I would like to pose to you a cogent question for our own age. The question of whether or not Jews are obligated by the practices and values of our religion -- at this time, in this country -- or anywhere in the world. You see, this is a question which has divided our people into separate camps.
On the one hand, a large and thriving religious coalition insists that the commandments come from God directly, having been verbally announced at Sinai, and are therefore binding for all time, regardless of changing insight, circumstance or preference. Passionate about fidelity to the mitzvot of the Torah and the Talmud, these Jews hold obedience as the cardinal Jewish virtue. After all, we are warned against being "seduced by your heart or led astray by your eyes?" Loyalty and obedience are the core of Jewish religion. Ahava and Yirah -- love and reverence go hand in hand.
On the other hand, another large and thriving coalition of Jews is equally insistent that Gods voice is unclear. While holding our traditional texts in great esteem as guides and as repositories of wisdom and historical experience, these Jews nonetheless hold that each individual must decide what is Gods will for him or herself. After all, we are urged in the Torah not to "follow a majority to do evil." Autonomy, therefore, is the guiding principle of Jewish faith. Both of these perspectives offer a valuable insight for Jewish living and Jewish vitality.
It is unquestionable that Judaism has specific content. That content may be dynamic, but it has real contours and priorities which remain constant throughout the ages. Our religions ability to construct a path to holiness and a relationship with God results from its wisdom and its viewpoint, both of which are distinctive and concrete. We cannot simply list our preferences and call it Judaism. Nor is Judaism simply a philosophy -- or a religion. The Torah calls it "etz Khayim" -- a tree of life. As a tree, it is part bark and part trunk, part limbs and part leaves. It is roots, and it is fruit.
It is also clear that the very basis of Judaism is the power of human beings to make choices, to be responsible for their own lives. In the words of the Mishnah "All is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is given." Also we are taught, "Hakol biydey Shamayim, khutz miyirat Shamayim" -- all is in the hands of Heaven, other than the reverence of heaven.
In todays Torah portion, as well, God tells us, "Reeh anokhi noten lifneykhem hayom brakha uklala. See, this day I set before you blessing and curse."
The rabbis of the Talmud note that the Hebrew grammar of this phrase is surprising -- it begins in the singular "Reeh -- see," and ends in the plural! What lesson, they ask, is buried in that awkward formation? According to our Sages, we learn from the singular reeh ("see") that the mitzvot are given to the entire people all Jews as a group. The contours of our religion are not the personal preference of any one individual Jew. Yet, at the same time, the phrase ends with lifneykhem ("before [all of] you") a plural construct, to remind us that each individual must decide whether or not to commit heart, mind and soul to cultivating our brit (covenant) with God. No one can force you to be obedient, no one can compel observance of the commandments. Each one of us has the power to choose to say yes or to say no.
In fact, the very notion of commandments implies the idea of free choice, otherwise it means nothing. Dogs dont need to be commanded to eat. When they see food, they eat out of an inner compulsion; there is no choice involved.
Jews do need to be commanded to keep kosher, or to love the stranger, to cloth the naked and to bury the dead, to visit the sick or to observe the Shabbat, because those matters dont come naturally to anybody. They require conscious choice, discipline and desire. They also require an understanding of Gods mitzvot.
For a mitzvah, a teaching of God, in order to have any ability to elevate and to make holy, must be done by choice. We need to, no, we must retain the power to decline to act. Only then does our choice to be loyal to Torah, our efforts to serve God in all ways, reflect a commitment of thoughtful acceptance, rather than an automatons programming.
But the power to choose doesnt mean that every choice is equally wise, equally sacred or equally conducive to the transmission of Torah and Judaism.
We can to choose to let the elderly homeless remain on the streets. We have that power. One can choose to elevate our eating to an act of holiness and solidarity with Jews throughout time. We have that power too.
In ritual, as in ethics, we can choose. And we can choose wrongly.
Still, God has given us the choice: "See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: "blessing" if you obey, if you fulfill, if you live by the Mitzvot of the Lord your God... And "curse" if you do not. "
This week's reading from the Torah encompasses Dvarim 11:26 to 16:17. It is the portion that begins with the words, "Re'eh anokhi noten lifneykhem ha'tom brakha uklala -- Behold I set before you today a blessing and a curse..." It evokes a lesson dealing with "free will" against pre-destiny, and the philosophical argument that if there is, indeed, free will -- God cannot be all knowing, since He cannot know what we will choose to do before we (in total freedom) actually do it. However, I will not deal with this a issue, and instead speak of an issue that is rarely ever discussed these days -- the food we eat, and in particular, the eating of meat -- and as you shall see, some related issues, too.
"When the Lord your God shall broaden your borders, as He has promised you, and you will say, "I shall eat meat," for your soul shall desire to eat meat, you may eat meat to your souls desire." [Deu. 12:20-23] There are those who contest the "immorality" of eating meat. "What gives man the right to consume another creatures flesh?" They ask. However, the same can be said of mans consumption of vegetables and fruits -- for they are "living" too, and even water or oxygen consumption can be questioned. What gives man the right to devour any of Gods creations simply to perpetuate his own existence?
One may well argue that when man lives only to sustain and enhance his own being, there is no justification for him to tamper with any other existence to achieve this goal. As a great Khassidic master put it, "When a person walks along without a thought of God in his head, the very ground under his feet cries out: Boor! What makes you any better than me? By what rights do you step on me?!"
The claim that man is a "higher" life form scarcely justifies the destruction of dumb or inanimate creatures. Moreover, according to the teachings of kabbalah, the souls of animals, plants and inanimate objects are actually loftier than that of any human being. Man does have the right to consume other creatures only because -- and when -- he serves as the agent of their elevation. The spiritual essence of a stone, plant or animal might be loftier than that of a man, but it is a static "spark," bereft of the capacity to advance creations quest to unite with its Creator. The cruelty of a cat or the industry of the ant is not a moral failing or achievement, nor is the hardness of the rock or the sweetness of the apple. The mineral, vegetable and animal cannot do good or evil -- they can only follow the dictates of their inborn nature. Only man has been granted freedom of choice and the ability to be better (or worse, God forbid) than his natural state. This is the nature of his obligation to God because he has been given free will!
When a person drinks a glass of water, eats an apple, or slaughters an ox and consumes its flesh, these are converted into the stuff of the human body and the energy that drives it. When this person performs a Godly deed -- a deed that transcends his natural self and brings him closer to God -- he "elevates" the elements he has consumed, reuniting the sparks of Godliness they embody with their source. (Also elevated are the creations that enabled the Godly deed - the soil that nourished the apple, the grass that fed the cow, the path the farmer travelled to bring his produce to town).
