Sunday, December 21, 2014

Chanukah and Rosh Chodesh

As the Jewish day starts the night before, tKislev.   Tomorrow, the seventh day of Chanukah will also be the first day of the month of Teves. Both today and tomorrow are designated as Rosh Chodesh the celebration of the new month. Rosh Chodesh is always a semi-holiday.  The morning prayers include a recitation of "half" Hallel and the additional prayer calledMusaf that recalls the additional offerings designated for that day at the time of the Temple.  On these days of Rosh Chodesh, we say full Hallel, for we do so all eight days of Chanukah in recognition of the miracle that lasted for eight days.
oday is both the sixth day of Chanukah and the last day of the month of
Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday that extend through two months and encompassing the days of Rosh Chodesh, so it extends from the moon's waning phase to its waxing phase, as each Jewish month begins with the "rebirth" of the moon.  The Jewish people are compared to the moon, which is always renewed and comes back into full glory even when it appears to have virtually vanished.  In the same way, the Jewish people have endured for thousands of years and have never been destroyed despite their enemies' attempts at  decimation.
Women are associated with the moon, as well.  And Rosh Chodesh is particularly significant for women.  The day was given to women in recognition of their having withstood the temptation to contribute to the golden calf when the men did not.  Thus women, traditionally, refrain from chores such as laundry, ironing, and sewing on Rosh Chodesh.  Likewise, women refrain from work during the time the Chanukah lights burn.  This is in recognition of  their key role in the victory of the Maccabees.  Yehudith [Judith] plied the general. Holefernes,  with dairy foods and wine to make him sleepy.  Then she decapitated him with his own sword.  She brought the head out to the men, and, subsequently, the Jews vanquished their enemies in battle.  You can scroll down onhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanukkah for some of the details of the story.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Latke ditty

A few years ago,  I posted some snatches of latke ditties on my blog and asked if someone had the full text.  I got a response from the grandson of the songwriter:
BloggerThe Bicycling Barrister said...
Ben Aronin (my grandfather) wrote these and other wonderful latke ditties many decades ago (and the pesach "classic" ballad of the four sons / clementine)...
Mrs. Maccabeus
(by Ben Aronin, z"l, of Congregation Anshe Emet in Chicago)
(to the tune of "O Chanukah")
Each Chanukah we glorify brave Judah Maccabeus
Who had the courage to defy Antiochus, and free us,
Yet it is not fair that we should forget
Mrs. Maccabeus, whom we owe a debt.
She mixed it, and fixed it
She poured it into a bowl
You may not guess, but it was the latkes
That gave brave Judah a soul.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
That gave brave Judah a soul.
The Syrians said: "It cannot be that old Mattathias
Whose years are more than 83 will dare to defy us!"
But they didn't know his secret, you see
Mattathias dined on latkes and teac.
One latke, two latkes
And so on into the night
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that gave him the courage to fight.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that gave him the courage to fight.
Now this is how it came about this gastonomic wonder
That broke the ranks of Syria like flaming bolts of thunder
Mrs. Maccabeus wrote in the dough
Portions of the Torah then fried them so.
They shimmered, they simmered,
Absorbing the olive oil
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that made the Syrians recoil.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that made the Syrians recoil.
Now these little latkes brown and delicious
must have hit the spot 'cause with appetites vicious
All the heroes downed them after their toil
Causing in our Temple a shortage of oil
One latke, two latkes,
And so on into the night.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that gave us the Chanukah light.
You may not guess but it was the latkes
that gave us the Chanukah light.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Marriage models: one type does not fit all

Is there a single ideal model for marriage? 
Consider that the Torah presents us with a variety of models in the interactions we see between the avos [patriarchs] and the immahos [matriarchs]. Rivka [Rebecca] does not relate to Yitzchak [Issac] in the same way as Sarah relates to Avraham, and the conversations between Rachel and Yaakov [Jacob] follow a third, distinctive relationship pattern. While you may prefer the model of, say, Avraham and Sarah for your own marriage, that does not mean that the other models would not work for couples with different character traits.

