Tag Archives: terrorism

Balak: What Do We Do When Israel Is Cursed?

Balak, the king of Moav, wanted to hire Bilaam to curse the Jewish people for a fortune of money. It is interesting that Balak believed in God and the power of invoking a curse from God, yet thought that God would change His mind about His Chosen People.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
from “Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Balak

In this week’s Torah portion, the King of Moab, very fearful of the armies of Israel camped practically at his doorstep and knowing he couldn’t defeat them in a military operation, chose to hire the greatest known Gentile prophet, Bilaam, to curse the Israelite nation. It is said that “I will bless those who bless you and he who curses you, I will curse” (Genesis 12:3) but that hasn’t stopped an endless stream of individuals and nations from trying, sometimes (seemingly) very successfully, to curse the Jewish people. Even a casual glance at Jewish history over the past several thousands of years reveals this.

I suppose then, I shouldn’t be surprised at the latest atrocity I’ve discovered aimed at the Jews and their nation Israel. No, in this case, I’m not taking about the tragic murders of the three teenage boys Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah, though certainly they are always on my mind. I’m talking about something my wife sent me via email a yesterday.

The debate over the New York Metropolitan Opera’s performance of “The Death of Klinghoffer” raises serious questions about the functioning of American Jewish leadership.

Leon Klinghoffer was a 69-year-old wheelchair- bound American Jew who, in 1985, with his wife and 11 friends, celebrated his 36th wedding anniversary on the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, that was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists. Klinghoffer was taken aside, shot and dumped overboard in his wheelchair.

The opera based on these events was composed by John Adams and the librettist was Alice Goodman, a convert from Judaism who is now a priest in the Anglican Church.

The opera was intentionally titled the “death” – not murder – of Klinghoffer, and purported to present “both sides of the equation.” The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, said that Adams sought “to understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for humanity in the terrorists, as well as in the victims” and enable the “audience to wrestle with the almost unanswerable questions that arise from this seemingly endless conflict and pattern of abhorrent violent acts.” In other words: present the murderers and their victims as morally equivalent.

The opening scene honors terrorists. With a backdrop of graffiti on a wall proclaiming “Warsaw 1943, Bethlehem 2005,” Jews wearing kippot and headscarves enter the stage and plant trees on what is conveyed to the audience as plundered Arab territory.

The Palestinian chorus sings, “My father’s house was razed in 1948 when the Israelis passed over our street.” The Palestinians sing, “We are soldiers fighting a war. We are not criminals and we are not vandals but men of ideals.”

-Isi Leibler
“Candidly Speaking: The ‘Klinghoffer’ opera and the American Jewish establishment”
The Jerusalem Post, June 30, 2014

What is stunning is that the opera premiered in Brussels in 1991, as well as in various locations in the U.S., and is still going. It was cancelled in Boston after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but in 2014, the New York Metropolitan Opera scheduled a major global performance as well as a launch in over 70 U.S. theaters with a plan to simulcast the production to 2,000 theaters in 66 countries — an audience of millions of people.

terroristThis is crazy. You’re talking about a worldwide effort to glorify and praise terrorism and to somehow justify the murder, not just of Jewish people in general, but a 69-year-old wheelchair bound American Jew. You may remember the Achille Lauro incident. I certainly do. Time should never erase the stench of injustice and unavenged wrongs.

The fact that the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” praises murderers and terrorists whilst justifying the killings of innocent Jewish people, including the infirm and disabled, is nauseating. That this story should appear so closely to the recent deaths of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal is the emotional and moral equivalent of soaking their parents in gasoline and then lighting them on fire. It’s like defiling the graves of these recently buried young Jewish men.

Not only should this opera never have seen the inside of a performing hall, but it should have been cancelled the instant Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal were discovered to be murdered. Why is it still going on? Worse, why is no one (besides me and various Jewish news reporters and commentators) complaining about it?

Over the past 40 years one of the most positive features of American Jewish leadership has been its uninhibited self-confidence, assertiveness and willingness to raise its voice with courage and dignity on behalf of Israel and Jewish causes. American Jewish leaders prided themselves on having rejected shtadlanut – reliance on silent diplomacy in lieu of public action. Alas, there are now grounds for concern that this is changing, maybe as a consequence of the adverse pressures emanating from the Obama administration.

How else can one ascribe the pitifully subdued response to the Met’s decision to perform an opera that not merely incorporates vicious anti-Israeli diatribes but which is blatantly anti-Semitic and seeks to romanticize and provide rationalization for the cold-blooded murder of a disabled person solely because he was Jewish. And this is an institution that is disproportionately funded by Jews, in the city with the greatest concentration of Jews in the Diaspora.

