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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘action’

Beginning The Journey

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

A while back, a British newspaper, The Times, interviewed a prominent member of the Jewish community (let’s call him Lord X) on his 92nd birthday. The interviewer said, “Most people, when they reach their 92nd birthday, start thinking about slowing down. You seem to be speeding up. Why is that?”

Lord X replied, “When you get to 92, you start seeing the door begin to close, and I have so much to do before the door closes that the older I get, the harder I have to work.”

Something like that is the impression we get of Abraham in this week’s parshah. Sarah, his constant companion throughout their journeys, has died. He is 137 years old. We see him mourn Sarah’s death, and then he moves into action.

He engages in an elaborate negotiation to buy a plot of land in which to bury her. As the narrative makes clear, this is not a simple task. He confesses to the locals, the Hittites, that he is “an immigrant and a resident among you,” meaning that he knows he has no right to buy land. It will take a special concession on their part for him to do so. The Hittites politely but firmly try to discourage him. He has no need to buy a burial plot. “No one among us will deny you his burial site to bury your dead.” He can bury Sarah in someone else’s graveyard. Equally politely but no less insistently, Abraham makes it clear that he is determined to buy land. In the event, he pays a highly inflated price (400 silver shekels) to do so.

The purchase of the Cave of Machpelah is evidently a highly significant event because it is recorded in great detail and highly legal terminology – not just here but three times subsequently in Genesis, each time with the same formality. For instance, here is Jacob on his deathbed, speaking to his sons:

“Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebecca were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites” (Genesis 49:29-32).

Something significant is being hinted at here; otherwise why mention, each time, exactly where the field is and from whom Abraham bought it?

Immediately after the story of land purchase, we read, “Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and God had blessed Abraham with everything.” Again this sounds like the end of a life, not a preface to a new course of action, and again our expectation is confounded. Abraham launches into a new initiative, this time to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac, who by now is at least 37 years old. Abraham leaves nothing to chance. He does not speak to Isaac himself but to his most trusted servant, who he instructs to go “to my native land, to my birthplace” to find the appropriate woman. He wants Isaac to have a wife who will share his faith and way of life. Abraham does not specify that she should come from his own family, but this seems to be an assumption hovering in the background.

As with the purchase of the field, so here the course of events is described in more detail than almost anywhere else in the Torah. Every conversational exchange is recorded. The contrast with the story of the binding of Isaac could not be greater. There, almost everything – Abraham’s thoughts, Isaac’s feelings – is left unsaid. Here, everything is said. Again, the literary style calls our attention to the significance of what is happening, without telling us precisely what it is.

The explanation is simple and unexpected. Throughout the story of Abraham and Sarah, God had promised them two things: children and a land. The promise of the land (“Rise, walk in the land throughout its length and breadth, for I will give it to you”) is repeated no less than seven times. The promise of children occurs four times. Abraham’s descendants will be “a great nation,” as many as “the dust of the earth” and “the stars in the sky.” He will be the father not of one nation but of many.

What’s Your Sin? Removing the Number One Stumbling Block in Your Life

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

With the High Holidays rapidly approaching, we begin to take stock of our lives. Here are five fundamental and common sins. Which one is your biggest stumbling block?

Wronging others. We may have wronged others emotionally or financially. We frequently excuse our behavior by saying, “I didn’t intend any harm. I was just…” But good intentions do not whitewash sinful acts.

Ask yourself, “Is there anyone I offended or whose feelings I have hurt? Have I caused someone distress? Have I made fun of someone (even good-naturedly)? Do I owe anyone money? Have I reneged on an agreement? Have I enriched myself at the expense of others?”

You may think, “I’ll straighten it out later. I’ll make good in the end.” But repentance is only possible while you are in this world. Nobody knows which day will be their last. Once a person’s body shuts down, so do the gates of repentance. Whatever you can correct, do so while you still can.

