Friday, December 5, 2008

"shabbat is called a delight" - עונג קרא לשבת

Recently, a close friend was let go from a job. Someone who was incredible at what he did was sent home for one reason and one reason only - his salary was no longer in the budget. On paper another person is on the job hunt but what has been lost is so much more than a salaried position.

And so I awoke at five o’clock this morning in tears, feeling acutely the impact if the world economic collapse, recognizing it as the beginning of the steps in the “birth-pangs of mashiach,” the steps leading us towards the Redemption. I cried begging Hashem not to give us more reasons to cry and being unable to fathom how this friend could go into shabbat with the oneg and enjoyment that the day demands of us. If the day is indeed “a taste of the world to come,” how are we to experience this slice of heaven amidst heartbreak and uncertainty?

What makes shabbat special? Certainly halacha provides us with a blueprint of the “don’ts” but among the “dos” provided by the guidebook is the singing of zemirot. Singing zemirot is but one of the ways we bring joy to shabbat and going over the words in my head I suddenly I understood the zemirah that we sing each Friday evening and understood a message I had overlooked millions of times. The zemirah where every USY kid will yell out “valley chicken!” during the refrain and where girls will sing “u’leshadech habanot” in decibels to rival the deafening tones at mt. Sinai. The words of the last verse of “ma yedidot" - "what a beloved friend" jumped out at me:

מֵעֵין עוֹלָם הַבָּא יוֹם שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה
כָּל הַמִּתְעַנְּגִים בָּהּ יִזְכּוּ לְרוֹב שִׂמְחָה
מֵחֶבְלֵי מָשִׁיחַ יֻצָּלוּ לִרְוָחָה
פְּדוּתֵנוּ תַצְמִיחַ וְנָס יָגוֹן וַאֲנָחָה

Gleaned from midrashic literature the zemirah tells us the following:
Shabbat, the day of rest, is a taste of the world-to-come.
All those who enjoy themselves on it will merit such happiness
They will be spared from the birth pangs of the messiah (an era of tumult and suffering even if its final outcome is redemptive, TB Shabbat 118a)
Make our redemption flourish, so that sorrow and sighing will take flight

It is a message I have heard countless times. Our sages teach us that as much as the Jewish people keep shabbat it is shabbat that guards the Jewish people. The zemer illuminates this idea so poignantly. When life in this world is most difficult shabbat comes to us as a gift, a rose among the thorns, a diamond beckoning from the rough. It is not a matter of searching for enjoyment in shabbat during times of tribulation but it is shabbat itself that saves us from the hardships.

May we approach each shabbat as the inheritance and treasure it is meant to be and may we have added kavanah and intention when we sing this zemirah to ease our inevitable suffering in the times ahead.

With blessings for a peaceful, restful, meaningful and joyful shabbat.

Ma Yedidot was composed by Rabbi Menachem ben Machir of Ratisbonne (France, 11th Century). English translation was taken from here

An explanation of the zemirah in hebrew can be found here.

מה ידידות מנוחתך - סימן מנחם
מַה יְּדִידוּת מְנוּחָתֵךְ אַתְּ שַׁבָּת הַמַּלְכָּה
בְּכֵן נָרוּץ לִקְרָאתֵךְ בּוֹאִי כַלָּה נְסוּכָה
לְבוּשׁ בִּגְדֵי חֲמוּדוֹת לְהַדְלִיק נֵר בִּבְרָכָה
וַתֵּכֶל כָּל הָעֲבוֹדוֹת לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ מְלָאכָה
לְהִתְעַנֵּג בְּתַעֲנוּגִים בַּרְבּוּרִים וּשְׂלָיו וְדָגִים

מֵעֶרֶב מַזְמִינִים כָּל מִינֵי מַטְעַמִּים
מִבְּעוֹד יוֹם מוּכָנִים תַּרְנְגוֹלִים מְפֻטָּמִים
וְלַעֲרוֹךְ כַּמָּה מִינִים שְׁתוֹת יֵינוֹת מְבֻשָּׂמִים
וְתַפְנוּקֵי מַעֲדַנִּים בְּכָל שָׁלשׁ פְּעָמִים
לְהִתְעַנֵּג בְּתַעֲנוּגִים בַּרְבּוּרִים וּשְׂלָיו וְדָגִים

נַחֲלַת יַעֲקֹב יִירָשׁ בְּלִי מְצָרִים נַחֲלָה
וִיכַבְּדוּהוּ עָשִׁיר וָרָשׁ וְתִזְכּוּ לִגְאֻלָּה
יוֹם שַׁבָּת אִם תִּשְׁמֹרוּ וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה
שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבוֹדוּ וּבַשְּׁבִיעִי נָגִילָה
לְהִתְעַנֵּג בְּתַעֲנוּגִים בַּרְבּוּרִים וּשְׂלָיו וְדָגִים

חֲפָצֶיךָ אֲסוּרִים וְגַם לַחֲשׁוֹב חֶשְׁבּוֹנוֹת
הִרְהוּרִים מֻתָּרִים וּלְשַׁדֵּךְ הַבָּנוֹת
וְתִנּוֹק לְלַמְּדוֹ סֵפֶר לַמְנַצֵּחַ בִּנְגִינוֹת
וְלַהֲגוֹת בְּאִמְרֵי שֶׁפֶר בְּכָל פִּנּוֹת וּמַחֲנוֹת
לְהִתְעַנֵּג בְּתַעֲנוּגִים בַּרְבּוּרִים וּשְׂלָיו וְדָגִים

הִלּוּכָךְ תְּהֵא בְנַחַת עוֹנֶג קְרָא לַשַּׁבָּת
וְהַשֵּׁנָה מְשֻׁבַּחַת כְּדַת נֶפֶשׁ מְשִׁיבַת
בְּכֵן נַפְשִׁי לְךָ עָרְגָה וְלָנוּחַ בְּחִבַּת
כַּשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים סוּגָה בּוֹ יָנוּחוּ בֵּן וּבַת
לְהִתְעַנֵּג בְּתַעֲנוּגִים בַּרְבּוּרִים וּשְׂלָיו וְדָגִים

מֵעֵין עוֹלָם הַבָּא יוֹם שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה
כָּל הַמִּתְעַנְּגִים בָּהּ יִזְכּוּ לְרוֹב שִׂמְחָה
מֵחֶבְלֵי מָשִׁיחַ יֻצָּלוּ לִרְוָחָה
פְּדוּתֵנוּ תַצְמִיחַ וְנָס יָגוֹן וַאֲנָחָה
לְהִתְעַנֵּג בְּתַעֲנוּגִים בַּרְבּוּרִים וּשְׂלָיו וְדָגִים

Ma Yedidot / What a Beloved Friend
Refrain: This is the time to enjoy pleasures: geese (like King Solomon’s fare) (I Kings 5:3),
quail (like those God sent with the manna in the desert) (Exodus 16:12),
and fish (like those the children of Israel remembered so fondly from the Nile in Egypt, when they were
bored with manna) (Numbers 11: 8).

Ma. What a beloved friend your Rest is! (See Psalm 84:2-314)
You are Shabbat, the queen! /
So let’s run to greet you: Come, my princess bride/kallah (just as the ancient Rabbis
Hanina and Rabbi Yannai used to welcome her at sunset - TB Shabbat 119a)/
Dressed in desirable clothes, we light the (Shabbat) candle with a blessing.
All labors are finished (just as Moshe finished all the labors in making the Mishkan in the desert)
(Exodus 39:32): So “you shall do no work” (Leviticus 23:3).

