Sunday, September 29, 2019

I will Surely Conceal My Face

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg 
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

"I will surely conceal ('haster astir') My face on that day." (Devarim 31:18) The Ba'al Shem Tov would often say, "I am very afraid of this concealment that is called 'haster astir,' more than of the concealment itself." That is, when a person suffers, but knows that G-d is hiding, he seeks after Him. However, when the person is not even aware of the concealment, he is not worried and doesn't submit, because he considers himself completely righteous, and therefore doesn't repent.

The Ba'al Shem Tov writes a parable about this, for it seems very strange, how could G-d hide His face from Israel? Rather, it is comparable to a king who made numerous illusionary obstacles before his palace, so that it would be impossible to reach him, and hid there. He made walls, and fire, and rivers -- all illusions -- before his children. The one who thought about this wisely said, "How could it be that a merciful father would not be willing to show his face to his children, his friends?" It must be that this is all an illusion, that the father wants to test if the child will attempt to come to him, and he really is not hiding. Immediately, when he plunged into the "river," the illusion was exposed and he crossed it, and so, too, all the other obstacles, until he came to the Royal Chamber. The fool was afraid even to begin to cross the barriers, and another crossed the water successfully, but went back because of the walls and the fire. The meaning of the parable is obvious.

"I shall descend with you to Egypt, and I shall also surely bring you up" (Bereishit 46:4), was said to Yaakov when he went down to Egypt. The Ba'al Shem Tov explains (Parshat Vayigash):

When you contemplate, that even in descent there is also, "I" -- that is, that the concealment that I will conceal Myself from you is also for your benefit, then -- "I shall surely bring you up," that is, that you will merit a lofty level, and this is, "surely bring you up." The Toldot Yaakov Yosef (the brother-in-law of the Ba'al Shem Tov) gives another parable about this. It is comparable to a king that sent one of his servants to test his subjects, and told him to pretend as if he were leading a rebellion against the king. Some said: "If you are the king, we are your servants," and they submitted to him. Some went out to war against him. Some said: "How could a lowly servant rebel against his master? Rather, he must certainly be doing the will of his master," and told him that they would make peace with him.

All of a person's desires, evil thoughts, and acts led by his inclination, are in order to arouse him. Some surrender to their inclination, some fight and break their inclination, and some make peace -- they take these abilities and use them for the service of G-d. "With all your heart" -- with your two inclinations.

Whenever a person feels something restraining him, this is a sign that he is being tested specifically there, and that G-d is hiding there. G-d's name is Y-H. However, the yu"d has a crown which points upwards, and this alludes to the aleph, the Unique King of the world. When we examine the words "Hstr AstYr" we find that in the double concealment hide the letters A, Y-H. This teaches that G-d is a "hiding G-d," and the "I" is hidden within the double concealment.

The Jewish Formula: Optimism Sweetens

by Rabbi Dov Berl Wein

The mood of this almost final portion of the Torah is one of seeming contradictions - sadness on one hand and soaring optimism on the other hand. Moshe’s sadness is evident in his words and his disappointment in not being able to enter the Land of Israel. But his optimism is abundantly evident in his statements regarding the eventual survival and triumph of the Jewish people and the reconciliation of God and Israel at the end of days. This duality of emotion has continued within the Jewish people throughout our many years of existence. There is more than enough sadness to go around in the story of the Jews in history. Yet Jews on the whole have always been upbeat, even sanguine about their future. This attitude is reflected in the summation of the rabbis regarding the end of the old year and the coming of the new year. "Let the curses of the old year end with the passing of that year; let the blessings of the new year commence with the advent of this new year." Even though we know that the new year will not be free of problems and even difficulties, nevertheless we are confident that we will benefit from its attendant blessings. Hard realism always tempered with optimism seems to be the Jewish formula towards life and circumstances. The mood of the parsha seems to be not a temporary one but rather it is a guideline for all later generations of Jews. Sadness is not in order but seriousness is. The struggle to prosper begins with a spirit of inner optimism.

Moshe’s demise is not only his personal tragedy. It is tremendous blow to the Jewish people, though as is usual in human affairs it is not appreciated until after it happens. Yet the Torah views Moshe’s death as being a source of comfort and strength for the Jewish people. It teaches us that even without the physical Moshe being present and active in our midst the spiritual Moshe - the Torah of Sinai that he transmitted to Israel - will be sufficient in itself to be the guarantee of Jewish survival and success. No human being, even Moshe is indispensable. Yet no human being is replaceable either. Moshe teaches this to the Jewish people on his final day on earth. He cautions them to heed the Torah and its commandments. It is their only guarantee of success and longevity in this world. Life will be different without the presence of Moshe. Yehoshua is not Moshe. Yet all of this is immaterial in the long run of the Jewish story. For the people will remain and the Torah, which is eternal, will always be there to guide and inspire Israel. Moshe, who sees all of the events that will befall the Jewish people until the end of days, is serene and peaceful at the end of his life. He is comforted by the knowledge that the God of Israel will see the people through the times of sadness and not allow them to despair of their future and fate. His optimism overcomes his sadness and out of this is born the nature of Israel in all of its generations.

For what is Man Judged?

by HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Har Bracha

Alongside the judgement of Clal Yisrael, which is the central point of the High Holidays, every single individual is also judged * The individual’s judgement mainly concerns the World to Come, that is, the World of Souls and after the Resurrection of the Dead * The judgement on the World to Come also includes the path to it in this world – will one merit conditions in his life that will help him in Torah and Mitzvot, and what challenges will he face in order to fulfill his purpose * Reward is not evident in this world, in order to allow free choice. But for the most part, those who choose the good path and know how to take a deep look – realize that in the long run, they have been blessed

We learned in the previous column that the main judgement and prayer in the Yamim Nora’im (High Holidays) is for Clal Yisrael (the entire physical and spiritual community of Israel, past, present, and future), who reveal Malchut Hashem (the kingdom of God) in the world, thereby perfecting it. In this column we will examine the judgement of the individual, who’s ideal kavana (intention) should be to merit uniting with Clal Yisrael in Tikun Olam Be’Malchut Shadai (perfection of the world in the kingdom of God).

Our Sages said that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tzadikim (righteous) are judged for life, and rasha’im (wicked) for death, and as we will learn further on, the meaning is life both in Olam Ha’Zeh (this world), and Olam Ha’Ba (the World to Come) (Rosh Hashanah 16b).

The Two Stages of Olam Ha’Ba
Life in Olam Ha’Ba consists of two stages. The first stage begins after man’s death – then, his neshama (soul) ascends to Olam Ha’Neshamot (the World of Souls), where Gan Eden (Heaven) is for the tzadikim, and Gehinom (Hell) for the rasha’im. The second stage will come after Tikun Olam (perfection of the world) is completed with Techiyat Ha’Maytim (the Resurrection of the Dead), at which stage the souls will be reunited with the body, and together, will have an infinite elevation (Ramban, ‘Shaar Hagemul’; Ramchal, ‘Derech Hashem’ Part 1, Chap. 3).

Olam Ha’Ba in its two stages is also called Olam Ha’Emet (the World of Truth), because in contrast to Olam Ha’Zeh where falsehood prevails and the external image obscures the inner essence – in Olam Ha’Ba, the true status of man, and the true value of his actions, is clarified. Seeing as Olam Ha’Ba is infinitely more important than Olam Ha’Zeh because “this world is like a lobby before the World to Come” (Avot 4: 16), in the opinion of many Torah Sages, the main judgement a person is judged on Rosh Hashanah is on Olam Ha’Ba.

The Judgement of Olam Ha’Ba
There are two components of judgement concerning Olam Ha’Ba. One is that every year, all the actions a person does during the year is taken into account – for the good actions, reward is reserved for him in Olam Ha’Ba, and for the bad ones, punishment. However, the judgement on Rosh Hashanah is not final, because if one repents in the coming years, he will save himself from judgement in Gehinom, and his reward in Olam Ha’Ba will be increased. But if, God forbid, he changes his mind, and regrets the good deeds he did, he will inherit Gehinom, and lose the reward that was reserved for him in Olam Ha’Ba.

The second part concerns one’s ability to come closer to Hashem in the coming year. A person judged for life on Rosh Hashanah will be given opportunities throughout the year that will help him continue elevating in Torah and mitzvot, by way of which he will merit life in Olam Ha’Ba. When learning Torah, he will merit gaining additional enlightenment and understanding, and while fulfilling mitzvot and good deeds, merit gaining additional joy and blessing – me’ayn Olam HaBa (a taste of the World to Come). But if, God forbid, one is judged for death, he will encounter throughout the year challenges and events liable to distance himself from Hashem, and lose his Olam Ha’Ba. In such a situation, even when studying Torah, it will be difficult for him to absorb the Divine enlightenment in it, and even when performing mitzvot, he will not feel the kedusha (holiness) and oneg (pleasure) of the mitzvot properly.

