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August 27, 2016 / 23 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘disaster’

Shemitah Doomsday Predictions, Blood Moons, Happy 5776!

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

(JNi.media) Jewish agricultural laws aren’t necessarily something the rest of the world easily becomes fixated on, but lately the word “Shemitah” has been popping up frequently in Google searches. From Jeremiah to Nostradamus, anything ancient, or at least time-honored and Jewish can have a mystical resonance to it, and the otherwise mundane topic of Shemitah is no exception. This Rosh Hashanah 5776, on September 13, marks the end of the seventh year, in which the land of Israel, according to the Torah, takes a sabbatical from agricultural activities.

The Hebrew word “Shemitah” means “to release” and it refers to giving the land a “Sabbath” after six years of being cultivated to produce crops. In that year, farmers must stop working their fields and relinquish ownership of the land, and everything that grows is communal property. Today, there are rabbinical measures that allow food to be produced, but they are in line with various interpretations of how Shemitah should be applied in the modern State of Israel. In addition, loans are forgiven in the seventh year, although there are also rabbinic provisions allowing for banks as well as individual creditors to continue to collect on debts.

The Times of India observed a series of mishaps associated with the end of Shemitah, and noted that “Black Monday,” when the Indian stock markets took a dive, happened to occur in the last month of Shemitah. In addition, the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the Wall Street Crash of 1987 happened during Shemitah years, and the 9/11 terror attack coincided with the end of Shemitah in 2001. The worst financial crisis in the US since the Great Depression also occurred after a Shemitah year, in 2008.

The year that will begin on Rosh Hashanah is not just the year after another Shemitah, but a Jubilee year, or Yovel, in Hebrew, the 50th year after 7 successive 7 year cycles. The Jubilee year has not been celebrated in the Land of Israel for thousands of years, because it involves the return of land according to tribal designations, and since it isn’t clear which tribes today’s Jews belong to (although most are probably from Yehudah or Levi), land can’t be re-apportioned along tribal lines. According to the book of Leviticus, the Sabbatical year is a time when debts are forgiven, slaves are freed, land is returned and the mercies of God will be manifest.

Many Christian websites who have an abiding interest in Jewish lore as it is presented in the “Old Testament” are paying attention to the fact that the upcoming year is the end of Shemitah in Israel and the beginning of the Jubilee year. Those websites detail the correspondence of Shemitah and the Jubilee year to the blood moons and biblical prophecies. Ministers such as John Hagee say that the lunar eclipses on a series of four Jewish holidays are meant to usher in the End of Days. The blood moon (a natural phenomenon that occurs when the Moon hangs low in the sky, just after moon-rise or before it’s about to set below the horizon—red light can pass through the atmosphere and not get scattered, while light at the blue end of the spectrum is more easily scattered, so when we see a red moon, we’re seeing its red light that wasn’t scattered, while the blue and green light has been scattered away) is matched with a prophecy of Joel that says that the moon will turn to blood and signify that “the great and terrible day of the Lord has come.” The fact that the blood moons occur at the same time as the Jubilee year and the potential signing of a UN Peace treaty (with Iran) means, according to some Christians, that the “Rapture” will also take place, followed by the “Second Coming” and the resurrection of the dead.

JNi.Media

Or Ashraf, 22, is Last Israeli Missing in Nepal

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Search and rescue teams are still hunting for 22-year-old Or Ashraf of Lehavim, the sole Israeli still unaccounted for in Nepal after last week’s devastating earthquakes.

Ashraf’s mother Orit met a state-funded El Al flight carrying 229 stranded Israelis from Nepal landed Tuesday afternoon in Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport, hoping to see her son or someone who had information about him. Among the rescued trekkers on that flight were 15 babies, including three premies.

The death toll in Nepal following the quakes and hundreds of aftershocks has risen to more than 5,000, a Nepalese home ministry official said Wednesday. It is believed the figure could reach as high as 10,000 by the time search and rescue teams complete their work, said Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala.

Ashraf, 22, had recently been discharged from the IDF. He was last heard from by his parents a week before the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the region. He is believed to have been hiking in the Langtang region when the quake hit, but it is not clear whether he was alone or with others. Just before setting out on his hike, he told a friend in Langtang – Guy Yitzhak – that he might go alone.

So far, some 25 Israelis have already been rescued from the Langtang nature reserve, with another 30 waiting to be picked up some time on Wednesday.

There is a sense of urgency regarding those Israelis still awaiting rescue teams in remote areas and on mountain tops. There have been reports of violence against some Israelis and the helicopter teams by Nepalese in the mountains.

Approximately 70 Israelis have chosen to stay on in the country to help with rescue efforts, according to media reports. Forty others have been located but not yet reached due to their remote locations.

Hana Levi Julian

Testing And Prophecy

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

How did our ancestors distinguish a true prophet from a false one?

