My Dear Jewish Friends,
“Every noble thoughts is stamped with immortality. Every good desire is a promise of what can be. Every high aspiration an intimation of possible achievement. Let the controlling motive of your life be to do the will of G-d and to serve Him in sincerity and truth,” wrote Grenville Kleisler, in his book, “Inspiration and Ideals.” (1918)
It was nothing but the “Noble Thoughts” of Rabbi Elyahm Fink to pen an article titled, “Why Jews Should Look To Germany For Inspiration This Rosh Hashanah,” dated September 10, 2015 which was published in Haaretz. “Look to Germany for inspiration,” reminded Rabbi Fink, and enlighten the readers that “a short 75 years ago, Germany and many of her citizens were efficient murderers. They were stoics with no soul. But two generations later, we’ve discovered that change is possible. If they did it, we can do it.”
For sure, any nation can reawaken its moral consciousness as long as there is a genuine desire to do the will of G-d, provided they confess with full sincerity and truth about their collective guilt of crimes against humanity. Yet another “Noble Thoughts,” of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel should be taken into account, wherein, in his book “Moral Granduer & Spiritual Audacity,” he cautioned us as follows:
“The greatest task of our time is to take the souls of men out of the pit. The
world has experienced that G-d is involved. Let us forever remember that
the sense for the sacred is as vital to us as the light of the sun. There can
be no nature without spirit, no world without the Torah, no brotherhood
without a father, no humanity without G-d.”
“Respect for Torah,” reminded Rabbi Samuel Egal Karff, in a book “A Treasury of Favorite Sermons by Leading American Rabbis,“ is what makes us shudder at the thought of doing certain deeds that must not be done. The old Yiddish expression was ‘M’turnisht – You Must not!’ Torah gives us the awareness that we are created in the divine image and so is the other person.” Rabbi Karff further went on by stating as follows:
“A world without Torah, a world without the fear of God leads to Auschwitz
and Dachau. A world with Torah is a world in which when we have violated
the moral law, we know it. We feel guilt and remorse and shame and are in
need of repentance and forgiveness.”
Consciously or sub-consciously, it seems like those of us belonging to the three Abrahamic faiths have indeed betrayed our own sacred texts. That’s exactly how Abdennour Bidar described when addressing his letter to “Dear Muslim World.” It is a must read for those who continue to live under a false impression that there is a deafening silence in the Islamic world. Isn’t it high time that one wise man and/or woman of Israel also write a soul-searching letter addressed to “Dear Jewish World”? No doubt, the world without the fear of G-d leads to the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau. Well then, so does the suffocation camps in Gaza where millions of our fellow humans are miserably suffering on a daily basis is also a direct result of having no fear of G-d, let alone the never ending brutal military occupation by the Israeli Defense Force.
“WHERE SHALL WE GO?” was the question which haunted me ever since I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian physician and activist, during an Iftar dinner this year in Atlanta. Thirty-five minutes of watching the video of the inhumane bombardment of Gaza made me reflect upon a book with a subject title, “Can It Happen Again? – Chronicles Of The Holocaust.” What was most heartbreaking was when Dr. Barghouti mentioned about an elderly Palestinian man as follows:
“There was a man who is 82 years old who told me, he spent all his life
building a home and the family. He had a house with four stores and
twenty-eight sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters. He
went to pray during Ramadhan in the evening. He came back and found
nothing . The house was completely destroyed. His wife was killed, and
all the twenty-eight sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters
were all killed.”
“Imagine somebody coming to you and telling you, get out of your home,
within one hour, one minute or two minute or you would be killed! How
would you feel? And within three minutes your whole house will be completely
destroyed. How would you feel? If you loose your belongings, your money,
your papers, your documents, and most important, your memories which
cannot be brought back even if there is a construction. That’s what they did
to people. They did so many insults to humanity. They speak about war name
by shooting people. They will shoot us more rocket in a house and a warning
sign and then shoot F-16 rocket to destroy it completely. These small rockets
can kill people believe me. They kill tens of people. How could the the world
live with that? How can the BBC speak about the Israeli army warning people
with rockets and call it warning?”