What are “Life” and “Death”?
Overall reward is called chaim (life), and punishment is called mavet (death). The meaning of life is closeness and attachment to Hashem, the Source of Life, by which man merits all the good that Hashem showers in Olam Ha’Zeh, Olam Ha’Neshamot, and Olam Ha’Ba. Since the root of all goodness and pleasure in this world comes from life that Hashem showers to the world, the reward in Olam Ha’Ba is infinitely greater than all the pleasures of this world, which are only but a pale reflection of the source of pleasure. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “One hour of spiritual bliss in the World to Come is worth more than the whole life of this world” (Avot 4: 17). This is because in Olam Ha’Ba, one is able to enjoy the splendor of Hashem and revel in Him, and life in him becomes infinitely greater and intensified, whereas in this world, the Divine Light comes to us through screens and great reduction. Nevertheless, by adhering to Hashem in the study of Torah and observance of mitzvot, one can also gain a taste of Olam Ha’Ba in this world, and gain enjoyment from de’veykut (adherence) to Hashem.

In contrast to reward termed chaim, the general name of punishment is termed mavet (death), which means distancing from the Source of Life, which causes the increase of distress, until the death of the body in this world, and agony of the soul in Gehinom.

The Complexity of Judgement and Free Choice
Although the rules of judgement are simple, namely, that a person who walks in the ways of Hashem is blessed in this world and the next, and one who is evil is punished in this world and the next, the details of judgement are infinitely profound and complex. Consequently, there are incidences where a righteous person suffers from poverty and illness and dies at an early age, and an evil person who persists his wicked ways in prosperity and good health. The main point is that everything is aimed at Tikun Olam. I will explain this a bit.

In order to perfect the world, man must have free choice. Therefore, as long as the world has not yet reached perfection, it is impossible for all the righteous to enjoy the good, and the wicked, to suffer. Thus, the rule of judgement is extremely complex and detailed, and thus, there will always be righteous people having to deal with anguish, and evil people that seem to enjoy the pleasures of this world. In this way, free choice is not compromised, and the person who chooses goodness, merits perfecting himself, and the entire world.

At any rate, when the long-term is weighed, for example, family relationships and true happiness in life, we find that in general, righteous people merit blessing in this world as well, and the wicked are punished. And this is the main challenge, for the yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) inclines man to observe the world superficially and short-term, whereas the yetzer ha’tov (good inclination) encourages man to look deeply and in the long-term. Therefore, despite the fact that in general, even in this world the righteous usually merit favor and the wicked are tormented, free choice still remains, because in the short-term, things are not evident.

The Meaning of Judgement when Fate is Determined
I will explain a bit about the details of judgement: There could be a man whose destiny in life is to be rich and cope with the yetzer accompanying wealth – therefore, even if he sins a lot, he will be rich. All of the judgement on Rosh Hashanah in this matter is about the conditions of his life as a rich person – whether he will be happy with his wealth, or be agitated by worries because of it. Concerning his life in Olam Ha’Ba as well – judgement is whether his wealth will cause him to endure very difficult trials, easy trials, or may even assist him in serving Hashem. On the other hand, there could be a person destined to cope with poverty, and therefore, even if he has numerous merits, will remain poor – his judgement is about whether poverty will be unbearable or tolerable, and concerning Olam Ha’Ba – whether the conditions of his life as a poor person will benefit or hinder him in serving Hashem. In rare cases, as a result of special merits or severe sins, a person can change the fate of his destiny.

Judgement when Fate is Not Determined
Occasionally, a person’s destiny is not determined, but rather, sets the direction and allows for certain changes. In this case, the judgement of Rosh Hashanah can also affect a person destined to be rich – whether he will be well-off, wealthy, or extremely rich; for a poor person as well – whether he will be a little tight, downright poor, or destitute.

Sometimes a person has no special destiny to be poor or rich, and thus his fate is not permanent, but since he has chosen to act properly regarding money matters and tzedakah (charity), he justifiably deserves to be rich. In such a situation he will gradually become wealthier, so that he may continue growing in piety and righteousness. And other times it is revealed before the Knower of hidden thoughts, that if he were to gain wealth, his yetzer would overcome him, and he would be likely to sin in pride, lust, and greed, and lose his degree of righteousness. In this situation, since devotion to Hashem is the main factor, upon which his life depends, he is shown mercy and judged with difficulty in parnassa (earning a living) so that he can escape the difficult challenge, and merit life in Olam Ha’Ba. But if he was not so worthy, he may become rich in this world, but would have to face difficult challenges liable to relegate him to the worst of places.

According to the Extent of the Challenge
There is another consideration, namely, the degree of challenge it takes for a person to choose good and avoid evil. Some people, by the fate of their destiny, were created with a very strong evil inclination, or grew up in a harsh and bad environment, and even if they are able to learn a little Torah and do a few good deeds – it has tremendous value, and they will merit great reward. As our Sages said: “The reward is according to the suffering” (Avot 5: 23). On the other hand, there are people whose good inclination is strong, and grew up in a good environment, and therefore if they sin, they will be severely punished.

Reward for the Wicked in This World, and Vice Versa
There is an additional accounting, namely, that sometimes the judgement of a rasha who performed some mitzvot is to receive all the reward for it in this world, in order to be relegated to Gehinom. And at times the judgement of a righteous person who sinned a bit, is to receive all his punishment in this world, so that he will ascend to Gan Eden pure and clean.

Although reward in this world is incomparable to the reward in Olam Ha’Ba, such judgement is just and proper, because the rasha did his mitzvot for superficial reasons – to boast and brag – consequently, it is appropriate that his reward also be in this fleeting world, and not to receive reward for them in Olam Ha’Emet (the World of Truth). And similarly for a tzadik, seeing as his main desire is devotion to Hashem – if he sinned by mistake, just as his sin is superficial, it is only fitting his punishment be superficial in this world, and be cleansed until no stain remains from it in Olam Ha’Ba (Kiddushin 39b; Derech Hashem, Part 2, 2:6).

Judgement of the Clal and the Individual
Another point: Although judgement on Rosh Hashanah is for the nation as a whole and for each individual, judgement of the individual is greatly influenced by the general state of the nation – each nation according to its own state of affairs. Indeed, sometimes there is no contradiction between the judgement of the nation and that of the individual, for even when the nation as a whole merits to be inundated with blessing – the blessing is not hindered because some individuals are punished for their sins; likewise, when the nation as a whole receives punishment – the punishment is not hindered because some individuals merit reward. However, sometimes there is a contradiction between the judgement of the nation and that of the individual, such as when the nation is punished with destruction and exile, and in that case, it is inevitable that the righteous are punished as well. Even so, the judgement remains in force, for in Olam Ha’Neshamot, in Gan Eden, the tzadikim will receive their full reward, and the entire completion will be in Olam Ha’Ba, at the time of Techiyat Ha’Maytim (Resurrection of the Dead), when the souls will reunite with their bodies.

Jews, Fight Back (or be sold out by the Liberal Jews and their Establishment)

by Rabbi Aryeh Spero

The rash of physical attacks against Jews in Brooklyn and Manhattan began almost a year ago. We have cellphone and street camera footage of many of the attacks, and they are coming from assailants bellowing “Allahu Akbar” and from younger black and Hispanic men often yelling “dirty Jew.” They sneak up on Jewish-garbed citizens using bricks and stones, breaking bones and smashing eyes. There was no mainstream media discussion about this until a few weeks ago, and the major Jewish establishment organizations were basically silent as well. Even now, none of these Jewish organizations are flexing their muscles or evincing anywhere near the type of outrage we should expect.

You can be sure that if the attackers were white or Jewish and the victims Black, Muslim, or Hispanic, the establishment alphabet Jewish organizations (ADL, AJC, NYF, JCRC, Conference of Presidents, and Federations) would be the very first organizing protests against racism and pontificating about something rotten within American society.

My grievance is not why general society is doing little, since most Americans have no clue about what is happening in Boro Park, Williamsburg, or Crown Heights. But the major secular Jewish organizations do know! Nor am I perplexed about why this is not at the top of the list of many officeholders and politicians. After all, the “machers” from the Jewish organizations are not knocking down their doors nor raising Cain -- something Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, CAIR, and Ocasio-Cortez would certainly do if their people were being assaulted by outsiders. Beyond doubt, the establishment Jewish organizations would themselves be knocking down doors right alongside them. They, as they always do, would be proclaiming “how the most important Jewish value is the protection of minorities and fighting racism.” Actually, it is President Trump who has made more of an issue over anti-Jewish remarks coming from the mouths of high-profile members of minority communities than our own Jewish establishment “leadership.”

