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Tazriah-Metzorah: Interesting Paradoxes

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Clarity 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 its 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 defensive wars.

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 the truth?

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 offer us?

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 creates negah.

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?

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