Monday, August 02, 2021
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
In our parsha there are a number of mitzvot and prohibitions regarding the mitzvah of tzedaka:
Regarding the tithe of the poor it says: "Then the Levite can come ... and the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow ... so they may eat and be satisfied." (Devarim 14:29)
Regarding charity: "You shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your destitute brother. Rather, you shall open you hand to him." (Devarim 15:7-8)
Regarding shemitta: "Beware lest there be a lawless thought in your heart saying, 'The seventh year approaches, the remission year,' and you will look malevolently upon your destitute brother and refuse to give him ... and it will be a sin upon you." (Devarim 15:9)
To us it appears that the possessions that are in our hands are ours, and we are doing a favor to the poor person when we give him of our property. However, the Torah teaches us that all the money that is in a person's hands is only a means and a tool by which a person fulfills his role in this world, and any usage of property that we received from the Creator for a self-serving purpose is nothing but stealing.
On Yom Kippur we conclude the prayers with the request, "so that we should refrain from stealing." This is surprising; why is only the transgression of stealing mentioned at the end of the day? However, the intention is not to the prohibition against stealing from others, but rather to improper use of the property that G-d places in our hands for us to use as tools in His service. When we do not sustain the poor and use G-d's present only for our personal needs, we are stealing that property from G-d.
The rich person who is an egoist, who sees in money an independent goal, will never find fulfillment. Therefore, money is called "kesef," for the word "kisufim" (longing), since a person longs it and will not be satisfied with it. One who has a hundred wants two hundred, etc. (Kohelet Rabbah 1:34) Similarly, the Maharal explains that the word "zahav" (gold) is from the phrase "zeh hav" (Give this!), for he always seeks to receive, and he is always lacking. Therefore the destitute person is called an "evyon," because he always desires ("ta'ev") to get more and more. Therefore, the truly rich person is one who is happy with his share, and not necessarily one who has a lot, because one who has desires to receive more, and therefore he is poor.
The halacha is that the owner of a field is not allowed to cut the pe'ah and give it to the poor, but rather he must allow the poor to enter the field and cut the pe'ah himself. Rav Kook zt"l explains that this is to indicate that the owner of the field is not the true owner of the pe'ah, and therefore he may not act like an owner. Rather, the pe'ah is given to the poor person, and he is the owner of the field with regard to the pe'ah, and therefore he enters the field and reaps.
Parshat Re'eh is read on Shabbat Mevarchim Elul -- before the seventh month, the Sabbatical month, in which G-d releases the debt of Bnei Yisrael and atones for them -- because He acts towards us with kindness and mercy. We must act to each other with kindness, and then G-d will also act with us accordingly. "To You, G-d, is righteousness" -- when we give charity; but if we say, "The seventh year approaches," and we do not open our hand to the destitute -- also our debts toward G-d will not be released. G-d's relationship with a person is linked to the relationship between man and his friend, and therefore we find in the seforim two acronyms for the month of Elul:
"Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li." "I am My Beloved's and My Beloved is mine." (Shir Hashirim 6:3)
"Ish Lere'eihu Umatanot La'evyonim." "[Sending delicacies] one to another, and gifts to the poor." (Esther 9:22)
Therefore, Chazal say that in these days of the month of Elul there is a need to increase in acts of chesed and charity, and this brings to the general redemption: "Zion will be redeemed though justice, and those who return to her through righteousness." (Yeshaya 1:27)
Stripping away all the details that oftentimes clutter our lives, we can agree that the type of life that we live is pretty much dependent upon the choices that we make throughout our lifetimes. Often, these choices were made when we were yet young and immature. Nevertheless, we are forced to live by those choices and decisions, that we may now, with greater life experience under our belts, regret.
Personal choices, professional and career choices, lifestyle choices all combine to make up our individual life stories. This week's Torah reading highlights the importance and consequences of choices that we make. Many times, we make serious choices when we are not in a serious mood. Many important choices are made flippantly, on the spur of the moment, or under the influence of others. Peer pressure is a fact of life, especially for the young, and often, when we allow others to make choices for us, at the end they are very detrimental to our well-being.
It is simply peer pressure that causes young people to take on unhealthy life habits – smoking is a prime example of this – and once the habit is ingrained within us, it is very difficult to break, and escape from its consequences. Life inflicts upon us, on a daily basis, the necessity of making decisions. What choices we do make become the expression of gift of free will that the Lord has endowed us with. Choices are, therefore, the highest form of human opportunity, as well as being the most dangerous and perilous of all the human traits.
The Torah, in this week's reading, presents us with the most basic choice that we can make – the stark choice between eternal life and death itself. At first glance, this choice is a relatively simple one to make. The life instinct within us, as human beings, is always present. However, we are witness to the fact that many times human beings make choices that are anti-life. There are many distractions that exist in this world, many illusory ideas and false prophets that somehow combine to dissuade us from choosing life. The Torah, therefore, encourages us and even warns us to choose life.
We acknowledge in our daily prayers that the Lord implanted within us an eternal soul which can sustain eternal life within us. We should not fritter away this most precious of gifts. Therefore, when we consider choices that exist before us regarding our behavior and attitudes, we should always judge the matter through the prism of a life and death choice. This makes even the most simple and apparent decisions that we make in life of great consequence and lasting importance.
In effect, there are no small choices, for they all have consequences and later effects that are unknown to us when we make the choice. Seeing these decisions that way may grant us life. It will enable us to choose wisely and carefully, and to allow our good instincts and fundamental human intelligence to control our emotions and desires and help us make correct life choices.
Rosh HaYeshiva, Mercaz HaRav
Rosh Kollel, Eretz Hemdah
Chaver, Beit Din HaGadol Yerushalayim
"See, I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse" (Devarim 11:26). On the one hand, even today, despite the past, whatever will be, there is a blessing before you. Even if in the past there was heavy fog and yesterday was gloomy, do not give up.
On the other hand, even if you succeeded yesterday and you climbed rung after rung on the ladder of becoming a complete human being, you should not fall asleep on your watch. Do not rely on the beat to keep playing. Do not be satisfied by the past, as wonderful as it may have been, because today there is a curse standing there before you.
How does one measure blessing and curses? Is it based on what one sees during his lifetime, whether it be 70 or 80 years? That is hard to claim, because Hashem has His ways of running the world. There are times that one goes through a rough but worthwhile cleansing of his sins. There are all sorts of forms through which one is punished for his actions. This is thus not the way to measure true blessing and curses. It is as it says in the Sifrei (R’ei 53) about our question: There is a parable of two paths. One has thorns in the beginning and is straight and clear at the end. The other is the opposite. Since life is eternal, the years of life that we see in this world, are like the equivalent of two or three days. On any given day, one could experience this path or that path or both.
There is an old disagreement among philosophers. Some look at the world and see everything in rosy colors; they also see man as a being who is naturally all good. They claim that if we would allow a person to develop according to his natural characteristics, the perfect person would emerge. The whole tragedy of our imperfect world is that the conditions of life get a person used to doing bad things.
There is another outlook that is diametrically opposed. "The nature of a person’s heart is bad from his youth"; "There is no one who does good." Such observers always push themselves to find that which is negative.
The Torah goes in the middle between these outlooks. It views man as harboring both elements within his midst. Whether he clasps onto good or evil is for him to choose. True, the Torah does say "The nature of a person’s heart is bad from his youth" (Bereishit 8:21). But it also says that "man was created in the image of Hashem" (ibid. 9:6). Therefore, we never give up on a person. We believe that he has great moral and spiritual powers. "Today, there is blessing." On the other hand, we are always suspicious of a person’s prospects and must always be morally vigilant – "Do not believe in yourself until the day that you die" (Avot 2:4).
Between these two extremes, good and bad, a person’s life is a perpetual battle to maintain his level. He needs to see this and know this … and come to the right conclusions.
On Friday, two Iranian suicide drones crashed into an empty oil tanker off the coast of Oman, killing the captain of the ship, a Romanian citizen, and a British crew member.
The ship was Japanese-owned and Liberian-flagged, but it was under management by a company called Zodiac Maritime, based in London, which is part of the Ofer Global Group, whose principal owner is Eyal Ofer, an Israeli billionaire who lives in Monaco.
Not precisely an Israeli target, but close enough for the Iranians, who promptly denied having anything to do with the incident. Israel’s PM Naftali Bennett responded that he had proof that Iran was responsible. There will be a diplomatic response, of course. Nobody is allowed to shoot at commercial ships and kill crew members, even if there is some Israeli connection. Piracy is still piracy. Romania and the UK are expected to protest over the death of their nationals.
To be fair, Israel has been responsible for cases in which Iranian ships that were illegally transporting weapons or oil to Syria were damaged by sabotage or mines. As far as I know, nobody has been hurt in these incidents. The Iranian attack is a significant violent escalation.
