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Title: The Mind of the Mourner Individual and Community in Jewish Mourning

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Title: The Mind of the Mourner

Individual and Community in

Jewish Mourning

Author: Joel B. Wolowelsky

Publisher: OU Press 2010

 

 

   Grief is a universal experience. But mourning, which is the religious and cultural expression of that grief, reflects the specific community’s values and world

Why Did G-d Create Bullies?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

He looks at me with such a wistful expression in his clear blue eyes. His young shoulders are sagging and he appears to be carrying the world’s burdens.

 

“It is so hard to have a bully in my class,” my son states sadly. “The bully always wants to be at the center of attention. He bosses us all around. Every game that we play, we have to follow everything that he orders. And all the other kids are afraid of him.”

 

His expression is so sad; but I am even more saddened that at the young age of ten, my son has already come to accept bullying as an unchangeable fact of life.

 

*********

 

There are “little” bullies-like the aggressive and dominating boy in my son’s fifth grade class; a situation that we’re trying to deal with so that he need not come home so sad, day after day.

 

But then there are the world’s “big” bullies-those who take pleasure in intimidating and mistreating those that are smaller or weaker or in less influential positions than them.

 

Though bullies are a universal scourge, as the Jewish people we’ve suffered perhaps more than all others from the bully phenomenon; we’ve shed rivers of tears over these bullies. From Pharaoh in Egypt, who mercilessly slaughtered our infants, till today, there have been Hitler-like tyrants throughout the generations, who rule through intimidation and mistreatment.

Which makes me wonder about the source of bullying-where did the concept of such inequality begin?

 

The Talmud (Chulin 60b) records an incident that happened on one of the first days of creation that I’ve always found intriguing:

 

The moon said to G-d: “Sovereign of the Universe, can two kings share a single crown?”

 

             G-d replied: “Go and make yourself smaller.”

 

“Sovereign of the Universe,” she said to Him, “because I made a proper claim before You, am I to make myself smaller?”

 

On seeing that the moon would not be consoled, the Holy One said, “Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.”

 

Initially the sun and moon were equal in size and luminescence. But the moon pointed out a fundamental flaw in creation–how can two “kings” equally dominate the same territory? G-d commands the moon to make herself smaller, implying that one luminary needs to be bigger. The moon complains that this decision is unjust. G-d agrees, but instead of remedying the situation asks that we offer a sin offering every month to atone for this injustice.

 

I’ve always wondered at this. What is the message of making the moon smaller and why would G-d, the perfect Being, need a sin offering for diminishing her size?

 

But perhaps the lesson of the waning moon is that G-d is providing us with the potential for growth through our rises and declines, through our ability to be givers or receivers.

 

We live in a world of inequality where some of us will be stronger, richer, smarter, better connected and more influential, powerful or charismatic. How will we use these positions of superiority? How will we treat those beneath us?

 

And, will we seize our descents or positions of weakness as opportunities to reach higher? To gain a new perspective of compassion, sensitivity and faith?

 

But even with these newfound insights and spiritual gains, the times when we are down are hard and (at least from our perspective) so unfair.

 

To this G-d says, “I see your tears. I hear your cries. I empathize with your pain. And despite its necessity, because I diminished you in size, and put you through the suffering of inequality, I will bring an atonement offering.”

 

G-d also promises us that there will come a time when humanity will evolve and realize the responsibility of these positions of strength and realize, too, the benefits gained from being a receiver. And at that time, the moon will regain her former stature and shine with the same luminescence as the sun.

 

G-d makes it our duty and our mission to get us to that period.

 

We do so by not allowing bullies to create suffering and injustices in our world.

 

Big ones. And even little ones.

Why Did G-d Create Bullies?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

He looks at me with such a wistful expression in his clear blue eyes. His young shoulders are sagging and he appears to be carrying the world’s burdens.

 

“It is so hard to have a bully in my class,” my son states sadly. “The bully always wants to be at the center of attention. He bosses us all around. Every game that we play, we have to follow everything that he orders. And all the other kids are afraid of him.”

 

His expression is so sad; but I am even more saddened that at the young age of ten, my son has already come to accept bullying as an unchangeable fact of life.


