Friday, November 28, 2008

Let it Shine

Today is Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the beginning of the month of Kislev, synonymous with Chanukkah, light, joy and celebration. In the month of Kislev, the Maccabees rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem which had been defiled by the Greeks. This month represents the triumph of the light of Torah, goodness and holiness over the forces of profanity, evil and hatred. During the 8 days of Chanukkah, we merit the return of the Or HaGanuz, the hidden primordial light that G-d created for the benefit of the righteous. The name of the month, Kislev, literally means 'kes'- hidden, 'lev'- 36. 36, equal to the lights of Chanukkah, stands for the 36 hours in which the divine light was on the Earth, until G-d hid it away for future. On the Rosh Chodesh of the month of lights, 5 lights of Torah have been brutally extinguished.

The Torah is a book deeply devoted to life. We are told that we should live by G-d's laws, and not die by them. We refer to G-d as the G-d of Life, the G-d who desires that the wicked not die but that they repent and live. As Jews, we cherish and appreciate life deeply. That is why the gratuitous violence going on in India pains us to our core. When the Greeks ruled Eretz Yisrael, they tried to distance Israel from the Torah and to hide the divine light. That is why we celebrate our renewed independence with candle lighting. We light the Chanukkah candles in our windows, in order to publicize the miracle. We want the light of Torah to overflow all around the world. Not surprisingly, there are Jews willing and committed to spreading such light to the most nether reaches of the globe.

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has thousands of shlichim who give spiritual comfort and strengthen Jewish communities worldwide. Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg were two of those shlichim who moved away from their families in NY and Israel and went to live in India, an extremely remote country with a very small Jewish community, in order to provide food and hospitality to Israeli tourists there. They had little financial incentive to move so far away and to put themselves in danger, yet they chose to do so in order to bring Jews closer to Torah. These two holy people, of blessed memory, were shining examples of the light of altruism, of human kindness and decency. The Chabad center in Mumbai, India, was open to anyone who needed a place to sleep, eat, spend Shabbat or study Torah.

"Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg made the ultimate sacrifice," said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. "As emissaries to Mumbai, Gabi and Rivky gave up the comforts of the West in order to spread Jewish pride in a corner of the world that was a frequent stop for throngs of Israeli tourists. Their Chabad House was popular among the local community, as well as with visiting businesspeople.

"For five years, they ran a synagogue and Torah classes, and helped people dealing with drug addiction and poverty," continued the statement. "Their selfless love will live on with all the people they touched. We will continue the work they started."

These two holy lights were brutally put out, along with hundreds of innocent people, by evil and cowardly murderers, committed to a religion of hatred and violence. In a senseless act commanded by a demonic deity, Islamic terrorists snuffed out the lives of hundreds of innocent people. A religion that desires only death and destruction, which creates nothing but only maims and murders, has spawned tens of thousands of deadly attacks such as this. Whether in New York, Jerusalem, London, Bali or Mumbai, these terrorists brazenly kill innocent civilians. Such an ideology is the complete antithesis of that of the light of Chanukkah, one which cannot coexist with the peace of the Torah. This cruel Islamic belief of war and hatred must be combatted and eradicated.

The sign of Kislev is that of Sagittarius, the archer, keshet. In Judaism, the keshet represents the forces of prayer. As Yaakov said to Yosef on his death bed, "which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow" (Genesis 48:22), meaning with prayer. The power and strength of the Jewish people is our prayer, our keshet. The keshet of prayer is opposite to Yishmael, who is called a roveh kashet, an archer. Only when the Jewish people unite and use our bow and arrow, our collective prayer, can we defeat the wicked archer of Yishmael. Yishmael, as the Torah tells us, is a wild ass of a man, his hand in everything, and everyone's hand against his. He is cruel and violent, a terrorist who murders at will. Without remorse, Yishmael wipes out the lights of the Torah and kills those who uphold and cherish life. He has no guilt, no conscious, but lives only to destroy. Yishmael flies planes into skyscrapers, dances as teenagers are shot to death while learning Torah, beheads captives and dances on the bodies of his victims. He is truly a wild ass of a man, out of control and bent on world domination. Now more than ever must Am Yisrael destroy the archer by using our power of archery, to cry out to HaShem to save us.

