Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Four Stages of Liberation

By HaRav Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

In our parasha, the promise of Israel’s liberation from Egypt is presented in a manner that Chazal call four languages of liberation: "I will take you out from the burden of Egypt, and I will save you from their service, and I will liberate you with an outstretched arm and with great blows, and I will take you for Me as a nation and will be for you a G-d" (Shemot 6:6-7). In this way, the Torah wants us to appreciate the special nature of Israel’s freedom. It must be a liberation of the spirit no less than of the body. It must not be only a freedom from any connection to Egypt but the opening of a new page in human history by introducing an independent Jewish way of thinking.

The first stage was extricating the people from the burden the Egyptians placed upon them. We would have thought that this was sufficient, as this is what caused them to call out in anguish to Hashem. However, although when the ten plagues had just begun, that element of the bondage had already ceased (Rosh Hashana 11a), there was still a need for further stages.

The Egyptians had stamped their imprint on Israel. They not only were afraid of their Egyptian masters but they had begun to respect and to imitate them, including in regard to idol worship. Their inability to "listen to Moshe" (Shemot 6:9) was a result of the "shortness of spirit" (ibid.) related to a lack of complete faith, which that generation was missing (see Midrash Aggada 6:9) and from "difficult work" (ibid.), which was a difficulty to stop idol worship (see Shemot Rabba 6:6). The plagues, the first of which affected the Nile, the main god of Egypt and its major source of success, proved that the perceived invincibility of Pharaoh and his Nile were only an illusion. This was the fulfillment of "save you from their service" – their service of false gods.

However, the liberation was not supposed to be only in being extricated from negative elements but was to be positive as well. Hashem showed them that there is a true source of power in the world. The world is not run as a blind game of chance but runs based on divine control. This was "I will liberate you with an outstretched arm and with great blows."

The final idea was that Hashem and Bnei Yisrael would begin a relationship of a G-d and His nation. Bnei Yisrael were singled out, and by accepting the Torah and mitzvot and doing charity and justice, they were to earn this distinction.

The confluence of these four languages of liberation created a very special nation. Throughout our history, the nation and its Torah go hand-in-hand. No tribe was without this connection, even if at times it was not as strong as it should have been. There were problems in the times of the Judges and later on at the time of the Karites. However these were always the exceptions, which did not stop the nation as an "organism" to continue.

In recent history as well, there have been shake-ups to the nation and attempts to take it off its historical path. However, as the beginning of the eventual redemption starts to shine forth, we will continue to experience not only the first two redemptions of escaping the tragedies but also the last two of developing our relationship with Hashem.

A Tzadik in Sodom

By Rabbi Dov Berl Wein

Dedicated to the memory of Rachel Bat Yakut

Most commentators dwell upon the compassion for even sinners demonstrated by our father Avraham in this week’s parsha. Though this message is undoubtedly the important one as relating to the tragedy of Sodom there is an important peripheral lesson, perhaps also of equal importance, involved there as well. And that lesson is that a few good people make all the difference in human society and in the fate of mankind. Sodom is not destroyed because of the thousands or even millions of evildoers in its midst. It was destroyed simply because it lacked ten good people in its society. And this is God’s message to Avraham as well. Avraham is a lonely person - he is on one side and everyone else in the world is seemingly on the other side. Lonely people oftentimes are beset by doubts as to their course in life. "Fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong!" But history has shown us time and again that the lonely individual is proven correct and the behavior and opinions of the many are proven to be wrong and even dangerous. Avraham becomes the paradigm for the lonely righteous in a world that envies, imitates and glorifies Sodom. He is the father of the Jewish people especially in this regard. The Jews are a small and lonely group in our world. Their values and way of life are in opposition to those of the many. Yet even our enemies admit - and in fact object to the prevalence of our contributions, influence and vitality as regards human civilization and history.

The destruction of Sodom leaves a deep imprint on Avraham. It helps shape his attitude towards his son Yitzchak. He eschews the choice of the many - of Yishmael and the children of Keturah - in favor of the lonely good and pious son Yitzchak. That is perhaps the message of God to Avraham when He told him: "For through Yitzchak [alone] will you have true descendants." One Yitzchak eventually is able to counter - in God’s inscrutable reckoning of merits and salvation millions of evildoers - no matter how well pedigreed those evildoers claim to be. Sodom eventually is destroyed by its own innate lack of goodness and of a dearth of pious citizens. But Avraham and Yitzchak, small in numbers and opposed by most of the world, will continue to flourish and proclaim the values of goodness and righteousness in the general world. The prophet Yeshayahu characterizes Avraham as "echad" - one, unique, alone, singular. That description is to be interpreted positively and not as a complaint or source of weakness or pessimism. In a world of the many it is the few that really matter. The lord told us long ago in the book of Dvarim that we would be the fewest of all people. Yet in our influence and strength of spirit we are as numerous as are the stars in heaven. This inner realization of ourselves and our role in God’s plan for human existence and growth marks us as the true children of Avraham and gives us hope even in a world where Sodom appears all powerful.

Parshat Vayera: The Path of Avraham Avinu

By HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Yeshivat Beit-El

Our forefather Abraham was a truly kind man. In this week's Torah portion, we get a glimpse of both his hospitality and his desire to judge even the wicked people of Sodom favorably - by giving them "the benefit of the doubt." In reference to the verse, "You loved righteousness and hated evil," (Tehilim 45:8) our sages explain: "You love to discover your children's positive qualities, and you hate to find them guilty."

Perhaps the plain meaning of this verse is that God desires righteous behavior and despises evil - and therefore comes down hard on evildoers. Yet the rabbis of the Talmud chosen to explain it otherwise: "You love to find the positive qualities of your children - to give the people of Sodom the benefit of the doubt - and hate to find them guilty." Why? Because they are your children, the children of the Creator of the World. In his classic work, the "Path of the Just," Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto says that the quality of "Chassidut," entails judging the Jewish people favorably. The Children of Israel are God's children, and nobody - including Hashem - wishes to hear criticism of His child.

Although our father Avraham wished to give the people of Sodom the benefit of the doubt, the moral situation in Sodom had so deteriorated that God could simply not comply by sparing the town - and so Sodom was ultimately destroyed. Soon after the destruction of the city, our sages tell us, Avraham noticed that the region was empty, that there were virtually no passersby. Avraham knew that his function in the world was to reach out to people and draw them closer to their God. For this reason, he travels to Avimelech, to Grar, to a town whose inhabitants were not exactly known for their moral genius. Far from being discouraged by the situation there, Avraham viewed it as a challenge.

Avraham's behavior teaches us us that we need not fear going even to undesirable places, where the spiritual situation is not ideal - as long as we have the goal of rectifying that which needs to be fixed. There is no need to be fussy, to insist on living only in a very religious, warm neighborhood. In fact, our sages advise us to contemplate whether our deeds "reach the level of our forefathers' deeds." In practical terms, this means that one must be ready to go on educational missions to even out-of-the-way places. One whose actions are idealistically and purely motivated, need not fear the impact of a negative environment on himself or his family.

My mother, may she rest in peace, and her sister, grew up in Balforia, a secular town. My late grandfather moved there to take on a position as a Rabbi and shochet (ritual slaughterer). There wasn't a tremendous demand there for a rabbi or a shochet, and previously, the residents had gotten along fairly well without either. Even after my grandfather arrived, locals told him that they didn't need a shochet, and that it was certainly possible to survive without one. Soon after his family settled in, though, local residents stopped eating unkosher food, and began instead placing orders for kosher meat. The reason: my grandfather was an impressive person whose dedication and sincerity commanded respect.

And what of his young children, my mother and aunt? They grew up there along with the secular youth. A veteran resident here in Beit El, Yeshai Michael, recounts what it was like. He tells of how, on Shabbat, a group of teenagers used to travel in a wagon, while the two young girls would walk alongside them in order to avoid desecrating the Sabbath. In one sense, the girls were of the same social group, because there was really no other choice; from another perspective, they were, unlike their friends, observant of Torah and mitzvot. My grandfather was unafraid! Why should he have been?

Over time, he was able to raise his daughters there past their teenage years - and, in fact, until they each got married. Thank God, the sisters built homes completely dedicated to Torah and mitzvot. My aunt married a renowned Torah scholar, who served as the Rabbi of the city of Netanya until his death. My mother too, married a young man from out of town - and together, they built a strong Jewish home.

