Monday, November 30, 2020

A Man Wrestled with Him

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

This parsha contains "a message for generations, for everything that occurred to our patriarch with his brother, Esav, will always occur to us with the descendents of Esav." (Ramban) All of Jewish history is encapsulated in that long night: "Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn." (Bereisheet 32:25) This "man" (Esav's angel) is Yaakov's eternal opponent, as Chazal say, "It is an accepted tradition, it is known that Esav hates Yaakov."

What is the basis of this eternal hatred?

The Rambam writes in Iggeret Teiman:

Because the Creator designated us with his commandments and his laws, and our greater worth over others is clear ... all the heathens were jealous of us (hated us) greatly because of our religion ... Their desire to is battle against G-d and to fight with Him, but He is G-d, so who can fight Him?

Therefore, the nations of the world fight against the nation that represents G-d in the world, as Yeshaya says, "You are my witnesses – the word of Hashem – and I am G-d." (43:12) Chazal comment: "It you are My witnesses, I am G-d, but if you are not My witnesses, I am, as it were, not G-d."

The Rambam's assertion that the war of the nations against Israel is, in truth, a war against G-d, is explicit in numerous verses. For example, in the end of Parshat Ha'azinu, it says: "I shall return vengeance upon My enemies, and upon those who hate Me I shall bring retribution." (Devarim 32:41) The Ramban comments on this: "Out of their hatred of G-d they do all these bad things to us, and they are His enemies and His haters." Sefer Tehillim similarly begins: "Why do nations gather, and regimes talk in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the princes conspire secretly, aginst Hashem and against His anointed." What do they want? "Let us cut off their cords and let us cast off their ropes from ourselves." (Tehillim 2:1-3) The Divine ideal that the Jewish People represent in the world is something that burdens the nations, and they aspire to free themselves from the moral yoke that Israel places upon them. Hitler said to the German author Hermann Rauschning: "Providence destined me to be the great liberator of mankind ... I am liberating mankind from the moral bonds of Judaism."

This is not to say that every non-Jew is cognizant of this viewpoint, but subconciously they protect themselves from Judaism through this hatred. Rav Kook zt"l writes (Orot p. 49):

The idolatrous view recognized in Israel, in Judaism, its greatest enemy, the force that, in proportion to its spreading, it [the idolatrous viewpoint] will be constrained in the world, and a great, instinctive, hatred of Israel came forth from all the nations.

In greater detail, Rav Kook writes (Orot p. 157):

Until the time of the ultimate redemption we have bestowed upon the world only teachings of obligations; morals and justice which emanate from the Divine Truth. However, the world does not want to accept obligations, and, if it does accept, hatred remains in the heart towards the primary advocate for the knowledge of the obligation, which does not allow the barbaric spirit to expand to its full desire. However, when the time will come for the light of the world to be revealed, the world will recognize that we are bestowing upon the world the ways of life of true pleasure ... and pleasure and happines is something relevant to all, at least to desire, and the beneficing source of satisfaction and pleasure is honored and cherished. Therefore, "Ten men, of all the [different] languages of the nations, will take hold ... of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man." (Zechariah 8:23)

The end of the struggle is hidden in the completion of that night: "When he percieved that he could not overcome him ... He said, 'Let me go, for dawn has broken.'" (Bereisheet 32:26-27) The struggle is possible only during the night, while the darkness still covers the earth, but when the morning breaks the truth is revealed. The angel of Esav seeks to disengage and stop the struggle, but Yaakov is not prepared to do so. He demands Esav's admission, since without this – the struggle cannot conclude and it will renew in the future in various issues. Yaakov said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me'" – when you admit that not only is Israel not a reason for hatred, but rather a source of blessing.

Already in the trial of the akeidah Hashem said to Avraham, "I shall surely bless you ...and your offspring shall inherit the gate of its enemy. All the nations of the earth shll bless themslves by your offspring." (Bereishit 23:16-17) Avraham was blessed with two blessings. One is his strength and eternity, that this nation will never be overcome and that it will always inherit its enemies. The second is the spiritaul blessing that testifies as to its destiny – "All the families of the earth shll bless themslves by you." (28:14) All the nations will ultimately recognize the special quality and worth of Am Yisrael, and that it brings blessing to the world.

Indeed, Esav's angel accepted this – "He blessed him there." He conceded to him about the blessings and the birthright. This is a sign for the descendents that in the end of days all will come and say: (Yeshaya 2:2-3)

"Let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the G-d of Yaakov, and He will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in His paths." For from Zion will the Torah come forth, and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim.

Ya'akov's Messengers

by HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El

DISPATCHING ANGELS
"And Ya'akov sent malachim to his brother Esav to the land of Se'ir in the field of Edom." Our sages deliberated on the question of who these "malachim" exactly were: One view is that they were indeed human agents - namely, messengers, of Ya'akov Avinu. Another view is that they were actual angels. "Rav Hama Bar Chanina said: Hagar was our matriarch Sara's maidservant, and angels appeared to her; is it not all the more logical that angels would appear to Ya'akov, who was the beloved of [God's] house?"

We should, however, take note of a key distinction between the revelation of angels to Hagar, to Eliezer (Avraham's servant), to Yosef, in comparison to their contact with Ya'akov. In the latter case, if we are to read the term malachim literally, from the verse we learn that Ya'akov actually sends the angels on a mission! They adhere to his orders! This type of relationship defies all that we know to be true about what is within man's capabilities, since it is clear that humans are on a lower spiritual level than the celestial angels; if so, how could he order them to carry out his wishes? We have no choice but to conclude that the Torah is telling us that Ya'akov Avinu was on a higher level than the angels! He is able not only to meet them, as did other Biblical personalities, but he was also able to commission them to fulfill his wishes.

SOMETHING IN COMMON
Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook (of blessed memory) notes that, in Jewish law, an agent must share his sender's level of obligation to perform Torah mitzvot (commandments) Thus, in Jewish law, a non-Jew is an invalid agent. (This means, for example, that a Jew cannot appoint a non-Jew to light his - the Jew's - Chanukah candles, since a non-Jew is not obligated to observe the holiday.) This criterion is rooted in the principle that an agent stands in the place of the one who sends him: "A person's agent is like himself."

Question: How is it therefore possible that angels could function as the agents of a human being? Angels are not "Children of the covenant!" in any sense of the word! Rav Kook's answer: Angels fulfill the Divine will naturally, without having to be commanded. In a similar fashion, our forefathers fulfilled the Torah not because they were commanded to do so, but because the fulfillment of mitzvot emanated from the depth of their very being.

The forefathers thus share something in common with angels - in the sense that both beings are fulfillers of the Divine will; though Ya'akov is human and the angels are not, his nature, too, prompts him, in an angel-like fashion, to perform God's will. This perspective helps us understand how Ya'akov could appoint angels as agents to act on his behalf.

Looking at things this way, we can come to appreciate the spiritual loftiness of the fathers of our nation - people who existed somewhere between the physical and spiritual worlds, out of a complete and natural connection with the word of God, a connection that led them to experience ongoing encounters with the word of God and with his ministering angels.

IMITATIO DEI
In this world - as illustrated on numerous occasions in the Torah and Talmud - we find that God gives power to righteous people to resemble their Creator: to stop rains, to revive the dead, etc. Yet, there is a reality that is loftier than that of the world as we know it, a reality that the world will enter in future days, when the world reaches its ultimate state of perfection, when it becomes "filled with the splendor of God." At that time, it will become apparent that the entirety of the physical world is insignificant compared to the reality of God's existence. This is what our tradition means when it says that, on that day, "God will remain alone."

Our sages add that at that time, it will also become apparent that Ya'akov Avinu had a lion's share of this Divine quality. Ya'akov succeeded in raising himself to a level at which the entirety of existence was, so to speak, as naught, relative to him. In other words, Ya'akov strove for and reached the pinnacle of what a person must try to become. The entire world exists by his merit, he therefore possesses the quality of "Ein Od Milvado" -"There is none except for him" - a phrase normally reserved for God Himself.

In the book "Nefesh haRav," Rav Yosef Soleveitchik is quoted as saying that just as it is incumbent on a person to cleave to the ways of the Creator and His attributes ("Just as He is compassionate, so should you be compassionate, just as He is merciful, so should you be, etc) similarly, just as God is the One and only unique existence, so should man try to cleave to this quality, and to strive to reach his own personal potential. Every person has unique qualities, a special synthesis of his physical and spiritual self - not present in any other person. Man is obliged to develop the unique side of who he is as an individual, and not to simply defer to others.

An illustration of this concept can be found in a statement of the Vilna Gaon, who taught that after the sealing of the Babylonian Talmud, every "Talmid Chacham," (Torah scholar) has permission to study the Talmud to his heart's content, and should not, in the course of his Torah study, defer to other scholars that preceded him, who lived after the canonization of the Talmud. Thus, according to the Gaon, if a Torah scholar whose learning has led him to a halachic conclusion against that arrived at by the Shulchan Aruch, - and he (the Torah scholar) nevertheless rules in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch on that very issue - he has transgressed a Torah prohibition!

