OP-ED – The Palestinian Victims

I can not tell you how sick I am of pictures of handcuffed Palestinian children in IDF custody with the hashtag bring back our boys. That is our hashtag! You Palestinian tweeters are accomplishing nothing by streaming grotesque pictures, and that stupid three fingered salute other than just plain old being mean.

I take that back, you are accomplishing the destruction of any good will or sympathy to your plight that might have been engendered over these last “relatively” peaceful years.

The Palestinian activists are, as usual, hurting themselves, their cause, and their people far more than helping it.

10003171_10151925501287750_2094011893_n-1I recently had the opportunity to meet with Palestinian activists in Hebron. It was part of a program designed to promote dialogue between the two sides of the conflict. By dialogue of course I mean, we were supposed to listen, they talked. I listened, I really did. Two things were clear. One was the suffering and inconvenience you, my Palestinian neighbors, are forced to endure in your daily lives, the checkpoints, road blocks, random searches, arrests, and collective punishment are real. I saw how painful and humiliating it is for you.

The other thing that was clear was the complete lack of acknowledgement or awareness of any personal or communal responsibility for your situation. To every person we heard from without exception, every drop of suffering is caused by Israel, by the occupation and mostly by “settlers” always unjustly by others.

I did a whole day of “listening”. Every story, I mean every one, began with some form of “I was walking along, minding my own business, when for no reason what so ever…”

At one point an activist brought his ten year old little brother into the room, and told the story of the day little Musa was (of course), walking down the road minding his own business when all of a sudden for no reason what-so-ever, IDF soldiers grabbed him, threw him to the ground, tied his hands behind his back with plastic handcuffs, blindfolded him, and threw him in the back of an arrest van. They took him into military custody in which he remained for 24 hours until his parents where able to pay to have him released. How is that any different from kidnapping?!! Ransoming!!!

I raised my hand to ask Musa a question, not expecting a truthful answer. To my surprise I did get a truthful answer although one that totally obfuscated the boy’s personal responsibility.

“Musa”, I asked through his brother who was translating. “Were you throwing rocks at cars?”

His brother then launched into a diatribe about how rock throwing is a natural reaction to the daily oppression and humiliation his people are suffering, and how basic human dignity as well as international law permits, nay requires oppressed people to resist occupation.

Allow me to clarify. The little pisher was throwing fist sized rocks at passing cars with Israeli license plates. Cars driven by civilians, long skirted, beticheled mothers with car seats full of little kids in the back and got busted by the authorities.

This “detail” of the story was a non fact however. The thought consensus I heard echoed over the course of this entire day, was that since the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, or “the West Bank”, is such a self-evident violation of everything good and decent, such an obvious breach of human rights, such an undeniable injustice flying in the face of international law, any resistance to that occupation is so self evidently justified that it is deemed an inconsequential fact in the story.

The actions that led up to the arrest of this 10 year old boy are as unimportant as the fact the boy was breathing, and therefore irrelevant to the rest of the story.

If you remove this context in which Musa was arrested, what you are left with is, well, he was indeed walking along minding his own business when out of the blue…

So I believe that this is where dialogue can be helpful.

This is my message to the Palestinian activists on the streets, and especially those trying to abscond with our bring back our boys hashtag.

We don’t hate you. We have no interest in militarily occupying or oppressing you, we do not want to control your movements prevent you from receiving medical care, or visiting your great aunt in Nablus during Ramadan.

We do not enjoy any of those things. We have better things to do. However, we are more than capable and willing to carry out any of those actions when our safety is endangered. And as you know, we will.

If you touch our kids, as you are seeing, we will come down on you like a load of bricks.

We are not asking you to believe our “narrative”. We are not looking for your sympathy.

What you need to know is that we believe our story, as much as you believe yours, and we are here to stay. I do not believe that I am a “settler”, or a “colonist”. I am a Jew. My people are the original indigenous inhabitants of this land. We are Jews not because our religion is Jewish, we are Jews because we come from Judea. Claiming that the Jews are occupying Judea is a ridiculous statement.

Again, you do not have to believe this. You can call us settlers if you like. You can call us three headed spacemen for all we care. What you need to know is that in 1995 there were about 150,000 Jews living in Eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, today there are close to 600,000 and we are growing everyday. We are living, building and thriving. We have industry, agriculture, and commerce. We are at a critical mass that makes the vision of two states for two peoples an utter impossibility. It is not going to happen.

