Is Western Democracy a Jewish System of Government?


Should everybody have the right to vote?


Am I crazy? Yes, but that's not related to this issue. Am I a dictator? Yes, actually, because I'm writing this blog with voice dictation software. OK, I apologize for that pun. On second thought, I do not apologize for it. I live for the great pun. Back to serious matters.

Western democracy puts a premium on rights. Judaism puts a premium on responsibilities. Western democracy says, "what's in it for me?". Judaism says, "what's in it for God and His people?". There is a world of difference.

The Jewish people were always governed by a king and a Sanhedrin. The King part was not a very successful institution. Indeed, Samuel the Prophet had warned that it would become an abused institution. But the Sanhedrin, the great rabbinical court of the Jewish people, proved itself the most successful and enduring leadership institution. We are still governed by laws and rules enacted by Sanhedrins of millennia ago.

What was the secret of their success? Easy. Three things: responsibility, piety and scholarship.

Each member of the Sanhedrin had a supreme sense of responsibility. Their responsibility was to none other than God in heaven and His people on earth. They did not have to engage in popularity contests. They did not have to worry about what the polls said. They had to worry about what the Torah says, and what the spiritual and societal needs of the people are. Since they were not elected, they had the freedom to make unpopular decisions.

When decisionmaking became necessary, they had the tools with which to do it effectively. The requirements to be a member of the Sanhedrin were very demanding. They not only needed a fluent knowledge of all aspects of Torah and Jewish law, they also had to have command of all of the spoken languages in the region and knowledge of the natural world.

A governing body filled with scholars who are knowledgeable about Jewish law and the world, who are deeply pious and share a fundamental sense of responsibility is a governing body that is built for great success.

I once was with a youth group that met a respected politician. One of the students asked the politician how one got to be the fill-in-the-blank high office holder that he now was. He answered, quite directly, "get elected".

What a terrible answer! It is everything that is wrong with our governmental system. Think about it! A kindergarten teacher requires more job training than the leader of a Western nation! Now it is true, the kindergarten teacher is fulfilling perhaps the most important job in the world. But I don't think that having your finger on the nuclear button is too far behind.

Even more so, all one needs to do to get elected these days is to look good and sound good on camera. And, true, to have tons of money to throw at the people. With such a system in place, it is potluck if we get a good leader. The only consolation is that if the guy or gal is good enough to run an effective campaign, they probably have good administrative skills.

What's even more troubling is that people vote without the slightest idea who they are voting for. Many people don't even know the difference between Democrats and Republicans. They don't know the names of the candidates, or if they do, they can't tell you a single position that either has on any issue.

The Sanhedrin ruled through voting. In order for them to vote, they had to become members of the Sanhedrin. In other words, the ability to vote had to be earned. They had to demonstrate exceptional discernment to gain that responsibility.

And that's the sound byte. I believe that there should never be a right to vote, but rather a responsibility to vote. And voting should be dependent on demonstrating a basic competency about what one is voting on.

In other words, I believe there should be some test as part of the voting registration procedure. It should not be a test that lends itself to abuse, but rather a short test to indicate whether the prospective voter understands the office he is voting for. A voter should know what the president does, what a senator is, and so forth. A voter should also know who the candidates are and their positions on one or two critical issues of the day.

I have no intention to disenfranchise anyone. But I object to the concept of the right to vote. It is a responsibility, and everybody must be qualified to do it at least on a basic level. And here comes the next revolutionary idea: voting should be required. It should be no different than jury duty. The only way to get out of voting would be to demonstrate a lack of ability to vote responsibly.

We need leaders who are of the highest quality. The three qualifications should be an overwhelming sense of responsibility, a powerful moral grounding, and a thorough working knowledge of government and the issues of the day. We don't need rock stars, we need qualified leaders.

Moses was not a rock star, he had trouble speaking clearly. It was his responsibility, piety, and scholarship that made him the greatest leader the world has seen.

Jerusalem - She Must Be Jewish

Israel's capital is Jerusalem. It is also the holiest city to the Jewish people. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem claims that there never was a second Jewish Temple, or any Jewish connection to the city. The Mufti is not an idiot.He is an anti-semite.

Aside from the archeological evidence, which is simply overwhelming, all ancient literature descibes the faces, politics and history of Jewish Jerusalem. The Arch of Titus commemorates her fall to Rome in 70. The New Testament, which Moslems accept as a holy book, is set in Jewish Jerusalem.

