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July 26, 2014 / 28 Tammuz, 5774
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Redeeming the Captives and Jonathan Pollard

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

There is, to the outside world, something a bit incomprehensible about Jews. Most of the world cannot grasp what idiocy would bring Israel to exchange 1,000 prisoners (and yes, among them hundreds of terrorists and murderers) for the life of one person, a young soldier of no worth in terms of security or military knowledge. The sum value of Gilad Shalit’s life was simply that he was one of ours.

By contrast, here in Israel, though we knew it was a stupid and dangerous exchange, it was never something incomprehensible. Rather, it was completely understood, if not something logical. This is what we were commanded to do, above sanity at time, certainly coming within inches of danger to ourselves. We are not supposed to cross the line of endangering ourselves, but even that line blurs as the desperation to bring out own home grows.

We brought Gilad home – others may well die as a result. Perhaps even this past week, as a young child is in very critical condition because the car in which she was riding was stoned. No one regrets for a moment that Gilad is finally home, finally free. We celebrate each victory he claims on his journey to live his life and take back what was stolen from him. I don’t know if what we did was right, but it was good, and it was needed.

And we as a people continue, as we did with Gilad, always aware that there are others out there still held in captivity. Once it was millions – Russian Jews not allowed to emigrate. We protested, we demonstrated, we demanded, we bargained…until the doors of the former Soviet Union opened and more than a million came out. They are part of Israel now and everywhere mixed in with Hebrew, you hear Russian…or at least Russian accented Hebrew and we know that what we did was good, right, needed.

And there were Jews in Ethiopia and Yemen – and we flew planes to bring them home. Jews in Iran that still need to be brought home, though very few. Jews in Syria who have been smuggled in and even Jews from France, who are coming home. And we know that all our efforts are good and right and needed.

And there is a Jew in the United States. Yes, there is. He is a captive and unfairly so. The price he is paying is not for the crime he committed. There was a price to be paid – and he paid it, but he was betrayed by those with whom he made an agreement. It is to their shame that Jonathan Pollard is still in jail, not his. He has done his time and amazingly enough, the vast majority who condemn him – don’t actually know what he was convicted of doing.

You can’t imprison someone for what you think they did, not even for what you know he did. If you respect American law, than you must accept that Jonathan Pollard was sentenced for committing a crime that, on average, results in a sentence of 3-5 years. He has served more than 28 years.

President Obama wants to come to Israel this week and as recent poll showed 79% of Israelis want to see Obama get off the plane with Pollard. There are few things on which you can get 79% of Israelis to agree and given that approximately 20% of the population is Arab and would presumably not be in favor of Pollard being released, that amounts to an almost complete agreement.

The overwhelming feeling among those I know is very simple. There is really nothing to be gained by Obama’s visit. It will be a nightmare of traffic and delays for Israelis a critical week before the Passover holidays. Many of our relatives are flying in or out of the country – honestly, who needs this?

If…IF he were bringing Pollard home, we would greet him with the respect due the President of the United States, even though personally we know he is far from a friend of Israel. We will listen to the nonsense and unfair position he will spout, how WE should do this and WE should do that. We would ignore his pressuring us and ignoring endless violence by the Palestinians.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Twenty: Zichron Ya’acov

Friday, November 16th, 2012

With the birth of Hodel’s baby, the time had come for Tevye to journey onward. Family was a matter of tantamount importance, but a Jew had an even higher allegiance to God. Had not the Almighty warned that life in the Holy Land must be lived according to the commandments of the Torah? That meant observing the laws of the Sabbath and the holidays, eating kosher food, donning tallit and tefillin, guarding the treasures of marital purity, and observing all of the six-hundred and thirteen commandments – most of which were flagrantly ignored by the young pioneers on the kibbutz. True, they were good, idealistic souls, risking their lives, and giving up material comforts to build a refuge in Israel for the Jews all over the world. Their dedication to making the barren Land bloom was in itself an act of great religious faith, but, to Tevye’s way of thinking, faith in working the Land wasn’t enough. Ultimately, a Jew had to live by the Torah. It was enough of a tragedy that his daughter, Hodel, had been led astray by her husband – Tevye now had to think of Moishe and Hannie, who were bound to be influenced by the other children on the kibbutz. And it was wise, Tevye felt, to whisk Bat Sheva away before she fell victim once again to her passions and grow enamored with some other free-spirited hero.

