Pinchas: Back to Reality


After a rather lengthy sleep we have suddenly been jolted back to reality with the latest conflagration in the Middle East.

Is anyone shocked?

We children of the West, born in freedom, have been spoiled by the façade of our many distractions that have allowed us the luxury of denial of the stark battles of good and evil, creating an illusion of false security.

The reverie of a peaceful siesta is far more comfortable, but one need not be very intelligent to recognize that the Middle East is a combustion chamber, a fermenting hotbed of noxious toxins always ready to explode.

September 11 and other attacks remind us sporadically from time to time that there are powerful brewing forces that must be reckoned with before we enter an age of true peace, but it is so easy to sink back into our comfortable cushions. Such is the nature of the beast of denial.

Just a bit of history can surely wake you up:

Hezbollah, which means the Party of G-d, views the conflict with Israel as “an existential struggle” as opposed to “conflict over land” (as Lebanese scholar Amal Saad-Ghorayeb underscores in her book, Hizbu’llah: Politics and Ideology). In the words of Sheikh Naim Qasim, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general, “Even if hundreds of years pass by, Israel’s existence will continue to be an illegal existence.”

Although Hezbollah has denounced attacks on Western civilians, they make an exception in the case of Israel. As Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah puts it,

“in occupied Palestine there is no difference between a soldier and a civilian, for they are all invaders, occupiers and usurpers of the land.”

After Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, some analysts predicted—and many Lebanese hoped—that Hezbollah would soon wind down its military operations and become a purely political party. But Nasrallah has greater ambitions than to win more seats in Lebanon’s parliament, and he has had the firm backing of Iran and Syria. At once a determined radical and an astute pragmatist, he views Hezbollah both as a Lebanese party committed to assuring the welfare of its constituents and as a vanguard in the pan-Islamic struggle to destroy Israel and restore Palestine to its native inhabitants.

By no means did this restrict Hezbollah’s action to Israel alone. In the early 1990s, Hezbollah members were connected to two notorious attacks in Buenos Aires: the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy, which killed twenty-nine people, ostensibly in retaliation for Israel’s assassination of Sheikh Musawi; and the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center, which killed eighty-five civilians.

Tragically, it doesn’t end there. In March 2004, after the Israeli assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, Nasrallah said to Hamas: “We are under your command. Your blood is our blood; our fight is one.” Hezbollah demonstrated its solidarity with the Palestinian group by firing more than sixty-five rockets at six different Israeli military positions in the Shebaa Farms in southern Lebanon.

You may recall that Hamas, now controlling the activities in Gaza and the West Bank, initiated the current crisis by kidnapping an Israeli soldier. Hamas clearly views the Arab-Israeli conflict as a religious struggle between Islam and Judaism that can only be resolved by the destruction of the State of Israel, and thus opposes any Arab-Israeli peace talks.

If you’re still asleep, here are a few quotes from the Hamas covenant (or charter):

Preface: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” (A quote by Imam Hassan al Banna)

Article 6: “The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine, for under the wing of Islam followers of all religions can coexist in security and safety where their lives, possessions and rights are concerned…”

Article 7:”The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realisation of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharqad tree would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.”

Article 11: “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up.”

Article 13: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with.”

Article 28: “The Zionist invasion is a vicious invasion … It relies greatly in its infiltration and espionage operations on the secret organizations it gave rise to, such as the Freemasons, The Rotary and Lions clubs, and other sabotage groups. All these organizations, whether secret or open, work in the interest of Zionism and according to its instructions… When the Jews conquered the Holy City in 1967, they stood on the threshold of the Aqsa Mosque and proclaimed that “Mohammed is dead, and his descendants are all women.” Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people. “May the cowards never sleep.”

Article 32: “After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.”

What to be done?

As in all serious confrontations one needs a short-term plan and a long-term one. Obviously, first and foremost everything possible must be done in the short term to protect innocent lives and never allow anyone – terrorists or sovereign states – to violate the security of a peace-loving nation. A show of strength is often necessary to serve as a deterrent.

We all would wish that this short-term approach would be enough. But the fact remains that even when these immediate fires are quelled (hopefully sooner than later), the region is festering with centuries of old toxins, driven by religious passions and often fanatical faith (misguided or not), and the resulting hostility to Israel will not just go away. It is built on a philosophy and unwavering belief system of millions.

