Monday, November 29, 2021

Confidence in Hashem

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

"Praiseworthy is the man who has made Hashem his confidence, and turned not to the arrogant." (Tehillim 40:5) The Midrash at the beginning of our parsha applies this pasuk to Yosef (Bereisheet Rabbah 89:2):

"Praiseworthy is the man who has made Hashem his confidence" - This is Yosef."and turned not to the arrogant" -- Because Yosef asked the sar hamashkim (chamberlain of the cupbearers), "think of me" (zechartani) and "mention me" (hizkartani), another two years were added [to his imprisonment]. The obvious question is: Is a person prohibited from making efforts to attain his freedom? After all, there is a principle that man should not depend on miracles!

With regards to Hashgacha Pratit ("Divine Providence"), the Rambam writes in Moreh Nevuchim (3:51), "A most extraordinary speculation has occurred to me now, through which doubts may be resolved and Divine secrets revealed." The Rambam's innovative idea is that G-d watches over and involves Himself in each man's life in proportion to that man's loyalty and closeness to Hashem. Likewise, G-d hides Himself from man to the same degree that the person distances himself from G-d. "Hence, it seems to me, that a prophet or pious man who was beset by any one of the evils of the world -- it befell him only during a time of [Divine] concealment. The longer the period of concealment, the stronger the calamity will be." With this principle, the Rambam resolves the quandary of why calamities occur to the righteous.

Similarly, we can explain the concepts of confidence in G-d ("bitachon") and effort ("hishtadlut"). The Ramban (Vayikra 26:11) writes that long ago, pious people would not seek a doctor for medical help but rather would turn to the prophet. G-d treats the righteous in miraculous fashion, so why should they need to turn to anyone but G-d when they fall ill? "What part do physicians have in the house of those who do the will of G-d?" However, with the passage of time, each generation has fallen farther and farther away from G-d, so people began to seek out physicians. For this reason the Torah granted the physician permission to cure. We do not find, though, that permission was granted to the patient to seek out a doctor, and someone with a very high degree of bitachon in G-d would not seek out a doctor. This is why Assa, King of Yehuda, who had a tremendous amount of confidence in G-d, was criticized when, "also in his illness he did not seek out Hashem, but only doctors." (Divrei Hayamim II 16:12)

Then again, someone who sins, or even expends effort in other matters, should not demonstrate inordinate confidence in G-d in medical issues. In this vein, on the pasuk, "Her leaders judge for bribes and her priests teach for a fee and her prophets divine for money -- yet they rely on Hashem, saying, 'Behold, Hashem is in our midst; no evil can befall us!'" (Micha 3:11), Chazal comment, "They were wicked, but they placed their confidence in the One who said, and the world came into existence." (Shabbat 139a) This kind of confidence is hypocrisy!

The common perception is that "bitachon" means to believe that if one has confidence in G-d, He will grant all the person's requests. Contrary to this, the Chazon Ish writes in his book, "Emunah U'Bitachon" (Faith and Confidence, ch. 2), that this kind of belief is fundamentally wrong:

Who knows G-d's considerations and His payments? Rather, the concept of bitachon is the belief that events do not occur randomly, and that everything that happens in the world is ordained by G-d, whether good or otherwise ... This belief is the trait of bitachon. Since Yosef said, "think of me" and "mention me," two more years were added to his imprisonment. Rav Shimon Shkop asked what would have happened had Yosef only asked the sar hamashkim once; would one year have been added to his imprisonment? He answered that Yosef was justified in making an attempt and asking once, but his excessive attempt revealed, retroactively, that even his first request reflected a lack of confidence in G-d.

For Yosef, who stood at a high spiritual level, the efforts through the sar hamashkim represented a flaw in his bitachon. So too, every man needs to take account of his personal situation, yet must be careful not to let proper hishtadlut yield to simple laziness under the pretense of complete confidence and faith in G-d.

Hanukkah: A Lesson for Our Generation

by HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Beit El

The Talmud (Shabbat 21b) asks, "What is Chanukah (in commemoration of which miracle was the holiday of Chanukah established-Rashi)? The Talmud continues with the answer: When the Greeks invaded the Temple, they defiled all the oil that was there. And when the kingdom of the House of the Hashmonaim (the Maccabees) prevailed and defeated them, they searched and found only one pot of oil stamped with the seal of the High Priest, which was enough to light only for one day. A miracle happened and it sufficed for eight days. The following year (the Sages) fixed these days and made them holidays, in (order to express) praise and thankfulness (by reciting the Hallel and the "For Your Miracles" prayer-Rashi)." From this it seems that the praise and thankfulness were established in honor of the miracle of the oil pot. And this is perplexing. Since we say in the prayer, "When the wicked Greek empire stood against Your nation Israel in order to cause them to desert Your Torah...and You in your great mercy stood by them in their time of distress...You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak...and brought a great salvation to Your nation," doesn't it follow that the thankfulness should be mainly for the victory in the war, for the salvation, and for the fact that we have been able to keep the Torah over the generations, rather than for the miracle of the pot of pure oil which they lit for eight days?

Apparently the Hashmonaim had many contemporaries who disapproved of their actions. They said: It is forbidden to fight against the Greeks since they are more powerful and more numerous than we are. The revolt can't possibly succeed. We have to be pragmatic and not be carried away by our imaginations. We must not endanger lives in vain. There were those who said: We have to be realistic, and if we cannot perform the Mitzvot since we are being forcibly prevented, by The Merciful One will forgive us. There were those who alleged that it was prohibited to endanger the existence of the nation in a war against the Greeks, and there were those who claimed that the Torah prohibits us from rebelling against the nations, and that we must wait until Moshiach comes and then G-d will save us. And even after the victory of the Hashmonaim, the criticism against them continued: You acted against G-d's will, it was prohibited to rebel against the nations, there is no value in a victory which is against G-d's will, and in any case the victory is temporary-eventually the Greeks will return to conquer us and then we will suffer much more because we rebelled against them.

And behold...the Hashmonaim enter the Temple and purify it, and G-d performs an explicit miracle-the miracle of the pot of oil. This was the sign that G-d was pleased with their actions and that the war of the Hashmonaim was according to His will. Their self-sacrifice for the sake of G-d and for the sake of the Land of Israel was the proper course of action. Therefore the miracle of the oil pot is specifically emphasized and commemorated throughout the generations in order to publicize the fact that G-d approved, and was pleased by the war of the Hashmonaim.

This comes to teach us that we must awaken, take initiative and act for the redemption of Israel, and not wait for the initiative to come from above. And when there is such an awakening from below, then our subsequent actions merit Divine aid. And whoever opens his eyes can see the Divine providence which has been aiding the actions of those working for the redemption of Israel, the settlement of the land, the ingathering of the exiles and the protection of the land and the nation.

The Truth in Dreams

by Rabbi Dov Berel Wein

Yosef’s dramatic ascent to power in Egypt is recorded for us in this week’s parsha. What is noteworthy that Yosef does not appear to be at all surprised or amazed by the sudden turn of events in his fortunes. A person who lives by dreams is never surprised when the dream turns into reality. Yosef always expected his dreams to come true in this world. So did his father Yaakov. And in truth so did the brothers and that is why he discomfited them so deeply. Had they felt the dreams of Yosef to be utter nonsense they would not have reacted as strongly to his relating them to them. They were threatened not because the dreams were nothing but rather because they were something. Their apparent blindness and stubbornness at not recognizing Yosef standing before them stemmed from their necessity to deny the validity of his dreams. When Yosef will reveal himself to his brothers they will instinctively believe him that he is Yosef because of the stock they subconsciously placed in his dreams all along. Practical people are afraid of dreamers not because of the dreamer’s impracticality but rather because the dreamer may turn out to be right after all. This has been proven time and again in Jewish history. The holiday of Chanukah that we are currently celebrating proves the dreams of the Maccabees overcame the practicalities of the Hellenist Jews who were willing to survive by becoming more Greek than Jewish. Jews over the ages could have reasonably quit and given up the struggle to survive as Jews countless times. It was always the dreamers that persevered and they have always been proven to be right and practical.

The Torah attributes the success of Yosef to the fact that he remembered his dreams. It is one thing to remember dreams of grandeur when one is poor and imprisoned. Then the dream provides hope and resilience to somehow continue. Yosef’s greatness lies in his ability to remember and believe those dreams when he has risen to power. He could easily have ignored his brothers and put all of his past behind him. He was now a great success so why continue to pursue his dreams which by so doing ultimately could sorely endanger his position and achievements. But Yosef doggedly pursues the full realization of his dreams. Many times in life we are frightened of advancing because we think we thereby risk what we already have. Judaism preaches caution in tactics and how to achieve certain goals, both spiritual and physical. But it never advocates compromising the great Jewish dreams as outlined in our Torah and tradition. We are bidden to be prudent about life decisions but the goal of ascending the ladder of Yaakov is never erased from our consciousness. When seeing his brothers before him, Yosef has the choice to leave them and him be as they and he are. But he chooses to pursue his dreams to their fateful end. That has become a lesson for all later generations of Jews as well. For only the full realization of Yosef’s dream is the catalyst for reuniting all of Israel as a nation.

