Wednesday, October 31, 2018

“Let the girl to whom I say, ‘Please tip your pitcher for me to drink’ . . .”

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

THE TALMUD SAYS that 40 days before a child is born, it is decided in Heaven who they are to marry. It’s even proclaimed (Sotah 2a), though no one down here can really hear it. But that doesn’t matter, because it will become known once the two people finally meet each other and decide they are for one another.

This means that it was already announced before Yitzchak was born that he would one day marry Rivkah, and that 40 days before Rivkah was born, it was proclaimed that she would later marry Yitzchak. As Rashi mentions about her birth at the end of last week’s parsha, she was born as Yitzchak’s soul mate.

Avraham, being a prophet, as God told Avimelech in last week’s parsha, probably knew. Or, at least he suspected this, another reason to send Eliezer eastward in search of Yitzchak’s wife.

But when Avraham instructs Eliezer, he makes it sound as if it was not yet determined who Yitzchak would marry, as if Eliezer would have to find out for himself. Thus, Eliezer also seemed to act on this when when he contrived his whole scheme to flush out Yitzchak’s “zivug.” While it is true that the Talmud would not be written down for thousands of years, it is more than likely that they were already aware of such concepts. So why did they act contrary to what the Talmud would later say?

They didn’t. They just understood that even though God decides all outcomes of events (Brochos 34b), He likes to allow us to act as if we can play a role in them. This way God can reward us for our contribution in whatever happens, and we can feel as if our decisions made a difference. Or, if a person made it possible for something bad to happen, they can be held responsible for it.

This is because, what counts in life is not what we accomplish, because we can “fail” for reasons that go beyond our own personal attributes or lacks. We’re part of some hugely bigger picture than our own personal lives seem to indicate, and this takes precedence over our idea of what is “fair.” Sometimes the moment needs us to fail, because a larger history requires it.

But that’s okay. What counts the most in life is our “ratzon,” or will. It’s what we decide to care about that gets Heaven’s attention. It’s about what makes us feel good or what makes us feel sad that reveals our true self, and what we’d like to do to make a situation better. This is true regardless of whether or not we have the means to make good on our will.

That’s the initial merit a person needs to be plugged into God’s plan for good, or the demerit to be plugged into a plan for bad. Then, if history allows it, a person might find themselves one day actually in a position to make such a difference, for good OR for bad, depending upon who they have become.

Aharon HaKohen’s grandson, Pinchas, stands out as one of the perfect examples of this for good. Until he acted zealously on behalf of God, he was a virtual nobody, not even a kohen. But his lack of position and fame did not stop him from looking at himself as a partner of God, and when the right moment came, God plugged him in and he got both, kehunah and fame.

Zimri, whom Pinchas killed on behalf of God, did the same thing, but for bad. The Talmud speaks about whom he really was and what kind of spiritual life he lived. Therefore, when the time came for him to be plugged in, he became the person through whom Pinchas would sanctify the Name of God.

History is pre-determined, as the Midrash says. Certainly God has known everything that would happen since Creation, and set it up so that it would. What about free will? That’s for people to decide who they want to be, and what they want to accomplish, so God can plug them appropriately.

One way or another, Yitzchak was destined to marry Rivkah, even before they were born. They were soul mates, and they deserved each other. Eliezer was just fortunate enough to be the one through whom God worked to make it happen, earning reward for doing so as if it depended upon him.

The Bonds of Family and Faith

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

The horrific murder of 11 Jews in their house of worship on Shabbat reinforced several fundamental truths about Jewish life and this, presently dysfunctional, society.

Jews share a special bond with each other that is almost incomprehensible to outsiders. It is not simply a product of the relatively small number of Jews in the world, for, as G-d, said, we were meant to be “the smallest of all the nations.” It emerges from our history - of shared mission, shared suffering, shared fate, and shared destiny. All Jews feel to our core an attack on any one of us. The massacre of Jews in Pittsburgh, like the massacre of Jews by Arab terrorists in their synagogue in Yerushalayim several years ago, sends shock waves through our system. But even when a Jewish hiker disappears in Thailand, or a Jewish tourist is beaten in Berlin - both have occurred in the recent past - those stories become known to every Jew who follows the Jewish news. Our nation unites in prayer, resources are mustered to confront any danger or respond to any outrage, and we are on edge until the matter is resolved.

It is not only a Jewish mandate but also a truism: we have a long memory, going back to our forefathers, to Egypt and Amalek, to the two Jewish commonwealths, through the long exile that nears its end and climaxed with the Holocaust. We don’t forget. We shall never forget. And now the horrors of Pittsburgh are forever ingrained in the hearts of the Jewish people, long after the news cycle has moved on to the next event.

Secondly, these events underscore the innate bonds of Jews that transcend levels of religious observance. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, and one who is a Jew according to Halacha cannot lose that status. Our grief is not diminished an iota because some of the murdered were not Orthodox. The Halacha is clear and unequivocal: a Jew who is murdered because he or she is a Jew is a kadosh, a holy martyr, who enjoys a place in Paradise next to the holiest martyrs in our too-often gory history of persecution. Those who from time to time assert for political reasons that the Torah world considers non-observant or less observant Jews as lesser Jews or not Jews at all have never been telling the truth. The pain we all feel now should forever put paid to that canard.

And now to this society’s inherent dysfunction. It has become almost impossible for events - good or bad - to be analyzed objectively by sober minds. Everything - but everything - is viewed these days by aggressive and fulminating politicians and professional activists through a partisan lens. It didn’t take long for even this massacre to become a ball of wax to be shaped by each one’s agenda. Curiously, everyone seems to be blamed except the perpetrator, who is almost let off the hook because he is deemed just a tool of...well, take your pick.

As I have heard it, and this is just a random sampling of commentary, the murderer’s problem was not diabolical Jew hatred but rather that he was anti-immigration, and so the immigration laws need to be relaxed. His problem was not his neo-Nazi ranting but the lack of effective gun control (as if a mass murderer would honor gun laws when he doesn’t respect the anti-homicide laws.) And of course, today’s staple: his problem is not Jews but President Trump whom he despises because he is too pro-Jewish but yet, paradoxically, mysteriously, also encouraged or enabled this deadly Jew hatred.

It has reached obsessive, irrational levels.

President Trump, judging by some of the more rabid elements of the media, is responsible for the Pittsburgh massacre of Jews, the pipe bombs sent to Democrats, the murder of Jamal Khashogghi, the migrants’ attempt to cross the southern border, Hurricane Florence, last year’s drought in California, terror in Israel because of his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, the absence of peace in the Middle East, the Syrian refugee crisis, and every other domestic and global problem. The only development for which Trump is not at all responsible, apparently, is the booming economy, for which his predecessor now claims exclusive credit.

This is what is called an obsession, an interpretation of events so skewed as to defy rationality. Four years ago, when the Jewish Community Center in Kansas City was attacked and four people were killed, no one sought to blame the then president. Sadly, hatred is a constant in life and exists regardless of the president or party in power. Jews know this all too well. There are Jew haters on the left and the right, Jew haters who vote for Republicans and Jew haters who vote for Democrats, Jew haters who are white and Jew haters who are black. Jew haters do not fit into a neat ideological package - except their lives are consumed by jealousy, failure, and hatred.

It is unseemly to exploit this tragedy for partisan ends, on either side. It is unseemly to exploit this sadistic act to promote the non-Orthodox, which is totally irrelevant to these events. It seems the only group that hasn’t pitched its cause is the pro-Aliya advocates, notwithstanding that argument would have the most substance.

I don’t believe that hatred has mushroomed in recent years but if there is one deleterious trend that needs to be arrested it is the increasing dominance of social media. That has enabled haters to better propagate their hate, to easily find fellow travelers, to plot, scheme, and then, in some sick way, to revel in the commission of their crimes and the notoriety these dastardly deeds engender. These tools - Twitter, Facebook, and the like, whatever few positive elements they might have - are now the vehicles that haters, nuts, the violent, and the disaffected all use to facilitate their evil. To me, at least, that is the big change in society that has made politics, life and social interactions so much more toxic, with often deadly consequences. They allow people without filters to spew venom, lashon hara, libel, lies and hatred without consequence, and the anonymity encourages and emboldens them. These tools are ubiquitous spiritual, moral and physical dangers.

It doesn’t have to be like that. Here’s one encouraging note: at the Congressional candidates forum I moderated last week (between challenger John McCann and incumbent Josh Gottheimer), McCann let slip this gem to the audience: “Whether I win or Josh wins, this district will be well represented.” How refreshing - especially because in the current climate it was so unexpected. I don’t think similar candor is heard anywhere else in the country.

