Friday, July 30, 2021

Rav Kook's Igrot Hare’aya: Yerushalayim First and Foremost, part III

Letter #39 – part III

Date and Place: 3 Marcheshvan 5667 (1906), Yafo

Recipient: Rav Yehuda Leib Felman, an uncle of Rav Kook

Body: [Rav Kook has developed the thesis that Yerushalayim is holier and deserves greater regard than any other city. We complete that idea and then return to practical considerations in tensions between Chabad Kollel heads that threatened to cause financial hardships to residents of Yerushalayim.]

There is no need to write at length about the importance of Yerushalayim, which Hashem called “the city I have chosen” (Melachim I, 11:32,36). Tikkunei Zohar also views the pasuk “Your neck is like an ivory tower” (Shir Hashirim 7:5) along the lines of “Your neck is like the Tower of David” (ibid. 4:4). The jewels (on the neck) are kohanim, levi’imand yisraelim. So we see that Yerushalayim is the place of vitality, and kohanim, levi’im and yisraelim adorn the sanctity. Whoever adds on to the “jewelry” of sanctity is praiseworthy. Although the sources refer to Yerushalayim’s spiritual side, the physical side is interconnected, as we saw above regarding the me’arat hamachepela.

Certainly, it is proper to pursue peace with all one’s strength, so that the dispute does not hinder the expansion of the building of Yerushalayim. This idea (of protecting Yerushalayim) is found in the gemara (Zevachim 113a): Bones were found in an office in Yerushalayim, and there was thought of declaring a state of impurity in the city, but Rabbi Yehoshua said that it would be a disgrace to declare impurity in the city of our forefathers.

Thank G-d, there is not a city in the entire world that possesses as much Torah, service of Hashem, righteous and pious people, great Torah scholars, and those who are active in mitzvot, as Yerushalayim, the Holy City, may it be rebuilt. Thank G-d, our eyes see how it continually develops from week to week. Our brethren from around the world flock to it, and those who love the city with all their hearts and souls are building new buildings in it.

The first moral blemish, which caused the division of the Davidic dynasty and ultimately all of the exiles and national collapse, was the degradation of Yerushalayim (see Sanhedrin 102a). It is also forbidden, according to the laws of the Torah and the principles of good faith, to exclude from leadership one who has had a leadership position.

Therefore, I advised the one who asked me to compromise whereby new board members will be added. They can add whoever the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rav Shalom Dovber Schneersohn) desires as well, and it is best if letters are written with the addresses of three men rather than having dispute in Israel. The Prushim Kollel already uses two names, so what is wrong with three. All of this is worthwhile to avoid diminishing Yerushalayim’s honor an iota. I think that all true G-d-fearing chasidim, whether those connected to the Bobruisk, Ladi, or Lubavitch branches of Chabad, should request a triple letterhead, to avoid division in the Kollel, and enable their good offices to continue providing for the people of Yerushalayim. Undoubtedly, good, honest, peace-loving men can nip the dispute in the bud.

This is important because Torah scholars are apparently already suffering from the pain of dispute. I know of one outstanding scholar in serious financial need who has not received a distribution payment because of the confusion in the Kollel due to the dispute. Since there must be many others like him, it is an immeasurable mitzva to get involved and bring peace, so that each leader will change his stand to return peace and the honor of Yerushalayim to its place. This way, no poor person should remain needy among those who serve Hashem truly with the sanctity of the Desired Land, due to a quarrel between his group’s leaders.

I have written at greater length than usual because of the honor of Yerushalayim and the love of peace. May Hashem bestow His blessing upon us …

How do you pick up the pieces?

by Rav Binny Freedman

Theirs was a moment that captured the Nation. After over a year of speeches, talk shows, political debates, rallies, letters to politicians, bumper stickers and banners, it all came down to a small farming village a few Kilometers from the Gaza strip called Kfar Maimon.

On a hot summer’s day, beneath the blistering desert sun, fifty thousand protesters, desperate to stop, or at least delay what they view as a national tragedy, the abandonment of twenty-one towns and villages along the sea in the Gaza strip, squared off against no less than twenty thousand Israeli soldiers and policemen.

The Israeli government had cast the die, and the stakes were enormous. They could not afford to let tens of thousands of protesters enter the towns and villages of Gush Katif en masse, and the protesters knew it.

Whether they were right or wrong we will never know, but the assumption was that if fifty thousand Jews could swamp the settlements of the Gaza strip, the government would never be able to expel all of them, and the disengagement plan would inevitably falter, and then grind to a halt.

This was the largest military operation since the Lebanon war, precisely because the stakes were so high. Democracy, rule of law, the right to a Jewish state, belief in a Jewish army, the sanctity of the land, non-violence; all these were the terms being thrown about out as tens of thousands of Jews in different uniforms and dress modes squared off to take a stand in the sand.

Recognizing that pushing through tens of thousands of soldiers, even un-armed, would not work, thousands of people struggled through the night to gain access to Gush Katif via the fields and sand dunes that abound in the area, and there began a game of cat and mouse, as Jews tried to stop Jews from entering the Gush to help Jews , in order to achieve peace or bring war for the Jews; it all would have made a great Woody Allen comedy, if it weren’t so tragic.

And all of this pain was captured in the image of one woman, a mother pushing a stroller across a field, desperate to enter Gush Katif.

Up one furrow and down, then up the next and down, and then up then down, and again and again and again she struggled to maneuver her stroller over the furrows of dirt, gradually drawing closer to the ring of soldiers surrounding Kfar Maimon.

As she was the only person in the area, all eyes were trained on her as she came closer to the line of green blocking her way. The soldiers closed ranks, and you could almost feel the tension in the air: how do you stop a mother and baby who want to visit friends in a Jewish town? What do you say? What would she do?

The fear hidden in the back of everyone’s minds these past weeks was whether a hundred thousand Jews could be removed, often forcefully, from their homes of generations, without bloodshed. And so this woman with a baby carriage was the unfolding of everyone’s nightmare. And then there was the specter of massive disobedience on the part of the Israeli Army, and especially the officers: could they carry out the orders to force Jews from their homes? Or would the Israeli Army wake up to a frightening new tomorrow? Here too, this was the essence of the tragedy of a Nation encapsulated in one lone woman with a baby.

The sight of hundreds of soldiers facing her did not slow her down; if anything, she seemed to walk faster, with more resolve, until finally, clearly exhausted, she stopped a short distance from them. Not knowing what to expect, the soldiers tensed, ordering her, even pleading with her, to turn around, but the woman stood her ground, refusing to turn back, clearly unsure of what to do, a lone woman with a baby, opposite a human wall of Israeli soldiers.

Suddenly a soldier broke from the ranks and strode towards her.

“Ima (Mother)!” he cried out, “What are you doing here with my baby brother?!”

and the two, mother and son, fell into each other’s arms crying.

“I couldn’t wait any longer”, She said.

So how do you pick up the pieces? How do hundreds of thousands of people, who believed in something so deeply, pick up the pieces on the morning after?

Forget for the moment, where all this is headed, and forget the political implications and impressions of where we are and how we got here, and whether this is indeed a morning after, or just a first scene, something political commentators will wrestle with around the world in the weeks and months ahead. How do we figure out, all of us, what to learn and where to go from here?

Perhaps this week’s portion, Ekev, may provide us with some valuable food for thought on the topic.

The Jewish people are finally, after forty long years, making ready to enter the land of Israel. Most of the generation that left Egypt is gone, buried in unmarked graves in the desert, and their children, the second generation, born free in the desert, are preparing at last to cross the Jordan River and enter the land of Israel.

Moshe, their leader, will not accompany them as they begin the difficult task of carving a place for themselves amongst the community of Nations, and the portions we read in these weeks are essentially the farewell soliloquy of Moshe to a young generation about to cross the Jordan and enter the real world of nation-building.

There will be no more manna from heaven, nor heavenly clouds or pillars of fire to guard them on their journey; they will have to fight, and even die, for the right to call this small piece of land their home.

They will encounter seven pagan nations who are no strangers to pain and cruelty, and whose history and culture are full of wars and violence and even child-sacrifice as a part of their society.

So one would expect that Moshe would take this opportunity to share words of power and inspiration, designed to motivate this younger generation meet the tests that lie ahead. Which is what makes part of what we read this week so strange:

The ninth chapter of the Book of Devarim starts out well enough:

“Shema Yisrael: atah over ha’yom et haYarden lavo lareshet Goyim gedolim va’atzumim mimekah’… ve’yada’ata’ hayom ki’ Hashem Elokecha’ Hu’ ha’over le’fanecha, esh ochlah’; Hu’ yashmidem… ve’horashtem….”

“Hear O’ Israel: you are crossing over the Jordan on this day to come and dispossess nations that are greater and mightier than you… know therefore on this day, that Hashem (G-d) your G-d, He will go before you with a consuming fire, and He will destroy them, and you shall inherit (this land)….” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 9:1-3)

Inspirational words, for an inspirational moment; but then, somehow Moshe seems to get all bent out of shape, as his speech takes an entirely different direction:

“Al tomar bilevav’chah’ ba’hadof Hashem Elokechah’ otam milfanechah’ leimor betzidkati he’viani Hashem lareshet et ha’aretz ha’zot… lo’ betzidkatchah’ u’beyosher levavchah’ atah ba’ lareshet et artzam, ki’ berish’at ha’Goyim ha’eleh Hashem Elokecha morisham mi’panechah’, le’ma’an hakim et ha’davar asher nishba’ Hashem la’avotechah’, le’Avraham, le’Yitzchak, u’le’Yaakov.”

