REDEMPTION WATCH: Nnamdi Kanu, the Slave Trade, and Why Israel Still Mourns for the Temple

Every year we we find ourselves at this time again.  The darkest moments in Jewish history and really the collective Israelite history can be boiled down to the 9th of Av, the day of mourning of the destruction of the two temples that stood at the exact location of today’s Dome of the Rock.

Exile cannot be quantified and there is no other people in the world who have been exiled, enslaved, and brutally oppressed as much as Israel.  We have been scattered to the four corners of the world and only because the Almighty deemed it time to come home, did Jews begin to stream back to the Land of the Israel.  Liberation was achieved against the British and subsequent wars of defense and liberation of our homeland were also fought and won.  All of these events occurred against impossible odds.

Yet, despite Israel’s standing there is a vacancy in our nation and our hearts. The location of the Temple is the point where the world was created from.  It is the point where Abraham our Father binded Isaac.  Kabbalah teaches the temple mount is point that connects this world to the upper worlds.  The Almighty entrusted his Children with this spot.  We built two temples there and both times they were destroyed and we were exiled.  The first exile brought us to Babylon, Egypt, and Syria.  Some Israelites returned 70 years later to rebuild the Temple and establish sovereignty, but many stayed in exile and built communities across the Middle East and Africa.

When the Romans destroyed the second Temple, forcing us into exile again, many fled or were sold into slavery into Africa and many of us were brought to Rome and other parts of the Roman Empire in Europe.  

Our sages teach us the second Temple was destroyed due to intramural hate and only tremendous unity can rebuild it.

The prophet Ovadia clearly states that although the people of Israel were scattered they will return at the end of the days and mentions both the house of Yosef returning from France and the house of David from Spain.

We are clearly in the middle of this as we speak.  But there are other locations.  The prophet Isaiah mentions Cush. We have already witnessed our brothers and sisters return from Ethiopia, but what of the other Israelites found there? Millions fled or were sold into slavery to Africa after the destruction of both Temples. These Jews are only supposed to resurface at the end of days, after we the ones exiled into Rome trigger the awakening by returning first.

The Almighty has hidden from us our brothers’ location, but now it is clear at the end where they have been. The Jews who went into Egypt with Jeremiah and the Jews who were sold into slavery into Africa eventually found their way to the Gulf of Guinea mainly in Biafra. They eventually became known as the Igbo.  There they kept circumcision and the dietary laws as espoused in the Torah, but something happened.  First Islam came and began to forcibly convert the non-Jewish tribes to the North.  These tribes fought against the Jewish tribes living in Mali.  Many of these Jews fled south merging with the Igbo and other Israelite tribes already there and still others were lost and blended into non-Jewish African tribes. Yet, many stayed true to the Torah as much as possible.

When the Europeans arrived to missionize and enslave the inhabitants living on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea they found that the Igbo of Biafra and many other tribes in the coastal region kept certain laws from the Torah.  In their minds this would not do.  The solution was to enslave and deport, decimating what was there and nearly erasing the memory of what once was.

The Igbo and their related brethren were brought to America. So many Igbo were brought there that it is said that up to 60% of African Americans can trace at least one side of their family to being Igbo. This explains the affinity both  Jews of European descent African Americans had with one another during the Civil Rights era.  

What happened to the Igbo is not dissimilar to the Spanish and Portuguese Jewry who were either forcibly converted or chased into the New World where they started to forget who they were.

Now there is a great awakening and the movement to reverse the enslavement of our past is happening.  In Biafra, where the Igbo still reside, synagogues are being built, prayers are being said, and Torah is being learned.  There is a struggle to free the Igbo from the mental slavery of the past.  This struggle has taken many forms.  Politically it has inspired the free Biafra movement whose leader Nnamdi Kanu, rots in jail for no apparent reason than he acknowledged his Hebraic origin and sought to activate it in order to free his people.  

Unity will bring the Temple.  Understanding that we Israelites were exiled and enslaved and brought to far flung places. Exile has been brutal to us yet we are awakening and realizing all of us together can unify and return the Holy Temple to the Mount Moriah. All of us black, white, yellow, brown can one way or the other trace ourselves back to the Land from which we were taken.

The nations of the world have confused us and turned one side on the other, but we can if we want end the exile once and for all by creating a unity that will reverse our collective exile once and for all.

