Friday, May 31, 2019

Independence and Freedom

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg 
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

We are now in the time period between Pesach and Shavuot, which are connected through the Mitzvah of Sfirat HaOmer. In recent years, two other festive days have been added to this period of the Jewish calendar, Yom Haatzmaut [Israel's Independence Day] and Yom Yerushalayim. One who is "independent" is generally defined as one who has self-rule and is not under the control of others. However, this alone is insufficient for one to be considered truly free. Rav Kook, zt"l, points out that there can be a capable slave, who despite his slavery is self-motivated and carries himself with an air of freedom. Conversely, there can be a person who is unfettered by others, yet he is not truly free, either because his actions are decided based on what others consider good and proper, or because he is subjugated to his own desires and impulses which he is unable to overcome. True freedom is the ability of a person or nation to live his life based on his true self, and not merely upon societal norms.

This is the message behind Chazal's comment: "'Charut al haluchot - engraved on the tablets' (Shemot 32:16). Do not read "charut" [engraved] but rather "cheirut" [freedom], for only one who is involved with Torah is truly free (Avot 6:2). What is the connection between engraving and freedom? Unlike writing, in which ink is applied externally onto paper, engraving is in the very item itself. Therefore, only through studying Torah and engraving its lessons in our hearts do we become free men, since then our physical existence is in synch with our internal soul.

On Pesach we were redeemed from slavery and achieved national independence. This process, however, was not concluded until Shavuot when we received the Torah, which made us free men. In this way, Pesach and Shavuot form a single unit.

In our days, there are those who see Yom Ha'atzmaut as the crowning glory of the renewed existence of Bnei Yisrael. However, we cannot consider ourselves a free nation based on political independence alone. So long as we are eyeing foreign cultures and abandoning our essence, the redemption is incomplete, and we are not yet free men. The liberation of Jerusalem, nineteen years later, added the spiritual dimension which provides the internal strength of our nation.

The blessings in our parasha open with the condition, "Im bechukoti telechu" - "If you follow My laws" (Vayikra 26:3). Rashi (based on the Sifra) explains this to mean that you toil in My Torah. This requirement goes far beyond the mere performance of the mitzvot. The fulfillment of the blessings is dependent upon our living a comprehensive lifestyle based on the Torah which must be engraved in our hearts.

In parshat Acharei Mot we are commanded, "Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, and do not follow the ways of Canaan to where I will be bringing you; nor shall you follow any of their practices" (Vayikra 18:3). Rashi comments that the end of the verse does not merely prohibit sinning like them, as that is already stated in the first half of the verse. Rather, it refers to adopting their customs, such as theaters and stadiums.

"Practices" is not used in the sense of "laws", but rather in the sense of lifestyle, aspiration and environment. Theaters are the key ingredient of the recreational culture commonplace with the nations. The practices that we follow, however, and that are engraved in us, are expressed by the motto - that you toil in the Torah. "Do not follow their practices" is contrasted by "If you follow my laws."

The blessings conclude with the phrase "Vaolech etchem komemiut" - "I led you upright" (26:13). The Sifra comments on the word "komemiut" - "Like the double height of Adam." Adam's height was two hundred cubits. The Maharal explains that one hundred indicates perfection. Two hundred indicates double perfection, in both the physical and spiritual sense. We are thus promised that if the Torah is engraved in us, and our physical way of life matches our spiritual one, then our perfection will be in both realms. This is, perhaps, the meaning of our daily prayer, "lead us `komemiut' to our land." Rav Kook, zt"l, remarked in his siddur, "like the double height of Adam," since the body and soul together are a full height, physical and spiritual.

Rav Kook's Ein Ayah

The Merger of Divine and Human Wisdom
(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 9:29)
Ein Ayah: Lofty divine sanctity must merge well with sanctity that is produced by man based on his holy nature and the light of wisdom that Hashem bestowed upon him. Based on the wonderful merger of the completeness of the Torah and the completeness of human wisdom, the light of Hashem appears in the world. This enables the Torah to survive and connect strongly with the spirit of the lives that the Torah leads and everything that is connected to those lives.

Sometimes it appears that there is a contradiction between the superior light of Hashem, a great, all-encompassing light, which is as broad as the heavens from which it comes, and between the inferior light that comes from the inner parts of man’s intellect. In this case, the text of the Torah may seem to combat the product of human wisdom. However, this difficulty can actually be the source of the building of a holy and lofty edifice, in that the addition of the human wisdom can merge with the main (divine) decree and together complement each other.

If [Hashem commanded] the quicker spiritual preparation [for the giving of the Torah], as the simple, surface-level reading of the p’sukimindicates, the light of human intellect came and extended the content and increased the demand on man. Then, the light of Torah came out like the sun emerged in its great glory.

Although the pasuk (Shemot 19:10), “you shall sanctify yourselves today and tomorrow,” seems to be difficult according to the opinion that connects the mundane to the sacred [a point developed in a previous piece], the idea that Moshe added on a day changes the whole picture. This is the source that the addition of the intellect is like a room that is filled with great treasures. It is based on the ability of man to know Hashem (see Yirmiyahu 9:23). Moshe was the great leader who both led their salvation and their closeness to Hashem (see Yeshayahu 63:11-12). “Moshe will we be happy with the present that was his lot.”

Showing or Producing

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 9:30)

Ein Ayah: There are two elements that demonstrate the value of the repeated manifestation of the human spirit, when it is revealed in practice. It is possible for a special action to createa lasting impact on the spirit. For example, if such an occurrence happens three times, then it is already not a matter of chance but becomes a matter of regularity. Then one’s spirit develops an innate characteristic based on the path that he paved for himself. The other possibility is that the triple occurrence is an indicationthat that the specific human spirit always had in its root the characteristic that the actions indicated.

In Moshe’s case, both elements are true. His lofty wisdom, which was at the root of his soul, was ready to be revealed as one that was in confluence with Hashem’s wisdom. Moshe’s lower, practical wisdom, which found expression in limited brilliance, needed to be set by repeated actions to which Hashem agreed.

In both elements there was a need for a repetition three times, which takes the matter out of the possibility of chance in two ways –by demonstrating the higher level that was already there, and by creating the lower level.

Netanyahu Should Talk to European Nationalists

by Alan M. Dershowitz
  • The nationalist leaders of central and eastern Europe are a mixed picture when it comes to Israel. They strongly support Jewish nationalism, Zionism, and the nation state of the Jewish people. But their attitude toward Jews and the Holocaust is often highly questionable.
  • The prime minister of Israel must put the interests of his country before ideological purity or attitude toward Jews in general. In a world in which so few nations support Israel and in which so many vote routinely to condemn it at the United Nations, Israel must not easily give up support from right-wing nationalists.
  • So let us condemn European nationalists when their actions warrant condemnation, but let us welcome their support for Israel at a time when such support is becoming more and more essential.

Pictured: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Jerusalem, Israel on July 19, 2018. (Image source: Kobi Gideon, Israel Government Press Office)

Critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argue that he should never speak to European nationalists because European nationalism often goes hand in hand with anti-Semitism.

Ironically (or perhaps hypocritically) many of these same critics urged Israeli prime ministers to speak to Yasser Arafat and other terrorist leaders who have advocated and practiced the murder of Jews. What is the difference? In both cases elected leaders have to hold their collective noses to speak to other leaders of whose ideologies and actions they strongly disapprove. But when you are the leader of a country, pragmatic realpolitikmust often prevail over pure ideology.

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Annexing Parts of the West Bank Area C: An Israeli National Interest

by Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The former commanders who are demanding a referendum on the possible annexation of parts of the West Bank’s Area C misunderstand the threats confronting Israel. One need only consider the latest round of fighting in Gaza to understand what the threat to the cities of the coastal plain would look like if Israel were to give up control of the mountainous terrain dominating the country’s economic-social-industrial heartland.

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The Yishai Fleisher Show: Jacob's Coffin and a Direct Flight to Tokyo

The Book of Numbers starts with the Tribes of Israel arranged precisely around the Tabernacle - this mirrored how the sons of Jacob carried his coffin to the Land of Israel. Rav Mike Feuer joins Rabbi Yishai to discuss the Jewish people's travels and travails - all the while keeping God in the middle. Then, Malkah Fleisher on El Al's new flights to Tokyo and Germany standing against BDS.

The War on Truth

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

“The world only endures in the merit of those who restrain themselves (and do not respond) during times of strife” (Masechet Chulin 89a).

How quaint that must sound in modern times, especially in an era notably marked by acrimony, recriminations, libel, slander, gossip, name-calling and outright lies. Not responding to an insult, slur or accusation is considered foolhardy and unmanly, and tantamount to an admission of guilt. Similarly, the Torah’s injunction against lashon hara, speech – even if true – that tends to disparage the reputation of the subject in the eyes of the listener, is particularly eccentric these days, honored only in the breach thereof. We can and should try but even if we succeed, the culture is so awash in personal vilification that it is impossible to remain above the fray.