Just as the Greeks fell away against the holiness of the Torah, so too will Yishmael not be able to succeed in snuffing out the light so callously. The Chanukkiah is displaying in public so that the light should spread and illuminate the darkness. In these trying times, may we speedily to see a new light shine upon Zion, and the darkness that plagues the world be lifted. May Hashem comfort the families of all those killed by the evil archer in Mumbai among the mourner of Zion and Jerusalem and may we this month be inaugurated upon us for goodness and for blessing, for salvation and comfort.

Cross-posted to Goat's Barnyard and Jewish Vengeance

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Force of History

Enlightenment-age Jews felt that with the gradual erosion of the Church's power, traditional anti-semitism would soon disappear. In anticipation of becoming full citizens of their respective countries, they declared themselves "Frenchmen (or Germans, or Americans) of the Mosaic Faith". They were Jews in their homes and men in the street. A new age of equal rights was dawning upon them.

This hopeful dream was shattered in the aftermath of the Dreyfus affair, when anti-semitism in France attacked full force, ater 100 years of Jewish emancipation. Cries of "death to the Jews" woke the Jews up from their slumber. Many realized that anti-semitism made it virtually impossible for Jews to live peacefully in foreign countries. Assimilation could never be complete as the anti-semite would always remind the Jew of his origins. These Jews decided that the only solution to anti-semitism was for Jews to forsake the lands of the exiles and build a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. However, the ultimate idea of assimilation was not lost: instead of being good socialists in their home countries, they would build a good socialist state in Israel. The socialist Zionists hoped that in Israel they would create a new Jew, cut off from the ties of the past, a build a secular, socialist society. This new Jewish state would be accepted among the brotherhood of nations as an equal member.

In a great irony of history, after having returned from 2000 years in exile, cut off from our Land, the leaders of Israel today are busy carving the Land up. They are planning to expel 100 000 Jews from their homes, G-d forbid, and to give Judea and Samaria, the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people, up to its enemies. They have fought against traditional Jewish education and raised an ignorant and rootless generation, unattached to Jewish customs, history and practice. The Israeli Left is displaying suicidal tendencies in an irrational drive to surrender and retreat. They put their own people at risk in a desire to withdraw from land and transfer it to the Arabs. What is this insane desire? Israel, an extremely tiny state, could not survive a hostile terror state carved out of its belly. Another Arab state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza would put every singly major Israeli city within rocket range. Ben-Gurion international airport would be under constant threat and if one plane were to be shot down, aliyah, trade and tourism would be effectively over. It seems that despite any logical reasons to the contrary, the Left wants nothing more than to give up as much territory as possible. The spineless and corrupt leaders constantly bow before international pressure in order to appease the rabid anti-semites in the UN and the EU. What is the reason for these self-destructive impulses?

Just like the assimilated Jews of Europe when confronted with brutal hatred, the leftist establishment in Israel is reminded of its Jewish identity by the two-fold force of Jewish history and international rejection. The Israeli Left, inheritors of the secular, socialist vision of the new Jew, want nothing more than to escape Jewish history. All of their policies represent an attempt to flee from their own identity. After the 6 Days' War, Israel found itself in possession of an extremely large amount of territory, central to Jewish history. Instead of liberating Jewish holy places and settling the newly conquered land, the government attempted to return control to the Arabs. What nation would return land conquered in a defensive war, especially land so precious to the Jewish nation? The answer is simple: Judea and Samaria, with its holy sites and biblical locations, reminds the Israeli Left of their Judaism. All of the stories of the Tanach took place in Judea and Samaria. Avraham and David did not walk down Shenkin street, neither did they cruise down the trendy Tel-Aviv hotspots. They did, however, live and die in Judea and Samaria, in places that still exist today. The Israeli government has decided to evacuate settlers from Hebron. Hebron is the foundation of Judaism, where our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried. If they are able to free themselves of Hebron, so they believe, they will not be reminded of Judaism.