We need not live in a sheltered, protected reality; it is possible to face the challenges posed by modern society. We have to be courageous and strong; we need not hesitate to swim against the tide. Avraham our forefather, did just that. Obviously, one should not take on such a mission before one is ready. It takes time to build yourself up, to become established, with the goal of eventually having a positive influence on others.

Some of our students sign up for military service after their fourth year in yeshiva, and I am not always so pleased with the results. I expect that they would eventually return to the yeshiva with some young men from the army. The Chassidim are famous for saying that someone who has not successfully transformed two "Mitnagdim" (religious Jews opposed to the perspective of Chassidut) to "Chassidim," is not a true Chassid! A Chassid must be "on fire" to such an extent that he literally "ignites" everyone around him! His not doing so indicates that he lacks something.

This active approach was typical of Avraham Avinu, who, his entire life, was able to increasingly influence those around him; he was a master at encouraging people to recognize the Creator of the Universe. Avraham, for instance, became famous for encouraging his dinner guests to say Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals); Avraham loved people and thus brought them closer to Torah. When he saw that his town was almost desolate, he went to the corrupt city of Grar, in order to influence its inhabitants. Avimelech was so impressed by Avraham's character, that he sought to strike a convenant with him. Perhaps Avimelech did not accept everything Avraham had to offer, but Avimelech no doubt sensed that his counterpart was dedicated to a belief system and way of life that proved itself as being both moral and productive.

The culmination of this week's Torah portion is the Binding of Yitzchak. Avraham reaches even greater heights with his willingness to sacrifice his beloved son. Thus, just when Avraham seems to have reached a new pinnacle, he takes yet another step up, simultaneously elevating the entire world to a new spiritual height. Avraham also elevated the Jewish people throughout the generations, drawing them closer to God; Avraham also laid the groundwork for the ideal of self-sacrifice that has characterized our people over the generations.

Last fall, I participated in a gathering of the Pikuach Nefesh organization; the group met in Tel Aviv to discuss the need to maintain the territorial integrity of the Land of Israel, and to publicly oppose territorial concessions to the Arabs. Organizing the event were members of Chabad; the late Lubavitcher Rebbe stressed that any territorial concession in Eretz Yisrael is an invitation to danger, and poses a real threat to life. Pikuach Nefesh founders base themselves on the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch's laws of Sabbath; there, the halachah states that the Sabbath can be desecrated in order to help residents of a border town attacked by non-Jews, even when these invaders officially only wish to engage in minor theft. The Sabbath leniency is based on the danger to life that would arise should local residents choose to stand up to the invaders. When the organizers asked me to speak, I noted that it is also forbidden to cede land based on the verse in Devarim (7:2). There, the Torah states that we are forbidden from permanently allowing non-Jews to settle in the land.

Many rabbis have written on the prohibition of selling - during the Shmitta year - lands of Eretz Yisrael, even temporarily, to non-Jews - and even the two top meters of earth. Their reason: It is forbidden to give non-Jews a foothold in the Land of Israel. Opposition to what has become known as the "Heter Mechira" is quite strong in some circles, despite the fact that the sale only involves a layer of the land, and is only temporary in nature. If so, the government's plan to give away entire regions of the Land to the Arabs in a permanent arrangement, is an even greater violation of the Torah! I noted that danger to life was indeed another reason to oppose territorial concessions, but that since many have spoken on that issue, I need not elaborate...

The positions of the religious Zionist public are not always completely grasped in religious circles, and are even more misunderstood in secular circles - especially by the Israeli political left. Nevertheless, we must continue to speak and act in accordance with our beliefs. This is not only our right, but our obligation!

The path we have chosen is that of Avraham Avinu. He was an individual who "swam against the tide"; he was a man, who, in the course of time, was able to attract a following...He and Sarah persevered on a path that resisted popular trends, with an eye to positively influencing others.

Growing confidence in Israel's high tech sector

By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

1. Israeli start-ups raised a record $3.8BN in the first three quarters of 2017, $1.44BN of which was raised during the third quarter – 54% higher than the third quarter of 2016. The third quarter of 2017 was boosted by the $250MN raised by Israel's Via Transportation (carpooling applications), mostly from Germany's Daimler (Globes Business Daily, October 24, 2017). Daimler also led a $60MN round of private placement by Israel's StoreDot, a developer of a sophisticated, swift technology (Flash Battery) to charge car batteries (Globes, Sept. 15). Israel's BlueVine – online business lending operations – raised $130MN from the Silicon Valley Bank, Sun Trust Bank, Menlo Ventures, etc. (Globes, Oct. 24).

2. Israel's Beit Shemesh Engine Holdings – one of the few companies in the world able to produce rotating critical parts for jet engines - has expanded an agreement to supply parts to Prat & Whitney to a total of $640MN (Reuters, September 14).

3. The US Army approved the installation of Israel's Trophy Active-Protection System (APS) - developed jointly by Israel Aircraft Industries and RAFAEL - on a number of its MIA2 Abrams tanks, designed to detect and neutralize incoming projectiles in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Trophy ($350K per tank) is the world's only fully operational and combat-tested APS, possessing four radar antennae and fire-control radars. It tracks incoming threats such as anti-tank guided missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. Once detecting a projectile, Trophy fires a shotgun-type blast to neutralize the threat

4. Israel's Elbit concluded a $240MN transaction with an African nation, consisting of: the upgrading of helicopters and the acquisition of laser-driven missile defense systems for the helicopters, mini-UAVs, telecommunication systems and anti-shoulder-propelled missiles systems

5. China's Alibaba Group Holding, a top e-commerce firm, is launching a $15BN drive to build eight research hubs – in China, Israel, the US, Russia and Singapore - in order to leverage e-commerce, logistics and cloud technologies, which are developed globally (Reuters, October 11, 2017). China's ShengJing Group, the largest private equity fund in the world, has established an accelerator for Israeli companies, seeking interaction with the Chinese market. ShengJing invested $100MN in a series of Israeli startups (Globes, Oct. 2).

6. Intel is establishing a new Artificial Intelligence center in Israel, hiring dozens of Israeli specialists (Globes, Oct. 16). The mega-billion dollar Intel and Nvidia, two US global leaders in the development of artificial intelligence and autonomous cars, extend their investments in Israel, attempting to leverage Israel's brainpower. Nvidia is establishing, in Israel, a research & development center, which will employ hundreds of people. General Motors is preoccupied, in its Israel research & development center, with the development of human-robot-interaction (Globes, Oct. 3). Intel Capital invested in two Israeli cyber security startups (Globes, Oct. 24). Intel invested in over 60 Israeli startups, in addition to its four research & development centers and two manufacturing installations, which export $4BN annually.

7. The $52BN British private equity fund, CVC, acquired the women's health division of Israel's Teva Pharmaceuticals (outside the US) for $703MN, negotiating the acquisition of 80% of Israel's largest chain of 180 drugstores (Globes, September 25).

8. Germany's $130BN SAP acquired Israel's Gigya for $350MN (Globes, Sept. 25).

9. Medtronic, the medical equipment giant manufacturer, is opening two new development centers in Israel (Jerusalem and Yokne'am), employing 100 people, joining its 750 Israeli personnel out of 85,000 employed globally (Sept. 12).

Friday, October 27, 2017

Rav Kook on Lech Lecha: The Inner Will of the Universe

Abraham, the Sages noted, was the first person in history to address God as “My Master” (Gen. 15:8).

What makes this event so noteworthy?

Completing the Master’s Work

We must first understand the essence of the servant-master relationship. The servant fulfills the wishes of his master by completing the master’s work. The servant is an extension of his master, his shaliach or agent. When the servant acts, it is as if the master has acted.

Before Abraham, people acknowledged the existence of a Prime Mover, an infinite Being Who created the universe. But they could not fathom how a truly perfect Being would be concerned with an imperfect and lowly world such as ours. Why would God, transcendent beyond all things, be involved in the smallest details of the workings of the universe?

They failed to recognize that an integral aspect of creation - its inner core - is that the universe aspires to perfect itself. This underlying aspiration for perfection and the world’s gradual moral progression is by plan and purpose; thus Divine providence governs all moral paths in the world, even the smallest and least significant.

The central conduit for the universe’s pursuit of perfection is mankind’s efforts to elevate its deeds, traits, and thoughts. We have free will to choose good or evil. And that which leads us to choose good over evil is God’s will stamped in creation, resulting in the universe’s inner aspiration to perfection.

By declaring God as his Master, Abraham publicly proclaimed that God governs the world and desires its moral perfection. God wills that we should be His agents in bringing about the world’s gradual advancement.

