Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Rav Kook on Parashat Pinchas: Appointing a Leader for Israel

Moshe was worried. Who would lead the Jewish people after his death?

“Moshe spoke to God, saying, ‘Let God... appoint someone over the community... so that God’s community will not be like sheep that have no shepherd.’

God told Moshe, ‘Take Yehoshua the son of Nun, a man of spirit, and lay your hand on him.’
Moshe did as God ordered him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Elazar the priest and before the entire community. He then laid his hands on him and commissioned him.” (Bamidbar 27:15-23)

Yehoshua's appointment to replace Moshe was a critical point in the spiritual and political development of the Jewish people. Every detail of this transfer of power is significant.

We read that God commanded Moshe to “lay your hand” on Joshua, and the Torah testifies that Moshe did as he was commanded. In fact, Moses placed both of his hands on his disciple. What is the significance of this change?

Material and Spiritual Leadership
The Jewish people require two types of leadership. Like any other nation, they need leaders for worldly matters, whether they be economic, societal, political, or military. In addition, as bearers of God’s Torah, they require spiritual guidance. Capable leadership will bring success in both spheres, revealing the greatness of Israel. All will recognize the wisdom of their ways, as befits a special people who enlighten the world with spiritual knowledge and holiness.

In his plea before God, we find that Moshe referred to the people as “the community” and also as “God’s community.” This reflects Moshe's desire that they have a leader in both spheres, material - as any nation - as well as spiritual - as “God’s community.”

One or Two Leaders?
The question is: Can both of these realms be combined under the guidance of a single leader? Or perhaps, it is necessary to establish two positions, one leader to govern the nation’s material needs, and a second for spiritual direction.

If there is no conflict between the two functions, it is preferable to limit the number of leaders. Shlomo HaMelech described the instability generated by too many authorities: “Because of a land’s sins, it will have many rulers. But a leader of understanding and knowledge will bring stability” (Mishlei 28:2).

The answer - whether spiritual and worldly leadership should be combined into one position - depends upon the state of the nation and the world. When God’s unity is manifest and the entire world enjoys God’s beneficence, anything contributing to the world’s advance is directly connected to God’s will. With material progress, the spirit gains understanding and insight. As the Talmud teaches, “All of your builders will be disciples of God” (Berachot 64a, based on Isaiah 54:13). Those who build up the world, in all of its aspects, will be granted enlightenment and wisdom. All who facilitate the world’s progress will be carrying out the will of their Creator. In their actions, they cleave to God’s holiness, just like the holiness associated with performing mitzvot and studying Torah.

In such an elevated reality, there is no conflict between the spiritual and material spheres, and supervision of both realms should be combined under a single leader. The prophetic visions foretold this state of the world under the leadership of the messianic king.

This was also the level of Moshe  who was responsible for both the spiritual and physical needs of Israel in the wilderness. He was an עבד נאמן, a faithful servant who looked after the people’s material needs, yet was also crowned with כליל תפארת, pure splendor, an expression of Moshe's lofty spiritual state. Moshe never felt a contradiction between these two functions. His bodily powers were not weakened when he experienced prophecy, due to his clear recognition of the unity in God’s Divine will.

But when we are unable to attain such an elevated state - when we can grow spiritually only when we are not encumbered by material occupations - then it is necessary to limit the time and effort spent in worldly matters.

In summary: when the Jewish people merit the revelation of God’s unity in all realms, then they should be governed by one leader, who provides enlightenment in spiritual matters and leadership in material ones. Occupation in worldly matters will not distance him from holiness.

When, however, the Jewish people are not on this spiritual level, there is a conflict between the physical and the spiritual realms. Then they require two distinct leaders.

Two Hands
Now we can understand why God commanded Moshe to place a single hand on Yehoshua. The hand is a metaphor for control and governance. Placing two hands would reflect control over both realms, both spiritual and material. Were God to command Moshe to place both of his hands on Yehoshua, that would indicate that - for all times - both spiritual and practical leadership would be Divinely issued. In dark times, when material life is distant from the spiritual, we can hardly ascribe to the material leader the same Divine right to rule that Moshe passed on to his disciple.

Why then did Moshe place both hands on Yehoshua?

Moshe understood from God’s command that only the spiritual realm would benefit from leaders who are Divinely-appointed. Nonetheless, Moshe wanted to prepare the stage for a future world, an era in which both spheres will be united under one leader. Therefore, he made Yehoshua stand before both the Kohen Gadol (representing the spiritual realm) and the common people (the physical). Moshe then placed both of his hands on the new leader.

(Adapted from Otzarot HaRe’iyah vol. II, pp. 179-186, by Rav Chanan Morrison)

Pinchas and Bilaam

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

Friday Night
IN NEXT WEEK’S parsha the Jewish people will actually go out and fulfill the mitzvah at the beginning of this week’s parsha, to take revenge against the Midianite people. Revenge, as the Torah teaches, is not something we cannot usually take on our own, so this one had to be God-sanctioned.

Bilaam will once again be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He will be in Midian collecting his fee for his advice to send Midianite women into the Jewish camp to lead the Jewish people astray. In the end, Bilaam was responsible for 24,000 men from Shimon dying from plague, and 176,000 receiving capital punishment for worshipping Ba’al Peor, and he was paid for each “casualty.”

His victory was short-lived, however. Shortly after that, the Jewish army showed up led by Pinchas, who personally ended Bilaam’s short life at 34 years. After being exposed as a fraud by God, he was confronted by Pinchas who was able to kill him, despite Bilaam’s mastery over magic.

When Balak had first invited Bilaam to curse the Jewish people, he had mentioned that he knew that whomever Bilaam cursed was cursed, and whomever Bilaam blessed was blessed. At least that is the way it looked to others because of Bilaam’s track record. They didn’t know that, as the Talmud explains, Bilaam just knew the moment in the day that God judged people, and how he was able to use that information to then either curse or bless a person.

That secret was spilled in last week’s parsha, thanks to Bilaam’s pride and greed. Had he simply said no to Balak, his reputation might have stayed intact; he would have just looked choosy about his clientele.

Instead, Bilaam took up Balak’s offer, and it quickly became clear that Bilaam had no control over anything, not even the mouth of his own donkey. Even his magical “powers” could not save him from his “timely" death at the hands of Pinchas, who killed him with an ordinary sword.

Shabbos Day
PINCHAS WAS MORE than just Bilaam’s executioner. He was his antithesis. Everything wrong in Bilaam was right in Pinchas. Even though Bilaam is usually compared to Moshe Rabbeinu, which is really no comparison at all, and even though Pinchas was not a prophet, still Pinchas and Bilaam are more polar opposites than Moshe and Bilaam.

It is true: Chazal say that when the Torah states, “no prophet ever arose again like Moshe within the Jewish people,” it implies that one did arise among the nations, and that was Bilaam. But so many commentators have tried to explain what this means since Bilaam’s prophecy never matched Moshe’s. As Rashi points out, the only reason why Bilaam even had prophecy was for the sake of the Jewish people. Moshe deserved it in his own right.

In any case, Pinchas, after last week’s parsha, became a prophet as well. And not just any prophet, but Eliyahu the prophet! According to Kabbalah, the soul of Eliyahu Hanavi descended and joined Pinchas’ own soul, and spiritually transformed him into the famed heralder of the final redemption. It had been Bilaam’s desire, even without prodding from Balak, to prevent the final redemption. It was always Eliyahu’s to advance it.

Therefore, when the Torah says at the beginning of this week’s parsha:

Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Aharon Hakohen, has turned My anger away from the Children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the Children of Israel because of My zeal. (Bamidbar 25:11)

it is explaining how Pinchas became the antidote for Bilaam. Enemies of the Jewish people do not just spring up. As we learned from Amalek at the end of Parashas Beshallach, Jewish enemies attack in response to some pre-existing spiritual lacking in the Jewish people. It is this that must be fixed before the enemy can be subdued once again.

In other words, though Bilaam praised the Jewish people for their modesty right before he caused them to lose it, the potential for the latter already existed. Bilaam didn’t create that potential; our enemies never do. They just exploit it, and undoing their damage means fixing the spiritual breach.

This being the case, God’s praise of Pinchas was not meant only for him. God was not just saying that Pinchas merited his reward because of what he did. God was, is, telling all of us that what Pinchas did is something all of us must do on a daily basis to stay safe from the potential Bilaams of history. So far, there have been many, and there might be more to come, God forbid.

It’s like germs. You can get angry at germs all you want and curse the day they were created. But the reality is that they only grow in certain environments, which is something that can be controlled to some degree. It can be assumed that if we’re not going to make an effort to keep a place clean, germs will develop, spread, and perhaps even cause sickness.

This is the general message of Parashas Bechukosai and Ki Savo. As the Talmud states, reward and punishment come in the next world (Kiddushin 39b). The Torah is telling us in these two parshios how evil automatically festers if we don’t constantly work to keep it from Creation. The chaos from which evil results grows in spiritual “dirty” environments, something that we were given Torah to control (Shabbos 88a).

But it’s a BIG job keeping the world spiritually “sterile.” The good news is that:

Someone who wants to purify themself, they (Heaven) help them…If a person sanctifies themself a little, they sanctify them a lot. (Yoma 38a).