The last failure of John Kerry and President Barak Obama, was the final hammer blow to the possibility of a Palestinian state. It will never be. You know in your heart if not in your head that this is true.

So the question becomes, where do we go from here?

I can accept the fact that you, my Palestinian brothers and sisters, feel that it is “unfair”, even “unjust” that because we have the far superior military force we get to dictate the terms of the outcome. You can believe that as long as you realize, that is the way the world works.

By railing violently against the reality of the situation you are perpetuating your own suffering. Your myopic focus on your own victimhood, will do nothing but ensure another generation of disenfranchised suffering Palestinians screaming on twitter about their own victim status.

Launching rockets, throwing stones, and kidnapping our children will result in exponentially higher levels of suffering for you. That suffering may indeed give you short term PR wins, but ultimately it will keep you poor, downtrodden, and well… suffering.

On the other hand, embracing the reality of the situation, that the Jewish people are here to stay, opens an opportunity to you that exists no where else in the entire region.

If you stopped fighting and realized that we must live together, you would be the freest, and safest people in the entire Arab world. You would be the envy of all but the tiny wealthy ruling elite of your people. You have the ability as a people, to put aside your hatred, put down the rocks and the rockets and #BringBackOurBoys.

Article originally published on the Times of Israel

Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and the Legality of the Settlements

MLKI had an interesting paradigm shift this week. I was asked a question that I had been asked many times before. “How can you justify living in a “West Bank settlement”, when it is in clear violation of International Law?”

My answer has always been the same. Simple. It is not against International Law.

And you know what? Maybe technically it is not illegal. What usually ensues after this is a litany of UN General Assembly resolutions, followed by the same old partisan interpretations, International Court of Justice opinions, and claims of international consensus.

All of us that love Israel and argue on her behalf have been there, ad nauseum. My experience has been that no one ever walks away from one of these debates converted.

Until it happened to me.

Roger Waters and the New Antisemetism

roger2OK, I will admit it. I am a huge Roger Waters fan. In the mid to late 80‘s, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” played in my car cassette player until I finally wore the tape out. I think that his far lesser known “Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking” is one of the best albums ever made. It has all of the Pink Floyd conceptual consciousness shifting trippyness with Eric Clapton leading on Guitar to boot!  It was a major part of the soundtrack to my late teens.

So maybe I am a little protective of old Roger. My days of listening to Pink Floyd while zoning out on to a lava lamp are way past, but today I find myself at the center of his ire. I am a Jew. I am what he would refer to as a “West Bank Settler” –  an occupier!

Last weekend, while Roger was explaining to the media why a Star of David emblazoned on a giant balloon pig floating across the stage during his sold out concert wasn’t anti-Semitic, rather anti Israel, Roger quickly switched gears to into a tirade on what he called the U.S. “Jewish” lobby. He then goes on to say that the reason the BDS “movement” isn’t catching on (not a single artist besides himself has signed up) is because, “The Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock’n roll as they say. I promise you, naming no names, I’ve spoken to people who are terrified that if they stand shoulder to shoulder with me they are going to get f*****.

So according to Roger, the Jews control Hollywood and the music industry. Hey let’s throw in banking and finance just for fun!

Here is the thing (and I am saying this as a proud Jew). If you really take an unbiased look at that statement, it’s not so far off. In fact it’s kinda true. I mean if you take a look at the make up of these industries, based on overall U.S. population, Jews are vastly overrepresented. Just sayin’.

This is actually a fact that I am proud of. The Jewish people came to America, a battered and beleaguered people, and raised themselves up to levels of prominence in a variety of the major industries in their new country, and like with any cultural group, there are major points of consensus amongst them.

The fact that Roger pointed this out does not make him an anti-Semite.

There is a second point that cannot be denied. The return of the Jewish people to the their ancient homeland has resulted in the suffering of the Arab population of the region. I would argue that much of that suffering is self inflicted, and a result of Arab intransigence, intolerance, bigotry, hatred both within the Arab countries that border Israel and outwardly at the Jewish people.

We could argue all day about the root of the conflict but whatever the cause, Roger Waters is obviously someone whose artistic genius derives from a sensitivity to the suffering of others.

