A New Low

“Kill the Jews, tra la la la la.”

That could be the headline of recent article in the New York Times (it was sent to me; why any Jew would subscribe to or read the NY Times escapes me) that described in graphic detail the music that “Palestinians” are producing, singing, and selling in the land of Israel. It is no longer possible to be shocked by the Arab culture of blood lust, violence and hate. It is deeply rooted in that society, and feeds off similar dysfunction across the Arab world. It is not fair to say it can never change; but it is reasonable to predict that it will not change for the foreseeable future, and not until there is a revolution of morality and decency in the Arab/Muslim world.

What is shocking – maybe it shouldn’t be? – is that the NYT reported this vile display of Jew hatred and genocidal fantasy dispassionately and amorally. Songs such as “Stab, Stab,” “Jerusalem is Bleeding,” “Run Over, Run Over the Settler” are treated almost whimsically, as if they represent some proud cultural achievement, as if they advance a positive agenda, objective or aspiration for Arab society. The Times writers – one of them a Jew, as no one should be surprised to learn – included not one word of criticism of the songwriters, singers, sellers, or the abhorrent content of the songs.

Is there another group in the world whose genocide could be celebrated in song and garner the same placid response from the august American media? Would KKK music achieve the same renown and would the lyrics be featured by the Times, along with the videos? Would the Times similarly gloat over Jewish music that threatened death to Arabs, necessary to safeguard the Land of Israel? Of course the Times wouldn’t – and not because such a concept would be unthinkable to Jews who, as John Adams wrote two centuries ago, “have done more to civilize man than any other nation.” (Apparently, we have not become completely successful in that quest – not in Arabia, not in Europe, and it seems not in much of America).

It is because the Times – which has always harbored a special animus for Jews and Israel going to back to when it was a Jewish-owned newspaper (it no longer is) – has reached a new low in singling out Jews as the only people in the world whose murders can be celebrated in song. This is merely an extension of traditional NY Times reporting that has always equated the deaths of the Jewish victims of Arab terror and the Arab terrorist who murdered them. As in, “Three Die as Violence Erupts,” when the eruption of violence was solely the murderous rage of suicide bomber who killed two Jews alongside him. That repugnant headline is actually benign compared to other headlines seen across the world that describe how “Israelis Shoot Palestinian to Death!” that gently omitted the relevant fact that the Palestinian shot to death by the Israelis was in the process of stabbing Jewish babies and their mothers in the neck.

In the genocidal war being waged against the Jewish people, the New York Times is an accomplice. Now is not the time to lament the death of journalism or the absence of journalistic ethics in modern media, but to make a simpler point. In the war between the civilized and the uncivilized, the NY Times and other media are on the side of the uncivilized. It would be understandable if they subtly acknowledged the hypocrisy and fear that leads them to condemn the virtuous and laud the evildoers, but it is absolutely intolerable that – good writers that they are – they make it seem as if they are sincere or even-handed, as if they are just reporting the news.

What are civilized people dealing with? Watch this, a video of an interview on Arab TV with a mother whose son was killed while in the process of stabbing Jews. Note her boasts about his achievements, her sorrow about the young man not taking his mother with him to shaheed-land, her heartfelt desire that all her sons should become martyrs while murdering innocent Jews, and the finale, when she reveals the flinty side to her own personality and how she sees herself making a future contribution to the world.

There is something that is normal, human, maternal and decent that is just missing from that woman, maybe more than something.

Of course, it would be unthinkable that the NY Times would feature that woman whose barbarity is on display for all, and whose lack of concern about the welfare of her children would, in civilized countries, attract the attention of the local Division of Youth and Family Services. She could use an intervention, to say the least. But why would the Times ignore her, if they have? She shares the same goal as the songwriters and singers. Is she less entertaining, and therefore undeserving of a Times platform? Is it that she has not set her rant to a catchy tune? Or is that her primitive rage would strike such a nerve in the average reader that they might, Heaven forefend, feel some sympathy for Israelis and come to respect a shoot-first, ask questions later approach to Arab terrorists?

It would be enough to state that the Times should be ashamed, but it is not clear that their reporters and editors are left with a sense of shame. Basic human instincts just do not register. There is a pronounced inability to move beyond even the trite expressions of even-handedness (would that there would be evenhandedness!) and observe the reality of an Arab world that has breached all norms of civilization, for whom the Geneva Conventions are a farcical sign of Western weakness, and whose violent rage is stoked by the fecklessness of the Western media, the American president, and the world’s diplomatic elitists.

Those songs incite violence against Jews. The NY Times reported those songs without a word of moral reproach, but with an abundance of empathy, indulgence and tolerance. That Arab society (to a large extent) is pathologically sick – most of the victims of Arab violence are still Muslims – is a given; that enlightened Westerners should lend it credence, support and sympathetic coverage is, on balance, even more sick. Westerners were raised with an antipathy to genocide and an appreciation for basic human rights. Those rights, in the Times’ view, do not apply to Jews, whose deaths are encouraged and celebrated through songs.

And the Jews then support the Times, so that they – the Jewish readers – effectively subsidize the promotion of even more articles that will call for their own deaths, and, of course, pardon the murderers of any responsibility for those deaths.  It was Lenin or Marx who said that the Communists will hang the capitalists with the rope they sell them. Jews who read the Times with their morning coffee should know they are helping their enemies destroy themselves. Not a cheerful thought to contemplate while downing a Danish.

But those are our enemies and their songs. Now, a few words from the good guys. While Arabs sing about murdering Jews, Jews sing about life, virtue, service of G-d and happiness. Could that infuriate our enemies even more?

In a world of good and evil, good will prevail.

 

 

The Inanities of John Kerry

It would be unfair to think ill of John Kerry because he is the grandson of an apostate Jew, who changed his name from Cohen to Kerry and pretended to be an Irish Catholic, even if such a pedigree has inevitably shaped Kerry’s views towards Israel. After all, you cannot choose your parents, grandparents or any relative. But he can be ridiculed and lambasted for making one of the dumbest comments in recent history, one that if analyzed shows either intense animus towards Israel and Jews, a warped view of life and personal responsibility or all of the above.

Intruding where he is unwelcome, has nothing to offer and can only prop up another aging anti-American dictator, Kerry is trying to “calm” tensions in Israel. He offered this gem: “We continue to urge everybody to exercise restraint and restrain from any kind of self-help in terms of the violence, and Israel has every right in the world to protect its citizens, as it has been, from random acts of violence.”

