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August 24, 2016 / 20 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘words’

Elie Wiesel on Words

Monday, July 4th, 2016

{Originally posted to the author’s website, FirstOne Through}

Most people think that shadows follow, precede or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses and memories.” Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)

The Holocaust of the Jews in Europe was one of the most brutal acts of inhumanity in the history of the world. Not only did an elected government murder its own defenseless citizens, it tortured them and enlisted other citizens to eradicate and humiliate the Jews.

The destructive actions of Nazi Germany led the United Nations to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on December 10, 1948. It was designed to protect the basic human rights of all people, not just an elected majority. The opening article declares: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and goes on to enumerate various human rights. Article 7 builds on that theme:

“All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”

Decades later, the United Nations looked for ways to combat the emergence of global terrorism, and on September 8, 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Similar to the UDHR, it recognized the threat of incitement:

work to adopt such measures as may be necessary and appropriate and in accordance with our obligations under international law to prohibit by law incitement to commit a terrorist act or acts and prevent such conduct.”

The United Nations advanced the position that actions do not live in a tight bubble. Words lead to actions, whether discrimination, terrorism, or even the Holocaust.

Elie Wiesel on Words

There have been many people who worked to place a spotlight in the shadow of the Holocaust, such as Simon Weisenthal (1908-2005), who fought to bring Nazis to justice. Elie Wiesel, who passed away yesterday, had a different path for combatting the horrors of the Holocaust. He wrote about it.

Over the course of dozens of books, Wiesel wrote about his personal experiences surviving concentration camps, as well as faith, God and humanity. He understood the power of his words to help create a better world, just as he understood and experienced how words can create a vicious, violent reality.

Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds.”

I’m a teacher and a writer; my life is words. When I see the denigration of language,
it hurts me, and it’s easy to denigrate a word by trivializing it.” 
Elie Wiesel

Wiesel often spoke at conferences about his experiences, and sought to educate people about words, thoughts and ideas.  He believed that words could be creative agents for the speaker, as well as for those who heard the message.

In 1999, Wiesel recalled how American soldiers liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945, including himself as a young man. For that action, and years living in the United States, he would be forever grateful.  For him, the act of being grateful was not simply a byproduct of another’s action: it was an action in itself, and speaking about gratitude, was an important message:

“Gratitude is a word that I cherish.
Gratitude is what defines the humanity of the human being.”

Wiesel believed in the power of words to heal, but he also understood its destructive powers.  He felt that too often mankind hid from its responsibilities.

Human beings should be held accountable.
Leave God alone. He has enough problems.”

One of the greatest threats to humanity, according to Wiesel, was not just the negative incitement to violence that the United Nations addressed in 1948 and 2006, but the threat of the vast masses to say nothing; to be indifferent to the words and terrible actions of evil doers.

“The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.”

“Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore,
indifference is always the friend of the enemy…
Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment.
And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century’s
wide-ranging experiments in good and evil.”

The world appreciated the efforts of Wiesel, and awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for “his message …of peace, atonement and human dignity.”


The First.One.Through blog and channel are about Judaism, Israel and the United States of America.  The messages it conveys are that words matter: not just blatant incitement to violence, but even subtle forms of discrimination, as well as positive, constructive words.  The words and videos are not made so that the producer has a voice, but for those that read and watch the material, to also be positive catalysts by forwarding the anonymous pieces on to others.

We mourn the loss of an advocate who advanced the cause that words matter, whether negative, positive, or the bitter lack thereof.

 

Related First.One.Through articles:

“An anti-Semitic Tinge”

“Tinge” Two. Idioms for Idiots

The Termination Shock of Survivors

Names and Narrative: Genocide / Intifada

First.One.Through | July 3, 2016 at 9:38 am | Tags: Holocaust | Categories: Holocaust, Opinion | URL: http://wp.me/p3YdoG-XO
Paul Gherkin

Bibi and Obama Growing Apart on Iran while Rouhani Is All Smiles

Monday, October 21st, 2013

The Associated Press reported that Israel and the U.S. have been growing apart on the Iran nuclear threat, so much so that there appears to be a rift between them these days. Essentially, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to sound the alarm tirelessly and at a high pitch, while the West sees genuine Iranian compromises in the Geneva talks.

The different views are only growing more so, threatening to leave Israel in isolation, as the talks between six global powers and Iran appear to be gaining steam, the AP surmises. western negotiators were upbeat after last week’s talks, going into the next round of negotiations, Nov. 7.

If you wanted a Munich moment – this is it, with the Czech ambassador sitting nervously in the waiting room while the British and French prime ministers and the Axis brutes decided his country’s fate.

