Monday, August 30, 2021

Repentance and Redemption

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

In Masechet Sanhedrin (97b), the Tannaim dispute whether the Teshuva (repentance) of Am Yisrael is a precondition for redemption, or if the redemption is not dependent on Teshuva, and it will come in any case:

R. Eliezer says: If Israel do Teshuva they will be redeemed, and if not, they will not be redeemed.

R. Yehoshua said to him: If they do not do Teshuva, they will not be redeemed?! Rather, G-d will establish over them a king whose decrees are harsh like [those of] Haman, and Israel will do Teshuva.

Ramban and R. Chaim b. Atar (Ohr Hachaim) follow R. Yehoshua. Ramban in Parshat Ha'azinu (Devarim 32:40) writes, "In this Song [of Ha'azinu] there is no precondition of Teshuva and worship." Similarly, Ohr Hachaim writes, "There is a limit to the exile even if Israel will be completely wicked, Heaven forbid." (Vayikra 25:28) In contrast to this, Rambam follows R. Eliezer, and writes: "All the prophets commanded about Teshuva, and Israel will only be redeemed through Teshuva." (Hil. Teshuva 7:5)

R. Yehoshua's opinion requires explanation. First he says that the redemption will come even without Teshuva, yet he concludes that they will be forced to repent on account of harsh decrees.

It seems that the resolution to this apparent contradiction is hidden in our parsha. Our parsha begins with a process of Teshuva, "You will return unto ('ad) Hashem, your G-d." (Devarim 30:2) It then moves on to the beginning of redemption, "Then Hashem, your G-d, will bring back your captivity and have mercy on you, and He will gather you in from all the peoples." (30:3) It concludes, once again, with a process of Teshuva, "When you shall return to (el) Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and all your soul." (30:10)

Chazal comment that "unto Hashem" means Teshuva not for its sake - out of fear, whereas, "to Hashem," means Teshuva for its sake - out of love. Similarly, Onkelos translates "You will return unto Hashem - You will return to the fear of Hashem," "When you shall return to Hashem - When you return before Hashem."

According to R. Yehoshua, the first stage of Teshuva will occur out of fear, not for its own sake, when the king that G-d will establish over Israel will pass harsh decrees against them. This will force them to repent. The coercion of the troubles, the pogroms, the anti-Semitism, and other tragedies will arouse the people to Teshuva. This will also be considered Teshuva, even though it is not Teshuva for its own sake.

How will this Teshuva be expressed? Through aliya to Israel! After all, the original sin that caused all of the exiles was, "They despised the desirable land." (Tehillim 106:24) Therefore, Teshuva will be through love of the Land; the exiled Jews will love the Land and will come back to redemption. Thus, the verses that say: "You will return unto Hashem, your G-d ... Then Hashem, your G-d, will bring back your captivity and have mercy on you, and He will gather you in from all the peoples" - deal with the first stage of return to the Land of the forefathers, with aliya to Israel. It will be done by coercion and not willingly; not for its own sake but out of fear. Similarly, Rav Teichtel in "Eim Habanim Semeicha" (p. 109) writes, "Aliya itself is certainly considered Teshuva." Similarly, Yehuda Alkelai writes, "The overall Teshuva ... is that Israel will return to the Land."

Only after the first stage of Teshuva, not for its sake, that Israel will come to Eretz Yisrael, will full Teshuva come: "When you shall return to (el) Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and all your soul." This, indeed, is the order in the Book of Yechezkel (36:24-26):

I will take you from [among] the nations and gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your own soil.

Then I will sprinkle pure water upon you, that you may become cleansed...

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.

Rav Kook zt"l alludes to the process in Orot Hateshuva (17:2):

The arousal of the desire of the nation as a whole to return to its Land, to its essence, to its spirit and its innate characteristic - in fact, has the light of Teshuva in it. In truth, this matter is clearly expressed in the Torah's expression: "You will return unto ('ad) Hashem, your G-d," "When you shall return to (el) Hashem, your G-d."

The return to Israel will draw after it a strengthening of the nationalistic feelings, the first of which is the sense of unity. Therefore, the Torah preceded the portion of Teshuva with the factor of unity - "You are standing today, all of you ... to pass into the covenant of Hashem. Sefat Emet writes:

"You are standing today, all of you" - Because Klal Yisrael are always standing before Hashem, and the worship of each and every individual is to submit himself to the community. This is "today;' it is each and every day ... Based on this all the wicked people could repent, because sin only removes from the wholeness of Israel, and therefore he can return to his roots, as it says, "I am returning to the inheritance of my father."

And, in our times:

Near the footsteps of Messiah, the concept of unity in the nation will increase. (Orot p. 17)

Just as we are assured that all of the destinies will be fulfilled, and not one of them will fail, so, too, we are assured that the last generation - just as it began to repent for the sin of "they despised the cherished Land," and after thousands of years of wandering in the exile, they remembered Yerushalayim and Zion and its callings, and with all the might and enthusiasm they leave the lands of the exile and go up to Zion, and with self-sacrifice they build our holy land - so, too, will arise a fresh and living generation, who will fight also to revive the sacred ... That generation will put on trial its teachers and educators, who led him astray and removed from their mouth their holy food, and will force their ancestors to repent fully. This is what it says: "He will return the heart of fathers on their sons," that through the sons the fathers will repent. We hope that our young generation will be that generation that will shake off its dust and will go spearheading for the observance of Torah and complete Teshuva. (Ma'aynei Yehoshua, Rav Y. M. Charlop zt"l)

The revival of the heart of the fathers on the sons and the heart of the son on their father is impossible to be other than through the air of Eretz Yisrael (B'Ikvi Hatzon, Rav Kook zt"l, p. 114)

Shedding Light on "Teshuva"

by HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of R. Avraham Ben David

Repentance - Fact or Obligation?
With regard to the section of the Torah dealing with Teshuva , or repentance, we ask ourselves, "Is the Torah describing for us a fact - that eventually we will return to God; or are we dealing here with a positive commandment, an obligation to return to Him through Teshuva.

On the verse, "This mandate that I am prescribing to you today is not too concealed or remote from you," Ramban (Nahmanides), in his classic Torah commentary, explains that we are dealing here with both a commandment and a promise. The Torah promises that the People of Israel will repent, in addition the Torah commands us to return to God through Teshuva.

Something Very Close to You
Regarding the commandment to return to God though Teshuva the Torah declares that it, "is not too concealed or remote from you... It is not in heaven... it is not over the sea." The Sefer HaIkkarim explains that this can be compared to a man who had a son who was severely sick. The father thought that for such a serious illness his son would certainly need special treatments and expensive medicines costing him, no doubt, a fortune. He took his son to a specialist who said that for this sickness there is no need for any expensive or hard-to-find medicine - "It is not remote from you." "Everybody," says the doctor, "can find it in his own back yard. You simply take certain herbs which grow in your yard, cook them up, and allow the sick boy to drink the broth. It won't cost you a thing - you can make it on your own." So, too, says the Torah with regard to Teshuva: It's simple to do, just: "Take with you words, and return, and return to God." (Hoshea 14:3)

In fact, Teshuva is so simple that it appears implausible. Everybody knows how serious sins are and how much damage they do. Everybody knows that when there a lot of sins they accumulate and become, "Like," in the words of Isaiah, "the ropes of a wagon." How is it possible that with such ease one can erase all that has been done. Do not the Scriptures themselves teach, "That which is crooked cannot be made straight"?! Why, every transgression which a person performs leaves a blemish on his soul and taints his moral capacities. How is it conceivable that through a person's doing Teshuva he instantly repairs all the damage which has been done?

Yet this is God's will, that man be allowed to return to Him through Teshuva. God forgives anybody who wholeheartedly repents.

Levels of Teshuva
True, there are different levels of Teshuva and of the spiritual elevation which Teshuva brings about, yet as far as casting off the sin is concerned it's enough that man regrets his actions and does not wish to repeat them. This, in itself, is Teshuva.

The Sages teach that even in a case where a man sinned his entire life and then, in his old age, sensing his day of judgement approaching, decided to do Teshuva, his repentance is accepted. The fact that there is no great difficulty in repenting at an old age, when the urge to sin has waned and there is no longer any attraction to the pleasures of the world, does not detract from a persons Teshuva - his sins are nonetheless forgiven.

There are, as we have said, levels in depth and in greatness of Teshuva. The supreme Teshuva is epitomized by the verse in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), "Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the onset of old age." When man is still at the height of his potency, his Teshuva is of a more complete nature. The famed Mishnaic Sage Rabbi Yehudah taught that perfect Teshuva is demonstrated in a case where a man finds himself in the same situation, in the same city, same place, and same woman, possessing the same desires and the same urges, yet does not repeat his sin. His standing the test proves that he is a true Ba'al Teshuva (master of repentance).

