While the world unfortunately focuses again on Israel (a state the size of New Jersey), they continue to unfortunately be asleep at the wheel when Russia invaded Crimea and annexed it from a sovereign country of Ukraine in 2014, and again now in 2020 as China is taking critical steps that restrict freedom and human rights in Hong Kong.
The question is why we are constantly being diverted to blame and attack Israel and to not look at the real threats to world peace? Yet again, it’s another modern-day blood libel! While the superpowers play Risk with the world order, we should not be fooled by others trying to tell Israel what to do. Nothing should stop Israel from annexing the 30% of the West Bank under the Middle East Peace Plan that is vital to their lasting peace and security. Today is July 4th and the U.S. and Israel stand united in their commitment to that future.
Please see my new article in The Times of Israel called, “The Only Fixer.”
I’m reading the famous book, The Fixer by Bernard Malamud. It’s about the horrible pogroms in Russia and the blood libels where the Jews would be ridiculously accused of sorcery and witchcraft, and the killing of Christian children for their blood to put in Passover matzah!
In short, hate and hurt can’t be excused because you can. Wielding power gives you authority, but also the extra responsibility. There is such a thing as acting justly. And then there isn’t. Usually, when someone is acting justly, they can explain themselves in a balanced, calm, and rationale way. It makes sense! When they are doing wrong, it’s usually extreme, abrupt, and ultimately inexplicable and therefore can’t be articulated. Hence, that’s the way it is, Fixer. Who is The Fixer? Again, I don’t care! (Credit Photo: Minna Blumenthal)
How many times do I hear about fellow Jews trying to “out-frum” (i.e. be holier than thou) other Jews: whether it’s in terms of Kashrut, Shabbat or even who stayed up the latest for the Passover Seder. Recently, when it came to coronavirus, I was more than a little shocked to read that someone actually attributed the disease to it being a punishment from G-d because women’s skirts are not being worn long enough. While certainly it’s good to be introspective and there is a strong concept of reward and punishment in Judaism, there is something about us Jews where we tend to want to go a little more and a little farther. In some cases, we are doing “hiddur mitzvah” (beautification of the Mitzvah) which is praiseworthy, but in other cases, we may be adding unnecessary “chumras” (i.e. stringencies) than can backfire religiously. My unequivocal preference is to follow my father’s teaching to me of the Rambam’s “Shvil Ha’zahav” (i.e. the golden path) and not go too far to the left or to the right, but keep a healthy middle of the road approach to life.
In the end, the number of commandments are what they are, and with 613 throughout the Torah, there is enough to keep us all busy going what is right with G-d and our fellow man. While we may like to overachieve in our careers, our education, and our pedigrees, it is not necessary to try to outdo each other religiously. Religion is a matter between us and Hashem and G-d knows what is in our hearts and counts up all our deeds according to His holy Torah with nothing added and nothing subtracted.
With horrible reports coming out that Iran has torched the holy tombs of Mordecai and Esther, this is a new despicable low even for Iran’s evil leadership. As we all know, Mordecai and Queen Esther are the heroes of Purim who with Hashem’s help saved the Jewish people from the evil decree of Haman to utterly destroy the Jews of Persia. Now, the Iranians (Persians) have cast their evil lots once again by setting ablaze these tombs in Hamadan, Iran, and desecrating this site that is holy to Jews around the world. My mother’s Hebrew name was Esther and I am outraged at this vile act against the graves of our holy ancestors, as we all should be.
Let’s hope and pray that soon the Iranian people will realize their aspirations for freedom and that the tyranny that they live under will soon come to another miraculous ending under the watchful eyes of our holy ancestors, Mordecai and Esther.
We live in an unpredictable world and I have made more than one bad decision recently. Fortunately, it was nothing too terrible, but I was still angry about it, and my gut reaction was to somehow blame G-d, and to feel angry at Him, because I thought somehow I didn’t deserve what had happened. However, I asked myself how can you be angry at G-d if you believe that everything he does is for your ultimate good? It took me a little time, but I realized that I wasn’t really angry at G-d, but at myself; It was my fault, I did deserve what happened, and my mistakes aren’t G-d’s.
