Sunday, May 31, 2020

So shall you Bless Bnei Yisrael

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

The dedication of the Mishkan is introduced by the priestly blessing. What is the connection between the two?

Rashi interprets the pasuk, "Only take care and be very careful, lest you forget the things that your eyes have beheld ... the day that you stood before Hashem, your G-d, at Horeb" (Devarim 4:9-10), as an admonition not to forget Torah. The Ramban writes about this, "This is not correct at all" -- rather, it is an admonition not to forget the event of Mt. Sinai. The main aspect of this assembly was the intimate encounter between Israel and G-d: "Face to face G-d spoke with you on the mountain, from amid the fire." (Devarim 5:4) Chazal comment on this:

"May He kiss me with the kisses of His mouth." (Shir Hashirim 1:2) This is comparable to a child who returns home from school and finds his father eating cake. He asked for a piece, and [his father] gave him. [The child] said to him, "I want only from what is in your mouth!"

This direct contact is called, "maor panim" (shining face), in contrast to the state of "hastarat panim" (hidden face). This is what we pray in the end of Shemoneh Esrei, "Bless us, our Father, all of us as one together, with the Light of Your Face, for with the light of your face you have given us, Hashem, our G-d, a Torah of life," etc.

We do we encounter the light of his face after leaving Sinai? In the Mishkan, as the Ramban writes in Parshat Teruma:

When Hashem spoke to Am Yisrael face to face the Ten Commandments ... they are holy, and worthy that there should be amidst them a Sanctuary for His Presence to dwell amongst them ... The primary desire of the Mishkan is the dwelling place of the Divine Presence, which is the Ark, as is written, "It is there that I will set My meetings with you, and I shall speak with you from atop the Cover." (Shemot 25:22) The secret of the Mishkan is that the Glory that dwelled on Mt. Sinai should dwell on it in a hidden manner.

The cherubs, whose face was "one towards another," continue the intimate connection of face to face of Sinai. But when the Mishkan is dismantled -- then what?

It says it Divrei Hayamim II (35:3), "[Yoshiyahu] then said to the Levites ... 'Place the Holy Ark in the Temple that Shlomo ... built. Then you will no longer have any carrying on your shoulder.'" The Rambam writes (Hil. Klei Hamikdash 2:12-13):

When the Ark is carried from place to place it is carried neither on animals nor on wagons. Rather, it is a mitzvah to carry it on the shoulder ... When carrying it on the shoulder, it is carried face to face.

Thus, even at the time of transport, the kohanim continue the signs of affection of face to face from Mt. Sinai.

This maor panim exits also outside of the Mishkan, in shuls, as Chazal comment (Sotah 38a): "So shall you bless Bnei Yisrael -- face to face." This is the meaning of the benediction that the kohanim recite prior to the priestly blessing, "to bless His nation Israel with love" -- face to face. Similarly, Chazal comment, "Let Hashem shine His face to you" -- this is the light of the Torah.

In Midrash Shir Hashirim it says (Parsha 2, #20-21):

"Behold he stands behinds our wall." (Shir Hashirim 2:9) -- After the wall of Sinai.

An additional interpretation:

"Behold he stands behinds our wall." -- Behind the walls of the shuls and batei midrash."looking through the window" -- from between the shoulders of the kohanim."peering through the lattices" -- from between the fingers of the kohanim.

From the shoulders of the kohanim who carry the Ark, the Divine Presence sprouts through their fingers. Perhaps, for this reason the kohanim raise their hands to their shoulders.

From where did Israel merit the priestly blessing -- "So shall you bless Bnei Yisrael?" From what it says at the assembly of Mt. Sinai, "So shall you say to the house of Yaakov." Just as the secret of the Mishkan is the continuation of the Divine Presence of Sinai, so, too, the secret of the priestly blessing is the continuation of the maor panim inherent in the giving of the Torah. Perhaps, for this reason we conclude the benediction of the Torah in the morning with the priestly blessing. Placing the priestly blessing before the dedication of the Mishkan teaches that the dwelling of the Divine Presence in Israel is not dependent only on the Mishkan, but rather, "Wherever I permit My Name to be mentioned I shall come to you and bless you." (Shemot 20:21)

Yehuda and Dan – Who Leads and to Where?

by HaRav Yossef Carmel
Rosh Kollel, Eretz Hemda Dayanut

The Tribe of Yehuda had 74,600 fighters from the age of 20 (Bamidbar 1:27) and the Tribe of Dan had 62,700 such men (ibid. 39). Yehuda’s encampment was the first to travel in the desert, whereas Dan brought up the rear (Bamidbar 1:9 & 10:25). These two tribes were neighbors in Eretz Yisrael, and there were two border towns that are attributed to both, meaning that they were shared – Eshtaol and Tzor’ah (see Yehoshua 15:20-21,33; ibid. 19:40-41).

This week’s haftara deals with Shimshon, who was from the Tribe of Dan and operated in this joint region. In fact, the midrash (Bamidbar Rabba, Naso 10) reports that Shimshon’s mother and paternal grandmother were from Yehuda. This is an example of geographical proximity causing familial intermingling as well.

We will look now at one of the troubling events in Shimshon’s life (Shoftim 15:4-13). Shimshon had caused great damage to the Plishtim, and he went to stay at Sela Eitam. The Plishtim surrounded the nearby Judean city and demanded that they go and tie up Shimshon and give him over to them … or else. The Judeans begged Shimshon to let them do so, and he agreed on the condition that they themselves would not harm him. How could the people of Yehuda agree to betray their neighbor and relative Shimshon?

The answer is found in the words of the Judeans: "Do you not know that the Plishtim rule over us?" In other words, they really felt that the Plishti dominion was such that they had no choice. It was this same fear of the Plishtim that actually caused a large part of the Tribe of Dan to settle, not in their appointed place, but in the north of Israel (see Shoftim 18). The Plishti dominion also was powerful in the time of Shmuel and Shaul (see Shmuel I, 13 & 23). They also controlled the metal production and did not allow the Jews to produce weapons or even metal agricultural tools.

All of this relates back to the story of Megillat Rut. Once Elimelech, a Judean leader, and his sons failed, the prominence of the Tribe of Yehuda waned. Most of the period of the Judges, Shmuel, and Shaul, the tribe was enslaved by the Plishtim. The blessing of Yaakov, which granted kingdom to Yehuda, began to be fulfilled only when David rose to the kingdom, which is hinted at in the end of Rut (see more in the soon-to-be-published Tzofnat Shmuel).

Our generation, which was blessed with independence and freedom from foreign dominion, needs to carefully guard the precious present that we have received. Let us remember this as we prepare for the upcoming holiday of receiving the Torah.

Ascetics and Aesthetics

by Rabbi Dov Berl Wein

As I have already written many times before, Judaism abhors extremism. It seeks a balanced life style in line with the commandments and value system of the Torah. As such, as in the case of the nazir who abstains from wine and other human pleasures during his period of nezirut, the Torah asks him to bring a sin-offering at the end of the nezirut period for having voluntarily foregone the drinking of wine and his abstinence from the pleasures of human society generally during this period of nezirut. The Talmud teaches us that the great High Priest of Israel, Shimon HaTzadik, found only one case of nezirut in his long reign as being High Priest as being truly justified and purely motivated by a desire for greater holiness. The Torah does not preach asceticism as a way of life. It looks for the proper balance in life between wanton hedonism on one hand and hermit-like behavior on the other hand. It is conscious that it is often difficult to find the perfect balance in the middle at all times and that therefore adjustments have to be made according to the circumstances and nature of one’s society and times. In a generation of immorality – sotah – a tilt towards asceticism may be justified. But the Torah makes it clear that this is not ideal norm in Jewish society.

