Distressed by the Tragedy of Loss of Life

This weeks Torah Portion, Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43) contains the story of the reunion of Jacob and Esau. In Genesis 32:8 we read: Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.”

Many Rabbi’s have asked why the Tanakh repeats the verb here. Many of them go on to argue that Jacob’s being afraid, was because of his fear of the consequences of Esau and his men coming and attacking him. They then suggest that Jacob’s distress was over the moral issue that if he killed Esau or one of his men in self-defense, he would still be greatly distressed at the death of a man created in the image of God.

This brought to mind the tragic life of my PNG brother, Gus.

Gus was living in a secure complex in Port Moresby some years ago and had got up early around dawn, one morning to take his wife and children to the airport. He had some security downstairs, but he heard two of the ‘rascals’ climbing over the balcony to enter upstairs where he and his family were. They would most likely have killed them in the process of stealing their possessions.

Gus a giant of a man both physically and spiritually, went out on to the balcony and fought with them. In the process he ended up knocking one of the men over the balcony and the man died.

When I next met up with Gus after this tragic event and some time had passed, Gus was still struggling with the reality that he had killed another human being. Even though he had, in all likelihood saved his wife and beautiful young children, he still found it difficult to live with. He may have been ‘morally right’ but that did not make his involvement in the tragic loss of a man’s life easy to bear.

Gus went on to do an incredible job of raising his daughter and three sons and then before he had reached the age of 40, with his eldest girl, Yuana still only around 16, Gus had a heart-attack at work and died.

Receiving the news of his untimely passing was one of the most upsetting days of my life. The sun shines less brightly without the great impact of this man of God who was cherished by so many.

Rabbi Sacks writes a great article on this Torah Portion and this moral issue. In it he relates the mixed feelings that the Israeli soldiers had after the great victory of 1967 and quotes Yitzhak Rabin, the Chief of Staff during the war.

“We find more and more a strange phenomenon among our fighters. Their joy is incomplete, and more than a small portion of sorrow and shock prevails in their festivities, and there are those who abstain from celebration. The warriors in the front lines saw with their own eyes not only the glory of victory but the price of victory: their comrades who fell beside them bleeding, and I know that even the terrible price which our enemies paid touched the hearts of many of our men. It may be that the Jewish people has never learned or accustomed itself to feel the triumph of conquest and victory, and therefore we receive it with mixed feelings.”

 Sacks goes on to state: “A people capable of feeling distress, even in victory, is one that knows the tragic complexity of the moral life. Sometimes it is not enough to make the right choice. One must also fight to create a world in which such choices do not arise because we have sought and found non-violent ways of resolving conflict.”

What very wise words, but what a huge challenge, that today, after the UN vote to recognize the ‘State of Palestine’, seems even more challenging and further from resolution.

I recommend reading the whole of Rabbi Sack’s article on Aish –  http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/180748221.html

For some insightful commentary on the UN vote I recommend these articles:

‘Into the Fray: Israel’s infuriating impotence’ By Martin Sherman

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=294033

‘Accomplices in a campaign to annihilate a UN member’ By Shlomo Slonim

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=293826

and ‘I Stand Ashamed that My Country Voted for the New Nazis’ by Giulio Meotti

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/12511#.ULimw46ZQsk

Leaving and Returning: Climbing the Mountain and Returning to Repair the World

This weeks Torah Portion is Parshah Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3). It contains the stories of Jacob’s leaving his family to live in the land of Laban and then returning to the land of Canaan to fulfil his destiny and continue the process of creating the Jewish People, a people called to be a Light to the Gentiles.

Rabbi Moshe Avraham Kempinksi has written an excellent article on this Torah Portion this week. In this article is states that “ There will be many times, that the people of Israel will need to leave the comfort of their spiritual existence and venture into the dangers of coping with a world that is both dangerous and menacing”. How true is this statement in this day and age!

This also reminded me of an article by Rabbi Ari Kahn which I quoted last month in my blog ‘Abraham, the Father of the faithful’:

Similarly, for the Jewish People to have an impact on the world, we must first disengage, separate ourselves, and fully explore our unique relationship with God.