In addition to the diplomatic response, which is unlikely to have serious consequences for Iran, there will have to be a more direct – and truly painful – one.
Until now the conflict on the seas between Israel and Iran has been carried out under a cloak of plausible deniability. But now the Iranian denial is not plausible. Everybody knows they did it, and indeed it was done in such a way – the drones were launched by the air force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard from Iranian territory – that it would be impossible for anyone to believe otherwise. It was done this way on purpose, to send a message. It is no longer a secret war.
Israel’s struggle with Iran has a physical and cognitive aspect. Every skirmish has components in these two realms. Israel often wins a battle in the physical realm while losing it in the cognitive one. In some cases, it is because the enemy simply distorts the facts, as happened in 2002 when the media (encouraged by the Palestinians) invented a massacre in Jenin that never occurred. But sometimes it happens because Israel tries too hard to satisfy the exaggerated demands placed upon her, as when naval commandos carrying paintball guns landed on the deck of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which was trying to break the blockade of Gaza. In this case, the commandos suffered casualties – and also killed nine people on the ship – because they did not use sufficient force. The image of our fighters with toy weapons may have done as much damage as the stories of their brutality, when they were forced to use their real sidearms in order to escape the ship with their lives.
The best response to the latest Iranian provocation is one that sends two messages: the practical one, aimed at their military planners, that says that keeping this up will be more expensive for Iran than for us; and the cognitive one, aimed at the Iranian regime, but no less at the rest of the world, broadcasting that we have enormous power and are not afraid to use it. While it was a secret war, only the practical message had to be considered. But now that it has moved to the public sphere, then the cognitive message is as important or more so.
So what should we do? I’ll leave that up to Israel’s military planners, but as a naval warfare buff, I would personally like to see our submarines torpedo an Iranian ship or two.
Rosh HaYeshiva, Har Bracha
Alliance with Reform and Conservative Jews has a limit, specifically in regards to accepting conversions, marriages, and other issues whose rules are clearly set out in Halakha * However, exaggeration in distancing them causes an increase in disputes that, in the end, will erode our camp as well * Memoirs of my grandfather Rabbi Weil HY’D, who refused to leave his congregation and died for the sanctification of Hashem in Auschwitz
Following my remarks in the previous column about the loving and respectful attitude towards every Jew, including Conservative and Reform Jews, and about the respect they should be given when they come to pray at the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section of the Western Wall, some people asked: What is the limit? In other words, is there no fear that an attitude of respect will give them recognition, and cause a blurring of the Torah position?
Answer: Indeed, there is a sharp debate between us regarding the foundations of emunah (faith) and the Torah, expressed mainly in relation to halakha. The controversy is so great that, according to the rules of halakha to which we are bound, we cannot regard the Reform movement as a faction that expresses the Torah tradition, and consequently, we cannot accept the conversions and marriages that take place according to them. This position obligates observers of halakha to act wisely and amiably to ensure state-run frameworks function in accordance with halakha. Such issues entail marriage, Shabbat, kashrut, conversion, etc.
This position, of course, greatly insults members of these movements, and causes conflicts between representatives of the religious and Haredi public, and them. Precisely because of this, we must strive as much as possible to make peace with them, to see all the good in them, and search for ways to express the brotherhood, partnership, and destiny we all share.
Herald them with Respect
Accordingly, we have learned in the Torah that along with the mitzvah to admonish a Jew who has sinned, there is a mitzvah to love him, and not to hate him, as the Torah says: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am God” (Leviticus 19:17-18). Thus, we see that even when one is compelled to admonish and argue with a person who does not observe mitzvot, the mitzvah to love him and help him remains valid. Not only that, but if we are faced with two people – an observant and a non-observant Jew, and we need to argue and admonish the latter for a sin he committed – if both of them are in need help, it is a mitzvah to first assist the person we admonished so that he knows the criticism is only on the specific sin, however in general, we are loving brothers (see, Bava Metziah 32b; Tosafot, Pesachim 113b, ‘le’kof yitzro’).
If this is the case towards an individual, it is even more so the case towards movements of Jews, since the enmity that may result from this is doubly severe.
The Question Should Be Reversed
However, in truth, it is worth asking those who are not willing to respect the members of the Conservative and Reform movement – what is their limit to the controversy?!
We need to learn from the experience of the Haredim, who failed to put a limit to a controversy, and it is now devouring them from within. My uncle, Rav Avraham Remer ztz”l said he heard from Rav Tzvi Yehuda upon accompanying him on his visit to the Ponevezh Yeshiva, that Rav Kahneman (Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh and its founder) had a great zechut (merit) in building a Torah community, however, a large stain rested on the yeshiva, because its students disgraced two Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars), Rav Herzog ztz”l and Rav Unterman ztz”l (the two Chief Rabbis), and the yeshiva’s response was not harsh enough. They did not set a limit when required to do so, and today, the Ponevezh Yeshiva is absorbed in dispute, disgrace, and Chillul Hashem (Desecration of God).
In the past, they were content to despise only Zionist rabbis, but today the situation is that the majority of rabbis and revered Admorim cannot walk freely in the streets, yeshivas, and synagogues in which members of the opposing camp are present, lest they harm them. This has not yet reached the National-Religious public, but there are “tzadikim” (“righteous”) who want to copy this evil “holiness” to the religious public as well.
In conclusion, in our current state, we must be much more careful about sinat chinam (baseless hatred) and controversy, than about the fear of giving respect to Jews who are not properly Torah observers, and even act adversely towards us.
When no limit is placed on disputes, the road to uprooting derech eretz (common decency) that preceded Torah, and uprooting the foundations of Israel’s Torah and its virtue, is short.
The Custom of Rabbis to Cooperate with Reformers
In the previous column, I quoted my maternal grandfather, the illustrious educator Prof. Yosef Volk z”l, on the Breslau community which was run by all Jews – Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative – all under the leadership of the rabbis. Admittedly, in other communities that were not conducted in complete unity, in general, there was positive cooperation between the Orthodox and the Reform Jews.
Take for example my great-grandfather, the father-in-law of Grandfather Yosef, Rav Chaim Yehuda Aryeh Weil ztz”l, HY”D, who served in the rabbinate for about forty years, and in his last twenty years, in the ultra-Orthodox community in Düsseldorf, Germany, where he collaborated with the Reform community in building a mikveh, providing kosher food to Jewish institutions, and expanding the Jewish cemetery. However, to his dismay, the cooperation was minimal, and most of the burden fell on the small ultra-Orthodox community that was required to provide religious needs for many of those who were not of its membership, at the expense of its dwindling coffers. In any case, quarrels were non-existent; on the contrary, there was a true attempt at cooperation, and quite often, it was precisely the religious side seeking cooperation, more than the Reform side.
My great-grandfather was one of the rabbis in Germany who supported Agudat Yisrael, and their position was that as long as they were not hindered from acting according to halakha in their community, they saw cooperation with the rest of the Jews as a positive thing.
This reality is also reflected in the words of our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda, who said that the Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis) did not boycott the Reformers, rather, “they cut themselves off from the revival of the nation in Israel,” and therefore, naturally, a disconnect was created (‘Be’Maaracha Ha’Tziburit’ pg.120).
Mesirut Nefesh (Self-Sacrifice) for Torah Observance
For the past month, as part of writing ‘Peninei Halakha’, I have been dealing with the issue of mesirut nefesh, and while doing so, I thought of my grandfather, the Rav of Düsseldorf, who was murdered for Kiddush HaShem (sanctifying God) in the Holocaust. Even before that, he often talked about the value of Kiddush HaShem. His nephew said that once, as a child, when the world was still relatively calm, his uncle, Rabbi Weil, visited their home. In order to educate them in Torah and mitzvot, he told them about hisgrandfathers’ grandfather (the nephews of whom were his fifth generation), who was murdered in the Polish riots for Kiddush HaShem. He also told them about Rabbi Akiva who was killed for Kiddush HaShem. He told the entire story in German, but he said the words “al Kiddush HaShem” in loshon ha-kodesh(Hebrew, the holy language) and in reverence, and as a child, they shook his body to the bone. Grandfather had no idea how far things would go.
The Possibility of Immigrating to Israel
In the year 5696 (1935) my grandparents got married, and immediately afterwards immigrated to Israel. After immigrating and settling in the religious Moshav S’de Yaakov, they sent an invitation to grandfather, who was already over seventy, to join them. In those days, the Nazis were already in power, many German Jews fled to different countries, and the Düsseldorf community dwindled. Grandfather replied that the community still needed him, and that the captain of the sinking ship should leave last. He also wrote in the letter that there is probably no shortage of rabbis in the Land of Israel, but in Germany, there is a great scarcity.
