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Matos-Massei: Why is Jerusalem Still Burning


Consider and reflect upon an astonishing thing: Everything happens in its time for the good. The [Torah] portions which we always read during the Three Weeks, Matos, Massei and Devorim, discuss the victory of Israel over the nations and the division of the [Promised] Land – the diametric opposite of the terrible events that happened during this time [the destruction of the Temple]. Sometimes we also read Pinchas during this period, which discusses all the holidays… related to the fact that in the future “these days will be transformed into joy and gladness and holidays” (Zechariah 8:19) – Shaloh Mesechta Taanit

As the Middle East enters a second week of war with Israeli troops expanding their operations in Southern Lebanon launching a ground assault against its sworn enemy Hezbollah – and our hearts and prayers go out to all innocent lives being lost – its hard to ignore the connection to this period in time when we remember the war destruction of Jerusalem two millennia ago by the Babylonians and then again by the Romans.

No one is disputing the fact that the Hezbollah attack against Israel – and indeed the entire existence of the Hezbollah – is founded on the principle of conquering Israel and is being fueled, funded and armed by Syria and Iran – the location of ancient Babylon, which at its height included the land that is now Syria and a large part of Iran (Persia).

Babylon of old attacked Israel. So did the empires of Assyria, Persia, Ptolemy, Rome, Byzantine, the Crusaders, the Arabs and Ottomans. And the same story is now being replayed in the same geographical area – is this a coincidence?

After 2428 years since the Babylonian destruction and 1938 years since the Roman destruction of the Holy Temple why is Jerusalem still burning?

And what can we do about it?

As we compare this most recent conflict with previous ones, striking parallels and differences stand out.

The most obvious parallel is the never-ending battle over this small piece of geography called Israel.

But what is far more striking – and disturbing – are some of the unique differences that distinguish the current battle from previous ones.

One of the most obvious issues today is the lack of strong leadership and clear moral direction. Yes, every normal person or country agrees that Israel has a right to defend itself from wanton attacks on its innocent citizens. But is that enough?

We still hear questions whether Israel is responding in “disproportionate” measure. For some reason, many people are questioning whether this is a justifiable war? Why? Would the same be said if, for instance, terrorists were launching unprovoked missiles from Algeria to France, or from Mexico to the United States?

Is it possible that Israel is being second-guessed because Israel itself is suffering from an identity crisis and lack of clarity? Yes, under attack all of Israel is united in the commitment to defend itself at all costs. But the haunting questions remains: The six million Jews living in Israel are surrounded by hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims most of whom (if not all) do not want Israel there. If they had their way, and there was no military deterrent, a large number of them would actually support the elimination of the Jewish State (G-d forbid) and even those that may not go to war against Israel would not be greatly disturbed if Israel ceased to be.

In such a hostile environment what good reason is there for Jews to live in Israel, surrounded by millions of enemies? If you moved to a neighborhood with high hopes for a comfortable life and then the neighborhood deteriorates, what would most people do? They would move to another neighborhood.

Is it possible that many are wondering the same about the Jews in Israel? Do Israelis themselves have this question? And if they do, what is the answer.

Another unprecedented factor in the current battle is the new type of war being fought. Previous wars involved defined nations, with defined borders and clear targets. A war against terrorists – whether it is in Baghdad, Lebanon, Gaza, London or New York City – poses a new set of challenges: Whom exactly are you fighting? Where is the enemy located? This type of war requires new terms of engagement.

Why is it that Israel’s victory in 1967 against four major countries, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq took only six days, and now their battle against one upstart terrorist organization is already over 9 days old and far from ending?

Some would argue, that a war against defined countries is far easier to fight than one against terrorists embedded in tunnels and caves within a country’s infrastructure, hiding behind civilian shields, with arsenals dug in beneath hospitals and schools. Other may contend that the six-day war was A Divine miracle.

Another factor may be that it is far easier to win a war when there is strong leadership, and an army passionately motivated by a defined vision and goal – as it was in the war of 1948 and 1967. Does that passion exist today?

Years of slow-bleeding battles and relentless terrorist attacks have worn down many people. The ultimate question is this: Why in the first place are Jews living in a hostile neighborhood?

And even if you have an answer, what is the game-plan? How will this all end?

Questions abound. Many questions indeed.

