HELL!

Last week, the White House hosted its 19th official Chanukah party. I was not invited. But a Southern Baptist Minister who preaches not far from Tiferet was. And predictably, a good many Jews were in an uproar. As far as they are concerned, a Chanukah party is no place for a  man of the cloth, who has in the past preached that those who do not accept Jesus into their lives will end up in hell.

Hell! If clergy were able to decide who ends up in Hell, there would be a waiting list from here to eternity. Countless are the number of times clergy have flippantly muttered  “go to hell” to drivers who cut them off in traffic or to drivers who won’t let them into another lane of traffic. Why, there is a place reserved in hell for all who are employed at the DMV in this city because of clergy who, along with others, have had to wait for hours to renew their drivers’ licenses. (Believe it or not, clergy are right up there with the best of them when it comes to cussing.) Regardless of the Theological Seminary this Southern Minister White House invitee attended it is my belief, that it is the Creator of the World, together with His heavenly tribunal, and not religious leaders, who will decide whether heaven or hell is the ultimate destination for any soul who has departed this world. Can it be that this Southern Baptist Minister along with others like him have some inside line when they so confidently spout the “final destination” of those who do not accept Jesus into their lives?


Hell! Most Jews don’t believe in Hell anyway. According to a Pew report conducted five years ago, a paltry 22% of Jews believe in Hell. While I have no evidence to support this, I cannot help but feel that more Jews believe in Santa Claus than Hell. Why then the ire over a guest at an annual White House Chanukah party, who tells those who do not accept Jesus into their lives that they are destined for a place that most Jews maintain does not exist? As a rabbi, I am indignant. More Jews care what a Southern Baptist Minister has to say about their ultimate destiny, than care what I, a rabbi,  have to say about their current status in this world. Publicly, I try very hard not to take fellow Jews to task, especially those who are at services. And that includes those who fall asleep during my Shabbat morning Torah talk! Hell has no fury like indignant Jews for a man of the cloth who, on the one hand, intimates that as rejectors of Jesus we are headed for Hell, yet on the other hand, has the chutzpah to show up at a White House party celebrating a Jewish festival.

Hell! This cleric has his head in the clouds. Clearly, he has no understanding whatsoever of the meaning of Chanukah story! Does he not appreciate the message of the Maccabean victory? Over two thousand years ago, a band of our coreligionists took up arms to protest a culture, as well a religion, that flew in the face of Judaism. Two thousand years ago, a band of coreligionists went to fight for religious freedom and religious tolerance. Because this ancient band of coreligionists respected, yet rejected, an ancient belief system and culture that was not theirs, the very message of Chanukah is the right, nay the duty, of contemporary Jews to respect, yet reject a contemporary belief system and culture that is not theirs, as well. Other than opportunism, it is therefore beyond me why this man of the cloth who espouses credentials for entrance into Heaven, would accept an invitation to attend a celebration that rejects deities (including Jesus)  that are contrary to Judaism.

Personally, it matters not one iota to me whether this Dallas preacher attends a Chanukah celebration at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in this nation’s capital. He does, however, make himself look ridiculous by doing so. By joining a group of people who not only reject Jesus as the savior but the very existence of Hell, as well. Similarly, it is beyond my understanding, why so many are up in arms for his showing “his face in the place.”

As I extend my heartfelt and sincere wishes for a Merry Christmas to my fellow man of the cloth, as well as to all those of the Christian faith, may I be so bold as to remind them that if “peace on earth” is to have any real meaning, then instead of espousing necessary credentials for entry into heaven,  perhaps our primary focus ought to making our society just that much more heavenly.

THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE

A  little over a month ago we spilled the wine, as we recounted the plagues visited upon the obstinate Pharaoh who refused to liberate the Children of Israel. There is yet one other plague however, that is far more abhorrent than those recounted at the Pesach Seder. That is the plague that broke out close to fifteen hundred years later in ancient Israel, among the students of Rabbi Akiva. We learn from the Talmud, that among Rabbi Akiva’s 12,0000 pairs of students, there were those who perished daily, beginning on Pesach, until the thirty-third day of the counting of Omer. The Talmud further relates that the cause of this plague, was the lack of respect that the students of Rabbi Akiva accorded one another.

For close to two thousand years, rabbinic scholars have been totally incredulous at the very notion that the students of Rabbi Akiva could behave toward one another in such fashion. Although I never have considered myself a rabbinic scholar by any stretch of the imagination, I cannot help but feel, that three salient points have not been taken into account:

For us as a people, discussion, dispute and divergent opinion have served as our life blood. What makes us Jews so unique, is our ability to hold  contradictory views and opinions. As such, it was our ancestors who were the true promulgators of democracy! Yet, there are times, such as a state of emergency, when democracy must be put on hold  and take a back seat. Such a time was during Rabbi Akiva’s leadership. The tension that existed between the Roman rulers and the Jewish people it governed, was at an all-time high.  With the destruction of the holy Temple having taken place a mere six and a half decades earlier, the lesson that the destruction left in its wake had yet to be absorbed. And that was, that internal dissension can prove to be lethal, when living under the rule of a foreign government. After all, wasn’t “sinat chinam” or baseless hatred that flared up among our people that ultimately served as the root cause for the Roman victory?  Yet, thirty-five years later, the great sage Rabbi Akiva not only defied the Romans from a religious aspect, by continuing to teach Torah publicly, thereby ignoring a recently handed down edict, but he defied the Romans from a military aspect as well! After all, Rabbi Akiva was one of the supporters of Bar Kochba, the Jewish General believed to be able to overthrow the Romans, thereby casting off the yoke that the Romans imposed upon the Jews of ancient Israel! Surely, there must have been strongly held opinions regarding Rabbi Akiva’s political involvement! Disagreement about the understanding of a religious text is one thing; disagreement where students simply fail to understand why a religious leader would get himself so entrenched in the overthrow of a government is quite something else. However useful the exhortation to “never discuss politics or religion in polite company,” one would do well to bear in mind that of the two, discussing politics is far more dangerous to the well-being of relationships  and at times even far more lethal.

Story has it that a renowned rabbi, together with his Shamash  traveled to visit another renowned Rabbi to discuss a pressing religious  matter. Although the host rabbi was informed of the arrival of a revered religious leader, the host rabbi had the visiting rabbi wait in line together with the commoners for hours until he was received. Sometime later, the proverbial shoe was now on the other foot. The host rabbi together with his Shamash were visiting the very same rabbi who had earlier paid them a visit. As soon as the rabbi who had been made to stand in line and wait, learned of the presence of his visitor, he gave instruction that a red carpet be rolled out and carte blanche be given to the important visitor. The Shamash was incredulous. “this is how you pay back one who treated you with such disrespect,” he asked his revered leader incredulously.
“Better he and his Shamash  should learn to accord respect from us, than we should learn to accord disrespect from them,” answered the venerated Rabbi.

Once Jews treat one another with respect, a perilous plague will have been eradicated from our nation.