Dr. Gottman is well-known for his ability to predict with 95% accuracy whether the couple is fated to divorce or remain married to each other after observing them for as little as 5 minutes. This feat is not a parlor trick but a combination of accurate readings of facial expressions and body language combined with years of research into what triggers the failure or success of a marriage. What we feel about another person is actually clearly conveyed in our interaction with that person, particularly in an emotional discussion. 

He identifies "three different styles of problem solving into which healthy marriages tend to settle." At first blush, we would think that the "validating marriage" in which "couples compromise often and calmly work out their problems to mutual satisfaction as they arise" is the ideal paradigm. One can recall Avraham asking Sarah to say she is her sister, and Sarah telling Avraham to marry Hagar and later to send her and her son away. They speak to each other directly and agree on what to do. But there are other approaches that can work for the couples involved, too. "In a conflict-avoiding marriage couples agree to disagree, rarely confronting their differences head-on." Think of how Rivka never confronts Yitzchak about their divergent views on their sons. The third model is evocative of the eruption Rachel and Yaakov when she complains to him of her childlessness: "in avolatile marriage conflicts erupt often, resulting in passionate disputes" (28).

Does compatibility assure a good marriage? While having compatible views – shared interests, values, life goals, etc. – can limit the number of conflicts the couple may run into, Dr. Gottman asserts that compatibility is not the key to success:

"My research shows the much more important than having compatible views is how couples work out their differences. In fact, occasional" clashes, particularly during the couple’s initial phase appears to improve the wellbeing of "the union in the long run" (24-25). He realizes that his view runs counter to many people’s assumption. "Many couples tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness and believe the claim ‘we never fight’ is a sign of marital health. But I believe we grow in our relationships by reconciling our differences." Anyone who dreams of a conflict free marriage is bound to be disappointed, for differences are bound to crop up "in any relationship." (28).

The magic formula: a ratio of positivity
The absence of negativity alone is not sufficient to keep up the marriage. There must be a positive presence. In fact, Dr. Gottman has come up with what he calls the "magic ratio" of 5 to 1 in enduring marriages. "In other words, as long as there is five times as much positive feeling and interaction between husband and wife as there is negative, we found the marriage was likely to be stable"(57). So if you have set up a "low-key avoidant" type of relationship, your "positivity" requirements are not very high with less negativity to counterbalance On the other hand, couples "in the passionate, high volatility matches" need to express far more positivity in order to counteract "all the negativity in the air" (58). 

Does anger have any place in the relationship of a couple who aspire to shalom bayis? 
Dr. Gottman explains what he discovered through his research, "When I started the research I assumed, like most researchers and clinician, that anger was destructive if there was ‘too much’ of it. But when I looked at what predicted divorce or separation, I found that anger only has negative effects in marriage if it is expressed along with criticism or contempt, or if it is defensive" (58). In fact, verbalizing "anger and disagreement" can prove more beneficial than stifling it, for it allows for the opportunity to work through the problem, which can actually reinforce the relationship (73).

So what does Dr. Gottman look for when gauging the durability of a marriage? A solid marriage is based on "two basic ingredients: love and respect." The greatest danger sign is the antithesis of those qualities -- contempt (61-62). While contempt is the ultimate evil in a marriage, there are three other forces that contribute to the deterioration of a relatioship: criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling. While men and women are equally prone to defensiveness – both in thought and conversation – there is a gendered tendency for the other two forces. Women tend to be more critical than men, and men tend to respond to emotional confrontations by stonewalling. It is important to recognize which particular trait you have to work on.

Why does criticism almost always prove counterproductive? 
"One of the great paradoxes in therapy is that people don’t change unless they feel accepted as they are." So you cannot effect change in your spouse unless s/he is secure in your acceptance. To that end, you must communicate that you "value and respect" your spouse." But it only works if it is genuine. It has to be real – and it can’t just be empty words that are said to get an effect" (184). Criticism is more often directed by women at their husbands than the other way around, hence the stereotype of the demanding wife and the withdrawing husband. What happens is that as they find their husbands to still not live up to their demands, wives intensity their criticism. Their husbands respond, not by changing their behavior for the better, but by further withdrawal.