In the high Middle Ages, asceticism became a way of life amongst the Christian clergy and to a certain extent even amongst its masses. Self-flagellation, hair shirts, and other means of pain and privation became the norm of religion then. Though the Talmud ordains days of private fasting as legitimate, there is no reference there to any form of physical self-mortification. One’s body is to be treated with respect and gentility and not to be abused. However, perhaps due to the influence of the times on the Jews as well, we do find that in the Middle Ages, Jewish pietists did prescribe forms of ascetic behavior as being instrumental in obtaining forgiveness for sins committed. Kabbalistic thought oftentimes reinforced this behavior pattern, though it was never widely adopted in the Jewish world. The numerous false messiahs that arose in the Jewish world always tended towards ascetic behavior, sometimes inexplicably mingled with wild hedonism and debauchery. In later times, extreme adherents of the Mussar movement also engaged in a type of asceticism in their personal lives, though again this never became the norm in this movement, let alone in Jewish society generally. The line between restraint in one’s behavior and asceticism was sometimes difficult to find but it was always present in Jewish society. In short, the pursuit of pure asceticism was not felt to be in consonance with Jewish values and a Torah way of life. However, in a generation of unbridled hedonism such as ours, a measured small dose of asceticism would seem to be proper for balanced Torah living.

The Torah encourages aestheticism. Beauty, design, harmony, cleanliness are all part of a Torah way of life. The appreciation of the world that exists around us only reinforces our belief and gratitude towards the Creator of the universe. Beautiful buildings have always been part of Jewish tradition from the times of the Holy Temples through the grand synagogue buildings that exist in our current Jewish world. Art has gained great ground in the Jewish society and environmental issues are on the Jewish horizon. An appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of life can only contribute to the wonder of faith which is the basis of Jewish life. During the long exile of the Jewish people there were many times when aesthetics were neglected simply because of poverty, persecution and the bigotry of the host countries. The non-Jewish world resented greatly any form of special beauty in Jewish society. Jewish clothing was proscribed, synagogues were to be obscure and plain and the poverty of the Jews destroyed any true sense of appreciation of aesthetic norms and creative artistry. In modern times this situation has changed and there is a renewed interest and pursuit of aesthetic values in the Jewish world. Art decorates the walls of many Jewish homes, the infrastructure projects of the State of Israel are in the main very aesthetically pleasing (What do you think of our new bridge of strings at the entrance to Jerusalem?) and there is a growing appreciation of the simple beauty of our country. The pursuit of a pleasing aesthetic environment should definitely be part of our way of life here in Israel and wherever Jews reside in the world.

From Bitter to Sweet – The Virtue of Torah and Am Yisrael

by HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Har Bracha

The custom of eating dairy foods on Shavuot symbolizes the virtue of the Torah, to turn the negative sides of the world into good * This virtue also depends on the virtue of the nation of Israel who study Torah, especially in the Land of Israel * Those who disregard the value of nationalism and the Religious Zionists who embrace it, err in a fundamental and essential point in the Torah

There is a precious custom dating back to the era of the Rishonim (1100 -1500), to eat foods made out of milk and honey on Shavuot. The source of this custom stems from communities in Ashkenaz and France, and from, there spread to many Jewish communities throughout the world. Nevertheless, there are Jews who do not practice this custom, such as many immigrants from Yemen, Libya, Djerba, Bukhara, and Persia.

The foundation of the custom stems from Divrei Chachamim (words of the Sages) who said that the Torah is compared to milk and honey, as the verse in Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) says: “Milk and honey are under your tongue,” and our Sages said: “As the Jewish nation stood before Mount Sinai and said: ‘All that the Lord spoke, we will do and listen (‘na’aseh ve’nishma’), at that same time, God said to them: ‘Honey and milk are under your tongue.” In other words, in the merit of Israel’s agreement to accept the Torah without doubt, the words of Torah would be sweet like milk and honey in their mouths.

Rav Kook further explained that milk and honey are two foods both produced from impure sources. Honey is produced from bees which are impure insects, and milk is produced from blood which is forbidden to be eaten. Precisely because they are transformed from impure to pure, they possess a unique taste, alluding to ‘tikun olam’ (perfecting the world). This is the virtue of Torah, which perfects the negative sides of the world, and turns them into good, as our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: ‘My children! I created the yetzer ha’ra (the evil inclination), but I also created the Torah as its antidote; if you occupy yourselves with the Torah, you will not be delivered into its hand.” In other words, the Torah does not eliminate the yetzer ha’ra, rather, it adds flavor to it, until it is transformed into good.

The Land of Milk and Honey
The main virtue of milk and honey, of course, is related to the Land of Israel, which, fifteen times in the Torah, is called “the land of milk and honey,” because by means of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (the settlement of the Land) it sanctifies the secular and earthly, and in doing so, also turns the ‘bad’ into an especially sweet ‘good’, similar to milk and honey which are pure, but created from the impure.

Torah and Israel
This segulah (unique virtue) of Torah to turn bad into good depends, of course, on Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel), who study Torah and perfect the world in its Light. Moreover, if Israel had not accepted the Torah, it would be empty of content to keep it in existence, and it would return to emptiness and formlessness, as our Sages said (Shabbat 88a): “The Holy One, blessed be He, stipulated with the Works of Creation and said to them: ‘If Israel accepts the Torah, you will exist; but if not, I will turn you back into emptiness and formlessness.” Similarly, our Sages said (Vayikra Rabbah 23:3): “God saw a single rose-colored flower, to wit, Israel. God took it and smelled it when God gave them the Ten Commandments, and God’s spirits were calmed when they said, na’aseh ve’ nishma, God said, “The orchard shall be saved on account of this flower. For the sake of the Torah and of Israel, the world shall be saved.”

The revelation of the Torah and Israel’s segulah depends on Am Yisrael inheriting and settling its Land, because all the mitzvot were given in order for us to fulfill them Eretz Yisrael in a national and governmental framework. And even though outside of Eretz Yisrael we must fulfill the individual mitzvot that are not dependent on the Land, all of their obligatory status abroad is so that we know how to fulfill them properly when we return (Jerusalem Talmud, Shevi’it 6:1; Kiddushin 1:8; Bavli Kiddushin, 37a; Sifre 43-44).

Counting the Omer – Connecting Nationalism and the Torah
One of the manifestations of the connection between the Nation and the Land to Torah, is that Chag Shavuot –‘ Z’man Torateinu’, does not have its own date, rather, its date depends on Chag Pesach. On Chag Pesach, the purpose of the Nation and the Land were revealed, for God chose His nation, and took us out in order to give us the Land of Israel, as it is written (Exodus 3:7-8): “God said, ‘I have indeed seen the suffering of My people in Egypt… I have come down to rescue them from Egypt’s power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey…”(also in Exodus 6:4-8; 13:3-5; 13:11). And this is the intention of Sefirat HaOmer (the Counting of the Omer), to connect between Chag Pesach and Chag Shavuot; to connect the value of the Nation and the Land, to the value of Torah, for there is no Israel without Torah, and no Torah without Israel.

And although these two values ​​are interrelated and interdependent, it is imperative that each of them be expressed in its own right, so that they do not blur each other. Therefore, we have two separate holidays, one for the idea of Am Yisrael, and the other, for the Torah.

