Friday, March 26, 2021

Rav Kook's Igrot Hare’aya: The Need to Be Connected to our Past, part III

Letter #18 – part III

Date and Place: Adar 5665 (1905), the holy city of Yafo

Recipient: An open letter

Summary of previous parts: We are in the midst of Rav Kook’s public rebuke of the editor of the Hashkafa periodical. He had written that the Zionists for Zion who accused the Ugandists of turning their back on their pasts were hypocrites because all Jews, except the extreme religious, turned their backs on their past, and he is proud of that.

Body: The words of the member of the editorial board of “HaZman” (The Time) found favor in the eyes of the publisher of “Hashkafa,” and he “answered them with ‘amen,’” i.e., they are true. Indeed, the words of the former consist of degrading and besmirching our Torah, our nation, our history, and our wisdom. These are words that are fit to be said only by the worst anti-Semites amongst the evil of the nations of the world. However, I did not feel a need to respond to them, because they were written as an expression of the personal opinion of the writer. Were we to respond to the ideas of every individual, whether he be Jewish or non-Jewish, who does not understand the essence of the Jewish people and therefore he finds fault in them, we would not have time to get to all of them.

We are confident that any person with a wise heart, whose inclinations bring him to deal with Jewish scholarship, will not be intimidated by the scorn of those who are disrespectful of our heritage, and he will continue to search for the truth concerning the teachings we have received from our ancestors. He will know properly that most of the words of wisdom and ethics [which we cherish] can be found in the writings of our Jewish texts. The fine expressions of emotion that elevate the spirit are much more accessible in our teachings than in the idle talk of the new “advisors,” who turn their back on the past.

Our wisdom and history are not limited to one area of study or one historical period but can be found from the beginning of our historical scholarship until its most recent times. The inextinguishable hidden light is seen in the whole of our literature, which touches on all of the detailed points of wisdom. The wonderful power of life connects to the highest philosophical points and the purest characteristics, which have always been a part of our legacy. These remained constant in the Jewish mind thanks to the operative obligations, and the great love of Torah study, which causes one to act properly. This causes the character promoted by these ideas to remain forever as part of our national culture.

Our practical and intellectual powers develop in different ways, whether through wisdom that comes from Jewish sources or those that were “grafted onto us” from the wisdom of the refined nations with which we have contact. These can all impact us positively based on our true character, which when we have been true to it, we have built onto the base of our befitting nature. These are known to all except those who are addicted to the idea of trying to destroy us.

You, my dear brothers, the youth of Zionists of Zion, are yourselves aware that those who have given up hope are not worth much. They include many people who are coarse in their beings, whose ears have absorbed too much cheap and disgraceful heresy. However, these are not the thoughts of the choicest thinkers of the various nations, who are truly the pride of mankind. They know the value of the [authentic Jewish] enterprise, which is the greatest spiritual contribution to the world, and our adorned internal life, which was not spoiled even by the worst times of persecution. The most pious non-Jewish thinker of our time, Vladimir Solovyov (Russian philosopher and proponent of the Jews, died 1900), correctly said that the question about the Jews does not exist; rather, it is a question about Christians, who have not yet reached the moral level to know how to act toward such a special and talented nation as the Jews.

We continue next time from this point.

Rav Kook on Pesach: Next Year in Jerusalem!

When Rav Kook visited the United States in 1924, scores of people came to see and meet him. This was Rav Kook’s first (and only) trip to America, and his appearance generated great excitement. The purpose of the trip, however, was to raise funds for Torah institutions in Eretz Yisrael and Europe.

The Philanthropist’s Question
At one gathering in Rav Kook’s honor, a well-known philanthropist agreed to give a very sizable donation to the cause, but only if the chief rabbi could explain to him a Jewish custom that he found puzzling.

At the conclusion of both the Seder night and Yom Kippur, Jews all over the world declare their heartfelt wish: לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָׁלָיִם - “Next year in Jerusalem!”

“I understand why Jews in the Diaspora say this,” said the man. “But why do Jews who live in Holy City say it? Are they not already in Jerusalem?”

The Jerusalemites’ Prayer
Rav Kook listened attentively to the question. “The matter is quite simple, my friend,” he explained.

“First of all, in Jerusalem we add a word to the prayer. We say, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּירוּשָׁלָיִם הַבְּנוּיָה. ‘Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem!’ And we still have a long way to go before that prayer is fulfilled and Jerusalem is fully rebuilt.”

“But I would offer an additional explanation,” continued the rabbi with a smile.

“When we beseech God, ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ we mean that we hope to be there in the fullest sense - that we will be in Jerusalem in body, soul, and mind. We pray that our situation will be different than it is today, when people live in Jerusalem, but their thoughts are occupied with planning fundraising trips to America.”

Judging from the size of the man’s donation, it was clear that he was particularly pleased with the second answer.

(Adapted from “An Angel Among Men” by Simcha Raz, translated by Rabbi Moshe Lichtman, pp. 253-254)

The Gift of the Given Moment - A Pesach Thought from the Portion of Tzav

by Rav Binny Freedman

There are places in this world that are so powerful, so full of meaning that they allow us to tap in to why we are really here. Such a place is Emek HaBacha, The Valley of Tears. In this valley, deep in the Golan Heights, in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, a small group of men held off the might of the Syrian Armored Corps, and saved the State of Israel. There is a power to this place, and if you listen carefully to the wind howling through the hills, you can still hear the cries of the men who fell there.

We took a group of our students there a few years ago on Israel’s Memorial Day. As I was sharing the story of the battle, I noticed a fellow standing off to the side watching us. You could tell from his eyes that he had ‘been there’, so I made it a point to catch him before he left. His story made a powerful impression on us all.

“You know,” he said, “There are heroes of this war who have never really been recognized.

“Everyone speaks of the men in the tanks who risked everything, but not all the heroes that day were in the tanks.

“In the middle of the battle, a couple of the tanks began pulling back to re-load and re-supply. We were hopelessly outnumbered and had been fighting for hours, struggling desperately to hold the line against far superior forces. 650 Syrian tanks had poured into this valley in the afternoon of Yom Kippur, and we were only one battalion, about 35 tanks. We were almost out of ammo, and our fuel was dangerously low, so this platoon commander began pulling his two remaining tanks back to re-fuel and load up on more tank shells.

“Kahalani, the battalion commander, saw these two tanks pulling back, and gave immediate orders that they should hold their ground. The young lieutenant responded over the radio that he was almost out of fuel and shells, to which Kahalani responded that if they had no ammo they should move around and make dust, along with machine gun fire. And if they ran out of fuel, they should rotate their turrets, but that they were absolutely not to pull back. The entire balance of the battle was hanging by a thread, and if the Syrians saw a few tanks pulling back they might think it was a retreat. So the tanks stayed where they were.

“A truck driver, back at the fuel depot, hearing this on the radio, jumped on his fuel truck, drove straight into the valley, and began re-fuelling the tanks. Can you imagine? This man drove a fuel truck, loaded with gasoline, into the heat of battle, under fire, with no armor to protect him, and began refueling the tanks! There are moments when history hangs in the balance, and special individuals rise to the challenge…”

I have never looked at a truck driver in Israel in quite the same way since…

The portion of Tzav, in the Book of Vayikra, is read when at the time we are in the midst of preparations for the festival of Pesach (Passover). Is there a connection between these two themes?

One of the central mitzvoth of Pesach is the injunction not to eat any Chametz, or unleavened bread. Instead, we are commanded to eat Matzah for the entire week of Pesach. Whenever we think of Matzah (the unleavened bread) we always think of Pesach. Less known, however, is the special mitzvah of Matzah, which we read of in this portion, which seems to be completely unrelated to the festival of Pesach.

Regarding the Minchah (meal) offering in the temple, the Torah tells us (Leviticus 6:9):

“Its’ (the meal offering’s) remainder shall be eaten…as Matzot, in the holy area.
It shall not be baked with leaven (Chametz)…”

What does the prohibition of eating Chametz have to do with the sacrifices in the Temple?

Indeed, referring to the prior week’s portion (2:11), it is clear there is a general prohibition of offering Chametz (unleavened bread) up on the altar, though it is mentioned with the Mincha offering, because that is the meal offering where the possibility of flour and water becoming Chametz exists (unlike other animal sacrifices where no bread is offered…). So what do Chametz and Matzah have to do with our current discussions of the sacrifices in the temple?

Additionally, the concepts of Chametz and Matzah (leavened and unleavened bread) are introduced as a central part of the story of the exodus from Egypt, and thus are an important concept related specifically to the festival of Pesach. Is there a connection between the festival of Pesach, the Matzah (and Chametz), and the sacrifices we offer in the Temple?

And if we are already speaking of Chametz and Matzah as they relate to the temple, there is another challenging question that is worth considering.