What's wrong with gong on the defensive?
The defensive reaction is focused on freeing oneself of the blame and so neglects to attend to the feelings the other is attempting to express.  "By mentally freeing yourself of any responsibility for the conflict, you don’t have to do any work to save your marriage. But that’s exactly the problem with this way of thinking. . .. . as long as you excuse yourself from repairing the relationship, your marital problems are unlikely to improve" (106-107). You have to get beyond that impasse of thinking yourself in the right if you are to work on being happy together. "The first step toward breaking out of defensiveness is to no longer see your partner’s words as an attack but as information that is being strongly expressed” (92). The goal is not to show the partner to be in the wrong but to appreciate his/her point of view and offer empathy. Understanding and empathizing with your spouse can bring you closer together, while defensiveness maintains your differences.

Would it be better to just remain silent in the face of your partner’s complaints? This non-reaction, called stonewalling, is actually the reaction that is likely to be chosen by husbands: "85 percent of stonewallers are men" (147). But removing oneself emotionally actually exacerbates the conflict. The controlled, cool reaction does make the situation worse, for the stonewalling stance conveys "disapproval, icy distance, and smugness" (94). 

What about offering to fix the problem? 
That brings us to the phenomenon that always astounds well-meaning men. When a husband offers a solution to a problem his wife complains about, why does she get upset with him? Dr. Gottman explains that the wives are seeking "validation" and so find their husbands’ "hyperrational" reaction to their feelings distancing. "Rather than acknowledge the emotional content of their wife’s words, they try to offer a practical solution to the problem being described." That doesn't work because don't want to be told what they should do  but to be heard and have their feelings acknowledged. 159). Responding with empathy is not humoring someone unreasonable just to avoid an argument but crossing beyond one’s own emotional boundaries to appreciate the experience of another.

Achieving longevity in a marriage
Happily ever after does not just happen on its own accord. Shidduchim are a result of a Heavenly directive, but good marriages have to be worked on here on earth. It is not enough to marry "the right person" to assure the longevity of the relationship. Both partners must commit to accepting the other, accepting responsibility for their reactions, and sustaining the positives ratio needed to keep the marriage strong.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Apple cake that's perfect for Yom Tov

With apples in season and holding a starring role for Rosh Hashana, why not pick up a few more to use in a cake? This is my adaption of a recipe I tried that originally called for more sugar and oil. It's perfect to make in advance of Yom Tov because it actually tastes better on the second day. Should you decide to make it for a regular Shabbos, bake it on Thursday rather than on Friday. The recipe  meets my standard criterion for recipes: it is delicious, fairly easy to prepare, and it requires no outlandish ingredients or equipment.
Ingredients
1 2/3 cups sugar
3/4 c. canola oil
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
4 cups peeled and thinly sliced apples
*optional 2/3 cup walnuts, chopped (would be omitted for Rosh Hashana when we traditionally abstain from nuts) 
Preparation: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x13-inch pan with Pam or equivalent or grease it to prevent the cake from sticking to the sides.
Combine all ingredients except apples. You can start with the whisk or flat beater attachment on the Kitchen Aid and then mix in the apples with a wooden spoon. Batter is on the thick side. Spread the batter evenly in the pan.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. You can test for doneness by inserting a toothpick. It should emerge clean when the cake is completely baked. Resist temptation to eat the cake until the next day!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

DIY Eruv Tavshilin

Can you boil an egg? If so, you can prepare an eruv tavshilin, all by yourself. There's no need to spend clost to $4 on a kit that contians a hard boiled egg and a roll and a copy of the blessing you can find here. If you bake your own challos, then you can set aside your own roll for the eruv. If not, you can either put aside a roll from the ones you're buying to be consumed on Shabbos or just set aside a matzah along with the egg.
To cover both cooking and baking, we use a representative food for each. It's traditional to use a boiled egg for the cooked item because it's simple and inexpensive. We usually all have a spare egg around. But it's fine to also use a piece of boiled chicken, fish, or meat, as well, so long as you can put it aside where it won't be consumed until the Sabbath day. The same goes for the baked item, which can be a challah or matazh.
With upcoming holiday, we will have 3 opportunities to prepare an eruv tavshilin outside of Israel and one even in Israel, as Rosh Hashana is a 2 day holiday even there. This year, Rosh Hashana, as well as the first and last days (really Shemini Atzers) of Sukkos fall out on Thursday and Friday, the days of Yom Tov only end after the Sabbath begins. That means that in order to cook food or even to set it up to heat or to light candles for the Sabbath, we have to show that we've already begun the process and will merely be continuing. That is the purpose of the eruv tavshilin, which has to be prepared before Yom Tov begins, some time on Wednesday.