Third fact: Let’s face it, as a people, we Jews are pretty quick to pull the “anti-Semite” card.

Remember the great Jackie Mason bit about how “the cop was such an anti-Semite that he crawled over the two cars I was double parked in front of just to write me a ticket!”

I don’t believe Roger Waters is an anti-Semite.  I do not even believe that his comments were anti-Semitic. I’m even ok with the flying pig. This is so inconsequential when placed next to the 3,000-year-old history of our people in this land. And if antisemitism is indeed as famously stated, “hating Jews more than you are supposed to” he didn’t cross that line.

I do believe, however, that Roger Water’s beliefs represent and are the natural consequence of a much more insidious, nuanced antisemitism that has systematically pervaded global thought and can be described as the new antisemitism.

It is the global consensus that Jews simply do not belong in Judea and Samaria.

This antisemitism leads otherwise good caring people to the sole conclusion that the presence of the Jewish people in the heart of their ancient homeland is such a crime, such an injustice, that forcefully removing them from their homes based on the fact that they are Jews is not even ethnic cleansing. In fact, it’s considered the only fair and just solution.

It leads the American administration the EU and artists like Roger Waters to the inevitable conclusion that it is legal, moral and just to eradicate the Jewish population from Judea.

As I heard my friend and colleague Jeremy Gimpel point out recently, “the reason that the name of the geographical region was changed from Judea (which it was known by for thousands of years) to “the West Bank” in the 20th Century, is that it sounds so stupid to say the Jews are occupying Judea!”

I live in the newly re-established ancient Judean village of Tekoa.  I do not live here, as old Roger would suggest, because of greed and avarice, or my desire to exercise power over another people, but rather because it is where I believe I belong. I am not a Jew because my religion is Judaism. I am a Jew because my people come from Judea. There is no more natural place for me to live.

Our village is surrounded by Arab villages. When I drive by them, or hear their muezzins call to prayer, it seems to me as organic a part of the landscape as the craggy canyons, scattered olive trees and my children running proudly through her hills.

Unlike Roger, I do not wish to force anyone out of their homes. I have no problem having Arab neighbors.

So Roger, the Jewish people’s dream of 2,000 years is not what you eluded to, some council of the Elders of Zion in Hollywood seeing an opportunity for a hostile corporate takeover and colonization of land from a weak indigenous population. It is about the natural human desire to go home. You see Roger, we are the indigenous population.

You said it best..

Home
Home again
I like to be here
When I can

When I come home
Cold and tired
It’s good to warm my bones
Beside the fire

Far away
Across the field
Tolling on the iron bell
Calls the faithful to their knees
To hear the softly spoken magic spell…

Keep on rockin!

Fixing the 17th of Tammuz

I had an amazing experience this past Tuesday evening.  Everyone knows it is great having kids, it is fun marking milestones.  First grade is a big one.  This past Tuesday night, my first grader Nechama Rachel made a siyum, meaning a completion, of the first book of the Torah, Sefer Bereiseit.  The Book of Genesis.

That in and of itself is reason to celebrate.  In fact it is kind of tradition for first graders in Jewish day schools all over the world, to complete the Book of Genesis during their first grade year.

There were a couple of differences here though.  (Besides being my daughter of course).

First was where the siyum happened.  While most of these events in North America or England or South Africa are taking place in school auditoriums, we jumped into a car for the short, stunningly beautiful drive through the Hills of Judea to Ma’arat haMachpeila in Hebron, the ancient Canaanite city where Abraham purchased a field to bury his wife Sarah.  The purchase marked the beginning of the Jewish peoples national connection in the Land of Israel, somewhere around 4000 years ago.  You can still see the Bronze Age city gate where that negotiation and purchase most probably took place.

Tuesday night we stood in that field next to Ma’arot haMachpeila the giant Herodian structure built 2000 years ago that marks the tomb of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah.

There are things that we say all the time that are so deep and we do not even realize it. I say, “love you guys!”, while breezing off work without a second thought. We say thank you, by rote, for the most profound kindnesses from our friends and families. “How are you today?” “Baruch Hashem.” We sleepwalk or “sleeptalk” through most of our language everyday. But then sometimes we are so overcome with the beauty of the moment, the profundity of the experience, that we realize that there are no words that can even come close to expressing that which we are experiencing.