However, there is a deeper significance of the above-quoted verse, "and you will say, I shall eat meat, for your soul shall desire to eat meat." You might express a desire for meat and be aware only of your bodys craving for the physical satisfaction it brings. There is, however, an important difference between the consumption of meat and that of any other foods. The difference involves "desire" and the role it plays in the elevation of creation. Human beings cannot live without the vegetable and mineral components of their diet. Thus, man is compelled to eat them by the most basic of his physical drives - the preservation of his existence. Meat, however, is not a necessity but a luxury; the desire for meat is not motivated by need, but by a different sense -- the desire to experience pleasure. Many people will tell you that there is nothing quite like having a good steak, a fine rib roast, or even a well prepared hamburger! Why is that? The Kaballah teaches that animals are elevated -- their flesh integrated into the human body and their souls made partner in a Godly deed -- only because God has instilled the desire for pleasure in human nature.
This means that the elevation of meat requires a greater spiritual sensitivity on the part of its consumer than that of other foods. Man has been created to glorify God. He does this through study of Torah and the performance of good deeds. When a person eats a piece of bread and then studies Torah, prays or gives charity, the bread has directly contributed to these deeds. In order to perform these deeds, the soul of man must be fused with a physical body, and the piece of bread was indispensable to this fusion. Man eats bread in order to live; if he lives to fulfill his Creators will, the connection is complete. But man eats meat not to live, but to savor its taste; thus, it is not enough that a person lives in order to serve his Creator for the meat he eats to be elevated. Rather, he must be a person for whom the very experience of physical pleasure is a Godly endeavor, something devoted solely toward a Godly end; a person for whom the physical satisfaction generated by a tasty meal translates into a deeper understanding of Torah, a greater fervor in prayer, and a kindlier smile to accompany the coin pressed into the palm of a beggar. This is the true meaning of "Ahavat Hashem" -- the love of God. When we are physically pleasured, we must translate it to the love of God, from whom pleasure comes.
There is a Khassidic lesson that teaches that the first generation of Israels existence as a nation - from the time they received the Torah and erected the Sanctuary in the Sinai Desert until they settled in the Holy Land - the only meat they were permitted to eat was the meat of the korbnot, the animal sacrifices offered to God in the Sanctuary. The consumption of this meat was a mitzvah, which meant that its elevation was achieved by the fact that eating it constitutes a direct fulfillment of a divine commandment. However, they did not have the capacity to elevate "meat of desire" - meat that is eaten for the purpose of granting pleasure to its consumer. So the consumption of such meat was forbidden. It was only after God "broadened their borders," granting them a mandate to make "holy" an adjective of "land," that they were enabled to sanctify this most corporeal corner of human life.
Similarly, our sages have said that "a boor is forbidden to eat meat." The license given to man to partake of the world and subjugate it to serve him is not unconditional. It is contingent upon his sensitivity to the spiritual essence of Gods creatures, and his commitment to serve them by making them component parts of his sanctified life. It takes an individual with broad spiritual horizons to properly relish a steak. It is important to remember at all times that the steak has a spirit to it, and the spirit must return to God to be elevated.
So the lesson of this passage has to do with meat, and it has to do with "meat" -- that which is important. We are not merely flesh and blood -- we are beings created "in the image of God." We have desires, craving, and we must know how to control them and direct them toward an enhancement of our spirituality. Satisfying our desires is fine if it is done in this positive, Godly manner. The teaching of the Torah I quoted ends with the following words, "Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God." Let us so live our life that we fulfill this conclusion, to do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord our God. Amen
I have to make a personal confession to you: I love Judaism. I think it is so straightforward and honest. It is absolutely the best thing for Jewish people to be. There is not a day that passes that I do not say to myself, "ma tov khelkenu, ma na'im goralenu, uma yafa yerushatenu" -- how good is our lot, how pleasant our destiny, and how beautiful is our heritage. We have a great teaching, a wonderful system prepared for us in love by our God through His servant, Moshe, and if we follow it we can be happy and content even in the worst circumstances. I know that this is true -- because I am aware of our long history -- and how we have been through the worst of circumstances, and were still happy in our God and our Torah. This week's Torah reading is a perfect illustration for the reason I have this feeling that I have.
The portion is called "Re'eh," which means look, or behold. Listen to this text: "Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day; And a curse, if you will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known." [Deu. 11:26-28] Isn't that great? Here we are, a small people who should be totally insignificant in the scheme of things -- and God comes down in his own might and takes us out of Egypt and brings us unto Him at Sinai and speaks to us in the fire and the smoke... And then he says to us through Moshe, "I set before you this day a blessing and a curse" -- He gives us, on top of everything else, free will! Well, what are we supposed to do?
Just in case any of you are in doubt about the answer to that question, you can read on in the text, and you will find, "These are the statutes and judgments, which you shall take care to do, in the land, which the Lord God of your fathers gives you to possess all the days that you live upon the earth." [Deu. 12:1] The sages said that there are rules that apply to Jews wherever they are, and special rules that apply only in Eretz Yisrael. However, the text here does not refer merely to 'mitzvot eretz-Yisrael' -- rather, it speaks of all the khukim and mishpatim -- all the rules and laws of Torah which Moshe gave to our people, teaching them as they traveled through the desert towards Canaan.
You might think that we, these days, are less observant than the people who lived in the generation of the experience at Sinai. But the text of the Torah tells us, "You shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes." [Deu. 12:8] -- every Jew did whatever pleased him. In other words, even in the time of Sinai the Israelites did not live by all the mishpatim and khukim. Are we shocked? Are we surprised? We should not be! True, we might have expected our ancestors to show a little more reverence to the God that appeared to them -- but then, we are taught that God appeared to all the generations, and that we, like they, stood at Sinai. So let's not get too comfortable with our indignation!
However, we may ask, maybe that is the way to live Jewish life? Not really, as the text tells us, "What ever I command you, take care to do it; you shall not add to it, nor diminish from it." [Deu. 13:1] No, we may not make up our mind to live by "the Ten Commandments," or the "thirteen articles of faith" of Rambam -- or any other arbitrary diminution of Torah. Nor can we have a new and improved Torah for our age. We may not explain away the dietary laws nor can we negate the Shabbat because of the exigencies of the temporal world we live in. We must "take care to do it" as the text says, to live a life that is unique and different -- and God directed, and blessed.