Reunification of the Nation of Israel with the Land of Israel

“The survivors among you – I will bring weakness into their hearts in the land of their foes; the sound of a rustling leaf will pursue them, they will flee as one flees the sword, and they will fall, but without a pursuer. They will stumble over one another in flight from the sword, but there is no pursuer; you will not have the power to withstand your foes.” (VAYIKRA 26:36-37)

It is in this Divine curse that the Torah reveals the disgrace of Israel’s exile. And history can attest to the truth of these verses. Outside of our homeland, the Nation of Israel was reduced to vulnerable migrants wandering through foreign lands. Unable to resist the persecution we suffered in the Diaspora, Jews acquired a reputation for cowardice and victimization. We were treated as vermin, easily exterminated without a fight. Israel’s survival became largely dependent upon the benevolence of our neighbors and we were conditioned to accept our shameful status as an uncontested reality.

Israel’s downtrodden state in the exile distorted our concepts of kedusha and stripped us of our former valor. The Jewish people’s self-image was severely damaged by the cruelty of host nations to the extent that we began to see ourselves as naturally incapable of self-defense. Many “pious” Jews even began to view traits of courage and heroism as foreign to our culture, as if Israel were by design physically inferior to other peoples. This mentality of learned helplessness grew in Jewish hearts to the point that many were fearful at even the slightest sign of tension with neighboring gentiles. Due to the tremendous suffering Israel experienced at foreign hands, the once proud Hebrew Nation developed a low soul – a slave mentality that made us fearful of even “the sound of a rustling leaf.” The great valor that had characterized Israeli fighters in ancient times was forgotten as we wandered the globe as a national ghost through history – a broken people perpetually searching for safe refuge.

But just as the Jewish people were stripped of our former honor in the exile, the Land of Israel was stripped of her illustrious beauty. She became barren without her soul mate to nurture her soil. Her great splendor had departed and she was reduced to an infertile wasteland.

“I will make the land desolate; and your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate. And you, I will scatter among the nations, I will unsheathe the sword after you; your land will remain desolate and your cities will be in ruin.” (VAYIKRA 26:32-33)

According to the Ramban, the verse “your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate” is a partial blessing within the curse that guarantees through all generations that the Land of Israel will not receive any foreign sovereign in place of her rightful people. He points out that in the entire world, there are no other lands which were once good and bountiful but are now (in the lifetime of the Ramban) as desolate and empty as Palestine.

A century before Hebrew sovereignty was returned to Eretz Yisrael, the renowned American author Mark Twain visited the country and described it in The Innocents Abroad Or The New Pilgrim’s Progressas a “desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse… A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action…We never saw a human being on the whole route…There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

While most of the Jewish people wandered through a dark and bitter exile, the Land of Israel lay anguished in barren devastation. Although foreign conquerors tried to cultivate her once rich and fertile soil, the land was unwilling to provide for illegitimate rulers and remained unwaveringly faithful to her true indigenous people. Only with Israel’s miraculous return did the country once again resume productive life. In an astonishingly short time, the once harsh infertile country became a major world exporter of flowers, fruits and vegetables.

The reunification of the Nation of Israel with the Land of Israel miraculously infused new life and strength into both. Only a few short years after the decimation of six million, Jewish remnants on their native soil stunned the world with unmatched military prowess. The Hebrew Nation was reborn and the Land of Israel returned to agricultural productivity.

Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael are inseparably connected in a bond so tight that we even share the same name. Our deep spiritual connection to our homeland – like the connection of the soul to the body – transcends all rational human understandings. Our country is an intrinsic part of who we are and the foundation for our national mission in this world, as neither it nor we can attain full expression without the other. Separated from the nation, the land is doomed to desolation (as was the case for nearly two thousand years). Similarly, the Jews outside our borders are not the essential Hebrew Nation but rather a deformed shadow of our true inner potential – a wandering people miraculously able to hold on to our individual “Judaism” without possessing any tangible concept of peoplehood. But when properly situated in our ancestral homeland, Israel becomes the healthy living nation that brings the knowledge and blessing of HaShem to mankind.