This opera is an abomination and an offense not only to Jews but to all Americans and all decent people who oppose terrorism and racism. It has no bearing on the rights or wrongs of the Arab-Israeli conflict or alleged grievances of Palestinians, which can be debated in other venues.

I don’t know how else to say it. What the **** is wrong with people?

They were already dead before we even knew they were abducted? Before prayers throughout the world stormed heaven for their safe return? Before Jews of every religious and political stripe united in a way we have not seen in years? Before the three mothers appeared at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva pleading for support? Before 15,000 Israeli soldiers, not much older than the boys themselves, spent two weeks without sleep or showers combing every basement and tunnel beneath the terrorist stronghold of Hebron? They were already butchered, their young bodies lying in a shallow grave miles north of the search area.

And in the ocean of our mourning, a question rises up like a sea monster: Were our prayers and our good deeds and our unity in vain?

-Sara Yoheved Rigler
“Were Our Prayers in Vain?”

Tisha b'Av at the Kotel 2007Rigler started her article with the words, “Tisha B’Av came early this year.” Sadly, I have to agree. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if year by year, Tisha B’Av ever really ends.

It’s not the fact that terrible things continue to happen to the Jewish people. Unfortunately, the world has been trying to exterminate Jews ever since Jewish people have existed. What makes me so angry is that the effort to destroy Israel and the Jewish people is escalating and yet no one is crying out for justice. Quite the opposite in fact. Every time Israel attempts to defend herself through arms, the rest of the world accuses Israel of brutality, while every time a Jew is slain by a terrorist, the murder is celebrated in Gaza and Ramallah and I suspect in most of the rest of the world.

I would love to see churches all over the world this Sunday offer up prayers for the families of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal. I would love for Pastors to lead their congregations in prayers for Israel and for the protection of the Jewish people. I call on Christians everywhere to stand up and cry out to God for justice. But we must also make our voices heard among the people of the world, that Israel will not go quietly into the night, she will not vanish without a fight, she is going to live on! She is going to survive!

And not only that, but God will fight for His people and His nation. He will not let them be extinguished. In fact, not only will Israel survive, but she will thrive. She will be the head of all the nations while we will be the tail. She will lead the world into an era of unprecedented peace and tranquility. And Israel’s King, who will rule the Holy Land and the rest of the world, will punish all the countries who went up against Israel.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Yeshua (Jesus).

Revelation 22:20

But here’s the problem:

While Israel was staying at Shittim, the people profaned themselves by whoring with the Moabite women, who invited the people to the sacrifices for their god. The people partook of them and worshiped that god. Thus Israel attached itself to Baal-peor, and the Lord was incensed with Israel. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the ringleaders and have them publicly impaled before the Lord, so that the Lord’s wrath may turn away from Israel.” So Moses said to Israel’s officials, “Each of you slay those of his men who attached themselves to Baal-peor.”

Just then one of the Israelites came and brought a Midianite woman over to his companions, in the sight of Moses and of the whole Israelite community who were weeping at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. When Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he left the assembly and, taking a spear in his hand, he followed the Israelite into the chamber and stabbed both of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. Then the plague against the Israelites was checked. Those who died of the plague numbered twenty-four thousand.

Numbers 25:1-9 (JPS Tanakh)

If cursing fails, people can be victimized in any number of other ways, sometimes by being their (our) own worst enemies.

grievingAs Isi Leibler commented, the Jewish leadership in the U.S. needs to be the first to speak up about “The Death of Klinghoffer” and its ghastly implications, but American churches and indeed, all American people who love justice and hate cruelty need to speak out as well. You are not going to save lives through “stealth protesting”. Simply “waiting on the Lord” to do something may be waiting in vain, for who is to say that God isn’t waiting on us to do something. Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal are waiting on us. What are we waiting for?

God has always used people to accomplish justice in our world and I have no reason to believe He’s stopped now. Heavens armies will come one day to wage war against Israel’s enemies but in the meantime, we need to become Heavens armies, if not with guns and cannons, with words, letters, petitions, demonstrations, protests.

Even if you just send the link to this blog post via email to one other person, post it on your Facebook page, tweet it on twitter, that’s something. But do something. Don’t just sit there staring at the screen of your computer or smartphone.

The blood of the murdered cries out from the ground where it was spilled, and the killers are laughing.

Leibler ends his opinion piece thus:

If Jewish leaders feel inhibited about raising their voices on such issues, they are betraying their mandate and moving backward to the “trembling Israelite” role that American Jews assumed in the 1930s.