“This is something that BBC does not show you. And CNN will not show. And
Sky News will not show. And Fox News will of course not talk about it. And
although I provided personally these footage to their correspondence, it was
Imagine millions who perished in the Nazi gas chambers and countless millions of refugees, be they from Syria or Myanmar must all have been raising the same old question: “WHERE SHALL WE GO?” None of us are capable to comprehend the present day human condition as we have drifted far away from the “Noble Thoughts” of G-d fearing men and women. “This is a time to cry out,” wrote Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel, in his book “Between G-d And Man.” Every one ought to read his eloquent description of why we should all be ashamed to be human. It is as follows:
“One is ashamed to be human. One is embarrassed to be called religious
in the face of religion’s failure to keep alive the image of G-d in the
face of man. We see the writing on the wall but are too illiterate to
understand what it says. There are no easy solutions to grave problems.
All we can honestly preach is a theology of dismay. We have imprisoned
G-d in our temples and slogans, and now the word of G-d is dying on our
lips. We have ceased to be symbols. There is darkness in the East, and
smugness in the West. What of the night? What is history? Wars, victories,
and wars. So many dead. So many tears. So little regret. So many fears.
And who could sit in judgment over the victims of cruelty whose horror
turns to hatred? It is easy to keep the horror of wickedness from turning
into a hatred of the wicked? The world is drenched in blood, and the
guilt is endless. Should not all hope be abandoned?”
Victor E. Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist, did not give up hope. He was imprisoned in Auschwitz for three years. He survived, but his wife and other members of his family died in the concentration camps. It was he, who rightly stated that, “When we are no longer able to change a situation; we are challenged to change ourselves.” In a book, “Can It Happen Again – The Chronicles of Holocaust,” Victor Frankl recorded a moving story about “Human Kindness,” inside the concentration camps. His narration about “The Decent and the Indecent” men is a lesson for many Israelis and Palestinians who hate one another. Here is how he expressed his sentiments:
“I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a small piece of
bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It
was far more than a small piece of bread which moved me to tears at
the time. It was the human “something” which this man also gave to me –
the word and look which accompanied the gift.
From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world,
but only these two – the ‘race’ of the decent man and the ‘race’ of the
indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups
of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In
this sense, no group is of ‘pure race’ – and therefore one occasionally
found a decent fellow among the camp guards.”
Albert Einstein said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” We have to possess enough courage to dare question those in power as to why they have betrayed the sacred text which explicitly states that “Torah gives us the awareness that we are created in the divine image and so is the other person.” Let there be a clear understanding that “Innocent Civilians” are not “Ruthless Terrorists,” period. Mind you that there are tens of thousands of Palestinians who are decent “Human Beings” ready to extend “Human Kindness” towards Jewish people. Perhaps, by reflecting upon the words of wisdom of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one can find the meaning of “Faith.”
“Faith is loyalty to an experience. Faith is loyalty to an inspiration that
has occurred to us. Jewish faith is recollection of that which occurred to
our ancestors, of that which happened to Israel in the past. The events in
which the spirit of G-d became a reality of history stood before our eyes
painted in colors that never fade. Much of what Bible demands can be
compromised in one imperative: Remember!”
Remember! Every single year the entire world is reminded about Auschwitz, but what about Gaza and the suffering of Palestinians? Brutality and cruelty of the Islamic State is highlighted throughout the world mainstream media, but how about remembering the fact as pointed out by Gideon Levy, in his article “For the Sins of Occupation, Boycotts Are a Light Punishment,” who by being brutally honest has this to say:
“Israel is now defending the preservation of the status quo. It is fighting
against the whole world to preserve its advanced school of brutality and
cruelty, in which it is educating generations of young people to act brutishly
toward human beings, old people and children, to tyrannize them, to bark
at them, to crush and humiliate them, only because they are Palestinians.”
To all of my Jewish friends, my earnest appeal on this Rosh Hashanah is to concentrate on the three important words as pointed out by Rabbi Elyahm Fink: “Reflect, repent, and redo.” If Germany as a country can show to the world that displaying “Human Kindness” is far more important in life, then why can’t the State of Israel be bold enough to display its “Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity”? For sure, there are abundant of “Noble Thoughts” preserved in the Jewish heritage from which to extract all the worldly wisdom. One only needs to grasp a simple wisdom of Grenville Kleier, “Thought is the greatest power in the world, therefore be a serious thinker.” That’s the wish of your Muslim friend who does not want his Jewish friends to act as “Silent Spectators” totally detached from the ground reality that the very acts of “Brutality & Cruelty” is deeply rooted in both the Islamic and the Jewish world. THINK-a-little, my good friends.