Action steps: Can you recall any time you hurt someone, perhaps a friend, neighbor, family member, fellow congregant or business associate? Even if you think you have both moved on since then, you still need to make amends and/or apologize.

Hating your fellow Jew. Perhaps you do not hate anybody, but how about intensely dislike? Are there people you cannot be with and feel distaste just looking at them?

We do not have to go out of our way to spend time with people we do not like; often, it is good to limit contact with those who push our buttons. But we are forbidden to harbor personal animosity toward our fellow Jew, as the Torah cautions us (Leviticus 19:17), “Do not hate your brother in your heart…”

Some people just rub us the wrong way. When we look at them, we think about their real or imagined faults. Instead, remind yourself that you do not know everything about them and judge them favorably. In addition, think about their good points. Everyone has good qualities and has done good deeds. Search for and admire the good in others.

Action steps: Make a list of those you dislike. Write down their admirable qualities and the good they have done. Next time you see them, bring to mind what you wrote and try to give them a genuine smile and greeting.

Being callous. Sometimes, our issue is not that we have wronged others, or that we hate them, it is that we ignore them. Often, we are so focused on our own lives that we do not pay enough attention to others. We may ignore the difficulties they have, perhaps in finding a job or a spouse, coping with illness or paying bills. Although we cannot help everyone, we still have to do whatever we can. Pirkei Avot reminds us, “It is not your responsibility to complete the work, yet you are not free to withdraw from it (2:21).”

When we hear about a difficulty or tragedy, often our reaction is, “What a pity. Thank God I’m not affected.” And we go on with business as usual. But we are affected: Our brothers and sisters are struggling. We have to ask ourselves, “How can I help? What can I do?” If you cannot provide physical, financial or emotional assistance, do not minimize the importance of including them in your prayers.

Action steps: Devote a portion of your time and resources to helping others. At least each week, preferably daily, do an act of kindness. When you meet someone, show an interest in that individual and see if you can be of assistance.

Neglecting our relationship with God. Sometimes, people get so busy with daily life they forget about their Creator. God created us to have a relationship with Him. Each day we do not develop this relationship is a day lost forever.

Action steps: Every day, connect with God by: Praying to Him, performing a mitzvah mindfully, sensing His presence, thanking Him for one of His blessings and thinking about how He guides every aspect of your life for your highest good.

An essential part of having a relationship with God is not disrespecting Him. For example, we must ensure that we do not talk during davening or leave the synagogue while the haftarah is being read.

As Egypt Nears Civil War, Israel on High Alert

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Originally published at Gatestone Institute.

The dramatic escalation in Egypt’s domestic conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military is being accompanied by an upsurge in the activities of jihadi organizations in the Sinai Peninsula.

Since Morsi’s ouster, extremist Salafi and jihadi organizations have launched waves of attacks on Egyptian security forces, and provoked this week’s extensive counter-terrorism operation by the Egyptian army.

These Al-Qaeda-affiliated forces are also seeking to strike Israel — both to satisfy their ideological demand for jihad against Israelis, and to try and force Israel and Egypt into a confrontation, thereby undermining the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

The Israel Defense Forces are therefore on high alert in the event of further attacks by terrorists in Egypt, while also facing the dilemma of how to safeguard its own national security without infringing on Egyptian sovereignty at this most sensitive time.

Two unprecedented incidents on the southern border in just the last few days, however, served as markers for the rapidly changing situation.

First, according to international media reports, an Israeli drone struck an Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization in Sinai, as it was making final preparations to fire rockets at Israel.

While Israeli defense officials have not confirmed or denied the reports, if true, they represent the first preemptive counter-terrorism strike on Egyptian soil.

If Israeli intelligence receives word of an imminent attack taking shape in Sinai, with little time to coordinate a response with Egyptian military forces, such action might be expected.

Islamists across Egypt were quick to seize on the incident to accuse the Egyptian military of being complicit in an Israeli breach of Egyptian sovereignty.

