Saturday, 30 June 2018

He Came to Curse and Ended up Blessing





There is a great lesson for Yisrael’s foes in this week’s Parashah (Torah Portion), Balak, a lesson that repeats itself numerous times through history, one they simply refuse to master.

The lesson has to do with the meaning of the name Yisrael, a name given to Yaakov (Jacob), a name the essence of which describes the destiny of Am Yisrael and the Jewish People. It is soaked with historical facts, ones that withstood the trials and tribulations of time. This historical evidence is blotched and sprinkled on the core of every Jewish generation from time immemorial. Our enemies rise to curse us and try to kill us but the Eternal of Yisrael being the loyal guardian of our People always subverts their intentions and turns their efforts to destroy us into making us stronger and more resilient while their curses transform into a blessing.

This week’s Parashah tells about Balak the king of Moav who follows the moves, battles and conquests of Am Yisrael as they make their way to Eretz Yisrael after they left Egypt. As he is not aware of G-d‘s command to Moses not to destroy Moav, naturally, he is concerned about the safety of his land and decides to join hands with Midian, another brutal enemy of Am Yisrael, to fight them.

The two states decide to send emissaries to one, Bilaam, a well-known sorcerer and ask him to curse Am Yisrael and bring defeat and destruction upon them.

G-d then appears to Bilaam at night and orders him to bless, not to curse Am Yisrael. Bilaam, fears G-d and continues to refuse to do as Balak orders him.

Balak, however, does not give up. He sends another delegation to Bilam. Again, Bilam refuses.

That night, G-d appears once more to Bilam and tells him to join Balak but to say only what He, G-d, instructs him to say.

Much to Balak’s dismay, Bilam ends up blessing and glorifying Am Yisrael.

Interestingly enough, some of his blessings are more of a formative account or even a prophecy. They accurately describe the eternal core of Am Yisrael, its determination, resilience and the nature of their relationship with the Nations, a relationship that is unique to Am Yisrael. Above all, it also describes G-d’s unending support for the Eternal Covenant that He entered with Am Yisrael.

Bilaam starts by saying: "How beautiful are your tentsJacob, your dwelling places, Israel” (Bamidbar 24:5) He is, in my view, describing the Yisrael of today. That is what Yisrael, the pearl, the flower of the middle east looks like. It is the Home of a people who after two millennia of wanderings have come back home, turned the desert into fertile land, built homes, schools and a high-tech empire.

Bilaam further states a fact that  is obvious to many :

the nation shall dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9) 

The term “reckoned” can be interpreted in two ways. One, that Am Yisrael is not counted among the nations of the world. The other, that Am Yisrael will themselves not reckon the opinion of other Nations.

That, too, is a truth we witness daily, especially the former part of the interpretation of that verse. A few years ago, I wrote an article on the subject. I called it: “The Lonely Yardstick.” In it, I shared that the world has three yardsticks to judge nations. One for democracies. One for dictatorships. One for Yisrael only. It is a very lonely yardstick, just like Yisrael which is not always counted among the nations of the world and is often the subject of severe criticism merely for its desire to guard its sovereignty and the security of all its citizens.

Finally, there is one more truth that Bilaam’s blessing states which I wish to bring to the readers’ attention. I am referring to verse 23:21 "No misfortune is seen in Jacob, no misery observed in Israel. The LORD their God is with them; the shout of the King is among them.” The unconditional Love of G-d to Yisrael is eternal. To our transgressions and occasional misbehaviour (we are still humans and I never claimed we were perfect!), G-d sometimes turns a blind eye.  We witness it here daily. Miracles upon miracles. G-d is always within Am Yisrael, ready to fulfill His promises to the descendants of Yaakov who became Yisrael. The Lion of Judah, Bilaam continues his blessing in the form of a prophecy, “Shall rise up and devour its victims.”

A bird’s eye view of the recent history of Yisrael demonstrates and attests to the accuracy of Bilaam’s prophetic words of blessing.

That is the unassailable lesson of this week’s Parasha. Am Yisrael and the Jewish People have been sentenced to life, to continue to thrive and always triumph. It lies at the heart of the name Y I S R A E L : “For you have fought with G-d and men and you shall prevail”

Now, if the enemies of Yisrael inside and out would finally take heed and internalize this very important lesson wouldn’t it be nice?

Shavua tov

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Those, Like Yisrael and Trump, Who Are Doing It....




“Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those doing it.” – Chinese proverb

Giving up on an idea, a venture, or on unraveling a difficult issue can happen when one is tired. It can also happen when one is uninspired or confused.

Who among us has never been in that situation which can be frustrating or daunting? It happens to everyone at some stage in their life. Giving up might in many cases be the only option left for them.