Rigler’s last words in her commentary are:

And we, the families of the boys, their friends, their neighbors, and all of us, are left to suffer their loss, to mourn the tragedy of their young lives cut short. Our Bible tells us that there is, “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

Tisha B’Av came early this year. It is a time to weep and a time to mourn. But if we can only hold onto the unity we achieved in these 18 days, then in its merit the Redemption will come, and it will finally, finally, be a time to dance.

I know Rigler’s trying to be comforting, for after all, sometimes that’s all you can do, but I agree with Leibler, and not just in terms of Jewish leaders. We cannot allow ourselves to feel inhibited in raising our voices. If we do not stand up for justice now, how many more Jewish victims will go to their graves before Israel is redeemed by her King, and the God of Justice stands up against us?

A good person will resist an evil system with his whole soul. Disobedience of laws of an evil state is therefore a duty.


Grieving with Israel

The blog at Artscroll.com published the following yesterday under the title “The Nation Grieves”:

Your brethren and the entire House of Israel shall bewail the conflagration.

Leviticus 10:6

We join Klal Yisrael in mourning the loss of the three Kedoshim. May Hashem comfort their parents and families among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem who share their grief. Their ordeal united all Jews in prayer and concern. May that Kiddush Hashem provide them at least a small measure of comfort.

This is the Jewish response to the terrible tragedy of the murders of Jewish yeshiva students Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah by Arab terrorists, but it doesn’t go far enough.

This isn’t a Jewish tragedy or an Israeli tragedy, it’s the world’s tragedy and we should all mourn. To not acknowledge the outrageous injustice done in their killings and to fail to grieve over them as if they were our own sons would be to tacitly acknowledge and support the human monsters who committed such a heinous act.

I want to be angry. I want to seek revenge. I want to do something. But all I can summon to myself right now is a terrible weight that nearly paralyzes me. I can’t even imagine what the parents and other family members are going through, though as a father and grandfather, I know the feeling of terror at imagining my sons, my daughter, or my grandson being dead.

As a Gentile and a Christian, I don’t want to intrude on Israel’s collective grief but as I see it, the rest of the world has two choices: We either stand with Israel against all forms of terrorism, injustice, anti-Semitism, and Jew hatred or we stand with the murderers and criminals who seek to exterminate the Jewish people and wipe the nation of Israel from the face of the earth, may it never be.

And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse.

Genesis 12:3 (NASB)

This is the God of Creation speaking to the Patriarch Abraham about him, his descendants through Isaac and Jacob, the (future) tribes of Israel, and ultimately all of the Jewish people and their nation.

It’s popular in the liberal news and social media to speak of “being on the right side of history” and conversely, wanting to avoid “being on the wrong side.” But what about being on the right (or wrong) side of God?

My heart and prayers are with all the mourners as the funeral approaches. May the God of their Fathers comfort the parents and may the God of Israel bring justice and finally peace.

Overcoming Life

Malala-YousafzaiThe scene took place last week at the United Nations. In attendance were nearly 1000 young students from around the world at a specially convened Youth Assembly in the presence of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as well as Gordon Brown, Britain’s former Prime Minister.

The guest of honor was a young girl celebrating her 16th birthday. It was a day that the Taliban, many months ago, cruelly sought to prevent her from living to see. Her name is Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani whose crime was that she wanted to go to school to get an education. So, last October, when she was on a school bus in Pakistan, a man with a gun got on and said, “Where is Malala?” He shot her in the face at point-blank range. The bullet entered near an eye and ended up near her left shoulder, but miraculously she survived.

The Taliban proudly claimed responsibility. They called her efforts pro-Western. They feared she might set an example to other women. Education is their enemy. They desperately wanted Malala dead. But Malala refused to be intimidated.

-Rabbi Benjamin Blech
“Malala at the United Nations”

A great percentage of many people’s suffering is based on illusion. People feel they have problems and difficulties, when in reality the problem exists solely in their minds.

When you have a problem, ask yourself, “How would I view this problem if someone else were in this situation? Would I consider this a valid problem or not?” This can help you gain a more objective perspective.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Today’s Daily Lift #892 – Put Troubles in Perspective”

We’re used to thinking that our problems are the worst problems to have. We tend to believe that no one could really understand what we’re going through and how bad we can feel sometimes. Of course, when we actually try to explain to someone else what’s going on with us, we’re likely to get a response that others have it a lot worse. That usually doesn’t help, because then, on top of whatever emotional pain we’re experiencing, we also feel guilty for hurting our own hurts when other people are suffering so much more. Further, we’re liable to also feel shame when we realize that people with greater hurts are handling (at least in public) their problems so much more gracefully and courageously than we are.

There’s no way to win.