From “deplorables” to “losers” and everything in between, modern discourse has become so coarsened that there is no obvious way to reverse this onslaught, partly because it is also entertaining. Wikipedia specializes in underscoring and exaggerating peccadilloes, errors, misstatements, and the like that often results in a caricature of its subjects. Worse, it relies primarily on media accounts, which are often half-baked and half-witted attempts at furthering someone’s agenda, and occasionally will publish information without source or citation – in other words, totally made up or heard by A from B who read it somewhere.

Truth is the first casualty of war but truth itself has become just another version of a narrative. We tend to believe and propagate anything good about someone we like and anything bad about someone we don’t like; objective truth is not really relevant. This is perhaps the greatest failing of today’s advocacy journalism.

Take one recent example – a well known declaration by a prominent individual, debunked but still extant – and we will understand the dangers that abound.

The whole world knows that two years ago President Trump called “some” Nazis and white supremacists “very fine people.” Even Joe Biden referred to this in his campaign announcement. For this, the President was lambasted as a Jew-hater, a dog-whistler, and a closet neo-Nazi himself – all risible, tendentious and false accusations. But of course, he said no such thing, as those who listened to that press conference and read the transcript with an open mind and a clear eye can easily ascertain.

In the wake of the riots in Charlottesville, Virginia back in August 2016, Trump said this in response to a “journalist’s” question: “Excuse me, they didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group – excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”

Moments later, he added, “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and white nationalists because they should be condemned totally.”

How did that become “Trump supports Nazis, deems some of them very fine people?”

There were actually four groups in Charlottesville that fateful day: the two major groups represented people advocating for the removal of Confederate statues from the city parks and people protesting against the removal of Confederate statues from the city parks. Those were the two groups who had come to demonstrate and, indeed, there were “very fine people” on both sides. That debate is an especially vexing one, with cogent arguments on both sides that has been addressed here. The removal of General Lee’s and other Confederate statues has, as predicted, engendered the demand for the removal of statues of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and even George Washington and other legendary American heroes. But we can whitewash all of history by erasing the memories of imperfect people because, after all, we are all imperfect. Christopher Columbus, Peter Stuyvesant and even Martin Luther King all had their sins and prejudices that could lead to their public expunction by the self-anointed League of Perfect People which sits in judgment of everyone.

I can see both sides without calling pro-statue people racists and anti-statue people troglodytes.

There were two other groups in Charlottesville that day – the white supremacists and their Antifa counterparts. Both sides came with hatred and violence and both were only tangentially related to the statue demonstrations. Thus, there were many people who supported removing the statues who were not associated with Antifa and many who opposed their removal who were not neo-Nazis.

It is clear that Trump referred to the first two groups as those containing “very fine people on both sides,” and not at all to the Antifa-White Nationalist rioters. So how were his remarks distorted to make it appear as if he was praising Nazis? How, indeed. It is because that suited the narrative of his enemies who assume the worst about him and find confirmation everywhere they wish.

Of course, the President often says colorful, off-color and regrettable things – but honesty dictates criticizing him for what he does say and not mangling what he did not say in order to further an agenda.

Nonetheless, all this reinforces another societal norm: if you have to explain, you have already lost. Leaders are admonished: “Sages, be careful with your words… (Avot 1:11). But that doesn’t give anyone a license to distort, disfigure, or twist someone’s words, propound them in the most negative light possible, or just lie about them. And there are dozens of such examples among public figures and even in our private lives, where the tendency to believe the worst about people is too accepted and further inquiries about the disparaging information are deemed unwarranted or unnecessary.

That this has become almost a sport further degrades our lives and compels us to adhere ever more closely to the norms of communication mandated by the Torah. But it also confirms the observation of the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho: “Don't waste your time with explanations: people only hear what they want to hear.”

Security and Insecurity

by Victor Rosenthal

Last week my Masorti shul hosted a visiting group of Americans, members of a Conservative synagogue. One of the subjects for discussion was “what’s the issue that you are most concerned with at your synagogue?” The answer was not declining and aging membership, providing Jewish education for children (and grandchildren), mixed marriage, Israel, or any of the usual issues. It was security. “Ask anybody. Security is the top issue,” they said. “Who wants to join a shul or send their children to a school where they might get shot?”

The traditional position of liberal Jews in the US has always been that security was for someone else. It was sort of a badge of honor for liberals to insist that they didn’t need to protect themselves. They really liked themselves, so why shouldn’t everyone else like them? The Reform Temple in my home town built a beautiful new suburban structure for themselves in 1990, to replace the old fortress-like building downtown. The new one was invitingly open, with acres of glass, lots of doors, and expansive grounds without serious fencing – and it will cost them a small fortune to secure it.

Liberal Jews disliked guns and favored limiting access to them. They trusted the state to protect them. Now they are happy to have the “paranoid” gun owners with carry permits among them. Now they are having “active shooter drills” and taking self-defense courses too, because they are in danger on the street as well as in the synagogue.

This is just one aspect of the end of a golden age. There is no going back. As economic conditions get worse – and they will, thanks to the massive, crushing debt which will leave the increasingly incompetent government no choice but to inflate the currency – both the disenfranchised former blue-collar workers and the revolutionary Left will continue to blame the Jews, as will the blacks, who have been taught since the 1960s that anything bad that happens to them is a result of institutional white racism, and who have also come to believe – thanks to almost every important black “leader” after MLK – that the power behind the racist institutions is The Jew. The increase in the Muslim population, which is already close in number to the diminishing Jewish one, is another reason for an increase in antisemitism. Many Muslim immigrants bring with them the Jew-hatred that is common in the Muslim world, even apart from tensions relating to Israel. The security problem is a new reality, not a temporary problem.

I have to admit that I am lucky in that I have almost never experienced insecurity by virtue of being a Jew. I could say I have lived a charmed life. I lived in America at a time when being a Jew was almost as safe as being anything else. I did not live in Israel during the wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973, when her existence was threatened. I was in California when Saddam was firing Scuds at Tel Aviv. I missed the Second Intifada, with its exploding buses and restaurants, and the recent Knife Intifada never came to Rehovot. I didn’t live in the North in 1981 when missiles from the PLO were landing, nor in 2006 when Hezbollah was launching them. I don’t live in the South now, which periodically comes under fire from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

One exception was in California in January, 2009. It was during Operation Cast Lead, the first of the “mowing the grass” operations in Gaza. After Israel absorbed thousands of rockets and mortars on the southern part of the country, Israel’s government decided to end the threat. In air, ground and naval attacks, Hamas installations were pounded, with buildings, tunnels, and of course rocket manufacturing and storage sites destroyed.

The operation started on December 27, 2008, and lasted 22 days before officials of the incoming Obama Administration ordered Israel to get the IDF out of Gaza before the inauguration. In the meantime, Hamas and supportive NGOs launched a vicious and effective propaganda attack, in which Israel was portrayed as deliberately trying to injure and kill civilians (the ultimate product of this was the tendentious Goldstone Report). At the same time, the Al Jazeera satellite channel showed continuous violent footage, much of it from wars in other places at other times, inflaming the world against Israel.

The local Islamic Center and “Peace” organization organized an anti-Israel demonstration at a main intersection. Several hundred demonstrators, many of them Muslim teenagers bused from other cities in California, stood on three corners of the intersection, facing a handful of pro-Israel demonstrators. Muslim demonstrators crossed the street and threatened the counter-demonstrators; at one point I called the police and told them that verbal confrontations were escalating and might become violent. They responded that the Muslims had promised that they would control their people. Shortly thereafter, one of the leaders of the demonstration came across and placed himself in front of the counter-demonstrators, protecting us from their more aggressive members.

This was an object lesson in dhimmitude and in diaspora life. We Jews were shown that Muslims would protect us, assuming of course that we were properly subservient; and we saw that the goyishe authorities could not be depended on. Not strong enough to protect ourselves, we were at our enemies’ mercy. My wife commented that it was time for us to move back to Israel (it took five more years).

The Jews of Europe have been insecure for some time now. I was in the UK in 2001, and the synagogue in North London that I visited already had the kind of precautions that Americans are only needing to implement today. Once-safe Germany is warning Jews to keep their kippot in their pockets. Forget France or Sweden.

Insecurity is unpleasant. Someone wants to hurt you, maybe kill you. You look over your shoulder. You cluster together with your own people, in ghettos or “Jewish neighborhoods,” because there’s safety in numbers (sometimes). You look for exits, make contingency plans. You try to make alliances with your non-Jewish neighbors, and to keep on the right side of the authorities in case you need their help.

This is humiliating, dishonorable. It harms your self-respect when your people can’t stand up for themselves. This is life in the diaspora.

Israel is the world’s biggest Jewish neighborhood, with the world’s most powerful security patrol, the IDF. Sometimes we would like the government to get a little tougher with our enemies. After all, this is the Jewish state, not the diaspora. There is still insecurity in Israel, but it is usually collective insecurity, in which the whole country worries about the same things. But personally speaking, I feel much more secure as a Jew in Israel than I ever did in California.

