There has to be a better way.

Shalom all,

Modern technology allows us to zoom in from outer space to an individual walking the street. But, sometimes, we need to take a bird’s-eye view of a situation to see it in its entirety. By failing to see the whole picture, we often miss seeing the forest through the trees. We can be so close to a particular problem, and focus all of our attention and energy to dealing with it, that we can fail to recognize the accompanying development of another, potential disaster that is inseparable from the primary one. Or, while we do pay attention to a secondary problem, we don’t attach to it the seriousness that we attach to the main one. 

Such is the situation with the present Covid-19 pandemic that has caused the world to slow down, to talk with one another, and even to put down weapons of warfare (not exclusively, but on the whole), in an effort to cooperate with each other to fight a common enemy, one that is tiny and unseen, until it attacks our health. The Coronavirus is no respecter of persons. It attacks people of every race, every color, every language and every religion. Its victims tend to be mainly older in age, but as the pandemic spreads, younger and even young people are affected, as well. There is no difference between rich and poor. A person wealthy in the things of the world has no defense against the plague any more than a person who is without means. In Israel, some who have survived the horrors of the Holocaust, who have survived the devastations of war and the nightmares of terrorism became victims to a tiny microbe. Stopping the spread of the disease and bringing it under “control” is the focus and concerted efforts of nations and governments around the globe. And rightly so. 

What about the developing problem that is recognized, but is not receiving the attention that it deserves? The world is slowly stopping, figuratively, of course, so that it can take care of its health. And, as part of the plan of how to deal with the problem, we are generating another problem, potentially more widespread and more complicated.

Stay home! Practice social distancing! Don’t go to work, unless you are involved in what society considers to be “essential”. These can be and certainly are practical and reasonable guidelines in the circumstances in an effort to “flatten the curve” and slow down the contagion, so that the health-care system doesn’t collapse under the strain. Of course, social distancing is really another term for physical distancing – keeping ourselves removed from physical contact that could result in the spread of the virus and has already claimed the lives of thousands around the world. Most countries started to put this into effect too late. They tried to close the barn door after the cow had already escaped. By God’s grace, Israel started relatively early and by doing so, it undoubtedly saved the lives of dozens, if not hundreds of our citizens.

Still, let’s start with the presumption that this was and still is the correct procedure to follow. Besides the isolation and the social problems that have already developed from prolonged lockdown, another, immediate consequence is the potential economic collapse that has already begun in earnest in some places. Israel is not immune to such a consequence any more than any other country.

At the present time, within the last month, almost a million Israelis have lost their jobs and registered for unemployment benefits. Approximately 24% of the total work force is now without jobs. The government – such as it is – is working to enact emergency legislation to help alleviate some of the economic distress and is prepared to provide an 80 Billion Shekel bailout. Local governments can join in and ease the burden of monthly or bi-monthly payments. The tax authorities can join in and allow a deferment for a few months. Landlords can be involved in helping to minimize the economic burden and delay or even cancel rents for a certain period of time. One Israeli Member of Knesset said that he was willing to forego one-third of his salary to help those who lost their jobs and encouraged his colleagues in the Knesset to do likewise (link to Hebrew site only). But, these measures cannot go on for an extended period of time without the economy collapsing. If it does, God forbid, we will be facing another depression, perhaps even greater than the Great Depression of the 20th century.

This is not a doomsday prediction. It is a realistic appraisal of what could happen when businesses close, when demand exceeds not only supply, but is accompanied by the inability to pay for the supply when it is available. If people don’t work, they don’t pay tax. If they don’t pay tax, there is less money available to the government, state or local, to pay for social programs and provide assistance where and when needed. Whatever saving were accumulated over the years of employment will be utilized to stay afloat. There will be a need for governments to print more money to distribute to people who cannot generate active income because they are stuck at home, and in the process cause a severe inflation of the economy and a diminution in the value of the local currency. 

If the economy suffers, services provided by public health facilities could become unavailable to any, except for the very wealthy. In the end, the health-care system that we want to protect from becoming overburdened and from collapsing will end up failing to provide the needed health assistance to those who can least afford it.

What choice do we have? We need to stop the spread of the virus and the only way to do that right now is to slow it down. OK. Understood. But, after about twenty-five percent of the work force is unemployed, and an even larger percentage can be generated over a relatively short period of time, the two questions that need to be asked and need to be answered are: “Is lockdown the best option to deal with the pandemic?” and “What happens when the Corona crisis ends?”