INDIVIDUALITY AND INCLUSIVENESS
Ya'akov Avinu possesses the quality of "Levado," of being alone - he has a unique personality unlike that of anyone else in the world. We find that the each of our forefathers possessed unique qualities. Avraham specialized in Chesed, in the performance of kind acts towards others; Yitzchak was the master of "Din" - of self-restraint; Ya'akov Avinu was known for his adherence to, and love of truth.

On the other hand, we find a certain inclusivist quality in the patriarchs, of a willingness to negate their own personal egos in their efforts toward building of the Jewish nation, and of perfecting the world as a whole. In fact, our sages point out that of the three patriarchs, Ya'akov is the most inclusivist, most all encompassing of all. If so, then, there is no contradiction between developing one's unique personality and maintaining one's connection and commitment to the nation as a whole. The opposite is in fact, true: the ideal Jew finds his own fulfillment in his ongoing concern for his fellow Jews. One's own unique personality is cultivated and enriched by his concern for others...

The Two Battles of Yaakov

by Rabbi Dov Berl Wein

Many commentators over the ages have seen in the two confrontations between Yaakov and Eisav – first the struggle with Eisav’s angel and then the meeting with Eisav in the flesh –the two-front war that Judaism and the Jewish people have been forced to fight over millennia in order to simply survive.

The struggle with Eisav’s angel, as described in the parsha, represents a spiritual and intellectual fight, a contest of ideas, beliefs and debate. The meeting with the physical Eisav in turn represents the struggle of the Jewish people to simply stay alive in a bigoted, cruel, and nearly fatal environment.

Yaakov does not escape unscathed from either confrontation. He is crippled physically and somewhat impoverished financially. Eisav’s "evil eye" gazes upon his children and Yaakov is relieved to escape alive, even if damaged in body and purse, separating himself from Eisav physically and from his civilization and worldview.

The scenario is pretty much set for the long dance of Jewish history, with the Jews always attempting to survive in a constantly challenging and brutal society governed by Eisav. The rabbis of Midrash discussed the possibilities of coexistence and even cooperation with Eisav.

Though this debate did not result in any permanent or convincing conclusion, the opinion of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai that Eisav’s hatred of Yaakov is completely irrational and implacable seems to be borne out by history, past and present.The anti-Semitism in today’s seemingly enlightened world is so pervasive as to be frightening. And we seem to be powerless to do anything about it.

As is painfully obvious to all, these struggles for continued Jewish existence are ongoing and seemingly unending. All of the foreign ideas and current fads of Western society stand almost unanimously opposed to Torah values and traditional lifestyle. The angel of Eisav changes his program from time to time, but he is always opposed to Torah and moral behavior.

He wavers from totalitarian extreme conservatism to wild liberalism but always is able to wound the Jewish psyche and body no matter what philosophy or culture he now advocates. We limp today from this attack on Jewish values and Torah study and practice.

Jewish parents in America sue school boards for anti-Semitic attitudes, policies and behavior. Yet they would not dream of sending their children to a Jewish school or giving them an intensive Jewish education. The lawsuit is the indicator of the limp inflicted upon us by Eisav’s cultural angel.

All agree that Europe is currently a lost continent as far as Jews are concerned. The question most asked of travel agents by Jews today is "Can I wear a kippah on the street there?" Billions of dollars of Jewish treasure pillaged during World War II and immediately thereafter still lie in the hands of Eisav.

And yet we certainly would be satisfied if the world just let us alone but that seems to be a forlorn hope. So our struggle continues but the Lord’s promise to us that we will somehow prevail remains valid and true. And that is our hope for continuing on as loyal and steadfast Jews.

Individual Stones and Communal Stones

by HaRav Shaul Yisraeli, zt"l
Rosh HaYeshiva, Mercaz HaRav
Rosh Kollel, Eretz Hemda
Chaver, Beit Din HaGadol Yerushalayim


(based on Siach Shaul, p. 106-8)

[Below are excerpts of an address Rav Yisraeli gave as part of a gathering of rabbis to remember Yeshivat Volozhin, which had closed approximately half a century before the event.]

In our parasha, we are told that Yaakov made a monument (matzeva) of stone upon his return to Eretz Yisrael (Bereisheet 35:14), as he had promised when he was leaving the Land (ibid. 28:22). Chazal tell us that this stone was the even ha’shtiya (which stood on the place of the aron during the Second Temple Period). The Ramban (ad loc.) explains that the reason that it became forbidden to use monuments, which Hashem hates (Devarim 16:22), even though previously they were beloved, is that the idol worshippers had turned them into a part of their service.

We can expand on this idea within a broader philosophical light. We can break up modes of service of Hashem into two parts – the way the forefathers served Hashem, and the way the Israelite nation did. The fundamental difference between them is that the forefathers served as individuals, whereas the nation served as a community. Each of the three forefathers served through his own spiritual powers, with each one innovating and breaking new spiritual grounds. Avraham had a son other than Yitzchak, and Yitzchak had a son other than Yaakov. But each one was left out of the legacy, and the torch of service of Hashem was passed to an individual. Thus, the forefathers’ service was like a matzeva, with a single stone serving as a ladder that leads to a state of clinging to Hashem.

Afterwards, though, the Jewish Nation was established, and we quickly start having distinctions. There are Levi’im and Yisraelim, those who are close and those who are distant, upper and lower echelons. Yet all of them join together to form one mizbe’ach (altar). A higher pillar cannot exist if it does not rest on a lower pillar. With no foundation, there is no building.

"When it rested, he would say: ‘Return, Hashem, unto the ten thousands and thousands of Israel’" (Bamidbar 10:36). Chazal teach us that the Divine Presence dwells on no less than 22,000 Jews (Yevamot 63b). When one of these people is missing, no matter how simple or distant a person he is, that missing piece of the edifice causes the whole structure to be untenable, and the Divine Spirit will not dwell. This is what an altar represents, and this is what the Israelite nation is about – one united altar made of many pieces of stone.

The Volozhiner Yeshiva made the existence of the town of Volozhin famous, while the people and history of its Jewish community remain mainly unknown. However, without the town and other towns like it, the yeshivot, which produced great Torah giants, could not have existed. Unfortunately, we do not have many communities like Volozhin in Eretz Yisrael these days, which are willing to do that which it takes to form a yeshiva. Our village (K’far Haro’eh, with its modest hard work and its very Israeli lifestyle, worked hard to build a home for the home of Torah (Yeshivat K’far Haroeh), with an atmosphere that is conducive to the development of a Torah institution.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Rav Kook's Ein Ayah: Connection in Blood and the Right Place for the Mila

Connection in Blood
(based on Ein Ayah, Shabbat 14:4)

Gemara: [We continue with the story of Rav moving from Eretz Yisrael to Bavel (a critical event that changed the balance between the two communities). We are in the midst of Karna’s questioning of Rav, at Shmuel’s behest.] How do you know that blood (regarding nida) is red? It is as it says: “Moav saw opposite them that the water appeared red like blood” (Melachim II, 3:22).

Ein Ayah: Karna wanted to hint that Eretz Yisrael is beloved. Not only is it very holy so that the Torah can only cling to pure material in the Holy Land, but Karna also wanted to remind Rav of the natural love that the nation has for the Land. This finds expression in the spilling of the blood of the brave soldiers of Israel over the generations. They did this with great zealousness in battles when the enemy wanted to destroy, take the Land, and expel the Jews from it.

This red blood demonstrates the natural clinging to the Land due to eternal love for it, which causes the willingness to sacrifice one’s life. This connects one to the covenant regarding the Land, to the extent that nothing can break the holy bond.

It is cause for concern when the circumstances cause a weakening of the connection between the Land and the nation, so much so that the generation’s greatest scholar was forced to leave the Land. That is why Karna stressed the connection to the Land of our Heritage, both on the level of sanctity and of natural feeling toward it. Therefore he asked how we know that blood is red and creates the powerful and unbreakable connection between the nation and the Land.

The Right Place for the Mila
(based on Ein Ayah, Shabbat 14:5)

Gemara: How do we know that the mila is done on the sexual organ? It says here “orlato” (his foreskin – Vayikra 12:3), and it says later (regarding fruit in the tree’s first three years – ibid. 19:23) “orlato.” Just like there it is a thing that gives fruit, so too here it is an organ that gives fruit. Maybe it is his heart, as it says “I will cut off the orla of your heart” (Devarim 10:16)? Maybe it is his ear, as it says: “Alas, it is the orla of their ear” (Yirmiyahu 6:10)? We learn from where it says orla in a complete way, not an incomplete way (i.e., not “orla of X”).

Ein Ayah: It is an important, deep principle that the foundation of the spiritual sanctity must be connected to the material world. This is in line with the whole idea of the soul coming down to the world to do its work within a material body specifically. Along similar lines, the special spiritual attributes of Israel had to be connected specifically to the material side of Eretz Yisrael.

