Friday, December 31, 2021

Rav Kook's Igrot Hare’aya: Course of Study in Contemporary Times, part I

#89 – part I

Date and Place: 21 Menachem Av 5664 (1904), Rechovot

Recipient: R. Dr. Moshe Zeidel (a close disciple of Rav Kook, from their time in Boisk. Dr. Zeidel was a philologist and philosopher, who asked Rav Kook many philosophical questions.)

Body: Your valuable words, my dear friend, have made my heart happy, as I spend some time in the pleasant environment of the agricultural community, Rechovot. As I sit, I see the Judean hills, and my heart is full of excitement, as these are places that saw grand times in other eras and will still see glorious times in the future, as Hashem’s word is always fulfilled. We indeed need to look toward our wonderful future, which will unite into a single force all of the fresh strengths that exist in our nation. Then we will be ready to live healthy, complete lives of the type that will be a source of inspiration for all the world, by combining vigor with the grandeur of sanctity and exaltedness. This will fulfill Israel’s proper role for our national life in Eretz Yisrael.

All of the above can be accomplished only if all goodness that is found in the life of the fathers (i.e., traditional spiritual tools) and the life of the sons (i.e., modern spiritual tools) can be combined. Not only should these two approaches to life not contradict each other, but they should strengthen and elevate each other. This is the foundation of the idea of returning the heart of fathers onto sons and the heart of sons onto fathers (see Malachi 3:24).

These thoughts regularly occupy my mind. Thank G-d, everything I imagined when I lived in the Diaspora as to what we needed to do for our nation and Land as a whole, I see coming true before our eyes in the Holy Land. This includes the influence of a spirit of purity that gives special life to all of the actions, allowing us to say, “House of Yaakov, let us proceed in the light of Hashem” (Yeshayahu 2:5).

I give a lot of thought to the thirst in the nation for the word of Hashem. In our generation, it has found expression as a disease that causes “losing consciousness due to thirst” (i.e., people are negatively affected by their unfulfilled need for connection to the word of Hashem). Only the successful few who have better access to sanctity are able to use the thirst properly, as the rest turn the yearning for sanctity into disgust with it. I know with certainty that the impact of the word of Hashem and the light of the Torah must be in a way that those who are thirsty can recognize. This will strengthen us and prepare us to wear our “clothes of strength and grandeur” and make us worthy of liberation and salvation, as we return to Hashem and His holy word with love that emerges from recognition and knowledge.

“You shall seek Hashem your G-d from there, and you shall find when you search for Him with all your heart and soul” (Devarim 4:29). In order to search for Hashem in this manner, it is absolutely necessary to remove all the darkness and complications that lock out the light of Israel and prevent its revelation in its full glory.

Only when we recognize our own value and the unique divine spirit that dwells with us will we regain our spiritual might. Then we will know how to live in our Holy Land and learn wisdom after all the many and difficult tribulations we have undergone. Therefore, any young person who comes to inquire and present his confusion is someone whom I see as a precious stone, like those that will be set in the gates of Jerusalem (see Bava Batra 75a). It is as Yeshayahu said: “I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of precious stones, all of your walls of demarcation I will make of gems. All your children shall be disciples of Hashem, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Yeshayahu 54:12-13).

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Rav Kook on Parashat Va'eira: Order in Miracles

Presenting his ‘credentials’ before Paroh, Moshe threw down his staff before the Egyptian king, and it transformed into a viper. When the magicians of Egypt did the same with their magic, “the staff of Aaron swallowed up their staffs” (Shemot 7:12).

The Sages in Shabbat 97a noted that the Torah does not say that Aharon’s snake swallowed up the magicians’ staffs. It says Aharon’s staff did the swallowing. A double miracle, a “miracle within a miracle” occurred. The viper became a staff once again, and only then — as a staff — did it swallow up the other staffs. What is the significance of this double miracle?

Levels of Miracles
Just as there is an underlying order in the world of nature, so too there is order and structure in the realm of miracles. We may distinguish between two types of laws of the natural world: those of a fundamental nature, and those that have a detailed and specific function. The extent to which a miracle defies natural law depends on the purpose of that divine intervention. 

Sometimes it is sufficient to have a minor disruption, and still remain within the overall system of natural law. For example, when the prophet Elisha advised the widow in debt how to miraculously produce oil (Melachim Bet 4:1-7), the oil was not created ex nihilo. Rather, the miracle was based on an existing jar of oil. There occurred no blatant abrogation of the laws of nature; they were merely ‘extended,’ as the small cruse of oil sufficed to fill up many large pots. But the basic framework of natural law was left undisturbed.

The purpose of Elisha’s miracle was to help out a poor woman in need. The goal of Moshe’s miraculous signs in Egypt, on the other hand, was far more grandiose. These wonders were meant to demonstrate the power and greatness of the Creator, “so that you will know that I am God here on earth” (Shemot 8:18).

In Egypt, God willed to demonstrate His ability to overrule any law and limitation of the natural world. Therefore, it was necessary to have a “miracle within a miracle.” This exhibited independence and autonomy at all levels of natural law, both specific and fundamental. The miracle of the staff occurred not only as a minor disruption of nature — a level at which the Egyptian magicians could also function — but also at the level of total disregard for the most basic laws of nature, so that one staff could “swallow up” other staffs.

(Gold from the Land of Israel pp. 108-109. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV, pp. 243-244 by Rav Chanan Morrison)

Rabbi Ari Kahn on Parashat Vaera: Birthright

How Not to Treat an Enemy

by Victor Rosenthal

News item:

Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced on Wednesday that Israel would implement a series of measures intended to prop up the indebted Palestinian Authority and ease Palestinians’ daily life. …

Israel will provide the PA with a NIS 100 million loan ($32.2 million) on tax revenues Israel collects on Ramallah’s behalf, in an attempt to reduce the PA’s spiraling deficit. Ramallah, the PA’s seat of government, has seen dwindling foreign aid for years, and almost none from its biggest backers in 2021. …

According to another Israel official, Gantz told Abbas that a series of economic measures are being weighed, including lowering fees for purchasing fuel and a pilot program to allow shipping containers to enter the West Bank from Jordan via Allenby Bridge.

Such steps “would likely add hundreds of millions of shekels to the Palestinian Authority on an annual basis,” said Gantz, according to the official. …

Gantz and Abbas, in their Tuesday meeting, also discussed legalizing more Palestinian construction in the West Bank.

As you probably know, the Knesset passed a law in 2018 that requires Israel to deduct a sum equivalent to the amount that the PA pays to convicted terrorists in Israeli prisons and to the families of “martyrs” from tax revenues collected on behalf of the PA. This loan and an even larger one (500 million NIS) given to the PA in August partially neutralizes the law. It’s hard to see how Israel can complain about the Biden Administration circumventing its own law against the PA’s “pay to slay” program, when her government does the same thing.

The article I’ve quoted from above does not mention anything that the PA will do for Israel in return. Will they end “pay for slay?” If they had wanted to, they could have done so long ago and would not need to accept “loans” (which I am prepared to eat my hat if they repay). But the leaders of the PA, from Mahmoud Abbas on down, have consistently said that if there is only one penny left in their treasury, it will go to the prisoners.

What about incitement of terrorism? The PA actually committed to end incitement, back in the days of Yasser Arafat. Of course, as you probably know, they never did this, continuing to honor terrorists in their schools and media, and to name sporting eventsafter them. PA officials claim regularly that Israel is planning to destroy or defile the al-Aqsa mosque, creating riots and inspiring terrorism. Incitement continued after the 500 million shekel “loan” in August, and there is no indication that it will stop now.

Improving the daily life of the Palestinians by fattening the PA is a joke, as any resident of the PA will tell you. The last thing they do with their resources is to help their citizens (except for a few “connected” ones).

So why is Israel giving cash and other concessions to the PA? The stated reason is that it is necessary to strengthen the PA; if it collapses, the territories are expected to fall into the hands of Hamas, which would turn it into a launching platform for rockets next door to Tel Aviv.

One might think that the best solution to that problem would be to weaken Hamas, rather than strengthening the PA. But our government is also concerned about protecting Hamas, which, if it collapsed, might be replaced by worse organizations, like Palestinian Islamic Jihad or even ISIS. So Israel permits the introduction of millions of dollars from Qatar in order to prop up Hamas.

There is something very wrong here. The PA and Hamas tell us in no uncertain terms that they want us to disappear. They do so in language as bad or worse than that of the Nazis. And they try to kill our citizens, with rockets and knives and bullets. Our response is to try to restrain them from killing us (doing the least collateral damage possible), and paythem. Has this ever been the way a nation successfully defended itself against its enemies?

This is also the way we deal with Hezbollah. Yes, we attack shipments of advanced weapons from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria; but some get through on the ground, by air, and by sea. Little by little Hezbollah builds up its deterrent against us.

