Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Isaac Covenant part IV: Time to Stand up for ourselves

My children have been declared criminals.  And I couldn't be prouder.

 It was truly a watershed event, when the President of the United States reversed five decades of policy and allowed a resolution to pass in the Security Council that, under international law, criminalized any “settlement activity” in any area that was captured by Israel after June 5, 1967, very specifically including East Jerusalem.   This means that my daughter, who lives in the East Jerusalem neighborhood "settlement" Neve Yaakov (population 25,000), and my son and daughter, who live in the city "West Bank settlement" of Betar Ilit (population 50,000), are criminals, who had best stay away from The Hague, lest they be arrested and tried in the International Court of Justice (sic).

 The (Dis)Honorable Mohammad Abbas is already licking his chops, salivating about the possibility of proclaiming Israel’s illegitimacy in every possible forum and at every turn, while preparing to prosecute every Israeli they can at the International Court of Justice [sic], having made absolutely zero concessions to receive this long sought prize. As our outgoing Nobel Laureate President savors this hopefully last stab at Israel (the despicable ex-President Jimmy Carter has been urging him to recognize a State of Palestine before he goes), many have written, and will write about the tremendous damage that has been caused.

   Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon,  remonstrated to all present at that very meeting about the hypocrisy of this and so many General Assembly resolutions singling out Israel, in the midst of the massive abuses of human rights otherwise ignored, predicting that this resolution will have the opposite effect of bringing not peace, but more terror and war. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been scathing in his criticism (more about that later). But much of the commentary has revolved around trying to predict what President-Elect Trump (who deserves enormous credit for stopping the resolution, only to be thwarted by Obama) means when he tweeted “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.” 

   Some have offered suggestions on how Trump can reverse the resolution. Some have said it is irreversible, but Trump can help Israel in other ways, and if his selection of David Friedman as Ambassador is any indication, he will do so tremendously. (I think that many Jews, whether they would admit it or not, would echo the sentiments of a friend of mine who said that they have moved from #NeverTrump to #ThankGodforTrump). 

   Personally, although I previously wrote about my non-support for Trump, I am greatly heartened to see the direction he has taken post-election – particularly regarding Israel – but nevertheless remain wary. We say in the Pesukei D’Zimra every morning
             אַל תִּבְטְחוּ בִנְדִיבִים בְּבֶן אָדָם שֶׁאֵין לוֹ תְשׁוּעָה
Do not trust in gracious donors, nor in a human being 
for he holds no salvation  (Psalms 146:3).
 Relying on Trump alone to make things better may be a recipe for (to use one of his favorite words) disaster. 

 The Haftarah that we will read for Shabbat Chanukah is from the prophet Zecharya (Chap 2-4) who lived at the beginning of the Second Temple era, and it contains a famous paradox. It begins with a glorious picture of the future: 

:רָנִּי וְשִׂמְחִי בַּת-צִיּוֹן כִּי הִנְנִי-בָא וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְתוֹכֵךְ נְאֻם ה
 וְנִלְווּ- גוֹיִם רַבִּים אֶל-ה' בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא וְהָיוּ לִי לְעָם 
:וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְתוֹכֵךְ וְיָדַעַתְּ כִּי-ה' צְבָאוֹת שְׁלָחַנִי אֵלָיִךְ 
:וְנָחַל ה' אֶת-יְהוּדָה חֶלְקוֹ עַל אַדְמַת הַקֹּדֶשׁ וּבָחַר עוֹד בִּירוּשָׁלָם 
:הַס כָּל בָּשָׂר מִפְּנֵי הֹ' כִּי נֵעוֹר מִמְּעוֹן קָדְשׁוֹ 

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for, behold! I will come and dwell in your midst, says Hashem. And many nations shall join Hashem on that day, and they shall be My people; and I will dwell in your midst and you shall know that the Lord of Hosts sent me to you. And the Lord shall inherit Judah as His share on the Holy Land, and He shall again choose Jerusalem. Silence all flesh from before Hashem, for He is aroused out of His holy habitation.

   Clearly, this time has not yet come, and it describes the Messianic period, may it come speedily in our days בב"א.

 the central theme of בהעלותך, as well as the central theme of the Second Temple era as a whole, is that of a missed opportunity

But then the rest of the haftarah, including the beautiful image of the glowing menorah, seems to refer very much to the contemporary period of Zecharya and Yehoshua Kohei Gadol, and Zerubavel . . . it is like suddenly Zecharya is snapped away from rapture about the future to a not very pleasant present, a time when Jerusalem, the אוּד מֻצָּל מֵאֵשׁ (an ember plucked from the fire) is yet under threat . . .a time that even the High Priest is very imperfect and has to remove his uncleanliness . . . and the great vision recedes to the distant future. 

    Space does not permit a full treatment of this magnificent Haftarah, familiar to us not only from Shabbos Chanukah, but also for בהעלותך (Numbers Chap 8-12). As my Rebbe in Eretz Yisroel taught, the reason for the shared hafarah it is not only due to the mention of the menorah in both Torah readings. Rather, the central theme of בהעלותך, as well as the central theme of the Second Temple era as a whole, is that of a missed opportunity. 