Many of the commentaries, in their treatment of the concept of Chametz, consider Chametz as representative of our evil inclination; desires that we are not successful in channeling or controlling, and which tend to bring us down. Maimonides, in fact, compares the rising of the dough to the swelling of the ego, as well as the swelling of the sexual organ, indicative of desire…

In fact, Rabbi Alexandri in the Talmud (Berachot 17a) would end his daily prayers with the supplication:

“Master of the Universe, You know that it is our desire to act according to your will; what prevents us from doing so? The yeast in the dough…”

Indeed this is the idea hidden in the burning of Chametz on the eve of the festival as well as the fact that no Chametz is allowed inside the Jewish home for the entire duration of Pesach. Once a year, we attempt to rid ourselves of the aspects of our personalities that bring us down. When we clean out all our Chametz, we are attempting as well, to get rid of ‘all our stuff’…

This makes what happens a few short weeks after Pesach all the more curious. Fifty days later, on the holiday of Shavuot, we offer up a very special sacrifice (see Leviticus 23:17), which is, in fact, the central symbol in the Torah for the festival of Shavuot.

On Shavuot we offer up… two loaves of bread! Called the Shetei HaLechem, (the ‘two loaves of bread’), this offering seems to be exactly what we were trying to rid ourselves of on Pesach! So why does the same Chametz which represented “evil personified” yesterday, serve as the offering to G-d today?

If Chametz indeed represents our Yetzer HaRah, our evil inclination which we are trying to overcome, why is this mitzvah associated with Pesach? I would have expected the mitzvah to eat Matzah (and avoid Chametz) to be given during the ten days of Teshuvah (repentance) beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur? After all, that is a time traditionally associated with forgiveness, repentance, and the attempt to become a better person!

What, in fact, is the Matzah, and the Chametz, and how are they connected to our portion of sacrifices in the Temple?

Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, in his Tzidkat HaTzaddik, alludes to an interesting question. Most people, if asked why we eat Matzah on Pesach, would most probably recall that when we finally left Egypt, bound for the freedom of the desert, we had no time to bake bread for the journey. So we had to take the dough with us, even though it had not yet risen. Hence, to commemorate this event, we eat Matzah on Passover today. Now, to be fair, this would be the correct answer, as attested to in the Torah.

The Jews, say the verses, “took their dough before it could rise”, (Exodus 12: 34). And the reason for this was “because they were chased out of Egypt and they could not tarry, and had prepared no fare for the way…” (Exodus12: 39).

So in fact the Jews baked Matzah because they were in such a rush they could not afford the time to allow the dough to rise.

But it’s not so simple. Because the Torah also tells me, at the beginning of the same chapter (Exodus 12: 15) nearly a week before the Jews ultimately leave Egypt (and before even receiving the mitzvah to take the paschal lamb), that the Jewish people will have a festival on which they will eat Matzah for seven days…

So we were given the mitzvah of Matzah a week before we ever left Egypt! Why then, did we not have enough time to bake bread?

While it may be true that our departure ended up being in a hurry, without the time to bake the bread, Hashem (G-d) who knew all this in advance could certainly have arranged for some advanced challah baking! Obviously Hashem engineered such a departure because there was a message we needed to learn which is represented in the mitzvah of Matzah.

There are certain moments, suggests the Tzidkat HaTzaddik, when we are presented with a window, an opening to come closer to a relationship with G-d. Such windows appear all too infrequently, and remain open only briefly. In life you have to grab those moments when they appear, otherwise, you miss them.

Such was the case of the Jewish people, who had a small window of opportunity in which to leave Egypt. And make no mistake about it, we all have our own Egypt, which enslaves us in whatever shape or form, and Pesach is the festival that creates the opportunity for each of us to let go, and leave our own Egypt behind.

Hashem engineered our departure from Egypt in such a hurry to teach us that when we are given the chance to leave Egypt, we have to grab those opportunities, which so often disappear as quickly and mysteriously as they arrived.

Chametz then, represents the missed opportunity, and Matzah represents the moment at which such an opportunity presents itself, full of promise and potential.

This is the festival of Pesach in all its glory. Pesach is that moment when the Jewish people were born. Such a moment is replete with the challenge and potential of new beginnings. And that is the Matzah. Of course, if Pesach is all about potential, Shavuot, the festival associated with our receiving the Torah, our entire Jewish tradition, at Sinai, is all about achievement. Shavuot is about how we have grabbed that window of opportunity.

And of course, that is all part of the message of the sacrifices and the Temple.

When I offer a sacrifice to G-d in the Temple, what I am essentially tapping into is a moment of raw potential. Whatever the mistakes of the past, and however far away I have allowed myself to grow, at this moment, on the Har HaBayit, the Temple mount, I have arrived at a window of opportunity; I have the chance to come back home, (hence the name Har HaBayit, which really means: ‘the hill that is home…’) to do Teshuvah, the Jewish word for repentance. Indeed, Teshuvah actually comes from the root Shuv, to return, or come back home…Our challenge in such a moment is to grab on to it, and ensure it does not slip away.

In fact, if we consider what Chametz and Matzah really are, this idea makes a lot of sense. One takes dough, mixes it with water, and then kneads it and eventually bakes it before the dough can rise. The natural course of events, however, is that the dough will rise. So Matzah represents potential, not yet realized, and Chametz represents having arrived somewhere, and achieved something.

This is exactly what the relationship between Pesach and Shavuot is all about.

On Pesach we were born as a people and we left Egypt, much as the newborn baby leaves the womb, full of potential, but with precious little yet accomplished. On Shavuot, however, we arrived at Sinai, where we accepted the 613 mitzvoth. This is the point at which we become not just a people, but rather the Jewish people. The dough has risen, and we are ready to eat. On Pesach, we need to recognize, as we stand in the Temple before the altar, how humble our beginnings really are. And that is Matzah. But come Shavuot, we are ready to declare how much we can accomplish, now that we have a blueprint for what it would mean to be in partnership with G-d in the world.

If Pesach is the festival of freedom, the message of the Matzah is that freedom is not the goal. Most of the world celebrates freedom. The celebration on Independence Day is about freedom. But Judaism goes a step further. Judaism does not believe in celebrating freedom. The question is ‘freedom, for what?’ What will I do with this new-found freedom?

Shavuot is the answer to that question. On Shavuot I demonstrate the purpose of our freedom from slavery: to serve a higher purpose, in everything that we do…

Lastly, there is another message hidden in the symbolism of Chametz and Matzah, which alludes to a larger theme of Pesach.

When does dough actually become Chametz? After all, the minute I mix flour and water, along with the Se’or, the yeast (or fermenting agent) and knead it into dough, it begins to rise. So is it Chametz the instant it begins to rise? Jewish tradition actually quantifies this answer as a very defined instant. Dough becomes Chametz eighteen minutes after it begins to rise. Technically speaking, eighteen minutes’ worth of ‘rising’ is what defines dough as having risen enough to be considered Chametz.

So essentially, the difference between Matzah and Chametz is an instant. Think about it. Matzah teaches me the power and the gift of the given moment. How often do we miss the moment? How often do we take the time to appreciate the enormous potential every moment contains, and even creates? This idea is actually one of the themes of Pesach, and may well be part of the reason that the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people (Exodus 12:2) , even prior to their leaving Egypt, is the Mitzvah of the new moon, and the calendar that such a mitzvah entailed. Why, after all, did we need to start our career as a people with such a seemingly insignificant mitzvah? Why not begin with Shabbat, or even Jewish ethics? What was so important about sanctifying the new moon, and setting the first Jewish calendar in motion?

Perhaps the Torah was alluding to what freedom was really all about. If you think about it, the essential difference between a slave and a free man is that it is only a free man whose time is his own. The slave cannot really appreciate the true value of time, because he does not control his own time, nor does he determine what to do with the time he is given. Only the free man has the power to choose how to spend his time. The first thing Hashem gave us as a people was the gift of time. That was our beginning as a people, and that is part of the hidden message of the Matzah.

This too, is the message of the sacrifices in the Temple. So often we think there is just no time, or the time has passed, or even that we can never re- claim the time we have lost. We often feel trapped in time, resigning ourselves to the patterns we have fallen in to, and the mistakes that we have allowed time to ingrain into our characters and psyche.

The Torah this week comes to tell us, however, that the only moment we really need to live in is the moment we are in right now.

Never mind the moment you just missed. Grab the moment you have now, because in this moment, you are beginning the rest of your life, and every mistake you ever made, every pit you ever fell in to, can all be put behind us.

Each of us, every day, has our own moments of enormous potential, just like that truck driver in the Yom Kippur war. The question is – do we rise to meet them? Do we transform those gifts into Jewish destiny? Do we change the script we have fallen into, and become partners in an entirely new world, the world we are born in to every moment?