One could hardly think that the Jewish nation survived oppression and persecution, pogroms and Holocaust, and was returned to its own land simply to bar-hop or go to the beach. The Jewish nation has a destiny to keep the Torah and to become a light unto the nations. Judea and Samaria remind the Left of this. When they see Jews sacrificing themselves to live in these lands, Jews pouring out their souls at the Kotel, Mearat HaMachpela, Kever Rachel and all of the tombs of our forebearers, they cannot forget their mission. They know deep down in their souls how there is more to the Land of Israel than sunshine and hummus. And they cannot abide this. However disturbs their good life must be expelled.

In the past, the Jews had no choice in their identity as anti-semites were quick to point them out. When overt anti-semitism began to fade, assimilation and intermarriage became rampant. Similarly, the hatred of the United Nations and the international body towards the State of Israel lets the Left know that the are still Jews. Israel is the Jew among the Nations. That is behind the intense desire to for peace. Peace, peace, peace. Peace at any cost, any price, any sacrifice. For, according to the Left, if peace is achieved, Israel will be accepted by the world and nobody will dare remind them that they are Jews. If 100 000 Jews need to be thrown out of their homes, so be it. The end result will be acceptance by the world. The condemnations and denounciations of the United Nations has taken the place of the discriminatory restrictions against Jews. Even if they choose not to practice Judaism, the hostility towards them is enough to let the Left know that they have not fully assimilated.

The Jewish nation has a destiny. It was chosen by HaShem, the G-d of the Universe, to bring His Torah to the entire world and to make this world a dwelling place for Him. Such a perfected world necessitates a chosen people living in a special land according to a holy law. Those who oppose such a plan try to divorce Israel from its biblical heritage and mandate by force. However, Israel's identity catches up with it always. When the Jews try to flee from who they really are, the angry nations of the world are quick to remind them. We must remember our divine calling as the Navi says (Isaiah 42:6) "I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and have taken hold of thy hand, and kept thee, and set thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house." Let us embrace our destiny rather than having it forced upon us unwillingly.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Reading the Instruction Manual

"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter!"

Like any good product creator, G-d provided His world with a blueprint for successful and happy lives. G-d gave us His holy Torah so that we should live lives with more meaning and more blessing. The Torah is the path to reaching G-d and safely maneuvering through life's obstacles. As the Sages teach, "delve into it and continue to delve into it, because everything is in it". The secret to overcoming every problem and mishap is contained in G-d's Torah. In even the most seemingly trivial verse, there is eternal and divine wisdom for all ages. Whether we are dealing with ancient halachic problems or modern controversies, the answer lies in the Torah.

If a person buys a new gadget but neglects to read the instruction manual, he will quickly find that he has trouble working the device. A person may only watch basic cable because he never took the time to learn how to install satellite TV. When we ignore what the instructions tell us, we barely use a minimum of our potential, simply because we never knew that more existed. G-d says of His Torah: “The Torah I give you, is a good acquisition; don’t abandon it.” (Proverbs 4:2) What is a good acquisition? The Torah is the path to reaching G-dliness, to rising above the emptiness and materialism of the world and elevating the mundane into the holy. Torah enable us to find holy everywhere, to invite G-d into our lives and to become worthy of His Presence. When we follow the Torah, we can see clearly with divine intuition. It enables us l'havdil, to differentiate, between right and wrong. It is the key to a moral society, which is why all people and nations have adopted at least aspect of the Torah. Only a society based on the Torah-notion of ethical monotheism, of a G-d who demands morality and justice, can flourish and prosper.