[Karna wanted to point out] the holy value of the brit (covenant) which was engraved in our flesh. Hashem ensured that our special character would remain for generations by connecting it to our physical flesh. It cannot be accomplished by doing a mila on something spiritual like the heart, even though it is so wonderfully connected to a person’s morality. It also does not help to do a mila of the ear, representing preparing a person to hear and accept lofty matters. These things can be significant only after there is a mila in the very material flesh in a manner that impacts upon all generations. When the orla is removed from flesh by doing the eternal brit, then it is also possible to remove extraneous things from the heart and ear. The mila is in the place that “produces fruit.” That flesh is elevated by the “partial mila.” That is why we learn the place of the mila from the place of orla fruit.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Rabbi Ari Kahn on Parashat Vayeitze: Family

 

Minds Made Up

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Why is it impossible today to convince anyone of anything they don’t already believe?

I have found this to be so at least for the last decade. People’s positions have hardened and most are impervious to reasoned analysis. Even being shown how their arguments are logically flawed, factually incorrect or intellectually unsustainable makes absolutely no headway. Providing examples of their assumptions being proved dead wrong falls on deaf ears. I have been told by too many people whose views were just incorrect or whose opinions I saw as misguided and subject to adjustment based on facts or the disproof of their assumptions something along the lines of: “You are a good debater. I can’t debate you. But this is my opinion and I am sticking to it.” Whether or not words like this are uttered to you, this sentiment is widely held and happens more than we care to admit. It seems as if people would rather donate a vital organ than change their mind about something.

It doesn’t even matter if the subject at hand is politics, science, history, sports, religion or some other weighty topic. People would rather disengage from a dialogue in which their beliefs might be challenged or refuted than actually confront them, defend them or change them. How did we arrive at such a stage, in which minds are so made up that true dialogue is dead?

One answer often suggested, and it strikes a chord, is the lack of mutual respect accorded to contrary viewpoints. The oft-repeated trope is that many people on the left perceive people on the right as not just wrong but evil, whereas many people on the right perceive people on the left as fools. It is hard to have a rational conversation with people for whom you have such disdain, although, in truth, it is always tempting to try to educate the fool; that is why people on the right have become the great defenders of free speech. It is distasteful, even morally repugnant, to try to educate people whom you believe are irredeemably evil; hence the contempt on the left for the Western norms of free speech. If people on the right can only articulate “hate speech” (defined as anything with which the left disagrees) then such “hate speech” must be banned. It certainly should not be confronted in any type of discourse, public or private.

But I think the problem is even deeper than that.

Leo Tolstoy wrote (The Kingdom of God Is Within You) that “the most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

Too many people don’t know what they don’t know, and what they think they know is often wrong but so entrenched in their personalities and value systems that a refutation of those notions followed by a transformation in their thinking would be unbearable. They are thus subject to confirmation bias, assimilating only those points, vignettes, anecdotes or studies that validate their thinking and rejecting (sometimes not even hearing or even entertaining) all others.

Part of the problem is the existence of “alternate facts,” a phrase unwittingly coined by Kellyanne Conway and mocked by the left-wing media but something, properly understood, that has a ring of truth to it. This is what she meant: people only internalize the “facts” that support their positions and do not recognize the flaws, weaknesses or questionability of those facts. For example, much has been made about the imperative of following the “science.” But what if the science is in dispute? Many scientists tout the effectiveness of mask-wearing during the current pandemic, but others argue and say its effects are positive but limited. Non-transmission requires other factors beyond, and more important, than mask-wearing.

Scientists differ on whether or not people with antibodies can be re-infected. Scientists differ on the effectiveness of the hydroxychloriquine protocol, with formal studies bashing it and case studies (I personally know people whose lives were saved by it) endorsing it. Obviously, one’s opinion about these “facts” is influenced by the politics of the matter.

“Alternate facts” are also fueled by the rise of the self-appointed expert class who presumably know more than the rest of us. Their errors, though, are doozies. In late February, one well known expert, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a top Obama/Biden aide, decried the “overreaction” to the Corona virus and predicted the “warm weather” of summer would end it anyway. He is still advising, opining, and dictating. Not to pick on him, but he is typical of the expertocracy that are as wrong as often as they are right and almost never held accountable for their mistakes. But their mere existence provides the argument that their acolytes are seeking and precludes any dialogue. After all, the science has spoken.

In another and less polemical or sensitive realm, social science studies that are endlessly circulated by a lazy media have been routinely exposed as bogus. In the language of the trade, it is called the “replication crisis,” because as many as 70% cannot be independently duplicated. They make a big splash upon release, shape people’s attitudes and even values, and turn out to be based on gossamer. Thus, “people who are more analytical are less likely to hold religious beliefs.” Bogus. Or, “students exposed to a text that undermined their belief in free will were more likely to engage in cheating behavior.” Bogus. Add to this list the studies that “prove” that coffee is harmful or not harmful, that low-fat, high-fat, low- carb, high-carb diets are good or not good.

Part of the problem is small sample size, another is the need to be published (which gets the author fame and more money for grants) but the biggest problem is that the researchers are “searching” for the answer they want, and they almost always find it even if they have to fabricate the conclusions.

And then, many of the easily replicable studies are replicable because they are so obvious, to the point of being frivolous. Take the recent study that offered the stunning revelation that “children of intermarried Jews grow up with a very weak Jewish identity.” Gee, who would’ve thought that?! I could have saved the sponsors of the study a lot of money. This notion too has been confirmed by a study published this past August: “Laypeople Can Predict Which Social-Science Studies Will Be Replicated Successfully.” You can’t make this up… or maybe you could. Who knows if that study is accurate!

The idea of “alternate facts” exists in the Torah world as well. The citation of an opinion, no matter how obscure, is accepted on the religious left when it justifies their predetermined conclusion. “I follow Rabbenu Simcha – but only on this!” The recent travesty of the media trumpeting “Orthodox” rabbis performing same-sex marriages is a perfect example. No “Orthodox” rabbi would do that, any more than he would officiate at an intermarriage, endorse the consumption of pork on Yom Kippur or embrace the Trinity as Jewish doctrine.

When each side to a debate possesses “alternate facts,” reasoned dialogue becomes impossible. And when the “alternate facts” are based on personal stories of hardship and struggle, often very compelling stories but not objective facts at all, then it becomes impossible even to relate to the other side, much less convince or be convinced by them.

The existence of “alternate facts” has also played a role in the rejection of the concept of objective truth. Each person can possess his or her own truth if there really is no truth – and then go try to persuade them that there is. It is a dialogue of the deaf. Additionally, there was a time not long ago that reasonable people could disagree on issues without making their dispute personal and therefore irreconcilable. It was not just the matter of disagreeing without being disagreeable but mostly that there was a distinction between what is considered “business” and what is “personal.” I certainly had that in the rabbinate for many decades and was blessed with it in Teaneck (we didn’t always agree but it was never personal). Those lines have been blurred, partly because of the determination that some Torah ideas are intrinsically immoral, G-d forbid, and those who express them are beyond the pale. One who holds the “wrong” views on women’s issues, for example, can easily be castigated as benighted, unworthy or worse.

Finally, minds are made up because, for all intents and purposes, we all live today in an echo chamber of our own creation. (Not me! I’m happy to say that I’ve changed my mind on a couple of things. Like the old saw goes, you should have an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out.) In the United States it is certainly true. The political division reflects a physical division in the country. Most people live in states that, for example, voted overwhelmingly for Trump or Biden. People now live among their own (certainly in the Jewish world it is like that also), thinking and acting in similar ways, and sharing values and religious beliefs. The coasts tend to be secular and progressive, and the heartland is called the “Bible Belt” for a reason. In New York and California, the free expression of religious ideas is under attack and religious worship is not fully valued by the state.

The explosion of media has allowed people to get their news from the source that bolsters, but never challenges, their opinions. The “other side” is not presented, as much as it is ridiculed – and, I will say it, the exception being the news programs on Fox News. (The other networks generally offered a Democrat who hates Trump, and for balance, a Republican who hates Trump.) In the prevailing environment, most people therefore simply do not know what they do not know, few have an interest in finding out, and they will never discover that what they “know” just might not be so. Minds can never change as they do not have access to other information that might cause them to change.

There is a handy solution, which is not to say that it is simple. Seek the truth rather than an intellectual triumph over the other person. Be prepared to act on that truth, for that is intellectual and moral honesty. Be open and intellectually curious. “Who is wise? He who learns from all people” (Avot 4:1). You cannot learn anything while talking to people with whom you agree. So seek out people with whom you disagree, engage them, do not demonize them or their views, and the free and open exchange of ideas and opinions will be refreshing. Focus on facts more than feelings, and rather than refer to numerous studies that prove nothing, can’t be replicated and are often just tendentious, search for moral clarity in the Torah and the Talmud.

It is there. It is real. “Uncover my eyes so that I may behold the wonders from Your Torah” (Tehillim 119:18). And remember that we are “all presumed blind until G-d enlightens us” (Midrash Breisheet Raba 53:14). We might surprise ourselves and even better our world.

