We all know the Jewish dictum of “He who save a life, saves the world.” In Judaism, every single life is invaluable, and hence we are even allowed to violate the holy Shabbat for the preservation of human life (“Pikuach Nefesh“). Similarly, when it came to a prisoner exchange for IDF Sargent first Class, Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas terrorists for five years (2006-2011), Israel exchanged1,027 Palestinians in a prisoner exchange for Shalit. Life is truly sacred to the Jewish people.
This week, I had the opportunity to meet and hear from members of Israel Air Force’s Elite Search and Rescue, Unit 669, at Magen David Synagogue in Rockville, Maryland. There I was reminded of the brave Israeli soldiers who not only defend the holy land and people of Israel, but also who are there to search for missing soldiers and rescue them and civilians “regardless of location or conditions” when faced with war, terrorism, or other disaster. Soldiers from unit 669 go into every possible dangerous situation, and under fire, to save lives at whatever cost to themselves. (Source Photo: Flikr)
Certainly, every human being has the desire to live and goes about fighting for life. It’s part of our genetic makeup and our very survival instinct. Yet, we all know that the cycle of life brings us from the beginnings of infancy to growth, the maturity of adulthood, then decline, old age and ultimately death itself. Truly, we all know the end from the very beginning, and with that we can achieve a greater awareness that what’s good in living isn’t the materialism and chasing the next “high,” but rather the ability to choose to do good and to be on a higher spiritual plane.
Life is choice and having control over how we respond to life’s circumstances. Death is simply observing and being. Therefore, even if we merit being in the Divine presence in the afterlife, we still can’t actively help anyone, like those we love, any longer. This is why we want to merit life where we can continue to work on ourselves and help others. Thus, despite all the pain and suffering associated with life, it is more than offset by the opportunity to learn, grow, and transform our very essence in a purification process of our souls.
Truly, in whatever situations we find ourselves in life, and the pain and suffering that we may have to endure, we really don’t have a choice of our circumstance, but only in how we choose to respond to it. In life, G-d puts us right where he wants us and in situations that are personalized and best for us, whether it feels that way at the moment or not. G-d tries us, and we have to respond with the “right” thoughts, words, and deeds—always remaining a mensch and choosing holiness and righteousness, no matter how difficult it may be. That’s our ultimate challenge, to find holiness even in the depths of despair.
Everyone is confronted with levels of pain and suffering, as I heard said that: “there aren’t enough people for all the pain in the world!” The challenge is to resist hopelessness and the loss of one’s integrity, and nevertheless to choose to do good. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we have the opportunity to do teshuva and to try to influence G-d’s decree for us for the new year, but in the end, G-d is the ultimate Judge. He doesn’t ask us; He tells us what will be for us. Of course, we have the opportunity to answer G-d’s call to us and the responsibility to choose righteousness even in a distressed world and in trying times. In essence, the underlying test of it all is not only to survive the challenges we must face, but also to emerge from them as better people with purified souls. (Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
While Israel and the Jews are filled with paradoxes from our forefather Abraham to the modern State of Israel, we are a people who try to wear these paradoxes well. We relish our commonalties even as we are proud of our differences and uniqueness. We argue and fight with each to try to get to “the truth of the matter,” and we negotiate, compromise, threaten and cajole to that sometimes elusive end. Paradox is just another word for our survival against all odds and our determination to overcome the blind hate, anti-Semitism, and scapegoating of Jews throughout history. We Jews are individually broken, but together, we are a beautiful, paradoxical mosaic—a little meshuggah (crazy) and with an unfortunate dose of PTSD, but fundamentally good in intent and deed—working to fulfill our optimism, hope, and mission to usher in the universality of G-d in the world and of betterment for humankind.
Sure, we may not fully understand G-d’s decision on not letting Moshe into the land of Israel (or decisions that affect our lives today), still we can affirm our faith that G-d is a just and merciful Judge.
In the end, none of us are the level of Moshe Rabbeinu, and if G-d didn’t let him in, well who are we? This is a frightening thought to me. Yet at the same time, I believe that if we as the Jewish people collectively put our heartfelt yearnings and prayers together to be able to go and settle the land of Israel then perhaps G-d will answer us in the affirmative!
Please see my new article in The Times of Israel called, “G-d’s Redemption Is A Promise.”
The Jewish people’s exile was only temporary and that is what G-d promised us. But the anti-Semites of the world somehow want to make us believe that G-d has forsaken the Jew permanently, and thus they chant “Free, Free Palestine!” and call the Jews occupiers.
In short, the worst punishment is not just being hurt, but also feeling exiled, abandoned, and hopeless. This is where we must look up to the Heavens for G-d’s salvation, and work to merit His bringing us back towards His divine presence. As with anyone who has experienced personal “exile” and suffering in life, we know those are the darkest of days when G-d’s face is hidden from us, and we may feel alone and abandoned. But G-d is always there, waiting for us to seek Him out and return to Him, and that is when we can finally not only see the light at the end of the darkest of tunnels, but also when we can feel G-d reach out to us and bring us back home again to Him. (Credit Photo: Andy Blumenthal)
From Passover, we learn the Egyptians didn’t earn the riches, but built their wealth on the backs of the starving people of the world and of course that includes their Israelite slaves. As the Egyptians gloated on their arrogance, power and wealth, eventually the Master of the World showed them who is really boss. All the money, materialism, fancy titles, and honors are all just fleeting. In Hashem resides the glory and He has the say over who gets what and when.
G-d can redeem 600,000 men, women and children, and a large mixed multitude of people with them and very many flocks and cattle in the Exodus and to Him, it’s just another day on the throne of Heaven. In our own times, we have experienced a miraculous redemption from the death camps of Europe, and have returned like the Israelites to the Promised Land of Israel. G-d decides then and now what the plan is and how it unfolds, and everything we have is by G-d’s grace, and these are Seder lessons worthy of celebrating.
Today is Purim, when we celebrate the Jewish victory over the evil Haman and his conspiracy to annihilate the Jews in the Persian Empire. Haman drew a lottery to determine what he thought was a fortuitous day, the 13th of Adar, to murder the Jewish people and pursued this plot through a decree by King Achashverosh. But as we know, G-d made miracles through Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, and Haman and his ten sons ended hanging by the noose that he built for Mordechai.
This has been my personal experience as well, as I can see both now and in 20/20 hindsight that there is a definite Divine method and not just a world of random chance and madness.