Purim: Celebrate, but Remember!

From the Rabbi…

RabbiJones

 

 

 

And Moses built an altar and named it, “The Lord is My Banner.” And he said, “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.” (vv. 14-16)

 

The holiday of Purim is just around the corner. Beginning at sundown on Wednesday, March 4, and extending until sundown on Thursday, March 5, it is a time of joyous celebration for Jewish families the world over. We will observe the four mitzvot or commandments of Purim which are enunciated in the Hebrew Bible (Esther 9:20-22) and reinforced in the Mishnah (Mas. Megilah 2a): the reading of the megillah of Esther, matanot l’evyonim—giving money to the poor, mishloach manot—gifts of food to friends, and feasting. Our hearts will be filled with gladness! But, we should also take time to remember that Purim represents a very serious subject as well, the age long struggle of those who would stand for the good against the forces of evil. It is a sad fact that the enemies of Israel and of the Jewish people have a hatred so intense it seems unexplainable in terms of normal human emotions. And, that hatred is both ancient and modern.

We read in the Torah, in the 25th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, that as our people were coming out of Egypt, a tribe called Amalek laid in wait along the way and attacked Israel from the rear as they passed through. Amalek picked off the weakest members of the Israelite group, women, children, and stragglers. The Torah states that Amalek “did not fear God.” A very stern pronouncement against Amalek occurs twice in the Torah, once in Deuteronomy, “It shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies in the land which the LORD your God gives you…, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.” (vv. 17-19) This commandment appears to be a clarification of the more cryptic statement in the 17th chapter of Exodus, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’ And Moses built an altar and named it, “The Lord is My Banner.” And he said, “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.” (vv. 14-16)

EstherNow, the connection between Amalek and Purim might not be immediately obvious to most readers. The evil Haman, whose hatred of the Jews defies rational explanation, leading him to seek the Jewish people’s annihilation, is referred to in the book of Esther as an Agagite (3:1). The connecting link to Amalek is found in the 15th chapter of the book of First Samuel. The newly crowned King Saul is leading the Israelites in a life and death struggle against the neighboring tribe of Amalek. God, through the prophet Samuel, had instructed Saul that God was about to punish Amalek for the crimes done to the people of Israel when they were on the way out of Egypt, and the judgment was to be harsh. Saul, in defiance of God’s command, spared the king of Amalek, Agag, the ancestor of the wicked Haman. (I Samuel 15:1-9)

Parallels to those who hate the Jewish people so intensely and who seek our annihilation, while difficult to comprehend or accept, can be found in almost every generation, most recently and egregiously in the acts of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. I have never been so moved by a Purim story as I was recently by a story told by Lori Palatnik, a writer, educator, and the founding director of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. She tells of a neighbor she had while living in Toronto whose name was Mr. Cohen. He was a holocaust survivor. As a youth of only 17, Mr. Cohen had been taken by the Nazis to Auschwitz. Knowing he would be there for a long time, if he survived, Mr. Cohen memorized the Jewish calendar for the next several years. He was known by his peers in the camp as a walking calendar. They would ask him, “When is Shabbat?” “When is Hanukah?” “When is Pesach?” And, Mr. Cohen would be able to tell them. When it was Purim, Mr. Cohen and a group of men met secretly in their barracks. They had smuggled a few bits of potato and bread crust as well as a book of Esther into their deplorable living area. The men stood in a circle as quietly as possible so as not to arouse Nazi suspicion, and they passed the bits of bread and potato from man to man in fulfillment of the mishloach manot commandment. The last to receive the morsels of food was Mr. Cohen, for it was he who was about to read the megillah of Esther. As they read the story of Esther under the harsh oppression of the Nazis, you can only imagine the joy it brought to their hearts to hear of the victory of the Jewish people over their enemies on Purim over 2300 years ago. We ultimately gained victory over the Nazis as well, though many, many precious souls had to give their lives in the process. Still, the Jewish people survives, thrives, and prospers. Truly a modern miracle (http://www.aish.com/sp/lal/Purim_in_Auschwitz.html)

Jewish author, Tracey Rich, tells a similar Purim story about Joseph Stalin. Rich relates the story from Chabad, the Lubavitcher Hasidic Jewish group, that in the year 1953 Joseph Stalin was planning to exile all of the Jews in the Soviet Union to camps in Siberia. At a Purim gathering of the Lubavitcher Jews that year, their Rebbe was asked to give a blessing on the Jews of the Soviet Union. Instead of a blessing, he told a story about a Jewish man who was in attendance at the election of a Soviet official earlier that year. The crowd was shouting, “Hoorah! Hoorah!” as the candidate stood on stage. The Jewish man did not want to validate the candidate by shouting, “Hoorah,” but neither did he want to draw the suspicion of the crowd. So, he indeed shouted, “Hoorah,” while knowing in his own heart that he meant “Hu ra,” which in Hebrew means, “He is evil!” Moved by the Rebbe’s message, the Jews at the Purim celebration began to shout in unison, “Hu ra! Hu ra! Hu ra!,” referring to Joseph Stalin. Later that same night, March 1, 1953, Stalin experienced a stroke that led to his death a few days later. His plan to deport the Jews was never carried out. (http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday9.htm)

Rabbi Benjamin Blech reminds us that the meaning of Purim can be found not only in the great miracles of the ages, but also in the small miracles of everyday life. A common term for such everyday miracles is “serendipity.” Defined as “a fortuitous happenstance” or “a pleasant surprise,” serendipity can be thought of as a beneficial occurrence that seems to defy statistical odds. For example, one evening you have just been thinking of a friend whom you have not seen for many years and with whom you long to reestablish contact, and the next day you happen to bump into that friend at the grocery store. Or, you set an arbitrary date to meet with your friends based on your busy schedules, and then you find out in retrospect that the day you chanced to pick is, in fact, the anniversary of some important event that is meaningful to you and those friends. Rabbi Blech points out that some of the greatest scientific achievements of all time were made under the most serendipitous of circumstances.

How does this relate to Purim? The miracle of Purim is recorded in the Hebrew Bible in the book of Esther. Esther is one of only two books in the Bible which do not mention God or the name of God at all (the other being Song of Songs). And yet, one cannot read the amazing details of the hatred and plot against the Jews, the coming of a Jewish princess into a position of power disguised and against all odds, and the ultimate triumph of the Jewish people over their enemies, without sensing the power and the hand of God in the events. So it is with serendipity. God may not be working in overt, readily observable ways or in mighty miracles. But, according to Rabbi Blech, “Serendipity is God whispering to us; it is God’s still small voice that beckons us to be aware of God’s presence.” (http://www.aish.com/h/pur/t/dt/Purim-and-Serendipity.html)

As we celebrate this year’s holiday of Purim and mark the final month of the Hebrew calendar, Adar, leading up to our beloved Pesach, it is my prayer for you that you too will find God working in your life, whether in the grand ways or small. Ken yehi ratzon—May this be God’s will.

