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August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘CHILDREN’

Fatherless and Leaderless

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Our tears have yet to dry. I am not sure they ever will. We have all been thrown to the ground, pinned down by a loss of spiritual support.

Why is this so? It is because Maran HaRav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, was larger than our generation. Or perhaps the generation is too shrunken, too beaten by the wind, to fully appreciate Maran’s greatness. It is still unclear.

One thing is clear. For the Sephardic Jew, this century is divided into two distinct periods – one with Maran’s presence and one that is no longer graced by it. The second period trembles with its own uncertainty because the greatest and strongest of us are incapable of filling the shoes of Maran, who served as posek and leader in an era rife with instability and danger.

Throughout the week of mourning, people spoke of our being orphaned. We feel a deep, unfathomable loss. With all our modern skills and technological know-how, we have yet to develop the device that can measure Maran’s monumental contributions to us, to our generation, and to many generations to follow.

It is not in our power to describe, so soon after his passing, the greatness of such a Torah giant. People will write about his amazing Torah knowledge, the power of his prayers and his outstanding acts of chesed, those he made public and those he hid from the public’s eye. But we will never know, certainly not in the near future, the true extent of Maran’s influence on the history of the Jewish people, how much he shaped the direction of the state of Israel, and how he gave countless Sephardic Jews a different perception of themselves. We are still feeling the effects of his efforts; perhaps we are still at the very beginning.

* * * * *

Maran was the standard-bearer of the movement to restore Sephardic Jewry to its former status in the hierarchy of Torah greatness. Five or six decades ago, Porat Yosef was basically the only higher yeshiva for Sephardic young men. The roshei yeshiva perceived the enormous potential in Maran when he was still a youngster. They did everything to equip him with the tools to realize their vision and bring their hopes to fruition. They placed their hopes in him to return the lost members of our people to the flock by igniting the spark of faith and pride in their hearts.

Maran’s heart was fertile soil for planting the seeds of a revolution among Sephardic Jewry. Even as a youth, his power to pluck lost souls from the depths and carry them on his wings was apparent. Already then, children ran to find places in synagogues and batei midrash with his encouragement.

If the streets of Yerushalayim could eulogize him, they would recount how he gathered the children in all the synagogues, large and small. They would tell how he strode from Musayoff to Geulah and to Beit Yisrael, offering yet another lesson in practical halacha, another page of Gemara, another study in the weekly Torah reading. Every lesson was delivered with his special grace and humor, with a smile and with wit. His lectures were attended by nine-year-old children and ninety-year-old codgers, sharp-minded kollel students and simple laborers after a long day of work.

Yes, this is the way it was long before the politics began, before there was an issue of appointing people to positions, status and jobs. Maran was tilling the ground so that he could sow the seeds of faith – not only in Yerushalayim but in Beersheva, Ashdod, Dimona, Tel Aviv, Tirat HaCarmel, Haifa, Acre and Nahariya. He took it to little settlements and forgotten communities. He never told anyone “No, I don’t have time for you.”

Maran planted the trees of Torah so that their branches would cast the shadow of emunah and yirat Shamayim on the new generation. At the same time that atheistic Mapai activists danced over their success in pulling Sephardic Jews away from their faith, Maran was already laying the groundwork for the counter-revolution to bring them back home. He counted his successes one person at a time. He found them in urban centers and in Zionist establishments, simple people and influential people alike.

How did he do it? Primarily, through the power of his personal Torah study. The energy he put into learning Torah was something unmatched in this generation and, apparently, going back several generations as well. Further, he did it through his sincere, faith-filled prayers that undoubtedly pierced the highest Heavens. His prayers were accentuated by his tears, flowing freely and silently in the hope his wounded brethren would be healed spiritually, step by step until they achieved perfect health.

It would not be right to describe Maran’s public service as beginning with his establishment of the Shas political party. With due respect to Shas and its accomplishments, it was Maran who prepared for it with decades of hard work. He breathed life into the movement; he pushed and encouraged the young men he appointed to fight the battles, instilling courage and confidence where none had existed before. “You can do it,” he said. “It is within reach. We are not powerless.”

