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December 5, 2016 / 5 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘power’

What Ambassador Power Left Out Of Her Anti-Semitism Speech

Friday, September 16th, 2016

Radical Muslims are currently the major perpetrators of verbal and physical attacks on Jews throughout the world. And on U.S. college campuses, the radical Islamist group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is the major perpetrator of anti-Semitism.

The Zionist Organization of America has extensively documented SJP’s anti-Semitic activities. It is thus deeply disappointing that during her speech at the United Nations “anti-Semitism” conference on September 7, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power failed to even mention the term “Muslim” or “Islamic anti-Semitism” –which happens to constitute a major portion of the physical and verbal anti-Jewish attacks.

She also never mentioned the critical role of the SJP and Muslim campus groups in committing hate crimes and harassment of Jews, encouraging additional anti-Jewish actions, and inducing fear among Jewish students. And throughout her speech, whenever she described attacks on Jews, she never mentioned that the perpetrators were Muslims.

For instance, Power stated: “On July 1, a cement-filled bottle was thrown through the window of a local Jewish center in Santa Fe, Argentina with the message, ‘This is a warning, the next one explodes.’ ” Power left out the fact that the note attached to the cement-filled bottle also stated: “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic, and included the logo of the Islamic State.

Power also failed to mention even more violent anti-Semitism in South America, such as the attack by a Muslim who, while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” stabbed to death a Jewish man and wounded victim’s son in Uruguay in March.

And in still another example, Power referred to the “horrific terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris” without mentioning that the perpetrator of this deadly attack on Jews was a radical Somali Islamist who also declared “Allahu Akbar” as he murdered victims selected for death because they were Jews.

It is also deeply disappointing that the only time Power mentioned Muslims during her entire speech was when she misleadingly complained that rising anti-Semitism goes “hand in hand” with “xenophobic” efforts to bar Muslim immigration.

In fact, Muslim immigration goes hand in hand with rising terrorist attacks on Jews and persons of other faiths in western nations. It is not “xenophobic” to want to limit immigration by a population infiltrated by ISIS members and other radical Islamists and who, according to FBI Director James Comey, can’t be properly vetted.

Power also omitted the involvement of Islamists and SJP when she described anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses.

For instance, she stated: “In February, not far from here in Brooklyn College, a group of student activists interrupted a faculty meeting demanding that all Zionists be removed from campus.” Power omitted the fact that this was one of the many incidents that ZOA has documented related to SJP’s anti-Semitic activities at Brooklyn College and other CUNY campuses.

In addition to omitting the radical Muslim perpetrators of violent anti-Semitic attacks, she adopted the diversionary tactic of focusing much of her talk on alleged right wing (generally non-violent) neo-Nazi anti-Semitism.

For example, she expounded at length about an isolated, unsuccessful proposal to erect a statue to honor an official who was a Nazi collaborator in Hungary. By contrast, she never breathed a word about the innumerable ways that the Palestinian Authority honors Muslim terrorists who murder innocent Jews. The PA names streets, sports clubs, schools, and public squares, and sponsors television specials and holidays for these terrorists, and pays these terrorists stipends for murdering Jews.

Sadly, Power also ignored the helpful existing State Department definition of anti-Semitism. The State Department definition includes: holding Israel to a double standard of behavior not expected of other democratic nations; comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions; NGOs focusing peace or human rights investigations only on Israel; and denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and Israel’s right to exist.

She should have called for worldwide adoption of this existing definition. Instead, she called for countries to draft and adopt a weak new definition of anti-Semitism that apparently legitimizes much anti-Semitic criticism of Israel.

We urge Ambassador Power to acknowledge that radical Islam is the major perpetrator of rising anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish and anti-Western terrorism.

Morton A. Klein and Elizabeth A. Berney

‘Palestinian Power Couple’ Split Up as Roger Waters Dumps Rula Jebreal

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Israel hater Pink Floyd singer Roger Waters, 73, has dropped Rula Jebreal, 43, the Arab girlfriend he had been dating after dumping his fourth wife, Laurie Durning, Page Six reported. Waters is a world-renowned, frothing at the mouth BDS activist, and Jebreal has written “Miral,” a book about women caught in the crossfire of the Israeli-Arab conflict, which Julian Schnabel, Jebreal’s ex husband, turned into a movie.