Thus, one thing is for sure: Until we don’t come to honest terms with the brutal truth about the true nature of the conflict – religious and spiritual as opposed to political – we will not know how to fight this war and we will never win it. Fires may be suppressed, but the underlying forces will not be tamed.

It is no surprise therefore that the current outbreak began on the 17th of Tammuz, the day when the Jerusalem walls were breached, leading three weeks later, on the 9th of Av, to the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, the first Temple 2428 years ago, the second one 1938 years ago.

This saddest time in the year, called ‘The Three Weeks’ (Tammuz 17-Av 9), is a national period of mourning for the holiness that was lost with the destruction. The Western Wall in Jerusalem – which symbolizes, more than any other object, the Jewish presence in Israel today – is the only remaining remnant of the wall surrounding the Temple.

During the Three Weeks we traditionally increase our Torah study, prayer and charity. Above all, we intensify our love and kindness to each other – counterbalancing the baseless hatred that was the ultimate cause for the Temple’s destruction.

What exactly are we mourning over for close to two millennia? Why do we pray for the Temple’s restoration? And what connection is there between human hatred and a Holy building’s destruction?!

The answer is that the Temple wasn’t a mere structure of bricks and mortar. It was a window – a literal gate – between heaven and earth. “Build Me a Sanctuary,” G-d says, “and I will rest among you.” The Temple’s destruction marked the closing of the window between spirit and matter, between the Divine purpose of existence and existence itself. Think of it as a traveler losing sight of his destination, an entity losing touch of its mission – a world losing direction.

The first symptom of a dichotomy between matter and spirit – the misalignment of existence and purpose – is expressed in personal disunity. When an individual loses touch with his own raison d’etre, his fragmented self has to cause anxiety and ultimate insecurity and erosion of self-respect. In its extreme it escalates into a self-loathing (the purposeful soul loathing the aimless life). This inevitably spills over into our relationships with others: When you hate another it is a projection – or deflection – of hating yourself. A secure person can co-exist with anyone. Even if he may disagree with or be attacked by another, the secure person distinguishes between the actions of the enemy and his person.

From the personal, divisiveness carries over to the collective: To the splits between communities, religions and nations.

Once divisiveness infected the people, the Holy Temple – which bridged spirit and matter – could simply no longer stand. There was no room for it in a fractured world. It no longer was appreciated and no longer served its purpose…

Just as divisiveness destroys the Temple, unity rebuilds it. And mind you, unity here means on a universal scale. Indeed, the Midrash tells us that had the nations of the world known how the Temple protected them, they would have built legions around it shielding it from any harm!

How uncanny and ironic is it that the current battles in the Middle East – over Israel and Jerusalem at its heart – began and continue in the Three Weeks?!

It only underscores the true nature of the war.

As mentioned, everything must be done in the immediate to protect the innocent. But in the long term big picture, we must remember that this – as in past battles in Israel, all the way back to the Babylonian and Roman destruction of the Temples – is ultimately a spiritual and religious battle, reflecting the battle of all life.

The true battle of life is not for land, honor or wealth. It is for the dominance of spirit over matter. Our greatest challenge is not political but spiritual. It is about finding purpose and direction.

And that is why we grieve over the Temple’s destruction and pray for its restoration: We are yearning, aspiring and doing everything in our power to reconnect with the direction, mission and destination of our lives – something we lost close to two millennia ago.

And we thus intensify our efforts in reconnecting with out inner purpose, through our increased study, prayer and charity, thereby creating internal harmony. Above all – we do all we can to battle divisiveness and foster love between each other.

As long as we do not understand the current confrontation – some call it a “clash of civilizations” – we will continue to be its victim, and putting out fires in a never-ending, slowly bleeding vicious cycle.

The ultimate victor will be not the one with the most powerful weapons. It will be the one with the most powerful spiritual vision.

What exactly this battle entails has been discussed at length in this column.

So while all peace-loving people grieve over the tragic loss of any life, and pray for the end of all hostilities – we must always remember that even while we are forced to deal with the short-term challenges, there looms a much larger picture.

The universe is at war and has always been at war – the raging battle between materialism and spirituality, between personal gain and higher purpose, between matter and spirit. Center stage of this war – now and throughout history – has always been Israel.

So ladies and gentlemen: Time to wake up. “Everybody up, up, up, up” was the annoying sound of the reveille call we would hear each morning in summer camp, abruptly disturbing our peaceful sleep. Annoying indeed.

