Monday, January 31, 2022

I Will Dwell Among Them

by HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

G-d sums up the command to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) with the following words:

They shall make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them. Like everything that I show you, the form of the Mishkan and the form of all its vessels; and so shall you do. (Shemot 25:8-9) What did Hashem show Moshe on Har Sinai? Rashi explains that He showed Moshe "the form of the Mishkan," and that the command, "so shall you do," refers to the details of the vessels, that if any of them would be lost in the future, they should be remade in the same fashion. According to this interpretation, the verses should be rearranged to read as follows, "They shall make a Sanctuary for Me -- like everything that I show you -- so that I may dwell among them."

From the Beit Midrash of Volozhin, however, comes a different interpretation. What Hashem showed Moshe on Har Sinai was not the architecture of the Mishkan and physical details of its vessels, but the way in which the Shechina rests on the Mikdash. The Sifrei Machshava explain the statement of Chazal, "The Beit Hamikdash of our world corresponds to the Beit Hamikdash of above," to mean that the Mishkan encapsulates the structure and order of all the worlds. Similarly, the Midrash Tanchuma in the beginning of Parshat Pekudei states that the Beit Hamikdash corresponds to the entire creation, and notes a long list of similarities between the two. At the conclusion of the building of the Mishkan, the Torah writes: "All the work of the Mishkan was completed ("vateichel")" (39:32), "Moshe blessed ("vayevarech") them" (39:43), and "He anointed it and sanctified ("vayekadesh") it" (Bamidbar 7:1). This parallels what the Torah writes regarding the creation of the world: "The heavens and earth were completed ("vayechulu")" (Bereishit 2:1), and, "G-d blessed ("vayevarech") the seventh day and sanctified ("vayekadesh") it." (2:3)

Therefore, the Torah says about Bezalel, who built the Mishkan, "[G-d] filled him ... with wisdom, insight, and knowledge, and with every craft." (Shemot 35:31) The Midrash explains that Bezalel knew how to join the letters that G-d used to create heaven and earth, which were also created with wisdom, insight, and knowledge. This teaches that the creation of the world and the building of the Mishkan are one and the same.

When Hashem told Moshe, "so that I may dwell among them. Like everything that I show you," He showed Moshe the orders of the higher and lower worlds, their interrelationship, and what brings about the presence of Shechina. The Netziv explains, "so shall you do," to mean that those who build the Mishkan shall make it according to the "form" of the corresponding worlds. (Ha'amek Davar) Similarly, Chiram, who built the first Beit Hamikdash, was given wisdom and knowledge, in order to incorporate spiritual intent in building the Beit Hamikdash so that the Shechina would rest upon it. In the second Beit Hamikdash, in which the builders did not know how to incorporate this intent, the Shechina did not rest upon it, even though they knew all the physical details of the Beit Hamikdash.

In Nefesh Hachaim, Rav Chaim Volozhiner adds another dimension, that man is also arranged in this fashion. The Malbim on Parshat Teruma similarly comments that just as the world is called, "a large man," man is called, "a small world," because their powers and parts correspond to each other. Therefore, the presence of the Shechina is founded on man himself, and G-d's presence in the Mikdash is only a result of His presence in Yisrael, as Yirmiyahu says, "They are a Sanctuary of G-d." This is the deeper meaning of Chazal's comment that it does not say, "that I may dwell in it," but rather, "that I may dwell among them," within each and every Jew. Only after the Shechina rest on Yisrael does the presence of the Shechina rest on the Mikdash, and when Yisrael sin and the Shechina withdraws from them, the physical existence of the Mikdash does not help, for it is devoid of spiritual content. The command, "They shall make a Sanctuary for Me ... and so shall you do," means, "and so shall you do" to make yourselves; that you shall make yourselves like the form of the Mishkan, so that the Shechina will be able to rest upon you.

When we pray and ask several times daily, "May it be Your will ... that the Beit Hamikdash be rebuilt speedily, in our days," we should not only intend for the beautiful edifice to be built in Yerushalayim, but rather we should prepare ourselves to be worthy so that the Shechina will rest upon us, and, thereby, the Beit Hamikdash will be built speedily in our days!

Pity is not an Antidote for Contempt, and Respect is Better than Friendship

by Victor Rosenthal

Mickey Levy, the Speaker of the Knesset, went to Germany on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and spoke to the Bundestag, the German parliament – in Hebrew. He ended his speech with a recitation of the Kaddish, during which his voice broke and he covered his face with his hands. He said later in an interview on Israeli radio that it was an incredibly emotionally affecting experience, and a great honor.

I listened with mixed feelings. No, I admit it, they were not mixed. I was horrified. I was disgusted. Everything about this affair was wrong, the content of his speech (I’ll get to that), his recitation of the Kaddish, his expression of emotion there in the Bundestag.

What is the point here? Perhaps it was emotionally cathartic for Levy, but what did he accomplish? Was the intent to make the Germans feel guilty? I am certain that there were no former SS officers or Nazi officials in the audience. Was it to make them feel sorry for us? That would be stupid. Insofar as there is still antisemitism in Germany, it is fed by contempt, and pity is not an antidote for contempt. Rather, it engenders it.

Germany is a problem for Israel. Germany still shoots at the Jewish people, but not with bullets like the ones that tore the bodies of my extended family in the Pale of Settlement. Rather, the weapon is the millions of Euros that it provides to the Palestinian project to conquer Area C with illegal building, and to the numerous anti-Israel NGOs, both in the international “human rights” industry, and among the Israeli Left, that are working day and night to subvert the Jewish state.

That is what Levy should have talked about in the Bundestag, instead of congratulating the Germans on their “moral and historical commitment to the existence and security of the State of Israel.” Yes, they paid reparations. I can well understand Menachem Begin, who was repelled by the idea, as if money could expiate the crime. But that argument is in the past; it’s Germany’s behavior today that’s important.

Levy’s appeal to pity and the idea expressed in his speech that democracy is the antidote to antisemitism represent what is wrong with the response of so many Jews to the pervasive phenomenon of Jew-hatred and its other face, the irrational, extreme, and obsessive hatred of the Jewish state that has suffused half the world in recent times.

It cannot be eliminated by education, especially education about the horrors of the Holocaust, because antisemites believe that the Jews must have deserved what happened to them, and that Hitler proved that it really is possible to finally solve the Jewish problem. Only his tactical mistakes prevented success. They hope to do better.

It also doesn’t work to appeal to the moral sense of today’s little Hitlers. For one thing, they invert morality and claim that it’s actually Israel that commits “genocide” against the Palestinians, who have multiplied at least by a factor of three since Israel’s victory in 1967, while Europe’s Jewish population was reduced by two thirds by the Nazis. One has to be irrational to the point of insanity to argue this. Then there is the apartheid libel. It requires a radical redefinition of the concept, an act of dishonesty which is deliberately undertaken in order to weaponize the justified antipathy to the former South African regime and turn it against Israel and the Jews.

You can’t talk to these people. You can’t mitigate their irrational antagonism with facts or their hatred by appealing to their sense of fairness. And it isn’t our job to do that. “Antisemitism isn’t a Jewish problem” means that we don’t have to try to cure them of it. We are required only to protect ourselves, to fight.

And fortunately for us the solution for the kinetic problem of people trying to kill us, as well as the psychological one that they hold us in contempt and therefore think that it is acceptable to kill us, is the same: national power, in every way: military, economic, and social. It’s obvious what’s meant by the first two, but just a word about “social” power: it is the ability of a society to agree on its goals and move toward them, without being obstructed by interest groups with agendas that contradict one another – and some of them with agendas which are anti-state. Clearly this is Israel’s biggest problem today.

Power creates deterrence, power engenders respect, and power even creates fear, which is not entirely a bad thing. Increasing our power ought to be our highest priority national goal. It is a good thing that Israel has nuclear weapons, and it would be a good thing if Israel had more offensive systems, rockets, drones, whatever. Si vis pacem para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war.

And we do want peace. But the idea that we can get it by concessions, by giving up land to our deadly enemies, has been proven wrong over and over by recent history. Instead of encouraging our enemies, we should push forward with aggressive Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, as well the reconquest of those parts of the country that have been slipping away from Jewish control. Again, this has both a physical effect, distancing the enemy from our homes, and a psychological one of creating deterrence and respect.

But it isn’t easy. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert exemplified defeatism when he said,

We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors, and I believe that this is not impossible…

The feeling is understandable, but it is an impossible dream, in conflict with reality. Most Israelis awoke from that dream some time ago, but now it is time for them to take the next step, which is to understand that it is not enough just to not surrender: if we do not advance, then we in essence retreat. We must advance, in Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley; in the Negev and the Galil; in the Golan Heights and in the “mixed cities” of Lod, Acco, and Yafo, where Jews were recently made to live in fear of pogroms as in the days of the Russian Empire.

We don’t need to make Europeans feel sorry for us. We don’t need to make Palestinians be our friends. In fact, we don’t need to care what they think, as long as everyone knows that we are prepared to fight, ferociously if need be, for what rightfully belongs to us.