After Ben Zion’s funeral, the heartbroken girl plunged into a gloomy silence. Tevye also felt troubled. The cold-blooded killing weighed on his mind like an omen. He wondered what would be with the Arabs. True, in his travels through the country, Arab villages were few and far between. Occasional caravans would pass along the road, and Bedouin shepherds would appear now and then in the landscape. But as picturesque as they were to Perchik, Tevye had learned that, like snakes in the roadside, their bites could prove fatal.

Driving his wagon along the trail through the mountains toward Zichron Yaacov, where Shmuelik and Hillel were living, Tevye found himself engaged in deep thought. He even imagined that the Baron Rothschild had invited him into his palatial office to discuss the dilemma of establishing a large Jewish population in the midst of hostile neighbors.

“Well, my respected Reb Tevye, how do you propose we deal with the Arab situation?” the Baron asked in his daydream.

Tevye stood by the large globe of the world in the center of the Baron’s wood-paneled study. Gently spinning the orb, his fingers slid over continents as he pondered his response. Tevye’s footprints, muddied from the barn, had left dark stains in the carpet, but the Baron hadn’t seemed to notice. Why should he? With a staff of round-the-clock servants, why should the dirt of an honest, hard-working milkman disturb him?

“I must confess that I am not a political analyst, but only a simple laborer,” Tevye responded.

“Even a simple laborer has opinions,” the Baron said. “And I respect the opinions of every man.”

“My opinions are the teachings of our Sages, and the pearls of wisdom which I have learned from the Torah.”

“And what does the Torah say on this matter?” the Baron inquired.

Before Tevye could answer, the famous philanthropist held out a mahogany humidor filled with fragrant cigars. Tevye took one and allowed the Baron to graciously light it.

“The Torah says that the Arabs are to dwell in the lands of the Arabs, and the Jews are to dwell in the Land of the Jews.”

“The Torah was written a long time ago. Perhaps political equations have changed.”

“The word of the Lord is forever,” Tevye answered. “The sons of Ishmael have been blessed with lands of their own. The Land of Israel belongs to the Jews.”

“Your faith has strengthened me, Tevye,” the Baron said. “Your faith has strengthened me indeed.”

Of course, daydreams are daydreams, and life is life. True, Tevye generally had mud on his boots, but if Baron Edmond de Rothschild ever summoned him to a chat, his secretary forgot to deliver the message. In fact, the Baron was not to be found in Zichron Yaacov at all. He ruled over his Palestine colonies from his castles in France. “Av HaYishuv,” the settlers called him. “Father of the Settlement.” Others called him “HaNadiv,” meaning, “The Benefactor,” after his beneficent ways. Still others called him less pleasant names. His dignified portrait hung in the JCA office, above the heads of the officials who carried out his commands. Under the dark Homberg hat in the picture was a hawkish profile, patriarchal whiskers, a benevolent smile, and a fur-collared coat. Tevye, who fancied himself a fair judge of character, understood right away that the Baron was a unique individual, deserving great respect. As for the bald-headed Frederick Naborsky, Director of the Jewish Colony Association in Palestine, Tevye was less convinced of the sterling nature of his personality.

Visiting Residents: the Daily Plea of Elul

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

“Resident”- a person who maintains residency in a given place.

“Visitor”- a person who pays a visit; caller, guest, tourist, etc.

School has begun anew on this side of the ocean. It’s hard to find adequate words to describe the joy of parents during the course of this week. Beyond having their children fill their days with study rather then play, having them use time rather than waste it, and being in a secure environment rather than everywhere and anywhere, there is an added benefit to having our children back at school- routine!

No longer will parents have to rack their brains in finding past times and activities to fill the days and weeks of this pro-longed vacation. Each morning, they will wake up at a given hour, eat their breakfast at a fixed time, and have a schedule of classes and objectives that they will meet…each day.