As we work toward our own personal spiritual growth, we promote the work of our Master - the spiritual elevation of the entire universe.

(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 33 on Berachot 7b (I:77))

Argentina Offered to Supply Iran With Nuclear Technology as Part of Cover-Up Pact on 1994 AMIA Bombing, Former Intelligence Agent Testifies

By Ben Cohen

Argentina offered to supply Iran with nuclear expertise and technology as part of a secret pact exonerating the Tehran regime of responsibility for the July 1994 terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish center, a former Argentine intelligence operative told a court in Buenos Aires on Wednesday.

Eighty-five people were killed and hundreds more wounded in the bombing in the Argentine capital, which was coordinated by Iran and its Lebanese Shia proxy Hezbollah.

The former agent, Ramon Bogado, told an inquiry into the collusion between Iran and the government of former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner that the offer of nuclear assistance had been communicated to the Iranians by officials in Venezuela.

Presenting 18 documents to the court which he said detailed the nuclear offer, Bogado — a former agent with the SIDE national intelligence agency — added that it addressed how Iran could circumvent international sanctions to receive nuclear technology. Argentina, which began its own domestic nuclear program in the 1960s, is considered a global leader in nuclear technology.

Bogado told the court that the plans drawn up by officials in the Kirchner government included a provision to create shell companies in Argentina and Uruguay to conduct the transactions with Iran. He stressed that officials at the highest level had known about the scheme, among them Francisco “Paco” Larcher, who served as Kirchner’s deputy secretary of intelligence.

Bogado’s testimony came at the beginning of a series of appearances before Argentine federal judge Claudio Bonadio, who will hear from fifteen of the individuals named in a complaint against the Kirchner government that was to have been submitted in January 2015 by late Argentine federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman. The 51-year-old Nisman was found murdered in his apartment the night before he was due to unveil the complaint before the Argentine Congress.

Nisman’s decade-long investigation into the AMIA bombing resulted in the issuance of “red notices” in 2007 by Interpol, the international law enforcement agency, for five Iranians and one Hezbollah operative in connection with the atrocity. However — as Bogado’s Wednesday testimony appeared to confirm — Nisman’s investigation was increasingly regarded as an irritant by Kirchner’s key aides after she took over the presidency from her late husband, Nestor, in December 2007. Cristina Kirchner’s overall turn toward Iran, reportedly under the influence of the late Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez, was the key political condition for the pact, Bogado told the court.

Eamonn MacDonagh — an expert on Argentine politics who has written widely on the AMIA case — told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that Bogado’s revelations suggested the motives behind the deal with Iran were even more sinister than Nisman himself had believed.

“Nisman’s original accusation stated that the quid pro quo for sweeping AMIA under the carpet would be an oil-for-grain deal,” MacDonagh said. “There was probably something like that involved, but maybe only as an opportunity for those involved to make some money.”

He continued: “The strategic motivation seems to have been some sort of a global ploy on the part of Chavez to use his influence with Cristina to get Argentine nuclear technology to Iran, and thereby strike a blow against the US.”

The appearances before Bonadio will culminate on October 26, when Cristina Kirchner herself is scheduled to give testimony — just four days after her likely win in midterm elections for the Argentine Senate would grant her immunity from arrest.

Some of the individuals summoned by Bonadio have already expressed the fear that they will be detained immediately after appearing before him. Luis D’Elia — a political activist and confidante of Kirchner’s who is due to appear on Thursday – told a Buenos Aires radio program that he expected “to be imprisoned without any judicial argument, and unfortunately I think what’s coming will be very hard.” Meanwhile, D’Elia’s colleague, alleged Iran lobbyist Yussuf “Jorge” Khalil, refused to testify after arriving at Bonadio’s courtroom on Wednesday. Khalil issued a statement denying that he had ever having been a representative of Iran, adding his view that many of the wiretaps of Kirchner officials in conversation obtained by Nisman as part of his investigation were “manipulated and biased.”

The first individual to testify before Bonadio — former Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who appeared on Tuesday — also refused to answer the court’s questions. A 160-page dossier prepared by Timerman’s lawyers flatly denied that, as foreign minister in 2012, he had negotiated the pact with then-Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Salehi at a secret meeting in the Syrian city of Aleppo personally hosted by the Iranian-backed dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Timerman also claimed during a two-hour monologue that the initiative for the pact with the Iranians had come from Interpol, and that Nisman had been aware of this.

MacDonagh said that the immediate likely outcome of the testimony and documents supplied by Bogado would be “more subpoenas of persons and documents connected to the Kirchner government and the pact.” He added that the current political climate in Argentina remained unfavorable to Kirchner and her supporters, with the centrist government of President Mauricio Macri expected to win comfortably in the October 22 midterms.

The Yishai Fleisher Show: Go Home Jew

A Million Haredi Soldiers Won’t Help Israel’s Security if the IDF is Afraid to Fight

By David Sidman
The ‘not fair’ argument isn’t a good enough reason to unnecessarily sacrifice the lives of more Israelis. Here’s a hypothetical question for you- If a community of secular Jews in 1938 Germany was being sent to the gas chambers while a community of Haredi Jews was spared from the same fate, would the former complain that it’s not fair that only they have to die? Or would they realize that the fewer Jewish deaths, the better.

Now I realize that the example I gave is extreme and I would never in a million years compare the IDF to Nazis, but a similar parallel can be found between the draft dodging Haredi protesters and the sentiment of those who oppose them. That’s because the sad truth is that more Haredi soldiers in the IDF is a lose-lose for both the Haredim as well as Israel as a whole. That’s because all it will do is cause more unnecessary soldier deaths at the hands of a scared, broken military that is led by people who are afraid to fight with conviction and are petrified of winning wars.

At this point, you may say to yourself that if everyone refused to serve, there would be no army and no defense for Israel. Although true, there’s a big difference between a protest by currently enlisted military personnel and rewarding a corrupt military with more sheep to the slaughter house.

Why do I use such a harsh analogy? Because for many opposed to the protests, it’s largely irrelevant that we have an army who gives their enemies a 15 minute warning before eliminating them (giving them ample time to escape imminent death). They don’t care if Tzahal unnecessarily risks the lives of its troops by abiding by cease fires while under fire behind enemy lines. And so what if infantry men are prosecuted in a show trial for killing terrorists who just moments earlier almost stabbed their fellow soldiers to death. What difference does it make that the upper echelon of the IDF uses our troops as pawns unnecessarily risking their lives to avoid condemnation from a bunch of anti-Semites in the UN (how’s that working out by the way?). All that matters to the pro-draft crowd is fairness for the sake of fairness.

What’s important to the pro-draft crowd is that the Haredim should allow their sons to unnecessarily die in wars with their hands tied behind their back just like their sons do. Otherwise, it’s just not ‘fair’. The problem that most people fail to realize is that a million new Haredim in uniform won’t improve Israel’s security so long as Israel is afraid to fight wars and win them. And that’s precisely the problem and it should be the only problem that those who care about Israel’s security focus on.

Our frustration needs to be directed at those who send commandos onto Hamas affiliated flotillas with paintball guns. Our anger should be directed at the same military who can’t seem to scrounge up the money to insulate military vehicles with bullet-proof armor or provide kevlar vests to those on the front lines, yet magically figured out a way to fund sex change operations for trans soldiers while dishing out 700,000 NIS to hire Elor Azariya’s prosecutor. (The list goes on and on but I’d rather not turn this article into a novel).

As Haredi draft dodgers take to the streets to protest the draft, the push-back from the Israeli public has been loud and clear. Most Israelis believe that the Haredim should serve like the rest of us (except for Israeli Arabs). However, the problem with the anti-draft dodging sentiment isn’t the principle but rather the priorities. That’s because when Haredi draft dodging protests cause more of a controversy than an army who refuses show up to battle, we have a big problem. Our rage shouldn’t be directed at the Haredim, but rather at those who needlessly play Russian Roulette with the lives of Israel’s finest men just to get a pat on the back from the New York Times. Once the broken army is fixed, we can then talk about the draft dodgers.


By Rabbi Hershel Schachter

A very old minhag is recorded in Shulchan Aruch[1] that when a young woman gets married the chupah should take place outside under the stars. Hakodosh Boruch Hu told Avraham Avinu, look at the stars, try to count them, it is impossible, so too, will your descendants be so numerous like the stars in the sky. We want to invoke the blessing that Hashem gave to Avraham Avinu and the Jewish people, that the young woman who is getting married now should be blessed with a lot of children.