Well, that’s not true. Sometimes the trap is to compare who we are and where we are with others and naturally, we can’t ever measure up. Rabbi Pliskin has sage advice in that area, too. Don’t compare situations.

Waitaminute. What about all those motivational books and blogs pointing to people who suffer with grace and humility and keep on cranking along? Aren’t we supposed to be inspired by them? Why do those stories seem so depressing instead? Because we are violating Rabbi Pliskin’s advice not to compare our current situation with others?

It is said that you are what you think (no, I haven’t read that book) and that attitude is everything (no, I haven’t read that book, either). But I think it may be possible to stress if not overwhelm a “positive attitude.”

In 2001, an Arab terrorist detonated a guitar case filled with explosives in Sbarro’s pizzeria at the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Road, the busiest area of downtown Jerusalem. The heinous attack killed 16 people and wounded 100. Among the dead were five members of the Schijveschuurder family, and Shoshana Greenbaum, an American who was pregnant with her first child. A few months later, Al-Najah University in Nablus opened a public exhibition, a gruesome reenactment of the Sbarro bombing, strewn with fake blood and body parts.

Day in Jewish History, Av 20

kerry-netanyahu-israelThere has been much ado about the so-called Israel-Palestine Peace Process lately, and for those of us who are Biblical, conservative, and pro-Israel, seems like just another round in a long list of futile and frustrating efforts to pander to the “two-state solution.”

Human beings struggle against injustice and many are willing to fight and even to die for our beliefs, and yet the soul that God created within us also desires peace. Watching the world around me, and especially Israel, it is difficult to imagine the Messiah’s return and his redemption and restoration of the Jewish homeland. There is so many people and nations against Israel and against what I consider to be justice.

Tishah B’av has passed, and we have now entered the seven weeks of consolation, seven weeks in which God is viewed as comforting us for our losses, both on the personal and the collective levels. People have different reactions and different ways to relate with calamity. Following the Torah’s inner dimension, we can identify four such ways, which in turn correspond to the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah (yud, hei, vav, and hei). We will consider them in reverse order (from the final hei, to the vav, to the higher hei, to the yud). Contemplating these will also give us deeper insight into the suffering that the Jewish people have endured throughout their history, up to and even including the Holocaust.

-Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
“The true meaning behind our sorrows”
Wonders from Your Torah

Rabbi Ginsburgh goes on in his article to describe the four different levels of how we can perceive difficult and even horrific events in our lives and in the world. We can get angry at God. We can believe that bad things happen because we sin. We can see God’s compassion in times of trouble.

And then there’s this:

The fourth and highest level (corresponding to the yud of Havayah) is to understand that God sends us woes in order to bring us to a higher level of consciousness. To better understand what it means that God seems to be absent for our own benefit, Rebbe Hillel of Paritsch offers an insightful parable involving a Rabbi and his beloved student. In the course of teaching his student Torah, the Rabbi suddenly falls silent. From the student’s point of view, it appears that his teacher is angry with him because of something he did wrong. The student’s point of view is reinforced when suddenly his teacher walks out of the room and does not return. However, Rebbe Hillel explains that the truth is that the teacher is not angry with his student but is preoccupied with a sudden spark of new insight he has received. Since the nature of such sparks of insight is to fade away back into the super-conscious and disappear altogether if they are not captured immediately and meditated upon, the teacher is forced to ignore his student for a time, forsake the current lesson, all in order to capture the insight. Actually, the Rabbi has his student in mind when doing so, since his ultimate intent is to pass the new teaching on to his beloved student. God too has acted in this way, says Rebbe Hillel. In those times when He seems to be absent from our lives, in truth, He is actually preparing a new light for us to enjoy.

sbarro_bombingYou say something to your spouse or loved one and he or she is silent in response. Are they angry? Did you say or do something wrong? If you respond from those assumptions by becoming defensive, angry, or sad, you may miss the point. Perhaps he or she didn’t hear you or was contemplating something else entirely. As the saying goes, “it’s not all about you.”

In 2001, a terrorist explodes a bomb in a popular pizza store and kills and maims innocent people. Later, the terrible scene is re-enacted as a tribute in a Palestinian controlled part of Israel.

One young, defiant, teenage girl is shot in the face by Taliban terrorists just because she wants what we take for granted in the United States: an education. She goes on to speak courageously in front of the United Nations about how education and not warfare, is our most powerful weapon.

One who is full of himself fills all the space around him. There is no room left for anyone else. Therefore, he despises another person by virtue of the space that other person consumes. He may give reasons for his disdain, but the reasons are secondary.

