Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Did We Help Kill Ari Fuld?

Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh Bazeh: All Israel Is Responsible for One Another

It used to be that the hardest thing to say was, “I’m sorry.” That’s apparently not the case anymore, since now we are all perfect we have nothing to be sorry about. Our new self-proclaimed perfection accompanied by its dastardly cohort, pride, now makes “I need you” and “Can you help me?” the hardest things to say.  After all, we are the smarter one, the better one, the more deserving one, and since God mistakenly gave you what he should have really given me, I say, “Keep your favors; keep your advice; keep your money; keep your opinion.”  And furthermore, “You may think you’re great and perfect, but it's not true, because really, I am.”  
And that is why my beloved Jews, we will continue to cry and suffer as a Jewish nation: because we don’t know how to be brothers and sisters, friends and cousins, neighbors and fellow citizens. We begrudge seeing the value in the other, and as such we don’t know how to be mensches. When the ancient Israelites were counted in a national census they were tabulated by half shekels, not whole ones. One reason it was performed as such was to emphasize that we each are just fragments of a whole, single letters in a holy Torah that only have purpose and meaning when united.
When we come to the humbling realization that we do need each other and that you have something that makes me complete and I have something that makes you better-- all so by God’s design--then and only then can we begin to be sorry and hopefully embarrassed for thinking we are perfect. Only then, when there is humility and love and regard for others, can God’s blessings be upon us.
The English poet John Donne wrote in the 1600s that “no man is an island” and we’ve oft repeated it, after all, it sounds poetic and not “too Jewish.” However, over a thousand years before Donne’s popular phrase was inked, the Talmud told us that “all Jews are responsible for one another”—we simply can’t go it alone.  Yet that Jewish obligation is not only relegated to tangible responsibilities, i.e., giving charity, offering a helping hand, it is true on a spiritual level as well. When one Jew sins, he or she not only affects his or her own fate, but that of every other Jew. In fact, when a Jew sins he or she brings down the entire creation. Okay, so here’s where you get turned off, right? Sounds too rabbinical and slightly too esoteric. Yet funny how even though there are few lepidopterists among us, no one ever dismisses the Butterfly Effect: the posit that the gentle flapping of a butterfly’s wings in one part of the world will precipitate a tornado in another part. Be on storm watch my beloved people, for if you flutter in the gutter, God will clip the wings of your fellow Jews and, as a result, we will all come crashing down. A nation meant to soar, will plummet.
The Talmud teaches that we are so connected as a people that the righteous among us suffer as atonement for the sins of his generation. And then Ari Fuld was murdered by an Arab terrorist. Yes, the killer perpetrated the lethal wound, but from all the reviews I’ve read, which echo my own heart-piercing emotions, Ari was a saint, a hero, a lion of Zion, a modern-day David and a national hero of the likes of Yonni Netanyahu. And yet, probably like me, most of you knew him only through social media and like me, you probably wept upon hearing the news as if he was your brother, your son, your friend. Then you searched online for hours seeking answers and also for ways to help. Why? Because all of Am Israel is ONE. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said, “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.” Once again as a people we became whole with one broken heart. Is this what it takes, again, to unite us? If it is, please don’t tell God and give Him any more ideas.
In Ari Fuld’s last live talk on the weekly parasha, less than 48 hours before he was murdered, he said that a leader is only as good as his followers.  What does that make him? What does that make us?
His mind boggling fame around the world, the love he garnered which was more than he or we realized and also the time he was taken from us, in the shadow of Yom Kippur, compels us to ask ourselves a million questions and one among them must be, “What have we done wrong as a people that Ari Fuld is dead?” Many blame the terrorist; I do too. But the blame can’t begin and end there. If he was as righteous as we say he was-- and I believe he was-- then we must ask that very hard follow-up question. Did he die for our sins? I know in my heart losing him sure feels like a punishment.
The righteous man has perished, but no one takes it to heart, and men of kindness are taken away, with no one understanding that because of the evil the righteous man has been taken away.” (Isaiah 57:1)
My fellow Jews, each year after we finish fasting and praying, we tend to return to our old ways. Don’t be so selfish. Realize we need each other. We hold each other's lives in our hands. Try just a little harder to add a new mitzvah to your life, whether it is Shabbat candles, or saying a prayer before you eat or after. Don't just be a "cardiac Jew," a Jew at heart, be a Jew in your words and in your deeds. And don't turn your back on my problems just because you have your own. 
Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Israel’s former Chief Rabbi and a Holocaust survivor, reminds us in his autobiography that the German’s motto for their death camp, Buchenwald, was Jedem das seine--each man to his fate! That is the Nazi's way; it is not the Jewish way—our God is one, our land is one, our Torah is one and our fate is one! Don’t be so perfect. I need you. You need me. Our lives depend on it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Are My People Hard of Hearing? By Aliza Davidovit

I once asked my friend, “How are you doing?”

The reply, “No complaints.”

“No complaints?” I echoed astonished, “Surely you’re not Jewish!”

I love my people and we’ve accomplished so many great things for humanity, but there is rarely a day that goes by that God’s chosen people aren’t complaining about one thing or another. To not complain, frankly just isn’t Jewish. The conventional opening to any secular tale is once upon a time, but if you’re Jewish, it’s “OY, it’s hard to be a Jew.”