Routine is a blessing: it provides an on-going consistency to our lifestyle, and creates a sense of devotion, as it’s done each and every day. It’s no wonder that when the Sages debated as to the most important verse in the Torah (introduction to the “Ein-Yaakov”) the verse that surprisingly “won” the debate was the verse that commands the Kohen (on-call in the Temple) to offer (Bamidbar 28/4) “The one lamb…in the morning, and the other lamb… in the afternoon.” As surprising as it sounds that such a technical command should triumph “Hear Oh Israel the Lord is our G-d the Lord is one,” or ” you shall love your fellow as you love yourself,” it seems clear that consistency in performing the commands of G-d each day supersedes the sporadic, one-time thrillers of sorts. It is therefore not surprising that our religion has always favored action over (just) thought (Tractate Avot 1/17) with even the intellectual exercise of studying Torah being a means for us to fulfill the commandments (conclusion of the Talmudic debate, Tractate Kidushin 40b).

But while a consistent, steadfast routine is indeed a value, and while remaining a devoted “Shomer Torah Umitzvot,” consistently adhering to the dictates of Jewish law, is a daily, elevated, worthy, and obligatory aspiration, there is also an undesirable side-effect to it as well; it becomes boring:

I don’t know many who have great joy to wash their hands three times each morning (Code of Jewish Law, 4/2), brush their teeth twice each day, or pray the same exact prayers (with the small exception of Monday/Thursday, and the “Psalm of the day”) each morning, afternoon and evening every day.

I have failed to see the “Minyaner” frequenting the synagogue thrice daily, who indeed feels the words that open the Code of Jewish Law (1/1- “One should rise like a Lion to stand in the morning to do the will of the commander”) when he walks into the shul in the early AM. The fatigue of waking up so early, together with seeing the same Tefillin & Siddur, usually does not allow the “lion” in him to express himself.

I am still waiting to see the smile and joy that one should have when he has the privilege of stating a blessing before and after eating his breakfast/lunch and dinner.

The list can easily go on, and I’m sure you can fill it with many more examples from your daily routine. But let’s take the example most fresh in our mind as August comes to an end: driving around the neighborhood on the first day of school. I’m sure you see excitement, smiles and a sense of anticipation in the air (at least in the eyes and lips of Parents…!) But will we see that same scene during the fifth week of school?!

Our Sages, while clearly giving credit to the consistent routine (as shown above) also stated (Yerushalmi, Tractate Megilla 4/1) that when hearing the semi-weekly Torah reading, one is forbidden to lean on the Bima, as; “…just like it was given with fear and awe, so we must act with fear and awe.” Did any of us feel this “fear and awe” during this week’s laining?

Continuing on the same theme, while many naturally “shuckle” while learning Torah, how many feel the verse, describing the feeling of the Jews at the tip of Mount-Sinai, where (Shemot 20/15)…” the people saw and trembled,” the source for swaying to and fro during study (see Baal HaTurim ibid, Machzor-Vitri 508) Is the movement of the body during the daily Daf-Yomi a reflection of a “trembling” sensation when trying to decipher the holy word of G-d? Or more logically a Jewish habit?

The Blessing

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

I was preparing a shiur to honor the memory of my father, Paul Magill, a”h, on the 20th anniversary of his passing, and I was looking at that week’s sedrah, Parshas Re’eh. I was struck by the words, “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your God, that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your God, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow gods of others, that you did not know.”

It hit me that these words were not telling us exclusively that if we observe the commandments we will receive all the good things that are written in the tefillah of Shema, namely “rain for your land at the right season … that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil … and you will eat and be satisfied” (along with receiving other benefits for following Hashem’s ways that are mentioned elsewhere). It seemed that in this passage it was also saying that we are blessed because we hearken to the commandments of Hashem, that it is wonderful that God wants us to be his partner, so to speak, in perfecting the world.

While Hashem could certainly perfect the world by Himself, He wants to give us the opportunity to gain merit for helping Him because He loves us so much. One of our rewards is not the pay we get, but doing the job itself.