This is called wanton hatred. It is the reason given for our exile. It is the core of all evil. It is balanced and cured by wanton acts of love and kindness.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Wanton Love”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

How do we combat our personal struggles when contrasted against the world-wide stage of tragedy? How do we fight our own small battles that always seem to beat us down, when even young girls rise with amazing courage after horrible trauma and injury?

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:12-13 (NASB)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3 (NASB)

looking-at-heavenThere is a place we can go. There is someone who loves our very soul. Even the strongest among us sometimes feels defeated. Look at a powerful warrior such as King David. Look at the immense sufferings of Paul the Apostle. Yes, they were extraordinary human beings, but they were human nonetheless. You and I may not be extraordinary, but we have the same source of strength. Even when depressed, injured, beaten down, crippled, wounded, dying, He is there. He comforts us. Surely goodness and kindness will follow us all the days of our lives.

And we can immerse ourselves in goodness and kindness, letting God restore our souls. Then we can share goodness in an evil world.

“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21 (NASB)

You can sit in sorrow or you can make a difference in the world. You can become Partners in Kindness.

“People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt


Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Why We Fail to Walk with God

WalkingMy ordinances you shall do, and My statutes you shall observe, to walk with them, I am the Lord, Your G-d.

Leviticus 18:4

What does the Torah mean “to walk with them?”

The Ksav Sofer, a famous Hungarian rabbi, commented that the words “to walk with them” mean that a person needs to walk from one level to the next level. That is, a person should constantly keep on growing and elevating himself.

It is not enough to keep on the same level that you were on the previous day. Rather, each day should be a climb higher than the day before. When difficult tests come your way, you might not always appreciate them. The only way to keep on elevating yourself is to keep passing more and more difficult life-tests. View every difficulty as a means of elevating yourself by applying the appropriate Torah principles. At the end of each day, ask yourself, “What did I do today to elevate myself a little higher?” If you cannot find an answer, ask yourself, “What can I plan to do tomorrow to elevate myself?”

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Acharei MotKedoshim

I’m getting a little tired of these “tests.” They don’t seem to be helping me. Worse, they don’t seem to be helping anyone else, either.

Let me explain.

In continuing to read Rudolph’s and Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, I arrived at “Chapter 6: Messianic Jewish Ethics,” written by Russ Resnik. It’s interesting that when we think of Jesus, we usually think of his mercy, his grace, or his compassion, but it’s a little unusual to consider his ethics. And yet, even Jews who are not believers, when they read the Gospels, find the ethics of Jesus are undeniably Jewish.

A generation later, the Orthodox Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide commented on the Sermon on the Mount, “In all this messianic urgency toward humanization God wills for all the children of Adam and toward the humanization of this earth, in the deathless power of hope that finds in reliance on ‘the above’ the courage to go ‘forward,’ Jesus of Nazareth was ‘the central Jew,’ as Martin Buber called him, the one who spurs us all to emulation.”

-Resnik, pg 82

Resnik states that “Yeshua fully embodies the image of God, which is placed upon humankind from the beginning: ‘God created mankind in his own image’ (Gen 1:27).” He also refers to the first man and woman as “divine image bearers” and further says:

…the divine image is obviously not a physical resemblance, but neither is it an abstract spiritual resemblance. Rather, it entails representing God through active engagement in creation. This understanding of the image of God gives rise to the Jewish idea that God does ethics before we do, that our ethical behavior is not just a matter of obedience, or even pleasing God, but of reflecting God and his nature, fulfilling the assignment to bear the divine image.

-Resnik, pg 84

In other words, even before the commandments to do good and to walk with God’s ordinances and statues were recorded in the Torah, they were humanity’s built-in imperative to do good because God does good and we are made in His image. When we do good, we are a reflection of the image of our Creator. Resnik provides a quote from the Talmud to cement his point.

What does it mean, “You shall walk after the Lord your God?” Is it possible for a person to walk and follow in God’s presence? Does not the Torah say “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire”? (Deut 4:24). But it means to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He. Just as He clothed the naked, so you too clothe the naked, as it says “And the Lord made the man and his wife leather coverings and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). The Holy One, Blessed be He, visits the ill, as it says, “And God visited him in Elonei Mamreh” (Gen 18:1), so you shall visit the ill. The Holy One, Blessed by He, comforts the bereaved, as it says, “And it was after Abraham died that God blessed his son Isaac…” (Gen 25:11), so too shall you comfort the bereaved. The Holy One, Blessed be He, buries the dead, as it says, “And He buried him in the valley” (Deut 34:6), so you too bury the dead.

-b. Sotah 14a
quoted by Resnik, ibid

Although Resnik didn’t cite this portion of the Gospels, the following seems to fit rather well as an illustration of “walking with God.”

