Je Suis Juif

The Call of the Shofar!

The tragic events of the few weeks are a clarion call – or, in the Jewish vernacular, the “Call of the Shofar”—to the entire world: Wake up!

And, I believe and hope, the world is waking up to something

However, it is crucial that we know what we are waking up to. We must not read the call the wrong way and extract the wrong message.

What is the message?

Do we identify with Charlie?

The answer in one word: Hardly!

Was the attack an attack against free speech and is our response therefore a campaign for free speech?

Again, the answer is that would be missing the main point.

Surely, the terrorists are against free speech, but it is so much more than that. As important as free speech is there is far more at stake. And if we focus on the lesser evils, or if we conflate them, we will not make any meaningful changes for the good.

Before my analysis let me raise some pointed questions:

What’s New?

Why is world more concerned now?

Why what is happening now so radically different from what happened in Israel over the last 66 years; particularly within the last 20 years?

Why are these despicable terrorists worse than Hamas that dances when Jewish children are murdered, or after 911?

And why is this worse than what Abbas, the Holocaust denier, did in the past for his prominent role in the Munich massacres of Israeli Olympic athletes and continues to honor the murderers of children as martyrs?

Unfortunately, we are living in age of clichés and euphemism. Simply phrasing an evil person’s actions somewhat differently changes the entire picture. The Orwellian predictions have come true but not in the pronouncement of some totalitarian government, but by the so-called “free press” and the clueless people who do not hold them accountable for their perversion of the freedom of the press.

The Age of “Narrative”

But worse than the clichés and distorted descriptions of events is that we are living in the “Age of Narrative.”

There is no more good and evil, white and black; just my/your narrative. This is far worse than just using clichés and platitudes because you’re really in trouble if your narrative doesn’t agree with mine! In today’s world, anyone who does not fit the political correctness of a certain segment of societal elites is vilified and considered a pariah.

Let me add another question to help clarify the above:

When Israel is attacked by Hamas, they are not terrorists but militants. They are fighting because they believe they have a cause of removing Israeli occupation and oppression.

Then, may I ask, why is ISIS not entitled to argue the same: The West is occupying Muslim territory etc., has killed so many Muslims, including innocent women and children as collateral damage, etc.? Why are they branded as terrorists?

Why are they not viewed like George Washington and the Revolutionary War? To the British we were terrorists; while we were liberators to ourselves!

Why when children are murdered in Israel it is ignored or worse? Instead the media blames the victim for its occupation!

The answer: It’s the narrative, stupid!

And what is the media’s narrative these days?

Modern journalism glorifies victims, the underdog. And it makes no difference who is right or wrong. The media’s narrative is to favor the weaker side, the one who better fits the description of the victim.

Today, Israel is the Goliath, because it appears to have overcome the existential threat to its existence. And it makes no difference who is right in the conflict with the Arabs because there are no absolutes anymore. Muslims are the new victims and Israel is the new Goliath. And Goliath is always wrong.

Moreover, on a more sinister level that can’t be discounted, worship of the weak empowers those who support them and lays the foundation for a new tyranny against all those who are not part of that favored group.

The Roots: Secular Religion

When we trace the origin of this attitude it is rooted in the secular notion of moral relativism. The only evil left is the belief in absolute morality. This attitude that is blind to facts and truth is a fanatical irrational religion, Those who advocate absolute values are demonized, except of course, if they are Muslims who hate Israel and the United States!

My theory, based on the teachings of Kabbalah, is that every human being possesses a need to surrender his or her intellect to a higher trans-rational entity, which we identify as the Creator. This is what we call faith. Faith, by definition, means to transcend logic. When a person has no faith in a Deity his or her soul needs to find alternate ways to express religious fervor. The militant atheist is, in truth, expressing his or her need to be religious. Indeed, the people who are so narrow-minded when it comes to viewing other approaches, are usually people who don’t have another religion to which they lend unconditional support, so they look for other outlets.  

The well-known speaker, Rabbi Yossi Jacobson was discussing the idea of good and evil with an “enlightened” student who, incredulously, to most sane people, couldn’t even get himself to decry Hitler as evil. His words went something like this, “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like what he did, but I cannot say it is evil!”

Rabbi Jacobson, never at a loss for words, found himself dumfounded and speechless. A while later, Rabbi Jacobson sat down to eat his Shabbos meal which consisted of chicken. When the vegetarian student noticed that he was about to consume meat he exclaimed, “That’s evil!”

When I heard this story, I thought it might have been apocryphal or exaggerated until I had a discussion with a bright law student who essentially made the same argument that there are no absolutes; no absolute good or evil. I didn’t want to get into a long and futile debate with a person whose beliefs are so radically different from mine so I changed the subject. Twenty minutes later, I casually mentioned President Bush (who was then the president) and I was shocked by his reflexive outburst, “Oh he’s so evil!”

Where it All Began

All of these ills are rooted in the Enlightenment. To be sure, the Enlightenment produced much good. However, because it is man-made and intrinsically secular it has inherent flaws and ultimately has planted the seeds for its own destruction.