Most references to the Munich moment usually show PM Neville Chamberlain waving a piece of paper and announcing "peace in our time." But the really scary Munich moment took place hours earlier, when these dubious characters signed on to the deal. It was about the West's willingness to knowingly embrace the lies of the thugs it was dealing with, leaving Czechoslovakia to pick up the tab. From left to right, Chamberlain, French PM Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini and Italian Foreign Minister Count.

Most references to the Munich moment usually show PM Neville Chamberlain waving a piece of paper and announcing “peace in our time.” But the really scary Munich moment took place hours earlier, when these dubious characters signed on to the deal. It was about the West’s willingness to knowingly embrace the lies of the thugs it was dealing with, leaving Czechoslovakia to pick up the tab. From left to right, Chamberlain, French PM Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini and Italian Foreign Minister Count.

In fact, the louder Netanyahu cries out, the more shrill he is bound to sound in the face of the smiling Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.

“I think that in this situation as long as we do not see actions instead of words, the international pressure must continue to be applied and even increased,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday. “The greater the pressure, the greater the chance that there will be a genuine dismantling of the Iranian military nuclear program.”

The statement may reflect more how out of touch Bibi is with the winds blowing in Washington DC right now, than a practical strategy. Over the weekend, U.S. officials said the White House was going to offer Iran a chance to recoup billions of dollars in frozen assets—sitting there since the 1979 Islamic revolution—if it scales back its nuclear program. The sanctions will stay in place for now, but Iran would suddenly receive a windfall.

In other words, Iran will receive between $50 and $75 billion, tax free, not for eliminating its nuclear weapons program, but for merely slowing it down.

This is vintage Rouhani, incidentally – the man was the architect of Iran’s winning strategy of fooling the world while flashing many winning smiles. One gets the feeling the Rouhanis wanted their boy to go into modeling for toothpaste ads, instead of running one of the three most evil regimes on the planet, but one thing led to another.

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said it was “premature” to talk about easing sanctions, but he did not endorse Netanyahu’s tough line, saying the U.S. is planning a more “incremental” approach in response to concrete Iranian gestures.

It’s 2005 revisited, and Rouhani knows he’s already won this round. He managed to separate Netanyahu from his American benefactors, and isolate Israel which now looks like it’s frothing at the mouth while Iran is all pleasantries and pragmatism. All he has to do from this point on is keep talking, host a couple UN inspectors, mess with their inspections a little, nothing serious, make it impossible to get a real read of what goes on in those plants – but keep on smiling, denying, and never say anything hostile or aggressive against israel or the West.

Bibi cannot win this one, any more than Czechoslovakia could win the diplomatic war against Hitler. Few people know today that on paper the Czechs were superior militarily to the Germans. If they had decided to strike against the Germans, they could have altered world history. They didn’t need British or French protection, they were completely self sufficient in manufacturing their military arsenal. Indeed, it was his bloodless conquest of Czechoslovakia that turned Hitler unstoppable.

Yori Yanover

For Better or for Worse

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

It’s time to move out of our homes and into our holy humble sukkahs. Now is the time when we renew our relationship with God, who has chosen us to form an inseparable eternal union – a marriage between the children of Yisrael and the Master of the Universe.

The Torah portion of Nitzavim, which is read just before the New Year, reveals to us that Hashem is our personal “husband,” for better or for worse. Rashi explains (Devarim 29:12) that we were presented with a covenant and a curse: “Since we are forever bound together, let Me teach you how to make Me happy.”

Nitzavim goes on to prophesize everything that has transpired during these thousands of years. This is highlighted by non-Jews gasping and stating, “Why has God caused this land to become desolate? Because they have forsaken God’s covenant.” Thus, on Rosh Hashanah we think of our past year’s sins. The sound of the shofar awakens our emotions. Then ten days of introspection and repentance bring on the great and awesome day of Kippur, of Atonement.

Consider: our God is perfect, and we are anything but. We may have been envious or lustful, or worshipped money, status or a host of other vices. Now we humbly return home to our Love. If we repent out of fear, our sins are forgiven. But if we repent because we truly love our Maker, he gives us an amazing reward – our sins become mitzvahs!

Hashem simply goes beyond the letter of the law in His love for us.

The Holy Ben Ish Chai points out that if you go beyond the four letters of the Hebrew word hadin (the judgment), you get to the Hebrew word sukkah. (The four Hebrew letters that come after the letters in hadin are the letters in the word sukkah). The sukkah is where we arrive after Yom Kippur, free of sins, under the wings of God’s Holy Presence.

