Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Man in the Arena


There is an old saying that it's the pioneers who take the arrows. This is most certainly true of Vox Day and perhaps ironically so, considering his Native American heritage. I think many would agree that Vox has certainly taken his fair share of arrows lately. Now, this may not qualify him as the undisputed leader of the Alt-right (and Vox is quite loathe to exalt or proclaim himself as a leader of anything), but I would argue that it certainly qualifies him as one of its unsung heroes.

Vox is simply a person who is committed to the truth; always has been and always will be, period. In Jewish parlance, he is a mensch. In an age where the truth is spun, disparaged, and cast to the ground to be trampled underfoot, Vox is not content to stand by and do nothing. Vox, to put it plainly, is a man who is valiant for the truth.

We find ourselves in a time where the end justifies the means and the truth be damned, and so Vox is not only going to be misunderstood and misrepresented due to his superior intellect for which many are simply no match, but even more so on account of the truths which he tirelessly expresses, champions, and defends day in and day out.

Because of his staunch commitment to the truth, he is inevitably going to make some enemies along the way and, consequently, he is going to be forced to endure and withstand a steady barrage of attacks from every quarter: the Left, the Right, the center, the cuckservatives, the neo-cons, the libertarians, the Alt-right, the Alt-lite, the you-fill-in-the-blank. There is no shortage of those who oppose the truth and who are unafraid and brazen enough to relentlessly attack the valiant vessels of the truth. Vox just happens to be such a vessel for a time such as this.

Now, before specifically addressing some of the attacks, let me also say this: Vox is a public figure. For many years he wrote a syndicated column for World Net Daily and he has posted daily on his blog at Vox Popoli for well over a decade, not to mention interviews, authoring, publishing and editing a number of books, both fiction and non-fiction. Why is this important and why do I highlight the obvious? Simple.

What the man believes and his positions on just about everything imaginable and unimaginable are available for public consumption, criticism, and critique. He has put himself out there like no one else. It’s all there. Read what the man has written and you will get a pretty fair idea about what he believes and you will also discover that the man is relatively consistent in his views and is not only capable of articulating them better than most, but he is also not afraid to articulate them in front of a wide audience. Neither is Vox averse to modifying his position on any number of topics if and when the truth demands it.

Sadly, there is something in human nature which loves to attack the man or his ideas without taking the time to really think them through or consider them thoughtfully. The fault does not lie with Vox, though. We live in a careless and artificial age that operates very much on the surface of things. Vox is neither careless nor artificial, neither is he flawless and he is the first to admit and even highlight his shortcomings, often publicly. These are just a few of the things that make Vox Day a hero in my book.

And so, what are some of the arrows that Vox has taken squarely in the chest over these last few weeks and months, even years? Since there simply aren’t enough books in the entire world to record every instance, permit me to highlight just three of the more salient and current ones:
  1. Vox Day is a white supremacist
  2. Vox Day is a hypocrite who shoots right
  3. Vox Day is anti-Semitic
Now, Vox certainly doesn’t need me to defend him against these charges, nor am I anyone of any real import or consequence; I’m just a skinny Jew tryin’ to get to heaven. But, not unlike Vox, I harbor a deep love of the truth and I will stand with and stand up for men who bear that same love of the truth in their breast and who demonstrate that love consistently and unapologetically no matter how much it may cost them.

If you are averse to reading something in defense of a hypocritical, misogynistic, anti-Semitic white supremacist, I would strongly encourage you to, at the very least, read it as a defense of the truth for which Vox valiantly stands.

I. Vox Day is a white supremacist

This is just laughable. First, I would love for someone to tell me how many Native American white supremacists there are running around today and, second, I would like someone to explain to me how someone who is not white could be a white supremacist? Now, I have seen this arrow slung on more than one occasion in the comments section of Vox Popoli over the years, and it’s easy enough to dismiss them as the rantings and ravings of trolls and obtuse attention whores who frequent the internet.

But the latest charge, in a veiled attempt to paint Vox Day as a white supremacist and a Nazi, comes from a far more credible, though not completely unexpected source: a nationally syndicated writer and speaker by the name of Ben Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro is a well-known figure in so-called conservative politics and punditry. Mr. Shapiro is a self-styled conservative who ostensibly champions conservative values and positions, and wields some considerable influence on the national stage. Lately, he has bravely and nobly launched an arrow or two in Vox's general direction. Eleven of them to be exact:
  • The so-called alt-right is an evil movement having nothing to do with - and actively opposing - Constitutional conservatism.
  • They've done an excellent job, with the media's ignorant help, of portraying themselves as large and powerful.
  • And broadening their definition to include anyone who is anti-establishment or just likes memes. That's not what they are.
  • The alt-right has a very definite philosophy, articulated by people like Spencer, Taylor, and Vox Day.
  • And excused and popularized by people like Milo YIannopoulos. They were successful online in convincing key figures that they were.
  • An important constituency. Immoral politicians and advisors then made the conscious decision not to carve them off. Yes, that includes Trump and Bannon.
  • Three elements assure their continued growth: pandering politicians and media figures catering to or ignoring them;
  • Left-wingers labeling all right-wingers alt-right and therefore leading innocent people to believe that alt-right Judy means right;
  • And left-wing violent groups like Antifa that drive fools into the belief that anyone who fights Antifa is necessarily an ally.
  • We're watching a tiny microcosm replay of brownshirts vs. reds in Weimar Germany. They're even carrying the same flags.
  • And leadership in media and especially the White House must actively and thunderously condemn the evil we're watching metastasize. (END)
Perhaps Mr. Shapiro will shorten the list by one and carve it in stone, but I digress.

Now, admittedly, nowhere does Mr. Shapiro explicitly call Vox Day a white supremacist, but it is most certainly implied by lumping him together with the likes of Richard Spencer et al. The entire screed is a clever sleight-of-hand by Mr. Shapiro who should really know better.

According to Mr. Shapiro, the Alt-right is an evil movement so, by association, Vox is also evil and should be ignored. Mr. Shapiro states that the Alt-right has a definite philosophy, which it does, but he fails to refer his Twitter followers to Vox’s Alt-right philosophy which is articulated in sixteen points and available on his blog in no less than 27 languages. Now I, for one, am willing to graciously extend Mr. Shapiro the benefit of the doubt, and assume that either his language is not listed among the 27 in which the sixteen points are written or he never learned to read, let alone Google.

Pro-tip for Mr. Shapiro: instead of firing off eleven little arrows, most of which miss the mark entirely, why not simply engage in an honest intellectual exercise and refute the sixteen points one by one with substantive argument and stop foisting half-truths upon your low-information Twitter followers who naively  assume you do your homework and disseminate the truth?

No one is asking Mr. Shapiro to sign-up or align himself with the Alt-right, but I don't think it's unreasonable to ask Mr. Shapiro to exercise due diligence before launching an attack on a man by misrepresenting a philosophy replete with ideas he clearly doesn't understand and has never thoughtfully considered, let alone refuted. Mr. Shapiro would do a great service to himself and his audience if he could be bothered to thoughtfully consider even just one of the 16 points:
15. The Alt Right does not believe in the general supremacy of any race, nation, people, or sub-species. Every race, nation, people, and human sub-species has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and possesses the sovereign right to dwell unmolested in the native culture it prefers.
See? That wasn't so hard now was it? Regrettably, Mr. Shapiro is representative of a wide swath of conservatives who claim to understand the tenets of the Alt-right, while attempting to lump them all into one philosophical basket which they can then conveniently dismiss as evil and racist. That way, Mr. Shapiro and others of his ilk, never have to face the possibility that they might have gotten some things wrong, that they have conserved absolutely nothing of value, or that they may actually have to reconsider and reevaluate their pet dogmas and positions which they have clung to so dearly and for so long.

