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We, the Accused

Holding the Victim to Blame

Whenever there is a terror attack against Israel, the world media finds some way to make Israel the accused, whether for provocation or retaliation, for people dying or failing to die, for killing the terrorists, or failing to kill them.

Yehuda Elberg, with rescued cousin now living in Israel

Yehuda Elberg, with rescued cousin now living in Israel

This is not a new phenomenon.  Two thousand years ago, a significant Jew was murdered by non-Jews, and for two thousand years the Jews have been persecuted for his death.  In the current era, Jews are being blamed by anti-Semites for provoking the holocaust.  They have been blamed for its horrible death toll, with their accusers putting the blame on Jewish passivity, and failure to resist.  It is this latter blame that my father Yehuda Elberg addressed in a lecture approximately forty years ago.  He was a holocaust survivor, a member of the Jewish Underground in Poland, and part of the Ghetto uprising.  Immediately following the war he worked on smuggling Jewish survivors to Israel (then known as Palestine).  Below are excerpts from his lecture We, the Accused.

***

On the 35th anniversary of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, a great deal was written about this in Jewish newspapers the world over, especially in Israel. The influential Maariv carried an article by Chaim Baltsan entitled: “Yom Ha-Shoah 1978: Is it Different from Previous Years?” Among other things, Baltsan wrote: “Much has already been written and said about the heroism — and under the circumstances it was extraordinary — the heroism displayed by the Ghetto rebels and the organizers of the uprisings in the camps. We are proud of that heroism, we will always be proud of it. But not so with the Shoah, that dark and bitter phenomenon in which it is impossible to find even the tiniest spark of light. Yet we are compelled to couple it with the heroism and to utter words in the same breath. We have linked the Holocaust with the heroic uprising in order to conceal the unacceptability of the pain, more accurately the shame; when we recall how millions were led like sheep to the slaughter…”

the Armenian genocide

the Armenian genocide

In brief, they are ashamed of us, they are ashamed of the survivors as well as the fallen. We are guilty of having put on the yellow badge. Better we had all died than let ourselves be so degraded. We are guilty because we did not revolt against being locked up in ghettos; proud people do not allow themselves to be locked into cages like animals in a zoo.  We are guilty because we let ourselves be herded into cattle-cars and did not counter-attack the Germans with our fists…

I want to tell you about the individuals and let the Chaim Baltsans be ashamed of their own ignorance, their own narrow mindedness, their own heartlessness, their owned blindness to the heroism of the Ghetto even when that the heroism was not as spectacular as in the Hollywood film.

An episode from 1940:

They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground ... and they burned the Indians alive.'

They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground … and they burned the Indians alive.’

The Germans had given the Jews out of a shtetl in that part of Poland which had been annexed to the Reich. They packed in Jews into trucks. One young woman with a baby in her arms was having difficulty climbing up into the truck. A German soldier politely took the child from her and helped her into the vehicle.  When she stretched other arms to take the child, he throw it to the ground.  The woman jumped from the truck.  The German pointed his rifle at her.  She didn’t budge.  He raved and raged and threaten to shoot her and the child.  She still didn’t budge. He then raised the muzzle of his gun and threatened to shoot all the Jews in the truck.  The woman dragged herself back into the truck.  When they arrived in Warsaw, she was out of her mind.

Who can evaluate the greatness of that sacrifice?  Who can measure the boundless love for her fellow Jews, that gave her the strength to make such a decision and incredible courage to carry it out?  The knowledge of what was going to happen to her baby burned so fiercely in her brain that consumed it.  Her nerves were strung so tautly that they snapped.  Yet she still managed to weigh and measure.  Her hands — a scale of destiny. In one hand the compulsive desire to remain with the child; in the other the lives of the few score Jews.  She made her decision and even succeeded in carrying it out before her unbearable anguish destroyed her brain.

Babi-Yar original art by Esti Mayer

Babi-Yar
original art by Esti Mayer

Hunger, fear and pain weaken a human being physically, and diminishes his mental strength.  There’s no need here to recount what the Jews went through from the beginning of 1940 until the summer of 1942.  In the proceedings of the Nuremberg trials you can find the testimony of one Herman Graebe, a German who was present during the slaughter of the Jews at Dubno.  A group of naked Jews stood at the edge of a ditch.  Behind them we Germans were loading their rifles.  Among the Jews stood a woman with a child in her arms.  The woman tickled the child, and began singing to it, so the child was laughing merrily when the German bullets cut down the mother and baby, and they both fell into the pit.

Psychologists tell us that when a person stands face to face with death all the emotions are paralyzed.  Terror, hope, anger, love, hate, all disappear at the moment when one looks death in the eye.  Emotionally he is already on the other side of the fight.

Our martyrs, however, demonstrated that it is not necessarily so.  Maybe fear has vanished, maybe all hope has died, maybe anger and hatred have been extinguished.  But one thing in this woman continued to live—love.  The emotion of love remained awake, strong, self-sacrificing.  I do not know any poem more lofty.  I’ve never heard any song more beautiful, never seen any deed more holy than the singing of that mother to her child in Dubno.  The chuckle of her infant, on the edge of the grave, sent out into the world’s void a resounding testimony of Jewish love and self-sacrifice.  The giggle of that child is the most exalted ode ever sung to the Jewish mother…

I come back to the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and I must begin with a prefatory observation.

Some years ago there was a fire in the movie theater where everyone pushed for the exits.  People stepped on each other.  More people died from the panic than from the fire.  Similarly, on a sinking ship, everyone tries to get to the lifeboats.  People grab the rope ladders out of each other’s hands.  The result: nobody gets to the boats.

ghetto sepiaThe Warsaw Ghetto was a flaming inferno, a sinking ship.  But what happened with the people there?

On the day before the uprising began it was like Yom Kippur Eve in a pious Jewish household.  People spoke quietly, walk softly.  A kind of reverential air spread over the Ghetto streets, a trembling, but not out of fear.  Out of exultation.  A decision had been made, responsibility assumed.  But it did not weigh onerously on the people.  It hovered over their heads like an aura.  A whole community of Jews went forth to meet the inevitable with the purposefulness, with a sense of mission, and one could feel the presence of the wings of history, the duty to future generations.  Some sixty thousand Jews marched forth into greatness within the almost festive tread…

We, the Accused

It burns me when I hear someone say that the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto saved the honor and dignity of the Jewish people. No! Jewish honor stood high even when Jews were expiring with a quiet, unspectacular death. It was the honor of the entire humanity that was in mortal peril. And it was the greatness of the Jews in the ghettos, with their sanctified life and their heroic death that saved the honor of the human species, and gave flesh-end-blood mortals back their image of God.