Businesses are already failing. Bankruptcies will undoubtedly increase. Some people may no longer have a job to return to when the pandemic ends. The disruption in the lives of the multitudes can create widespread fear, panic and pandemonium. The long-term effects of a prolonged lockdown, including, but not limited to, domestic violence and the traumatic impact not only on children, but adults, as well, could be devastating. And, the disheartening point is that we don’t know how long the physical distancing is going to last, or how long the economic “recovery” will take.  The ones who will be hardest hit will not be those who are on a 6-month vacation twice a year, but those who put in their 8 to 4 or 9 to 5, with one or two days off at the end of the week for a bit of a break. 

There has to be a better way. 

Until then, we need to keep in mind that physical distancing does not have to mean social distancing. We can still reach out an touch someone! And while we’re considering how to stay in touch, we are given a golden opportunity to reflect, as one person did, on the things that are really important to him. As he stated:

“[This] period has allowed me some time to reflect on my life. I have offered personal prayers for those who are currently ill with the virus or with other infirmities as I wish them good health and well-being. I have thought about those who are chronically ill or disabled who have to spend most, if not all their time, indoors without experiencing the freedom to move about and take advantage of the beauties of nature and the pleasures of good health. I have a new appreciation for those who had no choice but needed to isolate themselves so they could live – the thousands of Jews who hid themselves during the Holocaust for weeks, months or even years, sometimes helped by good and righteous people, and did not see the light of day or experience the presence of another human being. And I marvel at the strength and courage of the Prisoners of Conscience – the Refuseniks – many of whom were ostracized by their communities or sat in prison and in solitary confinement for no other reason than they wanted to immigrate to the State of Israel….

It will take some time but everyone admits Gam Ze Yaavor – this too shall pass. Hopefully we will find a vaccine, we will save those who are ill so they can return to good health, and we can get back to living the lives that we did before the onset of this pandemic. However, life will have changed for us all and will never be the same. Let us hope that those of us who have lived through this period of human history will never again take life for granted but will be grateful for each breath we take, each friend we make, each love we share, and each community to which we belong.

And along with the temporal, to reflect on the eternal: “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” (Psalm 34:9). “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” (Psalm 56:3)

You’ll never know that God is all you need until God is all you have. This is the better way.

Be well, bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

A Time to Unite – Turning Enemyship into Friendship

Shalom all. May this find each of you healthy and encouraged, notwithstanding the events shaking the world at this time.

On our end, things are never boring. There are rays of light in the midst of clouds of darkness. And with the events of this day, the question is asked: Is a unity government on our doorstep? From the looks of things, the time is ripe and is now here.

The Blue and White Party under former IDF General Benny Gantz (head of the Hosen L’Yisrael faction of that party) is splitting up. Another former General is remaining with him, while the third General that made up the coalition (from the Telem Party) of the Blue and White Party will now be part of the opposition. Yair Lapid, the fourth leg that made up Gantz’s center-left party and head of the Yesh Atid Party, accused the party leader of crawling into the government with Netanyahu. 

Everyone who can think rationally recognized that in the back drop of the coronavirus pandemic that affected the entire country, an emergency coalition government was not only desirable, but absolutely necessary.

The forward progress in this regard came following the action of Benny Gantz, who promoted himself to the position of Knesset Speaker (replacing Yuli Edelstein, who resigned yesterday, Wednesday). This followed extensive negotiations with the Likud, which culminated in forming a unity with a “political rival”, while causing disunity among “political friends”. The decision by Gantz to appoint himself as the Knesset Speaker was explained as an attempt to unlock the stalled unity talks with the Likud. It accomplished its stated purpose and received full support by Netanyahu’s Like Party. 

There is “a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Political warfare took place before, during and after three national elections, which resulted no winners. The big losers were the people of the State of Israel. The country was splitting apart, politically and ideologically. Just before the third round of election, we were beset with the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, within the space of a month, the number of those who tested positive went from single digits to almost 2,700, with 6 deaths, as of this writing. The last thing we needed was continued political rivalries and inability to make decisions. The country needed a government made up of people who could and would work together for the sake of the nation as a whole. The time had come, indeed, it was long overdue, to stop fighting each other and join together to fight against the growing health crisis and against a looming economic crisis. 

How will the face of the new, unity government look: Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to serve as Prime Minister, his fifth term in office, for a year and a half. During this time, Benny Gantz will serve as Foreign Minister, after which he will replace Netanyahu. Former General Gabi Ashkenazi will serve as Defense Minister. Other ministers will be agreed upon. Can it work? It has to. 