There will be times when we must wrest ourselves away from our deep involvement, even our responsibility for the world. We must climb lofty mountains, even engage in divinely-mandated, though seemingly paradoxical, behavior. But we must always remember that eventually we must come down from the mountain, re-engage, return to the people that we left at the foot of the mountain. We must find the language and establish the relationship that will allow us to share with them what we learned at the summit.

The way we can accomplish our universal responsibility is by first becoming separate, different – as holy as we can possibly become. Only this will enable us to fulfill our mission of tikkun olam, to enlighten, to educate, to heal and repair the world.”

– See https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/10/25/abraham-the-father-of-the-faithful/

I think this rings true for all of us. We all need to take time out, to recharge our batteries, to re-connect with the Almighty, so that we can return to the fray, to the challenges of engaging with the world and trying to positively impact it.

Clearly our Maker knew this and so He created a special Day, the Sabbath for this very purpose. What a thoughtful and loving Father, Creator and King we have!

Moshe’s article is so good that I would really encourage you to read it in full. I have copied it below to make this easy for you:

Vayetze: Going Out (Israel National News – Published: Thursday, November 22, 2012 4:48 PM)

“And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”The Torah portion of VaYeitze begins with Jacob leaving one place ands with him leaving another. Yet the two words used to describe each “leaving” are vastly different.

When Jacob is leaving the land of Canaan,he is fleeing from his house. He was escaping from a brother who was set to kill him. He was running from a father who may have lost some measure of faith and confidence in his son. He was leaving without knowing when he was to return. And he was leaving into a land of the unknown, and into a future filled with challenges and doubt.

The verse tells us ” And Jacob left Beer sheba, and he went ( VaYeitzeh) to Haran.”( Genesis 28:10) In the midst of Jacob’s running away from Esau he sees the vision of the ladder to the heavens in a dream. In this vision he is promised by G-d , great things.

And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”( ibid :15)

When he returns from the land of Laban we read; “. So Jacob rose (vaYakam) , and he lifted up his sons and his wives upon the camels.” (ibid 31:17) This too occurs connected to a dream. Yet in Haran, it was a very different sort of dream.

And it came to pass at the time the animals came into heat, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the he goats that mounted the animals were ringed, speckled, and striped.”( ibid 31:10) As opposed to the spiritual dream of angels that he dreamt while still in the land, here Jacob dreams about physical goats and material acquisitions. The materialistic seduction of Chutz LeAretz- Exile – seems to have begun to affect Jacob as well. He understands that he needs to leave.

What is to be learned from those two differing words, Vayeitzeh ( and he went out) and Vayakam( and he arose) ?

When we read in the book of Deuteronomy, of G-d’s instructions regarding the going out to war .The verse reads: “Ki Teitzei LaMilchamah – If you shall go out to wage war against your enemy.” (Deuteronomy 21:10) The verse could have simply been, “If you shall wage war?”

The Torah wants us to remember that warfare is not harmonious with our inner essence. In order to go to war you must exit your oasis of spiritual and holy comfort. Yet his must be done only with the purpose of achieving goals of spiritual and national importance.

We see his again with Noah when G-d commands him the following;” ‘Go forth( Tzeh) from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee. … be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.’ ( Genesis 8:16-17).

We see it as well with Jacob’s leaving of the land of his forefathers. Jacob was destined to begin the creation of the Jewish people in the land of Haran. That necessarily involved the spiritual pain of VaYeitzeh.

That is not the case when Jacob leaves Haran. When he leaves the land of Lavan , he is escaping the quagmire of materialism, falsehood and idolatry. In order to do this he must rise up (VaKam) . He must gather his spiritual strength and courage in order to be able to continue to fulfill his destiny in the land of his forefathers.

