Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Finally a (grudging) mention

This article went online on the BBC's website last night. At first, I was pleased. A good article, so I thought, that refrained from blaming Israel. For that I should be grateful, I supposed.

But as I thought about what I had just read, I realised that several key points were missing. I realised that I was looking at yet another example of our enlightened left-wing, liberal-minded media studiously avoiding painting a full picture of what is happening in the Middle East.

I am currently studying for the American SAT. One of the subjects tested will be my essay writing skills. During my revision, I have learned that a good essay will take various sources and will make observations and progress to a mature conclusion. In that context, I am utterly dismayed that nowhere in the article is there mention of the word terrorist. True, that is unsurprising given the media's preference for the more sterile "militant," but "militant" doesn't appear either. "Hamas" is mentioned, but not once in connection with the suffering of the residents of Sderot at the hands of the rockets that they fire. Where would the BBC have us believe that these rockets appear from? Are they hoping to delude the public into thinking that rockets land in Sderot out of thin air?

Once again, the BBC is guilty of painting a misleading picture. The article mentions that the rockets come from Gaza, which is very true, but the point is that Hamas as administrators of the Gaza strip have both actively fired and passively overseen the firing of rockets aimed at civilians in Israeli towns such as Sderot. Which touches another point, that these rockets were aimed at civilians.

Why had such an article not been written before Israel's attack against Hamas? Why didn't the BBC feel that the situation, something that has been daily conversation here in Israel now for over two years, warranted a full-length article long ago? Why is it that when Israel responds to the terrorists the whole world sits up and takes notice, thoroughly condemning their "disproportionate" actions, but as rockets continued to hit Sderot throughout a ceasefire, the press' reaction was one of silence. Where was the international condemnation then? Where were the students protesting outside the embassies in solidarity with their Israeli brothers? (OK, I'm deluding myself a little there, but you surely catch my drift.)

Only after five days of this incursion/war in response to Hamas' insufferable provocation do the left-wing loonies at the BBC see fit to describe the suffering that Sderot residents are enduring. By way of comparison, countless articles have been posted online describing the suffering of Gazan residents as a result of the Israeli blockade and over these last five days many more have been published detailing their suffering in the latest bout of the conflict.

I have a sneaking feeling that the only reason why this article was compiled was merely so that their reporting of the situation could be perceived as balanced. To have masses of editorials online documenting the suffering of the helpless Palestinians, yet not one about the victims of Hamas's reprehensible "bad habit" of firing military grade weapons at civilians would be clearly indefencible proof of bias. Even the BBC would cannot tolerate such an absurdly assymetrical level of reporting.

By grudgingly producing the mimimal number of "pro-Israel" articles however, (and by that I mean "non-pro-Palestinian" articles,) the lefties can claim to be neutral and falsely assert that they are willing to equally report both sides of the conflict. They will self-righteously point to the few articles of this nature, and thus impudently deflect criticism of their one-sidedness. Do not be fooled.

In case we weren't absolutely sure why Israel launched this operation (Part 2):

Here is a short but powerful clip from highlighting the effects of Hamas's terrorism that have caused Israel's recent operation.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In case we weren't absolutely sure why Israel launched this operation:

If there was any doubt as to whether Hamas' rudimentary Kassams have any real effect on the residents of Southern Israel, here's a resounding yes for you.

(Hat tip: Muqata)
Translated from Arutz Sheva Israel:

9 year old "Shir" wrote a list for herself in case of rocket attacks on her home in Southern Israel. This way she knows how long it takes to run to the bomb shelter from everywhere in her home, from the time she hears the air raid siren.

From the living room -- 10 seconds to run to the bomb shelter.
From Or's bedroom -- 10 seconds to run to the bomb shelter.
From the dining room -- 6 seconds to run to the bomb shelter.
From Shir's Bedroom -- 13 seconds to run to the bomb shelter
From my parents bedroom -- 10 seconds to run to the bomb shelter.
From the hall bathroom -- 10 seconds to run to the bomb shelter.

That unfortunately, is little Shir's reality. She has to know how long it takes her to run from place to place, because it might well save her life.

I don't know about you, but that is not normality. That is no way for a nine year old girl to live. That is unacceptable, and that is why Israel has finally acted.

So who's fault is it?

Foreign governments trying to be "neutral" (see my earlier post about what that's all about,) experience real difficulty in admitting the reality of the current situation in and around Gaza, but ironically enough the Egyptians have no such qualms.

(Hat tip to Little Green Footballs and in turn, to Aaron.)

We are most amused.

I make it my business to keep up with the world's latest news and opinions, and while some of the material I come across on the main news agencies can be very dry, once in a while a story pops up that is so funny as to make all the hours wasted sifting through mundane politics worthwhile. Here is one such article.

While the concept of dealing with local leaders is certainly not new, the kinds of products traded in the past tended to be more practical. Having said that, the results seem to be fantastic:

In the case of the 60-year-old warlord - the head of a clan in southern Afghanistan who had not co-operated - operatives saw he had four younger wives. The pills were explained and offered. Four days later the agents returned.

"He came up to us beaming," the Post quoted an agent as saying. "He said, 'You are a great man... And after that we could do whatever we wanted in his area."

The pills could put chieftains "back in an authoritative position", another official said.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An insight as to the nature of miracles.

I know it's the end of Chanukkah now, but I haven't made an entry and I really wanted to put something down so here goes...

I was in a shiur today, and the Rav mentioned that we follow Hillel's way of lighting the Chanukiah, adding a new candle each night, starting with one flame and adding a new light for each successive night, ending up with eight lights. Shamai's view on the other hand, was that we should start with eight, and remove one flame for each successive night.

The Rav giving the shiur posed a question: What's the reasoning behind Shamai's method? We can all easily understand Hillel's logic; that for each extra night the flame burned the נס, the miracle, became that much stronger and special, thus meriting an extra light. Shamai's method seems illogical. Why remove lights? Surely the flame's continued burning became more miraculous as one day's worth of oil turned to two, two to three, and so on?

The Chassidic master the S'fat Emet presents an answer to this very question. He said that if we look at another debate between Hillel and Shamai we may understand his logic. The debate is well know - the debate of preparation for Shabbat. Various sources, (notably the Ramban,) say that the Mitzvah of Zachor et Yom HaShabbat L'kadsho refers to an obligation during the week. On Shabbat it is no problem to remember that we are keeping Shabbat, it's obvious; the Shabbat spirit surrounds us. The real Mitzvah is to remember Shabbat during the week. It is for this reason that in Hebrew each day of the week is a reference to Shabbat - Sunday, for example, is called Yom Rishon because it is the first day after Shabbat. It is important to be conscious of Shabbat's higher reality during the mundane reality of the week.

With this in mind, the debate between Hillel and Shamai was thus; how do we prepare food for Shabbat? Shamai's point of view was that if a man was to find a nice cut of meat on Sunday for example, he would buy it and save it for Shabbat. If he were then to find a choicer piece of meat on Monday, he would then buy that, reserve it for Shabbat, and eat the other piece. Shamai's approach was to save the best for Shabbat. Hillel on the other hand, followed the rule of Bitachon Yom-l'Yom, to trust that Hashem will give us what we need each day and not to rely on our own (ultimately futile) efforts, to have daily bitachon in Hashem. Hillel's opinion was that one should live on a day to day basis and enjoy whatever came one's way. If one deserved a choice piece of meat for Shabbat, he would find it on Friday. Both points of view are perfectly understandable, and through their logic here we can understand their opinions on the Chanukah lighting poser above.

Hillel viewed each day of the chanukah as an extra dimension of the miracle being revealed. The miracle was ultimately complete on the eighth day, and thus for each day Hillel adds a light, building up to eight. Shamai, on the other hand, does not view the נס of the last remaining bottle of oil as the עיקר of the חנוכה story. His opinion was that the oil that was found, the oil that gave us enough time to get us back on our feet again, was actually the secondary aspect of the story. The miracle by itself would be rendered a neat trick, but pointless, were it not for what followed it. The נס was special because it enabled us to get back to the state whereby we were producing oil again and lighting the Menorah on a daily basis. Therefore, each day that passed was a day in which the miracle headed towards ending, a day headed back towards normality, a day headed towards the time when we would function after Hashem's covert intervention. It was the "9th" day that interested Shamai, the day when we returned to performing mitzvot in the Bet Hamikdash like we should.

Through this example we have an insight as to the nature of miracles. Hashem only performs acts that are above the realm of nature when it enables us to do something we merit. (There are apparent exceptions, but let's not go ther.) There is no point in performing a miracle for people who will not build in the base given to them. Shamai's understanding was that the miracle of Chanukah was all counting down to the point where Chanukah was over and the true light of our work, the light of Avodat Hashem would burn again.

In a similar fashion, may we merit the coming of the Mashiach and the imminent arrival of the third Bet Hamikdash. Amen!

The trouble with "impartial" reporting.

Reporters working on the recently resumed hostilities in the Gaza strip on major news agencies, news websites and newspapers tend to take a supposedly neutral standpoint on events there. Unfortunately, what theey perceive as "unbiased" reporting, especially such as seen on the BBC website is particularly misleading. Allow me to explain.

The BBC website is good enough at taking isolated events of "Israeli oppression" and highlighting how Israel is relentlessly hounding the poor Palestinians. That kind of journalism is easy enough to single out as prejudiced or biased. This is mostly because even the BBC wouldn't argue against claims that these articles are one-sided; such articles are supposed to take one particular incident at a time and as such naturally tend to only examine one particular event.