Even if the tacit charge of white supremacy were true, what credibility would a Native American such as Vox Day have? He would be marginalized as a kook right up there with Fauxcahontas, a.k.a. Senator Elizabeth Warren, and rightly so. What's even more amusing is that even the white supremacists, Nazis and Alt-reich cosplayers want nothing to do with him.

II. Vox Day is a hypocrite who shoots right

No. Vox is incredibly intelligent, astute, and can smell stupid several thousand miles away. And that is exactly what the Alt-reich ala Spencer and company is. . .stupid. I’ll do some of the work others are unwilling to do and let Vox speak for himself:
It's not "counter-signaling" or "punching right" to reject counterproductive morons who stubbornly refuse to learn anything from one failure after another. I stand by every single one of the 16 Points of the Alt-Right. But I have no more time or patience to spare for strategically-deficient cosplayers. Even Andrew Anglin appears to recognize this now. 
"Publicly aligning ourselves to an old and extinct political movement is not forward thinking, and it isn’t fresh... NS was a Hitler personality cult, when it comes right down to it." 
The Reichtards are Fake Right. Their claim to be the One True Alt-Right is totally laughable, as they are pro-EU, pro-single payer health insurance socialists. Punching them is punching Left. - Vox Day
This is easy to summarize: the Alt-reich is a Leftist organization which subscribes to an agenda that aligns with globalism, an agenda which the Alt-right vehemently opposes (cf. point #6 of the 16 points at Vox Popoli). The Alt-reich is a deranged and  misguided one-trick pony with nothing substantive to offer. No one takes them seriously, not even the media. If that weren’t the case, ask yourself why the mainstream media is working so hard to color the Alt-right in Spencerian hues every chance they get? There's a method to the media's madness: simply re-frame and re-brand the Alt-right movement as something people instinctively reject.

The Alt-right is a movement that’s evolving and taking on a life of its own and its adherents don’t need to dress up, they only need to show up and take a hard stand for principles that are grounded firmly in the truth, principles which will hopefully preserve what’s left of our nation which is currently being ripped to shreds. Conservatives have failed to conserve anything because they were more concerned with appearances and the thing they feared most was a chest full of arrows. So, now it’s up to the Alt-right to preserve what’s left and begin rebuilding some semblance of what made the West so great in the first place.

Vox is no hypocrite. Vox is not shooting right. Vox is not a liar. Read what he wrote. Vox has nothing to gain personally by putting himself out there day in and day out. He is simply doing what heroes do. Heroes show up. Heroes serve. Heroes are faithful. Heroes take the arrows so that others don’t have to.

III. Vox Day is anti-Semitic

I have to confess, this one is a personal favorite. I am a Jew and I have been reading Vox Day's blog since he left World Net Daily. Before that, I was reading his column at WND which, if I remember correctly, was featured on Mondays. His column was the one I looked forward to reading the most each week. If Vox Day is an anti-Semite, then I am the Pope.

Again, all you have to do is read what the man has written. Is Vox Day critical of the Jews? Yes. Has Vox Day criticized the politicization of the Holocaust? Certainly. Has Vox Day written on countless occasions how imperative it is for Jews all over the world to go home? Absolutely. Do any of these things make him an anti-Semite?

Well, before we answer that, maybe we should ask ourselves if any anti-Semite worth his salt would publish Jewish authors? Would an anti-Semite dare associate with the likes of a Mike Cernovich or a Milo Yianopolous or any other number of acquaintances who happen to be Jewish? Would an anti-Semite who believed in the annihilation of the Jewish people warn them time and time again to make aliyah, something which is in the absolute best interest of the Jewish people everywhere? In fact, for what it's worth, you will find no mention of the Jews anywhere in the 16 points. (And yet it would not surprise me in the least little bit if I were to discover that there are some who have somehow managed to construe this omission as anti-Semitic as well).

There is a Proverb which states that the wounds of a friend are faithful and that the kisses of an enemy are deadly, most especially when that enemy is kissing your ass (OK, I may have embellished that last part). But, let me be clear: the Proverbs also speak of a friend who sticks closer than a brother and Vox Day is a loyal friend of the Jews. He is not afraid to speak the truth to his friends even though he may be rejected, branded a racist or an anti-Semite, vilified or disavowed, while being dismissed and ridiculed.

It doesn't matter, because Vox speaks the truth to his friends and the truth is, more often than not, quite painful and few are capable of absorbing the truth, let alone of being transformed by it. Needless to say, the truth is the only thing in this world which will set us free, and I suspect that Vox knows and understands this better than most. When we reject the truth because we find it to be too painful or too uncomfortable for our taste and instead choose to remain in Egypt, we are telegraphing to the world just how much we love our servitude and just how content we really are to live and die as slaves rather than as free men.

Pharaoh was an anti-Semite, not Vox Day. Haman was an anti-Semite, not Vox Day. Antiochus Epiphanes was an anti-Semite, not Vox Day. If Vox is an anti-Semite, he's doing it wrong. In my limited experience, I know that anti-Semites preach destruction of the Jewish people, not their preservation. I know what an anti-Semite looks like, and Vox Day does not fit the bill. How can I be so sure, you ask?

Because Vox Day has not remained silent. Because Vox Day is not lying to me. Because Vox Day is not afraid nor ashamed to tell me the truth, no matter how it makes me feel. All you have to do is read what he wrote. He has nothing to hide and even less to gain by hiding.

IV. The Man in the Arena

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking lately, trying to figure out why people like Vox are so misunderstood and vilified in this world. Admittedly, I don’t have it all figured out, but I think one reason may be due to the fact that, his formidable intellect notwithstanding, Vox Day exemplifies the man in the arena that Theodore Roosevelt so poignantly described in a speech he delivered to a group of young men at the Sorbonne in Paris, France just over a century ago. In my small mind, it serves as an accurate portrayal of the character and actions of Vox Day to date:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. ("Citizenship In A Republic", April 23rd, 1910)
There is no doubt that Vox is and has been the man in the arena. Vox is surrounded and attacked by people who, on a daily basis and at every turn, love to point out where he stumbles; how he could do what he is doing much better than he is right now; or how he could have done things better than he did, not to mention all of the countless venomous accusations and misrepresentations to which he is also subjected ad infinitum. (Spend any time at all on any post on any given day in the comments section at Vox Popoli and you will understand just how true this is).

And yet, not a single one of these brave souls are remotely interested in standing alongside him in the arena where Vox is striving to do the deeds and spending himself in a worthy cause, yea, the worthiest of causes if you are at all privy to and understand his world-view. These cold and timid souls only know how to pontificate and criticize, something of which any mid-wit is more than capable.

I have often seen and heard Vox say that he doesn’t care, and I believe him. He truly doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about himself and what people are going to think of him or what they say about him. But, paradoxically, I think he is one of the few human beings I know who cares more deeply about humanity and the people around him than anyone could possibly fathom. If not, why endure the abuse day in and day out? Why tirelessly expend all the time and energy? Surely, there are a hundred other things he could be doing.

While Vox may not fully agree with my assessment and analysis, I am convinced that he is a man who is committed to the truth and not one to fashion the truth in his own image, as many are wont to do. The truth fashions him. The truth shapes his worldview. Vox Day has purchased the truth and he will never sell it.