A G-d Who Cares for Others

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

In Paroh’s dream, he was standing on top of the Nile (Bereisheet 41:1). Chazal stressed that this is a hint at the phenomenon that the evil exist "on top of their gods" (Bereisheet Rabba 69:3). The Nile is the god of Egypt because it gives them life, turning the river course, found in the midst of a scorching desert, into a flourishing pearl of growth and sustenance. An Egyptian god is a god to the extent that it "produces results," providing needs and desires. The idol of a defeated nation stops being their idol. Egypt knew that they developed because of the Nile and knew how to value the provider of food and water. They knew, in their eyes, how to provide treats and tributes for the Nile. If one sacrifices before a god, it is based on the assumption that it will provide the one who offered it a net gain.

In contrast, for the righteous, Hashem exists on top of them (ibid.), as the Torah says, "And indeed Hashem was standing above [Yaakov]" (Bereisheet 28:17). The purpose of Yaakov’s life was not to receive but to give, in the proper way. He strove to serve Hashem in the purest, cleanest way. The more he could do it without intention to receive benefit, the happier he was. Such people do not come to provide the "taste that the pallet is used to" but to "improve the taste," so that one can "enjoy the taste of giving." The idea is not to connect oneself to tangible things but to nullify oneself to the point that he can cling to Hashem.

The Baal Hatanya would sing: "I do not want the lower Gan Eden and not even the higher Gan Eden. I want only You; my spirit is thirsty for You; my flesh yearns for You." Certainly, not everyone can reach such levels, and even one who approaches this level cannot keep it up at all times of the day. However, this is the goal and aspiration. This is what Yaakov wanted, and that is the reason that he saw Hashem standing above him.

When the self-absorbed, powerful Paroh dreamed, he could only dream about his interests. People reasoned that not only is man self-absorbed but so must be Hashem, in Whose image man was created. That is why no one could interpret Paroh’s dream correctly, even though the correct one seems pretty obvious. Famine and plenty – why would Paroh dream about that? He is not going to go hungry; it affects only the people, not him! So they assumed it had to do with daughters or honor (see Bereisheet Rabba 89:6).

When Yosef entered the picture, Paroh started seeing things differently and related that he was standing on the banks of the Nile (Bereisheet 41:13). Paroh was shaken by the mysterious dream, and then Yosef told him: "That which Hashem is doing He has told Paroh" (ibid. 25). Hashem wanted Paroh to follow His lead and think about his subjects. Then the solution was simple: plenty and famine for the people.

Yosef, who was viewed so poorly by his brothers, came up with the solution. He had lofty intentions and saw in his predicament an opportunity to sustain his family. That is why he did not get carried away with his success. Rather he concentrated on making a worthy arrangement for his father, including a family yeshiva, even in the land of impurity.

Methods of Leadership in Public Issues

by HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Har Bracha

Every public issue needs to be examined on three levels: Torani, educational, and political *Unfortunately, for some rabbis in recent generations, political considerations have become more important than Torah considerations * Barricading within the borders of their own camp caused some rabbis to forfeit Torah values such as the settlement of the Land of Israel, the study of natural sciences, and serving in the army

Recently, after reflecting on a number of public-interest issues, I reached a fundamental understanding that can contribute to public debates facing us: In every public issue, there are three considerations: 1) Torani, 2) educational, and 3) political.

The Torani Consideration
The Torani consideration is the essential one, and is the main consideration by which all public questions ought to be discussed. For indeed, the Torah encompasses all values – it is what determines what is chova(obligatory), what is a mitzvah, and what is a hiddur (enhancement of a mitzvah); what is of Biblical status, and what is from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical). Conversely, what is forbidden from the Torah, and what is forbidden rabbinically; what is not appropriate halachically, but permitted be-di-avad (after the fact), or be’sha’at dachak (in times of distress).

In order to clarify the Torani consideration, one must delve into the Written Torah, Divrei Chachamim, Geonim, Rishonim, and Achronim.

The Educational Consideration
After the Torani consideration, sometimes an educational consideration is taken into account when it appears that if the Torah instruction is observed, it will have a negative educational effect on other values ​​and mitzvot in the Torah; and then, when the Torani position is not based on an important Torah principle, the educational consideration occasionally outweighs the Torani one.

For example, in relation to minhagim (customs) that are not halachically precise but are kosher, sometimes the instruction is they be preferred because of the educational value of Masoret Avot (ancestral tradition). As Rebbi Yossi said: “Although we have sent you a Seder Mo’adot (an exact wording of prayers), do not change the custom of your ancestors, may their memory be for a blessing” (Yerushalmi Eruvin 3: 9). Similarly, according to strict halakha, sometimes it is possible to be maykel (rule leniently), however, we refrain doing so, lest one learn from it to be lenient in other matters – today, what is known as “fear of the slippery slope”. At times, the opposite is true – although halachically something is forbidden, we refrain from telling the public because it is better for them to be shogag’im (transgress inadvertently), and not be meyzid’im (transgress intentionally), for if they get used to transgressing one thing be’meyzid, they will falter, and transgress in other matters.

The Political Consideration
In addition to the Torani and educational considerations, occasionally there is room to take into account group/social considerations, which in the social sciences are termed “political considerations”. For instance, to refrain from joining an honorable initiative when its leaders are people undeserving of support because they hold positions that can be harmful. Somewhat similarly, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel decided to omit the names of Rebbi Natan and Rebbi Meir, because they challenged the status of the Nesiyut (presidency) (Horayot 13b).

The Difference between Torani Considerations and Educational and Political Considerations
These three considerations are inherent in the Torah itself. The most fundamental values ​​are expressed in the general and basic mitzvot of the Torah, such as belief in God, Talmud Torah, love of mankind, carrying out justice and law, Shabbat and Festivals, Yishuv ha’Aretz (settling the Land of Israel), building the Holy Temple, and adding goodness and blessing to the world. Encircling them are mitzvot with an educational objective as well, such as the mitzvah to educate children to Torah, to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, tzitzit, tefillin, and mezuzah. And then there are mitzvot that also have a political objective – to build society as a framework that supports and strengthens Torah study and observance of mitzvot, which include the mitzvah to appoint a king, rules of law, and the status of Kohanim and Levi’im.

However, since all these mitzvot are included in the Written and Oral Torah in all their details, they are actually an integral part of the Torah consideration. Nevertheless, apart from the Torani considerations, sometimes additional educational and political considerations arise as a result of societal circumstances. However, since they do not express eternal values ​​included in the Torani consideration, their status is lower and less than that of the principle Torani consideration.

In Recent Generations, the Political Consideration Has Prevailed
Regrettably, although the political consideration is the lowermost of the considerations – for some rabbis the order has been reversed, and in many issues the political consideration outside of the Torah has become most important, followed by the educational consideration, and only at long last, the Torah consideration. Thus, we find numerous times Torah positions are related to on a political scale – in other words, whether it will help strengthen the position of our religious group, or not. Allow me to mention a few examples.

Yishuv Ha’Aretz
From the viewpoint of the Torani consideration, the mitzvah of Yishuv ha’Aretz is of the highest order, to the point where our Sages said that it is equivalent to all the mitzvot (Sifri, Re’eh 53), and that a Jew who lives abroad is like one who worships idols (Ketubot 110b); also, it is a mitzvah to give up one’s life for the conquest of the Land as explained in the Torah, and our Sages permitted to transgress the rabbinical decree of ‘shvut’ on Shabbat in order to redeem a small house in the Land of Israel (S.A., O.C. 306:11). In spite of this, there were rabbis who vehemently opposed the Zionist movement, since its leaders were secular Jews. Their educational rationale was – lest participation in Aliyah (immigration to Israel) and settlement result in a religious weakening. No less than that – a political consideration: lest participation in Zionist activity grant status to the Zionist movement, whose leaders were mostly secular.

The price was heavy. In addition to the fact of neglecting the great mitzvah itself, in practice, it turned out that the educational and political considerations were wrong, for on average, among the immigrants to Israel precisely, the percentage of those weakened in religious observance was lower than among those who remained in the Diaspora. Even the various religious and Haredi movements themselves became stronger in Israel, than in the Diaspora.

The Mitzvah to Serve in the Army
From the viewpoint of the Torani consideration, it is a great mitzvah to serve in the army and protect the Nation and the Land, because someone who serves in the army performs two mitzvot that are equivalent to all the mitzvot: 1) the mitzvah of Yishuv ha’Aretz, and 2) saving Clal Yisrael from its enemies (Peninei Halakha: Ha’Am ve’Ha’Aretz 4:1). However, for educational and political reasons, some rabbis say it is forbidden to enlist in the army.

Admittedly, the educational claim can be of great significance, for if as a result of enlistment in the army a person stops observing mitzvot, there is room to understand the position not to enlist. But if one accepts that the Torah consideration is the main factor, a solution can be found to the educational problem by means of the Hesder yeshivas, and the Nachal Haredi.

However, the political consideration – to strengthen Haredi society and not to strengthen the state, prevailed, and as a result, Torah mitzvot are abandoned.

And the price paid is heavy – a distortion of the basic morality of honesty, mutual responsibility, and abstention from Clal-Yisraeli mitzvot. And as a continuation to this – factionalism, quarrels, and altercations in Haredi society.