On Sorcery, Magic, and Goddesses

by HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Har Bracha

In ancient times, almost all humans worshiped idols and believed they were able to save them from calamity and enhance their prosperity and health, and Jews sinned in this matter as well * Many people are convinced there are individuals who can magically influence objects, or humans * The vast majority of Jewish law arbiters are of the opinion that such spiritual powers exist, but the Torah forbade turning to them * The seal of Hashem is truth, and those who serve Him must refrain from any use of lies to strengthen faith

A deep question that preoccupies many people: is sorcery a real thing? Are there magical powers, which people with extraordinary skills are able to use to their advantage, or is it an illusion? This question naturally pertains to pagan beliefs -are there real forces of impurity that pagans have been able to avail themselves of, by means of various rites?

In Ancient Times People Believed Idols Had Power
In ancient times, before the influence of Am Yisrael spread in the world, almost all human beings worshiped idols, and believed they were able to save them from calamity, and enhance their prosperity and health. Jews also sinned in this matter, as we have learned that when the prophet Yirmiyahu (34: 1-14) reproved those who went down to Egypt after the destruction of the Temple, saying that if they continued to serve in Egypt the “m’lechet ha’shamayim,” (queen of heaven) after having worshiped avodah zara and already been punished with destruction, killing, starvation and exile – there would be no remnant or refugee left of them who would return to Eretz Yehuda, they rudely replied that when they had served avodah zara in Jerusalem, precisely then, things were fine: “For then we had plenty of food; everything was fine, we didn’t experience anything unpleasant. But since we stopped offering to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything, and we have been destroyed by sword and famine” (Yirmiyahu 44: 17-18).

Psychological Reinforcement
Some explain that the success described by the pagans stemmed from the psychological reinforcement they received from their faith, which gave them confidence that what they wanted was indeed good and just, for not only in their own name were they acting, but in the name of the idols justifying their aspirations and conduct. This was not an invented belief for them, because faith is inherent in a person, and spurs him to explain reality, and give it meaning. And since their pagan conception grew out of the deep and powerful experiences they had, and from observing the great forces of nature and man, the pagan explanation about what was happening in the world was a necessity for them, and gave them spiritual powers.

Spiritual Forces that Become Forces of Impurity
Apart from that, many explain that just as there are natural forces in the world that man can harness to his needs, thus above them are spiritual forces, called angels and demons, that activate the forces of nature, and spiritually deep people are aware of how they operate, and by means of pagan rites, connect to them and draw from them power in order to increase their wealth and status, or use them against their enemies.

Thus, there is evidence of people being able to know hidden things or fortunes, and there is no rational way to explain their ability without assuming that indeed, they do possess certain mystical powers. Beyond that, many are convinced there are people who are able to magically influence objects or people. For just as anyone can physically push an object, likewise, there are people who are able by magical techniques to change things in a spiritual world that affects events in this world.

In a similar vein, the Torah tells us that Balak, king of Moab, turned to the wicked Balaam, prophet of the idols, asking him to curse Israel, “For I know that whomever you bless is blessed, and whomever you curse is cursed” (Bamidbar 22:6). Our sages said (Sanhedrin 105b), that Balaam knew how to determine the moment when there is anger in the world, and to divert it by cursing to whomever he wanted. In the end, however, his curse turned into a blessing for Israel, and he himself lost his life in this world, and the next. This is the case with all idol worshippers: even when they succeed in activating the forces of nature, as forces of impurity detached from their root, in the end, the forces of nature return to connect to their root, and lead to their destruction.

The Controversy over Forces of Impurity
Gedolei Yisrael were divided about the explanations we have learned. According to the Rambam, the idols had no effect whatsoever, and it was all in the imagination of the people, based on the beliefs and lies spread by the priests of the religions. Also, in his opinion, no man has the ability to influence with magical powers things that will occur. On the other hand, many say that pagan rites had an effect on events in the world, and there are people who can magically act on things that happen in the world, but this is done by the forces of impurity, and is therefore forbidden and harmful. This is what the Ramban and many others thought. Both opinions are based on the Tanakh, and the words of our Sages.

Those Who Believe that Idols and Sorcerers Have No Influence
When the prophets of Israel reproved Israel not to stray after the idols, they emphatically stated that the idols were false and of no use at all: “Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless” (Shmuel 1, 12:21), “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves” (Jeremiah 2:5), “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?… he makes idols that cannot speak… It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.” (Habakkuk 2: 18-19). And also the prophet Yishayahu (44: 6-20) mocked the idolaters who took a tree, on half of whom they roasted meat, and the other half made a statue, and bowed and prayed, as if he could help. Also in the Tehilim (115: 4-7) it is written: “But their idols are silver and gold.”

Rambam also clarified that all pagan rites and words of witchcraft and divination are vain, and the Torah forbade them in order to distance Israel from engaging in these false words, that the foolish are attracted to, but the wise know in clearly they are vain (Laws of Avodah Zara 11: 16; Moreh Nevuchim 3: 37). This is also the opinion of Meiri (Avodah Zara 54b).

Those Who Believe There are Forces of Impurity
On the other hand, we have learned in the Torah that Balaam had the power to curse and bless, but that God turned his curse into a blessing for Israel (Bamidbar 22: 6; Devarim 23: 6). We also learned that Paroh had chartumim (master symbolists, or astrologers) that with the help of magical tricks could cast their staff and turn it into a viper, but that Aharon’s staff swallowed theirs, because God is the ruler of all (Shemot 7: 11-12). We are also told about the medium who had the power to raise up the prophet Samuel to speak to King Saul (Shmuel I, Chap.28). We have also found in the words of our Sages that sorcerers had power to influence events in the world (Sanhedrin 67b, and other places). We also find that our Sages related to the reality of demons as a fact (Berachot 6a; Yevamot 122a, and other places).

Indeed, the opinion of the vast majority of the Rishonim and Achronim that these spiritual forces are real, but the Torah forbade us from turning to them (Ramban Devarim 18: 9; Rabbeinu Bahai, Sefer HaIkarim, RaN, Rivash, Abarbanel, Radbaz, Gra, Ramchal, and many others).

Their Opinions can be Dovetailed
It seems that it is possible to explain that indeed, there are mystical forces by means of which pagans and sorcerers are sometimes able to succeed in predicting fortunes and influencing nature, but in the overall account, they do not gain, rather, on the contrary, lose out. This is because the prognostications they predict are inaccurate, and consequently, one who relies on them, to a certain extent, forfeits the mental effort to plan his own ways, and since this is the case, in practice, he errs more often. Thus, it turns out that the magical “blessing” received through their auspices, is always less than the blessing that comes from the diligence based on proper thinking and planning.

Therefore, although on the one hand there were people who with the help of pagan rites were able to predict fortunes and change events in the world, in the overall statistical account, there was no advantage to the idolaters and those who followed the advice of sorcerers, rather, quite the opposite. Therefore, on the one hand, it is possible to accept the perception that spiritual impurity forces in pagan rites have an effect on reality, but on the other hand, it is possible to say that it is all false, since in practice, in the overall account, no blessing has arisen from them.

Similar to Drugs
A possible example of this may be given in relation to hard and dangerous drugs. Some will say: yes, indeed drugs provide a user temporary happiness, however, it is bad and harmful – this is similar to what the vast majority of Rishonim and Achronim wrote about the forces of impurity that indeed have the power to benefit in the short term, but in the long run, one who uses them, loses out. Thus, it can be said that the forces of impurity are a lie, because in the end, there is no benefit from them.

A Combination of Real Forces and Deception
While many agree that there are sometimes idol worshippers or sorcerers who manage to magically influence reality or predict fortunes, in practice, even those extraordinary people fail to repeat their power on a regular basis. This is because unlike the known natural forces, which operate in a systematic way, magical forces are elusive to humans, and consequently, such people are not able to activate them systematically.

Sometimes young, innocent and humble people experience various mystical incidents, and magically caused things to happen, but once they became famous, had a hard time recreating those magical experiences and abilities. Since they are very eager for it, even though they are not sure if they have succeeded, they tend to deceive themselves and imagine that they have experienced a certain mystical experience and were able to manipulate reality with it, or predict the future. If they did so with the help of impressive rituals, accompanied by alcohol or drugs, could convince themselves of this more easily.

Some of them knew they had no magical powers, but to gain money and respect which believers give to pagans and sorcerers, learned to conduct ceremonies and create the impression that they were capable of influencing reality, and prophesied in vague and ambiguous language so they could always claim to have predicted the future.

The Virtue of Truth
However, Hashem’s seal is truth, and servants of Hashem must refrain from using lies to strengthen emunah. For the liar causes the Shechina to depart, and fails to illuminate him (Sotah 42a), as is written: “He who speaks falsehood shall not dwell before My eyes” (Tehilim 101:7)). Therefore, if a person strengthens himself in emunah by way of lies, thus, his emunah is avodah zara.