The Night of the Pogroms
Then on Kristallnacht, at five o’clock in the morning, five Nazi thugs broke into Grandfather’s house. He was then about seventy-two years old, and they dragged him out of his room and house, and beat him. They broke the furniture, smashed the beautiful glass and porcelain vessels they would use on Shabbat and holidays, and threw the sifrei kodesh (holy books) out the window. At first, they thought of taking Grandfather with them, but in the end, they changed their minds.
The community was destroyed, the Jews of Germany realized that they must flee, and thus, grandfather joined his daughter Flora, who a few years earlier had fled with her husband to the Netherlands. They rented him a small apartment above their house.
In the Netherlands, his vision began to weaken greatly until he could barely see. Yet, as a diligent Torah scholar and genius who remembered his Talmud studies orally, he did not cease from his routine of study. He would sit all day by an open book, and with the help of his immense memory, learn by heart, and from time to time when he needed to complete a word, he would bring the book closer to a distance of about two centimeters from his good eye, read, and once again, continue to study by memory.
He acted humbly and modestly. In order not to bother his daughter and son-in-law, he learned to manage alone in a foreign land, and with the help of a walking stick for the blind, would find his way. Twice daily he would leave his house – first, for the morning prayers, and later, for the afternoon and evening prayers. After prayers, he would stay to hear a lesson in Gemara, and once when the rabbi accidentally skipped a line, Grandfather raised his hand and remarked politely that the rabbi had skipped. At that moment, it became clear to his acquaintances that he was a superlative Torah scholar who was well versed in Talmud.
Refuses to Hide
When the Nazis, may their names and memories be erased, occupied the Netherlands and began to persecute the Jews, his daughter and son-in-law suggested Grandfather hide. However, he knew that to do so a Dutch family would have to risk their lives, and he did not want this to happen. He further said that he was not more entitled to be saved than the rest of the masses of the House of Israel, and whatever would happen to all, would happen to him as well. Also, out of consciousness of his rabbinical mission, he added that perhaps as a rabbi he would be of help and relief to his brothers in the camps.
In the year 5702 (1942), at the age of seventy-six, he was taken to a concentration camp. With the help of his stick, he would grope his way through the camp, and attend to all his needs. Most probably, there were Jews there who helped him. Every week, a train of Jews was sent from the camp to the Auschwitz murder camp. About a year later, when fate befell him to be sent to the gas chambers, people related that he parted from his companions with a “great, and serious speech.”
Out of his strong faith, he heroically accepted the judgement of Heaven, and in the majesty of devoutness, he went to sacrifice his soul for Kiddush HaShem like his grandfather before him, and like all the holy Jews, of whom it is said, no creature can stand in their presence in heaven.
On the 20th of Marcheshvan, 5704 (1943), he was murdered in Auschwitz al Kiddush HaShem. He merited that all five of his children survived the Holocaust, and continued to keep Torah and mitzvot. His descendants now number over four hundred, living in the Land of Israel and continuing on his path, a path of Torah and Derech Eretz.
Friday, July 30, 2021
Date and Place: 3 Marcheshvan 5667 (1906), Yafo
Recipient: Rav Yehuda Leib Felman, an uncle of Rav Kook
Body: [Rav Kook has developed the thesis that Yerushalayim is holier and deserves greater regard than any other city. We complete that idea and then return to practical considerations in tensions between Chabad Kollel heads that threatened to cause financial hardships to residents of Yerushalayim.]
There is no need to write at length about the importance of Yerushalayim, which Hashem called “the city I have chosen” (Melachim I, 11:32,36). Tikkunei Zohar also views the pasuk “Your neck is like an ivory tower” (Shir Hashirim 7:5) along the lines of “Your neck is like the Tower of David” (ibid. 4:4). The jewels (on the neck) are kohanim, levi’imand yisraelim. So we see that Yerushalayim is the place of vitality, and kohanim, levi’im and yisraelim adorn the sanctity. Whoever adds on to the “jewelry” of sanctity is praiseworthy. Although the sources refer to Yerushalayim’s spiritual side, the physical side is interconnected, as we saw above regarding the me’arat hamachepela.
Certainly, it is proper to pursue peace with all one’s strength, so that the dispute does not hinder the expansion of the building of Yerushalayim. This idea (of protecting Yerushalayim) is found in the gemara (Zevachim 113a): Bones were found in an office in Yerushalayim, and there was thought of declaring a state of impurity in the city, but Rabbi Yehoshua said that it would be a disgrace to declare impurity in the city of our forefathers.
Thank G-d, there is not a city in the entire world that possesses as much Torah, service of Hashem, righteous and pious people, great Torah scholars, and those who are active in mitzvot, as Yerushalayim, the Holy City, may it be rebuilt. Thank G-d, our eyes see how it continually develops from week to week. Our brethren from around the world flock to it, and those who love the city with all their hearts and souls are building new buildings in it.
The first moral blemish, which caused the division of the Davidic dynasty and ultimately all of the exiles and national collapse, was the degradation of Yerushalayim (see Sanhedrin 102a). It is also forbidden, according to the laws of the Torah and the principles of good faith, to exclude from leadership one who has had a leadership position.
Therefore, I advised the one who asked me to compromise whereby new board members will be added. They can add whoever the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rav Shalom Dovber Schneersohn) desires as well, and it is best if letters are written with the addresses of three men rather than having dispute in Israel. The Prushim Kollel already uses two names, so what is wrong with three. All of this is worthwhile to avoid diminishing Yerushalayim’s honor an iota. I think that all true G-d-fearing chasidim, whether those connected to the Bobruisk, Ladi, or Lubavitch branches of Chabad, should request a triple letterhead, to avoid division in the Kollel, and enable their good offices to continue providing for the people of Yerushalayim. Undoubtedly, good, honest, peace-loving men can nip the dispute in the bud.
This is important because Torah scholars are apparently already suffering from the pain of dispute. I know of one outstanding scholar in serious financial need who has not received a distribution payment because of the confusion in the Kollel due to the dispute. Since there must be many others like him, it is an immeasurable mitzva to get involved and bring peace, so that each leader will change his stand to return peace and the honor of Yerushalayim to its place. This way, no poor person should remain needy among those who serve Hashem truly with the sanctity of the Desired Land, due to a quarrel between his group’s leaders.
I have written at greater length than usual because of the honor of Yerushalayim and the love of peace. May Hashem bestow His blessing upon us …
Theirs was a moment that captured the Nation. After over a year of speeches, talk shows, political debates, rallies, letters to politicians, bumper stickers and banners, it all came down to a small farming village a few Kilometers from the Gaza strip called Kfar Maimon.
On a hot summer’s day, beneath the blistering desert sun, fifty thousand protesters, desperate to stop, or at least delay what they view as a national tragedy, the abandonment of twenty-one towns and villages along the sea in the Gaza strip, squared off against no less than twenty thousand Israeli soldiers and policemen.
The Israeli government had cast the die, and the stakes were enormous. They could not afford to let tens of thousands of protesters enter the towns and villages of Gush Katif en masse, and the protesters knew it.
Whether they were right or wrong we will never know, but the assumption was that if fifty thousand Jews could swamp the settlements of the Gaza strip, the government would never be able to expel all of them, and the disengagement plan would inevitably falter, and then grind to a halt.
This was the largest military operation since the Lebanon war, precisely because the stakes were so high. Democracy, rule of law, the right to a Jewish state, belief in a Jewish army, the sanctity of the land, non-violence; all these were the terms being thrown about out as tens of thousands of Jews in different uniforms and dress modes squared off to take a stand in the sand.
Recognizing that pushing through tens of thousands of soldiers, even un-armed, would not work, thousands of people struggled through the night to gain access to Gush Katif via the fields and sand dunes that abound in the area, and there began a game of cat and mouse, as Jews tried to stop Jews from entering the Gush to help Jews , in order to achieve peace or bring war for the Jews; it all would have made a great Woody Allen comedy, if it weren’t so tragic.
And all of this pain was captured in the image of one woman, a mother pushing a stroller across a field, desperate to enter Gush Katif.
Up one furrow and down, then up the next and down, and then up then down, and again and again and again she struggled to maneuver her stroller over the furrows of dirt, gradually drawing closer to the ring of soldiers surrounding Kfar Maimon.
As she was the only person in the area, all eyes were trained on her as she came closer to the line of green blocking her way. The soldiers closed ranks, and you could almost feel the tension in the air: how do you stop a mother and baby who want to visit friends in a Jewish town? What do you say? What would she do?
The fear hidden in the back of everyone’s minds these past weeks was whether a hundred thousand Jews could be removed, often forcefully, from their homes of generations, without bloodshed. And so this woman with a baby carriage was the unfolding of everyone’s nightmare. And then there was the specter of massive disobedience on the part of the Israeli Army, and especially the officers: could they carry out the orders to force Jews from their homes? Or would the Israeli Army wake up to a frightening new tomorrow? Here too, this was the essence of the tragedy of a Nation encapsulated in one lone woman with a baby.
