Saturday, February 14, 2009

Our world has gone to the dogs (part III)- the good news

After my last two posts, you probably think that I'm complaining about the way the world has "gone to the dogs". Actually, I'm quite excited by it. I've been looking forward to this for quite some time.

It began about 15 years ago when I came across a rather cryptic Talmudic passage. Towards the end of Tractate Sanhedrin, the sages describe what the world will look like before Moshiach comes. All of their their descriptions are intriguing, some completely enigmatic.

I've always been fascinated by what our sages meant with these predictions, especially since I'm convinced that we're living in that time now. A simple glance at our world's rapid and unpredictable changes should tell you something major is afoot. Plus, this generation's greatest Jewish leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, repeated at every opportunity that "now is the time" and we need to open our eyes to see it happening.

Here are a few eye-openers: The current global economic meltdown could fit the Talmud's prediction that "the Messiah will not come until pockets are empty of coins" (although that could simply refer to credit cards or online banking). Rampant chutzpah, discord in Israel and family feuds are forecasts from that Talmudic passage I can relate to.

But, one prediction had me stumped. According to the Talmud, you'll know Moshiach is close when you seee "the face of the generation resembles a dog".

What does that mean? I know some say that every dog looks like its owner, but that hardly seems a plausible precursor to the Messianic Age.

I think our sages were telling us that before Moshiach comes, our world will go to the dogs.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Our world has gone to the dogs (part II)

In my last post I suggested that our world has gone to the dogs. Nu, what's so bad about that? After all, isn't a dog man's best friend?

Well, that's actually the point.

Dogs love us unconditionally, which is why we love them. Even when you arrive home in a foul mood, your loyal mutt will bound over, wag its tail and deposit a slobbery "hello" all over your face. Besides, Rover doesn't hold grudges, even don't take him walkies every day. He'll continue to love you after you grip the leash and stop him chasing the pigeons.

Canine loyalty isn't a cerebral thing. They don't love your for your talents or achievements. Dogs are loving and loyal because dogs are loving and loyal.

In Hebrew, a dog is called a kelev, which hints at kol-lev (all heart). Dogs are heart-creatures, emotion-driven not intellect driven.

Modern trends and opinions are also heart-driven. People make sentimental lifestyle choices, not always rational ones. You buy what you like- or think others will like- more often than you buy what you need or can afford. The credit crunch is thanks to kelevesque investment decisions taken impulsively, not rationally.

People vote for their leaders with their heart, not their minds. Obama's policies didn't steal the vote, his "Yes we can!" and "Change" rhetoric did. He spoke so successfully to people's hearts that he didn't need to appeal to their minds.

Kelev mentality.

More sinister is the way people's prejudices are shaped by emotive nonsense rather than hard facts.

Israel has lagged hopelessly in the media war for a long time. Yet, during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, they seemed to rally. Tzippi Livni, Bibi Netanyahu and Mark Regev argued Israel's case eloquently on CNN, Sky and BBC. The IDF splashed out video footage of booby-trapped schools, missile stockpiles in mosques and IAF precision bombings, including pilots redirecting their missiles from terrorist targets when they entered civilian areas.

The world replied: "Don't confuse us with the facts".

And the facts are glaring: Close to 9000 missiles fired at Israel, Palestinian civilians used as human shields and Israel fighting the most moral war the world has ever seen. Still, nobody's interested.

Israel's pushing facts. Pallywood's pushing sensationalism. "Yes we can!" ignites the American heart, but so does "civilian victims". "War crimes" and "disprapotionate force", mixed with horrifying images of Palestinians parading their dead and wounded for the camera push the emotional buttons hard.

Here in South Africa they simply use a one-word emotive hook: "Apartheid". That's it, everyone now knows Israel is wrong.

It is so frustrating.

It is also so expected. You cannot reason with a world that thinks with its heart- not the deep intuitive heart, but the fickle emotive heart.

After all, our world has gone to the dogs...

Friday, February 06, 2009

Our world has gone to the dogs (part I)

It suddenly dawned on me, as I watched video footage of Muslim protestors attacking police* and trashing London, that our world has gone to the dogs.

Rows of Bobbies wagged truncheons and ordered the protestors back, as they inched slowly backwards, for blocks. I kept watching, waiting for reinforcements to arrive, certain the riot police would rush in to take control. But, the agitators continued to hurl abuse, sticks and traffic cones at The Law, while cops shouted, threatend, false-charged and retreated.

To me, these officers looked just like the protective beagle that growls and barks at the gate, but scampers away as soon as you confront him.

"Allah hu akbar!"

"Yip, yip, yip". Scamper. "Yip, yip, yip".

French police backed off from marauding Muslims on Parisian streets and Oslo cops battled to stand up to demonstrators there. In San Francisco, police ignored flag-burning and incitement like "Every Zionazi is a legitimate military target". They instead removed a lone Jewish protestor with an anti-Hamas placard.

"Yip, yip, yip."

What played out on the avenues of London and Paris is a microcosm of world leadership's (in)action against this century's most serious threat. Those who are supposed to police our planet and contain rogue behaviour are all bark and no bite. They yelp, sneer and dart off as soon as they feel the heat.

"Pyonyang, halt your nuclear programme immediately!"

"Yip, yip, yip".

"Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, Assad, don't threaten Israel!"

"Yip, yip, yip".

War on terror. "Yip, yip". Regime change for Zimbabwe. "Yip, yip".

Our world has gone to the dogs...

* WARNING: Strong language in this clip!

When in doubt, opt for love

Yale Butler caused a storm in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. It was the early 60’s and Yale was just twelve at the time.

A creative youngster, Yale wrote a fictional column for his school’s newspaper. The article that caused a stir fantasized about Fidel Castro calling on his brothers (people with untrimmed beards) from 770 Eastern Parkway (Lubavitch World Headquarters) to help fight off an invasion of Cuba.

Pittsburgh Jews were not impressed and Yale was sharply taken to task. But, a local Chabadnik figured that instead of berating the budding writer, he’d take him to meet the Rebbe in New York. An encounter with the Rebbe, he figured, would do far more to educate Yale than lectures or reprimands.

The Rebbe greeted Yale warmly and specifically complimented his writing talent. On the Rebbe’s desk sat a copy of the offensive article. The Rebbe did not mention it.

In time, Yale became an editor for a major Jewish newspaper, eventually using the Rebbe’s talks as the basis for his weekly Parsha column. The Rebbe became one of his subscribers, and once mentioned how he had known Yale “since he was a child”.

On Wednesday, we commemorated the 58th anniversary of the Rebbe’s leadership. His opening statement as the new Rebbe was: “Three loves are intertwined- love of G-d, love of Torah, love of the Jewish people.”

As the man who would lead a revolution of Jewish revival, love- not judgement- would be the guiding theme of his Jewish outreach campaign.

You may, at times, feel tempted to react harshly to a friend or family member, especially if they’ve stepped out of line. They might accept your criticism. They might not.

Show them love- even when you criticize- and you are guaranteed success.

That’s how the Rebbe responded to Yale Butler and tens of thousands like him. That’s how the Torah wants us to respond to those around us.

When in doubt- show love.