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February 22, 2017 / 26 Shevat, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Eretz Yisrael’

Pain and Sacrifice: Yours, Not Mine

4 Tammuz 5773 – June 12, 2013

When an Israeli politician starts talking about pain and sacrifice, watch out. Someone is about to get shafted.

MK Dov Lipman from Yesh Atid recently professed his love for Eretz Yisrael in the ironic context of saying how it “will pain me greatly” to destroy Jewish communities, as part of the two-state “solution” that he supports. Lipman had a related exchange in an interview from February:

Interviewer: And the fabric of Israeli society and the way the army functions is such that we could actually dismantle dozens of settlements in the course of a peace agreement without ripping the country apart?

Lipman: It can be done, if it’s done the right way. We can certainly learn the lessons of the [2005] Disengagement in terms of there being some things that you can do and certain things that should not be done. Yair also has been outspoken about how the evacuees have been treated…

In reality, Lipman and his ilk have learned nothing from the destruction of Gush Katif, the chief lessons of which are: Stop expelling Jews, and stop empowering Israel’s enemies. As Iran stated after this colossal injustice which has caused so much misery:

“The Zionist regime retreats in the face of the slightest resistance. The willingness of the Zionists to leave behind their synagogues in Gaza demonstrates conclusively that they have no God, and therefore, of course, no religious connection to the Holy Land; they will now be easily ejected from all of occupied Palestine.”

The terminology Lipman uses also betrays his coarseness toward what the government perpetrated in 2005. Citizens formerly of Gush Katif are not “evacuees” who were saved from a hurricane or such. As a Gush Katif expellee has commented about the similar falsification in usage of “uprooting”:

“I don’t consider the word choice to be a matter of semantics or euphemisms. It reflects a world outlook. The use of uprooting seems to desensitize the mind, soften the reprehensible event, and merely serve to pave the way for future expulsions in disputed parts of the Land of Israel. It exonerates the Israeli government of its crime against the Gush Katif residents in particular, and the Jewish nation in general.”

If Dov Lipman is truly pained greatly over expelling more Jews, let him lead the way by leaving his home in Beit Shemesh and moving his family to a caravan for several years. But as with the prime minister, who spoke in 2011 about making “painful compromises to achieve this historic peace,” other Jews always seem to suffer the pain. Likewise, when “public security” minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch recently called to intensify Israel’s already repressive gun control policies, one doubts that he will lack for personal protection.

No, it’s not the political elites who tend to lose their homes or lives. The victims are people like the DeYoung family formerly of Kfar Darom and Yitzhak Ames Hy”d. Unlike Lipman or Netanyahu, openly hostile politicians such as Ibrahim Sarsur and Jamal Zahalka at least have the decency to abstain from claims of compassion when they propose loathsome deeds.

Haredi Rabbi Revealed Why Six Million Died

28 Nisan 5773 – April 7, 2013

The ultimate Jewish response to the Holocaust is summarized by the verse: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says God. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9), which Maimonides relies on in his Laws of Repent (5:5): “Man is incapable of perceiving the Creator’s ideas, as the prophet said, “for My thoughts are not your thoughts nor your ways My ways.”

Nevertheless, we accept the notion that God does not base His world on chance. The hand of God is involved in history. No one is claiming to be thinking God’s thoughts and conducting the divine bookkeeping, but we were brought up believing that troubles don’t befall a person by accident, even when they don’t understand it. Everything is a sign from Heaven, including the worst state of “hester panim,” the obscuring of God’s face, in total chaos, in the trampling of Jewish honor and the humiliation of the Torah of Israel.

It would be extremely difficult to suggest that the catastrophe that befell our entire nation – Ashkenazim and Sephardim; Eastern and Western Europeans and North Africans; Torah scholars, sworn heretics and the completely assimilated; Hasidim and Misnagdim; day old babies and the elderly; Capitalists and Communists; the educated and the ignorant – absolutely every strata of the nation – was an accident.

In extremely Haredi circles, those madmen who travel to Tehran to embrace the enemy Ahmajinedad, there are no doubts regarding God’s message: the Holocaust happened because of the creation and the existence of the Zionist movement, whose heavy sin is the breaking of the “three vows.”

According to tractate Ketubot 111a, when the Jews went into the second exile, in the year 70, three vows were taken by them and by God: the Jews would not conquer the land of Israel by force, they would not rebel against the nations of the world, and the non­Jews would not oppress the Jews too much (yoter midai).

That was the view of the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum (who, ironically enough, was saved from death in the Holocaust by Hungarian Zionist official Rudolph Kastner, who made a deal with a deputy of Adolf Eichmann)

In his book, “Va’Yoel Moshe,” Rabbi Teitelbaum argues that even if all the citizens of Israel were adhering to all the commandments, totally righteous, if all the government ministers wore shtreimlach, settling the land of Israel would still constitute the breaking of those vows.


WRITTEN IN AN ATTIC

It’s easy to write such delusional things when you’re sitting in New York City, which protects even the rights of crackpots. It was much harder to comment on the same topic from the darkness of a hiding place in an attic in Budapest, Hungary, while Nazi thugs were hunting down the last remaining hidden Jews of the city.

Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal (1885-1945), an extremist Haredi who was close to the Satmar circles, was watching the Gestapo hunters through a narrow crack in his hidden attic, and, through a spiritual and physical review of his terrifyingly lowly reality, reached a brave conclusion: it was the erroneous concept typical of his Haredi pals regarding the resettlement of Eretz Israel that had brought on us those cruel tortures and grotesque deaths.