Shalosh Seudot
THERE ARE BASICALLY two ways for a Jew to perform mitzvos, either as an obligation only, or as an act of zealousness. The difference is obvious from the way the mitzvah is performed. As an obligation, the effort to perform a mitzvah is minimalized. A person usually does as much as they believe they must to avoid punishment, but not more. They either forget or don’t know that it is a person’s heart that God truly desires.

For such people, the goal in life is usually personal pleasure. Comfort is the priority, which they tend to confuse with pleasure. Therefore, life becomes a series of decisions designed to minimalize personal discomfort, which means a reductionist attitude toward Torah and mitzvos.

At the other end of the spectrum is mitzvah zealousness. For this smallish group of dedicated Jews, a mitzvah is a unique and invaluable opportunity to express their love of God. When we love someone, it gives us pleasure to give them pleasure. For zealots, the goal of life is to give God pleasure, and any personal pleasure they might derive from doing a mitzvah is just a nice by-product.

A mitzvah stops becoming a mitzvah when you do it for your own reasons. The Talmud says that a person who does a mitzvah as a mitzvah is greater than someone who does the mitzvah for their own reason (Kiddushin 31a). It even goes so far as to say that a person who does a mitzvah for the wrong reason is better off not having been born. Ouch. The only exception is someone who does a mitzvah for the wrong reason with the goal of eventually doing it for the right reason.

When Bilaam says repeatedly that he can only say that which God allows him to say, which made him sound pretty frum, he said it as a complaint, not as an admission of God’s mastery over him. More than likely it was God who forced Bilaam to even admit that! In a word, Bilaam was completely selfish.

Pinchas lived the opposite life. Even the most basic task, things that might not even be considered mitzvos per se, he did as a servant of God. His life was not his, but God’s. From his perspective, everything he had belonged to God, and everything he did was really just God working through him. He was grateful just to be alive, and even more grateful to have opportunities to do meaningful things with his life. In a word, Pinchas was completely selfless.

At the end of the day, it was Pinchas’ selflessness that killed Bilaam’s selfishness.

Melave Malkah
IT IS VERY hard to be selfless if you grow up selfish. The truth is, we all struggle with this, because we are born selfish. We are born with a yetzer hara which constantly markets selfishness, and we only get our yetzer tov, our good inclination by Bas or Bar Mitzvah.

It’s like walking on flat land until that major spiritual turning point, and then hitting the base of the mountain. The rest of life is the process of climbing a mountain of selflessness until we finally reach the age at which the struggle becomes irrelevant. A certain age, a person is usually too tired and worn down to work on themself anymore; they will either be a grouchy old person for the rest of their life, or a person who gives off chayn and draws people to them.

It is interesting that the word “share” has become so dominant in today’s culture. Sharing is one of the main things a child has to learn as they leave their self-centered private world and head out into the world of other people vying for the same things they value. A child’s ability to willfully share with others is a great step forward for the rest of their life, and their service of God.

Someone even cleverly created the catch phrase, “sharing is caring.” It elevated the idea of sharing from being only something socially necessary, to being an expression of our concern for the welfare of others. The only problem is that many may still wonder, “Who says I have to care about others, or put them before me?” Such people usually only share when it is convenient for them to share.

The answer to the question comes from understanding that caring about others is part of a more fundamental truth, a love of truth. It is our goals in life that tell us what to take and what to give, when to be “selfish” and when we must be selfless. The only way to get that right is if a desire to do right drives them.

That was Pinchas. The grandson of Aharon Hakohen, he was raised on truth. He was taught from the beginning that there is nothing more meaningful than knowing truth, and more importantly, living by it. This trait told him how to approach any situation in life he had to deal with, small or large, easy or difficult. The Torah calls his act one of zealousness. Pinchas would have just called it an act of truth.

The Talmud warns that just in advance of Moshiach’s arrival, truth will literally be missing from the world (Sanhedrin 97a). You can’t strive for truth if you don’t know what it is, or believe that it exists, and that can only result in selfish behavior. Unfortunately, the attitudes of the world tend to spill over into the Torah world as well, and that will affect how we behave towards mitzvos, and one another.

When that happens, then the craziness of “Shittim” at the end of last week’s parsha returns to us as well. Then the Bilaams, Balaks, and Amalekim rise up all over the world, and society crumbles and breaks down. The good news is that it takes just a couple of Pinchas-like people to set the world straight.

Any takers?

Hatred – Baseless and Otherwise

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

The Bennett government has been in place for a few weeks and the country is still standing. People are still davening morning, afternoon and evening and the sky is not falling; perhaps, better said, the sky has yet to fall. See? The power of positive thinking.

Nevertheless, the anger in many right wing precincts is as real as is the reluctance to draw any conclusions from the failure to form a right-wing government after four successive elections and Likud victories as the largest party. The lack of desire for a reckoning – it is clear that Binyamin Netanyahu would not have been able to form a stable government had there been another four elections – is self-defeating and counterproductive. But no more so than the particularly pernicious platform that the Likud has adopted. Indeed, the Likud has only one objective, one arrow in its quiver: to topple the government and quickly. And even the nation’s needs must be sacrificed to attain that single goal; that is worse than unfortunate. It is unimaginable.

Take, for example, the extension of the Citizenship Law, which has been passed on an annual basis for some twenty years. It prevents, among other things, Israeli Arabs from marrying Arabs from Judea and Samaria and bringing them to reside in Israel proper as citizens. This helps preserve the demographic advantage that Israel has. The renewal of this statute has been fairly routine under right wing governments, with even centrist support, for some time.

Now, under the Bennett government, the Likud is balking, endangering the law’s extension (and the security of the State) simply because this odd coalition that relies on the votes of Ra’am for its existence cannot pass it on its own. From a purely political perspective, the argument makes sense. The opposition always wants to make the government’s life miserable. From a moral perspective, though, the approach is absurd, even grotesque.

Added to this are voices emanating from the Likud asserting that the right wing may not support the government’s efforts to combat Hamas or to challenge Iran’s determination to build a nuclear capability. This is, for lack of a better term, insane. And something else as well.

This time of year – the Three Weeks in which we mourn the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, the exile of the Jewish people and the numerous catastrophes that have befallen us – we often hear bandied about the cardinal sin of the Second Temple era that presaged the Destruction: sin’at chinam, baseless hatred. The term is used frequently but is rarely defined. In fact, it is almost always misconstrued.

Sin’at chinam cannot mean any type of hatred as there are hatreds that are not baseless at all. Indeed, it is eminently logical that most hatred is grounded in something tangible – an event, a word, a deed or a personality – which someone finds offensive. I have never heard of an individual harboring the simplistic sin’at chinam for another individual.

“I hate that fellow!”

“But why?”

“No particular reason.”

Sin’at chinam is hatred that is self-destructive, a hatred in which the hater is so passionate and irrational in his hatred that he does not care if he himself is destroyed by that hatred. That was the hatred of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza in the Gemara’s woeful tale, in which Bar Kamtza preferred to inform on his own people – and bring out his and his nation’s ruin – rather than endure a petty personal humiliation.

Sin’at chinam is the suicidal hatred of the Zealots who burned the storehouses of supplies – enough to feed the people through a siege of twenty years – in order to provoke a war against Rome that they could not win and the people did not want to fight.

Sin’at chinam is the hatred of politicians so distressed to be out of power – even momentarily – that they will sacrifice all moral notions, all strategic goals and the national interest itself in order to regain that power. That is insane.

There is nothing wrong with an opposition trying to topple the government – but do it over issues on which you disagree, not issues on which you agree but choose to play games. There is nothing wrong with introducing a new bill to perpetuate the Citizenship Law rather than go through the charade of renewing it every year. But that is something the Likud could have done any time in the last decade, as it could have passed legislation limiting the jurisdictional reach of the Supreme Court that leads to the dismantling of settlements built in the land of Israel. Don’t be a tzadik on someone else’s dime, or shekel.

Perhaps there will come a time when this government has to be strenuously opposed. One would hope there are enough sane right-wingers in the government to know when that time comes and to be courageous enough to admit it, leave, and collapse the coalition. But it should not happen at the expense of national priorities and certainly not on issues that are bread and butter to all right-wingers.

The current approach is an eerie and equally ludicrous duplicate of the Biden administration that reflexively opposes anything that Donald Trump did simply because he did it, regardless of its merits. It has induced the Biden team to renew subsidies to the hapless Palestinian Authority, thereby subsidizing its oligarchs, encouraging its mischief and hampering the prospects for expanding the Abraham Accords (a term Biden and company churlishly eschew because it evokes a Trump success).

