Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Depth of Tragedy


This is a very difficult post to write because there are so many raw emotions and opposing views on the subject that I know it may not be a very popular piece. Yet, I feel that if we look at the big picture, it will help us through what at first glance appears to be a nightmare scenario, one which makes us wonder, "What is going on?"

We have just completed the 'Three Weeks' which, in the Jewish calendar, has been known to be a time fraught with many calamities for the Jewish People. On a national level it is a time of the destruction of the first and second Temples, the foundation of Jewish spiritual life. So many horrible things happened to our people during this period that we have been instructed to be very careful throughout these days. The last nine days leading up to Tisha B'Av, the 9th of the Jewish month of Av, we treat as a time of mourning,  holding by many of the traditions attached to that sad event. So real is the danger, that we are forbidden from swimming as well.

This year, while thank G-d, there was no major catastrophe affecting the Land of Israel, several terrible events permeated our beings. One is the ever-increasing contempt and misplaced criticism between our brothers. There is so much infighting involving different sectors of society that it is hurtful to watch. We are supposed to be as one and yet we treat each other like our own worst enemy. I heard a very true statement that is quite ironic - our enemies don't differentiate between us. They are anxious and willing to annihilate all of our people; national religious, haredi, reform, secular and chassidic Jews. To them, we are one unit. And that is what we are meant to be.  The commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) obviously lost its meaning even to some who claim to have a fear of Heaven. Sadly, this internal strife reached a pinnacle over the past three weeks. At a time when we should strive for peace and guarding our tongues from loshon hara (evil talk and tale-bearing) instead we bring shame upon ourselves.

Then something less public and more dreadful brought us all into different corners of the ring. As if bickering over our different views would somehow bring back the three precious souls who lost their lives through parental misjudgments. Yes, three young babies in the course of two weeks left this world through pain and suffering, being left alone in the back seat of their parent's hot car. One can say the parents were negligent and failed in their responsibilities, but it is really irrelevant because the torment they will endure the rest of their lives will more than make up for any lack of civil punishment. It's difficult to imagine how one can go on after such a catastrophe. In Israel, despite the squabbling, we are as one family in agony and therefore we are all grieving. 

If we view these instances through spiritual eyes, we may still not be able to comprehend it, but we can come to an acceptance on a different level.

As much as it hurts, Hashem (G-d) decided that those infants were meant to leave this world. Each detail was predetermined so that even the amount of suffering they experienced was somehow beneficial to their neshamas (souls). We will never know or understand the reasons, but this was decreed in Shomayim (Heaven). Even the poor parents, regardless of the turn of events which led to the disaster, are destined to suffer for the remainder of their existence on earth. This too, though it is humanly impossible to fathom why, is somehow the way it was intended to be and for their ultimate good. When someone passes away, we say "Baruch Dayan HaEmet" which means, Blessed is the True Judge". We accept G-d's decision, as painful as it is. When we pass these tests in our material lives knowing that everything  He does is for the best, that is basis of emunaAcknowledging this can, with Hashem’s help, give the families the strength to go on.

My friend, Jessie, told a related story which may help clarify this concept. There was a great Tzaddik (righteous man) who was niftar (passed away) and when he went to the next world, he was judged as righteous. Just as he was about to enter Gan Eden, an accusing angel told the Heavenly Courts that he had nursed from a non-Jewish mother for two months because his own mother was ill. Therefore, he was sent back to earth and was born to a Jewish mother who nursed him for two months. Immediately, a bat kol (Divine 'voice' proclaiming G-d's Will) came from Shomayim (Heaven) and welcomed the Tzaddik to his rightful place in Gan Eden. But to the new parents of the two month old baby, they were faced with an aching loss. We have no clue. Hashem runs the world in every aspect down to the next meal of the smallest ant on a blade of grass and everything He does is for the good.

By all estimations, we are living the birth pangs of Moshiach. We are told it will be a rough ride but we must hang on with all our spiritual might. It is no coincidence that recently we have lost many holy Tzaddikim.... Torah Giants, Scholars, sinless babies plus other upright men and women who have died simply for being Jews. These excruciating sacrifices are the price we pay to bring us closer to our final Redemption. May it be G-d's will that there will soon be an end to all this heartbreak and struggle, bringing us together in song and joy to the newly rebuild Beit Hamikdash!