One can perhaps compare this to the Golem, the humanoid created by the Maharal out of clay and animated by some mystical power. But it got out of hand and had to be retired. It served a purpose, but, as a man made creation, it also had the potential for its power to go awry.

In the modern world many have pointed to the advances in Artificial Intelligence as examples of positive innovations that carry the seeds for the very destruction of humanity! This does not mean that innovations, technology and human reasoning is bad. It simply means that if not checked they can degenerate into lethal forms.

 Oy Vey; It’s Twins!

The Enlightenment produced two diametrically opposite monsters of the 20th century: Nazism and Communism.

I don’t mean to suggest that the Enlightenment followers had any such intention of bringing the misfortunes of those two ideologies to the world. What I am suggesting is that when one removes G-d from the equation and bases right and wrong exclusively on human logic, it will inevitably ending up as one of those two ideologies, which are jointly responsible for the murder of over 100 million innocent people.

The Enlightenment is a man-made attempt at replicating Torah Messianic ideals with a philosophy that naively believes that that world can and will evolve into a Messianic utopia for all, based simply on rational thought.

As a result, the rational mind sought a theory for our existence to replace creation by a Divine Power and came up with the evolutionary theory. This theory itself underwent an evolution or devolution, depending on your narrative, including its elevation/degeneration into social Darwinism and ultimately Nazism. In this perverse ideology the strong must not allow the weak to pull them down and abort the evolutionary process. And all this, according to their narrative, sustains the very foundation of existence. Good is defined by our ability for the fittest to survive. In this evil ideology the strong are worshipped.

Once again, I want to emphasize that there is no suggestion that the proponents of the Enlightenment and the theoreticians of evolution would have countenanced the Holocaust. Nor am I suggesting that the Nazis based their desire to murder six million Jews solely on the basis of their belief in social Darwinism. But, when you see a fruit you know that it got to your table as a result of host of factors: The supermarket staff, the truck driver, the distributer, the farmer, the rain, the earth, the seed, etc. But, it is also clear that there had to be someone who cultivated the earth so that it would find fertile ground to grow this poisonous plant.

If Nazism is worship of the strong, the Master Race, Communism, by contrast worshipped weak and focused on equality and protecting the weak at the expense of freedom, among other things. Because there is no G-d in their ideology and everything is materially driven, the only way we can reach the godless Messianic utopia is to make everyone equal. But to create equality they had to take away freedom and even the ability to exercise the traits of kindness and compassion. No longer did the haves have to help the have-nots; government made sure that everyone had, or had not in most cases, equally. Communism stripped the human being of his soul, even as it murdered more people than the Nazis.

Both of these ideologies contain kernels of truth.

While Judaism repudiates in the strongest terms virtually everything Nazism stood for, it does believe that we are evolving into a more sophisticated form of humanity; one that will usher in the Messianic Age. This age will come not by waving a magic wand, but by adding on to and thereby increasing the cumulative good of the past, through acts of kindness and goodness. 

However, the very evolutionary process which endows us with superior spirituality demands of us to share our largesse with those who have less, materially or spiritually because our evolution comes not by weeding out the weaker but by raising them up to a higher level and doing so by our acts of compassion and kindness. By connecting to the Divine through these Mitzvos we are empowered to change humanity for good.

Torah based Messianism asserts that through the Mitsvos we gradually bring G-dly energy into the world. Man-made energy cannot be beneficial for too long. And therefore, only when we care for the weaker in the context of a G-d based morality can we advance our inexorable push to utopia.

These two competing evil ideologies “borrowed” the concepts from Torah, which is the epitome of truth and goodness. One ideology, on the extreme right, adopted the evolutionary view towards the world’s developments and perverted it; and the other adopted the view of protecting the weak and creating equality and perverted it,

Both used these kernels of truth for utter evil. Their ideology became the source of their power and unprecedented tyranny. 

In the case of the right wing ideology which focused on the evolutionary concept it eliminated anyone  who they deemed was an impediment  to this evolution such as those who were physically and mentally challenged, and of course, Jews. Jews in particular where not just deemed to be sub-human, Hitler could not tolerate Jewish compassion and support of the poor and weak.

In the case of the left wing communist ideology, religion, particularly Judaism, was deemed to be anti-revolutionary. While anti-Semitism was outlawed in Russia, Jews were hated and punished for being counter-revolutionary and impediments to their perverse version of equality.

No Right and No Left

In short, man-made ideologies, right, left or center, even when conceived with the best of intentions and with the highest idealist vision, will inevitably degenerate into something less than ideal without being checked by respect for a Higher and Absolute Authority.

The rationale for this simple:

People are egotistical creatures. They are territorial and jealous. The first siblings, Cain and Abel are the best examples of this. Even with the highest ideals, people will naturally degenerate into selfishness. Unless the ego is checked, man is destined to fail. The belief in a Higher Being is not just truth; it is the only force that can humble a powerful human being. A system that leaves G-d out of the equation and relies solely on human reason, ingenuity and ambition will eventually wreak havoc on society. A G-d driven society, at least, has the potential to reverse the natural and degenerate human tendencies.  