“Do not say in your heart, when Hashem your G-d thrusts them (the Canaanites) out from before you, saying: ‘in my righteousness G-d has brought me forth to inherit this land’… not in your righteousness nor for the straightness of your heart do you come to inherit their land, but (rather) for the wickedness of these nations does Hashem your G-d thrust them out from before you, in order to fulfill the word which He swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov’(Devarim (Deuteronomy) 9:4-5)

In other words, don’t think you earned the right to enter the land, pay no attention to the fact that you faithfully followed your parents in the desert for forty years; you don’t really deserve to enter the land of Israel at all! I am merely bringing you into the land, says G-d, to fulfill a promise I made to your forefathers! And, as if that isn’t enough:

“Veyada’ata’ ki lo’ be’tzidkatchah’ Hashem Elokechah noten le’chah’ et ha’aretz ha’tovah ha’zot le’rishtah’, ki’ am k’shei oref atah.”

“And you shall know that not in your righteousness does Hashem your G-d give you this good land to inherit, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 9:6)

Not only don’t you deserve this gift (of entering the land of Israel), continues Moshe, but you are a stubborn (stiff-necked) people! And this phrase, obviously a direct reference to the debacle of the Golden calf at Sinai, where G-d describes the Jewish people in the same manner, (Exodus (Shemot) 32:9) leads Moshe to admonish the people even more strongly:

“Zachor, al tishkach, et asher hiktzaftah’ et Hashem Elokechah’ Bamidbar; le’min ha’yom asher yatzatah’ me’eretz mitzraim ad boachem ad hamakom ha’zeh, mamrim hayitem im Hashem. U’be’Chorev hiktzaftem et Hashem va’yitanaf Hashem bachem le’hashmid etchem.”

“Remember, do not forget, that (when) you angered Hashem your G-d in the desert; from the very day you left Egypt until your coming until this place, you have been rebellious against G-d. And (even) at Sinai (Chorev) you angered G-d and G-d was wroth to destroy you.” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 9:7-8)

Apparently, on the eve of their triumphant return to the land of Israel after two hundred years of slavery, Moshe has no intention of allowing the Jewish people to enjoy the ‘party’, reminding them of just what a nasty bunch they have really been all along!

And, as if that isn’t enough, over the course of the next twenty- one verses, Moshe proceeds to review in great detail the entire story of the sin of the Golden calf, and how the Jewish people caused Moshe to break the first tablets, and how Moshe had to pray for them, without which they would not have survived, as well as many of the other tragic rebellions and transgressions (9:22-24) of the Jews in the desert, including, of course, the tragic failure of the night the Spies returned, and the children of Israel missed the opportunity to enter the land nearly forty years earlier.

What is going on? If anything, one would have thought Moshe would seize the opportunity to excite the people about their imminent entry into the land of their dreams, as well as inspire them to take courage in what would surely prove to be the difficult days that lay ahead? And one might even have expected Moshe to compliment the people on their unswerving belief, despite wandering in the desert for forty long years, that one day Hashem would indeed bring them into the land of Israel.

Especially considering the fact that Moshe has already alluded to these mistakes and transgressions just a few chapters earlier (and according to tradition, historically a day earlier as part of the same speech; see our Tastings of Torah: Devarim 02), and given the fact that these transgressions were not even committed by this generation now preparing to enter the land, why does Moshe feel such a need to recall these terrible events? Why ruin the party?

In order to attempt an explanation of this somewhat surprising speech, it behooves us to take a closer look at what is really going on in this week’s portion.

This week, along with everything else in the portion, we read one of the most well-known and oft-repeated chapters in the entire Torah: the second paragraph of the Shema, known as the chapter of “Ve’haya’ im shamoah”. (Devarim11: 13-21). This is especially significant, given the fact that just last week, we read the first chapter of the Shema, the chapter of “Ve’ahavtah’”.

Obviously, if Jewish tradition chose to place these two chapters in two separate portions, read on two consecutive Shabbatot, there must be a connection between them, as well as two messages we are meant to absorb separately.

While an in-depth study of these two chapters is obviously far beyond the scope of this essay, a closer look does allow us to note an interesting parallel.

The first chapter, which always falls on Shabbat Nachamu’, immediately after the fast of Tisha’ B’Av, commemorating the destruction of both Temples, speaks of how we are meant to develop our relationship with G-d, and achieve our purpose in this world.

It is all about what we have to give, and how we have to give it; to love G-d with all our hearts and souls, and to keep this recipe for an ethical world we call the Torah close to our hearts, and in the hearts of our children, as well as written on our doorposts, and even bound on our arms.

The second chapter, while repeating much of what is shared in the first, adds the critical dimension of what has come to be known as “sechar va’onesh” or ‘reward and consequence’.

The Torah this week tells us what the result of following the Torah and keeping G-d and our purpose in this world close to our hearts will be, as well as the implications of what will transpire when we forget who we really are.

Curiously, again, the Torah tells us that if and when we forget why we were given this land, we will lose it, clear and simple.

In other words, just as they are about to enter the land, the Jewish people are actually told that if they (we) do not live up to the privilege and the mission it represents, they (we will lose it; it is not ours to keep; it is ours to earn.

Many of the commentaries suggest that where the first paragraph, speaking as it does in the singular, refers to our relationship with G-d as individuals, the second paragraph refers to our relationship to G-d as a community.

Hence in the first paragraph we are exhorted to love G-d, “Ve’ahavta” “And you (singular) shall love Hashem your G-d…” and in the second paragraph we are told what will occur “…im … tishme’u” “…if you (plural) will listen…” to the mitzvoth we are given.” And even when the singular form is used in the second paragraph it refers to the fact that we need to be together, as one….

But there is more. It is interesting to note that in both chapters we find the same two mitzvoth placed side by side: the mitzvah of teaching our children, and the mitzvah of tefillin, with one notable difference: the order is reversed. In the first chapter of the Shema, we find:

“Ve’shinantem le’vanechah’ ve’dibarta’ bam, be’shivte’chah be’veitecha, u’velechtechah’ ba’derech, u’veshachbechah’ u’ve’kumechah’. U’keshartem le’ot al ya’dechah’, ve’hayu le’totafot bein einechah’.”

“And you (singular) shall teach them (these words) diligently (constantly) to your children and speak of them, when you sit in your home, and when you walk on the road, and when you lie down and when you arise. And you shall tie them (these words) as a sign on your hands, and they shall be an adornment between your eyes.” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:7-8)

And in the second chapter we are told:

“U’keshartem otam le’ot al yedchem ve’hayu’ le’totafot bein eineichem. Ve’limadetem otam et be’neichem, le’daber bam, be’shivtechah’ be’veitechah’, u’ve’lechtechah’ ba’derech. u’veshachbechah’, u’vekumechah’.”

“And you (plural) shall tie them for a sign upon your hands and they shall be an adornment between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your children, to speak of them, when you sit in your home, and when you walk on the road, and when you lie down and when you arise.” (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:18-19)

Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in his Likkutei Sichot, points out that the first chapter of the Shema, and indeed the entire portion of Va’Etchanan, in which it appears, represents revelation from above; it is all about what Hashem gives us. Hence the portion begins with Moshe’s entreaty to G-d to allow him to enter the land, as well as containing the Ten Commandments, the example par excellence of the idea that what we have really comes from G-d. The second chapter of the Shema is more about what we do with what Hashem has given us in this world; it is all about man’s situation in this world, and the harsh realities of how difficult it can often be to live up to that mission and that gift, and indeed, this is the theme of the entire portion of Ekev. Indeed, the very name Ekev also means the heel, the lowliest and least sensitive part of our body, alluding to our lowly station on this earth.

And this is why the order of these two ideas is reversed in these two chapters of the Shema: the mitzvah of keeping the Torah in our hearts and in the hearts of our children wherever we are, is all about recognizing that everything, and everywhere we are, all stems from G-d. That even when ‘we lie down’, no matter how difficult life can be, it all comes from G-d, and this mitzvah refers to the opportunity, even the decision to keep G-d in our lives and make Him a part of everywhere we are, and all that we do. The focus is clearly on Hashem.

The mitzvah of tefillin, however, of actually taking a physical object from something so base as the hide of an animal, and tying it to our hands, refers to the actual mitzvoth, and our ability to transform this world into something holy. The focus is clearly on us, and a close look at the portion of Ekevclearly resonates with this theme. Hence the reference to our greatest transgressions as a people: G-d gave us the Torah, but, in the harsh light of reality, we were not yet up to the task.

And maybe, hidden in this idea is a critical concept that can make all the difference in our lives. It is very easy, both when confronted with life’s difficulties, and especially when achieving our greatest successes, to become so immersed in our own accomplishments that we forget what a gift it all really is. And when we start to think, even to a small degree, that our successes are our own, the road to forgetting what it is really all about and where it really comes from, becomes all too easy.

Three thousand years ago, a people, which had just witnessed some of the greatest miracles in history, took some pride in their own accomplishments, and reveled in their success leaving Egypt and achieving the spiritual level necessary to receive the Torah at Sinai. And when they (we) let G-d’s role take even the smallest step aside, it is a very short road to forgetting just how much it is all G-d in the first place. Hence Moshe describes how the people:

“Saru maher min ha’derech asher tzivitim, asu’ la’hem masechah.”
“They have turned away from the path I have commanded them, and made for themselves a mask.”(9:12)

Indeed, when we begin to assume it is about us, then G-d becomes distant, and His place in our lives becomes masked. (Note the word calf is not used in this instance, but rather the ‘mask’.)

On the one hand, Judaism does not want us to wait in our prayer pews for G-d’s deliverance; we are meant to be partners with G-d in making this world a better place. But precisely at those junctures when we become so immersed in our role in this world, we always need to remember that in the end it all comes from and leads to a higher purpose. It is so critical to remember we are not the goal, we are the vehicle.

