Monday, September 21, 2015

A Jew Can Never Cease Being a Jew: HaRav Nachman Kahana on Parashat Ha’a’zinu and Erev Yom Kippur 5776


Parashat Ha’a’zinu and Erev Yom Kippur 5776

A Jew Can Never Cease Being a Jew

The Tanach in Melachim 1 chapter 20 relates a very telling incident in the life of Achav, King of the ten northern tribes of Israel.
Achav, to be sure, was far from a tzadik. He, Yeravam ben Nevat and Menashe were the three kings who, according to the Mishna in Sanhedrin, lost their inherent places in Gan Eden.
Ben Hadad King of Aram (today’s Syria), threatened Achav with war if he did not deliver to him his gold and silver, his wives and children. Achav was forced to capitulate and sent to Ben Hadad all that he demanded.
The following day, Ben Hadad sent anther demand to Achav. This time Achav was to deliver to him “machmad ay’necha” - that which is the most precious in your eyes.  Achav and all his ministers rejected the demand and agreed unanimously to go to war.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 102b) asks, that after relinquishing his gold, silver, wives and children, what was left that could be described as the “most precious thing” in Achav’s eyes? And surprisingly, the Gemara answers “a Sefer Torah”.
Why would Achav who totally rejected the Torah, choose to go to war over a Torah scroll?
I believe that despite Achav’s rejection of its spiritual message, the Torah in Achav’s eyes was the universally recognized symbol of the Jewish nation. For him to relinquish the royal Torah scroll to an enemy was tantamount to eliminating the national soul that bound all Jews together. Achav was prepared to die in battle rather than to commit an act of betrayal against the nation and against his own personal “Jewishness”.
This incident defines Achav's inner character and thoughts. Despite his glaring faults and weaknesses, he can serve as the leading teacher in two areas:
1- There is an immutable connection between every individual Jew to the collective Am Yisrael, even one who is so far from Torah observance.
We learn from Achav that the skeletal-infrastructure of every Jew is the undeniable fact that the Creator brought his unique soul to this world when born to a Jewish mother, or converts who were born with a Jewish soul and for some unknown reason had to be born to a seemingly gentile mother. It is for this reason that, halachically a Jew can never cease being a Jew no matter what he does, because one cannot erase his essence.
2- We learn from Achav the great pride there is in being a Jew. He relinquished everything of value - family and wealth - but was willing to die before infringing on his and on his nation’s Jewishness.

A Third Type of Tshuva

The Rambam in his laws of Tshuva discusses two motives for one’s decision to do Tshuva - love of HaShem or fear of divine retribution.
I would like to submit a third motive, one which is unfortunately grossly lacking in the education of Jews in the galut and in some non-observant schools in Israel.
It is tshuva not purely out of love for HaShem - which is in the realm of a few learned and highly spiritually developed individuals.
It is not tshuva out of fear of punishment - which is a product of an egotistical mind that is not even close to the spiritual ideal of a “Priestly kingdom and a sanctified nation”.
This third tshuva is out of pride in being a member of the small, elite group of people who the Creator appointed to be His chosen nation. Pride in being the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov. A descendant of the people who crossed the Red Sea and saw HaShem’s miracle, and stood at the foot of Mount Sinai while receiving the Torah from the Creator Himself.
Children of a nation 3500 years old whose blessings to humanity have no equal.
It is the pride of being a Jew that echoes in one’s soul proclaiming:
I am a prince, a son of HaShem. How can I betray the love and confidence HaShem has lavished upon me, by committing a sin?
How can I betray the 150 generations of my family beginning with the revelation at Mount Sinai, who sacrificed so much that I should be born a Jew today?
It is beneath my dignity as a Jew to act immorally or not in good faith with my fellow man, or to infringe on any of HaShem’s mitzvot.
It is beyond my conception as a Jew to deny or minimize the great miracles HaShem has performed for His people in the last 67 years in Eretz Yisrael.
The Holy Land acts as a magnet for me to return home to be part of HaShem’s master plan for the world and the universe.
The prophet Yeshayahu says (40,15):
הן גוים כמר מדלי וכשחק מאזנים נחשבו הן איים כדק יטול:
Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
and as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
HaShem revealed to the prophet that the eight billion gentiles in the world pale in comparison to the numerically minuscule Jewish nation.
How can we not burst with pride at the knowledge that we are Jews, in whose veins flow the blood of the righteous of the world - that we are the Jewish nation that was presented by HaShem with the promise of eternal life in the next world and the holy land of Israel in this world!

Jewish Pride

When I still lived in the galut and had not yet made Aliyah, I recall every time I would recite the morning blessing about HaShem not making me a gentile, it would come to my mind that He did not have to make us gentiles. He left it to us to do the job.
We spoke their language and were steeped in their culture. Life was centered around sports, with the great sportsmen our heroes and not the heroes of Jewish history. Entertainment, food, vacations, career - I and my fellow yeshiva students were very much a part of the gentile scene in whose land (unknown then to us) we were considered as non-Christian, unwanted guests, while we felt that we were home.
We were devoid of any Jewish pride!
There were many moments in my life when I felt proud, but the one which has left the greatest impression was at the IDF induction center, when I saw myself in the mirror dressed in the uniform of Tzahal.
I was now a true son of Eretz Yisrael, prepared to even give my life in the defense of the Jewish people, who with the compassion of HaShem have returned home.