I thought about this regarding my father and how I could describe his love for me. There were so many kindnesses he showered on me, so many lessons he taught me in his gentle, intelligent way. As a boy, I was so happy with all the time he spent with me. We hiked together. We played baseball, along with many other sports (and he helped me gather my other friends to participate with us), and he took me to sporting events. We went swimming together and traveled to Expo ’67 in Montreal. We sang songs in the car while going to work with him during my summer vacation. And he even let me help him with his job.

My father took me to see the historic sights in our home city of Philadelphia. He laughed with me and encouraged me by helping me with my homework. When we planned a joint outing together for some fun, there was almost never a change in plans. And when I turned 16, my father taught me how to drive.

He taught me by example about perseverance and honesty. He was a role model and a friend who listened to me and always made me feel important.

At college (my first time away from home), 350 miles from home, I continued playing the street hockey of my youth. One cold day, I got hit in the shins with the puck – and it hurt a lot. I remembered that back in Philadelphia they sold cold-weather pucks, which were able to stay soft even when the weather got brisker. Coming home to my apartment, I planned on calling and asking my father to mail me a supply of those cold- weather pucks.

When I entered my building lobby I saw a package for me from my father. Inside were cold-weather pucks with a note that read, “I thought you might need these.”

In my 30s, when I took my first steps toward becoming religiously observant, my father wholeheartedly supported me. Once, when driving to his native Canada, he stopped at a restaurant for some coffee. I stood by his car in the parking lot on this cold day and davened Minchah, as sunset was approaching. When I finished davening I saw that my father was sitting in the car waiting for me the whole time. Even though the restaurant had been closed, he never hinted that I had in any way inconvenienced him.

Bringing Shabbos into my parents’ apartment in Philadelphia some time later, I still recall my mother and father, a”h, singing Shabbos songs with me from the transliterated Hebrew. We all enjoyed our connection. I recall walking with my father to shul on another occasion, happy to share this experience with him.

The Tremendous Heart Of Pinchas Daddy

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

We’ve just read the Torah portion about Pinchas, an amazing tzaddik who performed an unusual act instinctively and for the sake of Hashem and His honor.

About two weeks ago I was tidying my desk area and the shelves above it. Suddenly, on the floor, seemingly out of nowhere, I saw an old article from a major Hebrew daily, written the day after Sergeant Pinchas Daddy was stabbed in the heart by an Arab who had crept up and attacked him from behind.

Pinchas Daddy. How I loved him; how everyone involved at the Kotel loved him. I had a kiosk near the Kotel and he always greeted me – as well as all the Arab shopkeepers – with a gleaming smile. He was 38 but seemed older – wise and fatherly.

He was like a television cop, twirling his nightstick and helping children cross the street. I’m telling you we all cried, Jews and Arabs alike, when our Daddy was suddenly, and ruthlessly, taken from us.

I picked up the old yellowed article, looked at the photo of that beautiful man and said to myself, “I must call his family and tell them how much I loved and miss him.”

I dialed information and asked for the Daddy family in Talpiot. Moments later I was speaking to Mrs. Daddy. I immediately started crying and told her how I found the little article and picture. She probably couldn’t believe that out of the blue someone on the line was crying for her tzaddik husband.

She told me his 20th yahrzeit – this Thursday, erev Rosh Chodesh Av – will be marked by a ceremony on Mount Herzl. I assured her I would be there.

“Did you ever get remarried?” I asked.

“No,” she replied.

“Yes, I understand,” I said. “Who could ever replace a husband like yours? Pinchas was so gentle, so loving.”

“Our oldest son is a ramach [the abbreviated term for head of a division] at the Russian Compound police station,” she said, “and believe me, he emulates his father’s ways. Pinchas, I’m sure, is very proud of him.”

And now, in his honor, I present the secret power of Pinchas.

When we read in the Torah that Pinchas took the romach, the spear, with which he stabbed Zimri and his idol-worshipping girlfriend, the word romach is spelled without the Hebrew letter vav. Therefore it can be read as ramach, which we use for the number of positive commandments in the Torah.

Ramach is spelled resh (numerical equivalent: 200) mem (40), ches (8), which corresponds to the 248 organs in the body. Each positive commandment fixes and nurtures a different organ.

So the verse hints to us that Pinchas’s meticulous keeping of all 248 positive commandments gave him the strength to do what he did.