There is no policy difference that justifies mass murder. Differing views on immigration, abortion, the environment or tax policy will obviously not erupt into violence for normal people. Obviously, then, only evil people murder, and to associate their evil with a particular political cause or policy actually diminishes that evil, and in some macabre way can be seen to rationalize it. That must stop.
Jews are no strangers to targeted, hate-filled violence. Such has been our fate since the days of Abraham. But rather than lose ourselves in the poison of the moment and divide along party lines, we should use this crime as a catalyst for good deeds, to remind ourselves and the world of our mission and our mandate, why G-d founded our nation and why He has preserved us until today, and rededicate ourselves to His Torah and His morality and to popularize those ideas to a world that desperately needs them. And needs them now.

May the memories of the murdered be a blessing and inspiration to all Jews and good-hearted, decent people everywhere.

Thoughts after a mass murder of Jews

by Victor Rosenthal

I lived in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood for a few months when I was in grad school. It was a nice, safe, relatively friendly neighborhood.

Now it will be known as the site of the worst mass murder of Jews in US history.

Eleven are dead and numerous others wounded, including four responding police officers. The terrorist, Robert Bowers, as shown by this archive of social media posts, is apparently an obsessed Jew-hater, a Holocaust denier and a Nazi admirer. He appears to have become inflamed by the idea that liberal Jews were supporting uncontrolled immigration into the US (he mentions both Hispanics and Muslims), in particular the “migrant caravan” that is presently making its way through Mexico. Interestingly, Bowers criticized Donald Trump for being “a globalist, not a nationalist,” said that Trump was surrounded by Jews, and that he did not vote for him.

His decision to act seems to have been triggered by an event held in Pittsburgh by the HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), an organization that once brought Jewish refugees out of Europe, but now works to resettle refugees from Syria, Central America, and even Africans in Tel Aviv.

There have been various, mostly predictable, popular responses to this atrocious act. Many, if not most, miss the point. So here is what I think:

This is nothing new. Synagogues and other Jewish institutions around the world and in the US are attacked all the time. Attacks in the US have been carried out by both neo-Nazi and Islamic extremists, and their number has been increasing along with polarization and anger in the country.

Bowers was “ideologically insane.” One common theme among extreme right-wing conspiracy theorists is that Jews, especially George Soros, are trying to destroy the “white race” in America by introducing non-white immigrants. They will then take over (although they are already in charge by means of controlling politicians, even Trump), or they will somehow make a lot of money out of the collapse of the nation. Bowers seems to have believed some version of this. Social media seems to feed this kind of insanity, which often erupts into violence.

It’s not Trump’s fault. Yes, the extreme right is more likely to support Trump than his opponents, and there were anti-Jewish elements involved in Trump’s campaign. That doesn’t mean that Trump encourages or approves of anti-Jewish violence. And there are Jew-haters galore on the other side.

It’s not the liberal Jews’ fault. Yes, liberal and progressive Jews often take positions that infuriate the Right, like favoring increased immigration, especially from Muslim countries. But it’s their prerogative to take whatever positions they like without being murdered.

It is not a problem of generalized “hatred.” It is a very specific kind of hatred; it is the particular hatred of Jews that has existed for thousands of years, that constantly reprises old themes and creates new ones, but which never goes away. Increasing expressions of Jew-hatred in the US are a result of constant anti-Jewish incitement in social media. Rick Jacobs wants to universalize the disaster. He stands in a pool of Jewish blood and talks about anti-black racism and “Islamophobia.” This is pathological. Jews were murdered because they were Jews and he virtue-signals about how he cares for all humanity!

Love is not the answer. Jew-haters are not going to be impressed by posturing that “we don’t need armed guards to pray.” The more that liberal Jews resist security measures on the grounds that they would be “giving the [terrorists, neo-Nazis] what they want,” the softer and more attractive targets they become. Ignoring the threat is not courageous; it is burying your head in the sand, a form of cowardice.

An armed presence is a deterrent. Perhaps one guy sitting in the back of the synagogue with a pistol would not always prevent such a tragedy, but it would greatly increase the odds of doing so. Serious security measures are not, as is sometimes suggested, a sign of fear – rather, as in Israel, a sign that an institution will not accept the “right” of the terrorist to shut it down.

Israel’s experience as the Jew Among Nations shows that a strong, disproportionate response to violent anti-Jewish attacks tends to deter future attacks. When the response is weak – as in today’s response to the provocations from Gaza – the attacks become more frequent and more ambitious.

My recommendations to American Jews and Jewish institutions are these:

Face reality. We live in an increasingly anti-Jewish world. They hate us on the macro and micro levels, from the Right and from the Left. The Golden Age of American Jewry is coming to an end. History teaches us that the condition of Jews in non-Jewish societies is usually precarious. America since 1945 has been an exception.

Take steps to protect yourselves. You can’t walk into a synagogue in Europe without meeting an armed guard and open doors are not left unattended. Unobtrusive security measures are possible, but the visible ones also serve as a deterrent. Don’t expect the authorities to protect you. Yes, you pay taxes and it is their job. No, they are not capable of providing day-in day-out protection. You will have to work with them and supplement what they can provide. This is a lesson the state of Israel learned early: it’s your life – nobody cares as much about it as you do.

Remember who you are. You are members of the Jewish people, not citizens of the world. You have a homeland, the State of Israel. Israel doesn’t need your money, but she needs you to ensure that your nation supports her in international forums and helps maintain military superiority against her enemies. Contrary to what her enemies say, Israel is the temporal center of power of the Jewish people, and her existence deters rather than encourages worldwide acts of Jew-hatred. If Israel should be lost, the Jewish people everywhere will be lost.

The expression “wake-up call” is overused but I think it is appropriate here. This horrific murder should stand as a warning to American Jews, many of whom have felt insulated, safe in a way that Jews have never been safe anywhere prior to the post-WWII period in America. One useful thing that Robert Bowers may have done is send a message to these comfortable Jews: welcome to Jewish history.

HaRav Nachman Kahana: Why do we experience such tragedy?

Parashiot Lech Lecha – Chayei Sarah 5779
by HaRav Nachman Kahana

The sudden, tragic murders of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh, and yesterday’s horrendous accident near the Dead Sea where the entire Atar family was killed – parents and 6 children, bring forth again that incontestable question – why did HaShem make it happen?

These two tragedies, as with most of Jewish history, have no rational basis in human logic and are not acts of compassion. The reality of our lives leaves one standing in profound anguish before the inexplicable decisions of the Creator.

As we confront with our limited intellectual resources the para aduma and other chukim (mitzvot whose reasons were not disclosed by HaShem) we conclude that we know nothing of the big secrets of existence. Moreover, we are aware of dual and sometimes contradictory processes in our existence.

There is rationality and causality in life which permits us to predict the outcome of our actions. But we are also aware that our lives are subject to a randomness that makes a mockery of statistical conclusions and historical precedents.

From the beginning of time until its end in every atom of matter in existence, we can observe the two opposing forces of rationality vs. randomness. On the molecular level, the bonding and decomposition of elements are as predictable as tomorrow’s sunrise, but the quantum theory will tell you that nothing is predictable when you enter the sub-atomic world of quarks and strings.

HaShem makes us aware of His presence in two ways: the impressive order and predictability of the natural world vs. the sudden, irrational, uncompassionate, volatile episodes in our lives. It is as if HaShem is telling us, “I am the Ba’al ha’Bayit (Master) of My world and can do whatever I wish. Do not restrict Me to the boundaries of logic, for then logic becomes God. Do not restrict Me to the limits of pity and compassion, because then they become God. I am the Creator of logic and compassion, and they are subject to My will”.

The randomness of life makes us shrink before the Almighty who controls the destiny of us all. It also opens the way to prayer. The message is, that no matter how the situation might look and what conclusions we reach, HaShem can change the outcome in an instant.

Nowhere are these principles more evident than in Eretz Yisrael. We have experienced frightening moments and situations from which, at the time, there seemed no escape. The War of Independence, the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War were all seen by the world as the demise of the Jewish State. In stark contrast, HaShem saved the Jewish people in the holy land and miraculously brought us to new and greater heights.

The Path to Redemption

Our rabbis have taught that HaShem put Avraham Avinu through ten tests. The ninth was the “binding of Yitzchak” (akeidat Yitzchak) and the tenth, the negotiations between Avraham and the Hittite Council of Elders for the purchase of Ma’arat Ha’machpela as a burial site for Sarah.

Logic dictates that since every succeeding test increases in difficulty, the question arises: what was the focus of this last test set before Avraham which caused it to be more difficult than the Akeida? Was it the necessity to deal with worldly matters of “real estate” while in the midst of a profound emotional crisis at the loss of his beloved Sarah? Perhaps! Was it his being taken advantage of by the unscrupulous Efron the Hittite, who charged 400 shekels for a burial site which was not worth nearly that much? Perhaps! These were indeed aggravating realities, but the real hard core of the test, I believe, ran far deeper into the area which was to impact upon Jewish history.