“Open more yeshivas and institutions,” he would insist. “Don’t worry. Hashem will help. You won’t run out of money.” He implanted solid faith in his people, telling them Heaven’s help was right around the corner. From his lofty position he brought the horn of plenty to the Torah world, to all who were in need and to all who hungered for Torah. All we had to do was to come, to participate, to reach forward. The blessings of the gadol hador were available. He had envisioned it and sowed the seeds for it more than sixty years earlier. We are witness to his revolution today.

* * * * *

It is crucial for us to emphasize that Maran not only created a monumental edifice of Torah and halacha, but that he also built people. He was there for the youth, for families, for one Jew after the other. He gave people advice they needed in making important decisions in life. He gave his blessings. Maran was the key in helping them to connect with Hashem.

His home was always open, as was his sensitive heart. He was always ready to listen to barren women, widows, orphans, the ill and downtrodden. Whoever they were, he served as their loving father. He was everyone’s father. When he pinched or slapped someone’s cheek, that person knew that it came from his father. Everyone knew that he loved us all, that he prayed sincerely for us all.

It was such a wonderful feeling to know we had a father who was so wise, who possessed such yirat Shamayim, who was no doubt beloved by Hashem. This feeling gave us strength and spirit. When someone left Maran’s presence, he invariably was stronger than before and committed to building himself anew with Torah and emunah. The future appeared rosier because his father had blessed him and encouraged him.

For me personally, Maran was my guide in life, my leader, my authority. Now I feel I have lost my father. The pain is far greater than when I lost my biological father.

* * * * *

Maran, we were privileged to stand by you for decades. We saw your self-sacrifice and stupendous efforts to raise the Sephardic world of Torah. How can we describe it?

There is a type of pride that is proper and a type that is despicable. It is wonderful when a Jew feels pride for going in the ways of Hashem. With his inimitable wisdom, Maran did his best to raise the honor of Sephardic halachic rulings so that we could be proud to know them and follow them. He showed us that we had no reason to feel ashamed of our heritage, that we could be proud to follow the rulings of Maran HaRav Yosef Karo, author of the Shluchan Aruch.

Thanks to the work of Maran, we have a clear understanding of the ways of halacha, and thousands of Torah students have adopted them with pride and confidence.

During Maran’s lifetime, our bookshelves became filled with sefarim of halacha and responsa. Once, the Sephardic yeshiva world was silent. No more. It is a world that has been completely rebuilt, replete with roshei yeshiva, teachers, rabbinical judges and rabbis who are fluent in the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch and the Acharonim. Before Maran, we lacked all this.

Sephardic pride. It is not just an expression; it is an anchor for values and sentiment. For decades, Sephardic Jews were downtrodden and scorned. They did not receive the recognition they deserved. People did not understand the greatness of their own halachic traditions. Maran expertly guided us out of that quagmire. He brought an entire generation of Torah scholars to hold fast to the wisdom of Sephardic Jewry, the wisdom of generations of great scholars who built themselves on the Shulchan Aruch and Rav Yosef Karo.

* * * * *

Today we are confused, bewildered about our future. Our ship has been cast astray and we don’t know where it is headed. Despite this, let us remember how Maran, our leader, always remained confident about the future. He was a born optimist. He knew he was doing the right thing and he always told us to remain on course while seeking to enhance Hashem’s honor.

We are incapable of telling the future. And even though Maran has been taken from us, we must have full faith that Hashem will continue to provide us with the proper leaders. We will continue to follow leaders who will go in the ways of Maran, the spiritual giant who built Sephardic Jewry, placed the crown of Torah on our heads and taught us to love and cherish that Torah.

We pray that we will continue on the road for the sake of our children and grandchildren until we will be privileged to see our Final Redemption.

Beginning The Journey

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

A while back, a British newspaper, The Times, interviewed a prominent member of the Jewish community (let’s call him Lord X) on his 92nd birthday. The interviewer said, “Most people, when they reach their 92nd birthday, start thinking about slowing down. You seem to be speeding up. Why is that?”

Lord X replied, “When you get to 92, you start seeing the door begin to close, and I have so much to do before the door closes that the older I get, the harder I have to work.”

Something like that is the impression we get of Abraham in this week’s parshah. Sarah, his constant companion throughout their journeys, has died. He is 137 years old. We see him mourn Sarah’s death, and then he moves into action.

