Published by The Freeman Center

The Maccabean Online

Political Analysis and Commentary
on Israeli and Jewish Affairs

"For Zion's sake I shall not hold my peace, And for Jerusalem's sake I shall not rest."


Between Oil and Wine: Horror, Grace and Solace

by Eugene Narrett, Ph.D

The essence of a state of good is when a Force has the capacity to be illuminated by the Light of God’s Blessed Presence. The opposite is that state which lacks this capacity... The cause of all evil is the absence of this Light. [1]

In the dark aftermath of the murder of eight students at the Yeshiva of Rav Kook in Jerusalem, March 06, 2008, I find my thoughts straying to Hanukkah, its lights and its grace. As the lights of Hanukkah swell to their fullness, autumn fades into winter. The memory of their lights of renewal and dedication sees one into winter and the days of strength and revival, Purim, at its end, when plans and events, light and darkness, evil and good were turned about. Purim brings the joy of wine “that gladdens man’s heart to make the face glow with oil” emphasizing the link between the two latest ordained of Jewish festivals. With the reversal of Purim, spring nears and with it the holy days of the first redemption, Pesach, the threshold event that brought Israel into awareness of its national mission as a model of ordered freedom, of the good and purposefulness of creation and the Creator. This is what the murderers destroy: grace, joy and hope.

Their goal is to make everything seem chance, drawn by lots, a form of augury and divination, death magic enforced by the powers that be; these stealers of mind want also to “steal our eyes,” like conjurors blinding us to the intricate but rational moral purpose in the unfolding of individual and national history [2]. Although their malice and evil can obscure God’s Presence they never can abolish it; the Eternal One’s providential grace will break through their tyranny of encrusted lies like sun banishing mists.

Still they are what they are, the haters of grace, and they will never rest till Israel totally defeats them as it is commanded to do, remembering that relentless malice cannot be appeased but only destroyed.

As one walks through the old city of Jerusalem or travels throughout Israel one sees two different types of being as indicated in the epigraph from Ramchal: faces filled with light, life and kindness and faces dead with envy, hatred and guilty knowledge of stealing the place of another. Israel must obey the Torah and destroy Amalek or continue to suffer shmadot, destructions. There were no faces more beautifully filled with light than those of the yeshiva students: and there are myriads more like them. In the dimension of time, there murder occurred near the full juncture of the two months of Adar of this Jewish leap year, a year pregnant with doubled joy and renewal.

Even before Israel reached Mt Sinai, The threshold event of Pesach (Passover) aroused the forces of darkness and evil in the world, embodied in the hordes of Amalek, grandson of Esau that swarmed from the southern desert to attack Israel. As winter draws toward its long dark end, at Purim Jews read of a time when the Divine Countenance was hidden and malicious evil poised for a triumphant massacre of the Jews, God’s witnesses. We read the Torah portion commanding that we “remember Amalek, what he did to you,” that the Eternal One swore eternal war against them for casting doubt on Providence, and that he commanded Israel to blot them out when it had dominion and peace in its heartland [3]. Perhaps this is why the powers do not want the Children of Israel ever to have peace in their land: they fear that then Israel, free of a petty, corrupt and autocratic government will remember its self, its covenant and rise up, like a single man with a single heart and avenge the blood of His servants that has been spilled. “Whenever the seed of Amalek is found it is to be exterminated!” Because the darkness of evil, the willful propagation of its institutionalized lies and depravity is theft of Israel’s grace and name, the blow it strikes against the root of creation.

It often is noted that in Hebrew, Amalek is an anagram of “doubt”; the destructive horror wrought by the malignant envy of Edom-Amalek, launched so soon after the wondrous punishments visited upon Egypt and the miracle of Israel’s redemption created a chink of doubt about Providence and the Creator, a window through which free-thinkers, emperors of ideology and continents could thrust. The darkness of the Erev Rav, the hidden “mixed multitude” of Egyptian false-converts worked, some say like a magnet to draw and then bind to Amalek’s hatred for Israel: an enemy within and many without, as events show.

