Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Sunday, November 27, 2011
When the modern State of Israel was created, our founding fathers, the original Zionists, understood that survival and land were linked. Fighting for land meant surviving as Jews. For the vast majority of these founding Zionists, religion played no role in their struggle. The struggle for the land was their religion: lose land, die; keep land, live. It was that simple. They fought with commitment not because they had G-d but because they had land—tangible and real in the palm of their hand. The land gave them their purpose in life. Religion didn’t seem necessary.
The problem is, the Jewish soul craves something greater than the tangible. Since time immemorial, the Jewish soul has looked for meaning beyond the dirt that filters through its body's fingers. Land has only so much meaning; dirt becomes invisible when you discover the night sky. Today, land has meaning only to the religious Jew and the Arab. Like all modern societies, we no longer live on land. Our world is tarmac and concrete, TV and internet. But Israel is not like other lands. Israel is different: as land fades from our consciousness it becomes ever more tangible to people of faith. Listen to people of faith and you learn what the secular Jew doesn’t understand: the key to Israel is the land and the key to the land is religion. Christians know this. Muslims know it. Religious Jews know it. Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, ZT"L in "Torat Eretz Yisrael" shows that Torah and the Land are inseparable. The secular Leftist Jew, the "post-Zionist" descendant of the founders of the state, unfortunately has no clue about this as Zionism without the religion to support it, has devolved into the current self-loathing post-Zionist state. So while these post-Zionist, non-religious, and clueless Jews control the government and try to chart a course in a sea of hostility, people of faith announce that the land is holy. The Arab, in particular, understands the land because he knows intuitively that if he breaks the mystical bond between the Jew and the land, the land will be his.
In this endeavor, the Leftists of Israel are the Arab’s best friend. The Left has no connection to religion and no interest in land. If the Arab wants land, let him have it. The land gives us a tranquil life; why deny the Arab his tranquillity? The Left says democracy and the Arab are important; land and religion are meaningless. The Arab (and the religious Jew) knows otherwise.
And yet the Left, while clueless, still has a modicum of faith. Like all mankind, the Left sees the night sky and is enthralled by it. To borrow from Ophir Haivry (‘On Zion: a reality that fashion imagination’, The Jewish State and Political Theory, edited by David Hazony et al, Shalem Press, Jerusalem,2007, pp 76ff), if the Left has freed itself from the moorings of Judaism, it is nonetheless infused with the magic of ‘destiny’. The Left envisions a world where the wolf dwells with the lamb and where Israel, finally extracted from its (abhorrent) Judaic past creates (with the Arab) a new, ennobling culture. Every messianic movement, Haivry suggests, seeks to cancel previously accepted identities on the grounds that the world has been transformed, making unnecessary former modes of behaviour and identity (ibid, p.77). This is precisely what lies beneath the surface of every Leftist attack against Jews, Jewish behaviour and Judaism. Jewishness is outmoded. Judaism keeps us from our destiny.
How curious. This is a mirror image but the exact opposite of what the religious Jew believes. It reminds one of John Milton’s Christian Paradise Lost, where the rebellious Satan is thrown out of Heaven; he lands in Hell and creates for himself a kind of reverse mirror-image of the very Heaven he had rebelled against. It’s the same with Israel’s Left. They rebel against religion and all religious requirements for our future—and then promote their own vision that requires a messianic rejection of religion. In this vision, there is no land. There is no religion. There is no G-d. There is no holy covenant. Instead, once old identities (especially our Jewishness) have been abandoned, we will be able to create—as Shimon Peres wrote in 1993 (ibid, 78)—an ‘ultranational personal identity’. In that messianic era, man’s personal consciousness and identity will be transformed and we will be freed from religion and identification with land. Our future will be ‘new’, our troubles over.
Modern Israel’s Zionist founders believed in land. That was their faith. But that faith is gone with the post-Zionist Leftists. The Left has since taught us that "faith" or Zionism without G-d disappears. Muslims know this. Christians know it. Religious Jews know it. Only the secular Left are clueless. So the next time you hear Leftists declaim in public, think about the future they envision. They say, ‘choose our messianic era’. It’s newer. It’s quicker. It’s easier. Forget Jewishness. Give land. Discard religion. Follow us and you’ll get a new identity. The wolf will lie down with the lamb. Who cares if the wolf is salivating? When you lay with our friend the salivating wolf you will be transformed.
Collective national suicide, anyone?
Friday, November 25, 2011
Thursday, November 24, 2011
BS"D Parashat Toldot 5772
The overriding question, or rather dilemma, in this week’s parsha is the seemingly irreconcilable behavior of our mother Rivka. That a paragon of Jewish virtue should act in a deceitful manner behind her husband’s back is more than disturbing. That Rivka took advantage of Yitzchak’s blindness and naivete regarding the twins is more a matter for the rabbinic divorce courts than for a parasha in the Torah.
So what happened there?
One more question: Rivka was having a very difficult pregnancy, not so much in the physical sense as in the spiritual one. For, as Rashi explains, when Rivka passed a place where the study of HaShem was occurring, she felt a birth pang in one place as if the child she was carrying was making an effort to enter that holy place, and when she passed a place of idolatry, she again felt a birth pang, in a different place, as if the child was making an effort to join with the evil idolaters.
The Torah relates that Rivka sought the advice of the learned people of the time. But why didn't she seek the advice of the gadol hador (the most illustrious spiritual personality of the time) - her own husband?