Gmar Chatima Tova & Shabbat Shalom,

Nachman Kahana

Copyright © 5776/2015 Nachman Kahana

Sunday, September 20, 2015

G-d’s Hand in History

By Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
(The following was published as an Op-ed in the Jewish Press, on September 11, 2015 -  RSP)
Fourteen years ago today the clenched fist of Arab-Islamic terror smashed into the United States of America, murdering almost three thousand innocent souls, devastating lives, shaking America (at least temporarily) out of its complacency and nudging the American polity into several Middle Eastern wars. Those wars have not ended well; indeed, the situation on the ground has become more violent and deadly. The desultory and reluctant conduct of these wars by the Obama administration – snatching defeat from the jaws of potential victory – has left the region and the world on the verge of accommodating Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Iranian hegemony over much of the Middle East.
On an individual level, the brutal and unprovoked attacks on September 11, 2001 were a vivid reminder of the fragility of life. Thousands of people at work or on their way to work rose that morning in anticipation of a normal, uneventful day, just going about their daily routines until such time as they would return to their families and loved ones. Alas, their good-byes that morning were the last ones they would extend, their lives ended in sudden acts of unimaginable horror. When the Yamim Noraim begin, we remind ourselves repeatedly of our own vulnerabilities, the tenuousness of life itself, our gratitude for the gifts and opportunities
Hashem  has bestowed upon us – each according to His will – and of our rededication to utilizing those gifts and opportunities in His service. That is the judgment of the individual that consumes most of our attention.
But there is another judgment occurring on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippurim whose stakes are even greater than the judgment of individuals, and which this anniversary of the Arab terror of 9/11 renders so palpable: the judgment of nations.
As we say in the Musaf of Rosh Hashana, in the blessing of Zichronot (“Remembrances”): “And of the nations it shall be said: Which one will merit peace, and which one the sword? Which one will suffer famine and which will enjoy plenty? And all creatures will be remembered and recorded for life or for death.” It is true that the suffering of nations is felt most in the travails that befall the individual – but it is also true that even innocent individuals can be ensnared in the tribulations of nations and suffer accordingly. We live as individuals, but we also have our fates intertwined with those of the country in which we reside and that country’s enemies and adversaries.
If we have some (emphasis, some) control over our own fates – “Repentance, prayer and charity avert the harshness of the [divine] decree” – how do we understand our almost complete helplessness in avoiding the consequences of the national judgments that also take place? Are we just pawns in history, bounced by forces beyond our control? Is it possible to understand G-d’s plan in history beyond the rough outline provided to us in the Torah and the words of the Nevi’im ? Is there a divine message that we can discern amid the murkiness and gloom of today’s global scene – in which country after country, seemingly without any end in sight, is battered by terror and war, refugees and displacement, evil and its bitterest enemy, apathy?
G-d’s ways are inscrutable, and even if the last chapter is known to us – the coming of Moshiach – the prior chapters are still being written and read. But one thing should be clear to all Jews: world events are designed to shake us out of our lethargy and embrace our divinely-ordained role in history.
The Gemara (Yevamot 63b) states that “punishment does not befall the world except on account of the Jewish people.” It is not that we bring misfortune to the world, G-d forbid, as our and G-d’s enemies are fond of saying; the exact opposite is the case. The Jewish people have brought untold blessings to mankind from the very beginning of our existence and down to our very day. The world benefits from the technological, scientific and intellectual genius of the Jewish people and is continually challenged by the moral code of conduct to which we aspire. That has been reciprocated, often and in many places still today, with hatred, overt or subtle, with physical violence and rhetorical scorn, and with persistent, baseless and scurrilous attacks on Israel’s legitimacy and/or conduct, all thinly-disguised assaults on the Jewish people.
Some wage open war on Jews across the globe. Others, especially the hostile elements in Europe and America, are still inhibited by the rancid Jew hatred of the Holocaust and so hide their contempt for all Jews behind the veneer of hatred for Israel – BDS and the like. All of this is contemptible and lamentable but little of it is new. It has accompanied us since Sinai, and the spasms of violence that erupt across the globe – so Chazal are teaching us – are on our “account.” When they fight against us, it is because they are waging war against the Jewish idea. But even when they fight each other, and bring enormous, unspeakable suffering upon themselves, at the root of their discontent is the distortion of the Jewish idea and a rejection of   G-d’s plan for mankind.
As Rabbi Berel Wein once explained, “it’s because of us but it’s not our fault.”
The Wall Street Journal (April 3, 2015) featured a graph that noted the current population of the world’s religions and their future growth. (By 2050, the global Muslim population will almost match the global Christian population, each near 2.8 billion people.) Today, there are 2.17 billion Christians, 1.6 billion Muslims, 1.4 billion Hindus, even 1.3 billion unaffiliated. At the very bottom of the graph – the last line – are the Jews, hovering at or above (!) zero. We are not even a rounding error in the world’s population, less than that. We are not just statistically insignificant; we are statistically improbable.
“Hashem did not desire you or choose you because of your numbers, for you are the smallest among the nations” (Devarim 7:7). Yet, history revolves around the Jewish people. We are not afforded the luxury of being bystanders but rather of being in the forefront of every major world event and discovery. Our national homeland was not placed at the end of the world – say, New Zealand – where we could safely develop our spiritual aptitudes far from the madding crowd and high above the fray but rather at the crossroads of civilization and in the middle of every conflict.
No nation in the world tries harder to do good to all – even strangers – and no nation is as despised and reviled for those efforts. What does it all mean?