He engages in an elaborate negotiation to buy a plot of land in which to bury her. As the narrative makes clear, this is not a simple task. He confesses to the locals, the Hittites, that he is “an immigrant and a resident among you,” meaning that he knows he has no right to buy land. It will take a special concession on their part for him to do so. The Hittites politely but firmly try to discourage him. He has no need to buy a burial plot. “No one among us will deny you his burial site to bury your dead.” He can bury Sarah in someone else’s graveyard. Equally politely but no less insistently, Abraham makes it clear that he is determined to buy land. In the event, he pays a highly inflated price (400 silver shekels) to do so.

The purchase of the Cave of Machpelah is evidently a highly significant event because it is recorded in great detail and highly legal terminology – not just here but three times subsequently in Genesis, each time with the same formality. For instance, here is Jacob on his deathbed, speaking to his sons:

“Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebecca were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites” (Genesis 49:29-32).

Something significant is being hinted at here; otherwise why mention, each time, exactly where the field is and from whom Abraham bought it?

Immediately after the story of land purchase, we read, “Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and God had blessed Abraham with everything.” Again this sounds like the end of a life, not a preface to a new course of action, and again our expectation is confounded. Abraham launches into a new initiative, this time to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac, who by now is at least 37 years old. Abraham leaves nothing to chance. He does not speak to Isaac himself but to his most trusted servant, who he instructs to go “to my native land, to my birthplace” to find the appropriate woman. He wants Isaac to have a wife who will share his faith and way of life. Abraham does not specify that she should come from his own family, but this seems to be an assumption hovering in the background.

As with the purchase of the field, so here the course of events is described in more detail than almost anywhere else in the Torah. Every conversational exchange is recorded. The contrast with the story of the binding of Isaac could not be greater. There, almost everything – Abraham’s thoughts, Isaac’s feelings – is left unsaid. Here, everything is said. Again, the literary style calls our attention to the significance of what is happening, without telling us precisely what it is.

The explanation is simple and unexpected. Throughout the story of Abraham and Sarah, God had promised them two things: children and a land. The promise of the land (“Rise, walk in the land throughout its length and breadth, for I will give it to you”) is repeated no less than seven times. The promise of children occurs four times. Abraham’s descendants will be “a great nation,” as many as “the dust of the earth” and “the stars in the sky.” He will be the father not of one nation but of many.

Assad’s Planes Bomb Schoolchildren; 15 People Killed

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Who need chemical weapons to commit war crimes?

Syrian President Bassar al-Assad’s planes bombed a secondary school in a rebel-held city in northeastern Syria on Sunday, killing nine people, most of them children, opposition spokesmen said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll likely will rise because many of the survivors were critically wounded.

Meanwhile, a United Nations team is investigating seven alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria, including three after the August 21 attack that killed hundreds of people. Syria claims the latest attacks were carried out by rebels.

The Only Commonality Is Mass Killing

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Originally published at The Investigative Project on Terrorism.

Aaron Alexis murdered 12 people and injured at least eight more at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard before he was shot and killed by law enforcement professionals. It is tempting to compare Alexis to a suicide bomber, especially now that we have heard rumors he opened a website under the name “Mohammed Salem.” However, clear thinking demands that temptation be resisted. Let me explain why.

As an Israeli criminologist who has studied suicide bombers for almost two decades—making extensive observations of and conducting numerous interviews with those who failed, as well as with those who dispatch the bombers, with family members of suicide bombers and decision makers and elites in their society— I can say with confidence that the differences between mass killers in the West such as Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris at Columbine, and yes, Aaron Alexis at the D.C. Navy Yard, and suicide bombers are categorical and insurmountable.

After the Sandy Hook tragedy, Eric Lankford, an American criminal justice professor, sought to show that America’s lone shooters have more in common with suicide bombers than is commonly believed. But his op-ed piece, “What Drives Suicidal Mass Killers” (New York Times, 12/19/12), is fundamentally flawed. America has certainly suffered enough with the recent Sandy Hook, Aurora and other tragedies, but clear thinking demands we realize that even if someone is characterized as a “shaheed” (a martyr for the sake of Allah, including suicide bombers), the differences between mass killers in the West and suicide bombers are categorical and insurmountable.