The old question of nature vs. nurture looms very large in this week’s parasha. Is the determining factor of what and who we are the characteristics which we inherit from our parents, or is it the influences we absorb from the society in which live?
If it is inheritance then what made the twins Ya’akov and Aisav poles apart from one another? If it is the surroundings, didn't the twins grow up in similar surroundings?
And if one should answer that what defines a person is a combination of nature and nurture, the question stills remains regarding the behavior of the righteous Ya’akov and that of his murderous brother Aisav.
I would suggest that nature and nurture certainly play enormous roles in establishing our personalities and preferences in all walks of life. But nature and nurture do not function in a vacuum, for they are parts of a larger story. The overriding, decisive factor is the platform on which nature and nurture function - the person’s neshama (soul).
Compare it to the art of painting, where the surface may be paper, cloth, parchment, canvas or glass, and the medium of color in the hands of the artist must conform to the surface. Charcoal will make no impression on glass, and oil paint will destroy the surface of paper. So too, a delicate educational approach of Torah, on the lines of the Musar Movement will make no impression on a crass, egotistical soul like that of Aisav, just as a rigid Halachic approach will turn away a sensitive, fragile soul.
Yitzchak and Rivka certainly exercised all their parental influence in trying to make Aisav into a ben Torah, while the influences of the sadeh (the field) of the secular values of hedonism, anarchy and instant gluttonous gratification drove Aisav in the opposite direction; as the parsha describes Aisav as esh hasadeh - a man of the field.
But Rivka knew something that her husband Yitzchak could not have known. That they did not stand a chance in the world to change or improve Aisav’s basic nature.
During her pregnancy, when passing a place of idolatry, Rivka felt the excruciating pain of the child trying to escape his confinement in order to join with the deniers of God. It was a feeling she would never be able to escape even after the birth of her children and it would linger till the day she died. Rivka realized that she was carrying two very different kinds of children, and sought spiritual counsel on how to proceed with the pregnancy, if at all.
This was the dark secret that Rivka could never reveal to her husband; that one of the children was a bad seed from conception - an evil incorrigible soul with no hope for change. Two reasons prevented Rivka from revealing this to Yitzchak: 1) To spare this great man, the second pillar of the Jewish nation, this profound pain; and 2) her feelings of guilt that as the daughter of Betuel and sister of Lavan, she was probably responsible for drawing down from the heavens such an evil soul.
In their lives together, Rivka never revealed the secret of the souls, and Yitzchak could not have discovered it by Aisav’s conduct because of his blindness, coupled with the illusion of righteousness that Aisav created in his father’s presence. Aisav knew who he was. Rivka was also aware of Aisav’s nature, as was Ya’akov, which caused him to relieve Aisav of the spiritual responsibilities incumbent on a bechor (first born). The only member of the family who believed that he had two righteous sons was Yitzchak, whom Rivka isolated from the reality of the situation.
Rivka learned that Yitzchak was about to bless the evil Aisav, who in Yitzchak’s mind was a tzaddik. At this point, Rivka had no choice but to involve herself - at any cost - to prevent the dominant blessing from being given to Aisav. It was a situation that she had caused from the time the children were born, by concealing from Yitzchak who Aisav really was.
In her desire to be a righteous, devoted wife to Yitzchak, she now found herself in the unenviable position of having to deceive her beloved husband for the sake of the future of the Jewish nation.
Rivka instructs Ya’akov as to how to proceed and says to him: Alei kilelatcha be’nie - "I accept all the responsibility on myself".
Aisav was born as a bad seed with an evil soul. He begot a son called Elifaz who begot the arch evil Amalek, the progenitor of the evil nation of Amalek.
It is a well know and well used phrase:
הלכה בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב
It is a halacha (a law and way of life) that Aisav hates Ya’akov
An ingrained hatred, not caused by anything that Ya’akov did, but by Aisav’s soul whose essence is contrary to the sanctity of HaShem, as tuma is diametrically averse to tahara, as sin is to mitzva and Gehennom to Gan Eden.
The Gemara (Pesachim 118b) discloses that in the future when the Mashiach will appear, nations will come forward to present him with gifts. HaShem will direct the Mashiach to receive the gifts of Egypt and other nations, but will prohibit him from receiving gifts from Aisav, while comparing them to a wild boar in the jungle.
Who are descendants of Aisav in our time?
I believe that they comprise the majority of Christian Europe and most peoples who emigrated from Europe to other parts of the world. Interestingly, Aisav is associated with the color red, and almost all the nations of Europe have the color red in their flags.
They speak of the Judeo-Christian tradition. What tradition? There is nothing in the spiritual realm that we have in common with Christianity. They deny the mitzvot, and their Trinity is a denial of pure monotheism. The only Judeo-Christian "tradition" that exists is that they murdered millions of Jews and we died helplessly.
What I have stated is not just inflammatory rhetoric resulting from the Shoah, which was enabled by their Christian beliefs. Christianity dictates the living, breathing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic policies of the nations of Europe today.
I am not advocating that Ya’akov (the Jewish people) should actively and energetically seek to harm any country in Europe or - any other part of the world. But we must be aware and alert to the basic hypocritical nature of Aisav as it has been passed down to his descendants to this very day.
