Friday, September 03, 2021

Rav Kook's Igrot Hare’aya (Letters of Rav Kook): Keeping to His Own Interpersonal Style

Date and Place: 12 Shevat 5667 (1907), Yafo

Recipient: Avigdor Rivlin, a businessman in Boisk, who kept a personal connection with Rav Kook even after Rav Kook left his rabbinate in Boisk to make aliya.

Body: I have received a few letters from you, and I did not have enough time to respond despite my love and respect for you. I hope you will forgive me and judge me favorably.

I am hereby very appreciative to you, my distinguished, beloved friend, for your advice, which shows loyalty, and for revealing your desire to help me in the noble project of printing my works through the auspices of the Yere’im (“G-d-fearing”) community (similar language and apparently idea to what is today called Haredi) in Germany. However, I am not capable of taking any practical steps in that direction. I can only take advantage of the means that are in place in the process of going about the spiritual improvement. For example, I yearn strongly to write and publish as much as I can. Maybe Hashem will arrange through this that people with means will realize that it is worthwhile to assist me so that I can get out to the masses my ideas, whether they are hidden by me, in my heart or in manuscripts in my home.

However, how can I present myself [to this group from Germany] as a “fighter” when I love peace and pursue it with all my heart and soul? I recognize that especially in Eretz Yisrael, there is no place or justification for creating divisions, even if it is for spiritual purposes. How can it be that I would make use of a type of style that is not according to my spirit? To the contrary, I hope that as time goes on, the leaders of the Yere’im in Germany will realize that they should incorporate in their approach a broader and more light-emitting style. Specifically, they should find the hidden light and sanctity in the depths of every individual in Israel and cause it to surface with purity from all of the idolatry that stuck to them due to the contact with spiritual strangers. Then, hearts will be able to start to join close to each other, and the House of Israel will increasingly be built into one nation to serve Hashem on sacred soil.

Regarding your personal situation, my advice is as follows. If your family will write to you that they believe there is a way to hold on to your store by incorporating your son in the operation, then you should certainly not leave the business, which one way or another provided a livelihood for several years. If you have the opportunity to set up the business in a different city, that would be better, but that seems to me to be unlikely. Therefore, it would seem better to stay in Boisk, as you have been doing.

I again ask that you, my distinguished friend, not take offense by my delayed responses to you from time to time. You should know that my love for you is as sincere as it ever was and maybe even more. It is just that my preoccupations prevent me from responding quickly. You should not treat me as I treat others but should write your dear letters, full of pleasantries that make our hearts happy due to our loving connection.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Rav Kook on Parashat Neztavim: Two Levels of Teshuvah

The Torah portion of Nitzavim is always read before Rosh Hashanah, a fitting time to speak about reflection and repentance. Often we have a strong desire to make changes in our lives. We may want to be better parents, better spouses, and better people. We aspire to greater spirituality in our lives, to devote more time to Torah study, to be more thoughtful in our interpersonal relationships. And yet, circumstances may make such resolutions very difficult to keep. Our goals may seem unattainable, and our personality faults beyond correction.

National Teshuvah
The Torah describes the national teshuvah (repentence) of the Jewish people as they return to their homeland and their faith:

“Among the nations where the Lord your God has banished you, you will reflect on the situation. Then you will return up to the Lord your God.... He will gather you from among the nations... and bring you to the land that your ancestors possessed.

God will remove the barriers from your hearts... and you will repent and obey God, keeping all of His commandments.... For you will return to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.” (Deut. 30:1-10)

Twice, the verse states that “you will return to God.” Is there a purpose to this repetition? A careful reading reveals a slight discrepancy between the two phrases.

After reflection in the exile, the Jewish people will return to the land of their fathers. Here the text says, ‘וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד הֹ — “you will return up to God,” using the Hebrew word ‘עד’ ('ad').

After returning to the Land of Israel and God removes the barriers of their hearts, they will learn to fully love God and keep His commandments. This time the Torah says, כִּי תָשׁוּב אֶל ה — “you will return to God,” using the preposition ‘אל’ ('el').

Two Stages of Teshuvah
How are these two types of national return different? What is the difference between 'ad' and 'el'?

The first teshuvah is the physical return to their homeland, to their language, and to their national essence. This is returning “up to God” — approaching, but not fully attaining. Thus the Torah uses the preposition 'ad,' indicating a state of “up to, but not included in the category” (a Talmudic expression, ‘עד ולא עד בכלל'). This is a genuine yet incomplete repentance, obscured by many veils.

After this initial return, the Jewish people will merit Divine assistance that “will remove the barriers from your hearts.” This will enable the people to achieve the second stage of return, a full, complete teshuvah, all the way “to God.” This is an all-embracing return to God “with all your heart and soul.”

Thoughts of Teshuvah
It is important to recognize and appreciate these different levels of teshuvah. This lesson is also true on a personal level. We should value even partial efforts to change and improve. The Sages praised even hirhureiteshuvah, the mere desire to improve (Pesikta Rabbati 44). Perhaps we are unable to fulfill our spiritual ambitions to the extent we like. Nonetheless, we should view our desire to change and improve as tools that purify and sanctify, leading us on our way to attaining complete spiritual elevation.

(Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 339-341. Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I p. 335; Orot HaTeshuvah 17:2 by Rav Chanan Morrison)

Illustration image: ‘The ship Exodus is moored to the wharf’ (colorized photo from Palmach Photo Gallery, 18 July 1947)

The Yishai Fleisher Israel Podcast: Rosh Hashanah for Jew and Gentile

Rosh Hashanah is upon us - so let's get ready together! First, Malkah Fleisher on sending Israeli children for a new school year. Rav Mike Feuer on gentiles celebrating the New Year and the Torah portion of Nitzavim. And Ambassador Michael Oren on his book Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide and the Jewish Roots of Hebron.

Rabbi Ari Kahn on Parashat Nitzavim: The Relationship

What really counts is what you do, and not just what you say and believe

by Rav Binny Freedman

There is a mystical idea which suggests that hidden within every fire of destruction, is the spark of redemption. Such, for example, was the case on August 3rd, 1492, which was also the Ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. On that day in 1492, one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the Jewish people came to a head, as two hundred and fifty thousand Jews, faced with the impossible choice of baptism or death, were expelled from Spain. Thus began a series of expulsions and inquisitions that would force the Jewish people to wander from country to country, culminating in the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust five hundred years later.

Many do not realize that on that fateful August morning in 1492, the very day eighty thousand Jews followed Don Yitzchak Abarbanel across the border into Portugal, and thousands of boats filled the harbor, setting sail with the better part of the Jewish community, there were three boats, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, sailing out of the harbor to discover a new world, which would one day save the remnants of the Jewish people in that very same Holocaust.

And just as the fire destruction hides within it the spark of redemption, so too, the fertile fields of victory hide within them the potential dust of defeat. Thus, it was the mood created by Israel’s lightning victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 that bred the overconfidence, allowing for the debacle of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Yanosh, and the story of the Seventh brigade, is a case in point.

As the summer of 1973 wound down, the Seventh brigade, one of the legendary Israeli armored corps units whose battles in 1948 are the stuff of legends, was stationed on the Bar Lev line, along the Suez Canal.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the brigade was given a week’s leave for the holidays, and, as was often the case back then, left behind a minimum skeleton crew for base guard duty. As the men of the Seventh headed off for some R&R all over the country, Yanosh, the brigade commander, stopped off in the General Staff base in Tel Aviv on his way home. For Yanosh, a full bird Colonel, it was an ingrained habit to keep abreast of the intelligence reports on the borders as part of his command duties of one of Israel’s finest front lines Brigades.

What he saw alarmed him: Egyptian and Syrian troop buildups along the Canal and in the Golan Heights, a high increase of Arab military radio traffic, and an unusual amount of activity in the Arab airfields. Two weeks before that fateful Yom Kippur, Yanosh became convinced the country was headed for war. He immediately went to the Central Command radio room and put in a call to his Division commander, advising him of his opinion, and asking for a first- stage general call up of critical reserves, and the recall of all the troops that had been given leave that very afternoon.