And so, precisely now, as the Jews are about to leave the spiritual greenhouse of the desert where Manna falls from heaven and clouds of glory abound, and enter the land where they will have to fight and work to build this world, Moshe reminds them not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and to remember who is really leading the way.

Forty-five years after the Six Day War, it is a very tempting thing to become proud, and maybe even arrogant about the accomplishments of the Jewish people in their land.

Less than twenty years after fighting a war for our very existence as a Jewish State, and still in the process of completing the absorption of over eight hundred thousand mostly poverty-stricken immigrants from the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa (which more than doubled the Jewish population of the State of Israel at the time), the Israeli Army, in six days, swept through the vastly superior numbers of the Arab Armies and won a decisive victory in what became known as the Six Day War.

So maybe we earned the right to be proud of our accomplishments? And maybe we were finally almost there; just around the corner from the third commonwealth, a rebuilt third Temple, peace….

After two thousand years of dreaming, we, as a generation were given the privilege of being able to walk the alleys of ancient Jerusalem, pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall, and wander the hills where David and Abraham once walked. Jews can don the uniforms of a Jewish army, and defend a Jewish homeland for the Jewish people, and any Jew, anywhere in the world, just a few decades after the Holocaust, can board a Jewish airline emblazoned with the Jewish star, and come home, whenever he or she wants.

Is there enough one generation can have done in this world, to merit that kind of privilege? Or are we riding on the backs of the generations of Jews, who over two thousand years never gave up believing that we would come home one day?

Perhaps being made to recall, especially on the verge of what might seem our greatest achievements, all of our greatest mistakes, is actually a very healthy way to begin the sobering task of such a holy mission as entering the land of Israel. And maybe this was at the heart of Moshe’s words to the Jewish people so long ago.

On a personal note, twelve years ago this week, on the twentieth of Av, Hashem saw fit to allow me to walk out of the S’barro’s pizzeria unharmed, when a suicide bomber blew himself up killing seventeen people and wounding over sixty. Twelve years ago, I watched Lily Shamilashvili die in front of me, and years later the families of Malki Roth and the Schijveschuurder family hold their memorial services at the Har Ha’menuchot cemetery where they are buried. We have been given this incredible land, but we have a lot of work to do yet, to make it the place it is meant to be.

Take a moment this Shabbat, to remember all those who have been torn from life so brutally over these last years, and their families for whom the pain is always there, even growing as more and more people tend to move on….

May Hashem bless us all to live up to all that we can be, and may we continue, with all the challenges, to remember what a privilege it is that we live in such special times where we are given so many gifts and opportunities to make this world the place we all dream it can become.

Shabbat Shalom from Efrat and Yerushalayim.

Rabbi Ari Kahn on Parashat Ekev: Let's Eat

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Yishai Fleisher Israel Podcast: The Texas Edition


Yishai is on the road with the family and having BIG Texas thoughts about the Israeli government's wrong-headed bid to reenter UNESCO and about the authencity of Palestine - Palestine Texas, that is! Also the Torah portion of Ekev, where God cuts the Jews down to the right size!

The Shamrak Report: Putin Changing 'Game' in Syria and more...

Putin Changing 'Game' in Syria

Russia is taking a radical new course on Israel s air strikes over Syria. Its military for the first time revealed details of the Israeli raid and claimed as never before that Russian-made systems downed seven of eight guided missiles.

Three conclusions from this atypical Russian response after hundreds Israeli air operations went forward unopposed against Iran s permanent military presence in Syria and that of its proxies could be drawn.

1. Moscow is letting Israel know that its radar can track air force operations emanating from Jordan.

2. Advanced new Russian air defense systems are now operating in Syria.

3. Putin seems to be telling the new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that the deal, whereby Moscow's blind eye gave Israel free rein for years to clip Iran's wings in Syria, was in fact struck personally between President Vladimir Putin and ex-PM Binyamin Netanyahu. All options are now open. The Bennett government is therefore advised to think carefully before embarking on its next air strike in Syria.

Russia to Sell Stealth Jets to Mideast
Russia's single-engine stealth fighter jet will likely arrive in the Middle East through future arms sales to local countries. Russia is due to unveil its Checkmate jet at the MAKS international air exhibition. It can carry 7.4 tons of armament, and the max theoretical range is 3,000 kilometers (meaning an estimated 750-kilometer operational radius). It will be several years before the jet is ready for operational use. The Russian claimed it is less than $30 million per unit, significantly cheaper than the F-35.

Food for Thought
by Steven Shamrak
After 70+ years of Israel's independence, it is time to realise that appeasement of the enemies, keeping the ugly status quo or temporary quiet (hudna) that leads to another terror attack or war, will never work with enemies of Jews. Fake Palestinians and their international sponsors hate Jews and Israel - anti-Semitism is an incurable disease! There is only one way to end the occupation of Jewish land by enemies. Israel must diligently encourage them to leave Eretz-Israel. After all, considering the voting pattern in the UNGA, there are so many countries that hate Israel, not just Muslim ones, and love the so-called Palestinians so much. They can have them.

Zero Tolerance to Balloon Attacks
IDF fighter jets strike Hamas military camp located near civilian sites including a school after arson balloons launched from the Gaza Strip on Sunday threatened to burn down the Kissufim forest and destroy a kibbutz avocado crop. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett the right-wing leader who was once former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu s chief of staff, has said that he would approach balloon attacks with the same seriousness as if they were rockets.

Moment of Silence in Tokyo
A moment of silence was observed in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics for the Israeli victims of the 1972 Munich massacre. During the 1972 Olympics, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered by eight Palestinian terrorists. This is the first time the victims were honoured in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. The families of the 11 victims had long asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to hold a minute's silence at the opening ceremony, but had until Friday been turned down. ( Japanese integrity prevailed over chronic IOC s anti-Semitism! The IOC shows its Jew-hatred/Antisemitism by still allowing Palestine to participate in the Olympics.)

Family Reunification Rebuffed by Government
The Citizenship Law has expired, but the Interior Ministry is refusing to deal with the issue until new policies are formulated. Reportedly, this decision comes from Minister Shaked herself. (Otherwise, potentially, tens of thousands of Muslims/Arabs, spouses of Israeli Arabs, would be able to come and live in Israel, obtaining Israeli citizenship.)

US Opposes BDS - Too Little, too Late
The US State Department announced that they were opposing the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement one day after ice cream company Ben & Jerry's announced that they would no longer be selling their products in parts of Israel. (For many years BDS has been vilifying Israel)

De Facto Building Freeze in Judea and Samaria
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has apparently slowed the approval process for construction projects in Judea and Samaria because of American pressure. The previous government, under then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was supposed to set a date for a meeting of a committee for construction approval beyond the Green Line, but Defense Minister Benny Gantz prevented it from doing so. And it is still not set! (Real friends do not apply such "pressure", and a truly sovereign country would ignore it)

IAF and USAF began Joint Exercise
The United States of America and Israel have begun a biannual aerial exercise codenamed Juniper Falcon. The purpose of the exercise is to improve the ability to defend against missile threats and joint air defense capacities while strengthening cooperation, coordination and mutual learning between the two armies.

IAEA is in an 'Uncomfortable Position'
A pause in negotiations to salvage Iran's nuclear deal with the world powers has placed the International Atomic Energy Agency in an "uncomfortable position," said IAEA director general Rafael Grossi. "I'm talking about the agency, I don't know about the others, but I suppose they would rather be negotiating than waiting," he added. (The most 'comfortable position' for Israel would be to destroy the Iranian's nuclear program! Procrastination only helps Iran to obtain nukes)

UNHRC to 'Probe' Israel Again
The president of the UN Human Rights Council announced that Navi Pillay will chair a commission to investigate what was described as systematic abuses allegedly committed during the recent violence between Hamas and Israel in May. Pillay has a history of anti-Israel statements. In 2014, she condemned Israel for "targeting" UN-run schools and hospitals in Gaza, while failing to mention three UN-run schools in Gaza had been used as rocket warehouses, a gross violation of international law that clearly falls within the category of war crimes. The UNHRC is notorious for its longstanding bias against Israel. (The 'Ugly Nazi' is relentless in its smear campaign against Israel. Every member of the commission, appointed by the UN, is anti-Israel.)

Quote of the Week:
"This morning, an explosion of great force shook a weapons storehouse belonging to the Islamic Jihad terror group - in the heart of the al-Zawiya marketplace, in the center of Gaza City. The explosion caused deaths and injuries, as well as destruction of the site and a great deal of damage. This explosion is another example of how the terror organizations in Gaza prefer the continuation of their terror activities over the welfare and lives of Gaza residents. Instead of accepting the United Nations' offers of rehabilitation, the terror organizations are busy manufacturing weapons and rebuilding their posts. They deliberately store the weapons in the heart of the civilian population, in a way which directly endangers civilian lives." - Avichay Adraee, IDF Arabic Spokesman - As usual, the 'Ugly Nothing' does not condemn Hamas, the terrorist group in charge of Gaza, or even of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group.

Iranian Nuclear Program Must be Neutralized
by Benjamin Kerstein

Israel is examining possible changes to its operational plans against the Iranian nuclear program in order to contend with a US re-entry to the 2015 nuclear deal.

The IDF and the Mossad have emphasized to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the government generally that while it is necessary to prepare for the possibility of an Israeli air strike on Iran s nuclear infrastructure, such an approach would be greatly complicated by a renewed nuclear deal.

Moreover, the IDF has told Bennett that its latest assessment has found that the IDF is still not at full readiness for a major conflict with Iran.

Given all this, the IDF and the Mossad stressed that Israel should develop multiple operational plans, which could be put into operation whether the US signs a new deal with Iran or not.

The goal of such operations would not be to destroy Iran s nuclear program in a single blow, but to sabotage, disrupt, and delay the program indefinitely through surgical strikes and intelligence operations.