Forgive the run-on sentence (this is an administration populated by people who don’t speak intelligibly outside the four ells of the teleprompter) and parse the words themselves.

We continue to urge everybody to exercise restraint…”  Surely Kerry must know that asking the attackers and the defenders to exercise restraint is a certain formula for a massacre if the aggressors choose, strangely, not to heed Kerry’s importuning and the attacked, foolishly, comply. He must be able to intuit, on some level, the repugnance implicit in the moral equivalence of the violence used by the barbarians to stab and shoot innocent Jews and the violence used by the civilized to thwart them. The equation alone is so monstrous that only malevolent, spiteful minds  – of which the world, clearly, has many – could utter such drivel and presume it sensible and reasonable. It is tantamount to saying: “Jews, die! And don’t kill anybody while in the process of dying.”

This inversion of morality placates and emboldens the evildoers – a clear Obama administration goal transparent in its dealing with Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and the Palestinian Authority – and can even be understood as evidence of the world’s corrupt double standard towards Israel and the Jewish people. It doesn’t make it right – in fact, it is very wrong and abhorrent – but not atypical enough to warrant any attention. But Kerry continued to call on all sides – but he meant the Jews – to “restrain from any kind of self-help in terms of the violence…” Before scrutinizing this breathtaking inanity, it is only fair to include Kerry’s succeeding clause, in which he conceded (reluctantly?) that “Israel has every right in the world to protect its citizens, as it has been, from random acts of violence.” How gracious of him.

Doesn’t Israel’s right to “protect its citizens” negate Kerry’s call for restraint on all sides? How can a nation defend its citizens by exercising restraint, unless the true defense that Kerry is seeking – one that will end all conflict – is Israel’s surrender to its enemies? That would, at least in his mind, end the cause for violence, notwithstanding the minor detail that Jews were savagely massacred in Hebron in 1929, across the land of Israel in 1936-1939, and victimized by Arab terror in the 1950’s and 1960s – in the former cases long before there was a Jewish state and in the latter cases long before the ”settlements” became the “obstacle to peace.” So the unctuous call for restraint, i.e., do not kill the attacker nor harm him in any way, is nothing more than a bland acquiescence to the mass murder of Jews. There is no quantity of liberal Jewish palaver about how great to Israel a friend Kerry is, was, or will be that can reverse the implications of his call to shackle the innocent so the murderous can have free reign. His moral compass is askew.

Even the phrase “random acts of violence” – the same gibberish uttered by Obama after Jews were massacred in a kosher supermarket in Paris earlier this year (where’s the last place one would think to find Jews? Obama: A kosher deli, of course) – understates the problem and does not properly assign blame to the perpetrators of these murders and attempted murders. The acts of violence might be “random” in terms of victims selected for carnage but they are not “random” in the sense of being haphazard or unsystematic. The Arab enemy is attacking innocent Jews and trying to slaughter as many as they can because of the blood lust for Jewish life, the cult of death and glorification of martyrdom that permeates the world of radical Islam, and their rejection of any semblance of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel or even any non-Islamic  sovereignty over any territory claimed for Islam.

That is not “random” at all, but rather a focused effort to rid the Middle East first and then the world of any Jewish national and perhaps even individual presence. This is genocidal jihad, and the hackneyed response of liberal Jews and peaceniks has always been to attack anyone who points this out and exposes how foolishly misguided they have been. In the alternative, they seek reasons for the violence that rationalize and even justify Arab terror. Those pretexts always include the lack of a peace process, the building of settlements, the attempt to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, the lack of rainfall, etc. (For all the false clamor about Israel’s desire to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, I really wish they would.) Those who think that the genocidal jihadists can be placated – like Obama, Kerry and their acolytes, even some in Israel  – should really not be allowed near a microphone or in any building where the crafting of foreign policy is taking place. They are dangerous people.

All of which leads to the one of the dumbest statements of the year, a year in which a healthy competition for that title is ongoing. He urged all sides to “restrain from any kind of self-help.” In context, Kerry must have been urging Israelis to ignore their government (the same government that he conceded has the right to “protect its citizens”), as that government has urged all Israelis who possess firearms to bear them in the streets and with them subdue and/or eliminate any terrorist who dares to raise his hand against an innocent person. In essence, “Israel” has the right of self-defense, but not the “people of Israel.” Huh?

But who in his right mind would ever demand that someone not engage in “self-help”? Answer: only a person on the political left who feels that government is responsible for everything in the lives of the citizens. It reminded me first of Ronald Reagan’s quip: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” But Kerry’s sentiment is worse than bizarre: Who ever tells people not to help themselves? New Jersey is the only state in the Union where citizens are not permitted to pump their own gasoline, and that too is peculiar. Who would tell someone not to defend his own life but to wait for someone else to come along and defend it for him? And if it’s too late, tsk tsk tsk, and we will shed crocodile tears and call for an end to the cycle of violence. That is beyond bizarre. Underneath that nice head of hair, what is Kerry thinking?

Self-help is the foundation of personal responsibility. The very suggestion that one should “restrain from any kind of self-help” is paternalistic, and when the self-help is actually defending one’s life it is downright cruel, and in this context, nothing less malicious. It is clear from the reaction in the Arab world and their fellow travelers in the West that they are distressed that the Arab attackers  in the recent wave of Arab terror have mostly been killed while trying to kill Jews, rather than being captured, arrested, tried, convicted, incarcerated and then shortly thereafter released in a prisoner exchange – a pattern to which they became accustomed and mostly enjoyed. Maybe that is the change in status quo that has them all riled up.

Kerry’s musings show his evil intent, and his offensive ramblings prove his irrelevance to the protection of both Jewish life and Western civilization. Israel needs a stronger hand, and it needs more – not less – citizen involvement in self-defense and taking the war to the Arab terrorists.

Kerry, for his own good and for the good of the world and the Jewish people, should just go to Iran and help them build their nuclear weapon. If his engineering skills are as keen as his proficiency in diplomacy and his coherence in thought, the world will be able to rest easily for decades.

 

Exploitation

On the car radio the other day, I listened to an interesting debate between Dennis Prager (on his show) and someone named Jay Michaelson who writes for the Forward and other liberal organs. Michaelson had lambasted Dr. Ben Carson, Republican candidate for President, for articulating his support for the Second Amendment  in this way: “The likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if people had been armed.” Dr. Carson later added: “Basically, what I said is when tyranny occurs traditionally around the world, they try to disarm the people first.”