This was one of those moments.

As profound as this experience was, it was made all the more so by an event happening in the coming week.  This upcoming week we will be marking two events in our home.  One personal, and one national.

This coming Sunday night, the 16th of Tammuz, marks the ninth anniversary of our Aliyah.  the literal “going up” to dwell in the Land of Israel, like Abraham did 4000 years before.

It was on the Nefesh b’Nefesh flight, when we were about to touch down in the Land of Israel, as the newest citizens of the Jewish State, that the entire plane broke out spontaneously in song, singing the prophecy of Jeremiah comforting our Mother Rachel, v’shavu banim l’gvulam.  “Your children WILL return to your borders.”  It was in that moment months before she was born, that we decided on the name for my daughter.  Nechama Rachel, the comfort of Rachel.

The following day, The 17th of Tammuz, by contrast marks a day of national calamity.

The 17th of Tammuz begins the period of our calender known as the “Three Weeks”. Most of the year a Jew is filled with so much joy, but these three weeks we contrast that joy with reflecting on the sadness of the wasted potential, of the unnoticed greatness of being alive, the unappreciated beauty of being a Jew, the wonder of love never manifest fully.

The story of the 17th of Tammuz starts like this. The day after Shavuot, Moshe goes up to Sinai to receive the tablets. He spent forty days basking in divine transcendence, manifesting into our world the most sublime light, the revelation of the true awareness of the nature of our selves and our world. The reality is there is only One but we do not see it so clearly. The moment was right for the world to make that shift in consciousness, to see the world once and for all as it truly is, a complete and perfect manifestation of the Holy Divine Light. Love. Alas, everybody knows, it was not to be.
The Jews at the foot the mountain growing weary, panicked, and committed the sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe saw this and smashed the tablets  According to the Midrash, the ocean rose up and threatened to engulf the world, for after all what is a world without Torah worth? The ocean was only kept at bay by Moshe Destroying the Tablets.

A moment so pregnant with opportunity lost, squandered, broken. The date was the 17th of Tammuz. We are still trying to fix that mistake to this day. Sometimes though when the damage has been done it is such an uphill battle. The energy of that day was burned into the world at Sinai and has been coming back to us ever since. It was on that day that the temple sacrifices stopped, it was on that day during siege of the first temple that the walls were breached. It was on that day the a Holy Torah Scroll was burned by the evil Greek Apostomus setting a precedent for thousands of years of burned Torahs and tears to come. It was on the 17th of Tammuz that the evil King Manasseh placed an Idol in the Holy Temple. So much sadness, so much darkness, some much loss of what could have been…
I was thinking about this amidst the incredible joy in Hebron Tuesday night.  It is so funny where life takes you.  The “sadness” of the time of year coming up in less than a week, just seemed so distant to the joy we were experiencing on the lawn in front of the Ma’arat haMachpeila.

Then it hit me.  Maybe the work of this time of year is not to connect to “sadness”?  I mean, we have come home. For two thousand years the Jewish people have dreamed a dream, and now I taken my place in that dream in the deepest way.  The work of this time of year may not be just to be sad. Sadness unfortunately is something that the world has plenty of. Maybe the work at hand is to fix a little bit what went wrong.

What the Jewish people lacked the foot of Sinai was patience. Moshe told us he would be back, and to wait for him. We didn’t and we are still paying for it.

Two thousand years ago the Master of the World told us we would have to leave our beloved home. He made us a promise though and asked from us one thing. Please wait, and when the time is right, I will bring you home.“Your children will return to their borders.”

For Two Thousand years we have waited patiently. We have stood somber watch through some of the most difficult of moments in human history.

It is now time.

As I watched Nechama Rachel finishing Sefer Bereishit in Hebron, surrounded by these l children born here in the Land, who feel so at home here, and know no other home. (By the way home is another one of those words we just blow by with out thinking of what it truly, truly means.) The Jewish people have come home. These children, all of us that have had the incredible merit to be brought to this place, at this time.

Watching the joy of these children and their parents Tuesday night in Hebron, I felt I was watching a small stone placed back into the walls of our city, the walls that were breached on the 17 of Tammuz. A city that has waited patiently for so long.
Maybe most of the sadness is behind us and the 17th of Tammuz, the Three Weeks, Tisha bAv is starting little by little to change. It doesn’t just go from night to day in an instance, it slowly almost imperceptibly changes until once where there was only darkness, now there is the most unbelievable light..

