Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hamas and Evil Disguised as Righteousness

Hamas and Evil Disguised as Righteousness

             As you know about Jewish jokes, many of them are funny and make you want to cry. So I share this one with you a propos of the current situation in Israel.
             A visitor came to Israel and saw the Western Wall. Not being
too   versed  in religious aspects, he inquired of another tourist about the significance of   the wall.  The other tourist explained, "This is a sacred wall. If you pray to it, God may hear you."
       The visitor walked close to the wall and started to pray.
        "Dear  Lord,"he said, "bring sunshine and warmth to this beautiful land."
         A commanding voice answered, "I will, my son."
         The visitor said, "Bring prosperity to this land."
          "I will, my son."
          "Let Jews and Arabs live together in peace, dear Lord."
          The voice answered, “ Dir redt zu dem vant-"You're talking to a wall!.".
In the last weeks, we have  watched as our family in Israeli have been, literally, talking to a wall.
            In the Jewish calendar, we are in the period leading up to the Ninth of Av, so we are generally in a mood of blue funk, even when nothing is wrong. How much more so than when we are worried about Israel in a shooting war.            
            In this mood, I wish to bring to mind a popular song, some years, that went: to everything, turn, turn, for every season, turn turn, For everything, a time and place, under heaven.
            It then went on with a litany: A time to be born , a time to die, a time to laugh a time to cry.
            As we listened to the song, we recognized, of course, that the singers had taken the verses of Ecclesiastes, the third chapter and set it to music.
            La kol, zman va et , lachol hefetz tachat hashamayim.
            A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven.
            A time for being born, and a time for dying and so forth
            The end of the litany is
            “A time for war and a time for peace."
            The wise man. Koheleth told us, knows not to make sweeping generalizations. Vague platitudes, broad sweet sounding phrases or blanket condemnations can not be applied to all situations. There is a time for weeping and there is a time for laughing.
            How many times have we seen a time for laughing, only to have it overturned in the blink of an eye. The euphoria of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty was swept away by the First Lebanon War; the euphoria of the PLO_-Israel  accords in 1993 gave way to a series of bloody massive murder of Israelis by bombs on buses and cafes. The last chance for an agreement between Arafat and Barak was soon upended by the brutal 2nd Intifada. The voluntary withdrawal  from the Gaza strip by Israel in 2005, with money invested from abroad, the chance for open borders, open harbors and an infrastructure for agriculture given by Israel—upended again and again by Hamas.
            There is a time for loving and a time for hating, a time for peace and a time for war.
            The stance of the moralist calling for Israel to exercise restraint, or to cease-fire unconditionally is inherently immoral for it allows free reign to the human capacity to evil without check. It is one thing to avoid war, it is one thing to pursue peace with an enemy in the hopes of turning an enemy to a friend. It is another thing to face an enemy that hides it weapons underground but puts it civilians on roof-tops in the line of fire , an enemy that has been seen to hide its headquarters in a  hospital and its rockets in a school building.
            At the core of the rioting is not the anger of Palestinians of Gaza towards Israelis because they are occupying them. Israel stopped occupying Gaza almost a decade ago.
            It is true that the Palestinian Authority, in the West Bank, what we historically call Judea and Samaria, have made their accommodation with Israel, a begrudging accommodation. So ,too, for sure, have the Egyptians and Jordanians and even the Saudis, who fear the Islamicist or Salafist jihadi movements, such as the Moslem Brotherhood, Al_Qaeda, or the very worst, the Islamic Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
            Israel, for these entities, is for now, the enemy of my enemy. Gaza is very much so in the hands of such Salafists, known by the abbreviations in Arabic, Hamas, "Islamic Resistance Movement"). (Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah)
            We need to know what they think about Israel and about Jews, even though they declare that they are tolerant of Jews. When speaking to the Western public, they sometimes try to cover up. The diplomats who speak glibly of “ even –handedness” also cover it up. However, in their official pronouncements inside Gaza, they take the words of this platform very seriously. Here are just some of the comments about Jews:
. . . the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realization of Allah's promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:
"The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.  . . .”