Note: The eruv tavshilin only allows cooking for the Sabbath on Yom Tov, it does not allolw cooking from one day of the holiday to the next (i.e. Thursday for Friday), though it is permissible to cook more on Thursday than will be finished that day, and then consume the leftovers on the next day

Transfigured by love: tshuva m'ahava

What’s love got to do with the power of tshuva? Reish Lakish makes two observations on the power of tshuva [repentance] in Yoma 86B. First he declares: “Great is tshuva, for through zdonos [intentional sins] are transformed into shgagos [accidental actions].” Then he declares: “Great is tshuva, for through it zdonos are transformed into zchuyos [merits].” The first instance refers to tshuva miyira [out of fear], which only subtracts the offense, while the second refers to tshuva m’ahava [out of love], which transforms the offense into a positive addition. The power of tshuva to erase what we regret having done is a great thing. Yet there is an even greater power to it, one that does not just leave a blank in place of the blot of the sin but that turns it into the mark of merit. The key difference is the motivation for tshuva.
If one’s tshuva is motivated by fear of the negative consequences for deliberate sins, they are effectively erased by reclassifying the zdonos as shgagos. That is akin to expressing regret for having committed an offense and, consequently, getting the punishment waived. Say, you cut in front of someone in line. Realizing that you behaved badly, you apologize and go to the back of the line. That is sufficient to have your offense erased and not be remembered as a selfish person. But when there is a deeper connection to the one offended, the regret is not only for the action itself but for harming the relationship. For example, lying to someone in your family entails the general offense of the lie plus a betrayal of the trust implicit in a close relationship. Tshuva m’ahavah means that your regret is not just out of concern for the consequences to yourself but for the rupture in the relationship to one you love caused by your action. The desire fortshuva in that case is a desire to re-establish your relationship. That resolution is powerful enough to transform the point of rupture into a new knot of connection.
In the course of married life, there are many opportunities for rupture between spouses. They can range from major life decisions, like where to live, to minor ones, like what to have for dinner. Ignoring them does not make them go away. Just as in the process of tshuva, offenses between spouses have to be brought to light so that they can be sorted out. For example, a new husband has an old cereal bowl that he has used as a child at home and in his dorm. As he feels attached to it, he brings it with him to his marital home. In his wife’s eyes, the bowl is a rather battered piece of plastic that is not fit to be seen alongside their beautiful, new set of dishes, so she tosses it. The next morning her husband takes out the cereal and looks for his usual breakfast bowl. When he can’t find it, he asks his wife where she put it. “That old thing? I threw it out! Use one of our nice new bowls.” What she doesn’t realize in being so casual about it is that her husband is upset that she took something that he was attached to and got rid of it without asking him first.
Though he can remain silent about it, avoiding the confrontation would not give his wife the opportunity to clear her transgression. If he explains his point of view, his wife should not say, “ It’s just a cheap plastic bowl!” Instead, she should feel sorry that her husband finds what she did inconsiderate. Her regret attests to the fact that if she had known what the effect would be, she would have acted differently. Consequently, she would be forgiven as a shogeg, one who acts without malicious intent. But she can take it a step beyond that. She can realize that this about more than just the bowl in question; it is about not taking it for granted that her husband would see things her way. Appreciating this and applying it to other situations would transform the zadon of throwing out the bowl into merit as a reminder to check with her husband on future. Likewise, if a husband schedules something for the day his wife expected they would celebrate an anniversary, he can turn the negative into a positive, not by being defensive, but by sincerely apologizing for something she felt diminished their connection and resolving to mark his calendar with the date in future.
The transformative power of tshuva is is a classical lesson for the Yamim Noraim [Days of Awe] when we focus on spiritual cleansing to achieve tshuva. In the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we regard ourselves asbeynonim – neither wholly wicked nor wholly righteous – and we seek to tip the balance to the side of righteousness through tshuva. While tshuva meyira removes the negative weight, tshuva meahava actually succeeds in transposing it to the positive side, as the zdonos become zchuyos. Love has the power the transfigure our actions in our relationship with Hashem and with each other, especially with our spouses.