Maybe just maybe, so many Jews coming home so fast “ka-afikim banegev“, maybe just maybe Israel rising up from the ashes and an ocean of darkness that threatened to swallow the world, we are seeing the day dawn. As Moshe Rabenu fixed the sin in his generation by burning the golden calf and throwing its ashes upon the water, maybe what we experienced this week is a little fixing, turning back the tide just a little bit, adding just a little more light to the world.

The Red Heifer and the Death of Death

I get the question a lot.  There are things in the Torah that just don’t make sense.  Why would you choose to live a lifestyle where you must commit to doing things that just don’t make sense?

The paradigm of “the things that don’t make sense” is this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Chukat, which is about, well, Torah laws that just don’t make any sense.  A chok is defined as a Torah law that is beyond all human understanding.  It is the type of law that there is no reason that we do this besides the fact that the Master of the Worldcommanded us to.

There are many Chukim in the Torah.  Kashrut, shatnez (the laws prohibiting the wearing of wool and linen in the same garment), the laws of family purity, just to name a few.  These are laws where no rational reason is given for them.  We are just expected to accept them and do them.

The great Chassidic master, the Kedushas Levi takes it a step further.  He says do not read the verse the first verse of this week’s parsha as “This is the ‘unknowable decree’ of the Torah, but he points out that the same verse can really be read, “This Torah is an ‘unknowable decree’.”  The Kedushas Levi is really saying at the end of the day really all of life is unknowable.

We fool ourselves all the time with delusion that we are in control, that some how through my climate controlled house and car, my good job and my 401k, I have wrestled my life from the jaws of the unknowable.

And what is the Torah’s paradigm of the unknowable decree?  The red hefer.  G-d commands the Jewish People to take a perfectly red cow and to slaughter it and burn it, and to use its ashes to purify us.  Purify
us from what?  From the experience of coming into direct contact with death.  No matter how much we try to control and comprehend life, death will always be the ultimate unfathomable decree.

If death is the ultimate reminder that in the end all of life is really unknowable, Then the Torah is the life line that makes that situation livable.

The Izbitser Rebb says that this is one of the things that separates the Jewish People from the rest of the world.  Says the Izbitser, “…death doesn’t really befall them.  For death among the children of Israel is not like death is perceived by the rest of the world.  To the rest of the world death is like a vessel that is shattered and beyond repair, but to the Jewish people, death is like a vessel that is merely taken apart (to be put back together later)”.  This, says the Izbitser, is why the parshah of the red hefer comes now before the death of the “three shepherds” Miriam, Aharon, and Moshe, to let the Jewish people know, that in actuality, there is no such thing as death.

Anyone who has lost someone close knows, death is just too big to really wrap your head around, everybody agrees to that, but the Torah is teaching us something so much deeper.  The Torah is teaching us that not only is death to big for us to wrap our heads around, but you know what? So is life.

So what are we left with?  Chukim.  Surrendering to the fact that there is so much I do not know than I do, and there is so much that I can not control, and life is so beyond death, and G-d is bigger than everything.

Korach and the Secret of Real Jewish Leadership

What does it mean to be a Jewish leader? We are a Nation that have so many  leaders, and yet sometimes it seems like we have no idea where we are going. This weeks Torah portion centers around the struggle for Jewish leadership in the Desert of Sinai. The newly born nation is not just arguing over leadership, but struggling between the foundational ideas of who we are going to be, now that we are going to be a free people in our land.  A man by the name of Korach ben Izhar from the tribe of Levi challenges the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aaron haKohein .

There is a funny joke among Oliim (immigrants to Israel), “what common Israeli names do you name your kids to make sure they will never move back to America? Osnat, Nimrod, or Moran.”

One thing is for sure, you would be hard pressed to find a Korach in most Jewish Communities today. I have never met one. Korach is among the least admired characters in all of the Bible. But the truth according to our sages was that he was actually very holy.

The Izbitser Rebbe asks, everything in the Torah is true right? Well it says in the Torah that Korach said all of the Jewish People are holy! The Torah says it, so that means that Korach really believed it. He looked at every single Jew as holy. What an level. Imagine being in the place where you can see every Jew as holy. Maybe every Jew who believes EXACTLY like I do, but every Jew? Come on!