So there's too much obvious source material to call the Mufti an idiot. What's left is "anti-semite." Which is an old tradition by them, as Yasser Arafat's uncle, the Mufti al-Husseini, was a Nazi war criminal. Literally. He assisted Eichman.

Moslems claim Jerusalem as holy to them only because the Jews calim it as theirs. In truth, Jerusalem isn't mentioned ONCE in the Koran explicitly, and Moslems at prayer face MECCA.

And so, why is Jerusalem such a hot issue? Simple. It is God's City, and everybody wants to prove that they've got God right. If the Jews are there, well, that seems to prove all that Chosen People stuff, especially when Jerusalem was reunited in such MIRACULOUS ways back in 1967.

And you know what? It does.

"My House shall be a house of prayer for all the nations." This is the distinguishing feature of Judaism. It never negates the faith of other nations, so long as they are monotheistic and conform to the 7 laws of human morality. Judaism never claims you've got to be Jewish to be "saved".

And Judaism never wages war to convert "infidels".

That is the Jewish Jerusalem, a place where all peace-seekers can come and converse with God and each other. If it isn't there yet, it's because we need to seek it. "Inquire after the Peace of Jerusalem."

So whenever they talk of dividing Jerusalem, and a city holy to three faiths, etcetera, just forget it. It's only holy to three faiths or three hundred faiths when the Jewish people give her life and meaning. In other hands, Jerusalem was a scene of exclusion, persecution and violence.

Jerusalem of Peace can exist only if it is in the hands of her rightful people, the Jewish nation. Then all the naitons of the Earth can truly share in the Peace of Jerusalem.

Hating Israel


Israel is the Jewish state. If you are anti-Israel, you are opposed to the Jews. Included are those super-orthodox sinners who went to Tehran to cavort with Ahmadinejad. Being Jewish doesn't make one immune from self-hatred. Just ask Karl Marx.

Does this mean we must support the policies of the Israeli nation? Noooooo. It means we must support the existence of, security of and prosperity of the Jewish nation of Israel. It means we must be fair and balanced, to borrow a foxy phrase. It means we must cease the demonization and baseless condemnation.

In a recent article in a local paper in the Berkshires, the writer casually mentions that he is "aware that friends on the left who perceive Israel as a dark eminence -- a murderous pariah state -- view my position as soft, sentimental, and wrongheaded."

With all due respect, ANYONE who considers Israel a murderous pariah state is willfully ignorant of reality, in order to justify an explicitly racist stance. Call the Jews murderers, you are a racist. Call the Hamas terror leaders murderers, you have been reading the news.

Those are the facts. It is up to everybody to learn them, internalize them and have them at their command to form correct opinions and inform those who hold incorrect ones. We can argue on land for peace, how the army should respond to the UNPROVOKED rockets fired at civilians in Sderot and elsewhere, what to negotiate and so forth. All that is legitimate. And if Israel chooses a path other than the one you would have her choose, so you can say you think they are wrong.

But you may never slander Israel. A murderous pariah state intentionally targets and kills civilians and espouses genocide or fatal force against anyone deemed an enemy. Murder is the killing of someone who poses no lethal threat to your life. Standing idly by while others commit murder is to be an accessory to it. The only moral option is to prevent it. Targeting and killing the rocket launchers is self-defense, and is not an option. It is a requirement.

I shouldn't have to explain this, but since there is such willful ignorance in the world, I feel I must.

This is included in "Remember what Amalek did to you". I'm sure the Amalekites, like the Palestinians, read and reread Mein Kampf (or thought similar thoughts relevant to the time) before they were motivated to try o annihilate all the Jews. We are commanded to never forget to "blot out the memory of Amalek". I believe that blotting out their memory means to blot out their slander, to refute their lies and proudly proclaim the truth of our mission and morals.

The Power of Anti-Semitism and The Response To It

Balaam, the Gentile prophet we read about in the book of Numbers, has been enticed to come curse the children of Israel on behalf of the king of Moab. The reputation of his powerful curses and blessings is worldwide. Thus, the king of Moab, who was terrified about the approach of Israel, hired Balaam to curse them, and remove them as a threat. Balaam has informed his employer that, despite whatever his personal wishes may be, he can not utter anything that God does not approve. He may not be able to curse as the king wishes.

Nonetheless, he goes. On the way, an angel holding a sword blocks his path. Balaam does not see the angel, however, his donkey does and stops in his tracks. No amount of beatings will get the animal to budge forward. Finally, God lets the donkey speak: "Why do you hit me? Behold, I am your donkey that you have ridden upon from your youth. Have I ever behaved like this with you before?"

