21 February 2008

From Last Week, but Still Worth the Read

Parashat Ve’Ata Te’Tzaveh 5768
(by Rabbi Nachman Kahana)

I am writing this week’s divrei Torah in the lobby of a magnificent hotel on the shores of the Dead Sea, that ancient area of Sodom and Amora and its three sister towns, which were destroyed by HaShem because of their debased ways. (These five cities are not unique. An acquaintance of mine, on his return from a visit to San Fransisco, remarked that if God does not destroy San Francisco, He owes an apology to Sodom and Amora.)

Now, despite its bad track record, or perhaps because of it, this area was chosen by the Ariel Institutions of Yerushalayim for its bi-annual rabbinic conference. For four days, the lowest point on the planet (the Dead Sea) was launched into orbit of kedusha (holiness) by the presence of over 200 of Israel’s leading rabbis in a conference dealing with the Shoah (Holocaust).

It is a constant source of amazement to me how Hashem interlocks the practical plans of Man with His spiritual agenda: 1- The Jewish nation; 2- This week’s parasha; 3- The place which was designated for the conference; and 4- The Shoah, all meshed together in synchronization.

As I gaze at the many colored hues of the waters of the Dead Sea, two things come to mind: A- the Sea’s buoyancy and, B- its deceptiveness; because despite all its alluring colors nothing can live in its waters.

Buoyancy is a quality shared by the Dead Sea, together with the Jewish nation and our parasha, which begins:

ואתה תצוה את בני ישראל ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך כתית למאור להעלת נר תמיד
and you shall command the children of Israel that they shall take for you pure olive oil beaten for the light to raise up the eternal light

In our holy writings, there are many analogies between the Jewish people and olive oil, the most robust one being that they are both endowed with the inherent ability to rise above their surroundings: Olive oil will rise to the top when placed in any other liquid, and the Jewish people rise to the top of every society which permits us the freedom to exhibit our God given brilliance.

The Shoah, which was under discussion at the convention, is analogous to the Dead Sea in both ways. Our fellow Jews in the cursed continent of the Shoah (Europe is a Jewish cemetery, from Portugal in the west to Siberia in the east) were intoxicated with the freedom granted them to rise at will to the top echelons of Christian society; they could not sense the death awaiting them just under the surface. The placid waters of the Dead Sea are deceiving, concealing the absence of all life within its depths, as is the galut (diaspora) which sings its sweet alluring melodic phrases to deaden the Jewish sensors to approaching dangers.

I drew two conclusions from the lectures of the rabbinic Shoah conference.

1- The State of Israel forever changed the meaning of Kiddush HaShem - sanctification of God’s holy name.

Incidents of how holy Jewish men and women went to their death with "Shema Yisrael" on their lips were related at the conference, or rabbis, who could have been saved, but preferred to join their communities in certain death.

The gemara (Bava Batra 10b), which extols the acts of Jewish self sacrifice in the sanctification of HaShem and the Torah, was often quoted.

And indeed these people reached the level of Rabbi Akiva and his generation, even the level of Yitzchak at the akaida (The binding of Yitzchak on the Temple Mount).

However, and in no way to diminish an iota of their great courage and belief of the kedoshim of the Shoah, I submit that the manner of sanctifying HaShem’s holy name has changed with our return home to Eretz Yisrael.

In the galut, in all its ages and places, the cry of "Shema Yisrael" ascended to the highest realms of heaven as a Jewish soul parted from this world because of the fires of Christianity or the sword of Islam.

However, with our return to Eretz Yisrael the ultimate sanctification of HaShem is NOT to die for Him but to destroy all those who are identified with Amalek. As the Almighty Himself says in the Torah (Shemot 17,16):

ויאמר כי יד על כס י-ה מלחמה לה‘ בעמלק מדר דר
And HaShem vowed that He will do war with Amalek from generation to generation

And who is Amalek? Amalek as a person was Eisav’s grandson, but in a larger sense it includes every gentile who attempts to destroy the Jewish people or a segment of the people, including the planners of the destruction, and those who aid and abet the destruction, or even those who passively agree to or silently observe it.

The true sanctification of the Holy Name is for the Jew to LIVE for HaShem, not to die for Him. The Gemara (Moed Katan 16b) describes the great physical strength of King David, that he could kill 800 of the enemy by the shot of a single arrow; and had David not sinned in the matter of Uriah Ha’Chiti, Hashem would have permitted David to kill 1000 with each arrow.

The lesson we are taught by this Gemara is essentially what the Medina has provided us with - to become a partner with HaShem, as the verse says, "do war with Amalek from generation to generation."

King David would have long ago incinerated Iran, Hizbulla and Hamas. That is the Jewish way and let us not forget that the vehicle for fostering this mitzva is Tzva Hagana LeYisrael (Israel Defense Forces).

2- The second conclusion which I drew has to deal with the remnant of Jews still attached to the galut.

It is no secret that World War Two was a direct consequence of the First World War, just as a pressure cooker is waiting to explode. The conditions forced upon Germany by the Versailles Treaty brought to the fore all the obscure hidden evil in the German soul. But what brought about the First World War?

I submit that the First World War was brought about by HaShem as a warning to the Jewish people to leave Europe. When that warning was not heeded, the next war took center stage in all its fury and death. But the fury and death of the Second World War are themselves warnings to the Jewish people to leave the galut and return home, because World War Three will make the first two to seem as mere border clashes.

With Yishmael on the march, and when Christian nations will finally awaken to find a little Achmed under every bed, it will be too late for the Jew to leave.

The Jewish people, the eternal light, the Dead Sea and the memory of six million extinguished Jewish candles of the soul, all lead to one conclusion: HaShem has given us two paths - life or death, as the Torah states (Devarim 30,15)

ראה נתתי לפניך היום את החיים ואת הטוב ואת המות ואת הרע
Behold! I have place before you today life and goodness versus death and bad

We are blessed with the freedom to choose our destiny and future. On the one side there is the eternal Jewish nation and its eternal light, as opposed to the dead waters and extinguished candles.

If you choose correctly, you and your descendants will continue, but if folly overcomes your senses, there is still room, God forbid, for more Holocaust museums.

Shabbat Shalom
Nachman Kahana