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Sunday, November 01, 2009

TLATD #2: The Fantastic Tales of Rabbah bar bar Chanah


Daf Yomi this week discusses the Fantastic Tales of Rabbah bar bar Chanah, twenty or so stories that Rabbah heard or witnessed that are just so unbelievable it’s obvious they are allegories.

In one tale, Rabbah witnesses a giant frog, the size of “sixty houses” swallowed by a sea-monster which is in turn swallowed by a giant raven. The raven lands on a massive tree. Rabbah exclaims “come, see how strong that tree was!” Rav Pappa remarks that if he hadn’t been there he never would have believed it!

The Gra explains (see "The Juggler and the King" for a detailed discussion of the Gra's explanations) how the frog is symbolic of the Torah Scholars (who make noise day and night studying Torah.) The sea-monster is the evil
inclination which can doom the scholar. The raven, a bird that abandons her young to the good will of Heaven, symbolizes the solution to defeating the evil inclination sea-monster. Put all your faith in Hashem.

The tree symbolizes all those that support Torah. In Babylonia, where Rav Pappa was from, the people did not support torah learning as much as the Jews of Eretz Yisrael did. In was only after Rav Pappa came to Eretz Yisrael that he saw the incredible philanthropic acts of the people of the Land of Israel. If Rav Pappa hadn’t seen it with his own eyes he wouldn’t have believed it.

The truth is, the hand of Hashem is much more visible here in Eretz Yisrael. The entire survival of the State of Israel is completely dependent on each year’s rainfall. In short faith is a little bit easier to come by here and it’s this faith that leads to so many acts of kindness people living far away from Israel would have to come and see to believe.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Land and the Daf #1: Olive Oil



Last year I joined up with countless others on the noble project of learning Daf Yomi. We learn a daf, two side of a page, of Gemara (Talmid) every day. The beauty of this is you can discuss what you are learning with Jews all over the world no matter where you go since everyone learns the same thing at the same time.

One of the things I noticed right away was how many times the subject matter somehow relates to living in Eretz Yisrael. Sometimes the connection is quite obvious and jumps out of the page and other times it's more subtle but it’s still there. I thought it might be nice to share some of these thoughts as I came across them.


In today's daf for example (on B.B. 67B) the Mishna discusses what is included in the sale of an olive oil factory if nothing was explicitly specified. The Mishna actually uses very mysterious terms like “the sea” and “the maidens.” When learning this difficult Mishna I actually understood it a lot better today, now that I live in Israel than I would have before I made Aliyah.

The reason is because Yishai was nice enough to show me an ancient olive oil factory that was discovered right behind his home in Beit El. Actually there are many of these ancient olive presses all over Israel. Having become familiar with that it was a lot easier to understand all the parts of the press the Mishna is describing.

It’s very easy to learn Gemara, Mishnayos or even Chumish in America and to feel completely disconnected from the subject matter as if it’s only theoretical and not “real.” However when you live here in Israel the Torah really comes to life. I can't imagine how anyone that loves Torah wouldn't want to live in the land of the Torah.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Samaritans, Noahides, and Christians


Yoel Keren, ex-Messianic Christian, now Restorationist Jew, helps us understand the mystery of the Samaritans, the gift of Noahide offerings, and how Christians can drop the "New Testament."

Part I


Part II

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Shtikel Purim Torah





There are many new years throughout the Jewish calender. Rosh Hashanah is the main new year but there are others such as Tuv b'Shvat which is the new years of trees and Rosh Chodesh Nissan which is the new years of kings. Pesach is the new years of the Jewish holidays. Rebbe Nachman once said regarding this, “All beginnings started from Pesach but now...” Reb Natan said that from the Rebbe's gestures it was clear he meant Purim, i.e. Purim was now the holiday from which everything would start. Purim is the holiday of flip-flops and opposites. All year long we are studious and responsible yet on Purim we not only allow ourselves to get completely drunk but are expected to. Instead of dressing like respectable people we dress in light-hearted costumes. Why is it that Rebbe Nachman made this statement about Purim and why is it that everything is backwards from how it normally is on Purim?

Chazal says that in the time to come we won't celebrate any of the old holidays except for Purim which will continue to be celebrated even after the Mashiach comes. Why is this? By all our major holidays we say “Zecher l'yetziat Mitzraim” (in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt) because they all center around the miracles that happened when we left Egypt. We recognize these miracles because we always go after the biggest chiddush and the miracles that occurred during the exodus from Egypt were the greatest ever witnessed in the history of humanity therefore it would be a lesser statement of Hashem's greatness to proclaim lesser miracles. Yet when Mashiach comes Hashem will perform miracles that are even greater than those of Yetziat Mitzraim and therefore we won't need to remember those miracles anymore. But unlike the other main holidays which were based on the past redemption, the redemption of Purim was actually based on the future redemption of Mashiach which has yet to happen. This is why we will still celebrate Purim even after Mashiach comes. This is also why everything in Purim is backwards of how things normally are- instead of reaching into the past redemption and pulling the kedusha forward like the other holidays, Purim pulls into the future and pulls the kedusha backwards to the past.

Sefer Daniel describes a statue with a head of gold, arms of silver, thighs of copper, and legs of iron with the feet are made of part iron and part clay. Then four kingdoms are described corresponding to the four parts of the statue. The last part of the statue- the iron with some of the feet iron and some clay is described as a divided kingdom. The statue and kingdoms represent the four nations which will oppress the nation of Israel- the four exiles. The gold is Babylon, the silver Persia, the copper Greece, and the iron is Rome and by extension Edom and modern day America and Europe. Exile, or GaLuT (גלות), has the same root as MeGiLLah (מגילה) suggesting a link between the Megillot and the exiles, but there are five Megillot and only for exiles. Where is the fifth exile? In the iron part of the statue at the very bottom it becomes partially mixed with clay and the kingdom is divided. In the current exile of Edom that we are in, we are reaching the end of it and the kingdom is becoming divided by a new rival to America and Europe- Islam and the arabs. The fact that it is in the feet of the statue corresponds to sefer B'reshit when three angels came to Avraham and he asked them to wash the dust off their feet. Rashi comments that this is because the angels appeared to Avraham as arabs and since arabs would worship the dust on the feet he wanted to prevent them from doing their idolatry. Just like clay is mixed in with the iron, the fifth exile is mixed in with the fourth one. A hidden exile connotes a hidden megillah- the Megillat Ester as Ester means hidden. How is this exile we are now in hidden? Because the concealment is so deep that it's a concealment within a concealment- the concealment is such that people don't even know they are in it and therefore don't know to try and get out. Many of us have returned to Israel and we have a government here, yet right here we are still in spiritual galut. Many Jews don't even know there's a G-d or anything it says in the Torah. Yet this is the exile of the “Megillat Ester.” Megillah can be read as “MeGaLeh” or “reveal.” This Megillah is the revealing of the hidden. Since the clay was at the feet of the statue- the end, this current exile is nearing its own end when the hiddeness of Hashem will be revealed to the world.

In Sefer Daniel it tells of a rock that will smash the statue and then become a mountain that encompasses the world and a kingdom that will never be destroyed. This rock and kingdom is Israel when Hashem brings the final redemption. This time and experience can most be tapped into on Purim when we are spiritually speaking actually in the future redemption at the present. How do we know that we are currently tapping into the future redemption right now? At what point in the Megillat Ester do things start to turn around from bad to good for the Jews? In the sixth chapter when the king realizes that Mordecahi was never rewarded for reporting the conspirators who had planned to assassinate him. In second chapter of the megillah the name of one of the two conspirators written Bigtan (בגתן) yet in chapter six when the things start turning around his name is written Bigtana (בגתנא) with an extra aleph. Hashem was showing that by implanting that aleph into the bad situation He would turn it all around into a redemption. So to with our current and final exile, Hashem doesn't even need to make a new situation but can take this very one itself and make it a redemption, for what happens when you implant the aleph into the root of GaLuT? You get GEuLah (גאולה) (redemption)! It should be Hashem's will that we tap into the future redemption this Purim and help bring it in it's entirety soon and in our days, amen.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

The Guys Nobody Seems to be Talking About (But Maybe Should)


Lots of buzz is going around between people and definitely in the news about the big players in the upcoming election: Tzipi, Bibi, and Lieberman. Yet not nearly as much is attention is being focused on the forth alternative: Shas. Now before anyone wants to post a comment about how they're all a bunch of crooks I'd like ask why would you single them out? Do you think the other major Knesset parties people would vote for otherwise are squeaky clean? Kadima's head, our current prime minister has just gone through several rounds of indictments and the Prime Minister before him (Sharon) was also tied to some shady deals. And anybody who's had interactions with the government knows that in Israel things with the government are often not quite so "Yashar" as they should be. Plus despite some problems with members in the past, the current head Eli Yishai seems like a fine man and I am not aware of any bad report of him.

Other people want to complain that Shas are all sellouts, they are just interested in money for their causes and nothing else. Well let's take a look at those causes real quick. From what I'm aware of the majority of the money Shas funnels is into religious schools, ways to help educate non-Religious Jews in Jewish knowledge, and other general Torah learning institutions. Chazal says that Hashem created the whole world for the sake of learning Torah... so much so that if there was a moment in which Torah wasn't being learned anywhere in the world it would cease to exist. So for Shas to divert as much money into Torah learning as possible doesn't sound crooked to me, quite the opposite- I would think it would be the best investment this country could make.

Some want to criticize how they obey the directives of Rav Ovadia Yosef and seem to do whatever he says. Well if anyone has something bad to say about Rav Ovadia I would suggest you bite your tongue- for your own sake. This is because he is one our current generation's biggest Talmidei Chachim (if not THE Gadol Hador), and the Gemara's definition of a heretic is one who claims what do we need the rabbis and the Torah scholars for, what good are they?

I ask any right wing religious voter in Israel, or any religious voter for that matter, who would be a better choice? I don't even think I need to explain away Barak or Livni. Bibi? Last time I checked he doesn't sport a kippah on his head too often and he's already proven his diplomatic resolve and love of Eretz Yisrael and our religious heritage by giving away Hevron. If even Sharon didn't have the backbone to stand up against American diplomatic pressure do you really think he's going to?

What about Yisrael Beiteinu? Arutz Sheva recently reported an American diplomat has released a book of his experience dealing with Israel in which he tells that Lieberman once agreed to give in to the PLO's land demands and give away our precious Yesha. Even if he wants to deny this he can't deny things on his official platform like supporting civil marriage. Currently the Rabbinate controls who gets married in this country and Baruch Hashem there is a group responsible enough to make sure Jews are inter-marrying themselves into extinction like they are in America. Baruch Hashem I recently got married here and I can attest that as inconveniant as it may be having about 20 run-ins with the Rabbinut before getting your ketuba, at least they are making certain people are Jewish before letting them marry each other. Now what pray tell do we need civil marriage for in this country if not to allow inter-marriage and gays marrying each other? I asked a campaign worker for Yisrael Beiteinu the other day about this issue. He claimed it is one of the many issues being spun out of control to harm their image and that in truth Lieberman just supports some small concession to allow for tax breaks. This man wore a kippah as does Lieberman, so I ask them, do they believe in the Torah like their clothing suggests or not!?! If G-d explicitly forbids these types of marriages then why do we need to make even small concessions? Every concession one makes in his beliefs highlights a lack of faith in the Torah. And as far as Lieberman trying to advertise himself as the guy to get the arabs out of Israel? Doubtful. Not even Rav Kahane could do that after immeasurable blood sweat and tears, and this guys is no Rav Kahane.

What about Feiglin? I heard him speak at Tuesday Night Live this week and I must say he is about as much of a stand up guy as you'll find. The problem is he is number 36 on the list. In order to get him in you first need to get in 35 shall we say, "not so stand up" people first. He claims this is the only way to change Likud from the inside out. But changes like he is trying to accomplish take time, and in the mean time can we afford to put our hope in a 1 to 35 voting ratio while the future of the country hangs in the balance?

Then there is the Dati Leumi parties. Their hearts are in the right place but it appears as if they can't get their act together long enough to get along with themselves never mind lead the rest of the country. Plus there is the laws of probability that heavily weigh against them gaining enough seats to have serious influence in the government. One could counter that Shas doesn't have a chance of winning the prime ministership either yet that isn't important. Why? It doesn't really matter who is in charge, for we know that on Rosh Hashanah Hashem plans out of that whole following year who will go to war with who, which side will be victorious, and how much money every person and country will have as well as who will live and who will die. Therefore we could vote in the best party and prime minister in the world and if Hashem doesn't help us then we won't have a chance. Likewise we could have the most inept losers at the helm and if Hashem wills it then we'll be successful. Shas isn't going to be the biggest party, that's a given. But what is also almost guaranteed is that they will be big enough that whichever party does lead will have to take them in as a coalition partner. Therefore the stronger they are, the more muscle they have to get what they want- i.e. money to support Torah (something ever so vital now that much of the American philanthropy to Israel is getting hit hard from the world financial crisis). So if Hashem decides who successful we're going to be at war and diplomacy and the like who does it matter who "appears" to be in charge? What we should worry about is how we can affect thigns we do have control over like how many Jews are going to learn Torah or do Teshuva and have a support network to ease them into the religious world when they do.

Now at the end of the day I don't know how much my opinion counts because I am not yet able to vote here anyway. But I will say this, if you look around at all the political posters it's all attacks from this one on that one and counter-attacks the other way. Then you see the egged bus come by with a big picture of Rav Ovadia and it has a blessing to Am Yisrael or a quote from the Tanach, and always something optimistic. If nothing else, let's go with the "glass half full" people!

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

For Thus Saith The L-RD



The following prophecy from Amos 1:6-8 is circulating in email in Israel and around the world:
כֹּה, אָמַר יְהוָה, עַל-שְׁלֹשָׁה פִּשְׁעֵי עַזָּה, וְעַל-אַרְבָּעָה לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ: עַל-הַגְלוֹתָם גָּלוּת שְׁלֵמָה, לְהַסְגִּיר לֶאֱדוֹם
Thus saith the L-RD: For three transgressions of Gaza, yea, for four, I will not reverse it: because they carried away captive a whole captivity, to deliver them up to Edom.

וְשִׁלַּחְתִּי אֵשׁ, בְּחוֹמַת עַזָּה; וְאָכְלָה, אַרְמְנֹתֶיהָ
So will I send a fire on the wall of Gaza, and it shall devour the palaces thereof;

וְהִכְרַתִּי יוֹשֵׁב מֵאַשְׁדּוֹד, וְתוֹמֵךְ שֵׁבֶט מֵאַשְׁקְלוֹן; וַהֲשִׁיבוֹתִי יָדִי עַל-עֶקְרוֹן, וְאָבְדוּ שְׁאֵרִית פְּלִשְׁתִּים--אָמַר, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה
And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and him that holdeth the sceptre from Ashkelon; and I will turn My hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord G-D.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

The Secret Weapon of the IDF




Earlier this week Chabad posted this amazing article with photos that you must see!

It reminded me of something I posted a while back. And it seems fitting to repost it now after seeing the amazing work Chabad is doing on the front lines!



All the nations of the world will see that G-d's Name is associated with you, and they will be in awe of you. (Devarim 28:10).

Menachot 35b interprets this verse as a reference to the tefillin worn on the head.



When the Gentiles see the Jews proudly attired in tefillin, they respect them. Tefillin cast an aura of fear over Israel's foes. Even demons and spirits will tremble in fright (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 5a).



The first letters of Shem Hashem Nikrah, "G-d's Name is associated," spell out the name of the letter SHiN. A Shin bolts out of either side of the head tefillin. It is the first letter of Sha-D-I. (Baal HaTurim).



"Tefillin are G-d's crown... Whoever dons this crown will become the ruler below, as G-d is the ruler above" (Zoher III 269b).



Similarly, Berachot 56a maintains that a person who sees tefillin in his dreams will soon rise to power. Berahot (6a) interprets "G-d's powerful arm" (Isaiah 62:8) as tefillin. "Tefillin grant power to Israel."



Accordingly, it has always been customary for Jewish soldiers to observe the mitzvah of tefillin with great care.




Text taken from Meam Loez on Ki Tavo p. 150. Photos collected from the Internet.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

You just don't know how good you (could) have it



Recently a close friend of mine came up with an amazing idea. He, I, and another friend rented a car and spent the day driving all over Israel to visit and pray at kivrei tzaddikim (the graves of very holy and righteous Jews). Notice I said pray "at" and not "to." Praying at the graves of tzaddikim is an age old Jewish custom. As Jews, we believe that there is a whole other world after this one... even though somebody may have appeared to have left us they are definitely still around. Not only that, Chassidus teaches us that when a tzaddik dies, he becomes spiritually more powerful and more able to affect changes in this world than he ever could when he was alive. Therefore many people who are much lower in spiritual standing than the tzaddikim will pray to G-d at their graves in order that they should couple their merit with that of the holy person they are standing near, hopefully increasing the chances of a successful prayer.

As far as our little trip went, we hit up some pretty big names. First we prayed at the grave of Rebbe Meir Baal HaNes and that of his main pupil. Rebbe Meir was a Torah Scholar of unbelievable proportions and whenever there is an anonymous line in the Mishna it is attributed to him. Next we went to the grave of Rachel, the wife of Rebbe Akiva. When she met Rebbe Akiva he was already 40 years old, had no money and didn't even know how to read the Aleph Bet. Yet she was so holy that she was able to see the potential within him and gave up a life of luxury to live with him in a barn. With her love and support he was able to become one of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, learning secrets it is said even Moses didn't know.

The next stop on the list was that of the Rambam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, and his father. It's said that since the time of Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) until the Rambam nobody named their child Moses because nobody had enough merit in Torah to have such a name. Next we went to the graves of Rebbe Akiva and one of my absolute favorite Rabbis and kabbalists- the Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto). Apparently they are buried next to each other because while Rebbe Akiva didn't start learning Torah until he was 40 years old, the Ramchal passed away at 40, and it is held that he was a reincarnation of Rebbe Akiva who lived those first 40 years teaching the deepest secrets of the Torah to make up for that period of Rebbe Akiva's life that he missed out on.

All of these graves were in the Tiberias reigion, and while there were many more in the area we moved on to the forest kever of Amuka. There is a grave of a tzaddik there, and it's a tradition that those who pray there will have assistance in finding their soulmate. Regardless of traditions, it's worth going just for the amazing views (pictured above). After that we traveled to the mountain-top mystical city of Tzfat. We dipped in the mikvah of the famous kabbalist the Ari, and prayed at his grave as well well as that of the Beit Yosef Rabbi Yosef Caro (author of the Shulchan Aruch, the most widely followed book of Jewish law today). We were also able to track down Rav Kennig, the head Breslov Rabbi in Tzfat and get a bracha from him. I've been told that he once met with the Lubbavitcher Rebbe who told him, "Some say you are the head Breslov rabbi of Tzfat, but I say you're the head Breslov rabbi of the world." The humbleness of the man was amazing. He answered the door himself, and though we came totally uninvited to his private home, he was excited to see us and greeted us with a beaming smile. We topped off the night with a trip to pray at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Tanna and author of the Zohar. We then returned back to Jerusalem (not so shabby itself- home to the site of the Temple), and wanted to continue on to Kever Rachel (grave of our Matriarch Rachel) and Hevron (burial city of Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah... and tradition holds Adam and Eve as well) but were prevented to only by lack of time.

If that amazing road trip wasn't enough, this past Shabbat, I was able to spend it in Beit El, site of Jacob's famous dream of the ladder to heaven, during the exact Torah portion in which this event takes place! And several days ago I was able to attend a class and receive a bracha from Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, possibly the top English speaking kabbalist in the world today.

I don't mean to brag, as often my life isn't this jam packed with excitement. So what is the point I'm trying to make here? Many of us who live here in Israel often take for granted the holiness of the place and all the opportunities to access Hashem in different and exciting ways. For roughly 50 dollars a piece and a day of our time, my friends and I were able to visit the graves of some of the holiest and most famous people in Jewish history. To even come to the land of Israel itself was a privilege most Jews in the past 2000 years couldn't have. And before the days of car travel such a trek would have taken weeks instead of a single day. Just for hopping on an Egged bus I was able to make the Torah real and live out the words on its pages in my own life. These are the opportunities available to any Jew who lives here and wishes to take advantage of them. So to anyone who does live here in Israel please take some time to remember what you have here, and do something about it! And to those who have yet to come join us... if you have any appreciation of Torah or spirituality, then I don't care how comfy your house or job is, how settled you feel, or how prestigious the day school you send your kids to is... the way I see it none of that compares to being able to have all this at your fingertips.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bad Excuse For Not Making Aliyah


This is a Dvar Torah for Parshat Lech Lecha by Rabbi Pinchas Winston, who made aliyah from North America. Although it's over a week late, the message is very important. Full Dvar Torah starts in full post, this is just a preview:

Recently, I saw a presentation by someone to explain why “they” did not live in Eretz Yisroel. It was not a new idea, simply stating that the person has been very effective helping other Jews in the Diaspora, “proving” that, in spite of the person’s desire to live in Israel, God prefers for them to remain in Chutz L’Aretz.

