Parashat Shmini 5757
In this weeks reading from the Torah, which is in the portion of Shmini, Leviticus 9:1 to 11:47, we are told of the Avodah (labor) of the priest, Aharon, as he conducted it in the Tabernacle in the desert: "And he brought the peoples offering, and took the goat, which was the sin offering for the people, and slew it, and offered it for sin, as the first. And he brought the burnt offering, and offered it according to the prescribed manner. And he brought the meal offering, and took a handful of it, and burned it upon the altar, beside the burnt sacrifice of the morning. He slew also the bull and the ram for a sacrifice of peace offerings, which was for the people; and the sons of Aaron presented to him the blood, which he sprinkled upon the altar, And the fat of the bull and of the ram, the rump, and that which covers the entrails, and the kidneys, and the appendage of the liver; And they put the fat upon the breasts, and he burned the fat upon the altar; And the breasts and the right shoulder Aaron waved for a wave offering before the Lord; as Moses commanded. And Aaron lifted up his hand toward the people, and blessed them, and came down from offering the sin offering, and the burnt offering, and peace offerings. And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people. And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt offering and the fat; which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces." [Lev. 9:15-24]
What is interesting and instructive to me, in the above quote, is the fact that the Cohanim, the priests, served the people without any regard to their "affiliation" or degree of commitment to Judaism and to Torah. There is no question that the Cohanim were committed, and their behavior had to be above all reproach, but the people, all the people, were blessed -- and, did you notice, the text says, "the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people." Now, in the family of Aharon, the high priest, and the brother of Moshe, there were four sons. Sons are the pride of their father -- and Aharon, of course, took his sons into the "family business" -- the priesthood. Two of the sons, Nadav and Avihu, though, turned out to be very eager, maybe too eager, to succeed -- certainly more so than their dad or brothers. The text does not clearly explain why, or to what end, but they tried to "improve" the service that had been established, and , as the text says, they "brought a foreign fire" to the altar of the Lord. A fire came out of the heavens and consumed these two "zealots." Moshe explained to his brother that this is part of the price we sometimes have to pay for our privilege of serving God, and he forbade Aharon and his remaining sons to mourn for their loss or attend to the dead.
After relating the story of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the Lord instructed Aaron as follows: "Do not drink wine or strong drink, you and your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may differentiate between the holy and the profane, between the unclean and the clean, and that you may teach the Children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses" [Lev. 10:9-11].
This commandment prohibits Aaron and his sons from consuming intoxicating beverages before entering the Sanctuary. Two reasons are given for this rule: First, so that they will be capable of distinguishing between the Holy and the profane, between the unclean and the clean; second, to enable them to teach the laws of God to the Children of Israel. The sages who commented on the text concluded that Nadav and Avihu must have (a) become intoxicated, (b) became incapable of distinguishing between the holy and the profane, between the unclean and the clean -- and (c) that they were not able to teach the laws of God to the Children of Israel. How did this happen? Did the sons of Aaron become drunks? No, indeed! They became zealots, which is to say that they were intoxicated with their own position. Did they not know the difference between the holy and the profane, between the unclean and the clean? No, they had been trained from early youth to know what is holy and what is profane. They were not taught that you can do wrong by overdoing the holy -- and that the clean can be made unclean when it is made the property and the purview of the elite few who deem themselves holier than the entire people.
The priests (cohanim) are required to abstain from drinking which dulls their senses so that they should be able to distinguish between property which is secular and that which was dedicated to God, or to make halakhic decisions about that which is impure and that which is pure. Secondly, they must remain sober in order to be able to teach the Children of Israel the halakhic rulings and customs based on the Midrash interpretation of the Torah passed down by Moses. In other words, the word "to teach" (lehorot) does not mean to teach Torah in the broad sense of that term, as a teacher to a student, a task that assigned by the Torah not to the priests but to the each father for his children in the command: "and you shall teach them diligently to your children". Lehorot here means to give halakhic instruction to one who comes to ask a question and requests a halakhic decision.
The two sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, became arrogant and full of themselves to the point where they thought that they can improve upon the Torah, that they can render a "super service" -- which Aharon, their father, could not even dream of! Their problem was that what they wanted to do was different and exclusively outside the teaching of Torah. Moshe speaks to the people in Parashat Shoftim: "If there arise a matter too difficult for you to decide, in a case involving homicide, litigation, damages or injury, matters of dispute in your courts, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God shall choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who will officiate in those days and inquire and they will tell you a legal decision" (Deut.17:8-9). This teaches us that the priests had a quality of understanding that came from their work as priests that made it possible for them to make decisions of legal matters. However, the wisdom of the priests must be mitigated by humility and understanding that "the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people." In other words, the people were, and continue to be, the people of God. The priests of old, of Temple days, are Gone. The religious leadership of Judaism has long ago been taken over by the new teachers and interpreters of Torah -- the Rabbis. Through more than two thousand years, Rabbinic Judaism grew and matured and changed, yes, changed many times. Neither Moshe and Aaron, nor Nadav and Avihu, would recognize todays practices as anything even remotely resembling what they practiced in the Tabernacle in the desert. Neither Naomi nor Ruth, her faithful daughter in law; Nathan, the prophet in the days of David, nor Bathsheba and her son, Solomon, would make any sense of the manner of treatment of Jews and converts by some who call themselves the sentinels of Torah Judaism. Would Beit Shamai, the strict authoritarians of Sanhedrin days call Beit Hillel "not Jews" -- as some orthodox masters do these days, and do it in front of all the nations, the "goyim," who have been waiting for two thousand years to see the Jews turn and attack one another.
This evening and tomorrow we shall be celebrating Shabbat with tens of thousands of fellow Jews who normally do not attend synagogues, and conceivably have not had any contact with services, prayers and Jewish celebrations in a long time. This is due to a concentrated effort of Reform, Concervative and Orthodox Rabbis and lay leaders who have banded together in a "National Jewish Outreach Program." It actually started at one synagogue, the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City, in a program that was called "Turn Friday night into Shabbos." In has grown to encompass 500 synagogues across America this year. This is a very positive step toward uniting Jews around our "spiritual home" -- the synagogue, no matter if it is called that, or Temple, or Shul or Beit Knesset. Kol Yisrael Khaverim, we are all friends; Kol Yisrael Akhim -- we are all brothers!