The sight of hundreds of soldiers facing her did not slow her down; if anything, she seemed to walk faster, with more resolve, until finally, clearly exhausted, she stopped a short distance from them. Not knowing what to expect, the soldiers tensed, ordering her, even pleading with her, to turn around, but the woman stood her ground, refusing to turn back, clearly unsure of what to do, a lone woman with a baby, opposite a human wall of Israeli soldiers.
Suddenly a soldier broke from the ranks and strode towards her.
“Ima (Mother)!” he cried out, “What are you doing here with my baby brother?!”
and the two, mother and son, fell into each other’s arms crying.
“I couldn’t wait any longer”, She said.
So how do you pick up the pieces? How do hundreds of thousands of people, who believed in something so deeply, pick up the pieces on the morning after?
Forget for the moment, where all this is headed, and forget the political implications and impressions of where we are and how we got here, and whether this is indeed a morning after, or just a first scene, something political commentators will wrestle with around the world in the weeks and months ahead. How do we figure out, all of us, what to learn and where to go from here?
Perhaps this week’s portion, Ekev, may provide us with some valuable food for thought on the topic.
The Jewish people are finally, after forty long years, making ready to enter the land of Israel. Most of the generation that left Egypt is gone, buried in unmarked graves in the desert, and their children, the second generation, born free in the desert, are preparing at last to cross the Jordan River and enter the land of Israel.
Moshe, their leader, will not accompany them as they begin the difficult task of carving a place for themselves amongst the community of Nations, and the portions we read in these weeks are essentially the farewell soliloquy of Moshe to a young generation about to cross the Jordan and enter the real world of nation-building.
There will be no more manna from heaven, nor heavenly clouds or pillars of fire to guard them on their journey; they will have to fight, and even die, for the right to call this small piece of land their home.
They will encounter seven pagan nations who are no strangers to pain and cruelty, and whose history and culture are full of wars and violence and even child-sacrifice as a part of their society.
So one would expect that Moshe would take this opportunity to share words of power and inspiration, designed to motivate this younger generation meet the tests that lie ahead. Which is what makes part of what we read this week so strange:
The ninth chapter of the Book of Devarim starts out well enough:
“Shema Yisrael: atah over ha’yom et haYarden lavo lareshet Goyim gedolim va’atzumim mimekah’… ve’yada’ata’ hayom ki’ Hashem Elokecha’ Hu’ ha’over le’fanecha, esh ochlah’; Hu’ yashmidem… ve’horashtem….”
“Hear O’ Israel: you are crossing over the Jordan on this day to come and dispossess nations that are greater and mightier than you… know therefore on this day, that Hashem (G-d) your G-d, He will go before you with a consuming fire, and He will destroy them, and you shall inherit (this land)….” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 9:1-3)
Inspirational words, for an inspirational moment; but then, somehow Moshe seems to get all bent out of shape, as his speech takes an entirely different direction:
“Al tomar bilevav’chah’ ba’hadof Hashem Elokechah’ otam milfanechah’ leimor betzidkati he’viani Hashem lareshet et ha’aretz ha’zot… lo’ betzidkatchah’ u’beyosher levavchah’ atah ba’ lareshet et artzam, ki’ berish’at ha’Goyim ha’eleh Hashem Elokecha morisham mi’panechah’, le’ma’an hakim et ha’davar asher nishba’ Hashem la’avotechah’, le’Avraham, le’Yitzchak, u’le’Yaakov.”
“Do not say in your heart, when Hashem your G-d thrusts them (the Canaanites) out from before you, saying: ‘in my righteousness G-d has brought me forth to inherit this land’… not in your righteousness nor for the straightness of your heart do you come to inherit their land, but (rather) for the wickedness of these nations does Hashem your G-d thrust them out from before you, in order to fulfill the word which He swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov’(Devarim (Deuteronomy) 9:4-5)
In other words, don’t think you earned the right to enter the land, pay no attention to the fact that you faithfully followed your parents in the desert for forty years; you don’t really deserve to enter the land of Israel at all! I am merely bringing you into the land, says G-d, to fulfill a promise I made to your forefathers! And, as if that isn’t enough:
“Veyada’ata’ ki lo’ be’tzidkatchah’ Hashem Elokechah noten le’chah’ et ha’aretz ha’tovah ha’zot le’rishtah’, ki’ am k’shei oref atah.”
“And you shall know that not in your righteousness does Hashem your G-d give you this good land to inherit, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 9:6)
Not only don’t you deserve this gift (of entering the land of Israel), continues Moshe, but you are a stubborn (stiff-necked) people! And this phrase, obviously a direct reference to the debacle of the Golden calf at Sinai, where G-d describes the Jewish people in the same manner, (Exodus (Shemot) 32:9) leads Moshe to admonish the people even more strongly:
“Zachor, al tishkach, et asher hiktzaftah’ et Hashem Elokechah’ Bamidbar; le’min ha’yom asher yatzatah’ me’eretz mitzraim ad boachem ad hamakom ha’zeh, mamrim hayitem im Hashem. U’be’Chorev hiktzaftem et Hashem va’yitanaf Hashem bachem le’hashmid etchem.”
“Remember, do not forget, that (when) you angered Hashem your G-d in the desert; from the very day you left Egypt until your coming until this place, you have been rebellious against G-d. And (even) at Sinai (Chorev) you angered G-d and G-d was wroth to destroy you.” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 9:7-8)
Apparently, on the eve of their triumphant return to the land of Israel after two hundred years of slavery, Moshe has no intention of allowing the Jewish people to enjoy the ‘party’, reminding them of just what a nasty bunch they have really been all along!
And, as if that isn’t enough, over the course of the next twenty- one verses, Moshe proceeds to review in great detail the entire story of the sin of the Golden calf, and how the Jewish people caused Moshe to break the first tablets, and how Moshe had to pray for them, without which they would not have survived, as well as many of the other tragic rebellions and transgressions (9:22-24) of the Jews in the desert, including, of course, the tragic failure of the night the Spies returned, and the children of Israel missed the opportunity to enter the land nearly forty years earlier.
What is going on? If anything, one would have thought Moshe would seize the opportunity to excite the people about their imminent entry into the land of their dreams, as well as inspire them to take courage in what would surely prove to be the difficult days that lay ahead? And one might even have expected Moshe to compliment the people on their unswerving belief, despite wandering in the desert for forty long years, that one day Hashem would indeed bring them into the land of Israel.
Especially considering the fact that Moshe has already alluded to these mistakes and transgressions just a few chapters earlier (and according to tradition, historically a day earlier as part of the same speech; see our Tastings of Torah: Devarim 02), and given the fact that these transgressions were not even committed by this generation now preparing to enter the land, why does Moshe feel such a need to recall these terrible events? Why ruin the party?
In order to attempt an explanation of this somewhat surprising speech, it behooves us to take a closer look at what is really going on in this week’s portion.
This week, along with everything else in the portion, we read one of the most well-known and oft-repeated chapters in the entire Torah: the second paragraph of the Shema, known as the chapter of “Ve’haya’ im shamoah”. (Devarim11: 13-21). This is especially significant, given the fact that just last week, we read the first chapter of the Shema, the chapter of “Ve’ahavtah’”.
Obviously, if Jewish tradition chose to place these two chapters in two separate portions, read on two consecutive Shabbatot, there must be a connection between them, as well as two messages we are meant to absorb separately.
While an in-depth study of these two chapters is obviously far beyond the scope of this essay, a closer look does allow us to note an interesting parallel.
The first chapter, which always falls on Shabbat Nachamu’, immediately after the fast of Tisha’ B’Av, commemorating the destruction of both Temples, speaks of how we are meant to develop our relationship with G-d, and achieve our purpose in this world.
It is all about what we have to give, and how we have to give it; to love G-d with all our hearts and souls, and to keep this recipe for an ethical world we call the Torah close to our hearts, and in the hearts of our children, as well as written on our doorposts, and even bound on our arms.
The second chapter, while repeating much of what is shared in the first, adds the critical dimension of what has come to be known as “sechar va’onesh” or ‘reward and consequence’.
The Torah this week tells us what the result of following the Torah and keeping G-d and our purpose in this world close to our hearts will be, as well as the implications of what will transpire when we forget who we really are.
Curiously, again, the Torah tells us that if and when we forget why we were given this land, we will lose it, clear and simple.
In other words, just as they are about to enter the land, the Jewish people are actually told that if they (we) do not live up to the privilege and the mission it represents, they (we will lose it; it is not ours to keep; it is ours to earn.
Many of the commentaries suggest that where the first paragraph, speaking as it does in the singular, refers to our relationship with G-d as individuals, the second paragraph refers to our relationship to G-d as a community.
Hence in the first paragraph we are exhorted to love G-d, “Ve’ahavta” “And you (singular) shall love Hashem your G-d…” and in the second paragraph we are told what will occur “…im … tishme’u” “…if you (plural) will listen…” to the mitzvoth we are given.” And even when the singular form is used in the second paragraph it refers to the fact that we need to be together, as one….
