Fear of Ben Gvir

(First published yesterday at Israelnationalnews.com )

  As the media would have it, American Jews have overnight been afflicted with BenGvirPhobia, an irrational fear of newly re-elected Knesset Member Itamar Ben Gvir who is poised to play a prominent role in the incoming Israel government. One would think that American Jews might grapple first with real fears– of incessant attacks on Jews in the streets of American cities, rising crime, runaway inflation,  a secular society inundated by an immoral and un-Jewish culture and value system that threatens to undermine Jews’ ability to live in America and raise their children to be pious Jews, assimilation, intermarriage, and a host of other problems.

     Instead, we are informed that American Jews and many among the alphabet soup of American Jewish organizations are petrified of Ben Gvir, what he (in their mind) represents, and the mortification he might cause them in progressive circles. Undoubtedly, much of this anxiety is being drummed up by the media in order to taint the political environment and especially to pressure Binyamin Netanyahu to jettison some of his right-wing coalition partners in favor of Benny Gantz and his center-left “National Camp” party. Gantz has ruled that out but that might just be his opening ploy in negotiations. And even if some of his partners are implacable “Never Bibi’s” – like Gideon Sa’ar or Ze’ev Elkin – and would never sit under Netanyahu, that would not necessarily inhibit Gantz who could spin his move as “saving the nation from Ben Gvir.” And if the “National Camp Party” collapses as a result of this split? Well, the small Israeli political parties routinely come and go, here today and gone tomorrow, resurfacing with almost the same cast of characters under a new name and banner. The Machaneh Hamamlachti – it was a bad name anyway – might have already outlived its usefulness.

      For his part, Netanyahu has made a career of such double-dealing, campaigning on the right and forming his governments and executing his policies from the center, even left. In fact, he is a master at it, betrayed only by the vast number of enemies and “Never Bibi’s” that he has accumulated over the years. He would glibly explain that this back-stabbing maneuver of abandoning the Religious Zionist Party is unfortunately necessary to prevent America from signing a nuclear deal with Iran, or some such other excuse. It really depends on the final count, and whether or not Netanyahu can reach 61 mandates with Gantz and without Betzalel Smotrich and/or Ben Gvir, who can also be divided, representing, as they do, two separate parties.

     The good news is that all Netanyahu’s coalition partners have their eyes open and know how the game is played. The better news is that the numbers might not be there to allow this duplicity to again occur, in which case the government will be solidly right-wing plus, instead of centrist, which is another word for being pulled in opposite directions, with incoherent policies and festering problems the inevitable result.

     And what if Netanyahu has sincerely repented, changed his ways, and will first embrace his natural coalition partners, as he should and as the voters expect? Then there will be a stable right-wing government for several years (depending on the verdict in Netanyahu’s interminable trials). That right-wing government should deal forcefully and cogently with the Iran threat, undo the damage of the educational system that has been committed to obscuring the riches of Judaism from our elementary and high school pupils, repeal the Avigdor Lieberman tax hikes that were primarily intended to hurt the Haredim, crack down on Arab terror and those who foment it, reclaim Jewish sovereignty in the Negev and Galil, halt illegal Arab building there and in Area C of Judea and Samaria, expand Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria thereby immediately lowering the cost of housing, limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and pass the Override Law, further integrating Haredim into society, and most importantly of all, reverse the attempts to diminish the Jewish character of the State and the Jewish identity of its citizens, and quash the threats to Torah, the traditional Jewish family, the public observance of Shabbat, and the proper observance of Mitzvot such as Kashrut, conversion, military service, and others.

     That is a full plate for any administration.

     Above all, the new government can restore Jewish pride in the land of Israel. In that regard, the Religious Zionist party including Ben Gvir has a significant role to play. The influence on the Diaspora could be immeasurably constructive. American Jews should not fear a proud Jew or a Jewish state that is proudly Jewish. Indeed, this can assist American Jews in regaining their spiritual footing which has been wobbly for decades. There is nothing wrong – in fact, it is an unmitigated good – for American Jews to see ministers with kippot who take their Judaism seriously, who are committed to the Torah, the State, Jewish self-defense, the study of Torah and mitzvot, and whose policy prescriptions – for economics and social programs, for foreign affairs and culture – are grounded in Jewish law and values. It has happened before but it needs to be appreciated and magnified.