The Deadly Price of Mindlessly Taking Instructions

Is your religious "authority" teaching you - or just yelling out orders and rhetoric?

by Rabbi Chananya Weissman

Yehoash became the king in Jerusalem at the age of seven. Yehoyada, the Kohen Gadol, had led a successful coup against Athalya, the wicked queen who had murdered almost everyone in line to take over the kingdom. Only Yehoash survived, rescued as a baby by his aunt and hidden for six years. Now this child was being installed as the king in an attempt to restore order, sanity, and the Davidic dynasty. (See Melachim II Chapter 11.)

Not surprisingly, Yehoyada continued to be the main decision-maker before Yehoash came of age. He fulfilled this role with honor, guiding Yehoash in the ways of the Torah. Yehoash, in turn, faithfully followed the teachings of his righteous mentor.

ויעש יהואש הישר בעיני ה' כל ימיו אשר הורהו יהוידע הכהן
And Yehoash did what was right in the eyes of Hashem all the days that Yehoyada the Kohen instructed him. (12:3)

All the days of Yehoyada, but not after. Yehoyada died at the ripe old age of 130, and the situation deteriorated very quickly. The officers of the king deified him, and he went along with it. Idolatry once again became rampant in the kingdom. Hashem sent prophets to urge the people to repent, but the people ignored them.

Hashem then sent Zecharya, the son of Yehoyada, to admonish the people for abandoning Hashem. In one of the most tragic events in history, the people conspired against Zecharya the prophet and stoned him to death inside the Beis Hamikdash. Yehoash repaid his debt to Yehoyada for overthrowing Athalya, protecting him as a baby, installing him as king, and mentoring him by murdering his son.

The following year Jerusalem was overrun and plundered by a tiny army from Aram, the king's officers were killed, and Yehoash himself was badly hurt. His own servants killed him on his bed in vengeance for his treachery against Yehoyada's children, and he was buried outside the royal cemetery. (See Divrei Hayamim II Chapter 24.)

The blood of Zecharya boiled where it had been spilled until the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed. It did not settle until approximately three million Jews were murdered by Nevuzaradan, the Babylonian general who conquered Jerusalem and helpfully sought to appease the blood. (See Gittin 57B.)

(In a bizarre twist, Nevuzaradan then had a sobering realization. If so much tragedy had befallen the Jews for murdering one person, what would happen to him? He fled his army, sent a letter home, and converted.)

How did Yehoash turn so bad so quickly after the death of his mentor? He did not experience a slow deterioration, as one might have expected; he fell off a spiritual cliff after behaving with great righteousness all his days until that point.

The Malbim on Melachim II 12:3 offers a deep insight. The navi writes that Yehoash did what was right in Hashem's eyes all the days that Yehoyada instructed him. There is a difference between instruction (הוראה, hora'ah, similar to Torah) and teaching (לימוד, limud).

According to the Malbim, Yehoyada made a subtle but critical mistake, which is indicated by the wording of the pasuk. He instructed Yehoyada what to do, but he didn't teach him in the ways of learning, to be able to determine the proper path with his own mind. Once Yehoyada died, Yehoash lacked the tools to continue on the righteous path, and he was quickly led astray – to the very depths of idolatry and treachery.

Nowadays this same critical mistake has become the norm. Many people believe that the path of Torah is to outsource one's mind to a religious figure and then blindly follow instructions. The individual is conveniently free from having to engage in critical thinking and intellectual struggles, and absolved of responsibility for wrongdoing. The obligation to abide by the rulings of rabbinic authorities – which is real, but itself limited in Jewish law – has been corrupted into a supposedly Torah-sanctioned version of “just following orders”.

Even if one is fortunate to outsource his mind to a pious scholar like Yehoyada, this is not the way to follow the Torah and serve Hashem. It is only a matter of time before things fall apart. Even pious scholars are not infallible, they are not always accessible, and they do not live forever. No matter what, a person cannot become close to Hashem if he mindlessly follows orders like a monkey, even if all the orders are proper.

Normalizing blind obedience to religious authorities also creates a situation that is ripe for corruption. The “elite class” can easily be overtaken by phonies who put on a show of piety while misleading their mindless followers, who dare not question them. Once that happens, the greatest acts of idolatry and treachery can be sold to the public as the ways of the Torah.

It's really that easy.

A rabbi must not merely instruct the people, but teach them. He must help them develop the tools to learn correctly and determine the proper path with their own mind.

Unlike a cult leader, a rabbi gently weans his students off their dependence on him so they can function on their own. His continued mentorship should be a luxury, not a necessity. He nurtures as many people as possible to grow into his job when the time inevitably comes.

Is your rabbi teaching you, or just yelling out instructions and rhetoric?

Millions of Jews eventually lost their lives because Yehoash was spiritually helpless without Yehoyada holding his hand. Millions more are in peril today unless they stop mindlessly taking instructions, and start to truly learn.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Rav Kook's Igrot Hare’aya: Follow-Up Questions, part I

#90 – part I

Date and Place: 17 Shevat 5665 (1905), Yafo

Recipient: A young Moshe Zeidel. A close disciple of Rav Kook, from their time in Boisk, he asked Rav Kook many philosophical questions. He would become Dr. Zeidel, a philologist and philosopher.

Body: [We will see some of the questions that he asked in a letter that was for the most part questions and comments of Zeidel to Rav Kook’s letter (#89) that was featured over the last few weeks.]

You wrote that according to me, the Torah is in a process of development. Heaven forbid, I never said such a “foreign” idea. When people refer to development, they refer to the emergence of a “new face,” which causes thoughts that there is a lack of seriousness.

This is what I have to say [about what you call development]. Divine wisdom surveys all that will transpire from the beginning of history to the end. Hashem arranges matters in a manner that only when the elders of each generation must make decisions, they will be based on understandings and feelings that Hashem prepared for them to decide properly.

Therefore, it is only possible for the fullest truths of the Torah to be revealed when the whole nation is living in its Land and is at an ideal point of spirituality and physicality. Then, the Oral Law will return to being produced in its full strength, according to the level of recognition of the Supreme Rabbinical Court which will sit in the place that Hashem chose and will deal with all practical questions whose solutions escape members of the nation. Then we can be sure that every new revelation will be crowned with all the vitality and sanctity that is fit for the nation by and for Hashem.

It is possible that a question will arise regarding a law in the Torah, which, based on a perception of ethics, would appear that it needs to be understood in a different manner than it was previously. If the Supreme Rabbinical Court decides that the law can be implemented only in circumstances that no longer exist, they will provide a source in the Torah that justifies that understanding.

The resulting agreement between the events of the time with the authority of the Rabbinical Court and the way of explaining the Torah sources do not coincide by happenstance. Rather they are like letters that light up with a message from the light of the Torah and the truth of the Oral Law, in whose system we must follow the “judge who will be at that time” (Devarim 17:9). This is not a “development” with its negative connotation.

However, if one were to come for adjudication in our days, when we are in a lowly station and our financial lives are not set up in the optimal national form, which would give us such greatness, then it would be a terrible thing to attempt to employ such authority. When I speak in terms of what was and will be regarding practical principles of the Torah, it is predicated on a vision of our nation living a full national life in its beloved Land in an ideal form of completeness, when we are self-governed, have a proper judiciary in place, and the Land is successfully home to its sons. Then that which comes out of the “spring of the House of Hashem” will be holy.

In contrast, at the time of darkness, although a person can follow his most refined feelings with the intention of elevating his spirit and drawing close to the light of truth and justice, which is of divine origin, this is not the Torah’s guidance but that of a personal approach of righteousness. Therefore, if by so doing, he will cause damage to the lot of the broader community, it will be transformed from moral inclinations to matters that damage the masses. Thus, any wise person will understand that it is the individual’s holiest obligation to curb his spiritual aspirations to help preserve the moral success of the nation, upon which the pillar of justice will have to stand. On this, the pasuk says: “The nation that walks in the dark saw a great light; those who sat in the land of shadows of death have the pure light shine upon them” (Yeshayahu 9:1).  

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Rabbi Ari Kahn on Parashat Mishpatim: Rabbi Yisrael Salanter's Tallit

It is about Consequence

by Rav Binny Freedman

At the end of World War Two, the United States Army liberated the Concentration camp of Buchenwald, and began the painstaking process of administering to the survivors. Rabbi Herschel Schechter, who was the chaplain of the US eighth army, stayed in the camp and attempted, as much as was possible, to create a semblance of Jewish experience for those who had survived. How does one run a prayer service, and encourage people to pray to a G-d who seemed to have been so absent in those terrible years?

Rabbi Schechter requisitioned one of the barracks and set it up as a makeshift synagogue and began running services for those who were interested. One day, noticing one of the survivors standing on the side watching the prayers, Rabbi Schechter invited him to join the service, but the man refused. Nonetheless, he remained in the barracks, watching the service with the vacant eyes that were common in the camps in those days.