Why do we have to be better than the Jews who lived in the days when the voice of God had been heard, its echo still resounding in the ears of those early Jews. The answer is that we have had generations of teachers and leaders who have taught us the Torah and its fine points, who have lived by Torah, and who have given us the example of their personal behavior. 'Torat Moshe' is not a 'Torah' for Moshe -- it is a Torah for Yisrael, given by Moshe. In his generation, he was the singular experience, and the people could well say, "who can be like the great Moshe?" We, however, live more than a hundred generations later, and we can point to a myriad of tzadikim who have lived like Moshe, a life of Torah and mitzvot. And if they could, it is time that we do, too.
The text of this week's parsha insists that we learn this lesson, as it tells us, "You are the children of the Lord your God; you shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead. For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a special people to himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth. You shall not eat any abominable thing." [Deu. 14:1-3] All of us, Children of Israel, Jews, are "children of the Lord your God" -- we have no choice in the matter, except for one, which is not a good choice at all. We can remove ourselves from the family of Israel -- and not be bound by any of the teachings of Torah. Barring this act of (Jewish) self-destruction, we must come closer to God from generation to generation. Not to do so is to return to the 'midbar' -- the desert where our forefathers did "every man whatever is right in his own eyes" -- as if there was no Torah.
The Torah is preparing us for a better world, a world where the poor have a chance to return to a life of security and honest livelihood. This goal was to be supported by a cyclical forgiveness of debts. "At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release; Every creditor who lends anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbor, or of his brother; because it is called the Lords release." [Deu. 15:1,2] I don't know if this concept was actually practiced in ancient time among our people. No doubt, it is a radical departure from good banking practices -- but it is the ultimate 'doing of deeds of lovingkindness' -- and maybe it was an ideal to set before us, to challenge us. When you can release the indebted, you are truly 'in touch' with God's mitzvot and His qualities of love and generosity. May the day soon arrive when we are capable of such deeds of mercy and pity. May God's will be done, and may His sovereignty be accepted and acknowledged by all. Amen
Two weeks ago, in a coordinated effort worthy of a military establishment like those Israel and/or the United States possess, a terrorist organization attacked American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-as-Salaam. The death toll, as well as the number of wounded, was great; the damage to property was even worse.
I am not a stranger to terror attacks. I have been close to a number of attacks upon civilians perpetrated by terrorists in my native city of Jerusalem. I recall the bombing of the British Army's officers' club by the Irgun, and I was only a block and a half away from the King David Hotel when it exploded. I recall the bombing of the Jerusalem Post early in the struggle for statehood after the U.N. partition resolution -- and the worst act of terror, at least in my memory, of the two truckloads of explosives that wiped out a good part of Ben-Yehuda Street in early 1948. I remember other terror attacks, as well, ones involving infiltrators shooting at buses, taking children hostage in schools and kibbutz children's living quarters, Arab terrorists striking at the Israeli team to the Munich Olympics, shooting at El-Al passengers in Rome and in Frankfort, invading the U.S. Embassy and shooting the American Ambassador in Khartoum, plane highjackings and bombings and other such atrocities.
The common thread of all my memories that I have mentioned here is that they were part of the Israel-Arab dispute -- if you want to use the common euphemism for the Arab world's attempt to first prevent and later reverse the creation of a Jewish state in their midst. There is also terror that is not related to this Arab Israeli dispute: the gassing in the Tokyo subway, the IRA bombing in London and all the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland, the Iraq takeover in Kuwait, which exploded into the gulf war, etc. etc..
And then, and totally different in its character as well as scope, you have the action of the United States in attacking targets in Sudan and Afghanistan yesterday, in retaliation for the attack on our embassies. The mighty military prowess of our nation, the strongest and most advanced gendarmery on the face of the earth was used to deliver the message that has been the motto of the United States Marines since the days of the pirates of the Barbary Coast: "Don't tread on me!" I applaud our leaders, military and political, for their swift action. I approve of their action and see nothing wrong whatsoever in their action.
This week's portion is called "Re'eh," which means look, or behold. Listen to this text: "Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day; And a curse, if you will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known." [Deu. 11:26-28] These words are clear and to the point. God has given mankind a code of civilized behavior. If one lives by this code -- all's well with the world. Harmony and felicity exist. If one does not live by this law, one disturbs the balance that keeps peace and tranquility for all of God's creation. Having stepped outside the paradigm, one is no longer protected by it. The rogue, either the individual or the state, is open to retribution and punishment. This is fitting, and it is almost "natural."
The only thing I protest, and that I must protest, is the unequal treatment of the Jewish nation among the wronged nations of the world. We must never forget that Israel has never declared war upon the Arabs or the Moslem world. Israel's declaration of Independence clearly and resolutely calls for cooperation with its Arab neighbors. Yet war has been thrust upon her, and every time she retaliated, she was condemned. This is not right, and it is not fair. The present government of Israel is being blamed for the non-implementation of the Oslo accord, in that it did not agree to the 'second stage' pullback of its troops from land that the accord promises to cede to the PA. However, no one is questioning the Arab compliance with the Oslo accord. The fact that the PA has not abided by so many of the Oslo accord's obligations placed upon it -- from the most basic, the changes in the Palestinian Covenant, calling for the elimination of the State of Israel, to acts of war against Israel by means of terror attacks from its territory and even by its own police forces. Shooting of civilians, which continue to this week, when two young men were killed, and to the worlds of its religious and political leaders who negate the accord and Israel's right to exist.
The Torah, in every word, as in this week's portion, is preparing us for a better world, a world where the poor have a chance to return to a life of security and honest livelihood. This goal was to be supported by a cyclical forgiveness of debts. "At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release; Every creditor who lends anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbor, or of his brother; because it is called the Lords release." [Deu. 15:1,2] Israel is willing to forgive the debt of lives, of blood spilt for naught by those who have wished to witness and even participate in our annihilation. Surely, they will listen to our plea for peace. However, if they shall not, if they fail to choose life and peace -- the world must not assume that we have an obligation, alone among nations, to forever turn the other cheek. The mighty U.S. has struck, and rightly so. It has an obligation to protect its citizens. Israel has the same obligation, and may choose any time and any target, to show it's resolute determination to exact punishment of those who make the wrong choices.
This is my second (and, for this visit, last) Shabbat in Jerusalem. I shall once more walk the distance to the Wall for services. Only this time I shall make a detour on my way and stop off at the King David Hotel to pick up my friends from Lakeland and Tampa. We shall join a service and participate to the best of our ability, possibly being called up to the Torah to recite the blessings and witness the reading of the portion of the week.
