Views on the News

Musings on the G-20 Meeting

June 28, 2010 4:57 PM

The G-20 summit meeting in Toronto came to a close yesterday. Leaders of the world's wealthiest nations and biggest economies convened to discuss how to bolster a fragile global economy which is seemingly taking small steps on its way to recovery.

The consensus is that massive government deficits pose the biggest threat to global economic stability. As such, it was unanimously agreed that governments must place a strong emphasis on debt reduction. How this is to be accomplished – or more specifically, how quickly this is to be accomplished – remains the subject of contention. While some European nations advocated immediately raising taxes and slashing spending in order to reduce debt, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner advocated a more "measured approach to debt reduction," i.e., continued government stimulus packages in order to continue stimulating economic growth.

Here's how The New York Times put it:

Although Mr. Obama insisted emphatically that there was "violent agreement" on the need to reduce debt over time, the final communiqué [of the G-20 member nations] included a delicately worded call for deficit reduction "tailored to national circumstances." In essence, the leaders were blessing their decision to go their own ways.

So was anything accomplished? Is there any point in agreeing on a goal, if there is no consensus regarding its implementation?

I think yes.

A while ago I stumbled upon a parenting blog post on this site, Baffled by the Book by Tzippora Price, which I thought to be really insightful. The author of the article responds to a mother who tries to raise her kids "by the book," but the books are driving her crazy. One day she reads that parents are too lenient, and that's why children lack self-esteem and direction. The next day she reads that parents criticize their children too much, and need to learn how to let things go and not be so controlling, etc.

Tzippora begins her response by saying:

There are many schools of thought regarding how to raise ethical and well-behaved children. The fact that so many theories exist shows that no one method has been proven to work for all parents and all children. In the absence of one perfect model, you will need to choose the parenting method that best suits your family...

No two people are alike. No two nations are alike. That's the way G‑d created us. So while it is a tremendous accomplishment when people of different mentalities and backgrounds come together and agree on a common goal, to insist on uniformity in the area of implementation is usually foolhardy.

This truth was reflected in the creation of the United States. Indeed, it is reflected in its very name. The Founding Fathers understood that there was a need for all the member states of the new republic to recognize and affirm certain core values, as expressed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Simultaneously they understood that different people will find different ways to operate—all under the same umbrella of values. We are united, but we are still a collection of different states with different laws and systems.

As is the case with all good ideas, this concept first finds expression in the holy Torah. In this week's Torah reading, Pinchas, we read of the division of the Holy Land into twelve tracts, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel (Numbers 26:53-55). Later, in the book of Deuteronomy, we learn that each of the tribes had its own judicial system (with the ultimate authority vested in the "federal Supreme Court" in Jerusalem). Yes, all the tribes were committed to the same G‑d and the same Torah—but each one had its distinct mode of service, its unique contribution to the colorful Jewish tapestry.

As the mystics explain, G‑d's infinitude is expressed to its fullest when an infinite amount of people, places, and times all express – in their uniquely inimitable fashion – the same G‑dly truth.

Sunday, Monday, Yom Kippur, and Purim. Workdays and vacation days. Weddings and funerals.

America, Israel, Zanzibar and all points in between. Synagogues and fitness centers. Dining rooms, studies, and bedrooms.

Me, you, and every other individual created in G‑d's image.

Unique entities. But all united by a common goal and destiny.

Success and Failure

A World Cup Lesson

June 20, 2010

Once again, the world turns its attention to "the beautiful game," as the World Cup is currently being played in South Africa. Although soccer (make that football) has never really taken off here in the U.S., there has got to be something we can learn from all the hoopla.

Imagine yourself a World Cup player playing against Team South Africa. You have surrendered your childhood to honing your skill. You have dedicated your every moment to being faster and stronger, and you have succeeded. You have eschewed mundane pleasures to become an elite player.

