It’s hard for me to get into Chanukah. As far as I can see, the whole thing was a major disaster. Here we have a meeting of two rich cultures, with so much to share, so much to contribute to the world together, so much synergy that could happen, and instead, BOOM! — the extremists of both sides hit the battlefield.
I don’t get it. The Greeks were universalists. They were open to new ideas from wherever they came. They spread knowledge and understanding throughout the Mediterranean. Here was an opportunity to take Jewish values to the world, to go public. Why couldn’t those Maccabee hotheads work out some sort of compromise?
The Short Answer:
Actually, this was the greatest thing that could have happened to the Greek mind: To discover that one thing it could not tolerate — something like the massage therapist who helps you to find that one trigger point where you can’t be touched.
For the Jew, as well, this was a defining experience. The red lines became clear, and with those guidelines, the essential Torah was made able to survive to this day.
The Long Answer:
You’re right about one thing: The whole Chanukah story was completely out of character for Ancient Greece. I don’t believe there was any other culture they ever oppressed or forbade. Every new culture had its set of gods and rituals, and that was just great. “Hey, you got gods? We got gods, too! Here, let’s trade god cards! How ’bout mix and match? You got rituals? You got belief-systems? We’re into all that stuff! We’ll even help you make big, pretty statues!” Greeks were great syncretists — meaning, they could jerry together every culture of the known world and make one big tzimmes out of all of it.
So what on earth did they have against the Jews?
Sure, there were political power-plays going on that were the ostensible reasons for the conflict. But it’s obvious there was something deeper at play. Some subliminal annoyance that brought out the worst in the Greek and pushed the Maccabees to revolt. Apparently, there was something about the Jewish mind that didn’t mix and match.
Now look at it from the Jewish side: Jews have also borrowed from every culture they’ve come in contact with. Whatever your grandmother tells you, Abraham did not smear his gefilte fish with chrane. One culture we borrowed more from than perhaps any other was that of Ancient Greece. The Talmud tells us that the only language the Torah could be translated into elegantly is Greek. They said it was a beautiful language. They say that of all peoples, the Greeks had ideas closest to ours. They praised many of the Greek philosophers. Maimonides wrote that Aristotle was half a prophet. The Seder Hadorot, a kind of classic Jewish history book, claims that Aristotle was really Jewish!
So what is going on here? Why such a violent clash? Why were the Jews unable to work out some sort of compromise with a Hellenist ruler?
We need to know because in a very real way, Chanukah lives on. Our society today is a bizarre grafting of these two cultures, the Hellenist and the Jewish. If this conflict existed back then, the question is, has there been some resolution over time? Or are we still fighting Greek elephants? Simply put: Is our society schizoid?
Head-To-Head — and Beyond
So here’s how the conversation goes. Which conversation? The conversation that’s been going on ever since the Greek mind and the Jewish mind met one another, almost two and a half millennia ago. Where does it happen? Mostly, somewhere deep inside Jewish minds:
Greek: So tell us about your gods, Mr. Maccabee.
Jew: Um, that’s singular.
Greek: Okay, tell me about your gods.
Jew: No, not you. G-d. G-d is singular. Only one god.
Greek: Don’t worry, we’ve got so many I’m sure we can spare a few.
Jew: That’s okay, one is enough.
Greek: So, this one G-d, what does He look like? We’d love to make some nice statues for you. You poor, uncultured people, you have no statues!
Jew: That’s because He doesn’t have looks.
Greek: No looks? Ugly? That’s cool! A god of ugliness! Don’t worry, we can make ugly statues, too.
Jew: No, no. He has no looks at all. You can’t see Him.
Greek: An invisible G-d? Well, maybe we can do that in glass. But you have to give us some description.
Jew: Nope. Sorry. No description.
Greek: You mean nobody ever saw Him? How can you worship something if you don’t know what it looks like? I mean, how do you know He exists in the first place?
Jew: It’s not that we don’t know what He looks like. He doesn’t have any looks. He has no image.
Greek: Well, I’m sorry then. If He has no image, we can’t make a statue.
Jew: That’s fine with us.
Greek: But we’d like to write books about Him. So just give us some definition and we’ll work around it.
Jew: Oh, our G-d can’t be defined.
Greek: Come, now. Everything has to have a definition. Or else it’s not a thing.
J: But G-d is not a thing. He creates things. But He isn’t a thing.
G: Oh! So He is the Cosmic Mind Who conceives and shapes all forms from the primal essence-matter.
J: No, He doesn’t just form them, He creates them. Out of nothing.
G: Now you’re getting silly. You can’t make something out of nothing. You need stuff to make it out of.
J: But there wasn’t any stuff when things began.
G: There was always stuff. How else could the Cosmic Mind make anything?
J: Out of nothing!
G: Look, you Jews don’t really think straight. But that’s okay. We’ve conquered all sorts of primitive cultures. You’ll learn, too. So, you worship the Cosmic Mind — you’ll get along just great with Aristotle and…
J: No, He’s not just the Cosmic Mind.
G: Well, nothing’s higher than the Cosmic Mind.
J: Because that’s not who He is. I mean, even if He didn’t make a world, He would still be G-d. So you can’t say, “that’s who He is — the One that makes a world.” There doesn’t have to be a world for Him to exist.
G: Of course there has to be a world. Otherwise, why is there a world if there doesn’t have to be one? The world makes sense. The Cosmic Mind makes sense. That’s what it’s all about. Reason. The highest and most perfect of all things. We Greeks will teach you all about that. So, now tell me about your rituals. We Greeks really dig rituals. Any that have to do with wine? Parties?
J: Sure, we make kiddush on Friday night to commemorate the Creation of the world from nothing.
G: Well, you can give up that one now, since I’ve just shown you that creation of the world from nothing makes no sense whatsoever.
J: We don’t eat milk with meat.
G: Why not?
J: G-d says so.
G: For what reason?
J: Reason? He needs a reason? For the same reason He created heaven and earth!
G: Which is?
J: He just wanted to.
G: That’s not a reason!
J: Sure it is. He decided He would like a world where there would be milk and meat and He would tell people, “Don’t eat that milk and meat together!” and they would listen.
G: That makes no sense. That’s not a reason!
J: Reason is just another of His creations.
G: Reason is the ultimate! There is nothing higher than Reason!
J: Okay then, explain to me why the world is the way it is. Why does one plus one equal two? Why does the square of the length of the hypotenuse equal the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides? Why do parallel lines never meet?
G: Because those are the rules of geometry!
J: So why does the Cosmic Mind, as you call Him, have to follow your rules of geometry?
G: They’re not our rules! They are the self-evident truths of nature!
J: Why are these the truths and not something else?
G: You stubborn Jew! Don’t you see that this is the most elegant, rational way things could be?
J: I’ll bet you He could break them. I’ll bet our G-d could make a world where parallel lines meet. He could break any of the laws of nature.
G: You can’t break laws of nature! They’re not like laws of the state or like your silly laws about cheeseburgers. They are truths. They are perfect. They are the ground of reality. They are because they have to be.
J: Nothing has to be. Nothing but the Source of Being. But He could be any way He wants.
G: Geometry has to be. Cause and effect has to be. Logic has to be. If A = B then B = A. That is an absolute Truth. It must be.
G: Why?! Because if they don’t have to be, then I and you and this whole world have no real substance! And that cannot be!
J: That’s just what I was trying to tell you. This world has no real substance. They only truth is…
G: Don’t say it, Mr. Maccabee! You people are downright dangerous.