Rabbi Teichtal began his rabbinic path with an adherence to the philosophy that was common to most Hungarian rabbis: everything new was forbidden by the Torah, including aliyah to Eretz Israel, and certainly coalescing with the secular Zionists to rebuild the land. But following the horrors his eyes had seen, he changed his views 180 degrees. After reexamining his own beliefs, he investigated the issues regarding resettling the land of Israel and natural redemption (“geula b’derech ha’teva), and reached the conclusion that the reason for the Holocaust was that the nation of Israel was called by God to ascend to Eretz Israel, but because it had fallen in love with life in the diaspora it turned its back on Eretz Israel.

He wrote his conclusions while in hiding in his dark attic in Budapest. His books were not with him, and so he had to cite from memory thousands of Torah sources supporting his new position. Unfortunately, the brutes finally reached him, too, and sent him to his death. He was murdered on a transport train during the final days of World War II. But his writing became the monumental, 500-page sefer Eim HaBanim Semeichah – Eretz Yisrael, Redemption and Unity.

He wrote:

The Purpose of our Affliction Is to Arouse Us to Return to Eretz Yisrael

…The sole purpose of all the afflictions that smite us in our exile is to arouse us to return to our Holy Land. This can be inferred from the story of King David and the plague. During the plague, God sent him Gad the prophet. And God came to david…and said to him, “Go up and establish an altar to the Lord” (II Samuel 24:18). The Misrash explains:

This can be likened to a father who beat his son, but the son did not know why he was being punished. After the beating, the father said, “For several days I have been commanding you to do something and you have ignored me. Now go and do it.” So, too, the thousands who fell at the time of David died only because they did not demand the building of the beit haMikdash. From this we can derive a kal vachomer (an a fortiori inference). If they, in whose days the Beit HaMikdash was neither built nor destroyed, were punished for not having demanded its construction; then we, in whose days the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed … certainly [deserve punishment], for we do not mourn nor supplicate (Midrash Tehillim 17).

Rashi on Hoshea (3:5) cites the following:

R. Shimon ben Menassiya said: “The Jewish people will not be shown a good sign until they once again request the kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of the House of David, and the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash. It is thus written, Afterwards, the Children of Israel will return and seek out the Lord their God and David their king (Hoshea 3:5).

Behold, our desire to return to Eretz Israel encompasses these three elements. Firstly, “He who dwells in Eretz Israel is like one who has a God” (Ketubot 110b). Also, the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash will occur (with God’s help) when we assemble in Eretz Israel, as explained in Megillah 17b-18a. Afterwards, Mashiach, who represents the kingdom of the House of David, will arrive, as I will demonstrate in this volume. First and foremost, though, we must strive to return to Eretz Israel and then, with God’s help, we will attain these three objectives.

Rabbi Teichtal wrote his piercing words literally during the Holocaust. But he was preceded by many gedolim, who warned of the approaching Holocaust, years before it began. The great Meir Simcha Ha’Cohen of Dvinsk (1843–1926), author of the Ohr Somayach, ruled that the “three vows” were nullified by the San Remo Conference of 1920, empowering Great Britain to put into effect the 1917 Balfour Declaration to the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.

The latter warned, 25 years before the Holocaust, that the day would come, in which “the Israelite [in diaspora] will forget his origins and be counted as citizen [of the world]… Will think that Berlin is Jerusalem… Then a stormy wind will come, uproot him and subject him before a faraway gentile nation.” (Meshech Chochma, Vayikra 26).

The nation of Israel preferred, sadly, life in diaspora over the promised land, and paid for it an unbearable price. This excessive affection for diaspora was expressed in this popular Jewish joke: One day a Jewish villager comes home and tells his wife that the Rabbi in shul was saying that when Moshiach comes, he will lead all the Jews to Eretz Israel. So his wife becomes very upset, asking what would they do with all their barnyard animals.

We’ll leave them to the Cossacks, says her husband.

Well, if God likes us so much, he should let us stay here and take the Cossacks to Eretz Israel, says his wife.

Much like those two fools, the nation of Israel chose to remain spread among the nations, for which we were sentenced to a reeducation camp the likes of which we will never forget.

What’s the Point of Celebrating Tu B’Shvat in Exile?

14 Shevat 5773 – January 24, 2013

How could I not write a blog about Tu B’Shvat?

In the Land of Israel, we’re already happily celebrating Tu B’Shvat, the holiday of the trees. School children sing songs praising the Land of Israel and thanking Hashem for its fruits. Bus loads of students and families go on field trips throughout the country, and saplings are planted with great joy and spirit. And a festive meal of thanksgiving, highlighted by a cornucopia of fruits of the Land, will grace our tables on Shabbat.

This is the holiday of Eretz Yisrael! I suppose next to my love for Hashem, I love the Land of Israel more than anything else in the world. Without Eretz Yisrael, the Jewish Nation is shattered, destroyed. Outside of Eretz Yisrael, we are like fish out of water. We can’t survive as a Nation. We have no national soul. We’re just individuals in other people’s lands, like the dry bones the Prophet Ezekiel describes. Dry bones in the graveyard of foreign lands.

Without Eretz Yisrael, the Torah is a shrunken, truncated, mini-version of the complete Torah of Eretz Yisrael. Two-thirds of the Mishna deals with laws that can only be performed in Israel. Without Eretz Yisrael, God Himself is reduced to a second-string diety, seemingly not strong enough to keep His Chosen People in the Land He gave them, for there is no greater desecration of the Name of God than when the Jewish People are scattered in exile amongst the goyim (Ezekiel, 36:20). Without Eretz Yisrael, there is no prophecy, no Beit HaMikdash, and the Divine Presence doesn’t appear in the world.

I’m not the only one who loves Eretz Yisrael. God also loves the Land of Israel with a towering love, watching over it like a favorite child, from the beginning of the year to its end, just like it says in the Torah.

