Monday, May 23, 2022

Independence and Freedom

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh


We are now in the time period between Pesach and Shavuot, which are connected through the Mitzvah of Sfirat HaOmer. In recent years, two other festive days have been added to this period of the Jewish calendar, Yom Haatzmaut [Israel's Independence Day] and Yom Yerushalayim. One who is "independent" is generally defined as one who has self-rule and is not under the control of others. However, this alone is insufficient for one to be considered truly free. Rav Kook, zt"l, points out that there can be a capable slave, who despite his slavery is self-motivated and carries himself with an air of freedom. Conversely, there can be a person who is unfettered by others, yet he is not truly free, either because his actions are decided based on what others consider good and proper, or because he is subjugated to his own desires and impulses which he is unable to overcome. True freedom is the ability of a person or nation to live his life based on his true self, and not merely upon societal norms.

This is the message behind Chazal's comment: "'Charut al haluchot - engraved on the tablets' (Shemot 32:16). Do not read "charut" [engraved] but rather "cheirut" [freedom], for only one who is involved with Torah is truly free (Avot 6:2). What is the connection between engraving and freedom? Unlike writing, in which ink is applied externally onto paper, engraving is in the very item itself. Therefore, only through studying Torah and engraving its lessons in our hearts do we become free men, since then our physical existence is in synch with our internal soul.

On Pesach we were redeemed from slavery and achieved national independence. This process, however, was not concluded until Shavuot when we received the Torah, which made us free men. In this way, Pesach and Shavuot form a single unit.

In our days, there are those who see Yom Ha'atzmaut as the crowning glory of the renewed existence of Bnei Yisrael. However, we cannot consider ourselves a free nation based on political independence alone. So long as we are eyeing foreign cultures and abandoning our essence, the redemption is incomplete, and we are not yet free men. The liberation of Jerusalem, nineteen years later, added the spiritual dimension which provides the internal strength of our nation.

The blessings in our parasha open with the condition, "Im bechukoti telechu" - "If you follow My laws" (Vayikra 26:3). Rashi (based on the Sifra) explains this to mean that you toil in My Torah. This requirement goes far beyond the mere performance of the mitzvot. The fulfillment of the blessings is dependent upon our living a comprehensive lifestyle based on the Torah which must be engraved in our hearts.

In parshat Acharei Mot we are commanded, "Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, and do not follow the ways of Canaan to where I will be bringing you; nor shall you follow any of their practices" (Vayikra 18:3). Rashi comments that the end of the verse does not merely prohibit sinning like them, as that is already stated in the first half of the verse. Rather, it refers to adopting their customs, such as theaters and stadiums.

"Practices" is not used in the sense of "laws", but rather in the sense of lifestyle, aspiration and environment. Theaters are the key ingredient of the recreational culture commonplace with the nations. The practices that we follow, however, and that are engraved in us, are expressed by the motto - that you toil in the Torah. "Do not follow their practices" is contrasted by "If you follow my laws."

The blessings conclude with the phrase "Vaolech etchem komemiut" - "I led you upright" (26:13). The Sifra comments on the word "komemiut" - "Like the double height of Adam." Adam's height was two hundred cubits. The Maharal explains that one hundred indicates perfection. Two hundred indicates double perfection, in both the physical and spiritual sense. We are thus promised that if the Torah is engraved in us, and our physical way of life matches our spiritual one, then our perfection will be in both realms. This is, perhaps, the meaning of our daily prayer, "lead us `komemiut' to our land." Rav Kook, zt"l, remarked in his siddur, "like the double height of Adam," since the body and soul together are a full height, physical and spiritual.

A “Dear Europe” Letter

by Victor Rosenthal

Negotiations are underway between Israel and the European Union for Israel to sell natural gas to Europe, which wishes to end its dependence on Russia for fuel. Italy and Germany presently get 40% and 35% of their gas from Russia, respectively. Russia recently informed Finland – which just announced that it would like to join NATO – that it would stop selling it gas. The dispute is officially about a Russian demand to be paid in rubles, and it represents only a small amount of Finland’s energy supply, but the political overtones are unmistakable. The delivery of Israeli gas, via Egypt, could begin as early as this coming winter.

Naturally, I welcome the idea that Israel will be able to help the Europeans in their time of need. It can get very cold in Europe in the winter. So I have prepared a draft of a letter that our government could send to the EU in order to get the ball rolling. It’s warmish now at the end of May, but Berlin, for example, is located at 54.5 north latitude, and temperatures there in January average 1 degree C. So let’s get started!

Dear European Friends and Allies,
  1. We in Israel are excited to hear of your interest in buying some of our natural gas. We’ll be happy to sell it to you. But there are a few small bumps in the road to iron out first. So here they are:We demand that you reverse your blatantly racist decision to demand that Israeli products from Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights, and eastern Jerusalem be labeled according to the ethnicity of the producer, and not as products of Israel (see 16 here).
  2. Your subsidizing of illegal construction by Palestinian Arabs in Area C of Judea and Samaria, a zone which by international treaty is supposed to be under full Israeli civil and security control, is an egregious violation of Israeli sovereignty and international law, and must stop immediately.
  3. Your continued financial support, which amounts to millions of Euros annually, to subversive Israeli NGOs, terror-linked organizations in the Palestinian Authority, Gaza, and other locations, and NGOs promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories as well as BDS and lawfare against Israel, constitutes non-military warfare against the Jewish state. We demand a halt to this activity.
  4. Your consistent support for our enemies in the UN in their efforts to deny and obscure the Jewish history of sites such as the Temple Mount, despite the overwhelming archaeological and historical evidence, demonstrates bad faith or cowardice, and is not consistent with a desire for good relations.
  5. Your desire to reach an accommodation with Iran that will allow the regime to have nuclear weapons is not only threatening to Israel, it is dangerous to yourselves, who will soon be in range of Iranian missiles.
We understand that you have strong feelings of guilt for your colonialist past, and for the collaboration of many Europeans with the Nazi effort to liquidate the Jewish people. But it’s absurd, even pathological, to try to ameliorate these feelings by helping the heirs of the Nazis, whose leaders included Hitler’s associate Amin al-Husseini and the Father of Terrorism Yasser Arafat, to continue the Nazis’ genocidal program. We suggest that you apply some of the millions – perhaps billions – that you will save by ending your financial and diplomatic war against Israel to actual humanitarian causes.

We also understand that a growing segment of your population is Muslim, and that the great majority of them are anti-Zionist, even antisemitic. Pandering to these attitudes can be useful for short-term political gain, but you should understand that they are also anti-Western. Appeasing them is much like feeding a crocodile in the hope that he will eat you last (apologies to Winston Churchill).

We are looking forward to working to provide you with a warm winter, just as soon as you reverse your irrational anti-Israel policies!*

Israel

___________________________
* I’m not holding my breath.

Relating to Israel Under the Erev Rav

We need to be here -- and in the game.
by Rabbi Chananya Weissman



Within the world of Torah-observant Jews there are two primary schools of thought when it comes to the modern state of Israel – a creation that is decidedly not Torah-observant. These two positions could hardly be more divergent from one another. This has resulted in yet another tragic rift within the Orthodox world, which we know is the greatest cause of our suffering from ancient times to the present day.

With God's help we will solve that problem now.

One school of thought is held by those who refer to themselves as “Dati Leumi”, or National Religious (I say “refer to themselves” because I have long opposed the use of labels such as these to divide society, poorly categorize people, and encourage herd mentality). This camp views the secular state of Israel as the “first flowering of the redemption”, and supports the state with a religious fervor. State institutions and ceremonies are sacrosanct, with the IDF being the holy of holies.

Of course, the fact that this adoring relationship with the secular state is one-sided poses great difficulties for the Dati Leumi. The Erev Rav ruling class has long demonized Jewish pioneers (“settlers”) as religious extremists, terrorists, war-mongers, and a danger to the rest of society (almost as bad as people who didn't take the poison shots). The Zionist flowers of redemption have demolished their homes, destroyed their communities, and turned the full force of the state against those who stood in their way. The holy IDF played an indispensable role in these operations, destroying more Jewish communities than all the Arab armies in all the wars since 1948 combined.

In spite of this, the proudest moment in the life of a Dati Leumi is when their son or daughter joins the same IDF. Nothing is more sacred than offering the ultimate “sacrifice” to the state of Israel. If the child was traumatized by having his home demolished (sometimes multiple times), all the better; the sacrifice is compounded.

The Dati Leumi are further vexed by Israel's refusal to allow them to pray at Judaism's holiest site, Har Habayis (the Temple Mount). Israel only permits Jews to ascend Har Habayis in extremely limited numbers at extremely limited hours on extremely limited days. Even then, they are permitted to go up only in small guided groups, which are surrounded by police and Arab Waqf interlopers, who tightly monitor the Jews for any sign of “provocative” behavior. This includes carrying religious articles such as a prayer book, praying out loud, or quietly bowing to God where heaven meets earth.

