Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tractor terror

Yet another Arab terrorist attack in Jerusalem, this time just a little closer to home. Ghasam Abu-Tir used a mechanical digger to smash three cars and a public bus, injuring 11 people before police shot him.

Just a few meters away, a large group of our local rabbis sat eating lunch. Some saw the tractor attack, the rest dived to the floor when the shooting began.

We’ve seen rocket attacks, suicide bombings, shootings and knifings in Israel. Now, it seems there’s a new terror tactic. It’s called “Beating ploughshares into swords”.

I remember a 1991 magazine article that described how Armscor had started using technology that had originally been developed for weapons’ production to produce better-quality tractors.

Over the last 15 or so years, the world has shifted towards converting military technology and hardware into peaceful uses. Radar, GPS, nuclear energy, Internet and satellites are the better known examples of war-technology being used for useful purposes. Lesser known would be Kleenex (originally designed for gas masks), disused rifles that comprise avalanche-prevention systems in the USA and testing performance and stability of trucks on tank-testing sites.

“Beating swords into ploughshares” is a prophecy regarding the Age of Moshiach. As we draw closer to that special time, the world is already starting to behave accordingly.

Well, at least most of the world, with the notable exception of East Jerusalem.

Shortly after the destruction of the second Temple, Rabbi Akivah and some colleagues were walking past the ruins, when a fox darted out of the site of the Holy of holies.

Seeing this, the rabbis began to cry. Rabbi Akivah laughed.

“Why are you laughing?” they challenged him.

“Why are you crying?” Rabbi Akivah retorted.

“We are crying, because we’ve just seen a fox run out of the site that was so holy only the Kohen Gadol was allowed to enter, and only once a year. This is exactly what the prophet Micha predicted: ‘Tzion will be plowed over as a field.’”

“And that’s why I am laughing,” Rabbi Akivah explained, “Seeing the prophecy of Micha has been fulfilled assures me that Isaiah’s prophecy of the Temple’s rebuilding will also be fulfilled.”
Jerusalem is being plowed over again, this time with mechanized ploughs. It fits the Three Weeks of mourning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.

Now that we’re seeing Micha’s dire prediction happening all over again, let’s hope it means Isaiah’s prophecy is about to be fulfilled.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dear Mr. Ahmadinejad, can’t you say something nice for a change?

Ali Shirazi (he’s the Iranian guy who threatened to “burn Israel” if provoked) chose the right week to open his mouth- only he doesn’t know it.

As Ahmadinejad oversees missile tests and Iranian clerics spew hate-speech, Jews are studying details of the same story, set in a similar region, at a different time.

Balak, king of Moab, was afraid of the Jews. He had witnessed their miraculous victories against mighty armies, his own neighbours and allies. He had seen this band of refugees become a powerful nation. Balak appreciated that conventional warfare had failed against these people in the past, and that he needed a special weapon.

Balak hired Balaam, a deeply spiritual man; a prophet renowned for his unique ability to harm with words. Most importantly, Balaam was an avowed anti-Semite.

Together, they chose a prime vantage point from which to launch their barrage against the Children of Israel. With the entire Jewish nation in his sights, Balaam set about preparing his unique ammunition- inescapable curses that would destroy the People more effectively than any army could.

Balak looked on smugly, impatiently waiting to see the Jews’ certain fate unfold before his eyes.
It never happened.

Balaam, who could only curse, only see the bad, only spout evil- blessed the Jews! Balak was beside himself, but Balaam was unstoppable as blessing after blessing spilled from his mouth.

What went right? How did this wholly toxic human being turn benevolent?

Balaam himself answered that in his blessing: “Mah tovu oholecho Yaakov, mishkenosecha Yisroel- How good are your tents, Jacob; your dwellings, Israel”. Words that are so potent, we repeat them daily in our prayers.

As Balaam’s hateful eye focused on his intended victims, he was overwhelmed by their unusual camp-formation. Each tent was positioned so that everyone had complete privacy. Their unity and mutual respect made the Jews immune to Balaam’s verbal assault.

Love and respect for every Jew is potent stuff. It not only protects us from harm, it transforms our enemies and even causes them to bless us.

Let’s do more to show respect and concern for each other, to allow people their space and privacy, without ignoring their needs.

Let’s see what Shirazi and Ahmadinejad have to say then. It might be quite miraculous.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Today is Gimmel Tammuz.

I find this day difficult to define. Some will simply call it the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe, but it is significantly more than that. A Tzadik’s passing is anything but ordinary.

This morning I bumped into a colleague who described how a congregant had asked him: "Do I wish you 'long life' today?"

No, it's not a mournful day.

It's not a festive day either. After all, Gimmel Tammuz reminds me of the good times when the Rebbe inspired us every single week, called on us to achieve the impossible and reminded us uneqivocally that G-d runs the world and that Moshiach is on our doorstep.

Gimmel Tammuz is a day suspended between day and night, between sadness and joy, between nostalgia and hope.

This is the nature of the day- as it has been for centuries. The 3rd of Tammuz became famous over 3000 years ago, when Joshua led the Jewish nation in conquest of the Promised Land.

Overwhelmed by the Jews’ miraculous victories, the people of Givon made a truce with the invading Israelites. Soon enough five kingdoms attacked Givon, who then called on Joshua for help. G-d assured Joshua that he’d defeat those powerful armies and Joshua led his forces into battle at the Ayalon valley.

Joshua’s troops closed in on this huge allied force and, by day’s end, were poised to defeat them. It was getting late and the light was failing. After dark, they would have to stop fighting, which would allow the Canaanite forces to regroup.

G-d intervened and allowed Joshua to stop the sun just above the western horizon and suspend the moon as it rose in the east. During this unique daylight savings time, Joshua wiped out the attacking armies.

I’m sure you’ve heard that story, it’s very well-known. I doubt you knew it had happened on Tammuz 3rd. Most people don’t.

Gimmel Tammuz is a paradox. Both the sun and the moon share the sky. It is a day that’s outside of the ordinary- technically night, but still light.

On this day, the moon hangs in the darkening sky; reminding us of those wonderful times we had with the Rebbe, which are now on hold.

Yet, the sun has not set. Kabbalah defines a Tzadik’s yahrtzeit as a time of celebration, as his soul soars higher and his lifetime’s achievements resonate more strongly through the world.
Talmudic lore calls wicked people dead while they are still alive, and deems the righteous alive, even after their deaths. Jewish mysticism adds that a Tzadik’s impact on the world increases after his passing.

The Rebbe’s yahrtzeit is not simply a nostalgic time, but an empowering time.
Gimmel Tammuz is when- in the words of the Zohar- “Crying is entrenched in one side of my heart and joy in the other”.

Today reminds me how much all us Chassidim- and thousands of others- miss the Rebbe, as it reminds me that he is always with us. It is a day full of memories of his crystal-clear guidance to individuals and to nations; guidance we can still find today.

And these memories will reassure me of his crystal-clear vision that our world is in mid-preparation for Moshiach.

G-d first made Gimmel Tammuz famous with a spectacular miracle in the Ayalon valley. May He honour this Gimmel Tammuz with an even greater miracle.