Realizing he had seen this fellow attend services before, though always as a spectator, Rabbi Schechter approached him again, and offered him a siddur (prayer book). The survivor, whom we now know as Simon Weisenthal, refused again, and explained:

“One day, one of the men in our barracks succeeded in smuggling a siddur into the camp. I was amazed that someone was willing to risk torture and certain death simply for the opportunity to pray. That a Jew, even in this hell, was willing to defy the Germans, and continue to believe in G-d, was a testament to the power of the human spirit, and to the Jewish people’s survival, against all odds. And I resolved that if a Jew could continue to pray under such circumstances, then maybe G-d was still out there, hidden in the indomitable spirit of the human soul, and I, too, would pray.

“I was in awe of this fellow, until I discovered what he was doing with the prayer book he had smuggled in: he refused to lend the siddur to anyone unless they first handed over their meager daily food ration. He was renting the prayer book out for rations, and Jews in the barracks, desperate to hold a siddur in their hands after all this time, were forced to give up their only food for a few minutes with the prayer book.

“And at that moment I decided that if a human being could sink that low, then truly there was no G-d, and I resolved never to pray again.”

After hearing his words, Rabbi Schechter responded with a simple question:

“Instead of looking at the fellow who refused to give away his siddur without first taking the food of his fellow prisoners, why don’t you look at all the Jews who were willing to give up the only food they had for a chance to pray with a siddur?”

There was a moment of silence between the two, and something glimmered deep inside those vacant eyes. And then, quietly, Simon Weisenthal stepped forward, took a prayer book, and began to pray.

What does it mean to be a slave, and are we ever truly free?

This week’s portion, Mishpatim, begins with a very challenging and almost incomprehensible concept: the idea of a Jewish slave, serving his Jewish master.

“And these are the judgments (or rules) that you must set before them (the Jewish people): If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years, but in the seventh year, he is to be set free.

“If he was unmarried when he entered his enslavement, he shall leave by himself. But if he was a married man, his wife shall leave with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall remain her master’s property, and the slave shall leave by himself.

“And if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife and my children; I do not want to go free,” his master must bring him to the courts. And he must bring the slave next to the door or doorpost, and his master must pierce his ear with an awl, and the slave shall then serve his master forever.” (Shemot 21:1-6)

Slavery? Masters? Is this the reason we left Egypt behind us, to create our own system of slavery? Just last week, in the portion of Yitro, the Jewish people received the Torah, and began their journey to fulfill a dream, and create an ethical society on the way to a better world. Three thousand years before the American Declaration of Independence, in a world steeped in paganism and the belief that might makes right, the Jewish people came onto the world scene with the belief that all men are created equal. This is why the Torah we received at Sinai begins with the creation of the world, and the creation of human beings, all of whom are created in the image of G-d.

So what went wrong? How can the Torah now be telling us about Jewish slaves, in a Jewish slave system?

It is important to note that this is not a small, obscure set of details, hidden somewhere at the end of the Torah; this is the beginning of the very first portion we read after Sinai. In fact, the commentaries make a point of explaining that these laws are a direct continuation of Sinai.

In the verse: “And these are the judgments….”, Rashi quotes the Midrash which explains that the word “And” comes to include that which precedes it, to teach us that just as the commandments that preceded these came from Sinai, so too these judgments are a direct continuation of Sinai and are a part of the law given by G-d.

Having just experienced Sinai, received the Torah, and heard the Ten Commandments, the Torah begins to delineate the mitzvoth we were given at Sinai. The Torah chooses to begin with this very strange set of rules, all about human slavery. Why?

How can the same system that speaks of ‘loving one’s fellow as much as oneself’, or ‘loving the stranger’ allow one human being to enslave another?

Perhaps a closer look at some of the details of these verses will help us understand what lies at the root of this challenging set of laws.

A slave, it seems, remains a slave for only six years. However, when he is set free the question arises as to what he takes with him. Quite simply, he only takes out with him, says the Torah, what he had when he came in. This alone would be challenging enough; after all, shouldn’t the master be responsible to set him free with some allowance or stipend, so he at least has some head start on life? But it gets worse! If this fellow marries a woman who is a fellow slave, she doesn’t go with him when he leaves; she is the property of her master, and remains enslaved!

And as if that isn’t difficult enough, the question then becomes what to do in the event the slave, as a result of this seemingly cruel law, decides he prefers a life of slavery to a life of loneliness, and wants to stay? The Master is then obligated to take the slave to court and subject him to a ceremony, which is nothing short of bizarre! And all of the commentaries here seem to agree, that this ear- piercing ceremony (itself a piece of this puzzle we need to understand) is actually some form of punishment… for the slave!

Why would this slave’s wish to remain in the home of his master, be viewed as something worthy of punishment? It seems, at first glance, like a perfectly natural desire: this slave wants to stay with his wife and children, whom he loves.

In fact, the verse expresses this when it says that the slave declares: “I love my master, my wife and my children; I do not want to go free.” (21:5)

And this does not seem to be a pre-requisite to the subsequent proceedings; it appears rather, to be the underlying reason, for this slave’s actions. Why then is this slave worthy of punishment? If this piercing of the ear is indeed a punishment of sorts, what has this slave done wrong? His desire seems a perfectly natural one, and it is the system that seems to be at fault?

Unless of course, one takes a closer look at the story:

Isn’t it interesting that this slave declares: “I love my master, my wife and my children”?

What sort of a slave loves his master? (And what sort of a husband loves his master more than his wife?) This must have been a common enough occurrence as to be predicted, and even addressed by the law.

Indeed, the Talmud tells us: “Kanah’ Eved Kanah Rav”; “He who acquires a slave, has really acquired a master.”

And, in fact, the laws of how one is meant to treat a slave are nothing short of incredible:

If one has a Jewish slave, and there is only one pillow in the house, he must give it to the slave. If there is only enough food for one meal, he must give it to the slave. And if there is only one bed in the house, the master must sleep on the floor! This is certainly not the kind of slavery we are accustomed to reading about. In fact, if the master hits his slave, and injures him in any way, the slave immediately goes free! (See 21:26)

Indeed, the term slave, with all of its negative connotations, would probably be better replaced by the term ‘indentured servant’. And in order to really understand this, we need to understand the process by which a Jew becomes such an indentured servant in the first place.

A Jewish ‘slave’ is someone who was, for example, caught stealing. In our society, such a person, if convicted, is punished by being sent to prison. Whereupon he or she will serve their time in prison until their sentence is up, and the courts decide that they have paid their debt to society.

In Judaism, however, punishment never involves prison. In fact, the concept of prison barely exists in the Torah, and then only when no one knows what to do. For example, when Eldad and Meidad (two elders) are teaching in the camp without Moshe’s permission, and it is unclear what the response should be, Joshua suggests they be locked up:

“Adoni’ Moshe, Ke’la’eim” “My master Moshe (says Joshua), lock them up!” (Numbers 11:28), because no one as yet knows what to do with them. (In fact, the Modern Hebrew word for prison: Keleh’, comes from this same biblical root.)

And when the Jewish people find one of their own gathering wood on the Sabbath, no one knows what to do with him, and what the law is regarding such a person: “Vaya’simu Oto’ Be’mishmar.” “He was placed under guard.” (Numbers 15:34) And here too, mishmar is a form of incarceration.

Prison in Judaism essentially means: we have no idea what to do with someone, so we put them out of the way, in a place where we don’t have to deal with it. In fact, as many are beginning to realize, the civil penal system in effect today in most countries not only is not a solution to the problems and not a viable form of rehabilitation, but it in fact exacerbates the problem.

Judaism has a much simpler system, which begins with the idea that we do not believe in punishment. Punishment purely for punishment’s sake serves no one and accomplishes nothing. It is most probably a Christian concept related to the idea of purgatory or eternal damnation. In Judaism there is no such thing as eternal damnation, because what could be the point of being in hell or purgatory forever?

In Judaism the result of mistakes or transgressions is not about punishment, it is about consequence. If a person makes a mistake, there is a consequence to that mistake, which must be assumed as the responsibility of the person who made the mistake in the first place.

Imagine you are lost in a forest, trying to get to the other side. You come to a fork in the road and don’t know which way to go. If you take the correct path, you will be getting closer to the other side of the forest, which is your goal. But if you take the wrong path, with every step you take you will be headed in the wrong direction, further away from the other side of the forest you are seeking.

There is a consequence to taking that wrong path, then: you basically have to return to the fork in the road and get back on the right trail. Having to retrace your steps in this instance is not a punishment; it is simply the necessary consequence of your mistake.

And this is the paradigm of life in this world. Life in this world is like a forest, and the other side of the forest we are trying to reach is to become better, ethical people in order to help create a better, more ethical world. But sometimes you come to a fork in the road, and the choices aren’t so clear, because you’re a little lost.

Imagine you walk into a room and someone has left a wallet full of money on the table. You can take the right path and make sure the wallet with all of its contents is returned to its owner, or you can take the wrong path, and keep the wallet. And if you steal the wallet, then you are headed in the wrong direction, and getting deeper and deeper into the woods. And once you steal, it becomes easier to steal again, and again, and again….

And there is a consequence to this wrong turn in the road: you have to go back and retrace your steps till you can return to that fork in the road, and get back on the right path. So how do you do that? Well, first thing, you have to return the money you stole! It is incredible that civil law ‘rehabilitates’ a prisoner through the prison system, without ever forcing him to repay what he stole!