But that is a lot of work, and intelligence reports can be interpreted in different ways, so the Division Commander disagreed. Yanosh had somewhat of a reputation as an impulsive firebrand, and didn’t give up easily, convinced as he was that his country was in grave danger, and going over his commander’s head, he appealed to the Commander of Central command, then the chief intelligence officer of the I.D.F., and finally the Chief of general staff himself, commander of the entire Israeli army at the time, Dado Elazar.

But no-one wanted to listen; flushed with the success of the ‘67 war, when Israeli forces had wiped out the much larger Arab armies facing them, no-one seemed capable of imagining that these same Arab armies might be poised to destroy the State of Israel, and so the phone calls were not made, the highways remained silent, and Israeli troops going on leave continued to depart for the holidays.

In retrospect, one opinion in the intelligence community is that the Arabs wanted to see over the Rosh Hashanah holiday whether a major troop buildup would cause the Israelis to keep more troops on alert. The results were the last stage of the Arab decision to go to war. And the Israelis were still sleeping….

Yanosh finally concluded no one was listening, but the continued reports of major troop buildups would not allow him to let it go. Finally, he decided that at the very least he commanded his own brigade and that was better than nothing. The situation in the North, along the Golan Heights was in one respect much more tenuous than in the South, as there was no buffer zone in the North. If Yanosh was right, and Egyptian troops came pouring across the Suez Canal, at least they would still have the desert to negotiate before arriving at Israeli cities and towns. In the Golan, half an hour on tank treads from Tiberias, Israel had no luxury.

So Yanosh decided to rotate his brigade up North to the Golan Heights, and eventually, figuring it would be easier for them, the high command acquiesced.

Recalling an entire Brigade, spread out on Holiday leave all over the country, getting them all the way down to the southern tip of the Sinai, and then transferring an entire armored Brigade the length of the country north up into the Golan heights was no easy task. Everyone thought Yanosh was mad, and this move did not bolster his image in the eyes of his men, who had just lost a week’s leave But this single Brigade Commander’s determination and conviction brought an entire Brigade on line in the North, three days before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war. And when two thousand Syrian tanks poured across the border on the afternoon of October 6th, 1973, instead of 75 tanks (of the 188th), there were 150 on line, something that made all the difference. Hidden in the brilliance of the Six-Day war victory, was the spark that would blind so many to what was coming a short six years later. The same character traits of pride and conviction, which blinded so many, were also the seeds of conviction that had one man in the right place, at the right time.

Is there a thematic lesson here?

This week’s portion, Nitzavim, is viewed by many as the consolation of G-d for the difficult verses in last week’s portion, Ki Tavoh. After hearing all of the calamitous events (the “Tochacha” or “curses”, see chapter 28 of Devarim ) that will occur to the Jewish people in the event they stray from their mission, this week, suggests Rashi, Moshe comforts and assuages the pain of the Jewish people by telling them:

“Atem Nitzavim HaYom Kulchem Lifnei’ Hashem Elokeichem….”
“You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your G-d….” (Devarim 29:9)

No matter what you will or may go through, and how you may disappoint G-d, He will always love you, and you will remain (standing) close to Him.

Which is what makes the verses that follow this encouraging opening so difficult:

“You have seen the abominations (of idolatry) in Egypt… perhaps there is amongst you a man or woman… whose heart turns away today from being with Hashem, to serve the gods (idols) of other nations… lest there be amongst you a Shoresh Poreh’ Rosh Ve’Le’anah, a root flourishing with gall and wormwood… G-d will not forgive him (such a person)….” (29:15-19)

This is comforting? In the midst of telling the people that despite it all, there will always be a close relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, Moshe adds what awful consequences will befall (29:19-28) anyone present who does, nonetheless, stray again towards idolatry (and all of its practices). Hasn’t G-d already made the point? How is this meant to be, as Rashi (29:12) suggests, a comfort to the Jewish people?

Indeed, not only does Moshe point out (again) what awful things will befall any person who does stray after all the previous descriptions, he adds the fact that Hashem will not forgive such a person!

Rav Avigdor Nevehnsahl, in his Sichot Le’Rosh HaShanah, suggests that the comfort is nonetheless, that despite it all, we will eventually come back to G-d, and home to Israel, as the verses continue in chapter (Perek) 30: “Ve’Shavta’ Ad Hashem Elokecha’…” The day will come when “you (we) will return”.

But this remains difficult; how are the consequences of a person’s straying from the true and narrow path, not to mention the suggestion that someone present is still preparing to do such things, a comfort to the Jewish people (as Rashi suggests)?

And what, incidentally has Moshe (or rather Hashem, the real source of Moshe’s words) so worried, at this juncture as to feel the need to raise the troublesome specter of this possibility?

The truth is, we often assume that what will comfort a person when confronted with pain and challenge is the opportunity to be distracted from the entire experience. But Judaism suggests an entirely different approach.

I recall, one summer when I was in High School, a fellow I became friendly with during the course of a summer job. Trying my hand at being a runner on Wall Street, I got friendly with a couple of fellows who were doing the same thing, and in between messenger runs we would hang out in the mail room. One of them, an Irish Catholic named Peter, lost his father during the course of the summer. Not being entirely comfortable attending a Catholic service in church, I went to the wake that afternoon instead. It was an entirely new experience for me. Immediately after a Jewish funeral, close friends and relatives sit with the mourners and share memories and stories. There is a special meal, called a Se’udat Havra’ah, where all the food is provided according to a set regimen, and the mourners have nothing else to do but concentrate on their loss.

Not so (at least in this particular experience) at an Irish Catholic wake, which was a very different experience to say the least. The liquor flowed, and jokes abounded; it seemed everyone was trying their best to keep Peter’s mind off his loss. This was so different from the Jewish mourning experience, where mourners even desist from certain mitzvoth immediately following their loss, so as to focus only on their pain. For seven days after a death of a closed loved one, Jews sit Shiva (literal word meaning “seven”), and focus completely on the person they have lost, and the pain they are experiencing. One does not even say hello to a mourner sitting Shiva before the mourner addresses you, so as not to intrude on his thoughts. When one visits a Jewish house of mourning the idea is to be there for the person if he or she needs you, and the process allows it to be about the mourner, not the visitor.

So imagine my surprise when the next day, Peter showed up for work. I asked him why he had come in to work the day after his father’s funeral, and his response was:

“What else am I supposed to do, sit home and think about it?”

One of the ideas behind this focus on pain and loss, before beginning the process of letting it go, is how much one can learn from facing such pain directly. Perhaps this was Moshe’s intent so long ago on the banks of the Jordan River, speaking to the Jewish people.

The real comfort he could offer regarding all the difficult potential calamities described in last week’s portion, was not to avoid them, or change the subject, but rather to assess their cause. By taking a closer look at this painful process, perhaps the Torah here is offering us an understanding of what causes this painful process, or at least what we might be able to contribute to preventing it.

This, incidentally, would explain why the verses here speak of an individual turning away, and not the entire Jewish people as expressed previously (in last week’s portion in Devarim 29). Because if each of us as individuals can explore how we can avoid those pitfalls and change who we are, then perhaps the entirety of the Jewish community will never arrive at such painful situations.

Incidentally, this is not to say we are attempting here to explain why such challenging events occur; such speculation is presumptuous at best. But we do have the right to understand a process as described in the Torah, and decide what we each can do to change the sum totality of the picture.

One verse in particular suggests a point worth considering:

“Lest (“Pen”) there be amongst you a Shoresh Poreh’ Rosh Ve’Le’anah, a root flourishing with gall and wormwood….” (29:17)

This cannot mean that there is still someone who is actually an idolater, standing amongst the Jewish people prior to their entry into the land of Israel. After all, everyone who had followed the pagan path of Baal had already been excised and was long gone. (Devarim 4:3) So, this verse must not be speaking of someone who has actually done anything wrong, but rather refers to what a person might be thinking!

Further, it is not even that there is an active process that has already consumed a person’s thoughts, but rather, simply the root of such thoughts. The beginnings, or stirrings of curiosity or desire, seem to be the target of Moshe’s challenging words here. If this is true, as Rav Nevehnsahl suggests here, then we are not speaking of actions, we are rather referring to character traits.