Pollard for President of Israel

Recently, five years to the day, after Jonathon Pollard was paroled (with severe restrictions) from the federal penitentiary, the US Parole Commission issued a certificate terminating parole and removing the restrictions that were imposed on him. He had served an excessive thirty years, of his injust life sentence, for transmitting classified information to Israel (convicted of Espionage, not Treason), in helping a friendly state.

It’s been claimed that Pollard only turned over to the Israelis, intelligence information that the Americans were obligated to pass on to Israel, under their security and defense cooperation agreements, but were holding back.

As such, Jonathon Pollard is now, “free to travel anywhere, including Israel, for temporary or permanent residence, as he wishes,” said his lawyers, Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman.

Details of his case, and the campaign to free Pollard, can be found at Justice for Johnathan Pollard.

But even with his release, the Americans and Israelis still have some Teshuva (repentance) to do, more on that later...

Lauer after the decision, told Israeli Channel 12 TV, that Pollard was “ecstatic” and determined to move to Israel but that it would take some time, because Pollard’s wife is undergoing medical treatment for cancer. Channel 12 TV speculated it could take several weeks.

Many public officials and personalities have expressed gratitude that this day of liberation has finally come. Some have even raised the issue of the cruel treatment, by the Americans, and betrayal by Israeli officials in the past.

The Women in Green movement, which struggled for Pollard’s release for years, welcomed the American decision not to extend Pollard’s restrictions.

Movement leaders, Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar, emphasized that the decision marks long years of injustice imposed on Pollard by the American legal system. “Every day that Pollard was imprisoned or confined was a day of grave injustice...The day Pollard comes to Israel will be a holiday for the entire Jewish people.”

“The entire State of Israel owes him a lot and it is doubtful whether it will be able to return to him a little of what it received from him, but it is its duty to do everything to give him all the best it has, they stated.”

That’s why I propose nominating Pollard for President of Israel. Elections by the Knesset members will be held in July 2021.

Katsover and Matar also said, “The State of Israel accepts Jonathan with great love...this slightly reduces the moral flaw, that clung to it, when it abandoned him and closed its gates to him.”

Former Defense Minister and Yamina Party Chairman Naftali Bennett welcomed the removal of restrictions on Jonathan Pollard. Bennett said, “V’Shavu Banim L’gvulam, ‘and the sons return to their borders.’ The State of Israel owes a deep debt to Jonathan Pollard who gave us over 30 years of his life, and we are waiting to welcome him and embrace him here, in the land of Israel which is his home, as soon as possible.”

So, I assume that Bennett would back a movement to draft Pollard for President of Israel.

Yamina Knesset Faction Chairwoman MK Ayelet Shaked also spoke out, “In the 19th Knesset, I served as Chairwoman of the lobby for the return of Pollard and as Justice Minister, I continued my activities until his release and thereafter. I sincerely hope that in the near future he and Esther will establish their home in Israel.”

Petach Tikva’s mayor, Rami Greenberg, quickly promised to name a square in the city center, “Jonathan Pollard Square.” Greenberg also expressed gratitude to the Trump administration, for terminating the limitations of Pollard’s parole.

Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who visited Jonathan Pollard in prison in the United States over the years, told Kan Moreshet,“I think that American Jewry should perhaps ask him for forgiveness. In an attempt to be considered kosher Americans, they simply ignored him. They forget that we are each other’s guardians and it’s not possible that they would turn their backs on someone who gave so much of himself for the people of Israel, what a waste.”

It’s true, organized American Jewry, fearful of the duel-loyalty accusation, pretty much hid their heads in the sand, while Pollard rotted in prison.

Rabbi Eliyahu then added, “If it were not for the people in Israel who sold him to the Americans, he would not have sat in prison. All the evidence that indicted him and put him in prison for so many years, was given by people in Israel. I heard these things directly from him when I was with him...There are people who were ministers in the government, two of them, who committed this crime, which is why Pollard was in prison. He did everything he did for the people of Israel, for the State of Israel. We should have lain on the fence for him but people preferred to save their skin and sell him out, which is a very serious matter...I did not name names, we are now in a happy time, but there were two people who could have saved him and they did not,” he added.

I’m sure that Shaked and Rabbi Eliyahu would support a movement to make Pollard, President of Israel. That would be the real Teshuva, the State of Israel could do for him.

Asher Mivzari, an activist prominent in the movement to free Jonathan Pollard, also blamed the Americans, “On the one hand, there is great joy and we are thankful to God that he survived all these thirty difficult years in prison, and another five years under restrictions. On the other hand, it’s late, because he should have been released long ago, even in terms of simple justice. For what he did in the US, you usually get five years in prison, but here there was such a severe punishment, that was out of all proportion. Even American officials [including those involved with his case] have stated that he should have been released long ago in terms of American justice,” Mivzari pointed out.

That’s why I say America still has a day of reckoning to come...

Mivzari also noted, the frequent visits of the late Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu to Pollard, “The rabbi visited Pollard ten times and this is something that gave him a lot of strength to hold on and survive throughout all those years. All these years he also did not think only of himself, he was very concerned for the people of Israel, for the State of Israel, for people who were hurt, injured in terrorist attacks and other things. His thoughts were not only about himself. He knew the problems and failures that had happened, but mostly his thoughts were on how to help the people of Israel and the State of Israel and his dream was to come and join the people of Israel and contribute all he can with the rest of his strength and do everything he can.”

What a fine concerned and selfless example to young Israelis, Pollard would be, as President of Israel. But not everyone is even happy that Pollard was finally released from all restrictions.

Former PM Ehud Olmert blasted the US government’s decision to nullify Jonathan Pollard’s parole restrictions. He argued, “With all due respect, I would prefer that he not move to Israel. We don’t owe him anything. He was a spy who worked for a lot of money. He was not a Zionist volunteer who came and sacrificed his life."

Olmert is one to talk about taking money, the jailbird.

He continued, Pollard “was an American who loved Israel and worked for a lot of money, spying for Israel. His spying was beneficial [to Israel], but when taking a full account, the damage caused to Israel’s interests, as a result of revealing his involvement, was the harshest in the history of US-Israel relations.”

“The danger of increasing this damage has not ended. If the prime minister will act like he does and have a festive welcoming ceremony for Pollard, we will pay a heavy price when there will soon be a new administration in America, worried Olmert.”

This is a non sequitur, because an incoming Biden administration already is planning a tough time for Israel. Just take a peak at the likely appointments Biden’s going to make, many of them Clinton operatives. A moderate-Left Democrat administration, will return Israel to the tone of the Obama years, with new problems. For example, the Trump Plan’s vision of a Palestinian state, encapsulated in policy for the first time, and for the first time, formally agreed to, by the current Israeli government.

Yisrael Beitenu leader, Avigdor Liberman, has also criticized Pollard, in an interview with KAN Radio. He said that Israel should not have drafted Pollard as a spy, and that his moving to Israel should not be celebrated.

What has Lieberman ever done to promote Israeli security?

How far Lieberman has fallen, from his Hebrew University student days, as a campus activist for Rabbi Meir Kahane’s far-right pro-Jewish Kach Movement.

And, idiot, pardon my English accent, Yedioth Ahronoth columnist, Nahum Barnea, who seems to have learned nothing since the Oslo War (Second Intifada), even with losing a son in the war; wrote, “Pollard does not have the heroism of the Nili organization, not even that of Eli Cohen. Have some proportion.” He, also opposes making Pollard a “national hero.”

Well, I don’t agree with Olmert, Lieberman, and Barnea, so much so, that I believe Pollard should be elected President of Israel.

Recently in an interview with 103 Radio FM, former PM Ehud Barak commented on the possibility of Netanyahu trying to get elected as the country’s president, to avoid facing criminal charges, calling it a “black day in Israel’s democracy.” This idea has been bandied about for awhile already. Barak also accused Netanyahu of tending to his personal affairs, while the country found itself mired in the “worst crisis in its history.”

I can agree with Barak, that Netanyahu should step aside from the race. Netanyahu’s often been accused of being Machiavellian, and politically very self-serving, this is his chance to go beyond that. I suggest to Netanyahu, since he’s claimed for years, that he’s done all he could to free Jonathan Pollard, he take the bold and courageous step, to throw his weight behind Pollard for President of Israel.

The position is largely ceremonial, as head of state, Pollard would represent Israel at conferences, state festivities, etc. The most significant action the president can take, is to grant pardons to prisoners, similar to the American president. Its the perfect “non-partisan” position for him, within the Israeli political constellation.

Who could best empathize with the pain of prisoners and their families, to give them a fair shake, and possibly overturn an injustice, than someone who sat in prison unjustly for thirty years, for the security of the Jewish people, and State of Israel?

Pollard for President of Israel.

Ariel Natan Pasko, an independent analyst and consultant, has a Master's Degree specializing in International Relations, Political Economy & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites and in newspapers. His latest articles can also be read on his archive: The Think Tank by Ariel Natan Pasko.

