El desarrollo de la civilización

Después de que Caín asesinó a su hermano Abel, Dios decretó que Caín vagaría por la tierra y nunca tendría un lugar permanente de residencia. Una regla básica de la Torá es que cualquier “castigo” que Dios decreta sobre una persona no es arbitrario, sino que tiene el propósito de rectificar el error que dicha persona cometió. Al aceptar las condiciones del “castigo”, la persona puede rectificar su error inicial; el vivir en dicha situación de exilio tenía por objetivo rectificar el pecado de Caín.

Sin embargo, Caín no aceptó la forma de rectificación que Dios había decretado para él, sino que trató de evitarla. Inmediatamente después de la mención del decreto, la Torá nos cuenta que “Caín fue un constructor de ciudades1. El Rambán nota que de las palabras utilizadas por la Torá se desprende que Caín construía ciudades constantemente, pero éstas colapsaban de inmediato por causa de la maldición2. Sin embargo, en lugar de aprender la lección y aceptar su estatus de peregrino, Caín continuó construyendo ciudades durante toda su vida.

Las acciones de Caín generaron en sus descendientes una tendencia a evitar la fórmula que Dios había prescrito para que la humanidad rectificara el pecado de Adam. Después del pecado, Dios le dijo a Adam que su forma de arrepentimiento sería trabajar la tierra con sus propias manos para ganar su sustento3. Sin embargo, los descendientes de Caín prefirieron evitar trabajar la tierra y se volcaron hacia otras actividades, como nos relata la Torá: “Y Ada engendró a Iaval; él fue el primero en vivir en tiendas y criar ganado. El nombre de su hermano fue Iuval; él fue el primero en tocar el arpa y la flauta. Y Zila también; ella engendró a Tuval-Caín, quien afilaba todos los implementos de cobre y hierro4.

Rashi explica que estos versículos, que a primera vista parecen irrelevantes, tienen realmente una gran importancia ya que representan el desarrollo de algunos de los aspectos más básicos de la civilización. Iaval eligió ser un pastor, evitando las instrucciones de Dios de trabajar la tierra. También es posible que el “morar en tiendas” del versículo represente el desarrollo de actividades comerciales, lo cual tampoco sería consistente con la forma de rectificación que Dios había asignado para la humanidad. Iuval fue el primero en desarrollar el arte de la música, lo que representa la forma en que la humanidad intentó evitar el dolor por trabajar la tierra, que era mediante el distraerse con formas de entretenimiento. Y Tuval-Caín fue el primero en desarrollar armas, las cuales permitieron que el hombre sobreviviera avasallando a otros y de esta manera evitara la maldición de trabajar la tierra.

Podemos ver por lo tanto que el desarrollo de la humanidad se basó en el deseo de evitar el método que Dios había prescrito para que el hombre rectificara el pecado de Adam, en favor de un estilo de vida más fácil que no rectificaría dicho pecado. Consecuentemente, la humanidad desarrolló una postura de ignorar la voluntad de Dios, la cual culminó con la subsecuente degeneración moral y destrucción en el Gran Diluvio.

Pero hubo una persona que sí decidió obedecer la directiva de Dios de trabajar la tierra: “Lémej… engendró un hijo. Y llamó su nombre Nóaj, diciendo: ‘Este nos traerá descanso de nuestro trabajo y del esfuerzo de nuestras manos, del suelo que Dios ha maldecido’5. Rashi nos dice que Nóaj inventó las herramientas agrícolas, con las cuales causó que el trabajo de la tierra fuera más exitoso.

Nóaj fue la primera persona que no trató de evitar la maldición de Adam, sino que la enfrentó directamente. De esta forma podemos entender por qué Nóaj fue la única persona a la que Dios le perdonó la vida; a diferencia del resto del mundo, su vida estuvo dedicada a cumplir con la voluntad de Dios, por lo que no estuvo sujeto a la degeneración moral que afectó al resto de la humanidad.

De esto podemos aprender una lección muy importante: muchas veces Dios nos pone en una situación para que crezcamos, pero generalmente desaprovechamos la oportunidad. Nuestros sabios nos enseñan que Dios se comunica con nosotros por medio de ‘desafíos’, lo cual no sólo significa terribles tragedias, sino que también se refiere a las dificultades generales que enfrentamos en la vida. Por ejemplo, una persona puede saber en qué área de crecimiento debe enfocarse en su matrimonio mediante el darse cuenta en qué área existen las mayores fricciones en su matrimonio y cómo sus errores contribuyen a ese problema. Claramente, Dios le está mandando esas dificultades como una forma de decirle que debería trabajar en esta área de su personalidad. Sin embargo, uno suele preferir enfocarse en los aspectos de crecimiento que le resultan más naturales. Por ejemplo, una persona que tiene una inclinación hacia la amabilidad probablemente dedicará una parte importante de su tiempo y energía para ayudar a otros, pero terminará descuidando sus obligaciones con su esposa e hijos.

La parashá de esta semana es mucho más que una mera descripción histórica de las primeras generaciones de la historia; es un relato de cómo Dios le comunicó a la humanidad cuál era la forma en que debían rectificar sus errores y de cómo la gran mayoría se rehusó a escuchar Sus instrucciones. Está en nuestras manos entender cuál fue su error y aprender directamente de la Providencia Divina cómo podemos cumplir con Su voluntad.


1 Bereshit 4:17.

2 Rambán en Bereshit 4:17.

3 Bereshit 3:17-19.

4 Bereshit 4:20-22.

Advertisements

“The Angel”: Secret Mossad Spy, or Cunning Double-agent?

One of the greatest suspense thrillers of all-time. And it’s true. An Aish.com exclusive.


Emblematic of the topsy-turvy Middle East is the story of Ashraf Marwan: son-in-law of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser; trusted advisor to Anwar Sadat; and spy for the Israeli Mossad… or perhaps a secret double-agent acting on behalf of his native Egypt.

It all comes to life in the new Netflix film, The Angel, a suspense thriller that culminates with Marwan’s death under mysterious circumstances in London.

To make sense of this harrowing tale of intrigue, Aish.com spoke to Dr. Ahron Bregman, the Israeli closest to Marwan, who in 2002 first revealed the identity of the celebrated spy.

Premier Mossad Spy

Our story begins in 1966, when 21-year-old Marwan married the daughter of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, an anti-Israel tyrant who, on the eve of the 1967 war, promised “the destruction of Israel.”

Nasser strongly disapproved of the marriage, since Marwan had no particular social, political, military or business pedigree. As a result, Marwan felt both humiliated by his father-in-law and estranged from the Egyptian power center – planting the seeds of his spy career.

One day in the late 1960s, the Israeli embassy in London received a call from Marwan offering his services as a spy. As proof of his credentials, Marwan produced the protocols of secret Soviet-Egyptian arms talks. Convinced of his sincerity, the Mossad accepted his offer and assigned him the codename, “The Angel.”

Following Nasser’s death, his successor Anwar Sadat brought Marwan into his inner circle, as a way to demonstrate the support of Nasser’s family. In this role, Marwan gained unparalleled access to his nation’s top secrets – including detailed Egyptian military activities and accounts of Sadat’s private conversations with Arab leaders.

