Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chanukah – The Miracle of Resisting Cultural Normalcy

Camie Davis

My eleven year-old son loves learning about history.  The American Revolution and WW II have captured his attention for the moment.  For the next eight days though, I hope his attention will be captured by a time in history that is mainly celebrated by Jews, but that we, a non-Jewish family, will commemorate as well.

Chanukah commemorates a military victory.  That victory involved untrained Jewish farmers turning into soldiers, like minutemen, and battles against Greeks on elephants.  You know, the kind of stuff an eleven year-old boy finds fascinating.   And although I find underdogs and elephants fascinating too, the message of the Maccabees’ resistance resonates strongly with me for other reasons.  I’m a mother who wants to raise her children to be brave, strong, and to be people who don’t always follow the crowd, especially when the crowd is heading in the wrong direction. 

Unfortunately, that is what many Jews did centuries ago when the Greeks came to town.  They followed the wrong crowd.  During the Second Century BCE, the path of a Greek king of the Seleucid Empire named Antiochus crossed with Israel.  Antiochus changed his name to Epiphanes, which means “visible God.”  Yes, he had a few egocentric issues.   He liked to think that he and the god Jupiter were identical.  Because of little idiosyncrasies like that people called him “the Madman.”  And unfortunately the madman took out his “issues” on the Jews in Israel.

Antiochus had his sights set on ruling Egypt.  And the rode to Egypt went through Israel.  Hence, he wanted to conquer the Jews.  But he didn’t want to conquer them physically.  The madman was actually quite brilliant on one level.  He knew that the real way to conquer a Jew was to conquer him spiritually, for that is where the true power of a Jew resides - in his connection to God.  Bottom-line, Antiochus wanted to Hellenize the Jews.

He implemented his goal of Hellenization by forbidding the keeping of the Sabbath and Rosh Chodesh (the observance of the New Moon, hence the observance of life according to “Jewish time”), circumcision (the sign of being in covenant with God), and the study of Torah.  So, in essence, he banned the cornerstones of the Jews’ connection to God.  He also had the audacity to put up a statue of Jupiter in the Holy Temple because it resembled him, and more importantly he thought he was God, so as madmen go, he thought he should be worshipped.  And to add insult to injury, he slaughtered pigs on the altar of the Holy Temple too. 

Unfortunately, many Jews went along with everything Antiochus did.  They liked the Greeks modus operandi.  Though seen as extremely intelligent, the Greeks way of thinking was actually much more simplistic than Judaism.   A Greek mindset was often one-dimensional; a totally external approach to the world, emphasizing physical pleasure disconnected from anything deeper.  Sound familiar?  Hence, the Greeks elevated the physical to be of utmost importance.  The Greek’s glorification of the physical left little to no room for spirituality.  And this way of thinking made Judaism, or more aptly put, made Torah observance look rather foolish.  A Torah/Biblical outlook in life imbued godliness and spirituality into everything.   Greeks spurned that notion.   And sadly, many Jews joined the Greek’s way of thinking and shrugged off the fact that the most important things in life can’t be seen with physical eyes.  They traded in their spirituality for . . . drum roll please . . . cultural normalcy. 

And that, my friends, is why my family and I will light candles for eight nights.  Because we are right smack in the middle of that same kind of battle.  We are living in a culture that is anything but normal.  Yet everyday our culture would love for you and I to believe that being a person who includes spiritual insight in our day-to-day lives is not only abnormal, but also absurd.   We are in the midst of a battle of continuing to elevate the spiritual aspects of life while living in culture of materialism, self-gratification, and the glorification of  “if it feels good, do it.”   We live in a one-dimensional culture where the belief in, much less the implementation of spiritual values is often considered foolish.  And though it might seem unimportant, menial, or silly to some, lighting candles during Chanukah is a way of reminding ourselves to be light in a culture of darkness.

The Maccabees represented Jews who did not fall prey to the Greek mindset.  They stood up to the cultural normalcy that the Greeks tried to implement and said, “No!”  They stood up for their beliefs, because their beliefs represented the fact that there is a God in this world, and if they didn’t include Him in their world, their world would be nothing.

So no, my family won’t be celebrating Chanukah like our Jewish friends do.  I don’t know how to cook latkes or kugel.  But I do have a candleholder that has places for eight candles.  Eight for the number of days the great menorah in the Temple burned with the little oil that was found when the Temple was finally taken back from the Greeks.  Yet, what I will think about this year when I light the candles is not so much about the miracle of oil.  But the fact that in a culture that tried to suck the heart and soul out of spiritual people, there was still a group of people, though they be few in numbers, who remained spiritual.  And I will think of all the “miraculous” people I am privileged to know today.  Those who in the midst of darkness still shine God’s light.  Who in a one-dimensional culture, see beyond the material world.  And who are as abnormal as they come, in a cultural of "normalcy."   

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Let the Sacrifices Begin

Camie Davis

My husband and I ate lunch with a dear friend the other day.  Our friend is an avid hunter so we conversed some about hunting.  He has two sons and a daughter.  He told them that he didn’t expect them to want to hunt just because he did, but if they ever wanted to learn, he would be happen to teach them.  Long story short, his daughter did indeed desire to learn to hunt, so they found themselves in a deer blind, deer in her rifle scope, and her finger on the trigger.  The moment she pulled the trigger, even before the bullet hit the dear, she started sobbing.  Not from regret, but from the seriousness of the moment.  She had pulled the trigger with the intent of taking a life.  Granted it was an animal’s life, but a life nonetheless.  Our friend ended the story by saying, “It was a very important life lesson.  Although the act of hunting is serious and can even be disturbing, it is not wrong.”