And thus, we find in Tanna De’bei Eliyahu (Parsha 15): “I was once going from one place to another, when an elderly man came to me and asked about matters in the Torah. He said to me: Rabbi, I have two things in my heart, and I love them both dearly: the Torah and Israel. But I don’t know which one comes first. I said to him: People say that the Torah precedes everything, but I would say the holy of Israel come first…”

Those Who Ignore the Sanctity of the Value of Nationalism
At times, I am amazed to read Haredi journalists and rabbis who speak disdainfully about the value of nationalism, claiming that those in the National Religious public err, in that they give it too much importance. It is incredible how people accustomed to reading the Torah can be so ignorant that they do not understand the value of Israeli nationalism. Apparently, this is the deep meaning of the words of our Sages (Chagigah 5b): “There is no greater bitul Torah (abrogation of the Torah) than when the Jews were exiled from their place.” This does not imply that they didn’t diligently study Torah in exile, rather, the meaning is that, as a result of the galut (exile), they do not comprehend the Torah properly, and all the mitzvot, instructions and ideas mentioned about Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael are understood in katnut (smallness of mind), and consequently, they do not understand that it is the main point of the Torah – to instruct Am Yisrael how to reveal the word of God in the life of the Clal (all of Israel) and the prat (individual Jews), within a national framework in Eretz Yisrael. When it was very difficult to immigrate to Israel, Jews who lived abroad could have been given benefit of the doubt. Today, however, it is hard to judge favorably those who insist on continuing making the same mistake. And the more of a baki (skilled) and palpalan (hairsplitter) such a person is in Torah, his lack of understanding is worse.

While it is clear that the challenge of fulfilling Torah within a national framework in Eretz Yisrael is accompanied with great complications, as we have learned in the Torah regarding the Sin of the Golden Calf and the Sin of the Spies, and as we have learned in the Prophets about all the complications that accompanied the Kingdom of Israel, the Mishkan, and the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple). Nevertheless, this is the manner in which the Torah determined we reveal the Word of God to the world.

May it be that out of the joy of Chag Pesach and Chag Ha’Atzmaut, we merit receiving the Torah on Chag Shavuot once again, and in doing so, its words will be pleasurable for us like milk and honey, and through its instructions, merit to sanctify the secular, and turn the bad into good.

They Still do Witch Hunts in Massachusetts

by Victor Rosenthal

Louis Shenker is, or was, a Jewish student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass). He is no longer a student there, because after allowing a campaign of defamation, harassment, and threats of physical harm orchestrated by members of the faculty and administrators to force him to flee, the university has expelled him.

Louis Shenker is admittedly guilty of several thought-crimes. He is a conservative. He is a Zionist. And (has vehalila) he is a Trump supporter. Who knows, he may even enjoy trolling his progressive political opponents. Still, I don’t believe any of this is illegal in the US.

What is illegal (or at least grounds for civil penalties), and what the university may pay dearly for – $27 million if Shenker’s lawyers get what they are demanding – is trying to wreck someone’s life by spreading false information about him, and inciting violence against him.

His troubles began in December 2018, when he tried to protest an anti-Trump march, wearing a “MAGA” hat and carrying a sign. He was roughed up by the marchers, and a graduate student, Barucha “Beth” Peller, snatched his hat and refused to return it.

Peller turned out to be his teacher in a required course, but she did not recognize him without his MAGA hat, and so he received an A in the course.

In May 2019, the “Resistance Studies Initiative” at the university planned an anti-Israel event featuring Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, who of late has dedicated his efforts to attacking Israel. Shenker and two other Jewish students sued the university, demanding that the event be held off-campus. They lost, but apparently some graduate students and faculty were moved to act against what they perceived as the Zionist (and Trumpist) menace.

Louis Shenker had started to bother them. He had a popular podcast and a presence on Twitter (account since suspended) and other social media, which he used to promote his conservative views. They decided that he had to go.

In November 2019, when Louis stood up to challenge the speakers at yet another anti-Israel event, he put on a (new) Trump hat. And Peller recognized him. According to his lawyers, “He told her he knew who she was – that she was the person who had stolen his MAGA hat, and that he still wants it back.” But Peller, a long-time leftist/anarchist activist, went to the police and falsely claimed that he was a “white nationalist” and had physically threatened her. She got a protective order, and when he defended himself on Twitter, he was jailed for two days.

What he didn’t know (and what his lawyers found out only recently) was that a trap had been laid for him. Let me quote from the demand letter sent to the University by his lawyers:

…on October 13, 2019, UMass Amherst Associate Professor of Political Science Maryann Barakso, Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Political Science Lauren McCarthy, and Assistant Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Kelly Gray, acting within the scope of their employment, came to an agreement that Louis’s “views are not the kind that we want to cultivate at the university.” They formulated a plan to terminate Louis’s contractual relationship with the university by defaming him as a racist. The faculty and administrator employees then recruited graduate student employees active in the Graduate Employee Union (GEO) to help with the plan.

Within a month, the faculty, administrator, and graduate student employees set their plan in motion after Louis’s counter demonstration at the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) event, held at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center on November 12, 2019. University employees Barakso, McCarthy, Gray, Tyler Alan, Anna-Claire Simpson, and Beth Peller used Louis’s peaceful expression of his political and religious beliefs at the BDS event as a pretext to incite a violent harassment campaign against him, to file false charges of hate crimes against him, and to call for him to be expelled from the university.

In a series of emails obtained by Louis’ lawyers, the conspirators planned their campaign:

Barasko: We need to talk about Louis. He is becoming a major problem to a faculty member at our department and his views are not the kind we want to cultivate at the University. As you know he is Jewish.. so we have to be very careful and smart in how we deal with this problem.

McCarthy: I agree Louis is becoming increasingly hostile and threatening. We’ve dealt with other problem students in the past successfully and you know nobody likes a racist so we can handle it. I have a contact in UP that can make this work.

Barasko: Update. 1st step. Let campus know Louis is a problem, with the truth about his name out…any subsequent protest about him will lack credibility. The right RSO [registered student organization] has been inspired to post flyers

When Louis returned to the campus, he found the campus plastered with hundreds of posters with his picture, accusing him of being a “white supremacist.” He became the subject of social media incitement to “smack the dogshit out of him.” Mass emails denouncing him were sent. A campaign of legal harassment was waged against him; on several occasions his lawyers saved him from being jailed on fabricated complaints of stalking Peller (actually, the reverse was true). His tires were slashed when he was due in court for a hearing.

In December 2019, the Campus Anti-Fascist Network published an online petition accusing Louis of being “an extreme alt-right personality who uses incel* language,” and demanding that the UMass Amherst administration “move swiftly to take protective action to protect the campus from Shenker – including expulsion and a no-trespass order.” Almost 500 professors and 650 students nationally have signed it, as well as Roger Waters, Linda Sarsour, and Cornel West. Many other leftist organizations and social media “influencers” picked up the story, accusing him of being a violent and dangerous fanatic, and in some cases inciting violence against him.

His address (he lived at the Chabad house on campus) was made public.

Louis fled from the campus and was unable to take final exams. The university did not respond to his complaints, but, acting on a complaint from Peller, informed him that he was being investigated. And then it expelled him permanently for not taking his exams.

This was a criminal conspiracy to deny this young man a future, aided and abetted by a major university. To quote Justice Clarence Thomas in another context, this was a “high-tech lynching.”

