peace

Hello, Me. It’s me.

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Congratulations—You’ve made it to your 30s and are starting to get comfortable with the idea of turning 40! I know you’re not entirely comfortable with the idea because you feel youth slipping away and do not like the idea that you are reaching the hump and it’s all downhill from here. It’s okay—take comfort in the fact that you are here!

Now, I know that you are struggling with a few things. I was there myself and want to help you out a little bit and talk with you about control.

You’re probably asking why control? It’s important. Control. We like to have things our way, but as you get older you are want more and more to have things the way you believe they should be. You are settling in to being you. This is not good or bad, just the way it is, and I can help you adapt to this part of life. The sooner you do it, the easier it will be.

As I was saying, the older you get the more you want things your way. You’ve been forming a set of beliefs that are solidifying in the synapses of your brain, setting like stone. The way this affects you is diverse, and the problem of control mainly births anger. Surprise, anger is a symptom, not a disease. It is a symptom of feeling out of control.

Things that don’t align with what you want, which is really how you believe the world should be around you, upset you. They didn’t used to. You knew that things don’t go your way, the world doesn’t revolve around you, all the things your parents would tell you, the Serenity Prayer, all that. You still know that, but you no longer accept it.

You get angry on the road because people don’t drive the way you believe they should. You get angry at your boss because you don’t get the promotion you believe you have earned. You get angry at the wall because it is not where you believe it should be at the moment you stub your toe. The symptom of the disease aggravates when you try to hide from it. You drink more to numb yourself to the pain. You hide from friends and family to avoid facing them and acknowledging the battles you have lost.

STOP IT. NOW.

Just like your parents told you, the world does not revolve around you. As much as you want to control everything, all of your smarts, knowledge, and talents cannot make things work the way you want them to. In fact, you probably are surprisingly disappointed that your life did not turn out the way you thought it would be. One word—control.

Just as important, if not more, as hearing your parents again is one more thing:

IT IS OKAY.

As much as you want to hold tightly to your fate and destiny, you are not able to. Uncertainty is your only destiny after all. Your sense of control is an illusion. One moment can change all of your hard work and plans. One. Single. Moment. A phone call. A trip to the store. You know what I’m talking about, and you remember. Embrace that.

But, it’s not all negative, you know. One moment can also do more for your growth and development than all of that hard work. Remember these too, but they are often harder because they are usually smaller events. Remember and be encouraged.

Life is not against you.

Those are the moments shape your destiny. Be flexible enough to roll with them when they come. I call it life’s riptide. If you fight it, you die. As hard and unnatural as it is, just relax. Let it pull you. Let it drag you under. Let it tumble and disorient you. Do not give it a fight. It will tire and release you. You will breathe again.

Probably.

If it is that current that will not let you go, still do not fight it. Experience its power and beauty. Let your final moments be one of clarity, experience, peace, and joy as you embrace the fullness of your life.

As hard as it may be to believe sometimes, things are okay. Everything is okay. Everything is just the way it is supposed to be. You do not have to control it all. And you cannot. It is impossible and a futile endeavor. Fight a good fight, but do not fight yourself. Let go and enjoy it all. This is the only time you will be at this stage in life. This is the only stage you have. Make the most of it all.

I know it isn’t easy to hear these things. You don’t want to, and I understand. Thank you for your patience, and thank you for reading all of this. I hope it has brought comfort to your soul.

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Parasha Pinchas Dvar Torah

Dvar Torah on Parasha Pinchas

Parasha Pinchas kicks it off with Pinchas receiving his reward for stopping the plague of Peor by killing Zimri and Cozbi. It’s obvious Pinchas was a tough man, and probably not the kind of man you’d be quick to argue with. Now that I think of it, he’s probably not the kind of guy you’d see ordering a frapucino at Starbucks either. He’s especially not the kind of guy who’d get whipped cream.