Rabbi Ari Kahn on Parashat Bechukotai and Yom Yerushalayim

You will chase away your enemies, and they will fall before your sword. Five of you will be able to chase away a hundred, and a hundred of you will defeat ten thousand, as your enemies fall before your sword. (Vayikra 26:7,8) 

While the words of the biblical verse might once have sounded like hyperbole, in the coming days we will once again mark the anniversary of the Six-Day War. In 1967 – in the range of memory of many who are reading these words - the experiment called the State of Israel faced an existential threat, as a multi-front war threatened to annihilate the nation that dwelled in Zion.

The God of Israel was not silent, in a miracle of biblical proportions, the foreign armies were suddenly and decisively defeated. The Egyptian air force was neutralized within the first minutes of the war, and the great personal sacrifice Eli Cohen, Israel’s “man in Damascus,”helped defeat the enemy forces in the North.

Jerusalem was reunited, and the Temple Mount was returned to Jewish hands. This, too, came at a heavy price, paid with the lives of our young, valiant soldiers who gave their lives to defend West Jerusalem and to blaze the path to liberate East Jerusalem.

The iconic image of the young paratroopers standing at the Western wall is seared in our collective consciousness. Many of us have also seen pictures of the Chief Rabbi of the Army, Rav Shlomo Goren, who blew the shofar, recited a blessing of thanks and joy and remembered the fallen in an awe-inspiring prayer at Western Wall.

What many do not remember is that on the following day, Rav Goren did something even more remarkable: He liberated the city of Hebron. Two people – Rav Goren and his driver - vanquished the 40,000 hostile Arabs living in the City of the Patriarchs. Only two people - with the help of God.

To read Rabbi Goren’s account of that day, click here:

Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz also tells the story here:

“Many know the story of Rabbi Shlomo Goren arriving at the Western Wall flanked by IDF troops in the 1967 Six Day War on the 28th of Iyyar in the Hebrew calendar.

The moment, captured in an iconic photo, shows the rabbi holding a Torah scroll and blowing a shofar at the Western Wall surrounded by young soldiers. But few people know the even more astounding story of what happened the day after that photo was taken and how Rabbi Goren single-handedly conquered the holy city of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs, known as the Machpelah Cave.

The war was still raging after the Old City of Jerusalem was conquered by the IDF. Directly after the emotional scene at the Western Wall, Rabbi Goren, a general and the Chief Rabbi of the Israeli army, proceeded to join the forces gathered in the recently recaptured Gush Etzion. The troops were waiting for the morning when they would push on to battle the Jordanian Legion in Hebron.

Rabbi Goren addressed the troops, telling them of the enormous significance of Hebron to the Jews. He lay down to sleep surrounded by Israeli soldiers, telling them to wake him in time to leave for the battle the next day. However, when he awoke a few hours later, he was alone. The troops had moved on without him. He quickly woke up his driver and they set out to catch up with the Israeli forces.

Alone, they drove the short distance into Hebron and were greeted by flags of surrender, white sheets hanging from every window and rooftop. The rabbi didn’t see any Israeli soldiers and assumed they had already conquered the entire city. What the rabbi didn’t know was that he had arrived before the troops. The army had taken a longer route in order to surround the city before entering it. As he drove toward the Cave of the Patriarchs, he was the only Jew, certainly the only Jewish soldier, in a city of 40,000 Arabs.

When Rabbi Goren arrived at the large iron doors of the Cave of the Patriarchs, he found them locked. Rabbi Goren shot at them with his Uzi machine gun, trying unsuccessfully to open the doors which had been locked to Jews for 700 years. The bullet holes are still there and can be seen by anyone visiting the site today.

The doors did not open, so he backed his jeep up and attached chains to the doors, pulling them open. Rabbi Goren entered the Machpela, blew the shofar as he had done the day before at the Kotel, set up the Torah scroll, and began to pray.

The Mufti of Hebron sent a messenger to ask Rabbi Goren, as a general of the Israeli army, to accept his surrender. He refused, sending back the answer, ”This place, the Machpelah Cave, is a place of prayer and peace. Surrender elsewhere.”

The first Israeli troops in Hebron were shocked to find an Israeli flag flying from the roof of the Machpelah. The next day, the rabbi received an urgent message from his officer, the Israeli Chief of Staff, Moshe Dayan. He ordered Rabbi Goren to take down the flag, remove the Torah from the premises and to order anyone entering to remove their shoes because the site was a mosque.
Rabbi Goren sent a message back in response: “The Torah is holy – it stays. The flag means to me what it means to you. If you want to remove it, you may, but I will not.”

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

What Remains?

by HaRav Shaul Yisraeli, zt"l

Towards the end of the tocheicha (section of rebuke), after describing the horrors that will befall the Jewish People if they sin, the Torah writes: "And even with this, when they will be in the land of their enemies, I will not be disgusted by them nor cast them off to destroy them" (Vayikra 26:44). What of significance will be left of Bnei Yisrael at that point in regard to which it will help that Hashem will not reject them? After all, every good thing we received will have been taken by then! The answer is that that which will remain is the sefer Torah (Yalkut Shimoni, Bechukotai 675).

What do we have remaining in our times? What point is left in our lives? What value does all our rebuilding of the Land have if all the source of the spirit of our nation has been destroyed cruelly with uncontrolled hatred? Is there value to our hopes and our lives? Are we allowed to enjoy anything? Are we not dancing over graves? The one comfort that was and is – is this Torah.

If all good things have been taken from us and smashed cruelly along with the lives of millions of Jews, there is one thing that not only have the enemies not managed to take, but to a certain extent, they have even returned to us somewhat. Certainly they did not do so in a gentle way, but they returned it to us nonetheless. There was a time when the nations claimed that their culture and values are nicer than our Torah. Now, amidst the violence that is being perpetrated, that which we have known all along is clear to everyone. Our appearance, which suffered in recent times, has been restored. Civilization, which is divided between murderers and those who watch the blood being spilled with cynicism, chutzpah, and coarseness, cannot engender a good world.

No, we do not agree with them. Our souls cannot accept a person who acts like a lion or a bear. We believe in a mankind that has a divinely given soul, which has more than lowly instincts. This belief brings us to the Creator of the world and its Leader. It cannot be any other way.

If so, then matters are different than they appear. We must not allow our spirits to be deflated under the torture we are suffering. If those who go against Hashem can seem to be succeeding, imagine the ultimate reward of those who do His bidding. And if those who follow His ways are afflicted, imagine what will happen to those who fight Hashem (see Bereishit Rabba 65:22). We will have to have patience of steel, grit our teeth, and look forward to brighter days. We have the Torah, and we know the source of the hatred towards us. We know why we are suffering and that the days of redemption will come.

"‘In the way of My statutes you will go’ – this refers to the rules with which the heavens and the earth were created" (see Vayikra Rabba 35:4). The rules of the Torah are eternal, and the world will be built upon them. And if we do not understand the steps the world is undergoing at this preliminary stage, eventually everything will be clarified and visible.

“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning.”

by HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

Every groom under the wedding canopy declares loyalty to Jerusalem, reciting the words, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy” (Psalms 137:5-6). For thousands of years, millions of Jews have poured forth tears like water with their prayer, “Return, in mercy, to Your city, Jerusalem. Dwell within it as You said You would” (Shemoneh Esreh).

Whenever a Jew eats bread, he recalls Jerusalem and the longing for its rebuilding with the words, “Rebuild Jerusalem the holy city speedily in our day” (Grace after Meals). All such prayers and customs which have accompanied us for thousands of years have the purpose of strengthening our spiritual and material connection to Jerusalem, heart of the nation. Only in rebuilt Jerusalem will the Jewish nation being revealed in their full glory and might through the Torah, prophecy, the Temple and monarchy. Only through our people’s return to Jerusalem, and our control over Jerusalem, are we able to increase light and goodness in the world, for Jerusalem is the light of the world.

Right now, the remarkable sight of the return to Zion and the rebuilding of Jerusalem is bringing to hundreds of millions of people the hope that the world will be illuminated by the Jewish People with the light of faith, the light of love, the light of joy. As we say in our morning prayers, “May a new light shine over Zion.” Moreover, Isaiah said (2:3), “Many people shall go and say, ‘Come! Let us go up to the mountain of the L-rd, to the house of the G-d of Jacob. He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem.” The divine promise to Abraham will then be fulfilled, “I will make you into a great nation.... All the families of the earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2,3).

It is true that in face of the “dreamlike return of Zion’s captivity” (Psalm 126:1), forces of darkness are rising up that cannot bear the light emerging from Zion and Jerusalem, just as a bat cannot bear the light of day. They are fighting to dispossess us of Jerusalem and to destroy it, saying, “Raze it! Raze it! To its very foundations” (Psalm 137:7).