Marwan had a variety of possible motivations: Becoming a spy accorded him the status of conversing directly with Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Henry Kissinger, et al.

Marwan may have also been motivated by money, as the Mossad paid hefty fees for access to secret Egyptian war plans. Indeed, Marwan parlayed those fees into a $3 billion business empire.

Double-Agent?

Marwan became an invaluable asset to Israel in 1973, when Sadat (in conjunction with Assad of Syria) prepared to launch another major military assault on Israel. Marwan’s warning reportedly allowed the Israelis to prepare for the “surprise attack,” thus preventing thousands more Israeli casualties and loss of territory including the strategic Golan Heights.

But here’s where things get complicated: While Marwan was ostensibly a spy who helped Israel, many believe he was a cunning double-agent who duped Israel, deliberately providing inaccurate information about Egypt’s war plans.

This theory has credibility. Prior to the 1973 war, Marwan issued two false alarms of an imminent Egyptian invasion, resulting in costly mobilizations of IDF reserve forces. This eroded Israeli fear of an Arab attack, so when Marwan warned again on the eve of Yom Kippur, the IDF was slow to react, as some in the Israeli security establishment dismissed him as “the boy who cried wolf.”

Hinting more to the double-agent theory, the Netflix film includes a scene of Marwan listening to a lecture about “Garbo,” the Spanish double-agent who deceived the Nazis regarding the D-Day invasion. Indeed, Egyptian officials over the years, including former President Hosni Mubarak, have praised Marwan for “carrying out patriotic acts… which it is not yet time to reveal.”

The Big Reveal

Following Sadat’s assassination in 1981, Marwan left Egypt and began a lucrative business career in London.

Things were relatively quiet until 1999, when Dr. Ahron Bregman, a historian and journalist who teaches war studies at King’s College in London, came into the picture. After three years of investigative journalism, Bregman published a book revealing Marwan as the legendary Mossad super-spy.

Marwan flatly denied Bregman’s claim, calling it a “stupid detective story.” But when the revelation was published in the Egyptian media, Marwan called Bregman asking to meet.

Marwan initially suggested they meet at the Dorchester Hotel, but Bregman was fearful it was a set-up – given that was the site of the attempted assassination of Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov in 1982, which sparked the first Lebanon War.

Instead, they met at London’s Intercontinental Hotel, and Bregman tells Aish.com: “I was extremely nervous, because Marwan was the legendary and dangerous spy. I thought he might try to kill me.”

When they sat and spoke, however, Bregman had a change of heart. “I encountered Marwan’s humanity. History didn’t matter any longer.”

As they established a personal connection, Bregman regretted revealing the identity of this legendary spy. “It was a huge scoop and I couldn’t resist the temptation to follow the most primitive journalistic instincts,” he says. “But I complicated an already tricky situation. It was an impulse I should have resisted.”

Bregman says that he and Marwan “would meet quite frequently and became close friends. In some conversations, Marwan would pour his heart out. He couldn’t talk about his spy career with anyone else, not even his wife or kids. He was very well-connected, but very lonely. Ironically, I was the only person he could speak openly with – the very person who exposed him.”

Death by Balcony

Meanwhile in Israel, rival intelligence agencies were battling over who was the main culprit in Israel’s failure to preempt the Yom Kippur War. Part and parcel of this debate was whether Marwan’s loyalties lay primarily with Israel or Egypt.

Zvi Zamir, head of the Mossad and who was Marwan’s personal handler in 1973, claimed that Marwan was loyal to Israel. Eli Zeira, head of IDF Intelligence during the Yom Kippur War, subscribed to the double-agent theory.

The dispute ended in legal arbitration and in 2007 Bregman was called to testify. The judge issued a conclusion that Marwan was loyal to Israel – a verdict that was then leaked and published online.

At this turn of events, Marwan called Bregman in a panic, leaving multiple voice messages. They scheduled an appointment to meet the next day, but Marwan failed to appear. That morning, he had fallen from the fifth-floor balcony of his luxury apartment in London. Ashraf Marwan, superspy, was dead at age 63.

Who did it? Was it assassination? Or suicide?

One theory is that Marwan was a genuine spy for Israel, and the vengeful Egyptians killed him. Yet to save face for having been infiltrated at the highest level by a Mossad spy, Egyptian officials gave Marwan a funeral befitting a national hero.

Lending credibility to this theory, “death by high balcony” is an assassination method used multiple times previously by the Egyptian intelligence agency operating in London.

Bregman suggests a plausible alternate theory: “Marwan committed suicide. He was not physically well, having undergone heart operations. Plus he had accumulated a considerable number of personal enemies. So he decided to end his life. But he didn’t want to shame his family, so he faked the suicide and wove me into his ‘death story.’ If that sounds fanciful, remember that for a very clever master spy, it makes perfect sense.”

Questions and Conclusions

Bregman is consumed by regret over his exposing of Marwan as a “tragic, huge mistake.”

As an act of repentance, in 2016 Bregman published The Spy Who Fell to Earth: My Relationship with the Secret Agent Who Rocked the Middle East.

The jury is still out whether Marwan’s contribution was mostly helpful or harmful to Israel, since his key warning was delivered only hours before the outbreak of the war. IDF General Shlomo Gazit said: “The damage he caused was terrible. If we hadn’t used Marwan, the State of Israel… would have prepared for the war a week earlier when news began to arrive about what was happening in Egypt. But they said that if Marwan didn’t tell us about it, it wasn’t serious.”

Bregman has reached his own conclusion: “I don’t think he ever became an ‘official’ double-agent. But I do think at the critical moment of truth before the war, he asked himself, ‘Am I Israeli or Egyptian?’ His conclusion was loyalty to his people and his country – and he misled Israel.”

Which side of the conflict was Marwan ultimately loyal to? And who caused his death? It is characteristic of Marwan to keep us guessing about his motivations. These controversial questions will likely never be answered.

As taken from, http://www.aish.com/jw/s/The-Angel-Secret-Mossad-Spy-or-Cunning-Double-agent.html?s=trh

Simchat Torah: The Unapproachable Text

by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Since Simchat Torah is the day on which we celebrate the Torah and its divinity, greatness, and superiority, it is quite perplexing that there is no special mitzvah commanding the Jewish people to study Torah more deeply and more extensively on this festival than on any other day. In fact, not much studying can be done since much of the day is taken up with dancing and singing, and even the reading of the Torah is kept to a minimum. We read the last portion of the Torah (V’zot Habracha), which concludes with Moshe’s death, and the first 34 verses of Sefer Bereishit (Genesis) concerning the seven days of Creation.

Even more remarkable is the unapproachability of the text. While dancing with the Torah scrolls, they are carefully covered with velvet mantels and not once is the actual text shown to the worshippers and dancers in the synagogue. Seemingly, we are not allowed to see what we celebrate!

Even when we actually read from the Torah—not only on this day, but throughout the year—the text is immediately covered once the reading of one section has come to an end. There is a constant attempt to hide the text.

This is also demonstrated by the fact that once a Torah portion has been read, it disappears again into the scroll, while another one, which was hidden until then, is revealed for a short while so as to be read, only to quickly disappear again when the reading is done.

What is the meaning behind all this?