This would be in keeping with current policy, which has seen major accidents, sabotage, and assassinations related to Iran s nuclear program, most of which are believed to be the result of Israeli intelligence activity.

Rav Kook on Parashat Eikev: Two Loves for Eretz Yisrael

The Blessings of Torah Scholars
The Talmud (Berachot 50a) gives a litmus test to determine if an individual is truly a Torah scholar: listen to how he recites berachot (blessings). Clearly, when berachot are recited sincerely, they reflect a proper outlook on life and help instill important traits such as gratitude to God. What is less obvious is that even the detailed laws for blessings reflect fundamental concepts of the Torah. For this reason, Torah scholars are punctilious in their blessings.

Loving the Land of Israel
The following story gives one example of such an exacting approach towards blessings. It also contains an important lesson about love for the Land of Israel.

“Rav Hisda and Rav Hamenuna were seated at a meal, and were served dates and pomegranates. Rav Hamenuna made the blessing over the dates.
Rav Hisda told him, ‘Do you not agree that those fruit mentioned earlier in the verse take precedence when reciting the blessing?’
Rav Hamenuna responded, ‘Dates are mentioned second after the word “land”, while pomegranates are only mentioned fifth.’
Rav Hisda exclaimed, ‘If only we had legs of iron to always follow you and learn from you!'”
(Berachot 41b)

The two scholars referred to the verse that praises the Land of Israel for seven grains and fruits:

“It is a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates; a land of oil-olives and honey-dates.” (Deut. 8:8

Rav Hisda felt that the blessing should reflect the order of the produce mentioned in the verse. Thus, pomegranates should come first. Rav Hamenuna explained that while the order in the verse is indeed important, there is an even more important factor: how close is the fruit to the word “land” in the verse? Pomegranates are the fifth produce mentioned after the first time “land” appears in the verse; dates, however, are the second fruit mentioned after “land” appears a second time in the verse. In other words, the position of dates in the verse indicates a greater closeness to the Land of Israel; therefore, this fruit deserves to come first.

The thought and care that Rav Hamenuna gave to his blessing demonstrates the importance he placed on loving Eretz Yisrael. This great love stems from recognizing the unique qualities of the Land - qualities that enable the Jewish people and all of humanity to attain spiritual goals. One who is closer to the Land of Israel, and demonstrates a greater connection to it, comes first for blessing. Such an individual is closer to the perfection that is attained through this special land.

Two Types of Love
Yet, we may ask: why is the word “land” mentioned twice in the verse? Why does the verse divide up the produce of Eretz Yisrael into two categories?

There are in fact two types of love for the Land of Israel. One’s appreciation for the Land is a function of his spiritual level and awareness. Some value Eretz Yisrael because of its unique spiritual qualities. They long “to take pleasure in her stones and love her dust” (Psalms 102:15) in order to fulfill the mitzvot that are connected to the Land. They recognize the blessings that Eretz Yisrael provides for the spiritual elevation of the Jewish people and the entire world.

Then there are those who appreciate the land for its material benefits. They recognize its value as a homeland for the Jewish people, and work towards settling and rebuilding the land. This form of devotion to the Land of Israel, even though it does not take into account its special spiritual qualities, is nonetheless a good and positive trait.

The verse mentions the word “land” twice, each time followed by a list of produce. This corresponds to the two forms of devotion to the Land of Israel. The first list of produce represents those who love the Land for its elevated, spiritual properties. This group consists of five fruits and grains, corresponding to the Five Books of Moses. This devotion to Eretz Yisrael stems from the world of Torah, from an awareness of the spiritual goals of the Jewish people and the entire world.

The second list contains oil-olive, symbolizing knowledge, and the honey-date, representing material contentment. These fruits represents those who appreciate the Land as a place where the Jewish people can be successful in the material spheres of life, whether academic, cultural, or economic.

Rav Hamenuna taught us an important lesson: how great is the love for the Land of Israel, even when this love is limited to its physical benefits. When they are connected to the community, all material matters become spiritual ones; the elevated goals will automatically be realized through the bonds of God’s people to His Land.

The Pomegranate and the Date
Why does the date take precedence before the pomegranate? Even though the pomegranate belongs to the first group, it is the last fruit in the list. The pomegranate represents those who are aware of the holy qualities of EretzYisrael, yet in practice remain distant from the Land. These individuals unfortunately take few practical measures to express their love for the Land.

The date, on the other hand, is near the top of the second group. It represents those who only recognize the material benefits of the Land of Israel. Through their efforts, however, they are much closer to the Land, taking practical steps in settling and rebuilding it. Such a person, Rabbi Hamenuna taught, should be strengthened and presented first for a blessing. Devotion to the Land, when promoted in practical, concrete efforts, is a wonderful thing. Thus we find the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102b) states that Omri merited to be king in reward for establishing a city in the Land of Israel, even though his intentions were certainly pragmatic.

Legs of Iron
Now we can understand Rabbi Hisda’s fervent response, “If only we had legs of iron to always follow you and learn from you!” Rav Hisda understood the inner message of Rabbi Hamenuna’s teaching. One needs “legs of iron” — courage and fortitude like iron — in order to be able to receive this remarkable message, and appreciate the importance of the material strength of Israel.

Similarly, on the national level, we need “legs of iron,” powerful means to build up the physical aspects of the nation. Then we will have the spiritual strength to create a courageous national spirit. “And we will learn from you” — we will follow your path of Torah, and merit inheriting the Land through love and wholeness and inner strength.

(Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 304-306. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, pp. 186-187; Olat Re’iyah vol. I, pp. 374-377. by Rav Chanan Morrison)

Un-Jewish? Un-Rabbinic? Avenging Evil is a Holy Mitzva

Parashat Eikev 5781
by HaRav Nachman Kahana

Un-Jewish? Un-Rabbinic?
In last week’s message, I wrote of the pending “yom hadin” – HaShem’s inevitable day of judgement against all our historic and contemporary enemies, first and foremost the Christian nations of Europe and including others like Iran and their Islamic co-religionists. This evoked negative reactions of shock from several corners, claiming that my vengeful tone is un-Jewish and certainly inappropriate for a rabbi.

Un-Jewish Indeed?! Un-rabbinic? Indeed!

What is the difference between a “right” as in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution which make up the Bill of Rights, and a “privilege”?

A privilege is something granted as a special favor by the will of the grantor, which the recipient cannot demand. A “right” is a status upon which one may demand its fulfillment. An American citizen has the right to demand his freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. But one cannot demand privileges reserved for the elite.

That we are alive is not a “right” that permits us to demand from the Creator; but rather a magnificent privilege granted by Him to be a real entity which is commanded to recognize and accept His mastery and Monarchy and to service Him by abiding to his will.

Our parasha begins (Devarim 7,12):

והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה ושמרתם ועשיתם אתם ושמר ה’ אלהיך לך את הברית ואת החסד אשר נשבע לאבתיך

If you abide by these laws and will be diligent in following them, then the Lord your God will fulfill his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors.

Verse 8,19:

והיה אם שכח תשכח את ה’ אלהיך והלכת אחרי אלהים אחרים ועבדתם והשתחוית להם העדתי בכם היום כי אבד תאבדון

If you forget (ignore) the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be lost.

Two basic principles arise from these verses:
One does not have an inherent “right” (entitlement) to live. Life is a privilege granted to man by the Creator, and when one oversteps that privilege his life could be compromised.
There are inevitable consequences to our behavior, for good and for bad.

Let’s return to my “un-Jewish” and “un-rabbinic” expectations that HaShem, the God of justice, mercy and truth will punish all who have lifted a finger or voiced condemnation toward – the Jewish nation.

What did our father Avraham do to the four kings who kidnapped his nephew Lot?

What about Shimon and Levi in the city of Shechem?

Moshe Rabbeinu took revenge on the Egyptian taskmaster for beating a Jew and was commanded by HaShem to destroy the nation of Midyan for leading 24,000 Jews to sin.

Yehoshua decimated the seven Canaanite nations.

Shoftim (Judges like Gidon, Shimshon, Devora, and Yael the wife of Chaver Hakaini) were not lily white.

King David ordered the killing of two thirds of the males of Moav, after their king murdered David’s parents and six brothers.

And the list is very long.

Avenging Evil is a Holy Mitzva
To avenge evil is a holy mitzva. From where do we know this?

The Gemara (Brachot 33a) lists three things whose senior status of importance was emphasized in the Tanach by their written word, appearing between two names of Hashem. They are:

דעה, מקדש, נקמה

Native intelligence, the Temple, revenge against evil doers.

Rambam (Melachim chapter 5):

ואי זו היא מלחמת מצוה זו מלחמת שבעה עממים, ומלחמת עמלק, ועזרת ישראל מיד צר שבא עליהם

Defines war which is a mitzva to wage as the war against the seven Canaanite nations (and by extension any war to liberate Eretz Yisrael); war against Amalek, and war against any non-Jew who threatens the life of a Jew.

In addition, we recite on most Shabbatot the following verses in the Av Harachamim liturgy before Musaf, Devarim 32,43:

הרנינו גוים עמו כי דם עבדיו יקום ונקם ישיב לצריו וכפר אדמתו עמו

Rejoice, you nations, with his people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants; He will take vengeance on His enemies and make atonement for His land and people.

The prophet Joel 4,21:

ונקיתי דמם לא נקיתי וה’ שכן בציו

Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged? I will not. The Lord dwells in Zion!

Tehillim 79,10:

למה יאמרו הגוים איה אלהיהם יודע בגיים בגוים לעינינו נקמת דם עבדיך השפוך:

Why should the nations say, where is their God? Before our eyes, make known among the nations that You avenge the outpoured blood of Your servants.