Remembering David Horowitz: A Decade of Change–The Greatest Generation

Israel, the Jewish State in Palestine, was born on May 14, 1948. The day after Israel declared its independence, five Arab armies-Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Iraq-invaded Palestine in an effort to prevent Israel from coming into being.

The Arab war to destroy Israel failed. The cost to Israel, however, was enormous, both in human loss and economic cost. Because of their aggression, the Arabs wound up with less territory than they would have had if they had accepted partition and the United Nations would be faced with a huge Palestinian refugee issue. Israel expected its neighbors to accept its independence as a fact and negotiate peace. This was not to be.

Four of the Arab countries signed armistice agreements with Israel in 1949 with Iraq being the only country choosing not to do so. It would be 30 years before an Arab state would agree to make peace with Israel.

1948 was winding down.

On September 14, 1948, the symbolic ground breaking ceremony of the United Nations permanent headquarters located in the Turtle-Bay area on the East Side of Manhattan took place. The event marked the beginning of the actual work of excavation for the thirty-nine story first building. David Horowitz once remarked that he “watched the UN compound go up brick by brick.”

October 24 would be declared United Nations Day to commemorate the coming into force of the United Nations Charter, one of the greatest international undertakings in history. October 24th would be observed each year thereafter throughout the world as United Nations Day.

During the same period, Dwight David Eisenhower was installed as the thirteenth president of Columbia University. Some interesting sidelights on the appointment: the number thirteen happens to be both America’s and Israel’s peculiar symbol. Nearly all the emblems on the Great Seal of the United States run in groups or clusters of thirteen. America started with thirteen colonies, Israel with thirteen tribes. Also, thirteen is the numerical value of the Hebrew word “echad” (meaning one).

GreatestGeneration

Eisenhower was taking over the reigns of the only university in the world whose official seal carries the Hebrew name YHVH as its most imposing symbol. Eisenhower would later succeed Harry Truman as the 34th President of the United States.

Once again America stood at the head among the nations of the world in espousing the cause of Israel. The January-February 1949 issue of the UI Bulletin covered the story of the December 2, 1948 session of the Security Council in which U.S. Spokesman, Dr. Philip C. Jessup, delivered a stirring appeal urging Israel’s immediate admission as the fifty-ninth member of the UN. Dr. Jessup’s declaration indicated clearly where President Truman stood on Israel.

On March 4, 1949, the Security Council recommended Israel for admission to the United Nations. The vote, coming at about 5:40 pm (almost midnight in Israel) was 9 in favor, 1 against (Egypt), and 1 abstention (England).

David Horowitz would be present on May 11, the twelfth day of Iyar, 5709, at about 7:30 pm, when the United Nations congregated in its General Assembly Building at Flushing Meadows and admitted Israel as the 59th member nation. David summed up the prevailing emotions as the event unfolded: “It was a dramatic occasion. As the vote was taken, there prevailed an air of tense alertness, vigil and almost breathlessness. Even some of the most seasoned newsmen showed emotions that revealed their innermost feelings. Most of them, having followed the Israeli case from the very outset of the struggle, had hoped for just this sort of development. The vote, 37 in favor, 12 against with 9 abstentions, came as a sort of climax to a drama upon which the eyes of the world had been focused for a long time. For the Jews, the event seemed Messianic in scope.”

In the November 1949 edition of the UI Bulletin, there was a story on Herbert Hoover’s plan for Palestine. Hoover, a former US President (1929-33) and a Quaker, was known as “the great humanitarian” for his many relief initiatives that fed war-torn Europe during and after World War I and similar efforts post World War II. He had proposed a plan for the many displaced Palestinian refugees following Israel’s War of Independence.

Much could be written, and has been, regarding the refugee issue. For brevity sake however, the least one should know is an overview of the facts. The Palestinians left their homes in 1947-48 for many reasons. Thousands of wealthy Arabs left in anticipation of a war, fleeing to neighboring Arab countries to await its end. Thousands more responded to Arab leaders’ calls to flee out of the way of the advancing armies and in a few cases the Israeli forces did expel Arab residents from villages, usually out of military necessity.

From census records, best estimates show that no more than 650,000 Palestinian Arabs could have become refugees. Reports by the UN mediator on Palestine arrived at an even lower figure of 472,000.

There would be no welcome mats in neighboring Arab countries for the displaced refugees and the UN would become essentially a welfare agency for the Palestinians.

Hoover’s proposal was that Iraq be made the scene of resettlement of the Arabs from Palestine. Quoting directly from Hoover’s plan: “In ancient times the irrigation of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys supported probably 10 million people. The deterioration and destruction of their irrigation works by the Mongol invasion centuries ago and their neglect for ages are responsible for the shrinkage of the population. My own suggestion is that Iraq might be financed to complete this great land development on the consideration that it be made the place of resettlement of the Arabs from Palestine.

This would clear Palestine completely for a large Jewish emigration and colonization.

A suggestion to transfer the Arab people of Palestine was made by the British Labor Party in December 1944, however, no adequate plan was proposed as to where or how they were to go. There is room for many more Arabs in such a development in Iraq than the total of Arabs in Palestine. The soil is more fertile. They would be among their own race, Arab-speaking and Mohammedan.”

The Hoover Plan was submitted to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine in December 1945.

Speaking in Kansas City on December 27, 1948, President Harry Truman made reference to the Hoover Plan as a possible settlement of the Arab refugee problem brought about by the war in Palestine. He viewed it as a way to relieve the plight of the refugees while also benefiting Iraq since Palestinians excel at both agriculture and construction.

The November 1949 issue of the UI Bulletin also included a full-page advertisement for David Horowitz’s autobiography “33 Candles.” It included a publishing date of November 1949 with a retail price of $3.50.

Israel was now a member nation of the UN and was ready to take its place at the big table. The alphabetical seating arrangement of the United Nations delegates at all committee meetings placed Israel in a rather uncomfortable position. Directly at Israel’s left sits Iraq, then Iran and India. At her right is Lebanon. These states, who voted against Israel’s admission into the World Body, seemed not to be too pleased with their immediate seating partner. The UN experience would lead to Israeli delegate Abba Eban making his famous observation, while commenting about the UN General Assembly: “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”

The decade of the 1940s was one of immense change in every aspect of the human experience. Those living in our country at that time were a part of what has been called “The Greatest Generation.” David Horowitz’s life would become profoundly redirected.

