Thursday, July 31, 2014

G-d Drives a Chevy Malibu - Reflections on Parashat Devarim 5774

I knew a man, a holocaust survivor, who became a very successful jeweler in America after the war. He sent his kids to the finest schools, his daughters to the most sought-after ballerinas for personal instruction. He spared his children nothing. 

But despite his fabulous wealth, he always drove a Chevy Malibu, lived in an unassuming house and never wore heavy jewelry himself. To look at him in his K-Mart clothes and unfashionable eyeglasses, you'd never guess he was a millionaire. 

I went to Hebrew school with his kids and would occasionally come over to hang out. They were constantly pleading with him to buy designer clothes, to live in a grand estate, to buy a Mercedes. 'We're embarrassed to be seen in this junker of a car,' they would whine. But he was deaf to their pleas.

His was not petty miserliness. He knew something from the War, something about life, that his pampered kids couldn't understand. "You are a Jew. Don't flaunt your money," he would try to tell them, "no one has to know what you have except you and Gcd." But weaned as they were in a culture of conspicuous consumption, they were as deaf to his pleadings as he was to theirs.

In this week's Torah portion, Devarim, Moses begins orating his Last Will and Testament to the Jewish People, and one gets the sense, like my childhood friends, that Old Man Moses and the Jewish people are taking past each other.

Moses begins with a sweeping historical overview, pointing out all the places where the Jewish people messed up along the way. Then Moses says (kind of out of nowhere), "And the Lcrd spoke to me, saying: It is too much for you hanging around this mountain (Mount Seir, the ancestral home of Esau/Edom); turn yourselves to the north (tzfonah)." (Deut. 2:2-3)

The Kli Yakar on this verse says, don't read it as tzfonah, northward; rather, read it as tzfunah, hidden, secreted away. Huh?

He explains: the Edomites and the Ishmaelites, Europe and Arabia, will always feel cheated by you. The Arabs/Islam, because Father Isaac, not Ishmael, received the spiritual heritage of Abraham; Europe/Christendom, because Father Jacob, not Esau, received the blessing and birthright from Isaac. They nurse their grudge, and when you flaunt your success, you only inflame their hatred and jealousy. Rav lachem, it is too much for you; you have too much. Tiptoe around Edom, Gcd is cautioning, with your gifts secreted away. Don't advertise your wealth and success among the nations. It is enough that I know what you have, your hidden treasures, your concealed spiritual beauty. 

The greatest gifts of the Jewish People are not in what you see, but in that which is hidden from the eye. It is in our modesty, in the broadest sense of that term. The stuff that never makes the news; the stuff we don't brag about. 

The true might of the IDF is not in its equipment capabilities and battalion strengths, it's the unrelenting acts of kindness rendered by the IDF to non-combatants. The real story in the Gaza Campaign is not what you're being fed by the media, but in the everyday acts of goodness and common human decency that occur every day and go unreported, because they don't fit the media narrative of the Hamas David to the Israeli Goliath.

Like the field hospital the IDF set up at the Gaza fence to treat injured Arabs:

Like the continued flow of food, water and medical supplies into Gaza from Israel despite a state of war:

Or like the soldiers on a bus headed to the frontlines, who recorded "The Wheels on the Bus" (including the hand gestures) so the little ones back home wouldn't be afraid:

We live in an "olam hafuch", an upside down world, where truth is banished and the lie is king; where celebrities are knaves and nobles are ignored; where the evil prosper and the righteous suffer. Why are we surprised that Israel is demonized and Jews are portrayed as heartless monsters?

And even now, in the run up to Tisha B'Av, which on its surface commemorates every pogrom, massacre and exile ever visited on the Jewish People, there is cause for hope. A hidden treasure lies buried in Tisha B'Av, as the Talmud states that the Messiah is born on Tisha B'Av. In other words, the very seeds of our redemption are planted in our darkest moments of despair.

We probably won't ever convince CNN or the BBC or al-Jazeera of the righteousness of our cause. But we don't have to. We must but continue to follow our inner light and continue to do that which is right; we must connect with one another and search out the sparks of goodness and kindness in the midst of the rockets and terror. If we can do that, "as a father carries his child over difficult terrain," the A-lmighty's Protective Hand will most assuredly continue to hover over us. (Devarim 1:31)

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Numbers Game - Reflections on Parashat Masei 5774

This week's parasha, Masei, is the last portion in the Book of Numbers. 

