Well, last week I ended on a bit of a downer with what most of the news outlets around the world referred to as, “What the Israelis ‘called’ a terrorist attack,” intimating that it was somehow a… what?... maybe an errant m-80 packed with ball bearings that some hoodlum kid blew up, killing and maiming civilians at a bus stop, just for kicks? So, when I was trying to finish the blog, right before I left for the weekend to Jerusalem (of all places), I couldn’t really finish it properly. I just had to go with the flow a bit. Actually, looking back at it, the flow that I had to go with ‘was’ really what the blog was about after all. You know... the difficulty in understanding the idea that if God controlled everything, down to the minutia of time and matter, how could things like this (or God forbid even worse) happen? Maybe more on that later; but, that was last week and this is not, so…
For Shabbat, as I indicated previously, we were in Jerusalem. We were, as usual, so ridiculously fortunate to stay with family in the Old City and, as usual, it was absolutely amazing. We met some incredible people, danced at the Kotel with at least 50 soldiers and 100’s of others, and heard amazing stories at the Shabbat table. One of these stories came from an amazingly well spoken American lawyer that happened to be blind. His work revolved around legislating with governments around the world for disabled rights. He had worked in South America, Europe, the States, and other places and he had just recently started working for the Israeli government, in particular the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). He said that he was blind-sided with the IDF when he got here, since according to him; it is the ‘only’ army in the world that allows soldiers with disabilities to enlist and serve. When I heard this, I really was shocked. I thought, ‘For sure the US and other armies, especially left leaning socialist armies from Europe, would have similar stances, but no… he said that there are no other armies in the world that allow a disabled person to enlist and to serve. In every other army in the world, people go in able-bodied and can, God forbid, come out disabled. In the IDF a person can go in disabled and as is quite often the case (if you have read the book ‘Start-up Nation’ by Saul Singer you might understand), come out able-bodied through being even more able-minded than when you went in! More on that later too…
So, in this weeks parsha, Tazria (Leviticus 12: 1), we learn about leprosy (Tzaraas) and circumcision of the foreskin (Brit Milah). Tzaraas is a spiritual affliction, not the leprosy that we know of today, and is in essence, a disease of the shell or skin. We learn out that to avoid this most noxious of spiritually caused afflictions of our shells, we need to circumcise our tongues. No, it is not a piercing and yes, it does sound painful, I know, but let’s just try to understand it a little better. First we need to look closer at the word Brit, which is either slang for someone from Britain (ha ha) or in Hebrew, a covenant or agreement, and according to the 2nd century cabalist and mystic, Nachmanides, Brit is derived from the word Briah, which means ‘creation.’ So, what this means is that, every word we utter is a creation in the world, bringing something that was previously not-finite and making it finite, within time and space. In the case of circumcision of the tongue, we are instructed not to speak about each other, either bad things or good things. This is Lashon Ha’Ra or evil speak. Gossip falls into this category, as well as judgment of any kind; including, according to the absolute authority on the subject the Chofetz Chaim, against yourself. The idea of controlling your speech protects us amongst each other. It prevents baseless hatred to enter our lives and gets us to live on a deeper level, not on the surface.
This same idea is represented by the Brit Milah, only this time it is a creation of a connection or agreement between God and a Jew. This is a reflection in the physical of the private and personal, spiritual connection and commitment between a Jew and God. I should know, since I found it necessary to endure three separate circumcisions before I finally got it right! The interesting thing about this process was that the first one, when I was a newborn child in the hospital, was ‘physically’ perfect. 24 years later, the second circumcision that I had when I converted to Reform Judaism was a kind of social/spiritual intention and addition to the physical version. I lived with that one for another 20 years and then decided to upgrade, once again. My third circumcision is what I consider now, a real Brit Milah. It catapulted me into a real relationship with the Creator, a real connection with God. It was a spiritual connection or agreement that I had not achieved in my prior attempts. Three strikes and you’re out, three times a charm, one-two-three-go…OK, OK, please no whittling away jokes... even though it is quite funny!
So how does this relate to the IDF allowing the disabled to serve? Well, I can maybe bring in some personal experience to explain it. I have a friend that lives up the street that is a paraplegic. He fell while rock climbing and now has lost the use of both legs completely and his arms and hands have decreased motor skills. Whenever I see him, it is palpable how totally excited he is to be part of the IDF. He gets into his specially transformed ‘hands only’ van and heads off to the base, wheelchair and all, just absolutely beaming. I always thought that this was really normal; that, of course the army is letting him serve. I never knew that this was such a unique thing in the world. Back at the Shabbat table in the Old City of Jerusalem, the American lawyer went on to say that after working with the IDF and Israel, the other work he had been doing around the world was sharply curtailed. He said that he had been quite busy with the UN and that every time he mentioned that Israel and the IDF had amazing disabled rights programs in place, they didn’t want to talk to him. He believed that this bizarre behavior was due to the fact that he was showing them how human the IDF was in comparison with other armies around the world and it conflicted with their world views, a view that prescribed that it is impossible for, what they evidently consider, an entity that was oppressive and fundamentally immoral to have adopted such a pro human being stance and to have been doing it for years. They just couldn’t work it into their world views, so instead… they just changed the channel and shut him out.