 


*********

 

There are “little” bullies-like the aggressive and dominating boy in my son’s fifth grade class; a situation that we’re trying to deal with so that he need not come home so sad, day after day.

 

But then there are the world’s “big” bullies-those who take pleasure in intimidating and mistreating those that are smaller or weaker or in less influential positions than them.

 

Though bullies are a universal scourge, as the Jewish people we’ve suffered perhaps more than all others from the bully phenomenon; we’ve shed rivers of tears over these bullies. From Pharaoh in Egypt, who mercilessly slaughtered our infants, till today, there have been Hitler-like tyrants throughout the generations, who rule through intimidation and mistreatment.


Which makes me wonder about the source of bullying-where did the concept of such inequality begin?

 

The Talmud (Chulin 60b) records an incident that happened on one of the first days of creation that I’ve always found intriguing:

 

The moon said to G-d: “Sovereign of the Universe, can two kings share a single crown?”

 

             G-d replied: “Go and make yourself smaller.”

 

“Sovereign of the Universe,” she said to Him, “because I made a proper claim before You, am I to make myself smaller?”

 

On seeing that the moon would not be consoled, the Holy One said, “Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.”

 

Initially the sun and moon were equal in size and luminescence. But the moon pointed out a fundamental flaw in creation–how can two “kings” equally dominate the same territory? G-d commands the moon to make herself smaller, implying that one luminary needs to be bigger. The moon complains that this decision is unjust. G-d agrees, but instead of remedying the situation asks that we offer a sin offering every month to atone for this injustice.

 

I’ve always wondered at this. What is the message of making the moon smaller and why would G-d, the perfect Being, need a sin offering for diminishing her size?

 

But perhaps the lesson of the waning moon is that G-d is providing us with the potential for growth through our rises and declines, through our ability to be givers or receivers.

 

We live in a world of inequality where some of us will be stronger, richer, smarter, better connected and more influential, powerful or charismatic. How will we use these positions of superiority? How will we treat those beneath us?

 

And, will we seize our descents or positions of weakness as opportunities to reach higher? To gain a new perspective of compassion, sensitivity and faith?

 

But even with these newfound insights and spiritual gains, the times when we are down are hard and (at least from our perspective) so unfair.

 

To this G-d says, “I see your tears. I hear your cries. I empathize with your pain. And despite its necessity, because I diminished you in size, and put you through the suffering of inequality, I will bring an atonement offering.”

 

G-d also promises us that there will come a time when humanity will evolve and realize the responsibility of these positions of strength and realize, too, the benefits gained from being a receiver. And at that time, the moon will regain her former stature and shine with the same luminescence as the sun.

 

G-d makes it our duty and our mission to get us to that period.

 

We do so by not allowing bullies to create suffering and injustices in our world.

 

Big ones. And even little ones.

Have You Ever Stuffed Tissues Down A Sink Drain?

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

           She looks at me with those large brown eyes. I try to decipher her expression. There’s a hint of sadness, doubt and even fear. She averts her gaze, trying to deny her act, as if she’s trying to take it back.

 

Usually she looks to me with such warmth, such expectance of love and pride. But now she’s not sure. She fears anger. She fears rejection. She fears disappointment. But most of all she fears that this small act will create a separation between us–an end to the loving relationship that she has come to know so well.

 

What did she do? One of the many little everyday misdeeds that children do. Some, out of mischievousness; some, out of curiosity and wonder, a desire to experiment and understand her world. Some are complete accidents, never intended to do anything wrong; and some are willful, because right now she really doesn’t want to listen to me or anyone else.

 

She’s unsure what to do now. Will denying erase it or will that upset me more? Will I prove her wrong or will she evade facing her misdeed?

 

And so we sit down to talk. We talk about mistakes. We talk about how everyone makes mistakes. We talk about owning up to our mistakes and moving forward. We talk about how perfection is an unrealistic and impossible goal. We talk about how she is so much more than the sum total of her choices.