Who exactly is a Ba'al Teshuva? The Rambam (Maimonides) writes that the one who repents has "the 'Knower-of-Secrets' (i.e. God) testify to the fact that he will never return to his sin." Yet is not man's Teshuva dependent upon the one repenting and his personal decision, not upon the testimony or witness of God, the "Knower-of-Secrets". The commentators answer that man takes for himself God as witness to the fact that he will not repeat his sin. Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik explains that there are people who return to God through Teshuva saying, "I hope, from now on, never to repeat my transgression," "I'll try," or "I'll do my best." But that is not complete Teshuva, and the one repenting cannot be termed a Ba'al Teshuva. True Teshuva calls for a promise to the Almighty, that the 'Knower-of-Secrts' testify to the repenter's sincerity: "Now, God, you are my witness - that I won't repeat this transgression." A firm decision. Absolute. Final. "That's it, I've detached myself from that transgression."

Intellectual Teshuva and Emotional Teshuva
Teshuva is composed of two elements: rational intellectual understanding, and healthy instinct. Man may come to Teshuva as a result of the realization that what he did was wrong, while harboring a desire to do it again. From an intellectual-rational point of view he understands that it is wrong and therefore wishes to separate himself from the weakness, from the transgression he performed. Yet his desire has not yet abated and his craving is still strong. On the other hand, there is a sort of Teshuva where the sin simply disgusts the sinner. He is repulsed by the rut of desire in which he had once been stuck, by the environment of lust, competition, esteem-seeking, and impression-making. He simply can no longer stand it.

You might say that there is Teshuva which is characterized by a desire to flee from evil. " Sur MeRah ," in Hebrew. The repenter, in this case, doesn't even know where he wants to go - yet he knows where he doesn't want to go. Then, there is a Teshuva in which man is drawn to the good. "Aseh Tov." Complete and perfect Teshuva is composed, of course, of both of them together.

With the approaching New Year, let us merit a good "inscribing and sealing," all of us and all of the People of Israel, Amen.

Just Another Terrorist

by Victor Rosenthal

I remember well the day in early June of 1968 when Robert F. Kennedy was murdered. I was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, teaching several courses while supposedly working on a dissertation that I never wrote. I awoke in the morning to the news that he had been shot in California, shortly after the primary victory that instantly established him as, in his unintentionally ironic words, “a viable candidate” for the presidency.

I went to my classes in the morning. The students were stunned. I said, stupidly, that I thought he would pull through. I didn’t know what else to do, so I started teaching my logic class. Some of the students left, and nobody, including me, paid attention to the material.

Counterfactual speculation in history has a deservedly bad reputation. It’s hard to predict how things would have been different if Kennedy had lived to run, and – quite likely – to be elected President. Would he have withdrawn the US from Vietnam more quickly, or, alternatively, presided over a military victory? Would he have improved race relations in the country? Would he have been quicker than Richard Nixon to help Israel in 1973? He was a great supporter of Israel, and indeed that was the motive of the man convicted of murdering him, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan.

Sirhan is a Christian Arab who was born in Jerusalem. In 1948, his family moved from the western to the eastern part, “for fear of what life would be like under Jewish rule.” In 1956, when he was 12, they moved to the US. Immediately after the murder, he claimed that he had done it because of Kennedy’s pro-Israel sympathies:

Sirhan told his captors that he had made the decision to kill Kennedy only three weeks earlier. On the radio, he had heard a speech delivered by the candidate during a visit to a synagogue, in which Kennedy promised to arm Israel with dozens of warplanes, calling it the lesson he’d learned from the Six-Day War a year earlier …

Sirhan explained that the date of the assassination was not accidental, that he had chosen it because it was the first anniversary of the start of the Six-Day War.

Later he reinforced his earlier statement:

“To me he [Kennedy] was my hero, he was my champion,” Sirhan told British journalist David Frost during an interview at the state prison in Soledad, California, in 1989, one of only two television interviews he has given over the years. “He was the protector of the downtrodden and the disadvantaged, and I felt that I was one [of those]. And to have him say that he was going to send 50 Phantom jets to Israel to deliver nothing but death and destruction on my countrymen, that seemed as though it were a betrayal, and it was sad for me to accept and it was hard for me to accept.”

At the time, Sirhan was identified in the American media as a “Jordanian.” A pastor that knew his mother called him a “Jordanian nationalist” and that was how he was described by the LA Times. Today he is more likely to be identified as a “Palestinian,” driven to do what he did by the horrors of the nakba and “the occupation” (only one year old at the time), but I suspect the earlier conception is closer to the truth. Either way, it is irrelevant. He is just another violent Arab terrorist. Unfortunately we know the type well. A nobody who wants to become somebody by an act of outrage that will give him a place as a hero of his people.

Sirhan was convicted and was sentenced to death. But in 1972, California’s Supreme Court declared the death penalty “cruel and unusual punishment” and all death row prisoners including Sirhan were re-sentenced to life imprisonment. Capital punishment was re-instituted a few months later by a constitutional amendment, but death sentences were not re-imposed.

Interestingly, there are somewhat credible arguments that can be made for the presence of a second shooter, and even that the fatal bullet came from that shooter’s gun and not Sirhan’s. Kennedy certainly had enemies other than Jordanian/Palestinian nationalists, having led a take-no-prisoners war against organized crime in the early 60s. But legally and morally it doesn’t matter: Sirhan deliberately and with premeditation opened fire on Kennedy and is guilty of murder regardless of whose bullet killed him.

This week, the California parole board voted to recommend his release, on the condition that he join an alcohol abuse program and get therapy. The parole board has up to 120 days to review the decision, and then the governor, Gavin Newsom, will have to approve it. Since Sirhan never obtained US citizenship, he could be deported to Jordan (where he would join Ahlam Tamimi as a terrorist celebrity). Would the Palestinian Authority pay him the usual stipend for imprisoned terrorists? Given his long prison term, the retroactive payment would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Robert F. Kennedy was intensely anti-communist – he served as an assistant counsel to the McCarthy committee in 1953 – and outspokenly pro-Israel, characteristics that would not endear him to today’s American Left. On the other hand, he was very popular in the black community during the 1960s because of his actions on behalf of racial justice as Attorney General and advisor to his brother, President John F. Kennedy. He was loved by liberal students, who believed that he would quickly end the Vietnam war.

Kennedy, in fact, was precisely the opposite of today’s left, with its self-imposed ideological straitjacket. Tough and pragmatic, but also (perhaps a bit later on) compassionate toward those he saw as disadvantaged. It’s tragic that he was assassinated before he had realized his potential as a leader. The contrast between his greatness and the smallness of his despicable murderer is palpable.

Which makes me wonder: how will the American Left relate to Sirhan’s release, if it occurs. Will Rashida Tlaib praise him as a hero of the Palestinian Cause? How will BLM relate to the murderer of the man who probably did more to end Jim Crow in the South than any other white man?

For my part, I hope the parole board or the governor will come to their senses and keep him locked up, until he rots.

The Failed State of Lebanon to Combat 'Normalization' with Israel

by Khaled Abu Toameh 
  • "Normalization" with Israel is not what is plaguing Lebanon. The Lebanese who are dying for lack of medication could not care less about "normalization" with Israel.
  • "Unfortunately, they sentenced me to 10 years in prison, but they sentenced the Lebanese people to life in poverty and humiliation. The military court in Lebanon did not give me any opportunity to defend myself. The court did not inform my lawyer in Beirut even of the trial date. It did not inform me personally of anything. The least that should have been done was to inform me of the date of the trial so I could defend myself." — Dr. Jamal Rifi, sentenced to 10 years in prison for treating Israeli Arabs at the request of the Palestinian Authority,, August 24, 2021
  • The case of Dr. Rifi is yet another example of the blind hatred in Lebanon and other Arab countries towards Israel. These countries are so blinded by their hate for Israel (and Jews) that they are even prepared to punish a physician who helped Palestinians living in Jerusalem. It can be fairly said of these Arabs that they are willing to fight Israel to the last Palestinian.
  • There is a further ironic twist to this fiasco. While most Arab countries are turning a blind eye to the deepening crisis in Lebanon, there is one country that appears ready to help the Lebanese people: Israel.
  • One day after the court verdicts were issued against Dr. Rifi and the other two Lebanese, Moshe Arbel, a member of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) called on Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz to provide the Lebanese health system with emergency humanitarian assistance in light of the public health crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the political and economic crisis in Lebanon.
  • It is no wonder that Lebanon -- which is dominated by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist militia -- has become a failed state and is on the brink of collapse. A country that prioritizes fighting "normalization" with Israel over rescuing its own people from disaster will never be able to recover from its chronic illness of bigotry and hate.

Dr. Jamal Ahmed Rifi, a Lebanese physician residing in Australia, last week was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison by a military court in Lebanon for the crime of "normalization with Israel," because he volunteered to work with a project to provide medical supplies to Arab hospitals in Jerusalem and to provide training for Palestinian medical staff in hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Pictured: The Lebanon's Permanent Military Court in Beirut, on April 8, 2016. (Photo by Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images)

The financial and economic crisis in Lebanon is dragging the country towards mayhem at a quickening pace, according to various reports. Lebanon is running out of critical medicines and is witnessing fuel shortages. The economic collapse has stripped the national currency of most of its value and left four out of five Lebanese citizens below the poverty line.