Any of these activities can be used as a pretext by Arabs to riot and the world to howl, so the appropriate response of the so-called Jewish state is obviously to keep the Jews in their place. Jews who dare act like Jews – or even like normal human beings in a place of worship – are immediately arrested and face the wrath of the state. Teenage girls who wish to pray for sick people had best memorize the names; reading off a paper can be dangerous to their health.

In recent years there has been some improvement. Jewish visitors used to not be allowed to move their lips, lest a prayer escape. Now whispering is allowed, and on a good day you can sneak in a few second-class-citizen prayers in an undertone while the guards look the other way. Like a Marrano or a Refusenik, but in a “Jewish state”.

Despite all the above and so much more, the Dati Leumi remain the most ardent supporters of the state and its institutions. After all, they have consecrated this as a religious duty, and religious duties don't have to make sense.

This is why the Dati Leumi observed the covid rules like no other segment of society. They masked themselves and their children as if oxygen were pork, they quarantined again and again, they shut down their synagogues and schools – prayer and Torah study can't hold a candle to serving the state – and they enforced the tyrannical “green passport” with the viciousness of kapos. If the Israeli government declares that touching a Torah can spread disease, then you sooner bury the Torah than touch it, period. And bury the Torah they did.

No matter how much the Dati Leumi are abused and persecuted, they will always continue to serve the state, for that has become their true religion when push comes to shove. What began as noble love for Israel and a desire to be part of the redemption process has morphed into an illogical, self-immolating complex. They complain about their unfair treatment, but continue to support those who mistreat them, for that is their duty.

The Dati Leumi suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. They are unable to recalibrate their understanding of the return to Israel, nor decouple their love of Israel from sheepishly supporting their enemies from within. They look the other way when Israel runs gay paradesand promotes perversity, and feel pride when an Israeli wins an Olympic medal, or Eurovision, or a beauty contest, as if this is why God brought us back to the land. Ultimately the Dati Leumi cannot take Israel to the next level; they are just happy to be here.

This is why the Dati Leumi have always been second-class citizens, their rabbis second-rate, and they are scorned by both secular Jews and Charedim. (A secular person who is seeking spirituality or greater Torah observance will not go to a Dati Leumi rabbi.) This is why their children abandon an observant lifestyle in large numbers.

The Dati Leumi camp has run out of steam and has little left to offer.

*

The so-called “Charedi” camp has a polar opposite view of the secular state of Israel, which dates back to the very beginning of the Zionist movement. They understood that the Zionist leaders were hostile to Torah-observant Jews and intended to created a state that was antithetical to the Torah. Many of the great rabbis of the time opposed cooperating with the Zionists, despite the deteriorating situation in Europe.

Countless Jews were discouraged from escaping to Israel when they had the chance, and their blood soaks Europe to this day. Although many “Charedi” Jews subsequently moved to Israel, their relationship with the secular state has continued to be mutually hostile, or indifferent at best. To the Zionists the Charedim are a burden and a threat should their numbers grow, and the Charedim in turn view the Zionists as Hamans with Jewish names. And yet, the promise of government money for Charedi institutions can swing elections and get laws passed.

As the Mafia would say, it's nothing personal, just business.

Aside from this, the Charedim want as little to do with Israeli society as possible. Keeping their children out of the IDF is a life-and-death issue for them. This is largely (but not entirely) because the IDF is a cesspool of spiritual impurity, much of which is deliberately forced upon religious people with the intention of eroding their religious commitment. Even though the IDF offers some accommodations for Charedi soldiers, those who join the IDF are persona non grata in the Charedi world.

Charedim by and large (they cannot all be lumped together, after all) do not see the return of millions of Jews to Israel as a theologically significant event. To them the redemption means one thing and one thing only: Moshiach arrives, brings the rest of the Jews back to Israel, and everyone becomes Charedi.

Charedim certainly recognize the holiness of the land, but, strangely enough, many of them use this as a reason not to live in Israel. After all, they argue, the land is being defiled by all the non-Charedim, and even Charedim cannot handle the awesome responsibility of upholding the holiness of the land. Best to stay away from God's palace, where the penalty for sinning is most severe, and wait for Moshiach to come. Until then, apparently, Israel is only for those who sin the most and those who never sin at all.

While Charedim tend to create stringencies for mitzvos – admirable in principle, but often far more than necessary or even appropriate – suddenly they cannot handle the spiritual challenge of living in Israel, and don't even want to try. Better to remain in exile, far from Israel, in places that reek with spiritual impurity, where the challenges of remaining religious are most severe, rather than risk upsetting God by falling short of perfection in Israel. Best to be lenient on the mitzva to live in Israel and all the mitzvos that cannot be performed anywhere else. That is the position of many Charedim (or, perhaps, the excuse) who do not consider it God's will for Jews to return home now, even before Moshiach arrives.

Needless to say, the state of Israel reviles the Charedim like no one else. The secular media dutifully blames the Charedim for every ill in society; they have too many children, they are parasites, they contribute nothing to society, they do not respect the rules, they do not care about safety, they spread disease, and on and on.

Canards such as these were historically used to incite pogroms and genocide against the Jewish people. Today in other countries they would be condemned as anti-Semitic. In Israel, however, they are acceptable in polite company, including the government, and a valid reason to persecute huge numbers of people who, for the most part, are righteous, upstanding, contribute greatly to society, and are the cause of no one's problems, despite preferring to keep to themselves.

The Dati Leumi, for their part, side with the anti-Semites on this one. No surprise there! Charedim will sacrifice just about everything for their principles. The Dati Leumi sacrifice their principles for the Zionist state and approval from secular society.

In general Charedim would prefer to live their entire lives without encountering anyone who isn't Charedi. They wish for their neighborhoods to be independent enclaves of “authentic Judaism”, where they can study Torah and wait for Moshiach to come.

Since the return to Israel is theologically insignificant to Charedim, the destruction of Gush Katif and other “settlements” doesn't really bother them. They ignore the gay parades because they don't take place in Charedi neighborhoods. They do, however, protest any perceived encroachment on their lifestyle.

The Dati Leumi protest the destruction of settlements, but look the other way at Shabbos desecration and other attacks on the Torah. The Charedim protest the latter, but ignore the former. The Dati Leumi don't protest spiritual atrocities in the IDF, because the IDF is sacrosanct to them. The Charedim don't protest spiritual atrocities in the IDF, because IDF soldiers are irrelevant to them.

What a crazy people we are.

*

The Erev Rav who govern Israel are absolutely thrilled with this dynamic. So long as the Dati Leumi and the Charedim loathe one another, or at least live in completely separate worlds, the Erev Rav are the biggest winners. The religious Jews can squabble among themselves and compete for a slightly larger share of the pie, while ensuring that religious Jewry as a whole never achieves actual power.

The Erev Rav can destroy Gush Katif and other settlements, because the Charedim won't protest, and the Dati Leumi are too weak to stop it. The Erev Rav can destroy Dati Leumi yeshivos, because the Charedim won't consider that an assault on the Torah; Dati Leumi yeshivos aren't real yeshivos to them. The Erev Rav can beat and arrest Jews on Har Habayis, because the Charedim have enshrined the Kotel as Judaism's holiest site and abandoned Har Habayis to the Arabs.

At the same time, the Erev Rav can persecute the Charedim, because the Dati Leumi will whitewash it, and even justify it. The Erev Rav can murder Charedim in Meron, and the Dati Leumi will echo the narrative that the Charedim were at fault, that they are wild animals who trampled one another. The Erev Rav can beat Charedi protestors, and the Dati Leumi will not care; they only care when Dati Leumi protestors are beaten. The Erev Rav can wage war on Charedi yeshivos, and the Dati Leumi will not care; it isn't “their” yeshivos.

What goes around comes around.

*

Both camps have an element of truth, but have become prisoners of their social identities and expectations. Give me a Dati Leumi with the Charedi's unswerving commitment to Torah and his principles. Give me a Charedi with the Dati Leumi's desire to be part of Israeli society today, imperfect as it is. Now we're talking.

It is clear from the Torah that Hashem intended for the Jews to return to Israel in large numbers, and govern the land, before Moshiach comes. The prophecies about Gog Umagog are all predicated on this; they simply don't make sense if the God-fearing Jews are living as subjects in foreign lands. I have written extensively about this, particularly in my book Go Up Like a Wall.

Those who reject the return of Israel to the Jews as theologically insignificant because the Erev Rav are in control are terribly mistaken. God wants us to be here and this is not yet the actual redemption. The Erev Rav are not the first flowering of the redemption, but the final obstacle. However, for this obstacle to be overcome, we need to be here and be in the game.

The Dati Leumi need to recognize that the secular state of Israel, which has been trampling all over them, destroying their homes, forbidding them to pray on Har Habayis, and sending their children off to be killed, while treating their enemies with kid gloves, is not worthy of their support. They can do this without sacrificing one iota of their love for the Land of Israel and the people of Israel, or any of their belief that this return to Israel is the real deal. They need to stop being useful idiots and compliant sheep.