The Talmud teaches that the Temple was destroyed because of "sinat akhim" -- which is brotherly hatered! The prophets complained time and again that the priests and the "false prophets" offered their allegiance to the highest bidder. We read, "Her leaders judge for bribery and her priests teach for a price and her prophets divine for money" [Michah 3:10-11]. The complaint is not the fact that the priests are paid to teach Torah, but that their halakhic decisions are not objective. The parallelism of "her leaders" and "her prophets" indicate that the "customer" is able to influence judgment, halakhic decisions, and divination in whichever direction he desires.
This is the case in the Orthodox movement right now: they wish to have exclusive control over "the state of Judaism." As if, throughout the ages, all Jews did things exactly and precisely in the same manner. As if there were no differences between Khassidim and Mitnagdim, between Sepharadim and Ashkenazim -- between Safed and Jerusalem... "Dont listen to them," they have been proclaiming for generations... And the voice grows louder today. "Conservative and reform Jews are the way of death," we are told. "They mislead the Jews away from God," they warn their followers. For, make no mistake about it: They speak to and for their own little following. And they speak out of their own political and economical self-interest, pure and simple (or maybe I should say impure and compounded interest). To them, "Halakha" means that THEY get the monies allocated for yeshivot, for special schools, for charitable organization. They hold one government of Israel after another up for ransom with their coalition participation with the highest bidder. They laugh at charges of bribery and misallocation of funds, forbidding their followers to answer questions -- or to ask questions of their leaders. More than sixty percent of Jews, world wide, will have nothing to do with them because they feel repressed and put upon by an unjust and corrupt clergy -- and they claim a right to judge, a right to proclaim who is Jewish, who shall bask in the light and warmth of Gods blessing of the Jews. Maybe it was about them that the prophet Malachi prophesied in the beginning of the second Temple period. Desiring to criticize the priests of his own time he describes, by way of comparison the greatness and the faith of the priests in previous generations. "For the priests lips should guard knowledge, and they should seek the Torah from his mouth; for he is a messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble in the Torah; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts." (Malachi 2:5-7). Let us hope that the integrity of the people Israel is maintained in spite of foolish and vainglorious Rabbis who preach separation and exclusivity. May Shabbat Across America spread all over the Jewish world, bringing back our brothers to the ways of Judaism, to affiliation, to service -- in every sense of that word. May all Jews find Tshuvah -- an answer to their question, to their quest -- and a path to return to God, to Yiddishkite, to klal Yisrael, the totality of Judaism. May we return to the wisdom of an earlier age, and may "the glory of the Lord appear unto all the people."
Parashat Shmini 5758
In this weeks reading from the Torah, which is in the portion of Shmini, Leviticus 9:1 to 11:47, we are told of the Avodah (labor) of the priest, Aharon, as he conducted it in the Tabernacle in the desert. Half way through the portion we read the following: "Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, "It is what the Lord spoke, saying, 'By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, And before all the people I will be honored.'" So Aaron, therefore, kept silent." [Lev. 10:1-3]
What, exactly, is a "strange fire?" And why is it so bad that God took the lives of Nadav and Avihu? The text does not clearly explain what it is -- but, in the Hebrew, the term for strange is zara which means strange as in foreign. What I would like to suggest to you is that Nadav and Avihu wanted to be "Jews plus" -- more than what Uncle Moshe told them.
Why, how, or to what end -- I do not know, but they tried to "improve" the service that had been established oh so recently, and , as the text says, they "brought a foreign fire" to the altar of the Lord. A fire came out of the heavens and consumed these two "zealots." Moshe explained to his brother that this is part of the price we sometimes have to pay for our privilege of serving God, and Aharon and his remaining sons understood by this comment that they must continue to serve, and may not take time to mourn for their loss or attend to the dead.
The text then continues and we read, "Do not drink wine or strong drink, you and your sons with you, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may differentiate between the holy and the profane, between the unclean and the clean, and that you may teach the Children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses" [Lev. 10:9-11]. The sages who commented on the text concluded that Nadav and Avihu must have either (a) become intoxicated, (b) became incapable of distinguishing between the holy and the profane, between the unclean and the clean -- or (c) that they were not able to teach the laws of God to the Children of Israel. How did this happen? Did the sons of Aaron become drunks? No, indeed! They became zealots, which is to say that they were intoxicated with their own position, possibly feeling that they were given a clearer and keener understanding of God and what He wants of us. Did they not know the difference between the holy and the profane, between the unclean and the clean? No, they had been trained from early youth to know what is holy and what is profane. They were not taught that you can do wrong by overdoing the holy -- and that the clean can be made unclean when it is made the property and the purview of the elite few who deem themselves holier than the entire people.
Bringing the sin of Nadav and Avihu to our own day and age, one might say that todays "priests" who commit a similar transgression are the men who assume for themselves positions of leadership and teach an augmented Jedaism -- one that is fulfilled or completed through the events recounted in aset of books that are not part of Jewish teaching -- namely the New Testament.
Judaism is a very understanding religion. It does not try to force others to accept its tenets, nor does it claim to be the only truth or the only approach to God. Quite the contrary -- it suggests in numerous places throughout our scriptures that non-Jews can have a valid religion and a covenant with God without being Jewish and living by Jewish laws. Judaism does teach, though, that for Jews, the teachings of the Torah are valid and binding at all times. The very experience of Sinai begins with the words, "And God spoke all these words: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."" [Ex. 20:1,2] Anyone who is not a member of this group is not bound by all these words which the Lord spoke! It is made very clear that God does not wish to have all these words altered, added to, diminished from -- or in any way improved upon.
Yet there are those who suggest that somehow God did not make himself clear to the Children of Israel the first time, at MountSinai or at soe other point in their forty years of travel. They suggest that only those who open a new book, a story of a new relationship between God and man,and only by accepting the teaching in this new book, which nagates, contradicts, and changes fundamentally that which is taught in the Torah, can Jews maintain their relationship with God in the tradition of Judaism. This, of course, is a sham and a trick, and is totally wrong.
Had they been in the tabernacle with Aaron and his sons -- they would have fit in very well with Navad and Avihu. I have often wished that they would realize that and stop their work of subversion and destruction. I hope they learn their lesson before they meet the wrath of God, the wrath that consumed the two sons of Aaron,who could noteven be mourned!