The World Bank has described the crisis as among the worst in over a century.

The crisis, however, has not stopped the Lebanese authorities from again displaying their hostility towards Israel. Instead of devoting its energies to solving the economic crisis and end the suffering of its people -- not even to distract their people from problems they are clueless how to fix -- the failed Lebanese government is busy combating "normalization" with Israel.

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Establishing the Foundations of Faith

by HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Har Bracha

Establishing faith passes through three foundations: revelation through Am Yisrael, observing creation, and putting talents into practice * Studying the history of Am Yisrael reveals the connection between the Creator and his creations, and his providence over them * Observing creation is man’s way of perceiving a tiny bit of God’s greatness * Following in the ways of God reveals the divine presence in every person

Towards the Yamim Ha-Nora’im (The High Holidays), we review the foundations of emunah (faith) and the ways of developing it. Consequently, I thought to publish excerpts from the book I am working on, concerning matters of emunah, and the negation of avodah zara (idolatry).

It is a mitzvah for a person to establish emunah in his consciousness, emotions, and all of his life.

In consciousness, namely, in the study of emunah and its meaning, as written in the Torah:

“Realize it today and ponder it in your heart: God is the Supreme Being in heaven above and on the earth beneath – there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:39); also: “I am God your Lord” (Exodus 20: 2); moreover: “Listen, Israel, God is our Lord, God is One” (Deuteronomy 6: 4); and: “Acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought” (Chronicles 28: 9).

In emotion, namely, in the mitzvah to love God, as written:

“Love God your Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6: 5), and in the mitzvah to fear the great and awesome God, as written: “Remain in awe of God” (Deuteronomy 10:20).

In all of one’s life, by studying Torah and fulfilling its mitzvot, as written: “In all your ways acknowledge him” (Proverbs 3: 6).

By way of three central foundations, emunah is established in consciousness, emotion, and in all of life:

1) The revelation of God through Am Yisrael;

2) Observation of creation in all wonders, and in man, created in the image of God;

3) In the revealing of each individual’s talents, and implementing them in accordance to Torah guidance.

The First Foundation: The Revelation through Am Yisrael
The first foundation for establishing emunah through the revelation of God to the world through Am Yisrael, began with the revelation to our forefather, Avraham Avinu, in the command to immigrate to the Land of Israel, in order to establish a great and blessed people who will reveal his word to the world, and bring blessing to all nations, as written:

“God said to Abram, ‘Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you great. You shall become a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you, I will curse. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you’ (Genesis 12: 1-3).

And further revelations were to our forefathers Yitzchak Avinu and Yaakov Avinu, the bondage of Egypt and the exodus to freedom, until the climax of the Giving of the Torah, and from there, entry into the Land, settling it, the construction of the Temple, and all the prophetic revelations that accompanied it. The entire history of Israel from then until today, in exile and in redemption, are a testimony to God’s governance of his world, as written: “You are my witnesses, says the Lord” (Isaiah 43:10).

In order to understand this foundation in all its breadth and profoundness, we were commanded to study Torah, while observing its divine revelations, and the entire history of Am Yisrael, which begins with the Tanakh, and continues with the words of our Sages until today. To this end, we were also commanded to recount the Exodus from Egypt on the Seder night at great length; commanded to remember the Exodus on all Sabbaths and holidays, and to remember the Exodus as part of our daily prayer. Moreover, we were commanded to remember the Giving of the Torah and the revelation on Mount Sinai on the Festival of Shavuot, and on the Festival of Sukkot, to remember all of God’s providence over us. Also, on Purim and Chanukah, to remember the providence of God, and his salvation during the reign of Persia and Greece.

From this deep basic understanding which deals with the connection between God and Israel his people, it is possible to learn and establish the connection between God and man, and to all of humanity.

The Second Foundation: Observing Creation
This entails observing the wonderful divine wisdom revealed in all creation – in the vastness of space and galaxies, and in the miniscule cell and atomic particles, in oceans and continents, in vegetation and in life, and to be filled with emunah and thanksgiving to God.

“Praise the Lord, my soul. Lord my God, you are very great…How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom, you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number— living things both large and small” (Psalm 104: 1; 24-25).

To see the deeds of God through observing the wonder, the sublimity, the power and the beauty of creation.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:2).

This observation also intensifies love and fear of God, and as Rambam (Maimonides) wrote:

“What is the path to attain love and fear of Him? When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds and creations and appreciates His infinite wisdom that surpasses all comparison, he will immediately love, praise, and glorify Him, yearning with tremendous desire to know God’s great name, as David stated: “My soul thirsts for the Lord, for the living God” (Psalms 42:3). When he continues to reflect on these same matters, he will immediately recoil in awe and fear, appreciating how he is a tiny, lowly, and dark creature, standing with his flimsy, limited, wisdom before He who is of perfect knowledge, as David stated: “When I see Your heavens, the work of Your fingers… I wonder what is man that You should recall Him” (Psalms 8:4-5) (Yesodei Ha-Torah 2:2). To accomplish this, one must study the natural sciences.

Moreover, one must look at the crown of creation, at man, created in the image of God, by whom the divine will is revealed. In man, with all the variety of his marvelous talents and achievements throughout history, which include science, research, literature and art, and above all, ideal morals and aspirations. Through man’s enterprise, the divine will is revealed.

The Prayers and Blessings that Express this Foundation
In order to establish this foundation in our lives, our Sages determined that in the framework of prayer, hymns of thanksgiving and praise to God for the miracle of creation and all the good in life be said, for example, the verses of Pesukei de’Zimra, and the first blessing in the blessings of Kriyat Shma, specifically, the blessing over the luminaries of day and night. They also determined that every person should bless God for all the good things he receives enjoyment from, from the pleasure of food one eats, to the enjoyment of smell. In addition, one should recite the blessings of praise to God when he sees the wonders of creation, such as oceans, rivers, and extraordinary landscapes.

The mitzvah of Shabbat also roots this foundation in our lives, for on Shabbat we remember God who created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, and out of pleasure and rest, we study Torah.

The Third Foundation: Walking in the Ways of God
The third foundation extends over all areas of life, in other words, that in all of one’s paths, he walks in the ways of God, and thereby establishes emunah in all his own ways, reveals the image of God within him, adds goodness and blessing to the world, and is partner with God in the world’s advancement and development. As the Torah says: “Follow God your Lord…cling to Him” (Deuteronomy 13: 5). Our Sages asked: But is it actually possible for a person to follow the Divine Presence? Hasn’t it already been stated: “For the Lord your God is a devouring fire!” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Rather, the meaning is that one should follow the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He (Sotah 14a). He clothes the naked, so too, you should clothe the naked; He visits the sick, so too, you should visit the sick; He consoles mourners, so too, you should console mourners, etc.

Our Sages also said (Vayikra Rabbah 25:3), that the way to cling to God is by engaging in yishuvo shel olam(settlement of the world). Just as “the Holy One, blessed be He, from the very beginning of the creation of the world was before all, else occupied with planting… and so too, when you enter into the land, occupy yourselves first with nothing else but planting,” as written: “When you come to the promised land and plant any tree bearing edible fruit” (Leviticus 19:23). Thus, every person should aspire in his work to add good and blessing in the world; if he is a builder – he should strive to build strong and good houses; if he is a farmer – grow healthy and tasty fruits; and if he manufactures furniture – produce good and comfortable fittings. Merchants, as well, should endeavor in their trade to add goodness and blessing and be careful not to cheat in negotiation, and by doing so, they cleave to the attributes of God, whose seal is truth (Shabbat 55a).

In addition, even with the money one earns in his work, he should add goodness and blessing, set aside ma’aser (tithes) for the observance of the Torah and its glorification, help the poor, support his family, and educate his children in Torah and derech eretz (good manners). And if he grows fruit, he should set aside from them terumot and ma’asrot (tithes) for the Kohanim, Levites, and the poor.

In the Family
In one’s marriage, as well, a person should strive to be loving and faithful, for by doing so he walks in the ways of God, because the idea of ​​love and unity is drawn from the love that God has for his creatures, and from the singular root of all creatures. As our Sages said, that a husband and wife who are faithful and loving to each other – the Divine Presence rests between them (Sotah 17a). In the birth of children, their education and livelihood, parents also cling to God and become partners with him in adding life to the world, as indeed, our Sages have said: “There are three partners in the forming of a person: The Holy One, Blessed be He, who provides the soul, and his father and his mother. When a person honors his father and mother, the Holy One, Blessed be He, says: I ascribe credit to them as if I dwelt between them and they honor Me as well” (Kiddushin 30b). Subsequently, we learned that the commandment to honor parents is also related to the honor of Heaven. There are also laws, such as the prohibition against eating various foods, such as unclean animals or meat in milk, and by keeping them, we cleave to God in our eating as well.

In order for us to be able to cling to God in all our ways, God has given us His Torah and commandments, and by persistence and deepening in Torah study and diligence in keeping the commandments, we are able to establish emunah in our lives, cling to God, and work to rectify the world. This is the meaning of the verse: “In all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3: 6). Our Sages said: “This is a brief passage upon which all fundamental principles of Torah are dependent” (Berachot 63a).