We are better and wiser than that. Issues will arise that naturally cause rifts in the coalition and that run counter to the interests of a strong, proud, Jewish Israel, and those can be exploited. But issues that promote Israel’s interests should be supported even if – perhaps, especially if – the coalition supports it. The alternative is the self-destructive sin’at chinam that has caused only grief and tragedy in Jewish history.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Whoever is Merciful on the Cruel

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

"Harass the Midianites and smite them." (Bamidbar 25:17) Chazal say about this in the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:5):

Even though I wrote, "When you draw near to a city to wage war against it, you shall call out to it for peace" (Devarim 20:10) – for these (the Midianites) do not do so – "You shall not seek their peace or welfare, all your days, forever." (Devarim 23:7)

Chazal learn a lesson for generations from here: "You find that one who deals with them with the trait of mercy, in the end comes to disgrace, battles, and troubles. Who is this? David." (Midrash ibid.) Namely, when David escaped from Shaul, he and his father's entire household went to Moab. Afterwards the king of Moav killed all of David's family, and only one remained, who found refuge by Nachash, King of Ammon, where he hid until David arrived. When Nachash dies and his son Chanun took the throne, David said, "I shall do an act of kindness for Chanun son of Nachash." (Shmuel II 10:2) The Midrash continues:

G-d said: You are violating My words? I wrote, "You shall not seek their peace or welfare," and you do acts of kindness with them? "Do not be overly righteous" – a person should not add beyond the Torah. This one sends to console Ammon and to do kindness with him, in the end comes to disgrace – "Chanun took David's servants and shaved off half of their beards and cut their garments in half." He also came to war with Aram Naharayim and the kings of Zova and the kings of Ma'achah and with Ammon, four nations, and it says, "Yoav saw that the battle faced him from the front and from the rear, etc." (And there was great trouble for Israel until Hashem saved them.) Who caused David all this? That he sought to do good with what those about whom G-d said, "You shall not seek their peace or welfare." That is why it says, "Harass the Midianites."

The attempt to find favor in the eyes of a nation that hates Israel, to find the way to their heart to form a peace treaty with them, with the thought of sparing war, is a mistaken thought. "Whoever is merciful on the cruel, in the end is cruel on the merciful." In the end, he does not prevent the war and also gets disgraced.

It seems that any further talk on the application to our generation is superfluous.

The Chasidim relate that R. Zusha and R. Elimelech were once in an inn at the time of their wandering. At night they both slept on a high bed. R. Zusha turned to his brother with a suggestion to fall for the sanctification of Hashem's name. R. Elimelech refused, while R. Zusha fell on the floor groaning with pain. The inn owner heard the sound of his falling, and ran into the room. He saw one on the floor, agonizing in his pain, and the second on his bed. Convinced that it was he who threw R. Zusha, he beat R. Elimelech soundly, and in the end rolled him off the high bed to the floor. R. Zusha said to him: "R. Elimelech, my brother, would it not have been worthwhile from the beginning to fall for the sanctification of G-d's name? In the end you also fell!

Proper and Improper Zealotry

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

There is a type of zealotry that comes from limited perspective – one sees only himself, due to egoism. Such a person cannot recognize that others have the ability to think logically and yet arrive at a different conclusion from his own. Such a zealot is offended when someone thinks differently than he, for he assumes that he alone is capable. This is what the people who criticized Pinchas for his zealotry accused him of: "Did you see the son of one who brought fat calves for idolatry?" (Sanhedrin 82b).

However, there is also a totally different type of zealotry, which is focused on the community. He does not react to damage done to him but looks at the negative act’s full effect on a larger community of which both the zealot and the one to whose actions he objects are just passing episodes. When the Heavenly Name is desecrated by an immoral action done publicly, it lowers the whole community from its spiritual state. Those who were inspired with love of Hashem are cooled off, cynicism penetrates. When poison is inserted into the Jewish nation, the individual loses value.

Pinchas endangered himself to be killed (Sanhedrin 82a) as an attempted murderer, and he could have had the stigma of having blood on his hands when he succeeded. He could have been unpopular and ostracized (see Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 9:7). It is impossible to know for sure that an act of zealotry was idealistic unless he is ready to be ostracized. In the case of Pinchas, his action saved the nation.

However, zealotry is dangerous. There are halachic guidelines. It is permitted only if the action actually removes chillul Hashem. It is only if the reaction will return the honor of Hashem by hitting evil at its root and causing others to open their eyes. However, if the immoral activity continues after the zealotry, then the zealotry itself will just increase the desecration of Hashem’s Name. If the criticism of Pinchas had remained, then his action would have had a negative effect instead of opening the eyes of all to the disgusting things being done. Had it been misunderstood, it would have caused negative criticism.

Pinchas is Eliyahu (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 46). Nevertheless, some of Eliyahu’s ways were not appreciated by Hashem. Hashem told Eliyahu: "Hashem is not in the loud noise…" or "the fire," … (Melachim I, 19:11-12). Zealotry can work against a one-time desecration, as it can serve to "clean the air." However, when there is a systematic deterioration, it is possible to rectify the matter only with a step-by-step clarification. Even an effective one-time event, such as Eliyahu carried out on Mt. Carmel, causing the people to call out enthusiastically, "Hashem is the Lord," did not ensure success. After all, Izevel forced him and others to run for their lives. The voices were silenced. The noise and the fire had to be internalized and be replaced by a voice of a gentle silence. If the inspirer takes measured steps and acts pleasantly, he can sanctify Hashem’s name by example. It may not seem as effective, and there will not be a crowd of people cheering, but the impact will be more certain, fundamental, and effective.

Tying Generations

by Rabbi Dov Berel Wein

The Torah records for us the genealogy of Pinchas, the true and justified zealot of Jewish history. There are many reasons advanced as to why the Torah felt impelled to tell us of the names of his father and grandfather. Many commentators saw in this an explanation to justify Pinchas’ behavior while others emphasized that it was an explanation for Pinchas’ reward and God granting him the blessing of peace.

But aside from these insights there is another more general message that the Torah is recording for us. And that is that a person’s behavior affects all of one’s family members, even those of previous generations who may no longer be currently numbered among the living.

A great act of sanctification of God’s name such as the one performed by Pinchas enhances the reputations and stature of previous generations as well My rebbe in the yeshiva summed this lesson up in his usual concise and pithy manner: "If both your grandparents and your grandchildren are proud of you and your achievements then you are probably alright in Heaven’s judgment as well."

Our idea of immortality is based upon generations of our families, both previous generations and later ones. We find vindication of our lives and efforts in the accomplishments of those that come after us and continue our values and faith. We cannot control what children and grandchildren will do, whom they will marry and what type of life they will lead. But innately, we feel that we have a connection to the development of their lives and the actions that they will take.

The Torah emphasizes for us that Pinchas’ zealotry did not come to him in a vacuum. The Torah allows everyone freedom of will and behavior. Neither good behavior nor evil behavior is ever predestined. Yet as medicine has shown us, in the physical world there is an element of physical predestination in our DNA. And this DNA affects our moral behavior as well.

Judaism always envisioned itself not only as a universal faith but as a particular family as well. In our daily prayer service we constantly recall who our founding ancestors were. We name our children in memory of those who have preceded us. We extol a sense of family and a loyalty to the values that our families represent.

One of the most destructive trends in modern society has been the erosion of the sense of family in the world and amongst Jews particularly. Assimilation means abandoning family and abandoning family certainly contributes to intensified assimilation and loss of Jewish feelings and identity. It is ironic that in a time such as now when most children can be privileged to know grandparents and even great grandparents the relationship between generations in many Jewish families is frayed and weak.

Pinchas comes therefore to reinforce this concept of tying generations - past, present and future - together. It is imperative for us to know Pinchas’ genealogy for otherwise we have no clue as to who Pinchas was and why he behaved as he did in those given circumstances.

The Parameters of Pinchas' Zealotry

by HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El

Beyond Intellect and Emotion
Our portion opens with the Torah's praise for the "jealousy" - or more appropriately - "zealotry" - of Pinchas: "Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the Cohen turned back My anger from the Children of Israel; I am therefore awarding him with My Covenant of Peace." What's the meaning of this zealotry, what is its source, and why is Pinchas deserving of such an exceptional Divine reward?

One's intellect is the source of his moral character: and personality. Only after one appreciates that that which is good is truly good, does he begin to yearn for it - and as a result act towards achieving that end. Human intellect is beyond emotion; in fact, it actually guides and even directs emotion. An act of "jealousy" on behalf of God, however, does not stem from the intellect. Man possesses a quality even higher than the intellect: it exists on the subconscious level, in the depths of one's spirit; it constantly strives to reveal itself and to appear via the intellect and emotion. The role of intellect and emotion is to neutralize those factors that block the manifestation of zealotry. [This model is used by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook (of blessed memory) to explain the phenomenon of Emunah , or faith. He stresses that emunah exists on a plane above and beyond intellect and emotion].

It is from these depths that jealousy must spring; this jealousy - or zealotry - reveals itself once one puts aside all factors that inhibit the manifestation of his inner cleaving to the Creator of the Universe. This zealotry responds to any even slight manifestation of Hillul Hashem , or desecration of God's name. Zealotry that has its roots in an understanding of the Divine - inspires the "zealot" to reach a state of completion - or Sheleimut : "Behold, I am giving him My covenant of Peace ( Shalom )."

In Tractate Sanhedrin, our sages enumerate the deeds, which, if done by a Jew, warrant "Zealots smiting him." For example, "One who steals a vessel for use in the Temple... one who has relations with a Gentile woman..." and - even a Cohen who serves in the Temple while in a state of ritual impurity - are legitimately attacked and killed by zealots. The reason for Torah-sanctioned vigilance in these kinds of cases? The direct offense committed by the transgressor, who himself has stricken at the heart of the bond between the Children of Israel and the Holy One, Blessed be He.