Numbers, numbers, numbers. I've been ruminating a lot about the numbers in the last few days, particularly in light of the three weeks, the nine days, and especially the ongoing Israeli campaign in Hamastan, now in its 17th day.

Last week, Israeli Economics Minister Naftali Bennett was ambushed by a shockingly hostile BBC news presenter who repeatedly accused Israel of a "disproportionate" response in Gaza. Since several hundreds of Arabs are dead, and only a score of Jews have died, ipso facto Israel's response is disproportionate. (I don't mean to single out the Bevin Broadcasting Corporation; the same sanctimonious mantra can be found on NPR, CNN. MSNBC, ABC; take your pick.)

Similarly, in the first days of the ground assault, the US Secretary of State was caught on a hot mike stating it was, "...a hell of pinpoint operation," saying that Israel had taken the military operation too far. After all, despite the launching of thousands of rockets against every part of Israel (which continue unabated at the time of this writing) there have miraculously yet to be any mass Jewish casualties.

The streets of London and Paris are ablaze from Arab and leftist protests, and the UN Commissioner on Human Rights wants Israel investigated for "war crimes." (I'd almost be disappointed if she didn't.)

So the media elites and most world governments are obsessed with the numbers, with proportionality. To them I must ask: if Israel has acted disproportionately, what manner of response would you deem to be proportionate? Inquiring minds want to know.

I will not enter into a discussion of whether Gaza Arabs are innocent civilians - people who freely elected Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood to rule over them because the PLO/Fatah wasn't extreme enough; people who have repeatedly endorsed their Jihadist beliefs; people who in 2005 burned down tens of millions of dollars in assets abandoned by the Jews and then gleefully peed on the ashes; people who willingly live in poverty and shanty towns (aka refugee camps), diverting the allocation of international aid away from housing, food, infrastructure and healthcare, towards missiles and armies for the ultimate Jihad against the Jews (Oh yeah, and the massive graft. I'm not sure which is the bigger kleptocracy - the PLO regime in Ramallah or Hamastan in Gaza. Tough call.) The Gaza Arabs are as innocent as the Germans who elected and sustained Hitler; show me a Jeffersonian Gaza protester and I'll show you a fat-free Big Mac.

But let's, for argument's sake, equate a Gaza Arab citizen with an Israeli citizen. We have been told that 700 dead Gazans to 35 dead Jews, a 20:1 proportion, is disproportionate. What proportion would make the world happy?

How about one dead Jew to one dead Arab? That sounds fair. But only last month, Hamas executed a cool, premeditated kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens in the Gush Etzion.  The world reacted to this monstrous outrage laconically, with barely a mention in the international media. Tragically, after their bodies were found, an innocent Arab boy was cruelly tortured and murdered by a mentally deranged Jew in revenge. The world erupted in vituperous condemnation of Israel and the Jews on news of the Arab boy's murder. We learn from this that 20:1 is disproportionate, and 1:3 is still disproportionate, so clearly we need more dead Jews. Call central casting.

How about one Arab to 100 Jews? to 1000 Jews? How many Jews have to die before the BBC is comfortable with the proportionality of the response?

Here's the dirty little secret in the international Numbers Racket: it's a shell game, Jewish blood has no value at all. To the BBC and their ilk, seven million Israeli lives aren't worth the life of one Arab, or one Brit, or one Iranian. Europe can get rich trading with Iran, and all it has to do is be prepared to look the other way when Iran launches nuclear weapons at Israel. Sweet. They can build a new holocaust memorial from the profits.

In fact to the West, Jewish lives aren't even worth mere money: in 1944, the Nazis would have traded the lives of 100,000 Romanian Jews for 5 million dollars - $50 a life. There were no takers among the Allied Powers. Ah, for the good old days. So you see, any act that a Jew takes in self-defense is "disproportionate." 

The Ghetto Jew isn't supposed to fight back. The Ghetto Jew is supposed to thank his oppressor for beating him, humiliating him, robbing him, raping his wife and daughters - thank him, because the oppressor leaves him just enough breath in his lungs to survive. And that ghetto mentality is alive and well in the Jewish world - just open the Forward or Ha'Aretz, or google J-Street, the New Israel Fund or your local Federation leadership.