Remembering on Rosh Hashana

The whole month of Elul, we anticipate the holiday that marks the Jewish new year.  The shofar is blown at the prayer services throughout the month.  Sephardim have the custom of reciting special prayers late at night or early in the morning for all of Elul, while Ashkenazim begin the week before.  For the whole month through the holiday of Shmini Atzeres, the psalmLeDavid Hashem Ori is added on to the end of both the morning and evening services. People also think about the significance of this time that is designated as preparation for the High Holy Days. 
One of the things we work on is earning forgiveness. That is not merely a matter of fasting and prayer. It is also a matter of earning the forgiveness of our friends, neighbors, and relatives because G-d does not offer forgiveness for offenses to other people. Each person has to consider what s/he may have done to hurt someone else and seek out the person to ask forgiveness.  While readily forgiving is the right thing to do, the burden is not on the victim.   Anyone who suggest that "forget and forgive" is what the month of Ellul is about completely distorts the way things work. 

 The spiritual work of attaining forgiveness calls for a person to remember and then to forgive. We have to remember what we've done, not call upon others to forget it to feel exonerated. This is clear from the prayer service.  There is a special prayer to be said on the eve of Yom Kippur in which a person declares s/he forgives everyone. However, those who think they can relax because the person harmed will make this blanket statement are specifically excluded, as are those who still owe the individual a debt.
One of the names of Rosh Hashan is Yom Hazicharon, the day of remembering.  The prayer services are divided into sections devoted to kingship, shofar, and remembering.  We try to focus on remembering the good things, but we know that we can't simply forget about the past that was not all it should have been.  This is not a morbid idea but one of facing the truth and resolving to improve for the future.  Included in that is the necessity for a spiritual accounting of how we've treated other people and how we may have hurt them.   Putting things out of our own minds does not necessarily put it out of the minds of those we have hurt.  What we are supposed to do is remember and take what steps we could to remedy the situation and attain forgiveness.  Each year is a new beginning, but it is built on the past.  Remembering allows us to fix the past to prepare for a better future.  We should have cleared any bitterness to truly appreciate the sweetness of the honey on Rosh Hashana.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The lesson of the beautiful woman

Have you ever heard anyone dismiss certain halachos as "that's for people on a really high level?" I have.  In fact, I read someone's expression of that sentiment quite a number of months back. That's when I thought of this parsha but waited until we came to its weekly reading to write about it.


This week's parsha touches on a unique halacha that seems quite inconsistent with the accounts we read about earlier in the war against Midyan. This halacha of eshes yifas toar permits a Jewish soldier who is smitten by the beauty of one of the women taken captive to marry her. There's a whole procedure that extends for a month to allow her to adjust and be seen as she is without adornment, and after that time, she either becomes his wife or is set free.

It seems so contrary to the Jewish ideal of union, which is supposed to not be a response to mere physical attraction. (See http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-persistent-prostitute.html )There is a mystical interpretation of what the beauty is really about according to the interpretation of the Or haChaim, as explained here:   http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/57211/jewish/The-Cry-of-the-Holy-Sparks.htm. However, I would like to look at this in the plain sense to appreciate another very profound lesson from the Torah.

Chazal explain that the permission granted in this unique case during a time of war when emotions tend to run high is to counter the yetzer hara. In such a situation, one may find himself unable to resist what he normally can. It's like passing Dunkin' Donuts when you haven't had time for breakfast and lunch. Though you may normally be able to tell yourself that the empty calories are not the best nutritional choice, your brain's rational arguments will be overshadowed by the desire to put hunger to rest delicious carbs. It's really not the best thing to do, but the temptation can be just too strong for some people to resist.

That's the way this is taught to children in school.  But there is something even deeper here. It demonstrates that the Torah is truly designed with human frailty in mind. It does not demand anything that is beyond the average person's capability.

The law of eshes yifas toar  proves that their assumption about certain mitzvos being beyond one's reach to be faulty. The fact that something that seems so far off the norm for relationships within Jewish circles is permitted just for the sake of some individual failing to resist temptation proves that the Torah laws were not made only for those on really high spiritual levels but for all of us.



