Thursday, July 20, 2006

Almah D’Shikrah

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

We live in a world of lies and illusions. What’s right and wrong doesn’t count; those considerations take a back seat to realpolitik. The truth is so often twisted and mangled, it is no longer recognizable.

Everywhere we turn, it seems as if the forces of sheker are gaining. Nowhere is this more evident than in the current crisis in the Middle East, where Israel is finally hitting back at two lethal terrorist organizations, Hamas and Hezbollah.

The news from Eretz Yisroel fills our hearts with worry. We see Israel pounding its enemies to the north in Lebanon and to the south in Gaza; we hear about the attacks on Israeli towns and cities and wonder fearfully where all this will lead.

We can’t help but remember how the enemies of the Jewish people had claimed that if Israel were interested in peace, all it had to do was clear out of the Arab territory it was occupying.

In Lebanon they did just that and vacated the security buffer zone they had set up on Israel’s northern border. The move was certified by the United Nations which passed a resolution calling on the government of Lebanon to disarm Hezbollah and take over the border area. It goes without saying, that resolution was ignored.

Last year, every inch of Gaza was turned over to the Palestinian Authority. Democratic elections were held; the Palestinian’s supposed dream for Gaza was fulfilled. Thousands of Jews were mercilessly thrown out of their homes in the pursuit of a policy which guaranteed that such radical moves would bring relief from the constant terror.

The misguidedness of that policy is today self-evident. The idyllic Jewish towns in Gaza were taken over by terrorists and used as bases for launching terror into Israel. Elections swept Hamas into power. And more recently, daily barrages of Kassam rockets rained down on nearby towns. Finally, the terrorists went too far, kidnapping an Israeli soldier in a terror operation. The Israeli government decided enough was enough and began hitting back. The operation is ongoing.

On the Lebanese front as well, Israel sat quietly by as Iran and Syria helped Hezbollah build up an arsenal of more than 10,000 rockets aimed at Israel. When soldiers were killed and captured last week, the government decided to fight back. Since then, hundreds of katyusha rockets were sent into Israel striking not only border towns, but cities deep into Israel. Jews were killed in Tzefas and Haifa, as rockets hit as far as Tiverya and Afulah.

What is the world’s response? Even after witnessing countless atrocities at the hands of Islamic terror, the world condemns Israel for fighting back. France, Russia, Italy, Norway, the Vatican and many other self-righteous voices have called upon the beleaguered country to halt its actions.

President Bush stands out among all major heads of state for championing Israel’s right to defend herself, even as his own secretary of state called for restraint.

It is astonishing to see how willfully blind people can be; how they can twist around the facts so that black is white and white is black.

But we don’t have to travel that far to see the koach of sheker.

Taking a look at secular Jewish newspapers across this country, you’d think that religious Jews are almost non-existent. The hallmarks of the religious community - all the acts of chesed, kindness, charity, as well as the educational accomplishments - are largely ignored. The tremendous growth is never noted. The construction and maintenance of a growing number of schools and educational centers receives scant attention.

The heroes of the community who fund so much good, the people who work so hard for the benefit of others, are rarely, if ever, given their rightful due. The growth of the day school movement and its impact on Yiddishkeit is not something you can expect to read about in the secular Jewish media. Nor is the dedication of armies of mechanchim, mechanchos and teachers.

The spread of kollelim and their dynamic success in strengthening Jewish identity and drawing Jews back to their heritage in so many towns and cities of this country is not considered newsworthy by secular Jewish publications.

It seems as if the only time the secular Jewish media finds it fit to mention our world is when they think they have caught us on something. No, we are aren’t perfect; no one is. But why is it that the only time certain papers mention Lakewood is when they have the opportunity to do some scandal-mongering?

Just last week, the Forward, a Jewish tabloid with a strident anti-religious agenda, ran a long, rabid article on Lakewood. While it is beyond the scope of this column to respond point by point, the article is an obvious hatchet job.

Unsubstantiated allegations of the NAACP are published as fact in this sample of journalism at its worst. A travesty of justice in which a local rebbi is facing charges for apprehending a young man in his backyard and restraining him until the police arrived is reported for the Jewish world as a bias crime. The article’s spin twists the rebbi’s act of self-defense into an assault. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have no business protecting their own property, is the newspaper’s implied stance.