Bells started going off in my head when he said those words.  “He just described the act of offering a sacrifice at the Holy Temple!” I thought to myself.  Killing an animal, even at the Temple, is serious and is most likely disturbing to the participants, but it is not wrong.  Never was wrong.  And it will not be wrong when resumed in the near future.  In fact, what is wrong is that the entire world has gone haywire without the animal sacrifices of the Divine service and the world is desperate for their resumption.

I don’t pretend to scratch the surface of knowledge regarding the Temple sacrifices.  But what little knowledge I do have has led me to believe that the world is in desperate need of them.  Most people believe otherwise.

Archaic.  Barbaric.  Cruel.  Unnecessary.  Done away with.  Replaced.  These are just a few reasons people believe that the Temple sacrifices are not needed, especially in the 21st century.  But let me counter those reasons with a few questions:  Did you read or hear the news today?  How many people were murdered in a 24-hour period?  How many people were abused?  How many terrorists’ attacked civilians?  How many acts of political injustices occurred?  How many lonely, numb people relied on drugs to make it through another day of misery?  And yet someone would argue that the Temple sacrifices are unnecessary?  Anyone who argues against the need of Temple sacrifices has a gross misunderstanding of the sacrifices and has forgotten, or perhaps never knew, that the main intent of the sacrifices, the “korban,” were to draw near to G-d.  And to remind man, “You are not an animal.  So stop acting like one.”

But before I further try to justify or show the need for the sacrifices, let me remind us all of the biggest reason the Temple sacrifices are needed: because G-d said so.  And borrowing from the Book of Job, “G-d is unique, and who can contradict Him?” Job 23:13.  Job called G-d, “The One of Perfect Knowledge.”  Yet because we don’t fully understand why He desires sacrifices, or why He enlisted such a system, we dare to call the system wrong or outdated?

Perhaps we need to pause, and be reminded of some of the questions G-d asked Job:
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell, if you know understanding!  Who set its dimensions or stretched a surveyor’s line over it?  Did you ever in your life command the morning, or teach the dawn its place?  Were the gates of death revealed to you?  Did you tie up the bond of Pleiades, or unbind the cords of Orion?  Do you know the laws of heaven, did you place its rule upon the land?  Did you dispatch lightening bolts?  Do you know who imbued the heart with understanding?  Did you give the horse its strength? . . . and so on and so on.  Job 38 & 39 are a little reminder that there is only One Source of wisdom, and it’s not me or you.  In other words, if we’ve never pulled a bolt of lightening out of our pocket, we really shouldn’t tell G-d or anyone else that animal sacrifices are wrong.  To do so would be quite audacious. 

The One of Perfect Knowledge designed and implemented animal sacrifices as part of the Divine Temple Service.  The sacrifices were pleasing to Him on one condition - that man’s heart was fully part of the service.  Because that is what the One of Perfect Knowledge has always and still wants – our hearts.  And knowing us better than we know ourselves, the One of Perfect Knowledge knew that one way man’s heart could draw nearer to Him was via an animal sacrifice.  And remember, unless you can pull out a bolt of lightening, you really shouldn’t argue against that.  You may not understand it.  Fine.  Few do.  But lack of understanding the Divine service shouldn’t lead to being against animal sacrifices.   

Man learns visually.  What is more visual than watching an animal be killed?  Not much.  It must have been a very serious moment.  It must have been disturbing.  But as I said above, it was not wrong.  What it was though, to borrow a phrase from my rabbi, was a psycho-drama.  A vivid reminder of man’s role in the universal scheme of things, and how everything gets off kilter, to say the least, if he doesn’t fulfill his role. 

I have never heard anyone describe with such clarity the psycho-drama of the Divine Service and its role of realigning man with his purpose, as Rabbi Chaim Richman.  The following is his description of the Divine Service from a broadcast of Temple Talk.  Open your hearts in the deepest way as you read his words:

“The Divine Service is a psycho-drama.  The offerings involved every level of man identifying with various aspects of his own personality and life force and rectifying them.  The service had a profound effect on the mentality of the people involved.  You can try to smooth talk over it.  You can try to be genteel and delicate about it.  But the fact of the matter is, that these are animals being offered on the altar of the Holy Temple.

There is blood, there is slaughtering because Hashem said to do it this way, and therefore, for man to go through a deeper understanding of his own life force and where he has gone astray.  And to ultimately make sure his Divine image is elevated.  And this experience draws a person closer to Hashem.  The korban literally means to “draw close.”

But the fact is today, we are no so close to Hashem.  But the korban does it.  And what it’s really all about, without apologizing, is a psycho-drama; it is extremely traumatic, it is extremely jarring and unnerving.  And that’s okay, because it is real.

We are spoiled rotten in our generation.  We don’t know what it means to realign ourselves, to figuratively receive a “kick in the head” as it were.  To see with a certain kind of bold clarity that our lives are quickly running out like sands through an hourglass.  And with the Divine Service we are given an opportunity when Hashem says, ‘I’m going to shake you up and make you realize that life is precious.  Stop being an animal!  And start living the life of a man.’  That’s what happens in the Divine Service.