Wealth from Monetary Tithes
Q: Our Sages said: “A tithe shall you tithe [te’aser]” – so that you will become wealthy [titasher]” (Ta’anit 9a), and it is even permissible to test God in this, namely, that a person can set aside ma’aser, and see for himself that he will get rich. What is this guaranteed wealth?

A: This does not mean a person will become one of the wealthiest people in the world, for indeed, great wealth is a difficult test, because, as we have seen, many of the truly wealthy suffer from personal and family tensions and fail in educating their children. In addition, many also falter in pride and lust because of their wealth, and fail to give charity properly. Thus, instead of meriting doing good deeds with their money, they inherit hell.

Rather, the blessing is that a person will have a respectable livelihood, according to time and place. A nice apartment, nice furniture, good clothes, and be able to pay for all his health needs, and have savings for times of need. And no less important – that he is also happy with what he has.

A person who has earned great wealth should know that he is facing an enormous test, and if he is privileged to continually contribute ma’aser, chomesh and even more, he will be counted among the righteous, and add blessing to himself, and to the world.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Rav Kook's Igrot Hare’aya (Letters of Rav Kook): Letter to the Family of Shlomo Buber

Letter #49

Date and Place: 27 Tevet 5667 (1907)

Recipient: Bereaved family of Shlomo Buber. Shlomo Buber was an Orthodox scholar, who studied Torah and especially Midrashim with a modern, scholarly approach. Although he worked as a banker, he put out several volumes of Midrashim, annotated and edited in a scholarly manner. He was also active in the Jewish community of Lemberg (L’vov). Many know him as the grandfather of Martin Buber.

Opening: May He Who consoles Zion and Jerusalem console the respected and illustrious family, the family of the honorable, great man in Israel, the rabbi and great scholar, a giant and the glory of our nation and our literature, Mr. Shlomo Buber, zt”l, may his soul be bound in the bundle of life.

Body: Exalted and glorious family, it was like experiencing a frightening thunder clap when we heard recently the great tragedy that befell you, when the crown of your glory and the glory of the House of Israel was taken from you.

Your loss, dear masters, is the loss of the masses. The pain in your hearts has touched the entire community. When the great rabbi in our nation, of blessed memory, died, we lost a tremendous, dynamic force for the special elements of our holy [texts] and the beloved storehouses that have been hidden from ancient times. Woe, who will provide for us a replacement, such a great writer in Israel, who “counts letters” in the words of our early Torah giants, shining such a special light on their works and presenting them in a pure vessel, pleasant and adorned, for all those who love Torah and wisdom, ethics, and knowledge in Israel. Our pain is as great as the sea.

Only in the following matter will we all find consolation, and you too should be comforted, respected mourners. Whatever the power of a human being could accomplish, with diligence, throughout the years of his life, the great deceased one did in a trustworthy manner and with self-sacrifice. His achievements will stand for many generations. The words of the wise are like embedded nails (see Kohelet 12:11). They are stronger than all the grand pillars and monuments. The wisdom of Shlomo (double entendre on King Solomon, the wisest of all men, and of course, the deceased being eulogized) lives, and it will live forever in Israel. His memory will be like the wine of Lebanon (Hoshea 14:8) until those who lie in the earth will get up and give praise (see Yeshayahu 26:19).

May Hashem grant you and all of Israel consolation along with the consolation of Zion and Jerusalem. I write from a connection between your honored spirits and the spirit of one who greatly values the work, name, and memory of your respected, deceased father, of blessed memory. I am writing with a broken heart, as one waiting for salvation and comfort,

Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook, 
a servant to the holy nation in the Holy Land, 
here in the holy city of Yafo and the settlements.

Rav Kook on Parashat Ki Tavo: How to Serve God in Joy

“Because you failed to serve the Eternal your God with joy and contentment...” (Deut. 28:47)

Rav Kook was once asked: how can we stimulate feelings of joy and enthusiasm when we serve God?

In his response, Rav Kook wrote:

It is difficult to properly explain this fundamental aspect of serving God in a letter. The principle method to increase one’s motivation is to dedicate time to rigorous study of the spiritual [non-legalistic] areas of the Torah, and not let it be relegated to haphazard reading. The soul’s inner light shines in this study, and a spirit of joy and vitality invigorates those who sincerely seek out the truth.

Elevating the Universe
Nonetheless, I will share with you one central principle, although this too cannot be fully understood without serious study and reflection. Still, it will provide a handle to deepen your love of God and experience the light of the holy Torah.

It is clear that, if a person was given the chance to benefit the entire world, even the most self-centered individual would happily seize the opportunity, devoting all of his energy to the task.

Fatigue and weariness are the result of lack of belief in the extent of the good that we perform for the entire universe through our Torah study, mitzvot, Divine service, and refinement of character traits.

For this reason, God enlightened us with the words of the holiest tzaddikim, the masters of the Kabbalah. They enhanced our understanding of the true significance of our service, clarifying how it uplifts all of creation. Nonetheless, we need to bring this idea closer to the intellect so that the motivation will be strong and the joy well-founded.

The Collective Soul of the Universe
We attain this awareness by contemplating the spiritual unity of the universe. That is to say, we need to recognize that the light of each individual soul is bound to the collective soul of all existence. All created things draw the light of their perfection from this collective soul. We have the power to increase the light in our souls through Torah study, mitzvot, prayer, and character refinement. We need to be aware that whenever we enlighten our own souls, we are benefiting not just ourselves, but the entire universe; we are bestowing perfection and life to all things.

Through us, the righteous gain greater strength in their holy service. And the evil of wicked people is mitigated to some degree, and they experience feelings of remorse and penitence. Even the animals are ennobled according to their level. The noble holiness provided by a single soul that truly cares about all of existence helps refine and purify even those creatures that have destructive tendencies. And it certainly adds dazzling light to the lofty splendor of the souls, and throughout the spiritual worlds, in their infinite beauty and sanctity.

All of this is proper and relevant for any person who belongs to the holy nation of Israel. But it is even more appropriate for those who have the privilege of dwelling in the Holy Land.

(Adapted from Igrot HaRe’iyah vol. I, letter 301 5670/1910 by Rav Chanan Morrison)

The Dearth of Leadership

by Rav Binny Friedman

In 2014, Op-Ed Columnist Thomas Friedman published an article in the New York Times regarding a Gallup poll exploring the linkages between education and long-term success in the work place. The research ( ) questioned what types of College experiences were most likely to produce employees who were successfully engaged in a fulfilling career track.

“According to Brandon Busteed, the executive director of Gallup’s education division, two things stand out. Successful students had one or more teachers who were mentors and took a real interest in their aspirations, and they had an internship related to what they were learning in school.”

Apparently, there were no significant differences regarding the likelihood of employees being fulfilled in a career path of their choice based on what type of institution (private vs. public college, as an example) they attended. Rather the most significant difference was correlated with how a student received his or her College education.

“Graduates who told Gallup that they had a professor or professors “who cared about them as a person — or had a mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams … were twice as likely to be engaged with their work and thriving in their overall well-being.”

Alas, though, only 22 percent of college grads surveyed said they had such a mentor … less than a third were exposed to the things that mattered most.”

Interestingly, this is not a problem unique to the relationship between a College education and fulfillment in the work-place. One might suggest we are experiencing a similarly disconcerting reality in the relationship between our own Jewish educational experience, and Jewish engagement and fulfillment.

This week’s portion of Ki Tavoh begins with the mitzvah of Bikkurim, which obligates every Jew to take of the choicest first fruits of the harvest and bring them up in a basket literally on one’s shoulders to Jerusalem. It is clear from the verses (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 26: 1-11) that this mitzvah was all about gratitude and appreciation. Would we, years and generations after having been redeemed from Egypt, in our own homeland in Israel, still appreciate how blessed we are to be enjoying the fruits of the harvest?

There is an interesting detail regarding this ceremony that bears thought. The Torah tells us (ibid. v. 3) that we are meant to “come to the Kohen (priest) that will be there in those days…” and present him with the basket of first fruits. The obvious question is why the Torah needs to tell us to present the Bikkurim to the Kohein that will be there in that generation? Obviously, it will be a Kohein of that generation; what other Kohanim would there be?

Rashi notes that we might think the Kohen of our generation is not as worthy or on as high a level as those of previous generations, and so we are enjoined that the mitzvah applies even if the Kohen seems to be on a lesser level. But (as the Ramban notes) why would it matter what level the Kohein is on? After all this mitzvah is about gratitude and joy and the Kohen is simply the emissary receiving the basket of fruit; what difference does it make how great a scholar or how pious a person he might be?

One way to understand this is to note a strange phrase in the statement we make when presenting the first fruits to the Kohen:

“…say unto him (the Kohen ): “ I declare today, to Hashem your G-d, I have come to the land…” (ibid. v. 3); why does the person declare he has ‘come to your G-d’? Why not say my G-d?

