When I thought there were no more tears … I was wrong!

A siren sounded last night, signalling the beginning of Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. This morning, another siren sounded for two minutes, as Israel came to a standstill in honor of honor of 23,646 soldiers who had fallen and 3,134 victims of terror. People stood in silent remembrance in the streets, in office buildings, in homes and in public transportation. Even on the highways, when the sirens sounded, cars pulled over to the side, people exited their vehicles and stood until the sirens faded. This is always a tough time for most Israelis, but extremely so for those who lost loved ones through military conflict or terrorist activities. And every year, the number increases. 

I left work early today, so that I could watch and listen to some of the stories that would still be broadcast over Israeli TV. All “entertainment” programming was cancelled until sundown tonight. By this time of the day, after watching documentaries and news clips and after listening to the songs and music, some old and some newly written in commemoration of some of the fallen, I thought that my tears had dried up. I was wrong. There was one segment that was put together towards the end of Memorial Day that dealt with the stories of three “lone soldiers” , who were killed in the 2014 Gaza War (Tzuk Eytan). One of stories caused tears to well up, as if they were stored away and kept for this moment. They flowed as my mind and thoughts were brought back to remembrances of the funeral that I attended in Haifa for one of the soldiers.

The following is a portion of the blog that I wrote almost five years ago, related to that event:

Israel mourns for her sons.
This past Saturday night, after the Shabbat was over and we began a new week (“there was evening and there was morning, one day), Israeli troops were battling in Shejaiya, one of the major Hamas, terrorist strongholds in Gaza. An armored personnel carrier (“APC”) was struck by an anti-tank missile, killing First Sergeant Nissim Sean Carmeli and others. They were among the 13 of the soldiers, all members of the elite Golani unit, who were killed that night.

Four Israeli soldiers had already been killed. But, the news that an additional 13 were killed throughout the night of fighting was a jolt to the nation. It was a major loss for a small country like Israel. Everyone felt the pain of loss. Slowly, the identities of the slain soldiers were released and they included two who also held American citizenship, Max Steinberg, 24, originally from Woodland Hills, California, and Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, who had lived in South Padres Island, Texas, where his parents still reside (note: they have since returned to live in Israel). Both Steinberg and Carmeli were considered as “lone soldiers”, meaning, generally speaking, that they do not have parents to go home to when they are on a break from the army.

Efforts were made by some to portray Shejaiya as a peaceful “neighborhood” community until the present fighting erupted. In reality, however, Shejaiya is one of Hamas’ active locations, from which over 140 rockets were fired into Israel in 13 days. The openings to at least 10 terror tunnels are located there, tunnels that Hamas used for the purpose of smuggling weapons, for launching missiles at Israel civilians and for infiltrating into Israel to attempt to slaughter civilians communities and to kidnap Israelis. Rocket launchings against Israel took place from a mosque, a hospital and a children’s playground, while a rocket facility was also located in a cemetery – all within the confines of Shejaiya. Notwithstanding Israel’s attempts to reduce the number of civilian casualties, the residents of Shejaiya were ordered by Hamas not to leave and were used by Hamas as human shields.

The above is mentioned as background information. The fighting in Shejaiya continues, along with the missiles fired from Gaza.

The funeral of Max Steinberg is set for tomorrow, Wednesday, on Mt. Herzl, in Jerusalem. The funeral of Nissim Sean Carmeli took place Monday night, in Haifa.

“Lord, please stir the hearts of people to attend the funeral.”

When I heard that Carmeli’s funeral was going to take place in the Military Cemetery in Haifa, I knew I needed to go. I was not related to him and never heard of him until Monday. But, it was important for me to be there. This was reinforced when the evening news said that a message was sent out over the social media, saying that Sean (as he was referred to by his friends) was a fan of a certain Haifa soccer team. Inasmuch as he was a “long soldier”, those who published the notice said that there was a concern that there would be a light turnout for his funeral and urged fans of the same soccer team to attend. The funeral was originally scheduled for 9:00 p.m., but for various reasons was changed to 11:00 p.m. The evening news showed a photo and shared a little background information. My heart was broken and I didn’t even try to hold back the tears. He was just 21, older than my youngest son and younger than my oldest son. His parents were arriving from the U.S.

I left for the funeral at 10:00 p.m., a 10-12 minute drive. I prayed as I got into the car, “Lord, please stir the hearts of people to attend the funeral. Let them come and honor this son of Israel as he is laid into the ground. Let his family know that although he was considered a ‘lone soldier’, he was not alone.”  When I arrived in the area, the police had already set up barricades and cars seemed to come from every direction. It took me half an hour to find a space at a distance of a 20-minute walk from the cemetery. A few people here and some there, we were all headed in the same direction. As we got closer to the cemetery, the crowds grew larger.

It was already packed when I arrived. I ended up close to the place where the service was being held, but I couldn’t see anything. I really didn’t need to see the event. I’ve seen too many of them. I’ve listened to too many eulogies, with the broken hearts of family and friends and the messages interrupted by crying. I’ve listened to too many fathers reciting “Kadish” (Aramaic for “holy”, a hymn of praises of God that is part of the Jewish prayer service, as well as at funerals). I’ve heard too many local officials and politicians praising a deceased person, whom they never met. I didn’t need to see the ceremony. There were loudspeakers that would broadcast the event. I looked around and saw that people were still coming, a seemingly never ending stream of people. Some tried to get closer to the platform and managed to slightly push (but, not offensively) others to get to a better vantage point. There were no arguments, no shoving and no yelling. Just a multitude of people, coming to pay their respects to Sean. There were men and women, soldiers from every type of military unit, those with rank and those without, police, teenagers and septuagenarians, religious and secular, Jew and non-Jew, all who came “from Dan to Beer Sheva” to respect and honor and pay their last respects to a “lone soldier”, who united a nation. He was everyone’s son, everyone’s brother. He gave his life so that we, as a nation, would live. A national hero, who was not known, except by a handful of those who came. When it seemed that there was no more room to move forward, people somehow still managed to work their way towards the front.

As the vehicle bringing the coffin arrived at the entrance to the cemetery around 11:30 p.m., the person in charge of the funeral service requested that the crowd “make a path” for the coffin and family. Within seconds, people moved to the sides, clearing a path for the pallbearers and honor guard. It was like watching the Red Sea being divided, only with walls of people, instead of water. We were about 8-10 rows deep and although I couldn’t get close to the platform where the service was to be held, I was in the front row of the wall of people. I saw the dignitaries pass by, followed by the pallbearers with the coffin, draped with the Israeli flag, followed by members of Sean’s family. The crowd, which had kept their conversations on a low volume, was visibly moved. Crying could be heard from many. The heat and the long wait began to take its toll on some and the paramedics were kept busy, taking care of some who became dehydrated or who passed out.