The Charedim need to recognize that this return to Israel is the real deal, and is one of the most theologically significant events in history. They can do this without sacrificing one iota of their commitment to Torah observance or whitewashing the crimes of those who physically rebuilt the land. There are many reasons why Hashem chose them to rebuild the land. If we can accept the Holocaust as Hashem's will, we should be able to accept the rebuilding of Israel as Hashem's will – even if we dislike the agents He chose.

Most of all, the Dati Leumi and the Charedim need to drop the shtick, stop digging in their heels as a reaction to one another, and figure out how to get together. There are many Dati Leumi who have extremely strong commitments to Torah-observance and many Charedim who participate in society. They would be almost indistinguishable if not for artificial social barriers.

This brings us to the final point. There is no reason for there to be Dati Leumi or Charedi camps at all. Everyone who is committed to Torah-observance and loves the Land of Israel is playing for the same team. Their lifestyles and understanding of every issue do not have to be exactly the same. We need to get together on the things that matter most, stop pretending that every issue is worthy of creating a new faction, and leave the details for Moshiach to figure out.

When we do that, he surely will, and the Erev Rav won't stand a chance.

Beyond Yom Ha’atzmaut

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Yom Ha’atzmaut always unleashes an outburst of pride in the State of Israel, properly and justifiably so. It is natural to be moved and inspired by the proliferation of flags across the streets and cities of our country and to bask in the astonishing achievements of a state that was born in struggle, built through tremendous self-sacrifice and commitment, and has produced for its citizens a prosperous, free, and (for the most part) Jewish society.

And then Yom Ha’atzmaut passes and we are confronted with problems that only seem to deteriorate with each year and with a political establishment that is locked into its own fanciful world, oblivious to the chaos it is fostering. If a person wanted to destroy the Jewish state, there are several steps that he could take (with Iran just being a distraction).

First, he would cede large swaths of the country to hostile elements. As Defense Minister Benny Gantz noted in private the other day, large portions of the Negev and the Galil are being lost to the Jewish state. (As Defense Minister, one would think that he would do more than whine about it.) There are many parts of Israel today that are off-limits to Jews, “no-go” zones where Jews would be endangered if they entered. We have become accustomed to the large red road signs that prohibit the entry of Jews to Area A in Judea and Samaria. It is not farfetched to believe that the day might soon come when we see those same road signs in pre-1967 Israel, warning Jews not to enter these areas for fear of their safety. He would also reinforce to the Arabs that the Temple Mount is theirs, not ours, and that they are the real sovereigns in the territory in which they live.

Second, he would want to fill the country with non-Jews. If one-quarter of Israeli citizenry is already non-Jewish, he would try to import tens and hundreds of thousands of others to further dilute the Jewish character of the State. And then he would turn a blind eye to the fact that a large percentage of this population opposes the very notion of a Jewish state and actively seeks to undermine it – and finds representation of this view in the Knesset. There are not many countries in the world that would seat legislators committed to its downfall and who openly collaborate with its enemies. In fact, I cannot think of another country aside from Israel that permits it.

Third, he would embolden the Arabs in Israel to believe that they can violate the law with impunity, obstruct Jews who want to plant trees on state land, attack the security forces wantonly, taunt them recklessly, neither arrest nor prosecute them for their crimes, and permit illegal building wherever and whenever they desire. He would allow Arabs to steal cars from Jewish neighborhoods, and not investigate those crimes or arrest and prosecute the perpetrators. He would encourage chaos – and only enforce the law for and against Jews.

This is happening for two reasons. There is a palpable fear that enforcing the law against Arabs will provoke riots that will then be broadcast globally. It is as if only the Jewish state must accept a certain level of crime from its inhabitants, even if good people thereby suffer. Thus, Arabs can stone Jews, rampage through neighborhoods, harass Jews on buses and even trash the emergency room at Hadassah Hospital – without any consequences. On Reshet Bet, Hadassah’s Director even claimed – incredulously – not to know the identity of the saboteurs. Somehow, I think if the perpetrators were Haredim, he would know and the media machine would be blaring their identities. It is more than infantilizing them. It is allowing a hostile entity free reign to destabilize society and demoralize its good citizens. The second reason is below.

Fourth, our putative destroyer would adopt a policy of preempting terrorist attacks rather than deterring the terrorists. Certainly, even preemption requires great dedication and skill, and we pay a heavy price for that. But ultimately, we recognize that preemption is imperfect, and that some attacks will occur. But they are less likely to occur if the society that dispatched them (and cheers them on) felt the sting of their dastardly deeds as well. If they knew the price that would be paid, and paid immediately – loss of funding, deprivation of rights to the Temple Mount or in Hevron, increased settlement building, deportation of the guilty, etc. – they would be more likely to deter their own hostile agents. Inevitably there is an element of collective punishment in all sanctions but presently, the only people being collectively punished are Israeli Jews. We are the ones who must be constantly mindful of potential rammers when we stand at intersections and potential stabbers when we walk the streets. Alas, we will be told, if we employ methods of deterrence then riots would inevitably take place, and no one wants that televised. And so the enemy wins.

Fifth, he would try to chip away at the Jewish character of the state, bending halacha to solve social problems caused by the leftist establishment and undercutting the spiritual leaders of the nation. To date, these efforts are making it more difficult to determine who is a Jew and what foods are kosher.

Finally, he would want to make the survival of Israel’s government dependent on the approval and acquiescence of the most hostile elements in the society. This way, these parties can assure their voters that they are achieving their nefarious goals through cooperation rather than through confrontation. Thus, they will milk the current government as much as they can for as long as they can – and we will pay the price. What Lenin said - that capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them – is gaining a strange resonance here as well. We are consciously subverting the very foundations of the Jewish state of Israel, while the politicians seem to be blissfully unaware of the long term consequences of their actions and gloat over the short term consequences. It is self-interest above all. And this is the second reason why Arab marauders are allowed to intimidate and assault Jews with impunity: a strong hand will cause the government to collapse.

I recognize that stating that politicians are mendacious is like asserting that the sun rises in the east – but at least the sun only rises once a day. We are descending to new depths. The government of “all the people” doesn’t even represent a majority in the Knesset. It endures, limping along to the detriment of the country, primarily so that one group should remain in power and one group should not be in power. Right-wingers who should know better continue to prop up the government, and they too should never again be allowed near the levers of power. Note that I was not among those who were implacably opposed to this government. Many of the problems with which they are dealing were allowed to fester under previous governments, which also had a greater interest in preventing televised riots than strengthening Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. But the current government’s “survival at all costs” mentality is a clear and present danger.

This is a wonderful country with wonderful people, and the pride we Jews take in it is well deserved. It is a fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. Certainly, there are challenges, as the land of Israel is only acquired through suffering (Berachot 5a). But like in some other democracies, the political class has failed us. It creates problems, and its solutions to other problems create even more problems. Perhaps the government intends to prove that we survive only through miracles and divine providence. Nevertheless, we cannot rely on miracles. We deserve better. And we need to fear less what our enemies might do to us than what we are doing to ourselves.

The Natural Blessing in the in Shmita Year

by HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Har Bracha

In the ideal situation in the Land of Israel, there is no need for miracles, because thanks to the study of Torah and its guidance of practical life – holiness is revealed in a natural way * This is also true in the matter of Shmita: the way to succeed economically in a year where the land is not cultivated, is rooted in the natural-practical guidance of the Torah * This foundation is revealed in all ways of life, and it is what directs us to be educated and advanced in all the sciences and secular wisdoms


The reward and punishment written in the Torah are intended for all of Clal Yisrael in this world, and they come by naturally. For if they had come miraculously, they would have abolished free choice, and human beings would not have been privileged to be partners in the tikkun (correction) of the world. This is also explained in the Torah portion Bechukotai, that the promised reward for Israel when they walk in the ways of God and his Torah, will come in a natural way: the rains will fall in time, the land will give forth its harvest in abundance, and we will have a strong army that will succeed in defeating our enemies with a crushing victory.

Had the goal been a miraculous one, it would have been preferable to remain in the desert and eat the manna that came down from heaven, as was the opinion of the Spies. However, the Torah commanded Israel to enter the land, to engage in the Torah and, according to its guidance, to engage in yishuvo shel olam (the settlement of the world), and out of this, gain great blessing, to the point where we have so much work, due to the great abundance.

Leadership of the Land of Israel without Miracles
In the ideal situation in the Land of Israel, there is no need for miracles, because thanks to the study of the Torah and its guidance of practical life – holiness is revealed in a natural way, and this is how emunah(faith) is revealed in its’ loftiest way. The miracles that Israel received in Egypt and in the wilderness were intended to reveal the foundations of emunah and the Torah, and in their light, guide Israel to the fullest of life in the Land of Israel. However, this is not the proper leadership le’chatchila (ideally). Therefore, upon entering the land the observable miracles were abolished. The manna no longer fell from heaven, shoes and clothes wore out once again, the pillar of fire, the cloud, and the well ceased to accompany Israel, and Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded to count all men from the age of twenty who go out to the army, in order to prepare them for the conquest of the land by natural means.