United Israel World Union was founded as a world organization and Horowitz would begin a long and successful career as a United Nations Correspondent.

An impressive endorsement came from famous French author and playwright Edmund Fleg. Interviewed at his Paris home, Fleg stated that the advent of “United Israel World Union in the new World is without a doubt a sign of a new beginning in American Anglo-Jewish life. It is my sincere hope that United Israel will spread to all parts of the world. The idea has a message for tomorrow.”

It was a year of many accomplishments, but David Horowitz was about to close 1949 with an event that would change his life.

This is the fifth in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” Be sure to read any posts you have missed at our archive here.

BuntynRalph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.

A New Year for Trees?

From the Rabbi…

RabbiJones

 

 

 

As we emerge from winter and begin to see the first signs of spring, the next notable occasion on the Hebrew calendar is Tu B’Shevat. Often called the “New Year for Trees,” Tu B’Shevat is actually a transliteration of the Hebrew for the 15th of Shevat. You will recall that in Hebrew, letters represent numbers. The Hebrew letter tet stands for the number nine and the letter vav (which in this case makes the “u” sound) represents the number six; six plus nine, of course, equaling fifteen. Shevat is the eleventh month of the Hebrew calendar.

Tu B'Shevat

 

The New Year for Trees is not a biblically commanded festival. Its first mention is found in the Mishnah, a collection of the sayings of Judaism’s most prominent sages from just after the beginning of the Common Era. In Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 2a, the rabbis are discussing when the new year should fall. They did, in fact, establish four new years. The first of Nissan was referred to as the new year for kings and festivals. The first of Elul was established for the tithe (giving of one tenth) of cattle. The first of Tishri was called the new year for years of release, Jubilee years, and for the tithe of vegetables. The famous House of Hillel placed the new year for trees on the 15th of Shevat

The need for a “New Year for Trees” was based on several passages from the Torah dealing with the treatment of trees, the most specific being Leviticus 19:23-25: “When you come into the land and you plant any tree for food, you shall treat its fruit as forbidden; for three years it will be forbidden and not eaten. In the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be sanctified to praise the LORD. In the fifth year, you may eat its fruit.” The rabbis of the Mishnah probably placed the new year for trees on the 15th of Shevat because at that time of year the trees in the land of Israel, particularly those which bear fruit, begin to emerge from their winter dormancy and put forth their first buds. Since the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans in about 70 C.E., the ancient practices of tithing and the dedication of fruit, vegetables, and cattle for use by the priesthood in Jerusalem are no longer strictly adhered to in Judaism. Still, the importance of Tu B’Shevat has remained on many levels.

In modern times, the “New Year for Trees” has become a time to emphasize Jewish responsibility toward the environment. For an ancient document, the Torah contains a remarkable number of passages that deal with the appropriate treatment of plants, animals, and the land. The passage cited earlier from Leviticus 19 about the treatment of a newly planted fruit tree is one such example. The practice of not harvesting the fruit of a young tree for the first three years would allow the tree time to strengthen and establish its root system before being subjected to harvest. You will recall that even from the beginning of man and woman’s time on earth, they were instructed to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and master it, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28). The book of Genesis goes on to tell us that man and woman were placed in the Garden of Eden “to cultivate it and keep it” (2:15). The psalmist confirms, “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and all who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1). In fact, the Almighty has made us partners in tending this incredible planet and bringing its possibilities to fruition.

The Torah instructed the children of Israel that even during times of war, when extreme measures were necessary for the preservation of the nation, special care was to be taken not to destroy trees (Deuteronomy 20:19). According to Numbers 35:4, when cities were constructed in the Promised Land, “green belts” were to be maintained around the perimeters of the cities. Special rules were established for the harvesting of crops and the treatment of fields. For example, land was to be planted and harvested for six years, but on the seventh year the land was required to lie fallow, obviously in order to rejuvenate itself (Leviticus 25:3-4). This is actually referred to as giving the land a “sabbath rest”! There are even laws in the Torah which regulate such mundane things as the disposal of waste (Deuteronomy 23:12).

The ethical treatment of animals is also a prominent concern in the Torah. Leviticus 19:19 prohibits the crossbreeding of species. Several laws pertain to the preservation of species. One such example is Deuteronomy 22:6: “If along the road, you chance upon a birds nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings or the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young. Let the mother go, and take only the young, in order that you may farewell and have a long life.” It is on this same theme that the famous passage, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19 and Deuteronomy 14:21), the very passage from which the Kashrut laws of separating milk and meat derive—the ethical treatment of a parent of a species and its young. Even in such a simple statement as, “You shall not muzzle the ox while it is threshing” (Deuteronomy 25:4), one can sense the ancient intent of not wanting to cause an animal undue stress or suffering. I have always been astounded that in the central communication of Jewish law, the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, the Almighty keeps the welfare of animals in mind. When the instructions for the keeping of the seventh day Sabbath are given, in verse 10 the Torah states, “the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male servant or your female servant, or your cattle…. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” So it is clear that even our livestock, just as we ourselves, were to be given a time of rest and restoration one day in seven.

Another, more metaphorical, lesson that we can take away from the “New Year for Trees, is a deeper appreciation for the very source of the amazing laws and precepts that have preserved us as a people, the Holy Torah. It is likened in our tradition to a “tree of life.” The laws of the Torah truly have, as promised (Joshua 1:8), kept those who observe them happy, healthy, successful, and prosperous. Referring to the Torah as a “tree of life” connects back to the original “tree of life” in the Garden of Eden, from which, according to the creation story, if man and woman had eaten, they would have lived forever (Genesis 3:22). One of the most beautiful and soulful chants from the Sabbath morning liturgy is the one we do after reading the Torah, as we return it to the ark, “Eitz chayim hi…” Based on a paraphrase of the passage from the Hebrew Bible found in Proverbs 3:17-18, we are instructed: “Behold, a good doctrine has been given you, My Torah; do not forsake it. It is a tree of life to those who hold it fast, and all who cling to it find happiness. Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” We have truly inherited an awe-inspiring and lofty tradition, teaching us to love God, our Creator, and to have compassion not only for our fellow human, but for the earth and all of its creatures, plant and animal.

As we observe Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for Trees, which falls this year on Wednesday, February 4, please join me in thanking God for the awesome creation that has been entrusted into our care, as well as for the remarkable laws, the Holy Torah, which instruct us as to how that care should be implemented.

Dennis Jones is Vice President of United Israel World Union and the Rabbi at Temple Beth Shalom in Hickory, North Carolina. His posts are a regular feature of our web site and you may read his entire series of thoughts, meditations, and Biblical reflections here.