Forbidden Fruit


“.. of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it” (Genesis 2:17)

From the beginning of creation man’s freedom of choice has been tested. Adam was told directly by G-d Himself not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, but with a little friendly persuasion, he chose to disobey Hashem’s Will. At first glance it appears that Adam’s choice was based solely on lack of self-discipline, but how could anyone in his right mind purposely disobey the Master of the Universe? Our Sages tell us that his motives were not as dishonorable as they appear. All he wanted was to get closer to Hashem and to understand the difference between good and evil so he would be better able to live his life as G-d intended. Unfortunately for future generations, it was the wrong decision.

One mistake, one bite of one little ‘apple’, and humankind is banished from the Garden of Eden. One erroneous judgment and man was condemned to toil by the “sweat of his face” for his daily bread, woman was decreed to endure pain with childbirth and to all human beings death now became a reality. Such a seemingly innocent action held the power to generate such guilt and caused the evil inclination to reside within mankind.

Someone pointed out a very interesting idea to me the other day. We all have access to a seemingly innocuous device, namely the computer with internet access, which also has the ability to destroy one’s whole future. Hashem gave man the intelligence to construct it but it takes aTzaddik (righteous individual) to be able to back away and refuse the dangerous enticement it holds. It is no coincidence that the first mainstream personal computer, and now a major icon worldwide, was made by a company with the name, none other than: Apple. The company logo portrays the fruit of temptation with a bite out of it! This is the same fruit the world recognizes as the fruit that Adam and Eve ate. (We know from our Sages it was not actually an apple they ate, nonetheless, this is the fruit that the general public accepts). All leading Rabbis of our generation have openly declared these electronic devices to be hazardous. Overflowing with knowledge, both beneficial and harmful, it lures us into believing that it is safe and useful.

Yes, it can be. Yet, I too, diminish its danger. I am only using it for work, to earn parnassa (income) and to spread emuna, to share Torah and do kiruv (Jewish Outreach). I set limits and try not to get carried away. I tell myself that a little news story and a short scrabble game can’t hurt. I rationalize that it keeps me in touch with what’s happening in the world and allows my ever aging mind the mental exercise it needs to stay sharp.

If it would end at that, there would be no problem. But who can truthfully say that they don’t spend a minute extra doing wasteful and pointless things. This in itself is “Bitul Torah” (neglect of Torah study). Couldn’t this time also be better spent working on interpersonal relationships rather than ignoring those we care about? Once we plunk ourselves down on the chair by the computer, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) plays havoc with our desires. Just a minute more on this site and a second more reading that and before we know it, we have wasted precious hours on this hypnotic invention. And that’s not to mention the lewd and sinful options available to those who show no restraint!

With the advent of Moshiach, prophecies tell of a fight between good and evil. It will be a spiritual war between belief in Hashem, our steadfastness of emuna on one side versus those diametrically opposed to this principle on the other. Like the snake in Gan Eden (Garden of Eden), the computer, internet and all the technology of this modern world are deadly temptations feeding the venomous enemy. Snakes symbolize so many negative traits such as immorality and deceit (by way of its forked tongue). We see this clearly as the internet is full of deception with people hiding behind aliases and false intentions.

Since nothing in the world is coincidence, I will leave you with something else to think about. The Tree of Knowledge contained good and evil. We humans are constantly confronted with the choice between the two. Everything that has a negative side also has a positive aspect. That is what free will is all about.

The gematria (numerical equivalent) of the word snake, nachash, (נחש‎), is 358.
The gematria of Moshiach (משיח) is also 358.
Chet is Hebrew for sin and the gematria of the letter chet is 8.
If we take the chet (ח) out of nachash, we will have the gematria 350, which is also the gematria for keren, קרן, the ram’s horn which will one day be blown to herald the arrival of Moshiach.
So if we work together to remove the sin, the chet, from our lives by making an effort to stay off the computer and internet as much as possible, we will help bring Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, speedily, in the coming days, amen!