Those who believe that the main revelation of God is in a miracle, are alienated from the emunat ha’yichud (belief in the Oneness of God), and inadvertently claim that nature is supposedly detached from God, and sin in heresy and avodah zara (idolatry). This is what our Sages said (Ketubot 110b): “Anyone who resides in Eretz Yisrael is considered as one who has a God, and anyone who resides outside of Eretz Yisrael is considered as one who does not have a God. As it is stated: “To give to you the land of Canaan, to be your God’… anyone who resides outside of Eretz Yisrael is considered as though he is engaged in idol worship.” This is because outside the Holy Land kedusha (holiness) is not revealed through nature, but only in what is beyond nature. However, in the Land of Israel, the Holy Land, through the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, holiness is revealed by natural means.

This is what we say every day in the portion “If you are careful to pay heed to my commandments”, (Devarim 11:13-21), that if we engage in Torah and keep the mitzvot according to its guidance, and engage in yishuvo shel olam, the rains will fall in time and the land will give its harvest, and we will be blessed by God in the work of our hands and we will eat and be satiated. However, if we do not hear the voice of God, the blessing will depart from the land, and we will be cast out of the good land.

Four Kings
Similarly, we have learned in the Midrash (Eicha Rabba Petichta 30): “There were four kings, each of whom requested different things. They were Dovid, Asa, Yehoshaphat, and Chizkiyahu. Dovid said: ‘I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them: neither did I turn back until they were consumed.’ God answered him, and he killed his enemies. Asa stood up and said: ‘I lack the strength to kill them; instead, I will pursue them, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies. Yehoshaphat stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them; instead, I will sing, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies. Chizkiyahu stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them or to chase them or to sing; instead, I will sleep in my bed, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, as it is written: “And it came to pass that night that the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of Ashur.”

The Difference Between Dovid and Chizkiyahu
According to those who think that a miracle is better, Chizkiyahu is the greatest of kings, because a great miracle was performed for him, while Dovid was the least of all, because all his wars were fought naturally, by means of his heroism and talent. However, the truth is the exact opposite. Dovid’s faith fills and sanctifies his whole being, and the all of nature surrounding him, sings poetry to the living God, and consequently, he raises a prayer to God to reveal His light in all areas of reality, all his powers are intensified, and he goes into battle and is victorious.

On the other hand, Chizkiyahu's emunah is in what is beyond nature, and therefore, it does not properly illuminate earthly life. For that reason, he did not get married (Berachot 10a). Consequently, he did not sing praise after he was redeemed (Sanhedrin 94a). In his times, the prophets of Israel, Micah and Yishayahu, began to prophesy of the impending destruction, and called for the correction of the sins between a man and his fellow neighbor, and to eradicate the corruption of the ministers (Yishayahu 1). However, instead of dealing with the profound correction of social and practical life, Hezekiah tried to prevent the evil by forcing the people to become stronger in Torah study – especially in areas that do not deal with the guidance of practical life. “He inserted a sword at the entrance of the study hall and said: Anyone who does not engage in Torah study shall be stabbed with this sword. As a result, they searched from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, and did not find an ignoramus. They searched from Gevat to Antipatris and did not find a male child, or a female child, or a man, or a woman who was not expert even in the complex halakhot of ritual purity and impurity” (Sanhedrin 94b). But it was not a Torah study that properly guides the life of society and practical action. He did not fill life with content, and so the words of the Torah remained “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little’” (Isaiah 28:10). Proof is that immediately in the next generation, Menashe succeeded in inciting the people to avodah zara and to injustices between man and his neighbor, and their sentence was signed for destruction and exile.

The Saving of Chizkiyahu on Account of Dovid
The miracle that happened to Hezekiah, as well, happened thanks to Dovid, as it is written (Kings 2:19, 14): “For I will protect this city to save it, for My own sake and for the sake of Dovid My servant.” Our sages said (Berachot 10b): “Even when the Holy One, Blessed be He, sent him peace and told him that he would recover from his illness, it was bitter for him, because he was saved thanks to David, and not because of the Torah study he had increased. The peace he enjoyed was also partial, as the cities of Yehuda were destroyed by Sennacherib, masses of Jews were killed and others taken prisoner, and only Yerushalayim was saved.

At that moment, there was an opportunity for Chizkiyahu to continue in the way of Dovid and bring redemption to Israel – as our Sages said (Sanhedrin 94a): “The Holy One, Blessed be He, sought to designate King Chizkiyahu as the Meshiach and to designate Sennacherib as Gog and Magog” – however, the opportunity was lost because he did not sing praise. And why did he not sing praise? Because his Torah dealt mainly with the honor of heaven, the honor of the Temple, the laws of impurity and purity, and less with the building of the land and the nation, education in justice and fairness, kindness and mercy, the mitzvot by means of which the word of God is revealed in all realities.

Despite this, Chizkiyahu, the righteous king, has a great legacy for generations – for that thanks to adherence to the Torah, the Jewish nation adhered to eternity and survival. And as our Sages said (Sanhedrin 94b): “The yoke of Sennacherib was destroyed due to the oil (shemen) of Chizkiyahu that would burn in the synagogues and study halls.” This is the legacy of the Torah of Chutz le’Artetz, which entails cleaving, devotion and emunah in what is beyond contemporary reality. An emunah that redemption will finally come to Israel by way of the Meshiach, who will continue Dovid HaMelech, and reveal the word of God in all areas of reality.

Why Rely on the Heter Mechira
In light of this, I will address the question: why the proper instruction for farmers is to rely on the heter mechira and expropriate the obligation not to work in the shmita year, and not to rely on the blessing the Torah promised to those who keep shmita, as the Torah says (Vayikra 25:20-21): “In the seventh year, you might ask, ‘What will we eat in the jubilee year? We have not planted nor have we harvested crops.’ I will direct My blessing to you in the sixth year, and the land will produce enough crops for three years”?

Answer: The promise was made in a situation where the shmita year is a mitzvah from the Torah, as many poskim wrote, among them S’ma (HM 67:2); Hagahot Yabetz and Chidushei Chatam Sofer (on Gitin 36); Pe’at Hashulchan (29:3); Yishuot Malko paragraph 53; Mahari Engil, Maran Harav Kook (Igeret 555) and others (and not as in the words of Chidushei HaRim, ibid. Gitin, and Chazon Ish Shiviit 18: 4).
Blessing in the Shmita Year By Way of Nature

Additionally, the Torah did not instruct Israel to rely on a miracle; rather, the blessing for the shmita year has to come as early as the sixth year – “I will direct My blessing to you in the sixth year.” Our Sages explained that Israel would save from their harvest for six years, and thus they would have what to eat in the seventh year (Sifra ibid, Panim Yafot, ibid).

In other words, when all of Israel sits in its land according to the tribes, each tribe in its proper inheritance, the obligation of shmita is from the Torah, and then, the blessing comes in a natural way. For from the study of Torah in the shmita year, the general public learns to save six years in order to refrain from work in the seventh year, and from the study to save, learn to reject gratifications, control the yetzer of lust and laziness, and to be diligent. Consequently, the people merit saving money in order to also invest and develop the land, to the point where there is no end to the blessing that grows from the holiness of the shmita year.

The Foundation of the Faith of Israel
If we delve deeper, we find that the foundation of emunah is dependent on this. Those who believe that Divinity is miraculously revealed in what is outside the world, do not see great value in man’s work for his livelihood, and do not find fault with the fact that a large public needs support money from the state and private donors, because, in any case, everything depends on God, and if God wants, even without working, one can merit great blessing. Therefore, they also tend to believe that those who refrain from working in the shmita year will be miraculously blessed. Consequently, they also do not see value in the study and development of science, because it deals with nature, and not with what is beyond reality. However, Rambam wrote that the study of the wisdoms of nature is the study of ma’aseh Bereisheet, and as the Gaon of Vilna said, whoever lacks the knowledge of a portion of the secular sciences, lacks a hundred portions of knowledge of the Torah.

