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September 30, 2012 4:51 am

When the United Nations Unites One Nation

avatar by Yosef Y. Jacobson

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Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations General Assembly. Photo: screenshot.

Jews and decent people the world over swelled in appreciation when Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke some words of truth in a house of lies.

Just one day earlier on Yom Kippur, a platform was given once again to the President of Iran who presented eloquently his sweet vision for our world’s future, emitting the part that he wanted seven million Jews exterminated in the process. The holocaust, he told us in the past, never happened. But he was determined to make it happen!

“Some 70 years ago,” Netanyahu told the United Nations on Wednesday Sep, 26, “the world saw another fanatic ideology bent on world conquest. It went down in flames. But not before it took millions of people with it. Those who opposed that fanaticism waited too long to act. In the end they triumphed, but at a horrific cost…

“My friends, we cannot let that happen again.

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“There are those who believe that a nuclear-armed Iran can be deterred like the Soviet Union. That’s a very dangerous assumption. Militant Jihadists behave very differently from secular Marxists. There were no Soviet suicide bombers. Yet Iran produces hordes of them. Deterrence worked with the Soviets, because every time the Soviets faced a choice between their ideology and their survival, they chose their survival. But deterrence may not work with the Iranians once they get nuclear weapons.

“There’s a great scholar of the Middle East, Prof. Bernard Lewis, who put it best. He said that for the Ayatollahs of Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent, it’s an inducement…

“Just listen to Ayatollah Rafsanjani who said, I quote: “The use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything, however it would only harm the Islamic world.”

Four Personality Types

On the Jewish holiday of Sukkos, beginning next Monday, and continuing for the following week, Jews bring into their homes four species of fruits and plants: the citrus fruit (Esrog), the palm branch (lulav), the willow (aravah) and the myrtle branch (hadas). Each morning (except on Shabbat), they hold these four species close together, recite a blessing and give them a nice shake.

The origin of this tradition is in the Bible and dates back more than 3,300 years. “You shall take for yourselves on the first day [of the festival],” instructs the Torah, “the fruit of the splendid citron tree, the frond of a date-palm, the thickly leafed sprig of the myrtle, and willows that grow at a brook” .

What is the significance of this mitzvah? Why do we take these four species, and why do we need to shake them?

The Midrash observes that these four kinds possess distinct characteristics. The citron has both a delicious taste and a delightful fragrance. The palm branch generates taste (dates) but no smell; the myrtle branch professes a delightful aroma but lacks any taste, while the willow is both scentless and tasteless.

On a symbolic level, we might suggest that these four species represent four general personality types. There are human beings who exude a beautiful aroma, who know how to give off a positive energy and express themselves eloquently, but once you “taste” them or get to know them on the inside, you may be disappointed. They are good for show biz, not for authentic relationships.

Others may lack an “aroma.” They have no skill for schmoozing up a crowd or bringing life to a party, but once you get to know them on the inside, you marvel at their delicious taste and flavor.

Others are blessed with both an outer aura and an inner depth, while others lack both fragrance and a taste.

On a deeper level, the Midrash suggests, the citron represents the individual who is both knowledgeable in Torah and spiritual wisdom (taste) and replete with good and noble deeds (aroma). The date palm personifies the learned but deed-deficient individual — the scholar who devotes his life to the pursuit of wisdom (taste) but shuns the active sphere (aroma). The myrtle embodies the active but unlearned Jew. Finally, the willow represents the Jew who lacks all outward expression of his Jewishness.

When you look into your own spiritual mirror, you can identify whether you are a citron, a palm branch, a myrtle or a willow.

Integration

Ordinarily, these four categories remain distinct, each to their own. How can the “citron” Jew connect with the “willow” Jew? How can the myrtle tolerate the palm? Under usual circumstances, each of us remains fixed to our own comfort zones, spending time with people who think like we do, and live like we do. Why shake the boat and create inconvenience?