It could not be clearer. Now that we start to read the Torah all over again, we must once again be reminded of its absolute holiness, rendering it inaccessible and unapproachable.

Its holiness is of such superiority that we need to receive a stern warning that we are once again undertaking the impossible. There is no way to fathom this text; all we can do is read its outer layer but never “das ding an sich” (the “thing-in-itself”), to use Immanuel Kant’s famous concept.

The book will forever remain a nearly closed work. Only for a moment can one look into its text without getting burned. Gazing at the Torah too much, or for too long, will leave the reader paralyzed. Only in printed form, in a book, and with the help of commentaries can one approach the text.

It is solely through these commentaries that the text can be brought down to the level of mortals. Only when the Torah is partially stripped of its heavenly fire and made “user friendly” is there a slight chance that one may understand some of its contents.

This is also the reason why Jews only start reading the Torah but never finish it. For thousands of years, on the day of Simchat Torah we begin all over again. Even the greatest Torah scholars once again come to the conclusion that they need to reread it, since they failed bitterly the previous year.

After all, we only start reading the first words and already we get stuck, unable to understand the actual meaning; and we can never really get beyond that place.

While in the non-Jewish world the whole point is to finish a book, in Judaism we are all just perpetual beginners.

This explains why, unlike the week of Sukkot in which we hold our lulavim and circle around a Sefer Torah that has been placed on the bimah/tevah (a raised platform from which the Torah is read in a synagogue), on Simchat Torah we carry the Torah scrolls and circle around an empty bimah/tevah. This time it is not the Torah that stands at the center of our lives, but the Great and Invisible God Who is encircled.

This, we believe, is another serious warning to all those who see the Torah as a literary work that can be studied like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, like a chapter out of humanity’s great cultural heritage, or as a piece of the Israelites’ early history.

The moment it is disconnected from God, it loses its source of spirituality and its text will slowly die, like a human succumbing to a lack of oxygen. While studying, even only its outer layers, the student needs to be constantly reminded that this text is Divine and can therefore only be approached in awe and holiness. The student must hear the voice of God behind the text. It is, as Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “holiness in words.”

Though its words seem plain and its style transparent, obscure meanings and unimagined intimations are hidden in its simple words. Just as God is untouchable, so is His text. While studying the text, the students must have God standing at the center of their lives.

This is why on Simchat Torah we take the Torah scrolls and circle around the empty space on the bimah/tevah. Just as a spinning cylinder pulls all its elements to its very center, so the Torah must be drawn more and more to its center: God. Only when it becomes clear that God is the Author behind the words can it be understood and even then only partially.

Now that we are going to once again start reading the Torah on Simchat Torah, we can approach it only with awe and realize that even with all our knowledge, the Torah is hidden behind a mantel of divinity.

As taken from, https://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/simchat-torah-the-unapproachable-text/?utm_source=Subscribers&utm_campaign=d75f6cf5dc-Weekly_Thoughts_to_Ponder_campaign_TTP_548_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dd05790c6d-d75f6cf5dc-242341409

Unfinished Symphony

By Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Each year, as we near the end of the Mosaic books and Moses’ life, I find myself asking: Did it really have to end that way, with Moses denied the chance to even to set foot on the land to which he led the people for forty tempestuous years? In the Heavenly Court, could Justice not have yielded to Mercy for the few days it would have taken Moses to cross the Jordan and see his task fulfilled? And for what was Moses being punished? One moment’s anger when he spoke intemperately to the Israelites when they were complaining about the lack of water? Can a leader not be forgiven for one lapse in forty years? In the words of the sages: Is this the Torah and this its reward?[1]

The scene in which Moses climbs Mount Nebo to see in the distance the land he would never enter is one of the most poignant in all Tanakh. There is a vast midrashic literature that turns Moses’ request “Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan” (Deut. 3:25) into high drama, with Moses mounting argument after argument in his defence only to be met by unbending refusal from Heaven: “Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again”. (Deut. 3:26) Why?

This is the man who, eighteen times in Tanakh, is called “God’s servant.” No one else is so described except Joshua, twice. His own obituary in the Torah reads: “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses” (Deut. 34:10). Why was he treated so seemingly harshly by God among whose attributes are forgiveness and compassion?

Clearly the Torah is telling us something fundamental. What, though, is it? There are many explanations, but I believe the most profound and simplest takes us back to the beginning of beginnings: “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth.” There is Heaven and there is Earth, and they are not the same.

In the history of civilisation, one question has proved hardest of all. In the words of Psalm 8: “What is man that you are mindful of him?” What is it to be human? We are an infinitesimal speck in an almost infinite universe of a hundred billion galaxies each with a hundred billion stars. We know that our lives are like a bare microsecond set against the almost-eternity of the cosmos. We are terrifyingly small. Yet we are also astonishingly great. We dominate the planet. We have ever-increasing control over nature. We are the only life form thus far known capable of asking the question, ‘Why?’

Hence the two temptations that have faced Homo sapiens since the beginning: to think of ourselves as smaller than we actually are, or greater than we actually are. How are we to understand the relationship between our mortality and fallibility and the almost-infinities of space and time?

Civilisations have regularly blurred the line between the human and the divine. In myth, the gods behave like humans, arguing, fighting and contending for power, while some humans – the heroes – are seen as semi-divine. The Egyptians believed that pharaohs joined the gods after death; some were seen as gods even during their lifetime. The Romans declared Julius Caesar a god after his death. Other religions have believed that God has taken human form.

It has proved exceptionally difficult to avoid worshipping the human founder of a faith. In the modern age, the blurring of boundaries has been democratised. Nietzsche argued that we would have to become like gods to vindicate our dethroning of God Himself. The anthropologist Edmund Leach began his Reith Lectures with the words, “Men have become like gods. Isn’t it about time that we understood our divinity?” As Jews we believe that this is too high an estimate of our, or anyone’s, humanity.

In the opposite direction humans have been seen, in myth and more recently in science, as next-to-nothing. In King Lear, Shakespeare has Gloucester say, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.” We are the easily discarded playthings of the gods, powerless in the face of forces beyond our control. As I pointed out in an earlier essay, some contemporary scientists have produced secular equivalents of this view. They say: there is nothing qualitatively to distinguish between Homo sapiens and other animals. There is no soul. There is no self. There is no freewill.

Voltaire spoke of humans as “insects devouring one another on a little atom of mud.” Stephen Hawking said that “the human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate size planet, orbiting round a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a billion galaxies.” Philosopher John Gray wrote that “human life has no more meaning than that of slime mould.” In Homo Deus, Yuval Harari states that, “Looking back, humanity will turn out to be just a ripple within the cosmic data flow.”[2]

Judaism is humanity’s protest against both ideas. We are not gods. And we are not chemical scum. We are dust of the earth, but there is within us the breath of God. What is essential is never to blur the boundary between Heaven and Earth. The Torah speaks only obliquely about this. It tells us that there was a time, prior to the Flood, when “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were lovely, and they married whomever they chose” (Gen. 6:2). It also tells us that, after the Flood, humans gathered in a plain in Shinar and said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower that reaches heaven, and make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4). Regardless of what these stories mean, what they speak of is a blurring of the line between Heaven and Earth – “sons of God” behaving like humans and humans aspiring to live among the gods.