According to Page Six, Jebreal and Waters were introduced by Waters’ ex-wife Durning and Jebreal’s ex-husband, biotech entrepreneur Arthur Altschul Jr. Jebreal asked to meet Waters because of his anti-Israel activism, they became friends and “dined together many times.”

After Waters split with Durning, according to Page Six, “he began an affair with Rula. Arthur found out, and their marriage ended. Roger and Rula have been together around three months and they discuss Palestine all the time, they are both so very passionate about it. It’s the talk of the Hamptons, and some people are calling them the ‘Palestinian power couple.’ But it is very weird for their former spouses, who introduced them.”

Back in January 2013, Jebreal debated Rabbi Shmuli Boteach on CNN, and lectured him, live, “…I want to tell the Rabbi, this is really something that we learned from Selma, as you mentioned, when you uphold the supremacy of one ethnic group, this is not a democracy anymore, this is an ethnocracy. We need to reject that whether it’s in Europe, in Israel, or here in America. We can’t have segregation as an answer. It’s inclusion and unity.”

To which our man Boteach replied: “With all due respect, Rula, you’re excusing violence and that’s very tragic. … Let’s stop the nonsense. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. You are a Palestinian woman who has Israeli citizenship. You are allowed freedom of expression. No one tells you who to fall in love with, you don’t get shot by your uncle or by your brother because you fall in love with somebody your father doesn’t approve of. You live a Western life. You live with the kind of human rights that Israel protects. Israel has 1.5 million Arab citizens, there is no segregation and we all know that. So let’s not excuse terrorism with some Israeli policy.”

Nuff said.

David Israel

The Power Of Prayer

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Aliza never slept well when her husband was abroad. On a purely logical level, she knew that she should bless and thank Hashem multiple times each day for the zechus to live in the Promised Land and the bracha of parnasa. She likewise acknowledged that she should be eternally grateful for the fact that her highly intelligent, talented and charismatic better half had marketable skills that were in demand. Still, she found herself missing Yehuda even before he boarded the plane, and unconsciously counting the minutes until his scheduled return.

This trip, however, there was more than just the usual pining away for her husband that was robbing her of the healing power of blissful sleep. Everywhere she turned, there were more worries, additional concerns. During the dark sleepless nights, they were magnified tenfold, thus engendering a vicious cycle of stress and sleep-deprivation.

Her biggest nightmare revolved around those dreaded three letters that instilled fear and trepidation into even the bravest of men: I R S.

The first registered letter had arrived a couple of months earlier, forwarded from their last employer in the U.S. Aliza had nonchalantly torn open the outer envelope, never suspecting that a virtual time bomb lay lurking inside it. As soon as she saw those three terrifying letters, alarm bells began sounding in her head. Their piteous wail had become progressively louder and more immediate with each passing day.

Yehuda had always filed their taxes to the best of his ability and had consistently sent the completed forms out on or before April 15. So, these “love letters,” as Aliza wryly called them, were both unexpected and deeply troubling.

The first of the series was a notification of intent to levy their joint assets in the U.S. unless an exorbitant sum of money, virtually double their current annual income, was paid post haste. Just like that, a simultaneous thunderbolt and lightning strike that effectively shook their world.

Subsequent investigation revealed that the letters had begun arriving at their place of employment shortly after they had made aliyah. All the previous correspondence had been ignored, however, and presumably discarded. Only this final warning, which had arrived via registered mail, was deemed worthy of being forwarded to their address in Israel.

Aliza frantically phoned the number on the top of the notice. Needless to say, she was told to call a different department at another number. For hours, she dialed one IRS number after another, until she thought the litany would never end. Day turned into night and her concern evolved into genuine despair. Finally, on her eighth try, just as she was about to throw in the proverbial towel, an angel answered the phone. This IRS employee apologized for the run-around and rough treatment that Aliza had endured, and vowed to keep in touch after she had made some inquiries. And she did.

