“In our lives, for so long, the picture has been frozen; the world remained quiet. But as our redemption draws near, world events occur frantically and quickly. The Aleppo Codex
It seems our familiar comfortable American life, could simply go on forever. Kosher restaurants abound, there are Torah lectures everywhere, and we receive Jewish newspapers at our doorstep telling us about next year’s Pesach program in Florida. Why should it change? Can free public Jewish religious schools in Israel lure us? Should we trade our American college dreams for the mandatory all-soldier kiddush on Friday night? If we want a little Israel, we can get a little Israel–just a short flight—and you’re there; at the Dead Sea. We can be in and out for a weekend Bar Mitzvah. But America has pre-cut melon, inspected leeks, cucumbers, kosher scotch & sushi: everything one could want and need. No Holy Temple or any urgency for one. Perhaps there is longing but not urgency. Occasionally we may even have a burning desire to live in Israel, but urgency? Forget it! We’re still planting roots deeper in foreign soil.
Is the word really burning? Are our Middle Eastern Abrahamic cousins really planning a global caliphate, brutally forcing universal belief in the One Creator; or are the Midwest militant training camps on Fox News just a populist anomaly inspiring and igniting Islamophobia?
However you look at it, the final War of Gog and Magog has begun, and the redemption is indeed imminent. Don't just ask your local religious fanatic, you can see for yourself that the world is turning over. However, this war with its periodic bus bombing, car ramming and hatchet rage, is not a physical war. True there is physical risk, yet the spiritual self is even more at risk. Ironically, it’s even more dangerous in America than in Israel. The overall murder rate in Israel is half that of the United States and life expectancy is 4% higher. Physically speaking, you are statistically safer in Israel. Spiritually speaking, you don’t need statistics to know that Israel is our only home.
Glued to the hypnotic computer screen for vast chunks of the day, we wage a war in the world of thoughts. Where will we be pulled next? To which empty fluff will we click on after watching the Torah lecture on YouTube? Rav Alon Anava, repeats the Zohar, one of our mystical texts, which says that the final war of Gog and Magog will take place and is rooted in the head (Gog = roof/head/thought). He reminds us that each Jew is now fighting his or her own personal war of thoughts; concentration is under siege at every corner, values challenged incessantly, and, despite Pesach, we fall back quickly into a hypnotized slavery to external thought producers. The Zohar starkly tells us that our current exile of Edom is perpetuated by what is termed the shell of the dog (klipat kelev), which is similar to the dogs that kept us locked in Egypt. The dogs are friendly dogs, as they were in Egypt. Egyptian dogs never really barked, rather they convinced us to stay in the usual friendly dog way. Rabbi Zamir Cohen repeats the observation of our sages: “Kelev (dog) = kulo lev” (all heart).
Return to slavery so quickly after Pesach? Never! Thankfully, the Torah clinging Jew can indeed valiantly redirect himself to the sages both online and live from time to time. That click may become transient in the chain of clicks throughout the mundane day. You don’t have to be a paranoid schizophrenic to think you are being watched, followed and tracked in the virtual world, influenced constantly by negative, unseen players. What is internet, other than light waves, captured in the air, transmitted by satellites and artificially reproduced in a light screen in front of our eyes? Anyone can tap into that unseen force the Creator has provided us, for good, or the opposite.
This virtual war however isn’t pretty. Everyone feels alone in separate imaginary trenches. Though physically near someone, we are spiritually quite far, each unable to talk about our personal struggle as deeply as necessary. Today’s Jew before our final redemption is suspicious of the idols of others and isn’t fully convinced of his friend’s total allegiance. We don’t eat in each other’s homes, with little exception. The Holy Temple is not yet rebuilt, and we are, to this day, its collective and perpetual destroyers, despite our best words and intentions. Sure, we make time to learn Torah and lead a mitzvah/chessed driven lifestyle, but are we fully drawn to Torah awareness 24/7, as we were at Sinai or at other critical junctures thereafter?
The collective American Jewish establishment hasn’t broken the final alarm glass; it will take a strong hammer to do that. We all know it will take a miracle to fully leave America/Edom. It is too good. It is hard to leave the mini-Israel that we have created in America and to pop the kosher latex bubble we created in order to survive an empty exile. Yes, it is inextricably painful to uproot from the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. There is a Seder at the White House. America is not Germany, Spain or Turkey; she will always be good to the Jews. It is built into the American DNA. America is lustfully good to the Jews. In fact the Jews are in a firm bear hug with America, who once titled the nascent country the “New Israel.” George Washington’s welcoming dream has come true, and we welcome that dream too, now more than ever. At one point, Hebrew was considered to become America’s official language, in order to separate from England more completely. Amazing; the Hebrews are America. Let’s be honest–we don’t see ourselves leaving–ever. To us, the Hebrew language is relegated to Torah study and the occasional Israel vacation.
Planting these vast Jewish roots in Kansas has made Torah expansively more accessible now to the American Jew, enabling the disenfranchised Jew to once again become re-enfranchised; myself included. What about Oz, however? Having crawled out from under the proverbial secular rock pond, I cringe at the real possibility of my own slow religious ossification, inflexibility, and, yes, even slavery to America. My personal transformation from secular American Jew to Universalist, and then a boomerang back to roots-based Torah Jew, begs the preservation of radical thought and change. But American Judaism has yet to truly reject the comforts of this oasis in the exile. And while the burning olive oil and smoky incense of the temple were replaced by white fluorescent lights, will we only periodically pine over return to the Temple with an onion tear? Will we cry over reading about the Temple sacrifices? Let’s pray quickly; I have to get to work.
Complacency will always whisper, “It’s the best we’ve got under the circumstances.” It’s not our fault. Ego, physicality and inertia join together and weigh us down in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, perpetuating the spiritual sterility of the familiar and slavery to habit.
We indeed are now 7,777 years from the time that Torah was conceived by the Infinite (Midrash Tehillim 90:4), so one must be truly ready for the spiritual jackpot. The Creator has pulled the lever on the slots of the Final Redemption, and we will soon hear the ring of true eternal freedom. The physical greenbacks are there, and they are each emblazoned with “In God We Trust.” But are the spiritual greenbacks there? Surely, we can build the Final Temple now, when Yishmael does his final painful repentance and walks with Yitzchak again–as he once did by the funeral of Avraham Avinu. Are we, too, ready for that final radically peaceful return to reality?