Friday, June 12, 2020

The Great Escape!

Husbands whose Internet surfing habits are not exactly kosher and wives whose shopping habits are not exactly frugal may be very familiar with this browser option, “Delete History.”  With a few clicks within the drop-down menu, yesterday is but a memory.  Writer’s, too, have their technological means of erasing a verbal wreckage zone: backspace, delete or, best of all, click “new” page and all indications of illiteracy magically disappear. That is the tragedy of our generation, the ease with which we try to and can erase who we were yesterday if it doesn’t fit today’s narrative. Where we came from and former versions of ourselves, all the things which made us who we are--the good, the bad and the very ugly, the substance of our existence--we hit delete and prefer to design the holographic version of the phony face we serve the world. I couldn’t help but be jolted by HBO’s recent decision to not play the movie Gone with the Wind in its streaming movies library because of the current race protests in the USA. I thought about my own heritage and favorite movie, The Ten Commandments, and wondered if I should start a new protest and have it pulled from the airwaves as well. After all, my people were slaves in that movie and frankly it’s beclouding my freedoms. Well, not exactly mine, but my fellow Jews; they too prefer to forget from where they came; it’s easier to sever ties that way. Forgetfulness absolves all debts. But our Maker is smarter than those He made and He thus made it mandatory that we remember. 
The most important thing we must remember is that G-d took us out of Egypt. When do we have to remember it? I’ll give you a few seconds to guess. One. Two. Three. Was your answer Passover? You are minutely and partially right. The Jewish nation is told in the Torah to remember it, “...All the days of your life.” (Deuteronomy 16:3) Don’t you ever believe your delusions of grandeur. Our forefathers were slaves and we will forever be slaves. But as free slaves we have just the simple additional option of who we serve. Will you be a servant of G-d, like Moses and King David, and keep His commandments or a slave to your passions, cravings and follies, a slave to money and those who hold it over you. A slave to the evil inclination that blankets us with forgetfulness to confuse our path. Remember G-d took you out of Egypt so that you will know that He is not a G-d who created the world and then went into hiding as some philosophers posit. He got involved with our destiny personally and with high drama because He cares and had very special gifts to offer: the Torah and the Land of Israel.
And that is the next thing to remember: the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Have you even read the whole book once before shelving your Judaism for materialism, Buddhism, hedonism, commercialism and all the “isms” that seduce you? Do you know more rules about golf and mahjong than Torah directives?  Set aside the whole holy scroll for a moment, can you even list the 10 Commandments as listed in the Torah?  “But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget…” (Deuteronomy 4:9). In the end, the worms will eat us and G-d will judge us. What good deeds, as outlined by Judaism, will you be carrying in your designer handbag?
The next thing we are mandated to remember is the nation of Amalek, the first nation to attack the Jewish people after leaving Egypt. Amalek is no longer a physical army on our tail, but it still attacks us. It is the forces in our life that cool us off from G-d by igniting other fires. King Saul didn’t annihilate Amalek completely as G-d commanded and lost his crown because of it.  “The numerical value (gematria) of the Hebrew letters that spell Amalek (240) is equivalent to that of the letters that spell safek, “doubt.” All things holy are certain and absolute... Amalek is doubt; baseless, irrational doubt that cools the fervor of holiness....” (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson).
We can withstand our temptations just as Joseph was able to withstand one of the most beautiful women in the world coming on to him. The trick is to not set ourselves up for failure. Like any army it seeks your weak spots and vulnerabilities. If someone would try and kill you, you’d run for your life. Remember Amalek and all it stands for and run for your life. 
We are also commanded to remember our sin of the Golden Calf and our rebelliousness. Yes, we are G-d’s chosen people, chosen to lead by example with exemplary behavior, chosen to be the light in dark places, not to be fashion models but models of decency, integrity, honesty and responsibility. We are not mandated to trot on high horses but on “higher ground.”
Another thing to remember is that G-d struck Miriam the prophetess with tzara’at (a skin disease) for speaking negatively about her brother Moses and quarantined her for seven days. G-d doesn’t hide our faults and sins and delete history, He compels us to remember them and learn from them. If only the Israelites would have learned from Miriam’s punishment for slander the 12 spies who surveyed the Land of Israel prior to the nations’ entry wouldn’t have sinned by bringing back a frightening report of the Land. For the Golden Calf they were forgiven, but for that they were not and were condemned to wander the desert for 40 years. Don’t let your tongue be your noose. 
There are more things we are commanded to remember, including the Sabbath. As such, I must put down my notebook and prepare for the holiest and most beautiful day of the week. Turns out that the great escape is in remembering who you are. Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, June 5, 2020

