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“Gilad has been in the hands of the Hamas for five long years. For us it has been an eternity. Most of you went to university and started careers and some of you even got married and started families.”

Noam Shalit said these words at a rally that took place in April, six months before the eventual release of his son in exchange for Palestinian terrorists and prisoners held by Israel.

The delay in deciding to free Gilad Shalit, who was deprived of all of those possibilities and accomplishments listed by his father, was clearly because of a conflict between the Jewish heart and the Jewish mind. An entire nation yearned for his release, but the consensus view is that Israel paid too high a price in freeing terrorists who pledged to continue their murderous ways, opening the door to, G‑d forbid, even more Gilad Shalits.

But I would like to share a third perspective – that of the Jewish soul.

According to the Baal Shem Tov, since everything occurs by Divine Providence, it follows that everything that we hear and see contains a lesson for our spiritual growth.

Many of us would be hard-pressed to find anyone of Gilad’s generation that united the Jewish people in such a profound way.

We all suffered Gilad ben Aviva's captivity and we all rejoiced in his reunion with his family.

Why should it be so? How many of us even know him?

The answer is that it doesn't even matter. We all shared his fate because we all shared his Jewish identity.

It's not because it could have been any one of us; it's because it was every one of us that was in captivity with him.

Perhaps what we need to do now – both individually as well as collectively – is to develop and strengthen this newly refreshed awareness, to learn to express our differences in a way that strengthens our common identity and purpose, rather than in ways that ignore or weaken them.

There’s even more to learn from Gilad’s ordeal: Stop and think about the torture that he went through. Now concentrate on that for just five minutes. Can you imagine what it must have been like to actually be in his situation, and not just for five minutes, but for five years?

Now imagine the joyous feeling of freedom that comes after such pain?

If you had the choice between prolonging such captivity and hastening such freedom, what would you do?

Clearly, it’s a silly question, but in reality, each one of us has the ability to free prisoners under our care.

Every one of us has a Gilad inside of us. The G‑dly soul we carry within us finds itself far, far from its home above, captive in hostile territory.

But we also possess the keys with which to free that soul from its bondage. Every time we fulfill a biblical precept or study Torah, we open the door to its freedom.

What joy the soul experiences then!

A final thought, though, can be directed to G‑d Himself:

Dear G‑d,

Your children were faced with the excruciating choice between following the dictates of the mind and those of the heart.

I am sure that you have your reasons to keep us in exile. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to take the cue from your children, created in your image, and let your compassion win.

Please send Moshiach now!

Joy marred by fear

It started with question marks—“Gilad Shalit Is Coming Home?”—and quickly turned into exclamation points: “Gilad Shalit Is Coming Home!” After almost 2,000 days in captivity, Gilad Shalit walked into the open arms of his parents, family, and indeed of the whole Jewish people.

“Gilad, we set up a special Facebook group for you,” a friend will tell him. He won’t understand. “What’s Facebook?” Five years a hostage! Five years of being disconnected from the outside world. Five years of nonstop thoughts: Will I ever again see my parents, my family? Will I ever get out of here? Will I ever have the chance to start a family of my own?

Thank G‑d, Gilad is getting answers to his questions.

What a celebration. How timely during the holiday of Sukkot, the “Time of Our Rejoicing.”

I’m very happy, but also confused. In fact, I’m a bit angry.

Gilad Shalit is finally home, but we’ve given in. Hamas is having giant victory celebrations. One thousand terrorists, including those responsible for the most fearsome and indiscriminate mass killings, are going free. Cold-blooded murderers, and those who helped them, those with blood on their hands and those who smiled when told the number of the children swept up in their blood-thirst: They’re all going free. They’re even pledging to target Jews once more.

Two pictures flash beside each other in my mind. In one, Gilad is at the air base, the Prime Minister is standing and waiting, and he comes down with slow and somewhat halting steps… seeing once again Hebrew letters before his eyes. Here’s his abba Noam, the father who never stopped thinking about him for even a moment. Here’s ima, Aviva, here’s his brother… is this real, or just a daydream? In the hours ahead, maybe he’ll say a shy “thank you” to the whole nation, the thousands of Jews the world over who never stopped praying for him, who recited hundreds of thousands of Psalms and committed millions of good deeds in his name.