This is why the verse speaks of a person “Asher Le’vavo Poneh”, “whose heart is turning”, (29:17) as well as describing this phenomenon as a root; because we are speaking here of the beginnings of something which will lead a person down a long and ugly path, to actions that will eventually result in disaster. Such a description cannot refer to actions, whose consequences are clear, with an empirical formula.

Whether it is idol worship or murder, theft or slander, the Torah has on numerous occasions made very clear how to define such actions, why they are wrong, and what the resulting consequences will be. So if the Torah takes the time to lay all of this out here, we are speaking not of actions, but of the character traits that breed those actions.

As an example, witness the story of the revealing of the imminent birth of a son to Abraham and Sarah, who are respectively 100 and 90 years old. (Bereishit 18:12-15).

Hashem reveals to Abraham and Sarah that they will have a son born to them a year later. And Sarah (verse 12) laughs inside (“Va’Titzchak Be’Kirbah”, meaning there was no visible action, but rather an internal disbelief.). But when Hashem tells Abraham that she has laughed, Sarah denies it!!

“VaTe’chachesh Sarah Le’mor: Lo’Tzachakti, Ki’ Yere’ah….”
“And Sarah denied (laughing), saying: “I did not laugh”, for she was fearful.”

This is nothing short of incredible! According to Jewish tradition, Sarah herself was a prophetess, so how could she deny something that G-d says she did? Unless of course, she really didn’t do it! But then why is Hashem saying she did do it? And, even more to the point, if there is something Sarah didn’t do or even did , why is Hashem, in the midst of giving them such joyful news, giving Sarah (who obviously has earned such a miracle, so must herself be on a fairly high and spiritual level) such a hard time?

The truth is, here too, Hashem is not saying Sarah actually physically laughed; she didn’t. Which is why, perhaps misunderstanding the question, Sarah emphatically points out that she did not laugh. In point of fact, she did not actually laugh, “Ki’ Ye’reah’”, read not that she was afraid but that she was a Yere’ah, someone who sees things on a different level (from the same root as Lirot, to see.). Precisely because she was a woman filled with the awe of all of G-d’s wonders, she was capable, upon discovering that she would have a child at the age of 90, of not actually laughing.

But that is not what Hashem is referring to. Hashem is speaking about that slight aberration, un- noticeable to all but G-d, of surprise or even disbelief, hidden deep inside of Sarah. In fact, this thought might have been so deeply hidden inside Sarah’s thought process that she herself might not have even been aware of it. But G-d was, and He let her know just how dangerous the raw and bare beginnings of such a process might be.

This might be a crucial lesson, directly from G-d, that relates to the essence of who we are meant to be as a people. (This would explain why Hashem shares this message here, prior to the birth of Yitzchak, which represents the first instance of a parent with a Jewish child to transmit that lesson to.)

The prevailing understanding might have been that what matters is what you do, not what you think, or feel, and that ethics is measured only in behavior, and not in thoughts and feelings.

But the Torah is telling us that ‘it just ain’t so’.

In the end what really counts is what you do, and not just what you say and believe. You can pay as much lip service as you want to charity; if you don’t actually give Tzedakah, it does not mean a whole lot. But good actions also begin with good thoughts, and all negative and unhealthy behavior has at its roots, unhealthy and negative character traits (middot) that need to be examined and corrected.

Hence Maimonides, in his Hilchot Teshuvah speaks not only of Teshuvah (getting back or undoing) for our actions, but for our character flaws as well.

“… Chovah Le’Pashpesh Gam Be’De’ot HaRa’ot.”
“…We are obligated to examine our negative character flaws as well.”
(Laws of Repentance 7:3)

Sometimes, a character flaw may be so small, and so unnoticeable that the person does not even know it is there. But what the Torah is saying here is that if we are willing to struggle with the introspection necessary to take a hard look at ourselves, we can catch these character flaws before they become the actions we so regret later in life. And this is the comfort Moshe offers the Jewish people here at the beginning of our portion.

Know that deep inside each of one of us are the sparks for good and evil, love and hatred, kindness and judgment, love and lust. And the raging fire of feelings and emotions that can consume us can also be the beacons of light that illuminate a better world. The decision is really up to us.

This year, as we approach the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, let us hope that we succeed, each in our own way, in making the world we impact a little better, and a little brighter.

Perhaps then one day soon, we will merit sharing that light together, in the streets of peaceful Yerushalayim.

Best wishes for a sweet, happy, healthy and above all peaceful New Year.
Be’Virchat Ketivah’ Ve’Chatimah Tovah.

Clueless in Kabul

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Clueless Joe Biden’s reference to the United States’ humiliating Afghan surrender and retreat as an “extraordinary success” recalls George Bush’s much maligned “Mission Accomplished” banner from 2003, even if the mission of the ship that flew that banner was accomplished and Bush himself said "our mission continues." Let’s see if the media lets Biden off the hook, easy to do because he answers press questions infrequently, reluctantly and somewhat incoherently, his representatives dissemble with impunity, and most journalists are his ideological soulmates.

It is a talent, to be sure. Biden could have termed the voyage of the Titanic an “extraordinary success” as well, affirming that “we always knew of potential icebergs and planned for them” and “the heroic crew saved more than 700 people of the 2200 passengers.” If Biden had been emperor of Japan in 1945, perhaps he would have labeled Hiroshima and Nagasaki as “urban renewal projects” while ignoring the devastating loss of life. Sometimes is just best to admit defeat, as Japan and Germany did, and as even the United States did after Vietnam. That is honorable, and enables the vanquished to learn lessons and draw conclusions. Putting a positive spin on a debacle is possible only for people who know they will not be held to account by government, media, or citizenry. It is unhelpful, even weirdly obsessive, the way the American media looks at everything through the prism of elections (2022, 2024) rather than focus on policies, solutions and achievements.

The bottom line is that the United States defeated the Taliban in 2001 and now the Taliban is back in power, with all their brutality and jihadist evil, and again with the capacity to threaten the US or shelter those who would. When American citizens are aghast and ashamed at the surrender, American allies are horrified and despondent, and American enemies are jubilant, it is a safe guess to say that America lost. And when that enemy is dressed in your own uniforms, carrying the weapons you left behind ($90 billion worth of weapons) and riding around in your own military vehicles, feigning that there was some glorious achievement in Afghanistan is delusional.

Biden often intones that the buck stops with him, but that buck actually just pauses momentarily for a photo op before being passed on to any number of more productive foils. Donald Trump is always a handy target; he might have signed an agreement with the Taliban but Biden has overridden every other Trump initiative, so why not this one? The intelligence community failed miserably, presumably the same community (“all seventeen agencies!”) that detected Russian meddling in the 2016 election and failed to detect the Arab terror of September 11, 2001. Notice, by the way, how within days after Biden cited intelligence shortcomings and the failures of his experts, this same intelligence community that bedeviled Trump with its timely leaks quickly leaked the conversation Biden had with Afghani president Ghani asking him to pretend that the situation in Afghanistan is stable and its military prepared. They will get you “seven ways from Sunday,” begging the question (perhaps answering it) of who are the most powerful actors in American politics. And the Afghan government and army come in for its share of blame too but shorn of American air support it forfeited any putative advantage it had over its enemies.

One way to avoid blame that has been increasingly popular is to wrap oneself in the glory of the troops, odd in this case, because many of the troops interviewed are angry and disheartened at the way the withdrawal process unfolded. Another way is to focus on one small element of the debacle – the evacuation of personnel – to the exclusion of everything else and claim that a success. Still another is to deflect, criticizing anyone who notes the chaotic retreat or the terrible loss of life by American forces put by their commander-in-chief in an impossibly insecure position by saying that critics “want to stay in Afghanistan forever!” Certainly, no one wants American troops stationed in a foreign country forever – it is not like Afghanistan is Germany, Japan or South Korea… But changing the topic from the conduct of the withdrawal to the fact of the withdrawal is a shallow rhetorical trick that is only sustained through repetition each time it is pointed out.

And there is one other way that Biden avoids accountability – donning the mantle of mourning. It has become unseemly and manipulative for Clueless Joe to constantly invoke the memory of his late son Beau, and especially pretending somehow that Beau died in combat. It seems it is done less to be empathetic and more to immunize him against any criticism. But parading one’s old bereavement in the face of the newly bereaved is cynical and selfish unless the mourners request it. Many of the military families whose loved ones were killed in the last week found it off-putting, and Biden tone deaf or, perhaps, just clueless.