We do not allow Chametz onto our regular offerings, because the spirit of those offerings, especially in this place, is that we are actually not doomed to live the life we have created for ourselves just because we have become so accustomed to it. We can actually go back to our own modest beginnings, full of so much potential and holding so much promise, and begin all over again, We can be reborn into that raw power of potential every day.

And that is also why we eat this Matzah on Pesach, and not on Yom Kippur. Because it is on Pesach that we were born, as it were, out of the mud of exile and the darkness of slavery. Pesach represents our ability to be in the mud, and yet see the potential of the mountains. Yom Kippur, on the other hand, we are already flying with the angels…

May Hashem bless us, this Pesach, to re-connect with our potential, as individuals, and as a people, so that one day soon, we can all dance together in the beautiful hills and valleys of Jerusalem, on our way up to celebrate the festival of Pesach the way it was really meant to be.

Shabbat Shalom,
Chag Kasher V'Sameach

The Yishai Fleisher Show - Election Direction and Saturday Night Seder Fever

Did Netanyahu and the nationalists win? Or is Israel doomed to governmental deadlock? Yishai speaks with Alex Traiman, Jerusalem bureau chief of JNS, to make sense of Israel's elections. Then, get ready for the after-Shabbat - complex yet fun - Seder Night. Rabbi Shimshon Nadel is on hand to steer us to kosher safety and help us have a meaningful Passover experience.

When “Equality” is not Everything

by Victor Rosenthal

Avraham Burg (b. 1955) today is best described as a post-Zionist, or even an extreme anti-Zionist. But he was not always thus. The son of long-time religious Zionist politician Yosef Burg, he served as an officer in the IDF, became Speaker of the Knesset on behalf of the Labor Party, was Chairman of the Jewish Agency, and even served as interim President of the State of Israel for ten days. Always left-leaning, he became more and more extreme, and in 2015 renounced Zionism and joined Hadash, the Israeli communist party. More recently, he responded to the passage of Israel’s Nation State Law by announcing his resignation from the Jewish people.

Burg’s psychological story may or may not be interesting, but he is not lacking in intelligence, and so I feel obliged to consider his arguments carefully. They appear in this interview, by Ravit Hecht in Ha’aretz.

Burg’s objections to the [Nation-State] law itself begin with its very first article, which defines the Land of Israel as the historical homeland of the Jewish people. “The patriarch Abraham discovered God outside the boundaries of the Land of Israel, the tribes became a people outside the Land of Israel, the Torah was given outside the Land of Israel, and the Babylonian Talmud, which is more important than the Jerusalem Talmud, was written outside the Land of Israel,” he asserts. “The past 2,000 years, which shaped the Judaism of this generation, happened outside Israel. The present Jewish people was not born in Israel.”

He is correct in detail, but he ignores the content of the Torah itself, which – whether or not one is an observant Jew – must be seen as the “charter” of the Jewish people. The narrative of the Torah, which describes the entry of the people into the land of Israel and the conditions under which they earn (or lose) the right to stay there, is nothing if not an assertion of the connection of the people to the land. And the 2000 years of diaspora was characterized by the combination of Jewish alienation from alien surroundings with a yearning to return. Religious Jews prayed every day for the rebuilding of a Jewish Jerusalem.

Unsaid but implied is that the Palestinian Arabs are the true owners of the land. But their historical connection to it is much shorter than that of the Jews, since almost all of the population is descended from migrants who arrived in it no earlier than 1830; the majority only goes back to the early 20th century. Most did not even identify as “Palestinians” until the 1960s. The Palestinians are aware that their claim to being long-time “natives” that were dispossessed by colonialist European Jews who had no connection to the land is tenuous. That’s why they go to such lengths to try to destroy evidence of ancient Jewish habitation here, and why they make fanciful claims of descent from Canaanites or Philistines.

Burg is committed to the idea that the most important (and the most Jewish) of political principles is that of equality. The simplest way to understand it is that the rights and obligations of a citizen are invariant over ethnicity, religion, race, sex, and numerous other characteristics, the number of which has been increasing recently in Western societies. There is no doubt that any definition of a Jewish state must violate the principle.

In a recent article, Burg argues that the demand for equality invalidates the concept of a Jewish state, which the Nation-State Law explicates:

Every supporter of [Israel’s political] parties is prepared to swear that their issue is the most important in the world: Gender, ethnic background, orientation and religious beliefs – everyone seeks equality for themselves and are committed to preferential treatment for their community and its interests. Just theirs. They aren’t capable of rising above, of uniting and running together in this election for the greatest idea of all: a state of all its citizens, committed to true and meaningful equality for all Israelis. The real, profound election campaign is one that is pitting the secular perception of the civilian State of Israel against the zealots of Jewish supremacy, who are prepared to sanctify discrimination, distinction and exclusion to preserve this tribal power.

Burg is wrong about “Jewish supremacy,” which is not essential to the idea of a Jewish state. One is not required to believe that Jews are superior to anyone else in order to understand the need for a state that – admittedly – must practice some form of “discrimination, distinction and exclusion” in order to guarantee the continued existence of the Jewish people.

There are numerous “states of all of their citizens” in the world, mostly Western democracies, although there are none in the Middle East. The USA is a an example of one that was founded on the very principle of being such a state, although it took some years and a civil war for full citizenship to be granted to former slaves, and even longer for female citizens to obtain full rights. But Israel is different, and the reason is that Israel was founded according to the principles of Zionism, and not on the Enlightenment concept of the Rights of Man.

The Jews of the West expected that the principles of the Enlightenment would apply to them. It seemed at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, that they might. But as time passed it became clear that the promise of equality would not be extended to the Jewish people. Herzl and other Zionists realized that the only way to ensure that Jews would be able to live normal lives without needing to choose between persecution or assimilation would be in a state in which Jews were the sovereign power. And for Jews outside of the West, in the empires of Eastern Christianity and Islam, there was not even the glimmer of the Enlightenment.

The fundamental idea of Zionism is that there must be at least one state in the world that is not a state of its citizens, but which is defined as the state of the Jewish people. This is why there is a Law of Return for Jews to Israel, and not one for descendants of Palestinian refugees. This is why the state’s holidays, and calendar are Jewish, and why the Hebrew language has a special status. Although the state can and does have a commitment to providing equal political rights to all of its citizens, it does not pretend to treat them all equally in every respect. One way to express this is to say, as the Nation-State Law does, that “the exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.”

This means that non-Jewish citizens of Israel must compromise. Like Jews throughout diasporic history – although with more rights and privileges – they must come to terms with living as an ethnic minority in someone else’s nation. In return, they have the advantages that come with living in a stable, prosperous, and democratic country in the midst of failed states and vicious dictatorships.

Most Arab citizens of Israel understand this, even if Avraham Burg doesn’t.

One final word: yes, I know we have just had an election. It looks like there will be some form of coalition led by Bibi. But the results aren’t clear as I write this, and small movements one way or another could result in a big change. Tune in next week for more. Meanwhile, have a happy and kosher Pesach.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Combining Matzah and Marror -- Freedom and Slavery

by HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

“Thus did Hillel when the Temple stood: He would combine matzah and marror [bitter herbs] and eat them together to fulfill what it says, ‘They shall eat it with matzah and marror’ (Numbers 9:11).” (Haggadah)

As is known, matzah recalls freedom while marror recalls slavery. Seemingly, the two are opposites. Even so, Hillel, whose identifying trait was that he “loved peace and would pursue peace, he loved his fellow men and would bring them close to the Torah” (Avot), would combine matzah and marror and eat them. Why?

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook (Olat Re’iyah 289) explains that we have to view slavery and freedom not as two distinct forces that do not influence each other, but as two forces which are linked together and which complete each other.

Matzah, symbolizing freedom, alludes to Israel’s instinctive love of G-d, His Torah, His mitzvot and His creations. By contrast, marror, symbolizing slavery, teaches us that we have to bring that love from a potential to a reality through our being slaves to the will of G- d. This is exalted enslavement, enslavement to the King of Glory, which is total freedom. Thus, the perfect form of freedom emerges when it is linked to slavery.

Today, we must learn from Hillel the Elder as we approach reclining on the seder night as free men. As we celebrate the holiday of freedom, we must tell our children, and ourselves, the remarkable story of our people when they were first born in the darkness of Egypt. We must tell of the miracles and wonders which G-d performed by dint of His love for His firstborn son Israel. We must tell of Israel’s good soul, which serves to bring light to the entire world despite the forces of darkness which rise up against us in every generation with the intent of snuffing out the light of the world -- it will never be! We must remember that freedom truly demands enslavement, and we must combine the two together, as in the words of Rav Yehuda HaLevi (Kuzari 5:205):

“I seek only freedom from enslavement to man. I seek enslavement to One -- to G-d, because enslavement to Him is freedom, and surrender to Him is the true glory.”