. . .Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.
"I swear by the holder of Mohammed's soul that I would like to invade and be killed for the sake of Allah, then invade and be killed, and then invade again and be killed." (As related by al-Bukhari and Moslem). . . .
“With their money they [that is, Jews] stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there.”
“There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it.”
“. . . They aim at undermining societies, destroying values, corrupting consciences, deteriorating character and annihilating Islam. It is behind the drug trade and alcoholism in all its kinds so as to facilitate its control and expansion. Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people. "May the cowards never sleep." ( )
If any of you have ever read the text of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or Hitler’s Mein Kampf, you see that Hamas is all of these ideas supercharged on steroids.
      We know that diplomats believe these words can be dismissed as mere puffery. They take at face value the statements made by Hamas leaders of their respect for Jews at face value. However, founding documents mean what they state. When Nazi Germany began World War II, Hitler put aside his avowed hatred of the Soviet Union and authorized the notorious Ribbentrop- Molotov Treaty. The profession of  peace was swiftly put aside in the blitzkrieg that swept across to Stalingrad the moment Hitler saw his chance. Fanatics mean what they say.
It is with this gang that so-called humanitarians ask for negotiations!
            So what can be the recourse of the people of Israel?
The same book of Ecclesiastes says:
            Al tehe Tzadik harbe ve alterasha. Do not be overly righteous and do not be evil.
            The first part is al Tehey Zadik Harbeh-- Do not be overly righteous, or you will be dumbfounded. Do not let the wicked get a way. Do not allow the perpetrators of evil to be rewarded for their deeds. You will pay a horrible price for it in the long run.
            The second half is also significant. It also says V’ Al terashah .Do not be wicked, lamah tamut belo itcha Why should you die before your time. Do not let the need for justice become an excuse for wickedness, for it , too can only be your undoing.
            The recourse of the people of Israel is that which was clear to our sages--It is not to roll over and give the perpetrators of evil what they want, for appeasement can only breed further evil.
            It is also not to descend to the level of the perpetrators, for that, too, is the path of destruction. As the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, stated just this week, “No other army in the world has ever done more than Israel is doing now to save the lives of innocent civilians in a combat zone.”(,7340,L-4548821,00.html )
            The people of Israel now face the difficult challenge of continuing in the struggle for peace, as they seek and find legitimate partners for peace, all the while taking their right and due course to uproot those responsible. It is a fact that when the Israelis went into the West Bank towns and put down the Second Intifada, they set the stage for a Palestinian Authority with whom accommodation, if not yet real peace, is possible.
            I don’t see any alternative for Israel, for its survival, as the only one homeland for the Jewish people , other than to grind down an enemy who is willing to fight to the last drop of someone else’s child,  and defang this gang of Nazis of its rockets and its tunnels. Perhaps then, the people who care more for their children than for their hatred will be ready to lead to a new world and a new future.
            We know that the people of Israel have no other recourse. Colonizers, like the French in Algeria, could always go home when defeated. The Jews, rightful historic heirs to the Land of Israel, not colonizers, have no home to go to other than Israel.
            Therefore, to Hamas we must quote the verse from the Quran that recognizes the promise of the Land of Israel to the Jews:
            And thereafter We [Allah] said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land. And when the last warning will come to pass, we will gather you together in a mingled crowd.'" [Qur'an 17:104] ( by Shaykh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi, head of the Italian Muslim Assembly).
            For the people of Israel we have are the words that we say at the end of today’s Torah reading, when we conclude the Book of Bamidbar, Numbers:
Chazak, Chazak, V nitchazek.Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!


Monday, July 21, 2014

Jeremiah and Coping

Jeremiah and Coping

( after 17th Tammuz)

            It is a very frightening world—rockets from Gaza into Israel, Israeli soldiers now inside Gaza, a passenger airline downed on the Ukraine-Russian border, an Islamic Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. No end of tsorres, troubles.