I am naïve, I am told. I don’t understand the realities of the complex situation. We need to gain time so that we can deal with Iran. The US and Europe will punish us if we act aggressively. The status quo, in which we buy a small, manageable amount of terrorism, is actually the best situation we can hope for. And so on.

We are giving in to extortion: from the PA and Hamas, but also from the anti-Israel regimes in the US and Europe. We are taking the easy course, which results in a slow degredation of our strategic position, against Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran. Our defensive, protective, strategy, which includes antimissile systems, physical barriers, interdiction of weapons shipments, as well as payments to our local enemies, is a strategy for buying time and avoiding confrontation. But it does not permanently weaken our enemies; indeed, it preserves them.

Are we waiting for some external event to come along and reverse the decline of our strategic position? Maybe a revolution in Iran? I wouldn’t hold my breath. A miracle is always welcome, but counting on one is a poor strategy. If things continue as they are now, a point will be reached when our enemies feel that they are in a position to prevail, and at that point will trigger open conflict. This was the essence of the plan described by Yasser Arafat in 1974, and it has only changed in detail since then.

There is also the psychological damage from this policy. For example, what is the message sent to the PA, when we pay them for quiet and they return antisemitic incitement against us? Does it not justify their behavior, in their minds and in the minds of their supporters around the world? The propaganda campaigns paint us as oppressors, land thieves, people who don’t belong here. Payments are construed as compensation, reparations to our victims.

A better strategy is an aggressive policy to weaken and destroy our enemies, one at a time if possible. It would be much more convenient to deal with Hezbollah if we didn’t have to worry about Hamas opening a second front; and similarly with the PA. And it goes without saying that Iran depends on Hezbollah to deter us from striking their nuclear project.

So why are we trying to avoid conflict with all of them? And why are we strengthening them?

No matter what happens, one day we will come home

by Rav Binny Freedman

Imagine coming home at the end of a long day. Your wife and children are all home, and you call them into the living room to announce something. Curious, they all sit down on the sofa, waiting to hear what is so important. Perhaps this is your response to some deep, long conversation you had with one of them earlier in the week?

What if you simply smiled, introduced yourself to them by name, and walked out of the room? They would probably be calling up the psychiatrist before you could sit down.

There are certain things in life we take for granted, and chief among them are the relationships we have built over a lifetime. So one wonders exactly what Hashem is saying at the beginning of this week’s portion.

“And G-d spoke to Moshe and said to him ‘I am G-d’.
” (Shemot 6:2)

Why is G-d introducing Himself to Moshe? Especially considering the point we are at in the story:

After seventy-nine years, G-d, in last week’s portion, finally introduces Himself to Moshe, at the Burning Bush, and after much discussion, Moshe accepts the mission to go back to Egypt and facilitate the redemption of the Jewish people from slavery. Moshe arrives back in Egypt and things seem to be off to a good start: he enlists Aaron’s help, convenes the Jewish Elders, and the entire People, seeing the miracles Moshe & Aharon perform, as well as hearing the promise Moshe brings from G-d, believe that redemption is at hand. One can sense, from between the verses, the euphoria that must have gripped the nation. After over two hundred years of slavery, a leader has arisen who will take them home, at last, to the land they have dreamed of. Moshe even gets an audience with the Pharaoh himself, and it seems redemption is finally at hand. Imagine a Jew arriving in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942, turning Nazi rifles into wildflowers and tanks into beautiful balloon … the Jews must have been packing their bags.

But something goes terribly wrong, and overnight the dream becomes a nightmare. Not only are the Jews not free, but they are more enslaved than ever. In response to Moshe & Aharon’s request for freedom, Paroh has doubled the already impossible workload, and the Jews bend under the terrible burden. Moshe, in response to the people’s bitter challenge, calls out to the G-d who has promised redemption, asking:

“Why have you sent me?” (5; 22); Where is the redemption You promised us is at hand?

And it is at this juncture that G-d decides to ‘introduce’ Himself!? What can this mean? Further, G-d seems to continue with a short history lesson:

“And I appeared unto Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov but my name I did not reveal to them” (6:3).

Was G-d, throughout the entire book of Bereisheet, speaking to the forefathers anonymously? What does all this mean?

And G-d’s narrative continues with an even stranger topic:

“And I have also fulfilled my covenant to give them the land of Canaan that they once lived in.” (6:4)

Huh? What covenant, exactly, has G-d fulfilled? They are still slaves in the land of Egypt, and their oppression is worse than ever!

Indeed, it seems G-d then contradicts Himself; by promising (6:5) He will now remember the covenant, which of course means he has not yet fulfilled it! So what is going on?

Why is G-d introducing Himself to Moshe, and for that matter, to the Jewish People, and what exactly is the nature of this covenant?

Deep in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, lies a broad wall, covered with moss, seeped with history. Most tourists don’t seem to get that far, bypassing the corner street that leads to it, in search of better-known historical sites. Almost as though this wall comes to those who earn it.

2,700 years ago, the big bully on the block was the empire of Assyria. Ashur, as it was called in the Bible, had mustered the largest army the world had ever seen: 185,000 men. And this army, commanded by Saragon, the great Assyrian general, had been waging a campaign of terror and destruction over the entire Middle East. In the Talmud, Saragon is called Sancheirev, from the language of Churban, destruction; Sancheirev was the destroyer. After destroying the ten northern Tribes in a brutally violent military campaign, Sancheirev set his sights on the pearl of the Middle East: Jerusalem.

The southern Kingdom of Judea was not much to speak of, 2,700 years ago. Encompassing some twenty or thirty square miles around Jerusalem, with little in the way of a standing army, and no natural barriers to rely on, the Jews who managed to stay ahead of the advancing Assyrian army, escaped into the Old City walls of Jerusalem.

Soon the city was overflowing with 30,000 Jews, desperate to survive the coming onslaught. The King at the time was Chizkiahu (Hezekiah), who was also a prophet, and The Book of Kings tells how he set about fortifying the walls of the city, which had fallen into disrepair. The verses point out how he built a broad wall to encompass all the homes that had sprouted up in the northwestern corner of the city outside the walls. Indeed, in their haste to build this wall ahead of the advancing Assyrians, they built up two outer walls, throwing stone and mud inside to achieve a wide, broad wall against the Assyrian battering rams, and they built it up in some places on top of some of the homes to save time. One has the sense the last stones were in place just in time.

What must it have felt like, to see 185,000 men bent on your destruction coming up through the valley and surrounding your home?

There were 30,000 Jews trapped inside the city, and things soon went from bad to worse. There was no food; the Jews were starving to death. One night, as Chizkiahu was out walking the ramparts to inspect the walls, he came across two women arguing over a bundle. When he came closer he saw it was a dead baby, and discovered they were arguing over dinner. The Jews, he realized, had sunken to their nadir. They could not run, nor did they have an army with which to fight, and not for the first time and certainly not for the last, they were not given the option of surrender. So he did what Jews have been doing ever since: he called the entire city together in prayer.

Understand that these 30,000 Jews represented the entire Jewish People; there was no one else left. The northern Tribes had been completely wiped out, and there were as yet no Jews living in the Diaspora. And 185,000 men surrounded them: the mightiest army the world had ever known, who had never been defeated. 2,700 years ago, we were on the verge of the final solution to the Jewish problem.

So Chizkiahu called the entire Jewish people together in prayer. Any time the entire Jewish people will get together to do anything, is a moment of enormous promise. In fact, this is the secret of Yom Kippur. So the people pray, and Hashem performs a miracle. In the middle of the night, the entire Assyrian army falls dead before the angel of the Lord.

(Amazingly, this story which is told partly in the 19th chapter of Melachim Bet) is also described in the ancient writings of Herodotus, the historian of Alexander the great, who says the 200,000 strong army of Assyria mysteriously die of bubonic plague outside the walls of Jerusalem.)

Today, you can see this wall, discovered courtesy of Jordanian mortar fire in the Six-Day War. You can see how the wall is built as a broad wall, rising on top of ancient homes and built exactly as the Bible describes. Carbon dated along with the Assyrian arrowheads found below it in the valley, it sits quietly triumphant, at long last rediscovered, having waited so long for her children to come home.

In 2002, after sitting with 3000 Birthright Israel participants who came to Israel for the first time and listening to Prime Minister Sharon describe to them how they are part of the fulfillment of a 2,000 year old dream, I took our 80 students to that wall. There are no words to describe what it feels like to stand above such a wall, listening to the wind howling through the alleys of Jerusalem. It is almost too much to take in. So you look at one stone, and you wonder where these Jews, so long ago, found the faith to build such a wall and still believe they would survive…

So what is this covenant G-d speaks of to Moshe? A thousand years earlier, this was the covenant G-d made with Abraham. Abraham, seeing himself childless at nearly one hundred years old, is promised by G-d that he will have a son who will inherit his dream. Avraham (Bereisheet 15:4-6) trusts in G-d and believes in this promise. But then Abraham asks an amazing question (15: 8):

“Ba’meh edah ki irashena?”
‘How do I know my descendants will really inherit this land?’

