May 31, 2011
The Mussar emphasis for this week is diligence. I wrote a pretty good little blog you can read here http://www.rivertonmussar.org/component/k2/item/482, but I haven’t devoted a lot of time to working on my diligence this week. At least, I thought I hadn’t devoted much time to it until this evening.
Here in New Mexico, we use swamp coolers instead of air conditioners – evaporative devices that just draw air through moistened pads and blow it down into your house. They usually work fine and are cheap to run, with just two electrical components; a motor that runs the blower, and a little pump to squirt water on the pads. We have three units on our house and Memorial Day weekend was time to replace two of them. (Actually, Memorial Day weekend was already about a month late for replacing them, but you know how that goes.) I asked my good friend Jake if he could give me a hand hoisting the new units up onto the roof, pulling off the old ones, getting the new ones set just right, and then hooking up the electricity for the water pumps and blowers. Jake has a degree in engineering and combines smarts with a great work ethic. Just the man you want for installing a couple of swamp coolers.
To keep the story simple, I’ll just say that we ran into a bunch of electrical problems that I never could have solved on my own.
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May 23, 2011
On my way home for Shabbat, I flip on the radio to catch up on the news, and what do I get? “Democracy Now!” Host Amy Goodman has three guests discussing Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to endless Hamas rocket attacks. If you’re not familiar with Amy Goodman, I can introduce her simply enough by telling you that her idea of a balanced panel was to choose Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the left-wing advocacy group J Street as the voice on the right. Left of him were Palestinian human rights lawyer Noura Erakat, and Norman Finkelstein, the Israel-bashing academic who said, “We are all Hezbollah” during Israel’s 2006 war against the terrorist group, and was denied tenure at DePaul University in 2007.
But the panel’s imbalance isn’t my point. Rather, I’m amazed that Democracy Now is still obsessing on Operation Cast Lead two and a half years later and invoking the Goldstone Report weeks after Goldstone himself repudiated it. Why aren’t they talking about current events in Syria where the government has murdered nearly 1000 non-violent protestors? In fact, why haven’t the pundits been talking about Syria all along, with its human rights violations and incursions into Lebanon, including a virtual occupation for years, and an ongoing military supply of Hezbollah? Why aren’t they talking about the threat of an Islamist hijacking of the “Arab spring?” How come Israel’s transgressions, real and trumped-up, always dominate the news?
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May 20, 2011
Back when I was a local rabbi, we had two families leave the congregation within days of each other. One family said the congregation wasn’t Jewish enough, and the other said it was too Jewish. If you’re in Messianic Jewish leadership of any sort, you could probably tell a similar story. And you might have responded like I did. I figured that since we were getting criticized from both sides on the Jewishness question, we must be pretty balanced.
But later, after some reflection, I decided that wasn’t really the best explanation.
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May 17, 2011
The other day in the elevator, I learned something about righteousness.
Yeshua teaches us, “Be careful not to parade your acts of tzedakah in front of people in order to be seen by them! If you do, you have no reward from your father in heaven” (Matt. 6:1, CJB). Acts of tzedakah often have to be done in public. In my city, you sometimes see folks standing along freeway off ramps or at busy intersections asking for help. If you pull over and hand them a dollar or two, everyone sees it. If you go visit someone in the hospital, the staff and other visitors see it, and may even see you praying with the person. Yeshua isn’t telling us not to do such inevitably public acts of tzedakah, but not to do them “in order to be seen.” Apparently there’s an inherent risk to practicing righteousness that we can do it outwardly, but with an inner disconnect. We’re not moved by compassion or the desire to imitate Messiah, but by a craving for recognition.
Righteousness, then, means doing the right thing whether anyone is watching or not (and knowing that there actually is One who is watching all the time), and lining up inwardly with the outward act. Public righteousness should reflect private rightness with Hashem.
So, what did I learn on the elevator?
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May 11, 2011
Yesterday was Yom Ha-Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, and our local Jewish community held a seminar entitled “Crossing the Line: the Intifada Comes to Campus,” based on a DVD (available through http://campusintifada.com) showing how groups on campuses across the country have moved far beyond legitimate criticism of Israel into blatant anti-Semitism.
We’ve all seen the slogans equating Israel’s leaders with the Nazis and Israel’s policies with apartheid, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. These comparisons are nonsensical when you look at the facts, but they make a lot of sense according to the Big Lie theory of propaganda. Hitler originated the phrase in his book Mein Kampf, accusing the German Jews of using a big lie to escape blame for their country’s defeat in WWI. But Hitler became the master of the Big Lie, as described in a report by the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) prepared during WWII:
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May 6, 2011
As we are approaching the half-way point of Sefirat Ha-Omer, counting the days from Passover to Shavuot (Lev. 23:10-16), we might recall that the first 32 days of the Omer are a period of semi-mourning in Jewish tradition. One explanation for this custom is that 12,000 pairs of disciples of Rabbi Akiva died of a plague during this season, until the plague lifted on the 33rd day, or Lag b’Omer, which became a joyful, if minor, festival. Why were they afflicted with the plague? The Talmud says, “Because they failed to treat each other with respect” (Yevamot 62b).
It’s not hard to imagine the brilliant young students of the greatest rabbi of their generation competing for recognition and status, and disrespecting each other as they did so.
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May 5, 2011
Last night the Obama administration announced that they would not release photos of the dead bin Laden. They cited various reasons and added that it would be like spiking a football in the end zone after scoring a touchdown—publicly gloating over our victory. I haven’t run into anyone who is ambivalent about the benefit of getting rid of bin Laden, or who would disagree with the president’s assessment that May 1 was “a good day for America,” but I’ve seen lots of ambivalence about how to respond. Some people cheered and celebrated and danced in the streets. Other people were upset and troubled by those very scenes. Some even invoked Yeshua’s teaching about turning the other cheek. Where’s the balance in all this?
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