Mei-erev. In advance all is prepared, all sorts of tasty delicacies. /
While it is still daylight, the juicy, plump chickens are ready. /
We set a (table) - with assorted foods, to drink fragrant wines, and /
(to taste) a connoisseur’s special dainties – three times, (the three Shabbat

Nakhalat. One will inherit “Jacob’s legacy” (Isaiah 58:14), “an inheritance without
boundaries” (“which is granted only to those who take pleasure in observing
Shabbat”).( TB Shabbat 118a) /
Both rich and poor should honor Shabbat and thereby all of you will earn
(In fact, “if all of Israel were to keep Shabbat twice, then they would be redeemed immediately”) (TB
Shabbat 118a; TJ Ta’anit 1:1) /
So if you keep Shabbat, “you will be a treasure to Me” (as God promised Israel at Mount
Sinai) (Exodus 19:5):/
“Six days you shall labor” (Exodus 20:9), but on the seventh let us celebrate.

Khafatzekha. (Pursuing) your business affairs are forbidden, as are computing
your accounts. /
However purely mental calculations are permitted. So too are:
(1) matchmaking for your daughters (which often involves dowry calculations) (TB Shabbat
150a), /
(2) teaching a child to study a book (or arranging to hire a teacher),
(3) singing melodies / and (4) contemplating, wherever you are, “beautiful words
of wisdom” (Genesis 49: 21). 15
Hilukhakha. Let your gait be relaxed (TB Shabbat 113a), since “Shabbat is called Oneg
, a delight” (Isaiah 58:13)./
Sleep is highly commended, for it properly restores the soul. /
Hence my soul longs for you - Shabbat, to rest with affection. /
Shabbat is “encircled by lilies” (Song of Songs 7:3) (fenced in by protective prohibitions) (Avot
d’Rabbi Natan source???).
Both son and daughter will rest on Shabbat (Exodus 20: 10) .

Shabbat, the day of rest, is a taste of the world-to-come. (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 1:36) /
All those who enjoy themselves on it will merit much happiness. /
They will be spared from the birth pangs of the messiah (an era of tumult and suffering
even if its final outcome is redemptive, TB Shabbat 118a). /
Make our redemption flourish, so that sorrow and sighing will take flight.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"ירידה למען עליה"

May the following words of Torah be l'ilui nishmatam of the 8 boys murdered in the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva massacre. hy"d. May their names and memory be a blessing.

We are bein hametzarim - between the calamities of our enemies breaching the walls of our eternal and holy city to the time when they set our holy Temple aflame and burned it down. We find ourselves in a period of mourning, increased tshuva, rectifying our deeds and engaging in actions to commemorate our destroyed Temples. In less than three weeks time we will read the Scroll of Aicha, Lamentations, and in unison utter the following words: השיבנו יהוה אליך ונשוב (ונשובה), חדש ימינו כקדם. “chadesh yameinu k’kedem” - “Turn Thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.”

In these weeks in the calendar when, historically our personal and national troubles increase we work fervently to restoring and renewing the world as it was in “kedem.” We are on the path towards Redemption. This path is not straight. It is not on an incline that ascends and ascends until it reaches its summit, rather, the path towards Redemption winds around hills. There are deep valleys and staggering peaks. Standing on one peak the next one seems so close and yet to move further along the path, in order to ascend the next peak, one must first descend to the valley. Like a hiker on a mountain path so to the process of Tshuva - of returning to G-d: “yeridah l’ma’an aliya” - descension for the sake of ascension. Sometimes, in order to reach spiritual heights one must first plummet to spiritual lows.

The Torah describes Avraham Avinu when he first sees Mount Moriah: ויישא אברהם את-עיניו וירא את-המקום--מרחוק - “And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.” As Abraham would have been walking towards Jerusalem from the south, historians and archeologists locate “afar off” as what we today call “the tayelet,” Armon Hanatziv, the scenic promenade in southern Jerusalem overlooking the City of David and the Old City. Coming from Armon Hanatziv, the approach to Mount Moriah necessitated descending towards the valley that would be home to King David’s Jerusalem before climbing up towards Mount Moriah. “yeridah l’ma’an aliyah” - descending for the sake of ascending. This remained the path by which the people of Israel would approach Mount Moriah for centuries to come. The Jewish People walked in the ways of G-d and from the depths of the valley in the city of David, worshipers ascended to Mount Moriah. With modern archeological findings at the southern wall of Mount Moriah one can still hear echoes of our ancestors climbing the steps towards the Temple Mount with Psalms “A song of Ascents.” Mount Moriah - crowned with the Temple and bejeweled with G-d’s Presence.

Then, we veered off the path, we turned away from G-d and our sins became numerous. Our Temple was destroyed and with Its dwelling place gone, G-d’s Presence, the shechinah, was removed from our midst. G-d’s people were taken to captivity, exiled to foreign lands to serve foreign rulers. G-d’s Land lay barren. The exile was bitter and calamity after calamity lashed out at our broken people - crusades, the inquisition, pogroms, the holocaust. Miraculously the decree of exile began to lift the children of Israel were returned to their borders and with wars our borders grew. Regathered in our Land, we rejoiced on the peak of the hill and Redemption was just within reach… and then like a limb torn from its body Gaza, Gush Katif and the northern Shomron fell to the hands of our enemies and we saw the embers of destruction smolder on. We fell lower still and felt the smoldering embers grow flames that licked out and lashed claiming the lives of our soldiers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, young and old, pure and innocent. We build the third Temple while the embers of the second refuse to die. We seem to go lower and while the next peak is in our line of vision we can’t seem to build a bridge towards it or stop from tumbling towards the valley floor. We tumble and fall and spinning around we struggle to remember “yeridah l’ama’n aliya,” each fall will ultimately lead us to arise.

We no longer approach Mount Moriah from the south. We no longer ascend towards the Temple Mount. Today, our physical approach to the Temple Mount is symbolic of our historical moment. Coming from the west we can see the Temple Mount directly across from us, the dome of the rock towering over the western wall it is just within reach! We go down the steps towards Mount Moriah, pass through security and then we never rise up. We walk straight towards the Western Wall but do not ascend to the peak of the Mount. It is a “yeridah” yet, for all but a chosen few, there is no “aliyah.”

In this time of bein hametzarim when we focus all our energies towards mourning the destruction of the Temple, may G-d remember our merits and find our tshuva sincere and stop our fall. May the yeridah be for the sake of an aliyah, so we can build the Temple and hurry the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days so that these days are turned from times of mourning to times of joy. Amen, kein yehi ratzon.

והביאותים אל-הר קודשי, ושימחתים בבית תפילתי--עולותיהם וזבחיהם לרצון, על-מזבחי: כי ביתי, בית-תפילה ייקרא לכל-העמים.

Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon Mine altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:7)

View On White
viewing Mount Moriah from the south, Armon Hanatziv. taken on Yom Ha'atzmaut 5768.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Imagine there's no countries..."