But there is more. It is interesting to note that in both chapters we find the same two mitzvoth placed side by side: the mitzvah of teaching our children, and the mitzvah of tefillin, with one notable difference: the order is reversed. In the first chapter of the Shema, we find:
“Ve’shinantem le’vanechah’ ve’dibarta’ bam, be’shivte’chah be’veitecha, u’velechtechah’ ba’derech, u’veshachbechah’ u’ve’kumechah’. U’keshartem le’ot al ya’dechah’, ve’hayu le’totafot bein einechah’.”
“And you (singular) shall teach them (these words) diligently (constantly) to your children and speak of them, when you sit in your home, and when you walk on the road, and when you lie down and when you arise. And you shall tie them (these words) as a sign on your hands, and they shall be an adornment between your eyes.” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:7-8)
And in the second chapter we are told:
“U’keshartem otam le’ot al yedchem ve’hayu’ le’totafot bein eineichem. Ve’limadetem otam et be’neichem, le’daber bam, be’shivtechah’ be’veitechah’, u’ve’lechtechah’ ba’derech. u’veshachbechah’, u’vekumechah’.”
“And you (plural) shall tie them for a sign upon your hands and they shall be an adornment between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your children, to speak of them, when you sit in your home, and when you walk on the road, and when you lie down and when you arise.” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:18-19)
Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in his Likkutei Sichot, points out that the first chapter of the Shema, and indeed the entire portion of Va’Etchanan, in which it appears, represents revelation from above; it is all about what Hashem gives us. Hence the portion begins with Moshe’s entreaty to G-d to allow him to enter the land, as well as containing the Ten Commandments, the example par excellence of the idea that what we have really comes from G-d. The second chapter of the Shema is more about what we do with what Hashem has given us in this world; it is all about man’s situation in this world, and the harsh realities of how difficult it can often be to live up to that mission and that gift, and indeed, this is the theme of the entire portion of Ekev. Indeed, the very name Ekev also means the heel, the lowliest and least sensitive part of our body, alluding to our lowly station on this earth.
And this is why the order of these two ideas is reversed in these two chapters of the Shema: the mitzvah of keeping the Torah in our hearts and in the hearts of our children wherever we are, is all about recognizing that everything, and everywhere we are, all stems from G-d. That even when ‘we lie down’, no matter how difficult life can be, it all comes from G-d, and this mitzvah refers to the opportunity, even the decision to keep G-d in our lives and make Him a part of everywhere we are, and all that we do. The focus is clearly on Hashem.
The mitzvah of tefillin, however, of actually taking a physical object from something so base as the hide of an animal, and tying it to our hands, refers to the actual mitzvoth, and our ability to transform this world into something holy. The focus is clearly on us, and a close look at the portion of Ekevclearly resonates with this theme. Hence the reference to our greatest transgressions as a people: G-d gave us the Torah, but, in the harsh light of reality, we were not yet up to the task.
And maybe, hidden in this idea is a critical concept that can make all the difference in our lives. It is very easy, both when confronted with life’s difficulties, and especially when achieving our greatest successes, to become so immersed in our own accomplishments that we forget what a gift it all really is. And when we start to think, even to a small degree, that our successes are our own, the road to forgetting what it is really all about and where it really comes from, becomes all too easy.
Three thousand years ago, a people, which had just witnessed some of the greatest miracles in history, took some pride in their own accomplishments, and reveled in their success leaving Egypt and achieving the spiritual level necessary to receive the Torah at Sinai. And when they (we) let G-d’s role take even the smallest step aside, it is a very short road to forgetting just how much it is all G-d in the first place. Hence Moshe describes how the people:
“Saru maher min ha’derech asher tzivitim, asu’ la’hem masechah.”
“They have turned away from the path I have commanded them, and made for themselves a mask.”(9:12)
Indeed, when we begin to assume it is about us, then G-d becomes distant, and His place in our lives becomes masked. (Note the word calf is not used in this instance, but rather the ‘mask’.)
On the one hand, Judaism does not want us to wait in our prayer pews for G-d’s deliverance; we are meant to be partners with G-d in making this world a better place. But precisely at those junctures when we become so immersed in our role in this world, we always need to remember that in the end it all comes from and leads to a higher purpose. It is so critical to remember we are not the goal, we are the vehicle.
And so, precisely now, as the Jews are about to leave the spiritual greenhouse of the desert where Manna falls from heaven and clouds of glory abound, and enter the land where they will have to fight and work to build this world, Moshe reminds them not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and to remember who is really leading the way.
Forty-five years after the Six Day War, it is a very tempting thing to become proud, and maybe even arrogant about the accomplishments of the Jewish people in their land.
Less than twenty years after fighting a war for our very existence as a Jewish State, and still in the process of completing the absorption of over eight hundred thousand mostly poverty-stricken immigrants from the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa (which more than doubled the Jewish population of the State of Israel at the time), the Israeli Army, in six days, swept through the vastly superior numbers of the Arab Armies and won a decisive victory in what became known as the Six Day War.
So maybe we earned the right to be proud of our accomplishments? And maybe we were finally almost there; just around the corner from the third commonwealth, a rebuilt third Temple, peace….
After two thousand years of dreaming, we, as a generation were given the privilege of being able to walk the alleys of ancient Jerusalem, pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall, and wander the hills where David and Abraham once walked. Jews can don the uniforms of a Jewish army, and defend a Jewish homeland for the Jewish people, and any Jew, anywhere in the world, just a few decades after the Holocaust, can board a Jewish airline emblazoned with the Jewish star, and come home, whenever he or she wants.
Is there enough one generation can have done in this world, to merit that kind of privilege? Or are we riding on the backs of the generations of Jews, who over two thousand years never gave up believing that we would come home one day?
Perhaps being made to recall, especially on the verge of what might seem our greatest achievements, all of our greatest mistakes, is actually a very healthy way to begin the sobering task of such a holy mission as entering the land of Israel. And maybe this was at the heart of Moshe’s words to the Jewish people so long ago.
On a personal note, twelve years ago this week, on the twentieth of Av, Hashem saw fit to allow me to walk out of the S’barro’s pizzeria unharmed, when a suicide bomber blew himself up killing seventeen people and wounding over sixty. Twelve years ago, I watched Lily Shamilashvili die in front of me, and years later the families of Malki Roth and the Schijveschuurder family hold their memorial services at the Har Ha’menuchot cemetery where they are buried. We have been given this incredible land, but we have a lot of work to do yet, to make it the place it is meant to be.
Take a moment this Shabbat, to remember all those who have been torn from life so brutally over these last years, and their families for whom the pain is always there, even growing as more and more people tend to move on….
May Hashem bless us all to live up to all that we can be, and may we continue, with all the challenges, to remember what a privilege it is that we live in such special times where we are given so many gifts and opportunities to make this world the place we all dream it can become.
Shabbat Shalom from Efrat and Yerushalayim.
Thursday, July 29, 2021
Yishai is on the road with the family and having BIG Texas thoughts about the Israeli government's wrong-headed bid to reenter UNESCO and about the authencity of Palestine - Palestine Texas, that is! Also the Torah portion of Ekev, where God cuts the Jews down to the right size!
Russia is taking a radical new course on Israel s air strikes over Syria. Its military for the first time revealed details of the Israeli raid and claimed as never before that Russian-made systems downed seven of eight guided missiles.
Three conclusions from this atypical Russian response after hundreds Israeli air operations went forward unopposed against Iran s permanent military presence in Syria and that of its proxies could be drawn.
1. Moscow is letting Israel know that its radar can track air force operations emanating from Jordan.
2. Advanced new Russian air defense systems are now operating in Syria.
3. Putin seems to be telling the new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that the deal, whereby Moscow's blind eye gave Israel free rein for years to clip Iran's wings in Syria, was in fact struck personally between President Vladimir Putin and ex-PM Binyamin Netanyahu. All options are now open. The Bennett government is therefore advised to think carefully before embarking on its next air strike in Syria.
Russia to Sell Stealth Jets to Mideast
Russia's single-engine stealth fighter jet will likely arrive in the Middle East through future arms sales to local countries. Russia is due to unveil its Checkmate jet at the MAKS international air exhibition. It can carry 7.4 tons of armament, and the max theoretical range is 3,000 kilometers (meaning an estimated 750-kilometer operational radius). It will be several years before the jet is ready for operational use. The Russian claimed it is less than $30 million per unit, significantly cheaper than the F-35.