For these truthful and eminently reasonable statements, Michaelson attacked Dr. Carson for his “rant,” called him “ignorant,” and thoughtfully added that Dr. Carson’s declarations are “profoundly anti-Semitic, immoral and disgusting.” And of course the conservative candidate was then assailed for invoking the Holocaust.

It is difficult to escape the sense that liberals are threatened by the Carson candidacy as it might tend to diminish the support of a voting bloc whose near unanimous voting patterns in the past are again being counted on heavily by the Democrats. Carson’s life story is so compelling – raised in a broken, one-family home in a dangerous part of an inner city, only to be saved by the determination and will of his mother, and who becomes an acclaimed neurosurgeon – that it imperils many liberal shibboleths, especially the ones that demand government intervention in every aspect of life and diminish the role of family and personal responsibility in an individual’s destiny. The liberal fear is palpable, as Dr. Carson’s intellect, integrity and humility (three qualities not often seen in politics, and certainly not in tandem) make him a formidable candidate and challenge their world view. The attack even sounds, to me, a bit racist…

No people invoke the Holocaust more than people who criticize others for invoking the Holocaust. It is as if a group of Jews (usually, liberal journalists) have assumed the responsibility of being guardians of the legacy of the Holocaust and only allow it to be used on their terms. For example, Mr. Prager pointed out that the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, recently invoked the Holocaust in urging European hospitality to the hundreds of thousands of migrants from Syria and comparing them to European Jews who found no haven before the Holocaust. (The differences are staggering, of course. The Syrian exodus seems to be disproportionately young people who have chosen – perhaps wisely – not to fight for their country, they have bypassed several countries on their way to Europe, and (who knows?) might harbor in their midst an untold number of jihadists capable of wreaking havoc on the European continent or in the United States. None of that was applicable to European Jews.)

Asked whether he considered Rabbi Sacks’ statement a similar exploitation of the Holocaust, Michaelson stammered, couldn’t answer, conceded the point and tried to change the topic. In other words, invoking the Holocaust is appropriate when it suits a favored political goal but not when it supports a disfavored political goal. There is more than an element of hypocrisy in that.

But on the substance, can it be plausibly argued that Ben Carson was wrong?  The facts are that Jews were disarmed before the Holocaust, that Jews in Europe who wished to fight were severely handicapped by a lack of weapons, and the most frequent request from partisans was not for sympathetic editorials or eulogies in liberal publications – but for weapons, the more the heavier the deadlier, the better. Can anyone reasonably assume that the Nazis would have been able to round up Jews in town after town, city after city, with little resistance, if Jews had been armed? It is so obvious that it beggars the imagination that any reasonable person could challenge it.

Would an armed Jewish community have been able to prevent the Holocaust? Probably not, although it certainly would have changed Hitler’s calculus. That, too, is obvious; if it would have made no difference to him, he would not have made the effort to disarm all Jews. And all Dr. Carson said was Hitler’s ability to accomplish his goals would have been “greatly diminished.” Exactly which part of that is “anti-Semitic, immoral and disgusting”? Indeed, one can cogently argue that, given our history, advocating for gun control that limits the access of Jews to weapons for self-defense is “anti-Semitic” and “immoral;” others can decide whether it is also disgusting.

In essence, Michaelson attempted to underscore his support for gun control by invoking the Holocaust – and Godwin’s Law – beating to the punch anyone who would try to draw lessons from the Holocaust about the elementary right of personal self-defense. That is as exploitative of the Holocaust for personal and political use as anything that has evoked the same criticism.

In the end, the radio conversation veered into a general discussion of gun control because Michaelson was unable to show that Dr. Carson’s contention was “anti-Semitic” (itself a bizarre accusation), “immoral,” or “disgusting.” He was game enough to be interviewed and take the heat, but without apologizing for his vitriol or hyperbole. (He should also retract the contention in his article that the Second Amendment does not protect individual gun ownership. Not only did the drafters perceive such but the Amendment’s long legal history has also vindicated that reading, to the chagrin of liberals. Try to amend the Amendment, if you wish, but don’t read into it what is not there.)

On that note, Michaelson tried to invoke the Israel experience where gun ownership is widespread but much more regulated than in the United States. One need only look at the recent Arab savagery in Israel and the number of Jewish civilians armed with weapons who are first responders at the scene of Arab terror to realize gun ownership is both widespread and useful. (Of course, Israel could really benefit today from “knife control” legislation, as knives kill and maim, and little is done to prevent their proliferation among the Arab population. After all, it’s never the people who are responsible for their actions, it’s the weapon, or the sellers of the weapon…)

Michaelson got a fair hearing and, of course, is entitled to his opinions. Would that he granted the same to others!  But Jews should not be so promiscuous in flinging accusations of Jew hatred against people they despise for their conservative politics, or really anyone who is not an actual Jew hater. So, too, not every invocation of the Holocaust merits rebuke or we will not be able to learn anything from or apply any lessons of the Holocaust. That itself – the tendency to deny the relevance of the Holocaust to anything – is itself a form of Holocaust denial. Of course, Holocaust references can be abused, and the Holocaust is sui generis as an historical event, but the Holocaust can also be instructive as to man’s capacity for evil, the dangers of passivity in the face of that evil, the relentless hatred of Jews that persists in many quarters, basic human rights including the right of self-defense (a right that, even today, makes much of the world and many liberal Jews extremely uncomfortable when practiced by Jews) and man’s responsibility towards his fellow man.

Too much time and energy are wasted on trying to prevent the last Holocaust, when our efforts should focus on preventing the next one right now in the planning stages in Iran, among the jihadists and other enemies of Israel.

To criticize Dr. Carson – a lover and keen supporter of Israel and the Jewish people – on these grounds is outrageous and deserves repudiation. He wrote yesterday in the Jerusalem Post: What I do know however, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is that I never intended for my words to diminish the enormity of the tragedy or in any way to cause any pain for Holocaust survivors or their families.” What his political opponents – and this is what it is all about – are touting as an apology is nothing of the sort but actually just an expression of his elementary decency as a human being.

It is just one of the characteristics that those same political opponents – especially including Jews – would do well to learn from him.