Do you have a problem with the One G-d of Heaven and earth running the show?  If you’ve got a problem with that, maybe you should step back and take a long, hard look at the universe and where you fit into it.  Because it’s about you fitting into the universe, not Hashem fitting into your little universe that you carry around like an app.”

Wow.  Strong, bold words.  The Divine Service is part of the One of Perfect Knowledge’s design for our world.  And look where we are without it.  Did you read the details of what the Muslim terrorists did to the women and children in the Nairobia mall?  Man is not living like an animal.  Man has gone to an even lower level. 

The world is desperate for the Divine Service of the Temple because the world is desperate for a real reminder of how to live like a man in G-d’s Divine image and how to draw near to the One True G-d.

I once read that one of the many miracles of the Divine Service is that all the animals being led to slaughter would go with perfect compliance.  There was no balking, no hesitation; the animal did not try to get away.  Because the animal knew, it knew what we as humans have forgotten.  It knew that it had no higher calling, that there was no greater role for an animal than to be part of the Divine Service.  To be part of reminding man, “This whole grand thing called life . . . it only works if you act like a man and don’t act like me.”  Or worse, act lower.

Sacrificing animals at the Temple was not a cruel act.  Not sacrificing them, however, that is what is cruel.  Most people long for the day when swords will be beaten into plowshares.  Yet most people don’t connect the dots to what precedes the advent of world peace.  The prophets Isaiah and Haggai state simply and clearly where peace will be begin.  The Temple.  And Ezekiel explains very clearly and extensively what will be happening at that Temple.  Animal sacrifices.  Isn’t it time we admit that our plans are not working and instead accept the One of Perfect Knowledge’s plan?  It’s time to rebuild the Temple and let the animal sacrifices begin.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Weight of the Fall

It’s Elul.  And I love Elul.  A lot.  But this year I feel like my record player is stuck on Tisha B’av and won’t move on to the next song called “Elul.” 

I’m an optimist; the-glass-is-half-full kind of person.  I easily see beauty all around me: a pristine blue sky being overtaken by thunderheads . . . a spontaneous hug between my children . . . a beautiful wedding picture posted on Facebook . . . I see beauty everywhere.  But instead of going out into the beauty of the field this Elul to meet the King, I feel like staying inside with the door locked and curtains drawn.  My record seems stuck on the recurring thought that despite all the perceived beauty, life is so lacking.  I feel hit over the head with the reality that the true essence of each moment is missing and that the beauty I see is like fool’s gold; it may shine, but it’s not real.  And it’s not real because the building blocks of reality were broken.  They crumbled the day the Temple fell.  And so, it seems, we have been trying to build all the moments of our lives with dust instead of with solid stones.

The sages teach that all of life was diminished by the fall of the Temple.  The fall which was preceded by the departure of the Divine Presence.  After the Divine Presence left, the Temple was a mere shell, as was everything on earth.  It is no wonder that the Temple fell after the very Presence that holds the Universe together left.  And it is no wonder that the world, in its entirety has been falling ever since.  There is just enough life-force left to get by.

I think the sky is beautiful.  But it’s not as blue as it once was.  I think the love between me and my children and between me and my husband is precious.  But it’s only mere sparks compared to the original flame that once burned when the Divine Presence was here.  Do you ever wonder what it will be like when we as mere mortals are privy to experience what love originally felt like?  Or do you ever wonder what blue really looks like?  We have lived so long in a diminished state, we have forgotten we were made for so much more.

When my daughter was younger she asked me why people cry when they are happy.  She wondered aloud why she felt like crying when she watched a movie with a happy ending.   And she asked, “Mom, why do you get tears in your eyes when you tell me how much you love me?” 

Perhaps we cry when we are happy because we know deep inside that even the best life has to offer is incomplete; that even when we are happy, there is a part of us that is not.  And no matter how grateful we are for the life we are privileged to live, we know that we are not fully living.  We cry when we are happy, because deep down we know it is not enough.  Mazol Tov!” is shouted, but the breaking of glass resonates louder within us all.  The sages teach that it is a mitzvah to be happy.  And I am happy, despite penning such melancholy thoughts.  But would it sound too paradoxical to say that in every moment of my happiness, there is a measure of sadness?  There is a dark corner in my mind that thinks, “This moment is so wonderful.  But it’s a moment without the fullness of the Divine Presence.” 

I don’t pretend to remotely comprehend all that the Temple stood for; all that it housed, all that it did for mankind.  Therefore, I don’t pretend to remotely comprehend all that was lost in the world when the Temple was destroyed.  But even without full knowledge, I still long for its return. 

There are those who do comprehend the weight of the destruction of the Temple.  I marvel at how they live daily without buckling under the pressure of carrying such a weight.  And I wonder what the rest of us “normal” people could do to help them carry the weight.  If the rest of us searched deep enough in the recesses of who we once were, would we feel the weight of what the sages of Israel carry?  Would we remember when beauty and love were complete?  Would we remember when Heaven kissed the earth?  Would we remember when the spirit realm wedded the physical inside a House of stone?  Would we remember those stones were anchors keeping the Divine Presence on earth?  Would we remember what warmth really felt like, what light really looked like?  If we remembered, then surely we would stop relying on sparks and do whatever it takes to bring the fullness of the Light back.  If we remembered, then surely we would do whatever it takes to start the rebuilding of the Temple, which in essence would be the rebuilding of the world. 