Perhaps the reason we present the basket to the Kohen is because the Kohen is actually the spiritual leader through whom one can enhance one’s relationship with Hashem. And developing one’s relationship with the Kohen is part of how one connects to Hashem. As such, it was important for the Torah to stress that whatever level the Torah leadership of a generation is at, it is nonetheless important to develop a relationship with them, because that relationship is part of the method in which we develop a deeper connection with Hashem and with Judaism. And what we are looking for is to connect with a leader (the Kohen) because his relationship with G-d is on a higher level.

Today’s equivalent would be the value of developing a relationship with a rebbe. Indeed, the Rambam (Maimonides) in his Hilchot Deot (laws of character development 2: -2) teaches that one of the essential eleven mitzvoth of character development is “le’hidabek be’Yoadav”: to cling to those who have a healthy relationship with Hashem. Such a person is called a Chacham by Maimonides and represents a person who is balanced and has achieved ethical excellence.

Indeed, the Rambam (Maimonides) suggests that we need to have such Chachamim (wise and balanced persons) in our lives and develop healthy relationships with them, precisely because when a person is off balance it often takes someone else with a more objective perspective to see this and help him or her get back on track .

Rav J.B. Soloveitchick, in an article reprinted in Rav Moshe Besdin’s Reflections of the Rav, notes that there are two primary educational models in Judaism: the Rav and the Rebbe.

The Rav is the monumental Torah Scholar who is accomplished in Jewish law and exegesis and who is the source of halachic questions of the law. He primarily addresses the mind and engages the student’s intellect, analyzing, clarifying and transmitting the details of halacha, the Jewish legal tradition.

The Rebbe focuses rather on the heart and engages the soul. He shares emotion and inspires passion.

Moshe was the Rav or teacher par excellence, Aaron on the other hand, was the Rebbe.

And whilst Moshe was up on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah from G-d, Aaron, the Kohen, was down below with the masses feeling their pain and hearing their fears.

When you need to know if the chicken is Kosher, or how to reconcile contradicting texts, you ask the Rav. When you want to heal a broken heart, you approach the Rebbe. Many Jews can find a Rav when they need one. But it is much harder to find a Rebbe.

Years ago, when interviewing students for Yeshivat Orayta (our Jewish studies and leadership development program in Jerusalem’s Old City) we thought it would be valuable to find out who such potential students viewed as their Rebbe. (After all whom you emulate and are deeply connected with tells a lot about who you are…). At first students thought we meant their pulpit rabbi or their Gemara (Talmud) teacher. But when questioning further to see if they had a Rebbe, someone who knew them and understood them, a role model with whom they felt close and to whom they would turn if they were in pain, suffering a loss or struggling with a difficult decision, I was inevitably met with a blank stare.

As it turned out, after interviewing hundreds of kids over a period of years, while many could name a rabbi they could reach out to if they weren’t sure a candy bar was Kosher, almost none had a real rebbe in the sense of a role model who could help guide them through difficult life journeys and dilemmas.

And as much as the goal of bringing one’s first fruits to the temple was the value of experiencing gratitude and appreciation, it was also an opportunity to connect with a spiritual role model as represented by the Kohen.

There is a dearth of leadership in today’s world and the Jewish community is far from immune to this challenge. Orayta was never just about having 80 students sitting and learning and growing in Jerusalem’s Old City; it has always been, and remains, about cultivating leaders. And while there is certainly a need for students attending top Colleges to amass knowledge and prepare for their professions we need as well to be sure we are cultivating the next generation of leaders who can feel people’s pain and inspire their Jewish passion.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Bennett Should Have Stayed Home

by Victor Rosenthal

Israel’s PM, Naftali Bennett, is already in the US and will be meeting with US President Biden on Thursday.

There are some who think that Bennett should have stayed home. While it is unlikely that the administration can be convinced to turn aside from its path of appeasement toward Iran, it is expected to pressure Bennett on several other issues, like construction in Judea/Samaria, the re-opening of the American consulate in eastern Jerusalem, and who knows what else.

The issue of the consulate is particularly painful. Before Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it served as the de facto US Embassy to the “State of Palestine.” A country locates its embassy in the capital of the state that it serves, and the significance of an embassy to Palestine located in Jerusalem, is that Jerusalem is the Palestinian capital. Trump – or his Ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman – realized this and closed the consulate, transferring its functions to the new US Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem. Reopening the consulate and resuming its function as a mission to the Palestinians, in effect walks back Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and at the very least supports the division of Jerusalem into Israeli and Palestinian sovereignties.

The Biden Administration also considers any Israeli construction east of the Green Line as undesirable, because it prejudices the possibility of obtaining a “two-state solution,” that is, an Israeli withdrawal from territories it gained control of in 1967. Somehow there is less excitement when Arabs illegally build in Area C, where Israel has full civil control, according to the Oslo Accords, which still have the force of international law. Biden has already restarted aid to the Palestinians that Trump cut off due to policies such as anti-Jewish indoctrination in Gazan and Palestinian Authority schools, and payments to convicted terrorists or the families of “martyrs.”

After the realism of the Trump Administration, it feels like swimming underwater to hear the familiar platitudes about “two-states, living side by side in peace” coming from Biden’s officials. Today there are only two kinds of people who support an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria: those who are entirely disconnected from reality, as it has unfolded in the past century (and particularly in the past three decades), and those who want Israel to be replaced by an Arab state, and see the reversal of 1967 as a step on the way. Biden himself, to the extent that he thinks about anything at all, is in the former category; but many administration officials fall into the latter one.

Biden and the Democrats are in big trouble now, because the debacle in Afghanistan has made it impossible to maintain the fiction of a competent government and chief executive. Even some of the formerly sycophantic media are beginning to sound discordant notes. The fact that the mighty US was (and apparently still is) unable to even rescue its citizens – not to mention the thousands of Afghans who had worked for it and whom are already being targeted by the Taliban – sends a signal of weakness and even cowardice, which Biden only made worse by unconvincingly blaming Trump and the Afghan army.

China has already made propaganda hay out of the situation, warning Taiwanese that American support can’t be depended upon. And Islamic terrorists of all stripes have been cheering loudly.

Biden’s people will be looking for a foreign-policy achievement to help make Americans and others forget the humiliation, especially one that will send a message of strength and control. How better to get one than to bully Israel, which – unlike the Taliban – is unlikely to shoot back?

In an interview this week with the NY Times, PM Bennett made it clear that his top priority is to get the US to work together with Israel and its Sunni allies to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. He also insisted that he would defend construction policies in Judea/Samaria (although he has already preemptively cut building plans to avoid irritating Biden) and that he is not interested in any new Palestinian peace initiatives.

Perhaps Bennett thinks that if he throws Biden a news-cycle lifeline, Biden will be grateful enough to give him something in return. Bennett is very unpopular these days in Israel – the Right thinks he has sold out to the Left, and the Left dislikes him for his right-wing ideology. Some crumbs from Biden’s table might be politically useful to him.

So I’m sure Bennett will return brimming with accomplishment over some encouraging words about Iran that he will have received; but the possibility that there will be any substantive change in US policy is negligible, given the cast of characters in the American administration. If, as I suspect, the administration is strongly influenced by the circle around former president Obama, that is even more reason to think that Israeli concerns will not affect American Iran policy.

The phrase for “negotiations” in Hebrew is literally translatable as “give and take.” But when one side holds all the cards, there is mostly give and very little take. Anything that Bennett does get from the meeting, even if it is only insubstantial promises, he will pay for, probably in concessions regarding the Palestinians.

There are plenty of crises in Israel right now – for example, hospitals are claiming to be out of money and refusing to take more Corona patients – that could serve as legitimate reasons to stay home. Bennett should have picked one of them and not gone to America.

Becoming Am Yisrael

Parashat Ki Tavo 5781
by HaRav Nachman Kahana

In this week’s parsha we read in Devarim 26:16-19:

טז היום הזה ה’ א-להיך מצוך לעשות את החקים האלה ואת המשפטים ושמרת ועשית אותם בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך:

יז את ה’ האמרת היום להיות לך לא-להים וללכת בדרכיו ולשמר חקיו ומצותיו ומשפטיו ולשמע בקלו:

יח וה’ האמירך היום להיות לו לעם סגלה כאשר דבר לך ולשמר כל מצותיו:

יט ולתתך עליון על כל הגוים אשר עשה לתהלה ולשם ולתפארת ולהיתך עם קדש לה’ א-להיך כאשר דבר:

16 The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. 
17 You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to Him, that you will keep His decrees, commands, and laws that you will listen to Him. 
18 And the Lord has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession as He promised, and that you are to keep all His commands. 
19 He has declared that He will set you in praise, fame, and honor high above all the nations He has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as He promised.

After leading the Jewish nation for 41 years, Moshe Rabbeinu is now in the closing days of his farewell speech. Soon, on the 7th day of the next month of Adar, Moshe will climb Mount Nevo, from where he will ascend to the highest realms of heaven.