It means that G-d chose us as His vehicle to bring His morality to the world and effectuate His will in history. Rav Shlomo Aviner is fond of quoting Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), the famed Italian philosopher and historian who posited – three centuries ago – that whereas the histories of the nations of the world are profane (meaning secular, guided by natural and political forces), the history of the Jewish people is sacred, directed by G-d, and not at all bound by the general laws of history. What applies to other nations and what happens to other nations simply do not apply or happen to us.
It is astonishing that Vico should have recognized that; it is even more astonishing when we – the Jewish people – do not and instead go about our business as if our destiny is that of all nations.
Rav Zvi Yehuda Hakohen Kook zt”l regularly expounded what he called “Masechet Yisrael,” the “Tractate of the People of Israel,” both because it was worthy of study and because it underscored G-d’s plan for us in history. He highlighted three phenomenal dimensions – wonders – of the Jewish people: the wonders of our abilities, our survival and our influence. (See, for example, Rav Aviner’s annotated edition of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook’s “Orot, Yisrael U’techiyato,” footnote 266.)
We are an extraordinarily talented people, whose contributions to mankind have transformed the lives of billions of people. We need not even mention the disproportionate share of Jewish Nobel Prize winners, a mindboggling statistic that defies rational analysis. As a nation, we have been endowed by the Creator with capabilities that are designed to facilitate mankind’s pursuit of moral perfection, the material good and the welfare of all. The former is the very purpose for which we were given the Torah and prophecy.
The wonder of our survival continues to defy comprehension. No people has ever suffered the devastation of invasion, defeat, destruction, and exile – and twice – and then remained an intact nation that reclaimed its ancient homeland after 19 centuries. It is so inexplicable in human terms that it is the source of relentless irritation to our enemies, who deny it formally but are awed by it privately.
And, despite our insignificant and paltry numbers, the influence of the people of Israel on world events is itself astounding. Scarcely a day goes by without a Jew or the Jewish people in the headlines. The preoccupation of the world – actually, the obsession of the world – with the tiny State of Israel is a constant reminder to us of the expectations that the world has for the Jewish people, our outsized impact on social trends and political movements, and the uneasiness of the world’s powers with this upstart nation that, as the boxing saying goes, punches far beyond its weight class. It has been repeatedly noted that Jews have been in the forefront of great social and intellectual movements of the last two centuries – some good, some not so good – Jews like Freud, Marx, Einstein and others. Many of the high-tech innovations that have revolutionized modern life have originated in Israel.
These are all “wonders,” but none are inherently innate to the Jewish people. They are gifts from Heaven, all intended to provide us the tools with which we can carry out G-d’s will for mankind. Occasionally, perhaps more often than that, we have used these gifts inappropriately, for our own self-aggrandizement or for mere physical gratification, and forgotten or ignored the Giver and the purposes for which it was given. At those moments in history, we are sent reminders, sometimes gentle ones and sometimes less so, that we have strayed from the proper path. The road to return then opens before us, if our eyes wish to see and our hearts are receptive to the messages.
The Torah we were given, Rav Avraham Kook wrote (Orot, Yisrael U’techiyato, Chapter 5) is “not the imagining of the heart, not human ethics, not just worthy desires or appropriate fantasies, not the abandonment of the material world in any of its aspects, not the rejection of the body because of its ‘impurity,’ not the renunciation of life, society, government and authority because of their lowliness, and not the repudiation of the world and its natural forces that were corrupted by sinful man – but rather the exaltation of all of the above.”
This is the future towards which we are heading, notwithstanding all the challenges we face, the incessant Jew hatred that still afflicts too much of the world, the seemingly endless terror and war that is thrust upon us and other good people, and the rebuff of the Divine idea and moral code that is at the core of mankind’s discontent and moral perversions.
“Those who rise up against Israel rise up against G-d” (Tanchuma, Beshalach 16). It is a truism of history that wars against the Jewish people are a displacement for the real adversary that confounds our enemies – their war with the Creator (see Rambam’s Epistle to Yemen). We are simply convenient targets, but attacks on the Jewish people elicit a Divine response in history, and judgment of those nations ensues.
On the annual Day of Judgment, each person is judged both as an individual and as part of a nation. We live our lives not only to perfect our souls in this world but also to advance the goals of the Creator. If our personal judgments are enigmatic, then our judgment insofar as we are part of a nation is even more impenetrable. Those are the mysteries of life and are the exclusive domain of the Judge of all mankind. We can never comprehend why some lives were snuffed out by the godless forces of evil and other lives were spared. All we can do is thank Hashem for His blessings and commit our lives and resources to living in broad, historical terms and not just in the mundane matters of daily life.
The Gemara states (Sanhedrin 97b): “Rabi Eliezer said: ‘if the Jewish people repent they will be redeemed, and if not, they will not be redeemed.’ Rabi Yehoshua said to him: ‘if they don’t repent, they won’t be redeemed? Rather the Holy One, Blessed be He, will cause a king to rise over them whose decrees are as harsh as those of Haman, and they will repent and be restored to the good.”
The king whose decrees will spur our repentance is not someone like Nimrod, Pharaoh, Nevuchadnetzar or Titus; it is someone like Haman – a Persian descendant of Amalek who harbored genocidal ambitions against the people of Israel.
Some things never change.
And some things can change. When we realize our individual vulnerabilities, the opportunities we have been given and the great stakes before us, the moment for both individual and national teshuva beckons. May we all be worthy of inscription in the book of life, and may the current turmoil and our response to it prepare us for redemption and the coming of Moshiach.