L’Shanah Tovah! May this New Year be filled with health and happiness, joy and laughter, peace and prosperity. May you and your beloved family members be blessed with the very best things life has to offer.
Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia
We Have Lost The Sense Of The Holy
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Life is a drama, and religion has become routine. The soul calls for exaltation, and religion offers repetition. Honesty, veracity, does not come about by itself. Freshness, depth have to be acquired. One must work on them constantly.
To be moderate in the face of G-d would be a profanation. The goal is not an accommodation but a transformation. A mediocre response to immensity, to eternity, is offensive.
The tragedy of our time is that we have moved out of the dimension of the holy, that we have abandoned the intimacy in which relationship to G-d can be patiently, honestly, persistently nourished. Intimate inner life is forsaken. Yet the soul can never remain a vacuum. It is either a vessel for grace or it is occupied by demons.
At first men sought mutual understanding by taking counsel with one another, but now we understand one another less and less. There is a gap between the generations. It will soon widen to be an abyss. The only bridge is to pray together, to consult G-d before seeking counsel with one another. Prayer brings down the walls which we have erected between man and man, between man and G-d.
For centuries Jerusalem lay in ruins of the ancient glory of King David and Solomon only a wall remained, a stone wall left standing after the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. For centuries Jews would go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to pour out their hearts at the Wailing Wall.
A wall stands between man and G-d, and at the wall we must pray, searching for a cleft, for a crevice, through which our words can enter and reach G-d behind the wall. In prayer we must often knock our heads against the stone wall. But God’s silence does not go on forever. While man is busy setting up screens, thickening the wall, prayer may also succeed in penetrating the wall.
The tragedy is that many of us do not know how to find the way leading to the wall. We of this generation are afflicted with a severe case of dulling or loss of vision. Is it the result of our own intoxication, or is it the result of God’s deliberate concealment of visible lights?
The spiritual memory of many people is empty, words are diluted, incentives are drained, inspiration is exhausted. Is G-d to be blamed for all this? Is it not man who has driven Him out of our hearts and minds? Has not our system of religious education been an abysmal failure?
The spiritual blackout is increasing daily. Opportunism prevails, callousness expands, the sense of the holy is melting away. We no longer know how to resist the vulgar, how to say no in the name of a higher yes. Our roots are in a state of decay. We have lost the sense of the holy.
This is an age of spiritual blackout, a blackout of God. We have entered not only the dark night of the soul, but also the dark night of society. We must seek our ways of preserving the strong and deep truth of a living G-d theology in the midst of the blackout.
For the darkness is neither final nor complete. Our power is first in waiting for the end of darkness, for the defeat of evil; and our power is also in coming upon single sparks and occasional rays, upon moments full of G-d’s grace and radiance.
We are called to bring together the sparks to preserve single moments of radiance and keep them alive in our lives, to defy absurdity and despair, and to wait for G-d to say again: Let there be light.
And there will be light.
The Problem Of Evil
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
To the Jew, Sinai is at stake in every act of man, and the supreme issue is not good and evil but G-d, and His commandment to love good and to hate evil; not the sinfulness of man but the commandment of G-d.
“The Lord created the evil inclination in man and He created the Torah to temper it.” The life of man was compared with “a lonely settlement which was kept in disorder by invading bands. What did the king do? He appointed a commander to protect it. The Torah is a safeguard, the Torah is an antidote.
We are never alone in our struggle with evil. A mitzvah, unlike the concept of duty, is not anonymous and impersonal. To do a mitzvah is to give an answer to His will, to respond to what He expects of us. This is why an act of mitzvah is preceded by a prayer: “Blessed be Thou … “
What is a mitzvah? A prayer in the form of a deed. And to pray is to sense His presence. “In all thy ways thou shalt know Him.” Prayer should be part of all our ways. It does not have to be always on our lips; it must always be on our minds, in our hearts.
In the light of the Bible, the good is more than a value; it is a divine concern, a way of G-d. This is the profound implication of the oneness of G-d; all deeds are relevant to Him. He is present in all our deeds. “The Lord is good to all and His compassion is over all that He has made” (Psalms 145:10). There is no reverence for God without reverence for man. Love of man is the way to the love of G-d. The fear lest we hurt a poor man must be as deep as the fear of G-d, for He that oppresses the poor blasphemes his maker, but he who is gracious unto the needy honors Him. (Proverbs 14:31).