Arriving at the field (sorry, pitch), you glance at your rivals as they prepare to destroy your dreams. Their goal is to the absolute exclusion of yours, they want to win and they have no sympathy for your likeminded objective. Lest you think it's a fair fight—it isn't. You are in their country. They were spared the 14-hour plane ride, the adjustment to odd foods, and the distraction provided by the novel experiences which clamor for your attention while you attempt to concentrate on game preparation. And the fans are cheering for their favorites; maybe the groundskeepers have even slanted the arena to give the home team some advantage.

And what is your objective? What will make all the sweat, strained muscles and endless hours in the gym worthwhile?

All you want is to be 3/10 of a second faster. That's all you hope for. And your teammates, your countrymen, millions watching at home—are all hoping for 3/10 of a second of quickness that will allow you to pass the defender en route to the goal. Inches determine whether the goalie makes the save and is crowned the hero, or whether you succeed. And if you do win, the competition only intensifies; the next round is filled with fiercer opponents who are unimpressed by your past success.

We are all World Cup fields. The competitors on this field are the G‑dly/transcendent Soul versus its rival, the human/instinctive drive. They are both highly prepared to execute their tasks, equally devoted to victory with no tolerance for the enemy. Compromise is not in their vocabulary.

All the games are played on the human/instinctive soul's home field. Down here it's all about getting what you can and looking out for #1; concern is for wimps, and nice guys finish last. Madison Avenue ain't appealing to G‑dliness, the populace is not cheering for virtue and selflessness.

And all G‑d wants is 3/10 of a second of quickness on the part of the G‑dly/transcendent inclination. Will I lash out at the guy who annoys me, or will I pause and holster my words? Victory can not be savored; time spent in self-congratulations is time wasted from preparing for the next battle. My rival may appear to have relaxed, but it's a trick. He's hoping to lure me into complacency.

This is why we spend so many hours in study, the tens of thousands of dollars to send our children to Jewish Day Schools, to be just a little better and quicker. We do not hope to eradicate the competition, only to defeat him this time and the next time and then again. We are extraordinarily aware that victory must be quickly forgotten, that victory may serve to cause the enemy to adjust and plot, making the next challenge harsher. We press on, surrendering is not an option.

Three tenths of a second makes all the difference in the word. One more goal scored, one more victory for the G‑dly soul over the instinctive one, makes all the difference to the world—transforming the agony of defeat into the thrill of the ultimate victory, the coming of Moshiach.

Musings on the World Cup

What is it about team sports that we so appreciate?

June 13, 2010

Many of you reading this will be following footballing (soccer) events taking place in South Africa at this time. Some of you will be supporting or backing your favorite teams, and may even have the scarf to match—but I don't think anyone here has World Cup fever as badly as one chap in the UK who seems to have gone a little crazy. He has actually tried to recreate the feel of a soccer field in the living room of his rented accommodation, and to that end has covered his floor with grassy turf from his local garden center. This lush green vista around his flat screen TV, complete with white markings and a corner flag, seems the perfect setting to watch the matches.

To ensure it stays fresh as long as possible, guests are being asked to remove their shoes, and the grass is of course watered regularly and given lots of light. It should all be great fun until his landlord gives him a penalty or a free kick!

What is it about watching team sports that humans so appreciate?

Participation in sport is something we can understand – we know the science of it, that exercise releases endorphins which make you feel good, exercise is good for the heart, helps us lose weight, etc. – but what do we gain from watching other people play sports, whether live in the stadium or on TV in the comfort of our own home? Is it the competitive aspect, the vicarious exercise, the thrill of "our team" winning, the camaraderie as we cheer or groan together, or is it simply something we do to kill time?

Presumably everyone has their own personal motivation and reason for enjoying sports, but there is one aspect I would like to discuss here and that is the attraction and power of belonging to a team, of being a team player. There seems to be something in our genetic makeup that predisposes us to want to be part of something greater than just being one individual, alone. We feel the need to belong to a group of like-minded souls, and belonging to that group gives us security and satisfaction, motivation and meaning. Possibly this need to belong is rooted in a low sense of self-esteem or a fear of sticking our head above the parapet; but it is not just humans who feel this need for a peer group: lions hunt in prides, fish swim in shoals, birds fly in flocks, etc. It is a deep-rooted natural instinct that we are seemingly born with.