Last week’s parashat Chayai Sarah ends with the verse dealing with the descendants of Yishmael:
וישכנו מחוילה עד שור אשר על פני מצרים באכה אשורה על פני כל אחיו נפל
His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go toward Ashur. And they lived in the vacinity of all their brothers
The phrase על פני כל אחיו נפל is loosely translated as stated above ‘And they lived in the vacinity of all their brothers; but the literal translation is ‘And they fell in the face (in front of) their brothers.
And this week’s parasha begins
ואלה תולדת יצחק בן אברהם אברהם הוליד את יצחק:
This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.
The sequence of these two pasukim (verses) implies that the fall of Yishmael will signal the beginning of the reign of Yitzchak. Or possibly just the reverse. The beginning of the reign of Yitzchak will signal the fall of Yishmael.
Whatever the truth, facts on the ground are proving that the Jewish people have returned to a large part of Eretz Yisrael and Yishmael is in the process of decline.
Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon, and the fissures forming in the national unity of Morocco and Saudi Arabia are signaling the free fall of these Arab entities. They are not falling into Gehennom yet, because they have to undergo a pre-Gehennom initiation called Islamization. These countries will deteriorate into Islamic republics which will draw the world into confrontations on a scale not yet experienced in history.
At the end of this final historical process, the Jewish people will have returned home and the Messianic era will be ushered in.
If we have learned anything from the Second World War, it is that when goyim make war on goyim, it is wise for Jews not to be present there. The gates of the holy land are still open to gather in the exiles; but who knows for how long.
Being a proud Jew myself, I was looking forward to some very satisfying reading with my morning meal, or so I thought. The warning bells in my head began sounding when readers were advised that Braun is "the son of an Israeli-born Jewish father and a Catholic mother." Hmmm, a Jew by patrilineal descent, which I as an Orthodox Jew do not recognize as being Jewish. In the same vein, in January of this year, the press was inundated with stories of the shooting of "Jewish" Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, whose father was Jewish, her mother a Christian Scientist. In the congresswoman's defense, she has been an avowed Jew since 2001 and regularly attends services in a Reform Temple.
As the article continued, we slide from the sublime into the ridiculous. "I am Jewish," Braun said last year. "It's something I'm really proud of. But I don't want to make it into something more than what it is. I didn't have a bar mitzvah. I don't want to pretend that I did. I didn't celebrate the holidays. It's a touchy subject, because I don't want to offend anybody, and I don't want groups claiming me now because I'm having success. But I do consider myself definitely Jewish. And I'm extremely proud to be a role model for Young Jewish kids."
At that point, I lowered both my cereal spoon and the newspaper to the table, and attempted to compose myself, to free myself from the Twilight Zone into which I had obviously fallen. It was not the First of April, so I immediately ruled out the possibility that this was an April Fools' prank foisted on the readership by Allon Sinai or some other member of the Post's Sports Department. There is something missing in this picture, but what is it??
Ryan Braun has a Catholic mother, proudly admits that he did not have a Bar Mitzvah, nor does he celebrate the Jewish holidays, but he is "extremely proud to be a role model for young Jewish kids." Oh, really Ryan? And which Jewish kids might that be? Those without a Jewish mother? Those who did not or will not have a Bar Mitzvah? Those who do not keep the Jewish festivals? Believe me, Ryan, you have nothing to be proud of!
It was another of his statements, however, which proved to me how far removed from reality Mr. Braun has become—"I don't want groups claiming me now because I'm having success." I mulled that one over for quite a few moments. Being an American expat, perhaps I am not as current as I should be regarding the American Jewish community, but unless there is an American Lapsed Jews of Patrilineal-Descent organization, I could not think of any group which would want to claim Ryan Braun as one of their own. With such filament-thin ties to Judaism, Ryan, if I were you, I wouldn't lose much sleep worrying about groups wanting to claim you.
If we step back for a broader perspective of what the Ryan Braun story represents, it is clear we are once again facing the age-old questions of "Who is a Jew?" and "What is Judaism?" As to the former, perhaps there is room to accept the likes of Gabrielle Giffords into the tent. Ryan Braun? Only the most desperate of Jewish sects could rationalize accepting him under their wing. Granted, we are faced with the ever-greater threat of assimilation, intermarriage, and real Jews leaving the fold. But is the solution to so broaden the definition of who is a Jew that American Lapsed Jews of Patrilineal-Descent turns from a joke into reality? I think not.
We are a people, a nation with a rich heritage going back thousands of years. That chain is unmatched by any other people/nation on the face of the Earth. If we sink to the level of broadening the definition of a Jew to the extent of accepting Mr. Braun, then the durability of the millennia-long chain of our people will be tested beyond the bounds of Crusades, pogroms, Holocausts, Hellenism and all the other tests we have faced throughout the ages. Granted, from a purely scientific point-of-view, thanks in large part to the precedent-setting research of Dr. Nir Barzilai and his associates at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, the genetic chain of Judaism will not be broken by including the Brauns into the definition of who is a Jew. But from a practical stance, what becomes of the Jewish people as an ever-larger percentage of our nation is in name only?
How much of our rich heritage gets passed on to future generations by Jews In Name Only (JINO, for the SMS/Twitter crowd)? How weak the links before the chain ceases to exist? I shudder to think.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
(ed. note: It has been nearly three years since the terror massacre in Mumbai. I wrote this piece then as part of the theme of parashat Toldot and "the voice of Yaakov and the hands of Esav". I present it again, slightly updated.)