At this point, God opens Balaam's eyes and he sees the angel with the sword. He says to him, "I did not know that you were there. If it is evil in your eyes, I shall return home." The angel answers, "You may go, but you must only speak that with God puts in your mouth." Balaam continues to the king of Moab, and is unable to curse Israel. Instead, he utters their blessings and praises.

The donkey speaking was truly a great miracle, but why was it necessary? All the donkey did was to complain about his treatment and nothing more What great goal was accomplished by this miracle? If it was kindness to the donkey, so he should be able to "vent", well I'm sure he was not the first animal to be beaten in history, so why don't all animals get the right to complain?

Secondly, how was it possible that such a tremendously gifted prophet as Balaam was unable to see the angel with the sword?

Thirdly, the sages teach that Balaam was receiving a lesson in humility. Here he was purporting to be able to uproot an entire people with his speech, while to destroy his donkey he would require a sword, as he says, "If I had a sword I would kill you!" The commentary Oznaim Latorah asks the powerful question, why indeed could he not destroy his donkey with his speech if it was so powerful?

Finally, Balaam is referred to as "the wicked one." Now, upon reading this chapter, he really didn't do anything wrong. He said what God told him to say, he blessed the children of Israel! Perhaps it was the desire to curse them that makes him evil, I'm not sure.

Perhaps this episode with the donkey is underrated by us. We focus on the wonderful blessings that Balaam gave to the Jewish people, but I don't believe they are the main aspect of this story. Indeed, the Oznaim Latorah explains, Balaam's blessing or curse would not have the effect on Israel that it might have on other nations. God specifically tells Israel that it is their own behavior that determines their fate.

I think that this section may actually be an insight into the soul of the anti-Semite, and a possible response to him. The blessings that Balaam gives all lack one crucial element: praise for what Israel contributes to the world. Instead, Balaam repeatedly stresses how successful, prosperous, and powerful the children of Israel will become. He does praise their attributes, but nowhere does he express any recognition of how humanity is richer for the existence of the Jewish people. No gratitude and appreciation for all the diseases we've helped cure, all the life-improving things we've invented, all the heroic rescue efforts after natural tragedies.

That is because he does not wish to see all that. This is at the core of the speaking donkey miracle. For starters, Balaam certainly should have seen the angel with the sword. He didn't see him because he didn't want to see him. And once he did, his conscience made him offer to return home. The angel responded in accordance with God's way of dealing with the world, namely, granting people free choice. "One who wishes to become impure, has the way opened before him," say the Jewish sages.

As for the content of the donkey's speech, in truth it is sublime. The donkey is putting into words what the Jewish people is all about. "I am your faithful donkey, upon whom you have ridden since your childhood. Have I ever caused you such trouble before?" In other words, have you ever stopped to think just how much good of the Jewish people does for you and the whole world? Have you ever stopped to think what the world would be like if the Jewish Messiah came?

Of course not. The anti-Semite needs to believe the worst about the Jewish people. Balaam was incapable of seeing the angel, was incapable of seeing the angelic potential of having the Jewish people in the world. However for a moment, when the donkey spoke of his care and concern for Balaam since his youth, he saw that angel and had a pang of regret. That was the critical moment of choice for him, when he should've turned heel and gone back to his land. But by choosing to proceed to Moab, he chose to live as an anti-Semite. For this he is called wicked.

The anti-semite needs to feel hatred. Perhaps that is why he wanted to kill the donkey with a sword, instead of a curse. It's more violent, and more satisfying for raw hatred to do it that way.

Sadly, anti-Semitism is back in fashion in many parts of the world. And I believe that the Jewish people must fight back against it, much in the fashion of Balaam's donkey. We need to remind the world just how much we love it, and how much we wish to give to it.

Will they listen? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Perhaps long enough to avoid a tragedy, and perhaps some people may indeed be changed by that message. People have free choice, we don't control anyone else. What we do control is our own efforts, and that is what we should use as best we can. The rest will be left up to God. It might just happen that, at the end of the day, the anti-Semite will bless us just as Balaam did.

Temple Denial and the Baby's Bathwater

Many commentators on the Torah point out how the Tabernacle, the portable Sanctuary that preceded the Jerusalem Temple, contained within its very structure the Names of God. Without going into details, the numbers of curtains, of wall flats, the numerical values therein all point to the Divine Name.

I always wondered about the point of this. After all, if it is only implied by numerical values hidden in the amount of curtains, flats and their measurements, of what practical importance is it? If only the most learned are aware of those Names, how are they to impart a spiritual impact upon those who visit the Tabernacle? In other words, why bother?