Many of those running Jewish organizations and non-Orthodox synagogue and temples have for decades made helping other minorities the centerpiece of their ideological life and, thus, will never spotlight the anti-Semitism coming from members of the minority community, since it would shatter all they believe in. It might get in the way of “dialogue,” which is their most precious template, though it usually is a dialogue of what we Jews can do for you and not what you can also do for us. Years after the 1992 Crown Heights pogroms, the ADL finally acknowledged that its unwillingness to defend the Lubavitch community was a fear of jeopardizing their loyalty to the Black civil rights movement.

Preoccupation with black civil rights is for most Jewish groups “their spiritual life and the continuum of their days.” We can also add sexual lifestyle rights, abortion-on-demand, open borders, and promotion of Muslim immigration. Jewish groups are in the forefront of demanding even higher levels of Islamic immigration, knowing full well that it’s precisely the recent influx of Muslims into Europe that accounts for the last fifteen years of beatings and murder of Jews in France, Belgium, and Germany. These Jewish organizations call their support of Islamic immigration a “Jewish value,” ignoring that a cardinal Jewish value is protecting Jewish life and safeguarding Jews.


Many American Jewish leaders, including rabbis, consider these issues more important than mere tribal Jewish concerns, while others have convinced themselves that it constitutes Judaism itself, universalism taking precedence over those matters of Jewishness that are labeled “parochial” and “tribal.” For them, more important than Jewish survival is the survival of progressivism and left-liberalism, their guiding light. They have redefined Judaism as leftwing progressivism. This is their “religion” and they are zealots for it. Even the few Jewish holidays observed have been stripped of the uniquely Jewish component and replaced by universalist themes that abhor the Jewish particular.

A people in constant need to display to others or affirm their own moral superiority will eventually not defend itself and puts its survival at risk. Virtue signaling is but another form of social climbing.


This devaluing of things specifically Jewish explains how Jewish organizations have allowed Jewish children on college campuses to be bullied, spat upon, harassed, and forced to renounce support of Israel. The ADL and big-city federations have the funds to counteract the BDS movement on campuses, the know-how in doing so, and the clout and savvy to demonize the movement and the Muslim students behind it as full-fledged racists not acceptable on campus. But they haven’t. In fact, the ADL has assertively come out against those states proposing legislation against BDS.

Some Jewish organizations have jelly-like offered programs speaking of the downside of general “hate and intolerance,” unwilling to call it by its real name: anti-Semitism. These Jewish leaders would invoke the specific term Islamaphobia if the victims were Muslim, likewise with anti-Black or anti-Hispanic activity.

Nor does it help that many of the college deans and professors are themselves Jewish and have chosen to protect their jobs rather than stand up for Jewish students; something Black or Muslim professors/administrators would never do to their people. (Ron Lauder is refreshingly singular in announcing that he is no longer donating to Columbia University, which this week is sponsoring Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, a proud and vocal anti-Semite.)

This obsession to universalize everything Jewish sends a message that the Jewish people and their needs are insignificant and must take a back seat. Even the Holocaust has been universalized by many Jewish organizations and rabbis so that now detention centers at our southern borders are labelled “concentration camps,” and ICE and Homeland security as Nazis, and Trump, the lover of Zion and Brooklyn’s Jews, as Hitler. By universalizing Judaism they belittle its need for existence as something in and of itself.

Worse, many have fashioned an avant-garde Judaism that consists of belittling Jewishness and being over-the-top critical of Israel while adoring its enemies -- Peter Beinart/Thomas Friedman Judaism. They sit around in their Upper West Side salons and bash Jewish Jews and Israel. No Irishmen or Frenchmen in America want to dismantle Ireland or France. In contrast, an awfully high percentage of American Jews invest enormous time, energy, and money into trying to bring down and defame the country of their origin, Israel. This form of self-hate is pathological and unique among mankind. Something craven, suicidal, and unnatural is happening within much of American Jewry.


It is true that establishment Jewish organizations and liberal rabbis vociferously condemned the attacks on synagogues during this past year. But those attackers were characterized as “right-wingers.” Jewish organizations are always eager to attack anything considered right-wing. But their silence in the face of dangerous, loud, and undeniable anti-Semitism coming from a wide variety of liberal/progressive sources, including the social justice warriors, leads to one inevitable conclusion. Major Jewish organizations will not imperil the Left or the “social justice” causes; they have chosen liberalism and the Democratic party over particular Jewish needs. Jewish politicians such as Chuck Schumer, Eliot Engel, Nita Lowey, Steve Cohen, Jan Schakowsky, and Adam Schiff, for example, have been silent about the Omar/Tlaib/Ocasio-Cortez anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel.

Furthermore, many Jewish groups will insidiously parlay anti-Semitism in the hopes of tarnishing Trump and his supporters and to further their decades-old efforts to characterize conservatives as anti-Semites and racists. A previous editor of the Forward once said: “Our greatest enemy is ‘majority-ism,’” in other words, the American white, Christian majority. Most Jews still feel that “minorities” are their allies and that white, Christian Americans are the ones to fear. Ari Gordon of the AJC said so recently when he announced: “Jews and Muslims are natural allies in fighting off the bigotry out there and protecting our shared democratic freedoms.” As a pulpit rabbi, especially during my Manhattan years, I was upset to hear the nonchalant bigotry of many brethren against southerners, whites, and Christians, especially patriotic whites who displayed their love of America. In the end, liberal Jews generally feel more comfortable around minorities and want to belong to the political and social Left, no matter what.

This past Sunday we held a rally in front of the NYC City Hall on lower Broadway regarding attacks against Jews in Brooklyn. I ended my speech by saying it’s obvious we can’t depend on the leaders of major Jewish organizations. They are not really leaders, rather big-shot bureaucrats. It seems we are witnessing once again the Rabbi Stephen Wise phenomenon of the 30s and 40s: leadership replaced by self-glorifying photo ops, fancy dinners, bland statements, meetings, and dialogue. We, the grassroots, will have to defend the Jewish people, defend ourselves in our neighborhoods. Self-defense is a biblical mandate, a mitzvah.

At the rally, we chanted: “Jews Fight Back.” It’s time Jews carried an aura of self-respect, an aura of self-value, so that would-be perpetrators know their attacks come with a downside for them.

An Open Letter to Netanyahu and Gantz: Do your Jobs

by Victor Rosenthal

Over the coming weeks, 100% of the words uttered by our politicians will be lies, obfuscations, spin, dissimulation, disinformation and other forms of useless verbiage. I’ll try not to report on it, because what’s the point? – Ya’akov Lozowick, in a tweet about a week after the recent election

Dear Bibi and Benny:

I’ve had enough of your egos. All of Am Yisrael has had enough.

Seventy years ago, a Jewish state was re-established in the Land of Israel after thousands of years during which the Jewish people were forced to live under one or another foreign regime; years when they did not know what to expect tomorrow; years when they had to keep their suitcases packed.

After the horrors of war and Holocaust, a remnant of European Jewry was saved, here in Eretz Yisrael. When the Muslim world expelled most of its Jewish population in a paroxysm of Jew-hatred, they came and were brought here. Threatened Jews came from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Yemen, Ethiopia, and other places.

Some people believe that the creation of the state and its survival was a miracle, a gift from Hashem. There is no doubt that it also required a price in blood to be paid by our people, our sons and daughters who fought, and continue to fight for it against ever-changing but also ever-vicious enemies. Almost every day our people make payments in blood, on our borders and even on our streets.

The external threats we face are great. Iran advances its project of encircling us with its rockets and proxy armies in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, while developing nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. The Palestinian Arabs continue their project of educating generation after generation of young people so that their greatest ambition will be to shed Jewish blood. Hamas throws its people against our border fence every Friday. This spring and summer, they burned hundreds of acres of agricultural land in the south of the country with arson balloons and murdered our citizens with their rockets and mortars. The home front is unprepared for the next war. And the all-encompassing cognitive struggle, paid for in Arab and Iranian petrodollars and European Euros, marches on, conquering hearts and minds in the universities and even grade schools of the West.

Instead of dealing with any of this, or even the price of apartments for young families in Israel, you two – followed by your legions of sycophants – are locked in a struggle for dominance that seems unamenable to compromise. Only total victory will satisfy you. Meanwhile, we’ve had two elections, and neither of them has produced a result. Our government is non-functional, its ministers primarily concerned about their personal futures and the perquisites thereof.