She found out which department had handled the audit several years previously and emailed a copy to Aliza, along with references to several IRS guidelines that could be of help. She lent a sympathetic listening ear and offered unwavering support and sound advice.

Aliza knew that they were far from “out of the woods” yet, but she felt less overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation and more confident that an equitable solution could be found.

Then, the second shoe fell. Their house in the United States had initially been put on the market just as the U.S. economy had imploded. To compound their disappointment, their most promising prospective buyers had reneged on the sale mere days before closing escrow and just a couple of weeks prior to their making aliyah. Thus their beloved home had seemingly overnight metamorphosed from their “great white hope” into a gargantuan “white elephant” and had strained their already limited budget ever since.

Now, over three years and multiple unforeseen home-related expenses later, the housing market had finally begun to rebound, and their realtor had decided to put the house up for sale again. He advised that they list it while it was still early in the season and there was a decided dearth of houses available. His hunch paid off immediately. A few offers came in even before the date of the first scheduled open house. In all, he received chai serious offers, and it appeared that their mazel was on an upward trajectory.

But now the IRS’s dire threats coincided with the time-consuming process of selling their home at long last. They followed the realtor’s recommendation and accepted the offer that required no contingencies. Then they waited. And davened very fervently. Then they signed the requisite documents, paying hefty FedEx fees to have them sent from the US to Israel and back again. And they davened some more.

B’chasdei Hashem, their real estate agent emailed them the wonderful news: this time the house had actually sold! Aliza was elated with the besoros tovos; one major hurdle had been overcome.

As for the others, another two identical IRS letters arrived while Yehuda was abroad, one forwarded from the U.S. address and one sent registered mail directly to their home in Israel. As per her instructions, Aliza dutifully called her guardian angel at the IRS (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and reported the latest correspondence.

Since sleep was proving so elusive in any case, Aliza decided to utilize the quiet evenings to revisit the IRS correspondence that she had received until now. She had never yet studied it herself, preferring to forward it directly to Yehuda.

After researching the first set of documents, she contacted Yehuda right away, despite the late hour and costly long-distance charge.

“Do you remember that I forwarded you the copy of the audit and files from the IRS?” she began without preamble.

“I never got anything worthwhile…”

“What do you mean? The reasons for the audit and the consequent charges are right there in black and white!”

Here, her voice rose a few octaves.

“I never received anything like that…”

Exasperated, she resent the attachments, and waited for him to open them. Again, he insisted that nothing relevant was in them.

As Told To Naama Klein

The Deep Power Of Joy

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

On 14 October 1663 the famous diarist Samuel Pepys paid a visit to the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Creechurch Lane in the city of London. Jews had been exiled from England in 1290 but in 1656, following an intercession by Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel of Amsterdam, Oliver Cromwell concluded that there was in fact no legal barrier to Jews living there. So for the first time since the thirteenth century Jews were able to worship openly.

The first synagogue, the one Pepys visited, was simply a private house belonging to a successful Portuguese Jewish merchant, Antonio Fernandez Carvajal, that had been extended to house the congregation. Pepys had been in the synagogue once before, at the memorial service for Carvajal who died in 1659. That occasion had been somber and decorous. What he saw on his second visit was something else altogether, a scene of celebration that left him scandalized. This is what he wrote in his diary:

… after dinner my wife and I, by Mr. Rawlinson’s conduct, to the Jewish Synagogue: where the men and boys in their vayles (i.e. tallitot), and the women behind a lattice out of sight; and some things stand up, which I believe is their Law, in a press (i.e. the Aron) to which all coming in do bow; and at the putting on their vayles do say something, to which others that hear him do cry Amen, and the party do kiss his vayle. Their service all in a singing way, and in Hebrew. And anon their Laws that they take out of the press are carried by several men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing … But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this.