I am not one to usually write a political commentary inspired by the weekly parasha but for better or worse, the events in this week's Torah reading along with the tragedy in Mumbai and others since then, fairly screams off both the holy and secular pages that we have and will all be reading. Perhaps one of the most famous statements in the Torah occurs when Yaakov, disguising himself as his hirsute brother Esav in order to rightfully claim the blessing of Avraham from his now blind father Isaac, elicits this puzzled response, "the voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are the hands of Esav". It is that statement that has defined the failure of the Israel both as a nation and as a people to establish themselves as leaders of Gd's kingdom on earth. The master plan as envisioned by Yitzchak was to have Esav working (the hands) to support Yaakov's Torah learning (the voice). Either one by itself would not be enough. But Esav, despite having the seeds of greatness in him (witness his primal reaction to loss of the blessing for he knows that Gd will not allow him to succeed without his righteous father's prayer to Gd on his behalf), perverts the mission of his hands and rather than working to help Yaakov establish Gd's nation, he becomes a hunter, a thief, a murderer who has gladly sold his birthright to his twin brother.
It is difficult to look in the mirror after the tragedy in Mumbai and subsequent terror tragedies and know that we all bear responsibility. And when I say "we" I mean all of Klal Yisrael, for is it not axiomatic that "kol yisrael areivim zeh et zeh"? Yet you ask, what could we have done? How could we have prevented these tragedies? We were not the terrorist savages that pulled the triggers. Perhaps not. But, we still enabled them. How? By not having the hands and the voice working in unison.
It is only the voice and the hands together and in balance that can bring greatness and peace to Israel. Either one by itself is not enough. We see glimpses of it through history and indeed, where the roles interchange. Witness Esav's voice through his filial devotion that was able to deceive Yitzchak and Yaakov's disguised hands that turned the tables. Or Yaakov using his hands to defeat Esav's guardian angel and forcing the angel to bless Yaakov with his voice. Moshe using hands and voice to help the Jews defeat Amalek in their first battle (which will be the prototype for the last). The Kohanim in the Temple, using hands and voice to bless the Jewish nation. And finally, King David, our greatest warrior (hands) and a Torah scholar (voice), from whom Moshiach will come forth, finding the site of the Beit Hamikdash. And conversely, we see how in two thousand years of exile, the voice grew great with Torah pouring out of the galut. Yet, it was not enough as we were exiled, chased, tortured and murdered by the nations; by Esav and his cohorts because we lacked the hands to defend ourselves. And then 60 years ago, we finally return to the land and we find our hands again but then the balance shifts in the wrong direction as the hands dominate the state of Israel and dominate the leadership in a corrupt path while the voice is content to have money for its yeshivas and social programs and forget about leadership and the nation as a whole.
This is where we find ourselves now. Israel is still reeling aimlessly with criminals in charge of its leadership. Criminals, hunters and yes even murderers whose pathetic, obsequious policies towards the Arabs and the terrorists they breed have encouraged the murder of thousands of Jews including Rav Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg in Mumbai, and so perverting the use of their hands in ways that would make Esav proud. And the Torah voices? Also perverted, propping up these miserable governments in exchange for money. Look in the mirror. We are all responsible for allowing this travesty in Mumbai like the travesty of Gush Katif, Sderot, Hebron, and others. After all, we started this destructive path by rescuing and then dressing up the murderer Arafat as a statesmen and allowing him and his terrorist thugs into Israel proper. All this because of the hands that are out of control with the proper voice nowhere to be found.
In January 2012 there will be elections in the Likud central committee and the districts. Likud voters will have a chance to begin correcting the imbalance of the hands and voice by keeping the Likud on the right nationalist path that it needs to take. A voice that stands for true Jewish Leadership in Israel. Faith-based leadership that will unite the voice and hands of the secular and the observant to begin to make a proud Jewish state. So I say to you Likudniks, when you use your hands to choose, choose those that will unite your hands with the right voice for all our sakes.
(With Hakorat HaTov, I acknowledge the Torah insights of Rav Ari Kahn SHLITA and Rav Yaakov Zelinger SHLITA. If I have distorted or misrepresented anything they have given over, the fault is mine)
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
I am 25 years old, was born in Brooklyn NY, and raised in Efrat Israel. Though very busy, I don’t view my life as unusual. Most of the time, I am just another Israeli citizen. During the day I work as a paramedic in Magen David Adom, Israel’s national EMS service. At night, I’m in my first year of law school. I got married this October and am starting a new chapter of life together with my wonderful wife Shulamit.
15-20 days out of every year, I'm called up to the Israeli army to do my reserve duty. I serve as a paramedic in an IDF paratrooper unit. My squad is made up of others like me; people living normal lives who step up to serve whenever responsibility calls. The oldest in my squad is 58, a father of four girls and grandfather of two; there are two bankers, one engineer, a holistic healer, and my 24 year old commander who is still trying to figure out what to do with his life. Most of the year we are just normal people living our lives, but for 15-20 days each year we are soldiers on the front lines preparing for a war that we hope we never have to fight.
This year, our reserve unit was stationed on the border between Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip in an area called “Kerem Shalom.” Above and beyond the “typical” things for which we train – war, terrorism, border infiltration, etc., - this year we were confronted by a new challenge. Several years ago, a trend started of African refugees crossing the Egyptian border from Sinai into Israel to seek asylum from the atrocities in Darfur.