Note that the first time sukkah is mentioned in the Torah, it is referring to the stalls our forefather Yaakov built for his animals. Why? Because when Yaakov arrived in Shechem with his family, he built a beis medrash for himself for Torah learning, but for his animals, his “wealth,” he built simple huts.

Yaakov took his children to the window and said, “Look at how I treat my wealth, dear children. Wealth is temporary; like the sukkah, it doesn’t go with you to the next world. But here in this house of Torah, we accumulate the mitzvahs that stay with us – which are eternal.”

We have now received our “new heads” for the coming year, as implied by the words Rosh Hashanah, head for the year, and Yom Hazikaron, a day of resetting our memory apparatus. We are cleansed of our sins on Yom Kippur, after which we enter, with our entire body, into our sukkah. We enter this mitzvah where we achieve oneness with our Lover – Hashem, Blessed be He.

What is it about the Nation of Israel that attracts the love of the One God Who rules the universe?

I came upon an answer on Rosh Chodesh Elul as I prayed the silent benedictions. We bless the day in the following way: “Mikadesh Yisrael v’roshei chodoshim – He sanctifies Israel and the first day of all months.” But it can literally mean “He sanctifies Yisrael and “brand new heads.”

Our nation is forever ready to admit our mistakes and begin all over. With the coming of each new moon, we are aware that we may start afresh.

This is also evident in our morning declaration of Modeh Ani, the origin of which is in the book of Eichah (3:23) which states, “Hashems kindness is new every morning – great is Your belief [in us, to improve in the coming day]. One of the reasons Hashem loves His people is that they are always willing to start over.

Two small examples that are actually big were related to me by Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, shlita, head of the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where I am currently studying.

The first: A man survived hell in a concentration camp only to discover that his entire family had perished – parents, siblings, wife and children. Everyone.

Dov Shurin

What’s Wrong With the Star-K Kosher Phone?

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

About a month ago the Star-K, a world renowned Kashrus agency, announced that they were certifying kosher phones. These phones have no access to the Internet, cannot place or receive text messages, cannot take photos, and most importantly, cannot be hacked to perform any of these tasks.

It’s not troubling to me that people would want a phone that is insulated from certain tasks. Although I think it is an unnecessary measure and perhaps counter productive, I don’t begrudge people their personal self control restraints.

What is troubling is that a kashrus agency is part of this initiative. A kashrus agency should be concerned with one thing and one thing only. Their singular concern should be the kosher status of the food. I don’t even think that a kashrus agency must concern itself with humanitarian or other ethical issues that may arise. I have no problem with a secondary agency coming in and providing a secondary level of supervision. But the kosher status of the food cannot be affected by anything other its status as kosher food.

So when I see a kashrus agency entering into the phone market, I see an agency that should be worried about kosher status of food but is now legislating morality. It’s not even as if the technical skills involved in kosher supervision overlap the neutering of cell phones. They have nothing to do with each other. I don’t think it is smart for kosher supervision to be intertwined or even related to morality supervision.

Similarly, when kosher supervision agencies make demands on the clientele or ambience of an eating establishment I believe they are overstepping their bounds. There are restaurants that are not allowed to be open at certain hours because they will lose their hechsher if they are open. This is far beyond the scope of kosher supervision. Tell me if the food is kosher and I will decide if I want to patronize the restaurant. That is all we need from a kashrus agency. The stretching of their authority serves no important purpose for the public. It seems to me that it is merely a self-serving, self-righteous way to legislate their morality. If they can legislate phones and who can eat where, what’s next?

I am not making a slippery slope argument. I am pointing out that there is no logical connection between the kosher status of food and the kosher status of a phone. There is also no relationship between the kosher status of a restaurant and whether teenagers are hanging out. In other words, the kashrus agencies are already legislating their morality. There is no reason to think it only will apply in these two instances because there is no connection between these two things and the kosher status of food.

We need to stop using the word kosher for things other than food. Yes, the word is a general term but it has evolved into a word that describes whether food can be eaten by orthodox Jews who keep kosher. We don’t eat anything that is not kosher. Using the word kosher for phones and Internet implies that the non-kosher versions are not allowed to be used. This is sophomoric and divisive.

If anything, the kashrus agencies should be concerned with the ethics and morality of the actual food. This is something they have resisted time and time again. I am not recommending they get into the ethics of food business, but if they must expand their business and purview of supervision I think that is the first place they should be looking to legislate seeing as they have the knowledge and expertise to monitor and report on that aspect of food production. But teens mingling and phones? They don’t belong there at all.

