Our community recently emerged from the Bein Hameitzarim, the painful three week-long period of mourning over the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and other calamities of Jewish history.
The first Kinna recited on Tisha B’av morning begins with the word “Shavat” which means “to suddenly cease.” The tragedy described by Rabbi Eliezer HaKalir is one of a sudden unexpected, catastrophe. Ironically, Kalir relates that the people were forewarned of what would ensue. He recollects how the prophet Yirmiyahu pointed to the destruction of the Mishkan in Shiloh as a case-study of what would happen to the Beit Hamikdash if transgression and spiritual apathy continued. Despite constant and countless warnings of impending doom, the Jews living prior to the churban paid no heed to their prophets.
Why did the people not seriously consider the possibility that Nebuchadnezzer, king of the most powerful (Babylonian) empire at the time could vanquish Yerushalayim?
The Beit Hamikdash in Yerushalayim was the spiritual epicenter of the world! Perhaps the Jews could simply not imagine a world without it. Maybe they believed in the invincibility of the Israeli soldiers. They perceived that the Babylonians might have some limited success, but in the end, G-d would never allow the city walls to be breached. Bottom line: The Jews thought that destruction would never happen. When it did, they were dumbstruck and shocked by the suddenness of it all.
Our national tragedies do not come without warning. It may sound overused but is not hyperbole to say that when we hear a tyrant threatening the utter destruction of our people it should evoke within the heart of any caring Jew the demons of Auschwitz. Any rational person knows that an economically and nuclear enriched Iran holds deadly consequences first and foremost for Israel and then for rest of the civilized world.
One need not question the intentions of President Obama in pursuing an agreement with the Iranians with the commendable goal of removing the Iranian nuclear threat to America and its allies abroad. However, the current deal does not come close to meeting the benchmarks of a “good deal” originally set by the administration at the outset of this process. It also retreats from several critical requirements of the previously negotiated interim agreement.
In fact, the deal fails to meet the five minimum requirements developed by advisors to President Obama. It leaves Iran with almost its entire nuclear infrastructure intact, lifts key restrictions after eight years, and relinquishes the deterrence of surprise inspections. Iran is allowed to improve its nuclear capabilities by conducting research and development on advanced centrifuges and building intercontinental ballistic missiles, whose sole purpose is to carry nuclear warheads. The deal lifts sanctions and provides hundreds of billions of dollars to the foremost sponsor of terror in the world. Moreover, it lifts restrictions on conventional weapons. The vagueness and difficult-to-reinstate consequences for violations also quite troubling since the rogue state leadership has consistently lied to IAEA inspectors and has violated more than 20 international treaties.
Omissions in the deal are equally alarming such as the agreements negotiated exclusively between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding inspection protocol for certain Iranian military sites. President Obama promised that his nuclear deal with Iran would not be “based on trust” but rather “unprecedented verification.” One of the side deals governing inspections of an Iranian military complex allows Iran to collect its own soil samples, instead of IAEA inspectors!
Sadly, the deal does not require Iran to disengage from global terrorist activities, incitement against “infidels”, and their unabashedly stated and oft-repeated threat of Jewish genocide. As the deal was penned, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attended a rally where Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Hosseini Khamenei who made it clear that Iran would not alter its policies toward the United States or its stance on other regional or bilateral matters. American and Israeli flags were burned and thousands of participants were chanting and preaching “Death to America! Death to Israel! Death to the United Kingdom.”
We must also not forget the Iranian people who are the primary victims of the ruling religious dictatorship. A majority of Iranians live below the poverty line while the regime spends billions of dollars of the nation’s capital on its ominous nuclear program and funding of terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran’s alarming human rights violations are well-documented and unrelenting. To quote Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance: “Any agreement that disregards and fails to underscore the Iranian people’s human rights will only embolden the regime in its suppression and relentless executions, abuse of the rights of the Iranian people, and violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter.”
While the current Iranian regime is fully committed to the destruction of Israel, our concern is not merely one of self-preservation. Iran funds and foments terror throughout the Middle East and beyond. It is responsible for the destabilization of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Iran is directly liable for the murder and maiming of thousands of U.S. soldiers.
The Talmud in Gittin (57a) provides a comprehensive narrative of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, Yerushalayim, and surrounding strongholds in ancient Israel. One of the most haunting details in this heartrending chronicle is the destruction of Tur Malka. Tur Malka was described as having the largest Jewish population at the time of the first temple commonwealth. Rav Asi describes the Roman invasion of Tur Malka as follows: “Three hundred thousand men with drawn swords went in to Tur Malka, and slaughtered (the inhabitants) for three days and three nights, while on the other side (of the city) dancing and feasting was taking place, and one did not know about the other.”
Recalling Tur Malka, I shudder at the following thought: Is it conceivable that U.S. Jewry, the largest Jewish population in the Diaspora, might make the mistake of Tur Malka? Are we blind to the slaughter of innocents and escalating threats? Will we wake up one day to discover a nuclear armed Iran, an arms race in the middle-east and an entire world turned against the tiny state of Israel?
On Tisha B’av, we relive the unspeakable tragedies of Jewish history. For most of the past 2000+ years, we longed for a return, rebuilding, and renewal of our desolate land. We could only dream of regaining a sense of dignity and pride as we were humiliated, beaten, slaughtered in exile. For the past 70 years, the modern State of Israel provided an inkling of hope after having hit bottom in the pit of despair.
It’s easy to blame the president, the State Department and the P5+1-powers for selling us out. But what are we doing to make things better?
It is incumbent upon all of us to act spiritually, politically, economically and socially.
- We must pray for peace and security.
- We must call our elected representatives every week until this deal is rescinded.
- We must participate in public demonstrations.
- We must educate ourselves and anyone willing to listen about the realities of Israel and the Middle East.
- We must support organizations and leaders who are dedicated to fighting terrorism.
Let it not be said that we were complicit or apathetic toward this threat.
We must respond to these perilous times with prayer and positive action.
Rabbi Daniel Lerner is spiritual leader at Pikesville Jewish Congregation.