That the person is an effective educator in the Diaspora, there is no question. But, to imply that his or her extended stay in the Diaspora is essential to the spiritual success of other Jews, is a mistake, flawed hashkofah. Worst of all, it is misleading to others who might now think the same way as a result, though previously, they might have considered life in Eretz Yisroel.


Dvar Torah starts here
Avram took Sarai his wife, Lot, his brother’s son, all the property that they had acquired, and the souls that they had made in Charan, and went toward the land of Canaan. (Bereishis 12:5)

At first glance, this verse has little insight or advice regarding life as a Jew in today’s world. It has importance to us in terms of understanding Avraham’s life and path to greatness, but little importance in terms of charting our own, or so it seems. However, it is helpful to know, sometimes, that some of the greatness insights the Arizal had came simply from meditating on the verses of the Torah, repeating them over-and-over- again in his mind.

Recently, I saw a presentation by someone to explain why “they” did not live in Eretz Yisroel. It was not a new idea, simply stating that the person has been very effective helping other Jews in the Diaspora, “proving” that, in spite of the person’s desire to live in Israel, God prefers for them to remain in Chutz L’Aretz.

That the person is an effective educator in the Diaspora, there is no question. But, to imply that his or her extended stay in the Diaspora is essential to the spiritual success of other Jews, is a mistake, flawed hashkofah.Worst of all, it is misleading to others who might now think the same way as a result, though previously, they might have considered life in Eretz Yisroel.

Let me explain.

In 1993, when I personally decided to return to Eretz Yisroel from Toronto, I was thrown for a loop when someone I worked with asked me, “Did you ever ask a shailah from a Gadol? You are in the midst of building something good here, and maybe it isn’t so simple that you just pick up and leave in the middle.”

Until that time, I had been working with young couples, to try and help mold them into community leaders, especially to help out with outreach. To this end, I had developed an entire 8-week program, which I taught, with material that was both unique and effective, which, when combined with a mission to Israel, molded us into a community of our own. The program seemed to be succeeding, and warranted being implemented on a regular basis.

Quite honestly, I loved the program and its results, and had difficulty leaving it behind. Nevertheless, I felt that I just had to get back to Eretz Yisroel, and felt confident that others would carry on for me after I left. I was replaceable, but for me, Eretz Yisroel was not.

However, my colleague’s comment made me question my entire judgment again, and I began to become uneasy about my decision. Fortunately, though, as Divine Providence would have it, Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, of Eretz Yisroel, was visiting Toronto at that very time, and he had been my posek just before I had returned to Toronto. Therefore, I took advantage of the situation and made an appointment.

I explained the entire situation to the rav, beginning with my intense desire to return to Eretz HaKodesh, and ending with my friend’s concern about my leaving. His answer to me came quick: “Everyone is expendable. If Hashem wants your work to continue here, He will find someone else to do it. You can return to Eretz Yisroel as planned.”

Reassured, I continued on with my plans and made it back “home” later that year, to a small community just off the highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It is where, thank God, I have been more effective over the last 15 years internationally than I ever was locally, before I came back. While here, “things” have happened that I would never have dreamed about years ago, some naturally, many miraculously.

Especially in today’s world, of such advanced technology. Over time, I became a full-time writer, and with the help of the Internet, over 20 families have come to make aliyah, apparently with the help of my essays and books.

Over the years, I have met many people who have become observant, inspired, apparently, by what I have written, or more religious, encouraged by the deeper understanding of Torah I have tried to share.

The first thing we have to know is that, when God wants a job to be done, nothing can stop Him — certainly not physical distance. As much as we’d like to believe that we are indispensable, the truth is, we are not. Rather, what happens instead is that, when God decides He wants something done, He chooses a messenger who has made himself or herself available for such a mission, by choosing to be who he or she has become, and by living where he or she has chosen to live.

It’s like being chosen for a part in a play. The director doesn’t just choose any actors to play the handcrafted roles of the screenplay. Rather, knowing what he wants to see brought out by each character, he looks for actors who can do exactly that, something that becomes apparent only through previous roles the actors have already played, the result of many years of development.

It’s the ultimate middah-k’neged middah — measure-for-measure (Sanhedrin 90a). We get to decide who we want to be, and God uses us for that role. We decide where we want to live, and God uses us in that place. You want to change yourself? God will find someone else to play the role. You want to change your location? God will find someone else to do the job where it has to be done.

Indeed, if you are willing to move up in life spiritually, then God will promote you, and find someone else to do your old job. As the Torah points out, Avraham made souls in Charan. He was Mr. Outreach himself. Yet, when it came time to start Jewish history, God told him to stop what he was doing and move on to Canaan. As important as it was that he “convert” the people of Charan, it had been more important to go west and take possession of Eretz Yisroel.

What about all the potential converts back in Charan? Perhaps, Avraham had already reached all those with the potential to hear his message, just in time to move on. Perhaps, those who remained behind did not merit to be impacted by Avraham Avinu. Or, perhaps, if, indeed, there had been more souls to be “made” in Charan, God had another way of getting the job done. And, knowing that, Avraham did not question the command of God, but confidently went to where he knew he really belonged.

This is not only true on the level of the average Jew, but even with respect to Torah leaders, as the Talmud points out, and the Arizal explains using the following verse:

The sun rises and the sun sets. (Koheles 1:5)

This means that, as a Torah leader leaves this world, a new one is born to replace him (Rosh Hashanah). This is not only true regarding the death of one leader and the birth of his replacement, but even if one moves to a different community, for, the only way such a move can leave a community bereft of its leader is if they lost the merit to have one. As the Talmud points out, and the Maharshah explains, Torah leaders make their decisions based upon the merit of the people they lead (Gittin 56b). Of course, this does not mean that we can whimsically jump from role to role, or from place to place, living wherever we happen to fancy at the moment.

Even if the community for which you were responsible deserved to lose you, nevertheless, you will be judged as if you abandoned them, since you will have failed to leave them for a sound hashkofic reason. Decisions to be who we are, or to live where we live, or to get involved in whatever it is we are doing, have to be for the sake of serving God best.

Only then can everything fall into place after we have made our decision. Only then can our decisions result in win-win outcomes.

Avraham had worked many hard years on himself to become “Avinu.” Once he achieved that status, he merited to become the father of the Jewish people, a prophet, and the owner of Eretz Yisroel. After figuring out, on his own, and over many decades, what God must want from him, God finally spoke to him, and told him first hand what to do next: make aliyah. We should only be so fortunate. If God would only speak to us and tell us when to make the move to Eretz HaKodesh, there would be no room for debate or rationalization. But, alas, we are without prophets today, and making such a monumental decision seems to be a function of personal preference.

Well, not exactly. When one desires to live in Eretz Yisroel to be closer to God, and to take advantage of the kedusha of the land, it shows God where his or her heart truly resides. When one devises a plan to make aliyah, because he or she knows that it is the best place to live as a Jew — even during times of exile — and they yearn to be there with ALL their heart, it will work out for them, if not immediately, over time. It will become apparent to them how doing so is not only possible, but feasible, and life will begin to support such a decision.

Thus, loving Eretz Yisroel and missing it is different from wanting to live there with a complete heart. “I just have to live there …” is a thought and feeling that tells God, “I want to serve You and do Your will, but from Eretz Yisroel. It is imperative for me.” And, it is exactly what God wants to hear before He starts making reality accommodate such a longing.

Until such time, you will find yourself “needed” in the Diaspora. If it’s where you want to be, it’s where you will have to serve Him. That may not sound so bad, but, it was exactly that kind of thinking that put us into exile in the first place, and therefore, it is something that we have been trying to rectify for about two millennia now.

Perceptions, Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama In The Torah Codes



Okay, here we go. Yes, whether you believe in the Torah Codes or not, this one is interesting. Or not. Well let's just say it (since it's already spreading all over the blogosphere.)

The name Obama spelled אובאמה appears exactly two times in all of Tanach having a 7 letter skip forward pattern. (A 7 skip forward pattern is considered the most significant kind in Bible Code land.)

The first place is in Yermiyahu 30:10-11. Yermiyahu 46:27-28. (See "Update" at bottom.)

This is how it reads:

וְאַתָּה אַל תִּירָא עַבְדִּי יַעֲקֹב נְאֻם יְקֹוָק וְאַל תֵּחַת יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי הִנְנִי מוֹשִׁיעֲךָ מֵרָחוֹק וְאֶת זַרְעֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ שִׁבְיָם וְשָׁב יַעֲקוֹב וְשָׁקַט וְשַׁאֲנַן וְאֵין מַחֲרִיד: אַתָּה אַל תִּירָא עַבְדִּי יַעֲקֹב נְאֻם יְקֹוָק כִּי אִתְּךָ אָנִי כִּי אֶעֱשֶׂה כָלָה בְּכָל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר הִדַּחְתִּיךָ שָׁמָּה וְאֹתְךָ לֹא אֶעֱשֶׂה כָלָה וְיִסַּרְתִּיךָ לַמִּשְׁפָּט וְנַקֵּה לֹא אֲנַקֶּךָּ

This is how it translates:

10 27 Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the L-RD; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid.
11 28 For I am with thee, saith the L-RD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee; but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished.

Okay, so it sounds like now is a good time to make Aliyah. Shall we go on to the second place it's found?

The second place is in Yechezkel 38:2-3.

It reads:

בֶּן אָדָם שִׂים פָּנֶיךָ אֶל גּוֹג אֶרֶץ הַמָּגוֹג נְשִׂיא רֹאשׁ מֶשֶׁךְ וְתֻבָל וְהִנָּבֵא עָלָיו: וְאָמַרְתָּ כֹּה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי י-ה-וִה הִנְנִי אֵלֶיךָ גּוֹג נְשִׂיא רֹאשׁ מֶשֶׁךְ וְתֻבָל

Which translates as:

2 "Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal; prophesy against him
3 and say: 'This is what the Sovereign L-RD says: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.

Okay, so maybe not only is it a good time to make Aliyah... but you better make it quick!

This is the code that is being emailed around and what was posted here.

Okay - now for the debunking part. The first code simply doesn't work unless you spell Yaakov with a vav - which we don't. There are only 6 letters skipped between the second letter and the third letter. So that's out... but the second code still works... and amazingly the code starts on the letter aleph of the word
נְשִׂיא which besides meaning prince also means President!

Gil, is Obama Gog?

UPDATE: The site I linked corrected their error. It seems there are two places in
Yermiyahu where almost identical verses appear. There is one difference. The second time Yaakov, for some reason is indeed spelled with an extra vav. And that extra letter does allow the 7 letter skipping to spell out Obama. I have corrected the error above.


Hatip: Moshi

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Night and Day




There are two elements to one day, what we call daytime and what we call nighttime- daytime being when the sun is out and things are bright and nighttime being when the sun is set and things are dark. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that the darkness of night represents the difficult times in life. Just as we grope in the dark without direction and unable to avoid stumbling blocks and obstacles, so too when we are going through difficult periods in our lives we often feel at a loss for direction and purpose. Lacking a guiding light we can often fall victim to despair. The daytime, however, refers to the more enjoyable periods of life, those times when we see the path laid out ahead of us and feel a degree of security.

There are two ways of approaching the order of day- the Jewish way and the non-Jewish way. The non-Jews, usually using a solar calender, hold that the day begins with the morning and that the nighttime represents the end of that particular day. Conversely the Jews, using a mainly lunar-based calendar, view a day as beginning with the evening and the actual daytime as being the latter part of the day. This is why Shabbat and other Jewish holidays always begin in the evening and last until the evening of the following day. This concept doesn't just apply to the calendar, but rather is a principle Hashem has put into the universe of which many things, one of which happens to be time, adhere to. For it says in B'reishit (Genesis) "And there was evening and there was morning, one day." Since the time of creation it has been a principle of the universe that first there is a period of darkness and afterwards it is followed by the period of light.

Rebbe Nachman teaches that therefore, when going through difficult times we can take comfort in the fact that though things may be difficult at the moment, it is guaranteed that eventually the light will shine forth in our lives and things will become better as it is a fundamental principle G-d has put into the world, and all we must do is hold out long enough to see our personal redemption come from whatever the obstacles may be. But if both the darkness and the light are part of a system setup by G-d, this begs the question why does G-d desire us to pass through this alternating experience of hardship and redemption in the first place? Obviously G-d doesn't do it for His own amusement as He is far beyond simple human thinking such as that, and because of His great love for us He only does what's in our best interest never subjects us to needless suffering. So it must be that He puts us through these processes in order that we should grow. People who stay in their comfort zone tend to grow lazy and slump whereas those who are held up against the fire of adversity are forced to grow and overcome in order to survive. This puts an interesting responsibility into our hands... since these life situations are presented to us in order that we should grow it seems incumbent upon us to actually see to it that when we come out of our "nights" into our "days", we have taken something away from the experience and grow to become a better human being. To do so is to fulfill G-d's will, to fail to do so is to essentially waste an opportunity provided to us by Him.

Human civilization is currently in the era of the Arab. As the western world sets into decline, the Muslim world in general, and particularly the Arab world is filling in the power vacuum and vying for ultimate control of the direction in which to steer humanity. This is mainly through Arab oil influence and its choke hold on international policy combined with the growing boldness of militant Islam and the western world's lack of effort to curb either. It seems as if conflicts driven by this change are sparking up in virtually every place across the world... the aggressive spread of Islam, or "terrorism" as it is most often referred to affects almost every group of people in every place to some degree or another. Often fought by underground militias which blend in with the civilians in major population centers as well as in the media and across the internet, those who oppose this movement are often at a loss for means to fight it, as its tactics are radically different from organized state militaries of the enemies of yesteryear. As more nations and peoples succumb to tolerance and eventual social if not military surrender of this movement, those left opposed to it face a world of fear and darkness and seemingly greater conflict that what is already upon us lays ahead.

In Hebrew the word for Arab (ARaVi) [ ערבי] and the word for evening (EReV) [ערב] share the same root, Ayin-Resh-Bet (the word for Arab only differing by having an additional letter Yud at the end). As the age of the Arab (ARaVi) sets in the world is indeed starting to fall into a deep darkness- a worldwide darkness of night (EReV). However as we discussed earlier, there are two different views to what evening means- the Jewish one of the day beginning and the non-Jewish one of the day coming to a close. Therefore this era is marking an incredible transition in the history of humanity, that from an age of a non-Jewish based experience and thinking to that of Jewish based thinking and experience. What exactly does this mean? As already stated, Hashem desires people to go through the nighttime-daytime experience so that they should emerge more developed. So too perhaps humanity as a whole is currently undergoing such a process.

And just what is the development that the world as a whole must gain through all this? A new perspective and relationship to G-d. The Ben Ish Chai, Gaon Chayim Yosef of Baghdad, comments on how in the morning prayers we recite "Hashem melech, Hashem malach, Hashem yimloch l'olam vaed" (Hashem reigns, Hashem has reigned, Hashem will reign forever) not in the order of past present and future but rather out of order starting with the present. He says this is because our faith in Hashem ruling over the past and the future is based in recognition that He currently reigns as evident through the miracles He does for us in these times. Having described the Jewish recognition of G-d, the morning prayers continue several paragraphs later to describe the differing recognition of G-d that the non-Jews will eventually have in future times when it says, "V'yomru bagoyim Hashem malach, Hashem melech, Hashem malach, Hashem yimloch l'olam vaed" (And the nations will say Hashem has reigned, Hashem reigns, Hashem has reigned, Hashem will reign forever). This recognition of Hashem differs from that of the Jewish nation as explained by the Ben Ish Chai in that it seems the future non-Jewish recognition of Hashem currently reigning and reigning for all future times are both first preceded by the statement that Hashem has reigned in the past.

Thus we can see the future nature of the non-Jews' relationship to Hashem and infer about their current relationship. The Jews currently recognize Hashem and His mandate over the universe entire, and all past or future aspects of His rule correspond to the same G-d who we currently recognize rules right now. Yet the G-d of Israel is also the G-d of the rest of the world and the father of all of humanity. It is His desire that all people in His world should come to know Him and forge a relationship with Him. Unfortunately, the non-Jewish nations of the world have not been able to achieve the perception of G-d that the nation of Israel has via the Torah that G-d gave to it as well as the revelations to the patriarchs Abraham, Issac, Jacob and to the entire nation at Mount Sinai. Yet once the world emerges from the current "dark of night" that it is currently in, it will have gained a new development from the night-day cycle. With the coming "light of day" and the arrival of Moshiach (the Jewish Messiah) the world will come to see the truth of Torah and finally recognize Hashem, the G-d of Israel, as the one true sovereign of the world. Once this occurs, unlike the Jews who currently proclaim Hashem as king, the non-Jewish nations will realize that it was Hashem who ruled all along and therefore because of that realization of the past they will also realize that it is Hashem who reigns currently; so too they will see that just as it was Hashem who reigned before it is Hashem that will reign in the future of all time. Thus the morning prayers say that they will proclaim "Hashem has reigned" each time before declaring that He currently reigns and will in the future.

May G-d grant us the patience and strength to endure the current and coming dark times so that we may survive to see the coming times of light that will follow, in our own lives as well as the world over.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

This Week's Torah Portion in Deuteronomy



Chapter 11:
10. For the land to which you are coming to possess is not like the land of Egypt, out of which you came, where you sowed your seed and which you watered by foot, like a vegetable garden. 11. But the land, to which you pass to possess, is a land of mountains and valleys and absorbs water from the rains of heaven, 12. a land the Lord, your God, looks after; the eyes of Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year....

Chapter 12
22. For if you keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him, 23. then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will possess nations greater and stronger than you. 24. Every place upon which the soles of your feet will tread, will be yours: from the desert and the Lebanon, from the river, the Euphrates River, and until the western sea, will be your boundary. 25. No man will stand up before you; the Lord your God will cast the fear of you and the dread of you on all the land upon which you tread, as He spoke to you.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Torat Yisrael: Israel's Newest English Torah Publication



How often does the truth become distorted in the Israeli media? We live in a society where the major newspapers run stories of how terrorists are not antisemitic (See J-Post and Haaretz about the recent Jerusalem attack) and where companies who refuse to hire Arab workers are lambasted. In response to this trend, a new publication has been put together called Torat Yisrael. Torat Yisrael is Anglo Israel's first bi-weekly magazine of Jewish political and social thought. Based on Torah values, every article is filled with authentic, historical Jewish ideas and concepts. From economics to warfare, education to law, every topic is approached from the perspective of tradition.

Distributed bi-weekly in the main Anglo centers in Israel, Torat Yisrael is a sixteen page color mini-magazine available free in your synagogue. I am the associate editor, Kumah's co-founder Yishai Fleisher is a regular contributor, as well as such notables as the Likud's Shmuel Sackett and Nahal Hareidi founder, Rabbi Yoel Shwartz.

If you are interested in reading Torat Yisrael online, receiving copies, subscribing to the Torat Yisrael mailing list, or advertising to the English-speaking population of Israel, then you can find Torat Yisrael online at www.TorahFromZion.com or you can reach editor Shmuel Sokol at ssokol@torahfromzion.com or by phone at 0526720779. There is also a Torat Yisrael blog that you can check out at http://TorahFromZion.blogspot.com.

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Facing the giant



There is an idea in Judaism that Hashem is constantly sending us signs and messages of which we must decode and figure out how to apply to our daily lives. One of the ways He does this is through the lessons in the parshat hashavua (weekly Torah section). In light of the recent terrorist attack on Yaffo Street this last week, what can we learn about it from that week's section Parshat Chukat?

At the end of the parsha the Israelites face a confrontation with the nation of Bashan and their king the giant Og. Hashem tells Moses, "Al tira oto," or, "Don't fear him" (referring to Og). This is commonly understood to mean that because of Og's immense size, combat with him meant certain danger if not death, and G-d needed to reassure Moses so he would have the courage to face such an enemy. However, if G-d was on the side of the Israelites, why would Moses need be afraid? The had just had a similar confrontation in which Hashem had granted them victory, and the Torah doesn't seem to mention any sin they had committed that would forfeit their divine protection. Even if Og was a giant, that is merely a physical advantage, and Moses of all people who had a closer relationship to Hashem than anyone else should have known that physicality is nothing compared to G-d's strength. So why the need for words of encouragement?

Back in B'reshit (book of Genesis) when Abraham's nephew Lot is captured, it says that the fugitive came to inform Abraham about it. The term fugitive refers to the giant Og. Og was of a time before the flood that destroyed the world but his life was spared and he was allowed to ride on top of Noah's Ark. Within the world there is klipot, spiritual shells that block Hashem's divine light and feed off the power of evil, and since the world was destroyed during the flood the Ark served as a temporary world in the meantime. Since the time had not yet come for a perfect existence there was still a need for klipot in the world, and Og was allowed to survive outside the Ark during the flood serve as the klipah. This is why he is referred to as the fugitive- though he should have died like all the other wicked people of his generation he was able to make it out alive.