Incredibly, Avraham, who has no problem believing he and Sarah will have a child though Sarah is ninety years old, does not believe G-d will give the land to the descendants of that child?

G-d’s response is even stranger: He commands Abraham to cut calves and sheep into pieces, laying them on either side of the path which Avraham then walks through. vultures descend and pick at the pieces of the carcasses. And then Avraham falls into a heavy sleep and darkness and fear descend upon him. And at this point, the Torah tells us, G-d makes a covenant with Abraham, promising him that his children will one day be strangers in a strange land, and they will suffer there, but that they will eventually come home. Abraham awakens, the sun comes out, and G-d makes a covenant promising Abraham that He will give this land, the land of Israel, to his children.

Rav Soleveitchik, one of the great rabbis of the last generation, explains this puzzling sequence of events. You see, Avraham misunderstood the nature of our relationship with G-d. Avraham assumed our relationship as one of contract, or chozeh. G-d teaches Abraham that our relationship with Him is really one of Brit, or covenant.

A contract is an agreement whereby both parties agree to a list of mutual conditions, which bind them to certain commitments. But if one side violates the conditions, the agreement is no longer binding on the other side. This is how Avraham understood our relationship with Hashem. As long as we do our bit, Hashem will do his. But if we violate our end of the bargain, then Hashem need no longer be committed to his. Avraham was confident that he could keep his end of the bargain, but how could he guarantee his descendants would do the same? And when they would violate their end of the bargain, how could Hashem promise they’d still deserve the land of Israel?

Hashem explains to Avraham, however, that our relationship with G-d is not one of contract. We are bound by a covenant. And a covenant, unlike a contract, can never be broken. Kind of like the ‘agreement’ we enter into when we have children. You can divorce a wife, but never a child. They will always be your children. Even when it seems the Jewish people are being cut to pieces, and the vultures, symbolizing the nations of the world, descend upon them, the Jewish people will somehow walk through all this, and some day they will come back into the sunlight.

Hashem promises that no matter what happens, one day we will come home. That is our covenant; our promise.

This is precisely what Moshe and the Jewish people needed to hear, specifically at the point when things seemed so dark. Bending under the backbreaking labor, enslaved for over two hundred years, without even straw to make bricks, laughed at by Paroh and the Egyptians, Moshe and the Jewish people are reminded in their darkest moment of that same covenant.

In fact, this is what the name that G-d ‘introduces’ Himself with really means: the same letters that form the root of Hayah, Hoveh, and Yehiyeh, Hashem was, is, and will be. This is the name of G-d that represents the fact that Hashem transcends time and nature. We need to remember when things seem so challenging, Hashem promised so long ago that just because things don’t make sense, indeed may never make sense from our perspective in this world, it is all a part of our journey begun so long ago. And that one day, somehow, Hashem will bring us home.

This is the meaning of the mention of Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov, as well as the lineage of the sons of Yaakov, seemingly out of nowhere, detailed in 6:14. Why here, and now, does Hashem have to list all the families and descendants of the people of Israel up to that point?

Because while there is a promise from G-d that one day we as a people will come home, there is no guarantee that each of us, as individuals, will be part of that promise. That depends on us. And the secret to being part of this incredible journey begins with remembering from where I come, because remembering where I am from is a part of discovering who I am.

The Jewish people after two hundred years of darkness in Egypt were so lost. Hashem tells Moshe: you have to remind them of who they are, and of all they can be.

Right above this ancient broad wall, sits a playground, where the Jewish children of the Old City of Jerusalem come to play and laugh in the sunshine.

2,500 years ago, amidst the flames of the destruction of the Temple, the prophet Zechariah (8:4-5) issues an amazing prophesy:

“There will come a time, so says the Lord of Hosts, when the old will yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem, leaning on their walking sticks from length of days, and the city streets of Jerusalem will be filled with the sounds of the children, playing in her alleyways.”

These children, playing in that playground, above that wall, are the fulfillment of a twenty-five-hundred-year-old dream. The Jewish dream has never been about armies marching in; our dream has been that one day the children will come back to play.

After two thousand years of wandering, we are home. And despite everything, thousands of students on El Al planes came back to see it all, and to become a part of this journey begun so long ago in the depths of Egyptian bondage.

And if you come and walk through the alleys of Jerusalem, you can see it too, this incredible 2,700 year old wall, waiting for so long for all of her children to come home to play…

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.

The Yishai Fleisher Israel Podcast: How to Deal with Hard Times in the Holy Land

First, Yishai & Malkah Fleisher hash out some of the harsh news out of the Holy Land including abuse, suicide, and empowerment of enemies - and try to figure out God's plan for the Jews. [40:11] Then, Yishai speaks with famous American Jewish broadcaster Nachum Segal about the painful Corona borders that divide. [52:47] Finally, Rabbi Yishai on the ten promises of Hashem at the onset of the Book of Exodus in the Torah portion of Va'era.

The Ascent of the Crybully in Campus Anti-Israel Activism

In the fantasy world of toxic anti-Israel activists, they are always the victim.

by Richard L. Cravatts

Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.

As woke activists who are part of the cognitive war against Israel continue their campaign of slanders against the Jewish state, a curious thing has taken place: the self-righteous moral scolds who choose to relentlessly demonize Israel to promote Palestinian self-determination often portray themselves as victims rather than moral aggressors. They are examples of what has come to be defined as crybullies, individuals that British commentator Julie Burchill characterized as “a hideous hybrid of victim and victor, weeper and walloper . . . [someone who] always explains to the point of demanding that one agrees with them and always complains to the point of insisting that one is persecuting them.”

And nowhere is the crybully more likely to be found than among the pro-Palestinian activists who are relentless in their tactical assault on Israel and Zionism—and the people who support them—but who, once defenders of Israel answer back the calumnies and slurs lobbed by these activists, weaponize their status as victims and whine about the pushback they often, and justifiably, experience from their ideological opponents on campus.

One example of the appearance of crybullies occurred in 2017 at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) where its faculty members issued a statementaffirming “the rights of students, faculty and other historians to speak freely and to engage in nonviolent political action expressing diverse perspectives on historical or contemporary issues.” Putting aside the absurdly paranoid notion that any anti-Israel activism is suppressed or otherwise limited on campuses anywhere, what actually terrified these intellectual hypocrites, these crybullies, it seemed, was the possibility that, once they had publicly announced their enmity for Israel, Zionism, and Jewish affirmation, they would be held accountable for their toxic views, that they would be named for what they are: anti-Israel activists whose rabid ideology can, and should, be made transparent, exposed, and understood.

The AHA statement made this hypocrisy clear when it meretriciously stated that, “We condemn all efforts to intimidate those expressing their views. Specifically, we condemn in the strongest terms the creation, maintenance and dissemination of blacklists and watch lists —through media (social and otherwise)—which identify specific individuals in ways that could lead to harassment and intimidation.”

The so-called “blacklists” and “watch lists” referenced in the statement are such databases as Canary Mission (mentioned specifically), Discover the Networks, Campus Watch, the AMCHA Initiative, and other similar organizations, all of which have as their intention to provide students, faculty, and others with information on the ideology, scholarship, speeches, and writing of radical professors and students. These are individuals (and groups) who have very public records of pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activism and whose words and behavior have been cataloged so that the politicization of scholarship can be exposed and students can avoid courses taught by professors with a predetermined and evident bias against Israel.

In gathering and cataloging this data, none of the mentioned organizations furtively investigated the private lives of professors or campus radicals, nor did they hack into emails accounts, or take testimony from anonymous sources, or delve through association memberships, reading habits, or private writings without the individuals’ expectation that their expression would possibly be documented. Individuals who are on these databases were not spied upon by their fellow students nor their courses videotaped furtively by students.

The findings—and this is the critical point that the crybully obviously ignores—were based on the public utterances, published works, and social media posts of professors and students, behavior and speech they apparently had no problem with making public and for which they were not hesitant, at least initially, to take responsibility.

Student activists have become crybullies, too. A particularly egregious case of this is currently unfolding at the University of Southern California, for example, involving the vile Yasmeen Mashayekh, a student in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering who a group of some 60 USC faculty has accused of “ongoing open expressions of anti-Semitism and Zionophobia.” What were some of the sentiments shared by the lovely Ms. Mashayekh, ironically, though possibly not coincidentally, a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion senator in USC’s graduate student government? As cataloged on Canary Mission, on May 9, 2021, Mashayekh tweeted: “I want to kill every motherf**king zionist." When Canary Mission responded to that odious tweet with one of their own, claiming that her tweet was “horrifying,” Mashayekh tweeted: “Oh no how horrifying that I want to kill my colonizer!!"