I love Eretz Yisrael so much, I never want to leave it. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. If I was forced to leave the Land of Israel, it would be a terrible punishment. The worst punishment there could be. The Rambam describes the love of God like a man who is passionately in love with a woman and always wants to be with her – so too a Jew should actively yearn, every single minute, to always be in Israel. It’s part of being a Jew. It’s the integral part of keeping the Torah. As Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi explains in “The Kuzari,” it’s the main part of serving G-d completely, being in the place where the Torah can be most completely observed. Like with all the commandments of the Land which can only be performed in Israel. Living a life of Torah in Eretz Yisrael is what Judaism is all about. If a Jew doesn’t feel a powerful, throbbing yearning to be in Eretz Yisrael, then something is wrong with his understanding of Torah.

On Tu B’Shvat we eat the fruits of Eretz Yisrael as described in the Torah, “For the L-rd your G-d brings you into a good Land, a Land of water courses, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a Land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a Land of olive oil, and date honey; a land where you shall eat bread without scarceness, you shall not lack anything in it…” (Devarim, 8:8).

During the festive meal celebrating the holiday, our Sages instruct us to first eat the fruits which appear in the Torah verse closest to the word “Land.” From here, Rabbi Kook writes that the person who is closest to the Land of Israel, and who exerts himself the most in its settlement, is the closest to perfection, and he will be blessed first in the World To Come. (“Ayn Iyah,” Berachot 41; and “Olat Rayah,” Vol. 1, pg. 375). Thus if you have two Jews of equal religious observance, but one lives in the Diaspora and the other in Eretz Yisrael, the Jew who lives in Israel is first in blessing and closer to Jewish perfection.

What an incredible blessing and honor and privilege to live here! In Israel, before you eat fruit that’s grown here, you have to separate the tithes, trumot and ma’aserot, and make the proper blessing (or be sure that the fruit seller has done it for you). You can’t do that with the fruits that grow in the Diaspora. The mitzvah doesn’t apply in the Diaspora. There aren’t any tithes because the fruits there aren’t holy. The land there isn’t holy. The air there isn’t holy. It’s a place of spiritual impurity. In fact, it’s so impure there that Jews forget what real holiness is, and that they are supposed to be living in the Holy Land, and not in the impure lands of the gentiles.

For all of you who are still in exile in foreign lands of the gentiles, at least go out and buy yourself some fruit and wine from the Land of Israel. Make a party! Bless Hashem for the good Land He has given us, and for its fruits and overflowing bounty. As it says in the Gemara, the surest sign of the end of the exile is when the trees in the Land of Israel give forth their fruits in abundance (Sanhedrin 98A, see Rashi there). That time is now! There are fruit trees all over the country. Supermarkets are filled with mountains of fruits. Oranges, apples, peaches, pears, grapefruit, kiwis, bananas, lemons, pomegranates, figs, dates, olives, pomela, avocadoes, and on and on and on. That’s the surest sign of Geula! You don’t have to wait for Mashiach – the Redemption is happening now!

This Tu B’Shvat, may you all be blessed from the Land of Israel and merit to be a part of it as soon as you can.

Voters Beware!

6 Shevat 5773 – January 16, 2013

Someone asked me why don’t I write about Israeli politics like so many other Internet scribes? My answer is: Why should I? Most of my readers live in America, and they have as much influence concerning what goes on in Israel as I have about the type of food the elephants receive in the Central Park Zoo. So why should I write about the political scene in Israel? To show how knowledgeable and astute I am? I’d only be talking to myself.

But there is one issue I would like to address, if only to the handful of Israelis who read my blog. And that concerns the terrible hatefulness and evil infesting the Likud-Israel Beitenu campaign against the religious candidates of the Jewish Home party and their Rabbis.

On Facebook, nationwide television, radio, and in newspaper ads, the Likud-Beitenu party has been viciously attacking the religious beliefs of the Jewish Home candidates and Rabbis in an ugly smear campaign that smacks of the worst kind of anti-Semitism. Rabbi Dov Lior, the Chief Rabbi of Hevron, a giant in Torah, who has dedicated his life to teaching Torat Eretz Yisrael to two generations of students, and who is not even a Jewish Home supporter, is castigated in the Likud-Beitenu ads for an isolated remark he supposedly made in defense of Baruch Goldstein.

Rabbi Zalman Melamed, one of the main builders of the flourishing settlement of Beit-El, co-founder of Arutz 7, and the head of a half-dozen important Torah institutions, is condemned for advocating soldiers not to throw Jews out of their homes. Moti Ogev, a dedicated general in the Israeli Army is ridiculed for separated the boys from the girls during activities of the Bnei Akiva Youth Organization which he formerly headed.

Rabbi Hillel Horowitz, who has worked for years to bring tens of thousands of Jews to visit Hevron, and raise funds for the Jewish settlement in the City of our Fathers, is chastised for expressing his opinion that male soldiers shouldn’t be forced to hear women sing.

Orit Struk, a mother of 10, who has fought to help Jewish settlers unjustly thrown into jail by the thugs of the Likud and the Left, is criticized for demanded that unlawful infractions of the Israel police, army, and court system, be corrected. And Rabbi Eli Dahan, a longtime upholder of Torah in the Chief Rabbinate, is mocked for being prejudiced against women, when in fact he has fought to punish husbands who refuse to grant battered wives a divorce. Not to mention the abuse that is directed at Naftali Bennett for stealing votes away from Bibi.

And, I have to add, in the face of this daily onslaught of hatred and slander, and this undisguised attack on the Torah, where is the voice of Moshe Feiglin, stalwart member of the Likud, soon-to-be member of the Knesset, champion of the national-religious camp in Israel – why don’t we hear him protesting as his party bashes religious Zionists and their Rabbis? Why is he suddenly as quiet as a mouse with a piece of cheese in its mouth? Why doesn’t he stand up like a true leader and decry this attack on the Torah? Why doesn’t he leave the Likud? And why is Bibi, the Prime Minister of all the Israeli People, allowing this slander to continue?