With blessings for a joyous festival of freedom,
Looking forward to complete salvation and redemption,
Shabbat Shalom,
Chag Kasher V'Sameach.

Emunah in God is not all or nothing

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

Shabbos Night
WE MADE it, thank God. We’ve made it to another Pesach, something most of us just took for granted two years ago would always be the case. If you were young enough and healthy enough, you could just assume that you’d be back for more Pesach cleaning next year, and yet another Seder.

Not this year. How many people were lost to the virus this past year who thought they’d be here this year? At least WE thought they’d be here this year. Those who made it through this year with their health, and their parnassah as well, will have much to celebrate, b”H. But many may still find it difficult to enjoy themselves this Pesach, having lost loved ones over the last year, or for any reason.

This is just another tough reminder, that the world we live in is not the ideal one we’d like to be living in. It is more like it was in Egypt when the four-fifths died, and it will be like in next week’s parsha with the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. The latter, we will see, is alluded to in this week’s parsha.

I am talking about the 12,000,000 Jews who died in the Plague of Darkness. The three-day loss of four-fifths of the Jewish population whose crime had “only” been rejection of redemption, must have been a real shocker and heart-breaker for so many of the survivors. Though the Torah ignores this part of the story, and it looks like business-as-usual for the rest of the Jewish people, it is very hard to believe that was so. It had to have affected them, even if they were extremely grateful to have survived.

Thus, at one of the most joyous and long anticipated moments in history, they had to contend with an extremely important and depressing reality. Even relatives who fight with one another feel bad if one of them meets with an untimely death. Certainly a lot of people had to have felt somewhat sad at the great loss.

Shabbos Day
Then there was the incident of Nadav and Avihu, the two older sons of Aharon HaKohen. The Jewish people had finally atoned for the sin of the golden calf, received a replacement set of tablets, built a Mishkan, and were waiting for the Divine Presence to descend and dwell upon it. It was a historic and awesome moment…that was overturned in a flash by the dramatic deaths of Nadav and Avihu.

It won’t happen until the next parsha after Pesach, but the verse:

And he slaughtered [it], and Moshe took… (Vayi-kra 8:23)

probably alludes to it. There is a shelsheles cantillation note over the Hebrew word for “and he slaughtered,” usually implying some kind of subconscious hesitation. At that stage, Moshe thought that he and Aharon were about to die, as had been foretold to him back in Parashas Tetzaveh.

Within a moment, the Jewish people went from the heights of joy to the depths of shock and mourning. The very same Kohen Gadol appointed to lead the nation in that joy, was the very father who lost his two oldest sons in the midst of it all. How could Aharon HaKohen have been expected to still function in his role to capacity?

Moshe’s response was to be expected of a brother and uncle:

Then Moshe said to Aharon, “This is what God said, ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” (Vayikra 10:3)

It wasn’t empty consolation. Moshe meant it. He told Aharon his brother that even though they had erred, and had died by the hand of God, they had been great people. But it was Aharon’s reaction that stole the moment:

And Aharon was silent. (Vayikra 10:3)

Sometimes, perhaps even most the time, power and greatness are expressed through words and actions. And on some rarer occasions, they are expressed through silence. It could be that Aharon HaKohen’s silence was the most powerful example of this in history, or close to it.

His predecessor was Avraham Avinu himself. He had just returned from passing his tenth and final test, Akeidas Yitzchak. And what was the great thing? He got to have his cake and eat it too, which is not always the case in this world. Avraham had been ready to slaughter his only child from his beloved Sarah, he had pleased God, and then he was told that he didn’t actually have to do it.

But when Avraham returned home to share the amazing news with his wife, she was no longer alive. While he had been away doing the will of God, God had taken her soul, and as a consequence of Akeidas Yitzchak:

The account of Sarah’s demise was juxtaposed to the binding of Yitzchak because as a result of the news of the “binding” that her son was prepared for slaughter and was almost slaughtered, her soul flew out of her, and she died. (Bereishis Rabbah 58:5)

Once again, from the heights of joy to the depths of shock and mourning, perhaps this time with a little salt rubbed into the wound. After all, it was Avraham’s test that led to her death.

Avraham’s reaction? It’s encoded in the small Chof of the word “livkosa—to cry for her” (Bereishis 23:3). It hints that Avraham did not cry excessively for his departed wife, as might have been expected from anyone else. “God forbid,” Avraham thought, “that anyone should think that I consider what happened to be unjust in any way!”

Shalosh Seudot
EMUNAH IN God is not all or nothing. Some people have a little faith in God, some have more, and some have complete faith in God. Tragically, some have none at all.

Faith in God is always necessary but difficult when life does not go as we hope, when Divine justice does not match of our idea of it. But having emunah at such times is what it really means to “go with God.”

We’re smart, but not smarter than God. We know a lot, but not nearly as much as God does. Of course. How could anyone think otherwise? Well, we do, a lot more often than we think. The moment we minimize the role of Hashgochah Pratis—Divine Providence—in life, and go instead with our own thinking, our own hunch, we do exactly that, some more consciously than others.

This is Olam HaZeh; everything doesn’t always add up for us. It always does for God, but not for us. We left Paradise, were expelled from it. We were sent into a world in which bad things happen, seemingly even to good people. Events occur that do not necessarily make sense to us, at least not right away. Rarely is victory 100 percent; there are costs, and there have been for thousands of years now.

It may not be so bad to want to have your cake and eat it too. It’s only bad if you define success that way, if you base your willingness to go the next important step upon the success of the previous one. People who thought this way have often never taken that next step, discouraged by their previous failure. Even worse, feeling abandoned by God, they turned their back on Him, instead choosing the comfort of slavery over the pain of freedom.

Melave Malkah
AND YET the matzah sits there on our Seder tables, teaching the same lesson. Halachically it is bread, but certainly not the one of choice for most people. The baking of bread has become an art, and people spend a fair bit of money to eat their bread of choice. Put a fresh baked challah on the table next to a piece of matzah, and the challah will win out just about every time.

As the Maharal points out, matzah is more of a symbol of the World-to-Come than it is of this world. This world is complex, complicated, and bloated. Matzah is the opposite of all three, representative of a world in which we will no longer need material pleasures to remind us that we’re alive. God will be the only pleasure we’ll need, and the greatest one we’ll ever know.

This makes matzah a reminder of the imperfection of this world. It’s so imperfect that we’re constantly having to compensate with one commodity or another. We need things to make us feel complete, some spiritual, many physical.

But that’s okay, because it is what makes us pursue higher levels of living. It makes us think and consider, so that we can add to our sense of personal meaning and existence. It’s the people who think that perfection already exists who have difficulty moving forward when they learn otherwise. They miss the point of this world, and stagnate spiritually.

So yes, we will sit down this Pesach and celebrate an imperfect exodus from Egyptian slavery. We may recall all the difficult times the Jewish people have had to endure over the millennia. We will probably recall many of the sad losses of the last year. But if we learn anything at all, it is that we don’t know everything, understand only some things, and have to trust in God for everything. The person who lives like this is the truly free person. Chag Kosher v’Samayach.

It doesn’t matter who wins the 2021 Election

Parashat Tzav Erev Pesach 5781
by HaRav Nachman Kahana

This is being written on the 23rd of March 2021 on the fourth election day in two years. But from my angle of vision as a retiree from active participation in Israeli life, now perched high above the din, babel, cacophony, and discordance of our political system, I can say that it really doesn’t matter who wins or loses the election! I will explain towards the end of this article.

Every verse, word and letter in the Torah is meaningful and significant, to the extent that if even one letter is missing or damaged in a Torah scroll, that Torah scroll is invalid for public reading. Notwithstanding this adjudication, it is for us who are not erudite in the profundities of Kabala and the myriad secrets behind the Torah’s text, to relate to the verses of the Torah in a manner that is meaningful for us.

One of the most intriguing verses in the book of Shemot is in parashat Yitro:

ואשא אתכם על כנפי נשרים
And I have borne you (when leaving Egypt) on the wings of eagles.

Did Hashem actually provide every freed slave with his personal eagle? So, in addition to the literal meaning of the verse, I suggest the following:

The Torah records the physical characteristics of mammals which render them as kosher: chew its cud and have split hooves; fish must have fins and scales. However, there are no such indicators regarding species of fowl. But there is a rabbinic tradition that states that kosher birds have four characteristics: it is not a bird of prey; has an extra toe, a crop, and a gizzard that can be peeled. There are differences of opinion whether a bird needs to have all or just some of these features for it to be considered kosher, unless there is a tradition that it is kosher.

An eagle does not have even one kosher characteristic, it is mehadrin treif.

HaShem is telling us in this pasuk that He brought the Jews out of Egypt despite the fact that they were like eagles with not even one sign of what a chosen people must be. They had no Torah, no mitzvot. They were boorish and ignorant, having undergone slavery for generations. Yet HaShem freed them in order to become His chosen nation by virtue of the holy Jewish neshama that was their essence, being direct descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, which provided them with great spiritual potential.