And that is why the Greeks did not forbid Jewish practice altogether. What they (initially) forbade were those practices that they saw as irrational. Those practices that Jews do simply because they believe they have a relationship with a Being who is higher than reason. That, they could not tolerate.
Of course, as you know, eventually some bright boys came up with geometries where parallel lines meet; cause and effect got bumped out of quantum physics; the world was discovered to have had a beginning; and even now it still is really nothing because the sum of all radiant energy minus all of the universe’s mass equals zero. Most of us today have accepted that there are things that are the way they are not for any reason, but just because that’s the way they are. Nothing has to be the way it is. Why do masses attract? Why is the grass green? Why is there anything at all? There doesn’t have to be a reason for everything, because reason is not the foundation of reality. So what’s so absurd about connecting to the Foundation of Reality through mitzvot that are beyond reason?
Mind Under Matter
Nevertheless, the battle continues. You see, as mentioned above, the Greek mind, aside from worshipping human intellect, is also a great syncretist. That means it can hammer together the most incongruous ideologies without blinking an eyelid. You’ve heard of Rice-Christians? Peyote-Catholics? The Greek mind could do any of that, and more.
The two characteristics go hand in hand: When there’s nothing higher than intellect, intellect has no guiding light. Everything, even the stupidest thing — as long as it doesn’t deny intellect — can be tolerated. Aristotle knew that the pantheon of Athenian gods was nonsense. But what’s wrong with the common people, who cannot understand any better, having their way?
You can easily see that a knowledge of an absolute Divine Will beyond reason has become a necessity for human survival. Without the supposition of a Divine Will, whatever you wish to make sense can make sense. If your system of logic cannot support an idea, just change the postulates and rethink the data. Anything can be made to make sense when you determine the assumptions. Every society has had its philosophers and philosophers have justified everything imaginable — from coliseum killing games to gas chambers.
Strangely, this may have worked to humanity’s advantage in one regard: The Greek mind applied itself to figuring out the material world. When your belief system begins with Divine revelation you don’t necessarily apply yourself to mundane matters of how things work. So technological progress became chiefly the domain of the Greek mind throughout history.
But it also has some nefarious consequences. Because when you marry intellect and materialism (a good description of Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany), you’ve entered a bottomless pit of quicksand.
Which brings us to a fascinating point. The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that in Hebrew, the name for ancient Greece, Yavan, has another meaning: quicksand (as in Psalms 40:3 and Talmud, Eruvin 19a). Water mixes with sand, dirt and clay. You step in it and you can’t get out. The more you try to climb up, the further down you go.
Take a look at the letters that spell Yavan in Hebrew: יון . It starts with a small point of a yud — representing wisdom. That stretches down to become a vav. And the vav stretches even further down, below the line, to become a long nun. It’s all a description of the process of intellect sinking into the material world and, with nothing to hold it in place, sinking further and further.
A Donkey and an Ox
Today, we have those syncretists who wish to marry materialism with Torah. And nothing is less congruous than that.
Materialism is the ultimate of Greece stuck in the mud. It is the idea that all that exists is that which can be observed, described and explained. Evolutionism, for example, is a materialistic explanation of existence. When people became disillusioned with the church and with faith, they needed an explanation of existence that relied on Chance and Necessity alone, without recourse to G-d. Darwinism and current cosmologies provide just that. So do the standard interpretations of history we are taught today.
Torah is an understanding that behind the world lies a Divine Will, unhampered by the limitations of nature or human logic — because it is the source of all this. Why are there laws of nature? Because G-d generally chooses to work in consistent ways. Why did history unfold the way it did? Because that is all in G-d’s plan.
When someone tries to provide a materialistic explanation for Torah and mitzvot, they are creating a Promethean bed, killing all sense of Torah in the process. So too, attempting to resolve conflicts between evolutionary doctrines and Torah makes less sense than marrying a donkey to an ox.
Yes, we try to understand as much as we can. The Torah commands us to think deeply, to immerse our intellects in study and comprehension. Whatever we can fit into intellect, we must strive to do so. Whatever explanation we can give, we must give it. But always with the sense that with every new grain of understanding, we have expanded the seashore of the Infinite Unknowable.
We can have a thousand reasons for not mixing meat and milk, but when it comes down to it, we do it because that is our personal connection with the Divine Will, the Life of All Things. And that is the victory of Chanukah.
The Street-Lamp Lighter
I was once privileged to hear from my father-in-law [Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe] that his father, Rabbi Sholom Dovber, of saintly memory, was once asked, “What is aChabad-LubavitchChassid?”
He replied, “A Chassid is like a street-lamp lighter.” In olden days, there was a person in every town who would light the street-lamps with a light he carried at the end of a long pole. On the street-corners, the lamps were there in readiness, waiting to be lit; sometimes, however, the lamps are not as easily accessible. There are lamps in forsaken places, in deserts, or at sea. There must be someone to light even those lamps, so that they may fulfill their purpose and light up the paths of others.
It is written, “The soul of man is the candle of G-d.” It is also written, “AMitzvah is a candle, and the Torah is light.” A Chassid is one who puts his personal affairs aside and sets out to light up the souls of Jews with the light of Torah and Mitzvot. Jewish souls are ready and waiting to be kindled. Sometimes they are close, nearby; sometimes they are in a desert, or at sea. There must be someone who will forgo his or her own comforts and conveniences, and reach out to light those lamps. This is the function of a true Chabad-Lubavitch Chassid.
The message is obvious. I will only add that this function is not really limited to Chassidim, but is the function of every Jew. Divine Providence brings Jews to the most unexpected, remote places, in order that they carry out this purpose of lighting up the world.
May G-d grant that each and every one of us be a dedicated ’street-lamp lighter,’ and fulfill his/her duty with joy and gladness of heart.
A Yud-Tes Kislev and Chanukah Drama
Today, the 19th of the Hebrew month of Kislev,we commemorate the “Rosh Hashanah” for Chassidism. The day when Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), the founder of Chabad, known as the Alter Rebbe was liberated from prison, is the day when we celebrate the gift of Chassidism.
What is the essence of Chassidism? And how can it make our lives more meaningful today?
It can be captured through a narrative in this week’s portion (1),where we read about the unconventional union that transpired between Judah, the son of Jacob, and his daughter-in-law Tamar, who disguised herself as a harlot.
The Judah-Tamar Drama
It is a fascinating story: Judah has three sons, Er, Onan and Shalah. His oldest son, Er, married a woman named Tamar, but died prematurely, without children. His bereft father, Judah, suggested to his second son, Onan: “Consort with your brother’s wife and enter into levirate marriage with her, and establish offspring for your brother.”
Here, we are introduced, for the first time, to the concept of levirate marriages, discussed later in the book of Deuteronomy:”When brothers live together, and one of them dies childless, the wife of the deceased man shall not marry outside to a strange man; her brother-in-law shall come to her, and take her to himself as a wife, and perform levirate marriage. The first-born son whom she bears will then perpetuate the name of the dead brother, so that his name will not be obliterated from Israel.”
One of the great biblical commentators, Nachmanides, writes that this mitzvah embodies “one of the great mysteries of the Torah” and that even before the Torah was given, people knew of the spiritual benefits of a levirate marriage. The biblical commentators explain that the child born of the union between the brother of the dead man and his former wife — both of whom are intimately connected with the deceased man — is considered the spiritual son of the deceased. Moreover, the Kabbalists suggest that the first-born child of the levirate marriage is a reincarnation of the soul of its other’s first husband, bringing the deceased man, as it were, back to life.
So Judah suggested to his second son Onan to marry his brother’s widow and perpetuate the legacy of the deceased brother.