When Og came to tell Abraham of what had happened to Lot his intention was that Abraham should rush off to battle in order to save Lot and end up getting killed, allowing Og to take Sarah as a wife for himself. Even though he had wicked intentions, the fact was he still did a good thing and because of that Abraham rewarded him by giving him a brit milah (circumcision). The brit milah is one of the most important mitzvot it the entire Torah and somebody who has one merits great spiritual reward.

With this in mind, let's take another look at what Hashem tells Moses, "Al tira oto." While the word "oto" means "him", it can also be read as a contracted form of "ot shelo", or, "his sign." Often a brit milah is refered to as a sign (ot), and while Moses may have not been intimidated by Og's physical stature, he knew that Og had a brit milah and therefore because of it may merit spiritual protection, making it much more difficult to defeat him. As it turns out though, Og had strayed in sexual deviancy and because of this had forfeited the holiness of his brit milah and any spiritual protection it may have afforded him. This is why Hashem told Moses not to fear him, for even though one might think that Og's brit milah would give him merit and protect him, his evil ways had caused him to lose any such merit.

Possibly the biggest enemy to the Jewish people and especially Israel today is the muslim nations who seek our destruction. Numbering in the billions, they are most certainly a giant as far as peoples go. If it weren't enough that they outsize us, they too, like Og, have a brit milah. They also worship G-d and often lead very devout lifestyles often willing to give their life on command in what they view as the service of G-d. If one wasn't worried enough by their sheer size, one could most definitely be worried that G-d may grant them success in the merit of their devotion to Him. More than that, this is an enemy that already lives amongst us. For all the high tech equipment and strategies Israel's government and Army employs, checkpoints, weapon confiscations, world class intelligence gathering, etc., our enemy can sidestep us and use simple every-day objects like a bulldozer from a local construction sight to try and destroy us as did the terrorist this last week (may his name be erased).

Yet scratch under the surface of their seeming piety and you don't have to look hard to find many contradictions. The same people who proclaim to be holy commit mass murders, bombings and countless other terrorist attacks, oppress their women and subject them to honor rapes and killings, as well as countless other horrible behaviors. This is certainly not becoming of a people that wishes to make themselves the representatives of G-d. Therefore when confronting this seemingly giant enemy in what often looks like a hopeless situation, we must have faith that G-d will protect us. Wicked murderous peoples lose any protection they may have been expecting from G-d while we have the promise laid out in His Torah that we will survive to the end and see our redemption, may it come soon.

Before mentioning the events of Og and Bashan, earlier in the parsha it described the Para Aduma, or Red Heifer. The Para Aduma was used to purify people of the impurity of death, which according to the Torah is the strongest of impurities. Just as Torah instructs us in a purification process before relating the story of the battle with Og, we need to understand that while our enemies' defeat hinges on their impurity, likewise our victory hinges on our ability to purify ourselves and cleave to Hashem. May it be His will that we have success in this and that we don't know from any more heinous attacks in our time.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Isaiah's Wail



For the first time since 1967, the Isaiah Scroll (pictured above), is on display at the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem.

The 2,100 year old scroll is the only complete scroll of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the Qumran caves within the Judean desert, in 1947, and represents the oldest biblical manuscript in existence - dating back 1,000 years prior to the next oldest biblical manuscript, the Aleppo Codex.

The reason for the scroll having been kept from the public for so long is the concern over the effects that light and humidity will have on the very delicate scroll.

With Isaiah's Scroll finally seeing the light of day, here is a golden opportunity to, 1) strengthen the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. After all, this is very same Isaiah who was walking around Jerusalem, when the 1st Holy temple stood upon the Temple Mount, defending the unity of Jerusalem against those (Assyrians) who sought to destroy her.

And, 2) to celebrate the vitality of Judaism and the Jewish people. Here we are, in the very same places the Isaiah walked, among the descendants of those very Jews who lived in Israel (Judea) during that time. We are one nation, with one Homeland, keeping the same traditions and Torah, and in many ways, facing the same challenges that the Jewish people faced thousands of years ago, during Isaiah's lifetime.

Instead, what is being focused upon is Isaiah's message of "universal peace," and the scroll's relevance to all people.

However, is this an accurate representation of Isaiah's prophecy?


Those answering in the affirmative will quickly cite the verse that adorns the Isaiah Wall outside of the United Nations, which speaks of the messianic vision of peace:
"They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." (Isaiah 2; 4)
However, before we concede this point to the universalists, let us cite the complete prophecy, of which the above verse represents only a small segment.

"The prophecy that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw, concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

It will happen in the end of days, that the mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills; and all nations will stream to it. And many nations will go and say: 'Come, and let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the G-d of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.' For from Zion will the Torah come forth, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem. And He will judge among the nations, and will settle the arguments of many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isaiah 2; 1-4)
When looking at this particular prophecy of Isaiah in its complete context, it is very clear that the Messianic vision of universal peace is preceded by a few things:
  1. The Jewish people will have complete sovereignty over Israel, in general, and over Jerusalem, in particular.
  2. At the center of Jerusalem will stand, on the Temple Mount, the Holy Temple.
  3. The nations of the world will recognize the truth and righteousness of the teachings of the G-d of Israel, and will stream to Jerusalem to learn and live by them.
  4. The nations of the world will stand before G-d in judgment for their actions, and justice will be meted out.
And, only then, after all of the above have taken place, will the vision for universal peace transpire.

With Israel finally bringing the Isaiah Scroll to light, perhaps it's time that we do the same for Isaiah's teachings, and in doing so, merit witnessing their fulfillment.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Beloved Princess


A story inspired by the tales of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and the teachings of Ramchal as well as several other sources:

There once was a kingdom in which lived a beautiful princess. She had a smile and a laugh that could melt the heart of anyone and she was very beloved by the people of her country. Everywhere she went she brought success and happiness to the people and she was the main source of blessing for the country. There was also a prince in the country, and the prince and the princess where very much in love with each other. It was assumed that when they became of age, they would eventually marry each other and rule over the nation as king and queen.

It happened that the prince started to become enticed and seduced by foreign princesses from other lands and began to chase after them. He neglected his own princess and abused her. Eventually it reached the point where she had to leave the palace. She decided to go into hiding, disguise herself, and blend in with the common people. After their beloved princess had left the palace the people of the country became very angry with the prince for being the cause of her leaving. They rose up against him, threw him out of the palace and forced him into exile.

After the prince and the princess had both left the palace great darkness and despair came upon the land. Gangs of wild man started invading and took over all the areas of the land. These men were very dangerous and not only robbed and murdered the people but often fought each other. Life became very difficult for the people of the land and especially for the princess. Used to a life of having catered food, the finest clothes and jewelry, and her every need met, she now had to become accustomed to not knowing where her next meal was coming from and if there would be a roof over her head or not. She never know if she could trust somebody who claimed they were trying to help her of if they may just be trying to take advantage of her and she had to be on the look out for the gangs of wild men.

Things went on like this for many years until eventually the princess grew up into a woman, and the prince grew up to become a man. The prince decided the time had come for him to retake his place at the head of the nation so he mustered his strength and gathered his friends to him and started a war campaign against the wild men to take back his land. Though he and his allies were few and their enemies great, they fought bravely and great miracles occurred for them and they obtained many victories. Soon the prince had reconquered many of his cities and much of his land.

As the prince was walking through one of the reclaimed cities he chanced upon a woman in the shuk. She was very filthy, dressed in rags with natty hair and a face covered with dirt. This woman was his princess from years ago and when she saw him she turned away in shame so that she wouldn't be recognized, but he stopped her, lifted her face and looked deep into her eyes. Though he could barely recognize her, there was something vague yet deep within him that told him this could be her. He told her, “I'm reclaiming my land, I invite you to be first among my wives and sit as queen to the country next to me on the throne.” She replied, “Do you expect me to accept such an offer? You cannot begin to comprehend the pain and suffering you have caused me for all these years. I've spent a lifetime banished from my home in the palace and trying to survive in hiding. How I've yearned to return to my rightful place and now you offer me a show marriage as just another wife in order to advance your cause? I refuse.”

The prince left her and continued his campaign. He and his allies fought a great battle against the wild men and benefited from more great miracles resulting in them capturing the capital city. The prince returned to the palace and sat on the throne to reign as king but the people wouldn't rally behind him. They claimed, “Where is our beloved princess that you caused to leave? Without her as queen we cannot accept you as our king.” The prince was in a dangerous situation as, though he had had great victories, there were still many enemies in the land and without the support of the people it would only be a matter of time before he would be defeated. He was very worried as he knew, this time he would not only once again lose his kingdom, but also his life itself. The prince finally realized that he must be back together with his princess for without her he would never be able to fulfill his destiny properly. He sent for her to be brought to the palace and cleaned off in the royal baths. She was then dressed with fine garments and expensive jewelry, as well as being covered with beautiful perfumes. As soon as the dirt was cleaned off of the princess, suddenly her original beauty came back and radiated from her as before. The prince renounced all the other princess he had sought after and proclaimed his undivided love only for her. He spent countless nights wooing her with poetry and love songs, and profusely apologizing for having ever caused her harm. After much sincere and hard work, the princess's heart began to turn and as she rediscovered her love for the prince, eventually forgiving him for what he had done.

It happened that once the prince had won back his princess's heart, they became married to each other. The people rallied behind them and they took their place on the thrown as united king and queen. They drove all the enemies from the land and ruled in peace and prosperity all their days.

So just who is this princess? She is the shechinah, often understood as Hashem's divine presence in the world. On a deeper level, the Shechinah corresponds in the sefirot to the lowest sefirah of Malchut. Malchut is a feminine sefirah as it is a kli which gathers Hashem's divine light from all the other sefirot and manifests it into this world. That is the relationship between the masculine and the feminine- the masculine gives potential and the feminine gathers the potential and actualizes it into a reality, as with a man who can give seed to a woman with DNA in it that maps out the possibility of an entire human being, and then the woman's body takes that potential seed and forms it into an actual person. Just as Malchut takes all the power of Hashem's divine light and pours it forth into the world as actual blessing, so too the princess was the source of blessing for the whole country.

The prince of the story is the Jewish people. Am Yisrael and the Shechinah are husband and wife and that is why the prince and the princess were destined to be joined together. Just as the prince chased after foreign princesses and ended up driving his own princess away, the Jews used to be united in Eretz Yisrael with the Shechinah but chose to chase after idolatry driving the Shechinah away (as we continue to do with our varied sins today). The people of the country represent Eretz Yisrael, and just like they couldn't accept the prince without the princess and drove him out as well, once the Jewish people rejected the Shechinah the land spewed them out, and it's taught that when the Jewish people went into exile, the Shechinah went as well. When all this happened the land went into darkness and was taken over by gangs of wild men. In the land of Israel, various nations have spent the last several thousand years conquering it, losing it, and sometimes reconquering it. The last group of “wild men” to now be in the land are currently the muslims, descendants of Ishmael. In Sefer Bereshit Hashem refers to Ishmael saying he will be a wild man in constant conflict with others.

But the princess never actually left, she just went into hiding. So too the Shechinah never actually left the world but just became very hidden. She may have been covered in dirt and rags, yet underneath all that, her true beauty was present all along, and as soon as it was able to be revealed it shone forth. Ramchal teaches of this with the Shechinah in his sefer Mishkney Elyon. All things that exist in the lower world have a corresponding counterpart in the upper spiritual realms. Jacob was called Jacob, but had a higher spiritual reality to him known is Israel. In this world we have Jerusalem, and in the upper realms there is Tzion. The Ramchal teaches this is also true of the temple, in which there is a physical temple on earth and a corresponding one in the heavens. When the first temple stood, the corresponding upper temple lined up in design with it perfectly and that's why the Shechinah could dwell there, as opposed to the second temple in which it did not rest. Why is this? Because once the first temple was destroyed the heavenly one was as well, and immediately a new one was built. However the design of this one didn't match up with the physical design of the second in this world and therefore it was destined to not stand forever. So what does this upper temple correspond to in design? Ramchal teaches it is to be the third temple, and that when the proper tikkun olam is performed and the upper worlds become unified with the lower worlds it will come down through the worlds to manifest itself here in this world. At that point we will simply build a corresponding physical building around it.

With this we can now better understand the hidden but always present beauty of the princess which once it was revealed shone forth as before and prepared her to bring the blessings to her people again. The third temple, which will be the source of Malchut/Shechinah to bring blessing into this world is already here, just hidden in the upper worlds, but once it becomes revealed in this world will radiate G-dliness to everything in existence.

The prince's coming of age and conquest of the country represents the Jewish people's return to the land of Israel and founding of the modern state with it's courages battles and many miraculous victories. Though the prince wasn't looking for his princess and his main goal was to rally the people behind him and reign as king (as secular Zionism wasn't concerned with a return to Torah but simply to create a modern Jewish state within the land), once he had started his quest he chanced upon the princess. He could barely recognize her for she was still very hidden but something deep within him remembered her. As we have come back to this land G-d's presence has been calling us and almost every Jew who visits or lives in the land now can feel at least a hint of these stirrings in their heart.

Why did the prince and princess need to be united in marriage as king and queen before their destiny could be fulfilled? Within a person, there is both male and female aspects. In a proper relationship, the man will bring the femininity out of a woman and the woman will bring the masculinity out of a man. When they are together properly each one brings out the essence of the other. Furthermore, animals have relations with the female's back facing the male while human beings have relations face to face. The ten sefirot are within a person's body and like in the sefirot, the left side of a person is gevura while the right side is chesed. When a man and a woman come face to face with each other, their bodies are reversed (meaning one's left side is facing the other's right and their right is facing the other's left). Thus, the man's chesed attaches to the woman's gevura and his gevura to her chesed, and they create an all around tiferet – the beautiful balance.

Yet at first the prince wasn't interested in winning back the heart of the princess. It was only after he couldn't gain complete success in rallying the people and realized that without her in his life he would soon lose his kingdom and his life to his enemies that he figured out that his destiny was interwoven with hers. We may have made very big strides in Israel today, yet for all we've accomplished we still can not stamp out the threat of our enemies and over time the threat they pose to us just gets bigger and bigger until now we have those sworn to kill us surrounding us on all sides, some of them even pursuing nuclear weapons which will only take a mater of time to obtain. As the prince realized he needed the princess, we need to realize we will never make it on our own in this country without G-d's help and the Shechinah in our presence no matter what kind of allies or military strength we may think we possess.

When the prince first asked the princess to marry him he hadn't renounced the other princesses he had sought after and was only interested in the union in as much as it helped him. He was looking for a union akin the animal level where the female may be turned away but the male does not care because he is simply seeking his pleasure, rather than a human union of facing each other in which both mutually want to draw the other into themselves and then may line up correctly spiritually as well as physically. The princess refused because he hadn't worked to fix the damage to her he had caused and show her he really loved her. Therefore, to reveal the Shechinah in this world and bring about the ultimate union between G-d's presence and the Jewish people, we will need to put in much hard work, and with the threats we are faced with we do not have any other options. The time has come for us to let our own princess know how sorry we are for what we have done by doing t'shuva (repentence) for the sins we have committed and denouncing the “foreign princesses” of westernism, secularism, assimilation, and any other mentality or school of thought we have latched onto which is not rooted in Torah (and on a more simple level our desires for sins). As the prince had to woo his princess back to earn her love, we need to commit ourselves to Hashem and make His presence revealed in the world by trying our best to love Him and never leave Him again. May we have success in doing this and realizing our national destiny soon and in our times.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Yom Yerushalayim- Come Join Us!!


You and your friends are cordially invited:
Yom Yerushalayim Celebration @ Beit HaRav Kook (next to Ticho House) in Jerusalem! Join the Kumah chevrah, yeshiva students and new olim for a song-filled Tefillah Chagigit & Musical Hallel led by R' Shlomo Katz this Monday at 8:30am. Divrei Torah, great music, & free breakfast too! Marking 41 years since the open miracles of the Six Day War!

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

"iLand"



"I will remember My covenant with Jacob and even My covenant with Isaac, and even My covenant with Abraham will I remember, and I will remember the Land." (Vayikra 26;42)

In this week's parsha there is a long list of ultra-scary curses that G-d vows to bring upon us if we neglect His Torah. At the end of these awful passages promising exile comes a verse that is meant to give us solace. G-d promises to bring us back from the Exile in the merit of the forefathers and the merit of the Land. But why would G-d include in His list of the Patriarchs a special mention of the Land of Israel? Why did He not include other mitzvot He might remember, like: 'I will remember Jacob and his Tefillin, Issac and his Tzitit, and Abraham and his Etrog'?

In this iPod generation it is easy to believe that the world is here for our convenience. Everything is quick, easy and on demand. Through this attitude we may come to the false conclusion that the Land of Israel is our own little iLand, a personalized tool for our use. We may begin to treat the Land as merely a Cheftza, that is, a religious object like tefillin, tzitit, and etrog to be used and then put away when done, or even disposed of when it wears out...

This utilitarian thinking is actually a wide-reaching phenomenon. For example: Secular Post-Zionism is the belief that a few years ago we needed a safe haven from persecution and therefore we created a Jewish state; but now that we are well-off and safe from persecution we can scrap the state - it's boring, and anyway we can simply live in peace and harmony in the US, a very nice place indeed. We have used up the Land of Israel and now it's time to move on, to SKIP to the next song, to throw away this paper cup.

Religious Post-Zionism, that is, Orthodox Jewry outside of Israel, is just as utilitarian. Says the religious post-Zionist: "Sure there are Mitzvot connected to the Land of Israel and that's why I come to Israel now and then. It's there for my religious convenience. Now I would like to hit a button on my iLand and play the Israel song for a ten-day trip. On the trip I will pray at the Kotel, give some charity to the needy, and walk around Jerusalem like I own the place. When I'm satiated in my religious observance, I hit STOP on the iLand and I go back HOME."

These attitudes are reasonable symptoms of mistaken initial assumptions. In this week's Torah portion, Hashem tells us that the Land of Israel is not just a mitzvah or religious tool. The Torah equates the Land to the Forefathers and tells us that G-d's particular remembrance for the Land is amongst the merits that will yank us out of the Exile. But what is this merit? Why does G-d remember the Land?

When G-d created the world, he created the Land of Israel as a special entity – a land that has feelings and a personality, a land that is sensitive to how she is treated, and sensitive to how her inhabitants behave!

"And you, I will scatter among the nations, I will unsheathe the sword after you; your land will be desolate and your cities will be a ruin. Then the land will be appeased for its sabbaticals during all the years of its desolation, while you are in the land of your enemies; then the land will rest and it will appease for its sabbaticals. All the years of its desolation it will rest, whatever it did not rest during your sabbaticals when you dwelled upon her." (Vayikra 26, 33-35)

If we Jews are bad, the Land will evict us, if we Jews don't keep the Sabbaths including the Shmittah year, the Land will vomit us out. However, when we call out to G-d from the Exile, the merit of the Land, this entity which loves the Jewish people, this special being that only flourishes when the Jewish people are with her, helps convince G-d that indeed it is time to bring us home.

Once we understand that the Land has her own personality and that she has a relationship with Hashem, we become much more careful as to how we treat her. We will not litter our Land because it offends her, we do not speak ill of the Land because it hurts her feelings. Moreover, once we comprehend that our Land is our unique friend and partner, we stop treating the Land as some personal i-device that we turn on and off at our whim. Instead, we embrace her, we cultivate her, we protect her, and we honor her. Our Forefathers knew that the Land of Israel is a gift; let us also not take her for granted.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Be afraid, be very afraid... NOT!




While browsing the fine literary selection of the magazine rack at the airport recently, my eyes were snagged immediately by an interesting cover of that week's issue of the Atlantic. It featured a twisted merging of the Israeli and palestinian flags (above) and read, “Is Israel Finished?” While covering a plethora of issues that Israel is facing, the theme that tied it all together was a big problem Olmert has been facing lately. What is this problem that has beset our beloved prime minister (the good Lord has yet to grant us a “sarcasm” font)? It's not incredibly low popularity ratings, and it's not the fact that he's under numerous investigations, heck it's not even that he has been charged with the duty of running a country when he apparently hasn't the faintest clue how to. No, Olmert's big problem is that after Israeli author David Grossman sadly lost one of his sons in the war with Hezbollah, Olmert in turn lost his support.

Article author Jefferey Goldberg seems to think this is a problem because the pace of the nation is apparently set by what the novelists write in their books. While I'm sure they are entertaining, I've never personally read one of Grossman's works, or even heard of him before reading this article, for that matter. There does happen to be a book that DOES shape my opinions on this country though- it's called the Torah and it's author goes by the pen name of G-d. The fact that Mr. Goldberg, for the purposes of his article at least, puts more emphasis on one author and not the other is a telling sign of a problem I see with the people who on the one hand are invested in Israel emotionally, residentially, or otherwise yet don't have Hashem guiding them.