A fundamental religious principle appears in many of our classical commentaries and responsa: “The actions of the fathers (Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov) guide their children (the Jewish people) along the path to redemption”. The moment of truth came when Avraham, despite the ramifications of what he was presently about to do, stood up before the Hittite council of elders and proclaimed: “I am a stranger and a resident among you”. Rashi quotes the Midrash which explains what Avraham meant: “If you wish [to sell the burial site], I will act as a stranger who recognizes your right of ownership over the area; but if you do not [sell me the burial site], I will implement my right of sovereignty and seize the land by virtue of God’s promise to me, which proclaimed ‘And to your children will I give this land’.

Recall that Avraham was told by HaShem to leave his land, his birthplace and his father’s home to take up residence in a land which HaShem would identify later. At that time, Europe was desolate, as were most parts of Africa and Asia, not to speak of the Americas. But instead of sending Avraham to establish a Jewish State in an unpopulated area where there would be no protest, Avraham was directed to the most populous area in the world; a thin sliver of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea populated by 7 nations numbering in the hundreds of thousands, even millions. Each of these peoples, all descendants of Cham, the son of Noach, arrived in the land much before Avraham. They cultivated its fields, constructed buildings and established places of worship, which taken together served as a common civilization. At this juncture in their history, a stranger arrives from the east and declared that he was the true sovereign over all the land. Not just the area of Canaan, but of all the lands from the Euphrates in the north to the Nile in the south, and from the Mediterranean in the west to Mesopotamia in the east.

By this statement, Avraham challenged the rights of countless peoples who considered themselves as the owners of these lands by virtue of conquest and possession. This was an act of immense courage, because from that moment on, Avraham was perceived by all those people to be a threat to their way of life; to their very existence. We were here before you!

You are a foreign implant in the Middle East. We do not tolerate other beliefs! Does this sound strangely familiar? Don’t we hear it daily from Arab spokesmen, echoing the feelings of the ancient children of Cham when reacting to Avraham’s declaration of sovereignty?

These anti-God, latter-day advocates of denial spew their venom in the media, on campuses, in the Security Council, on Capitol Hill and on the Temple Mount. And we ask ourselves: where is the Avraham of our generation who will stand up before the world and declare that Eretz Yisrael is our God-given heritage? This is obviously too huge a test for today’s Jewish leaders; whether they be great talmidei chachamim, who almost to a man advocate a low profile when dealing with Yishmael in the east and Esav in the west, and certainly the secular Jews who believe that our ties to the land are merely historic and do not stem from HaShem’s promise to our forefathers.

If I were to merit the opportunity to stand before an international forum, I would shout the words of Avraham Avinu: that although we recognize certain individual rights of non-Jews in the Holy Land, God and His people Israel are the sovereigns over the entire Land of Israel.

The rejection of our sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael as being God given is the root cause of all our problems today in Eretz Yisrael.

In wake of the 1967 Six Day War, when HaShem presented to Am Yisrael the entire area of Eretz Yisrael west of the Jordan river on a silver platter, the Jewish thing to do would have been to immediately demolish the two abominations standing on the Temple Mount; annex all the areas of Shomron, Yehuda, Aza, and the Golan Heights into the State of Israel; open the bridges over the River to Jordan and help, facilitate, assist, and inspire all the Arabs to leave the country; commence on an ambitious project of resettling the newly acquired land between the Ocean and the River; open ever wider the gates of aliya for the millions who would have returned had the government acted according to the first four.

However, since our leaders lack the Jewish pride which filled Avraham Avinu, we are witnessing the negation of everything which is right.

The Temple Mount has become the focal point for Moslems in Eretz Yisrael, when on a Friday in Ramadan 300,000 Moslems ascend the Mount and turn their backs on Yerushalayim and face Mecca. And instead of diminishing the Arab population, our government does all to increase it as they turn a blind eye to the multiple Arab marriages, so that a Bedouin family can number from 50 to 75 and more children, and slowly take over the entire Negev.

All this because of the weakness of the “children” compared to the pride and strength of Avraham Avinu, when he declared our God-given sovereignty over every millimeter of this Holy Land. Fortunately, as in past desperate periods in our history, HaShem sends a leader who exhibits the Jewish pride exemplified by Avraham Avinu. In our time when that day comes, and I believe wholeheartedly that it will come, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and all the other would-be Hitlers who slither around the planet, will be no more. And the banners of the twelve Jewish tribes will be raised by the people who have returned to take possession of all of Eretz Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom,
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5779/2018 Nachman Kahana

Rav Kook on Parashat Chayei Sarah: Guarding the Inner Child

The Torah counts the years of Sarah’s long life: “A hundred years and twenty years and seven years; these were the years of Sarah’s life” (Gen. 23:1). Noting the verse’s wordiness, the Sages commented that throughout all the years of her life - whether at age seven, twenty, or a hundred - Sarah retained the same goodness, the same purity, and the same youthful innocence.

Despite her long years of barrenness, despite twice being kidnapped as she accompanied her husband Abraham on his many journeys, Sarah did not become hard and cynical. Their son was named Isaac - Yitzchak, “he will laugh” - due to Abraham’s feelings of wonderment and Sarah’s amazed laughter. “God had given me laughter; all who hear will rejoice for me” (Gen. 21:6).

How to Educate

From the inspiring example of Sarah’s purity and faith, we can learn an important lesson about education.

The nation’s future depends upon how we educate the next generation. How should we tend to the vineyard of the House of Israel so that the saplings will prosper and grow, anchoring fast roots below and producing pleasant fruit above? How can we make sure that our children will develop into complete Jewish adults, their values firmly rooted in their heritage, living lives that are “pleasing to God and to man”?

We must take care to avoid slavish imitation of the educational methods of other nations. Our educational approach must suit the special nature and unique characteristics of our nation.

Two Views of Childhood

The question of education revolves around an even more basic question. What is childhood? Is it just a preparatory stage leading to adulthood, or does it have intrinsic value in and of itself?

If life is all about working and earning a livelihood, then a child is simply a lump of clay to be formed into a tool to serve in the nation’s workforce. Childhood is but a preparation for adulthood, when one becomes a productive member of society, a cog in the great machine of the nation’s economy.

But there is another view of life, an idealistic outlook which values the qualities of purity and innocence. Such a viewpoint sees childhood as a stage of life that has value in its own right. The Sages recognized the special contribution of children to the world. “The world endures only for the sake of the breath of school children,” for their Torah is learned in purity, undefiled by sin (Shabbat 119b).

When children are educated properly, we may discern within their pristine souls untold measures of holiness and purity. But this is only true if the grace and beauty of these delicate flowers is not crushed by the spirit-numbing reality of the factory floor and the cynical manipulations of greedy corporations.

Childhood is good and holy, but it is too weak and vulnerable to withstand the powerful forces of society. It is our duty to preserve the simplicity of childhood, to carefully allow our children to mature without losing their innate innocence. This will enable them to acquire the physical strength and spiritual resilience that they lack, while retaining the innocent exuberance of childhood.

My Anointed Ones

“Do not harm meshichai, My anointed ones - this refers to school children” (Shabbat 119b). Why are children called “God’s anointed ones”? Anointing is not a one-time event, but an initiation ceremony which influences the years to come. Thus a king is anointed, and throughout the years of his reign he is the melech ha-mashiach, the anointed king.

The same is true with childhood. When it has not been debased by the pressures of an exploitative society, childhood is our anointing, our initiation, so that we may enjoy its pure fruits throughout our lives.

This is the beautiful example that Sarah provides. She lived a life of holiness and pure faith, retaining her childlike wonder and purity throughout the many vicissitudes of her long life. “All her years were equal in goodness” (Rashi).

(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ma’amerei HaRe’iyah vol. II, pp. 230-231, from a 1905 lecture that Rav Kook delivered at the opening of a Talmud Torah school in Rehovot.)

Anti-Semitism – Abhorrent Aberration in the USA

by Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

The October 27, 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh, PA, was an egregious reminder that since the early 17th century, anti-Semitism has been a systematic feature of - yet an abhorrent aberration in - the US. At the same time, the US society has demonstrated 400 years of respect for Judaism, Judeo-Christian values and the Jewish State.

For instance, Peter Stuyvesant, the first Dutch Governor of New York/New Netherland (1647-1664), failed in his attempt to block the immigration of Jews to the colony, but prohibited them from constructing a synagogue and serving in the local militia. Moreover, he confiscated Jewish property and levied a special tax solely on Jews, claiming that they were “deceitful and enemies of Jesus Christ.”