What we are discussing as a moral issue is but an aspect of the larger metaphysical problem about the relation of good and evil. Which of the two is self-subsistent? Is good ultimately a parasite on the body of evil? Or is it just the opposite: is it evil that lives as a parasite on the body of the good?
In our intellectual climate there seems to be only one answer to that problem. Ideals have a high morality rate in our generation. Contemporary thinking looks like a graveyard of discredited ideals. With his moral efforts man, it is felt, can build castles in the air. All our norms are nothing but desires in disguise.
He who accept this world as the ultimate reality will, if his mind is realistic and his heart sensitive to suffering, tend to doubt that the good is either the origin or the ultimate goal of history. To the Jewish mind, evil is an instrument rather than an iron wall; a temptation, an occasion, rather than an ultimate power.
The words of the Psalmist, Depart from evil, and do good (34:15), contain the epitome of right living. Yet, it seems that Jewish tradition belives that the right way of departing from evil is to do good; it puts the accent on the second half of the sentence.
Evil is not man’s ultimate problem. Man’s ultimate problem is his relationship to G-d. Evil entered into history as a result of man’s disobedience to G-d, as a result of his having forfeited the only mitzvah he had (not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge). The Biblical answer to evil is not the good but the holy. It is an attempt to raise man to a higher level of existence, where man is not alone when confronted with evil. Living in “the light of the face of G-d” bestows upon man a power of love that enables him to overcome the powers of evil. The seductiveness of vice is excelled by the joys of the mitzvah. “Ye shall be men of holiness unto Me” (Exodus 22:30). How do we receive that quality, that power? “With every new mitzvah which G-d issues on Israel, He adds holiness to them.”
We do not wage war with evil in the name of an abstract concept of duty. We do the good not because it is a value or because of expediency, but because we owe it to G-d. G-d created man, and what is good “in His eyes” is good for man. Life is human as well as divine. Man is a child of G-d, not only a value to society. We may explore things without G-d, we cannot decide about values without Him.
The Decent And The Indecent
Victor E. Frankl
It is apparent that the mere knowledge that a man was either a camp guard or a prisoner tells us almost nothing. Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which was a whole it would be easy to condemn. The boundaries between groups overlapped and we must not try to simplify matters by saying that these men were angels and those were devils. Certainly, it was a considerable achievement for a guard or foreman to be kind to the prisoners in spite of all the camp’s influences, and, on the other hand, the baseness of a prisoner who treated his own companions badly was exceptionally contemptible. Obviously the prisoners found the lack of character in such men especially upsetting, while they were profoundly moved by the smallest kindness received from any of the guards. I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a small piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than a small piece of bread which moved me to tears at that time. It was the human “something” which this man also gave to me – the word and look which accompanied the gift.
From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two – the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of “pure race” – and therefore one occasionally found a decent fellow among the camp guards.
The Importance Of Torah
Rabbi Samuel Egal Karff
Our sages teach that the greatest weapon against the evil impulse has also been given to us by G-d. That weapon is Torah, that very scroll which we symbolically passed from generation to generation this night. Torah is many things. In the context of this message tonight, Torah is moral commandment. It speaks of a moral order of life that must not be violated with impunity.
Respect for Torah is what makes us shudder at the thought of doing certain deeds that must not be done. The old Yiddish expression was M’turnisht – “You must not!” Torah gives us the awareness that we are created in the divine image and so is the other person.
I’ll never forget visiting the death camp at Dachau twenty-five years ago. There were three tiny chapels, one a Jewish chapel, and it was in the shape of a crematorium. Words from the Bible were inscribed on an outside wall. What do you place in the outside of a Jewish chapel in a death camp? Certainly not “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The verse chosen by the chapel builders was Chapter 9, verse 21 of the Book of Psalms: “Set fear of You over them, O Lord, let the nations know that they are but men.”
A world without Torah, a world without the fear of G-d leads to Auschwitz and Dachau. A world with Torah is a world in which when we have violated the moral law, we know it. We feel guilt and remorse and shame and are in need of repentance and forgiveness.