Leap ahead thirty-three centuries: the Ottoman Empire is disintegrating, increasing numbers of Jews are returning to the land which, as prophesied is again putting forth its verdure, a promised sign of redemption and vindication of Providence in an empirical age in the process of deifying Darwinian science, and what happens: a German concocts from a satirical French novel the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; a Russian priest re-translates them and the Czar has them disseminated. Pogroms ensue; the British seize the Mandate promising to facilitate restoring “a Jewish National Home” and then their diplomatic elite and the Vatican enabled Hitler and thus the Holocaust, striving to quench the light.

Visit the Middle East and see the dark, loveless faces of Amalek, faces dead with hatred, throwing platters of sweets to cheering crowds when Jews are murdered. Consider the dark faces at the Inquisition that sees these murders as equivalent to the checkpoints at which bags are checked for bombs and guns to murder Jews. Those animated by hatred and envy so enormous that the entire world must belong to them, that Jews must above all must be murdered in their “small notch of territory” are the evil that cannot reflect, indeed that hates the light of God’s countenance.

So I think of Hanukkah, the Festival of lights that see us into winter dark, but also the swelling of nature’s light if not yet its warmth, and its eight lights as I think of the eight Jews, Torah students of pure and sweet spirit who were murdered at the behest and to the joy, differently expressed of Edom and Ishmael.

From the one remnant of the flasks a miracle was wrought for the roses…eight days established for song and jubilation” [4]… Eight days and eight holy lights for the roses, the children of Israel, like the lights, a segula, an intimate treasure to the Creator for they have the challenge of “the Kingdom of Heaven,” mitzvah yichud, to proclaim and show in their own integrity, completion and wholeness and in that of their land that Hashem is One and His Name is One [5].

Those who saw the pictures of those students, murdered while immersed in Torah study is carrying with him the image of those lights and that unity, “your beloved ones, who elevate the unification and pairing of the holy, supreme attributes.”

Hanukkah and Purim, the oil and the wine; as did so many in the hours and days after the murders, one thinks of the ways of sanctification. To sanctify the Name of Hashem is one of the ten foundational mitzvoth and Rambam adds a comment that was urgently timely in his day, a time of violent mass attempt, East and West to convert Jews, as in ours: this mitzvah obtains [even at the cost of life] only on such an awesome occasion when all men are struck with fear and when His Unity must be publicized and proclaimed.” So the unity of the Creator and of His covenant with Israel so notable in the Hanukkah lamp and lights, in the depth of winter darkness is linked to sanctification in the face of violent efforts by Amalek to make Israel surrender and deny its mission. “Hashem has already assured us through Isaiah,” Rambam continued, “that the shame of Israel will not be absolute but that there will appear among them youths in these sore straits who will not be intimidated by death but will sacrifice their blood and publicize the faith and sanctify Hashem the Exalted One…as it is written, ‘Jacob shall not now be ashamed, nor shall his face grow pale when he sees his children, the work of My hands, in his midst, sanctifying My Name.’ As our sages have stated, ‘it is for this reason that I took you out of the land of Egypt, to sanctify My Name’” [6]. All the Children of Israel that live in Israel and among them those who live, study and practice Torah in Jerusalem the heart of Israel bring the blush of life, of the roses back to the entire nation like a ner tamid, “an eternal light” to the nations. For “studying Torah is comparable to sowing seeds; every seed sown is a completed task.” The beautiful youths, the work of the Creator, who sanctify Him in the midst of Israel” connect Zion and the world to the seed-roots of life that sustain all things, opening it to the light of the Highest Wisdom [7].

One also recalls a comment, perhaps by Rav Kook, that at the first Pesach the blood of the paschal lambs mingled with the blood of circumcision (“no uncircumcised person shall eat of it” and the mitzvah had been rarely practiced in Egypt save by the tribe of Levi) and one thinks of the blood of these lambs of the Creator, witnessing to His love and truth, murdered because they are Jews, “driven like sheep to the slaughter for His sake.” And the ensuing verse of the psalm asks for what was not present at Purim until things were turned about, the “light and gladness and joy and honor” of Providence fulfilled, “illuminate Your countenance for us so we may be saved.” And also, “He will call to the heavens above and to the earth to avenge His people. ‘Gather unto Me my devout ones, sealers of My covenant through sacrifice’” [8]. It desecrates the Sovereign Being, Unity, love, service, and holiness of the Creator to attack His witnesses in any place, above all in Jerusalem, the abode of His sanctity.