I said that Jewish heroism did not begin with the uprising; it also did not end with the uprising. I need not describe the terror, the anguish, the scientific dehumanization system in the concentration camps. According to all experience in history, according to all the laws of psychology, the survivors should have emerged from the camps embittered destroyers, venomous killers and incendiaries, filled with hatred for a world that had led to all this and then permitted it to go on. Their physical health was destroyed. Their homes were destroyed. But the image of God within them was not.

Overnight, upon the liberation of the camps, a social life was created, with culture, with ideologies. The skeletal fingers did not yet have the strength to hold a pencil steadily, but they were already writing books, issuing newspapers.

I could tell you a great deal about the wonders and the miracles performed by the brands barely plucked out of the fire. Instead, let me quote from a letter by Professor Zelig Brodestski, the then head of Britain’s Jewish community, written to the survivors in Bergen- Belsen after he attended one at their congresses, immediately after the war.

“It was difficult for me to accept the task of coming here to you.  I did not know what to expect, how beaten or wretched you would look But you presented me with e picture of a proud Jewish life, a picture which I shall use in order to instill more pride and more life into the Jews in England. I had thought that perhaps you had fallen in your own esteem. But I have never experienced a more dignified congress. I had thought you would look with anger upon the Jews from abroad, who were able to do so little to save you from the Nazi murderers: but you welcomed me with love and warmth, and you spoke to me candidly and earnestly.  I was afraid you would only weep and lament but you combined your tears with the smile of the eternal Jew.  I had feared your disillusionment and hopelessness, but you displayed a faith and a resolution which all the .Jews in the world would do well to learn from you.”

There is an old legend about the lack of Jewish faith and determination which has hoisted over the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the victory of the Maccabees.  Two hundred and thirty five years later, when the Romans set fire to the Temple and the flames reached the mast, a whirlwind lifted the flag, the legend tells us, and carried it off to a faraway place to keep it safe for a future generation of Jews will redeem the Maccabean flag with their faith and determination.

To live and see this flag redeemed was my most ardent prayer and cherished dream since my childhood.  My dream came true in a strange and traumatic way. It was decades ago, the Warsaw Ghetto rose to fight a formidable enemy, and I was there when the blue-white flag was hoisted over the tallest building in the Ghetto.  It seemed to me that I had seen this flag before.  The dreamy blue and stark white flag was soon consumed by red flames together with the fighters.  It was then that I recognized the flag of my dreams.

Four years later in the Gulf of Lion, in the the harbor of Sete, over five thousand holocaust survivors boarded an old ship to fight the British blockade of the shore of Palestine, a ship later to be known as Exodus 1947.  Again I was there, watching the lineups of boarding passengers.  When I noticed the rolled-up banner under the arm of one of them, I immediately knew that this was the flag of my dreams.

I was not in the lines of battle during the Israeli War of Liberation and the subsequent wars of defense, but I knew that the Maccabean flag was there.  The legendary heroism, the devotion and self-sacrifice of the fighters are proof positive that the flag of faith and resolution inspired them.

***

We shall often be the accused.  But it no longer matters.  The flag that was over the Temple, over the Warsaw Ghetto, over Sete, is over Israel: it’s a flag that shall not fall again.

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You Have to Ask the Right Question

  • Q: Was it morally wrong for the United States and Canada to imprison their citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II, and confiscate their
     Japanese-Canadians being transported to detention camps

    Japanese-Canadians being transported to detention camps

    property?

  • A: It was a horrible illegal act, discriminating against people solely because they looked different.  Italians and Germans, whose ancestral homelands were also the enemy, were not locked up.
Let’s break that question into three:
  • Q1: Would it be morally wrong for a country to lock up a population, many of whom were supportive of an enemy?
  • A1: No.
  • Q2: Was a significant portion of the Japanese population of Canada and the United States supportive of a Japanese victory during World War II?
  • A2: No.
  • Q3: If the Americans and Canadians of Japanese ancestry had been supportive of the enemy during the war, would it have been proper to put them in internment camps?
  • A3: Yes.

By asking the right question we can see that it’s not internment in principle that was a mistake.  It was mis-characterizing Japanese Canadians and Americans as enemy sympathizers.

Let’s try another one
  • Q: Was it morally wrong for the United States and Canada to keep out Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis?
  • A: Yes
Let’s also break that question into three:
  • Q1: Is it wrong for a country to keep out a class of people, a great many of whom want to take over that country?
  • A1: No.
  • Q2: Did the Jews of Europe want to violently (if at all) take over Europe, the United States, or Canada?
  • A2: No.
  • Q3: If the Jews had wanted to violently take over Europe, the United States, or Canada, would it have been wrong to keep them out?
  • A3: No.

    Planting a dark future

    Planting a dark future

This shows that we haven’t been asking the right question. We shudder at the idea of treating a particular group of people differently than anyone else.  Given the horrible consequences of turning away refugees during the Holocaust, we want to welcome everyone today.  But the mistake of the past wasn’t turning the enemy away from our shores.  It’s not wrong to guard against enemies working from the inside.  The mistake was considering the Jews and Japanese as the enemy, looking to take over or destroy the nations they wanted to be part of.

Bringing it all into the present, the right question is:
  • Q4: If ________ want to violently take over Europe, the United States, or Canada, would it be wrong to keep them out?
  • A4: No.

To fill in the blank, let’s look at the core belief of a particular group, as described by one of their leading scholars:

dominateIslam is not a religion like the other religions of the world, and Muslim nations are not like other nations. Muslim nations are very special because they have a command from Allah to rule the entire world and to be over every nation in the world. Islam is a revolutionary, totalitarian ideology that comes to destroy any government made by man. The goal of Islam is to rule the entire world and submit all of mankind to the ideology of Islam. Any nation or power that gets in the way of that goal, Islam will fight and destroy. In order to fulfill that goal, Islam can use every power available every way it can be used to bring worldwide revolution. This is Jihad.

With the blank filled in, answer the following question: would it be wrong to keep them out?  Clearly not.

This may contradict the accepted liberal “…values of liberty, and openness, and the respect of all people.”  That’s not the right question.  The primary value of any country must be the security of its citizens, rather than the security of an ideology.

einstein

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Indigenous Jews, Indigenous People

inuit village

I’ve spent a lot of time living and working with Indigenous people. I spent a winter in the boreal forest with Indians, five hundred kilometers from the nearest road or telephone. My wife and I spent a winter in an Eskimo village. I’ve eaten raw walrus, raw beluga whale (while it was still alive), beaver, rabbit, caribou, and other stuff you don’t begin to want to know about.

