Friday, August 07, 2020

Rav Kook's Ein Ayah: Stable Truth, Volatile Falsehood

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 12:31-33)

Gemara: The letter shin stands for sheker (falsehood), and the letter tav stands for emet (truth). Why are the letters of sheker close to each other (letters 19-21 of the alphabet) and the letters of emet are far from each other (letters 1, 13, 22)? Because sheker is common and truth is uncommon. And why do the letters of sheker have pointy bottoms, while the letters of emet are rectangular? Because truth stands, and falsehood does not stand.

Ein Ayah: It is a major principle that every sheker that does not have a spark of truth in its inception cannot raise its head with chutzpa. Therefore, all the beginnings of sheker, which are themselves truths, are included within the information that makes up the holy letters. Emet is different [in that the letter that represents it is not the first letter of the word, but the last]. It is only from the end of a matter that one can tell that its beginning is actually truth. It is that ending that leaves the good impression. That is why shin represents sheker because its positive part is in the beginning, whereas tav represents truth because the important part is at the end, as the letter tav is at the end of emet.

The difference between emet and sheker can be compared to the lower and higher “avenues” of the universe. Inanimate objects do not [naturally] have one part of them innately connected to another part of them. If parts are joined, it is by chance. If one separates granules from a stone, each one stands as an independent object. Even when the rock was “whole” and connected, it was no more than by mere chance that they were next to each other.

When we go up in the chain of objects, to the vegetable kingdom, there is a more fundamental connection. Nourishment already goes from one part to another, as the organic nature already starts showing its signs. The system of life encompasses it from its deepest roots to its uppermost foliage.

When we advance to the animal kingdom, the level of interdependence and unity becomes of an even higher level. There are different levels amongst animals, as one can cut off the tail of a lizard, and it will shutter. The higher the creature, the more centralized, and the top and the bottom are more connected. This is the secret of their higher completeness.

In the spiritual world, sheker is spread out everywhere, and every thought of falsehood is displayed independently in its deceitful character. Truth, the foundation of life, in contrast, is the ingredient of higher life, and therefore is more all-inclusive, as it flows from the light of the Creator, Who combines all. That is why sheker is made up of things that are close together in a shallow manner and is destroyed when it tries to spread out. Emet requires that there is a unity between the beginning and the end, for otherwise there can be no real connection, like the letters aleph, mem, and tav. In this world of darkness, it is more common to find sheker.

Emet, though, is able to stand independently, without help from things to lean on. Even if truth would not find a place by all people in the world, it would still survive and would ultimately overcome. However, shekercannot stand, and the reason it lasts as long as it does is that there are people who connect themselves to it. Even something that has one leg can stand if it is nailed to the wall. So sheker is like something with one leg, which sways like a drunkard, whereas emet is like a stable rectangle and therefore stands in a way that falsehood is not.

You Get Back What You Put In: The Joys of a Commandment-Driven Life

by Rabbi David Aaron

The Zohar, which is a Jewish mystical classic, written two thousand years ago, states that there will come a time when people will be performing tradition and rituals like cows eating grass.

Essentially, the cow chews its food, stores it and then chews its cud, thereby re-chewing the food, over and over again. The Zohar is using this metaphor as a symbol for something that is done mindlessly without intention or taste. In Jewish tradition, there is a concept called taamei mitzvos, which can be described as the “reason for the commandments.” But taamei mitzvos can also mean the “taste of the commandments.” In Hebrew, taam means both “taste” and “reason” — and there is definitely a connection between the two. Without understanding the reason behind the life of commandment it can become mindless and tasteless.

Imagine a man who observes Sabbath, but it has no meaning to him — no taste. The only thing that keeps him doing it is guilt, or respect for the tradition, or simply habit. Without his understanding the meaning behind the observance, it will eventually stop sooner or later, in this generation or the next.

An experience I had working with a Jewish youth group describes how this translates down the line to the grandchildren. I was hired to try to rejuvenate interest for Judaism among the participants, and I thought a “Sabbath Experience” would be a great idea. So, I presented my plan to one of the chapter presidents, a girl of about 16 or 17. She looked at me in total shock. “Sabbath!” she exclaimed incredulously. “Do you mean no tearing toilet paper?” This was the first thing that came to her mind. I said “Sabbath” and she thought “toilet paper.” So, in jest I said, “Yes! Haven’t you ever tried that? For thousands of years Jews get together, put a roll of toilet paper on a table, sit around the table and chant, ‘Don’t tear it, don’t tear it!'” She looked at me with an expression that said, “Is this guy for real?” And then she said, “You know, I always wanted to ask a rabbi, ‘are you allowed to flush on Sabbath?'” Imagine this is the question she always wanted to ask a rabbi.

Perhaps partial ignorance is even a greater problem than complete ignorance. At least when we know nothing, we don’t have bad feelings. But partial ignorance can translate into a total distortion. It would have been better for the girl to be completely ignorant of Sabbath than to have been taught to think of toilet paper in association with the most beautiful of Jewish celebrations. As a result, she is not even open to experience an authentic Sabbath. Her reaction and associations are but a symptom of the real disease: she does not know (or is confused about) who she is and who her ancestors were. And she will have nothing real to say to her children about Sabbath. Sabbath has no taste for her.

We can perform the commandments and the traditions like cows eating grass. They chewed before, they chew now, and they’ll chew later because they chewed before —and that’s when religious life starts breaking down. That’s when children say to their parents, “Why should I do this? This is not interesting. This is restrictive and meaningless.” And that’s when parents respond, “You should. You must. You have to.” Rarely do people respond positively to empty demands; instead, they rebel against them. People respond to what they find fascinating, relevant, inspirational and meaningful. Most people do what they want, not what they should.

Smoking is a great example of this phenomenon. Tobacco companies discovered that the Surgeon General warnings on the packages actually promote smoking. In fact, I heard that the companies are printing the warnings bigger than they are legally required. You see, people want to feel like the macho Marlborough man. They want to face death, puff in its face, and say, “I am not afraid. I am tough. I know how to take risks.” So, to say “you shouldn’t” isn’t always an effective way to encourage people to do what is good for them. They have to want to do it.

But getting excited about the commandment driven life requires having a reason. We’re missing the real meaning behind it all. And without meaning, tradition becomes stale, and commandments become heavy burdens.

The Torah (Bible) recounts how, before Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the first set of the tablets of the Ten Commandments, G-d told him that the Jewish people have created an idol — a golden calf. But Moses wasn’t alarmed; he was determined to bring the Jewish people the commandments, nonetheless. But, as he descended the mountain and saw the Jewish people dancing and singing around the golden calf, he suddenly threw the Tablets down and broke them. Why? Why did he lose his determination? The answer is that G-d told him about the golden calf, but G-d did not tell him that the people were dancing and singing. Moses may have imagined the people sitting beside the golden calf, crying, because they had lost hope in their leader returning. Surely, they would rejoice as soon as they saw him! Instead, they were happy with a golden calf. Incredulously, Moses recognized that if the people could be happy with a golden calf, they could not have comprehended the great gift that he was about to bring them from G-d. The Talmud further explains that as Moses came down the mountain, his incredulity and horror rising at the scene fore him, the letters flew off the tablets. When that happened, the tablets became so heavy that Moses couldn’t hold them any longer. When the tablets lost their meaning, they became lifeless rock.

