Counting the Omer is keeping the commandment to count 50 days (seven Sabbaths plus one day) between the offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest (often called First Fruits) until the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) (Leviticus 23:15-21). This year The Barking Fox is counting the omer with modern pictures of people named in the Bible.
This is the third part of a dialogue with Dr. Rivkah Adler of Breaking Israel News on the question of whether the biblical concept of ger, or foreigner, could be considered as a possible status for Torah-keeping non-Jews. It began with Rivkah’s article, “Are We Witnessing the Restoration of an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews?”, followed by my commentary, “The Dilemma of the Ger”, and her observations in “A Jewish Response to the Dilemma of the Ger”.
Dealing with the Kinslaying
Albert J. McCarn
A motif running through J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction works is the exile of the Elves from Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar, the gods of Tolkien’s world. Those who read The Lord of the Rings first encounter the exiles as the High Elves who aid Frodo and his companions in their flight from the Shire. Readers who venture into The Silmarillion learn that the High Elves are the Noldor, one of three Elven clans who answered the Valar’s invitation to leave Middle Earth and live in Valinor. The Vanyar and Teleri – the other two clans – remained in Valinor, but the Noldor rebelled against the Valar and returned to Middle Earth to fight against Morgoth, Tolkien’s equivalent of Satan.
The Noldor had justification for their actions. Morgoth had stolen the Silmarils, the matchless jewels fashioned by Fëanor, greatest of the Elven craftsmen, and had killed Finwë, Fëanor’s father and king of the Noldor. Nevertheless, their rebellion under Fëanor’s leadership incurred a sentence of exile and separation from any help the Valar could offer. Over the next several centuries the Noldor and their allies among the Elves and Men of Middle Earth proved unable to defeat Morgoth, and they suffered a long defeat. At the end of their strength, the humbled remnant repented and begged help from the Valar. When help came, Morgoth was defeated and the Valar granted clemency for the Noldor to return to the Blessed Realm, bringing with them the remaining Elves of Middle Earth who had never seen Valinor.
This is the unseen backdrop for the Elves appearing in Tolkien’s later and more popular works. Those who pick up the story with The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings meet wise Elrond, stern yet kindly Thranduil, and gentle Galadriel, but they have no understanding of their history. Galadriel, for example, was Fëanor’s niece, and along with his sons and her brothers led the Noldor in rebellion. Upon passing the test of refusing the Ring of Power when Frodo offers it to her, she proves that she, the only surviving rebel leader, is indeed ready to return home as a humble penitent.
In Galadriel’s story we see the stunning panorama flowing through the body of Tolkien’s works. Yet there is one missing detail: he never tells us what happens when the exiles return. It is a significant omission. We can imagine the scenes of reconciliation as the Noldor made amends with the eternal Valar, but we do not know what happens when they encountered the brethren they had wronged. At the beginning of their flight from Valinor, the Noldor demanded of their kin, the Teleri, use of their ships. The Teleri refused, resulting in a terrible battle known thereafter as the Kinslaying. As Tolkien describes it, “Thus at last the Teleri were overcome, and a great part of their mariners that dwelt in Alqualondë were wickedly slain.” If that were not enough, when they arrived on the shores of Middle Earth, Fëanor gave orders to burn the wondrous Telerian ships, craft of great beauty the like of which could never be made again.
What happens when the prodigal Noldor return home is a tale we do not know. We hope they are reconciled with their brethren, but achieving reconciliation requires conscious effort to overcome the debt of blood between them. Until that debt is paid or forgiven, the bliss of the Blessed Realm remains unbearably diminished.
Tolkien’s epic thus becomes a parable for us, the returning exiles of the House of Yosef (Joseph). Like the Noldor, we are guilty not only of rebellion against our God and the king He had anointed, but also of an endless Kinslaying of our brethren of Judah.
On December 4, 2015, the B’Ney Yosef Region 35 Conference convened at Camp Copass in Denton, Texas, for the purpose of bringing together people in the central part of the United States to seek YHVH’s direction about His Kingdom work at this time. The initial concept was to continue in the spirit of the First B’Ney Yosef National Congress in the interest of building Ephraimite (Israelite) identity among believers in Messiah Yeshua. The Holy Spirit quickly expanded that concept into a call for repentance within the Hebrew Roots/Two House movement and reconciliation with other parts of the body of Messiah, particularly with our Christian brethren. That was the motivation for this address which opened the conference.