Now, Judah’s second son also died prematurely without having any children. Judah refused to allow her to marry his third son, Shalah. Which put her in an impossible situation: she could not go out and marry anyone else, because she was bound to Shalah, but her father in law would not allow her to marry Shalah.
Now, during those early times prior to the giving of Torah, Nachmanides explains other relatives, in addition to brothers, used to carry out this obligation of levirate marriages. Thus, following the death of both of Tamar’s husbands, she went and lured her former-father-in-law, Judah, into a relationship with her which impregnated her. As a guarantee that he would pay her for the relationship, Judah gave Tamar his seal, cord (2) and staff.
“Some three months passed,” the Torah relates (3), “and Judah was told, ‘your daughter-in-law Tamar has committed harlotry, and moreover, she has become pregnant by harlotry.’”
“Take her out and have her burned,” said Judah.
“When she was being taken out, she sent word to her father-in-law, saying, ‘I am pregnant by the man who is the owner of these articles. Identify, I beg you, these objects. Who is the owner of this seal, this cord and this staff?’
“Judah immediately recognized them, and he said, ‘She is right; it is from me [that she has conceived]. She did it because I did not give her to my son Shelah.’”
A Spiritual Story
It is axiomatic among all of the Jewish biblical commentators that the stories in the Torah are not just tales relating ancient Jewish history. They also reflect spiritual timeless experiences that take place continually within the human soul. In his commentary on the book of Genesis, Nachmanides wrote: “The Torah discusses the physical reality, but it alludes to the world of the spirit (4).”
What follows, therefore, in this week’s essay, is a classical Chassidic interpretation on the episode of Judah and Tamar, treating the story as symbolic of the inner spiritual life of the Jew.
Betrayal and Its Consequences
In the writings of the kabbalah, the name Judah, or Yehudah, containing within it the four letters of the name of Hashem, symbolizes G-d. Tamar, on the other hand, is the Hebrew name for a palm tree, and represents the Jewish people and their bond with G-d (5).
Why? The Talmud explains (6), that “just as the palm tree has but one ‘heart,’ so too do the Jewish people have only a single heart, devoted completely to their Father in heaven.”
(The heart of the date palm is its sap. Unlike the saps of other trees, like the alive or almond tree, the sap of the palm is found only in its trunk, but not in its branches or leaves.
This is the meaning behind the Talmudic statement that the palm tree possesses only a single “heart” (7)).
The intimate union between Tamar and Judah – the Jew and G-d – occurs during the sacred days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During those days, G-d, or Judah, exposes Himself to His people, evoking within them a yearning to transcend their ego and self-centered cravings and to become one with G-d.
But then, some time passes, and the spiritual inspiration of the High Holy days wears off. Judah is informed that “Tamar, your Kallah (8), has committed harlotry, and moreover, she has become pregnant by harlotry.” The news arrives to G-d that His bride has betrayed Him, substituting him with another partner.
Is this not the story of so many of us? At one point during our lives we are inspired to transcend our selfish identity and connect to the deeper Divine rhythm of life. Yet, the cunning lore of numerous other gods captivates our imaginations and ambitions and dulls our vision. We substituted the G-d of truth and transcendence with the ego-god, the power-god, the money-god, the temptation-god, the addiction-god, the manipulation-god and the god of self-indulgence
What is even sadder for Judah is the news that “Tamar” is so estranged that she became pregnant by harlotry. This symbolizes the stage in life when the Jew rejects the G-d of his forefathers permanently and decides to build his future with superficial sources of gratification.
“Take her out and have her burned,” says Judah. The purpose of the Jew is to serve as the spiritual compass of human civilization, to bear witness to the truth of the One G-d, the moral conscious of the world. When the Jew loses sight of the raison d’être of his existence, when he believes that his salvation lies in the fact that he “was invited to the White House,” or that he was praised in an editorial of The New York Times, his existence is useless.
The Truth Emerges
Rabbi Isaac Luryah wrote that “the judgment that began on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is completed some three months later, during the days of Chanukah.” That’s why it is at this period of time – three months after the intimate union between Judah and Tamar – that Judah (the metaphor for G-d) is “informed” regarding the spiritual status of Tamar (the Jewish people) and the verdict is issued that Tamar has no future.
“When Tamar was being taken out, she sent word to Judah, saying, ‘I am pregnant by the man who is the owner of these articles. Identify, I beg you, these objects. Who is the owner of this seal, cord and staff?’”
During that fateful time, when the “prosecuting angels” have almost been successful in demonstrating to G-d that the Jewish people are a failed experiment, at that very moment, the Jew sends word to G-d, saying, “I am pregnant by the man who is the owner of these articles!” The information you received that I abandoned you, is a blatant lie! If I have gone astray here and there, it is merely a superficial, temporary phase. Gaze into the deeper layers of my identity and you will discover that I belong to You, that my intimacy is shared only with You, G-d. “I am pregnant from Judah and not from anybody else!” the Jew declares.
“Identify, I beg you, these objects. Who is the owner of this seal, cord and staff?” For during the festival of Chanukah – when the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is finalized — the Jew kindles each night a wick, or a cord, soaked in oil, commemorating the event of the Jews discovering a sealed single cruse of oil after the Greeks had plundered the holy Temple in Jerusalem (9).
The Jew further points to the staff in his arm (10). In order to preserve his faith, he was forced time and time again – for 2000 years – to take the wandering staff in his arm, abandon his home, wealth and security, and seek out new territory where he could continue to live as a Jew.
“Identify, I beg you, these objects. Who is the owner of this seal, cord and staff?” the Jew asks G-d. “It is to this man that I am pregnant!” Our loyalty and commitment remain eternally to the owner of the “seal” and “cord” of the Chanukah flames; our deepest intimacy is reserved to the owner of the “staff” of Jewish wandering.
Who Is the Traitor?
“Judah immediately recognized the articles, and he said, “She is right; it is from me that she conceived. She did it because I did not give her to my son Shelah.”
When G-d observes the burning flames of the Chanukah menorah, He immediately recognizes that indeed, His people have never left Him. True, the Jew does fall prey at times to the dominating external forces of a materialistic and immoral world, yet this enslavement is skin deep. Probe the layers of his or her soul and you will discover an infinite wellspring of spirituality and love.
“If the Jew has, in fact, gone astray here and there, it is my fault,” G-d says, not his. “Because I did not give Tamar to my son Shelah.”Shelah is the Biblical term used to describe Moshiach (11),the leader who will usher in the final redemption. G-d says that for two millennia I have kept the Jewish nation in a dark and horrific exile where they have been subjected to horrendous pain and savage suffering. Blood, tears and death have been their tragic fate for twenty centuries, as they
prayed, each day and every moment, for world redemption. But redemption has not come.
How can I expect that a Jew never commit a sin? How can I expect that a Jew never try to cast his luck with the materialistic world about him that seems so appealing, when I held back for so long the light of Moshiach?
“It is I, G-d, who is guilty of treason,” G-d says. Not the Jew. Tamar is an innocent, beautiful palm-tree, which still has only one heart to its Father in heaven.
Rabbi Manis Friedman once shared the following thought (12):
Three thousand, three hundred and fifteen years ago G-d asked us if we would marry him. We had an extraordinary wedding ceremony, with great special effects–we were wowed. After the wedding He said, “I have a few things I’d like you to take care of for me so, please… I’ll be right back.” He hasn’t been heard from since. For more than three thousand, three hundred years. He has sent messengers, messages, postcards–you know, writing on the walls… but we haven’t heard a word from Him in all this time.