Unfortunately, when we abandon the Torah, we abandon our moral compass. In the portion of Haazinu, Moses calls the nation of Israel a "foolish people and unwise" (Deut. 32:6). In his rebuke of Israel, he warns them that if the disobey G-d, they will be stricken with "the blindness of Egypt". What was Egypt's great blindness? In their stubbornness, their resistance to listen to G-d and their persistence in their wicked ways, they brought down their great civilization. When we have no Torah to guide us, we are empty and cannot effectively label right and wrong.

Today, we are in precisely this situation. Due to our rejection of the Torah and our insistence of following the foibles of our own heart, we have subjected ourselves to a catastrophe of our own doing. The greatest tragedies of the modern era, Nazism, Communism and the rise of Islamic fascism, all go to demonstrate what happens when man forgets the moral G-d of Abraham. The former show the dangers of a man-made morality which will eventually lead to moral relativism and wholesale slaughter, while the latter represents the evil of religion without "thou shalt not murder". It is in this sick and twisted world that murderers who shoot teenagers studying in yeshiva or rain rockets down on schools are called 'militants' while denouncing as 'disproportionate' those who seek to defend themselves.

When man does not use the Torah to guide him, he is prone to moral relativism. It is this relativism that creates a culture of permissiveness, where 'intolerance' and 'being judgemental' are the greatest slurs. It is a society in which two men are allowed to marry, where the sanctity of life is constantly under attack, whether for infants, the elderly or the disabled. It is a society that will allow anything at any time and that refuses to call people to task for their actions. In this dangerous moral void, people cringe at the word 'evil', or laugh derisively at at, considering it archaic and unenlightened. People prefer to hide their heads in the sand rather than confront terror and hate. Honour killings and female genital mutilation are tolerated in the name of "cultural diversity". Tyrants and despots are lauded as freedom fighters and human rights activists. A leader who calls for the destruction of another state and its people is cheered before the assembled nations of the world. Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that cannot draw any lines, who allow evil to fester and spread.

G-d gave mankind free will and in doing this, He abdicated Himself from responsibility. That is one of the most frightening and empowering concepts in the entire Torah. "See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil. I have commanded you today to love Hashem your G-d, to walk in his paths, and to keep His Commandments, Decrees, and Laws. You will then live and flourish, and Hashem your G-d will bless you... But if your heart turns astray, and you do not listen... I am warning you today that you will be exterminated... I call heaven and earth as witnesses. Before you I have placed life and death, the blessing and the curse. You must choose life, so that you and your descendants will live." (Deut. 30:15-19) G-d commands us to choose life, to embrace His Torah and to perfect His world. The choice is stark: either Torah and moral clarity, or be condemned to emptiness and vanity, blindness and triviality. G-d laments: "If they would have abandoned Me but kept My Torah, its inherent light would have brought them back to Me." The power is in our hands. We need to read the instruction manual.

Cross-posted to Goat's Barnyard and Jewish Vengeance

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Kristallnacht: See No Evil

Tonight is the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the most severe pogrom of the century and the beginning of the end of European Jewry. On November 9-10, 1938, SS officers and German mobs destroyed Jewish property throughout the Reich. Over 90 Jews were murdered, 26,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps, close to 200 synagogues were burnt or razed, and almost 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed.

While Hitler claimed that the pogrom was a spontaneous outburst following the assassination of German official Vom Rath by Jewish boy, Hershel Greenspan, the attacks were methodically planned. Kristallnacht marked the transition from discriminatory and racist measures to physical violence and terror against Germany's Jews. Despite the violence against Germany's Jews, no country was willing to open their doors to them. As Germany's Jews sought refuge from Nazi hatred and persecution, the world was closing the ways of escape. Paltry protests notwithstanding, the world was largely silent in the face of the orgy of hate that was Kristallnacht. By not heeding the warning signs, 6 million Jews were murdered as the world stood idly by. As half of the world collaborated with the Nazis to exterminate the Jews, the other half closed their eyes and ears to the evil.