(c) 2020/5781 Pasko

The Yishai Fleisher Show - Feet on the Ground, Head in the Sky

Few images are as iconic as Jacob's dream of a ladder connecting Heaven and Earth in Biblical Beit El. Malkah Fleisher joins Yishai to remember their life in the modern Beit El which also called them back to Israel from the Diaspora. Then Rav Mike Feuer joins Rabbi Yishai to help Jacob deal with stones: a monument to a Godly promise, and a monument to an Earthly pact with Laban. Plus: A special song from the Torah portion by famous musician Chaim Dovid!

Your Place or Mine? Living in the Arms of Love

by Rabbi David Aaron

Jacob runs for his life to Charan because his brother Esau was out to kill him. The Bible records that on his way “he reached the place and spent the night there … and lay down to sleep.” (Genesis 28:11)

The Midrash –the Jewish Oral Tradition– interprets “the place” to mean “G-d.” G-d is “The Place” because according to the Kabbalah He made space within Himself for creation and always holds us all within His loving embrace. Therefore, His loving presence is our ground, context and place. Thus, it states:

Why do we refer G-d as “The Place?” Because He is the Place of the world (i.e. we exist within G-d) … G- d is the dwelling place of the world…

Jacob lived this truth. He always defined himself and his actions within the context of G-d. Therefore, even though Jacob lay down in a physical place, He experienced himself exiting within the arms G-d’s loving embrace.

To Live the Impossible Dream

The Torah describes Jacob’s dream as follows: “He had a vision in a dream, a ladder was standing on the ground and its top reached up towards the heaven. Angels of G-d were (first) going up and (then) down on him. And behold the Lord was standing over him.” The Midrash interprets Jacob’s dream in a fascinating way:

They were ascending and descending upon Jacob (i.e. the verse is understood to mean that Jacob had a dream and “Behold he was a ladder standing on the ground and his head reached heaven. And behold upon him angels of G-d were ascending and descending”)…this must mean that some were exalting him and others degrading him (so to speak, coming down on him), dancing, jumping and maligning him. Thus, it says in Isaiah 49:3, “Israel through you, I (G-d) will be glorified.” The angels who ascended and saw Jacob’s features engraved on high exalted him and those who descended below and found him sleeping degraded him. It may be compared to a king who sat and judged in a judgment chamber; people ascend to there and find him judging, they go out to the yard and find him sleeping.

In other words, Jacob is an absolute mystery for the angels. From the perspective of heaven, he was totally one with G-d and interfaced with Divinity — such was the intensity of his loving bond with G-d. His features were engraved, so to speak, within the oneness of G-d. He radiated godliness. The angels, therefore, exalted him because his Divine status was greater than theirs. However, from the perspective of the lower and physical world, Jacob was totally human, a mere physical creature bound to the body. So, when the angels found him sleeping, physically vulnerable and very un-godlike, they degraded him and jumped with joy that he was lower then them.

G-d, however, praised him, “Israel (referring to Jacob), through you I will be glorified.” Jacob revealed the mysterious and miraculous power of G- d’s love. He experienced himself at one with G-d and yet still knew that he was not one and the same as G-d. He was able to be both human and divine—one with G-d and yet other. He was able to be a ladder connecting heaven (spiritual) and earth (physical). He could keep his feet on the ground while having his head in heaven.

When Jacob awoke from his dream he declared, “G-d is in this place, but I did not know.” Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), the 11th century Torah commentator, takes this to mean that if Jacob had initially realized the holiness of the physical spot, he would have not gone to sleep there. In other words, Jacob would have felt uncomfortable to partake in such a purely human and physical act as sleep in such a holy place. But he now realized the full embrace of G-d’s loving presence including even his humanness and therefore he went back to sleep after the dream. (see verse 28:18)

G-d’s Promise
In the dream G-d came to him and promised, “I am the Lord, the G-d of Abraham your father, and the G- d of Isaac. I will give to you and your descendants the land upon which you are lying.” The Midrash explains that Jacob experienced G-d fold up all of the Land of Israel and place it under his head. Next G-d said, “Your descendents will be like the dust of the earth.” In other words, just as the dust of the earth is found in every corner of the world, so shall your children spread from one end of the earth to the other. And finally, G-d promised Jacob, “You will spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south.” According to the Midrash this means that Jacob and his descendents would transcend the limitations of space and encompass the world.

This is because Jacob mirrored G-d’s love and he too made a space and place in his life for G-d. He too held G-d in his loving embrace. Jacob was a living sanctuary for G-d. Therefore, the Zohar – the Kabbalistic classic – also calls Jacob “the place.” In other words, he made of himself a place for G-d and became a living sanctuary for the presence of G-d on earth.

Jacob’s intense love will be the inheritance of his descendents, the whole Jewish nation, when they build the third Temple, as it is written in Exodus 25:8, “They shall make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in them.” Then finally the whole world will become the living sanctuary for G-d on earth. As expressed by the prophet Isaiah 2:2-4: “Come let us go up to the mount of the Lord, to the House of the G-d of Jacob…”

At that time we will all know that there is not such thing as your place or mine. There is just One Place. G-d is “The Place” for humanity and humanity is the place for G-d. G-d lovingly accommodates and embraces us and we lovingly accommodate and embrace G-d. We will joyously experience all in One and the One in all.

Sleep; why do we need it so?

by Rav Binny Freedman

“War is Hell”; so said General William Tecumseh Sherman in the Civil War. But what exactly makes war ‘hell’? Most people, when hearing or reading about the horrors of war, think of the inevitable destruction, the fear of dying, and even the pressure of making a mistake that costs someone else their life. Indeed, war is full of uncertainty. But sometimes the devil is in the details, and one aspect of combat and military operations that does not get its due is pure exhaustion. It is hard to describe what it feels like to be expected to go on, after two and even three days with no sleep; when all you want to do, more than anything else in the world is curl up on the ground and close your eyes, but you can’t….

I can still remember being in Lebanon lying in an ambush waiting for terrorists that might come out of the darkness at any moment desperately trying to keep my eyes from closing, with the only thing keeping me awake the fear of being asleep and caught by surprise in an attack….

Sleep; why do we need it so? Why did Hashem (G-d) make it such an integral part of the human experience?

There is a fascinating detail in this week’s portion Vayetze that is often overlooked:

Yaakov in last week’s portion) (Toldot) is described as the “Ish tam Yoshev Ohalim”; the dweller of tents. (Bereishit (Genesis) 25:27). Rashi explains that Yaakov is unfamiliar with the ways of the world and is indeed, na├»ve. He is the apple of his mother’s eye, subsequently needing her help even to deceive his aging father who is practically blind.

In contrast to his brother Esau the hunter, Yaakov seems the innocent and passive son, the ’mama’s boy’. In fact, our portion begins with Yaakov fleeing his home before the wrath of Esau whom he (really his mother?) has deceived.

And yet, as this week’s portion Vayetze unfolds, Yaakov seems to come of age, rolling boulders off of wells, tricking the master con artist Lavan, and winning his bride, his beloved Rachel in the process.

What happened? Rashi also points out (ibid.) that Yaakov’s ‘tents’ are actually the yeshiva tents of Shem and Ever even noting (ibid. 28:9) based on 14 years that seem to be missing in the Torah’s chronology of Yaakov’s life, that Yaakov spent fourteen years studying in the fabled yeshiva (Yeshivat Shem ve’Ever) where the select few studied monotheism and existential philosophy with Shem, the legendary son of Noach.

How came the dweller of tents immersed in Torah and living in the intellectual ivory tower (today’s equivalent of Harvard and Yale?), to be the hero and warrior Yaakov has become?

When Yaakov leaves Beer Sheva, according to the Midrash (see Rashi ibid. 29:11) he is accosted by Esau’s son Eliphaz who threatens to kill him until Yaakov succeeds in averting disaster by giving Eliphaz all his worldly possessions . His only solution seems to be to avoid conflict; he takes the passive route, which fits the character of Yaakov we have come to know.

After all, when seeking the blessings from his father Yitzchak he does not confront Esau, rather deceiving him with his mother’s help. And yet, a short while later(ibid. 29:1-11), when arriving at the well on the outskirts of Haran where he will encounter his future father in law, the cunning Lavan, suddenly Yaakov becomes larger than life , confronting the shepherds and rolling a massive boulder off the well!

How did this transformation come to be? What did Yaakov experience that seemingly transformed him?

What happened in between Yaakov’s departure from his childhood home (and midrashically from the house of study) and his arrival at the well in Haran?

Well, actually, he took a nap!

The only real action Yaakov takes between leaving Beer Sheva and arriving in Haran is … to fall asleep!

The Torah, which does not normally pay attention to such details, takes the time to note that Yaakov arrives at… “The place” (ibid. 28: 11) and sleeps there because the sun has set.

This, it seems, is no ordinary nap; Yaakov here has his famous dream of a ladder with angels, and has a deep spiritual encounter with G-d who then promises him that he will one day return to inherit the land (Israel) on which he lies.

Incredibly, though aroused from his slumber (ibid. v. 16), declaring his realization that he is in ’the place of G-d’, he actually goes back to sleep! Only in the morning (ibid. v. 18), will he build an altar, subsequently continuing on his journey to Haran and the encounter with the shepherds at the well.