Goldberg's article is riddled with fear. He cites fear that Israel isn't safe; fear that the arabs under Israeli jurisdiction will soon outnumber the Jews, and fear that the very existence of the state is in danger. He says that Olmert feels things would be better for him if he could only get Grossman back on his side. Grossman himself feels things would be better for Israel if we could make more concessions to the palestinians and express more love to them. Never mind the fact that Grossman giving his haskama to Olmert wouldn't change all the mistakes he's made and magically turn him into an actual leader. And also never mind that people who have been raised by every element of their society since childhood to believe we are descendants of pigs and apes who have stolen their land and whose murder guarantees them a spot in paradise will most likely not be satisfied with some land concessions, especially seeing as such strategies have historically and utterly failed time and time again.

But that's the problem with those who don't recognize Hashem. If you don't believe G-d will help you then you turn to everyone other than G-d for help instead. Everyone from novelists to your embittered enemies with a seething blood lust against you. The thing is, most people, no matter how stupidly they may act, aren't truly and utterly stupid. Deep down people know that there is no salvation in novelists, and there is no salvation in enemies. And that's where their fear comes from. For, from deep within comes a voice of reason which screams out that these false gods will offer no protection and there's nothing like a good voice of reason to keep you up at night. But there is hope. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov famously taught, “Know that the whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid.” That's because with the knowledge that G-d supports you, there truly is nothing to fear in this world.

Furthermore, the Torah itself says in Psalm 81, “Listen, My nation, and I will attest to you; oh Israel, if you would but listen to Me. There shall be no strange god within you, nor shall you bow down to an alien god. I am Hashem, your G-d, who elevated you from the land of Egypt, open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But My people did not heed My voice and Israel did not desire Me. So I let them follow their heart's fantasies, they follow their own counsels. If only My people would heed Me, if Israel would walk in My ways. In an instant I would subdue their foes, and against their tormentors turn My hand.” Strange how things written thousands of years ago can be so applicable today eh? We, as the nation of Israel have a clear promise from G-d that He will love and protect us, and we have no need to rely on fake leaders, intellectual armchair diplomats or the mercy of those sworn to destroy us. It's about time we stopped being afraid, and started putting our trust where we will get actual results. If not, Israel may as well be “finally finished”, G-d forbid.

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The Real Sinai



Here is my new Torah article on INN:

"Hashem spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai saying: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the Land that I give you, the Land shall observe a Sabbath rest for HaShem."

This Torah portion has everything to do with the Land of Israel, and yet its commandments and directions are clearly marked as being given at Mount Sinai. Why does the Torah make this unusual stress on the place where these commandments are given? Moreover, aren't all the commandments from Mount Sinai? What makes these commandments different?

HaShem wrote the Torah, created the world, created man and created man's psychology. He knows that we, Am Yisrael, have a tendency to forget Eretz Yisrael, to settle in the Exile and make it our home. Even today, after the miracle rebirth of Israel, we often hear observant, Torah-true Jews saying that they cannot find the right community in Israel, they cannot make a living, or cannot get married here. It is not unusual to hear observant Jews say they can live a fuller Jewish life in the Diaspora.

Behar's introduction, and its specific naming of Mount Sinai, is written to address this classic Jewish psychological weakness. Know this, the Torah tells us, the commandments of Eretz Yisrael, Shmittah, Yovel, walled cities, selling of land, these are at the heart of the revelation at Mount Sinai. This is Torah MiSinai. You are not allowed to push these commandments aside, to the edges of your consciousness. If you claim to be a Torah-true Jew, then know that this is Torah, the Torah that was given at Sinai to Moshe Rabbeinu.

Moreover, if you do find yourself in the bitter Exile, keep these commandments close to your heart, learn them, love them and yearn for the day that HaShem will return you. When He does return you, you will be prepared to implement these laws and live your Torah-true life in the Land which He swore to give to our forefathers.

Alas, today, when living in Israel has never been easier, when Torah institutions abound, when Yerushalayim is being built, there are still "Torah-true" Jews who make excuses and claim that they can live a more "Torah lifestyle" in Passaic, Monsey, Teaneck or LA. Comes our Torah portion and tells us: You want Torah from Sinai? This is Torah from Sinai: Shmittah, Yovel, walled cities, selling of land - this is at the heart of Torat Moshe MiSinai. Live it or lose it.

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Parshat Behar also issues a challenge to Jews in Israel today. While we Jews have achieved a modern state with a governing body, an army, an education system, and health care, we are not satisfied or complacent. Indeed, we pray and act everyday to make the arms of the state more in line with the Torah's will. We have alternative political parties, we have special army units and we have Torah education - all these try to reshape the state in G-d's image. Moreover, we yearn for the Temple to stand in Jerusalem, with a righteous Sanhedrin adjudicating the nation.


Yet when is the last time you heard a push for Torah economics?

Parshat Behar is a Torah portion dedicated to Torah economics: the Shmittah cycle bids us to leave the land fallow every seventh year, the Yovel heralds freedom for the Hebrew bondsman and a return of sold land to its original owners, while the prohibition to loan with interest protects the destitute.

The Torah has an economic system in mind for Jewish life in Israel; yet, our economic system today is not much different from those of other countries. The Torah's economic laws are a secret insight as to how to make it here in the land and yet we barely use them. We must establish Torah institutes that will study and unravel what Torah economics means in the modern age.

The closer we follow HaShem's economic vision, the more we will merit to live here with His blessing.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Straight to G-d




With Pesach having come to a close I’m now looking forward to a short vacation. The funny thing is, with a month off from yeshiva for the chag, technically I’ve already been on vacation for several weeks. Yet with all the excitement of Pesach and the different Chol Omed activities going on around the country last week, I find I actually need a vacation from my vacation.

Thank G-d, I was able to do a lot of traveling this past week, from one end of the country to the other. Bus rides to Beitar, bus rides to Hebron, bus rides to Tzfat, even an amazing two day Carlebach music festival at the Dead sea. I’m left feeling much more connected to Hashem after tapping into these holy places but I’m also left something else as well… exhausted! As I now look forward to a short visit to America to make the mandatory family visits and get some well earned relaxation, I realize this rest is from more than just running around all last week. In some ways, the hustle and bustle of Pesach and Chol Omed has been a microcosm of a larger life here in Israel.

This land is called “Eretz Yisrael”, and if you split up “Yisrael” in half you get “Eretz Yishar El” (The land straight to G-d). Through the name of the land itself we understand it’s nature, if you want to be taken straight to G-d this is the place to do it in. The thing is, G-d is indescribably powerful, and being much closer to Him can infuse a lot of energy into a person, place, or thing. Often this high-energy state of being is a very good thing, but one has to be careful to channel it in the right direction or else you can get burnt. It’s no coincidence that this land produces the gedolim-hador, rabbis of saintly stature able to take spirituality to the utter heights, as well as suicide bombers who grab hold of that same spiritual energy and are driven to take it to the utter depths. While speaking with my rabbi this weekend he was describing how last Shabbat he saw huge amounts of Greek Orthodox Christian tour groups walking around Jerusalem and bearing huge crosses no less, and he said he was very pleased about it. Not expecting to hear such a reaction I asked him why and he replied that the holiness of this land is now such that all the non-Jews of the world are vying to get a hold of it. Not only is it a sign that Hashem is really doing something special here, but also that now it has gotten to the point where it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the Jewish nation also wakes up to this fact as the non-Jews already have.

Life in America now seems like watching a movie… something that’s not quite real and at any moment someone may hit the stop button. Comparatively, life here is quite real, sometimes almost too real. When things are good they’re really good, but when they are bad they can be very stressful. Often you only get a split second to jump from great to horrible and back again, not being afforded a moment to catch your breath. I was speaking to a police officer here after a heated protest recently and commenting on it he told me, “You see, it’s not always so easy to be here.” To that I replied that I’d rather have a hard life in truth than to live an easy life in falsehood. Sometimes facing reality can be uncomfortable or worse downright painful. But it’s not our purpose to use this life we were given to sit back in a lazyboy and grow fat and weak, it’s our job to seek out the truth in this life. To do that the best, we must go “Yishar El”, straight to G-d, and this is the place to do it!

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Searching for Chometz


Some ideas on how to "enhance the search" (Audio)
Chag Sameach!

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

An Awakening!


It's about 6 p.m. on May 14, 1948, and a friend and I are leaving a UNESCO conference here to catch the train back to Berkeley.

From the corner of our eyes we catch the newspaper headlines: “U.S. RECOGNIZES ISRAEL” screams the Examiner, in type usually reserved for the latest axe murder or Hollywood divorce.

Israel. We slowly formulate the name on our tongue, roll it around, test its flavor for the first time.

We buy up every paper on the newsstand -- the San Francisco Chronicle, the News, the Examiner and the Oakland Tribune -- an expenditure that would become a daily habit...

Each paper carries the identical releases from the wire services, but there is the hope that an editor or commentator might add a few more words about Israel, fill in background or analyze the situation.

We forget about catching the train and slowly walk down Market Street.

The all-night Newsreel Theatre flashes its attractions: LATEST PICTURES FROM PALESTINE -- SEE WHY THE JEWS ARE FIGHTING FOR THEIR COUNTRY.

The newsreels are quite old, something about the first Jewish settlements in the Negev. We applaud enthusiastically.

In the theater lobby, a teletype machine spews out the latest news flashes, “In a simple ceremony, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion …”

During the next weeks we become restless. We can’t concentrate on our work, are useless for our studies. When we aren’t squatting beside the radio, we are scanning the latest newspapers. When we aren’t writing letters to the editor, we are cabling our congressman to demand an immediate lifting of the U.S. arms embargo on Israel.

Slowly, at first unconsciously, our attitudes as Jews change.

We have never been ashamed of our Jewishness, but many of us were indifferent to it. Few of us belonged to a Zionist organization. Of course, we applauded the accomplishments of those in Palestine and perhaps gave a little money to help them.

But now we gradually begin to speak of this as our fight, our defense and -- perhaps -- our future.

I meet the shop foreman from an old summer job. What does he think of the Jews’ fight in Israel? A lifelong anti-Semite, he scratches his head, hesitates and admits reluctantly, “Christ, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

A friend, Jewish and anti-Zionist, assesses the new situation.

“Our people in Palestine have done more to eliminate anti-Semitism in the last six months of fighting than we were able to do in the previous 2,000 years of producing the greatest doctors, the greatest scientists and the greatest philosophers,” he says.

We sadly shake our heads at the immaturity of the human race and tune in to the next radio broadcast. “Forces of the Israeli army have taken enemy positions …”

We walk out of the room, our bodies a little straighter, our chins a few inches higher than before.

(This article was written in late May 1948, when Tom Tugend, then 22, was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. It was first printed in November 1948 in the Soldiers Bulletin, published in Israel for English-speaking volunteers in the War of Independence.) From JTA

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

When Passaic Is Jerusalem, Rav Leff's "Where is the Religious Aliya from the West"


The following essay by Rav Zev Leff, Shilta, entitled "Where is the Religious Aliya from the West?" appears as the introduction to "To Dwell in the Palace" by Tzivia Erlich-Klein (1991, Feldheim - a MUST read - order it today!).

Though I always wanted to post this here, I'm posting it now as a response the post "Passaic is Better than Israel."


Where is the Religious Aliyah from the West?
from “To Dwell in the Palace - Perspectives on Eretz Yisrael”

DRIVING HOME THROUGH the largely-uninhabited hills of Judea, or walking down the streets of an Israeli city still lacking the imprint of Torah, I hear the question echoing: “Where is the religious aliya from the Torah communities of the West?”

The question is not of recent vintage, nor was it posed by a representative of the Aliya Department of the Jewish Agency. It was Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld who addressed these words, some sixty years ago, to Rav Yitzchok Breuer. The rav of Yerushalayim further told the Agudah leader, “Now I understand the words of musaf for yom tov: `Because of our sins were we exiled from our country’ - by HaShem; `and we were distanced from our Land’ - this we have done voluntarily.” (Moriah, p. 191)


Another quote from Rav Sonnenfeld is perhaps even more pointed: “Many times have I directed that the religious Jews in the diaspora be instructed that anyone who has the ability to come to Eretz Yisroel and doesn’t, will have to account for his failure in the future world.” (Ha’ish Al Hachoma, vol. II, p. 149)

A generation or so later, a yeshiva student from the diaspora who had been learning in an Israeli yeshiva came to bid farewell to the Chazon Ish before returning to his home. “Is one permitted to leave Eretz Yisroel?” the gadol asked him. The student stammered and replied, “I understood that if one came to Eretz Yisroel with the intention of returning eventually, he is permitted to leave.” The Chazon Ish spoke in a tone of disappointment: “We are trying to devise methods to get bnei Torah to settle here and you are involved in finding ways to be able to leave?!” (Peer Hador, vol. II, p. 42)

Baruch HaShem, Torah is flourishing in Eretz Yisroel to an extent scarcely even dreamed of by these great sages. But their questions still loom. Indeed, the extent to which the Torah community, otherwise scrupulously careful with mitzvos, is “involved in finding ways” out of the mitzva of yishuv Eretz Yisroel needs to be examined.

Factors Cited

The economic situation in Israel is often mentioned. Indeed, the Pischei Teshuva (Even Haezer 75, no. 6) rules that since living under conditions of economic privation can endanger, or at least compromise, one’s spiritual life, one is exempt from settling in Israel if he will be forced to live under conditions of dachkus (hardship). Now what constitutes the “dachkus” to which the Pischei Teshuva refers? The inability to afford $25 per pound gourmet chocolates? Not being able to acquire an elegant, very large wardrobe of `from” designer clothing? Is the definition of dachkus being too destitute to afford a $500,000 home that one would not think of inhabiting until it was gutted and elegantly redone? Or is dachkus a dearth of elegant glatt restaurants of various nationalities, pizza shops with all the trimmings, and frozen glatt kosher convenience foods and snacks?

Not to belabor the point, in essence the ruling of the Pischei Teshuva refers specifically to one who will be forced to live from tzedaka in Israel as opposed to being able to earn a living in chutz laAretz. By comparing employment possibilities in Eretz Yisroel today with those available either in the time of Rav Sonnenfeld or that of the Chazon Ish, we are soon forced to eliminate the exemption of the Pischei Teshuva for most cases. B’ezras HaShem one can earn a livelihood in Israel that would have been considered luxurious by most of prewar European Jewry. Even more significant, however, is this point: the more modest lifestyle typical in Israel today not only does no harm to one’s spiritual life, but it is likely to do much good.

The Torah sages of all generations warned against extravagant lifestyles, flaunting our wealth in the eyes of the nations, and becoming too comfortable in golus. The Maharsha (Shabbos 119) makes the following observation: “Most of the sins of this generation… can be attributed to the fact that… everyone wishes to conduct himself in an extravagant fashion in regard to clothing, houses, and all other matters; and this leads to theft.”

More recently, the Chafetz Chaim, in the Biur Halachic (siman 529), rebukes openly: “Many people err in this area and do not take to heart how to conduct themselves properly concerning their household expenses, to distance themselves from luxuries. Many have been damaged by this kind of conduct which ultimately brings one to theft and dishonesty and to shame and disgrace….” In Sfas Tamim (chapter V) the Chafetz Chaim blames the suffering, trials and tribulations of his times on the dishonesty promoted by overspending on luxuries, especially costly clothing; by overextending oneself through buying on credit; and by lavish weddings with unreasonable demands made on parents for dowries.

Another facet of the economic argument, one cited as a reason to delay aliya indefinitely, is financial “security.” (”How can we face the future without a sizable sum put safely away?”) The gemara (Sota 48) says: “One who has bread in his basket and worries what he will eat tomorrow is one of little faith.” The Kotzker Rebbe explains that the “little faith” is not evidenced by the uncertainty of tomorrow, but rather by this man’s certainty of today. By worrying only about to morrow, he shows that he puts his trust in the presence of bread in his basket, and not in HaShem. A believing Jew, by definition, does not hang his security on large bank accounts; he certainly would not compromise his Torah life in their pursuit.

All this considered, there do remain legitimate economic factors to weigh when planning aliya. The laws of tzedaka demand that we provide for one who falls on hard times not merely at subsistence level, but at the standard to which he was accustomed. This is because a drastic change in lifestyle can be very painful. In light of this insight gleaned from the halacha itself, an individual may and should consider very carefully his family’s present standard of living, the prospects for their situation in Eretz Yisroel, and the ability of the family to modify or adapt accordingly. Of course, a Jew who has been properly educated to the importance of aliya, and one who takes the admonition of the Chafetz Chaim cited above seriously, will be cautious from the start lest his family grow accustomed to exaggerated standards.

The second factor that could qualify as a reason for postponing aliya under the guidelines of the Pischei Teshuva concerns the individual’s predilection for a specific occupation. Chazal tell us that it is part of a man’s nature to find satisfaction in doing that for which he is best suited. We all know that there are many people who retrain in the middle of one career for an entirely new one, for any number of reasons. Nevertheless, one who finds satisfaction in his occupation should plan to pursue the same one in Eretz Yisroel. Where this would be impossible, one should weigh the available options for suitability and for the prospects of success and satisfaction inherent in each one. Failure to deliberate this issue could result in a potentially frustrating or unsuccessful aliya. Here too, however, if one teaches oneself to strive always towards aliya, then, at every crossroads in his training, he will have Eretz Yisroel in mind. Such a person will consider possible occupations in light of their transferability to Eretz Yisroel from the beginning.

And then there’s the matter of physical security. After all, the halacha does not permit us to put ourselves in danger.

Visiting New York, I have been asked: “Aren’t you afraid to live in the Shomron?” I find it amusing if not ironic when the question is asked while the host secures both his locks and activates his alarm system.

In the years I’ve lived on Moshav Mattityahu, there have been no incidents, no crime. My children can go out to play at any hour, and we do not bother to lock our doors even at night. How safe are the streets of any city in America that it should be recommended as a place of safety while Israel is rejected as dangerous?

On the streets of Eretz Yisroel, the only men carrying guns are the soldiers protecting us. At least here in Eretz Yisroel the security measures taken have an excellent record of effectiveness. And added to those security measures (which the halacha requires of us) the observable fact is that in Eretz Yisroel we merit an extra, supernatural, measure directly from the Ribbono shel olam. No, the safety factor does not really seem to be an issue.

Some claim to fear the problems that they would encounter trying to live a life of Torah under a secular Israeli government. Isn’t the negative attitude to Torah values and Torah observers exhibited by certain segments of Israeli society a significant detriment, they ask.

One wonders, however, if non-Jewish Western society, or for that matter the secular Jewish community elsewhere, is really a better environment for Torah ideals. Is the attitude there towards Torah values less hostile? Does kindly tolerance of observant Jews demonstrated by secularized brethren create a better atmosphere for growth?

Before the reader rushes to answer these complex questions, the following should be considered: When the Israeli government passed the law of conscription for women, an individual approached the Chazon Ish with a challenge: “Does the Rav still feel that Jews are obligated to come and settle here [i.e.., when there is a government that drafts laws such as this, subjecting our daughters to military service, which the gedolim forbid (they have even ruled that one must surrender her life if that is the only alternative to compliance)]?” After a brief, pained silence, the Chazon Ish answered in the affirmative with forceful resolve and clarity. (Peer Hador, vol. II, p. 43)

Today, although conscription of women has yet to be annulled completely, any woman claiming to be religious is exempt. It would therefore appear, by kal vachomer from the psak of the Chazon Ish, that the objection posed above does not affect our obligation.

Those in positions of communal responsibility cite additional grounds for remaining in chutz laAretz. Clearly, consideration must be given to the effect their aliya will have on those for whom they bear responsibility. There are indeed many community rabbanim, roshei yeshiva, klei kodesh, and community heads who are crucial to the growth and stability of their respective institutions both spiritually and physically. It would, however, be absurd and somewhat haughty for every rabbi or communal leader to assume that the fate of his community rests on his shoulders alone.

In many cases the aliya of the leader would be an incentive and inspiration for those he leads to follow, for the benefit of all concerned. And there are leaders who would be even more effective and successful in Eretz Yisroel.

Rav Sonnenfeld directed his impoverished grandson to decline the offer of a prestigious rabbinical position in chutz laAretz and to remain in Eretz Yisroel. “I maintain that it is better to be a plain working man in Israel than a rabbi in chutz laAretz,” Rav Sonnenfeld told him. (This is not to be taken as a blanket principle for all cases. The comment is important, however, in that it challenges our preconception that the reverse is the rule.)

It must be emphasized that each situation is unique. When doubts exist, the advice of a Torah authority should be sought. I myself know of a number of cases where important rabbis and leaders were advised by a posek to go ahead and make aliya.

Another factor that sometimes discourages prospective olim is reports of problems encountered in chinuch of children, particularly those of high school age. This may seem surprising, since there is an abundance of excellent institutions of learning to be found in Eretz Yisroel on all levels. Nevertheless, the inadequacy of Hebrew language skills acquired in many US. yeshivos, coupled with cultural differences which are due to the infusion of foreign values, can create difficulties for the young oleh. Discrepancies of style between available options here and those one was accustomed to in the United States can cause considerable pain for children and parents alike. With proper planning and guidance, however, many of these problems can be reduced or avoided entirely. Furthermore, additional aliya from the US. will, inevitably, lead to the establishment of more schools tailored to these olim. (Indeed, recent years have witnessed the development of “American-style” yeshivishe education in Israel with a unique flavor all its own.)