Tehillim 9,13:

כי דרש דמים אותם זכר לא שכח צעקת עניים ענוים

Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what He has done. For He who avenges blood remembers; He does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.

Un-Jewish and un-rabbinic, indeed!

In the matter of avenging evil, we are partners with the Creator. HaShem deals with the big and numerous enemies, the small but deadly one He leaves to us.

In conclusion: there are many beautiful subjects and ideas in our parasha that I could write about, aside from HaShem’s imminent wrath on our enemies. But as I perceive it, we are now in a time when Judenhass is going to fill a major role on the stage of history. We cannot afford the luxury of burying our heads in the sand and be oblivious to the changes in the United States and in many lands where Jews live today; not to speak of the Middle East.

It brings to mind the prophetic words of the sinister Bil’am in Bamidbar (23,9):

… הן עם לבדד ישכן ובגוים לא יתחשב

I see a people who live apart and are not involved when dealing with the other nations.

Many of the commentaries explain this verse to mean, that on that day (or time) of reckoning when HaShem brings down the enemies of Am Yisrael, we will remain unscathed and will be the leaders of the new world.

Shabbat Shalom,
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5781/2021 Nachman Kahana

If you don’t feel that war raging, then you’ve lost it already

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

Friday Night
THE PARSHA STARTS of with the verse:

And it will be, because you will—aikev—listen to these judgments and keep and perform them… (Devarim 7:12)

Translated, there is nothing unusual about the wording, but in Hebrew there is. The word for “because you will” is not the one most people would have chosen. The fact that the Torah chose the word “aikev,” a word that principally means “heel,” led Rashi to comment:

If you will listen to the “minor” commandments which one [usually] tramples with their heels… (Rashi)

It’s a double message. In most cases the Torah does not distinguish between “easy” and “difficult” mitzvos, but it does in this parsha. It specifically speaks about mitzvos that people might “step on” with their “heel,” so-to-speak, because they don’t seem that important compared to other mitzvos like Shabbos for example.

How does one know which mitzvah is minor and which is major? Seemingly as a result of the punishment for not doing them. Some sins are punishable by death, some by kares—excision, and some by 39 lashes “only,” though quite frankly, the lashes could kill, or at least make someone wish they would.

The mishnah in Pirkei Avos echoes this idea, except that it adds an extra reason as well. You are not allowed to decide which mitzvah to take seriously and which one not to in general. Even if you are the type to anyhow, you certainly can’t do it based upon punishment alone:

Be careful with a light mitzvah as with a grave one, because you do not know the reward for the fulfillment of the mitzvos. (Pirkei Avos 2:1)

To be clear, as Jews we’re concerned about two things. First, about avoiding punishment in this world and the next one, which we do by avoiding sin. Secondly, we’re about earning as much reward as we can while we can, which we do by learning Torah and doing mitzvos. The fact that the punishment for certain transgressions is “less” than others does not necessarily mean that they cannot earn more reward in the World-to-Come, or even in this world, by avoiding them.

Why did I put avoiding punishment before earning reward in the World-to-Come? Because ever since we “absorbed” the yetzer hara after the sin of the Aitz HaDa’as and were expelled from Gan Aiden, we have tended to put earning eternal reward a distant second to avoiding punishment. Especially in our generation when you can seemingly have your cake and eat it too (be “frum” while acting somewhat secular), Torah life for many has become somewhat an issue of “risk management.”

So people wear clothing that pushes the limits of tznius—modesty, and pushes those limits more and more in the wrong direction. They do things on Shabbos that are not in the spirit of Shabbos, or worse. They use technology in ways that might be fine for non-Jews, but not for Jews. They indulge in materialism more than might be sanctioned by a Torah way of life.

It’s a BIG mistake.

Shabbos Day
I ONCE ASKED someone how they could knowingly turn their back on Torah after having first become a ba’al teshuvah. Unlike many who are born into a Torah lifestyle, this person became observant in their twenties because the argument in favor of Torah made sense. That hadn’t changed, just their attitude towards being religious.

I have never forgotten what they answered me, and it is at least 35 years later. In fact, they taught me a REALLY important lesson about how our minds work. On a less serious level, it explains something as trivial as undesirable weight gain. On a more serious level, it explains something as mind-boggling as the Holocaust.

This is what they answered me. They said that the first time they broke Shabbos by turning on a light, they “expected” lightning to come down from Heaven and strike them. But of course it didn’t, so they did it a second time with less fear, and then a third time with even less fear. Eventually they left everything behind they had learned.

The truth is, the Talmud warns about the same thing:

If a person sins once, and then a second time, it is permissible to them. If they sin once, and then twice, it is permissible to them?! Rather, it becomes as if permissible to them. (Kiddushin 20a)

You have to ask yourself about the psychology of this incredible mental process if you want to avoid being victimized by it. Few people aren’t victims of it, which is why the world has become as troubling place as it is today.

This morning I received a video link from a good friend of mine that, I have to say, is very disturbing. The video that is. It is meant to be disturbing, because it is a German tracing the steps that were taken by the Nazi regime to manipulate fifty million Germans to carry out the Holocaust. It is called, “You Thought You Were Free? (Revised),” and it is found on the Armstrong Economics web site.

Anyone who lives “outside” the secular world has got be shocked by the direction of society, and afraid of where it might be going. Historically, the current liberal trend in the West has, in the past, led to major wars. Anyone who is NOT shocked by the current state of Western society is already a victim of what the video describes.

But the finger should be wagging at more than secular people, because we’re all guilty of the same psychological error. The Torah is not talking to secular Jews, but to religious ones, those who keep mitzvos but only to the extent that they deem necessary. Does the yetzer hara care if someone is religious or secular?

On the contrary, getting a religious Jew to compromise on a Torah value even just a little, as opposed to a secular Jew to compromise a lot, is like knocking off a general as opposed to only a corporal during a war. Because that’s what it is, the Ramchal says, a raging spiritual war. And he adds, and this is the scary part: if you don’t feel that war raging, then you’ve lost it already.

Shelosh Seudot
THE MISHNAH IN Pirkei Avos says that the Jewish people tested God ten times in the desert, the tenth being the episode of the spies. A very obvious question that many people obviously don’t ask is, “What do you mean tested God ten times? They sinned against God ten times!”

The Leshem provides a not-so-obvious but incredible answer. He says that the majority of Jews never actually sinned in the desert. In fact, it was always a small number of Jews who actually committed the sin, even during the episode of the spies. Sometimes it was even only Dasan and Aviram, and perhaps the Erev Rav, even though the Torah makes it seem like the entire nation sinned.

Although this explains why the language of “tested” is used instead of “sinned,” it does not explain why the entire nation was punished because of a handful of repeat sinners. To answer that, we need only recall that in last week’s parsha there was a mitzvah not to test God. That is exactly what the rest of the nation did do to warrant being dragged into the sins of others.

How did they test God? Rather than protest against the sinners, the majority of the nation stayed quiet and waited to see how God would respond. Would He still support them, or cut them off, continue to take care of them, or destroy them in the desert? While they “waited” to see God’s protest, God waited to see theirs.

But it never came. No one ever stood up to the bad guys except for Chur, Miriam’s son, and he died for it. And lest a person say, “What good would their protests have done? Would anyone have listened to them?” the Talmud recounts how that argument did not save the tzaddikim of the First Temple period (Shabbos 55a). They perished with everyone else in the Churban for not having tried to protest against the sins of their generation.

As the Talmud says:

Rebi Yonason, which some replace with Rebi Yochanan, said: Whoever can protest against [a sin in] their household but does not is held responsible for [the sins of] their household; their fellow citizens, they are held responsible for [the sins of] their fellow citizens; the whole world, they are held responsible for [the sins of] the whole world. (Shabbos 54b)

WHO IS NOT disgusted by Titus’ profanation of the Torah and the Temple (Gittin 56b)? How could God allow such a terrible human being to enter the Holy of Holies with a Sefer Torah and profane both so horribly? Even the difficult death he suffered seems too kind for what he did.

But everything God does is middah-k’negged middah—measure-for-measure. What Titus did had to be in response to something we did first, measure-for-measure. But to our knowledge, no Jew ever did anything remotely as profane as Titus did, so the question returns: How was Titus able to do it?

In Kabbalah, the concept is called “k’illu—as if.” It refers to a situation where something doesn’t actually occur, but since the net result is the same, it is “as if” the thing that usually causes it did occur.

An example of this idea is embarrassing someone in public. Since it draws the blood of a person from their face making them “go white,” it’s k’illu—as if—the person doing the embarrassing killed the person they embarrassed. Since it is only k’illu, they won’t be punished as a murderer by Bais Din, but it is k’illu enough that they will be considered a murderer on some level from Heaven’s point of view.

Likewise, a Jew never physically did what Titus did on top of a Sefer Torah, and in the Holy of Holies no less. But that doesn’t mean that from Heaven’s point-of-view our treading on “light” mitzvos, and how much more so on “serious” mitzvos, is not the same thing. On the contrary, God may have had Titus do that to tell us what our abuse of Torah seems like from His vantage point. Something we did had to open the door for Titus to behave as he did.

This is a major part of the warning in this week’s parsha. It would be a terrible mistake for us to think we understand God and Torah enough to properly weigh the gravity of our actions, or lack of them.

“So I don’t take the mitzvah seriously. How bad can it be?”

“So I don’t protest. At least I’m not actually doing the sin!”

