Monthly Archives: March 12, 2015

A Taste of the Next World – But No More

As the early Christians worked zealously and methodically to convert the peoples of the Roman Empire to their faith, they were animated by a powerful belief in the immortality of the soul.  Christian missionaries promised eternal happiness and everlasting life – on the condition of adopting the faith in their savior.  In our times, the belief in the existence of heaven and the eternal life of the soul is taken as a given by most religious believers.  But for pagans living through the long and slow decline of Rome, the prospect of immortality was both exhilarating and deeply comforting, and it prompted multitudes of peoples to convert to Christianity.

By contrast, the belief in heaven, or Olam Haba, plays a muted role in Jewish belief: “We might naturally expect that a principle so essential to religion would have been revealed in the clearest terms to the chosen people of Palestine… It is incumbent upon us to adore the mysterious dispensations of Providence, when we discover that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is omitted in the law of Moses; it is darkly insinuated by the prophets; and during the long period which elapsed between the Egyptian and the Babylonian servitudes, the hopes as well as fears of the Jews appear to have been confined within the narrow compass of the present life.”  (Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XV)  C.S. Lewis, another Christian writer, makes a similar point: “[God] revealed Himself [to the Jews] centuries before there was a whisper of anything better (or worse) beyond the grave than shadowy and featureless Sheol.” (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy)

Gibbon, in spite of his virulent anti-Semitism, is correct in his assessment; […]

By |March 12, 2015|

Personal Thoughts on the AIPAC Policy Conference

Participating in the annual AIPAC policy conference is always a powerful experience.  But the intensity of this year’s conference was especially palpable, taking place only a day before Netanyahu’s historic speech to Congress.  The crowds were both electric and unified; I felt connected to my fellow Jews at the conference – and to Am Yisrael as a whole – in a way that I rarely have the opportunity to feel.

On Monday morning, I waited on a security line, together with thousands of other Jews, in advance of the Prime Minister’s speech.  At one point, hundreds of us stood crushed together in a very tight space; it was like being on the subway during a particularly busy rush hour.  Uncomfortable as it was, I felt a profound sense of connection – as if I was immersing myself in a Mikvah of Jews!  Standing there, I thought of a teaching from Rav Tzvi Hirsch of Ziditchov (1763 – 1831), the founder of the Zidichov Chassidic dynasty.  The Ziditchover taught: “Mikvah Yisrael Hashem” (Jeremiah 17:13) means, simply, “The hope of Israel is God.”  But the Ziditchover translated this verse differently; “Mikvah Yisrael Hashem” can be read as “The people of Israel are God’s Mikvah (ritual bath)”!  And so every Friday afternoon, in preparation for Shabbos, the Ziditchover would gather a group of Jews and ask them to stand in a circle, while he would lie down on the ground in the middle of the circle – literally surrounded on all sides by the people of Israel.  And he would say: “I am immersing myself in the Mikvah of God!!”

Another unforgettable moment took place during National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s speech on Monday evening.  Only a few days before the […]

By |March 6, 2015|