Not everyone is happy with the new developments. The Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) and Telem (Moshe Yaalon) parties felt betrayed and broke away from Gantz after he moved to appoint himself Knesset Speaker. According to an agreement between the different factions that made up the Blue and White Party, this position was to be held by a nominee of the Yesh Atid Party. Both of these parties will now be part of the “Opposition” to the Netanyahu-Gantz unity government, although they will retain the name “Blue and White”. In all likelihood, Yair Lapid will be designated as the head of the Opposition.

If all of the kinks are worked out and the “peace process” between Netanyahu and Gantz comes to fruition, including ministerial portfolios, the government will come into being and will have at least 73 Knesset Members – a significant majority to be able to move things forward. And when the government is finally established and in place, it will leave Avigdor Lieberman out in the cold, along with the Joint List of primarily Arab parties. 

There are still procedural matters that need to be completed. Technically, Gantz still has an additional two weeks to complete his mandate of trying to put together a government. The likelihood of his being able to do so is almost nil, even before today’s events. If, and when, Gantz will join a Netanyahu-led government, he will have to return the mandate to the President of Israel, who would then give Netanyahu a renewed opportunity to form a government. So, while things look promising, we should keep in mind, as has often been said, that “it’ ain’t over till it’s over”.

Still, the immediate need of the moment is for the emergency government to deal with the national health crisis and the economic fallout of some 20% of the entire labor force being out of work, not to mention the multitude of small businesses that will close up shop due to absence of business and sufficient income to keep them afloat.

Today’s events are a temporary breath of fresh air, in the midst of reports of gloom and doom that follow in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. We must always remember, this is Israel, a land of miracles. God has tasked us to be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3). As Tevye said in “A Fiddler on the Roof”, I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?. He has called us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. In His way, in His time, He will bring forth the results. 

Be healthy, bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

A tale of two crises

Oy! As if the political crisis were not enough, along comes the Covid-19 (coronavirus) health crisis. And, along with the coronavirus comes an aggravation of the political crisis, because of efforts designed to deal with the coronavirus crisis. Sometimes, it seems as though we don’t see the forest through the trees. 

The third national election in one year took place on March 2nd. Neither of the two major parties achieved a majority to form a government. Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc gained more votes, but the center-left block, which received backing from Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu Party, with support from Joint List of Arab Parties succeeded in getting a bare majority of 61 recommendations, allowing Benny Gantz to try to set up the next government. In the meantime, the coronavirus crisis made its presence real in Israel. This, in turn, resulted in a number of decisions that were taken by the interim government of Benjamin Netanyahu that were designed to deal with the health crisis. One of them affected the functioning of the court system, which resulted in delaying Netanyahu’s trial on three counts of corruption and breach of public trust, which was moved from last week and re-scheduled for May. Cyber monitoring of telephones, used primarily by Israeli security forces, was put into force to track the locations of people affected by the disease and to identify people who may have been exposed to it. The Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) was disbanded for a week, with no new committees being formed and no government oversight of electronic invasion of people’s privacy. This created a crisis in our democracy in addition to the political crisis of still not having a government. The Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the Knesset needs to get back in business by Monday,  that there can be proper supervision of electronic invasion of privacy, or the phone tracking – used for the sake of the public health – would stop. Political crisis and health crisis!

Which crisis is worse? If we need to choose between health and politics, it doesn’t appear to be a brain twister. Obviously, dealing with a pandemic should take precedence. What good is having a democratic, rights-protecting government, if it is not allowed to function in an effort to keep the voting public alive? Even in the midst of the health crisis, we still have the right to protest and demonstrate, as long as we keep a safe distance from one another. We can challenge the government’s behavior, but we need to be alive to do so.

Shabbat here is almost over. It is a day that we are to cease from our labors and regular involvements of the past week and rest. That’s essentially what we have been told that we need to do for the last six days. We are supposed to cause this day to be separate from the rest of the days of the week. Separation, isolation, seclusion and quarantine, terms that have been used to express how we are supposed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Along with those terms comes a new one: social distancing. As if we haven’t already done this during the last one or two decades. 