Grim Calculus

The land and people of Israel are again experiencing one of those spasmic eruptions of Arab violence that are always a rude awakening to the complacent. Too many Arabs feel unrestrained enough to shoot, stab, murder and maim innocent people, and too many others join in the post-attack celebrations. It’s the law of the jungle, except insofar as only one side remains inhibited from fully responding. And even as attacks proliferate, and parents in major cities are keeping their children home from unprotected schools, there is some consolation in that most people are not being stabbed or shot, and the most dangerous places in Israel are still safer than Chicago or Washington, D.C. But that is small comfort.  What can be done?

Terror cannot be absolutely stopped because it is nearly impossible to thwart a crime in progress by a perpetrator who does not care whether he lives or dies and might even prefer death. But it can be deterred, especially by imposing penalties on societies that spawn such monsters until the decent among them rise up in protest. Such penalties have been outlined here and elsewhere, with more vitriol directed at the recommenders than even at the terrorists. It has not yet been accepted that, while there may or may not be a military solution, there certainly is no diplomatic solution. Israel is engaged in a zero-sum game for its very existence and should be taking game-changing measures to protect its existence and the lives of its citizens. That it is not done is arguably attributable to two factors: such deterrence comes with a heavy diplomatic price for Israel and, most regrettably, the murder of Jews by Arab terrorists confers a diplomatic benefit of sorts to Israel.

The latter needs explanation so as not to be misconstrued as suggesting that Israel wants the terror, allows it to happen in whole or in part, or doesn’t strive to prevent it and protect its citizens. None of that is true – but, nonetheless, the horrific murder of Jews does allow the government to claim, rightly, that it can make no strategic concessions in such a precarious security environment. It eases the pressure from hostile foreign elements, here including the present American administration, at least for a few weeks. When it happens again, there’s another reprieve of several weeks. And so it goes, horror after horror, shooting after shooting, stabbing after stabbing. This sequence will also die down – invariably then promoting a call for new concessions and the release of the terrorists who committed the aforementioned crimes – and then the grisly carousel starts turning again.

The former proposition is also true. Israel sustains and tolerates a hostile population in its midst – sworn to its destruction and including also Arab citizens and even some Knesset members – because the diplomatic outcry that would come from taking the necessary deterrence is perceived as intolerable. Notwithstanding the obvious hypocrisy – the number of deaths in Syria in the last five years is probably at least five times greater than the number of Palestinian deaths in the last 100 years – Israeli politicians are intimidated by the fear of diplomatic pressure and pejorative UN resolutions. Witness PM Netanyahu’s feckless acquiescence to another settlement freeze in response to an Obama threat not to veto pending resolutions in the U.N. that call for a Palestinian state, declare all settlements illegal, condemn Israel as an occupying force, etc.

This kowtowing to Obama might seem prudent in the short term but paying this diplomatic blackmail will eventually catch up to Israel. What’s next? Will Israel cave in and cease responding to rockets from Gaza if threatened with a hostile resolution? Will Israel cave in and agree to a Palestinian state, cave in and divide Yerushalayim, cave in and accept the bogus Palestinian “right” of return? The problem with

paying extortion is that once you pay, the price just keeps escalating, so why pay even once? This is true especially because, as certain the sun rises in the east, Obama will recognize a Palestine before he leaves office. (And why not? He’s recognized and embraced every other rogue entity on the planet – Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, etc.)

The temporary diplomatic respite Israel gains when its citizens are attacked and murdered by Arabs also provides a needed release valve for many American Jews, and even some rabbis, who are more comfortable mourning and grieving death than they are promoting self-defense and Israeli supremacy. That’s not to say they prefer death, G-d forbid, just that they are more comfortable with victimization. Many rabbis (I exclude myself) have stock sermons lamenting the loss of innocent Jewish life and how we have to not despair and how we have to fight evil – but become tongue tied when actually asked to defend any real world practice of fighting evil. This is a strain in Jewish life that won’t easily disappear.

It is typified by Golda Meir’s famous quote: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.” I have never found this to be a very intelligent statement nor an especially admirable sentiment but it does resonate with a large segment of American Jewry. There are too many people who prefer the narrative of victimhood than the narrative of victory or power, as if enduring the violent loss of innocent lives per se conveys moral virtue and inflicting pain and suffering on evildoers is necessarily reprehensible. (In fairness to Golda, her second proposition in that famous quote is absolutely true: “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” )

I don’t envy PM Netanyahu his job, whose problems do not lend themselves to facile solutions. But he is stuck in a grim calculus of his own making. Long ago he hinted that terror that did not actually take Jewish life would not draw a muscular military response (a robust rhetorical response, of course, is always forthcoming). For example, the road I most frequent when I’m in Israel – Highway 443 – has been subject to stoning (i.e., the Jews who travel there, not the “road”) for well over a year. There has been damage and some injuries but no deaths. No death, no real response, and the road remains largely open to Arab traffic from Samaria.

So Netanyahu has to strike this ghastly balance: “accept” on some level a relatively small, defined number of Jewish deaths, few enough that they do not mandate forceful military retaliation but not too many Jewish deaths that would either compel him to respond with overwhelming, transformative actions (and risk diplomatic denunciations) or do nothing and jeopardize his political standing. The precise number that triggers the response – but never the effective steps of deterrence – is a mystery. For comparison’s sake, Ariel Sharon endured the deaths of hundreds of Jews before the Netanya Park Hotel Seder night massacre pushed him over the edge (30 Jews was murdered that one night, including seven couples, husbands and wives, r”l) and prompted him to launch Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002. Again, “accept” does not mean he desires it; just that he has rendered himself impotent in responding. Today’s Jerusalem Post just reported that one more massive terrorist attack will result in Operation Defensive Shield 2. One more…)

The “Palestinian President,” Mahmoud Abbas, whose term expired 7.5 years ago, has his own grim calculus, and that accounts for the ongoing dispute in Israel as to whether he is fighting terror or fomenting terror. In truth, he is fighting terror. In truth, he is also fomenting and inciting terror. That is not a contradiction at all. He has to satisfy enough of the lust of his people for Jewish blood in order to maintain his own position and street credibility without going over the tipping point with too many Jewish deaths at which point the Israelis will either send him packing or give him the Arafat treatment – banish him to his Ramallah compound where he can stay until he dies. The Abbas magic number – above which the Israelis end his career, below which his own people will end his career – is also a mystery.