Friday, July 25, 2014

Purim in Av

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had two particular thoughts about the connections between what we are experiencing now and TaNaCh.  This is the second one: the parallels to Purim. Odd, yes, that’s the most joyous of holiday in the month during which we say, mishenichnas Adar marbin besimcha. The whole month of Adar is considered a happy one, quite the opposite of this time of year.

We are coming upon the 9 Days now, the start of the month of Av, about which our Sages say, mishenichnas Av mema’atin besimcha. We don’t hold celebrations during this time and even abstain from meat and wine during the days leading up to the date when the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed. The build up to that began even earlier on the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz. I’m sure that for many people, the feeling of bein hametzarim came even earlier this year, with what has been going on in Israel. We have experienced a great deal of pain and been subjected to naked hate by people around the world who seize this opportunity to express their hostility for all Jews on the pretext of caring about other people.  

The Hamas plot that has been exposed through the ground invasion targeted at tunnels was nothing less than an attempt at genocide.  See http://israelmatzav.blogspot.com/2014/07/what-hamas-planned-to-do-with-terror.html Just like Haman plotted so long ago, the forces of hate were to be gathered to together to murder all the Jews when they least expected it. Mordechai discovered the plot, but that alone wasn’t enough. Esther had to step up and speak out – even at the risk of her own life. She had to reverse the policy she had been practicing of laying low and come out as a Jew to the king who had no great love for them himself.

And here’s the thing that we must remember about who and what we are. We do what is right, not what people with particular political views want us to do, but what we have to do to survive and defeat evil.

What was right in Purim story was to make a public proclamation of the Jews’ right to defend themselves and to exterminate the forces of evil that sought their destruction. The Jews defeated their enemies, and we celebrate the day after the battle because we are not happy about killing but we are happy to survive.

When Haman told the king of his plot, he could not claim the Jews had oppressed anyone. They were exiled from home and pretty powerless then. But where the Jews or what they do has nothing to do with it because as people like to say today, haters gonna hate. The reasons for their hate lie in them It  has nothing to do with supposed sins of a state. That is abundantly obvious to anyone who has even the faintest understanding of history.. The Jews were persecuted throughout their exile in countries like England, Spain, Russia, Poland, Germany, and the list goes on and on.  None of those persecutors could attribute their hate to Jewish statehood. Clearly, the only constant is hate for who the Jews are rather than for what they do.

We learn from the Purim story that Jewish survival depends on fighting against those who seek to destroy them. But we also learn another thing: we must stick together to be strong. When Haman slandered the Jews to Achashverosh as worthless, he said that they are separated and scattered. Yes, we were scattered and still are today. But what the Jews achieved was coming together as one.

Just like Haman’s plot depended on mental terror, building up fear, and lowering morale, so does Hamas’s plot. I talked about the corruption of justice and morality in its strategy in my previous blog post and linked to an article on the role of media, so I won’t go over that. But there is another part in which the reporters are complicit. They are playing the role of Tokyo Rose.. They try to undermine us by saying we’ve lost the world’s sympathy and that must prove us to be wrong or doomed. Whoever claims they lost sympathy because of Gaza would have found another reason to point to for not supporting Israel. Those who think otherwise are delusional.


In Israel the overwhelming majority support what the IDF is doing. Considering how very divided the country normally is, that is absolutely amazing achdus. Sure, there are always some political extremists who will go against the grain, but there are also people who will insist they are Napoleon. They are not the ones who define the reality of klal Yisrael. Realistically, you cannot have 100% because of that. And remember, even at the culmination of one of the greatest triumphs in Jewish history – the Purim story itself – the hero Mordechai could only claim being like by most. So that’s reality. Let’s capitalize on that most for achdus and strength to stand up for Jewish survival.  That's the way to counter the sinas chinam that stands against us. Practically speaking we can also employ the trifecta of tefila, tzedaka, and chessed to come together in support of our troops. 