It is now possible to understand the importance and centrality of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, since this mitzvah forces us to study Torah in the highest, deepest and most accurate way, in order to guide our work in the settlement of the land, according to the mitzvot of Hashem, and to sanctify our lives here in the Holy Land.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Rav Kook's Igrot Hare’aya: Potential Partners in Building a Yeshiva in Yafo

99-101

Date and Place: Chanuka 5668 (1907), Yafo

Recipients: In the previous letter, we saw Rav Kook’s view of the state of education in Eretz Yisrael at the time. In it, he spoke about the New Yishuv being the proper setting for creating a more integrative type of yeshiva, which, along with producing greatness in Torah, would serve as a base for producing fine religious people to tackle the challenges of a vibrant, emerging nationalism. A couple of months later, Rav Kook sent short letters to several Zionistic Rabbinic leaders in Europe on the matter, apparently “scouting the field” to see who could turn into a major ally in this project. We will focus on letter (#99), which Rav Kook wrote to Rav Yitzchak Aizik Halevi, the author of a monumental history of rabbinic scholarship, Dorot Harishonim. The recipient of letter #100 is Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reiness, rabbi of Lida and the founder of the Mizrachi Zionist movement. The recipient of letter #101 is Rav Zvi Hersh Masliansky, a popular, rabbinical inspirational speaker on behalf of the Zionist movement. The yeshiva did open, in 1909, and closed in approximately 1915, due to World War I.

Body: … I wanted to write a somewhat long letter, to explain my request. I had hoped that someone who has such a broad mind and is as righteous as you are might be one of the most prominent people who will stand by my right side to take action on behalf of Hashem and His lot. When I saw it would be difficult to find an opportunity to write at length, I decided to make due with something brief. When I will merit to receive a response from you, then we can revert to our practice of exchanging letters to clarify the matter.

I am calling upon you, my brilliant friend, along with all of the scholars of the Jewish People, who know the maladies of our nation and want to quickly heal it, to help with the following matter. Specifically, I ask that you lend a hand in establishing an advanced yeshiva here in the holy city of Yafo, at the center of the New Yishuv, which is increasingly taking shape and developing. This development is being done by powers that are totally foreign to the true soul of Israel, i.e., the light of Hashem and His Torah. The painful outcomes of such a phenomenon are potentially inestimable if we do not quickly remedy the situation, by helping rebuild the nation in the Holy Land based on the foundation of Torah and responsibility toward Hashem. This must be done within an effort to progress along with practical life in its truly good paths.

Such a yeshiva must be built here, in order to give spiritual life to the New Yishuv as a whole. Such an institution can then give fruit in the Old Yishuv and to the sanctity of Yerushalayim, the Holy City, and all the old, established holy cities. When the two parts of the Yishuv will be connected, it will spread light over the entire Jewish Nation, including throughout the Diaspora. In that way, Hashem’s spirit will elevate His nation and connect many souls to the love of Eretz Yisrael in sanctity and strength.

Such a yeshiva must be founded specifically with riches and honor and with attractive flourishes along with the sanctity of truth reigning supreme. This is appropriate for the “air of Eretz Yisrael,” which makes people wise and resurrects the dead.

My honorable friend, you have begun to save the Jewish People with your wonderful book (on rabbinic history). From the Heavens, they have given you the merit to thereby elevate His Name and establish in its proper place the honor of our rabbis, from whose words we live.

I hope that you will desire to extend your great hand toward my weak hand to strive together toward this work of Hashem. May Hashem, the Rock of Israel, enable us to complete the job properly.

A Lesson from My Time in Jail

BS”D
Behar-Bechukotai 5782
by HaRav Nachman Kahana


Parshat Behar discusses the freeing of slaves in the 50th year of Yoval, and alternatively at any time when money is paid to the owner for the slave’s release. One who has not experienced forced servitude can hardly feel the joy and exhilaration of freedom.

Near the center of Yerushalayim, situated in an area called the Russian Compound, is Police Headquarters. Among its other “interesting” features, the headquarters contains a jail which serves as a holding area for detainees until they are brought to trial.

Whenever I pass the jail, my eyes are instinctively drawn to the window of a certain cell. This cell was my “home” for 30 hours about 40 years ago, when I, and several others, were arrested for demonstrating the unjustified arrest of a citizen of the Old City.

It was an interesting experience. It opened my eyes to a sub-culture that exists in our midst, which one can lose sight of by just blinking.

It was the last day of Pesach. The cell held 12 prisoners, all young Jews. Most were detained for drug related crimes. After settling down and meeting each one, who somehow knew that I was a Rav, I invited them all to sit near me and I began telling them about Pesach. After 15 minutes, I told them to get up and we began to dance in a circle, singing “Mitzva Gedola Le’heyot be’Simcha”. After 10 minutes of this they sat down again, and I continued to teach them. The shiur-dance-shiur continued until it was time to daven Mincha. Several police officers, who were aware of what was happening and heard my call for “mincha”, entered the cell, locked the door behind them and davened with us! After the davening the police left, returning later to daven ma’ariv. After the chag was over my wife brought me tefillin, and the next day the tragic young figures in the cell lined up to don the tefillin.

I mentioned a “window”. From the outside it is no more than a small aperture in the wall. From inside the cell, because of the “window’s” height, it was impossible to view the outside world; nevertheless, it served as a small but very appreciated entrance of limited fresh air.

The cell was lit by a single light bulb which was never turned off. The light was artificial, but one can get used to anything.

There were inmates who spent much of their lives behind bars. They told me that after a while, one gets an intuitive feeling with regard to who is the cell leader, and a social strata develops. It is a small world with all the trappings of the larger outside free world: light, air, food, work, social interaction, friendships, competitions, hopes and disappointments.

When passing the little window from the outside, I indulge in the natural warmth and light of the sun. The clean fresh air fills my lungs and provides energy to do things. I can go wherever I wish without limitation; the world belongs to me. The exhilaration of escaping an unnatural reality, where I am dependent on the wishes of people who are not in the same mind frame as mine. I am a partner with Hashem in creating a better world. I am not forced to artificially withhold my capacities, beliefs and talents for fear of what my neighbor might think.

I recall the immense joy which came over me when Rav Neventzal, Rav of the Jewish Quarter, signed for my release.

It was almost as intense and boundless as the feelings which gripped me when I emerged from the plane 60 years ago to take my first steps in Eretz Yisrael as a free Jew.

For here the light of Torah is not from an artificial source. The air which permits us to survive is unpolluted kedusha.

Here I can live and practice my halacha and customs without looking over my shoulder.

Here I am free of the bars that shackle a Jew’s conduct as a minority in Gentile lands, where the goy decides the mores and life’s styles.

Here I can walk on the main street of Yerushalayim and scream out “Shema Yisrael”, and 50 others will join with me.

I speak the holy language of the Torah with my little great-grandchildren in the knowledge that they will do so even with their great grandchildren.

I am free to be the person I am – a Jew among Jews from 100 different lands, each with a compelling history that ran counter to logic and empirical history.

I, who have returned home after 2000 years of my family’s galut, am living proof that there is a God – and He is a Religious Zionist.

Spiritual War
During these very days, 55 years ago (5728-1967), the Medina was in the midst of a three-week period of preparation for a life-and-death struggle against the Arab-Amalekites surrounding us. The Arab world was sharpening its swords and their diatribes against the Jewish State, eagerly informing the indifferent and apathetic world what awaited every Jewish man, woman, and child here.

It was a time when HaShem was testing the loyalty of His people. “Do you believe that the Galut has ended?” HaShem asked, “and that I have brought you back to Eretz Yisrael until the end of days, or is your skepticism stronger than your beliefs?”

While families were being separated from their fathers, sons and brothers who were called to report for active duty, other families were lining up at the various airline desks at Ben Gurion Airport to make sure that they would leave before the bombs descended.

Years later, I had the opportunity to befriend an intriguing gentleman whose name was Ezer Weizman, who at the time of the Six Day War served as the Assistant Chief of Staff of Tzahal, and later as President of the State.

At our first meeting, we sat for over three hours while he told me his incredible life story. Among many things, he told me about the life-and-death gamble the Medina had made at the onset of the Six Day War.

Tzahal knew that we had to destroy the air forces of the Arab nations from Egypt to Iraq, which was logically and militarily a “mission impossible”. Tzahal had to factor in the distances between the Medina and the enemy air bases, the limited number of attack planes at our disposal, the moment of surprise and our defense system to deal with the enemy’s counterattack.

The reality of our situation left two choices: capitulation or fight. The decision was taken to use every available plane to attack, while leaving no planes to defend the country. It was an authentic biblical situation where HaShem leaves no choice but to do His bidding.

People were streaming out of the country, and there was a bittersweet joke that the last one out should turn off the lights.

HaShem’s angels, in the form of our pilots attacked on the morning of June 5. Our planes reached every enemy air base and destroyed their planes on the ground. Israel set a world record in refueling and rearming the planes, as they returned and very quickly were in the air again.

The outcome of the Six Day War had been decided in the first few hours of that Monday morning. As the day went on, our ground troops swept into Shomron and Yehuda. Every newscast was as if the reporter was reading from the Book of Yehoshua. “Our troops have just liberated Yericho. Our troops are entering Beit Lechem. The Tank Corps has just liberated Shechem. Our troops are advancing rapidly in the Sinai Peninsula towards Sharm el-Sheikh.

Then on Wednesday morning at 10 AM, the most significant event of the last 2000 years occurred. The radio announced that the Old City of Yerushalayim had returned to Am Yisrael, and we were now the masters of the Temple Mount and the Kotel.