John Lennon, 1971
Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

If one were to sum up the 60’s and 70’s in a single word “chutzpah” would most appropriately describe these decades. Complete upheaval - socially, politically, religiously - the drug culture and shaking off of societal norms these were nothing if not audacious. With its dream for the abolition of religion and borders and “living as one,” “Imagine” certainly became the anthem of a generation. It is in this culture that my parents generation came of age. My generation, born after the height of the “hippie era” did not experience this phenomenon in “real time” and by the time we hit adolescence the ideals of “free love,” “a world without borders” had become accepted norm themselves. We grew up in the post-hippie era, yet it’s ideals and values branded an implicit mark on our upbringing. In the “modern orthodox” world this influence is so profound that despite our study of classic Jewish texts we are more familiar with the prevailing pop-culture than with authentic Jewish sources. It is no wonder that when we encounter true Jewish values we often run the risk of having them misrepresented or misunderstanding them entirely. One of the greatest problems facing our generation is that Lennon’s ideals have supplanted authentic Jewish ideals.

The question begs to be asked: Are the ideas expressed in “Imagine” incompatible with Judaism and if so what is so wrong about a world without “heaven,” or “religion,” or “countries?” Lennon’s dream of a world without countries and people “sharing all the as one” seem revolutionary and very much in tune with the times. However, a look into classic Jewish sources reveals that this dream of a border-less world really is nothing new. One need look no further than the chapter of the Tower of Babel to find our first encounter with this ideology.

After the flood the Torah recounts how Noah’s descendants are divided and alloted portions of the earth by nation: “Of these were the isles of the nations divided in their lands, every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” “ מֵאֵלֶּה נִפְרְדוּ אִיֵּי הַגּוֹיִם, בְּאַרְצֹתָם, אִישׁ, לִלְשֹׁנוֹ--לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, בְּגוֹיֵהֶם.” (Genesis 10:5) One should note the interrelationship between nationality, language, land and borders. In essence there is a direct correlation between a land and the unique cultural identity of its inhabitants. In the post-modern age of globalization this is a lofty concept to grasp but a Torah tenet nonetheless. Even without understanding what the sin of the builders of the tower was, the world being “of one language and of one speech,” is not viewed favorably. Chazal deem the building of the tower as outright rebellion against G-d and as punishment for this G-d mixes up their languages and scatters the people across the face of the Earth. The post-modern, globalized world may advocate creating a global culture, dismantling cultural barriers and becoming “one” but this is antithetical to the Torah. Unity may be a Jewish value but sameness is not.

We often speak about the value of Jewish identity, about the connection between the people of Israel and the land of Israel. However, the building of the tower occurred before the Jewish people entered the stage of human history, even before Abraham and certainly before any discussion on the Jewish peoples chosen-ness. The land of Israel is indeed granted a measure of holiness (kedusha) rendering it distinct from all other countries. However, even before we can accept this principle we must first admit that a country-less world is incongruous with the Torah.

“Imagine” may only be a dream but it cannot be claimed as the dream of the Jew.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Why I'm here.

What drew me to Israel? I was not escaping some sort of difficult life in America or fear of anti-semitism. I was running towards something. I was sixteen when I first stood on this Land and from those early moments was filled with a sense of belonging and purposefulness. It felt like even the most mundane of activities were imbued with meaning and purpose. Going to the market to grab some milk had a greater “feel-good” quotient than heading out to volunteer at the old age home back in the old country. When I returned to life in America I felt like a fish out of water suffering from reverse culture shock. While many of my friends were able to stifle that feeling or drown it out and carry on I lived with a weight in my heart and a quiet but persistent voice in my head “go home!”

If there was a quiet voice telling me that I didn’t belong there was an even louder voice in the soundtrack of my mind saying “Israel is awesome!” At the height of the intifada I waltzed onto my university campus wanting to shout from the rooftops “I love Israel!” You can imagine my disappointment when I got involved with Israel activities on campus. The general rule with these groups was that we had to combat anti-israel sentiment and prove that we weren’t like the arabs. This meant that "Israel Week" display tables were filled with fascinating facts like “we let women drive,” or “x% of Israelis are literate and y% of surrounding Arab countries aren’t” “Israel provides all religions freedom to practice.” Well fantastic for us! Who cares?? It reminded me of the Chris Rock routine with the punch-line “he want credit for things he supposed to do!” Something never sat right with me when I saw that display and no matter how hard I fought to get them to change it fellow committee members and Hillel staff especially, insisted that this was the way to go. Why should we constantly be comparing Israel to the countries around us especially when there’s nothing to compare? All the facts they cited were things we were supposed to be doing regardless of how other countries behaved. Besides that, how often did any of us walk around Israel and think “My! What a fantastic country, the people here are literate!” No, when we were in Israel we were in awe of its beauty, the tranquility of the desserts, the soft glow of setting sun on Jerusalem stone, the community of a beach party in Tel Aviv, the sense of family. We conveyed none of this in our displays with facts printed in large block-like black letters on stark white poster board. Why couldn’t we present the side of Israel that we loved? Why was Israel advocacy only playing “defense”? The Israel I remembered, the Israel and I knew and loved was a beautiful, positive place that filled me with tremendous pride.

I look around at the anglo-oleh community filled with the infectious sense of purposefulness. There are those who are not working in their field and struggle to get by but many others are not only working in their chosen career paths but using their skills to change the world. There is an entrepreneurial spirit that is alive and kicking strong. From venture capitalists providing funds to startups to startups shaking up the marketing industry, to filmmakers, musicians, architects, designers, lawyers. They are not merely filmmakers or artists. At the core they are truth seekers and possess an inner sensitivity to produce honest and poignant films and images that no other person could capture. At the core we are movers and shakers and we use our skills as tools to reach our goals. It is not only the drive for our own self fulfillment or advancement in a career path that pulls us forward but the desire to contribute to the greater good to build a stronger community and a greater Israel. There is a passion that I see here that I don’t see anywhere else. That passion first pulled me in and it is what keeps me here. I can’t compare life in Israel to life in America because they are incomparable. Life in Israel can be judged only on its own merits. With each year seeing an influx of similarly impassioned, like-minded olim I am convinced that many more will catch on and be filled with the pride that comes so naturally to those who truly love Israel.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Shabbos is Coming!

Shabbat is in an hour but you’re taking a nap, maybe watching TV, checking facebook. The chicken needs to be cooked, shabbos clocks set, toilet paper ripped but you’re chilling out and it’s ok, you’re friend said he’d take care of it. Cut to an hour later when you wake up groggy in a dark house, street lights illuminating a raw chicken that never quite made it to the oven. How upset would you be? Who would you blame for a miserable shabbat? Your friend who promised to take care of it? Yourself?...