The rejection of both right and left ideologies is hinted in the story of Moses who sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating a slave and kills him. But before doing so the Torah reports, “He looked to his right and to his left and saw there is no man.” The famed Rabbi Meir Shapiro of pre-Holocaust Poland interpreted this as a reference to Moses’ searching for solutions to the problems in Egypt and he turned to right-wing ideologies and then to the left-wing ideologies and he realized that there is no man; there is no man-made system that can guarantee justice and righteousness.

And while we defeated Nazism and Communism, there are still remnants of these two ideologies that remain. It attitude that there is no absolute truth and good; it’s only the narrative that counts. And this narrative is becoming less and less respectful of Jewish interests, specifically as it pertains to the Land of Israel.

The Second Prong of Evil: Perverting G-d

We then come to the second prong of evil in the world that is diametrically opposite the narrative, moral relativistic secular world-view. It is the religion that puts G-d at the top of everything—as it should be—and in His name commit the most heinous crimes against humanity and against G-d.

To borrow part of the mantra we hear recently, these Jihadists have “hijacked” G-d and religion and used it for the same tyrannical ends as their secular and atheistic counterparts, albeit coming from opposite directions. 

What is so odious about this particular incarnation of evil is that most evil is perpetrated without G-d’s help. Either a sin is committed a) in the absence of belief in G-d, b) in the absence of one’s awareness of G-d, c) despite one’s belief in G-d, d) to rebel against G-d. The Jihadists commit their crimes because of their belief in a G-d.

In one very clear way, this form of transgression is worse than all the others, even the one who seeks to fight G-d and sins spitefully and rebelliously. There can be nothing more dreadful than to commit a heinous crime using G-d as your support and motivation. Dragging G-d into evil is the greatest form of blaspheme.

One can draw an analogy to this form of evil from the story in the Torah concerning Pharaoh summoning the Hebrew midwives, Shifra and Pu’ah’s to kill newborn baby boys. Why did he have to resort to using Hebrew midwives? And why did he use the elite midwives Shifra and Puah, whom our Sages identify as Yocheved and Miriam, Moses’ mother and sister, respectively? His Egyptian soldiers could have done it themselves.

The answer might lie in the way Pharaoh viewed the power of his adversary. He knew that the women and particularly the midwives possessed the power of life and therefore hope and the potential for freedom. How does one prevail over such power? The answer is simple, harness the most potent power of life and hope to be the ones to destroy life and hope!

This is the evil perpetrated by the Jihadists who have appropriated G-d for the most ungodly actions of destruction. They make G-d an accessory and primary motivator for their evil!

This is why the third commandment of the Ten Commandments is singled out by the Torah as one that G-d will not forgive. Using G-d’s name in vain does not seem to be such a horrible crime, why then is it treated worse than murder?

Moreover, the Talmud states that when G-d uttered the third commandment the entire world shook. Why this commandment in particular?

Because the worst crimes people commit they do in spite of G-d. As a result, G-d’s presence has not been sullied. The world, which derives it sustenance from G-d, is therefore safe and secure no matter how much evil exists because it cannot obscure G-d’s power.

However, when one implicates and involves G-d in his or her indiscretion, G-d’s power has been compromised and sullied. Consequently the world’s stability is undermined because its Divine power is no longer the pure energy.

To summarize all of the above, there are two competing evil forces that have come to a head in recent times:

The first is the belief in narratives in place of truth, relativistic secular ideology in place of an absolute G-d based theology.

The second is the perversion of G-d.

A Marriage Made in Hell

And now, ironically, both evils joined forces. Many in the media, some governments, academics etc., dominated by fanatical secular religion, have given support to the most fanatical religious perversion. The irony is magnified when we realize that if these purveyors of radical and perverse religion would have their way, the Jihadists, their first victims would be the ones who give them cover and vilify those who resist their evil.

Perhaps, the tragic attack against the secular irreverent publication was a subliminal message that there is something unholy about that illicit marriage.

Our Response

Our response is to repudiate both fanaticisms and instead be proud Jews who believe in a transcendent G-d who cares for us and demands of us to love our fellow, help the weak and poor even as we remember Him through prayer, Torah study and the observance of all the Mitzvos.

We believe in Divine Providence; nothing happens by chance. The entire world was glued to their screens watching the tragic drama which unfolded at Hyper Cacher, or Super Kosher, as Jews were shopping for the Shabbat. A clear message emerges. Our response to these monsters is to repudiate their ideology and behavior by intensifying our own observance of Kashrut, which nourishes the soul and the observance of Shabbat which is how we give testimony that G-d is the Creator of the universe.

These and other resolutions for more good and G-dliness in the world is our response to these atrocities and is the sure way to bring about the Final Redemption through Moshiach.

A Shofar has been sounded for Moshiach! Let’s wake up and greet him with positive actions!

Rabbi Heschel Greenberg

Published in Judaism

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