The world recently marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, paying tribute to the six million victims. Well, Prime Minister Trudeau payed tribute to the victims, but refused to identify them as Jews. There have in fact been other holocausts, whether of Jews (think Chmielniki pogroms) or other peoples. Think American Indians.

Rabbi José Faur of Netanya, Israel writes of the Spanish American holocaust:

Not a single soul of the native population of Jamaica, Bermuda, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, Panama, Cuba, etc., survived. …in the course of only fifty years, the Iberian conquerors managed to reduce the population of native Americans from eighty million to ten million. By the year 1600, the population of Mexico was reduced from twenty five million to one million. This is the greatest genocide in recorded history.

Things weren’t as bad in Canada. In South and Central America the natives were a disposable labor force, enslaved to extract precious metals. Canada existed because of trade with independent natives, who trapped furs and exchanged them for guns and other implements which in turn, made their lives so much better. There were wars on or between native groups, sometimes exploited by colonialists and traders, but the slaughter was limited.

In the United States, the land the Indians lived on was often considered more valuable than the lives of the Indians themselves. Various military forces slaughtered whole communities, from infants to elders. At Wounded Knee the men were separated from the women, then ordered to hand over their guns. First the men were shot, and then the soldiers turned on the rest of the villagers. Such predations were so common that the Sioux population was reduced to dangerously low levels. The Lakota People had lost nearly 80% of their people. To keep their tribes and clans going, they raided settlers traveling cross-country, adopting their children into the tribe.

Jews were sent on death marches during the Nazi Holocaust. The Navajo were sent on the Long March. The Cherokee were exiled on The Trail of Tears.

But it’s not just a history of suffering that Jews as indigenous people share with Indians. In fact, when the first colonialists came to North America, many were convinced that they had found indigenous Jews, the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, because of the many Hebrew-seeming practices. The Navajo and Eskimo for example, are very strict, on the issue of “Tumas Ohel,” contamination of a building by death. If a person dies in a Navajo Hogan or Eskimo igloo, the building is forever abandoned. The Eskimo will cut an opening in the wall of an Igloo to let the dead person’s spirit escape, similar to many Jews opening the window in the room of the dead.

Many Indians have a variation on the laws of “Nidda,” menstrual separation. They don’t send bloodied handkerchiefs to a rabbi for inspection, but have their own stringencies.

The Yucatan Indians practiced circumcision, the Incas had a ceremony that resembled Passover, and others had a form of “Yibbum,” where a widow had to marry her closest male relative. To the fifteenth and sixteenth century European mind considered the savages as indigenous Jews, joined together by practice and belief, if not by blood.

There were differences, though. The Jews clung tenaciously to their religion, whereas many South American natives were willing to accept Church teachings. Christopher Columbus was allegedly instructed:

In order that the Indians should love our religion, they should be treated lovingly, and should be given some merchandise and gifts.

Rabbi Faur continues:

Consider the common practice of snatching children from their mother’s arms and throwing them to be devoured alive by dogs, or smashing them against the rocks and throwing them to die in the mountains. The usual way to kill native leaders was in groups of thirteen, in honor of Jesus and the twelve apostles!

So much for loving treatment. The Spaniards were careful though to make sure that no one with Jewish blood, not even Conversos came to their colonies, lest they hinder the loving conversion of the natives.

Rabbi Faur explains the difference between the Jewish and Christian approach to Indians:

A determining factor in the Jewish attitude towards Native Americans is the Jewish view of the “other.” In Hebrew tradition, the “other” is not a “deformed” being, but only a different expression of the “image of God,” common to the children of Adam, the father of all humanity. The Hebrew term kamokha, “as yourself;” connotes a horizontal perspective. The biblical commandment to “love the other as yourself (kamokha)” excludes a vertical perception of the “other,” with all the monstrous consequences that this commandment had in Christian tradition.

Ultimately, the colonialists concluded that the Indians were not the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes. They knew that their own religion came out of Judaism. To link the savages to the Jews, was to link the savages to Christianity, was to link the savages to themselves. Indigenous Jews was not a feasible paradigm.

When I was in an Inuit village for a winter, my being Jewish was of little import. One woman remarked that I was lucky, because it meant I would go straight to Heaven when I die. A Pentecostal Eskimo explained his fervent beliefs to me, but never tried to impose them.  A friend of mine who spent a year working in Baffin Island told me he never encountered any antisemitism from the Inuit, only from the white support workers stationed there.

There are actually many Native American indigenous Jews. A friend’s Shawnee Indian name means “Walking Knife.” He made Aliyah, moved to Israel about

15th c. Spanish ketuba

15th c. Spanish ketuba

five years ago. Another friend of mine, a brilliant Lakota Sioux Jewish woman, is a warrior: a Vietnam Veteran, who also served in the first Iraq war. Her mother had moved from the reservation to city on the west coast. She found herself taking an interest in Judaism, eventually deciding to study for an Orthodox conversion. From her studies the mother finally came to understand the old parchment that had belonged to her mother’s mother’s mother. It was a Ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract. The rabbi overseeing her study told her she was a returned person, the taken away who finally comes home. My friend’s mother was drawn to Judaism because she was already Jewish, a descendant of a child taken on an Indian raid; adopted into the Lakota people, but somehow never removed from her birth tribe. And although very different peoples, the indigenous Jews and the indigenous Lakota share a core value: a person is defined by his obligations and relations.

scene from movie Little Big Man

Little Big Man

The kidnapped child, adopted into his captor’s tribe is a common theme in literature. The 1970 film Little Big Man (starring Dustin Hoffman) tells the story of a white child raised by the Cheyenne. The movie title was the name of an actual Oglala Lakota warrior who fought at the battle of Little Big Horn. The recent British television series The Last Kingdom tells the story of an English nobleman captured as a child by the Vikings, and raised as a Dane. In the novel Quantum Cannibals, Osnat is adopted by a cannibal shaman, and learns the ways of her captors.

It’s true that many Native Americans are attracted to popular leftist causes, such as the Palestinians. In some areas, Muslims are marrying into tribes, and trying to gain control Indian reservations. In New Mexico, they are grabbing at the Native Art business.