The World Cup began this past Friday, in the week whose Torah reading, Korach, discusses a group of like-minded people who gathered together in rebellion against the leaders of the nation in an early form of a no-confidence motion. Led by Korach, Moses' first cousin, they complained of perceived power grabbing and nepotism by Moses and Aaron. What transpired next is preserved in the Torah for posterity. The ground beneath the rebel leaders opened beneath them, swallowing them alive. The two hundred and fifty members of Team Korach were then consumed by fire from Heaven, leaving their still-smoldering fire-pans littered on the ground.

Where did these 250 unfortunates come from? They all came from the tribe of Reuben, leading the commentators to ask why they all came from one specific tribe—why not from a few tribes? Surely the political unrest was spread evenly amongst the people? The great commentator Rashi answers this by quoting from the Mishnah (Negaim 12:6): "Woe to an evil person, and woe to his neighbor!" Because the tribe of Reuben was encamped next to the family of Korach, they fell under his sphere of influence and this tragically led to their rebellion against G‑d's appointed leader, and their subsequent deaths.

The lessons learned from this are clear. We all like to be part of a group or a team—that is our nature. It is also our nature to go along with the group and to give in to peer pressure, as it is the rare individual who can swim against the tide, ignoring calls for conformity. Our task then is to ensure that we, and our children, are mixing in the right circles and with the right people. When we get together with friends, the discussion and the activities should be about good and positive things. When our children meet their friends they should be engaged in wholesome activities, and reading or watching things that will help them grow Jewishly, and not, G‑d forbid, the opposite.

Our task is also to ensure that we and our children understand the powerful effects of peer pressure, and that we have the moral fiber to stand up to the group if our conscience tells us something is wrong. Our moral code as laid down in the Torah is clear and unchanging. National cultures and social mores may change with the seasons, but we must stay firm and sure in the knowledge of what is right and what is not, and to share that stability with others around us, swaying in a turbulent world.

May we merit to be blessed with moral clarity, and to truly live up to the title of G‑d's Chosen People.

Thank You, Helen

June 8, 2010 8:36 PM

So a venerated, old woman said that the Jews should get out of Palestine and go back home to Germany and Poland. Or America. Or wherever. And after the negative feedback she scrambled to the terra firma of the two-state-solution mantra. Which was more instructive, if less astonishing.

Was she really changing her passionate belief in the few hours, or just putting some lipstick on it? Maybe, we should be glad her true colors came out. I am. The White House Press Secretary opined, "She should and has apologized. Obviously, those remarks do not reflect the opinion, I assume, of most of the people in here and certainly not of the administration."

You assume, do you now? And I assume that if someone else had barked Juden raus! you would have then assumed that Helen Thomas shared the opinion "of most of the people in here." And what is the administration's opinion when calling for a two-state solution, because no credible Arab movement for over a century has ever cared for it? (The constant two-state buzz is reserved for Westerners and skilled Arab diplomats.) With either malevolence or naiveté or both, the two-staters are calling for a "Palestinian" foot in the door, or, in other words, a Jewish foot out the door. A launching pad against its "sister" state of Israel, figuratively as well—kind of like Gaza. Ask Helen.

There has been a lot of noise here in the California Desert about high-school honor students playing Nazi. And in the anonymous rantings of the blogs and feedbacks you can hear America singing, the reassuring sounds advocating personal responsibility as well as the boys-will-be-boys-get-over-it blather. You also hear the blatant screeching anti-Semitism. Instructively, the latter often cites the Gaza flotilla brouhaha. One even suggested that the local Jews here orchestrated the outrage over this high-school business to deflect the news over Gaza. I should invite him (her?) to my think tank.

So the clarity emanating form the press corps illuminates my little corner of the universe, and the illuminated scene is sobering. There is a lot of hate and it isn't going away and we have nowhere to get away from it. Not to say we don't have friends and those who appreciate us, we do. (Actually, Americans for the most part could care less about your ideology and if you have integrity in your belief they will respect you.) But while these unseemly outbursts at this party of life embarrass them, they frighten us.