We are social beings by nature and by design. Some of us live in the concrete jungle. Others in community settings of many different kinds. We used to relate to one another face-to-face, physically. We would arrange to “do” a meal together, meet for coffee, go to the mall, the beach, for a picnic, a hike, a movie, sports, and a host of other things – together. And then, along comes the coronavirus. Our lives are turned upside down. We’re told to stay put. All places of recreation and normal social gathering are now closed. Don’t leave home, except for a health-related reason, to purchase food or other necessity, or in case of an emergency. If we do go out, we’re told to stay at least 6-1/2 feet away from someone else, don’t be in a car with more than two people, wear a facial mask, don’t touch anyone else and don’t even to touch our faces. While we are told not to go out, we often allow confusion, frustration, panic and depression to gain an easy entry. 

Social distancing is not new to our generation. Long before the coronavirus pandemic reared its ugly head, we have been physically separating from one another more and more with each new digital and electronic devise that entered the realm of what has been coined “social media”, which has done more to generate social distancing than the coronavirus. The social media revolution has affected our mental health. Technology surpassing human interacationWhat we caused to happen slowly over time for physical convenience, we are now compelled to do as a means to save our physical lives. What a turn around! Don’t get me wrong. I’m as much a product of technological social distancing as anyone reading this. Some aspects of technology are good, others are anything but good. We truly need to have discernment to know what is beneficial and what is destructive, socially, mentally, ethically, morally and even physically.

How can we redeem the time? How can we remain “social beings”, while being compelled to exercise “social distancing”? It’s clear that our way of thinking and viewing the situation needs to be reversed. Instead of thinking that we are confined, we should find creative, innovative ways to reach out. Many have written and suggested solutions how to deal with the disease and the negative affects of isolation. We need to get out of our rooms of gloom and recognize that “this, too, shall pass”. One struck a chord with me:

“Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.” In other words, being separated from one another doesn’t have to mean being cut off from one another. A burden shared is a burden half lifted. Be in touch … from a distance!

When both of these crises are over, we may well be facing new realities in all areas of government, business and social involvement. We’ll have to deal with each one in its time. We made it through Pharaoh, we’ll make it through this.

“But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy; and may You shelter them, that those who Love Your name may exult in You.” (Psalm 5:11)

“…I, the LORD am your healer.” (Exodus 15:26)

Keep looking up. Have a great week. 

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Shutting down the Country, one notice at a time

It’s difficult these days to discuss almost anything of importance other than the expansion and handling of the coronavirus pandemic. As of this writing, 427 Israelis have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, an increase of 90 cases since yesterday. While some of them are severe, most of the cases were said to be mild. To date, there have been a handful of recoveries. Thousands have been placed in isolation.

The latest Guidelines from the Ministry of Health, that were last updated this morning, set forth the “dos and don’ts” for the moment, as part of a mandatory lockdown. 

No sector remains unaffected, including the IDF, which announced that there have been half a dozen cases of soldiers, who were diagnosed with the disease. Almost 4,300 soldiers and civilian employees of the IDF are in quarantine.  Two government Ministers and an additional two members of the Knesset are also presently in quarantine. And, notwithstanding the steps taken by Prime Minister Netanyahu, that are designed to curtail activities in both the government and private sectors during the present health crisis, emergency regulations still have not been signed and government employees were directed to report to work today as usual. There is still considerable confusion over how the new guidelines are to be implemented and the economic consequences resulting from them. It is estimated that some 70 percent of employees in the private sector are remaining at home. A violation of directives of the Ministry of Health can result in receiving a fine of NIS 5,000 (approx. US $1,335).

In addition, the present interim government approved the taking of cyber measures that would allow the General Security Service (Sha”bak) to track people who came in contact with the virus, in order to track and, hopefully, prevent its spread. The clear purpose and goal of the emergency regulations that allow for the gathering cell phone data is two-fold: to locate and warn potential victims of the virus and also to enforce quarantine orders. Both are designed to curtail the time that a person who was exposed to the virus can continue to walk about freely and potentially endanger others. The hope is that this would ultimately help to reduce the spread of the virus. The regulations (for those who read Hebrew🙂 explain who will be tracked, how surveillance will be carried out, who will manage it, how long the information can be kept and who will have access to it. 

Considerable upset and serious concern have been voiced within the political system and by experts dealing with the protection of privacy over the use of technological means to track civilian members of the population. The primary argument is that at least for the present, there is no oversight by the Knesset or the public. Obviously, applying sophisticated “spyware” against private individuals, something that is usually kept for use against the war against terror, increases the risk that sensitive information might fall into the wrong hands. The right of privacy is a protected, fundamental right in Israel and a violation of that right should only be allowed first and foremost for the benefit and protection of the public and, to the extent possible, in a limited fashion. The thought that immediately arises is that such “invasion of privacy” might continue after the cessation of the emergency, or worse, that the information gathered during the coronavirus crisis would be used for other purposes. There is also no provisions for imposing sanctions for wrongful use of the information, even by those entrusted with the responsibility to gather it. This is a continuing issue and will need to be followed. The situation is constantly changing. 