There is also a great deal of discussion of halachic factors excusing today’s Jew from this mitzva. There are, after all, opinions that it is only a mitzva kiyumis (voluntary mitzva). This was the opinion of the late gaon Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, and some others. Well, tzitzis is also “only” a mitzva kiyumis. It might be worth contemplating the way we regard one who neglects the mitzva of tzitzis, or even one who does not wear an arba kanfos that conforms to the strictest shiur with tzitzis the most mehudarim. In a time of Divine anger, one is held accountable for a mitzva kiyumis as well.

And there are some who maintain that the mitzva is not binding at all today. This was the opinion of the late Satmar Rebbe zt”l and some others. Even if we ascribe great weight to this minority opinion, however, we must ask ourselves how we conduct ourselves regarding other mitzvos that are binding only according to “some” opinions. Do we not go to great lengths to be yotsai all the shitos? In the case of yishuv Eretz Yisroel, the preponderance of opinion in favor of the binding nature of the commandment includes the Pischei Teshuva, the Avnei Nezer, the Chafetz Chaim, the Gerrer Rebbe, the Chazon Ish….

The purpose of this article is not to enter into a halachic debate, nor to be so presumptuous as to rush in where giants have trodden before me. Yes, there are reliable halachic opinions which would mitigate the obligatory nature of yishuv Eretz Yisroel in our times; but the list of opinions in support of the imperative of fulfilling this mitzva today - only fractionally mentioned in the above paragraph - is a formidable one.

There is one point on which all Torah authorities are in agreement. That is that living in Eretz Yisroel affords one a unique opportunity for spiritual development and growth. While it is true that this opportunity must be considered in conjunction with many other factors that affect the spirit, one cannot simply ignore or disregard the special qualities of Eretz Yisroel and of the mitzva of yishuv haAretz.

Strangely, consideration of settling in Eretz Yisroel is overlooked by many in the Torah community. This most certainly is not the Torah view. The move to Eretz Yisroel must at least be considered, discussed, and investigated. As a musmach of the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, who learned in kollel there for many years, then went on to serve the community I grew up in as rav of the North Miami Beach kehilla for nine years, and then, with the advice and encouragement of gedolim, was oleh to Eretz Yisroel several years ago, assuming the position of rav of Moshav Mattityahu - I feel that my experience may be instructive to the Torah world. I believe I can provide some insights gained on both sides of the ocean which will clarify the case for settling in Eretz Yisroel, and bring the topic to the forefront for personal deliberation. Perhaps others like me, neither exceptionally brave nor wealthy, may benefit from my perspective.

If living in Eretz Yisroel is viewed as “just a mitzva” (as I once heard someone say with a shrug), then all the considerations discussed above could be deterrents. But this is a mitzva which is “equal to all the rest,” it is fulfilled every moment with every part of one’s body, and it carries with it a host of other mitzvos which one can fulfill only by residing in Eretz Yisroel. Clearly, there is something more encompassing at issue than any single mitzva. Let us therefore suspend our analysis of practical questions while we address the larger picture. What is this particular Land, and living in it, all about?

The Role of the Jewish Nation

Some of what follows is basic and surely known to the reader. Nevertheless, as the Mesillas Yesharim warns, that which is basic and self-understood is often overlooked, ignored or forgotten.

Am Yisroel was selected by HaShem to be a sanctified nation whose raison d’etre would be to represent HaShem to the world in all areas - a “mamleches kohanim vegoy kadosh.” The Torah was given to us to guide us - individually and collectively - in conforming with this lofty mission.

To achieve our goal, HaShem exhorted us to separate ourselves from the other nations. We are to be a nation apart, distinct in our holy purpose. As the Torah instructs, “Va’avdil eschem min ha’amim lihiyos li” (I separated you from the nations to be Mine). (Vayikra 20) The Sifrei comments on this verse: “If you are separated then you are Mine, but if not, you belong to Nevuchadnetzar and his cohorts.” The simple meaning seems to be that if we separate ourselves, we will merit Divine protection, and if not, HaShem will deliver us into the hands of our enemies. The literal wording of the Sifrei, however, does not bear this explanation out. I would like to suggest an alternative one:

A non Jew is required to observe only seven mitzvos. His lifestyle can be secular, devoid of holiness. As long as he maintains harmony with the basic ethical code dictated by HaShem for civilization, he will merit a share in the world-to-come. One might conclude that a Jew living the same type of lifestyle, although remiss in the observance of 606 mitzvos, has a positive basis for his life - no worse than a non Jew. The Sifrei informs us otherwise. The Jew exists for an entirely different purpose: to create a mikdash - a place of holiness and sanctity where HaShem’s presence will be found, and felt. This mikdash finds expression in the person of every Jew. Thus, any Jew who fails to sanctify himself, to lead a life of exceptional holiness as defined by the Torah’s commandments, is in fact destroying his personal mikdash. He has joined the ranks of Nevuchadnetzar and his cohorts, destroyers of the Mikdash.

To promote our being a “nation that dwells apart,” HaShem “measured every land and found no land more suitable to the Jewish people than Eretz Yisroel, and no people better suited to Eretz Yisroel than am Yisroel.” (Vayikra Rabba 13) Eretz Yisroel is a holy Land, the Land that HaShem personally supervises at all times, the Land that HaShem calls His own. Am Yisroel is the nation that is a holy nation - the nation that merits direct Divine providence, the nation that HaShem calls His own. Hence Eretz Yisroel and am Yisroel complement each other perfectly.

Eretz Yisroel provides the setting where we can develop our potential to be a sanctified nation unlike any other. (This, it should be noted, is the very antithesis of secular Zionist ideology, which envi sions Eretz Yisroel as the setting for us to develop at long last into a nation like all other nations, with all their vices and weaknesses.)

The idea of Eretz Yisroel as the home of a uniquely holy people is implied at the very beginning of the Torah. “The Torah should have commenced with hachodesh hazeh lachem, the first mitzva the Jewish people were commanded. Why then does it open with Bereishis…?” (Rashi on Bereishis 1, 1) The answer quoted by Rashi is the following: Lest the nations of the world claim that we are thieves who stole the land of seven nations, HaShem informs us that He created the world and it is therefore His to take away from whomever He chooses and to give to whomever He chooses.

This answer is not for the nations; obviously, they do not accept it. Rather it is we who are supposed to see clearly that Eretz Yisroel is legitimately ours, given to us by HaShem. But there is a deeper lesson here. Why was it ordained that we should have to conquer Eretz Yisroel from seven nations who inhabited it for hundreds of years? Why was it arranged that we should have to kill the men, women, and children of those nations? Why did Eretz Yisroel have to become ours in a manner so open to question that the whole Torah would have to start from Bereishis just to provide an answer?

It seems that HaShem sought to teach us a lesson so significant that it is the foundation of the entire Torah. It is the preface necessary before we can approach even the first mitzva. This lesson is that the basis of our ethics and morals, standards and values is one sole source - HaShem Yisbarach. If He says to conquer and kill, that is what is “ethical’ and “moral.” Where HaShem mandates mercy and peace, they are “ethical” in that case. Our value system can have no other basis than the written and oral Torah. By mandating the conquest of Eretz Yisroel in an apparently disputable manner, the Creator forced us to focus our attention on the only basis we have for our actions. He is the Creator of all that exists; only He can dictate proper conduct among the peoples and lands He created. Only on the basis of this reasoning are we not thieves nor murderers. The Torah, at the very outset, is laying the foundation for our frame of reference to mitzvos, and to the world.

It is not incidental that this lesson is taught through Eretz Yisroel. Our sources emphasize that only in the Land of Israel can a Torah society not influenced by foreign values and standards be created - a society based on the ethics and morals of Torah alone, a society apart, rooted in and enhanced by the special qualities of the Land.

This is something we neglect to study in the day-to-day pursuit of our lives as individuals. But since the ideal Torah society is something we yearn and pray for, it would be edifying to delve into the structure that it is meant to have.

The Brisker Rav, zt”l, explains (on parshas Chayei Sara) that klal Yisroel is comprised of two complementary factions. The first is made up of choice individuals whom the Rambam refers to as an extended “shevet Levi” - those devoted exclusively to Torah study and avodas HaShem. This is the elite corps of HaShem’s army, toiling in the yeshivos and kollelim, the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people. They create the spiritual energy source necessary for the survival of klal Yisroel and are therefore supported by the klal as were the Kohanim and Leviim. This group is the minority.

The other sector, comprising the majority of klal Yisroel, are those who follow the dictum of Rebbe Yishmael (Brachos 35) and combine Torah with a worldly occupation. Torah is, of course, the focal point of their lives, their worldly occupation secondary and peripheral. Nevertheless, Torah is not their exclusive pursuit.

I believe this thesis of the Brisker Rav has an analogous application to the Land. It too is to be divided into two sections. Yerushalayim is the primary domain of Kohanim and Leviim with the Beis HaMikdash at its center. The remainder of Eretz Yisroel is predominantly the territory of the other tribes.

The gemara (Pesachim 8) questions why the choice fruits of the Galil were not found growing in Yerushalayim instead, and why the hot springs of Teverya were not situated in Yerushalayim. The answer it gives is that when the Jewish people ascended to the Beis HaMikdash three times a year to fulfill the mitzva of aliya laregel, HaShem wanted them to perform the mitzva entirely “leshem shamayim.” He did not want them to have the possible ulterior incentive of delicious fruit or hot springs.

And yet, delicious fruits do grow in the Galil, and hot springs are found in Teverya, which are also part of Eretz Hakodesh. This fact points to an important insight into the total picture of Eretz Yisroel. Although Yerushalayim is reserved for the spiritual, the entire Land is holy. Yerushalayim it hakodesh is representative of shevet Levi and the unique role of that minority. The rest of this holy Land corresponds to the rest of our people and the majority role, which is the synthesis of spiritual and material.

The Chasam Sofer (in his commentary on Sukkah 36) explains that any occupation, undertaken in Eretz Yisroel, is included in the mitzva of yishuv Eretz Yisroel, and it is in Eretz Yisroel that Rebbe Yishmael’s ruling (that one should take on a worldly occupation) applies! Agriculture or commerce, industry or social work, medicine or engineering… whatever helps settle the people in the Land, as this-wordly as it may seem, is, by definition, a mitzva in Eretz Yisroel. Consequently, the physical and material aspects of the Land are also objects of holiness, vehicles of service to HaShem.

This idea is further borne out by the Gra’s version of the bracha acharona. The Gra omits the phrase “and let us eat from its (Eretz Yisroel’s) fruit and be satiated from its goodness.” His source is the gemara in Sota (14). Of Moshe Rabbeinu’s desire to enter Eretz Yisroel the question is asked: “Was it to eat from its fruit that he wished to enter the Land?! Rather his desire was to fulfill the mitzvos of the Land.” The implication is that eating from the fruit is not a commendable reason for desiring Eretz Yisroel and the Gra therefore omits it from the bracha.

How then can we understand the Gra’s version of the beginning of this bracha, which contains the following phrase: “… and for the desirable, good, and spacious Land that You desired and bequeathed to our forefathers to eat from its fruit and be satiated from its goodness….”

The discrepancy is explained when we apply the above-mentioned concept of a division of the Land of Israel. The opening part of the blessing refers to Eretz Yisroel as a whole. We mention the fruit since it is precisely through the fruit that we reach our goal of Divine service in greater Eretz Hakodesh. The conclusion of the bracha, however, refers specifically to the building of Yerushalayim, where reference to the fruits and material goodness is out of place.

The gemara in Sota pertains to Moshe Rabbeinu, a Levi whose place would have been in Yerushalayim. Hence the negative connotation of desiring to enter for the fruits.

The midrash (Bereishis Rabba 38, 8) relates that Avraham avinu traveled from land to land seeking the best place for his children to live. In Aram he observed people eating and drinking and partying, and he hoped that his descendants would not reside there. In contrast he observed the inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel weeding and plowing and planting and hoped that this would be the dwelling-place of his offspring.

This midrash is surprising in that it points to qualities inherent in the atmosphere of a certain land. (The inhabitants of both these countries were, after all, idol-worshippers.)

The very air of chutz laAretz is conducive to materialism, to the utilization of the physical aspects of the world for immediate gratification and sensual stimulation - an olam hazeh approach. Eretz Yisroel, on the other hand, is conducive to toiling for future gratification, for future fruits - even in the material sense. This is an olam habba orientation. Avraham avinu recognized that in this setting his descendants would be able to realize their full potential, whatever their occupation.

It is true that the environment, whether of Eretz Yisroel or of chutz laAretz, can be overcome to a great extent. A Jew living outside the Land can resolve not to succumb to materialism. Even in Eretz Yisroel one who is determined to do so can lead a life of indulgence; after all, Sodom was in Eretz Yisroel. However, for one sincerely seeking to give HaShem the best service, Eretz Yisroel is the only place in the world providing a fertile, favorable environment. Not only in the past and in the future, but also in the present.

We are reminded daily of this truth. Every time we eat a meal, after satisfying our physical appetite, we are required by the Torah to recite birkas hamazon. It consists of three brachos of Torah origin and a fourth that is rabbinic. The first of the three Torah blessings acknowledges that HaShem is the source of all sustenance. The second thanks HaShem for the food and for Eretz Yisroel. It is in this bracha that we also mention HaShem’s covenant with us and the Torah. The third bracha is a prayer for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim and the restoration of the Beis HaMikdash and the Davidic dynasty.

Reciting all of this after each addition of a few ounces to our physical constitution, no matter where we live, may not seem particularly relevant. But it is. A Jew must focus his attention on the ultimate purpose of the creation of the material. Any thank-you for food must include mention of Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim, for only through the Land of Israel are the world’s material components put to use in the most sublime and ideal fashion.

And yet we may imagine that we can daily acknowledge the ideal while continuing to live our own lives among the nations in a lessthan-ideal fashion. Dwelling apart would be nice, we may say, but as for me, blending in with my host country will suffice. The Torah tells us otherwise. If we dwell apart, then “Israel will dwell apart in security.” (Devarim 33) If, however, we choose not to do so willingly, then solitude of a different, nature will be forced upon us. “How does she dwell apart in solitude?” is, we will recall, the opening verse of Lamentations.

How often have we tried to assimilate! Yet we, like the oil which can never blend with other liquids, are doomed to remain separate. Rav Chaim Volozhiner put it succinctly: “If the Jew does not make kiddush then the goy makes havdala.” Either we separate and sanctify ourselves, or the matter will be taken care of for us in much more painful ways.

The ultimate “cure” for all the woes of the Jew among the nations can only be a return to our own Land, there to live a life absolutely unique in its sanctification.

Consider the verse: “No man will covet your Land when you ascend to greet the Presence of HaShem thrice yearly.” (Shemos 34) Would it not have been sufficient if no one took the Land? Why was it necessary to promise that no one would “covet” the Land?

In light of our discussion regarding the purpose of Eretz Yisroel, we can explain this verse in the following manner:

The Ibn Ezra explains that the prohibition of Lo sachmod - do not covet - demands that a person recognize that all possessions are Divinely ordained for their owners. One does not covet that which is totally removed from his sphere (e.g., the peasant does not desire the king’s daughter, whom he merely admires from afar).

With this in mind, the verse quoted above takes on new meaning. The Jewish people are to renew and revitalize their relationship to HaShem three times each year by immersion in the holiness of Yerushalayim. They then go home to live their everyday lives in Eretz Yisroel proper - a sanctified people in a sanctified society, observing numerous agricultural commandments with the produce of a sanctified Land. The nations of the world will recognize that Eretz Yisroel is something outside their orbit. Perceiving how ill-suited it is to their olam hazeh ways and goals, they will lose interest in it. It is only when we dwell in Eretz Yisroel in a secular manner comparable to theirs that the nations imagine it has relevance to them also - and that is when they covet the Land.

This is a general picture of the way things are meant to be for the people of Israel living in the Land of Israel. Although every person must act in accordance with his unique circumstances, the Jew must maintain an awareness of the task of klal Yisroel in Creation. While an individual Jew may reach a relatively high level anywhere, there is no possibility of fulfilling our national destiny except in Eretz Yisroel.

An important point for the ben Torah to consider is this: only those who accept the full implications of the Torah’s starting from Bereishis, as explained above, are in a position to bring HaShem’s plan to fruition.

It thus behooves us to readdress the question: Where is the aliya from the Torah communities of the West? Having dismissed so many excuses, I would now like to focus on what I believe are root causes.

Underlying Factors

One factor which should not be underestimated is Zionism. The secular Zionist movement sought to replace the Torah, which it rejected, with nationalism - the Land of Israel, the Hebrew language, and “culture” - as the sole foundation of Jewish identity.

This had a variety of consequences. One which is rarely discussed, but which is especially relevant and particularly tragic, is the effect on the mitzva of yishuv Eretz Yisroel. Somehow, G-d’s commandment seems to have become tainted by the Zionist idea. Interestingly enough, there is a precedent for de-emphasizing a mitzva when it is thus “cut off from the tree of life” by some. When the minim (early Christians) discarded the 613 mitzvos for the “Ten Commandments” exclusively, the Rabbis removed the recitation of these aseres hadibros from the tefilla. They feared that mentioning only these might mislead the masses into following the minim. They did not, however, stop observing the aseres hadibros! It is interesting to note that the need to cease publicly emphasizing the mitzva of yishuv Eretz Yisroel, based on the above reasoning, was suggested ninety years ago by none other than Harav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, zt”l. (Hapeles, 5661, issues 1 - 4, quoted in Le’or Hanetzach pp. 121 - 122) Indeed, this could be one reason why gedolei Yisroel to this day do not publicly emphasize the mitzva of yishuv Eretz Yisroel.

For the Torah community, however, to fall into the trap of equating Zion with Zionism, and avoid the tremendous mitzva involved because it appears blemished, is a great tragedy.

Ben Gurion once said that if the Knesset voted for Shabbos observance, he would observe it as the law of the land. Would there then be justification for us to cease observing Shabbos because the Zionists were observing it for the wrong reason and in a distorted fashion?!

The Sadducees distorted the Yom Kippur service, the counting of the omer, the celebration of Shavuos, and countless other mitzvos. Did chazal then react by neglecting or ignoring these mitzvos? Rather they emphasized proper observance in defiance of the falsifiers, even in times when the Sadducees were in power and had the upper hand.

Therefore, the subtle negative effects of Zionism must be brought to the surface of our thinking, so that each of us can attack them in a rational fashion, without negating the importance of the Land or the mitzva of yishuv Eretz Yisroel.

The final element which must be confronted is a formidable one. It is the difficulty involved in aliya. The mitzva of tzitzis, after all - including all shitos and hiddurim - is one thing. Leaving one’s birthplace, family and friends, and all that is comfortable and familiar, is quite another. Nevertheless, the ability to do so, says Rav Chaim Volozhiner, exists potentially in the very fiber of every Jew. It is our legacy from our forefather Avraham, programmed into our spiritual genetic makeup ever since he heeded the command of “tech lecha” on that very first aliya laAretz. (Ruach Chaim on Pirkei Avos 5, 4)

The difficulties of yishuv Eretz Yisroel do not end when one arrives, just as one’s aliya does not stop at Lod Airport. Rather, it is an ongoing process of realizing ever higher goals. The hurdles are testified to by chazal as a permanent component of the mitzva and should not be considered a new result of modern bureaucracy. What chazal say about this is deserving of our consideration. “HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave Israel three precious gifts, and all were given only through suffering. They are: Torah, Eretz Yisroel, and the world-to-come.” (Brachos 5) These words of our sages underscore something every Torah Jew knows: In serving HaShem we do not neglect a mitzva because it is difficult. That which comes hardest is often the most valuable, hence, the most precious gift.

Another category of “difficulty” must be mentioned. The learned and G-d fearing individual knows that Eretz Yisroel is the “palace of the King.” A higher, more exacting standard of behavior is demanded here. One might reason that he should not introduce himself into a situation that may demand more of him spiritually than he can deliver. He may therefore opt to remain in chutz laAretz rather than to abuse the sanctity of the Land. (Such logic might have validity for a Jew absolutely uninterested in Torah and mitzvos. In chutz laAretz, his transgressions would be less devastating. On the other hand, for such a person, settling in Eretz Yisroel might be the very thing that would provide a positive influence and move him to teshuva.)

By the above line of reasoning, all Torah study should cease. The more one learns, after all, the more is demanded of him. The higher his level, the more strictly is he judged. Should he not therefore opt to learn as little as possible so as not to magnify his failings and avoid abusing the sanctity of the Torah? The fallacy here is that we are required by the Torah constantly to elevate ourselves, to accept added responsibility. The Torah we possess will aid us in accommodating ourselves to our raised level. Likewise the merit and kedusha of Eretz Yisroel will elevate us, actually aiding us to live properly in the King’s palace. Furthermore, if we are in danger of transgressing despite Torah learning and Eretz Yisroel, how much lower would we fall without their saving powers. (See Michtav MeEliyahu, vol. II, pp. 54 - 55)

In Conclusion

No, Eretz Yisroel is not “just another mitzva.” For ben Torah or baal bayis it represents an elevation to higher levels of sanctity in every aspect of life, availability of mitzvos which cannot be fulfilled anywhere else, and the potential - however remote it may appear for the moment - of a consummate Torah society.