Science – Ma’aseh Breisheet (Work of Creation)
According to the Torah, it is a mitzvah to study the sciences which are the wisdom of the Creator, and are called “Ma’aseh Breisheet,” about which our Sages said (Shabbat 75a) one who has the ability to understand science but does not, the verse says: “They have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands”. This is also what Rambam, Maharal, the Gaon of Vilna, and others wrote. Nevertheless, for educational reasons – lest students of science be weakened in their adherence to tradition and mitzvot – there were those who instructed not to teach science. However, if the problem is educational, an effort can be made to establish institutions in which science would be taught out of emunah (Jewish faith). Nevertheless, for certain rabbis’, the political consideration prevailed. In other words, because science is affiliated with modernity, and many of the modernists are secular, it must be vehemently opposed.

And the price is heavy – the creation of a society that alienates science and diminishes the understanding of Torah, as the Gaon of Vilna said, to the extent an individual lacks knowledge in secular wisdom, conversely, he lacks one hundred-fold in Torah wisdom. In addition, this situation causes contempt for Haredi society, and harms the livelihoods’ of the Haredim and their need for charity from public coffers.

When the Political becomes Primary, Torah is Uprooted
If they were to say, temporarily, for the coming years, we will postpone observing the great mitzvot because of what appears to us to be an educational danger and a threat to the society of the Torah observant, it would still be possible to understand their position. For sometimes there is room to consider educational and political considerations that are not included in the Torah – provided, however, it is a temporary order due to be repealed soon afterward, just as human considerations should be cancelled before the Divine Torah. However, when generations have passed in which these great mitzvot have been neglected – to the point where passages from ancient texts are censored in order to serve their position – behold, the political consideration that runs contrary to the Torah consideration has prevailed.

In doing so, they choose to emphasize the mitzvot according to the petty, human consideration, namely, according to the degree of reinforcement they give to their society, and not according to the Toraniconsideration we received at Mount Sinai. Similarly, minhagim that strengthen their society in their opinion are exalted, at the expense of the foundations of Torah and morality.

Political Consideration is the Basis of the Controversy
Those who prefer the political consideration claim that it rests on the need to hate the wicked, as the verse says: “Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies” (Psalms 139: 21-22). However, this Torani position was said in relation to wicked individuals, such as minim (heretics), meshumadim (apostates), and mosrim(Jews who betrayed their community), and not about Jews at large (see, Avot d’Rebbe Natan 16).

This is the general rule: whenever there is a conflict between love and hate, love and peace should be given the central place, and hatred should be confined to evil deeds only. Thus, we have learned in Rav Kook’s “Middot HaRayah” (Ahava 5), that when there is a conflict between the value of love and hate, love prevails, because its value is greater and more general, whereas hatred should be focused only on the external evil. An allusion to this is the right taking precedence over the left, as right expresses chesed (kindness).

However, when political considerations are preferred hatred is heightened, and the most difficult controversies are reached. This is because as long as the argument is Torani, the controversy is matter-of-fact. However, when the debate is political – whether we will beat the rival group or they will win – then it is a “mitzvah” to avoid seeing the virtue of the rival groups’ members, and a “mitzvah” to paint them in the worst possible way, because their very existence is invalid.

Thus, political considerations become paramount, and nullify the foundations of the Torah. The main arguments and discussions are not about Torah and values, rather, about the question of who comes first, which group will lead – and the Torani questions are neglected.

Correct Politics
The correct situation is that political calculations serve Torah principles, and not repress them. In this way they are of immense importance, for if one knows how to act properly in the public arena, affection and respect for the Torah can be strengthened, and hence the desire to observe its’ mitzvot. However, when political consideration is paramount, and stems from human considerations of strengthening one’s own group, then politics harms Torah values.

My Brush with Censorship

by Victor Rosenthal

For the past seven years I’ve written a regular column for a newsletter that is distributed several times a year by the Jewish Federation in my home town in California. I write about what’s going on in Israel, explain our convoluted, even Byzantine, political system, and tell about my own experiences as a former American living in the Jewish state. Naturally my ideology comes through. How could it not?

So I recently wrote one which, in part, dealt with Israeli concerns about Iran, both the conventional military threat and the very real possibility of a nuclear one. I mentioned that I didn’t think that the negotiations now starting in Vienna were likely to improve the situation, and that a conflict was probably inevitable. Since it was almost Hanukah, I signed off with a line borrowed from a recent blog post. I wrote, “I want to take this opportunity to wish all my friends … a very happy Hanukah, and to remind them what it is all about: staying Jewish and defeating our enemies!”

When it was published, I saw that the last part of my final sentence had been left out. When I asked the editor about it, she told me that she had left it out because she “found it to be bellicose and was offended.”

I was at a loss on how to answer. What did she think had occurred so that the Temple needed to be rededicated? What might have happened to the Jewish people if their enemies had not been defeated? Could she not see the parallel between the dual threats of antisemitism and assimilation facing us today, and the dangers our people had to confront in the year 165 BCE? What part of staying Jewish and not being wiped out is offensive?

I sent her a long response. I mentioned the worldwide explosion of Jew-hatred in the past few years, and how it was closely tied to the extreme, irrational, and obsessive hatred of Israel that has permeated the discourse of the extreme and even the moderate Left in her country and in much of the rest of the world. I mentioned the real existential threat from Iran, both conventional and nuclear. I explained that while Israel is powerful, she is also exceedingly vulnerable because of her small size and population. I said that Israel could disappear in a week’s time, and that if that happened, the rest of the world’s Jewish population would stand alone, exposed to the bitter winds of antisemitism with no backup and no escape. It’s neither “bellicose” nor offensive to want to defend yourself.

I pointed to the growing social and economic instability in America, and noted that the Jews, as always, are caught in the middle, scapegoats for the extremists of both sides. If the exception from Jewish history that has been the US since 1945 suddenly reverts to “normal,” who will help American Jews? The imam with whom the local rabbi has engaged in “interfaith dialog?” The black community that admires Louis Farrakhan? The Evangelical Christians that they have consistently disdained and spurned?

Her answer didn’t relate to any of this. I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but I think that she does not believe that Israel is in any great danger, and that American Jewry has little to worry about, particularly from the Left. I think that she believes that if Israel would just stop being obstinate about settlements and make peace then her problems would go away. I think she trusts in the American ideal of tolerance, and I think she believes in social progress, in which the present disturbances are only hiccups.

This seems to be the view of many liberal American Jews over the age of about 50, of whom she is representative. It is certainly the picture that is pushed by the media that they most trust, such as the NY Times and NPR. It is what they hear from most of their Reform rabbis.

These ideas are wrong. Israel is in as much danger today as she was in 1948, 1967, and 1973. The weapons in the hands of our enemies right now are incredibly dangerous. There is not now, and hasn’t been a possibility of rapprochement with the Palestinian Arabs since Yasser Arafat took over their movement in the 1960s. This is not because of anything Israel is doing, other than existing as a Jewish state in the Middle East. Settlements aren’t an obstacle to peace; the irredentist Arab presence in the Jewish heartland is the obstacle.

As far as America goes, I would like to think that the ideals of freedom and tolerance that were expressed by the Founders had always characterized the nation, but history tells a different story. The US was never very friendly to minorities in general; the good treatment of the Jews after 1945 is actually exceptional, both for America and for Jews. It is threatened today by the intersectionalist cultural revolution that is trying to remake the country into a totalitarian “people’s republic.” There is certainly social change, but there is no such thing as positive social progress.

But it may be that the pendulum is finally swinging in the other direction for some younger people. We hear a lot about the young Jewish kids who join Students for Justice in Palestine, or (even worse, in my opinion) IfNotNow. But there are also those who resist the trend. Some go to Israel and volunteer to be lone soldiers, a difficult, dangerous, and courageous road to take. Others, like the members of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) are starting groups on campuses to push back against the intersectionalist tide.

Indeed, just as the Republicans will sweep the coming midterm elections as a direct response to the excesses of woke intersectionalism, I’m hopeful that students on the campuses will turn back the Maoist trend that has held free expression hostage for the last few years.

As for my column in the Jewish Federation’s newsletter, I plan to keep trying to sneak some sensible pro-Jewish and pro-Israel content into it. Who knows, maybe the older generation can change too.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Rav Kook's Igrot Hare’aya: Spread the Tzaddik’s Teachings, Not His Asceticism, part II

#73 – part II

Date and Place: Iyar 5667, Yafo

Recipient: Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop, the illustrious talmid chacham, and a close confidante of Rav Kook, later to be rabbi of Sha’arei Chesed and Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz Harav. Rav Charlop was one of the closest disciples of the tzaddik, Rav Tzvi Michal Shapira, a saintly scholar and ascetic. Rav Charlop was involved in the posthumous publishing of letters and teachings of Rav Shapira.

Body: [Last time we saw Rav Kook praise Rav Charlop for the decision to help publish the works of Rav Shapira, as well as extolling the great tzaddik and ascetic and the spiritual brilliance of his teachings.]