In June, Mashayekh tweeted: “Death to Israel and its b**ch the US." And retweeted a tweet that read: “May i****l [Israel] burn to the ground. #SaveSilwan.” And in case there was any doubt about her feelings about the Jewish state, her June tweets included such tolerant and loving expressions as: “If you are not for the complete destruction of Israel and the occupation forces then you’re anti-Palestinian;" “Death to Israel;" and “Yes I f**king love hamas now stfu [shut the f**k up]."

Such ghoulish sentiments hardly qualify as being part of an intellectual debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, nor by any measure can they be said to be “merely criticism of Israel,” as anti-Israel activists say in their own defense when they regularly try to hide the depths of their loathing of Israel, Zionism, and Jews—even wishing for the murder of Jews in Israel at the hands of terrorists.

But while the group of faculty called on the USC administration to take some proactive action to denounce the rhetoric and sentiment of one of its students, others who support Mashayekh have been busy transforming her from a hateful, anti-Semitic bigot into a victim of Islamophobia and racism, and someone even experiencing reputational damage. In fact, pro-Palestinians on campus drafted a form letter to Yannis Yortsos, Dean of the Viterbi School of Engineering, and USC’s President Carol Folt, with the subject line “In Support of Yasmeen Mashayekh: USC Must Act.”

Once Mashayekh’s tweets had been made public, there was understandable blowback and condemnation for her puerile and caustic comments, but to her supporters, those who shared similar attitudes about Israel, she was a victim, not a hateful perpetrator. The letter complained “about the targeted racial & ethnic harassment and abuse that Palestinian student Yasmeen Mashayekh has been subjected to in recent months by various established Zionist organizations,” as well as “continued and unrelenting digital racism that has resulted in academic penalization [and] emotional and psychological suffering — all because her identity as an exploited and oppressed person of Palestinian background is under attack.” [Emphasis added.]

And the caustic and repulsive language of her tweets? Because of her victim status as a Palestinian and “woman of color,” those tweets are not hateful at all, according to the letter’s authors, only a form of resistance to oppression and therefore perfectly acceptable. “Yasmeen’s statements referring to the ongoing Zionist colonial project,” the letter read, is only “the language of the oppressed towards their oppressor [and] is a form of personal resistance.” [Emphasis added.]

And in keeping with her status as a crybully, Mashayekh is actually “an oppressed student who is being unfairly discriminated against for speaking on her people’s plight.” The actual perpetrator here? Not Mashayekh, her fellow crybullies claim, but “Canary Mission, an organization that systematically reveals the personal & private information of Palestinians and Black, Indigenous People of Color in an effort to launch targeted harassment campaigns against those who would dare to challenge colonial rule.”

At McGill University, anti-Israel sentiment is so pervasive that the University’s student newspaper, the McGill Daily, refuses to run any content that is pro-Israel or defends Zionism or the Jewish state, and a recent editorial, apparently speaking on behalf of the whole student body, denounced Israel’s purported “colonialism, imperialism, and genocide in all forms” and claimed that the “Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is nothing short of apartheid.”

Given their success in poisoning the campus climate against Israel, one would think that the activist group McGill Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR McGill) would feel victorious at having pushed their venomous ideology down the throats of their student peers. But last May, SPHR members began braying about a pernicious “blacklist [that] is terrorizing pro-Palestine students at McGill,” allegedly “compiled by a group of Zionist McGill students,” and containing “the names and personal information of countless pro-Palestine students at McGill” with the goal “to surveil and document students suspected of pro-Palestine sympathies.”

Without ever bothering to explain how, if at all, the existence of this mysterious blacklist negatively affects pro-Palestinian students, the crybullies almost hysterically claimed: “that this list is not a passive, harmless document: it is being weaponized daily by Zionist students, who are employing racist, Islamophobic, anti-Arab, anti-Semitic, and anti-Black practices that put racialized students at risk.”

“By using this list and maintaining its secrecy,” the activists claimed, “these [Zionist students] have made themselves complicit in a vicious, racist campaign that attacks the fundamental right of racialized Palestinian and pro-Palestine students to exist at this university, without fear that they will be targeted in reprisal for signing petitions, sharing content on social media, or even expressing their views in private.” There has been a deliberate process by which Jews on campus are now accused of being white and enjoying white privilege, and especially if they are Zionists and are also then considered to be racists automatically, so the accusation about the Zionist-created blacklist having as its purpose to track and malign pro-Palestinian students of color is part and parcel of the trend to make the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians about race—thus, the ubiquitous allegations about Israeli apartheid, the “apartheid wall,” and the Zionism is racism” slur.

On the race-sensitive McGill campus, the activist crybullies unsurprisingly alleged that “The users of the list, most of whom appear to be white Zionist individuals or Zionist groups, are mainly targeting racialized students and replicating practices that emerge from a system of structural surveillance in North America, which seeks to criminalize Black, Brown and other racialized peoples” and puts “racialized people at risk.” [Emphasis added.] If such a list even exists, it is certainly not for the purpose of targeting and harassing students of color or students who happen to support the Palestinian cause. Its purpose is clearly not, as the paranoid SPHR members suggested, a process aimed at “recreating racist tropes that Black, Brown, and other racialized students are criminals whose identities, movements, thoughts, and opinions are worthy of being watched, surveilled, and harassed.”

Like the data collected from public expressions of radical faculty and students with a pronounced and vocal antipathy toward the Jewish state, the list’s information can be useful as a tool for assessing the background and ideological stance of the enemies of Israel, and someone finds his or her name on such a list, not because they are an Arab, or black, or some other minority, but because they have publicly articulated views that are slanderous, dangerous, threatening, genocidal, or revealing as anti-Semitic expression.

The activists discovered the list “to their horror” and were “incredibly disturbed” by its existence which was a “traumatic experience” that made them feel like they were “in grave danger.” But why would their words and ideas, written down in a file for anyone to refer back to, be more horrible or traumatic than the impact of these ideas when they were spoken or written or otherwise expressed in the first place, given that all of this speech was public? No normal person posts on social media with the expectation of privacy, which, after all, is the exact opposite of the purpose and result of using social media.

If these social justice bullies are willing and ready to spout forth their toxic narratives about their notion of Israel’s depraved and endlessly malign existence, they should expect, and be prepared for, a response and reckoning for their words and deeds—sometimes of equal or greater intellectual force. The crybully cannot expect to launch unrelenting ideological attacks on the supporters of Israel and not be answered back, confronted with counterarguments, and made to debate history and fact when propagating narratives and lies. If the crybully does not like being held accountable for his words or does not like being quoted for something he has said or written, then perhaps he should be silent. Otherwise, he should stand by his ideas and defend them without claiming that he is a victim of others’ ideology and belief.

The deepest feelings, poet Marianne Moore once observed, emerge “not in silence, but restraint.” There’s a lesson there for the crybully.

Bassem Eid: Israel ‘The Best Place To Be an Arab’

The “apartheid” that isn't.

by Hugh Fitzgerald

Bassem Eid is a Palestinian living in Israel who has had an extensive career as a human rights activist. His initial focus was on human rights violations committed by Israeli armed forces, but for many years he has broadened his research to include human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the Palestinian armed forces, on their own people. He founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group in 1996, which closed in 2011, for lack of any cooperation from the Palestinian Authority. He now works as a political analyst for Israeli TV and radio.

Bassem Eid is one of a handful of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs – another is Khaled Abu Toameh — who dare to tell the truth about Israel, which means they seldom get their articles republished abroad in the mainstream media which wants only damning stories about the mistreatment of Arabs by the Jewish state. His latest piece, titled “Israel – The Best Place To Be An Arab” — on how Arabs actually fare in Israel, as opposed to how they are said to fare by, inter alia, the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, the E.U., Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Roger Walters, and many others – is here: “Israel – the best place to be an Arab,” by Bassem Eid, Times of Israel, December 22, 2021:

Although Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, it is home to a free and thriving Arab community. For decades, anti-Israel activists have decried Israel as an illegitimate state which represses Arabs and Muslims. Israel has been incorrectly labeled as a state for “settler colonialism” and apartheid. These baseless claims could not be further from the truth.

Researchers have conducted surveys to shine a light on the true treatment of Arabs living in Israel. According to these surveys, there is a growing trend of Israeli Arabs ditching their former Palestinian identity and starting to identify more heavily with their Israeli nationality. This switch in national identity is great news for everyone who holds a stake in the Middle East. It proves that Arabs have been able to call Israel home, while Israel is able to maintain its Jewish majority. Despite being the world’s only Jewish state, Israel is a welcoming, diverse country that boasts a thriving Arab population.