The state of the Jewish community improved in the aftermath of the 1664 British conquest of New York and the introduction of a series of civil covenants in the various colonies (e.g., the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties). It was further improved as a result of the 1789 ratification of the US Constitution, which enhanced civil liberties – in a drastic departure from the state of mind of the European Churches and monarchies - also inspired by theFive Books of Moses, and especially by the concept of the Jubilee (Leviticus, 25:10).

Still, European-imported anti-Semitism established itself in the US, although as a significantly lower profile in the newly-created society and governance. The latter have expanded liberty over and beyond the European standards, while severely restricting the playing field of potential anti-Semitism.

For example, in December 1862, General Ulysses Grant issued the infamous General Order No. 11, ordering the expulsion of all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi, stating: “The Jews, as a class, violate every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department….” However, in January 1863, President Lincoln – known for his deep respect of Judaism - ordered Grant to revoke the Order. Moreover, in the aftermath of the Civil War, General Grant contended that he signed the Order without studying it….

In the early 1920s, Henry Ford – the only American mentioned favorably in Hitler’s Mein Kampf and praised by Heinrich Himmler – wrote: “If fans wish to know the trouble with American baseball, they have it in three words – too much Jew.” However, in January, 1921, 119 distinguished Americans, such as President Woodrow Wilson, former President William Taft and the poet Robert Frost, signed a petition, denouncing Ford’s anti-Semitism, including his dissemination of the 1903 anti-Semitic Russian-fabricated “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In 1927, Ford apologized for his anti-Semitic conduct.

During the 1920s and the 1930s, Father Charles Coughlin leveraged his weekly anti-Semitic radio program to praise Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. However, upon the 1939 outbreak of the Second World War, he lost most of his listeners and followers.

An accurate depiction of most Americans’ stance on anti-Semitism was exposed, in December 1993, by the reaction of most of the 80,000 residents of Billings, Montana to a paving stone hurled – by a white supremacist - through a window of a Jewish home displaying a Chanukah candelabra and a Star of David. The hate-crime was followed by theBillings Gazette’s full-page color image of a Chanukah candelabra, along with the recommendation to display it on home windows in solidarity with the Jewish community. In addition, some residents took to the street, holding Chanukah candelabras, demonstrating a city-wide determination to stand up against the bullying tactics of white supremacists. Furthermore, solidarity with the Jewish community has become, almost, an annual event attended by top Billings and Montana officials.

The most authentic representation of the American state of mind is the 435 members of the House of Representatives – along with the 100 Senators – who are elected directly by US constituents, in order to represent them faithfully, or else (“we shall remember in November”)…. Therefore, most legislators - just like their constituents - have been systematic and determined allies of Judeo-Christian values, the Jewish people and the Jewish State.

While the destructive and lethal potential of anti-Semitism must not be underestimated, countries should not be judged by the eruption of such an abomination, but by the way they prosecute it. The 400-year-old Judeo-Christian foundations - and track record - of the USA assure that anti-Semitism shall be constrained, prosecuted and punished most decisively.

Jews, come home

by Victor Rosenthal

Author Naomi Ragen urges Diaspora Jews to “come home” to Israel, and describes her own feelings of the almost miraculous condition of being a Jew in the Jewish homeland:

I was walking down Prophets Street (Rehov Hanevi’im) in Jerusalem, thinking how lucky I was to be living my life in a place that has such a street. I was thinking how short life is, and how we live in such an incredibly special era, a time when miracles and prophecies are unfolding before our astonished eyes. You have only to read the Torah to see all that God predicted would happen to the Jewish people has happened and to realize that the time we are living in is when the good things that were promised are now coming true.

I too understand the feeling of experiencing the miraculous, even when I’m only in the somewhat decrepit shuk in Rehovot.

It’s not connected to religion, although it’s easier to observe the commandments in Israel where you are not always wondering where to find kosher food, and where people understand what Shabbat means, whether or not they keep it themselves.

From a religious point of view, the connection between the Jewish people and their land is obvious. The Torah is in large part a story about the relationship between, Hashem, the Jewish people, and the land of Israel. For secular people, especially those living in those parts of the diaspora where Jew-hatred is currently held at bay, it may not be evident. Some feel the connection and some don’t.

I have a good friend, who came to Israel from America close to 40 years ago. He is not observant. He will tell you that he is an atheist. We don’t talk about politics much, but I suspect he is significantly to the left of me. But he has a connection to the Jewish people, and for better or worse this is his home. He could have earned a good living in America or Europe, but he chose to be here. He feels the magic of living in a Jewish state, even if he wouldn’t express it like Ragen does. And he isn’t the only one that feels this way. The socialist kibbutzniks that played such a great role in the early days of the state also claimed to be atheists, but they loved the land of Israel and made great sacrifices for it.

But for some diaspora Jews, the Jewish homeland is not their homeland. There is something missing. It’s easy to find examples. Simone Zimmerman, the Jewish woman who leads the organization called “If Not Now,” accepts the Palestinian narrative of the conflict, calls Israel immoral and corrupt, and seemingly fails to notice the murderous behavior of Israel’s enemies. Jewish historian Hasia Dinerfeels “a sense of repulsion when [she enters] a synagogue in front of which the congregation has planted a sign reading, “We Stand With Israel.”

Zimmerman and Diner are strongly influenced by their progressive political perspective, but why did they choose it? And why did they choose to emphasize its anti-Israel aspects? I believe that it is impossible to adopt an ideology that is so one-sided, that so strongly condemns both the actions and the motives of a people, when you see yourself as a member of it. And they don’t, despite their public identification as Jews.

I greatly prefer someone like Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, the pro-Palestinian group that sent Rachel Corrie to her death under an IDF bulldozer. Shapiro believes that being Jewish is simply a matter of religion, and since he has no connection to Judaism, he is not a Jew. Hitler would have disagreed, but at least Shapiro is honest.

Zimmerman and Diner claim that they are acting in accordance with Jewish ethical principles. They are referring to the system of universalist ethics that underlies the social activism that has replaced ritual as Jewish observance for many liberal Jews. While it is certainly legitimate to practice a Judaism that emphasizes the prophetic tradition and deemphasizes ritual, it seems to me that when your ethical system elevates other groups over the Jewish people, then it can no longer be called a Jewish ethics.

And some diaspora Jews really do place the Jewish people at the bottom of their ladder of ethical priorities. Zimmerman says that “Jewish liberation is inextricably tied to the liberation of all people,” a statement which is clearly false. Is there a connection between the Jewish people and the persecuted Rohingya people of Myanmar, a country that has about 20 Jewish residents?

What she means is that in her eyes, the Jewish people are no more important than the Rohingya. Of course I agree with her that a Jewish life and a Rohingya life are equally valuable. But I care less about what happens to the Rohingya than the Jewish people, and I would expect them to feel the same about us. In any event, Zimmerman is a hypocrite: her activism is aimed primarily at opposing the state of the Jewish people, and she devotes little if any energy to helping the Rohingya.

For every Jew that supports the cause of the enemies of the Jewish people there are probably ten that are indifferent. Some just don’t think about it, some deny their Jewishness to escape antisemitism, and for some, the idea of being a part of a people that transcends politics doesn’t resonate, or is even abhorrent.

I think there is something – a spark or a gene, depending on the kind of language you prefer – that no matter where a Jew may be on the spectrum of observance, can act as a channel to the Jewish people and their homeland. You have it or you don’t. You are connected or you aren’t. And in the diaspora many people with Jewish parents, even synagogue members, simply aren’t. They are the ones who see Israel as “just another country.”

Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt thinks that there are six inherent moral foundations that serve as the basis for our decisions about right and wrong, and good and evil: care, fairness, loyalty, authority, sanctity, and liberty. Cultures and individuals differ in their relative responses to these six triggers. For example, in affluent, educated Western circles, care is very important: morality is primarily about not hurting anybody. In more traditional groups issues of loyalty, authority, and sanctity take precedence.

Haidt thinks that part of the difference in attitudes of liberals and conservatives can be explained by the idea that liberals greatly emphasize the first two, care and fairness, while conservatives place more equal weight on all six. The feeling that one belongs to a people fits in the category of loyalty, which possibly explains why liberals find the universalist ethics of Reform Judaism attractive.

Naomi Ragen speaks in religious language, and she is politically conservative. But there are countless diaspora Jews who don’t fit into those categories but who still feel their connection with their people, their land, and their state.

If you feel that connection, then you should come home too.

“The L-rd will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance.”

by HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

Abraham said to the Hittites: “I am a stranger and a resident with you. Sell me property for a burial place with you so that I can bury my dead” (Genesis 23:4). Rashi explains: “‘I am a stranger and a resident’: If you agree to sell me the land then I will regard myself as a stranger and will pay for it, but if not, I shall claim it as a resident and take it as my legal right, because G-d said to me (Genesis 12:7), ‘To your seed I shall give this land.’”

