Saturday, March 24, 2012

Do We Live in Troubled Times?

Note to readers: I have had overwhelimgly positive feedback on this post. It seems to have stirred some real emotions. I have therefore decided to pin it to the top and allow more people to digest it. Yesterday's post is just below this one. God willing - the next new post will be on Monday.

Keli Keli, Lama Azavtani (Tehilim 22:2). In times like these, it may seem to some that God has forsaken us. Indeed there is much to be concerned about. The threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of an Islamic regime that considers it a religious obligation to wipe us off the map… an Islamic regime that loves death more than we love life… and that considers dying while killing Jews to be one of their greatest ‘Mitzvos’.

A few days ago, at about the same time my grandson died - an Islamic Jihadist claiming membership to Al Qaida attacked a religious Jewish day school in Toulouse, France murdering four people: a young rabbi, his two sons and the principal’s young daughter. This was just the latest in a long history of Islamic terrorism against us.

Who can forget the massacre at Yeshivas Merkaz Harav, or the massacre in Mumbai, India a few years ago. Ironically one of the victims in Toulouse, 3 year old Gabriel Sandler was named for Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg – one of the victims in Mumbai. Not all that long ago almost the entire Fogel family was slaughtered by Arabs who probably shared those religious beliefs.

As we look internally there have been many tragedies of late. There are elderly Rabbanim succumbing to illness, some have died, others lay sick in bed. Tehilim is being said around the world. It seems to me as there has been an increase of illness in the Jewish world lately. So many people, some of them children, suffering the pain of illness or the pain of treatment.

Because of all these tragedies - there have been calls for prayer and introspection. Most recently the OU and the RCA have asked its pulpit rabbis to call for prayer and speak words of inspiration during their weekly Shabbat sermons.

One could be tempted ask, “Why?” Why is there so much tragedy surrounding us? Look at all the accomplishments the Jewish people have had since the last great tragedy that befell us – the Holocaust?

From the ashes of Auschwitz, the Jewish world has been rebuilt. We have created an unprecedented Jewish educational system both here and in Israel. More Jewish children are attending religious day schools than ever before. The level of observance has increased among all religious strata. Standards of Sabbath observance have been elevated. More adults are learning Torah than ever before. Even among Baalei Batim. America and Israel have more Yeshivos and Kollelim than at any time in history.

The Chasidic world has grown to unprecedented levels. Tznius in dress among Orthodox has increased exponentially in the last 65 years. Mikva use is now fairly standard among Orthodox women. In the pre-Holocaust era there were many Orthodox women that did not use a Mikva! Most Orthodox women cover their hair. Pre holocaust it was a rarity for an Orthodox woman in America to cover her hair. Today hair covering is standard Orthodox practice. I could go on but you get the picture.

One may ask of God: Ribono Shel Olam! Look what we have accomplished in Your Name! Why are You sending us all these Nisyonos? Why are you testing our Emunah so?

I have no answers. I cannot read the mind of God. But there is more to being a Jew than Shmiras Shabbos or wearing a Shaitel. There are things that are happening in our world that need Tikun. Many of these issues are addressed here.

But it isn’t only about ‘the other guy’. We need to reflect on our own lives to see if there is anything we can do to improve in the eyes of God.

I would suggest that it is our very successes that may have created flaws in our personal and communal character. Some of us are too judgmental of others. Some of us are too insular and refuse to see the good in others, whether it is other religious Jews, non religious Jews and even non Jews. Some of us are arrogant about our Hashkafos to the exclusion of the Hashkafa of others. Some of us are lax in some of our observances. Some of us are too strict on our children. Or not strict enough. We all have areas where we could and should improve. Both as individuals and as a group.

If I had to pick one area to focus on it is Achdus – the unity of the Jewish people. Or more precisely the lack of it. We could all do better in this area. We tend to be united only at times of tragedy. As was the case when those 8 students at Merkaz HaRav were massacred. Even though Merkaz HaRav was a Religious Zionist Yeshiva, there was not a rabbinic leader in the world that did not stand together with the Yeshiva and the families of those victims, no matter how Charedi, or Chasidic, modern, or even secular they were. We were united

How wonderful and how sad this is. It’s wonderful that we can unite in times of tragedy, and sad that we forget about it so soon after.

I am not one to preach messages from tragedies. As I said - I do not know the mind of God. Nonetheless, I can’t help thinking that if God wants us to have Achdus and we only have it during tragedies… well it doesn’t take rocket science to draw some conclusions.

That said I do not want to lead anyone into a state of despair. We have a lot to be thankful for and much to be proud of. Like those very successes I mentioned. I take great pride in those accomplishments. They are not small. Things are not hopeless.

Not every event happening now is a tragedy. I have attended many weddings over the year; many Brisin; many Sheva Brachos; and many Bar and Bas Mitzvos.

Although divorce is up, it is still well below the national average. Although there are many singles out there experiencing a Shiddach crisis, there are many people getting married. Although there is a tuition crisis, our children are being educated religiously.

The Jewish people are materially better off than at any time in history. And despite some notable exceptions, anti Semitism is truly not a factor for the vast majority of the Jewish people. At least in America.

There are many happy families that are raising wonderful children. There are many good people doing great kindnesses for their fellow Jews. I can tell you that from personal experience with my grandson. It is impossible to over-estimate the basic goodness of humanity who - created B’Tzelem Elokim (in the image of God) - act accordingly.

I therefore do not see the world in such dire terms. At the same time we need to recognize that there is always room for improvement in ourselves as individuals and as a community. What do we need most? I leave that up to you. But one thing I am convinced of is that God has not forsaken us.