From the present looks of things, we could well be facing a total, mandatory lockdown. It could be later today, or tomorrow. It depends on the speed of the spread of the coronavirus. If it continues in its present course, there will be a need for a call-up of reservists, and, particularly, those serving in the Home Front Command, to help enforce the lockdown and to help the Police and Health Ministry in different ways.

Original estimates from the Ministry of Health were that we would be facing the crest of the wave of coronavirus illnesses in mid-to-end April. Now, the “guesstimates” are end of May or June. This is a potential nightmare from almost every perspective. May it be that it will pass sooner than expected, rather than later.

Attitude definitely makes the difference in how Israelis (and non-Israelis alike) are responding to the health crisis. Some panic, other are somewhat more relaxed. And, while the coronavirus is definitely not a laughing matter, some try to overcome the increasingly problematic situation with humor. We can take all the precautions that are prescribed by the authorities, but there is one thing that has proven effective over the millenia: “A joyful heart is good medicine….” (Prov. 17:22)  Watch a movie that makes you laugh. Read a book with a happy ending. Try to be innovative, without being insulting.

Attached are If you need 144 rolls of toilet paper...three examples of humor found on the internet. There are multitudes of them around. Corona LisaFind some that Me seeing hand soap shelves empty in stores...make you laugh out loud.

 

 

 

You’ll be surprised how it takes the edge off. Try to help and encourage someone else that is struggling with the situation (Isaiah 35:3; Prov. 16:24).

As for the politicking in the midst of
the coronavirus crisis, that is a joke of a different sort, but no one is laughing. It will be dealt with separately.

Smiling is Infectious

Give someone a smile😄, by email, WhatsApp, Skype, even telephone (remember what that is?). It can go a looooong way. It can even become (you should forgive the expression) viral! 

[Give] attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. (Prov. 4:20-22)

Seek the welfare of the city where [you now live], and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Even the wind and the sea obey Him.

Shalom all,

This post is a bit different from the things I usually write. I am sharing something my oldest son wrote regarding the coronavirus. This is translated from Hebrew and was shared originally in a young adults group.

Red Sea Corals-image-2020-03-16-at-19.21.21

Sadly, this past weekend’s hard storm in Eilat left massive destruction in the coral reef. Not only did it damage scientific projects, but it damaged the beauty and richness of the animals dependent on the reefs for their lives.

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (Romans 8:22). This is a harsh and painful reminder of the consequences of sin that has entered the world. Like creation, we too, await the day when we will be free from destruction, illnesses and death in the world.

 

 

“…’Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’” (Mark 4:41). The Lord Yeshua is in control of everything, over natural and supernatural forces, including coronavirus.

He has the power to restrain and stop and on the other hand, do nothing if He chooses so. “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.” (Psalm 33:11), and as Job said: “‘I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted’ (Job 42:2).

We love to be in control and know what is going on. I think that somewhere the coronavirus shattered this illusion and reveals to us the reality that we aren’t really in control…We can’t go wherever we want. For some of us, work and studies are stopped, there is a lot of sadness, anxiety and so forth. No doubt the year 2020 is both very interesting and challenging! I believe the coronavirus is also teaching us to view life in proportion, at things that really matter.

How interesting that at the first young adults’ meeting this year, we spoke about how our faith is expressed in the most challenging and difficult times of our lives. Is it not during difficult times that we should place our trust in the Lord Yeshua? As you noticed, we don’t have fellowship gatherings now and we have heard countless times how the Congregation is not just a building. We don’t need a special place to have fellowship, to pray, to read or even to worship! Let’s remember to be a light in this dark time: to allow others to pass us in line at the supermarket, to be with self restraint and patience with everyone, to ask others in the faith (and also not in the faith) how they are doing and to seek opportunities to show God’s love.

Have a blessed week and remember: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners” (James 4:8)  

 © Nati Kramer

Underwater photo by Nati

Can Coronavirus bring healing to the government crisis in Israel?

Touching elbows, instead of shaking hands. Saluting one another, instead of greeting with a hug. Now, we are told that we need try to keep a “reasonable” distance between us, with “reasonable” being at least one and a half meters (4.9 feet). All of these are contrary to the norms and culture of our society. Slowly, slowly, little by little (or, as we say in Yiddish, “Yiddle by Yiddle”), we are facing increasing restrictions, limitations and interruptions in our daily life. All because of a microbe gone wild.