That exploitation of mourning is unbearably cynical. Looking back at a more dignified era and more dignified individuals, George H. W. Bush lost his young daughter to leukemia when she was four years old. It was certainly a traumatic event, one which even seventy years later he would recall only with tears. But I do not remember Bush (or his son the president, who lost his younger sister) ever once using it for political and manipulative purposes, referring to the loss in speech after speech in the hopes of shielding himself from criticism. I don’t remember it because it never happened. And I do not doubt that Biden does it because it tests well in polls and is thus entered into the teleprompter that he haltingly reads.

Biden and his inadequacies has become an object of pity across the world. America deserves better but it is not readily apparent how the situation can change. There will be a scapegoat; my bet is that General Milley, head of the Joint Chiefs, finds his way soon to early retirement. It is still inconceivable that Biden can last four years as president but his successor is even more problematic – incompetence exacerbated by arrogance and identity politics. The US looks weak because, sadly, it is weak, with a feckless leadership addicted to printing and spending money, making inane pronouncements and incapable of resolving any societal problem. Wrapping itself in the flag will not deter evildoers across the globe and may just encourage them.

On Rosh Hashanah, the fate of all individuals is decreed, as well as the fate of nations. “Which is destined for the sword and which for peace, which for hunger and which for abundance?” The world has endured a rocky road in the last year. May this year and its curses come to an end, and may the New Year be filled with blessings for the deserving, those amenable to G-d’s morality and kindnesses.

Yeshivat Machon Meir: Parshat Nitzavim - The essence of Israel does not change (video)

Interview with HaRav Dov Begon by Arutz Sheva 7: “Inspiration for the Jewish Festivals”

On the first English book by the renowned founding head of Machon Meir in Jerusalem, seen as the baale t’shuva wing of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav.

In Israel, if you ask someone in the Religious Zionist community for the first thing that comes to mind upon hearing the word “T’shuva,” the reply is likely to be HaRav Dov Begun. The soft-spoken, ever-smiling author of the new book, “Israel Redeemed,” is the founder and head of Yeshiva Machon Meir in Jerusalem, considered to be the baale t’shuva wing of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav.

Though his short and always optimistic articles in the Machon Meir Shabbat bulletin and his Torah classes broadcast on the nation’s leading radio stations are popular throughout the country, this marks the first time he has published a book, a collection of essays on the Jewish Festivals.

“The project was put together by students and staff at Machon Meir as a gift on my eightieth birthday,” he says with his famous smiling chuckle. “I don’t read English, but people tell me that the translation by Raphael Blumberg is very good.”

This “spiritual father” of the knitted-kippah camp in Israel grew up on a secular kibbutz. He began learning Torah when he was 23, studying at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva under HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook zts"l for ten years before receiving ordination, Smicha. He says he founded Machon Meir in a small apartment after the Yom Kippur War, “in order to disseminate Torah in the spirit of Rav Kook to the people of Israel and to Jews around the world.”

Since then, tens of thousands of students have learned in its two large buildings in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, down the street from Mercaz HaRav. After several years of learning, students continue on in all walks of life, bringing the fervor of Religious Zionism to all segments of the Nation, and to settlements and communities around the country. The yeshiva boasts programs in English, French, Spanish, and Russian, alongside Hebrew-speaking Israelis who come to Machon Meir to strengthen their attachment to Judaism after their army careers.

Sitting in the noisy beit midrash, surrounded by young Jews from all over the world, you can’t help but feel that the prophecy of the Ingathering of the Exiles is taking place before your eyes.

How did the Rav become religious?

“During my service in the army, I met a lot of religious soldiers. Often in the army, there is no immediate assignment, so there’s a lot of time to sit and talk. It was the first time I came to know religious people in a serious fashion. Their idealism and beliefs moved something in me. I discovered that the Jewish People existed a long time before Herzl.

"When my army service ended, I came to Jerusalem to learn at Mercaz HaRav. So you see, although there are people who claim that the army makes our young soldiers irreligious, G-d forbids, many returns to the Torah, davka (precisely) in the army. Look in our best midrash – it is filled with baale t’shuva whose return to Judaism was triggered by their army experience, either by getting to know religious soldiers or thanks to the way that service Tzahal attaches an individual to the greater history and mission of Jewish People as a whole.”

Why did you name your book, ‘Israel Redeemed?’

Rav Begon explains: “When Rav Kook was the Rabbi of Yafo, before he came to Jerusalem, a decade before the Balfour Declaration, and long before the establishment of Medinat Yisrael, he wrote a letter on Rosh Chodesh Elul, declaring that anyone who didn’t see the Redemption unfolding before his eyes in the sprouting settlements of Rishon L’Zion, Rehovot, Petak Tikvah, Hadera, and Zichron Yaakov, to name just a few, and in the increasing Aliyah from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Yemen, was blind to the acts of Hashem."

"At that time, there were barely fifty-thousand Jews in Israel, yet Rav Kook saw, even in that early stage of ingathering and rebuilding of the Land, the fulfillment of the prophecies of Redemption. Today, blee ayin hara, some six million Jews live in Eretz Yisrael. The Nation of Israel has become a superpower in just a few decades and the Torah center of world Jewry. This isn’t Redemption? It is all how you look at things, as we say in our prayers, ‘May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy.’”

What do you tell people who are troubled about the many problems Israel faces and the current battle over the Jewish Identity of the State? Because of its secular nature, there are people who maintain that the State of Israel isn’t the ‘Atchalta D’Geula’ (beginning of Redemption) as the students of Rav Kook believe.

His eyes twinkled as if he had heard the question a thousand times. “There is a famous photograph of Rav Kook where he is holding up two fingers together as if to say, ‘Be patient.’ The beginning of the Jerusalem Talmud describes how the Redemption of Israel will transpire, ‘Kimah kimah,’ little by little, in gradual stages like the dawning of the day (Berachot, 1:1). We are still in the beginning, but look what miraculous progress we have made.”

Materially, yes. But many people point to the rise in aggressively secular, pluralistic movements which work aggressively to undermine the foundations of Judaism throughout Israeli society.

“The truth is the very opposite,” he replied happily. “The media highlights the secular, but there has never been more Torah learning in the Land of Israel since the time of the First Temple. Every day, new yeshivot, ulpanot, and Talmud Torah open throughout the country. The baal t’shuva movement is flourishing. The forces of impurity in the world sense that their end is near, so they do everything they can to interfere with the holiness they see here. This all comes to makes us stronger.

Rav Kook foresaw this in his writings. He assures us that this period of ‘chutzpah’ will pass when the soul of the Nation senses the emptiness of endless material pursuit, feels the moral bankruptcy and the futility of searching for freedom in foreign wells, sparking a great desire and flame to reconnect with our Nation’s holy roots.”

Wherever one sees the name Yeshivat Machon Meir in advertisements, or on its website, TV station, and weekly Shabbat handout in shuls, you see the slogan, ‘With love and faith.’ Why?

“Rav Kook wrote that the mission of our times was to strengthen ‘Ahavah’ - the love of all Jews, and ‘Emunah’ - the essence of Jewish Faith found in Torat Eretz Yisrael. In his day, the spirits of secular Zionism and all sorts of foreign, heretical creeds, were rampant. Nonetheless, Rav Kook stressed the importance of embracing all Jews for the good in them, both for their positive deeds in rebuilding the Israelite Nation and for resettling the Land, and for their holy souls in their being a part of Clal Yisrael – the all-encompassing community of Israel.

"Their wrong practices and deeds are to be chastised, he wrote, but this mustn’t blemish our love for fellow Jews."

"Regarding Emunah, Rav Kook taught that faith was much more than a feeling and the abstract belief in the Creator. Emunah is a discipline of Torah which must be learned. Who is Hashem? How does he appear in the world through Am Yisrael? What does He want for the His Nation, the Children of Israel? Rav Kook stressed the importance of seeing the acts of Hashem in our times, and in being His partner in the unfolding Redemption in the concrete, down-to-earth life of the Jewish People which was coming to pass through the return of our scattered and exiled people to our Biblical borders, and through the rebirth of the Nation in Israel, a miracle we are privileged to be experiencing every day.”