The portion that is being read this week is called "Re'eh," which means 'look,' or 'behold.' Of course, it is not a portion I 'ordered' in advance, nor did I make my plans to be here in Jerusalem with this portion in mind -- it is just the way the sequence of readings has advanced. Yet, one is left to wonder about the Divide scheme when the choice of reading is so "perfect" for the occasion. What do I mean by that? Listen to this text: "Re'eh anokhi noten lifneykhem ha'yom brakha u'klala. Et habrakha asher tishme'u el mitzvot adona'y eloheykhem asher anokhi metzave etkhem ha'yom; v'haklala im lo tishme'u el mitzvot adona'y eloheykhem vesartem min haderekh asher anokhi metzveh etkhem ha'yom lalekhet akharey elohim akherim asher lo yeda'tem. -- Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day; And a curse, if you will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known." [Deu. 11:26-28]
Well, you may ask, why is this portion so earth-shaking in its importance that you praise its fortunate time of reading this week? We have read it many times before, and we are aware that it is our teacher Moshe's exhortation to the people Israel to forgo the "free choice" given them by God and the i9nclination to do evil, and choose to do God's will and live by His mitzvot. Surely that may be a great lesson -- but is it reason enough to proclaim a manifestation of Divine intervention? I can understand the lack of excitement, and I want to tell you that this lack is due to the fact that you are not totally versed in the Hebrew text -- and because you are not here, in Jerusalem, the cradle of our birth as a people and as a religion. There is something in the atmosphere of Jerusalem that makes one feel closer to his Maker, and more capable of hearing the whisper of angels and the echo of the very words of God, spoken to prophets in ages long gone by -- but not forgotten.
You may claim that society and individuals, these days, are less observant than the people who lived in the generation that stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, or the generation that came immediately after that experience, and that learned the original words of Torah from the greatest teacher, Moshe. But the text of the Torah tells us, "You shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatever is right in his own eyes." [Deu. 12:8] -- every Jew did whatever pleased him, way back then. Well, you may say, tell us, why are you so pleased with the choice of Torah reading for this, your last Shabbat in Jerusalem?
The Hebrew text is a little different than the English because it is "number sensitive." The first word, "Re'eh" -- 'behold,' is given in the singular, so that it speaks directly to me, even as I shall stand in the midst of the hundreds of Jews who congregate at the wall to celebrate Shabbat, to celebrate being Jewish, and to affirm their personal choice of living by His mitzvot -- by coming together at that place, the remnant of our glorious heritage, the house that Solomon built for the Name of God to dwell in our midst. However, the word "Re'eh" in the singular should not and must not be seen as a call to independent "me only" religious behavior or practice, as it is followed by "lifneykhem" 'before you,' in the plural! God, and His servant, Moshe, did not single out any individual, from Aaron, the priest, to the least of all Israel, to be a unique and special possessor of God's spacial truth, His special message to mankind. All Israel have a portion in His heritage. My participation in a service at the wall, while other services, conducted in different manners as the different leaders of services and the men who join them see fit to worship, will be a concrete and physical manifestation of unity and diversity which is so much a part of Judaism!
Now that I have made you aware of the great lesson of the first few words of the text, let me illuminate one more little lesson of the Hebrew text which I find to be especially fitting for me this Shabbat. The text reads, in the English, "A blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day; And a curse, if you will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God" and this gives the impression that there is a fifty-fifty chance that you would turn in either direction. The Hebrew text does not read this way, though! "Et habrakha asher tishme'u et mitzvot adona'y eloheykhem asher anokhi metzave etkhem ha'yom; v'haklala im lo tishme'u el mitzvot adona'y eloheykhem. . ." This Hebrew text gives us two different words for 'if you will' and 'if you will not.' While the 'if you will not' is, indeed, a direct translation of 'im lo' -- the 'if you will,' is not that at all! The Hebrew, 'asher,' is 'that' and not 'if!'
Is this a peculiarity of translation? I believe not! I see here a philosophical issue -- whether or not we have an inclination to worship our God, Creator and Liberator. The issue of free choice is important, and God did give us a right to choose. However, He Himself, and His servant Moshe, imagined that we would be more inclined to do that which is right in His sight. Therefore Moshe spoke the words that he did, saying -- "A blessing, as you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day" -- a great certainty that we shall live up to our Father's expectations of us, expectations which we fulfill as we assemble to celebrate Shabbat at the root, at the kotel -- the Wall.
May your Shabbat be as blessed where you are as it is here in Jerusalem. Amen
This weeks reading in the Torah is Parashat Re'eh, Deuteronomy 11:26 to 16:17. The theme of this week's parashah is the importance of having an uncompromising devotion to God. The text begins with a free choice proposition from Moshe: Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day; And a curse, if you will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known. [Deu. 11:26-28] But before we get too much into this concept of free choice, the text says, And you shall take care to do all the statutes and judgments which I set before you this day. [Deu 11:32] This doing of mitzvot is expressed through belief, but more importantly, through avodah, meaningful service to God. For the Israelite in the days of Moshe, service to God meant loyalty to God's commandments and participation in the sacrificial cult. For Torah, avodah referred specifically to offering sacrifices to God at a central place of worship: But to the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, to his habitation shall you seek, and there you shall come; And there you shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks; And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all that you put your hand to, you and your households, because the Lord your God has blessed you. [Deu. 12:5-6]
This theme of avodah, sacred service or worship, which infuses the following chapter, where we are repeatedly told not to go astray after other gods but rather to remain steadfast in our service to God, is also the theme of the coming Yom Kippur service. Avoda was the Temple service, conducted by the Cohanim, with pomp and ceremony. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., however, the meaning of avodah was transformed. No longer could the Israelites serve God through sacrificial practice and so the stage was set for the evolution of prayer service in the synagogue, an institution that began long before the destruction of the temple. Still, the Jew asked, how can I, as a Jew, continue to serve God when there is no Cohanim offering korban kaparah - atonement sacrifice? How can we understand the depth of this infinitely rich endeavor of avodah?
The post-destruction sages found a passage in the Prophets that allowed them to teach Israel that we can substitute synagogue prayer for the sacrifices: Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say to him: Forgive all iniquity, and receive us graciously; so will we offer the words of our lips instead of calves. [Hosea 14:3] The centrallity of the Temple was meant to unite the twelve tribes of Israel - now the sages commanded participation in a minyan and praying as a congregation three times daily, at shaharit, minha and ma'ariv services as the ultimate demonstration of one's uncompromising devotion to God. The great Sephardi sage, Maimonides, taught that fixed prayer is the essence of one's communion with God.