Poor Pepys. No one told him that the day he chose to come to the synagogue was Simchat Torah, nor had he ever seen in a house of worship anything like the exuberant joy of the day when we dance with the Torah scroll as if the world was a wedding and the book a bride, with the same abandon as King David when he brought the holy ark into Jerusalem.

Joy is not the first word that naturally comes to mind when we think of the severity of Judaism as a moral code or the tear-stained pages of Jewish history. As Jews we have degrees in misery, postgraduate qualifications in guilt, and gold-medal performances in wailing and lamentation. Someone once summed up the Jewish festivals in three sentences: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.” Yet in truth what shines through so many of the psalms is pure, radiant joy. And joy is one of the keywords of the book of Devarim. The root s-m-ch appears once each in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, but 12 times in Devarim, seven of them in our parsha.

What Moses says again and again is that joy is what we should feel in the land of Israel, the land given to us by God, the place to which the whole of Jewish life since the days of Abraham and Sarah has been a journey. The vast universe with its myriad galaxies and stars is God’s work of art, but within it planet earth, and within that the land of Israel, and the sacred city of Jerusalem, is where He is closest, where His presence lingers in the air, where the sky is the blue of heaven and the stones are a golden throne. There, said Moses, in “the place the Lord your God will choose … to place His Name there for His dwelling” (Deut. 12:5), you will celebrate the love between a small and otherwise insignificant people and the God who, taking them as His own, lifted them to greatness.

It will be there, said Moses, that the entire tangled narrative of Jewish history would become lucid, where a whole people – “you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns, who have no hereditary portion with you” – will sing together, worship together and celebrate the festivals together, knowing that history is not about empire or conquest, nor society about hierarchy and power, that commoner and king, Israelite and priest are all equal in the sight of God, all voices in his holy choir, all dancers in the circle at whose centre is the radiance of the Divine. This is what the covenant is about: the transformation of the human condition through what Wordsworth called “the deep power of joy.”

Happiness (in Greek eudaemonia), Aristotle said, is the ultimate purpose of human existence. We desire many things, but usually as a means to something else. Only one thing is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else, namely happiness.

There is such a sentiment in Judaism. The biblical word for happiness, Ashrei, is the first word of the book of Psalms and a key word of our daily prayers. But far more often, Tanach speaks about simcha, joy – and they are different things. Happiness is something you can feel alone, but joy, in Tanach, is something you share with others. For the first year of marriage, rules Devarim (24:5) a husband must “stay at home and bring joy to the wife he has married.” Bringing first-fruits to the Temple, “You and the Levite and the stranger living among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household” (26:11). In one of the most extraordinary lines in the Torah, Moses says that curses will befall the nation not because they served idols or abandoned God but “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness out of the abundance of all things” (28:47). A failure to rejoice is the first sign of decadence and decay.

There are other differences. Happiness is about a lifetime but joy lives in the moment. Happiness tends to be a cool emotion, but joy makes you want to dance and sing. It’s hard to feel happy in the midst of uncertainty. But you can still feel joy. King David in the Psalms spoke of danger, fear, dejection, sometimes even despair, but his songs usually end in the major key:


For His anger lasts only a moment,
but His favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning …

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. (Psalm 30:6-13)


In Judaism joy is the supreme religious emotion. Here we are, in a world filled with beauty. Every breath we breathe is the spirit of God within us. Around us is the love that moves the sun and all the stars. We are here because someone wanted us to be. The soul that celebrates, sings.

And yes, life is full of grief and disappointments, problems and pains, but beneath it all is the wonder that we are here, in a universe filled with beauty, among people each of whom carries within them a trace of the face of God. Robert Louis Stevenson rightly said: “Find out where joy resides and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all.”

In Judaism, faith is not a rival to science, an attempt to explain the universe. It’s a sense of wonder, born in a feeling of gratitude. Judaism is about taking life in both hands and making a blessing over it. It is as if God had said to us: I made all this for you. This is my gift. Enjoy it and help others to enjoy it also. Wherever you can, heal some of the pain that people inflict on one another, or the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Because pain, sadness, fear, anger, envy, resentment, these are things that cloud your vision and separate you from others and from Me.

