Reflections on Rosh Hashanah

Shalom Kineti readers,

L'shana tova, a happy Rosh Hashanah/Yom Teruah to all you fine folks. If you're wondering how to celebrate, see my previous post.

Can I share something that's on my heart this week?

Turn to the Lord, now, in this special time. The Scriptures command us to "seek the Lord while he may be found." There's never a bad time to return to God, but during these High Holy Days the time is right.

In Jeremiah, God warned the people again and again to turn from their sins. Jeremiah says to Israel in exasperation,

For these 23 years the word of Adonai has come to me. So I have spoken to you, speaking early and often, but you have not listened.

Additionally, Adonai has sent to you all His servants the prophets, sending them early and often—but you have not listened or inclined your ear to hear— saying: ‘Turn, now, everyone from his evil way, and from the evil of your deeds, and dwell in the land that Adonai has given to you and to your fathers forever and ever. Do not go after other gods to serve them, to worship them, and so do not provoke Me with the work of your hands, so I would do you no harm.’

“Yet you have not listened to Me,” declares Adonai. “So you are provoking Me with the work of your hands, to your own hurt.”

Can you hear and heed that?

Don't think about other people, or the culture, or the politicians you don't like. Think about yourself.

Our sin -- my sin, your sin -- provokes God to anger, to our own destruction.

God says that He is slow to anger, but not so that we'd keep sinning. Rather, slow to anger so that we'd return to Him:

But you, O man—judging those practicing [sin] yet doing the same—do you suppose that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you belittle the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience—not realizing that God’s kindness leads you to repentance?

Can you return to God, dear reader? Can you get rid of the sins, even the private ones you keep from everybody?

Our reward for turning to God is glory and joy and honor and eternal life. Our reward for sin is destruction.

But by your hard and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed. He will pay back each person according to his deeds. To those who by perseverance in doing good are seeking glory, honor, and immortality—eternal life. But to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—wrath and fury. There will be trouble and hardship for every human soul that does evil—to the Jew first and also to the Greek. But there will be glory, honor, and shalom to everyone who does good—to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

I am turning to God now, friends, getting sin out of my life and returning to the Lord. I hope you'll do the same, dear reader.

What does all this have to do with Rosh Hashana/Yom Teruah? One of the few commandments God has for us on this holy day is to hear the sound of the shofar and remember. Remember what? The coming judgment and the resurrection of the dead.

There will come a day, friends, when a loud blast of the shofar from heaven will sound and God will, by incomprehensible miracle, raise the dead. At the end, the living and the dead will be judged. Let's turn to God now, before that time. The shofar you hear on this day will be a reminder for you to turn from sin and turn to the Lord.

Some thoughts on wokeness and cancel culture by Aaron Hecht

(Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, illustrative painting)

Brothers and sisters, if you're reading this blog, rejoice! It means that where you live, there is still some free speech. But I have no doubt that at some point in the future, maybe tomorrow, maybe a few years from now, my ability to post my thoughts on the internet in blogs like this one will be lost because I will be de-platformed as part of a more general process in which I will be "canceled."

The phenomenon popularly known as "cancel culture" is the application of force in the form of shaming, threats, intimidation, economic coercion and in some cases actual physical violence in an effort to bully people into submission to a particular agenda. In the current iteration, the agenda most likely to be promoted by means of "cancel culture" is referred to as "wokeness".

However, the terms "woke" and "wokeness" are just a new way of describing a very old concept. 

The third chapter of the Book of Daniel describes the way what we now call "wokeness" was practiced and enforced in ancient Babylon, with the erection of a physical statue representing all the ideas and concepts that those in power wanted everyone to submit to. Everyone was required, on penalty of cancellation (which meant being thrown alive into a fiery furnace in that context) to bow down and worship the statue.

When you realize that "wokeness" is just a relatively recent term to describe this ancient concept, it becomes obvious that "cancel culture" is also merely a relatively new way to describe something that's been around for a very long time.