When God is God, humans can be human. First, separate, then relate. That is the Jewish way.

For us as Jews, humanity at its highest is still human. We are mortal. We are creatures of flesh and blood. We are born, we grow, we learn, we mature, we make our way in the world. If we are lucky we find love. If we are blessed, we have children. But we also age. The body grows old even if the spirit stays young. We know that this gift of life does not last forever because in this physical universe, nothing lasts forever, not even planets or stars.

For each of us, therefore, there is a river we will not cross, a promised land we will not enter and a destination we will not reach. Even the greatest life is an unfinished symphony. Moses’ death on the far side of the Jordan is a consolation for all of us. None of us should feel guilty or frustrated or angry or defeated that there are things we hoped to achieve but did not. That is what it is to be human.

Nor should we be haunted by our mistakes. That, I believe, is why the Torah tells us that Moses sinned. Did it really have to include the episode of the water, the stick, the rock and Moses’ anger? It happened, but did the Torah have to tell us it happened? It passes over thirty-eight of the forty years in the wilderness in silence. It does not report every incident, only those that have a lesson for posterity. Why not, then, pass over this too in silence, sparing Moses’ good name? What other religious literature has ever been so candid about the failings of even the greatest of its heroes?

Because that is what it is to be human. Even the greatest human beings made mistakes, failed as often as they succeeded, and had moments of black despair. What made them great was not that they were perfect but that they kept going. They learned from every error, refused to give up hope, and eventually acquired the great gift that only failure can grant, namely humility. They understood that life is about falling a hundred times and getting up again. It is about never losing your ideals even when you know how hard it is to change the world. It’s about getting up every morning and walking one more day toward the Promised Land even though you know you may never get there, but knowing also that you helped others get there.

Maimonides writes in his law code that, “Every human being can become righteous like Moses our teacher or wicked like Jeroboam.”[3] That is an astonishing sentence. There only ever was one Moses. The Torah says so. Yet what Maimonides is saying is clear. Prophetically, there was only one Moses. But morally, the choice lies before us every time we make a decision that will affect the lives of others. That Moses was mortal, that the greatest leader who ever lived did not see his mission completed, that even he was capable of making a mistake, is the most profound gift God could give each of us.

Hence the three great life changing ideas with which the Torah ends. We are mortal; therefore make every day count. We are fallible; therefore learn to grow from each mistake. We will not complete the journey; therefore inspire others to continue what we began.

Shabbat Shalom.

NOTES

[1] Berakhot 61b.

[2] Covenant and Conversation, Chukkat 5778.

[3] Hilkhot Teshuvah 5:2.

As taken from, http://rabbisacks.org/unfinished-symphony-vezot-habracha-5779/

Sukkot and Impermanence

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

A Torah scroll. Photo: RabbiSacks.org.

In discussing the festival of Sukkot, the Talmud gives all the various possible explanations for the origin and purpose of a Sukkah. Its final idea is that of impermanence. “Leave your permanent home, and live in a temporary home.” In many ways, impermanence is in our genes: Our wandering forebears. Our movable Tabernacle. Exile. Return. Impermanence really resonates with us.

We humans are indeed transient. We live our lives in constant tension between permanence and impermanence. We can be snuffed out in a flash. We are specks on the timeline of life. We are driven by a desire for life and the struggle to avoid death. There are wars, persecution, political change and upheaval, as well as illness, plagues, and natural disasters. Life is a struggle. We struggle to work, to live, to love. As a result, many of us feel insecure, depressed, and stressed.

We need certainties — to know where we stand, where we live and where we work, what country we are citizens of, what party, what religion, what sect within a religion. We yearn for permanence. Resolution. To know how the world works and the reason for everything. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel comfortable, secure, loved, wanted, admired, and respected. We pay fortunes to psychiatrists, therapists, gurus, coaches, and rabbis to give us the easy answers. And we take drugs, alcohol, and pills. Anything to help us cope and ease the pain. But there are very few certainties in life “except death and taxes” as Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said.

Once upon a time, we knew what our positions were in hierarchies — in states, classes, in religions, in nations. We lived in a world where these defined most of us. A few people in each generation were able to move up and rise. Most stayed put. In a world of constant conquest and change, we have always been at the mercy of forces beyond our control. But now, we seem to want to control everything, everyone, every space, and every argument. We want to have everything: money, power, freedom to do as we please. Not to be challenged or offended.

We have indeed advanced dramatically, combating poverty and disease. The latest figure just published in The Wall Street Journal is that extreme poverty is now down to 10% (but that’s still too much).

In Western countries, we have so much more than we used to. But that does not seem to bring much happiness or contentment. Look how angry and hypersensitive so many people have become, despite all the social welfare, safety nets, and preferences that never existed 70 years ago. Look how fractious identity politics has become, how aggressive the pressure groups. We have become neurotic when things don’t happen just the way we want them to. Yet, for all that, I’d rather live in a world of uncertainty and choice than have dictators or ideological fanatics tell me what to do.

No system is perfect or permanent. Each has aspects that are positive. The one common feature of our present world is Capisolism (my invented word) — the need for capital expansion and growth to fund the basic social needs of the poorest and the weakest. But that in itself is a variable. China has a command economy. It can do things better and faster, precisely because it can trample on individual wishes. America, on the other hand, values individual liberties and freedoms. But such liberties cause conflict, fragmentation, delays, and compromises. Both suffer from corruption. 

To adapt Orwell, all states cause harm. Some states cause much more harm than others. Despite Fukuyama’s unfortunate title The End of History, there is no end. It cannot end, because humans are constantly changing. There is no final, no perfect state. Only constant fluidity and cycles. Rises and falls. Situations that seem desperate one moment become successful and peaceful the next. War turns to peace and peace to war. My liberalism is predicated on hearing other views, examining other ideas, and listening respectfully to other views.

I embrace impermanence because that has been my life. I know many who have had it far worse — far more tragic and unstable than I. But I have never had a permanent home, a permanent country, or a permanent job. I have always been wandering in the desert and finding my shade where I can. I have always been aware of people who hate me for who I am and what I am. Even personal life has had its impermanence, its ups and downs, good moments and bad ones. I do not expect perfection or resolution. I only know I have to try cope. I am fortunate to be a very happy fellow.

This impermanence, I suggest, is why the Torah gives us no ideal political or even social system, or a perfect example of how to run societies. Because there is no perfect solution. Different circumstances call for different responses. We cannot control the world or societies. All we can do is our best. The Torah constantly reminds us of the need to behave, to think, to bring spiritual ideas to mind, to enrich our lives, while at the same time reminding us that we have the freedom and choice to make crucial decisions. (Even if, as Moses predicted, many of us will get it wrong, and disappear from our people and merge with others.)

Sukkot is the festival of impermanence — throughout history, and now. How many will come and sit with us? How many will simply not be there? Sukkot reminds us that impermanence can be good. Perhaps not all the time. No one wants an impermanent marriage or impermanent children. But impermanence can be good and necessary too, if it helps us appreciate what we have and determine to preserve it.  