History has answered these questions many times over, and never the way we imagined or hoped. But take God, Torah, and His mitzvos seriously, and you not only make God happy, but you earn His protection…in this world and the next one.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

“First, one should undertake the yoke of heaven”

by HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

Parashat VaEt’chanan and Parashat Ekev are linked to each other. The former’s main theme is our receiving the Torah from G-d and our undertaking the yoke of Heaven through our reciting the words, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d. Hashem is One.” The latter’s main theme is our fulfilling all of G-d’s mitzvoth in general, and our fulfilling them in Eretz Yisrael in particular. As Rav Yehoshua ben Korcha said, “Why did the first paragraph of the Shema precede the second? It was so that a Jew would first undertake the yoke of heaven and only then the yoke of mitzvoth” (Berachot 2b).

Our faith in Hashem’s being the One G-d, and our duty to love Him and to learn His Torah, precedes mitzvah fulfillment, which is a corollary detail extending from that faith, in the same way, that the roots and trunk of a tree precede its branches. This does not mean, G-d forbid, that we should not fulfill mitzvoth as long as we haven’t yet learned and the Torah does not yet permeate our entire being. Quite the contrary, the heart is influenced by deeds. Still, we have to distinguish between general points and specifics. When a Jew fulfills mitzvoth without being full of faith, that is a shortcoming evincing a situation of “For it is precept by precept, precept by precept, line by line, line by line; here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10). The integral Torah is then transformed into separate bits and pieces, a plethora of details without any unifying link, and then crises surface. As our sages said, “In the Messianic era, impudence will prevail” (end of Tractate Sota. See “HaTorah HaGo’elet, Sichot HaRav Tzvi Yehuda zt”l, I:154).

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, zt”l, was the seer and faithful Shepard of our generation and all the generations to come. He possessed a deep understanding of the roots of the crises befalling our generation, the generation in the footsteps of the Messiah. He taught us what improvements are needed not only for us to overcome those crises, but also how to ascend spiritually to the higher levels that the Jewish People, rising to rebirth are encountering with G-d’s help.

In relating to the spiritual, moral, and religious crisis we are facing, and how to rectify it, he writes:
“The impudence of the pre-Messianic era develops because the world has been sufficiently prepared to demand an understanding of how all the details are linked to the whole, and the generation cannot rest if any detail remains unexplained…” (Orot HaTeshuvah 4:10).

The study and strengthening of faith, i.e., the undertaking of the yoke of heaven, is the greatest need of our generation. Through that, and through being infinitely patient, we will also arrive at mitzvah fulfillment performed loving. Indeed, Rav Tzvi Yehuda, son, and torchbearer of Rav Avraham Yitzchak, zt”l, worked all his life to strengthen faith, mitzvah fulfillment based on love and faith, and with G-d’s help, we will merit a new light over Zion.

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

Yeshivat Machon Meir - Parashat Eikev: Is God still with us? (video)

Consolation: Ben and Jerry’s or the Return of the Jews to Israel?

Last week’s Shabbat, is known as Shabbat Nachamu, based on the week’s Haftarah reading from the prophet Isaiah. The Haftarah follows the weekly Torah reading Va’etchanan in synagogues around the world. It begins seven weeks of prophetic readings of consolation (Sheva D’Nechamata); starting after Tisha B’Av (the Jewish people’s national day of mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem, the Beit HaMikdash on the Temple Mount, their murder, and exile from the land), till Rosh HaShanah (the Hebrew calendar New Year).

Last week, Ben and Jerry’s announced their boycott (more on that later).

The prophet Isaiah opens with, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her time [of exile] has ended...” (Isaiah 40:1-2).

Va’etchanan itself, follows last week’s Torah reading Devarim/Deuteronomy, where Moses began his five week long sermon to the Jewish people, before his death. In it, he summarized the forty year desert experience, reminding the younger generation about to enter the Land of Israel, of the failed mission of the spies. And why, God punished their parent’s generation (for lack of faith in Him and His promise to give them Israel), (Deuteronomy 1:19-46).

In last week’s reading, Va’etchanan, we find nineteen references to the Land of Israel. They include entering, inheriting (a euphemism for conquering), possessing and living in the Promised Israel, or as the Torah calls it several times, HaAretz HaTova (the good land).

Proving the centrality of the Land of Israel to Judaism, and probably the most references to the land, of any parsha in the Torah.

Moses begs God, “let me go over, and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, that goodly mountain (the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – Rashi), and the Lebanon (the Holy Temple – Rashi), (Deuteronomy 3:25).

But God answers no, “ shall command Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land...” (Deuteronomy 3:28).

Then Moses tells Israel, “...hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land, the Lord, the God of your forefathers, is giving you,” (Deuteronomy 4:1).

Moses continues, “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession, (Deuteronomy 4:5).

“...the decrees and laws that you shall perform in the land that you are crossing [the Jordan] to inherit,” (Deuteronomy 4:14).

Then Moses returns to why he won’t lead them, “The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land, the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance. I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land,” (Deuteronomy 4:21-22).

Moses then warns against sinning and its consequences, “...and have lived long in the land, if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol...that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 4:25-26).

Then Moses tells the Jews, “Because He loved your forefathers and chose their descendants [you] after them, he brought you out of Egypt… [He will] drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you, and bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance...” (Deuteronomy 4:37-38).

He again warns, “Keep His decrees and commandments, which I am giving you today...that you may live long in the land that the Lord your God gives to you for all time,” (Deuteronomy 4:40).

God then tells Moses, “...all the commands, decrees and laws that you shall teach them to do in the land I am giving them to possess.”

And Moses tells Israel, “Be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess,” (Deuteronomy 5:28-30).

Moses reminds them again, “These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live...”

“Listen Israel, and be careful to perform [the commandments], so that it may go well with you, and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your forefathers, promised you…When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you...” (Deuteronomy 6:1-10).

Moses then tells them, “Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it will be good for you, and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised to your forefathers, driving out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said...”

“And in the future, when your son asks you, What is the meaning of the testimonies, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you? Tell him, We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders – great and terrible – on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. He brought us out from there, to bring us in and give us the land he promised on to our ancestors,” (Deuteronomy 6:18-23).

Moses concludes, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations, the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you, and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you, and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.”

“Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy,” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).

Earlier God had told Moses to warn Israel, “But if you [Israel] do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Numbers 33:55).

Sounds a lot like today; think, recent riots across Israel.

So, thirty nine years earlier, the spies destroyed the Jewish people’s enthusiasm to enter the Land of Israel. Then, Moses describes God’s promise to bring them into the land, the conditions to successfully live there, i.e. keep His Torah and Mitzvot; conquer the land and drive out the evil inhabitants. Moses then warns that sinning will bring exile, and finally the prophet Isaiah promises consolation will come. He descibes the time the exile will end and the Jewish people’s return to the land will begin.

We today, are living those prophecies of return to Israel… that’s the real consolation to the Jewish people, not whether we eat ice cream or not!

So recently, when Ben & Jerry’s announced that it planned to boycott “the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” it should have caused Jews around the world to laugh with joy…

It seems, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield’s ice cream, like themselves, will not be sharing in the consolation any longer. Their loss!

“The Occupied Palestinian Territories,” it was assumed, meant Jewish towns and villages in Judea and Samaria, (West Bank settlements), and Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem. Anuradha Mittal, chairwoman of Ben & Jerry’s Independent Board of Directors, later clarified, “The statement released by Ben & Jerry’s regarding its operation in Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territory, does not reflect the position of the Independent Board, nor was it approved by the Independent Board.”

Truth be told, the Ben & Jerry’s Board, wanted to boycott Israel entirely, but was stopped from doing so by Unilever, the parent company. Pity, just after Tisha B’Av, the spies’ sin has been repeated again, and just after we read about it last week in the Torah, how interesting.

Avi Zinger, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s Israel, the franchise owner in Israel, said he was unwilling to boycott Israeli citizens in Judea and Samaria, and was legally prevented from doing so. As a result, Ben & Jerry’s plans to cancel the franchise in 2022.

Ben & Jerry’s decision might cause them problems in the US though. Thirty four states in the US have “anti-boycott of Israel” laws, that mandate their state governments to stop doing business with companies that boycott Israel, and 21 of those, explicitly include in their boycott definition, towns in Judea and Samaria.

Officials in five states, Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey and Illinois are already checking into whether the move, will require divestment from Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever, under their various state laws.

With rising global anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism (the most pernicious form of Jew-hatred today), the real irony will be, when Cohen and Greenfield’s decendents decide to flee the exile, to the Land of Israel, they will be welcomed with open arms. The country that Ben and Jerry wanted to boycott.

So whether we eat this or that ice cream, the unfolding Redemption of the Jewish people continues unabated. Jewish national life has returned to the Land of Israel, and will continue long past the extinction of Ben & Jerry’s, and their founders.

Now that’s real consolation!

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

Monday, July 26, 2021

Mount Sinai and the Golden Calf

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

In this week's parsha, Moshe warns Bnei Yisrael (Devarim 9:4-7):

Do not say ... "Because of my righteousness did Hashem bring me to possess this Land" ... Not because of your righteousness and the uprightedness of your heart are you coming to possess their Land, but because of the wickedness of these nations does Hashem, your G-d, drive them away from before you, and in order to establish the word that Hashem swore to your forefathers ... You should know that not because of your righteousness ... for you are a stiff-necked people. Remember, do not forget, that you provoked Hashem, your G-d, in the Wilderness.

Why was it necessary for Moshe to degrade Israel, and to reemphasize that their inheritance of the Land is not in their merit, and that they are a stiff-necked people that sinned? After all, the generation of the desert all died, so why mention the sins of the fathers to the sons?

In truth, these verses encapsulate the basic tenet of the choice of Israel and of their eternity. Maharal, in Netzach Yisrael, addresses the Ramban's question: Why does the Torah emphasize the righteousness of Noach, that he was a righteous person and that he found favor in the eyes of G-d, whereas regarding Avraham its says: "Go for yourself from your land ... And I will make you a great nation," while nothing is mentioned of his merits?

