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.

Israel The Righteous, Leprosy and Hatikvah

The section of the Torah we read this week deals with the laws of leprosy. A person who develops a white patch on their skin, with white hair in it, Is considered impure, and must wait outside the camp until he is healed. If, however, the whiteness spreads all over their entire body, he is considered ritually pure. The commentaries jump up and down about this strange law! If, they reason, when only part of the leper's body has the white patches, is he considered impure, then when his entire body becomes white he should certainly be considered impure!

The famed Chofetz Chaim offers a powerful explanation. God sends a message to someone who needs to hear it. A person who has only partial leprosy may convince themselves that they are not so spiritually ill. After all, most of their body may be clean. Thus, they will not be motivated to repent. The Torah then requires them to be sent out of the camp pending an improvement. Being sent out of the camp, into solitary existence, forces introspection and repentance.

But when a person has reached the bottom, they don't require such messages to know that they must repent. Therefore, the person who becomes 100% leprous, will be in such a state of mind that they do not need to be sent to solitary. They have hit rock bottom, they know that it is either repent or die.

This helps me understand a very difficult concept in the world: the suffering of the righteous and the prospering of the evil. The rabbis explain that a suffering righteous person is not 100% righteous. (A righteous person who is prospering is, however, 100% righteous). On the other end, a prospering evildoer must be less than 100% evil.

This still seems illogical. Why should a mostly evil person have a far better existence than a mostly righteous person? Rather, our sages explain, this calculation is all in preparation for The World to Come, when all accounts are set straight. The mostly righteous person has some sins to expiate, and so God brings suffering upon him in this world, so that he will arrive unblemished at The World to Come. Conversely, the mostly evil person still has some good deeds to his credit. God rewards him in this world, so that he will pay for his evil actions in the afterlife.

If, however, we are dealing with people in the gray areas, where is the dividing line? I would speculate that it is in the person's heart, and in what contribution they make to humanity. A war criminal who helps his neighbors and is philanthropic should be shunned as a leper and punished for his crimes. A comedian who brings cheer and joy to millions, but cheats on their taxes and on their spouse, should be respected and loved for the good things he does, and censured (and prosecuted, if appropriate) for the crimes he commits.

There are many public figures who have contributed so much to the world, yet have personal flaws that have also hurt people. The laws of Lashon Hara teach us that telling something negative about another, even if it is true, is forbidden. Why? Because the person who hears such talk will judge the entire person based on that one negative aspect, and shun their humanity entirely. I believe that is wrong. Whether it be a political leader, brilliant film director or a legendary entertainer, we do not need to throw them out with their misdeeds. The great Rabbi Moses Feinstein was asked about a certain Rabbi who wrote music, yet behaved in seemingly inappropriate ways at times. Rabbi Feinstein responded that, "a melody does not become impure."

Such a person can, indeed, be considered a righteous person, albeit not 100%. We must be very careful before we throw out some of the wonderful people who have made our world a better place. Yes, some of their personal deeds may be disgusting and evil, and there is no tolerance for such actions. But, as King David says, "The sins shall perish from the earth, and they (the sinners) will be evil no longer."

So Israel is not perfect, but it is most certainly righteous. The incredible amount of goodness that Israel creates and contributes to the world is the proof. Does she occasionally pursue bad policies? Have there not been moments when Israelis have done shameful things? Certainly. You may disagree with our government policy at times, as most of us do, but you must cherish and love Israel, one of the greatest forces for good in the world.

Israel's national anthem, Hatikvah, was a song with plenty of controversy. It remains scrupulously secular, with no mention of God or the Divine Providence that helped bring our nation back to life. The composer was not a legendary poet, famous composer or spiritual leader.

Contrast that with the alternative national anthem, that lost by just one vote in the 1933 Zionist Congress, the Shir HaMaalot made famous by Cantor Yoselle Rosenblatt. Here was a song with words by none other than King David himself! And the melody, composed by a Cantor named Minkowsky and sang by the pious Cantor Rosenblatt, had every element of holiness you could ask for. It was the equivalent of a 100% righteous person.

And yet, Hatikvah won. Perhaps this was also Divine Providence, to encourage us to embrace the very human of us, and strengthen the good within us. Perhaps our focus should not be on worshiping those that are perfect, but helping perfect those that are not. Perhaps we need to stop judging, and start loving.