Israel is supposed to be grateful that the Nations suffer her presence in their midst. The Nations created her in 1947, and so the Nations can, by right, determine her borders, expropriate her land to others, rewrite her narrative, dictate her defenses, her very viability; or, as they are now attempting, dismantle her altogether. The Jews might be allowed to survive, but they must on no account be allowed to prevail. That would be disproportionate.

Fortunately for us, the A-lmighty is the "Ba'al Milchamot," the determiner of war or peace, of victory or defeat. And Gcd uses a very different calculator to figure the odds in the Big Numbers Game. Keep the Covenant of Sinai and "...five of you will pursue a hundred, a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand; and your enemies will fall before you by the sword." (Leviticus 26:8)

No one wants war, but never again will we be complicit in our own murder to satisfy the world's twisted aesthetic, their sick sense of proportion. We would far prefer to live in peace, but if we must live in war, live we will.

Am Yisrael Chai - that the People of Israel Live - is not hollow sloganeering; it is the essential Divine promise.

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Donkey Chatter - Reflections on Parashat Balak 5774

Every week, my Elianna asks me, "Abba (Dad), what does the parashah say about the news?" This is a very old and profound idea: hidden references to the week's current events can be found in the weekly Torah portion. Study the parashah diligently enough, we are taught, and Gcd can be heard whispering to us between the headlines. How does this week's parashah speak to current events?

This week, we read of the miraculous talking donkey who brays to the wicked Bilaam, "Why have you hit me these three times?" The Hebrew construction for the phrase 'these three times' is very curious: "Zeh Shalosh Regalim," literally, 'this three legs." Why the odd verbiage?

The Kli Yakar says that this is a not-so-veiled reference to the three pilgrimage festivals. Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot are collectively known as the three "Regalim," i.e. the holidays that we ascend by foot to the Temple Mount.

By using this odd language, the donkey is saying, in effect: "You endeavor to curse and thus destroy the people who celebrate the pilgrimage festivals; the very pilgrimage festivals through which all the nations of the world are blessed. Don't you see that In destroying them, you are destroying yourself? So...which one of us is the ass?"

The lowly donkey sees that to which the Great Seer of Visions is blind; the beast of burden speaks plain truth to the ersatz Prophet of Gcd. 

In another reference to our parashah, the Talmud in BT Taanit 20A says: better to suffer the curse of Ahiyah the Shilonite (who cursed the Jews by comparing them to reeds [I Kings 14:15]) than the blessing of Bilaam (who blessed us by comparing us to cedar trees.[Numbers 24:6]) Why? Because cedars, though tall, strong and proud, are susceptible to being uprooted by heavy winds and rain, whereas the reed bends to incredible force but never breaks.

The Torah calls out to the Arabs: don't you see that in attempting to destroy the Jewish people you will only succeed in destroying yourself? The donkey calls out to Iran: don't you see that a nuclear first strike against Israel will trigger a massive second strike which will most assuredly result in your annihilation? The A-lmighty will never permit you to succeed, because your success would herald oblivion for the entire world. 

We Jews are like the reed of the sea from which we emerged as a nation; we will bend to incredible pressure but never break. The dirt is still fresh over the graves of Ayal, Gilad and Naftali, the three teens murdered near Hevron. The entire Jewish people is numb from grief. But we nonetheless endure. Our enemies can kidnap and murder helpless children; a Cossack can rape, pillage and murder in a defenseless shtetl; an SS officer can shoot little children with one hand while playing Schubert with the other. But they will never prevail; they only bring upon their own heads the destruction they sought to inflict on their victims.

The most curious thing about this parashah? It never had to happen. The opening verse states that Balak ben Zippor, King of the Moabites, saw everything that Israel did against the Amorites." If true, he would also have known that we had no beef with the Amorites; we asked only to transit their country on our journey to the Land of Israel. They responded by attacking us. We defended ourselves in what turned out to be a miraculous conquest of their land, Six Day War style.

Balak could have learned from the Amorites' mistake and allowed the Jews to transit his land in peace. Instead, he chose to follow the Amorites' path in war.

There are Arabs who are willing to live in peace with Jews. I know because I've met them, worked with them. But they must be extremely circumspect, lest they are silenced, intimidated and murdered by the PLO, Hamas and Jihad Islami. 

Let us pray that our neighbors find within themselves the courage to ignore their blind leaders and pay heed to their talking donkeys.

Shabbat Shalom.