The Maharal explains based on the Mishna in Avot, that love which is dependent on something, when the reason is gone – so, too, is the love. The Torah intentionally concealed Avraham's righteousness, so that we should not mistakenly think that the covenant was formed with him because of his many merits. This would lead to the conclusion that if, in one of the generations, the descendents would not remain in their righteousness, the covenant is annulled. Therefore the Torah presented the issue in this manner, that the covenant is not dependent and conditional on Israel's righteousness.

Even when they sin, and even with such grave sins as idolatry, they are not rejected, even though they obviously are punished for this. As the Maharal writes, mitzvot and sins "add or detract closeness [to G-d]. However, the very [issue of] closeness is not dependent of the actions of Israel." Chazal say: "Either way they are called sons." The prophet Yechezkel says (20:22-23): "As for what enters your minds – it shall not be! As for what you say: 'We will be like the nations, like the families of the lands, to worship wood and stone,' as I live – the word of the L-rd, Hashem/Elokim – I swear that I will rule over you with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath."

Therefore Moshe emphasizes that Israel does not inherit the land in their merit, because even without merits they would inherit it, in order to fulfill the Divine masterplan as He swore to the forefathers. The proof is that you are a stiff-necked people and sinners, and even so, you are coming to the Land.

The reason for this unconditional choice can be understood from the Gemara Sanhedrin (34a), which addresses the contradiction between two verses. One pasuk says, "You, who cling (deveikim) to Hashem, your G-d" (Devarim 4:4), whereas another verse states: "Israel became attached (vayitzamed) to Baal Pe'or." (Bamidbar 25:3) The Gemara teaches that there is a difference between the words "clinging" and "becoming attached." "Cling" is an absolute bond, which is the relationship between Israel and G-d. On the other hand, Israel "becomes attached" to idolatry, like a bracelet (tzamid) on a woman's hand. In other words, with G-d – they are connected actually, in nature, inherently. However, when they sin with idolatry, this is something casual and external. Therefore, the sin of idolatry, which is casual, cannot abolish the clinging to G-d, which is natural.

With this, we can understand a fascinating passage of Chazal in this week's Haftorah (Brachot 32b):

"Zion said, 'Hashem has forsaken me; my L-rd has forgotten me.'" (Yeshaya 49:14) ...Knesset Yisrael said before G-d: Master of the Universe, "A man who marries a second wife remembers the actions of his first wife, whereas you have forsaken me and forgotten me."G-d said to her: My daughter, I created twelve constellations in the Heaven ... and they all were created only for you, and you say, "You have forsaken me and forgotten me?!" "Can a woman forget her baby (ulah), or not feel compassion (me'rachem) for the child of her womb?" G-d said, "Will I ever forget the olot (burnt-offerings), the rams and first-born (peter-rechem) that you offered before Me in the Wilderness?She said before Him: Master of the Universe, since you do not forget anything, perhaps you will not forget the act of the [golden] calf?He said to her: Even these (eleh) may forget. (I.e., "These are your gods, Israel.")She said before Him: Since there is forgetting before Your Throne, perhaps you will forget the act of Sinai?He said to her: "But I (anochi) will not forget you." (I.e., "I (anochi) am Hashem, your G-d.")This is what R. Eliezer said: What is written, "Even these (eleh) may forget" – this is the act of the [golden] calf; "But I (anochi) will not forget you" – this is the act of Sinai.

This is difficult to comprehend; is there unfair preference here? Why is the golden calf forgotten, but not the act of Sinai? Based on what we said, the issue is clear. Something intrinsic is not forgotten; only something casual and external is forgotten. The sin of idolatry in Israel is not something intrinsic, and is not clinging, and therefore it is forgotten easily and not remembered. Not so, ma'amad Har Sinai, since the Torah is the soul of Israel, and an eternal life that He planted amongst us. Israel cannot exist without the Torah, and therefore – "I (anochi) will not forget you."

There is no free lunch

by Rabbi Dov Berel Wein

Ekev – the word itself and the parsha generally – stresses the cause and effect equation that governs all human and Jewish history. Blessings and sadder events are conditioned on previous human behavior, attitudes and actions. Life eventually teaches us that there is no free lunch. The rabbis stated it succinctly in Avot: "According to the effort and sacrifice, so too will be the reward."

There are really no shortcuts in life. All attempts to accommodate eternal Jewish practices and values to fit current fads and societal norms, have ended in abysmal failure. The road of Jewish history is littered with the remains of people and movements who looked to reform and improve Judaism and instead only succeeded in making it irrelevant to their followers.

The Torah emphasizes that Moshe brought the people closer to Heaven but he did not degrade heaven by dragging it down to the level of the people. The tragedy of much of American Jewry and of many secular Jews generally is not that Judaism was too hard and difficult – rather, it was rendered too easy and convenient and thus had no meaning in their lives and everyday existence.

Moshe in this week’s parsha (as he does generally in the book of Dvarim) emphasizes the difficult times that the people endured in their forty years sojourn and travels in the desert of Sinai. And Moshe does not deign to promise them a rose garden in the Middle East upon their entry into and conquest of the Land of Israel. He warns them of the consequences of abandoning God and Torah. The God of Jewish and general world history is exacting and does not tolerate the easy path that leads to spiritual weakness and eventual physical destruction.

Rashi in this week’s parsha comments that this message is particularly true regarding the "small" things in life that one easily crushes with one’s akeiv – heel. It is the small thing that truly characterizes our personality and our relationships with others and with our Creator as well.

I have noticed that there is a trend in our current society that when eulogies are delivered they concentrate on the small things in life – on stories, anecdotes, memories and personal relationships – rather than on the public or commercial achievements of the deceased, no matter how impressive those achievements might have been.

It is the small things in life that engender within us likes and dislikes, feelings of affection and love and emotions of annoyance and frustration. So our Torah is one of myriad details and many small things. The God of the vast universe reveals Himself, so to speak, to us in the atom and the tiny mite. For upon reflection and analysis there are really no small things in life.

Everything that we do and say bears consequences for our personal and national future. It is this sense of almost cosmic influence exercised by every individual in one’s everyday life that lies at the heart of Torah and Judaism. We build the world in our own lives’ seemingly mundane behavior.

Parashat Eikev After the War of Independence

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

Moshe Rabbeinu warns of two, almost mutually exclusive dangers. The first is the feeling of "How will I be able to conquer them" (Devarim 7:17). The second is "Your heart will be haughty and you will forget Hashem who took you out of Egypt ... and you will say in your heart, ‘my strength and the power of my hand produced these attainments’" (ibid. 8:14-17).

Around a year ago [the summer before the UN Partition Resolution] the greater fear was from the statement of gloom. Even after the decision made in Lake Success [the seat of the UN at that time], there was still a lot of doubt in our hearts: how could we stand up to all of the wicked plots and great powers that stood up against us? Well, the wonder happened; a great miracle happened here, a greater one than anticipated. If we compare the attainments to the losses, we will have to conclude that the success was many times greater. The greatest successes were in situations where there were negligible casualties.

"How will I be able...?" According to the laws of nature, there was no possibility. Two wonders occurred. One, of course, was the victory itself. The second was the fact that we did not lose our senses by asking "How can we?" The question was not asked even though it logically should have been, and even in retrospect the clear answer could have been that we could not.

However, now we stand before the second danger: "Your heart will be haughty, and you will forget ..." When people lack belief, the incredible victory turns into an exaggerated self-appraisal of brilliance and unlimited pride about our power, wisdom and bravery. We should note that the Torah attributes the haughtiness to forgetting. If we would read now the words of those who helped shape our national strategy, such as Silver and Ben Gurion, we will find the tormented spirit of the upper echelons of the defense establishment on the day the state was declared. Projections fitting of Iyov were heard from all sides, while we had so little in hand with which to fight. If we remember this and remember how we overcame, how David stood up to Goliath, and understand that this was only with Hashem’s help, then we will be saved from the haughtiness. We should also remember the human sacrifices that we needed to bring and make sure that we do not trivialize the sacrifices they made and the success they enabled.

Another pasuk (Devarim 10:12) exhorts us to view things properly: "What does Hashem demand of you? Only to fear ..." The demands are mainly about fear of Hashem, and "... to love Him" and through our actions make Him loved by others. The machaneh Shechina (those of the camp who are aware of the Divine Presence) must protect the honor of the encampment and make our paths and actions worthy of making Hashem beloved to all.

The Reform Jews Prayer in ‘Ezrat Yisrael’

by HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Her Bracha

(Ed. note: I have tremendous respect for Rav Melamed as a torah scholar. This is not the first time he's taken what would be perceived as a controversial stance on a halachic issue. I know he's taken a lot of heat for this. I print it here for you to decide.)

Conservative and Reform Jews should be allowed to pray at the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section of the Western Wall, and the Rabbi of the Western Wall should take care of all their needs, including supplying them with a Torah scroll * The war against the Reform movement was waged by the Gedolei Yisrael in the beginning when there was still a chance to annul it and prevent the schism, but today, when it is a fait accompli, we must engage in bringing hearts together * Specifically in the vicinity of the Temple Mount, the place that unites all of Israel, more care must be taken to keep the peace

It is not clear to me what exactly happened on the night of Tisha B’Av at ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ (Robinson’s Arch) at the Kotel Ha-Ma’aravi (Western Wall). Therefore, without blaming either side, I will deal with what ideally should be the situation, in order to increase peace among all Jews, and so that all of Israel be as closely connected to Har Ha-Bayit (the Temple Mount) as possible.