Being frightened doesn't feel good, lemme tell you. It feels better to hear two-state talk and just-a-game soothings. But now I see that feeling better isn't the same as being better off. That reality is frightening but fright makes you more aware, more focused and ultimately safer.

There is another, more personal element to it all, what Paul Johnson memorably worded in History of the Jews. The Jews are the light unto the nations; but while light illuminates it also disturbs. Some will want to turn the light off. I must be careful.

But more importantly I must remain true. Not allow the bully to win, to remember that a bully is a frustrated coward. That justice is its own reward. That selfishness and evil are temporary, temporal, even when they are in the driver's seat. That from baseless hatred can come boundless love and by my staying true I can be part of that process.

It sounds dreamy; it is not as real as the bully. That is why he is the bully. What will I be? Those who hate me will paint me as the bully (the Gestapo called the Warsaw Ghetto fighters rapists) that is part of the tactic.

I will let Jewish teenagers know how lucky I feel to be a Jew.

The Peace Flotilla

“Israel raids… Israel kills… Israel boards… Now Israel must…"

June 2, 2010 11:53 AM

A large belligerent vessel heads defiantly for the Gaza war-zone. Hastily stocked with expired medication and similar supplies of compromised quality, along with a veritable factory of cement and other material for Hamas fortifications, and, of course, dozens of metal bars, wooden bats, combat knifes, firebombs and the like for the sake of enforcing "peace" in the land of the Wall and Dome. The latter weapons in particular are readily accessible along the vessel's top deck. After all, what are these sea voyagers who are broadcasting jihadist chants to Al-Jazeera as they approach the Israeli coast from the Mediterranean, if not "peace" activists?

"Negative, negative." Its captain refuses to divert to the Ashdod port, where Israel will transfer their compromised cargo to Gaza under the activists' own supervision. That option is far too peaceful.

Israeli commandos rappel onto the vessel to redirect it to Ashdod, expecting insults and an occasional fist. Chilling video evidence records lone soldiers landing on deck only to be set upon by a bloodthirsty lynch-mob wielding clubs and knives. As their lives are being beaten out of them, the Jewish soldiers radio an urgent query: Are we to die at the hands of these savages, or do we have permission to open fire? G‑d had pity on them and put it into the minds of Israel's commanders to permit live fire as a last resort.

Now media, politicians and populations the world over are (again) baying for Jewish blood. The web brims with sanitized versions of Itbah Al-Yahud! in practical every imaginable tongue, shrieked by otherwise composed leaders and speakers across the globe. What a far cry from the biblical account of ancient Egypt; here it seems that not a single dog has failed to whet his tongue against the children of Israel.

In an unhealthy alliance, Pakistan's green n' white and Iran's red "Allah" are joined by the Union Jack and the Tricolour. Together they snap in a fierce gale of public condemnation, whipping the air into an anti-Israel frenzy, straining at their tethering as if wishing to fly free from the documented evidence, those sobering facts-on-the-ground.

The drama ended many hours before I opened my computer. At first, my blood boils:

"Israel raids… Israel kills… Israel boards… Now Israel must… Israel should have… Israel should now… We expect IsraelIsrael needs… Israel should not have… Israel may no longer… We will not allow Israel… Sanction Israel… We demand Israel… UN condemns Israel… International reactions to Israel..."

Each nation must have its noisy say:

"France's Fillon demands… Britain's Clegg commands… Turkey's Erdogan beats the war drum… Russia's Lavrov accuses… New Zealand's McCully condemns… EU's Van Rompuy blames… Spain's Garrido condemns… South Africa condemns… Ireland charges… Pakistan denounces… Greece breaks ties… Belgium summons… United Nation's Ban Ki-moon condemns, criticizes, deplores, accuses, commands and beats his well-beaten chest."

The list flows on like the Gulf Coast oil spill and there are protests in practically every country on the globe, large and small alike.