Every year, in the month of Elul, you teach Rav Kook’s book, ‘Orot HaT’shuva’ to new students. Why?

“HaRav Tzvi Yehuda established the practice, upon his father’s request, as a part of the learning at Mercaz HaRav. For Rav Kook, the phenomenon of T’shuva is much more than an individual’s repentance over his personal transgressions. T’shuva is the force that makes the world go around – the yearning of all existence to unite with the Creator.

"In Am Yisrael, this is expressed through the return of the exiled Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael, and through the establishment of the Kingdom of Hashem in the world, via our national return to Torah, as the Prophet states, ‘For from Zion shall go forth the Torah and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem."
”What most characterizes Rabbi Begun’s book on the Jewish Festivals is its national perspective on Jewish life and Torah. For example, in his essay on the month of Elul, he points out that the Torah’s references to the phenomena of T’shuva focus its the national aspect, the return of the Jewish People to Hashem via the return to the exiled and scattered Jews to Eretz Yisrael. Also, in the words of the Prophets, the ingathering of the exiles and the national return of the Jewish People to Zion is seen as the harbinger of Salvation, leading to the Redemption of the world."

"This process of national return, he explains, is also embodied in the three types of blasts of the shofar sounded on Rosh Hashannah. Beyond their meaning for each person’s private return to Hashem, the simple “Tekiah” symbolizes the peaceful life of the Nation in the Land of Israel; followed by the broken sobbing sounds (“Tru’ah”) of the exile; leading to a renewed “Tekiah” and the return to our national Torah life in Israel, and the final “Tekiah Gedolah,” the great shofar blast of our future Redemption."

Like Rav Kook, Rav Begon is a Kohen. I asked him,

What blessing can you give the readers of your book and the entire Jewish Nation at the start of the New Year?

Again he smiled.

“That they and all of the Jews scattered throughout the Diaspora will merit the unsurpassed blessing of joining their brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael, to participate in the rebuilding of our Nation, in fulfillment of our daily prayers, and in the realization of our age-old dream. ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’”

Fight, damn it!

by Victor Rosenthal

Losses are part of war. There’s no escaping it. The tragedy is immense. A person has precisely one chance at life, to love, to have children, to learn, to have a profession, to do all the things that a person aspires to do, and to have it all taken away when it has barely begun is catastrophic.

Whenever a life is lost, especially a young life, families and friends grieve painfully. In Israel, which has been at war without a break since her establishment in 1948, there is a phenomenon of national grief, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. Funerals of soldiers, police, and terror victims are sometimes attended by thousands of people, many of whom did not know the deceased. The media devote much time and space to each case. Memorial day in Israel is full of ceremonies, all across the country, to remember and honor the fallen.

Jewish Israelis (with some exceptions) understand that they have an obligation to pay a price for the existence of the state, and that part of that price is that some of our children will lose their lives. Nothing demonstrates more conclusively how important the state is to the Jewish people.

So you can imagine the anger when a young life ends because somebody in authority was incompetent or lazy. War is war and soldiers die, but one of the things a good military organization does is analyze its defeats and failures, learn lessons from them, and make changes so that future outcomes will be better. When a preventable casualty occurs, it is because someone failed to do their job.

There are micro- and macro-failures. For example, if a soldier dies because his weapon wasn’t properly maintained, that is a micro-failure. If many lives are lost because an enemy that could be defeated is allowed to continue to re-arm, over and over, and the result is an unnecessary war, that is a macro-failure. They are both the result of someone not doing their job.

The tragic death of Border Police 1st Sgt. Barel Hadaria Shmueli, z”l, traumatized the entire nation, because it was unnecessary, a combination of micro- and macro-failures. Shmueli, a sniper, was placed at a slit in a wall that forms part of the border between Israel and Gaza. The slit was improperly located (too low) and inadequately surveilled by cameras on the Gaza side. The location was known to be dangerous. Sniper weapons are carefully adjusted to fit the individual, and for some reason he was not using his personal weapon. It jammed several times at critical moments. There is a buffer zone along the border that is supposed to be clear of Arab “demonstrators” (i.e., Hamas fighters and human shields), and somehow a number of them were allowed to enter it and come up against the wall, where they could not be seen by the defenders. They attempted to grab Shmueli’s weapon from outside, and in the struggle one of them placed a pistol up to the slit and fired; the bullet struck Shmueli’s head (information from a Hebrew article in Israel Hayom, 1 September).

These are some of the micro-failures, which the IDF promises to deal with. There is also an ongoing macro-failure.

Consider the overall situation. The “demonstrations” orchestrated by Hamas and other terrorist factions in Gaza are not demonstrations; they are attempted human wave attacks against Israel’s border. IDF Soldiers and Border Police defend it; they try to use non-lethal weapons to control the crowds, as well as “less-than lethal” live fire from .22 caliber Ruger rifles, and more deadly weapons if necessary to prevent a breach of the border. Such a breach could result in a disastrous terrorist attack against the numerous small communities in the area.

Hamas and its allied factions, who are supported and financed by Israel’s enemies in Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, are constantly working on ways to attack us. They dig tunnels, release incendiary balloons, stage “demonstrations” to penetrate our border, produce and launch rockets, try to land terrorists on the beaches north of Gaza, shoot antitank missiles at vehicles on our roads, teach their kindergarteners to hate us (so this will go on forever), and more. They are creative and proactive.

On the other hand, the IDF – which has the power to scrape the entire 365 km2 of Gaza into the sea – does not even hunt down the few dozen top leaders of Hamas and other factions and kill them. When rockets are fired at random into Israel’s cities in the hope of creating mass casualties, we prefer to intercept the rockets, and only shoot back when absolutely necessary, and with great care to kill as few people as possible. When incendiary balloons burn hundreds of acres of cultivated lands and nature preserves, the Air Force bombs empty enemy installations. And when a young soldier is killed protecting the border, the IDF prefers to improve procedures and shore up the border – that is, to deal only with the micro-failures.

It’s almost as if we are afraid to fight back, because then we might make them mad. We are satisfied to merely push them away. God forbid that we should hurt somebody.

But it’s far, far worse than just that. Yesterday, the day Sgt. Barel Shmueli was buried, Israel allowed “dozens of truckloads” of building materials into Gaza for the first time since the last mini-war. Today the government announced further loosening of restrictions. If I weren’t too embarrassed by the idea, I might say we are paying them for “protection.” Nice border you have there, we wouldn’t want it to experience a violent “demonstration.”

I have heard the argument that if we did respond more aggressively, then our soldiers and leaders would have to face charges in the International Criminal Court. Perhaps – but what came first? Maybe we have trained the world to think that attacks on Jews are the normal order of things, and Jewish self-defense is the true crime. Somehow the Russians and the Iranians don’t seem to worry about the ICC. Why do we?

Sgt. Shmueli gave his life fighting for the State of Israel. Why doesn’t the State of Israel want to fight for herself?

We pay a heavy price for hiding from God

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

L’Shannah Tova uMesuka
Kesivah vChashimah Tovah

Friday Night
IMAGINE HIKING OUT in the wilderness and coming across a small puddle. Where did the water come from? Intrigued, you look more closely and notice that it is being fed by a trickle of water so small that you could not see it at first from the distance. Looking more closely, you see that it continues on past the puddle. Then you decide to walk upstream to see where the water is coming from.

As you walk beside it, you notice that the water source starts to widen at some point, and actually become a narrow, shallow stream. If anything lives in the water, it is too small to see. Besides, the water itself is somewhat murky, mixing with the dirt that the water runs over. But unquestionably, it is an official stream.

Not much changes for the next while, but then all of a sudden, the stream widens a fair bit, and actually gets deep enough to become a river. The water has become a lot clearer, because it is deeper and the river bed is filled with stones. You take out your map to find out which river you have found, because it is too prominent not to be on a map.

Sure enough, you identify the river, which begins a lot later on the map than the puddle you first began with. The map shows the path of the river, which leads to a waterfall you decide to find. Forty-five minutes later, you can hear the waterfall, though you can’t yet see it. But it has to be close you realize, since the water seems to have a strong current.