A Holy Jewish Government
The book of Shemot ends with instructions for erecting the Mishkan — forging its implements, the Kohanic garments and choosing of the kohanim.

The book of Bamidbar details the arrangement of the tribes around the Mishkan which stood in the center of the encampment.

The Mishkan was erected within a large rectangular courtyard whose dimensions were measured in “amot” (approx. half a meter): 100 amot long in the north and south and 50 amot wide in the west and east. Approximately 50 meters long by 25 meters wide, in all 1250 square meters (or 4100 square feet).

Immediately surrounding the Mishkan to the north, south and west encamped the families of the tribe of Levi. To the east, by the entrance to the courtyard leading to the Mishkan were Moshe, Aharon and their immediate families.

On the outer perimeter of the courtyard to the north were the tribes of Dan, Naftali and Asher; to the south Re’uven, Shimon and Gad; to the west Efrayim, Menashe and Binyamin, and to the east the tribes of Yehuda, Yissachar and Zevulun. What was the rationale behind the division of the respective tribes on each of the four sides?

I submit that Dan, Naftali and Asher were placed in the north because they were destined to receive their homesteads in the north of Eretz Yisrael (Lebanon is an extension of the tribal areas of Naftali and Asher).

Reuven, Shimon and Gad were placed in the south because they were destined not to receive their homesteads on the western side of the Jordan. The homesteads of Reuven and Gad were to the east of the Jordan and Shimon was allotted an enclave within the tribe of Yehuda.

Efrayim, Menashe and Binyamin were together because they were descendants of Mother Rachel.

To the east, at the opening to the courtyard of the Mishkan, and neighbors of Moshe and Aharon were the tribes of Yehuda, Yissachar and Zevulin. Why? The Gemara in Shevuot 16a states that the classic Jewish government is composed of four separate branches: the king who was responsible for civil matters, including the military; the Kohen Gadol; the Sanhedrin which dealt with the adjudication of halachic problems, and the reigning prophet of the time.

As stated above, to the east at the entrance to the courtyard was the tribe of Yehuda from whom came the kings of Israel; the tribe of Yissachar were great scholars, with the tribe of Zevulun supplying Yissachar with the material needs which permitted them to study Torah; Moshe was the prophet and Aharon the Kohen Gadol. Meaning, at the entrance to the Mishkan’s courtyard were all four branches of the holy Jewish government which received their spiritual direction to lead HaShem’s chosen nation.

Democracy replaced by Religious Monarchy
A leap to our times… In some way we are the Biblical “eagle” which has no kosher signs, yet HaShem is bringing about our redemption from galut based on our spiritual potential.

Today the Medina has no king, no Sanhedrin, no Kohen Gadol and no prophet. Yet HaShem established Medinat Israel because of the great spiritual potential within the Jewish people here in Eretz Yisrael.

What is important to note is that all four branches of a Torah government are centered at the Temple Mount in Yerushalayim. The king’s palace was adjacent to the Mount. The Sanhedrin sat in one of the Temple’s chambers, the Bet Hamikdash was obviously there, and the source of prophecy came from the Holy of Holies.

All future meaningful activities of worldwide repercussions will be centered around Yerushalayim.

At the onset of our national unity, HaShem was aware of all the diverse possibilities of social and national administrations, including democracy. Yet He deemed most suitable for the Jewish people a monarchy supported by three other branches of government which were positioned to guide the king to be an autocratic, although “benevolent” leader. This is the appropriate and compatible form of government which can dictate common goals and direction to unify the diverse characteristics of the Jewish genius.

At some time in the not-too-distant future, democracy will be replaced here by a religious monarchy which will reform the chaos we are experiencing now.

I write this not because it will be the desire of the majority, but because it will happen due to the necessity of having a strong, charismatic leader at the helm of our nation who will guide the nation back to the Torah values for which we were chosen at Sinai by HaShem.

Shabbat Shalom
Pesach kasher ve’Samayach
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5781/2021 Nachman Kahana

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Shamrak Report: Keep Your Promise - Apply Sovereignty

by Hana Levi Julian

A thousand young people, members of the Sovereignty Youth Movement, from across Israel signed a joint call to the heads of the right-wing parties to include the application of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria in their coalition guidelines for the next government.

In their appeal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, MK Naftali Bennett, MK Bezalel Smotrich, Gideon Sa'ar and MK Avigdor Liberman the youths called for not being satisfied with promises and declarations; promises made in the past to apply sovereignty must be kept, they demanded in a new campaign.

This time, don't just make promises this time keep the promises!

They demand the application of Israel s sovereignty in Judea and Samaria be included in the coalition guidelines for any government in which the right-wing takes part.

The people who vote right wing deserve to have a right-wing government; you have the power to do it!

Food for Thought
by Steven Shamrak
Jews have always been advisers, clever jesters, ministers to rulers in the Diaspora - but never had the power to make really important decisions! When something was done well and people were happy kings took credit; otherwise, Jews were blamed for failures. Even now, having our own state, Jewish leadership is still unable to break this mental barrier and remains in a 'galut , mentality! Jew-hate is a religion - regardless if a hater is Christian, Muslim, Democrat, Socialist, Communist or Nazi, intelligent or idiot! No rational response or justification is able to end it, or even change the mind of an Anti-Semite. Only a strong, proud, confident and unapologetic Israel will!

'Honeymoon is over' with UAE
As Israel heads to the polls next week for the fourth time in two years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to capitalize on his new partnership with the United Arab Emirates. But the UAE has been mostly muted - and perhaps unimpressed - in response to Netanyahu s ebullient descriptions of billions in Emirati commercial investments and promises of a historic meeting with the powerful Abu Dhabi crown prince, the de facto ruler of the UAE!

Digging Tunnels is Their Major Business
A tunnel has been dug at the initiative of the Palestinian Authority near the Israeli communities of Telem and Adora on Mount Hebron. The area where the tunnel was dug is under Israeli jurisdiction, but the PA has been attempting to take over land in the area through various means, including paving roads, planting seedlings in rocky territory to lay claim to the land. (...and nothing is being done again about it by the Israeli government! When will stupidity end? The PA can t pay for vaccination of the population under its control, but has no problem with funding digs of terror tunnels, and payments to terrorists!)

Thank You Russia!
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi thanked Russia for its efforts to recover the remains of Israelis in Syria, during a meeting in Moscow. Russian soldiers are reportedly searching for legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen s remains. In 2019, the Russian army found the remains of IDF soldier Zachary Baumel, who had been missing since 1982, and returned them to Israel. The remains of two other soldiers declared missing in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub, during the 1982 Lebanon War, have yet to be recovered.

IRGC Flexing Muscles
The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy unveiled a new missile city with a wide range of cruise and ballistic missiles. Also on display: a missile system capable of shifting its focus on given targets after being launched. (What is Israel waiting for hundreds of rockets with nuclear heads flying toward Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem?)

No Normalization with Saudis?
One day ahead of the Israeli election, that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman will not agree to normalize relations with Israel until a full-fledged Palestinian state is established. At the same time, Crown Prince Ben Salman believes, that regional leaders should give the highest priority to economic development and diversity to rescue the people of the region from corruption and poverty, and not use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an excuse. (They still hate Israel, but need Jews to help Arabs states to deal with Iran, and raise "economic development"!)

Quote of the Week:
"The decision of the Court in The Hague is political, miserable and anti-Semitic. Instead of dealing with countries that actually violate human rights, they are harassing us. The basis of this investigation is completely political, not legal." - Former Justice Minister, MK Ayelet Shaked, from Yamina party.

Biden vs Trump Factor

Biden Factor:
1. Biden Resetting Ties with PA
Internal document reveals US looking to reverse Trump-era policy by reinstating financial aid to Palestinians and taking tougher stance on Israeli settlement activities. The goal is to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace under a two-state solution framework based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps and agreements on security and refugees.

2. Jordan Counting on Biden Against Israel
The Hashemite kingdom - which kept a low profile during the term of former US President Donald Trump, a close Netanyahu ally - now believes the winds have shifted and Joe Biden will show a more balanced (anti-Israel) approach. When Jordan sabotaged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to the United Arab Emirates last week. Netanyahu had been due to meet the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, to mark the historic agreement between Israel and the UAE.

3. Willingness to Pressure Israel Increased!
Americans continue to favour Israel over the Palestinians, yet their support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) has increased to 30 percent.

The percentage of Americans wanting more pressure exerted on the Israel has increased from 27 percent to 34 percent. This is the highest level of demand for pressuring Israel since 2007. The majority of those favouring pressure on Israel are Democrats.