Yet, “He who sits in heavens laughs. The L-rd mocks them.... You shall break them with a rod of iron. You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalms 2:7,9). “For the L-rd will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance” (Psalms 94:14); “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the L-rd is round about His people from henceforth and forever” (Psalm 125:2).

Rejoicing over Jerusalem and looking forward to complete salvation,
Shabbat Shalom.

Yom Yerushalayim: The Day the Old City Gates Spoke

Yom Yerushalayim 5779
by HaRav Nachman Kahana


The following is a translation of a composition by Mr. Yitzchak Navon, in honor of Yerushalayim, written when he was serving as our 5th president.

In June 1967, the Six Day War broke out. Israel’s soldiers fought bravely and won many victories. Soon they reached the Old City of Jerusalem. They prepared to fight for it, and to take it back from Jordan. But they did not know through which of the seven gates to enter. As they tried to decide what to do, each gate begged, one louder than the other, “Enter the Old City through me. Enter the Old City through me.”

Their voices reached heaven, but God and his angels could not decide which gate deserved to be the one through which the soldiers would enter. Then the angel Michael spoke. “God in Heaven, All the gates are beautiful, and each deserves to be the one through which the soldiers will enter the Old City. Let each gate speak and explain why it should be chosen. Then You will decide which gate is most worthy.

God thought this was an excellent idea and asked each gate to speak for itself. Sha’ar Yafo, the Jaffa Gate, spoke first.

Two important roads go out from me. One leads to the city of Yafo and to the Mediterranean Sea. The other goes to Hevron where our ancestors Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, and Ya`akov and Leah are buried in the Me’a-rat Ha-mach-pe-lah. Near me stands the Tower of David. I will make sure that the soldiers of Israel enter the Old City safely.

Then Sha’ar Shechem, the Damascus Gate, spoke out in a loud voice and said:

I am the biggest and most beautiful of all the gates. All roads leading north from Jerusalem start here with me. Let the soldiers of Israel enter the Old City through me.

Sha’ar Tzion, the Zion Gate, was the next to speak:

God in Heaven, I am named for your holy city—Tzion. Look at me. I am bruised and broken from all the fighting around me. It is only right that victory should come through me. Choose me, choose me.

Raising its voice, Sha’ar Ha-ashpot, the Dung Gate, said:

Dear God, look at me. I am miserable and ashamed. For centuries, Jerusalem’s garbage was dumped on me. Now don’t misunderstand, I would rather be covered with the garbage of Jerusalem than with all the precious jewels in the world. Every day, I try to comfort the Kotel, which is right next to me. It is sad because Jews cannot pray there now. Make us happy and let Israel’s soldiers enter the Old City through me.

It was then the turn of Sha’ar Ha-perachim, the Flower Gate:

It would not be right for the soldiers of Israel to enter the Old City through the dirty Dung Gate. Let the soldiers of Israel enter through me and I will give them wreaths of flowers. It should be through me, through me.

Next the voice of Sha’ar he-chadash, the New Gate, was heard.

I am the smallest and newest of the gates. I am so new that I am not even counted as one of the seven gates. I am near the Israeli side of the city, and every day I watch as Israel’s enemies fire upon her. I try to protect Israel, but I cannot. Please let Israel’s soldiers enter through me.

Next in line to speak was Sha’ar Ha-ra-cha-mim, the Golden Gate. Its voice was muffled because it was closed in on both sides.

Master of the Universe. For years my entrance has been sealed shut. The other gates open and close, but large stones block me up. You promised that the Jews would return to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash through me, and that is why Israel’s enemies sealed me shut. It is only right that the soldiers of Israel enter through me.

Only Sha’ar Ha’arayot, the Lions’ Gate, was left to speak. God pointed to it, but it remained silent. Finally, it began to speak in a soft voice:

God in Heaven. From all directions I see soldiers fighting and being wounded. My heart is breaking, and I cannot bear to watch any longer. It doesn’t matter through which gate the soldiers enter. Just make the fighting stop.

God and the angels heard these words and whispered among themselves. Then God turned to the Lions’ Gate and said: All the other gates are interested in their own honor. But you care more about the soldiers of Israel than about yourself. Therefore, we have decided that the soldiers of Israel will enter the Old City through you. Let them enter through the Lions’ Gate. Their armored cars swept through the alleyways, and they set the city free. At the Western Wall they blew a great blast on the shofar. The blast was heard throughout the land and everyone knew that the gates of the Old City were once again open to Jews. A miracle had occurred. Jerusalem was united.

Dear Friends:

Chag Samayach to the entire House of Israel on the anniversary of one of the greatest miracles to ever have been performed by our Father in Heaven – and this in our own time – the re-unification of Yerushalayim. We are now sovereign over the holy city for the first time in over 2000 years, and it will never be taken away from us – be’ezrat HaShem.

Shabbat Shalom,
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5779/2019 Nachman Kahana

The Palestinian War on the Trump Peace Plan

(Ed. note: Once again, the "Palestinians" never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity)

by Khaled Abu Toameh
  • In the past few days, the Gaza-based groups have issued several statements hinting that they would use all means, including terrorism, to foil the US peace plan.
  • What is perhaps most worrying for the Arab leaders are the threats coming from Iran's puppets -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. It now remains to be seen whether the Arab heads of state will be deterred by these threats or ignore them at the risk of becoming the Palestinians' terror targets.
  • Clearly, the very Palestinians who are boycotting a conference -- whose aim is to help them move beyond their leadership-imposed economic devastation -- will wind up the big losers in this spiteful scenario of hate. This time, however, it also seems that the Palestinians will not only deprive themselves of billions of dollars, but will also damage -- perhaps irrevocably -- their relations with influential Arab countries. By all accounts, the Palestinians appear to be heading toward another "nakba" (catastrophe).

The Palestinian Authority and its political allies in the West Bank have launched a diplomatic and media campaign to rally worldwide support for their rejection of US President Donald Trump's upcoming plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the "Deal of the Century." Pictured: US President Donald Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on May 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Image source: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

The Palestinians seem to be moving on two fronts to thwart US President Donald Trump's plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the "Deal of the Century."

The Palestinian Authority and its political allies in the West Bank have launched a diplomatic and media campaign to rally worldwide support for their rejection of Trump's upcoming plan. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian extremist groups, for their part, are already hinting that they will resort to violence in an effort to thwart the "Deal of the Century."

Last week, Hamas called on Bahrain not to allow the "Zionist enemy to defile its lands" by attending the economic conference.

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Monday, May 27, 2019

"If You Will Not Listen To Me..."

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

However, if you will not listen to Me, and do all of these commandments… (Vayikra 26:14)

NUMBERS ARE JUST numbers, except when tattooed on the arm of an old Jew. The sleeves of his designer shirt were rolled up, just enough to reveal most of the number. He was faded, but the numbers, not so much.

Life around us was bustling as we sat outside at a little table at a small cafe of his choosing. People came and went in all directions, completely oblivious to the past, to HIS past. But one look at those numbers on his withered arm had a reverse effect on me. They seemed to make everything ELSE disappear and seem so TRIVIAL.

It had taken me months to get Mr. Bernstein to meet with me. I kept calling and he kept saying “No.” Then he stopped taking my phone calls, so I stopped making them. Imagine the surprise when I got a call one day asking ME to meet him. What had changed his mind?

Though he had said he did not want anything, I took the liberty of ordering two coffees and danishes. Worse come to worst, I would take them home for my kids. But his frail body looked so weak, and his eyes seemed so empty that I felt compelled to fill the table to balance the scene.

It was like a shiva call at first. I didn’t know how to start, so I just waited for him. He looked at the danishes for a couple of moments, and then to my further surprise, he picked one up. Then he slowly maneuvered his hand to his shirt pocket, and painstakingly pulled some material out. I had NO idea at first what it was, but as he took it out, it opened up into one of those cheap shul yarmulkes.

“That’s strange,” I thought to myself. “He doesn’t seem religious…”

After making sure the kippah was resting securely on his head, he turned his attention back to the danish in his other hand. Looking at it, he made a blessing, slowly, deliberately, as if he really meant it, and then took a bite.

He chewed a small piece of danish for what seemed like a very long time. But as he did, I reminded myself of who he was and where he had come from. I then acted like nothing else mattered for the rest of the day, and it was only late morning.

“You still make blessings?” I asked him.

He looked up at me with a skewered face, which then softened. It seemed as if he did not understand my question at first, and then did.

“Mr. Rosenthal, right?” he asked.

“Call me Jim…” I told him.

“Okay. Jim,” he said, putting his small bitten danish back on its plate. “They call us ‘holy disbelievers’…because of what we went through…because of the horrors we had to endure. Our faith in God was shaken to its core…friends of mine who came from the most religious families gave it all up because of what happened to them…to their families…”

He paused, and his eyes teared. Had his body not been so dried, especially from all the crying he had to do during the worst of it, I imagine he would have poured tears. Instead, he just looked up, and out, where I did not know.