To our great dismay, the geula has not yet come. According to our gedolim we are living in ikvesa dimeshicha, the last stage of golus. Ours is a time of paradoxes and great tests. On the one hand we have witnessed many miraculous and marvelous events. We have been zocheh that a large portion of Eretz Yisroel has been returned to Jewish hands and is thriving and flourishing. Aliya is now within the relatively easy grasp of millions of Jews. HaShem in His kindness has granted us access once again to our mekomos kedoshim (the Kosel Hamaaravi, Me’aras Hamachpela, Kever Rochel…).

At the same time, however, a secular government with a secular system of law reigns in Israel today, a government that can be hostile to Torah values and Torah-observant Jews. The media may, on occasion, spew forth such hatred for Torah that one can only be astounded and deeply ashamed that the language of such blasphemy is Hebrew. Missionaries peddle their wares, apparently unchecked. We must demonstrate against public chillul Shabbos and other types of desecration. The confusion over “Who is a Jew” and the introduction of the deviationist Conservativism and Reform even in this holy Land add to our heartache. All of these shadows loom over Eretz Yisroel.

And yet, there is so much light. Yeshivos and other mekomos Torah are proliferating at an unbelievable pace and are bursting at the seams. Thousands of previously estranged Jews are returning to our Torah heritage. Torah cities thrive and new ones are being built, Torah neighborhoods with all their accoutrements flourish in all the major cities, and even Torah moshavim and kibbutzim dot the map of the Land.

Chazal have instructed us that it is better to dwell in Eretz Yisroel in a city that is predominantly non-Jewish than to dwell in chutz laAretz, even in a city predominantly Jewish. (Kesubos 110) This does not mean that living in the band of Israel per se is more important than living in a Torah environment. But rather, I recently heard the idea that in Eretz Yisroel, the potential for positive change is inherent. The trend is for more and more Jews to come and transform the previously non-Jewish city into a Jewish one. Chutz laAretz, on the other hand, is doomed to negative change for the Jew. Permanence is, by definition, impossible there. Neighborhoods are destined to flourish temporarily, wane, and ultimately fall into non-Jewish hands. (Who has not seen this?)

So, if the dark patches described above trouble you, think in terms of potential for change. Imagine the impact of an influx of hundreds of thousands, or even thousands, of Torah-observant Jews, rabbanim, mechanchim, bnei Torah, and balebatim - men, women and children - on society in Israel and on the very character of the “Jewish State.”

Lest the reader think that mere numbers are not the issue, let me cite an exchange reported to have taken place between the Chazon Ish and Ben Gurion. The prime minister had asked the gaon’s prediction of who would ultimately be victorious in shaping Israeli society - the secularist camp or the Torah camp. The answer of the Chazon Ish was: “I am not a prophet, but I am certain that we will win out in the end. Our birthrate exceeds yours by far and one day we will be the majority!”

And if you are concerned that Israel may be unable to accommodate a vast influx, socially and economically, take this into consideration: I have heard secular Israeli leaders say that they would welcome and be able to handle tremendous numbers of immigrants. If they, presumably relying and depending on their “own” resources and means, feel so sure, how much more should we, who trust in the Ribbono shel olam? Eretz Yisroel is referred to as “Eretz Tzvi” (the Land like a deer). Just as a deer’s skin constantly expands to accommodate its growth, so too Eretz Yisroel can always accommodate additional Jews. As Rav Sonnenfeld put it, “When children return to their mother’s home there is no question of space. They squeeze together to sit but the mother never complains of lack of room.” (Ha’ish Al Hachoma, vol. II, p. 153)

HaShem Yisbarach has blessed us with wonderful gifts in our generation. It stands to reason that He is watching to see if we appreciate all that He has done. Do we consider it sufficient to admire from afar, and maybe visit once in a while? Or are we grateful enough to sacrifice some physical and material comforts in order to benefit from these spiritual luxuries? Perhaps an exhibition of genuine appreciation of His gifts will earn us the final crowning of a hastened geula!

With all of this, however, it would be overstated to advocate unconditionally that every religious Jew pick up and leave the diaspora tomorrow. Each individual situation must be studied carefully, and all of the legitimate factors considered.

This means asking a posek. During my years of experience as a community rav, I was impressed by the number of balebatim who, for example, would not break their fast on Taanis Esther despite a serious headache, without a psak halacha. Is such conscientiousness nothing more than a big show on a small matter? I prefer to believe it is the expression of a genuine desire to fulfill HaShem’s will. If it is, it would not allow the Jew to exempt himself from a mitzva as important, as all-encompassing, as yishuv Eretz Yisroel, before asking a shaila. One should not interpret the absence of public exhortations from gedolim on this or any other issue to be an indication of a negative attitude or even of indifference. There are a great many factors which may mandate public silence on some matter, even one viewed favorably, even one of great importance, even a question of mitzva and aveira.

If in the final analysis your particular circumstances dictate that you yourself remain in chutz laAretz, be ever sensitive to the fact that you are missing something. Recognize that no Jewish community in chutz laAretz - Y rum” and established though it may be - can ever replace Eretz Yisroel. If this is an important awareness for the lay individual, it is crucial for the teacher or community leader. In striving to raise the level of Torah and mitzva observance of those under your influence, you should stress the inevitable incompleteness of Jewish life outside the Land of Israel.

If you do not merit settling in Eretz Yisroel presently, aspire and fervently pray for the day when your circumstances will change, so that you will be able to fulfill this mitzva and reap the spiritual benefits of living in our holy Land. It would also be advantageous to visit Eretz Yisroel from time to time if your finances permit, to keep the fires of your dreams and aspirations glowing. The Chazon Ish (Kovets Igros, vol. 1, no. 176) supports this recommendation.

It is not sufficient to admire and appreciate the advantages and benefits of Eretz Yisroel in theory. In part this was the sin of the spies who, while extolling the beauty and goodness of the Land, lacked the bitachon to take advantage of those merits and concretize their personal connection to the Land. Rav Yaakov Emden, in his Siddur, emphasizes this point. “The mere hint of facing towards Yerushalayim when we pray is only sufficient when more than that is impossible. But, if we are not prevented by circumstance from physically being in Eretz Yisroel, then just facing in its direction will not suffice. Therefore, every Jew must resolve in his heart to settle in Eretz Yisroel as soon as he has the means to finance his move and to be able to eke out a meager livelihood by means of a trade or business…. Don’t think to become entrenched in chutz laAretz for this was the sin of our forefathers who `despised the desirable Land.’ This sin has caused all the calamities in our golus. We have been like one totally forgotten because we have completely forgotten the mitzva to dwell in Eretz Yisroel.”

Other Torah sages too have warned of becoming too settled in chutz laAretz. Some even went so far as to prohibit the erection of permanent stone dwellings outside of Eretz Yisroel. The Keli Yakar at the beginning of parshas Vayechi explains why the date of the arrival of Mashiach was hidden from us: to prevent us from becoming too settled in foreign lands, and losing the sense of anticipation of his arrival and of our imminent return to Eretz Yisroel. He goes on to bemoan the lack of success of even this measure, noting that so many Jews feel so settled in the lands of their dispersion that they build luxurious, permanent homes, and ignore even the possibility (let alone the fervent desire) that Mashiach may come at any moment and bring us all back to the Land of Israel.

We must refrain from feeling settled and fulfilled as long as we are outside the Land. This attitude need not lead to melancholy but should instead actually enhance one’s spiritual life. It affords direction in aspiring towards the proper values and lifestyle. Interestingly, it may also provide physical protection for the community in which one resides now, as illustrated by the following account from the Shearis Yisroel, in the name of Rav Yehoshua Falk, the author of the SMA.

The city of Worms was devastated twice during the Crusades. Why did a city blessed with pious Torah scholars merit such a fate? When Ezra hasofer returned to Eretz Yisroel to begin his work on the second Beis HaMikdash, he sent letters to all the major kehillos of the time inviting them to return with him. The kehilla of Worms, which had been established since the destruction of the first Temple, responded: “Peace unto you, Ezra hasofer! May you be successful in establishing the grand Beis HaMikdash in the grand Yerushalayim. We, however, will remain here in our `small Yerushalayim’ and with our mikdash meat, our small Temple.” This attitude, tragically common even in our own day, spiritually blemished the city to such an extent that it was especially vulnerable to the attacks of the Crusaders many years later.

And if in fact your personal circumstances do not exempt you from fulfilling this magnificent mitzva, then do not delay. If you keep in mind the benefits which will accrue to you personally, as well as the tremendous advantage to the klal, you will surely act with alacrity. Preparations need not be elaborate. The most important preparation that one can make is learning and teaching his family the importance of Eretz Yisroel in the total picture of avodas HaShem - for each Jew, and for the Jewish nation.

The sefarim relate the minhag of leaving the doors to one’s home unlocked all through the night of Pesach. This was in keeping with the tradition that an opportune time for our future geula will be the anniversary of our first one (geulas Mitzrayim). Eager for the advent of Eliyahu hanavi to herald the geula, we do not wish to delay the process even the few seconds it would take to unlock the door.

We are all anxiously awaiting the geula daily. To come and await Mashiach in Eretz Yisroel will avoid much needless delay when he arrives.

May HaShem Yisbarach grant us the ability to hear the echoes of Rav Sonnenfeld’s call: “Where is the religious aliya from the Torah communities of the West?” May we be blessed with the perceptiveness to respond, “We are investigating, we are preparing, we are on our way!”

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lessons From Olive Oil



You must command the Israelites to bring you clear illuminating oil, made from hand-crushed olives, to keep the lamps burning constantly. (Shemos/Exodus 27:20)

The MeAm Lo’ez teaches:


It is well known that from the time that Moses was born until he died, he did not have an hour of rest. When he was born, his mother placed him in the Nile. As soon as he was rescued from the Nile, he was brought before Pharaoh. There he put a coal in his mouth and had his tongue burned, as has been discussed at length in earlier sections.

After that, as a result of the actions of Dathan and Aviram, Moses was forced to flee. After he fled from Pharaoh, the angel wanted to kill him because he had delayed circumcising his son.

Besides this, it is impossible to imagine the suffering he endured from the Israelites during the 40 years that they were in the desert. There were wars with Sichon and Og, which we shall discuss in forthcoming sections.

Throughout this, Moses was forbearing and tolerant, as the Torah says, “The man Moses was very humble, more so than any human being” (Numbers 12:3). It was as a result of this that Moses reached a higher spiritual level than any other human being, as it is written, “There has not risen another prophet in Israel like Moses, who knew God face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10).

The Israelites could also learn a lesson from the olive oil itself. In order to obtain the oil, the olive must be crushed in a mortar, and then ground in a mill. Only then can the oil be extracted so that it can provide light for the world.

The same is true of Israel. Although they are hounded and persecuted by the nations, who insult them, make them suffer, beat them, and take their money, they should not become discouraged by this terrible suffering. They should not give up their sacred Torah and not complain or grumble. Rather, they should accept everything with love, since in the end, they will see good. In the end, they will bring light to all the world.


God thus said to Moses, “And you must command the Israelites that they bring to you pure olive oil, pressed for the lamp.” You must command the Israelites to have forbearance and humility, just as you do. This is something that only you, and no one else, can tell them. You have suffered much, and have experienced many troubles. They should also take a lesson from the olive, which must be crushed and bruised before it yields the pure oil that illuminates the world.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Get Behind Me Satan!




(Must see video above) I am always trying to bring across to people the concept that Amalek wants to stop the Jews from coming home. The Baal HaTurim on the beginning of Parshat Ki Tavo explains that there is a reason why Ki Tavo, the Torah portion dealing with entering the land and tithing to Hashem there, is directly preceded by Parshat Zachor, the Torah section dealing with the commandment to blot out Amalek's name. Why? Because we are only commanded to get rid of Amalek when we are in the Land of Israel:

"Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget."

Only when we are united in the land do we have the power to fight this dark force. When we are in the Diaspora, we are not in our natural element, and we are divided. This is the source of Amalek's strength against us. Here is the Amelekite creed:

"Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, "There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people and they do not observe the king's laws, so it is not in the king's interest to let them remain."

The Baal HaTurim further explains that Amalek will do everything in his power to stop the Jewish people from coming home. It was Amalek who told Laban that Jacob had fled Haran and was en route to Israel: "It was told to Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled." It was Amalek who told Pharoah the Jews had fled: "The king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, 'What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?'"

Why did he tell them this? Because he wanted to stop the Jewish from reaching home. Finally, when Amalek saw that he could not use puppets to do his dirty work, he went after the Jews himself: "Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim."

Amalek is alive and well today. He is out there. Call him the Serpent, Satan, or Darth Vader, whatever. The point is that the dark force of this world will stop at nothing to keep us away from home. All the wars against us are instigated by this energy. More importantly, all the wars within us are supported by this power. Division within our ranks is a classic tool of Amalek who always attacks those who are weakest, who are holding on least tight: "Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God."

Once you are attuned to this you can begin to hear the shrieking cry of Amalak as the the Jewish people continue to ingather. It is certain death for him. The death of cynicism and doubt, the death of division and darkness. This is why I love the video I posted above. The gospel singers knew that on the way to Canaan Land, Satan is going to do all he can to stop you. "Get behind me Amalek!" is what they are singing.

KNOW THIS: if you are being attacked by doubt and cynicism about making Aliyah and making your life here, you are probably very dangerous to Amalek. You are probably a great asset to the Jews and to Israel and the dark energies want to keep you down and darken your eye. Don't let 'em. Keep coming and keep singing "I'm on my way...."

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Making "Making Aliyah" Too Easy



Making Aliyah has become easier than ever before in history. Conventional wisdom dictates that this is a good thing. And that the easier making Aliyah becomes the more Jews will return home to Israel.

But is that always true? Could it be possible that if making Aliyah were way too easy there would be Jews that upon experiencing something in their homeland that they don’t particularly like - they would simply throw everything away?

Now wait a second before you start telling me I sound a bit deluded. Look at the very first pasuk (verse) of last week's Parsha.

Pharaoh had let the people go. G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was shorter. G-d said, “The people might change their minds when they encounter war, and return to Egypt.” (Shemos 13:17)

Contrary to popular belief the Meam Loez explains:
Pharaoh had personally escorted the Israelites when they left Egypt, and had asked them to pray for him. The Torah therefore states that “Pharaoh had sent forth the people.” He had escorted them, hoping to entice them to pray for him. (Shemos Rabbah;Zohar on lech lecha).

Some say they G-d repaid Pharaoh for this good deed by giving the commandment, “Do not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a guest in his land” (Devarim 23:8) (S.R. cit in Yeffeh Toar).

All the Egyptian aristocrats accompanied the Israelietes until they came to Etham (13:20). Pharaoh and his men went along with the Israelites until they left Egypt. Pharaoh also sent many of his officials to accompany them on the way. (Targum Yonason; Rashi).

The Jews were slaves in Egypt. Whether or not they took to heart this fact that they were slaves in someone else’s land - they felt safe and secure there. They felt at home. And they felt that Pharaoh had their best interest in mind.

This is a very important point! “Pharaoh had let the people go.” The Jews did not feel like slaves escaping.

As the Meam Loez puts it:
Slaves escaping their master do not return. But since Pharoah had even gone so far as to escort them, they were left with good feelings toward Egypt. At the slightest hint of hostility, they would run back into Pharoah’s arms.

G-d knew the shortest route from Egypt to Israel leads straight through Gaza!

As the Meam Loez tells us - that route was problematic:
The logical route from Egypt to Canaan would take the Israelites along the Mediterranean coast through the Philistine territory. Although this was the shortest path, G-d did not let the Israelites use it.

G-d did not let the Israelites take this road precisely because it was short. If anything had frightened them, it would have been too easy for them to return to Egypt. G-d knew that the slightest hostility might cause them regret leaving Egypt and drive them to return.

Today, when Jews makes Aliyah from America, they certainly don’t feel like slaves escaping. One wonders if today as well, at the sight of hostility (such as in Gaza perhaps) would the American Jew run back into Pharoah’s arms?

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Same Jews



Sometimes I feel like I'm beating the Jews-need-to-return-to-Israel-and-their-collective-lack-of-initiative-is-a-sign-of-their-lack-of-faith-in-G-d issue like a dead horse. I don't know how we could express this seemingly obvious fact any further.

But I'll try.

One thing that really bugs me is when people read the Torah as a legend of days gone by. The Children of Israel coming out of Egypt are usual catalysts for a sort of global Jewish headshaking - we wonder at their ability to be so kvetchy all the time, to make golden gods, to ask for ridiculous things in the face of miracles. Yet I find that the post-traumatic-stress-riddled Jews of Egyptian slavery time are not a whole lot different than the average Moishe of Central Parkway. Granted, the Hebrews saw wildly unnatural-seeming miracles, splitting seas, weirdly selective plagues like darkness and firstborn slaying and what have you. They had a lot of chutzpah being so faithless.

But it's not like your snazzy LA Jew hasn't seen miracles. His bizarre success wherever he goes, the way he is so oddly and frequently spared from tragic or disasterous events, the birth of the State of Israel far across the ocean and its uncannily rapid growth and prosperity in its old haunts, with its old language. Honestly - it's pretty obvious that G-d is still taking care of His people Israel. There are a lot of American Jews who would heartily testify to the omnipotent kindness of our Lord to the Jewish people, and latch on to many of his commandments in loyalty and affirmation.

But when we talk about getting out of good old Flatbush... ooohhh nooooo. Suddenly, everything is too hard, too scary. To me, it sounds something like this: "Let us be and we will serve Egypt, for it is better that we should serve Egypt than that we should die in the Wilderness." This wilderness was a place where the Israelites' every need would be cared for, where they would learn the Torah and eat to satiety. At least we can give them the benefit of the doubt in regard to their disbelief - though they should have known that Hashem would take care of them in the Wilderness, they had no forward lines who had preceded them, whose well-being they could take comfort in.

Yet the American Jew of today has that very thing. Israel is filled with flourishing beauty, holy Torah, rich agriculture and comfortable living, experienced currently by almost 6 million of his relatives. But he sees his road to Israel, his Wilderness, as not being worth the potential costs. Yes, he knows he's giving up SOMETHING. But his lack of faith causes him to seek comfort in that which is killing him, and to see his ladder up and out as certain death.

As an aside, one could say similarly of those living in Israel today who believe that we are sure to face doom and destruction, who mock those of us who begin to get a whiff of the burning offerings in a future Temple or plan our vacation homes in Basra. To them, anything bespeaking growth and uncharted territory is farcical, impractical, or dangerous. Better to be safe than sorry.

How ironic it is that all of these people rely on things which are utterly unsafe and uncertain and don't run like hell for the Wilderness, which is in fact the only safety there is.

May we all embrace our personal Wilderness, and let it lead us on a path to all things holy, right here in our holy land.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Like Straw!




Because of the day you stood aloof, the day strangers plundered his wealth, foreigners entered his gates and they cast lots on Jerusalem - you were like one of them! (Obadiah 1:12)

This is what we read in this past week's Haftorah. You, nations of the world, should not "stand aloof," let alone encourage our enemies to "cast lots" upon Jerusalem.

Indeed the holy city of Jerusalem, herself, rumbles in outrage at such an evil notion. (Three earthquakes in one week!) Jerusalem is stronger than anyone. You can not defeat her. You my try...

But on Mount Zion there shall be a remnant, and it shall become holy; and the House of Jacob will inherit its inheritors. The house of Jacob will be a fire and the House of Joseph a flame - and the House of Esau like straw; they will kindle among them and consume them; and there will be no surviver of the House of Esau, for Hashem has spoken! (ibid. 1:17-18)

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rav Avraham Shapira, ZT"L





Rav Avraham Elkanah Kahanah Shapira, 94, one of the Gedolei HaDor (Torah giants of our generation), Rosh Yeshivah (Dean) of Merkaz HaRav (the Yeshivah Rav Kook started) for the last 25 years, former chief rabbi of Israel (1983-1993), passed away on Yom Tov (the only day in Israel - Thursday) and was buried on Friday (Chol HaMoed in Israel). Click here to read more about him. Here are 5 albums of 300 pictures I posted from the funeral, which started at his yeshivah in Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem and proceeded past Binyanei Ha'Umah (the International Convention Center), up Sarei Yisrael (Ministers of Israel) Street, turned on Malchei Yisrael (Kings of Israel) Street through the Chareidi/Chassidic Ge'ulah neighborhood, past the former location of the yeshivah (Beit HaRav Kook - Rav Kook's house), along Yafo, Shlomtzion HaMalkah, Agron Streets, around the walls of the Old City, and finally to Har HaZeitim (Mount of Olives) for his final resting place, overlooking Har HaBayit (Temple Mount):
Album 1
Album 2
Album 3
Album 4
Album 5

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Woe Unto the Ship that has Lost Its Captain"


Baruch Dayan Emes:
Moreinu HaRav Avraham Shapira zt"l, Rosh Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav & Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, niftar at 94

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Fun with Shmittah!