From this practice of participation in communal services grew other practices that kept Jews together. The synagogue was also a house of study, where the Hebrew language was taught and kept alive, where Jewish youths kept their moral high in a long time of persecution and lack of opportunity to go out and conquer the world, as children were trained to conquer the world of Torah and Talmud, the deep sea of halakha, Jewish law, and the highest peaks of Jewish mysticism. We were trained to believe that God so loves us that He listens patiently to our prayers, and hears our penitential musing not only on Yom Kippur but each and every day. The chance is always there, we were instructed, to save ourselves, to redeem Israel, and to save and bless mankind. The great lesson of personal responsibility was made more manifest through the introduction of bar-mitzvah. A child, at age thirteen, could be the one who would catch Gods attention and bring about redemption. How awesome!
God hears and responds whenever we pray . . . as part of our service to God we are obligated to study God's Torah, pray to God in times of distress and in times of joy. We need to recite the prayers in our liturgy - but we must also offer the murmur of our heart, the most profound secret longings and beliefs. Through prayer, study and meditation combined, we turn our hearts and souls to God, and that is todays avodah, the sacred service of God.
This week we read in the Torah the portion of Re'eh, Deuteronomy 11:26 to 16:17. The message of the opening verses of this week's parashah is the importance of having an uncompromising devotion to God. The text begins with a "free choice" proposition from Moshe (which is anything but free choice...): "Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day; And a curse, if you will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known." [Deu. 11:26-28] Before we get too far into this concept of free choice, the text says, "And you shall take care to do all the statutes and judgments which I set before you this day." [Deu 11:32] This "doing" of mitzvot is expressed through belief, but more importantly, through avodah, meaningful service to God.
This matter of a choice between serving God and doing mitzvot, and getting Gods blessing - or making a choice to live without his mitzvot, and therefore incurring His curse, is repeated twice in the Torah - once toward the end of Leviticus, and the other in a few weeks, when we shall read the portion of Ki Tavo. Both of those readings have a "short list" of blessings and a long list of the evil that will befall those who do not. Yet, in this weeks portion we do not hear any blessings or curses - merely a statement of "I set before you this day a blessing and a curse" and the briefest of explanations, " A blessing" if you do so and so, and " a curse" if you do not.
I must tell you that I have often been perplexed by this "short statement." And last week, as I prepared for this Shabbats lesson, I was still confounded. And then God sent me the answer to my unasked question: I was visited by Ophelia. And then I didnt have any questions, anymore. Let me tell you about my experience. As you know, the name Ophelia comes to us with the complements of William Shakespear and his play Hamlet, whose "betrothed"Ophelia was. You may also remember that she was not well treated by her ill fated future bridegroom.
I was visited by a woman, about forty years old, who asked if I have a little time to speak with her. She told me that she was very depressed and rather desperate. She was not well and in her confusion sought my advice. I listened to her story of a childhood spent in "the fear of the Lord" by this child of church going God Fearing simple living farm folks. She ran away from home, only to be retrieved by her father in a shelter in Tampa. She was pregnant and sick, malnourished and black and blue from a beating she had received from her last "trick"customer who provided her with a much needed rest in the hospital... She returned to the farm, and her parents had her live a nuns existence to repent for her evil ways. Her baby was born in a hospital, and was taken from her at birth, to be placed with an adopting family. She returned to her parents farm and worked the long hours of day light. At night she was alone in her room, trying to pray to Jesus, the God whom she did not know, did not believe in. Her father died some years ago in the fields, and she took over the management of the farm to help keep it intact for her mother. Her mother was sad and silent for years.
Two weeks ago her mother had a nasty fall. She hit her head against the wall, and she passed out. When she came to, she was disoriented. She did not know her daughter Ophelia, and she spoke a foreign tongue that the younger woman did not understand. She spoke on and on in this strange tongue, and Ophelia was convinced it was "speaking in tongues," a sign from God. However, when her condition did not improve, a doctor was called. It was the doctor who talk her that her mother was speaking in fluent Yiddish. He did not speak the language, but had heard it spoken by patients in the hospital in New York city, where he did his residence.
Ophelia continued to try and communicate with her mother, but to no avail. So she went to the university and asked if anyone spoke Yiddish. She was directed to one of the professors, and she asked if he would come to the house and listen to her mother. He said he could not do it, but if she would tape her mother, he would listen to it. Smiling she replied that she had a tape with her, as a matter of fact. She produced the tape, and he listened with lack of interest or enthusiasm for a few minutes... What he heard had him sitting at the edge of his chair in no time, and he told her that he would come to the house.
He came after classes that evening, and he sat and talked with the woman deep into the night. He took notes in a notebook he had brought with him. When the old woman finally drifted off to sleep, he turned to the daughter and told her that her mother was one of the saddest women he had ever met.
She was a Jewish girl, born into a well to do family in Austria in the mid-twenties of the century. She was about twelve when the Nazis walked into Vienna and her world came to an abrupt and complete halt. Her father, seeing a little too late the writing on the wall, spoke to her and asked her to leave home, to go by herself into the country, to live with farmers as a foundling, to survive the Nazi madness. He gave her a bundle of simple clothes that their maid had "contributed" to her ruse, and a small gold crucifix. His last words to her were, "If you want to live, keep your mouth shut."
So she went to the country, and worked on a farm, and pretended to be unable to speak. She saw the soldiers go to war, she saw the Jews disappear from village and town, and she saw the planes come and bomb her land into submission. When the war was over, she heard that all the Jews were dead, and so she married an American soldier and came to central Florida, to live her life in obscurity. She named her daughter "ophel-Ya" which means "the darkness of God." She truly believed that Hitler killed all the Jews. She did not understand her life in America, and she was now preparing to die, because she was a Jew, and "they" would come for her.
The professor said he would come again to talk to the woman, and he left long after midnight. Ophelia was confused, upset, and lacking in direction. She walked into her mothers room and sat by her bed on the rug. She draped her hand over her mothers frail body and her head against the mattress, and she began to sob, first silently, but before long hard and loud. Then she felt her mothers hand on her back, and heard the words, "Sha, sha Ophelia, sha shtil. Morgen the zine shint, ales im gottes villen vilt zien gut." The old woman repeated this sentence again and again, and Ophelia, who did not understand, learned the sounds by rote. Sometime in the night she fell asleep, and when she awoke the sun was shining, and it was morning, and her mother was lying there, on the bed, her arms on top of her daughters. She was dead.