What irks me however, is when the media reports on a chain of inter-related events in a fashion that does not make clear what the causes and effects are, consequently blurring the lines and equating the two. Additionally, the media repeatedly prints condemnation of Israel by the UN, even when such condemnation has no verifiable basis in reality. For example:

A UN human rights monitor accused Israel of "shocking atrocities".

Richard Falk - the special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories - said the international community must put more pressure on Israel to end its attacks on Gaza.

"Israel is committing a shocking series of atrocities by using modern weaponry against a defenceless population - attacking a population that has been enduring a severe blockade for many months," Mr Falk said in a BBC interview.

In a similar fashion, when we see quotes like this by clearly biased sources, we expect a minimal addendum to explain that Israel is, in actual fact, conforming to international law, and is not perpetrating any war crimes or otherwise:

The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, has called for a new intifada, or uprising, against Israel.

Hamas's advisor on foreign policy, Dr Ahmed Yousef, warned that the Israeli operation could lead to suicide attacks.

"The scale of damage, they're destroying all the government buildings and mosques, schools, amenities," he told the BBC's World Tonight programme.

"When the people look to these crimes and the scale of damage that's happened here, yes, some of the people will go to get revenge."

Sensationalist language is something we expect to see in the tabloids, not in a publicly-funded internationally reknowned corporation the size of the BBC. Unfortunately, by refusing to place individual acts within context, time and again Israel is framed to appear aggressive and unreasonable when that is absolutely not the case. The only time I have seen mention of Hamas' continued use of human shields is at the end of one article, as a quote from a married Jewish couple. There are no statements of fact, only a quote by "biased Jews."

Similarly, after the ceasefire was broken in October, I read on the BBC website how there had been "a heavy reduction in rocket fire and Israeli incursions" during the ceasefire. Again, this happened today when the BBC published an article detailing the targeting of the Egypt-Gaza tunnels which are regularly used for smuggling weaponry. On the side of the page, a boxout details the "Run-up to Gaza raids." The page is available here. Below is a screen-grab of the page:

Notice the ambiguous wording which only partially decribes the situation accurately. The word "reduced" is employed in a way that cleverly decieves all but the most attentive of readers. Hamas has indeed overseen a reduction in rocket fire towards Israel. Israel however, has not similarly "reduced" incursions into Gaza. In fact, until the ceasefire fell apart, Israel suspended all violence towards Hamas. (Take note Hamas, ceasefire means ceasefire.)

While terrorists in Gaza made a mockery of the ceasefire, and from start to end launched rockets into (internationally recognised) Israeli territory, Israel did not Admittedly, there was a heavy reduction of these rockets being fired, but launching as much as one solitary rocket was a breach of the ceasefire. On the last day of the ceasefire, Noam Bedein of Sderot Media Center wrote that "377 missiles were launched towards Israel during the 'relaxation' period."

By grouping Israel and Hamas into one phrase together, the BBC made it seem as if we were equal in our efforts and commitment to the ceasefire. The reality was that this ceasefire had been repeatedly ignored by Hamas and that it had been respected by Israel, depsite the vast amount of rockets launched at her civilians. The phrasing suggested that Israel and Hamas had *equally* reduced attacks on one another. This was absolutely not the case.

It is totally wrong to equate Israeli air strikes on specific targets and Palestinian terrorists launching rockets at civilians in Sderot during the morning rush hour in an attempt to kill children on their way to school. Admittedly both are violent acts, but one is an act of unmitigated aggression and evil, whereas the other is an attempt by Israel to rid herself of an imminent threat to people's lives.

By refusing to overtly take sides, some media are placing the unssuspecting public in in the trap of condemning the Israelis and the Palestinians as being the same. I understand that people across the world will take sides in this war, but isn't it possible to condemn rocket strikes on a civilian centre like Sderot? Doesn't that appeal to the liberal mind, doesn't that equate to a humanitarian crisis, or do those only occur in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli aggressors? Do Jewish lives not count? The UN have condemned the attacks in Sderot, but only occasionally as an afterthought after vilifying Israel for defending herself.

It was interesting to read the following article a month or two ago:

Four Palestinians were killed during an Israeli air raid in the Gaza Strip, medical officials said. They were hit by an air-to-surface missile at the Shajaiye area of the city of Gaza. The Israeli military confirms the airstrike.

The dead were members of the Popular Resistance Committees. A spokesman for the group calling himself Abu Attaya conveyed the four were firing mortars into Israel when they were killed.

Earlier, two Palestinian rockets landed inside Israel on Sunday. According to Israeli reports, the rockets struck open areas and did not cause any casualties or property damage.

-Article quoted from

It was particularly pleasing to see that an Arab news agency has no problem telling the truth, and helps make chronological order of events clear: "the four were firing mortars into Israel when they were killed." Israel was responding to a terrorist attack, and they don't mind saying so.

Tim Franks, a reporter for the BBC has a page on their site called "Jerusalem Diary" - a blog on the BBC website documenting the news and people's views of current events here in Jerusalem. Tim particularly likes talking to settlers as he knows that their views clash with those of most Westerners, and making them sound extreme is easy fodder for him. Last month, he interviewed one man, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and the following quotes made it into this blog entry:

"The Jewish people don't have another country, and the Arabs have 21 countries. We have a small country, and from this they want to uproot us."

His wish is simple: "When you have a people that rise against you, kills you, massacres you, wants to take your home - you shouldn't let them stay. They should be deported."

The sub-headline was based on this last line (I suppose this should be unsurprising given his uncompromising stance is great fodder for journalists,) but was reworded and given a little twist. The end result - 'Deport The Arabs.'

Talk about quotes being taken out of context.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Why is it that liberals gravitate towards extremists?

English state-sponsored television has never been a particularly reliable source for accurate news, but Channel Four has until now done well to stay reasonably impartial and provide a relatively good resource for current affairs.

There was an uproar recently on the internet, particularly within the “blogosphere,” (referring to weblogs around the world,) when Jon Snow (an otherwise fairly decent reporter) referred to the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attacks as “practitioners.” An excellent article on the Wall Street Journal website referring to the horrific media coverage of the attacks is available here, and I highly recommend that you read it.

The concept of political correctness, abhorrent to anyone with even a minimal cluster of functioning brain cells, seems to be reaching breathtaking new lows. “Terrorist” has been a naughty word for quite a few years, and the more sanitised “militant” has been employed in its place with minimum fuss by such enlightened organisations as the BBC and the Independent. But it would seem that this word too could end up getting blacklisted. (If we look at the Negro/Coloured/Black/African-American precedent, this could very well be true.) Like all PC words, as soon as the so called free-thinkers in our society realise that a word is being used for something that is either construed as bad or something that really is bad, the word itself must be blacklisted and supplanted with a more sterile alternative. Now if that is the case, “militants,” what with its shocking etymological link to words such as Militia and Military, will soon come to the end of its lifetime and be deemed too reminiscent of aggression and bloodshed than is acceptable, and hence a new, meeker word will be introduced. If Jon Snow is anything to go by, “practitioner” would be a good bet.

Now the last time I checked, the only kind of practitioner I ever met was a General Practitioner, a GP, otherwise known as a Doctor. If these terrorists are to be dubbed “practitioners,” what is it that they practise exactly? Tolerance and love? For crying out loud, world, wake up!

Apart from that unfortunate episode, Channel Four has a solid reputation as their reporting of the news is actually normally fairly factual and well balanced. But then some fool decided to approve what must frankly be ranked as one of the most idiotic decisions in British television history. First, a bit of context is needed. The Queen of England has traditionally given a speech of seasonal goodwill every Christmas day every year of her reign. The tradition began in 1932 with a radio broadcast by King George V, and Queen Elizabeth II has continued the tradition, delivering the speech almost each Christmas ever since, with the 1969 being the sole exception. The messages of the past few years have increasingly made reference to themes of cultural and religious diversity and the benefits of tolerance.

Quoting Wikipedia, “Since 1993, Channel 4 has broadcast an "Alternative Christmas message" featuring a contemporary, often controversial celebrity, delivering a message in the manner of Her Majesty.” Past speakers have included parents of a murdered schoolboy and a mother of a child infected with CJD and a British soldier injured in action in Afghanistan, amongst others. I take no issue with soldiers, mothers, schoolchildren or even comedians issuing a message to Britain, even if it turns out to be a heavily politicised and biased one, but this year Channel Four decided that the platform ought to be given to the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Before I continue, I must make it absolutely clear that I believe in a free media, in the basic right to freedom of expression, and what I am about to state absolutely does not that belief.

It is my belief that it was foolish, dangerous and wrong to invite a crazed maniac such as Ahmadinejad to speak on a level parallel to Royalty. His words are twisted and we should not give him so much as a second to spout his drivel on national television. I understand the broadcasters’ need to win their ratings and the viewing wars against other channels, but there are limits of taste and decency that simply must come first. I shouldn’t be surprised after seeing countless re-runs of unfunny American sitcoms and endless reality TV, but if television ever had a soul, it would seem that it sold it a long time ago.

Britain’s core values are based on tolerance and liberality. Freedom of expression is taken for granted in the Western World and people of all religions and sexual orientation are free to live their lives as they wish, with minimal intervention by the government. We can now juxtapose Ahmadinejad’s Iran with this free society. Iran has seen countless alleged homosexuals killed over the last year, men and women slaughtered in the streets in the name of Allah and in the name of family honour. To give this man airtime on a day that celebrates the birth of Jesus, on a day that Christians mark what should be goodwill to all men and their pinnacle of the season of peace is frankly repulsive.