What started out as a small number of men, women and children fleeing from the machetes of the Janjaweed and violent fundamentalists to seek a better life elsewhere, turned into an organized industry of human trafficking. In return for huge sums of money, sometimes entire life savings paid to Bedouin “guides,” these refugees are promised to be transported from Sudan, Eritrea, and other African countries through Egypt and the Sinai desert, into the safe haven of Israel.
We increasingly hear horror stories of the atrocities these refugees suffer on their way to freedom. They are subject to, and victims of extortion, rape, murder, and even organ theft, their bodies left to rot in the desert. Then, if lucky, after surviving this gruesome experience whose prize is freedom, when only a barbed wire fence separates them from Israel and their goal, they must go through the final death run and try to evade the bullets of the Egyptian soldiers stationed along the border. Egypt’s soldiers are ordered to shoot to kill anyone trying to cross the border OUT of Egypt and into Israel. It’s an almost nightly event.
For those who finally get across the border, the first people they encounter are Israeli soldiers, people like me and those in my unit, who are tasked with a primary mission of defending the lives of the Israeli people. On one side of the border soldiers shoot to kill. On the other side, they know they will be treated with more respect than in any of the countries they crossed to get to this point.
The region where it all happens is highly sensitive and risky from a security point of view, an area stricken with terror at every turn. It’s just a few miles south of the place where Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. And yet the Israeli soldiers who are confronted with these refugees do it not with rifles aimed at them, but with a helping hand and an open heart. The refugees are taken to a nearby IDF base, given clean clothes, a hot drink, food and medical attention. They are finally safe.
Even though I live Israel and am aware through media reports of the events that take place on the Egyptian border, I never understood the intensity and complexity of the scenario until I experienced it myself.
In the course of the past few nights, I have witnessed much. At 9:00 PM last night, the first reports came in of gunfire heard from the Egyptian border. Minutes later, IDF scouts spotted small groups of people trying to get across the fence. In the period of about one hour, we picked up 13 men - cold, barefoot, dehydrated - some wearing nothing except underpants. Their bodies were covered with lacerations and other wounds. We gathered them in a room, gave them blankets, tea and treated their wounds. I don’t speak a word of their language, but the look on their faces said it all and reminded me once again why I am so proud to be a Jew and an Israeli. Sadly, it was later determined that the gunshots we heard were deadly, killing three others fleeing for their lives.
During the 350 days a year when I am not on active duty, when I am just another man trying to get by, the people tasked with doing this amazing job, this amazing deed, the people witnessing these events, are mostly young Israeli soldiers just out of high school, serving their compulsory time in the IDF, some only 18 years old.
The refugees flooding into Israel are a heavy burden on our small country. More than 100,000 refugees have fled this way, and hundreds more cross the border every month. The social, economic, and humanitarian issues created by this influx of refugees are immense. There are serious security consequences for Israel as well. This influx of African refugees poses a crisis for Israel. Israel has yet to come up with the solutions required to deal with this crisis effectively, balancing its’ sensitive social, economic, and security issues, at the same time striving to care for the refugees.
I don’t have the answers to these complex problems which desperately need to be resolved. I’m not writing these words with the intention of taking a political position or a tactical stand on the issue.
I am writing to tell you and the entire world what’s really happening down here on the Egyptian/Israeli border. And to tell you that despite all the serious problems created by this national crisis, these refugees have no reason to fear us. Because they know, as the entire world needs to know, that Israel has not shut its eyes to their suffering and pain. Israel has not looked the other way. The State of Israel has put politics aside to take the ethical and humane path as it has so often done before, in every instance of human suffering and natural disasters around the globe. We Jews know only too well about suffering and pain. The Jewish people have been there. We have been the refugees and the persecuted so many times, over thousands of years, all over the world.
Today, when African refugees flood our borders in search of freedom and better lives, and some for fear of their lives, it is particularly noteworthy how Israel deals with them, despite the enormous strain it puts on our country on so many levels. Our young and thriving Jewish people and country, built from the ashes of the Holocaust, do not turn their backs on humanity. Though I already knew that, this week I once again experienced it firsthand. I am overwhelmed with emotion and immensely proud to be a member of this nation.
With love of Israel,
Aron Adler writing from the Israel/Gaza/Egyptian border.
In 1999, the IDF approved the establishment of a special Haredi (ultra-orthodox) army unit, called Nahal Haredi. The purpose of this unit was to allow young men from Israel’s most religious sector to serve in the IDF in an environment that would support their religious sensibilities. To accommodate these ultra-religious soldiers, certain agreements were made, including limiting these soldiers’ interactions with women.
Nahal Haredi began with just thirty men. But the IDF held true enough to its promise to protect Haredi sensibilities that the unit grew to 1,000 by 2010. In May 2010, the IDF Manpower Directorate announced that IDF recruitment had a shortfall of 10,000 men, and because national enlistments were dropping, efforts should be made to increase the recruitment of Haredi youth. In order for this recruitment to succeed, the Directorate was reported to understand that it would have to make army service attractive to and safe for the religious. In January 2011, the Israeli Cabinet took a first step by authorizing a plan to increase dramatically Haredi recruiting. It was possible to say that recruiting Haredi for the IDF was now government policy.
