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 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.

Follow me on Twitter @AriellaBrown and circle me at Google+

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


This is generally a topic for Ellul and Tishrei , but some incidents that have just come to light made me think of their current application. When it comes to making an account of our sins, we talk about din v'cheshbon. Why the double language? There are various interpretations, including one attributed to the Vilna Gaon  that offers an economic term to understand it. The din is for the wrong that was done, and the cheshbon is the opportunity cost -- the time lost to accomplishing something positive because it was put into a negative action.

 That interpretations makes sense for understanding how zdonos  can turn into zchuyos, merits. If one accomplishes teshuva, then the bad action actually led to a good one, and so both the action and the time spent on are transformed into a positive force. As for the lower level of teshuva, the zdonos become shgagos, unintentional actions, mistakes. One erases the bad but hasn't turned it all to the good, so the cheshbon, the time spent becomes neutral and still has not become a positive use. 

Today, as I was thinking of some of the scandals in the frum community that have come to light,  I thought of another possible take on the double language. The person who has acted wrongly and hurt others directly is culpable for the din. However, those who knew about it and swept it under the rug would have to give a cheshbon.  I'm sure they can give a list of reasons for why they contributed to the cover-up, ranging from not quite believing to trying to avoid a scandal that would cause harm to the spouses and children of the person who had done wrong. 

 Nevertheless, they thereby exacerbated the pain of the victims, particularly those who bravely came forward in order to prevent other from falling prey to people who were considered beyond reproach. I'm certain that there many more victims than those who spoke up; they remained silent because they knew that they would bring upon themselves vicious attacks from those who refuse to believe that a person they have placed on a pedestal not only had feet of clay but a complete disregard for betraying others' trust. 

If there's one lesson we should all take from Pinchas, it's that you cannot let a person's position blind you to what is morally right. Obviously, we can't all lay claim to being kanaim, but we still have the obligation to remove those who pose a threat. I would go further and say they should receive a punishment beyond removal from their posts of authority, but even that first step seems to be more than some are willing to take. 

Follow me on Twitter @AriellaBrown and circle me at Google+

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Blueberry cake

It's blueberry season. Pick up an extra pint of these to use in this cake,  like this recipe, not only because it is easy, but because it is oil rather than butter or margarine based -- even for the crumbs. That means less saturated fat. The following recipes serves 8, for more people, simply double the recipe and bake in a 9 x 13" pan.

Crumb topped blueberry cake
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
 1 egg
1/3 c. canola oil

1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. milk (for a pareve cake substitute soy or almond milk, or 1/4 c non-dairy creamer and 1/4 c. water)

1 c. fresh blueberries 
1 tbsp. lemon juice

Crumb topping

1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 c. flour
1/3 c. sugar 
2 tbsp. canola oil
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together. Beat egg. Add milk and oil. Pour into flour mixture and stir until batter is smooth. Turn into oiled 8 x 8 x 2 inch square pan or 8 x 1 1/2 inch round pan. Add lemon juice to blueberries. Scatter over batter.
Prepare crumb topping by working ingredients into crumbly mixture. Sprinkle over blueberries. Bake about 40 minutes.

Follow me on Twitter @AriellaBrown and circle me at Google+ For  more recipes, see What's Cooking