Pinchas is first mentioned Exodus 6:25 identifying him as the son of Eleazer, and Aaron’s son. He next shows up in parasha Balak and Pinchas, and for the last time in the Torah in Numbers 31:6 when he is sent with 1,000 men of every tribe to fight the Midianites.

We see him again in Joshua 22 where he challenges the Israelites who stayed on the other side of the Jordan, and briefly in Judges 20 where he leads Israel into battle against the tribe of Benjamin.

I really enjoyed the passage in Joshua 22 and I’ll recap it: It’s reported that the Reubenites, Gadites, and half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar. Joshua sends Pinchas to investigate before Israel is sent to war with them. I like this story because I picture being on the receiving end of this stick: Pinchas and his posse shows up knocking at your door one day saying, “What’s going on here?”

Put yourself in the place of the men receiving Pinchas. You’re not only looking eye-to-eye with Israel’s High Priest, but the man who personally and very intimately killed a couple because of his zeal for G~d. You know this man is not going to play around so you’d better answer quick… and it had better be good.

Pinchas explains clearly this situation: It’s something like, “Guys, look. You remember the sin of Peor wherein 24,000 people died, right? Of course you do. You remember that I stopped that plague, right? And you remember how, yes? Yes. And I don’t need to mention the sin of Achan when he stole contraband and it cost the lives of 36 men in what should have been an easy battle. Of course, you know that he was stoned for this sin. Of course you do.

This next bit is not biblical, but I saw Pinchas as being the prototype for the Dirty Harry character. I can hear him now at this ominous meeting: “I know what you’re thinking. Is this the man who stopped the plague of Peor? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as I’m the most powerful priest in Israel at your doorstep and can send Israel’s soldiers to cut your heads clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

Pinchas’ Commendable Zeal

Overall, Pinchas committed a praiseworthy act, no matter how uncomfortable we are with the violence, G~d gives the proverbial thumbs up. Israel was in the midst of a national tragedy being enticed into sin by the counsel of Balaam to the Midianites giving away our secret: Israel can only be defeated when she is separated from her G~d. The Midianite women were conducting psychological warfare on Israel’s men leading them into sexual immorality and idol worship—outright rebellion to G~d. Pinchas was a hero in G~d’s eye and even earned a mention in Psalm 106:30 & 31 as being righteous for all generations.

As troubling as it is, I think if we look at Pinchas’ action as military in its nature it’s easier to understand. From a military viewpoint, Zimri’s flagrant disobedience contributes to the death of 24,000 Jews, and to his own destruction, and I’m not even talking about what Pinchas did to him. Zimri was grossly insubordinate, consorting with the enemy, and committing treason. Under military rule, he deserved to die. Rashi states that what Pinchas did was not only commendable, but that Pinchas had even done G~d a favor by killing the couple.

The Chatam Sofer praises Pinchas for showing the same zeal and energy to do right that the sinning Israelites displayed in doing wrong. Pinchas was not just doing G~d a favor, but Israel. His action regained G~d’s favor towards Israel and stopped the plague.

Pinchas Problematic Zeal

This zeal, though praised and rewarded by G~d, makes us very uncomfortable. When we think about religious zealotry, our collective consciousness as not only Americans, but especially as ancient and enduring Jews, is not particularly positive because of all the religious zealotry we’ve suffered and survived. So when we confront the story and this text, it seems as though we have this stain in our past, and no matter how ancient it is, we’re not comfortable with the idea that some of our greatest ancestors behaved in such a way. Even more troubling than Pinchas actions is G~d’s approval. How do we reconcile this in a modern context?

I believe there are a couple of ways. First we look at it from an historical context: the world was a different place then. People didn’t work out problems with wrist slapping sanctions and diplomacy. We fought. We killed. We eliminated the obstacles in our path.