Our sages explain that true zealotry may be defined as a situation in which the zealot does not inquire of a scholar how to act in the case at hand; in fact, should he make such an inquiry, a scholar would be bound not to instruct him to take action. Why? The very question as to how to respond indicates that the person has not internalized the level of zealotry required to permit his unilateral action. True zealotry flows naturally, from an inability of the person to tolerate the desecration of God’s name. A well-known Torah dictum states that in situations of desecration to God’s name, one does not allot honor even to a Rabbi."

A Dearth of Halachot
The Shulchan Aruch, or Code of Jewish Law, does not detail the laws associated with Torah-approved zealotry. Author of the work "Chelkat Michokek" questions the reason for this omission. A possible approach to this question: it is inappropriate to write down such halachot, since after all, the laws of zealotry - though they are compulsory - do not serve as the basis of actual halachic rulings. Thus, though Pinchas’ zealotry is aptly discussed in the Beit Midrash (study hall) - it is inappropriate to engage in it in the framework of normative halachic codes.

Of Torah or Rabbinic Origin?
What is the source of the halacha that "zealots strike at offenders"? The great medieval sage, Rabbeinu Nissim ("Ran") maintains that it is a "Halacha L’Moshe M’Sinai" - namely, an oral tradition dating back to the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. His insistence that it is not rabbinic in origin stems from his view that the Sages do not have the power to initiate rabbinic death penalties outside of one-time emergency situations; they do not, says Ran; have the right to rule in this manner for generations to come.

A support for Ran’s approach appears in the midrash: Pinchas approaches Moshe and says to him: "This is what you told us when you descended from atop Mt. Sinai: ‘One who has relations with a Gentile woman is justifiably attacked by zealots’".

In his book of responsa, the great rabbi known as "Radbaz" argues that the permissibility of unilateral acts of zealotry is rooted in rabbinic law. Ran’s point doesn’t faze Radbaz, since, according to the latter, the Sages did not rule that one should kill an offender outside of the framework of the law; rather, they ruled that one should not punish a zealot who takes unilateral action and kills an offender outside of the framework of the law .

Why? Our sages understood that a person filled with love of Hashem to the point at which, out of zealotry, he kills another Jew guilty of desecrating God’s name - is simply unable to conquer the holy emotions within him. It is thus improper to punish him.

Zimri's Right to Self-Defense
Our sages, writing in the Talmudic tractate of Sanhedrin, maintain that if Zimri had turned on Pinchas and killed him, he (Zimri) would have been exempt from punishment. This statement seems to clash with another halachic principle:namely, that one may kill a person whom he sees in pursuit of another person; here, it is permissible, and even a mitzvah, to kill the rodef (pursuer) since one "should not idly stand by the blood of his neighbor." Nevertheless, if the rodef turns around and kills the one who is trying to kill him, he (the rodef) is deserving of death. The obvious reason for this ruling: one who is on the verge of killing a " rodef " is about to fulfill a mitzvah; thus, the " rodef " himself has no permission to kill the one pursuing him.

How should we resolve the above principle with the rabbis' observation that, had Zimri killed Pinchas, Zimri would have been exempt from the death penalty? It must be that Pinchas, as the one who killed Zimri, was not fulfilling a mitzvah! For if killing Zimri were to have been a mitzvah, Zimri would not have had permission to defend himself.

A Lesson Learned
From this discussion, the Mishneh L’Melech on the Rambam, offers another observation: It is known that a relative of a manslaughter victim, may halachically kill that manslaughterer should the latter leave his "city of refuge".

What would be the ruling if the (accidental) murderer turned around and killed the vengeful relative? Mishneh L’Melech maintains that the halacha in this instance may be learned from Zimri: It is not a positive mitzvah to kill one who committed manslaughter; the latter's punishment is exile to a city of refuge, and not death. However, the Torah understood the heart and mindset of the grieving relative, and ruled that it is improper to punish him for killing the person who killed his relative.

Since, then, the relative is not fulfilling a mitzvah in his killing of the murderer, he, the relative, is a " rodef ". Thus, the pursued murderer is permitted to defend himself by killing his "pursuer".

A zealous person such as Pinchas is a type of "blood avenger" - not on behalf of a dead relative - but on behalf of God. He is so identified with God, that he is unable to suffer any affront, so to speak, to Hashem. This is why he stands up and acts out of his zeal. The fact that the zeal is not obligatory, but only permissible, does not detract from its value. Just the opposite is true: the value of this "jealousy" is so great, that it is impossible to mandate every person to reach his level...

Zionism and Democracy

by Victor Rosenthal

Gideon Levy, the hateful Ha’aretz writer who reaches new depths of loathing for the state that protects and nurtures him with every column he writes, has gotten something right this week. But he is wrong about the implications of his discovery.

Last week, I wrote about the State of Israel’s reason for being: the Zionist principle that “a sovereign state in the Land of Israel is a necessity to protect and preserve the Jewish people – and that their preservation is an objective worth attaining.” Such a state, of, by, and for the Jewish people, is what the founders meant by a Jewish state.

This Wednesday there will be a vote to extend (or not) a law that prevents Arabs from the territories or enemy countries from obtaining Israeli residence by marrying an Israeli Arab citizen. The official justification for this law is the large number of children from such families that committed terrorist acts. But that’s only a small part of it: the truth is that without a Jewish majority, we can’t have a Jewish state. Control of non-Jewish immigration is essential to maintain it. And don’t think the Arabs don’t understand that.

The founders also wanted the state to be democratic, and for all its citizens to have equal rights. What Gideon Levy has correctly noted is that sometimes these objectives conflict with one another:

There is no such thing as Jewish and democratic, because on Wednesday the Knesset will have to decide between the two. Those who prefer a Jewish state will vote to extend the discriminatory and infuriating amendment that marks a clear gap between the rights of a Jewish citizen and the rights of an Arab citizen, with outright Jewish supremacy in the legal code. Those who prefer a democratic state will of course vote against the law.

But our real state, unlike the one in Levy’s imagination, is neither fully Jewish nor fully democratic. That’s because some 21% of our population is not Jewish. In this particular case, the Jewish ones can invite their relatives to join them, and the non-Jews can’t. That’s not fair, but it’s necessary. And it is not self-contradictory, as Levy suggests.

Levy demands perfect democracy (more precisely, perfect equality of rights), and insists that any deviation is “intolerable nationalism.” That is nonsense. There is no state in the world that is a perfect democracy, and most are far less democratic than Israel. He should consider that the other side can also demand perfection, that is, a state that has no non-Jewish citizens. That is also an alternative.

Last month Israel was attacked by Hamas in Gaza, on the pretext that Israeli police violated the sanctity of a mosque on the Temple Mount (where Arabs were stockpiling fireworks and rocks to throw down on Jews at the Kotel and at police) and because some Arabs were being evicted from homes in Jerusalem for non-payment of rent. In response, Hamas launched 4,350 rockets at Israeli towns and cities. At the same time, incited primarily by Hamas, some Arab citizens of Israel began an insurrection in cities with mixed populations, which not only included fighting with the authorities, but also the beating and murder of random Jews, and the burning of Jewish homes, vehicles, and businesses.

In other words, some of Israel’s Arab citizens became a fifth column, fighting on the side of the enemy on the home front.

The solution to this problem doesn’t involve more “democracy” in the form of rights for Arab citizens to bring in more Arabs. Indeed, it’s easy to argue that the best solution to the problem, even the only one, is the opposite – for as much of the Arab population as possible to emigrate to other Arab countries or the West.

It is unlikely that our government will choose that alternative. What it will do, and probably what the majority of Israelis would prefer, is to continue trying to walk a compromise path that makes it possible for the state to keep its Jewish character and majority, while impinging as little as possible on the rights of minorities. Even many Israeli Arabs will accept this, albeit without applause.

Why isn’t this real-world solution obvious to Gideon Levy?

He claims that he rejects Zionism because it conflicts with democracy. That is not true, because he supports a far less democratic “one-state solution,” an unstable fantasy that would become a totalitarian Muslim state. As is obvious from his countless columns vilifying the state and especially its defenders, his real reason for opposing Zionism is that he does not believe that the Jewish people, as a people, are worth preserving. The explanation for this lies in the realm of aberrant psychology, not logic.

A New Commentary on the Writings of Rav Kook ztz”l

by HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Har Bracha

Pearls from Rav Ze’ev Sultanovich’s annotations to Rav Kook’s writings, whose publication was completed this week * The development of science was necessary for the advancement of humanity, but the shortcomings of the process must be acknowledged and corrected by the foundations of teshuvah * There is a positive element in giving in that allows a person to repent and correct his ways, but at the same time one must be wary of giving in that immobilizes striving for better * Rav Kook deals in his books with the thought of various philosophers, and the new commentary reveals them to the reader, and helps clarify matters

This week we celebrated at Yeshiva Har Bracha the completion of publication of annotations on the books of Maran Rav Kook ztz”l, ‘Orot‘ (seven volumes) and ‘Orot Ha-Teshuva’ (two volumes). The annotations are a summary of lessons given at Yeshiva Har Bracha by my dear and old friend, the ‘chacham ha-colell’ (all-inclusive Torah scholar) Rav Ze’ev Sultanovich Shlita, in the framework of the Har Bracha Institute.

