Category Archives: Chumash

World War IV

(This was first published earlier today on Arutz-7, http://www.inn.co.il.)

It has been apparent for years, vividly clear in the last year, and certainly before our eyes this past week: the world is at war with Islam. Seven years ago Norman Podhoretz wrote the book entitled “World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism,” but the need for political correctness has receded. Sure, sure, sure, there are Muslims who are against terror, who are decent people, etc.; there were also members of the Nazi Party that did not subscribe to all of Hitler’s excesses. The time has long past to play semantic games. Let the good Muslims stand up and re-capture their religion from those who they claim have perverted it. To date, the perverts are winning, and they consider those “good Muslims” infidels who should lose their heads.

In the meantime, civilization is reeling from the horrific blows this past week. A three-month infant girl was murdered in Jerusalem, mowed down by a Hamas terrorist. That terrorist was then extolled by Mahmoud Abbas as a “heroic martyr,” which should earn the “President of the PA” (whose term lapsed in 2009) additional visits from John Kerry, more money from the US and Europe, and more accolades from Jewish liberals – for whom all Abbas must be smirking with contempt. Yes, and he is the “good Muslim,” the “partner for peace.” Insane.

Newly minted Muslims showed their bona-fides by murdering two Canadian soldiers and seeking to go on a rampage in the Canadian Parliament building. Strange. Jewish converts seek to integrate into a Jewish community, study Torah, do the Mitzvot, and grow in piety. Muslim converts immediately seek to kill innocent people. Something is very wrong.

That is not to mention the dozens killed in suicide bombings in Iraq earlier this week by these same jihadists. It is no comfort that most victims of Islamic terror today are Muslims. Every single day some Muslim kills some innocent person somewhere in the world. At a certain point, one is left to conclude that the problem doesn’t only rest with radical Muslims, jihadist Muslims, Islamofascists, or other euphemisms we adopt to avoid the obvious truth. The civilized world is now at war, again.

We have seen something similar in the past: the generation of the flood. “And the earth became corrupt before G-d, and the earth was filled with violence” (Breisheet 6:11). Irony: the Hebrew word for violence is “Hamas.” Perhaps not an irony after all.

Rav Shlomo Ganzfried, the 19th century author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, asks in his commentary on the Torah, “Aperion,” why does the Torah emphasize that the world became corrupt “before G-d”? The generation of the flood was depraved, but before whom else would it become corrupt but G-d?

His answer is prescient and frightening: that evil generation’s degeneracy was revealed only to G-d – because they did not see themselves as corrupt. The immorality and debauchery of that society was so deep that they did not sense at all that there was anything wrong with their conduct. This was their “normal,” their way of life. These were the values they had. They worshipped their idols by pillaging, plundering, robbing, raping and murdering their fellow man. Their iniquities, to them, were acts of piety.

The Islamic world today (yeah, yeah, the radical/jihadi/fascist/Nazi division, all 150-200 million of them, to undercount) finds virtue in beheading , piety in homicide, and godliness in genocide. Their version of paradise welcomes murderers of infants, children, men, women, scholars and saints. Killing innocent people and causing mayhem across the globe are sacred acts, extolled and encouraged by preachers in their sermons. Theirs is a bizarre world where evil is good and malevolence is celebrated.

Rav Ganzfried continued such evildoers do not respond to criticism, reproof, rebuke, or appeals to morality or conscience. They have lost the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong. They can only be destroyed; hence, the Great Flood with which G-d destroyed the world and then recreated it.

The first three world wars (the Cold War was the third) were characterized by two critical factors: the determination of civilization to vanquish its foes and obliterate their sadistic ideologies from the face of the earth, and the rise of leaders (Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Churchill, FDR, Truman, Reagan, Thatcher) with the resolve and courage to see the wars through to absolute victory.

Sadly, and dangerously, both are lacking today. The American President prefers speeches and golf to leading the free world to victory; he may lack the will, the temperament and the conviction to do so as well. For example, he favors a negotiated settlement with Iran – a piece of paper that will leave the world on the precipice of a nuclear Iran and the catastrophe that heralds, but might earn him a second Nobel Peace Prize that will be even more hollow than the first. Europe is divided despite its union, is usually feckless, fears its growing Muslim population, and reflexively blames Israel for the rise of Islamic terror. Both the US and Europe see Turkey as an ally in this struggle, a sign of intellectual and moral decadence. Asia is mostly silent, and Africa is devastated by a plague.