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-40

boston_marathon_terror_explosionAs I write this (most of it, anyway), it is early Tuesday morning, and yesterday, several explosions occurred at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring and maiming many others. To walk with God and reflect His image is to do good under all circumstances, to visit the sick and injured, and to bury the dead, but I despair for humanity. Although we certainly can find some helpers involved in response to this terrible expression of violence, how many more people exist who are capable of committing similar acts of hostility or worse? It always seems like we struggle and struggle in this unending battle of good vs. evil, and to what gain?

Batman (played by Christian Bale): Then why do you want to kill me?

The Joker (played by Heath Ledger): [giggling] I don’t, I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You… you… complete me.

Batman: You’re garbage who kills for money.

The Joker: Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.

The Joker: We really should stop this fighting, otherwise we’ll miss the fireworks!

Batman: There won’t *be* any fireworks!

The Joker: And here… we… go!

[Silence. Nothing happens. Confused, Joker turns to look at the clock, which shows that it’s past midnight and neither ferry has blown the other up]

Batman: [triumphantly] What were you trying to prove? That deep down, everyone’s as ugly as you? You’re alone!

The Joker: [sighs] Can’t rely on anyone these days, you have to do everything yourself, don’t we!

-from the film The Dark Knight (2008)

In this scene, Batman and the Joker are debating the nature of humanity. Batman believes that human beings are basically good, while the Joker believes that “these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.” In the film, the situation that the Joker sets up to prove his point fails. The people involved don’t blow each other up, but risk their own lives in order to show compassion, even for people they don’t know, even for criminals.

But it’s just a movie, a work of fiction. People are good in the movie because they’re written that way.

What about people in reality?

According to Resnik, we are also “written” to do good because we are made in the image of God and should “naturally” reflect His goodness. However, the history of the human race seems to prove otherwise. We are not good, we have not been good, and in spite of what “progressives” may believe, we are not getting better. We simply shift around the types of “badness” we commit and just call it “good.”

aloneBut wait. I’ve already been down this path once before and I know where it leads. It leads to a dark, depressing dead end where no one will follow you and where no one wants to go. Do I really want to go there again? I probably will. Given the nature of my personality, I visit that place periodically. But do I want to stay this time?

When I complained previously that all the heroes were dead, I was reminded “All the more reason to be the “called out” ones and live counter to our culture.” It’s true. The fewer of us there are, the harder we’re supposed to work for what we know is good and right. It gets more lonely and more scary, but God didn’t ask us to serve Him in a world of truth and light. If everything were perfect, He wouldn’t need us to do Tikkun Olam. It’s in the face of terrorism, tragedy, and horror that we need to be especially faithful to the tasks that God has given us. No matter how discouraging things get sometimes, we still have to work and we still have to wait.

We’re all waiting for something to happen to save us. Christians and Jews are waiting for the Messiah. The inquisitions happened and the Messiah didn’t come. Pogroms beyond measure have happened and the Messiah didn’t come. Crusaders raped, pillaged, and murdered, with the blood of their victims running through the streets like water and the Messiah didn’t come. Wars have slaughtered millions and the Messiah didn’t come. The Nazis murdered six million Jews and countless other “undesirables” and the Messiah didn’t come. Someone blew up a bunch of people at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds and Messiah didn’t come.

What’s God waiting for? Is He waiting for us to “walk in His ordinances and His statutes?” Is He waiting for us to become the people He designed us to be? Is He waiting for us to follow Him in the footsteps of the Messiah? He’s been waiting a long time. He’s waiting for us to do what He sent us here to do. He’s waiting for us to live out His image. If the Messiah is the ultimate human image of God, we share that with him as his disciples. We must hold on. I must hold on. One little dip in the pool of despair, a couple of laps just for good measure, then out again, dry off, get dressed, and get going.

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

How ironic that I should hear the voice of Messiah from the mouth of Gandhi, but then I think Gandhi understood Jesus better than many of his followers, including me. This is why God created the Shabbat…to give our injured spirits a rest in Him. Someday the rest will be perfect. Until then, we must continue to carry the image of God to a suffering and disbelieving world. Without that, there is no hope.

Good Shabbos.

159 days.

Love Loses: The Aftermath of Terrorism and Humanity

starfish“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

―Mahatma Gandhi

Two bombs exploded near the crowded finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing three people and injuring more than 140 others in a terrifying scene of broken glass, smoke and severed limbs, authorities said.

CBS Boston station WBZ-TV reports one of the three who died from the attack was an 8-year-old boy.