The decision drew a fluury of criticism, and even the government condemned the choice to allow Ahmadinejad to speak as likely to cause "international offence." As Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said, Ahmadinejad is a "criminal despot, who ranks with Robert Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and the Burmese military junta as one of the world's most bloody tyrants". Henry Grunwald QC of the Board of Deputies of British Jews commented that "The appearance on our television screens of a man whose prejudices are so well-documented and who has openly called for the eradication of another member country of the United Nations is an affront to decency... To invite him to deliver a Christmas message, even a so-called alternative one, fills me with disgust."

The decision to allow such a man to address a nation as supposedly liberal and tolerant as Britain is utterly lamentable. In the U.S., the fault line between acceptable “alternative world views” and perspectives so vile as to be unfit for public consumption is a preacher who’s done good work for AIDS victims but is tepidly opposed to gay marriage. In Britain, it’s this turd — and as it turns out, he’s on the right side of the line. This is the same cretin who humiliated British sailors on worldwide television; who provoked an international standoff over a nuclear program that will end up starting an arms race in the Middle East; and who’s been sending weapons into Iraq for years to do to British soldiers there what was done in Afghanistan to last year’s “alternative message” presenter. It’s because of all that, not in spite of it, that he’s being handed this platform — on Christmas Day, as a de facto rebuttal to the Queen, to invite his audience in a thinly veiled way to convert. Imagine the contempt you’d have to have for your country to give him the opportunity.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Parshat Miketz - פרשת מקץ



Friday, December 19, 2008

Parshat Vayeshev - פרשת וישב

I was speaking to a friend late last light, and I asked him whether he had any triggers for a good D'var Torah for my post on this week's Parsha. Thankfully, he jumped at the chance, and told me how he had read a great piece by Rav Hirsch. I hope to look at the D'var Torah in Rav Hirsch's words before I get to publishing this entry, but if I run out of time to do that I hope that this shall suffice.

.ויספר אל אביו ואל אחיו ויגער-בו אביו ויאמר לו מה החלום הזה אשר חלמת הבוא נבוא אני ואמך ואחיך להשתחות לך ארצה
.ויקנאו-בו אחיו ואביו שמר את-הדבר
.וילכו אח֑יו לראת אׄתׄ-צׄאן אביהם בשכם
(בראשית לז: י-יג)

Yoseph, having just related the second of his famous prophetic dreams to Ya’akov is met with by a certain ambivalence from his father. Whereas his siblings abhorred and utterly resisted Yoseph’s visions, his father’s reaction was to initially rebuke his son, but soon turned to being more open-minded and receptive. The Pasuk employs the conservative “שמר,” indicating that his father quietly listened to him and regarded Yoseph’s words as a possibility in his mind, but did not act on it one way or another.

It is interesting to note that in the last of the three P’sukim I have quoted above, the Pasuk is broken with an Etnachta (a symbol used for singing the Torah which indicates a pause) in an unusual place. Liberally translated, the Pasuk reads, “And the brothers went (Etnachta) to see their father’s flock in Shchem.” Why the break? What does the break imply? Rav Hirsch goes on to point out that Shchem was 80Km away from Hevron, where the brothers were. He explains that the brothers left immediately as soon as they heard their father humour Yoseph and seriously entertain the notion that his dreams had true meaning, hence the Etnachta cuts off the words “And the brothers went” from the rest of the sentence to show that the brothers left immediately. And why Shchem? Rav Hirsch points to the Midrash Rabba, which references the two dots that appear above the word את. These two dots signify that the brothers didn’t truly go to the sheep, rather that they used the sheep as an excuse to get away and spend some time mulling things over. They actually went to themselves, in that decided to take some time for introspection. It is significant that they went to Shchem because that was the place where they first demonstrated their sense of family unity. It was at Shchem that Shimon on Levy massacred the whole male population so that their sister’s name would not be besmirched. If this was the case when they were threatened from outside the family, it makes sense that when they were threatened from within the ranks, the family should return to the place where they first experienced true solidarity.

So Yoseph’s brothers did not exactly warm to his predictions, as is clearly stated in the Pasuk, “ויקנאו-בו אחיו – and his brothers were jealous of him.” The traditional understanding of this Pasuk is that the brothers were appalled to hear of their younger sibling’s grandiose statements about his future role as ruler over them. Moreover, the assertion that he would dominate over his father was even more contemptible in their eyes, and they soon moved to act in an attempt to ensure that such an occurrence would never come to fruition.

The interpretation that Rav Hirsch provides however, is far more fulfilling. In the same way that Adam HaRishon came to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as a result of his ultimately good intentions, it would be churlish to suppose that the brothers’ scheming was simply evil, or that they were acting in a selfish manner.

Rav Hirsch offers the explanation that the brothers actions (like those of Adam HaRishon) were ultimately meant for the good, and that we should not allow ourselves to think that they merely acted on impulse against a perceived threat to the regular familial hierarchy. It would be a mistake to think that they were so simple. Often people look back at history and wonder how famous people could have acted quite so foolishly. If we think that way, we are the fools; those people knew what they were doing. Just because the characters we study in our history classes lived hundreds of years ago, doesn’t mean that they were lacking in common sense! Additionally, as was the case with the twelve tribes, many were far more spiritually sensitive than we are today.

So how can we understand their behaviour? What was the cause for their mistake? Rav Hirsch proposes that only recently had Nimrod introduced the world the concept of a kingdom. Up until that time, the brothers had never been exposed to a ממלכה – a Kingship, and and to be honest, Nimrod’s Kingdom wasn’t all that great. Nimrod was an evil and corrupt ruler who imprisoned his people and subjected them to slavery. The brothers’ cousins in Seir-Edom had “been enslaved by the whip of the Alufim (chieftains) and kings.” By way of comparison, Ya’akov’s family were quietly creating a society of equality and tranquillity. But what would happen to this model if one man were to rise to the top and dominate over everyone else? The brothers had this one terrible example of Kingship, and when they heard their younger brother’s dreams, they quite understandably resolved themselves not to allow the Jewish nation to be ruled over by a monarch, assuming with relative plausibility that a rule of monarchy lead to the oppression of Am Yisrael. The brothers were determined not to let the future generations of the Jewish nation be reduced to slaves, and so we can now understand that their actions were not out of foolish pride or a bloated sense of self-importance, rather they were driven by their perception of Yoseph as a severe threat to the future of Am Yisrael.

Wishing you a beautiful “Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach!”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Parshat Vayishlach - פרשת וישלח

As I referred to last week, in this week's Parsha, Ya'akov is given a new name - Yisrael. Unlike other biblical charachters, though, he retains his original name, and the Torah continues to refer to him by this name as well as the new.

The difference here is that while characters such as Avraham and Yehoshua underwent transititions that meant that a new, more appropriate name was requried, Ya'akov was remained an apt name, and Yisrael was not intended as a replacement. How can we understand this?

If we understand Ya'akov's role as the final patriarch before the generation of the twelve tribes, we can see that he had not one, but two defining qualities. It is imperative to understand the Jewish nation's continuing mission in the context of Ya'akov two names.

I read on that, "Jacob and Israel are two different names, with two different meanings. While it is true that Israel represents a loftier state of being than Jacob (thus the Israel element in Jacob is "no longer Jacob"), there are certain virtues to the Jacob state that the Israel state cannot possess. So Jacob remains a name for both the third Patriarch and for the Jewish people as a whole. Israel might represent a higher stage in the Jew's development than Jacob, but the greatness of the Jewish people lies in that there are both Jacob Jews and Israel Jews, and Jacob and Israel elements within each individual Jew."

The Kli Yakar explains that the two names of Ya'akov and Yisrael are analogous to two exiles and redemptions of Am Yisrael. He writes that the name Ya'akov (which etymologically derives from the word "heel") is meant as a parallel to the redemption of the exile in Egypt. He describes that redemption as not being the most notable and prominent of the redemptions of the Jewish nation, rather that its miracles should be regarded as “Tafel,” almost as a bonus. It is said in the Bereshit Rabbah that similarly the name Ya’akov should be regarded as secondary to the primary Yisrael. And if that is so, the two are really two aspects of one particular thing. Both names are necessary to understand the concept of Ya’akov/Yisrael.

Rashi suggests that the name while the name Yaakov indicates subservience, Yisrael signifies strength and victory. Another view is offered by the Meshech Chochma, who sees the different names as expressing the distinction between Yaakov as an individual versus Yisrael as a national identity. Thus, according to Meshech Chochma, God addresses "Yisrael" exclusively when, and only when, there are national issues at hand. For this reason, both names are retained.

It is interesting to note that Ya’akov takes his name from Esav’s angel, the angel that opposed him at the river, the angel that wrestled with him in a ferocious struggle. The angel’s name was Yisrael, which as the Kli Yakar points out means “Straight to Hashem.” Now, I don’t know how you understood the struggle, but however you read it, it doesn’t seem as if the angel was assisting Ya’akov in his task of getting closer to Hashem. It doesn’t seem as if he was doing anything like getting him towards Hashem, on the contrary, he was opposing Ya’akov, blocking Ya’akov’s path! It is instructive to note that every angel is named after the very specific task he is assigned, so how can it be that this angel seems hell-bent on stopping Ya’akov?