Israel, too, sends mixed signals. Still the first and favorite target of Muslim terror, it has not yet firmly squelched the incessant talk of appeasement, concessions, unilateral withdrawals and a (phantom) peace process as the way to security and stability. The rise this week of a “diplomatic caucus” in the Knesset that favors negotiations and concessions to the aforementioned Abbas, lionizer of baby killers, shows that much of the Israeli public still labors under the illusion that World War IV will simply go away, because we really wish it to go away.

The Jewish people are being called upon – across the globe – to articulate the problem clearly and to rally the resources of the entire civilized world against this most brutish enemy. Israel must stand firm, certainly against appeasement but even against demands that it ameliorate its war on terror. A population that can produce people who drive cars into crowds, that randomly and wantonly stab, shoot, or stone people, is an enemy population. It should be defined as an enemy population and treated accordingly, if necessary, restoring the military rule under which Israeli Arabs were governed until 1966. If the denizens of Shuafat continue to destroy their light rail station, Israel should stop rebuilding it. Despite the good feelings engendered in all of us, enemy populations (Haniyeh’s daughter?) should not be treated in Israeli hospitals. And there is much more. An enemy is an enemy is an enemy. It cannot be wished away, especially as it desires to destroy the Jewish state. Those who do not desire to live in the Jewish state should take their fight elsewhere, and if what they want is to fight and die, there are many Arab countries from which to choose.

To date, what defines World War IV is the reluctance of the Western world to characterize or fight it as such. The longer the political and ideological ostriches maintain that stance, the longer – and deadlier – this war will be. The Jewish people – despite our size but because of our destiny and divine mission – are called upon the light the nations out of the darkness that currently engulfs them.

Permanent Relief

The destruction of the army of Egypt at the Red Sea, whose 3326th anniversary will be marked this Monday, did not just provide the Jewish people with a momentary respite from conflict but was intended to be an eternal victory. The people cried out to G-d, and Moshe told them: “Do not be afraid. Stand, and see the salvation of G-d, for even as you see the Egyptians today, you will not see them ever again” (Shemot 14:13).

Indeed, it was so. Pharaoh’s army was crushed, and his empire smashed. We would have new enemies, but Egypt would not surface again for centuries – and even then it was a different Egypt. The question is: why was this necessary? At the Red Sea, the Jews were in danger of being massacred, and all they wanted was to be saved, to live another day. “Let us live today, and we will worry about 100 years from now 100 years from now!” Was it necessary to guarantee eternal relief? Who can think centuries ahead when we are focused on living until tomorrow?

It is interesting that Ramban quotes the Mechilta that “you will not see [the Egyptians] ever again” is “an eternal prohibition, for all generations.” But what exactly is the mitzvah here?

Apparently, the splitting of the Red Sea was not only a miraculous rescue but was also intended to transform our thinking and national self-image. We could not function as a nation as long as the specter of the Egyptian monster loomed over our heads. Had the Egyptians been defeated but survived, we would have made it to the other side of the sea but still remained fearful slaves (in our own minds, fugitives) always expecting the omnipotent master to return and subjugate us. We needed finality, closure – to put our trepidation of Egypt behind us so we could move forward – and just serve and revere G-d.

How important is this? Extremely. It is what we lack now and it underlies all the anxiety that we feel during these days of waiting – Iran, Kerry, PLO, interminable negotiations. There has been an obvious decrease in terror and death in Israel over the last number of years, due primarily to the substantial and powerful presence of Israeli forces in Arab towns and villages, even notwithstanding this week’s brutal murder of a distinguished Israeli police commander en route with his wife and children to a seder in Kiryat Arba. Terror cannot be stopped entirely, as long as the will to perpetrate it remains among the evildoers. Crime still exists even though there are policemen, and disease still exists even though there are doctors and researchers.

But despite the successes of the last decade – due to the physical presence in the cities, the denial of work permits and free passage, cutting off the flow of money, and even the presence of a security wall – everything still seems temporary, ad hoc. It has worked so well that it is constantly suggested that Israel withdraw from the cities and towns, increase the number of work permits and allow free passage, transfer millions of dollars, free terrorists and relax the security apparatus. Those who ask for an easing of checkpoints are essentially acquiescing to Jewish deaths. Haven’t we heard this all before? And how long will it be until the cycle of terror, death and mayhem is restored?