Thursday and Friday were left to complete the liberation of the Sinai Peninsula and the entire area west of the Jordan River.

On Shabbat our troops did the impossible. They scaled the Golan Heights and in a few hours of fighting decimated the Syrian army and liberated the entire Golan Heights.

This was not a war between soldiers. It was a war between angels and mortal men.

HaShem rolled out the red carpet for the Jewish nation. He invited every Jew in the world to come home and rejoice in His glory and the glory of His people Yisrael.

The gates of Shechem, Yericho, Beit Lechem and Chevron were open for all of HaShem’s children. “Come, take it. It is all yours. Come in your millions, there is room for all,” cried out the Voice from heaven.

HaShem is ready to start a new beginning with His nation. All is forgiven. The sins of the fathers have been cleansed for the sake of the children.

Peace in the family has been restored. Eretz Yisrael, Yerushalayim, Har HaBayit, Chevron, city of the Patriarchs, Yericho the “lock” (man’ul) of Eretz Yisrael has been opened. Shechem which had been purchased by Ya’akov – it’s all there for the taking.

HaShem for His part was preparing to cleanse the Temple Mount from the Moslem abominations.

The land was prepared to absorb millions of its sons and daughters in the mountain areas of Judea and Binyamin, in Yerushalayim, in the beautiful rolling hills of Shomron, in all the land. The land of Israel was ready to embrace all the Jews in the world. A Medina of 12-13 million Jews living throughout the land, with nary an Arab to be seen, because they would finally understand that the God of Israel has returned His people to their homeland.

The table was set, the aroma of culinary mastery filled the air, the bottles of fabled wine were opened – but the invited guests did not come.

Millions of Jews in the galut turned their backs on their loving Father in Heaven and closed their ears to His supplications to come home.

The vast majority of their religious leaders in the galut continued in the tradition of the miraglim (scouts) of biblical times, who led the nation in sharing their beloved wilderness with its snakes and scorpions.

In the tochacha (admonition) in parashat Be’chukotai, after every wave of punishment on the unrepentant nation, HaShem intensifies the next wave of punishments, until the Jewish nation would wake up.

During our prolonged galut sojourn, the hate and snubbing by the goyim and derogatory name-calling of Jews, did not move them towards Eretz Yisrael, so HaShem sent the pogroms. The pogroms did not move the Jews to come home, so He sent the warnings of the early 1930s. They also did little to move the Jewish people, so then came the unspeakable Shoah which brought a large number of Jews home. But there are still millions who do not recognize the hand of God in our contemporary history.

No one can say if there will or won’t be another physical Shoah, although we are undergoing a very real spiritual Shoah and losing the war against assimilation. But I do see a horrible punishment for the Jews who do not wake up to HaShem’s call to return home, especially for the religious leaders who do nothing to encourage aliya – and quite often even discourage it.

What is that punishment?

As a young boy, I was never physically punished, even when it was justified. My parents were too smart for that.

The method that worked best for me was a surgically sharp rebuke of three words from my father. It happened when I would bring home a less-than-acceptable report card. My father simply would say, “You disappointed me”.

The low points in my life were whenever I disappointed my parents.

HaShem expects the Jewish people to act like the chosen of nations that we are – to be one nation under HaShem and the Torah, living in the Biblical Holy Land.

He will not punish the Jews of the galut and their pulpit rabbis, Roshei Yeshivot, Chassidic Rabbes , and authors of musar and hashkafa books; but when each person’s time comes, HaShem will say, “You invested your energies and Jewish genius in prolonging the despicable and hated galut. I will permit you entrance into Gan Eden; but just remember during the infinite future – you disappointed Me”!


Remember JLMM – Jewish Lives Mean More!

Shabbat Shalom
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5782/2022 Nachman Kahana

Rabbi Ari Kahn on Parashat Bhar - The Senior Partner

The Yishai Fleisher Israel Podcast: The "Know Before Whom You Are Standing" Tattoo

SEASON 2022 EPISODE 20: Malkah is back and joins Rabbi Yishai to talk about an unusual Jewish tattoo, the light of Lag BaOmer, and the baseless hate and darkness that threatens Israel. Ben Bresky on the historic celebrations of Rabbi Simon's passing. And finally, Table Torah: Connecting to Land of Israel for a true connection to God.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Is Anything on this Earth really worth dying for?

by Rav Binny Freedman

Having only recently completed their basic training, they’d been in the army for only eight months, but on the books they were paratroopers, members of the elite 202nd battalion, and this night, finally was their time to be tested.

The youngest of the units sent in to clean out one of the toughest neighborhoods of Beirut, they were supposed to be the back-up unit, there to reinforce the more experienced combat veterans moving in ahead of them.

Sabra and Shatila, as yet two relatively unknown refugee camps in Lebanon, had become infested with units of the PLO, and the mission of the 202nd on this night was to take the battle to the enemy, and root out terrorist enclaves, preventing further infiltrations into Israel against Israeli civilians in the North.

They weren’t supposed to be involved in any heavy fighting, as they were still too new to this deadly game; there were more experienced troops ahead of them who were far more prepared for what would obviously be no easy task. But in Beirut, no one ever plays by the rules.

The tanks sent in to support the infantry units could not maneuver through the narrow alleyways; someone had miscalculated the width of the tank bodies in relation to the streets, and the decision was made to move on without them.

Unbeknownst to the young paratroopers, a unit of the PLO had broken out of the trap over the rooftops and circled around behind the rear echelon, catching them off guard in a classic ambush.

In an instant, night turned into day, and the sounds of gunfire and explosions filled the air. There were not enough commanders to man of all the A.P.C.s (Armored Personnel Carriers), and my brother, not eight months in the army, was in the command turret of one of the middle A.P.C.s when all hell broke loose.

The vehicle in front of him was hit by an R.P.G. (Rocket propelled Grenade), and without the benefit of Tank armor, exploded into the night. The lieutenant in charge of the unit, Nitzan, was killed instantly, and the men watched in horror as his torso was thrown into the air. Almost immediately, the A.P.C. in the rear was also hit, and the column was now trapped, deep in the heart of enemy territory, with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Men spilled out of the personnel carriers taking cover where they could, and confusion reigned as screams and the sounds of shooting filled the air. In the alley where my brother took cover with some of his fellow soldiers, there were no commanders as they had all either been killed or wounded in the initial attack or been somehow separated from these men, (the turret of an A.P.C. is the most exposed part of the vehicle, and in the Israeli army, commanders are always in the most vulnerable spots).

Most frightening of all, given their inexperience, the men were not well enough versed in map coordinates and their own position, such that they could not give brigade headquarters their exact position. For four very long hours, the paratroopers held off overwhelming odds until support units could finally reach them and get them out.

Three months later, long after this story was behind him, I found my brother, who had outwardly seemed nonplussed by the whole affair, lying under his bed in the middle of the night (we were together for Shabbat while he was on leave for the weekend) moaning…

Incredibly, despite this and other experiences, my brother, like all the other Israeli soldiers who fill the bus depots all over Israel every Sunday morning, spent two more years in the army, much of it back in Lebanon, because that was what needed to be done.

One of the men wounded that night, who lost part of his foot, causing him eventually to be honorably discharged, was an ex-ski patrol instructor from the States named Bill.

Bill, who, like us had volunteered to serve in the Israeli army, leaving behind a comfortable life in America, had very little good to say about the army or his experiences in Lebanon, (in fact every-other word in Bill’s lexicon cannot be printed here…). I had occasion once to meet up with him while seeing my brother off at Yad Eliahu stadium in Tel Aviv one Sunday morning and asked him why on earth he had volunteered, and whether he regretted it.

His answer, in a rare moment of sober reflection, belongs in a movie:

“Some things are worth dying for, man.”

Are they? Is anything on this earth really worth dying for? Especially a piece of land so small most people can’t even find it on a world map?

If the greatest gift we are given in this world is life itself, how can we be so attached to something as material as a plot of earth, however large or small, to be willing to die for it? Is this really what Judaism wants of us?

After all, even Shabbat, a mitzvah so essential to Jewish life that it is described in the Talmud as being equal to all the mitzvoth, is nonetheless waived aside in favor of life itself. Indeed, not only is one allowed to violate the sanctity of Shabbat in the event someone’s life is in danger, but this is true even if there is doubt as to whether a life is indeed in danger (“Sa’fek Pi’kuach Nefesh”),and in fact even if there is a doubt regarding the doubt (Sfek Sfekah’, or double doubt!).

So how do we justify the fact that despite everything that has transpired in Israel these past seventy-four years, the Jewish people remains in Israel, and continues to send the best of her young men into the army, in fulfillment of a mitzvah straight out of the Torah: Milchemet Mitzvah, or the mitzvah to wage war against those that would destroy us.

Hidden between the lines of this week’s portion Behar, is perhaps an idea that may shed some light on this most challenging issue.