The only way to end this macabre dance is through strength, not weakness. To freeze settlements for one, to ban Jews from ascending the Temple Mount (and not for halachic reasons) for another, just invite not only international pressure, as phony as it is, but also actual disdain. No other nation in the world will stand up for Jewish rights in the land of Israel, and certainly none if the Jews don’t do it ourselves.

The civilized world in Europe and America is nervous enough about the growing jihad that it will need a convenient scapegoat on which it can blame world insecurity, their own decline and their own spinelessness. We need not look too far for that scapegoat. With the Western world’s strategic positions collapsing in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and in America, it stands to reason (as they see it) that the United Nations should be entertaining resolutions about Palestinian statehood and the like, because, you know, that will solve all the world’s problems and mollify the jihadists.

The diplomatic storm is coming anyway, so Israel might as well do the right thing – protect its citizens, restrict the rights of the terrorists and their supporters and celebrants no matter how many they are, settle the land of Israel in its entirety and prepare for a rocky road ahead.

This wave of terror will end soon but others will start. Tempering the assertion of Jewish rights and the preservation of Jewish life in Israel by trying to placate Barack Obama is a fool’s errand. He will make every effort while he is in office to weaken Israel incrementally, and this will happen no matter what Israel does. Attempting to wait him out – his term ends, mercifully, in fifteen months – is attractive but misplaced. Who knows who will succeed him? And why should the march of Jewish destiny be held hostage to his or anyone else’s whims and prejudices?

The prophecy of the return to Zion that has unfolded in our day should supersede the wishes of any politician. It should also give us needed strength and confidence in the road ahead. Jews did not return to Israel to cower in the face of the enemy nor calculate how many Jews must be murdered before the might and wrath of Israel are awakened.

“He who saves one Jewish life, it is as if he has saved an entire world” (Sanhedrin 37a).

 

The Race

In America, the saying goes, anyone can grow up to be president. Well, “anyone” did, and now it seems like everyone else wants to try.

One of Barack Obama’s few accomplishments as president is that he has substantially lowered the bar for future aspirants. In retrospect, it is still mindboggling that citizens of the most powerful nation on earth, presumed leader of the free world, risked its governance on a community organizer of little note, a less than one term Senator with no legislative achievements to speak of. It would be like the Mets deciding to pitch in the opening game of the World Series a soccer player with an attractive personality. It should not be a surprise when the country that elects such a neophyte struggles with tepid economy, a smaller work force, and a global environment in which former US allies look to Russia for leadership and vision. Indeed, today’s news that Russia is trying to eradicate any vestige of US influence in the region suggests the triumph of Putin’s craftiness over Obama’s bluster and naiveté.

Any one of the Republican nominees would be superior, and a few dozen others could also serve quite capably. Another part of Obama’s legacy is the surprising popularity of the three non-politicians in the race. It is as if the American people have realized that if “experience” has produced today’s political climate, then we might as well try a different type of inexperience. It can’t be worse, can it? Probably not, as long as the novice politician retains a sense of humility, a willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them, and an openness to diverse sources of information. Of the three novices in the Republican race, two – Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina – certainly qualify from that perspective. The third – the Donald – does not, and awakens ghosts from the distant past.

Almost all presidents have ascended to the office after serving as Vice-President or Governor. Obama is the first Senator since JFK to become President directly from the Senate and only the third in history (Harding was the other). Eisenhower was the last President who entered office as a non-politician but he had merely been the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces that won World War II. Ross Perot was the last non-politician to mount a serious campaign for the presidency, and probably cost George Bush (I) his reelection in 1992, although analysts spin the numbers both ways. But Trump replicates another individual who sought the presidency as his first elective office, and the similarities are fascinating.

Wendell Willkie was also a former Democrat and a successful businessman (frequently described as a “Wall Street titan”) who wrested the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1940 from several better known competitors, famed politicians all: Senators Robert Taft (Ohio)and Arthur Vandenberg (Michigan), and Thomas E. Dewey, then District Attorney of New York County. (Dewey gained the nominations in the 1944 and 1948 while serving as New York Governor.)

Willkie had the misfortune of opposing a sitting President – FDR – but the 1940 campaign saw FDR running for an unprecedented third term, with an economy still struggling, and Nazi Germany rampaging through Europe. It was a winnable election, but Willkie, while a likable chap, was not an especially enthralling campaigner. He also labored to find the right message that would balance the Republican Party’s isolationist tendencies with its internationalist wing. Notwithstanding that Willkie and FDR had almost identical views on World War II – full support for the Allies short of entering the war – Willkie was lambasted by FDR’s running mate Henry Wallace as the “Nazis’ choice for president.” Dirty campaigning is not a modern invention. Ironically, Wallace himself was later exposed as a Communist sympathizer. Willkie never did connect with the voters.

In the end, Willkie won more votes than any Republican in history to that point but lost to FDR 55%-45%. Even more oddly, Willkie died suddenly in October 1944, so had he won the election, he would not have completed even one term (and his running mate died eight months earlier in 1944!).

Willkie did not have strong roots in the Republican Party and that certainly cost him in the general election – a note of caution for Mr. Trump. Lacking a political base, he was unable to overcome the master of appealing to disparate voting blocs, FDR.

Yet, the differences are also dramatic, starting with the political environment. Politics has always been raucous, but today’s widespread exposure of candidates, the incessant campaign season, and the “president-as-celebrity” that has both dumbed down politics and precipitated Obama’s elections have brought all campaigns into uncharted territory. Politicians nowadays have an enormous capacity to bypass traditional media and communicate directly to the people, not only through speeches but also YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other such dominant entities. Trump’s real fame is not as a businessman – he has had ups and downs like most businessmen – but as an entertainer. I once thought that people who want an entertainer or beer buddy or perpetual candidate as president do not vote, but I have been proven wrong. Trump’s appeal is that he can speak in  bombastic generalities to an audience that, to date, is largely intrigued by it.

Will they vote for him? Who knows, and here’s what has brought me to (almost) the point of revulsion: the campaign is just too long, and as it is too long, it lends itself to producing not the best candidate or potential president but the shallowest and most superficial (not to mention, best financed). There is something wrong when candidates drop out more than a half-year before anyone has actually voted! Yes, it is an endurance test, but why? In theory, a President need not be a great debater; Obama certainly isn’t, and the only times he was actually challenged publicly and in person by anyone (Paul Ryan and Binyamin Netanyahu come to mind), he just became snarky. But it’s not as if the next President will have to debate Putin, Merkel, Assad or anyone else. That’s not how policy is made.

