Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Price of European Apathy

The Jewish people, learned in oppression, exile and conversion decrees for thousands of years, finally returned to their soil. After a third of the nation was destroyed in the holocaust inferno, it sought a quiet corner of the world to breathe easily. The Arab nations, swept up in a torrent of seething hate, formed a military vanguard to wipe the Jews from the face of the earth. When they failed in their confrontation, the Arabs switched tactics and sent Palestinian terror into Israel; Buses, discotheques and restaurants were bombed, and arson, killings by guns, knives and kidnappings abounded.

New concepts arose in the Jewish daily mindset; Guards were placed in public entrance ways, watchfulness of abandoned bags became an issue, and spot checks in marketplaces and roads became routine. The fruits of a warped mind submitted to terror and raised the concept of autonomy. More submission, with insignificant retaliation against rocket fire, gave rise to "security rooms" in houses and public shelters. Walls near cities and armor on vehicles also became a new norm.

During these decades, Europe watched with apathy, as Jews bled, counted their dead, all the while not forgetting to accuse Israel of racism, plunder and the killing of "innocents".

The prophet Zachariah decries this apathy: "An exceeding anger do I seethe against the apathetic Gentiles." (1:15) The Rebbe explains the necessity for Gentiles to abide by the 7 Noahide laws (see here), which includes the prohibition against animal cruelty. At least from this commandment, Gentiles ought to realize they ought protect the Jewish nation from Palestinian terror and most certainly not aid and abet the tormentors with money, armament and political backing.

Now the mental unease Israel suffered begins to reverberate across the Mediterranean Sea. Now Europe begins feel, taste and understand what Jews anguished so many years. Last week, in broad daylight, a London soldier's head was decapitated. With blood on his hands, facing the camera, the killer looked much like those who lynched Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, in October 2000. When the soldier stabbed in the neck this week in Paris,  it sent jitters to the many soldiers there that patrol that city's streets. Europeans feel they are sitting on a powder keg about to explode. Arab aggression in Europe has crossed the threshold of no return. The Muslim hostility Sweden tried to hush up all these last years, this last week surfaced for all to see, as many of its suburbs went up in flames.

Europe is awakening from an apathy to the Arab threat in its daily life. A new reality has set in. The Rebbe explains that the exceeding anger of God against the Gentiles has not the purpose of destruction or revenge, but rather that Gentiles too should yearn for and demand the Era of Redemption.

We Jews can help our Gentile peers by spreading the word among them to heed the 7 Noahide Laws. The sooner they comply, the faster the entire world will enjoy an imminent utopia.
(from a talk by Rabbi Zimroni Chic)

I want to add that the decline of normalcy in Europe has swept into America as well. This present regime only serves to accelerate the pace, by siding openly with Muslim aggressors. Apathy and even reinforcement of elements bent on Israel's destruction have here also been long existent. If only this great country's good people could once again take hold of the reins to steer it back to God and freedom.

Friday, May 24, 2013

On Thinking - Speaking Positively

On Jewish blogs, of the personal kind, often enough they invoke emotional negativity, an item I here briefly address.

The person is - that which he says. What comes of of one's mouth - defines that person.

For example, it says
חכם מה הוא אומר and it says
רשע מה הוא אומר

Don't read these as questions, but as assertions, namely:
A wise man (or an evil one) can be determined by
- what comes out of his mouth. Put a comma after the word
חכם or after the word רשע.

For example, a young lady wrote,
"I was stuck in a rut. ... I was stuck in my rut and I didn’t know how to get out."

If she says she's in a rut, she is, by virtue of having said so. If she didn't, that's because she decided not to say it because she can get out of it. The Rebbe said, "Think good and it will be good". If you speak in negativity, you're DOING negativity. Speaking (or writing the talk) is doing.

You might argue, "Yes, but don't we have emotions that are the opposite of being happy." And, that being so, they are real and therefore can be spoken of.

The emotions might be real, indeed, but the speaking out of them follows a decision to air them. That decision determines who you are. Keep the emotions inside, away from view, and you will note that you are now thinking positively. Speak them out into the breeze, and you will have defeated your wish to remain positive, because you've relinquished your control over the underlying factors. Keeping them inside gives you strength to ward off the surrender. You will, of course, then be thinking of ways to remove or minimize the offending circumstances, and thereby you will have attained mastery of them.

If problems arise and seem unbearable, the person can ask for help. That is not weakness, nor is it negative.