Some commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch assume that this minhag existed already in the days of the Talmud Yerushalmi. Tosfos[2] quotes the Talmud Yerushalmi as distinguishing between the chupah of a woman getting married for the first time as opposed to an almonah: standing under the canopy only constitutes nissuin when the woman is getting married for the first time but not if she is an almonah.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner[3] argued that this makes no sense whatsoever; why should we distinguish between a first marriage and a second marriage? Some of the contemporaries of Rav Chaim Volozhiner explained that the idea behind the distinction in the Yerushalmi is not so much first marriage vs. second marriage; but rather that a young woman gets married outside, and the chupah which has four poles constructed in the shape of a tzuras ha'pesach (i.e. what we use to make an eruv for Shabbos purposes), only constitutes a separate room when it is out in the open. But in the case of the older almonah, who is beyond the child bearing age, who gets married inside, because we are not interested in invoking the blessing of "ko yihiye zaracho", the four poles of the chupah do not accomplish that that area should be considered a separate room because the room is surrounded all around with walls which enclose the entire area, including the chupah area, and everything is considered one big room. (The whole idea that standing the under chupah accomplishes nissuin is based on the premise that the chosson and kallah who are married already enter together in a separate room for the sake of accomplishing nissuin).

When Hashem told Avraham Avinu to gaze up at the stars and attempt to count them, the Torah tells us that he was inside his tent and Hashem took him outside to look at the stars. Rashi in his commentary on chumash quotes from the midrash that the idea behind taking him outside was to demonstrate that the Jewish people are not part of the natural order of the world. The Torah tells us that Sara Imeinu was an akorah, and the gemorah tells us that Avraham Avinu as an akor[4]. According to the rules of nature they should not have been able to have children. According to the rules of nature, the entire Jewish people should not have existed. The entire history of the Jewish people is l'maaleh min ha'tevah. This is what the gemorah[5] means by the statement "ein mazel l'Yisroel". It does not mean that Jewish people have no luck, rather it means that our history is not subject to sh'litas ha'kochavim u'mazolos and does not follow the normal rules and regulations of history. One might refer to this concept as "austritt". Hashem told Avraham Avinu to go out of his house, representing the idea that the Jewish people don't really blend in with the rest of nature.

The old minhag of having the chupah under the stars for a young woman getting married is not really being fulfilled if they stand inside the building and open up the ceiling. Even though they are standing under the stars, but they have not walked outside. If the chupah takes place inside the building with just the ceiling removed, according to the interpretation that we quoted in the Talmud Yerushalmi, such a chupah would not be valid. To properly observe the minhag, the chosson and kallah should go out of the building and there, outdoors, stand under the stars.

This idea could perhaps explain the mysterious phenomenon of anti-Semitism throughout all the ages. The Jewish people really don't blend in with the rest of nature. We know that there is a natural tendency for the human body to reject foreign matter. Because the Jewish people have been designated by Hashem as something "chutz min ha'tevah", and perhaps that is why Avraham Avinu refers to himself as ger v'toshav a'nochi I'mochem[6], the Jews are always considered like geirim, strangers, and correctly so, and this perhaps is the cause of the natural tendency for them to be isolated.[7]

[1] אבן העזר סי' ס"א סעיף א' Also see Ma'asei Avos Siman LaBonim

[2] תוס' יומא (י"ג:) ד"ה לחדא

[3] ספר כתר ראש (סי' צ"ה). ועי' בספו עקבי הצאן (עמוד 265-266) .

[4] עי' יבמות (ס"ד.)

[5] שבת( קנ"ו.)

[6] בפ' חיי שרה (בראשית כ"ג-ד')

[7] See The Meaning of Am Hanivchar; the Source of Anti-Semitism

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Iran – will the US Congress rise to the challenge?

By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

President Trump's refusal to recertify that Iran's Ayatollahs comply with the July 14, 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal Framework (JCPOA), and that the agreement is in the US national security interest, removed the Ayatollahs' peaceful "screen saver" and laid the ground to expose the Ayatollahs' rogue reality.

President Trump acted in accordance with the May 22, 2015 bi-partisan Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which was enacted - in defiance of President Obama's opposition - with a veto-override majority.

On the other hand, the multinational JCPOA – which produced unprecedented tailwind to Iran's revolutionary goals - was engineered by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, along with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council (Russia, China, Britain and France), Germany and the European Union.

President Trump's non-certification provides Congress with an opportunity to reclaim its constitutional role as a co-equal and co-determining branch of government, while exposing the inherently rogue Ayatollahs, who have intensified instability, unpredictability, subversion, terrorism and wars in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East at-large, Africa, Asia and other parts of the globe.

According to the first Article of the US Constitution, as documented in a following paragraph, the power of the US Congress is not limited to legislation and appropriation, but extends to oversight and review of the Executive Branch on the domestic and national security fronts: "Congress shall have power to… provide for the common defence.... Define and punish…offences against the law of nations. Declare war….raise and support Armies…. Provide and maintain a Navy. Make…regulations of the land and naval forces…. Suppress insurrections and repel invasions…."

Moreover, the second Article of the US Constitution provides the President with the power to commit the US to treaties with foreign entities - such as the JCPOA - but only with the advice and consent (ratification) of two thirds of the Senate. In 2017, the US Senate can reclaim this power which was dismissed, in 2015, by President Obama and conceded by Congress.

Congress demonstrated its posture as the world's most powerful legislature, and its co-equal role in the shaping of the US national security policy, during many critical junctions in recent US history. For example, the Senate has refused to ratify President Clinton's 1999 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; Congress prevented the supply of AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) to Iran on the eve of the Ayatollah Khomeini revolution; the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), foiled President Obama's attempts to close down the Guantanamo detention camp; Congress authorized the 1991 and 2003 wars against Iraq; Congress terminated the US military involvement in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (the Eagleton, Cooper and Church Amendments), Angola (the Clark Amendment) and Nicaragua (the Boland Amendment; Congress overrode President Reagan's veto, bringing down South Africa's white regime; Congress overhauled the US intelligence community (Senator Church's and Congressman Pike's Committees); Congress - in defiance of President Nixon – forced the USSR/Russia to allow free emigration (the Jackson-Vanik Amendment); etc..

When examining the impact of the JCPOA on the US national security, Congress should assess the dramatic erosion of the US posture of deterrence, as reflected by the surging geo-strategic posture of Russia. Both the Ayatollahs, as well as the pro-US Arab countries - especially Saudi Arabia, which recently concluded critical military transactions with Russia - consider the signing of the 2015 Agreement a reflection of unprecedentedly slackened US strategic reliability.

Congress should scrutinize the Ayatollahs' systematic anti-US conduct since their 1979 toppling of the pro-US Shah, including their annual commemoration of the November 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Teheran, which is highlighted by the theme of "Death to America."

Congress should investigate the Ayatollahs' school curriculum - the most authentic reflection of their mission and tactics, depicting the US as "the arrogant, idolatrous, modern-day crusader, infidel, oppressor, Great Satan." Grade 12 Iranian students are taught – in "Religion and Life," pages 103 and 104 – that dissimulation and tenuous pacts with "un-Godly governments" – such as the US - are proper, but only until the balance of power shifts in favor of the "believers." Furthermore, the need for child martyrdom, during the apocalyptic battle against the US, is intensively inculcated in all twelve grades.
Downplaying the significance of the Ayatollahs' school curriculum – lest it undermine the pursuit of an agreement – would catapult Iran to an imperial position, and possibly usher in the first nuclear war.

While the US has rolled-back its sanctions on Iran, the Ayatollahs have rolled-forward their drive to evict the US from the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula through subversive, terroristic and military attempts of regime-change in pro-US Arab countries in the Persian Gulf – most notably Saudi Arabia and Bahrain - and beyond.

The mega-financial benefits from the JCOPA have enabled the Ayatollahs to expand their presence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, posing a growing threat to the pro-US regime in Jordan, while bolstering their presence in Africa and in Latin America, including Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and the terror-ridden tri-border region of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

On the nuclear front – while rejecting US demands to allow international inspectors to visit military sites - the Ayatollahs have tightened their ballistic and nuclear collaboration with North Korea, co-developing and test-firing nuclear and ballistic technologies and systems, which may also be purchased. It allows circumvention of the monitoring of nuclear programs in Iran.