In Manhattan, having a Sukkah in one’s home or apartment block is almost impossible (though some succeed). Meanwhile, there is nowhere easier to have a Sukkah, more available, more convenient, and widespread than in Israel. That, too, is part of our impermanence. That we always have in the backs of our minds on our festivals that we ought to think of where we came from and might want to go back to.

“The world runs according to its own rules,” says the Talmud. We humans need our rules, too. But if rules for human behavior have remained more or less constant, societies have always been unpredictable. Pendulums swing, and as Harold Wilson said, “A week in politics is a very long time.” People and states rise and fall. But the Sukkah has survived them all.

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen received his rabbinic ordination from Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He has worked in the rabbinate, Jewish education, and academia for more than 40 years in Europe and the US. He currently lives in the USA, where he writes, teaches, lectures, and serves as rabbi of a small community in New York.

As taken from, https://www.algemeiner.com/2018/09/21/sukkot-and-impermanence/?utm_content=blog1&utm_medium=daily_email&utm_campaign=email&utm_source=internal//

¿Cuál es el significado más profundo de Sucot?

por, Diego Edelberg

Es una genialidad del calendario judío que la primera festividad que continúa al comienzo de un nuevo año luego de la purgación de Rosh Hashana y Iom Kipur sea Sucot. Si bien Sucot tiene diferentes significados hay uno fundamental que atraviesa su enseñanza más profunda: nada es para siempre. El techo que cubre la Suca se llama en hebreo sjaj y debe estar hecho con ramas cortadas de la raíz que sabemos van a morir muy pronto por eso. Ni que hablar que toda la Suca misma es una estructura que no puede ser creada para durar eternamente. En palabras más simples, Sucot es la celebración de lo efímero, aquello que dura poco y que muy pronto pasará.

La bendición de la adultez

El aprendizaje de valorar lo efímero surge incluso en una historia que gira en torno al rey Salomón (el más sabio de todos según nuestra tradición) de quien leemos incluso Kohelet (el Eclesiastés) en estos días. La historia dice que el rey Salomón quería un objeto que le hiciera sentir mejor cuando las cosas estaban mal y ese mismo objeto le hiciera apreciar el momento si es que estaba viviendo algo bueno. Así fue que le hicieron un anillo que decía gam zeh yaabor, esto también pasará.

Si hay algo que podemos decir con certeza es que lo único constante en la vida es el cambio. ¿Cuantas veces escuchamos “este es el momento más importante…, es el principio…, el final…, el cataclismo…, o después de esto…” para luego descubrir que hay incontables momentos importantes, principios, finales, cataclismos y despuéses? Sabiendo esto tenemos una tendencia natural extraña a pensar que así no funciona el mundo sino al revés de lo que la vida misma enseña. Nos convencemos que hay cosas permanentes y hay finales. Pero en el fondo sabemos que eso nunca será así porque nunca lo ha sido.

La conciencia que nada se mantiene igual es una de las bendiciones de ser adulto. Cuando uno ve a un niño que le pasa algo malo uno nota que como aún no ha vivido lo suficiente no posee aún la conciencia que su estadio actual va a cambiar. Nosotros los adultos enfrentamos a lo largo de la vida distintos problemas que son como una galaxia llena de planetas diferentes. Hay algunos planetas tan grande que su fuerza gravitacional hace que orbitemos en ellos como un satélite durante mucho tiempo, quizás años. De hecho, cuando estamos en un momento oscuro o en un callejón momentáneo sin salida lo único que sentimos es que estamos orbitando en ese planeta y ese problema es lo único que vemos. Pero sabemos que tarde o temprano aparecerá un nuevo planeta (un nuevo problema) que no conocíamos en nuestro propio sistema solar y comenzaremos a orbitar hacia ese lado llevados por una fuerza de gravedad más grande. En esta galaxia los planetas no desaparecen. Los planetas/problemas permanecen allí por años luz pero la fuerza gravitacional hace que no estemos todo el tiempo orbitando allí sino que seamos satélites de varios planetas (es decir varios problemas) diferentes a lo largo de la vida. Como adultos podemos recordarnos que no importa lo mal que estamos, sabemos que tarde o temprano lo que estamos viviendo también pasará.

La Sabiduría más profunda

A medida que crecemos la sabiduría de Sucot se convierte en la sabiduría de la vida y por eso leemos Kohelet. Confieso que Kohelet fue uno de esos pocos libros que leí cuando era adolescente y me deprimió terriblemente. Pensé, qué tipo tan depresivo y fatalista el autor de esta obra. “Vanidad de vanidades, todo es vanidad…” Y desde entonces me pregunté para qué hacer algo si todo será para nada. Curiosamente hoy no hay pasaje que contenga más sabiduría que aquél que me recuerda que hay un tiempo para todo en la vida. Es por eso mismo que disfruto tanto la vida y proyecto en plazos cortos y largos al mismo tiempo.

De todas formas comprendo lo difícil que es esta sabiduría judía pero lo imprescindible y necesaria que resulta para la vida. Es difícil porque cuando nos sucede algo malo nos resulta imposible pensar que en unos años ya no pensaremos en esto que está consumiendo hoy todo nuestro ancho de banda. Y es imprescindible justamente porque nos recuerda que todo tiene su tiempo bajo el sol y que tanto la alegría como el dolor que estamos atravesando en este momento no será para siempre. Muy pronto pasará. La alegría dará paso a momentos más tristes y la tristeza dará espacio para momentos alegres. Todo cambia. Nada se mantiene siempre igual.

La próxima vez que estén desesperados y no vean la salida hagan un pequeño ejercicio: respiren hondo y díganse, “Diego me dijo que esto también iba pasar”. Se los aseguro. Nos encontramos en un período hermoso de nuestro calendario para contar nuestras bendiciones, todo lo bueno que sí tenemos y recordar que lo difícil que estamos viviendo gam zeh yaabor –como decía el anillo de Salomón- “también pasará”.

¡Jag Sameaj!

Read more at http://www.judiosyjudaismo.com/2018/09/cual-es-el-significado-mas-profundo-de-sucot/#Voe6fUtTHUc4jz0k.99

The Yom Kippur War: When Israel’s Arabs didn’t rise up

At a traffic circle near Nazareth, I saw tables with soft drinks, sandwiches, cakes — set up for the troops. There were scenes like this nationwide, but here the women were Arabs

Israeli soldiers at the Syrian ceasefire line in the Golan Heights are seen, October 31, 1973, after sudden cold, rain and fog hit them.  Female soldier is radio operator Zehava Mizrachi.  Other soldiers are unidentified. (AP Photo)
Israeli soldiers at the Syrian ceasefire line in the Golan Heights are seen, October 31, 1973, after sudden cold, rain and fog hit them. Female soldier is radio operator Zehava Mizrachi. Other soldiers are unidentified. (AP Photo)

As Israel rushed its reserves to meet the surprise Syrian-Egyptian attack opening the Yom Kippur War in 1973, it simultaneously dispatched border police contingents to Arab Israeli enclaves for fear of unrest.

But Israel’s Arabs did not rise up. Instead, in this most trying period in Israel’s history, they volunteered to replace mobilized Jewish reservists, worked on kibbutz farms, signed up for civil defense work, gave blood, and bought government bonds to help finance the emergency.