It is all so predictable and pathetic, and all because there is no hope of closure – no matter which Abu rules the Arab roost. The Netziv wrote (Harchev Davar, Devarim 33:11) that there is much we can learn from the difference between the wars of Shaul and David. King Shaul conquered his enemies and plundered their lands – but just sowed the seeds for future conflict. King David, instead, conquered his enemies and occupied their lands – installing his own rulers and eventually subduing the indigenous population. Shaul’s victories were never conclusive – so he reigned during a period of endless war. David’s wars brought ultimate peace and tranquility – unlike Shaul’s wars or Israel’s wars today. Of course, the distinction is not just a matter of strategy, but also depends on the merit of the generation and its leaders.

“Stand, and see the salvation of G-d.” Victory is possible – if our goals are clear, if our commitment is unflinching, and if our faith is unwavering. The enemy today is less powerful than the Egyptians of old, but some of us are still fond of helplessness – “leave us alone and we will just serve Egypt” (Shemot 14:12), better Red than dead. The advocates of this approach – some of whom presently conduct Israel’s negotiations with the Arabs – have talked it into themselves that partitioning Israel again and creating another terrorist state is actually in Israel’s interests.

That attitude is seductive. But “you will not see [the Egyptians] ever again” is “an eternal prohibition, for all generations.” It is prohibited to despair, as it is prohibited to think that our history is all politics and diplomacy and nothing else. But it is not prohibited to believe that we can vanquish our enemies on our own; those are the lessons that G-d entrusted to us when we left Egypt under His protective hand. David’s kingdom endures, not Shaul’s – and it is David’s song of triumph over his enemies that is recorded for posterity.

“You will not see [the Egyptians] ever again” is the measure of victory and the barometer of peace – that our enemies will never again threaten us because their empire has been removed from history. If we can’t achieve that in the short term, then at least we benefit in defining that as the objective. As King David sang (II Shmuel 22:5-6, 31, 50) “When the pains of death encircled me and the torrents of godless men frightened me…then G-d is a shield to all who take refuge in Him… Therefore I will thank You G-d among the nations and sing to Your name”, as we await the days when “He does kindness to His anointed one, to David and his descendants, forever.”

 

Esav’s Hatred

      To say we live in strange times is an understatement when we consider that, just a month ago, anyone who suggested that Israel’s leading allies in the struggle against Iran’s nuclear ambitions would be France and Saudi Arabia would have been a candidate for institutionalization. The French are not exactly renowned for their war-mongering, and the Saudi’s hatred of Israel and Jews is religiously-based and implacable (Jews are still not allowed to visit Saudi Arabia under normal circumstances.) But the French, the Saudis and the Israelis – each for different reasons – do not want to live in a world where mullahs can go nuclear.

     This odd twist confirms the statement attributed to John Foster Dulles, himself noted for his hostility to Israel, that “The United States of America does not have friends; it has interests.” Or, as others have said it: “Nations have no permanent friends, only permanent interests.” Part of the current situation arises from the recognition – despite the Obama administration rhetoric – that America has retreated from its dominant role in world leadership, and that vacuum has been filled by others – especially by Russia’s Putin, whom Israel’s PM Netanyahu visited this week.

But as the world changes, there is one remaining constant, itself mindboggling.

There is no more enigmatic or consequential story in the Torah than Yaakov’s encounter and struggle with the angel of Esav. Yaakov was left alone and a “man” wrestled with him until dawn. Yet, when the two brothers finally met, Esav was docile – embracing, kissing and crying on his brother Yaakov, as one would expect from long-separated siblings. Nonetheless, our Sages debated the extent of Esav’s sincerity. Rashi (Breisheet 33:4) cites all the opinions: that Esav was genuinely touched; that Esav was faking it and meant ill; and a third opinion, as well, that it was both: “Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai stated: it is a well known halacha (law) that Esav hates Yaakov, but at this moment he was overwhelmed with compassion and kissed him with all his heart.” But what kind of law is that? How can an emotion be based on a law? And, if it is indeed so, why should it be any different here? How are we to ever know when our brother Esav means well or not?

A halacha is an immutable law. It defines a reality that cannot be changed or undone – but needs analysis. If Esav is synonymous with the major powers in the world, then this “halacha is an historical verity, and should not at all be a surprise to us, even today. Less than seventy years after the Holocaust, the reservoir of world guilt has been completely depleted. It is still dangerous to be a Jew – in Israel, where a sleeping soldier can be stabbed to death on a public bus by a teenager who undoubtedly will be released from prison in a few short years; in Europe, in South America. Hardly a week goes by in which a Jew is not attacked in some part of the world for being or looking Jewish. A non-Jewish Swedish reporter recently donned a kipa to determine if these reports were true; he wrote that he spent that day in fear for his life.