I can’t speak for everyone who might stumble across this article, but I can speak for myself and say that I very much want to be in the arena with men like Vox, men who I know are striving valiantly while expending themselves in a worthy cause; men who are daring greatly, men who really count and to whom, after all the dust has settled, the credit is truly due. No one remembers a self-absorbed critic at the end of the day, but they will remember a hero who valiantly made a stand for all that is true, all that is noble, and and all that is right. People do and should remember heroes.
Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. 

Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. 

The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. (R’ S.R. Hirsch)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hilchos Teshuvah - Laws of Repentance

Some relevant laws related to this High Holy Day season taken from the Rambam's Hilchos Teshuvah (Laws of Repentance).

There are twenty-four things that impede teshuvah (repentance) that we would do well to consider and take to heart. Four of them are such great sins, that the one committing them is in danger of not being afforded the opportunity to repent:

(i) Causing the public to sin or preventing the public from performing a mitzvah.

(ii) Influencing another person to turn away from the good way to the bad.

(iii) Seeing one's own son going out to evil ways and failing to admonish him.

(iv) Saying, "I shall sin and I shall repent," or "I shall sin and Yom Kippur shall atone."

Five other sins hinder the path of teshuvah from those who commit them:

(v) Separating oneself from the congregation for [by doing so] . . . he will not benefit as they will benefit.

(vi) Disputing the words of the Sages, for his dispute will cause him to separate himself from them, and he will remain ignorant of the ways of teshuvah.

(vii) Mocking the mitzvot.

(viii) Insulting one's own Torah teachers, for . . . one who does so will not find anyone to teach him and to show him the true road.

(ix) Abhorrence of admonition and correction, for it is admonition that brings about teshuvah.

Five other sins make it impossible to do complete teshuvah, for they are sins against another person, but the person does not know against whom he has sinned, to whom he must make restitution, and from whom he must ask forgiveness:

(x) Cursing the public.

(xi) Sharing stolen property with a thief, thus not knowing to whom to make restitution.

(xii) Finding an identifiable object and not advertising it so that it may be returned to its owner; if he seeks to repent after a period of time, he will not know to whom to return it.

(xiii) Unlawfully taking and eating that which belongs to paupers, orphans, or widows, or other such unfortunates who are not well known and often are homeless, having to wander from city to city, so that the thief will never know to whom he must make restitution.

(xiv) Accepting a bribe to bend the law, for one can never appraise the ramifications and loss caused by bribery, and will therefore not be able to rectify the matter completely.

Another five are sins for which the one who commits them will most likely not repent, for most people do not consider them wrong; thus one sins, but does not become aware of his guilt:

(xv) Eating from a meal that is insufficient for it's owner, for the perpetrator thinks, "I have not eaten anything without permission."

(xvi) Using a poor man's tools, such as an ax or a plow, that one holds as a pledge, for one will say, "They are missing nothing; I have not stolen from them."

(xvii) Gazing lustfully at women, for one thinks he has done nothing wrong, and says to himself, "I have not had relations with her or even touched her," unaware of the great sin he has committed with his eyes.

(xviii) Glorying or rejoicing in another person's degradation, for one thinks that he has not sinned so long as the other is not standing before him and therefore is not embarrassed.

(xix) Suspecting innocent people, thinking that such suspicion is not sinful, and saying, "What have I done wrong? Have I done anything more than raise a possibility - maybe he did it, maybe he didn't?" But he does not realize that this is a sin, for it takes an innocent person and turns him, albeit only in the other's mind, into a sinner.

And the final five are sins that become habitual and it is thus difficult to separate oneself from them; so a person must be especially careful and scrupulous to avoid them lest he become attached to them, for they are all extremely bad traits:

(xx) Gossip.

(xxi) Slander.

(xxii) Anger.

(xxiii) Thinking evil.

(xxiv) Friendship with the wicked, with whose deeds he will become familiar and they will become impressed in his heart.

All these twenty-four things and their like, despite the fact that they hinder and impede teshuvah, do not prevent teshuvah. Rather, if one does succeed in repenting from them, he is a penitent and he has a share in the World to Come.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Confession: Taking Responsibility

A man or woman who commits any of man's sins, by committing treachery toward Hashem, and that person shall become guilty - they shall confess their sin that they committed (Numbers 5:6-7).

Sefer HaChinuch (364) explains that the mitzvah of viduy, confession, has a number of beneficial outcomes. By verbally enunciating his misdeeds, a sinner acknowledges that he believes that Hashem is aware of his actions, good and bad. Also, by specifically recalling his transgression and expressing remorse for it, he makes it more likely that the next time the sin comes his way, he will be more careful to not transgress by doing that which is forbidden.  Through this, his actions will be pleasing to his Creator.

R' Saadiah Gaon (Emunos VeDei'os 5:5) identified four components of repentance. They are: abandoning the sin; regretting the sin; requesting forgiveness for the sin; and accepting upon oneself not to repeat the sin. These are alluded to in the verses in Hoshea:

O Israel, return to the L-RD your G-d, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; Take words with you, and return to the L-RD. Say to Him, "Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.  Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, 'You are our gods.' For in You the fatherless finds mercy."  " I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him (Hosea 14:2-4).

Return, O Israel refers to abandoning the sin, while for you have stumbled in your iniquity - by virtue of realizing that sin is an obstacle - refers to regretting the sin. Take words with you alludes to requesting forgiveness, and we will no longer say 'O our gods!' to the work of our hands refers to accepting upon oneself not to repeat the sin.

R' Saadiah Gaon says that one should add three more practices to these four things - additional prayer, additional giving, and helping other people repent from sin. [These are derived from Mishlei 16:6: Through kindness and truth iniquity will be forgiven, and Tehillim 51:15: I will teach transgressors Your way.]

When a person wholeheartedly accepts upon himself not to repeat his sin, his repentance is accepted:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10)

R' Israel Salanter writes (Ohr Israel, Letter 15): The foundation of the Days of Repentance is accepting upon oneself to abandon one's sinful ways. This is the most difficult of all toils.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Remember Me

Rosh Ha-shana is the name which designates the onset of the new year. The Rabbis, however, have chosen a more definitive and descriptive phrase: yom ha-zikkaron, “the day of remembrance.”

To remember, so we are inclined to think, is primarily to preserve in our consciousness a fact or an experience.  A “good memory” is one which retains precisely and vividly, that which has been seen, heard or learned. In short, we tend to regard memory as simply one comprehensive archive. Retention of the past has great significance per se . However, it hardly exhausts the full range of memory, of zikkaron.

There is memory which is not the recollection of an emotion but which is itself an emotion; and as such it may, strangely enough, relate to present and future no less than to the past. When the Torah tells us (Bereshit 30:24), “And G-d remembered Rachel, and G-d hearkened to her, and opened her womb,” are we to understand that she had been forgotten at some point?

Does the verse (Bereshit 8:1), “And G-d remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark,” describe some change in the range of His knowledge? Clearly, vayizkor in these verses signifies attention rather than knowledge. They tell us that G-d heeded Rachel and Noah, respectively; and they suggest that zikkaron may denote response and relationship. That relationship may of course vary. Generally, it is sympathetic. However, it may be negative as well. The mishna (Rosh Ha-shana 4:6) speaks of retributive zikkaron, and in at least one instance, hostile remembrance is even commanded.