            This last Tuesday was the 17th of Tammuz, when we recall the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem, and in two weeks, it will be the 9th of Av, when we recall the fall of the Temple, twice.
            Our tradition doesn’t let us forget that there can be immense disasters that have always befallen us.
            How can we cope with it?
            There is an old story, of a man who comes to his Rebbe:
"Rabbi, you must help me? I have a thousand problems!"
--A thousand problems! What are they?--
---I tell you, the holidays are coming. I need food for my family, clothes for my wife, pants for my boys, dresses for my girls. It's impossible!
---Wait, said the Rabbi--don't despair. Let's make a list of everything, and how much it will cost. -- Food-$500-Dress--$80--pants-$50, etc. , etc. --now, let's add it up It comes to $1000. It tell you, thank God, you don’t know how lucky you are. You came in and said you had a thousand problems-We've just solved 999 of them. You only have one problem left to solve-- where to get $1000. You have my blessing.
   Often, our woes can as easily be joked aside. Many times, what looms as catastrophes in our eyes, in retrospect are minor incidents, easily overcome.
            Many of our woes descend on us in the form of the old line,” What's the difference between a recession and a depression--The recession is the other guys troubles. The depression? Those are my troubles!
            The recessions can be handled with some agility, the depressions, though, can tear us apart. What happens when one depression follows another, when disaster strikes in succession, or in such overwhelming force, as to devastate entire communities? How then can we cope?
            What happens when an economy enters a major recession or depression as happened only a few years ago, almost bring down the world economy? What happens in the wake of an invasion or a civil war take-over, when all hopes of liberty and normalcy are dashed to the ground? What happens when events strike which are out of human control-an earthquake in California, a hurricane in Florida, a Tsunami in Japan?
            What then is our reaction?
            As Jews, we may well have cornered the market on disasters. Our history
overflows with tragedy, and if the Noble Prize for literature were given to nations,
we would surely win it for the quality of our tragedies.
            There are  two historic responses that we have formed. One the on hand, we
are familiar with that response : “Mipnei Chataenu "-Because of our sins we were
punished. We find it repeatedly in Biblical, Talmudic, and Medieval Jewish literature.
However, there is another response, a uniquely Jewish posture, a stance
against misery on a massive scale, a refusal to accept  disaster passively, an insistence on calling heaven to task for a rotten state of affairs.
            The originator of this posture was the Prophet, Jeremiah, from whom we have today’s Haftarah.
            Jeremiah lived and eye witnessed the first what we could call” Holocaust” of our history,
the destruction of the first Temple, and the elimination of Judea as a sovereign state. He was a double sufferer, for not only did he live through it, but, like Cassandra of the Greek myth, he knew it was coming for years in advance and no one would heed his warnings.
We have an amazing record, not only of his message, but of his feelings and gut level response as well.
            He is a lonely man.
            He knows that disaster will come, so he remains a bachelor-why marry and have children, only to lose them? Why fall in love only to suffer the pain of loss?
            He refrains from social contact. Why have friends, only to lose them to the
            Because of his message, he is a roundly hated man-hated by the king, the
priests . He is the only prophet to have the dubious distinction of being thrown in jail.
Surely his mother never boasted. "My son, the prophet" and he himself
wanted only one thing-to stop being a prophet. But it is out of his hands.
            God  informs him, "Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you." (1:5)
This is hardly a great privilege, and Jeremiah retorts, "Woe is me, my mother, that you ever bore me-- a man of conflict and strife with all the land ! (15:10).
            Or “ Cursed be the day I was born, let not he day be blessed when my mother bore me.
Why did I ever issue from the womb, to see misery and woe, to spend all my days in shame. "(20:14-18)
            Jeremiah, like Cassandra, is doomed to report the truth , and be hated for
it. Yet, he cannot keep quiet.