There are some 69 species of the family of viruses known to the medical community as coronaviruses, only seven of which are said to affect humans. The virus has been referred to SARS Covid-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and the disease that follows being infected by it was labeled Covid-19 (coronavirus disease-2019). We are 73 days after the first disclosures of the disease and, as of this writing, 143 people in Israel have tested Coronavirus positive, with more than two dozen being added daily. About a thousand medical personnel are now in quarantine because of exposure to the virus. The Ministry of Health does not have a projected date for conquering the virus, although serious efforts are under way to find a solution. Even if a vaccine is developed to prevent contracting the disease, its commercial manufacture and distribute could well take a year or more. According to the statistics listed in Worldometer’s Coronavirus update, 137 countries and territories have been affected to date.

Israel is low on the list of countries affected, but has instituted protective measures early on. Restrictions imposed on traveling to and from affecting countries; mandatory quarantine for persons entering Israel from certain specified countries, which has had a major impact on the airline and tourist industry; restriction the number of people who can congregate in certain places, which restriction is now not to exceed 100; restrictions in public transportation and closures of educational institutions, among others. On the drawing board is the closure of government offices and having employees work from home (to the extent possible) and gradual closure of non-essential businesses, among other measures. The population is been encouraged to remain at home, with the exception of those in essential services. In short, we are gradually approaching a nationwide shut down, which has already occurred in other countries. 

Being in the presence of someone with the sniffles causes knee-jerk reactions in people, who immediately distance themselves. Someone who coughs while at a supermarket check-out counter can cause angry responses and accusations of wilfully endangering other customers. Panic buying has become the norm of the day and supermarket shelves are quickly emptied of basic items. Fear and anxiety are seen, and expressed, in almost all locations. As one person put it, “I’m afraid of being afraid.”

With the Covid-19 being official labeled as a “Pandemic” by the World Health Organization and the possibility of additional, even more severe restrictions being imposed by the Department of Health and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there has been a stirring that the crisis of the Coronavirus could bring about a healing, although temporarily, to our political crisis.

As the Coronavirus crisis was elevated to a national health emergency, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form an emergency unity government to combat the pandemic.  In the process, Netanyahu made it clear that the emergency government would be under his leadership and that the Joint Arab List would not be invited to participate in the government. He was pushing for an affirmative response from Gantz, as he called for “the formation now, even this evening, of a national emergency government”, while pointing out that it would be “an emergency government for a limited period … [to] fight to save the lives of citizens.” Although previously ruling out any partnership with Netanyahu, he nevertheless expressed a willingness to discuss the possibility of a national unity government, adding that the Blue and White Party would do “everything in our power to see it move forward.” However, this remains to be seen.

Whether or not Netanyahu’s offer is eventually accepted or rejected, there is a ray of hope, at least on the surface of things, that the two main political rivals are willing to work together to combat a powerful microbe that is bringing this country to its knees. Such cooperation, if it happens, could result in the healing of a government that has, essentially, been in a shut down mode for the past year and a half.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts… (James 4:8)

Shabbat Shalom.

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing. Happy Purim!

Marvin

Mordechai, Where Are You? Please Stand Up.

I was asked (strongly encouraged) to republish my blog post on Purim, that was originally posted on 20 March, 2019. It appears below, with minor modifications.

Despite the clouds of political uncertainty that continue to hover over the nation, the fear of a national health emergency and a looming financial crisis, among other things, there is always a reason to be thankful. Even if there is forced quarantine, we don’t need to sit in rooms of gloom. How we view our circumstances can make or break us. Are we mindful of the fact that God is mindful of us?

Some stories, like true vintage wine, become better with age. One of them is the story of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. We are commanded to tell the story from generation to generation. It reveals the presence of God, His might, His power and His holiness and ability to save the people whom He has chosen (Deut. 7:7-8). These attributes of God are also present, and He remains mighty to save, even when He is not in the forefront of the action, but in the background and even when He is not referred to or mentioned by name. This is the situation in the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther). It reveals the presence of Him Who is invisible.