So, it is with the Torah. When it ceases to be the Book of Life then it becomes dead weight — just a heavy burden.

When the meaning and the taste of a Torah life are lost, then there is no love for it and no joy. When a person whom you love asks you for a favor, it is easy to do it, it’s a pleasure. But when you don’t like the person, the favor can be the hardest thing in the world because there are no good feelings surrounding it.

The Talmud says that when people accept the Torah with joy and happiness, these feelings are guaranteed to be long lasting. But when people accept Torah with anger or feelings of coercion, though they may observe its commandments for a while, eventually they reject them and everything breaks down.

Imagine somebody suggests to you that you should tell your spouse “I love you” three times a day. Sounds like a great idea. You wake up in the morning and start rushing off to work. “Oh, my gosh!” You hurry back and say, “Honey, I love you. See you later.”

You’re having a busy day, lots of big deals in the make, and it’s now two o’clock — oh, no! You call up your wife and say, “Hey, sweetheart, it’s me. I love you. I’ll call you later.”

You get home exhausted, fall asleep on the couch and — oh, no — it’s two o’clock in the morning! You panic, run to the bedroom: “Oh, honey, honey, wake up!”

“What is it?” she asks with alarm.

“I love you, goodnight.”

So, what would happen if that kind of behavior went on and on? Would it keep you ever mindful of your loved one’s presence and significance in your life? Or would it become a burdensome obligation? Is it a good idea to tell your spouse “I love you” three times a day, or is it a bad idea?

The answer to that question is up to you. The intentions that you put into it are what you’d get out of it. If a person says “I love you” with no meaning, no feeling and no understanding, then those words will get in the way of the relationship. But it is a truly great idea to tell your spouse regularly that you love him or her. You just have to put a little something into it — a little consciousness and understanding.

The same thing goes for the commandments. The Torah gives us ways of connecting to G-d and each other, spiritual strategies for living a more complete, meaningful and enlightened life, but we have to put a little soul into it. I can have a powerful lamp, but if I don’t know how to plug it in, it’s not going to turn on.

The Zohar offers a great parable for this concept. The Zohar describes the commandments as garments. By itself a garment cannot keep you warm; it can only keep the heat inside your body from escaping. Imagine you have the flu. You can have several blankets draped over you and you can still be shaking. The blanket only reflects your own body heat, gives you back what you put out. If you are cold inside, then nothing you put on the outside is going to help you.

In this way, the Zohar is teaching us that the commandments — such as celebrating Sabbath, keeping kosher, or doing acts of kindness — can only give back to us what we put into them. The commandments are like garments. They were meant to be put on and not to be a put off.

To be a Vehicle for Blessing

by Rav Binny Freedman

At the turn of the twentieth century, two of the wealthiest and most famous men in America was a pair of Jewish brothers named Nathan and Isidor Straus. Owners of R.H. Macy’s Department Store and founders of the A&S (Abraham & Straus) chain, the brothers were multimillionaires, renowned for their philanthropy and social activism.

In 1912, the brothers and their wives were touring Europe, when Nathan, the more ardent Zionist of the two, impulsively said one day, “Hey, why don’t we hop over to Palestine?” Israel wasn’t the tourist hotspot then that it is today. Its population was ravaged by disease, famine, and poverty; but the two had a strong sense of solidarity with their less fortunate brethren, and they also wanted to see the health and welfare centers they had endowed with their millions. However, after a week spent touring, Isidor Straus had had enough.

“How many camels, hovels, and yeshivas can you see? It’s time to go,” Isidor decreed with edgy impatience in his voice. But Nathan refused to heed his brother’s imperious command. It wasn’t that he was oblivious to the hardships around him; it was precisely because of them that he wanted to stay.

As he absorbed firsthand the vastness of the challenges his fellow Jews were coping with, he felt the burden of responsibility. “We can’t leave now,” he protested. “Look how much work has to be done here. We have to help. We have the means to help. We can’t turn our backs on our people.” “So we’ll send more money,” his brother snapped back. “I just want to get out of here.”

But Nathan felt that money simply wasn’t enough. He felt that the Jews who lived under such dire circumstances in Palestine needed the brothers’ very presence among them: their initiative, their leadership, and their ideas. Isidor disagreed.

The two argued back and forth, and finally Isidor said, “If you insist, stay here. Ida and I are going back to America where we belong.”

The two separated. Isidor and his wife returned to Europe, while Nathan and his spouse stayed in Palestine, traveling the country and contributing huge sums of money to the establishment of education, health, and social welfare programs to benefit the needy. Nathan also financed the creation of a brand-new city on the shores of the Mediterranean. And since his name in Hebrew was Natan, and he was the city’s chief donor, the founders named it after him and called it…Natanya.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, Isidor Straus was preparing to sail home to America aboard an ocean liner for which he had also made reservations for his brother, Nathan, and his wife. “You must leave Palestine NOW!” he cabled his brother in an urgent telegram. “I have made reservations for you and if you don’t get here soon, you’ll miss the boat.”

But Nathan delayed. There was so much work to be done that he waited until the last possible moment to make the connection. By the time he reached London, it was April 12 and the liner had already left port in Southampton with Isidor and Ida Straus aboard. Nathan felt disconsolate that he had, as his brother had warned, “missed the boat.” For this was no ordinary expedition, no common, everyday cruise that he had forfeited, but the much ballyhooed maiden voyage of the most famous ship of the century. This was the Titanic.

Nathan Straus, grief-stricken and deeply mourning his brother and sister-in-law could not shake off his sense that he had had a rendezvous with history. The knowledge that he had avoided death permeated his consciousness for the rest of his life, and until his death in l931, he pursued his philanthropic activities with an intensity that was unrivaled in his time. Truly, his life was a blessing for the Jewish people.

Today, Natanya is a scenic resort city of 200,000 and headquarters to Israel’s thriving diamond trade – one of the most important industries in the country. And in almost every part of the city, there is some small reminder of Nathan Straus’s largesse, his humanity, and love for his people. His legacy lives on….

What motivates some people to do more than just appreciate the blessings they have in their lives; and to actually be a vehicle for blessing?

This week’s portion, Ekev, contains one of the pivotal verses of the entire Torah regarding the concept of blessings:

“Ve’achalta’ ve’sava’ta’ u’verachta’ et Hashem Elokecha al ha’aretz hatovah asher natan lach.”

“And (when) you shall eat and be satisfied and bless G-d your G-d for the good land which He has given you.” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 8:10)

This verse is actually the biblical basis for the Grace after Meals (known as the Birkat hamazon): the four blessings we say after a meal which includes a satisfying helping of bread. Coming as it does, in the midst of Moshe’s speech to the Jewish people (now in its third portion….) and his stern warnings to the generation about to enter the land of Israel lest they forget who they are and why they have been charged by G-d with the challenge of conquering the land of Israel, this verse begs a number of questions.

First of all, how does one bless G-d? Thanking G-d is one thing; after all, it makes sense to be appreciative of all the gifts we are blessed with and the value of being thankful for it all, especially to the source of all good in this world makes a lot of sense. But what does it mean to bless G-d? Why would G-d need our blessings, much less demand them? In fact, what exactly is a blessing?