“The holy part,” he said once he rejoined me, “was because we were excused for our doubts because of all we had…”

He could not finish his sentence and just looked down. I wanted to cry.

We had lost family in the Shoah as well, but no one I had been familiar with. The Holocaust had not really touched my family. Some names had been mentioned over the years, and I could see the sadness in my parents’ faces. But it was nothing that really caught my attention or made me think.

It wasn’t until High School that it caught my interest. It was a gentile school, and the Holocaust only got a brief mention during one history class. When I asked, in class, how the brutal death of 6,000,000 Jews could be discussed so briefly, I was told that being a very sensitive and controversial topic, the curriculum demanded that only the smallest amount of time be devoted to it.

I understood that on one level. But something inside me also felt as if a grave injustice was being committed, and over time, it got to me. I wasn’t even sure why I was SO affected, but eventually, I found myself devoting more and more time to increasing Holocaust awareness. It became my life’s work, and it brought me to people like Mr. Bernstein, through whom I had developed my OWN Holocaust sensitivity.

“Are you back?” he asked me.

At first, I didn’t know what he meant, then I realized that I had been the one to drift off this time. In a strange way, it made us more alike, and I could see it in his somewhat hollow eyes.

“Yes, I’m back.”

“Good,” he said. “If both of us drift off, we’ll be here forever and never say anything.”

I smiled and was delighted that someone like that could still make jokes…

“Why did you change your mind and call me?” I asked, already moving on from the previous discussion.

“You asked me why I still make a brochah…meaning after ALL God DID to me…”

That was what I meant, but it sounded rather coarse being fed back to me by him.

“I still believe in God,” he said, choking up as he did. That wasn’t an easy statement for him to make.

“I still believe He takes care of everyone and feeds us,” he continued. “I still have to ask His permission to eat, and thank him for what I have…”

He stopped to think, and then said. “I don’t know why He did all that to us…or at least allowed it to happen…and maybe one day I will…or maybe one day I won’t…but I STILL believe in Him.” His voice trailed off.

He slowly took another bite of his danish, then making a blessing over his coffee, he sipped with a sound, a little loudly. He was old, and tortured, and was allowed to make as much noise as he needed to.

A few minutes passed and I began to wonder if I would ever know the reason for our meeting. But it didn’t really matter. I had learned over the years that just being in the presence of such people was a special thing, and I had learned to cherish every moment of every opportunity. Even disbelievers seemed to have a special relationship to God that others who had not gone through the camps could EVER have.

“I decided to meet with you,” he finally said, “because I am 95 years old, and if I don’t come clean NOW, when will I?”

“Okay,” I thought, amused by his rather “hip” language. “Come clean? Of what? It was the world who owed HIM a living, not the other way around. What could he have possibly done ‘wrong,’ that his conscience had been looking for a way out?”

“Come clean?” I asked him. “What could a nice, elderly, respectable gentleman like you, who had been forced to endure the unimaginable possibly have to come clean of?

My question didn’t seem to make it any easier for him. Instead, he looked away, off in the distance…no…he was looking back in time, and his eyes watered as he did. I just waited.

“I…was…20…years…old,” he began, struggling to pull each word out from the depths of the darkest nightmares. “I had already been in the camp for a year and a half. Bergen Belsen…”

I watched his old and worn face change shapes various times as he spoke, and I realized that he wasn’t just recounting a terrible period of his life. He was reliving it. Born 25 years AFTER the war ended, it was bravery I did not know.

“Tommy…” he started to say, and it threw me off. I just assumed he was talking about someone Jewish, and which Jewish boy at that time had the name “Tommy”?

“His name was Tommy?”

He stopped in his tracks, and looked at me, scrutinized me. Then he said, “No. His name was not Tommy. It was Yankele. He was born Yankele Berdolovitz. But when those animals MURDERED his ENTIRE family in front of his eyes…and he saw the other horrors of the world around him…he stopped calling himself ‘Yankele’. He was angry at God, VERY angry at God…we ALL were…so he took a gentile name…”

I nodded slowly to indicate that I understood, not just what he was saying now, but what it was that made a good Jewish boy do such an unJewish thing. Holy disbelievers…

“Tommy and I were around the same age,” he continued, “and we became friends. Sometimes we just helped each other cope physically, but a lot of the time we argued…”

“Argued?” I ask. Who had strength in the camps to argue?

“Yes, argued…mostly about whether or not God existed. He said that no God could ever let this horror happen to His people. He said that if God actually existed, and He COULD let such torturous genocide happen, then he wanted no part of Him…”

“Hmm,” I said sympathetically, trying to put myself in “Tommy’s” frame of mind. I couldn’t even come CLOSE, and I criticized myself for even trying. The Holocaust belonged to another realm of consciousness into which I had never entered, and hopefully, never will have to.

“I told him,” he continued, “that everything we were going through was in the Torah, first in Parashas Bechukosai, and then later in Ki Savo. Year after year we had LEARNED about the curses for straying from God and Torah. We didn’t listen. We didn’t take them seriously. Now we were LIVING them.”

“He didn’t agree. He said that devout Jews, like his parents and the rest of his family, were ruthlessly killed. They tried so hard, in spite of all the obstacles, to KEEP the Torah. Yet, he said, God murdered them…in cold blood…cruelly… before his eyes….”

“So I told him, we don’t know God that well, or how He works. I told him the story about Rebi Akiva and how the great Moshe Rabbeinu, and even the angels had problems with it…”

I knew the story. I had read it in a book about the Holocaust. The author made a similar point, or at least TRIED to. It seemed more like apologetics, and the book left me feeling as if we’re better off saying, “We don’t KNOW why God does what He does, and why the Holocaust was SO…SO…”

“Horrifying,” he said to me, and for a moment I thought he had read my mind and finished my sentence. He was actually starting his own.

“It was just horrifying to watch a nice Jewish boy who had believed in God, and who would have probably stayed religious all of his life, had it not been for…”

The word did not leave his mouth. It got caught in his throat, so I spared him the trouble.

“He was like so many,” I said. “and I’m sure he has a special place by God.”

He forced a slight smile.

“Only God can judge a person. Only God knows what a person is capable of. He may have given up on God, but I’m sure God never gave up on him…”

“I’d like to think so,” he told me.

Then his face became VERY serious.

“He died in a gas chamber,” he intoned. “I watched him go in…I saw him give me one last smile before he did…a smile that said, ‘I told you so!’…and then he was gone…forever…”

He paused and looked out into the distance again…the distant past…perhaps back at his friend re-walking into the gas chamber. I just looked down, and gave him all the time he needed to continue.

“That’s when I looked up…” he said.

Up? To Heaven?

“That’s when I noticed it,” he continued, now looking me dead in the eyes. “Those barbarians weren’t happy just killing us off,” he said, pent up anger visible in even HIS old eyes. “They had to mock us too! They had taken the paroches off some Aharon HaKodesh and placed it over the door of the chamber. I could see the writing on it…it said…‘This is the gate of God, through which the righteous go’.”

His face reddened, and I actually worried that he might have a heart attack. Instead, he WENT on the attack, and I now worried that I would have the heart attack!

“I became enraged!” he said, enraged. “I was so angry that part of me just wanted to attack every Nazi I could, and maim or kill them! I didn’t care if I died trying. I just wanted to avenge my people…my friend.”

“But I didn’t,” he said, feeling what seemed like some shame. “I barely had the strength to walk! Instead, I just fell to my knees as the last of the ‘selected’ entered the death chambers, and the executioners locked the door. Soon I would be called on to…”

It was too difficult for him to finish the thought, and I could figure out why. I was becoming more uneasy by the moment, as if I was being dragged through the nightmare with him

“All I could do was cry. Well, at least I tried. There wasn’t enough liquid in my body to make tears…but I went through the motions. And as I did, I found myself getting weaker…and weaker… Not just physically, but mentally. My resistance had been worn down, partly because my friend was gone, and there was no one left to challenge me…except me.”

“That’s when the doubt began to creep in…” he said, reflecting. “No not creep in, because I realized later that it had ALWAYS been there. It just began to surface at that time.”

“I tried to fight it at first,” he said, agitated, “but it kept coming back each day…each HOPELESS day. I had run out of answers…and the doubt began to fill the void. Maybe Tommy had more of an impact on me than I had thought…”

He reflected some more, and then continued.

“The turning point, if you can call it that…” he said mournfully, “was the day I saw a couple of nine-year-olds get beaten to death. They had stolen a small piece of bread…and those butchers…”

He talked with clenched teeth, still feeling the anger…

“…caught them, and beat them…and beat them…and beat them…in plain sight…LONG past their last breaths of a miserable life had left them…”

“That is when,” he said, a sense of guilt visible, “I finally turned my back on Him…”

“Him…God?” I knew that is what he meant, but I just wanted to confirm it.