In recent generations it went by different names including "Stalinism" and  "McCarthyism" and it was widely condemned as something that should NEVER happen in a free country. But today, the pendulum has swung and the people whose ideological antecedents were the primary victims of "McCarthyism" are the ones with the power. Without a trace of irony, they've embraced the concept with a ferocity that makes what Senator Eugene McCarthy and his fellow travelers did in the US in the 1950s look prosaic by comparison.

How did we get here?

A few years ago, I wrote a blog entitled "The handwriting on the wall" about the steady erosion of religious liberty and free speech in the US and many other Western countries. The gist of that blog was that the freedoms that citizens of the US and other democratic countries have taken for granted for generations are being slowly but surely destroyed and it wasn't happening because of any political process. It was being done through the exercise of cultural power (usually in the negative form of "shaming" or heaping scorn and contempt on ideological opponents, especially Christians) and economic coercion.

This process has continued and gone through escalating stages.

At each stage, persons and/or institutions with a message that the "woke" crowd didn't like found it more and more difficult to get their message out. Even when they can, there are ever louder voices demanding that such messages be axiomatically rejected and those who share them punished.

Once again, this is nothing new. It's simply the current stage in a process that has been gathering speed and momentum for a very long time.

For decades, traditional media platforms like newspapers, radio, and TV news stations blatantly and unapologetically offered a skewed view of reality to the consumers of their reports. The "liberal bias" with which news about current events was presented to the public did plenty of damage. But the truth was still available to those who were looking for it instead of just passively believing whatever the mainstream media was peddling.

With the advent of social media, there was some hope that these traditional media platforms could be circumvented and the truth be told more broadly. For a while, this happened, but corruption also grew even amongst the "alternative media" outlets that utilized social media, and soon "conspiracy theories" each more absurd than the last came to dominate these portals.

Then, gradually, and now with increasing speed, those who wish to express views that the "woke" don't like are being silenced and canceled in various ways.

One stage of being "canceled" is for people and/or institutions to be "de-platformed" meaning they have their social media accounts first demonetized and then simply shut down. Usually, there is no warning given before it happens, and the explanation, when one was even offered, was that the user had "violated the community standards" of the platform. None of these platforms bother to publish a written list of the rules and conventions that make up their "community standards" so it's impossible to even ask a question about what happened or how the problem can be remedied.

Once again, this is nothing new. It used to be called "censorship" and it was widely rejected by pretty much everyone. Those who rejected it the loudest are the same people who are now practicing it the most vigorously.

This has progressed and a report this week by CBN News gave details about a new step in the process called "de-banking" in which Conservative and Faith Based groups are having their bank accounts closed and their ability to receive online donations or make payments lost.

This is an obvious violation of religious freedom and free speech that is supposed to be protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. But as of now, it's technically legal under existing financial services laws.

It used to be possible to be left alone by the "woke" crowd simply by not saying anything they didn't like. Then it became necessary to not agree with or "like" something that the "woke" crowd didn't like. Soon I think they will demand that everyone join them in actively looking for people who are saying things they don't like and condemning them. 

And so it goes.

Many are looking around wondering how this happened.

Candidly I think it's a waste of time to ask that question, but I'll briefly offer a possible answer.

While the Church of Jesus Christ was busy throughout most of the last few decades trying to influence the political process in the US and win elections, the other side was busy solidifying its hold on other centers of power. This included Hollywood and the entertainment industry more broadly, but it also included the educational system, labor unions, universities and think tanks, civil society groups, and of course the media. At the same time, they never completely abandoned efforts at promoting their agenda through political means, but their main effort was focused on the "long game" in the cultural, social, and economic arenas.

They were smart enough to know that if they exerted influence in the culture, their ideas would eventually become so widely accepted that voters would elect politicians who supported those ideas and they'd also gain power and influence through other means.

Now, their grip on various centers of power is allowing them to intimidate, bully, and shame anyone and everyone, from the legal system to corporations and banks, the education system, and everyone in between into adopting policies that will advance their agenda. They've also had a great deal of success in making it socially unacceptable to express ideas they don't like, ESPECIALLY a Biblically-based worldview. 