The first thing a person must do, as the obvious consequence of his mistake, is to repay what he took. (Sometimes this is not so simple, but at least it is the principle on which Jewish criminal law is based.) And then, he has to try and become again the person he was before he ever stole in the first place; he has to try and get back to that crossroads.

Indeed, this is why Judaism’s word for this process is not ‘repentance’ (again, a Christian word based on the concept of penance, which is very different from what Judaism suggests.), it is Teshuvah, which comes from the root Shuv, to return, or go back. Maimonides (Hilchot Teshuvah 2:1) points out that real Teshuvah occurs when a person finds themselves in the same situation they were in, and this time make the right choice instead of the wrong one. In other words, they succeed in getting back to that crossroads.

So, in order to rehabilitate himself, a person must give back what he stole, and then attempt to become the person who never would have stolen in the first place.

All of which brings us back to our portion, and the Jewish indentured servant (not slave).

What happens if a person stole, but has long since disposed of what he stole? What if he spent the money, and now has nothing with which to pay back the person he stole from?

This is essentially the situation many petty thieves and criminals find themselves in today. But Judaism has a very different response. When a person has nothing, and ultimately must feel like nothing, the Jewish court evaluates what this person is worth on the ‘open market’ and sells his services to someone in order to facilitate his ability to repay those he stole from. Imagine a person stole $5,000 dollars, and has not a penny to his name. The court will assess what skills he has and allow the market to actually place a value on those services. And by selling himself into servitude, he can repay the debt he owes, and begin the process of returning to the person he was meant to be.

In other words, when a person has hit rock bottom, and feels he is utterly worthless, a thief, with nothing to contribute to society, Judaism tells him he is wrong.

He is taken to court, where the judges effectively say to him: ‘you think you are worthless? We will show you that you have value; you are worth much more than you think you are.’ And this is why he goes into service, and in the process discovers all that he has to contribute. And he becomes an intricate part of a family, which is such a different reality from our modern-day convicts, shunned by society and hidden away to rot where no one can see them.

It is easy to understand why a person would want to stay in such a reality: who wouldn’t? No bills, no worries, a great job, a great family, a sense of purpose and belonging, it would probably be hard for most people to leave such a life. This, of course, is precisely the problem.

Note that the indentured servant in the verse declares his love first for his master and only then for his wife and children. This is not at all about a person not wishing to leave the love of his life and his partner in creating a better world. In fact, the woman described is not even a Jewish woman, she is, according to tradition a Canaanite servant, who at least according to Maimonides has not fully accepted the seven Noachide laws, which is why she is still in service. (And if she is still an idolatress, she cannot be a true partner for a Jewish servant, because the most important aspect of any relationship is the sharing of common goals. It is hard enough to build a home when you share the same purpose and dreams; without them, it is close to impossible.)

The servant here loves his master more than his wife, which means he likes the life his master provides for him. And that is his mistake, because the whole purpose of his experience is to teach him that he has only one master. We are put in this world to make a difference, and G-d never wanted slaves; we are meant to be partners with G-d in building the world He has given us.

Our challenge is to embrace the freedom we have and decide what to do with it, and how best to use it to serve the whole world, by making this world a better place to be.

And this is what is really going on when the court brings him to the doorpost, the same doorpost whereon the blood of the lamb (of the Paschal sacrifice) was placed prior to our Exodus from Egypt. Before we got out of Egypt, we had to get Egypt out of ourselves. So, we slaughtered and ate of the lamb, one of the gods of Egypt, and placed it upon the doorpost as if to say: “into this home the gods of Egypt do not enter”. On that last night in Egypt we discovered that freedom is not about where you are; it’s about who you are.

And much like those Jews in Buchenwald, whether we are free or living as slaves is really up to us.

At that same door, the servant’s ear is pierced, because there is something that he was meant to hear, but didn’t.

Sometimes, you listen to something, but you don’t really hear it. The word Shema’ (Hear) is also related to the word ‘Me’aim’, which means innards, or guts. There are things that we need to hear, and feel in our gut. And if this servant had really heard the message at Sinai, and internalized the challenge of creating a world in partnership with G-d, he would never have walked through whatever mistaken doorway got him into trouble in the first place.

The fact that he wants to stay there means he still hasn’t gotten the message, which is why he needs to hear where he is at on a much deeper level.

Ultimately, we all serve something; and the only freedom we really have is the ability to choose what we wish to serve: the pot of soup at the end of the day, or the higher purpose we are willing sometimes to give it up for.

Shabbat Shalom.

The Yishai Fleisher Israel Podcast: Snow in Judea and Teen Zionism!

Season 2022 Episode 4: First, Yishai and Malkah marvel at the beautiful snow that covered Judea and fight against besmirchers of the Samarian hilltops. [00:30:40] Then, Masha Merkulova founded Club Z to help teens in North America face antisemitism and grown up as strong Zionists. [01:02:43] Finally, Table Torah on the parsha of Mishpatim: why God gives us the right to heal and to meet out corporal punishment.

"Increase and fully occupy the Land"

by HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

In this week’s parasha G-d promises Israel that they will conquer the Land, but that the process of conquest will be gradual:
“I will not drive them out in a single year, however, lest the land become depopulated, and the wild animals become too many for you to contend with. I will drive the inhabitants out little by little, giving you a chance to increase and fully occupy the land. I will set your borders from the Red Sea to the Philistine Sea, from the desert to the river. I will give the land's inhabitants into your hand, and you will drive them before you” (Shemot 23:29-31).

Indeed, Yehoshua bin Nun conquered the Land but not all of it. He left foreign peoples in it, who caused the Jewish People countless problems during the period of the Judges. This went on until the time of Dovid HaMelech, who conquered the entire land from the foreigners living in it. Only in the time of his son Solomon were we privileged to rest from our wars, each person sitting under his grave arbor or fig tree.

Today, our own generation is similar and parallel to that of Yehoshua bin Nun who came up out of the desert to conquer the Land. Our generation as well emerged out of the desert of nations after 2,000 years of exile, to conquer and settle Eretz Yisrael. And just as in Joshua’s generation they did not drive out all the residents of the Land, such that “I will drive out the inhabitants little by little” was fulfilled, so too in our own generation a foreign people still remain in the land of our life’s blood. And just as in the days of the judges, the foreign nations made great trouble for Israel, today as well the Arabs are causing us great problems, threatening the State of Israel’s existence. And just as in the days of the Judges leaders arose who fought Israel’s wars and infused the people with a spirit of valor, such as Gideon, Yiftach, Shimshon, and others, in our own day as well we need leaders who can strengthen the nation’s spirit and fight with might and fortitude against our enemies with their evil designs against us. And just as G-d makes our conquering the Land conditional on our first increase in number, so, too, in our own day, the call of the hour is to increase and multiply, from within and from without. From within, we must have natural population growth. It is well known that families that preserve Jewish tradition often have large families. Thank G-d, we have been privileged to see more and more people returning to their roots and to tradition. The day is not far off when the entire Jewish People will return to their roots, and the result will be great internal natural growth.

We must increase from without as well, by way of many aliyot. There are still millions of Jews in exile, and the State of Israel must invest enormous effort and large sums of money to encourage aliyah, both in educating towards aliyah and in absorbing new immigrants. By way of this internal growth and a large aliyah, we will fill our country with Jews. By such means we will be privileged to be the living fulfillment of the divine promise:
“I will set your borders from the Red Sea to the Philistine Sea, from the desert to the river.”

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

Yeshivat Machon Meir Parshat Mishpatim - The primary damagers

The “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is Back

by Victor Rosenthal

Do human stupidity and wickedness have any bounds?

After reading the comprehensive Wikipedia article about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, I have to answer a resounding “no.”

The Protocols, from its its first publication in Russia in 1903 by Pavel Krushevan, an antisemitic activist, publisher, and politician whose newspaper articles instigated the notorious Kishinev Pogrom, to its employment by Henry Ford, the Nazis, and Hamas, has been one of the most effective tools for spreading Jew-hatred throughout the world.

Supposedly a transcript of secret meetings of Jewish conspirators, it is not clear who the authors were. Much of it was plagiarized from various sources, including large chunks of dialogue from an 1864 (non-antisemitic) work called Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, by Maurice Joly, with anti-Jewish material interpolated. The work was translated into numerous languages, including of course English, German, and Arabic. It appears in various versions on the internet, and is a best-seller in print as well. The Jerusalem Post reports that “Walmart, Book Depository, Thrift Books, Hudson Books, and Barnes & Noble are each selling dozens of versions,” including some with introductory material that suggests that it may be genuine.

Let me repeat: introductory material that suggests that it may be genuine. The bogus nature of this document was conclusively documented in the 1920s, but in some quarters it is still considered “controversial!”