Voters beware! Don’t cast your vote for a party that condemns Torah values and honest and dedicated people who have led the way in the education of our youth and the settlement of Eretz Yisrael.

Nothing good will come from this, or from your vote for Likud-Israel Beitenu.

A Great Miracle is Happening Here Again!

1 Tevet 5773 – December 13, 2012

Every child in the Diaspora knows the difference. But when they get older, I suppose they forget.

In the Diaspora, the Hebrew letters on a dreidel are Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin. “A great miracle happened THERE.”

In Israel, the letters on the dreidels are Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Peh. “A great miracle happened HERE.”

That says it all.  This is the Land of Miracles. This is the Land that God gave to the Jewish People. This is the Land of our Biblical history, and the Land where our Redemption is unfolding today.

Yesterday, we drove to Modiin, where the Chanukah rebellion began, to pay our respects to Mattitiyahu and his brave and holy sons, and to pray at their graves. Across the highway, you can see the vibrant, modern city of Modiin with its hi-rise buildings, a new Israeli city filled with synagogues, mikvaot, brit milah ceremonies every day, and happy Jewish life, the very things the Greeks sought to destroy. Just along the road is the Haredi city of Modiin Elite with even more yeshivot and mikvaot. Their rebuilding is the greatest revenge over the Greeks and over all the nations that have tried to destroy us and to uproot our faith.

Happy Chanukah!

Above and Beyond on Chanukah in 5773

23 Kislev 5773 – December 7, 2012

(((CLICK BELOW TO HEAR AUDIO)))

Yishai is joined by Rabbi Shimshon Nadel in a busy Jerusalem restaurant to discuss Chanukah in Eretz Yisrael. Together they discuss reaching out to Jews worldwide from Israel during the holiday and also ways one can find the light of the menorah at year round. Don’t miss this insightful segment!

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
Yishai on Facebook

‘Hurricane Season’

23 Kislev 5773 – December 6, 2012

It’s been a rough few weeks. It began with the news of a heinous crime just blocks from where I live on Manhatan’s Upper West Side: a nanny viciously took the lives of her two young charges. Hurricane Sandy came next, contributing additional loss of life and financial devastation of a magnitude never before experienced by our East Coast brethren. A week later many in our community were disappointed with the decisive outcome of the presidential election and the realization that we are truly a minority both in number and outlook within the United States. Finally, there was the precarious situation in Eretz Yisrael, hundreds of rockets raining down on daily and the threat of another major war. The saying goes, “when it rains, it pours.”

The book of Beraishis focuses on our Avos. Avraham is the trait of chesed or kindness. To me, this is an illusion to the first month of the Jewish calendar. Tishrei is all kindness from Hashem, His accepting our teshuvah, cleansing us and allowing us to sit in the sukkah under His watchful eye.

Then we shift to the stories of Yitzchak and the aspects of judgment or intensity of his persona as exemplified in the Akeidah experience. The letters of “Yitzchak” spell “Ketz Chai” “or end of life as he represents the transition into a higher world and the finality and magnitude of death. Yitzchak reflects the period that we most recently have experienced the endless flow of disappointment, anguish and pain.

We now transition to the parshiyos of Yaakov Avinu, with a prayer in mind – that Hashem be inspired by the Yaakov’s trait of tiferes. That Hashem look toward the integration, balance and synthesis Yaakov created and use it as a model of tempering His strict justice, din, with divine mercy, rachamim. Just as Yaakov integrated the chesed of his grandfather and the din of his father, we pray that by the end of Beraishis, Hashem will also integrate mercy within His judgment.

We live in an “age of anxiety” and that was even before the recent flow of events. Many of us strive for an equanimity or psychological stability in our lives. This goal has been made most difficult to achieve by the ongoing economic ills and the general challenges of living in the technological age. There is a quiet tension that lurks inside many of us. If I have emunah, faith, so why all the anxiety? I think that’s like asking, if I have yiras Shamayim, why do I ever sin? The answer is we all have lapses, but we add to our stress levels when we are self-critical, thinking that we aren’t authentic or genuine in our avodah. We often forget that many great people have had these common setbacks and challenges.

I saw an insight regarding Sarah Imeinu that resonated deeply considering the challenging backdrop in which we are living. The Reszher Rav, Rav Aaron Levine, commented on the life of Sarah being 127 years and the fact they were, as Chazal teach, “all equally for the good.” He suggests that she was an archetype for balanced, emotionally healthy living. She remained even-keeled despite numerous challenges: She is uprooted from her homeland and abducted by a foreign king. Yet, she also experiences great affluence and is the recipient of an enormous and miraculous Divine gift via the birth of Yitzchak. Amazingly, her basic decency and humanity isn’t impacted by either course of events. As Rudyard Kipling famously wrote, she “walks with kings without losing the common touch.” All her 127 years were “equally for the good.”

This maybe explains why death and marriage, a re births of sorts, as reflected in a wedding day being Yom Kippur for both the chassan and kallah. This is echoed by the sevens in Sheva Berachos and Sheva Yemi Aveilus and well as the juxtaposition of the burial of Sarah and the finding of a wife for Yitzchak. A wholesome spiritual life requires equilibrium. At the wedding, the pinnacle of joy, we reflect on the Churban, the destruction of the Temple. In mourning, we have limitations that don’t expand beyond a year. We balance and temper all emotions because when we are out of sorts, we can’t service the Divine in the requisite inspired fashion.

A Nation Of Ballerinas

22 Kislev 5773 – December 5, 2012

Readers are always asking me how I have the strength to open my heart, to tell my personal story, my struggles, my pain. My saintly father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, taught us that whenever we have difficult challenges we should share them with others, so that they will be strengthened in dealing with their own tests. My father learned this from our Torah, which relates to us all the painful struggles of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. “Ma’aseh avos siman la’banim – that which befell our forefathers is a sign for the children” – so that we too might be fortified.