The implications for Rosh Ha-shana are clear. The day and its sanctity are grounded in memory in both senses. The first aspect – recollection of the past, retention of information, recall of events – is unquestionably present. It finds its foremost expression in the opening lines of zikhronot, “memories,” the middle blessing of the mussaf prayer in which the character of Rosh Ha-shana as a day of judgment is emphasized:

“You remember what was wrought from eternity and heed all that has been formed from of old; before You all secrets are revealed and the multitude of hidden things from the beginning. For there is no forgetfulness before the throne of Your glory, nor is anything hidden from Your eyes. You remember every deed and no creature is concealed from You….”

However, it is equally clear that the second dimension is present as well. It, too, is reflected in zikhronot.   Shortly after the declaration, “For the remembrance of every creature comes before You, a man’s deeds and destiny, his works and ways, the thoughts and designs of a man and the motives of human action” a fresh note is struck:

“For the remembrance of all works comes before You, and You search into the doings of them all. Noah, too, did You remember with love and did visit him with a promise of salvation and mercy." Nothing is worse than being cast off from Him and left to our own devices.

Even punishment at His hands is better than oblivion: “Even such wrath may the Almighty pour upon us,” said Rav Nachman, “and may He save us” (Rosh Ha-shana 32b). Obviously, however, the remembrance for which we plead is a favorable one: “Remember us for good and visit us with a visitation of salvation and memory from the primordial heavens.” With that plea, the movement from one sense of zikkaron to another becomes fully explicit.

“Rosh Ha-shana,” wrote the Ramban, “is a day of judgment with mercy.” In light of that description, it may be said that in reciting zikhronot, we open with praise of “the L-rd of judgment” and hence celebrate that zikkaron which stores and recalls – and therefore accuses and reproaches. We conclude, however, with a plea to “the L-rd of our fathers,” and hence relate to that zikkaron which empathizes and redeems, to the source of “a visitation of salvation of mercy.” This range reflects the dual character of Rosh Ha-shana as yom ha-zikkaron.

We have dealt with yom ha-zikkaron as it appears in our prayers, as the occasion of divine remembrances. However, as the opening day of the period of repentance it obligates man to remember as well. On the one hand, repentance requires search and recall of the past. It demands that we do not content ourselves with attending to what we happen to be mindful of at the moment but rather that we mine our consciousness and that we examine the innermost recesses.

There can be no teshuva without knowledge of the past. One begins with the cognition and recognition of sin. “For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me” (Tehillim 51:5). To this end, we of course activate the memory of retention, the storehouse of the mind. However, repentance enjoins a second zikkaron as well. “Remember then your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh when you shall say: ‘I have no pleasures in them’” (Kohelet 12:1).

It parallels G-d’s remembrance of His covenant with Israel, and its essence is yearning, longing, a deeply felt need to cling and to cleave. “My soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind; therefore have I hope. Surely, the L-rd’s mercies are not consumed; surely, His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Eikha 3:20-23).

The first step in repentance and return to Him is to remember the past and take responsibility for it. We then commit ourselves to a different and better future, to walking in all His ways and not going our own way.  We can rest assured that our return to G-d will be met by a complementary return on G-d's part.  G-d will answer the simple words of the lowliest thief in his hour of need who, after acknowledging and taking responsibility for the deeds of his past and upon recognizing the One to Whom he must commit his future, turned to the Messiah and said:

“L-rd, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  To which the L-rd replied: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (cf. Luke 23)

May we dedicate and consecrate ourselves to Him, not only at the beginning and the ending of our year, but every single day and at every single hour; may we let no one day serve as a proxy for another day, let alone for an entire year.  Have a blessed New Year and may you be inscribed in the Lamb's Book of Life.  May He remember us favorably with mercy.  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Lack of Understanding

Our Sages teach: "If a person does not have understanding, it is forbidden to have compassion for him" (Sanhedrin 92a).  Our Sages understand this as speaking of someone who lacks the quality of hakaras hatov, or gratitude.  By describing the ingrate as someone who lacks understanding, the root of his personality flaw is identified.  The ingrate's view of himself and others is completely warped. Such a person lacks the understanding that is basic to successful interpersonal relationships.

In the words of the Steipler Gaon, Rabbi Kanievsky:

Instead of feeling appreciation to his benefactors and humility before them, the ingrate looks down at them with arrogance and scorn.  He views them with disdain and sees himself as an important personage before whom they should humble themselves.  Instead of recognizing the goodness of their hearts and their generosity, he sees them as weak "pushovers" who should feel obligated to benefit him and who should view it as an honor to be counted among his supporters.  In his twisted mind, he thinks that he deserves whatever they do for him, and he almost believes that he is doing them a favor by allowing them to benefit him!

The Richest Man in Town

Baruch the beggar had a compassionate friend, Chaim, who desperately wanted to pull Baruch out of the depths of poverty.  Chaim offered Baruch a lottery ticket; for only a few pennies, Baruch would have a chance to become a millionaire.  But Baruch wasn't interested.  

"You know what, my friend," Chaim told Baruch, "take the ticket for free.  If you win the lottery, you'll just pay me the price of the ticket."   Baruch  accepted  this offer. 

The drawing was held at midnight in the midst of a terrible blizzard.  And the winner was . . . Baruch! Chaim, who was present at the drawing, was overjoyed.  But his joy would not be complete until Baruch knew.  

On a night when no one else dared to venture outside, Chaim trudged through the waist-high snow and braved the fierce winds to make his way to Baruch's hut.  He finally arrived, frozen to the bone. His repeated, insistent knocks were ignored for a long time until finally Baruch opened the door a crack and asked, "Who's there?"

"It's me, Chaim," came the excited reply.  "You won!  The grand prize in the lottery!  A million dollars!  Baruch, you're now the richest man in town!"

"I don't believe it!" said Baruch.  "What chutzpah!  You mean you knew that I'm the richest man in town and you still had the nerve to wake me up in the middle of the night?"

And he slammed the door shut.  

A good-hearted person refers to one who is happy with his lot.  For him, life is a never-ending feast, because he is grateful for every bit of good that Hashem sends his way, and therefore is perpetually happy and content.

Every morning upon wakening we say to Hashem: "I gratefully thank you, O living and eternal King, for you have returned my soul to me with compassion ...." This is known as Modeh Ani.  Modeh Ani simply means: "Thank You, Hashem, for once again granting me the greatest gift of all - life itself.  I don't take it for granted; I thank you for the blessings of the past and for the blessings that You will grant me in the future."

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Divine Chariot

I.

Command the Children of Israel to send out of the camp all with an eruption (tzara'at), or discharge (zav) and whomever is defiled by the dead. Both male and female shall you send out, and they shall not defile their camps amidst which I dwell. (5:3)

It is imperative that a person afflicted with tzara'at, suffering from an abnormal discharge known as zav, or one who has come in contact with a dead body (tamei la-nefesh), be sent from the camp. These three cases, know in halakhic terminology as avot ha-tuma (fathers of contamination) are severe cases of defilement. For these avot ha-tuma, the Torah requires isolation.  The text concludes: "Amidst which I dwell" (5:3). It would appear that the thrice-reiterated command to "send out" the defiled (5:1,2,2) stems from the presence of the Divine in the camp.

The very location of the passage is curious. The Book of Vayikra, the book of the Torah normally considered dedicated to issues of sanctity, holiness and defilement, indeed contains both a lengthy discourse on the laws of tzara'at (Vayikra 13:1-14:57) and a segment on the laws of discharge (15:1-15). While the laws of those defiled by the dead are mentioned in Sefer B'midbar (19:1-22).  The material would seem to belong in Sefer Vayikra, the book of holiness, sanctity, and defilement.