I know it's really uncouth to quote oneself, but I'm going to quote a segment of the blog I wrote four years ago because it's even more relevant today than it was back in 2019.

"History shows that in a society where expressions of contempt for a certain group become an acceptable, mainstream phenomenon, physical violence against them will soon also become acceptable, even laudable. Sometimes it goes so far as to become government policy."

Indeed, taking control of governments so they can make their "woke" ideology official policy is the final, logical step in this process. In some parts of what used to be called "the free world" this step has largely been taken and it's already not just very difficult but actually illegal to express views that don't align with "woke" ideology.

What can be done?

Brothers and sisters, if you and I are going to push back against "cancel culture" and the "woke" agenda that uses it as a club to beat the Body of Messiah over the head, we need to stop wasting time and resources in legal and political maneuvers and start going after the source of this agenda in the spiritual realm. We need to get serious about Bible study, praying, fasting, fellowshipping with other Believers, and witnessing for our faith.

This is the only path that offered any hope when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace because they refused to bow to the statue that Nebuchadnezzar II set up in ancient Babylon, and it's still the only hope for us today who are in a similar situation.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, "we've run out of ways to exercise temporal power and influence, so it's time to start praying."

A Necessary Crisis by Aaron Hecht


Demonstrations against Judicial Reforms in Jerusalem, 24 July 2023, (Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes, you have to hit rock bottom for your own good, and Israel is currently in the midst of this regrettable but probably necessary process.

A recent op-ed in the Jerusalem Post newspaper entitled "Israel finally has a pure right-wing government, and it's a complete disaster."

If you don't want to read that op-ed, the gist of it is that for years, supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu lamented the fact that he was unable to push through the Right's main agenda items because his party, the Likud, didn't have enough votes in the Knesset. So Bibi had to make compromises in order to bring Centrist parties into his coalition and they prevented him from really enacting the laws and policies that his supporters really wanted.

However, this current governing coalition is composed of only Right-wing parties. In fact, the Likud is the most Centrist of the parties in the current coalition. So Bibi's supporters should be ecstatic at his new-found ability to govern from the Right, instead of the Center, as they've always wanted him to.

But they're not ecstatic. 

In fact, more and more Likud supporters are openly expressing their deep dissatisfaction with the situation amidst a growing realization that those Centrist parties weren't so bad after all. The sophomoric behavior of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and the even more ridiculous (and occasionally evil) behavior of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has made many people, even some people who voted for their parties in the last election, wonder if it might not be time for Bibi to lose those guys and form a coalition government with the National Unity party led by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

Of course, there are those who will howl that Gantz is a "Leftist" and "the people voted for a Right-Wing government" but one would hope that the sane among us have had enough of that dishonest hyperbole and will be ready to take a more pragmatic path forward.

Because, in my humble opinion, this disastrous situation is something Israel had to get out of its system. A "pure" Right-Wing government with a strong, highly visible presence of loony-toony Right-wing figures like Smotrich and Ben Gvir had to be tried so everyone could see what a bad idea it was. It's kind of like how some kids need to be allowed to pull a pot of boiling water off the stove and onto their heads because that's the only way they'll learn not to pull pots of boiling water off the stove onto their heads.

Israel's Believer community and the Christian Zionist organizations who work in this country are also in the midst of our own respective crises amidst the wider societal crisis.

Israel's Believer community has come under tremendous pressure in the last 8 months since this governing coalition came into power. There have been several incidents of vandalism of property and a few violent attacks against people at public events. There have even been some government actions that were very unfriendly towards Christians. This has all been reported in bother secular media and in the news reports of Believer organizations.

It has also led to criticism of Israel by the usual suspects like the World Council of Churches but also from American Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League.

It remains to be seen if the Netanyahu-led government will do anything to confront the rising tide of anti-Christian violence in Israel. Candidly, I don't think there's any particular reason to think Bibi will move on this issue. He's got so many other things to deal with and this is something that could cause his coalition to crack up, which would mean new elections that he'd probably lose. He knows he's lost the votes of many of his traditional supporters in the last several months. There's even a hashtag #bibilostmyvote which was trending high on Israeli internet usage for a while.

