I often say we need to challenge G-d.

I don’t say that because I refuse to believe in Him.  It’s also not because the pain I feel for my people or in my personal life is clouding my judgment of what is right and wrong. And it is certainly not because throwing challenges at the Almighty is some kind of cool rebel thing.

No, challenging G-d and rebelling against Him are two completely different things.

I woke up that morning, and just like every morning – good or bad – I right away said Modeh Ani.  That morning was actually a happy Modeh Ani…until I reached for my phone and saw news of the murders in Har Nof.  My mind immediately jumped to painful thoughts of how my family lives in nearby Gush Etzion, and how these areas are no longer the safe havens I thought they were… I couldn’t concentrate on morning prayer because the whole time my heart kept screaming “why Religious people?! – Here I am praising You about how You keep your loved ones safe and destroy Israel’s enemies, and You allow people to be murdered DURING prayer?!!”

Yes, the pain is real. Yes, the tears are real.  And, believe me, as a person who still thinks that growing up in Israel during a major war consists of some of the most beautiful years of my life, the anger I feel at these atrocities is the most real of all.

But, what hurts me the most is people’s failure to ACT against all this.

And don’t cop-out behind the usual “well, what can we do?” garbage.  Save your breath.

There are so many things you can do.

You can start by reaffirming your faith.  Yes, now, when you’re super angry.  Make an honest pledge to reaffirm your Self – be proud of the Jew you are by truly understanding where you come from, the amazing Nation that you are a part of. Which does not mean, by the way, putting on your kipa only in Jewish places. It means feeling damn good about yourself when you wear that kipa all over everywhere, feeling assertive (not aggressive, but assertive) when your Jewish identity is questioned or belittled in any way.

Challenge G-d to give you an understanding.  Challenge Him to give you time to understand, to give you strength and patience to come closer to your people.

Giving someone a challenge is, very often, the best way to reaffirm your faith in them.  ‘I challenge you because I know you can do this, and I want to continue knowing your strength.’   It’s an unspoken pact of partnership, because the challenger is never passive.  The fact that I throw the challenge at you already means that I am ready to clear the way from all barriers to see the challenge carried out.  A challenge is not a rebellious ‘dare’ where a person is just being testy.  A challenge is when the challenger is ready to meet you half-way, and put just as much effort into the end goal as you, with you.

So, challenge G-d.  Demand Him to be more merciful.  More patient, more lenient.  Challenge Him to give us more understanding so we could see our fellow men and women as friends without judgment.  Challenge Him to take away our anger toward the world, clear up our misguided notions of “fairness”, and help us to fill our hearts with chesed instead.   And do this not only because you Know that He is the only one who can help us with this, but because you believe we are ready to accept this from Him.  Because we are ready to be true to our Judaism and finally live in peace.

Ahh, but “peace” is such a big and loaded word.  Yes, of course it is. But only if you think of “peace” as a lovey-dovey state of affairs where everyone is equal and running around with smiles, soap bubbles, and colorful balloons on sunny green-field days.  If you think of it like that then you will read all of the above and dismiss me.  Another idealist.  Great. …. But, what if you knew that Peace is the serenity of knowing who you are; what if Peace meant that you know where you stand, not just in relation to other people but in relation to G-d who looks after you; and what if you understood that ‘living in peace’ means being ready to reaffirm your Self and your stance in life…? I imagine that, if you really knew that, you would look around and quickly realize that, as a Jew, your “side” has already been chosen for you – you are, whether you like it or not, on the “side” of ALL Jews, regardless of what you may think of them.  Chabadniks, Litvaks, colorful baal tshuvas, coated ‘frummies’, secular Zionists – we’re all the same.  We’re all Jews, and we’re all Very much Jew-ish.

Unfortunately this also means that we are all a target.  Regardless of where we live or how well-off we live, we are all a target.  So… your choice is – will you be like a wounded buck surrounded by hungry wolves, alone and helpless, paranoid and threatened; Or, are you going to patch up the wounds, stand up, and assert yourself?

Will you challenge G-d to give you wisdom and strength to understand what being a Jew is and to defend your Jewish identity?  And will you challenge Him to endow you with patience and leniency toward the murderous extremist attackers so you can be assertive and protective without turning to a murderous extremist yourself?… Or, will you be nothing more than bystander?

No one has all the answers.  And we’ve all heard all these speeches many times before.  The Muslims’ response to death is to urge more death, while the rabbis’ response to these murders is to urge fellow Jews to be better Jews. …seems like such a lame-duck position, doesn’t it?  But in fact it is not so.  In fact, the rabbis are justifiably angry. In fact, when the rabbis urge you to be a better Jew they are justifiably, viciously, Pissed OFF! When the rabbis urge you to be a better Jew they are actually urging you to be a stronger, better, deadlier fighter than all of the extremists combined.  They are urging you to choose your purpose.  They are in fact urging you to be a fighter – but a knowledgeable honorable fighter with a purpose, not a kamikaze. They are urging you to understand that you are under Hashem, an integral and inseparable part of Am Israel, and together – if we stand together – you are strong.  But on your own, – you’re just a bystander.