A little longer and you see the waterfall itself. It is powerful and majestic, and sitting down to enjoy it, you consider the long journey the water has to make from where you are sitting to where you started. Even more amazing is how so much water can, over a distance, become so reduced to the point that it can seem cut off from all outside sources of water.

But not by the waterfall. There, water constantly pours over the rocks, fed by a river above. The water comes crashing down into a large pool of water, a small lake even. You can swim there, and the water is even clean enough to drink. It’s where you want to stay, because everything up until that point now seems so mundane and trivial.

Shabbos Day
THIS IS A good analogy for knowledge. Knowledge is like a stream of water: it has a source, and the further away it moves from its source, the weaker and more limited it becomes. It can even get to the point that the knowledge seems cut off from its source. This can make people believe that the source itself does not exist, leaving people with a limited amount of knowledge that can be dangerous to “drink.”

Kabbalah speaks about two types of knowledge, penimi and chitzoni. In simple terms, penimi knowledge can easily be traced back to God. Some people would call this “religious knowledge,” the implication being that it is non-intellectual, more a matter of belief than actual demonstrable fact.

Chitzoni knowledge does the opposite. It is not necessarily false, but it does not implicate God in any obvious way. It may actually seem to counter the idea of God. Religious people tend to refer to this as secular knowledge for this reason. It includes a whole gamut of useful information that we depend upon in daily life. There is a lot of science behind dry cleaning, but it does not tend to point in the direction of God.

Referring back to the analogy, chitzoni knowledge is like the puddle, and penimi knowledge is comparable to the waterfall. To look at the puddle, one would never guess that there was a waterfall upstream feeding it. A person might even assume that the puddle evolved on its own, perhaps left over from a recent rain shower.

But if you were to look more closely at the intellectual “puddle” that chitzoni knowledge is, you would see a small, almost imperceptible trickle of knowledge feeding it. And if you were to follow that trickle, you would find it eventually becomes a stream, then a lake, then a waterfall of knowledge that makes it perfectly clear that all knowledge has one Source, God.

But really, this is nothing new. Everyone who knows about the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Ra, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, probably also knows about the Aitz HaChaim, the Tree of Life. Two trees, two different types of knowledge, chitzoni and penimi.

That’s why God warned Adam about death if he ate from the Aitz HaDa’as. It wasn’t a punishment, but a consequence. God told Adam, “If you eat from this tree, you will learn a lot, but it is knowledge that will take you away from Me, and I am the Source of life. Every little bit you move away from Me is another level of death.”

The Torah reports the result of rejecting God’s “advice”:

He (Adam) said [to God], “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I am naked; so I hid.” (Bereishis 3:10)

And there you have it, the basis of thousands of years of atheism and agnosticism. The “emperor” found out he wasn’t wearing any clothes, so he hid, and he has been hiding now for thousands of years. As Rashi points out:

And they knew that they were naked: Even a blind man knows when he is naked! What then is the meaning of “and they knew that they were naked”? They had one commandment in their possession, and they became denuded of it. (Rashi, Bereishis 3:10)

What they found out they did not like. We know that feeling too, the one that comes with doing the morally incorrect thing. It doesn’t matter where that moral comes from, as long as the person thinks it is a “moral” thing. A person feels undignified, unworthy, and has an overwhelming desire to hide.

The honest person admits their mistake and does teshuvah. Had the first man done that, then the rest of us would be living in Gan Aiden today. Everyone else just runs for cover, sometimes physically, but most of the time, intellectually.

There is just no basis for the Judeo-Christian God. (Richard Dawkins, Evolutionist)

Even in the world of chitzoni knowledge, this is not true. As so many scientists have pointed out, there is no basis for the Theory of Evolution, at least not as people say Darwin imagined it. The odds are incredibly against it. But if you’re not going to follow the “puddle” back to its source upstream, then all you’re left with is the improbable, and lot of explaining, rather, rationalizing to do.

We pay a heavy price for hiding from God.

Seudas Shlishis
NOW YOU GET to choose which group you belong to. But before you do, we need to further discuss the idea of hiding.

The expression is, “hiding in plain sight,” which is kind of an oxymoron. Something is usually hidden or in plain sight, but not both. But we know from experience how it is possible to be looking right at something, and not see it. It can be that a person does not realize what they are looking it, or that they are distracted at the time and their brain is busy processing something else. Either way, for all intents and purposes, the thing is hidden.

Sometimes people do it purposely. For example, they pretend not to see someone, and act as if they are not there. They consciously hide the other person from themself, so that they won’t have to interact with them. It is as if treating the person as if they are invisible makes you invisible to them.

That’s basically how many people treat God. God is right there, in front of us, and in plain view. We look right at Him, and yet we don’t see Him, or see Him enough. For the evil person, God is seven levels of Heaven away. For the tzaddik, God is among us. For the beinoni, God is on one of the six levels in-between.

That’s why on Rosh Hashanah, a tzaddik is immediately judged for life, and an evil person for death. Rosh Hashanah is when God says, “Excuse me, but here I am, right in front of you. So stop pretending like I’m hidden from view. I’m only hidden from you.” The tzaddik is already real with this, the evil person refuses to comprehend it, and the beinoni, well, they seem to need ten days to work it through.

The difference between each group? The tzaddik is into the penimius of life, the rasha—evil person, the chitzonius. The beinoni has some of both, each of which can tend to pull them in one direction or the other. It causes them to waver between righteousness and evil.

It’s like two people who have a common friend. “What do you talk about when you’re together,” one asks the other.

“Spiritual matters, you know, the purpose of life…the potential of man…things like that.”

“Really?” the other says very surprised.

“Sure. Why? What do you talk about?”

“Financial markets…politics…I never knew he had a spiritual side to him!”

“Why don’t you try talking to him about something more spiritual?”

“I think I will.”

God works the same way. If He sees that we’re more interested in chitzonius, then that is what He will show us, leaving us to get lost in an ultimately meaningless world. But if we “talk” penimius with God, then you cannot imagine what He will show you, and you will never stop being excited that He did.

Melave Malkah
FEAR HAS A bad name. We spend a lot of time, and some people a lot of money, just trying to overcome it. But clearly not all fear is bad.

For example, a parent or teacher who excessively uses fear to keep children in line will give fear a bad reputation. But when a doctor tells us to change our unhealthy lifestyle or else, which is clearly for our own good, then fear is a good motivator to use life more meaningfully.

One of the first things we do in the Yemai Norayim Shemonah Esrai, is appeal that God make us fear Him. We actually ask to fear Him, and that the entire world do so as well. It’s our way of acknowledging that we know that all God does to us is for our good, that our wanton behavior is a function of our yetzer hara, and that we need fear to overcome it. We need fear to come out of “hiding.”

Take a look. When the world has nothing to fear, people tend towards the superficial. It’s, “eat, drink, and be merry” all over again. Enter fear, and people wax philosophical. They become…well…more penimi. While Adam HaRishon didn’t fear, he took the biggest chance of his life, and lost. Then God put the fear into him, and he spent the next 130 years doing teshuvah.

We’re about to stand before God on Rosh Hashanah and again, come out of hiding. How should we deal with it? By staying hidden, meaning, by not opening our mind’s eye and seeing God everywhere we went, every we are, and everywhere we will ever go? Do we stay chitzoni…superficial…fearless?

Or, do we go inside? Do we get philosophical, and look beyond the superficial realities that vie for our attention all year round? On the day that “we” first hid back at the beginning of history, we have a chance to personally unhide, and jump to spiritual hyperdrive. We can choose penimius over chitzonius, or in the language of this week’s parsha, we can choose life, that we may live. Truly live.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Nitzavim – Last Shabbat of 5781

Parashat Nitzavim 5781
by HaRav Nachman Kahana

Every Jew – man and woman, is alluded to in the intricate texts of the Bible, as are the manifold episodes of every generation hidden behind some word or phrase in the Torah.

Where is our generation alluded to in the Torah?