Parashat Shmini 5759
This weeks reading from the Torah is in the portion Shmini, Leviticus 9:1 to 11:47. What follows has nothing to do with it except that we are told in the Torah of the Avodah (labor) of the priest, Aharon, as he conducted it in the Tabernacle in the desert. Like his labor for the precept of justice and equity, some of our public servants in the congress of the United States also labor for the purposes of Justice and the survival of Israel. I wish to read to you the words spoken very recently by our senator from Florida, Connie Mack.
MR. PRESIDENT, I VERY RECENTLY TRAVELED to Israel. It had been several years. Since my last visit, and I expected this year we would bring some important measures to the Senate floor. The time line on the Oslo accords expires in May, and Arafat has threatened to unilaterally declare an independent state. The supplemental appropriations for the Wye River accords will soon be before us, and the timetable on the Jerusalem Embassy Act requires that the President report to the Congress why the United States Embassy has not been set up in Israel's capital city, Jerusalem. I learned a great deal during the week and I rise today to share a few simple thoughts regarding what I saw and what went through my mind as the week in Israel unfolded.
Let me begin with the question that is on my mind today: How is it possible to engage in peace negotiations with people who maintain the right to obliterate you, who are filled with hatred toward you, and who harbor the dream of one day destroying your homeland? Peace is a matter of the heart. I believe in the depths of every person's heart is a desire to live in peace. But what I saw, which was the outcome of the Palestinian Authority rule, convinced me that their hearts and minds are set on other goals. The Palestinian leadership does not want peace. They want, first, their own state which they can control with total power. Then they want to use that state to eliminate the State of Israel.
A picture is worth at least a thousand words. Let's be clear. The peace process, to be meaningful, must be about more than rules and laws and lines on a map. We can reach a short-term agreement on these points, but if the Palestinian leadership fails to abandon incitement of hatred, persecution, and terrorism, then we are all dreaming, only dreaming, and our President's behavior must be labeled foolish appeasement. There will not be peace until hearts and minds are changed, and we must focus our attention on these issues. Mr. President, many of my colleagues in the Senate and in the House are aware of the promotion of hatred contained in the Palestinian media, and more significantly in the Palestinian schoolbooks. Let me provide some examples.
This is a picture that was taken off of Palestinian Authority-controlled television. It is a picture of a young girl, probably 6 or 7 years old. This is a young girl singing into a microphone. She is on a television show that would be what we would refer to as kind of a Mickey Mouse Club type of show that would be shown to children by the Palestinian Authority. I want to read to you what this little girl is singing. Again, this is a program that was produced by the people who are sitting across the table from you, supposedly negotiating peace. This is what the little girl is singing:
"When I wander into the entrance of Jerusalem, I'll turn into a suicide warrior in battledress, In battledress. In battledress." There is no way I can convey to you the emotion of actually seeing that scene on television. There is no way I can put the emotion into what she was expressing and the emotion that she was expressing as she sang those words. And after her song, she got an ovation from her classmates and from her teacher. This focuses us on the fundamental difference in approach between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I have a grandson about that age, about the age of that little girl. How would I feel if he were being taught hatred in school? If he were being taught hatred on television, how would I feel? How would you feel if your Government was teaching your children to hate? Could you conclude that they were serious about long-term peace with their neighbors?
I also have some examples from Palestinian textbooks for a third-grade grammar lesson. Here is the task: Complete the following blank spaces with the appropriate word.' And the sentence is, The Zionist enemy blank civilians with its aircraft.' The correct answer is, The Zionist enemy attacked civilians with its aircraft.' For seventh graders: Answer the following question: Why do the Jews hate Muslim unity and want to cause division among them? Give an example of the evil attempts of the Jews, from events happening today.' These are from Palestinian textbooks today.
One would expect, rather than focus on hatred, if they were serious about peace, they would focus on how the two peoples are working to live side by side. A history book for 12th graders published only last summer teaches: The clearest examples of racist belief and racial discrimination in the world are Nazism and Zionism.' To see this taking place today is chilling. If you can, think about it in the context of being in Israel and being briefed by a member of the Government with respect to what is happening in what they refer to as the anti-incitement committee, which was set up by the Wye Agreement. To be sitting there and seeing this, I must say to you, was chilling. I found it to be extremely chilling.
While the Government of Israel makes good-faith efforts to come to a peace agreement, the Palestinian Authority teaches children hatred. This causes me to ask, How can peace be obtained when the children are being taught hatred? Let me share another story. I attended Shabbat dinner at the home of Saul and Wendy Singer in Jerusalem. Saul worked on my staff for 7 years before moving with his wife to Israel. They just had their second child, a girl named Tamar. Wendy told the story of the day she was checking out of the hospital in Jerusalem, 2 days after giving birth. In a very ordinary and matter of fact way, the hospital gave her the necessities for bringing home a newborn baby. In addition to providing for diapers and other things we would expect, she was handed a gas mask for her baby. It is actually a tent which you put your baby under in case of a chemical weapons attack. In Israel, this preparation is routine. Everyone in Israel knows to have a gas mask ready. It just becomes a part of the craziness of everyday life. But when you bring home a newborn baby, when you bring home your baby and you get the chemical weapons tent at the hospital, then you realize how un-ordinary life is in Israel today. You realize that you are really simply struggling for a normal life, hoping for peace and security, praying to God, while actually living in a war zone.
I had another profound meeting during this week. I met one evening privately-- secretly--with Arabs who were being persecuted for their Christian faith. I met with about 10 Palestinian Christians. I will tell you just one of their stories, but I will change some of the details to protect the person I am describing. I remember an energetic man, in his early 40s, at the end of the table. I remember him because he seemed so full of life and love. He had a great smile on his face and displayed a wonderful sense of humor. I say this was memorable because, frankly, after hearing what he had been through, I do not know if I could express the sense of peace and love he did. This is his story.