Two options faced the nations who ruled over the Land -- either to recognize willingly Abraham’s rights over the Land, or to deny those rights. In the latter case, however, Abraham would justly take it from them by force, on the strength of G-d’s promise to him.

The deeds of the fathers presage those of the sons.

Today, the Jewish People and the Arabs are in a similar situation. The Arabs have two options: They can recognize the exclusive rights of the Jewish People, backed up by the divine promise, “To your seed I shall give this land,” or they can deny our rights to our land. In the latter case we will justly take it, by force, backed up by G-d’s command and by His covenant with us, as did Joshua, King David, Matityahu the Hasmonean, and others...

True, there are some who think that we have to separate from the Arabs and separate from Eretz Yisrael -- G-d forbid -- and hand it over to the Arabs. They think that by such means peace, tranquillity and quiet will come to our land. Yet regarding this it says, “There are many devices in a man’s heart, but it is the counsel of the L-rd that shall endure. The counsel of the L-rd shall endure forever” (Proverbs 19:21; Psalm 33:11).

And what is that “counsel of the L-rd”? “For the L-rd chose Zion. He desired it for His habitation” (Psalm 132:13); “The L-rd chose Jacob for Himself, Israel for His own possession” (135:4); “The L-rd will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance” (94:14).

To what may this be compared? To a couple in the process of getting a divorce. They argue fiercely over who should get the property. Yet let us suppose that the property belongs to one of the spouses who inherited it from his ancestors and that it is listed as such in the Israel land registry, etc., etc. The second one has no rights to the apartment and all the same he demands the whole apartment for himself and uses force and violence against the one to whom the apartment really belongs. Ultimately, because of the violence, the other spouse is all but ready to concede part of the apartment, if only because he wants to get divorced. Yet the other side wants the whole apartment and will not give in.

They come before the judge who clarifies who really owns the apartment. He determines unequivocally that the apartment belongs to its true owners and he rejects the claims of the violent spouse who wishes to steal what does not belong to him.

We and our government must know and recognize the truth that Eretz Yisrael belongs only to the Jewish People. We must not concede the least bit of our land. If the Arabs wish to separate from us, they can, but without Eretz Yisrael. We can give them gifts, just as Abraham did when he sent away Ishmael. If there are among us some who still think nonsensical thoughts about it being possible to concede part of the “apartment” in favor of the Arabs, and thereby to achieve peace, they are mistaken. Only when the violence reaches their own homes will they recognize their painful error.

Yet the day is not far off when the Arabs, and all the nations of the earth, will recognize that the words of the prophets of Israel, and G-d’s promise to us, are the truth. The Jewish People are arising to rebirth in Eretz Yisrael, and they shall continue to rise up like a lion over the whole length and breadth of our land until we merit the fulfillment of, “The L- rd shall be King over all the earth. On that day the L-rd shall be one and His name One” (Zechariah 14:9).
Looking forward to complete salvation,
Shabbat Shalom.

Yerushalayim and Me'arat Hamachpela

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg 
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

In the beginning of Parshat Va'era, Rashi cites the Midrash that after Moshe complained to G-d, "Why have You done evil to this People" (Shemot 5:22), G-d said: "Woe to those who are lost and no longer found. I have what to regret over the death of the patriarchs ... When Avraham sought to bury Sara, he did not find a plot, until he bought it at great cost ... and they did not question My ways. But you say, 'Why have You done evil?'"

The question arises: Is it possible to compare Moshe's complaint about the difficult exile to Avraham's acceptance that he has to expend a sum of money to purchase a burial plot? What difficult trail did Avraham have when he had to purchase the field?

Moreover, R. Yona, in his commentary to Pirkei Avot, writes that the purchase of Me'arat Hamachpela was the final trial, and this was more difficult than the trial of the akeida! How can this be?

Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer describes Avraham's connection to Me'arat Hamachpela. When Avraham prepared the feast for the three angels:

He ran to bring a calf, and the calf ran away from him and entered Me'arat Hamachpela, and [Avraham] entered after him there. He found Adam and Chava lying on beds and sleeping, with candles burning over them, and a fragrant aroma upon them. Therefore, Avraham desired Me'arat Hamachpela for a burial site.

He spoke to the people of Yevus to purchase Me'arat Hamachpela from them for a full price with gold and an eternal deed as a burial site. Were they Yevusim; were they not Chittim? Rather, they were called after the city Yevus (Yerushalayim), and the people refused. He began bowing to them, as it says, "Avraham bowed before the people of the land." They said to him: We know that G-d is destined to give you and your descendents all of these lands. Seal with us an oath that Bnei Yisrael will not take over the city of Yevus without the agreement of the children of Yevus. Afterwards, Avraham purchased Me'arat Hamachpela for a full sale and in writing forever as an eternal heritage, as it says, "Avraham listened to Ephron..."

What did the people of Yevus do? They made idols of copper and placed them in the city streets and wrote Avraham's oath on them. When Israel entered the Land, they wanted to enter the Yevusite city, but were not able to enter, because of the sign of the covenant of Avraham's oath, as it says, "The children of Binyamin did not drive out the Yevusite, inhabitants of Yerushalayim, so the Yevusite dwelt with the children on Binyamin, in Yerushalayim, until this day." (Shoftim 1:21)

Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer continues to describe all the delays in the conquest of the city of Yevus until David purchased the plot from Aravna the Yevusite. This entire delay was caused by Avraham's oath to the people of Chet, as the Yevusites said to David, "You cannot enter the Yevusite city until you remove these idols that have Avraham's oath written on them."

This was the great trial of Avraham. Sara's burial came a few days after descending from Mt. Moriah, after the trial of the akeida, in which he was promised the great future of this mountain: "Hashem will see; as it is said this day, on the mountain Hashem will be seen." (Bereisheet 22:14) Now he fell from great heights to great depths, and he cannot bury Sara in the place he so much wanted, unless he would forego Yerushalayim.

Who knows G-d's secret ways, and how can we understand the many delays in the capture of Yerushalayim from the days of Avraham to our days, with the declaration, "The Temple mount is in our hand!" - and it is still not completely.

The issue is deep and complex; we will explain only briefly. Chazal say: "Netzach is Yerushalyim, and hod is the Temple." Rav Kook zt"l explains that netzach indicates struggle and victory (nitzachon). For Yerushalayim, the kingdom of Israel, we must struggle, and we will be victorious. However, the Temple itself will ultimately be recognized by the nations themselves, without a struggle, as the place of the Divine Presence, from which all human culture and ethics emanate. We do not force this upon the nations of the world. They will ultimately recognize the splendor of this place, and will come and call, "Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem ... From Zion Torah will go forth." (Yeshaya 2:3) Only after we appreciate the splendor of the place will we have full control over the place: "Hod - this is the Temple."

From Hebron to Pittsburgh

by Shmuel Sackett

This past Shabbat, was a very exciting one for me. It was the yahrzeit of my Rav, Rabbi Meir Kahane (18th of Mar-Cheshvan) and it also marked 50 years since his founding of the Jewish Defense League way back in 1968. I was very active in the JDL (starting in the mid 70’s) and am one of those guys who will always remember that to us, “Never Again” was not a slogan, but a way of life. In commemoration of those days and in remembrance of our holy Rabbi, we put together a nice group of the old “chevrah” and spent a meaningful Shabbat in the special city of Hebron. Even though I had been to Hebron many times, I never knew that there was a guest house in the middle of the Avraham Avinu neighborhood. It is called “Beit Betar” and has about 18 simple - but very nice - rooms.

We reserved the entire guest house and quickly filled it with students of Rav Kahane and former members of the JDL. The Shabbat was organized by Garth and Joy Kravat, who were executive board members of the JDL. In addition to that, Garth was head of the famous “Chaya Squad”, a group that did whatever was necessary (literally…) to protect Jews from anti-Semites. He told amazing stories about defending Jewish teachers in the Lower Eastside from Puerto Rican gangs and how the Chaya Squad stopped the Black Panthers from terrorizing Jews across NY. He also shared with us some bone-chilling stories about how the JDL’s Chaya Squad went up against the Italian mafia in stopping their harassment of Jewish businesses for “protection” money.

Over Shabbat many ex-JDL’ers shared stories about what they did to protect Jews in Philadelphia, Miami, Toronto and even in Ottawa. These modern day heroes risked their careers - and in many cases even their lives – to defend Jewish families, homes, businesses, shuls, schools and cemeteries. They protected the elderly, taught Jews how to shoot and put the plight of Soviet Jewry on page one of the NY Times. While other people their age were playing ball and hanging out with friends, these brave, fearless young Jews were patrolling streets with pipes and clubs to insure that Jews would never be harmed again.