Second, and more permanently, we know that the overarching rule of Judaism is to pursue a path of peace with all people. In Dt 20:10, Israel, when preparing for war, is commanded to offer the enemy terms of peace. Isaiah speaks of a worldwide peace where all the nations will beat their swords into plowshares. Even our eschatology towards non-Jews is peaceful. We believe there’s room for everyone to peacefully coexist. How cool is that? The primary perspective the Tanach gives us of G~d is one of patience, love, and even more patience. Any anger displayed by G~d, or approved of by G~d must have only come about after Him trying for a long time to get us to change our minds.

Balancing Justice & Peace

Those two things said, ultimately, I believe it’s about balance. The Etz Hayim commentary makes the observation that Pinchas position as High Priest serves as a balance to Joshua‚ which seems fitting as Joshua is just a little more laid back and patient than Moses was. On that note, Moses’ quick temper was offset by Aaron’s peaceful nature. You then have the political and religious leaders of Israel complimenting one another and giving a balanced rule. So we can see that balance is very important.

Speaking of Aaron let’s look at him as the other side of this story’s coin. Aaron is a model of peace for all Jews. Hillel, in Pirkei Avot, tells us to “be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind and drawing them to the Torah.” Here’s Aaron, this model and example of peace, the High Priest of Israel, who ultimately was not balanced. As Pinchas can be considered overzealous, Aaron can be thought of as overpeaceful.

I say this because Aaron had a moment which I believe to be similar to Pinchas’ at the base of Sinai with the incident of the Golden Calf. When pressed, Aaron gave in to the demands of the people. Like Pinchas did, Aaron could have stopped the sin and idolatry, not being the vessel that ended a judgment like Pinchas did, but altogether preventing it from happening, which is even better. Aaron probably wouldn’t have even had to kill anyone. But Aaron’s peaceful nature was so strong that he disliked any kind of conflict. At the critical moment his desire to keep peace with men had surpassed his duty to keep men at peace with G~d.

Conclusion

To conclude, what is it that we need to balance? Peace against violence? No. I believe that as Jews we only pursue peace. We pursue peace with men as Aaron did. We pursue peace with G~d as Pinchas. They work together. They cooperate. We cannot be successful at one mission when it requires the loss of the other. To close with the words of Psalm 85:11, Lovingkindness and truth meet. Righteousness and peace kiss.

Shabbat Shalom

Neo-Nazi march blocked in Dresden

Here’s a really cool article from the JTA about 10,000 protestors stopping a neo-nazi march in Germany’s eastern town of Dresden. You can read the full article here.

While most of the protestors were peaceful and simply formed a human chain to prevent the neo-nazis from moving forward some became violent, physically blocking their progress by burning trash bins and destroying the vehicles they had traveled in. This is my favorite part of the article,

Ultimately, police informed the right-wing marchers that authorities could not guarantee their safety, and urged them to call off the march.

I love reading these types of things and am especially thrilled by this because it happened in Germany. It’s poetic that the nation that caused the destruction of 6 million Jews has stopped what Lena Roth calls “the biggest neo-Nazi march in Europe.”

What’s even more amazing about this is that it all happened on the 65th anniversary of Dresden’s bombing, killing an estimated 25,000 civilians. At a time when it would be so easy to let the gears of war turn, 10,000 people turned the gears of peace.

Israel’s desire for peace has ‘vanished’

France’s Foreign Minister is “hurt” because, “It seems to me, and I hope that I am completely wrong, that this desire has completely vanished, as though people no longer believe in it.” Check out the original article here.

WTF?

Why isn’t this bozo giving Iran a hard time for not pursuing peace? This is the kind of commentary that Jews need to stand up against. If there was ever a peace-loving nation that exists, it’s Israel. Israel gets blasted for defending itself against constant attacks. Israel withholds herself so many times at the request of the U.S. Israel, as the United State’s closest and most loyal ally certainly deserves a little street cred on this alone. When have your friends never contributed to your social standing?

What are your thoughts on France’s FM’s words?