Kierkegaard once wrote: “It takes moral courage to grieve. It takes religious courage to rejoice.” I believe that with all my heart. So I am moved by the way Jews, who know what it is to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, still see joy as the supreme religious emotion. Every day we begin our morning prayers with a litany of thanks, that we are here, with a world to live in, family and friends to love and be loved by, about to start a day full of possibilities, in which, by acts of loving kindness, we allow God’s presence to flow through us into the lives of others. Joy helps heal some of the wounds of our injured, troubled world.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

President Rivlin Tours Gaza Border Communities, Praises IDF Operational Power

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

Marking two years since Operation Protective Edge, President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday toured the region bordering the Gaza Strip, accompanied by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, and Gaza Division Commander Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fox.

The President received a situation update and heard about the IDF daily operations in the area, in particular following the recent terrorist rocket attack on Sderot. During his visit, President Rivlin was shown a terror tunnel discovered by the IDF, and discussed the initiatives the IDF was taking to tackle the tunnels problem.

The President later met with dozens of soldiers from the Bedouin Tracker Unit, combat engineers, and members of the Givati Brigade who are serving in the region. He told them, “Two years after Operation Protective Edge, the south has returned to its daily routine. The IDF guards the front in the very best way, and the front in return shows its appreciation. Just as we saw yesterday, we will not tolerate any disturbance of the quiet, and in the face of any such disturbance we will respond swiftly and firmly. On both sides of the border there are civilians who want to live in quiet and we will be sure that the citizens of Israel will continue to live in harmony. We do not seek war, yet, after having sat with our wonderful commanders I know that if war is forced upon us, we have an army as ready and professional as could be asked. The plan that was presented to me reflects operational strength.”

President Rivlin pointed that “two of our sons remained behind after the war which took place two years ago. The State of Israel has a moral responsibility to bring back Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.”

The President added, “On my own behalf, and on behalf of all the Israeli people, I want to say thank you to the commanders, and to the service men and women. The calm here is not taken for granted, the children and the families who are now enjoying the summer holiday do so thanks to you.”

The President told reporters who accompanied his visit, “We are not interested in an escalation. Just as the other side wants to live in peace and live comfortable lives, so do we. At the same time, we are ready to face any hostility toward us. I am impressed by the readiness of the IDF to face any challenge in order to safeguard Israel’s security. I can say to the citizens of Israel, the IDF is prepared and ready to face any threat above or below ground in order to prevent any trouble not just around Gaza, but across the country.”

The President later met with council heads from the Negev and the southern region.

David Israel

The Power Of Prayer

Friday, August 19th, 2016

While studying in Israel many years ago, I hitched a ride in Jerusalem with two friendly fellows who offered to drive me to where I needed to go. It was a relatively short distance, yet a lively discussion ensued and within moments they knew my life story. As they asked about my studies, I excitedly began to share a Talmudic dictum I had just learned. I was totally surprised when they joined in to finish off the saying: “Even if a sharp sword is on one’s neck, one should not stop seeking mercy!” Even as a young man I recognized the powerful belief expressed in these words, that one’s fate is never sealed and that we have the power to change our fate. In Parshat Va’etchanan, Moshe Rabbeinu prays to G-d attempting to change his fate, despite being told numerous times he is not going to enter the land of Israel. Moshe did not believe anyone’s fate was sealed, he knew there was always hope and possibility. And yet, G-d does not relent and Moshe does enter the land of Israel.

If we can alter our fate as the Talmud suggests, how is it that Moshe, the grandmaster of prayer, could not change his own? Moshe performed miracles in Egypt, split the sea, bested the angels in a heavenly debate and delivered the Torah to mankind, yet he could not change his own fate? He had changed the fate of the Jewish people numerous times! When G-d said He would annihilate the Children of Israel, it was Moshe who altered our nation’s fate. That Moshe did not change his own fate makes us question his spiritual abilities and undermines the axiom that one’s fate is never sealed. What kind of a grandmaster of prayer cannot change his own fate?

Let us appreciate Moshe in the context of his siblings.