 

Salvation – the Final Act

Tissot_The_Egyptians_Are_DestroyedIn this week’s teaching Ross covers the final act of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. He begins by establishing the connection between Israel’s salvation and the lovingkindness or chesed of YHVH as it relates to the greatest story of redemption ever told. He demonstrates through Scripture that the ultimate purpose of the Exodus was to make YHVH known in all the earth. Ross shows that the salvation of Israel involves the destruction of the enemy AND the saving of God’s people and makes the point that this theme is often repeated in the Bible. Carefully working through passages, Ross shows that the fear of YHVH and trust in YHVH and Moses were prerequisites for salvation and proposes that the same is required today. You will not want to miss this teaching. Click here to listen to this class.

The Bible Codes—Divine Pattern or Preposterous Chimera?

In May 1997, a sensational new book titled The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin, was published by Simon & Schuster.  It was announced with a full-page ad in the New York Times and quickly appeared on the covers and editorial pages of major magazines and newspapers worldwide.    Drosnin, a free-lance investigative reporter, who once worked for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, offered a readable, engrossing, and intriguing account of a hidden code found in the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament), discovered several years ago, with the use of advanced computer programs, by a number of Israeli mathematicians, including Moshe Katz,  Eliyahu Rips, and Doron Witztum.  This code is based on what are called ELS or Equidistant Letter Sequences found in the traditional Masoretic Hebrew text of the Torah or Five Books of Moses.  The idea is a simple one.  According to its supporters there is encoded within the plain text of the Hebrew Torah hidden messages and information.  Imagine the entire 304,805 Hebrew letters of the traditional Torah fed into a computer in perfect sequence, much like the sequenced chemical strand of a DNA double helix.  The computer then looks for meaningful words and phrases occurring at various intervals or equal distant letter skips—say every 50 letters, or 75, or 100 letters—or really any number one chooses to use, forward or backward in the text.

Bible_code_in_Genesis_1,1-4

For example, if you start with Genesis 1:1, go to the first occurrence of the letter Tav (which is at the end of the first word bereshit, “In [the] beginning”), count 49 letters, and you come to the letter Vav (50th letter); count another 49 letters and you arrive at Resh; and 49 letters again and you come to the letter Heh—put these together: Tav, Vav, Resh, Heh and you spell a Hebrew word: TORaH.  It is most interesting that the same thing happens with the first lines of Exodus, the second book of Torah.   If you begin with the first Tav (the end of the second word shemot), count 49 letters, you come to a Vav, another 49 letters to a Resh, and a fourth 49 letters you end up with a Heh—again TORaH in Hebrew.   The third book of the Torah, Leviticus, has a similar pattern, but this time the sacred Name of God (YHVH/Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey) is spelled out every seven letters, beginning with the first Yod.  Numbers and Deuteronomy continue the pattern, but with the word TORaH spelled backwards, every 49 letters.  The sacred Name YHVH also is found at the end each of these five books, also at intervals of 49 letters.  The question is, are we dealing with a phenomenon that can be explained purely by chance and random sequence, or is there some “pattern” that has somehow been inserted by the Author or authors of these texts?  Given the number of letters in Genesis (about 78 thousand), one would expect the letters Tav, Vav, Hey, and Resh, to appear in sequence, at various letter intervals, at least two or three times based on chance distribution alone.  What is interesting here is the way in which these key terms: Torah and YHVH, appear precisely where they do—at the opening and closing of the Five Books of the Torah, and in a balanced sequence of forward and backward spelling—with YHVH opening Leviticus, at a sequence of seven letters.  Such number patterns, of seven and forty-nine, have mystical and historical significance in Hebrew tradition.

TorahCodes

The phenomenon is also found in much more complicated ways.  Prof. Rips, for example, found that in the single section of Genesis 1:29-3:3, one can find encoded, at various letter sequences, not only the names of the seven edible species of seed-bearing fruits in the land of Israel (barley, wheat, vine, date, olive, fig, and pomegranate), but also the names of the twenty-five trees of the Garden of Eden, delineated by tradition (chestnut, acacia, willow, etc.)—again, all hidden at various equal distant letter skips (5, 18, 9, 14, and so forth).  There is no other segment of Genesis of similar length where these words occur at such short intervals (less than 20 letters).

Dosnin’s book goes much beyond such relatively simply patterns.  His book is filled with charts of various grids or sections of the Hebrew text, in which one finds patterns of words at various sequences—moving forward, backward, horizontally, vertically,  and diagonally.   For example, he finds the names Yitzhak Rabin and Amir (Rabin’s convicted killer),  the phrase “name of assassin who will assassinate,” Tel Aviv, and the date on the Hebrew calendar 5756 (1995-96)—all laid out in one portion of the Hebrew Torah at various letter sequences (see pp. 16-17) of his book.  He tells us of his dramatic efforts to warn Rabin of the possibilities of his death, as he discovered these particular “codes” before the assassination in 1995.  He also finds the assassinations of J. F. and Robert Kennedy, clustered with terms such as Dallas, Oswald, Ruby, S. Sirhan, marksman,  respectively.  In the case of Egyptian President Sadat, he finds the phrase “Chaled will shoot Sadat” and even the Hebrew date “8 Tishri” in a relatively small section of the text.  Another section shows many words clustered together related to the 1991 Gulf War, including the words: Saddam Hussein, missile, 3rd of Shevat (Jan 18th), and so forth.   Hardly anything is left out of the book, from Watergate, to Hiroshima, to the Jupiter comet collision.  Drosnin’s book is filled with such examples, including things yet to come—which is part of the controversy, since most of the Israeli scientists who have developed the basic research on the computer code maintain it can not be used reliably to predict the future.  As Prof. Rips put it, when asked about Drosnin’s book: “All attempts to extract messages from Torah codes or to make predictions based on them are futile and of no value.”

The idea that the Torah, as the purest revelation of the God of Israel, was divinely inspired at Sinai and delivered to Moses in a letter-perfect form that we have without error today, is fundamental to traditional Judaism.  Indeed, in Jewish mystical tradition, the Torah contains all knowledge.  As the Vilna Gaon put it in the 18th century: “all that was, is, and will be unto the end of time is included in the Torah.”   The Torah is understood to be the “blueprint” of the universe, a reflection of the perfect mind of God.  Many of these Codes, especially the more simple ones, based on the ELS phenomenon,  had been discovered by various rabbis down through the ages.  It was the brilliant Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl, survivor of the Holocaust, who first made a systematic examination of the entire Torah, looking for such patterns.  As a youth he had written out the entire 300 thousand letter text of the traditional Torah on white cards, in 10-by- 10 arrays of letters.  Following the war he lived outside of NY City, sat for hours, Bible in hand, making complicated mathematical calculations on the letters of the Bible, taking copius notes in the margins.  Eventually he established a Yeshiva and gathered a group of faithful students around him.  Unfortunately little of his work was committed to writing, and most is now lost.  For example, the Vilna Gaon had found the name Rambam (Maimonides) encoded in Exodus 11:9 in an acrostic acronym from the first letters of the words: Rabot Moftai B’eretz Mitzraim (“marvels will be multiplied in the land of Egypt”).  Rabbi Weissmandle discovered that if you began with the letter M (Mem), of this acrostic, the words Mishnah and Torah were spelled out at a 50 letter sequence—but with the two words separated by 613 letters.  Those familiar with Jewish tradition will recall that Maimonides’ greatest work was titled Mishnah Torah and it is the most authoritative commentary on the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments) in Judaism.

I first heard of the Torah Bible Code on various visits to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in the early 1990s.  It was talked about openly among the rabbis and Torah students who lived there.  In fact, in July, 1990 I discussed the phenomenon with the Chief Rabbi of Israel, and he appeared to be quite excited and favorable toward the results that were just beginning to appear from the Israeli scientists.  I can still recall  the example shown to me from Deuteronomy 31:14-18, where Moses is told how Israel will go astray and that God will hide his face from them.  If you begin with the letter Heh, last letter in the name of Moses in verse 14, count 50 letters, you come to Shin, another 50 letters, you come to Vav, and so forth until one finds spelled out: Hey Shin Vav, Alef, Heh—which is in Hebrew is HaShoah—the Holocaust! (see illustration).  I was told at the time that this word, HaShoah, never occurs anywhere else in the Torah in such a pattern.  I still have my Hebrew Bible marked with those letters I circled on that day.   Shortly thereafter I was able to obtain a privately published “manual” on the Torah Codes published by the Orthodox group Arachim.  In 1993 I received a letter from Prof. Paul Eidelberg from Bar-Ilan University, on behalf of his colleague Dr. Moshe Katz asking me for help in getting some of this work published in English.   Prof. Katz was one of the pioneers in the computer examination of the Torah Code possibilities.  Prof. Eidelberg was kind enough to mail me a copy of Prof. Katz’ s book on the Torah Codes in Hebrew, B’Otiyoteiha Nitna Torah (published 1991; subsequently in English as: Computorah: On Hidden Codes in the Torah [1996]).  Over the next few years I continued to hear about the Bible Code and the astonishing claims these Israeli mathematicians were making.  Prof. Eidelberg himself published a fine summary in the Orthodox scientific journal B’Or HaTorah (“Codes in the Torah: A Discussion” No. 9, 1995), and from time to time one would see articles about the codes in the Jewish press.

The first major academic breakthrough involving such research on the Bible Codes was the 1994 publication of an article in the prestigious scholarly journal Statistical Science (Vol 9, No. 3, pp. 429-38) titled “Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis,” by Israeli mathematicians Doron Witztum, Elijahu Rips, and Yoav Rosenberg.   In this very technical article these researchers reported on an experiment in which they claimed to have found, encoded in the book of Genesis, the names, as well as the birth and death dates, of 34 “Great Men of Israel” taken at random from a Jewish Encyclopedia.  Their list included such figures as Rabbi Avraham Ibn-Ezra, Rashi, the Rambam, and so forth.  In October, 1995, the popular magazine Bible Review, published a summary of these findings by researcher Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, titled “Divine Authorship? Computer Reveals Startling Word Patterns.”   The response was overwhelming and gradually the subject of the Bible Codes was working its way into a wider discussion among Biblical scholars (who almost universally scoffed at the idea) and informed lay persons.  Satinover addressed many of the objections and responses in a subsequent issue of Bible Review (February, 1996), but the idea was dismissed by Biblical scholars as preposterous and it never really caught on in the public mind.   A rather technical mathematical discussion has continued on the Web in various Usenet groups since the publication of the Statistical Science article in 1994.  I have attempted all along to follow the discussion as it has developed.

And then Michael Drosnin’s book burst on the scene and the result was like a torrential storm among specialists and non-specialists alike. There are dozens of Web sites on the Internet devoted to a discussion, pro and con, of the validity of the Bible Codes.  Bible Review, perhaps as an act of repentance, published a scathingly critical article on Dosnin’s book in August, 1997 titled “The Bible Code: Cracked and Crumbling,” in which the prestigious Hebrew Bible scholar Ron Hendel and mathematician Shlomo Sternberg pointed out what they consider to be the utter foolishness, problematic nature, and outright fraud embodied in the whole idea.   Australian mathematician Brendan McKay, along with Hebrew University professor Dror Bar-Nathan, are engaged in writing a detailed refutation of what they consider to be the mathematical flaws of the whole idea.  Preliminary versions of their work are already available on the Internet, with replies and responses by Ripps and Witztum, and counter-responses from McKay & Bar-Nathan.  These discussions become extremely abstract and technical and would surely be difficult to follow without a high level of training in the science of mathematical statistics (see http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/report1.html).

In the meantime, everyone is jumping into the act.  You can purchase a copy of the Torah Bible Codes program and run it on your own personal computer.  With a little knowledge of Hebrew one can search for his or her own name and any other significant data.  I know of several who have done this.  One friend wrote me recently to report that he had found his name, year of birth, place of birth, and the words “prophet Elijah” are all encoded together!  He is trying to determine if this might be significant for his own role in the future plan of God.   Others are using the codes to reveal all sorts of details about the impending apocalyptic end of the age on or around the turn of the Millennium.  The Christians have also moved quickly into the arena.  Popular evangelical writer Grant Jeffrey has published a best-seller titled The Signature of God, in which he shows how all sorts of information asserting Jesus as the Messiah, his atoning death on the cross, and his role as Savior and Lord, are all encoded in Hebrew Bible using this same ELS code!   For example, he points out that if you begin in Genesis 1:1, take the first Yod in the first word, count forward every 521st letter, you will spell out Yeshua Yakhol, which he translates “Jesus is able.”  (I have not bothered to count this one out, but assume it will work).  He also finds the name of Yeshua, as one might expect, in the prophecy of Isaiah 53 regarding the Suffering Servant.  Jeffrey has no mathematical training of which I am aware, but he assures his readers that the chances this name would appear randomly in this chapter are one in 50 quadrillion!!  What Jeffrey fails to point out or recognize is that any name of three or four common letters can be found millions of times in various letter sequences, in any language, in a book the size of the Hebrew Torah.  The word Yeshua, with its very common Hebrew letters, occurs 600,000 times at various sequences in the Torah—but so does Koresh, Mohammed, Krishna, Buddha, and so forth, including most of the simple first names of anyone reading this article.   One can find Jeffrey’s book at Barnes and Noble and all the popular mass market book chains, including airports, shopping centers, and grocery stores.  It is obvious that the whole Bible Code phenomenon has degenerated to the level of tea leaves and Tarot cards!   The whole subject of mathematical patterns is nothing new.  Over the years I have read of “astounding” claims of improbability with reference to the measurements of pyramids of Egypt, the letters in the Arabic Koran, or even the Greek New Testament (numeric patterns of all types).