The argument against making aliya because the government is corrupt does no hold water as far the “eim habanim smeicha” is concerned and in fact serves his argument! While Rav Kook sees it as something positive that secular Jews were awakened to return to Zion the “eim habanim smeicha” sees the building up of the State of Israel by secular and socialist Jews as a punishment. It is the torah-observant Jews who should have been at the forefront of the Zionist movement! But, while torah-true Jewry stood by the sidelines, unobservant, secular Jews struggled to build up the Land. Rav Teichtal who penned “eim habanim smeicha” invokes the words of the talmud: “one who prepares for shabbat will eat on shabbat.” In essence the gemarah tells us that one who puts in the effort will benefit from the labor. Just as one who does not prepare for shabbat will not eat on shabbat, so to in building up the land of Israel. Since the orthodox world as a whole did not participate in the groundwork and did not prepare the State we are not “eating of its fruits” and have little say in forming the its character. Secularists built the country and infused it with secular values. The “eim hanbanim smeicha” argues that had Orthodox Jews taken a greater role, the State would have been granted a more sanctified character. The Rav writes: “Now that they kept themselves at a distance, they should not wonder or question the situation, for they are at fault.” In his generation the Rav placed the blame on Orthodox Jewry. The trend of Orthodox Jews ignoring the calls to make aliya continued and even after the holocaust the majority of world Jewry remained dispersed across all corners of the exile. Chazal tell us that each generation that does not see the building of the Temple it is as though that generation destroyed the Temple. Each generation that does not rebuild the temple perpetuates that broken world we live in today. (more than that, they re-create that imperfect world over and over again). If the Rav puts the blame of a secular state on the Orthodox Jews who refused to make aliya 50 year prior to his writing, I would further the argument of the Rav and say that our grandparents and parents generations, by not making aliya and losing the opportunity to elect a better government, may be responsible for the political mess we’re in today. The actions of our parents shaped the world we know it follows that our choices will impact the world our children grow up in. If you don’t like this reality what are you doing to ensure that the political landscape is different for our children?

I think there is a second layer to the words of the gemarah. It's not only that “One who prepares for shabbat will eat on shabbat." Regardless of whether or not you prepare shabbat, shabbat is coming. Shabbats arrival is not dependent on your preparation but your enjoyment of the day is based solely on the effort you put into it. Whether you bake your challah or not the sun will set and shabbat will come. “or chadash al tziyon ta’ir, ve’niskeh kulanu mehaira l’oro.” Even if you're uncertain where we are in the process of redemption be it the "night" or "dawn", one day the sun will rise and a "new light will illuminate zion." Geulah is on the way. What are you doing to prepare?

“Eim Habanim Smeicha” is the seminal work by Rav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal which he wrote during the Holocaust. The book was first published in 1943 and while the work along with many others the Rav wrote during his lifetime miraculously survived the Holocaust, Rav Teichtal himself did not and died in a train headed to Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Do we really get the message of the Megilah?

this note (as many of them are) is inspired by a good friend of mine in the exile who seems to disregard my impassioned notes as "brainwashing." to him and others who share his views I pose this question: "do you really get the message of the megilah and if you do, what are you going to do about it?"

יג וַיֹּאמֶר מָרְדֳּכַי, לְהָשִׁיב אֶל-אֶסְתֵּר: אַל-תְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ, לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּית-הַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים.יד כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת--רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ; וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ--אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת.

Chazal provide us with insight into the reason for the feast in the third year of Achashveroshes reign - the first mishteh in the megilah. The gemarah in mesechet megilah explains that Achashverosh, noting the prophesy that the first exile would last for 70 years did the calculations. He discovered that 70 years had passed and the Jewish people were not yet redeemed, therefor he threw a big party to celebrate what he assumed to be G-ds abandonment of His people. He, melech Achashverosh was one-up'ing hkb"h, Melech Malchai HaMelachim. Achashverosh threw the feast to beat all feasts. He invited everyone and feigning benevolence wanted to please everyone "k'ratzon ish v'ish." We learn that the Jews being upstanding citizens attended the party and in the spirit of the king wishing to please everyone, not only were provided with kosher food but each had his own hechsher, each had his own wine with his own hechsher. The Jews of shushan, like Jews throughout our long history in exile were connected to Torah and Mitzvot, they were committed to being good citizens of their adopted land. And yet while being so connected to halacha they were utterly disconnected from the true meaning of that celebration. While eating their "badatz" food and drinking their kosher wine they were participating in one of the gravest chillul hashem! They were in essence confirming Achashveroshes assumption that yes, G-d had forgotten them and that the promise of a return to Eretz Yisrael was false.

What makes Megilat Esther unique from all other books in Tanach? Hashem's name is not mentioned once. This is the obvious answer that any three year old can tell you but a careful reading shows that the whole sefer is written in veiled terms, woven with uncertainties. The p'shat never tells us what the true relationship is between esther and mordechai, esther has two names, we don't know why the king can't sleep at night. In order to understand the megilah at all we have to look beneath the surface and we rely on midrashim and chazal to reveal the details of what transpired in Persia at that time. The Megilah is not just a metaphor for how Hashem works in the world and the idea that Hashem is "hidden," rather this is the very heart of the story. The megilah is written in this "hidden" fashion not only to show us that our salvation from total annihilation was not obvious at that time but to instill this message in the Jewish people for rest of history. Hashem will not reveal himself openly. We, as His people must make the choice to recognize Hashem's hand in the world. What is the miracle of Purim, is it merely that we were saved? Certainly Hashem has saved us many times from the hand of our enemies but we don't mark every single salvation with a holiday. The true miracle is that the Jewish people made the choice to recognize Hashem. We made that choice to accept that Hashem has a plan in history and that the Jewish people are to fulfill a certain destiny that has been in motion since the creation of the world itself! The Megilah tells us "kimu v'kiblu" the Jewish people recommitted themselves to a life of Torah and a mutual relationship with Hashem. At har sinai Hashem chose us and with Hashem holding the mountain over our heads we said "na'aseh v'nishmah" and now at purim of our own volition we did - "kimu v'kiblu" - we upheld and accepted the Torah. At matam torah Hashem chose us and at purim we chose Hashem.

In the fourth chapter of the megilah there is a remarkable dialogue between Mordechai and Esther albeit through Hatach. Esther is hesitant (and understandbly so!) to go before achashverosh to plead on behalf of the Jewish people. First Mordechai tells Esther that she shoudln't think that just because she is the queen she personally will escape the decree of Haman against the Jews but then he says something amazing: רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ - "relief and deliverance will arise to the Jews from another place, but you and your fathers house will perish." Hashem will save the Jewish people from utter destruction, He will find a way to do it but you, Esther, for not taking this opportunity to recognize that you are the vessel by which Hashem will save us, you from the house of shaul hamelech, will be lost to the Jewish people and your descents will be lost to Jewish history. Today, as in the time of Purim 2,200 years ago Hashem is providing us ways to be vessels and be part of the geulah - the redemption - of the Jewish people.

In one month we will celebrate our redemption from Egypt. We will celebrate the open miracles that G-d displayed and were seen by even the simple servants of Egypt. Even then with open miracles chazal tell us that only one-fifth of the Jewish people left Egypt. That means that the majority of the Jewish people were not redeemed. This is a theme that continues throughout history. The destiny of the Jewish people moves on and so many of our brothers and sisters get left behind vanishing from the pages of Jewish history and yet the value of "kol yisrael areivim zeh la'zeh" - the responsibility we feel towards our fellow Jew remains strong. Time goes on, our destiny unfolds and in the face of assimilation and outright denial of the redemptive process by the most observant of Jews we continue to reach out and implore that our fellow Jews live up to the role G-d has bestowed upon us. "Revach ve'hatzalah yavo mi'makom acher" the Jewish people will live on and fulfill the destiny Hashem has in place for us. The question is will you look for the chance to be that vessel by which G-d brings redemption? Will you look for hashem's hand in history and take note of current events? Will you take up the call or will you ignore history, ignore the Torah, ignore chazal? Will you find relevance in the message of the Megilah or dismiss it and face the possibility of ultimately being lost to the Jewish people?