Some natives are unabashed Zionists. I will close with the words of a non-Jewish Indian friend, a Metis named Ryan Bellerose, one of the strongest voices in contemporary Israel advocacy. He starts from the position that Jews and Indians are both indigenous peoples: the former from Israel, the latter from their lands in the Americas:

Ryan Bellerose

Ryan Bellerose

You want to be Jewish? Learn what that means. It’s not just about wearing a kipah and doing Shabbat once in a while; it’s not saying a few prayers sometimes; it’s a way of being, a totality of belief, action and life. You are not white Europeans, you have to stop thinking like them let alone acting like them. You even have a blueprint for it: it’s called the Torah.

…you just need to start being Jewish. The longer I am in Israel the more I am seeing the effects of resisting assimilation on your people. The more I see how important UNDERSTANDING what being indigenous really is.

I believe that indigenous people need to stand up for each other, that we all have something to learn from each other and that it’s a two way street. I have learned a lot from my Jewish friends and I hope they have learned a few things from me as well. So take it from a Real Indian, the Real Jews are the ones who remember who they are and the ones who have no problem telling you who they are. I believe that indigenous people need to stand up for each other, that we all have something to learn from each other and that it’s a two way street. I have learned a lot from my Jewish friends and I hope they have learned a few things from me as well. So take it from a Real Indian, the Real Jews are the ones who remember who they are and the ones who have no problem telling you who they are.

Indigenous Jews and indigenous Native Americans are related through customs and through the oppression we have endured. We are tied together as indigenous peoples, and as warriors. We can learn from each other.

(This essay was presented as the Sabbath sermon at the author’s synagogue)
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Paris: A Fool’s Paradise Is a Wise Man’s Hell

A Fool’s Paradise Is a Wise Man’s Hell

Thomas Fuller

The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have seen incredible progress in science, technology, art, philosophy, morality, and more. Not only that, but we can

Senegalese farmers learning how to install the Tipa irrigation kit

access all that knowledge and wisdom from a device we carry around in our pockets. We have even transcended modernity according to many progressive thinkers, and moved into the “post-modern” era. There is no need for a religious messiah; we have carried ourselves into paradise, albeit a fool’s paradise. Truly these are enlightened times; the realization of humanity’s universal values.

These enlightened values are a force in themselves. John Kerry, the American Secretary of State reacted to Russia’s invasion of the Crimea by telling Russia “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext.” The times, according to Kerry, dictate behavior. In a similar fashion, the new Prime Minister of Canada, when asked why a fifty percent female cabinet was important to him said, “Because it’s 2015.” President Obama, reacting to the Islamic terror attacks in Paris stated that “this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share.”

It seems those values aren’t so universal.

Muslims make up over twenty percent of the earth’s population. While we can assume that most don’t support violence on the scale of the Paris attacks, if we look around at the world’s Muslim-controlled regions, we can see that they operate with different values than the ones adhered to by Secretary Kerry, Prime Minister Trudeau, or President Obama.

They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground ... and they burned the Indians alive.'

‘They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground … and they burned the Indians alive.’

But it would be wrong to assume that the problem is simply Islam. Christianity, followed by Islam, developed the concept of the religious enemy (in contradistinction to the political enemy). All non-believers are sub-humans, and bereft of rights. In early Spanish South America, for example there was a

…common practice of snatching [native] children from their mother’s arms and throwing them to be devoured alive by dogs, or smashing them against the rocks and throwing them to die in the mountains. The usual way to kill native leaders was in groups of thirteen, in honor of Jesus and the twelve apostles!”

The rape, torture and mutilation of native women by the Spaniards differed little from ISIS’ contemporary treatment of Yazidi and Christians. This contrasts with the Biblical rules of war for dealing with captive women, where such women were given a month to mourn for their captivity, and could not be sold or enslaved. And even the idea of

'A man bought me and took me to Tal Afar: when we arrived I was forced into marriage. That night he tied my hands and legs and he blindfolded me. Then he raped me. He hit me with a whip.'

‘A man bought me and took me to Tal Afar: when we arrived I was forced into marriage… he tied my hands and legs and he blindfolded me. Then he raped me. He hit me with a whip.’

capturing a woman was considered evil. It seems that a set of morals accepted over three thousand years ago is more enlightened than the values of a large part of humanity today.

Morality is not linear and progressive, especially if we are charting the behavior of mankind. It is a jagged line, soaring to phenomenal heights and astonishing depravity. We cannot expect the passage of time to elevate people’s behavior. There are no universal values that we all share, whether in the realm of political autonomy or the human right to life. It’s a fool’s paradise to think otherwise. Ask Vladimir Putin about the Crimea. Ask ISIS about the rights of captives. Ask a Muslim imam for an paris destructionunqualified condemnation of the Paris terror attacks. To use “universal values,” the “twenty first century” or the year being 2015 to formulate strategy is to walk from a fool’s paradise straight into the hell of Paris, Madrid, New York, Washington, or Buenos Aires… A wise man understands we are already there.

 

 

 

Your comments are welcome

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Rabbi Elimelech ’s Prayer of Fire

Monday, October 5, 2015 (Shemini Atzeret, 5776) is the twelfth anniversary of the death of my father, the renowned author and lecturer, Yehuda Elberg.  His novels and short stories were published in Yiddish, Hebrew, English, French, German and Spanish.  He was Scholar In Residence at Oxford University, and took part in summer programs in the former Soviet Union.  The following is one of his Hassidic tales.

 

Tehilla & Yehuda Elberg

Tehilla & Yehuda Elberg

Rabbi Elimelech ‘s Prayer of Fire

from Hassidic lore
Want

Want
Original art by Esti Mayer

If you think it was only in Givon that the sun stopped in its tracks, I beg your pardon, you’re wrong. It happened again when the tzaddik, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk was still a young man, and a disciple of Rabbi Ber, the holy preacher of Mezritch.

Rabbi Elimelech—of blessed memory—was on his way to his rebbe. As he walked along immersed in holy meditation, he suddenly realized that the sun was about to set, and that it was high time he said the afternoon prayer, mincha. He entered an inn at the roadside, and went to the kitchen for water to wash his hands, as required by law before saying one’s prayers.

The inn filled with drunken coachmen singing with raucous voices. Ignoring them, Rabbi Elimelech walked over to the corner, facing east to Jerusalem. Every fiber of his body was filled with exaltation of prayer as his holy lips parted to begin the Ashrei, when suddenly the innkeeper burst out of the kitchen screaming: “Who stole my loaf of bread?”

“That bum over there was in the kitchen,” said the drunk, pointing at the Rabbi. The innkeeper grabbed hold of Rabbi Elimelech, and threw him out. He dragged himself to some trees nearby. The Rabbi stood against one and began reciting psalms to raise his fallen spirits, so that he could recite his prayer, with a pure heart and proper devotion.