For almost two decades after Israel was founded in 1948, its Arabs had lived under martial law, restricted in their movement and closely monitored by security services. They had cheered on the Arab armies which attempted to annihilate Israel at its birth and their loyalty to the Jewish state remained suspect, at best. However, in 1966 the government abolished military rule in the Arab sector, offering residents there a sense of normality for the first time.

“They have lived these recent years in a calm and positive atmosphere,” said Shmuel Toledano, the prime minister’s adviser on Arab affairs, in an interview at the time, referring to the seven years since the end of martial law. “They’ve gotten the feeling that it’s possible to live in Israel as a minority.”

Israeli troops rushing up to the northern frontier with the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, October 7, 1973. (GPO/Eitan Harris)

The government initially refrained from involving the Arab population in efforts to stabilize the home front. “But after a few days,” said Toledano, “we saw that they were offended by this attitude.” Offices were opened in seven Arab communities to register volunteers. The bonds sold to thousands in the Arab sector had the word “war” deleted from the “war bond certificates” they received. This way, Arab Israelis could express support for the state without overtly supporting a war against Arab states.

IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar (R) during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. (David Rubinger/Government Press Office)

Some Israeli observers cautioned against reading too much into such demonstrations of loyalty. “Much of it is organized by Arab leaders who want to establish credit which can be drawn on in the future,” said a kibbutz leader familiar with the Arab community. “There’s nothing wrong with that and the volunteering is certainly a positive step. But we need to maintain perspective.”

Given the fierce war raging, virtually no notice was taken in the rest of Israel, then or thereafter, of this exceptional moment in Arab-Jewish relations. During the first days of the war, the Syrian and Egyptian armies broke through the Israeli defenses and looked like they might win. In volunteering their services at such a time, the Arab Israelis who did so were in effect identifying with the state. (Arab Israelis were not drafted.) It would be learned from Syrian military maps left behind on the Golan battlefield that the only specific objective designated by Syria inside Israel was Nazareth.

I stumbled on the story during the second week of the war as I was driving back to Jerusalem from the Golan, where I had been reporting for The Jerusalem Post. Passing a road sign, I glanced at it idly and then braked. “Nazareth,” it said. I had not thought about the impact of the war on Arab Israelis until that moment. What was happening with them? Nazareth was the largest Arab city in Israel. I turned the car around.

Climbing the Galilee hills, I came upon a roundabout that lay between Arab Nazareth and the Jewish town of Nazareth Illit, which had been founded in the 1950s as a sentinel overlooking the Arab city. The border of the traffic circle was lined with tables bearing soft drinks, sandwiches and cakes. Several military vehicles had stopped and soldiers emerged for hurried snacks. In villages and towns throughout the country local women had set up similar roadside refreshment points for soldiers heading for the fronts. But there was something different about this one. All the women at the tables catering to the soldiers were Arab.

Seif e-Din Zouabi (Théodore Brauner, National Photo Collection of Israel, GPO)

In his office in Nazareth Illit, Mayor Mordecai Allon told me that residents of Arab Nazareth and nearby villages had been driving up the hill since the war began to volunteer their services to the municipality. Jewish-Arab relations had never been better, he said. He urged me to visit “Seif,” his counterpart in Arab Nazareth, Mayor Seif e-Din Zouabi. He telephoned him to say that a reporter would soon be down to see him. The two chatted amiably, like old friends.

Zouabi told me that he and Mayor Allon had spoken on the phone to each other at least twice a day since the war began. On the second day of the war, Zouabi held a rally in the Arab city “to express support for the state.” Six hundred residents turned up.

The rally was clearly expedient politically in the charged circumstances — Israel was at war with Arab states and the authorities were closely watching the reaction of Arab Israelis. But Zouabi offered an insight that sounded more like empathy than expedience. “Arab Israelis appreciate that the Jews have sent their children to war,” he said, “while we sit home at night and count our children.”

 

As taken from, https://www.timesofisrael.com/the-yom-kippur-war-when-israels-arabs-didnt-rise-up/?utm_source=The+Weekend+Edition&utm_campaign=weekend-edition-2018-09-23&utm_medium=email

Emotional Intelligence

by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

In March 2015 I had a public conversation at Yale with the University’s President Peter Salovey. The occasion was quite an emotional one. It celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Marshall Scholarships, created by the British parliament as a way of expressing thanks to the United States for the Marshall Plan, that helped Western Europe rebuild its economies after the Second World War. The scholarships fund outstanding young Americans to study at any university in the United Kingdom. So the gathering that evening was about the links between Britain and the United States, and the role of universities in cultivating that generosity of spirit, epitomised by the Marshall Plan, that understands the need to build peace, not just wage war.

But it had another emotional resonance. Yale is one the world’s great universities. Yet there was a time, between the 1920s and 1960s, when it had a reputation for being guarded about, even quietly hostile to, the presence of Jews among its students and staff.[1] Happily that has not been the case since 1960 when its President, A. Whitney Griswold, issued a directive that religion should play no role in the admissions process. Today it is warmly welcoming to people of all faiths and ethnicities. Noting that fact, the President pointed out that not only was Yale that afternoon hosting a rabbi, but he too –  Salovey – was Jewish and the descendant of a great rabbinic dynasty. Salovey is an Anglicisation of the name Soloveitchik.

Thinking back to that occasion, I wondered whether there was a more than merely family connection between the university president and his great distant relative, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the man known to generations of his students at Yeshiva University as simply, “The Rav.” Was there an intellectual and spiritual link also, however oblique?

There is, and it is significant. Peter Salovey’s great contribution to the thought of our time is the concept he formulated together with John Mayer in a landmark 1989 article,[2] namely emotional intelligence – popularised in 1995 by Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book of the same title.

For many decades, IQ, or intelligence quotient, focused attention on a set of cognitive and reasoning tests as the primary measure of intelligence, itself considered as the best indicator of ability as, for example, a military officer. It took another brilliant Jewish psychologist of our time, Howard Gardner (of Harvard), to break this paradigm and argue for the idea of multiple intelligences.[3] Solving puzzles is not the only skill that matters.

What Salovey and Mayer did was to show that our ability to understand and respond to not only our own emotions but also those of others is an essential element of success in many fields, indeed of human interaction in general. There are fundamental elements of our humanity that have to do with the way we feel, not just the way we think. Even more importantly, we need to understand how other people feel – the gift of empathy – if we are to form a meaningful bond with them. That is what the Torah is referring to when it says, “Do not oppress a stranger because you know what it feels like to be a stranger” (Ex. 23:9).

Emotions matter. They guide our choices. They move us to action. Intellect alone cannot do this. It has been a failing of intellectuals throughout history to believe that all we need to do is to think straight and we will act well. It isn’t so. Without a capacity for sympathy and empathy, we become more like a computer than a human being, and that is fraught with danger.

It was precisely this point – the need for emotional intelligence – about which Rabbi Soloveitchik spoke in one of his most moving addresses, ‘A Tribute to the Rebbetzin of Talne.’[4] People, he said, are mistaken when they think there is only one Mesorah, one Jewish tradition handed on through the generations. In fact, he said, there are two: one handed down by fathers, the other by mothers. He quoted the famous verse from Proverbs 1:8, “Listen, my son, to the instruction of your father (mussar avikha), and do not forsake the teaching of your mother (torat imekha).” These are two distinct but interwoven strands of the religious personality.