The propriety of mila and shechita are being widely debated where they have not already been banned – and all under the cover of a higher morality. Iran boasts about developing the capability to eradicate Israel off the map – as King David wrote long ago (Tehillim 83:5) “Come, let us cut them off from being a nation and the name of Israel will be no more.” Too many others are indifferent or supportive, worried only about whether or not it will affect them.

The American President, convinced of his rhetorical abilities and showing none of the infirmity of his growing domestic unpopularity, is ready to have a signing ceremony that depends on the trustworthiness of the Iranians. Obama’s most recent offer to Iran was, essentially, “if you like your nuclear weapons program, you can keep your nuclear weapons program – as long as you say you won’t.” If and when it fails, and the Iranian bomb looms over Israel and the Middle East, he can always add: “I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me.” After all, that line is already in the teleprompter.

Rav Moshe Bleicher, former Rosh Yeshiva in Shavei Hevroin, wrote that Esav’s power is the antithesis of that of Yaakov, and indeed more popular than Yaakov’s. Both Esav and Yaakov believe in tikkun olam, perfecting the world – something everybody loves. Esav, the “man of the field,” knows how to develop the world. He is extremely talented in that sphere. He forms governments – stable governments – develops economies, and cultivates resources. The Talmud (Masechet Avoda Zara 2b) says of Rome (Esav) that it builds the infrastructure that makes life better and promotes the common good – bridges, markets, bathhouses, civilization, science, entertainment, and health care. Over the centuries, Esav also fashioned values that now animate Western society, and that sound very good as well – equality, rights, free expression and others. Compared to what Esav the nation brings to the world, what does Yaakov the nation offer? A few good sermons? Conscience? Comedians? Nobel Prizes?

It is no wonder that Yaakov feared their confrontation – and at the very moment when his life in exile was over (so he thought) and his existence as a nation in its own land was beginning anew. It is very hard to compete with Esav. We have lost more Jews to the words of Esav than to his sword. To many Jews, the fields of Esav are much more alluring than the tents of Yaakov, and always have been.

That is why “it is a well known halacha (law) that Esav hates Yaakov.” Esav is a counterforce to the children of Yaakov. When we stray and stumble, when we come too close to aping the world of Esav, then his hatred overflows for no discernible reason and forces us to look at ourselves. And his hatred is inexplicable, as is the world’s obsession with Israel, as is its focus on Israel’s imagined sins and its utter disregard for real massacres occurring elsewhere. In fact, there are places in the world today where Jews are hated and the haters do not even know why – places where Jews are hated and the haters have never even met a Jew.

When the brothers met after their long separation, Esav still hated Yaakov, but he had compassion when he realized that Yaakov was no threat to him. The world was his. While Esav was conquering surrounding tribes and building his empire, Yaakov was rearing children and raising sheep. Yaakov was limping, wounded, weak and submissive; there was no need for Esav’s enmity. It would take time for Yaakov’s family – his nation – to grow and develop, to internalize his ideals and to represent the G-d’s will in the world in a way that impresses people with our morality and goodness. That is when the battle will again be joined. That still hasn’t happened, and it won’t, if week after week, the world is shocked (or, by now, probably amused) by the sordid revelations in the tabloids about some sort of misconduct in the Jewish world.

That is not the reality of Jewish life, but that is a growing perception, and only we can change the perception.

Esav develops the earth – his “fields” –  but only Yaakov and his sons can unite the heavens and the earth – to exalt the world so that it can become the repository of G-d’s truth and His presence. That is the ongoing struggle of Yaakov – to transform ourselves, our families, our homes, and our lives in points of holiness for the betterment of all mankind.