Furthermore, why is the system for blessings after eating bread (the grace after meals or Birkat hamazon) so much more involved (3-4 blessings) than say, the blessing over fruits?

In fact, Moshe mentions these ‘fruits’ in declaring how wonderful the land of Israel is:

“Ki’ Hashem Elokecha’ me’viacha’ el eretz tovah: eretz nachalei mayim…eretz chittah u’se’orah ve’gefen u’te’enah ve’rimon ,eretz zeit shemen u’dvash.”

“For Hashem your G-d is bringing you to a good land: a land of streams of water… a land of wheat and barley, vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of olive (oil) trees and (date) honey.” (Devarim(Deuteronomy) 8:7-8)

According to Jewish tradition these are seven special ‘fruits’ known as the seven species which grew in the land of Israel (and were apparently what the spies brought back to the Jewish people in the desert ). Yet, even though these species include grains, it is only when these grains are utilized to make bread that for some reason, the blessings we make upon eating them are taken to a different level, resulting in three (and later four) blessings instead of the usual one (known as the Al HaMichyah or Bracha achat me’ein shalosh blessing made after eating cakes and fruits…)

Considering how beautiful these fruits are, and how much more appreciative one might expect us to be upon eating fruits, than say, on a simple piece of pita….

All of this is wrapped up in understanding the nature of blessings in the first place.

I recall once, at a Friday night dinner, meeting a fellow who seemed quite prominent in his Synagogue, and who had sponsored the evening in memory of his son who had passed away in a tragic car accident. At the end of dinner thinking it would be appropriate, I asked him if he would honor us by leading the blessings after the meals but he politely declined, saying “I don’t do that!”

Given that he appeared quite knowledgeable in Judaism and seemed familiar and even comfortable with Jewish tradition, I was somewhat surprised by his comment and later found the opportunity to ask him what he meant.

“I used to buy it all; the whole nine yards” he explained to me.

“And I still think Judaism is an incredible system with a magnificent community structure. I grew up religious and have never driven on Shabbat nor knowingly placed unkosher food in my mouth, and I never will. I even believe in G-d; who else could be the reason we are all here?’

“But after he took my son, I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to bless Him again!”

While at the time, due to the circumstances, I wasn’t able to have the long discussion such a comment almost demands (and of course, far be it from me to have the arrogance to judge such a person, given the pain he had obviously been and continued to be going through…) I did manage to ask him what he thought blessings were. After all, if you decide you are not going to bless, you must have a working definition of what a blessing really is, right?

Fascinatingly, he had never really thought about it, but upon reflection realized he considered it to be a form of thanksgiving and recognition (and he felt himself unable to be fully thankful to a G-d who, he perceived had taken his son. Indeed, his decision to remain an involved Jew on every other level other than blessings was, I imagine his own form of rebellion against a G-d he was not quite ready to forgive.

And yet, blessings are not really about saying thank you. The Hebrew word for ‘thanks’ is todah, which is very different from the Hebrew word for blessing which is ‘bracha‘.

In fact, thanksgiving is an entirely different topic, and we do in fact have many blessings that are about thanksgiving such as the ‘Modim‘ prayer (in the silent Amidah) and the ‘Nodeh Lecha’ blessing after meals.

So what is the meaning of the word ‘brachah‘ (blessing)?

When Hashem (G-d) blesses Avraham, the verse in Genesis says:

“Va’Hashem Beirach et Avraham Bakol.”
“And G-d blessed Avraham with everything.”

And the commentaries there suggest that Hashem actually blessed Avraham by increasing his wealth as well as his progeny. Rav Soleveitchick suggests that this is indeed the true nature of the word ‘bracha‘: to increase.

When you are blessed something is increased, whether it is the joy in your life, your sense of fulfillment or even having more children. In fact when you bless someone that their business should be successful you are really hoping they will earn more money.

So how do we bless Hashem, and why does Hashem need our blessing? Obviously, Hashem doesn’t need our blessings; rather, we need to be blessing Hashem. Blessing G-d is, quite simply, the art of increasing Hashem’s presence in our lives, and in all that we do.

Thus, blessing G-d when you are eating an apple is actually a conscious decision to elevate the simple act of eating an apple into an opportunity to appreciate G- d’s presence in my life. By making a blessing over an apple we allow this apple to become a vehicle for increasing Hashem’s presence in our life, which of course not only elevates the act of eating an apple, but elevates as well the person eating the apple.

Which leaves us with the question of why the blessing for bread seems so much more involved than for other foods?

In truth, what separates bread from other types of food, is not the food item itself, but rather what we do with it.

Interestingly, in the portion of Shoftim, (Devarim 20: 5-7) which we will read in a couple of weeks, the Torah tells us that there are three instances (aside from being afraid) that allow someone to be exempt from going to battle (if it is a war of expansion or economic security (milchemet reshut), as opposed to a war being fought to save the Jewish people from destruction or milchemet mitzvah).

If someone has built a new home (and has not yet lived there), planted a vineyard (whose vintage he has not yet savored), or betrothed a woman (but has not yet married…), he need not go to such a war. And the Baruch She’amar (Rav Baruch HaLevi Epstein also known as the Torah Temimah) points out that these three instances represent a growing appreciation of the nature of our partnership with G-d. When a person builds a home, he often feels as though he has built it himself, and he revels in the pride of his accomplishment. But when a person plants a vineyard, he is much more aware of how much he is really in partnership with G-d, because without the rains, nothing he planted would have grown, so he is much more aware of Hashem as responsible for all the good he is experiencing. And of course, when marrying and having children, it becomes even clearer that we are just vehicles for G- d’s plan. We are, on the one hand, blessed to be in partnership with G-d in bringing life into the world, and yet very much aware of how fragile life truly is, and how much Hashem is really responsible for all the good we have in our lives.

When a person goes to war, he actually has to find the balance between placing himself completely in Hashem’s hands while at the same time recognizing that G-d wants us to be partners in making the world a better place.

After all, if we truly believed G-d runs the world then we wouldn’t bother bringing our guns to battle because it’s all in G-d’s hands anyway, right?

And yet Judaism suggests that Hashem very much wants us as partners in building this world, hence its creation as an unfinished project….

And of course, this is not because Hashem needs our help to fight, or to finish planting the field. Rather, this is part of Hashem’s gift to us; it is we who gain from the process of being partners in building this world.

All of which brings us back to the wheat growing in the field.

The Talmud (in tractates Berachot and Shabbat 74b) tells us there are ten processes in making bread. (Hence the ten words of the blessing over bread: the ‘Hamotzi‘…) We come to an empty field, but if we watch it and wait for it to grow bread it will be a long wait!

We plough and then sew seeds, reap the grain and then thresh and winnow, gather and divide, eventually making and kneading the dough and then baking it into what finally becomes bread. It takes a lot of work to make bread, which is why, according to some commentaries; it was specifically bread (known as the lechem hapanim, or show bread) that was put on ‘show’ in the Temple every week.

Fruit in the fields was essentially a gift from G-d; once the trees are planted all they need is water, and the fruit will arrive. Thus, they represent G-d’s gift to us. Bread on the other hand, which takes so much work, represents our gift back to G-d. Bread is all about what we choose to do with the world that G-d gives us.