 

And then we talk about our relationship. How my love for her is not dependent on her actions. How her mistakes don’t erase or erode my love and how her talents don’t increase it. How the love is a constant. Unconditional. How even when I’m upset or angry, though my love may be hidden, it is just as strong. And, perhaps most importantly, how facing mistakes together helps us both grow closer.

 

Slowly she is beginning to understand. Slowly the expression of fear and doubt in her big brown eyes has begun to dissipate. Slowly she regains her confidence in herself, in our connection. Slowly her cheer returns.

 

Now we’re able to even laugh together about past misdeeds. Like the time when she stuffed tissues down the sink drain, out of total curiosity and was horrified to see it create a flood. How hard it was for her at the time to admit that mistake. But now she is able to see it within a context of growth and maturation.

 

And as I sit with her and talk about mistakes, mine and hers, I think of You, looking compassionately into our eyes–eyes that at times are so full of fear, doubt and uncertainty. Eyes that portray our cheerlessness, our lack of confidence in moving forward, and our feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Eyes that convey such hopeless, negative feelings that brings us to deny, escape, reject and spiral downward-even further away from You.

 

And I think of you teaching us about the essence of Your love towards us.

 

And teaching us to go beyond our fear of our mistakes.

Have You Ever Stuffed Tissues Down A Sink Drain?

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

           She looks at me with those large brown eyes. I try to decipher her expression. There’s a hint of sadness, doubt and even fear. She averts her gaze, trying to deny her act, as if she’s trying to take it back.

 

Usually she looks to me with such warmth, such expectance of love and pride. But now she’s not sure. She fears anger. She fears rejection. She fears disappointment. But most of all she fears that this small act will create a separation between us–an end to the loving relationship that she has come to know so well.

 

What did she do? One of the many little everyday misdeeds that children do. Some, out of mischievousness; some, out of curiosity and wonder, a desire to experiment and understand her world. Some are complete accidents, never intended to do anything wrong; and some are willful, because right now she really doesn’t want to listen to me or anyone else.

 

She’s unsure what to do now. Will denying erase it or will that upset me more? Will I prove her wrong or will she evade facing her misdeed?

 

And so we sit down to talk. We talk about mistakes. We talk about how everyone makes mistakes. We talk about owning up to our mistakes and moving forward. We talk about how perfection is an unrealistic and impossible goal. We talk about how she is so much more than the sum total of her choices.

 

And then we talk about our relationship. How my love for her is not dependent on her actions. How her mistakes don’t erase or erode my love and how her talents don’t increase it. How the love is a constant. Unconditional. How even when I’m upset or angry, though my love may be hidden, it is just as strong. And, perhaps most importantly, how facing mistakes together helps us both grow closer.

 

Slowly she is beginning to understand. Slowly the expression of fear and doubt in her big brown eyes has begun to dissipate. Slowly she regains her confidence in herself, in our connection. Slowly her cheer returns.

 

Now we’re able to even laugh together about past misdeeds. Like the time when she stuffed tissues down the sink drain, out of total curiosity and was horrified to see it create a flood. How hard it was for her at the time to admit that mistake. But now she is able to see it within a context of growth and maturation.

 

And as I sit with her and talk about mistakes, mine and hers, I think of You, looking compassionately into our eyes–eyes that at times are so full of fear, doubt and uncertainty. Eyes that portray our cheerlessness, our lack of confidence in moving forward, and our feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Eyes that convey such hopeless, negative feelings that brings us to deny, escape, reject and spiral downward-even further away from You.

 

And I think of you teaching us about the essence of Your love towards us.

 

And teaching us to go beyond our fear of our mistakes.

A Validating Experience (Part IV)

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

What does it mean to be validated? In what areas of life can one expect to be validated? What attitude, behaviors or actions convey a message (or feeling) to someone that s/he is being validated? How does one validate, or invalidate? What benefits are there to validating and being validated – in the short term as well as long term?

Some of these questions were addressed in the first three parts of this series. We processed the shivah experience of Reb Yochanan ben Zakai upon the death of his son. Why he was consoled by only one of his disciples and not the other four was the focus of a discussion on validating the bereaved. We also viewed Hashem’s validation of Adam’s predicament and needs. Despite Adam’s unsuitable and immature means of “asking” for that which he concluded was a necessity, Hashem ignored his attitude and provided him with a mate.