The portion of Behar deals mostly with the mitzvoth of Shemitah, the sabbatical year, which falls every seven years in the land of Israel, and Yovel, the Jubilee year, which occurs after seven cycles of Shemitah, in the fiftieth year.

Every seven years, the Jewish people in the land of Israel, cease from working the land, and take the time to rediscover what all that work was really about. Just as Shabbat gives us the chance on a personal level to take stock of what we are really accomplishing all week long and prevents us from getting too wrapped up in life as to forget what life is really all about, Shemitah gives us a chance to do the same thing on a national level, allowing for a year of spiritual rejuvenation and exploration.

Every seventh year, the ploughs stand still, and the fields grow wild, while the Jewish people ideally fill the study halls in an attempt to reconnect with why they were given the land in the first place. An agricultural life can be an intoxicating thing, and after all the effort involved in producing the harvest, it is all too easy to forget that the harvest is not the goal, and the crops we own were never really ours to begin with. They are a gift from the One who is truly the producer of all crops. And gifts are only as valuable as what we choose to do with them.

In this seventh year, all the indentured servants, forced into servitude as a way of paying off their debts or thefts, are reminded that however little they may own, they nonetheless have value as human beings, and ultimately serve no man, and are set free.

And after seven cycles of Shemitah, the Yovel or Jubilee year arrives, during which, in addition to again letting the land lie fallow, causes all indentured servants (even those who do not want to leave their masters) to go free, as well as causing all plots of land inherited in the initial division of the land by tribe in the time of Joshua, to revert to their original owners.

This brings us to a fascinating halachah (law) quoted in this week’s portion.

“If your brother becomes impoverished, and sells part of his ancestral heritage, his redeemer who is closest to him shall come and redeem his brother’s sale.” (VaYikra 25:25)

In other words, if a person is so poor that he has no way to live other than to sell the portion of land he received as an ancestral inheritance (in a direct line from the generation of his ancestors that were given this portion of land when the Jewish people first entered the land of Israel in the time of Joshua), his relatives have a special mitzvah to buy this land back for their relative, in order that this ancestral plot be returned to it’s rightful original owners.

Rashi (25:25) points out that this verse teaches that a person is only allowed to sell his ancestral plot in the event of dire poverty, and then, only as much of a portion as is needed to live off of. Additionally, as soon as a person has accrued enough money to buy back the land, he is obligated to do so. And most fascinating of all, as soon as he or a relative is able to redeem the property, the buyer is forbidden to prevent the sale; he has to sell back the land! (Though not in the first two years, so as to prevent people from selling the land as an easy solution to financial challenges…).

Clearly, the Torah is taking issue with anyone who wishes to sell the land they have inherited; why? After all, what meaning is there to inheriting land if it’s not yours to sell and trade as an investment?

Indeed, why is it so important to own land at all? Why not have everyone, like the Levites and Priests (Kohanim) do, live off the land without actually owning it? Clearly, given that the land of Israel is allocated according to tribes, every Jew is meant to have his own portion of the land of Israel; why is this so important?

Indeed, in contrast to the normal process of exchange (where a person is not allowed to influence a person to sell something they don’t really want to sell), here a person can force a buyer to sell back his land, (see Rashi) and in fact, he can do this at the original price of the land, without taking into account any rise in the real estate market!

(Note that these halachot or laws for the most part only apply technically when we are in Israel and there is indeed a fifty-year cycle (Yovel), something that we do not have today, having lost count of the cycles when the Temple was destroyed.)

Why is it so important for a person to hang on to a piece of land? Isn’t what’s really important in this world who you are, and not what you have?

Indeed, this question is at the root of the one of the most challenging and prescient issues facing the Jewish people today: do we really need the land of Israel? And do we really need it to be a Jewish State?

Even more fascinating is that while these restrictions on the buyer exist regarding land, the same is not true for homes in the land of Israel.

“If a man shall sell a residence house in a walled city, its redemption can take place until the end of the year of its sale, but if it is not redeemed until it’s first year has elapsed, then the home that is in a city (with walls from the time of Joshua) shall pass in perpetuity to the one who purchased it, for his generations…” (VaYikra 25:29)

In other words, if you sell an apartment inside a city, you have one year to buy it back, after which it belongs to the buyer forever. So why is a house different from a piece of land?

And why do all of these laws apply only in the land of Israel? After all, if it is a healthy thing to take a year ‘off’ every seven years, then we should be doing this even (and maybe especially!) in New York?

What does all this have to do with the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, which form the theme of this week’s portion?

There is one thing that is unique about land. Land, in and of itself, has no value; its value is completely dependant on what we choose to do with it.

A home has a certain intrinsic value, but the true value of land is its ability to produce, or its value as property wherein one can choose to build.

And most important of all, as one toils over the land, it is readily obvious to anyone who will take note that we are, ultimately, not in control. In the end, however much we will plough or sow or reap, the success of the harvest is not really in our hands and depends rather on the rain and whether Hashem chooses to give it to us. Indeed, this is a reflection of the essence of our purpose in this world: to enter into a partnership with G-d.

Indeed, it is easy to assume from the Torah that the goal is the land of Israel. For seven weeks the Jewish people journey from Egypt to Sinai, to receive the Torah. But the Torah is not the goal; hence we do not remain at Sinai, nor do we even know exactly where Mount Sinai is even located. (In fact, we gave it back as part of a peace agreement with Egypt, and no one considered that fact to be all that important!)

It seems, then that the entire purpose of the journey was to reach the land of Israel. But that is not because Israel is the goal; Israel in fact is itself only a vehicle for the Jewish people to become who they are meant to be as a Nation.

On a mystical level, every nation has its place, the source of its character and its strength. In fact, a nation cannot be a nation if it does not have a land, and no nation would be who it is, anywhere else but in the land it was given to inhabit.

The Greeks were meant to become all that they were, and fulfill their role in the annals of history, in the land of Greece. And they would never, in fact could never have achieved all that they did if they were the same group of individuals living in Kansas.

This is because we are very much influenced by the environment we find ourselves in and we tap into the energy of the places we inhabit, which very much affects who we become, and how we use who we have become to make the world a better place.

The Talmud suggests that a person who is struggling with improper impulses should bring those desires into the study hall, or Beit Midrash. Because just being in a room filled with the study of Torah and the efforts of many individuals to come closer to their creator and achieve higher ethical levels, has to make you, on some level, a more ethical person.

And we are impacted not just by what people are doing in our environment, but even by the history of what they have done in their past.

Science is just starting to come around to this idea, but many different cultures have embraced the idea that everything that happens in a building, for example, is ‘recorded’ in the walls, furniture, and objects in that space.

If you move into a home whose previous tenants were unhappy, you will actually pick up unhappy energy. And if you are spending time in a place where people have done many spiritual things (like a house of study, or Beit Midrash, where spiritual giants have been) you will actually have an easier time tapping into your own spiritual path.

This is the secret of the land of Israel. Judaism suggests that every nation was created for a purpose, and that is the mission for which they were chosen. The mission of the Jewish people, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, is to be “A Light unto the Nations”, which means that on some level, we are meant to be an ethical role model for what the world could be.

Indeed, it is no accident that the world seems to hold us up to a higher standard, devoting anywhere from three to seven times as much front-page coverage as any other nation, (and on a per-capita basis, as much as two hundred times as much media space!); this, you see, is the reason we are here.

So, if Hashem wants us to become such an ethical people, He must give us a land whose historical ethical imprint is unique. And this is the essence of the land of Israel. Whether one chooses to accept this literally, or attempts to read it allegorically, Jewish tradition teaches that the world was created from matter that first formed the Mountain of Moriah (on which both Temples stood). As such, the land of Israel represents the place of beginnings.

According to tradition, Adam and Eve came from this place, which means this land has the taste of the Garden of Eden, the closest human beings have ever come to G-d, before there were any transgressions to get in the way. So this land began with the energy of spiritual consciousness.

And it was here that our ancestors, giants of ethical behavior, walked the land. When we are in Israel, we are tapping into the loving kindness of Abraham and the power of Yaakov. Here we are reconnecting, after two thousand years to the burial place of Rachel, whose superhuman sensitivity allowed her to give up the love of her life for seven years rather than risk embarrassing her sister.

And this place is the place of miracles, which is why miracles like the birth of the State of Israel against all odds, or the thirty-nine scuds that fell in the most densely populated area in Israel during the Gulf war without one direct fatality, seem so commonplace.

If we are meant to be a people who rise to a unique level of ethical behavior, then we have to be in a uniquely ethical place.

It is interesting that on an individual level, the accepted psychology is that we are very much a product of our past. Knowing who we are and from whence we come is an immensely valuable tool to understanding how we behave and achieving growth in our personal lives.

Conversely, a person who ignores his past has great difficulty figuring out who he or she really is. And as this is true for individuals, it is doubly true for the Nations of the world, and we are no exception.