He had many children and very little money. He converted to Christianity in 1993. He clearly loved God, and he loved to tell people about his conversion. He described to me how in 1997, the Palestinian Authority asked him to come to the police station for questioning. When he arrived, he was immediately arrested and detained on charges of selling land to Jews. He denied this charge, since he was very poor and owned no land. He was beaten. He was hung from the ceiling by his hands for many hours. He showed me what I just said. He showed me how his hands were tied behind his back and then raised from the floor and hung that way for many, many hours. After 2 weeks, he was transferred to a larger prison where he was held for 8 months without trial. He was released in February 1998, after his family borrowed thousands of dollars to pay off the local authorities. And even though he is free, they are keeping his father in prison. They believe it is for his son's beliefs. He feels his father is being held hostage to prevent him from talking with people about his faith. Needless to say, these Christians met with me at considerable risk. They conveyed to me a message of fear and desperation. But their mere presence in the room with me demonstrated their hope, and it also caused me to ask, how can the people of Israel find peace with the Palestinian Authority while the Palestinian Authority engages in coercion and torture based upon religious beliefs?
I also met with the parents of American children killed by Palestinian terrorists. In this meeting, I was struck by the courage displayed by these families after suffering the tremendous loss of a child brutally murdered. These families told me of the hopes and dreams they had for their children. I couldn't help thinking about my own. My daughter, Debbie, traveled with me on this trip. She was in the room as these stories of brutality and murder were related. There was scarcely a dry eye in the room. I am sure Debbie was thinking about her three little boys, ages 14, 11 and 5. We were moved by the comments made by the parents as they described to us what had happened.
I understand that the Palestinian Authority knows a great deal about these murderers, but they are not being punished. Some of them have gone to trial and were sentenced, but we don't know if they remain in prison. I was told that we know some have been released. There are reports that the Palestinian Authority allows them to leave prison each day and return in the evening--like free room and board more than like prison. I was also presented with stories of the lionization of these murderers in the press and again in the classrooms. Try to imagine how you would feel, try to imagine what would be going through your mind when you are dealing with the grief of the loss of your child. You know who is responsible. You know they know who is responsible. You saw them go on trial. You saw them then released. You have to ask yourself, what are we going through this peace process for?
I would like to mention one story of many that I heard. Mrs. Dosberg sat directly across the table from me. When she told us of the loss of her daughter and son-in- law, the lesson of these murders became so clear--we must fight terror and we cannot back off. Mrs. Dosberg's family, her daughter, American son-in-law, and their 9-month-old daughter attended a wedding in central Israel on June 9, 1996. They decided not to bring their 2-year-old daughter along. Thank God. On the way home from the wedding they were stopped by Palestinian terrorists and killed in a so-called drive-by shooting. Fifty bullets were found to have been used in this murder, and yet, by some miracle, the baby survived. Even with a crime this gross, the Palestinian Authority did not arrest everyone involved or suspected in the shooting. One of those who remained free, it is believed, later took part in the bombing of the Apropos Café, killing many others.
Another suspected killer, according to the Israeli Justice Ministry, was under arrest but given permission to come and go as he pleases from prison. Mohammed Dief, another suspected Palestinian terrorist, took part in the murder of two other Americans, at two different times, according to the mothers with whom I spoke. Mrs. Sharon Weinstock lost her 19-year-old son in a drive-by shooting masterminded by Dief. And only a year later, Mrs. Wachsman told me of the kidnap-murder of their son, also believed to have been planned by Dief. I am told Mohammed Dief remains a free man today. The obvious lesson--terrorists kill and those who are not jailed remain free to kill and to kill again thanks to the Palestinian Authority. How would I feel in their place? I couldn't keep the thought from my mind, as I listened. If I had lost a child and knew that the murderer or accomplices were on the loose, how would I feel? And if I knew the killer remained free to kill other people's children, how would I feel? It is so hard, hard to even consider, but I do know that I left there committed to doing whatever I could to help each of those families.
Once again, I began to better understand the way the Palestinian Authority leadership was approaching peace. How can one find peace with people who do not condemn terrorism? Mr. President, how is it possible to engage in peace negotiations with people who want to teach their children to die in a holy war against you? How is it possible to engage in peace negotiations with people who persecute those of other faiths? How is it possible to engage in peace negotiations with people who keep terrorists on the loose to wreak havoc and evil against you and praise them for heroism?
Today the Israeli people are exhausted by 50 years of violence against their homes and families, of sending their sons and daughters into the army, and they dream of a promised peace now. This is our hope and our dream as well. But we must not get confused. History is replete with examples of compromises which bring terror and destroy dreams. In the United States, many people seem to think that if we do not confront these obstacles to peace and if we look the other way, then we will be able to come to an agreement. The reality, however, is just the opposite. If we do not acknowledge the attitudes and acts of those at the peace table, then the peace process is already over, and we just won't admit it. In other words, the surest way to kill the peace process is to avoid confrontation, to fear upsetting a belligerent force and to avoid addressing incitement, violence, persecution and terrorism. The only way to keep the peace process alive is to focus on truth, freedom, security and justice.
Israeli efforts, to date, have sought to keep the peace process alive, improve security during the negotiating process, and obtain reciprocity as a vital element of implementation. The process remains alive, but terrorism continues and is exalted by many in the Palestinian Authority, and reciprocity does not exist. The United States role has been to seek the middle ground. Unfortunately, this only rewards those willing to go to new extremes. The middle ground between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat is not halfway between the two. The United States must not engage in moral equivocation. We must not shy away from holding Arafat responsible for acts of violence, incitement and persecution. The United States must demonstrate principled leadership and end the appeasement that perpetuates the cycle of violence. The peace process can only work when leaders uphold their agreements and answer to the people, and the United States remains a vigilant defender of the principles which bind us to Israel: freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.
What should we do? I believe there are three things. First, we should insist upon the strict adherence to Oslo and the reciprocity codified at Wye. The purpose of the Wye accord was at long last to force the Palestinians to comply with commitments before further territory would be turned over. So at Wye, Israel agreed only to turn over territory in phases, in which it could verify Palestinian compliance at each and every step. In the first phase, Israel completed its redeployment after the Palestinian Authority completed its tasks. In phase 2, the Palestinians did not meet all their obligations and, therefore, Israel has not yet turned over the additional land. Reciprocity makes no sense unless it is based upon this formulation. Once Israel has ceded territory, it is unlikely it ever could recover it. The Palestinians, on the other hand, can turn on and off their promises. In fact, this is exactly what they have done.