Moshe and the Jewish people have experienced unprecedented occurrences: the ten plagues, splitting of the Red Sea, receiving the Torah from the Almighty Himself at Mount Sinai, the Manna, Miriam’s Well, the defeat of the mighty Sichon and Og and other innumerable miracles.

Why then did Moshe say to the Jewish people: You have declared this day that the Lord is your God… And the Lord has declared this day that you are His people…?

Haven’t the Jews been God’s “people” since the time of Avraham, or at least from the time we received the Torah at Mount Sinai? Why “this day”?

I submit:

Life consists of objective facts, incidences, and intellectual knowledge. However, it often takes an extraordinarily long time for an individual to internalize the changing realities of his life.

An example: A person completes his formal education (usually university). He then realizes that, for the first time in his life, he is no longer subject to the schedules dictated by others. The world is now open before him. He is on his own to sleep late in the morning or to change the world. It occurs again when a person loses his last parent, and he realizes that being “the son of” will now be replaced with being the “head” of his family – with all of its accompanying responsibilities.

For the past 40 years in the desert, the Jewish people were comfortable under the protective wing of Moshe Rabbeinu – their personal and intimate link to the Almighty. Moshe taught them Torah. He was father, judge, peacemaker, general, and all else. He was the staff upon which every Jew leaned, affording them the confidence necessary to exist in the harsh, barren desert for so long.

They are now shocked into the realization that Moshe’s end is drawing near – that the great protective shelter of Moshe will soon be gone and replaced by a relatively smaller and more obscure person. Yehoshua will lead them into Eretz Yisrael, where they will have to wage war against 31 city states for seven years; and then, during the following seven years, each family will leave the community of the twelve tribes and depart to the homestead allotted them by HaShem.

On that day, it awakens in the nation’s consciousness that in another 14 years they will be “on their own,” free from the schedules and dictates of an acknowledged leader. They will no longer have the comforting feeling that their father figure will solve all their problems.

One can be a citizen of a nation, either by birth or naturalization. It is his choice to either identify with his country or not to feel the national pulse by distancing himself from the challenges facing the nation.

On the day when Moshe said to the Jewish people, “You have declared this day that the Lord is your God”, he realized that the people had finally understood the purpose and ultimate goal of being taken out of Egypt. It was in order for them to be HaShem’s chosen nation. Moshe went on to declare: “And the Lord has declared this day that you are His people”. The Jewish people had reached a national consensus that, in order to survive, they would have to join together as one nation, with “one for all and all for one”.
To be part of Am Yisrael today

Seventy-three years ago, Medinat Yisrael was established. Unfortunately, our brothers and sisters in the galut and many here have not internalized that the Medina is the entity which will usher in the final redemption of our people. They refuse to identify with the revolution that our Father in Heaven has performed for us.

To be part of Am Yisrael today is to live in the land specified by HaShem for His chosen people. It is to speak the language of the Bible and in the way 90% of Israelis do, not Chasidish or Litvish, but pure Ivrit. It is to share in the hardships our people are going through in order to prove to HaShem how much we want to return home. It is to know the military history of the Medina prior to its establishment (The Irgun, and Palmach), including the names of the holy young men who were hanged on the gallows for fighting to rid the land of the brutish British. To know what Yechida 101(Unit 101) means. The Altalena. The Lamed Heh (35 soldiers murdered on their way to aid Gush Etzion in the War of Independence). Golani, Bislach, Ramatkal, tironot and tirturim. To know the civics of the land – its judiciary, legislative and executive branches. In short, it is to feel that this is your home, and we are one family.

Just as HaShem creates human beings with a physical body and a spiritual soul, so has He created Am Yisrael with the physical land of Eretz Yisrael, upon which we are commanded to perform His mitzvot. He created our holy souls to become enriched and nourished by the fulfillment of those mitzvot in Eretz Yisrael. As in the words of the great Ramban, the mitzvot were given to be kept in Eretz Yisrael.

To be involved in keeping the mitzvot outside of the national collective, is like catching a floating cloud which has no substance.

At the outset, this excludes anyone who does not live in the land of Israel. It even excludes those who abide here but do not accept Israeli citizens, because they prefer to be on the periphery of society.

When I first arrived in Eretz Yisrael, I asked a great posek about reciting Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. He answered in the wisest of ways: “It depends on how you feel. If you see the hand of HaShem behind all the episodes of the Medina, then you must say Hallel; but if you don’t feel it then do not”. I see the hand of HaShem every day and in every way.

The vast majority of our people here love the Medina. They are willing to make any and all sacrifices for the Medina’s welfare, security and development. Even those who do not observe all the mitzvot will tell you, privately, that what is transpiring here is the hand of God.

The phenomenon of a people keeping alive a 2000-year dream of returning to their ancient homeland is unprecedented and beyond human terms. That the Jewish people are so faithful to the Torah, and the desire even by people who are not observant to be Jewish, is a mystery.

It is so wondrous that even the Almighty is taken aback at the degree of faithfulness of His people, as stated by the prophet Zecharya (8:3-8):

ג כה אמר ה’ שבתי אל ציון ושכנתי בתוך ירושלם ונקראה ירושלם עיר האמת והר ה’ צבאות הר הקדש: ס

ד כה אמר ה’ צבאות עד ישבו זקנים וזקנות ברחבות ירושלם ואיש משענתו בידו מרב ימים:

ה ורחבות העיר ימלאו ילדים וילדות משחקים ברחבתיה

ו כה אמר ה’ צבאות כי יפלא בעיני שארית העם הזה בימים ההם גם בעיני יפלא נאם ה’ צבאות:

ז כה אמר ה’ צבאות הנני מושיע את עמי מארץ מזרח ומארץ מבוא השמש:

ח והבאתי אתם ושכנו בתוך ירושלם והיו לי לעם ואני אהיה להם לאלהים באמת ובצדקה:

3 This is what the Lord says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.” 
4 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. 
5 The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” 
6 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” declares the Lord Almighty. 
7 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. 8 I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.”

כתיבה וחתימה טובה לאלתר לחיים טובים
שבת שלום
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5781/2021 Nachman Kahana


by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

Friday Night
ABOUT FORTY YEARS ago I had what was to be my first of four hernia operations. In those days it was still treated like a normal operation, in a hospital, general anesthetic, three days recovery, etc. And before I went in, someone told me that I would wake up in a recovery room, and that they would not move me back to the quiet comfort of my own room until they saw I was up.

I’m not sure why that message stuck with me, because as cold and impersonal as the recovery room is, does it really matter if you’re still floating around la-la land? But at some point, I became aware of where I was, and that message played back in my head, and I found myself trying to wake up.

I say trying because it was not like getting up from a deep sleep. I’ve also struggled to wake up from a deep sleep, but once you decide it is time to get up, you just wake up. When you are still under, something continues to make your body sleep no matter how much you decide it is time to wake up.

Nevertheless, that voice had me throwing my head from side-to-side fighting my way back to consciousness. I didn’t say anything, just moaned each time I threw my head from one side to the other. But it was enough, because the nurse noticed me and soon enough I was being wheeled back to my room, quite the ride in itself.

Once they shifted me from the gurney to the bed in my room, I finally relaxed and stopped fighting. The rest of the day I just kept going in and out of sleep. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that I finally felt free of the tractor beam that had kept pulling me to other levels of consciousness. And I have never forgotten the feeling or the experience, nor have I ever had to fight to wake up like that again.

Well, at least in that sense of the idea. In some areas of my life, I am still sleeping. What’s worse is that, unlike after my operation, I don’t really know that I am asleep, so I don’t fight to wake up. I live in a dream like it is reality, and waste countless waking moments that I will later wish I had used more productively.

But what happens when you think you have woken up, but you are still sleeping? Not physically sleeping, but spiritually sleeping. You are disconnected from God and truth, and make up your own, making your “dreams” nightmares for others. Well, that’s when you get to the curses in this week’s parsha.

Shabbos Day
WHEN HAMAN AND Achashveros plotted their holocaust against the Jewish people, the latter worried aloud:

“I am afraid that their God will do to me what He did to my predecessors.” (Megillah 13b)

The evil people of yesteryear were classier. The average antisemite today either doesn’t believe in God, or believes in a false one. In the good old days of antisemitism, they not only believed in the God of the Jewish people, they feared Him, and this made Achashveros hesitate, and Haman reassure him:

“The Jews are sleeping. Since they no longer perform mitzvos as they once did, they do not merit Heavenly intercession.” (Megillah 13b)

Haman, like his original ancestors Amalek, believed in God. They also knew how He worked, like Bilaam for example, who knew how to curse people when God was angry. Amalek knew how to take advantage of spiritual stragglers and do his worst.

According to the Kli Yakar on last weeks parsha, that’s why Amalek cut off the bris milah of those he was able to attack. They were the ones whose spiritual laziness caused them to be spit out by the protective Cloud of Glory, leaving them open to attack from Amalek. They broke the very covenant that bris milah represents, making theirs meaningless.

Now, Haman didn’t mean that it was the middle of the night while Jews slept, because they weren’t obligated in mitzvos then. He was obviously talking in general about daily life, having observed the lack of sincerity in the way Jews performed mitzvos in his time. Somehow, he knew how important such sincerity was to God, because he was willing to bet the bank that it would work in his favor.