My teacher, Rav Ahron Soloveichik, of blessed memory, explained how there are three names for the Tabernacle: 1. Sanctuary, 2. Tent of Testimony, 3. Tent of Meeting. The first refers more to the worship/sacrificial aspect of the Tabernacle. The second refers to the Torah education aspect of the Tabernacle, where the people would come to learn the Word of God. The third refers to the aspect of social support, where people would come together to help one another.

These parallel the three pillars upon which the world exists. These pillars, mentioned in the Mishna of Avot, are: 1. Torah, 2. Worship-sacrifice, and 3. Acts of Kindness. All three were embodied by the Tabernacle. It was where the Ark of the Covenant was, and where the court of the Sages sat. It was where the people worshiped and brought sacrifices, and it was where each individual was welcomed as part of the community.

In other words, the Temple was the place that brought completeness to the world, where the spiritual and the emotional were united in bonds of love to God and to mankind. It was, indeed, universal. "My House is a place for prayer for ALL the nations."

This, however, is not automatic. It depends on how the custodians of the Tabernacle and Temple, and in our days, the synagogues, fulfill their mission. They must make each House of the Lord a place of Torah, a place of prayer, and, perhaps most critically, a place of kindness. Rav Soloveichik points out the statement of Hillel the Elder, who said, "If I (i.e. the true me) am here, everything is here." A synagogue and a Temple must be dedicated to helping each person who enters uncover their true "I", their true self, potential and mission.

Who would not want to spend time in a place like that?

So I believe that the fact that God's Name was hidden away in the numerical values of the Tabernacle's elements was done so as to articulate this challenge to the custodians. The Name was not put up in Neon lights, because it is not automatic that the Divine Presence is in the Tabernacle. Yes, in Exodus it says "They shall make for me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell within their midst." The key word is Sanctuary, implying holiness. It is not sufficient to make a beautiful physical structure. It must be infused with holiness, with the three pillars of Torah, true worship and real kindness.

If the custodians are truly dedicated to sincere prayer, to teaching the true Torah and to each individual who enters as a holy person, then the Name of God becomes apparent in a deeply spiritual way. The people feel it inside their souls each and every time they enter. And when God's Name moves our spirit, it remains with us even after we leave. "I will dwell in their midst," even as they return to mundane life.

Each visit to the Sanctuary must transform our lives in the interim as well.

What Is Wrong with Self Hating Jews?

There is one word that screams out volumes of psychological insight into Joseph's brothers. After their father Jacob had passed away, the brothers convince themselves that Joseph was going to seek revenge. They said amongst themselves, "Perhaps (lu) Joseph will now hate us and return the evil that we did to him upon us." They then send a message to Joseph in the name of their deceased father begging him to forgive them. When they come before him, they throw themselves on the ground and proclaim, "We will now be your slaves." Joseph cries when he hears this. He reiterates that they should feel no guilt, that this was God's plan to save an entire nation.

The word is "lu," which is translated as meaning "perhaps." In truth, this word is never used to mean perhaps other than here. Usually, it means "would that it were so!" It is an expression of wishing! A subtext here is that the brothers actually desired Joseph to take revenge upon them. Indeed, the distasteful scene where they throw themselves on the floor and offer themselves as slaves indicates a desire on their part to get back what they gave. They wanted Joseph to take revenge, for some deep psychological reason. What was it?

I remember encountering this unhealthy feeling when visiting one of the concentration camps in Poland. As we left Birkenau, the friend I was traveling with made an extraordinary comment. "Why do we deserve to be able to walk out of here alive and free?" Had we been there in the early 1940s, we probably would have been murdered.

I was taken aback by the question. I understood it, and the underlying mindset bothered me greatly. Our living a normal life should not have been the question. The question should have been "How was it that they could not walk out of here alive and free?" The question he asked almost assumed that Jew hatred was normal, that Auschwitz was the way things should have been. I'm sure he didn't mean this, but some element of it was implicit in that question.

The brothers were seized by guilt, about that there is no question. But had they properly and completely reconciled with Joseph? No, they had not. Why? Because they could not forgive themselves. That is strange, too. If Joseph had not shown any grudge towards them, why did they show it towards themselves? If Joseph seemingly forgave them, why could they not forgive themselves?

Perhaps it is because they never understood what it means to be a brother. They never understood what it means to be part of the human race. They saw Joseph's dreaming and favoritism as a threat to themselves. It was a zero sum game, and if Joseph was the victor, then they must be the vanquished. They could not conceive of a win-win situation, and therefore Joseph has to take revenge upon them. They are almost begging him to do so! This is because it is harder for a person to change his worldview than it is to become enslaved in Egypt. Internal slavery, to a mistaken ideology, is much harder to escape.