“Deadly bombs rock Boston marathon”

Normally I can bounce back from the impact of events like this one but not this time. I wrote about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings more than once, and managed to recover my balance, my relationship with God and humanity, and keep on going, but somehow, this time is different. I don’t think that the specifics of the Boston Marathon horror are different, I just think all these events are cumulative. They’re piling up inside of me and crowding out my soul.

In every human being there is only so large a supply of love. It’s like the limbs of a starfish, to some extent: if you chew off a chunk, it will grow back. But if you chew off too much, the starfish dies. Valerie B. chewed off a chunk of love from my dwindling reserve … a reserve already nibbled by Charlotte and Lory and Sherri and Cindy and others down through the years. There’s still enough there to make the saleable appearance of a whole creature, but nobody gets gnawed on that way without becoming a little dead. So, if Cupid (that perverted little motherf**ker) decides his lightning ought to strike this gnarly tree trunk again, whoever or whatever gets me is going to get a handy second, damaged goods, something a little dead and a little crippled.

-Harlan Ellison
from “Valerie: A True Memoir” (1972)

Ellison doesn’t leave his commentary on personal tragedy and untimely death like that and continues by saying, “Don’t close yourself off, but jeezus, be careful of monsters with teeth.”

Harlan Ellison used to be one of my favorite authors about thirty to thirty-five years ago or so, but eventually, the anger, abrasiveness, and lawsuits that characterized his life began to take their toll on mine and I had to move on. However in moving on, I failed to take into consideration that Ellison just writes as a reflection of our human environment, and the cynicism, dissatisfaction, and out-and-out rage at life he expresses is merely the sea we’re all swimming in. That sea is full of hungry sharks and they smell blood.

Oh, these thoughts and feelings aren’t new to me and in fact, I wrote my own starfish story not too long ago.

Since this latest act of terror, two predictable messages have dominated the news and the social media outlets: encouragement and blame. Gandhi is only one example of the encouragement type message that you can find on Facebook lately. In fact, after Newtown, I based one of my meditations on something attributed to Fred Rogers:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I’m sure that’s true, but there seems to be only a few helpers left. The rest of us are just “helping ourselves,” usually to things that don’t belong to us.

defeated-boxerI actually wrote on this theme, disappointment in the human race, days ago, and that “meditation” will appear on Friday morning as my commentary on this week’s Torah Portion. But the sinking feeling that we are all sinking won’t leave me and I’m not going to wait until Friday to complain about it. I slept pretty well last night, but the night before was consumed with dreams of death, blood, kidnapping, and violence. I finally woke up at 3 a.m. and was glad to do so. Sometimes sleep is the only escape I can find from the battering life dishes out, but not always.

Sometimes living is a battle and the only thing you can do is fight back, maybe hoping to win, or maybe hoping just to survive the defeat.

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that layed him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains

-Paul Simon (recorded by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel)
from the song “The Boxer” (1968)

In answering a question about “why bad things happen to good people” related to natural disasters, the Aish Rabbi replied:

Thank you for your thoughtful question. It is really a formulation of the classic: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Let me try to explain:

The story is told of the king who commissioned a tapestry to be woven. In the middle of the work, someone came upon the weaver and saw a mish-mash of different colored threads, loose threads and, in general, a very messy piece of work. A complaint was issued to the king who then confronted the artist. The artist pleaded with the king for a few days to prepare his defense. After those few days he came before the king with a wrapped package and told the king, “Here is my defense.” Inside the package was the completed tapestry.

The moral is that we cannot judge the work until it is completed. Moses asked to see God’s face. That request was denied, but he was allowed to “see” God’s “back.” It is explained that Moses wanted to understand how God runs the world. The response was that it is beyond human comprehension until you see the “back.” That is, until we can see the whole picture; then in hindsight it will all make sense.

While this answer may seem a “cop-out,” it prevents us from trying to understand God’s actions from our very limited perspective. In order for us to be able to “judge God,” we need to consider God’s “ground rules” for existence. Using this premise, it becomes very difficult to judge God. Why? Because we are stuck in a finite perspective of time and space, and we can therefore never be sure which rules God is employing at any given moment.

In order to begin to make sense of this, one thing we must understand is that God is in control, and there are no accidents. There has to be intrinsic meaning in our lives; otherwise we are just a random collection of molecules whizzing through space, with no real direction or purpose.

We are living in a very complex world, and in such a world, God doesn’t only deal with individuals, he also deals with nations.

nicholas-kristofOK, I get it. God is a “big picture” kind of guy and I can’t see the forest for the trees, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor.