From a father, he said, we learn how to read a text, comprehend, analyse, conceptualise, classify, infer and apply. We also learn how to act: what to do and what not to do. The father-tradition is “an intellectual-moral one.” Turning to “the teaching of your mother,” Soloveitchik became personal, speaking of what he learned from his own mother. From her, he said:

I learned that Judaism expresses itself not only in formal compliance with the law but also in a living experience. She taught me that there is a flavour, a scent and warmth to mitzvot. I learned from her the most important thing in life – to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders. Without her teachings, which quite often were transmitted to me in silence, I would have grown up a soulless being, dry and insensitive.[5]

To put it in other words: Torat imekha is about emotional intelligence. I have long felt that alongside Rabbi Soloveitchik’s great essay, Halakhic Man, there was another one he might have written called Aggadic Woman. Halakhah is an intellectual-moral enterprise. But aggadah, the non-halakhic dimension of rabbinic Judaism, is directed to the broader aspects of what it is to be a Jew. It is written in narrative rather than law. It invites us to enter the minds and hearts of our spiritual forebears, their experiences and dilemmas, their achievements and their pain. It is the emotional dimension of the life of faith.

Speaking personally, I am disinclined to think of this in terms of a male-female dichotomy.[6] We are all called on to develop both sensibilities. But they are radically different. Halakhah is part of Torat Cohanim, Judaism’s priestly voice. In the Torah, its key verbs are le-havdil, to distinguish/analyse/categorise, and le-horot, to instruct/guide/issue a ruling. But in Judaism there is also a prophetic voice. The key words for the prophet are tzedek u-mishpat, righteousness and justice, and hessed ve-rahamim, kindness and compassion. These are about I-Thou relationships, between humans, and between us and God.

The priest thinks in terms of universal rules that are eternally valid. The prophet is attuned to the particularities of a given situation and the relationships between those involved. The prophet has emotional intelligence. He or she (there were, of course, women prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther) reads the mood of the moment and how it relates to longstanding relationships. The prophet hears the silent cry of the oppressed, and the incipient anger of Heaven. Without the law of the priest, Judaism would have no structure or continuity. But without the emotional intelligence of the prophet, it would become, as Rav Soloveitchik said, soulless, dry and insensitive.

Which brings us to our parsha. In Ha’azinu, Moses does the unexpected but necessary thing. He teaches the Israelites a song. He moves from prose to poetry, from speech to music, from law to literature, from plain speech to vivid metaphor:

Listen, heavens, and I will speak;
And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
May my teaching fall like rain,
My speech flow down like dew;
Like gentle rain on tender plants,
Like showers on the grass. (Deut. 32:1-2)

Why? Because at the very end of his life, the greatest of all the prophets turned to emotional intelligence, knowing that unless he did so, his teachings might enter the minds of the Israelites but not their hearts, their passions, their emotive DNA. It is feelings that move us to act, give us the energy to aspire, and fuel our ability to hand on our commitments to those who come after us.

Without the prophetic passion of an Amos, a Hosea, an Isaiah, a Jeremiah, without the music of the Psalms and the songs of the Levites in the Temple, Judaism would have been a plant without water or sunlight; it would have withered and died. Intellect alone does not inspire in us the passion to change the world. To do that you have to take thought and turn it into song. That is Ha’azinu, Moses’ great hymn to God’s love for His people and his role in ensuring, as Martin Luther King put it, that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” In Ha’azinu, the man of intellect and moral courage becomes the figure of emotional intelligence, allowing himself to be, in Judah Halevi’s lovely image, the harp for God’s song.

This is a life-changing idea: If you want to change lives, speak to people’s feelings, not just to their minds. Enter their fears and calm them. Understand their anxieties and allay them. Kindle their hopes and instruct them. Raise their sights and enlarge them. Humans are more than algorithms. We are emotion-driven beings.

Speak from the heart to the heart, and mind and deed will follow.

Shabbat Shalom.

NOTES

[1] Dan A. Oren, Joining the Club: A History of Jews and Yale, Yale University Press, 1988.

[2] Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1989). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9(3), 185-211.

[3] Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind: the theory of multiple intelligences, New York, Basic Books, 1983.

[4] Joseph B. Soloveitchik, ‘A Tribute to the Rebbetzin of Talne,’ Tradition, 17:2, 1978, 73-83.

[5] Ibid. 77.

[6] There are, to be sure, serious thinkers who have made just this claim, about the superior emotional intelligence of women. See Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate, Allen Lane, 2002; Simon Baron Cohen, The Essential Difference, Penguin, 2004. See also Carol Gilligan’s classic, In A Different Voice, Harvard University Press, 1982.

As taken from, http://rabbisacks.org/emotional-intelligence-haazinu-5779/

Simchat Torah Technology and the Outdated Torah Scroll

by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

We will soon be celebrating Simchat Torah, and Jews throughout the world will dance with Sifrei Torah in their synagogues, community centers, university campuses, and even in the streets. This is remarkable for many reasons. We Jews treat our Torah scrolls as if they are human. We hold them close, kiss them, dance with them, dress them in the most beautiful garb, and build magnificent structures—the heichal or aron hakodesh—to house them. So great is our love for these scrolls that when they are too old and worn to be used, we bury them in a cemetery, similar to the way human beings are buried.

This, however, is most strange. The scrolls that we carry in our arms do not at all fit the times in which we live. They are completely outdated.

We live in a world of sophisticated technology. We walk on the moon, travel through space, communicate via satellite, and make use of the Internet – all without batting an eye. Physicians transplant people’s hearts, and replace or repair other parts of the human body with the greatest of ease. Any time now we will witness more scientific breakthroughs that will utterly surprise us, and before we know it, even more amazing inventions will usher us into a world we never dreamed was possible. Everything is moving and changing so rapidly that the term “speed” no longer has any relevance.

Yet here we are, dancing with a scroll that is totally oblivious to it all. The text in this archaic scroll hasn’t changed since the day Moshe received it at Mount Sinai. Furthermore, even the manner in which the Torah scroll is written has not been altered. It is still the human hand that must write the text. No word processor can take over. The quill has not been replaced, and nothing dramatic has happened to the formula used to produce the special ink. The parchment, as well, is prepared in the very same way as it was in the days of the prophets. If someone looked at the scroll we carry in our hands, and didn’t know better, they would think we had discovered it in a cave where people thousands of years ago used to preserve their holy texts, such as the Dead Sea scrolls.

Jewish law always encourages integrating the latest scientific knowledge into our lives and has no problem with the newest developments in treating infertility, flying a spacecraft, and using technical devices to make it easier to observe Shabbat. Yet, when it comes to the writing of a Sefer Torah, no technological improvements are appreciated. They are basically rejected.[1]

Ours is a future-orientated religion. We are not afraid of the latest technologies because they allow us to fulfill, in ways unimagined by our forefathers, the divine mandate to cure diseases, create more pleasant ways to live our lives, and make the world a better place. All this is beautifully expressed by our Sages, who direct us to become partners with God in the work of creation. But the very text that demands this does not allow for any changes in its content and bars us from making use of the latest technological devices when it comes down to the physical preparation and writing of this same text!