My mind starts to numb from such a ferocious barrage of heavy words against pint-size Israel. Condemnation rains down from each direction like so many metal batons on the deck of a peaceful flotilla.

Then, through the wordy swirl on my screen, I notice a rather comforting pattern. From every site, from every page, from every location, I behold a name I adore and believe in: "Israel… Israel… Israel… Israel…" The Holy Land, homeland of our ancestors and our own as well, is once again on the lips and pens of every people on earth.

As when Joshua split the Jordan, felled Jericho and stopped the sun in Ayalon, the eyes of all nations are transfixed on our land. As if compelled by some involuntary wonder they murmur incessantly "Israel…! Israel…! Israel…!" It is clear that the post-modern world has adopted a sacred mantra, and a most biblical one at that.

Repeat after me, O ye nations, and kindly march in step: "Israel must! Israel should! Israel, Israel, Israel!"

In the eyes of twenty-first century humanity, Jews seem to be far worthier of attention than others, and the Jewish homeland far outweighs any other real estate on the globe. Consider:

Thousands are maimed, burned and killed in Darfur while the nations are entranced by Israel. Mexican drug wars, nomadic hostilities in Sudan, Pakistani battles against the Taliban, India's war with the Maoists, religious purging in Egypt, and a heartbreaking etc., are deemed insignificant compared with the mere fluttering of an Israeli leaf. A ship with its full crew is sent to the seabed by North Korea, barely ruffling the occasional feather, while an act of Israeli defense against jihadists bent on murder (and supplying terrorists) elicits Hiroshima style condemnation from the gritted teeth of every nation.

Israel's ancient sages present a fascinating theoretical exchange between the Messiah and the Jews at the time of the dawn of redemption. G‑d's anointed informs his brethren, "Prepare! The era of your redemption is upon us!" In true Jewish tradition, the Jews reply with a series of logical challenges, among them, "Are we indeed about to be redeemed? What of our ancient prophetic tradition: during this lengthy, Roman-instigated exile, we are to be oppressed at the hand of every nation on earth? Only then can we expect redemption! Tell us, King Messiah, most nations have already supplied their share of tyranny—but surely there are peoples whose yoke we have not yet borne!"

To which G‑d's anointed rejoins, "G‑d is merciful and wishes to redeem you no matter what. If even a solitary Jew winds up in some region and is oppressed by its inhabitants, G‑d in His mercy considers as if you had all suffered there! If a solitary member of a given nation stirs trouble for the Jewish people, G‑d in His mercy considers as if the entire nation to which he belongs participated in your oppression! You can be certain that the ancient tradition has been more than fulfilled."

Back to the worldwide flotilla-fury. Check your map—has New Zealand perhaps been supplanted somewhere between Syria and Egypt? Since when did they have a say in Israel's every affair? For that matter, the name Ban Ki-moon fails to have that familiar Hebraic or Arabic ring to it (unlike the rabble of ruthless rulers he represents). What of that sleepy Emerald Isle to England's left? Ireland demands that Israel extend an ear halfway around the world to consider their impolite outrage as well.

Could the maddening chorus of anti-Israel voices encircling the globe and beaming to and from space be a sign of the times? An unpleasant indication of a splendid fact: representatives of every nation under the ozone-free sun feel irrationally compelled to clear away one of the final obstructions to Israel's redemption. Let no nation claim they missed out on Israel-bashing before rays of redemption have risen! Let their mantra ring loud, as it undoubtedly will – until G‑d's anointed makes his presence felt – "Israel…! Israel…! Israel…!"

Reason will yet return to the nations. Contemplating their millennia of bias in the light of truth for the first time, they will be astounded at themselves and astonished at G‑d's mercy in frustrating the full extent of their plans, mitigating their verbal, physical, economic, or other attacks against the children of Israel.

In that imminent future, every human will passionately sustain their mantra. Not Israel should, Israel must, Israel cannot. Rather, they will pass joint resolutions of admiration and loud declarations of restored faith.