There is an astounding quote attributed to the ancient sage, Hillel. "If I am here, everything is here. If I am not here, who is here?" On the surface, this saying seems extremely egotistical! That is diametrically opposed to Hillel's modest and pleasant demeanor. What does it mean?

My teacher, Rabbi Ahron Soloveitchik, ZT"L, explains its brilliance. "Here" is a physical location that must be defined by other physical locations. There is no place that is disconnected from the rest of the universe. If I say I'm on Main Street, I must define Main Street as being in the town of Pleasantville, in the state of New York, in the country of America, on the continent of North America, on the planet Earth, in the solar system, etc...

So it is with us as people. We are defined by our relationships to other people. In Judaism, a person's name always includes their parents name. Family names are simply based on either ancestry or a town or a profession. Everything about us is defined by where we fit in in the universe. What Hillel is teaching us, then, is a very powerful lesson. We must define ourselves by our place in the world. No one else can occupy our place, "if I am not here, who is here?"

That entails a deep responsibility. Rabbi Akiva taught us that the main rule of the Torah is "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." In order to love our neighbors, we must love ourselves. And in order to love ourselves, we must realize that we are of tremendous value to our neighbors. We must know that we are the creations of God, and we alone occupy our space in the universe. If we set to ourselves the task of improving our neighborhood, of uplifting and helping all who come in our contact, 24/7, for a whole lifetime, we are fulfilling the core of the Torah. According to Hillel, a human being must love themselves and use their space to share that love with the rest of the universe.

There are two aspects of human behavior that are required: turn away from evil, and do good deeds. There is the carrot and the stick. There is justice, which is the righting of wrongs, and there is kindness which is seeking out to do good. The former is cause and effect, and has value in keeping society from anarchy. But it limits each person to their own space, and disconnects them from the rest of the universe. "As long as I don't hurt you, you won't hurt me."

How does this relate to Joseph and the brothers? Joseph brothers were stuck at the level of "Turn away from evil." They lived disconnected from their brother, and really wouldn't have minded had he kept to himself. But Joseph saw his role as being a font of good, and he interpreted his own dreams of leadership as being for the benefit of the family, and of mankind. That is why he told the brothers his dreams, because he really believed he was giving good news for them as well. He was sharing a win-win vision with people who lived in a zero sum world. The result was the tragic sale of Joseph.

So even when they were again reunited in Egypt, the brothers had not significantly changed that internal feeling. "There must be revenge, we must become slaves, because otherwise our zero sum world makes no sense!," the may have thought. If they would only internalize Hillel's message. If the brothers would say to themselves, "yes, even Joseph's sale was a good thing, it saved an entire nation," their guilt would disappear. It wouldn't even occur to them that Joseph should seek revenge. They would see in Joseph a true partner for fixing the world.

And that is the lesson for the self hating Jews. They are stuck in the world of guilt, of needing to feel hated and persecuted. They can't understand how the world could recognize that the Jewish people, unlike any other nation, lives to make the world a better place. It is ironic that we are accused of the exact opposite of what we actually do. We are more humane, more concerned about the value of human life than anyone, yet the same self haters are blind to this and accuse us of the opposite, of cruelty.

When every Jew, indeed when every human being, says to himself, "how can I improve all of those with whom I have contact?", the world will be on its way towards healing.

Macabbees, settlers, zealots and successful rebellions

The Bible tells the tragic story of Joseph and his brothers. There is one character who plays a critical role in the whole story, but is hardly mentioned. This is none other than the angel Gabriel. Where, you may ask, does Gabriel come into the picture? He's the guy that gives directions.

You see, Jacob had sent his favorite son, Joseph, to check up on his other sons who were away with the flocks. Joseph travels north, and can't find them. According to the Bible, a "man" finds Joseph wandering lost in the field. He asks him what he wants, and Joseph says he's looking for his brothers. The "man" proceeds to give Joseph directions. End of story. Without that man, Joseph might not have found the brothers, and might never have been sold into Egyptian slavery. The whole thing could have been completely different.

Earlier in the Torah, we met another such "Man." This was the man whom Jacob fought with before his confrontation with his brother, Esau. However, that "man" is not identified as the angel Gabriel. Instead, he is identified as the guardian angel of Esau.

How do the sages know that one "man" is the angel Gabriel, while the other is the guardian angel of Esau? What was the difference?