The ceremony continued. The coffin was lowered into the ground and covered over. Wreaths were placed on the fresh grave by representatives of two municipalities. Eulogies were given. The command “fire” was sounded three times, as the flash from the rifles punctuated the night. The ceremony was over and people began to make their way to the exit, slowly, with a sense of walking together as family. In the midst of the multitude, I met a brother-in-the-Lord, an Arab-Israeli, native of Haifa, who pastors a Messianic Jewish congregation here. We’ve known each other about 30 years and joked as we walked, saying that we tend to meet each other most of the time while attending a funeral. His children all served or serve in the IDF.

It was reported that over 30,000 people had attended the funeral of someone they didn’t know, someone that they wanted to honor, someone who enabled Israel to demonstrate how much it is a community that values life and mourns with those who mourn. We wept yesterday many times during the funerals held for our sons who were no more. We wept for a “lone son”, whose death while defending this country drew us together as his family. We will weep again tomorrow for our other sons. 

As of this writing, 28 of our sons have given their lives during the 15 days of this latest war. All who serve give something, while some who serve give everything. May their memories be blessed.

As the TV segment dealing with the deaths of the three lone soldiers concluded,  the mother of one of the other lone soldiers said that while she was attending the funeral of her son, she asked herself how it was that so many people were in attendance, people whom she didn’t know and who did not know her son personally. The response was, “He was everyone’s son.” That’s the spirit of the nation, the spirit that unites, that encourages, that says we can, despite all the odds.

Hollywood can’t compare to real life. Every year, we see, hear or read stories about those who were killed by war or terrorism. In Israel, every such loss is like losing a member of the family and every effort is made to go behind the numbers and show the victims as individuals. The tears that flow from these stories can fill the Sea of Galilee! They touch the lives of families in every strata of society. These are the true reality shows that make an impact on our hearts, our minds and our memories. We don’t need a history class to remind us of national tragedies, or of attempts to destroy us as a people throughout our Biblical, and more modern, history. We need a release from the tears of the past, as well as from the present. So it is no major surprise that Memorial Day is followed immediately by Independence Day, a time to celebrate new life, a new beginning – as a people, as a nation, as families and as individuals. 

At sundown today, we switched gears. Our national day of mourning turned to joy, as we began to celebrate our 71st year of national independence. Celebrating life is part of our national DNA. It is part and parcel of our national resiliency. It causes us to try to turn sorrow into joy and crying into laughter. It enables us to look with anticipation to the future and not to dwell on the difficulties of the past. It is engrained in the attitude that allows us to keep going forward and to see the good even in a bad situation. It appropriates the understanding that a cheerful heart is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22). So, when we have an opportunity to celebrate, we take it seriously.

Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30.5).

Rejoice with us! Celebrate with us!

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

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Am Yisrael Chai!

“In every generation our enemies rise against us to destroy us.”The Dry Bones Blog-30:04:2019 (from the Passover Haggadah, the booklet that is used to guide participants in celebrating the Passover Seder) And so, in every generation, each of us needs to consider himself as though he had survived the Holocaust.

 

There always will be those who do not want to remember that the Holocaust is a fact of history. For some, like Iran and other anti-semites around the world, it is a matter of willful denial. For others, remembering that the Holocaust really happened is too painful for them, either because it brings back memories of what they, themselves, went through, or because it generates anguish and thoughts of what others went through, during a time when the morality and conscience of the world sunk to an all-time low.

But, the long and the short of it is that the Holocaust stands as a scar on the heart and a wart on the hide of humanity that cannot be removed. The best way to cope with it, and to learn from it, is to never forget it. That’s why Israel has a day a year specifically set aside for the remembrance of the Holocaust. That day began last night (1st May, 2019) and continued until sundown tonight. The media was filled with stories that would cause tears to flow out of a stone. The radio played songs that wrench the heart.

Holocaust Remembrance Day here is marked by a ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem. Memorial flames are lit by Holocaust survivors, who share incredible stories of suffering and pain, heroism and escape, survival and victory over overwhelming odds, in brief before he or she takes the torch and lights the memorial flame. Unlike the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is set worldwide on January 27th, the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, Israel’s Day of Remembrance coincides with the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (according to the Hebrew calendar), an event that symbolizes the heroism and the indefatigable spirit of the Jewish people. Although tremendously outnumbered, the uprising was able to last for 27 days. When it was over, 13,000 Jews were killed and the approximately 50,000 ghetto survivors were sent to nearby death camps.

The hatred of Jews, coupled with the weakness that accompanied our exile and the seeming indifference of the world community, all united in Nazi Germany and became fertile ground for what was labeled “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. The danger was not realized by the Jewish people, until it ws too late. The British would not allow us to enter our ancient homeland, the countries of the so-called, enlightened western world, closed their doors to us. We were trapped and when the smoke and dust cleared from the ovens of the death camps, six million Jews had been killed. European Jewry had been decimated.

History not only repeats itself, sometimes it grows progressively worse, particularly when it comes to the history of the Jewish people. The Emperor Constantine legitimized Roman Christianity, but it was about 50 years later, in 380 C.E. when the Emperor Theodosius made it the official religion of the empire. The Jews had to convert or leave. In short, they were told: “You can’t live here as a Jew.” Following the Crusades and in the same year that “Columbus sailed the ocean blue”, Spain expelled the Jews. In short, they were told: “You can’t live here.” And, during the 20th century, Nazi Germany undertook to complete the process with the Holocaust. In short, the Jews were told: “You can’t live.” Throughout our history, there have been overlapping aspects of “Jews are Not Allowed” (Juden Verboten)

But, neither Constantine, nor Theodosius, neither King Ferdinand, nor Queen Isabella, neither Haman, nor Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, had the final word. We live, we live here and we can live here as Jews. That is God’s call, not man’s.

Out of the ashes and thorns of the Holocaust, the land of our forefathers was reclaimed. The early settlers and those who survived the death camps and the forced marches, the beatings and the humiliations, worked and planted and built. Families grew. Agriculture grew. Industry grew. Technology grew. The barren desert was turned green. And the world has been blessed because of God’s plan for the Jew. He will bless those who bless His people. Not because we are bigger or better, because that is certainly not the case (Deut. 7:7-8). It is because God is sovereign in all his ways and is faithful, even when we are not. will not allow those who touch the “apple of his eye” (Zech. 2:8) to get away without punishment (Deut. 32:7-10).

I grew up with stories of relatives who perished in the Holocaust, aunts and uncles, cousins and more distant relatives. I heard the expression “Never again!” time and time again. But, that brief statement needs to go beyond the rhetoric of politicians. It cannot be reduced to amere slogan, however convenient it may be. It much become a part of our mentality and a way of life. When enough people say it and mean it, they will do something about it. Anti-semitism cannot exist in a vacuum, but only when there is fertile ground for its seeds.

It is true that Israel has a strong military. But, what do we have that we have not been given by the Holy One of Israel. We should recognize His hand in our establishment, in our development and in our successes. It is His blessing that enables us to survive and to prosper and to be a blessing to others. I cringe when people talk with misplaced pride and make vows that they, themselves, are not able to fulfill, particularly when those doing so are politicians and leaders of Israel, who speak on behalf of the nation and as their representatives. With two of my children having completed their service in the IDF and the third presently serving, I, too, am confident that those who wear the uniform will continue to perform their assigned tasks honorably, to serve and to defend this nation and its inhabitants. And, to the extent that it depends upon them, they will act to insure that “NeverAgain!” is a meaningful statement.

But, if our trust is in the strength of our flesh only, then our trust is misplaced. We did not succeed against the Arab countries because of our courage or strength. Indeed, we were tremendously outnumbered and under considerable military disadvantage. We succeeded because God pulled us out of the ashes of the Holocaust and fought for us, just as He did when He brought us out of Egypt. Woe to us if we rely on man and make flesh our strength and turn our hearts from the LORD. (Jeremiah 17:5)

We have not yet reached the point when nations “will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.” (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3) We live in a world that has failed to learn from its past failures and that is, once again, increasing in anti-semitism and in acts of hatred, vandalism and violence against Jewish people. The prophets speak of a time when Israel will once again suffer and when two thirds of the nation will perish, while one third will remain, to be refined and tested by God, so that they will call upon His Name. (Zechariah 13:9) God is consistent in His ways. He tests us to humble us, to know what is in our hearts and whether we would be obedient to His commands (Deut. 8:2).

Despite the many denials by so-called leaders and populace, the Holocaust is, and will remain, not only part of history and part of the present. Its shadows reveal the dried tears of those who never had a chance to say “goodbye” to their loved ones. Israel has 190,000 survivors of the Holocaust, whose average age is 82. The numbers are dwindling and before many more years, there will be no one who will be alive, who will be able to personally attest to the fact of the Holocaust and its atrocities.

Millions of names are still missing, of parents and children, of entire Jewish communities that were destroyed (by the way – one of those communities is Ostrolenka, Poland, where my parents were from, who were able to leave in 1939, just before Germany’s invasion of Poland; many of my relatives never made it out and are listed among the 6 million who perished). There is no substitute for the culture, for the values, and for the talents that are gone. They remain as an open wound. We will not stop searching for every scrap of information, for a name yet to be identified, for a photograph that has been blurred. A third of our people, six million, were murdered just because they were Jews.

We cannot turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the lessons of the Holocaust, nor can we compromise on our moral responsibility to warn of the dangers that are becoming increasingly evident in our own day. Anti-semitism has reared its ugly head and some individuals, cultures and nation states think that it is beautiful. Attacks upon synagogues and other religious establishments are on the rise. Attacks upon individuals are reported, but not prosecuted. Entire communities are afraid to say something that may not be “politically correct”. Anti-Semitic cartoons that are both repulsive and sickening adorn the pages of internationally-syndicated newspapers, allegedly permissible as part of the freedom of the press. The rise of the internet has given impetus to this sickening disease, with which many want to voluntarily become afflicted. 

Whatever happened to our sense of morality, our sense of outrage, our sense that something is seriously and dangerously wrong? How long do we need to wait before we wake up to the realization that we are asleep in a cesspool of our own making, due to a reluctance to call the child by its name and to say “no more, no, never again”?

Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran Pastor, wrote a poem about the cowardice of the German intellectuals, following the Nazis’ rise to power and its incremental purging of people groups. The most famous portion of it is:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Again and again, our “world leaders” think that reliance upon ourselves both defines us and will protect us. We, too, have not learned from our past, which cries out to us to “trust in the LORD; He is [our] help and [our] shield.” (Psalm 115:9)

 The nation came to a standstill for two minutes, as sirens wailed from “Dan to Beersheva”. Cars stopped on the highway and people got out to devote moments of silence in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. Ours is a constant blending of past and present, which helps us look to the future. If only our eyes were lifted heavenward, the future would look all the more bright.

Lessons to be learned from The Holocaust

There are many lessons to be learned from the Holocaust. But, it is impossible to do a proper treatise in this post. Nevertheless, what must be clearly understood is that defending our nation and our citizens is an essential priority. However, before the defense is factored in, we must have a greater understanding that there is a nation that hascome home after two thousand years. Just as the children of Israel eventually learned that Egypt was not their home, so we must ask the question whether we can truly be “at home” living outside of Israel. A few years ago, there was a popular song here that included the refrain, “Ayn li eretz aheret” – “I don’t have another country”. I realize that the return to Zion is a touchy issue for many Jewish people around the world. The early Zionists called for all Jews to return to their ancient homeland. But, only a few responded and came, while most remained in the Diaspora. I often wonder how things would have turned out if the Jews of Europe had responded more positively to the Zionist call. Now, with anti-Semitic incidents increasing to daily events all over Europe, as well as in North America and in other places around the world, I again wonder how many continue to think that what happened then cannot happen again now. I also wonder whether the time has come for “the wandering Jew” to stop wandering.

Another lesson to be learned from the Holocaust is that we cannot rely on the other governments of this world to step in and defend Israel when it is at risk. While this has a ring of truth to it militarily, it would appear obvious that it can also be applied to the diplomatic sphere. The world stood by as Hitler’s efforts to bring about the “final solution” of the Jews became more effective. Even now, the world looks on, while Iran laughs as it continues to progress towards the circle of nuclear countries. Where is the outcry when Hassan Nasrallah says that he has over 100,000 missiles pointed at Israel? We have no indebtedness to the world and, therefore, the world cannot tell us how we should act or what we should do to protect ourselves and our families from those who seek to do us harm. Nor should we allow the nations of the world to dictate policy for us regarding our national homeland.

We have a God Who rules the nations and He alone should place a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths.

Before closing this post, I want to explain the title of it, “Am Yisrael Chai!” – the Nation of Israel is Alive! In 1983, during the Eurovision song contest, the song entry by Israel was “Chai”, meaning:  “Alive”. The contest that year took place in Germany. The song and the presentation, including the color of the clothing were filled with symbolism. The greatest achievement and message was that we sang that we are alive on the soil of the country that sought to finalize the efforts to eliminate our existence. You can watch the song presentation here. The word “am”, means not only “nation”, but also “people”. So, our song had a double meaning, that the nation and the people both live.

We ARE “Alive!” Yes, we are alive, but our existence, successes and blessings must be rooted in God, the Keeper of Israel, the One Who will neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).

“Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar ; The LORD of hosts is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs From before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever.’ Thus says the LORD, ‘If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done,’ declares the LORD.” (Jer. 31:35-37)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

The Cost of Freedom

Last night was Erev Pesach (the evening before the day of Passover, which is actually the beginning of Passover – “there was evening and there was morning, one day [Gen. 1:5]). Yet, most of the world focuses on yesterday as being “Good Friday”, the day that Messiah Yeshua was crucified. The importance of the day is related to what occurred in it. Yet, so much of the modern celebration misses the Biblical essence of the “why” that particular day in history became and remains so significant.

The Tenach, the Older Testament, consisting of Torah (Law), Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) are intertwined like an intricate tapestry, whose beauty consists in the individual strands, each unique in itself, all of which are woven together to reveal, among other things, an unbroken theme: God’s love for His creation and His redemptive work through His chosen people, Israel. At the outset, it should be clarified that “chosen” is for a purpose, not because of anything special emanating from themselves (Deut. 7:7-8).

A few words of background are important. After the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God punished the participants (Adam, Eve and the serpent), but indicated that there would be a way to overcome the punishment of banishment from fellowship with God, which resulted from their disobedience – the Seed of the woman, who would be wounded, yet would conquer the one who wounded him (Gen. 3:12-15). After being expelled from the Garden of Eden, Eve gave birth to her first two sons, Cain and Abel. When they grew up, each of the sons brought an offering to God, Cain from the fruit of the ground, Abel from the “firstlings of his flock and their fat portions”. Abel’s offering was accepted, Cain’s was rejected and he ended up killing his brother (Gen. 4:3-8). From peace in Paradise to murder regarding one family, as related in two chapters of the Bible.

Time passed and God called Abram (later to be called Abraham) and promised to give him a land, to bless him and make his name great, to be a blessing make him a great nation and to make him a blessing, to bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, and in him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). God covenanted with Abram regarding Abram’s offspring through a ceremony that required the death and separation of certain animals (Gen. 15:2-11). God later revealed to Abram that his descendants would be strangers in a land not theirs, where they would be oppressed for four generations over a period of four hundred years. But, God covenanted with Abram that He would judge that nation and Abram’s descendants would return to the land with many possessions (Gen. 15:12-16). The promise made earlier (Gen. 12) was repeated to him (Gen. 17:1-8), but at the same time, God instructed Abraham to keep the covenant of circumcision, for himself and for every male descendant of his, as well as his servants (vv. 9-13), adding that an uncircumcised male would be treated as having breached God’s covenant and would have no part in the inheritance promised to Abraham (v. 14). Abram’s name was changed to Abraham. His son, Isaac, inherited the blessings (Gen. 26:1-5), which were also passed on to Isaac’s son, Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel (Gen. 28:3-4, 13-15; 32:28).

In due course, Jacob’s descendants went down to Egypt – first Joseph, who, after being sold into slavery by his siblings, achieved status as second only to Pharaoh, and then, the rest of his family followed. There, they prospered, grew in numbers to become a nation, and were eventually enslaved by Pharaoh, who did not know Joseph. They were afflicted and suffered becaused of their taskmasters. The time came for God to fulfil His promise to Abraham.

He raised up Moses, who at the age of 80, was directed by God to deliver His people who were in Egypt and “to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land … flowing with milk and honey” (Exo. 3:7-9).

Moses tried to resist God’s call to be His instrument to deliver His people, Israel. He felt he was not the appropriate person to do this, undoubtedly remembering that he failed to do so forty years earlier and had to flee Egypt. God gave him two demonstrations that were to be repeated before Pharaoh: (1) his staff, which later became “the staff of God”, was turned into a snake and then turned back into a staff and (2) Moses’ hand became leprous and was then healed (Exo. 4:1-8). Moses was being instructed that serving God requires dependence upon His presence and ability, not on his own abilities. God was showing Moses that He is able to create a danger to life and remove the danger as well. Still, Moses persisted that he was not the right person for the job, as he was “heavy of speech and heavy of tongue” (v. 10). God rebuked Moses for his lack of faith. It is recorded: “Then the anger of the LORD burned against Moses, and He said, ‘Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently. And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you….” (v. 14 – emphasis mine) We need to remember that there was no telephone, fax, email or internet in those days. A period of 40 years had passed since Moses left Egypt, in haste. Now, Moses is told to return and is also told that his brother, Aaron, is on his was to meet him. Both were being divinely directed and only God could accomplish this task.

Was Moses right? Was he the wrong man for the job? After all, he was 80 years old when God called him to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt. He spent the first 40 years of his life in Egypt, learning to become “something”. Then, the next 40 years of his life, he spent on the backside of the desert, being humbled and learning to become “nothing”. Finally, he spent the last 40 years of his life, leading and shepherding the children of Israel and learning the God can make “something out of nothing.”

The Biblical narrative continues: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I said to you, “Let My son go that he may serve Me”; but you have refused to let him go. Behold, I will kill your son, your firstborn‘.” ‘ ” (vv. 21-23; emphasis mine) This was not what we, in our twenty-first century lexicon, would refer to as the most politically correct statement that could be made in the circumstances to someone who was considered to manifest in his being the Egyptian god of the sun, Ra, and the god of death, Horace, who were sovereign over all other gods.

God lets Moses in on His plans and adds that Pharaoh is not going to be impressed with what he has to say, that he won’t listen to him and that he won’t let the people go. What an incredible announcement! It is not surprising that the messenger, Moses, would not want to undertake a mission which, in his mind, is doomed to failure.

Up to this point, we see that Moses is the reluctant deliverer. He doesn’t quickly say “Yes, Lord!” Quite the opposite. “Here I am Lord, please send someone else!” But, God wasn’t going to let him off the hook. And so Moses finally consents, fearful of what lies ahead, but with the assurance that God will be with him. God is the Redeemer. Moses is merely His spokesman. But, in order to lead God’s people, there was one seriously problematic sin and disobedience that needed to be removed from Moses, as we will see.

As the story continues, while Moses was on the way back to Egypt with his wife, Zipporah, and two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. It was then that “the LORD met him and sought to put him to death” (4:24). Moses’ wife, Zipporah “took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and made it touch his [Moses’] feet” (v. 25), saying “You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me…regarding the circumcision” (v. 26). As a consequence, God left him [Moses] alone.

Moshe’s mission and the redemption of Israel were in jeopardy. Why would the LORD want to put him to death? Sometimes, we look for answers and try to blame someone else, when we should first take a good look at ourselves, before pointing a finger at someone, or something, else. Immediately preceding these verses are God’s statements to Moses about what is to be said to Pharaoh, namely, His relationship to Israel as a father to a son. Pharaoh needed to be told, “You are killing My firstborn and if you don’t let him go, I will kill your firstborn.” An “eye for an eye”.

The translation of the Hebrew “Çhatan Dameem” as “bridegroom of blood” in many English translations miss the point of the story, which is succinctly pointed out in the last words of verse 26: “regarding (or because of) the circumcision”. The fact that Tzipporah had to circumcise her son meant that Moses failed to do so in accordance with the covenant that God made with Abraham, as indicated in Genesis 17. The words “Çhatan Dameem” are of Akkadian origin, a dialect of Arabic, which was known to Zipporah, a Midianite, and, obviously, also to Moses after living with her and her family for 40 years. Between the different dialects, the term “Çhatan” means both circumcised and defended. In other words, the shed blood of the circumcision, in obedience to God’s covenant with Abraham, will protect Moses, at whose feet the blood was applied, from the dangers that lie ahead and threaten his life.

Moses was on his way to deliver the children of Israel. In the process, he was told in advance what the end of the day would bring forth, namely, the death of the first born of Pharaoh and all in Egypt whose homes were not protected by the Passover lamb that was to be sacrificed and whose blood was to be smattered (not spread out) on the doorposts and lintel of their homes. The expression, “Çhatan Dameem”, therefore, is directly related to the story of the Passover, which was about to unfold in the following chapters of Exodus.

Why would this be important for us? Sometimes, familiarity with a story causes us to miss the forest through the trees. At the beginning of Chapter 4 of Exodus, Moses is given two illustrations of God’s ability to deliver from impending danger and death – the rod-to-snake-to-rod and the leprous hand-to-healthy hand. In other words, God revealed to Moses that he could protect and heal. These signs were to be displayed before Pharaoh. Moses needed to experience them and follow God’s instruction to free him from those dangers. The same is true of the last plague – the death of the firstborn. The life-threatening situation that will come upon all who are in Egypt can be averted by following God’s instruction – protection from death by the shedding of blood.

Zipporah, the wife of Moses, was able to make the connection between the failure of obedience that would result in death and immediately undertook to repent and to prevent the consequences of the sin of disobedience. Why was repentance necessary? Moses was a Levi, a descendant of Abraham through Jacob (Exo. 2:1). Zipporah was a Midianite, the daughter of a priest of Midian (Exo. 2:16, 21). Midian was also a son of Abraham, but through his second wife, Keturah (Gen. 25:2). Both were under the command of the covenant made with Abraham regarding circumcision. Obedience to the covenant meant life and God’s blessings. Disobedience meant death and being disinherited.

In Chapter 4, verses 25 and 26, God revealed His sovereignty by bringing deliverance of His servant, Moses, through a woman. He displayed His sovereignty by using women at the outset of the story (Exo. 1:17 – the midwives; 2:1-4 – Moses’ mother and sister; 2:6, 10 – Pharaoh’s daughter). In Chapter 4, it is Moses’ wife, Zipporah, whom God used to deliver Moses – not from Pharaoh, but from God Himself. Zipporah intercedes for the one whom God chose to intercede for Israel. 

Time after time, Moses urges Pharaoh to comply with God’s demands and to let the people go. The original request was not to free the people, but to let them go “that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness … a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God…” (Exo. 5:4). When Pharaoh’s obstinance and disobedience to God’s commands reached its peak, God instructed Moses to choose a lamb, which became the, which became your lamb (Exo. 12:4-5). It was to be killed and the Israelites were to “take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it” (v. 7). The Word does not say to spread it, but to put it. The LORD would “pass through to smite the Egyptians and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite [you]…And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the LORD who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smother the Egyptians, but spared our homes’.” (Exo. 12:23, 26-27) And so it was. The children of Israel did what God had instructed and they lived. But, “the LORD struck all the firtborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon and all the firstborn of cattle. Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no hone where there was not somneone dead” (Exo. 12: 29-30). The power of Egypt was crushed and the children of Israel were no longer subject to it.

Fast forward 1,500 years. Another deliverer is sent. This time, the message was: “… [The] Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) He is the One, Who said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have [it] abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:10-11). More than being the Good Shepherd, He, Himself, is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). His message was first and foremost for the lost sheep of the House of Israel, but God’s greater plan was to save all Who believe in Him. The promised child Who was born to us, the son Who was given to us, the One Who would be called “Mighty God” (Isa. 9:6), our Messiah, “our Passover, has been sacrificed for us (1 Cor. 5:7). He was betrayed by those whom He came to save, placed on a piece of wood that was from a tree that He brought forth, pierced by nails made of material that He created. He was crowned with thorns and his blood stained the top of the altar upon which He was sacrificed. His blood from His hands stained the crossbeam. From the torture rack of the cross, He called out: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). When His shed blood made atonement for us, the Lamb of God gave up His spirit. It was the event that made the day, not the day itself. What we refer to as “Good Friday” was the saddest Friday in all of creation.

God’s Lamb died for our sins according to the Scriptures and He was buried, and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4). His message that remains is simple and straightforward: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but inherit eternal life” (John 3:16). God loves us with an everlasting love and with His lovingkindness continues to call us. This is our reason to celebrate. 

Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path (Psalm 119:105).

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding (Prov. 3:5).

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Have a great week.

Marvin

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Yogi Berra, the American baseball legend, would come out with classic statements, some of which would cause people to double over with laughter. For example: “Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.” Or, “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.” We chuckle at how ridiculous some of his “Yogi-isms” are. But, one of his statements embodied the attitude of “don’t give up, no matter how difficult things might appear to be”. In 1973, he came out with: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” That could well have been the catch phrase the night of the elections for Israel’s Prime Minister that took place on April 9th.

The pollsters tripped all over themselves. At first, they were leaning towards the success of Benny Gantz, the former General-turned-politician, who is the leader of the Blue and White party. He was favored to be the main opponent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud party. In fact, he and the three other major figures in his party, two retired Generals and Yair Lapid, a former journalist, who also is the head of the Yesh Atid Party, declared an early, upset victory on the basis of the “polls”. Some believed it to be over even before the majority of the votes were in. It was a long night and despite the neck-and-neck race between Netanyahu and Gantz, it became obvious that it was premature to declare victory – and that, in front of the cameras – because things could change. And, in fact, things did change. By 01:30, the two leading candidates were tied, with 35 “mandates” (seats) each.

The Dry Bones Blog - 10 April, 2019
The Dry Bones Blog-10 April 2019

The closest to them were two religious parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, with 8 seats each. It began to look like the handwriting was on the wall: the two front-runners going neck-and-neck, while the two major camps were being split unevenly: 65 for the right and 55 for the left/center-left. Under Israel’s political system, the President of the country, Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, would request the leader of the party that would most likely be able to form a new government to do so. In this case, it would be Netanyahu, who was on his way to an unprecedented fifth term in office.

Then, as the night grew on with little change in the two major camps, the dawn appeared and with it, surprise time! The pollsters were wrong! Gantz did not defeat the seasoned politician who constantly seems able to pull rabbits out of non-existing hats. The Zehut party, originally expected to win half a dozen seats or more, didn’t make the cut and is out. Yisrael Beytenu, the party of Avigdor Lieberman, was considered a political has-been by many after severing ties with Netanyahu, but proved everyone wrong and is still in the game with 5 seats, one less than what his party was able to garner in the last election. The New Right party, headed up by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, both of whom broke ranks with the Jewish Home party, did not garner enough votes to make the cut for a continued presence in the Knesset. When it seemed that “it was over”, some still said that we all needed to wait because “it’s not over until all votes are counted”. In other words, things could still change. And, they were right.

Still an open question is which way will Avigdor Lieberman go? Despite being groomed in the shadow of Netanyahu and the Likud, he has proven over the years to be an adept politician and a skilfull negotiator, able to work with Netanyahu, as well as to work against him. He could hold out until the last minute, as he did following the last election, when he finally decided to join the coalition government and became Minister of Defense (until last year).

In similar fashion, Moshe Kahlon, leader of the Kulanu (All of Us) party, barely made the cut and it is still not clear whether Kulanu will end up with 4 or 5 seats. Despite his relatively successful service as Minister of Finance, he fell victim in the shadow of the political battle between Gantz and Netanyahu and his party ended up losing ground. It is doubtful that he will have much influence in the setting up of the new government, unless he agrees to be wooed back to the Likud by some of the party faithful, a possibility hinted at by Likud’s Gideon Saar on election night. This could well occur. Kahlon has demonstrated that he can get the job done, is well-respected by many in politics and he would be warmly embraced by the leadership of the Likud if he did so, as his return to the fold would serve to strengthen Netanyahu’s leadership. But, he would need to backtrack on his statement during the campaign that the Prime Minister cannot continue to lead the nation after the filing of a criminal indictment against him. There is no doubt that if Kahlon gets a ministerial post in the new government, he will be a stabilizing influence between the Likud and some of the extreme-right parties, particularly the ultra-religious. And, Bibi could trust him. So, we’ll see what happens. 

And what about the Labor and Meretz parties? Back in the early ’90s, they constituted a formidable leftist alliance, with all that resulted from their joint perspective on being willing to compromise the safety and security of the people of Israel. They managed to scrape together 10 between them. It’s time to say good-bye to them both.

Today, after tallying votes of those serving in the military, the New Right was revived and was looking forward to being part of the new government. But then, it turned out that they fell short by 1,000 votes, which meant that they again did not make the cut. Bennett is, of course, asking for a recount. And, it turns out the 35-35 tie was broken, with Bibi getting a 36th mandate and United Torah Judaism losing ground to 7 seats. The United Right party (headed up by a former military officer who also served as the Chief Military Rabbi of the IDF) also dropped from 5 to 4 seats. If Bennett and company end up making the cut, it could give Bibi a “right camp” of 67 seats against 53 to the left/center-left. If they don’t get it, the “right camp” could end up with a 64 to 56 majority. The final tally, including some 200,000 votes that still needed to be counted as of this afternoon, is expected to be in by the end of the day.

There is no doubt that the big winner in the election is the Prime Minister, Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu. Notwithstanding on-going criminal investigations and the major opposition of three former IDF Generals, his party received, as of this writing, 36 seats. A dream fulfilled, enabling Bibi to gather under the wing of the Likud, the various right-wing parties and to have a clear majority in the Knesset. He has demonstrated his ability to provide stability to his party, something which the other parties hoped for, but were unable to attain. 

Much more can be said regarding the results of the election, including speculation, some of which is reasonable, on who will get what ministerial post in the next government. But, why get into that now. After all, “it ain’t over until it’s over.”

With that said, where do we go from here? Yair Lapid, the fourth major player in the Blue and White party, and who was slated to switch with Gantz as Prime Minister, one year on and one year off, has promised that the Blue and White party, which will now lead the Opposition, will make life miserable for the government. What does it take for Lapid and company to get it into their heads that the people have democratically made their decision for the government to be headed up by the Likud, with Bibi as the Prime Minister, not as a king?

One TV personality blamed the media for Netanyahu’s victory, stating in part (in Hebrew): “My friends in the media, don’t be confused. The victory of Bibi and the ultra right-Haredi coalition that was here is registered on your name…You thought that if you would give the chosen leader of Israel no rest even for a minute, that you would leak the conversations in the investigation files, ignore and disdain his accomplishments, bark at him in interviews, in the end he would fall. And what came out of that? He didn’t fall, he is stronger than at any time, and the new government doesn’t even have a representation of center. Nothing.” Then, he referred to a conversation that he had with someone on the street, who told him – “I don’t care if Bibi stole, he can even take a thousand shekels a day, the main thing is that he will be the head of the country. You thought that in the name of legal correctness the nation of Israel would give up on someone it perceives as the leader of a generation. Not only did you err, but now you pushed him to be more right-wing than he is…You wanted to bring the left back to rule, but in fact, you smashed it to pieces.” He concluded his article with: “And now what?…Keep going your way, because that is what you know to do, or will you draw conclusions? To the sounds of your scornful snores I say to you – take a break. Bibi won’t stand trial during his tenure. Let the guy work, let the public rest from you…at least change the frequency, accept the decision of the majority…. (emphasis mine)

After the final results are in, will it be over? Or will we just be beginning the next round of political confrontations and battles? We’ll soon see.

Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone. (1 Chronicles 29:12)

Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall rule over My people. (1 Samuel 9:17)

May the prayer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be: Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of Yours? (2 Chronicles 1:10)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

So, who are you going to vote for?