            "There is a fire in my heart, a burning fire, shut up in my bones, and I weary
myself to hold it in. But I can't!" ( 20:9)
            When there is so much tearing inside a person’s heart, it inevitably produces anger.
Jeremiah’s anger, understandably , is directed at those who persecute him and
who are responsible for the nations downfall.
            But there is, as well, a Promethean streak in Jeremiah, a Promethean streak
that has become a part of the Jewish reaction to disaster, a trait that has remained
a Jewish response, side by side with the response of "mipnei hataneu’, because of our sins.
            Jeremiah accuses. "0 Lard, you have enticed me, and I was  enticed. You overpowered me   "You would be right, O Lord, if I contended with you. But I will present charges against you, nevertheless. ! Why do the  ways of the wicked prosper, why are the treacherous ones at ease. "(12:1)
            Jeremiah is hurling accusations against God! God is deceitful. God is unjust. "Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable? Will you indeed be like a river bed whose waters are deceitful, whose waters run dry?"(15:18).
     Had this been a Greek tragedy, at this very point, the earth would have opened up, Jeremiah would have been swallowed up, and the chorus would chime in, "Thus shall be done to those who question the wisdom of the gods.” Prometheus gets his liver yanked out anew every day for caring for humanity.
            But this is not a Greek tragedy, this is a Biblical text. Fate is not inexorable, destiny is not an abstraction, and God is expected to be just.
            God’s response to Jeremiah is-"Keep a stiff upper lip, hang in there. "
"I shall save you from the hands of the wicked and rescue you from the clutches of the violent". (15:19)
            It forms a scenario for future Jewish disasters-God is a god of justice; therefore he is accountable for his actions. We don't accept disaster passively, as a consequence. After the destruction of the Second Temple, a Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahmani could envision a scene such as this in heaven.
             Abraham comes to God in anger. Why did you break your covenant with me!"
-Well, they did, after all, break the law, and here is the law in evidence.
            Abraham turned to the law, "Shame on you. How could you testify against my children. They were the only ones, of all the people on earth, who accepted you.'' The law withdrew its testimony.
            So God brought in the letters of the alphabet to testify, and Abraham embarrassed each and every one. Soon, God was left without any evidence against the children of Israel.
            Abraham now went out the offensive. "Didn’t I offer my Isaac as a sacrifice , only to see my children destroyed.”
            Isaac then chimed in, "Didn’t I offer my life, only for my children to be destroyed ? "
Then Jacob, David, Moses, and Jeremiah and Rachel all joined in. Even the sun and the angels began to complain.
            Finally. God himself joined in the lamentation, and swore to return his
people to Zion.(Peticha, Eicha Rabbati).
            Such a legend grows out of a peculiar belief, a peculiarly Jewish outlook,
a belief in a God of justice, but not an abstraction,  rather, a God whom human beings have the right to bring to task. This is implicit in Jeremiah 's complaint and explicit in Jewish lore.
            It repeats itself in Hasidic literature.
            It is told of the Baal Shem Tov, that in his synagogue, on Yom. Kippur,
there was one modest and humble  tailor, who argued  vocally, in the midst
of the service, just prior to the chanting of the confession of sins.
"I have, sinned, I have betrayed! Very well,  God, I admit. I may have overcharged
here, I may have skimped on cloth there, I may even have lied about how
the clothes fit well.
            "But look at you! Look what you did! You make orphans, widows, plagues,
earthquakes-all that is your doing. So, I'll tell you, we'll make a deal.
You forgive me my sins, and I'll forgive you yours. "
            The Baal Shem Tov turned to him, 'You fool! Why did you stop You had God by the throat. Why, a little more squeezing, and he' ld have been forced to send the Messiah. !"
            This Jewish perspective on God and God’s justice is incomprehensible in Islam, which considers God as the sole and total force of all events and whose ideal is “Islam”, complete submission to the will of God. Certainly it is incomprehensible in the Christian theology of a Paul or a Martin Luther or a Calvin, for whom human actions cannot possible bring about redemption as that would be forcing God to respond to human action.