Unlike kings or priests, prophets did not derive authority from formal office. Their authority lay in their personality, their ability to give voice to the word of God, their self-evident inspiration. But precisely because a prophet has privileged access to the word others cannot hear, the visions others cannot see, the real possibility existed of false prophets – like those of Baal in the days of King Ahab.

What was there to prevent a fraudulent, or even a sincere but mistaken, figure, able to perform signs and wonders and move the people by the power of his words, from taking the nation in a wrong direction, misleading others and perhaps even himself?

Moses addresses this concern in our sedra:

“You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”

On the face of it, the test is simple: if what the prophet predicts comes to pass, he is a true prophet; if not, not. Clearly, though, it was not that simple.

The classic case is the Book of Jonah. Jonah is commanded by God to warn the people of Nineveh that their wickedness is about to bring disaster on them. Jonah attempts to flee, but fails – the famous story of the sea, the storm, and the “great fish.” Eventually he goes to Nineveh and utters the words God has commanded him to say – “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed” – the people repent and the city is spared. Jonah, however, is deeply dissatisfied:

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3).

Jonah’s complaint can be understood in two ways. First, he was distressed that God had forgiven the people. They were, after all, wicked. They deserved to be punished. Why then did a mere change of heart release them from the punishment that was their due?

Second, he had been made to look a fool. He had told them that in 40 days the city would be destroyed. It was not. God’s mercy made nonsense of his prediction.

Jonah is wrong to be displeased: that much is clear. God says, in the rhetorical question with which the book concludes: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Should I not be merciful? Should I not forgive?

But what then becomes of the criterion Moses lays down for distinguishing between a true and false prophet: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken”? Jonah had proclaimed that the city would be destroyed in 40 days. It wasn’t; yet the proclamation was true. He really did speak the word of God. How can this be so?

The answer is given in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah had been prophesying national disaster. The people had drifted from their religious vocation, and the result would be defeat and exile. It was a difficult and demoralizing message for people to hear. A false prophet arose, Hananiah son of Azzur, preaching the opposite. Babylon, Israel’s enemy, would soon be defeated. Within two years the crisis would be over. Jeremiah knew that it was not so, and that Hananiah was telling the people what they wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear. He addressed the assembled people:

He said, “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster, and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.”

Jeremiah makes a fundamental distinction between good news and bad. It is easy to prophesy disaster. If the prophecy comes true, then you have spoken the truth. If it does not, then you can say: God relented and forgave. A negative prophecy cannot be refuted – but a positive one can. If the good foreseen comes to pass, then the prophecy is true. If it does not, then you cannot say, “God changed His mind” because God does not retract from a promise He has made of good, or peace, or return.

It is therefore only when the prophet offers a positive vision that he can be tested. That is why Jonah was wrong to believe he had failed when his negative prophecy – the destruction of Nineveh – failed to come true. This is how Maimonides puts it:

“As to calamities predicted by a prophet, if, for example, he foretells the death of a certain individual or declares that in particular year there will be famine or war and so forth, the non-fulfillment of his forecast does not disprove his prophetic character. We are not to say, ‘See, he spoke and his prediction has not come to pass.’ For God is long-suffering and abounding in kindness and repents of evil. It may also be that those who were threatened repented and were therefore forgiven, as happened to the men of Nineveh. Possibly too, the execution of the sentence is only deferred, as in the case of Hezekiah.

“But if the prophet, in the name of God, assures good fortune, declaring that a particular event would come to pass, and the benefit promised has not been realized, he is unquestionably a false prophet, for no blessing decreed by the Almighty, even if promised conditionally, is ever revoked … Hence we learn that only when he predicts good fortune can the prophet be tested (Yesodei ha-Torah 10:4).

Fundamental conclusions follow from this. A prophet is not an oracle: a prophecy is not a prediction. Precisely because Judaism believes in free will, the human future can never be unfailingly predicted. People are capable of change. God forgives. As we say in our prayers on the High Holy Days: “Prayer, penitence, and charity avert the evil decree.”

There is no decree that cannot be revoked. A prophet does not foretell. He warns. A prophet does not speak to predict future catastrophe but rather to avert it. If a prediction comes true it has succeeded. If a prophecy comes true it has failed.

The second consequence is no less far-reaching. The real test of prophecy is not bad news but good. Calamity, catastrophe, disaster prove nothing. Anyone can foretell these things without risking his reputation or authority. It is only by the realization of a positive vision that prophecy is put to the test.

So it was with Israel’s prophets. They were realists, not optimists. They warned of the dangers that lay ahead. But they were also, without exception, agents of hope. They could see beyond the catastrophe to the consolation. That is the test of a true prophet.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/testing-and-prophecy/2013/08/07/

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