However, by the time this increase was authorized, it was already in trouble. Yes, the Prime Minister and IDF Chief of General Staff (COS) Gabi Ashkenazi praised the benefits of recruiting and keeping Haredi and other religious populations in the IDF, but there were some inside the IDF who were already working against that. First, Paratroopers Brigade Commander Colonel Aharon Haliva expressed ‘hatred’ for the Hesder Yeshiva program, a successful effort specifically designed to do what the army wanted to do--bring religious youth into the IDF. Haliva also denigrated the personal values of the religious in the army. With statements like these from a Commanding officer, the army is going to attract the ultra-religious? I don’t think so.
Weeks later, Colonel Eran Niv, the newly appointed commander of the IDF officer training program called Bahad 1, was characterized in an Haaretz story as one among several who worked to ‘return’ secular values to IDF field command, because thousands of highly motivated religious soldiers (and hundreds of like-minded religious officers) had begun to change ‘the face of the army.’ To help promote this secular re-focusing within in the army, groups were formed to create ‘secular Sabbaths’ that would not focus on ‘Sabbath’, but on secular values embedded in the topic, ‘the army in a democracy’. Colonel Niv was identified as one who recognized the specific need to train Orthodox officers to learn secular values; therefore, all officer cadets in Bahad 1 would attend 10 ‘secular Sabbath’ programs as part of their training.
Can you imagine the secular outrage if an IDF commander required secular officer cadets to attend 10 ‘religious Sabbaths’ so they could ‘learn religion’? In an army that is supposed to protect religious sensibilities, this attempt to target religious cadets is unconscionable.
In September 2011, several officer cadets at Bahad 1, including at least one from Nahal Haredi, were expelled from Bahad 1 because they refused to remain at a remembrance ceremony to listen to a woman sing, something their religious sensibility did not allow. In the past, the IDF had allowed soldiers to absent themselves when a woman sang. But this time, for reasons still unclear, the soldiers were not granted that permission. Despite the fact that the universal understanding was that their religious beliefs (particularly regarding women) would be respected, these religious cadets were ordered to stay at the ceremony—and when they didn’t, they were expelled because, as General Niv later declared, their duty is to obey orders.
As if to emphasize this anti-religious attitude—assuming it needed any emphasis--19 retired Generals sent a letter in mid-November to General Gantz essentially denouncing the religious in the army. If the point of the Cabinet decision was to enhance religious recruiting, the chain of events did not pass the smell test.
As a result of the expulsions and the IDF’s refusal to reinstate the agreement that religious soldiers’ sensibilities would be honoured, more than one Rabbi has now offered disapproving comments of the IDF. With this expulsion, the IDF seems to have betrayed its promises to the religious; religious leaders now consider not recommending army service, for obvious reasons.
Curiously, on Nov 21, 2011, General Gantz declared with some anger that, ‘there’s no room for banning women singing’. This was a curious statement indeed because banning women singing is not the issue. The issue is the sensibilities of certain religious soldiers who, before General Gantz became COS, had not been expelled for leaving a ceremony when a woman sang.
Gantz’ anger is misplaced. The Israeli government understands that religious Jews are enlisting. Army programs for the religious are successful. The army knows that if it accommodates the Haredi, Haredi will in fact enlist—but only if they believe that their sensibilities are protected. Nevertheless, there appears to be an anti-religious cabal in the army working to undermine a government decision to increase religious recruitment. If General Gantz allows the IDF to renege on its promises to the Haredi by allowing activist secularists to drive the religious away, then he allows politicized seculars to undermine both IDF readiness and government authority.
Gantz works for the Israeli government. All in the chain of command are required to obey him—just as he is required to obey the authority of the government. He should recall the expelled cadets and discipline the secularists. Perhaps those officers should be fired. Of course, if Gantz agrees with the secularists, then he should resign immediately—because his duty is to obey orders, not allow his underlings to subvert the Cabinet’s will.
That is not how a democracy, even a dysfunctional one like Israel, survives.
Monday, November 21, 2011
A Three Act Play called ‘Israel’s Future’
The proverbial handwriting on the wall predicts the future. The handwriting on the wall today is for Israel’s future, and it appears, so far as we can tell, to be writ as a three-act play. Act one began October, 2010 with a scene that featured Mahmoud Abbas and France’s UN ambassador. It ended during the second week of Nov, 2011 with a scene that featured, among other players, Mahmoud Abbas and France’s President. Act two began the third week of Nov, 2011 and will end approximately the second week of May, 2013, a little more than a hundred days after the next US presidential inauguration. What’s so important about the first hundred days after a US president’s inauguration? For decades, political pundits in America have looked at those first hundred days the way a fortune teller reads tea leaves; and as we know from following political discourse in America, reading tea leaves appears to be fundamental to that discourse. The third Act begins approximately mid-May 2013 and could last forty months, or until the US begins its next presidential election cycle in 2016. During these next five years we will see drama, betrayal and danger. It will be more exciting than a Hollywood cliff-hanger. It will be better than Hollywood because we will not only watch it —we will be part of it. This will be an audience participation drama: we will have a say in determining if there will be an Act Four (or Five or Six), or if the play will end after Act three.
Your admission ticket to this three act play will be the cost of a good siddur (prayer-book).