“I can understand why,” I told him, so he wouldn’t feel I was judging him at all. I gave him some time to regain some strength. I felt bad that I had forced him to drain himself, but he had called me to meet. It seems he had wanted this, though I still was not sure why.

“Is this what you wanted to share with me?” I asked, softly, understandingly.

“Partially,” he answered. “It’s the other part that I want you to know…to share…”

“And what is that?”

He summoned more strength, as if preparing himself to finish a mission, an IMPORTANT mission.

“Nine months after Tommy’s death…Yankele’s death…”

I assumed that he had gone back to Tommy’s original name as part of his OWN healing, and didn’t ask. In fact, I decided not to interrupt him again.

“…we were liberated. The war ended, and I went the route of most survivors…Displaced Persons camps…fruitless search for surviving relatives…eventually ending up in New York. I had an uncle there, and he took me in. He was a good man…doing everything he could to make me feel like one of his own. But sometimes that only made it worse, not better.”

“Then came the nightmares…the constant nightmares…for years after…thousands of miles away, but still in my memory like it all just happened yesterday.”

“How many times I must have watched Yankele walk through that door to death…over and over again… How many times I woke up shivering, crying, distraught for hours…”

I found myself crying for him, on the inside and on the outside. I had an intense desire to hug him, stranger as he was to me. It was not easy to maintain my OWN composure. I just kept thinking how lucky I was to have been born AFTER it all had occurred, that I had been spared…

“As time went on, the nightmares became less frequent,” he explained, “but they never fully went away. Eventually I married, and we had our own children. But I found myself always worried that someone would come along and tear them away from me, as I, and so many others, had been torn away from our families…It was so hard to enjoy anything again!”

“I can’t imagine,” I told him.

“No, you can’t,” he said. “And you should never HAVE to! No one should EVER have to go through any of that again.”

“Amen…” I found myself saying.

“Anyhow,” he continued, “about 15 years ago, something happened to change my life…again.”

“And what was that?”

“I dreamed of Yankele…”


“A dream,” he said. “It was really strange, because this time Yankele actually spoke to me…” He seemed to catch himself and explain, “Well, at least he spoke to me in the DREAM…I’m not saying he actually CAME to me in the dream and spoke to me…and I don’t know if the dream had any REAL significance…”

“What did he say…” I asked, and then correcting myself, I added, “in the DREAM, of course.”

He paused for a good long moment, and it looked as if he was unsure whether he should tell me what I wanted to know. But he had to now.

“He told me that it was God Who had arranged for the paroches to be put over the door to the gas chamber. The Nazis had done it to make fun of the Jews, but God had arranged it for another reason. It was to tell all the Jews who passed through it that God considered each of them like a Sefer Torah being returned to the Aron HaKodesh. He told me that there was a Divine reason for everything that happened…that he had been wrong about God…that I had been RIGHT about Him…but he could not say more at that time. He begged me…literally pleaded with me…to do teshuvah while I was still alive…”

I waited for more, and when it didn’t come, I asked, “Well?”

“Well?” he repeated, sitting back and taking a deep breath. “I was an 80-year old man at the time…God had not been a part of my life for 60 years, as hard as my family tried to change that. Was I supposed to all of a sudden pick up where I had left off back in that death camp?”

I didn’t answer the question, not to him and not to myself. I didn’t even know what it was.

“I never saw Yankele again, not in a dream and not in a nightmare. But the dream would not fade, and it became increasingly annoying until…

“Until?” my expression said.

“…until I found an old Chumash on a bookshelf that I hadn’t even known was there. Apparently, it was a Bar Mitzvah present for one of my grandsons, and he had left it in our home.”

“I wanted to put it back on the shelf, or just get rid of it…but couldn’t. For reasons I could not explain, I wound up on the sofa and just stared at it for what must have been about 20 minutes…”

I could guess what was coming next, but I wanted to hear it from him.

“I don’t know why,” he said, “to this very day I cannot figure out what made me do it, but I randomly opened it…to”

“No,” I thought to myself. “Not to…”

“Parashas Bechukosai…”

He choked up. I choked up.

“I started to cry,” he said. “A little at first, and then more, and then more, and then…I fell onto the floor and rolled myself up like a baby…and cried like one too. I cried for my father, and for my mother, and my three sisters and two brothers…I cried for my neighbors and my town…and for ANYONE and EVERYONE I could think of…”

“Wow…” was all I could say, holding back my own tears. “I am NOT going to cry like a baby in public!” I told myself, but wasn’t sure of my resolve.

“And then I cried…for…God,” he said almost too softly to hear.

“You cried for God?” I was surprised.

“Yes. I even found myself crying for God…ESPECIALLY for God.”


“I also did not know at first,” he said. “But then I realized…as a father…that as much as we hurt from what happened, God hurt more.”

I looked at him in the eyes, requesting additional explanation.

“My father, may his soul rest in peace, always told me, since I was a little boy, that God was our FATHER. A father LOVES his children and will do anything for them, especially if it is for their own good. And sometimes that means,” my father taught me, “being hard on them…for their own good.”

“But, my father told me, I had to always know that, as angry and hurtful as a father may seem to be, he really loves his children, and it hurts him even more to have to punish them, and make them sad…”

He looked down and considered his own words, clearly believing them. Then he slowly reached for his pocket, a different pocket this time, and he pulled out a different yarmulke, a black felt one.

“So, Jim…” he said, putting the kippah on his head.

“Ya’akov,” I said. I felt compelled, after all that, to use my Hebrew name too.

“Okay, Ya’akov. Well, Ya’akov,” he began again, “I called you to meet me because this is the day I finally told my story…it is my moment of reconciliation. I could not put on a yarmulke again until I did. It just didn’t feel right. I still have lots of questions to ask God, but I now accept that answers might not come until much later on. But I am very old now, and before I go and meet my Father in Heaven, I figure I ought to dress ‘appropriately’…”

I smiled. This man impressed me. For so many reasons, he impressed me.

The conversation turned to lighter topics for the last 15 minutes. Not only did he give me permission to publish our interview, but he insisted on it. He called it a way to make amends for his mistakes of the past.

As we got up to leave, I gave him a hug. I rarely ever did that to a “stranger,” even to friends. I told him that he was an exception, that he had EARNED it. He seemed to appreciate that.

I promised to call him soon, but never got the chance. He died three weeks later, and I made a point of attending his funeral. It was disappointingly small, at least as far as I was concerned. But, he had outlived most of his friends and family, and was a survivor through-and-through.

As I drove away, I went through our time together in my mind. All of it was memorable, but the most memorable part of all was what he said, just before he turned away to go. He told me, “Mr. Rosenthal, if you remember anything at all in life, remember this: God loves you, always, no matter what it seems like to you.”

I smiled and felt warm all over. Apparently, I had needed to hear that too.

“I now know that,” I told him, “after seeing how much He loves YOU.”

He smiled so deeply I melted. Then we both went our separate ways, him to God apparently, and me to find my way to Him.

Rav Kook on Parshat Bechukotai: Eternal Inheritance

The warnings-rebukes of Bechukotai are harsh. Grim admonitions of war and famine, exile and persecution if the Jewish people will refuse to listen to God and keep the Torah. Yet, in the midst of all the darkness, a ray of light glimmers.

“I will make the land so desolate that [even] your enemies who live there will be astonished. I will scatter you among the nations, and keep the sword drawn against you. Your land will remain desolate, and your cities in ruins.” (Lev. 26:32-33)

The Ramban noted that a remarkable blessing lies hidden among all of these punishments.

“What it says, ‘your enemies who live there will be desolated’ (וְשָׁמְמוּ עָלֶיהָ אֹיְבֵיכֶם הַיֹּשְׁבִים בָּהּ) - this is, in fact, good news. It proclaims that during all of our exiles, our Land does not accept our enemies.

“This is an amazing proof and promise to us. For throughout the settled world, you will not find a good and spacious land that was always settled, and yet is devastated to the extent that the Land of Israel is now. Since we left the Land, it has not received any other nation or people. All attempt to settle it, but none succeed.”

When the Ramban arrived in Eretz Yisrael in 1267, he witnessed the Land’s desolation with his own eyes. As he wrote in a letter to his son:

“What can I tell you about the Land? It is much abandoned and greatly desolate. The holier the place, the more profound the destruction. Jerusalem is devastated the most, and the area of Judah more than the Galilee.” 1

“An Inheritance to Israel”

Rav Kook noted that another verse alludes to this special connection between the Land and the Jewish people:

“[God] struck down great nations and slew mighty kings... all the kingdoms of Canaan. And He gave their land as an inheritance, an inheritance to Israel, His people.” (Psalms 135:10-12)

“וְנָתַן אַרְצָם נַחֲלָה - נַחֲלָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל עַמּוֹ”

Why did the psalmist repeat, “an inheritance, an inheritance to Israel His people”?

This, Rav Kook explained, refers to two great kindnesses. First, God delivered the Land of Israel from the Canaanite nations to the Jewish people. This was not a temporary conquest, but a nachalah, an eternal inheritance.

