V’im Kol Zeh…Tismach b’Adar

Shabbat Inspiration by Rabbi Yocheved Mintz,

Congregation P’nai Tikvah, Feb 20, 2015 

 The news from Europe is sobering.  The rise in anti-Zionist sentiments and outright anti-Semitic events is now well-documented and the terror attack in Brussels last month, the murders in France last month , the murder in Copenhagen , and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in France this week have gotten world coverage.  Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has prompted a world-wide Jewish debate over his call for a “massive immigration” of European Jewry.   Second only to the United States in the number of Jews of any country in the Diaspora, the French Jewish population is facing an existential crisis…and the rise in French Jews actually emigrating to Israel has prompted today’s op-ed headlines to include: “G-d Gave the Jew the Temple Mount, not Copenhagen’s Cafes,”[1] “As Jews Go, So Goes Europe,”[2] and “Rising Anti-Semitism: Increasing Numbers of French Jews Moving to Israel.”[3]  Of course, there are also the naysayers such as the British Jewish News editor, Richard Ferrer, who says that Netanyahu “is wrong to advocate flight in response to terror; wrong again if he thinks all Jews define themselves in relation to his nation” {referring to Israel}; “and thrice wrong to disregard the enormous pride (that) integrated, assimilated, successful Jewish diasporas have in the country of their birth.”[4]  And, Bernard Avishai, who teaches at both Dartmouth College and Hebrew University, wrote in today’s Washington Post that “Life in Europe is just not perilous or alien” in the way Netanyahu implies and ”Israel is no easier to move to than any other foreign country.”

While I’ll agree that Israel is not the 21st Arondissement, I must admit that I’m deeply concerned about the situation in Europe.  The increased need for police protection at Jewish schools and synagogues, the increased banning of the wearing of kippot all over Europe, and the blatant anti-Israel cultural boycotts and increased perversion of Israel’s right to defend herself are of even more growing concern.  Was it not the philosopher Santayana who said:  “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to relive it?”  I’m sure that I am not alone in being deeply concerned about the situation in Europe.

There is no doubt that Israel’s economy is far healthier than that of France and much of Europe, for that matter.  There is no argument that Israel is a booming center of technology and innovation.  As Ferrer admits, “Israel shapes the future, while its medieval neighbors take the world back to the dark ages.”  But, that is not to say that Israel is the Utopian answer; she certainly has her own challenges…hostile countries surround it, charedi vs chiloni dissention within, etc., etc.  And let us hope that push doesn’t come to shove; for it does not take an historian to recall the horrors of the world of the mid-20th century and to see the similarities in the events that preceded that horror in comparison with today’s Europe.

So, with all the doom and gloom….im kol zeh…here we are on the first day of the month of Adar and we’re given the traditional Jewish antidote to creeping depressive thoughts:  “Mi Shenichnas b’Adar, Marbin b’Simcha,” whoever enters the month of Adar, his or her joy increases.  We are told “Tishmach b’Adar,” consciously seek ways to increase your happiness in this month.

I’ll repeat the five general guidelines and goals that I suggested to the Women’s Rosh Chodesh group as we welcomed Adar this week.  Perhaps we all can allow them to direct and inspire us often during this month:

  1.  Commit to increasing joy in your life.  Whether it is by taking time to contact loved ones, to give yourself more time to play, enjoy nature, dance, sing, meditate, watch the Oscars…or simply let that inner child out to play, making that connection will help.
  2. Reduce or completely eliminate that which does not generate joy in your life…and open up to what does.  If you find yourself grousing about your job, resenting how much you’re doing for others at the expense of your own well-being, or blaming your family for your own unhappiness….stop it.  To be happy, you need to stop blaming others, or G-d, or yourself.  Open yourself up to other possibilities and, perhaps not immediately, but, with time, you can take steps in a more positive direction.  Pray and meditate on the changes you want to make and be open to Divine guidance from within.
  3. Ivdu et HaShem b’Simcha; serve G-d with Joy.  We certainly do that when we’re here at Congregation P’nai Tikvah, and there are plenty of opportunities to do so outside of our sanctuary’s walls.  Our sages remind us that the Divine Presence cannot rest upon us, unless we are open to joy.  Conversely, making that G-d connection is well-known to bring joy and even ecstasy.  It takes a certain consciousness of intention, a personal kavannah, if you will, to do actions from a place of love and yearning for connecting with G-d.  This kind of goes back to committing to increasing joy in our lives.
  4. Item number four is to wipe out the personal Amalek in your life.  Deuteronomy 25: verses 17-19 remind us to “Remember what Amalek did to you…You shall erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens, yet you shall not forget.”  Traditionally this will be recited in the Torah portion read on Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat just before Purim.  Historically, Amalek was a descendant of Esau, who had sworn to kill and hate Jews.  The Amalekites, his tribe, waged war against the Hebrews as we wandered in the wilderness, cowardly attacking us from the rear and picking off the stragglers, elderly, ill, and children.  Why?  Because they simply couldn’t bear that we had a connection with G-d.  The energy of Amalek, of course has reemerged in almost every generation, with those who are bent to hate and destroy…whether it was Haman, Hitler, Hussein, or the current Amalek wannabees, the concept of Amalek, from a kabbalistic perspective can be found within each of us….It may manifest itself in self-doubt (by the way, the numerical equivalent of the word “Amalek” is equal to that of the Hebrew word “Safek”, doubt). It can also be found in the inclination to be negative, spiteful, jealous, or willing to do harm to oneself or to others.  Amalek is at the root of negative self-destructive addictions.  It is the untamed Yetzer HaRa, evil inclination that all humans struggle with.  So, this month we need to consciously be mindful of the voices within us that would take us away from the experiences of the absolute joy of simply being alive.
  5.  And, finally, See G-d’s hand in your life.  The so-called coincidences we all experience, may better be explained as synchronicities.  If we open our awareness to possibilities, we may see that Divine communication is constantly being made.

It is not coincidental that so many of our great comedians, humorists, and comic actors are Jewish.  Whether it is satire, irony, puns, or self-deprecating humor, Jews have had to turn to humor throughout our history as an antidote to the recurring Amaleks in our lives.

So, I end this evening with a story.  Picture Moscow, in the early ‘70’s.  It’s a cold winter day, and a long line has already formed in front of the butcher shop, as a rumor has spread that fresh meat would soon be delivered there.

After the eager citizens have stood in line for hours, the butcher sticks his head out the door and says, “Comrades, I’ve just had a call from the Party Central Committee.  I regret to say that the shipment has been delayed, and, at any rate, there won’t be enough meat for everyone.  All Jewish citizens are immediately required to leave the queue!”

The Jews obediently leave the line and go home.

Several hours later, as night falls, the butcher emerges one more time.  “Comrades,” he says.  “I’ve just had another call from Central Committee.  It turns out that there will be no meat at all, so you all should go home!”

The crowd finally disperses, grumbling:  “Those damned Jews get all the breaks!”

Tismach b’Adar.  Be happy; it’s Adar!  And you’re all Adar-able.

Shabbat Shalom.

[1] Fiulio Meoti,Arutz Sheva, 2-20-15

[2] Joseph Puder, Daily Mailer,2-20-15

[3] Nicole Adi and Justin Amelia Heyer, Der Spiegel, 1-26-15.

[4] “Opinion:  No Bibi, I’m Not Your Refugee, I’m a Proud and Loyal British Citizen”; Jewish News, 2-20-15