While you both piously pretend to want to establish a unity government, you insist on conditions that you know the other side will be unable to meet. You use the threat of a third election – at the cost of additional months of paralysis and more than a billionshekels (including the cost of the mandated day off) of our money – to play chicken.

We have had enough.

Regarding a third election, know that if – God forbid – it should happen, the results will be even worse for both of you. Many Israelis won’t vote in protest, some will vote for smaller parties, and the Arabs, who have gotten a taste of the power that it can give them, will vote for Arab parties in even greater numbers.

Be aware that the regard both of you are held in your country is dropping rapidly every day that this farce continues. History will judge both of you harshly, especially if the nation goes to war unprepared because you wasted your own and everyone else’s time, money, and attention.

You know what you have to do. Stop lying, obfuscating, spinning, dissimulating, and dis-informing. Sit down with the other side and compromise. That means each of you will have to give up the idea that you will get everything, or even most, of what you want.

Tomorrow is Erev Rosh Hashana. The coming week is the perfect time to put aside your egos and your personal considerations and think about what you owe the Jewish people and their state. Perhaps do tshuva [repentance] for some of the ways in which you have not lived up to your obligations to the state and its people.

Think about the thousands that gave their lives in the War of Independence in order to create the state, and of those who died to preserve it. Think about the defenders of the Emek HaBakha on the Golan Heights in 1973, or the battle of Bint Jbeil in 2006. You have it easy. Nobody is asking you to fall on a grenade to save your comrades like Roi Klein at Bint Jbeil. Just do your jobs.

Israel’s Jewish Demography Refutes Pessimism

by Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

In defiance of Israel’s “demographers of doom” - who have promoted the myth of an Arab demographic time bomb – the September 2019 data published by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) documents the sustained Westernization of Arab fertility rate (number of births per woman), a persisting increase in the Jewish fertility rate, growing Aliyah (Jewish immigration) and the decline of Jewish emigration.

According to the ICBS, the Jewish fertility rate for 2018 ascended to 3.17 births per woman, while the westernized Arab fertility rate decreased to 3.04. When the Jewish father is Israeli-born, which points at the current trend, the Jewish fertility rate grows to3.34 births per woman.

In 1969, the gap between Arab and Jewish fertility rates was six more births per Arab woman; in 2015, the gap was closed at 3.13 each. This evolved into a Jewish edge in 2016 (3.16:3.11), and reached all-time high Jewish edge in 2018 – 3.17:3.04.

The systematic Westernization of the Arab fertility rate characterizes the Muslim World, other than the Sub-Sahara societies. According to the 2019 edition of the CIA World Fact Book, Jordan’s fertility rate is 3.14 births per woman, the West Bank – 3.2, Saudi Arabia – 2.04, Kuwait – 2.35, the UAE – 1.73, Egypt – 3.41, Iran – 1.96, etc. Israel’s Jewish fertility rate is higher than any Arab country other than Yemen, Iraq, Egypt and Sudan.

The Westernization of the fertility of Israeli Arabs (as well as the Arabs of Judea and Samaria) has been, primarily, a derivative of a rapid and substantial urbanization, as well as the enhanced stature of Arab women. Israeli Arab women are rapidly upgrading their integration in the education system (74% of registered Arab students from elementary schools through academic institutions), expanding their role in the job market and career opportunities, delaying wedding age to 23-25 year old (not 15 as it used to be), completing the fertility process at 45 (not 55 as it used to be) and dramatically increasing the use of contraceptives and resorting to abortion. There has also been a rise in the number of single Arab women.

In 2018, there were 141,000 Jewish births, 76.6% of total Israeli births, compared with 1995 when it was 69% of total births. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the substantial increase in the number of Jewish births has occurred due to the rise in secular Jewish fertility, while the ultra-orthodox fertility rate has decreased mildly. The growth of the Jewish fertility rate is attributed to a high level of optimism, patriotism, attachment to roots, collective responsibility and declining abortion.

Furthermore, in 1990, there were 14,200 additional Israeli emigrants, staying abroad for over a year (overall Israeli emigrants less than returning Israelis). According to the ICBS, in 2017 there were 5,900 additional emigrants – a reduction of 58%, compared to 1990, while Israel’s population doubled itself from 4.5 million to 9 million. A substantial decline in the number of emigrants started in 2007-2008, during the collapse of the global economy, attesting to the positive state of Israel’s economy.

While the world has accepted the official Palestinian population data, without examination/auditing, the Palestinian Authority has consistently inflated the size of its population in the following manner:

*Over 400,000 overseas residents – away for more than a year and mostly from Judea and Samaria – are included in the Palestinian census, contrary to internationally accepted standards, which authorize de-facto count. Such an illegal practice was pronounced by the Head of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the PCBS website, the Palestinian Election Commission, the Palestinian Interior Undersecretary, etc. The number grows through births.

*330,000 Jerusalem Arabs, possessing Israeli ID cards, are doubly counted: as Israeli Arabs by Israel and as West Bankers by the Palestinian Authority. The number grows through births.

*Over 100,000 Judea and Samaria (mostly) and Gaza Arabs, who married Israeli Arabs, received Israeli ID cards and are also doubly-counted. The number grows through births.

*300,000 Judea & Samaria Arab emigrants (since the 1997 census) are excluded from the census, since the Palestinian Authority claims zero net-migration. However, land, air and sea international passages (controlled by Israel) have documented a Judea and Samaria Arab net-emigration of around 20,000, annually, in recent years.

*A 32% inflation of births data has been documented by a September, 2006 World Bank survey (p. 8, item 6) of the PA education system.

*Death has been systematically under-reported by the Palestinian Authority. For example, the 2007 Palestinian census included Judea and Samaria Arabs who were born in 1845….

Well-documented data – rather than subjective assessments or projections – confirm a 65.5% Jewish majority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel, benefitting from a tail wind of fertility and migration, in addition to a potential Aliyah (immigration) wave of 500,000 Jews from France, Britain, the former USSR, Germany, Argentina, etc.

“Demographers of doom” who have reverberated Palestinian data without examination, have ignored reality, promoting the myth of an “Arab demographic time bomb.” They have been dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Rav Kook's Ein Ayah: The Decision that Provided the Purpose to Preserve the World

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 9:71)

Gemara: Why was the world fearful (see Tehillim 76:9) [before Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah]? It is as Reish Lakish said: The pasuk says, “It was evening and it was morning, the sixth day” (with an extra letter heh, standing for an extra word “the” which is unneeded in Hebrew grammar). The extra heh teaches that Hashem made a condition with creation, saying: “If Israel will accept the Torah, you will exist, and if not, I will return you to primordial void and emptiness.”

Ein Ayah: There are progressions that discreetly proceed along levels from the greatest depths to the highest levels.

The divine idea, which encompasses all of existence, its value, essence, and power, soars through the world and flows, and acts through all elements of existence. Everything is connected; everything in the depths is connected to things at the peaks. The highest creation is the spirit of a great person, who can reach great levels of sanctity when connected to Hashem’s strength. This is the foundation of the worlds.

Everything is built around the revelation of the divine power. It gives every being an important value, and everything shines as it fulfills its role grandly. However, not always will all be grand. Spiritual potential may not be maximized, especially when Israel does not use its special spiritual abilities to connect itself to the divine world through the treasure of Torah. Then everything is sealed off and lost, as the world slips into a slumber of death. The Divine Spirit creates all the worlds, and He created the physical world we know by using the letter heh (Menachot 29b). The flow of life proceeds as connected to the higher form that embraces and gives life to everything – the glow of the world that is found in the spirit of man, which is complete in the living G-d’s light, which in turn is connected to the divine absolute desire, which finds expression in the Torah.

There can be doubt that can wallow in the gloom of the impossibility to reveal that which depends on the freedom of positive choice, which is above the power of life. This is before the word of Hashem was clearly expressed in a manner that created a covenant between Hashem and Israel. At that point, the mystery of doubt was lifted. At first, the world was fearful and even had doubt about the very existence of everything in life and all related powers. From the center of existence, which is focused on the Nation of Israel, there was a flowing force of the essence of life. A voice came forth that connected man’s soul to Hashem, the source of the life of the world. This gave life to the entire universe, to general cosmic matters and to each individual creation, and put the world in a pattern of eternal life. All of the elements of creation, the mysteries of existence, nature, and that which is above it, in the past and the future, depends on one condition. If Israel will accept the Torah, everything will acquire purpose, which hovers over everything. Then, everything in the world can exist because it is part of something with a purpose. The future holds the promise of being endlessly broad and full of greatness.