Second, we should stop paying Arafat. Any funds provided to the Palestinian people should continue to go through private voluntary organizations. We should also monitor much more closely the rampant corruption and mismanagement of funds provided currently.
And third, we must aggressively seek the bringing to justice of Palestinian terrorists who killed American citizens. I am told that our Justice Department can do a better job here, that they have a great deal of information on the murderers of the Americans who are free in the Palestinian areas and, indeed, can make some requests for indictments. It is time to do this. Let's put the needs of the American families and other victims' families over the needs of those engaging in or supporting terrorism.
Mr. President, these are very basic principles. I am not discussing today the intricacies of the peace process, U.S. funding, embassies, or any other number of issues we will be discussing this year in the Senate. We need to focus on a more fundamental level first. And I hope that this message will be heard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. What I mean when I say this is that I hope the President will hear the message. I say this from a standpoint not of arrogance, not of confrontation, and I do not mean it in a political way. I just hope that the President will listen and take another look at what he and his foreign policy team are trying to force the Israeli Government to do. There cannot be peace until there is a change of heart. I returned from this trip with a newfound concern for the future of Israel. I saw examples of incitement. I heard examples of persecution and hatred being taught throughout Palestinian society by their leaders. When the people engaged in peace talks return from the negotiating table only to disparage compromise and incite violence, there can be no progress towards peace.
Israel has come a long way since I first began following the fate of this state and the people of Israel. In so many respects, life appears and feels normal. The economy is developing, the standard of living is growing and improving. But just below the surface of this normalcy, Mr. President, Israel still faces a threat to the state's very existence. Israel's survival remains, unfortunately, a very real and central concern 50 years after its independence.
Some people believe, however, that by ignoring this threat, that the peace process can succeed. Mr. President, it will fail. It is clear to me that many in the Palestinian leadership today see the peace process toward the goal of eliminating the State of Israel. I suggest today that we get back to the basics. Peace is not possible while teaching children to hate and kill. Peace is not possible while persecuting those of other faiths. Peace is not possible while lionizing terrorism. We must stand up for freedom, security, and human dignity. We must stand up to ensure the security of Israel. We must stand up in the Congress, and we must insist that our President stand with us. Today is the day to end American pressure on Israel to force a peace agreement. Today is the day to remember it is up to the people of Israel to determine their own fate--their own security. We should pressure those who fill children with slogans of hatred and holy war; we should pressure them to change. We should pressure those who torture; we should pressure them to change. We should pressure those who encourage and support terror and murder, and those who rejoice in hatred. That is where the pressure should be. Now is the time, Mr. President, for a return to our principled stand. The only way to truly attain peace is to support freedom, democracy and justice, and oppose the cycle of hatred. We must face tyranny and oppression where it exists, condemn it, and stand up for peace--real peace based upon security, freedom, and a change of heart.
Sen. Connie Mack
Shmini Shabbat Hakhodesh 5760
In this weeks reading from the Torah, which is in the portion of Shmini, Leviticus 9:1 to 11:47, we are told of the Avodah (labor) of the priest, Aharon, as he conducted it in the Tabernacle in the desert: "And he brought the peoples offering, and took the goat, which was the sin offering for the people, and slew it, and offered it for sin, as the first. And he brought the burnt offering, and offered it according to the prescribed manner. And he brought the meal offering, and took a handful of it, and burned it upon the altar, beside the burnt sacrifice of the morning." These sacrifices were conducted with great ceremony, like a show, for the people to learn how to conduct themselves. Because they gave gifts to a god they could not see, or touch, they became aware of the mystery that is part of life. Because they had to give away something that was theirs, they learned how to share and how to be kind.
Some of the kindest people in the world are teachers. They help children develop and grow. Special education teachers are the most giving, special teachers. Parents of special kids know this, and many of them stands by the teachers and support them in their difficult task. These kids are often shunned and kept out of the circle of their peers. I am grateful to Joan Orensky for sending me the following story which fits this weeks lesson to perfection.
In Brooklyn, New York, Chush is a school that caters to learning disabled children. Some children remain in Chush for their entire school career, while others can be main streamed into conventional schools.
At a Chush fund-raising dinner, the father of a Chush child delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all that attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, "Where is the perfection in my son Jerry? Everything God does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is God's perfection?"
The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father's anguish and stilled by the piercing query. "I believe," the father answered, "that when God brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that He seeks is in the way people react to this child." He then told the following story about his son Jerry:
One afternoon Jerry and his father walked past a park where some boys Jerry knew were playing baseball. Jerry asked, "Do you think they will let me play?" Jerry's father knew that his son was not at all athletic and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Jerry's father understood that if his son were chosen to play it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.
Jerry's father approached one of the boys in the field and asked if Jerry could play. The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, "We are losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning.
Jerry's father was ecstatic as Jerry smiled broadly. Jerry was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Jerry's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Jerry's team scored again and now with two outs and the bases loaded with the potential winning run on base, Jerry was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Jerry bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game?
Surprisingly, Jerry was given the bat. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible because Jerry didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. However, as Jerry stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Jerry should at least be able to make contact. The first pitch came in and Jerry swung clumsily and missed. One of Jerry's teammates came up to Jerry and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly toward Jerry.
As the pitch came in, Jerry and his teammate swung the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Jerry would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far beyond reach of the first baseman.
Everyone started yelling, "Jerry, run to first. Run to first!" Never in his life had Jerry run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide eyed and startled. By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman that would tag out Jerry, who was still running. But the right fielder understood what the pitcher's intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman's head. Everyone yelled, "Run to second, run to second."
Jerry ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Jerry reached second base, the opposing short stop ran to him, turned him in the direction of third base and shouted, "Run to third." As Jerry rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, "Jerry, run." Jerry ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero, as he had just hit a "grand slam" and won the game for his team.
"That day," said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "those 18 boys reached their level of God's perfection."
May we all know how to conduct ourselves with the Godliness, devotion and kindness that was shown by those children that day.
This weeks reading from the Torah is the portion of Shmini, which is found in Leviticus, from 9:1 to 11:47. The portion tells of the Avodah (labor) of the priest, Aharon, as he conducted the sin offering for atonement in the Tabernacle in the desert. Later on in our history this ritual was transferred to the Temple in Jerusalem. This was a most solemn and important ritual, and we read about it to this day in the liturgy of Yom Kippur.