Visit Fink or Swim.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink

The Internet, Halacha, and Olam HaBah

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

It’s simply not possible. I don’t believe it. Nonetheless it is being reported as fact. Rafi’s blog, Life in Israel, has linked to the Hebrew language website B’Chadrei Charedim that quotes Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s response to a question about smart-phones.

There is a Gemarah in Brachos that tells us that a man will lose his portion in Olam HaBah if he walks regularly behind a woman down a river. Rav Kanievsky was asked if this applies to someone who has in his possession an I-phone or the internet. His one word answer according to Chadrei was ‘ B’Vadai’ – absolutely! Anyone who uses an I-phone or the internet is in a category of losing his Olam HaBah – his heavenly reward in the world to come!

If this is true, then yet again, I think we all ought to all just go over to MacDonald’s and have a cheeseburger… or violate any other Miztvah in the Torah we want to violate. Why bother observing Halacha if you’ve lost your Olam Habah?

I happen to know Gedolei Torah and Roshei Yeshiva  who use I-phones and the internet. Are they all doomed?

Once again we have what appears to be a huge dis-connect between what a great Torah sage supposedly said – and reality. Either Rav Kanievsky does not know the extent of internet use among a great number of devoutly observant Jews, or this is a gross distortion or mischaracterization of his views. I think that both things are true. I don’t believe he said it and meant it to be interpreted as simply as that one word answer indicates.

I would not be surprised if this is yet another instance of Kanoim – religious zealots twisting the views of a elderly rabbinic leader to fit their agenda. I’m sure his position is far more nuanced than the one word answer (B’Vadai) he supposedly gave to a simple question.

The Agenda is obvious. There are people who are eager to destroy other Jews in a fit of self righteousness. They do not have these devices and do not want anyone else to have them either. So they make sure to twist the words of Gedolei Yisroel to assure it.

They may think they are doing the right thing. But they are by far doing far much more harm than good. They may in fact be responsible for pushing more religious Jews out of observance than saving them from using the internet.

By putting people who have smart-phones into a category of losing their Olam Habah, it is not too difficult to see many frustrated Frum people who have so often been put upon with comments like this say, ‘the heck with it!’ I may as well live a life of ease and not worry about violating Halacha. I won’t make to Olam HaBah anyway.

The Gemarah upon which this one word response attributed to Rav Kanievsky was based upon does not forbid the incidental following of a woman down a river. The loss of Olam Habah  that the Gemarah speaks of is only to those who purposely do so with lascivious thoughts and the intent to sin in that regard. And even then only if it is done on a regular basis.

I would add that even if someone regularly does things like that and has some sort of sexual addiction, he can get help… and do Teshuva. I find it very difficult to believe that the Gemarah’s intent is that someone loses his Olam HaBah permanently if he does that. It is also known that the Gemarah sometimes exaggerates to make a point. Which may be the case here.

If there is any comparison to be made between following a woman down a river and the world of the 21st century and the internet – it is in the area of purposely viewing pornography on it. The problem is not the internet. It is the websites one frequents… if those websites are pornographic. That is the comparison that Rav Kanievsky no doubt meant – if he said anything at all.  Accidentally accessing a pornographic website is not a cause for losing one’s Olam Habah.

But the Kanoim who publish stories like this do not want to be confused with the nuances of truth. They want convey the message that I-phones and any other device that can access the internet is so evil that one should not even touch it! For if they do, their Olam HaBah is at stake.

Harry Maryles

Sen. Leahy: Obama Secretly Suspended Egypt Military Aid

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

The office of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), head of the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, told The Daily Beast that military aid to Egypt has been temporarily cut off.

“[Senator Leahy’s] understanding is that aid to the Egyptian military has been halted, as required by law,” said David Carle, a spokesman for Leahy.

If it’s done as required by law, why is the U.S. government keeping it a secret that it believes the regime change in Egypt was a military coup? If it is, indeed, temporarily suspending most of the military aid to Egypt, where is the public announcement that we don’t send money to governments that were installed by a coup?

After skewering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hard—through the good services of the NY Times—for his attempts to preserve stability in Egypt and the integrity of the peace treaty, now the administration is attempting to punish the naughty Egyptian generals, but without making a big deal out of it.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked on Monday about the suspended aid, and told reporters the aid is not officially suspended.

I suppose the Egyptians can use the officially unsuspended aid money the same way Israelis can live in the officially unfrozen homes in East Jerusalem…

“After sequestration withholding, approximately $585 million remains unobligated. So, that is the amount that is unobligated,” Psaki said.

I looked up “unobligated” and means funds that have been appropriated but remain uncommitted by contract at the end of a fiscal period. In other words, an I keep, you don’t get kind of relationship.

“But it would be inaccurate to say that a policy decision has been made with respect to the remaining assistance funding,” Psaki clarified.

In other words, I keep, you don’t get, but it’s not forever.

The Daily Beast quotes two Administration officials who explain it was the government lawyers who decided it would be more prudent to observe the law restricting military aid in case of a coup, while not making a public statement that a coup had taken place.

Bret Stephens, a deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, wrote on Monday (A Policy on Egypt—Support Al Sisi):

“What’s realistic and desirable is for the military to succeed in its confrontation with the Brotherhood as quickly and convincingly as possible. Victory permits magnanimity. It gives ordinary Egyptians the opportunity to return to normal life. It deters potential political and military challenges. It allows the appointed civilian government to assume a prominent political role. It settles the diplomatic landscape. It lets the neighbors know what’s what.”

By taking the opposite approach, making it harder for the new Egyptian government to bring the internal conflict to a conclusion, the Obama Administration is promoting and prolonging chaos in yet another country. Which is why, I suspect, Senator Leahy has spoken to the Daily Beast in the first place, to stop this blind march over the cliff.

Middle East analyst Brian Katulis from the Center for American Progress, told the Beast he thought the Administration was “trying to maintain maximum flexibility,” but he suggested that this horse is long out of the barn. “Egypt’s struggle has become so intense, polarized, and violent, and I worry that no matter what move the United States makes now, the competing power centers in Egypt might continue down the dangerous course they’ve headed.”

Unless, of course, the U.S. is making clear, with loud noises and a light show, that it supports stability in Egypt, and in order to hasten new elections, it will not suspend military aid to Egypt. In fact, with its financial and military might, the U.S. will do everything it can to restore stability and democracy in Egypt.

But that would require President Obama to get over the insult of the Egyptian nation ignoring his wishes and dethroning his favorite Muslim Brother president.

Yori Yanover

Failing in Order to Succeed

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The rabbis teach that we can only truly understand Torah when we allow ourselves to fail at it (Gittin 43a). Unless we push ourselves to reach for deeper understanding, where we inevitably get it wrong before we can get it right, we will not grasp the very essence of the Jewish enterprise. Rashi here seems to think that it’s the public shame of getting it wrong (and the concomitant rebuke) that strengthens one’s intellectual rigor. It is not hard to think about giving constructive feedback (“rebuke”) when it comes to moral matters, but do we care enough about ideas that we (respectfully) challenge others when ideas are misinterpreted or misapplied? How much do we really value the marketplace of ideas and the assurance that we as individuals and as a society get it right?

History is full of examples of leaders who acknowledged that persistence in the face of failure was more important than individual failures. President Abraham Lincoln, whose army suffered many crushing defeats in the early years of the Civil War, said: “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.” A century later, Robert F. Kennedy echoed the optimistic spirit of youth when he said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Besides for being tragically assassinated, what these presidents have in common in that their causes lasted, their legacies carried on, and they are remembered as being among the greatest and most successful men to occupy the Oval Office.

Very often, one can be lured by the traps of conformism (just follow others’ ideas or practices) or isolationism (just follow one’s own marginal ideas and practices). Our job as Jews is to break free from these ploys for mediocrity. We must challenge ourselves and the status quo to reach higher by engaging with societal ideas but without blindly accepting them.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement) and founder and intellectual-spiritual leader in his own right, was anything but a conformist. He not only told his followers to be happy, but he also encouraged them to do silly things, highly unusual for a religious leader. Rebbe Nachman stated that each person had to fall in order to rise, and stressed the universality of this concept:

[E]ach person who fell … thinks that these words weren’t spoken for him, for he imagines that these ideas are only for great people who are always climbing from one level to the next. But truthfully, you should know and believe, that all these words were also said concerning the smallest of the small and the worst of the worst, for Hashem is forever good to all.

However, Rebbe Nachman went further, stating that it is “a great thing for a person to still have an evil inclination.” Even the tendency to evil could serve G-d, as people worked through these passions and eventually overcame them. To Rebbe Nachman, it seems, spiritual stasis is the only unacceptable path.

We must be willing to learn and debate with others. Ideas matter. Inevitably that will lead to some level of shame when we get it wrong, but the promise land afterwards is much greater. It offers a culture of more honest, informed, connected individuals who are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of truth and who are willing to be wrong in order to get it right. Our great rabbinic and presidential leaders wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/failing-in-order-to-succeed/2013/08/19/

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