Food for Thought
After 70+ years of Israel's independence, it is time to realise that appeasement of the enemies, keeping the ugly status quo or temporary quiet (hudna) that leads to another terror attack or war, will never work with enemies of Jews. Fake Palestinians and their international sponsors hate Jews and Israel - anti-Semitism is an incurable disease! There is only one way to end the occupation of Jewish land by enemies. Israel must diligently encourage them to leave Eretz-Israel. After all, considering the voting pattern in the UNGA, there are so many countries that hate Israel, not just Muslim ones, and love the so-called Palestinians so much. They can have them.
Zero Tolerance to Balloon Attacks
IDF fighter jets strike Hamas military camp located near civilian sites including a school after arson balloons launched from the Gaza Strip on Sunday threatened to burn down the Kissufim forest and destroy a kibbutz avocado crop. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett the right-wing leader who was once former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu s chief of staff, has said that he would approach balloon attacks with the same seriousness as if they were rockets.
Moment of Silence in Tokyo
A moment of silence was observed in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics for the Israeli victims of the 1972 Munich massacre. During the 1972 Olympics, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered by eight Palestinian terrorists. This is the first time the victims were honoured in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. The families of the 11 victims had long asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to hold a minute's silence at the opening ceremony, but had until Friday been turned down. ( Japanese integrity prevailed over chronic IOC s anti-Semitism! The IOC shows its Jew-hatred/Antisemitism by still allowing Palestine to participate in the Olympics.)
Family Reunification Rebuffed by Government
The Citizenship Law has expired, but the Interior Ministry is refusing to deal with the issue until new policies are formulated. Reportedly, this decision comes from Minister Shaked herself. (Otherwise, potentially, tens of thousands of Muslims/Arabs, spouses of Israeli Arabs, would be able to come and live in Israel, obtaining Israeli citizenship.)
US Opposes BDS - Too Little, too Late
The US State Department announced that they were opposing the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement one day after ice cream company Ben & Jerry's announced that they would no longer be selling their products in parts of Israel. (For many years BDS has been vilifying Israel)
De Facto Building Freeze in Judea and Samaria
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has apparently slowed the approval process for construction projects in Judea and Samaria because of American pressure. The previous government, under then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was supposed to set a date for a meeting of a committee for construction approval beyond the Green Line, but Defense Minister Benny Gantz prevented it from doing so. And it is still not set! (Real friends do not apply such "pressure", and a truly sovereign country would ignore it)
IAF and USAF began Joint Exercise
The United States of America and Israel have begun a biannual aerial exercise codenamed Juniper Falcon. The purpose of the exercise is to improve the ability to defend against missile threats and joint air defense capacities while strengthening cooperation, coordination and mutual learning between the two armies.
IAEA is in an 'Uncomfortable Position'
A pause in negotiations to salvage Iran's nuclear deal with the world powers has placed the International Atomic Energy Agency in an "uncomfortable position," said IAEA director general Rafael Grossi. "I'm talking about the agency, I don't know about the others, but I suppose they would rather be negotiating than waiting," he added. (The most 'comfortable position' for Israel would be to destroy the Iranian's nuclear program! Procrastination only helps Iran to obtain nukes)
UNHRC to 'Probe' Israel Again
The president of the UN Human Rights Council announced that Navi Pillay will chair a commission to investigate what was described as systematic abuses allegedly committed during the recent violence between Hamas and Israel in May. Pillay has a history of anti-Israel statements. In 2014, she condemned Israel for "targeting" UN-run schools and hospitals in Gaza, while failing to mention three UN-run schools in Gaza had been used as rocket warehouses, a gross violation of international law that clearly falls within the category of war crimes. The UNHRC is notorious for its longstanding bias against Israel. (The 'Ugly Nazi' is relentless in its smear campaign against Israel. Every member of the commission, appointed by the UN, is anti-Israel.)
Quote of the Week:
"This morning, an explosion of great force shook a weapons storehouse belonging to the Islamic Jihad terror group - in the heart of the al-Zawiya marketplace, in the center of Gaza City. The explosion caused deaths and injuries, as well as destruction of the site and a great deal of damage. This explosion is another example of how the terror organizations in Gaza prefer the continuation of their terror activities over the welfare and lives of Gaza residents. Instead of accepting the United Nations' offers of rehabilitation, the terror organizations are busy manufacturing weapons and rebuilding their posts. They deliberately store the weapons in the heart of the civilian population, in a way which directly endangers civilian lives." - Avichay Adraee, IDF Arabic Spokesman - As usual, the 'Ugly Nothing' does not condemn Hamas, the terrorist group in charge of Gaza, or even of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group.
Iranian Nuclear Program Must be Neutralized
by Benjamin Kerstein
Israel is examining possible changes to its operational plans against the Iranian nuclear program in order to contend with a US re-entry to the 2015 nuclear deal.
The IDF and the Mossad have emphasized to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the government generally that while it is necessary to prepare for the possibility of an Israeli air strike on Iran s nuclear infrastructure, such an approach would be greatly complicated by a renewed nuclear deal.
Moreover, the IDF has told Bennett that its latest assessment has found that the IDF is still not at full readiness for a major conflict with Iran.
Given all this, the IDF and the Mossad stressed that Israel should develop multiple operational plans, which could be put into operation whether the US signs a new deal with Iran or not.
The goal of such operations would not be to destroy Iran s nuclear program in a single blow, but to sabotage, disrupt, and delay the program indefinitely through surgical strikes and intelligence operations.
This would be in keeping with current policy, which has seen major accidents, sabotage, and assassinations related to Iran s nuclear program, most of which are believed to be the result of Israeli intelligence activity.
The Talmud (Berachot 50a) gives a litmus test to determine if an individual is truly a Torah scholar: listen to how he recites berachot (blessings). Clearly, when berachot are recited sincerely, they reflect a proper outlook on life and help instill important traits such as gratitude to God. What is less obvious is that even the detailed laws for blessings reflect fundamental concepts of the Torah. For this reason, Torah scholars are punctilious in their blessings.
Loving the Land of Israel
The following story gives one example of such an exacting approach towards blessings. It also contains an important lesson about love for the Land of Israel.
“Rav Hisda and Rav Hamenuna were seated at a meal, and were served dates and pomegranates. Rav Hamenuna made the blessing over the dates.
Rav Hisda told him, ‘Do you not agree that those fruit mentioned earlier in the verse take precedence when reciting the blessing?’
Rav Hamenuna responded, ‘Dates are mentioned second after the word “land”, while pomegranates are only mentioned fifth.’
Rav Hisda exclaimed, ‘If only we had legs of iron to always follow you and learn from you!'” (Berachot 41b)
The two scholars referred to the verse that praises the Land of Israel for seven grains and fruits:
“It is a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates; a land of oil-olives and honey-dates.” (Deut. 8:8)
Rav Hisda felt that the blessing should reflect the order of the produce mentioned in the verse. Thus, pomegranates should come first. Rav Hamenuna explained that while the order in the verse is indeed important, there is an even more important factor: how close is the fruit to the word “land” in the verse? Pomegranates are the fifth produce mentioned after the first time “land” appears in the verse; dates, however, are the second fruit mentioned after “land” appears a second time in the verse. In other words, the position of dates in the verse indicates a greater closeness to the Land of Israel; therefore, this fruit deserves to come first.
The thought and care that Rav Hamenuna gave to his blessing demonstrates the importance he placed on loving Eretz Yisrael. This great love stems from recognizing the unique qualities of the Land - qualities that enable the Jewish people and all of humanity to attain spiritual goals. One who is closer to the Land of Israel, and demonstrates a greater connection to it, comes first for blessing. Such an individual is closer to the perfection that is attained through this special land.
Two Types of Love
Yet, we may ask: why is the word “land” mentioned twice in the verse? Why does the verse divide up the produce of Eretz Yisrael into two categories?
There are in fact two types of love for the Land of Israel. One’s appreciation for the Land is a function of his spiritual level and awareness. Some value Eretz Yisrael because of its unique spiritual qualities. They long “to take pleasure in her stones and love her dust” (Psalms 102:15) in order to fulfill the mitzvot that are connected to the Land. They recognize the blessings that Eretz Yisrael provides for the spiritual elevation of the Jewish people and the entire world.
Then there are those who appreciate the land for its material benefits. They recognize its value as a homeland for the Jewish people, and work towards settling and rebuilding the land. This form of devotion to the Land of Israel, even though it does not take into account its special spiritual qualities, is nonetheless a good and positive trait.
The verse mentions the word “land” twice, each time followed by a list of produce. This corresponds to the two forms of devotion to the Land of Israel. The first list of produce represents those who love the Land for its elevated, spiritual properties. This group consists of five fruits and grains, corresponding to the Five Books of Moses. This devotion to Eretz Yisrael stems from the world of Torah, from an awareness of the spiritual goals of the Jewish people and the entire world.
The second list contains oil-olive, symbolizing knowledge, and the honey-date, representing material contentment. These fruits represents those who appreciate the Land as a place where the Jewish people can be successful in the material spheres of life, whether academic, cultural, or economic.
