The Lag BaOmer celebration at Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai’s kever in Meron attracted nearly 1 of every 10 Jews in Israel, an utterly amazing number considering the logistical challenges of getting there. Bonfires throughout the country reminded everyone that important, historical events continue to occur here in Israel, that have nothing at all to do with the European Basketball Championship Tournament which preoccupied much of the nation. My thoughts this Lag BaOmer were not so much on Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), with whom the holiday is primarily associated, but with Rabi Akiva, his illustrious teacher. Rabi Akiva assembled a small cadre of remarkable students, including the Rashbi, after the death of the 24,000 (12,000 pairs of chavrutot) students who were in his academy.
Lag BaOmer is also celebrated because it was on this day, that Rabi Akiva’s students stopped dying. How Rabi Akiva rebounded from the devastating loss of so many of his beloved students to lay the foundation for the continuity of limud Torah with his distinguished group, is nothing short of miraculous and no doubt was a source of inspiration for the remnants of Torah Judaism to persevere after the elimination of the vast majority of Torah scholars during the Holocaust.
When thinking of Rabi Akiva, many stories come to mind. Rabi Akiva is introduced to Jewish history in the famous story of his revelation by the river. It is said he came to a river and he watched some water dripping onto a rock and due to the persistence of the water falling drop after drop after drop it had eroded the rock. The power of these dripping drops inspired Rabi Akiva to become among Judaism’s greatest sages and leaders.
I know this is a conceptual jump akin to leaping over a bonfire, but, lehavdil, the concept of the “dripping drop” told by one of America’s weakest leaders, President Barack Obama. President Obama in his acceptance speech for yet another award recognizing his humanitarian accomplishments (this time for “Fighting Genocide,”) inadvertently, no doubt, he referred to the effect of a prolonged drip and the erosion it creates.
Addressing the crowd, the President said, “I have this remarkable title right now — President of the United States — and yet every day when I wake up, and I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria — when there are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids — and having to think through what levers, what power do we have at any given moment, I think, ‘drop by drop by drop,’ that we can erode and wear down these forces that are so destructive, that we can tell a different story.”
The case of the kidnapped Nigerian girls is a perfect example of how Obama has yet again demonstrated his fickle and feckless relationship with the previously august and feared position as “Leader of the Free World.” Over 300 girls were abducted from a primarily Christian village, in Nigeria which had been under siege for five years by the fundamentalist Islamists terrorist organization, Boko Harum. The group whose name means “Education is sin” opposes all female education. For weeks, it seemed likely that the 276 remaining girls (50 escaped) being held as captives would “disappear” be married or sold off as slaves for a reported $12 a head. At first the story went unreported; there was no world outcry. Obama initially neither said nor did anything. However touching it is, that the President would later so strongly identify with these black African girls, that he would feel compelled to say they could have been “daughters” to him and the First Lady. The natural and appropriate response from the first African-American President in U.S. history would seem to be to take decisive action against this repugnant act of kidnapping and slavery.
Instead, his approach to moments of decisive action were elucidated in another part of his philosophical discourse on power: “We cannot eliminate evil from every heart, or hatred from every mind, but what we can do, and what we must do, is make sure our children and their children learn their history so that they might not repeat it. We can teach our children the hazards of tribalism. We can teach our children to speak out against the casual slur. We can teach them there is no ‘them,’ there’s only ‘us.’” It is tragic to think that the President believes these empty words of “Hope and Harmony” are a response to the present-day evil that infects much of the world. How many generations is he willing to sacrifice due to inaction?
The New York Times described the President’s speech as a “meditation on the limits of his power.” Invariably throughout his tenure as Commander-in-Chief, when the President has been met by challenges in Syria, Benghazi, Ukraine and Crimea, from the Russian, Chinese and most notably from the Iranians and their fanatical pursuit of nuclear power, this so-called “meditation”sounds more like a tautological statement of self-diminishment. Spoken in this perspective the President’s using the metaphor of erosion caused by drop after drop takes on entirely different connotations. Obama disfigures it into a message of defeat and self-abnegation, mutating the metaphor into a bucket with a hole in it losing water through the slow, perpetual drip dripping, dissipating American power, prominence, and prestige in every confrontation and corner of the world.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com