The overriding distinction between the two is their native cultures: the suicide bomber’s education and attack preparations are diametrically opposed to that of mass killers, as is their socialization. Suicide bombers are radical Islam’s celebrated heroes, its darlings, whose acts are viewed by the larger culture as exemplary and heroic; in contrast, the West’s mass killers are aberrant individuals isolated from their resolutely life-affirming culture.

Specifically and most importantly, Western culture in general, and American culture in particular, cherishes life. American children are raised in the belief in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; they are raised to embrace life and respect the lives of others. Clearly there are a disturbed few who kill others, but those are not the heroes of the American people: their murders and subsequent own deaths do not bring honor to their families or elevate them in their society’s collective memory.

But that is exactly what does happen in radical Islamist culture. In Gaza, for example, children collect cards of shaheeds, the same way American children collect baseball cards. It is absurd to think that anyone would propose National Park Stadium be renamed Aaron Alexis Stadium, and the absurdity illustrates and emphasizes the difference between American mass killers and Muslim suicide bombers whose names emblazon schools, sports teams, stadiums and public squares.

The Western mass killer’s acts are motivated by individual pathology rather than by collective ethos. The individual’s aberrant thoughts trigger the plan for a mass killing. The suicide bomber is not driven by psychological pain, although he is selected because others see him as weak or vulnerable. A culture that celebrates death and declares to the West that “we love death as you love life” is the petri dish in which suicide bombers develop.

Another distinction is that suicide bombers are not lone gunmen, instead, they are merely tools in a comprehensive, well-advertised terrorist production, manipulated to achieve political goals. To understand the significance of the difference, try to imagine Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris as inanimate objects whose owner chooses not only the location of the killings, but also the date, the weapons and even the victims. The suicide bombers’ locations are chosen by others to ensure that the greatest possible damage will be inflicted; the bombers usually have little or no advance notice. A suicide bomber, in contrast to Adam Lanza, will never embark on his mission by first killing his own mother—the most significant and beloved person in his life.

The mass killers choose their victims, the locations and the timing of their deeds, usually planning their acts meticulously over a long period of time. For the suicide bomber, his body is the murder weapon. His death is the only way to achieve his true goal: to enter paradise physically, where 72 virgins and the rivers of wine await him, and spiritually, by bringing honor to himself and his family. All this is possible only if his corporeal being merges with the bomb fragments to bring death to others, an ideal far removed from Western moral conceptions of life and afterlife.

A Western mass killer’s death is not a precondition for the mass murder; the deaths of those they have selected is what matters. The suicide bomber, however, is on a mission aimed at propelling himself toward a better future in the afterlife, where he will be able to enjoy everything he was unable to enjoy or achieve while living. America’s mass killers have no future: they will be vilified and not celebrated, and in contrast to radical Islamic culture, their families will suffer ignominy and isolation. We have already heard the anguish suffered by Aaron Alexis’s mother, who, in a public statement, expressed deep sorrow over the pain caused by her son. She also said she was glad her son was in a place now where he can no longer do any harm to anyone.

The West’s mass killers have no recruiters, handlers or dispatchers, all of whom are essential in a world where suicide bombers are the logical means to achieve the collective end. In the United States, anywhere and at any time, the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” does not elicit the answer, “A mass killer (or suicide bomber).” However, the Gazan child for example, will not answer “fireman,” “policeman,” or even “I’m going to work in an office like Daddy.” The virtually guaranteed answer is “shaheed,” and his mother will likely cheer.

Radical Islam’s suicide bomber is the manipulated tool of an aberrant death-glorifying culture, while the West’s mass killer is an aberrant member of a robust, life-affirming culture. There are similarities between the two, but it is a mistake to put them on the same level. To blur the distinction is to insult America.

Honoring our Parents: Can We Learn from China?

Monday, August 26th, 2013

It is well known that millions of elderly Americans are neglected at their most vulnerable time. Jewish law, however, requires multiple times and in multiple ways that we honor our parents (Exodus 20:11, Exodus 21:15, Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 19:3, Deuteronomy 27:16).