Imagine, a couple gets married, and the man says to his new wife, “Would you make me something to eat, please? I’ll be right back.” She begins preparing. The guy comes back 3300 years later, walks into the house, up to the table, straight to his favorite chair, sits down and tastes the soup that is on the table. The soup is cold.
What will his reaction be? If he’s a wise man, he won’t complain. Rather he’ll think it’s a miracle that the house is still there, that his table and favorite chair are still there. He’ll be delighted to see a bowl of soup at his place. The soup is cold? Well, yes, over 3300 years, soup can get cold.
Now we are expecting Moshiach. If Moshiach comes now, and wants to judge, what’s he going to find? Cold soup?
He will find an incredibly healthy Jewish people. After 3300 years we are concerned about being Jewish, which means we are concerned about our relationship with G-d.
Yes, if Moshiach comes today, he’ll find that our soup is cold. We suffer from separation anxiety. We suffer from a loss of connection to our ancestors. We suffer a loss of connection even to our immediate family. The soup is cold. The soup is very cold. But whose fault is that? And who gets the credit for the fact that there is soup altogether?
We are a miracle. All we need to do is tap into it. We are the cure. Not only for ourselves,but also for the whole world. So let Moshiach come now and catch us here with our cold soup because we have nothing to be ashamed of. We are truly incredible. When G-d decided to marry us, He knew He was getting a really good deal.
This, then, is what Chassidism taught:A Jew is a child of G-d. A Jew is a prince. A Jew is the holiest of the holy. A Jew is truly one with G-d. And even when you look at yourself in the mirror and you feel disloyal, the truth is that your ultimate loyalty remains to G-d, to truth, to holiness, to purity.
Moshiach is ready to come!
(This essay is based on the writings of the Chassidic Masters (13))
1) Genesis, chapter 38.
2) “Pethila” in Hebrew literally means a string or a wick. Judah gave her the string that he used to bind his sheep (Sechel Tov on Genesis 38:18). Many commentators, including Rashi, translate the word to mean a wrap or cloak.
3) Genesis 38:24-26.
4) Commentary on the opening verse of Genesis.
5) See Hoshanos recited on the third day of Sukkot. Psalms 92:13.
6) Chagigah 45b.
7) Rashi ibid.; cf. Ritva.
In Hebrew, “Kalasecha” (Genesis 38:24). This can be translated as “your daughter-in-law,” or, literally as your kallah, your bride.
9) Shabbas 21b.
10) The Hebrew term for “the staff,” “v’hamateh” has the same numerological value as the word “Hakeli,” the vessel, symbolic of the menorah in which we kindle the Chanukah flames. Hence, this verse is alluding to the three components of the Chanukah lights: the menorah, the wick and the oil – all of which testify to the eternal allegiance of the Jew to G-d.
11) Genesis 49:12.
13) Bas AyinParshasVayeishev, authored by Chassidic Master of Safed, Rabbi Avraham of Avrutch (1765-1840). He was a desciple of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Bardeitchev and of Rabbi Nachum and Rabbi Matele of Chernobyl.
Before you switch on your laser printer, read this:
A laser is a device that produces an intense beam of light of a very pure single color. This beam can be made potent enough to vaporize a diamond, and precise enough to deposit a dot of ink 1/600th of an inch across in exact juxtaposition with tens of thousands of similar dots to produce your office memo in 12 pt. Times New Roman (captions in 14 pt Arial Narrow). Even more precise (and more expensive) are devices that yield a beam exact enough to perform eye surgery.
A laser beam is a beam of optic light—basically the same light produced by the flashlight you keep in the glove compartment of your car. The difference is that while the excited atoms in your flashlight bulb each emit light independently of each other and in many different wavelengths, a laser device stimulates a great number of atoms to emit their light in a single frequency and in step with each other, thereby producing a light beam of great potency and accuracy.
As a rule, people don’t likes rules. We don’t like being told that a food palatable to our taste buds is unhealthy for our body. We don’t like being told that something desirous to ourselves is hurtful to another person. We don’t like being told a that a convenient habit is damaging to our environment. In other words, We don’t like being told what to do. We don’t like restrictions.
When the Children of Israel came out of Egypt, that were told that, in seven weeks’ time, they would be given the Torah. They were so excited that they literally counted the days. At Mount Sinai, their souls flew from their bodies in ecstasy when they heard G-d proclaim the Ten Commandments.
On the face of it, their joy seems somewhat misplaced. After all, these were a people just emerging from several generations of slavery. The last thing they would want–one assumes–is a set of restrictions on their lives. Basically, that’s what the Torah is. Seven of the Ten Commandments are “Thou Shalt Not”s, as are 365 out of the Torah 613 mitzvot (the rest are “Thou Shall”s).
But the Jews wanted the Torah. The Midrash relates how G-d went to all the nations of the world asking them if they want a copy. “What does the Torah contain?” they asked. “Thou shalt not…” said G-d and was met with a no-thank-you before He could finish the sentence. The Jews, however, understood that this was no ordinary set of rules: this was a life regulator designed by the One who invented life, and knows how it is best applied.
At Sinai, all the peoples of the world were given a choice. Take box A, and you get a life that expends its energies every which way, in whatever color or frequency that strikes your fancy at any given moment. It’ll even be able to do many useful things, like projecting animal shapes on the wall of a darkened room or finding those car keys you dropped in the bushes. Take box B, and you get a life that focuses its energies on the purpose to which it was created.
Many took the flashlight. We opted for the laser.
What Israel should do now
by: Rabbi YY Jacobson The Yeshiva.net
President Obama presented yesterday his blueprint for Mideast peace: Israel must withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. A Palestinian State needs to be created, viable and sovereign. Israel must be recognized and its security guaranteed.
I wish it was otherwise, but the words of the President demonstrate profound ignorance of the reality. Let us clarify some of the vital issues at hand, not based on illusions, but on facts.
Why can’t Israel just withdraw to its pre-1967 borders and put an end to the present conflict?
The present conflict between Israel and the Arabs has absolutely nothing to do with the 1967 occupation. Consider the following facts:
1) The Palestinian Liberation Organization, known today as The Palestinian Authority, was founded in 1964 at a time when the “occupied territories” were under Jordanian control. There was not one Jewish settlement in the territories, nor any Jewish “occupation.” Yet the charter of the PLO from 1964 till this very day states as its goal “the destruction of Israel.” (Yes, even the present charter of the Palestinian Authority calls for the destruction of Israel.)
2) What compelled Israel in 1967 to capture the territories? Five Arab countries—Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon joined by Saudi Arabia—contrived a plan to annihilate Israel and “drive the Jews into the sea.” Israel fought back and won the war, including the territories from which they were attacked.
Israel never sought to occupy the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, or Gaza. The war which brought about the “occupation” was thrust upon Israel. Yet this crucial point is almost never conveyed in the international and American press.
Keep in mind that in 1967 the Arabs controlled 99.9 percent of the Middle East lands. Israel represented less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the land mass. But even that was too much for the Arabs. They wanted it all. No matter how many land concessions the Israelis make, it will never be enough.
3) During the summer of 2000 at Camp David, Yasser Arafat was offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak 98 percent of the “occupied territories” and a first time ever Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem. Arafat rejected the Israeli offer and initiated 20 months of bloodshed in Israel. Arafat pocketed every Israeli concession, turned his territory into an armed camp and then launched a vicious terror war that has lasted more than three years and killed more than 1,000 Israelis.