So, the Sages wonder about the placement of this particular segment of the larger "defilement code," laws pertaining to sanctity and holiness, at this particular point in the Book of B'midbar.

II.

In formulating the command to expel the metzora, zav, and tamei la-nefesh from the camp, the Torah employs the phrase, "Amidst which I dwell" (5:3). The core of the phrase consists of two terms, shokhen, rooted in the stem sh.kh.n and meaning rest or dwell, and betokham, meaning amidst or among. This formulation should be familiar. It is a slight variation on the phrase used to describe the purpose of building the tabernacle. In Shemot 25:8 G-d informs Moshe of the ultimate end goal of constructing the Mishkan:

And they shall make me a sanctuary (mikdash) so that I may dwell amidst them (ve-shakhanti betokham).

The sanctuary is the dwelling place of the Divine presence. The most common term for the sanctuary, mishkan, comprises yet another variation of the stem sh.kh.n, meaning dwell or rest. In a similar vein, the Book of Shemot and the completion of the construction of the Mishkan, closes with the image of the Divine cloud, symbolizing the Divine presence, resting upon the Mishkan (Shemot 40:34-35). In this light, the phrase utilized at the end or our parasha, "Amidst which I dwell (asher ani shokhen betokham)" (5:3), is perhaps a technical reference to the Mishkan, the abode of the Divine presence located at the center of the Israelite camp.

Whoever touches a dead body and does not purify himself, defiles the Mishkan of G-d, his soul shall be cut off from Israel. (B'midbar 19:13)

While the text here does not explicitly refer to trespass or physical contact, that does appear to be the intent. As Rashi (19:13) comments: "if he enters". Once again, tuma and the presence of the Divine are inherently contradictory categories. Defilement prohibits one from approaching the Mishkan.

Consequently, some have interpreted the expulsion of the metzora, zav and tamei la-nefesh from the camp as a pragmatic matter, that their presence in the camp may lead to their approaching the sanctuary or trespassing upon its grounds. As already noted, this is defined by the Torah as "defiling the Mishkan of G-d" (19:13). Therefore the three severe avot ha-tuma are sent from the camp, so that they do not trespass the border of the Divine.

III.

A cursory reading of the first four chapters of B'midbar are often thought of as an accounting, concerned primarily with numbers, and rendering for us the precise number of Israelites and Levites numerous times. However, this is only part of the story. The chapters should also be understood as a sustained discourse upon the physical arrangement of the Israelite camp.

On some level, it is no surprise that the numberings and consequent arrangements of the camp detailed in the census narrative (1:1-4:49) are followed by a legal segment detailing the expulsion of the metzora, zav and tamei la-nefesh from the camp. These laws of encampment follow naturally on the heels of the narrative detailing the arrangement of the camp. Both are variations on the theme of hilkhot ha-machaneh, the laws of the arranging of the camp.  But there is more to it than this.

Early on in the census narratives, the Torah informs us that the Levites will be counted separately (1:49). This is due to their unique function as servants of the Mishkan (1:50). In elaborating upon this point, the Torah informs us that the Levites are to encamp around the Mishkan so that "there will be no wrath (ketzef) upon the Children of Israel" (1:53).

Immediately afterwards, in the conclusion of the verse, the Levites are charged with guarding the Mishkan. After all, the Torah informs us that "the stranger" or non-Levite who attempts to participate in the transport of the Mishkan is subject to the death penalty (1:51). To put all of this together, part of the Levite's role consists of guarding the Mishkan from the possibility of encroachment. Just as the census narrative (1:1-4:49) is concerned with the possibility of trespass, so too the encampment code (5:1-3), which immediately follows, is concerned with the possibility of trespass.

This leads us to an even deeper thematic element. Throughout the census narrative, the Torah focuses not just on the physical arrangement of the camp, but also on the functional arrangement of the camp. The Levites are counted separately and encamp around the Mishkan because of their unique function as servants of the sanctuary (1:48-53). These functions devolve upon the Levites by virtue of their being selected by God to replace the first-borns, those who might have otherwise had the privilege of serving the sanctuary (3:11-13). As the text emphasizes, the mishmeret, or charge, function, and duty of the Levites is in fact the mishmeret, or charge of the Israelites, one they (the Levites) carry out as replacements or perhaps representatives of the Israelites (3:8-9).

None of this is coincidental. The physical and functional arrangement relation to Mishkan described above should be understood as reflecting a particular spiritual arrangement and relationship. The Mishkan constitutes the dwelling place of the Divine and the location of Divine service. As such, the physical and functional arrangement of the Israelite camp in the desert naturally revolves around the Mishkan. The structure of the community must have holiness and sanctity at the center. But it must also be concerned about how to preserve sanctity in its midst and the implications of the Divine presence in the camp.

As such, once again it is no wonder that the narrative depicting the physical, functional and spiritual arrangement of the camp (1:1-4:49) is followed by a segment of the laws of defilement and holiness, the Divine directive to expel the three avot ha-tuma from the camp. Both involve the themes of sanctity, relation to sanctity and the protection of sanctity. In contrast to our original assumption, the opening of B'midbar is in fact also about some of the key themes of Sefer Vayikra. It too is concerned with sanctity, relation to sanctity and the safeguarding of sanctity.

IV.

However,  haven't the Levites already been commanded to guard the sanctuary? In light of the Levites mandate, can the pragmatic concern of trespass be considered a viable interpretation?  Or is thee something more?  Let us take a look again at the text. The precise language of the rationale provided by the Torah reads as follows:

And they shall not defile their camps amidst which I dwell. (5:3)

While this can be interpreted as a technical reference to the presence of the Mishkan at the center of the camp, the text makes no explicit reference to the Mishkan and nor do we have any reference to any pragmatic issues of trespass.  A simpler reading of the text would seem to indicate that G-d's presence is located in the camp itself. For this reason, these three severely defiled individuals must be removed from the camp. In point of fact, the Ramban (5:2) adopts this interpretation. To paraphrase the Ramban's terminology:

"It is necessary for the camp to be holy and suited for the resting of the divine presence." 

But by what virtue can the camp be said to be holy or to comprise a place where the Divine presence rests?  Let's turn our attention to the story of the degalim, the standards around which the Israelites encamped, which should help elucidate the point.

V.

In introducing the degalim, the Torah refers to "every man by his standard, with the signs of his father's house, around the tent of meeting shall they encamp" (2:2). But what are these standards? What is the point of the reference to the "sign of his father's house"? For that matter, what is the point of the tribes being grouped into four standards, each consisting of three tribes and then arrayed around the Mishkan?

Based upon a Midrash found in B'midbar Rabba 2:6, and in accord with associations already defined in other parts of the Torah, the Ibn Ezra formulates a relationship between each tribe and its respective form. For the standard of Yehuda, the form is a lion, in line with the statement of Ya'akov in his blessing to Yehuda that "Yehuda is a lion" (Bereishit 49:9). For Reuven, the shape pictured upon the standard is a man. It was Reuven who found the dudaim, the plant carrying the power of fertility and the ability to make a man (Bereishit 30:14).

Based upon the blessing of Moshe (Devarim 33:17), the standard of Ephraim carries a picture of an ox, and finally, although the source is obscure, the Ibn Ezra maintains that the standard of Dan bore the image of an eagle. The exegesis of the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban regarding the images depicted upon the four chief standards grouped around the Mishkan creates a fascinating parallel.