The bomb that blew up in Jerusalem, killing 1 woman and maiming 50 other civilians, mostly students, was preceded by a terrible act of murder and evil. In a small village called Itamar, heinous murders of five members of the Fogel family, an infant, two small children, and their mother and father took place, in which they were slashed and stabbed in their sleep. After the fact, the Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank celebrated in the streets, just like after the 911 tragedy, handing out candy and sweets to the children. Various Islamic terror cells claimed responsibility, once again, and then on Friday morning, when my son Zach, who has been in the IDF for about 2 1/2 weeks now, was at his base, another terror attempt was diverted at a checkpoint in the West Bank nearby. An Arab tried to grab a soldier’s gun and in the scuffle, the Palestinian hit the Israeli soldier on the head with a rock that he had picked up off of the ground. Miraculously, the terrorist was shot by a policeman that happened to be driving by at the time and an international incident was narrowly averted, saving lives in the process. As soon as it happened, Zach was instructed, as were all the soldiers on his base, to call his mom and dad to let them know that he was OK, another fairly ‘human’ thing to do in my opinion.
And through all this terror, international media misdirection, and belligerent journalistic moral ineptitude, even Facebook continued to turn a blind eye to the ‘Third Intifada’ hate page calling for more death and mayhem against Jews around the planet. The Western world, for the most part, blamed all this mayhem, death, and terror on Israel or said nothing at all. They said nothing at all about an infant with her throat slashed in her sleep, or blamed it on her murdered parents… I just recently heard a comparison between the evil depicted in this horrific event and the Manson Cult murders in California during the 1960s... and in the meantime... most people haven’t even heard a word about the massacre in Itamar, at least not a true word. Here I have gone and descended into depression once again. Let’s just move on to how this is all connected. It all comes down to, what I would call, circumcision envy… Why else would the Western world be trying to medically circumcise its members (excuse the pun) of society when it is only possible to have a spiritual circumcision, a Brit Milah?
The Jews have been keeping their relationship with the Creator alive for 3,800 years, ever since Abraham walked the Earth, and during this entire time, every major civilization has tried to annihilate the Jewish People, one way or another. It is not hard to see that this blood feud is not about religion or politics; it is not about culture or characteristics. It is only about one thing. It is about envy… you know… a ‘killing the messenger’ kind of thinking. Hitler said it best when he said, “I hate the Jews, because they invented the conscience.” This, I believe, speaks for generations of want-to-be usurpers of God in the world. It was never about the Jews… It was always about the ego of mankind, as it struggles to conceptualize its true position in the universe. Mankind was made from the ‘dust of the earth,’ not just dirt like mere animals were. Mankind is special in its ability to be godlike. This is the nature of mankind
Now all we need to do is to try and figure out how to circumcise the giant, the heavily breathing and easily distracted Western world. The word Brit is equal in Hebrew to the number 612, which is only one short of 613, the number of commandments that, since my third circumcision, I am responsible for as a Jew. Of all those commandments, one that is taught to us in Deuteronomy 30:6 is still unattainable. Hashem tells us, “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, to love the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul that you may live.” This is a circumcision (or covenant) that will not come to pass until the Messiah comes, at the end of days. The idea is that humanities inclination for evil will disappear in the time of the Messiah. Our free will to make moral and ethical decisions will no longer exist in the world. This is the true, inner depth. Only when we stop living in the shell, on the surface, only skin deep, will the shadows created by the Creator, so we can play being godlike, and the true light of God be known in the world. If only we could see the depth of the truth, the absolute depth of it — we should all merit seeing the Messiah in our times... to truly be one with the Creator!
My heart goes out to the Fogel family’s remaining children and to all of the victims of the terrorist bombing in Jerusalem. Don’t worry about Zach; he is doing OK and learning about himself in leaps and bounds in the IDF. I also pray that the uncircumcised giant awakes, finally, from the sharp, sweet pain of the inevitable death of humanity's collective ego, as the knife descends and creates a (more than skin deep) connection or Brit with our Creator and Sustainer, with Hashem.