            What has been the characteristic , not only of our great prophets and sages, but of the “poshte yid”, the simple Jew on the street, has been to hold on to faith, despite the doubt, despite the anger.
                The Jewish response, as we have seen, in this century in particular, has been to reaffirm our Jewishness, to reaffirm our Judaism. We have seen a nation created out of the devastated remnants of Europe , Africa, and Asia. We saw Jews who had been forced to hide their identity in the Soviet Union and other eastern European countries  persevere  and survive the Iron Curtain, to reemerge as Jews here and in Israel. What is true on a scale of the people as a whole can then be true on an individual scale; we absorb the slings and arrows of our daily illnesses or sufferings, but, rather than resign ourselves to them, we argue, we protest, we move ourselves. Nevertheless, we have “emunah”, a faith, to drive us beyond our woes, and build our lives in a better and nobler form.
            We can have a Jeremiah utter a Jeremiad, a Lamentation, an Eichah, and then we can have a Jeremiah remind us: Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him," declares the LORD.

            That is the hope that keeps us going.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pinhas : Zealotry Leads to Shalom with a Broken Leg

Pinhas:   Zealotry Leads to Shalom with a Broken Leg
            We are just a few days away from the 17th of Tammuz, the date that marks the beginning of the fall of Jerusalem, the period of” Beyn hameytzarim”—Between the Straits- that leads  up to the 9th of Av. It is part of a series of tragedies surrounding the fall of the first Temple and repeated in some variation with the fall of the Second Temple.
            The rabbis question the justice in the destruction of the Temple the first time, and find their answer, form the accusations of the prophets themselves, that the Jewish people had become degenerate.” Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed” ( Yoma 9b)
            But what of the Second Temple ? What had gone wrong.  “ Why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause- sinat hinam. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together .”
            What is this “ groundless hatred” that the sages were referring to?
            We know that this was the period of the “kanaim”, a movement that Josephus placed on equal footing in importance with the Pharisees, Saducees, and Essene, the movement that led the revolt against Rome, the movement that led, then to the very destruction of the Temple. According to Josephus, they were in principle, similar to the Pharisees, but added an absolute demand for Liberty, with God as their only authority.  They were also known as “ Biryonim” in Rabbinic sources, which means, despite their noble aspiration, they were ,very simply, boors and ruffians. Yet another term, for them or their affiliates, was “Sicarii”, which means “ dagger men”, as they were,  we are told, won’t to mingle in the crowds and assassinate anyone that went against their opinions.
            Now, a first reading of our Torah portion would show that to be a “ kanai”, a zealot for God is a very good thing.
            At the last portion, the children of Israel, after their blessing by Balaam, are now defeated by their weakness for exotic women who lead them in pagan revelry. One of the leaders, Zimri, takes up with a Midianite princess, Cozbi, right in front of Moses as a terrible plague breaks loose.
             Moses and the leaders are dumbfounded; their only response is to burst out in tears as they see the community as a whole backsliding.
            Something must be done. God calls for action; Moses calls for action. But no one does anything. Suddenly, Pinhas( Phineas), alone, rushes into action, and single-handedly slaughters the chief Israelite and his temptress.
            That was at the very end of  last week’s portion. This week, as we open Pinhas, we  have words of praise and blessing from God to Pinhas, for he “ turned My wrath away from the people of Israel, for he was very jealous ( bekano et kinati)  for my sake.”
             Pinhas is rewarded with a great prize: Behold, I give you my  Briti-shalom, G-d’s covenant of peace. It would seem to be an ideal prize.
            .           The Sages ask, though, why should he have been given this “Covenant of Peace” from God on high? Because he had earned the anger, not the approval of the leaders. He had taken the law into his own hands and they were ready to expel him for it.  That is the explanation for God’s intervention. But it is an unusual intervention and an unusual blessing for an act of killing!