(Indeed this is the essence of understanding why the challenge G-d gave Adam after the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge was that we would eat bread ‘by the sweat of our brow…’. We did not fully appreciate the gifts (the Garden of Eden) G-d gave us, so now we would need to earn them…

Bread then, is the ultimate expression of our partnership with G-d, and as such creates a much greater sense of the presence of G-d in our lives.

And the more we are willing to be partners in bringing G-d into our lives and into this world, the higher level the world and us along with it , will reach….

In these times filled with so many challenges, and with so much work needed to create a better society , the daily act of blessing our bread, serves as both a reminder as well as an inspiration of how different the world could be, if only we were all willing to make it so….

Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Rav Kook on Parashat Eikev: Nourishing the Soul

Rabbi Isaac Luria, the "Ari" the master kabbalist of 16th-century Safed, asked the following question: I understand how food sustains our bodies. But how can the soul, which is purely spiritual, be nourished from physical food? How is it possible that food enables the soul to remain bound to the body?

The scholar explained that all created matter in the universe - whether human, animal, plant, or mineral - exists only through the power of God’s Ten Sayings when He created the world.

So this power of Divine “speech” also exists in food. And that is the spiritual nourishment which the soul is able to absorb when the body eats.

When we recite a berachah before eating a piece of fruit, we acknowledge that God is the “Ruler of the universe, Who creates the fruit of trees.” This recognition awakens the fruit’s inner spiritual force, providing spiritual sustenance for the soul.

Blessing over Torah Study
It is quite strange. The obligation to recite a blessing over a meal is explicitly stated in the Torah:

“When you eat and are satisfied, you must bless the Eternal your God for the good land that He has given you.” (Deut. 8:10)

But what about Torah? What is the source for reciting a berachah before studying Torah? According to Rabbi Ishmael, this blessing is derived a fortiori:

“If we recite a blessing for that which sustains life in this transient world, then certainly we should recite a blessing for that which enables eternal life in the World to Come.” (Berachot 48b)

Why should the blessing over Torah study be based on the blessing for food? Why is there no explicit source for this obligation? 1

Appreciating the Torah
Rav Kook explained that we are unable to fully grasp the greatness of the Torah. It is a Divine gift of immeasurable value. In this world, it is easier for us to appreciate material gifts. Only in the future world will we properly appreciate the Torah’s eternal worth.

On an abstract, intellectual level, we may recognize the Torah’s importance, but this is beyond our emotional faculties. Yet we can deepen our appreciation for the Torah by contemplating the connection that Rabbi Ishmael made between Torah and physical sustenance. If we are filled with sincere feelings of gratitude for that which keeps us alive in this temporal world, all the more we should be thankful for that which provides us with eternal life.

This contemplative exercise, Rav Kook noted, is one way we can actualize the teaching of Rabbi Isaac Luria on how to elevate physical pleasures. When we deepen our appreciation for all of God’s gifts, we gain spiritually from the inner essence of food. As Rabbi Luria wrote:

“Not by bread alone does man live, but by all that comes from God” (Deut. 8:3). This implies that also the soul lives by bread.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 221 by Rav Chanan Morrison)

The Yishai Fleisher Show : Lebanon Blast, Hindu Shrine, and Tu B'Av - the Jewish Holiday of Love

Yishai and Malkah celebrate their 18th anniversary by singing "I just called to say I love you" in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda Shuk! But what was that explosion in Beirut? And are Palestinians really Jordanians? Then, Rav Mike Feuer comes aboard to discuss building a Hindu shrine on the site of a Muslim mosque in India, and the Torah portion of "Ekev" where we learn how to love HaShem and why "Man shall not live by bread alone."

Rabbi Ari Kahn on Parashat Ekev: Let's Eat

Who on Earth is Dana Ron, and the Beirut Explosion

by Victor Rosenthal

The longer I live here, the more I understand how different Israel is from my former home, the USA.

There are elements of Middle East culture, unsurprising since about half of all Jewish Israelis are descended from immigrants from the Jewish communities of the Mideast and North Africa. The more recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia are beginning to have an influence. Social intercourse between Jews and Arabs is strong in some places and weak in others, but one out of every five Israeli citizens is an Arab (I suspect the Arabs are more influenced by the Jews, but that’s another story). And there are more than a few remnants of the Eastern and Central European origins of the founders of the state.

The founders were primarily socialists (and they worked very hard to keep non-socialists from gaining influence in the new state). They left us with the somewhat contrary traditions of a strong central government that tends to behave coercively – Israel still has media censorship (which is often bypassed by social media), people accused of crimes have far fewer rights than in the US, and there is no jury trial. Another tradition is excessive and self-serving bureaucracy, both in government and private businesses.

Over the years an economy dominated by government-owned enterprises has been replaced by one that is mostly private; this has greatly improved the economic performance of the country (but also has created a small class of super-rich Israelis with excessive economic and political clout).

Americans care very much – or at least they used to care – about freedom of speech. There’s less emphasis on that here. What we have as a gift from our founders, who continued to believe very strongly in the right of the proletariat to strike and demonstrate even after they became the bosses, is an obsession with the right to protest. Sometimes it seems that Israelis believe that democracy means the right to block traffic. Haredim, disabled people, Ethiopians, and others have taken to the streets and junctions in recent months to press their demands. Workers in government-subsidized or regulated industries who have a dispute with the Treasury often express their frustrations by torturing ordinary citizens who have absolutely no influence on the government.

In a way, this is understandable, because despite what seems like an excess of democracy (an election every few months), the behavior of our politicians and their bureaucracy is very little influenced by the wishes of the people. Hence demonstrations.

For at least a month there have been nightly demonstrations in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem; recently they started demonstrating in front of his home in Caesarea as well. Before his indictment on corruption charges, there were daily demonstrations in front of the home of the Attorney General, demanding his indictment. Recently there have been violent clashes between pro- and anti-Netanyahu demonstrators, and between demonstrators and the police.

There are several different groups involved. With the advent of Corona and the limitations that the government has placed on some industries, independent business owners and tradespeople, who are not eligible for unemployment compensation, took a big hit (my son is one of them). There are also artists and performers, also independent, whose venues have been shut down. There is the ridiculously exaggerated wedding and events industry – that’s worth another blog post – which employs many, also shut down by the limitations on the number of people who can gather in one place. There is everything to do with tourism. Their frustrations are real, and they are demanding that the government remove restrictions or compensate them in some way.

But the “independents” were joined by the radically anti-Bibi crowd, who – despite the fact that he is legally allowed to remain in his position until he is convicted of a serious crime – insist that he must step down immediately. And there are some anarchists and hard-left people for whom chaos is their bread and butter, as well as those who are non-political but enjoy the excitement and danger of borderline violence (and the possibility that a woman might take off her shirt). It’s ironic that the complaint of those who want to depose the PM by force of demonstrations is that he is “destroying democracy.”

As usual, the overheated atmosphere is fed by social media. Recently, the PM complained to the police about a Facebook post from an account named “Dana Ron” which called for his removal by a “bullet to the head.” In a country which has the murder of a Prime Minister in its recent memory, this is pouring gasoline on the flames that are already too high. Facebook responded that the profile was “fake” and removed it; the police cybercrimes unit determined that the account belonged to an Israeli woman living abroad. The anti-Netanyahu people claim that the threats were actually posted by Netanyahu’s media advisors. Interestingly, other fake profiles that posted pro-Netanyahu content were found that were connected with this one.