When he reached Psalm 29 and recited the sentence, “The voice of the Lord bursts into flames of fire,” a fire descended from heaven and engulfed the inn. The innkeeper and peasants tried to extinguish the flames, but it was in vain for the water they poured on dried up instantly as if devoured by the fire, and the blaze raged on.

Rabbi Elimelech —of blessed memory—had just begun to recite mincha when he caught sight of the fire. He stopped praying, and turned his face to the blaze. The flames were reflected in his eyes as if they, too, were on fire.

“You did that on my account, right? You wanted to vindicate my honor, right?” the tzaddik called up to heaven. “But I don’t want that kind of honor.”

By now the sun was setting at the horizon’s very edge. The time for the afternoon prayer would soon pass, and yet the Rabbi’s lips were sealed. He did not complete the Ashrei, but simply stared at the conflagration, and stubbornly remained silent.

In another moment, day would pass into twilight. Heaven’s window had already been shut against the evening’s dew, and beads of moisture hovered between sky and earth; they could neither fall nor rise. The sun’s rim hung to the brink of heaven, as a drowning man holds on to the rim of a well by his fingernails, with his last ounce of strength. The stars could not be lit until Rabbi Elimelech’s mincha reached heaven. The sky turned bloody, as if the day was to be snuffed out beneath the knife of a slaughterer. All the trees in the wood whispered: “Nu, well, so now what?”

“I won’t say mincha for you until you put the fire out.” The tzaddik remained unyielding.7-The-Plough-Inn-rural-scenes-William-Shayer-Snr

Ought I tell you what happened next? Clearly Rabbi Elimelech had expressed his wish, and the Lord—blessed be He—fulfilled it. The blaze disappeared; the inn remained undamaged. It was only slightly scorched by the smoke, so that far and wide it would attest to the greatness of the tzaddik. The holy Rabbi continued the Ashrei with deep joy. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, long forbearing, and of great mercy.”

As soon as the Rabbi—of blessed memory—had reached the closing prayer Aleinu, the dew descended in blessed abundance, and settled upon all that grows. The stars came out dancing, and covered the skies like jewels on a king’s crown. The Rabbi—of blessed memory—managed to get to Mezritch in time for the evening prayer, by a miraculous shrinkage of distance, I guess. The Lord loves his tzaddikim, and occasionally relaxes the laws of nature for their sake.

After the prayers, Reb Ber saluted Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk with the customary greeting “shalom aleichem” and added the words the angel spoke to Jacob when our forefather vanquished him, “For you have striven with God and have prevailed.”

Rabbi Elimelech began to tremble. He had not—God forbid—intended to challenge the Lord’s will. He merely meant to hold back a punishment.

The holy preacher consoled him: “If a mere mortal is not envious of his son or disciple, as our Sages have said, then surely even more so, our Father in Heaven would not be jealous. He takes pleasure in your compassion for his creatures.”

The grave of Rabbi Elimelech

The grave of Rabbi Elimelech

May the merits of the holy tzaddikim intercede for us, so that we be granted the privilege of serving the Lord with pure hearts and profound devotion.

Translated from the Yiddish by Shulamith Charney
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A Black Hole in His Heart

Bekenstein

Dr. Jacob Bekenstein, ZL

The groundbreaking theoretical physicist Dr. Jacob Bekenstein died on August 16, 2015, at the age of sixty-eight. Although not well-known in popular culture, he played a key role in developing ideas which transformed much of modern physics. He was the Polak Professor of Theoretical Physics for many years at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Racah Institute of Physics. Hebrew University is one of the targets of the BDS campaign to boycott and isolate Israel.

It’s easy to boycott a place: don’t go there. It’s easy to boycott a thing: don’t use it. It’s a little more difficult though when the thing is ubiquitous in society, such as much of modern medicine, or the technology behind most computers and cel phones. It’s difficult, but it’s possible. Despite his declared support for the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, the physicist Stephen Hawking has failed to give up the communications technology which allows his disease-racked body to talk to the world. It runs on a chip designed in Israel.

It’s even more awkward to boycott an idea, especially when that idea is the foundation of your most important accomplishments: the theories that brought you fame and honor, the work your reputation is built on. Stephen Hawking anyonewhoboycottswon’t boycott or give up his communication system. Nor will he boycott a physics theory from Israel, which powers the ideas he communicates.

A Black Hole in His Heart

Hawking is famous for his work on Black Holes. His two-faced support of the BDS movement demonstrates though that Hawking’s greatest disability is the black hole in his heart, not his disease. Neil Radow, a physics student at Bar-Ilan University eloquently explains the issues at hand.

*****

Israel, BDS and the Hawking Hypocrisy

We’re under attack through the BDS- Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions- movement. Particularly jarring is the academic boycott. That seemingly intelligent people have such a misguided view of the region is astounding. Not so long ago, the most famous living scientist, Stephen Hawking, joined the boycott.

Not only is his choice upsetting, it is- in his case- particularly hypocritical. Crippled by a horrible disease (Lou Gehrig’s syndrome), Stephen Hawking to all accounts is a story of success against all odds. Almost completely paralyzed, he moves and talks via machine; his robotic voice is recognized the world over. Despite his disability, Hawking has made important contributions to such fields as M-Theory (Superstring Theory) and the so-called “wave function of the universe.” His most important contribution, however, was his work on Black Holes. In 1974, Stephen Hawking showed that Black Holes emit radiation. This discovery earned him investiture as a Fellow at the Royal Society. Indeed, Black Hole radiation is now known as “Hawking Radiation.” The discovery proved that something actually does escape from Black Holes, as opposed to what had been previously believed. The new physics theory excited the science world.

Hawking’s work, like that of all science and scientists, is highly derivative. In this case, Stephen Hawking’s prediction of Black Hole radiation was derived almost entirely from the work of one man, the Israeli physicist Jakob Berkenstein, who passed away on August 16, 2015. Berkenstein has made many contributions to physics- particularly in the field of Black Hole thermodynamics, and was a professor of physics at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Of note, Berkenstein predicted that Black Holes would have entropy, essential to Hawking’s later prediction of Black Hole radiation.