But we are never abandoned in our questions and doubts. The Jewish people have been here before. Throughout their long history of persecution, their ultimate solace and strength came from the Torah, called the Torah of life – a blueprint to face every challenge in life.

During the Three Weeks of destruction we read in the Torah chapters that address the issues swirling around Israel and Jerusalem under siege – as the Shaloh writes in the opening quote of this article:

The [Torah] portions which we always read during the Three Weeks, Matos, Massei and Devorim, discuss the victory of Israel over the nations and the division of the [Promised] Land – the diametric opposite of the terrible events that happened during this time [the destruction of the Temple].

Barely a consolation, yet the battle over Jerusalem is not new. And by looking at the past we can learn much for the present and future.

This Shabbat we also bless the month of Av. Av consists of two letters: Alef and bet – an acronym for the two nations that destroyed the two temples: Adom (the Roman Empire) and Babylon.

Our troubles in the Middle East did not begin today. They are an extension of unresolved forces unleashed millennia ago – events that set in motion a series of conflicts that plague us to this very day.

Edom (Rome) is the Western, Christian world – descendants of Esau. Babylon is the Eastern, Arab, Muslim world – descendants of Ishmael. All global confrontations are a result of the strange bedfellows created back in the home of Abraham (see Abraham’s Vision).

So what does all of this have to do with current events? How do historical roots help us deal with our present challenges?

The three chapters we read during these Three Weeks contain some answers:

Pinchas – Healthy Passion

Pinchas is the only zealot ever condoned in the Torah. Pinchas took a stand against a public atrocity and killed the perpetrators, consequently saving thousands of lives. Pinchas is subsequently rewarded with the “covenant of peace.”

What does this teach us about modern day zealotry and its dangers? Haven’t we learned our lessons over history of the grave destruction perpetrated in the name of G-d by religious extremists?!

As discussed at length in a previous article (Religious Violence), Pinchas was the ultimate model of a peaceful warrior: When confronted with cruelty some people shy away in fear, others become morally ambivalent and yet others become radical zealots, mercilessly killing innocent people in the name of (distorted) faith.

Comes Pinchas the man of peace and tells us that there is another option: No extremes, no bringing in your own personal prejudices and feelings of aggression or passivity, violence or comfort zones. Pinchas teaches us simple selflessness to protect and defend innocent lives. Zealousness – but in peace.

What we learn from Pinchas is the exact opposite of killing in the name of religious zealotry. Violence against other people, especially innocent ones, can never be tolerated – no matter what its cause. Any justification of violence, whether it is in the name of religion or in the name of fighting for a cause, is unequivocally deplorable and goes against the laws of G-d. Anger and murder resulting from religious feelings is perhaps the most dangerous of all, because the “holy war” helps mask the venting of personal aggression.

On the other hand, Pinchas teaches us, just because religion has been abused and used to perpetrate atrocities we shouldn’t fall to the other extreme of not fighting for any values. We must never lose sight of right and wrong, but at the same time we must learn from the past how to fight for it with selfless passion.

What is needed today is passion – but guided by humility. G-d – but guided by love and compassion. We need a zealot today. A true Pinchas that will rise and defy conventional thinking. Not a murderous zealot but a zealot of peace.

Today we are called to join forces in a zealousness and passion against all forms of extremism and violence, including those perpetrated in the name of religious zealotry. To counter the passion of misguided souls ready to blow themselves up, we need to zealously defend and promote the Divine principles of justice and peace – and all in the spirit of unity and love fueled by selflessness.

Matos-Massei – Fortitude in the journey

“Matos” (in Hebrew) are stiff, firm rods. “Massei” are journeys, referring to the forty-two journeys of the Israelites through the Sinai Wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.

Life is a journey – a series of journeys – toward the Promised Land. Indeed, the Baal Shem Tov explains that each of us goes through 42 journeys in our lives.

The journey toward the Promised Land (even when we may be living there) is a difficult one – as witnessed time and again throughout history. We therefore need the “Matos” in our “Massei” – an unwavering fortitude, based on deep faith that gives us the relentless power to forge ahead regardless of and despite the adversary.

Life can be difficult, very difficult. The only power to counter all our hardships and enemies comes from a profound, unwavering, connection to knowing the purpose of our lives and knowing without a shred of doubt that our fight is just; an absolute, unbending (“Mattos”) moral certainty in our calling, and the resulting absolute determination to see the journey through.