Was he wrong? Not about that, but about the following:

Rav says: All the “ends” have passed, and the matter depends only upon teshuvah and good deeds. Shmuel says: It is sufficient for the mourner to endure in his mourning. This is like another disagreement. Rebi Eliezer says: If the Jewish people repent they will be redeemed, and if not, they will not be redeemed. Rebi Yehoshua said to him: If they do not repent, will they not be redeemed? Rather, The Holy One, Blessed is He, will establish a king for them whose decrees are as harsh as Haman, and the Jewish people will repent, and be restored to right. (Sanhedrin 97b)

It has been said that a Jew once told a Roman general, “If you want to unite and strengthen us, then go to war against us. But if you want to destroy us, then just go home. We’ll take care of that on our own.” I don’t know if a Jew ever really said this to a Roman general, but the idea is definitely true. As it has also been said, there is nothing better for a Jew than antisemitism. Left alone, we spiritually disintegrate. Attacked, we tend to return to our spiritual roots. We WAKE UP.

Reading all of this into this week’s parsha, God is telling us, “If you remain spiritually awake, I will bless you in this world as well as in the World-to-Come. But if you are spiritually asleep, then I will waken you.” So often in the past, this has been with a nightmare.

Shalosh Seudot
THIS IS WHY it is more than ironic that the rising culture in the United States, where most Diaspora Jews still live, is called “Woke Culture.” Those who apply this term to themselves obviously mean that they have woken up to the world in which they have lived until now, and what they can do about it.

But what they call waking up, others would call going to sleep. They have these notions about what they can promote to make the world a “better” place, well, for them at least. High on their list of changes is the abolishment all religion. Once upon a time that was called religious persecution. They think it is being progressive.

Here’s the question, vis-a-vis this week’s parsha. Are they just another movement to rise up and eventually fall with little impact on the Jewish community? Or, will they be the instrument to wake up the Jewish people from their slumber? As it says in Shemos, and it is echoed in the Talmud, it takes but a single leader, just one, to rise up and turn the situation on its head by making decrees like Haman.

And now with a culture to spawn such a leader, and with a government that is sympathetic to its demands, the stage is being set for something. Don’t forget, the Jews in Egypt had a Moshe Rabbeinu to awaken them in his time, and the Jews had a Mordechai and Esther at Purim time. Do we have anyone yet capable of waking us up in our time to avoid destruction?

We didn’t in 1942.

The prophecies do not speak promisingly about how it will all end. The Talmud isn’t optimistic either. Remember Yonah on the boat, the one that was thrashing around in a raging sea trying to stay afloat? All hands were on deck doing what they could to survive, except for one, the lone Jew on board who was sleeping soundly in the hold of the ship. He had to be awakened before he told them what to do to save themselves.

Incredible. It’s one thing to sleep soundly in your house during a bad storm. It is another thing altogether to do it on a boat that is lunging up and down.

Who can do that?

The Jewish people.

Maybe that is one of the reasons why we read Sefer Yonah on Yom Kippur. Hopefully Yom Kippur will wake us up. After that, it is up to us to remain “awake” the rest of the year.

Melave Malkah
DOOM AND GLOOM. That’s this week’s parsha. It was also going to be this final segment of Perceptions, which I wrote and later erased. The Torah finishes off on a positive note, sort of, so why shouldn’t we, sort of?

Yet until this day, God has not given you a heart to know, eyes to see and ears to hear. (Devarim 29:3)

Yet…God did not give you a heart to know: to recognize the kind acts of The Holy One, Blessed is He, and to cleave to Him. (Rashi)

Question. Shouldn’t it be, “eyes to see, ears to hear, and then a heart to know”? Isn’t a knowing heart dependent upon the seeing eyes and hearing ears to conclude things about life?

Yes, if seeing is believing for you. If you have one of those hearts that so many people have that cannot make up its mind about God and His providence until they see it clearly with their eyes, and hear it perfectly with their ears, then the verse is out of order. But since God wrote it that way, you have to assume it is correct and you are out of order.

How so? The Western world believes that seeing is believing, so if they can’t see something, they don’t believe it. The Torah comes from the opposite direction. It says that the eyes and ears are just information gatherers. It is a person’s predisposition to things that determines how the gathered information is interpreted, impacting how they see and hear the world.

This morning I heard about police officers in California who were caught painting swastikas on Jew’s cars and guilty of other antisemitic slurs. Turns out there are actually hundreds of cases, and that is just in California! What about the rest of the States?

Shocking. But is it really? Why do we think that the very police force that we rely upon to protect us is free of racism, and specifically antisemitism? What is the basis of that assumption? They’re human like the people they are paid to police, and sometimes even more “human.” How many Jews will write this off as a random event and stay with their baseless assumption?

It’s false loyalty. The only One we can love unconditionally is God. The only One we can trust unconditionally is God. If we appreciate this, and all the good He has done for us, and wants to do for us, then we will cleave to Him. When our heart goes to Him, and nowhere else, then we will see and hear the truth as it is, and know what to do to remain safe. That’s the choice we make. As someone cleverly told me this morning, “As long as you do what’s right, God will do what’s left.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Yeshivat Machon Meir: Parshat Ki Tavo - Accepting Hashem as Adon Olam (video)

“God hears the sound of His People Israel’s shofar blowing with mercy.”

by HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

Rosh Hashanah is like its name – the head (Rosh) of the entire year (shanah.) Just as a man’s head influences his entire person both physically and spiritually, so does Rosh Hashanah influence the entire year. This explains the customs we have on this day, like greeting one another with blessings that we should be “signed and sealed for a good year;” eating apples with honey; and the special wishes we make on Rosh Hashanah night as we eat certain special foods as “signs” or simanim. All these customs serve to leave their stamp on the entire year. All of these blessings and wishes are of earthshaking significance, and we mustn’t make light of them. Quite the contrary, we must treat a layman’s blessing with the full weight due it (Megila 15a).

Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi explained, just as a person has a head and a brain that influence and sustain the entire body, so is Rosh Hashanah a sort of brain for the year, influencing the entire year. And just as one’s head, brain, and heart have to be pure and righteous, so must we purify ourselves on Rosh Hashanah by way of repentance and good deeds, good thoughts, and good speech. Israel Redeemed 24 Through this, we influence the entire year, making it good and sweet.

Especially important is the mitzvah of hearing the Shofar (whose very name recalls “improvement” – shipur). The Shofar hints and teaches us how we must relate properly and constructively to the Day of Judgment and to strict judgment.

The shofar blasts are blown in sets of three, teki’ah, terua, and then another teki’ah – and these stages allude to divine kindness, strict judgment, and mercy. The first blast, the teki’ah, alludes to kindness. It is a simple sound, for where kindness exists, all is simple. In the middle comes the teruah, consisting of broken blasts, the sound of loud sobbing, and sighing, weeping, and wailing. These allude to strict judgment and to life’s hardships. In the end, comes another teki’ah, a simple blast alluding to mercy and love. Through this pattern, we appreciate how the blasts are joined together until one can hear the kindness within strict judgment, the light within the darkness, the sweet within the bitter. We get a sense of how God really is “good to all, with His mercy governing all His works” (Psalm 145:9). Pondering and listening to the sweet, remarkable shofar blasts arouses and strengthens within us the belief that despite everything, when all is said and done, “One higher than the high is watching over us” (Ecclesiastes 5:7), and there is no one else but Him. “The Lord God of Israel is King, and His monarchy rules over all” (Rosh Hashana prayers). In this way, a Jew purifies his mind and heart on Rosh Hashanah, and this day shines upon the entire year.

“This past year and a half has been a hard and painful one for the Jewish People. The sound of the teruah, the sound of weeping and sighing, was the lot of so many Jews that were lost to us. The pain and suffering, doubts, and worries were the lots of many other Jews as well, who felt the enormity of the pain. On Rosh Hashanah, we sing the piyut “let the old year and its curses end, and let the new year and its blessings begin.” We Rosh Hashanah 25 have to arouse ourselves and grow stronger through the shofar blasts. We have to try hard to hear the teki’ot preceding and following the teruah. We have to recognize that God, who hears our prayers, mercifully hears the sound of our cries, the teruah, as we note in the Rosh Hashanah Amidah: “Blessed be God . . . who hears the sound of the teruah of His people Israel, with mercy."

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

Monday, August 23, 2021

A Very Slender Reed

by Victor Rosenthal

“The President – whoever he is – has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.” – Harry S. Truman

The sound that you hear is the crumbling of a great nation. A precipitous fall, not the slow fade out of the Roman Empire, or the much faster dissolution of the British one, but something more akin to the breakup of the Soviet Union. Or the fall of the two towers on 9/11, when the descent began in earnest.

“Precipitous” certainly describes the American retreat from Afghanistan, which was carried out in the middle of the night and without even ensuring the safe exit of all American citizens there, not to mention the thousands of Afghans that had worked with them as interpreters, drivers, mechanics, and so on, who will certainly face vicious retaliation by the Taliban who now control the country. Tens of thousands of weapons, thousands of vehicles, and several hundred aircraft have also fallen into Taliban hands.