      That is a good thing and for American Jews it could be a wonderful thing. I don’t doubt that the more alienated a person is from Torah, the more he or she will fear Ben Gvir and the specter of a strong Jew unafraid to assert Jewish rights – and unafraid of bad press while doing it. Certainly, Ben Gvir – like all politicians, journalists, and public figures – has said things in the past that he regrets, retracts, or wishes to clarify. That is a sign of growth, not opportunism. Decent people should embrace it.

     To be sure, the Democratic Party to which most Jews belong with a passion others reserve for their religion, will be unhappy with Netanyahu, Ben Gvir, and any right-wing government. Its sole Mideast foreign policy objective is to strengthen Iran with money and a nuclear capacity while weakening Israel through the two-state illusion and sowing internal unrest (and claiming that all this is strengthening Israel and weakening Iran). These Jews, devoted to the Democratic Party, have the chance to support a strong, democratic and Jewish Israel by influencing their party to accept the demographic realities in Israel and the decisions of our electorate. They certainly should not, as the liberal and left-wing American Jewish organizations have already begun to do, urge boycotts of Israeli politicians and promise to provide cover to the Biden administration if it does so. They will only further marginalize themselves, sow a greater rift between secular American Jews and Israel, and impair even more their attachment to Judaism.

     The fear of Ben Gvir is overblown. Even thinking that one person can have such influence on Israeli politics – a media obsession here for months – is overblown. The Israeli political system remains deeply fragmented. Since 1996, the ruling party in the coalition has always fallen short of 40 seats (by contrast, from 1948-1996, every ruling party had at least 40 seats). The same is true with this election. Perhaps one way to change that dynamic is for a government…to be successful, to restore serenity and prosperity, to bolster Jewish identity, and reinforce and expand relations with neighboring Arab states. What should be discouraged is the return of those incessant demonstrations and street blockages that became a ritual during Netanyahu’s last few terms and impaired domestic tranquility and people’s quality of life. Give it a rest, man.

     And for the first time, a majority of Israel’s coalition government (assuming no additions of parties outside the right-wing bloc) will be comprised of religious and observant Jews. They will have the special privilege of serving and the solemn obligation of comporting themselves with dignity, nobility, and integrity, rising above the pettiness of politics to illuminate the polity with the wisdom of Torah. Heaven forbid that they should be perceived as out for themselves or just their constituents. Instead, they should be seen as representatives of Torah to the nation and the world. That is no small task.

     It is an astonishingly significant moment and opportunity. To be sure, the Religious Zionist Party should take the lead in that sphere, and its leaders Smotrich and Ben Gvir are well positioned to assume that role.

     There is no need to fear Ben Gvir or anyone else. As Rav Yosef Soloveitchik exhorted, one who fears God need have no other fears. If the current government, led by its religious majority, succeeds in increasing reverence for Heaven through its dedication, successes, and policies, our society will be transformed for the good.

     Let us pray for the new government’s success and well-being, for its accomplishments will benefit the people who dwell in Zion and bring glory to the Torah.

For and Against Our Own


The Religious Zionist community is aflutter, with elements of unknown size abandoning the Religious Zionist party for other political homes. Such is not that unusual, in the sense that there are many Republicans who are “never Trumpers” and many Likudniks who are “never Bibi’s.” Such an approach is conceivable, which is not to say sensible, as it elevates personality over policy. What results is what is to be expected; the election of those who policies are anathema to the feinschmekers (those of genteel tastes) but who retain what they perceive to be their moral high ground.


Similarly, there are self-identified Religious Zionists who will not this cycle, or perhaps not in any cycle, vote for the Religious Zionist party, which they find to be too religious, too Zionist, with a leadership they deem unsavory and unworthy of their votes. Oddly, some of these voters prefer secular parties – such as Benny Gantz’ Machaneh Hamamlachti – to advance their religious Zionist vision in some uncertain way. This should be unpacked, notwithstanding that it is impossible anymore to convince anyone of anything they don’t already profess.


Much of the discontent among these putative religious Zionists is an avowed distaste for some of the past statements, current policies and personalities of Betzalel Smotrich or Itamar Ben Gvir. They have been aided, and no doubt influenced, by the archeologist-activists posing as journalists who unearth utterances from decades ago, sometimes wrenched out of context, sometimes not. Apologies, explanations, personal evolution and growth, and even repentance, are of no significance. These politicians, in the eyes of some of the voters, are forever doomed. In its ugliest iteration, being picked up across the world because of its dissemination here, these Jews are dangers or embarrassments to Israel and are destroying the Jewish character of the State.