The Bekenstein–Hawking entropy formula for a black hole

The Bekenstein–Hawking entropy formula for a black hole

To understand why, one must first understand what entropy is. For laymen entropy is often defined as the state of disorder of a system. A more accurate description in scientific terms is, however, more difficult. A complex system (i.e. group of different gasses in the air) can be thought of as a deck of cards. If the cards are arranged in order- aces, twos, threes, etc.) that represents the system’s state of highest order, or lowest entropy. Any other arrangement of cards in the deck is a higher entropy configuration. Therefore, entropy could be defined as the number of microscopic arrangements of particles that would be indistinguishable on a macroscopic level. In this example of a deck of cards, any random order of cards could be considered a high entropy state. According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy in a closed system will nearly always increase. It is important to note that this is a statistical law: entropy of a system CAN increase, it is just exceedingly unlikely. This tendency of entropy to increase is often cited as the reason that time flows in only one direction – the so-called arrow of time.

When Stephen Hawking first read Berkenstein’s paper, he found it hard to believe that Black Holes have entropy. Eventually however, he accepted the results and built upon them, to make the most important breakthrough of his career. Hawking realized that if Black Holes have entropy, they must have a temperature (heat). He was even able to calculate what this temperature must be – the larger the Black Hole, the lower the temperature. If Black Holes have heat, he conjectured, then they must, too, emit radiation. This turned Black Hole physics on its head. Prior to Hawking’s discovery of Hawking Radiation, it was generally believed that nothing could escape from a Black Hole. According to Stephen Hawking, not only is this incorrect, but all Black Holes will eventually evaporate away to nothing. Today, most scientists accept this to be true.

A little over a year ago, Hawking was invited to the residence of Israeli President Shimon Peres for a conference about moving towards the future. Hawking initially accepted the invitation, but backed out at the last minute, a decision influenced by pressure from Palestinian academics and American radical linguist Noam Chomsky.

Despite its support by Hawking and others, the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is inherently misguided and, in the case of Hawking, extremely hypocritical. If Stephen Hawking wants to boycott Israel, he should retract his previous findings, which would have been impossible without the work of Israeli physicists on which it is based. ∞

Neil Radow

*****

It’s traditional upon hearing about the death of someone you know of to say “May his memory be a blessing.” Not many people outside the world of physics know about the life, death or works of Dr. Bekenstein. We can say with certainty that his memory is a blessing, that his science and brilliance is a blessing that in the long run benefits all people. Despite Hawking’s professed boycott, the black hole in his heart cannot dim the brilliance that shone from the Racah Institute of Physics. Despite many attempts to portray Israel as a black hole in the world, despite the BDS desire to make it into a closed system, Israel will continue to astound its detractors with the science, wisdom and righteousness it radiates to the world. Dr. Jacob Bekenstein and Israel continue to be a light unto the nations.

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet

Your comments are welcome
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God is sanctified through those near to Him

Ferguson "protest"

Ferguson “protesters” burning

In August 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, eighteen year old Michael Brown, a suspected thief, was killed while attacking a police officer. “Protesters” expressed their dismay by looting business, burning buildings and torching police cars.   Brown’s family members, those supposedly near to him physically attacked one another over who had the right to profit from souvenirs. Truth was not welcome; witnesses had their lives threatened for testifying that Brown was the aggressor, rather than the police. The death of a single suspected criminal was turned into a tragedy for a community, for a nation.

“I don’t think we can prevent folks who really are intent on destroying a community.”

In April, 2015, in Baltimore, Maryland, twenty-five year old Freddie Gray, a convicted narcotics dealer died while in police custody. More than three hundred and eighty businesses and institutions were attacked in the subsequent riots, including a

Baltimore "protest" looters

Baltimore “protesters” looting

seniors’ residence, a pharmacy, liquor stores… Many small, family owned stores— many without proper insurance were destroyed. The economic consequences of the riots will make life even harder for people who burned their neighborhoods down. The violence has made life much more dangerous, with murder rates skyrocketing. Police are afraid or unwilling to act, knowing they could be arrested for doing their job.

“To the youth of this city, I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment. This is your moment.”

Near to Him in Charleston

In June, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina, a young man sat in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church for an hour, before pulling out a gun and killing

  • Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a well-known community leader, civil rights advocate and state senator

    Nearer to Him

    Near to God

  • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a high-school girls’ track and field coach, and reverend at her local church
  • Tywanza Sanders, a 2014 graduate of Allen University’s division of business administration
  • Myra Thompson, wife of the Vicar of Holy Trinity REC Church in Charleston
  • Ethel Lee Lance, a 70-year-old grandmother who had worked at the church for 30 years
  • Susie Jackson, 87, a longtime church member
  • Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74, a retired pastor from another church
  • DePayne Middleton-Doctor, a former manager at the U.S. Department of Commerce and community development director

None of the victims were known for violent or criminal activities. In the aftermath of the massacre, the families of the victims forgave the killer. No buildings were destroyed. No police cars were overturned.  The so-called ‘Reverend’ Al Sharpton was ignored. A few days later, the church re-opened for Sunday services, and was filled with those near to Him (God).  Their prayers were the ultimate protest against violence, racism and evil.  A country stood awed by their power.

“Even if my life is worth less than a speck of dirt, I want to use it for the good of society”— Dylann Roof

Malignant Hatred original art by Esti Mayer

Malignant Hatred
original art by Esti Mayer

Near to Him

‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’

During the Biblical Exodus from Egypt in the Sinai desert, the two sons of the High Priest Aaron (Moses’ brother) were killed by a fire from the Lord. Moses told God’s words to his brother: ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ Aaron didn’t protest; he was silent, and then God spoke directly to him, rather than through Moses.

There are many discussions as to why Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu were killed, but they’re just speculation. We do know that they were among those near to God.

Dylann Roof offered his reasons for the Charleston massacre in a rambling manifesto. It’s still hard to understand why these nine people died in church. But we can be sure that they were among those near to God. The forgiveness offered by the victims’ families was an awe-inspiring sanctification of His name. The strength possessed through their connection to the divine enabled them to rise above the bitterness of their suffering. Unexpected death, instead of bringing the depravity and violence of Ferguson and Baltimore, brought the sanctification of God, as happened with Aaron’s sons in the Sinai desert. Mankind was able to demonstrate its capacity for nobility and strength. God was revealed not in the horrific deaths, but in the dignity of the families; of those near to Him.

“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you. And [may God] have mercy on your soul.”

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Phase Transition: What Can We Kill?

What is the difference between humans and animals? What right do we have to take the lives of the latter for our own benefit, whether for research or food? It’s a

ethical issue?

ethical issue?

challenge often repeated by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who compare the slaughter of chickens in abattoirs to the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust.