We know the story and it is a great one. It is a story of absence – absence from the country where the sons of Jacob were to shine, to prosper, to worship God in the majesty of His holiness, to be blessed and to be a blessing. It is a story of the absence of a national leadership amongst the captives from Judea and Samaria who were taken first to Babylon during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, some of whom were later brought to Persia (modern-day Iran) and who were living during the reign of King Ahashverush (Ahasuerus). It is a story where the absence of God in the lives of the captives stands out by the failure to refer to Him. It is a story that serves as the background for the complaint of the people, as revealed in the explanation of the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel, namely, an absence of hope: “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off”.'” (Ezekiel. 37:11) But, even in the blatant absence of specific reference to Him, still, the Holy One of Israel continues to exercise His sovereign control over all the fortunes and misfortunes of the people, whom He referred to as “the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8).

This comment is being written in the Hebrew month of Adar. It was on the 13th day of this month, “when the king’s command and edict were about to be executed, on the day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them”. (Esther 9:1)

We look at the story with the benefit of hindsight. It is written for us and we can see how the pieces that seem disjointed all fit together and reveal the Hand of God and His unseen presence among His people, during one of the lowest times in the history of the nation of Israel. The major players are Mordechai, his niece Hadassah (whose name in exile was changed to Esther), King Ahashverush, who ruled over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia and Haman, to whom the king gave exceedingly great authority. The king commanded that all of his servants, who were at the king’s gate, were to bow down and pay homage to Haman. But, Mordechai did neither.

From a political perspective, we see a “situation developing”. One man, who was at the king’s gate (i.e., was part of those who were close to the seat of power and who were able to come in and go out of the court without a special permit), defied the command of the king and would not bow down before Haman. It is recorded for us that Mordechai was living in the citadel of Susa. He was a descendant of Kish, who was a Benjamite and part of the upper class families who were taken captive and exiled along with King Jeconiah of Judah. (Esther 1:5-6) Another famous descendant of Kish was Saul, Israel’s first king, who disobeyed the Lord’s instructions given through Samuel the prophet, to strike and totally destroy Amalek. King Saul defeated the Amalekites, but allowed their king, Agag, to live – an act of disobedience that resulted in the Lord rejecting Saul from being king. Ultimately, the prophet Samuel killed Agag.

Haman was said to be “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite”. So, the consequences of Saul’s disobedience had future consequences for the nation of Israel. The descendants of Agag came to distant lands and some of them, like Haman, ended up in the service of the king of Persia. And so, once again, a descendant of Kish meets up with a powerful Amalekite.

However, as mentioned above, not only is Mordechai a descendant of Kish, he is also a Benjamite. Benjamin was the last son of Jacob. He was born after Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, after Jacob crossed the Jabbok and after he and all of his household bowed down before Esau. (Gen. 32-33, 35:16-18) Therefore, Benjamin, who was the only son of Jacob who was born in the land of Israel, did not bow down before Esau. And, his descendant, Mordechai, stood his ground, as well, and did not bow down before Haman. When questioned by the king’s servants why he refused to bow, his answer was that “he was a Jew”. (Esther 3:4)  The refusal of Mordechai to bow down before Haman “filled [Haman] with rage”. When he was told “who the people of Mordechai were … Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordechai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahashverush (Ahasuerus)”. (Esther 3:5-6) Lots (Purim) were cast to determine the day that this would take place.

Haman’s understanding went beyond the simple fact that there are a people under the king’s rule who have a different religion. The issue was not the existence of a different religious belief, which could be tolerated, but rather, the Jewish people, whose existence would not be tolerated by the descendant of Agag, the Amalekite. Even though only Mordechai refused to bow down, the entire nation was going to suffer the consequences of his act of defiance.

The rest of the story continues, with Haman convincing the king to issue an edict that the Jewish people be destroyed. Haman was even willing to pay money into the king’s treasury if the king would agree to his request. Mordechai publicly demonstrated against the king’s edict and enlisted his niece, Hadassah (i.e., Esther, after whom the Scroll is named) to appeal to the king. Esther was chosen to replace the deposed Queen Vashti, when the latter refused to appear before the king and his drunken friends, who had been partying for seven days. Esther explained to Mordechai that her life would be endangered if she came into the presence of the king without being summoned. Mordechai wisely explained the situation in a clear and unequivocal manner: “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14) Things don’t get much clearer than that. Esther understood the gravity of the situation and that it was not her life only that was at risk, but those of the Jewish people who were under the rule and reign and authority of the king – her husband.