In this final segment, we will discuss the ins and outs of validation and invalidation, and conclude with a Torah thought that will fine-tune the subject.

Some people believe when they validate someone, they are, in fact, agreeing with or supporting that person’s thoughts and/or behaviors. And while it is possible to come to that logical conclusion, in truth, that assertion is inaccurate. Validation does not mean to agree with someone.

Webster’s dictionary defines validate as to confirm, recognize, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of. Wikipedia adds: to communicate that others’ opinions are acknowledged, respected, heard, and [regardless whether or not the listener actually agrees with the content], they are being treated with genuine respect as a legitimate expression of their feelings rather than [their feelings] being dismissed.

Let’s move to a broader perspective which will also answer some of the above questions. As you read the following verses, note, and consider the diverse ways in which we are invalidated and also validated.

When our feelings are negated and diminished

When our thoughts are judged and rejected

When our decisions are scorned and spurned

When our opinions are shunned and ignored

These are the times when we are being invalidated!

When our predicament is disregarded

When our situation is dismissed

When our position is devalued

When our needs arediscounted

These are the scenarios in which we are being invalidated!

When our mood is unappreciated and overlooked

When our space is imposed upon and invaded

When our privacy is infringed upon and violated

When our boundaries are encroached upon and trespassed

These are the areas where we are being invalidated!

When, as a child, we are distressed over the suffering of a parent,

be it physically

When, as a parent, we are anguished over the misery of a child,

be it emotionally

When, as a spouse, we are besieged by the pain of our soul-mate,

be it mentally

When, as a human being, we grieve over the loss of a loved one

Most certainly, there is a need to be validated!

There is a need for compassion and empathy.

There is a need to be listened to and understood.

There is a need to be accepted ‘as we are.’

There is a need to be comforted and consoled.

There is a need to be nurtured and supported,

To be respected,

To be acknowledged,

To be affirmed.

There is a need to feel and be connected.

There is a need to belong.

“Invalidation goes beyond mere rejection by implying not only that our feelings are disapproved of, but there is something wrong with us because we are not like everyone else; we are strange; we are different; we are weird. None of this feels good, and all of it damages us. When someone tells us, ‘Don’t feel that way,’ it is akin to telling water it should not be wet, or grass, it should not be green. Our feelings are real, whether or not someone likes or understands them. And when someone tries to stop us from feeling the way we do, that individual is being unrealistic as well as controlling.” *

I wonder how many of the following invalidating expressions look familiar and resonate with you. As you think about them, notice the possibility of viewing them as

Life Or Death For Israel In The Time Of “Apocalypse”

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

How desperately I would like to be more “positive” in these columns. Like my ever-faithful readers here at The Jewish Press, I would dearly welcome an opportunity – any opportunity - to discover some real evidence of genuine progress toward peace in the Middle East. But, as always, we Jews are especially obligated to look squarely at things the way they are. Recalling our history as a people, we simply should not expect that our most optimistic inclinations will somehow be wished into truth.

And the truth, my dear readers, dreary as always, remains unassailable. In fact, threats to literally annihilate Israel are now unremarkable. Almost nowhere do we find any reason for camouflage or concealment. Were it not for Israel’s “bomb in the basement” – its still-unacknowledged nuclear force – these openly genocidal threats would represent much more than verbal bluster. Nonetheless, barring any last-minute Israeli preemptions (anticipatory self-defense under international law), Iran’s ascent to full membership in the Nuclear Club is now less than several years away.

Such membership may also coincide with a persisting Iranian leadership belief in the Shi’ite apocalypse. Israel, therefore, might soon have to face not only Palestinian suicide-bombers, but also what amounts to the “suicide bomber” in macrocosm.

 

Let us never forget the truth that still stares us in the face. The goal of all Israel’s Islamist enemies is simply Jewish extermination. Significantly, this goal is not hidden. In the bitterest of ironies, our ancient nation that was ingathered and reborn to prevent another Holocaust has now become the explicit and determined focus of a second “Final Solution.”