Creation and the Land of Israel

Indeed, the great commentator Ramban is puzzled by Rabbi Isaac's question. Why does the Torah begin with creation? Obviously, because belief in God is the creator of the universe is at the center of everything! I would expect the Torah to begin with it! To this, the Ramban replies that the Torah could have included a simple phrase, perhaps in the first of the 10 Commandments. "I am the Lord thy God who created the heavens and the earth." That would do it. Instead, we have the entire creation story, including Adam and Eve, the tree of knowledge, Cain and Abel and more. They are there to teach us a powerful lesson, and it is that which Rabbi Isaac is presenting.

As we read the stories of Adam, Cain and Abel, and so forth, there is a common thread. The people in the story commit a sin and are exiled from where they were as a result. Adam and Eve are banished from the garden of Eden, Cain, after he slays his brother, must wander around the world. What we are being taught is that there is a spiritual content to the physical land. The land of Israel, especially, simply cannot tolerate sinners upon it. Hence, the seven nations of Canaan who practiced human sacrifice and other abominations, could not be abided by the holy land. In their place, came the nation of Israel, with its commitment to God's Torah and morality.

Thus, we are being taught that our actions and moral stature have consequences.

But I might still ask why, then, the Torah doesn't have a problem-free rendition of the Genesis story? Why go into details about the six days of creation? After all, science has demonstrated convincingly that the earth is far older than just 6000 years, and that each stage described in the creation epic lasted far longer than a simple day. If the Torah would have simply said, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," and left it at that, there would be no conflict between science and the Bible. Why give me 31 verses that give an impression at odds with scientific discovery?

There are different ways of resolving this seeming contradiction. Some claim that the world was, indeed, created in six days and that those six days were, indeed, about 6000 years ago. They say, however, that God created the world as if it were in midlife. Dinosaur fossils and astronomical echoes of the Big Bang (13.7 billion years ago) are simply there to give the impression that the world is older. I don't like this approach, because it implies that God intentionally tried to mislead mankind. The idea that God created dinosaur fossils of dinosaurs that never actually existed seems, to me, ridiculous.

Some interpret the six days of creation as referring to epochs, rather than 24 hour days. The sum total of those epochs might indeed be 13.7 billion years. I am okay with that. But there is another explanation that excites me.

Dr. Gerald Schroeder, the author of Genesis and the Big Bang, demonstrates how 6 24-hour days can equal 13.7 billion years. It all depends on where you are measuring the time. His premise is that the universe is stretching, and that time is a physical property that gets stretched along with it. Similar to a sheet of rubber with lines drawn every centimeter. Stretch it out, and those lines get farther and farther apart. The universe has been expanding at a rate of 900 billion times per day. As it expands, the relative passage of time changes dramatically. Imagine someone at the location of the Big Bang who sends out a pulse of light every second. For them, a second is a second, a 24 hour day feels like a 24 hour day, and 5 1/2 of them feel like 5 1/2 days.

Now, imagine someone on earth, which is billions of light-years away, receives the pulse of light. The next pulse will not arrive one second later. It can't because space has been stretched out so far. Instead, it will probably arrive millions of years later. The equation is: 900 billionĂ—5 1/2 days (the amount of time from the beginning of creation until the creation of Adam) divided by 365 days a year equals 13.6 billion years! In other words, if we measure the first 5 1/2 days of creation at the origin of the Big Bang, from God's perspective, as it were, it equals 13.6 billion earth years. Only when Adam is created does the location of the clock shift to Earth.

The Big Bang theory posits that the universe existed as energy in a minuscule speck. Energy takes no space, so even a speck may be an exaggeration. That speck exploded and began to form matter, and the universe began to stretch and an increasing rate. Dr. Schroeder accepts the Big Bang theory and has shown us how the timing described in the Bible can be in complete agreement with the paleontology and astronomy that indicate the world is quite old.

What is amazing is that this Big Bang theory is not just from the mid-20th century, but was stated 750 years ago. The great Ramban, in his commentary on Genesis, describes exactly the same process. Everything was in a small speck that had no substance to it, and then God caused all matter to be generated from this one speck.

