Shaarei Shamayim

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The Nile is a river in Egypt. It was in the Nile that Pharaoh decreed Jewish babies be drowned. It was in the Nile that the enslavement of the Jewish people turned into the extermination of the Jewish people. It all began at the Nile. 

But in Brooklyn where I’m from there’s another word that sounds like the Nile—“T-H-E-N-I-L-E”—but it’s spelt “D-E-N-I-A-L.” Why did the Egyptians turn against the Jews? After all, the Jewish people were a benefit to Egypt. Joseph—as we see in today’s Torah portion—came to Egypt as a slave child and—as we will see in next week’s parsha—rose to become the prime minister of the Egyptian Empire. He single-handedly rescued them from economic ruin and starvation. 

What went wrong? The Torah (Ex. 1:8) tells us: Vayakam melech chadash asher lo yada et Yosef, “A new king arose over Egypt who knew not Joseph.” But how was it possible not to know Joseph? It wasn’t that many years since Joseph had died. His impact was still significantly felt. Rashi comments: Asa atzmo k’ilu lo y’dao, “Pharaoh caused himself not to know.” It was all a matter of denial.

We see in today’s Torah reading how Joseph enrages his already jealous brothers as he tells him his dreams of ruling over them. The Torah (Gen. 37:11) then mentions how Jacob took notice. But in the very next couple of verses Jacob sends Joseph on a mission to report on the behavior of his brothers. How could he do this? Didn’t Jacob realize how dangerous this would be for Joseph to report on his older brothers who were already jealous of him for the favored treatment he received from their father? It could only be that Jacob was in a state of denial.  

Yes, the Nile is a river in Egypt…but denial—defined in the dictionary as, “a refusal to admit the truth or reality”—was a problem way back then, and more and more it’s becoming a problem in our world today.

This past Wednesday Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik walked into a Christmas party at a community service center in San Bernardino, California where Farook worked. They were wearing body armor and were carrying automatic rifles, pipe bombs and pistols. They opened fire, killed 14, and wounded 17. Thank Gd a bomb they had with them did not go off or there would have been much greater carnage. Later they were cornered and killed by police.

The news media jumped into action and gave this constant coverage for one day. The rest of the media—along with most of America—carried on like business as usual. Business as usual??? This was the 1st serious terror attack in America since 9/11. How many have to die before we take terrorism more seriously? 130 like in Paris? 3,000 like on 9/11? How much lower will America sink before it regains its senses?

The police and media, taking their lead from President Barack Obama said the shooting may be a case of “mixed motives” and declined to call it “terrorism.” Was it work place violence like the shooting at Ft. Hood—which really wasn’t? This couple just happened to have camouflage suits, assault rifles, pipe bombs, and thousands of rounds of ammunition handy should anyone tick them off at work? We know that this couple was very religious, had contact with radical Islamic elements, spent time in Saudi Arabia and the wife, Tashfeen, had pledged allegiance to ISIS on Facebook.

The obvious conclusion is that they were jihadists who killed in the name of Islam. But in America today you can’t state the obvious. To do so is considered irresponsible. If you’re in denial about terrorism, however, you’ll never be able to do much about it.

What was the inspiring message given by our president in the wake of this terror attack? He said the massacre demonstrates that the US needs stricter gun laws. As for the motives of the shooters, Obama shrugged. “We don’t yet know.” In other words, while ignoring what in all likelihood drove Farook and his wife to murder innocent people, Obama laid responsibility for the carnage at the feet of his political opponents who reject his demands for stricter gun control. Note that California has some of the most stringent gun control laws in America and the guns used in the attack were obtained legally.

Now I had been an advocate of gun control in the past, but these kinds of incidents highlight the fact that this couple was able to reload their weapons, kill and wound so many without interruption. Why?  because there was no one with a gun there to stop them! In almost every recent terror attack in Israel today, the Palestinian terrorists are shot immediately before they can do more harm because there’s usually someone on the street with a gun. Like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, Obama chose to press the immediately irrelevant point of gun control while ignoring the immediate crisis of terrorism that threatens America.

The hemming and hawing about the difference between terrorism and workplace violence frankly is maddening. If Syed Farook murdered his co-workrs because they insulted him…so what? The issue is that after being insulted, he and his wife immediately proceeded to execute a detailed plan of attack with highly sophisticated weapons and bombs that were stored in their home along with other dangerous weapons that were undoubtedly readied for another attack. This was a terrorist act, and it would irresponsible to say otherwise.

The increasing tendency among the politically correct to narrow the definition of terrorism to relate only to entirely undifferentiated violence is concerning. For example, Secretary of State John Kerry a couple of weeks ago distinguished between the “Charlie Hebdo” attack last year directed largely at Jews and the larger attack in Paris last month…because there was less of a rationale for the offense. Then the Foreign Minister of France advanced a similar argument, noting how terrorism in France had advanced from attacks against Jews to attacks against “ordinary citizens”—as if Jews are different and not like ordinary citizens, that Jewish blood is not as precious. Now, here in the United States we are saying that you can’t be a terrorist if you’re mad at the person you’ve killed. Oy vey! 

And one more thing and this is, perhaps the most frightening. Several of Syed Farook’s neighbors said they noticed “suspicious activity” at the home of this terrorist couple. One of them told police, “They were actually doing a lot of work out in the garage that was kind of suspicious.” Some of them suspected they might be making bombs. In fact we now know that the garage was a makeshift bomb making factory. However, they did not report it to the police, they said, for fear of being accused of racial profiling. Perhaps if one of them had made the call the 31 victims would have been able to go one with their lives.

As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck, if it walks like a duck, it probably is a duck! My friends, we live in dangerous times. And by the looks of things, it probably will be getting even more dangerous. If Americans can’t stand with one voice and identify terrorism when we see it, and if we choose instead to obsess over gun control and avoiding hurt feelings, Gd help us all.

The Nile is a river in Egypt. May Gd help lift us out of our denial. Amen!

                                                Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis       


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