In my view one of the most worthwhile discussions of the whole Torah Code phenomenon, on a more popular level, is being carried out by the leaders of Aish HaTorah, a rabbinical school in Jerusalem founded by Noah Weinberg—particularly the work of Rabbi Daniel Mechanic, senior “Codes” lecturer for the organization.  Although these Orthodox Jewish scholars are convinced the Torah Code phenomenon points to the Divine Authorship of the Hebrew Torah, they have responsibly engaged one another and outside colleagues in a discussion that takes into consideration the various objections and excesses of the subject. Jeffrey Satinover, the author of the initial article in Bible Review,  has published a responsible and balanced book called Cracking the Bible Code (William Morrow, 1997), that appears to be the best single source for surveying the question in a comprehensive way—neither with hyper-skepticism nor dubious predisposed belief.

In the end, the notion of the Bible Codes rests on two fundamental pillars: 1) the claim that these word patterns are statistically significant and could not be accounted for by chance; 2) the idea that there is a letter-perfect, inviolate, version of the Torah in Hebrew, without textual variants or alterations.   First, we must be clear on what is meant by “codes.”  Word patterns per se, distributed at various distances, will naturally occur in any text in any alphabetic language, whether the English or Hebrew Bible, the works of Tolstoy or Shakespeare, the morning newspaper, or even this article I am writing.   Such “words” are accounted for purely by chance, and are not properly referred to as “codes.”  Thus to find my name Tabor, or Jesus, or that of anyone reading this article, in any text, is no surprise—especially if the letters of a text are arranged on a grid, and one searches for sequences of one letter skips up to several thousand, in all directions—forwards, backwards, horizontally, and vertically.  The possibilities are endless!   A “code,” on the other hand, implies that an author or the Author has deliberately arranged the text with certain patterns, complex enough and unusual enough that they would not be accounted for by a random chance occurrence.

For example, Prof. McKay took the English text of Moby Dick and has shown how all sorts of “astounding” things can be found at various letter sequences—such as the assassinations of various public figures, with dates and details.   In a more playful mood, Dr. McKay took an English translation of the New Testament book of Revelation and found terms such as Bill Gates, MS-DOS, virtual reality, software,  and even the name Michael Drosin—all on a single page grid!   Other researchers have taken a portion of the Hebrew translation of War and Peace, roughly the size of the Torah in Hebrew, fed it into a computer, and sought to determine what hidden codes might be there as well.   In one short section of the book they found at least 50 words, and even phrases, related to Chanukah—including Hashmonean, temple, lights, Maccabees, sanctuary, month of Kislev, miracles, chanukah, etc.   Not having any advanced mathematical training, and no experience at all in the complex world of statistical analysis, I really can offer little here from my own expertise.  I will continue to read the debate between the mathematicians and follow it to the degree I can.

BHS

As for the inviolate text of the Hebrew Bible, the whole Bible Codes theory faces what I take to be a rather insurmountable problem—especially in dealing with portions of the Hebrew text larger than a section or page.  Drosnin states that the Israeli research is based on the traditional Torah, as printed in the Jerusalem Bible Koren edition, which he tells us is the same in all official copies of the text worldwide.  The problem is that there is no single ancient copy of the Torah that agrees letter perfectly with modern copies found in synagogues today.  The traditional text reprinted in modern editions goes back only to the 16th century and represents a composite text based on various manuscripts of the Masoretic text, put together by the Rabbis.  Even our two oldest copies of the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible, the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex (10th century C.E.), do not agree in every word and letter.   Any critical edition of the Hebrew Bible will show these many variations at the bottom of the page (see the latest edition of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, which is based on the Leningrad Codex but footnotes all the major variants from other manuscripts).  There are also the many hundreds of changes that the Masoretes made in the text and have noted in the margins and their notes.  Over 100 times they change the name of God from YHVH to Adonai, thousands of times they recognize that the text as written needs correction (which they do in the margins).   Now with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and portions of the Torah they contain, we know the Masoretic text is just one textual tradition, and not necessarily the oldest.  As often as not the Dead Sea texts agree with the Greek Septuagint (which was translated from a Hebrew version around 200 B.C.E.!), and the Hebrew text that Josephus used, against the traditional Masoretic text.  This means that any wide search of the Hebrew Bible, involving thousands of letters in dozens of pages, becomes invalid if one assumes that the precise letter sequence in modern copies of the Torah has not changed over the centuries.  Our manuscript evidence simply proves otherwise.  On the other hand, some of the word patterns, such as the two illustrated in this article, involving letter skips of only 49 or 50 letters, in a relatively limited section of Torah, would remain valid subjects of discussion.  What becomes impressive to the non-specialist is when such patterns appear to be superimposed directly within a passage in which the plain meaning of the text corresponds to the “code”—such as the “trees of Eden” mentioned earlier, or the word “holocaust” in Deuteronomy 31:16-19, a passage dealing directly with the subject of the “hiding of the face.”  The mathematical debate will go on and perhaps reach definitive resolution by the scientists.  My own conclusion is that the verdict is still out on the final question: has some author/s or Author/s inserted patterned messages into the text of the Hebrew Bible, or can all the patterns,  so far discovered, be accounted for by statistical factors of chance.

Saving God’s Son

400px-Tissot_Water_Is_Changed_into_Blood-202x300In this teaching on Torah reading VaEra, Ross shares the reason for Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Beginning with God’s word to Abram about the enslavement of his descendants, Ross covers sets the stage for a clear understanding of the salvation of God’s firstborn son – Israel. He shows that the promised salvation is brought about through a series of signs and wonders, meant to strike the oppressing nation for the purpose of making YHVH known in all the earth. He further shows that these signs and wonders testified to the Oneness of God and was intended to be remembered as the greatest act of salvation ever accomplished. That is, until some future deliverance will overshadow the exodus from Egypt. Ross compares these two events, demonstrating that most likely the 2nd Exodus will follow a similar pattern but on a greater scale. You will not want to miss this teaching! Click here to listen to this class.

Remembering David Horowitz: When Prophecy Echoed in the White House

A Story stranger than any fiction…

On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to recommend the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state by a vote of 33-13, with 10 abstentions. France, the Soviet Union, and the United States were the major powers that supported the resolution. David Horowitz had worked intensely behind the scenes to help influence crucial Latin American votes needed to pass the partition plan.