Initially, we have to define the unique parameters and circumstances of our generation which set it apart from all others. This is fortunately not a herculean task! For there has never before been an exile of such duration and cruelty as the one we have experienced these past 2000 years, concluding with Hashem’s miraculous restoration of the majority of His people to a sizable part of the biblical borders of Eretz Yisrael, which we call today Medinat Yisrael.

One need not seek out our generation in the texts of the Torah with a magnifying glass, because it is explicit in parashat Nitzavim chapter 30:

(ג) ושב ה’ א-להיך את שבותך ורחמך ושב וקבצך מכל העמים אשר הפיצך ה’ א-להיך שמה:

(ד) אם יהיה נדחך בקצה השמים משם יקבצך ה’ א-להיך ומשם יקחך:

(ה) והביאך ה’ א-להיך אל הארץ אשר ירשו אבתיך וירשתה והיטבך והרבך מאבתיך:

3. Then the Lord your God will return you from captivity and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you.
4. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back.
5 . He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.

Indeed, we were scattered to the four corners of the globe, and HaShem is now in the process of returning all the Jews to His holy land – those who return willingly, as well as those who cling to the unholy galut and will have to be wrenched away from their sweet captivity.

However, it might appear that the opening verses of this chapter (30) are not pointing to our generation, for it says:

(א) והיה כי יבאו עליך כל הדברים האלה הברכה והקללה אשר נתתי לפניך והשבת אל לבבך בכל הגוים אשר הדיחך ה’ א-להיך שמה:

(ב) ושבת עד ה’ א-להיך ושמעת בקלו ככל אשר אנכי מצוך היום אתה ובניך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך:

(ג) ושב ה’ א-להיך את שבותך ורחמך ושב וקבצך מכל העמים אשר הפיצך ה’ א-להיך שמה:

1. When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations,
2. and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today,
3. then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you.

For how can we say that we are living in the time of national restoration which is conditioned upon the Jews doing teshuva, “And when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today”? When did this ever happen?

I submit:

Teshuva is a subjective term, which finds expression in accordance with the individual and his regrettable past.

The pasukim (Bereishiet 25,8-9) relate that when Avraham passed away, his two sons came to bury their holy father, as follows:

(ח) ויגוע וימת אברהם בשיבה טובה זקן ושבע ויאסף אל עמיו:

(ט) ויקברו אתו יצחק וישמעאל בניו אל מערת המכפלה אל שדה עפרן בן צחר החתי אשר על פני ממרא:

8. Then Abraham died at an advanced age, elderly and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.
9. His sons Isaac and Yishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite.

Chazal say that verse 9 reveals that Yishmael did teshuva, because although Yishmael was older, he agreed that Yitzchak should be the spiritual heir to Avraham as we learn from the fact that the name of Yitzchak is stated in the pasuk before the name of Yishmael. However, the statement that Yishmael did teshuva is difficult, because he was an idolater to the end of his life, as attested to by the fact that he took the evil Aisav to be his son-in-law.

However, as stated above, “teshuva is a subjective term” which finds expression in accordance with the individual and his regrettable past.

Yishmael’s great fault was his stubborn insistence on being the heir to Avraham’s spiritual status.

HaShem’s grievance to Yishmael was not that he was not a talmid chacham or that he accepted idolatry. What grieved HaShem was that Yishmael never accepted the fact that he was not and never was connected spiritually to Avraham. So, when Yitzchak precedes Yishmael in the pasuk, it is the Torah’s way of saying that Yishmael finally accepted Yitzchak’s superior spiritual status – and that was Yishmael’s personal teshuva.

The great historic sin of the Jewish people of 2000 years ago was our desire to be accepted and loved by the gentiles. Many Jews were involved with the Greek and Roman cultures. We dressed like them, spoke their language and were a part of their political intrigues; all in the name of being accepted by the goy.

Our experience of living under the goyim reached its climax with the Shoah. It became clear to most Jews that we must leave the hated galut, return to our own Biblical homeland and distance ourselves from the “favors” of Aisav and Yishmael, and acknowledge that we are a unique entity in the world.

This is the teshuva that HaShem was waiting for, and it in itself was sufficient to open the doors of return to Eretz Yisrael and the restoration of our national life.

The next phase in the teshuva process will be our return to actively fulfilling the Torah’s mitzvot, towards which we in the holy land are advancing every day.

Our Long-Awaited Redemption
The real-life game changing decisions are not revealed in history books. What I know about the Yom Kippur Wars will never appear in the official documents of our nation but was critical to the ongoing events.

We are now in the throes of events which could have far-reaching consequences for the Middle East and the world. Will the US and Europe attack Iran? Will Iran react by attacking Israel? Will fanatical, extreme Islam over-take many countries in Africa and Asia? Will the Moslems in the US and Europe turn on their host countries? Will Russia and China find reasons to join in the free-for-all? Will Judenhass spread faster than Covid-19?

Our parasha states (Devarim 29,28):

הנסתרת לה’ א-להינו והנגלת לנו ולבנינו עד עולם לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת

The secret things are known to the Lord our God, but the revealed episodes are known to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

The real diabolical motives behind the “moral” positions of the Western powers are known to HaShem but not to the general public. The US and Europe will not act to prevent the Iranians from achieving nuclear weapons. The reality, which may never be proven, is that the basis for their decisions is steeped in abiding Judenhass.

The Christian world will never reconcile with the existence of the State of Israel, which for them is the most merciless, ruthless, and unrelenting repudiation and abrogation of Christianity.

And all their intellectual gymnastics to explain why their deity permitted the Jewish people to return to Eretz Yisrael after he ‘rejected” them is wasted on any thinking, intelligent person.

You, dear reader, may think that this line of thought is hallucinatory. I too would have thought so were if not for the Midrash Tanchuma which is quoted by Rashi in the Book of Yechezkel 35,10:

ומדרש אגדה ר’ תנחומא דורשו כלפי שהלך עשו אל ישמעאל להתחתן בו להשיאו שיעורר על יצחק על ירושת אברהם ויהרוג ישמעאל את יצחק ואהיה אני גואל הדם ואהרוג את ישמעאל וזהו יקרבו ימי אבל אבי ואירש אני את יצחק ואת ישמעאל

Midrash Tanchuma explains the intention of Yechezkel in this verse to mean that Aisav married the daughter of Yishmael with the intent of influencing him to kill Yitzchak. Then he (Aisav) would act as the “goel hadam” – the justified avenger – to kill Yishmael; thereby paving the way for him to be the uncontested spiritual heir to Avraham.

Replace the name “Aisav” with Christian Europe, replace “Yishmael” with the Moslem Arab countries, and replace “Yitzchak” with Jewish Medinat Yisrael and you have the script of what is transpiring these very days.

Aisav the Christian arouses the Yishmaelite Persians to attack Yitzchak the Jew.

The time of our long-awaited redemption may be at hand. Our Father in Heaven will protect His people Israel.

During times of stress, the prophetic words of Yeshayahu (40:15,17) must always be in the forefront of our thoughts:

(טו) הן גוים כמר מדלי וכשחק מאזנים נחשבו הן איים כדק יטול:

(יז) כל הגוים כאין נגדו מאפס ותהו נחשבו לו:

15. Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; He weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
17. Before Him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by Him as worthless and less than nothing.

We might be entering the period of HaShem’s retribution for what the gentiles have done to us. When it happens, the Jewish communities in the galut will not be immune. Their fate will not be concerted “establishment” anti-Semitism, but rather ground root “street” violence. When the genie of hate is released, the blacks and Moslems will smell blood and react with violence. They will run through the streets smashing, vandalizing, and burning Jewish stores, attacking Jews on the streets and destroying their cars and homes.

Let us hope and pray that this will never happen. However, one can never know when HaShem will change the gears of history, and the lives of people will never again be the same.

Question: Why should such an idea even enter one’s mind?

A former Minister for Tourism, Dr. Uzi Landau, revealed a sickening statistic. That from 1948 to the present, less than 15% of the Jews of the United States ever visited Medinat Yisrael.

It is estimated that there are 5 million Jews in the US, of which one million are Torah observant.

The 15% of 5 million who visited Eretz Yisrael is 750,000, half of whom are presumably non-Torah observant, leaving the number of observant Jews currently living in galut who ever visited Israel at around 375,000.