The Rebbe's dictum is in this same vein. Thinking good does not deny emotional traumas. It just says, use them to your advantage by climbing over and above them, by figuring ways to triumph over the negativity. Think good and, indeed, it will be good!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Cosmic Purpose of Creation

The first of the Ten Commandments contains a peculiar fact. God says to the Jews, "I am your God who took you out of Egypt, out of bondage." (Ex.20:2)

Suppose you owned a fine thoroughbred who won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Would you take pride in your horse by saying "My horse won the Preakness!"? Of course not; You'd say, "He won the Triple Crown!"

Why did God minimize on His accomplishment? A much greater feat God achieved was - creation of the universe! Would it not have been more compelling to say "I am your God Who created the universe!"?

Taking the Jews "out of Egypt, out of bondage" surely cannot compare to the act of creation because the former is a matter of changing or rearranging things already in existence, whereas creation of the universe involves (continuous) forming matter and circumstances - out of literally nothing!

Specifying "out of Egypt, out of bondage" reveals the secret for which the Creator created the world in the first place! It broadcasts the Cosmic Purpose of the Supreme Creative Power. The heavens may tell the glory of God and the wonders of His works, but this 1st Commandment tells the motive for the Universal Frame in the first place!

God thereby is telling the Jewish people He redeemed them from bondage they would thereby be able to serve Him, and be bonded to God. The purpose of a Jew's life is to devote his mindset to worship God, by adhering to God's desires expressed by His commandments, and minimize serving foreign constraints.

A painter likes to have in his house plenty of fine art work; A scholar enjoys having a house full of books. Put the painter to live in the scholar's house, or the scholar in the painter's house, and they'd be most unhappy.

God created people in such a way as to feel as if they can do what they want, just as God Himself can do what He wants. God very much enjoys having people with free will to do as He wants them to behave. That's the house God created and one in which He can thereby "feel at home in".

So why the unusual clause in the 1st Commandment? To make known to Jews what He expects of them. God's wish was NOT simply to create a universe, not any more than someone wants to build a house without it serving a further purpose. God's desire was to have inside this world a people who will seek Him out to serve Him.

He plucked the Jewish nation out of servitude to another nation to have it be His own. They would be beacons of light, representing His light, to elevate this world to its transcendent state of redemption and perfection.

We've come 3,325 years since that exodus. The Jews, says the Rebbe, have already achieved that goal of preparing the world, finally, for the last leg of the arduous journey. Imminently soon, with the Jewish King Moshiach of the House of David, the crown jewel of humanity, at the helm, all people of the world will recognize this transformation programmed for revelation, in this new Era about to dawn.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Divine Providence 6 Months Post-Tammuz 3

An event in 1995 inside of "770" during Shabbat prayers deserves mention. The large crowd in the shul was listening to the Ba'al Koreh, Rabbi Michoel Slavin. About half way through, he suddenly stops his recitation, looks closer at the script, and points to the text for a gabbai nearby to look at.

By the way, every Friday, in preparation for this reading, Rabbi Yehudah Clapman, a long-time sofer in the community, checks the Sefer Torah to make sure all is in good order for the upcoming reading on Shabbat.

After a few more cursory inspections, they began wrapping up that Sefer Torah, returned it to the Aron Kodesh, and took out another one to replace it.

It turns out an entire word was missing from the text. This happened Tevet 21, 5755. That was Shabbat, parshas Shmos. The verse was 4:1,

‫...‬ והן לא יאמינו לי
... and they will not believe me ....

The word לי was missing!

My own reaction to what happened was - I was stunned. To me this was a significant providential message with huge impact. Here was Moshe Rabbeinu telling God the Jews will not believe him. His mission was to tell the Jews he will be redeeming them and the Jews, in turn, may well not believe him.

We were about 6 months away from the 3rd of Tammuz, 1994. The trauma was still raw; Emotions still ran fresh. Many of us believed nothing had changed from what the Rebbe had charted out for us, while plenty of others, local and remote, felt what the past held in store was now down the drain.

No verse in all of Torah could better have depicted the schism the 3rd of Tammuz created. But now, on this Shabbat, those of us who believed the Rebbe's agenda remains sturdily on course, and hadn't changed one iota, felt vindicated - a surreal relief!

It was as if the leader of the generation, the Rebbe, was telling us "They won't be believing in me", as if many would continue to believe (regarding some far future) - BUT NOT IN ME!

Monday, May 13, 2013

There is no Jewish Religion ...

When you host a guest in your home, don't you expect him to behave appropriately? Would it not annoy you if he sits on your dinner table, carelessly breaks a crystal, or spits on the carpet? Would it not further offend you if such crass behavior were to occur mindless of your presence?