She requested that all of the Jews in Susa fast (and impliedly, pray) for her and not eat or drink for three days. She and her maidens would do the same and afterwards, she would go to the king, contrary to law, and, as she said: “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16) And she and they did so and on the third day, the fate of Esther and the Jewish people was decided. The sentence of death had already been passed. Now, would the sentence of death be carried out, or will there be life? The golden scepter was extended to her and with it, life for her and eventually, life for the Jewish people. She chose the manner of presenting her petition to the king and the timing of it. In the meantime, the king had a bout of insomnia and instructed that the chronicles of the kingdom be read to him. It was then that he learned that Mordechai discovered and informed about a plot to kill the king, who now decided to publicly honor and reward Mordechai by dressing him in royal garments and having him paraded through the city square on a horse, on which the king himself had ridden. Haman was appointed to do this for Mordechai and to proclaim before all the people: “Thus it shall be done to the man whom the king desire to honor.” (Esther 6:10-11) This further enraged Haman.

When Esther revealed to the king what Haman had done, the king issued another edict that allowed the Jews to defend themselves, inasmuch as by law, he could not cancel his own decree. Haman was the recipient of the king’s wrath, as he and his ten sons were hanged on the gallows and what had been meant for evil was turned around for good. (Esther chpt. 9) Mordechai recorded the events and sent letters to all the Jews in all the provinces under the authority and rule of King Ahasverush (Ahasuerus), obliging them to annually celebrate the 14th (today) and 15th days of the Hebrew month of Adar, “because on those days the Jews rid themselves of their enemies and it was a month which was turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday … for Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews, had schemed against the Jews to destroy them and had cast Pur, that is the lot, to disturb them and destroy them…Therefore they called these days Purim after the name Pur…So these days were to be remembered and celebrated throughout every generation, every family, every province and every city; and these days of Purim were not to fail from among the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants…The command of Esther established these customs for Purim and it was written in the book.” (Esther 9:20-32)

At the end of the story, Mordechai was exalted to a position of power and authority, second only to the king himself. He was “great among the Jews and in favor with his many kinsmen, one who sought the good of his people and one who spoke for the welfare of his whole nation.” (Esther 10:3)

There is much that this story reveals and many aspects of it have significant, and indeed, eternal ramifications and applications for those within the Messianic community, as well as for the whole world. We see how the Hand of God was moving behind the scene, using the drunken feast of the king to embarrass the then queen, who was removed because of her disobedience to the command of the king (by the way, there was significant reason for that refusal); the choosing of Esther to replace her; the positioning of Mordechai as one who was at the king’s gate and his overhearing the plot to kill the king; his being of the descendants of the tribe of Benjamin; his refusal to bow before Haman the Agagite; the unsuccessful attempt to destroy the Jewish people and Mordechai’s being exalted with power and authority, second only to the king himself.

Our God reigns! “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (Prov. 16:33) What the enemy of our souls meant for bad, God used for good.

Israel sorely needs men like Mordechai today. He was the godly remnant amongst a people who believed that God had forsaken them. He represented the hope of a national restoration, when there had not yet been any experience with exile. Living outside the land, away from the Temple service, away from the place where God commanded the blessing, was all that the people knew. Yet, one man stood in the gap. He said “no”. He would not bow down to man and certainly not to a descendant of those who sought to destroy the Jewish people. Today, we see and experience that once again, the nations conspire together against God and against His people, saying, “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation that the name of Israel be remembered no more” (Psalm 83:4). The Lord God of the universe, creator of heaven and earth, knows if you and I are alive “for such a time as this”.

Looking at the situation today in Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East and in North America, we cannot fail to see that the Hamans of this world abound and have multiplied. Some have even been elevated to positions of power, giving them a platform from which to curse and condemn the Jewish people. Indeed, Israel is not exempt from their presence. We see some of them emerging from the shadows in Israel right under our noses. They accuse us, insult us and want to bring us before the International Criminal Court, while giving support and encouragement to our enemies, some of whom are only a stone’s throw away (literally). They would be thrilled if the State of Israel would cease to exist. Despite this, some of our political leaders are prepared to bow down to them, figuratively, and willingly consent to allowing them to be informed on matters of national security and involved in making decisions on a national level that will affect our entire country. Where are the Mordechais? We need to be people who are willing to proclaim who we are, as we face the plans and pursuits of nations around and enemies within, who seek to divide this land and scatter God’s people. God doesn’t change. He remains the same yesterday, today and forever! A little faith can move mountains. And God is not removed from us, even though we do not see Him physically, but only with the eyes of faith. He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.” (Psalm 125:2)

“I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse.” (Gen. 12:3)

So Bless, be blessed and be a blessing. Happy Purim!

Marvin

©️