A Hasidic rabbi gave a somewhat lighthearted answer, which is not so lighthearted at all. He pointed out that the "man" whom Jacob struggled with was in a hurry to leave Jacob and fly back to heaven in order to sing the praises of God. Jacob had to force him to remain and give him a blessing. In other words, this angel put singing God's praises ahead of helping another being.

Contrast that with the "man" who meets Joseph. He is willing to help, has the patience to give directions and be of service to another being. Thus, the "good" angel Gabriel is always willing to help out. His own songs of praise can wait. The other "man" disdains helping others, especially if it interferes with his own service of God. That is the guardian angel of Esau. Esau was someone who took care of number one. He saw the world is there to take care of him, and did not see himself as there to take care of the world.

I believe that is the difference between the two revolts. In the first case, the Maccabees represented the silent majority of the people. Most of the Jews were appalled by the open anti-Semitism of the Syrian Greeks. They had defiled the temple, forbidden observance of circumcision and the Sabbath. They put an altar to Zeus right in the Jewish Temple. Even the less religious among the Jews were appalled. Only the completely assimilated elites identified with Antiochus and the Syrian Greeks.

Thus, their rebellion reflected the will of the majority, silent or otherwise, of the Jewish people. They were connected to their fellows and not focused on their own particular spiritual interests.

In the second Temple, however, the main rebels were a minority in their own people. They were known as zealots, and in one tragic incident burned the food supplies in Jerusalem in order to force their fellow Jews to do battle with the Romans.

Now, there is no doubt that the Romans were an oppressive power. However, they did not stop the Temple service as the Syrian Greeks had two centuries before. They did not ban Judaism. There were still sages and Torah study amongst the people. One of the great leaders was rabbi Jochanan ben Zakai, who urged accommodation with Rome. He did not want to see the bloodshed of an unnecessary battle, and feared it would bring great tragedy on the people. And history was soon to speak.

So in this second revolt, the main rebels were disconnected from their fellows. They did not have unity of support. Instead, they forced themselves on the people. Like the guardian angel of Esau, they put their focus on themselves. They wanted a certain type of spirituality, and everyone else be damned. Our sages claim that the second Temple was destroyed because of the sin of baseless hatred. I suspect that this is what they referred to.

So in order for the Jewish people to strengthen their homeland, they must be unified. I think it is of prime importance that the so-called "settlers," the Jewish residents of the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria, reach out to all Israelis and Jews worldwide. Instead of appearing to the less connected as being fanatics and zealots, they must make those Jews understand who they really are. They are fine, peace-loving, ethical citizens who would love nothing more than to have peace and friendship with their Arab neighbors. (Of course there are fanatics on every side of the map, but they do not represent the masses of people -- unless they seize power.)

In other words, they need to work like the Maccabees, to inspire the entire nation. It's a tough job. The best way to do it is through personal contacts. We need to talk to each other. We need to have a dialogue. We need to be guests in each other's homes. We need to visit the communities of Judea and Samaria, and see firsthand just who lives there!

Dialogue, connection, understanding, and unity will be the secrets of our success.

Settlements and Peace

If, in theory, dismantling settlemets would bring about peace and a cessation of teror and hostility, most would agree that it is justified. After all, Judaism allows all Torah commandments save idolatry, adultery and murder, to be violated if it is necessary to save a life. One can certainly argue that achieveing peace is a life-saving accomplishment.

On the other hand, the Jewish People are commanded to dwell in their land. That is even obligatory if it means fighting. Otherwise, what is the difference between the West Bank and Tel Aviv? If Israel voluntarily dismantles itself and all the Jews move to the US, that may be said to bring about peace and save lives. Yet no one in their right mind would suggest such a thing.

So is one part of the Land of Israel different than the whole of the Land? I think yes, and historically we find that King Solomon gave cities in the North to the King of Tyre. So perhaps a small territorial gift that enables the rest to live in peace is justified.

The problem with all this talk is that it is based on a theoretical that is non-existent. There is no guarantee that ceding territory and dismantling settlements will bring peace. There is a guarantee that it would weaken Israel strategically. It seems to me that the "life-saving" argument actually goes the other way and forbids giving away territory.

But it's not just theory, there is precedent. Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza strip. Thousands of families in dozens of settlements were uprooted. The end result? Missile fire and terrorism. No peace.

There is no reason to think that further uprootings would have any different result.