The answer is revealing in its depth. The angel was doing exactly what was required of him. To him, it very possibly made little to no sense at all, but the angel, somewhat paradoxically, fulfilled his task. This world is not a simple place. Our task is not always obvious, and often takes painful turns and requires arduous journeys. Yet if we stick to our task, we will find the straightest path to Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Parshat Vayeitzei - פרשת ויצא

In this week's Parsha, we read how Ya'akov sets out for Charan. Ya'akov had spent many years studying with his father, and was now coming from 14 years solid learning at the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever. There, we have learned, he did not break from his learning even to sleep. Ya'akov was totally alien to the outside world, he was a "יושב אוהלים" as is said in last week's Parsha; a tent dweller, one who spent his days devoted to the study of Torah.

Out of the three forefathers, the three אבות, the Jewish nation was named after one - Ya'akov. Not by that name, though, for we are known by the name he was later on given, the name of Yisrael. Other Biblical characters had their names changed, too: Avram became Avraham, Sarai became Sarah, and Hoshea later on became Yehoshua. In the cases of Avraham and Sarah, their names were changed by God himself. Surely their names would be a more fitting title for the Jewish nation?

Let's come back to that later. First, we must look at the Avot, and Ya'akov's position within them. Avraham was the first of the Avot. The Jewish nation have a title that comes from him, but it is less commonly employed: זרע אברהם - literally "Seed of Avraham." Avraham and Ya'akov were very similar to each other. The best way to understand it is as follows. If we examine the natural pattern of many things in this world, we can see that there are often three very distinct stages: Firstly, the initial spark, a wonderful eternal potential, but one that disappears within moments. The second stage is one of darkness and hard work. The third stage is the stage of the completion of that work, and the sweetness at the effort and perspiration of the second phase having realised the vision of the first stage. The third stage is an exact parallel of the first stage’s potential, for it is merely that potential having been realised.

Avraham Avinu was considered to be that first phase of the Jewish people, whereas Ya'akov was the third stage. The first stage is the flash on unlimited potential, in our case the vast promise that the Jewish people holds. The third stage was the actualisation of that dream, Am Yisrael being born. (From Ya'akov, the archetypal twelve tribes were born.) Avraham Avinu was typified by the ten tests given to him by Hashem, ten challenging tests that none of us have ever faced. Ya'akov had relatively normal tests in his life, nothing like being asked to slaughter his only son, or to jump into a furnace. His challenges were far closer to the challenges that most people have, nothing particularly extreme. Because he was so removed from mundane matters; he achieved a unique level of holiness that merited his station as the "בחיר האבות," the choicest of the forefathers, the one whose name would be lent to the nation that would descend from him.

Interestingly, the בתי מקדש are seen as being linked with the three Avot. If we look back to the aforementioned three-phase process, it is said of the first stage that it though it lasts only a while, it will seem at the time as though it will last forever. The second stage, the stage of darkness and hard work, is said to have the scent, but not the taste of the first stage. (We can understand this by referring to the World before the sin of Adam HaRishon. I have learned that back then, a fruit tree and a fruit's peel would taste and smell the same as the fruit it bore, whereas nowadays, after our perspective of reality was changed by the sin of Adam, only the smell remains.) The third stage is very much like the first stage, only this time there is no illusion of permanence; it is real. In this light we can understand the Zohar when it says that the first Bet Hamikdash is associated with Avraham, the second with Yitzchak, but the third and final Bet Hamikdash, which will be established in the End of Days and will be everlasting, is related to Yaakov.

And so Ya'akov set off for Charan. As we know, if we look closely at the names in the Torah, we find deep meaning to them. Charan is no different, it's name is particularly apt. Ya'akov left for Charan, for charono shel olam, the wrath of an unfriendly world. Ya'akov left 14 years of learning, and set out to continue his learning elsewhere, but something happened that wasn't on his script.

On his journey, Ya’akov came across a certain place, and stopped there overnight. The Pasuk uses the odd word "ויפגע," he “encountered” this particular place where he would experience the vision of the ladder. Chazal teach us that this encounter meant that he sought to travel on, to escape back to his quiet life of learning, but the place itself opposed him like a solid wall blocking him. This was not a chance meeting, Hashem brought him to a place where he would experience a clash that would change his perspective. Ya’akov went to sleep and had his famous dream, and he woke up a different man. Ya'akov then understood his mission, and it was then that he undertook his life's task. If we see Avraham and Ya’akov as being equal, as being in parallel, we may argue that while Avraham was all about the extraordinary, typified by exceptional and spectacular demonstrations of commitment to Hashem, Ya'akov was all about the Kedushah inherent in (what we perceive to be) the ordinary.

As mentioned before, Avraham was defined by the ten tests posed to him by Hashem. They demonstrated how Avraham, faced with tremendous difficulty and disappointment, never lost a beat in serving Hashem with joy and eagerness. The narrative of his life is an unfolding of the greatness of his accomplishment. What is there to say about Yaakov, however? His narrative seems so mundane, so full of details about ordinary, pedestrian life – dealing with sibling strife, acquiring a large family, raising the children, making a living.

In truth, however, the sagas of the two Avot are precisely balanced and parallel. Ya'akov is about Kedushah, and more specifically, about the Kedushah inherent within the ordinary. By following Ya'akov's example, we may learn how to change our perception of existence, taking the commonplace the events and mundane objects of material existence and turn them into spirituality on the highest plane. In this way, everything around us can become a כלי, a vessel, for spirituality. It can be argued that Avraham and Ya’akov’s traits were almost identical.

This lesson has vital relevance for today's generation. It is essential that we study Torah, but we must take it out with us into the real world. We must be fluent in our tradition of the Torah, we must be "עוסק בתורה," but simultaneously it is important to remember that we deal on a day-to-day basis with the outside world, with people who are not like us, who do not want to be like us. Ya'akov wanted to continue on his way, learning Torah, but Hashem made him collide with the world. Hashem brought him to the realisation that his task was not to sit all day and learn Torah, but to serve Hashem within the context of everyday life.

Returning to my earlier question, we can understand that it is not surprising therefore, that Ya'akov received the name Yisrael, which may be read "ישר-אל, Straight to Hashem." Through our interaction with the challenges and temptations of business, for example, one can either attempt to make his fortune, or make a Kiddush Hashem by dealing in a way that befits a God-fearing Jew. We can utilise all that is in this world to forge a direct connection with Hashem. It is for this reason that the Jewish nation was given Ya'akov's name to adopt above any other.

This last week, we have seen distressing events in Chevron unfold. I must make it very clear from the beginning that I empathise very strongly with the settlers, Israel is absolutely our land, Chevron is one of the four holy cities in Judaism along with Jerusalem, Bet El and Tiveryah. It is our right to live there, and to make pilgrimages as and when we want to Ma'arat Hamachpela.

But at the same time, I saw things this week that were no short of tragic. I saw video footage of Jews throwing projectiles from the roof of Bet Hashalom at passing Arabs, turning household objects into missiles with which to aim at the Arabs of Chevron. If there is one thing I am ashamed of, it is the undermining of our own (valid!) cause by acts of violence and extremity. I have no issue with eight families living in one house; they legally own it, they have the right to do with it as they wish. They may choose to protest against the police, but when these legitimate protests take a turn and become violent, making other people's life a misery, I get more than merely upset; I become greatly distressed. To borrow an expression of Rav Riskin's, "my Torah is crying."

I see a shameful misrepresentation of what true Judaism is, and I am horrified. It is not merely required, but it is absolutely against Halachah to hurl abuse at the soldiers whose job it is to protect the settlers. Yes, they also do the job of removing Jews from their homes, but to the average irreligious Israeli, there is no problem with that. They have no concern for Halachah, and screaming in their faces that the Torah says that this is our home will not change that. To attack a fellow Jew because he is following orders is unacceptable. Just because he is doing something wrong, does not mean we have an halachic imperative to attack him. It was shocking to see reports on the Jerusalem Post website of crude missiles, such as potatoes with nails hammered into them, found in what amounted to a ammunition depot of rudimentary projectiles to aim at the soldiers.

It is horrific to see stories of settlers throwing an Arab child of a rooftop on media such as The Times website. Make no mistake, it is heartening to see the settlers' commitment to our inheritance and our right to live in places such as Chevron. It brings me tremendous simchah to see Jews who have such a strong belief in the Torah, despite the world's dismissal of religion. I absolutely agree with them that Hashem has promised us this land, from the Mediterranean sea to the Jordan. But we are still in the Galut, Mashiach has not yet made his grand arrival. We still have to make do with what we have. We have to know how to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting a Jew, and when to concede certain things.

Not that we should concede anything and everything. Specifically, the Israeli government has no right to make Jews leave their homes in Chevron, especially after previous governments encouraged such settling activity. That is something that I, as a Jew cannot accept. The settlers are now effectively caught in an trap. It is absolutely wrong to tear people from their homes, especially when these people are the legal owners of their home. It is right and just to protest against any decision that states otherwise. And yet, we must protest strictly within the confines of the law. It is nonsensical to viciously attack soldiers for "God's word." What happened to the commandment forbidding us to raise our hands to our fellow Jews? We must learn from Ya'akov Avinu, we must continue to learn our precious Torah, but we too must involve ourselves with the outside world, and be careful to create a Kiddush Hashem, not a Chilul Hashem. In any case, Hashem's plan will be revealed according to His desire in the end.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tuition Fees in Israel

A friend of mine, Lahav Harkov, writes a blog that is published on the Jerusalem Post website. In a recent post, she described the susceptibility of Israeli universities to strikes from professors demanding a higher wage. Lahav explained the professors' stance, explaining how "last year, senior professors did not teach until February, demanding a raise in their salaries and better working conditions." Lahav concluded that the best solution would be to raise tuition fees. The argument seems reasonable enough; bite the bullet, invest in your future and reap the rewards after university.