Trump Factor:
Four More Arab-Israel Peace Deals on the Way
Four more Arab nations are in talks for normalization with Israel to join the circle of peace in the Middle East. The announcement reinforces predictions made last year by then-US President Donald Trump, and earlier this month by his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Former senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Mauritania are on the way to reaching peace deals.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Tamid and the Wood

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg 
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

Our parsha opens with the korban tamid, which has a special mitzvah: "The priest shall kindle wood upon it every morning." (Vayikra 6:5)

The Gemara (Yoma 26b) derives from the pesukim that the morning tamid requires two blocks of wood in the hands of one kohen, whereas the evening tamid requires two blocks of wood in the hands of two kohanim. The Gemara does not explain, though, the distinction between the morning tamid and that of the evening.

There is another difference between the two temidim. In Yechezkel it says: "You shall prepare a sheep ... as a daily burnt-offering for Hashem; you shall make it every morning." (46:13) Radak notes that the evening tamid is not mentioned there, and writes that in the future the tamid will only be offered in the morning and not in the evening.

I heard from Rav Shlomo Fisher shlita a wonderful explanation of this.

Chazal disclosed that the morning offering comes to remind the merit of akeidat Yitzchak. It says in the Mishna Tamid (ch. 4): "They would not tie the lamb, but rather bind [its fore and back legs]," and the Gemara explains, "like the binding of Yitzchak, son of Avraham." It further says in Parshat Tzav, "he shall prepare the burnt-offering upon it, and burn the fats of the peace-offering on it." This teaches that the morning tamid precedes all the other sacrifices; i.e., all of the sacrifices should follow the morning tamid, in order to mention the merit of Yitzchak in all of them.

The evening tamid, on the other hand, comes to atone for the sin of the golden calf. Therefore, its time is from six hours (midday) and on, just as it says about the golden calf, "The people saw that Moshe delayed (boshesh) in coming," (Shemot 32:34) as Chazal comment: "boshesh – ba shesh," the sixth hour came and Moshe did not arrive. In every generation there is something of the sin of the egel, as Chazal explain the verse: "On the day of My reckoning, I will reckon." (Shemot 32:34) Thus, in the future, the sin of the golden calf will be atoned for, and there will no longer be a need for the evening tamid.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (102a) says that until the time of Yerovam, Bnei Yisrael "nursed" from one calf, and from Yerovam's time and on they "nursed" from two or three calves. Rashi explains that at first they were punished for the sin of one calf, and from Yerovam and on they were punished for three calves, i.e., also for the two that Yerovam made.

Yerovam's calves are something not understandable, one of G-d's secrets. When Rechavam King of Yehuda came to fight against Yerovam, and to reunite the kingdom, the prophet Shemaya says to him: "Thus says Hashem: "Do not go up and do not battle your brethren Bnei Yisrael. Return each man to his house, for this matter was from Me." (Melachim I 12: 24) Immediately afterwards, Yerovam makes the two golden calves. This was revealed and known to G-d, and even so He told Rechavam that he should not go fight against Yerovam. This must also have been included in, "this matter was from Me," and apparently this was part of the punishment of the golden calf.

Based on this, Rav Fisher explained why the morning tamid was offered with two blocks of wood in the hand of one priest, whereas the evening tamid was offered with two blocks in the hands of two priests. The division of the kingdom is alluded to by the two pieces of wood, as it says in Yechezkel: "Take for yourself one piece of wood and write upon it, 'for Judah' ... and take one piece of wood and write upon it, 'For Joseph' ... Then bring them close to yourself, one to the other ... and they will become united in your hands." (37:16-17) Thus, for the morning tamid, which indicates the perfected world of the future, one priest unites the two pieces of wood. The evening tamid, on the other hand – which comes to atone for the sin of the golden calf – alludes to the imperfect state, that the two pieces of wood are separate, and therefore two priests bring the two pieces of wood.

In the future, the sin of the golden calf will be rectified, and unity will return to Am Yisrael. No longer will the evening tamid be offered, but only the morning one, in which the two blocks of wood will be unified in the hands of one kohen. Yechezkel's prophecy about the unity of the tribes will be fulfilled.

The Forecast

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

The likeliest outcome of this week’s election in Israel is that there will be no outcome. It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that it is insane to do the same thing again and again and expect a different result. I am excited to be a new voter; by the next election – oh, perhaps after Succot – I will already be a veteran voter.

That being said, there are certain points worthy of mention. The campaign has been devoid of issues except for one: “for Bibi” or “against Bibi.” It is as shallow as it sounds. The working assumption is that the Likud will again be the largest party. PM Netanyahu’s base is solid and its support for him is personal. It deems the endless media attacks on him and his legal woes as venomous fabrications. It is a populist support that should sound familiar to any American.

Netanyahu’s run has been remarkable. On May 9, 2021, he will have served as prime minister consecutively longer than FDR served as the American president. But in a parliamentary democracy, that is astonishing and almost without parallel in the world. Angela Merkel has served as Germany’s Chancellor since 2005 but they hold elections every four years, like clockwork (it is Germany, after all) and the choice is binary. Italy, a fractious democracy like Israel, has had seven prime ministers in the twelve plus years that Netanyahu has been prime minister of Israel. He has "won" seven straight elections.

That is not just a testament to his political skills, which alone could educate less gifted politicians. Timing the election so that Israel both acquired the Corona vaccines and distributed them flawlessly – an election on the cusp of a return to normalcy, springtime is here, Pesach days away – is exquisite, a case study in political management. And he projects an aura of leadership both because of his personal qualities and his longevity. Israeli teenagers have known no other prime minister. That is astounding.

Timing, in life, also requires knowing when to step aside, and the longer Netanyahu has served the more vehement and angry his detractors have become. What infuriates them is that Netanyahu’s tenure has been marked by notable successes – a booming economy, a dramatic decline in terror, peace agreements with four Arab states, pressure on Iran, the relative absence of war, increasing integration of Haredim in the army and the work force, low unemployment (pre-pandemic) and others. What should infuriate others are the missed opportunities and the political zigzags that are products mostly of opportunism and unscrupulousness. Netanyahu has never failed to reach out to left-wing rivals who had condemned him during the campaigns to avoid forming a right-wing government. He has usually perceived his right-wing ideological allies (especially the Religious Zionists in whatever political form) as expendable, and only useful if his sole alternative is political oblivion. Those non-right wing saviors have included Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz and others. His only stable alliances on the right have been the religious right – the Haredi parties whose interests are parochial and frequently mercenary.

And the missed opportunities are legion. Hamas and Hezbollah are not vanquished but are stronger. They have recovered from all the skirmishes and their threats loom on the northern and southern borders. What else? Extending Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria in whole or in part, and even applying civil rather than military administration to Israeli residents there; reining in the excesses of the Supreme Court by limiting their jurisdiction (now infinite) and their authority to review and reject Knesset legislation (at least until such time as Marbury and Madison make aliya); preserving Jewish identity in matters of conversion, marriage, divorce, aliya, the Kotel, etc., instead of just kicking these cans down the road; giving secular American Jews veto power over Israeli initiatives, not recognizing that their own houses are in disarray and, as such, it would be disastrous to import their ideology and ideas to Israel; allowing housing prices to so escalate as to price the average Israeli out of the housing market. And there are others as well, engendering the conclusion that Netanyahu has often talked more boldly than he has acted and his default position has often been passivity, letting problems fester rather than taking a position and risk angering some group or another.

His coalition choices have shown him to be so malleable that, given his outreach to Arab Israelis in this election in order to offset his loss of some right wing votes to Gideon Saar’s party, it is within the realm of reason that to reach the threshold of 61 mandates to form a government, he will reach out to the “moderate” Ra’am Arab party if they enter the Knesset. That would be a first, earth-shaking, but quite possible. Of course, it bears recollection that just in the recent past Netanyahu supported the expulsion from Gaza and then opposed it, supported the two-state illusion and then opposed it, so where he winds up in any term on any particular issue is somewhat speculative.

There are other nuances that characterize this election. Each election finds some new parties competing, and this election’s flavor of the month is Gideon Saar’s “New Hope” party. It is as if “hope” alone is insufficient, but his electoral prospects are already diminishing. The leftist parties are in danger of disappearing, simply because their ideology speaks to fewer and fewer Israelis and their proposed concessions for “peace” even fewer. Yair Lapid’s “Yesh Atid” (“There is a Future”) party has endured more than a decade because, among other reasons, he presents the most compelling party name: “There is a Future.” That logic is irrefutable. Avigdor Lieberman’s “Yisrael Beteinu” has morphed from an anti-Arab party to an anti-Haredi party. Give him credit for honesty: he makes no effort to conceal his hatreds. But it is jarring to see his advertisements which our negative without even a glimmer of positivity or platform: “a government without Haredim.” That is disgraceful.