Even a little self-reflection should engender this provocative thought, which seems to escape many Israelis. The way “elite” opinion in Israel treats Smotrich and Ben Gvir is the way “elite” world opinion treats Israel. “Elite” opinion here deems them racists, bigots, and narrow-minded nationalists who believe in apartheid. “Elite” opinion across the world deems Israel racists, bigots and narrow-minded nationalists who believe in apartheid. On college campuses across America, and in social settings across Europe, Israel is depicted as a Nazi regime led by Hitlers. On Israeli television, one can find satiric depictions of Ben Gvir and his supporters as Nazis led by a Hitler.


Of course, there is no substance to any of these allegations or indictments, domestic or foreign, but at least we should realize the harm caused to us, not to mention the repugnance of the charges, when Jews level them against other Jews. Sure, I recognize that every election needs bogeymen and the political process in most democracies has long abandoned the notion of advancing a positive agenda for elections as opposed to besmirching the opponents, whoever they might be. It is still unseemly but the discontented religious Zionist voters seem to have fallen for it.


They have also succumbed to the implications of the old maxim that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Since Religious Zionist leaders are not “perfect” they must be perforce rejected, in favor of a secular, left-wing party with some observant Jews in it. Really?


Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by governments that cede land to Arabs in the Negev and Galil and refuse to exercise sovereignty over it? Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by weakening standards of Kashrut? Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by mass conversions that are akin to affixing a plumba to a chicken and calling it kosher, regardless of any other factor? Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by governments that promote public transportation and commerce on Shabbat? Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by a government that endorses carving out Israel’s homeland to create a Palestinian state? Are the values of Religious Zionism advanced by a concerted effort to dilute Israel’s Jewish character? Really?


Part of the complaints and strategizing is anti-Netanyahu – these voters simply do not want a Netanyahu-led government – but among the religious Zionist malcontented more of their antipathy is focused on the presumed alliance between the Religious Zionist and the Haredi parties. Simply put, and as painful as this is to write, in pockets of the religious Zionist world there is hatred – there is no other word –for Haredim and the Haredi parties.


Well, some of this hostility is deserved. The Haredi political parties are perceived as very parochial, interested less in the general welfare of society than what government money can be sent to their communities. (To be sure, in that execrable practice, they are no different than Meretz. Yisrael Beteinu, Labor or other small parties, or other big parties.) Some of their politicians are, shall we say, less than completely honest and often comport themselves in public in undignified ways. There are the perennial issues of IDF service and participation in the work force but even amelioration of those matters in recent years – Haredi IDF service and male work force employment rates are higher than ever – has not dented, and perhaps even intensified, the loathing for them that occasionally emanates from some religious Zionists.


That should be surprising and even disappointing as it flies in the face of something Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l once said, which surprised and disappointed some in the audience to which it was said, that obviously he has more in common with Haredim than with a secular Tel Avivian. Haredim learn Torah, observe the mitzvot and want a real Jewish state. (This is not to suggest how Rav Aharon would have voted today. No one knows.) Notwithstanding the differences in outlook (army, work, approach to modern life), of course we should feel a close affinity with the Haredim even when we disagree.


Yet, there are many religious Zionists who do not, and so will vote against their own interests just so as not to empower Haredim in any way. That is short-sighted, to say the least. Just like “love upsets the natural order, so too hatred upsets the natural order” (Midrash Breisheet Raba 55:8). This requires soul-searching. For all their deficits, and despite the fact that I could not vote for a Haredi party, to see them as foes and not allies is foolhardy. And to vote for a secular party that wants a Jewish state in name but not in actuality because the Religious Zionist party leaders made this or that remark in the past is really self-destructive. Some would rather indulge the two state delusion, risk another expulsion and undermine Israel’s Jewish character than see Aryeh Deri as a minister. Indeed, for them, the perfect is the implacable enemy of the good.


It makes little sense, especially when one considers that most, if not all, politicians are not exemplars of integrity. I have often voted for the politician whose lies were least implausible. Such is modern politics. It is undoubtedly true that one can have more confidence in Betzalel Smotrich implementing his political vision than Ayelet Shaked implementing hers which seems to lack a firm grounding in any set of permanent values or even Binyamin Netanyahu, who – who knows ?– could just as easily jettison the religious parties if he wins a slight majority in favor of bringing in the Gantz party. It has been done before. With Smotrich, you really are getting what you are voting for, which is so unusual in politics that it should count for something.