Immediately after this passage we continue reading the text: And Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire in it, and put incense on it, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. [Lev. 10:1,2] This is a strange and awesome turn of events. The two sons of the High Priest who had just performed the expiating of sins sacrifice come to worship God and exalt him even further - and God kills them. What is this? How can God treat them like that? How can he treat Aharon like that?
Well, Moshe does not let us have any doubts, as he states immediately after the event takes place, Then Moses said to Aaron, This is what the Lord spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near to me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. [Lev. 10:3] There are two interpretations, and two lessons to be learned. The first concerns the action of the two men. They offered strange fire before the Lord - they went outside of the teaching Moshe brought from God, they attempted to expand and improve upon Gods teaching. This is something that God will not countenance, will not abide. Gods teaching to Israel is complete and total. One must not, one dare not change it either by removing something from it, nor by adding to it.
However, that is not the only lesson I see in this, particularly in view of Moshes post-event statement. When he says, I will be sanctified in them that come near to me, and before all the people I will be glorified - I see here a message concerning the future history of Israel. I believe that we can see a portent, an indication of the coming events of history. Moshe says sanctified and I hear Kiddush Hashem - martyrdom for the sake of His name and His glory. Moshe says glorified and I see Masada, and the Spanish Inquisition, and also Auschwitz and Treblinka. There is a link between Aharons sons and the sons and daughters of Israeli parents who mourn the untimely death of their progeny at the hands of those who will try to desecrate His name. But they will not prevail, for His name shall be glorified and sanctified - yitgadal veyitkadash, in death as well as in life, in giving up life as well as in survival. The sum result is always survival, for the martyrs will life to the entire people, and their sacrifice makes life ever more precious, ever more meaningful.
Yesterday we commemorated the heroes and martyrs of the holocaust. Six million Jews were annihilated. One and a half million Jewish children perished before they had a chance to taste the full measure of the fruit of the tree of life. The mind recoils in horror, refusing to process this information. From the safe distance of half a century the deniers appeal to common sense to override the incontrovertible, undeniable first hand evidence - the pictures, the films, the eye witness accounts - by saying, surely no one could engage in such unimaginable brutality and inhumanity.
Yet it has taken place. We are the victims. We are the successors. We are the witnesses. We shall not forget, and we shall not be silenced. Kol dmey akhikha tzoakim elay min haadama! The voice of your brothers blood shout out to Me from the earth. [Gen. 4:10] May our peoples martyrs rest in peace, and may their sacrifice hasten tikun olam, the repair of this world in the hope of the coming sovereignty of the Almighty. Amen
This week's reading from the Torah, which is in the
portion of Shmini, Leviticus 9:1 to 11:47, tells us of the Avodah (labor) of
the priests first in the Tabernacle and then in the Temple in Jerusalem,
which, you may recall, is the core of the Yom Kippur musaf service. After reading
about the tasks of the priests, Moshe speaks to the nation about their personal
responsibility vis-a-vis the Holy One, blessed be He.
God commanded Moshe Rabeinu, "Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which you shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth." [Lev. 11:2] There follows a list of forbidden foods of every category: large land animals, fowl, fish and water life, and creeping things. The passage concludes, "those you shall not eat; for they are an abomination. You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps, nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled by them." [Ibid. 11:42,43]
These passages in the text form the basis for the rules of kashrut, together with the prohibition against mixing dairy and meat. Our text this week makes it clear that the reason for the prohibition against eating the "forbidden" animals is an issue of "defilement." What does this mean? Some have tried to explain that these forbidden animals are unhealthy, and therefore "unclean." However, all other people eat them and by and large are free of ill-effects and therefore we must conclude that the issue is not physical but spiritual.
One sages suggested that God gave the prohibition on the eating of these living beings after the Israelites transgressed with the golden calf. Here they were, they reasoned, just recently having shared the presence of God and yet so soon they forgot his prohibition to "make and image of God" and worship it. They gave evidence that they are without discipline and incapable of staying true to their commitment to "follow and learn " as they pledged to Moshe "na'ase venishma we shall do [what God says] and we shall listen." The sage reasoned that now that God has seen their failure, he instructed Moshe to give them an exercise in discipline kashrut.
Another sage suggests that the nature of the consumed animals is somehow transmitted with their protein. Carnivores make us more cruel, carrion eaters lack pity, pathos and compassion and would pass on those qualities to those who devour their flesh. Animals that chew their cud, on the other hand, are deliberate and constant, posing no danger to their fellow animals, and they live in harmony with nature.
Still another sage point out the fact that the Torah does not give us a prohibition against eating fruits and vegetables that may prove to be more of less poisonous. He reasons that God and Moshe reasoned that the Israelites would learn fast enough what to eat and what to avoid. However, with living things, he reasons, mankind is dealing with beings that are at best very little removed from our place in the chain of complex development. This is particularly true of large land animals and hence the strictest control is in this category.
Which brings me to human behavior towards one another and towards the world around them. If we are told to restrict our diet to learn humanist discipline we may well ask if there is not a corollary responsibility in our conduct man versus man and man versus nature. I believe that the one leads to the other, and I see proof of it in the total commitment of the Jewish people to human development, to suffrage, to civil rights and human rights. I believe that it leads to the way our nation, Israel, and our nation, the United Sates, conduct themselves vis-a-vis their enemies even in a life-or-death struggle, and at that one that has been forced upon them by a pernicious enemy.
The Jewish people survived two thousand years of persecution and terror because of the great value of our teaching and of the inner peace that is the reward of those who adhere to it. In time, the nation of the United States was founded upon these same teachings, mitigated to some extent by Christianity. However, it is American Christianity, much more open and permitting than its European root. I believe that is why we Jews have fared so well in the United States, and it is also why the United Sates finds itself in sympathy with the reborn state of Israel.
We are at war in both nations. We are in danger from all sides, because our enemies are pernicious and want to see us not only humiliated and brought low but crushed, vanquished and eliminated. As for our friends most of them lack the clarity of vision to understand what is so unique and special about our nations: that we have a society of free individuals who feel connected and responsible for one another and for humanity at large. They ascribe to us their own worst traits, and therefore blame us of their own avarice and mendacity. The speak of American "imperialism" as if the United States would take over the territory of another nation and enslave its people. They speak of Israel wishing to extend its boundaries from the Euphrates to the Nile.