On that subject, I've been around long enough to observe a trend whereby Israeli Believers tended to vote Likud in years past but have gradually moved away from support for Netanyahu because of his close cooperation with ideological movements in Israel that are fiercely opposed to the Gospel. Sadly, we don't have a lot of other good options, and I won't try to advise anyone on who should get our votes instead of Likud. But clearly, the strategy of putting all our eggs in the Bibi basket has failed to produce the results so many hoped it would, and the sooner people get their heads around that the better.

The Christian Zionist organizations (which are made up of people who mostly can't vote for or against Netanyahu) find themselves being "squeezed out of existence" as one CZ leader put it by the restrictive policies regarding visas that the Interior Ministry began enacting about three years ago. They have, presumably, tried to get some help from their friend in the Prime Minister's Office. Indeed, direct, public appeals have been made to Netanyahu to step in and do something about the situation.

As I'm writing this, there has not been any statement on this issue from the Prime Minister.

To be fair, none of the other "friends" these CZ organizations have forged such close ties with over the decades have spoken up on their behalf either. The Modern Orthodox/National Religious rabbis who have gladly accepted tens of millions of dollars worth of assistance from these organizations over the years don't seem to be ready to say anything publicly about the visa issue, or any of the other problems CZ groups are facing.

I've been at many ceremonies when some of these rabbis spoke about the assistance they were getting from CZ groups and the phrase "when you're in trouble, you find out who your real friends are" often got repeated during those speeches.

Oh, the irony!

But, once again, we're back to the title of this blog.

This crisis in Israel's political life was going to come sooner or later and I think it was even necessary. Israel is both an ancient country and a young country. There's still a lot that the Israelis are figuring out about how to make a modern democracy work and this process will include many difficult lessons, just like the process of growing up usually includes a lot of difficult lessons for an individual.

The same is true of the crisis Israel's Christian Zionists are facing. The massive amount of "unconditional love and support" that CZs have been giving the National Religious/Modern Orthodox movement in general and Bibi Netanyahu in particular for decades now was also quite entirely "unrequited". 

That must be a very bitter pill to swallow.

But, again, this crisis was and is necessary. To mix a couple of my favorite metaphors, it's time for the Christian Zionist movement to stop drinking their own Kool-Aid, wake up, and smell the napalm.

Politicians, like nations, don't have permanent "friends" they have long-term "interests" and most of the time the people they call their "friends" are really just people they're using to advance those "interests."

I doubt I'm saying anything that the CZ leadership doesn't already know.

So stop waiting for your faux "friends" to save the day, because they won't. They're not on your side and they never have been. They're on their own side, and they only pretend to be your "friends" because you're useful to them. If they're not standing with you now, when you need help, it's probably because they don't think they need you so much anymore so they don't see any advantage in helping you out. Or maybe they think that you'll keep on supporting them no matter what they do or don't do, so why should they stick their necks out for you?

Ironically enough, I think they're very wrong. The next election is coming sooner or later and when it does, these guys are going to lose big and end up banished to the political wilderness for a VERY long time. Then you'll see them running to the Christian Zionists and begging you to help them out for the sake of their oft-repeated rhetoric about the "true friendship" you and they share.

I respectfully suggest that you shouldn't fall for this routine again.

Instead, try looking for some new friends, some REAL friends, like the Israeli Believers who are your NATURAL allies and friends in this country, people who are in this WITH YOU. If you'd been doing that all along, instead of bending over backward for decades to please these faux "friends" in the Modern Orthodox/National Religious camp, we'd all be in much better shape.

But, better late than never.

Like I said at the beginning, sometimes one must hit rock bottom for their own good. 

Sometimes the shock of hitting rock bottom is the only thing that will be sufficient to allow one to shake off all the delusions and misperceptions and see things as they truly are. That allows the necessary conclusions to be drawn, the necessary lessons to be learned, and the necessary steps to be taken in order to begin moving forward again.

The nation of Israel, the Believer community in Israel, and the Christian Zionist movement are all having such a moment right now, and despite all the temporary problems it's causing, I thank God for it.