The picture is clear either way. For your own good, choose the right side of the view.

Do you think it’s just a random coincidence that these murders happened the way they did? – When a man walks into a prayer hall and starts chopping people up with a meat cleaver during prayer – that is not just a random crazy terrorist like we are all sadly used to.  And it is not just murder.  It is a massacre.  That is like a scene from the history books of ancient warfare.  It is up close and personal. It is deliberate. … It is no longer about politics. … And why Har Nof in particular? Why that synagogue in particular? Why those very highly learned religious people? – Of course we will never know the full answer.  But we must consider that all Jews who are familiar with Har Nof even remotely, know that it has always been considered the safest quietest place, almost cloistered even.  We must consider that the quiet synagogue is called Kehilat Bnei Torah, which means “Community of the Sons of Torah.” And consider as well that the praying men, at the point when they were attacked, were just in the middle of the Amidah prayer, right at the part where one would ask G-d for peace.  Consider all this and think about all the many ways in which G-d could possibly send us a message.  And how many messages has He already sent which we allowed to fall on deaf ears? When the Community of the Sons of Torah is butchered during prayer that is G-d screaming at us, that is a Father giving us the most violent wake-up call that He possibly could. – We, Jews, need to affirm who we are. We need to come together and be assertive and proud of our Judaism. 

We’ve seen such attacks before.  They are always a prelude to big catastrophes.  That is, unless we act in time.

In WWII Rav Eliyahu Dessler was separated from his wife and children, and, in spite of not knowing where they were or if they are even alive, he did not succumb to his fears and agonies.  Instead he chose to trust that G-d has a greater purpose for those Jewish souls who were left alive. He knew that if G-d had forsaken the Jews then there would simply be no more Jews. All G-d has to do is will it. So, while he could give in to the great emptiness of despair that was left in his heart by the disappearance of his family, and he could condemn G-d for it, Rav Dessler asked instead “To what end did He leave US alive?” …He then went on to establish Gateshead Kolel.  At the age of 50(!).  In the midst of the largest slaughter of Jews known in (at least) recent history.  And the letters and lectures he wrote back then are now widely known as the famous Michtav MeEliyahu (or Strive for Truth as it’s known in English), which opens up with Rav Dessler’s shiur on ‘what is happiness’ and how to be Happy.  Ironic? – I doubt it. – Written at the onset of the Holocaust is this man’s affirmation of G-d and hapiness! … Gosh. … He asserted his Judaism in spite ALL odds, dove deeper to understand what being Jewish means and to help others understand it – to bring Jews closer together in the midst of the holocaust when, really, the easiest thing to do would’ve been to condemn G-d and forget Him.  But he did That instead.  Because he knew that that is the only way he could be a real fighter.

Last time anyone checked, we the Jews of today are on the same side that Rav Dessler was.  Now in more ways than one.

In 1940, soon after the outbreak of the war (and after the disappearance of his family), Rav Dessler wrote about G-d’s attribute of Mercy, saying: “A person suffering from a mortal disease is glad if he can undergo an operation which may save him, however much it may hurt. This is how we must understand God’s ways.” …. Flashforward into the future a bit and Rav Dessler may as well have been speaking about the land and the people of Israel.  The land of Israel is very sick – it is infested with Arabs who attack and destroy both the land and the Jewish people from within like a slow deadly virus destroys a body.  And the people of Israel are sick too – we are afflicted with doubt, and mistrust, not just in G-d but most of all in ourselves. The people of Israel, my amazing wonderful brothers and sisters, we have stopped loving ourselves at some point, and we continue to destroy ourselves with self-hate by allowing others to speak badly and falsely about our heritage, our history, our customs, and about each other.

We must act now to put a stop to this.

If you are looking for concrete ways of action, there are plenty.  For example – stop rooting for the wrong side.  Stand with your people, don’t be nuetral to what is happening.  Affirm Jews and affirm Israel, understand that dividing our country is NOT a solution. Unite with other Jews in the understanding that Israel is our God-given land. Stop allowing false articles to be published. The NY Times, Daily News, BBC, MSNBC, or whatever other news sources are out there (and there are SO many) – if at least one Jew took a real stand in those areas in defense of the truth, if at least one Jew who is employed in this field took a real stand to speak out loudly and honestly and boldly about what is truly going on – imagine the amazing consequences for All Jews.  Stop apologising for doing the right thing.  And join your communities – they are waiting for you and are very welcoming.  Volunteer your time and effort to help and support your communities – invest in a way of life that reaffirms who you are as a Jew.  Because, at the end of the day, who you are is all you have left.

Tuesday, November 18th 2014 – Tzippora Heller’s son in law has been badly wounded in a synagogue (by an Arab terrorist who hit him with a meat cleaver to the side of the head and the shoulder).  And in her account of the events of that murderous morning she said that, in the end, she knows that everything G-d does is purposeful.  We cannot presume to know G-d’s will, she reminds us, and His compassion is often hidden from us, but that can NOT be the reason why we stray from the assertive path of understanding and loving who we are as a Jewish nation.   ….