Also the Arizal says that after Mashiach comes, Korach will be the Kohein Gadol, the high priest. Tzaadik katamor yiphrach, it says in psalms, A righteous man will flourish like a date palm.  Says the Arizal, if you take the last letters of  the verse, it spells KoRaCH.

So why didn’t Korach have what it takes?

One of my absolute favorite Chassidic commentaries, the Toras Emes (intentionally spelled like that) by the great master Reb Leibeleh Eiger gives a beautiful insight, not just into the event in the Torah, but the nature of leadership. It has got to be in my top five favorite torahs of all time. I am so excited to share it with you.

Reb Leibeleh asks the question, why does G-d refer to the “man whom I will choose”? It should have said, “the man whom I have chosen.” G-d already chose Aaron to lead the Jewish People! G-d is going to change his mind if someone makes a better case for the job? Crazy, impossible!

Says the Rebbe, Reb Leibeleh, What made Aaron worthy to be a leader of the Jewish People was the fact that this is how he saw himself. Because he was chosen in the past, this did not give him the piece of mind, or the certainty in his heart that he was going to remain someone who was chosen. He saw himself as having to be worthy to be chosen every single moment, he saw his being chosen to be High Priest not as an event that happened in the past and now he can settle into an easy job, but as a dynamic ongoing process of being chosen. Sure G-d chose me before, but He felt I was worthy before to lead His people. I may not be worthy today. Yesterday I was the High Priest, today I may be chosen to be a street cleaner.

What makes this so important? We are after all the Chosen People right? This is a very difficult concept for some people, and understandably so. Let’s face it to the modern sensibility it does sound, at very least elitist. And you know what? It may very well be, if you see the choseness of our people simply as an historic event. We were chosen, so now we can put a sign up on our door, “The Chosen Ones” and settle into our cushy tenure-ship. No way. Says the Reb Leibeleh, we have to see ourselves as being chosen in every moment. Every time we light Shabbat candles, or make kiddush, or learn Torah, we need to say please G-d make me worthy right now, choose me, make me worthy to be a Jew, make me worthy to be a parent, make me worthy to be a husband, to be a friend.

Sixty five years ago, G-d gave us an opportunity to come home again.  Are we building this State, simply because we deserve it, or because of the potential of what this Nation could be for the whole world. It depends on choice.  What are we as a Nation going to CHOOSE to do with it.

This is how Aaron haKohein lived every second of his life, and this is what made him a leader of the Jewish people.

But one more thing says Reb Leibeleh. What does it mean that “his staff will blossom”? What is a staff? It is something that is already finished, its done. It is not something that is still alive, It is a piece of dead wood. It is cut off from it source of life. The staff represents Judaism. How do you know if someone is a true leader? Is the Judaism that they are holding onto, done, finished, dead, irrelevant, cut off from it’s source, or is it bursting forth with life? In the hand of someone with the leadership traits of an Aaron haKohein, you see life bloom. You constantly see newness, and this is what leader is meant to be.

This was the lesson that G-d was teaching Korach. Aaron was not chosen because he comes from a good family, or he was the smartest, or he networked the best, it was that in every single moment of his life he was begging G-d, make me worthy in your eyes right now to lead your people.

Do you know what the ultimate Jewish leader is? A parent. As parents we need to beg G-d every minute, every second, make me worthy to care for the special souls that you are entrusting to me. Let me teach my son a Judaism that is alive.

May we all be blessed to never ever see our connection to being Jewish as something that is finished, something to put on a shelf or rest against a wall, but always, every moment as something blossoming with newness, connected to its source, and bursting forth with life.

Shabbat Shalom

Parshat Shlach: Why do we need a State of Israel?

It is often said that the Torah either had to be written by G-d or anti-Semites.  No religion in the world has as its central holy text a work so rife with such self criticism.  Over and over again the Jewish People seem to be falling on our faces.  Messing up.  Over and over again G-d gives us another chance.  Not so in this weeks parsha, not this time.  For some reason it is this sin, the sin of the spies that we can not bounce back from.  G-d tells us this time there is no second chance, this entire generation must die in the desert.  In fact the day the spies returned and gave there negative report about the Land, was the 9th of Av.  A day that has been stricken with national calamity over and over again throughout our history as a people.