We will encourage them—and just for once, they will listen. In the words of another ancient prophetic tradition, we will address them:

"Praise G‑d all you nations; extol Him, all you peoples. For His kindness has overwhelmed us [the Jewish nation, mitigating your attacks throughout exile]; and the truth of G‑d['s promise to sustain us through suffering and ultimately redeem us] is everlasting [resulting in our ultimate restoration]. Hallelujah!" (Psalms 117)

Scream, flotilla-agitators. I'm all ears. I want to compare it to your Hallelujah!

Big Lies about Jews and Israel

June 2, 2010

Quick, here's a quiz about your Jewish knowledge. Don't worry, it won't be too difficult. In fact there is only one question.

The primary ingredient(s) of matzah, the unleavened bread Jews eat on Passover, is:

a) Flour and water
b) Human blood

If you answered (a), flour and water, you are correct. (In fact, Judaism prohibits us from eating any blood whatsoever, not to mention specifying which kosher mammals, such as cows and chickens, we can eat. Human beings definitely didn't make the list.)

Yet the truth didn't stop generations of Christians in Europe from persecuting Jews based on the false "blood libel" accusation that they kidnapped and killed Christian children to use their blood in matzah.

This sounds crazy, right? Surely no one would believe such outrageous slanders today.

Not so fast. Egyptian television recently broadcast an incredibly popular miniseries, "Horseman Without A Horse," that contained a number of slanders against Jews and Israel, including the ancient blood libel, updated. This time, instead of murdering Christian children for their blood for matzah, the nefarious Jews were murdering Muslim children for the same reason.

Okay, one might say, this heinous slander that Jews murder little kids for their blood for matzah might still be believed in some corners of the world, but it's easily disproved. After all, it's pretty clear that the Torah gives a specific recipe for matzah (flour and water, nothing else), and elsewhere prohibits murder and eating non-kosher things like human blood.

But now there's "proof." From Prof. Ariel Toaff, the son of Rome's former Chief Rabbi, no less. Toaff wrote a 1997 book in which he mused that perhaps, since so many Christians said so, Jews did in fact murder innocent Christian children.

In other words, if enough people believe an outrageous slander, it becomes inconceivable that there's no truth in it, right?

Toaff's book sparked an uproar in Italy and elsewhere. Toaff's father's successor, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, joined other prominent Italian Jews to release a statement asserting the obvious, that "A Jewish tradition of this kind has never existed, nor has any indication or custom that allows the ritual use of human blood. The only blood ever spilt was that of many innocent Jews, massacred on the basis of unjust and libelous accusations."

Ariel Toaff himself tried to halt further editions of his book so he could change the passages where he discussed blood libels, but the damage was done. You might know that your Manishevitz contains just flour and water, as the label indicates, but to many people, that's not so.

In fact, those who believe that Jews do go out and kill Christian or Muslim kids to make their matzah have millions of supporters around the world, television shows, songs (one of the ancient hymns in the traditional English cannon is an old ballad about blood libels) to back them up, not to mention the scholarly work of a prominent Jew who supports their position.

So who is wrong?

It can be Hard to Stand Up for Truth.

When it comes to the crazy accusations of the blood libel, most of us would have no trouble saying they're wrong, and anyone who believes in them is a crank.

But what about situations where when we stand up, we are labeled the crank?

Incredibly, there are cases where the lie is so widely believed, that anyone seeking to stand up to it enters a looking-glass world where truth and reality are stood upside down.

I remember watching in horror in September 2000, as first French and then international television stations broadcast a video of a terrified boy being shot by unseen Israeli soldiers. The boy, Mohammed al-Dura, immediately became an icon.

I'm a staunch Israel supporter, but I was ashamed by this video. Others carried their horror further. A month later, terrorists struck a religious school in Jerusalem, citing revenge for Mohammed al-Dura as their motive. Some countries issued postage stamps with the iconic al-Dura picture on them. Many terrorists over the years (including those who murdered Daniel Pearl) have specifically cited Mohammed al-Dura as their motivation for murdering Jews.