Monday, March 17, 2008 - 1 million strong in support of Israel!

As my readers know Judaism and Jewish unity are things I value very highly which is why I'm so pleased to share the following historic event with the blogging community. 2,200 years ago Esther called to gather all the Jewish people "lech k'nos et kol hayehudim" her call still echoes and this thursday on ta'anit esther we will answer that call and stand 1 million strong at the largest ever online rally in support of Israel.

check out: to see how you can participate in this event and support Israel without leaving the comfort of your home.

On Thursday, One Million People, around the world, are going to tune into Together4Israel and take part, in person, and online, in a rally to show solidarity with the people under attack. One Million People. One Voice. One Message.

The event will have life footage from Israel, South Africa, the UK, the US and Australia. Communities are coming together, and you can too.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, Thursday night is party night… it’s Purim, and you want to make sure can’t tell the difference between Haman and Moderchai - but this is the reason Thursday was chosen. Cast your mind back 2,200 years to the fast Moderchai and Esther took to unite the Jewish nation at a time of need and threat.

Even if you’re not going to be home on Thursday night, you can take part in this event. Before you head out of the house, log on to and leave the computer on. You will still be part of this event, and you will still be counted. It really takes little effort, and doesn’t cost you a penny!

Please help spread the word, and please support the people of Sderot. There are many ways you can help us.

please share this with family and friends. If you would like to help out more check out this post for more ways to spread the word!

Wishing you a Happy Purim!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Embracing the Whole of Judaism, Embracing your fellow Jew.

In the early years of Zionism, those who were most active in founding the Jewish State labeled themselves as secular. They may have studied in batai midrash and been steeped in Torah knowledge but they rejected religious observance if not rejecting the Divine altogether. For the early Zionists the land of Israel and building the State replaced religion. And in a sense they were right. In no way do I wish to denigrate the Torah that was amassed in the exile. Great torah leaders arose throughout our bitter separation from our Land and their light spreads out through the generations and fills yeshivot and midrashot throughout Eretz Yisrael. But while the stature of torah giants in the exile is awe inspiring the early movers and shakers of the Zionist movement recognized a serious lack in Jewish life. For exilic Jewry religious life was “only” Shabbat a list of dos and don’ts, dietary laws. The life of a Jew in exile, his “religious existence” is all but an empty shell of the potential of a full Jewish life in Israel. Even a Jewish life unmarred by persecution and anti-semitism like the one I knew growing up in the states is but a weak shadow of the life I lead here. I can never seem to fully express what I mean by this - a full Jewish life. After five years it is only something that I am beginning to grasp and even more so in this Sabbatical year. The founders of the state shed what it deemed “religious Judaism” and embraced a national Jewish existence. For them it was one or the other. Judaism encompasses many teachings and values. Keeping shabbat, honoring parents, not speaking lashon hara, saving the whales, reciting the Shema, finding a cure for AIDS, building a State, supporting an army, combatting litter and protecting the environment - these all fall under the rubric of Torah values. There are Jews who affiliate with groups that hold “tikun olam” to be of the highest value but dismiss Shabbat as “for the religious” and vice versa so called “religious Jews” who leave the crucial task of repairing environmental damage to “the secular.” Again, it’s one or the other. One of the fundamental teachings of Rav Kook, is that there is no disparity between these endeavors and rather than treating one as “kadosh” “sanctified” and another as “chol” “secular” we recognize it all as “kadosh”. All of our actions are kadosh, everything we do is directed in service of Hashem.

The model of most yeshiva day schools is to have religious studies in the morning and secular studies in the afternoon. My high school among it’s lofty ideological goals tried to instill in us the idea that one is not a Jew only in the morning but that one is a Jew all the time and therefor spread “religious studies” courses throughout the day. The practical outcome of this was that the gemarah shiur could be couched between math and american history. While this idea is lacking in that it fails to address the concept directing all your activities towards G-d and infusing G-d consciousness into every action, teaching kids to be conscious of their Judaism at all times is praiseworthy.

Exilic Jewry compartmentalizes Judaism. In the house I wear a kippah. Outside I wear a baseball cap. In my heart I know it’s Shabbat but beyond the walls of my home it’s just a peaceful Saturday morning. On Thursday nights I wish my friends a Shabbat Shalom but bid a good evening to the cashier. Even when living in Israel the exile mentality is embedded within us so that one thinks “my unaffiliated friend will go help kids in Africa, I’ll say tehillim at the kotel.” It is time to recognize that it is not one or the other. It is both. It is all.

One of my most vivid memories from my year at Nishmat was a teaching of Rav Kook on “Tshuva” that I learned from one of my rabbis, Rav Sperling. Rav Sperling who counts some of the most influential students of Merkaz HaRav Kook as his greatest teachers. Rav Kook explains that when one embarks on the path of Return (repentance), in the process of suppressing his desire to sin he ends up stifling desire itself. Like a sick person who receives treatment to cure his illness may initially be weakened by the medication before returning to good health. Rav Sperling expounds upon Rav Kook’s idea. We often see yeshiva students, people who were once passionate and active lose that passion in the pursuit of a Torah lifestyle. “I used to save the whales but now I learn in the Beit Midrash.” According to Rav Kook this loss can only be temporary. It is crucial to the health of a Jew to expunge sin from his life. However removing of sin is not the end of the Tshuva process. One must rebuild his desire and redirect it to fulfilling Mitzvot. Tshuva is deemed complete when that desire that was once used towards sin is channeled to positive endeavors, social action, simple acts of kindness. Throughout the year Rav Sperling taught us much more about Rav Kooks philosophy but what I remember most are those shiurim infused with ideas of Jewish unity and exuding of a genuine love for each and every Jew. Students of Rav Sperling are left with a deep rooted love of halacha but more importantly an insatiable desire to promote this love and tear down the labels that create invisible but seemingly insurmountable barriers between the Jews of the world. It is too easy to compartmentalize and box each other up into little groups. It is much harder to appreciate the contribution of every Jew and to recognize that each action ensures the well-being and health of the entire nation. We can not dismiss the work of somebody working for the welfare of children in Africa just because the one doing the work does not include prayer in his daily activities. It is ridiculous to neglect one mitzvah at the expense of another. Most importantly we need to completely redefine our perception of what a mitzvah really is and the meaning of a religious life. Judaism is so much broader so much more encompassing than what our exilic day schools taught us. It is time to embrace Judaism for what it really is. It is time to start living a full Jewish life.

Friday, March 7, 2008

in the wake of the terrorist attack on Yeshivat Merkaz haRav

So here I am, Thursday night in Jerusalem, Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet 5768. I’m at a meeting for “chesed united” a project undertaken by organizations including the Orthodox Union, Ohr Olam, and Shir Hadash to help the traumatized children of Sderot this Purim. We hear speakers from the Sderot Media Center. The videos offer us but a glimpse into the ongoing suffering and daily trauma the people of Sderot and the western negev cope with every single day.

Sirens sound, a faraway ambulance.

Sirens in Jerusalem. I think to myself: “It’s amazing how only a few years ago Jerusalem was constantly under terrorist attack and now it’s our job to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Aderot.”

Except that those sirens tonight weren’t just regular ambulance sirens. Those ambulances were headed to Merkaz HaRav Kook where terrorists had walked into the yeshiva and were indiscriminately shooting innocent students. Eight have been murdered. Several others injured.