4) In the summer of 2005, Israel withdrew completely from Gaza, which it obtained in the 1967 war. Not even on an inch of land remained under Israeli occupation. The then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon believed that with not a single Jew left in Gaza and with the Israeli occupation over, the Arabs living there would now be driven to create a functioning state, and security would increase for both sides.
Alas, the exact opposite occurred. Hamas swept into Gaza and turned it into a terrorist infrastructure, with a clear objective: to destroy Israel. The result was increased rocket attacks from unoccupied Gaza targeting Israeli civilians on a daily basis.
The widespread notion that the murder of Jews in Israel has anything to do with the “occupied territories” is a myth. The territories are merely being used as a justification to exterminate Jews and destroy their land.
Still, why can’t Israel demonstrate goodwill by putting an end to the “occupation” and declaring Palestinian statehood? This would foster hope and put an end to the psychology of violence.
For one to demand this gesture from Israel one needs to be either foolish or cruel. It is akin to demanding that a person with cancer give his malignant tumor uncontrolled rein in one part of his body. Such a “gesture” would secure his death.
Arab terror, just like the terror we experienced on 9/11, is a cancer. The thousands of fighters in the territories are not opposing Israel’s right to a particular piece of land. They don’t recognize Israel’s right to any of the land. They do not recognize Israel’s right to exist. To make peace with cancer is an act of war; to declare war against cancer is an act of peace.
Sadly, even today, the charter of the so called moderate Palestinian Authority calls for the destruction of Israel. Every single territorial concession Israel has ever made, only increased violence, and never brought peace even an inch closer. Arabs have used the ceded territory to launch attacks on Israel and murder its civilians from closer proximity. Concessions have also demonstrated to the Arabs, that terror is effective, and if the terror continues, they will receive yet more land.
Has the education curriculum in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza been altered to start teaching children about the importance of peace and co-existence? Have the Imams during their weekly sermons in the Mosques changed their jargon exclaiming that Israel is not the face of the devil? Have Arab communities stopped naming streets and quarters after suicide bombers who murdered Israeli civilians?
Sadly, nothing of this has occurred. No one in the international community even demands it as a prerequisite for peace negotiations. While Israeli schools teach that peace is our greatest ideal, in every single Arab school without exception Israel is portrayed as the enemy of G-d which must be obliterated. With these realities unaltered, giving away more territories, removing roadblocks, ceasing construction of Jewish homes, would bring more war not peace.
The creation of a Palestinian state would be a tragedy for innocent people throughout the region, Jews and Arabs alike. You don’t give a state to people who want to see your children burned alive and your teenagers blown to pieces. Such people you destroy. If not, they will destroy you and thousands of more innocent people the world over.
The very negotiations about a “Palestinian state” are dangerous. It is these types of negotiations that have granted legitimacy to terrorists and have encouraged them to continue on their path of destruction.
How could intelligent people say, “In the end Israel will have to return to the negotiations table?” Israel has been negotiating land for peace for years now; it has given the Arabs virtual control over 90 percent of the territories. What has it brought Jews? Blood, blood and more blood. Clearly, another solution must be sought.
What about the moral injustice of occupation? How could Israel hold on to the homeland of another nation, the Palestinian nation?
To call Israel occupiers of the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem is akin to calling the U.S. occupiers of New Jersey.
First and foremost, the Bible—a book embraced by billions of Muslims and Christians as the word of G-d—states clearly that the entire country, including the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, is G-d’s eternal gift to the Jewish people. Read the Bible and draw your own conclusion.
The American people are a moral people who bow their heads before truth. It is about time that Jews begin stating the truth without shame: “Israel is occupying nothing but its own land; the Creator and Master of the entire world gave this land to the Jews.”
Second, the entire concept of a “Palestinian people fighting for their ancient homeland occupied by the Jews,” is nothing short of a lie, a myth that has become an accepted truth in the American press.
Let us reflect on some history:
Israel became a nation in 1312 B.C.E., 2,000 years before the birth of Islam. Forty years later, in 1272 B.C.E. the Jews conquered Eretz Israel and enjoyed dominion over the land for a thousand years. Even after the Babylonians and then the Romans put an end to the Jewish sovereignty, Jews continued to reside there throughout all of their history. In short, the Jews have had a continuous presence in the land of Israel for the past 3,300 years.
What about the “Palestinian people”? Israel did not seize the West Bank and Old Jerusalem from a “Palestinian nation.” Such a nation never existed in the history of mankind. Israel captured these territories from Jordan’s King Hussein and the Gaza Strip from Egypt after they declared war against the Jewish state. It was only in 1967, following the Six-day War that Arab refugees in Israel began identifying themselves as part of a “Palestinian people.” One can’t help but wonder why all these Palestinians suddenly discovered their national identity after Israel won the war but not during the “Jordanian occupation”?
The answer to this enigma is that there has never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians. Palestinians are regular Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Egyptians, etc., who have all lived for hundreds of years under Turkish rule, and then, after World War I, under British rule. There is no language known as Palestinian. There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There is no such an entity as a “Palestinian people.”
The first time the name Palestine was used was in 70 C.E. when the Romans committed genocide against the Jews, smashed the Temple and declared the land of Israel would be no more. From then on, the Romans promised, it would be known as Palestine. This region was ruled alternately by Rome, by Islamic and Christian crusaders, by the Ottoman Empire and, after World War I, by the British.
(The name was derived from the Philistines, a Goliathian people conquered by the Jews centuries earlier. It was a way for the Romans to add insult to injury. They also tried to change the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina, but that had even less staying power.)
Mark Twain took a tour of Palestine in 1867. This is how he described that land: “A desolate country whose soil is rich enough but is given over wholly to weeds. A silent, mournful expanse. We never saw a human being on the whole route. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”
Where was this great Palestinian nation? It did not exist. It was not there. Palestine was a region under the control of Turkey.
Many people are unaware that Saudi Arabia was not created until 1913, Lebanon until 1920. Iraq did not exist as a nation until 1932, Syria until 1941. The borders of Jordan were established in 1946 and Kuwait in 1961. To state that Israel “robbed” the Palestinian people from their homeland is simply not true.
How can Israel justify the suffering of so many innocent Arabs in the territories?
Every decent human heart goes out to the pain of innocent Arab children, women and men. Their suffering should evoke the compassion of all moral men. But let us be clear on the matter: Their suffering has absolutely nothing to do with Israel. Their profound agony is the result of the Arab and Palestinian leaders who have in a most cynical way used them as weapons in their bloody battle against Israel, robbing them from any prospect of a brighter future.
This abuse of the Arab refugees by their leaders began back in 1948. The refugees were encouraged by Arab leaders to leave Israel, promising to purge the land of Jews. Sixty-eight percent left their homes without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.
Out of the 100 million refugees after World War II, theirs is the only refugee group in the world that was not absorbed or integrated into their own peoples’ lands. As Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out today in the White House, Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a country no larger than the state of New Jersey. Yet the Arab refugees were intentionally not absorbed or integrated into the Arab lands to which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. Why? Because cynical Arab leaders realized that the true value of the refugees was not as Arab brothers but as pawns to be used against Israel.
Much of the international community, the academia and the press condemn Israel. Many claim that Israel abused and sometimes even massacres Palestinians in the territories. Is it possible that Israel is right and the whole world is wrong?
Let us not be ashamed to respond with clarity: You bet your life it’s possible! It is true now and it’s always been true. Abraham gave the world ethical monotheism and the whole world fought him. Moses taught the world individual freedom and universal morality and the world’s super-power was against him. Just 65 years ago the entire world watched in silence as 1.5 million Jewish children went up in smoke. Was the whole world right then, too?