American universities have become fertile ground for outbreaks of mob psychosis, in which the victim, who has somehow transgressed the increasingly extremist progressive ideology – especially in regard to Israel – is hounded from the campus. One high-profile case which comes to mind is that of Andrew Pessin, Professor of Philosophy at Connecticut College, who was forced to leave his post for a year after a social media comment of his that was critical of Hamas was misinterpreted as a racial slur against Palestinians. The college did nothing to protect him when the discourse took an antisemitic turn. After receiving death threats, Pessin took medical leave. To add insult to injury, the college gave a “scholar activist award” to the student, an activist in Students for Justice in Palestine, who initiated the witch hunt. Pessin, unlike Louis Shenker, is the opposite of provocative and even apologized for his comment (in my opinion, he shouldn’t have – the misinterpretation was deliberate, intended to attack a pro-Israel advocate). There are numerous other similar cases.

UMass has about a week to respond to the demand letter that was sent by Louis Shenker’s lawyers. If it knows what’s good for it, it will agree to a settlement that justly compensates him for the maltreatment he received at the hands of its employees.
* “Incel” stands for “involuntary celibate.” Incels are men who blame their lack of a sexual partner on women, and express themselves in violent and misogynist language. Several mass murderers have been characterized (or self-identify) as incels.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Rav Kook's Ein Ayah: Internal Goodness; External Negativity

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 11:17)

Gemara: The attribute of good (i.e., the divine decision to provide something positive to His creation) comes faster than the attribute of harshness (puranut - the divine decision to do something harsh to a creation). We know this because the pasuk says in regard to calamity, “[Moshe took [his hand] out, and behold his hand was full of leprosy like [the color] of snow” (Shemot 4:6). In contrast, regarding the decree of good, the pasuk says: “He removed it from his chest, and indeed it had returned to [normal] flesh” (ibid. 7) – meaning that from the time it was in his chest, it was already like his flesh.

Ein Ayah: Goodness is the foundation of existence. The attribute of good is the goal of existence as a whole, and it is one with the root of life, of the source of life and goodness (i.e., Hashem). Therefore, it stands beyond the limitations of time and place. Even when a good decree is “lowered” into events that pertain to time and place, the impression of their natural state remains, and therefore it comes quickly.

In contrast, regarding harshness, its existence in the world is as a passing necessary evil, and its purpose is to serve to promote the ultimate good. It “polishes” the people’s ability to receive goodness in its fullest force. This being the nature of harshness, all time and place limitations apply to it.

In a similar vein, another distinction is that goodness is itself internally connected to existence and to life, whereas harshness is only external, impacting on the external elements of life. Included in the external are those things that can be seen by people, which is what the recipients are impacted by. So, if a person has gone down in level and is connected to the world of images, he will be impacted on that external level by manifestations of harshness.

Due to the above, a decree of something positive comes more quickly than something harsh. The light of freedom is beyond time. Every matter of value that is limited experiences a phenomenon which the navisaw as: “the [heavenly] beasts went this way and that way like a flash of light” (Yechezkel 1:14).

Moshe experienced his gentle and his harsh treatment by Hashem at the time when he was first finding out the truth about the Light of Israel. He learned how awesome the eternal values are, to the point that no external descriptive elements could separate him from these truths. At this time, he received a prophetic message that the external element of harshness is lower than the internal element of goodness, in the following manner. When he received leprosy, there was no need for it to begin before he took out his hand and was able to perceive it. There was not an internal purpose for the leprosy, but an external one [so that he could learn from the need for it]. In contrast, when the leprosy was healed, which was a matter of goodness, there was an innate preference for the healing to come as quickly as possible, even when his hand was in his chest. The innate connection with the root of existence, beyond the pressures of time and place, came quickly.

“The kindness of Hashem is present all day” (Tehillim 48:15). “Like the light of morning the sun will shine” (Shmuel II, 23:4). Avraham displayed the epitome of positive quickness, as “he woke up early in the morning” to bring Yitzchak to the akeida (Bereisheet 22:3). This is also a trait of Hashem, who looks for the opportunity to bring the ultimate liberation “at its time, quickly” (see Yeshayahu 60:22).

A Love Letter from the Divine

by Rabbi David Aaron

These words of Torah are dedicated l’ilui neshama Bayla Simma bat Rut, z”l, Barbara Sharon Bernstein, beloved grandmother of Zach Bernstein (Orayta year 12), marking the shloshim of her passing on Lag b’Omer. May her neshama have an Aliyah.

After the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people traveled in the desert for 49 days until they reached Mount Sinai on the 6th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. There they experienced the ultimate revelation and communion with G-d. They encountered G-d face to face, heard the voice of G-d and received the Torah and its commandments—the mitzvoth.

Whereas, Passover is the birthday of the Jewish people, this holiday, which is referred to as the holiday of Shavuot, can be likened to the Bar Mitzvah of the Jewish people. It is a time to celebrate the Mitzvot—the responsibilities implicit to the loving relationship we enjoy with G-d.

Recently a friend asked me if I would meet with his son, Sam, and help him prepare his Bar Mitzvah speech. I generally don’t teach thirteen-year-olds, but for a friend I made an exception. So I got together with Sam and I began to share with him some insights into the Torah portion he would be reading in the synagogue on Shabbat. I actually got really into it, seeing how carefully he was listening, nodding his head ever so often. So I started to go even deeper and began to tell him some of the mystical meanings behind the passages he would be publicly reading. I was really impressed, he seemed to be really understanding me. Well, after about an hour of all this deep talk, I said, “Sammy, do you have any questions?”

He said, “Yeah, just one. Why do I have to obey all these commandments, keep all these rules?”

Well, I felt pretty silly. Here I was going off the deep end when he doesn’t even know what his Bar Mitzvah meant.

I asked him, “Sammy, do you like football?”

“I love it! I play it all the time.”

“Do you know the rules?” I continued.

“Of course, you can’t play if you don’t know the rules.”

“Why not?”

“’Cuz then there would be no game. You couldn’t win or lose. There couldn’t be touch downs, no out of bounds, no violations, no penalties. Without the rules it would just be chaos and no fun.”

“Precisely, and that’s true about the game of life also. Without rules and regulations it would be chaos, no fun, no adventure, no challenge. You couldn’t win or lose. And even though we all know, ‘it’s not whether you win or lose but it’s how you play the game,’ without rules there is no way to evaluate ‘how you play the game.’ The Torah’s commandments are the game rules of life and G-d is the referee.”

In the end, Sammy got psyched for his Bar Mitzvah . On Shavuot we celebrate getting the game rules of life because if there are no game rules, there is no game. And on that day we rejoice because we became players in the game of life. Because if there is no right and wrong, then what difference does it make what I do? If there is nothing to violate, there is nothing to fulfill. I can’t even play a game of basketball without rules, let alone live my life! Without the Torah’s game rules for living, the world is just one big chaos and our choices are meaningless.

The Torah, however, is more than the rules of life. Torah is a living encounter with G-d. The revelation of G-d at Mt. Sinai wasn’t simply an opportunity for the Jewish people to receive G-d’s laws but experience G-d’s love. What happened at Mt. Sinai was a personal, face-to-face encounter with G-d. It wasn’t just about getting the laws that made the day important, it was about feeling the ecstasy of G-d’s intimacy with the Jewish people.

The experience at Mt. Sinai was not only a revelation of G-d’s truth, but more importantly, it was a revelation of G-d’s love. Torah was and continues to be G-d’s love letter. It is the greatest gift ever because it embodies G-d’s presence. When you learn the Torah, you can actually feel G-d’s closeness to you. The Talmud teaches that when G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people He said, “I am giving you My soul in writing.”