Only in Israel are we connecting to our past and rediscovering who we really are, and only in this land where we came of age as a people can we tap into the enormous ethical and spiritual wellspring that is our birthright.

Which leads us to one last point: just as every Nation has its place, so too, every individual within that Nation has its special place in that land. Indeed, the Talmud suggests that every Jew has four cubits of land somewhere in Israel (see Baba Batra44b, and the Tosafot there), which means that each of us, as part of who we are, is meant to tap into a specific historical story which forms the essence of all that we can be. And this is why the Torah is saying a person’s ancestral land cannot and should not be sold except under dire circumstances, because it is a part of who you are. In this world, there are some things that just should not be for sale.

Indeed, this is the meaning of the phrase of the daughters of Tzlafchad who want to inherit the land promised their father:

“Why should the name (Shem) of our father be removed (or left out)?” (Bamidbar 27:4)

This means that their father’s land was a part of who he was, because hidden in that land were the ethical and spiritual paths of those who crossed that piece of land, all of which were a part of what needed to be passed on and imprinted to the next generation.

And of course, this is why an apartment is so different from a piece of land: the apartment just does not have the history of the land, and ultimately, unlike Hashem’s promise to us of the land, the homes on that land are not at all guaranteed; and they are not forever. Indeed, if the entire purpose of connecting to the land is to empower ourselves to become a light unto the nations, it becomes understandable why the Torah ultimately does not see us living behind the walls of the cities, where we are not a light, but rather, (allegorically) simply hidden.

Ultimately, if after two thousand years of dreaming we are finally home, then the challenge of our generation is to succeed in reconnecting with our mission as a people, hidden under the cobwebs of exile for so long.

May Hashem grant us soon the wisdom to come home and rediscover who we are really meant to be.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Iran's Ayatollahs' Narco-Jihad against the USA

by Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

”Many observers wonder how Iran, while in a difficult economic situation, can afford to finance a massive campaign to destabilize the region, as well as an extensive network of agents in the West. They should pay attention to the involvement of Iranian special services in the global drug trafficking [and mega-billion-dollar money laundering]…."

"A commercial jetliner from Venezuela’s state-run Conviasa Airline flew from Caracas to Tehran via Damascus, Syria, every week with a cargo-hold full of drugs and cash, nicknamed “Aeroterror,” because the return flight often carried weapons and was packed with Hezbollah and Iranian operatives whom the Venezuelan government would provide with fake identities and travel documents on their arrival…. From there, the operatives spread throughout the subcontinent…."

Shiite clerics in Iran and Lebanon have determined that narco-trafficking is morally acceptable when drugs are sold to Western "infidels," and especially to "The Great American Satan." They have concluded that drugs may be more effective a weapon than guns.

Iran's Ayatollahs bite the hand that feeds them
*In 1979, President Carter assumed that Iran's Ayatollahs were amenable to peaceful coexistence. Therefore, he turned against the Shah of Iran - who was "America's Policeman in the Persian Gulf" – and provided a tailwind to their rise to power, since "they would be preoccupied with tractors, not with tanks." However, as expected, upon toppling the Shah of Iran, the Ayatollahs regime bit the hand that fed them, and leveraged the critical US support to transforming Iran into the lead epicenter of anti-US terrorism and drug trafficking, highlighting rogue operations in Latin America, the US' soft underbelly.

*In 2015, President Obama was convinced that Iran's Ayatollahs could be induced to peaceful coexistence. Therefore, he heralded the nuclear accord with Iran (JCPOA) as a binding strategic agreement and a step toward "a safer and more secure US and world." However, as expected, Iran's Ayatollahs considered the JCPOA as a tenuous tactical agreement and a financial bonanza, bolstering their anti-US strategy of subversion, terrorism, development and proliferation of advanced military technologies, drug trafficking and money laundering, highlighting rogue operations in Latin America, a critical anti-US Iranian beachhead.

*In 2022, President Biden has concluded that a generous financial and diplomatic package could entice Iran's Ayatollahs to abandon their 1,400-year-old fanatic imperialistic vision. Therefore, he is determined to conclude another agreement with Iran's Ayatollahs, which – he assumes - would advance regional and global peaceful coexistence. However, Iran's Ayatollahs view any agreement with the US as a significant financial boost to their systematic anti-US agenda, bolstering their rogue operations in Latin America, the doorstep of the US.

Iran's anti-US Narco-Jihad
"Iranian “Narco Jihad” [is conducted] against Western countries and primarily against the United States…. Iran, in particular, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Hezbollah, [the proxy of] Iran are involved in the global drug trafficking [and money laundering] network…. [Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps] uses funds from the drug trafficking for the supply of arms and ammunition to anti-US terror and rogue entities [in Latin America]…. Currently, illegal drug trafficking is considered one of the most profitable [mega billion dollar] activities…. IranAir planes operating on scheduled flights to and from [Latin America] are also involved in the transportation of drugs…."

"….In the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Washington’s focus was elsewhere, Hezbollah and Iran cultivated alliances with governments along the “cocaine corridor” from the tip of South America to Mexico, to turn them against the United States. The strategy worked in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela….

"….Cocaine shipments, some from Latin America to West Africa and on to Europe and the Middle East, and others through Venezuela and Mexico to the United States…. In West Africa, satellite imagery has documented that the Hezbollah used-car money-laundering operation is bigger than ever….

"Multi-ton loads of cocaine enter the United States, and hundreds of millions of dollars going to a U.S.-designated terrorist organization with vast reach…. [Iran and Hezbollah] are working with Mexico’s brutal Los Zetas cartel to move multi-ton loads of cocaine directly into the United States, and washing $200 million a month in criminal proceeds with the help of 300 or so used car dealerships. The network funnels huge amounts of money to the dealerships to purchase used cars, which would then be shipped to Benin, on Africa’s west coast….

"[Iran and Hezbollah resemble a] human hub of a criminal enterprise with spokes emanating from Tehran outward into Latin America, Africa, Europe and the United States via hundreds of legitimate businesses and front companies….

"Hezbollah operates like the Gambino crime family on steroids, …. Hezbollah continues to scout potential U.S. targets for attack if it decides Washington has crossed some red line against it or Iran. [The Mexican daily] El Universal reported that the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel's elite assassins are trained in Iran…."

”The focus [of Iran and Hezbollah] was on forming relationships with Mexican drug cartels and establishing a residence with the aid of the cartels. The Mexican cartels have gained a dangerous ally by sympathizing with Hezbollah’s cause…. The threat of an attack by Hezbollah against the United States has always been present. It has only become more realistic… due to their spread of activity and influence in Latin America and Mexico. Their criminal activities and alliances with drug trafficking organizations such as Los Zetas [drug cartel] illustrates a growing and dormant threat south of the border….

"The increasing presence of middle-eastern terrorist groups in Mexico presents an alarming scenario, where planted terrorists integrate and assimilate with the culture of the country and cross the border. This is a reality and it has only evolved in practice…. The terrorist-criminal nexus of Hezbollah and Los Zetas…has serious implications for the national security [of the US]…. The Los Zetas cartel remains the most sophisticated and one of the most dangerous and powerful drug cartels in Mexico…. It has already infiltrated the U.S…..

"…. Venezuela and Chile are hosts to Hezbollah bases already and several more countries have already been supporting [Hezbollah]. Mexico makes it all the more deadly because of the proximity just south of the United States border…."

"…. The lawless tri-border area between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay [a chief financial source of Hezbollah terrorism] has been documented as the central hub of Iranian and Hezbollah activity in Latin America…. Hezbollah and Iran have raised funds throughout Latin America by appealing to the well-established Lebanese and Shiite diaspora in the region [especially in Paraguay's Ciudad del Este, a paradise for drug traffickers, money launderers, organized crime and Islamic terrorists]….

"Hezbollah partners in various capacities with Mexican cartels such as the Sinaloa cartel, the preeminent drug trafficking organization in that country…. helped the Sinaloa cartel build smuggling tunnels under the U.S.-Mexican border…."

The bottom line
*The aforementioned track record of Iran's Ayatollahs contradict the assumption that they are, potentially, good faith negotiators, who could be induced – through a generous financial and diplomatic package – to abandon their fanatic, religious, imperialistic vision, and amenable to peaceful-coexistence and power-sharing with their Arab Sunni neighbors and the Western "infidel."

*A failure to realize that the Ayatollahs track record, on the one hand, and the assumption that they are potentially good faith negotiators, on the other hand, constitutes a classic oxymoron, would doom the US to repeat the critical policy errors, which led to its critical support of Ayatollah Khomeini's rise to power in 1979 and to the JCPOA in 2015. On both occasions, the US – unintentionally – produced a robust tailwind to an arch terrorist and drug trafficking regime, which has posed – since 1979 – a clear and present danger to the homeland and national security of the US.

*Iran's Ayatollahs are the epitome of terrorists who bite the (American) hand that feeds them.