Am Yisrael Chai with soldiers in 1973
Od Avinu Chai. Does my father still live? These are the words that Joseph cries out when he reveals himself to his brothers. These words were adapted by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach as part of his signature song “Am Yisrael Chai”. And the song goes Am Yisrael Chai, Oda Avini Chai. Israel lives. Does my father live? What does it mean that my father lives? And while everybody sings Am Yisrael Chai and Israel lives, this is only one part of the story.
The challenge is to recognize our Father in heaven. Because he’s still alive, he’s involved in our world. These are the existential questions that one has to deal with. Therefore, when you’re looking for a sense of purpose, looking at us for a national purpose, it’s important to ask- Does our father live?
A modest man said after Shul that one of our main purposes in the world is to bring Godliness into the world. To bring Godliness into the world, there are quite a few parameters. But the first thing is we must recognize that there is a God, there is a universal power that is controlling and pulling us towards him. The second thing is we must understand that we are here to do good and to help others. And to be kind, that’s one of the pleasant things. I’m probably talking to myself here. We come with our tempers over nothing and everything like that. I think that’s a big challenge. And therefore, what does it mean to bring Godliness? To be kind to others and to be kind to society and neighbours and do the right thing. Be a mensch.
Just after I heard these words, I happened to go to my local clinic to get a flu shot and sort out other things that I needed to do, and this nurse came with a big smile and was super friendly. And she made a lot of effort to help me. She gave me a lot of advice and 200% customer service. And I left there thinking, wow, I just experienced Godliness. Our purpose in the world is to bring Godliness into the world. And here I have just experienced a living example of this. So, thank you to this great nurse. How easy to do, just by a change of attitude, we can bring goodness into this world. And Godliness in this world.
The 10 Tevet Fast Day
We Jews have been fasting on this day for 2,600 years. This event took place in The Land of Israel.
This fast occurs this Friday 22 December.
“The fasting is in mourning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylonia — an event that began on that date and ultimately culminated in the destruction of Solomon’s Temple (the First Temple), downfall of the Kingdom of Judah, and the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people.”
This was the Jewish state. This was the Zionist state in the land of Israel.
Can you name another people who fasted over their land and destruction for 2,600 years? and whose rights to the land are disputed and rejected. How Sic!!
So, when people say that Jews and Zionism are two different things, they need to relearn History!!
Yet this is the reality.
Yet — Am Yisrael Chai. Israel lives. Our God lives.
Jews are the indigenous people here.
It is interesting to note that this Day is a Day of general kaddish
“The Chief Rabbinate of Israel chose to observe the Tenth of Tevet as a “general kaddish day” (yom hakaddish ha’klalli) to allow the relatives of victims of the Holocaust, and whose yahrtzeits (anniversaries of their deaths) is unknown, to observe the traditional yahrtzeit practices for the deceased, including lighting a memorial candle, learning mishnayot and reciting the kaddish. According to the policy of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, the memorial prayer is also recited in synagogues, after the reading of the Torah at the morning services. To some religious Jews, this day is preferable as a Remembrance Day to Yom HaShoah, since the latter occurs in the month of Nisan, in which mourning is traditionally prohibited.”
This Friday, this fast day is also a time of reflection for 7th October. Let’s use this fast day to beseech God to release the hostages, bring a surrender of Hamas and Evil in the world and cast a tabernacle of peace on Israel and all the people in the world. May there be no more War and let goodness and Godliness shine in the world. Amen.
I want to share some thoughts from previous years which are still so relevant today.
Parshat Vayigash — Od Avinu Chai. Am Yisrael Chai
We live in a world that is confusing and does not make sense. We ask why this is happening to me. The brothers could not understand why the Viceroy was mistreating them. Then, in 3 words, everything changed — “I am Joseph”, and there was clarity of some sort. But the question remains — Is my father still alive?
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יוֹסֵ֤ף אֶל־אֶחָיו֙ אֲנִ֣י יוֹסֵ֔ף הַע֥וֹד אָבִ֖י חָ֑י וְלֹֽא־יָכְל֤וּ אֶחָיו֙ לַעֲנ֣וֹת אֹת֔וֹ כִּ֥י נִבְהֲל֖וּ מִפָּנָֽיו׃
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dumbfounded were they on account of him
Today, we are still seeking answers — Why is there so much hate against the Jews and Israel? What have we done to deserve this? Where is God? Is there any hope?
Interestingly, in all the songs of Reb Shlomo Carlebach, there are only two from the Torah itself. Od Avinu Chai is one of them and, without a doubt, the Jewish people’s national anthem. As we all know, the words are very simple. Am Yisrael Chai? Od Avinu Chai? Israel lives. Our God (our father) lives.
That song addresses the spirit of Israel. It represents a strong Israel, a more universalistic appeal, the centrality of Jerusalem and the holy Soldiers. The primary theme of the song is the Jewish story of survival and the post-Holocaust building of the state of Israel.
Let’s look at leadership. What qualities are needed in a leader? In ourselves to succeed in life.
What do Joseph and Mandela have in common? Both had trauma, went to prison, re-looked, and assessed the situation for the betterment of family or national interests. Both could reframe the situation and forgive.
Leaders can create evil and good. We do not need to be reminded of the millions of people who have died and suffered by evil leaders. The 20th century is a prime example of evil leaders, 2 world wars, communism, Naziism and other ism.
We had the Cold War which threatened a nuclear war and was averted by the brave leadership of Reagan and Gorbachev. Both also could reframe the situation and charter a new course.
Today, we the terrorist leaders of Iran and its proxies, are wreaking havoc and hatred. On the other hand, the Abrahamic Accords demonstrate that it is possible to reframe the situation and charter a new course.
In addition, several global challenges require strong and good leadership for the good of mankind. Today, we have War, Covid, the impact of Ai, climate change and World poverty as major challenges. All these need wise leadership and cooperation of People, Business, and government. It is time for all of us to stand up and talk and influence these issues.
We like to think of leaders as perfect. We forget they are people who also have personal challenges in life.
In the battle of Joseph vs Yehuda — who have the battle of the perfect man — the Zaddik — Joseph -. Joseph taught us to resist sin and one who made mistakes and who taught us how to rectify mistakes — Yehuda. Indeed, we learn and grow from our mistakes. We, all make mistakes.
So, why should our leaders, and rabbis be any different and judged to a higher standard. We like to think the life is perfect, people are perfect. As we know that Yehuda’s lineage was destined for Kingship, while Joseph who had practical experience of running a country did not merit this. Our Kings need to be role models — take the best from Joseph — be upright, but if they do make mistakes, — we learn from Yehuda how to correct mistakes, reframe, and fix these mistakes, and choose a better direction. This is what our leaders should strive for and in our personal lives.
I want to bring this to a conclusion by re-looking at the re-framing approach when faced with an event that requires an immediate reaction. These can be reacting to criticism. How we react can affect our lives. Do we shout back or stop, pause, reflect, assess, and then act? or do we react without thinking? Ashamnu — I am guilty of this. this is a lesson for all of us.
And indeed, there were a lot of mistakes in the lead-up to October 7th.