem with Hitler's reasoning then? Y could not. I repost it for your convenience:

Hitler's Reasons to Euthanize or Sterilize the Mentally Handicapped:

a) they take up valuable resources (food, water) without contributing to society.
b) caring for them takes away doctors and therapists from non-mentally handicapped people who need these resources to recover from illnesses and become productive members of society.
c) mentally handicapped people are awkward to have around.
d) they also suffer physically and emotionally more than normal people, and this can be alleviated by euthanasia.
e) They keep bad genes in the national or worldwide gene pool.
What is your reasonable response to this?"

And so, we await X's and Y's responses.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cool Web Site

To see a graphical representation of any website (including blogs), go here.

Here is mine:

Friday, April 04, 2008

Parenting: Modeling Desire

Being a parent, as evidenced by the Hebrew word for the term, הורה, is first and foremost to raise a child to its full potential through education. Although we may accomplish this goal through lecturing and discipline, the most effective way to impress our values on our children is through modeling. We act as models, as examples, living a life consistent with the ideals and principles we hold true. This is much more impressive and long-lasting than a stern reprimand.

Indeed, the philosopher, Rene Girard, has developed a system to explain how people develop needs that are on a higher level than the basic needs for food, shelter, and the like. He states in his book, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, that people borrow their desires from others. A subject's desire for an item is not directly from the subject to the object, but is triangulated by a model for that desire. In essence, we "need" something only after having, consciously or subconsciously, seen someone we wish to imitate "need" that object first. Girard calls this doctrine "mimetic desire", or imitative desire. This may seem simple, but what it says is that desire we have, bad or good, is first cultivated by witnessing some model, another subject, desire it.

Girard goes further, and explains that the desire for the object is really an attempt to be more like, or closer to, the model. We want an object because, deep down inside, we want to imitate the model. The need for material objects really resolves to a metaphysical desire to be more like an idealized model.

This is fascinating. It is easily applicable to individuals who constantly seem to need the next invention, the next item that can be bought. This obsessive need for newness, the thrill of owning the next object, is really a steroid shot of temporary emotional and psychological growth. We enjoy buying something new, because satisfying that desire brings us closer, at least on a superficial level, to our better selves. It is a short-lived substitute for the organic happiness of true emotional, psychological or intellectual growth that brings us closer to our image of perfection.

And yet, mimetic desire can find positive outlet, as well. Our sages teach us that when the Torah states, "והלכת בדרכיו", it means to try to be like God. "מה הוא רחום, אף אתה רחום", just as He is merciful, so shall you be merciful. This is the concept of imitatio Dei, imitating God. We bring our actions and traits into line with God's, and we find ourselves become closer to Him.

Our children look up to us as representatives of God. Indeed, part of the reason of the commandment to "honor thy father and thy mother" is to teach children the concept of honoring God. Parents are a metaphor for the divine in a child's world. And so, when we imitate God, when we model for our children a selfless servant of God, our children learn from that what their aspirations should be for their personal relationships to Hashem and spirituality. Indeed, Rav Hirsch points out that the word for "son", is בן, which shares the root meaning "to build". Children are, for better or worse, built by their parents -- shaped by their parents' example. Our children absorb what we desire, what we aspire to, and make that into what they want. It is up to us as parents to make sure that the things our children soak up under our tutelage are things that are of value. We must teach our children by example that we are here to serve God, not our own desires. This is a lesson that the Chafetz Chaim felt had to be nurtured by parents even before their children are born. Regarding it, Rav Hirsch wrote (in his Collected Writings, Vol. vii) that the single most important thing a parent can do to assure the proper education of his child is to make sure that, to the best of their ability, the parents model perfection.

However, no man lives who does not sin. And so, in addition to modeling the best way to live, we must model to our children the appropriate way to make amends when we err. When a woman gives birth, she brings two offerings, an עולה and a חטאת. The burnt-offering is mentioned first, while in the Talmud (Arachin 21a), we learn that the sin-offering is brought first. Why this inconsistency?