But I still didn’t have a proof for my theory until I walked into the Diaspora Yeshiva on the fast day of the 17th of Tammuz and heard Rav Goldstein, the rosh hayeshiva, quoting the famous Mussar sefer Shaarei Teshuvah, which deduces from a pasuk in Devarim that keeping all the positive commandments makes a person a yorei Shamayim – someone who properly fears Heaven – while a person who tramples even one positive commandment is not a yorei Shamayim.

Now it was clear to me that the verse reveals to us the true power of Pinchas – that it was his careful observance of the positive commandments that gave him the strength to avenge God’s honor.

Returning to our Pinchas, of the Daddy family, let’s remember that Rebbe Akiva declared that loving your neighbor like yourself is klal gadol b’Torah – equal to all the positive commandments and all the negative ones too.

Even though the human body contains 248 organs and 365 arteries that are fixed and nurtured by each of the 613 positive and negative commandments, the heart is essentially the most vital organ in the body, without which nothing will work. In police terminology, as mentioned above, the ramach is the chief of the department. So certainly the great mitzvah of loving your neighbor like yourself is klal gadol b’Torah – the heart of all 613 mitzvahs.

A year before he was killed, Pinchas Daddy had suffered a heart attack at the young age of 37. He recovered and was stationed at the holy Kotel, where he shared his heart with every human being, appreciating the importance of the heart to the body and to the mitzvah of loving your fellow man with all your heart – regardless of his color or religion.

Mazel Tov, Rabbi Tzvi Fishman!!

Monday, July 9th, 2012

An amazing thing happened to me last night! While I was sleeping, an angel appeared in a dream and told me to start a new Jewish religion.

“A new Jewish religion?” I asked, bewildered.

“That’s right,” he replied.

I was certain that I was hallucinating because I had fasted yesterday and that my mind was playing tricks. So I went back to sleep. But the angel appeared once again and told me to start a new Jewish religion.

Two times is already a sign that a dream is true, so I was really at a loss for words.

“Why me?” I asked.

“You have a nice beard,” the angel replied.

“Lots of people have nice beards,” I answered.

“You have a nice smile, too” he said. “Looks are what matters these days. If you want to have lots of followers, you have to look the part.”

It sort of made sense. But who was I to start a new Jewish religion? True, Orthodox Judaism, while showing a definite resurgence in recent years, still wasn’t pulling in the masses. And all the breakaway movements hadn’t done anything to stem the tsunami of assimilation which was eating away at Diaspora Jewry. So there certainly was room for a new movement that would inspire the Jewish People back to the fold.

Needless to say, after my middle of the night encounter with the angel, I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got dressed and sat down at the computer to print out an official Rabbi diploma. After all, if I was going to start a new Jewish religion, I’d have to be a Rabbi. So I typed up a very distinguished looking certificate with a picture of Jerusalem and printed out another 500 copies, figuring I would have to have a lot of assistant Rabbis to help me spread the new movement all over the world. Plus, I figured, I was going to need money to publicize the new Jewish agenda, and by selling official Rabbi certificates to as many people as I could, I could generate funds for the operation. So, if anyone would like to become an official Rabbi, and help out the cause, all you have to do is send me $5000, and I will mail the certificate to your home, and you can be an official Rabbi too.

When my wife woke up in the morning, I asked her to please start calling me Rabbi.

I won’t tell you what she answered, but as they say, no man is a prophet in his own home.

“At least just for show, honey,” I begged. “I’m going to become the new Internet Rabbi. Soon, I’m going to be world famous.”

“Famous, shmamous,” she answered. “Did you pray Shachrit yet?”

“No, I’ve been busy,” I admitted.

“Well, go pray, and then you can worry about saving the world.”

