Friday, July 04, 2014

How's the Vu? A Talmudic Approach to the Anguish

The goal of this blog is to turn the focus of your Friday night dinner onto higher ideas. Please print and share.
In memory of Ayal, Gilad and Naftali of blessed memory.


Three martyrs

The cycle of violence.

Déjà vu all over again?

Someone emailed me yesterday asking, "What is the mood in Israel right now?"

Sadness? Anguish? Heartbreak?

Such feelings are here and worldwide for anyone who has a heart. As many have said to me, "These are our boys."
 
The less obvious answer is more subtle and profound.

The fact that these three innocents were yeshiva students underscores a mood in the yeshiva community here of being increasingly persecuted over the past couple years.

You don't read about this stuff in the news. But recently this community has felt that the Israeli government is systematically attempting to undermine Torah education in the Land of Israel.

This is why they protested drafting exempt yeshiva students - in the context of defunding yeshivas and other traditional institutions, the draft was perceived as part of an anti-yeshiva agenda, rather than a noble move to create fairness.

So the anguish of the racist murder of Ayal, Gilad and Naftali did not come out of the blue and has not shaken these Jews from complacency and comfort.

This anguish is a manifold increase of that feeling of being attacked.

If they are feeling so generallyl aguished, I'm going to play the gadfly and say that they should consider it (the chain of anguish, not the murders) very good news.

Why?

Understand that the yeshiva world revolves around Talmud study.

They were kidnapped on the 15th day of the month of Sivan, when the worldwide Daf Yomi (page-a-day of Talmud) was beginning Tractate Taanit - all about fasting and prayer. Their bodies were found on 2 Tammuz, when the day's Talmud study was Taanit 19 - all about the definition of, and efficacy of, sincere prayer.

I would like to point out that their murder and first burial took place in the town of Halhul. This is one of the few places in Israel that is both mentioned in Tanach (as a principle town of Judah) and still bears the same name today. Muslims believe the town includes the burial site of the prophet Jonah.

One of the tractates of the Talmud studied regularly in the yeshiva world is Ketubot. Yet they rarely get to the end. That's too bad. On the last page (112) the penultimate point on the last page says, "The generation when the son of David (i.e., the Messiah) will come will experience repeated persecution of yeshiva students."

Then the Talmud seems to switch gears and concludes with an unrelated, apparently mystical teaching that in the post-Messianic world, "non-fruit trees will bear fruit."

Some commentators interpret the tree here as a metaphor for people. "Bearing fruit" means possessing wisdom or good deeds.

But perhaps there is a different interpretation that can connect this teaching with the previous prediction about the suffering of yeshiva students.

It says elsewhere (Talmud Eiruvin 19a) that even the most lowly Jew is "as full of good deeds as the seeds of a pomegranate."

What I think the Talmud intends here is not mere escatology. It's a message to us - a prescription for how to bring the Messianic age.

If the lowliest person is already so full of good deeds, then what could it mean that these lowly "trees" will bear fruit? They already bear fruit!!!

It must be that those who are presently regarded (and regard themselves) as "fruitful" (the yeshiva world) will change the way they look: change they way they regard the non-yeshiva world.

Instead of seeing them as fruitless, start recognizing your brother in everyone you meet.


Many people, especially non-Israelis, don't realize that Ayal, Gilad and Naftali represent the three main cultural streams of Jews: Yemenite, Sefardi and Ashkenazi.

Maybe the murders, in the context of the persecutions, are all part of a grand test to push us, nudge us, drag us kicking and screaming perhaps, to a sense of unity that is not based on fear of an outside enemy, but based on a recognition of the good in others. What Pirkei Avot calls having a "good eye".

How many people are so evil that you can't find something good in them?

Think about it. Talk about it.

There's the sermon. Here's the question for your table:

Maybe the key to ending this cycle of anguish is indeed recognizing the good in others - But how can a person learn to do that?

If you can pull it off, that's a true declaration of independence.

Shabbat Shalom


PS - Speaking of changing your perspective, have you seen this?


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