Why is his sleep important? The Torah could easily have told us Yaakov encountered G-d, or even had a dream, from which we would have deduced that he slept. As an example, when G-d first comes to Avraham (ibid. 12:1) there is no mention of whether Avraham was awake or in a dream; a pattern that repeats itself throughout Avraham and Yitzchak’s encounters with G-d. (ibid. 15:1; G-d comes to Avraham in ‘a vision’ but it does not say whether he was awake or asleep…)

So why is it so important here? Why the emphasis on Yaakov sleeping? What indeed is sleep all about?

So how do you stay awake through the long dark hours of an all-night ambush in the middle of Lebanon after a harrowing day of patrols and and almost no sleep? I still remember getting the orders over the radio that we were to proceed to a specific site where I was to lay down an ambush as we had received ‘highly reliable ‘intel that terrorists would be coming through the valley below. I was given a new squad from our platoon as we had been on duty for twelve hours, but due to a shortage of officers I could not be relieved.

Our company commander specifically asked me: ‘Are you up to this?’ ‘Of course’ was my response; I was an idiot. And I kept telling myself I was an idiot for not begging off the mission as I lay there in the darkness desperately trying every trick I could think of to keep my eyes open.

I probably should have told the two soldiers on either side of me in our star formation (a star shaped eight man ambush laying on a low hill…) to cover for me while I closed my eyes, but as it happened they were relatively new to the unit and I did not know for sure I could trust them. And what if it hit the fan while I was catnapping? What if I fell into a deep slumber? Would someone get killed because my reaction time was a few seconds slower? Would men have to waste precious seconds in a combat situation shaking me awake? Would I make a mistake as a result and get someone killed? So I kept my eyes open desperately trying to avoid falling asleep.

And then I thought of Bahamdoun.

On September 3, 1982, eight IDF soldiers were given orders to man a small outpost on a hill in Ba’hamdoun (in Lebanon). They fell asleep exhausted after too many hours of combat operations and not enough sleep. They were rudely awakened by Haleem Ismaeel, the right-hand man of Abu Jihad who surprised them with a small force of PLO fighters. They surrendered without a fight and all eight men were taken prisoner and held as POW’s for over a year until six were released in November 1983. Two of them were only released in 1985 in the Jibril exchange.

The thought of being a POW sent a chill down my spine and my imagination did the rest; I managed to stay awake all night.

I can still remember the welcome sounds of the birds chirping and the signs of first light , as we packed up our gear and made it back to the pickup spot after what in the end, thank G-d, proved to be an uneventful night.

Settling into the back of the armored personnel carrier that transported us the twenty minutes back to base and commanded by a different officer, I could finally trust that it was safe to fall asleep. I did not even remember being woken in the base nor how I got to my cot, but I do remember the ten hours of sleep I finally managed to grab, safe in our base….

Sleep is about many things; it’s a healthy reminder that we are not invincible, and it’s a chance to recharge and reboot. But it’s also about trust. You finally fall asleep when you trust that you, and more importantly that your men or those you love, are safe.

Yaakov is on the road, running from his brother Esau, and in the middle of nowhere he stops and goes to sleep? Jewish tradition points out (tractate Berachot 26b; Rashi ibid. 28:11) that Yaakov instituted the nightly prayers of Maariv. So, before he fell asleep, Yaakov prayed.

Imagine what must have been going through Yaakov’s mind: forced to run from home, facing an uncertain future, penniless and close to being destitute; what did he have left? Only trust, that if Hashem had determined he was meant to be in this position, then this was obviously his path towards who he was meant to become.

Interestingly, the Rabbis (Rashi ibid.) take note that if the Torah calls this spot “The Place” it is obviously a special place and they conclude it is the place that would eventually be the site of the Temple, which actually makes a lot of sense. Yaakov, heading north from his home in Beer Sheva might well have wanted to stop at Har HaMoriah (Mount Moriah today’s Temple Mount) where his own father was almost sacrificed, in the binding of Isaac.

In this place Yitzchak demonstrated the ultimate trust, in his father and in G-d, laying himself bare on an altar and essentially declaring that our lives are a gift, our challenge only to struggle with what Hashem wants of us, and how we can best make the world a better place.

Indeed the evening service essentially represents the same idea: that in the darkness of the night, when life is often so unclear, we take comfort in the fact that our loving Father, Hashem, know best, and that somehow things will work out. Our challenge then becomes how we, with whatever Hashem gives us, fit into the picture; what in the end, is our role in the production.

Perhaps Yaakov concludes that it is time for him to take a stand and be a partner in changing the world.

And before he takes that step he reminds himself that it has to be based on a deep trust that he is trying to discern and fulfill Hashem’s will, to be a partner in making a better world. Four thousand years later, it is a message we would do well to hear.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.

Rav Kook on Parashat VaYeitzei: Prayer Before Sleep

After leaving his family in Beersheba, Jacob reached Beth El at nightfall. Before lying down to sleep, Jacob prayed there.

“He entreated at the place and stayed overnight, for it suddenly became night.” (Gen. 28:11)

The Sages taught that it was in Beth El that Jacob established the third daily prayer - Ma’ariv, the evening service. While less obligatory than the morning and afternoon prayers, Ma’ariv has its own special benefits. The Talmudic sage Abba Benjamin testified that he took great pains every day of his life to recite the evening prayer before going to sleep (Berachot 5b). What is so special about this prayer?

Refining Desires and the Imagination
When we are asleep, our cognitive and rational functions are suspended, and the body’s involuntary processes take over. Only our powers of imagination remain active, guiding our dreams as we sleep. Without the control and regulation of our intellectual faculties, a measure of impurity descends on the body during the night. We remove this impurity by washing our hands when we rise in the morning.

Holy individuals may experience sublime visions in their sleep, like Jacob, who dreamt of angels ascending and descending a Heaven-bound ladder as he slept in Beth El. However, it is only the soul that experiences these visions. The body is detached from the soul during sleep and is not influenced by the soul’s uplifting experiences.



We have two tools for spiritual growth: Torah study and prayer. Abba Benjamin’s statement on the importance of the Ma’ariv prayer helps clarify how each tool ennobles a different facet of the human soul

When we study Torah, we refine and elevate our intellectual powers. The function of prayer, on the other hand, is to uplift our faculty of ratzon, our will or primal desires. Through prayer and introspection, we refine our will and powers of imagination. As we articulate our inner needs and aspirations in prayer, our desires are elevated toward holier, more spiritual goals.

Our imaginative faculties are closer to our physical side than the intellect is. Thus they function even as we sleep, in our dreams. Since it is through prayer that we can most effectively direct those faculties still active during sleep, it is logical that prayer before sleep will have the strongest impact on this aspect of life. For this reason, Abba Benjamin stressed the importance of his nighttime prayer.

(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 19 by Rav Chanan Morrison)

Justifying excess Materialism in the name of Spirituality

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

And Ya'akov left Beer Sheva, and he went to Charan. (Bereishis 28:10)

AND YA’AKOV LEFT Be’er Sheva, never to come back again. Never to come back? He comes back to Be’er Sheva and his family 36 years later, family, possessions, and all, in Parashas Vayishlach! Not really. By the time he returns home, he has been transformed. He comes home a different person, even with a different name: Yisroel.

And as the Ramban points out in Parashas Lech-Lecha, “the events of the fathers are signs for the children.” In other words, what they went through we were destined to go through in some way or another throughout the history that followed. So, just as Ya’akov fled home in search of a higher identity, likewise the Jewish people have done so as well. When we finally come back home, as we have been doing for hundreds of years now, it won’t be as “Ya’akov,” but as “Yisroel.”

This is not my vort. It comes from the Malbim:

For thus said God: Sing, O Ya’akov, with gladness, exult on the peaks of the nations; announce, laud [God], and say, “O God, save Your people, the remnant of Yisroel!” Behold, I will bring them from the land of the North and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, the pregnant and birthing together; a great congregation will return here. With weeping they will come and through supplications I will bring them; I will guide them on streams of water, on a direct path in which they will not stumble; for I have been a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn. (Yirmiyahu 31:6-8)

At the end of their exile the oppression will be removed from them, and they will be joyous because they will be at the peak of the nations. The gentiles will give them honor and they will be their leaders, instead of being disgraced and lowered amongst them as they were at first. “Ya’akov” will be the masses of the people, and the lesser amongst them. “Yisroel” are the great ones. The joyousness from being at the peak of the nations will be Ya’akov’s only, and not Yisroel’s, because they will want to return His Presence to Tzion. However, at that time they will announce and publicly proclaim, and praise God when they say, “O God, save Your [righteous] people, the remnant of Yisroel,” because they will want the true salvation of the ingathering of the exiles and return to Tzion. Then it will be like that, that God will return them: “Behold, I will bring them…” (Malbim)

Don’t get it wrong. Ya’akov was a great person to begin with, a tremendous talmid chacham and ba’al middos. Apparently though becoming Yisroel was a step up, at least. It built on whatever it was that Ya’akov achieved until he left home, and added so much more, and it is something that we are all supposed to be aiming for as well, each on his or her personal level.