Why bother to pray, I thought? After all, going to minyan three times a day can be a big burden, and formalized prayer can turn a lot of people off. If I was going to start a popular new Jewish religion, I’d have to attract as many followers as I could, and any whiff of coercion was sure to keep people away. Tefillin too would have to go. What enlightened person wants to put a little box on his head and walk around with tzitzit? Ever try to make a pass at a shiksa wearing tzitzit and a kippah? They were a big turn off too. In fact, all of the Torah’s commandments were too heavy and time-consuming to expect people to follow, so why not do away with them all? The Jewish holidays too. Why should Jews feel different from their gentile neighbors, with separate Jewish holidays? The progressive and reform liberal movements still pretended to have some sort of parve Jewish holiday observance, but why continue the masquerade? It only served to separate us from the goyim. In my new Jewish religions, there wouldn’t be any commandments or holidays at all. Everyone would be free to do just what he or she wanted, and they could still be Jews. If anyone wanted to be a Jew, even gentiles, just wanting to be a Jew was enough. No need to study. No tests. No primitive mikvahs and ritual immersions. What’s important is feelings, right? If someone wants to be a Jew, or feels like a Jew, all he or she has to do is send me $2000 a year for a yearly membership in the new Jewish religion, and they will receive an official certificate that I will print out stating that they are 100% Jewish.

I Love All Jews

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

That’s right. I love Jews. All of them. I love good Jews and I love bad Jews. I love fat Jews and I love skinny Jews. I love reform Jews and deformed Jews, progressive Jews and regressive Jews. I love assimilated Jews and Jews who have married gentiles. I love homosexual Jews and lesbian Jews. I love leftist Jews and Peace Now Jews. I love Jews who call me nasty names and Jews who say I’m a lousy writer. I even love Diaspora Jews. Some people say I’m too hard on them, but that’s because I love them so much. If you see a blind man about to fall off a cliff, you yell out to warn him, right? What is this similar to? If a person who never heard about heart transplants wandered into the operating room of a hospital and saw a team of doctors removing the heart of a patient, he’d think they were monsters trying to kill him – but the very opposite is the case. The surgeons are trying to save him. It’s the same thing with me. Precisely out of the passionate love I feel for my brothers and sisters in exile, I am trying to open their eyes. I lived in exile in gentile lands too, and I know what it’s like. Living in Israel, you can’t even begin to measure the difference. Jewish life in a foreign, gentile land cannot be compared to true Jewish life in the Land of the Jews. It’s the difference between night and day.

Since the Three Weeks have started when we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and the Beit HaMikdash, this is a good time to stir up the embers of the love we feel for our fellow Jews. Rabbi Kook taught that since the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of senseless hatred, it will be rebuilt by gratuitous love. So to help get us started, here are a few things Rabbi Kook wrote about love, from the chapter on Ahavah, in his book “Midot HaRiyah.”

“The heart must be filled with love for all: for all of Creation, for all mankind, and, in ascending order, for the Jewish People, in which all other loves are included, since it is the mission of Israel to bring all the world to perfection. All of these loves are to be expressed in practical action, by pursuing the welfare of those whom we are bidden to love, and to seek their betterment and advancement.”

“The highest love of all is the love of G-d. When it fills the heart, this spells man’s greatest happiness. Consequently, one cannot help but love the Torah and its commandments, which are so intimately linked to the goodness of G-d.”

“Love must embrace every single individual, regardless of differences in views on religion, or differences of race or country. A person must discipline himself in the love of all people, especially the love of the noblest among them, the intellectuals, the poets, the artists, the communal leaders. It is necessary to recognize that light of the good in the best of the people, for it is through them that the light of God is diffused in the world, whether they recognize the significance of their mission or not.

“Hatred may be directed only toward the evil and filth in the world. We must realize that the kernel of life, in its inherent light and holiness, never leaves the divine image in which mankind was created, and with which each person and nation is endowed.”

“Though our love for people must be all-inclusive, embracing the wicked as well, this in no way blunts our hatred for evil itself – on the contrary, it strengthens it. For it is not because of the dimension of evil clinging to a person that we include him in our love, but because of the good in him, which our love tells us is to be found in everyone. Since we separate the dimension of the good in him, in order to love him for it, our hatred for the evil becomes unwavering and absolute.”

“It is proper to hate a corrupt person only for his defects, but insofar as he is endowed with a divine image, it is proper to love him. We must also realize that the precious dimension of his worth is a more authentic expression of his nature than the lower characteristics that developed in him through circumstances.”

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