What prevents religious Zionists from voting for Religious Zionism? Essentially, this is (another) crisis of faith of Religious Zionism, many of whose adherents seem to prefer it to be a movement of lofty ideas and delightful theories as long as it never impacts on any practical policies and never gets involved in the rough and tumble of politics. It reminds me somewhat of what Bobby Kennedy once said about Arthur Schlesinger, the Harvard professor and Kennedy administration aide: that Schlesinger’s liberal politics are so pure he would prefer that nothing ever actually get done than compromise on anything.


There are those religious Zionists who believe in the Religious Zionist mantra that the State of Israel is “the beginning of the flowering of the redemption” but are determined that it always remain “the beginning” and nothing more. They love to hear that proclaimed on Shabbat morning but then, the rest of the week, are not engaged in making the redemption flower. Indeed, some would be horrified if it “flowered” even more, as that would run contrary to some of the Western values they cherish. Perhaps they are religious Zionists in name or identification but not in beliefs or values.


But we should not partake of the name-calling, the tendentious media game of digging up old statements to castigate their bogeymen while burying those of their favorites, indulging the gevalt syndrome of the world collapsing if there is a right-wing government or utilizing the slanderous tropes against our political opponents that Israel-haters use against us. This is the most important election ever, we are told. Until the next one.

In the meantime, we should not vote to prevent this guy from attaining power or to stick it to the next guy. We should vote positive, vote our values, our interests, our faith and our vision. We should vote out of love and not hate. We should vote for what we think will bring the full redemption even closer –something on which I hope we can all agree.

The Jewish Character

  

     A recent Op-ed in the Jerusalem Post  declared that the Religious Zionist party and its representatives are “damaging Israel’s Jewish character,” which, I suppose, means that Israel’s Jewish character would be better promoted by candidates that were neither religious or Zionist. The good news is that, to paraphrase former US Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ comment on Joe Biden, the author of that opinion has been wrong on every major political and religious issue for close to a half century.

     Well, the Religious Zionist party is the only party that can advance the interests of Religious Zionism. It stands for love of all Jews, love of the State of Israel as a force for good and as the beginning of the flowering of the redemption, advancing a more Jewish state that secures Jewish identity, encourages more Torah study and the greater observance of mitzvah, and believes in the integrity of the entire land of Israel promised to us, yes, in the Torah. It wants to foster the observance of mitzvot on highest level and not codify compromises, minority opinions, or diluted forms of observance in order to realize some social goals. There are parties that reflect one or several of these ideas. None represent all of them, except for the Religious Zionist party.

     I have always been curious about those Jews on the left, including the author of the Op-ed, so concerned about Israel’s “Jewish character” that they are willing to undermine Israel’s true Jewish character, security and  prosperity in order to sustain their vision of what “Jewish” means. They habitually do that by cherry-picking quotations from the Torah or the words of the sages.  For example, “Darchei noam,” the ways of pleasantness, is a classic used once by a Reform rabbi to justify intermarriage and used here by the author to recall the Mafdal of old that, for all its accomplishments, served as mashgichim for the secular, Socialist establishment until a new guard took over and disseminated Torah ideals into every aspect of Israeli life – settlement, politics, education, media, the military, social policy and the like.

     This is nothing new. The Jewish left, including the relative handful that identify as Orthodox, and especially those in America, have long agonized over Israel’s Jewish character and routinely perceive threats to the survival of that character in many worthwhile endeavors. They fretted over the Jewish character of the State when Menahem Begin became prime minister, when settlements were constructed and expanded in the heartland of Israel, when Israel refuses to indulge the two-state delusion, and when Israel takes elementary measures of self-defense to protect its citizens.

      They grow anxious over Israel’s Jewish character when opportunities for Torah study abound and when traditional standards of conversion are applied.  For some inexplicable reason, Israel’s Jewish character, as they see it, is never threatened by importing hundreds of thousands of Gentiles of doubtful or partial Jewish lineage or by abdication of Israeli sovereignty in the Negev or Galil due to rampant and illegal Arab construction. They are apprehensive about the threat to the Jewish character of the State by maintaining the public observance of Shabbat, somehow perceiving mass transit and open malls on Shabbat as enhancing Israel’s Jewish character. They become frightened at the threat to Israel’s Jewish character posed by insistence on fidelity to halacha in marriage and divorce and apoplectic over what will happen to our souls if the LGTQ agenda is not adopted, embraced and celebrated.

     They are more troubled by Israel’s treatment of terrorists who want to murder us than by Israel’s expulsion of thousands of its own Jewish citizens from their homes. Somehow, that was not perceived as a breach of Jewish values or a threat to Israel’s Jewish character.

