Sunday, December 16, 2012

Judah Maccabee, you and your predecessors are not wanted!

As you watch the last day of Chanukah fade, you might notice that we read weekly Torah portions at Chanukah-time that focus on the Biblical story of Joseph.  That is not coincidence. That Torah story links to Chanukah—and to us.

Look at the main characters we see this time of year—Joseph, his older brother Judah and then Judah the Maccabee.

Joseph, favoured son of Jacob, had a problem. As Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz of Karmiel, Israel has said, Joseph saw himself a leader. He even tried his own, ‘I have a dream’ speech. But his plans—and his speech—didn’t go over very well. Instead of ending up as king-of-the-hill over his brothers, he ended up a slave in Egypt.

In the end, of course, Joseph was right. He became Viceroy of Egypt.

His older brother Judah also grows into leadership in this story. Judah earns his own mantle of leadership from the power that derives from character. First, he steps forward to take responsibility for the safety of his younger brother, Benjamin. This becomes a serious issue for the family because Judah fails to keep Benjamin safe (you’ll have to read the story to get the details); but Judah does not whine, make excuses or try to blame someone else for his failure. Instead, he takes responsibility for that failure, and for the attempt to rescue Benjamin.

To that end, Judah risks everything: without any hesitation, he confronts the one man in the world who could release Benjamin--or order Judah killed for daring to stand up: the Egyptian Viceroy. The scene of their confrontation is both simple and stunning. In fact, if you do not understand how much power that Viceroy had, and if you have forgotten how, earlier, the Jewish brothers had so completely prostrated themselves before him, you will miss how shocking Judah’s behaviour is. This is where Judah truly earns his right to leadership. He performs despite the threat of death.

As this story of Joseph and Judah unfolds, we read the Chanukah tale of Judah the Maccabee. The moment this later Judah accepts the mantle of leadership—after his father dies—you learn that he has ‘the right stuff’: he carries on the battle to defend Israel ‘with gladness’. He increases the glory of his people. He is like a lion in his action.

He is a leader. We can all—religious and non-religious—celebrate his heroism and courage. For us all, he is the Jewish ‘lionheart’.

Each of these three men is a hero. Each has the character and life-story to inspire. They confronted difficulties, risk and conflict. They faced those challenges bravely and, despite setbacks, succeeded.

These heroes highlight our history. Joseph and his brother Judah helped to found our nation. Judah the Maccabee helped that nation to survive.

But these men do not inspire our current leaders. If anything, these heroes are so politically incorrect they repel.

Jewish leadership rejects them.

One way to see this is to look at today’s political arena and identify those who appear to mirror them. Your choices may differ, according to taste or bias. But the results will probably be the same.

 Who would be Joseph? Which current Israeli politician makes public statements that provokes complete scorn? Avigdor Leiberman might be that politician. He appears to provoke the same scorn that we see from Joseph’s family when he reveals his dreams to them.

Leiberman is considered to be pro-Israel. He does not retreat. Like Joseph, his personal actions lead to ignominy.

Who would be Judah? Which politician has taken a public stand to oppose the most powerful man in the world—and to speak about G-d in public? Moshe Feiglin does that.  

How has the Left-controlled media treated him?

Who would be Judah the Maccabee? One might argue that there is today no ‘Judah Maccabee’. The reason is simple: a Jew in Israel who dares stand up as Judah and his father once did is harassed, viciously attacked by a Left-leaning press and, often, arrested. He knows that he runs the risk that, if he speaks too aggressively, many will  abandon him.

Today, Judah the Maccabee has been silenced, shoved into a dark cornered—and gagged.

Our ancient heroes created Israel. They protected Israel. They stood up despite the risk of death or enslavement. They committed to G-d. They stood strong for the Jewish nation. They did not fear their enemies. They did not attack G-d. They did not scorn the land.

Our ancient Jewish stories remind us what it takes for the Jewish people to survive: courage, and a public commitment to G-d and land.

How do our current Jewish leaders compare? Do they model after these men? Do they strengthen, protect and build the Jewish nation?

Do they stand up for G-d?

You tell me.

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