The great letter heh fills the whole creation with this condition. That day of accepting the Torah is the key to existence. Retroactively, everything that was created turns out to be fit to continue. There is security and purpose, and the fundamental power rules over everything. If Israel did not accept the Torah, everything would return to void. From the depths of nothingness, a new world would take shape, in which the Divine Spirit would provide the purpose and pull along the whole world. Israel took the proper step and displayed its special character, thereby giving a place for the world as we know it. It rescued the world from destruction and lack of purpose. They did charity for the world by accepting Hashem’s Torah.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Undoing the Past

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Rosh Hashana is the first day of the ten days of repentance, but the repentance of Rosh Hashana is different than on the other days. There is no Viduy recited, no confessional prayer and no selichot. It is a day of Malchiyot, the acceptance of G-d’s kingship; we focus not on ourselves but on G-d. So, if there is no overt repentance on Rosh Hashana, how is it part of the ten days of repentance? What is the teshuva of Rosh Hashana?

Rav Eliyahu Lifschitz, in his “Selichot Mevu’eret,” questions the very nature of the mitzvah of teshuva. It is, indeed, a strange Mitzvah, for what does it really add to the Torah? It is a fascinating entry-level question to the Yamim Noraim: I may want to eat a cheeseburger, but the Torah says I may not. The Torah says I have to observe Shabbat, so I must. If I breach the Torah’s norms, I have sinned, and must comply next time. So what then does teshuva accomplish?

He explains that the Torah’s mitzvot are focused on the future. There is always something to do or not to do. In fact, mitzvot are generally rooted in objects or actions that demand the appropriate response. But teshuva is less concerned with the future than it is with the present. Of course, we regret the squalid past and commit to a more virtuous future, but repentance is oriented in the present.

Said another way, if we sin and do not do teshuva, what have we really lost? We are still obligated not to sin again or to perform the proper positive commandment. So, just do it, or don’t do it! There is always another mitzvah to do and another sin to eschew. What, then, does teshuva add?

Teshuva presupposes that at present there is a new obligation on the sinner: to repent. The gavra (individual) now has the status of a sinner, and that status has to be uprooted. The fact that the sin is over and in the past only has meaning in terms of the future, but in the present, the status of sinner has to be removed.

If Mitzvot can only be done in the future, and Teshuva is a phenomenon of the present, what about the past? Is the past really past, and what happened in the past is irredeemable and unrectifiable? Should we just not cry over spilled milk? No.

The past, too, can be undone, which is important if only because the past remains an integral part of our personality. How can we change the past?

We cannot, but G-d can, and this is what is called kapara, atonement. Human beings live within limitations; there really is no time machine in which we can travel to the past and reverse bad decisions. Only G-d, who is infinite and beyond time and space, can do that. G-d can change the past, and that capacity alone strengthens our resolve to return to Him.

But man is only able to access that divine attribute by surrendering to Him, to anoint G-d our King in every facet of our lives. And this elicits G-d’s boundless compassion that enables us to continue in His service. An avaryan (literally, a sinner), someone once said, is a person who is too rooted in the avar, the past, obsessing over what was and thus paralyzing himself for the future. Those who think the past cannot be undone harm both their present and their future.

This, then, is the purpose of the Kabbalat Ol Malchut Shamayim, the acceptance of the yoke of G-d’s kingship that is at the heart of Rosh Hashana and the Yamim Noraim. It is the only way to change the past and redeem the present so that we can be worthy of the glorious future. Mitzvot perfect the future, teshuva perfects the present, and kaparaperfects the past. And the only prerequisite is to join in the coronation of G-d, and then we will be the beneficiaries of His blessings for a year of life, good health, prosperity and peace, for us and all Israel.

On behalf of Karen and our entire family, I wish all of us a Ktiva vachatima tova!

Who is G-d to Judge? How to Celebrate a Day of Judgment

by Rabbi David Aaron
I did not grow up in a religious home but we did go to shul (synagogue) every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I remember one Rosh Hashanah the rabbi got up and said, “We’re about to open the ark. It is customary for the congregation to stand while the ark is open, but it will be open for quite some time. So if you get tired, you can sit down.”

I thought to myself, “I only come here twice a year, so if standing and going through a little torture is going to take away my sins, then why not stand for the whole thing?” When they opened the ark, everyone stood and then everyone sat. I was the only one who remained standing. I figured, how long could it last, five minutes, ten minutes? I stood there in terrible pain for an hour and a half, figuring ‘OK. I guess –no pain, no gain’. I was scared and ready to do whatever it took to appease G-d’s wrath and escape His punishment.

The next morning at my high school locker, the boy next to me glared around the locker door and said, “You had to stand!” He did not speak to me for the rest of the year. I found out later that he was sitting behind me in shul, feeling terribly guilty for sitting while I stood. For many people, guilt and torture is their image of Rosh Hashanah.

If people knew the truth about Rosh Hashanah, they would anticipate it rather than dread it. The Torah idea of judgment is not about guilt or pain. It is about compassion and empowerment.

However, when I was a teenager I would often feel resentful towards G-d, especially on Rosh Hashanah – the Day Judgment.

I thought, “Who is G-d to judge me? Does G-d have to deal with temptation? Does G-d live in this seedy world, where magazines of half-clad models grace the aisles of every supermarket checkout? What right does He have to criticize especially when He created me this way?”

Your Inner Adversary

The Torah teaches that every human being has an inner adversary (referred to as the yetzer hara – the evil inclination) that tries to keep us from doing the right thing and actively tries to persuade us to do wrong. And what is so conniving about the yetzer hara is that we think it is really our true selves talking.

Take dieting, for example. When most of us decide to start a diet, we hear a little naughty voice that says, “Eat it, eat it—just one bite!” It certainly happens to me. And when I try to start a morning exercise regimen, that same voice says, “This morning you need to rest in order to exercise better tomorrow.” I’m sure most of you can relate.

As soon as we decide to do something positive, our inner adversary tries to get us to do exactly the opposite of what we really want to do.

When I first began learning Torah and was introduced to this truth, I was shocked to discover how real the yetzer hara is. It is as if we all struggle with a split personality. On one hand, we have an inclination to do good (which Torah calls the yetzer tov), and on the other hand, we have an opposing inclination to do what’s not so good.

The power of the yetzer hara is quite amazing. The Torah says that the yetzer hara increases its strength with every passing day. This means that it does not become easier to fight, and once we do fight it, it renews itself. Therefore, the tactics that it used to make us stumble yesterday are completely different from the ones it will use today. For this reason, the sages warn us, “If not now, when?” In other words, it is better to deal with it now because tomorrow your yetzer harawill be even stronger and the challenge even greater.

The Talmud Yerushalmi teaches that as soon as G-d gives us a mitzvah (commandment), the mitzvah actually creates its own yetzer hara against performing it. Therefore, as soon as we are commanded to do something, we are concomitantly inspired with the desire not to do it. Conversely, if we learn that G-d wants us not to do something, suddenly we want to do it.

And to make matters worse, even when you make positive changes in our life, you may be surprised to find that your yetzer hara is no less easy to manage. The Talmud teaches, “The greater the person, the greater his evil inclination.” It is logical to assume that holy people do not have to deal with their evil inclination and all the drives that try to pull them away from the right path. But the Talmud says, no, our yetzer hara just grows with us.

Challenging G-d

Like it or not, the fact is that G-d created us with drives that are often difficult to use properly. He also gave us an ever-strengthening evil inclination whose sole purpose is to get us to fail. And He put us in a world that only excites and incites these drives.

The Torah teaches, “Do not judge your friend until you are in his place.” In other words, “Don’t judge a person until you are in his shoes.” How can G-d judge us if He has never been in our place?

G-d is in His perfect Heaven, and we are down here on earth, struggling with our yetzer hara and the plenty of distractions to entice it. What right does G-d have to judge us?

I once read a challenging story set during the time of the Holocaust. I read it as a teenager, during the first Shabbat that I ever kept. I did not know how to fill my time on Shabbat, so I followed someone’s advice to read books. Since I did not particularly like reading, I decided to read something short and Jewish. I picked up this short novel and I had no clue what I was getting myself into. By the end of Shabbat, I was very angry at G-d. In the book, a little child gets hung by the Nazis. The father, in his anger, challenges G-d and says, “Let’s switch places. You become man and we will become G-d.” They switch places, and, when G-d asks to switch back, the father refuses.

Who is G-d to Judge?