 “Why is life so hard?” “So many problems.”  “Why is all this happening to me?” “What does God want from me?” Are sentences I hear daily and ask regularly.  It’s reminiscent of  a teenager who leaves his room in disarray, blasts music, doesn’t lift his head from the smartphone and then can’t figure out why his parents are always screaming at him and constantly punishing him. The parents are on repeat mode; the kids are on mute mode. And empty answers depend on what’s in mode.

And that’s why I ask, “Are my people hard of hearing?” The question “Why?” when it comes to life’s factor Xs, is a philosophical question. God, the King of all philosophy, has provided a pragmatic answer.  The challenge is, do you want to know the answer or do you find greater comfort in the “poor me” swaddling cloth and greater solace in nursing the tear-sodden inquiry “Why me?” like an after-meal brandy?

God has told us through the Five Books over and over again what he expects of us and it is clearly stated in this week’s Parasha: “See, I set before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today; and the curse, if you will not heed the commandments of the Lord your God….”  

God has told us what he wants from us but we refuse to listen either because it’s not convenient, because we know better or because our nurtured arrogance has filled the void where knowledge and truth should reside. Poor God, for Him it must be like a perpetual Groundhog Day in a Verizon commercial: “Can you hear me now?” “Can you hear me now?”  His word keeps echoing unheeded in our environs. Perhaps that’s why this week’s reading starts with the word “See” and not “hear.”  We’ve already proven we hear only what we want to hear. Will we now only see what we want to see?  Do we leave any sensory aperture hospitable for God’s footprints to enter?

The reality is, it’s not hard to be a Jew, it's an honor. It's only hard to be a Jew when we don’t behave like  Jews, when we don’t do what we are commanded to do. When we willfully pick the curse, on what pretext then should we be awaiting a blessing?  Friends, you can’t go to sleep with a bottle of vodka and be shocked when you wake up with a hangover. We believe the Surgeon General’s warning that such and such may be hazardous to our health, but when God speaks, every Jew is like a geriatric patient in Florida, “Speak up sonny, I can’t hear you.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Words That Prove You're Dead!

Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil,” G-d warns the Israelites. “You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live.” 
Why did G-d have to command this? Who wouldn’t choose life? Who would say, “Nah,” I think I’ll pick death, but thanks.” And yet, more often than we think, we actually do pick death.
There are two oft-used sentences which, contrary to their intentions, give more proof that the person saying them is dead rather than alive. They are, “I hate my life” and “I love my life.” These statements reveal a lack of faith, a lack of purpose and are inherently comfort-zone cop outs.
In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, we learn about these two deleterious mindsets of the “haters” and the “lovers.”
Oy, I hate my life:  
The freed Israelites were extremely distressed by the challenges ahead.They perceived the uphill battles as so impassable that they actually complained that G-d ever took them out of Egypt. They went so far as to say that "because the Lord hates us” he took us out of Egypt. Contrary to the famous words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” the Israelites, once having obtained liberty, said give me slavery. Servitude, after all, offers a sense of comfort, just as our own habits and routines are a form of slavery; we feel safe because we know what tomorrow will look like: We went to sleep a slave; we will wake up a slave. The burden of having to challenge ourselves is muted.
If we don’t fight the fear and abandon the comfort zone, we will always be crying to return to Egypt. We will resort to choosing evil because we are really more afraid to live than to die. It’s rather simple: if you hate your life, it’s because you are a prisoner of your own insecurities, a self-shackled slave. If you hate your life, it’s because you do not recognize the G-dly spirit inside you, nor the G-dly hand that guides you. He gave us the exit strategy: He opened the sea before us, and yet we spit at miracles. We become nostalgic for Egypt and say, “I hate my life,” only because we have no faith, no courage and no imagination.
“DO not be afraid,” the Almighty ensures us. “I will go before you and fight your battles.” The simple criteria is to believe He will. If G-d brought you to it, He will get you through it.  As Bon Jovi’s hit lyrics advise: “Welcome to wherever you are…you're exactly where you're supposed to be.
Ah, I love my life:
Equally culpable of having no faith and living in the stagnant zone are those who declare, “I love my life.” These are people who try and preserve the status quo—often at any price—and the price is usually their potential, principles and purpose in life. They are living like soulless slabs of meat on ice. But, we are not born to be preservationists--nor are we even capable to seize the moments--but rather we are meant to be activists as the first commandment in the Torah instructs, “Be fruitful and multiply,” not just in seed but in deed. Why settle for driftwood when the Tree of Life--the living, breathing Torah--stands before you?
Don’t love your life, love life. The difference between them is life or death.
Alternative thinkers insist on the path of least resistance; the Jewish path is the path of unyielding persistence.There is no destiny in inertia, only atrophy. And so, twice in this week’s parasha, we read that G-d told the Jews that it’s time to move on: “You have dwelt long enough at this mountain,” and then, “You have circled this mountain long enough.”  Stop being comfortable. If even hanging around the holy Mount Sinai had an expiration date, just imagine how ruinous it is to hang around lesser plateaus in life. Move on! There are other mountains to climb, lessons to learn and tests to pass. 

Your soul and body are partners. Neither one is a lovely butterfly meant to be preserved under shiny glass, forever beautiful and forever useless. Stop loving your life and start living it. You think you’re tired? The Israelites set up and broke down 42 encampments before they ever got to the Promised Land, and still their battles have not ended. Why? Because as one University professor used to tell his tired students, “You’ll sleep when you’re dead.” In the meantime, there’s a lot of work to do; get busy choosing life.