If the Holocaust is commemorate once a year on Yom HaShoah, why do we mark Kristallnacht? On Yom HaShoah we mourn the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis. We contemplate the barbarity of the Final Solution, the death camps, the killing fields, the gas chambers and ovens. Kristallnacht, however, marks the beginning of the end. Yom HaShoah marks the end product while Kristallnacht is all about the process. Holocausts do not begin with deportations or gas chambers. They begin with words, with demonizations and delegitimization, accompanied by silence.

It is incredible to think that 70 years after Kristallnacht, the world has scarcely learned this lesson. A month and a half ago, the President of Iran spoke before the United Nations, an international organization founded in the wake of the genocide of Europe's Jews, and repeated all of the classic anti-Jewish canards and myths to the applause of world leaders. He told the assembled representers of the world's nations that the current financial crisis is the fault of the Jews. This man put his anti-semitism in vivid display as he repeated the lies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He denies the Holocaust while planning a second one. His hatred for the Jewish people goes ignored by the world leaders, who chose to honour him with a dinner at the Hyatt Hotel. He has called the State of Israel "a stinking corpse", "a rotten tree" and many other vile things. He pledges to finish Hitler's mission and wipe the Jewish state "off the face of the Earth". He funds terror groups around the world and incites his people to genocide. And the world is silent.

This satanic silence during the Holocaust has no better symbol than that of Pope Pius XII. Currently on the road to sainthood, the wartime Pope said and did little to protect Europe's Jews. A man whose word commanded millions of Catholics worldwide and carried moral authority, was not able to clearly condemn the Nazi atrocities against the Jews. When the Jews of Rome were rounded up from right under his window, literally, and send train-bound to Auschwitz, the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church held his tongue and allowed the damned to suffocate in the gas chambers. Today, the Vatican seeks to exonerate him from his complicity in mass murder and raise him to the level of a saint. Instead of dealing with its tragic and cowardly history, the Church prefers to whitewash the events of the past.

As the witnesses to this most dark era in human history die out, it is our duty to remember those who died at the altar of hate because the world looked away. Today, the fires of anti-semitism in the Islamic world, Europe and North America burn brightly. The most insidious hate hides behind humanitarian pretenses and seeks to delegitimize the Jewish State. The UN is getting ready for the Second Durban hate-fest. A neo-Nazi leader in Austria was given a state funeral and full miliatry honours, his death having been blamed on the Mossad. On this eve of Kristallnacht, the first nail in the coffin of European Jewry, it is the duty of every moral and decent Jew and non-Jew to protest anti-semitism and hatred in all of its various forms. Otherwise, we do a disservice to the memory of the 6 million, and invite disaster upon ourselves once again.


God full of mercy who dwells on high
Protector of widows and father for the fatherless
Please be not silent and show no restraint
on behalf of the Jewish blood that has been spilled like water.
But grant perfect rest on the wings of Your Divine Presence
In the lofty abode of the holy, pure and valiant
who shine as the brightness of the heavens
to the souls of our brothers and sisters
Six million Jewish
men, women and children
Who were put to death, slaughtered, burned,
starved, buried alive
Or who suffered other forms of unnatural death
at the hands of the accursed Nazis
and their associates - may their name be wiped out!
In Auschwitz, Treblinka, Maydanek, Malthausen
and in other death camps in Europe
And who gave up their lives in order to Sanctify God's name.
Because we are at one with their memory
and we pray for the elevation of their souls
Their resting place shall be in the Garden of Eden.
Therefore, shall the Master of mercy care for them
under the protection of His wings for all time
And bind their souls in the bond of everlasting life.
O Earth! Do not conceal their blood
and let there not be a resting place for their cry
In their merit shall the remnant of Israel
return to its rightful place
And as for the holy ones, their righteousness
shall be in front of the Lord as an everlasting memory
They will come in peace and will rest in peace
They will meet their rightful destiny at the end of days
and let us say Amen.

Cross-posted to Goat's Barnyard, Jewish Vengeance and Stop Raping Israel