In 1978/79, the US energized the Khomeini Revolution, which transformed Iran from "the US policeman in the Gulf" to the US nightmare in the Middle East. In 2017, a determined Congressional oversight, and the resurrection of the US posture of deterrence – not diplomacy – could spare the globe of a most rogue anti-US regime and a potential nuclear war.

The Iran-Hamas Plan to Destroy Israel

By Khaled Abu Toameh

  • Iran's goal in this move? For Hamas to maintain and enhance its preparation for war against Israel.
  • Iran's message to Hamas: If you want us to continue providing you with financial and military aid, you must continue to hold on to your weapons and reject demands to disarm.
  • Iran wants Hamas to retain its security control over the Gaza Strip so that the Iranians can hold onto another power base in the Middle East, as it does with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
During the visit of a high-level Hamas delegation to Iran last week, Ali Velayati (pictured above in 2016), a senior Iranian politician and advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the visiting Hamas officials: "We congratulate you on your refusal to abandon your weapons..." (Image source: Hamed Malekpour/Wikimdia Commons)
In a historic reawakening, Iran is once again meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. This this does not bode well for the future of "reconciliation" between Hamas and Palestinian Authority's Fatah faction run by President Mahmoud Abbas.The re-emergence of Iran, as it pursues its efforts to increase its political and military presence in the region, does not bode well for the future of stability in the Middle East.
The Iranians are urging Hamas to hold on to its weapons in spite of the recent "reconciliation" agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah under the auspices of Egypt. Iran's goal in this move? For Hamas to maintain and enhance its preparation for war against Israel.

On a Mission from God

Without Vision, Politics is the Name of the Game

By Moshe Feiglin

Yesterday I was interviewed on Israeli TV on President Rivlin’s speech this Tuesday. In his speech, Rivlin said that a battle is being conducted against the ‘gatekeepers’, claiming that they are motivated by political considerations. “They are crying,” Rivlin directed his words at the Prime Minster and his aides, “saying that from the justice system and through to the army, everything has become political.”

The problem with Rivlin’s speech is that everybody is right.

When a nation has no vision, everything becomes political. There is no gate for the gatekeepers to keep and they themselves become part of the political game. The different branches of government do not balance each other with their eyes on a vision or common goal. Rather, they fight each other in order to amplify their power – simply for the sake of power.

The person guilty for this situation is the leader (the Prime Minister) who lacks any real message or vision.

But Rivlin should not cry crocodile tears over Israel’s political reality. Politics is the enlistment of a vision to serve one’s personal interest. Leadership is the enlistment of one’s personal interest to serve a vision.

When Rivlin calls the gatekeepers “The Rule of Law Gang” when they prevent him from becoming Justice Minister but stands at their side when he needs them to amplify his own power – he adds the President’s Office to the list of the politically motivated.

The Consciousness Octopus Closes in on Family

By Moshe Feiglin

Radical Left MK Merav Michaeli, who stated last week that the core family “is one of the things that we need to start breaking apart” did not actually say anything we did not know. All she did was to directly say what she and the entire politically correct dictatorship that rules Western and Israeli consciousness say all the time – just in a more sophisticated manner.

Although their values represent a minority, these forces rule Israeli consciousness by means of all the unelected power hubs in the country: academia, the media, the justice system, the welfare systems, government bureaucracy and the defense system.

Until now, these forces were smart enough to blur their statements and outsmart the public. Instead of saying that the family is bad, they would say: “Everything constitutes a family” (in which case nothing constitutes a family).

Instead of saying that it is bad to have children, they would say that we must safeguard them. (In other words, detach them from their parents).

Michaeli simply said these things directly. “The core family is the most dangerous place for children… and it must be broken apart”. Yes, she really said it.

(The claim that the core family is the most dangerous place for children is ridiculous blather. But who is checking? Children are attacked wherever they are. If they are in dormitories or any other situation outside their family, they are attacked even more. Michaeli could just as soon have claimed that breathing air is most dangerous to society. After all, 100% of the deceased lived and died in an oxygenated environment…)

Michaeli has removed the mask and has allowed the tip of this giant, lethal iceberg to peek out from the depths. By doing so, she has performed an important service for Israeli society.

When somebody tries to speak the simple truth, he is immediately denounced by the politically correct octopus. This means that if you are a consumer of the general media and rely on it to gain a sense of what is legitimate and what is not, what is good and what is bad, what is light and what is darkness – then you are forced to adopt these mad positions. Nobody will dare to take the media to task and tell you the truth.

Take for example Minister of Labor, Chaim Katz. The Knesset, including the Minister, decided that children will be adopted by normative families only. Makes sense, right? But the consciousness octopus immediately recruited all its heavy hitters and wonder of wonders – in just a short time Minister Katz announced that the law would be changed and the State would no longer give children for adoption to normative couples only, but would include same-sex couples, as well.

It is important to understand - these children will not be thrown into the streets. Thank G-d, the demand for children for adoption in Israel is much greater than the supply. The question here is the welfare of the child. You do not have to be a genius to understand that a child needs both a father and a mother. But the child does not really interest the octopus. What really interests the octopus is to dissolve the institution of family. That is why it is so important to it is to keep drilling into our heads that anything can be defined as a family, making nothing a family. Mission accomplished. No more family, no more society, no more nation. We have successfully destroyed the old world down to its foundation.

The Minister will have to reconsider and ultimately, we will all reconsider because just like the Minister, we will also be afraid to listen to our inner voice. After all, we like to think of ourselves as being “enlightened”. (I assume that the Minister also wants to be on the right side when he meets up with the state mechanisms – the courts, for instance) This is a very violent culture of political correctness. This newspeak, this reprogramming of societal values and its practical dissolution has no margins of tolerance for other views.

So let us thank Merav Michaeli and take a look at the entire iceberg:

This Dissolution Attack is motivated by the will to destabilize every identity and every essential truth – to undermine any type of unification or creation that testifies to the existence of the Creator. As there is no G-d, they claim, and no reality, then there are no truth or ethics. We are God and we must create the world and its values anew – all the time. Existence is the fruit of our imagination and we may and are even obligated to dissolve old frameworks and to rebuild them in whatever way we imagine – relentlessly. It is a constant revolution, we will destroy the old world down to its very foundation.

There is no national identity, no familial identity, no gender identity and even identity no longer exists (eating meat is murder)… This entire values construct that builds society is fragmented – as if to rebuild it even better.

It is instructive to take a peek at Stalin and Mao and learn how it all ended.

Moshe Feiglin on the Left's True Agenda (video)

Please click on the cc icon at the bottom of the screen for English subtitles.

The World is Waiting for Us

By Shmuel Sackett

This is the week that started it all. Avraham Avinu is chosen by Hashem to become the father of the Jewish nation. He will be the first Jew, the one who will teach the world about monotheism and the one who will change the world forever. So… what was the first thing that Hashem said to him?? Keep Shabbos!! No… Put on Tefillin every day!! No… Don’t talk Lashon Hara!!! No…

The first words that Hashem ever spoke to Avraham were far different from what anyone would have guessed; “Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the Land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you great. You shall become a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and he who curses you, I will curse. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Bereisheit 12:1-3 / Translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan ztz”l)

That was it. Nothing about keeping kosher, wearing tzitzit or learning Torah. Yes, these are all very important and we must never underestimate their value, but the foundation of Judaism was something else: Avraham was told to live in Israel. This is where it would all begin. The 613 mitzvot would come later… only after Avraham left his birthplace and moved to Israel, or in modern terms, made Aliyah.

I want you to read those 3 p’sukim (verses) again and see the order of what would happen. First, Avraham was told to leave his land and move “to the Land that I will show you” – which was Israel. Only after that was done would the following things happen; “I will make you into a great nation. You shall become a blessing etc..” The question I always had was; why? Why did Avraham need to leave his home in order for this to happen? Why couldn’t he become a great nation and a blessing from New York, London or Charan? (Note: According to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, the “Charan” mentioned in the Torah, where Avraham lived, is today’s Mesopotamia, located approximately 400 miles northeast of Israel).

This is not just a simple question. This is the essence of our entire nation and religion. Hashem didn’t tell these things to Avraham as a mere suggestion or good advice. There was a powerful message in these words and we must not lose sight of what it was.

Yes, it’s true. Avraham – and Sarah – were chosen by Hashem to be the first father and mother of our nation. Everything would start with them and all Jews would follow in their footsteps. Hashem was very careful in choosing His words because major concepts would be extracted from those words for thousands of years to come. Trust me that a major 500 page thesis could be written on these words but allow me to summarize it all into three concepts.