Numbers don’t lie. These numbers reveal that the vast majority – 625,000 out of one million religious Jews of the US have never stepped foot on the soil of God’s holy land.

Among these 625,000 there are principals and teachers in religious day schools, pulpit rabbis, yeshiva and kollel students and more.

It has not yet been internalized by the Jews in the galut that our Father in Heaven is very serious when it “comes to religion”. HaShem was the initiator of Religious Zionism when He revealed himself to Avraham and promised to him and his descendants sovereignty over “Eretz Hakodesh”.

The religious leaders in the galut would do well to recognize the awesome responsibility they have for the physical and spiritual welfare of their adherents by not guiding them to return home, and the ultimate blame for not doing so will be upon them. Their responsibility goes even beyond that of the religious leaders of the 1930s in Europe who saw the black clouds over the horizon yet did not use their prestige to arouse their adherents to return home.

Let us hope that in the coming year of 5782 the Quality of Chesed (compassion) will overcome the Quality of Severe Justice, and all of Am Yisrael will be united in our holy land of Eretz Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom,
K’tiva vachatima tova,
Nachman Kahana

Copyright © 5781/2021 Nachman Kahana

Why It’s Time To Lay The ‘Two-State Solution’ To Rest For Good

Mideast pundits are once again advancing a 'Two-State Solution,' but for those on the front lines of Mideast reality, the idea is nothing more than an apparition.

Newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett paid a visit to Washington last week for his first high-level meetings with President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, leading Mideast pundits to once again reverberate with echoes of advancing a “Two-State Solution.” However, the “Two-State Solution” that was floated during decades past is now permanently dead and impossible. How do some Mideast experts not grasp its demise?

The ‘West Bank’ Is a Semantic Fiction
First, an important semantic clarification. In Israel, the land west of the Jordan River is called “Judea and Samaria.” The alternative term some use for the land — “West Bank” — is a misnomer, born of manifest geographic fiction and no Arab nomenclature for that region. Jersey City arguably may be the west bank of the Hudson River because much of lower Manhattan indeed can be seen from that city’s downtown, but the vast majority of Judea and Samaria are many miles from the Jordan river bank.

Judean cities like Hebron, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem; and Samarian cities like Shechem (Nablus), Karnei Shomron, and Shiloh are nowhere near a riverbank and are actual cities. For example, Ariel, a Jewish community in central Judea-Samaria, is a city of more than 20,000 people and is 21 miles west of the river. The city of Ma’aleh Adumim in Judea, seven miles from Jerusalem, has a population of nearly 40,000.

Semantics matter, because a discrete population on the “west bank” of a river presumably can be evacuated easily as part of a negotiated deal. Not so with the more than 130 Jewish communities established throughout Judea and Samaria.

As of January 2, 2021, approximately 325,000 Jews were living in Jerusalem’s Old City and in other eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem that Israel liberated in June 1967 during the Six-Day War. Equally striking, the Jewish population throughout the rest of Judea and Samaria on that date was reported at 475,481. Thus, more than 800,000 Jews now live quite permanently in Judea and Samaria.

They live in houses, permanent structures they have built over the past half-century. They pay monthly mortgages, refinance their home loans, furnish their houses and villas with couches, dining tables and chairs, beds and armoires, sinks and faucets, and related sanitary items. In other words, the nearly 1 million of them are not going anywhere.

Uprooting 800,000 People Is a Terrible Idea
A “Two-State Solution” that contemplates uprooting nearly 1 million Jews from their homes, workplaces, and lives is not only unrealistic and impracticable but is absurd and impossible.

Back in 1982 Israel evacuated Yamit, a community of 2,500 Jews, from the Sinai region as part of its 1979 peace agreement with Egypt. In 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated 8,600 Jews from Gush Katif when he decided to hand over Gaza unilaterally to its resident Arab government.

While the Hamas terrorist group soon gained control of the ceded territory, most missed what transpired meantime in Israel with the Jewish evacuees. Even a decade later, many still had not found permanent new homes and employment economically comparable to what they had enjoyed.

Accordingly, now consider that, for Israel to evacuate its Jewish population from Judea and Samaria, it would have to undertake displacing a population almost 100 times that of Gush Katif — indeed, more than 11 percent of the country’s entire Jewish population of nearly seven million. Israel would need to relocate some 800,000 Jews to new houses and new jobs, and their children to new schools, all in a country 8,019 square miles, an area smaller than Vermont and a bit larger than New Jersey.

The Two-State Idea Does Not Fit Geopolitical Realities
Dating back to the inception of the dispute, one of several unequivocal Arab demands from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas on Israel’s east, and similarly non-negotiable from Hamas in Gaza, is that no Jew remains behind anywhere in Judea and Samaria. Thus, the issue not only is intractable but impossible.

Somehow the Trump administration, breaking with more than half a century of State Department orthodoxy, figured this out. They walked away from a “Two-State Solution” that had become a pipe dream and instead managed to forge new alliances for Israel with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco by building on new Middle Eastern realities. They grasped that Iran, a Shiite Islamic society now led by messianically zealous imams intent on acquiring nuclear power, is bent on taking down Sunni Muslim polities no less than to obliterate the Jewish government of Israel.

The proxy civil war in Yemen, now in its seventh year, is but one manifestation of the Shiite-Sunni internecine life-and-death struggle. Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government they are fighting have killed more than 100,000 of each other since September 2014, with no end in sight.

For Sunni Arab governments fighting for their survival and to preserve their ways of life, a strong Israel in the neighborhood, prepared to take on Iran, is a bulwark — even more now that the Biden-Blinken foreign policy, punctuated by disastrous miscalculations in retreating from Afghanistan, seems focused on returning America to appeasing Iran’s mullahs. Consequently, for those on the front lines of Mideast reality, a “Two-State Solution” is nothing more than an apparition.

There Aren’t Even Two States to Deal With
Nor, in fact, are the parties to the “solution” actually “two states.” Again, semantics matter. Oklahoma and Wyoming are “states.” By contrast, England, France, Germany, and even Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein are “countries.” It seems easier to work things out between, say, Idaho and Montana than between India and Pakistan.

Israel is not a Rhode Island. Rather, it is called a “state” because of a biblical linguistic quirk. The Hebrew word for “country” is “eretz,” which also means “land.” Thus, the term “Eretz Israel” has two meanings: It could mean “Country of Israel,” but it also could mean the biblical “Land of Israel” that extends either from “Dan to Beersheba” (Judges 20:1) or from the Nile to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18). To avoid confusion and to assure observers that the Jewish polity has no designs on biblical conquest, Israel’s founders opted to use a synonym that would avoid misconceptions, so they opted for “Medinat Israel,” which means “State of Israel.”

Nonetheless, Israel is not a Delaware or Connecticut. Thus, Mideast peace challenges are not akin to persuading the governors of West Virginia and Kentucky to back off from ordering their respective National Guard troops to invade each other’s states amid the Hatfield-McCoy cross-border tensions that ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. There is no “Two-State Solution,” and a “Two Country Solution” that would force Israel out of the Jewish patrimony and would create a new Afghanistan in the evacuated territory is not going to happen.

Middle East Harmony Is Best Pursued Other Ways
Peace in the Middle East is strategically important for America. Countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and Israel are important anchors for our national interests. Israel offers America a democratically stable, cost-effective, battle-tested outpost in a region that oversees the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf.

Israel’s advanced technological leadership has enabled her to leverage her military experiences to share with U.S. defense department and weapons manufacturers research and development information of incalculable value. She provides us reliable intelligence that urgently supplements our agencies’ blind spots in a region we often have assessed erroneously at a terrible cost. Such instances include the 1973 Arab oil boycott; the rise of the Khomeini revolution that ousted our ally, the Shah of Iran; the 1983 South Lebanon bombing that took 241 U.S. Marines’ lives; and continuing to the present failures that saw us wrongly assess the “Arab Spring,” catastrophically “lead from behind” in Libya, and now exit Afghanistan.

We do not help ourselves by continuing to resurrect century-old Mideast “solutions” that no longer bear any relationship to reality but distract our allies and give succor to those searching for strategic weak spots in the new administrations in Washington and Jerusalem.