The document strikes every antisemitic chord possible. It presents the Jews as arrogant, dishonest, corrupt, greedy, sneaky, murderous, promiscuous, manipulative, and cold. It lays out their alleged plans to destroy the family, the state, the church, and the national economy. It presents their conspiracy to control the minds and bodies of gentiles, to trick and force them into doing their bidding. It tells how they foment war and insurrection in order to achieve their goals. And of course it describes the great octopus of hidden Jewish control over all the important institutions in society that the stupid gentiles believe are independent.

It’s a perfect theory, because it accounts for everything bad that happens to those who believe it. Business reversal? The Jews cheated you! War? The Jews started it! Your spouse has an affair? The Jews introduced immorality into art, literature, and media! Are you conservative? The Jews are responsible for the destruction of traditional values everywhere, in government, business, and the family! Are you liberal? The Jews are the most privileged of the privileged, exploiting the oppressed classes! They are rebellious communists and rapacious capitalists, godless libertines and God’s purported chosen.

Almost every antisemitic act that hits the headlines echoes the Protocols. Robert Bowers murdered eleven old Jews in Pittsburgh because he believed that the Jews are responsible for uncontrolled non-white immigration into the US. Malik Faisal Akram took Jewish hostages in Texas because he believed that the Jews could pull strings to get a terrorist released from Federal prison. John Earnest killed a woman and injured several other people when he shot up a synagogue in Poway, California in 2019 because he thought Jews were executing a “meticulously planned genocide of the European race,” apparently by encouraging interracial relationships.

Recently, Jewish conspiracies have been “found” everywhere. In one of the most egregious violations of the principles of logic and evidence, cases of American police abusing black citizens are attributed to some American police officials participating in programs to study counter-terrorism in Israel. But even if significant race-based police mistreatment of minorities exists (in fact, it may not), it long predates such training programs, which in any event are related to intelligence gathering or SWAT training and not to techniques of apprehending suspects. And certainly there is no racial content! Nevertheless, the theory – pushed by a “Jewish” anti-Israel organization – became wildly popular. Because nothing “fits” like a Jewish conspiracy.

Such conspiracy theories have been popular since the Middle Ages (killing Jesus, poisoning wells, the blood libel, etc.). But the grand conspiracy to rule the world that is expressed so comprehensively in the Protocols may date to the late 19th century, and I think it’s fair to say that nothing did more to popularize it than the publication of the Protocols. While it may or may not have affected the thinking of Hitler and other Nazis – there is no evidence that Hitler believed that it was genuine – they certainly used it to great effect as a propaganda tool. And other antisemites continue to do so today. In 2002, the Protocols was made into a dramatic series called Horseman Without a Horse, aired on Egyptian TV. It was rerun in 2012, and was also shown on Lebanon’s Hezbollah-linked Al Manar channel.

There’s no doubt that a book or other work of artistic expression can have malign effects. But does it make sense to say that it can be inherently evil?

I think the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an argument for that proposition.

Synergy between Iran's global and domestic violence

by Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger

Iran's domestic violence feeds the global Islamic Revolution
According to London-based Iran human rights review: "The combination of Iran’s human rights practices, its weapons programs, its democratic deficit and its support for listed terrorist entities make it a special and dangerous case. Human rights abuses in Iran threaten the peace and security of people elsewhere. It must be tackled, not just for the sake of justice, but also for the peace, order, and good government of Western democracies…."

Iran's crackdown on religious and ethnic minorities, exacerbated by Iran's anti-Western hate-education curriculum, is the most authentic reflection of the Ayatollahs' worldview and strategic vision. However, this rogue domestic conduct has never featured prominently in the negotiation process between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Moreover, Iran's domestic fanaticism constitutes a most productive breeding ground of recruits for the global exportation of the Islamic Revolution.

However, downplaying – or even whitewashing - the centrality of Iran's domestic violence, provides the Ayatollahs with a robust tailwind, while generating a sturdy headwind to the battle against Islamic terrorism.

Furthermore, a focus on Iran's domestic conduct would set the current negotiation on realistic – rather than make believe – grounds, exposing the built-in contradiction between the assumption that Iran is a potential "good-faith negotiator" and the reality of Iran as a prime epicenter of anti-US violence, driven by a 1,400-year-old fanatic and imperialistic Shiite Islamic vision.

Such a focus could pressure the Ayatollahs to reform their conduct, or it could serve as an effective lie-detector.

Legitimizing Iran's Ayatollahs and recognizing them as a regional and global power - while rewarding them with a diplomatic and financial bonanza - legitimizes the most intolerant branch of Shiite Islam, as displayed by the Islamic Republic of Iran's domestic and regional policies since the 1978/79 Islamic Revolution.

Legitimizing Iran's Ayatollahs, who aim to bring to submission "heretic" Sunni Muslim regimes (e.g., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) and the "infidel" West, which is led by "The Great American Satan," undermines recent attempts by Moslem reformists to introduce a relatively-moderate Islam in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco.

Legitimizing Iran's Ayatollahs – without preconditioning it upon an end to Iran's rogue domestic conduct – deals a dramatic blow to Iran's human rights activists and to the religious and ethnic minorities in Iran.

Iran's suppression of human rights
Iran's Human Rights Review (ibid) adds: "The Iranian Constitution [ratified on October 24, 1979 and amended on July 28, 1989] does not recognize human rights or fundamental freedoms as defined by international human rights covenants…. The rights of non-Muslims are not equal to those of Muslims, nor are the rights of women equal to those of men…. Since the 1979 establishment of the Islamic Revolution, a large number of discriminatory laws have been imposed on Iranian women….

"In Iran, there is no sovereignty of the people. Instead, the 'Nation of God' is subjected to full obedience to God and his representative, the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei who was preceded by Ayatollah Khomeini], who possesses an absolute constitutional authority…. Democracy is defined as the totalitarian and utopian unity of God, the Leader and Islamic nation….

"The [lifetime] Supreme Leader determines the rights of the entire nation, by controlling all branches of government in accordance with the strictest Shiite Islamic interpretation of all laws and regulations…. During the past 31 years we have witnessed punishments such as stoning, dismemberment, flogging and execution of 'criminals'….

"Article 12 declares Iran’s official religion to be Shiite. Other Islamic sects are free to perform their religious rites according to their religious jurisprudence [as interpreted by the Shiite Supreme Leader]…. Three religious minorities [Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity] are free to exercise their religion [as interpreted by the Supreme Shiite Leader], but do not have the right to manifest or promote their religion. Conversion of Muslims to other religions is punishable by death….

According to Prof. Wahabuddin Ra'ees of Malaysia's International Islamic University and Assistant Prof. Abdol Moghset Bani Kamal of Turkey's Yidirim Beyazit University: "The ethno-religious minorities in the Islamic Republic have been subjected to violations of their fundamental human rights…. All non-Shiite citizens of the Islamic Republic, such as the Sunni Muslims [estimated at 10 million out of 85 million Iranians], Bahai [350,000 deprived of rights and privileges], Zoroastrians [35,000], Jews [8,500], and Christians [7,000] are subject to Shiite Islamic constitutional restrictions and interpretation, denied their own tenets of religion and ideology…. Discrimination against religious minorities [second class, protected population] is institutionalized…. They are obliged to strictly subscribe to the official Shiite ideology….

"The Muslim population of the Islamic Republic is divided into the followers of Shiite and Sunni Islam…. However, the rarely elected Sunni minority religious representatives are required to take an oath to promote Shiite religious values…."

Washington-based Middle East Institute reports that "there are 3-5 million Sufi Muslims in Iran. Contrary to Iran's Ayatollahs, they don't believe in coercive, intolerant, violent Islam, but in spirituality, mysticism, the sanctity of life and liberty free of dogma. The 90-year-old Sufi leader, Dr. Noor Ali Tabandeh, died (poisoned?) while under a two-year-house arrest. He was replaced by a stooge of the Ayatollahs…."

According to the December 22, 2021 Saudi Arab News: "Non-Persian ethnic groups in Iran make up around 50% of the population, but overwhelmingly marginalized…. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, ethnic Kurds, Arabs and Balochis have faced harsh crackdowns by Iran's security forces…. The mostly Shiite Ahwazi Arabs [in the oil-rich Khuzestan province], the largest Arab community in Iran [2% of the population], face similar repression… [as are] Iranian Shiite Azerbaijanis, who make up at least 16% of the country's population. Many Azeris are held in suspicion by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps due to their cultural and linguistic affinities with Turks, in addition to the sense of ethnic kinship they feel with the people of neighboring Azerbaijan…. Iran's northwestern Kurds make up around 10% of the population…. Like other minorities in Iran, Kurds are not permitted to learn their native tongue in their own schools. Suspected members of one of the many Kurdish opposition groups face the death penalty…."

The bottom line
Can the US afford to ignore the well-documented rogue domestic conduct of Iran's Ayatollahs, including hate-education, which has been – since 1979 – the most effective production-line of recruits to the Shiite mission of exporting the Islamic Revolution regionally and globally?

Can the US combat effectively Iran's rogue external conduct (e.g., terrorism, subversion, wars, proliferation of ballistic technologies and drug trafficking), while underestimating the critical role played by Iran's rogue domestic conduct, which constitutes the roots of the
Islamic Revolution?