The oddity of the Haredi parties is their seemingly fixed share of the electorate even as their percentage of the population escalates, to the chagrin of Lieberman. From four seats in 1977 (Agudat Yisrael), to seven in 2013 (as UTJ) to seven today with projections either seven or six seats in this election, they don’t seem to mobilize their base and certainly not attract any support beyond their base. Granted, I personally witnessed last week amusing signs in Meah Shearim prohibiting any Jew from voting in their “impure Zionist elections” but I don’t that influences more than a relative handful of people. Nor do their voters respond reflexively to the mandates of their rabbanim, the mythology of the seculars notwithstanding. Where are those voters?

An analogous but somewhat more comprehensible enigma is the struggle of the Religious Zionist parties in increasing their share of the vote – even crossing the electoral threshold. As noted here, the religious Zionists are victims of their own success in integrating themselves and their values into the Israeli mainstream, even if they frequently tend to moderate or suppress those values on occasion. There are religious Zionists in a half dozen political parties and the RZ voter is not easily pigeon-holed. The most cherished values of Religious Zionism are not necessarily shared by every religious Zionist. People content themselves with being generally supportive, 80%, but that missing 20% can make the difference between having a truly Jewish state or just a gathering place of Jews.

Thus, the capable Naftali Bennett, who has always drawn Netanyahu’s ire, is attempting again to reach out to the general voters while retaining his RZ base, a neat trick if he can pull it off. The danger has always been that he then presents his party as “Likud B,” which lures potential voters back into the camp of “Likud A.” The only truly RZ party defiantly calls itself for this election “the Religious Zionist Party,” so there should not be any doubt about it. And even that party, led by the talented Betzalel Smotrich, has its RZ critics because it linked up with even further right wing parties so those votes should not go to waste, an entirely plausible proposition that seems to trouble those who seek ideological purity.

That too remains the outstanding feature of this election, so humdrum because of its redundancy that it has attracted little international interest. Every party except for Naftali Bennett’s Yamina has underscored with whom it will not sit, leading to a macabre game of musical chairs in which, when the music stops, not enough people are sitting and so there is no government. If only more parties and people here would adopt Ronald Reagan’s aphorism: “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally - not a 20 percent traitor.”

The formation of a government will rest on a very narrow margin – a seat or two or three – but there is no reason to assume that there will not be another election in the fall, as long as PM Netanyahu heads the Likud ticket. If Moshe himself found his people ungovernable, what are we to say? At least let us find the common ground that unites us and build on that.

A Tale of Two Cities – A Tale of Two Worlds

Pesach 5781
by HaRav Nachman Kahana


Picture a frum (observant) family living in any one of the great Torah centers in the galut; they could even be your next-door neighbors!

The home of Reb Sender and Mrs. Rayza is impeccable; the result of the great time and energy, not to speak of the money, which the expeditious and skillful ba’alat ha’bayit (woman of the house) has devoted to it.

The sofas and armchairs in the sitting room, which look so inviting if not for the thick plastic covers which ensure that the upholstery retains its “new” look.

The five-meter-long dining room table is covered with the finest Irish linen tablecloth. In the middle of the table stands the imposing sterling silver candle sticks handed down from mother to daughter for generations. The china is the finest Rosenthal, with each plate delicately rounded off with a band of gold. The silverware has been put away in favor of goldware in honor of the great night.

On the table, under a hand embroidered silk cloth, lay the matzot. On the insistence of the two sons learning in the recently opened Yeshiva Taharas Ha’Torah in Las Vegas (in order to bring the voice of Torah even to the entrance of Gehennom (hell]), the matzot are from the first 18-minute batch, guaranteeing that no naughty piece of dough would be hiding in any of the rollers. The hand matzot were personally chosen by the Rebbe of the shteibel (home synagogue) where the family davens since leaving the central shul which was costing too much. The rebbe assured the boys that the matzot were bubble-free, with no overturned edges.

The wall-to-wall carpet is as deep as grows the grass in the beautiful garden. Above the table hangs the family’s pride and joy – a many faceted crystal chandelier, personally chosen by Rayza on the family’s last visit to Prague.

Reb Sender is wearing his new bekeshe (silk robe), the one with the swirls of blue, with a gold-buckled gartel (belt). Rayza has just said the Shehechiyanu blessing (gratitude for seeing this day) over the $3000 dress imported from Paris. The boys are handsome in their wide-brimmed black hats and the two girls will make beautiful kallahs (brides) when the time comes, dressed in their very expensive dresses.

The seder goes better than expected. Words of Torah, beginning with an invitation to the hungry to join with them in the meal, despite the fact that there is not a needy person within 50 miles. A lively discussion develops on the characters of the “four sons”. The afikomen (ritual dessert matza) is “stolen” by the youngest daughter who, for its return, has succeeded in extorting from abba (father) a vacation in Hawaii.

Songs of thanks to HaShem for freeing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt are recited. For it is a mitzva on this night for each person to consider himself as if he or she were slaves in Mitzrayim.

Birkat Hamazon (grace after meals) on is said, as is the second part of Hallel. Chad Gadya puts the final touch on the mitzvot of the night. Now, just as HaShem destroys the “Angel of Death” in the song, father jumps up — and gathering the family in a circle, they all break out in a frenzy of song — “L’shana ha’ba’a Be’Yerushalayim” —”next year in Jerusalem”. Again, and again around the table “L’shana ha’ba’a Be’Yerushalayim” is sounded. Louder and louder until their song merges with the same melody resounding from the neighbors’ homes, cutting a path into the highest realms of heaven.

Suddenly Mama collapses into a chair crying hysterically. The singing stops. Father runs over and asks why she is crying just now at the apex of the beautiful sacred night?

“What do you mean next year in Yerushalayim? What about the table, the chandelier, the deep carpet, the Rosenthal china! How can we leave all this?”

Father approaches Mama and taking her hand while gently dabbing her tears away, in a voice full of compassion says to his beloved wife, “Darling, don’t cry, IT’S ONLY A SONG!”

Ten thousand kilometers to the east, in Eretz Yisrael, lives Reb Sender’s brother Kalman. Kalman had moved to Eretz Yisrael many years ago and was blessed with a beautiful family and an adequate apartment. His son, Yossi, will not be home for the Seder night since he is doing his army service within the Hesder yeshiva system.

But the parents are not overly worried, because Yossi himself told them that he is in a safe place in the north and that next year they will all be together for the Seder.

At 12 noon, on the 14th of Nisan, Erev Pesach (day before Pesach), Yossi and three other soldiers from the same yeshiva were called to the company commander’s room, where he informed them that they had been chosen to fill an assignment that evening, on the Seder night. They were to cross the border into Hezbollah territory in Southern Lebanon and man the outpost bunker on hill 432.

Yossi knew the hill well; he had been there several times in the past year. It was sarcastically called a “bunker,” but in reality, it was nothing more than a fox hole large enough for four soldiers. Their assignment was to track terrorist movements and destroy them on contact. It was tolerable except when it rained, which caused the bottom of the hole to be soggy and muddy. But today the four hoped that it would rain, even though chances were small since it was late in the season. On the 14th of every Hebrew month the moon is full, which presents a greater danger when crossing into enemy territory; so, rain would be a mixed blessing.

At 5 PM, they were given the necessary arms and ammunition. In addition, the army rabbinate had provided them with 4 plastic containers each holding 3 matzot and all the ingredients necessary for a seder, as well as 4 plastic bottles of wine, sufficient for 4 cups, and of course a Haggadah.

At 6 PM they waited at the fence for the electricity to be turned off, in order to cross into hostile territory. Yossi held in his hand a map of the minefield they would have to cross. “It was so strange,” Yossi thought, “this is the area assigned to the tribe of Naftali, and we have to enter it crawling on our stomachs.”

At that moment, ten thousand kilometers to the west, it was 11:00 AM and Yossi’s two cousins in New York were just entering the mikveh to prepare for the Pesach holiday.

At 6:15 PM the small aperture in the gate opened and they passed through. As they had hoped, it was raining, and the thick fog was to their advantage.

The 4 soldiers reached hill 432 after walking double -time for 5 kilometers. They removed the camouflage and settled in, pulled the grassy cover over them.

Each soldier was assigned a direction. Talking was forbidden. If any murderers were sighted, a light tap on the shoulder would bring them all to the proper direction. After settling in, they prayed Ma’ariv and began the Seder. In was finished within a half hour, and not unexpectedly, the four cups of “wine” had no detrimental effect on their senses.

At 8 PM in NY, the family returned from shul to begin their Seder. It was then 3 AM in Eretz Yisrael and the four soldiers were waging a heroic battle against boredom and sleep. The minutes crawled by and at the first approach of light they exited their outpost and returned through the minefield and electric fence to the base. After reporting to the officer in charge, the four entered their tent, and collapsed on their cots without removing clothing or shoes, because in an hour they would have to begin the shacharit service.