Israel – a R&D and manufacturing powerhouse

By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

While global economic slowdown and insecurity have reduced consumption, export and growth throughout the world:

1. Microsoft acquired Israel's cyber security startup, Adallom, for $320mn. Adallom exposed the break into the security server of Microsoft Office365. In recent months, Microsoft also acquired Israel's cyber security company, Aorato, for $200mn, Equivio for $200mn and N-trig for a few scores of millions of dollars.  In 2009, Microsoft acquired Israel's 3DV Systems for $35mn (Globes, July 20, 2015).
2. The Framingham, MA-based Heartware acquired Israel's Valtech Cardio for $360mn, which could surge to $860mn, provided that milestones are met (Globes, September 3).
3. Medtronic, the Dublin and Minneapolis-based world's largest stand-alone medical technology development company, is launching – along with IBM and Israel's Office of the Chief Scientist – a digital medicine incubator in Israel. In April, Medtronics invested $2mn in Israel's DreaMed Diabetes (, September 15). 
4.  According to Frans van Houten, the Chairman and CEO of the global Dutch giant, Phillips: "Israel has a major record of achievement in innovation, which Phillips is a partner to through our extensive R&D investments in Israel." Van Houten inaugurated a joint incubator, in Israel, with Israel's TEVA Pharmaceutical Industries – a $25mn investment by each company.  The joint incubator, Sanara Ventures, will be the home of digital health, monitoring and imaging early-stage startups.  In addition, Phillips operates a research & development center, in Israel, which employs 850 people. Phillips is also manufacturing special elements for its imaging systems in Israel. During the last three years, Phillips experienced a 60% expansion of its Israeli operation (Globes, September 11).
5. In 2014, Israel sold $6bn cyber-wares – 10% of global sales – compared with than $5.7bn in arms sales. The number of Israeli cyber-security companies has doubled over the past five years to 300.  Eight of them were sold to foreign investors for a total of $700mn. Israel's CyberArk is traded on NASDAQ at a $2bn valuation (The London Economist, August 1).
6. Switzerland is acquiring, from Israel's Elbit Systems, six "Hermes 900" medium-size unmanned aerial vehicles for $250mn (Israel Hayom, September 8). India is purchasing 10 missile-armed Israeli drones, the Heron TP, for $400mn. It will significantly advance India's cross-border military strikes capability against Islamic terrorist bases.  Previously, India purchased Israel's Harpy unmanned aerial vehicles, which are self-destructing systems, aimed at enemy radar and missile positions (India Economic Times, September 11). Russia acquired 10 Israeli intelligence-gathering drones, the Forpost.  In 2011, Israel delivered to Russia 12 drones at a cost of $400mn (Jerusalem Post, September 8, 2015). Oshkosh Corporation won a $6.75bn contract to build 17,000 new light trucks to replace aging Humvees for the US Army and Marine Corps. Israel's Plasan, one of Oshkosh's subcontractors, is expected to get $1bn of the transaction. Plasan develops, manufactures and assembles custom-built vehicle armor systems for lightweight military vehicles, protecting most US military vehicles, including in Iraq and Afghanistan (Yedioth Achronot, August 27).
7. China's Hebang acquired Israel's Stockton, a world leader in the development and manufacturing of bio-pesticides, for $90mn (Start Up Israel, July 10).
8. The CEO of Turkey's natural gas company, Turkiye Petrolleri: Importing natural gas from Israel – which is cheaper than the natural gas in Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan – would be a win-win transaction.  Irrespective of the deterioration of Turkey-Israel diplomatic ties, their trade balance has grown (Globes, August 12).
9.  Japan's Samsung Ventures co-led an $18mn round of private placement by Israel's StoreDot (Globes, August 20).  Minneapolis-based Norwest Venture Partners and London-based 83North (formerly Greylock Partners) co-led a $14mn round by Israel's Elostrata (Globes, August 27). Israel's Intec Pharma raised $27mn on NASDAQ (Globes, August 5). Johnson & Johnson, Adams Street Partners and China's Sino Biopharmaceutical participated in a $27mn round by Israel's LifeBond (Globes, August 6). 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Days of Awe (Yamim Nora’im); HaRav Nachman Kahana on Yom Kippur



Days of Awe (Yamim Nora’im)

This is being written on the fast day of Gedalya ben Achikam, the Babylonian appointed governor over the remnant of Jews in Eretz Yisrael after the destruction of the first Temple. Gedalya was assassinated by Yishmael ben Natanya, which caused the Babylonians to murder and exile most of the remaining Jews in Eretz Yisrael.

Who, at that time, could have imagined that 2500 years later there would be Jews in the world, even Torah observant Jews, with over 6 million of us in the Holy land; and with no Babylonian to be found on the planet?

Shofar Blasts & Akaidat Yitzchak

The episode of Akaidat Yitzchak (the binding of Yitzchak) looms very high in the traditions of these holy days, to the extent that HaShem’s acceptance of our teshuva is linked to that episode. In fact many sources explain that the mitzva of sounding the shofar on Rosh HaShana is to bring forth before the Almighty the merit of Akaidat Yitzchak.

The Gemara (Shabbat 89b) records that at some unspecified future time, HaShem will relate to Avraham Avenu "banecha chatu li" - your sons have sinned against me. Avraham will reply that they should be severely punished. HaShem will not be satisfied by his reply and repeats to Ya’akov that HIS sons have sinned against Me. Ya’akov, like his grandfather Avraham, will reply that they should be severely punished for their sins.

HaShem is now displeased with Yaakov.

He then will inform Yitzchak of the low spiritual state of HIS children, to which Yitzchak will counter with the claim that the episode of the Akaida is sufficient reason for HaShem to forgive the transgressions of Am Yisrael.

What makes the episode of Akaidat Yitzchak so essential in our requests for forgiveness?

I submit:
The call to sacrifice YItzchak was made by HaShem to Avraham, not to Yitzchak. So, in fact, Yitzchak had the prerogative to refuse. And had he done so, Avraham would have been exempted from his obligation due to causes beyond his control, and Yitzchak could not have been held liable, because as stated he was not commanded. Yet Yitzchak agreed to be the sacrifice demanded by HaShem of his father Avraham, for one reason. That despite the fact that HaShem did not command Yitzchak to give up his life, Yitzchak knew that it was HaShem’s will that he be sacrificed on the altar on what was to become the Temple Mount, in Yerushalayim,

By Yitzchak advancing the episode of the Akaida to counter HaShem’s implicit warnings that He has taken notice of our dire sins, Yitzchak is saying to HaShem: "You did not command me to relinquish my life at 37 years old under my father’s knife. Yet I agreed for one reason. I knew that that was your wish. We, the Jewish people, also have a wish. It is to be loyal sons to You, our Father-in- Heaven. But we are human beings, made of flesh and blood, distracted and bombarded by the yetzer hara (our corporeal instincts) which seeks to drive us away from the holy Torah. So just as I yielded to what I knew was your desire, so too, listen to the wishes of Your people Am Yisrael and forgive them for their sins.