What was so much worse about this sin than say, The Golden Calf?  Korach’s rebellion?  All the kvetching.

Even crazier, we seem to have G-d’s permission to send the spies in the first place!  G-d says, “Send forth men, if you want, and let them spy out the Land that I give to the Children of Israel.” Bamidbar 13:2

Moshe even sends them and gives them advice.  “Moshe sent them to “tour” the land of Canaan and he said to them, Ascend here in the south and climb the mountain.  See the Land.  How is it? …and the people that dwells in it…  is it fertile or is it lean…  take from the fruits of the Land.”

And then maybe the most tragic moment in all of Jewish history, the spies return and give a negative report.

The people that dwells in the Land is powerful, the cities are very greatly fortified…  We cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us… The Land .. is a land that devours its inhabitants….

You hear over and over again in Israel…  It just ain’t easy.  Forget about the rock throwing on the roads of Gush Etzion, or the rocket attacks or the constant threat of WMDs from Syria and Iran, just earning a living here is a killer.

You don’t move to Israel to make your life easier.

The flip side of this..  if there is one positive aspect to all of these challenges we experience, that we are going through in this country, it is that it is  forcing us to ask powerful, important questions.

Why do we need to have a State of Israel?  Think about it for a minute.

Security?

There is no place in the entire world right now at this moment were Jews are consistently being killed because they are Jews with the exception of here in Israel.  You could make a powerful argument that we as a people would be far more secure without the State of Israel.

Believe that we will be more secure or not, and I admit that it is a valid argument, if the Jewish People are in the Land of Israel only to live safely it could be that giving large portions away is the right thing to do.  Uproot the Jewish villages and cities of  Judea and Sumeria (the West Bank).  Dismantle the settlements and build a big wall.  Why not?

Maybe we need a State of Israel so we could live vibrant Jewish lives?

Well guess what?  I hear they have kosher sushi at the Supermarket in Bala Cynwyd where we made aliyah from.  When I lived in Philadelphia there were nine minyanim within a mile of me Shabbat morning.  Torah classes every night in several locations around my old neighborhood.  In America there are now choices of day schools, shuls, kosher restaurants.  And guess what, no suicide bombers, and the people sure drive better!

I believe with all of my heart that we are today living out the parsha of the spies.

Moshe sent them to “See the Land”, to experience its beauty and its holiness.   To fall in love with the Land, and to realize its unique gifts to the Jewish soul, to realize that to being a Jew and being in the Land of Israel go together like nothing else in the world, and there is no place else we can truly be who it is we were meant to be.  A Holy Nation in our Holy Land.  OUR LAND.

Instead, the spies strategically accessed the situation.  Was it, or was it not  feasible to live there, to survive to maintain their standard of living, to dwell securely among the inhabitants.

The mistake that they made, was that they completely disregarded what Hashem had said to them.  “…the Land that I give to the Children of Israel.”

Friends, let me make something clear.

I do not live in the Land Israel because I can have a more vibrant Jewish Life here, even though certainly I do.

I do not live in the Land of Israel because my family is more secure here, even though I truly believe that we are.

I live here in the Land of Israel, because I am a Jew and this is the Land that G-d promised to my father Avraham.  This is the Land that G-d gave to the Children of Israel.  This my Land!!

It is crazy!  If you ask one of my Arab neighbors here in Israel what the essence of the problem is he will tell you, “The Jews occupy our land.”

We Jews make so many excuses.  Should we freeze settlements?  Uproot communities?  Create a Palestinian State?  We might be more secure if we do, we might not?  Is that really the question?

Judea and Sumeria?  The Green Line?  67 borders?  Settlements? Is it good for us to be there?   Is it better if we leave?

The Spies said that, “…we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes”

Maybe this is telling us that the world is going to see our connection to the Land of Israel how we see our connection to it.  We thank G-d live in a time where the vast majority of non-Jews are good, good people.  If we say that we need to feel secure, they will no doubt make us feel secure, we do not need a land for that.  If we say that we want to actualize our Judaism on a deep deep level, we will get kosher sushi, no doubt about it.  For kosher sushi you do not need a land.