            The sages note that the word Shalom is written in the Torah-text in an odd manner—the letter Vav in Shalom  is cut in the middle! The peace is, so to say, incomplete
            Thus, the Ktav Sofer ( Rabbi Shmuel Benyamin Schreiber) explained it: It is true that sometimes, we must take drastic action to save a situation; nevertheless,  we must very quickly step back from it to a secure and solid basis, which is peace, the foundation and secret of all blessings.
            Pinhas, by tradition, is said to have lived on in the spirit of Elijah, who is the subject of our Haftarah today as well.    
            Elijah lives in a day when the leadership of the people of Israel have abandoned their faith and persecuted the few loyal followers of the G-d of Israel. His king is  married to the pagan Jezebel , who has persecuted the Israelite faith and installed Phoenician Baal as the official god.. He is frustrated and depressed, and wants to die as he sees everything around him failing. He is called, however, to run to the Sinai,( Horeb) to the same mountain of Moses, where he dwells in a cave as did Moses after the Golden Calf as he awaited the visionof God.
            God calls to him: What are you here for?
            Elijah now declares his loyalty, Kano kaneti  , the same words used to describe Pinhas. The two are one and the same soul. The childen of Israel have abandoned the covenant, destroyed the sanctuaries, killed the prophets, and only he alone is left of all of them. Kano kaneti.I have been exceptionally zealous.
            The word for “ jealous” in Hebrew, is much more powerful than the current English usage. It is to be understood rather, in its original root, “Zealous”, filled with a burning drive and passion that brooks no half-way measures.
            Is this an endorsement of zealotry as in the sense of enthusiasm, or zealotry in the sense of extremism?
            In the same way, Elijah declares, I have been very zealous. It is true, in Elijah’s day, the situation called for drastic action. Yet, Elijah is given a very different vision. There is wind, powerful enough to smash boulders, but God is not in the wind. Then earthquake, yet no God, and then fire , yet again, G-d is not present. Then, there is a kol demamah dakah, a still small voice. In that silent voice, only there is G-d found.God is not in any physical manifestation, just as Moses, in his day, discovered that God was not visible in any physical manifestation. Now Elijah steps out of the cave, he knows God is present, and God repeats the very same question: What are you here for?
            Elijah is put in the position of Moses—he could now be as great as Moses!
            Then,   Elijah gives the exact same answer as before: Kano Kaneti- word for word. God now gives him his instructions, anoint this, appoint this, and then, “appoint Elsiha ben Shafat of Abel Mecholah to be prophet in your place.” !
            Elijah is told now to anoint Elisha to be prophet in his place!  Elijah is fired!
             Moses pleaded to God at the Golden Calf on behalf of his people, but Elijah could only kvetch!
            The commentators note: he has not learned  his lesson- and “ Are you here still with the spirit of revenge.”
            That is G-d’s response to zealotry. That was the lesson in the fire and earthquake: G-d was in the silent voice, because, again as Metzudat David states, Chaftez  Chesed Hu, He seeks lovingkindness!
            True, extraordinary times call for extraordinary acts—but beware of zealotry for the sake of zealotry!.  Pinchas must be tamed by the covenant of peace.
            As for Elijah?
               You now that he  comes around every year to the seder and to the Havdalah; he also comes around, it is said, to every brit. A legend states that it is Elijah’s punishment—because he doubted his people’s loyalty to the covenant, he is condemned to be present at every brit, every time a new Jewish baby joins the covenant. Hence, the Chair of Elijah at every brit.