Where do we get this fortitude? From-

Devorim – Divine words

“These are the words which Moses spoke…”

The fifth book of the Torah documents the words that Moses spoke to the people in the last 37 days of his time on Earth:

“These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah over against Suph, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab.”

Moses was the ultimate leader. Knowing that he has a short time to live, and recognizing the difficult challenges laying ahead, Moses – as a true leader – delivers his final words in order to imbue the people – then and in all generations to come – with the strength and confidence to forge ahead and tackle every possible issue. Moses examines the events that occurred over the last 40 years since they left Egypt, he discusses the relationship the Jews had established with G-d, G-d’s instructions to them, and he encourages them to carry on these teachings for the generations to come.

More specifically, Moses reviews the difficult journey of the Jewish people toward the Promised Land and reaffirms the reason for their journey – to forge an invincible bond with G-d that will empower the people to transform the material universe into a Divine home. Moses offers the Jewish nation strong words of encouragement and direction that by holding on to their connection to the Divine they will be able to face any challenge, no matter how difficult.

Moses’ words live on forever. Especially in time of war and challenge we need the powerful, unwavering words of Moses to infuse us with hope, courage and direction.

Above all, Moses’ words state the ultimate – and only – justification for the Jewish presence in Israel today:

“Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which G-d swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their seed after them” (Deuteronomy 1:8).

“Israel, listen to the laws and rules that I am teaching you to do, so that you will remain alive and come to occupy the land that G-d is giving you (4:1). Safeguard and keep them since this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations (4:6). Only take heed and watch yourself very carefully, so that you do not forget the things that your eyes saw. Do not let [this memory] leave your hearts, all the days of your lives. Teach your children and children’s children” (4:9).

And the end game?

“G-d will then bring back your remnants and have mercy on you. G-d will once again gather you from among all the nations where He scattered you… [and] bring you to the land that your ancestors occupied. G-d will be good to you and make you flourish even more than your ancestors” (30:3-5).

Meanwhile – Moses concludes – “be strong and brave” (31:6).

It’s amazing that after all these years the secret to redemption eludes us but still remains in our hands: “Zion will be redeemed with Law and its captives with righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27. Haftorah of Shabbat Chazon).

Torah study and charitable righteous deeds will redeem Zion and its hostages.

How much longer will Jerusalem burn? That’s up to us.

* * *

Question for the week: How far should Israel go in its war against Hezbollah, and what should be the “end-game”?


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Cindy Abrams

I wish with my whole heart that whoever was in charge then had listened to the Rebbe and not given one inch of land, as he had said, not from Damascus, Beirut or Siani! I wish with my whole heart that Israel could stand up to the whole wide world and just wipe out Lebannon instead of trying to play fair and humanitarian, which is of course horrible and I wish so only without loss of life to one innocent woman, man or child.


We are fighting an enemy country….IRAN….Hizballah is the lackey of Iran and we in Israel are the lackies of America…. We are doing their dirty work; our boys and civilians are being killed daily.

One cannot remain silent. Beginning with the thought provoking essay by Rabbi Jacobson and following the thoughts of those who have submitted their own or borrowed thoughts on this subject, through the insightful thoughts of Richard Gayzur; again, one can not remain silent.To hope against all hope that with a few strokes of a pen, the inner intention can find its mark. And so…Dear Brothers and Sisters, friends all, children of man, Shalom and blessings,We find ourselves discussing the immediate situation in the north of Israel/southern Lebanon and by inference the sister situation in Gaza, and in consequence how these… Read more »

Elizbeth Enfield

I was very surprised that israel bombed right away instead on invading the southern section and rousting the perpatrators one by one, they have killed many civilians, innocent at that and now have bombed four members of the UN whom they asked for help. Why couldnt we be an example despite all the holocaust mumbo jumbo etc. If jesus was one of us, he was a good teacher and we shouldl isten to him, dialogue immediately after the capture of the two israei soliers would have been my thought rather than risking a third world war and possible nuclear arms… Read more »

Kathe R. Moore

America for the last 6 years has talked about terrorism, but done nothing about it. Israel is doing our dirty work at great cost to their country.