Perhaps this is the power of the promise “hineh lo yonum v’lo yishan shomer Yisroel,” “Behold, the protector of Israel does not slumber nor sleep” – even when we may.

* * *

Question for the week: What should be done about the never-ending Arab-Israeli conflict?


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18 years ago

TWO A bombs will solve the problem, one to flatten MECCA and the other to flatten MEDINA. This will teach the Arabs/Muslims how false their environment really is……BUT this will also lead to WW3…..war of GOG and MAGOG…

Robin Blumenthal
18 years ago

Jews need to do more mitzvahs. This is the only way we can hope to influence world events.

18 years ago

Education, education, education. Better dissemination of the history of the Middle East and of Israel; better dissemination of accurate news about what-is-going-on.

Marvin Hershenson
18 years ago

It is clear that the present government of the palestinians are not interested in nation building. They are more focused on death and destruction. The same is true with Hezbollah. A wise sage once uttered that when an enemy is like an animal, one must address this animal with a non-verbal response. Language is useless. Further, the extremists of the Muslim world are so developmentally immature, a mature response of talking is totally useless. The extremists have created this malestrom and Israel must respond firmly and forcefully. Thank you.

Alan Feldman
18 years ago

No one lens is sufficient to analyze the Arab/Israeli conflict. It requires political, religious, emotional, historical and psychological perspective intertwined.

At the risk of oversimplifying, it is emblematic of lack of development of our human and spiritual potential on a collective basis which is counter to how we like to think of ourselves. We blame the other for dragging us into animalistic behavior while at the same time we seem so eager to take that step when opportunity presents itself.

Extreme polarity is the lowest form of human consciousness and psychology. the desire to change others instead of painful and difficult change of ourselves. Us/them, right/wrong, Jew/Muslim. I thought the consciousness we aspire to as observant Jews and Muslims is that of G-d consciousness, or oneness. I would conjecture that at that level there are no Jews and Arabs.

In the sun for example, under the circumstance of extreme heat, all atomic material is in the form of a soup of sorts. On earth, under the influence of distance and lower temperatures, the same materials take the form of the earth and its inhabitants as we know it. It is all the same stuff under different circumstances resulting in different matter and energy.

While in this us/them consciousness, we are throwing away all that can be learned from the Torah or other spiritual writings and not seeing these life events as opportunities for advancement on the spiritual ladder, as mysterious and unfathomable as that may seem. G-d is perfect as are all His creations. It is only our interpretations, which are a function of our psychological/spiritual/emotional development, which attach the negative associations and connotations.

The intellectual analysis and comparison of dogma tends to put us in a lower place in ourselves that does not avail any real or lasting resolution. We are discussing symptoms instead of causes.

Written with love.

Ana Maria
18 years ago

It is complicated, but on the first instance, Europe should not have sent all of those European Jews to the Palestinian territory. No matter what religious background there may be, the Jews were Europeans, and they had not lived in Palestine for historical longer periods of time. What the Europeans did was to try to regain territories that on the present day were inhabited by other folks, with other traditions and culture. It is questionable, if the Europeans (mainly England) would have chosen to send the Jews to that area of the country, if there wouldnt have been any oil in those lands…

18 years ago

Theres only ONE solution:
To annihilate ALL Arab armed forces, beginning with the Hizbollah and the Hamas/Jihad and other palestinian terrorist organizations, and ending with the complete destruction of the Iranian weapons, and the removal of its leadership.

18 years ago

What should be done about the arab israeli conflict? Is there anything we havent done so far? What were we doing right during the brief periods when turmoil was not prevalent? When we stood strong and the arab nations understood we would not be taken down– they left us alone. When we lost track of our priorities and began to negotiate and rethink our position we lost respect, focus and perhaps sometimes even faith. Like they say when you dont stand for something , you will fall for anything. And perhaps that is what is happening here–we dont know where we stand.

18 years ago

It is all so confusing and the answer seems even more elusive. to me, it lies in one of the hardest of all challenges; the sinthetization and respectful coexistence of am israel.

The more we are separated and confronted, the more this struggles and enemies will appear.

(it applies surely in the land of israel but may as well in the diaspora)

George Pugh
18 years ago

Islam is dying, being ground down by the modern world: the answers it gives simply are of no help to them. Look at the poverty and and lack of hope, everywhere Islam rules, including the oilies.