Maybe this is what life is really all about–searching and finding G-d even among all the multitude of mistakes we make in life. We have to own our mistakes, learn from them, and thereby become stronger and better people.
Natan Sharansky showed tremendous personal strength and integrity to respond with humor and wit while suffering under the Soviets in prison, separated from his wife, deprived of all outside contacts, placed in “punishment cells” cold, hungry, and sleep-deprived, and regularly interrogated to try to get him to incriminate himself and his fellow refuseniks and human rights activists. Sharansky is truly a hero who stood up as a Jew persecuted in the Soviet Union and as a human rights activist leading the way to help other refuseniks to get released, with eventually millions escaping through the “Iron Door” to emigrate to freedom in Israel and the United States.
Yesterday, we celebrated Israel’s 72nd Independence Day, so I will add that for too many years since the founding of the State of Israel that the Soviets armed and supported the Arab League nations in warring against Israel and in seeking its destruction. However now, Israel and Russia not only have an anchoring of social idealism in common, but also Israel has 15% of it citizens from there. Further, as Israel has made peace with Egypt and Jordan decades ago, and has a warming of relations with the Gulf States, perhaps Russia will also continue to come around to growing a mutually beneficial friendship with Israel.
I just wanted to share a short reflection with everything going on in the world these days with coronavirus and the economic shutdown: I see people are scared and confused, under lockdown and feeling financial strain, and many are getting sick and dying. But I remember the words of my dear father who used to say: “Count Your Blessings!” And he was so right. There are so many things, literally every moment of every day, for us to be grateful for:
Certainly, we all face extreme difficulties or challenges at times in our lives, but things can always be so much worse, and there is still so much for us to be grateful for. Therefore, truly thank you G-d with a hundred blessings—and more—for every moment of every precious day. And we affirm that surely the L-rd who created us will continue to sustain us, and that ultimately all will be for the good.
What an interesting time this week during the coronavirus for my bar-mitzvah parshas of Tazria and Metzora, where we learn about how to handle someone with the plague of leprosy…What’s fascinating though for our times is that right here in the Torah, long before medical science understood germs, washing of hands, and disinfectants, we have the first instruction on quarantining someone who is sick. The person with leprosy is deemed impure and is put outside the camp in quarantine, repeatedly checked (e.g. tested) by the Kohen, until they are healed, at which time they are purified before being allowed back in. What we don’t see with leprosy is that the whole community is put in a state of quasi quarantine as we are doing now globally with the coronavirus.
In the end, I see this coronavirus blowing up with some people forever anxious and germophobic and others becoming complacent and careless about the whole thing. Either way there will be more sick and dying people, as well as anger at the system that over time repeatedly failed us. This week’s parsha is a good reminder to go back to the ultimate wisdom of the Torah and read again how we handle the leper and manage with a thoughtful risk-based management approach and an eye on the ultimate purity—physically and spiritually—of the individual and the community.
Despite our redemption from slavery in Egypt (1312 BCE), we continue through cycle after cycle of enslavement and exile.
In Kabbalah, we learn that the Jewish soul reincarnates until it reaches its spiritual enlightenment and fulfills all the mitzvot. Similarly, the soul of the Jewish people is reincarnated and relives painful destruction, slavery, and exile until we learn, grow, and finally become what we are destined to be as servants only of Hashem and as a light unto the nations. This has been our fate, but also it is one that we are finally nearing the end of with the return to the Promised Land and perhaps even the arrival soon of Mashiach.
I just finished reading a most gut-wrenching book, Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Dr. Miklos Nyiszli. I came across this book after learning that my wife’s grandmother had been selected by Dr. Josef Mengele (may his name be forever cursed) for torturous experiments at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust. This New York Times Bestseller is a vivid eyewitness account by a Jewish forensic pathologist, who worked directly for Dr. Mengele, and tells of the unspeakable cruelty and horrors at Auschwitz, the largest Nazi death camp vastly accounting toward the twelve million people exterminated by the Nazis, six million of them Jews.
From my experience, once you pick up this book, you cannot put it down until you finish it completely, and I urge everyone to make this a must-read, especially as there will soon be no more Holocaust survivors to tell us, in-person, the hell that they lived through.