The Maharal of Prague teaches in Netzaḥ Yisrael that like the orbits of the planets in space and the importance of oxygen for human beings, Hebrew sovereignty over the Land of Israel is a natural necessity built into the system of Creation. When Israel is living as an independent nation in our homeland, the entire world becomes healthy. The heart of humanity is in place and able to channel Divine life and blessing to all existence. It has been in opposition to the laws of nature inherent in Creation for Israel to be separated from our beloved country. Like a ball thrown up in the air that must come down, Am Yisrael must return to sovereignty over our soil. Nature corrects itself as we return home and the Torah now aspires – for the first time in nearly two thousand years – to be lived on a national level that infuses kedusha into every sphere of life. And as nature corrects itself and history progresses forward, our liberation will advance toward the full redemption of humankind.

The Jewish Narrative

(The following is an adaption of a speech presenting the “Jewish Narrative” at the NEW GENERATION NEW CONVERSATION Alternative Peace Conference in Jerusalem)

I could choose to speak about the blood of my brothers being spilled in the streets of Jerusalem. But I won’t. Not because I am silent. I’m not silent about the blood of my brothers; I cry and ache over every single drop spilled. Rather, I choose to transcend, not the pain or the suffering, but the mentality of victimhood and that alone, as a means to reaching the goals of my people. Therefore, I define my goal as not to win your sympathy but to share my people’s side of the story as a step towards finding a solution for both peoples. In order to do so, I ask you to temporarily liberate yourselves from any previously solidified perceptions of identity, of narratives and of the conflict, and momentarily enter my world, in order to understand the story of the people I am part of.

My name is Hila. I live here, in Israel, and the fact that I am native to this land has always been something I have taken for granted. The reason I know myself as native to this land is not because I was born here, although I was, but rather because this is the ancestral homeland of the people I am part of. This is the land in which my people had two kingdoms and centuries of political sovereignty, it is the land of our national origin, our indigenous culture, language, and the only land we have ever called home.

Indeed, it was only due to a series of historic injustices committed against us by Assyrian, Babylonian, and Roman Empires, that our land was ravished and our people dispossessed. And it was only due to the colonization of our land, that our people were forced to preserve our Semitic Hebrew culture in the cold winters of Europe or in other lands foreign to our native way of life.

Both sides of my family – those who returned from Morocco and those who returned from Romania, participated in the process of the in-gathering of the exiles when the fragments of our scattered tribes returned back and reunited on our native soil. But the return to the land was not a simple task. Both sides of my family had to fight their way in.

My mother’s family, a very wealthy family from Morocco, chose to abandon all of their wealth and belongings, golden bracelets and other treasures, and endangered their own safety smuggling their way in through France, all for the hopes of reaching Zion. They were not driven out of Morocco but rather risked their lives and sacrificed their possessions for the opportunity to finally come home. My father’s family returning home to Palestine from Romania were intercepted, captured, and deported to Cyprus by the British occupier upon their arrival on our shores. The two sides of my family each represent clear examples of the Jewish struggle to return home against British imperialists, preventing my people from entering our land.

But our fight was not just the fight of individual Jews to enter the land, but a national fight to liberate it from British occupation. While our ancestors failed in liberating our land from foreign rule, we succeeded. Motivated by the ancient tribal yearnings of an entire nation, and led by the instinctive emotional impulses of an indigenous people, Jewish freedom fighters gave their lives to free our homeland from British rule. They did not fight to occupy a foreign land but to decolonize and liberate their own land from foreign occupation. And so finally the British left, and we declared independence on our land for the first time in nearly two thousand years.

For us, that meant the beginning of a correction of an historic injustice, that for so long not only inflicted upon us much suffering, but stood in the way of us achieving self-determination, that held us back from fulfilling our collective mission and national aspirations.

And so these are the essentials of the story of my people: We lived here as a sovereign people, we lost our sovereignty, scattered, many of us assimilated, but the descendants of those of us who held on to our culture with whatever remnants of strength we were able to dig out from the despair, returned home, fought and bled to liberate our land.

However, in recent years, our narrative has been corrupted. Our story has been completely turned upside down. According to the international community and to other voices across the world, I am somehow a colonialist in my own land.

