I just finished watching a sixty-minute video called Iranium, a very well-done production advertised through Aish.com that brings to light the development of the Iranian nuclear weapons program and the true threat it poses to the entire world. The movie, featuring some very intelligent interviewees, some very gory footage, and a chilling script, is really quite frightening. But honestly, the conclusions offered at the end of the screening are even more frightening.
What can we do to derail Iran's nuclear program and thus prevent the possible annihilation of millions of people? throbbed the message throughout the movie. I sat through sixty minutes, expectantly, waiting for the million-dollar answer to the billion-dollar question. And yet, when it was over, the "What Can I Do to Help" link gave several options: Stop supporting Iran's nuclear program, Sign the petition, Circulate the movie, Write a letter, and Support the Iranian people (I am approximating here, but I think I'm being pretty accurate).
If you're a politically correct human being with fairly Western views on life, you may be surprised to hear that I was disappointed and frightened to see this litany of "helpful actions". Let me explain.
The Iranian threat is not a new idea; it was prophesied centuries ago and recorded in several places in Tanach (the Bible). In fact, Judaism is never surprised by the rise of new terrorists; we expect it. It's just one of the facts of life-after-Eden: Esau despises Jacob, and he will do so until the end of time. Yishmael (Ismael, the father of Islam) plays an enormous role in the Final Redemption and, indeed, we know that the Geulah (coming of the Messiah) will be preceded by Yishmael and Esau fighting each other over the Jews. So Iran is perfectly punctual, right on time for world events. But that's just the background. The really important thing in all this nuclear weapons stuff is this: we are told the panacea to all the world's ills. It's teshuvah, return, recommitting ourselves to Torah and mitzvos. All the evils and torments of world history have only one purpose for the Jew: to goad us into re-connecting with G-d. He is waiting for us.
But signing petitions is so much easier, so much more doable and REAL than, say, reciting Psalms or making up with an estranged sibling, or whatever other spiritual step needs to be taken. It may seem counterintuitive to be standing in solem prayer instead of writing letters to Obama to pretty-please put more sanctions on Iran. Yet in looking at the hard facts, there's almost no one who will deny that it will take a miracle to derail the Iranians from their devious machinations.
I'm not advocating complete passivity; Judaism has always encouraged action. Indeed, Jacob's first encounter with his nefarious brother, Esau, exemplifies this principle. He prepared in three ways--first with prayer (y'hear that? FIRST with prayer!), second, by sending a gift (pacification), and third, by preparing for war. In doing so, he taught us an eternal lesson in how to confront an enemy.
Well, applying this biblical lesson to current affairs, and especially where Iran is concerned, it's pretty clear we've got the pacification part down pat! And, at times, we've done the war thing, too. But what about the prayer? When does that come in?
I speak not to you, dear readers; I speak to my own dormant heart.
In reading through last week's parsha (weekly Torah portion), I came across an interesting Rashi that seemed to condone a social issue I had always seen as painful and specious.
While Yitzchak and Rivka both prayed, in opposite corners of the room, to be blessed with a child, it was Yitzchak's tefillos (prayers) which were answered over Rivka's. On the verse "and Hashem responded to his pleas", Rashi comments that there is no comparison between the prayers of a tzaddik ben tzaddik (righteous person who is the son of a righteous person), and a tzaddik ben rasha (righteous person who is the son of a wicked person). In this case, because Yitzchak was the son of Avraham, his prayers were accepted over those of his wife's, who was the daughter of the wicked Besuel.
"Hmmm," I mused to my husband. "You know how there are some people who refuse to date ba'alei teshuvah (returnees to Judaism), or geirim (converts) because their background is perhaps not as spiritually sanctified? Well, doesn't this Rashi imply that there is basis for this objection?"
As I wrote above, I have always taken issue with this attitude, for a variety of reasons, all of which I am too tired to present here. But I wondered if perhaps I'd been wrong all this time. (Happens occasionally)
To which my husband replied...
"Uh, Riva...Yitzchak MARRIED Rivka!" :-)
He's clever, no?
It's Rosh Chodesh Av, the beginning of the month of Av, and a sad month at that. We are taught that in the month of Av, we minimize joy; it is a sober and introspective time where our thoughts should turn to the sorry state of our Nation--broken, homeless, and leaderless.