               The later prophets turn Elijah’s character around and the Sages affirm this . He must come back  to make peace in the world, for it is said,  "Behold I send to you Elijah the prophet. . .and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers" (Malachi 3:23-24 and Mishnah Eduyoth 8:7)
            These past weeks, for the people of Israel, have been a very trying week. Three teenagers were murdered by terrorists at the active incitement of Hamas leadership. We also discovered that Israelis, too ,are not perfect and that a gang of would-be “heroes” murdered a Palestinian youngster. So far, however, we do know that there is no organization behind them and there is no movement of zealots that threatens to take over the Israeli people as has happened to the Palestinians, as has been happening in Syria and Iraq. It seems, moreover, that these criminals were themselves simply soccer gangsters, the lowest of the low. It would indicate that Israel does have a serious internal problem, one of its own lost youth, that has nothing to do with war and peace , or national interests but that is to be dealt with as an educational and social issue.. 
            We have faith, that overall, the people of Israel, standard bearers for the rest of the Jewish world are able to control themselves and restrain themselves from “ sinat Hinam”, from causeless hatred. We have faith that Israeli society reflects that ideal.
            When the three Israelis were kidnapped, Palestinian social media were full of tweets of celebration. When the one Palestinian youngster was murdered, Israelis as a whole hung their heads in sorrow.
            Hundreds of rockets have been fired indiscriminately from Gaza in these last weeks alone, fired openly by Hamas, without any warnings. The Israelis have retaliated, attacking the specific headquarter and bunkers of those launching the attack. The difference has been, that when the Israelis are ready to attack a house, if there are innocent civilians inside, the Israelis pick up the phone, call in advance, the people leave the house, and then the  Israelis blow up an empty house, full of munitions.
            It is Israeli trucks that are bringing food, gas and fuel to the Gaza strip  in the midst of fighting. It is Israeli hospitals that are still treating Gazans despite the fighting.
            How it will resolve itself, we don’t know. What we do hope and pray, is that the people of Israel can continue to defend themselves without being tempted to go the way of Pinchas. We pray that the zealots in Gaza, in Syria, in Iraq  learn to love their own children more than they hate us.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Portion Chukat True Mysticism

 True Mysticism
Portion of Chukat and the Case of the Red Heifer
     This is a bizarre Torah reading from our perspective. We start with a dead body- habeus corpus- like a murder mystery.”Adam ki yamut ba-ohel” –“This is the Torah: A man dies in his tent- everything and everyone who comes in contact with the body is impure. What do we do.? We take a pure red heifer that never pulled a plow, slaughter it, burn the ashes, mix the ashes, pour them on the one who is impure,  then the one who did the purifying becomes impure also becomes impure.
     It is an example of one of a few mitzvoth that are defined as “ chukim”—Statutes, and opposed to most of Jewish law, which is” mishpatim”, judgements. Most of Judaism is premised upon logical behavior—either social justice dictates it, or historic events, to the point that some medieval philosophers suggested that we would have come to these on our own, without need for the Torah.
     So what of these” Hukim”, very arbitrary rules,similar to Shatnez- the prohibition of not mixing wool and linen.
     Said one of our great sages, Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai—God didn’t care particularly, if the ritual was offered one way or another- He instituted these rules as a discipline for us. They are behaviors to train us to focus on who we are, what is expected of us, how do we serve God.
     There is another aspect, though. As much as we Jews like to see ourselves as rational, and our religion as a religion of reason, ours is also a religion of mystery, Commandments that have no logical basis are intended to make us focus on that part of existence that is mystery.
     Truth is, as logical as we are, we seek mystery. The trouble is, that unlike our ancestors who worked very hard to achieve that sense of mystery, we want it now.
     Back when in the days when everyone had too much hair,  I met the noted poet, Alan Ginsburg, who spoke of the salvation and paradise to be found in LSD. He was taken to task by Michael Wyschograd, a noted philosopher of Judaism
     What was our problem then, and still is our problem today,  Wyschograd pointed out: We want everything instant--instant coffee, instant TV dinners,  and of course, we want instant mysticism, instant nirvana, instant heaven.
     Salvation could never come from a drop of acid on a sugar cube.
     We are still looking for the gateway to paradise. We still want to grasp hold of the mysterious.
     I  once received a bizarre phone call  from a Mr Princeton.