Although this incident was quickly forgotten by Egyptians as both Egypt proper and Sinai descended into turmoil, there is evidence that further attacks by Sinai terrorists against both Egyptian security forces and Israel are being planned.

An additional signal of the deteriorating security situation in Sinai was the rocket fired by a terrorist organization at the Red Sea tourist resort city of Eilat over the weekend.

Anticipating the attack, the IDF stationed an Iron Dome anti-rocket battery in the city. The prior preparation paid off: the system fired an interceptor that successfully stopped the rocket from hitting the city.

The rocket failed to hurt anyone, but it did trigger an air-raid siren and frighten tourists, sending them scatting for cover. Unlike the cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, which are used to Palestinian rocket terrorism, Eilat, a resort town, is not used to living under rocket fire.

Today, a shadow of uncertainty hangs over the future of the city’s tourist industry. For now, Israeli visitors to the city are displaying trademark resilience, and are continuing to pack the city’s hotels and beaches.

Nearby, however, the IDF continues on high alert, watching every suspicious movement in the desert sands near the Egyptian border for signs of the next attack.

Denmark Bans Meatballs to Accommodate Muslims

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

One of the largest hospitals in Denmark has admitted to serving only halal beef — meat that is slaughtered in accordance with strict Islamic guidelines — to all of its patients regardless of whether or not they are Muslim.

The revelation that Danes are being forced to eat Islamically slaughtered meat at public institutions has triggered a spirited nationwide debate about how far Denmark should go to accommodate the estimated 250,000 Muslim immigrants now living in the country.

The halal food row erupted in July when the Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet reported that Hvidovre Hospital near Copenhagen has been secretly serving only halal-slaughtered meat for the sake of its Muslim patients, for the past ten years. The hospital serves more than 40,000 patients annually, many (if not most) of whom presumably are non-Muslim.

Halal — which in Arabic means lawful or legal — is a term designating any object or action that is permissible according to Islamic Sharia law. In the context of food, halal meat is derived from animals slaughtered by hand according to methods stipulated in Islamic religious texts.

One such halal method, called dhabihah, consists of making a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on the neck that cuts the jugular vein, leaving the animal to bleed to death. Much of the controversy involving halal stems from the fact that Sharia law bans the practice of stunning the animals before they are slaughtered. Pre-slaughter stunning renders the animals unconscious and is said to lessen their pain.

Amid a surge of public outrage over the decision to serve only halal beef, Hvidovre Hospital’s vice president, Torben Mogensen, has been unapologetic. “We have many patients from different ethnic backgrounds, which we must take into account, and it is impossible to have both the one and the other kind of beef,” he says.

“First,” Mogensen adds, “I do not think that a slaughter method as such has anything to do with faith. Second is, of course, that all chickens in Denmark are halal slaughtered, and it has to my knowledge not caused anyone to stop eating chicken.”

Mogensen also says the hospital is not trying to “push the Islamic faith down the throats of non-Muslim patients”

In a press release, Hvidovre Hospital states, “We introduced halal meat both for practical and economic reasons. It would be both more difficult and more expensive to have to make both a halal version and a non-halal version of the dishes. Then we have two production lines. It requires more people, more equipment and more money.”

The hospital advises non-Muslims to take it or leave it: “We always have alternatives to halal meat such as pork, fish or vegetarian dishes. It is a question of attitude.”

According to the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, there is no comprehensive inventory of the number of hospitals in Denmark have halal meat on the menu. But officials at the University Hospital in Aarhus, the second-largest urban area in Denmark after Copenhagen, say the decision by Hvidovre Hospital to serve only halal is an example of political correctness run amok.

In an interview with the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Ole Hoffmann, the head chef of Aarhus University Hospital says: “We have never had a patient ask for halal meat, and therefore it is an issue that we have never discussed. I think it is a strange decision. If there was a desire to serve halal meat, then we would of course consider it, but we would never completely eliminate non-halal meat.”

 

Originally published at Gatestone Institute.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/denmark-bans-meatballs-to-accommodate-muslims/2013/08/18/

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