The ancient exhortations to honor one’s parents endure into our age. As of July 1, 2013, China has required that adult children take care of their parents. The amended Law for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly states that adult children must visit their elderly relatives, and they are prohibited from insulting, mistreating, or abandoning them under pain of lawsuit. Wu Ming, the deputy department head in China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs said, “Family members should not ignore and isolate the elderly. And they should come often to visit.” Today, millions of Chinese workers live thousands of miles away from their parents, families are limited to one child per family, and the tradition values of filial piety have become more challenging to put into practice. But those who fail to take care of their parents will now be fined. This act may be in recognition of the aging of the Chinese population: There will be 221 million elderly (age 60 and older) in the country in 2015, and the percentage will reach about a third by 2050.

In Japan, another country with the longstanding value of filial piety, modern legislation assists families in paying for hired caregivers (although they cannot be family members). Elsewhere, many nations mandate some level of care for the elderly. While the Soviet Union no longer exists, some of its policies survive in the areas it used to control. For example, in much of the former Soviet bloc, the elderly can sue their children for child support, and siblings can sue each other to make sure the money is raised and the burden shared. In Western Europe, eldercare is typically ensured through social insurance programs. The most inclusive policy for the elderly can be found in Norway, where all of the elderly are guaranteed long-term care.

How does the United States, which has traditionally been reluctant in implementing social welfare policies taken for granted in Europe, compare with rest of the industrial world? Currently, nearly 10 million adults age 50 and older care for elderly parents, with little governmental assistance. This number has tripled in 15 years, so now about 1 in 4 adult children provide personal or financial care for their parents. A study conducted by a group of insurance, caregiving, and policy think tanks concluded that, taking into account wages and Social Security and pension money, the average adult who becomes a caregiver for an aging parent spends nearly $304,000. In addition, caregivers undergo tremendous stress, and suffer higher rates of cardiovascular disease and alcohol abuse, among other illnesses. On top of this, Social Security benefits here do not increase when personal care costs rise, as they do in some European nations.

One bright spot is that many adults can now take up to 12 weeks off from work to care for an ill parent (or any other family member) without losing their job under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Unfortunately, this does not go far enough, because this leave is without pay and therefore an unaffordable option for nearly all working Americans. Medicare may help pay for some short-term care, and Medicaid can cover expenses for those with in adequate resources, although these are dependent on individual state requirements, which are constantly under attack today. Currently, as the Medicare website notes, private funds are used for eldercare: “About half of all nursing home residents pay nursing home costs out of their own savings. After these savings and other resources are spent, many people who stay in nursing homes for long periods eventually become eligible for Medicaid.” In other words, if you want nursing care as an elderly person, be prepared to lose all your resources. Other programs, such as Meals on Wheels, are also dependent on state funding (with some federal aid that is also under attack), and we cannot assume that it will continue as is in the current atmosphere of austerity. Other options usually rely on independent insurance or health plans that require additional payments.

While the United States remains a wealthy nation, and many can afford their own care, we should heed Jewish law and truly honor our parents. The rabbis tell a story which is codified as law (Shulkhan Arukh YD 240:3).

They inquired of Rav Ula: “How far does honoring/dignifying parents extend?”

He said to them: “Go out and see what one [non-Jew] did in Ashkelon. His name was Dama ben Netinah. Once the Sages sought merchandise for a price of sixty myriads, but the key was resting under his father’s head, and he did not disturb him…. When Rav Dimi came, he said: Once he was wearing a gold diadem and sitting among the greats of Rome, when his mother came and tore it off him, and hit him over the head and spit in his face, but he did not humiliate her” (Kiddushin 31a).

Even when mistreated and shamed by a parent, many demands to honor parents still remain. To be sure, there are limits too!

One whose mother or father breaks down mentally – He must make the effort to behave with them in accordance with their condition until [Hashem] has mercy on them; but if he it is not possible for him to stand it, because they have become greatly insane – he may go and leave them behind, so long as he commands others to treat them properly (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 240:10).

Jewish law wisely and prophetically notes the mental and physical strain that an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia can have on a family. However, the law also mandates that we provide some degree of proper care for them. We should not force families to go into bankruptcy in order to avoid placing their parents in virtual warehouses where their parents will be neglected and mistreated.