Rav Hamenuna taught us an important lesson: how great is the love for the Land of Israel, even when this love is limited to its physical benefits. When they are connected to the community, all material matters become spiritual ones; the elevated goals will automatically be realized through the bonds of God’s people to His Land.
The Pomegranate and the Date
Why does the date take precedence before the pomegranate? Even though the pomegranate belongs to the first group, it is the last fruit in the list. The pomegranate represents those who are aware of the holy qualities of EretzYisrael, yet in practice remain distant from the Land. These individuals unfortunately take few practical measures to express their love for the Land.
The date, on the other hand, is near the top of the second group. It represents those who only recognize the material benefits of the Land of Israel. Through their efforts, however, they are much closer to the Land, taking practical steps in settling and rebuilding it. Such a person, Rabbi Hamenuna taught, should be strengthened and presented first for a blessing. Devotion to the Land, when promoted in practical, concrete efforts, is a wonderful thing. Thus we find the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102b) states that Omri merited to be king in reward for establishing a city in the Land of Israel, even though his intentions were certainly pragmatic.
Legs of Iron
Now we can understand Rabbi Hisda’s fervent response, “If only we had legs of iron to always follow you and learn from you!” Rav Hisda understood the inner message of Rabbi Hamenuna’s teaching. One needs “legs of iron” — courage and fortitude like iron — in order to be able to receive this remarkable message, and appreciate the importance of the material strength of Israel.
Similarly, on the national level, we need “legs of iron,” powerful means to build up the physical aspects of the nation. Then we will have the spiritual strength to create a courageous national spirit. “And we will learn from you” — we will follow your path of Torah, and merit inheriting the Land through love and wholeness and inner strength.
(Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 304-306. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, pp. 186-187; Olat Re’iyah vol. I, pp. 374-377. by Rav Chanan Morrison)
by HaRav Nachman Kahana
In last week’s message, I wrote of the pending “yom hadin” – HaShem’s inevitable day of judgement against all our historic and contemporary enemies, first and foremost the Christian nations of Europe and including others like Iran and their Islamic co-religionists. This evoked negative reactions of shock from several corners, claiming that my vengeful tone is un-Jewish and certainly inappropriate for a rabbi.
Un-Jewish Indeed?! Un-rabbinic? Indeed!
What is the difference between a “right” as in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution which make up the Bill of Rights, and a “privilege”?
A privilege is something granted as a special favor by the will of the grantor, which the recipient cannot demand. A “right” is a status upon which one may demand its fulfillment. An American citizen has the right to demand his freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. But one cannot demand privileges reserved for the elite.
That we are alive is not a “right” that permits us to demand from the Creator; but rather a magnificent privilege granted by Him to be a real entity which is commanded to recognize and accept His mastery and Monarchy and to service Him by abiding to his will.
Our parasha begins (Devarim 7,12):
והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה ושמרתם ועשיתם אתם ושמר ה’ אלהיך לך את הברית ואת החסד אשר נשבע לאבתיך
If you abide by these laws and will be diligent in following them, then the Lord your God will fulfill his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors.
והיה אם שכח תשכח את ה’ אלהיך והלכת אחרי אלהים אחרים ועבדתם והשתחוית להם העדתי בכם היום כי אבד תאבדון
If you forget (ignore) the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be lost.
Two basic principles arise from these verses:
One does not have an inherent “right” (entitlement) to live. Life is a privilege granted to man by the Creator, and when one oversteps that privilege his life could be compromised.
There are inevitable consequences to our behavior, for good and for bad.
Let’s return to my “un-Jewish” and “un-rabbinic” expectations that HaShem, the God of justice, mercy and truth will punish all who have lifted a finger or voiced condemnation toward – the Jewish nation.
What did our father Avraham do to the four kings who kidnapped his nephew Lot?
What about Shimon and Levi in the city of Shechem?
Moshe Rabbeinu took revenge on the Egyptian taskmaster for beating a Jew and was commanded by HaShem to destroy the nation of Midyan for leading 24,000 Jews to sin.
Yehoshua decimated the seven Canaanite nations.
Shoftim (Judges like Gidon, Shimshon, Devora, and Yael the wife of Chaver Hakaini) were not lily white.
King David ordered the killing of two thirds of the males of Moav, after their king murdered David’s parents and six brothers.
And the list is very long.
Avenging Evil is a Holy Mitzva
To avenge evil is a holy mitzva. From where do we know this?
The Gemara (Brachot 33a) lists three things whose senior status of importance was emphasized in the Tanach by their written word, appearing between two names of Hashem. They are:
דעה, מקדש, נקמה
Native intelligence, the Temple, revenge against evil doers.
Rambam (Melachim chapter 5):
ואי זו היא מלחמת מצוה זו מלחמת שבעה עממים, ומלחמת עמלק, ועזרת ישראל מיד צר שבא עליהם
Defines war which is a mitzva to wage as the war against the seven Canaanite nations (and by extension any war to liberate Eretz Yisrael); war against Amalek, and war against any non-Jew who threatens the life of a Jew.
In addition, we recite on most Shabbatot the following verses in the Av Harachamim liturgy before Musaf, Devarim 32,43:
הרנינו גוים עמו כי דם עבדיו יקום ונקם ישיב לצריו וכפר אדמתו עמו
Rejoice, you nations, with his people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants; He will take vengeance on His enemies and make atonement for His land and people.
The prophet Joel 4,21:
ונקיתי דמם לא נקיתי וה’ שכן בציו
Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged? I will not. The Lord dwells in Zion!
למה יאמרו הגוים איה אלהיהם יודע בגיים בגוים לעינינו נקמת דם עבדיך השפוך:
Why should the nations say, where is their God? Before our eyes, make known among the nations that You avenge the outpoured blood of Your servants.
כי דרש דמים אותם זכר לא שכח צעקת עניים ענוים
Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what He has done. For He who avenges blood remembers; He does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.
Un-Jewish and un-rabbinic, indeed!
In the matter of avenging evil, we are partners with the Creator. HaShem deals with the big and numerous enemies, the small but deadly one He leaves to us.
In conclusion: there are many beautiful subjects and ideas in our parasha that I could write about, aside from HaShem’s imminent wrath on our enemies. But as I perceive it, we are now in a time when Judenhass is going to fill a major role on the stage of history. We cannot afford the luxury of burying our heads in the sand and be oblivious to the changes in the United States and in many lands where Jews live today; not to speak of the Middle East.
It brings to mind the prophetic words of the sinister Bil’am in Bamidbar (23,9):
… הן עם לבדד ישכן ובגוים לא יתחשב
I see a people who live apart and are not involved when dealing with the other nations.
Many of the commentaries explain this verse to mean, that on that day (or time) of reckoning when HaShem brings down the enemies of Am Yisrael, we will remain unscathed and will be the leaders of the new world.
Copyright © 5781/2021 Nachman Kahana
THE PARSHA STARTS of with the verse:
And it will be, because you will—aikev—listen to these judgments and keep and perform them… (Devarim 7:12)
Translated, there is nothing unusual about the wording, but in Hebrew there is. The word for “because you will” is not the one most people would have chosen. The fact that the Torah chose the word “aikev,” a word that principally means “heel,” led Rashi to comment:
If you will listen to the “minor” commandments which one [usually] tramples with their heels… (Rashi)
It’s a double message. In most cases the Torah does not distinguish between “easy” and “difficult” mitzvos, but it does in this parsha. It specifically speaks about mitzvos that people might “step on” with their “heel,” so-to-speak, because they don’t seem that important compared to other mitzvos like Shabbos for example.
How does one know which mitzvah is minor and which is major? Seemingly as a result of the punishment for not doing them. Some sins are punishable by death, some by kares—excision, and some by 39 lashes “only,” though quite frankly, the lashes could kill, or at least make someone wish they would.
The mishnah in Pirkei Avos echoes this idea, except that it adds an extra reason as well. You are not allowed to decide which mitzvah to take seriously and which one not to in general. Even if you are the type to anyhow, you certainly can’t do it based upon punishment alone:
Be careful with a light mitzvah as with a grave one, because you do not know the reward for the fulfillment of the mitzvos. (Pirkei Avos 2:1)
To be clear, as Jews we’re concerned about two things. First, about avoiding punishment in this world and the next one, which we do by avoiding sin. Secondly, we’re about earning as much reward as we can while we can, which we do by learning Torah and doing mitzvos. The fact that the punishment for certain transgressions is “less” than others does not necessarily mean that they cannot earn more reward in the World-to-Come, or even in this world, by avoiding them.
Why did I put avoiding punishment before earning reward in the World-to-Come? Because ever since we “absorbed” the yetzer hara after the sin of the Aitz HaDa’as and were expelled from Gan Aiden, we have tended to put earning eternal reward a distant second to avoiding punishment. Especially in our generation when you can seemingly have your cake and eat it too (be “frum” while acting somewhat secular), Torah life for many has become somewhat an issue of “risk management.”