Incredibly, it emerged years later that the al-Dura video was a hoax, staged by local activists, and carefully edited by France's Channel-2 television station, which to this day has refused to release the full, un-doctored video, despite a French judge's requests. (See Backgrounder Mohammed al-Dura: Background of a French Media Scandal.)

Yet it can be difficult even now to stand up for the truth. The pendulum of public opinion has swung so far against Israel in some quarters that even pointing out the evidence against this iconic video risks gaining a label as a crank.

"Dueling Videos"

When did the truth become something not to delve into and find, but to debate and fight over like a boxing match?

Insidiously, today, those who are interested in the Middle East often forgo reasoned inquiry and debate in favor of competing narratives.

A startling example of this is the recent, and much discussed, UN report on Israel's actions in the 2009 war in Gaza. Many have criticized the report, written by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, as biased against Israel. One would expect Judge Goldstone, long a critic of Israel, to himself defend his report.

Yet, amazingly, since its publication, even the media-savvy Goldstone has been startled at the nastiness and take-no-prisoners attitude of many of Israel's critics.

Speaking of the eventual report which the UN Council on Human Rights issued, based on his work, Goldstone said "The draft resolution saddens me as it includes only allegations against Israel. There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas as we have done in the report."

Tragically, it seems that the truth matters less and less; political sympathy can be won by the side putting forth the most compelling narrative. In a world obsessed by spin, truth gets sidelined.

Thus, the front-page headline of the New York Times on June 2, 2010, covering the "Freedom Flotilla" convoy, which attempted to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip, which resulted in a firefight with Israeli soldiers: "After Sea Raid, Dueling Videos Carry on Fight."

No matter that many of Israel's critics have a long history of using doctored or even completely fabricated video footage. In this new media milieu, public opinion is king. Truth gets trampled.

The "Freedom Flotilla" was smart. It might be motivated by anti-Semitism (its founder Greta Berlin, told the New York Times that she is "the most qualified 'anti-Semite'"), but it understands that a David and Goliath story will gain more traction than reasoned argument. The Freedom Flotilla claims it wants to improve the lot of ordinary Gazans. Yet it chooses not to reason with them to stop supporting Hamas, which remains committed to Israel's destruction and consistently launches rockets from Gaza into civilian centers in Israel.

The Freedom Flotilla claims it wants merely to deliver banned supplies to Gaza. Yet it spurned Israel's offers to deliver the aid they carried overland into Gaza. The real goal of this rag-tag bunch of Hamas sympathizers on the Flotilla's ships was inadvertently revealed by a board member of the Turkish organization that funded the project. Rather than lamenting the fact that his aid didn't get through, the board member, Omar Faruk, instead rejoiced: "We became famous; we are very thankful to the Israeli authorities."

When truth matters far less than weaving a compelling narrative, what can we do? Fortunately, a number of sites, resources and organizations counter some of the most common slanders of Israel and keep us apprised of some of the most vicious lies and innuendoes concerning Israel.

I had meant to conclude this article with an uplifting quote from the Torah about the primacy of truth. But so great is my despair at the vile lies directed against Israel that I'm almost tempted to end on a far different note, and quote the murderous Nazi Joseph Goebbels: "If you repeat a lie often enough, people will begin to believe it."

On the other hand, the Talmud (Bava Batra 12a) says, "A wise man is greater than a prophet." Commenting on this, the Rebbe of Ropshcitz said "Because a prophet foresees the future, and a wise man sees the present."

Does BP Get Points for Effort?

June 1, 2010 8:47 AM

If it's true that it's the effort that counts, then BP should get a Congressional medal of honor. The effort they've invested in the attempt to control the oil spill that has caused the colossal nightmare now affecting the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline communities is nothing short of herculean, as is their effort to recover and clean up the oil already spilt.

In a recent regulatory filing, BP claims to have spent $930 million in this effort so far—an amount that will certainly be dwarfed by the time all's said and done. They have no less than 22,000 people working on the disaster, and 1,300 vessels on the site of the spill. And they've tried one far-fetched innovative idea after another in their attempts to accomplish what is almost impossible—capping a spewing oil well one mile down in the ocean.