Are you ready for some Shmittah?

Well first let's get one thing straight once and for all. The word "problem" should never EVER be used when referring to one of Hashem's commandments and certainly not by anyone living in Eretz Yisrael regarding Shmittah. Shmittah is not a problem! It's a mitzvah! And what's more? It's a mitzvah only us Jews zoche (worthy) to be living in Eretz Yisrael this year can keep! Yes, by the use of exclamation points in this post you could tell I'm a bit "pumped" and excited about what begins in just a few short days! I just got back from an awesome shuir on Shmittah that cleared up a whole bunch of questions I had.

Do you realize you get a mitzvah for every bite you take out of something that has Kedushas Shvius? And you get a mitzvah when you treat that Holy produce the right way as well. You know what else? All those Jews sitting in Brooklyn, New York... no better... all those Jews sitting in Lakewood, New Jersey know less about Shmittah than your average four year old playing on the monkey bars in Ramat Beit Shemesh! Here is a whole important section of the Torah that these Jews just "don't care about" because it "doesn't apply." I don't know about you... but if Hashem gave us a few more mitzvos to do, and all we have to do to keep these mitzvos is change our zip code... ehh, nevermind. Just a thought...

Now for the important points. The halachos of Shmittah are detailed and numerous with many different opinions and many different approaches. I was thinking of somehow trying to summarize them right here and now but I tell you, the best summary I have ever seen online was written by Rav Asher Balanson of Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalim. It is an absolute must read if you are just waking up now and realizing that Shmittah is just a few days away. Aside from that it is recommended that you go into any bookstore and ask about books on Shmittah. Many bookstores have them all laid out on tables in front. And finally ask questions to your LOR. If you don't have a Rav to ask all your halachic questions now is a VERY good time to get one. And in Eretz Yisrael B"H rabbis are not hard to find.

Okay... now for the fun part. Various organization put out "Shmittah calendars." These calendars contain three important dates.

1. When a certain produce can be considered to have Kedushas Shvius.
2. When a certain vegetable or grain can be considered Sefichim.
3. The date that Biur must be done on the produce.

These dates vary for all different grains, fruits and vegetables. To understand what these dates mean read the Rav Balanson summary.

In any case I have obtained the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel's "Shmittah 5768: A Practical Guide" (which you can order for yourself here.) It was compiled by Rabbi David Marcus who I had the pleasure of meeting tonight. And I do recommend you get the guide!

So here's the plan. Here at Kumah, Bez"H before every Rosh Chodesh we will post the important dates that will become relevant for various produce that month. It should be exciting and we'll get to learn a lot more about how, when and where things grow. For example much to my chagrin I now know that both cashews and pistachios (that I would bring to NY to brag about how great the produce here are) are actually imported! (The good news about that is that this mean I can still bring them outside EY to NY.)

Anyway stayed tuned to this blog as a whole lot of produce can already be considered to have Kedushas Shvius come sundown on Wednesday night!

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Cartoons for the Soul



Just in time for the High Holidays!!
Kabbalatoons



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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Chabad Hachnasat Sefer Torah at Kotel



There are many things I love about Israel. One of them is the random things you can bump into during a normal day. Today I was randomly at the Kotel. I try to go there at least once a month to recharge my spiritual batteries. Today's trip was prompted by friends who were there and wanted me to meet up with them. While I was davening Minchah (praying the afternoon service), music starts blasting and a large group of people start marching down carrying a new Torah - Chabad was ushering in a new Torah scroll to the Western Wall. When I finished davening, I joined the dancing for a little while. Unfortunately I didn't have my good camera on me, so these pictures are from my cell phone camera. See the full post for more:





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Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Secret Weapon of the IDF




All the nations of the world will see that G-d's Name is associated with you, and they will be in awe of you. (Devarim 28:10).

Menachot 35b interprets this verse as a reference to the tefillin worn on the head.



When the Gentiles see the Jews proudly attired in tefillin, they respect them. Tefillin cast an aura of fear over Israel's foes. Even demons and spirits will tremble in fright (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 5a).



The first letters of Shem Hashem Nikrah, "G-d's Name is associated," spell out the name of the letter SHiN. A Shin bolts out of either side of the head tefillin. It is the first letter of Sha-D-I. (Baal HaTurim).



"Tefillin are G-d's crown... Whoever dons this crown will become the ruler below, as G-d is the ruler above" (Zoher III 269b).



Similarly, Berachot 56a maintains that a person who sees tefillin in his dreams will soon rise to power. Berahot (6a) interprets "G-d's powerful arm" (Isaiah 62:8) as tefillin. "Tefillin grant power to Israel."



Accordingly, it has always been customary for Jewish soldiers to observe the mitzvah of tefillin with great care.




Text taken from Meam Loez on Ki Tavo p. 150. Photos collected from the Internet.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Two Years Have Passed...



Wednesday, 8 Elul 5767 / August 22 marks two years since the completion of the destruction of Gush Katif. Rabbanim have called for a day of fasting, Teshuva and prayer, to remember the uprooted communities and families, and mourn the destruction of the shuls and Batei Midrash destroyed on this day.

Please continue reading for more details:

Wednesday will be marked by a special Mincha service at the Kotel, w/ Selichot & reading of "VaYichal Moshe" @ 6pm. Those joining the fast (which is considered a "Ta'anit Yachid") should indicate their intended participation during Tuesday's mincha (at the end of the Amidah).



For more details, please see: www.Komemiut.org or call 02-9974424

Never Forget!
A list of videos, articles and media resources about Gush Katif HERE

Ynet: 8 Days in August

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Total Immersion



Today, Rosh Chodesh Elul, begins an intensive 40 day period of Teshuva- Return, spiritual cleansing and transformation...

Historically, following the episode of the Golden Calf and breaking of the Luchot, Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Mount Sinai for the second time, and after 40 days of intensive prayer, D'veikut and Teshuva, returned to Am Yisrael with the Luchot Sheniot (second Tablets)- a symbol of Tikun and Hashem's forgiveness.

Since then, these 40 days on the Jewish calendar have been tagged as "Yemei Rachamim v'Ratzon"- days where Hashem's mercy is manifest, an opportune time for Teshuva and Divine yearning, of purity and spiritual transformation: a Mikvah in Time.

According to Halachik standards, a Kosher mikvah must contain 40 Se'ah (about 200 gallons) of flowing or gathered rain water, and each Se'ah is made up of 24 "Lugg" of water...

The Taharah/purity, spiritual rejuvination and fresh start that we can attain in the 40 se'ah of a Mikvah, is represented in time by the 40 days stretching from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kipur (10th of Tishrei).

The Mikvah's 960 Lug correspond to the 960 hours of the time period we are now beginning(40 days x 24 hrs.); every moment is an opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in the Teshuvah process, to Return to our Source and be purified...

The Mikvah is a fundamental and culminating step in the conversion ("transformation")process, and the key to monthly marital rejuvination.

The idea that 40 represents a measurement symbolzing transformation and spiritual development toward a new status is a theme that runs throughout Jewish life and history:

>LIFE: 40 days from conception to the point where a fetus is considered by Jewish Law to be a life; transformed from potential to actual existence...
>THE FLOOD: The world and all of creation needed to be transformed and "fixed" during the 40 day/night Mikvah-Mabul
>MT. SINAI: Millions of individuals are transformed into a Nation while Moshe ascends the Mountain for 40 days/ nights
>MIDBAR: It took 40 years of desert transformation until we merited to enter Eretz Yisrael
>SHABBAT: The Laws of Shabbos are based on 39 categories of work performed in the building of the mishkan- the Gemarah categorizes the list of melachot as "One less than 40" (Same goes for the 40-1 Malkot/ Rabbinically administered lashes, that transform a person who is guilty into a new man with a clean slate...)

Kabbalistically, even the form of the letter "Mem" (40 in numerology/ gematriah) represents this theme: at the beginning or in the middle of a word, the "Mem" is broken, open and incomplete; at the end of a word its appearance is transformed to being a "whole" letter, closed and complete.

May Hashem help us and strengthen us, so that we may make the most of this great opportunity- to be transformed and purified- and blessed with a Chodesh Tov & Shanah Tovah.

(For more, please see Rav Aryeh Kaplan ztl's Waters of Eden)

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

'The Good Olim of Our Times'



In my lifetime, I have seen the passing of several notable Gedolim, or greatest scholars-leaders of our time: The Baba Sali, Rav Soloveitchik, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Kadouri, just to name a few.

It remains to be seen whether our generation can replace these beacons of Torah and leadership with Rabbis and leaders of equal status. This is a great loss for our nation, in our generation. It is hard to pinpoint now exactly who are the Gedolim of our times.

But when leaders are no longer present, that doesn't mean that leadership ceases. Someone or someones need to take the bull by the horns, and lead the Jewish people forward. Today, Israel and the Jewish people were blessed with the arrival of 200 plus Jewish immigrants, or Olim, adding onto the 3,000 or so that have been arriving from North America each year.

I think we should praise these good olim. They (heck, myself included) have made bold steps to lead the Jewish people against all modern conventional wisdom, to return to our biblical heritage. This cannot be overlooked. These courageous leaders can definitely be considered the Good Olim of our times.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

How to See the Beauty of The Land








Sin of the Spies Continues




Just in time for Parshat Shelach (Part II):

Newsflash: Eretz Yisrael Rejects Avraham Burg!


Shortly after the end of World War II, at a Shabbat table in Jerusalem, the discussion turned to the regrettable phenomenon of visitors who tour the Land of Israel, and then return home badmouthing the country. "These tourists complain about the heat, the poverty, the backwardness, the government - and discourage other Jews from moving here," lamented one of those present. The room became quiet. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, son of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first chief rabbi, responded by relating the following parable.
"There was once a wealthy man who desired to marry a certain young lady. She was the most beautiful girl in town, and was blessed with many talents and a truly refined character. Since her family was not well-off, they were eager about the possible match with the wealthy man.

The young woman, however, was not interested in the match. Rich or not, the young man was coarse and ill-mannered. She refused to meet with him.

The father, anxious that his daughter should get married, pressured her to meet with the young man. 'After all, one meeting doesn't obligate you to marry him!' To please her father, the young woman agreed.

The following Shabbat, the fellow arrived at the house as arranged. A few minutes later, the girl made her entrance: her hair uncombed, wearing a crumpled, worn dress and shabby house slippers. Appalled at her disheveled appearance, it didn't take long before the young man excused himself and made a hurried exit.

"What everyone says about this girl - it's not true," exclaimed the astonished young man to his friends. "She's a hideous old hag!"

Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah then explained his parable. Superficially, it would appear that the young fellow had rejected the young woman. But in truth, she had rejected him. So too, the Land of Israel does not display her beauty to all who visit. Not everyone is worthy enough to merit seeing the special qualities of Eretz Yisrael. It appears as if the dissatisfied visitors are the ones who reject the land - but in reality, it is the land that rejects them.

[Rav Chanan Morrison- Adapted from "Malachim Kivnei Adam" by Rabbi Simcha Raz, pp. 227-278, 230

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

What the Rebbe Said (and Didn't Say) About the Holocaust


From today's Haaretz.com:

Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer on The Lubavitcher Rebbe's approach to understanding /dealing with The Holocaust.
Bauer claims that: "The (Lubavitcher) Rebbe's stance is clear: The Holocaust was a good thing because it lopped off a disease-ravaged limb of the Jewish people..."

What the Rebbe ACTUALLY Said (and Didn't Say) about the Holocaust

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Confessions of a Shavuot Hater - by Benyamin



The following is an essay called "Confessions of a Shavuot Hater" by Benyamin, the same mysterious semi-anonymous contributor who won Kumah a silver metal for Best Humor Post for his "Becoming a Real Israeli" confessional.



Thoughts on Shavuot
by Baruch Ben-Galut

My earliest memories of Shavuot are of my Consecration ceremony. Although I was very young, I was nevertheless aware that Consecration was not cool. No matter how satisfying or memorable your synagogue experience was, you can probably find something disturbing. My large suburban conservative American synagogue had many. Although I appreciate the religious basis I received, there was a healthy dose of synagogue experiences that turned me off to being Jewish as well. One of these was Consecration.

Somehow I knew even back then that this was some kind of a set-up. Some kind of trick to get me to go to Sunday School or Hebrew School or both every week so I could get a quality Jewish education. Not too Jewish, because, heaven forbid, I could end up making aliyah and then I would not grow up to be a dues-paying synagogue member with a doctorate and 2.5 kids.

Consecration involved the graduating class of 1st grade Sunday School marching around the synagogue with little miniature Torah's. The thought alone of standing in front of that many people was traumatic. On top of this terror, I was convinced there was something worse.

The word Consecration did not sit well with me. It sounded way too much like the word circumcision and I was still trying to figure out what that one meant and if it made me any less of a man then my classmates in public school. Further more, the word Consecration sounded suspiciously Christian to me. It definitely didn't sound Hebrew. And I wasn't going to be tricked into being Christian. I heard some of the students in public school talking about some kind of consecration at their church. I didn't know much about being Jewish, but I knew that we Jewish folks didn't go to church and that we had some kind of unspoken obligation to think of church with aversion.

My Jewish consciousness was strong at a young age. That is until I ruined it by abandoning my people by moving to a strange Middle Eastern country on the shores of the Mediterranean where they barely had any conservative or reform synagogues let alone a Sunday School.

Being Jewish to me meant being a Grinch. I was compelled to flip the TV channel whenever a Christmas movie came on. We received presents on Hanukah, not that other holiday. That's what made me special. But the word 'special' doesn't always have positive connotations.

This brings us up to the holiday of Shavuot, the most forgotten holiday of them all and yet perhaps one of the most important. I get presents on Hanukah. I eat apples and honey on Rusha Shonah. On Passover my whole family comes over and I get to eat a big meal. On Yom Kipper, I don't eat anything, that is, if I�m hardcore enough and punk rock enough to go through with fasting an entire day.

Every holiday seems to have something. Shavuot has nothing. Nothing that is, except Consecration. I eventually went through with the ceremony but it was but a precursor to my Bar Mitzvah. I failed in finding a good way out of that as well. I also failed in my elaborately planned protest against the degradation of Hebrew School Graduation. But I tricked them all by moving to Israel and thus sparing my children from the same experiences.

Shavuot. The day we received the Torah. One of the three pilgrimage festivals. This is a big one. Surely there should be some kind of ritual to celebrate it. But there isn't. Maybe that's the point. The concepts expressed on Shavuot should be taken on their own merit without any extras.

Eventually I discovered that there more to being Jewish then the fact that I get presents on a different day then the people on TV do. I also found that my Jewishness does not end at my bar mitzvah in a 13 year old mentality. That doesn't mean that my thoughts at age 13 are not legitimate. They are. But I'm not 13 any more and my Jewishness has to grow along with me. Because you can't be proud of who you are if you're walking around apologizing for what you are.

My synagogue experience didn't make me feel particular proud of my roots, but I discovered something that did. It had something to do about fighting for a cause and protesting against injustice. I learned all about a movement to create an independent nation in the face of great adversity. It went by a name that begins with the letter Z but I also learned that we're not supposed to use that word anymore. In college it had negative connotations.

By the time I got to college I felt strongly enough that I refused to go to school on Shavuot. Instead I went to shul. Finals happened to be on the same day as Shavuot, the second day, that is. I asked the professor if I could take the test a day later. A fellow Jewish student overheard the conversation. "That's right! Shavuot IS next week, isn't it." He too asked the professor if he could take finals a day later. The professor, smiling, refused on the grounds that he knew I would go to synagogue while my classmate just wanted an extra day to study. The student admitted the professor was right. I took the test a day later and passed.

It wasn't always that easy. Once in high school, I got in trouble and had to get a note from the principal's office. The next day was Shavuot. I thought I could get away with not bothering to go to the principal's office at all. But I didn't get away that easy. At home it was insisted upon that I get the note either before or after synagogue.

And thus came the great dilemma. What would the others students say when they saw me waltzing into school with a button-down white shirt and black slacks? Should I wear the clothes I usually wore to school? But then what would the rabbi in synagogue say? Should I leave my kippah on or not? What would the other students say when they saw me in a kippah? Would I get a nasty comment? Did it make any sense for me to walk in school with a button-down white shirt and black slacks and no kippah? Would that be even more awkward?

That day, I cut school, went to shul, then went to school, got the note and then went home. The next day in school the only comments were the fact that I had cut school. In my school, it was just as likely that I was dressed up because I had to appear in court. Most of my friends just assumed that I cut for fun. My Jewishness wasn't questioned in the least. By the next school year I was wearing a kippah every day, both in school and in the street.

Although my non-Jewish acquaintances were understanding, the yom tov dilemma always cropped up. I dreaded holidays because it meant asking off from work and explaining why I couldn't use electricity. But worse then that was trying to explain why the holiday was celebrated two days in America when it seemed to be that technically it was really only one day. Shavuot was the worst, since, as discussed earlier, it is the least known and least celebrated of the holidays. Even Jewish people didn't exactly understand. In Conservative and Reform Judaism, of course Shavuot is only one day.

Two-day yomtovs are great when it means Passover with two seders and all my favorite foods two days in a row. But on a holiday like Shavuot, especially when it comes on a Shabbos, it means up to three days without showering. It was a happy occasion if The Jewish Press arrived before sunset so I could devour the screaming blue headlines that predicted utter catastrophe for Israel at any minute. And I dreamed of that far off country with blue skies and palm trees where I could fight for the struggle and watch TV on the second day of yomtov.

But those concerns are now worlds away. This year, Shavuot will take on a new meaning. We learned in Sunday School that Shavuot was a day when the entire Jewish people made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Then we were taught of the importance of not chewing gum during synagogue services. I doubt any of the students in 1st grade Sunday School believed that Jewish people in modern times actually make pilgrimages to Jerusalem for Shavuot. Growing up, travelling to Shavuot services required either the Volvo or the Honda. Today I can walk to the site of the Holy Temple where Shavuot has been celebrated for generations.

In Israel, I've barely thought for a second what the reaction would be if I wore a kippah in public or how I'm going to explain to my boss why I need off for yet another Jewish holiday. I'm still afraid, however, to use the Z word in certain circles, let alone neo-Z.

Moving to Israel did not magically transform my life for the better. It's a challenge which I've taken up. The new challenges that are far preferable to the once I grew up with. My identity issues have been transformed for the better.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Rav Frand on Behar: Olim Are Not Normal




Do not let the title fool you. Rav Frand means that in the nicest way possible. The following was published several years ago.

Aspiring to not be Normal: Holy Fruit Are Consumed by Holy People
By Rabbi Frand on Parshas Behar - Bechukosai 5762

Parshas Behar contains the parsha of the Shmita [Sabbatical] year. Shmita is a mind-boggling concept. Shmita teaches us that an apple that grows in the Land of Israel has holiness. An Esrog that grows in the Shmita year has holiness. We generally think of holiness in terms of a Torah scroll which has G-d's Name written therein. An animal acquires holiness if it is dedicated to G-d. However, we (who are outside of Israel) do not usually encounter the concept of fruits, vegetables and grains that have holiness. Such is the power of the Land of Israel. Eretz Yisroel is a different land. Wheat that grows there is different wheat!

Rav Mordechai Gifter (1916-2001) related an incident involving the Ponevezer Rav (1886-1969). In a Shmita year, the Ponevezer Rav went over to a tree, kissed the tree and said "Good Shabbos to you". Just like there is a special day - Shabbos -- on which we have to feel special, so too in Eretz Yisroel during the Shmita year, it is Shabbos for the land.

Several years ago, I recall listening to "All Things Considered" on National Public Radio. To commemorate the signing of the then-recent Peace Accords, there was a segment about Israel in general. It was a piece about the difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. This program reminded me of the concept that Eretz Yisroel is not a normal land.

What is the difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? They interviewed several people. The thrust of the responses was that Tel Aviv is a "normal city". Tel Aviv is a pragmatic city. "It is a city which is unencumbered by history. Tel Aviv is like Miami!"

Jerusalem is not Miami. Jerusalem is not pragmatic. Jerusalem is not "normal". Jerusalem is "encumbered by history" - thousands of years of history that the city must bear on its shoulders.

They contrasted the differences between a Friday afternoon in Tel Aviv and a Friday afternoon in Jerusalem. They had excerpts of the sounds of Tel Aviv: teenagers listening to 'Rap music'. They commented "this is so normal". A person on the street Friday afternoon in Tel Aviv could shut his eyes and just listen to the music and think he was in downtown Baltimore. Tel Aviv is 'normal'.

On the other hand, "the Orthodox Jews, many of them dressed in the broad brimmed hats and the long caftans, are scurrying through the streets of Jerusalem trying to prepare for the upcoming Sabbath". Tel Aviv is "normal". Jerusalem is "abnormal".

This is saying that the wish of many Israelis has been achieved. The wish of many of them has been "let us be like all the nations" [Samuel I 8:20]. We just want to be "normal". We do not want to have this burden of history, this burden of theology, this burden of Judaism. We want to be normal.