It is my belief, that the only reason we need the Land of Israel, the only reason that truly matters, is that it is OUR LAND.  It is the Land G-d gave to us to be who we were meant to be.  The Land of Israel is the only place where we can truly, truly do that.

I live in the Hills of Judea.  I walk in the footsteps of my forefathers and mothers, I will Please G-d grow old watching my children and grandchildren walk her wadis, swim in her waters, play in her narrow alleyways, growing up tall and tan and proud and free in their Land.  If I merit I will dance under their chuppahs in the cities of Yehuda and the streets of Yerushalayom.  And should the time come when my time is done here on Earth, my body will be lain to rest in her sweet soil until the Great Day.

The greatest fixing we can do for the sin of the spies, in my opinion is to come home.  If not at this moment to make a life, then to spy it out.  Not with the eyes of strategic assessment, but with the eyes of a lover.  Come home not to not look at our Land with a check list, but to see it for what it is.  Our soul-mate, Our gift from G-d, our Land.

Parshat Eikev – Seeing past the pulp

“For G-d, your G-d is bringing you to a good land. A land with streams of water, of springs and underground water that flows into valleys and mountains a land of wheat and barley, vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of oil producing olives and honey a land in which you will eat bread without poverty and lack nothing in it…” Devarim 8:8

I remember when I first brought Batya back to New Jersey to meet my family and friends 21 years ago. It was July 4th weekend. The English date of our Aliyah 14 years later. I already knew when I brought her home that this was the one. And the crazy thing was, everybody else knew also. This was my soul-mate. Rabbi David Aaron has a beautiful teaching that contrasts the love of your soul-mate with the connection that we have with the Land of Israel.
Before the Jewish people began returning home starting in the beginning of the last century, The Land was an arid desolate wasteland. However, when the Jewish People came home, the Land blossomed. Says Rabbi Aaron, “How do you know when you are with your true soul-mate? Because in their presence you blossom.”
We are beginning an Inward Bound trip this coming week. People ask me why I do what I do. Simply put, I want to relieve that experience. Introducing people to my soul mate. The Land of Israel. It is here in these hills that I feel like I too beneath my grape vines, fig tree and pomegranate three that I feel am really blossoming.
Yesterday I read a beautiful teaching on the seven species from the Holy Lubavitcher Rebbe zt’l. It came alive as I sat outside on my back porch staring at the grape vines and pomegranates. According to the Rebbe grapes equal joy, and joy equals revelation, as the grapevine describes its product in Yotam’s Parable (Judges 9:13), “…my wine, which makes joyous G-d and men.” . A joyous person has the same capacities like intelligence, knowledge and desires that he would in a non-joyous state, only in a state of joy, it is so much more pronounced, vivid. Things are so much clearer when we are filled with joy. Our souls are so deep, our lives may be so rich, but without joy, we can do every mitzvah at the right time in the right order, but never truly be touched, never get the color, the depth or the intensity that life has to offer.
The Pomegranate represents hypocrisy in its most noblest form says the Rebbe. Your lips are like a thread of scarlet, your mouth is comely; your temple is like a piece of pomegranate within your locks” (Song of Songs, 4:3). According to the Gemora, the allegory of the pomegranate expresses the truth that, “Even the empty ones amongst you are full of good deeds as a pomegranate” [is full of seeds]. A pomegranate compartmentalizes its sweetness. Each juicy seed is in its own little compartment of pulp, separated from the whole.

You hear so much about this division in Israel between the secular and the religious. I am not saying it doesn’t exist, but halavi some of our religious brothers and sisters should be as connected to G-d and the Land as are so called secular brethren in Israel. It is so easy to see the bad, and there seems to be such a pull towards looking at the negative.

This past week we took a family vacation to Netanya, the beautiful Mediterranean beach resort town north of Tel Aviv. The week after Tisha b’Av, mamash the whole country goes on vacation. It was packed!

It was so good to see so many Jews from every conceivable background in one place, unafraid and so filled with joy. Everyone was so happy. Happy to be Jews, thrilled to be living in the Land of Israel and seeing the sweetness past the worthless “pulp” that separates us.
May we all be blessed to come home soon to Eretz Yisrael, soon and to taste her fruit, experience the joy and the sweetness of watching the Land bloom as you bloom right along side of her. Your true soul-mate.