Ours is a generation that has been overwhelmed by “tzarus” – real problems. And yet ours is the “me” generation. We are absorbed with ourselves. We see only our own needs. Very often it happens that when we hear about the tzarus of another, we shrug our shoulders and dismiss our neighbor’s pain.

Here is another lesson we learned from our forefathers: No matter how terrible their pain, no matter how much suffering they endured, they felt the hearts of others, prayed for them and shed tears for them. That too is part of ma’aseh avos siman la’banim. Their responses are our guiding light, teaching us that when we feel despair we are to focus on the needs of others, and this will help us to resolve and deal with our own crises.

Many of you will recall that back in April I wrote an article from my hospital bed in San Diego titled “I Will Keep Dancing.” In it, I described how the nurses had dubbed me a “prima ballerina” as they observed me take my first painful steps.

I asked myself, “Are they mocking me?” But no, they couldn’t be, they were so kind and respectful. They were non-Jews who reverently called me Rebbetzin, and made every effort to pronounce that foreign word properly.

I thought about it and it occurred to me that Hashem was sending me a message. “Esther bas Miriam – don’t you know you are a ballerina? Yes, you may be in a valley but you must skip your way to the mountaintop. Hold on, don’t lose control. Swallow your tears and keep going.”

My daughter reminded me, “Ima, you rose from the ashes of Hitler’s inferno, and so of course you are a ballerina. You will rise again, keep on dancing.”

And so I did. We Jews are all ballerinas. We may fall, but we rise with glorious strength.

I share with you now my new dance. I was on a European speaking tour. My first stop was Paris. Thousands came to listen. We had an awesome Kiddush Hashem. Jews young and old, male and female, secular and observant, all gathered under one roof. The audience was standing room only. Hearts were reawakened to a greater commitment to Torah and mitzvos.

And then there was also the pain, the terrible test that faces Jews of every generation. Our brethren in France are in need of a lot of chizuk – strength. The hatred of Jews is constantly escalating. Tragically, I found the same conditions in communities throughout Europe. Europe has become “Eurabia.”

My last stop before returning to New York was Budapest, where I had the zechus – the merit – to conduct a Shabbaton. Incredibly, three hundred seventy-five people showed up – a spectacular achievement in Hungary. After Shabbos, I was on my way to the gravesites of my holy ancestors, going back many generations, when suddenly my dance was put on hold. I became ill and ended up in a hospital in Budapest. Need I tell you, a hospital in Budapest wouldn’t have been my exact choice as far as hospitals go. But then I remembered yet another teaching from the Patriarchs.

Our father Jacob was finally on his way back to Eretz Yisrael after twenty-two years in exile. He suffered, struggling and going through all manner of trials and tribulations. And yet he never gave up his faith. He was the ultimate “ballerina.” Finally, he came home to Eretz Yisrael. He hoped, he prayed, that now in his old age he would have peace, tranquility and serenity.

But no sooner did he arrive than the most awful calamity occurred – his sons sold their brother Joseph into bondage and told their elderly father that he had been killed by a wild beast.

Bittersweet Chanukah For Aging Lehi Fighters

22 Kislev 5773 – December 5, 2012

They are in their 80s and 90s now, but when the British ruled Eretz Yisrael they were teenagers, or maybe in their 20s. Their faces were on “wanted” posters and those who were caught went to prison or were exiled to Africa. They are the remnants of the most feared Jewish militia that fought the British – Lehi, commonly known as the Stern Gang. Every Chanukah they met in Tel Aviv, lit candles, shared some doughnuts and watched their numbers dwindle.

They chose to meet on Chanukah because it commemorates the victory of the few against the many. They, too, began as a group of a few dozen “extremists” in 1940 – and even in 1948, when they all joined the Israeli army, they numbered under one thousand.

Since 1932 Abraham Stern, their future leader, had been writing songs about “anonymous soldiers” who would “live underground” while fighting to liberate the homeland. By 1941 his followers were killing officials of the British regime that had promised to make the holy land a Jewish home but more or less reneged, and bombing the British offices that were preventing Jewish immigration. By then Stern was on the run and many of his men were in jail. His imprisoned troops crafted an olivewood Chanukah lamp and smuggled it to him with a note: “To our day’s Hasmonean, from his soldiers in captivity.”

Chanukah was a special time for the fighters. Stern wrote, “We are a handful of freedom fighters, possessed with a crazy desire for sovereignty, and according to our detractors of little strength. But this is not so. The little strength is much greater than it appears. Like the Hasmoneans’ oil, the fire of zealousness and heroism burns in the temple of our hearts, a divine flame. The day is coming soon when we will use this flame to light the candles of our Chanukah, the Chanukah of the Hebrew kingdom, in a free Zion.”

Stern was captured by British police in a rooftop apartment in south Tel Aviv and shot to death. The veterans held their Chanukah gatherings in this hideout, now an Israeli museum. They were joined every year by Stern’s son, Yair, now 70. He was always the youngest “veteran” in the room. Though he was six years old when the British left and Israel was established, he paid the price of being his father’s son.

During the War of Independence, an Israeli army unit drove past his house on its way to battle. The commander jumped out of a jeep and ran to Yair, who was playing in the yard. “We have an army and a state thanks to your father,” he said, then drove off.

“If I hadn’t heard that, I don’t know how I would have turned out,” Yair said recently. He became a sports reporter and ultimately the director of Israel Television. Now retired, he promotes the memory of his father and the 127 Lehi members killed by the British or in the 1948 war with the Arabs.