Muslims know their culture is doomed, and that is the reason they are willing to die fighting. They also know that they have to go for the main chance now,as there will be no tomorrow.

18 years ago

Carpet bomb the terrorists and their supporters.

18 years ago

United Nations should be called on to act in this tragic situation which can lead to WW 111 If they refuse rational members should leave the organization., What do we need the U.N. if they are so impotent !!!

Marion I. Lipshutz
18 years ago

Israel needs to move towards final status negotiations with the Palestinians by withdrawing from most of the West Bank and by adopting a treaty along the lines of the Geneva Accord, as proposed by progressive Israeli politican Yossi Beilin.

Given the realities of extremism in the region as practiced by terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, this would not be a panacea. However, it is a basic first step towards a two state solution that would ameliorate much of the violence and ultimately lead to more peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.

18 years ago

Arab Israeli problm will not stop until either all palestinians joins Judaism or all Israelis become muslims.

This problem is Ismael fighting the Original Successor Issahak, it is actually a spiritual problm.

18 years ago


The root cause of our problems is not the Syrians or Iran or Hamas or Hizbollah. The root cause of the conflict is the collective lack of yearning for Eretz Yisroel and the Mitzvoth. The demonstrations against outside forces will not solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. The escalations of fighting is a direct consequence of our lack of yearning and love for Eretz Yisroel and the Mitzvoth. I am referring to Am Yisroel all over the world. Each Jew has equal claims to the Land of Israel whether they live in Eretz Yisroel or in the Diaspora. The people of Gush Katif were not supported by their brethren all over the world.

If there is a deep yearning to keep the Mitzvah of Shemittah for example, there is no way that we would have agreed to give parts of Eretz Yisroel to an entity that has no obligation, inclination or desire to keep the Mitzvoth. Only Hashem entrusted the Torah with Am Yisroel. When we keep the Torah we then actualize our potential of being a Mamlechet Kohanim VeGoi Kadosh. Peace and prosperity will reign as promised. Let us look inward.

Lenny Steinberg
18 years ago

Unfortunately, (and we recognize that it is Yad Hashem), we are suffering from all the mistakes of the pst left wing governments. It started with Oslo of course, pulling an almost dead PLO from their deathbed and ressucatating them. The next big mistake was the cut and run from Lebanon. Barak got his political largesse, but Israel is suffering from it. Instead of a phased pullback, we ran away worst of all, leaving our staunch allies, the SLA in dire straits. This is a message for anyone who could help us now with intelligence that this is how Israel treats its friends. Then of course was the ridiculous disengagement which again gave the message that we are weak. And here we are today.

Steven Sacks-Wilner
18 years ago

Until Moshiach comes we should continue as we have since 1948; and as we did after leaving Mitzrayim with Mosheh and entering Eretz Yisroel; we should follow tha path of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob..

Shortly after the War of Independence in 1948, Israeli President Chaim Weizmann had a meeting scheduled with President Truman to discuss issues related to the new State of Israel. In preparation for this meeting, Weizmann turned to his Deputy Minister of Defense, Levi Eshkol, and asked Eshkol what he thought was the most strategic way of presenting Israel to the United States. Was it better to emphasize Israel as a country of strength and military might, one which had effortlessly defeated its attackers – or might that make the fledgling country seem too self-sufficient, able to do without US aid and support? Was it perhaps better to emphasize Israels tiny size and underdog status – or might that make the country seem too vulnerable, like a bad investment risk? After thinking about Weizmanns quandary for several moments, Eshkol turned to the President delivering a creative and clever solution. We must present ourselves as Shimson der nebekhdikker – Samson the nebbish – Eshkol answered. We must emphasize both Israels strength and her vulnerability, her peril and her promise.

Along with the nebekhdikker in our prayers – perhaps this is stretching, the part of us as humble as dust that wishes comfort for the victims and healing for the wounded – there must also be room for Shimshon – the part of us that takes pride in the incredible strength and courage of our brothers and sisters in Israel, that has confidence that we will survive this, as we’ve survived so many trials of history before, through faith in Hashem, following Hashem and meriting the support of Hashem. And along with the Shimshon in our hearts – the part of us praying for swift victory that will put an end to this conflict once and for all – there must be room for der nebekhdikker – the part of us that understands that there are victims on both sides of the struggle and which mourns the fact that we have ultimately come to such a violent place?