And what about the second kindness? God imprinted a special character on the Land. Due to its unique holiness, the Land is not suitable for any other nation. It is forever “an inheritance - an inheritance exclusively to Israel, His people.”

As a result of this special connection between the Land and the people, we possess a clear sign to know when Israel’s redemption is at hand. Rabbi Abba in Sanhedrin 98a taught that when the Land of Israel gives its fruit in abundance, that is an overt sign that the end of Israel’s exile draws near. As it says,

“And you, mountains of Israel, will give forth your branches, and bear your fruit to My people of Israel, for they will soon be coming.” (Ezek. 36:8)

(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II p. 83)

See also: Bechukotai: Why Exile?
1 Kitvei HaRamban 1:368.
In 1867, exactly 600 years later, Mark Twain toured the Middle East. The famous American author described the country he saw in his travelogue:

“The further we went the hotter the sun got, and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became... There was hardly a tree or a shrub any where. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. No landscape exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bounds the approaches to Jerusalem.” (The Innocents Abroad, p. 555).

Kabbalah and its Meaning

by HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Har Bracha

There is nothing in the world that does not hold within it a hidden side – from the inanimate formed of atoms, to the deep-layered soul of a man * Some reveal the layers of depth by means of crises, but with the help of Torah and Mitzvot they can be reached in the best and most moderate way * For most of the world, the ‘sod’ is revealed gradually, except in righteous Tzaddikim like Rashbi * By virtue of his connection to the ‘sod’, Rashbi believed that Torah scholars do not need to work for a living, and even refused to compromise with the Roman monarchy * Even though the majority of Sages accepted the balancing of the ‘sod’ and the present physical world, unique individuals such as Rashbi illuminate creation

The Sod

To understand the value of Torat Ha’Sod (the hidden, or secret Torah, also known as Kabbalah), it must be explained that there is nothing in the world that does not have a hidden side. Even a stone that appears to be lifeless and inert contains secrets about the structure of matter, composed of tiny particles that are constantly in motion. All the more so in regards to flora and wildlife. Above and beyond that, coded in man’s mind and emotions are sodot (secrets) that even the deepest person cannot fully reveal. For example, a person decides to choose a profession for himself believing that it was because of his interest in the profession. Years later, upon delving deeper, he finds that there were deeper reasons connected to values ​​he had adopted in his youth, and after delving deeper, he finds even more profound reasons, sometimes related to his parents’ upbringing, or to that of his grandparents. And even after realizing this, he understands only the relatively superficial secrets, because within them lies even deeper and more hidden sodot. Sometimes when the deep reasons are in certain contradiction with the obvious reasons, all of a person’s choices fail, and he cannot understand why. The more a person understands his sodot, the better he will be able to direct his life.

Secrets of the Torah

In order to understand the depth of the sodot, it is not enough for a person to delve into himself, he must understand the deep secrets that drive the entire world, of which he himself is only one link. This is what Torat Ha’Sod deals with. Since these sodot are very deep secrets, above and beyond simple consciousness, explaining them is difficult. Therefore, most of the sages of Kabbalah used allegories composed of “worlds”, sefirot (spheres), and partzufim (personas). There are some Gedolim (eminent Torah scholars) like Rambam, who explained the profound secrets they discovered through their deep Torah study in a different way. Nevertheless, no great Torah scholar fails to search in every issue the deep foundation upon which it lies, and this principle is the beginning of the sod.

The Distance between the Sod and Ordinary Life
It is not by chance that a person is usually unaware of his sodot. They contain awesome powers that, if suddenly exposed, would cause him to collapse. The more one establishes himself and his self-confidence, in his mind and emotions, he is able to understand deeper and more awesomely glorious sodot. The sodot also encompass an abyss, such as the complexes and dark desires Sigmund Freud described, and without proper training someone exposed to the sodot is liable to be sucked into the abyss, and lose his faith in God and himself. Therefore, the deep ideas are sodot that have a large influence, nevertheless, are concealed so as not to interfere with the course of life. However, it is impossible to block the sodot, and thus, they are revealed gradually. When we choose well, following the path of Torah and mitzvot, they are revealed in a positive and balanced way. When we do not choose good, they are revealed in a negative way giving rise to crises, which then require great repentance or suffering in order to restore them for the better.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
The majority of the Sages of Israel tended towards the middle path, which reconciles between the sod and the revealed, between the ideal and the difficulties found in this physical world. However, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi, for short) was so closely connected to the sod, that he was unable to compromise with revealed, everyday reality.

The Livelihood of Torah Scholars
In Rashbi’s opinion, a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) should only study Torah, without worrying at all about making a living, seeing as he is connected to the Torah by which God created His world, and by means of learning Torah in depth and detail the world is elevated to its perfected state in which man does not need to work – he would already be worthy to receive blessings and parnasa (livelihood) in one way or another, without having to work.

Therefore, when Rabbi Yishma’el stated the opinion accepted by most of the Sages of Israel, that even talmidei chachamim must conduct themselves with derech eretz (earn a living) and be involved in yishuvo shel ha’olam (concern for the needs and development of society), Rashbi replied: “Is that possible? If a man ploughs in the ploughing season, and sows in the sowing season, and reaps in the reaping season, and threshes in the threshing season, and winnows in the season of wind, what is to become of the Torah? No; but when Israel performs the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others, and when Israel does not perform the will of the Omnipresent, their work is carried out by themselves…Not only that, but the work of others is also done by them” (Berachot 35b).

The conclusion of the majority of the Sages of Israel is that, although l’chatchila (ideally), before the sin of Adam Ha’Rishon (the first man) there was no need toil in work – after the sin, part of our tikkun (perfection) is achieved through working (see, Kiddushin 82b). This is what Abaye said: “Many have followed the advice of Rabbi Yishma’el, and it has worked well; others have followed Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and it has not been successful.” This is how Raba instructed his students, to work during the months requiring a great deal of work in the fields, so that during the rest of the year they would be free to study Torah (Berachot, ibid).

And although Rashbi’s approach did not suit the reality of this physical world, miracles were performed for him, and he did not have to forsake his studies in order to earn a livelihood.

The Attitude of Our Sages to the Rule of the Gentiles

The Jewish Sages have traditionally pursued a middle path, taking into consideration the difficulties of our present world. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, though, pursued absolute and ultimate truths. Concerning foreign rule, our Sages, in an attempt to prevent confrontations between Jews and the empires which ruled over them, taught that Jews must pray for the peace of the kingdom, “for were it not for the fear thereof, men would swallow each other alive” (Avodah Zara 4a). Only when the kingdom forced the Jews to betray their religion and there was no other choice, did they advocate rebellion.

In accordance with Torat Ha’Sod, Rashbi understood the central place of Israel in the world – that God imbues life to the world on their behalf, and that even during their exile the world continues to exist owing to them, as Rashbi said: “Come and see how beloved are Israel in the sight of God, in that to every place to which they were exiled the Shechinah (Divine presence) went with them” (Megillah 29a). Through Torat Ha’Sod, Rashbi connected to complete faith, to segulat Yisrael (uniqueness of Israel) and belief of Redemption, and maintained that it was permissible to provoke the wicked in this world (Berachot 7b).

Out of his adherence to Torat Ha’Sod, he was unable to tolerate the seeming reality in which the wicked ruled Israel, as related in the Talmud (Shabbat 33b) that once a discussion took place between three Sages regarding the kingdom of Rome. Rabbi Yehudah bar Ilai chose to emphasize the positive aspects of their regime, while Rabbi Yossi preferred to remain silent. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, though, could not bear hearing praise for such an evil kingdom. He retorted, “Everything they built, they built for themselves: They built market places in order to place prostitutes there; bathhouses, in order to refresh themselves; bridges, in order to collect taxes.”

When this discussion became known to the Romans, they decreed: “Rabbi Yehudah, for praising us, shall be promoted; Rabbi Yossi, for remaining silent, shall be punished through exile; Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, for speaking out against us, shall be put to death.” Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai fled and hid in a cave with his son – his wife providing them with food and water. The Romans pursued them with all their might, until finally they were forced to hide in a different cave which no one knew about. There, a miracle occurred: a carob tree sprouted up, and a natural spring began to flow, sustaining them for twelve years until they were informed that the emperor had finally died, and his decrees were nullified.

By then, as a result of their study in the cave, Rabbi Shimon and his son had become so elevated in Torah that when they came out they were unable to bear the sight of mundane worldly endeavors. Every place upon which they set their eyes was set aflame. They had to return to the cave for an entire year to delve deeper in Torah until they could understand the true value of this world. Having achieved this, they came out (Shabbat 33b).

A Path Suitable for Individuals in Which All Benefit

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s approach is unsuitable for the general public, and halakha follows the opinion of the majority of the Sages of Israel, namely, that one should not rely on miracles, the limitations of the world must be taken into consideration, and in times of distress, the lenient opinion of halakha should be applied. Since this is the halachic ruling of the majority of our Sages it is proof that this is God’s will – that we act to perfect the world while taking into account the reality of life in this world.