My activities in the JDL were far less exciting. I was focused on freeing Soviet Jewry and did whatever I could, whether legal or not, to break open the Iron Curtain. Today, as I walk around Israel – and even New York – and see so many smiling Russian Jews I know that we were successful. Many other groups joined that struggle but it was the JDL – led by Rabbi Meir Kahane – that made it headline news across the world.

Spending Shabbat with these unbelievable people, in this amazing city, was very uplifting and motivating. It reignited the spark inside me and made me even prouder to be part of the Jewish Nation. The entire Shabbat was filled with stories and Divrei Torah about what was done and what must always be done to keep Jews safe, and I enjoyed every minute of it. And then we made Havdallah, turned on our cellphones and read about the massacre of 11 Jews…

When I hear such news, that Jews were killed just because they were Jews, I feel pain and then I feel anger. The anger I feel is because, after all these years, Jews still believe that “it won’t happen again”. They stroll to shul across America with complete faith that everything will be fine. I have spoken in 500 Jewish communities across America and Canada and 99% of these shuls have no Jews guarding them. People bring their Tallis to shul… but what about their gun? Yes, their gun! Jews need to arm themselves – legally, of course – and master the art of knowing how to use that weapon. Men and women must do whatever it takes to secure a license for a firearm and patrol the shuls and schools in our neighborhoods. Furthermore, Jews must take action when hate rises before massacres like this occur. We cannot just sit back and wait.

Don’t misunderstand me, this can happen – and has happened - in Israel as well. Trust me that the main reason Har Nof was chosen for an attack in a shul was because nobody there carries a weapon… and the Arabs knew it. Jews in Israel need to carry weapons and Jews in Queens, Chicago, Montreal, Boca Raton and Melbourne need to carry weapons as well. When he started the JDL, Rabbi Kahane coined the famous term “Every Jew a .22” and he once told me that he really wanted to say “Every Jew an M-16” but it didn’t rhyme, so he went with the “22”.

This is not a joking matter. As important as it is to teach your children about Torah and Mitzvot you must also teach them how to defend themselves. Don’t just send you children to learn guitar or ballet, send them also to karate and krav maga. At the legal age teach them about firearms and how to handle them safely. Take them to a shooting range and make sure they know how to use a weapon. I realize that in many states carrying a gun is illegal so please check the laws and learn what must be done to legally protect your shuls and schools.

We need to stop being na├»ve and innocent. Anti-Semitism always was and always will be, and in most places across the world it’s getting worse. It was so ironic to me that on the very Shabbat that I was in Hebron talking about what was done to defend Jewish lives in America and how we miss Rabbi Kahane’s leadership and courage… that on that very Shabbat a terrible massacre occurred to innocent Jews. To me, the lesson was clear. We cannot just remember Rabbi Kahane and the JDL, we need to dust it off and start it once again. I urge every person reading this to take this message seriously and do whatever possible in his/her local city to protect fellow Jews.

Allow me to conclude with a quote from an article written by Rabbi Kahane on October 27, 1972. It was published in The Jewish Press. “The Jewish lamb, the Jew who stands bent and trembling passively before his mocking enemies who mock and degrade him, is the Jew who is ultimately destined for pogroms, extermination and holocaust. Jewish blood is not cheap and it is forbidden to cheapen the Jews – either as a people or individually… This is the real meaning of the slogan – Never Again. Not that never again will we see the rise of Nazis or other enemies. Such a thing is not possible… for Esav will always hate Yaakov. But it is with a mighty oath that in the event of such enemies – never again will there be a passive, timid and humiliating reaction such as in generations past. The honor of the Jewish people will never again be trampled.”

May Hashem avenge the blood of those murdered.

Moshe Feiglin On i24 on Suspected Election Plot (eng.)

The Plot to Kill Abraham’s Servant

by Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz

Hatreds not vowed and concealed are to be feared more than those openly declared. -Marcus Tullius Cicero

Abraham sends his servant (named by the Midrash as Eliezer) to Haran from Canaan, to Abraham’s family, to find a bride for Isaac. Eliezer finds Rebecca daughter of Betuel, and immediately understands that she is the one for Isaac. Abraham’s nephew, Betuel, and Betuel’s son, Lavan, greet Eliezer warmly, and upon hearing Eliezer’s account, immediately agree that the match should be made.

The biblical account that follows however, is highly enigmatic. First of all, Betuel completely disappears from the narrative. Secondly, Rebecca’s family appears to want to then delay Rebecca’s departure.

The Midrash fills in some of the gaps and provides a wild story. The Midrash tells of a conspiracy to kill Eliezer. Betuel attempts to secretly poison Eliezer, however, an angel intervenes, switching Eliezer’s and Betuel’s food, leading the poisoner, Betuel, to be poisened and to die. Hence his disappearance from the rest of the account.

However, that still leaves us with the question of the motive. Why did Betuel want to kill Eliezer? Why initially agree to the marriage and then try to delay it?

The Berdichever on the story explains that Betuel and Lavan actually wanted to prevent Isaac from ever having progeny. In their Talmudic deviousness, they knew the law that if a person sends an agent to marry someone on his behalf, the sender is prohibited to marry anyone else while the agent is away. The law is to prevent a case of marrying someone who in actuality would be forbidden to him without knowing it.

Their plan was therefore simple and Talmudically sound. They would accept Isaac’s marriage proposal through Eliezer, contractually binding Isaac and Rebecca. Then they would kill Eliezer and keep Rebecca at home, preventing Isaac from ever marrying anyone else and ensuring that he would have no progeny.

Of course, divine intervention assured that the evil conspiracy came to naught. It’s still not clear why Betuel and Lavan had such jealousy and hatred of their cousins Abraham and Isaac that they would want to destroy their future children’s lives to achieve their hateful plans. We see Lavan attempt to subvert Isaac’s son Jacob a generation later, only to be thwarted again by God.

It is amazing that millennia later we are still surrounded by the spiritual descendants of Betuel and Lavan, by people who hate us and want to destroy us and our progeny.

May all our enemies’ evil plans be thwarted and turned against them and may we merit to see the hatred and jealousy of the world turn to peace and understanding.

Shabbat Shalom.

The Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre is also Israel’s Responsibility

by Moshe Feiglin

The shocking massacre of the Jews in Pittsburgh sends us back to dark times that we wanted to think were a thing of the past. Names like Kishinev and Kielce come back to haunt us. This is not just another psycho who decided to murder random people. This despicable man wanted to murder Jews – our brothers and sisters.

I commend Minister of Diaspora Affairs Bennett for travelling to Pittsburgh. Our solidarity with the Jews in the Diaspora needs upkeep. Our founding fathers in Israel were still bound to their families who remained in exile. Over the generations, that bond blurred and was eventually based on the donations of western Jews to Israel or Israel’s attempts to rescue Jews from eastern countries. Today, the donations of western Jews are not very significant in wealthy Israel and eastern Jews are free to leave their host countries as they please. It seems as though the third and fourth generations of Israelis here and Jews there do not really care very much about each other. And that is bad. Very bad.

It is bad because our historic roles have reversed. It is not the Jews of the exile who uphold the small Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel, but just the opposite. Israel is the only horizon for the future of the Jews of the Diaspora. In other words, in the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, today Israel is the responsible adult and all that happens to the Jews and Judaism there is directly influenced by what we cook up here.

If Jews were murdered in Pittsburgh, we have a certain measure of responsibility. First of all, because of the simple, technical reason that 70 years have passed since Israel was established - and we have excellent economic potential that we have not yet managed to translate into the average citizen’s feeling of abundance. On the contrary. Despite our economic progress, young Israelis feel more and more strangled and many of them dream of “relocation” and leave Israel.

In Pittsburgh, Jews who should have been here were murdered. But they didn’t even dream of Aliyah because Israel is simply not attractive – even though it certainly could be. For those who think that ideology must be the motivating factor for Aliyah and wonder how I could mention a material reason to come to Israel, please ask yourselves why, since the first days of Zionism, all the waves of immigration came from centralized states, while it was only the idealists who came from the free-market states. And they were relatively few. Furthermore, our Father in Heaven promised us a “Land flowing with milk and honey”, so there is no real contradiction between material and spiritual abundance.

But there is something more, deeper than the economic factor, which makes us partially responsible for what happened in Pittsburgh. Jewish history is being written today in the Land of Israel. It is clear to all of us that anti-Israel sentiments are the new expression of Anti-Semitism. When Israel is sure of itself, strikes its enemies as it did in the Six Day War, eliminates the hijackers as in Entebbe - the level of anti-Semitism decreases!!! And when Israel displays lack of self-assurance, temporariness, moral flaccidity – a feeling that we are not really on the map, that we are nothing more than colonialists acting only for the sake of self-defense, begging the Hamas for a cease-fire – then our enemies feel that they are just and anti-Semitism flourishes.

