in a World of Contradictions
Interesting that some in the American establishment have determined
that American interests are not aligned with Israel’s security
and right to defend itself. Interesting that they feel that
they will advance this nation’s cause to fight terrorism by
placating and appeasing the Arab world. I guess they assume
that the larger Arab world – and especially, the so-called
‘moderates’ (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia) – will support the
American war against terrorism coming from the Middle East.
What happens if they found out that this is
not the case? Interesting what would ensue.
Sometimes it appears as if the American leadership
seems to understand – to ‘get it’ – and they are really just
trying to ‘smoke out’ the Arab world, to force them to expose
their true cards. Hence, the President’s ultimatum: “You are
either with us or against us.”
Whenever President Bush articulates and holds
on firmly to what has been coined his ‘moral clarity’ – his
clear vision of unambiguous good and evil – as he finally
understood that first Thursday following September 11 (as
evidenced in his memorable talk that evening), and again on
Passover when Israel first attacked the terrorist infrastructure
following the Passover Netanya massacre – he is persuasive
and convincing in his unwavering and secure position. As soon
as he begins to become ‘political’ and ‘diplomatic’ and he
waffles on his ‘moral clarity’ and tries to straddle the fence
in his insistence that Israel withdraw and cease their war
on terrorism when America continues to escalate it’s war in
Afghanistan – he sounds unconvincing and unconfident. Can
America really demand that Israel stop killing terrorists
when America is doing exactly that?!
Rarely do we have the opportunity to see the
battle between good and evil, between ambiguity and clarity,
between truth and lies as clearly as we see them today. Chassidus
explains that this world is called “alma d’shikrah,”
a world of deception. On his deathbed a great chassid was
asked what he looks forward to as he leaves this world and
enters the world to come? He said: “I look forward to a life
without lies...” Existence by its very nature is a ‘big lie,’
the material world shrouds the energy within, beneath the
surface. Physicality by its very nature conceals. When you
look at someone’s face you can never know what lies within.
A person can smile and really feel horrible, a person can
cry and really be dancing inside.
The lies and myths about the Middle Eastern
conflict abound. Myths that have become realities. Before
1964 there was no such entity as “Palestinians,” today it
is an entire presence, and in most peoples’ minds it has always
been this way. To the extent that many believe Israel to be
‘occupiers’ of Palestinian land… An utterly complete fabrication.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. Biblical and historical
truth testifies to the Jewish people’s ownership and presence
in Israel for close to 4000 years. Even from a political perspective,
the 1948 partition did not create a “Palestinian State.” The
territory controlled by Israel today was won in a series of
Indeed, I submit that even the so called ‘Palestinians’
themselves and for that matter, the entire Arab world has
been hijacked and taken hostage by the myths perpetrated by
their self-appointed and self-serving leaders. The greatest
myth of all is the education of their children with hatred
toward the West and toward Israel. I have no doubt that most
Arab civilians want to live peacefully. Yet their leaders
are invested in perpetuating ignorance and radicalism in order
to stay in power. The entire internal religious and educational
system is build on myths about the world around them, particularly
Israel and America.
Other myths prevail. Is terrorism terrorism
or is it not? Seemingly there would be no room for ambiguity.
But look around and hear what different people are saying.
Never has moral fluctuation been so glaring.
In the same speech President Bush declares his doctrine of
unequivocal and zero tolerance to terrorism, espousing a total
war against all forms of terror activity; a moment later he
insists – not suggests, insists – that Israel withdraw from
its war on terrorism ‘without delay.’
How are such contradictions possible? How can
it be that so many people can be convinced that reality is
defined by yet another UN resolution – among prior countless,
lopsided resolutions – condemning Israel?! I was moved by
former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words before
the senate this week. He declared that as a Jew he is not
surprised by the European condemnation of Israel, when just
60 years ago they silently participated in the massacre of
millions of Jews. How can someone get up and say that Israel
is wrong because the European and International community
condemns them?! Is right and wrong determined by consensus?
Why do so few really get the situation, why
are so few able to see through the smokescreens and understand
So many contradictions, so many lies, so many
distortions. Nothing new. What is new is that these distortions
are so clearly obvious today – rarely do we see clarity and
uncertainty confronting each other so loudly and clearly.
Ambiguity, good, evil, moral clarity, confusion
– these are the extreme themes of this week’s Torah portion(s).
This week we read a double portion of Torah – two portions
that become like one. But the names and themes of these two
portions couldn’t be more dichotomous: Tazria – conception
and birth, Metzora – the leper.
They reflect two extreme poles on the spectrum
of life. Conception and birth is the greatest blessing in
life. Leprosy is the epitome of disease.
What possible meaning and message can this convergence
The Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Formation, attributed
to Abraham) states: “Nothing is higher than oneg (pleasure);
nothing is lower than negah (the leprous curse).” Oneg
and negah consist of the same three Hebrew letters:
Ayin, Nun, Gimmel. When the Ayin comes first it creates oneg;
when the letters are reorganized and the Nun comes first it
There is no greater pleasure (oneg) than
birth. But pleasure is only possible and appreciated when
there is something unpleasureable. In reply to Job’s timeless
question ‘why do people suffer?’ G-d replied: Were you there
when I created heaven and earth? If there was no life there
would be no pain, if there was no birth there would be no
death, if there were no pleasure there would be no suffering.
Negah is a form of death (a metzora
is considered ‘dead’). Yet the same letters reorganized create
the deepest pleasure of birth.
War and death force us to rethink birth and
life. Pain and suffering shake and provoke us to re-determine
what gives us true pleasure. When we experience senseless
terror attacks, to the point that we feel that there is ‘nothing
lower,’ we are reminded by this week’s joint Torah chapters
that there is ‘nothing higher than pleasure.’
I always thought that people would always remain
locked and divided by an impenetrable barrier between those
“that see” and those that don’t, those that ‘get it’ and those
that don’t, between the wise and the not so wise. September
11th and the subsequent events have begun changing
my mind. Before that date I thought that American prosperity
would blind most people from the cosmic and mystical Higher
reality. I could not conceive of a way to pierce through this
veneer of complacency, nothing could seemingly change the
critical mass. The events of the last seven months – the geopolitical
unrest that is disrupting our world – has shaken up our systems.
It has woken us up, and there seems to be no respite in sight.
Today I can see the possibility of real truth emerging from
this chaos and confusion. Naked death – suicide bombings ripping
bodies apart and sending body parts flying in every direction,
buildings being blown up by planes and people jumping 80 floors
(pardon my explicit description) – has a way of waking us
up, crystallizing things.
With every shred of my being I only hope that
we wake up and understand the message and do not need any
more painful awakenings.
Two sides of one coin. Two extremes. Will we
be wise to see them as two sides of one experience? And which
one will we choose? And when we do choose, will we (have the
strength to) stick by that choice, or will we gravitate back
to moral ambiguity?