    The author shed tears over the “low ethical and humane standards” of the Religious Zionist Party, and decried it as a chillul Hashem, without actually offering one example of a violation of Torah and a breach of Torah values.  This is a perception of Torah of a sort of Christianity with some different ritual practices, but not an even particularly pious form of Christianity. Jewish sexual ethics, Jewish military ethics, and Jewish nationalism must always bend before the prevailing progressive winds. Simply, put, this view perceives Western morality as superior to that of the Torah, God forbid, and therefore the Torah must always be re-written, reformed and amended in order to accommodate elite opinion. These reforms are accomplished by some people by excising parts of the Torah and by others by exalting Talmudic clichés (usually wrenched from the context) over its substance. In both cases, the result is the same.

     These same people – who have repeatedly pressured Israel to withdraw and withdraw, concede and concede, and almost without any limiting principle – prefer the nastiness and hostility to a truly Jewish Israel of a Barack Obama and Joe Biden to the positive attitudes and unprecedented support and decisions of a Donald Trump. To quote the Talmud (Pesachim 50a), we are living in and are witness to an olam hafuch, an upside down world, in which love of Torah, its precepts, its values and its moral requisites are deemed “anti-Torah” and being, acting and thinking Jewish is actually a threat to Judaism.

     By this inversion of reality, the only way to protect Israel’s Jewish character is by empowering people who want to secularize Israel, and make it Jewish in name only (which is not Jewish at all). That might make sense to some people – but they should not be taken seriously on these matters of such grave import. They have done enough damage already – to Israel’s Jewish character.

     Those who support the ideals of Religious Zionism have no home but in the Religious Zionist Party. Every other choice is a compromise that is based on wishful thinking, and wishful thinking (Oslo comes to mind) is not a sound basis for policy. A robust Religious Zionist party will promote a strong, secure and Jewish Israel. Those who care about that should take note and vote accordingly.

Torahphobia

Torahphobia is real, prevalent and sweeping across significant parts of the Jewish world. In particular, it is threatening to collapse Modern Orthodoxy, but fortunately, its antidote is at hand. What is Torahphobia? An example will suffice.

A few days ago, the venerable Israeli radio presenter Aryeh Golan was interviewing (actually, as is his style, castigating) a Member of Knesset running for reelection for the Religious Zionist Party. His questions, such as they were, ran along the lines of: How can you be on the same list with so-and-so who years ago called for a “halachic state”? How can you be on the same list with so-and-so who is a “known homophobe”? The interviewee hesitated, stammered and didn’t offer a cogent answer. In fairness to him, these were not really questions as much as they were readings of counts in an indictment so no answer would have sufficed the interviewer. But this is what the MK could have said:

“Aryeh, you know it is wrong to cherry pick quotations in order to besmirch someone’s reputation, and it is repugnant to characterize a person’s entire life with the tendentious snapshot of “known homophobe.” The latter individual was an activist for Soviet Jewry, instrumental in gaining Natan Sharansky’s release from the gulag, a dedicated public servant for decades and possesses a host of other accomplishments. He is not a “known homophobe” but simply a faithful Jew who wants to strengthen the traditional Jewish family and thereby the Jewish state.”

“But you, Aryeh, present yourself consistently as a Torahphobe. You are afraid of the Torah and its value system. You are afraid that the Torah is true, that God gave the Torah and the land of Israel to the Jewish people, and the implications thereof. You are afraid that God exists, that He bequeathed His moral notions to the Jewish people for our benefit and the benefit of world, afraid that there are mitzvot (commandments, and not merely suggestions of pleasant pieties), afraid that there is such a thing as sin. You are afraid that it is all too real. You are a Torahphobe.”

There is no more grating insult that is lodged against traditional Jews today than that we are homophobes. Besides being false (I have never met anyone who actually fears homosexuals), the accusation is intended to stifle any reasonable discussion of the consequences of implementing the homosexual agenda. Anyone who opposes, for example, the legalization of same-sex marriage (or for that matter, a “pride” club at Yeshiva University) is a “homophobe” who should be scorned, if not tarred and feathered.

These accusers are Torahphobes and we should never hesitate to call them out on it, and repeatedly. Torahphobia is the fear of taking Torah seriously, the fear of perceiving its values as divine, eternal and superior to human values. Torahphobes assume that a national commitment to halachah is the equivalent of Iran. Besides, the fear and ignorance revealed by such a sentiment, they do not realize that brutal enforcement of halachah represents a failure of Jewish society, not its success.