The article contains other unfavorable revelations, heavily nuanced to imply that the growth of the Orthodox community and its prestige in Lakewood - whose very name is synonymous with the remarkable post-Holocaust renaissance of Torah - is a cause not for joy, but for concern.

The lack of balance in the report is astounding - and reflects badly on both the writer and the editors of the paper. Not one word is mentioned about all the good that goes on in the town. Not one word about the people who forego many of life’s pleasures and luxuries to dedicate themselves to the study, dissemination and observance of G-d’s word.

Not surprisingly, the editors didn’t find it necessary to take note of the graduates of Lakewood who serve with distinction in pulpits, congregations, yeshivos and schools around the world.

Nor is mention made about graduates from the Lakewood yeshiva and kollel who have gone out to become respected titans in their chosen professions and livelihoods, giving back in spades to the community and serving as models of integrity and success.

Examples of the ascendancy of sheker are too prevalent and obvious to thinking people to require cataloguing here.

There is another pernicious form of sheker which is more difficult to detect and to which we must also remain vigilant. Like a person so taken in by the sight of split hooves that he is oblivious to the pig’s snout peeking out between them, sometimes we are so impressed by people’s outward accomplishments that we fail to pay heed to their dishonorable foundation.

All too often, these purveyors of sheker use a narrow, selective emes to assuage their own conscience and to camouflage their true nature. Our great leaders have always been revered because they were driven by an uncompromising desire for pure truth. When we observe contemporary groups and individuals who for the sake of a declared devotion to a worthy goal are all too willing to compromise in other areas, we must recognize the danger of falling prey to their deceptions.

We must constantly remind ourselves that the truth should be our guide in whatever we do. We must be true to ourselves personally and as a community so that we can face that which confronts us. When we are truthful in our own lives we can accomplish so much more. The same follows when, as a community, we seek to deal with serious issues. It is only when we are honest with ourselves, about our capabilities and about the issues, that we can deal with them and successfully resolve them.

In these days of Bein Hametzorim we should also be concentrating on performing even more acts of charity and kindness than we usually do. Our actions should expose the lie that we don’t care about the less fortunate and turn a deaf ear to silent pleas for aid and support.

Let us also do more to help spread Torah, to raise the level of respect for Torah and those who cling to it. We should do what we can to enhance the message of Torah, which is a Toras Chesed and an Eitz Chaim Lamachazikim Boh.

Let us do more to promote worthy people and their causes. We should show that the truth appeals to us, that we are not guided by the ever-changing trends of the day, but rather by what is true and good. Let us give strength to the emes and not become victims of the sheker; let’s do what we can to weaken sheker and its henchmen.

In this period, when we mourn all the churbanos and destruction our people have endured during this time of year, we pine over the loss of the botei mikdosh and the loss of the light of truth and holiness which they provided the world.

We pray for Moshiach tzidkeinu to redeem us and to rescue us from the falsity that undermines so much around us.

Talmidei HaGaon taught that since Moshiach will return the emes to its rightful place and cause worldwide Kiddush Hashem, the sitra achra seeks to do everything in his power to cause an ascendancy in sheker and chillul Hashem in the period of ikvisah dimeshicha, leading up to the redemption.

Thus, in the period of as’chalta d’geulah, we have to beat back the forces of evil by doing our utmost to enhance the emes and cause kiddush Hashem.

When we see an increase in the power of the lie, when we see more and more chillul Hashem, perhaps we can view it as an indication that the time is ripening for Moshiach. We should recognize that it is incumbent upon us not to fall prey to the forces which seek to entrap and undermine us. If not now, when?

At times like this when responsible people and historians are opining that World War III may have begun, we should heed the advice of Chazal: Mah ya’aseh v’yinotzel meichevlei Moshiach, ya’asok b’Torah v’gemillus chassodim. To be spared the suffering that will accompany Moshiach’s arrival, one should busy himself with Torah and acts of kindness.

May we merit to see these days of mourning and sadness be transformed into days of happiness and celebration speedily in our day.


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