Would Bibi be dumb enough to fake a threat on Facebook? Certainly not. Would he hire someone dumb enough to do that? Very possible. Tune in tomorrow.


On Tuesday there was a massive explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon. It seems – and there will probably be more information available by the time this article is posted tomorrow – that a warehouse containing some 2750 tons of a nitrate compound exploded. Before the main blast, there were smaller explosions that may have been fireworks or small arms ammunition. There was speculation that the explosive material was some form of rocket fuel, but now it seems that the material was ammonium nitrate that had been left there by a Georgian ship that broke down in 2013 on its way to Mozambique. What set it off is still not clear. More details about this event are here.

Naturally, the usual suspects are blaming Israel. Israeli officials said that we had no connection to it. It would be very surprising if we did, because Israel bends over backwards to avoid hurting civilians (sometimes excessively, in my opinion). Really, the only thing that might tempt Israel to do that kind of damage would be the presence of a nuclear weapon – and even then, I believe the IDF would have found some other way to destroy it.

This comes after several incidents in which Hezbollah has attempted to get even for Israel’s killing one of their operatives in Syria.

Lebanon is in the worst financial condition in its history, and a good part of the reason is Hezbollah. First the Corona, and now this explosion (which, incidentally, wrecked the structure in which 80% of Lebanon’s grain was stored) may push the country completely over the edge. I don’t know what is likely to happen now, but the best option – for Lebanon, for Israel, and for world peace – would be for Hezbollah to be pushed out. It is absolutely criminal that the resources of the country are squandered on being the point of the spear for the Iranian war on Israel. But how do you get out from under the thumb of a terrorist organization that has more military capability than your official army?

If the story about the ammonium nitrate is correct, then the government officials who allowed it to sit for years in a dilapidated warehouse near a highly populated area are guilty of criminal negligence. What brought Lebanon to the state it was in before the explosion was the less dramatic, but equally criminal, failure of those in whom the inhabitants of the country placed their trust.

Now let us come back to Israel, where there hasn’t been a cataclysmic explosion, but where a bloated, selfish, childish, and venal political establishment is failing to carry out its responsibilities to the public. Can we get our house in order before we find ourselves in a place similar to that of our northern neighbor?

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Mailing It In

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

If it seems that the opposition to anything President Trump does or says is automatic, absolute and visceral, it is because it is. The sheer contrarianism of his enemies does have the virtue of preempting the occasional bad idea (although I suspect many of those are negotiating tactics, trial balloons or mere venting) but it usually results in the immediate repudiation of meritorious proposals or assertions. Take, for example, the President’s opposition to mail-in voting.

Somehow I suspect that if the President was all-in for mail-in voting, the Democrats would be averring, and vehemently so, that such is a dire threat to the Republic and a devious scheme by which Trump hopes to steal the presidency once again. There is an entire host of issues on which Trump is opposed simply because he is Trump, the Democrats’ demand for American troops to go to Syria and stay there semi-permanently heading that list. This from a party that has vociferously protested the dispatch of American military forces anywhere in the world for decades, and when they have supported it (2002 and 2003) shortly thereafter renounced it.

Of course mail-in voting is subject to fraud because the entire voting system in the United States is replete with the potential for fraud. One case in point will suffice.

For over a decade, eight Pruzanskys have appeared on the voter rolls in Teaneck, notwithstanding that half of them have not lived in Teaneck during that decade. None live there today, and I do not doubt that all eight will still be on the rolls this coming November. A nefarious Pruzansky (granted, an oxymoron if there ever were one) could vote several times and in several places – the old district and the new district, certainly where her last name has changed. Thumbing through the rolls when I sign in to vote, it is easy to notice dozens of names of people who no longer reside in Teaneck and some who have moved on to their eternal reward and yet, apparently, are still poised to perform their citizenly duty if called upon.

The simplest way to rectify this situation is to purge the rolls every five or ten years of people who have left the district either upright or standing sideways. But these attempts (think Georgia in 2018) are always met with cries of “racism,” as if everything related to voting efficiency is automatically an insidious effort to suppress the black vote. An even simpler way of avoiding the specter of multiple Pruzanskys voting where they no longer live is to require voters to produce legal identification when they appear to vote, as one must when withdrawing money from a bank or trying to board an airplane. As you might have guessed, the movement for voter ID laws is also and always shouted down with cries of “racism.”

All this ignores the irony that blacks vote today in higher numbers than ever before but it might help explain the bitter paradox that close to 95% of blacks vote for Democrats in each election even though Democrats have failed the black community in city after city and state after state. And it is true that purging the rolls and requiring identification would limit the number of Pruzanskys who can vote thereby reducing the influence of that endangered minority. Obviously voting multiple times is illegal – but it is rarely caught and even more rarely prosecuted because it is extremely difficult to prove. Three years ago a report indicated that the United States has 3.5 million more registered voters than live voters, and that is probably an underestimate.

Mail-in voting is an invitation to fraud, as much as is on-line voting and early voting. It is impossible to track who is voting, from where they are voting, if they are still eligible to vote, and even if they are still alive. Aside from the known inefficiencies of the post office, the variables are so enormous that it would be nearly impossible to certify a victory or accept a defeat. There is massive potential fraud in ballot-harvesting, in which party hacks go from town to town (or nursing home to nursing home) collecting ballots, “helping” the good citizens to vote (properly), discarding “offensive ballots” and preserving the “good” ones. That tactic is more a certainty than it is a possibility.

To augment this dangerous mix is the looming fear of foreign interference. Throughout the Russia hoax, amid repeated claims that Russian “interfered” in the 2016 elections (something that the US, and really all nations, have been known to do), there was one element that was always missing: what exactly did Russia do to “interfere” in that election? For that matter, amid repeated claims that Russia is again “interfering” in the 2020 elections, what exactly are they doing? It would be worthwhile to inform the public so it won’t be misled again, wouldn’t it? In 2016, apparently, they ran a handful of Facebook ads that were duplicitous, but it would be impossible to extract the needle of Russian propaganda from the haystack of falsehoods that emanate from both parties during any campaign. Besides, Obama’s FBI and CIA did an excellent job on their own of interfering, clumsily and criminally, in the 2016 election.

I don’t know what they did or if they did anything, but what is to prevent Russia, China or any sophisticated country with malicious intent from fabricating election ballots, completing them, and mailing them to the authorities? This can be simplified even more since the popular vote total does not matter at all; it is the individual state totals that matter. So what is to prevent a disreputable foreign government, or a malevolent domestic political group, from fabricating ballots in selected swing states –Pennsylvania, Michigan, et al – and holding those duly postmarked ballots in reserve and in sufficient numbers to swing a narrow election weeks after Election Day? The correct answer is nothing, and that is probably why this election will be dirtier than most, which is saying a lot, and more inconclusive than most. And given the pandemic and the economic crisis in the United States, the last thing that America needs is a dispute election and even more instability.