Universal morality and the value of life was the Jewish gift to the world. At a time when the whole world was accustomed to slaughtering children to the pagan gods, the Jewish people, alone in a hostile world, declared the word of G-d, “Thou shall not kill.”
If we had listened to the world then, murder today would be legal. If we listen to the world now, terrorism tomorrow will become the norm.
How cynical, how cruel it is to accuse Israel of the massacre of civilian Palestinians. The entire culture of the Jewish state is based on the value of every single human life. Israel has always sacrificed its children in order to secure the safety of Arab civilians. Israel restrained itself for years in the territories despite ongoing killings of Jewish children, women and men.
In the history of the Jewish state, how many Jewish suicide bombers have blown themselves up in Arab communities?
How many Arab buses were blown up by Jews?
How many Arab pizza parlors, malls, discotheques and restaurants were destroyed by Jewish terrorists?
How many airplanes have been hijacked by Jews?
How many Ramadan feasts were targeted by Jewish bombs?
How many Arabs have been lynched in Israeli cities, or Arab Olympic athletes murdered by Jews? How many Arab embassies have been bombed by Jews?
How many mosques, cemeteries and religious schools were fire bombed or desecrated by Jews in North Africa, France, Belgium, Germany, England or any other country?
How many Jewish schools contain books claiming that Arabs poison wells, use Christian blood to bake pita, control world finance and are the work of the devil? How many claim that Arab elders meet secretly to plot a world takeover?
And now, the Arabs have the chutzpah to continuously accuse Israel of massacres! And the entire world follows suit?
The Arabs claim that they are fighting against the brutal Israeli occupation, which has stripped them from their dignity and humanity.
It would be foolish to claim that “Israel never did any wrong” to Arabs living throughout the territories. Of course, Israel has made errors. Yet the fact remains that the Arabs living under Israeli rule enjoyed more civil rights than Arabs living in almost any Arab state. The Arab press in the West Bank has been among the liveliest and freest in the Arab world, and it routinely attacks its “occupier.”
When was the last time a Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan or Saudi publicly attacked one of his or her leaders? How is Syria treating its protesters as I write? And Iran? And Libya?
So, what is the solution to the conflict?
As long as the status of the entire country remains ambiguous, the terror campaign against Israel will continue. As long terrorists see the opportunity to seize more land and attack Israel from closer proximity, they will not cease their agenda. Israel should stand up and put an end to the ambivalence around Jewish ownership of the land; it must stop intoxicating the terrorists. Israel must state clearly that “Until the culture and education of the entire Palestinian population does not change, there will be no more negotiations on even a single inch of the land of Israel. We have attempted to negotiate land for peace with our neighbors; we have offered them 98 percent of the territories and an independent state side-by-side with our state. Yet they have reciprocated by sending suicide bombers to our pizza shops, cafés, supermarkets and streets. They have blown to pieces hundreds of innocent Jewish men and women. One cannot give land to leaders who have taught their people to celebrate Jewish death.”
Israel should allow anybody who wishes to depart for another country to do so. Then it should go in and reclaim its permanent sovereignty over all of the territories. This will save not only countless Jewish lives, but also scores of Arab lives. It will once and for all purge the region from continuous bloodshed and terror.
Israel’s concessions due to intense world pressure were foolish. Politics superseded security; morality was defeated by fear. To demand Israel’s withdrawal from any territory is asking the Jewish State to help commit suicide. That it should get any encouragement from the United States or from its secretary of state is a disgrace
is similar to one demanding from a surgeon to stop the surgery before finishing because the sight of blood is repulsive. The short-term cover-up of the terror nests will only allow the long-term blossoming of the terror organizations.
The best way to bring about genuine peace in the Arab-Israeli war is by Israel putting an end to any future negotiations on the land. Israel must assume full security and military control over all of the territories under the united banner of a single country, Eretz Israel.
This is not an occupation. It is the land of Israel, given by G-d to the Jewish people. It is moral and just. Let’s set the record clear once and for all: This is Jewish land, not Arab land. The Arabs who wish to desist from killing Jews will enjoy cultural and religious freedom, civil rights, gender equality and freedom of expression, privileges most of them have never experienced in their own countries. Those who cannot tolerate living under a united Jewish country should be welcomed to emigrate.
All other suggested paths are merely romantic delusions that will bring continued grief to innocent Jews and Arabs. Let all Jews and people of moral standing unite and encourage Israel in its campaign to bring life and peace to all good people in the region, Jew and Arab.
I distinctly remember when the idea first hit home. I was sitting at my dining-room table listening to a recording of a talk I had recently given. Boy, did I get self-conscious. For the first time in my life I was able to hear myself lecture. For once, I was hearing what the audience heard. It’s weird, observing oneself from the outside, and frankly, it can get downright disconcerting.
I found myself judging the speaker as I do any other speaker, even more severely. “Did I really say that?” I caught myself wondering. Somehow it had sounded different when I said it in my mind.
I went red a few times and even winced once. It turns out that listening to me tell a joke was not nearly as enjoyable as I’d always imagined it to be. When I found myself laughing at my quips to be polite, I knew it was time to turn me off.
Confession is as Jewish as the Bible is (i.e., very Jewish).
One thing that has always puzzled me about vidui (Jewish confession) is that this final step in the process of teshuvah—and a positive mitzvah unto itself!—seems meaningless.
What’s the point of vocalizing our thoughts of remorse to G‑d? Aren’t the thoughts and feelings deep within the recesses of our minds and hearts revealed before G‑d like an open book?
But what if the purpose of confession is not for G‑d’s sake, but for our own?
There are three ways to understand the function of Jewish confession.
The first is that it serves merely as a declaration of one’s feelings of repentance. We take our thoughts more seriously when they are spoken. At that point they have passed our internal security system—the filter that healthy humans put in place to screen words and sentences before they become sounds—and have been allowed entry into oral territory, where they are less retractable.
The second way to understand the function of vidui is that it serves not only to reveal or reinforce our inner thoughts, but to intensify them; for when spoken, human emotions run faster and thicker.
(It is this fact that underlies Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch’srevolutionary tip for anger management: Keep silent, he advised. The spoken word adds fuels to the fire of feeling, negative or positive. Venting to a friend in the heat of anger exacerbates, rather than eliminates, negative feelings. Out of sound is out of heart.)
So in this view, a verbal confession functions not just to transport thoughts of remorse from within to without, but also to deepen those thoughts.
The third perspective is most intriguing.
Close analysis of a passage in the Sefer HaChinuch (authored by an anonymous 13th-century scholar) reveals that, in his view, vidui doesn’t just serve to express or intensify existent thoughts, but it is also a means ofcreating feelings of remorse when they are sadly nonexistent.
In his words: “Furthermore, through mentioning the sin specifically, he will feel remorseful about it.”
But how does that work?
If introspection didn’t yield remorse, how will paying lip service help?
And here’s where attending my own lecture comes in. Upon reflection, it was then that I got the concept of vidui loud and clear. It struck me that no matter how critical or “objective” we try to be of ourselves, we are blinded by self-love which, according to King Solomon, “prevents us from seeing our shortcomings.”
In other words, we go about life viewing ourselves from the inside. Through speaking out our shortcomings in vidui, however, we step into the mind (and ears) of an outsider, and only then does the severity and foolishness of our deeds hit us like a ton of bricks.
“Did I really think/say/do that?” we may wonder. “How could I have fallen so low?”