The Book of Yechezkel, in describing Yechezkel's vision of the merkava, the divine chariot upon which the Divine throne and presence rides, depicts a vision of four heavenly creatures who comprise the chariot. These creatures have four faces, the face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of a ox and the face of an eagle (Yechezkel 1:10). But these are of course the images found on the standards of Yehuda, Reuven, Ephraim and Dan.  As the Ibn Ezra formulates things:

"The degalim resembled the keruvim, the divine creatures seen by Yechezkel" (2:2). 

In a similar vein, the Ramban (2:3) approvingly cites a Midrash claiming that G-d created four directions in the world, surrounded his throne with four heavenly creatures to bear his throne, and in accord arranged for Moshe the degalim. While the theology may remain somewhat obscure, the literary claim should be obvious. The encampment of Israel, the arrangement of the tribes into four degalim surrounding the Mishkan, is meant to parallel the imagery of Yechezkel's vision.

Just as the heavenly creatures surround and bear the throne of the Divine, so too the camp of Israel surrounds and bears the Mishkan, the seat of the Divine presence. The theological or metaphysical significance of the parallel should be interpreted accordingly. Just as the Divine creatures of Yechezkel's vision accompany and bear the throne of G-d upon its heavenly journey, so too the camp of Israel accompanies and bears the throne of G-d upon its earthly journey.

While the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban do not make the point, Yechezkel 1:24 compares the sound of the creatures and the divine chariot to the sound of a "camp." In addition to this connection to the opening of B'midbar, Yechezkel's vision of the Divine first manifests itself as "a great cloud and fire" (1:4). This of course is the very image of the Divine presence that accompanies Israel and its camp in the desert.

A cloud and fire cover the Mishkan upon its completion (Shemot 40:34-38) and during the ensuing journey (B'midbar 9:15-16). This dual parallel between the vision narrative in Yechezkel and the encampment narrative in B'midbar implies that we confront the same story in both cases, the transport of the Divine presence by G-d's merkava, or chariot. The process occurs in both the heavenly and earthly realms.

But there is more to it than just parallel processes. The second book of Shemuel refers to the ark as "the ark of G-d, whose name is called the L-rd of hosts (tzeva'ot) who dwells upon the keruvim" (II Shemuel 6:2). The creatures of Yechezkel's vision are known as keruvim. They possess an earthly counterpart, the keruvim stationed on top of the ark, whose outstretched arms form the throne of G-d.

In the language of Shemuel, G-d can be said to "dwell upon" the keruvim and ark. But as fitting the King of kings, G-d is also accompanied by hosts or assemblies, known as tzeva'ot. The Divine chariot is born and accompanied on its journey by the heavenly angelic assembly. But what is the earthly counterpart of G-d's heavenly host?

The resolution to this question may lie back in Sefer Shemot. During his dialogue with Moshe that proceeds the unleashing of the plagues upon Egypt, G-d informs Moshe, "I will lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring out my hosts (tzivotai), my people, the Children of Israel from Egypt" (Shemot 7:4). Similarly, the story that opens B'midbar constitutes another story of G-d's tzava, his host or assembly, the Children of Israel. It is in fact the story of his earthly host or assembly, which escorts, accompanies and bears His presence as earthly counterpart to His heavenly host.

Therefore, the entire camp of Israel constitutes a microcosm of the heavenly macrocosm if you will, a parallel construction to the Divine realm. This is the point of the organization according to standards. As such the camp serves to bear the Divine presence, not just in the Mishkan, upon and between the keruvim, but in the entire camp itself.  The census narratives (1:1-4) are not merely about counting, or physical, functional or even spiritual organization. Rather they also form a type of organization, where the camp is organized as an echo or copy of the Divine realm, where the Divine presence is brought into the entire camp.

VI.

In light of the above interpretation of the degalim as a kind of merkava and the organization of the camp as far more than a mere physical arrangement, we no longer need wonder about the language of the rationale provided by the Torah for the removal of the metzora, zav and tamei la-nefesh from the camp. Likewise we no longer need wonder about the meaning of the Ramban's claim that "it is necessary for the camp to be holy and suited for the resting of the divine presence." As a copy of the divine merkava and resting place of the Divine presence, the entire camp is holy.

Consequently, the severe cases of defilement, those defiled by tzara'at, zav, or death must be removed from the camp. The laws in question, and the placement of our short code of defilement and sanctity (5:1-3), follow naturally on the heels of the census narratives (1:1-4:49), the organization of the camp as tzeva'ot Hashem, the earthly assembly bearing and animated by the Divine presence.

Finally, from this perspective the opening of B'midbar is more than just a continuation of Sefer Vayikra and its key concerns of holiness, defilement and the sanctuary. In a certain sense, Sefer B'mdibar is a continuation of a key theme central to the book of Shemot. As mentioned earlier, Shemot 25:8 reports the true telos, goal, of constructing the Mishkan, "And I will dwell in the midst of them," and the book ends with the arrival of the Divine presence in the Mishkan (40:34-35).

But in some sense, as the beginning of B'midbar reminds us, the Divine presence has in fact arrived amidst the entire community of Israel. The end of Shemot is only the beginning of the story. Sefer B'midbar is in fact where this theme plays out, the story of what happens when G-d dwells in the very midst of the Children of Israel.

This was how it was in the beginning, before sin was introduced into the world through our disobedence to the Divine command.  This desire, to dwell once again in the midst of His people, of course culminates in the person and work of Y'shua the Messiah about Whom John writes:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d.  He was in the beginning with God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt (lit. tabernacled) among us, and we beheld His glory (shechina), the glory (shechina) as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  (cf. John 1)

And of course, let's not forget how everything wraps up at the end the age:

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of G-d is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. G-d Himself will be with them and be their G-d   (cf. Revelation 21).

*I am indebted to Rabbi Chanoch Waxman for providing many of the ideas and themes presented here.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

In Due Time

"Evil is always ultimately self-destructive ..."

Indeed.

Which is one of the reasons why aligning oneself with evil is a fool's gambit.  The "success" of evil is an illusion.  Human endeavors that displease G-d can only lead to the inexorable downfall of those who seek to advance them.

Therefore, it's not wise to talk too much about the "success" of those who turn their back to G-d and spurn His directives, lest we fall into the mire of resentment and inaction. In fact, we should know, without any trace of uncertainty whatsoever, that it is the apparent success of evildoers which actually serves to bring about their downfall.

We can be confident that G-d will never allow those who use the gift of life for achieving purposes in opposition to His will to enjoy supremacy in His world.  For these people have preemptively cut off their own future by their evil acts. The life of the lawless is astoundingly and fleetingly short. 

On the flip side, we, who are determined to shun any influence that might alienate us from G-d and who are striving to come close to Him with every deed and act of our lives, we have been assured and promised that we will inherit the earth on that future day of salvation for which we all yearn and patiently tarry.

Although the reality may certainly appear otherwise and the battle is going hard against us, we are acutely aware of a greater Reality Who will not be confounded and Who has promised to be with us when we go through the fire and when the water is raging around our necks.  G-d is certainly not sitting on His throne, wringing His hands, wondering what to do next, and neither should we.  Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world. 

And as for those who array themselves against us to do us harm and practice evil, well ... they have already set themselves up for a fall and great will be their fall.  We will look and see them no more, for . . . 

<i>Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them.’ For the L-rd will judge His people and have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their power is gone, and there is no one remaining, bond or free. (cf. Deuteronomy 32)</i>

And also this:

<i>And when the servant of the man of G-d arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”</i>

<i>So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”</i>

<i>And Elisha prayed, and said, “L-rd, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the L-rd opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.</i>  (cf. II Kings 6)

Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  That's the reality and that's the truth.  May He find us living in the light of reality and holding fast to the truth when He comes.

Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek!  Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!  
           

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Islam as Ideology, Violence as Strategy


Islam's Violence is Rooted in Instability

by Daniel Greenfield

Islamic violence is nearly impossible to deny. But why is Islam violent? The usual answer is to point to Koranic verses calling for the conquest and subjugation of non-Muslims. That certainly covers the theological basis for Islamic violence. But it fails to explain why Muslims continue to practice it. Even against each other. Violence has become the defining form of Islamic exceptionalism.



Optimists speak of reforming Islam. But such reforms had over a thousand years in which to take place.

Islam is an ideology. Its violence is a strategy. That strategy fit the needs of Mohammed. Mohammed chose to use force to spread his ideology. He needed to recruit fighters so he preached the inferiority of non-Muslims, the obligation for Muslims to conquer non-Muslims and the right of his fighters to seize the property and wives of non-Muslims as incentive for them to join his fight. Furthermore he even promised them that if they should fall in battle, they would receive loot and women in paradise.

The strategy was barbarous, but quite effective. Mohammed had created a new super-tribe in a tribal society. The tribe of Islam united different groups in a mission of conquest. The Islamic religion allowed the varying clans to be more effective and ambitious than their victims. Within a surprisingly short amount of time the chain of conquests made Islam into a world religion. The most effective Islamic conquerors could not only claim vast territories, carving up civilization into fiefdoms, but they could prepare their sons and grandsons to continue the chain of conquests.

Islam made the standard tactics of tribal warfare far more effective. Its alliance was harder to fragment and its fighters were not afraid of death. But at the same time Islam remained fundamentally tribal. It made tribal banditry more effective, but didn’t change the civilization. It codified the tribal suspicion of outsiders and women into a religious doctrine. That still drives Islamic violence against non-Muslims and women today.

And yet Islam could have reformed. All it had to do was choose a different civilizational strategy.

The current clash of civilizations is between cooperative societies and hierarchal tribal societies. Western countries are cooperative societies. They succeed by bringing together a variety of peoples into cooperative organizations. These organizations negotiate and exchange everything from goods to mutual defense. Primitive versions of such organizations existed in Mohammed’s time. They have also existed within Islamic societies, but they have been inhibited by the tribal instability of Islamic civilizations. Cooperative societies emphasize internal conscience over external posturing. Religion is a matter of personal morality, rather than collective conquest. Economic resources are developed by harnessing new ideas and techniques to provide wider benefits to the society.

Islamic tribal societies are governed by extended family groups and other hierarchies that, like Islam, serve a similar role. While such societies can be locally stable, albeit backward, expanding them is difficult because their only point of unity comes through conflict with outsiders. Without external conflicts with non-Muslims, tribal societies degenerate into internal tribal conflicts.

That is what happened in Iraq and Syria, not to mention Yemen and Libya. Most Muslim countries are delicately balanced on the edge of a precipice and they can be very easily tipped into horrifying violence between different groups if their fragile internal order breaks down and there are no outside enemies.

The Muslim expansion became unsustainable once the external spread of conquest limited the access of Muslim armies to non-Muslim victims. Islamic unity did not survive Mohammed for very long. Stability came through feudal societies which were slow, backward and unwieldy, but prevented conflict.

Ultimately the only stable Muslim society is a slave state. Modern dictatorships, which strive to imitate modern countries by building up professional elites of doctors, engineers, lawyers and generals, are eventually undone by them. It’s the genuinely backward kingdoms that rely on oil wealth and slave labor which best weathered the changes of the past generations and maintained their ruling privileges.

And here we come to the fundamental crisis of Islamic violence.

Islamic civilization is fundamentally unstable and unsustainable. Contact with the modern world destabilized it setting off a series of chain reactions. Islamic civilization, particularly in the Middle East, could not make the transition to modernity. Those countries that had oil could buy their way out of the problem with generous subsidies at home while purchasing influence abroad. The Saudis made their own people rich while controlling the West. They financed wars without needing generals by funding terrorists. They kept a tribal society going by hiring foreign professionals to do most of the technical work.

Most Muslim countries however couldn’t buy that type of immunity from modernity. And even the Saudis had only bought a temporary immunity that is running down along with oil prices. The most Islamic societies had followed the old Mohammedan practice of exhausting the land. But where were they going to move on to?

The mass migration to Europe is part of the answer. While Europeans are shocked at the sight of millions of people just picking up and walking away, the Middle East still has deep nomadic roots. Most Muslim countries are political and historical fictions. Family groups matter far more than national identities.

Outside Israel, agriculture in the Middle East is sparse. The strong attachment to the land that is found among Israelis or Europeans is absent. Feudalism associates working the land with inferiority and feudalism is a more recent memory among Muslims than among most Europeans. Success means expanding into someone else’s land and living off the spoils rather than staying and working your own.

Western cooperative societies eagerly welcome Muslim migrants because they expect them to cooperate and contribute. But that is not happening. Muslim societies are hierarchal, not cooperative. The new arrivals expect to fit into a hierarchy. If they don’t encounter a strict hierarchy, they seek to “conquer” by establishing their hierarchy with the supremacism of the Koran as their guide.

Western societies seek to settle permanently. They plan for the long term. Nomadic tribals burn through resources, viewing cities and institutions as assets to strip, raid and dispose of, before moving on. The Islamic migration is not a new phenomenon and Europe is not meant to be its stopping point.

This is a variation of Mohammed’s old strategy. While some Islamic groups, such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, stay behind to battle for the dying lands of the Middle East to establish their own perfect society, large numbers of Muslims are choosing to move on to fresher pastures. This cycle will only repeat itself.

This strategy is why Islam continues to be violent. It’s why exporting democracy is useless.

Democracy works in cooperative societies. It can only work within tribal societies as a democracy of groups. And it requires that these groups prefer cooperation to conflict as a civilizational strategy.

Islam favors conflict over cooperation. In the absence of outside enemies, its doctrine allows its quarreling groups to name each other as infidels, heretics and enemies. To reform Islam, Muslims would have to make the civilizational transition to a cooperative strategy. They would have to fundamentally change their values, their priorities and how their societies function.

And there is no sign of that happening.

Islamic civilization becomes unstable once it expands beyond its tribal limits. Its only coping strategy for that instability is violence, whether directed externally at non-Muslims or internally at other Muslims. Its economic development tools are limited and make supporting a modern society very difficult because they emphasize maintaining internal hierarchal stability over innovation and progress.

Islam is violent because it’s unstable. Its only tool is violence. Its societies exhaust their limited resources and then invade their neighbors. They repeat the same strategy until they are stopped. Then the exhausted Islamic civilization becomes a staid slave society that is stable, but backward. If that society is disturbed, then the egg cracks and the whole horrible process of war, invasion and exhaustion begins again. That is what we are experiencing right now. And there is no easy answer to this problem.

We can inhibit the expansion of Islamic migration. Or it will wash over our societies and destroy them

Friday, June 10, 2016

Chag Sameach!

Approximately 3500 years ago this weekend about 3000 Jews died for fashioning a golden calf and reveling before an idol (cf. Exodus).

Approximately 2000 years ago this weekend about 3000 Jews were saved when they responded to the Good News of the Messiah (cf. Acts).

G-d is good!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Nothing Happens by Chance

I ran across this shiur (lecture) last week and I thought it was a nice complement and expansion of my previous post.  I posted the more salient portions of the shiur below.    The parasha (Torah portion) and haftara (reading from the prophets) from last week spoke very much to the admonitions I highlighted in the previous post (Jew, Go Home) and go a long way in explaining the current situation of the Jew at present.  