All of these efforts, so far, have unfortunately failed. But they certainly get an A for effort. No?

So, is what we've been told all along true, that effort is the main thing? Or is the realization of the desired result of utmost importance? This is a question whose answer, obviously, has important ramifications in our personal lives as well.

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, once recounted the following story about his father and predecessor, Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch:

In 1905, a rabbinical conference was assembled in Vilnius, with the participation of many of the greatest leaders of European Jewry. The issue on hand was an attempt by the Czarist government to impose certain requirements on rabbis and Torah teachers, requirements that would compromise the integrity of Jewish tradition.

The assembled rabbis were united in their opposition to this new edict. The Russian Minister of the Interior, however, made it known that if the rabbis didn't withdraw their opposition to the new measure, he would unleash pogroms on 101 cities throughout the country.

As the conference was nearing its close, Rabbi Shalom DovBer requested permission to speak. He spoke passionately and forcefully. Though well-aware that the government had planted informers in the room, he protested the injustice and the threatened barbaric pogroms. He then emotionally declared that "we must announce before one and all that only our bodies are in exile, but not our souls." In all areas that affect Torah and mitzvot, our only sovereign is G‑d Almighty Himself....

Rabbi Shalom DovBer finished his impassioned talk and fell to the floor in a faint.

As soon as he left the hall, he was placed under house-arrest.

Soon thereafter, Rabbi Shalom DovBer was visited by a fellow attendee of the conference, Rabbi Chaim of Brisk, one of the preeminent sages of the time. Rabbi Chaim entered the Rebbe's room and found him sobbing. "Lubavitcher Rebbe," he asked, "why do you cry? After all, we did all that we could..."

"Yes," Rabbi Shalom DovBer responded. "But the objective was not accomplished."

An individual can be completely and sincerely devoted to his divinely ordained mission, faithfully toiling and trying—without any concern for the outcome. He is secure in the knowledge that he has done all within his capabilities. He constitutes a great employee—he certainly cannot be faulted.

Effort earns a person lots of brownie points. After all, all that can be expected of us is to try our hardest—and leave the rest to Him. A halachic principle confirms this idea: If one was prevented from doing a mitzvah despite his best efforts, "G‑d absolves him." Furthermore, in such an instance, the person is rewarded as if he had performed the mitzvah.

But he hasn't.

Then there's the individual who eschews the status of a (loyal) employee. He has a broader vision; rather than concern himself with whether he's done all he can, with whether he can be faulted or not, his single concern is that G‑d's will be done. And if it's not done, the reasons and excuses are irrelevant. By way of example: the doctor could be doing his absolute best—that will not placate the mother of a sick child. She just wants her child to be well again.

I'm reminded of a letter I saw recently, written by the Rebbe in 1974 to a chassid who authored a book whose publication was being postponed due to various logistical issues that cropped up. This individual apparently justified himself to the Rebbe, explaining that the book was "90% complete" and he was doing his best...

The Rebbe responded with perceptible dissatisfaction. Your 90%, the Rebbe explained, is 0% to the reader, who until the moment of publication has no benefit from all your effort!

The difference between these two ways of thinking is not just theoretical; it expresses itself in a very different way of acting.

My neighbor who cannot afford to pay her rent, the one whom I really tried to help, but could not come up with the funds...

That person who has consistently repelled all my efforts to show him the beauty of his Jewish heritage...

Can I sleep in peace knowing that I've done my part? Or do I lay awake in my bed, deeply troubled, thinking of perhaps another way to find some money for my neighbor, or another angle with which I can approach my acquaintance—and thereby help them?

When an untold numbers of people are suffering – whether physically, financially, emotionally or spiritually – and the world is desperate for Redemption, can I simply congratulate myself because I've done my job (even if that is somewhat true...)?

Or must I move heaven and earth until the mission has been accomplished?

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...
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