It is the primal identifier and act of Amalek to thus sow doubt and darkness in the world, choose to disperse evil and darkness through creation. The “wild beast” attacks the soul of the turtledove, Israel, and “the dark places of the earth” which, by hatred and violence cannot receive or reflect the light of God’s Presence “are full of the habitations of Hamas” [9]. It is the alliance of Edom and Ishmael, with Amalek (Psalm 83) attacking the servants as they “serve the exalted One” in the ways reiterated in the Books of Moshe and elaborated by the sages: “’And to serve Him,’ – this is prayer and, ‘and to serve Him’ – this is Torah study… And ‘serve Him with his Torah; serve Him in His sanctuary,’ that is, seek to pray in it or facing it, as Solomon explained” [10]. The murderous attack on the servants of Hashem, “the youths who will not be intimidated,” on Jacob’s “children in the midst of Jerusalem sanctifying My name” was a direct attack on Judaism and the identity of all Jews; it was of a piece with all attempt to keep Jews from settling and forcing them out of any part of the Promised Land and of preventing them from praying and serving the Creator on the Temple Mount “in His sanctuary” as they are commanded to do. The war of attrition and genocide against the Jews is a war on Judaism: it is the ultimate religious hate crime and is the prime goal of all the powers, wild beasts in violence and hypocrisy: “from on high they speak loftily about oppression, and their tongue struts on earth.”

Two matters, two questions relate the challenge highlighted by this atrocity, and its typically dishonest and scanty notice by the world media, the sorcerers and “stealers of minds” [11]: if the best revenge is living well, what is the right way to live and have justice and vengeance? Related to this point, -- how should one grieve this atrocity, how does it reflect on Divine Providence and on belief itself? And what does this have to do with Purim, especially in a Jewish leap year when joy not only increases in Adar but doubles and re-doubles?

Does the atrocity call into question the existence or justice of a Creator? No, because man is co-creator of the texture of history and the paths it takes. Every physical phenomenon originates with transcendent forces (today we might call them waves of charged particles) but the shape and development of all material things depends on man’s free will. God arranged it so that through free will man can affect, with his deeds, and even his speech and thought” the “transcendent forces in indeterminate ways.” This affects creation so that it changes the natural or “deterministic influences on physical things. Having imparted indeterminacy and freedom into creation and, with them, the possibility for good and evil the events and vicissitudes of our lives “depend on many factors” that “constitute the deep mystery of how God’s Providence works and brings about all there is to be” [12]. “The specific service assignment and challenge of an individual” reflects how he deals with “what precedes, follows and is associated with him,” in time and place. He is judged in relation to his forebears, descendants and the people of his generation, city and community”; this justice can be understood only by the Highest Wisdom, and not by human beings. “God does not withhold his good…love and fear of God are means of drawing one close to His influence, the presence or absence of His light” [13]. The text of Rav Luzzato links the presence or obscuring of the Creator’s light, the themes of both Hanukkah and Purim to the fact of free will, love, fear and service, to the complexity and often sorrow of human events and to the holy observance of the guardian youth. Dealing with the grief of this terrible crime is a severe “service assignment and challenge” whose part in a beneficent providence cannot be immediately understood for we discern the future hazily if at all and our knowledge of the present is almost as sketchy as of the past.

What is the best form of vengeance? How best to partner with the Highest Wisdom and Primary Being as our free will requires we must? In Hanukkah, the grace and light of service, the Torah and the Temple were brought back and the world re-connected to “heaven.” In Purim, a world that was “dark with excessive bright,” the opulent glare of pomp at Ahasuerus’ feast and the comforts of diaspora life throughout the Persian Empire for a while hid the darkness that Haman’s vanity and hatred of Jews brought lowering into view. But love of one’s fellow Jew, “let my life be granted as my request, and my people as my petition, for we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, slain and annihilated” (Esther 4:3-4), fasting, prayer, prompt and unapologetic diplomatic demands and military action turned things about and Amalek, that had been planning to annihilate the Jews was again decimated (ibid. 8:3 – 9:28). As Rambam explains intently, the mitzvah to annihilate Amalek “is a mitzvah for all generations” because, as the Pesach Haggada reads, “in every generation they rise up against us, to destroy us.” And even in the long centuries when Amalek as a people may seem to have vanished from history that same history bears out the teachings of Torah and Rambam’s explication.