All of this [praise] is despite the fact that I am skeptical whether we can find in our times, when the body and the soul are both weak, many people, even among the spiritual elite, who can choose for themselves the path of asceticism and modest self-affliction. This is a worthy approach only to the extent that the person has true enjoyment from being in contact with the divine light, the glow of lofty wisdom, and the special love of spiritual indulgence that comes with true fear of Hashem. It must come with the proper awe of Hashem’s greatness, which comes together with wisdom and humility, Torah study with proper intentions, along with following practices that facilitate acquiring greatness in Torah, as Chazal set out (see Avot, ch. 6). This great light, which fills the soul with vigor, a life glow, and joy for truth, pushes off all worries and the demands for lowly physical life that most people desire. Such truly rare, holy tzaddikim protect their generation with their merit and provide light for all. The goal of Rav Tzvi Michal was apparently to be such a person.

However, one who is not able to increase his sanctity to such a lofty level, who did not sufficiently toil in wisdom of fear or acquire love of Hashem and all of the good attributes that draw one close to Hashem, must not seek out a life of asceticism. If they will do such things as frequent fasts and self-affliction, then their heart will be empty, and they will regret the suffering they experience. In that way, they will not accomplish anything for themselves or their generation.

The following is what the Kuzari (III:1) says about such a person: “If one is missing necessary acquired wisdom and natural wisdom and anyway brought himself to a state of self-depravation, then he brought upon himself torment and spiritual and physical sickness. The weakness of disease will be seen on him, and people will think it is the weakness of surrender and lowliness. He will then despise his life, because he is disgusted by incarceration and pain, and he will be on his own but not due to the love of solitude. How can it not be so if he does not cling to the divine light, to which prophets cling, and he did not reach wisdom to a degree that delving into them brings pleasant feelings?” 

A rare tzaddik like your sainted rebbe, especially because he lived in the Holy Land and in the Holy City which is the seat of prophecy, was able to walk on the “altars of clouds,” like the saintly people of early periods, who were lighter than eagles and fiercer than lions to do the will of their Master and the desire of their Maker. He reached the highest level of sanctity and purity and felt the pleasure and sweetness of service of Hashem. With all of his many fasts and self-afflictions, which he chose in his sacred heart to include in his truly extraordinary service of Hashem, he still kept his strength intact. He was able to reach great heights in studying Halacha in depth (which requires great concentration and innovation), with wonderful sharpness and mental depth. This is because the spirit of Hashem was with him, and he enjoyed Divine Assistance to increase strength with brave sanctity. This is because his whole course of action was planned according to the strength and pleasantness that he had internally, made possible by daily study of divinity, ethics, and the study of Kabbala and other works of the wisdom of truth. These all broadened his thinking and sanctified his soul, so that he was adorned most beautifully.


by Rav Binny Freedman

Many years ago, at a Melaveh Malka (Saturday night party accompanying the end of Shabbat) in Har Nof in the Bostoner Beis Medrash I heard a wonderful story from Rav Levi Yitzchak Horowitz, z”tzl, the Bostoner Rebbe.

It seems that after Reb Yissachar, the Rebbe of Nickelsburg, passed away Reb Shmelke (Rav Shmuel Horowitz, the Bostoner Rebbe’s ancestor, who was to become one of the great leaders of world Jewry) was appointed to be the new Rebbe. When he was shown his new home, which had been the home of Reb Yissachar, he seemed distracted and barely paid attention to the tour of the home, finally explaining:

“There is a most remarkable smell in this house! It must be from an amazing Mitzvah (good deed) that was done here!”

But no one seemed to be able to come up with a story of Reb Yissachar that would justify to Reb Shmelke such a wonderful smell. The Rebbe became obsessed with knowing the source of this wonderful aroma and quizzed relatives and townsfolk, but no-one had a story that was extraordinary enough to justify such a smell.

One day as Reb Shmelke was walking in town a non-Jewish woman approached him and said she had heard he was looking for an especially good deed Reb Yissachar had done. Though she was not sure it was what he was looking for she shared with him the following story.

She had been employed as a maid in the home of Reb Yissachar. Her first day of work was the eve of Pesach (Passover) and soon after she arrived the Rebbe and his wife and their adult children were all out at the market or doing errands to prepare for the festival, and she was left at home to watch over the little children and babies. A short while later, the children awoke and started to cry, and she realized they were hungry but could not find anything she could give them to eat.

Searching through the house, she recounted, “I finally found a box full of some large round crackers, so I gave them to the children to eat.”

Reb Shmelke immediately understood that she was obviously referring to the hand baked Shmurah Matzoth which had been meticulously watched over and prepared, from the time the wheat was harvested in the field through the painstaking kneading and baking process, and that they had been hidden in a cupboard to ensure that no water would come into contact with them which might render them unusable.

Such matzoth are the pride of any Seder and the Rebbe’s matzoth must have been quite expensive; he had probably baked and supervised their preparation himself….

Later that morning everyone returned and began preparing for the festival, setting the table, heating up the food, laying out the haggadot, preparing the Seder plate and setting aside the wine for the Seder that evening.

After dressing for the festival, with the holiday about to begin, the Rebbe sent his oldest children to go and retrieve the box of matzoth to lay them on the Seder plate. But the matzoth were no-where to be found. Panicking, the entire family stopped what they were doing and began desperately hunting for the matzoth, to no avail.

After a time, seeing their distress the maid suddenly realized what they were looking for, and what she had done.

“Gathering up my courage” she explained, “I approached the Rebbe and explained what I had done, unknowingly feeding the prized crackers to the children. There was a moment of silence as everyone took in what had just happened. I was sure I was about to lose my job which I desperately needed. And then the Rebbe smiled an enormous smile, and thanked me for taking such good care of their children. And without a trace of anger or even a hint of being annoyed promptly turned to his wife and asked her to get some regular matzos while he went off to Synagogue.”

And Reb Shmelke smiled, understanding immediately why that house had been blessed with such a sweet aroma.

Empathy; Emotion researchers on Wikipedia define empathy as:

“The ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling”.

But I would add that empathy includes actually caring about those feelings, even enough to change one’s own behavior as a result.

Hidden in this week’s challenging and painful story of the sale of Yosef is a powerful lesson on this topic.

One of the most tragic characters in the Bible is Reuven the first-born son of Yaakov who never quite lives up to all he might have been. Indeed, it is Reuven whom the Torah tells us actually tried to save Joseph from being sold though he seems to inexplicably disappear in the middle of the story.

Indeed, the Torah tells us, after Joseph’s brothers (who hate him; Bereisheet 37:4) conspire to kill him (ibid. 37:20) and subsequently throw him in a pit and sell him as a slave (ibid. v. 24-28):

“And Reuven returned to the pit, and behold Yosef was not in the pit, and he (Reuven) tore his clothes (in agony). And he returned to his brothers and said:

HaYeled Einenu’ Va’Ani, Anah Ani Bah?”

“The boy is gone! And I – where will I come?” (Ibid. v. 29-30)

It is interesting that when we are introduced to Yosef at the beginning of this story (37:2) he is described as a seventeen-year-old na’ar; a lad. Yet here (37:30) Reuven calls him a yeled, a boy. Perhaps Reuven is not seeing Yosef as a young man coming of age, but rather as a boy whose mother passed away (see ibid. 35:19) and needs his help. After all, Reuven is the bechor, the first born who should be responsible for his younger brothers.

Indeed, it is Reuven who convinces the brothers to abandon their plan to kill Joseph and suggests instead that they throw him in a pit:

“And Re’uven heard, and saved him (Joseph) from their hands, and said: ‘let us not kill him’.And Re’uven said to them do not spill blood! Throw him in this pit… but lay no hand on him, intending to rescue him from their hand, and return him to their father.” (Ibid. 37:21-22)

So why did he not rescue him? What went wrong? How different Jewish history would have been if Reuven had succeeded in rescuing Joseph from being sold as a slave! Why would he leave in the middle of the story and not realize by the time he returned it might be too late?

There is a fascinating moment of candor between the brothers in next week’s portion, Miketz, which sheds light on this question:

Twenty years after Yosef disappeared, there is a terrible famine in the land, and the brothers are forced to journey down to Egypt for food. One wonders, knowing Joseph was sold as a slave to Egypt, how the brothers feel about venturing down to Egypt. Have they put this episode aside burying it in the past? Do they feel guilty even twenty years later for such a heinous act? Will they look for Yosef and attempt to make amends?

Things quickly go from bad to worse, they are accused by the viceroy (whom they seem not to recognize as Yosef) of being spies, their brother Shimon is taken captive, and they are told they will not be allowed back to buy food without bringing down their brother Binyamin back with them, which they understand might kill their father Yaakov….

And in the midst of all this, bemoaning their misfortune, they say to each other

“…but we are guilty for our brother when we saw his distress when he beseeched us, and we did not listen, therefore has this calamity befallen us.” (ibid. 42:21)

“And Reuven responded to them saying: ‘did I not tell you not to sin against the boy, and you did not listen! And now his blood his being demanded!” (ibid. 42:21):

There is something ‘off’ with this dialogue. The brothers obviously feel guilty for the terrible act they committed all those years ago, but fascinatingly, it does not say they regret selling him! It just says they regret not empathizing with his distress! Don’t they realize they have done a terrible thing in selling their brother?!