The funny thing is, if you can call it funny, is that this is also something that is barely noticed and rarely appreciated. It is especially not funny if you consider that this is the reason we are still stumbling through exile, thousands of years later, as the Malbim alludes. Being at the peak of nations is nice and has played its role in the redemption process, but it is not the endgame.

There is another thing about Ya’akov we cannot forget. He was named this because he came out into this world holding onto the heel of Eisav. It is interesting how both brothers got their names based upon how they were at birth. Eisav came out already made—asui—so he was called “Eisav.” Ya’akov was named for the heel he held onto as he emerged into this world. I didn’t even know babies could do that.

Then Eisav gets an additional name later on in last week’s parsha. Because he gave up his birthright for a pottage of red lentils, he is called “Edom.” Ya’akov doesn’t get his new name “Yisroel” until much later, after he fought with the angel of Eisav and survived the episode of Dinah in Shechem. He is first called it by the angel before meeting Eisav, but it is not confirmed by God until after the events of Shechem.

Clearly the way of Eisav is materialism at the cost of spirituality, when necessary. Clearly the way of Ya’akov is spirituality at the cost of materialism, when necessary. But is this anything really new? Was this not the difference of agreement between the people of Noach’s time, and Noach? Is this not the ongoing argument between religious people and secular people even today? We’re all in this world together which is so obviously materialistic, struggling to grasp at something invisible called spirituality.

Some get it. Most have not. Even among the religious there is a struggle, especially today when there is so MUCH materialism, and it is SO accessible. Never before has it become so easy to have your material cake and eat it too. People justify excess materialism in the NAME of spirituality by infusing it with some aspect of mitzvah.

Some people, when asked why they have acted so extreme have answered, “Because I can.” But when has having the means to indulge in the material world been a reason to do it, at least according to the Torah? When has accessibility been an excuse to access it? For an Eisav, perhaps. For a Ya’akov, maybe. But for a Yisroel?

There IS a line. It separates between reason and rationalization. It stands between justified and justification. And it can be the difference between one size of portion in Olam HaBa, and a lesser one, or worse, more time in Gihennom. It takes a truly self-honest person to look for it and then live by it.

It’s like the Corona virus. After about eight months of it, the world is now divided between those who take it seriously and those who do not. It is understandable why there are those who take the virus seriously and follow the rules, no matter how inconvenient. They believe the health officials, or, at least, not knowing who to believe, they have decided to err to the side of caution.

Those who do not take it seriously more than likely are not afraid of it. They have not been affected by it, at least not seriously. They may know those who have gotten it, but who also had a mild case and then recovered. They either do not know or have not heard about people with after effects. In short, the scary effects of the virus as touted by the media have not impacted their “camp,” making it seem to them like the whole thing is just hype, especially if they have watched one of the many conspiracy theory movies out there today

"The Fulfillment of Jacob’s Dream"

by HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir


As of now, Jacob was facing difficult times. Relentlessly pursued by Esau, who wished to kill him, he left his parents’ home in Be’er Sheva for the exile of Charan, alone and bereft of possessions. Along the way, he had a good dream. In his dream, he saw “G-d standing over him” (Genesis 28:13), “to protect him” (Rashi). G-d promised him, “I will give to you and your descendants the land upon which you are lying” (Genesis 28:13). G-d folded the whole Land of Israel under him thereby hinting to him that it would be as easy to conquer as four cubits. (Rashi, Ibid.). And G-d further promised, “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. You shall spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south. All the families on earth will be blessed through you and your descendants” (v. 14).

Regarding Jacob’s bleak situation just then, G-d said, “I am with you. I will protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this soil” (v. 15).

Jacob’s remarkable dream is the dream of the Jewish People which has accompanied us throughout all the generations, even in the darkest and difficult periods of our bitter and gloomy exile. In times of destruction, pogroms, and the Holocaust, Jews never ceased to believe in the fulfillment of Jacob’s dream.
It is true that there were, and continue to be, some who try to blot out the dream. They think that by doing so they stop the Jews from continuing on to their goal of returning to their land and fulfilling their destiny -- which is to bring light and goodness to the world. All the same, “many are the thoughts in man’s heart, but it is the council of G-d that will come to pass” (Proverbs 19:21).

Right now, “with G-d bringing back the return of Zion, we are like dreamers” (Psalms 126:1). Our generation is privileged to see the ingathering of the exiles. We are already living Jacob’s dream in a wakeful state, as in G-d’s promise, “I will bring you back to this soil” (Genesis 28:15). It is no dream. It is already a reality. The day is not far off when we will see as well the promise made to both Abraham and Jacob: “All the families on earth will be blessed through you and your descendants” (v. 14).

Looking forward to salvation,
With Love of Israel,
Shabbat Shalom.

The Covid-19 testing scam, and the extortion/selling-out of the Jews

by Jason Gold

(Note: This was written before SCOTUS handed Cuomo his head by striking down his illegal mandates against churches and shuls. How it affects this remains to be seen). Well, it's flu season. You know what that means, right? Coughs, colds, doctor visits and of course flu shots. Yes, those flu shots that are perhaps 15% effective overall, but make good money for those administering them, and of course the vaccine companies (including the CDC with its portfolio of vaccine patents) to a combined ka-ching of about $50 billion last year. Good company for a mostly ineffective vaccine that can't even protect the main at-risk population, i.e., the elderly, those with impaired immunity, and the infirm. But wait, there appears to be salvation after all.  Did you know that the reports of flu are down 98% compared to last year? A miracle cure. A miracle cure brought to you by Covid-19 which has also managed to cure heart disease, cancer diabetes, stroke, you name it.

In the words of the late guitar great Rory Gallagher, "What's Going On"? Very simple. As you can see by the chart below from the CDC, the 98% drop off compared to last year is very real. 



The explanation? All this testing, testing, testing for Covid is essentially worthless because we have a test that is essentially worthless.  As noted by Dr. Dolores Cahill, Professor of Translational Sciences at the University of Ireland, Covid testing when it is positive, can also pick up other SARS/coronaviruses that cause colds and flu instead of Covid. This was recently confirmed by Dr. Michael Yeadon, the former VP and scientific director of Pfizer, whom mainstream and social media is desperately trying to censor and discredit.  Here is a recent article with an embedded video by Dr. Yeadon. as well as a meticulously-researched report by Dr. Joseph Mercola.  You can judge for yourself. Far-fetched? 

The absurdity of testing testing testing for a virus that has a 99.96% recovery and actually killed only about 10,000 people in the US who were not elderly, infirm, or who had major medical/immunological issues (again, by the CDC's own numbers) was made manifest during Elul in the frumeh (Litvish/Yeshivish/Hareidi) communities when the weddings started and the yeshivas opened. Yes, it was quite possible that the testing testing testing was picking up new cases in the 20% or less in those communities that had not been previously exposed. But absent the telltale signs of smell/taste loss of Covid, it's just as likely that they were picking up flu and common cold viruses. In addition, every time the same person tests, it counts as brand new encounter, be it positive or negative, so one person is generating multiple results. As long as the insurance companies will pay for this, count on doctors and the state to keep the gravy train going as wells as the labs who of course, have to pay operating and license fees and who knows what else to a financially decimated NY state to operate. As usual, follow the money trail.

I and a few others had railed against the testing to no avail. Once the testing madness started, it gave a powerful weapon to the Democratic despots that control NY to bludgeon the frumeh communities into submission and the damage was done. Knowing that learning Torah is our life blood, the Democratic despots of NY raised the hysteria and fear levels to new heights with unconstitutional and illegal mandates/dictates that demanded weekly testing of all schools that had to meet a certain ratio/requirement, even though the highest "new cases" were in non-Jewish communities. Why do Cuomo and deBlasio pick on Jews, especially the frumeh Jews? They know how important Torah study is to these communities, they know the Jews won't fight back, and they just don't like Jews in general, especially the frumeh that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.  They also know that because Covid hit the frumeh communities extra hard initially (both for physical and metaphysical reasons as previously discussed), there is a significant fear factor that can be exploited. Thus, the perfect recipe for extortion/blackmail.  While Torah learning is obviously critical, it must be said that because this is extortion, extortionists are never satisfied. You can count on the goalposts being moved at some point because everyone needs to remember "two weeks to flatten the curve" from 8 months ago. 

Covid has exposed many things. It has exposed how easily people with herd mentality can be easily manipulated by enough brainwashing from the mainstream media, social media and accompanying censorship, along with fake news. Along these lines..

It has exposed a serious lack of leadership in the Jewish community in all sectors. I'm not talking about Torah leadership. I'm talking about leadership to deal with the petty tyrants like those of NY and NJ. It's made even more difficult when many of the so-called Jewish organizations are completely corrupt and in the government’s pocket for personal and financial reasons, while selling out those they purport to represent. Examples? How about the pathetic legal "challenges" filed by Agudath in NY on behalf of the summer camps and closing of shuls/yeshivas that were designed to fail. Or even better, the form below that was distributed to yeshiva school parents in Lakewood that gave the schools permission to vaccinate children against Covid without parental consent (which is patterned after a similar proposal in DC)  and then alter their records with cooperation and blessings of Agudath, of course.