Nevertheless, there is great value in the existence of an eminent Torah scholar who lived his life uncompromisingly and in accordance with absolute values, who rebelled against the curse decreed upon mankind as a result of the sin of Adam Ha’Rishon, who clung to the Torah with great diligence, relied on miracles, and was assisted by God. By way of such individual Torah scholars, magnificent light from the eternal world appears in our physical world – from the vision of Israel’s redemption.

This is the reason why the nation of Israel hallowed and revered Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai for his devotion to the Torah and the faith of Israel.

Towards the Sabbatical Year

By the grace of God, towards the upcoming Shemitah (Sabbatical) year 5782 (2021), the Ministry of Agriculture, under the leadership of Minister Uri Ariel, has increased its support for farmers who plan to refrain from working the fields during Shemitah. The plan is that every farmer who intends to observe Shemitah is required to deposit a certain sum each year, and alternatively, the State will guarantee a double sum of money. A farmer can set aside up to ninety thousand shekels, and alternatively the State will allocate one hundred and eighty thousand shekels. With this sum of money, farmers will be able to subsist during the Sabbatical year. There is an additional plan for orchard owners requiring funds to preserve trees during the Sabbatical year.

Since next week is the last week in which one can join the program, it would be fitting for every farmer able, to join the program and observe the Shemitah. For more information, please call ‘Birkat Ha’aretz’: 02-531-9070, or 054-8509970.

All agree that this is the best way to observe Shemitah. As I explained in “Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it ve’ Yovel” (11:1), increase of the State’s support for farmers observing Shemitah is the best practical way by which it is possible to gradually progress towards full observance of Shemitah.

On the other hand, ‘Otzar Beit Din’s approach provides no solution, but in practice complicates things, rather than advancing them. Therefore, in the case of not observing Shemitah, it is preferable to work within the framework of the ‘Heter Mechira’ than by means of ‘Otzar Beit Din‘, both because the leniencies of the ‘Heter Mechira‘ are broader than those of ‘Otzar Bet Din‘, and also because the ‘Heter Mechira‘ is more beneficial for yishuv ha’aretz (the settlement of the Land of Israel) (ibid, 7:10-14; 8:8).

Israel’s Coming Constitutional Crisis

by Victor Rosenthal

Can there be a constitutional crisis without a constitution?

Apparently Israel is headed toward one, as Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Likud party confront Israel’s Supreme Court.

The Court says that Netanyahu wants to render it powerless, destroying the independent judiciary that is a requirement for democratic governance. Netanyahu says that the court has arrogated too much power to itself, so much so that the Knesset and the Government, which in fact are the democratically elected voice of the citizens, are the ones that have been neutered.

Both sides appeal to the concept of democracy. But both sides understand that the conflict is about power.

What brought this issue – which has been simmering for years – to a boil now is that the PM would like to pass a law granting him immunity from prosecution on corruption charges as long as he is in office. And he also wants a law that will enable the Knesset to override a Supreme Court decision to overturn a law it has passed.

It is very unfortunate that the issue of checks and balances among the branches of government has to be tied up with the question of immunity for the PM, since naturally anything anyone says about it will be attributed to the most obvious political motives. But the balance of powers question does need to be addressed.

Let me just insert a bit about the PM’s immunity here: I’m for it. The last few years have seen the PM’s time increasingly taken up by several police investigations, countless sessions of questioning, and daily media frenzies based on leaks from the police and prosecutor’s office. There is absolutely no doubt that his ability to do the job he was elected to do has been severely impacted. Not only this, but his political position has been undermined by the flood of unproven allegations leaked to the hostile media. No matter how you feel about Netanyahu, this is both dangerous for the nation and personally unfair to the PM.

There are good solutions to this in other democracies. In France the president has immunity by law from questioning prosecution for the period of his term; statutes of limitations are suspended during it, but he can be prosecuted immediately upon leaving office. He can be removed from office by impeachment by a special court that is convened by both houses of the French parliament. In America, although there isn’t a constitutional provision for it, the majority legal opinion is that a president must be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate before he could be prosecuted.

Israel does not have a constitution as such. The very first Knesset was supposed to adopt one six months after the establishment of the state. It did not, because various factions were unable to agree on many issues, and because David Ben Gurion felt the enterprise would be too divisive. Instead, Israel has fourteen Basic Laws, which deal with important subjects and which will supposedly (don’t hold your breath) one day be expanded and put together to be a constitution.

Most (but not all) of these Basic Laws can be changed by a vote of the majority of the Knesset members present (assuming a quorum). Some of them are detailed and some vague, some subjects are not covered at all, and the empty spaces have to be filled by legislation or by legal interpretations. This provides fertile ground for a very activist court. The Supreme Court has defined its own role over the years, especially since the 1980s. And an exceedingly broad role it is.

In most legal systems, access to the courts is reserved for those with “standing” – a stake, financial or otherwise, in the outcome. But in Israel, anyone can petition the highest court anytime for any reason. So you have European-funded NGOs petitioning the court on behalf of Palestinian residents of the territories!

In most systems, there are limitations on the kind of matter that is “justiciable” – that is, appropriate for the courts to decide. Some matters are considered essentially political, and some, like issues related to security, require special expertise. But the definition of “justiciable” has expanded to include almost anything that the government does.

There’s more. As Evelyn Gordon writes,

Whereas once the court would consider only whether a government action accorded with the letter of the law, the court began routinely overturning decisions which it considered “extremely unreasonable,” on the grounds that extreme unreasonability is ipso facto illegal. In the words of [former Court President Meir] Shamgar, “unreasonability that extends to the heart of the issue makes the decision of a government authority illegal.”

This combination gives the Court virtually dictatorial powers in every realm of government action. The Court can review any law passed by the Knesset and any administrative decision of any government official, including decisions made by military or security personnel. It is the first and last court to consider such laws and decisions; so there is no higher court to appeal to. And they can throw out a law or decision not only because it’s unconstitutional, but because in their eyes it is “unreasonable.”

Israel’s Supreme Court is probably the most powerful such organ in any democratic country. The US Supreme Court, in anyone’s wildest dreams, has never been this “activist.” The Court sees itself as sort of a philosopher-king as recommended by Plato, because it believes that it can be completely objective and is not dirtied by the muddy waters of politics. If only that were possible!

All judges in Israel, including the justices of the Supreme Court are chosen by a 9-member judicial selection committee, which meets in secret. Three of its members are justices of the Supreme Court, and two are representatives of the Bar Association. These five often vote as a bloc, which means that the left-leaning legal establishment controls the selection of judges. These philosopher-princes were recently embarrassed when it turned out that an influential member of the committee and head of the Bar Association was caught trading judicial appointments and promotions for sex.

A right-wing government and a left-leaning Court would be expected to be in conflict. But the balance of power has moved too far in the direction of the Court in recent times, paralyzing the executive and legislative branches. The Court almost prevented the signing of an agreement to sell natural gas internationally, and has prevented the repatriation of illegal migrants that have made life hell for residents of South Tel Aviv. It has ordered the demolition of whole Jewish communities in the territories because of NGO petitions that (sometimes unknown) Palestinians have claims on some of their land. It is almost certain to move to overthrow the newly-passed Nation-State Law. The Court is the main reason for complaints that Israelis vote for the Right but get policies of the Left. It is not accidental that the expansion of the Court’s powers came at about the same time that the historic monopoly of the Labor party was smashed by Menachem Begin.

The opposition to Netanyahu and the Court itself view – or pretend to view – the situation today as nothing less than an attempt to overthrow democracy and the rule of law, and install Bibi as a fascist dictator. The Times of Israel reports,

Judges on the Supreme Court have warned they could take “extreme steps” in order to block legislative proposals that could severely curtail the court’s powers and shield Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from prosecution, Israeli television reported Friday.

“It seems as if the prime minister and the candidates for the role of justice minister want to shatter and destroy the legal system,” Channel 13 news quoted unnamed Supreme Court justices saying during private talks.

“The immunity bill alongside the override clause is unbelievable. We won’t hesitate to take harsh and extreme steps because history will judge us,” they were said to add.

What these steps might be remain unspecified. But it’s clear that we will be in uncharted territory with no clear directions to get back if an open conflict between the government and the Court erupts.

An immunity bill, along with some sensible restrictions on the Court’s power – a return to requiring that petitioners have “standing” in a case, a retreat from the ideas that “everything is justiciable” and that anything the justices find unreasonable is also illegal, would be a good start. A change in the way judges are selected to make it fairer and more transparent is probably necessary.

None of these things destroys democracy or introduces fascism. Indeed, by restoring eroded checks and balances, they would make the country more democratic. But the Supreme Court is the last bastion of real power for the Left in Israeli society, and they are going to fight to keep it, regardless of collateral damage.