    In בהעלותך , we read of the time that  Am Yisrael finally left Mt. Sinai and was on the road to Eretz Yisrael when . . . the nation seems to fall off the spiritual cliff.   We meet kvetchers (מתאוננים), complainers about the food (קברות התאוה) and other nudniks leading to Moshe almost giving up on them, followed by the disaster of the Spies (מרגלים) when their doom was sealed. They had a golden opportunity to go and inherit the Land, but they blew it. 

   Similarly, the Second Temple era has been described with great pathos by Rav Yehuda HaLevi in the Kuzari (2:24) [1]. After a rapturous description of the special nature of Eretz Yisrael, and how the Torah can only be properly kept there, the King asks him, “Excuse me . . . why do you not live there?” Here is an excerpt of his answer: 
This is a severe reproach, O king of the Khazars. It is the sin which kept the divine promise with regard to the second Temple, viz.: Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion' (Zachariah 2:10), from being fulfilled. Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they had all willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so, whilst the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, and unwilling to leave their houses and their affairs. . . Divine Providence only gives man as much as he is prepared to receive; if his receptive capacity be small, he obtains little, and much if it be great. . . When [in our prayers] we say: 'Worship his holy hill-- worship at His footstool--He who restoreth His glory to Zion' (Psalms 99:9, Psalsm 99:5), and other words, this is but as the chattering of the parrot and the nightingale. We do not pay attention to what we say by this sentence, nor others, as you rightly observe, O Prince of the Khazars . . .
  In other words, the beginning of the Second Temple was a missed opportunity, and thus it ended badly.  And we still have not learned the lesson; we don't really want to seize the opportunity that Hashem gives us to live in Eretz Yisrael, and when we pray for its restoration we are just chattering words like a parrot.  [2]

    The story of Chanukah  in the midst of the Second Temple era is not only part of the larger picture painted by the Kuzari, but a particularly poignant example of a great missed opportunity.  The Hasmonean victory  a moment of true renewal of Avodas Hashem and national pride  was followed very rapidly by a descent into deep corruption and debasement.  When it got so bad that the grandchildren of the Hasmoneans actually invited the Romans into Eretz Yisrael to settle their internecine disputes, the Divine verdict of our long expulsion into Golus was sealed, closing off that grand opportunity for a very long time.  

    A more extensive read of the book of Zecharyah (particularly chapters 8, 12), will show predictions of the war at the End of Days, where Jerusalem be under attack from all the nations.  There will be no one to help us, and it will lead  into the war of Gog and Magog.   Of course, I make no claim to knowing anything at all, and certainly not when prophecies will be fulfilled. But it has seemed to me for a long time, and this week’s events only confirm that trend, that history is leading into a vortex concerning Israel. 

   On the one hand, more and more of the Jewish people (close to 50%) are already living in Eretz Yisrael, and experiencing miraculous, unprecedented growth in a vibrant, wealthy, powerful, nation that is leading the world in many areas afer existing such a short time.   On the other hand, Israel is being isolated ever more  politically and economically, and the diplomatic, military and nuclear threats from Iran, ISIS, and the international community are growing exponentially. Her “great friend”, the United States, has shown this week that it is not as trustworthy as once thought, no matter what may happen in coming administrations. 

   The vortex seems clearly to be leading to the time predicted by the Gemara (Sotah 49b) [3]
 In the (Ikvesa D’Mashicha) footsteps of the messiah chutzpah will increase and honor dwindle . . . the government will turn to heresy and there will be none [to offer them] reproof. . . the fearers of sin will be despised, and the truth will be lacking; youths will put old men to shame, the old will stand up in the presence of the young. . . a son will not feel ashamed before his father. So upon whom is it for us to rely? Upon our father who is in heaven. 
The prediction at the end, that we will have no one to rely upon at the end except our Father in Heaven, is often cited as proof that we will ultimately be brought to a place whereby we will be forced to understand that we can only rely on Hashem, and only then will the Redemption come. That, of course, is true. But there is more to the story. 

    In a surprising twist, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (and similarly the Brisker Rav) said that this final prediction is not a blessing, but rather, a curse. 

   The negative predictions cited in that Gemara grow progressively worse.  Not only chutzpah will be rampant, but the econom will be terrible and ... and .. and a son will not be ashamed before his father, and – worst of all we will feel that we are able only to rely on Hashem.  That, said the Rebbe, is the worst of all, as people will use that feeling of helplessness as an excuse for inaction. 

We were brought into this world to do and accomplish.  On the verse in Bereishis (2:3)
אשר ברא אלוקים לעשות
That G-d had created to do

Rashi quotes the Midrash, saying that the word  לעשות (to do) means לתקן (to fix and correct).   We were brought into an imperfect world, and Hashem wants us to take action to fix and correct that world.    It is famously said that הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים, that All is in the hands of Heaven, but the Fear of Heaven.  When it comes to something that we can do to increase our own Yirat Shamayim or that of otheres; when there is something that needs to be done to bring the world closer to Fear of Heaven, we are not to look to Hashem arranging for it, but it is in OUR hands, with G-d's help to endeavor to accomplish it.

