What's the deal with the Land of Israel? Why not Uganda, for example, or maybe Brooklyn?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
If there's one thing God hates, it's religion.
"Religion" usually means one day of worship, sandwiched into a week's brutal exploitation of our neighbor. But God wants His commandments to shape every nuance of our lives – the way we do business, administer justice, fight war, make love, raise children, and respond to the poor. Only a community can live the Bible.
A community needs a place where it can live its ideals – it needs a land. And Israel is not just any land. It is a holy land, which means a place where God is uniquely present and available.
Patton probably didn't comment on God's role in the Battle of the Bulge, but in Israel, even atheists find God's presence too tangible to ignore.
An old joke tells of the Israeli prime minister's visit to the White House.
On the president's desk there are three phones. The president explains that the white phone is a direct line to the U.S. ambassador in Moscow. The red phone is a direct line to the commanding general of NATO. The blue phone is a direct line to God.
"But," says the president, "we never use that phone because it's too expensive."
Then the president goes to visit the Israeli prime minister. On his desk there are three phones. The prime minister explains that the white phone is a direct line to the Israeli ambassador in Washington. The red phone is a direct line to the head of the Army. The blue phone is a direct line to God.
"But how can a small country like Israel afford such a phone?" the president asks. "Even the U.S. can't afford to use it."
"Mr. President," says the prime minister, "here in Israel, it's a local call."
My credo in life has always been: Work hard, plan, and struggle. Yet I find that things often just end up a big mess. The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. How can the pieces of this puzzle possibly fit together?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The premise for this question comes from a certain lack of perspective. Somehow we imagine that the world began when we're born, and ends when we die. Everything that happened beforehand is lumped together as "ancient history." If I can't understand it today, then it must not make sense at all.
The following story has a very deep message:
There once was a farmer who owned a horse. One day the horse ran away. All the people in the town came to console him because of the loss. "Oh, I don't know," said the farmer, "maybe it's a bad thing and maybe it's not."
A few days later, the horse returned to the farm accompanied by 20 other horses. (Apparently he had found some wild horses and made friends!) All the townspeople came to congratulate him: "Now you have a stable full of horses!" "Oh, I don't know," said the farmer, "maybe it's a good thing and maybe it's not."
A few days later, the farmer's son was out riding one of the new horses. The horse got wild and threw him off, breaking the son's leg. All the people in town came to console the farmer because of the accident. "Oh, I don't know," said the farmer, "maybe it's a bad thing and maybe it's not."
A few days later, the government declared war and instituted a draft of all able-bodied young men. They came to the town and carted off hundreds of young men, except for the farmer's son who had a broken leg. "Now I know," said the farmer, "that it was a good thing my horse ran away."
The point of this story is obvious. Life is a series of events, and until we've reached the end of the series, it's hard to know exactly why things are happening. That's one reason the Torah commands us to give respect to every elderly person - because through the course of life experience, they have seen the jigsaw puzzle pieces fall into place.
It is interesting that one of the weekly Torah portions, "Miketz," ends on a bad note, and is then resolved at the beginning of the following week. Why didn't the Torah simply extend "Miketz" a few verses and have it end good? Because the Torah wants to communicate the lesson that we don't always see the whole picture. More than any other Biblical account, the story of Joseph illustrates the lesson "that everything turns out good in end." In order to drive home this lesson, the Torah makes us wait one week to find out the ending!
The truth is that we are here on Earth for short time. We do not see the "Big Picture." We don't know all the details that happened before we were here, and we certainly don't know what will happen after we're gone. It is unfair to take a single event out of context. Why did it happen? We might not see the answer immediately; we might not even see in our lifetime.
In truth, it is often when things look the most grim that they then turn around. The night is at its absolute darkness just moments before the first rays of morning sun begin to illuminate the sky.
In the morning prayer service, we say, "Blessed are You, God, Who forms light and creates darkness..." Judaism says that the darkness is not a negative, but rather is a necessary step along the path toward light. Only because of our limited perception, do we perceive the darkness as an end unto itself.
A seed, when placed in the ground, is in a dark, cold and dirty place. The seed then begins to decay. To the onlooker, it looks like death. And then, at the very moment that the seed has completely broken down, something miraculous happens. It begins to sprout.
Think about your life, your career, your relationships with others and with God. Was the process smooth? In general, have you experienced greater growth when times have been tough or when times have been smooth?
From the darkness comes light.
Last Passover, someone broke into our garage, where we had stored all the chametz we had sold. They stole our bread-making machine. When people asked why we weren't claiming it on the insurance, we pointed out that since the bread machine could not be thoroughly cleaned of chametz, it had to be sold for Passover. Therefore, it wasn't ours at the time of the theft – and we could not claim. (This year we made sure our garage is more secure!)
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Thank you for sharing the story.
Actually, the text of the sale frequently states that the non-Jew is buying only the CHAMETZ contained in our pots, pans (and bread-making machines) – not the actual vessel itself. This avoids the necessity of having to re-dunk the vessels in a mikveh upon buying them back (see Numbers 31:23, and Talmud – Avodah Zara 75b).
So it may be that you actually did own the bread machine at the time of the theft! Check it out with your local rabbi (and insurance company).