But in the second picture, I see the terrorists riding on buses, waving their fingers in “V for Victory” signs. I see the thousands of families waiting for them with screams of “Allahu Akbar” and “Death to Israel.” I see giant celebrations in Gaza, ranting sermons in the mosques about Israel’s surrender. I see the blurry blood-stained images of more terror victims and the next Gilad that will, G‑d forbid, result from the freeing of these murderers.

The murderers of the Fogel family are right now sitting in a jail cell watching TV. Believe me, they see the same images. They’re watching what’s happening, and telling each other, “Don’t worry, our own turn will come.”

The truth is, I don’t know who to be angry at. Should I be angry at the present Israeli government, which abandoned all of its principles and folded in the face of Hamas’s outrageous demands? Or at the government of 1985, which approved the Jibril agreement, in which over a thousand terrorists were freed in return for three IDF soldiers? Or maybe I should be mad at the 1979 Israeli government, which handed over 79 terrorists in exchange for one soldier? Unfortunately, there is already a tradition of capitulation, a tradition of surrender and a pattern known to all it seems but the leaders themselves. No wonder that the terrorists have learned our weaknesses and exploit them to the fullest.

“We do not redeem captives for too high a price, for the good of society,” the Talmud says. Way back then, our Sages well recognized the danger of concessions that simply whet the kidnappers’ appetites further. The more dangerous the kidnappers, the greater the danger.

What could have been done differently to free Gilad Shalit? I don’t know. I’m not an intelligence agent, nor a prophet. But like an elusive “peace,” this shouldn’t have come at so exorbitant a price.

Allow me to dedicate some last words to Gilad Shalit.

Gilad, who knows, maybe someday you’ll do a Google search and read articles written about you and in tribute to you. If you ever come across this article, dear Gilad, then I want to embrace you in the name of all of our readers. Gilad, we love you. We’re so happy that you came home! May G‑d bless you to know only good in your life from now on.

When Steve Jobs gave his commencement speech at Stanford University, his topic was “How to Live Before You Die.” Since most of us have no idea how much time we have left on this earth, we live as if it is endless. Steve Jobs wasn’t so fortunate. His time, like ours, was limited. The difference is that he knew it, and did something about it.

One of his messages in that speech was the importance of doing something you love. Steve Jobs was one of the greatest innovators and technological geniuses of our time, and was passionate about his work. He lived loving what he did. He died loving it. And his impact on humanity will live on forever.

Steve Jobs adamantly believed that we cannot be satisfied with how things areOne day before he passed away, the latest version of the iPhone was released. I have the iPhone 4, the earlier version. I love it. I use it daily. But Steve Jobs adamantly believed that we cannot be satisfied with how things are; rather, we must constantly strive to improve upon what is already good. Even on those things that are already great.

As the Jewish people, we have just entered a new year. We collectively ask for forgiveness, and reflect on what we can change and what we can improve. Last year may have been a healthy, productive, satisfying year. But this year offers the potential for a new version.

Steve Jobs didn’t always have it easy. He created products that lost to their competition, did things that weren’t conventional, and faced his fair share of critics. But he persisted and eventually succeeded. He knew what his goal was, he knew his direction, and he let nothing stop him from getting there.

We can easily get stuck in the past. We might figure that if something didn’t work before, it won’t work now; or, if it did work then, what’s the point of improvement? Steve Jobs, however, lived for the future in the present. He looked to yesterday only as a guide so that he could change his tomorrow.

In Hebrew the word for the past is avar, which shares the same root as the word for “sin,” aveirah. We are constantly obligated to improve, for ourselves and for the world around us.

Loving what you do is an integral part of successMy gym has a great catchphrase: “There is no such thing as staying the same. You are either striving to do better, or allowing yourself to become worse.” Steve Jobs was always striving to become better, to improve upon greatness and to create the unimaginable. In doing so, he showed the rest of us how a college dropout has the ability to change the world. He showed us that loving what you do is an integral part of success. He proved that innovation is necessary, and that things can always be better.