Perhaps the 31 verses of the creation story are put into the Torah so we should realize that science cannot throw us any curveballs. Taken together with the Ramban's explanation of Rashi and Rabbi Isaac we gain a new level of understanding. While science hasn't shown this yet, there is a spiritual component in creation that requires harmonized living by human beings. "The world stands upon three things: Torah, service, and acts of kindness," teach our sages. Perhaps they are doing more than just giving us good advice, perhaps they are describing this as yet unmeasured spiritual element in creation. We, who have the Torah, no this intrinsically. The more we harmonize our lives with the spiritual essence of the land, the more we will grow and blossom.

Israel's Power as the Jewish State

Jacob, as he prepared to return to the Land of Canaan after spending a couple of decades with his in-laws in Mesopotamia, was quite terrified. He had fled to Lavan in the first place because of his brother Esav's open musings about fratricide. Now, as he was about to return, he did not know what greeting his brother would give him. Would it be a hug, or a knife?

And so he prepared three different methods of ensuring his survival: Gifts, battle and prayer. He sent lavish gifts to Esav with an entreaty for brotherly forgiveness. He divided the camp up so that if battle should break out, they would be able to survive, if not prevail. And, finally, he prayed to God, "Save me from my brother Esav, for I fear he may try to smite mother and children."

And then, after Jacob had transported his family across a place called Maavar Yabbok, he returned alone to the other side. According to our sages, he had forgotten some small containers. It was there, when he was alone, that the mysterious "man", identified as Esav's guardian angel, fought with him until dawn. As the night ended, the "man" famously wounded Jacob's thigh, causing him to limp. Thus the Torah explains the future prohibition on eating an animal's sciatic nerve.

As the dawn breaks, the "man" wishes for Jacob to release him. Jacob refuses until the "man" blesses him. Obligingly, the "man" informs Jacob that his name shall henceforth be "Yisrael, for you have struggled (sarita) with God and man and prevailed."

Now, if I were a sports commentator, I would assume that the "man" had won, since he had seriously wounded Jacob. Yet we see that it was the "man" who begged to be released! Further, the "blessing" Jacob got seems to be nothing more than a name change. It's not a blessing that he should win the lottery or something. How is a name change a blessing?

The commentary Oznaim LaTorah points out that of Jacob's three plans of action, gifts, battle and prayer, it was only prayer that became practical. Jacob may have thought to rely on his wealth to appease Esav, but that wealth, in the form of the small containers he went back for, caused him to endanger his life. As King Solomon says, "There is wealth guarded for a man to his detriment."

As for war, well, as a new cripple, this is no longer relevant. He's not the superhero who lifts huge stones by himself anymore. He can barely walk straight.

Which leaves prayer. This is the true power of Jacob. Earlier in his life, as he misled his father to get the blessings of the firstborn, Isaac had said "Your hands are the hands of Esav, but your voice is the voice of Jacob." Indeed, this was exactly Jacob's earlier way of interacting with the world, trying to be Esav. The name Jacob comes from "heel", and he was called this because he emerged from Rebekkah's womb grasping Esav's heel.

Jacob had always felt threatened, and was often fearful. His way of dealing with the challenges in this world was to do things in an earthly fashion. He used deception and raw strength. He planned to use wealth and power to survive the encounter with Esav. Those are the tools of a Jacob, who is grasping at the heel of an earthy Esav.

So, in fact, it was a great blessing that the "man" gave him. He changed his name, he changed his self-perception. No longer is he grasping at someone's heel and trying to make his way in a tough world. He has been turned upside down, he is now struggling with God and godliness, and only then with man and humanity. He has become a man of God, and his new weapon is the most powerful one of all, his Voice. His prayers.

Thus, even though on a physical sense the "man" had prevailed, the encounter had transformed Jacob. He was no longer going to rely on his strength or wealth, only on his voice. The voice of Jacob, the power of his prayer, is far superior to the strength of the "man", and thus it was the "man" who was vanquished.

And, anticlimactically, so was Esav transformed. According to the sages, he indeed had been intent upon attacking Jacob. But, for some inexplicable reason, he became merciful at that moment. The Torah has dots on top of the word "And he kissed him" to indicate that this was a special event that happened in that moment. How did it happen?

Simple. Esav had planned to kill Jacob. The man standing before him now was Yisrael. He had planned to attack his manipulative brother. Instead, he met a man of God.

Thus, I firmly believe that when the State of Israel behaves according to her name, Yisrael, people will see a nation of God.

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.