The shofar blasts are intended to bring forth before HaShem that we Jews seek to fulfill not only the implicit mitzvot of the Written Torah and Oral Torah, but that we run to carry out even Your implied, implicit and silent wishes.

Halachic Robots

The principle of doing HaShem’s silent wishes is upon us every moment. A Jew who lives only according to the letter of the Halacha while ignoring the spirit of Halacha, is an halachic robot who does not come even close to what a Jew should be. The taking of that "one more step" which we call "lifnim mei’shurat hadin" (beyond the requirements of the law) is what defines a Jew as being God fearing. The Torah says we must give tzdaka (charity). So one can give money to a needy person like you throw a bone to a dog: or he can also speak to the person and give him hope that things in life have a way of turning around.

The Zohar states that there are two kinds of Gehennom - one of fire and the other of ice.

I believe that the fire is for those who have committed a sin in heated passion and the Gehennom of ice awaits those who have fulfilled a mitzva with lack of passion.

Stairway to Heaven

I want to begin this new year with a call to my brothers and sisters in the galut.

I am fully aware of the pilpulistic contortions and meanderings taken by some Halachic "authorities" in the galut to prove that there is no mitzva today to live in Eretz Yisrael. And it is to those Halachic "giants" that I am now turning.

Open a Chumash to any parsha and you will not be able to escape Eretz Yisrael. Most learned Jews know that it is a Torah mitzva in every generation for every Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael when the gates to the Holy land are open.

But even if you believe that the official mitzvah will only be incumbent when the Mashiach comes; stand in front of a mirror and ask yourself: "Is it HaShem’s desire that a Jew live in His Holy Land or is the issue absolutely immaterial to the Almighty?"

HaShem indeed wants every Jew to be in the Land that He chose over all others for His holy Temple and declared to be the Stairway to Heaven.

Now since it is HaShem’s desire that His children be in Eretz Yisrael, even if you believe that it is not an official mitzva today, wasn’t it Yitzchak’s decision to give up his life because he knew that that was the wish of HaShem?

Denying the Mitzvah Empowers Our Enemies

On Shabbat I met a Jew from London who told me of an abomination and abhorrent event which occurred there several days ago. Thousands of Satmar followers holding PLO flags marched through the city streets screaming anti-Israel slogans, calling for the destruction of the State. If that was not bad enough, this gentleman said that in the area where he was standing, not one Jew protested what these pseudo Jews were doing, because these Satmar are violent fanatics.
This scene could very easily be repeated in New York or any other place where the teachings of Satmar and Naturei Karta poison the Jewish mind.

Perhaps this is what the prophet Zecharia is referring to in chapter 14,14 that Yehuda will join with the enemies of Yerushalayim.

These people believe that it is the wish of Hashem that we not be here, but rather the Land should be under control of ISIS or anyone else besides the Jewish nation.

The unfortunate conclusion is that every well-meaning Jew who stays in the galut, whether he intends it or not, contributes to these anti-Torah beliefs. Your very presence in the galut is understood as a declaration that it is not the wish of HaShem that His children return to the Holy land. And there is nothing further from the truth than this.

Urgent Plea: Save Your Children!

I must repeat what I have written so often in the past 13 years that these weekly articles have appeared - but now with a greater sense of urgency.

In the near future, the United States will revise its Selective Service Law (draft) to fill the ranks of the military and of the internal security services which are now being set into place. So instead of your young sons and daughters coming to study in Yeshivot with names like: Hakotel, Netiv Aryeh, Kerem Be’Yavne etc., and girls to the seminaries of Har Nof - or being accompanied by their parents under the chuppah, the dedicated Yiddishe mamas and tattes will be accompanying their children to the Port Authority Bus Terminal for their children’s trips to places with names like: Fort Knox, Camp Pendleton, Quantico, Lejeune and Parris Island. After basic training, they will be shipped to serve in the Middle East in Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States - anywhere except in Israel.

When the law becomes effective, children between the ages of 14 and 28 will not be permitted to leave the country, as was the case in the past. Send your children to live in Israel now, and then follow them as soon as possible.

These are not empty words.

Gemar Chatima Tova

Nachman Kahana

Copyright © 5776/2015 Nachman Kahana

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Can You See the Divine Hand?

A Torah Thought for Parashat Vayelech 

By Moshe Feiglin

You do not need to be a great rabbi to sense the invisible hand that accompanies the Eternal Nation. We may have some tough questions for this hand: How much bitterness have You fed Your Nation?
The answers are weaker than the questions, so I will not get into them. But after all the questions, one clear fact remains: The Nation of Israel touches eternity. Whether we understand that or not, whether we live in ‘peace’ with our Father in Heaven or feel ‘angry’ at Him – He does not leave us. The covenant that the Creator made with our forefathers – a covenant that some attempt to deny – will exist for eternity.
And just as He brought us back to our Land contrary to all laws of history, so the words of His prophets will continue to be fulfilled. In these very days, we see how all the armies of the Arabs countries that threatened to destroy us are disappearing. Countries that planned to drive us out of our Land are turning to dust as we look on in amazement. One Divine Hand is doing it all. He will not loosen His hold on you and will not leave you. Do not fear and do not be afraid.
Shabbat Shalom and Gmar Chatimah Tovah.

