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The world is on fire — but it is also full of light

This article initially appeared in My Jewish Learning’s Shabbat newsletter Recharge. To sign up to receive Recharge each week in your inbox, click here.

(JTA) — Abraham saw a world that was burning. A vivid midrash on this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1 – 17:27) recounts the story of how the Jewish patriarch first encountered God. Abraham saw the world as a bira doleket, a flaming tower, and demanded indignantly, “Is there no one in charge?!” At this, God shows his face and admits, “I am the one in charge.” Thus begins Abraham’s relationship with the divine.

Like Abraham before us, we too gaze out at a burning world. Our eyes have taken in so much devastation and horror. In the last few weeks we have all been witness to many burning buildings. We too cry out that no one is in charge. We too long for God to show up and take some ownership of the situation.

This midrash paints a picture of divine relationship that emerges from a place of shock and indignation. God shows up in the world because Abraham demands it. The world without God’s presence is untenable, it will burn itself out. Abraham won’t let that happen. He holds God accountable, reminding God that the ruler of the universe needs to act like it.

Abraham understands that the world needs God, and so he devotes the rest of his life to being an agent of God’s blessing. Rather than blame God for the fire, or step aside and let God put it out, Abraham works on God’s behalf. The medieval sage Rashi allows us to listen in, edxplaining that God is essentially telling Abraham: “Blessings are entrusted to you … from now on you shall bless whomever you wish.” Abraham becomes the bestower of divine blessing. He spreads these blessings throughout the world.

In response to the pain and suffering of the past few weeks, we all long to be blessed. We long to be safe, to be at peace, to feel joy. And maybe even more so, we long for the ability to bless others. We desperately want to care for each other, to keep those around us safe. And we wish, like Abraham, that we could bestow blessings throughout the world. There is so much pain, so many fires in need of divine attention. With Abraham as our model, we must each strive to be bestowers of divine blessing.

There is another common, but opposite way to read this midrash about Abrahm’s encounter with the burning building. The Hebrew word doleket can be translated not only as “aflame,” but also as “aglow.” It is possible that this midrash is teaching us to find God not by looking directly at the parts of our world that burn, but by focusing our attention on the parts luminescent with beauty and wonder. In this reading, Abraham is the master of mindfulness. He is the first to notice divine blessing manifest in the world and offer God credit.

In his writings, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches this midrash both ways — sometimes giving voice to our pain and outrage, and at others to our wonder and beauty. To get through this moment in Jewish history, we are going to need both. The fires raging right now may be too overwhelming to expect to find God in them. But while we cannot ignore the pain and fear, we will be overwhelmed if we only look at the burning buildings. We need to balance our moral outrage with looking for the beauty of God’s world. Whether through prayer and mitzvot, through art and song, through family and community, or wherever you find beauty, remember — this world that is on fire is also aglow with light.


The post The world is on fire — but it is also full of light appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Kyiv Rejects Putin’s ‘Absurd Ultimatum’ to End War

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

i24 NewsRussia’s strongman President Vladimir Putin said he would end the war in Ukraine only if Kyiv agreed to drop its NATO ambitions and hand over the entirety of four provinces claimed by Moscow. Kyiv swiftly rejected the demands as tantamount to surrender.

Putin demands that Ukraine transfers to Russia four regions, including a 300,000 city of Kherson and 700,000 Zaporizhzhya as a “precondition” to “peace talks”. This man is delusional, and those in the West who speak of “negotiations” or “cease fire” are enemies of the free world. pic.twitter.com/fqTGVqMdDu

— Sergej Sumlenny, LL.M (@sumlenny) June 14, 2024

“The conditions are very simple,” Putin said, listing them as the full withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the entire territory of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Putin’s maximalist conditions apparently reflect Moscow’s growing confidence that its forces have the upper hand in the war.