Torahphobes do not really take the Torah seriously, or better said, they only take seriously the parts of Torah that appeal to them. They may observe some mitzvot but not the ones that challenge their secular based value system. They only observe those mitzvot that accord with secular progressive nostrums or the nice, ceremonial and cultural mitzvot that most Jews enjoy. In any clash between their values and Torah values, they fear that embracing the Torah will cause the progressive elites to reject them and so they jettison the Torah. They might sincerely believe that their modern values are the Torah’s values, even more pitiable. They fear that the Torah “might” be true, so they are trying to craft a new Torah for themselves that eliminates certain mitzvot and fabricates new ones, based on pleasant and cherished notions such as equality, inclusiveness, compassion, and the like, all esteemed ideas that nonetheless occasionally conflict with true Torah values.

Certainly, not everyone who holds these opinions is Torahphobic. Some simply do not know any better and assume this is the Torah but many, especially in the Modern Orthodox world do or should know better. We have reached the stage today when, sadly, in any conflict between Modern and Orthodox, the laity opt for Modern and renounce or, better, try to re-define Orthodox. The proponents rationalize these deviations from tradition by declaring that they are trying to prevent violence against certain vulnerable groups, suicides within the group (which itself obviously implicates a range of mental health issues that transcend clubs or societal approbation) or simply to show support for the family that is expressing its distress by staging elaborate same sex weddings and demanding their friends and family join the festivities. Whatever these contentions have, all are psychological manipulations and emotional blackmail. But for Modern Orthodoxy treading down this path is a short term formula for self-destruction.

The laity is faltering and could use some sensitive but determined rabbinic guidance. On the other hand, Modern Orthodox institutions, to their credit, are still holding firm. Witness YU’s ongoing litigation amid the pressure opprobrium it is receiving from some of their own alumni and others.  But their commitment is under relentless assault and they require public support to remain steadfast.

A “Pride” club subsidized by Yeshiva University is as sensible as a “Chilul Shabbat Club” that demands public activities on Shabbat or an “intermarriage dating club” that wants to expand the romantic options for the student body. We must have compassion for people’s personal plights and assist them in observing the Torah despite the hardships they feel. But we should reject the notion that they must be accommodated as a group or that, generally, support for traditional family values is somehow hateful. YU does not have to cater to or endorse every sin that people bring with them to college. Indeed, those who want to flaunt and celebrate their sins, whatever they are, can choose any other college in the United States. To want to be “Orthodox” on their terms is quite modern, even understandable, but is also a clear symptom of Torahphobia.

To be sure, we are all guilty of Torahphobia on some level. We are all somewhat afraid of letting go of our practices or beliefs that conflict with the Torah but which we mostly enjoy and sometimes perceive as our self-definition. Everyone has challenges in life. It is axiomatic that we cannot judge another person because we do not stand in their place (Avot 2:4). It is also axiomatic that another person’s challenges seem like a trifle to those who are not challenged in that area, leaving us to wonder why they cannot overcome them (see Masechet Succah 52a). Some are challenged in the realm of arayot in all forms, others in the realm of money, lashon hara, aggression, anger, haughtiness, kindness, love of all Jews and a host of other possibilities. Some people are naturally blessed with no temptation in one area but succumb in other areas. But we all struggle in some vein and it is self-defeating to seek a pass, a license, or public approval of our capitulation. And we were all given by God the gift of repentance that first requires recognition of sin, wrongdoing or shortcomings.

The other day, I was sitting in the Me’arat Hamachpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron, and my mind wandered to Avraham and how he would relate to these modern imbroglios. After all, Avraham lived in most decadent and depraved times and as an Ivri, he stood against the world, its cultural onslaught and moral depredation. He tried to pray for Sodom, or at least comprehend God’s justice in dealing with Sodom, but he didn’t live there, was disappointed when Lot moved there and did not endorse or subsidize their lifestyle because those were the modern mores in his era and the local custom.

We are his heirs and descendants. Avraham possessed not only a deep and abiding faith in God but also an indomitable strength of character that enabled him to stand against the tide of his times even when he was alone and without any public support. His genes – physical and spiritual – give us our foundation, direction and purpose in life. As we enter the Yerach Ha’eitanim, the “month of the mighty” in which our forefathers were born, it behooves us to recapture Avraham’s spirit and animate this generation. Then we will heal ourselves of the rampant, infectious Torahphobia and become passionate Torahphiles, faithful servants of Hashem, and hasten the redemption.

Ktiva va’chatima tova to all!