In theory, too, a president need not be telegenic or even a good speaker. Abraham Lincoln was not especially handsome and he had a tinny voice (although a legendary way with words). These campaigns produce the best candidates but being a good candidate often has little connection with being a good president; the proof of that proposition dwells in the White House today and he still cannot resist making at least five stump speeches weekly even though he can’t run again.

The good candidate and the good president have almost opposite skill sets but today’s campaigns are almost designed to reward the better candidate and penalize the person who would be the good president. So the campaigns must be shortened dramatically – even six months seems too long – and the party conventions (four days of hot air and balloons) should be eliminated. Here’s the ideal campaign: no candidate can announce, raise funds or mention the word “President” until June 1 of the election year.  Have one national primary – both parties, same day, in July – and one day for the election in November. (Or maybe September 1 and October 1, for the campaign beginning and the national primary.) The top two candidates are the presidential and vice-presidential nominees (unless the latter declines). Stop giving tiny states like Iowa and New Hampshire disproportionate influence over the outcomes of presidential elections. Campaigns would not be as expensive but would be more meaningful. And – I beg – eliminate all polling. Taking daily polls is like taking your pulse every ten minutes; it is both obsessive and worthless. It is mind-numbing – as is the daily punditry. No other country in the world has such an extensive election process. Bad process, bad results.

Everyone knows where this is headed already – so why not vote this November?? Hillary Clinton is ethically-challenged with a cackle that makes one’s skin crawl, and will struggle – thankfully – to overcome Joe Biden. It says something about the state of American Jewry that the first Jewish candidate to be leading the polls in several states this late in a campaign is an intermarried, unaffiliated Socialist. The Democrat candidates are weak, but weak Democrats have won in the past by drawing heavily from the fear chapter in the Democrat handbook. They’ll accuse Republicans – any and all – of being anti-woman, anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-elderly, anti-poor and anti-middle class and promise to hand out more free stuff. I would quite enjoy a Fiorina-Carson ticket being labeled anti-woman and anti-black.

The Republican slate is filled with qualified candidates. None are without flaws, but then, who is anywhere in life? Whom do the Democrats fear most? Judging by the level of attacks, the answers in no particular order would be Christie (for his campaigning skills, his ability to get things done with a hostile legislature, and his knack for communicating his positions in a way that voters understand); Rubio (bright, young, dynamic Hispanic with a keen grasp of the issues – and young almost always beats old in presidential elections); Kasich (for his record of achievement as a Congressman and as a Governor of a critical swing state; and, somewhat less, Jeb Bush (who is suffering from Bush fatigue but whose war chest will not allow the Democrats to steamroll him at any time during the campaign).

Democrats should fear Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and even Donald Trump – the first two because they cut into indispensable Democrat blocs and the latter because, well, he is unpredictable and all the rules of politics have changed in the last decade. Trump will most likely flame out shortly after the voting starts. Democrats may wish for Ted Cruz because he is very conservative; be careful what you wish for, as there is no brighter, more articulate candidate than the Texas Senator. Win or lose, he will be around for a long time. Mike Huckabee is a sage and folksy presence, a good combination. Almost all the candidates project what is most needed in a president: firm, sensible  convictions that are grounded in reality and a reasonable way of implementing them.

The shame is that there are so many quality people – Graham and Jindal, to name two other  – that there are just too many people running for president to really get a fair hearing by the voters.

Down the road, we can evaluate each candidate’s approach and feelings towards Israel, if only to irritate Ann Coulter. For now, the race is on – even if it is just about a year too early.

Omens

We are commanded this time of year to dwell in Succot (booths) “so all generations should know that G-d had us dwell in Succot when He took us out of Egypt: (Vayikra 23:43). We have been dwelling in Succot ever since –    a sign of G-d’s love and protection from hostile natural elements, and from hostile human forces as well. Our Sages famously disputed whether these Succot were real, actual booths or the divine clouds of glory. But how far does the protection extend?

Rav Rami Berechyahu (the fine Rav of Talmon in Samaria and founder of the organization “Maaminim Bamishtara,” an educational network for religious police officers in Israel) was once asked the following question: a fellow said that he was building his Succa and he injured himself, broke his finger when he smashed it with the hammer. He wanted to know how such a thing was possible when the Talmud (Sota 21a) states that when you are involved in the performance of a Mitzvah, you are protected from harm. So how was he hurt?

The Rabbi first answered that building the Succa is not the mitzvah but a hechsher mitzvah  (preparation for the mitzvah, which is dwelling in the Succa), so the aforementioned principle doesn’t apply) We might be tempted to dismiss such a question altogether but for the fact that many people live their lives according to such signs, omens, premonitions. This action brings good luck, and this brings bad luck. I’ll be successful if I wake up at a certain time, or the weather is a certain way, or this person calls me. As is well known, there are people who do this with mitzvot as well – if I observe this mitzvah, then that entitles me to this reward, or even this: if I do this mitzvah, then I can transfer my reward to someone else.

All of this is alluring but essentially baseless – we can daven for someone else (the primary way of helping another, aside from actually helping them) or even learn extra Torah for someone else. I’ve never seen an authoritative source suggest that I can assign my reward for wearing tefillin (or taking challah) to someone else, anymore than the Jets can assign extra points they have scored to the Giants (not that it would help). And if the transference of reward did work, would the converse also work – that someone else becomes responsible for my sins? (“I’m doing it for him, not for me.”)

Yet, interestingly, the notion that we can interpret events or signs is not unknown even in the world of Halacha. Two famous vignettes suffice: the Vilna Gaon long desired to implement the recitation of the Priestly Blessing every day in the exile, and not just on Yom Tov as we currently do. He tried several times but stayed his hand, until one time he decided that he would do it the next morning. That same night, he was arrested on slanderous charges (part of the Chasidic-Mitnaged wars of the 1700’s); when he was released he took it as a “sign from Heaven” (Aliyot Eliyahu, 44) that he should not make this change in the liturgy. Some years later, the Gaon’s disciple tried the same thing – and the night before it was to happen, the Bet Midrash in Volozhin burnt down.

So, too, the Chatam Sofer ruled that if a person ate meat late at night and arose early the next morning, it is permissible to have coffee with milk even before six hours have elapsed since he last consumed meat. One need not wait the customary six hours between consumption of meat and milk, as sleep speeds digestion. Most others disagreed, but having ruled, the Chatam Sofer decided to act in accordance with his ruling, ate a late night meat meal, rose early the next day, poured himself coffee, added milk, and… promptly knocked over the whole cup. From here he deduced that the halacha is not in accordance with his opinion.