I am more convinced than ever before that it is not Judaism that needs reforming, but rather the Jew. Our situation will not improve until we stop trusting in man to save us, confess our sins, repent, and return to the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The Torah tells us plainly that as long as we are determined to live as if everything is a result of happpenstance, then G-d will respond in kind until we come to our senses, bow the knee, and confess that there is no other name under heaven by which we may be saved.    


A PLEA, RATHER THAN A CONSOLATION

The core of Parashat Bechukotai is the rebuke, and the haftara serves as a response to that reproach. The haftara's opening words – "O L-rd, my strength, and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of affliction" (16:19) – prepares us for a prophecy of consolation. But the continuation of the haftara includes a harsh reproach, and even the concluding verse – "Heal me, O L-rd, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for You are my praise" (17:14) – does not describe consolation and redemption, but merely expresses a wish and a desire for salvation and healing that are not yet visible on the horizon.

REACTION IN A TIME OF TROUBLE

It should, then, be understood that the haftara is not one of consolation in the classical sense, that it does not come to describe a rosy future that will replace the gloomy present, and that we must understand its goal in a different manner. If we come to summarize its message in a single word, it is trust.

Over the course of the parasha, the Torah describes the ups and downs that will befall the people in the wake of their actions. G-d will bring upon them a sword that will avenge His covenant and make them flee before their enemies, and at the end of the parasha, we are told that He will return them to the desolate land in the wake of the covenant that had been made with their forefathers. 

It is important to emphasize the haftara's place in the framework of the book of Yirmiyahu. It is found not in the context of chapters of consolation, but rather in the very heart of a series of chapters of harsh and threatening reproach. To illustrate this, let us cite a few verses from the beginning of chapter 16, the same chapter from which the haftara is taken:

For thus says the L-rd concerning the sons and concerning the daughters that are born in this place, and concerning their mothers that bore them, and concerning their fathers that begot them in this land.

They shall die of grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth: and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their carcasses shall be food for the birds of the sky, and for the beasts of the earth.

For thus says the L-rd, enter not into the house of mourning, neither go to lament nor bemoan them: for I have taken away My peace from this people, says the L-rd, both love and mercy.

Both the great and the small shall die in this land: they shall not be buried, neither shall men lament for them, nor gash themselves, nor make themselves bald for them: neither shall men break bread for them during the mourning, to comfort him for the dead; neither shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for his father of for his mother.

You shall also not go into the house of feasting, to sit with them to eat and to drink.

For thus says the L-rd of hosts, the G-d of Israel; behold, I will cause to cease out of this place before your eyes, and in your days, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride. (Yirmiyahu 16:3-9)


The prophet's expression of the feeling that G-d is his strength and stronghold does not come against the backdrop of success and rescue, but out of the depths of crisis and threat, and here lies its significance.

TRUST, AND NOT OPTIMISM

The words of the Chazon Ish regarding trust:

An old mistake has settled in the hearts of many with respect to the idea of trust. The term bitachon, "trust," which describes a meritorious and essential quality among the pious, has come to be understood as an obligation to believe – in any situation where a person stands before an unknown future, and there are two possible future outcomes, one good and one not – that surely it will turn out well, and that if he remains in doubt, and worries about the opposite result, he lacks trust. This understanding of trust in incorrect, for as long as the future has not been clarified through a prophetic vision, it is not decided, for who knows G-d's judgments. But the idea of trust is to believe that nothing in the world happens by chance, and that whatever happens under the sun is all by G-d's decree.

The gist of what he says is that trust in G-d does not mean optimism that G-d will only do nice things for a person, but rather trust that whatever will happen to him is most appropriate for him, and that it will be done because of G-d's relationship with him. In words, it is not that I am confident that G-d will act in a particular way on my behalf, bur rather I trust in G-d and in His judgment.

This quality of trust in G-d despite the punishment and the price that He extracts fits in well with the words of Yirmiyahu, which come in response to the difficult reality of his time. "G-d is my strength and My stronghold" despite the fact that mirth will cease and people will die – this is the message of our haftara. This is why the haftara opens with an expression of trust, continues with a description of sin and its punishment, and concludes with another expression of trust.

CONNECTION OR ABANDONMENT

If we examine the concluding verses, we will immediately discern that the final verse is a call from man to G-d and an expression of his hope for salvation. Expression is thereby given to the continued connection between the prophet and his Maker, despite the troubles, and to his trust that G-d is the address regarding his difficulties. 

In contrast, the two previous verses – which belong, from the perspective of the structure of the chapter, to the reproach that precedes them, as opposed to the final verse which in the prophetic source relates to what follows – well express what we said above. The prophet presents man with two alternatives: continued cleaving to G-d and trusting in Him, which at some point in the future will be translated into salvation from trouble, or else abandoning him. Connection or abandonment – this is the choice that a person must decide between in a time of crisis.

In this context, we must relate to the verses in the middle of the haftara that relate directly to the quality of trust:

Thus says the L-rd; cursed be the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from the L-rd. For he shall be like the juniper tree in the desert, and shall not see when good comes; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, a salt land and not inhabited.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the L-rd, and whose hope the L-rd is.

For He shall be like a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out its roots by the river, and shall not be anxious in the year of drought, nor shall it cease from yielding fruit. (17:5-8)

The verses illustrate our assertion that the quality of trust constitutes the essence of the haftara, and they are well integrated into this framework. 

THE WAR AGAINST CHANCE

Besides the very expression of trust that constitutes the essence of our haftara, it is important to emphasize another point that connects the haftara to the parasha. The primary battle being fought in the parasha is that between providence and chance. The main struggle is with the idea that everything happens by chance, rather than with idolatry in and of itself. A famous expression of the attitude that bursts forth from these verses, and the battle against it, is given by the Rambam:

This is one of the paths to repentance, for when trouble arrives and people cry out and shout, they will all know that it is on account of their evil deeds that evil befell them. As it is written: "Your iniquities have turned away [these things]" (Yirmiyahu 5:25). And this will cause them to remove the trouble. 

But if they do not cry out and shout, but rather they say that this befell us because such is the world and this trouble was by chance, this is a path of cruelty and it causes them to cling to their evil deeds, and it leads to other troubles. This is what is written in the Torah: "… and you walk contrary to Me, then I will walk contrary to you also in fury" (Vayikra 26:27-28). That is to say, when I bring trouble upon you so that you should repent, if you say that it is by chance, I will add fury. (Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 1:3)

In general, Yirmiyahu does not fight against this attitude, but rather he fights against those who abandon G-d in favor of idolatry. One who worships an idol does not necessarily deny spiritual providence over the world, but rather he attributes it to false gods. The issue of trust in G-d versus reliance on man does not even arise, because the question is not whether to trust, but in whom to trust. 

Our haftara relates to idol worship, but it also struggles with the abandonment of G-d owing to the feeling that the world is a place of chance, and therefore a person must put his trust exclusively in man. The words of the prophet who is aware of this problem bring him to emphasize the importance of trust in G-d as He who runs man's world and they are appropriate for the parasha of rebuke which deals with the same issue.

We can now say that the gist of the haftara lies in its expression of the quality of trust. And this in a twofold sense:

1) The trust in providence as opposed to chance and human causality.

2) The importance of trust in G-d in times of crisis.

Themes of the Haftarah for Parashat Bechukotai, by Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein