08 December 2010

Another take on the Carmel fire

2 Tevet 5771

It's a week since the Carmel fire broke out on the first day of Hanukah. We are right to look for the message in such events because our tradition tells us that nothing happens in the world except to bring a message to Am Yisrael. How much more so when it occurs in conjunction with a holiday and in the Land of Israel.

The most obvious connection, as many bloggers pointed out days ago, is to the classic Tanach tale of the showdown between Eliyahu HaNavi and the prophets of Ba'al. (Melachim 1, Perek 18) Then, as now, the land was suffering from a drought because of our many sins. Just last week, at the behest of the chief rabbis, we fasted and sought Hashem's face to relieve the drought and send us rain. Just when the drought was uppermost in our minds, comes the fire.

Regardless of the agent employed, the fire breaking out on Har Carmel was the hand of G-d. The faithful recognize that and understand that teshuva is required, but for what specific sin? Many opinions were offered in the immediate aftermath. But, to know definitively, I think we have to stay true to the story of Eliyahu HaNavi---the prophet who will usher in the messianic age.

"And Eliyahu drew near to all the people and said, 'Until when are you hopping between two ideas? If the Lord is God, go after Him, and if the Baal, go after him.' And the people did not answer him a word."

It was not until the people saw the phenomenal miracle displayed before their very eyes that they were finally moved to say: "Hashem, hu ha'elokim! Hashem, He is G-d!" Shortly thereafter, the rains came and the drought was ended.

In addition to drought, the Carmel and fire, there is the aspect of Hanukah since the fire broke out on the very first night of the holiday. This was not a coincidence. It was by Divine design. With what cry by the High Priest Mattityahu was the war against the Greeks launched---the war which was to preserve Judaism's unique character? "Mi l'Hashem alai! Whoever is for Hashem, come with me!"

In both cases, the people have mixed foreign elements into its worship of the Almighty and are then urged to purge out those foreign elements and remain faithful to Hashem alone. Mattityahu's cry is reminiscent of another. In the wake of the Golden Calf affair (Shemot, Perek 32), we see Moshe Rabeinu saying these same words, "Mi l'Hashem alai! Whoever is for Hashem, come with me!" Again, the call is for separation from foreign elements which have been erroneously introduced into the Torah-pure worship of G-d Almighty.

The list of sins, especially those of individuals, which we could lay at the root of this tragedy is sadly long, but I believe the evidence points to a national sin for which we all share some guilt and that is the unholy mixing of Torah and Western values. Although certainly not restricted to the political arena, this can be seen very clearly in the idea of Israel being "both a Jewish and a democratic state."

We have a prime example in today's headlines. Fifty rabbis have come out publicly with a psak halacha that Jews may not sell or rent homes to non-Jews in the Land of Israel.

"Racism originated in the Torah," said Rabbi Yosef Scheinen, who heads the Ashdod Yeshiva. "The land of Israel is designated for the people of Israel. This is what the Holy One Blessed Be He intended and that is what the [sage] Rashi interpreted."

He added that he did not see the move as racist so much as segregationist. "The world is so big and the State of Israel is small, that God intended it for the people of Israel and the whole world covets it. That is the injustice."

Here are some expected reactions:

1) Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi said during the discussion, "I am certain that the number of rabbis will rise. Since the Arabs are a Semitic people – this is anti-Semitism. These rabbis are skinheads acting against the Arabs."

2) President Shimon Peres slammed the rabbis who recently issued a ban on selling or renting apartments to Arabs. "The rabbis' ruling creates an ethical and fundamental crisis in Israel related to Israel's essence as a Jewish and democratic country," the president said.

And after this one, can anyone still question why Haifa was threatened?

3) Haifa Mayor Yonah Yahav termed the ruling the "real desecration of God's name. It is bringing hatred against those with whom we have chosen to live our lives."
The ongoing drought, the Carmel fire and the holiday of Hanukah come to remind us that we have a choice to make. Either the ba'alim or Hashem and His Torah; either the Golden Calf or Hashem and His Torah; either Hellenism or Judaism; either democracy or a Jewish state. Unholy mixtures are forbidden to us.

To do teshuva on a personal level, begin to purge your mind, your heart and your soul of foreign influences, ideas and practices (i.e., "foreign" to the Torah). The autistics call this Olam HaSheker. On a national level, I call on all my brothers and sisters living in Eretz Yisrael to do everything in their power to support the rabbis who take a public stand for Hashem and His Torah, His people and the Land of Israel.

In their ruling, the rabbis called on the religious community to voice support for Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who could face trial for incitement against Arabs for initiating the move against renting to gentiles."

How entirely appropriate it is that it was Rabbi Eliyahu who initiated this action.
In the prefatory prayer said before Hanukah candlelighting, we say...
"...Purify our hearts to Your service, distance us from evil traits and foreign thoughts, may our eyes see Your return to Zion with mercy...."