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, Israeli students haven't exactly warmed to this idea. As Lahav wrote, "the Ministry of Education and the Treasury formed the Shochat Committee, which was meant to find a cure for Israeli higher education's numerous ailments. When the Committee recommended that tuition be raised in 2007, the National Union of Israeli Students called a strike."

It would seem that we have a catch-22 situation, the professors strike demanding more money, and the students strike when it is recommended that they pay higher fees. Both sides are playing hardball, stubbornly refusing to yield or accept any concessions. As Lahav said, only three days before the university started "the universities were granted 515 million shekels in an emergency meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Finance Minister Ronny Bar-On and Education Minister Yuli Tamir." These funds have not yet arrived, and now more strikes are on the horizon.

Despite funds being formally pledged, the simple truth is that there simply isn't enough money to go around, and the government's hesitant stance on increasing university funding is understandable. I have heard stories over the last couple of years of old people in Israel freezing to death in their homes in the winter because their pensions don't cover their heating bills. I have heard how at least one elderly Holocaust survivor has returned to Germany because the money she receives there is far more than she is given far more than here. What money Israel does have cannot be used on all these causes. Something's got to give.

Of course there are some grants that are paid. Olim Chadashim receive what's called a "Sal Klitah," an "absorption basket" of assorted rights that help ease the transition and aid people settling into a new country. I will be making aliyah next year, and there is a very good chance that I will go to Bar Ilan University like Lahav, and have my tuition fees paid for by my Oleh Chadash government grant. In my case, this fund is a real boon and will be very welcome, given that I am nearing financial independence from my parents, and will soon have to account for every last penny. Seeing as I haven't yet got an income of my own, a government grant will make a world of a difference. I don't know Lahav's situation, but I'm certain that she similarly appreciates the opportunity of a free university education.

For as long as I can remember the Israeli government has offered, and continues to offer, Jews in the diaspora incentives to make Aliyah. Olim Chadashim receive a wide array of "zchuyot" - discounts, rebates, various tax reductions and notably for young people, free university schooling. A major reason why I decided to make Aliyah now (as opposed to after studying in England at a more prestigious university) was that I would have my degree paid for by my Aliyah rights. Over the three years that I will be studying here though, my basic living expenses will cause me to out-spend the money saved on the degree itself. It's a win-win situation for both the economy and for myself.

I agree that it is in the best interests of the government to entice people to immigrate, seeing that Jews outside of Israel are typically wealthier than their Israeli counterparts. I agree that it is a good idea to offer many of these discounts to Olim Chadashim so as to ease the transition to a new country, but I have serious misgivings about offering full university grants to every immigrant. Admittedly, many of the Olim to this country are poor people (If you're reading this Paul, I don't do P.C.) from Africa, Russia and South America, but the fact remains that the Olim most likely to attend university here are those who immigrate from North America and Europe. If we look at this particular demographic, we see that many of these Olim are middle-class and lived a fairly comfortable life abroad.

To make it clear, here is the crux of the issue; the middle-classes in Canada, England and America are considerably wealthier than those in Israel. I have a number of friends who came to Israel to learn in yeshiva or a midrashah, and have now made Aliyah and are studying in an Israeli university, or will do so in the near future. These same people would have most likely attended a respected university in America or England had they not moved. Imagine that they had gone to one of Cambridge, YU, UCL, or Harvard. As far as I understand, English university fees are about £3,000 a year and American fees can easily reach $40,000. These are not small sums of money, but as a matter of routine, young Jewish men and women attend these universities and make that hefty investment in their future.

I agree with Lahav that students should be prepared to invest more into their futures, as she says, "the benefit of receiving a quality higher education outweighs its cost by far." Having said that, Lahav was speaking from the point of view of an "Olah Chadashah," and as such has her fees paid by the government. Can Lahav and I truly expect to have our fees continued to be fully subsidised while the native Israelis' fees are raised? I stress again that I think it positive that Israel attempts to make Aliyah easier and appealing, but it's a rather wasteful of the government to distribute grants unnecessarily when there is a real shortage of funding for other, far more pressing and important, needs. I believe that the benefits offered to immigrants are a good policy because they ultimately benefit everyone, but there has to be a limit.

Now that these students have made the jump to Israel and attend one of the top Israeli universities such as the Hebrew University, The Technion in Haifa or Bar Ilan, are they suddenly impoverished and unable to pay their fees? Without doubt, there will be a significant number needing financial assistance, but what about the American students who would have otherwise stayed behind in America and attended Stern or Yeshiva University and would have had to pay fees many times the amount Israelis pay here? I cannot fathom the logic in granting them total subsidies. It makes no sense to offer full bursaries as standard and to raise the Israelis' fees at the same time.

I do agree with Lahav when she says that students in Israel must learn to accept that if they want to learn at a prestigious institution with good facilities and respected professors, they must be prepared to invest heavily. It's for their own good. I agree that the best solution is not to demand more of the government, there's no point in requesting more grants - we'll only get higher taxes by way of return.

But at the same time, while professors are striking in Israel year after year, maybe the best thing would be to cut back the funding to Olim Chadashim. I don't mean that no grants should be given to Olim, I am sure that for many people it makes the difference between going to university or to the job centre. Rather I propose a sliding-scale system, a need-based scheme to distribute Israeli money properly. The money saved should go some way to paying the professors' wages and help alleviate the hike in Israeli students' fees.


I have been driven to post this entry upon seeing an exchange on Facebook last night. A friend of mine posted the following 'status update', "Karen is disturbed that her college chaplain believes the Islamists attacked their victims randomly and without regard to religious or national affiliation."

I was a little taken aback. Firstly because that is a foolish belief for anyone to hold. Secondly, because that's a Cambridge chaplain, not some average jo-shmo at Middlesex poly. Anyway, I don't get shocked anymore, there are plenty of different flavours of fools out there, and the intelligent are not immune.

A friend of Karen's commented: "Why? Those guys are known for attacking dudes indiscriminately. I'm sure they'd rather have killed lots of Jews and Americans, but they didn't. I'm sure the majority killed will transpire to be Hindus and Muslims, probably roughly divided along the lines of Bombay demography. How can you walk into a train station, randomly shoot the place up and still claim to be making targeted attacks? That seems like silly minutia to be bothered about - why not just accept that it was wrong to kill any civilian - Jews, Muslims, Americans or anybody else?"

What gets me is this word indiscriminate. It's like saying that they terrorists thought, "We don't care who we kill, we just want to cause mayhem!" These are religious and political acts; our villains aren't of the same mould as the Joker from Batman whose sole aim is to cause pandemonium. To anyone who insists on referring to any terror attack as indiscriminate, I ask the following simple question: When was the last time, if ever, a terrorist planted a bomb or detonated a suicide belt in his home, or in his place of worship? Or at the very least, in his village?

Seems a daft question. "Well of course they haven't done that!" you'd exclaim. What purpose would that serve? It would be utterly pointless and self-defeating to kill of their own. Herein lies the crux of the matter.

On September 11th 2001, individually random people were killed. That much is true. But there was a very specific target that day - American civilians. On 9/11, fear was struck into the heart of an entire nation, and the world looked on in awe. In London's 7/7 London Underground and bus attacks, random people were killed. Yes, one can argue that they were killed "indiscriminately," but the truth is that the act was far from haphazard. There was a very real aim, the fact is that it was not an indiscriminate attack. If it was, why didn't it happen in Bradford, where there is a far higher percentage of Muslims?

The attack was on London's heart and soul. Random people paid the ultimate price, but the real target was freedom of expression, justice and Western liberal values. The real aim was to kill heathens, non-believers, anyone who disagreed with the terrorists' extreme Muslim beliefs. (I hope that is read correctly.) The fact remains that these two heinous attacks took place on American and English soil, and not in Saudi Arabia or Iran. Yes, Muslims were killed, but far more "infidel" Christians and atheists were killed. It seems almost too obvious, but we cannot overlook it. The random nature of the individual murders must not overshadow the precise intent behind it.

During the nadir of the second Intifada, terrorists detonated bombs in crowded malls in Israel, and suicide bombers detonated their belts on Jerusalem buses among children and OAP's. There were no specific people assassinated. Does that mean that those people were indiscriminately killed?

The answer is an irrefutable no. Just because individual targets are not specified, does not mean that there is no overall target. The demographic makeup of a Jerusalem bus is rather different from your average West Bank suicide bomber's hometown. Admittedly, a Filipino worker might get killed, and so too might a fellow Muslim or two, but if you look at the death of toll of the second intifada, the overwhelming majority of casualties were Israelis, were Jews.

When, as happens from time to time, an angst-ridden teenage American enters a shopping mall and kills people at random, he chooses the mall because there are people there. There are targets and he can make a tremendous spectacle of himself. Location is everything.

I cannot offer an explanation for the anomaly that was the random shooting at the train station, but then again these terrorist don't seem to do logic, do they? It's only speculation, but my guess is that they wanted to stretch the police and the army and thus create a diversion for the other, even more chilling, part of their plans.

The attacks in Bombay were an assault on all things that did not conform to the terrorists' beliefs, on all things they deemed "unIslamic." We know that at the Taj Palace Hotel, the terrorists' first move was to obtain a list of all guests holding an American or British passport. They then attempted to round these people up and execute them. The Chabad house was a specific target, namely because it is one of the only Jewish centres in the city and as such attracted Jews and Israelis. Incidentally Chabad are a Haredi organisation, but unlike many other Haredi organisations, they are relatively pro-Israel. This must not go unnoticed, either. We found out later that the bodies of the married couple that ran the Chabad house were found to be in a far worse condition than others - the result of horrific torturing by their evil tormentors.