Arabs in Israel are in ever-greater numbers describing themselves as” Israeli Arabs,” or simply as “Israelis,” jettisoning their self-identification as “Palestinians.” They are identifying with the Jewish state as their country, too. An outstanding example of this was the recent remark of Mansour Abbas, the head of the Arab party Ra’am, and a member of the Israeli government, who has announced that Israel was founded as a Jewish state, and will remain a Jewish state. Mansour Abbas declared that it is the responsibility of Arab leaders in Israel not to try to undermine the state, but rather, as loyal citizens, to work on improving the lives of the people they represent, by focusing on bread-and-butter issues, obtaining for Israeli Arabs as much economic help from the government as they can, including improvements to infrastructure – roads, schools, sports stadia, hospitals — in Arab towns and neighborhoods, as well as providing more vocational training, access to universities, and preparation for jobs in Israel’s booming high tech sector.

Eid continues:

Arabs make up 20% of Israel’s 8.8 million people population. Israel’s Arabs have been integrating into society and live in every corner of the country. Israel’s Arabs enjoy the same freedoms as their Jewish neighbors. Contrary to anti-Israel talking points, Israel’s Arabs live and work side-by-side with Jews, Christians, Armenians, and all others who call Israel their homes. As they do in other western democracies, Arabs can vote in elections, own businesses, work, speak, and worship freely, wherever in Israel they call home. In the recent Israeli elections, Ra’am, a pan-Arab party, became a part of Israel’s governing coalition. These results could not be more clear: Israel, a heterogeneous society, is among the leading nations in the Middle East. Israel’s Arabs have taken notice.

Israeli Arabs enjoy complete religious freedom, as well as legal equality with Israeli Jews. They exercise the same freedom of speech in Israel that we take for granted in the advanced West, but that is not guaranteed anywhere in the Muslim and Arab lands. Bassem Eid did not have the space to dilate upon the preposterousness of the charge of “apartheid” that is so often leveled at Israel, so let’s expand on his rebuttal. Arabs sit in the Knesset, serve on the Supreme Court, go abroad as ambassadors representing Israel. They do not only “own businesses” but can rise high in Israel’s largest corporations. The chairman of the largest bank in Israel, Bank Leumi, is an Arab. Jews and Arabs not only work together in offices and factories, but own businesses — such as restaurants — together. The Israeli government has established special training programs to prepare Arabs to enter the field of high tech; in the Start-Up nation, Jerusalem is determined not to leave any segment of society outside the new economy. Arabs and Jews study together in universities and graduate programs. Arabs and Jews are treated in the same hospitals, by both Jewish and Arab doctors and nurses. Arabs and Jews play on the same sports teams and in the same orchestras. There is only one difference in the treatment of Arabs and Jews: Jews must, while Arabs may, serve in the IDF. Increasing numbers of Israeli Arabs, especially Christian Arabs, are doing just that.

Arabs, no matter how long they have been Israelis, are increasingly supportive of their home country. According to a 2019 survey by Dahlia Scheindlin and David Reis, two leading progressive pollsters, 51% of Israel’s Arabs identify themselves as “Arab-Israeli” and 23% identify as “Israeli”. The survey went on to indicate that 76% of Israeli-Arabs went on to say that, within Israel, Jewish-Muslim relations are overwhelmingly positive and that 58% want to continue to advance coexistence and improvement of relations between Muslims and Jews.

According to the 2019 survey, half of Israeli Arabs identify as “Arab Israeli” while another quarter identify, simply and tellingly, as “Israeli.” Both answers signal the increased willingness of Arab Israelis to see themselves as a recognized and organic part of the Israeli body politic. Only a quarter continue to hold themselves aloof, in describing themselves as “Palestinians.” The same survey revealed that 76% of Israeli Arabs believe thatJewish-Muslim relations in Israel are “overwhelmingly positive.” This is not what Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch wants you to believe. Nor does the kangaroo court of the U.N. Human Rights Council, where Israel is perennially in the dock. Nor do the Israel-baiters in our major media, The New York Times or The Washington Post, who depict an Arab minority that is constantly mistreated and justifiably resentful.

Bassem Eid again:

What was even more shocking from the Schenindinlin-Reis poll were outcomes regarding one of the most contentious issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict: control of Jerusalem. The survey, conducted by SFHA, a Palestinian news outlet, indicates that 93% of Arabs [1,116 out of 1,200], none of whom are Israeli citizens, would prefer that Israel retain control over the city. Of the 1,200 Arabs surveyed, 79 said that they refused to give up their Israeli identification documents. Only 5 out o 1200 polled said that they wanted Israel to give up control of East Jerusalem to the P.A., and furthermore, said that they would be willing to give up their Israeli identity cards, which allow them free movement throughout the Jewish state.

The data speaks for itself: Muslims and Jews are living coexisting. The biggest winners? The Middle East and human rights. This is very good news for the evolving Middle East: an Israel in which Arabs feel empowered is a powerful thing. When Muslims and Jews coexist in peace, the region wins. When Israel was founded, it was created to be a place, not just for the Jewish people, but for all who sought to make the Holy Land a better place and to raise families in peace. Arabs have always been a welcome part of this equation. The only bad news is that anti-Israel activists will not cease in their quest to divide Muslims and Jews over the issues relating to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Nevertheless, the sentiments reflected in these surveys will make Israel stronger and a better place to live for Arabs and Jews. Disproving rhetoric spewed by the anti-Israel mob will allow Israel to become a place of harmony. I look forward to watching Israel evolve into a place where the children of Isaac and Ishmael work and live peacefully. This evolution marks a rare point of light, illuminating a world in need of it.

It’s true that as Israeli Arabs feel more and more that they have a. political stake in the country, through their Knesset representatives, and even more, through Mansour Abbas, the head of the Ra’am Party, who has joined the coalition government, they are less likely to be alienated from the broader society and the state, and to treat that state as an enemy. Bassem Eid and Mansour Abbas speak for the many Israeli Arabs who do not want to destroy the Jewish state, but do want to elect representatives to the Knesset who can fight for better conditions for their constituents, which means money for hospitals, schools, roads, subsidized housing, and jobs programs, including retraining Israeli Arabs for jobs In high tech.

It’s true that when the State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, the Israelis held out the hand of peace to all the Arabs, but especially to the Arabs living inside what on that date became the Jewish state. Still, I think Bassem Eid exaggerates when he claims that “when Israel was founded, it was created to be a place, not just for the Jewish people, but for all those who sought to make the Holy Land a better place.” Is this true? Or is this his own hopeful, but not quite accurate, spin on the history of Israel’s founding?

No matter what answer we give to those questions, as an articulate Palestinian who chooses to live in Israel-ruled Jerusalem, Bassem Eid has performed a service in his ridicule of all those claiming that Israel mistreats its Arab citizens. He has reminded us that there is no “apartheid” in Israel, and that three-quarters of the Arabs in Israel consider themselves to be “Arab Israelis” or, simply and tellingly, “Israelis.” He has also brought to the public’s attention — it can’t happen often enough – to the recent poll of Palestinians in Jerusalem, 93% of whom want to continue living under Israeli rule, rather than under that of the Palestinian Authority. Bassem Eid, like that other defender of Infidels, Othello, can deservedly claim, with articles such as this, that “I have done the state some service.”

Is War Between Israel and Iran Inevitable?

by Joseph Puder

In Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF) annual assessment of the security situation and challenges to be faced in 2022, it appears that a moderate improvement in the security situation surrounding Israel is expected. The Israeli government approved the proposed budget submitted by the Defense Ministry. “Israel’s defense establishment will receive NIS 58 billion, an increase of NIS 7 billion.” The extra allocation takes into account the possible operations against the Iranian nuclear facilities and other maligned Iranian schemes. According to reports, Israel would purchase various types of manned aircraft, intelligence-gathering drones, and unique munitions needed for a possible attack on Iran’s heavily fortified underground nuclear sites.

The evolving strategic cooperation Israel has now with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, is a definite positive development for Israel. In addition, halting the Iranians and their proxies from advancing toward Israel’s Golan Heights, and the support Putin’s Russia is giving to Israel’s operations against Iran is clearly a positive development. The Russians have not obstructed Israeli aerial operations against Iran’s shipment of arms to Hezbollah, nor the Israeli attacks on the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) bases and their proxies in Syria.

What is difficult to predict, however, is when Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorist groups in Gaza would choose to launch another mini-war with Israel. During the May 2021 war, or as Israel calls it, Operation Guardian of the Walls, Hamas, and the PIJ suffered significant losses in personnel and arms. Many of their top engineers were eliminated, and their “secret weapons” (mini-submarines, and drones carrying bombs) were destroyed, along with a large quantity of their rocketry. The IDF has recommended a tough approach against Hamas’ attempts to rearm.