This matter of etiquette is a metaphor of our lifetime on earth. We are the universe's guests. God is our host. He brought us into His world, giving us the incredible opportunity to live a life. Do we disrespect the master of this domain and behave ungratefully, or do we abide by His wishes and act appropriately?

You might ask, "But what constitutes 'appropriate behavior'? How is one to distinguish between what's really right from wrong?"

The creator of any complicated gadget always leaves a set of instructions how to correctly operate his invention. The same is true of the universe. We creatures too have been given a manual of instructions.

This manual happens to be the most widely read book in the world. It's no coincidence that it has been the most popular in human history, and still is today! It's no coincidence either that in the whole world hardly a home exists without one, or at least without the ability to get to one immediately!

The miracle of the Jewish people's supernatural survival, let alone their ever-thriving existence despite the eternal hatred, banishment and oppression they have to bear, ought to spur the questioner into seeing the answer in proper perspective - unless this fact that defies Nature also he sees as mere coincidence, in which case he leaves no room for reasoning.

The Jewish people serve as God's flashlight for others to see.

It's God's way to make sure we all have access to Him and His expectations of us. God wants man to use his human intellect to connect the dots.

Once it registers with the Gentile observer that the very existence of the Jewish people is a phenomenon that transcends nature, for it is the equivalent of a sheep that survives among 70 hungry wolves, he becomes very close to the answer he needs.

The Torah is more than just the glue that keeps the Jewish people true to their faith and miraculously assures their collective, if not individual, survival. The Torah is a manual of instruction also for the Gentiles of the world.

But, of course, unless the Gentile acknowledges this fact of life, and thereby appreciates the Jewish phenomenon, without taking offense to God's choice of people who represent Him, they will then be able to connect another few dots thereby.

Finally, when more dots are connected, they will begin to depict an arrow - an arrow of truth that points to Torah.

For in Torah lies buried treasure all people of intellect must discover. God has given the Gentile a treasure, as sure as he has set one aside for the Jew - and both treasures are found in the same Holy Book.

The Torah prescribes two modes of appropriate behavior in this domain of God; One prescription is for the Jew; The other, for the Gentile. The Jew has 613 commandments (plus ramifications thereof) he must follow. The Gentile has 7 (with its own ramifications); These are the so-called Seven Noahide Laws.

So, what constitutes proper conduct in God Almighty's abode? What behavior befits the King's palace? There are two, depending on who you are. One protocol applies for Jewish people, and one for Gentile people. There is no Jewish religion. There is no Gentile religion. Each group has its own role in the world. The Jew is the Torah's beacon. The Gentile is the world's just colonizer. Each has his own related set of commandments to follow. Anything else falls short of these requirements and lacks divine sanction!

So, how many religions exist in the world? Who knows and who cares, for in fact there ought be none! Torah endorses only two modes of proper conduct, one for Jew and one for Gentile, no more, no less. You can't beat this elegant simplicity, nor the inherent synergy.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Israeli Prisoner's Letter

It's a simple enough question, but until recently, I hadn't been able to answer it. "Who are you?" For years I was proud of who I was. I had no worries in the world. I was making great money, living a life of fun, fancy and fast cars, and thought that nothing or no one could touch me. For years I was a professional criminal.

And then my world came crashing down. I was caught. I was found guilty. And I am now in the process of serving a 12-year sentence in the Ramla prison in Israel.

The day I entered the jail, I lost my identity. To the prison system, I was merely a number. I had a name, but no one knew it as I never used it. I only knew how to be a criminal. So behind bars, who was I? What defined me?

I was a prisoner. And when you are a prisoner you have no definition. You have no status in the underworld and no status in the real world. You are nothing.

Then I got a glimpse, for the first time in my life, into my religion. I met the prison rabbi. The inmates simply called him "Jacobs." For the first time in my life, I began to learn the real answer. I am a Jew.

I am a Jew who never really cared that he was a Jew. I am a Jew who was raised, like most Israelis, with the basic traditions, but with little care or understanding as to what any of it meant. My parents were immigrants. What was passed down well was the poverty, the illiteracy, and the hopelessness that many immigrant families have experienced. And, what got passed down was the need to survive and thrive at any cost. And that was exactly what I did.

I was a great criminal. I knew how to lie, cheat, steal, and essentially get whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I had no qualms about my actions. I felt I was just helping make the world a little more balanced. It wasn't my fault that I was raised with barely enough food to eat. I couldn't change what I was given, but I could change what I would get. And so, from a very young age, I learned what was profitable. Drugs and weapons were profitable. What I didn't realize was that they were also deadly.