Every beautiful song is the sound of longing.  Every beautiful poem is plea for a return.  Every beautiful piece of artwork is an attempt to recreate what once was.  And every beautiful moment of loved shared between people is a remembrance of what was and a beckoning for what could be again.

The daily here and now, though, no matter how incomplete it may seem, is what we have been given and are expected to make the most of.  Every moment in our lives, the way we choose to live it, can either be a moment of destroying the Temple all over again, or rebuilding it.  Every act in our lives can reject the Divine Presence or create a dwelling place for the Divine Presence.  And no matter how tiring it is, or how hard it may seem, we are expected to keep searching for and finding the sparks that hid when their source reluctantly left the Temple.  We are expected to live each day to the fullest, even while knowing the “fullness” we experience is an illusion of what once was.  And for those reasons, I will go sit in the field with the King in silence.  And then I will ask Him if He wants to talk of things that once were and are destined to be again.  I will ask Him if He, too, is tired of sitting out in the elements of a field, when He has memories of having a Home.  And I will ask Him what I can do to ensure that next year, by Elul, He along with us all will experience a Homecoming.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Call to Remember

After the Israeli government recently closed the Temple Mount to Jews until August 11, MK Moshe Feiglin, who vehemently disagrees with the closure, issued a clarion call asking that at least 1000 Jews assemble at the locked gates of the Temple Mount to protest the closure.  Will the Jewish populace in Israel react to this call with a yawn or with the roar of a lion?
Sometimes one can become so accustomed to his surroundings that he forgets to be fully aware of, much less appreciative of what is right in front of him.  I'm afraid this somnambulistic state afflicts many Jews who live in Israel when it comes to the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Nachman once said, “Wherever I go, I go to Jerusalem.”  No matter where he was physically, his heart and mind were always in Jerusalem.  Was Rabbi Nachman’s sentiment equivalent to Tony Bennet leaving his heart in San Fransico?  Hardly.  Rabbi Nachman’s spirit was attached to Jerusalem deeply because he knew it was the point of his attachment to Hashem.
Being the King of the Universe, God could have chosen any location in the universe “to place His name,” “to dwell,” and “to rest His presence.”  Where did He chose do to this?  Jerusalem, and more precisely, the Temple Mount.  (Deuteronomy 12:5, I Kings 8:29 & 11:36, Isaiah 37:16 & 60:13, Ezekiel 43:7, Zechariah 8:3, Joel 4:17, Psalm 32:13)
If God is incorporeal and omniscient, why or even how could there be a precise location for His Presence to dwell?  Couldn’t Rabbi Nachman have directed his sentiments anywhere, since God is everywhere?  Yes, God is everywhere.  Yet He chose to manifest Himself more intensely and to associate His Name with one specific place, Jerusalem.  And even more precisely, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. 
“In many places, when speaking of the Jerusalem, the Torah calls it, ‘The place that G-d will choose to make His Name dwell there.’  To the extent that we can understand it, this means that G-d associates Himself with this place. This is very difficult for the human mind to comprehend, and indeed, Solomon, the wisest of all men, found it impossible to understand. He thus said to G-d, ‘Behold, the heavens and the heavens of Heaven cannot contain you, how much less this House that I have built’ (1-Kings 8:27). Yet, he knew that G-d had somehow associated Himself with this place, as G-d Himself had proclaimed.” Aryeh Kaplan
The Temple Mount, where God chose to place His Name, is literally the point of creation; the place where the physical realm came into existence.  And it is the place where everything we can’t see, i.e. the spiritual world, attaches itself to the physical.  It is literally the portal between heaven and the earth.  This precise point of creation on the Temple Mount is called the Even Shetiyah, the Foundation Stone. 
It appears to me that the primeval point which G-d created out of nothing is what the sages called the foundation stone from where the world was founded.” - Nachmanides, Commentary to the Torah, Genesis 1,1
“When the Holy One, blessed is He, created His world, He created it like an infant born from its mother. For a fetus born from the mother, begins from its navel and expands outward to all four directions so too, the Holy One, blessed is He, began to create the world from the Foundation Stone and from that, the entire world was established.” - Midrash Tanchuma – Pikudei #3
Jacob saw a vision of this primeval point of creation that links heaven and earth.  His vision is famously known as “Jacob’s ladder” and is recorded in Genesis 28.
Jacob departed from Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.  He encountered the place and spent the night . . . he took from the stones of the place which he arranged around his head, and lay down in that place.  And he dreamt, and behold! A ladder was set earthward and its top reached heavenward; and behold! Angels of God were ascending and descending on it . . . Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely Hashem is present in this place and I did not know! And he became frightened and said, “How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the abode of God and this is the gate of the heavens!  Jacob arose early in the morning and took the stone that he placed around his head and set it up as a pillar; and poured oil on its top . . . and said this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall become a House of God.
Did you catch that?  Even prior to the Temple standing, Jacob called the Temple Mount the "abode of God" and "the gate of the heavens."  Wow.  Just wow.  I’m afraid that many Jews have forgotten this, even Jews who live in Jerusalem.  It’s as if the Temple Mount has become just another historical relic or an off-limits religious site and they have forgotten what it really represents; the place where God dwells and the link between this world and the world above, the gateway to heaven.  That has never changed. 
Currently, there is a structure, built by Muslims in 691, on the Temple Mount called the Dome of the Rock.  Have you ever asked yourself or wondered why there is a dome over a rock?  Although the Muslims have their own beliefs about why the rock is special, some Jews know the primary reason; because it is the Even Shetiyah
It's interesting that the spot where Jacob slept was simply called “the place.”  Such an ordinary description for such an extraordinary spot.  Yet at the same time what an apt name - the place - as if it is the only place of real significance in the world.  Jacob slept at the precise location of the future alter of the Holy Temple.  No wonder it was the place where Adam, Cain, Abel, and Noah made sacrifices, according to Pirke de Rabbi Eliezar 31.  And it was the place where Abraham bound Isaac to the altar.  In fact the 12 stones Jacob gathered around his head before he slept came from the alter Abraham made and bound Isaac upon.  And a few feet away from the site of the alter rests the Even Shetiyah.  So obviously it was no coincidence that all of theses auspicious events occurred at “the place” because it was the place of the Even Shetiyah; the foundation stone from which the entire universe emanated.
As the navel is set in the center of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world . . . situated in the center of the world,
and Jerusalem in the center of the land of Israel,
and the sanctuary in the center of Jerusalem,
and the holy place in the center of the sanctuary,
and the ark in the center of the holy place,
and the Foundation Stone before the holy place,
because from it the world was founded.
(Roman-Era Midrash Tanchuma)
             I’m not Jewish, but when I pray I face towards Jerusalem as described in Kings 8:41-43 and Psalm 138.  I face east in reverence of God's dwelling place on earth, in acknowledgment that my prayers ascend to heaven via the portal Jacob saw over the Temple Mount, and in acknowledgment that all physical blessings still come through that same portal as the Psalmist acknowledged in 128, “May Hashem bless you from Zion.” 
So yes, I will be facing east the next few days as I pray for Jews to awaken from their spiritual slumber and have the same reaction Jacob had after he awoke and said, “Surely Hashem is present in this place and I did not know!  How awesome is this place!”  I will be praying that Jews answer the call to amass at the Temple Mount on Wednesday, August 7 at 7:30 at the Mughrabi Gate.  Abraham called the Temple Mount, “Hashem Yireh,” meaning Hashem will see.  How apropos if many Jews are seen by Hashem at the Temple Mount on Wednesday.   