Although the Lebanese Shiite-Muslim Hezbollah is far more powerful than its fellow terrorist group in the Gaza Strip, Sunni-Muslim Hamas, it is exercising far more restraint in operating against Israel. Having achieved supreme political and military power in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah knows that a war with Israel at this time would jeopardize all that he and Hezbollah have managed to accomplish. The 2006 Second Lebanon War Hezbollah waged against Israel was a devastating one for the Lebanese. A war now would be even more costly for the suffering Lebanese. While both Hamas and Hezbollah’s raison d’être is the destruction of the Jewish state, Hezbollah, unlike Hamas, will be held accountable in the confessional Lebanese system of government.

The chances for a war initiated by Israel’s enemies, i.e., Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas are projected to be low in 2022. The explosive situation that existed in the last few years on Israel’s northern border has been reduced, and it appears that neither Iran nor Hezbollah are ready for a full-scale war with Israel. Addressing Israel’s Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last month, Israel’s Chief-of-Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi asserted that Hezbollah and the pro-Iranian militias in Syria were obstructed from receiving precision strategic weapons including additional missiles, drones, and air-defense batteries that could hinder the maneuverability of the Israeli Air Force. But, given the US and its western allies reluctance to use the military option against Iran, and the possibility that the US and the other JCPOA western members might settle for a partial deal is certain to provide Iran with incentives to incite a war against Israel either directly or through its proxies.

At this juncture, the Iranian regime does not have the support of the Iranian people to engage Israel in a devastating war. Iran has not fully recuperated from the 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and the US imposed sanctions have created a sharp contraction in the economy. We might also add the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on Iran’s economic woes. The dictatorship of the Ayatollahs, while being less concerned with the hardship of its people, is very much concerned about preserving its power. As such, witnessing recent demonstrations throughout the country with calls such as “down with the dictator,” a reference to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the regime is fearful of an uprising among its repressed, predominately Sunni minorities, including Kurds, Ahwazi-Arabs, and Baluchis, in addition to the culturally deprived large Azeri minority. Urban Persians and those classified as the educated middle-class are also resentful of the regime.

Once Iran becomes a verifiable “threshold nuclear state,” Jerusalem is likely to change its security assessment, and Israel might act unilaterally to stop the existential threat a nuclear Iran poses to the Jewish state. In that case, war with Iran is inevitable. Although the Biden administration has been consulting with Israel regarding the ongoing negotiations in Vienna, Washington has been dead set against any Israeli unilateral action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israel’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, pointed out that Israel’s defense establishment “is committed to safeguarding a strong, stable, fortified Israel, and ensuring that Iran does not develop an existential threat to Israel. We will continue to act with responsibility and to safeguard our independence of action in any place and sector, and secure Israeli citizens.

The IDF has taken into consideration that an operation to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities would more than likely create a major conflagration, involving Hamas, and Hezbollah. Israel is counting on its three-pronged missile defense systems: short-range Iron Dome, medium-range David’s Sling, and long-range Arrow III missiles. In addition, Israel has the use of the Patriot surface-to-air interceptor missiles. Iran does have the ability to deploy missiles, drones, and cruise missiles, though its Air Force still deploys older generation US aircraft, and the US sanctions curtail Iran’s ability to acquire updated western military technologies. Israel’s technology, on the other hand, is at least a few steps ahead of the Iranians, and it has the capabilities (albeit not absolute) to protect its civilians and military personnel. In the near future, and in view of the increase in the defense budget, projects that were delayed will now be reactivated. Israel’s high-tech industries will be moving into laser technologies and electromagnetic beams, as well as cyber and artificial intelligence (AI).

The fifth annual Blue Flag drill was held in Israel’s Negev last October with thousands of troops and dozens of aircraft from around the world including the US, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, as well as personnel from Australia, Croatia, Finland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, and South Korea. Israel’s Air Force (IAF) commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, invited as his personal guest the commander of the United Arab Emirates Air Force, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Nasser Mohammed al-Alawi.

Gen. Norkin believes that the international drill reaffirms the IAF’s legitimacy to act against external threats. He said, “We are living in a very complicated region, and the threats to the State of Israel from Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran are only increasing. Holding the international exercise in this current reality, while continuing our public and overt operational activities on all fronts, is of utmost strategic importance, and has an extensive impact over the IAF, the IDF, and the state of Israel.”

Finally, security cooperation and intelligence sharing with regional states, and in particular the Gulf states of UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, provides Israel with a new sense of confidence. Yet, one must caution Israel and the IDF in particular, not to resort to overconfidence, or reducing its vigilance.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Fourth Element

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

WE CAN FINALLY sit back and enjoy the show. It’s always so comforting to watch the tables finally turn on Pharaoh and the Jews get a break. By the sixth plague, they won’t have to show up for work anymore, just watch the Six O’clock News each day and see their enemy pulverized.

But it won’t be total joy the entire way through. There is going to be a very dark time between now and redemption, both literally and metaphorically. Every plague will only touch the Egyptians except for the ninth one, the Plague of Darkness. It will impact the Jewish community as well in a devastating way. Four-fifths of the total Jewish population in Egypt will perish, 12,000,000 Jews altogether. The Egyptians will not be the only ones mourning their losses after that plague is over.

It has historic significance, especially today.

Rashi asks and answers:

Why did He bring darkness upon them [the Egyptians]? Because there were wicked people among the Jews in that generation who did not want to leave [Egypt]. They died during the three days of darkness, so that the Egyptians would not see their downfall and say, “They too are being affected like us.” (Rashi, Shemos 10:22)

In other words, if God wanted to kill off those Jews who did not want to leave Egypt, why during the darkness? Rashi explains: to cover up their deaths. Even though it is hard to fathom how the Egyptians did not notice 12,000,000 less Jews in the country, somehow not seeing them go hid the fact that they too were affected by one of the plagues. God wanted it clear that the plagues were from Him and aimed at the Egyptians. He didn’t want the death of the four-fifths to cloud the issue.

In fact, even more amazing is how their deaths aren’t even mentioned in the Torah, only hinted to. More people died during the ninth plague than in the Holocaust, and we certainly would not have relegated the Holocaust to only second page news. (Actually, I just read, the New York Times did.) And because the effect of the plague on the Jews is passed over, no one really considers how God can get at the Jews, when it is necessary, without making it look as if He is targeting the Jewish people specifically.

That makes history very tricky. Why do teshuvah if our problem is a general problem? Why wonder what God is telling us specifically as a people if He is impacting the world as whole. Why worry about where things are going if they seem to be going there for everyone?

So we don’t, and we are left completely in the dark until the enemy makes its nefarious plans clear to everyone. Then we kick ourselves and wonder why we didn’t see it coming and waited until it was too late to protect ourselves from it. It’s because we were looking for similarities to past atrocities that are never really apparent until well into the process. Sometimes it’s because the enemy keeps it a secret. Sometimes it is because God doesn’t put it into their heads until He is ready to.

I READ A book about 30 years ago by chance. When I say chance, I don’t literally mean chance. Everything is Divine Providence, and finding and reading this book clearly was as well. It’s just that the circumstance that led to my seeing this book, and the short section I just happened to turn to in the five minutes I had, were so random to me. I don’t even remember what it was called.

I don’t even know what the book was about. I had five minutes to look at it, and read where I had happened to open it up. But what I read taught me a really important lesson about being Jewish in this world.

It was a Californian doctor explaining why he went from being pro-abortion to anti-abortion. He had become a suicide preventionist and went to study about it from a German expert. At some point in time, he popped the question to his German mentor: How were the Germans able to carry out genocide?

He said she took a big sigh and said that she knew the question was coming. It was her answer that changed his opinion about abortion.

She said that three things were necessary. First, they had to create the idea of a fatherland to create nationalist fervor. In Germany that is not hard because Germans tended to be very nationalistic. Next, she said, they had to make it clear to everyone that those who opposed the father-in-land were enemies of the state.

But, she said, that still wasn’t enough to convince 50 million Germans to either carry out the Holocaust, or not interfere with it. A third step was necessary. They had to convince the people that an enemy of the state was also subhuman and then, she concluded, genocide becomes possible.

It was lesson I have never forgotten, and the truth is, we’ve seen it here-and-there in different forms. Relatively “normal” people have murdered other relatively normal people in revenge. Sports matches have resulted in rampages that have destroyed other people’s property and have even resulted in death. More recently, there has been road rage. It’s frightening how easy it is for people to see others as enemies, and how easy it is for them to harm them after they do.

It doesn’t mean that the perpetrators don’t come to their senses later and, perhaps, feel some regret. But a lot of good that did six million Jews after the Holocaust, or the relatives of victims of hate and rage. Never underestimate the depths to which people can sink, or what they are capable of doing in the name of self-preservation.

That’s why I became concerned when I saw how the Trump-Clinton election brought out such anger and hatred for the other side. Politics aside, the resulting anger was unprecedented in recent times. Even families stopped talking to one another because of their political preference. Not a good sign.