I Know the Way

No matter how far we go from home, either running from who we are or lured and lulled by the fake gods that taunt us, something always drives us home. A family sickness, a funeral, sometimes even something good, but fate brings us home.  And who are we when we return to the scene of our prime? Do we at all resemble that soul that our feet took wandering through the dark crevices of exile? Are there any traces of the Source inside us? Drink the bitter water; it shall tell us what we’ve become.[1]

A great nation blessed by G-d Himself, chosen for “monogamy,” has morphed into gross polytheists and selfish polygamists.  And now,   the waters of truth are gathering around our door, the torrents are not far behind. “Deliver me, O God, for the waters have reached until my soul!  I have sunk in muddy depths without foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the current sweeps me away.’ (Psalms 69:2-3) Yes, my beloved Jews the waters are rising, our faltering footholds are becoming strangleholds, and as always and as promised we are being forced back home. 

We ran from who we are and where we belong because we forsook our G-d and got seduced by a world of lies. But the world isn’t lying anymore. The old masks have dropped, albeit now we wear new ones.  Anti-Semitism, the one virus for which no vaccine will ever be found, is flooding reasonableness, muddying our waters, building up pressure; and the dam will surely fall.  It’s spreading,  it’s infiltrating and all our materialistic and institutional strongholds are exposed for what they are, vapors and illusions. When things get hot those illusory safeguards leave us cold. We’ve walked the streets of the Diaspora, we ate among strangers and dressed like them, pursued their gods and cheated, lied, stole and slandered for their sake. In our high-tech modern world, we had no place for an ancient desert G-d. Luxury labels in our collars, brand items on our wrists. Now the looters and rioters sport the very same. Are we now equals? These fake gods, Chanel, Gucci, BMW--are they kingmakers? For then now all men are kings. No, we were an anointed nation by holy oil, a nation of priests, especially chosen to be the light. But we muffled our ears to our own Divine calling and sought our strength from make-believe muses and mellifluous memes. All in vain. “Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is ONE.”  

The streets of the world again are beating with the thumps of protest and hatred. “You are a Jew.” If you forgot, they will remind you. Our Jewish institutions are vandalized, our holy objects desecrated--why should they care if we don’t? Did we scream, fast and cry when we heard our holy Torah was thrown on the floor and profaned like we would if our Mercedes were scratched or our dog hurt his paw. Our people attacked, our race forever blamed...the threats are getting louder. It’s time to go home.  We have one G-d, one Torah, and one home: Israel. The burden of “never again” falls not to the nations of the world, but upon us. We learned from the smoke and ashes that when we hem and haw and falter, tomorrow is too late. Some adhere to the calling, others are stirred by the shouting. And so I now remember the words of Israel’s former chief rabbi, Meir Lau who evokes the two images of the Prophet Isaiah regarding the return of the exiles to Israel: the cloud and the dove. "Who are these that fly like a cloud and like doves to their nests?" (Isaiah 60:8). The cloud is moved by the external force of the wind; the dove has an internal homing sense that returns it to its land. No matter what propels us, it’s time to go home. It’s time to return not just to the land that G-d gave us but also to Him and His Torah. For not even in the Promised Land nor with a million angelic voices singing Hatikva will we find hope, promise and peace if we dismiss the very land deed which bequeathed it to us, i.e., the Torah. 
“...And you will return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day you and your children,
then, the Lord, your God, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your God, had dispersed you.
” (Deuteronomy 30:1-4)

As Rabbi Avraham Tanis says: “Man believes in himself and questions the Almighty, when really, we should believe in the Almighty and question ourselves.” Friends we’ve had our run, a long run of arrogance and rebellion; I’m tired of running. It’s time to go home. 

1.   If a woman was suspected of adultery, she was brought before the Kohen and made to drink water wherein a scroll with G-d’s name written forward and in reverse was dissolved. The results of drinking would reveal her innocence or guilt. (Bamidbar 5:11-31)