Over the years the number of fighters attending the party dropped and the number of grandchildren rose. One regular was Hanna Armoni, now 87. In the 1940s she brought food to the underground’s prison escapees and blew up bridges. Her husband, Chaim, helped blow up some British oil refineries and was one of 19 Lehi fighters sentenced to death for the deed. Hanna took out an ad in a local paper to inform Chaim that he’d become a father, but before he could meet his daughter he was killed while trying to escape from Acco prison. The daughter attended last year’s party with her own children.

“Lehi was violent,” Hanna says, “but in all the years of our war with the British, Lehi never targeted a woman or child. Our targets were British police, soldiers, and government officials.”

Tuvia Henzion, 92, was a synagogue choirboy who had studied auto mechanics. He fought with British Colonel Orde Wingate’s raiders before joining Stern’s militia. When Stern was killed, Henzion reorganized some of the remaining fighters into secret cells of three or four members; Lehi kept this structure for the rest of its war. One of the young people he drafted into Lehi was Armoni. In recent years, the two organized the Chanukah parties.

Stern himself liked parties; he was considered the life of any he attended and usually led the guests in songs and dances. When he died he was hated by the British and almost all of Palestinian Jewry, which did not understand his insistence on throwing the British out of the homeland, especially during a world war. Today, Stern has been honored by the Knesset and has streets and even a town named for him. His followers, once “the few against the many,” are today the consensus in Israel.

But every year fewer of the original “few” met on Chanukah, because fewer survived. This year they decided not to spend the time and money on invitations and refreshments. Instead, they appealed for contributions and have hired someone to put their literature online and revamp an old website. They haven’t given up hope and plan on having a party next year.

Perhaps Judah Maccabee’s troops gathered on Chanukah to celebrate their victory, too, until finally none of them was left and their stories and legacy were left to history.

Confessions of a Brain Surgeon

20 Kislev 5773 – December 3, 2012

I don’t know how many of you noticed this quite unusual story in the news. A new Ethiopian immigrant to Israel, just off the plane, went to visit a sick relative in one of Tel Aviv’s major hospitals. Not knowing Hebrew, he got lost in the big hospital and wandered into the surgery theater. Thinking he was an orderly, no one paid any attention as he walked into one of the operating rooms where a patient was undergoing brain surgery. The Ethiopian watched in horror as one of the surgeo’s raised a small electric saw and proceeded to slice open the patient’s cranium. With a scream, the new Ethiopian immigrant charged at the doctors to stop them. He thought they were killing the patient when, in fact, they were trying to save his life.

Of course, this incident didn’t really happen, but I’m using it to make a point. Some readers have accused me of “Sinat Chinam,” gratuitously hating my fellow Jews because I highlight the shortcomings of Jewish life in the Diaspora. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love all Jews: religious and not religious, Israelis and Diasporians, rightists and leftists.

People who know me can testify that I am not the cruel monster that some readers accuse me of being. On the contrary, just like the surgeon in the story, I am trying to save people’s lives. Out of my passionate love for all Jews, especially my brothers and sisters lost in the darkness of galut, where I was once lost like them, I am doing my best, with the skills that the Almighty has given me, to help them see the light.

Unfortunately, sugar-coated aspirin and a moist compress won’t help someone who has spent his life in an alien gentile land and doesn’t know that there is something better. A band-aid and sweet tasting syrup won’t help a Diaspora Jew who has been taught a truncated, distorted, watered-down version of Torah. In cases like this, immediate and massive intervention is needed. Sometimes an entire brain transplant may be called for.

I am not only speaking about the average Diaspora Jew who doesn’t know better, because he was never taught that a Jew’s real place is in Israel, and because the darkness and spiritual pollution of the exile prevents him from grasping this clear message from a simple, straightforward reading of the Torah. He isn’t to blame. No one ever told him the truth. I am also speaking about the Diaspora Jew who studied in yeshiva, considers himself Orthodox, even Haredi, yet still thinks that the goal of Judaism is to build magnificent Jewish communities in foreign gentile lands.

There are even those who are so mentally confused that they try to discourage others from coming to live in Israel. It isn’t enough to speak nicely to them, and show them pretty pictures of Israel, and to point out the endless Torah verses commanding the Jewish People to live in Eretz Yisrael. These extreme cases have so internalized their gentile surroundings, cultures, and upbringing, they think like the goyim. They may speak Yiddish, but instead of a “Yiddisha kup,” they have a “goyisha kup.” Instead of following the Torah, they follow themselves. To save them, an electric saw is needed.

The saddest thing is, because of the terrible darkness of galut, and years of yeshiva study which removed the Land of Israel from the curriculum, they don’t even recognize that they have a problem. In their minds, all of the Jews who are dedicating their lives to the rebuilding of the Jewish People in Israel are wrong, and they, in their glass glatt kosher castles are right. To their distorted way of thinking, even God was wrong in establishing the State of Israel the way He did – they would have done it differently.

So they get angry at me when I point out the error in what they’ve been taught – or when I stress things that they never learned. Just as a patient with severe schizophrenia sees his psychiatrist as an enemy, they misinterpret my attempts to help them for hate.

But just as a psychiatrist doesn’t give up when his patient lashes out at him, because the physician knows better, I won’t give up trying to help these confused but beautiful souls. I know better because I was once severely brain damaged myself, when I was in New York and Los Angeles, a stranger in a strange land, with the head of a goy, believing I was an American like everyone else. Then, with the grace of the Almighty, I underwent a successful brain transplant, so I know what it’s like to live in darkness, and that’s why I want to help.