There are two ways to approach this obvious question. One might say the brothers felt they were right to sell, or get rid of Yosef, much like Yishmael was sent away in favor of Yitzchak ( ibid 21:9-14) , and Yaakov was blessed in lieu of Esav (ibid 27:29) to rule over him. As such they had no remorse over selling him, they only felt bad about how much pain it caused him.

But there is another way to look at it, as the Rashbam (one of the grandchildren of Rashi) suggests: Reuven never intended to sell Joseph; he simply suggested they throw him into a pit as opposed to killing him (Ibid. 37:21-22). After all, with the brothers so angry, the smartest thing to do was to buy some time so everyone could cool down.

Only when the brothers see an Ishmaelite caravan approaching does Reuven realize (once hearing Yehuda’s suggestion to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites) that time is running out.

So, he makes his excuses and goes back to the pit (it makes sense the brothers would not eat lunch right next to the pit where Joseph was apparently crying and begging …) only to discover the boy is gone! A passing caravan of Midianites (ibid 37:28) had passed by in the meantime and they had taken Joseph ultimately selling him to the Egyptians!

(For a wonderful treatment of the possibility that the brothers never actually sold Yosef though they had conspired to do so, see Rav Menachem Leibtag’s informative article on the topic: Who really sold Yosef? )

Of course, this begs the obvious question: if in fact the brothers had not actually sold Yosef, then what was their great sin? Judaism does not hold a person accountable for what he wants to do, even if ethically a person might have some work to do in terms of character development, if he wants to do something against Hashem (G-d’s) will.

There is no transgression in wanting to eat a cheeseburger, only in actually eating one.

Perhaps then the real transgression here was not that they sold Yosef, but that they were indifferent to his pain, as they finally realize so many years later:

“…but we are guilty for our brother when we saw his distress when he beseeched us, and we did not listen, therefore has this calamity befallen us.” (ibid. 42:21)

Indeed, the brothers will only finally reunite as the family of Israel when Yehuda steps forward (ibid. 44:33) and offers himself as a slave in place of his younger brother Binyamin demonstrating the sensitivity he and the brothers were missing, which was what led to the tragic story of Joseph’s being sold in the first place.

It is worth noting that Yehuda in his finest hour (ibid. v. 30, 31) again refers to Joseph in the original story as having been a na’ar, a lad. Yet Reuven, when castigating the brothers in Egypt, again refers to him as a yeled, a boy. (ibid. 42:21)

Perhaps this was part of the problem; Reuven sees Joseph as a boy and does not feel the need to take his feelings into account. He is not considering what Joseph might be feeling; Reuven seems to be all about Reuven. Indeed, when exclaiming in despair (37: 29-30) ‘the boy is gone!’ his reaction is:

“Va’Ani, Anah Ani Bah?”
“As for me, where will I come?”

Reuven’s great concern seems to be for … Reuven. But when Yehuda steps forward to take responsibility for Binyamin in what might have become ‘Joseph II’ he sees the lad foremost, and not himself.

Reb Shmelke of Nickelsburg was sensitive enough to see the non-Jewish maid standing before him, and not the box of matzoth that was gone. In order for the family of Yaakov to become the nation of Israel we needed to learn that it’s not all about us, and only when we see the pain of others as greater than ourselves will we be ready to be partners in creating a better world.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.

The Yishai Fleisher Show: Chanukah with Malkah, Lone Soldiers Turkey Day, and the Epoch of Dreams

Malkah Fleisher joins Yishai to decorate for Chanukah. Then, Ben Bresky on Thanksgiving at the Lone Soldiers Center. And finally, Rav Mike Feuer on the dark corners of the Messianic line in the Torah portion of Vayeshev.

Rabbi Ari Kahn on Parashat Vayeshev: Unequal

Behind Biden’s Iran Policy

What does the Biden Administration actually want?

One might think it is that Iran will not make nuclear weapons. But it’s more complicated than that. To try to answer the question, I looked at a recent article in America’s own Pravda, the NY Times.

Some of the arguments attributed to US officials that appear in that piece are difficult to criticize, because they are so bad that it’s impossible to take them seriously. For example,

American officials have warned their Israeli counterparts that the repeated attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities may be tactically satisfying, but they are ultimately counterproductive, according to several officials familiar with the behind-the-scenes discussions. Israeli officials have said they have no intention of letting up, waving away warnings that they may only be encouraging a sped-up rebuilding of the program — one of many areas in which the United States and Israel disagree on the benefits of using diplomacy rather than force.

Perhaps if Iranian leaders were indifferent about the importance of their nuclear program, then they might be spurred to give it a higher priority in response to sabotage. But their actions in recent years indicate that they will do whatever they can get away with in order to succeed. It is their top priority. The pedal is already to the metal. Of course they rebuild what is damaged or destroyed, but it’s silly to suggest that the overall time to completion of the project is reduced, rather than increased, by effective sabotage.

The article suggests, again, that Donald Trump’s decision to abrogate the original 2015 JCPOA allowed Iran to leap forward, as if Trump simply canceled the deal’s restrictions on Iran and did nothing else. But the sanctions of the “maximum pressure campaign” had brought Iran’s economy to the brink of collapse. Trump and Pompeo’s diplomacy made possible the Abraham Accords, a regional cooperation pact aimed at weakening and containing Iran. Trump also wanted to employ covert operations and the use of “force short of war” against the nuclear program, Iran’s missile development, and her regional terror infrastructure. The assassination of Qasem Soleimani was an extremely heavy blow.

Unfortunately, there was little cooperation from the CIA and the Pentagon, and although plans were made for a “campaign to conduct sabotage, propaganda and other psychological and information operations in Iran,” Trump left office before it could be carried out. The Iranians, assured by all the Democratic contenders for the presidency that Trump’s policy would be reversed if he lost, knew that all they had to do was hang on until January 2021.

A combination of economic sanctions, diplomatic initiatives, subversion and support for domestic opponents of the regime, along with the use of force short of war, could have brought the regime to a breaking point. It would then have had to choose between real concessions on its nuclear program and collapse. But the Biden Administration rejected this path, and chose instead to return to the 2015 deal, and somehow seek a better one later.

That agreement was flawed in many ways, which was why Trump decided to dump it. The deal’s provisions for inspections were weak and allowed the Iranians to cheat (which they did); it weakened existing UN sanctions on missile development and did not replace them, it provided a massive influx of cash that the Iranians could and did use to finance terror against Israel and in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen; and finally, it actually legitimized Iran as a nuclear weapons state after 2030.

However, even this poor deal is now unavailable. The Times article admits that “President Biden’s vision of re-entering the agreement in his first year, then building something ‘longer and stronger,’ appears all but gone.” This is not surprising, since the administration began weakening sanctions on Iran a month after taking office, and chose one of its most pro-Iranian (and anti-Israel) appointees, Robert Malley, to be head of the Iran team. The signals have been read clearly in Tehran, whose chief negotiator at the Vienna talks refers to them not as nuclear negotiations, but rather “negotiations to remove unlawful and inhuman sanctions.”

So what, precisely, does the US expect to get out of its diplomatic efforts? Maybe this, from the same Times story, will provide a clue:

… inside the White House, there has been a scramble in recent days to explore whether some kind of interim deal might be possible to freeze Iran’s production of more enriched uranium and its conversion of that fuel to metallic form — a necessary step in fabricating a warhead. In return, the United States might ease a limited number of sanctions. That would not solve the problem. But it might buy time for negotiations, while holding off Israeli threats to bomb Iranian facilities.

As in the original JCPOA, Iran will only agree to limitations that will not materially affect their progress. But they will accept any easing of sanctions that they can get. The problem with the diplomatic process is that the Iranians do not believe that the US is prepared to go back to “maximum pressure,” and certainly not to use force. Time is entirely on their side, and they can continue to temporize for as long as it takes to finish their project, while collecting whatever benefits Biden’s impulse to appease will bring them.

Meanwhile, Biden’s people feel it’s necessary to “hold off” the Israelis, who would like to cut off the head of the snake that is not only developing nuclear weapons, but behind most of the anti-Israel terrorism in the region. Yesterday, Israel’s PM Naftali Bennett noted that:

Along with the advancements in its nuclear program, Iran also consistently surrounded Israel, arming militias and placing rockets on every side … Iran can be seen from every window in Israel.

[Iran] irritates us from abroad, uses our energy, chases us; causes us harm without even leaving the house …

Israel’s biggest strategic mistake was “attacking the messenger” [Hezbollah, Hamas] instead of Iran. Chasing after the terrorist of the day who is sent by the Quds Force is no longer logical. We have to get to the one who is sending them

If the JCPOA was inadequate to prevent Iran from getting the Bomb, then a new deal that is even weaker will do even less. But the objective – as it was for Barack Obama in 2015 – seems to be to get a deal, regardless of its effectiveness, because in Obama and Biden’s view, nothing is more important than preventing Israel from stopping Iran. Is the tail wagging the dog much?

Consider: if the objective were actually to stop Iran, and if stopping Iran required economic pressure along with a credible military threat, then wouldn’t the best way to do it be to cooperate with Israel, instead of holding her back?

No, the objective is not to stop Iran. It is to prevent Israel from stopping Iran, and to avert the consequences that would follow.