Imagine one day you receive a love letter. You are at work and eating lunch at the employee cafeteria, and someone drops a letter in front of you. You see that it’s a letter from the one you love. Do you rip open the envelope and start to speed-read through the letter? No, of course you don’t. You save this letter. You’re going to read it in a very special place because this letter deserves more.

Now imagine you’re in that special place. You open the letter carefully, you start to read your beloved’s words and you actually begin to hear her voice. And then you feel her presence.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll read the letter over and over again, because you know there’s much more to this letter. The first time you read it you get the simple meaning. But then you read it even more carefully. You notice that she tells you about the weather and then she starts talking about her mother. What’s the connection, you wonder. You then read the letter again and now you see that there are hints in this letter. You pay attention not only to what she says, but also to the way she’s structured her sentences. Then you go over it again because you realize that it’s even deeper than that. You look at how she even forms the very letters. There are secrets in the nuances of the actual shape of her letters. You then start looking for the deeper subtle meanings.

Once you’ve analyzed every aspect, you carefully refold the letter, place it in its envelope and tuck it away for safekeeping. You save this letter because you sense the presence of your beloved within these mere sheets of paper.

Now let’s imagine that someone else is reading that letter. Is that person going to feel the presence of someone else’s beloved? No. He’d just get the letter’s simple meaning, the information. But for you it would be different. You wouldn’t just be reading the letter; you’d get involved in it. And through your involvement with the words, nuances, and deeper meanings, you’d meet your beloved.

This, in essence, is learning Torah. Through our involvement with the text, we hear G-d’s voice, feel the Divine presence and experience G-d’s love and relive the revelation at Sinai each day of our lives.

Therefore, the Torah embodies not only a way of life but also a way to love. The wisdom and commandments of the Torah empower us to love each other and love G-d. Shavuot is a day to celebrate the laws in love and the love in law.


by Rav Binny Freedman

Few things in this world are as beautiful as the night sky in the desert. Most people rarely get the chance to see this beauty, far away from the bright lights and cacophony of sounds in the city: the black velvet of a dark night sky full of stars that seem so close you can reach out and touch them. It never fails to fill me with a deep sense of awe.

In the army, no matter how challenging the particular situation, I was always able to take comfort from the familiar constellations and quiet power that seem to emanate from the stars at night.

I remember the wave of relief that would wash over me as the big dipper rose high in the night sky, making it easy to find the North star, the most constant point of reference for navigation at night.

No matter where you are, if you can find that star, you can always find your way home. It was the beacon of the underground ‘railroad’ used by the runaway slaves in the south, heading north to freedom, and it is and has always been the silent friend of every soldier who ever needed to find his way in the darkness.

When I became an officer, I was somewhat obsessed by the need to always know where I was, and where I needed to go, and my greatest fear in the army was the prospect of losing my way; not so much for fear that I would get lost, but because I dreaded the thought of getting an entire unit lost along with me.

This fear emanated from the events that led to the capture of four Israeli soldiers, including a close friend, Zack Baumel, in the battle of Sultan Yaakob in the Lebanon war in June of 1982.

In the middle of the night, going on three straight days of intense combat and no sleep, the men of Zack’s battalion were sent on a mission to capture and hold the Sultan Yaakov crossroads, deep in the Bekaa Valley in Eastern Lebanon.

Intelligence had it that there was as yet no serious enemy opposition in the area, so they drove full speed without the normal routine of night movement which demands no lights, radio silence, and slow speeds to reduce noise.

Unfortunately, intelligence was wrong. Easily spotted by a Syrian battalion of T-62 tanks with anti-tank missile support, they drove right into a perfect ambush, coming under heavy fire from the Syrian tanks above them.

Caught deep in the ravines of the Sultan Yaakob range, their guns were practically useless as they could not elevate them high enough to hit the enemy, and their shells simply resulted in a hail of boulders pouring back down from the cliffs above.

It took until morning for the Brigade to find their unit and lay down an artillery smoke barrage to help them get out, and in the midst of the confusion of the evacuation, Zack’s tank was hit by an anti-tank missile and burst into flames.

With their tank disabled, the four crewmembers, Zack Baumel, Tzvi Feldman, Aryeh Lieberman, and the tank commander Chezi Shai, tumbled out deep in enemy territory.

With Israeli artillery smoke shells, along with Syrian tank and mortar shells and the incredible noise and confusion of battle, the men could do little but watch as their unit drove further and further away. They had been the last tank in the line, so no one even realized they had been hit.

I cannot even begin to imagine what that must have felt like; to watch you’re your unit, some of whom are your closest friends, disappear in the distance leaving you behind to face an entire Syrian battalion.

All four of these men were captured, and the piece of this story that has most impacted me, we know from Chezi Shai, the commander, who along with the body of Aryeh Lieberman, was returned in a prisoner exchange two years later.

Shai admitted that in the confusion and overwhelming pressure of that moment, and especially given that it was daylight and there were no stars to navigate by, he had no idea which direction they should head in, so he decided to split into two pairs, in the hopes that someone would make it home.

As it turned out, none of these men were headed in the right direction, instead walking straight in to the arms of Syrian troops.

To this day, both Zack and Tzvi Feldman are still missing in action. The Syrians, (who technically are responsible for their fate and whereabouts, as they were seen combing the battle scene later in the day) are not talking, although we now know that the Israeli tank paraded three days later through the streets of Damascus was indeed their tank, and Russia has recently agreed to return this tank which has been sitting in a Moscow museum.

All of which is why I was so determined to never get lost in the field. And which is probably why the night stars are such a comfort to me. No matter where you are, if you can find the North Star, you can always make it home.

I remember one particular night in the southern Tzin desert during a spate of all night navigations, when I thought I was really lost. More than in any other terrain, in the desert, you really rely on the stars to help you find your way, because there are fewer distinct landmarks. Particularly in the area we were in, which was a wide flat panhandle with no visible mountains or landmarks, the stars made it much easier, yet suddenly, out of the blue, a cloudbank rolled in and completely obscured the stars.

We were practicing navigation without a compass, so that was not an option, and for an hour I slowed us down while trying to get a sense of the direction of the stream bed (Nachal) we were in, and relate it to the image on the map I was supposed to have memorized earlier.

After an hour, just as quickly as they came, the clouds moved on, and suddenly the lights of the most beautiful stars I have ever seen twinkled through the disappearing clouds. And the North Star, my old friend and guide was again there to bring me home.

We celebrate the festival of Shavuot, commemorating the day, over 3,000 years ago, when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai. It seems that as a people, we have somewhat lost our way; is there a ‘North Star’ we are somehow missing? And can we find a way to reconnect with it?

On the morning of Shavuot, after the traditional all-night learning which has become the custom in Jewish communities around the world, we will read the Ten Commandments given us by G-d at Sinai all those years ago.

A brief look at the first of these ‘Commandments’ may perhaps shed some light on what we seem to be missing today, and perhaps even offer some thought towards a remedy for the malaise we find ourselves in.

“Anochi Hashem Elokecha’ Asher Hotzeiticha’ Me’Eretz Mitzrayim, Mi’Beit Avadim.”

“I am Hashem your G-d, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” (Shemot 20:2)

What exactly is the commandment here? Unlike the second commandment, which seems to clearly prohibit idolatry, or subsequent commandments mandating remembering the Shabbat, or respecting one’s parents, the nature of this verse is unclear. What exactly is Hashem commanding here? It seems more like G-d is just introducing Himself:

“Hello! I’m G-d! Remember me? I’m the one who took you out of Egypt…!