We know that this is not our purpose nor our goal. We know that had the Arabs accepted the U.N. partition back in 1947, Israel would have been smaller but happier in the area allotted to it and would have become a catalyst for advancement and prosperity for the whole region. We know, those of us who love the United States and believe in its freely elected government, that our armed forces have gone half way across the world to put an end to a clear and present threat to the entire world, beginning with the people of Iraq, going through the nations of the region, who would have fallen prey to the despot of Bagdad first, and ending with all nation in this ever shrinking world, this "global village" that cannot afford another threat to its survival as those posed by the megalomaniacs of yesteryear from Nero to Atila the Hun, from Hitler to Stalin.
They forget that the United States controlled Japan and a good part of Europe after the second world war and freed those people as soon as they knew how to control their own destinies and live in peace. We recall that Israel freely gave the Palestinian Authority control of most of the territory and 95% of the population to advance the chance of a permanent settlement.
Millions of people have been pouring into the streets around the world to protest the American action in Bagdad. Dare we ask, need we ask, where were they when Hoottoos and Tuttsies were massacring each other in Africa, when more than a million Sudanese Christians were murdered in Sudan, when more than a million Cambodians were annihilated by Pol Pot's savages, when thousands of women were repeatedly raped in Serbia, Herzo-Govinia and Cosovo, when thousands of Curds were gassed to death in Iraq, when thousands were murdered in Algeria... And that is only events of the last generation, at that!
May God bless and keep safe the people of the United States and of Israel. May He prosper the efforts of our brave armed forces, and may peace soon come to our nations, and to the rest of mankind.
Parashat Shmini 5764
This week's reading from the Torah, which is the portion
of Shmini, is from the book of Va'yikra, Leviticus from 9:1 to 11:47.
As you would expect in the book that is also called "Torah Cohanim
the Teaching of the Priests," we are told of the Avodah (labor - of - God)
of the priest, Aharon, as he conducted it in the Tabernacle in the desert. The
text speaks of the sacrifice offerings that were made upon the altar that had
been built by Betzalel upon instruction from Moshe.
This week-end will mark the observance of a date affixed in our calendar a few short years ago by the chief Rabbinate of Israel and accepted as a "Jewish event" by the non-Jewish world as well. I am referring, of course, to Yom Hasho'ah - Holocaust Memorial day. There is a special prayer, called "El Maleh Rakhamim," which means God who is full of compassion and pity,' that is recited on this day. The words of this prayer say, in part, "Exalted, compassionate God full of mercy, grant perfect rest in the wings of Your sheltering presence, among the holy and pure, to the souls of our brethren who perished in the Shoah men, women and children of the House of Israel who were killed, murdered, slaughtered, burned, drowned and suffocated for the sanctification of the Name by the hands of the Nazi German oppressors... " So our sages, who composed this prayer, see the victims of that terrible crime as a sacrifice, though not one offered by Aaron on the Altar of God.
Many people, Jews and non-Jews alike, frown on this kind of text on this kind of commemoration. They see no reason to perpetuate the hurt, prolong the mourning, and repeat the tale of woe again and again. They claim that we are already three generations removed from the events of the first half of the twentieth century, most of the perpetrators and victims are long dead and buried and its time to move on. Furthermore, they say, the Jews have made a profession' out of remembering the holocaust, and after all, is it not a fact that more than twenty million people perished by the Nazi death machine' only six million of them Jews. Why do Jews demand an exclusive "burden of suffering" during that time of mayhem and death?
Most people of conscience don't agree with this point of view. This is obvious from the fact that most of the major nations of the world have erected Holocaust memorials. Most people recognize that the fate of the Jews was different than that of all the other victims. The Jews were earmarked to die by their very being because they happened to be born into families of Jewish parentage. Some of them were dragged' into the Jewish family after being assimilated for two and even three generations of Christian living. Some were rich, many more were poor and wretched all of them wished nothing more than to be let alone.
At the end of the second world war the whole world stood aghast at the sight of the camps' survivors and the methodically kept records of the industry of death' established there by the fiendish Nazi regime. Each day was properly noted: the number of trains that arrived, the number of living stock' removed from the cattle cars, the number of bodies processed' in the gas chambers, the number of canisters of Ziklon B gas used, the weight of luggage left behind, the amount of gold extracted from gaping mouths silenced of their last shriek at the moment of asphyxiation. Hair by the bagful, barrels of eye glasses, mountains of used clothes, coats, children's toys. There were no words to describe, to comment, to proclaim and protest. The victims were silent, too - unused to be noticed, embarrassed to be alive unsure if they really are alive, really out of jeopardy.
So we began a time of silence. We didn't speak about it, we didn't write about it, we tried not to think about it. We thought that if we ignore it it will not have happened. In defeated Germany it was impossible to find the millions who stood transfixed and saluted the Nazi hordes as they paraded in their moments of triumph. Suddenly every German was anti-Nazi, and never went along with the "resettlement" of the Jews. The allies were not much better, refusing to accept the remnant into their midst, and refusing to let them go to their ancient homeland. In eastern Europe, in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Ukraine, Jews who returned to reclaim their homes and possessions were killed by the "liberated" citizens of their native lands who were merely finishing the job the Nazis didn't have time to finish. And nothing was reported, and nothing happened.
And in the towns, large and small, and in the villages and hamlets, not one person rose to ask, "where are our Jewish neighbors?" No one asked, "what shall we do with their property?" No one felt a loss. As during the years of slaughter, there was only silence and collusion with the murderers and the grave robbers, the killers and the plunderers.
The silence bore its bitter fruit. The world became a colder, darker place a place where the death of thousands upon thousands was no longer traumatic. The death camps begot the cruel apartheid policies in South Africa, the gulags of the Soviet regime, where close to a million German war prisoners disappeared without a trace. And that was only the beginning. What followed was the massacres of the fields of South East Asia: Korea, Viet-Nam, Cambodia and Laos. And there were the massacres of Africa: Idi Amin in Uganda, the Hootoos and the Tootsies in central Africa, tens of thousands in Algeria, and more than a million and a half Sudanese Christians. And let us not forget the Balkans, ethnic cleansing' in the former Yugoslavia Serbia, Croatia, Herzo-Govina and Cosovo. Cain is being pursued by God who tells him, "What have you done? the voice of your brother's blood cries to me from the ground." [Gen. 4:10]
The silence of the world has bred the holocaust deniers, who claim that there were no camps, no death industry. "Some died," they say, "of malnutrition and disease because of the conditions of the war." Today it is easy to deny, the memory of the first witnesses is getting dull, and many of them are dead or old and senile. As for the pictures just make-believe,' they will tell you, the stuff of Hollywood productions..."