The explanations excel in a breadth of knowledge that makes it possible to understand the background to the words of Maran Rav Kook, and their exact meaning. They embrace wide-ranging knowledge in the fields of religious thought, Kabbalah, Jewish and secular philosophy, history, psychology, literature and art.

The Relationship between Science and Morality, and the Tikun in Teshuva
Many times the introduction to the section broadens the readers thoughts, and focuses him on the issue that Rav Kook intends to clarify. For example, the opening of the commentary on Orot Ha-Teshuva 15:1: “Rav Kook discusses two issues, which merge into one. The first is the appropriate relationship between science and morality in the new age … rapidly evolving science in the modern age greatly empowers man, but man’s level of morality has not increased at the same rate… as a result of scientific advances countries have armed themselves with the most deadly and destructive weapons… achievements in the fields of chemistry and biology have served monstrous ideas of cruel totalitarian leaders, thus, in the two World Wars, over eighty million people died and many millions were injured, fell ill, and became disabled for the rest of their lives … The second issue: the concept of teshuva (repentance) and e’dune ha’ratzon (refinement of strength of character), needed specifically in this generation.

“Teshuva makes it possible to connect all scientific progress to the Torah and kodesh (sacred matters), and all the development of human power, to good and righteousness. There were thinkers in the New Age who called for a return to ignorance, living in nature in innocence and simplicity, without any of the rationality inherent in progress. Such an idea may seem pastoral and pleasant, but it is false – if only for the practical reason: in the ancient world there was scarcity, disease, and suffering – gone in the new world, on account of scientific development, and thus, cannot be relinquished. Nevertheless, at the same time, one must recognize its flaws – if not connected to a more sublime value system. Consequently, teshuva is the precise solution.”

Teshuva in Israel, and the World
The opening of the commentary on ‘Orot ha-Teshuva’ 12: 1: “All the intellectuals in the world, in all the different cultures, views and religions, know that teshuva elevates man above all the baseness in the world. As Rav Kook clarifies … the novelty in Jewish tradition is through tikun … in Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, when a person sins and desires to repent, he must abstain from life, abandon worldly affairs so as not fall into his sin once again. In contrast, Rav Kook says here, that although in teshuva a person transcends his baseness, he is not alien to the world, because there is no similarity between the iniquity of sins, and the world – it is baseness that man abandons, and not the world.

“In the various religions the main principle of repentance is that the world itself is lowly, and therefore everyone living in it, is reluctantly immersed in the filth of baseness, and in order to be purified, one must abstain from the world as much as possible … In Jewish tradition in contrast … not only does one not have to abstain from the world in order to repent, on the contrary, along with himself, he elevates the world and life as well.”

The Source of Sin, and the Tikun in Aspiration for Ein Sof
There is no tikun in abstinence from the world because “what brings man to sin is not the world in and of itself, rather, the tendency in the soul to sin. To be sure, society has an impact due to the temptations in the world… but the fact is that not everyone sins, because man has the ability to control his drives, and is accountable for himself … therefore, in teshuva, those same tendencies of sin are refined within him. He does not stifle the tendencies to sin, but rather, reveals them in the proper way.”

Later on in the book, it is explained that the foundation of sin stems from the strong desire to break through every boundary to ein sof (infinity), but when one commits a breach through sin, his life is hampered and defiled, and the boundaries continuously close in on him, until death. Teshuva allows one to rise indefinitely, albeit, under the guidance of Torah and its mitzvot, which does not “block man and limit him, but rather, protects him. This is the meaning of the various Torah prohibitions – they protect the sublime and vigor in man, in all its beauty … Like a mother forbidding her son to burst onto the road, out of concern for his well-being.”

Teshuva whilst Balancing Consolation and Tikun
From the opening of the commentary on ‘Orot Ha-Teshuva’ 12:10: “By rule, a person who has sinned deserves to be punished, and not given an opportunity to correct his deeds. Hence, the active novelty in teshuva, to the point where even a rasha gamor (a completely evil person) has the ability and ought to change his deeds and be righteous – this is a tremendous chesed (grace) given by God… to do so, the sinner must employ consolations – to recognize that he has other good points, and positive sides … however, the chesed of teshuva is liable to be twisted, as done in Christian culture, and cause morality to be completely distorted. Consolations are liable to become an obstacle … whenever a person sins, he will pacify his conscience in solaces, that there are more wicked people than himself, or in various explanations and excuses, and will not amend his actual condition. Therefore, consolations must be used wisely: on the one hand, to recognize their importance – that they rescue from the abyss of despair and doom, but on the other hand, also be aware of the mishap liable to result from them, lest the pleasantness of consolation calm the person down and lead him to complete passivity, and consequently, fail to amend his distorted situation.”

Wavering is Based on a Pagan Conception
Here, Rav Ze’ev goes on to clarify the words of Maran Rav Kook that the foundation of giving up on teshuva stems from the defect of idolatry in emunah (faith): “The wavering in avodah zara (idol worship) stems from the conception of divinity in it. From the depths of his soul, man desires the One God, sublime and abstract of all human definition, but it is too difficult and removed from man. In the meantime, he sees the sun and the moon, the miraculous forces of nature, and takes comfort in it; if he cannot grasp the supreme conception of divinity, at least he is able to admire the bodies of heaven, the wind, or the sea. The spiritual waiver of the sublime, most inclusive aspiration, leads to a moral relinquishment of a person’s relationship to others, and to the whole of being.”

Thus, was created in the Christianity the concept “which waivers the exacting law, and is satisfied with will and good, general intent … this method leads to every murder and every lewd act … every murderer will claim in his defense that he had a good reason to murder … or suffered from mental difficulties and problems … this is how in practice, in the name of Christianity, terrible injustices were done. The world is based on accuracy and law, “and just as a surgeon cannot miscalculate the exact amount of centimeters he must cut in the body he is operating on, the same is true in the process of teshuva. If the consolations do not serve as a basis for precise, practical correction, they have no value … Throughout the ages, Jews were accused of excessive meticulousness in halakhic details … however, reality has proven that this is the only thing that has managed to maintain a moral system, which in actuality, has existed for generations.”

The Hidden and Revealed, Religion and Science
Opening to ‘Orot Ha-Techiya’, 59: “In simplistic thought, the nistar (hidden) is the main foundation on which religion is built, and the galuei (revealed) is the main foundation on which science is built. It seems as if there is an intrinsic contradiction between the nistar and the nigleh … It seems as if man must choose only one of the two foundations, the hidden or the revealed, but in this chapter, perhaps more than elsewhere, Rav Kook clarifies that the contrast between them is not absolute, and there is also a complementary side.

“The essential problem that exists in the rational thinking of science … philosophy … is in relation to things that are difficult to describe in words, but they do fill the chambers of mind and soul … consciousness describes only what is present in a defined pattern, but not the sources and motives, the aspirations and passions. .. Every human feels that beyond his knowledge and ability, there are things sublime and hidden from his understanding … thus, in relation to what surrounds him … he does not even know himself completely … to a large extent, the sources of religion and emunah are beyond the threshold of consciousness. They are not visible and rational, rather hidden – similar to the drive of instinct or will, aspiration, or movement…

“If the New Age is marked by rationalism, then in these words, Rav Kook marks the future age, marked by human understanding of the hidden, which requires a special way of knowledge, different from the path of simplistic rationality, which demands exclusivity over everything … In the words Rav Kook: ‘The nistarwill conquer the world in its freedom, which will not know the limit of distress'”.

Rav Ze’ev continues and explains the great work of the philosopher Kant, who criticized rational consciousness, which is unable to know reality as something of itself, but only its manifestations. “Yet, in Kant’s conception, there also lies a big mistake, not only because it denies the capacity for cognition, but also its origins,” the hidden side suggesting the thing itself. “Due to his great pride in the intellectual attainment he had achieved, Kant did not criticize himself, and ruled out the possibility of divine revelation as well.” Consequently, there is a profound contradiction in his position – if it is impossible to know about the thing itself, from where do we know that it exists?

Here, incidentally, we encounter one of the advantages of Rabbi Ze’ev’s commentary, which clarifies the philosophical theories needed to understand the words of Maran Rav Kook ztz”l. Fichte tried to solve the problem by defining “things in themselves” as the borderline concept, but did not explain what is beyond the borderline. Schopenhauer tried to define “things in themselves” as ratzon (will), but Rav Kook criticized his words, because the concept of ratzon is also human. “Instead, Rav Kook speaks of ratzon ha-ratzonot (‘will of the will’) and ‘chai ha-chaim’ (‘the life of lives’)'”.

From this, Maran Rav Kook clarifies the need to combine the sod ha-nistar (the hidden secret) and what is perceived in the mind, with the divine revelation and intellectual critique, for out of a combination of their influences, a solid foundation will be built for the appearance of the divine light.

May the words of the prophet be fulfilled in us by the publication of these precious books: “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11: 9).

Friday, June 25, 2021

Rav Kook's Igrot Hare’aya: Are Languages the Solution?

Date and Place: 16 Shevat 5666

Recipient: Rav Kook’s 14 year-old son, Tzvi Yehuda

Context: A short response, apparently to a letter by Tzvi Yehuda in which he inquired about how to broaden one’s ideas.

Body: If I were not so preoccupied, I would … show you how to broaden correct ideas from the depths of the straight heart. This is in contrast to those who think the only way to complete one’s intellect is by force-feeding several languages. 