There will be many times, that the people of Israel will need to leave the comfort of their spiritual existence and venture into the dangers of coping with a world that is both dangerous and menacing. That is what we learn from Jacob’s leaving and his returning. That is what going out to war- ki teitze el hamilchama teaches us. If one’s purpose and goal remains clear ,then the continuation of the verse becomes a promise “. If you go out to war against your enemies,… and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hands...”( Deuteronomy 21:10)

When this piece was being written, it was still unclear if the Israeli defense forces were compelled to enter gaza or not. Yet the courage of going out from their homes and the courage of entering battles that need to be fought will hopefully bring about the Divine promise of protection. And either way, it is only a matter of time before they do.

It is just as Hashem promised Jacob in his personal “going out”.

“And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.” – see http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/12477#.UK8rNY6ZQsm

For more on the last scripture quoted and the restoration of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel I recommend the article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ at circumcisedheart.info.

The Day of Atonement and the bottom line

If you would like the background material for our Podcast on Yom Kippur, it is now available as a PDF here  at http://www.circumcisedheart.info

Here’s a great quote to close off Yom Kippur and look forward to another great year.

”The bottom line (for Yom Kippur)?

The spiritual rewards reaped from a spiritual perspective far outweigh the benefits seductively paraded before us in the advertisements that daily bombard us with their false and alluring promises.

That is why we so desperately need Yom Kippur to help us rearrange our priorities. It is a day when we demonstrate that we can master our physical needs. We choose prayer over food. We choose communion with God over making more money. We do not wear our jewelry and our adornments so that no one need envy the possessions of others. We concentrate not on the things we covet that don’t belong to us but on the blessings God has already granted to us that could give us so much joy if we only fully appreciated them.

And that’s why Yom Kippur, with all of its deprivations, helps to teach us the real meaning of happiness and contentment.”  –        from http://www.aish.com/h/hh/yom-kippur/theme/102325494.html

I pray that you experienced a Yom Kippur where you were able to in some ways ‘afflict your soul’ and gain a greater spiritual perspective. I hope and pray that your ‘spiritual heart’ was given priority over your ‘fleshly heart’ (Yetzer HaTov vs Yetser HaRa), so that you could more fully experience the holiness of this day.

I reflected with both deep thanks and some sense of sadness that last year in 2011 I had spent Yom Kippur at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. What an awesome day of prayer it had been! Today, a year later I was back in Brisbane and missing standing on the Temple Mount. If you have not experienced that blessing of being in Israel and Jersusalem, especially at one of the ‘appointed times’; for one of the Feasts of Adonai, I pray that it may be fulfilled for you ‘next year in Jerusalem’!

Shalom! Paul

Moses and the King who Hides

Having briefly touched on this week’s Torah Portion and how I suspect that Moses would have been heartbroken, I also want to raise an interesting issue around the concept of the Almighty, the King of the Universe ‘hiding’ himself.

Moshe Kempinski in his Torah Portion Podcast points out that the Hebrew in Duet 31:17 literally reads ‘I will hide that I will hide’, where we read in English: “and I will abandon them and hide my face from them.”

Apparently, the Jewish sages understand this to mean that God will hide or turn His face away even when people don’t know that He has!

That is, they may think they are walking in Truth, and with God, when they are NOT!

What a profound and challenging thought!

In a related story that Moshe Kempinski shared in his Torah Podcast, he relates the story of the Rabbi grandson of the great mystical Rabbi Baal Shem Tov. He is sitting outside studying Torah when one of his grandchildren comes crying to him. His grandchild has been playing hide and seek and found the perfect hiding place. The only problem was no-one found him! After the child had been soothed and went off to play, the Rabbi pondered on this. When his wife came out to the verandah where he was sitting, the Rabbi was crying. She asked why. He said, God hides so well, that few try hard enough to find Him!

God WANTS us to find him! We WILL find him when we seek Him with all our heart, mind and soul!”

I had written a blog post (at luke443.blogspot.com.au) some 18 months ago on this concept of ‘The King Who Hides’. It is reposted below:

The King who hides:

I recently heard a good analogy.