Think about the likely results of an Israeli victory over Iran: the rise of a regional power bloc – even a world power – led by Israel and Saudi Arabia, including the Gulf states and maybe even the potentially greatest power in the Arab world, Egypt; the end of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the irredentist Palestinian movement; and the final eviction of western colonialism from the Middle East.

There are multiple reasons that various constituencies in the West would prefer a new Shiite caliphate to a regional Israeli-Arab bloc, ranging from simple antisemitism and a desire to see the “mistake” of a Jewish state “corrected,” to naïve leftist third-worldism, to a belief that Iran would be easier to control than Israel.

But the can cannot be kicked down the road any longer. The inexorable progress of Iran toward nuclear weapons will surely force a decision in a matter of months – or even weeks.

Sweets, Cars and Honor

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Far be it from me to offer business advice to anyone so I have been an agnostic on whether the Kof-K should decline to renew its supervision contract with the Israel-hating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company. I know and respect the leaders of the Kof-K, even as I never developed a taste or an interest in Ben & Jerry’s until I came to Israel. (In the US, I was partial to Haagen-Dazs or Carvel, the latter also a Kof-K supervised company.) B&J’s politics were always distasteful and the only times I recall eating their product is when I found myself in some remote corner of America and bought a small cup at a convenience store.

There are compelling arguments on both sides, and some unconvincing ones as well. On one hand, it would be odd for Jews to supervise the kashrut of a company that other Jews are told to boycott, a boycott that is successful to the extent that it helps us maintain our self-respect even if it has a negligible impact on the B&J bottom line. The boycott also strengthens the hands of Attorneys General across America whose state pension funds are divesting their interests in parent company Unilever.

On the other hand, the kashrut of the product remains what it was before. An ongoing debate in the kashrut industry (even in Israel) is to what extent non-kashrut related activities of a company should play a role in supervision. The “just the food, baby” element would ignore violations of Shabbat, tzniut and the like, which can so constrict the Torah’s reach as to render kashrut less a reminder of our sanctity and uniqueness as a people and more a technical act of eating or shunning specific items – and nothing more.

Whether or not politics should play a role is an open question but distinctions between different causes or policies – and the level of offense they cause – can easily be made. One would think that a kosher caterer who is asked to service a convention of white supremacists (farfetched, but bear with me) who on a lark want kosher food provided could readily decline on the grounds of the offensive nature of the gathering. So, too, the kosher caterer asked to service an interfaith wedding, although I can hear the claim of people that “it is bad enough they are intermarrying, must they also eat non-kosher food?”

The possibility must be entertained that some nefarious, Jew-hating companies will use a cancellation of the B&J hashgacha to cancel their own hashgachot to protest Israel’s existence or something. As if to say, “we hate Israel so much that we don’t care if no Jew buys our product.” It sounds strange, but no stranger than the irrational hatred of Jews since the time of Avraham. Consider what would happen to kashrut if a major corporation – even Unilever – arbitrarily halted the kosher supervision of all their products. Such a scenario is plausible but unlikely, as most corporations just want to make money, not statements.

Certainly, if the Kof-K dropped the supervision, some other of the 1400 kashrut agencies in the world would take it before a spoonful of ice cream even melted. And if B&J, disgusted with Jews, dropped the hashgacha or any hashgacha? That would be fine with me, although too many Jews would eat it anyway.

So I was torn – until I came across a fascinating vignette in a book entitled “Sleeper Agent: The Atomic Spy in America Who Got Away” (by Ann Hagedorn), about George Koval, the American-born son of two Russian Jewish Communists who brought their family back to Russia during the Depression. In the Soviet Union, Koval was recruited by the GRU (forerunner of the KGB), returned to America in 1940. He enrolled in City College, drew high marks for his brilliance as an engineer, and when drafted by the US Army, was sent to work on the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Dayton, Ohio. Koval was probably more important to the development of the Soviet bomb than were the Rosenberg’s. But Koval successfully escaped back to Russia in 1948 when he felt the noose tightening around him.

His story is not directly related to the vignette that the author records. George Koval grew up in Iowa in the 1920’s and experienced the systemic Jew hatred that then pervaded America. Those pockets of hatred were fueled by people such as Henry Ford, the legendary automaker and notorious Jew hater who was also the publisher of the “Dearborn Independent,” a periodical so rabidly anti-Jewish that it ran a ninety-one part series – that’s almost two years for a weekly – on the subject of the “Jewish Menace.” (I’m still puzzled where they got the material for a ninety-one part series…)

At a certain point, and in order to increase circulation, Ford directed all his dealerships to distribute the Dearborn Independent in their showrooms. Anyone who didn’t would lose their dealership as, Ford asserted, the Jew-hating rag was as much a Ford product as was the Model T. Most dealers succumbed to the pressure, and circulation soared. But not everywhere,

The Barish brothers – three Jews – of Sioux City, Iowa (where Koval was born and raised) published an article in the local paper in 1921saying that if Ford requires them to distribute the paper, they would take their money and invest in a different business. They wrote: “We are Jewish and we are successful. And money is less important than loyalty, dignity and truth. Stop the lies and we’ll return. But until you do, we will find another way to make an honest living.” They then closed their dealership.

And perhaps therein lies the key. Sometimes our visceral reaction to an event or a challenge is more reasonable and correct than if we stop to analyze and debate and explore and investigate and hear all sides. We can fall victim to the “paralysis by analysis” syndrome. We think too much and in so doing allow whatever biases or predispositions we have to play a greater role than they should. Thinking too much actually impairs our ability to make a rational and moral decision. It is a point noted by Rav Chaim Shmulevitz in his explanation of why Chushim ben Dan killed Esav on the day of Yaakov’s delayed funeral. Chushim, who was deaf, did not comprehend why Yaakov’s body was lying unburied and when he learned that Esav was responsible, he acted instinctively. The fine points of negotiations, the two sides with all their claims, were irrelevant to him. All he saw was his grandfather being disgraced, and he reacted.

Sometimes, certainly not always or even often, the answer is not in our head but in our gut. It just feels right or wrong. Recall the classic self-hating Jewish moment when one of the B&J clowns in an Axios interview could not explain why only Israel is singled out for a boycott (Judea and Samaria) but not any other country in the world which occupies territory claimed by others or otherwise brutally mistreats its citizens. That is Jewish self-hatred, plain and simple, and indulging Jew haters, whether they are Jews or Gentiles, is not a good look, and not a sign of Jewish pride and self-respect.

Ironically, Henry Ford himself had once reached out to the Barish brothers when he ran low on some raw materials. They helped him acquire it and Ford was grateful – but that did not stop him from publishing how the Jews were the cause of “nearly all the troubles in American society.”

The Barish brothers ceased selling Ford products and instead opened up several Plymouth dealerships, eventually in Los Angeles as well, and were so successful that in the 1930’s, Max Barish bought land in Afula to help settle the land of Israel and where a granddaughter now lives. That is a story of Jewish pride, with an eye on the past, present and future.

The situations may not be completely analogous and there is certainly no one correct answer. And we can argue both sides intelligently and there are any number of valid considerations. But in our gut, it is not difficult to ascertain the way forward. As the Barish brothers wrote to Henry Ford in the Sioux City newspaper, quoting the Midrash, “none of your honey and none of your sting.” Or your fancy flavors.

That seems about right. But I leave the ultimate decision in the hands of the decision-makers.

Halacha, Science and Technology

Parashat Va’yaishev 5782
by HaRav Nachman Kahana
Halacha, Science & Technology

When necessary, as in cases of halachic uncertainty, the Sanhedrin when sitting in its appointed chamber (Lishkat Hagazit) in the Bet Hamikdash, had the God-given authority to disclose through exegesis (critical interpretation of the Torah’s text) additional levels of halacha. Approximately forty years prior to the destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash, the Sanhedrin voluntarily diminished much of its authority by departing from its Temple chamber to an area outside the Temple Mount.

From that time, poskim in every generation were limited to adjudicating their decisions based on halachic precedents brought down in works such as the Rambam, Rabbeinu Asher and many more. Their decisions were not always unanimous, and this gave rise to the whole literary world of Halacha, continuing to this day.

The rapid development of science and technology often presents challenges to poskim of our generation for lack of precedents; so, the usual outcome of these halachic challenges is to rule in practice with the most severe opinion (chumra).

Who is the mother?
An example of this halachic dead-end is the matter of Gestational Surrogacy, also known as host or full surrogacy, when an embryo created by in-vitro fertilization (IVF) technology is implanted in the uterus of a surrogate carrier who will bring the baby to birth. Gestational surrogacy has several forms, and in each form, the resulting child is genetically unrelated to the surrogate.

An halachic problem appears when the egg donor is a Jewish woman and the surrogate a gentile, or the reverse. Upon birth the immediate question is the essence of the baby – a Jew or a gentile? Is the Jewish neshama transferred through the genetic egg or through the surrogate?

