Sunday, April 25, 2010

Who is this Glenn Beck, and WHY DO WE CARE? - A retraction and correction

Shortly after publication of the below column last night, I received a barrage of e-mails, many of them unsubscribing to this Column due to my error in not better explaining myself, leaving readers with the idea that I somehow championed Glenn Beck and his notable anti-Semitic broadcasts. My intention was nothing of the sort, and my citation of Mr. Beck's latest broadcast was only to show that I believe that times such as ours call for a return to our own individual faith.

My intent was not to be perceived as bigoted, or anti anyone. Please re-read below and specifically take note of my reply to Mr. Cesca.

It often seems that whatever the Weekly portion of Torah that we read, something is going on around us that makes that week's Parasha that more meaningful. Such it was this week as well, with our reading of a combined section, Acharei Mot (After the Death of Aaron's sons) and Kedoshim (Holies).

The second sentence in Kedoshim speaks to me like almost no other in the Torah. With G-d speaking to Moshe (Moses), he says: Go tell all of the Tribes of the Children of Israel YOU ARE HOLY BECAUSE I AM HOLY. This, is a huge statement. This statement, above all others to me, gives us the desire to perform Mitzvot. Please allow me to digress.

I have a friend who enjoys discussing Halakha. As it is one of my favorite subjects to discuss, I too enjoy these conversations, but only to a certain point. I only find it fun when we are able to debate (we seldom agree) certain parts of Halakhic wisdom with answers that do not include the words "because haShem says so". My response is generally something like "WHERE DOES haSHEM SAY SO?" The answer is usually the conversation ender. More often than not, I am asked if I have ever studied Talmud, and without any Talmudic back-up or citation, we each sign off, or hang up the phone. Most often, I am thoroughly exhausted from the last five minutes of the conversation (read: debate) as I find it difficult to discuss a topic where one of the parties claims a fact that I know to be false, yet has no back up; i.e. G-d states in Talmud that it is against Halakha to use Facebook Instant Messenger on Shabbat. First, to my knowledge, G-d doesn't state anything in Talmud, and secondly, I am pretty sure that Facebook's Instant Messenger was not around in Talmudic times.

This past week, we got into a discussion over what it means to be "Observant". My friend stated over five times that to be an Observant Jew, one must fear G-d. One must perform Mitzvot because G-d is watching and will confront us with our transgressions, so we must follow the Mitzvot out of fear of being seen and fear of being caught.

I, however, see the performances in an entirely different light. I see the performance of Mitzvot as acts of love of G-d and for G-d's blessing and pleasure. Today's Parsha explains this to us in one sentence: YOU are holy, because I am holy. As we are created in the image of G-d, we must have G-d in us, and, if we have G-d in us, we, by definition, MUST be holy. To me, there is no better reason to perform Mitzvot.

The second most powerful Commandment, to me, is given to us sixteen verses later, when G-d commands us to love our fellow man, as we do ourselves. Midrash teaches that upon a request of a potential Convert to learn Torah while standing on one leg, The Sage Hillel replied with this verse,and told him that this verse is all of Torah. I ask then, does it matter who of us is Jewish or Christian or whatever? Is this Commandment not universal; and at the same time, does it not just make perfect sense?

Lately, I have heard the name Glenn Beck often. I have never taken the time to google Mr. Beck, or investigate his radio or television show; nor have I read any of his writings, and could not even begin to speak of him with any opinion whatsoever. Earlier this evening, however, I came across an article written by a gentleman by the name of Bob Cesca. I had never heard of Mr. Cesca, but my attention was grabbed by reading his headline attacking Glenn Beck. I must admit to having no knowledge of Beck either prior to reading Cesca's column, other than having heard Glenn Beck's name. After reading the column, and listening to a recording from Beck's show, and, with this week's Parasha so clearly in my mind, I felt compelled to write the following letter that I sent to Bob Cesca, with a copy sent to Beck:

Dear Mr. Cesca.

First, I must say that prior to ten minutes ago I had never heard of you, nor had I any idea who Glenn Beck is. That I may be burying my head in the sand and not paying attention to the various pundits, critics, broadcasters and so forth, might be an understatement, but it is not from lack of interest; it is more from lack of time to listen to so many varying opinions, yet, seemingly, nobody doing anything other than talking.