Moshe Feiglin: Zardarov in Prison to Save Face for Justice System

Following new evidence in the Tair Rada murder case, Moshe Feiglin wrote the following post on Facebook:

When I participated in a demonstration calling for the release of Roman Zardarov, accused of murdering 13 year-old Tair Rada in her school bathroom in 2006, I was surprised to discover that I was the only Knesset Member at the protest. The other MKs were afraid of the State Prosecution.

I do not know who murdered Tair Rada. But I do know that the judges do not know, either. In light of the newly found evidence pointing to a different suspect, Zardarov should be immediately released on furlough until the end of a new investigation into the murder. Every minute that Zardarov remains behind bars is a huge injustice.

In 2016 I said that Zardarov is in prison to save face for the justice system, the police and mainly – for the State prosecution. The time has come to truly investigate the murder of Tair Rada. The first step is to release Zardarov on unlimited furlough.

Of Conversations and Commandments

by HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El

In this week's Torah portion, "Chayei Sarah," we are treated to a lengthy version of the story of Eliezer, Avraham's servant, and his choice of Rivka as a wife for Yitzchak. Our sages noted the unusually long nature of the Torah's account of the events, and penned the following midrash:

"Rabbi Acha said: More significant is the simple conversation of the servants of our forefathers than the Torah of their children. The portion dealing with Eliezer's choice of Rivka goes on for pages and pages, while details of the impurity of rodents and bugs, for instance - a basic law of the Torah - are learned only via one extra word in the text..."

We can learn some crucial moral lessons from the manner in which Eliezer recounts his choice of Rivka as Yitzchak's bride; he seeks a woman whose personality is consistent with the atmosphere of Avraham's home. The bride-to-be must be a woman for whom extending kindness to others is a given; for Eliezer, it's not enough that Yitzchak's future wife be someone who responds kindly when asked to do so - she must also be someone who actively seeks to perform "chesed" for others. Why? Such an approach is characteristic of someone for whom kindness has become an integral part of his or her personality. From the Torah's account of Avraham's hospitality and his concern for even the wicked people of Sodom, there is no doubt that Eliezer learned of the fundamental importance of this quality from Avraham himself. Furthermore, Eliezer's great belief that God would help him find the right match for Yitzchak - who would fit the necessary criteria - is also an approach to life he learned from Avraham Avinu; the Torah teaches us on several occasions that Avraham is a firm believer in Divine Providence.

That said, it is still incumbent upon us to try to clarify why it is that the "conversation of the servants" is more significant than the Torah given to the Jewish people.

It seems that the one quality that typified Avraham’s service of God more than anything else - is that he acted voluntarily. Avraham does not perform acts of loving-kindness because he is asked to do so, but because of the natural goodness embedded deep within his personality. The same goes for all other aspects of his service of God; he behaves not because he has been commanded to so, but because of his complete love of, and dedication to, his Creator. It is in reference to Avraham’s descendants that the prophet Isaiah says, "the seed of Avraham my beloved..."

Avraham also has a very well-cultivated fear of Heaven, as he himself is told by God at the climax of the Binding of Yitzchak, the Akeida: "Now I know that you truly fear God..." This prophetic revelation comes in response to the Akeida - as a natural response to Avraham's intense internal drive to serve God.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 31a) tells of Rav Yosef, who was blind, and who was famous for saying that if anyone ever proved to him that a blind man was exempt from performing Torah commandments, that he - Rav Yosef - would sponsor a festive meal for his rabbinic colleagues. "Why did Rav Yosef make this offer?" asks the Gemara. He was of the opinion that someone who performs mitzvot voluntarily is serving God more fully than someone who acts in response to a Divine command. As such, would it have been proven to him that a blind person is exempt from mitzvot, Rav Yosef would have celebrated the fact that he, a blind man, has the opportunity to serve God more completely than other Jews. Later in that same Talmudic passage, we are taught the opposite principle: namely, that one who acts in response to a Divine command is serving God more fully than one who acts voluntarily. This information prompts Rav Yosef to remark that he is now prepared to sponsor a festive meal if it is proven to him that blind people are in fact obligated to perform the Torah's mitzvot!

At first blush, the above halacha - that acting out of obligation is greater than acting voluntarily - is rather surprising. Human reason dictates that the opposite should be true!

If so, why does the Jewish view on this matter seem to fly in the face of reason? The classic Talmudic commentators - the Rishonim - offer two approaches to solve the mystery.

The school of the Tosfot bases its explanation on the psychological assumption that a sense of obligation creates a resistance within a person to perform that which he is commanded to do. When you know that you absolutely must do something, your evil inclination pushes you to resist. In contrast, someone who is not obligated to perform a given action knows that at any point in time, he can choose to abandon the task at hand; this calms his "evil inclination," thus enabling his positive human qualities to take hold. Therefore, a person who acts in response to a command is greater, since he needs to draw on greater spiritual resources to successfully battle his negative inclinations, and ultimately complete the required task.

Other Rishonim, however, explain that one who acts out of obligation is greater - since he is fulfilling, by his actions - the order of the King; the absolute, compelling nature of his mitzvah is that which invests it with its significance. This second approach jibes with that of the Maharal, who explains the reason why the Torah was forcibly given on Mount Sinai; our sages tell us that God threatened the Children of Israel at Sinai, that if they did not accept the Torah, He would drop the mountain on all of them, and crush them on the spot! Maharal notes that what the rabbis mean to say is that the giving of the Torah was an absolute necessity - a virtual "law of nature," stemming from the Divine truth that God, Israel, and His Torah are all part of one organic entity. The three cannot be separated. In fact, the very continued existence of the world is contingent upon the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people...

Throughout the generations, Torah scholars have debated the following question: Must an understanding of the fundamentals of Jewish faith stem from the individual Jew, after personal intellectual investigation leads him to the conclusion of the clear necessity of the truth of Jewish belief? Or, perhaps, belief should be born out of a prophetic, Divine revelation?

The main difficulty with the former view lies in the self-evident limits of human intellect, and of man’s ultimate inability to attain a level of complete faith in God, to embrace all the nuances of Jewish belief and fundamentals of faith through reason alone.

On the other hand, it is clear that belief obtained through a form of private "Divine revelation" must remain external to the believer to a great extent, since such an overwhelming prophetic experience would effectively force him to believe in Torah. Such a faith would not sprout forth from some sort of natural, internal understanding of the truth of the belief in question.

In light of the above, it is clear that the ideal - the healthiest type of faith - is that which synthesizes both faith that is a product of an external, "forced," Divine inspiration (along the lines of what we referred to as "Greater is the one who acts out in response to a command") but which nevertheless does not preclude the striving of the believer to intellectually identify with the fundamentals of our faith (parallel to the concept of "One who does not act in respond to a command").

The service of God exhibited by our forefathers prior to the giving of the Torah which is a code of obligatory, systemized behavior - may be viewed as a service "that was not commanded." It stemmed from an internal awareness of the value of moral behavior. The term "Torah" has at its root the word "teaching," or "guidance." With Torah, the danger exists that the believer will perform mitzvot by rote, without any personal, internal identification with the mitzvah he is performing.

In contrast, "conversation" is natural, free-flowing. The "conversation of the servants of our forefathers" represents the healthy, natural lifestyle that the servants learned from the forefathers. This natural behavior would eventually be forged into an obligatory Divine command - the Torah. Despite this later historical development, we have much to learn from the natural, healthy service of God by our forefathers; it was a type of spirituality that apparently had to precede the giving of the Torah, along the lines of the concept of "Derech Eretz Kadma L’Torah" - "Moral behavior precedes Torah." Thus, even though the rule is that one who acts in response to the Divine mandate is more praiseworthy, still - "more significant is the conversation of the forefather’s servants than the Torah of the children..."

In many of the rabbinic sources, mention is made of the "Yeridat Hadorot," or the "progressive deterioration of the generations;" from the time of our forefathers to the present, the spirituality of successive generations of Jews has been spiraling downwards.

Paradoxically, we are also witness to another phenomenon: in recent years, the later rabbis have, more than ever before, been stressing meticulous adherence to mitzvot and even stringencies, over and above what had been viewed as obligatory in previous generations. It seems, then, that the recent generations of Jews, who are of a lower spiritual level, have been more stringent than their ancestors! How can this paradox be explained?

Perhaps it is the very "downward spiritual spiral" that can explain this phenomenon. In earlier days, service of God flowed more naturally, and people intuitively strove to establish a connection with their Creator. In recent times, though, "holiness" is harder to attain - it’s less natural; in response, our rabbis sought ways to re-awaken us, to inspire us to strive for spiritual heights...