Also, the western world does not know how small Israel is. To leave the post '67 areas would again leave Israel with a narrow belly of only 11 miles! Imagine putting enemy guns across the Hudson and trying to keep New York safe. Same deal. The heavily populated central Israel area would be only 11 miles from Arabs. If they follow Gaza precedent, all of Tel Aviv will be in and out of bomb shelters.

Nope, saving lives implies keeping the settlements and the territories. Only if there is a clear destination of peace could we even think of compromise. There is no such destination, and there is no partner ready for it. If they wanted peace, they'd have had it long ago. They want Israel to be theirs to transform into Palestine, and eliminate the Jewish State.

Read the news, the leaders can't bring themselves to recognize that Israel is a Jewish State.

Sorry to disappoint, but reality must be faced.

Jewish Ownership of Israel

Abraham was granted ownership over the whole Land of Canaan, soon to be the Land of Israel, by God Himself. Thus, he had ownership over all the properties he could have needed. So when he needed a burial plot for his dear wife, Sarah, he just needed to ask.

And so he asked Efron, the Hittite, for the Cave of Machpela which was at the edge of his property. Efron and those with him insisted that Abraham can use any plot he wishes, but Abraham insists that Efron "Give it to me" and he will pay full price. In other words, Abraham wants to pay for a gift. He does not say "Sell it to me". That seems strange. Why ask for a gift, and then offer to pay for it? Why not just buy it outright, or accept the gift outright?

A further question about this section. This is the very first land acquisition of Abraham in the Land of Canaan. It is to be used as a burial plot. Why did Abraham not purchase any land previously, for more life-affirming purposes? Why start with a cemetery?

I believe this section is teaching the Jewish People how to relate to all the hatred coming our way from many corners in the world as it relates to our Land. The Palestinian Authority routinely denies any Jewish historical link to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. They deny that any Jewish Temple stood on the Temple Mount, despite all the Biblical history and archeological evidence. And around the world are many, way too many, voices questioning the right of the Jewish People to a state in their Land.

Abraham teaches us to relate on two levels, for two different audiences. For those who simply don't know the facts, and would hold different opinions if they did, Abraham insisted on a completely above doubt acquisition of the Cave of Machpela. It should be a gift, so that the Hittites who give it do so with all their heart, and not simply as a matter of economic expediency. When Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, that sale was never properly internalized by Esau. He was bitter when Jacob took the blessing of Isaac that went with the birthright. After all, felt Esau, I only sold it to Jacob because I was hungry. I didn't really mean it. Abraham wanted to make sure that Efron and the Hittites really meant it.

Secondly, he wanted to pay full price to remove the possibility that Efron might later change his mind. If it would be only a gift, Efron would still feel the land was somewhat his, and he could retract his gift in the future. Abraham wanted to make sure that did not happen, so he paid the price.

Thus, the first approach is to incessantly combat the lies with evidence. Show the world that Jerusalem already had a Jewish majority more than a century ago. Tell how Jews have lived in this land uninterrupted since Biblical times. Prove our roots here through archeology, historical sources and Biblical sources.

Further, show how deceitful the "Palestinians" have been about it. Show how they have no history here as a national entity, and how they are, indeed, an invented people. Refute the lies about how Israel mistreats Arabs and spread the news about how Israel gives more opportunity to the Arabs than they get anywhere else in the Arab world. Tell the world the accurate truth. Someone is listening. Maybe not everyone, but someone.

The second approach is for those whom proof and argument are of no interest. It is the approach of actions, of facts on the ground. How so?

The Jewish faith teaches the principle of the Revival of the Dead at the end of the Messianic Era. In fact, the life we will experience after coming back will be much the richer. Judaism is a forward looking religion, and death is only a precursor to greater life.

The Talmud tells a story of a pagan Queen asking a Sage whether the dead who are revived will be naked or clothed? The sage responds, "clothed." He infers it from the planting of a seed, which is naked. When it grows as a flower, it has beautiful garments (petals, leaves). Thus, the dead who already have some garments will come back with full clothing.

The comparison to the seed is telling. Burial, death, is not an end, but a beginning. Our first round on this earth is to acquire reward for our good deeds, which will return to "clothe" us at the future Era of the Messiah.

Now, not every crop can grow in every type of soil. Corn would fail in the desert. We believe that the Land of Israel is a living, breathing thing, which has a unique spiritual "mineral content". It is uniquely suited for growing Israelites. Abraham "planted" the seed of the long future of his people by burying Sarah. His first purchase was to be viewed as a beginning of an eternal bond.

The Torah prophecies that, during the exile, the land would be "burned, not arable or crop-producing." And so it was for centuries. Read Mark Twain's account of his visit in the 1800s. The Land was desolate.