Chaya Blitzer, M.Ed

Our Parshas always have a relevance to the weeks events, and especially, with Masei, this is true. In Masei, G-d warns the Israelites: …if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the Land before you, those of them whom you leave shall be pins in your eyes and a surrounding barrier (of thorns) in your sides, and they will harass you upon the Land in which you dwell. And it shall be that what I had meant to do to them, I shall do to you. (Masei, 33:54-55).This applies to modern day Israel, who has not heeded G-ds instruction… Read more »


I am reminding all who will listen that we must not be a party to sacrifice Israel because as Winston Churchill said, If you feed the crocodile, he will surely eat you last.


Well put. We are terribly influenced by world opinion when we chase after these terrorists into civilian and places of worship. the infrastructure of countries that support and harbor others and give them arms etc. should be included but that risks a much larger conflagration. I think the world would love us to take out any nuclear plants that are being developed in Iran but everyone is scared to say so. We need a leader who is fearless and has his values in the right place.

Irvine Seider

Israel should go ALL the way. It is of no avail to only partially remove a cancer

Chaya Fridman Gross

Shalom from the Holy City of Jerusalem Jerusalem is really not burning even though the north and south of the country are at war. It is truthfully rather surreal. The fact is that we have the luxury of thinking with some distance although of course we are constantly glued to the radio and on line as I am sure are you. Your question is really not a simple one. Personally my biggest fear is that this war will be stopped too soon and again we will give our enemies time to catch their breath rearm and come back even stronger.… Read more »

Tuvia Bolton

Destroy Iran. Cut the head off the snake… not the tail!

Howard Newman

As much as it takes to destroy amalek

Chana Silverman

How far shall israel go? As far as is necessary for victory. What could be called a victory? The end of terror applied in any form against Israel. The surrender of all enemies. The borders of Israel not only safe but respected. The fear of G-d, the protector of Israel upon any who would dare to attack by knowing the strong arm of Israel will prevail, will seek out the attacker. Israel should not rest until all her citizens are safe. How far should Israel go? As far as is necessary. Not just as far as our feet will take… Read more »


How far should Israel go in its war against Hezbollah, and what should be the “end-game”? Kick ass & dont bother to ask Qs! They dont, when they cross into Israel to kidnap our citizens and soldiers, or kidnap Americans and behead them. The IDF should get its military green berets to do surgical strikes in Syria, Iran and the other Arab countries that are funding the Hamas, Hezbollah, et al. Dont take prisoners… . The difficult question is what to do with the generations of young adults who were indoctrinated with the hate mantra of the PLO, Hezbollah, Hamas,… Read more »

j.b. greenwald

As this a resident of Gush Etzion, I find it ironic that last year during this time we began evacuation Gush Katiff and those same residence of Israel whom the majority of which supported the evacuation today a fleeing from our North. Everything happens for a reason from the littlest scratch to destruction of our cities. Our job is to learn from our mistakes and develop a close personal relationship with HaKodesh Baruchu. Therefore, we must continue to pray for our Leaders, our Army and our Nation. May they learn from the past and may we all do Teshuva that… Read more »


Israel has made a very severe mistake by allowing the Hizbolla to become such a force. They were afraid from world opinion? At the end the world opinion will be against Israel anyhow.

I think one day the only answer a Jew will be able to give to the world as to why Israel is there in the first place is that G-D gave us the land and thats it. No excuses

Kalman Serkez

See Professor Paul Eidelbergs site: – he also writes for the Jewish Press and has a great email list (you can subscribe from the site).

Israel should maintain forces at least to the Litani River in Lebanon which is a defendable area. Lebanon was mismanaged and endangers Israelis by turning a blind eye to Hizbollah. There is little reason to feel this will change in the future.

The professor and his associates express this which much more eloquence, facts and details though.


Rosalie Kroot

To maime or kill children on both sides is abhorrent to me. The are our future and whether they are black, white, brown, pink or yellow. They are children. May Hashem guide our Israeli soldiers in not harming children…..
I have a sister-in-law, niece and nephews in Israel – may they not come to harm.

Rochelle Spandorfer

Israel should go as far as necessary to break hezbollah

I tried to submit my response to you regarding the question, how far need Israel go to end the conflict with the Hezbollah? My question is how many lives may we lose in this process? How many fatherless children will be raised because of this process, and how is peace possible? What more may be sacrificed for peace?

Karuppan Chockalingam

Dear Mr Jacobson,

I am a Hindu and I believe in the terrible consequences of killing sentient beings – whatever the reason behind. Israel should not have gone this far even.