True realization becomes clear to a person when he identifies the foundation of his inner rectitude. For a Jew, it depends on the degree that the light of Torah, in action and in thought, spread broadly through his heart and that fine attributes are deeply rooted in his soul. Then he will be full of the pleasantries that come from the divine aura and delight in Hashem and His goodness with satiating happiness, quiet tranquility, and internal bliss, full of confidence and power. “Those who know Your Name will rely upon You, for You, Hashem, did not abandon those who seek You” (Tehillim 9:11).

When one’s internal foundation is filled with the richness of a life of truth and justice, all that he gathers into his midst from the outside is absorbed properly. Bad elements, which are like the impurities of precious metals, are cast off by the power of internal life, and that which is clear and pure remains. These are things that are collected from every matter, including those from the depths of darkness, in which there is always something that emits flashes of light. Just as the places of greatest darkness and despair are before Hashem, so are the hearts of man (see Mishlei 15:11). 

However, since man should desire to share, to the best of his ability, the good he possesses with others, both to his nation and all of humanity, he is definitely more capable of explaining and influencing others when he adds languages and modes of expression. Indeed, everything that Hashem uttered is divided into 70 languages (see Shabbat 88b). But it is wrong to try to replace the intellectual purification process, which is a foundation of one’s persona, with the development of linguistic skills, whether it be on a national or a personal basis. This reduces one’s intellectual/spiritual standing.

Names are the beginnings of languages, as it says: “Adam called names …” (Bereisheet 2:20). The nefilim (ibid. 6:4), who caused the world’s spiritual level to fall, were called “the courageous who had always been the men of name (shem).” This hints at the destruction (shimamon) they brought to the world. They thought that their unique ability to speak made them powerful (see Tehillim 12:5).

When Hashem desired to fill all the dark portions of the world with light, he appeared to the choicest human being ever (Moshe Rabbeinu), who referred to himself as having a serious speech impediment (see Shemot 6:12). A similar phenomenon occurred in a much later generation, to someone who drew close by drinking from the “trusted waters” of the master of prophets, who was “drawn out from the waters.” [David] went to defeat the impure Plishti (Goliath), who cursed Hashem and His army, without heavy armor and weapons. The diminutive David said: “I do not have experience with these” when Shaul wanted to give him his battle gear. He took just five stones from the stream basin and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. The slingshot and five stones represent the Five Books of Moshe and the first five words of Shema, which are brought together by the word “one” (the last word of Shema) by the “shepherds” (leaders) who are found in every generation and explain the depths of the one G-d’s wisdom and the Torah’s light. The modest slingshot and stones do not compare to Goliath’s heavy armor, sword, and spear, or his chutzpa. Because David came in the name of the G-d of the armies of Israel, whom Goliath had scorned, the stone was embedded in his forehead, and David took Goliath’s sword in his hand. This message is appropriate in this generation of ikveta d’meshicha (leading up to Mashiach), in which the enemies of Hashem scorned the coming of Mashiach.

[Applied in summary, it is not necessary for Tzvi Yehuda to learn languages, which are often good tools for influencing others, if he develops spiritual greatness.]

Thursday, June 24, 2021

We go it alone

by Rav Binny Freedman

One of the saddest stories of ‘what might have been’ to come out of the Holocaust was the story of Joel Roth.

In the spring of 1944 the Jews of Poland, Western Europe, Belarus and the Ukraine were largely gone, and the Nazis set their sights on the last great Jewish community on the European continent: the Jews of Hungary. As the Germans took over and the Nazi recipe of ghettos and deportations began to unfold Joel Roth, an accomplished politician, saw what was coming. Desperate to avert the inevitable, he had a plan to save the Jews of Hungary by negotiating a deal between the Allies and the Germans.

At the time, the Germans were being over-run on all fronts and their largest problem was their overextended supply lines. The Allies were bombing the rail tracks and most trains still moving were busy transporting Jews to Auschwitz, so Roth proposed a simple deal: 400 trucks for 400,000 Jews. Called in by no less than Adolph Eichmann (the grand architect of the Nazis’ final solution), Roth had several high-level meetings with Eichmann himself.

To prove that he could deliver, Eichmann stopped the gas chambers for two weeks in August of 1944, at a time when 10,000 Jews a day were being gassed in the mass extermination camp.

Roth eventually managed to smuggle himself out of Nazi occupied Europe to meet with the British and propose the deal but the plan reached the ears of the Allied high command and Roth was arrested as soon as he landed in Italy. He spent the remainder of the war in a cell, never being given the opportunity to meet with the Allied command. After the war when the full import of the massacre of European Jewry became clear, Roth eventually committed suicide.

Eichmann, when captured and put on trial in Israel in 1960, admitted that he took this as a sign that the world was not interested in saving Jews, and renewed his destruction of Hungarian Jewry with vigor; ultimately 400,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered by the Nazis in the summer of 1944.

Think about it: if 400,000 Jews are not worth 400 trucks, then 1,000 Jews are not worth a truck. So what was one Jewish life not worth in the summer of 1944? A steering wheel? A truck-tire?

If ever there was a time when the Jewish people got the message that when push comes to shove, we are all alone, it was during the Holocaust.

And the source of that idea, that we are a nation that dwells apart is in this week’s portion of Balak. Tasked by the Moabite king Balak with cursing the Jewish people, the world-renowned sorcerer Balaam cannot help but bless them from atop the mountain, as he must heed the will of G-d. And among his many words Balaam prophesizes that the Jewish people are and will forever be an “Am levadad yishkon” (Bamidbar (Numbers) 23:7); a ‘People that dwells alone’.

But Balaam is a most unlikely source for blessing. Listed by the rabbis (Mishna Sanhedrin 10:2) as having no portion in the World to come, his plan to curse us is thwarted but he ultimately devises a plan which does the Jews great damage, enticing them to idolatry ( ibid. 31;16). And the Talmud further suggests (Tractate Sanhedrin 105b) that almost all of Balaam’s blessings were left ambiguous and will turn to curses.

Which leaves us with an interesting question: is it good that we are apart and alone? Is this a blessing or a curse? Interestingly, early on in its development, the reform movement seems to have viewed this as a curse and part of the punishment of exile thus exhorting its followers to consciously assimilate into European and later American society. Indeed, early Reform rabbis were encouraged not to wear a kippah (skullcap), and all mention of Israel was removed from their prayer books. And while this seems to have emanated from a sincere desire to bring Jewish values to bear in the broader society one cannot ignore the inescapable conclusion that being ‘apart’ or ‘other’ was viewed as a curse rather than a blessing.

On the other hand, there are certainly many Jews today who believe that being apart is somewhat of an ideal with distinctive Jewish dress and separate Jewish communities far from the cultural and spiritual influences of the broader society viewed as the ideal rather than a necessary evil. So, which is it? Should we aspire to be apart or should our goal be to unite with the nations that surround us? Is assimilation an ideal or a failure?

Interestingly, the Torah seems very clear on the nature of being alone or apart:

The only time anything is described as ‘not good’ in the entire Torah, is in describing being alone. Introducing the creation of Eve prior to which Adam was all alone the Torah says:

“Lo Tov heyot ha’Adam le’vado” “It is not good for man to be alone”

(Genesis (Bereisheet) chap. 3)

And the only other time anything is described as not good in the Torah is when (Exodus (Shemot) chap. 18) Yitro exhorts his son in law Moses to appoint judges because it is not good to sit and judge alone all day ….

Indeed, the leper is forced to sit alone as part of the consequence of his actions:

“Badad yeshev mi’chutz la’machaneh” “He must sit alone outside the camp…”

(Vayikra (Leviticus) 13:46)

And the rabbis interpret this as a punishment for the tzara’at (leprosy-like) affliction seen as punishment for slanderous speech.

And in describing the consequence which befalls the Jews for their wickedness which leads to the Temple’s destruction, Jeremiah laments:

“Eicha yashva badad ha’Ir rabati am…”

“How doth the city sit alone that was once so filled with people…?”

(Lamentations (Eicha) 1:1)

Clearly to be alone and apart is far from ideal. And yet, the Torah does not describe being alone as ‘bad’; it merely says it is not good.

One wonders, if G-d creates Eve as a solution to the problem of man being alone initially which was ‘not good’, why was Adam alone in the first place? Especially given that previously, on the sixth day of creation “G-d saw all he had done and it was very good.” Either it was good or it wasn’t; which is it?

Perhaps initially being alone was actually good, and only becomes ‘not good” later on. In fact one might suggest that it was originally good for man to be alone so that he could appreciate what was missing, much like a person who yearns to get married but experiences loneliness for a time, the better to appreciate the joy of marriage and love when it finally arrives.

Thus, loneliness was not necessarily ‘good’ but it wasn’t bad either, it just depends on how you handle it. And one of the interesting things that happens when you are alone is that you learn to be independent; to fend for yourself. You learn that the only person you can and must always count on, is yourself. And while this is not necessarily always good, it is often reality.

For thousands of years we dwelled alone and apart, in just about every country we found ourselves in. It wasn’t necessarily the ideal, but it was reality. Today, in a more modern world, we have convinced ourselves we no longer need to dwell apart, and we assume, especially in Western democracies, that we have finally arrived at a better reality when Jews can assimilate and be completely together with the nations around us.