There are four decisions on this question posed by the leading halachic authorities of our time.
  1. The surrogate mother is the halachic mother.
  2. The donor of the egg is the mother.
  3. Both are considered to be the mothers.
  4. It depends on where the egg was on the 40th day of fertilization; if it is in the surrogate’s womb then she is the mother with all its halachic implications, if not (the egg is in the laboratory) then the egg donor is the halachic mother.
As previously stated, that in the absence of precedents, the halacha is that the child must undergo gi’yur (conversion). One ramification of conversion will be that if the baby is a girl, she will be prohibited from marrying a kohen.

In short: the problem is one of nature vs. nurture. The egg is nature, the womb of the surrogate is nurture because when the embryo will be in the surrogate’s womb it provides it with food and oxygen which determine its physical growth and many characteristics. Is this baby Ya’akov or Aisav?

Let’s extrapolate from the physical DNA of the woman’s egg vs. the overwhelming influence of the embryo’s environment, to the reality facing the modern orthodox Jew in the United States.

On the one side he or she is born to a Jewish mother; however, he or she is brought up in an overwhelming non-Jewish environment which provides the individual with cultural nourishment and oxygen of gentile values. An environment whose values do not include fear and love of HaShem. Whether they realize it or not, their orientation is to the values they receive from the goyim who in reality are the spiritual womb of the young Jew!

If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem…
Pride in being HaShem’s chosen people and being connected to the destiny of Am Yisrael, which above all is the return to our biblical homeland, is not a part of the American value system.

Two incidents to which I was a witness demonstrate my thought, both occurred when I visited New York in the 1990s.

I was invited to a wedding in an exclusive Manhattan hotel with all the usual trimmings that accompany a young Jewish couple on their initial steps of establishing a new Jewish home. The ceremony went well, as did the haute cuisine. I was eating in the fabulous dining room, when I suddenly noticed that there were very few men there. I left the dining room to find out where they had all gone. I entered the foyer and these men dressed in tuxedos sat transfixed to a football game and sitting among them was the holy chatan who left the love of life-wife with the other women, while he was absorbed “in the line of scrimmage”.

All the men there were born Jews, but they were culturally orientated with the values of their gentile surrounding, even a chatan who was under the holy chuppah just minutes before.

Incident two: Around that time, I was invited to be the guest of honor at the yearly dinner of the elementary school yeshiva that I had attended. It was a lavish affair held at the NY Hilton at five PM on Sunday. The food and ambience were impeccable. Aside from several friends who had kept up a relationship for many years, no one there knew me. But everyone paid a substantial sum to the yeshiva to see me and to see each other.

After the main dish, I was invited by the master of ceremonies to deliver the main address of the evening. There were hundreds of people present and it was a great opportunity to speak about the values I cherish.

The central theme of my speech was our sovereignty over Yerushalayim and the Temple Mount for the first time in over 2000 years, and its significance to our relationship with the Creator, who chose us as His intimate nation in both worlds.

At the close on my 45-minute address, I did something unusual. I asked the guests to join with me in singing

אם אשכחך ירושלים תשכח ימיני
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

Immediately, one thousand or so people stood up, the house lights dimmed, and the orchestra began playing. This continued for about five minutes, during which time the guests stopped speaking about their new cars, renovated homes, and planned trips to Aruba for Pesach, etc., and everyone appeared to be deeply immersed in Yerushalayim. I said to myself, “Nachman, take a look! You did something immense on your visit here”. The song ended. The lights brightened, but there was a silence, a spell that no one wanted to break.

Then the MC announced, “Ladies and gentlemen I wish to make a very important announcement. “Our yeshiva’s basketball team just defeated Ramaz 47 to 39”. At that moment the magic spell dissolved, and the men clapped each other’s backs, and everyone returned to their mortgages and new cars. I recall thinking, “Nachman, what are you doing here? Go back to Eretz Yisrael where you belong”.

These incidents are merely the tip of a huge and quickly melting Jewish iceberg. Sports, pets, careers, vacations, multiple homes, the kiddish club on Shabbat with the expensive drinks are what seem important.

These are Jewish born men and women, but their gentile surroundings make them think like goyim and have shared values. This is not theory because I experienced it in the 24 years that I lived in the U.S.. And just as one cannot jump into a pool of water and remain dry, one cannot mix with the goyim and remain a pure Jew.


This dvar Torah is dedicated to the holy memory of Eliyahu David Kay, who was murdered on Sunday in the Old City while going to the Kotel, where he was a guide. Eli was born in South Africa. As a teenager he left his birthplace and family to fulfill his dream of living in Eretz Yisrael. He completed his army service in the paratrooper brigade. Eli was born a Jew. He overcame his non-Jewish surroundings and was murdered because of his dedication to the Jewish people. May his memory be for a blessing and a guide to the values that Jews have sanctified in life and in death.

Shabbat Shalom
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5782/2021 Nachman Kahana

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Rav Kook on Chanukah: The Hellenist Challenge

“When the Greeks entered the Temple, they defiled all of the oils. After the Hasmoneans defeated them, they searched and found but one cruse of oil, untouched and sealed with the seal of the High Priest. The cruse had only enough oil for one day, but a miracle occurred and they were able to light from it for eight days. The following year they established these days as a holiday for praise and thanksgiving.” (Shabbat 21b)

We may ask a number of questions on the Talmudic account of Chanukah:

The Jewish people have fought many battles in their long history. Some of these battles were accompanied by miracles, such as the walls of Jericho that fell and the sun that stood still during the battle at Givon. Why was only the Hasmonean victory chosen to be commemorated as a holiday for future generations?

Why celebrate a military conflict in which the Temple was defiled and many Jews were lost to a foreign culture?

Why is there no mitzvah to celebrate Chanukah with a festive meal, unlike other holidays? Why only ‘a holiday of praise and thanksgiving'?

What is the significance of the miracle of the undefiled cruse of oil?

Culture Clash
The military victories of the Greek empire brought about the spread of Greek culture and philosophy, and the superficial charm of Hellenism captured the hearts of many Jews. These new ideas undermined fundamental teachings of the Torah and central mitzvot. The danger was so great that this clash of cultures could have caused permanent damage to the spiritual state of the Jewish people.

The Talmud emphasizes the significance of the small cruse of oil in the rescue of the Jewish people. The sealed jar of pure oil is a metaphor for the kernel of pure faith that resides in the depths of the Jewish soul. It was this inner resource of pure holiness that guarded the Jewish people in their struggle against Hellenism.

The Sages understood that Chanukah needed to be established as a permanent holiday. They realized that the battle against an overwhelming foreign culture was not just the one-time struggle of the Hasmoneans. All generations require the strength and purity of inner faith to protect the Torah from the corrupting influences of foreign beliefs and values.

The Contribution of Hellenism
The Sages also realized that this conflict with Hellenism, despite its disastrous short-term effects, would ultimately bestow great benefits. This is a basic rule of life: those challenges that confront us and threaten our beliefs and way of life will in the end invigorate the sources of truth. Greek wisdom, after it has acknowledged the Divine nature of Torah, will serve to further honor and strengthen the Torah and its ideals. Therefore it is fitting to celebrate these days, despite the trauma of the Hasmonean period.

Significantly, the festival of Chanukah is celebrated without feasting and wine. There were two sides to Hellenism: its intellectual aspects – Greek philosophy, literature, and so on — and its popular culture of physical pleasures and crass entertainment. One might mistakenly think that Hellenism’s positive contribution also includes its hedonistic delight in wine, parties, and naked wrestling matches. Therefore we specifically celebrate Chanukah with spiritual rituals — lights and Hallel, praise and thanksgiving. For the true contribution of Hellenism is its intellectual side, that which posed such a grave challenge to the Torah in the times of the Hasmoneans. It is this aspect of Greek culture that will defend and enhance the Torah in the future.

(Silver from the Land of Israel, pp. 109-111. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. III on Shabbat 21b (2:13) by Rav Chanan Morrison.)

To Raise the Torah’s Stature and to Increase its Light

by HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

Down through the generations, starting with Israel’s appearance on the stage of history at the Egyptian Exodus, all the way to our own day, there have been attempts to destroy Israel and the Torah. Some seek to annihilate the Jews like Haman and the Nazis -- may their name be blotted out. Others attack the Jewish People “to make them forget Your Torah and transgress the laws of Your will” (Al HaNissim). These include the Greeks of the Second Temple, and the Communists of the U.S.S.R. during the Stalinist period. Neither group will succeed with their plot. As the Prophet Yeshayahu said (Yeshayahu 54:17), “No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment, you shall condemn.”

Today, the Jewish People, rising to rebirth in their land, are defending themselves against those attempting to annihilate them. With our own eyes we shall see how all such plots will be foiled. As Dovid HaMelech said, “You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Tehilim 2:9).

It does not suffice to defeat Israel’s enemies on the battlefield. We must also increase the light of Israel -- the light of “love and faith,” the Torah, which is compared to light, as in Mishlei 6:23: “For the mitzvot are a lamp, and the Torah is light.” Against all those plots to “make them forget Your Torah and transgress the laws of Your will” we must increase the quantity and quality of Torah learning amongst the Jewish People, and the return to Jewish roots.

The little Chanukah candles that the Jewish People have been lighting for thousands of years recall the miracles and wonders that G-d did for us in those days at this season. The enemies of Israel have never succeeded in snuffing out those lights, even amidst the darkest exile. From those candles we draw faith and trust in G-d that the day is not far off when we will see with out own eyes how “a new light shall shine over Zion.” May we all speedily merit that light!