And even though the Democrats took over the next time, the hatred and rage didn’t stop. The “winners” instead ramped it up, using one excuse or another to attack innocent people and impose their will undemocratically.

But what really got me thinking was reading about the animosity towards non-vaccinated people by the vaccinated, spearheaded by Fauci himself. “Let them just die,” one congressperson is quoted as saying. Some people are calling for segregation and, I have even heard the term “subhuman” used a few times to slight those against the vaccination…even though we still don’t really how well they work, in many cases they haven’t, and many other cases they have even been deadly.

But at least it’s not antisemitism. The coronavirus was manmade, but it’s targeting Jew and gentile alike. The ridiculing and the anger are aimed at anyone who is anti-vax. And if I am Jewish but pro-vax, then I will be just as safe as any gentile who is also. Sounds just like the four-fifths who died in the Plague of Darkness, and the secular 100,000 German Jews who chose to stay instead of emigrate to Palestine between 1930-39.

THE TRUTH IS, I realized after reading the book, the lady was wrong. She was right about the three stages that led to the Holocaust, but she left out the fourth and most important one of all. Even after reading what the Californian doctor had written I realized that genocide on the scale of the Holocaust was not likely even after making enemies subhuman, which also included gypsies and other “societal misfits.”

The fourth element of course is God. He is the only One Who can take something from the side of the impossible or unlikely to the actual. The first three steps just prime the perpetrators, but He is the One Who has to push them over the top to do the ridiculously insane and deadly. But probably not believing in God, or at least to that level, the three stages she mentioned was all she had.

The Holocaust was a miracle, a very black miracle. Even after adding all of the factors that are considered to be the basis of it, the equation doesn’t work. There are still whys and hows in need of answering that do not get answered except by adding God to the equation. A divine decree was in place, and it completed what people could not.

That’s why one of the most dangerous statements people make is, “It could never happen in America.” Why? Because people in America are too honest…too civil…to respectful? Even that is being disproven among many sections of the population. But the most important reason why it is so dangerously naive is because ultimately, it has less to do with the people than it does with God’s will. Just look at how the Trump-Clinton election, the George Floyd death, and now the coronavirus pandemic has torn America, and even the world, asunder, as we see—even here in Eretz Yisroel.

The politicians, the scientists, and activists are all just distractions. They’re just God’s means to get history to where it has to go next. It’s really irrelevant whether the coronavirus is as bad as they say or hyped, whether the vaccines are really vaccines and good for you, or not. It will be what God wants it to be, and it will affect what God wants it to affect.

The plague was meant for the Egyptians, and we celebrate it as the second last before Pharaoh let us go. But in reality, no Egyptians are recorded dying from it, yet 12,000,000 Jews did. It made sure that the only Jews who left Egypt were the ones God deemed worthy of leaving, and there wasn’t a hint of antisemitism anywhere. If you want to survive as a Jew, you have to think outside the antisemitism box. God has more than one way to get the job done.

God.calm: Join the dots, see the bigger picture

WHICH CHILD HASN’T played Join the Dots? In this very high-tech society in which even small children play sophisticated electronic games, Join the Dots may be a thing of the past. However, once-upon-a-time, it was sufficiently entertaining for a child to take a pencil and draw a line from dot-to-dot, and watch a pre-arranged but seemingly random set of points become a clever picture before their very eyes.

However, though the game may be gone, the concept is as necessary to everyday life as ever before, perhaps even more so today so close to the end of history. While some people “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” others bathe the “baby” in water that ought to be thrown out. The only way to avoid either situation is by having the proper context, and that is a function of joining dots, historical dots.

Not only this, but doing so is crucial for one of the most important traits a Jew can develop, bitachon—trust in God. By connecting the Torah dots, the picture that emerges is the Big Picture, the Aitz HaChaim, a vision that encompasses aspects of Creation far beyond that which is visible to the physical eye. It is a vision that comes as close to God’s perspective of Creation as is humanly possible. That is truly calming.

Such information can only result in a greater understanding of history and of how God runs His world. At this late stage of history, when so many events are occurring that seem to defy conventional wisdom, it is crucial to have a context—the Aitz HaChaim—into which to fit all those details—Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah. It’s the only way to remain sane, which means realizing the spiritual opportunity of a moment, and using it properly.

The starting point is in knowing that there is information available to us, some of it going back thousands of years, some of it far more current. When woven together they result in an intellectual tapestry that yields an understanding that makes sense of even the most illogical aspects of history and human behavior. Some of it belongs to the realm of Nigleh, the revealed parts of Torah, and some of it to Nistar, the hidden parts of Torah. But all of it is crucial for spiritually, and perhaps physically, surviving the End-of-Days.

Tradition states that when history as we know it comes to a close, and the final stage of the War of Gog and Magog occurs, there will be many who will be shocked by what happens. The implications of such an ending to history will be staggering for them. Like people who had invested their life savings in a sham, they will feel as if they spent their entire lives walking the wrong path, with no time left to course correct.

Only a small group will be prepared. It is not always so easy to know who they are, because they aren’t always the most accomplished in the eyes of others. Even the great Shmuel HaNavi had a difficult time seeing why Dovid ben Yishai was more fitting to be king of the Jewish people than his more successful and popular brothers. Until, that is, he got to know him from God’s perspective.

Not only this, but after four-fifths of the Jewish population—12,000,000—were killed during the Plague of Darkness in Egypt, people were shocked the next day when they discovered who survived and who didn’t. This was because only God knows what is in someone’s heart, and where it might lead them in the future. Only God knows which roles will be necessary to fill in history, and who is worth keeping around just to execute them.

Imagine what it was like after the seven days of darkness during which the Jews died as well. Some family members survived, many did not. Some friends were still living, many had perished. Only one out of every five Jews, after only one week, remained.

But that was 3,319 years ago. What relevance is there today in knowing such a statistic?


God said to Moshe, “Stretch forth your hand toward the heavens and there shall be darkness upon the land of Egypt, and the darkness will be tangible.” (Shemos 10:21)

And why did He bring darkness upon them? Because there were wicked people amongst the Jewish people of that generation who had no desire to leave Egypt, and these died during the three days of darkness… (Rashi)

Only one out of five left Egypt, while four-fifths died during the three days of darkness because they were unworthy of being delivered. (Rashi, Shemos 13:18)

Rava said: It will be likewise in the Days of Moshiach. (Sanhedrin 111a)

For the people, that is, who failed to connect the dots, the Torah dots, the dots of history that reveal the true undercurrent of Jewish history. Given that four out of every five Jews today is assimilated, prompting many to refer to this as a spiritual holocaust, one can assume that there is no better time than the present to get out our intellectual pencils, and to starting finding those dots in need of connection.

We need to see the picture, the Big Picture.

Difficult Beginnings, a Good Ending

by HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

All beginnings are hard. As we see at the start of Moshe's mission to take out the Jewish People from Mitzrayim, Moshe was beset by enormous hardships and obstacles. Paroh made Israel’s burden heavier, and their plight became so severe that Jews approached Moshe with harsh complaints, saying, “You have destroyed our reputation with Paroh and his advisors. You have placed a sword to kill us in their hands” (Shemot 5:21). They put the blame on Moshe for Paroh and Mitzrayim's scheming against Israel.

Moshe felt sorrow and anguish and he, later on, said to G-d, “O L-rd, why did You mistreat Your people? Why did You send me?” (5:22). In response, “G-d spoke to Moshe and said to him, ‘I am Hashem’” (6:2). G-d rebuked Moshe for speaking harshly -- he should have waited patiently. After all, all beginnings are hard. Even if at the start of the way we do not see the end, and there are hardships, obstacles, and complications, we must not question G-d’s conduct. That is why G-d rebuked Moshe. He was hinting to him the following: You must learn from my harsh response the way I conduct My world and My people. It is true that such rebuke constitutes a display of Strict Divine Justice, but the truth is that within Strict Justice are concealed the traits of kindness and mercy, revealed through G-d’s name Hashem, as in verse 6:2 above.

The subjugation and increased burden imposed upon us through Paroh are part of a process whose end is the redemption of Israel. As it says, “The more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites proliferated and spread” (Shemot 1:12). At the end of this process, “the children of Israel emerge triumphantly” (Shemot 14:8).

Right now, the Jewish People are at the height of a process of redemption and national rebirth, accompanied by hardships, obstacles, and complications from within and without. It sometimes seems as though we are marching backward rather than forwards. Yet we know and believe that “The L-rd will not abandon His people, nor leave His inheritance” (Tehilim 94:14). Let us not act like those who would ignore Moshe's words of comfort due to their broken spirit and hard labor. Quite the contrary, in difficult and complex situations we must strengthen our spirit and our faith in our direction and in the righteousness of our path. If we have patience, it will make it easier for us to cope with the hardships.