I am a Jew, I was born in Israel, not on April but on Adar Bet (a leap year on the Hebrew calendar), I maternally descend from the tribe of Levi (my maternal great grandfather, Saba Refael, was a Levite), the males in my family still wrap t’fillin identical to the ancient second Temple t’fillin found in Qumran, like the ones used by our ancestors, and every year I celebrate the Judean revolt for independence in our historic homeland on Hanukkah, which has been for us a national festival for over two thousand years. Even after hearing it for the millionth time, I cringe every time a Jew refers to our beloved Judean soil – soaked with the blood, sweat, and tears of my people for thousands of years – as the “West Bank” and I can literally burst into tears when hearing the unbearable words “a divided Jerusalem.” And yet despite all this, I am regarded by the international community as a white colonial occupier, a western foreign settler… have I missed any other words?

But the reality is that the notion of us being foreign to our land is so strange to us that most Israelis are not even aware that this claim is being raised. And those who are aware of it find it too ridiculous to even address. So we talk about security and Israeli innovation and forget to state the obvious because we assume everybody is on board with us – of course this is our land, we’re Jews and this Judea.

In fact it is noteworthy to mention, that this instinctive indigenous self-identification our people possess so naturally is not only the real reason we were able to force out the British and to liberate so many parts of our homeland in 67, but also why Hamas and other terrorist organizations are so unsuccessful with their tactics. Terrorism, which is an anti-colonial tactic used to drive away real colonialists, doesn’t work on indigenous peoples. In fact, when anti-colonial tactics are used against natives, it generally achieves the very opposite results. When indigenous people feel threatened, feel they are getting pushed off their land, feel themselves under attack, they only fight harder. This can be seen in every part of Israeli society as we speak. Our love for and connection to a sense of belonging here transforms the shadows of threat and fear into a passion for our homeland and an urgency to set out into battle.

Furthermore, the anti-Israeli accusations depicting me and my people as colonialists are not only ridiculous, they are deeply offensive. Nobody has the right to call me a foreigner in the land of my forefathers. Nobody has to redefine my people’s ancient identity for political or theological reasons. Nobody has the right to tell me not to live, breath, walk and if I have to – fight and bleed for Yerushalayim. And I will fight and bleed for Yerushalayim if I have to.

We, of course, know who we are. We know our history and we are collectively as focused on our national missions and aspirations as ever. And so the denial of our narrative does not make us flinch. It does, however, further inflict suffering on both sides and furthers us from our goals, including the goal of peace. Indeed, peace is impossible when the other side refuses to acknowledge at least how we see ourselves.

And so we should clarify to all those that are still in doubt: This is our ancestral homeland. It’s simple. It’s clear. We are its natural inhabitants. We are Semites and not Europeans, Hebrews and not whites, Middle Easterners and not Westerners, we are a people and not a religion. We are indigenous to Judea and to Jerusalem and not to Germany or Sweden. We have a right, an unapologetic right, a proud right, and a just right, to live in all parts of our ancient homeland – especially in places like Hebron, Shkhem and Beit El, places where every grain of dirt tells the story of our people.

We are a nation, and like every nation we are entitled to self-determination in our ancestral homeland. We cannot and will not give up that right.

(This article was originally published in The Times of Israel)

Leave Behind Complexity

“You shall safeguard the matzot, for on this very day I will have taken your legions out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day for your generations as an eternal decree. In the first, on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening shall you eat matzot, until the twenty-first day of the month in the evening.” (SHEMOT 12:17-18)

Matzot shall be eaten throughout the seven-day period; no ḥametz may be seen in your possession, nor may leaven be seen in your possession in all your borders.” (SHEMOT 13:7)

The Maharal of Prague teaches in Gevurot HaShem that “matzah is simple as it is not combined with additional ingredients such as leaven, which would compound and complicate it. Simplicity in essence denotes independence, for an independent being is free and not bound together or dependent upon others. A slave is bound to his master and completely dependent upon him while a free man stands independently, not bound to anyone else. Hence, matzah specifically is an appropriate symbol for the Exodus.”

The Maharal’s explanation of matzah as simplicity and ḥametz (unleavened bread) as complexity provides an essential insight into the mentality of Diaspora Jewry. The word ḥametz shares the root letters of l’haḥmitz (to miss), symbolizing the idea of missing an opportunity. Because it includes leaven, ḥametz is complex and therefore prone to miss out.