Looking forward to salvation,
With blessings for a joyous Chanukah,
Shabbat Shalom.

Yeshivat Machon Meir Parshat Vayeshev - The Confrontation Of Yosef And Brothers (video)

The Shamrak Report: Let the UNRWA Collapse and more..

Let the UNRWA Collapse
by Tovah Lazaroff

UNRWA services 5.7 million (fake) Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The UN Relief and Works Agency that services only Palestinian refugees (for 70 years) is close to collapse due to political attacks and lack of funding.

Member states have not been willing to back up their statements in support of the organization with actual funds.

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, urged countries ahead of the conference not to donate to UNRWA.

UNRWA has long been part of the problem and not part of the solution, Erdan said in a statement from Jerusalem. Instead of functioning as an agency for humanitarian and educational assistance, the agency functions as a political body that promotes the Hamas narrative, allows incitement against and delegitimization of Israel to be written into Palestinian (school) textbooks.

UNRWA has faced a financial crisis this year, despite the Biden administration s decision to restore funding to the agency, which had been halted by former president Donald Trump.

The Biden administration has pledged $318 million. The second top donor is the European Union, which has pledged $117 million, followed by Germany at $109 million, Sweden at $51 million and Japan at $49 million.

Germany, for example, reduced its donation by $100 million, the EU by $30 million and the United Kingdom by $25 million.

Saudi Arabia, which last year gave $28 million, didn t even make it onto the list of countries that donated $8 million or more. (Each year, on average, there are 50 million genuine refugees word-wide, and they are all looked after by the UNHCR. The status of so-called Palestinians has been artificially maintained as refugees to discredit the existence of the Jewish state. The UNRWA is a UN organization that serves one group only fake Palestinian refugees)

How many more Jews must be murdered?
Israel needs Leadership with Jewish National Vision.

One Jew, Eliyahu David Kay, was killed and four injured by Palestinian terrorist, who opened fire in Jerusalem s Old City near the Chain Gate entrance to the Temple Mount.

Food for Thought
by Steven Shamrak
Thank G-d that Arabs rejected the UN Partition plan in 1947 now they have no legal claim, under international law, to the land of Israel Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Arabs were so sure that Jews, who had not recovered yet from the trauma of the Holocaust, would not be able to defend a little scrap of land that the UN (the Ugly Nazi ) so 'generously' gave to them, so they arrogantly attacked the newly created Jewish state, which had no army or real weapons! And the rest of the world was eagerly waiting in anticipation that seven advancing Arab/Muslim armies would at last finish what European Nazis started. It is time to reunite Eretz-Israel.

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No Age Limitation for Terrorists
Two Border Police officers in their early 20s were wounded in a stabbing attack by sixteen year old terrorists in the Old City of Jerusalem. The terrorist, Omar Ibrahim Abu Assav from the Arab neighbourhood of Issawiya in eastern Jerusalem, was neutralised.

Israel Convicted Spanish Citizen for Terror-Funding
A Spanish citizen, Juana Ruiz Rishwami, who is married to a Palestinian and admitted to raising funds for a Palestinian NGO that were diverted to a terrorist organization agreed to a plea bargain in an Israeli military court, which calls for a 13-month prison sentence (minus time served, 7 months) and a NIS 50,000 ($16,250) fine.

PA Evacuates Illegal Arab Village in Samaria
After Jewish residents protested and the Civil Administration announcement of the evacuation of an illegal Arab encampment, which had been set up on Jewish-owned land in Samaria, the Palestinian Authority carried out the evacuation itself. In recent months, 70 illegal Arab structures have been built on state lands in the western bloc area. About 20 of them have been built in the last two months. (But the attention of international anti-Semites and Israeli justice system, unfortunately, is on Jewish patriots who are living on our ancestral land.)

Schalit Deal was a Mistake
Ten years after the deal to free IDF soldier Gilad Schalit from Hamas captivity, former Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel claims that the deal was a mistake. There were 1,027 Arab prisoners were released from Israeli prisons in return for Schalit, including terrorists responsible for the murder of 569 Israelis. "If I was making the decisions, I would have left him in Hamas captivity and not approved the deal. Leadership is not just a measure of compassion, but the common good," Yehezkel said. (There was another option - the military one. But for that Israel needs solid, self-respecting, Jewish, Zionist leadership)

Israel Turned Down Road Map for Prisoner Swap
A senior Hamas official claimed on Monday that Israel has turned down an offer to receive information about the condition of four Israelis held in the Gaza Strip in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners. (Release of terrorists for "information" is too high price to pay. Like all other previous road maps this also will not work in Israel's favour.)

Is Jordan Violating Israeli Sovereignty?
The Jordan Engineers Association has recently concluded a campaign in which it collected donations totalling 2.9 million shekels (nearly $1 million) for the renovation of Arab homes in Jerusalem. Jordan s Hayat FM radio, which sponsored the campaign and promoted it in the Arab media, said that the residents of the Old City are the first line of defense for the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and supporting the Old City families brings us one step closer to prayer inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque." The capital of Israel must not become the center of foreign involvement for hostile states whose purpose is to infringe on our sovereignty.

Assimilation Bigger Threat than Terrorism
Assimilation isn't just a problem in the Diaspora. There are currently nearly 90,000 intermarried couples registered in Israel. A majority (close to 53,000) of the Jews married to non-Jews are men, while 32,000 are women married to non-Jewish men. This is the first time in years that the Israeli government has disclosed the official number of intermarried couples listed in the marriage registrar.

Twitter Hired anti-Israel News Curator
A new Twitter hire responsible for curating news coverage of the Middle East and North Africa has apologized for tweets harshly critical of Israel made in 2010 and 2011 after they generated controversy on social media. Fadah Jassem, a former journalist who lives in London, also apologized for not including Israel s flag alongside those of 17 other Middle Eastern and North African countries, including the Palestinian Authority flag, in a tweet announcing her appointment. (Empty apologies of anti-Semites - we hear them all the time)

Self-Hating Jews of Meretz
MK Mossi Raz (Meretz), a member of Israel s coalition government, said that his party will fight tooth and nail against plans to enlarge the number of Israelis living over the Green Line in Judea and Samaria. MKs Raz and Gaby Lasky (Meretz) sent a letter to the Minister of Construction and Housing, Ze'ev Elkin, demanding that the construction plans in the Jordan Valley be halted and not be brought for approval before the government. (They support enemies who want to destroy the Jewish state. No other nation has traitors like that)

Israel Taken for a Ride by Turkey
An Israeli couple was arrested detained in Istanbul after taking a picture of the President's residence (is it a state secret?), and released a few days later . They were merely unfortunate pawns in the Turkish leader's twisted game of political survival, as the country further slides into economic turmoil and the people are growing tired of the decrepit Sultan. The pair could have easily been Dutch or American, but Israelis are far "sexier." The term "connections to the Mossad" always makes great headlines. (The Islamic President of Turkey has been playing the 'friend or foe' game with Israel for quite a while. It began with organising the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in 2010. Why is Turkey still member of NATO?)

Blunder of Rescuing Fake Ethiopian Jews
The previous Netanyahu government spent NIS 14M to rescue 77 Ethiopian 'Jews' - who weren't Jews at all. They fled from a war-torn area in Ethiopia in fear of their lives and were staying in refugee camps. They had not been in any actual danger. Some of them admitted to wanting to leave in order to find work or better living conditions. It was claimed that these were people with a connection to Judaism, but ultimately, it emerged that most of them are actually Christians. (Why aren't they sent back as illegal migrants?)

Quote of the Week:
Israel stands at a crossroads. We have no more than three, four, five months at most for destroying Iran's nuclear facilities. After that, Israel will be confronted for the first time by a fanatical country full of hate and armed with a weapon of mass destruction. - Tzahi Hanegbi, former senior minister.

UNRWA vs. UNHCR The Shocking Numbers

(first published in 2018)

Both UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) and the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) are mandated by the UN to aid refugees, but there are some significant differences between how these two organizations spend their money, and thus, how successful and efficient they are at using that money to end the refugee crisis...

If one defines success as resolving the refugee s problems, then UNRWA can only be defined as a complete failure.

UNRWA does not try or want to resettle the refugees, nor help the refugees move forward with their lives in a new host country, where some are already 3rd and 4th generation UN welfare recipients.

UNRWA maintains the refugee definition, even for those living in refugee camps within the Palestinian Authority.

UNRWA has 4X more staff members than UNHCR, while UNRWA deals with 6X fewer refugees.

UNRWA spends twice as much per refugee each year than UNHCR does and has never resettled a single refugee.

UNHCR: Refugees can be resettled in any third country, with the goal to help them get on with their lives. Children of refugees are not considered refugees

UNRWA: 4.681 Million refugees or 20,000 according to a classified US State Department report.

UNHCR: 15.4 million refugees. Plus 800,000 awaiting refugee status and 12 million stateless people w/o refugee status for a total of 28.2 million refugees.

UNRWA: $1 Billion USD; Number of Countries: 5 Staff: 29,000

UNHCR: $3.32 Billion USD; Number of Countries: 123 Staff: 7,200