But of course, that’s ridiculous. How could G-d, the same G-d who just split the Sea, not to mention the ten plagues, feel He still needs an introduction to the Jewish people?

And if indeed, this verse is some form of introduction to G-d, why does Hashem need to mention the Exodus from Egypt? Who else could have done that? And why mention anything at all? Was G-d in need of a resume’? Was He afraid we would have already forgotten how we got to this lonely desert mountain after 200 years of Egyptian bondage?

And if, for whatever the reason, G-d indeed needed to stress some of His achievements, is this the best He could do?

If you wanted to pick the single most impressive achievement G-d had to His credit, would it really be the exodus from Egypt? Why not simply point out that Hashem created everything? If you’re going to talk impressions, it doesn’t get any better than that! So why does G-d point out, to a generation that has witnessed the miracles of the exodus from Egypt first hand, the obvious fact that it is G-d who is responsible, and why does Hashem choose not to point out that He is not only responsible for their freedom, He is in fact responsible for everything?

Maimonides, in the very first mitzvah in his Sefer HaMitzvoth (Book of Commandments) points out that:

“The first mitzvah of the positive commandments is to know that there is a G-d, as it says: “I am Hashem your G-d….” (Sefer HaMitzvoth Positive Commandment 1)

This verse teaches us that there is a positive commandment to know that Hashem exists.

Which raises a very interesting question: how can one be commanded to believe in G-d? As Rav Elchanan Wasserman, in his Kovetz Ma’amarim, (a collection of lectures he gave in the Kovno Ghetto prior to his death at the hands of the Nazis) points out: belief is a psychological state of mind.

If a person does not believe in G-d, no commandment will bring him to do so. And if he does believe in G-d, there is no necessity for the commandment. So what is this commandment all about? And why does the Torah present this mitzvah as a statement, (or introduction) rather than as a commandment, given in the imperative form like the other commandments?

Perhaps the key to this question lies in the word “Anochi”, meaning “I am” used as G-d’s self-introduction. This word is very different from the word ‘Ani’ meaning “I”, and while English translation does not do justice to the difference, a contextual view of where the word Anochi appears may shed some light on the questions we have raised. Where have we seen this word before?

As an example, when Yaakov, disguised as Esav (his twin brother) comes to his father to receive the blessings, his father Yitzchak says (Bereishit 27:19) :

“Here I am, who are you, my son?”

What an incredible question! Can you imagine what it must feel like to realize that your own father doesn’t recognize you?

And Yaakov responds:
“…Anochi Esav Bechorecha’, Asiti Ka’Asher Dibarta’ Elai.”
I am Esav, your firstborn; I have done that which spoke to me.” (27:20)

So Yaakov, paragon of truth, is now lying through his teeth to his own father. Rashi, seemingly troubled by this blatant ethical lapse suggests that Yaakov is saying this in a way that isn’t an outright falsehood: ‘Anochi, I am (Yaakov), and Esav is your firstborn’.

But Rashi can’t be suggesting Yaakov is not lying, because Yaakov then says, “I have done that which you spoke to me” which is clearly a lie. (Yitzchak did not ask Yaakov to bring him food; he asked Esav….) Obviously Yaakov is very uncomfortable with what he is doing.

Imagine what a challenge this must all be for him: His father says: your voice is the voice of Yaakov, but your hands are the hands of Esav. And his mother tells him to dress up and behave like Esav. Perhaps it is Yaakov himself who is wondering just who he is? Maybe this story is not about the struggle between Yaakov and Esav; maybe it is about the struggle between Yaakov and Yaakov. Maybe Yaakov is wondering: who am I? Am I Yaakov, who sits in the tent, and cares not for the machinations and struggles of this world, or am I Esav, who has to be willing to fight for what is his?

In other words, Yaakov is struggling with who he really is. And this is crucial, because if I don’t know who I am, how can I hope to become all that I am meant to be?

This struggle of Yaakov, is represented by the word Anochi. This word is not the same as the word Ani, used elsewhere in this story; Anochi is a very specific word, which does not appear all that often in the Torah.

Earlier, Adam uses the same word when he responds to G-d’s equally strange question: “Ayekah?” “Where are you?”Here too, G-d knows where Adam is, but he wants to know if Adam knows where he is? The question, again, is not where are you, but who are you? And Adam’s response:

“Va’Ira Ki Erom Anochi, Va’Echaveh’.” “I was afraid… and I hid.” (Bereishit 3:10)

And again, if Adam thinks he can hide from G-d, his struggle isn’t with G-d, his struggle is with who he himself is.

Which brings us back to the beginning of the Ten Commandments and what is alluded to in that most famous of all Anochi’s:

“Anochi Hashem…” “I am the Lord your G-d…”

Perhaps Hashem isn’t telling us who He is, maybe we are meant to learn something about who we are. Because the greatest gift Hashem can give us, is to realize that there is a piece of G-d inside each one of us.

And this is the hidden message of the first Commandment. Perhaps G-d is telling us that the first step in discovering a relationship with Him is to discover a relationship with our selves. Ultimately, there is a little bit of G-d inside each one of us, if we will only choose to work hard enough to find it.

It is the challenge we each face every day to hear the inner voice that comes from G-d, calling us to discover who we really are, so that we can begin to achieve all that we are meant to give to this world.

This mitzvah is not given as a commandment, because it is all about accessing a part of myself, something which is not a commandment, so much as an imperative. Hashem is not necessarily commanding me to do something, as much as we are given a message here as to how we are meant to do everything in this world.

The creation of the world introduces the idea that there is a G-d. But at Sinai, Hashem introduced to the world the concept of a G-d that cares. G-d is saying to each of us, “I care so much about you, I love you so much, that I am willing to do all this, just for you.”

And when you lose your way, know, that I am your North Star, hidden and waiting deep inside of you, if you will only look to find me.

Ultimately, finding a piece of G-d inside of me is really about finding myself. And that is the true mitzvah we were given at the foot of Sinai so long ago. The magnificent invitation to take a journey of self-discovery, on the road towards becoming a true partner in the building of the world as it was meant to be.

So many people get lost in the night; but deep inside each one of us is the North Star, waiting to guide us home, if only we will be willing to look up, and in, to see it.

Best wishes from Jerusalem for a Chag Shavuot Same’ach: a festival full of joy and peace.

The Yishai Fleisher Show:The Nazarite, the Priestly Blessings, and the 49ers

How does Jewish tradition deal with the narcissistic story of Narcissus? The Nazarite is the antidote! Rabbi Yishai is joined by Rav Mike Feuer for an unselfish perspective. Then, Malkah Fleisher on completing the last day of counting to Shavuot, and shares the US concerns about Chinese encroachment in Israel.

Israel’s Supreme Court Does it Again

In August of last year, Dvir Sorek, an 18-year old yeshiva student walking near Migdal Oz in the Gush Etzion region was set upon by two terrorists acting on behalf of Hamas. He was brutally stabbed to death (do I need to add “brutally” to “stabbed to death?”)

The murderers, and three others who helped plan and prepare the attack, were quickly located and arrested. Four of them immediately confessed. After they were indicted, the IDF informed the families of the four that their homes would be demolished. The families petitioned the Supreme Court to prevent the demolition, but the petitions were denied, and in November, the homes were demolished.

Home demolitions are controversial. But most observers believe that the policy is effective in restraining potential terrorists, even suicide terrorists. And some 90% of Jewish Israelis support the policy.