One of the mourning customs we adopt from Rosh Chodesh Av until the ninth of Av is refraining from doing laundry. In times gone by, laundry was an all-day activity, and our Sages did not want our minds to be preoccupied by laundering when they should instead be focusing on the intense pain of Galus, exile. Today, despite easy-to-use washing machines, we still refrain from doing laundry, except for washing the clothes of young children in certain circumstances. So every Av, my laundry room slowly but surely accumulates a mountain of dirty, wrinkled, bedraggled clothes. And they sit there, woebegone, as I pretend to turn a blind eye.
You might think it would be a relief, of sorts, to be unbound to my washing machine for nine whole days. But instead I find myself finding it irritating and frustrating. That pile will build and I am powerless to stop it. It will wait for me, until the tenth of Av, at which point I will become a maniacal laundress, switching loads and folding for an entire day--maybe two--to catch up.
Today I was blessed with a new insight into my laundry distress. I thought of the clothes piling up, spilling over the hampers and onto the floors, looking unsightly--a blight on my home. I thought of the way the dirty clothes encroach on my private space, crowd me out, in a sense, of my (sometimes) tidy home. How the Master becomes the indentured servant; how the tables are turned and the state-of-the-art washing machine yawns, confused.
And I thought how apt it is for me to be feeling this way in Av. Crowded out of my own home? Held back from indulging in the pleasures of clean clothes? Feeling vaguely uncomfortable every time I walk into my laundry room? Yeah. It is a very miniscule microcosm of how Hashem must feel. Chased out of his Home by our relentless sins. Held back from enjoying the pleasure of His children doing His will. Waiting...hoping...that maybe today He can come back in and make right everything that is wrong.
More tragic than the mourning is the floundering realization that we may not even be aware of what we're mourning for.
Sometimes things look so easy. Until you try them. Like the time I thought I'd cut my sister's hair. I mean, it's just so easy. You take the scissors, you pick up the hair, and snip, snip. Right? Wrong. I bought her a bunch of pretty clips afterwards to console her till it grew back.
Well, I recently came across this extraordinary teaching of the Chofetz Chaim, a tw-century Jewish sage, adapted from his sefer (work) entitled Shemiras Halashon (Guarding One's Speech) for Chofetz Chaim A Lesson A Day by ArtScroll:
The Torah is called a "tree of life for those who grasp it" (Proverbs 3:18). The way to grab onto a tree is to take hold of one of its branches; in so doing, one has attached himself to the entire tree of which this branch is a part. So it is, explains Sefer Chareidim (ch. 61), with Torah. The way to attach oneself to the 613 mitzvos (commandments) is by fulfilling one particular mitzvah with exacting precision and total dedication. Dedication and attachment to a single commandment will cause one's soul to become united with G-d and His Torah and will lead to the proper fulfillment of other mitzvos as well. Thus do we find, "Rav Nachman said: 'I will be rewarded [in the World to Come] for having [zealously] fulfilled [the mitzvah] to eat three meals on Shabbos.' Rav Sheishes said: 'I will be rewarded for having [zealously] fulfilled the mitzvah of tefillin.'"
So after reading this inspiring passage, I was eager to play a round of "Adopt a Mitzvah". Hmmmm, I thought to myself, What mitzvah will be my magical mitzvah branch that can connect me to all of the other 613? Sounds simple, right? Well, every mitzvah I explored suddenly seemed to reveal itself in all its glory and potential difficulties. At the end of the day, there didn't seem to be a single mitzvah that would be easy and simple enough for me to take on as my special mitzvah. But there's got to be something. And it doesn't mean it has to be perfect from the outset. Progress is a good thing in this religion. So with that comforting thought in mind, I'm still thinking. What would YOUR personal mitzvah be?
If I didn't write for a living, I would write for a living. I think I have thunk it through and that is my conclusion. Writing has always been more than a parnassah--its a passion, a journey into self. I journal regularly; it helps me get clarity, connect to Hashem (God), and sort things out that are troubling me. As I write, the words pave a path for my mind and heart to dance across, alleviating tension, worry, and fear. When I journal, I most often end off with a tefillah (prayer). I am grateful that my work is so closely aligned with my love and my mission. Write on!
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.