Act one began with a shocker. Three act plays don’t usually start with a shock. But this play is different. It began with two shocks. First, Mahmoud Abbas threatened to go unilaterally to the UN for statehood. That was a shock because no one expected a move like that. It sounded outrageous. Then the UN ambassador from France announced, ‘the votes are there in the UN, right now’. That was the second shock: the UN, the French ambassador suggested, would support Abbas.
I don’t know if you noticed, but very few people left their seats to go to the bathroom during this first Act. It was full of surprises. The US supported Israel, then threatened to turn against her; the US rescued Israel (with the February 2011 UN veto of a call to brand West bank settlements ‘illegal’); then turned almost viciously against Israel (see America’s UN veto and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, tuviainil.blogspot.com, March, 2011). Finally, to everyone’s surprise, newspapers began to announce, just before the curtain fell on Act one, that Abbas did not appear to have the UN votes he needed for statehood.
The US and Abbas weren’t the only actors to keep us at the edge of our seats. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had surprises for us, too: he was a victim (of Obama’s anger), then a hero (in the battle against the PA in the UN) and finally a villain (because of continuing demolition of Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria). As Act one ended, Abbas and France surprised us with another duet: Abbas threatened violence and chaos if his bid failed at the UN and French president Sarkozy verbally spat upon Prime Minister Netanyahu-- as if two actors had held hands to open and then close Act one.
This was more thrilling than a Harry Potter movie.
Act two is ready to start. Look at your playbill during intermission. There will be additional actors on stage: can you guess their names? Israel’s religious right will appear. Israel’s Left will fight them. Israel’s Leftist courts and civil administration will come under fire. Attacks against Jews and Israelis will increase. We will see elections in multiple countries—and, possibly, Israel. Jews in Judea and Samaria will feel harassed by the IDF and our civil administration. Arabs will attack Jews with a growing sense of impunity. How many surprises will we see?
We learned in Act one how unpredictable history is; who knew that, by mid-November 2011, Abbas would still be powerless? Only the Director-Writer knew. But we can affect the ultimate outcome because everyone in the audience has a 'participant's control device’. If you have been to DisneyWorld, you know the process: as you enter a theatre, you receive a small box with buttons on it so you can vote (at the appropriate moment) to control the course of the drama you will be watching. Well, that’s what a siddur (prayer book) is—your ‘participant’s control device’ to affect the direction of history.
Now please hurry and return to your seat. The curtain is about to rise. Just remember to keep your ‘participant control device’ nearby . You might wish to use it during Act two.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
BS"D Parashat Chayai Sarah 5772
Tractate Megila 29,a
תניא, רבי אלעזר הקפר אומר: עתידין בתי כנסיות ובתי מדרשות שבבבל שיקבעו בארץ ישראל
Rabbi Elazar HaKapar said: In future times the synagogues and houses of Torah study in Bavel (a euphemism for all the galut exile) will be resettled in Eretz Yisrael
Rashi in our parasha (24:17) quotes the Midrash Raba (60:6) that Eliezer, who was sent by Avraham to find a wife for Yitzchak, noticed that while the women of the city lowered their pails into the well in order to draw up water, the waters rose up to Rivka when she approached.
This extraordinary phenomenon must have made the definitive impression on Eliezer that HaShem had chosen this young woman to be the future wife of Yitzchak. If so, why did Eliezer need to further test her good character by seeing if she would extend her help to perfect strangers?
To understand this, we have to return to last week’s parasha where Avraham pleads to HaShem to spare Sedom and her four sister cities if they contain 50 tzadikim (righteous people). How odd! Avraham was certainly aware of these people’s reputations and the impossibility of these cities containing even one righteous person, yet alone fifty!
King David wrote in Tehilim (Psalms 145:17)
צדיק ה' בכל דרכיו וחסיד בכל מעשיו
HaShem is righteous in all His ways and faithful in all that He does.
The phrase "HaShem is righteous in all His ways" implies that one can be considered righteous, even if only in some or one area of life. We find this regarding Noach who was a righteous man, but less righteous than Avraham. So righteousness is not an absolute, but rather varies from tzadik to tzadik.
Avraham did not realize the extent of the evil in Sedom and the other cities, and thought that there must certainly be individuals whom HaShem would consider righteous in at least one area of human experience. But Avraham quickly learned that there are sick societies in which not even one person could be considered righteous in any area of life.
To return to Eliezer and Rivka. Eliezer saw the wondrous miracle of the water ascending to young Rivka - certainly a sign from Hashem that she was a righteous woman. However, Eliezer thought that HaShem considered Rivka to be a righteous woman only in relation to her society and in view of some spiritual aspect of her life, but that would not suffice for the great tzadik Yitzchak. The woman worthy of being Yitzchak’s wife would also have to be righteous in many ways regarding her attitude and actions towards her fellow man. Hence the test - how would she act when faced with the formidable effort of providing water for many strangers and their animals? Would she provide water only for Eliezer, in his position as the leader of the caravan, or would her kindness extend also to the other men in the caravan, or would she go the extra mile to provide water even for the camels?
All the above is an introduction for the real subject of this week’s message, which for me is painful and distressing.
It is the abject failure of the great majority of religious leaders in the United States to stand up to the challenges and privileges that HaShem has given our generation, when the gates of the Holy Land are wide open and the call of Rachel to her sons and daughters is heard to return home.