Number one: The Jewish nation can only live in Israel. Individual Jews may find themselves in Canada, Argentina or Hong Kong but the nation – the Jewish nation – is only in Israel. This is exactly why Avraham was told to leave Charan and make Aliyah because he was about to build a nation and that job – fathering the Jewish nation – can only be done in Israel. (Note: see a fascinating Ramban – Vayikra 18:25 – where he states, very clearly, that the Torah was given to be kept in Eretz Yisrael and what we keep of the mitzvot outside the land is in order not to forget how to keep them when we return to Eretz Yisrael!!)

Number two: Separation is a very important concept for the Jewish nation. In “Havdalah” we talk about separating holy from the profane, light from darkness, Shabbat from the weekdays and Israel from the nations of the world. When Avraham and Sarah were chosen, they had to immediately separate themselves from the people around them. They could no longer live in Charan, Teaneck or Johannesburg. Yes, Israel deals with the world in business, science and hundreds of other ways but the Jewish nation can only do that from their own place, separate from the rest of the world. That place – chosen by Hashem Himself – will be the source of their strength. It will be a place of holiness by the fact that a Jewish culture has been established there. Holidays such as Christmas and Halloween will mean nothing and leaving work early on Friday will be problem free. 90% of businesses will be closed on Chol Hamoed, Purim and Tisha B’av and every Ikea will have a shul – with a beautiful Aron Kodesh! Yes, certain things like this can happen in Lakewood and Monsey but that’s because religious Jews live there. When building a nation, one must think of all Jews, especially those who aren’t where they should be. That can only be done when the Jews have separated from the world and gone to their own place.

Number three: This may sound arrogant but I believe it to the bottom of my soul, because Hashem said it: The world is indeed blessed because of us. As stated above; “I will bless those who bless you and he who curses you, I will curse. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” I realize that around the halls of the UN these words sound very far-fetched but that is only because most Jews don’t believe them. The day we start believing these words – and start acting accordingly – is the day that they will start becoming reality.

Therefore, in my own words, this is what Hashem told Avraham. Leave your land and come to Israel because only there can we build the Jewish nation. You and your descendants will live there, separated from the world and will build a society and culture of holiness. When that happens, the entire world – yes, the entire world will be blessed because of the Jewish nation.

This was told to Avraham almost 3,800 years ago but it still applies today to each and every Jew around the world. Come home and let’s build the Jewish nation together. Let’s live as Jews in our own land with our laws, customs, holidays and culture. And finally, let’s bless the world – all 7 billion people – with the blessing that Hashem is waiting to give them. It’s up to us - but it all starts with “Lech Lecha”…

“You will break them with a rod of iron"

By HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh Hayeshiva, Yeshivat Machon Meir

“In the seventh year, there will wars. At the end of the seventh, the Son of David will arrive.”

The first war mentioned in the Torah is the war of the four kings against the five, in the days of Amrafel, who was Nimrod (Rashi on Genesis 14:1). This war took place between two coalitions of wicked kings. Heading the four kings was Nimrod, and heading the five kings was the King of Sodom. The outcome of the first stage of the war was that the four kings defeated the five. At a later stage, however, the Patriarch Abraham defeated the winners, as it says, “He divided [his men] against them at night, he and his servants and he attacked them. He pursued them until Chovah, which is to the left of Damascus” (Genesis 14:15). As a result of Abraham’s victory, the kings and leaders of his generation bestowed great honor upon him: “The King of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from defeating Kedarlaomer and the kings that were with him, to the Valley of Shaveh which is the King's Valley” (14:17). Rashi comments, “It was a valley where all nations were in agreement and appointed Abraham over them as a prince of G-d and leader!”

Our ancestors’ deeds presage our own!

Today, 3,000 years after Abraham’s time, his descendants are rising to rebirth in Eretz Yisrael. The rebirth of the Jewish People is taking place in a time of wars. As our sages said, “In the seventh year, there will be wars. At the end of the seventh, the Son of David will arrive” (Sanhedrin 97a). World Wars I and II are directly and indirectly connected to the rebirth of the Jewish People, and it is the same with our own wars, from the War of Independence to the present war over our control of Eretz Yisrael. According to the Prophets (Zechariah 14; Ezekiel 38-39), the climax of wars will be the war of Gog and Magog, when the nations of the world will seek to conquer Jerusalem. Today, the Christian and Muslim worlds both long to do that. In this regard King David said, “Why are the nations in an uproar? Why do the peoples mutter in vain? The kings of the earth join ranks. The rulers take counsel together against the L-rd and against His anointed” (Psalm 2:1-2).

Yet the outcome will be resounding victory over all those who long to conquer Jerusalem and to drive us out of our land. As King David then says, “You will break them with a rod of iron. You will smash them to pieces like a potter's vessel” (verse 9). And just as Abraham defeated the kings, so shall G-d’s great name be magnified and sanctified, as it says, “Thus will I magnify Myself and sanctify Myself. I will make Myself known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the L-rd” (Ezekiel 38:23).

Looking forward to complete salvation,
Shabbat Shalom.

Understanding Abraham

By HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Yeshivat Beit-El

Dedicated to the memory of R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai

Adam - Noah - Abraham
The Sages of the Mishna teach us that, "There were ten generations from Adam to Noah, and another ten generations from Noah to Abraham." Adam, Noah, and Abraham mark three phases in the course of humankind's evolution.

Adam was a flawless creation of God. In creating him God had neither intermediary nor assistant. As a result, he was the most perfect being ever created on the face of the earth. Perhaps in this very point lay Adam's principal deficiency. Because of his exceptional perfection he lacked the capacity to interact with the physical world into which he was placed; Adam, as a result, was rendered incapable of elevating all existence. It was for this reason that his encounter with the world was a failure. We might compare Adam to a tree whose branches are many yet whose roots are few. The hold this sort of tree takes in the earth is weak; its many branches, of all things, quickly bring about its fall.

Noah was a perfectly righteous individual. Unlike Adam, Noah succeeds in living at peace with the physical world, and maintaining his righteousness. Yet he too, like Adam, is unsuccessful in influencing his generation and elevating his surroundings. He is a righteous individual, who believes that the best way of dealing with the world - without running the risk of failure and sin - is through divorcing oneself from ones environment. It is possible that the error of the Minim , who claimed that the only way to cling to God and to attain human perfection is though monastic separation from the world, originated with Noah.

Avraham Avinu , our father Abraham, was the first person to successfully unite the physical and spiritual. Abraham sees as his central mission in life the elevation of existence from one level to the next, while maintaining full ties with it. From the moment that he discovers that there is one Creator who created one harmonious world, in which there exists no contradiction between body and soul, he tries to pass on this message to others in any way possible. With this he begins the difficult process of Tikkun Olam (the mending of the world), setting his sights on his ultimate goal: the day when "God will be one, and His name one" (Zechariah 14:9). 

In order to bring about the complete union between the physical existence and the Creator, one must live in the Land of Israel. Israel, by her very nature, is an expression of the sanctification of the physical: a physical land which is, at the same time, holy. Accordingly, Abraham receives the commandment, "Lekh Lekha" - "Go away from your land, from your birthplace and from your father's house to the land that I will show you."

Lekh Lekha
At the outset of this weeks Torah portion we bear witness to a divine command,
"Go away from your land, from your birthplace... to the land that I will show you."

Even when viewing this commandment in its most plain sense, what we are dealing with here is a difficult trial. Abraham is called upon to leave his natural spiritual setting, and to set out on a new path, a path whose ultimate purpose he knows not. 

Abraham is called upon to leave his land, his birthplace and his father's house and to direct his gaze towards an unfamiliar destination - "...the land which I shall show you."

In fact, what we are dealing with here is a twofold trial. Not only is Abraham being called upon to leave his land and his birthplace, but his journey lacks any clear purpose. It could be that reason that God chose not to specify the destination of Abraham's journey is that it is impossible to do justice in expressing the value and greatness of the Land of Israel to one who resides outside of the Land. Therefore, Abraham was called upon to leave his land. Only when privileged to enter the land of Canaan, i.e. Israel, does he merit to truly understand the purpose of his uprooting himself from his land and his birthplace.

Yet, upon closer look, there appears to be even deeper significance to this command. There are those who occupy themselves with determining man's destiny and way of life according to the exact time and place of his birth - astrologers, or in the language of the Sages, Itztagninim. Our Rabbis maintain that the People of Israel are not influenced by astrology. In this very assertion, though, there is in effect a recognition of the actual existence of such powers, and of their ability to influence our lives. All the same, the Jewish Sages insist that the People of Israel are outside the sphere of influence of the stars. It is within the Jew's power to change the very course of nature by attaching himself to God's providence which is above beyond the influence of the constellations.