Like our forefathers and mothers, we must trust Hashem and remember to tie our camels. Like Yaakov we must balance gevurah and chesed.

Tuvia Bolton
18 years ago

Our ONLY hope is the Rebbe.

The response to the conflict is to learn what the Rebbe says; do it and try to convince the Israeli govt. to do it.

In other words, the govt. must 1) Change the system of education in Israel to teach true Jewish identity: i.e. according to the definitions of the Baal Shem Tov. 2) Not to even think of conceding anything… even straw (certainly not land G-d forbid) to our enemies. 3) To protect the people only according to generals that are presently in the army and have no connection to politics

Ordinary citizens must: Learn about Moshiach and do all we can to bring him in Action (all the Mivtzoim), Speech (prayer and teaching the Rebbes ideas) and Thought (Positive thoughts bring similar results) while making open complaints and voicing our opposition to any Israeli govt. plans which are contrary to those of the Rebbe.

Moshiach NOW!!

Alex Goldring
18 years ago

Our tradition recognizes that there is a phenomenon in the human condition, including Judaism, that is called baseless hatred. Nevertheless, my human mind, like most minds, seeks causality in observable affects. Ascribing causality and reasons to whatever the mind perceives is one of the functions of the mind, albeit the reasons may have no validity in fact.

Having said the above, I have asked myself, is there a source for anti-Semitism? Is there a seminal story, or stories, that sheds light on the genesis of this phenomenon? I
submit the possibility that there are.

I believe that the Biblical stories of Ishmael and of Esau may be the beginning of the problem. Each of these men were the forerunners of great nations and cultures. And each of them has a story where the forefathers of Judaism had a dramatic effect on the forefathers of the Arabs and of Rome (the west). In each of their tales their rightful places of primogeniture were supplanted by the younger brother, who by dint of the Biblical account remained in the center of history. Despite the fact that in each case the older brothers forgave their siblings, or were simply willing to go on with their lives, you can be sure that around their tribal campfires, tales were told of how their tribal patrimony was stolen from them, and by whom. These tales eventually became encrusted in lore and the perpetuation of the Jew as swindler and conniver became fact in their reality. These myths have long lives and are being carried forward as facts, despite Gods imprimatur to these familial permutations, as reported in the Bible.

I frankly dont know how to satisfy the festering wound in these cultures as it pertains to the Jews. If my premises have some validity, can their perceived pain be addressed, without being suicidal? Is there some acknowledgement that can serve to lance their millennial boil? Perhaps, there is some-thing to reflect on.

Kathe R. Moore
18 years ago

The problem in the Mideast is that the Islam fundamentalists are irrational and do not care about others life. Only a swift and sure military defeat will teach them anything

17 years ago

I believe as well that the trouble lies in the spiritual – the fights of the Gods. Why don’t you and scholars like you argue or work the issue with scholars of the Muslims’ community? Have an open debate, a worldly forum, for as long as it takes shown on the international television all over the world, with enough publicity so all Arabs and Jews and gentiles alike would watch. Is it not greater than a soccer match? Soccer match had stopped all activities and confrontation around the world; shouldn’t Torah and Godly matters do the same if not more and reach higher heights than this?

I strongly believe that a forum as such watched by all run by the greatest scholars of both sides would be the answer to our problems. I strongly believe that we can coexist with our neighbours and bring the land of Israel and her surrounding to “erez zavat halav u’dvash’.

The debate needs to take place in a world forum and argued by knowledgeable, intelligent people, and from our side people that know well and believe that Israel never has spread hatred towards her Arabs neighbours and Israel through the history advocates peace and democracy.

It is possible for something like this to take place in our time and for the Torah scholars to take initiative and to bring Godly life to our daily life.

Take the lead Rabbi Simon Jacobson, the time has arrived for our religious scholars to come upfront like the Mullahs and much better and honest than them.

Cindy Abrams
17 years ago

Daven, daven and more davening. HaShem wants us to unify as a Jewish people and call on him CONSTANTLY and stop the infighting amoungst ourselves FIRST! We need to focus on finding shidduchim for our single folks, on addressing the halachot to release aggunot and aggunim and to a thousand more things, but like the gemara says, if I have 100 I want 200, if I have 200 I want 400. We are always reaching for more, but for better, first. thanks again.

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