Not only do these rabbis not encourage the return to Eretz Yisrael, but in the best case they show indifference towards the Jewish State. Many even bad mouth the Jews in Eretz Yisrael who sacrifice daily to maintain our presence here. How utterly distressing it is that most yeshivas and charaidee synagogues refuse to even recite a "mi she’bairach" prayer for the valiant soldiers of Tzahal, who will be the soldiers of the Mashiach when the time comes.
To say that these rabbis are not God-fearing would be untruthful, for many are sincerely religious, and some are even recognized Torah scholars. So wherein lies the failure to recognize the irreversible changes that the Jewish nation is undergoing because of Medinat Yisrael? Whether one wishes to or not, the fact is that the heart of Jewish life is now centered in Medinat Yisrael. The Medina, in all its aspects, has created a most exciting environment for everyone who loves and learns Torah. New and critical issues facing the Halacha due to technological advances, changes in the way medicine is practiced, the military and our relations to the gentiles in our midst - to mention just a few – are more overwhelming than the many issues that the men of the Great Assembly faced under the leadership of Ezra the Scribe when they returned to Eretz Yisrael to rebuild the second Temple.
It should have been axiomatic that this environment would serve as the perfect setting for rabbis and heads of yeshivot in the galut to return home to be part of the Halachic dialogue at this watershed time in our history. So what is happening in the yeshiva world in the galut and even in some chareidee circles in Eretz Yisrael?
The problem, I believe, lies with the educational philosophy in the yeshivot there and in some yeshiva circles here.
It is the overriding spirit of self-perfection, where one’s spiritual efforts are directed inwards with little or no regard to the spiritual needs of one’s surroundings.
If one’s financial needs necessitate "going out," then a young man might fill the position of a pulpit rabbi or day-school teacher. A more ambitious person might even venture to open a kollel in his local area, while some might stray as far as Dallas, Texas to bring the voice of Torah there. But it is always secondary to the "I" and "Me".
The classic Musar books emphasize the necessity to draw closer to HaShem through self perfection: no lashon hara, extreme modesty in speech and dress, limiting relationships with people and closing one’s mind to the wisdom of the world around us lest it impose heretical ideas upon us.
Although the Rambam and the Torah writings of many of the great rabbis of that time are studied daily in the yeshivos, they would undoubtedly feel constricted and confined in the semi-claustrophobic atmosphere where the mind is not permitted to soar into the wonders of Hashem’s big wide world or to recognize one’s responsibility to the Jewish nation as such.
The situation can be compared to what Eliezer faced when he saw Rivka as the waters ascended to meet her. He saw that she was a righteous young woman. However, he wondered whether she was limited in her righteousness only towards HaShem or was perfect also in those areas of life which demanded interaction with her fellow human beings and towards all of God’s creations. Her actions would have to prove if she was worthy to be Yitzchak’s wife.
The Torah being studied in the religious Zionist yeshivot is drawn from the spirit of Rivka, who cared for her total surroundings. It was her giant neshama for which she was chosen to be one of the four mothers of Am Yisrael - looking outwards towards her fellow man and all of God’s creations. It was drawing closer to HaShem not through self-centered perfection but by seeing the spiritual and material needs of those around her.
A student in a religious Zionist yeshiva here is attuned to the inescapable fact that his individual destiny is intertwined with the destiny of the nation at large.
At best, the intellectual and emotional result of a higher yeshiva education in the galut can bring one to feel that he is part of a community of Torah observers; but he can never feel that he is part of the greater Jewish nation, because he is not part of living a Torah life on a national level - as we feel in Eretz Yisrael.
The recognition and dedication to the Jewish people as a distinctive national and religious entity constitutes the unbridgeable gap between the righteous, inimitable King David and the arch evil Yeravam ben Navat. King David redirected the allegiances of the people from their parochial tribal affiliation to that of a central authority, with Yerushalayim as its national capital and the Temple as its stairway to heaven. While on the other end of the religious national spectrum was Yeravam ben Navat who caused the secession of the northern tribes and their ultimate disappearance into exile, until this very day. HaShem merited David with a descendant who will be our Mashiach, while Yeravam lost his place in the world-to-come.
However, despite the veracity of what I consider the difference between the religious Zionist yeshivot and the galut yeshivot, it no longer makes a big difference today.
We are at the brink of a great social upheaval which will empty the galut of yeshivot and Jews, as the Gemara (Megila 29a) says that in the future the yeshivot and shuls in the galut will be transferred to Eretz Yisrael. It appears that the future is now upon us.
One need not be an astute student of history to see what is unfolding in the Western world. As the economy of the US and Europe spirals downward, it will be accompanied by violent anti-Semitism which will be a reenactment of the biblical episode when the Egyptians literally threw the Jews out of their country.
The burning of several cars belonging to Jews in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn and the murder of a Jewish woman there this week do not in themselves signal the beginning of the end. However, the burgeoning feelings of the 99% have nots that the 1% of those who have are made up 99% of Jews, are foreboding factors in what could happen.
My suggestion to the Jews living in the US is to open an account in an Israeli bank, change your dollars into shekalim and transfer the money to Israel. If you can, purchase an apartment even sight unseen, but at least your money is here.
All bad things have an end. The galut is the worst punishment ever inflicted on the Jewish nation. May it soon come to an end so that we will come together as one people in Eretz Yisrael as promised to us by Hashem’s holy messengers - the prophets.
Nachman KahanaCopyright © 5772-2012 Nachman Kahana