Unfortunately, there are also those who outrightly brush off any efforts to try and tackle an issue before they even examine it. They do it claiming no matter how one addresses it, it simply cannot be done. Whichever the reason, this is one way to solve a problem or rather to perpetuate it.

Fortunately for mankind, there are those who choose to persist, overcome challenges and roadblocks standing in their way to achieve their goal. They do it despite all the voices that try to discourage and dissuade them from acting or doing and prefer to keep the status quo. They have the "Chutzpah," the fearlessness and desire to dare, remain hopeful, have faith and not resort to the easiest way out of doing nothing.

It reminds me of a story I once read. Its lesson, I believe, a very important one. Let me share it with you.

It tells the story of two twins, one was a pessimist and always complained about anything. The other was an optimist and always looked for the good in everything as optimists generally do. On one of their birthdays, their parents decided to give the pessimist the most expensive of presents. These included a T.V., a computer and other gifts that would make any other child joyful. The optimist twin received a pile of horse manure which he found on the floor in the middle of his room.

As expected the pessimist complained about each gift. Nothing was good enough for him. The optimist, on the other hand, ran through the house as if looking for something. He was cheerful, happy and smiling.

“Why are you running through the house?” his parents asked him in surprise, trying to stop him. “What are you looking for?”

“The pony that you bought for me,” answered the happy young boy. “I am looking for the pony.”

And you know what? I believe that one day he will find his “pony,” provided no one succeeds in interrupting him when doing it.

The lesson is clear.

Thirty years ago, in the 1980’s, Former President Ronald Reagan proposed a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). It was nicknamed “Star Wars.”  All those who prescribed to the attitude of “it cannot be done” mostly because of political oriented blindness came out yelling “it cannot be done.”  Yet Yisrael, persisted and engaged in “doing it” and eventually managed to do at least part of it and with that the ability to protect a country from missile attacks (Thank you for reminding me of that Roger Froikin).

Fast forward to the present. Merely six months ago, no one believed that the US would move its embassy to Yerushalayim. It happened. Only several weeks ago, the West Coast of the US was under imminent threat of a nuclear attack from N. Korea. Few if any believed it was doable. They mocked, belittled and laughed at President Trump, again either because of political orientation or media influence, for his desire to bring that threat to an end and doubted that it could happen. A few days ago, an agreement between the two countries was signed.

President Trump may not have yet found the pony but only a few traces of it. However, through his determination, diligence and at the rate he is moving and doing it, while focusing on his goal, he will one day. 

Saturday, 2 June 2018

The Politics of Dercency



 I once saw a poster that read: “Decency is a relative thing.” I doubt there is better evidence of that than what one experiences in the Middle East, a complex region where the disparity between the archaic and the modern is mirrored in the attitudes, beliefs, norms and traits of its juxtaposed realities.
Although the structure of certain values which are universal in their nature seem to be shared by some individuals and groups on both sides of the Middle East divide, there is definitely a substantial difference in the relative importance or priorities that is attributed to them.  It is this relativity of importance, goal or motivation that dictates any action carried out in their name. 

Decency, to the Western, enlightened world, denotes positive attributes such as morality, honesty, politeness and civility.  It stands for the display of attitude towards others, and practice of respect for them and for their beliefs.  It also upholds and observes the dignity of difference. It is, by far, one of the principal indicators which separate between primitivism and progress.  It is the thin line that divides between relics of the outmoded and the drive towards the better and improved.  Decency, in the Middle East is, in my view, one facet of interaction that distinguishes between these two.  It is this which sets “them” and “us” apart.
They revel in death, we celebrate Life.  They flaunt intolerance of anything which is foreign to their own way, we welcome and share it.  They suppress minorities, we try to provide them with equal opportunities.  They subdue women, we honor them.  They impose, we adapt.  We willingly share that which they so indecently usurp.  They are busy destroying facts; we engage in unearthing them.  They are engrossed in rewriting history, we in teaching it as it evolved.
What we try and go out of our way to practice, sometimes at a very dear price human and otherwise, is the kind of decency that many of us in the West were raised to follow. On the other hand, there lies the kind of indecency that they practice, and in which they continue to raise their children. We may not be perfect but we exercise the kind of decency that is going to help us get there.  Their indecency will only continue to lead to more havoc and destruction.
Unfortunately, a currently visionless world, brainwashed by a well-oiled propaganda machine, is either too weak, too lazy, too fearful or simply motivated by an overdose of political correctness, refuses to remove its blinders. Instead, it elects to remain intoxicated by a false elixir, while allowing the indecent dictates of its temporarily euphoric yet permanently venomous laws of decency rule its universe.
Hopefully, in a world that, at least until recently, was run by principles which transmitted inherent, permanent and cherished values which were intrinsic to its survival as part of the family of humanity, many will wake up to realize that in the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt, The most practical kind of politics is the politics of decency.”