 

Secrets

Secrets
A few years ago, I visited the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA), the nation’s most secretive organization, about 20 minutes or so outside Washington, DC. Well, I didn’t actually visit it. I was right outside – my business was in the vicinity – but stumbled upon it. It is a massive complex surrounded by fences, barbed wire and guard posts. What struck me was that the parking lot contained, without exaggeration, thousands of cars crunched together, and I marveled that the NSA with so many thousands of workers could do its work without leaks or breaches of security.
Hello, Edward Snowden.
Snowden, who presents as such a weird duck that one wonders how he got a sensitive job at all (he didn’t work in that Maryland facility), has taken the liberty – as many leftists do – of harming US security and revealing secrets because of the undetermined and inscrutable cause for which he is fighting. For sure, the reality that private conversations can be monitored and private emails read and intercepted came as a shock to the American civil system that prides itself on personal space and the right to privacy. Granted, government officials claim that no calls/emails of private citizens were invaded, but, understandably, no one really believes them. Usually, it takes time for abuses to surface, if they do at all, and these allegations are simple to deny and difficult to prove. There is some poetic justice in the “most transparent administration of all time,” as the Obama-nation proclaimed it would be, looking to justify its spying when it lambasted prior administrations for doing the same and less. And the IRS scandal, which really pried into and interfered with American lives, is still awaiting its liberal John Dean to blow the lid off the cover-up. Is there anyone in the administration with a conscience, at long last?
Here’s the thing: I don’t really care about the NSA. My life is not that interesting that the government should want to unleash spies to target me and probe my phone calls (few and brief) and emails (even fewer and briefer). I have long felt that the passive but persistent encroachments on personal freedom affect only the criminals, not the law-abiding, in which group I cast myself. The streets of most American cities are loaded with cameras (only the red-light cameras threaten me). Wherever we walk – subway or stores – we are watched by cameras. None of that bothers me; I am not about to mug or shoplift.
The more aggressive and useless invasions of privacy still grate, especially the airport security personnel. It is senseless to search every 75 year-old named Agnes when the real targets are 25 year-olds named Ahmed. Much of it, in any event, is security theater that provides the illusion of security but mainly serves to protect higher-ups from accusations of negligence if, God forbid, something goes wrong. “We followed our standard procedure of strip-searching nonagenarians with hip replacements and we dutifully confiscated the water bottles from screaming children. We must have missed something in that group carrying their prayer rugs who were whining about racial profiling.”
In any event, the Israeli satirical web site Latma (Latma.co.il) had it right when it “reported” a few weeks ago that “Americans are very upset to learn that the government has been spying on their private lives, even before they have a chance to post about it on Facebook.” There is something bizarre about a nation of emotional exhibitionists baring their every secret (and more) in the public domain, and then griping about a loss of privacy. Of course, the government has no right to intrude, and every American possesses a constitutional right to make an absolute fool of himself/herself by reporting on the inanities of their lives and sharing every stray, incomplete thought in incomplete and ungrammatical sentences. But a little self-awareness is also appropriate.
Privacy unappreciated and underutilized tends to dissipate, and in the US, fame and fortune are the rewards for those who can be the most public about what is usually most private. Let us not shed crocodile tears for those whose inner sanctum is breached by others before they have a chance to shatter the walls themselves. Privacy was always a cherished value, lauded by the Torah that grants everyone four ells to himself, and castigates those who reveal themselves or allow others access to their intimate lives. The beginning of Masechet Bava Batra discusses “hezek re’iyah,” the harm that accrues to a person when others can see him and his boundaries are invaded by the sight of others. But there can be no “hezek re’iyah” if we willfully put our lives on display.
Tzniut – modesty, humility – is not only about clothing, but most simply about privacy, about carving out areas in life in which only one’s closest and dearest are admitted. It is a lost value for several reasons, but primarily because the accessibility of our lives to others has led many to get less attention, not more, and immodesty in all its forms – verbal, physical, material – is often just a cry for attention. As every petulant child knows, even negative attention is attention.
A Snowden toils in obscurity until he realizes the acclaim and riches that will be garnered by public exposure of secrets and the betrayal of his country. At least Jonathan Pollard – who should have been released yesterday, ten or twenty years ago, or tomorrow – passed classified secrets to a US ally – Israel – but did not intend to harm America. Snowden did not reveal his secrets to benefit anyone but simply to sow mistrust, weaken the United States and curry favor with anti-American forces across the world. I wonder how he will be treated if he is ever caught.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 31a) states that it was reported that a disciple revealed a secret kept for 22 years in a certain study hall. Rav Ami kicked him out, saying “this one betrays secrets.” Today, he would go on the talk-show circuit. But secrecy, privacy and modesty are the virtues of refined people. Rashi (Bamidbar 24:5) notes that Bil’am perceived the majesty of the camp of Israel in that their doors did not face each other, so no one could peer into another’s tent.
How quaint. How modest. How beautiful. And how missed is that world.