The truth is that, according to the Torah, G-d is incredibly impressed with us. In fact, although we praise G-d through prayer, there are many sources that indicate that G-d is praising us. There is a story in the Talmud that metaphorically describes G-d as wearing tefillin (phylacteries). Inside our tefillin is an excerpt from the Torah that acknowledges G-d’s oneness. In the Talmudic story, inside G-d’s tefillin is an acknowledgement of our own unity. There is also a verse in the Shabbat afternoon prayers that attests to our unity: Who is like you, Israel, who stand united in the world? For G-d to be one in heaven is easy. But for people to be one in the world, with all its challenges, is a true accomplishment.

What really happens on Rosh Hashanah?

Rosh Hashanah is referred to as a Day of Judgment. For most people the idea of being judged seems to connote that G-d is being critical and judgmental of us, as if He could do better than us. When you think of G-d’s judgment in this way it does not feel like it’s coming from a place of compassionate. But the theme of Rosh Hashanah is really about G-d’s compassion because He is “our Father, our King.” But in truth Rosh Hashanah is a Day of Assessment because it is actually an annual review.

Think of it as a work performance evaluation. A boss would not judge his employee by saying, “Well I can do better, and therefore you are fired.” In fact, the main reason that bosses hire people is because they cannot do what the employees can do.

So too, G-d’s assessment of us on Rosh Hashanah is not a criticism and judgment of who we are as people. Rather, it is a compassionate evaluation of what we have done and how we have used our potential that year. From there, He determines what corrective measures must be taken to get us back on track to fulfill our potential. When G-d makes a judgment, He makes it with tremendous love for us and respect; with enormous sensitivity and consideration for our challenge.
Sinner or Loser?

However, seeing Rosh Hashanah as an annual review and assessment does not mitigate the seriousness of the day.

The idea of Rosh Hashanah being a day of assessment is actually more daunting than simply a day of judgment. Because then, it is not about determining whether we are sinners or saints; it is about whether we are losers or winners. As it says in the prophets, “G-d says to the Jewish people, ‘Return, for you have failed in your sins.’” In other words we did not just sin — we failed. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik points out that when we transgress, we are existential failures—we failed at the very purpose for our existence.

For most people to be a loser is much harder to handle than being a sinner. In fact, we live in a society where it is actually fun and glamorous to be a sinner. A song by Billy Joel aptly describes this attitude:

They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t
I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
The sinners are much more fun…

When I was growing up, there were clear distinctions between the bad guys and the good guys, and people always rooted for the good guy. Today, there are movies that persuade us to root for the bad guy. We admire the guy who is trying to pull off an incredible theft. We marvel at his engineering, planning, decision-making and courage. And we hope he will get away with it. To be a sinner is macho and hip.

Torah, however, is not trying to protect us from being a sinner. It protects us from something much worse –from being a loser and existential failure.

Recently while waiting in the airport I saw on the television a show about a famous rock star called, “The Fabulous Life of …….” I had never heard of the young man, and frankly I was intrigued at how fabulous his life could be. As they gave an inventory of his various prize possessions, all I could think was, “Where is the fabulous life?” They talked about his $200,000 watch collection, highlighting the diamond-studded piece. Next came his many cars, worth $1, 000,000. Then came a shot of his game room and views of his several mansions, the first of which he was too young to legally purchase without his parents’ co-signature. Finally came a shot of all the women he has dated and his lavish, lewd and lustful parties. The only noble thing on the show was the one-minute coverage of his charities, showing that the boy is not totally hedonistic. Imagine all the kids watching this show and believing that this young man lives the ultimate dream, that materialism and hedonism is the path to a fabulous life. That there is any promise to promiscuity.

For many to be naughty and sinful is glamorous but for Torah it means you are a loser and downright failure at what you have come to planet Earth to do.

From G-d with Love

With great love and compassion G-d built into the year an annual review to evaluate our performance. It is meant to be a very empowering time for us. It should not depress us or make us angry with G-d for being critical or judgmental. G-d is not out to get us. He knows that He created us with much inner conflicts and put us in a world full of challenges. The annual review is only there to help us achieve our optimal personal performance and protect us from becoming losers. He evaluates and assesses us with love, compassion, empathy and forgiveness. All G-d wants is for us to do better next year, actualize our potential, be the best we can and choose life.

Seeing The Light

by Rav Binny Freedman
In July of 2018, in a widely publicized story, twelve boys, aged 11-16, members of a junior soccer team, were discovered and rescued along with their twenty-five year old coach, in a daring cave rescue in Tham Luang, Thailand. They entered the cave as part of a field trip but were trapped inside after heavy monsoon rains flooded the cave entrance, blocking their way out.

Efforts to find the boys were hampered by rising water levels and strong currents and it took a week until two British divers finally found them on an elevated rock four kilometers from the cave entrance; incredibly all were found alive.

They were eventually rescued in a massive effort involving an international team of over 10,000 people, including over 100 divers, representatives from about 100 governmental agencies, 900 police officers and 2,000 soldiers, as well as ten police helicopters, seven police ambulances, more than 700 diving cylinders, and the pumping of more than a billion liters of water out of the caves.

Sadly, there was one fatality, Saman Kunan, a 37-year-old former Thai Navy Seal, who drowned while returning to a staging base in the cave after delivering air supplies.

Later, in an interview, the coach who was rescued with them and had managed to keep them all alive and hopeful for a week in the dark cave with almost no food, water rationed, and flashlights turned off to conserve batteries, described the moment he knew they were saved. At first, seeing a dim light far away and below in the water, he thought he might be imagining it but after a few moments he could see two lights coming towards them and that was when he knew they were found.

Technically nothing had changed; they were still trapped, without a realistic way to bring all the boys out especially without diving experience, and the danger of additional monsoon rains. But they were no longer alone and seeing that light, in that moment, changed everything.

This week we read the portion of Nitzavim, which begins with a rather strange exhortation from Moshe:

“You are standing today all of you, before G-d…” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9)

It’s interesting that we are described here as standing; generally, nothing in life stands still; we are either moving forwards or backwards; up or down. And it is precisely the road we travel that is so important. Why then does the Torah here, especially in this portion which always falls right before Rosh Hashanah, suggest we are standing still.

This month, the Hebrew month of Elul, we traditionally add a psalm at the end of the morning and evening prayers (Psalm 27) which begins with the phrase:

“Hashem (G-d) is my light and my salvation…”

One would think that only when Hashem has saved me do I see Him as my light; so why does the verse suggest that only when Hashem is my light do I see Him as my savior?

The Alter of Novahrdok, Rav Yossele’ Horovitz (1847-1919) who was a devoted follower of Rav Yisroel Salanter, suggests (in his Madreigos ha’Adam) that before we can be saved we have to see with clarity, that Hashem is the source of our light.

Only when the path is lit and we can see clearly which direction we need to take, are we ready to find our way out. Which brings us back to the value of standing still; sometimes we need to pause to consider where we are heading and if that is really where we want to go. The Rambam in his Hilchot Teshuva (Laws of repentance 1:1) suggests that there are three stages of repentance; three steps towards teshuva, which literally means to return or go back; it is the process whereby we go back to being the person we always wanted to be.

The first stage is hakarat ha’chet or recognizing our mistake. Before you can fix something, you have to recognize it’s a mistake. If a person doesn’t think there is anything wrong with cheating on his taxes, how likely is he to ever change?

The second stage is charata, or regret; it has to bother you. Plenty of people know how dumb it is to smoke, but they don’t stop because it doesn’t bother them enough.

But it’s the third stage that is really the critical one: Kabbala le’Atid : deciding the future will be different. This is all about creating a plan, with metrics and accountability and the ability to track one’s progress to determine whether we are succeeding or failing.

Imagine a person wants to lose weight. The first thing he has to do, is to weigh himself. But it’s not enough to know how much he weighs; what if a fellow weighs 79 lbs and wants to lose weight? He may be suffering from Anorexia and it could kill him!

He also has to determine what he is supposed to weigh. In other words, we need to see where we are, and where we want to be, and then we need to create a plan in order to get there.

Imagine I find out based on height and age that I should weigh 150 lbs., and after stepping on a scale I discover I am 200 lbs. So I have to lose 50 lbs. So now I know where I am and where I want to be. But I still need a plan to get there. If I try and lose 50 lbs. in a week, I’ll fail; so the goals have to be realistic. And most importantly, I need to be able to measure if I am succeeding.

People often have magnificent goals but have no way of knowing if they are succeeding, which is often the recipe for failure.

Every year at our yeshiva in the Old City, Yeshivat Orayta, I try to meet with each student at the beginning of the year to get to know them. And I always ask them what their goals are for the year. After all, having travelled 6,000 miles to live and study in Jerusalem, it’s important to know why you came and what you hope to accomplish, right?