That was why she came to see me. She did not see the professor again. She called and told him her mother had died in the night, and he was very sorry, but he did not have time to meet with her. She wanted to know what her mothers last words were. I told her. I said, "your mother gave you a blessing, if you choose to take it. She said, be still, my girl whom I received from God when I thought that the world was nothing but darkness. Be at rest, for tomorrow the sun will shine, by the will of God, and all will be well." I told her that she was a Jewish woman, and she has a charge from her mother to discover the light that is missing in her life. I told her that the coming part of her life is a great adventure and a challenge to change from Ophelia to Ora, to be a source of light, or joy, and of blessing. I hope and pray that she will live up to it.
reading from the Torah, Dvarim 11:26 to 16:17 begins with the words, "Re'eh
anokhi noten lifneykhem ha'tom brakha uklala Behold I set before you
today a blessing and a curse..." It evokes a lesson dealing with "free
will" vs. pre-destiny, and the philosophical arguments pro and con. However,
I will not deal with this issue at all today - thus showing that I have free
will - and I'm sure I will speak what God wants me to speak, thus proving that
He is all knowing...
Does anyone think (as I do) that the administration's "even-handed"policy is NOT really even handed. An arch-terrorist enemy of Israel and all peace-loving people - who was planning a mega-attack on six large urban centers in Israel - was eliminated, albeit with fifteen casualties of the people who support and finance and hide him. Our president launched into a verbal chastisement of Israel's policy and its government. Let me reiterate most emphatically: a master terrorist was stopped dead in his track - and the matter was taken to the U. N.'s Security Council.
Some forty-eight hours ago, seven innocent civilians, men and women, were killed by a terrorist's bomb at Hebrew University (H.U.). Five of them were Americans: Marla Bennett, 24, of San Diego, California; Benjamin Blutstein, 25, of Susquehanna Township, Pennsylvania; Dina Carter, 37, born in North Carolina, who moved to Israel in 1990; Janis Ruth Coulter, 36, of West Roxbury, Massachusetts; David Gritz, 24, who holds dual American-French citizenship; Two were Israelis: Lavina Shapira, 53 and David Ladovsky, 29. 97 people were wounded, some severely. Let us not forget them - their nightmare continues - for life!
Did you hear of a Security Council meeting convened to deal with this dastardly act of international terror? Or is our State Department under-reacting to the murders at H.U.? Five Americans were killed, in a building named after an American - and a non-Jew at that. Yet, our administration's stated reaction, given by our Ambassador, Mr. Kurtzer (and reported by the AP), in front of the Frank Sinatra International Students Center, where the blast tore apart a cafeteria a day earlier has been: "'We have grieved with all the people of Israel as they have faced Palestinian terrorism. Now that five American citizens have been killed, our grief is even deeper.'" Back on our shores, President Bush mourned the American dead as he met Thursday with King Abdullah of Jordan to consider how to move the "Mideast peace process" forward. 'I am just as angry as Israel is. I am furious,' the president said. 'But even though I am mad, I still think peace is possible,' he continued during a picture-taking session with the king at the start of a meeting in the Oval Office."
Sure, Mr. President, "as angry as Israel is" you may be but are you hurting as Israel is? Did you lose your citizens three times this week to road-side ambush, or a suicide murderer at a falafel stand, or on a hill overlooking the Cave of Makhpelah, where the first Jew, father Abraham, buried his dead wife? And while we are asking the question, let us go a little deeper into the issue and ask, "when you speak of "peace process" what exactly do you mean?"
Make no mistake about it, my dear friends, and you, Mr President, too. The perpetrators of the multiple murders at the Frank Sinatra International Students Center did not strike to avenge the killing of Shakhada in Gaza! They've been planning this attack for weeks. This is not an "overnight" operation. And also, be aware that they had to have known in advance that there would be many foreign students there. They wanted to hit foreigners to scare them from coming. Note also the reports we have seen on television, of Palestinians dancing in the streets of Gaza to celebrate the "heroic" deed performed by their young amoral goons. They laugh and rejoice at the sight of Jewish blood spilled to the ground.
What we need to hear from our government is a clear public announcement that any person known to be associated in any way whatsoever with terror be it Hamas or Tanzim, Jihad or Al Aksa Brigade is a target of opportunity for those who fight for the survival of our way of life U.S. troops and special forces, British forces, and Israeli forces. We need to take our policy a step further, too, and pronounce once and for all that anyone known to be friendly with or related to any terror organization, who provides shelter or logistic support, who allows arms to flow through its borders to such terror organizations will be considered an "confederate"of terrorists and similarly a target for attack in the war on terrorism.
Yes, we are a tender and loving people. We wish to live a life infused with poetry and music, filled with friends and relatives, away from the din and gore of battle. We would not choose to go to war but the war was brought to our door, nay it invaded our home. We must remove it with dispatch, or it shall vanquish us. We must treat with respect those who treat us with respect but we cannot extend our civility to those who choose, knowingly, to act with murderous savagery.
So I come back to this week's reading in the Torah, in Parashat Re'eh. The theme of this week's parashah is the importance of having an uncompromising devotion to God. The text begins with a "free choice" proposition but it is not really quite so much a choice: "Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day; And a curse, if you will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known." [Deu. 11:26-28] But before we get too much into this free choice concept, the text says, "And you shall take care to do all the statutes and judgments which I set before you this day." [Deu 11:32] This "doing" of mitzvot is expressed through belief, but much more so through avodah, which is the meaningful "service" of God. These savages, these murdering heathens who teach and practice a cult of sacrificing their children as a means of killing ours, are laughing at us. We should put the reverence, awe and fear of Almighty God into them. We should come to term with their attitude, and resolve that if they will not respect our reverence for life, we shall accommodate them in their wish to join their Allah is paradise. If need be, we should resolve to kill them all before they kill us. This is not blood-thirsty talk, please believe me it is the voice of reason, and it is Torah from Sinai. Remember what Amalek did to you, and annihilate them.
Lets get personal, here. Let me tell you a little about some of the victims. Benjamin Blutstein graduated with honors from Dickinson college and was preparing to continue his education at the H.U.. He just celebrated his 25th birthday, and in his pocket was found the flight ticket to return home to Harrisburg, PA to spend a month with his parents and family.