There were five terrorists involved in Sorek’s murder. Unlike the others, Mahmoud Atawna did not confess immediately, so the IDF did not order his home demolished at the same time as the others. Finally an order was issued to do so in January, 2020. This one, too, was appealed to the Supreme Court, with the assistance of “Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual,” one of many left-wing Israeli NGOs funded by the hostile-to-Israel European Union, various European governments, and the US-based New Israel Fund. But this time, a three-judge panel ruled 2-1 in favor of the petitioners, and ordered that the IDF could not demolish the home.

The Court, which had never overthrown an IDF order to demolish the home of a convicted terrorist before, gave two reasons for it: Atawna’s wife and children lived in the house, and were not involved in the murder and didn’t support him (how they established the latter, I do not know – maybe they asked her). And second, too much time had passed after the murder for it to be a deterrent to terrorism:

Justices Anat Baron and Uzi Vogelman granted the petition against the planned demolition in Beit Kahil, near Hebron, leaving Justice David Mintz in the minority. …

Baron wrote that the army didn’t issue the demolition order until five months after the attack, after the homes of other members of the terror cell had been destroyed. “The longer the gap between the attack and the demolition of the home of the attacker, the less the deterrent effect inherent in the home demolition,” she wrote. “Lacking a deterrent effect, the inevitable impression is that the home demolition is being sought as a solely punitive measure.”

The decision also noted that Atawna’s family was not accused of involvement or having knowledge of his intent to harm a soldier and did not express support for the attack after the fact.

Baron also explained why she thought the deterrent effect was reduced by the delay:

The passage of time results in disconnecting the ‘consciousness connection’ between the murder and the sanction against it, so that already at the time the demolition order was issued its deterrent power was in doubt …

The decision noted that due to the delay in issuing the order “the petitioners were left in a cloud of uncertainty about the fate of their home.” It’s hard to resist commenting that the Sorek family also will find themselves in a cloud, only it will not be five months, it will be for the rest of their lives, whenever they remember the son that was so cruelly and pointlessly taken from them.

What is interesting is that the dissenting judge, David Mintz, noted that the reason for the delay in issuing the demolition order was that since there was no confession, the IDF waited for Atawna to be convicted before issuing it! In other words, they wanted to be as fair as possible.

Until now the Supreme Court has usually avoided interfering with the IDF. But with this decision, the justices, who apparently believe that they are experts in the psychology of terrorists (“disconnecting the consciousness connection” – it sounds better in Hebrew but makes no more sense), and who base legal decisions on what feels right to them, have decided to second-guess the IDF as well.

Incidentally, I’m not an expert in psychology of terrorists either, but it seems to me that the certainty that it will occur is more important to the deterrent power of a home demolition than how long it takes to execute. And with this order, the Court has just demolished that certainty – and eviscerated yet another sanction against terrorism.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

"Should any man's wife go astray and deal treacherously with him… "

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

Should any man's wife go astray and deal treacherously with him… (Bamidbar 5:12)

This is where we part ways with Diaspora Jewry, for whom Shabbos will be Second-Day Shavuos, while we read Naso, b”H.

My next webinar, “Rules of Reincarnation,” is scheduled to start June 2, b”H. Write to for details.

CORONAVIRUS HAS CAUSED many changes to occur in the Torah world. A headline last week in one of the Charedi news sites bemoaned the death of many well-known and respected rabbis in Bnei Brak alone. And though many are beginning to return to their shuls once again in Israel, it is with caution, precautions, and masks. Others still prefer the “safer” outdoor environment.

One change is certainly going to be felt this Shavuos, b”H. Normally Shavuos is a great and joyous time for everyone to crowd the Battei Midroshos all over the place for all-night learning, followed by Shacharis at sunrise. The more the merrier. The more the greater the honor of Torah.

Warnings have already gone out that people have to be vigilant this Shavuos while abiding by the rules laid out by the Ministry of Health. Enthusiasm for Torah does not take priority over the health of others, or even ourselves. The Torah we are celebrating tells us exactly that.

When it comes to Succos, the Talmud says that rain signals Divine rejection, at least in Eretz Yisroel (it’s not yet the rainy season). It compares rain in the succah to water thrown back at a servant who had brought it to his master. Likewise, if after building a succah it rains and it prevents the proper fulfillment of the mitzvah, it’s as if God has rejected our effort.

Fortunately, we can learn Torah just about anywhere, b”H, in shul, at home, or even in the streets. And even if it will necessitate extreme measures like masks and social distancing, at least people will be learning Torah and celebrating the chag. If God is rejecting our “avodah,” at least it’s only part of it.

The truth is, it’s not even the avodah that we are being denied. We still prayed, either by ourselves on in street or garden minyanim. We found ways to continue on with Krias HaTorah away from the shuls, and many have pointed out some positive benefits of these changes as well.

The fear of death was certainly more pronounced in the beginning, aided by the media’s constant reporting of coronavirus cases and COVID-19 deaths. For a while cities were like ghost towns, and people retreated to the safety of their homes. Judging by the lifting of restrictions and people’s quick and sometimes unwarranted return to normality, that has ended.

As for the people who died, many “unexpectedly” and within the same time period as others, it’s not so clear cut. When God doesn’t want to shake us up, He arranges for people to die in ways that do not make us wonder. If He wants us to notice, then He does it in ways that make us pay attention and think about what is happening…even though all those who died may have died at the same time anyhow. (In a week, b”H, I hope to start my next webinar on reincarnation, during which I will discuss the idea of “early” death.) Some, maybe even many, believe that what has happened has nothing or little to do with the Jewish people, at least in any specific way. Even though the Talmud says quite clearly that all punishment comes to the world because of the Jewish people (Yevamos 63a), this pandemic happened to affect a lot of people other than the Jewish people.

You have to be careful about thinking like that. We just finished reading in Parashas Bechukosai that God only sends more troubles to the Jewish people when we downplay the specific Divine origin of the ones we already have. And a lot of them would have definitely constituted pandemics when they occurred.

On the other hand, as we learn from the redemption from Egypt and Babylonia, not everything is punishment, per se. Usually we’re not ready when redemption comes, and require a spiritual upgrade to be a part of an impending one. That was the increased slavery Pharaoh imposed upon the Jewish people before the plagues came, and the mental anguish Haman caused through his plan to exterminate the Jews.

Of course, God is capable of carrying many agendas at one time, punishing some, preparing others, or both. Sometimes He does what He does to implement changes that we should make on our own, but haven’t. Like it or not, we change because of the situation, and the only question is, will we revert back once the situation quietens down again.

There is something to be learned about all of this from this week’s parsha, especially regarding the mitzvah of the Sotah. She is the woman who causes herself to become suspected of adultery, forcing her husband to bring her up to the Temple for Divine verification. Her illicit seclusion with a forbidden man, even if nothing happened, set in motion a very long and complex process to clarify the truth.

If she is guilty, then the miraculous waters she is forced to drink will cause her a horrible death, together with the man with whom she was in seclusion, wherever he is at the time. If she is innocent, she will survive the drink and instead have children with her husband, and life will go on for them together.

The question is, why was all of this necessary for something God could have revealed without all the dramatics and erasing of the Divine Name to make the “Sotah Waters”? There were many prophets through whom God could have revealed her secret of guilt or innocent, keeping it off of the public agenda. We’re not talking Hollywood where drama is the name of the game and source of big bucks. We’re talking about God, Whose entire concern is simply the truth. Any drama HE creates is purely for us.