To be sure, it should be troubling to all moral people that many voters do not expect an honest election and many partisans prefer a dishonest one if the outcome is to their liking. And it need not be mentioned that looking for honesty and integrity in politics is generally a fool’s errand. But truth is a great value, as is peace; there can be no peace when the truth is trampled and dishonesty is privileged. It will exacerbate the breakdown of society in the US currently underway and render its healing – if it even can occur – that much more difficult to achieve.

And the ramifications of that for American Jews –and for all good Americans – are worth contemplating.

The Deeper the Roots, the Stronger the Tree

by HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

The Prophet Isaiah instructed Israel in how to take consolation and come to terms with the difficulties besetting them as they set out on their winding, uphill, pock-marked journey lasting two thousand years. He said, “Consider the rock from which you were hewn, the pit from which you were dug out. Consider Abraham your father and Sarah who bore you. For he was but one when I called him, and I blessed him and increased him” (Isaiah 51:1-2).

Abraham was one of a kind in his generation. He publicized belief in the L-rd, G-d of the universe, by means of his family, his generation and the power of his faith. Ultimately he became the father of many nations. All of mankind was influenced by him, and a great and holy nation emerged from him. And just as he was alone amongst many, and succeeded, so have the Jewish People always withstood all of their attackers, and they shall continue to do so, like a mighty boulder or a tree with deep roots.

Consider the Matriarch Sarah. Sarah was born sterile and she was also very old. Yet with G-d’s help she miraculously gave birth. The same goes for the Jewish People in their remarkable state of being and their miraculous development (Malbim on Isaiah 51:1-2). We have to consider and ponder the rock from which we were hewn. The Torah states, “For I see this nation from the mountain tops, and gaze on it from the heights” (Numbers 23:9), regarding which Rashi comments, “I look at their origins and roots, and I see that they are as strongly founded as those rocks and mountains symbolizing the patriarchs and matriarchs.”

In order to apprise the strength of the tree, we have to examine its roots. If those roots are large and deep enough, the tree will stand so firm that no wind on earth will uproot it. In the same way, in order to know how hard a stone is, we have to examine the quarry from which it was hewn.

Today, in these difficult times, we have to examine our roots. We have to learn about ourselves on the pattern of nature. We have to find out about the special characteristics and conduct of the patriarchs and matriarchs, people of faith and noble character who clung to G-d in all the complex and changing situations that they faced. They are the roots of us all, and by following in their path we will continue to grow and flourish and to produce sweet fruits. Then Isaiah’s words (51:3) will be fulfilled: “For the L-rd shall comfort Zion. He will comfort all her waste places. He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the L-rd. Joy and gladness shall be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.”

Looking forward to salvation,
Shabbat Shalom.

The Shamrak Report: Signs of the Delayed War

Iran s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched underground ballistic missiles Wednesday as part of an exercise involving a mock-up American aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, highlighting its network of subterranean missile sites.
Israel's military has opened fired on Hezbollah militants who were trying to infiltrate Israel. Up to four militants crossed the border in the Mount Dov area, Golan Heights. Hezbollah is heavily armed, funded by Israel's arch-foe Iran, is the most powerful armed force in Lebanon alongside the Lebanese army. It operates predominantly in the south of the country. (Next to its border with Israel)
Israel is increasing the number of troops along its northern borders, pointing to a possible escalation in Syria or Lebanon. Israel has for years quietly carried out airstrikes against Iranian targets inside Syria, where Tehran is a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad. But in recent months it s become more open about its intention to prevent Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah from establishing a permanent base across the country s northern border.
The IDF is reinforcing its border along 150km from the coast to Mt. Hermon with advanced firepower, surveillance units and troops of a commando brigade, ready to ward off a Hizballah attempt to seize a military position.
The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, made an unannounced visit to Israel, meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Mossad director Yossi Cohen, along with other top brass. The visit came at a time of heightened tensions with Iran and its allies across the Middle East, particularly regarding the threat posed by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
Israel Defense Ministry hosted the annual US-Israeli Defense Policy Advisory Group (DPAG) and discussed strategic and regional security challenges.
AND some usual stuff&
IDF troops foiled an attempt to place an improvised explosive device (IED) along the border between Syria and Israel.
In response to rocket attack from Gaza , IDF retaliated by strike on a concrete manufacturing site used for underground infrastructure construction as well as military subterranean facilities belonging to the Hamas terror organization.
Food for Thought. by Steven Shamrak
Have you heard of the Stockholm syndrome ? People who are suffering from Stockholm syndrome sympathize with and care for their captors, mainly subconsciously, in their desperate attempt of self-preservation. After almost 2,500 year of persecution by Greeks, Romans, Christians and Muslims there are so many Jews who are suffering from the Stockholm syndrome or appeasement of an enemy syndrome we call it Galut mentality! This is the main reason why many Jews have been supporting anti-Israel and anti-Zionist agenda of the enemies, fake Palestinians, and their invented rights. Another manifestation of this Jewish characteristic is when Jews convert to other religions due to deeply imbedded self-hate!
Arab arsonists on Wednesday night set fire to the ancient archaeological site of Susya (Susiya), almost ruining the famed synagogue at the site. The incident occurred as Israel marked the day of mourning of Tisha B Av, on which the destruction of the two Temples is commemorated. In addition, mosaic inscriptions were found in Hebrew, the synagogue was built with features from the Temple, and a three-dimensional seven-branched Menorah was found there.
Israel donates the third water generator to the Gaza Strip! The unit donated through this collaborative philanthropic effort is the largest Watergen generator to date. It s able to produce 5,000 litters of water a day for the Nasser Medical Center in Khan Younis, Gaza s second-largest hospital Some 95 percent of Gaza s groundwater supplies is found to be unfit for consumption. (It must be due to all the tunnel digging by Hamas! This will not be reported in the Jew-hating international press!)
Israeli security officials on Thursday announced they have caught a Hamas militant who fled the Gaza Strip and swam into Israeli waters. The Shin Bet said Izz el-Din Hussein, 24, joined Hamas military wing in 2013 and commanded an air defense unit that included training with anti-aircraft missiles. It said Hussein had provided Israel a great deal of valuable intelligence about Hamas.
Hisham Abu Ria, the first Muslim officer in the IDF from a non-Bedouin background, touching on the backlash he s faced from the Arab community, Abu Ria said, If you served, you re viewed as a traitor. You walk in the streets and greet people, they don t acknowledge you. They ve threatened me; they even tried to burn my house down once. I ve had to switch my kids to new day cares, three or four times. After his release from the Army, Abu Ria struggled to find work. I found myself begging for people to employ me, asking them to ignore the fact I served in the Army, he said. (They enjoy the benefits of living in a free democracy and relative prosperity of Israel, but most of them hate the country anyway!)
Quote of the Week:
"I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them" - Quran (8:12) - It is not a call to achieve spiritual enlightenment - ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups, organizations and countries, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, just follow the genocidal Islamic instruction! And the silent majority of Muslim population knows about it that is why they are silent!
Refined - still Hidden - Genocide Facilitators
by Steven Shamrak (July 2006)
29 September 1938 The Munich agreement of German, Italian, British and French leaders agrees to German demands regarding annexation of the Sudeten borderland of Czechoslovakia.
9 November 1938 - Kristallnacht begins in Germany with the "night of broken glass" begins as Nazi troops and their sympathizers loot and burn Jewish businesses. (The all-night affair saw 7,500 Jewish businesses destroyed, 267 synagogues burned, 91 Jews killed, and at least 25,000 Jewish men arrested).
4 June 1939 - The SS St Louis, a ship carrying 963 Jewish refugees, is denied permission to land in Florida and was forced to return to Europe. Most of its passengers later died in Nazi concentration camps.
30 June 1939 - A drastic Immigration Restriction Bill passed through congress, suspending all quota immigration to the US for five years.  The bill also called for the immediate registration of all aliens in the US at the time. 
6 July 1939 - The last remaining Jewish enterprises in Germany are closed.
In 1939 - The British government issued the 'White Paper'. It reversed the support of the Balfour Declaration and announced a limitation on future Jewish immigration to Palestine.
Most countries agreed with and followed the guidelines set by the United States, France and Great Britain. It took brave and honorable men like Raul Wallenberg of Sweden, who saved hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews and Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania, who issued thousands of transit visas to the desperate Jews. But Wallenberg and Sugihara were exceptions and an embarrassment to their governments.
Since WWII, the same genocidal tendency has prevailed. Millions of people were exterminated, facilitated by international apathy and hypocrisy. The memory of the Pol Pot and Rwanda genocides is still fresh. The on-going slaughter of innocent civilians has been perpetrated in the Sudan and Congo for many years. Even now, nothing is done to force Turkey to take responsibility for the genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians in 1905, which paved the way for the Holocaust.
The only news that is fed to the public by the international media is that of a fictitious Arab nation - Palestine. The same facilitators of the Holocaust have been generating their justifications for the blood-thirsty terror unleashed on Jews during the last 70 years by Arabs. The intentions of the Arab leadership and the Islamic terrorist infrastructure to destroy Israel and kill Jews are completely ignored. The rights of Jewish people to live in peace on the Jewish land are deemed by them to be non-existent!
These ugly genocide facilitators are still in control of the world s future. What makes them even more dangerous is that they have not repented of their sins of the past, like Germany did, and arrogantly continue shaping our future using with the same power-hungry, disrespectful, xenophobic methods!