The standard code of Jewish law, the Shulhan Aruch , rules that a Jew is not to determine his actions according to the stars, yet if his mazal (horoscope) happens to be made known to him it is forbidden for him to blatantly contradict it. The stars are a lower and inferior indication of providence in the world. Abraham is called upon to take his destiny into his own hands, to cling to his Creator, and in so doing to rise above the rule of the stars. 

The philosophy which claims that the world, and everything in it, depends upon the place and time of one's birth, weakens the will power and creative forces in man. One who maintains this sort of outlook, finds himself lacking the will to act and to change the world, because after all, everything has already been decided and determined from the outset. For the same reason, it is best that a person minimize his dependence upon blessings given by Tzaddikim (the righteous), as well as their remedies and amulets. This sort of dependence, when it becomes the essence of an individual's struggle with the difficulties which face him during the course of his life, weakens his ability to act and to improve his character. Yet, when a Tzaddik's blessing comes in addition to man's labor, when the request for a blessing comes after personal effort, it no doubt has a place in Judaism.

"And God said to Abraham Lekh Lekha..." Abraham complies with God's commandment and goes to the Land of Canaan. After entering the Land Abraham merits an additional divine revelation - "And God appeared to Avram (Abraham) and said, to your offspring will I give this Land" (Genesis 12:7) By virtue of the holiness of the Land, and by virtue of Abraham's withstanding his trial, he merits a divine revelation of an even higher nature. Not only does God speak with Abraham, but he even "appears" before him. "And he built an alter there to God who appeared before him."

Afterwards, Abraham goes about strengthening his hold in the Land. He is no longer an individual worshiper of God in the world. He goes about proclaiming God's name to all, publicizing the faith in one God. Yet from here on God does not reveal himself to Abraham through the term "appeared." "And God said to Abraham, 'lift up your eyes and see.'" On the face of things it appears to be a drop in the intensity of Abraham's revelations - yet this is not the case.

The Sages ask: "How could Isaiah the Prophet have said "and I saw God"; did not God say to Moses: "For man will not see me and live"? They answer that in the case of Moses the reference is to a clear vision, while in the case if Isaiah God was seen in an unclear vision. When man reaches a level of complete identification with his creator, as was the case with Moses, he acknowledges the fact that man is incapable of perceiving God's greatness in its entirety. Abraham has risen to a level beyond 'sight.' He no longer 'receives' divine revelations; rather, through a sense of complete identification with his creator, he goes about proclaiming God's name in the world.

Brit Mila
"God said to Abraham, 'As far as you are concerned you must keep My covenant, - you and your offspring throughout their generations. This is My covenant between me, and between you and your offspring that you must keep: You must circumcise every male. You shall be circumcised through the flesh of your foreskin. This shall be the mark of the covenant between me and you.'" (Genesis 17:9-11)
"Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised on the flesh of his foreskin." (ibid. 17:24)

With the closing of this weeks Torah portion we find Abraham reaching the height of his perfection - Mitzvat Brit Mila , the precept of circumcision. After a hundred years of spiritual elevation and sanctification, Abraham merits reaching a level in which his inner holiness is revealed even in his outer acts. The holiness of his soul takes the form of bodily perfection, by means of the Brit Mila. By virtue of his high level, Abraham succeeded in passing on to his seed after him that same quality of sanctification of the body. At the age of eight days, Jewish boys are circumcised, thus revealing on their very body that which was implanted in their soul through Abraham: the quality of inhering holiness. This trait is absolute and inherent in the Jewish People, regardless of the performance of the Mitzvat Brit Mila. The act of Brit Mila was intended only to reveal this quality. We learn in the Talmud that even a Jewish baby who was taken captive and not circumcised, or a Jew who is not circumcised because of the health dangers involved - for his brothers before him had died as a result of circumcision - are considered circumcised; a non-Jew, though, even if he were to circumcise himself would, in the eyes of Jewish Law, continue to have the status of uncircumcised in all respects.

We find expression of Abraham's elevated state at the beginning of next weeks Torah portion -VaYera:
"God appeared to Abraham in the Plaines of Mamre..."

What was the purpose of this divine revelation? What sort of mission was placed upon Abraham? What sort of message did he receive? The Scriptures make mention of neither mission nor message. Indeed, this revelation has no specific purpose. Abraham has reached such a level that divine revelation to him is no longer the means to the end of a mission or a message, rather, revelation as and end in itself - a "personal visit."

Avraham's Challenges and Successes

By Rabbi Dov Berl Wein

The Torah now proceeds from the general and universal story of humankind to concentrate on the particular and individual story of the founding of the Jewish people. The story of Avraham and Sarah, their difficulties and challenges, their loneliness and spiritual quest, form the essence of this parsha and the next one as well. In this life story they create the prototype for all later Jewish and familial society.

The Torah, unlike many more pious modern books of today, avoids painting for us a blissful picture of righteous people being blessed with serenity and perfection of character and behavior. Rather, it shows us the ever present challenges to faith in the Almighty, the difficulties of maintaining domestic harmony and of creating a positive worldview while surrounded by enemies, jealousy and an immoral general culture.

Tradition and the Mishna crown Avraham with the laurel of having withstood and overcome ten major challenges in his lifetime. It is interesting that the great Jewish commentators to the Torah differ as to which ten challenges the Mishna is referring to. Thus, if we combine all of their opinions, there are a significantly greater number of challenges in the life of Avraham than just ten.

The Torah’s portrayal of these events – the wandering and rootlessness of coming to the promised land of Israel, the disloyalty of Lot, the difficulties with Sarah and Hagar, the behavior of Pharaoh and his courtiers, to mention some of them – all portray for us a life of struggle, of pain, of striving and of hurdles to overcome.

In spite of all of these very troubling details and incidents as recorded for us in the parsha, there is a tenor and tone of optimism and fulfilled purpose that permeates the entire parsha. Even the cursory reader senses that Avraham and Sarah are up to something great – that this is no ordinary tale of pioneering and struggle. There are Godly covenants and blessings, commitments made that surely will be met and a vision presented of a great and influential people and of a holy land.

God’s relationship with humankind generally will be centered in His relationship to the family and progeny of Avraham and Sarah. Nations and beliefs will vie for the honor of being the descendants and followers of Avraham. Millions will adopt his name and follow his monotheistic creed. He and Sarah will be some of the most influential personages in world history. They will not avoid trouble and travail in their personal and family lives but great will be their reward in spiritual and historical achievement.

As such, they truly are the forerunners of the story of the Jewish people – a small and lonely people, wanderers and beset by inner disloyalty and external persecution – which nevertheless is optimistic and vastly influential in a manner that belies its physical numbers and temporal power.

Generally, Avraham is the father of many nations and of all monotheistic believers. But particularly he is the founder and father of the Jewish people whose march through human history parallels the life of Avraham itself. And, the Godly covenant and blessings will assuredly be fulfilled through the accomplishments of the Jewish people, its nationhood and land.

“How Will I Know …?”

By HaRav Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

The gemara (Nedarim 32a) attributes the root of the exile in Egypt to Avraham’s question to Hashem, "How will I know that I will inherit [the Land]?" (Bereisheet 15:8). The midrash (Shemot Rabba 5:22) similarly criticizes Avraham for that question. Yet, the midrash (ibid. 23:5) says that we merit singing praise to Hashem due to Avraham’s belief in Hashem as found in that same conversation. Furthermore, a midrash (Bereisheet Rabba 44:14) explains that Avraham was not questioning whether he would inherit the Land but only in what merit it would happen. 

Today, great darkness, from which we do not see an escape according to the forces of nature, has befallen our people. As we look for miracles, believers ask themselves: "Are we really fit to deserve a miracle?" After all, they know the level of dedication to Hashem that is expected of us and know how far we are from it. Avraham, the great believer, asked in what merit his offspring would be assured to receive that which Hashem had promised he would give them. Since fear of G-d is in the hands of the individual, perhaps they will not deserve to receive the gift. Avraham’s question was not from a lack of belief but from recognition of what is expected of a servant of Hashem. 