I must apologize for this, as you and Mr. Beck and whomever else is out there has a message and an opinion, and since the part of the Constitution that protects free speech is still in effect, I applaud your efforts, albeit it cautiously.

I learned of you from an article that I somehow came across entitled “Glenn Beck: the Televangelist Con Man Selling God's Plan for America”. As I frankly had never heard or seen anything that either you or Mr. Beck has said, I was curious, so I decided to read your column and listen to his tape as linked from your story.

I thank you for writing your column, and I thank you for posting the link to Mr. Beck’s broadcast.

I am not going to take sides, as the above mentioned Constitutional right continues to exist (for now), and personally, I am happy that we all have this right to speak our peace. You both are fortunate, very fortunate to have such large audiences to which you are able to proliferate.

I do, however, take issue with your attitude toward Mr. Beck’s opinions in general, and I must ask you with all due respect, do you have a personal knowledge of Mr. Beck’s relationship with G-d? I can certainly tell you that I do not, nor do I have personal knowledge of your relationship with Him; nor do you or Mr. Beck have personal knowledge of my relationship with G-d. That being said, I was surprised to see a man of your integrity call another names in a manner that is both highly prejudicial, and usurps his rights under not just the Constitution, but rights given to us by G-d.

Sir, I do not know your religious background, nor will I ever attempt to convince you that any one way to pray is better than another, but I will go so far as to ask you if you believe that it is acceptable to treat another or speak of another in a way which would be hateful to you?

I believe, as do you, as does Mr. Beck, as I would hope does most of the world, that we are living in very difficult times. As a Rabbi, I would agree with Mr. Beck that in times like these, seeking our individual faith to help us to guide ourselves is most beneficial. Whether Mr. Beck was spoken to by G-d directly or not, I have no way of knowing, nor does anyone. Whether or not I agree with his political opinion(s) is of no importance.

I have now heard back from Mr. Cesca. He wrote as follows:

Hello Rabbi Abrams,

I appreciate your thoughtful email. A couple of thoughts in response.

First, the Constitution only protects "freedom of speech" with regards to government lawmaking. In other words, the first amendment protects speech from government encroachment. As a citizen, I'm well within the permission of the founding documents to take issue with a commentator -- and even to call for him or her to be removed from the airwaves (though that's not what I'm suggesting for Mr. Beck).

Secondly, I am not questioning Mr. Beck's religion (Mormonism) or his right to practice it. In fact, I'm suggesting that by injecting religion into government, government will be more capable of interfering with religion. Hence, the purpose of separating church and state.

Thanks again, Rabbi.


I will reply now in this public forum:

After doing much more research into Mr. Beck, I can honestly say, Bob, that you appear to have been quite kind and generous with your words toward him. I have not met him, and since a mere twenty-four hours ago, I literally had no idea what the man stood for, or stands for, I was errant in my judgment to put myself in any position to defend him. For this I apologize.

My question now turns to ask again, Who is this Glenn Beck, and WHY DO WE CARE?

If you were to surf to his web page, you would find that Mr. Beck is a Talking Head on, I believe both radio and Cable television that seems to find fault with about anyone and everyone who is not, well, Glenn Beck. He seems to use these air waves to spew hatred and bigotry with Anti-American and Anti-Jewish rhetoric, and via PayPal, he appears to gain monetarily on a daily if not hourly basis.

Why do we care? We must care. For to be as I have been, with my head in the sand is at least as dangerous as Mr. Beck is to not just our society, but to the world.

We are holy, because G-d is holy. We do the right thing because G-d would want us to do the right thing. Last night, in agreeing with Glenn Beck, even if just barely and on the surface, I did not do the right thing. I believe that I am now.

I remind you that today is day 1,401 since the capture of our Brother, Gilad ben Noam v'Aviva Shalit by Terrorists in Gaza. Please remember him in your prayers.

In addition, we continue to pray for my Colleague and friend, Rabbi Bramly during this very difficult time. May G-d continue to bring him and his family strength blessings.

From the Emek in the Midbar that we call Arizona, I wish you Ahavah u'Vrachot, Love and Blessings...

--Rabbi Alan Abrams

Monday, April 19, 2010

Remembering and Celebrating - 62 Years

At precisely midnight last night in Phoenix, the clock struck 10am in Israel and a loud siren sounded for two minutes. Traffic stopped. Workers stopped and pedestrians stopped. Everyone and everything stopped. And remembered. The Country stopped to remember the thousands who have given their lives, so that we may live ours.
At midnight last night in Phoenix, Arizona, I listened to "Reshet Gimel", the all Israeli Music radio station from Jerusalem, as names of fallen heroes were read, one at a time, along with their rank, home town and age. As surviving fathers called in to the radio station, and dedicated their son or daughter's favorite song to their blessed memories, I felt at once proud to be a Jew; to be a Zionist; a Rabbi and teacher of Judaics and of Israel and a future Oleh, but at the same time, I felt guilty to be standing alone next to my bed in Arizona, instead of standing with our brothers and sisters in stopped traffic in Nahariya or Eilat.
I felt the pain of those fathers who had called the radio station, and the mothers who would never again greet their children on Friday evening; and I felt the pain of my friend, my brother, Ron Kehrman, who wrote in today's YNet section of Israel's Yedioth Acharonoth of his beloved Tal, who was murdered by terrorists 2,602 days ago; and I felt the pain of Noam and Aviva Shalit, who have been praying for the safe return of their son, Gilad for 1,395 days since his capture.
We remember the friends that we lost, and we remember the brothers and sisters that we never met. We remember the victims of the Beach Road attack, and our athletes in Munich; Mike's Place and the Country Club and the Passover Seder in Haifa. We remember our fathers and uncles and cousins who fought for our independence in 1948 and we remember the heroes that valiantly served in Gaza just a year ago. We remember Astronaut Ilan Ramon who perished on the Space Shuttle Columbia, and we remember Yoni Netanyahu who bravely led his men into Entebbe Airport in Uganda on July 4, 1976 to save Jews hijacked on an Air France flight to Paris.
And as I stood and silently said Kaddish, quietly asking G-d for the strength to continue, while magnifying His name, I prayed that this, please G-d, be the last year that we add names to the list of fallen brothers and sisters. And after shedding more than a few tears, I remembered that in less than twenty-four hours, we will be celebrating Yom haAtzmaut, Israel's 62nd birthday. A birthday made possible partly by the heroism of those whom we had just remembered, and whose lives must be avenged; not necessarily by bloodshed, but by our mere survival, which depends, solely on us.
Our survival means Israel's survival . They are synonymous. The survival of our State is absolute in like to survival of our people. Period. And in order for our State to survive, and in turn for our people to survive, we must, without question, see the following take place:
We must see an increase in our population within Israel. This means Aliyah. This means packing up our toys and going home. This means, if we are serious about saving our State, if we meant it when we said "Next year in Jerusalem" just three weeks ago at the end of our Seder meals, then, the time is now. Not next week, not next month, not next year. The time is now to go to the Nefesh b'Nefesh website and start the process. It is time to go home.
We must have Israeli leadership that believes in (1) a Jewish Israel; (2) a One State Solution with those who call themselves Palestinians, by either disarming them and their acceptance of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State, or face immediate deportation from Israel and her territories; and (3) a Leader who will not be bullied by foreign nations dictating our rights as a sovereign State.
We must see a change in the way that we treat each other. We must eliminate these labels that do nothing, but divide us as a people. We are Jews. Does it matter if we are Orthodox Jews or Reform Jews or Martian Jews? Do we honestly think that G-d cares? We have 613 Mitzvot to perform (less Mitzvot specifically regarding the Beit Mikdash [Temple and Sacrifices]). Let's do our best. It would help, however, if we at least would remember to try and like each other, and treat each other in a manner that would not be hateful to ourselves, were we treated alike.
We must remember that this world was created by G-d. We must treat it as such. What do you think these earthquakes and tsunamis and volcanoes are all about? G-d is talking to us. Shouldn't we listen?
When the sun goes down tonight, the date will change to 5 Iyar. Sixty two years ago, on 5 Iyar, at the Tel Aviv Museum, David Ben Gurion and others gathered to proclaim the formation of the Jewish State, The State of Israel.
Through seven wars and with the grace of G-d, we have survived.
Our little Country has given the world technology that we use every day, including Instant Messenger software, Cell Phone technologies and Texting capabilities. Israel has given the world 9 Nobel Laureates; and has more companies listed on NASDAQ than any other Country, save for the United States. I could go on and on.
Instead, I'll ask you to go out today, and find a good Falafel. If you cannot find one where you are, go online and find the Nefesh b'Nefesh website ( and make plans to go home.
From the Midbar that we call Arizona, Ahavah u'vrachot, Love and Blessings...
--Rabbi Alan Abrams

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Who Will Say Kaddish for Us?

As much as I love the week of Passover, I think sometimes that I love the week after Passover more. I seem to reconnect with people that prior to the holiday, I had not seen in a while (usually since the High Holidays). They seem to be happier than in the fall; full of excitement for the arrival Spring and all that Spring and Summer offer in matters of renewal and relaxation, much of this, I believe to be due to the warmth of sunshine.

The one not so pleasant happening that comes the week after Passover, however, is the arrival of Yom haShoah. Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day that in it's name alone, brings us back to the reality that this abominable tragedy not only happened, but the realization that should we fail to remember our not so distant past; should we fail to stand up and shout "NEVER AGAIN", and mean it, we could once again be facing extinction. IF we forget. IF we don't stand up, and stand up now.

A theme was selected for remembrance this year. The theme, "Who will say Kaddish for me?" Who will recite the memorial prayers for me?

A website has been designed,, where each of us, especially Bar and Bat Mitzvah students can make a small donation and receive the name of a child who perished under Hitler's thumb, and dedicate their studies to these children who were not able to complete their own studies due to the Holocaust.

One such Bat Mitzvah student, Simcha from Ohio has dedicated her studies and Bat Mitzvah to a girl named Sima Ring.. Simcha wears Sima's name in a locket and recites her prayers in Sima's name. I have never met her, but am proud of her nonetheless. It is my understanding that she has had a difficult time of it lately. Not only am I proud of Simcha, but I also know that her mother will never have to ask the question of, "Who will say Kaddish for me?". For me, Simcha in Ohio stands out above most Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids. She cares; she is not afraid to show it; and she is proud to be a member of our proud people. To Simcha and her family, even though I cannot be in Columbus on this coming Wednesday, when she will rise to the Torah as a Bat Mitzvah, I will raise a glass of grape juice in "LeChayim " to Simcha.

Who will say Kaddish for me? Who will say Kaddish for you? Who will say Kaddish for us?

My children will, I am certain. Hopefully your children will stand for you. Will their children stand for them?

This past week, I was asked if in my opinion, the economy would return to what it once was. I promise you that anyone believing that I am qualified to answer this question as an expert economist needs some serious inter-cranial examination, as do I were I to pretend to answer with economic expertise. What I did reply, however, was that in my opinion, as long as we continue to worry about it, and continue to worry about what we no longer have, rather than being happy and thankful for what we do have, the economy will remain in the exact position that it currently resides. As long as we care about what our neighbor has, or what he drives, or how much money he makes, we deserve to remain wanting. This may sound cruel and uncaring, but in reality, I feel it to be the most caring answer that I can give.

Pirkei Avot states that a "person is as happy as he makes up his mind to be". As soon as we can be happy with what we have, and grateful for what we have, we too will be rich.

For a moment, I must flash back to last week and bring you an update. Should you remember the man who sent me that nasty anti-Semitic e-mail a few weeks ago, he has sent me another in response to reading last week's column. This week he wrote:

Thank you for your consideration, Maybe you are right but, I got cheated so bad by this guy that it was difficult to deal with, I was being cheated big time and I have to say that made me sick at my stomach. I am sure all Jewish folks are not like that but this guy is horrible. Like some of our people.

Sir: You have just made Teshuvah. Doesn't it feel better?

On a side note, I remind you that today is day 1,384 of captivity for Gilad Shalit. Please join in praying for his speedy safe return from what was once Egypt.

While we pray for the return of Gilad to his parents, I ask you to please join in praying for my Colleague and friend Rabbi Bramly and his family, as well as the families of all involved in their own tragedies. May G-d be with them all and bring them strength to overcome these terrible times in their lives. May G-d soon return them to their lives and their children and to all things good.

On Tuesday of this coming week we remember the Six Million who were senselessly murdered by a man in the position of power. May we all not only remember, but realize that should we fail to shout NEVER AGAIN; should we continue to go through life with blinders on, following a Self-Appointed Pied Piper of Hamlin, we could be next.

From the Emek in the Midbar of Arizona, I wish you a Shavuah Tov. b'Ahavah u'Vrachot, with love and blessings, I remain...

Yours in Torah...

--Rabbi Alan Abrams