I cannot deny the basic element of randomness involved, but I state one last time, there was nothing indiscriminate about the intent of these attacks. A quick thesaurus check on Microsoft Word gives the synonyms "arbitrary" and haphazard" for indiscriminate. These were absolutely not haphazard or arbitrary attacks. So, does anyone else believe these attacks to be "indiscriminate," or is it just that simpleton Cambridge chaplain?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Parshat Toldot - פרשת תולדות

(ויתרוצצו הבנים בקרבה... (כה: כב
(ויאמר ה' לה שני גיים בבטנך ושני לאמים ממעיך יפרדו ולאם מלאם יאמץ ורב יעבד צעיר (כה: כג

In this week's Parsha, Rivka is pregnant with twins, Esav and Ya'akov. Rashi comments on the word ויתרוצצו in the first Pasuk above, explaining that whenever Rivka would pass places of Torah study Ya'akov would push and attempt to get out, and conversely, when she would pass a place of Avodah Zarah, Esav's incessant kicking would be felt, such were his urges.

Another famous Rashi later on examines Esav's name, and explains that the root of his name, עשה indicates something that has been "done." It could be said that Esav, born with the hair of a much older child, was "ready-made."

Ya'akov and Esav were twins, and though we are keen to draw the differences between the two, they definitely had their similarities. What is oft-ignored is that Ya'akov was also rather wholesome himself. Interestingly further on it says of Ya'akov, "ויגדלו הנערים... ויעקב איש תם יושב אהלים - And the lads grew up... and Ya'akov was a pure man, a dweller of tents." The moniker תם can mean pure, as it is often translated, or alternatively it can mean perfect. His dwelling in tents is a reference to his way of spending his time learning Torah.

It is fascinating to note that the word for twins is "תומים." As mentioned above, the word used to describe Ya'akov is תמים, and I speculate that the two words are linked, especially as we are told in the second Pasuk that I listed above, "And Hashem said to her (Rivka) there are two nations in your stomach, and from your insides two regimes shall be separated, and one regime shall become strong from the other, and the older will serve the younger." The fate of the two boys are inexplicably linked, and it would seem that so too are their characters.

I received a message last night from a friend who writes a weekly D'var Torah, (search for "Inspiring Weekly Parsha on facebook,) and in it she wrote of how Eisav had the potential to be the leader of Am Yisrael. She wrote how some "commentators have said that Yitzchak wanted Eisav to become the leader of the Jewish people, which is why he wanted to bless him and not Ya'akov. Eisav was a man of action, who would go out into the world and spread the message of Judaism and bring people closer to God. Yaakov sat in his tent all day and was not ideal to spread this message, according to Yitzchak." But because he could not do this, Ya'akov had to take his place.

If we look closely at the wording, we can see that the Pasuk uses the unusual word "ויתרוצצו," which Rashi renders as meaning either running or as crushing. Notable by it's absence is the expected translation/explanation of the word; that the two brothers are fighting one another - for they are not! The two nations may be opposed to one another, but they are not essentially enemies. Rather, Esav's tafkid, (like that of every creation in the world,) is that to be an agent and aid the Jewish nation when we are not doing our job properly. Similarly, it is instructive to note that while we are commanded to destroy our arch-foes, Amalek, there is no imperative related to our having to hate them.

I find this very relevant to today's generation. When I hear people see slogans such as "death to Arabs" spray-painted or chanted by Jews in Israel, I get the horrible feeling that we are missing the point. I am saddened because this battle is not against Eisav or indeed the Palestinians, it is against ourselves and the Yetzer Hara. If we can take care of ourselves, then will have no need to fight our enemies. Previously the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, and the Christian Crusaders have tried to exterminate the Jewish nation, I wouldn't worry too much about Al Qaeda, Hamas and Iran. If history has taught us one thing, it is that there is nothing in this world that the Jewish nation should fear, and that the best path for us is one of Torah observance. It is because we have not clung to Hashem's Torah that we suffered so from the swords of all these enemies, not because they were so perilous in of themselves. Hashem has let us try integrating, and we suffered a Holocaust.

But if we try too hard to separate ourselves from our neighbours, we are missing the point, too. Yes, we must take care of our security, yes we must protect our Jewish identity, but it is also essential to recognise the cause of our problems, and they are not the Arabs. Living in the Old City, I frequently visit the Kotel and from time to time I hear people caught up in a moment of angst, shouting anti-Arab slogans. I completely empathise with their torment, their very real anguish, but simultaneously wonder why they don't yell "Stop Sinat Chinam now!" or "No more Lashon Hara!" Invariably, the emotion is real and the intent is actually not of hatred toward Arabs, but their words betray the fact that these people are all too often misguided. Suicide bombs and rocket strikes from Gaza are not the cause of our pain, they are ultimately the effect our own sins are having on us. It is not the Arabs' fault that we are still in exile, that we are still in pain; it is our fault and it is up to us to correct our own wrongs.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg of Bet Chabad Mumbai, Aleihem HaShalom.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Parshat Chayei Sarah - פרשת חיי שרה

This week's Parsha starts by detailing the passing of Sarah, Avraham's wife and Yitzchak's mother. Note that I said Sarah was Yitzchak's mother. This is something obvious, yet it is often overlooked that only Avraham's name is mentioned in connection with Sarah's death - Yitzchak is noteable by his absence. How could it be that Yitzchak is not mentioned in this episode? After all Sarah was his mother!

This question is asked by Rabbenu Bavhya, who notes that the love for his father should have at least equalled that for his father. Where was his eulogy? Where were his tears? Rabbenu Bachya explains that Yitzchak had just come through another traumatic episode, the Akeidah, where he came within seconds of death, only Hashem's last gasp intervention saved his life. Rabbenu Bachya offers the explanation that due to his fragile psycological condition, Yitzchak was not told of his mother's death. Rabbenu Bachya then points out a blatant textual oddity: Not only is Yitzchak missing from Sarah's funeral, his disappearance begins at an earlier juncture, in the aftermath of the Akeida. What is happening?

When Avraham sets out for the mountain he takes Yitzchak and two others, referred to as "נערים," young men. The text tells us that they walked together:

"And Avraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Yitzchak his son, and he took the wood for the olah, and rose and went to the place of which God had spoken to him."

On the way up the hill to the Akeidah, father and son walk together. After the episode is over however, the Torah only mentions Avraham returning to the young men:

"And Avraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beer-Sheva; and Avraham dwelled in Beer-Sheva" (Bereishit 22:19)

What happened to Yitzchak? It seems impossible that Avraham could have simply picked up and left without the son who was just saved by God Himself. He would not simply have forgotten him up on the mountain while he returned home with the young men. Again, what is happening?

There are two basic approaches found in the Midrashim to Yitzchak's whereabouts during the textual "blackout." The first approach is that Yitzchak is busy learning in Yeshiva. A second approach, found in other Midrashim, describes Yitzchak as having died or almost died, or died in a metaphorical sense, depending on nuance. Yitzchak has temporarily retired to the Garden of Eden.

Even though Yitzchak did not die it is deemed as if he died, and his ashes are on the altar... Where was Yitzchak? God took him to the Garden of Eden where he remained for 3 years. (Midrash Hagadol)

Many Midrashim see Yitzchak as having died, and Jewish liturgy abounds with references to the Akeida as if it had actually been performed to completion. Most likely, what we are meant to gain from this line of Midrashic discussion is this: Avraham's willingness to sacrifice what he loved most for God should be perceived on at least some level as if the offering was brought. On the other hand, Yitzchak ends up in Gan Eden. We might interpret this as referring to a place of spiritual perfection. It could be argued that both "paradise" and "yeshiva" may be seen as places where someone who has just been raised up on the altar as an olah, someone with a heightened sense of spirituality, might go to pursue the religious experience further.

Later on, Ya'akov dressed as Esav, enters his father's room, and Yitzchak takes a moment to enjoy the aroma of the meal served to him, of the goats his son has brought him. Rashi questions this particular pleasure, noting that few odours are as unsavoury as the stench of goats. What did Yitzchak smell? Rashi's answer is surprising: It is the bouquet of Gan Eden, the aroma of paradise. That was a smell familiar to Yitzchak: he once lived there. Yitzchak paused to recall this scent, to retrieve this sensory memory.

The Torah tells us that at this point Yitzchak was blind. Rashi16 explains that this was due to the tears of the angels who cried during the Akeida. Two of Yitzchak's senses, then, were affected by the same singular experience - the Akeida. In other words, after being raised up on the altar, Yitzchak's sight is forever altered. But what is the nature of Yitzchak's perception, and what is the extent of his vision? Is he somehow damaged? Is he naive regarding his son's shortcomings, seeing less than we do - or does he perhaps see much more?

Yitzchak clearly sees differently: He sees through the prism of his Akeida experience, an experience that took him directly to Gan Eden. Eden is a place deep in the past of our collective conscience. It is also a place in the future. Gan Eden represents a perfect world, it represents our world perfected, This is how Yitzchak saw, not through the jaundiced eye that most people use as a spectrum, which diffuses the good and focuses on the bad. Yitzchak saw the world from the perspective of the Garden of Eden. He saw perfection. He saw the culmination of history, the realisation of the process of redemption, the return to the perfected state of Eden. He saw the future.