     " I belong to the Church of Seth. We worship Satan. "
     Now, I am tolerant, truly,believe me. I believe in the words of Shammai, Hevey mekabel et kol adam be sever panim-- greet every human being  with respect--even if he is a great nudnik.
     "  I respect the Jewish people and their language as the most ancient on  earth.  I want to know where I can learn Kabbalah--No one wants to teach me."
     I explain about different schools in LA.
     "I want to learn Black Magic Kabbalah."
     " There is no black magic in Kabbalah--Judaism never believed in appeals to dark and evil powers--the only power that can  be is from God."
     " But what about doing things with Kabbalah like that, magic, powers".
     "You have to have a personal master teach you."
     "How can I find one?"
     "You don't-They are not allowed to teach anyone--unless they have known their student personally for many years."
     "How do the students find them?"
     " They don't. The great masters know who they want to teach."End of call.
     Well, to each his own.
     Recently,  the key to heaven, for many Jews, has been Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. What was labeled, in an earlier generation as "Nonsense" today has gained respectability.
     But , here too, there is real mysticism and ersatz, the phony, cheap imitation.
     Ersatz mysticism is any attempt at utilizing the ideas of kabbalah for personal gain, for any magical purpose, Ersatz mysticism is pretending it is designed as some magic guidepost to every day problems in life. There are lots of would be Kabbalists who claim to solve every problem in life. More power to them if they really can!
     The great Hasidic master, Rebbe Menahem Mendl of Kotz decried those who offered superficial answers to the problems of life. He warned against making a mitzvah, the doing of an ideal, into a matzevah, an idol. The observance, the ritual, the literal letter of the text can be confused for end in itself . This is, the ancient mystics warned was a cardinal sin, it was to uproot the very Garden of Eden itself.
     Then, there is real mysticism, which can be without Kabbalah as well. It seeks to bring the worshipper into a higher state of inner being, it seeks to lead the worshipper to a sense of the pervasiveness of God all around. When the words of the Kabbalah are taken as symbols and images to help us guide our conception of God, then  it is real, then it can indeed be a pathway to Heaven . This is, indeed, at the heart of the teachings of Kabbalah and Hasidut.
     A true Jewish mysticism never takes us out of this world--it always put us right in the midst of this world. True spirituality in Judaism never runs away from life. Instead,  it embraces life whole-heartedly, because Judaism embraces life whole-heartedly.
     Our sages always spoke of kedushah--sanctity. Every moment of life, every object, every action, could be one filled with kedushah, with sanctity.
     This is how the Rebbe of Medziboz taught it:
     "The Lord placed sparks of holiness in everything in nature, whether live  or dead matter. It is his will that man bring forth these holy sparks by his holy deeds and elevate them to their source.    By reciting grace over food, he raises sparks of holiness upwards. By using bitter and inedible substances as medicine for the ill, he unlocks the sacred in them."
     Jewish spirituality  embraces the act of eating and drinking, up  to the point of indulgence, because these actions bring redemption to the very elements themselves.
     Jewish spirituality embraces human love, physical love. For the seeker of Jewish spirituality, there is no shame in the human body itself, and the act of love in marriage is an act of divine redemption.
     Our Jewish idea of the Holy -kadosh-- is not  some weird mysterious halo in heaven. Rather holiness is to be found and made, here on earth, when we walk by the way, when we lie down and when we rise up. It is in the day to day, the nitty gritty, that we find our uplift. That has always been goal of our mitzvot, of our observances.
     An observance, as odd and strange to us, as the ritual of the red heifer, then, serves to remind us. There are things in life that we do not understand, cannot understand.    A physicist can tell us the events of the Big Bang; he cannot posit the question “Why”.
     That answer is intuited and experienced in our lives if we allow it to happen. That is the purpose of Jewish observance.
     In our Jewish lives, in our commitment and devotion to our heritage, may we find the sense of the ultimate, the infinite, the sacred, that  which is the presence of God. Amen.