I write often about the Israel’s cognitive war with her enemies, which I believe is as important to the ultimate outcome of her struggle to exist as her periodic kinetic battles, but clearly America too is under attack in this realm. The information warriors of Teheran, Beijing, and Moscow – as well as al Qaeda and Hezbollah – have already made use of the catastrophe. I expect that the incidence of terrorist attacks against Americans and even America herself will rise sharply in the near future, encouraged by what they are being told (I think correctly) is an indication of the suicidal weakness of her leadership. And what will those who depend on the US, in Taipei, Seoul, Amman, Tokyo, and – yes – Jerusalem think?

President Biden has blamed his predecessor, but regardless of any commitment made by Trump, the manner of the withdrawal was up to this administration. They screwed up beyond belief, and Biden – personally – bears responsibility. President Truman famously had a sign on his desk stating “The Buck Stops Here.” Biden, regrettably, is an empty shell, propped up by unknown elements who are making critical decisions but taking no responsibility for them. Today, there is no place for the buck to stop. The full dimensions of the catastrophe of the election of a man who suffers from dementia (and who was never more than a mediocrity before) to the highest office in the land are still not known, but this fiasco is a harbinger of worse to come.

I’m not an expert on the military aspects of the US involvement in Afghanistan. But if I had to say when things began to go wrong, I would point to the battle at Tora Bora in December of 2001, when excessive dependence on Afghani and Pakistani “allies” allowed Osama bin Laden to escape into Pakistan. The dash into Afghanistan to capture bin Laden was the right thing to do, and the miscalculation of what was necessary to do it was tragic. Soon after, the processes that would lead to the disaster that is unfolding now became apparent. The unnecessary invasion of Iraq in 2003 was massively expensive and increased America’s foreign debt dangerously. Almost 4,500 Americans were killed and 32,000 wounded, many seriously (the numbers of Iraqi casualties are in dispute, but far greater). The war also greatly increased the influence of the Iranian and Syrian regimes in the region.

At the same time, the psychological and spiritual decline of the US was accelerated by the wars and the financial panic of 2008. While President Bush’s heart was in the right place, his administration displayed a lack of competence in dealing with both foreign and domestic affairs. President Obama was also incompetent, but in addition held the view, now popular on the Left, that America was fundamentally defective in the way it treated its minorities and in its actions in the world (Newt Gingrich called him “the first anti-American president”), and needed to be radically changed.

Since the 1970s, when the real income of the American middle and working classes stagnated, the economic situation of the majority of Americans has become progressively worse. The disappearance of so many jobs in manufacturing, mining, and other blue-collar professions, has been painful. In Tony Horwitz’ book “Spying on the South,” the author asks a resident of a depressed East Texas town “what do people do here?” The answer: “oxy and meth.” The 2008 financial panic struck them badly, with many families losing their homes to foreclosure while the financial sector received bailouts.

Obama’s “they cling to guns and religion” comment was salt in their wounds, as was his encouragement of the spread of pathological political correctness from the academy into everyday life. In a surprising, even revolutionary move, in 2016 the Americans whom Obama disparaged elected Donald Trump.

Former President Trump is admittedly a flawed individual. It’s impossible to defend his personal behavior and his dishonesty. But unlike Obama, he had a good sense of who America’s friends and enemies were, and he went ahead helping the former and hurting the latter. Like the 1977 election of Menachem Begin here in Israel, Trump’s victory stunned those who felt themselves entitled to rule. With the media and the increasingly powerful tech companies who control social media, they orchestrated a massive campaign to portray Trump as a racist, a would-be fascist dictator, and a danger to American democracy. Information about corruption close to Democratic candidate Biden was brutally suppressed on social media, while anti-Trump hyperbole reached stratospheric height.

Of course, Trump was defeated, whether the election was stolen (as he insists) or not. But the man that became president was at best an empty suit, and at worst a puppet. And after the disaster of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, everyone knows it, from America’s alliesall over the world to her enemies.

There is a lesson for Israel here, too, if we are ready to learn it. It is nothing new; I’ve been saying it for years: America is a very slender reed to lean on. Our survival depends on our own strength.

You will Go Mad from the Sight of your Eyes

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

We say every day before Shema: "Enlighten our eyes in your Torah." Rabbi Akiva Eiger once asked: How can every Jew request this? After all, there are many ignorant Jews who do not know even the first thing about Torah?! He explained, therefore, that the "eyes of the congregation" that are mentioned in the Torah refer to the great Torah scholars. The request of every Jew is that Hashem should enlighten the eyes of the leaders and the great scholars in Torah, so that they will lead the nation along a true path according to the Torah. This is the request "Enlighten our eyes – the nation's leaders – in your Torah"

Rabbi Akiva Eiger concludes that this is the reason our parsha writes: "You will go mad from the sight of your eyes." (Devarim 27:34) It means that you will panic from the image of the misguided leaders who mislead the community. (From a letter in the book of Rabbi Akiva Eiger on the Torah)

Rav Kook zt"l also addresses the image of a leader in his commentary, Ein Ayah, to the Gemara (Brachot 55a): "A leader is not appointed over the community unless the community is consulted as it says, 'See, Hashem has proclaimed by name Betzalel etc'. Hashem said to Moshe: "Moshe, is Bezalel accepted by you' etc. He said to him: "Even so go consult Am Yisrael, etc." Rav Kook taught there are three fundamental requirements for a leader:

1. Inner virtues and holy character traits, which are revealed to Hashem alone.

2. Wisdom and the ability to lead the public.

3. Perfection in the eyes of the masses, a man of physical stature and oratory skills, who projects a presence and draw an audience with his words.

The value of these requirements lies in their being possessed in the proper order. The main requirement is perfection in the eyes of Hashem; afterwards comes excess wisdom, and finally comes the outward appearance. Therefore, the initial acknowledgement of the leader must come from Hashem, because when it concerns inner matters only Hashem can see the heart. Afterwards, Moshe was asked to give his opinion, since he could tell if Betzalel possessed wisdom. Finally, Am Yisrael were consulted on his ability to relate to the masses, which is something that anyone can evaluate. However, if the final requirement is viewed by the public as equal to the first and decisive one, and they don't pay attention to the first and second virtues – this person is not worthy of being a leader of Am Yisrael.

Some people interpret this pasuk, "You will go mad from the sight of your eyes," about Klal Yisrael, that you shall become enamored with everything you see. This is the desire to imitate everything that they see in the nations of the world, without checking first whether it is something that is appropriate for Am Yisrael. We forget our uniqueness and our destiny. However, it says about Am Yisrael that they are "A nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations." (Bamidbar 23:9) The Netziv writes that Am Yisrael's uniqueness lies in its solitude: "It is a nation that will dwell in solitude." However, if we betray ourselves and aspire to become like the rest of the world then they won't take us into consideration and expel us from among them, despite our attempts to integrate with them. Am Yisrael will then "not be reckoned among the nations" – in their eyes we are not even reckoned as human.

This idea is expressed in Masechet Sanhedrin (104a): "I said that Yisrael will dwell in safety in solitude, the eye of Yaakov. Now – alas she sits in solitude." Hashem is saying that His desire is that Am Yisrael will remain solitary and not mix with the nations of the world, and then they will be safe. Now that their desire was to be equal to the rest of the world – they have been isolated by them; no nation values them enough to intervene on their behalf. Similarly, on the pasuk, "Scattered among the nations; they desire closeness," the Gemara (Pesachim 104a) teaches: "What caused Am Yisrael to become scattered among the nations? The closeness that they craved from them." In Shemot Rabbah it says that when Am Yisrael was exiled among the Egyptians, they avoided circumcision. They said: "Let us be like the Egyptians." What did Hashem do? He turned their hearts so that they would hate His nation. The Netziv expands on this idea.

In a similar manner, the Ibn Ezra comments on the verses in our parsha: "There you will work for the gods of others – of wood and stone. You will be a source of astonishment, a parable, and a conversation piece." (Devarim 28:36-37) He writes: "There you will work – and it will not avail you. You will only be a source of astonishment and all those who see you will be astonished."

Am Yisrael exchange their dignity in gentile lands so that they will be liked by the nations, but all their groveling will not help them and they will be "a parable, and a conversation piece."

There is only one path for Am Yisrael: "I am a wall and my breasts are like towers, then I am in his eyes like one who found peace." (Shir Hashirim 8:10) The Midrash explains the metaphor, that to the question: "We have a little sister etc'. What shall we do for our sister on the day she is spoken of?" I.e., where will her strength lie on the day that she will have to deal with the nations of the world? Knesset Yisrael answers: "I am a wall" – this is the Torah, "My breasts are like towers" – these are Torah scholars. [Alternatively,] "I am a wall" – this is Knesset Yisrael, "My breasts are like towers" – these are synagogues and study halls. Only then – when fortified with the strength of Torah, Jewish values, and prayer – "I am in his eyes like one who found peace."