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

MK Feiglin Takes Up the Fight for Rights on the Temple Mount

Camie Davis

Did you hear about the Imam on the Temple Mount, Ismat Al-Hammouri, who recently called for the destruction of America?  Yawn.  No big deal.  Just another day in the life of the religion of peace.  Or maybe you heard about Jerusalem’s most senior Muslim cleric, Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein, who instigated chairs being thrown at Jews on the Temple Mount?  At least that incident got the attention of the U.S. State Department.  They quickly jumped into action and told Israel to “calm down” after Israel detained and questioned the Mufti.  After all, when the Arabs’ modus operandi is throwing firebombs and rocks at Jews, what’s a few chairs?

Speaking of firebombs, did you hear about the Arabs who threw firebombs at the Israeli police on the Temple Mount?  No, that probably didn’t make the evening news either.  The good news is that at least the Arab women who congregate on the Temple Mount have decided to show a bit of decorum.  Instead of throwing chairs or firebombs, they have recently started throwing insults at the Jews on the Temple Mount.  I know, I know, stunning revelations for those who believe in the Obama induced fairytale known as the “Peaceful Religion of Islam.”

But for realist like you and me, the violence perpetrated by Arabs against Jews on the Temple Mount is not a big surprise.  Luckily, the Israeli government has faced the Arab instigated violence on the Temple Mount head on . . . by preventing Jews, especially religious-looking Jews, from ascending the Temple Mount.  Appeasement and illogic have always gone hand-in-hand.

To the growing frustration of many Israeli Jews, the Israeli government continues to deal with Arabs who hate and want to hurt Jews by appeasing them.  Part of the appeasement involves giving the Arabs just what they want – very little Jewish presence on the Temple Mount.  After all, no Jews on the Temple Mount corroborates well with the Arab narrative that there is no Jewish history connected to the Mount.

Thankfully, not everyone in the Israeli government is riding the appeasement train.  There’s a newly elected Knesset Member on the scene, Moshe Feiglin.  He’s very conservative.  Instead of speaking like a politician, he speaks forthrightly and with common sense.  He does not accept, nor defend the status quo.  And he is anti-establishment.  In other words, he is the antithesis to Israel’s current appeasing government. 

Because of the recent escalation of Arab instigated violence on the Temple Mount and continued discrimination against Jews ascending the Mount, there have been several heated discussions in the Knesset regarding those issues. According to the Jerusalem Post, MK Ibrahim Sarsour (United Arab List-Ta’al) asked why Jews cannot pray somewhere other than at al-Aksa Mosque and stated, “Jews in Israel need to understand that one day Jerusalem will return to Palestinians and Muslims. The solution is to maintain the status quo.”

MK Feiglin responded to the propaganda by saying, “The Wakf’s problem isn’t prayer, but the sovereign symbolism of prayer.  As far as they are concerned, [Jewish prayer] eats away at the total Muslim rule over the Temple Mount.”