Reasons to Feel Proud

Parashat Aikev 5780
by HaRav Nachman Kahana

A: The Gemara (Shabbat 30b) records a didactic strategy that the illustrious amora Raba ben Nachmani would employ in order to gain the attention of his students before entering into a complex halachic discourse. He would begin with a humorous story or joke. So, in the spirit of the 15th of Menachem Av, one of the two happiest days in the lives of our ancestor’s years ago, permit me to begin with a light story.

In Chicago a 15-year-old 6’7” tall high school student who was a basketball star was dismissed from the team due to scholastic “shortcomings”. One day the teacher informed the class that he was giving the young man a chance to prove his intellectual prowess by answering one question! How much is 4 plus 5? After a moment of silence, the boy he replied “9“. At that moment the entire class rose to their feet begging, “Teacher, give him another chance”. The point of the story is that 10 years later, as a player in the NBA, he was paid millions of dollars a year by a company to promote their sport shoes. Intimating that if you wear them, you too will be able to leap as high as a kangaroo.

The power of endorsement!

B: This week’s parsha is the ultimate endorsement of a product by its producer. In chapter 8,7-10, the pasuk states:

ז) כי ה’ א-להיך מביאך אל ארץ טובה ארץ נחלי מים עינת ותהמת יצאים בבקעה ובהר:

ח) ארץ חטה ושערה וגפן ותאנה ורמון ארץ זית שמן ודבש:

ט) ארץ אשר לא במסכנת תאכל בה לחם לא תחסר כל בה ארץ אשר אבניה ברזל ומהרריה תחצב נחשת:

י) ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את ה’ א-להיך על הארץ הטבה אשר נתן לך:

7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills;

8 a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey;

9 a land where bread will not be scarce, and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron, and you can dig copper out of the hills.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

And in verses 11 through 12 the Torah relates the greatness of Eretz Yisrael, as endorsed by the Creator Himself.

ארץ אשר ה’ א-להיך דרש אתה תמיד עיני ה’ א-להיך בה מרשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה

A land which the Lord your God perpetually demands (cares for); the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.

These are not mortals recommending sport shoes. This is the ultimate endorsement; the Creator Himself who constantly observes what is occurring in His holy land. In a similar vein I wish to endorse the wonders of our great Medinat Yisrael, as it is being led upwards by the Creator Himself.

C: An excerpt from my forthcoming autobiography, to be entitled “Aliya Made Us” (not we made aliya).

A month before the opening of the school year, we went to acquaint ourselves with our future home in Moshav Nechalim, halfway between the airport and Petach Tikva. According to my contract signed in New York, the yeshiva committed to provide us with housing. The exact word in the contract was “tzrif”, which translated in our dictionary to bungalow or hut. We convinced ourselves that “bungalow” would be the more realistic meaning.

Upon arriving in Nechalim, we were warmly greeted by Rabbi Yosef Bagad, who had established the yeshiva. He took us to see the “tzrif” which would be our first home in the Holy Land and was intended to house all of our life’s material possessions.

As we made our way to the tzrif, we were joined by a workman who was dragging a lawn mower. I had the feeling that this was not a portent of good things to come. We arrived at a small wooden hut whose entrance was obscured by tall grass. The worker cut the grass and we entered. However, the grass did not stop at the entrance, but continued growing in the two rooms of the hut between the tiles which comprised the floor. I looked at Feige; she looked at me, and we both looked at Rabbi Bagad. He half apologized and half encouraged us with something to the affect that “Eretz Yisrael is built from the ground up…”

A memory which lives on with me, is the picture of Feige sitting on the floor of the hut with scissors in hand cutting the grass between the tiles. Another scene which always brings a smile to my face is when Feige would daily take a pot to a farmer-neighbor and return with milk warm from the cow, and freshly laid eggs. There was also the local grocery where we and many others would purchase a half loaf of bread because a whole one was expensive.

Now to the point.

This week Feige and I were hosted to a grand tour of the luxurious Jerusalem Estates Project, which is being constructed on the former Shneller army base, in the neighborhood of Geula.

The guide was our son Efrayim, one of Yerushalayim’s master builders. He is the project manager whose responsibilities are quality control and synchronization of the over 30 contractors and sub- contractors in the beehive of the project.

This is not a recommendation to purchase an apartment or two or five as some very wealthy religious families have done, but a testament to the advances our Medina has made in the 58 years that we have participated in that destiny.

I cannot describe the beauty of the planned 13 building complex, of which 5 are now being completed. We entered one completed furnished apartment whose owner agreed could serve as a model. The interior furnishings cost over one million shekels; the lighting and audio systems and all the other automatic systems were very sophisticated.

Two thoughts came to my mind while viewing this project. That if this is olam hazeh (this world), what does Gan Eden look like? The other is more practical and is the point of this week’s article.

When we came on aliya in 1962, a luxury apartment consisted of 3 rooms: 2 bedrooms and a living room (kitchen and bathrooms are not counted separately in Israel). It cost in the area of $35,000 to $40,000, which was out of the reach of the vast majority of Israelis. My salary was 400 liras a month, equal at the time to $115.