The thing is that this is not only an ossified, unrealistic demand based on an idealized or no longer extant religious society. We see models for contemporary implementation around the world today, in China, Norway, and beyond. Our parents sacrificed so much for our well-being throughout their lives, when we were not able to fend for ourselves. As a society, we must recognize this and provide for them when they are no longer physically independent themselves.

Sacrifices of Peace

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

In one of the most famous events in the Bible, G-d commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son. So Abraham took his son Isaac, bound him on an altar and prepared to bring him up as a burnt offering. And then the voice of the angel called to him and told him not to harm his son.

G-d did not want human sacrifices. The peace process does. After the handshake with Arafat in the Rose Garden led to a wave of terrorist attacks, Prime Minister Rabin invented a new sacrifice to describe the dead Israelis murdered by the Muslim terrorists who had been permitted to enter Israel, to form armies, to train openly and to kill openly. Korbanot Shalom. Sacrifices of peace.

In Ancient Israel, in the Tabernacle and the Temple, the Korban Shelamim, the Peace Offering, was brought as a celebratory offering to be eaten by all. In the modern State of Israel, the Korbanot Shalom were brought by the families of the dead who often had little more than a few scraps of skin tissue, a finger or a hand caught in a crack in the sidewalk to remember their children by.

In the old Israel, only the pagan worshipers of Moloch, the abominable cult that placed its own sons and daughters into the idol’s flames, practiced human sacrifice. In the new Israel that was ushered in on that glorious day in the Rose Garden under the beaming gaze of Bill Clinton, everyone in the land was expected to be prepared to offer up their children to the Moloch of peace, the idol of the Palestinian Authority, its altar engraved with Nobel Peace Prizes, its service overseen by the international diplomats and domestic pacifists who had appointed themselves its Priests of Peace.

Peace made the service of death into a national duty. There was no telling where or when one might be called upon by Israel’s peace partners in Ramallah to become a sacrifice for peace. It might be at a mall or at a pizzeria or while riding the bus. An Israeli could become a sacrifice for peace at any time. And the Labor Party leaders would bow their heads solemnly over his grave, like the biblical elders were obligated to do over every murder victim in their vicinity. But unlike the elders, they could not recite the ceremonial verse, “Our hands did not shed this blood.”

Eventually Prime Minister Rabin, who had offered up so many Israelis as sacrifices of peace, was privileged to himself became a sacrifice of peace. His ascension is commemorated annually and has long since made its way into the Israeli curriculum as an example of the dedication to peacemaking that is expected of the true visionary of peace.

The sacrifices of peace have diminished as the left has fallen out of power. The wooden altars of the Moloch of Peace stand empty and the Priests of Peace pass mournfully through international airports, studying maps, drawing up plans and calling for new sacrifices. And eventually their call is heeded.

In the spring, America’s prince of peace, the man who had thrown thousands of American soldiers with their hands tied behind their backs into the arms of the Taliban, who had sacrificed every other American ally in the region, came to Jerusalem to demand that the altars once again be raised up and the blood of peace flow over the negotiating tables.

“It can be tempting to put aside the frustrations and sacrifices that come with the pursuit of peace,” Obama told a carefully selected audience of Israeli students. Some of them future sacrifices on his bloody altar of peace. “Here on Earth we must bear our responsibilities in an imperfect world. That means accepting our measure of sacrifice and struggle.”

And so the measure of sacrifice comes again. The ceremonial release of terrorists with blood on their hands commenced this festival of negotiations. Some of the freed terrorists had been notoriously talented sacrificers; claiming the lives of women and children. And in reward for their service, the Moloch of Peace smiled upon them and commanded that they be set free.

Weeping for Jerusalem

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

I’m in Jerusalem, the city every Jew should be in love with. The world has become a very small place; in the blink of an eye we can cross continents. We belong to the generation that can visit so many cities, so many villages, so many vacation sites. After a while we become immune to them all. But Jerusalem is different.

If you are a Jew, Jerusalem is in your blood. It’s a city engraved upon your heart. Centuries ago Yehuda HaLevi wrote, “My heart is in the East while I am in the West.” No matter where life has taken us, our hearts have forever remained in the East, in Jerusalem.