David Gritz, 24, only child of parents who lived in France and the U.S. spent his school year in Paris and his summers in Massachusetts. After receiving his Masters degree in International Studies and Philosophy at the Sorbonne, he was one of two scholars to win a scholarship to study for a doctorate in Jewish Studies at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He arrived in the country two weeks ago and was at the Hebrew U campus to register for a Hebrew Ulpan.
Dina Carter was born and raised in North Carolina. She finished a B.A. in anthropology at Duke, and Masters of Social Work at Chapel Hill. She was searching for a meaningful life, and was drawn to Judaism. She studied and went through conversion before making aliya to Israel some twelve years ago. She was an artist, painting, sculpting and singing with great talent. She worked as a librarian and archivist at the H.U. manuscript department.
Janis Ruth Coulter worked at the New York office of Friends of H.U.. She was the coordinator of programs for U.S. students at H.U. She graduated the University of Mass with a B.A. in History and Jewish Studies and spent a year in Israel doing research at Hebrew U. and on her return accepted the job with the Friends of H.U.. She arrived in Israel with a group of students only the day before the explosion.
Marla Bennett, 24 is a graduate of Berkley University, on California, in International Relations. She came to Israel to continue her studies, to prepare for a career in Jewish education in the U.S. She met and fell in love with a young man from the U.S., and was planning to visit here this summer to meet his parents. Marla wrote a letter, and I would like to quote:
I've been living in Israel for over a year and a half now, and my favorite thing to do here is go to the grocery store. I know, not the most exciting response from someone living in Jerusalem these days. But going grocery shopping here, deciphering the Hebrew labels and delighting in all of the kosher products, as well as picking up my dry cleaning, standing in long lines at the bank, and waiting in the hungry mob at the bakery, means that I live here. I am not a tourist; I deal with Israel and all of its complexities, confusion, joy and pain every single day. And I love it.
I got the "Israel bug" during my junior year, when I studied at the H.U. of Jerusalem. I had traveled in Israel before, but living here was a qualitatively different experience.
I left knowing I would return. I was not sure whether I would study or work, but I knew that my love for Israel, my desire to understand this country, and my desire to learn more about Judaism were not yet satiated... .
But my learning is a result not only of the hours I spend pouring over material in the Beit Midrash (Jewish house of study), but also of my life in Jerusalem... Here in Jerusalem I've found a community of seekers: people who like me who want to try living in another country, who want to know more about Judaism; people who are trying to figure out exactly what they want their lives
to look like. The air is charged with our debates and discussions as we try to assimilate into our lives all that we've learned. Life here is magical.
It's also been difficult. Just a month after I arrived the current "Intifada" began. My time here has been dramatically affected by both the security situation and by the events happening around me. I am extremely cautious about where I go and when; I avoid crowded areas and alter my routine when I feel at all threatened. But I also feel energized by the opportunity to support Israel during a difficult period. This is undoubtedly an important historic moment for both Israel and for the Jewish
people. I have the privilege of reporting to my friends and family in the U.S. about the realities of living in Israel at this time and I also have the honor of being an American choosing to remain in Israel, and assist, however minimally, in Israel's triumph...
As I look ahead to the next year and a half that I will spend in Israel, I feel excited, worried, but more than anything else, lucky. I am excited that I can spend another year and a half in a place that truly feels like home, a home in which I am surrounded by an amazing community of bright and interesting friends who constantly help me to question and define myself. I am worried for Israel, a historic moment this is, but also difficult and unpredictable. I feel lucky because the excitement always wins out over the worry. The exhilaration of Torah and Talmud study, close friendships and a lively community far outweigh the fears. Stimulation abounds in Jerusalem, and I need only go to the supermarket to be struck once again by how lucky I am to live here. There is no other place in the world where I would rather be right now...
This week's Torah reading is the
portion of Re'eh, Deuteronomy 11:26 to 16:17. The text begins with a "free
choice" proposition from Moshe (which is anything but free choice...):
"Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing,
if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this
day; And a curse, if you will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God,
but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other
gods, which you have not known." [Deu. 11:26-28] Based on this passage,
giving us the "right" to go one way or another is very pleasing to
some people. They would like to have a system of "choices"
like the "Ten Suggestions," or 613 "possible actions" to
endear us before the Lord who may or may not rule the world which He may just
have created... Or maybe happened upon it when it accidently big-bang created
itself to perfection with definite laws of physics from the sub-atomic to the
Let's try again... Let's look at the text beyond the first word, beyond the first verse, and even beyond the first paragraph. Let us recognize that God does not give us free reign over His creation without a set of rules of how to preserve His creation. The text of our portion does state, "And you shall take care to do all the statutes and judgments which I set before you this day." [Ibid. 11:32] The first rule that God wants us to live by is, "You shall completely destroy all the places, where the nations which you shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree;" [Ibid. 12:2]
Being Jewish is being different, more caring, more loving, more spiritual. Christianity grafted itself to the stock of Judaism, and it, too, aspires to kindness and mercy, to depth of spirituality and grace.
But what of those who claim that God is sectarian, that he loves them and them alone, to the exclusion of all others on earth? What of those that aspire to reach God by spreading death and destruction of innocent women men and above all else innocent children, infants at their mothers' breasts, babies asleep on their fathers' laps?
Nine o'clock at night, a long bus one part pulling another behind it, winds it's way through the dark streets of an old, ultra-orthodox neighborhood, full of passengers coming home from evening services at the Western Wall. Orna Cohen, 33, was holding her 1 month old Elkhanan, quietly breast-feeding under her blouse, while holding her 19 month old daughter, Shira. She saw a man standing in the middle of the bus. He looked somewhat like her husband: medium built, dark hair and a beard, side curls identifying him as one of the very orthodox who travel regularly on that bus. But suddenly he was nothing like her husband he erupted into a ball of fire emitting metal projectiles in every direction. Suddenly he was a terrorist who blew himself up, taking Elkhanan and Shira with him. Orna survived, spared by God to take care of her other two children, aged 4, 6, who "survived." Would anyone here like to tell Orna or her remaining children how "lucky" they are?
There is a one month old baby in the ICU in Hadassah Ein Kerem. A few hours after the explosion he was still without parents who can ''claim'' him. Are his parents alive, stunned and confused so that they don't realize they need to look for him or are they, God forbid, dead, victims of the fanatical inhuman murderer in the name of his perverted religion. The doctors and nurses at the hospital have given him a name of Yisrael for the people of Israel. He is crying
and he is hungry as nurses are trying to feed him with a "formula" which he has never had before. He does not eat, and he will not stop crying he is searching for his mother's breast a soft and warm familiar source of life and sustenance which is not near his crying face...