Construction is only one aspect of our national effort to restore the grandeur that was once Am Yisrael. Not to mention the 110-story building which will be constructed in Ramat Gan.

Despite its small area the Medina is on the cutting edge of the main areas of science and technology, just to mention a few: solar power, natural gas, space science and technology, aerospace engineering, agricultural engineering, computer engineering, cybersecurity, hydraulic engineering, water-saving technologies, military engineering, life sciences and biotechnology.

And in the Torah world; there are more students and talmidei chachamim in this little city of Yerushalayim than in all the other parts of the world combined.

So, the Jews in Eretz Yisrael must be doing something right, as this week’s parasha states:

והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה ושמרתם ועשיתם אתם ושמר ה’ א-להיך לך את הברית ואת החסד אשר נשבע לאבתיך:

ואהבך וברכך והרבך וברך פרי בטנך ופרי אדמתך דגנך ותירשך ויצהרך שגר אלפיך ועשתרת צאנך על האדמה אשר נשבע לאבתיך לתת לך

When you abide by these laws and are deliberate in following them, the Lord your God will keep His covenant of love with you, as He swore to your ancestors. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land, your grain, new wine and olive oil, the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land He swore to your ancestors to give you.

As we near the end of the Book of Devarim and look back at what we read during the past year, it becomes clear that in addition to all else the Torah is a love story. A love story between the Creator and Am Yisrael. He is the eternal chattan and we His kallah. There is no sin too dastardly, nor wayward act, for HaShem to forgive, HaShem patiently waits for us to return to Him.

So, let’s be proud of who we are and who made us what we are and remember the three Bs:

B careful, B healthy, B here

– and JLMM Jewish Lives Matter More

Shabbat Shalom,
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5780/2020 Nachman Kahana

Food for Thought

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

And you will eat and be sated, and you shall bless God, your God, for the good land He has given you. (Devarim 8:10)

VERY FEW BLESSINGS that we make are actually instituted by the Torah. Most of them are rabbinic in origin, one notable exception being Birchas HaMazon, otherwise referred to as “bentching.” The source, of course, is in this week’s parsha, the verse mentioned above.

It is interesting what the verse says we are thanking God for. You might have thought that we are thanking Him for the food that has sated you. But it doesn’t say that. It says that we eat, and become sated, so we can thank God for the GOOD LAND He has given us.

One could argue that it really means the same thing. You need the land to grow the food, something that can easily be forgotten if we just focus on the food, and not the land. Having land is a gift unto itself, because it at least provides the potential for food, which at one time made life a lot easier.

Now it makes it harder. Who wants to grow their own food anymore, now that you can simply walk into a grocery store, or even a restaurant and eat without all the trouble? Even organic food can be bought in stores, giving others the responsibility of going through the trouble of growing it “safe.” There are probably children who think that Corn Flakes grows on the shelf of the local store.

Why not? Lots of adults do. Well, they don’t actually believe that, but they act as if they do. How many people give much thought to all the work and effort that goes into making food for them? This is true, from the side of the people who are doing it, because they are looking to make money from us. But as we have found out several times before, it doesn’t take much to disrupt the chain of production and distribution and to leave us without the food products we so need and enjoy.

One rabbi of the period of the Mishnah, Ben Zoma, put it like this:

How much effort did Adam HaRishon exert before he found bread to eat: He plowed, sowed, reaped, sheaved, threshed, winnowed, separated, ground, sifted, kneaded, and baked, and only thereafter he ate. And I wake up and find all of these prepared for me. (Brochos 58a)

He wasn’t bragging. He was pointing out the additional blessing God gave him, and he did not want to lose sight of it. How much so are we in danger of this, now that so many intermediary steps have been inserted into the process, further disconnecting us from the original blessing of the land that yields its food! Blessing, so often in life, can really be a curse.

It all depends upon your direction in life. If comfort is your goal, then the enemy is pain, any kind of it. If connection to God is the goal, then the enemy is anything that desensitizes a person to the gifts He gives to us. You don’t have to go in pursuit of pain, but you do have to accept that effort often enhances your relationship.

The mishnah says, “According to the tzara—pain—is the reward” (Pirkei Avos 5:19). Many translate the word “tzara” as “effort,” because it sounds less scary. But the actual word is “pain” because, as the world has come to know: no pain, no gain. It’s just human nature to be more grateful for the things we have to work for, and feeling gratitude is one of the greatest pleasures we have. It’s may be COMFORTABLE to get freebies, but not more REWARDING.

Perhaps this is why Birchas HaMazon is so long, compared to other blessings we make after enjoying this world. He makes it difficult to “hold kop—concentrate” until the end. It was Chazal’s way of helping us to recall the long process required to bring food to our tables. Short blessings tend to be long over by the time a person realizes they have said it, if they even realize.

The other part of the “curse” of this generation is that food is so readily available. The average person tends to eat before they really get that hungry. It’s like filling up your car every time it gets below half a tank. Since you never run out of gas, you kind of lose track of just how important gas is to keeping your car moving.

Likewise, when a little bit of hunger drives a person to the fridge to get rid of it, we lose perspective on just how much food means to us. The fast days help to regain some of that perspective, but even that, is abstinence by choice. It’s when a person WANTS to eat but CAN’T find food that they really learn how dependent they are on it, and how grateful they can be to have some.

And not just HAVE food, but have it at the right time and in the right way. Holocaust victims suffered from hunger for years, only to be fed upon being liberated and dying because their bodies could not handle the food. It doesn’t get much more tragic than that.

The long and short of it is that, no matter how simple the food we put into our mouth may be, there is so much blessing wrapped up in it. There is so much to be grateful for, and it is not only worth recalling it as we enjoy our sustenance, we are OBLIGATED to recall it. Satiation comes not only from physically consuming food, it also comes from intellectually “consuming” the blessing of it.

This extremely important lesson is the foundation of all of life. It is not confined just to eating. It applies to every aspect of life that we enjoy, all of which is a blessing in its own way. The clothing we wear, for example. When you consider all the work from start to finish that has to go into making a single sock, let alone a shirt or a suit, it is amazing that the prices are as low as they are. Next time you make your “Shechiyanu” on something new, have that in mind.

Every time the people who collect the garbage come around, I try and tell them thank you. Even if they like their job, and make more money than I do, still, they perform a service that is very important to me, and which I do NOT want to do. It just takes one strike to remind everyone how quickly the place can become unsanitary from garbage yet to be removed.

And where I live, we have street cleaners. It’s a menial job that does not pay that much, and for the most part, it’s thankless. But I particularly enjoy watching the person’s face light up when he hears good morning, and thank you, from someone who he thought didn’t care about him or what he did.

When the first man, in response to the question, “Have you eaten from the forbidden fruit?” blamed God for giving him a wife who could get him to eat, he sealed his fate. As Rashi says, it wasn’t so much the passing of the buck that angered God, but Adam’s lack of hakores hatov, appreciation for the gift of a wife. It was one thing to not apologize for his sin, but something altogether different to turn a gift into an instrument of evil. You can’t get any less appreciative than that.

So, we shouldn’t just drift through life, no matter how easy it has become to do so. We should be more thoughtful about all the pleasures we merit to enjoy, especially the ones we depend upon for survival. At the very least, this should be food for thought.