They fail to realize -- and this is sad to say what is happening -- that if the goal in life is that Tel Aviv should be like Miami, then it makes more sense to just go to Miami. If the goal is to imitate Miami, where one can find drugs and vice 24 hours a day and there is no need to worry about history -- then why shouldn't they just go to the real one?

In fact, many of them are leaving. Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, who now spends most of his time in Jerusalem, recently wrote the following:

They abandoned the Kibbutz in droves, physically and spiritually, for the less austere life and ultimately the greater comforts and the material opportunities of Canada and the United States. The most sacred tenet of secular Zionist canon - settling in Israel - is utterly ignored. As the secularists painfully know, 'Yerida' from Israel is primarily a secular phenomenon while 'Aliya' to Eretz Yisroel is primarily Orthodox.

According to conservative estimates, there are close to a half million former Israelis now living in the West. That is to say that while those raised on a religion-less diet abandon Israel for the West, those raised on Mitzvah observance apparently do not find it difficult to abandon the luxuries of the West for a less comfortable life in Israel. This has resulted in the following anomaly: Hebrew spoken in American electronic stores on 42nd street in New York and on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, while English is spoken in Israeli Yeshivos like Kerem B'Yavneh and Brisk. The Orthodox in Israel, whether they are Chassidim, Charedim, Sephardim, or Kippot Serugot ask a troubling question of the secularists. Who today, are the real 'Lovers of Zion'? That is the real irony of ironies. Who are the 'Zionists' today? Who are the 'Chovevei Tsion'? It is those who observe Torah and Mitzvos. Those are the real Zionists. Those are the people that are willing to live in an 'abnormal' land.

This is what we must understand about Eretz Yisroel. It is in fact NOT normal. It is not normal that when an apple grows, I must consider all types of ritual considerations regarding how to treat the apple. It is not normal, but that is what Eretz Yisroel is all about. This is what being a Jew is all about. A Jew is encumbered with history. He is encumbered with theology. If one fails to realize and appreciate that, there is really no reason to live in Eretz Yisroel.

There was a recent article in the New York Times that noted that the secular Israelis look upon the immigrants (olim) who come from the United States to Israel as if they are crazy. In their view, there is no sane person that is living in the United States and has a livelihood in the United States and a house in the United States who gives it up for living in Israel. They feel that anyone who makes Aliyah from the United States nowadays must be out of his mind.

In a sense these secular Israelis are right. It does take people who are not 'normal' to live in a Land that is not 'normal'. But this non- normalcy is something that we must admire and something to which we must aspire. People who are willing to give up the lap of luxury to fulfill a mitzvah - those people can live in a land where apples and grapefruits are holy.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Every Jew is responsible for one another? (Kol Yisrael areivim zeh la'zeh?)


Drivers ignore dying man on road



(Click here if video doesn't download.)

Shocking.

Disturbing.

Appalling.

These are just a few of the words that come to mind.

Can it be that Israeli society has become so cold, unforgiving and apathetic (as Avi Dichter, Israel's Internal Security minister, asserts)?

Before casting blame and making sweeping judgements, it's important to place this tragic event in the proper context.

On the morning of March 13th, 1964, 29 year old Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered just outside her New York apartment.

For over 30 minutes, 40 of Ms. Genovese's neighbors watched the brutal attack, doing absolutely nothing. Only 35 minutes after the attack had begun did someone finally call the police.

In order to determine if New Yorkers were in fact cold and heartless, or, if perhaps there was another explanation as to why no one responded to Ms. Genovese's cries for help, a series of experiments were conducted.
The researchers consistently found that as the number of bystanders increased, the likelihood that any one of them would help decreased.
This phenomenon is known as the "bystander effect".
If we are by ourselves when an emergency occurs, we perceive ourselves to be 100% responsible for taking action. However, when there are 10 bystanders, we each perceive ourselves to have only a tenth of the responsibility. The higher the number of bystanders, the less obligated each individual is likely to feel to intervene.
Another explanation given is...
If we are unsure of our own perceptions and interpretations, or if the situation is ambiguous, we look to others for help in defining what is going on. If others appear calm, we may decide that whatever is happening doesn't require our assistance.
When these findings are applied to Israel society, I believe that we can better understand why this tragic event occurred, and how similar occurrences can be prevented in the future..

Frankly, over the last two decades, as corruption and deceit infected many of the seats of power within Israeli society - particularly the government - average Israelis came to feel that they were no longer able to make a difference. Israeli society was now ruled by the law of the jungle - everyone for themselves and the survival of the fittest - and whoever didn't play by those rules would come to be viewed as friers / (suckers) - the absolute worst thing you can call an Israeli.

It is not a matter of Israeli society being populated by cold and heartless individuals, quite to the contrary. However, the foreign values that have consciously been imported from abroad (courtesy of Israel's ruling elites), such as individualism and materialism have come to replace the authentic Jewish values of self-sacrifice and of caring for the needs of the community.

We are taught in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers, 5:22):
Whoever possesses these three qualities belongs to the disciples of Abraham our father: a generous eye, a humble spirit, and a meek soul.

But he who possesses the three opposite qualities--an evil eye, a proud spirit, and a haughty soul--is of the disciples of Bilam the wicked.
So, what is the solution?

I believe that each and every one of us needs to take upon themselves a sense of personal responsibility for making the Jewish State of Israel the best it can possibly be.

True, there are many challenges within Israeli society, and we can't possibly overcome all of them with our limited abilities and resources, but, returning once again to Pirkei Avot, 2:21:
It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Living Holocaust Memorial








Jewish Heroism (Re)Defined



There is much to say about the unfortunate fact that "Yom HaShoah V'HaGevurah" was established by the Knesset against the will of Israel's central Rabbinate. Nissan is a month of rejoicing, where eulogies are not delivered, public fast days are not allowed to be established, and "Tachanun" is not recited. A more appropriate time to reflect and mourn the Shoah is on Tisha B'Av or the Tenth of Tevet (established as "Yom HaKadish Haklali"); nonetheless, we do not separate from the "tzibur" and respect the observance of the general public.

Among the hundreds of thousands murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto, was the great Gaon and Tzadik, Rebbe Menachem Zemba zt'l Hy'd, murdered during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Pesach 1943:

"Of necessity, we must resist the enemy on all fronts... We shall no longer heed his instructions... Sanctification of the Divine Name manifests itself in varied ways... (now) when we are faced by an arch foe whose unparalleled ruthlessness and program of total anihilation know no bounds, Halacha demands that we fight and resist to the very end with unequaled determination and valor for the sake of Kiddush HaShem."



Rav Zemba spoke of Jews who "wish to see very soon the establishment of Jewish sovereignty, out of their great desire to sanctify the name of Heaven in the eyes of the nations, to show them that after thousands of years of Israel wandering about the earth, the pain of their national destruction has not yet passed, and they shall live again..."

To learn more about the great Tzadik and Jewish Hero, please click HERE and HERE

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Life-Altering Experience


Friday marks the 3rd Yahrtzeit of our beloved Jay Litvin zt"l - a very wise, sensitive and brave Jew, who shared his deepest thoughts, fears, struggles and hopes in dozens of beautiful essays on so many areas of life: spirituality, death, parenting, children, faith, doubt, joy , Israel & "indispensability"...

Jay Litvin zt'l made Aliyah in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad's Children of Chernobyl program...

and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad's Terror Victims program in Israel (see: "The Hidden Angel"). Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Reading Jay's articles is inspiring and powerful - and can (should!!) be a life altering experience.

Zechuto Yagein Aleinu

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Monday, April 02, 2007

This Pesach Become An Active Part of the Jewish Nation!


First of all, I must apologize for not posting for a while (and for the lack of photos in this post). Unfortunately I am in America for Pesach (my parents like to have me around for the Seders), and I had to spend my last few days in Israel finishing a final project so I can graduate Machon Lev this year (maybe I'll write more about that another time).
Anyway, after my first Shacharit minyan back in the old country, my rabbi asked me if I could speak at the shul's Shabbat HaGadol luncheon. I jump at the chance to teach the Torah of Eretz Yisrael to the Jews of the diaspora, and I'll take every opportunity I can get to tell them to make Aliyah. So I agreed and put together a Dvar Torah about Jewish nationhood, final redemption prophecies coming true including the day's haftarah, and the Aliyah Revolution. This can also be good for your seder table, especially if you're with Jews who don't live in Israel yet.
Chag Kasher V'Sameach! Enjoy:


Some of this Dvar Torah is from Rabbi Ari Waxman (much of the background of the nation idea), some is from a couple of friends (the V'Haisheiv idea), some from an old Kumah post (the miracles of the Final vs. Egyptian redemption), and some is my own.

When we sit down at the Seder on Leil Shlishi, this Monday night, we will be telling the story of our exodus from Egypt. The Torah tells us that when Hashem took us out of Egypt, He took a nation out from amidst a nation (Devarim 4:34). We came down to Egypt as a big family, but we left as a nation, Hashem's nation. The prophet Yechezkel also refers to the exodus from Egypt as the birthday of the Jewish nation, "the day that you were born" (Yechezkel 16:4). Along with our release from the shackles of bondage placed upon us in Egypt, our collective existence was broadened as we gained the new status of "Am Yisrael."

However, there is more to our nation than this. We received the Torah "like one man, with one heart" as we stood united at Mount Sinai. The Torah is our national guidebook and without it, our nation would not be complete.

There is yet another part to our nationhood. The Maharal of Prague explains (Netiv Hatzedaka, Chapter 6) that true "arevut" - mutual responsibility of every Jew for every other Jew - was only achieved when we crossed the Jordan River and entered into Eretz Israel. It is only here in Eretz Israel that we are able to reach our full potential as an interconnected and unified nation. We can also see that there are parts of our nation that depend on being in Eretz Israel – setting up a kingship / government, the Sanhedrin and court system, the Beit HaMikdash and sacrifices, Mitzvot that are connected specifically to the Land of Israel (like Shemitah and others), etc…

Unfortunately we are still in exile, Mashiach is still not here, and there is no Beit HaMikdash. However, we are starting to see the sprouting of our final redemption and the rebirth and revival of the Jewish nation in Israel. Hashem has revealed so many miracles to us in Israel throughout the last 59 years, and we are starting to see prophecies coming true. The desert is blossoming, Israel has won wars in which it was heavily outnumbered, and even amidst the attempted terror attacks (suicide attempts, rockets, etc…) there are so many miracles happening every day to save us. One of the clearest signs of the redemption is the ingathering of the exiles. Jews are coming home from far and wide, from the four corners of the Earth. Even Jews from Western countries, who are not leaving their countries because of pogroms, but are leaving good lives willingly, are coming home. Nefesh B'Nefesh has brought over 10,000 English speaking Olim in the last 5+ years. According to most censuses taken, Israel has more Jews than any other country (recently surpassing America), and with the unfortunate trends of world Jewry, Israel will have the majority of the Jews in the world by the next generation! The course of Jewish history is changing in ways that have never been seen!

Another prophecy that is coming true is that of the end of today's Haftarah: "He will return the heart of the fathers upon the children, and the heart of the children upon their fathers." (Mal'achi 3:24) We can understand the first part easily – fathers teach their sons Torah, thus returning a Jewish heart unto them. However, the second part sounds a little strange. We see today that so many young people are making Aliyah by themselves. A number of youth from this shul have made Aliyah by themselves and I can tell you from all the Nefesh B'Nefesh welcome ceremonies I have attended, that there are many young olim coming by themselves these days. We in turn are returning our hearts of Aliyah and redemption upon our families. We see that through Aliyah, this prophecy is to fruition as well.

This Pesach, as we celebrate our national birthday, I urge you to pay attention to the events beholding our people. It is said that our final redemption will be so great that people will stop talking about the exodus from Egypt: "Behold days are coming... when they shall no longer say, 'The living G-d who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt,' but 'The living G-d who brought... the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries where I had driven them, so that they dwell in their own land.'" (Yermiyahu 23:7-8) In other words mass Aliyah itself is such an awesome miracle that it will actually replace the great miracle of the Exodus from Egypt as what will be used to describe Hashem's glory! What would be greater than to see this happening live; to get a front row seat as prophecies come true; to be there when Mashiach comes and the Beit HaMikdash is rebuilt?!? Well you can! All you have to do is join the Aliyah Revolution! Get the exile mentality out of your system, and come home to Israel! This Pesach - take an active role in Jewish history and become an active part of the Jewish nation!

Am Yisrael Chai!
May we see our Final Redemption speedily in our days, even this Pesach!
Chag Kasher V'Sameach!

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Searching for Chometz??




Open your eyes and look within:
Are we satisfied with the life we're living?
We know where were going...We know where were from.
We're leaving...We're going to our father land.
Wipe away transgression...Set the captives free...


Classic Pesach Cleaning Tunes:
Passover Theme Song (sung by Klal Yisrael as they crossed the Sea of Reeds)

Rebbe Shlomo: Kriyat Yam Suf (Track 9)

An Oldie but a "goodie"

Some beautiful teachings for the Seder night, from Rebbe Shlomo Carlebach zy"a HERE

Chag Sameach!

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Kotel is the Place to be Tuesday


Two awesome Rosh Chodesh prayers tomorrow at the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount:

6:45 AM - Nusach Eretz Yisrael minyan with Rabbi Bar Hayim, the man who has revived the original unifying tradition of prayer in Israel.

8:00 AM - Joyous Reb Shlomo/Rebbe Nachman Rosh Chodesh Minyan led by Master of Prayer Rabbi Ezra Amichai (nee Friedland-Wechsler), known for hosting scores of Jews for Shabbat meals and elevating hundreds each time he leads prayers at the Wall.

My hope is that folks turn up for both minyanim - a double-header of holistic indigenous Jewish prayer to ring in Nissan, Redemption Month according to our sages.

As for the Nusach Eretz Yisrael minyan - this is truly a historic event. Though there are weekly Nusach Eretz Yisrael (NEY) prayers in Givat Sha'ul at the Machon Shilo Beit Midrash (and last year, mincha on Purim at Sde Boaz) - this is the first time it is being returned to such close proximity of the Temple Mount.

For Rav Bar Hayim's (the spiritual leader and inspiration of the not-militant-enough Kitniyot Liberation Front)main mission statement in essay form click here. I recommend his essays on Mordechai's reception by the 'gedoilim' of his time, lulav on shabbat, shofar on shabbat and especially his examination of the blue Techeilet as representative of the deep-seated problem that affects many in our people's God-fearing rabbinate.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Unfinished Business



Haman and his sons were hanged, their estate taken over by Mordechai. Even though we read Parshat Zachor last week, the evil of Amalek still lurks.


Check out a great article on the continuous Purim Struggle (in Hebrew) HERE


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Friday, March 02, 2007

"Amalek's Little Secret"



In the end of Beshalach we read: "War is to Hashem with Amalek from generation to generation."

But who is Amalek? Why does this nation deserve so much attention?

Amalek is the anti-good, anti-G-d force in this world. They hate the Jewish people for no other reason then Israel's goodness and spirituality. Hitler once said that he hates the Jews because they are the "conscience of the world." Amalek's qualities include the ability to cause people to doubt G-d, to cool off the excitement of G-d's miracles, to replace the faith in G-d with a belief in chance and happenstance. Amalek's every quality is meant to counteract the force of the Jewish people in this world.

But what is Amalek's weakness?

The Baal Haturim uncovers this mystery by asking an interesting question: What is the connection between the commandment to destroy Amalek and the commandment to bring Bikkurim, the first fruits to be eaten in Jerusalem? These two Mitzvot are seemingly connected only by their proximity in the Torah - the destruction of Amalek comes in the end of Ki Teze, and the First Fruits comes right on its heals in the beginning of the next parasha, Ki Tavo.

However, the Baal Haturim asserts that there is a reason why these two topics are put side by side.

The Torah tells us: "Therefore it shall come about when the L-RD your G-d has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the L-RD your G-d gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget." (Dvarim 25;19)

The Ba'al HaTurim lets us in to Amalek's little secret. The commandment to destroy Amalek only reaches its full potential when "the L-RD your G-d has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the L-RD your G-d gives you as an inheritance to possess ." Only when the Jews are in the Land of Israel do they have the power to fully destroy Amalek.

This idea is further buttressed by the proximity of the mitzva of Bikkurim, bringing the first fruits to Jerusalem. This commandment can only be fulfilled when the Jewish people are on their land: "Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it; that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground which you bring in from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name."

Amalalek wants to destroy the Jewish people, and he always attacks us when we are at our weakest, when we are tired, hungry, and separated. The contrast, of course, is to the Jewish people when they are on their own soil, united, strong, and eating of the fruit of the land – then the Jewish people are in position to turn the tables, to destroy Amalek, and to create a society built in G-d's image. Amalek's greatest fear is the Jewish life in the Land of Israel because that spells his doom!

So what does Amalek do? Everything in his power to stop us from reaching our goal – to stop us from reaching the Land of Israel.

"The king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, then Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, "What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?"

Who told Pharaoh that the Jews fled? According to the Baal Haturim, the culprit is Amalek. Amalalek sees the Jews fleeing Egypt and heading towards Israel and he must stop them. First Amalek dispatches Pharoah and the whole Egyptian army, and when that doesn't work Amalek goes out against the Am Yisrael himself: "Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim."

Even today, Amalek is hard at work trying to stop us Jewish people from taking up our eternal inheritance. Terror, political ostracizion, economic hardships, and most of all fear - this is the handiwork of Amalek. Iran's Mahmud Ahmadinijad is today's reincarnation of Hitler, Haman, and Amalek. Ahmadinjad is set on destroying us because he knows that the Jewish people's redemption is at hand, and he will do anything he can to stop us.

Fearlessness, faith, a constant commitment to bring all the Jewish people home are our greatest weapons against Amalek. When we unite in Eretz Yisrael, with joy and love, living by the Book, there is nothing that can stop us. May we merit G-d's blessings to fulfill our mission to destroy our enemies and build His dwelling place in Yerushalayim!

By the way, compare these two verses in light of the above:

Bamidbar 13;30

Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, "We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it."

and Ester 6;13

Haman recounted to Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Then his wise men and Zeresh his wife said to him, "If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish origin, you will not overcome him, but will surely fall before him."

See it? Our faith in the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is the death of Amalek.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Purim: "Reigniting Our Passion for Religious Nationalism"



Rav Chaim Jachter on Purim as an opportunity for Religious Zionist Renaissance (link)

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Are you ready for some... Shmittah? (AUDIO)


One of the most special things that comes along with living in the Land of Israel is the privilege of being able to keep many Mitzvot that are simply not relevant to the Jew of the Exile.

Many of these Mitzvot are known as Mitzvot HaTluyot Ba'Aretz - Torah commandments that are incumbent upon a Jew living in the Land of Israel.

This coming year, 5768, will be a Shmittah year - the one year, out of every seven, when the Jew in Israel must allow the Land of Israel to lay fallow, (it's actually much more complex that that, but we'll get to that a little later on) and more importantly, being that I made Aliyah only four years ago, this will represent my very first opportunity to fulfill the Mitzva of Shmittah.

Shmittah has additional significance, as being one of the Mitzvot that only becomes Biblically mandated once the majority of the Jewish People are living in the Land of Israel - something that has not happened since the destruction of the first Temple 2,500+ years ago, and which is scheduled to happen at some point in the next 25 years.

In preparation for the upcoming Shmittah year, I helped to organize a weekly, English language, Shmittah shiur in my community. The shiur is scheduled to run from now until the start of the Shmittah year, and I will be posting each installment of the shiur, along with the accompanying source sheets.

The shiur is being given by Rabbi Gedalia Meyer of Ma'aleh Adumim, and he welcomes any questions that listeners might have (gsmeyer@netvision.net.il) .

The first, weekly English Shmittah Shiur can be listened to by clicking here. (MP3 format)

Tizku l'mitzvot!

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Torat Yisrael Parshah Sheet


In Israel, there are many weekly publications that find their way to synagogues every Shabbat. Most of these "Parshah Sheets" are in Hebrew.

image of this week's Torat Yisrael weekly Parshah SheetThe main one in English has a lot of Torah, but not many Neo-Zionist nationalist issues. A friend and I recently started a new English Parshah Sheet to bring ideas from the Torah related to the Land of Israel, and look at nationalist issues from a Halachic (Jewish law) perspective. Appropriately, we are called Torat Yisrael.

This is our 3rd week and already we have had 2 members of this blog write for us, as well as people from Elon Moreh to Chevron (kind of like Avraham's journey). This week features an article about Techelet from Rav David Bar-Hayim that was referred to in an earlier blog post. Every week there is also an Eretz Yisrael Photo of the Week by me. This (and last and IY"H next) issue also features a front cover ad for this blog (see image below)! We are circulating around Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh (and RBS), maybe also some yishuvim this Shabbat. If you live in Israel and want us to distribute to your shul, let me know. In any case, you can view each week's issue on our website - www.TorahFromZion.com. Shabbat Shalom!
advertisement of Kumah

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