Rabbi Menachem Sacks of Chicago, in his work, Menachem Tzion, suggests a resolution that seems correct in light of the above. He says that the burnt-offering, one that implies no sin, and is completely positive, represents our ideal lives. Ideally, we hope to live perfectly, and not sin. However, in reality, we know that we can never completely rid ourselves of mistakes. So, the Torah mentions the עולה first to remind us of our ideal, and provide us with a model towards which to strive. No matter how often we make mistakes in raising our children, we must remember the ideal and constantly strive to that first. On the other hand, by bringing the sin-offering first, we acknowledge our imperfections, and resolve include in our children's education the gamut of human reality, which includes sin and a process to achieve atonement and forgiveness. Thus, the offerings of the mother upon the birth of a child truly remind the parents of the awesome mimetic responsibility they bear, and the appropriate way to share the lessons of humanity with her offspring.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Imam Says Rape, Murder Non-Muslims

In a chilling video from London, a muslim cleric says that all non-Muslims automatically do not believe in God, and that their rape and murder is sanctioned by Islam.

No Muslim is to be condemned for any action, while all things non-Muslim must be hated.

But, as shul candyman says, we really should just make a salha (peace party) with them! That is really how we can turn this hatred around...

My goodness. How incredibly naive, eminently arrogant and patronizing, or willfully blind can he be?

The Arab problem with Israel is not some minor offense that we committed against their honor; it is that we stole (in their minds) their land!

Let us say that someone came into your house, and said, "This is now my house". After 50 years of legal battles, he approaches you and says, "come, let us make peace: here, you can have this bedroom, and half of that bathroom."

You would not say, "yes, peace is the answer". You would say, "the whole house is mine!"

In the same way, the Arabs won't relinquish their perceived right to the land because candyman has decided he would like to make peace. They will just use it as a staging area for their next attack.

The only real response is, "NO! the whole land is ours as an inheritance, from God!"

Parenthetically, as this video shows, it does not end with Israel. As Holy Hyrax correctly notes, dar al harb circumscribes the entire world, as well. Israel happens to be the canary in the coal mine for global jihad, and it will not spare you if you make Arab friends (as candyman suggests American Jews do). The people who hacked women and children to death in Hevron 1929 were neighbors and friends! They said "hello" every morning, they shopped together, visited, and yet, when the opportunity arose, they slaughtered.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Rebbe Who Saved a Village

This uplifting message of hope, faith and courage seems to epitomize the response we, as individuals, should have to the butchery at Merkaz Harav. It is a translation (found on Chabad's website) of an article in Yediot Acharonot on May 5, 1957, after a terrorist broke into the study hall of Kfar Chabad, killing five students and one teacher.

Translator's note: The following is a free translation of a story that appeared in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot on Iyar 4, 5717 - May 5, 1957. We have left the article basically as it was written, wishing to convey the perspective of the Israeli reporter and his impression of the people and the events he describes.

On the eve of Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) last year, as the bonfires were being raised on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the lights were burning also in Tzafrir (Kfar Chabad), the Chabad-Lubavitcher village in the Lod Valley.

For four days the village had been in deep mourning and grievous anguish, the likes of which the Lubavitcher chassidim had not known in many years. On that black and bitter night, a band of fedayeen entered the village. They made their way to the synagogue of the local agricultural school, where the school's young students were in the midst of the evening maariv prayers, and raked the room with fire from their Karl-Gustav rifles. They reaped a cruel blood-harvest: five children and one teacher were killed and another ten children wounded; their pure, holy blood soaking the siddurim that fell from their hands and splattering the synagogue's white-washed walls.

Pictures of blood-soaked holy books in the wake of Thursday night’s slaughter of eight students at Jerusalem’s Mercaz Harav yeshiva brought back memories of a similar attack 52 years ago in the central Israeli village of Kfar Chabad, when five schoolchildren were murdered during their morning prayers.

The village chassidim, brawny, broad-shouldered Russian Jews with thick black beards and bushy brows, stood dumbfounded before the terrible scene that met their eyes. A pogrom in Israel! A pogrom in Chabad! they whispered, and bit their lips in rage. The women stood there too, hefty, handsome Russian matrons, wringing their hands and murmuring to themselves in Russian and Hebrew, their eyes emitting an endless stream of tears.

This was not a common scene for the Lubavitchers. These Chassidim, who had survived the pogroms in Czar Nikolai's Russia and whom the Red Army could not intimidate, who had been banished to the frozen plains of Siberia, whose backs decades in Stalin's prisons and camps could not bow, now stood stooped and despairing. Now, that the blow had hit home in the heart of the Jewish state.

In the center of the village stood Rabbi Avraham Maayor who had been a high-ranking officer in the Russian Army. Avraham Maayor, of whom legend told that he calmly stood and sang chassidic melodies as a band of soldiers beat him with the butts of their rifles, now stood crying out at the heavens: "Master of the Universe, Why?! How have the children sinned?!"

Despair and dejection pervaded the village, and began to eat away at its foundations. There were some who saw what happened as a sign that their dream of a peaceful life in the Holy Land was premature. Perhaps we should disband, seek refuge in safer havens? The village was slowly dying.

But it was clear to all that before any decisive move would be made, the Rebbe had to be consulted. Nothing would be done without his knowledge and consent. All awaited the telegram from "there," from New York, but the telegram was inexplicably not forthcoming. Four days had passed since the terror had struck. A lengthy telegram had immediately been dispatched informing the Rebbe of all the details of the tragedy, and an answer was expected that very night. But the Rebbe was silent. What happened, many wondered, why doesn't he respond? Has he not a word of comfort for his stricken followers?

A telegram from the Rebbe, it should be clarified, is an integral part of Chabad-Chassidic life across the globe. Every problem, every decision pertaining to the communal or private life of the Lubavitcher chassid is referred to the Rebbe's headquarters in Brooklyn, and whatever the reply, that is what is done. And the answer is always forthcoming, whether by regular post, express mail, or emergency telegram-depending upon the urgency of the matter-and always short, succinct, and to the point.

Why, then, is the Rebbe's answer on such a fateful matter tarrying? The village elders had no explanation, and, as the hours and days went by, the question continued to plague their tormented souls, and their anguish and despair weighed increasingly heavier on their hearts.

And then, four days after the tragedy, the telegram arrived. The news spread throughout the village: A telegram from the Rebbe! The telegram has arrived! The entire village, men, women and children, assembled in the village square to hear the Rebbe's reply.

And the Rebbe was characteristically succinct. The telegram contained a single sentence-three Hebrew words-but these three words sufficed to save the village from disintegration and its inhabitants from despair. “Behemshech habinyan tinacheimu”, wrote the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. "By your continued building will you be comforted."

The Chassidim of Kfar Chabad now had a firm grasp on their future: they knew what they had to do. They must build! The Rebbe said to build! And that by their continued building they will be comforted! That very night the village elders held a meeting to discuss how the Rebbe's directive might be implemented. After a short discussion, a decision was reached: a vocational school will be built where children from disadvantaged backgrounds will be taught the printing trade. On the very spot where the blood was spilled, the building will be raised.

The next morning, all residents of the village gathered at the empty lot adjoining the agricultural school and began clearing and leveling the land in preparation for the building. The joy was back in their eyes.

In the weeks that followed, letters arriving from relatives and friends in New York described what had transpired there in those four endless days in which the village had awaited the Rebbe's reply.

For the entire month of Nissan, the month of the redemption, it is the Rebbe's custom to devote himself entirely to the service of the Creator, reducing his contact with his Chassidim to a minimum. Rare is the individual who is granted an audience with the Rebbe in this period, and all but the most urgent correspondence is postponed until the close of the auspicious month.

When the month of Nissan ends, a festive farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) is held at the Rebbe's headquarters on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, marking the Rebbe's resumption of his involvement with his thousands of followers across the globe. The Rebbe speaks for hours, his talks interspersed with bouts of song and l'chaims, often until the wee hours of the morning.

That year, the farbrengen marking the close of Nissan was also held. The tragic news from the Holy Land had arrived in New York moments before the farbrengen was scheduled to begin, but the Rebbe's secretaries decided to withhold the news from him until after the gathering. But what his assistants did not tell him, his heart seems to have told him. That night, the Rebbe spoke of Jewish self-sacrifice and martyrdom al kiddush Hashem (for the sanctification of G-d's name), about the rebuilding of the Holy Land, and the redemption of Israel. Tears flowed from his eyes as he spoke. All night he spoke and wept, sang and wept, and wept still more.

Why is the Rebbe weeping? Only a few of those present could guess - those who knew about the telegram from Kfar Chabad.

The farbrengen ended. The chassidim dispersed to their homes, and the Rebbe retired to his room. With great trepidation, two of the Rebbe's closest chassidim knocked on the Rebbe's door and handed him the telegram from Israel. The Rebbe sank into his chair. He locked his door and did not open it for three days. After three days of utter seclusion, he called his secretary and dictated his reply: “Behemshech habinyan tinacheimu”. By your continued building you will be comforted.

The chassidim of Kfar Chabad have fulfilled their Rebbe's request. Without the aid of philanthropists or foundations, they have raised 50,000 Israeli pounds, and today, one year after the tragedy, the new building of the vocational school is completed.

Tomorrow, as the citizens of Israel celebrate their eighth Independence Day, the chassidim of Kfar Chabad will hold a farbrengen and relate, again and again, the story of the three-word telegram that saved the village.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Avi Dichter and Transfer

Last week, there was a lively debate at Dovbear's blog about Rabbi Kahane and the concept of transferring hostile Arabs living in Israel out of the country, for the safety and integrity of the state. Many points were made, but one of the central ones was that Rabbi Kahane's ideas were defeated by the very fact that no-one supports them anymore. It was pointed out that there are sizeable percentages of Israelis who support this transfer idea, but that was brushed aside by others. I would like to point out that Minister of Israel's Interior Security, Avi Dichter, supports transfer as well.

There was a religious-halachik aspect to Rabbi Kahane's position, certainly. However, he also supported this transfer of hostile Arabs for demographic and security concerns, as well. It is these reasons that resonated with people like Yitzchak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, and led them to the realization that co-existence is not realistic, and that a two-state solution is necessary. Instead of annexing Gaza and the West Bank, a Palestinian state would be created there, and that would allow most hostile Arabs to live without the state of Israel. A transfer by excision, but transfer nonetheless. In fact, there was forced transfer, but it was the movement of Jews instead of the movement of Arabs. (The idea that they were moved "in", and so it is not as bad as moving others "out" is disingenuous. The Israeli government encouraged people to settle Gaza and the West bank for thirty years, economically and philosophically. In fact, Sharon himself stated years back that any order to uproot settlements was immoral and should be refused. I find the eminent domain argument weak as well, since eminent domain is to be used for government purposes, to better the lives of the majority of citizens, and not to chip away at the homeland and provide terrorists with bases ever closer to our borders.)

However, no matter how close these leaders came to admitting that transfer was the only option, they always could claim that no Arab living in Israel, no Israeli Arab, would be forced from his home, and made to live in any theoretical "Palestine". It was deeply implied by all concerned, and believed by a nation desperate that there be a group of Arabs they could call "friend", that these Israeli Arabs did not hate us, except for a few bad apples; that the Israeli Arabs would not hurt us, except for a few extremists; that the Israeli Arabs would live in peace with us, and any that would not could be treated as any other Israeli criminal -- jailed and eventually released, rehabilitated to the love of his Jewish neighbors. However, that has now changed.

Yesterday's brutal terror attack, in which seven Jewish teens and a 26 year old were murdered in cold blood in their study hall, brought the problem even closer to the surface. The attack of two city employees in East Jerusalem, the attempted lynch, the vicious attempted murder, also helped. Israelis are beginning to realize that nothing will change the fact that even among Israeli Arabs, the majority is not supportive or loyal to the state, and they would, in a heartbeat, join the throngs of enemies when it seems possible to kill Jews. The minority is not those who wish to destroy us, but those who do not.

And so, Israel begins to realize that transfer of hostile Arabs is the only solution left. Here is what Avi Dichter said, today in Merkaz Harav (as quoted by Arutz 7): "He [Avi Dichter] added: "If an intifadah breaks out, we know how to put it down," and expressed hope that a way will be found to send terrorists from east Jerusalem to Ramallah."

Avi Dichter sees Ramallah as outside Israel. He hopes to be able to banish terrorists who are Israeli citizens (after all, he speaks of terrorists from east Jerusalem) from east Jerusalem to Ramallah. Obviously, he speaks of terrorists who have not yet committed their terror, for if they already have, they would have to be put on trial. Clearly, Dichter does not advocate a situation in which a terrorist like last night's would be caught alive and not tried, but sent to live in peace in Ramallah. He is talking about potential terrorists -- people who support terror against our country -- he is talking about hostile Arabs of Israel.

And now we have come full circle. Israel rejected Rabbi Kahane as a rascist and an extremist for putting forth a platform that highlighted, among many other issues, the issue of Israeli-Arab hate of Israel and the need to rid the country of a fifth column. He was denounced; he was punished; he was imprisoned; his party was outlawed. And yet, it seems, the result of 30 years' policy that took the opposite track has ended up with a virtually identical statement by Avi Dichter to those of Rabbi Kahane. The only difference, in the end, is where "outside Israel" is. In Rabbi Kahane's book, it was Jordan, or Lebanon or Sinai. In the Dichter/Olmert/Rabin/Sharon book, it is Ramallah -- a virtual stone-throw from Jerusalem. Rabbi Kahane's plan would have put Israel's enemies far from our population centers, and across natural, defensible borders. The Dichter plan places the hostile Arabs to be transferred masochistically close to our population centers, a spitting's distance across Abba Eban's "Auschwitz borders".

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Depression and Action

Often, when confronted by defeat or failure, it is human nature to feel that our activity is futile. All that we work for can be destroyed in a moment, and everything that we care about is for nothing. Sometimes, people can feel this way when empathizing with others who are going through troubles. The feeling of helplessness can transfer to the empathizer, and create depression.

Of course, depression is the greatest enemy of useful activity. The feeling of futility can stop people from accomplishing and succeeding at important activities. After the Holocaust, for example, there were survivors who felt that it was pointless to rebuild their families, after witnessing how they were wiped out in a flash. How can a person save himself from drowning in the emotional turmoil of defeat and failure?

When Betzalel and his workers finished building the mishkan, they did not turn it over to the Jewish nation standing. The boards were there, the curtains, as well, and yet, nothing was put up. That was left to Moshe. Each of the seven days of inauguration, Moshe assembled and broke down the mishkan. No one was to help him, and Rashi quotes a midrash stating that, since the work was far too much for one man, Moshe received divine assistance to complete this task each day.

Why did God command Moshe to do this, when the task was impossible without divine assistance? Perhaps this episode is given to the world as an example of the correct way to approach the feeling of futility and depression that come from failure. When confronted, as Moshe was, with a situation that seems impossible, the correct response is not to retreat into rationalizations for why it is not worth trying. Rather, a person should enthusiastically embrace the task, and do the best that he physically can, "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence." To dutifully step bravely forward, against all odds, with faith in God -- that is our charge in life. If God sees fit to assist, as He did for Moshe and countless times in history, that is good. And if He chooses not to, so be it, for this has nothing to do with Man's duty to act on what he has ascertained to be right and just and good.

It is not our job to finish any task. However, it is neither our right to shirk correct action. We are to move forward, doing good, with the serene knowledge that this is all God asks of us. The ultimate result of anything is up to Him.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Our 'Friend' Abbas

I know I have not posted in a while. It has been a very hectic month for me and my family. We are expecting a new addition soon, and there was a little scare which required a short hospital visit...but all is well, thank God, and I hope to announce something in the next month, with His help.

I do plan to return to my regular postings of parsha, halacha and philosophy by the beginning of next week at the latest. Meanwhile, I feel the need to post this quote from our 'partner in peace', Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas (from the Jerusalem Post, Feb 2008):

PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday said that he does not rule out returning to the path of armed "resistance" against Israel and took pride in the fact that he had been the first to fire on Israel and that his organization had trained Hizbullah. In an interview with the Jordanian daily al-Dustur, Abbas said that he was opposed to an armed struggle against Israel - for the time being." At this present juncture, I am opposed to the armed struggle because we can't succeed in it, but maybe in the future things will be different," he said.

The PA president also expressed pride both in himself and his organization, Fatah, for trailblazing the path of resistance." I had the honor of firing the first shot in 1965 and of being the one who taught resistance to many in the region and around the world; what it's like; when it is effective and when it isn't effective; its uses, and what serious, authentic and influential resistance is," Abbas said. "It is common knowledge when and how resistance is detrimental and when it is well timed," he addad. "We (Fatah) had the honor of leading the resistance and we taught resistance to everyone, including Hizbullah, who trained in our military camps."

(Lurker had another good point(comment at the Muqata):

"But - but - in 1965, there was no Israeli "occupation" of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or East Jerusalem!

So then, against whom did Abu Mazen initiate this "resistance" in 1965? Who was he shooting when he "fired the first shot"?

Help, I'm so confused...")

Update: Students at Hebrew University in Jerusalem are waving PLO flags and calling for the destruction of the State of Israel.