When I was a little girl in Hungary I may not have known where Paris or Rome was but I did know the location of Jerusalem. My parents of blessed memory, HaRav HaGoan Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, and Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, a”h, nurtured us with the milk and honey of Yerushalayim. Nowadays, few still thirst for that sweetness. And yet, with all the distractions of modern life, Yerushalayim tugs at our hearts.

I just saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears the veracity of this connection between the Jew and this Holy City.

I was speaking at the Great Synagogue. There was no spare seat to be had and despite the lateness of the night people kept coming. Many lingered after I finished my speech. Some sought advice and guidance. Others just wanted to talk.

Above all they asked for berachos – for shidduchim, for health, for sustenance. And then a tall, lovely, blond-haired girl stood before me. She was crying. Something prompted me to ask, “Are you Jewish?” Her voice cracking with tears, she whispered, “I’m a convert. I came to Yerushalayim to become part of the Jewish people.”

She explained that she came from a country where Jews had been beaten and tortured and maimed and killed during the Holocaust. But her soul whispered the message, “Go, join the people who stood at Sinai; go to Jerusalem!”

I naturally assumed she sought a blessing for a good shidduch. “No, no,” she protested, “that’s not why I’m here. You just related a story that entered my soul. Please bless me with the ability of not forgetting.”

And then she repeated one of the stories I had told in my address.

The story was about a mother who lost her husband and eleven of her children in Auschwitz. She made aliyah but still had no peace. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t work. She couldn’t come to terms with her fate.

She sought out a rebbe – perhaps he would offer her some consolation. She spilled out her heart and described each and every one of her children. The rebbe listened and wept with her. And then he said something amazing. “I think I saw someone among the newly arrived children now settled in a kibbutz who fits the description of your Dovidl.”

The rebbe told her he would try to trace the lineage of that child.

A few days later the rebbe called. “I may have some good news for you,” he said. Heart pounding, she returned to the rebbe’s home – and there was her little boy.

“Dovidl, Dovidl,” she shouted. “Mama, mama,” he sobbed as he ran into her arms. When the little boy caught his breath he asked a painful question. “Where is my father? Where are Moishele and Rochele?” As Dovidl enumerated the names of all his brothers and sisters, he and his mother cried uncontrollably. They continued to weep long into the night.

As I told that story, I remarked to the audience that it occurred to me that Dovidl’s children and grandchildren have no memory of those who preceded them. Similarly, we come to Israel, rush off the plane, pick up our luggage and make our way to Jerusalem. And what do we think about?

We’re busy asking ourselves and each other, “Where is a good place to eat?” “Any new restaurants around?” “Did you try out that new hotel?” “Is it worth it the price?”

But do any of us ask, “Where is the Beis HaMikdash?” Does anyone really miss the Beis HaMikdash? Does anyone search for it? Does anyone even think about it? Does anyone even want to remember?

The girl who stood before me begged with tears, “Please, Rebbetzin, give me a berachah that I should never forget to cry for the Beis HaMikdash. I’m so afraid I will forget and become oblivious to its loss. I do not want to be like Dovidl’s children.”

I could only look at her. She had taken my breath away. I couldn’t recall anyone ever asking me for such a berachah – to be able to remain constantly aware of the Beis HaMikdash and, yes, to weep for it.

For thousands of years we prayed, wept and hoped for Yerushalayim. To see Yerushalayim again, to behold the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash, has always been the center of all our prayers. At our weddings, in the midst of our joy, we break a glass to remember our Temple that is no more. When painting our homes we would leave a small spot empty to remind us that no home can be complete if the Beis HaMikdash has not been rebuilt.

We have a thousand and one reminders in our prayers, in our traditions, in our observance, that constantly recall to us Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. And yet, now that we have Jerusalem again we have somehow forgotten our dream – our Beis HaMikdash that we prayed for and continue to pray for.

Sadly, our prayers for the Temple have become just words recited by rote. And here comes a young woman new to our faith and she seeks a blessing not for shidduch, not for parnassah, not for good health, nor for personal happiness – but for the ability to shed tears and yearn to see the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt. Should that not give us all pause? Should that not make us think and consider?

Should we not ask again and again and still again, “Where is the Beis HaMikdash?” I miss it so. I’m in Jerusalem but the shinning crown of the Holy City is absent and my joy cannot be complete until I see its glory restored.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/weeping-for-jerusalem/2013/08/22/

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