We are, after all, made of the same stuff: sinews, muscles, blood and bones. If we get technical and look at genetic structure, we’re hardly distinguishable from chimpanzees. And if you look at the occasional viciousness of chimpanzees, you can argue that our behavior is also hardly distinguishable.

According to many Amazon Indians, animals are people, or at least see themselves as persons. The visible form is merely an envelope which conceals an internal human form. A Jaguar sees the blood of its prey as beer, its own fur as decoration; it brings food home to its wife and children. Our species cannot see through the concealment. Jewish mysticism also tells us that skin is a masquerade, redirecting attention from what it obscures.

Jaguar with prey

Jaguar with prey

Some may argue that we are endowed by God with an immortal soul, and that sets us apart from the animals. It’s a good hypothesis, but unprovable. Should an enlightened creature such as man use speculation as the axiom which defines his moral parameters?

Others may say that it’s higher intelligence that gives us the right to exploit and consume our fellow creatures. If that’s the case, I’m morally entitled to be a cannibal, because I’m much smarter than most people; there may be a few people entitled to dine on me. Intelligence alone doesn’t do the trick.

What about consciousness as a criterion? I reviewed this issue in an essay on the creation of the world. Briefly, the cat physicist Erwin Schrödinger addresses this difficult question:

Therefore consciousness is associated with those of its (nervous system) functions that adapted themselves by what we call experience to a changing environment…. I would summarize my general hypothesis this: consciousness is associated with the learning of the living substance; its knowing how is unconscious.

Chimp Phase Transition

sn-chimpsH

Chimps killing chimp

We parted company with chimpanzees about six million years ago. Our species made its first appearance about two hundred thousand years ago, and has been slowly improving ever since. We’ve built grass huts, brick houses, glass skyscrapers. We eat tubers dug from the ground, genetically improved grains, animals we’ve hunted or tamed. Our cousins the chimpanzees are still swinging from trees.

We’re complex creatures; some of that complexity the result of natural selection, some simply through random mutation of no specific benefit.   Where do we draw the line? Where is the demarcation point, the phase transition between ourselves and the animal kingdom?

Bucket of Phase Transition

There’s an old children’s’ riddle:

  • Q: What weighs more- a pound of steel or a pound of feathers?
  • A: They both weigh the same.
  • Q: So which would you rather have dropped on your head?

Let’s modify that riddle:

  • Which would you rather have dropped on yourhead- a bucket of di-hydrogen monoxide, or a bucket of di-hydrogen monoxide?

    di-hydrogen monoxide bucket challenge

    di-hydrogen monoxide bucket challenge

This question is sillier than the original version unless we set up some parameters, such as the temperature of the di-hydrogen monoxide in the bucket. It then becomes a question of having a bucket of water or ice dumped on you; the former getting you soaked, the latter possibly cracking your skull, though essentially they are both the same thing.

So it is with mankind and animals. We are the same amino acids, the same proteins, flesh and blood. We’re practically the same genetic blueprint as our close relatives, the chimps. We know now that genes only tell part of the story. Epigenetics, the study of heritable changes in gene expression that occur without a change in DNA violates the Mendelian principles we were taught in high school biology. The diet of our parents, intergenerational trauma (such as the holocaust) have effects which are passed on to future generations.

Women as meat

Women as meat

So knowing that we share the flesh, that we share the genes of a violent and brutish ape does not tell us anything significant about ourselves. At some fuzzy point in our millions of years of evolution there was a phase transition: we changed from ice to water to steam (or vice-versa, if you prefer). We evolved from graphite to diamond, both solid phases of carbon. We are, after all, carbon based life forms, whose existence is dependent on rare triple nucleus encounters amplified by quantum effects.

Species Phase Transition

detonate diamond

Phase diagram for carbon

In quantum phase transition there are many competing interactions in the vicinity of the critical point between phases, so that minute changes in the control parameter will favor one type of order over another. For water, the important parameter is temperature: cold di-hydrogen monoxide is a solid. When extremely hot, it’s a gas. For carbon we look at pressure; at high pressure the carbon of a pencil lead becomes a diamond. Many say that it’s population pressure that led to the development of agriculture and civilization, to the development of us. What were the “competing interactions” affecting the phase transition that brought humanity into existence?

What is our order? Are we animals, or something different? Are we pieces of coal, or diamonds? Is our consciousness a God-given soul, or an epigenetic fluke? Are we chickens headed for the abattoir, or creatures with the gift of free will?

Humans are a species. We can breed, exchange genetic material with each other, regardless of race or ethnicity. There has been a phase transition, raising our species above animals. It’s up to each one of us whether we choose to remain there, or phase transition back to animal, to ice, to a lump of coal.

Phase regression diagram for humans

Phase regression diagram for humans

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Remember the Future Holocaust

This Wednesday evening, April 15th, 2015 is Holocaust Remembrance Day. On Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 an agreement was reached between Iran and the United States to lay the groundwork for another Holocaust, one much more technologically advanced, one much more capable of carrying out its goals.  On what day will we commemorate the future Holocaust against Israel? Or will there be anyone left to remember it?

Remembering Past Holocausts

After all, the Nazi Holocaust wasn’t the first; it was just more effective, using the most advanced technology of the mid-twentieth century. Weapons and instruments of torture based on seventeenth century technology led to the brutal destruction of three hundred thousand Jews in what was essentially a feud between the Cossacks and Tartars, Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine, with a mix of rivalry between branches of Christianity.

Atavistic Hatred Original art by Esti Mayer

Atavistic Hatred
Original art by Esti Mayer

The gas chambers of the Nazis, the scythes and pitchforks of the Ukrainian peasants were nothing compared to the killing power of nuclear weapons. In the future Holocaust, Technology developed in large part by Jews may be used to rid the world of the Jewish state.

It’s clear that Israel cannot depend on the United States to protect its interests. The U.S. has abdicated its role as the world’s policeman, allowing gangs of religious fanatics and dictators to run rampant, pursuing their own evil agendas. It’s clear that Jews cannot depend on local police forces to defend their safety in cities and countries throughout the world.

It also seems clear that the Jews cannot depend on God alone to protect their physical well-being.

Many scholars and thinkers have been asking whether the unparalleled event of the Holocaust did not create a most serious existential crisis in which the text by definition was invalidated. After six million Jews, including nearly two million children, lost their lives within five years under the cruelest of circumstances, can we still seriously speak about a viable covenant in which God promised to protect His people?… The Holocaust, they believe, proved that we have only ourselves to rely on, and that even the return to Israel is to be understood as a secular liberation of the galut experience.