Jack Shakaerchy

We need to defend ourself and not feel guilty about it. Watching CNN we cant help but feel guilty for the innocent loss of life. We need to be strong and UNITED with the Israeli government in its resolve to get rid of this cancer of Muslim religious fundamentalism that wants to get rid of our nation

Israel should go all the way. Time has come that the Arab Nations must see that it is no longer acceptable to use palestinians as their escape goats. Israeli people have suffered enough. Our fathers, our sons and our daughters who defended the land of israel earned this right. The right to live on their land without constant fear for the future of Israel and their wellbeing.Israel has the right to defend herself!, are the words of the Amercian Goverment. Iarael has an opportunity to cleanse itself of violent,anti semitic arabs whose sole purpose in life is The Extermination of… Read more »


Disarm Hezbollah and prevent them from ever being armed again with missles or other rocketry.
Get Nasrallah.
Disarm Hamas, and let Gaza implode economically.

John W. Mcginley

The military and Israeli Cabinet are now considering seems right. Retaking and controlling Sourthern Lebanon to the Litani River, or where applicable, twenty miles. Leave only when Hizbollah is disarmed and when the regular Lebanese Army is able, realistically, to control this area.

R Grossman

We have tried in vain to be peacefull. Gave them all that they requested. I believe it is now time for us to stand up and be counted and finish them off once and for all. They do not want peace, and UI fel they never will. They are out to put an end to us and what we stand for.

Yosef David

Israel can best survive as well as best make its resolve clear to other countries and organizations by compeletely dismantling Hezbulla and destroying all missiles and other anti-territory weapons and doing whatever it takes to ensure that such weapons no longer can be transported into Lebanon, and IF this includes a 20-mile buffer where all potentially deadly threats are pushed back from the border, then so be it–life is precious and Israel has not only a right but also an obligation to protect its people who have been under attack.

Hezky Larsh

Israel should continue its response until BOTH the Hamas/Fatah Muslims currently occupying Jewish territory and Hezbellah are NO longer a threat to Jews rightfully living in the Land Of Yisroel.


Israel should lead the world in the battle to ERADICATE as much evil as possible. The civilians who are hurt during this battle are hurt in many other ways already. Israeli soldiers have been killed in times of peace as well. In the long run, many more Israeli AND arabs lives will be saved if the axis of evil is weakend. The end-game will be that the power structure of the world will not allow any future hateful and evil acts against humankind to be the rote of certain government and powerful people.

Denise Cully

Israel should defend their country, why let others take it away for themselves. Then leave them with nothing, to live and breathe and have freedom.

a.j. morgan

Relentless pursuit of the highest Judaic values…everyone elevating themselves from whatever spiritual status that they are currently at…relentless defense of Israel…as if this is the battle of Amalek…regardless of what the world thinks.


Nasrallah is a murderous swine. i want to squat over his mouth and fart diarrhea directly down his esophagus !


As far it takes to control the Hizobolla and its supporters in Palestine, and other Arab countries.

Ronald D. Beals

Terror has been a fact of life for Israel, since its inception in 1948. This last intifada is with the explicit approval of the radical Islamic group of Anti-Semitis that wish only to see all Jews (and Christians) dead or converted to their distorted point of view. They have focused on using Hizbullah as their instrument for years and this will not be even temporarily resolved until ALL of Hizbullah is removed from Lebanon and the radical elements realize that the remainder of the world will not tolerate their behaviors. This may mean intervention in both Syria and Iran who… Read more »

jeff goodman

interesting questions
they all lead me back to a question i posed a few months ago
what are commited jews doing still in the diaspora
assuming that whether jslm continues to burn is really up to us as the article ends the question is where is the crucial front / where the future of the jewish people will be decided in israel or in the diaspora albeit taking into account the importance of reciprical relations between jews in israel jews abroad and non jews everywhere

Richard Gayzur

Biblical quotations, as comforting and reassuring as they may be, are no substitute for rational diplomacy. Israel is not simply that little patch of land described in the bible. It is a player in a far larger international arena, with forces and constituencies that could not have even been imagined when the Torah was penned. Its actions, whether of its own volition or sanctioned by its key sponsoring state, reinforce a revised tenet of international behavior, first officially sacntioned by the US government in 2001. Specifically, preventive war is just fine and dandy. There is no need to limit ones… Read more »