“So, who are you going to vote for?” That is the question of the day. It has been the question of the week and of the past month and longer. The answer is not as simple as some people might think. The primary problem with politics is the “politicians”. The pursuit of power often clouds memory, affects understanding and leads to misguided priorities. The present campaign for leadership of the country has focused on almost everything, except the issues that are of paramount concern the people: security, food, clothing and shelter. With few exceptions, promises of politicians are to be taken with a grain of salt. The message is usually adjusted to meet the needs and expectations of the audience.
The political rhetoric that has enveloped this latest, contentious campaign for Prime Minister requires that we pause, reflect and consider carefully who is telling the truth, who will bring things to fruition, who CAN do the job that needs to be done in this day and age of our history. No politician can fulfil every campaign promise in the face of a divided country. Few politicians have made promises for that very reason. They can’t promise with certainty what they will do. It is more reasonable to expect that they will speak with greater conviction about what they won’t do.
Do enemies change or do we merely call them by a different name today? Ability and determination will be key factors that will guide – perhaps, lead would be a better term – our country in the period immediately following the election scheduled for tomorrow.
Occasionally, a politician delivers a message that contains clarity of understanding, a willingness to commit and a proper perspective of both history and the times in which we live. It reveals a passion and a devotion to doing what is right, even in the face others don’t agree. Those messages become embedded in our memory banks, stowed away for the future and brought forth in time of need. Such a message is the one given by former President John F. Kennedy on April 29, 1956 at Yankee Stadium, while he was still a U.S. Senator. The source can be found here.
We are gathered here this afternoon to commemorate a notable anniversary in man’s eternal quest for freedom. For nearly 8 years ago today a state was born – and a people, rising from the ashes of history’s most ruthless persecution, entered upon a new birth of freedom. The state was the State of Israel – and the people were the children of Israel. Today, as the anniversary of that monumental event recurs for the eighth time – Israel, we salute you.
Much is different between the United States and Israel. Our Nation stretches in a great land mass between two wide oceans – the Israelis occupy a beachhead on the eastern Mediterranean. Americans number 165 million – the Israelis less than 2 million. We are the oldest Republic on earth and the youngest people – the Israelis have the youngest republic and the oldest people.
Yes, much is different – but much is the same. For both Israel and the United States won their freedom in a bitter war for independence. Both Israel and the United States acknowledge the supremacy of the moral law – both believe in personal as well as national liberty – and, perhaps most important, both will fight to the end to maintain that liberty.
I join in this salute today because of my own deep admiration for Israel and her people – an admiration based not on hearsay, not on assumption, but on my own personal experience. For I went to Palestine in 1939; and I saw there an unhappy land, ruled under a League of Nations mandate by a Britain which divided and ruled in accordance to ancient policy. And while there I was shocked by a British Foreign Office white paper just issued sharply cutting back Jewish immigration. Yes, as in the days of old, “the glory had departed from Israel.” For century after century, Romans, Turks, Christians, Moslems, Pagans, British – all had conquered the Holy Land – but none could make it prosper. In the words of Israel Zangwill: “The land without a people waited for the people without a land.” The realm where once milk and honey flowed, and civilization flourished, was in 1939 a barren realm – barren of hope and cheer and progress as well as crops and industries – a gloomy picture for a young man paying his first visit from the United States.
But 12 years later, in 1951, I traveled again to the land by the River Jordan – this time as a Member of the Congress of the United States – and this time to see first-hand the new State of Israel. The transformation which had taken place could not have been more complete. For between the time of my visit in 1939 and my visit in 1951, a nation had been reborn – a desert had been reclaimed – and a national integrity had been redeemed, after 2,000 years of seemingly endless waiting. Zion had at least been restored – and she had promptly opened her arms to the homeless and the weary and the persecuted. It was the “Ingathering of the Exiles” – they had heard the call of their homeland; and they had come, brands plucked from the burning – they had come from concentration camps and ghettoes, from distant exile and dangerous sanctuary, from broken homes in Poland and lonely huts in Yemen, like the ancient strangers in a strange land they had come. And Israel received them all, fed them, housed them, cared for them, bound up their wounds, and enlisted them in the struggle to build a new nation.
But perhaps the greatest change of all I found lay in the hearts and minds of the people. For, unlike the discouraged settlers of 1939, they looked to the future with hope. From Haifa to the Gulf of Akaba, from Gaza to the Dead Sea, I found a revival of an ancient spirit. I found it in Israel’s gift to world statesmanship, David Ben-Gurion. I saw it in the determined step of soldiers and workers; I heard it in the glad voices of women in the fields; I saw it in the hopeful eyes of refugees waiting patiently in their misery. The barren land I had seen in 1939 had become the vital nation of 1951.
Yes; Israel, we salute you. We honor your progress and your determination and your spirit. But in the midst of our rejoicing we do not forget your peril. We know that no other nation in this world lives out its days in an atmosphere of such constant tension and fear. We know that no other nation in this world is surrounded on every side by such violent hate and prejudice.
Will Israel fall? Will this noblest of all the 20th century’s experiments in democracy sink beneath the surface, not to rise again for still another 2,000 years? Part of the answer rests with the United States, the leader of the free world, and the godfather of the infant nation Israel. I shall not now attempt to chart our course in detail. But I shall say, and say again, that this is no time for equivocation or hesitation.
TIME FOR ACTION IS NOW
It is long past time for this Nation and others to make it absolutely clear that any aggression or threat of aggression in the Middle East will not be tolerated by the United Nations or the parties to the 1950 Tripartite Agreement. It is time that we made this so clear, in the U.N. and elsewhere, that no nation would dare to launch an attack. For it is the responsibility of our Government to make certain that neither Israel nor any small nation of the world is left defenseless without arms while neighboring states dedicated to their destruction receive unlimited quantities of Communist arms. It is time that all the nations of the world, in the Middle East and elsewhere, realized that Israel is here to stay. She will not surrender – she will not retreat – and we will not let her fall.
Today we celebrate her 8th birthday – but I say without hesitation that she will live to see and 80th birthday – and an eight hundredth. For peace is all Israel asks, no more – a peace that will “beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning-hooks”; a peace that will enable the desert to “rejoice and blossom as the rose,” “when the wicked cease from troubling and the weary be at rest.” Then, and only then, will the world have witnessed the complete fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy “Tzee-Yon B’Meeshpat Teepadeh” – “Zion shall be redeemed through justice.” And all of us here, and there, and everywhere will then be able to say to each other with faith and with confidence, in our coming and in our going: “Shalom” – peace! Peace be with you, now and forever. (emphasis in bold, mine)
The foregoing is a redaction of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. One copy of this speech exists in the Senate Speech file of the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers here at the John F. Kennedy Library. Page images of the speech can be found here.
It’s been 63 years since that speech was delivered. Our enemies still exist and many are in our midst. “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained….” (Proverbs 29:18) Tomorrow’s election may well be one of the most important elections in the brief, present history of this Country. May God grant that our vision will be restored, that we will stop burying our heads in the sand and pretend that our enemies do not pose an existential threat (even though God is totally in control: Jeremiah 31:35-37) to our nation, that we will recognise that we have been called here for a purpose and that we need leaders who have the respect and the support of the people, whose “yes” is “yes” and whose “no” is “no”. If we don’t pray for wisdom to align our votes with God’s desires, who will? If we don’t do it now, when will it be done? Indeed, the time for action is now!
Our existence is not dependent upon the United States. It will blessed to the extent that it blesses us. (Gen. 12:3) It is dependent solely upon the Holy One of Israel. There is only one Messiah, who has called us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3), whose plans for us are for good, to give us a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11). No country and none of the present politicians fit that job description.
“When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even our enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7)
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing,
Marvin

Not Forgotten!

Thirty-Seven years after he was killed in the Battle of Sultan Yaaqub, in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, the remains of Israeli-American Staff Sergeant Zachary Baumel were returned to Israel and he was buried yesterday, 4 April, 2019, on Mt. Herzl, in Jerusalem.

Upon reading of the events of the First Lebanon War back in 1982, I learned that Zachary Baumel, along with Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman, was reported missing in action. It was a name, connected to an event, that was connected to a distant place, a place that was pulling at my heart strings. Year after year, from childhood on, the words “Next Year in Jerusalem” took on greater meaning. Three years following that war, after leaving family, friends and business in the U.S. and crossing the Big Muddy to this tiny stretch of desert sand, a different reality took hold in my life. I related to every soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as a member of my family. Every loss was a personal loss. There didn’t seem to be enough tears for all of them. And I wasn’t alone. Israel does not allow the nation to forget those whose have been captured, or were reported missing in action. The names of Baumel, Katz and Feldman were mentioned in many different settings. They were young men, who were reported as missing while defending the country. Their families longed for their return, praying, hoping and yearning to see their loved ones again, to embrace them, to weep for joy over their return. The years have passed, thirty-seven of them, and along with them, some of the members of the families of those who were missing in action.