Feiglin has quickly become an outspoken proponent for not only Jews retaining their right to ascend and pray on the Temple Mount, but regaining Jewish sovereignty over the Mount.  Feiglin recently wrote on his Facebook page, “As a Knesset Member, I am obligated to actualize Israel's sovereignty on the Temple Mount.”  

Thankfully, Feiglin understands on a spiritual level, which seems to be lacking in this day and age, and on a practical level, the importance of the Temple Mount as he echoed the words of Israeli poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg, "He who rules the Mount rules the Land." Don’t think for one minute that the Arabs don’t know that.  Arabs are resorting to acts of violence to keeps Jews from ascending and claiming sovereignty over the Mount.  And the current Israeli government, barring Feiglin and a few other like-minded MK’s, has played right into the hands of the Arabs.  The Arabs literally throw a fit or worse, harm Jews, and the Jews get punished.

Part of this punishment includes Prime Minister Netanyahu banning Feiglin from going on the Temple Mount.  For ten years, Feiglin has ascended the Mount on a regular monthly basis.  After he was recently elected to the Knesset, Feiglin went for his regular ascent.  He was stopped.  On orders from Netanyahu, the police told him he could no longer ascend.  Although perhaps the most prominent Jewish person to have his religious rights violated on the Mount, Feiglin is not the first.  Sadly, he is part of a long list of Jews whose own government has turned their backs on them. 

Three years ago, Rabbi Chaim Richman, of The Temple Institute in Jerusalem, spoke on his radio show about the religious discrimination against all non-Muslims on the Temple Mount.  He asked his listeners to participate in signing a petition against the discrimination to send to Netanyahu.  Rabbi Richman efforts got the attention of many people, including an officer from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv who indicated that he was very interested in the work of the institute.  After Rabbi Richman was visited by the embassy official, he was also visited at night at his house by Israel's National Security Agency, known as the ISA or Shin-Bet.  During the "visit" Rabbi Richman was told to desist from all his efforts to influence the public or the government into taking action on issues regarding the Temple Mount.  His actions, he was told, were “damaging the relationship with the United States, placing a stumbling block in the path of the peace process, and inciting Arabs to violence.”  He was then threatened with being arrested.  That's right.  A rabbi, with a petition, is indeed dangerous.  

The founder of the Temple Institute, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, also experienced the discriminatory and illogic behavior of the Israeli government.  Muslim clerics in Israel are notorious for crying “wolf!” (i.e. “Jew!”) causing the Israeli police to detain Jews.  When a Jewish holiday approaches, Islamic clerics work their followers into a frenzy over the possibility of Jews visiting the Temple Mount.  On one such occasion before Jerusalem Day 2012, a leading Muslim cleric, Sheikh Yousef Ideis, made such claims.  He warned Arabs to "be alert for possible infiltration of fanatic Jews" onto the Temple Mount.  Instead of ignoring the obviously staged incitement, the Israeli police validated the cleric’s claims, and criminally investigated Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, a national hero, who had the audacity to pray on the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Ariel fought in the 1967 Six Day War.  He was one of the famed Israeli paratroopers who took part in the liberation of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.  Marking the liberation of the Mount, Rabbi Ariel along with other Jews, including Knesset members, visited the Mount on Jerusalem Day.  Surprisingly they were uninhibited by both the Islamic Wakf officials and Israeli police for a few moments, so they took advantage of the rare occasion and sang and prayed.  Rabbi Ariel’s prayer was captured on video and he can be heard saying, "I have waited forty-five years to be able to say the Shehechianu (literally, "He who has kept us alive,") here on the Temple Mount."  He then said a memorial prayer for his fallen comrades.

After Jerusalem Day, Rabbi Ariel tried to ascend the Temple Mount again, but to his surprise was prohibited from doing so by the Israeli police.  He was informed that he was barred indefinitely from the Mount and that he was under criminal investigation for actions, “that were not in compliance with the law.”  Which begs the question, which law?  Sharia law? 

It is not against Israeli law for a Jew to pray or show any type of reverence on the Temple Mount.  But by acquiescing to Arabs who get upset over a Jew moving his or her lips on the Temple Mount, the Israeli police have made it common policy to escort Jews off the Mount, or worse, arrest them if they appear to pray.  For instance, Yosef Hacohen, age 76, felt ill while touring the Temple Mount and needed some water.  Before drinking the water he said a blessing.  Accorinding to Israel National News, Hacohen’s actions, “aroused the ire of three Muslim Wakf officials who had been following the 30-member group of which Hacohen was a participant.”  So naturally what did the Israeli police do?  They arrested Hacohen "on suspicion of reciting the Priestly Blessing."  And just this week, four Jewish teenage boys were arrested for what appeared to be bowing on the Temple Mount.
The Israeli police capitulate to the demands of the Arabs to such an extent that on Holocaust Memorial day they warned Jewish visitors on the Mount not to stand still while the memorial siren sounded because it would “upset the Muslim Wakf officials.”  The sentiment, “Never again!” seems to have been lost on the police.

As Jews become aware of the discrimination on the Temple Mount, many are beginning to protest.  A few months ago, youth group Bnei Akiva held a protest rally in Jerusalem against the discrimination.  When they applied for a permit they were told by police that they could not hold banners with the famous words, "The Temple Mount is in our hands," because it would be a provocation against Arabs. Thankfully, MK's at the time, Aryeh Eldad and Michael Ben Ari, attended the rally and held a sign with the forbidden words.