Yet on Sukkot, the Torah instructs us to bind the palm frond, myrtle, willow and citron and join them together to perform a single mitzvah. The four distinct and even paradoxical categories of people must unite. But how? How can you take four opposite Jews and bring them together in a meaningful and genuine way?

The Torah, aware of this challenge – perhaps the greatest one in Jewish life today – tells us that part of the mitzvah is to give the four species a nice big shake. To unite the four categories, the Torah is telling us, you need to “shake” them up!

The dramatic distinctions between all of the categories of Jews are significant as long as each feels complacent in his or her existence. The moment we are shaken up, however, the layers of perception are peeled away and our authentic inner core comes to the fore. Then all categories of Jews discover who they really are and what they truly stand for. And it is then that we realize that we are truly ONE.

You can’t plan for such a moment, but when it comes, there is nothing more powerful than it.

One such moment famously occurred in Jewish life forty five years ago, during the 1967 Six Day War. The moment Jews perceived the danger of six powerful Arab countries pledging to annihilate Israel, even the most liberal and secular Jews experienced an atomic surge of Jewish consciousness, ready to put their lives on the line to protect our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. Even a Jew who a day earlier doubted if G-d was a reality, if Torah was true, and if we had a moral right to live in a land, which, according to Arabs had been stolen, that Jew suddenly knew in the deepest recesses of his heart that this was and is the Jewish homeland, eternally.

And then, in six days, came victory and with it an unprecedented Jewish awakening in Israel and around the world. Totally unexpected, the miraculous victory of the Six-Day War evoked an extraordinary spiritual awakening amongst people of all backgrounds. Religious and secular alike, believers and cynics, could not contain their tears when touching the stones of the newly reclaimed Western Wall. Regardless of their previous life choices, regardless of education or lack of education, people from all over the world suddenly felt a surge of connection, and were drawn to travel from the world over to touch the stones remaining from the ancient Holy Temple.

It was those experiences which contributed to a renaissance of Jewish life and awareness around the world, which began than and continues till today. Youngsters who till that time felt completely alienated and apathetic to their heritage, suddenly experiences a yearning to reconnect with their roots, to discover the ideals, values and dreams that their people carried with them from Sinai till the 20th century.

Whence such a transformation? We can understand an arousal in the hearts of religious people, in the souls of believing and observant Jews who belief in the sanctity of the Western Wall. But how can we justify the warm tears streaming down the face of a secular Jewish atheist upon touching stones of an ancient wall?

The answer is that our cynicism, agnosticism, apathy and loyalty to secularism may run deep in our intellect, but it is not the essence of who we are. When the Jew is shaken to his or her very core, what emerges is a pure, undiluted and absolute devotion to the Jewish people and to its G-d.

Today

The chutzpah and the lies coming from the United Nations giving a forum to a leader who denies the holocaust and vows to create a second holocaust (heaven forbid) – ought to shake us up, and allow us to experience our underlying unity with each other. This is no time for divisions and fragmentation. This is a period in history when we must stand untied and empowered, with courage and resolve, to stand up against Jew-haters the world over.

As difficult it is to believe and as hard as it is to understand, their hatred is real and deep. But so is our unity with each other and our inner strength to confront them.

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  • The writer depicts a remarkably accurate description of the atmosphere in the Jewish world forty-four years ago. Thank you for the reminder. Just before the Six Day War I went, as a young man to Israel to join an Ulpan in a kibbutz. I am born into a highly secularized family in Copenhagen, Denmark. Although my father is Jewish nobody talked about our Jewish heritage. In the early sixties – primarily because of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem – I got fully aware of my family’s history. A history that also included family-member’s hide-a-way, and eventually escape to neutral Sweden – a haven for Jews escaping Holocaust.
    But it was in 1967, standing in front of the Kotel, and with a “little” help from a rabbi, reciting old-age prayers that I became aware of my inborn Jewishness, calling out: “ani yehudi-hineni”.

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