And they have beautiful answers and magnificent goals. Some want to develop a deeper relationship with their Jewish identity whilst some want to develop their study skills and still others want to mature and become more ethical, or learn how to develop a relationship with Hashem (G-d). It’s not a simple discussion, as it is quite remarkable how many students come to study in gap year programs without ever having defined and determined exactly what their goals for the year are.

And when they have finished relating what their goals are I always ask them the next question which is: ‘How do you know if you are succeeding? After a month how can you determine if you are 10% closer to your goals?’

And 95% of the students have to pause, because they have not considered this question. But if you have no metrics to measure success, you are certainly much more likely to fail.

Every plan needs two things: something to track and metrics that can display results.

The best way to progress in losing weight, for example, is to write down everything you eat and weigh yourself every morning. If I find out tomorrow morning I have gained 3 lbs., I can take a look at what I ate today and learn that three pieces of schnitzel for dinner = 3lbs gained in the morning. And the next time I debate whether to eat that schnitzel for dinner I will simply have to decide if it’s worth the extra lb. And I can figure out I’m failing when I’ve gained 6 lbs, instead of waiting a few months to discover I can’t get into my wedding suit…

Everything can be measured and one can create metrics as part of any plan, it just takes some thought. Imagine I want to get more in touch with my Jewish identity. First I have to ask myself: what does Binny as a more identified Jew look like in 6 months? (i.e. what do I want to/ should I weigh?) Then I have to take an honest look and see where I am now; (what do I weigh now?) and then I can create a plan to move in the right direction.

If Binny with a weak Jewish identity never studies or reads about Judaism and Torah, 6 months from now I might hope to be studying ten hours a day and experiencing inspirational moments in prayer and study and whilst fulfilling mitzvot like Shabbat. So I can track how many meaningful moments I experience in a week and see if that number improves. And I can measure how many hours I am learning and see that grow as well.

And that is what Kabbalah le’Atid means: If I want the future to be different I have to create a plan to get there. Perhaps that is why our portion begins with the Jewish people standing. Moshe is speaking to the second generation of Jews who are about to enter the Promised Land after two hundred and fifty years. Maybe he is telling them to pause and consider their goals: why are we entering the land? Who is it we want to be and how can we get there? What is the plan and the goals?

As we enter the days of Awe and prepare for the New Year, we, each of us, can decide what will be different this year. Who is the ‘me’ I really want to be, and how can I get there and be that person?

And with the clarity and light that accompanies such vision and purpose, we can truly put ourselves into bigger hands, to help us get there.

Wishing all a Sweet happy and healthy year and a Ke’tivah ve’Chatimah Tovah!

From Yeshivat Orayta in Yerushalayim.

We Need a Government and We Need it Now

by Victor Rosenthal

Start with this: Israelis really, really do not want a third round of elections.

The cost is astronomical, and the paralysis is dangerous. The Trump Administration, which has so far been in our corner, is showing frustration with our inability to establish a government that can respond to its much-vaunted “deal of the century,” and is itself under pressure as the American election draws closer. If there is any possibility for us to mitigate the threat in Gaza or to move closer to improving the situation in Judea and Samaria (for example, by annexing Area C), it will have to happen while we have a friendly administration in Washington.

The Iranian threat will not get any less urgent regardless of what the West does. If the sanctions are maintained or tightened, the regime may provoke military action against it that will drag us in; if they receive concessions, these will translate into increased pressure on us from their proxies in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. Despite Obama’s nuclear deal, Iran is progressing in the direction of nuclear capability. The actions of Western governments today can either speed this process up or slow it down, but it is very unlikely that it can be stopped by non-military means. It’s certain that we will be involved.

There are other issues that are less exciting but also important that are stalled by the present situation. Politicians like elections: they are exciting and put them in the spotlight. Advertising agencies and media elections also like them, for obvious reasons. Most ordinary citizens do not. It just brings home to us how much we are paying these prima donnas to strut around and not do the jobs that we have hired them to do.

We need a government, and we need it now. We cannot afford to wait months for another election, not to mention the additional time for coalition negotiations.

We also need a government that will understand and respond properly to the security challenges facing us. Many Israelis, especially younger ones, are tired of hearing about security all the time. But as Pericles said about politics and Trotsky about war, although you may not be interested in it, it is interested in you.

I think the politicians are smart enough to know that if they continue to stubbornly resist a solution, the people will rise up and burn down the Knesset. What can be done now to put our politicians to work?

There will certainly not be a narrow left-wing government unless Gantz is prepared to take the Arab parties into his coalition, which is very unlikely. There could be a narrow right-wing government if Avigdor Lieberman and the Haredi parties could reach agreement on drafting Haredim, which is slightly less unlikely. But probably there will be a unity government that includes at least the Likud and Gantz’ Blue and White party. Such a government would include a rotating Prime Ministership.

This will require that Gantz give up his condition that he will not sit with Netanyahu when he is under an actual or recommended [by the Attorney General] indictment, or unless the Likud puts someone other than Netanyahu at the head of its list. I am predicting that Gantz will find a way to climb down from his tree.

The next big problem will be deciding who will go first as PM under the rotation, Gantz or Netanyahu. Since a PM can continue in his position even if he is indicted, it is essential for Netanyahu that he go first. My guess is that Gantz will back down, simply because he can afford to do so and Netanyahu can’t.

Therefore, I conclude that when the smoke clears, we will have a unity government including at least Likud and Blue and White, and possibly a few others. Netanyahu and Gantz will take turns being PM, and the cabinet will be enlarged (today they are talking about an absurdly inflated cabinet of 32 ministers, 16 from each side).

Will it function? Probably. The differences between Gantz and Netanyahu are much smaller than they appear during the mud-slinging of an election. It would probably be possible for Netanyahu to bring along Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett to his right, and for Gantz to include the vestigial Labor Party, led by Amir Peretz, to his left. Both sides could bypass Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu, as well as the more extreme parties on the right and the left if they wished.

Personally, I would very much like to see this happen. We need a strong ruling coalition to face the security challenge posed by Iran, as well as to be prepared for a possible American government that will be far less friendly to Israel than Trump’s has been. And a strong centrist government would not be hobbled by commitments made under pressure to the extreme Right or Left.

Can they do it? They’d better. Ordinary Israelis are stocking up on tar and feathers in case they can’t.

"Not only with you am I making this Covenant and this oath"

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

But not only with you am I making this covenant and this oath, but with those standing here with us today before God, our God, and [also] with those who are not here with us, this day. (Devarim 29:13-14)

TALK ABOUT BEING born into servitude! At least the Amish, after making their children keep their very strict traditions to a certain age, give their children a year off when they reach a certain age to do as they please, and then to choose to remain Amish, or not.

I don’t know how many Amish teenagers actually leave their traditions behind, but I imagine that many do not. But at least if they DO that and then return, it is of their OWN volition, not because they were threatened with all kinds of horrible consequences for straying in the first place, as our Torah does to Jews.

Aside from the halachic issue of imposing an oath on people who have yet to be born to even agree to take it, there is the philosophical aspect. What are we saying here? Are we saying God did not trust future generations to be able to make the right decision, so He took it away from them?

The bigger question is, did it really accomplish much? Millions of Jews have lived who haven’t believed in the oath, or didn’t even know about it in the first place! The only people it seems capable of impacting are those who believe in it enough that it makes them think twice before turning their backs on God and Torah, the so-called Torah “fence-sitters.”

This reminds me of the first Rashi of the Torah. Rashi asks why the Torah began with God’s creation of the world, and not the first mitzvah. After all, Rashi reminds us, the Torah is primarily for teaching Jews about mitzvos, not a history lesson about Creation.

Rashi answers that the Torah “deviated” in order to tell the world that God made Creation, and that He is the One Who designates who gets which land. The gentile nations have to remember this, the Torah is saying, any time they want to call the Jewish people “thieves” who stole Eretz Yisroel from other nations. We did not steal it. The Creator of EVERYTHING gave it to us.

Great. The only problem is that the people who need to hear this the most don’t believe it is true. It’s not like they bring this point up at the UN, where the Jewish people are regularly called “thieves” by many of its members. The only people who actually HEAR the message are those who already believe in it, and who certainly want to!

So again, what is gained by such obligatory words?

To answer this question, let’s answer an even more important one.

The Talmud tells us that when God “offered” the Torah to the Jewish people, it was really an offer we could not refuse, unless we wanted to die on the spot. Apparently, when God said, “Do you want My Torah,” He lifted up Mt. Sinai, held it over the heads of the people, and basically said, “If you say no, this is your burial place” (Shabbos 88a). If you wanted to remain living, there was really no way NOT to accept the Torah.