My first week in Jerusalem saw the infamous Cafe Hillel bombing on Emek Refaim. Nearly five years later and I call Emek Refaim home. Five years ago the word “disengagement” meant nothing. Later that year when Prime Minister Sharon announced his plans for Gaza at the Hertzeliya conference the National-Zionist community was up in arms. Mass protests were organized, the country was electric with defiance. People were passionate, they were fighting. I can personally attest that people honestly did not think the plan would go through, that thousands would be kicked out of their homes. I remember the feeling. We cried and screamed and warned “today Gush Katif, tomorrow Ashkelon and then Tel Aviv,” and we were just brushed off “this is the price for peace.”

The government did nothing to help the Israeli citizens it so callously uprooted from Gush Katif. The reports of mental health problems, attempted suicide and divorce rates among former residents of Gush Katif are staggering and the government does nothing. Rockets rain down on Sderot at the rate of 6 to 8 per day and the government (aside from the obvious of STOPPING the launch of kassams) does nothing for the terrorized citizen of Israel. Ashkelon is under attack. Nothing. Students are murdered at Sapir College. Nothing. With the government so completely inept, somehow the responsibility of helping the citizens of Israel lies on the shoulders of the citizens of Israel on the Jewish people themselves. We have no leadership. The current Israeli government is the most corrupt the modern Jewish state has ever seen. Putting aside whatever lawsuits and indictments members of keneset face, including the Prime Minister himself, the government is allowing it’s own citizens to be terrorized and murdered and doing nothing to help in the fallout. Sderot residents who have seen direct hits on their homes deeming them unlivable wander from the homes of family members and friends as the government has provided no compensation to fix the damage.

Post disengagement there is a shift in the Israeli consciousness. At the most basic level we were simply shocked. And of course, launching from areas formerly inhabited by the Jews of Gush Katif, the rocket attacks intensify against Sderot. Mass protests do not materialize. The Prime Minister is suspect in several scandals. No response. The President is suspect of sexual harassment and rape. It gets some people moving. Israeli citizens, former residents of Gush Katif still have not received compensation and live in caravans near the Gazan border and the public is all but silent. Something changed. People are more reflective it seems as though many rather than fighting publicly are re-evaluating their relationship with G-d. They’re fighting by intensifying their torah study, increasing their concentration during prayer. On the one hand we are tired of fighting and running against a brick wall and are outwardly apathetic and yet there is a revolution bubbling beneath the surface.

We look around and see we really have no central figure to lead us. There are no words that are printable to describe Prime Minister Olmert and even within the “religious” camp there is no single leader or gadol that everyone agrees to follow. With no human leader to guide us we begin to see that we have nobody to rely on, there is nobody to guide us but G-d himself. The psalms in our daily prayers are replete with verses reminding us so and they never rang so true: “ אַל-תִּבְטְחוּ בִנְדִיבִים-- בְּבֶן-אָדָם, שֶׁאֵין לוֹ תְשׁוּעָה.” “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.” (Psalms, 146) “לֹא בִגְבוּרַת הַסּוּס יֶחְפָּץ; לֹא-בְשׁוֹקֵי הָאִישׁ יִרְצֶה. רוֹצֶה יְהוָה, אֶת-יְרֵאָיו-- אֶת-הַמְיַחֲלִים לְחַסְדּוֹ.” “He delighteth not in the strength of the horse; He taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man. The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those that wait for His mercy.” (Psalms, 147) G-d desires those who fight for Him. When it seems as though no human measure can bring relief for our suffering we have no choice but to turn to G-d.

Recently my friend and I started learning Sefer Shoftim - the book of Judges. The last time I read its pages I was an eleven year old kid in LA and the events described were gory, ancient and unimportant as I gazed out the window and was distracted by the hum of traffic on Olympic blvd. Today I read the words and they are so relevant and resonate so strongly that I wonder if I’m indeed reading the bible or if I’ve accidentally picked up todays paper. The beginning of the book of Shoftim picks up where Joshua left off. In Sefer Yehoshua the tribes of Israel managed to conquer great parts of the Land of Israel and while most of it was under Jewish sovereignty the Jewish people still lived among the Cananites, Moabits and Jebusites. Much like today where the heart of biblical Israel was won back in the six day war in 1967 but 41 years later much of it remains to be properly settled, so to in the book of Shoftim, most of the Land remained to be settled with the building of communities, towns and cities. So, Sefer Shoftim begins. Joshua, has died leaving the Israelites leaderless with no one of his stature to replace him. The entire generation that wandered the desert has died and the new generation “knew not the LORD nor yet the work which he had wrought for Israel.” (Shoftim 2:10) and thus begins the cycle that any fifth grader in the yeshiva day school system can tell you: “Israel sins, serving other gods, adopting the ways of the surrounding cultures --> G-d delivers them to the hands of their enemies in battle --> Israel cries out to G-d --> G-d appoints a leader to save them --> the leader dies --> Israel returns to sin, repeat cycle.”

The opening chapters present the overall theme of the book:
"Because this nation have transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto My voice; I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations that Joshua left when he died; that by them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not.' So the LORD left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered He them into the hand of Joshua." (Shoftim, 2)

With the new generation not having had the experiences of their fathers in the desert and forging a new relationship with the G-d that redeemed their ancestors from Egypt they now had to learn how to fight their own wars. It was a new type of warfare that they did not experience in the time of Yehoshua when G-d easily delivered their enemies into their hands. What really struck me was the following verse: “ק, לְמַעַן דַּעַת דֹּרוֹת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְלַמְּדָם, מִלְחָמָה--רַק אֲשֶׁר-לְפָנִים, לֹא יְדָעוּם.” “only that the generations of the children of Israel might know, to teach them war, at the least such as beforetime knew nothing thereof;” One would expect that if the point was to teach Israel about war the book would go into a lengthy discussion about the military, how to fight a war, and weaponry. There is no such discussion. What comes out is that these wars, more than gaining control over territory, spoke to the relationship between Israel and G-d. Essentially, Israel’s success on the battlefield had little to do with the weapons at their disposal and instead was contingent upon the strength of their relationship with the Creator. The wars were tests of Emunah - faith. When our faith in G-d was strong, we were worthy of success. When we transgressed on the covenant with G-d we suffered immeasurably.

As our government continues to prove its incompetence, anti semitism rises and world opinion intensifies against the Jewish state and our feelings of helplessness grows, it dawns on us: We have no one to rely on but G-d. There is no question that the “tshuva movement” has been sweeping across the Jewish nation for several decades. Outreach programs are available across the world and Jews everywhere are exploring their roots and returning to their people, the Torah of Israel, the G-d of Israel, the Land of Israel. The similarities between current events and the events in Shoftim are striking. We can’t rely on our leaders to lead us in our battle, we must wage it ourselves. Tonights terrorist attack has triggered a feeling among the people of Israel that has laid dormant for a long time. We must fight for our brothers and sisters in Sderot and throughout Israel. We must work on ourselves and strengthen our personal relationship with G-d. We must work on our relationships with our fellow Jew. We are waking up and realizing that the responsibility is ours. Now, as in the time of the Judges, G-d is testing our faith. Will we fight proudly for G-d or meekly bow to the cries of world opinion? May we merit to face the challenge and emerge with strong emunah so that Hashem finally avenges the blood of those murdered tonight and delivers our enemies as He did in those times.