A young King saw a beautiful but poor peasant girl and was taken by her grace, her beauty and her joy. He desired to get to know her better and perhaps win her heart. He did not want to command her obedience or to intimidate her, but wanted her to love him for himself.

Yet if he faced her in all his finery and authority and with all his royal assembly and displayed the great breadth and majesty of his Kingdom, he would have little hope of getting to know her on level terms, of getting to develop a mutual and balanced relationship.

He must therefore disguise himself. Not in any dishonest or devious manner, but simply to find a way to let her see the man behind the Kingdom, in the hope that she might connect with his true self, his values, his character and natural beauty.

This is perhaps an analogy for how God interacts with us.

He hides Himself to some degree, He sets a distance between himself and us. Without such disguise, such ‘hiding’, we would be overwhelmed, and our relationship with the Almighty could not develop with the simplicity and normalcy that successful courtship requires.

The Almighty has ‘hidden’ Himself from us to such a degree that he calls on us to seek him and that only by seeking him with all our hearts, minds, strength and soul will we find him.

Consider Proverbs 2:1-5

1. My son, if you will receive my words, and store up my commandments within you;

2 So as to turn your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding;

3 Yes, if you call out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding;

4 If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures:

5 then you will understand the fear of Yahweh, and find the knowledge of God.

We can see here that the Almighty calls us to receive his words and by meditating of his words and commandments we will be obedient to them. We see here that we need to seek with great diligence as God’s treasures are hidden.

Luke 11:9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Also Jeremiah 29:13

And you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart.

This verse in itself is extremely powerful and I believe sums up the truth that, while God may be hidden, He can be found and we can enter into a relationship with the Creator and King of the Universe. Our King calls for our whole heart.

Are you listening? Are you willing to search for Him and His hidden treasures?

To give a little more of the context of Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart”, we see Jeremiah prophesying about the return from exile in Babylon:

Jeremiah 29:

10 “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.

13 You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart,

14 I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

The context then was that the Almighty himself would lead some of the Jewish people to turn back to Him and He would hear them.

The last king of Babylon was Belshazzar. Belshazzar was aware of what the prophet Jeremiah had prophesied at the time when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel:

“And this whole land [of Israel] shall be a ruin, and a waste, and these nations [the tribes of Israel] shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when the seventy years are fulfilled, that I will punish the king of Babylon …” (Jeremiah 25:1112)

Naturally, this is something Belshazzar was worried about and so he kept count. Unfortunately for him he miscalculated by one year. The year 371 BCE arrived, and Belshazzar assuming that the prophecy had not come true, decided that God must have abandoned His people, the Jews and that he will not therefore restore them to Israel as promised in the Jeremiah prophecy. He also, therefore thinks he won’t be punished.

So to celebrate, Belshazzar throws a huge feast and brings out for all to see the Temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had stolen from Jerusalem. He orders his consorts and concubines to drink from Temple cups and to praise “the gods of gold and silver, copper, iron, wood and stone.” (Daniel 5:1-5)

At that moment, a large unattached hand appears and starts to write on the wall  – ‘The writing is on the wall’!

You probably know the rest of the story.

What you may not realize though, is that when given the opportunity to return to Israel, most reject the dream. There were estimated to be around a million Jews living in the Babylonian empire, yet only 42,000 go back ― only about 5% of those that went into exile 70 years earlier go back and the remaining 95% stays put.

The same thing happened in 1948 when the state of Israel was declared. There were about 12 million Jews in the world at that time and only 600,000 or 5% settled the land. The rest, some 95% preferred to stay in exile. This story is, of course, far from complete.

The recent and even more miraculous return (see my article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ – at www.circumcisedheart.info ), is a more complete, but still on-going, fulfillment of all of Jeremiah’s ‘return’ prophecies.

So now think of the implications! In seeing the fulfillment of these prophecies, can we now identify, who has sought God with all their heart, and who has found, or at least is finding Him?

Super-Heroes: Heartbreak for Moses!