So people wear clothing that pushes the limits of tznius—modesty, and pushes those limits more and more in the wrong direction. They do things on Shabbos that are not in the spirit of Shabbos, or worse. They use technology in ways that might be fine for non-Jews, but not for Jews. They indulge in materialism more than might be sanctioned by a Torah way of life.
It’s a BIG mistake.
I ONCE ASKED someone how they could knowingly turn their back on Torah after having first become a ba’al teshuvah. Unlike many who are born into a Torah lifestyle, this person became observant in their twenties because the argument in favor of Torah made sense. That hadn’t changed, just their attitude towards being religious.
I have never forgotten what they answered me, and it is at least 35 years later. In fact, they taught me a REALLY important lesson about how our minds work. On a less serious level, it explains something as trivial as undesirable weight gain. On a more serious level, it explains something as mind-boggling as the Holocaust.
This is what they answered me. They said that the first time they broke Shabbos by turning on a light, they “expected” lightning to come down from Heaven and strike them. But of course it didn’t, so they did it a second time with less fear, and then a third time with even less fear. Eventually they left everything behind they had learned.
The truth is, the Talmud warns about the same thing:
If a person sins once, and then a second time, it is permissible to them. If they sin once, and then twice, it is permissible to them?! Rather, it becomes as if permissible to them. (Kiddushin 20a)
You have to ask yourself about the psychology of this incredible mental process if you want to avoid being victimized by it. Few people aren’t victims of it, which is why the world has become as troubling place as it is today.
This morning I received a video link from a good friend of mine that, I have to say, is very disturbing. The video that is. It is meant to be disturbing, because it is a German tracing the steps that were taken by the Nazi regime to manipulate fifty million Germans to carry out the Holocaust. It is called, “You Thought You Were Free? (Revised),” and it is found on the Armstrong Economics web site.
Anyone who lives “outside” the secular world has got be shocked by the direction of society, and afraid of where it might be going. Historically, the current liberal trend in the West has, in the past, led to major wars. Anyone who is NOT shocked by the current state of Western society is already a victim of what the video describes.
But the finger should be wagging at more than secular people, because we’re all guilty of the same psychological error. The Torah is not talking to secular Jews, but to religious ones, those who keep mitzvos but only to the extent that they deem necessary. Does the yetzer hara care if someone is religious or secular?
On the contrary, getting a religious Jew to compromise on a Torah value even just a little, as opposed to a secular Jew to compromise a lot, is like knocking off a general as opposed to only a corporal during a war. Because that’s what it is, the Ramchal says, a raging spiritual war. And he adds, and this is the scary part: if you don’t feel that war raging, then you’ve lost it already.
THE MISHNAH IN Pirkei Avos says that the Jewish people tested God ten times in the desert, the tenth being the episode of the spies. A very obvious question that many people obviously don’t ask is, “What do you mean tested God ten times? They sinned against God ten times!”
The Leshem provides a not-so-obvious but incredible answer. He says that the majority of Jews never actually sinned in the desert. In fact, it was always a small number of Jews who actually committed the sin, even during the episode of the spies. Sometimes it was even only Dasan and Aviram, and perhaps the Erev Rav, even though the Torah makes it seem like the entire nation sinned.
Although this explains why the language of “tested” is used instead of “sinned,” it does not explain why the entire nation was punished because of a handful of repeat sinners. To answer that, we need only recall that in last week’s parsha there was a mitzvah not to test God. That is exactly what the rest of the nation did do to warrant being dragged into the sins of others.
How did they test God? Rather than protest against the sinners, the majority of the nation stayed quiet and waited to see how God would respond. Would He still support them, or cut them off, continue to take care of them, or destroy them in the desert? While they “waited” to see God’s protest, God waited to see theirs.
But it never came. No one ever stood up to the bad guys except for Chur, Miriam’s son, and he died for it. And lest a person say, “What good would their protests have done? Would anyone have listened to them?” the Talmud recounts how that argument did not save the tzaddikim of the First Temple period (Shabbos 55a). They perished with everyone else in the Churban for not having tried to protest against the sins of their generation.
As the Talmud says:
Rebi Yonason, which some replace with Rebi Yochanan, said: Whoever can protest against [a sin in] their household but does not is held responsible for [the sins of] their household; their fellow citizens, they are held responsible for [the sins of] their fellow citizens; the whole world, they are held responsible for [the sins of] the whole world. (Shabbos 54b)
WHO IS NOT disgusted by Titus’ profanation of the Torah and the Temple (Gittin 56b)? How could God allow such a terrible human being to enter the Holy of Holies with a Sefer Torah and profane both so horribly? Even the difficult death he suffered seems too kind for what he did.
But everything God does is middah-k’negged middah—measure-for-measure. What Titus did had to be in response to something we did first, measure-for-measure. But to our knowledge, no Jew ever did anything remotely as profane as Titus did, so the question returns: How was Titus able to do it?
In Kabbalah, the concept is called “k’illu—as if.” It refers to a situation where something doesn’t actually occur, but since the net result is the same, it is “as if” the thing that usually causes it did occur.
An example of this idea is embarrassing someone in public. Since it draws the blood of a person from their face making them “go white,” it’s k’illu—as if—the person doing the embarrassing killed the person they embarrassed. Since it is only k’illu, they won’t be punished as a murderer by Bais Din, but it is k’illu enough that they will be considered a murderer on some level from Heaven’s point of view.
Likewise, a Jew never physically did what Titus did on top of a Sefer Torah, and in the Holy of Holies no less. But that doesn’t mean that from Heaven’s point-of-view our treading on “light” mitzvos, and how much more so on “serious” mitzvos, is not the same thing. On the contrary, God may have had Titus do that to tell us what our abuse of Torah seems like from His vantage point. Something we did had to open the door for Titus to behave as he did.
This is a major part of the warning in this week’s parsha. It would be a terrible mistake for us to think we understand God and Torah enough to properly weigh the gravity of our actions, or lack of them.
“So I don’t take the mitzvah seriously. How bad can it be?”
“So I don’t protest. At least I’m not actually doing the sin!”
History has answered these questions many times over, and never the way we imagined or hoped. But take God, Torah, and His mitzvos seriously, and you not only make God happy, but you earn His protection…in this world and the next one.
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir
Parashat VaEt’chanan and Parashat Ekev are linked to each other. The former’s main theme is our receiving the Torah from G-d and our undertaking the yoke of Heaven through our reciting the words, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d. Hashem is One.” The latter’s main theme is our fulfilling all of G-d’s mitzvoth in general, and our fulfilling them in Eretz Yisrael in particular. As Rav Yehoshua ben Korcha said, “Why did the first paragraph of the Shema precede the second? It was so that a Jew would first undertake the yoke of heaven and only then the yoke of mitzvoth” (Berachot 2b).
Our faith in Hashem’s being the One G-d, and our duty to love Him and to learn His Torah, precedes mitzvah fulfillment, which is a corollary detail extending from that faith, in the same way, that the roots and trunk of a tree precede its branches. This does not mean, G-d forbid, that we should not fulfill mitzvoth as long as we haven’t yet learned and the Torah does not yet permeate our entire being. Quite the contrary, the heart is influenced by deeds. Still, we have to distinguish between general points and specifics. When a Jew fulfills mitzvoth without being full of faith, that is a shortcoming evincing a situation of “For it is precept by precept, precept by precept, line by line, line by line; here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). The integral Torah is then transformed into separate bits and pieces, a plethora of details without any unifying link, and then crises surface. As our sages said, “In the Messianic era, impudence will prevail” (end of Tractate Sota. See “HaTorah HaGo’elet, Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda zt”l, I:154).
Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, zt”l, was the seer and faithful Shepard of our generation and all the generations to come. He possessed a deep understanding of the roots of the crises befalling our generation, the generation in the footsteps of the Messiah. He taught us what improvements are needed not only for us to overcome those crises, but also how to ascend spiritually to the higher levels that the Jewish People, rising to rebirth are encountering with G-d’s help.
In relating to the spiritual, moral, and religious crisis we are facing, and how to rectify it, he writes:
“The impudence of the pre-Messianic era develops because the world has been sufficiently prepared to demand an understanding of how all the details are linked to the whole, and the generation cannot rest if any detail remains unexplained…” (Orot HaTeshuvah 4:10).
The study and strengthening of faith, i.e., the undertaking of the yoke of heaven, is the greatest need of our generation. Through that, and through being infinitely patient, we will also arrive at mitzvah fulfillment performed loving. Indeed, Rav Tzvi Yehuda, son, and torchbearer of Rav Avraham Yitzchak, zt”l, worked all his life to strengthen faith, mitzvah fulfillment based on love and faith, and with G-d’s help, we will merit a new light over Zion.
Looking forward to salvation,
With Love of Israel,