Few believe this, but I think I really wanted to get caught. Call it pop-psychology, but I think my getting caught was my cry for help. I knew something needed to change, but for the first time, I didn't know how to do it. I only knew how to do wrong. Getting caught and thrown in jail was a real blessing - and not even so much one in disguise. I really think it saved my life. But it was the prison chaplain who saved my soul. He introduced me to who I was, to who I am, and to who I want to be.

Fishel, aka, "Jacobs," made sure the kitchen was kosher, there were mezuzas on all the doors, and that other rabbis did their jobs in the cell-block yeshivas by giving classes in Torah throughout the week.

At first when I watched Jacobs make his rounds, I thought that if he knew what was good for him he'd better stay away from me. I was in a cell-block with a lot of tough guys, men who would stab you in the blink of an eye if they needed to. Upon mentioning my thoughts to a fellow inmate, I was informed that Jacobs was a black-belt in karate and if I was smart, I may want to stay away from him. I figured I would rely on the age-old idea that if you can't beat them, join them. He couldn't be that bad if the other inmates liked him so much.

The first time he entered my cell, I realized that this meeting was going to be different. Here was someone who didn't care about my criminal past, wasn't impressed with my rap record, and only wanted to focus on what's inside me. No one had ever taken the time to ask or care about what was going on in there. He did. He took one good look at me, and his eyes entered a place so deep within - a place I didn't even know existed.

He explained to me that he is a Chabad-Lubavitch chasid, and his job was to help Jews discover what it means to be Jewish. That was it. Simple as could be. Here was an intelligent man, whose main goal in life was to teach me that I am a Jew.

Here was someone who embodied the exact opposite of everything I knew. I knew people who were nothing, but pretended to be something. "Fake it 'till you make it." Here was an American, who wrote books, and was a success in other ways, yet to him it meant nothing. All that mattered was helping others. And, he told me that all Lubavitchers tried to be exactly like that.

Working with prisoners is no easy task. Let's be honest here. We are the garbage of the world. We are the people you hate, and rightly so. There is a reason we are behind bars. We did something that landed us here. With few exceptions, we deserve to be where we are.

So what kind of person with other career choices chooses to work with us? This was the first question I asked Jacobs when he entered my cell. His answer blew me away. He told me that the same question was asked to his Rebbe, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in regards to how he didn't tire standing for hours, handing out dollars to thousands upon thousands of people. The Rebbe answered that when you count diamonds you don't get tired.

Fishel added that even when those diamonds end up in a pile of mud, when you know there are diamonds, you'll stick your hand in and pull them out. The mud may cover the diamond, but it can't penetrate it or diminish its beauty and value. And the mud will wash off. I was a diamond. Most certainly covered in mud, if not worse, but a diamond nonetheless.

Who would have thought that being imprisoned would be the greatest thing that could have happened to me? It wasn't until I came to prison that I learned who I was. Until then I thought I knew, but I had no idea. Now, even though I am physically behind bars, I am finally free within. And though this is not a place where I want to stay, I am using every minute of my time here as an opportunity.

An opportunity for growth, repentance and change. I have begun to view my sentence as yeshiva for ex-criminals. I have a lot of time here to study Torah, and I attend a Tanya class and a class in Jewish law every day. I keep Shabbat, eat kosher food, and do mitzvot whenever I can. Funny enough, because I was so well known on the streets, other inmates are willing to attend the classes and learn because of me. Go figure.

I wait for the day of my release. I await the day when I can give back to society and try and make up for the damage I did. I yearn for the day when I can marry a wonderful woman and bring beautiful children into this world. And when I do leave these prison walls, I will know what to answer when asked who I am. I am Moshe. I am a diamond. I am a Jew.

(Rabbi Fishel Jacobs was raised in Vermont. He is an eighth-degree karate master instructor and title-holder. He worked as an officer for Israeli Prison Service. He has published numerous non-fiction books. REPRINTED FROM L'CHAIM #1269)

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Real Reality

Funny how some people think they are real. Because they sense physicality and feel sure they will live another day, they assume they are real and their environment is real.

Why is that a problem? Because it's untrue and, as all things untrue, it may well lead to false conclusions.

We are only real insofar as we think it's real. Beyond that, only God is real. We are nothing but automatons made to feel as if we're independent. That feeling of independence would melt away were we in the form of animals, with less intellect than we have. And were we, instead, in the form of a plant, our independent feelings would be dealt a heavier blow, always anchored to the soil. Our feeling of independence would vanish entirely were we merely in the form of inert matter.