So, while my writing may be blunt and painful to some, I don’t blame the Jews in the Diaspora for their misunderstanding of what the Torah is really all about. Like I said, by and large, they simply don’t know that they should come on aliyah. No one teaches them. Not their Rabbis, not their high-school yeshiva teachers, not their shul presidents, not the sisterhood, nor the Federation, not their parents, no one. So, they simply don’t know that the true goal of Judaism is to establish the Kingdom of God in the world via the Jewish People leading a Torah life in Israel, not in the United States of America.

Even in the books they read about Judaism, Eretz Yisrael has been deleted. Take a look at a few indexes of the most popular “frum” books in English on Jewish Philosophy. You won’t find a word about Eretz Yisrael.

True, an Internet surfer might be carried by a wave one day to the Internet edition of The Jewish Press or Arutz 7, where he may be confronted with the importance of aliyah, but not having heard about this great foundation of Judaism from his teachers and parents, he is likely not to take it to heart at all.

For this reason, the Jews of the Diaspora are like “children who were kidnapped and raised amongst the gentiles.” This category usually applies to Jews who were never taught about Judaism. Not having been exposed to the tenets of the religion, unfortunate Jews like these can’t be expected to keep the Torah’s laws, because they have never heard of them. The secular Zionists pioneers in Israel fall into this category, as do the secular Russian Jews in Israel today. Even though they have all heard of the Torah, they never had anyone sit down and teach them, so it is something foreign to them, like Chinese. This is exactly the same when it comes to Diaspora Jews and aliyah. Yes, Israelis yell at them for not coming, but they don’t hear it from their own teachers and Rabbis. So they are like children who have been kidnapped and raised amongst the gentiles.

A metaphor for this is the story of Tarzan, who was lost at sea as a child and raised in the jungle by apes. When he grew up, he thought he was a monkey, too. There was no one around to tell him that he was a man. So he identified with the apes. Just as they felt perfectly at home, living in the jungle and swinging from tree to tree, he felt perfectly at home too, aping their habits. Not having been raised in civilized surroundings, he didn’t know the difference.

But, of course, a human isn’t an ape, even if he grows up in the jungle. And a Jew isn’t a gentile, even if he grows up in a gentile land. A Jew isn’t an American, or a Frenchmen, or a South African, even if he grows up there. A Jew has a homeland of his own, with his own code of life, the Torah, which is meant to be lived in Israel.

The Jews of the Diaspora don’t know this, because no one ever taught them. They are not to blame for thinking they are at home in strange, gentile lands, no more than Tarzan was to blame for believing that he was at home in the jungle. It’s as simple as that. I don’t blame them. But, bezrat Hashem, I’ll keep trying to show them the difference – precisely because I love them so much.

Jerusalem Menorot

19 Kislev 5773 – December 2, 2012

The Menorat HaKnesset

The bronze, four and a half meter high Menorat HaKnesset stands in the Menorah Plaza by the main entrance to Gan HaVradim. This impressive menorah, in the shape of that which appears in the Arch of Titus, was created by Jewish sculptor Benno Elkan of England. It was given in 1956 by the English parliament as a gift to the State of Israel.

Like a “visual textbook,” it has engravings of some thirty important events, idioms, characters and terms from Jewish history. Each of the seven branches portrays a number of specific scenes, carved in relief.

The menorah interweaves themes of galus and geulah, showing the tidal waves of the rise and fall of the Jewish People throughout history. The first depiction on the right hand branch illustrates Yirmiyahu bewailing the Churban, while the last left hand branch’s upper engraving shows the Final Redemption as pictured in Yeshayahu where a lion and a lamb will live in harmony (Yeshayahu 2:4, 11:6).

The 70 years of the Babylonian Exile (lowest representation on last left hand branch) is illustrated by showing the exiles lamenting the destruction of Yerushalayim and Bayis Rishon by the rivers of Bavel. This scene is counterbalanced by a depiction of the Shivas Tzion of Ezra seen on the following branch at the top, together with an image of Nechemiah,  (lowest bottom carving on outer right hand branch) who served King Artaxerxes of Persia in a high-ranking position. He fortified those who had come back to Tzion from Bavel with Zerubavel and Yehoshua Kohen Gadol. In the face of much opposition, he was instrumental in organizing the rebuilding of the walls of Yerushalayim and helping many of Klal Yisrael resettle. In addition, during his time, Torah observance was greatly strenghtened.

The engraving on the outer left hand branch shows Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai asking the Roman authorities to establish a center in Yavneh for the study of Torah. He realized that Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash were facing destruction and knew that in order to preserve the Eternal People, their eternal law needed to be preserved first. His request for Yavneh was a way of ensuring our continued survival as a nation.

The central point of the menorah, to which the eye is instinctively drawn, is a circle exactly in its middle which says “Shema Yisrael.” The central branch‘s first engraving shows Chur and Yehoshua holding up Moshe hands in the war against Amalek. When Bnei Yisrael looked up at Moshe’s upheld hands, they turned their heart towards HaKodesh Baruch Hu, and were able to overcome the enemy. It’s a reminder that wars are not won by military superiority but rather by the might of Hakadosh Baruch Hu as He fights for His children. The words from Zecharyah (4), which are carved on the bases of the two outer arms strengthen this concept “Not because of the (number of) soldiers or the (military) strength, but with My Ruach, said HaShem Zvakot.”

The scene symbolizing David’s triumph over Goliath echoes the above ideas (3rd branch from the left top) – as does the Chashmonaim victory of the few over the many, portrayed in the 2nd scene of the outer right hand branch. When we consider the numerous wars fought in Eretz Yisrael from 1948 and on, it is clear that it was only with Hashem’s kindness that we were able to prevail over our enemies. And it will only be with the help of the Almighty that we will survive our current problems.

There are many other scenes depicted, such as Shlomo’s understanding of the language of the birds and Avraham Avinu’s purchaing the Cave of the Machpelah, as well Rachel Imeinu bitterly weeping over her children in exile.