Legitimizing Iran's Ayatollahs – without preconditioning it upon an end to hate education and domestic suppression and discrimination - betrays Iran's ethnic and religious minorities, pulls the rug from under all pro-US Sunni Arab regimes, deals a severe blow to recent attempts to introduce a relatively-moderate version of Islam, and cripples the war on Islamic terrorism.

The Final Events in Human History

Parashat Mishpatim 5782
by HaRav Nachman Kahana

In keeping with my contention that to understand where HaShem is taking us and the world, don’t look at current events, but rather where the events will evolve towards the realization of HaShem’s goal for our generation. That goal is the negation of the galut punishment that we brought upon ourselves 2000 years ago, and our return to continue our national-religious life in Eretz Yisrael.

We, the Jewish nation, are the focal point of all meaningful events in history. In our generation it is the preparation of the land and the people for the final events in human history where evil vs. evil will self-destruct (Aisav vs. Yishmael).

The Russian army is presently poised to enter the Ukraine from three directions (no tears here). They might invade or they may not. In addition, China is flexing its military muscle in the Pacific. The Pentagon will realize that the US military is understaffed and undermanned. Congress will restore the selective service act and draft millions of young men and women with no exemptions on religious or academic grounds, and your sons and daughters will be called to serve for unlimited time, depending on the situation.

This is one more way that HaShem is signaling his people to leave the galut before the last great war.

For years I have been warning the Jews in the galut that the gates to Eretz Yisrael will not be open forever for aliya, so come now. In addition, economic interests in the galut will prevent people from withdrawing their money from banks, making aliya even more difficult.

Not all the Jews will hear the call to aliya, just as the 80% in Egypt did not hear or heed the call – and that is very sad.

My friends here, to a man and to a woman, call to tell me how thankful they are to be living in Medinat Yisrael, despite all the formidable challenges they face.

Aliyah With All Your Might
The Torah states in Mishpatim (23,20):

הנה אנכי שלח מלאך לפניך לשמרך בדרך ולהביאך אל המקום אשר הכנתי

“Behold, I am sending an angel to guard you in the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared for you”.

A story I wrote that appears in my book “With all Your Might” is pertinent on the background of current events.

The phone rang in the nearly desolate, topsy-turvy home of the Levines. Mrs. Beth Levine nervously let the wrapping cord fall from her hand as she ran to answer the phone. Too late. The light on the phone’s base signaled that there was a recorded message.

She pushed the “listen” button and a familiar voice spoke: “Hello, this is Miri from Nefesh b’Nefesh. I have two messages for you, a happy one and another, a bit disappointing. The movers will be coming to your home tomorrow morning, Monday, at exactly 7:00 AM, so please be ready.

And the not so happy news. I know how much you wanted the three ABC seats by the window, because of your names Al, Beth and Carol, plus the adjoining D seat of the middle section for David, on this Thursday’s flight. But because you are a family of four you were assigned the four DEFG seats in the middle section. In any event, the thrill of going on aliya will certainly overshadow such minor irritations. Aliya tova!”

Miri was so right, Mrs. Levine thought to herself. The thrill of a dream-come-true leaves no room for such mundane issues as seating on a plane; although it would have been nice to see the coastline of Israel drawing closer as the “wings of eagles” brought us home. Al and Beth Levine had decided to come on aliya five years ago, when Carol was ten and David had his bar-mitzva. However, it took five years for Al to find a suitable replacement in his law firm; in addition, selling the house for the right price was a protracted process. But thank G-d, the local shul bought it to serve as the community home for whichever rabbi would be serving at the time.

In the interim, the Levines kept up with current events in Israel, as well as developments in the Middle East, and kept their dream alive. The tension was high. Iran, patron of the murderous Hezbollah and Hamas gangs, continued to develop a nuclear capacity and other factors. But none of this could detract from their decision to come on aliya.

David is to begin Bar Ilan University right after the holidays and Carol is registered in the Ulpan in Kiryat Arba. David was the crisis person in the decision. Youngsters of his age in Israel are drafted into the IDF, but David was promised that he would be permitted to finish his BA uninterrupted by army service. With this issue behind them, there was really nothing to prevent the Levines from taking the step of a lifetime. The one annoying factor in their aliya was the attitude of some relatives and friends, who, perhaps for reasons of jealousy or personal weakness, were very critical of their aliya plans. “What’s the rush? Wait until the children finish school. You’re now at your peak earning power. Is this the time to leave?”

On the other hand, the Rabbi was wonderful. On Shabbat he spoke from the pulpit on the mitzva of living in Eretz Yisrael. He praised the Levines, saying how they would be missed in the many areas of their community involvement. Al for giving up his Sundays in order to coach the shul’s little league team; Beth for being the Shabbat kiddish coordinator; Carol for helping her mother with the kiddishes and David for managing the various teen activities of the shul. But, of course, the Rabbi was careful to point out that the mitzva of living in Eretz Yisrael was in the category of a four-cornered garment, which although not mandatory to wear, if one should do so he would be required to attach to it tzitzit and merit a mitzva. So too, one is not required to “go up to the land” until the Mashiach comes, but if one should do so he merits a great mitzva.

To their skeptical friends and relatives, Al would respond that there have been too many warnings of late that the time has come to go home. So if not now, then when?

The following day, on Monday, true to Miri’s message, the movers arrived at 7:00 AM sharp to take all the worldly possessions of the Levine family to the packing company, and from there to Israel. Packing was an unforgettable experience. Beth Levine stood wondering how they “succeeded” in 20 years of marriage to accumulate so much “stuff.”

They began in the attic, which served as a nostalgic trip into the past. Many memories were evoked as they rummaged through their possessions. The less-than-modest wedding gown which Mrs. Levine did not want her Carol to see. A 78 RPM record player; Al’s catcher’s mitt, which he could not part with. Old photographs from the Pineview and Pioneer Hotels and summer camps. How these experiences have sweetened with time. But life goes on. And with a mental scissors they will be severed in the light of the new life in the Promised Land.

Eventually, much was given away, more was thrown out, and the necessary articles were now packed in cartons to be shipped off. In the packing process, the Levines concluded that Moshe Rabbeinu was so right in ordering the Jews to leave with only a few matzot, because if they would have been permitted to bring their possessions, we would still be in Mitzrayim.

Ten in the morning and the movers had finished about half the work. A Western Union messenger suddenly arrived with a telegram for Mr. David Levine. Al signed for it, opened the envelope and read aloud. “Greetings. You are hereby informed that The President of the United States of America and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and Congress in emergency session, have passed the Selective Service Act of 2022 to be enforced immediately. You are ordered to report on May 14, 2022 to the Induction Center at 1948 Independence Ave. for induction into the armed services for a period of not less than three years. You will be sent to Paris Island, Georgia, to commence basic training as a proud United States Marine. Your passport will be on hold until the completion of your military service. Good luck and God’s speed to you in the service of your country.”

Al handed the telegram to Beth as the phone suddenly rang. He got there too late to answer, but the light on the phone’s base signaled that there was a recorded message. Al pushed the “listen” button and a familiar voice sounded. “Hello, this is Miri again from Nefesh be’Nefesh. Good news. Due to last minute cancellations, we have been able to get for you the three ABC seats near the window and the D in the middle. Derech Tze’lei’cha.”

Shabbat Shalom
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5782/2022 Nachman Kahana

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Rav Kook on Parashat Mishpatim: Permission for Doctors to Heal

Medical Fees
Amongst the various laws in the parashah of Mishpatim — nearly all of which are of a societal or interpersonal nature — the Torah sets down the laws of compensation for physical damages. When one person injures another, he must compensate the other party with five payments. He must pay for (1) any permanent loss of income due to the injury, (2) embarrassment, (3) pain incurred, (4) loss of income while the victim was recovering, and (5) medical expenses.

This last payment, that he “provide for his complete healing” (Exod. 21:19), i.e., that he cover any medical fees incurred, is of particular interest. The word “to heal” appears 67 times in the Torah, almost always referring to God as the Healer. Only here, as an aside to the topic of damages, does the Torah indicate that we are expected to take active measures to heal ourselves, and not just leave the healing process to nature.

This detail did not escape the keen eyes of the Sages. “From here we see that the Torah gave permission to the doctor to heal” (Berachot 60a).

Yet we need to understand: why should the Torah need to explicitly grant such permission to doctors? If anything, we should expect all medical activity to be highly commended, as doctors ease pain and save lives.

Our Limited Medical Knowledge
The human being is an organic entity. The myriad functions of body and soul are intertwined and interdependent. Which person can claim that he thoroughly understands all of these functions, how they interrelate, and how they interact with the outside world? There is a danger that when we treat a medical problem in one part of the body, we may cause harm to another part. Sometimes the side effects of a particular medical treatment are relatively mild and acceptable. And sometimes the results of treatment may be catastrophic, causing problems far worse than the initial issue.1

One could thus conclude that there may be all sorts of hidden side effects, unknown to the doctor, which are far worse than the ailment we are seeking to cure. Therefore, it would be best to let the body heal on its own, relying on its natural powers of recuperation.