Since there are many Jews who identify with the Conservative and Reform movements, and according to their guiding values​have arranged for themselves mixed-gender prayers in a style and with rules inconsistent to halakha and the minhagim (religious customs) of Israel, and want to pray at the Kotel as they wish, it is appropriate that in the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section, they should be able to hold their prayers with due respect. Moreover, if the number of people who come to pray under their leadership increases, the “Ezrat Yisrael” section should be enlarged and expanded for them as needed. Members of the religious and Haredi community who observe halakha and minhag should not lament that members of these movements come to the Kotel, rather, rejoice that more Jewish brethren are connected to the place of the Temple and wish to pray to our heavenly Father, and look favorably on the fact that although we disagree with their changes in halakha, we know how to respect and appreciate all their positive aspects. ‘Gadol Kiddush Hashem me’Chillul Hashem’ (sanctification of God is greater than the desecration of God).

It is appropriate that the rabbi of the Kotel respect all Jews from all streams, and when a group of Conservative or Reform Jews wants to come and pray, receive them at the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section with a welcome greeting. In addition, although the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section is not subject to his halakhic mandate like that of a Beit Knesset (synagogue), he should also care for it with utmost respect. In other words, even though he would not pray with them because of his observance of halakha, he should be very happy when they come to pray at the Kotel, and encourage them to visit the Kotel regularly, and in as large groups as possible. He should even instruct the ushers to assist them in every way possible, so that they may pray in the most pleasant way to the Lord our God and the God of our fathers. Moreover, if they need a Torah scroll, he should look after it with utmost dignity. While doing so, in good taste and wisdom, he should try to calm the people who wish to quarrel, that they concentrate on their prayers out of Ahavat Yisrael (love for fellow Jews). He should direct the women who want to read the Torah on Rosh Chodesh to the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’, and take care of all their needs with respect. In addition, if there is concern that certain Jews attempt to seize the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ while Conservative or Reform Jews wish to pray, he should take care to direct them to other places at the Kotel, so that all Jews can feel like God’s beloved sons at the Western Wall.

The City that Makes all of Israel Friends
Peace must be maintained between all Jews, especially near Har Ha-Bayit (the Temple Mount), and for this purpose, our Sages instructed to be lenient in halakhot and takanot (decrees). Throughout the year, our Sages determined that the physical touch of amei ha-aretz (lit., ‘the peoples of the land’, or the uneducated) rendered things impure, because among them, some were not meticulous in the observance of the laws of tumah (ritual impurity) and tahara (ritual purity). However, in order not to create a barrier between the olim le-regel (pilgrims fulfilling the commandment of going to the Temple on the Festivals), our Sages instructed to rely on amei ha-aretz who made the pilgrimage, that anyone who says he is tahor is trusted, and the flesh of the sacrifices and other foods he touched is not rendered tameh. Our Sages based their words on the verse: “So all the men of Israel gathered against the city, united as one” (Judges 20:11) – i.e., when all are gathered together, they all have the status of chaverim who are deemed credible with regard to tahara (Chagiga 26a). It is also said: “Jerusalem built up, a city knit together” (Psalms 122: 3) – it makes all Israel chaverim (Jerusalem Talmud Chagigah 3: 6).
A Temporary Protest and Dispute

Q: But Rabbi, the Reform and Conservatives have changed the halakha! They and their corrupt views should be fought, and not given a foothold, in order to eliminate them from the world!

A: Indeed, sometimes when an undesirable phenomenon arises it is dealt with in a severe manner in an attempt to eliminate it. However, when one realizes that protest and ostracism is to no avail, we must return to the foundations of Achdut Yisrael (the unity of Israel). This was the case regarding amei ha-aretz, many of whom were very hostile to Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars), and as Rabbi Akiva testified of himself: ” When I was an ignoramus, I said: Who will give me a Torah scholar so that I will bite him like a donkey? His students said to him: Master, say that you would bite him like a dog! He said to them: I specifically used that wording, as this one, a donkey, bites and breaks bones, and that one, a dog, bites but does not break bones” (Pesachim 49b). So clearly and distinctly! Consequently, our Sages decreed not to include amei ha-aretz in a zimun. Later, however, in the days of the Rishonim, an order was issued to include them in a zimun, the reasoning being that since the sharp protest did not help bring them back to repentance, it was better not to push them away and create excessive animosity (Tosefot; SA, OC 1999:3; Peninei Halakha: Berachot 5:8). This is based on the words of Rabbi Yossi (Chagigah 22b) who instructed to be lenient and trust the amei ha-aretz regarding the purity of wine and oil all year round, for if they do not trust them “each and every individual would go off and build a private altar for himself, and burn a red heifer for himself.”

Thus, in the first stage when it seemed possible to annul the Reform movement, the controversy was understandable. However, after various “alters” have unfortunately already been created, and we have learned that the wars were of no avail, the dispute should not be furthered, and the schism in Israel deepened and widened – especially not in Jerusalem, our holy city, which makes all of Israel chaverim.

It is worth adding that, unfortunately, some Diaspora Jews belonging to the Liberal, Conservative and Reform movements, as well as the extremist Haredi camp, have become so alienated from their roots and the State of Israel that they became its enemies, and they boycott the State of Israel and the Kotel. Therefore, when members of the Conservative and Reform movements come to the Kotel to pray, it is worthy to congratulate them for this, receive them amiably, and hope that their position will become stronger among their peers.

Beit Knesset (Synagogue)
Q: After all, Rabbi, the Kotel is a Beit Knesset! How can one behave in a Beit Knesset not according to halakha?

A: For that reason, allocating the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section for this purpose is an appropriate solution. On the one hand, it gives an honorable place to all Jews near the Kotel, but on the other hand, since it is not in the ancient plaza that has a chazaka (presumption) of being a Beit Knesset, it does not violate the customary halakhic practice of a Beit Knesset.

Memories from the Breslau Community
My grandfather, the illustrious educator, Prof. Yosef Volk z”l, wrote in his book (‘K’yom Etmol’, p. 69) an entry about the Jewish community in Breslau where he was born and raised. It was the third largest community in Germany, and distinguished itself by maintaining unity among Jews of all streams and opinions. He wrote:

“This unity was achieved despite (or perhaps, because of) the fierce struggle that took place in the Breslau community in the middle of the 19th century, between the representative of strict Orthodoxy, Rabbi Shlomo Tiktin (1791-1843), and Avraham Geiger (1810-1874), one of the leaders of the Reform movement, which deviated greatly from halakha.”

“After Rabbi Tiktin passed away, a compromise was reached between the two streams by creating two unions with equal rights, which had exclusive authority over the religious life patterns of their members. Also contributing to resolving the conflict were the two rabbis, Rabbi Shlomo Tiktin’s son and heir, Rabbi Gedaliah Tiktin (served as rabbi from 1843 until 1886), and Emanuel Joel, Geiger’s successor (served from 1863 until 1890), who knew how to overcome the storms of controversy. From then until the last days of the community, the rabbis of the two streams maintained a normal, and sometimes, even friendly personal relationship.”

“Only in Breslau could three, not so young men, wearing top hats, be seen in the city garden on Shabbat afternoon … on the one hand, Shraga Fish (Ferdinand) Rosenthal (1838-1921), the rabbi of the Orthodox community; on the other hand, Yaakov Gutman (1845-1919), rabbi of the Liberal synagogue community; and in the middle, Marcus Bern (1843-1920), Professor of the Seminary (founded by Rabbi Zechariah Frenkel 1801-1875, and constituted a basis for the Conservative movement)…

“This attitude that prevailed in our community was also reflected in the relatively large number of members of the Zionist Organization … in addition, the founding of the Jewish school in 1920, which I was privileged to be among its first students, was made possible only by mutual understanding between the Zionists, including the secular ones among them, and the Orthodox …”

“On the stamp of the Breslau community are two intersecting wooden sticks, and below them, the verse ‘and they shall be together in your hand’, immediately recalling the beginning of the verse: ‘Finally, bring them together into a single stick, so that they become one in your hand’ (Ezekiel 37:17). This is the mission. And its reward – unity!”
Tisha B’Av

Our Sages said:

“Due to what reason was the First Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there were three matters that existed in the First Temple: Idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed… However, considering that the people during the Second Temple period were engaged in Torah study, observance of mitzvot, and acts of kindness, and that they did not perform the sinful acts that were performed in the First Temple, why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was wanton hatred during that period. This comes to teach you that the sin of wanton hatred is equivalent to the three severe transgressions: idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed” (Yoma 9b). Still, we do not know if the sin of the former, or the latter, are more severe. Rabbi Elazar replied: “Look to the Temple and see if it has been restored.” The First Temple was built after seventy years, and the Second Temple is still destroyed.

Tu B’Av
Our Sages said:

“There were no days as happy for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av and as Yom Kippur” (Ta’anit 30b). Yom Kippur is considered a particularly good day, as it is a day of pardon and forgiveness. The question is: what is special about Tu B’Av? A number of explanations were given in the Gemara, and many of them are related to the Achdut (unity) of Israel.

1) This was the day on which the members of different tribes were permitted to enter one another’s tribe, by intermarriage. 
2) The day on which the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to enter the congregation of the Jewish people, after the great war between Israel and Benjamin, following the support of the children of Benjamin for the wicked who abused the concubine. 
3) The day on which King Hoshea, son of Ela, canceled the guards that Jeroboam, son of Nevat, placed on the roads so that the Jews would not ascend to Jerusalem for the pilgrim Festival.

Sometimes, overcoming the feelings of hatred and the need to be friendly with those who oppose you for justified reasons, such as the memories of the bloody war with the tribe of Benjamin, is more of an affliction of the soul, than the fast of Yom Kippur. Therefore, the tikun (rectification) of Tu B’Av is, to a certain extent, equivalent to that of Yom Kippur.

May it be that during these days between the Tisha B’Av and Tu B’Av, we merit increasing peace among Jews, and as a result, we all merit repenting completely.