The generation of the Mashiach, is however, different. So says Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook in his work, "Orot." This generation is one of lofty souls striving to return to the natural spiritual state of their forefathers, to the level of the "conversation of the father’s servants." This is the reason, explains Rav Kook, That numerous Jews resist that which they perceive to be the external means by which our teachers have tried to bring them closer to God. This, says Rav Kook, is the source of the rejection by some of many of the rabbinic stringencies of recent generations; although the attitude is superficially apostasy - a denial of the authority of Torah - it really represents a striving for a return to the classic, natural holy way of life typified by the "conversations of the servants of our forefathers".

Judaism without Jews?

by Rabbi Dov Berl Wein

One of the more amazing predictions regarding the Jewish people that appears in the Torah is that numerically speaking we will always be a small nation. That certainly has been the case over our long history. At the time of the destruction of the Second Temple the Chinese were twice our numbers. Almost two millennia later the Chinese are approximately one hundred times our numbers.

In 1939 on the eve of World War II there were nineteen million Jews in the world. Today, seventy years later, we are at least four million under that number. There should be, simply by natural growth, sixty million Jews in the world but there is not nearly that number extant. This has been the price of what the modern world has inflicted upon us - from the Holocaust and its attendant generational impact, assimilation, intermarriage, the reduction of marriage and family which are viewed as subservient to other so-called life values, a very diminished birth rate outside of the Orthodox community, a general tendency to avoid marriage or to marry later in life, and the accepted practices and lifestyles of homosexuality.

All of this means that there are less Jews and less Jews means a weakening of Judaism and Judaic values. Tragically many Jews are more interested in saving the planet (whatever that may mean) than in creating a family themselves and insuring Jewish survival for the future.

Karl Marx, the apostate self-hating Jew, wrote a vicious anti-Semitic pamphlet entitled "A World Without Jews." He predicted that such a world would be utopia incarnate. Unfortunately much of the world, including a significant number of Jews as well, took him seriously.

We read in the Torah and Midrash that immediately after the near death of Isaac, Abraham immediately concentrates on finding a proper mate for Isaac – to marry him off and thus produce the continuity of Abraham’s great ideals and message for humanity. Ideals and ideas are wonderful but in the abstract they eventually lose sway. Only people, real live human beings, can propagate and translate noble thoughts into practical human behavior.

Without Isaac marrying and having children, Abraham fears that the time and events will bury his hopes and accomplishments. There will be no one who will continue to raise his banner and proclaim monotheism and morality in a world that is always on the brink of depraved and violent behavior, paganism, and distorted ideals and values.

I thought that after the Holocaust the Jewish world would also think in that fashion. The greatest tribute to the memory of our martyrs and the ultimate revenge upon those that murdered them is a Jewish people risen from the ashes and numerically and spiritually and physically stronger than before.

The State of Israel has accomplished some of these goals but in terms of our numbers we are woefully deficient. Modern society scoffs at those who have large families and our superior intellectuals look down at them from their self-proclaimed lofty perches with disdain and contempt. This attitude is self-destructive to all true Jewish interests and to our future survival.

When I was a rabbi in Miami Beach forty years ago the great sainted Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kaheneman, the Ponivezher Rav, visited our community for a few months in the winter to raise funds for his yeshiva, orphan homes and other projects. I had the great privilege of becoming close to him.

One day he called me and asked me to arrange a meeting in my home with all of the younger couples affiliated with my congregation. I told him that I would do so but I cautioned him that I did not think that he would raise much money from them, what with their tuition and household expense struggles. He gently told me that he was not going to speak to them about money or donations at all.

At that meeting which was very well attended, since I assured everyone that no requests for donations would take place, he arose and said to them: "My beloved children, the souls of a million and a half Jewish children under the age of twelve who were murdered in the Holocaust, are floating in the air above us. Our task is to give those souls bodies to live within. You are the only ones that can provide those bodies." As he sat down after his few words, the shock in the room was palpable.

But that year twenty children were born into our community. Many of those children are even grandparents today. Without Jews there is no Judaism. That is the message of Abraham and Isaac, Sarah and Rebecca to us as well today.

The Torah Writes: “To me”

by HaRav Shaul Yisraeli, zt"l

Chazal tell us that Eliezer, the servant of Avraham was a respected Torah scholar within the circle of Avraham’s disciples (Yoma 28b). The Torah (Bereisheet 24:2) calls him "the venerable one of his home, who ruled over all that was his," which the gemara says refers to all of Avraham’s Torah. Chazal also say that the name Damesek Eliezer (ibid. 15:2) hints that he was doleh u’mashkeh (drew and gave to drink) his master’s Torah to others. The midrash (Bereisheet Rabba 59:8) says that his mastery extended to his control over his evil inclination. Indeed, it is no surprise that the Rabbis said in the context of this great man: "The speech of the servants of the forefathers’ house is nicer than the teachings of the children" (ibid. 60:8).

Yet, we find a starkly different teaching about Eliezer in regard to the pasuk, "In the hands of C’na’an are scales of trickery, to deny his dear friend" (Hoshea 12:8). The midrash (Bereisheet Rabba 59:9) says that Eliezer was "weighing" his daughter as being fitting for Yitzchak. Avraham told him: "You are cursed (as you come from Cham), and my son is blessed, and it is not fitting for a cursed person to cling to a blessed one." The question needs to be asked: after seeing all the wonderful things said about Eliezer, how could he be considered cursed, and why was his daughter not fit to marry the blessed Yitzchak?

If we look at the difference in behavior of master and servant during this episode, we can find a hint of the difference in their character and thinking. Eliezer asked Avraham: "Maybe she [the appointed girl] will not want to follow me" (Bereisheet 24:5). In contrast, Avraham said that Hashem "will send His angel before you" (ibid. 7). Avraham had no doubts; he had a clear path and firm belief. He had no questions and needed no answers. He knew that the local population of girls did not include an appropriate wife and that the search had to be taken up at a distance. He knew the correct person was there, and so he was ready to wait for the sign of who she was.

Eliezer was different. While he was dedicated to his master, he was uncertain and felt a need to consider other options. The plan had to be "realistic" and calculated. At first glance, Eliezer seems correct. We are not usually supposed to rely on miracles. However, in practice, the entire process of finding a mate for Yitzchak worked miraculously, and it became clear that a "miraculous reality" is a totally different one. Avraham and his confidence in Hashem was correct; Eliezer’s suspicion was not.

In order to put the differences of approaches in perspective, the Torah hints with unusual spelling and Chazal (Yalkut Shimoni, Heshea 12) deciphered as follows: "To me - if the woman will not follow me." Whereas Avraham was able to elevate himself over his own personal calculations, Eliezer had a mixture of considerations. He indeed was an expert student and exponent of his master’s teachings, but he still allowed his own personal agendas to creep in. From there stemmed his doubt and his shortcoming.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Rav Kook's Ein Ayah

Gemara: Where was tying done in the Mishkan [which would make it a melacha on Shabbat]? Rava said: They would tie things to the stakes that held the tent in place. Abaye said: That [is not a melacha,] as it is tying while having in mind to untie it [as the Mishkan was periodically moved]?! Rather, said Abaye: It was when the weavers of the fabric sheets, upon a thread being broken, would tie it up. 

Untying as One Is Elevated

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 7:4)

Ein Ayah: [The first piece relates to Abaye’s question, and relates to an idea that we saw last time, that one function of tying is to connect something that is not set to something that is set.]

Elevated divine thought purifies all other thoughts. When the thoughts of others are attached to divine thought, they cannot be permanently attached, because divine thought causes man to become elevated from one level to a higher level. Then, that which had at the time seemed to the person to be pure at a given moment, due to the divine light, will turn out to be dark and gloomy when the person already is on a higher level. Therefore, he will need to undo them and retie them at a new place and style them in a new form and with a different quality, which is brighter and grander. This is the idea of a connection to stakes of the tent being tied with the intention to untie.

Tying to Unite One’s Own Thoughts
(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 7:5)

Ein Ayah: [The second piece relates to Abaye’s answer.]

The second type of tying is when separate components are united into one entity, in a manner that they complement each other. It is not a matter of movable parts being attached to a greater, set object, but it has to do with the connection between two similar movable parts. They must be connected in a manner that unites them, so that each one is not facing in a different direction, and so they will not be opposing and contradicting each other.

This situation has a parallel in the world of human ideas. A person sometimes has thoughts on matters of wisdom, ethics, and philosophies that have different natures. The thoughts, though, should fit one another. If it turns out at times that one of his ideas contradicts another one, so that one is cut off from the other, it is important to fix the contradictory idea. The thought should not be allowed to “fly in the wind.” Therefore, the different ends need to be reattached.

To the extent that the partial thoughts remain, so too that which unites them remains. While a divine thought is connected to a person’s thought in a manner that it cannot remain tied, the different parts of a person’s own thought should remain connected. That is the philosophical idea behind the reattaching of a thread that came up in the weaving process in the production of the fabric for the Mishkan.