Moshe Feiglin’s Speech at the Zehut Founding Conference

Dear Friends,
I must admit that I am very moved. I have participated in quite a few events in my life and have made quite a few speeches. But when you begin to understand the depth of the crisis and upheavals facing Israel and the world; when you understand that what we are doing here this evening is laying the foundation for the only leadership that is capable of understanding reality and thus, for dealing with it; when you understand that – you understand that tonight’s event is formative; it is an historic event.
A New Leadership Movement: From Zionism of Existence to Zionism of Destiny
Make no mistake. This is not a group of a few hundred Israelis who have decided to form another political party. What is happening here tonight is nothing less than a revolution.
Tonight, we are founding a new leadership movement for the Nation of Israel. Tonight, we are founding the only leadership that has the tools to truly deal with the approaching tsunami – from within and without!
Tonight, we are creating national leadership that will bring the State of Israel from one era: Zionism of Existence, to a completely new era: Zionism of Destiny.
The Vision: Identity, Meaning, Liberty
Everything so sorely lacking in Israeli politics can be found in this movement. First and foremost, what we have completely forgotten:
We have vision!
Our vision includes:
Loyalty to our identity
A message of meaning
A battle for liberty.
True answers can only be found within this vision:
Answers based on liberty to deal with all our current challenges: Housing, education, cost of living, health and of course security and foreign relations.
Only those who have vision and know the answer to ‘why?’  can provide the true answers to ‘how’.
Without Destiny, Existence is Endangered
Seventy years ago, the crematoria of Europe were extinguished and our Nation began to rise from the ashes. The State of Israel’s first seventy years are also about to be completed.
There is no doubt that the State of Israel is a success story. It has realized the vision of the prophets and has been the conduit for the unequaled historical miracle in which all parts of the Nation of Israel have participated.
But it is specifically the physical success that has made us vulnerable to a gnawing, paralyzing weakness that threatens all the achievements of the Return to Zion.
From a physical standpoint, we have never been greater and stronger; both economically and militarily. But internally  – we have never been so weak.
Sometimes I feel that I should apologize to my children: I had so much fun growing up in this country. Israel was a country that radiated security and faith in the justice of its cause. What confusion and lowliness we are bequeathing the next generation – exactly at the most critical time!
Our parents, the generation of the War of Independence and  the Six Day War, the generation of the Yom Kippur War and Entebbe, gave us a state that stood proud. They gave us a state in which a drizzle in Sderot meant that autumn was coming – not rockets coming out of the sky.
Missiles on Tel Aviv? Who would ever have thought?
Our parents gave us a state in which there was no need for security guards at the entrance to every shopping mall and train station.
They gave us a state whose existence was not questioned by any cultured person in the world.
They gave us a state in which every soldier in uniform understood what he represented and nobody dared attack him.
They gave us a state that would immediately obliterate any entity developing nuclear weapons to destroy us – with no warning, no speeches and no lobbying the Congress.
Our parents gave us a state in which every young couple could afford housing; a state that no matter what school you attended, you emerged an Israeli patriot.
They gave us a state in which little girls could play hopscotch on the corner unguarded.
A state without  ‘protection’.
A state in which every Jew could walk freely – everywhere.
And what are we giving our children?
A threatened, helpless community that begs the world and the US air force for help?
A state that has lost its faith in the justice of its cause, a state that – more and more –  the world considers a mistake?
A state in which young couples can only dream of owning their own home.
A state in which the schooling falls far short of our potential.
A state in which parents are forced to guard their children while they play outdoors.
A state in which personal liberties are being eroded.
The world is not exactly waiting patiently while we return to ourselves. The entire old order is crumbling before our eyes.
ISIS is replacing the Arab states.
Nuclear ayatollahs set the world agenda.
Europe is quickly becoming Moslem.
America stands by those who attempt to destroy us.
Where is the leadership of old? Leadership that would know how to present a vision and strategy in the face of the existential challenges falling upon us?
This is the new leadership that we are building today, here in Tel Aviv.
No more state that flees its message
No more state that flees its meaning and history.
Today, we are heralding the connection of all of these to the liberty of man.
Dear friends,
The era of religious and non-religious is over!
The era of Right and Left is finished!
All the ridiculous molds that divided us time and again are a thing of the past.
The Israeli young people yearn for the meaning taken from them.
They crave to dig deeply into their identity and liberty.
Israel’s young people desire leadership that will give them all these things. Leadership that will truly solve:
The housing shortage, the collapsing educational system, the high cost of living –  leadership that will restore security to our streets.
We have all those gifts – and more – to give:
Housing: We know that liberty means that the land belongs to the citizens – not to the state. Land must be allotted by lottery to all army veterans in Israel.
The bureaucratic red tape must be cut and people must be allowed to build as they please on their land. And most important of all, we know that this is our Land and we should build throughout our country.
Education: We know how to truly solve the problem with education in Israel. Because we know that liberty means that we are responsible for the education of our children- not the State. The State will give vouchers to the parents of every child and the parents will decide where to redeem them.
Just imagine countless ‘boutique’ schools competing for your vouchers – just like the maternity wards compete for the social security funds that they receive for every new mother who gives birth in their hospital.
Every teacher will be a private tutor. And every student will be a king!
Cost of living: We know how to truly deal with the high cost of living and how to propel the economy forward. Simply, we must:
  • Open the Israeli market to competitive imports
  • Close the Standards Institute
  • Cut down the government mechanism to at least half
  • Nullify the tax on companies
  • Return the state payment for army veterans to social security
  • Stop funding our enemies.
War can never be over when the Israel Defense Force vocabulary does not include the word ‘victory’.
It is impossible to win when it is not clear who the enemy is (The rocket? The tunnel?  Terror?)
If you cannot figure out who you are, (A Jew? An Israeli? A citizen of an amorphous state?) you will clearly not discover who your enemy is. Maybe we were sent here by the UN?
Now we can understand that a person or country that has no identity will never enjoy peace.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen: Only Zehut will bring peace!
We have the answer to the ‘why’? And thus, we can provide all the answers to the ‘how’?!
Dear friends, now it is in our hands!
The energies, the people, the clear plan and the will and preparedness to lead are all in this hall. They are in no other place and so, the responsibility is on our shoulders. We have all the tools with which to bring about a true revolution.
We have a year – not more – to reach every corner of this country.
Now friends, it is in our hands. And we have good reason to be excited at the eve of the New Year. To be excited and to thank the Creator, Who has brought us to this momentous and historic time, in which we have merited  to establish leadership with vision for our Nation.
Shanah Tovah