Agudath and others obviously missed the shiur in "Pirkei Avot" where it says don't be friendly with the government. But I suppose they were too busy concentrating on selling out the Jews. And please, don't get me started on so-called Jewish "medical experts" from third-rate hospitals who claim to know what's best for us by worshipping at the altar of Fauci the fraud. Without a serious, united constitutional-backed challenge against the petty tyrants in Federal court, this blackmail/extortion will continue unabated because once tyrants get their hands on power, they never surrender it willingly. All in all, Covid testing testing testing is going to generate more false positive and manipulated results as a very effective weapon to keep the fear going and keep the weak-minded in line until Jews realize that despite being a guest of America in the diaspora, there is no obligation for the Jew to put his neck under the fascist boot of sociopathic tin-plated dictators with delusions of deification. Especially, ones like these....


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Shamrak Report: Trump Factor does it Again.

When enemies of Israel are angry something must be done right!

1. Pompeo Visit to Golan Heights

The Syrian government condemned the visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the Golan Heights, describing it as a provocation . Mike Pompeo became the first US secretary of state to visit the Golan Heights, territory Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War.

2. PA Opposes US Recognition of 'Settlements'

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the official spokesman for Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas, issued a statement in which he blasted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to the town of Psagot and the US administration's decision to recognize products originating in Judea and Samaria as products made in Israel.

3. Boycott of Israel is anti-Semitic Cancer

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the targeted practice against Israel known as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement by labelling them as anti-Semitic. The BDS movement began in 2005 as a non-violent protest against Israeli policies towards Palestinians. However, Israel sees the movement as a threat to its state that seeks to strategically damage its security and economy. We will regard the global anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic, he stated. I want you to know we will immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support for such groups. ( The founder of BDS, Omar Barghouti, has said its goal is the destruction of Israel. International anti-Semites and helpful idiots, like self-hating Jews and oblivious stupid idealists , are helping enemies of Israel!)

4. Netanyahu Met Saudi Crown Prince and Pompeo

Binyamin Netanyahu s flight landed at the western Saudi town of Neom on Sunday night, Nov. 22 for a unique meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Revelation of meeting appears to be message to Biden, Iran and wider Mideast that Jerusalem and Riyadh are in lockstep on Iranian threat.

Food for Thought. by Steven Shamrak

How to spot an anti-Semites? They usually ask, Why are there so many rich Jews? They never ask, Why are over 22% recipients of Nobel Prize Jews? (Note: there are 14 million Jews, less than 0.2% of the world population Muslims 23%) So, why are Jews so disproportionately successful in business, science, agriculture, military, medicine, computer technology and communication, and other vocations? And this is in spite of chronic discriminatory treatment by most countries and international organizations! And why are Jews such a threat to the world?

Israelis Want Zionist Policy

The Likud has declined significantly! If new elections were held today, the Likud would win just 27 seats, and Yamina party hit an all-time high of 24 seats. The Israeli Right (Zionist) would win 67 seats, up from 58 seats in the previous election.

Not Quite Kosher Normalization

Israel s ambassador to the United Nations praised the world body for overwhelmingly approving an Israeli-sponsored resolution to support entrepreneurship but criticized Arab countries who voted against it, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

'Ugly Nazi' have Done it Again!

The United Nations voted overwhelmingly to approve a draft resolution, for two-state solution. The proposal of the UN General Assembly s Third Committee - the committee that deals with human rights and humanitarian affairs - passed 163 to 5, with 10 abstentions. Canada also voted with the majority! ( At the time of global a pandemic, civil wars in Yemen and Ethiopia etc& international anti-Semites of Ugly Nothing have nothing else to do!)

Israel Strikes Iranian Bases in Syria

IDF struck Iranian and Syrian military installations after improvised explosive devices near the Israeli border was discovered. The fighters struck Iranian Al Qods weapons depots, command posts, military posts and anti-air missile batteries. The targets also included an Iranian military compound used by high officials, a Syrian army Division 7 command post and mobile surface-to-air missiles. (Next, hopefully, are nuclear facilities in Iran!)

Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas - Terrorist Organization

Saudi Arabia s Council of Senior Scholars served a significant blow to Hamas, proclaiming that the Muslim Brotherhood is a group that has deviated from the path of Islam and that provokes controversy in the Arab and Muslim world and uses methods of violence and terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood does not operate for the religion and the Sunnah but for the government, and out of its womb came terrorists, the statement said. Hamas in the Gaza Strip is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood!

Jews Return to Northern Samaria

15 years after the Disengagement from northern Samaria, a group of 100 Israelis has returned to the forcefully abandoned community of Sa-Nur, stating they were there to stay. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip while destroying 21 Israeli communities. It also destroyed four communities in northern Samaria but retained a military presence in the area (Area C).

IMF: Israel was Well-Prepared for COVID-19

Israel s financial system was well prepared to face the coronavirus crisis, stated the International Monetary Fund s (IMF) initial summary of its 2020 report on the Israeli economy.

Quote of the Week:

And (mention, O Muhammad) , when Moses said to his people, "O my people, remember the favor of Allah upon you when He appointed among you prophets and made you possessors and gave you that which He had not given anyone among the worlds. O my people, enter the Holy Land which Allah (G-d) has assigned to you and do not turn back (from fighting in Allah's cause) and (thus) become losers. They said, "O Moses, indeed within it is a people of tyrannical strength, and indeed, we will never enter it until they leave it; but if they leave it, then we will enter." Quran, 5:20-22 Jews have entered the Holy Land. Therefore, even according to the Quran, Muslims must recognise the unique Jewish ownership of the Land of Israel! Jews have always had lived in Eretz-Israel - in spite of Roman, Christian and Muslim persecution. This means the presence of Muslims on Jewish land is disrespectful to the Quran. If they are true Muslims and followers of the words of prophet Mohamed, they must obey writings in their holy book and leave Eretz-Israel the land G-d had given to Jews - otherwise, they are just another bunch of anti-Semitic, Jew-hating religious hypocrites like the one that came before Islam!

Apply Sovereignty Now

Yamina Party Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apply sovereignty to Judea and Samaria before the next US president is sworn in. Smotrich said there could be disagreements with a Biden administration, but that it can be managed. Biden s vice-presidential running mate Kamala Harris said that they would oppose annexation or settlement expansion. And we will take immediate steps to restore economic and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people..." she said.

Time to Leave Egypt

by Steven Shamrak.

Every year Jews celebrate the exodus from Egypt and freedom from slavery. It took place 3,320 years ago. It was a fundamental event in Jewish history. At the same time, it symbolizes not just freedom from physical slavery. Passover reminds us that internal  freedom of mind and spirit are even more significant. This freedom allows us real freedom  of choice.

Jews have nothing to apologise for. We have the right to live in peace on Jewish land in our own country. We lived in Galut (exile, slave mentality) for too long. It is time to say NO more !

I am ashamed and feel sorry for those Jews who have no self-respect and are helping enemies to destroy Israel. Why do they hate themselves so much?

I do respect non-Jewish people who do not know and do not care about the Arab-Israel conflict. They are honest hard-working people who have their own problems and interests. At the same time, there is a danger when opinions are formed under the influence of selectively presented information, provided by mainly a press that is biased against Israel. People become attached to the belief system they have adopted and it is difficult to change it. For Jews the understanding of the conflict and support for Israel is existential! I would like to remind all of them: 

1. Israel is on a front line of the war between Arab-Muslim expansionism and Western democracy.  This war has already shifted to America and Europe. 

2. According to the UN s own legal opinion: Judea, Samaria and Gaza do not belong to any country at the moment. Therefore, it is wrong to call them Occupied Territories . The correct legal term is Disputed Territories . They used to be a part of Jewish land 2000 years ago and were allocated by the League of Nations for the creation of Eretz-Israel in 1922. There was never an Arab country in Palestine. 

3. So-called Palestinians are Arabs and Muslims who moved to the territories during the last 130 years, after the Zionist pioneers started to revitalize the land. 

4. Arabs have no intention of living in peace with Jews. When the former president of Egypt Nasser was asked: Why do you continue to fight Israel after so many defeats? His answer was: Because. We need to win only one war! Please make no mistake, the Arabs aim is total destruction of the Jewish state!

5. Arabs do respect charisma and strong leadership. It is time for Israel and her government to show it and end terror.  

6. Enemies and so-called friends have never treated the Jewish people as equals. They will never support Israel unconditionally regardless of facts. They do not care about facts and deliberately distort or falsify them (remember the fake massacre of Jenin and how much noise they made about it).  

7. After 70 years of wars and terror, it is time to become an Independent nation with self-respect and be equal among equals. No more double standards!

8. Israel was created to fulfil a 2000-year-old national inspiration of Jewish people. Jews have the right to regain control over all Jewish land. The time is NOW!

At the same time, I am ashamed and feel sorry for Jews who advocate destruction of Israel. Why do they hate themselves so much?