So, considering the terrible atrocities that modern Amalekites have inflicted and are striving to inflict on the Jewish people, themselves and through their embedded Erev Rav, the Jewish minnim that rule the state of the turtledove, “why should the nations say, ‘where is their God?’ Let Him be acknowledged among the nations by avenging the blood of Your servants that has been spilled…and repay our neighbors sevenfold into their bosom for the disgrace which they have disgraced You, O Lord!” (Psalm 79:1-12).

Because free will and genuine freedom is essential to Jewish faith and practice, our tradition states “man must begin and Hashem will complete”; as the sages brought down in the records (Mishna) from ancient days: “You are not required to complete the work, neither are you allowed to refrain from it” [14]. This wisdom perfectly complements the Mishne Torah and the lessons of Purim and Hanukkah. Jews must remember, identify, fight and destroy Amalek. We must not break ranks before them; they must not be allowed to live in our land, and we must not forget or explain away what they have done and are doing to us [15]. There is no better time to do this than Purim because of the example above cited from the Book of Esther, particularly in a leap year known as a Shanah me Uberet, “a pregnant year,” pregnant with strength and possibilities that our choices can activate: pregnant, potentially, and it depends much on us, with a king who will fight the wars of God and a council of sages who will appoint him [16]. For not to do justice for the youth of Yeshiva Rav Kook will create even more violence than quickly going out to avenge their blood by the mitzvoth noted above and the principle, “all Israel is responsible, each for one another.” Israel must rise up and erase the desecration and “disgrace with which they have disgraced You” by “spilling the blood of Your servants”; it must forcefully put an end to the war process because “the sword comes into the world for the delay of justice and the perversion of justice” (Avot 5:10) which is what idolatrous judges serving alien powers lethally impose on the Jewish people in their land, preventing the wholeness of the Perfected Community and the unification of God’s Name. Because they do what is termed “security coordination” with Amalek they become complicit in all destructions. Instead, they should restore all those Jews who have lost lives, loved ones and property as a result of the big lie of the “peace process” which stands exposed as an end game war on Judaism [17]. This war of national salvation, of individual, national and God’s integrity is necessary to drag a mad world away from arrogant emptiness, violence and confusion. “The Master of the House is urgent for the great work” to be done” [18].

Only the Torah Shleimah can produce a nation that is shaleim, whole and complete in each of its individuals and places and secure the bond of heaven and earth, sanctifying our daily lives with holy light. This is the pure fullness particularly marked in a leap year of double Adar climaxing in Purim and the light and joy of oil and wine preparing Israel to help humankind leap from looming slavery into true freedom, on Pesach. This is why the foreign masters always have their clients prepare an anti-Jewish provocation or affliction for this time of year: they know its liberating potential: “today, if you but heed its call...” Let the true servants take up their service assignment and sanctify our lives and the Name and truth of the Highest Wisdom and Mercy. Let justice no more be delayed and with it the endless sword called “peace,” but there is no peace. The damage must be repaired by relief from “the man of Hamas” as described by David in psalms.

Maoz Tzur concludes by singing that “the triumph is too long delayed and there is no end to days of evil.” But Israel can repel Edom to the darkness of its shadow world, its long-running virtual reality con game and bring the light of the Divine Presence back to a dark world.

1. Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato), Derekh Hashem 1.5.7, 3.2.7 (Feldheim, Jerusalem 1978, Kaplan translation; 1999, revised Rabbi Gershon Robinson), 83, 201-02, inter alia.

2. Rambam (Maimonides 1135-1204), Sefer HaMitzvoth (positive and negative commandments arranged in two books published as one volume, in English by Moznaim 1993, R. S. Silverstein, translation), II.32 the prohibition against augury discusses conjuring and necromancy as forms of “stealing the eyes” and “stealing the mind until what is unreal cannot be distinguished from what is real,” that is, virtual reality.