What does this all mean? Are we mystics? Do omens matter? Rav Yisrael Salanter rejected all of these, arguing that the Torah is not in Heaven. Halachic questions must be decided based on halacha and not based on signs or wonders. The Bet Midrash in Volozhin was burnt down not by an act of G-d – but man, Rav Yisrael contended; it was arson by people who resented the change in minhag. (Some Jews will do anything to defend a custom – even violate several Torah prohibitions!) Perhaps on the level of the Vilna Gaon or the Chatam Sofer different rules apply. But who knows? Clearly such an approach is not normative. We can’t live that way.

Not everything has a deeper meaning. Rav Shlomo Aviner was once told by someone that he was trying to write a check for charity to a poor person when his pen ran out of ink. What message, he asked, was G-d sending him? Rav Aviner answered that G-d was telling him that he needs more ink in his pen. So too, Rav Berechyahu told his interlocutor that the signal the latter was sent from Heaven when he broke his finger while building the Succa was this: when you use a hammer, you have to be careful. That is also a divine message.

The Succa is a demonstration of faith on our part and of love on G-d’s part. The Vilna Gaon explained that the 15th of Tishrei was the day on which the divine clouds of glory returned to shelter the Jewish people after the sin of the golden calf.  Those divine clouds of glory do not hermetically seal us. But without them, the actual Succot could also not protect us. They reflect the special Providence through which G-d preserves His people, and His love in giving us the Torah and Mitzvot, a land and a way of life, that doesn’t prevent harm but give us guidance in dealing with harm, especially the harm caused by G-d’s other creatures, human and otherwise. We don’t need a greater demonstration than Succa; we just need the Succa. It is our shelter of faith.

In so doing we find our deepest connection to G-d, our purpose in life, and our source of true happiness, and hastens the day of redemption, when G-d’s kingship will be recognized by all mankind.

G-d’s Hand in History

(The following was published as an Op-ed in the Jewish Press, on September 11, 2015 –  RSP)

Fourteen years ago today the clenched fist of Arab-Islamic terror smashed into the United States of America, murdering almost three thousand innocent souls, devastating lives, shaking America (at least temporarily) out of its complacency and nudging the American polity into several Middle Eastern wars. Those wars have not ended well; indeed, the situation on the ground has become more violent and deadly. The desultory and reluctant conduct of these wars by the Obama administration – snatching defeat from the jaws of potential victory – has left the region and the world on the verge of accommodating Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Iranian hegemony over much of the Middle East.

On an individual level, the brutal and unprovoked attacks on September 11, 2001 were a vivid reminder of the fragility of life. Thousands of people at work or on their way to work rose that morning in anticipation of a normal, uneventful day, just going about their daily routines until such time as they would return to their families and loved ones. Alas, their good-byes that morning were the last ones they would extend, their lives ended in sudden acts of unimaginable horror. When the Yamim Noraim begin, we remind ourselves repeatedly of our own vulnerabilities, the tenuousness of life itself, our gratitude for the gifts and opportunities

Hashem  has bestowed upon us – each according to His will – and of our rededication to utilizing those gifts and opportunities in His service. That is the judgment of the individual that consumes most of our attention.

But there is another judgment occurring on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippurim whose stakes are even greater than the judgment of individuals, and which this anniversary of the Arab terror of 9/11 renders so palpable: the judgment of nations.

As we say in the Musaf of Rosh Hashana, in the blessing of Zichronot (“Remembrances”): “And of the nations it shall be said: Which one will merit peace, and which one the sword? Which one will suffer famine and which will enjoy plenty? And all creatures will be remembered and recorded for life or for death.” It is true that the suffering of nations is felt most in the travails that befall the individual – but it is also true that even innocent individuals can be ensnared in the tribulations of nations and suffer accordingly. We live as individuals, but we also have our fates intertwined with those of the country in which we reside and that country’s enemies and adversaries.

If we have some (emphasis, some) control over our own fates – “Repentance, prayer and charity avert the harshness of the [divine] decree” – how do we understand our almost complete helplessness in avoiding the consequences of the national judgments that also take place? Are we just pawns in history, bounced by forces beyond our control? Is it possible to understand G-d’s plan in history beyond the rough outline provided to us in the Torah and the words of the Nevi’im ? Is there a divine message that we can discern amid the murkiness and gloom of today’s global scene – in which country after country, seemingly without any end in sight, is battered by terror and war, refugees and displacement, evil and its bitterest enemy, apathy?

G-d’s ways are inscrutable, and even if the last chapter is known to us – the coming of Moshiach – the prior chapters are still being written and read. But one thing should be clear to all Jews: world events are designed to shake us out of our lethargy and embrace our divinely-ordained role in history.

The Gemara (Yevamot 63b) states that “punishment does not befall the world except on account of the Jewish people.” It is not that we bring misfortune to the world, G-d forbid, as our and G-d’s enemies are fond of saying; the exact opposite is the case. The Jewish people have brought untold blessings to mankind from the very beginning of our existence and down to our very day. The world benefits from the technological, scientific and intellectual genius of the Jewish people and is continually challenged by the moral code of conduct to which we aspire. That has been reciprocated, often and in many places still today, with hatred, overt or subtle, with physical violence and rhetorical scorn, and with persistent, baseless and scurrilous attacks on Israel’s legitimacy and/or conduct, all thinly-disguised assaults on the Jewish people.

Some wage open war on Jews across the globe. Others, especially the hostile elements in Europe and America, are still inhibited by the rancid Jew hatred of the Holocaust and so hide their contempt for all Jews behind the veneer of hatred for Israel – BDS and the like. All of this is contemptible and lamentable but little of it is new. It has accompanied us since Sinai, and the spasms of violence that erupt across the globe – so Chazal are teaching us – are on our “account.” When they fight against us, it is because they are waging war against the Jewish idea. But even when they fight each other, and bring enormous, unspeakable suffering upon themselves, at the root of their discontent is the distortion of the Jewish idea and a rejection of   G-d’s plan for mankind.

As Rabbi Berel Wein once explained, “it’s because of us but it’s not our fault.”