The main thing about the Sotah is the secrecy. The adultery is one thing. It’s the fact that something so “abnormal” is done with a desire to actually make things appear to others as if they are still normal. The inability to control oneself is suicide enough, but the fact that the adulterers deceived their families and the society of which they are supposed to be a part kills others as well. Their fatal attraction to one another attacked the very foundation of life upon which so many others have built their lives.

This makes the sin of the Sotah about much more than just the cheating man and woman. It’s a societal issue, so God has made sure that society is involved in the result and subsequent punishment. Even the woman who is proven innocent compromised herself to such an extent that doubt about her loyalty arose, and had to prove her innocence. People who care about people are careful about such things, and when we are don’t care enough, then we are ALL like the Sotah to some degree.

“And I will expose you,” God tells the perpetrators, miraculously. I will create scenarios that you cannot escape and which will show the world who you are and what you are really like, no matter what kind of face you wear in public. Your guilt will be revealed, and Emet—Truth will be served.

You know why Lavan was called “lavan—white”? So that it would become so obvious to everyone just how “black” his deeds really were. Sometimes people are called what they are called because the title fits. Sometimes they are called the complete opposite of who they really are, as a matter of Divine Providence, to make it so clear to others just how bad they are.

The coronavirus, whatever it is and wherever it came from and for whatever reason it got out, is from God. Nothing happens without His approval, though for the sake of free will, He prefers to keep His involvement somewhat mysterious. So He works through all kinds of channels, taking advantage of good and evil people alike, each to play their role in HIS plan. Someone’s belief in God, or disbelief in Him, just determines the part God gives them to play, either as a “good” guy or a “bad” guy.

But at the end of the day, at least from the perspective of the Jew, it has to all plug into the eventual redemption. Whatever we’re seeing happen today, it is all just a means to a redemption end. Drama and intrigue aside, God is moving pieces around to reveal hidden truths to help the Jewish people better assess where we are holding in this last and final exile, to know what to do as we approach the end. Additional information can be found on Twitter at @pwinston36.

The redemption begins on Pesach. It’s supposed to end on Shavuos. Maybe even this year, b”H.

The Shamrak Report: End of the PA - Fake Promise

by David Israel
Mahmoud Abbas declared an end to the agreements and understandings signed with Israel and the United States and turned over responsibility over the liberated territories back to Israel. The Israeli occupation authority, as of today, has to shoulder all responsibilities and obligations in front of the international community as an occupying power over the territory of the occupied state of Palestine... particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which holds the occupying power responsible for the protection of the civilian population under occupation and their property, criminalizes collective punishment, bans theft of resources, appropriation and annexation of land, bans forced transfer of the population of the occupied territory and bans transfer of the population of the occupying state to the land it occupies, which all are grave violations and war crimes, Abbas said.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention deals with deportations, transfers and evacuations in an occupied territory. But in order for a territory to be occupied, it must be taken by force from its previous owner. But the west bank of the Jordan River was not the legitimate property of any government since it had been abandoned on May 15, 1948 by the British government. (The  Article 49 is relevant to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War not during the peace time It was actually adopted almost immediately after Israel won the Independence war to prevent removal of the enemy population from the Jewish land!)
The entire area which used to be controlled by Great Britain effectively became a no man s land. Israel, in keeping with UN resolution 181, declared its ownership of part of the land which was recognized by a majority of the UN member countries. Jordan, which maintained military control over the west bank, never received broad international recognition of its rights there, and so, when the IDF invaded the area, on June 9, 1967, it was obtaining a no man s land. (Fake Palestinians were not even mentioned in UN resolution 242)
Also: Article 49 talks about the occupying power moving by force its civilians to settle them on the defeated country s lands. But in Israel s case, most of the moving was done through private enterprises, often against the will of the government.
Still, Chairman Abbas appears to be inviting Israel to take over his (PA controlled) territory not for the first time. Back when the world still cared about the Palestinians", it would make some noise when the aging dictator made these grand statements. Now, since no one in the region gives a hoot, it might be time to take him at his word. (There was never a "state of Palestine" - this is Jewish landAfter reclamation/annexation of Judea and Samaria, the next step is implementation of the Sinai Option!)
Food for Thought. by Steven Shamrak
Most Jews have no knowledge of modern history or comprehension of the legality behind the creation of Israel. They must understand why the retrieval of the Jewish lands from enemy occupation after the war of the Independence and the Six Days war complies with contemporary international law! Our enemies have been accusing Israel of breaking it, but they have never been able to state which international laws Israel has actually violated! Re-unification of the Jewish land is still in progress and government of Israel needs to expedite it!
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Over 255 fires broke out across Israel last week, including 196 fires in open areas, and 59 in urban areas. Firefighting planes operated in ten different locations, with 11 planes focusing on a fire set by Arabs near a military base in the Jordan Valley. Some 71 fires have erupted in Judea, Samaria, Benjamin and the Jordan Valley, of which many were deliberately set by Arabs. (They claim that it is their land, but have no respect or love for it!)
A cyber-attack on an Iranian port attributed to Israel was carried out in retaliation for a similar attack by Iran on an Israeli target. the May 9th cyber-attack on Iran was carried out in response to an attack Iran launched in late April against the water infrastructure an attack which failed.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United Arab Emirates of committing treachery and betrayal after its Etihad Airways made history, flying the first known direct commercial flight between Israel and the UAE. The Etihad cargo jet, painted in all white and missing any marking, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport just after 9 p.m. after seemingly flying a roundabout route through Iraq and either Jordan or Turkey. (All the efforts were made to make the flight 'invisible' - not exactly the 'treachery'!)
The Palestinian Authority (PA) rejected a humanitarian shipment of medical supplies sent by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) because it coordinated the shipment with Israel. Most likely, much of the aid will be directed to Gaza.
Hungary and Austria, the sole EU states that opposed sharp criticism of Israel by High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell warned against having a double standard against Israel. A Hungarian diplomatic source questioned the legality of statements that do not reflect a consensus in the EU. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said his country rejects prejudice against Israel and called to hold a dialogue with the new government.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, announced that he would vote against the application of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley due to the fact that it is a unilateral move rather than part of a political agreement. "I am not in favour of applying sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and over 13 points in the settlements without any coordination with the Jordanians." (Self-haters still don't get itIt is the Jewish land - Jordan was occupying it for 20 yearsOur enemies do not want to negotiate. They want to see the destruction of Israel!)
Quote of the Week:
There s a one-time opportunity to promote annexation as long as Trump is in place... we must move forward with the annexation now because we don t know what will happen in the US presidential election in November Biden may win. There s a window of opportunity now and therefore we should do it now. Ron Dermer, Israel s Ambassador to the United States - Dermer is also campaigning hard for speeding up the annexation process because he is aware of the disagreements within the Trump administration over annexation - and traditional anti-Israel attitude of the State Department!
Dogs of War are still Barking
In another poisonous speech marking Al Qods (Jerusalem) Day, Iran s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared on Friday, The Zionist regime will not survive and will be obliterated. Israel, he said, is a cancerous growth in the Middle East. Iran's supreme leader Khamenei spoke to the nation in a 30-minute speech aired on state television. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said The Zionist regime is a deadly, cancerous growth and a detriment to this region. It will undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech on Friday, Al-Quds Day. He opened his speech by saying "Palestine, the holy places, the Palestinian people, and the usurper entity is a religious and ideological position and therefore we cannot compromise or negotiate on it. Anyone who thinks they can change this position through sanctions or pressure is mistaken and must despair of their attempts to do so." (When will the government of Israel realise that only by removal of all enemies from Jewish land will this ugly status quo endWords are hollow, real and decisive action is needed!)