3. Exodus 17:8-17, Deuteronomy 25:17-19; Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvoth I.187-9 & II.59

4. Maoz Tzur (“Fortress Rock”), 5th stanza verses 3-4 (Mesorah, 1981:1996), Goldwurm, Zlotowitz and Scherman citing Song of Songs 2:2 on Israel and “the roses.”

5. Sefer HaMitzvoth I.2 citing Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “in order to take upon himself the yoke of Heaven” adds Rambam, quoting Berachoth 13a, “acknowledging his Oneness and his belief in it.” In Foundations of Torah, Yesodei HaTorah, Rambam explains the Unity of the Eternal One in 1:6-12 and 2:4. It is built directly upon “the foundation of all foundations and the pillar of wisdom” to “know that there is a Primary being…and that all came into existence through the truth of His Being” 1:1-5 ff.

6. Sefer HaMitzvoth I.9, p. 106-08, Rambam quotes Isaiah 29:22-23 and Sifra on Torah portion Emor 9:6. See also Leviticus 22:33, passim: “I took you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, to be a God to you!”

7. Pirke Avot 2:21 last section: “if you have studied much Torah, much reward will be given you, for the Employer is faithful to reward for your labor…” Comments by Rabbi Tuvia Basser on the Maharal edition of Avot (Mesorah 1997), 138-39; Ramchal 1.5.2, 2.5.6, 3.2.1 op. cit. on roots of existence, and 2.3.8 these “roses” of Israel “benefit others to attain the Perfected Community” (HaKibbutz HaShlaimim), “they rectify the damage of others,” the various kinds of evil, “of their own generation” and even ameliorate “all the spiritual damage done from the beginning,” ibid. 2.3.8; how dark, then the monsters that cropped them.

8. Psalm 50:4-5; Esther 8:16-17, 9:21-2

9. Ramchal op cit. 1.5.5, 7-8; Psalm 74:19-23, Hamas means “violence” or “violent plunder.”

10. Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvoth, op cit. I.5 citing and quoting Exodus 23:25, Deuteronomy 6:13, 11:13, 13:5, Sifrei and the Mishna of Rabbi Eliezer on these verses and 1 Kings 8:23.

11. Rambam ibid. II. 32, Sanhedrin 98a3 on the amgushai; Sefer HaMitzvoth II.65 forbids destruction not only of the Temple and synagogues, but of houses of study. That shmad could have been prevented and is, perhaps a ripple effect of the terrible shmad in Gush Katif.

12. Ramchal op cit. 1.5.4-6; the Eternal One does not form or do anything evil, He creates it as a potential that human beings may, in their freedom, form or fulfill, Ramchal 1.5.8 on Isaiah 45:7, distinguish Hebrew words for create, form, and make, do or complete.

13. Ramchal ibid. 2.3.7; 1.4.8, 10

14. Pirke Avot 2:21: “Rabbi Tarphon said, ‘it is not your duty to complete the work, neither are you free to desist from it.” Supra, note 6 for the following lines and comment.

15. Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvoth, I.187-90, II. 58, 54, 59; see Jared Israel’s article on Vatican response to the murders, 3-13-08

16. Rambam, ibid. I. 173, 190-1; Hilchot Melachim 1:1-2, 5:1, 4-5, 11:1-3

17. Rav Jose said, “Let thy neighbor’s property be as dear to thee as thine own”; he was talking about the property of a fellow Jew in the Promised Land (Pirke Avot 2:17). See Sefer HaMitzvoth II.65, note 9.

18. ibid. 2:20 speaks particularly to the situation of the Jews expelled from Gush Katif and the northern Shomron; the last verse of each chapter of this Mishna (i.e. Pirke Avot) speaks of a Torah Shleimah, “the copious Torah” and “abundant commandments” by which the Eternal Wisdom “makes Israel worthy to exalt and honor.” Only the Torah Shleimah can produce a nation that is shaleim, whole and complete in each of its individuals and places and secure the bond of heaven and earth, sanctifying our daily lives with holy light. This is the pure fullness particularly marked in a leap year of double Adar climaxing in Purim and the light and joy of oil and wine preparing Israel to help humankind leap from looming slavery into true freedom, on Pesach.