A Midrash quoted by Rashi famously relates that Miriam, Moshe’s sister, stood up to her father when he instructed all of the Jewish men in Egypt to separate from their wives to avert Pharaoh’s decree of casting Jewish male infants into the Nile. By divorcing their wives, no children would be born and Pharaoh’s decree would be obviated. Miriam approaches her father and indignantly claims he has gone farther than Pharaoh. Pharaoh only decreed against males while Amram had acted against both males and females. As a result of Miriam’s intervention, Amram and Yocheved remarry and Moshe is born.

Years later, when Moshe separates from his wife Tziporah, the Torah tells us that Miriam was distressed and spoke about her. The Midrash elaborates that Miriam questioned Moshe’s separation harshly; both she and Aharon were prophets, yet they remained with their spouses. With these two stories Rabbi Dovid Yosef Klein develops the theme that Miriam is the healer of separation between a man and his wife.

Aharon is famously known as the lover and pursuer of peace. We well know the midrashic tale of two friends who had a disagreement and were visited by Aharon. He would tell each one how heartbroken the other was over their spat. The two parties would then meet and exchange hugs of friendship and ask forgiveness from one another. The Midrash accentuates the idea that Aharon is the healer of separation between man and man.

Despite all G-d had done for us, we still made Him distraught, angered and aggrieved by turning to alien gods and walking in sinful and unappreciative ways. It was Moshe who, in the words of the Midrash, “stands in the void.” He cleaned us up, made us repent and fell before G-d in prayer for 40 days and 40 nights. It is Moshe who still, even after his death, helps to protect us from harm. It is Moshe who heals the separation between G-d and the children of Israel – between man and G-d.

Rabbi Donn Gross

The Power Of Why

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

In a much watched TED talk, Simon Sinek asked the question: How do great leaders inspire action? What made people like Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs stand out from their contemporaries who may have been no less gifted, no less qualified? His answer: Most people talk about what. Some people talk about how. Great leaders, though, start with why. This is what makes them transformative.

Sinek’s lecture was about business and political leadership. The most powerful examples, though, are directly or indirectly religious. Indeed I argued in The Great Partnership what makes Abrahamic monotheism different is that it believes there is an answer to the question, why. Neither the universe nor human life is meaningless, an accident, a mere happenstance. As Freud, Einstein and Wittgenstein all said, religious faith is faith in the meaningfulness of life.

Rarely is this shown in a more powerful light than in Va’etchanan. There is much in Judaism about what: what is permitted, what forbidden, what is sacred, what is secular. There is much, too, about how: how to learn, how to pray, how to grow in our relationship with God and with other people. There is relatively little about why.

In Va-etchanan Moses says some of the most inspiring words ever uttered about the why of Jewish existence. That is what made him the great transformational leader he was, and it has consequences for us, here, now.

To have a sense of how strange Moses’ words were, we must recall several facts. The Israelites were still in the desert. They had not yet entered the land. They had no military advantages over the nations they would have to fight. Ten of the twelve spies had argued, almost forty years before, that the mission was impossible. In a world of empires, nations and fortified cities, the Israelites must have seemed to the untutored eye defenseless, unproven, one more horde among the many who swept across Asia and Africa in ancient times. Other than their religious practices, few contemporary observers would have seen anything about them to set them apart from the Jebusites and Perizzites, Midianites and Moabites, and the other petty powers that populated that corner of the Middle East.

Yet in this week’s parsha Moses communicated an unshakeable certainty that what had happened to them would eventually change and inspire the world. Listen to his language:

Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation by miracles, signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? (Deut. 4:32-34)

Moses was convinced that Jewish history was, and would remain, unique. In an age of empires, a small, defenseless group had been liberated from the greatest empire of all by a power not their own, by God himself. That was Moses’ first point: the singularity of Jewish history as a narrative of redemption.