The most recent act of discrimination against Jews was on Tisha B’Av, the day Jews mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temple, yes the Temples the Arabs claim never existed.  Hundreds of Jews, including Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin and MK Shuli Mualem, arrived early to ascend the Mount on such an auspicious day.  However, they were locked off the Mount.  The gates were literally shut and locked in their faces by order of Netanyahu, who some believe had taken his orders from Jordanian officials, who administer the Wakf.

A contentious Knesset meeting was held the day after the group was locked off of the Temple Mount.  Feiglin, not satisfied with the vagueness of Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich’s “reasoning” for keeping Jews off the Temple Mount, demanded that the minister admit that the actions were not security related but rather, the Israeli government feared a confrontation with the Muslim Wakf, which administers the Temple Mount, and with the Jordanian government.

With a growing number of Jews supporting him, Feiglin continues to keep the sovereignty of the Temple Mount in public debate.  He boldly spoke of the white elephant that has been sitting on the Mount since 1967 when Moshe Dayan immediately gave administration of the Temple Mount back to the Arab Wakf.  He said, “Israel’s government did not want to liberate Jerusalem. Or to be more specific, the Labor and National Religious Party ministers did not want to liberate Jerusalem.” 

Because of the Israeli government’s continual policy of keeping the status quo intact, i.e. pandering to Arab demands, Feiglin has acknowledged that it will take a grass-roots movement by Jews to instigate change.  As he said in a 2012 Temple Mount Awareness Day interview, “Every Jewish step on the Temple Mount will bring back sovereignty of the Temple Mount to the Jewish people.” 

Even some members of the Israeli police have expressed that an increased presence of Jews on the Temple Mount would create drastic changes.  At a conference in Jerusalem in 2009 regarding Jewish ties to the Mount authorities said, “If only more Jews would visit the Temple Mount on a regular basis, the entire balance of power would shift. There would be a paradigm shift; the attitude of the government and the police would be different towards the Jewish visitors on the Temple Mount. The Muslim terror would be abated. Many Jewish people visiting the Temple Mount would be the cure to the overall security situation.” 

Perhaps the millions of Jews who visit the Kotel instead of the Temple Mount will take those words to heart soon.  Yet, currently, because very few Jews try to exercise their rights on the Mount, it is convenient for the Israeli police to dismiss the lawful rights of Jews and instead indulge the demands of the Arabs.  The adage "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" rings true.  The Arabs simply make more noise than the Jews do over the Mount.  Thankfully, that is beginning to change.

The novelist Anthony Trollope once said, “My belief is that in life people will take you at your own reckoning.”  If only Israel would grasp that concept.  When Israel takes its own rights, sovereignty, and destiny seriously the world will follow suit.  

As a government official, Feiglin has taken on the mantle established by Temple Mount activists such as Rabbi Ariel and Rabbi Richman, and is leading the way in taking the issue of Israel’s sovereignty seriously as recently demonstrated by his words to the Arab MK’s.  He said, “When a guest is in my home, I give him respect.  As long as they understand who is the host, and who is the guest, everything is fine.  We have to speak the truth: this is our land, not yours. You are guests. The minute that you are guests, you deserve every individual right. But when it becomes a national struggle – you do not deserve anything.”

Feiglin also told the Arab MK’s recently, “I know of no other minority in the entire human race that receives so much, and wails so much.”  Perhaps soon the rest of the Israeli government and the Israeli police will share Feiglin’s sentiments and implement their rightful position of sovereignty throughout the entire Land of Israel, but especially on the Temple Mount, instead of giving in to the wails of the children of Ishmael.  After all, unless I'm mistaken, it is called the Land of Israel for a reason, not the Land of Ishmael.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tikkun of Tammuz

Have you done an “idolatry check” lately?  Tammuz is the perfect time to do so.

“I’m a monotheist!” you might exclaim.  But before you get too defensive hear me out.  Being monotheist is no guarantee that you aren’t involved in idolatry.

Do you know what caused the rabbinical establishment and top Israeli leaders to immediately give control of the Temple Mount back to the Arabs in 1967, right after “liberating” the Mount?  It’s the same thing that caused the spies to return with a negative report after scoping out The Land.  Idolatry.

Idolatry comes in many forms and fashions.  Sure, it’s easy to point at people who believe and worship forms of so-called deities that they think share duality with Hashem.  But a more subtle form of idolatry is to believe that anyone or anything has power outside of Hashem.

Many Jews, and people who have attached themselves to the G-d of the Jews, proclaim the Shema everyday.  “Hear, O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One.”  Why do people cover their eyes when saying this?  It is a reminder that true reality is much different than what we see with our physical eyes.  If a person is not careful and extremely consciousness of the fact that Hashem is the only Reality, it is easy to forget that He is.  Circumstances can play tricks on our minds, or more importantly, with our beliefs.  So while we maintain that Hashem is One, our actions can sometimes, G-d forbid, contradict that belief.

It’s safe to assume that the rabbinical establishment today, and in 1967, were diligent about proclaiming the Oneness of Hashem.  Yet, their actions regarding the beloved and holy site of the Temple Mount, the place that Hashem chose for His Abode, were and continue to be diametrically opposed to the belief in Hashem’s Oneness.

In 2009, the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv emphasized that Jews should not visit the Temple Mount because their visits could provoke bloodshed.  "I have declared this in the past, and I repeat once again my statement that beyond the halachic aspect, it is also a kind of provocation of the world's nations that could lead to bloodshed, and this would be one sin leading to another.”