Chamas: the broken moral compass

I've been blogging since 2005 (the same year Israel pulled out of Gaza, forcing its own citizens to leave their homes to clear the land for others). In all these years, I have eschewed politics. But I just cannot remain silent on this. I thought of 2 key connections in TaNaCh for the situation, and here is one of them:

You may have heard that it’s better to have a stopped clock than a broken one that keeps going. The reason for that is that the stopped one is at least right twice a day. Likewise, a broken compass is more dangerous than one that simply doesn’t move because you think you’re going in the right direction when your orientation is all wrong.  If your compass just doesn’t move, at least you know that you’re lost and you’ll have to find some other means of getting on the right track. The same holds for a broken moral compass, which so many are brandishing.

The name Chamas is about more than a terror organization; it’s about utter corruption of justice. That’s the word used for what brought the decree of the mabul. The land was filled was chamas. The word is sometimes translated as robbery and sometimes as extortion. The text doesn’t tell us that the judgment came because of arayosm, though that was rampant but because of what really amounts to a misdemeanor.  Why is that so bad?

The generation that fell into chamas was considered unsalvageable – unlike the generation that set up the Tower of Babel in an attempt to defy a Deity over them. Our tradition teaches us that G-d can even find good in people who think that can fight him so long as they show a spirit of unity and cooperation. He does not, however, find any hope in a society that shows no regard for each other.  When this is taught to children, they learn the profound importance of love for our fellow man – which has positive effect even for the worst sinners. That’s not only important but central to Jewish thought.

Those of us who are adults should be able to appreciate still another aspect of this lesson. The chamas of that generation was not just a matter of people who made a habit of causing harm to others. The reason why it was so bad is that it corrupted the whole system of justice. Extortion is not technically stealing, so the one who got money out of his victim that way could say, he acted within the law. Those who did steal outright did would claim that he only took an amount that didn’t meet the legal minimum for crime and, consequently, was not subject to persecution.

 Though many laws translate into “thou shalt nots” there is also a key “thou shalt” that all civilizations must follow in order to survive: that is to set up a system of justice.  When people find out a way to perpetuate crimes with impunity, and so justice is never served, we have an utterly corrupt society.  Now we have that situation in the way terrorists manipulate people’s sympathies to exonerate them from all the harm they do to their own people as well as the Jews they hate.

I have heard people respond to all the evidence you can offer about what Israel actually does do versus what Hamas does, and  their response amounts to this: “War is never justified, and so even if Israel is attacked, it cannot defend itself.”  They even admit that all reason goes out the window when they see a heartbreaking picture of a dead child (never mind that often those pictures are really from Syria where there countless more Muslims are murdered by Muslims). As for the knee-jerk reaction to images that sells news, read Simcha Jacovibi’s analysis of how the media perpetuates the broken compass, pointing people in the wrong direction and actually rewarding Hamas for using their own people as human shields in: Those TV cameras responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza.

I have read people seriously declare that Israel can’t fire at the places where rockets are known to be stored if there is even the possibility of a civilian casualty. You can cite all the atrocities of Hamas, but they just wave the pictures of Gazan children as the only definitive point of a moral compass. That is not to say that Israel should or does go after children. It does everything in its power and evens risks the safety of its own troops (through warnings, through ground invasion, through avoiding the annihilation through bombs that could easily have pulled off in just a day if it truly were bent on genocide as their accusers claim).

One fundamental error made in this argument about who is moral in war is in automatically favoring the side with the heaviest losses. Pointing out civilian casualties doesn’t prove who was in the right. If so, we’d have to say that instead of honoring Lincoln, we would castigate him for calling for a war in which the north pummeled the south and caused the death of more than 50,000 civilians there.  We would be forced to say the Allies were wrong simply because they had superior weapons and won the war against the greatest force of evil the world had seen until that time.

Incredible as that sounds, that’s exactly where this broken moral compass leads, as those people who claimed they are motivated by compassion and the cause of human rights lead rallies in which they call for a Jew-free country and extol Hitler’s Final Solution. Yes, in our supposedly more enlightened time, and it will get far worse if it is not stopped.  


Giving in to Hamas tactics would forever tie the hands of all victims of terror. All the terrorists would have to do is put some kids in front of their arsenals and say, “You can’t touch me because your self-defense will be twisted into a war crime.” That is a cynical corruption of justice; that is chamas.

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