This may be compared to a woman who gets ready to give birth. She is full of faith that the birth process will ultimately bring forth the infant she so desires. She must take long, deep breaths in order to overcome the pain and hardship until she is privileged to see the fruit of her womb, the pure soul coming out into the world. Then she is filled with joy.

In the same way, we too need faith, long deep breaths, and much patience, to overcome the difficulties and complications. After all, all beginnings are hard, but all is well that ends well.

Looking forward to salvation,
With Love of Israel,
Shabbat Shalom,
Chodesh Tov.

Yeshivat Machon Meir Parshat Va'eira - The second mission of Moshe (video)

A Stern Rejoinder

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

One hopes that Elazar Stern is a better Minister of Intelligence than he is a commentator on religious affairs, for his endorsement of the Kotel’s partition (“The Kotel should be a Place of Unity for all Jews,” Jerusalem Post, December 24, 2021) is riddled with misstatements, platitudes, faulty reasoning and sophistries. Obviously, a division of the Kotel to reflect the modern and contrived denominations of the Jewish people is the antithesis of unity; indeed, it renders the Kotel the symbol of the disunity of Jews who cannot even pray together as one people according to traditional law and custom.

Stern premises his thesis on the fact that the Jewish people were divided into tribes and, contrary to Moshe’s desire, brought their offerings as individual tribes on the day of the Mishkan’s consecration. But he fails to note that each tribal leader brought the same offering. In fact, the service in the Bet Hamikdash was rigorously prescribed. It allowed for no individuality, pluralism, egalitarianism, reforms or modernization. There was one Torah for all, and that Torah had to be followed. This message was taught at the very beginning of our history when Nadav and Avihu, imbued with religious passion, brought incense “that was not commanded by God,” and lost their lives in the process. What is most critical in divine service is responding to the divine command and not catering to our own subjective religious impulses.

We are a nation that is governed by its Torah. It is true that there are twelve tribes but those tribes reflect the diversity of the Jewish people in terms of talents, character, predilections and temperament. There was no denominational split among the tribes of Israel. Our division into tribes assuredly did not reflect diversity of observance. There were nothing commanded to Reuven from which Dan was exempted nor any prohibitions on Shimon that were permitted to Asher. (The only exception was the tribe of Levi, spared the harshness of slavery in Egypt as they were mandatory conscription in Israel’s army, as they were all devoted to divine service and the study of Torah; one suspects that a modern analogy would be fiercely resisted by Minister Stern.)

There were no “multiple” voices permitted to Jews. All Jews, without tribal distinction, uttered naaseh v’nishma, “we will do and we will obey,” or we would not be a people. We all accepted the Torah and are all bound by the mitzvot. It is true, as Stern notes, that the Talmud is replete with discussions and arguments – but it is also true that it usually comes to a conclusion with appropriate guidance for all, and if not, such guidance was provided by the Codes and the rabbis, down to this day. For sure there are certain differences in customs, and some stringencies adopted by different communities that were eschewed by others. But on most matters, including the configuration of the venue of prayer, and even the number of times we pray each day, there are no two opinions. That was uniform in Jewish life until it was infiltrated with a secular, Western value system that its proponents then presumed had to be “Jewish” because they adopted it.

Since the Temple era itself, Jewish men and women have been separated in prayer, which adds to the bitter irony that at the very place where separate worship was formalized, there is now an effort to institute mixed prayer. This is both divisive and sacrilegious. It is also shameful that Stern looks to the precedent of the era of Ottoman and British rule when Jews were not allowed to have a mechitzah at the Kotel or even bring chairs and so men and women prayed informally without a divider. That is a precedent – when Jews lacked sovereignty over the land of Israel? Would he also ban the blowing of the Shofar as those alien governments also did?

It is pure sophistry to quote Rav Yitzchak Yosef, who opposes the Kotel reforms, as somehow supportive because he maintains that only the enclosed area for prayer at the Kotel has the status of a synagogue. And what about the rest of the Kotel – the Wall itself, rather than the plaza outside that area? Every part of the Kotel retains its sanctity and may not be used, for example, as a handball court. And by Rav Yosef’s definition, any part of the Kotel that is used for prayer has sanctity, and thus that prayer should reflect traditional Jewish norms as is befitting the place that sits in the shadow of the holiest site in the world.

There is another critical point that eludes Stern. There is a system ordained for us in the Torah to resolve questions of Jewish law and practice through the authority vested in the Rabbis of the generation (Chinuch, mitzvah 495). That authority is a monopoly, much like the monopoly given to the elected government to command a nation’s generals to embark on a military campaign, and much like the monopoly given to generals and officers to issue orders to their soldiers.

Soldiers can balk and question – even the propriety of expelling innocent Jews from their homes, to no avail – but as Minister Stern himself repeatedly stated, they have no right to refuse orders. There is a chain of command. Similarly, many Israelis are chafing under the perplexing and ever-shifting Corona directives of the government and its medical advisors that are ruining people’s lives while purportedly trying to save lives, but we are expected to comply. There is a chain of command.

Why doesn’t Stern recognize the chain of command in the religious sphere? There is a Chief Rabbi – two, in fact – designated as Mara D’atra d’Eretz Yisrael, the religious authorities in the land of Israel. Are they to have no authority over what happens at the Kotel, or for that matter, over Kashrut, Gerut, marriage and divorce? Is the mandate of Torah leaders inferior to that of military or health officials? That would only be the conclusion of people who do not accept the reality of Torah as divine, immutable and the source of our survival as a nation. And finding rabbis, of whatever stature, who disagree with any Chief Rabbi’s opinions should carry as much weight as is afforded the sergeants and colonels who disagree with their superiors and go their own way. Generally, they are court-martialed and dismissed.

I am not Haredi nor defined by the pejorative “ultra-Orthodox,” but I do resent the recurring use of those terms to denote those who are opposed to the Kotel’s partition. Clearly they are being used on the assumption that the reader will recoil in horror and instinctively oppose whatever Haredim or the ultra-Orthodox support. Like all individual Jews and all groups of Jews, we have what we can learn from them and areas in which they can improve. But do not try to marginalize the issue by conveying the impression that only Haredim care about the Kotel. Such is false.

Minister Stern, and a few of the other government officials pushing these reforms, delight in identifying themselves as Modern Orthodox. That is their right, of course, but it would be instructive to know what that moniker means to them. The way many use the term “Modern” Orthodox today, it carries the implication that they don’t take the Torah as seriously as do Haredim. They are “Orthodox,” but “Modern,” which apparently affords adherents the right to dissent from parts of the Torah that don’t fit their world view. They are pluralistic, repudiating the idea that there is one objective truth. They are suspicious of religious authority. They have a concept of sin but a very narrow one, and certainly they would not let a sin cloud an otherwise sunny day. Carving out personal exemptions from Torah observance because one identifies as Modern Orthodox is as meaningful as those carved out by Jews who identify themselves as Conservative, Reform or unaffiliated. For sure, there are many self-identified Modern Orthodox Jews who would rightly reject the aforementioned symptoms, and just see themselves as Torah Jews in a Western milieu (as Rav Aharon Rakeffet has characterized it), without any fear of or hostility towards the best of Western culture. That is unequivocally valid and we would benefit from having more such Jews in Israel.

I prefer just to identify myself as Orthodox, period, and try to uphold the Torah and its values accordingly. I try not to rationalize my sins by writing them out of the Torah or diminishing their importance; instead I just hope to improve myself in areas of weakness.

I don’t see the Haredim or any other group of Jews as bogeymen, the measuring rod for everything that I have to be against, nor do I understand why anyone would. The barometer of our quest for perfection is the Torah itself and not how any group of Jews wishes to interpret, modify or condense it. We are witness now, for the first time in the history of Israel, to the attempt to weaken standards in every area of Jewish life – Shabbat observance, kashrut, gerut, prayer at the Kotel, etc. One would hope that Israel’s government would try to foster closeness to Torah, which after all is our deed to the land itself, rather than discourage it and make religious observance more difficult. Hatred of Haredim, unjustified as it is and synonymous with the tendentious calls to “end the Haredi monopoly,” is not a valid reason to undermine the Torah in the land of Israel. And such will drive a deep wedge between Israel and the Torah community abroad of all levels of observance – the most faithful supporters of Israel today in the Jewish community.

Those who wish to partition the Kotel will one day partition Jerusalem and then the land of Israel. Once we begin trampling on the sacred there are no boundaries or limits. Those who want to dilute the observance of Torah in Israel by re-shaping the Torah according to the values and neuroses of modern man are playing with fire. The problems we face in Israel require siyata d’shmaya, divine assistance, to overcome. That demands of us not pandering to those who have distorted the Torah or weakening its observance but rather strengthening the Torah that is the common heritage of all Jews.