"Enough of this exile (mentality)
 There is no political wisdom to being obsequious"

Included in this is to seize the opportunity we have in living in such a remarkable time.  A time when history is so clearly being made, when our people have been given the gift of leaving the exile behind and living once again in our homeland.  A time of the Isaac Covenant, when we no longer need to live in fear of "what will the Goyim say", and we can with Hashem's help – move forward in actualizing the gift of our unfolding redemption. 

I congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu for having exactly the right response. After taking several strong actions which showed his contempt for the UN resolution, he said, 
"This morning I read in several newspapers that the aggressive stand I took with the countries that voted against us has been accepted. Israel is a country with national pride, and we do not turn the other cheek. Our response was rational, resolute, and responsible. It was the natural response of a healthy country which makes clear that the United Nation’s action is not acceptable to us . . .” "Enough of this exile (mentality),” said Netanyahu. “There is no political wisdom to being obsequious. Not only were our relations with the countries of the world not hurt by this event, but they will actually improve over time. Countries respect strong states that stand on their own and do not respect weak states that are obsequious and bow their heads. Israel under my leadership is a strong, proud country. We will continue to defend our country and we will continue to develop our country.” 
   This, he said, after proudly lighting the Menorah in newly declared criminally occupied territory, i.e. the Kotel HaMaaravi. 

   Continuing a theme I have been developing, Netanyahu’s response was in keeping with our time – the time of the Isaac Covenant. A time when we may be hated and vilified by the Nations of the world, but one in which we can and must stand up for ourselves, given the new found power and ability and opportunity we have. We need to strive to liven in Eretz Yisrael, build Eretz Yisrael, stand up for Eretz Yisrael, and seize this enormous opportunity that G-d Almighty has given us. 

Happy Chanukah!

[1]   Text of Kuzari

כד. אמר החבר: הובשתני מלך כוזר, והעון הזה הוא אשר מנענו מהשלמת מה שיעדנו בו האלוקים בבית שני, כמה שאמר: [זכריה ב' י"ד] "רני ושמחי בת ציון", כי כבר היה העניין האלוקי מזומן לחול כאשר בתחילה אלו היו מסכימים כולם לשוב בנפש חפצה, אבל שבו מקצתם ונשארו רובם וגדוליהם בבבל, רוצים בגלות ובעבודה, שלא ייפרדו ממשכנותיהם וענייניהם. 

ושמא על זה אמר שלמה: [שיר השירים ה' ב] 'אני ישנה ולבי ער', כינה הגלות בשינה והלב הער התמדת הנבואה ביניהם. 'קול דודי דופק', קריאת האלוקים לשוב. 'שראשי נמלא טל', על השכינה שיצאה מצללי המקדש, ומה שאמר: 'פשטתי את כתנתי', על עצלותם לשוב. 'דודי שלח ידו מן החור', על עזרא שהיה פוצר בהם ונחמיה והנביאים, עד שהודו קצתם לשוב הודאה בלתי גמורה, ואמרו כשל כוח הסבל (נחמיה ד, ד) ונתן להם במצפון לבם, ובאו העניינים מקוצרים מפני קיצורם, כי העניין האלוקי איננו חל על האיש אלא כפי הזדמנותו לו, אם מעט - מעט ואם הרבה - הרבה. ואילו היינו מזדמנים לקראת אלוקי אבותינו בלבב שלם ובנפש חפצה, היינו פוגעים ממנו מה שפגעו אבותינו במצרים. 

ואין דיבורנו 'השתחוו להר קדשו', ו'השתחוו להדום רגליו', ו'המחזיר שכינתו לציון' וזולת זה, אלא כצפצוף 
הזרזיר והדומה לו , שאין אנחנו חושבים על מה שנאמר בזה וזולתו, כאשר אמרת מלך כוזר

[2] It is important to note that those words were written when travelling to Eretz yisrael and living here were "just a little more difficult" than today, when one can fly there on a luxurious airplane and live wih all the comforts of modern life ...

בעקבות משיחא חוצפא יסגא ויוקר יאמיר הגפן תתן פריה והיין ביוקר ומלכות תהפך למינות ואין תוכחת בית וועד יהיה לזנות והגליל יחרב והגבלן ישום ואנשי הגבול יסובבו מעיר לעיר ולא יחוננו וחכמות סופרים תסרח ויראי חטא ימאסו והאמת תהא נעדרת נערים פני זקנים ילבינו זקנים יעמדו מפני קטנים בן מנוול אב בת קמה באמה כלה בחמותה אויבי איש אנשי ביתו פני הדור כפני הכלב הבן אינו מתבייש מאביו ועל מה יש לנו להשען על אבינו שבשמים

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