When a person defines himself according to his complexity – by what he has acquired in life – he is naturally blocked from fully expressing his inner essence. Each of us is a soul – a unique expression of G-d – playing a character with a distinct purpose in history. And our ability to fully realize our individual missions in life is largely dependent upon our self-identification as souls who, like actors, play roles in the story of man. The more we define ourselves as the actors rather than as the characters we play, the more our characters can actually succeed at fulfilling their roles in the story. But one who defines himself according to the external factors his character has acquired in life (wealth, status, academic credentials, etc.) becomes complex like ḥametz and trapped by these external factors, frightened to jeopardize them in pursuit of his true inner calling.

In the years leading up to the Holocaust, for example, many Jews in Europe had possessions and professions that they were not prepared to abandon. Their complexity kept them psychologically trapped until it became too late for a physical escape. Jewish community leaders in America, meanwhile, were frightened to sacrifice the success they had achieved and were therefore powerless to save their brothers overseas. They feared accusations of disloyalty if they were to focus on the “Jewish aspect” of America’s war effort against Germany. And some even feared that a great influx of Jewish refugees would bolster anti-Semitic attitudes within the United States. Partially due to the complexity of the Jewish Diaspora mentality, an opportunity was missed and six million were lost.

A complex person – one who defines himself as the character and not as the actor – is generally not ready for sacrifice because he is frightened to lose that which his character has acquired. While external factors alone do not automatically cause a person to be complex, how that person relates to these factors can easily reveal the extent of his complexity. A rich man fearful of becoming poor is not yet ready for redemption. In times of crisis, such a person would be unwilling to part with his material wealth and comfortable lifestyle.

A wealthy man in touch with his true inner self, however, is willing to risk losing everything he owns. Although he may know how to appreciate worldly goods, they do not define, trap or complicate him. Such a Jew is ready to sacrifice his money at any moment in order to express his inner essence and assume responsibility for the Nation of Israel’s historic mission. Instead of viewing himself as a wealthy individual, he is simply a unique piece of Knesset Yisrael – the giant collective Hebrew soul that reveals itself in space and time through millions of bodies called the Jewish people.

Matzah represents simplicity, which is the true essence of a soul. While the demands of a healthy society often necessitate that people become doctors, soldiers, builders and plumbers, these are only talents acquired in life and not a person’s actual essence. Practicing medicine, fighting wars, constructing homes and installing pipes are things that Jews must often do – especially when rebuilding Hebrew civilization in our homeland – but they can never define who or what a person is. Being simple is therefore the self-awareness of one’s deepest and truest inner essence as a unique spark of the timeless ultimate Reality without end.

While matzah is the bread of affliction, it is also the bread of freedom. One who views himself as simple can never become trapped by complex external factors. He recognizes himself as part of a larger Hebrew collective and, through a perspective psychologically grounded in Jewish history, is able to identify danger on the horizon before it reaches the maturity to strike. So long as one understands his true essence in its simplicity, he cannot be enslaved and is ready for redemption.

The courage of simplicity stems from the understanding that a person has absolutely nothing to lose. He is prepared to risk everything in order to take responsibility for the future of his people. This willingness to sacrifice oneself for the Hebrew Nation and its mission is born out of a love that elevates a soul from the level of the individual to that of the collective. The Maharal explains in Netzaḥ Yisrael that fear is the shell of love and that the stronger a person’s love grows the weaker his fears become.

Fear and selfishness are both symptoms of complexity while love and courage are actually products of simplicity. Fear results from a lack of compassion and paralyzes a person into irresponsible dormancy. But the less fear a person suffers, the more he is willing to sacrifice and the stronger his inner light can shine to the world. The freedom of simplicity that the matzah represents makes him capable of daring action in the face of adversity.

When the Hebrew Nation received a chance to be born out from Egypt, the majority of our people had viewed themselves to be “Egyptian Jews.” They defined themselves according to their complexity and therefore had to perish in the ninth plague of darkness, missing the opportunity to participate in Israel’s national birth. The minority, who defined themselves simply as Israel, snatched the opportunity to experience liberation and receive the Torah at Sinai. They realized that they had nothing to lose because all they really were was Israel and one cannot truly live up to being part of Israel while subsisting in the exile separate from the Hebrew mission. As the redemption process continues to unfold and we are confronted with newer and greater challenges to overcome, we must learn to properly define ourselves and strive to attain a genuine simplicity in order that we may succeed in ingathering our people back to our homeland, establishing the kingdom destined to manifest the Divine Ideal and fulfilling our national mission of shining G-d’s blessing to all of mankind.