The best boss I ever had was the man under whose supervision I served the last time I was in Iraq. He was also the most profane man I have ever met. The name of Jesus Christ was for him but one weapon in a formidable arsenal of expletives. Not a single day passed that some outrage did not fall from his lips, causing my ears to burn and my heart to wonder how long I would have to endure such offense. And yet I continued in his service, not merely because I had no choice (both of us, after all, were soldiers assigned to serve together), but because God gave me grace to look beyond the offense to see and benefit from the substantial qualities he possessed. Those qualities included an encyclopedic knowledge of intelligence functions and procedures based on decades of hard experience. He possessed as well a dogged determination to persevere through all opposition and achieve success in whatever goal he or his superiors established. That determination sprang from his undying loyalty to the United States of America, and to his belief in the ultimate good of our mission in Iraq. Yet none of that would have mattered in the least had this man lacked the greatest quality of all: he regarded every person as having intrinsic value, and as a potential ally in achieving the goals set before him. He may have spoken roughly, and even in private moments vented his frustration and anger, but he never diminished the value of the human beings in his charge, nor of those under whom he served.
We had occasion to work with military and civilian officials from a number of services and agencies. Whether they were Army like us, or Marines, Air Force, or Navy, they were all “great Americans” in my boss’s opinion – if for no other reason than because they had volunteered to wear the uniform and be deployed to a Middle Eastern war zone. He could not call our British, Australian, and German colleagues “great Americans”, but he did hold them in high esteem – while at the same time recognizing that the highest priorities for each of them were the interests of their own nations, not those of the United States. The true professionals among us, regardless of nationality, recognized this. We knew that at times there would be questions we could not ask and answers we could not give, but whenever and wherever possible we helped one another.
That “great American” description did extend to the civilian intelligence professionals we encountered. Those men and women represented nearly all of the 16 agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community. The ones you would expect were all there: each of the agencies of the military services, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the State Department. Our office dealt mostly with the CIA, whom my boss lovingly called, “Klingons”. Like our foreign counterparts, they, and all the other intelligence agencies, had their own priorities which were not necessarily the same as ours in the Department of Defense. Their vision of how to support the national interests of the United States sometimes clashed with ours, and the means and resources at their disposal often put them at an advantage over us. We had much reason to distrust them, but we had even more reason to work with them – just as the Start Trek heroes found reason to cooperate with the Klingons to defeat their common enemies.
We laugh at the description of the CIA as Klingons, but long before I arrived in Iraq I understood exactly what my boss meant. Early in my tenure in Washington, DC, I had occasion to work with the CIA on a joint project. Most of the people with whom I worked were intelligence analysts, people not very different from myself. They were well educated, often from privileged backgrounds, highly academic (a reflection of the CIA culture), and professionally courteous. As part of our project we had to consult with a different type of CIA employee. This person was not an analyst. Intelligence analysts look at information from various sources and put it together in different ways to understand what it means. They are the friendly face of the CIA. There is another face, however, and it is not very friendly. That face belongs to the operators, the men and women who go about the difficult business of collecting the information. They are consummate professionals, very good at what they do, but they are not the kind of people you would want in your social circle. Quite often the name by which they introduce themselves is not the name their parents gave them at birth. In the course of their duties they will have to do some questionable things, and perhaps even some very unpleasant things, to acquire information their agency has commissioned them to gain.
This was the kind of person with whom we met in that office on the CIA campus in Langley, Virginia long ago. He was an impressive man, and one whom I admired for his courage and devotion to his country. I could tell without asking that he had suffered much personal loss in service to the nation, and that my own poor service paled in comparison to his. Yet we could not be friends, and we would have difficulty working together as colleagues. His world was one I could not enter, and my world was one he would not find comfortable. Nevertheless, my work could not continue without him, and without me his work would have no meaning. That is why I have never forgotten the man, although our paths have never crossed since that day.
What would happen if this vast intelligence community in the service of the United States of America ceased to function as designed? What if the various individuals and organizations within it forgot that they were all Americans, and instead placed their own personal agendas, or the name and reputation of their own agencies and services, above the interests of the country? That is not a rhetorical question; I can tell you what would happen. I have seen it. What happens is a fragmentation of the national intelligence establishment.
For the most part that establishment consists of good, honest people trying to do the best they can with limited resources and time. They have a tendency to focus exclusively on the work right in front of them, whether it is office administration, counterterrorism analysis, national technical means of information collection, the number of tanks in the Russian Far Eastern Military District, or poppy production in Afghanistan. They forget that there is a wider world out there, and that their work is but one small piece in a very, very big puzzle. It does not take much to convince them that their piece is the most important. Once convinced, it is but a small step toward competing with others to gain a greater share of attention and resources. Having entered that arena, it is nothing to begin pushing others aside in ever more aggressive ways, taking resources and people away from them so that one’s own piece of the puzzle grows in size and importance, and the competitors’ pieces shrink, or disappear altogether. In time the picture that emerges is distorted at best, magnifying certain things to the extreme, diminishing others, and ignoring important bits that would otherwise tie together the seemingly contradictory reports from various sources. That is the picture which goes before high level decision makers like the commanders of our forces in the Middle East, and even the President himself. Is it any wonder, therefore, that we have national disasters such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?