To write God out of the picture would be to write Judaism and the Jewish people out of the picture. So that too, is not a viable course of action.

Preventing the Future Holocaust

In fact, there is no correct answer, no proper course of action. There are too many variables, too many characters acting with their own free will; acting from a set of beliefs and values that are totally alien to us. Only hindsight may enable us to know what were the right and wrong choices in dealing with Iran’s promise to annihilate Israel, to destroy the Jews.

My great-grandfather was the senior rabbi in Warsaw during the Nazi holocaust. Prior to the war (following the death or Rabbi Kook), he was offered the position of Chief Rabbi of Palestine (Israel). Knowing difficult times were coming, he refused to leave his community in Poland, although he encouraged others to move there. At the outbreak of the war, Jewish leaders wanted to evacuate him to safety. Again, he refused to leave his people. When faced with a round-up by the Nazis, he made his decision. (A few rabbinic leaders made a different kind of decision)

Tirosh Veyaitzher

Tirosh Veyaitzher

Rabbi Zvi Yecheskiel Michelson, dean of the Warsaw rabbinate, deliberately remained at home while a large roundup was on. He did not go out as the Germans ordered, but put on his prayer shawl and phylacteries and stayed inside. He preferred to be shot on the spot, hoping that this his boy would be thrown into one of the wagons that accompanied the roundup and find a last resting place in the Jewish cemetery. So he willingly opened the door to the search party, but when the Germans saw the tall old man, with his long silver-white beard, they became uneasy. One of them mumbled, according to the Jewish policeman who accompanied the search: “This must be Moses in person.” They slammed the door shut and left the aged rabbi alone. He must have decided then that staying with his people in their last moments was even more important than being buried in a Jewish cemetery. He rose, went down to the courtyard, and joined the marching ranks of Jews towards the Umschlag, from which the people were sent to Treblinka. (p. xiii)

May the blood of my great-grandfather be avenged. May the future holocaust be prevented.

 

Your comments are welcome

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The Face of Evil Today

The Bible Names Its Enemies:

The Bible names its enemies: Egypt, Amalek, the Philistines, and many others.  For each of them the Bible spells out why they are considered the

Joseph Dwells in Egypt, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

Joseph Dwells in Egypt by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

enemy, and what to do about them.  We are told not to hate the Egyptians because we were strangers in their land. We were also refugees there, and military allies.  Though Pharaoh did evil, Egypt doesn’t embody wickedness.

Amalek is the face of evil in the Bible,  the paradigmatic bad guy.  The nation attacked the Jewish people shortly after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. The Bible, in response, promised “a war for the Lord against Amalek from generation to generation.” Amalek is linked to Haman, who tried to eradicate the Jews of the Persian Empire. Even Nazi Germany is fancifully tied to them.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is a global religious leader, philosopher and moral voice for our time. A towering intellectual and prolific author, he is respected and revered by Jews and non-Jews alike. He examined the face of evil in a recent essay in which he wrote that the Egyptians hated and enslaved the Israelites, because they feared their strength. When the reason for the hatred would disappear so would the hatred, because of rational self-interest.

Amalek, on the other hand, attacked the Israelites simply because they could. It was an irrational hatred that could not disappear when the reason disappeared, because there was no reason. Rabbi Sacks explains it is this irrational face of evil that the Bible demands we remember.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The Face of Evil Beneath the Heart:

The Rabbi explains:

It is easy at times of peace to forget the evil that lies just beneath the surface of the human heart. Never was this truer than in the past three centuries. The birth of Enlightenment, toleration, emancipation, liberalism and human rights persuaded many, Jews among them, that collective evil was as extinct as the Amalekites. Evil was then, not now. That age eventually begat nationalism, fascism, communism, two World Wars, some of the brutal tyrannies ever known, and the worst crime of man against man.

In the peaceful times that followed World War II, many Americans, Canadians, and Europeans forgot again about the face of evil, the irrational hatred which dwells in many hearts. The troubles in the world were attributed to the evil acts of the strong and powerful, to legacy of colonialism. The violence in South-East Asia, the Middle East, were explained away as rational responses to the legacy of western imperialism.

the face of evil

the face of evil

Refusing to Recognize the Face of Evil:

On September 11, 2001, it became impossible to ignore the face of evil, casting its evil eye. Although many people still searched for explanations or conspiracies, there was nothing to rationalize the brutal terror unleashed upon America. Rabbi Sacks declares:

Today, the great danger is terror (emphasis added)

…That is why are commanded to remember and never forget Amalek, not because the historic people still exists, but because a society of rational actors can sometimes believe that the world is full of rational actors with whom one can negotiate peace. It is not always so.

The Rabbi Is Wrong:

Rabbi Sacks is wrong. The greatest danger is not terror. It’s radical Islam, which is the source of virtually all contemporary terrorism.

One cannot remember, never mind confront the face of evil if you refuse to call it by its name. We are not commanded ‘not to hate’ the chariot riders (Egypt), or to remember what the attackers of the weak (Amalek) did. We don’t identify these enemies by their military techniques. Terror is a technique, used to demoralize and crush. It is being used by the adherents of a specific religion, in the name of their religion. Victims may refuse to identify the purveyors of fear as Muslims, but the terrorists aren’t shy about it. A politician, a journalist, a Rabbi might say that terror isn’t Islamic, but the Muslims terrorists say it is. An Orthodox rabbi is not a higher authority on Islam than the many Muslims who proclaims terror as an integral part of their faith.  The Muslims who oppose them don’t deny the nature of their violence. A Brooklyn Imam, identifying radical Islam as a “cancer,” said:

“These scholars consider any verse that calls to treat people with kindness to have been abrogated. All that remains valid is ‘Kill! Slaughter!’ Is that the only thing that God tells us? …Muslims of the religious sector are time bombs.”

Put a Name to the Face of Evil:

Moses at the battle against Amalek

Moses at the battle against Amalek

If we refuse to name the contemporary Amalek, surely we cannot remember them.   If we’re too afraid to name them, they are winning.

In the first Biblical encounter with Amelek, Moses, the leader of the Israelites held up his arms during the battle, and the people were inspired to victory. The leaders of today such are not raising their hands, and the people hesitate to fight back. Rabbi Sacks says the evil is “terror.” The Dalai Lama says it’s not fair to associate terrorism with Islam.  Gandhi, the icon of nonviolence rationalized “…if Hindus became Muslims to save themselves from death, it was …not forcible conversion.”  The failure to identify, never mind remember the face of evil, the contemporary Amalek, is a violation of an obligation to God, of a responsibility to mankind.

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama