Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ehud Barak and Yom Kippur

Before Yom Kippur, 5773 (which this year fell on September 26, 2012), Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak restated his proposal for a unilateral withdrawal of Jews from Judea-Samaria. As reported this time, his proposal would give tens of thousands of Jews who live in Judea-Samaria a choice: return to pre-1967 borders or remain as you are and live under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA); Jews who live in the communities of Ariel, Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion would remain outside the newly-formed PA-controlled area.  Barak made these statements just before Yom Kippur, he said, because Yom Kippur is a good time to look at the facts; the time has come, he suggested, to make decisions that recognize reality. He suggested that his proposal was based partly on a ‘concern’ for the PA, the EU and the US.

No doubt, many Religious Nationalists would reject such a proposal out of hand. They would reject Mr Barak’s reality. The lands of Judea and Samaria, they might claim, are ancestral Jewish homeland. They are not negotiable; and, they might argue, our reality certainly does not recognize any Arab claim that is based on what Nationalists say are lies about the Jewish people.

Nevertheless, Minister Barak is not just another Leftist looking to surrender with a Utopian’s optimism that this is the surrender that creates peace. He is a member of Israel’s government. He has power. He has the ear of the Prime Minister. We should listen to him.

On one level, Mr Barak is correct. Yom Kippur is indeed a time to reflect. It is a time to be concerned. It is the perfect day to look at reality and fact. But the reality of the Jewish Yom Kippur has nothing to do with the Arab, the EU or the US. The reality of Yom Kippur is not about appeasing those who would destroy us. True, if we were pagans, we would make sacrifices to appease the powerful because otherwise, unappeased, those powers would destroy us (sound familiar?): pagan gods are not forgiving.  But, Mr Barak, we are not pagan. Our Yom Kippur is not about gods who require sacrifices to mollify their anger. Our Yom Kippur is about the very personal relationship we have with a loving G-d who gives us a special day to activate our spiritual ‘refresh’ button. It is a day to reflect on how we relate to our Creator—not the Arab or the EU.

How do we know this is the reality of our Yom Kippur?  Read the Yom Kippur prayer-book: it’s all there—and it’s very clear (if you want to read more about this, see The Koren Yom Kippur Mahzor, translation and commentary by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Jerusalem, 2012).

We do not become reflective on Yom Kippur, as Mr Barak suggests, because our destiny is tied to our relationship with the Arab. We do not have a special day of prayer to mollify the power of the US or UN. We may indeed bow on Yom Kippur. But we do not bow to brutal gods or foreign powers.

Our Yom Kippur is not about surrendering to those who hate us. The power we turn to on Yom Kippur is not one who lies about us and desires to butcher us. The Power we face loves and pardons us. The Power we face is One who gives us in love a day of atonement, a day of pardoning and forgiveness so that we can renew ourselves and start a new year with hope and pride. The Power we bow to gives us life and sustenance. He has the ability to remove evil from the world—and we pray to Him on this day to do that. The power that Mr Barak bows to would impose evil onto the world, not remove it. The others he would bow to appear to have no love whatsoever for us. They offer nothing. They are indifferent—or worse.

I don’t know about Mr Barak, but if I had to choose between a G-d who loves me and a god who hates me, I prefer the former, not the latter; and in case there’s any doubt about the gods that Mr Barak would serve, you should note that they rejected outright his surrender proposal even before the ink was dry on his full interview. Then, over the next thirty-six hours, the leaders of Egypt and Iran spoke before the United Nations. They restated how they feel about the Jewish people: they have no leniency, love or hope to offer us.

Meanwhile, as they spoke, our Yom Kippur prayers told us repeatedly that this was a day of pardon, love, hope and forgiveness—a day to renew.

I don’t know about you, Mr Barak. But I know which Yom Kippur I prefer. I know before whom I choose to bow. I know the difference between love and hate.

This is our Yom Kippur, Mr Barak, not theirs.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Days of Awe, 5773: Sing, Zion, for those who choose the wrong path

Zion is a woman who appears to lean upon her two strongest children. One of these children curses her with a contorted anti-religious fervour. The other turns away from her to serve G-d religiously with ultra-fervent denial. While this woman cares for all her children, not all her children care for her. For example, her strongest ignore her. They fight so bitterly they have no time for her. One hates the other and the other rejects the one; so disposed, they seem to have nothing but scorn for their mother.  Zion might feel completely abandoned but for her younger children. These youngsters reach out to her.  But as they reach they cannot touch because they are pushed away by their anti- and ultra- siblings. Zion is trapped between the hate of the anti- and the denial of the ultra-. She wanders, aimless, her heart torn by those closest to her.

Her misfortunes come in pairs. Two Temples destroyed. Two exiles.Two irreconcilable sons. But her comfort also comes in pairs: teshuva as spiritual return to faith and teshuva as physical return to Zion; two self-defensive wars that have miraculously brought freedom and emancipation--the War of Independence and the Six-Day War; and two all-powerful parents, the source of who she is--Heritage and Land.

Zion weeps because she can see her Future but is powerless to move forward: her two strongest children restrain her and her younger children are not yet strong enough to help her.

If her eldest struggle against each other, they still agree on one thing: Zion will always be their focus, as one rejects with cursing, the other with denial.

Zion tries to escape her imprisonment. Her youngsters watch, appalled.

Her eldest force themselves on her. One child, the most powerful—the anti-- has controlled her before. He wills to control her now; meanwhile, the other son—the ultra—refuses to speak;  because his belief contains denial, he will offer no comfort; because that faith is both strong and stubborn, he refuses to let her move.

Her younger children become restless. Awake, Zion! Do not weep! Awake for your children’s sake!

Her parents, Heritage and Land, watch their family in sorrow. Their daughter is abused by her strongest children, the anti- and the ultra-, while the youngsters are treated by their elder siblings as unwanted orphans. The strongest grandchild, the one with the most responsibility, rebels by rejecting his entire past, both Heritage and Land, while the other strong grandchild rebels by denying Land, claiming that he descends only from Heritage.  Torah, he cries, is everything. It is the only thing.  Land today is at best neutral; at worst, it is the embodiment of wickedness: Land means nothing to us.

Together, Heritage and Land mourn.  They have created Zion together and their Zion is enthralled: the anti-child hates, the ultra-child denies, and the younger children are spurned.

Still, Heritage and Land are wise. They can see what the grandchildren cannot. They see the Future; and they see that only the youngsters, the most scorned, will inherit that Future with the fullest inheritance. It is they who cling to family. It is they who are loyal.

Zion does not have her Parents’ vision.  She cannot see her Future as clearly as they. She cannot move forward. She cannot defend herself. And yet, despite the pain caused by her older children, she hears her youngsters.

She is indeed restrained. But through those younger voices--so persistent, so filled with hope and joy-- she stirs, reminded of Family, her Lineage. Through those joyous voices, she understands that her Future does not belong to those who refuse or deny.  Her future belongs to those who want to embrace the Land-- and Sing.

Zion, Zion, awake, awake! If your anti-child would destroy and your ultra- would deny, they cannot help you. It is they who are helpless, not you!  Forgive them! Sing to them! Comfort them! If they cannot see how events lead to your Fulfilment, you must turn to them. Draw them near. They are your children. Do not let their refusal tarnish your hope.

Help them heal; show them the way. Do not be silent!

Zion, you have the power to awaken closed hearts with Song: sing with your young children. It is they who will lead. Sing with them. They are your Future.

Let your Future become your song.

Zion, your Legacy is Heritage and Land. Your strength is Heritage and Land.  Your past was Heritage and Land. Your Future will be Heritage and Land. Sing, Zion. Remember the Songs of old. Sing to teach your stronger children while you Sing for joy with your younger children.

 Sing, Zion. Sing now of Heritage and Land so that those who choose the wrong path can return.

Sing before they turn against you forever.



Sunday, September 16, 2012

America turns on Israel before the Jewish New Year begins

Do not envy Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has to decide what to do about Iran. If he does nothing, Israel could get nuked. If he attacks, all Hell breaks out: Iran will fire missiles at Israel; Hizbullah and Hamas would declare Holy War; and Syria (or Hizbullah) could attack with chemical weapons. A war could cost Israel more than 167 billion shekel in direct cost and damages over five years, according to one estimate. Israel’s economy will suffer. The center of Israel, where 70 per cent of the population resides, could turn into a war zone.

Those who attack Israel, meanwhile, could suffer an apocalypse.  One report recently described Israel as capable of pounding Syria and Lebanon back to pre-history. Iran has already put the West on notice that, if Israel attacks, Iran will take its revenge against the West. In a war against Israel, Syria and Lebanon might not be the only nations to return to the Stone Age.

How do Western powers handle this potential destruction? By pressuring Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is not amused.

He has good reason to be miffed. After Netanyahu made it clear to US Secretary of Defense John Panetta that Israel has the right to protect itself, Britain and Germany made it equally clear that if Israel attacked Iran, they would not support Israel. Then, perhaps to make sure that Netanyahu got the West’s message, the highest ranking military officer in the US, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, echoed the British-German threat when he said that if Israel attacked, the US would also not assist Israel. According to a recent news analysis, Mr Netanyahu was so ‘impressed’ by the British and German ‘warnings’ that he changed his strategy. Instead of continuing an aggressive stance towards Iran, he backed off; he demanded only that the West set deadlines and ‘redlines’ for Iran, to pressure Iran.

But his effort to lower the heat had no effect. If anything, it might have suggested that Israel’s leadership would fold under pressure. Less than two weeks after reportedly making his change, Netanyahu supposedly ‘blew up’ in a meeting with the US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro (Mr Shapiro denies this). Mr Netanyahu was angered by what he termed, ‘US stalling’ over Iran, and by continuing American pressure on Israel, not Iran.

He had asked for deadlines. He’s gotten nothing but threats--against Israel.

Now, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has formalized the US position on Israel’s call for deadlines. She announced (September 11, 2012), ‘we’re not setting deadlines,’ thereby capping a fortnight of messages that told Israel that the West was interested in supporting neither a military option or deadlines, Israel’s two most important strategic choices in its battle to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Likud MK Danny Danon called Mrs Clinton’s remarks, ‘a slap in Israel’s face.’

The day Clinton’s remarks were published, former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Zalman Shoval, offered the observation, ‘We need to get used to the fact that, as usual, we are alone.’

But we are not just alone.  What has happened is not simply, ‘usual’. The remarks by Mrs Clinton and US General Dempsey have changed Israel’s relationship with its most important ally: if Mr. Netanyahu wanted the West to draw a line in the sand, that’s exactly what he’s gotten—a line in the sand over which Israel  cannot step. President Obama, supposedly so careful to avoid disturbing American Jewish support for his re-election, has apparently pushed aside that concern to clarify his attitude towards Israel, and that clarification is decidedly unfriendly: Israel cannot attack; the West will neither attack Iran nor install deadlines to help Israel; Iran can continue to enrich uranium because only ‘negotiations’  are required and Israel has been put on notice that it must do nothing or suffer the consequences.

These are not gestures of an ally. They are the hallmarks of arrogant disregard for an ally. Clearly, Israel can attack. But the West’s hostility creates for Israel a nightmare scenario:  if she attacks she could be destroyed—because allies may refuse to assist her--and if she waits she could also be destroyed.  

Fortunately, this movie has not yet ended. Yes, as the Jewish New Year approaches, the heroine is being tied to the proverbial railroad track. The villain is Iran. But America ties the ropes, with the British and Germans standing nearby cheering the Americans on while hissing at the heroine. To those who know their Tanach (our Jewish Bible) and its commentaries, this sounds a lot like the descendants of Edom preparing the dogs of war while Persia and Yishmael strain to strike the first blow against Zion.

This is going to be some movie: the enemies of Zion turn against Zion just as the G-d of Israel prepares to judge the world.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

On the threshold of Greatness: are anti-religious Jews the catalyst for our Redemption?

The Jewish Redemption:  many talk about it. Like children in the back seat of your car during a trip, there’s an excitement: are we there yet?
Some say we’re close. Look at Tanach, they declare: we are almost there. Others say, look at Israel’s politics: the anti-religious harbour so much hate they appear ready to declare war against anyone religious. Is that Redemption?
Here’s a point to ponder: perhaps HaShem employs the anti-religious to energize the process; perhaps our Redemption begins through them.
Much that is important to modern Israel has occurred because of anti-religious input. Our declaration of Independence in 1948 might not have happened if anti-religious Jews had been kept off-stage. Does this reality suggest that the founding of our State is (as some argue) just the work of the wicked—or is that assessment misplaced?  The great Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer (1720-1797), wrote that we will stand at the threshold of our Redemption when (among other criteria) Jews have ingathered and then settled Israel, established our claim to the land, built cities, and cultivated the land (see Kol HaTur: The Voice of the Turtledov, trans. Rabbi Yechiel Bar Lev and K. Skaist, distributed by M. Pomeranz Bookseller Ltd, no date, limited edition, Jerusalem, Israel).  All of these things have come true, thanks in large measure to efforts by anti-religious Jews. Yes, the Vilna Gaon identifies other criteria to mark the beginning of the Redemption process (see Kol HaTur, above). But he states repeatedly that ingathering and settlement are crucial for Redemption to begin; and he seems not to impose any religious requirements upon those who do this work. He does not appear to demand Torah-observance from these workers. His emphasis is on the work itself: the land must be populated and prepared; only then can the Redemptive process begin.
Naturally, there is more. Read Kol HaTur.   
The idea that anti-religious Jews play a role in bringing the Redemption is developed further by Y. S. Teichtal (Harav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, Eim Habanim Semeichah, Kol Mevaser Publications, Mevaseret Zion, Israel, 2000), who reminds us that the wicked Biblical king Omri was rewarded specifically because he added a city to Israel. So precious is Israel to G-d that He rewards even the wicked for city-building. This was true even though Omri did not build his city to honour G-d; and it is true even though few if any kings were as wicked as Omri.  Rav Teichtal argues that, because the modern anti-religious are no worse than the excessively wicked Omri, they, too, fulfill a G-dly mission when they work for Israel.
Is it possible that the unG-dly help the Redemptive process? Well, since G-d controls everything, if He had wanted the religious to play that role, that’s what would have happened; therefore, if the anti-religious have played such an important role in Israel’s modern history, there must be a G-dly reason for that.
How could the unG-dly help our Redemption? The recent uproar over drafting Haredi into the IDF might suggest an answer. Is the push by anti-religious politicians to pass a new law that demands drafting Haredi an example of religious hatred, or is it part of a Divine plan to pump  more religious Jews into the IDF in order to increase the number of future  leadership candidates who are Torah-focused?
Our Redemption story makes that connection. Can you?
A similar insight might be found in anti-religious efforts to surrender ancestral Jewish homeland. Are these efforts simply anti-Jewish Jews pushing us towards national suicide—or is there a Divine element at work here?
What’s the Divine element? Look in the Torah’s first Rashi commentary. On that Rashi, one teacher suggests that, until Jews stand up and declare to the world that this land is ours because G-d gave it to us, we will have trouble with the nations; perhaps, we can infer, G-d employs the anti-religious (who reject the land) to motivate the rest of us to ‘stand up’. 
It is possible that the unG-dly play a role in our Redemption because the religious have failed.  If the religious cannot unite to lead, then the anti-religious will fill the vacuum the religious themselves have created; the anti-religious will then eagerly use religion as a club against us. They will beat us with their hate. They will refuse to put ‘religion’ aside. It will obsess them.
Don’t discount the unG-dly. We need them. Their religious hate puts religion into the spotlight. If you have read your Tanach, you know that’s exactly where religion might need to be for Redemption to begin.
The unG-dly have settled the land, built it and now work against it. They put religion onto stage-centre. They challenge our faith in G-d and land. We should not ignore that challenge.
How we respond may determine our Future.







Sunday, September 2, 2012

Build a gallows for the Jew

Our Jewish heritage teaches that there appears in every generation an enemy who seeks to destroy the Jewish people. From Lavan to Haman, from Pharaoh to Hitler, they attempt to fulfil their wicked plots.  Today, Ahmadinejad carries that torch.

As this tradition of hate rises and falls, there is one constant: the Jewish people survive.  Today, we are a modern light unto the nations because of our science and medical technology. But our survival is also a lightning rod for a born-again revival of ancient hate.  As previous Jew-haters have tried to exterminate our people,  Ahmadinejad would exterminate our sovereign nation. He is not alone; his war against Zion is part of a world-wide call for peace. The argument is simple: for world peace, destroy Israel. The Left, the UN and the EU plan for peace by announcing that the greatest enemy of peace is terrorism; then they declare that Israel is the sole cause of that terrorism.

Their war for peace is the war against Israel. Do they build a gallows for the Jew?

History seems to put the Jew at stage-centre, much like a heroine in a Hollywood silent film—harassed by evil and tied to a rail while an on-coming train bears down menacingly. In the end, evil fails as the heroine is saved at the last minute. So it is with the Jew. Often, those most evil are destroyed by the very machines they create to kill Jews. Haman in the Purim story is hanged on the gallows he had ordered built to hang the Jew Mordechai; and Hitler’s Aryan Germania was itself mostly raped and partially enslaved by the very nation—Russia—it had sought to rape and enslave.

Jew-hate awakens. An evil cabal becomes so arrogantly confident it does not hide its intent. It publishes maps that do not depict a new Arab state alongside the Jewish state; it prints maps of a new Islamic state in place of the Jewish state.

No one cares.

The evil cabal does not tell its ‘people’ about building new highways and communities in a new state; it declares instead that Tel Aviv and Haifa and Ashdod are Arab land, and Jerusalem is an Arab capital.

No one cares.

The evil cabal builds a virtual gallows for Israel when it announces that Jews will be cleansed from their new state—and no one objects.

Each worldly silence to such evil becomes another plank in the gallows for the Jew. Each refusal to stand against this evil strengthens that gallows. Does such silence suggest a coming peace, or does silence in the face of evil suggest a prelude to war?

 Will the world really get its peace if the Jewish nation is nuked, as Ahmadinejad suggests?

Ask Muslims and Christians. In each of these religions, the destruction of the Jew is the central event—the Ultimate religious denouement—of a Final Revealed Religious Glory.  For both religions, there will be a new world order when the Jew disappears. The Left shares this dream.

The world builds a gallows for the Jew.

Of course, the world has a problem: Muslim peace is not Christian peace and, as we all learn in kindergarten, two people cannot occupy the same space at the same time. It seems that both religions are so focused on damning the Jew, they neglect to consider fully what happens after that damned Jew is gone. Do you really think that after the Jews are dead these two religions are just going to shake hands?

That’s not what their Holy Books describe.

The Jewish Holy Book is different. It contains the original Final Story. The others share its details, but the Jewish Story contains an original twist: when the Jewish Ultimate End unfolds, the great powers joining to destroy us will indeed join hands to attack Israel, just as we see happening today. But in the Jewish story, a funny thing happens on the way to Jewish destruction:  the powers that oppose us begin to argue. They dispute. They turn on each other.

As the evil of this world prepares a gallows for the Jew, could Iran decide to strike out against America or Europe by closing the Strait of Hormuz or sending killers to Western population centers? What would the West do in that case?

 I don’t know about you. But all this talk of killing Jews for Islam or destroying Israel for world peace doesn’t seem to me to be just about Islam and the West deciding independently to attack the Jew. It’s all too coincidental. It seems more like a universal Introduction to a universal end-game. All three religions talk about this story. All focus on the Jew. Two religions hang the Jew, one doesn’t.

Will that gallows be for the Jew—or someone else?