Yitzchak's entire being is intertwined with this perspective, this type of sight or perception that focuses on the future. Even his name, which represents the essence of his being, means "will laugh" - in the future. This is the real meaning of the midrashim that tell us that Yitzchak went from the Akeida to Gan Eden: His eyes were "fixed" at the Akeida, his perception altered. Now he had perfect vision. Now he saw a perfect world. He saw the world from the vantage point of Eden.

That perspective, that perception, gave him the ability, even the courage, to approach a person like Yishmael, and to attempt to create harmony from the dissonance. Yitzchak saw that Yishmael can and will do teshuva, that Yishmael can and will come to recognize that there is One God.

(Taken from an essay by R' Ari Kahn.)

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Municipal Elections (A week late, I know.)

I apologise for taking my time, but here's an article I've been working on for the last few days...

Last week, Israel held mayoral elections nationwide. In Jerusalem there were four candidates: Meir Porush, Nir Barkat, Arkaday Gaydamak and some man who wanted to legalise weed whose name I have forgotten. If we ignore the “Aleh Yarok” (The legalise Weed party) candidate who only registered two weeks before the elections because he perceived Nir Barkat to be fraternising with the religious community, we can say that there were three serious contenders to be Mayor of Jerusalem.

The most well known was Arcadi Gaydamak, a millionaire Russian expatriate who made his fortune in arms in somewhat shady circumstances and has now made his home in Jerusalem. He has invested considerable money in Jerusalem over the past few years and has underwritten a good many worthwhile causes such as saving Bikur Cholim hospital from bankruptcy and sending residents of Sderot to Eilat for a weekend break to escape from the rockets from Gaza. I personally wondered for a long time why he was putting such a lot of money into Israel and Jerusalem when he seemed to be disinterested in politics up until now, and for a man with no obviously strong religious connection, why it is that he cares about Jerusalem so much. I can’t say what other residents of Jerusalem think about him, but I have always wondered what his true intents were.

Gaydamak was surely hoping for a better response from the Jewish residents of Jerusalem, but despite his philanthropic work, Gaydamak is viewed as something of an enigma in Israel – he has undeniably donated enormous amounts of money to a variety of Israeli causes but his politics have not been known until fairly recently. I remember when he bought Bikur Cholim hospital a few years ago that he ran a campaign trumpeting “Gaydamak for Jerusalem,” and my reaction to the campaign was, “And what do you want?” I have always wondered what his true intents were, and it appears that I was not alone, others have also been wary of him. He has seemed to be an unworthy philanthropist in the eyes of many – a man willing to give lots of money for populist causes as a mask for an ulterior motive.

If we examine the electorate, we find why Gaydamak only garnered 0.5% of the vote. We can assume that he would have gravitated to the secular vote, being an irreligious man, but he has said that "Jerusalem should always be under the Jewish administration," not a quote that sits well with the average liberal-minded, secular Israeli. Next up we have the religious vote; a large percentage of Jerusalem’s population are religious Jews, but personally I can’t understand how could he have hoped to be elected by such a patriotic demographic when he can barely speak basic Hebrew. Gaydamak’s publicity flyers even admitted as much; his campaign slogan was “Lo m’daber – Oseh!” which translates as, “Don’t speak – do!” His flyers would later be cynically hijacked when a scrawled “Ivrit” was appended to many flyers, changing the meaning to “Doesn’t speak Ivrit.” True, Gaydamak owns and has invested heavily in the capital’s most successful football team – Beitar Jerusalem, the team of choice for nationalistic Jews in and around Jerusalem, but his floundering campaign suffered a further blow as even this counted against him when Beitar lost a big match the weekend before the vote, when he was hoping that a win would help swing votes in his favour. This is only speculation, but I have my suspicions that one of the reasons he bought Beitar in the first place was to some extent a ploy in order to buy the hearts of a large percentage of the Jerusalem electorate.

Also worthy of note was that he was hoping to secure the Arab vote, but the residents of East Jerusalem largely stayed away from the elections after being told by their leaders that to vote would be to recognize the Israeli occupation. I cannot imagine that those few who did vote would have found it easy to vote for a man who owns Beitar, a club whose fans regularly chant anti-Arab songs. As such, it was no surprise that Gaydamak was had a very low percentage of the votes.

Meir Porush, candidate from the Haredi “Shas” party, was the early favourite to take the post of Mayor, but after some late developments he was left soundly beaten by Nir Barkat. I am thankful that he did not get the job, after five years of Jerusalem under the stewardship of an Orthodox Jew, it might be very healthy to have a man with a fresh outlook in place to guarantee Jerusalem’s economic growth. Mr Barkat's predecessor, Rabbi Uri Lupolianski, came from the city's growing population of highly religious ultra-Orthodox Jews, and was widely perceived to have favoured them. Mr Porush similarly made his vision of municipal Israel very clear in a speech that was recorded and broadcast on a Haredi radio station. Porush told his constituents that secularism was on the wane in the Jewish state, sspeaking in Yiddish Porush declared: “In another 15 years there will not be a secular mayor in any city in Israel, [except] perhaps in some far-flung village,” It is exactly this kind of insular and opinionated view that has alienated a great number of secular Yerushalmim. It is due to the growing influence of the Haredis in Jerusalem that there has been a backlash. Rachel Azaria of the Wake Up Jerusalemites party, a party primarily formed to protect secular Israeli interests, had wanted to do the done thing and appear, along with two fellow party candidates, on a party poster on Jerusalem busses, but this poster never made it on to a bus.

"We went to the company that handles advertisements. They said - fine, just make sure there are no women. And we said - it's not just any women; it's women who are running for city council. It won't be provocative in any way. It'll be very serious. I'm married, I have children, I'm Orthodox (religiously observant).

"And they said - no, sorry, it's a rule we have. We don't allow women to appear on buses. The very radical ultra-Orthodox ruin buses if there are pictures of women on them."

"I don't want all cities in Israel to become ultra-Orthodox," she says. "I want to live in a liberal atmosphere. It's very hard at the moment to live in Jerusalem. We want to be able to stay here."

In fact, Tim Franks of the BBC raised this issue with Meir Porush during an interview in his campaign headquarters. “He said that the story was news to him. But he insisted that - as far as he was concerned - having a picture of a woman on a bus, as long as she was in modest attire, was no problem.”

Despite Porush’s admission that there is actually nothing wrong with a photograph of a woman’s head on a public bus, not much is likely to change within the Jerusalem Haredi community’s attitude to such matters. Jerusalem is increasingly becoming a Haredi city in which the secular are feeling ever more marginalised. As the article continued, “Rachel Azaria may be cross about the censoring of her ad. But it does, she says, rather prove the point of her party, whose wake-up call is aimed at fighting the increasing religiosity of the city. ‘I don't want all cities in Israel to become ultra-Orthodox... I want to live in a liberal atmosphere. It's very hard at the moment to live in Jerusalem. We want to be able to stay here.’ ”

And so it was that Nir Barkat was elected mayor of Jerusalem last week. Personally, I believe he was the best man for the job, given the choice of other candidates. He may not have been anywhere close to the perfect candidate, but he was the best option out there. Having said that, I remain wary of him, given that he is acutely aware of the demographic he is working for, and has himself proven prepared to sacrifice his own politics in order to gain the public vote. By this I mean that he was previously a member of Kadima, the political party that supervised the expulsion from Gush Katif and Amona, and left them when it became apparent that this would block his path to the Mayorship. I am concerned that he might not have Jerusalem’s best interests at heart, and will do what any true politician does; give the electorate what they want. If that happens to be against religious interests, I have every reason to be concerned.

All of which is not to say that Barkat does not have the potential to be a very good mayor for Jerusalem, however. During a recent interview with Arutz Sheva, Barkat bemoaned the fact that Tel Aviv is regarded as Israel’s capital and that it is popularly referred to as the Merkaz, the centre, whereas the true capital, the spiritual and geographical focal point of the country, is Jerusalem. It is heartening to see a secular man who values Jerusalem and understands the importance of retaining it as our undivided capital city. In fact, that he is secular is even beneficial in such a case, for if (and when) he comes to oppose politicians who ponder on handing over East Jerusalem, his argument will be all the harder to beat, given that the “narrow-minded religious zealot” card cannot be played against him.

If these elections served to show one thing, it is that there is a very strong religious community active in Jerusalem, and that there are a sizeable number of secular Israelis disillusioned with the current state of affairs, but not significant enough to act independently of the significant religious minority. Nir Barkat is a secular man, but not so secular as Dan Birron of Aleh Yarok, who when invited to speak with the other candidates at a panel at the Great Synagogue was unwilling to conform and wear a kippah. High on his agenda is that Jerusalem be maintained as the capital of the state of Israel, Barkat understands the importance of strengthening Jerusalem. To this end, he has proposed the creation of neighbourhood councils which would meet and discuss issues that affect specific areas of Jerusalem, as well as making city council meetings and decisions more open to the public. He also suggested creating a greater Jerusalem council that would connect surrounding cities such as Ma’ale Adumim, Betar, the Gush Etzion areas and other communities beyond the Green line.

If these elections served to show one thing, it is that there is a very strong religious community active in Jerusalem, and that there are a sizeable number of secular Israelis disillusioned with the current state of affairs, but not significant enough to act independently of the significant religious minority. Nir Barkat is a secular man, but not so secular as Dan Birron of Aleh Yarok, who when invited to speak with the other candidates at a panel at the Great Synagogue was unwilling to conform and wear a kippah. High on his agenda is that Jerusalem be maintained as the capital of the state of Israel, Barkat understands the importance of strengthening Jerusalem. To this end, he has proposed the creation of neighbourhood councils which would meet and discuss issues that affect specific areas of Jerusalem, as well as making city council meetings and decisions more open to the public. He also suggested creating a greater Jerusalem council that would connect surrounding cities such as Ma’ale Adumim, Betar, the Gush Etzion areas and other communities beyond the Green line.