Violence in the Holy Land broke out almost immediately after the UN announcement.

The Arabs declared a protest strike and began to instigate riots. By the end of the second week, 93 Arabs, 84 Jews, and 7 Englishmen had been killed and scores were injured. The chairman of the Arab Higher Committee said that the Arabs would “fight for every inch of their country.” Two days later, the jurists of Al-Azhar University in Cairo called on the Muslim world to proclaim a jihad (holy war) against the Jews.

Harry Truman

The United Nations appointed a commission composed of representatives from Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Panama, Bolivia, and the Philippines to implement their resolution. The British gave notice that they would evacuate Palestine by August 1, 1948, although they later decided to terminate the mandate earlier, on May 15.

On April 18, 1948, United Israel World Union held it’s fifth Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, where David Horowitz gave a full report on results of the UN Assembly Special Session on the Palestine imbroglio.

The March-April 1948 edition of the UI Bulletin was released. It included an advertisement for Horowitz’s autobiography entitled “In Quest of God.” It would later be re-named “Thirty-Three Candles.”

As fighting intensified, the State Department convinced President Truman to propose that the partition plan be suspended in favor of a UN trusteeship over Palestine, warning that the longer the violence continued, the angrier the Arab world would become at the United States. This policy shift caused great consternation to world Jewry.

In the spring of 1948, Truman’s public approval rating stood at 36% and the President was nearly universally regarded as incapable of winning the general election. All the polls showed Thomas Dewey far ahead. Truman’s chances for re-election were considered very slim.

It was during this time that David Horowitz met up with an old friend and a luncheon conversation would lead to an engaging new development.

David’s activities would take him to Washington quite often where he usually met for lunch with an official of the Department of Justice, Martin F. Smith, formally associated with the Congress and an old friend of Harry Truman. Mr. Smith, like Mr. Truman, was a deep student of the Bible and prophecy. During their meetings, Horowitz and Smith would almost always discuss prophecy in the light of present-day events as relating to Israel and America.

President Truman had long taken an interest in the history of the Middle East and was well read on ancient history and the events related in the Bible.

During their meeting, the discussion turned to Smith’s friend, Mr. Truman and the Presidential campaign. Both agreed that Truman’s chances for re-election was very poor.

As they spoke about the Bible and prophecy as relating to the Jews returning to Palestine, David told Smith that America’s new policy was contrary to God’s will and for that reason, Truman, as head of the nation, had found disfavor in the sight of God and man.

Then, in a sort of wishful way, David said to Smith: “Possibly if Truman would heed my counsel he might still at this late hour stand a chance of re-election.” Smith, looking serious and taking the statement in earnest, said: “Tell me and I will tell the President.”

Somewhat taken aback by this sudden challenge and realizing that Mr. Smith was serious, David told him: “Truman should know, first of all, that no man or electorate had put him into the White House. He got in through an act of God when Franklin D. Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945 a week or so after it was revealed that Mr. Roosevelt had made certain commitments to Ibn Saud and the Arabs. Hence, it is clear, that God does not want Truman to listen to every dissenting voice, as he has up until now, in matters of State and Foreign Policy. God wants him to do what he thinks is right himself.”

“Moreover,” David continued, “the problem of Palestine is not exclusively a Jewish one. American Christian voters, nurtured on Hebrew tradition as based on the Bible, have always connected the Jew with the Holy Land. When they read in their daily papers that Truman was wavering on this matter, permitting the State Department to play politics that’s not in the interest of the people of the Book, they lost their faith in him. They saw a weak man who changes his mind with every wind. Therefore, unless your friend, Mr. Truman, realizes these facts and rectifies the wrong done the Jews, he will fail history and lose. He will have to convince the American people by doing something spectacular in the matter of the Jews and Palestine so as to electrify the world.”

Mr. Smith listened intently and when they parted he promised he would go to his friend, the President, and press the matter with him.

A week later, in a New York Times dispatch reporting Mr. Truman’s weekly press conference, the President was quoted among other things, as having said: “I don’t care what happens to my own political career personally. I am going to do what I think is right.”

During this press conference reporters seemed to be witnessing a new Truman. He became more “unpredictable.” He began to act more on his own and his ratings in the public eye began to rise.

Fighting in the undeclared war in Palestine gradually escalated. From November 30, 1947 through February 1, 1948, 427 Arabs, 381 Jews, and 46 British were killed and many were wounded. In March alone, 271 Jews and 257 Arabs died in clashes

The UN continued to debate Trusteeship over Palestine, but there seemed to be insufficient support in the UN General Assembly to adopt this change of policy.

The UN partition resolution was never suspended or rescinded and on May 14, 1948, the Zionists declared the independent state of Israel, as the British finally left the country.

Against vigorous opposition from his Secretary of State, George Marshall, President Truman did the unpredictable. He extended immediate recognition to the new state eleven minutes after it declared itself a nation.

Marshall believed the paramount threat to the US was the Soviet Union and feared that Arab oil would be lost to the US in the event of war. He warned Truman that: “the US was playing with fire with nothing to put it out.” There was other opposition in the State Department as well.

Truman had indeed electrified the world by recognizing the State of Israel to the dejection of Israel’s enemies. The General Assembly of the UN went into a tantrum. Not even the American delegation there under Warren Austin had known about Truman’s act.

It seemed that Harry Truman had taken seriously the message conveyed to him by Martin F. Smith, perhaps becoming a modern Cyrus.

David Horowitz was there in the press gallery in Flushing Meadows that late Friday afternoon as a witness when the news of Truman’s recognition of Israel was announced in the General Assembly.

When David met with Martin Smith during their next visit, Smith told him that soon after their previous meeting, he had contacted Truman and told him every word he had heard from David. He said that Truman listened intently and became strangely quiet. “I have seen Mr. Truman many times and in many moods,” Smith said, “but never did I see him so dead earnest and serious as at the close of our meeting this time.”

The 1948 Presidential Election will always be remembered for Harry Truman’s stunning come from behind victory.

The defining image of the campaign came after Election Day, when an ecstatic Truman held aloft the erroneous front page of The Chicago Tribune with a huge headline proclaiming “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Truman’s inauguration would be the first ever televised nationally.

This is the fourth in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” Be sure to read any posts you have missed at our archive here.

RalpBuntynh Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passing the Patriarchal Plan

Guercino_Jacob_Ephraim_and_Manasseh-300x235In this week’s class, Ross teaches from the final reading of Genesis. He covers the passing of the plan and follows the promises of the patriarchal narratives. Beginning with the promises made to Abraham, he shows that Scripture relates a specific plan, for a specific people, to be realized in a specific place at a set and yet undetermined time. Carefully working through texts in the Torah and the Prophets, Ross shows that while the plan is carried out in the lives of the patriarchs, it is to be fulfilled in the lives of the descendants of the fathers. You will not want to miss this teaching. Click here to listen to this teaching.

Joseph Saga – Revelation and Restoration

saga-part3The story of Joseph reveals many of the principles upon which God interacts with humanity. In this teaching, we identify the historical Joseph and explore the reasons for his trials and afflictions. We will see the reasons for which YHWH brings trials and afflictions and how those afflictions have the potential to prepare us for a greater role in YHWH’s plan of salvation. Joseph applied the principles of testing, proving, and afflicting his brothers to see if their hearts were ready to know who he was. After his brothers passed his tests and the time came for Joseph to reveal himself, he had every reason to judge his brothers harshly. When Joseph cleared the room, his brothers were sure God’s judgment against their sin was imminent. Instead of judgment, Joseph called his brothers close to him and offered them salvation. Their affliction during the 22 years of separation had healed their sin. They were ready for the salvation Joseph could offer them. Yet even within this great time of joy, Joseph’s father, Jacob, could not bring himself to hope that his son was yet alive. He lacked the heart to believe the good news. Once YHWH’s plan of salvation for the Abrahamic clan was revealed, YHWH provided Jacob with a covenant of hope. Hope that he would see and touch his long lost son. Hope that his family would be whole. Join us as we see the word of hope that YHWH has left within his scriptures for us today. Hope, like Jacob, that will not be deferred when we see that his righteousness is revealed and his salvation is near to come. Click here to listen to this class by Jodell Onstott.

Remembering Christmas 1776: Washington–An American Joshua

This is the time of year celebrated by many as a season of joy, thankfulness and perhaps miracles. One such miracle occurred on Christmas Day 1776 that influenced America’s struggle for independence and perhaps a different outcome for all of us. It was the closest the fledgling Continental Army ever came to disaster.

The year opened with the British evacuating Boston. Then both the American Penobscot Bay Expedition and invasion of Canada failed. General Washington’s Continental Army moved to protect New York, but was routed by superior forces that outmaneuvered them at every engagement. Only by luck and British ineptness was Washington able to keep his forces relatively intact during the long retreat through New Jersey into Pennsylvania.

In mid-December when the weather turned extremely cold, British General Howe made one of the fateful decisions of the war. He suspended military actions until spring, establishing a string of outposts on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River and retired most of his army to New York.

washington_delaware.jpg

Things were drastically different for Washington’s forces across the river from Trenton, a village of a hundred homes, two mills and iron furnaces. Most of the townspeople had fled. Some 2500 Hessians occupied the town. Hessians were mercenary German soldiers supplied to the British army in its fight against America. They were employed by King George III who simply did not have enough soldiers in his own army to supply the needs of his commanders in America. In total, nearly 30,000 German soldiers fought for the British in North America. A stronger outpost was at Brunswick, 20 miles away.

Washington commanded about 6,000 troops. Hundreds fell ill, and all suffered from the cold. The troops had not been paid for months and morale was extremely low. The period of enlistment would expire for more than a third of Washington’s army in January. Congress had fled from Philadelphia and two members had gone over to the enemy. It was reasonable to presume that the war was essentially over and the Americans had lost.

On December 14, Washington told key members of his staff that “a lucky blow against the enemy would most certainly rouse the spirits of the people, which are quite shrunk by our misfortunes.” Later he confirmed plans for an attack on Trenton to begin on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve, Washington went over the final details. The army would cross the Delaware and attack at three places, a force of 1,500 would cross downstream and advance on Burlington, and a smaller force would attack directly across the river at Trenton. The largest force of 2,000 led by Washington would cross upstream and come back south.

The first step, crossing the river, would commence at midnight, and all forces were scheduled to arrive at Trenton and attack at six. In spite of deteriorating Christmas Day weather with wind, snow and sleet, the river being up and filled with broken ice, the password was still: “Victory or Death.”

The crossing was made on big flat-bottomed, high-sided boats that could carry 40 men standing up. The troops, with horses and 20 cannon began moving during the afternoon. Washington crossed early and observed the slow process. Near midnight a major storm arrived and temperatures dropped. It was three in the morning before the entire contingent was across.

Downstream both forces encountered so much ice that they were forced to abort their mission. Washington’s forces were behind schedule and the storm grew worse, with rain, sleet, snow and violent hail. They had six miles to get to Trenton and got there about eight in the morning.

The attack began.

The Hessians rushed out of their quarters and attempted to form up. Henry Knox’s cannon scattered them and their commanding officer was killed. Being surrounded, most of the Hessians lay down their arms and surrendered. It was all over in 45 minutes. Twenty-one Hessians were killed, 90 wounded, 900 became prisoners and another 500 escaped.

Only four Americans were wounded, including Lieutenant James Monroe, a future president of the United States. No Americans were killed.

Washington had prophesied that some “lucky blow” would “rouse the spirits of the people” and it had a stunning effect on the morale of the country.

The war for independence would continue, endlessly it would seem for some, for another six and a half years before the Treaty of Paris formally ended the war in 1783.

Practically all of us have seen one of the most-recognized paintings in history: that of Washington crossing the Delaware in an 1851 oil-on-canvas work by Emanuel Leutze, a German-American painter, commemorating the attack by George Washington’s Continental Army on Hessian forces encamped at Trenton, N. J. on Christmas Day, 1776.

In the first issue of the United Israel World Union Bulletin dated July 1944, founder and president David Horowitz wrote an article entitled “Washington and Ezekiel’s Vision”. He opened by saying that very few Americans are aware of the fact that George Washington was a Godly man who had been inspired with visions of truth and there can be no doubt that Jehovah guided him in his actions and deeds. The article gave an account of one of Washington’s visions that he personally related to Anthony Sherman, who in turn related it to Wesley Bradshaw. Following this mysterious experience, a troubled Washington felt that he had seen a vision wherein it had been shown to him the birth, progress and destiny of the United States. It is a remarkable accounting, the majority given in Washington’s own words.

Dr. Ezra Stiles the seventh president of Yale University, often spoke of America as a “modern Israel.” In referring to George Washington, Dr. Stiles made this significant statement: “Whereupon Congress put at the head of the spirited army, the only man on whom the eyes of all Israel were placed. Posterity, incredulous as it may be, will yet acknowledge that this American Joshua was raised up by God for the great work of leading the armies of this American Joseph, now separated from his brethren, and conducting these people to liberty and independence.”

As Americans, we have yet another reason to celebrate the season and to give thanks for the outcome of an event embedded 238 years ago in our nation’s rich history.

BuntynRalph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.