Hashem’s answer was that Avraham’s descendants would be exiled and afflicted for 400 years and would emerge with great riches (Bereisheet 15: 13-14). In other words, when our nation deteriorates, mankind deteriorates even more. The more we want to be like our neighbors in exile, the more they separate themselves from us. The further rival nations’ hatred takes them, the more we are worthy of receiving the Land because of their wickedness relative to us (see Devarim 9:5). 

"I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will certainly go up with you" (Bereisheet 46:4). When we are in exile, it is as if Hashem is also in exile. We are the weather vanes of humanity; as we are subjugated, spiritual darkness spreads. While we may act up when we are spoiled, we can contemplate when we are subjugated. Granted, our forefathers in Egypt worshipped idols like the Egyptians, but at least we did not use children as bricks. A moral chasm remained between us and them. The lower the nations go, the more they remind us of the different path we should stride on.
When a doctor finds that an unconscious patient has a pulse, he knows his heart is pumping. The heart of our nation is alive; as long as we feel the nation’s pain and seek its unity, there is hope. While many Jews may not keep more mitzvot than the nations do, we are believers, sons of believers (Shabbat 97a). When the gavel bangs and the great call is raised, all will respond. 

"They will leave with great riches" – this includes great spiritual riches. They knew what Egypt and its abominations were. They understood that the same Pharaoh who did not recognize Hashem was the one who would not free Israel (see Shemot 5:2). 

Avraham’s lack of belief was not in Hashem but in the hidden powers of the People of Israel. That lacking could be overcome only by a cleansing through the painful learning process of oppression. Moshe, upon seeing Jewish shortcomings, accepted the oppression more readily than the merit of the liberation. Hashem taught him that when they would leave Egypt, they would serve Him on Sinai. Hashem assured him that despite their entrenchment in sin, spiritual power would spring forth from the depth of the nation’s soul when properly prompted.

Universal Catastrophe: The Mad Mission of Iran and a warning for the Chareidi Roshei Yeshivot

Parashat Lech Lecha 5778
By HaRav Nachman Kahana

Universal Catastrophe: The Mad Mission of Iran

A student at the Hebrew University was noticeably affected while reading the Bible. When his professor asked what had so aroused his enthusiasm, the young man replied that it was the story of the parting of the Red Sea. The professor, who was not a Torah-observant person, told the young student to calm down because, according to the scientists, the Red Sea at that time was, at most, ten centimeters deep. A few minutes later, the young student became even more enthusiastic as he read further, and again the professor asked for the reason. The student replied, “What a great God we have. He was able to drown the entire Egyptian army in only ten centimeters of water.”

I can understand that as a man of reason, the professor would see some of the episodes related in the Torah as outlandishly fantastic. I am sure that the professor was scratching his forehead when he read parashat Lech Lecha, where Avraham and his 318 student-soldiers vanquished the allied forces of four major kings with their highly trained and battle-hardened troops.

But the dilemma regarding this battle begins long before the final victory.

There was a military alliance of four powerful kings:

אמרפל מלך שנער אריוך מלך אלסר כדרלעמר מלך עילם ותדעל מלך גוים
King Amrafel of Shin’ar, identified as Bavel (Iraq); King Aryoch of Alasar; King Kadarla’omer of Elam, identified as either Persia or Greece; and King Tidal of Goyim, identified as the head of an alliance of many smaller states.

The entire region was under threat of conquest, because after their stunning victory in Eretz Yisrael it would be logical to assume that the four kings were on their way to further expansionist conquests after defeating the five kings of the Jordan Valley; for nothing succeeds more than success. On this background, it would be safe to assume that the region’s nations, such as Egypt and the countries in North Africa and Asia Minor, were sharpening their spears in preparation for defending their own countries.

But nothing of the sort is recorded in the Torah. Quite the opposite! The only force that gathered to make battle with the four kings was Avraham and his 318 student-soldiers.

Our highly respected and learned professor would be justified in casting doubt on the reliability of the biblical account of Avraham’s battle against these four powerful kings, except for one undeniable fact! A similar scenario is taking place today in front of our very own eyes.

The civilized world is being threatened by the enemies of humanity and freedom, led by the Islamic-fascist state of Iran. The mad leaders of Iran belong to the Shiite Islam sect that believes that their last Imam, their Mashiach, will appear only on the background of a universal catastrophe. And it is the mission of Iran to bring about that horrific catastrophe that is driving the Iranians to forge ahead with their nuclear program.

On this background, one would expect the Christian nations to band together with the “moderate” Arab nations to pre-empt this threat. The USA, with its vast military capability, and the United Nations with its capacity to organize an international military force, would be expected to lead the free world in continuing to be free.

However, the reality of Avraham vs. the four kings has come back to haunt the free world. The eyes of free people are not focused on the world’s military powers; but rather the object of the world’s expectation of eradicating the Iranian threat is none other than the isolated, besmirched and hated State of Israel. Will we attack? When will it happen? How will we surprise the Iranians? Planes? Submarines? Cruise missiles? Land forces? How will the Israelis do it?

As in the time of Avraham, when the free world was numbed by fear, in our days miniscule David will have to stride to center stage in order to destroy the mad Goliath!

So, the episode in parashat Lech Lecha becomes frighteningly realistic even to the cynical, agnostic professors of Hebrew University.

But there is a difference! It is called Tzahal. Avraham, by necessity, was aided by HaShem in a supernatural way; with 318 soldiers defeating four armies. But in our time, HaShem expects the Jewish nation to act according to the Torah and the rules governing human behavior where miracles are subtly hidden. The fist of Am Yisrael is our young holy soldiers of Tzahal.

The episodes depicted in the Torah describe what occurred in those times, but they are also projections of what will transpire with respect to Am Yisrael in our time, prior to the advent of the Mashiach. So, when Israel acts, the world will be taken by surprise. But not us, who know the future by learning the “simple” stories of our past.

A warning for the Chareidi Roshei Yeshivot

The term used in the yeshiva world to describe inter-session between the “zemanim” (semesters) of intense Torah study is “bayn hazemanim”, translated literally “between the times”.

Despite the wane in spiritual intensity during “bayn hazemanim” the yeshiva student is expected to conduct himself in a manner which brings respect to his stature as a rabbinic student.

Unfortunately, bayn hazemanim is often used to provoke, demonstrate, and aggressively promote opinions which are the sole possessions of a marginalized minority who have no consideration for the feelings and rights of others.

The illustrious Harav Chaim Kanievsky shlita came out this week with a scorching condemnation of the break-off Lithuanian yeshiva faction called “Peleg,” using soubriquets rarely sounded in the yeshiva world. The wild unworthy conduct of their followers and leaders during the bayn hazemanim period leaves a black smear on the Torah they claim to represent.

Israeli law requires that every eighteen-year-old register with the army and then each proceeds with his personal status vis a vis actual service. Those who wish to serve do so. A woman who declares that she is observant can request to be exempt from military service, and every student in a recognized yeshiva may ask to be exempt.

There are tens of thousands of young, fit men learning in yeshivot who are exempt from military service; thereby forcing the army to increase the numbers of women soldiers in combat units, as well as to increase the already heavy burden of service on the reserve forces, which creates negative economic, social, and family repercussions.

The people who make up the “peleg” group under the leadership of Harav Shmuel Aeurbach shlita, refuse to even register with the army. They demonstrate violently at sensitive road junctions, paralyzing thousands of people, including life and death emergency crews.

Their spokesman, a Rabbi Zuker, was interviewed last week on the radio where he said, “we will burn down the Medina before registering”. He also stated that for them it is a matter of life and death.

I, as well as most observant Jews in Israel, disagree with the Chareidi position. In our view there is no bigger mitzva today than protecting the lives of the 6.5 million Jews who have returned here to carry on from where our history went into deep freeze 2000 years ago, when we were sent into galut.

I cannot change the Chareidim, but I have a warning for the Chareidi Roshei Yeshivot.

At some point in the not too distant future, when the Chareidi population will swell to the extent that the numbers of yeshiva exemptions will near 100 thousand, Israel will change to a totally volunteer army, highly compensated, as — has been the case for the last fifty or more years in the United States. And when the draft will be eliminated, the Chareidi yeshivot will become virtually empty. Chassidic yeshivot will be left with about 10% of their present numbers and the Lithuanian ones will fare a bit better with about 20 percent remaining. Many will join the army for the good pay, and most will enter the work place.

My advice is to be thankful to the secular government for creating the yeshiva world here, and stay under the radar, because the repercussions for anti-Israel behavior will be swift in coming and will be irreversible.

Shabbat Shalom,
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5778/2017 Nachman Kahana