Barkat has also been outspoken in his criticism of the Rakevet Hakala (The light rail), calling it variously Harakevet Haklalah (The accursed rail) and HaRakevet HaTakalah (The blight rail). The railway has become a sore point for many Yerushalmim, with the main street of Jaffa closed down to one lane to allow for construction. He has called the whole project ”stupid,” and has spoken of his exasperation in dealing with city hall on the issue and noted that the transportation committee has not even met once in the past five years. But all of this strikes me as opportunism, a politician seizing upon a popular grievance and milking it for his own advantage.

It is pleasing to see a forward thinking mayor taking up office, a man who wants Jerusalem to develop economically and socially. He has mentioned that while Jerusalem sees 1-2 million tourists each year, other cities in the world like London, Paris and New York see in the area of 40 million. He estimated that there would be around 3 billion people in the world who would like to come to visit Jerusalem, and it is up to us to tap this huge potential resource. He struck the nail on the head when he said that “Tourists are not interested in seeing a movie, but want to see an aspect of the culture unique to the city.” There is a lot of investment that needs to be made, but the revenues will greatly outweigh any costs.

While he is a secular man, Barkat was granted the support of a number of Rabbanim, notably Rabbi Eliyahu and Rav Haim Druckman due to his liberal and pluralistic outlook. There is one caveat, however. Barkat was a member of Kadima until he left the party earlier this year over a disagreement over settlement in East Jerusalem. Kadima, a largely irreligious party, has placed Jerusalem on the negotiating table with the Palestinians, whereas Barkat is adamant that the city should not be divided. He has said that he hopes to build more Jewish homes in Israeli-Arab areas in the east of the city. This is just a theory, but I am slightly wary of Barkat in that this might all have been posturing in an attempt to win a firm support from his local constituents, people almost certainly bound to take exception to any plans to hand over control of East Jerusalem. Knowing that being a member of Kadima would serve as a reason to vote against him in the eyes of many religious people, did he act accordingly and unceremoniously ditch Kadima in order to assume and exploit the role of defender of Zion for his own gain? Time will tell.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Found this online...

Great clip, showing up the UN for who they really are.

Hillel Neuer of UN Watch exposes the hypocrisy of the UN Human Rights Council (March 23, 2007). For the first time ever, the Council president, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico, rejects the speech as "inadmissible" and bans it from ever being delivered again.

"Council President Luis Alfonso de Alba ruled the remarks inadmissible. . . in the depths of the U.N., this was of course logical: Mr. Neuer's commentary had been accurate..."
— Wall Street Journal

Monday, November 17, 2008

Just two quick thoughts of mine

Having been ill recently, I've had a little bit time to think about "stuff."

Two things have been on my mind. They are both fairly trivial, but I want to put them up here to see what responses, if any, they trigger.

First up: I note the recent furore in America over California's Proposition 8, which is attempting to determine marriage. Thinking it over, I came to the realisation that as the gay community are merely seeking equal rights, and they do not really care about marriage.

Marriage is treated with increasing disdain in the modern world, and the only people who really care about it are religious. The overwhelming majority of people across the globe nowadays think nothing of pre-marital and extra-marital sexual relations. Marriage is an anachronism to most modern, "forward-thinking" Western minds. If the gay community really want equal rights, they should ignore the tag of being married. (After all, even those who do believe in marriage only mock the concept of being faithful to one partner for life by having affairs and/or getting divorced, often repeatedly. I wonder whether people actually believe themselves when they say "Till death do us part.")

From a Torah perspective, my Rabbanim are absolutely right when they say that we should stop listening to modern music. I mean, can I listen to and sing songs about love by a 17 year old girl or boy band, and honestly humour their oh so deep "thoughts?" They will sing about true love, and the next line will be "I'll never break your heart again." Why should anybody's heart be broken even once? Hearts aren't made to broken. Of course our darling Ms. Britney Spears believes in love, of course she believes in marriage - after all, she's been married three times! How does that girl look in the mirror in the morning and take herself seriously? No wonder she had a breakdown a year or two ago.

If the gay community want to be accepted, they should take themselves seriously and sleep around. It's what everyone else is doing!

Second thought, and it's a short one - Only men can be romantics. I mean, I take it as a given that girls are romantics, and I expect every girl I meet to be sensitive in that way. In fact, I would worry if I met a girl who isn't a romantic. So girls, please don't call yourselves "a hopeless romantic" on your facebook page, because a) you shouldn't put your life up for display, and b) You're a girl, you're supposed to be. It's just being girly. So only men can be romantics. Thankfully there are enough men out there who are determined to be macho (even more than I am) to make guys like me seem a little bit sensitive.

Lastly, men who call themselves "hopeless romantic" or the like on their facebook page are banal. End of.

Thank you!

It's hard to write a blog sometimes, especially when there's a concerted effort to type up a Dvar Torah each week. I continue to blog partly because I notice that the "hit-counter" at the bottom of this page is steadily increasing, signifying a steady flow of readers.

But, and this is a big but, blogging is all too often a one-way street and as such can be a tad unrewarding at times. So I would like to take the opportunity to thank those of you who have left me messages this last week - it really makes a difference to receive feedback. Please continue to do leave comments for me, and if you have any advice or requests for content, I'd be delighted to listen.

Thank you, Elan

Sunday, November 16, 2008

On bringing the troops home

I'm not going to discuss the left wing anti-war movement as a whole in this post, I just wanted to explore a small part of their campaign and provide my thoughts on the matter.

As we all know, the liberal minded community is against war as a whole, be that the ongoing war in Afghanistan, or the effort in Iraq. (And certainly against Israel defending itself from Palestinian terrorists.) They desperately want peace, and want their troops out these war zones post haste. The American and British anti-war sentiment is particularly vocal, having sent in large numbers of troops into far flung corners of the world in an attempt to restore order and create an environment more conducive to the different Muslim sects co-existing.

Although I do not agree with their arguments, I can understand the claim that these wars are not ones that the West should have gotten involved with. What I cannot fathom is that the anti-war movement continues to blather on about "bringing our troops home." History has shown us that America repeatedly attempts to remedy the worlds ill by force, is partially successful, and then ruins the whole venture by pulling out early. I watched the film "Charlie Wilson's War" last month, and one exchange particularly struck a chord. The film's protagonist, Charlie Wilson is speaking with a board of government or CIA officials, trying to secure funding for a school in Afghanistan:

Official 1: I was in the Roosevelt room with the President last week. You know what he said? He said, "Afghanistan? Is that still going on?"

CW: "Well it is. Half the population of that country is under the age of fourteen. Half the population is under the age of fourteen, now think how f***ing dangerous that is. They're gonna come home and find their families are dead, their villages have been napalmed.

Official 2: And we helped kill the guys who did it!

CW: Yeah, but they don't know that Bob, cos they don't get home delivery of the New York times. And even if they did, it was covert, remember? This is what we always do, we go in with our ideals and we change the world. And then we leave. We always leave. But that ball though, it keeps on bouncing.

Official 2: What?

CW: The ball keeps on bouncing.

Official 2 (distractedly): Yeah, we're a little busy right now, re-organising Eastern Europe, don't you think?

CW: We've spent billions, let's spend a million on H0118, and rebuild a school.

Official 2: Charlie, nobody gives a s*** about a school in Pakistan.

CW (mutters firmly): Afghanistan.

The point is clear, once the threat is neutralised the job is only half-done. To make sure that America doesn't have to go back to Iraq in 15 years' time, they must spend time and money now to reinforce to safety and comparative calm that has been brought to cities like Baghdad and Kabul. If the Nato troops were to leave now, the Muslim extremists will step into the breach and claim the hearts and minds of their compatriots as if the war had never happened.

Apparently there's a Chassidic saying that illustrates our point precisely that goes something like, "Don't jump on to a lion's back!" All fair and well, you might think. But the saying continues, "But if you're on a lion's back, don't jump off!" The parallel is crystal-clear. If the anti-war movement are genuinely liberal-minded, and are genuinely compassionate and caring human beings, then they must understand this vital point. If they honestly value life, then they will see that it would be counterproductive to pull out American and British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Any attempt to extricate our armies from the Middle East before the right time would have disastrous effect, yet again.

Nobody wants these wars to continue any longer, but pulling out now would leave a vacuum of power and influence. Approximately twelve years after American cash flows stopped reaching Afghanistan, the American army was once again halfway across the world trying to fix a problem that could have been avoided if a few million had been spent on education.

I'm sure that a good many left-wingers could read this and dismiss it as a right-winger trying to play on the conscience of good honest people, but wouldn't that be making the same mistake all over again? Has the anti-war movement has got so caught up in it's mantras and slogans that it has forgotten its true raison d'être?

If saving lives is important, then we must take a long-term perspective. I appreciate that it is far from pleasant for a western mother to know that her son is at risk, involved in a conflict that really hasn't all that much to do with her or her son, yet what about all the people who would die if America and the European coalition were to pull out over the next two years? Are we so racist as to say that an American or British soldier's life is worth more than 100 Iraqi or Afghani lives? For if we excuse ourselves from the hassle that is the clean-up operation after the war, we can be sure that Iraq and Afghanistan will once again turn into a festering breeding ground for hatred, the perfect fodder for Al Qaeda and the like.