Shabbat Shalom,
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5780/2020 Nachman Kahana

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Special Rules Regarding the Kohanim

by Rabbi Dov Berel Wein

The Torah emphasizes in this week’s parsha a basic truism regarding religious leadership. Since there are no perfect people in the world and all humans commit some wrong at one time or another in one’s lifetime - naturally, the magnitude of that wrong will vary by its very nature and by the position and public perception of the individual involved - and this feature can be very disheartening to the religious purist who seeks only perfection from others, the Torah comes to teach us special rules regarding the kohanim - the priests of Israel who minister, so to speak, between God and humans. The kohen was not a free agent to improvise the service, to make it more currently popular or meaningful. The service in the Temple was what it was and was not to be tampered with or improved upon. The kohen was held to a standard of behavior and a discipline of participation in the Temple service. He was meant to be holy but there were provisions made for his own sin offerings as the occasion warranted. Apparently holiness is still not perfection. The kohen could fulfill his duties only by following the instructions exactly as proscribed in the Torah itself. This was not meant to stifle creativity or originality of the individual. It was meant however to standardize the Temple service, to make certain that everyone who participated in the services there was treated equally and that the kohanim did not discriminate, play favorites or otherwise indicate behavior not in keeping with their station and service requirements.

The kohanim went through an installation ceremony described in this week’s parsha. There were many lessons to be learned before one actually took up the duties of being a kohen. One of the lessons was to discipline one’s self in performing the service in the Temple. In next week’s parsha we will read of the tragedy that befell the oldest two sons of Aharon when they disregarded this iron rule of Temple service discipline and improvised their own "strange fire" into the service. Apparently the week’s training that preceded the actual opening of the Mishkan for sacrifices and services was insufficient in their case to impress upon them the severity of deviating from God’s instructions, no matter how noble and innovative they thought this deviation might be. Over the long history of the Jewish people many have come to improve and be overly innovative, to tamper with God’s instructions and "improve" the services of worship. None of these innovations has been able to stand the test of time and vicissitudes. Prayer services, houses of worship and study must conform to a tradition of discipline and continuity. This is the key to Jewish survival and longevity. Though neither Mishkan nor Temple is present currently in our world, the synagogue, its rituals, orders and services, have served as the substitute Temple for Jews for almost two millennia. Those who administer and care for the synagogue are today’s kohanim, so to speak. All of us would do well to heed the clear messages of this week’s parsha.

Under Biden, Old Mistakes Become New Again

After the Trump Administration presented the first reality-based proposal to end the Israeli-Arab conflict since 1967’s UN Security Council resolution 242, I thought I would never have to write an article like this one again. But thanks to the Biden Administration’s phalanx of pro-Palestinian officials, many of whom are Obama retreads, and its determination to reverse every one of Trump’s initiatives, here I am.

Last week a memo describing the administration’s position by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israeli-Palestinian affairs Hady Amr was leaked to The National, an English language newspaper published in Abu Dhabi. Suddenly it’s 2009 again, when Barak Obama made his conciliatory speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt.

The memo calls for a two-state solution “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps and agreements on security and refugees.” One wonders if they’ve learned nothing in all this time.

Obama’s people always said their ideas weren’t new, that they represented a continuation of traditional American policy toward the conflict. I’m sure Biden’s team will say the same. But this is incorrect, and it’s worth looking at a few historical facts before taking up the Biden Administration’s policy.

In 1949 Israel signed armistice agreements with Egypt and Jordan. In both cases, the Arabs made it clear that they did not recognize the state of Israel within any boundaries, and that the cease-fire lines were not borders; indeed, they had no political significance. Both agreements contain language like this (from the agreement with Egypt):

It is emphasised that it is not the purpose of this Agreement to establish, to recognise, to strengthen, or to weaken or nullify, in any way, any territorial, custodial or other rights, claims or interests which may be asserted by either Party in the area of Palestine or any part or locality thereof covered by this Agreement…

Fast forward to 1967. After the war, the UN Security Council passed resolution 242, which included this well-known text:

Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;

As a Chapter VI resolution, it was nonbinding; but it was accepted by both sides (due to a bit of deliberate ambiguity: it did not specify how much of the territories “occupied” had to be returned). Nevertheless, it was made clear by the British Ambassador to the UN, Lord Caradon, whose draft became the official version, that it did not require an Israeli withdrawal to the armistice lines. Indeed, even the Soviets admitted that this was the case. And the American UN Ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, explained as well that the US position was in accordance with the armistice agreements: the cease-fire lines were not the “secure and recognized boundaries” envisioned in the resolution.

If anything was “traditional American policy” it was the ideas expressed by 242: there would be negotiations between the parties, and the results of those negotiations would determine the borders, as well as obtaining normalization of relations between the State of Israel and its (one hoped) former foes. Peace treaties were indeed signed with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994. Although these treaties established borders between the countries, they did not deal with the armistice lines between pre-1967 Israel and the Gaza strip and Judea/Samaria.

In 1988, after the First Intifada, King Hussein of Jordan recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians and relinquished his claim to Judea/Samaria. From that point on, Jordan was out of the picture. American policy remained the same except that any negotiations over the future of these territories would have to be between Israel and the Palestinians. The Oslo Accords followed in 1994, and again the establishment of borders was considered a “final status issue,” to be settled later by direct negotiations between the parties.

In 2000, Bill Clinton unsuccessfully tried to mediate a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. A few months after the failure of the Camp David Summit, Clinton made a further proposal that included land swaps in which areas beyond the armistice lines that would be kept by Israel were balanced by a transfer of land from pre-1967 Israel to the Palestinians. This proposal was not accepted by the PLO.

This seems to be the first introduction of the pernicious idea of land swaps into American policy. Why pernicious? Because underlying it is the assumption that land beyond the armistice lines belonged to the Palestinians, and so they had to be compensated for any of it that Israel received. Keeping in mind the illegitimacy of the Jordanian invasion and occupation of Judea and Samaria, as well as the armistice agreements and resolution 242, the presumption that the Palestinians have prima facie ownership of the territories is a big step away from the even-handed 242 and toward a pro-Palestinian policy.

Of course, for Clinton this was a last-ditch proposal, and the understanding is that proposals are just that, and if there is no final deal then they disappear. Still, the Palestinians always try to insist that future negotiations must start at the high point of previously proposed concessions. Ehud Olmert renewed and expanded the swap idea in 2007-8. But this too was rejected (or simply ignored) by the Palestinians. Various initiatives by the Obama Administration also included the swap idea. No agreement could be reached then either, but swaps have now come to be considered essential to any peace agreement.

What seems to have happened over the years is the reification of the armistice lines. Instead of trying to find a solution that provided “secure and recognized boundaries,” the process now tries to find a way to give the Palestinians all the land they “deserve.” Of course this is impossible because of the physical geography of the region, which would make a pre-1967-size Israel indefensible. So then there needs to be discussion of “security arrangements” to protect Israel against the terrorism that would doubtless flow from a Palestinian state, in addition to the danger of invasion through the Jordan Valley. Fanciful ideas like foreign peacekeepers (something which did not work in Egypt in 1967 or in Lebanon since 2006), or complicated technological Maginot lines are contemplated, in order to obscure the fact that only Israeli military control of strategic territory can protect the state.

The Amr memo also references refugees. The “return” of the millions of descendants of Arab refugees from 1948 is another subject that has been shifted in the direction of Palestinian demands over the years. These descendants are not “refugees” according to international law; only the Palestinians and UNRWA, the UN agency that feeds, clothes, and educates them to believe that they will someday “return” to “their homes” that they have never seen, insist that they are. Even if they were refugees, there is no right of return in international law – just ask the millions of ethnic Germans that were kicked out of Central and Eastern European countries after WWII.

The Biden Administration seems intent on reopening these cans of worms that could have been disposed of if Trump’s “deal of the century” had been implemented. The deal represented a return to the philosophy of UNSC 242 and an end to the coddling of the PLO, which has never renounced terrorism, changed its charter, or seriously intended to be satisfied with a peaceful state alongside Israel, despite their insistence to the contrary. The plan could have broken the logjam that has prevented progress toward ending the conflict. Despite warnings to the contrary, the sky didn’t fall when the US finally recognized Israel’s true capital, or its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and the new policy helped bring about the normalization of relations between Israel and several Arab states.

Now, judging from the memo, the US will go back to funding the PLO – which refuses to stop paying terrorist’s salaries – and UNRWA. It will reopen the PLO embassy in Washington, and the “American Embassy to Palestine” (the US consulate in eastern Jerusalem). It even recommends going back to the policy of requiring that products from Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria not be labeled “made in Israel.”

In short, if the administration carries out these policies, Israel will be faced with the dilemma of choosing between dangerously compromising its security and its sovereignty, or damaging its relationship with an increasingly pro-Palestinian US administration.