Relying on Available Knowledge
The Torah, however, rejects this view. Such an approach could easily be expanded to include all aspects of life. Any effort on our part to improve our lives, to use science and technology to advance the world, could be rebuffed on the grounds that we lack knowledge of all consequences of the change.

The Sages taught: “The judge can only base his decision on what he is able to see” (Baba Batra 131a). If the judge or doctor or engineer is a competent professional (Ed. note: Unlike many today. Wonder what Rav Kook would have to say about our current situation), we rely on his expertise and grasp of all available knowledge to reach the best decision possible. We do not allow concern for unknown factors hinder our efforts to better our lives.

“The progress of human knowledge, and all of the results of human inventions — is all the work of God. These advances make their appearance in the world according to mankind’s needs, in their time and generation.”

(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 390 by Rav Chanan Morrison)

1 The tragic example of birth defects as a result of treating morning sickness in pregnancy with thalidomide comes to mind.

Pleasure is only meant to be a wonderful by-product of doing the Torah thing.

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston

Friday Night
One day a gentile came to Shammai and asked him how many Torahs the Jewish people have. He answered two, a written one and an oral one. He then asked to be taught only the written one, after which he would convert. He didn’t get the chance, because Shammai threw him out.

Undaunted, the gentile turned to Hillel who not only did not scold or throw him out, but he taught him. On the first day, Hillel showed him the letters of the Aleph-Bais and said to him: “Aleph, Bais, Gimmel, Dalet.” The next day he reversed the order of the letters and told him that an Aleph is a Tav and so on. The convert said to him: “But yesterday you did not tell me that.” Hillel told him: “You see that it is impossible to learn what is written without relying on an oral tradition. Didn’t you rely on me? Therefore, you should also rely on me with regard to the matter of the Oral Torah, and accept the interpretations that it contains.”

And so the gentile did, and converted with flying colors.

There are a couple of more stories like this, with the conclusion being a bunch of grateful converts who praise Hillel for having the patience to work with them. And not just work with them, but to outsmart them. When they first applied for Jewish membership, they lacked the knowledge and experience to appreciate the truth about Torah and themselves. They didn’t know that they wanted what Shammai was selling and Hillel found a way to show it to them.

My Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Noach Weinberg, zt”l (Aish HaTorah) may have modeled himself after Hillel. He had been inspired to re-affiliate “lost” Jews, and spent his entire adult life devoted to that program. I don’t know if he started off with a Shammai approach, which is very natural to do as an Orthodox Jew, and failed. But by the time I came around, the Hillel approach was well in progress, and succeeding beyond expectation.

One of his key selling points was that the world was made for pleasure. Rav Noach even developed a program called “The Five Levels of Pleasure,” something everyone should know, especially Orthodox Jews. God tells us in no uncertain terms that all of the horrible curses described in Parashas Ki Savo will happen if we do not serve God with joy. Too many Shomer Shabbos Jews look like they’re in pain most of the time.

In any case it worked. Most of us bought into it, believing that this was a different brand of Judaism than most of us had experienced growing up Conservative or Reform. It was alive and vibrant, and most of us were certainly having a good time growing up religious at Aish HaTorah, a LOT of fun. (Some of my fondest memories are from those days.)

It’s also been a great time in history to become a ba’al teshuvah. Parnassah is easier, and often plentiful, thank God. Kosher food is extremely available and of high quality. Chalav Yisroel is just about everywhere. And for better or worse, some of the gentile forms of entertainment have burrowed into the Torah world, in a “Jewish way” of course. It even became a fad for a short while to learn with an Orthodox rabbi during your business day.

By the time I got to the part in Derech Hashem that said this world is not the destined world of pleasure, but the World-to-Come instead, it did not matter anymore. I believed in God, knew that Torah had to be His, and didn’t mind making sacrifices for both. I had already come to understand, as Rav Noach knew we eventually would, that the greatest pleasure a person can have in this world is living according to truth, God’s truth.

We hadn’t been deceived, just outsmarted. We had been intellectually chaperoned by a brilliant and so very eloquent rabbi, until we were spiritually mature enough to know the truth and commit to it.

In any case, it wasn’t that Rav Noach was wrong, God forbid. This world is clearly very pleasurable. It turns out that the difference is that when it comes to Eisav, that pleasure is the goal of life itself. But when it comes to the Jewish people, who are destined for the eternal and unlimited pleasure of Olam HaBa, it is only meant to be a wonderful by-product of doing the Torah thing.

Shabbos Day
IT’S KIND OF the same with these parshios. Last week’s parsha was drama, and even the Ten Commandments were given with style. This week’s parsha begins with the most technical of laws, the meat-and-potatoes of most in-depth yeshivah learning. In a sense, last week’s parsha was all Hillel. This week’s parsha starts out very Shammai-like before returning towards the end of it to a Hillel-like approach.

But this itself makes the point. You can’t have only Hillel and you can’t have only Shammai. You need both of them, and the only reason why there is a Hillel is because there is a Shammai, and vice-versa. You can put bread on top and bread on the bottom. But it only becomes a sandwich once you put the “meat” between the two of them.

When I was first becoming religious, I happened to be back at the Conservative shul where I prayed on the High Holidays and went to Cheder. The back-up rabbi wanted to talk to me about what I was in the process of doing, probably to convince me out of it. When we got to the discussion about Shabbos, he asked me (as if shocked), “Do you mean to say that you believe that God would rather a little old lady stay in her apartment by herself on Shabbos, than drive and be together with her friends in shul?”

I hadn’t known tons of halachah at that time, but I knew enough to answer, “Yes, that is what God wants.” Then he answered something to the effect of, “Well, that is not a god I can worship,” and that was that.

Is that an option? Didn’t a lot of Jews think like that in Europe, or Russia, and ended up being persecuted together with the Orthodox Jews as well? Torah Jews may have suffered, but at least they did it while doing the meaningful thing, like Rebi Akiva in this story:

Once the evil [Roman] government issued a decree forbidding Jews to study and practice the Torah. Pappus bar Yehudah found Rebi Akiva publicly teaching Torah. He asked him: “Akiva, aren’t you afraid of the government?”

He replied: “I will explain to you with a parable. A fox was once walking alongside of a river, and he saw fish going in swarms from one place to another. He said to them: ‘From what are you fleeing?’ They replied: ‘From the nets cast for us by men.’ He said to them: ‘Would you like to come up on to the dry land so that you and I can live together in the way that my ancestors lived with your ancestors?’ They answered: ‘Are you the one they call the cleverest of animals? You are not clever but foolish. If we are afraid in the element in which we live, how much more in the element in which we would die!’ So it is with us. If such is our condition when we sit and study the Torah, of which it is written, ‘For that is your life and the length of your days,’ if we go and neglect it how much worse off we shall be!”

It is related that soon afterwards Rebi Akiva was arrested and thrown into prison, and Pappus bar Yehudah was also arrested and imprisoned next to him. He said to him: “Pappus, who brought you here?”

He replied: “Happy are you, Rebi Akiva, that you have been seized for busying yourself with the Torah! Too bad for Pappus who has been seized for busying himself with idle things!” (Brochos 61b)

Shalosh Seudot
I KNOW THAT was a Shammai-like story to tell. The point was not to intimidate anyone into obedience, just to make a point that has been a fact of Jewish history a lot more than ANY of us would care to admit.

There is another point here as well. The story is backwards without a belief in the World-to-Come. If we’re not going anywhere after death, then Pappus could have argued just the opposite: “Too bad Rebi Akiva for you. At least I got arrested having a good time. You got arrested for doing some meaningless spiritual thing!”

But this was not a gloating Pappus. It was an envious Pappus. “We’re both going to die,” Pappus told Rebi Akiva. “But your reason for dying makes you a martyr, and it will elevate you close to God in the World-to-Come. My death is not even close in meaning and merit. And I’m not even going to have a second chance to correct that! You don’t even need one.”

Why not? How did Rebi Akiva, the quintessential ba’al teshuvah, get it right when he needed to the most? That was the answer he gave to his students who questioned his devotion at such a difficult moment. He told them, “I have prepared for this moment all of my religious life, like the Shema tells us.”

The truth is, Rebi Akiva actually died on the last intended day of his life. He was 120 years old, probably to the day or close to it. He didn’t die prematurely, he just didn’t die peacefully, as the angels complained. And we all know that the final moments of an experience can wipe away all the good that occurred before it if they are tragic.

Again, if this world is where it is at, that was a terrible way to go. But it is not, and therefore, it wasn’t. On the contrary, Rebi Akiva believed with all of his heart, his life, and his might, that this world really is only a corridor to the next one, and that his self-sacrifice for truth was the greatest rite of passage to it there was. He left this world knowing something so few of us ever know, that his ticket there was paid in full. What a Shammai-like way to leave this world!

So yes, we need the Hillel approach to save us from ourselves. It brings people in before they are able to bring themselves in, and that is essential. But at the end of the day, it is Shammai and mishpatim that get us to where we ultimately want to be…on our way to the World-to-Come.