With blessings that the promise of Adar of "increased joy" is realized and a peaceful Shabbat to all of Am Yisrael.

Shalom from Jerusalem.

ישראל ישראל
בטח ב-ה'
עזרם ומגינם הוא
ישראל ישראל
בטח ב-ה' עזרם ומגינם הוא

אנחנו מאמינים בני מאמינים
ואין לנו על מי להישען
אלא אלא על אבינו
אבינו שבשמיים

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In Honor of Tu b'Shvat

A conversation last night finally highlighted the heart of hashkafic machloket between myself and a friend. I may examine those difference another time but for now I want to explore one of the thoughts that inform my hashkafa and perspective.

There is a disparity between the western (predominantly Christian) idea of spirituality and the Jewish approach to spirituality which can be illustrated by examining the differences between the words prayer and the hebrew word תפילה “tefilah.” Prayer is defined by webster as “an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought.” If one were to visually represent someone at prayer the image would be of one gazing up, arms outstretched reaching heavenward. Tefilah, while the hebrew word used to translate prayer means something different. Tefilah derives from the root letter pey-lamed-lamed and the word להתפלל - lehitpalel a word in the reflexive which means to judge oneself. While our prayers are directed towards the Creator the first step in the process is self reflection and introspection - looking within oneself. This is not an interpretation of the word but the meaning of the word itself! In contrast to the expansive stance of one at “prayer” a visual representation of one engaged in tefilah would be of one cloaked in a tallit, arms closed in, hands near the heart, head lowered to the chest. Noting the Christian influences that we grew up with the seemingly obvious place to seek out G-d would be in the highest physical places - the holiest place of worship, church or synagogue, the highest mountain. Judaism counters that even looking for a place misses the point of tefillah. Seeking internally within oneself and looking deeper in beseeching G-d is what drives prayer. The physical surroundings of a person come second to the state of the person himself.

Delving deeper and looking inward is an idea that is permeated throughout Judaism. Mount Sinai, the midrash says, was not the tallest mountain in the wilderness, rather chazal emphasize Sinai was a rather small mountain and while all the taller mountains vied to have the torah given on them, G-d granted the honor to Sinai the small and humble among them. In psalms King David writes ”מִמַּעֲמַקִּים קְרָאתִיךָ יְהוָה.” from the depths I have called you. King David who is described as one of G-ds closest servants sought out G-d not from on high but from the valley, from the depths. Psalms also describes David’s Jerusalem ”יְרוּשָׁלִַם-- הָרִים, סָבִיב לָהּ וַיהוָה, סָבִיב לְעַמּוֹ-- מֵעַתָּה, וְעַד-עוֹלָם” “Jerusalem, surrounded by mountains and G-d surrounds his people from now and forever.” Perhaps medieval crusaders assumed this verse was merely a metaphor for G-d’s protection of Israel for they incorrectly mapped out the ancient city atop the hill we today call “mount zion.” However, modern archaeological findings place David’s city to the east of the present day walled old city in an area known as silwan - a low valley. This lends insight to our earlier image of King David calling from the “amakim” from the valley, physically he implored G-d from the City of David in the valley to the east of Mount Moriah. When one stands at the bottom and looks up, like tehilim say, you are in fact surrounded by mountains. Judaism is replete with images and stories of spirituality emanating not from up-high but from the depths. Rain may come from the heavens, but this is not the water source that the Torah is compared to. The spirituality of the Torah is likened to a deep spring.

The message I glean from this is to look beyond the surface. This is a message especially appropriate for tu b’shvat. Today we celebrate a holiday that in contrast to the holidays in the Torah and even the Rabbinic holidays of purim and chanukah did not exist thousands of years ago. While the mishna mentions tu b’shvat in a purely halachic context to determine the new year for the purpose of calculating agricultural processes, it was not celebrated as a holiday. Tu b’shvat is a day adopted much later by the kabalists and emphasizes this idea of seeking out G-d beyond the surface. Tu b’shvat is the holiday celebrating the fruit of the tree. However it doesn’t take a botanist to recognize that this time of year trees do not bear fruit. What were the kabalists celebrating? The kabalists were illustrating an important aspect of emunah - faith in G-d. Although presently we do not see the bounty G-d provides us it is merely resting below the ground, underneath the surface. Grasses will soon burst forth from the soil, blossoms will open in a symphonic explosion of color, tree branches will be weighed down heavy with ripe fruit. Just because we don’t see trees laden with fruit does not mean the trees have ceased to produce fruit, they are merely undergoing the process to bring it forth. Recognizing this process in the natural world we can apply it to other parts of our lives as well. We can appreciate G-d working where we can’t see him but knowing in full faith that His goodness, like a plant waiting to sprout, is on the way.

יָשִׂישׂוּ וְיִשְׂמְחוּ, בְּךָ-- כָּל-מְבַקְשֶׁיךָ:

Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad - psalms, 40

Monday, January 21, 2008

Thoughts on our current state of affairs and Shmitta

A friends post finally gave me the push I needed to write that note I’ve been rolling over in my mind for a few weeks now.

I think I should start with the following. I increasingly find that I approach life - politics, history etc. - through a G-d conscious lens. I sometimes worry that this lens blurs my message and makes it difficult for others to relate. Perhaps. But, I guess everyone runs the risk of being misunderstood.

With this in mind I turn to our current political situation. The term “leaders” is used in the loosest sense when speaking of our current Israeli government sneaking through the back door at Annapolis...with Olmert speaking to the President in way that prompted John Stewart on the Daily Show to ask: “I wonder if Bush's ass is kosher?” Bush, a supposedly G-d fearing man, calls for the division of Jerusalem and the founding of a Palestinian state on land G-d promised to the Jewish People. Sderot is under siege and the world doesn’t blink on eye but bemoans the fate of Gazan residents who have seen the price of luxury commodities such as chocolate, cigarettes and Coke double and triple as a result of the evil Israeli embargo.

Some wonder “why is this happening, why are we in this mess?” A better question is “why is this happening, why are we in this mess now?”

This year is a shmitta year. We tend to think of shmitta purely in terms of agriculture - letting the land rest on the seventh year. But why do we let the land rest? To show that this land is not ours. The land is G-d’s. Just as “Shabbat hayom la’hashem” - “Shabbat is a day for G-d” so to the Sabbatical year. When the laws of shmitta are dismissed there are consequences as set forth in mesechet Shabbat (33a) “Because of the sins of idolatry, illicit sexual relations, and murder and the abrogation of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, exile is brought to the world and they [Israel] are exiled.” And so the Temple was destroyed on a shmitta year and the number of years of the first exile corresponds to the number of shmitta years we failed to observe when we came to Israel the first time around.