The Wall Street Journal (April 3, 2015) featured a graph that noted the current population of the world’s religions and their future growth. (By 2050, the global Muslim population will almost match the global Christian population, each near 2.8 billion people.) Today, there are 2.17 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims, 1.4 billion Hindus, even 1.3 billion unaffiliated. At the very bottom of the graph – the last line – are the Jews, hovering at or above (!) zero. We are not even a rounding error in the world’s population, less than that. We are not just statistically insignificant; we are statistically improbable.

“Hashem did not desire you or choose you because of your numbers, for you are the smallest among the nations” (Devarim 7:7). Yet, history revolves around the Jewish people. We are not afforded the luxury of being bystanders but rather of being in the forefront of every major world event and discovery. Our national homeland was not placed at the end of the world – say, New Zealand – where we could safely develop our spiritual aptitudes far from the madding crowd and high above the fray but rather at the crossroads of civilization and in the middle of every conflict.

No nation in the world tries harder to do good to all – even strangers – and no nation is as despised and reviled for those efforts. What does it all mean?

It means that G-d chose us as His vehicle to bring His morality to the world and effectuate His will in history. Rav Shlomo Aviner is fond of quoting Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), the famed Italian philosopher and historian who posited – three centuries ago – that whereas the histories of the nations of the world are profane (meaning secular, guided by natural and political forces), the history of the Jewish people is sacred, directed by G-d, and not at all bound by the general laws of history. What applies to other nations and what happens to other nations simply do not apply or happen to us.

It is astonishing that Vico should have recognized that; it is even more astonishing when we – the Jewish people – do not and instead go about our business as if our destiny is that of all nations.

Rav Zvi Yehuda Hakohen Kook zt”l regularly expounded what he called “Masechet Yisrael,” the “Tractate of the People of Israel,” both because it was worthy of study and because it underscored G-d’s plan for us in history. He highlighted three phenomenal dimensions – wonders – of the Jewish people: the wonders of our abilities, our survival and our influence. (See, for example, Rav Aviner’s annotated edition of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook’s “Orot, Yisrael U’techiyato,” footnote 266.)

We are an extraordinarily talented people, whose contributions to mankind have transformed the lives of billions of people. We need not even mention the disproportionate share of Jewish Nobel Prize winners, a mindboggling statistic that defies rational analysis. As a nation, we have been endowed by the Creator with capabilities that are designed to facilitate mankind’s pursuit of moral perfection, the material good and the welfare of all. The former is the very purpose for which we were given the Torah and prophecy.

The wonder of our survival continues to defy comprehension. No people has ever suffered the devastation of invasion, defeat, destruction, and exile – and twice – and then remained an intact nation that reclaimed its ancient homeland after 19 centuries. It is so inexplicable in human terms that it is the source of relentless irritation to our enemies, who deny it formally but are awed by it privately.

And, despite our insignificant and paltry numbers, the influence of the people of Israel on world events is itself astounding. Scarcely a day goes by without a Jew or the Jewish people in the headlines. The preoccupation of the world – actually, the obsession of the world – with the tiny State of Israel is a constant reminder to us of the expectations that the world has for the Jewish people, our outsized impact on social trends and political movements, and the uneasiness of the world’s powers with this upstart nation that, as the boxing saying goes, punches far beyond its weight class. It has been repeatedly noted that Jews have been in the forefront of great social and intellectual movements of the last two centuries – some good, some not so good – Jews like Freud, Marx, Einstein and others. Many of the high-tech innovations that have revolutionized modern life have originated in Israel.

These are all “wonders,” but none are inherently innate to the Jewish people. They are gifts from Heaven, all intended to provide us the tools with which we can carry out G-d’s will for mankind. Occasionally, perhaps more often than that, we have used these gifts inappropriately, for our own self-aggrandizement or for mere physical gratification, and forgotten or ignored the Giver and the purposes for which it was given. At those moments in history, we are sent reminders, sometimes gentle ones and sometimes less so, that we have strayed from the proper path. The road to return then opens before us, if our eyes wish to see and our hearts are receptive to the messages.

The Torah we were given, Rav Avraham Kook wrote (Orot, Yisrael U’techiyato, Chapter 5) is “not the imagining of the heart, not human ethics, not just worthy desires or appropriate fantasies, not the abandonment of the material world in any of its aspects, not the rejection of the body because of its ‘impurity,’ not the renunciation of life, society, government and authority because of their lowliness, and not the repudiation of the world and its natural forces that were corrupted by sinful man – but rather the exaltation of all of the above.”

This is the future towards which we are heading, notwithstanding all the challenges we face, the incessant Jew hatred that still afflicts too much of the world, the seemingly endless terror and war that is thrust upon us and other good people, and the rebuff of the Divine idea and moral code that is at the core of mankind’s discontent and moral perversions.

“Those who rise up against Israel rise up against G-d” (Tanchuma, Beshalach 16). It is a truism of history that wars against the Jewish people are a displacement for the real adversary that confounds our enemies – their war with the Creator (see Rambam’s Epistle to Yemen). We are simply convenient targets, but attacks on the Jewish people elicit a Divine response in history, and judgment of those nations ensues.

On the annual Day of Judgment, each person is judged both as an individual and as part of a nation. We live our lives not only to perfect our souls in this world but also to advance the goals of the Creator. If our personal judgments are enigmatic, then our judgment insofar as we are part of a nation is even more impenetrable. Those are the mysteries of life and are the exclusive domain of the Judge of all mankind. We can never comprehend why some lives were snuffed out by the godless forces of evil and other lives were spared. All we can do is thank Hashem for His blessings and commit our lives and resources to living in broad, historical terms and not just in the mundane matters of daily life.

The Gemara states (Sanhedrin 97b): “Rabi Eliezer said: ‘if the Jewish people repent they will be redeemed, and if not, they will not be redeemed.’ Rabi Yehoshua said to him: ‘if they don’t repent, they won’t be redeemed? Rather the Holy One, Blessed be He, will cause a king to rise over them whose decrees are as harsh as those of Haman, and they will repent and be restored to the good.”

The king whose decrees will spur our repentance is not someone like Nimrod, Pharaoh, Nevuchadnetzar or Titus; it is someone like Haman – a Persian descendant of Amalek who harbored genocidal ambitions against the people of Israel.

Some things never change.

And some things can change. When we realize our individual vulnerabilities, the opportunities we have been given and the great stakes before us, the moment for both individual and national teshuva beckons. May we all be worthy of inscription in the book of life, and may the current turmoil and our response to it prepare us for redemption and the coming of Moshiach.