For a very long time I was disturbed by a passage in the memorial prayer, "who were killed, murdered, slaughtered, burned, drowned and suffocated for the sanctification of the Name." I asked myself if any of the victims chose to die, even for the sanctification of God's Name. More recently I have began to see things differently, and realized that the line is not properly understood. It is not that we chose to die for His sanctification its that the enemies of God wanted to show by committing this crime that there is no God! If they can kill His children with impunity, the world will see and know that there is no God. We have suffered a great wound to the body of world Jewery. One third of our people died. However, we are still here, and we are still active and creative and our enemies, mighty as they were, are gone - relegated to history's rubbish heap. Furthermore, we have been rejuvenated, we have our own land after a two thousand years exile, and we contribute out of all proportion to the advancement of civilization as we have done throughout time, from the days of Father Abraham.
As for the rest of humanity, let me remind one and all of the famous quote from George Santana, "they who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it." Hate is an explosive no less, and maybe more, than dynamite or any other chemical compound. Hate brought about the death of millions and the decline of civilization time and again. Will we never learn? Twenty million died at the hands of the Nazis in a system they developed in their hate of the Jews. We died side by side with Christians and others, with Social Democrats and Communists, with lesbians and homosexuals, with political opponents of the regime and prisoners of war who surrendered because they did not wish to die. When will it end? Will it end before, in our advanced technological knowledge, we destroy the world? Let's hope and pray that it does, and soon!
This week we read
in the Torah the portion of Shmini, which is found in Leviticus, from Cahpter
9, verse 1 to chapter 11, verse 47. This particular segment of Torat Cohanim,
the Teaching of the Priests, articulates the details of the “Avodah”
(labor) of the priest, Aharon, as he conducted the sin offering for atonement
in the Tabernacle in the desert. Later on in our history this ritual was transferred
from the desert Tabernacle to the Temple in Jerusalem. You may get an idea of
the importance of this “labor” from the fact that we read of its
performance as a special section of the service of Yom Kippur morning. This
was a most solemn and important ritual.
Immediately after this passage we continue reading in the text a most perplexing story: “And Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire in it, and put incense on it, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” [Lev. 10:1,2] This is a strange and awesome turn of events. The two sons of the High Priest, who had just performed the expiating-of-sins sacrifice, come into the tabernacle to continue the task begun by their father, to worship God and exalt him even further – and God sends out a flame of fire that kills them. What is this? How can God treat these two young worshipers in this manner? How can God just kill them like that? How can he treat Aharon like that?
Well, Moshe does not let us have any doubts, as the text states immediately after the event takes place, “Then Moses said to Aaron, This is what the Lord spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near to me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. ” [Lev. 10:3] Since we know with a certainty that God is not unfair nor unjust, we must look at the story again. The action of the two men must be reexamined.. They “ offered strange fire before the Lord” – they went outside of the teaching Moshe brought down from his encounter with God on Mount Sinai; they attempted to “expand” and “improve” upon God’s teaching. This is something that God will not countenance, will not abide. God’s teaching to Israel is complete and total. One must not, one dare not change it either by removing something from it, nor by adding to it. In the same way that you cannot write extra dialogue for a Shakespear play, or add “more hue and brightness” to a Titian or Tinterello canvas – so also can you not improvise a sacrifice offering to the Almighty God of Israel. Time and again we were warned to follow God’s teaching, not straying off the path to the left or to the right. “It has been told to you, oh man, what is good, and what the Lord seeks of you: only to do justice, and love khessed (lovingkindness) and walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8]
What is the issue, brought down to its most essential, in the modern world? I believe it is the question of the difference between fact and opinion. God’s teaching concerning the sacrifices came down to fact: Do “A,” followed by “B” and leading to “C.” Nadav and Avihu – their names give away their character. Nadav means “contributed,” and Avihu means “he’s my dad.” They thought they had the “business” all sowed up for themselves, and they tried to “contribute” towards making it “even better.” This is where they strayed from fact to opinion.
A case in point is the issue of “academic freedom,” as seen on college and university campuses that are sponsoring anti-Israel activities and Israel bashing in classes from International Relations through Political Science, Islamic studies and World Cultures courses. In many of the best Schools, Arab oil money is buying influence, and misguided liberal professors are being persuaded that Israel is as evil as any previous militarily strong nation that used its force to occupy its neighbor’s territory and enslave their population. In the name of fair play and even-handedness, wise and learned men and women pass on to their students a message of disapproval if not downright hate.
Nor is this the case with universities alone. Churches, and even entire denominations, are joining in this new “crusade for justice” for the poor Palestinian Arabs. Their opinion is firm – and don’t try to confuse them with facts. Don’t ever tell them that Arabs are more free in Israel than anywhere in the Arab world; that they can associate freely with one another, hold rallies, create political parties, run for the Knesset, and seek due process before any and all courts of the state of Israel. Don’t mention that Arab nations have waged a war of annihilation against the tiny Jewish state from the moment of its creation, that they vilified and slandered the state and its citizens, its defense forces and its democratically elected leaders precisely with the crimes they committed against it in all the years of its existence.
Nadav and Avihu perished because of their access, because their zeal to “do good” twisted their vision and their perception - and they condemned themselves. People who twist truth and justice in the name of opinions that are based of prejudice are doing nothing less – and possibly they are adding insult to injury. Let them remember, “Hine lo yanum velo yishan shomer yisrael – behold, He neither sleeps nor slumbers, the Guardian of Yisrael; Adona’y shomrekha, adona’y tzilkha al yad yeminekha – Adona’y is your guardian, the Lord is your shadow by your right hand... Adona’y yishmor tzetkha uvo’ekha me’ata v’ad olam – Adona’y will guard your coming and your going from now and unto eternity.” [Psalms 121:4,5,8]
Amen. Shabbat shalom
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