In essence, the goal of all Israel’s enemies, especially Iran and the still-impending Palestinian state, is to be left standing while Israel is made to disappear.  For these enemies, there can be no coexistence with Israel. Never. This is because their own indispensable survival presumably requires Israel’s extinction.

Here in the U.S., President Obama does not appear to understand. Again, Mr. Obama has extolled the clichéd virtues of an altogether twisted cartography. Ironically, in the fashion of his predecessor, Mr. Obama also favors the “Road Map to Peace in the Middle East.” Yet, like the ill-fated Oslo Agreements that came before, this one-sided plan is still premised on Israel’s coerced acceptance of land for nothing.

It would be a fatal mistake for Israel to believe that Reason and Justice govern the world.  It would be a grievous error for Israel to continue to project its own Western, rational and humane sentiments upon the most relentless and barbarous Jihadistfoes.  It would assuredly be a “life risk” for Israel to seek to endure by continuing to cling to numbingly false promises and manifestly false hopes.

Barack Obama will not save Israel. Once Iran has decided to launch nuclear missiles at Israel – possibly a plausible prospect in a few years, Washington’s only real assistance would be to help Jerusalem bury the dead. And for this, whole Israeli cities would have to be transformed into a giant cemetery.

Whether in Gaza, Judea/Samaria or Tehran, Israel’s Jihadistenemies wish to kill Jewsbecause any such homicide is always felt to be a sacred obligation. For these enemies, killing Jews is indisputably a praiseworthy expression of religious sacrifice. Such killing is expected to confer immunity from personal death. Could there ever be a more precious or compelling expectation?

The idea of death as a zero-sum commodity – “I kill you; I therefore remain alive forever” – has been explained elsewhere. It is captured perfectly, for example, in Ernest Becker’s grotesque paraphrase of Nobel Laureate Elias Canetti:  “Each organism raises its head over a field of corpses, smiles into the sun, and declares life good.”

To stay alive, Israel must finally understand what Otto Rank had once revealed in his Truth and Reality:  “The death fear of the ego is lessened by the killing, the Sacrifice, of the other; through the death of the other, one buys oneself free from the penalty of dying, of being killed.” This very difficult and subtle insight is at the very heart of Islamist orientations to Israel. It explains almost everything about these genocidal orientations.

Israel’s enemies, in order to remain standing – and to prevent Israel from standing up – seek to sacrifice the Jewish State on an endlessly blood-stained altar of war and terrorism.  Sacrifice is central to what is now happening in the Middle East. Genocidal destruction of Israel is integrally part of a system of religious worship that is directed toward an enhancement of life, and – simultaneously – the conquest of personal death.

The true source of global influence is power, and the highest expression of power is always the conquest of death.  For Iran, and for that proposed government (Hamas, Fatah, it makes little difference) of executioners now battling each other for control of some future Palestinian state, killing Jews – indeed, killing Israel itself – offers an incomparable fusion of private ecstasy and personal survival. These sworn enemies of Israel are more than dimly aware that in killing Jews and in “killing” Israel, they will also have killed their own death.  For the Islamist “martyr,” whether as a terrorist individual or as a murderous individual writ large, killing Jews and the Jewish State is the optimal way of affirming life.

The overwhelming security costs to Israel of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza “disengagement” are now plain to see. To the extent that Hamas continues to collaborate closely in Gaza with al-Qaeda, these costs may soon also have to be borne by citizens of the United States. Hamas has begun to allow al-Qaeda to fashion various terror weapons and tactics for potential use in New York, London, Washington and certain other selected “crusader” targets in the West. It is finally time for an American president to recognize that Israel’s implacable enemies are also the sworn enemies of this country. Indeed, with such recognition, Israel would stand a far better chance of meaningful U.S. support and consequently of long-term security.

 


Copyright © The Jewish Press, June 5, 2009.  All rights reserved.

 

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on Israeli security matters.  His work is well-known in Israel’s political, military and intelligence communities, and to these same communities in the United States. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/life-or-death-for-israel-in-the-time-of-apocalypse/2009/06/03/

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