Until the Jewish People returned. Then, things began to blossom and bloom. Today, Israel is greener than ever. The naturalness of our presence here is visible to all. It's like the lost dog who naturally runs to its owner. You just know.

That's what Abraham taught us to do, to sink roots. To build, to plant, to believe. To respect the sanctity of the Land and live in harmony with it. The more we do that, the more it will naturally bond with us, and all enemies will simply not be able to break that bond. Put facts on the ground, have faith in a glorious future. That is the best way to combat the hatred.

The Last Redemption

Why, people ask, would anyone in their right mind want to go to Syria and join ISIS, or any other such group? Who would want to leave the "good life" in the West and run to a war zone, thrilling in the sight of dead soldiers, cutting off contact with the families who nurtured them? What's the draw?

There are many aspects to the ideology of ISIS, but I will limit myself to the part that specifically acts as a magnet to lure in susceptible young people, often from good homes, from the US, England and other Western democracies. What could attract them to a group that beheads fine, innocent, good people? Wouldn't that push them away?

No, it actually attracts them, because the people doing this broadcast a deep, deep human weakness. It is, basically, the need to feel Superiority. These groups have such a virulent triumphalism about them that it is infectious to those who crave that same feeling. They quickly subdue normal human emotions of love for family, respect for human life and revulsion at cruelty, in order to feel a part of "Allah's Chosen". There is an "Either you are with us or against us, and we will prevail because Allah is on ouw side" mentality. Basically, people love to look down at the rest of society, and no one is as good at looking down on others as are these Jihadis.

In the Torah, there are two sections of Rebuke, where God lays out the horrifying consequences of abandoning the Torah. The first one, at the end of Leviticus, ends with some uplifting verses. "I will remember the covenant of Jacob, and of Isaac and of Abraham.." The Rebuke in the middle of Deuteronomy, however, simply ends on a sour note: "You shall be returned to Egypt in ships, etc..". That's it, it just ends. No hopeful verses. No remembering the Covenant. Why thus? And why do I think this is actually the happier ending?

The commentary Kli Yakar, in the section of Nitzavim, notes that the verses there outlining the ultimate redemption of the people will come about after they have "put it to their hearts" to consider all that has befallen them. Then, they will be motivated to love God. Indeed, the love of God permeates that section, to the exclusion of the other relationship to God we find in the Torah, that of Awe. Why is just love stressed, and not Awe of God?

Further, notes Kli Yakar, the Torah then states that God will put these curses (of the Rebuke from the previous section) on all His people's enemies. He asks, why is this necessary? Isn't it sufficient that the Jewish people have achieved peace and respite from their troubles? His answer is a powerful one. It is that if Israel remains threatened by external enemies, their service of God may be from Fear and Awe more than from Love. And the Love relationship is far more important.

My teacher, Rav Ahron Soloveichik Zatz"al, explained why King Solomon's book of morality and Fear-Awe of the Lord, the Book of Ecclesiastes, is introduced by the author's name and his father's name, "Kohelet ben (son of) David", as opposed to his book of Love of God, the Song of Songs, which is simply attributed to "Shlomo (Solomon)". Basically, said Rav Ahron, Fear-Awe of the Lord one learns from one's ancestors and teachers. Love of God must be developed from within.

Now we can answer our questions. The first Rebuke, commonly assumed to refer to the first exile in the Babylonian era, concludes with the Covenant of the Patriarchs being remembered by God. This is to say that the people were not sufficiently meritorious on their own to be redeemed, They needed a little help, and it came in the form of that Covenant. What were they lacking? Love of God. They did repent in Babylonia and Persia, but mostly on the level of Fear-Awe. Therefore, as Fear-Awe is learned from ancestors and teachers, the Covenant of the Patriarchs was activated.

At the end of the second exile (the one we are still in), something more glorious will take place. The people will "Put it to their hearts," will look at the world and the cruelties thay have just endured. They will contemplate the consequences of such societies as ISIS and their equivalents throughout the ages. They will realize that this is not a world any decent person should want to live in. They will realize that the society built by the Torah is the ultimate fulfillment of humanity and humaneness.

In other words, they will repent from love. It is, actually, the unending cruelty of a Godless world, reflected by the dire prediction of the Rebuke that this evil will never end until this realization is had, that motivates the people to truly and genuinely embrace God's Torah as the way of life. That's a good thing.

We hope that sanity will prevail, and know that the world is looking to the People of Israel, the people of the Torah, to shine the light of life and guide the lost souls home to God.