We live in a time where many of us are not only witness to the Jewish peoples prophetic return to Zion but we ARE the Jews returning to Zion! In this age of return current events parallel those that transpired centuries ago. Sometimes we forget that this Land belongs not to us but to G-d and every seven years shmitta comes along to remind us. Our grasp on our promised land is tenuous and shaky at best and with every passing shmitta year this point is driven home. G-d puts it in our hands to determine how much of our land we continue to hold. Therefor, 2007-2008 is a shmitta year and the world is calling for the Jewish state to relinquish its claim on Jerusalem and our biblical heartland in Judea and Samaria. 2000-2001 - post camp david when the Israeli government offered Jerusalem to the arabs and was followed by the outbreak of the intifada - was a shmitta year. 1986-1987 the outbreak of the first intifada was a shmitta year. 1979-1980 the signing of the peace treaty between egypt and israel that ultimately lead to the evacuation of Sinai and the destruction of Yamit was a shmitta year…. sensing a pattern? All the players are in place should we not do our utmost to follow the shmitta year. It is not a coincidence that this year is the last of Bush’s presidency and the US is heading towards elections. It’s not “stam” that Jerusalem is on the table. G-d promised this land to the Jews and during shmitta we are forced to grapple with that responsibility and assert our claim on the Land of Israel. Only time will tell the outcome of this shmitta year.

This year with the majority of the Jewish people residing outside of the Land (although those numbers are slowly shifting...) shmitta remains a rabbinical obligation. May we merit to observe the coming shmitta year as a torah obligation among a whole and united people in a complete Eretz Yisrael crowned with our rebuilt Temple.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?"

I woke up in Jerusalem this morning to a a grey and gloomy sky, a color and tone that seemed to reflect the mood of the city bracing for the havoc to be wrought by Bush's visit.

Where four years ago the, in the face of the disengagement plan the city was electric with protests now with the thought of a divided Jerusalem looming before us despondence has overcome defiance.

Thankfully I wrapped up shacharit this morning with "shir shel yom" and in light of todays events I found new relevance in the perek. I couldn't have found more appropriate words to get me through the day.

The pesukim reinforced what I know to be true. Just as the wicked will always rise up to harm the Jewish people and rebel against G-d, so to hashem will never forsake us.

yibane hamikdash ir tziyon temaleh v'sham nashir shir chadash uv'rnana na'aleh!!

may we merit to see the building of the temple, and sing a new song as we ascend har habayit just as we merit to see Jerusalem filling up - especially knowing that WE are in fact the ones filling it up! appropriate that simcha chose that song to open up every taping of Tuesday Night Live!!

chazak v'ametz.

יבנה המקדש, עיר ציון תמלא, ושם נשיר שיר חדש, וברננה נעלה

Psalms Chapter 94

1 O LORD, Thou God to whom vengeance belongeth, Thou God to whom vengeance belongeth, shine forth.
2 Lift up Thyself, Thou Judge of the earth; render to the proud their recompense.
3 LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?
4 They gush out, they speak arrogancy; all the workers of iniquity bear themselves loftily.
5 They crush Thy people, O LORD, and afflict Thy heritage.
6 They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
7 And they say: 'The LORD will not see, neither will the God of Jacob give heed.'
8 Consider, ye brutish among the people; and ye fools, when will ye understand?
9 He that planted the ear, shall He not hear? He that formed the eye, shall He not see?
10 He that instructeth nations, shall not He correct? even He that teacheth man knowledge?
11 The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
12 Happy is the man whom Thou instructest, O LORD, and teachest out of Thy law;
13 That Thou mayest give him rest from the days of evil, until the pit be digged for the wicked.
14 For the LORD will not cast off His people, neither will He forsake His inheritance.
15 For right shall return unto justice, and all the upright in heart shall follow it.

16 Who will rise up for me against the evil-doers? Who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?
17 Unless the LORD had been my help, my soul had soon dwelt in silence.
18 If I say: 'My foot slippeth', Thy mercy, O LORD, holdeth me up.
19 When my cares are many within me, Thy comforts delight my soul.
20 Shall the seat of wickedness have fellowship with Thee, which frameth mischief by statute?
21 They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn innocent blood.
22 But the LORD hath been my high tower, and my God the rock of my refuge.
23 And He hath brought upon them their own iniquity, and will cut them off in their own evil; {N}
the LORD our God will cut them off. {P}

תהילים פרק צד

א אֵל-נְקָמוֹת יְהוָה; אֵל נְקָמוֹת הוֹפִיעַ.
ב הִנָּשֵׂא, שֹׁפֵט הָאָרֶץ; הָשֵׁב גְּמוּל, עַל-גֵּאִים.
ג עַד-מָתַי רְשָׁעִים יְהוָה: עַד-מָתַי, רְשָׁעִים יַעֲלֹזוּ.
ד יַבִּיעוּ יְדַבְּרוּ עָתָק; יִתְאַמְּרוּ, כָּל-פֹּעֲלֵי אָוֶן.
ה עַמְּךָ יְהוָה יְדַכְּאוּ; וְנַחֲלָתְךָ יְעַנּוּ.
ו אַלְמָנָה וְגֵר יַהֲרֹגוּ; וִיתוֹמִים יְרַצֵּחוּ.
ז וַיֹּאמְרוּ, לֹא יִרְאֶה-יָּהּ; וְלֹא-יָבִין, אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב.
ח בִּינוּ, בֹּעֲרִים בָּעָם; וּכְסִילִים, מָתַי תַּשְׂכִּילוּ.
ט הֲנֹטַע אֹזֶן, הֲלֹא יִשְׁמָע; אִם-יֹצֵר עַיִן, הֲלֹא יַבִּיט.
י הֲיֹסֵר גּוֹיִם, הֲלֹא יוֹכִיחַ: הַמְלַמֵּד אָדָם דָּעַת.
יא יְהוָה--יֹדֵעַ, מַחְשְׁבוֹת אָדָם: כִּי-הֵמָּה הָבֶל.
יב אַשְׁרֵי, הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר-תְּיַסְּרֶנּוּ יָּהּ; וּמִתּוֹרָתְךָ תְלַמְּדֶנּוּ.
יג לְהַשְׁקִיט לוֹ, מִימֵי רָע-- עַד יִכָּרֶה לָרָשָׁע שָׁחַת.
יד כִּי, לֹא-יִטֹּשׁ יְהוָה עַמּוֹ; וְנַחֲלָתוֹ, לֹא יַעֲזֹב.
טו כִּי-עַד-צֶדֶק, יָשׁוּב מִשְׁפָּט; וְאַחֲרָיו, כָּל-יִשְׁרֵי-לֵב.
טז מִי-יָקוּם לִי, עִם-מְרֵעִים; מִי-יִתְיַצֵּב לִי, עִם-פֹּעֲלֵי אָוֶן.
יז לוּלֵי יְהוָה, עֶזְרָתָה לִּי-- כִּמְעַט, שָׁכְנָה דוּמָה נַפְשִׁי.
יח אִם-אָמַרְתִּי, מָטָה רַגְלִי; חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה, יִסְעָדֵנִי.
יט בְּרֹב שַׂרְעַפַּי בְּקִרְבִּי-- תַּנְחוּמֶיךָ, יְשַׁעַשְׁעוּ נַפְשִׁי.
כ הַיְחָבְרְךָ, כִּסֵּא הַוּוֹת; יֹצֵר עָמָל עֲלֵי-חֹק.
כא יָגוֹדּוּ, עַל-נֶפֶשׁ צַדִּיק; וְדָם נָקִי יַרְשִׁיעוּ.
כב וַיְהִי יְהוָה לִי לְמִשְׂגָּב; וֵאלֹהַי, לְצוּר מַחְסִי.
כג וַיָּשֶׁב עֲלֵיהֶם, אֶת אוֹנָם-- וּבְרָעָתָם יַצְמִיתֵם;
יַצְמִיתֵם, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ.

sources from