In this weeks Torah Portion (Vayelech – Deut 31:1-30), we read about Moses last day and how the Almighty tells Moses that he is about to die, after the last 40 years leading the Nation of Israel in the desert.

God calls both Moses and Joshua into the Tent of Meeting (where His presence was most revealed; most real and ‘physical’ or felt). Along with ‘passing the baton’ to Joshua and encouraging Joshua as the new leader of His People, God informs Moses that the people will fail God (for a time) and God will hide His face from them!

Here is what He shared:

Deut 31:

“15 ADONAI appeared in the tent in a column of cloud; the column of cloud stood above the entrance to the tent.

16 ADONAI said to Moshe,

“You are about to sleep with your ancestors. But this people will get up and offer themselves as prostitutes to the foreign gods of the land where they are going. When they are with those gods, they will abandon me and break my covenant which I have made with them.

17 Then my anger will flare up, and I will abandon them and hide my face from them. They will be devoured, and many calamities and troubles will come upon them. Then they will ask, ‘Haven’t these calamities come upon us because our God isn’t here with us?’

18 But I will be hiding my face from them because of all the evil they will have done in turning to other gods.

19 “Therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the people of Isra’el. Have them learn it by heart, so that this song can be a witness for me against the people of Isra’el.

20 For when I have brought them into the land I swore to their ancestors, flowing with milk and honey; and they have eaten their fill, grown fat and turned to other gods, serving them and despising me, and broken my covenant;

21 then, after many calamities and troubles have come upon them, this song will testify before them as a witness, because their descendants will still be reciting it and will not have forgotten it. For I know how they think even now, even before I have brought them into the land about which I swore.”

The song that Moses writes for the people ends in hope (see Deuteronomy 32), with

“43 Sing out, you nations, about his people! For he will avenge the blood of his servants. He will render vengeance to his adversaries and make atonement for the land of his people.”

The Tanakh of course, shares in many places that despite all their wrongs and their turning away, HaShem will bring His People back into the Land of Israel, for His Name’s sake! See my article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ (at www.circumcisedheart.info) for some of the evidence for this.

What I wanted to touch on though was Moses heartache!

Imagine, he has led the Jewish people out of Egypt; they have seen many miracles on a daily basis; they, this 2 million people, have ‘seen’ the Almighty in a way that no-one else has, and yet, after his forty years of leading them, Moses is told that they will turn their back on the Almighty!

And Moses can’t do anything about it; he is about to die; to ‘sleep’ with his ancestors!

How heart-broken must he have been; how despairing! He had been like a father to his brethren; he had devoted everything to them; he had rejected a royal life for them; he had sacrificed much and here he is being told in a sense that he has failed! Yes, he knew that at the great Day of Judgment; the People of Israel would be restored and all the prophecies to Abraham fulfilled, but what comfort now; in this his final moments.

Moses was a super-hero! And yet, in a sense HaShem tells him he has failed! Was it worth it?

Do you feel for Moses; do you empathize with him; when you have given your all and it appears you have failed? Evil still abounds! Man still hates his brother! What can we do?!

Let us turn to the Almighty, the King of the Universe and acknowledge we need Him; we need His strength; His comfort; His mercy and justice! His Messiah! His great Day; the Day of Judgment; the Day of Atonement; the Day of cleansing!

Shout in Unity – the Day of Shouting

Yom Teruah/Rosh Hashanah has already drawn to a close for some of us (it’s after sunset on Tuesday 18th Sept. 2012 here).

If you enjoyed the Podcasts at ‘A Sharp Arrow & a Strong Draught Horse‘ and would like some supporting documentation, our background doc is now online  – Click here: 10 Questions on Yom Teruah

The Day of Shouting (also called the Day or Feast of Trumpets; Yom Teruah or Rosh HaShanah) is a great day;  an amazing and intriguing Day of Celebration instituted by the Almighty.

Why? What is it’s significance? Why is the theme of Unity so foundational to this time? Listen to the 2 Part Podcasts or read the article – if you have more questions please be in touch.

Shalom!