Judgement Day, Justice, and the Dayanim in Yisrael

By Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

"What is the prayer of the Holy One, Blessed be He? ... Let it be My will to behave towards My children with mercy, and that I will treat them in a way that goes beyond the strict letter of the law. We have been taught: Rabbi Yishmael Ben Elisha said, One time I entered the innermost place to offer the incense, and I saw ... the G-d of Hosts sitting on a high and exalted throne. He said to me, My son Yishmael, bless Me! I said to Him, Let it be Your will to have Your mercy overpower Your anger. Behave towards Your sons with the trait of mercy, and treat them beyond the strict letter of the law. And He nodded His head to me." [Berachot 7a].

Behave with the Trait of Mercy

The above remarkable legend of Yom Kippur, which was transformed into a hit song by the rabbi-singer Avraham Fried, is a very powerful expression of significance of the Day of Judgement and of the prayer of the Ultimate Judge "who sits on a high and exalted throne." What is the prayer? "Let it be My will" that the trait of mercy will take precedence over the strict law! And indeed the Almighty responded and shook His head in response to the request of His subjects, "Show mercy!"

This article will be published between Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Mercy. At this time of tension between the two extremes, our yearning is clear: "Let the trait of mercy prevail... To the One who extends mercy in judgement... Silence the prosecutor and take the defender in his place..." [from Asheknazic liturgical poetry]. The word "judge" is defined by our sages as one who is involved in defense of an accused person. "'And they shall judge the nation in a righteous way' [Devarim 16:18] – they should tend towards the side of acquittal. From whom can we learn this? It is from Gidon Ben Yoash... As is written, 'Go with this power of yours' [Shoftim 6:14] – with the power of the fact that you found the merits of My sons." [Midrash Tanchuma, Shoftim, 4]. (See also Shmuel Rabba 3:3 about Otniel, and see an expansion of this theme in my book, "Shoftim as Viewed by the Sages.") A basic condition for appointing a judge is his ability to consider the side of innocence and to search for a way of light and freedom: " Only people who can show from the Torah that a vermin is considered pure should be appointed to the Sanhedrin" [Sanhedrin 17a]. This does not mean that the judges should sit night and day to convolute the law, but rather that they should be able to "purify the vermin" (and not to declare the pure to be impure) in a time of great need!

The Judge's "New Clothes"

As I write this article, there is a three-way war going on in Israel between Chareidim, the Shas Party, and religious Zionism in a competition to fill empty seats of dayanim – Jewish court judges. By the time you read these words perhaps you will already know the results of the negotiations and which deals were made. But I, from my minor position, stand in the village square and shout out: The cloak of the dayan shows his nakedness! What's the big deal? What is so desirable about these positions? What is there about this question that is at all related to specific sectors in our land? Let me make my position clear, after I first ask my colleagues, the dayanim in Israel, not to take offense at what I will say.

I know that there are only about a hundred recognized dayanim in Israel, and therefore the nominal value of the position is high, the salary is commensurate with such a position, and it is also a source of status and honor. In our past traditions, the title "Dayan" implied a high cultural level, but the importance was mainly linked to the fact that the judge was often also the local rabbi or the head of the community . The judges were highly respected, as is true of all other cultures, as people who helped solve all personal and public disputes. The Dayanim (and the judges) in Israel have had this responsibility taken away from them. Just about the only remaining issues for the Dayanim are matters of divorce, which usually involve harsh personal disputes. Recently, due to a ruling by the State Attorney, the Dayanim have even been stripped of the power to be involved in monetary cases, conversion, or arbitration! They are not allowed to voice any opinions on current events, and they must be forever removed from any positions of leadership or influence. They remain sterile!

The competition between the different parties in this matter is strictly a matter of prestige and a desire to make appointments as a way of spreading favors, and it has nothing at all to do with seeking influential positions. And again I ask for my colleagues the judges to forgive me for saying that a school principal contributes more to spreading Torah and glorifying it than a Dayan does!Anybody who really wants to have an influence and to have an effect as a "religious person" will have greater success in such roles as a rabbi, teacher, chazzan, mohel, and even (perhaps especially) as a member of a burial society (which is a challenge for religious Zionism!), much more than as a Dayan! Such people are challenged as part of their jobs to show warmth, to be "one of the common folk," and to work at outreach at a much higher level than any religious court judge...

The Criterion for "Lenience" is not Kippa-Dependent

To return to the "sectorial war" about appointing judges "from our side," I reject the automatic classification that gives preference to one who wears a knitted kippa over those who are Chassidim or from the Eastern community (although I do agree that there is a difference as compared to the Lita'i sector). If I were responsible for appointing Dayanim, my first criteria would be "the ability to act for the defense" and "purifying the vermin," and only after these would come "the temperament in judging," erudition, and writing skill. In the rabbinical courts in Israel, which are involved exclusively in cases of divorce (and without including financial matters related to divorce) – such a criterion means that the judge will of necessity accept lenient rulings in the laws of divorce. And, if in monetary matters, where "victory for one side is a loss for the other side," the judges are told to rule "beyond the strict rules of halacha," it stands to reason that the same is true for attempts to free a woman from being "chained" in an impossible situation, where there is no side that is harmed but only a fear of making an error in halacha.

Any Dayan who wants to be treated by the heavenly courts with mercy and beyond the strict halacha must nod his head to accept the lenient rulings that appear in the halachic literature. And then the Holy One, Blessed be He, will nod His head towards him with respect to the characteristics of law...