Israel is committed to bringing all of its sons home. Yaron Blum, special negotiator for hostages and prisoners of war at the Office of the Prime Minister, and formerly a senior official with the Shin Bet security agency, said that this commitment is “not a cliché and not a statement that has something to do with the elections. This is a tremendous commitment; we must act tirelessly to bring the captives and the missing home.”

Many attempts had been made since 1982 to locate Baumel’s remains. According to Blum, “[Over] the years, we perfected the intelligence, until we succeeded in pointing, according to the coordinates, [to the spot] where according to assessments, the remains were located…[But this] would not have happened without the Prime Minister’s special relationship with [Russian President Vladmir] Putin. No less important is everyone’s success in putting their ego aside and working together to get results.” He emphasized that the success in bringing Baumel’s remains to Israel for burial proved that “it’s never too late. . . the time aspect is of significance, but we dod not abandon these issues, even if many years have passed” and that efforts continue to return all of the MIAs from all of Israel’s wars and conflicts. The complete interview of Yaron Blum to Israel Hayom can be seen here.

The funeral service drew thousands from every walk of life, even some who had not yet been born when Zachary Baumel went missing in action. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin were among the many who delivered eulogies and speeches. But, the most moving eulogy was that of Zachary’s sister, Osna Haberman, who stated, in part: 

“I thought of what I would do here in this place. Even hugging is impossible. So I thought of turning to the ground and asking the land to embrace him, to hold him tight. And a few minutes later I realized I don’t need to ask. There is no need to ask. The land is hugging tightly. And why? Because there is absolute love between the son who gave everything for the land and the land itself, there is a complete union here, you are together now….

“***I pray for the families who have lived apart from their loved ones for so many years, some more and some less. I pray that there will be a union, that they will come together in one way or another. You’ll be together someday, I’m praying for it.

“This is the place where we will pour out our prayers, because this is a holy place. The family asks from this place to give abundant thanks first of all to the Master of the Universe. The life you gave us every day, and the favor that is greater than the pain. The Sages say that favor in the world is five hundred times more than disfavor. There are times when it is hard to see it, there are times when it is easier. Let us see it every day. Thank you for showing us favor every day.

“I would like to say thank you to the Prime Minister that you . . . personally handled the matter. And heartfelt thanks from the family. I want to say thank you to all the security forces, you do not know how many there are, until you get home together, everyone who worked and did will come and get his reward. Thanks from the family personally. I can not come and tell everyone because you are so many.

“Thanks to the people of Israel who held us, that we could be here today after thirty-seven years. Without you, and you know who you are, everyone who prayed, who wrote, who thought, everyone who hoped in the heart, because of you we are here. Thanks to the people of Israel for this day. 

“Now I want to turn to my dear brother, Zechariah, that we grew up together. A young man so modest, so humble, so unselfish. He would say what are we doing here today, what is happening here, he would not understand. And I say to him this time, yes, for you, particularly because you gave everything. You were dressed with the Spirit of God when you were recruited. Until then you were a mischievous, lighthearted, cute guy, and from the day that the army touched you, suddenly a different spirit dressed on you. I did not understand who this boy was, like [he was] someone else. And I hear stories about the performance and the connection and the giving and I say I do not know who about whom they are speaking here, because it’s you, yes, it’s you, too, Everyone knows something else.

“I am saying goodbye for myself, I can not say good-bye for anyone. . .My prayers are that all the POWs and MIAs will come to unite with their families. . .

“We are parting from you today, I am releasing you to the land, because the land is very, very good. Rest in peace, my dear brother. . . We are in a difficult time and I think that all of our prayers need to be lifted on high.”

Israel’s President, Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, added these words:
“Zachary, 37 years ago, a few days before the battle in which you fell, you wrote to your parents: ‘Don’t worry, everything is OK, but it looks like I won’t be coming home soon’. Thirty-seven years have passed since then, but today you returned home. You returned to the soil of our homeland, to Jerusalem. . . Look around, Zachary, if you could see your friends, your officers – some of them already have grandchildren, but we are interning you today as a young warrior, only 22 years old. . . Today is a day that the State of Israel fulfils its oath to out soldiers, our sons and our daughters. Today we are able to unanimously testify that we do everything, even the unthinkable and the unbelieving in order to fulfil our oaths to return our sons who did not return home from battle. Today, we are able to say with full faith and humility to our soldiers, in the past in the present and in the future, we did not forsake and we will not forsake this holy mission until all of our sons who fell in the defense of this nation and land will return home.”

Zachary Baumel’s body was one of several bodies brought to Israel this week as part of Operation Zemer Nugeh (Sad Song). In Israel, they hoped that the bodies of the three missing soldiers – including Yehuda Katz and Zvi Feldman – were among those who were located. But, the forensic institute examination identified only Baumel, and the three were not buried together.

Some have tried to accuse Prime Minister Netanyahu of timing the return of the remains of Zachary Baumel just before the elections, scheduled for 9th April. While the timing may be fortuitous, it is almost insulting to say that it was a move designed to influence the elections.  This was an ongoing operation that required the cooperative efforts of many different government departments, including the personal involvement of P.M. Netanyahu, who used his relationship with Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to recover Zachary’s remains.

The IDF has a special unit, known as “EITAN”, that is tasked with finding all soldiers who were captured or reported as missing, with some 95 files still open from 1948 to the present. It is manned by about 50 reservists, who are called up for a few weeks each year, who continue the research for those who are still unaccounted for. They come from different walks of life and devote their entire reserve time to researching the files of those who are missing. They don’t give up. It is part of the commitment of the IDF to bring all of its sons home, no matter how long it may take. Like so many who have suffered trauma of one sort of another, they need closure. New sets of eyes look on old, still-open files, hoping to find something that may have been overlooked. More on the EITAN unit can be seen here.

Baumel’s first name, Zachary, is Zechariah in Hebrew. It comprises the two words: “zachar” and “Yah”. Put together, zachar-yah (or Zechariah) means “God remembered”. God remembered Zachary Baumel and brought his remains home to the land. May his memory be blessed (yehi zicharono baruch). May God strengthen the hands of those who serve day and night to protect us from our enemies. May He grant wisdom and unity of decision to the leaders of the IDF and may He guard the going out and coming in of every one of our sons and daughters in uniform, that they will go out in peace and return in peace.

Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are my servant, O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me. (Isaiah 44:21).

Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you (Isaiah 54:15).

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Marvin

Haman is still around, but where is Mordechai?

The holiday of Purim is a joyful festival. It is based on the Book of Esther, whose events occurred in Persia, the former name of present day Iran. The existence of the Jewish people during the time of Queen Esther was threatened by people in power in Persia. Two thousand five hundred years have passed and not much has changed. In fact, it has only gotten worse. Iran has again emerged as a threat, not only to Israel and the Jewish people, but to the nations of the world.

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 on the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar [Bet], the day “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.

But, Haman is 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 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 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, Mordehai 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 to curse and condemn the Jewish people. But, 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 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 [acurses you I will curse.” (Gen. 12:3)

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

Marvin