But when is enough enough? When do the encouraging messages and the happy platitudes become tiresome and ineffective? Is that why New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof blamed the GOP for the Boston Marathon explosions or why the Westboro Baptist (so called) Church is threatening to picket the funerals of the three people killed as a protest against the LGBT community?

That isn’t fighting back against injustice, that’s insane cruelty. It’s insane to hope that the bomber turns out to be an Arab Muslim or an ultra-conservative white American. The only person to blame for the explosions is the person to planted the bombs, just like the only person to blame for the Newtown School shootings is the person who pulled the trigger.

But if I truly believed that, then I could be like Gandhi, seeing these horrific acts as aberrations among a much larger humanity I can be proud to be a part of, and I could dismiss a few drops of dirty moisture as insignificant amid a sea of refreshing, life-giving water.

But it’s not just a few drops, it’s an endless flood, not of water but of gushing blood, ripped and torn flesh, and the screams and cries of the wounded and dying.

Reddit hosts specialty pages including one on Atheism which is used to make fun of religion and religious people. I guess that sort of thing floats their boat.

Anyway, I saw a photo a “redditer” posted the day after the Boston Marathon explosions of a person donating blood. The story that went along with the image said that the blood donor had been reading a lot of messages (presumably on Facebook and twitter) from Christians saying how they were praying for the victims of the explosions. He decided to do something a little more helpful by donating blood.

I couldn’t help but agree with him, not that I believe prayer ineffective, but the answer to prayer is to actually do something about it, like giving blood. Those type of people, Christians, Atheists, or otherwise, are the “helpers” Fred Rogers’ mother was talking about.

But, to recall Gandhi, are the helpers the ocean or the few drops of “clean” water that are left amid a sea of blood, mud, and fecal matter?

Jesus once lamented, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8 NASB). Rabbi Tzvi Freeman wrote, “One who does good brings in more light. One who fails, feeds the darkness.” I am more than aware that I am currently feeding the darkness but I’m hardly alone. For every ten people who are willing to donate blood for people who need it, the world summons ten-thousand who will be glad to shed more blood. If a hundred people hold candles in the night to defy the darkness, a million will extinguish the light, and then rape and murder the terrified victims trying to hide in the shadows.

drowningThere’s no one left to blame except ourselves, so we might as well stop pointing fingers at everyone else besides us. Our group, our political party, our religion, our gender identity, our race, our ethnic type is no more pure than anyone else’s and the one equalizing factor is that we are part of the grubby, trashy, filthy ocean of the human race. We all planted the bombs. We all pulled the trigger. We all spilled blood. We are all drowning in the pain and the death, submerged, begging for air, begging for mercy, begging for life.

Encouraging messages such those uttered by Mahatma Gandhi and Fred Rogers are meant to lift us up out of that ocean so that we can, by resisting discouragement and depression, rise above and lead others to be agents of change and optimism.

But Gandhi and Mr. Rogers are both dead. All of the heroes are dead. The world we live in now looks up to people like Honey Boo Boo, Snooki, and Kim Kardashian. Welcome to the “progressive” age of humanity. The Prophet Isaiah was correct when he said that in the last days good would be called evil and evil would be called good. The apostle Paul expanded on this:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

Paul wisely advised those reading his letter to avoid such people, but how is that possible when they are the only people in the world (or so it seems)? In Arkansas, groups are suing the state for the “right” to abort babies up until birth rather than banning abortions after twelve weeks gestation (as if killing a baby at any time could be considered a “good” thing to do). People are obsessed with American Idol and couldn’t care less about any suffering that CNN and the New York Times doesn’t deem worthy of attention. We greave now for the eight-year old boy who was killed in the Boston explosions, but next week, he’ll be replaced by the latest “reality TV show.” And this piece of obvious bigotry didn’t help.

The Joker, played by Heath Ledger is the film The Dark Knight (2008) was right: “When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.”

And we will. Rob Bell (infamously) wrote a book called Love Wins. He was wrong.

161 days.

Pray for the Victims of the Boston Marathon Bombings

boston_marathon_terror_explosionTwo bombs exploded near the finish line at the Boston Marathon on Monday, leaving two people dead and dozens more wounded.

A third explosion was heard just before 4 p.m., about an hour after the first two blasts, at the nearby John F. Kennedy Library. The police later said that episode may have been unrelated.

By John Eligon and Ken Belson
“Explosions at Boston Marathon Kill 2”
Published April 15, 2013
The New York Times

What can I say that hasn’t already been said except to encourage everyone reading this to pray for the victims of the blasts and their loved ones. May God grant mercy and consoling to them and to everyone touched by this horrible tragedy.

My heart grieves with the victims.

163 days.