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Sobbing Mother of Sisera

By Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Is there a more peculiar intruder into our Rosh Hashana service than the mother of Sisera, the Canaanite general who fought against Devorah and Barak, and who is the reference point for so many of our shofar practices? The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 33b) was in doubt as to the precise nature of the teruah sound, because the Torah does not define it. But the Targum interprets that as a yevava, and the Gemara elaborates that it is written in the reference to the mother of Sisera that she “wailed,” Vateyabeiv. One opinion held that she groaned (like the shevarim) and the other held she wailed (like our teruah). So we do both. And all because Sisera’s mother wailed we know how to blow the shofar?
There is more. Tosafot there quote the Aruch, Rav Yechiel of Rome, a contemporary of Rashi, that we blow 100 sounds of the shofar to correspond to the 100 cries of Sisera’s mother. Again, Sisera’s mother. Who exactly are we talking about?
Sisera was the general of Canaan, who tormented the Jews and conquered others, who dedicated his life to killing and marauding, who, when he attacked Israel in this instance with overwhelming force – nine hundred iron chariots - was met by a smaller army led by Devorah and Barak, and was routed. He fled the battlefield into the arms of  Yael, who in short order fed him, bed him – and then killed him.
And Devorah sang about his mother (Shoftim 5:28-30) – even a killer has a mother: “The mother of Sisera sat by the window, gazing through the lattices, sobbing, ‘why does his chariot tarry in coming? Why are the wheels of his chariot late?’” And the princesses tried to comfort her:  “They must be dividing the spoils, seizing the maidens for themselves.” But Sisera’s mother knew better, and so “she wailed.”
It’s a poignant story until we stop and realizing that she is crying over his lack of success – this time – in murdering Jews and in conquering the land of Israel. Her son was exceedingly wicked, and we should curse the day on which she gave birth to him. So why is she the source of our shofar practices? What is it that happened to her that we want to recall?
Over the last few months, a number of people have asked me: is the world falling apart? Is this the worst it’s ever been – wars, plagues, terror, insecurity, uncertainty? The answer is – not by a long shot. But there is one thing to ponder, especially as on Rosh Hashana, when all nations are judged: “who will be afflicted by the sword, who will live in peace, who will suffer from famine, and who will have plenty.”
The Midrash (Midrash Tannaim Devarim 32) states: “Contemplate the years of every generation. There is no generation in which there are not some people like the generation of the flood, some like the generation of the dispersion, some like the people of Sodom, some like Korach and his cohorts.” Every generation contains these people. They are not unique.
If you think that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it – you are wrong. Those who remember the past are also doomed to repeat it! “Contemplate the years of every generation.” Look around: every generation has vestiges of the generation of the flood, morally depraved and outspoken about it, not at all reticent and sometimes even boastful; every generation contains remnants of the generation of the dispersion, who deny G-d and set themselves over mankind as rulers and dictators; every generation has echoes of Sodom, its greed, selfishness and violence; every generation has its Korach, who denies the Mesorah and think they know better than G-d what the Torah should say. They challenge the Torah leadership with their populism and sophistry.
If so, what is new? To what is there to look forward? Is the whole script laid out for us? No. The Midrash continues: “each person is judged according to his deeds.” No one is compelled to be a Korach, or like Sodom, or like the generations of the dispersion or flood. It’s not all bleak – both Adam and Moshe were shown “the book of the genealogies of man” – “every generation has its seekers, its wise people, its scholars, and its leaders (Breisheet Raba 24:2). Every person has the ability to write his own page in that book, the Sefer Toldot Adam, the book that was originally published on Rosh Hashana, “this day was the beginning of Your work.”
Too often we think that we are set, we are who we are, and it is what it is. And nothing can change. Just another day, another month, another year, another Rosh Hashana. Sometimes it’s because we have given up, and other times because we are secure in who we are, certain about our course in life and our future. Everything is laid out for us, all going according to plan. We become very comfortable with our course in life, sometimes even with our sins – not even knowing or admitting they are sins.
We sit by the window, looking out at the world, and everything is familiar and recurring – until it is not. Rav Soloveitchik explained that Sisera’s mother had a routine. She knew he would win, even knew when to expect him back from the battlefield. She knew that he would return triumphant, with the spoils of war, with the laurels of his admirers, with the dread of the vanquished. She was certain – that was her life.
“The mother of Sisera sat by the window, gazing through the lattices...” As she sat there, she started to sob, then to wail, then to mourn. Her certainty – about herself, about her son, about his and her destiny – was an illusion. It wasn’t real. As she uttered the words - “Why does his chariot tarry in coming? Why is he late today?” - she already knew the bitter truth: her world had suddenly changed. There is nothing in life set in stone. Not my life, not my choices, not my fate.
If our generation contains Nimrod, Pharaoh, and Korach in some form, if it has its share of hedonists, sadists and terrorists of all kinds, that is an unfortunate reality. But realize that our generation also has its true seekers of G-d, Torah scholars, righteous people and purveyors of kindness. So be in the latter group – nothing is fixed – even in the most troubled era, “each person is judged according to his deeds.”
The shofar draws its inspiration not from the anguish of Sisera’s mother, and not because we feel sorry for her, but because we want the shofar to awaken us, to shake us, like it did Sisera’s mother, to grab hold of us and say “life is precious, life is short, there is much to do.” Take nothing for granted, not the least of which one’s religious level in life and one’s aspirations. Everyone can grow and everyone can improve.
The wails of Sisera’s mother are the quality of the sounds of the shofar that penetrate our souls, and her one hundred sobs are the quantity that we require to soften our hearts. We can’t change the world, only our small place in it, beginning with ourselves. Thus we pray that the sounds of the shofar will break through and signal our acceptance of G-d’s sovereignty so we may merit G-d’s mercies on us and our families, on our people, our land and our holy city of Yerushalayim, for a year of life of good health, prosperity and peace.