It’s like looking back at a hurtful text we sent someone a week earlier in the heat of an angry exchange. It doesn’t make sense anymore. It was harsh, petty and pointless. It’s like viewing a video of ourselves acting distastefully, or reviewing our dropdown history on the computer after wandering too far. Those are all virtual viduis.
And that’s the point of Jewish confession. It’s not spoken for G‑d to hear, and it’s not spoken to the next person for him to absolve; it is, rather, an acknowledgement to ourselves about ourselves—that sadly we lost our way, slipped into a blind spot with our judgment clouded over by a passing “spirit of folly.” But luckily, with G‑d’s help, we merited a moment of clarity just in time.
However, vidui is not a process of leaving our true and subjective selves by donning an outsider’s objective perspective; it’s the process of leaving the subjective outsider that managed to get inside us and donning the objective perspective of our true inner selves.
In sum, the power and beauty of vidui is not that we shame ourselves before others, but that we shame the migrant “other” (evil inclination) before our true selves.
P.S. On the topic of creating feelings through speech: this doesn’t only apply to feelings of remorse. It happens that we refrain from saying nice or loving things to others because we “don’t feel it,” and heaven forbid us from saying “in vain” things that make others feel good or loved. So if you suffer from this ailment of repressed feelings or misplaced sentiments of piety, try the following exercise: Just say it! Say those nice things that you would love to be feeling, and in time, you will find yourself feeling them.
Inspired by Likkutei Sichos, vol. 27, p. 207.
When a Gesture for Peace is an Invitation for War
by rabbi yy jacobson | www.theyeshiva.net
Swept up by the momentum of the recent Facebook-powered revolutions in the Arab world, a newly formed, super-viral Palestinian group on Facebook openly advocates another Intifada (terror war) against the citizens of Israel.
The “Third Palestinian Intifada,” calls for a million supporters to join forces in a violent uprising against Israel on May 15, 2011, or Nakba Day, the date on which Arabs mourn the establishment of Israel. Previous intifadas (1987 and 2000) resulted in the murders of thousands of innocent victims through suicide bombings, rocket attacks, roadside shootings and numerous acts of terror.
The facebook page, entitled Third Palestinian Intifada, has more than 350,000 fans. Facebook has refused to remove the page. Will a Jewish young man, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, actually assist the bloodshed of his own people?
Supporters of Israel are deeply worried. On Friday night, March 12, a young Israeli family in Itamar was butchered to death. Last Wednesday, a bombing in Jerusalem killed a woman and wounded dozens. Rocket attacks from Gaza are increasing by the day. Are these barbaric acts heralding the launch of a third Intifada?
Over the last two years Israel has acquiesced to the incessant demands of the Palestinian Authority and the Obama administration that it freeze construction of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in order to promote peace. It also removed scores of roadblocks allowing Palestinians free entry into Israel cities and towns. The economy in the West Bank has been prospering. Why, then, the sudden fury against Israel?The answer is painful. Without even a single exception, every time Israel ceded territory or made security compromises to its neighbors, that territory became an infrastructure of terror, from which Arabs were sent to murder innocent Israeli civilians.
In the summer of 2005, Israel withdrew completely from Gaza, which it obtained in the 1967 war. Not even on an inch of land remained under Israeli occupation. The then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon believed that with not a single Jew left in Gaza and with the Israeli occupation over, the Arabs living there would now be driven to create a functioning state, and security would increase for both sides. Alas, the exact opposite occurred. Hamas swept into Gaza and turned it into a terrorist infrastructure, with a clear objective: to destroy Israel. The result was increased rocket attacks from unoccupied Gaza targeting Israeli civilians on a daily basis. One decade earlier, the Oslo peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority persuaded Israel to cede territories in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank of Jordan), obtained from Jordan in the 1967 war, to the Palestinian Authority. What was the result? Those very territories have become bastions of terror from where young Arab men and women were sent to blow up and murder as many civilians as possible. Endless rivers of blood and tears began flowing in the buses, streets, café’s, and schools of Israel. At Camp David, in 2000, Yasser Arafat was offered a Palestinian State with its capital in East Jerusalem, along with 100% of Gaza and 98% of the West Bank. Arafat’s response was a terror campaign that claimed the lives of thousands of his own people, in addition to thousands of dead and maimed Jews. For years Israel said to its Arab neighbors, “Let us live together.” Their consistent reply was: “Rather than live together, we will die together.” In 1947, the UN in its famous partition plan, offered the Arabs a state alongside a Jewish one. Israel accepted the offer; the Arabs rejected it.
After the Six Day War, Israel offered the return of the territories in exchange for peace and the Arab league issued its three famous No’s: No to peace, no to negotiation, and no to recognition. Why did the Arabs not, for their own benefit, accept the path of coexistence? The painful answer is that the Arab objective is not to establish the twenty-second Arab state, but to destroy the only Jewish state. Arab leaders have always craved a Palestinian state that, in their oft-repeated phrase, would “extend from the river to the sea,” i.e., from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea—all of Israel. It is not about Arab desire for more land that drives the continuous strife; it is the feeling that if Israel exists, their existence is somehow worthless. The Arab war against Israel is no more a territorial conflict than was Al Qaeda’s strike against America, and it can no more be resolved by giving away territory than anti-Americanism could be appeased by yielding New Jersey to Osama bin Laden. What has changed from 2005 to 2011 that should convince Israel that this time around it would be any different? Has the education curriculum in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza been altered to start teaching children about the importance of peace and co-existence? Have the Imams during their weekly sermons in the Mosques changed their jargon exclaiming that Israel is not the face of the devil? Have Arab communities stopped naming streets and quarters after suicide bombers who murdered Israeli civilians? Sadly, nothing of this has occurred. No one in the international community even demands it as a prerequisite for peace negotiations. While Israeli schools teach that peace is our greatest ideal, in every single Arab school without exception Israel is portrayed as the enemy of G-d which must be obliterated. With these realities unaltered, giving away more territories, removing roadblocks, ceasing construction of Jewish homes, would bring more war not peace. Two weeks ago, on March 13, the municipality in Ramallah, under the Palestinian Authority, named a new town square. It was named for the female leader of a 1978 bus hijacking in which 35 Israelis were murdered, including 13 children. Dalal al-Mughrabi, a member of the then-underground Fatah movement, led the hijacking of the bus on Israel’s Haifa-Tel Aviv highway. ”We stand here in praise of our martyrs and in loyalty to all of the martyrs of the national movement,” Fatah member Sabri Seidam said at the unveiling of a plaque showing Mughrabi cradling a rifle against a backdrop map of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The square was festooned with Palestinian flags. The naming ceremony was conducted two days after five Israelis were stabbed to death in their home in Itamar, the victims including an infant and a four year old. What does this teach Palestinian youth about murdering Jewish babies?
For decades, the Palestinian Authority has demonized Israelis and Jews as enemies to be destroyed, vermin to be loathed, and infidels to be terrorized. Children who grow up under Palestinian rule are inundated on all sides — in school, in the mosques, on radio and TV, even in summer camps and popular music — with messages that glorify bloodshed, promote hatred, and lionize “martyrdom.’’
The toxic incitement that pervades Palestinian culture has been massively documented. What children are taught in Palestinian classrooms, Hillary Clinton said in 2007, is “to see martyrdom and armed struggle and the murder of innocent people as ideals to strive for…This propaganda is dangerous.’’