What is the message conveyed by this paradox?

While living in a world that is constantly in a state of flux and where matters can change overnight, there must be a place of stability where we can take refuge. We need unshakeable foundations that won’t shift like quicksand. Without such footing we would be lost and dangerously overwhelmed by the very technology we have created. While we benefit from all these new inventions, we also pay a heavy price and become the victims of great confusion. Technology and science often create moral problems that overwhelm us. We then begin to wonder whether it would be better to reject our moral standards in order to accommodate all the new possibilities that have opened up. Though many of us know this will only lead to more problems, others are calling for such radical steps, thinking it will bring improvement.

We need certainty but can no longer find it. The situation has become so critical that we realize we have reached a place where our human identity is at stake, unlike our forefathers who had to deal primarily with problems related to ideology.

Looking at and taking notice of a Sefer Torah is therefore of great value. Here is an item that has not changed an iota. Its physical nature attests to its stability. It is the only thing in the world that would not give in to innovation. Its text informs us that while things indeed need to evolve and become more sophisticated, the basic moral positions in the Torah are not to be altered, and its physical representation as an “old-fashioned scroll” sends us that message. It does not want to accommodate everything, nor does it even want to accommodate itself. It is beyond time and space and hence disconnects itself from the so-called new developments that the passage of time always demands. It wants to remain itself, on its own terms, and therefore offers us a haven of stability and genuine identity in a stormy world. In that way, it reminds us of eternity, of another world in which enduring standards prevail and where there is tranquility, something we all long for.

A Sefer Torah teaches us that not everything old is necessarily old-fashioned. Making use of the word processor has in many ways led to depersonalization in our lives; running our world by remote control has not been good for our souls; and walking on the moon has not helped us to know our next-door neighbor any better. On the contrary, technological progress has robbed us of our own humanness.

It is therefore most meaningful that one item has maintained its constancy. It carries a text that has had greater influence in the world than any other we know of. It has changed the universe as nothing else has; it encourages people to move, to discover, and to develop. But it is written on parchment, by the hand of a person, holding a quill, as if to say: Be yourself. Don’t get run over by the need for progress.

Notes

[1] Although there are some slight changes in the way we produce all these components today, sometimes making things a little easier, basically the formula remains the same. In Ohr Yitzchak, the collection of responsa by Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi of Jerusalem, on Yoreh De’ah, siman 54, the author suggests ways in which a Sefer Torah can be written without the scribe actually writing the letters, making use of the latest technology. This suggestion has not been accepted by the vast majority of halachic authorities. I would add that it is not in the spirit of Judaism, nor is it what a Sefer Torah should stand for, ideologically. This matter indeed goes to the very root of the difficult question as to what extent ideology can play a role in halachic issues – a long and complex topic beyond the scope of this essay.

As taken from, https://mailchi.mp/cardozoacademy/ttp-1352709?e=ea5f46c325

New Eichmann Film Puts the Lie to Hannah Arendt’s ‘Banality of Evil’

Image result for A photo taken during the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

A photo taken during the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

avatar by Alan Dershowitz

One of the most notorious lines — and lies — that grew out of the trial of Adolph Eichmann for his important role in the Holocaust was what Hannah Arendt called the “Banality of Evil.” Arendt was assigned to report on the 1961 trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem, but according to contemporaries, she rarely attended the trial itself. She came to Jerusalem having made up her mind in advance that Eichmann in particular and others involved in the evils of the Holocaust were ordinary banal functionaries. She reported on the trial with an agenda. It was not necessary for her to actually observe and listen to Eichmann because to do so would undercut her thesis. So instead she wrote a mendacious screed in which she constructed a stick-figure caricature of one of the most significant perpetrators of the Holocaust.

I use the word mendacious deliberately, because Arendt knew better. One of Hitler’s key supporters was Professor Martin Heidegger, perhaps the most influential philosopher of his day. Arendt was his student and lover. After the war she tried desperately to rehabilitate him. He was anything but banal. Nor were Göring, Goebbels, Himmler, Hitler, and the numerous doctors and lawyers who were tried at Nuremberg. Neither were the university students who began by burning Jewish books and ended by burning Jewish children. The perpetrators of the Holocaust — from those who organized it in Berlin to those who carried it out in the death camps and killing fields — included some of the most brilliant young men and women in the country. Many left university to participate in the “final solution” and then returned to highly prestigious jobs in post-war Germany.

Adolph Eichmann was anything but banal, as a perusal of the trial transcript reveals. In the film “Operation Finale,” he is played by Ben Kingsley. Although the film takes Hollywood liberties — a romance between a beautiful doctor who in reality was a man and the film’s Israeli hero — Kingsley’s fictional portrayal of Eichmann is far more realistic than the allegedly non-fiction account by Arendt.

The late Professor Telford Taylor — who was my teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend — had been the chief prosecutor at the Second Nuremburg Trials. He was invited to report on the Eichmann trial as well. He invited me along as his assistant and translator, but I had just been elected editor in chief at the Yale Law Journal and could not accept his offer — a decision I have long regretted. When he returned, he gave me his account of the trial, which varied enormously from that of Hannah Arendt. Where she saw banality, he saw calculation, manipulation, and shrewdness. These characteristics come through far more clearly in the film than in Arendt’s deeply flawed account. In the film we see a highly manipulative, shrewd judge of character who seeks to use his psychological insights to his advantage.

Nor was Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, the only effort by Germans to attribute banality and ignorance to the perpetrators of the Holocaust. In Bernhard Schlink’s award winning book The Reader, turned into a critically acclaimed film staring Kate Winslet, a woman who actively participated in the mass murder of Jews is presented as embarrassed by her illiteracy. Readers and viewers come away believing that she may have been more typical of hands-on perpetrators than the SS and Einsatzgruppen.

Deliberately distorting the history of the Holocaust — whether by denial, minimization, unfair comparisons, or false characterizations of the perpetrators — is a moral and literary sin. Arendt is a sinner who placed her ideological agenda above the truth. To be sure, there are untruths as well in “Operation Finale,” but they are different in kind rather than degree. Some of the drama and chase scenes are contrived, but what else can be expected of Hollywood. What is important is that Eichmann is presented in his multifaceted complexity, in the manner in which Shakespeare presented Iago, Lady Macbeth, and many of his other evil villains — not as banal, but as brilliantly evil.

It is essential to the memory of the victims of the Shoah, as well as to future efforts to prevent recurrences of genocide, that we not engage in ideologically driven and historically false oversimplifications such as “the banality of evil.” That mendacious and dangerous phrase should be struck from the historical vocabulary of the Holocaust and the trial of Eichmann, lest we look in the future for banality and miss the brilliance of those who would repeat Eichmann’s crimes.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of The Case Against Impeaching Trump, Skyhorse Publishing, 2018.

As taken from, https://www.algemeiner.com/2018/09/20/new-eichmann-film-puts-the-lie-to-hannah-arendts-banality-of-evil/?utm_content=blog1&utm_medium=daily_email&utm_campaign=email&utm_source=internal//