The esteemed rabbi was not looking through the lens of Hashem's Oneness.  Isaiah 2:2 described the true reality of Jews ascending the Temple Mount.  Isaiah viewed the world through the scope of Hashem’s Oneness.  If Hashem is the only reality, then doesn’t it reason that His desires and opinions are the only ones that matter.  Isaiah saw the nations streaming to the Temple Mount, hungry to hear the words of Torah.  Isaiah did not shy away from the reality of Hashem’s desires, nor did he give a tepid prophecy in hopes of not offending the nations.   

In an Arutz Sheva interview, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel bemoaned the fact that the Chief Rabbinate in Israel instructed Moshe Dayan to immediately give control of the Temple Mount back to the Arabs. “He handed over the key [to the Temple Mount], because he was the one who held it, but someone persuaded him to do this," Rabbi Ariel said.  

Rabbi Ariel learned this from a Bamishpacha magazine article, and then verified the truth of the claim with hareidi former Knesset member Rabbi Menachem Porush, who was quoted in the article.  Rabbi Ariel stated, "According to what he [Porush] said, the greatest hareidi rabbis, led by Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky, went to Dayan and told him to tell Levi Eshkol to give the Arabs the Temple Mount since, 'The People of Israel have no interest in the Temple Mount.' They also said the UN should be notified that we have no interest in the Temple Mount."

The esteemed rabbinical establishment did not view the incredible gift of sovereignty of the Temple Mount through the lens of Hashem’s Oneness.  They saw the Temple Mount as the spies saw all of The Land.  Their view lent to the notion that there is power outside of Hashem.  Their view was idolatrous. 

In a recent Israel National News article, Dr. Tuvia Brodie had an unexpected conversation with a refrigerator repairman.  The older repairman was a Jew who had immigrated to Israel from Tunisia.  The repairman quickly shot down Dr. Brodie’s view of who controls the land of Israel.  As Dr. Brodie described:
I asked the repairman about Israel’s leadership surrendering 
land. He was unimpressed.
"This is not their land," he said.
I objected, "They control the land."
He was still unimpressed.
"Never forget," he replied, "This land belongs only to G-d.”

Quickly realigning his thoughts with that of the repairman, Dr. Brodie concluded, “His point was clear: who cares if Israel has anti-land leaders? They are nothings. They own nothing. G-d owns everything—and Israel is His alone.”

If only the rabbinical establishment and political leaders of Israel were as wise as the repairman.  If only they saw with such clarity, rather than through eyes of idolatry; eyes that ascribe power, and thus duel ownership of the Land, to any other entity than Hashem.

Centuries ago Israel was guilty of idolatry that involved a god called Tammuz.  It is interesting that the sages of Israel allowed a month of the Hebrew calendar to be named after this god.  Perhaps part of the sages’ reasoning was as a perpetual reminder that as long as Jews, or any people for that matter, live in the realms of this physical world, they are part of an on-going fight against idolatry guised as duality.  Everyday we are presented a “Tammuz” as it were.  We are presented with the opportunity to see the world with our eyes wide open to the only Reality – Hashem.  Or we can see the world with our eyes wide open to idolatry – reacting to the idea and illusion that there are any other forces outside of Hashem. 

May this month of Tammuz be a time of tikkun for individuals on a personal level, but also for the rabbinical establishment and political leaders of Israel to open their eyes to the Oneness of Hashem.  May they no longer make decisions based on the illusion that there are any other powers outside of Hashem.  May they ascend to the Temple Mount themselves, to the Gateway to the Heavens, and once and for all repent for eyes that focus on any kind of illusional forces guised as opponents of Israel.

In Psalm 16 David stated, “Hashem is my allotted portion and my share, You guide my destiny.”  To believe anything else is idolatrous. 

On a personal level you may need to remind yourself that no one or no circumstance guides your destiny other than Hashem.  When your plans aren’t “working out,” when the economy continues to “go south,” when the doctor's report says “there’s no hope,” remind yourself that those are all illusions.  And don’t weep over those illusions as the people of Israel wept over the illusion of Tammuz so long ago.  Instead remind yourself as often as possible that Hashem and Hashem alone guides your destiny. 

On a nationalistic level, join me in praying for the nation of Israel and its leaders that they will unify around the belief that Hashem is their destiny.  Period.  May a beautiful tikkun happen during this month of Tammuz.  And may the nation of Israel arise from the idolatrous beliefs that lead to continual bowing and cowering before the nations.  “Arise! Shine! For your light has arrived, and the glory of Hashem shines upon you.  For, behold darkness may cover the earth and a thick cloud may cover the nations, but upon you, Israel, Hashem will shine, and His glory will be seen upon you.  Nations will walk by your light and kings by the brilliance of your shine,” Isaiah 60:1-3.

What an auspicious time for Israel to arise and shine.  To once and for all arise from bowing before Tammuz and sweep the illusions of idolatry into the dust bins of history.  And instead, replace it with an Abode for Hashem’s Oneness, the Holy Temple.  Hear, O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd He is One.  Open up your heart in a deeper way each time you say the Shema this month, to the reality of Hashem’s Oneness.  And may Hashem hear and respond to the intention of our declaration as we call out to all of Israel to hear and to see that Hashem is One; He is all there is.