Last year Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the Netanyahu position at the time against freezing the construction “very unfortunate” and said he hoped the U.S. “will be able to convince the Israeli government to give peace a chance by halting settlement construction in east Jerusalem and elsewhere.” “Give peace a chance?” Israel has stretched out its neck time and time again in order to give peace a chance and it has received in return thousands of orphans. If some day the Arabs are serious about creating a democratic Palestinian State with its capital in East Jerusalem, co-existing peacefully with Israel, why are Jews not allowed to live and build homes there? What type of free democracy would it be if Jews would be banned from there? Arabs are allowed to live in all parts of Israel, but Jews are forbidden to live in parts of Palestine? How can leaders of free democracies advocate the creation of a new Palestinian State which does not allow a single Jew to live in its midst? Why can’t Jews build homes in a free Palestinian State? Unless, of course, this Palestinian State has at its core agenda the extermination of Israel. At the end of World War II, Winston Churchill quipped, “You can always rely on America to do the right thing, once it has exhausted the alternatives.” Israel, which has far fewer alternatives than the U.S., has long ago exhausted them all. How much more innocent blood needs to be spilled before we abandon the failed maps of the past? How many more children have to be blown up by suicide bombers before we pursue the only real course for peace? How many more throats have to be slashed in order to sober us up?
When Explaining Yourself Can Become Your Greatest Enemy
The 19th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev is celebrated as the “Rosh Hashanah of Chassidism.” It was on this date, in the year 1798, that the founder ofChabad Chassidism, RabbiSchneur Zalman of Liadi(1745–1812), was freed from his imprisonment in czarist Russia. More than a personal liberation, this was a watershed event in the history of Chassidism, heralding a new era in the revelation of the “inner soul” of Torah.
The public dissemination of the teachings of Chassidism had in fact begun two generations earlier. The founder of the chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760), revealed to his disciples gleanings from the mystical soul of Torah which had previously been the sole province of select kabbalists in each generation. This work was continued by the Baal Shem Tov’s disciple, Rabbi DovBer, the “Maggid of Mezeritch”—who is also deeply connected with the date of “19 Kislev”: on this day in 1772, 26 years before Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s release from prison, the Maggidreturned his soul to his Maker. Before his passing, he said to his disciple, Rabbi Schneur Zalman: “This day is our yom tov (festival).”
Rabbi Schneur Zalman went much farther than his predecessors, bringing these teachings to broader segments of the Jewish population of Eastern Europe. More significantly, Rabbi Schneur Zalman founded the “Chabad” approach—a philosophy and system of study, meditation, and character refinement that made these abstract concepts rationally comprehensible and practically applicable in daily life.
In its formative years, the chassidic movement was the object of strong, and often venomous, opposition from establishment rabbis and laymen. Even within the chassidic community, a number of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s contemporaries and colleagues felt that he had “gone too far” in tangibilizing and popularizing the hitherto hidden soul of Torah.
In the fall of 1798, Rabbi Schneur Zalman was arrested on charges that his teachings and activities threatened the imperial authority of the czar, and was imprisoned in an island fortress in the Neva River in Petersburg. In his interrogations, he was compelled to present to the czar’s ministers the basic tenets of Judaism and explain various points of chassidic philosophy and practice. After 53 days, he was exonerated of all charges and released.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman saw these events as a reflection of what was transpiring Above. He regarded his arrest as but the earthly echo of a Heavenly indictment against his revelation of the most intimate secrets of the Torah. And he saw his release as signifying his vindication in the Heavenly court. Following his liberation on 19 Kislev, he redoubled his efforts, disseminating his teachings on a far broader scale, and with more detailed and “down-to-earth” explanations, than before.
The nineteenth of Kislev therefore marks the “birth” of Chassidism: the point at which it was allowed to emerge from the womb of “mysticism” into the light of day, to grow and develop as an integral part of Torah and Jewish life.
For more on Rabbi Schneur Zalman, his teachings, and the events of 19 Kislev, see the following articles and stories:
By Tzvi freeman
There are many myths aboutChabad. Like the one that Chabad invented Jewish outreach. Don’t believe a word of it. Chabad never did outreach. The term is antithetical to everything that Chabad and the Rebbe stand for.
Take the case of the rabbi who wrote to the Rebbe boasting that he was involved in outreach. He used the Hebrew term, kiruv rechokim, which translates as “bringing close those who are distant.” The poor rabbi must have really regretted that letter. The Rebbe wrote back, indignantly:
You call them “distant”?! What gives you the right to say that you are close and they are far? You must approach each one of them as though you are the King’s servant sent with a message to His most precious child!
Others who spoke with the Rebbe on the subject have similarly groped and fallen. One Chabad supporter told the Rebbe about a shabbaton he had sponsored for over forty couples who “had no Jewish background.”
“No what?” the Rebbe responded, as though in shock.
“No Jewish background,” was the hesitant response.
“Tell them that they have a background! Their background is that they are children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!” the Rebbe replied.
So I don’t believe that the Rebbe preached outreach, and Chabad, from what I’ve seen, doesn’t practice it. Sure, the word gets used, but there are days I think we should ban it. We don’t need any more distinctions between Jews. We certainly don’t need to divide ourselves between those who are on the inside and those who are on the outside. In Chabad, there is one Jewish people, all of us in the same inside of the same boat.
So what do we practice? What is a Chabad House? What is the MitzvahCampaign? What are all these beards and black hats, sheitls and long skirts doing in the most bizarre places, if not outreach?
Quite simply, we are patching up the boat.
In the Rebbe’s words:
A Jew may say to you, “Why can’t you leave me alone? Why can’t you just go and do your thing and let me do mine? What does it bother you if I drill this little hole in my little boat?”
You must answer him, “There is only one boat and we are all in it together.”
That is and always was the theme behind the mitzvah campaign. Again, in the Rebbe’s words:
The soul of the mitzvah campaign is Ahavat Yisrael — Love of the Jewish People. And the meaning of that love is that we are all one.
That’s why there was never a campaign that was only meant for “them out there.” Every campaign encompassed and embraced the entire Jewish people. When there was a tefillin campaign, not only did we run out on the streets to roll up sleeves and apply the “Jewish blood pressure test” — we took our own tefillin to a scribe to be checked, as well. When the Rebbe initiated the mezuzah campaign, he made sure to discover a cranny of his own office that could use a new mezuzah, as well. When he started a campaign to have a charity box in every Jewish home, he started personally handing out dimes and dollars to children and grownups to give charity.
So if a Chabad House is not an outreach center, what is it?
Chabad is an idea. An idea that is valid no matter where you are and who you think you are. It wasn’t invented yesterday and it’s not going away tomorrow. It is the idea that every person has to use his own mind to awaken his heart and connect with his G-dly soul. A Chabad House is a place that facilitates that. For anybody who wants to make that connection.
So why are we “out there”? Why do we make such a big deal of traveling to the furthest reaches of the world, as long as another Jew might be found there? Aren’t there enough Jews to take care of in Brooklyn andJerusalem?
Because this is the mandate given us in our time, to “spread the wellsprings to the outside.” As the Rebbe pointed out, not that the water from the wellsprings should spread to the outside. That would be outreach. The wellsprings themselves should be outside. The “outside” should become wellsprings. Every single one of us, without distinction.
There’s a Jew somewhere in the world who imagines he’s “out there.” He doesn’t find in himself — if he ever stops to look for it — any connection left with his people. Maybe he’s far away on the globe, maybe further in ways of life, ways of thinking.
We come to him and tell him, “Really, you are on the inside. Really, you never left. The fact that you find yourself so ‘out there’ — you were guided to this place, this mindset, so that even here you would find the Torah and even here you will delight in its living water. Until you yourself will become a wellspring to this part of the world.”
In Chabad, every reach reaches deeper within.