But the Jewish people has something beautiful to share with the world: a model of how a society can function, and an ethical standard to which the world should aspire. And to be such a role model we need to be apart, and distinct. Jews today are fighting a protracted battle with our enemies who are determined to set us apart as a pariah in the world, encouraging boycotts and spewing venom and hatred across the streets and campuses of Europe and North America, and all over the world. Perhaps as we fight yet again for the right to be accepted among the nations as an equal, we would do well to remember that there is still a value to that which sets us apart and makes us distinct.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.

Yeshivat Machon Meir Parshat Balak (video)

What is the State of Israel for?

It’s not a silly question. There are serious disagreements about the answer. But there is only one answer that justifies the sacrifices that have been made to re-establish the Jewish state in its historical homeland, and those that will be required in the future to keep it.

That answer is given by Zionism, which holds that a sovereign state in the Land of Israel is a necessity to protect and preserve the Jewish people – and that their preservation is an objective worth attaining.

The Zionist view implies certain things about the nature of the state, things that logically follow from its function as a refuge for persecuted Jews, a source of strength for the Jewish people, and a place where it is possible to live a fully Jewish life, according to whatever combination of religious and cultural elements are important to the individual.

It is a place where the Hebrew language is dominant, the majority religion is Judaism, the holidays are the traditional Jewish ones (religious and national), and most of the population are Jews. It is (or should be) a place where antisemitism is not tolerated, indeed, where it is unthinkable. Because there are forces that work against these principles, it can’t be expected that they will appear by themselves. They must be woven into the legal fabric of the state and they must be affirmed by its leaders. The Law of Return and the Nation State Law are not accidental; they are essential.

The Zionist state can share some characteristics of a liberal, secular, democratic state such as the USA aspires to be (although recently this conception has come under attack from the anti-rational Left in America), but it cannot be such a state. It will unavoidably need to distinguish between Jews, for whom the state exists, and non-Jewish citizens, in very specific ways that relate to the character of the state – e.g., the language and symbols of the state, the official holidays, etc. – and to the maintenance of its Jewish majority.

Israel is special. It is the only Jewish state, the only one with that specific purpose. It is not a smaller version of the USA. Its socialist founders, despite their emphasis on democratic principles and guaranteeing rights to all citizens, nevertheless were Zionists and proclaimed that they were declaring a Jewish state. Those weren’t just words.

The state may try to provide every possible civil right and protection against discrimination to its minorities, but when there are conflicts between liberal-democratic ideals and Zionist principles, Zionism must prevail. Otherwise the state will ultimately lose its function as a Jewish state. It will lose its ability to protect and preserve the Jewish people as a people, against persecution and assimilation.

Zionism is unpopular throughout the world. The majority of those who have thought about it do not approve of Zionism for one reason or another. Either they don’t see the importance of there being a Jewish people, they actively dislike them, or they think that the cost to others of the existence of the Jewish state is not justified (I suspect that most of those in this group also fit in the second).

Ever since the founding of the state, there have been Jews who are uncomfortable with Zionism. They correctly note that Zionism can conflict with liberal democratic principles, and for this reason they bitterly oppose it and want to “dezionize” Israel. Sometimes they have even made common cause with enemies of the state.

This issue has come up now in the dispute over the “family unification law” which since 2002 has made it difficult for residents of the Palestinian Authority who marry Israeli citizens to move to Israel in order to live with their spouses. I won’t get into the interesting politics of it now, with Bennet’s coalition trying to extend the existing law despite opposition from some of its Arab members, while Bibi’s opposition tries to embarrass them by proposing an even stronger Basic Law on the subject of immigration in general (something that I favor, although not as a tactic to overthrow the coalition). I mention it to note how the opponents of the law, like the publisher of Ha’aretz Amos Schocken and his antisemitic writer Gideon Levy, scream “racism, apartheid, Jewish supremacism!”

This law has nothing to do with “race,” which is essentially meaningless where Arabs and Jews are concerned. It is not “apartheid” which means enforced separation of racial groups, which would not apply to Israel even if Arabs and Jews were different racially. And it certainly doesn’t imply that Jews are superior to Arabs or believe that they ought to dominate them. Although the original purpose of the law was to reduce terrorism (a disproportionate number of terrorists were the product of “unified” families), it is not embarrassing to admit that it helps maintain Israel’s Jewish majority. It is a Zionist law that is unfair to non-Jews. So be it.

Post-Zionists Schocken and Levy also oppose the Law of Return (or would like to see it apply equally to Palestinian Arabs) as well as the Nation-State Law. They also oppose efforts to repatriate the tens of thousands of African migrants that entered the country via the Egyptian border, before an effective fence was built. These things are “undemocratic.” Perhaps, but they are necessary.

The post-Zionist vision is remarkably empty. The right-wing Jabotinsky and the left-wing Ben Gurion had very different ideas of what the Jewish state should be like. Schocken and Levy do not think there should be a Jewish state. In their monumental stupidity and arrogance, they wish for a soulless techno-state built on “equality” and “democracy” for peoples that would have nothing in common except geographic proximity, and a great deal of resentment for each other.

Imagine an Israel without its Zionist purpose (and very quickly, without its Jewish majority). How long would it survive? Why would anyone want to fight for it? Would Jews and Arabs make common cause in support of a liberal, democratic state? It’s hard to imagine. We saw last month what happened in mixed cities like Lod and Acco, where there are about half as many Arabs as Jews.

Most likely, Jews with money and foreign passports would flee. After the initial bloodbath, the ones who were left would face a descent into the tenuous, contingent existence that characterized the Middle Eastern diaspora for more than a millennium. Of course, it’s doubtful that the “lucky” ones in Europe, America, Australia, and other places would fare much better.

Just as a Jewish state is essential to the survival of the Jewish people, Zionism is essential to the survival of the Jewish state.

A Rainbow Flag in Jerusalem? The Yishai Fleisher Show

Rabbi Ari Kahn on Parshat Balak: The Children of Avraham

The Root of our Fears

Parashat Balak 5781
by HaRav Nachman Kahana

The world’s most advanced engineering company has just designed and completed its most complex outer space satellite. It was the combined minds of hundreds of engineers, computer experts and technicians in creating thousands of new parts and elements designed to work in synchrony without a loss of even one split second between its many stages. Now after years of planning and assembling, the apparatus is ready for operation.

At this moment the apparatus is a dead conglomerate of wires, transistors etc., lacking the energy to bring it alive when all the elements will begin interacting to their full capacity. The press of a button and the flow of electrons will bring it life.

5781 years, 9 months and 12 days ago on the first of Tishrei year one, HaShem completed the initial elements of His world: Gan Eden, Adam, Chava and the Nachash (snake). According to Chazal (our rabbis) Adam and Chava became alive at 3 PM in Paradise and met the nachash. By 6 PM they had all sinned and were expelled into the reality that we call “this world”.

Adam, Chava and the Snake were strangers to each other, but the goal that HaShem intended for them was to interact and begin what we call “society”. What was the “energy” that HaShem introduced into the trio that began the interaction between man, woman and the snake?

It was the energy called “Fear”. Fear stemming from who they were.

Adam feared the limiting human constraints imposed on him by the Creator and sought to achieve Godly qualities, as stated in parashat Bereishiet (3,22):

ויאמר ה’ א-להים הן האדם היה כאחד ממנו לדעת טוב ורע ועתה פן ישלח ידו ולקח גם מעץ החיים ואכל וחי לעלם

And the Lord God said: Man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever.

Chava feared her future being secondary to Adam from who she was formed.

The Nachash lusted Chava and feared his unfulfilled future existence.

The fear that gripped each of the three initiated the attitude of each one to himself and to the others. Their fears formed the future competition and rivalry between individuals and between nations and the blood lust history of Mankind.

Fear of One’s Personal Welfare
In our parasha, Balak takes Bil’am to a place overlooking the Jewish encampment from where Bil’am will be able to curse the entire Jewish Nation. Bil’am disappoints when instead of cursing, the evil sorcerer blessed the Jews. At this point Balak should have realized that Bil’am would not bring him victory; however instead of sending Bil’am away, Balak takes him to another area from where he would be able to view the Jews. However, Bil’am again blesses them, and surprisingly, Bil’am is taken to a third overlook where he blesses the Jews again.

How bizarre that Balak repeats his disappointment three times.

However, Balak was one smart goy. The entourage of Balak and Bil’am were high above the Jordan lowlands where the Jews could not hear what was going on the mountains of Moav. But Balak knew that they were able to discern the machinations and hand motions that were going on atop the mountain. Balak knew that the Jews below would conclude that they were being cursed.

Balak’s intentions were to put fear in the hearts of the Jews, that it would be sufficient to weaken their resolve to militarily conquer the Canaanites.

Here again fear for one’s personal welfare would corrupt and turn one away from fear of Hashem even after witnessing the great miracles that Hashem had performed over the last 40 years.

Today’s Many Forms of Fear
Unfortunately, what is preventing mass aliya to the holy land is the multiple mass fears the Jews of the galut experience; fear of change, fear of financial failure, fear what their neighbors will think about their “irrational behavior” on making aliya, etc.