Each and every one of us has a new version to create. There are no limitations for what can be. So let’s take advantage of the blessing we are given each new day, and learn how to really live our lives.

Sent from my iPad

iTechnology and a better world

One day in 1979, 24-year-old Steve Jobs walked into Xerox PARC and saw the first GUI—a computer interface with a mouse, designed to work the way people work. As Steve Wozniak describes the scene, Jobs was jumping up and down like a small child, demanding “Why aren’t you doing anything with this? This is the greatest thing! This is revolutionary!”

The executives responded that the world wasn’t ready for this. My bet is that a lot of them were pretty scared by it. What’s the point of being a techie, after all, if everyone can do it? But Jobs grabbed whoever he could from the PARC team and built the Macintosh.

If he hadn’t, I would never have been able to become a writer—being rather dyslexic and uncoordinated. I wouldn’t be able to hold a job—because I can’t sit in an office behind a desk for more than an hour. In fact, I have no clue where I would be—other than a real lousy, clumsy cog in IBM’s wheel.

I used to joke that Apple was my second religion. Then Apple got too popular, and I was never one for being part of a mass movement. Nevertheless, I believe in Apple, because I share Steve Job’s vision. And I believe the course of history was changed through him for the better—real, real better.

When Steve Jobs started Apple at 19, this world was the world of IBM, General Motors, Exxon, Dow Chemicals and Encyclopedia Britannica. Today, make that Google, Apple, eBay, FaceBook and Wikipedia. Jobs promise was that 1984 would not be an Orwellian techno-1984 that would reduce us to uniformed humanoids, and he made good on that promise.

What has changed? Everything changed. The world has been turned on its head.

There was once a world where you had to memorize a manual to use a word processor—the same one just about everyone used. Where you had to take someone from the IT department out to lunch just to get basic stats about the company you managed. Where you had to hire a computer expert to get simple tasks done much as we hire accountants to take care of our income tax statements today (and I hope, not for much longer).

Today, we live in an iWorld. If I don’t like the encyclopedia entry, I modify it. If I’m fed up with working at a desk, I check my iPhone map for the closest park and go work there. Technology is here to serve me. I don’t need to conform to it, I don’t need to be manipulated by it, I barely need to spend time learning it—because it learns me.

So some of you are asking, "What is so beautiful, so messianic, about an iWorld?"

And my personal answer: the iWorld is the destiny of humankind and its saving grace.

It is the belief that a human being is not a cog in the wheel of a great machine, but the inherent master of all machines. It has enabled us to create a world where everybody knows when justice has been perverted and can scream about it to the whole world loud and clear. It is the power by which totalitarian regimes have fallen and will continue to fall, by granting everyone access to knowledge, which is power. And behind it all stands a tacit conviction that every human being contains something of the Divine, and therefore should be master of his or her world and destiny.

In Jewish terms—at least, the way I experienced the evolution of the past thirty-something years: The iWorld is the world of Moses, a world where every man, woman and child is a member of the covenant, and must therefore know the laws and teachings for themselves. And what Big Machine Inc. et al were interested in building was more like the world of Egypt's pharaoh and its priestly caste, of those who inform you “we have all the knowledge and we’ll let you know when you need to know.”

Around 500 years ago, Western Civilization began moving rapidly towards towards its destiny, towards that iWorld. In the last 50 years, we’ve been rapidly shifting gears upward. Up and away from a world where human beings are tightly squeezed through homogenization filters so they’ll fit into the system, into a world designed to fit the human being. Into a world where knowledge is free, opportunities for expression and creativity lie literally at your fingertips, every voice is heard and almost anything becomes possible even for the most handicapped child.

The world has its destiny, produced and directed by the Master of all destiny. A destiny in which Steve Jobs played a principal role. Sure, his role was nothing more than a provider of tools—it's up to us to use them to create that world for which we yearn.

What's the latest news? For that information, check your local or national news outlet. In this blog we will discuss the "why?"

Not "why did this event occur?" but "why did I find out about it?" There must be a reason. It must contain a lesson I can use to better myself and my surroundings. Together we will find the lessons...