But since we have intellect and have no constant connection to one place on earth, we pompously flout our freedom and interpret it, incorrectly, as being independent. Independence means you can subsist on your own.

Obviously you cannot fare well on your own to be alive. I'm sure you can think of many people without whom you'd not survive.

That you require oxygen to live the next minute should be enough proof how thoroughly dependent you are on - that which is real!

No, not that oxygen is real, and no, neither are the trees that provide oxygen real, and no, not the earth that provides growth is real. Only He Who created the universe - He and only He is real. All the rest is but a product of His doing. He gave us that which makes us imagine things.

This is the meaning of the verse of Shema that we say about 5 times a day in our prayers. This common interpretation, "Hear O Israel ..." actually should be translated correctly to mean "UNDERSTAND you Jewish people..." - that "God is ONE". "One" does NOT mean unique, first, or any other term that implies the existence of other entities, God forbid. It means that everything about the entire universe is nothing but AN ASPECT OF THE ONE AND ONLY REAL THING THAT EXISTS. The Shema says - Understand Jews that utterly everything in this universe, despite the fragmented appearance of particulates therein, constitutes an aspect of the ONE GOD. That this is difficult to decipher by intellectual analysis is notwithstanding!

Are there physicists among you? How does physics explain the fact that this closed system, the universe, humungous as it is, does not deteriorate into a state of randomness or disorder, but rather continues to function naturally by Nature? Is it not evident that some external source of continuous energetic input keeps it all going in beautiful harmony and organization? If physicists cannot imagine God, or will not allow themselves this luxury, what worth is all their physics training if so simple a question they must skirt?

So if we're not real, what will become of the future? We will remain with a life of imaginations, only we'll have, in the world-to-come, a much greater appreciation of the REAL ONE-AND-ONLY.

P.S. Update: Commenter Yankev adds a most important point hereto overlooked.

Monday, May 06, 2013

One Jew at a Time

A Floridian Jew encounters one of the Rebbe's Chabad emissaries. One small step for mankind, one Jew at a time.

Some Israelis that harbor disgust for religion and its adherents call this behavior "Missionary" work. Of course, out of sheer ignorance, they compare Judaism to all other religions and see them all as taboo, when, in fact, all but one, luckily theirs, although they know not of this yet, represents the ultimate truth.

The reason one Jew wants to help out another and bring him to the guiding light was well explained by the Rebbe. Being that the Jewish people constitute one collective body, to be sure, then, said the Rebbe,"When the left hand is itchy, the right hand wants to relieve the itch by scratching it." Similarly in such cases where we feel the loss suffered by the ignorant Jew, for surely his soul is restless until he discovers the source of truth, we seek to help him out and provide proper direction to a rudderless soul.

This is hardly the reason Gentiles pursue missionary work. They seek to justify their own lie and could care less about the Jew they seek to trap into their web of deceit.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Advantage of Vitality

The Rebbe, I heard from an elder chassid, once expressed a sigh, "If only all my chassidim were Ba'alei Tshuvah!" Actually, he used a Jewish play on words, saying he prefers "געווארענע" over "געבוירענע" ("becomers" over "those born such").

I stumbled upon a Rashi that makes this same point. The prophet Isaiah says, "Listen DISTANT ONES that which I wrought; Know NEAR ONES my strength." (33:13)

Just who are the "distant" ones? Says Rashi, "those who believe in Me and followed My path since their youth."

Rashi's explanation might run counter to intuition. After all, would you not expect a "distant" one to have failed and thus distanced himself from God? Instead, Rashi says they are distant by virtue of having covered a long "distance" doing God's commandments since their youth!

And who are the near ones? Says Rashi, "these are the Ba'alei Tshuvah who recently came close to Me." 

Here too you might expect "near" ones to have been well-ingrained with doing Hashem's will. Instead, Rashi defines near ones as those who rather "recently" turned to Mitzvot.

Of course, Rashi's eminent interpretation becomes clear if we examine it on the basis of rote behavior. That which has become well-accustomed over the years may well lack a refreshing attitude. This apathy can extinguish the spiritual fire and effect the behavior in turn. For example, a person can learn Torah from year to year and fail to sense greater awe over time.

In contrast, the Ba'al Tshuvah cherishes that which he missed all those years being estranged from Torah. Now that he has the chance, he grabs it. He deems it all fresh and worthy. He senses exhilaration and awe. No longer is there the need to explore for a good trail in the wilderness. He feels appreciative of Torah that now guides him laser-straight without having to test foreign waters, for now he is securely anchored to the path of Truth.