My lesson from this should be clear. National defense is a team effort. I know my part of the effort, and my job is to do it to the best of my ability. I do not know most of the millions of others involved in the effort, nor do I understand what they do. I could not do what most of them do, nor could most of them do what I do. Very few of them could be considered my friends, and most of them would probably never want to associate with me anyway. Nevertheless, we need each other: every warrior, every clerk, every mechanic, every technician, every lawyer, every cook, every aviator, every logistician, every sanitation worker. If we do not find a way to cooperate, then this living, breathing organism we call the National Defense Establishment will fail, and with its failure the United States of America fails.
Is this any different from the living, breathing organism known as the Body of Messiah?
Even superheroes have their weaknesses. If it were not so, the stories about them would be over very quickly and would not be quite so interesting. This is perhaps a reflection of our human condition. No individual is complete within himself or herself. We need one another to do things we cannot do for ourselves and to watch out for dangers hidden in our blind spots. Together we survive and thrive, but separately we grow weak and perish.
Hopefully we learn this lesson in childhood. Good children’s literature certainly upholds this principle, whether it is The Cat in the Hat helping bored children amuse themselves and then clean up the mess, or The Ugly Duckling finding unexpected help to teach him who he is. So it is with The Five Chinese Brothers, a classic modern retelling of an ancient Chinese story. In her 1938 version of the tale, Claire Huchet Bishop tells of five remarkable brothers who live with their mother near the sea. Although they are identical, each brother has a unique ability. One can swallow the sea, and thus is a highly successful fisherman. The second brother has a neck as hard as iron, the third can stretch his legs to any length, the fourth is immune to fire, and the fifth can hold his breath as long as he desires.
One day the First Brother goes fishing in the company of a lad who had begged to go with him. When the brother swallows the sea, the boy runs out to collect the treasures exposed on the now dry ground. Before long the Brother grows tired and signals to the lad to return, but he ignores the signals and continues wandering along the seabed. When the Brother must release the sea from his mouth, the waters cover the wayward boy. In sadness the Brother returns home, where he is arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by beheading.
Happily for the family, the execution never succeeds. The First Brother has opportunity to go home and say farewell to his mother, but it is the Second Brother who returns. His neck of iron turns the executioner’s blade, leading to a revised sentence of death by drowning. The sequence repeats, with each Brother coming in to overcome successive sentences – the Third Brother’s long legs prevent drowning in the sea; the Fourth Brother’s resistance to fire defeats the flames of the execution stake; and the Fifth Brother survives an airless night in a sealed oven. Having failed to execute the offender, and not realizing that his Brothers have taken his place each time, the judge proclaims him innocent.
How simple and how profound is the lesson from this children’s tale. Brothers need one another, each contributing of his abilities to do his essential part in bringing peace and long life to the family and to the nation. That is just as King David said:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever. (Psalm 133:1-3 NASB)
One wonders whether Lewis Carroll required chemical substances to help him create the absurd worlds of his literature. Readers of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and audiences of the screen and stage adaptations thereof often conclude that the author – whose real name was Charles Dodgson – must have been on opium or some other sort of mind-altering substance fashionable in Victorian England. If we are to believe the Lewis Carroll Society of North America and other authoritative sources, there is no truth in such allegations. How, then, could a rational man come up with such outrageous fiction, creating characters and situations that defy logic and even sanity? Most likely Carroll would have explained in the same way C.S. Lewis explained how he could create the diabolical correspondence of the demon Screwtape a generation later:
Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology. They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. “My heart”—I need no other’s—“showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.” (C.S. Lewis, 1961. The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes a Toast. New York: MacMillan.)
What Professor Lewis tells us is that all humans have the capacity to imagine evil, and to act upon it once it is imagined. Evil is abnormal; the opposite of good and right and true. If our hearts are inclined toward evil, they are also inclined toward everything else that is contrary to good and right and true – things which are unsuitable, wrong, and illogical. That is why Carroll can depict an absurd criminal trial with such success. The King and Queen of Hearts sit as judges to determine the guilt or innocence of the Knave, who stands accused of having stolen the Queen’s tarts. As judge, the King has trouble getting beyond his instructions to the jury to consider the verdict before any evidence has been given. As witnesses, the Mad Hatter and the Knave say nothing of substance, and throughout the trial no one seems to care that the stolen tarts are there in the courtroom, presumably having been returned by the thief. The trial ends with a mockery of due process of law as the Queen says, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”, and then pronounces summary judgment on Alice: “Off with her head!”
The sad thing about this trial is that it is not far removed from reality. For much, perhaps most, of history unjust judges have made people’s lives miserable and shorter than they should be. This is true even for judges among the people of God, which is why in promising to restore His nation of Israel, YHVH delivers this glowing promise:
“Then I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning; after that you will be called the city of righteousness, a faithful city.” Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness. (Isaiah 1:26-27 NASB)