Moshe Yakov, 33, his 3 children and his elderly father, Tzvi Yakov, 66, were at the Kotel to celebrate Saba Tzvi's birthday tonight at Maariv services. They were a witness of God's faithful protection, 3 generations standing together in prayer, celebrating at the Kotel, the last remnant of the Temple of Solomon. Then they boarded the bus for the ride home and now Moshe and 2 children are at Shaarey Zedek while Saba Tzvi and one grandchild lie at Hadassah Mt. Scopus ICU. They were burned in different parts of their bodies. Apart, yet together, now in 2 different hospitals in David's capital, in eternal Jerusalem. A blessing and a curse.
I can't say any more. The words are choking me, the hatred of that demented terrorist is so vile, so evil, that I don't think that God Himself can have pity on his soul. Surely the God who brought us to this land and warned us against the ways of the people of the land was speaking of men such as this, and deeds such as the one he committed in his evil spirit. May God grant us the strength of resolve to resist terror and continue to strive for peace in our land. May wickedness cease and lovingkindness take its place as we live by God's prescription for the blessing of life.
They claim to be our successors they claim that the God of Abraham has given them the "last prophet," Mohamad, and if we want to live under God we must follow his teaching. Yet the Torah this week warns us, "What ever I command you, take care to do it; you shall not add to it, nor diminish from it. If there arises among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder, comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them; You shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God tests you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." [Ibid 13:1-3] Their God is not our God, their promise is not His promise, and their message is not the message of the God of Abraham. May the world soon come to realize this, and may God show them the right way, so that they and their neighbors throughout the world may finally live in peace and tranquility.
This week’s portion in the Torah is Re'eh, Deuteronomy 11:26 to 16:17. The text opening the reading is, "Re’eh anokhi noten lifnekhem ha’yom brakha uklalah – Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse...” [Deu. 11:26] On the face of it, this is a "free choice" proposition from Moshe. You can have the one, or the other. A wise man would choose the blessing, a fool might be tempted to examine the curse. Even looking at the next verse might not change our mind: “A blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day; And a curse, if you will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known." [Deu. 11:27-28] But, before we get too far into this concept of free choice, the text says, "And you shall take care to do all the statutes and judgments which I set before you this day." [Deu 11:32] This "doing" of mitzvot is expressed through belief, but more importantly, through avodah, meaningful service to God.
Forgive me please if I get on the bully pulpit again, but I feel I must. Last night HBO aired a documentary called “A Death in Gaza” that upset me greatly. The legend for this film read, “In spring 2003, award-winning filmmaker James Miller and reporter Saira Shah, set out to take a first-hand look at the culture of hate that permeates the Middle East. They captured the lives of three Palestinian children growing up in the bullet-riddled streets of Gaza. Although James and Saira had planned to film the lives of Israeli children as well, in the midst of production, Miller was shot to death by an Israeli tank, falling victim to the very conflict he covered.” The film was another in a series of reports that fill the air in television and radio land, decrying the suffering of poor Arab children, mothers and fathers whose children die in the unequal struggle to end occupation.
No one mentions in those programs, nor, it seems, does the public remember that it was and continues to be the policy of the Palestinian Arabs to sacrifice all the children, women, and non-combatant men possible to achieve their goal – the elimination of the Jewish state.
Nor to they mention on the air, that the time they chose to show this pity arousing film is the yahrzeit of the bus bombing in Meah She’arim. Let us recall: Nine o'clock at night, a long bus – one part pulling another behind it, winds it's way through the dark streets of an old, ultra-orthodox neighborhood, full of passengers coming home from evening services at the Western Wall. Orna Cohen, 33, was holding her 1 month old Elkhanan, quietly breast-feeding under her blouse, while holding her 19 month old daughter, Shira. She saw a man standing in the middle of the bus. He looked somewhat like her husband: medium built, dark hair and a beard, side curls identifying him as one of the very orthodox who travel regularly on that bus. But suddenly he was nothing like her husband – he erupted into a ball of fire emitting metal projectiles in every direction. Suddenly he was a terrorist who blew himself up, taking Elkhanan and Shira with him. Orna was spared, spared by God to take care of her other two children, aged 4, 6, who "survived." Would anyone here like to tell Orna or her remaining children how "lucky" they are?
There is a one month old baby in the ICU in Hadassah Ein Kerem. A few hours after the explosion he was still without parents who can ''claim'' him. Are his parents alive, stunned and confused so that they don't realize they need to look for him – or are they, God forbid, dead, victims of the fanatical inhuman murderer in the name of his perverted religion. The doctors and nurses at the hospital have given him a name of Yisrael for the people of Israel. He is crying
and he is hungry as nurses are trying to feed him with a "formula" which he has never had before. He does not eat, and he will not stop crying – he is searching for his mother's breast – a soft and warm familiar source of life and sustenance which is not near his crying face...
Two years ago, about this time, seven innocent civilians, men and women, were killed by a terrorist's bomb at Hebrew University. Five of them were Americans: Marla Bennett, 24, of San Diego, California; Benjamin Blutstein, 25, of Susquehanna Township, Pennsylvania; Dina Carter, 37, born in North Carolina, who moved to Israel in 1990; Janis Ruth Coulter, 36, of West Roxbury, Massachusetts; David Gritz, 24, who holds dual American-French citizenship; Two were Israelis: Lavina Shapira, 53 and David Ladovsky, 29. Ninety seven people were wounded, some severely. They are considered “the lucky ones” - however, their nightmare continues - for the rest of their lives!
HBO make a connection between the children who are “growing up in the
bullet-riddled streets of Gaza,” trained and brain-washed to hate and
commit murder upon all “others,” and the new culture of terrorizing
the United States of America, from the shameless and unprovoked terrorist attack
on American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-as-Salaam, where the death toll, as
well as the number of wounded, was great – to the attack on the U.S. naval
vessel Cole, to the violation of the people of the United States on September
It is time to put the tear soaked towel down, to stop our pity for the innocent victims of terror – insidious, dirty, debilitating terror engaged by men to whom life has no meaning, no value. Let the press take off the veil they have chosen to cover their eyes with, and see that the rotten manipulators of the children of Islam are the true merchants of death. A people who live by the Book, who read the inspired word of a living God of creation would never do the things that cause the death and perversion of children. We are not a people of the sword, and we only weald it in self defense, when our very continued existence is at question.
So let peace be established, with equanimity and justice, with brotherhood and freedom for all. Let children grow up in love and harmony, and none shall know hatred or fear.
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