His second was the uniqueness of revelation:

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? (Deut. 4:7-8)

Other nations had gods to whom they prayed and offered sacrifices. They too attributed their military successes to their deities. But no other nation saw God as their sovereign, legislator and law-giver. Elsewhere law represented the decree of the king or, in more recent centuries, the will of the people. In Israel, uniquely, even when there was a king, he had no legislative power. Only in Israel was God seen not just as a power but as the architect of society, the orchestrator of its music of justice and mercy, liberty and dignity.

The question is why. Toward the end of the chapter Moses gives one answer: “Because He loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them” (Deut. 4:37). God loved Abraham, not least because Abraham loved God. And God loved Abraham’s children because they were his children and He had promised the patriarch that He would bless and protect them.

Earlier though Moses had given a different kind of answer, not incompatible with the second, but different:


See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me … Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deut. 4:5-6)


Why did Moses, or God, care whether or not other nations saw Israel’s laws as wise and understanding? Judaism was and is a love story between God and a particular people, often tempestuous, sometimes serene, frequently joyous, but close, intimate, even inward-looking. What has the rest of the world to do with it?

But the rest of the world does have something to do with it. Judaism was never meant for Jews alone. In his first words to Abraham, God already said, “I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you, I will curse; through you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Jews were to be a source of blessing to the world.

God is the God of all humanity. In Genesis He spoke to Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, and made a covenant with all humankind before He made one with Abraham. In Egypt, whether in Potiphar’s house, or prison, or Pharaoh’s palace, Joseph continually talked about God. He wanted the Egyptians to know that nothing he did, he did himself. He was merely an agent of the God of Israel. There is nothing here to suggest that God is indifferent to the nations of the world.

Later in the days of Moses, God said that He would perform signs and wonders so that “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 7:5). He called Jeremiah to be “a prophet to the nations.” He sent Jonah to the Assyrians in Nineveh. He had Amos deliver oracles to the other nations before He sent him an oracle about Israel. In perhaps the most astonishing prophecy in Tanakh He sent Isaiah the message that a time will come when God will bless Israel’s enemies: “The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance’ ” (Is. 19:25).

God is concerned with all humanity. Therefore what we do as Jews makes a difference to humanity, not just in a mystical sense, but as exemplars of what it means to love and be loved by God. Other nations would look at Jews and sense that some larger power was at work in their history. As the late Milton Himmelfarb put it:

Each Jew knows how thoroughly ordinary he is; yet taken together, we seem caught up in things great and inexplicable…The number of Jews in the world is smaller than a small statistical error in the Chinese census. Yet we remain bigger than our numbers. Big things seem to happen around us and to us.

We were not called on to convert the world. We were called on to inspire the world. As the prophet Zechariah put it, a time will come when “Ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you’ ” (Zech. 8:23). Our vocation is to be God’s ambassadors to the world, giving testimony through the way we live that it is possible for a small people to survive and thrive under the most adverse conditions, to construct a society of law-governed liberty for which we all bear collective responsibility, and to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly” (Micah 6:8) with our God. Va-etchanan is the mission statement of the Jewish people.

And others were and still are inspired by it. The conclusion I have drawn from a lifetime lived in the public square is that non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism. They find it hard to understand why Jews, in countries where there is genuine religious liberty, abandon their faith or define their identity in purely ethnic terms.

Speaking personally, I believe that the world in its current state of turbulence needs the Jewish message, which is that God calls on us to be true to our faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith. Imagine a world in which everyone believed this. It would be a world transformed.

We are not just another ethnic minority. We are the people who predicated freedom on teaching our children to love, not hate. Ours is the faith that consecrated marriage and the family, and spoke of responsibilities long before it spoke of rights. Ours is the vision that sees alleviation of poverty as a religious task because, as Maimonides (The Guide for the Perplexed, III: 27) said, you cannot think exalted spiritual thoughts if you are starving or sick or homeless and alone. We do these things not because we are conservative or liberal, Republicans or Democrats, but because we believe that is what God wants of us.

Much is written these days about the what and how of Judaism, but all too little about the why. Moses, in the last month of his life, taught the why. That is how the greatest of leaders inspired action from his day to ours.

If you want to change the world, start with why.

Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem, in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/jewish-columns/rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/the-power-of-why/2016/08/18/

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