He restated his demand for Ukraine’s demilitarization and said an end to Western sanctions must also be part of a peace deal. He also repeated his call for Ukraine’s “denazification.”

“He is offering for Ukraine to admit defeat. He is offering for Ukraine to legally give up its territories to Russia. He is offering for Ukraine to sign away its geopolitical sovereignty,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, rejecting the demands as “absurd.”

The post Kyiv Rejects Putin’s ‘Absurd Ultimatum’ to End War first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Deadly Explosion Kills 8 IDF Soldiers in Rafah

Illustrative. Some rises after an Israeli strike as Israeli forces launch a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 7, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Hatem Khaled

i24 NewsEarly this morning, tragedy struck in the southern Gaza city of Rafah as eight Israeli soldiers lost their lives in a devastating explosion, marking the deadliest incident for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the region since January.

The IDF has confirmed the casualties, with one soldier identified as Captain Wassem Mahmoud, 23, a deputy company commander from Beit Jann in the Combat Engineering Corps’ 601st Battalion.

The names of the other seven soldiers will be released after their families have been notified.

According to initial reports from the IDF, the soldiers were traveling in a Namer armored combat engineering vehicle (CEV) as part of a convoy around 5 a.m., following a successful overnight operation targeting Hamas militants in the Tel Sultan neighborhood of Rafah. During the operation, troops under the 401st Armored Brigade reportedly neutralized approximately 50 gunmen.

The convoy was en route to buildings captured by the army for the soldiers to rest, when the Namer CEV, which was the fifth or sixth vehicle in the convoy, was struck by a powerful explosion. The nature of the explosion remains under investigation, with possibilities ranging from a pre-planted bomb to an improvised device placed on the vehicle by Hamas operatives.

Initial findings suggest that explosives stored on the exterior of the Namer CEV may have contributed to the severity of the blast. Normally, such explosives are designed to minimize harm to troops inside if detonated.

The IDF probe indicates there was no gunfire preceding the explosion, and the vehicle was not stationary at the time of the incident. The circumstances surrounding the tragedy have prompted intensified scrutiny into the safety protocols and operational procedures during military movements in hostile territories.

The deaths of these eight soldiers bring the total number of IDF casualties in recent ground operations against Hamas to 307. This figure includes a police officer killed during a recent hostage rescue operation and a civilian Defense Ministry contractor also slain in the conflict.

This is a developing story 

The post Deadly Explosion Kills 8 IDF Soldiers in Rafah first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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U.S. Officials Fear Escalating Conflict Between Israel and Hezbollah

Israeli firefighters work following rocket attacks from Lebanon, amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, near the border on its Israeli side, June 13, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Avi Ohayon

i24 NewsRecent actions by both Israel and Hezbollah have sparked growing concerns among U.S. officials, who fear that the situation could escalate into a full-scale war, according to reports from CBS News.

The tension has intensified following a series of Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese territory, which some American authorities believe are laying the groundwork for a larger military operation.

Sources within the US government have expressed worries that such a move could trigger a conflict that might strain Israel’s alliance with Washington.

Hezbollah, in response to recent events including the assassination of senior commander Taleb Sami Abdullah, has escalated its own actions. The group has begun launching daily rocket attacks targeting northern Israeli communities since October 8, citing solidarity with Hamas amidst the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

US officials cited by CBS News have highlighted concerns over the potential unintended consequences of Hezbollah’s increased attacks. They fear that these actions could provoke Israel into launching a significant military assault, further exacerbating the volatile situation in the region.

The developments come amid ongoing international efforts to de-escalate tensions and prevent a wider conflict. Diplomatic channels remain active, with calls for restraint and dialogue from various quarters.

The United States, a key ally of Israel, has historically played a crucial role in mediating and influencing regional conflicts. Officials are closely monitoring the situation, emphasizing the importance of avoiding actions that could escalate tensions further.

The post U.S. Officials Fear Escalating Conflict Between Israel and Hezbollah first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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