So what was the point of the choice if it really wasn’t a choice? The answer is on the same page of the Talmud, and it says that the continuance of Creation is based upon the Jewish people’s acceptance of Torah. It’s not that Creation is just TORAH-less if the Jewish people do not accept it. It’s that Creation becomes CREATION-less if the Jewish people do not accept Torah.

In other words, lifting the mountain over the heads of the Jewish people was meant to emphasize to the Jewish people how dependent Creation and history is on their ongoing acceptance of Torah. Saying no to Torah, God told them, was like saying no to Creation, and that just wasn’t an option.

Likewise, when the Torah begins with the creation of the world to teach that the land was given by God to the Jewish people, it is to emphasize this very point. He is the One Who has the nations of the world accept this, as was the miracle of Koresh and much later, the UN vote, and He is the One who tells the gentiles when to accuse us of stealing the Land. When they make such accusations, it is God’s way of telling US that WE are not making it clear enough to the world that He made Creation.

Likewise, when, in this week’s parsha, God tells the Jewish people that the oath is binding on future generations, He is telling us the extent of our responsibility to make sure that future generations know this. It is the obligation of the existing believing generation to make sure that the one that follows has all the necessary knowledge and tools to believe likewise on their own. The failure of the next generation is really the failure of the previous one.

There is another level to this discussion. There were only three million actual “Jews” at Mt. Sinai. The rest were souls only. Thus, the “deal” was made with souls, and they NEVER forget their obligations…even if the body they occupy at the time is not yet conscious of what the soul recalls.

This is probably what drives many secular people to become ba’alei teshuvah. It may just seem random, or accidental, but more often than not something talks to them on a deeper level once they hear it, and makes them come back for more in the face of a society that says “don’t do it.”

It’s also what keeps people who have always been observant, or have become Torah observant that way. The bris made with the soul is always there in the background, like a foil to all that we do. Some might call it conscience, and they would not be far from the truth, because it is the truth of the bris to which the soul is committed that provides conscience.

Thus, it is quite fitting that this parsha is read just in advance of Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and all the days in between, are to put us in touch once again with that soul commitment. You can’t really do teshuvah properly unless you are truly in touch with it, because then it is our love of our bris with God that makes us want to change for the better, not just a fear of losing money in the stock market, etc.

Shannah Tovah uMetukah. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to continuing on with Perceptions next year, b”H.

Jews Hate Bernie Sanders (and with good reason)

New York has more Jews than any place outside Israel. It’s one of the few places with enough Jews for them to show up as a distinct group in polls and surveys.

In the latest Siena College poll, Jews expressed their opinion about Senator Bernie Sanders.

14% of white voters in New York chose Sanders, as did 14% of black voters and 18% of Latino voters.

15% of Catholics support Bernie. So do 9% of Protestants. As do 24% in the nebulous 'other' category which can include everyone from atheists to Muslims.

But only 4% of Jews do.

To put this into perspective, there is no group in New York of any race, color, creed or religion with whom the former Brooklynite performs as badly as he does with the Jews. Far more black voters support Bernie than Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. But the Jews don’t care for him at all.

15% of self-described conservatives support him.

And yet only 4% of Jews are prepared to vote for Bernie Sanders.

These numbers may only be from New York, but they're not an outlier. A Morning Consult poll back in May saw 17% of Catholics, 12% of Protestants, 30% of atheists, 24% of agnostics, and only 11% of Jews supporting the socialist pol. Even nationally, Protestants are more likely than Jews to vote Bernie.

Back in July, The Forward noted that Jews formed the smallest part of Bernie’s donor base compared to most other candidates.

Meanwhile in New York, where his support among Jews ought to be strongest, it’s weakest.

Even as Bernie waxes nostalgic about playing stickball in Brooklyn and pores over the immigration records of his ancestors provided by helpful reporters trying to make the naked socialist emperor seem more likeable, the Jews of Brooklyn would rather vote for anyone than Bernie.

How can that be?

For one thing, New York Jews are a lot less radical than the stereotype on both sides would have it.

The same poll that has Bernie Sanders coming in at 4% also shows that 44% of Jewish voters in New York have a favorable opinion of President Trump. Although only a third (33%) intend to vote to reelect him.

That’s around the same number (34%) who rate him as doing a good job.

Those numbers may not seem great, but they show that a larger number of Jews like Trump personally than support him politically. That flies in the face of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

It’s also New York.

Jewish favorable ratings for Trump tie Catholic numbers and are higher than Protestant numbers.

More Jews in New York rate President Trump positively than white voters in general.

Why are President Trump’s favorable ratings among Jews in New York higher than among other white people? And why is Bernie Sanders’ support so achingly low among that same demographic?

The obvious answer is Israel.

President Trump’s pro-Israel policies have obviously made inroads among Jews. Even when they haven’t led to direct support, they have made Jews like him more. Even as the media demonizes him.

Bernie Sanders has run as the unabashedly anti-Israel candidate. He has surrounded himself with anti-Semitic figures like Linda Sarsour. His campaign chief, who managed an anti-Semitic blog, has been accused of helping raise money for Hamas. When Rep. Omar made anti-Semitic comments, he took her side. When Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib were barred from Israel, he rushed to MSNBC to harangue Israel.

"The idea that a member of the United States Congress cannot visit a nation which by the way we support to the tune of billions and billions of dollars is clearly an outrage," Sanders ranted.

That’s the same sort of rhetoric you hear from anti-Israel activists and Neo-Nazis.

Jews were listening.

They were listening when he falsely accused Israel of killing “over 10,000 innocent people” during its conflict with Hamas. Instead of apologizing to the Jewish community, that became one of a series of Sanders smears of Israel for daring to defend itself against Hamas terrorism.

They were listening when he compared his activism to that of anti-Semitic British leftist Jeremy Corbyn.

They noticed when his illegal alien press secretary, Belen Sisa, posted that, the “American-Jewish community has a dual allegiance to the state of Israel” and went unpunished.

And they’ve listened in the past when he called for a ban on arms sales to Israel before the Yom Kippur War, when he backed Jesse Jackson despite his anti-Semitic ‘Hymietown’ slur, and stood with Communist and Marxist regimes from the USSR to Nicaragua that were oppressing Jews.

When Jews look at Bernie Sanders, they see more than the Brooklyn accent, the radical politics and the rumpled appearance. Instead they see in him and his politics an even more familiar type.

The self-hating Jew.

Bernie’s hostility to Israel and his eagerness to befriend anti-Semites from Jesse Jackson to Jeremy Corbyn to Al Sharpton to Rep. Ilhan Omar stems from his obvious discomfort with his family’s Jewish roots and his own dislike of Jews and Jewishness. Sanders hasn’t even made a token effort to reach the Jewish community. In sharp contrast to his outreach to the Latino community, black voters, LGBTQers and Islamists, his outreach to Jews has wavered between the insulting and the non-existent.

His 2016 Jewish outreach coordinator, Simone Zimmerman, was an anti-Israel activist whose hate group, IfNotNow, is frequently in the news for targeting Jewish groups. Who’s handling Jewish outreach now?

Good question.

An unofficial Jews for Bernie page was last updated in June. It’s filled with anti-Israel rants from the IfNotNow hate group. And it links to a site that doesn’t actually exist.

That dead link is a fitting metaphor for Bernie’s Jewish support and his connection to Jews.

But, why bother? Jews won’t vote for him anyway. And he doesn’t actually want their votes.

That 4% represents the mutual distaste between Bernie Sanders and the Jews.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t like Jews. And Jews don’t like him. Sanders is the ‘Jewface’ that an anti-Semitic movement of radical leftists, identity politics nationalists and Islamists wears when it attacks Jews.

While his media fan club markets his accent and his resemblance to Larry David, as if these things mean anything other than an accident of birth, actual Jews don’t like him and won’t support him.

Last week, some Jewish high school students were discussing the 2020 Democrats. They’re not old enough to vote, but old enough to know their own minds.

“Bernie,” one of them said, “is a Jew who hates Jews.”

The teenage boy who said it was only half right. Bernie hates Jews. But there’s nothing inwardly Jewish about him. And yet those words capture what many Jews instinctively feel about Bernie Sanders.

It’s also why, President Trump’s favorability among New York Jews ties his national average.

President Trump likes Jews. Has a Jewish family. And is pro-Israel. He’s the opposite of Bernie Sanders.

American Jews often vote stupidly. But they’re not as stupid as the Left thinks. These numbers ought to serve as a warning that the Corbynization of the Democrats will see them lose their Jewish support.

A Jewish exodus from the Democrats can happen.

Just ask Bernie Sanders and his 4%.