The leadership of our Medina is gripped with many forms of fear. If not for their fear of what the world might say, we would have long ago destroyed Hamas of Azza. A strong hand against the local Arabs, that would overcome fear of being called an apartheid state, would force the Arab terrorists to behave as a minority should.

HaShem expects the Jewish nation to live with trust in Him, without fear of the goy.

However, there is a positive side to fear which I will put forth, next week be”H.

Shabbat Shalom.
Have a meaningful fast this coming Sunday, the 17 of Tamuz.
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5781/2021 Nachman Kahana

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Balak, Bilaam, and the Jews then and now

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

Friday Night
AS THE EXPRESSION goes, “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”

The story of Bilaam is a classic example of how someone can want something so badly that they endanger themselves to get it. The story of Bilaam and Balak is a classic example of how people can confuse hope with reality, and lose everything as a result.

On a speaking trip to the States about a decade ago, I was confronted by someone from the audience. I was trying to explain how what happened in Europe to the Jews could happen to the Jews spread out across the Western world today. He didn’t like that, and protested saying, “That could never happen in America!”

So I asked him, “You know that for a fact, or you HOPE that it is true?” He paused to think for a moment, and realizing that he had not based his opinion on solid evidence, he backed down…somewhat.

Realizing that he wasn’t going to abandon his opinion that quickly, and that others in the audience shared it, I asked him why he thought American Jewry was safer than pre-Holocaust European Jewry. He cited some observations and opinions, but each one had its parallel in pre-Holocaust history, and his argument lost its steam.

After that, I explained how antisemitism is not just another form of racism, but something more supernatural, and therefore, less predictable. I gave examples of how quickly in the past host populations have gone from being civil and friendly to their Jewish communities to being antisemitic and hostile. The argument, I had thought and apparently others as well, was pretty conclusive.

However, I did not hear from the “protester” the rest of the evening, nor did he stay around after to ask questions. I have no idea where he went after in his thinking, whether he took to heart what I had said, or just forgot about it once he left the talk. Unfortunately, it is only natural to not take danger seriously until it is too late to stop it, like when they come knocking on the doors to take Jews away.

At the right time, hope is an asset that can lead to great results. At the wrong time, it can be a death trap. Bilaam had really hoped that somehow he would be able to overcome all the obstacles to cursing the Jewish people, and become even more famous and richer. Instead he failed miserably, losing his reputation and then finally his life.

Likewise, for a decade as Hitler, ysv”z, rose to power, European Jews hoped that he would never become strong enough to make good on his plan to rid Germany, and then the world, of Jewry. And as the situation worsened, they had hoped that it would it would turn around for the better. Little did they know just how much worse it would get.

Shabbos Day
HE HADN’T HOPED blindly. Bilaam had understood that there were things he had to do to try and influence the outcome, to increase the odds that his hope could become reality. For example:

In the morning Bilaam arose, saddled his she-donkey and went with the Moabite dignitaries. (Bamidbar 22:21)

From here [we learn] that hate causes a disregard for the standard [of dignified conduct], for he saddled it himself. The Holy One, Blessed Is He, said, “Wicked one, their father Avraham has already preceded you, as it says, ‘Avraham arose in the morning and saddled his donkey’” (Bereishis 22:3). (Rashi)

So what? Avraham was not the first or last dignitary in history to have saddled his own donkey. What difference does it make if Bilaam did, and why is that another reason to criticize him?

Because, unlike Avraham, Bilaam was full of himself. He was egotistical that it was particularly unusual for him to degrade himself so. Furthermore, Avraham was on his way to do an act of great self-sacrifice, and saddled his own donkey to show his zealousness to fulfill the will of God. Bilaam was zealous to change the will of God, and go against it if necessary.

So why did Bilaam do it? Because his distorted perception of reality told him that if wanted to overcome the merits of the forefathers, he had to mimic them in his own way, for his own purpose. This is why he is called “wicked one,” because there is little more wicked than taking something that is meant for good and using it for bad.

Like building altars and offering sacrifices on them. In those days when gentiles did that, it was usually for idol worship. Balak and Bilaam offered sacrifices to God, normally a very holy and righteous thing. But Balak and Bilaam did it to curse the people that God had blessed, a very unholy and evil thing.

That was Balak and Bilaam. The Jews of the Diaspora have built shuls, chadarim, yeshivos, and chesed organizations for the right reasons. But these cannot become reasons to stay in golus when the time has come to leave, because then these start to exist for the wrong reasons. In Europe, most of them were destroyed, and there were some horrifying cases when Jews died trapped inside of them.

Sometimes we can “use” mitzvos to buy favor with God, and even use them to avert an “evil” decree. But other times doing so can have just the opposite effect, in particular if a decree is already set in motion. Then they can even worsen the situation.

Shalosh Seudot
WHILE WE CELEBRATE Bilaam’s failure to curse the Jewish people, we tend to forget his success. It was his plan to send the daughters of Midian into the Jewish camp that led to 24,000 from the tribe of Shimon dying from plague, and 176,000 being executed by the Sanhedrin for idol worship.

Though Bilaam was killed in the soon-to-follow battle against Midian, his “legacy” lives on past him until this very day. So many Jews today who reject Eretz Yisroel have no idea that the materialism that stands in their way of making aliyah, or even just wanting to, was Bilaam’s doing long, long ago.

The Shem M’Shmuel explains that the goal of Balak and Bilaam was to keep the Jewish people from crossing the Jordan river as a nation. Had all 600,000 males between the ages of 20 and 60 crossed the Jordan at one time and conquered and settled it together, the Sitra Achra would have been neutralized. As a result, the final redemption would have occurred, and evil would have been destroyed. It would have been the end of the likes of Balak and Bilaam.

They already knew they could not destroy the Jewish people, as the defeat of Sichon and Og made clear. They learned that they could not curse the Jewish people, as Bilaam’s failure revealed. The only option left that had any chance of working was to make the Jewish people their own worst enemy, and historically that always seems to work.

That means getting the Jewish people to sin. If the Jewish people can be enticed to sin, then God will stop protecting them and they will become vulnerable to “natural” forces of destruction. It might be an invading army, or might be a plague, but either way, God will do something to express His displeasure about the spiritual deterioration of the nation.

Even though Bilaam was from Midian, as was Balak before he was “hired” to be king of Moav to deal with the “Jewish Problem,” Midianite women were chosen for a specific reason. The negative spiritual reality that drove their way of live was ta’avah, an innate desire for material pleasures. It was Midian's specialty, and Balak and Bilaam knew it was the one “klipah” (negative spiritual trait) that could make Eretz Yisroel look less appealing to a Jew than the Diaspora.

Melave Malkah
THEY GOT TO witness one part of their plan working. The tribe of Shimon acted promiscuously with Midianite women and 24,000 died by plague. Others were enticed to idol worship, and 176,000 were executed by Bais Din. Had Pinchas not stepped in and killed Zimri in his famous act of zealousness, the numbers would have been a lot higher.

What they did not live to see was the tribes of Reuven and Gad, with half of the tribe of Menashe, later asking to live on the east side of the Jordan. All kinds of reasons are given for what they had been thinking, to make such a request after the original episode of the spies doomed them to 39 extra years in the desert. But the bottom line was a material one: the land east of the Jordan appeared to them to be better suited for raising their cattle.

Boom! That was it! The fulfillment of the dynamic duo of destruction’s plan. The requisite 600,000 males did not settle the land together, the redemption did not occur, and Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe were the first tribes hauled off into exile when it finally came. And here we sit today, thousands of years later, waiting for the final redemption. Once again, materialism is the key issue for many who reject aliyah.

Some would argue that aliyah is a “Zionist thing,” and feel justified for avoiding it. The Zionists just made aliyah more fashionable in recent years, but aliyah has always been a Jewish thing, and the tendency to allow materialism to cloud the issue, a Bilaam thing. Ya’akov Avinu made that clear when he gave this world to Eisav on a silver platter, and only took what he “earned” in Eretz Yisroel down to Egypt with him.

It’s not that Bilaam caused the Jewish people to like materialism. It is only human to do so. It’s that he got the Jewish people to like it so much that it could become more important than the spiritual. “I would never be able to have as many guests for Shabbos, or feed them as well,” an anti-aliyah person told me once, “if we moved to Eretz Yisroel!”

And therefore?
Hachnasas orachim—having guests, as the Talmud says, is like welcoming the Shechinah, and a hugely important mitzvah, especially on Shabbos and Yom Tov. But making Shabbos and Yom Tov in Eretz Yisroel is Shabbos and Yom Tov on an even higher level. Besides, as we learn from Avraham Avinu at the beginning of Parashas Vayaira, if a person wants guests badly enough, God will make it work.

That goes for any mitzvah as well. It doesn’t really make sense that God would help a person move to His favorite land and then deny them a chance to do mitzvos while there. If anything, aliyah might mean a shift in priorities and an emphasis on different mitzvos that we have been used to focusing on. In the end, the only thing that counts is, that we have done what God wanted us to do, not what we wanted God to want us to do.

Therefore, even though Balak and Bilaam are long gone, their plan still lives on. And who knows, perhaps they have reincarnated, just as the generation of the desert and the Erev Rav have, to strengthen their old plan. And if we’re going to continue to be our own worst enemy, then we do Balak’s and Bilaam's work for them, and pay the price for it as well.