To reach the Menorat HaKnesset, travel on the Yitzchak Rabin Highway, turn in at the Supreme Court onto Rechov Rothschild, and keep on going until you see the Knesset Menorah to your right.

The Golden Menorah

As you walk up the steps that lead up to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, to your right is a golden reconstruction of the menorah of the Beit HaMikdash created by the Temple Institute. Surrounding the menorah are stone benches allowing visitors to sit and enjoy a panoramic view of the Temple Mount with the golden glass-caged menorah in the foreground. The part of the Western Wall exposed by the southern excavation at the Davidson Centre is also clearly visible. But the Mugrabie Bridge and a large tree hide the section we call the Kotel.

The Scholars Of Brodi

17 Kislev 5773 – November 30, 2012

A famous scholars of the beis midrash in the city of Brodi was Rav Avraham Gershon of Kitov. This modest and unassuming man possessed such wondrous qualities of goodness and knowledge that the great Nodah B’Yehudah referred to him, in part, as follows:

“The complete and all encompassing scholar, the hallowed pious one, light of Yisrael, the pillar of the right hand, mighty hand….”

Rav Avraham Gershon was, as were all scholars of Brodi, a strong opponent of the Chassidus the Baal Shem Tov advocated at that time. Ironically, however, it was his sister who became the wife of the Baal Shem Tov. At first this made no difference to Rav Avraham Gershon, but as the days passed and he came to know his brother-in-law intimately, he began to behold the great and noble qualities that made the Baal Shem Tov the leader he was. It was not long after that that Rav Avraham Gershon became one of the staunchest supporters of the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings. Indeed, it was he who was sent to Eretz Yisrael to lay the foundation for Chassidus there. The tale of how this came about follows.

Rabi Chaim Ben Atar

In those days Rabi Chaim Ben Atar went up from the Diaspora to Eretz Yisrael. This gaon, known to the wise men of his generation as “similar to an angel of the Lord,” was a man of firm views, who never flattered or bowed to any man. Nevertheless, when it came to the community of Yisrael, he maintained an attitude of respect and awe.

He would always say, “The verse says: ‘These are the words that Moshe spoke.’ All the 40 years that Moshe led Bnei Yisrael in the desert he never spoke harshly to them except for this one verse. Here you should ask the question: ‘Does it not say that Moshe declared: Listen rebels?’ The answer is that Moshe did not say this to the entire community, but rather only to a small group who rebelled against the teachings of the law.”

Patience

Despite his refusal to bow to people, Rabi Chaim was a humble and patient man and forgiving to those who insulted him. It is related that he was involved one time in a case of law. He patiently heard both sides and carefully went over the evidence. Finally, he ruled that the defendant was liable for damages.

When the defendant heard this he flew into a rage and began to insult the rav, even going so far as to impugn his honesty. Rabi Chaim sat quietly, never growing angry or answering the man. Later his students, who were shocked by the affair, asked him in amazement, “Rabi, where is the staunch spirit for which you are so famous?”

“What, in your opinion, should I have done?” he asked

“We feel that this man deserved to have been condemned and driven out of the house and a ban placed on him until he apologized,” the students answered.

Rabi Chaim laughed and replied, “And yet, consider this. The man has been found guilty and his soul is bitter because of it. Nevertheless, the general public will understand this and certainly not suspect me of anything. They fully believe that I have judged the case fairly. What would happen, however, if I placed him under the ban?

“If I did that, if I angrily punished him for insulting me in his time of bitterness, then the people would begin to question my objectivity and my judgment.”

Rav Avraham Gershon Sent To Eretz Yisrael

The great name of Rabi Chaim reached as far as Poland, and the Baal Shem Tov longed to meet him and create with him a center of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. However, certain obstacles arose that prevented the founder of Chassidus from fulfilling his greatest dream. Instead, he turned to his brother-in-law, Rav Avraham Gershon, and asked him to go in his place.

This great scholar was only too willing to comply. His love for Eretz Yisrael was enormous and he left immediately to settle in the city of Hevron. His love for the Holy Land was embodied in the following statement:

Chazal in Gemara Menachos 44a said, ‘One who rents a house in the Diaspora is free from the obligation of affixing a mezuzah for 30 days. Only after that period of time is he obligated. If one, however, rents a house in Eretz Yisrael, he must affix a mezuzah immediately.

The Merit Of Eretz Yisrael

17 Kislev 5773 – November 30, 2012

“And Yaakov became very frightened, and it caused him much pain, and he split the nation that was with him, as well as the sheep, the cattle and the camels, into two camps.” – Bereishis 32:7

Yaakov Avinu received word that his brother Eisav was coming to greet him. He understood fully well that this was not to be a warm family reunion. Eisav came accompanied by a band of four hundred armed men, bent on revenge. The Torah describes Yaakov as “very frightened,” so he prepared for war.

The Rishonim are bothered by why Yaakov would fear Eisav. After all, Hashem had promised to return him to his father’s house in peace. Throughout the many years, Hashem was right there protecting him, guarding him, keeping the promise. Why should he now fear a mere mortal?

The Dos Zakainim answers that Yaakov was afraid of the “zechus of Eretz Yisrael.” For the previous twenty years, Eisav had been living in Eretz Yisrael while Yaakov had not. Therefore, Yaakov was afraid that if he engaged in mortal combat with Eisav, that merit might win the day for him, and Yaakov might die in battle.

This Dos Zakainim is difficult to understand on a number of levels. First, the reason Yaakov wasn’t in Eretz Yisrael was not that he had abandoned the land, but that he fled from Eisav. He spent the first fourteen years in the yeshiva of Shem, and then he worked for Lavan.

But even more pointedly, what possible merit could Eisav have from living in Eretz Yisrael? He wasn’t practicing Torah and mitzvos. Quite the opposite, he was a rasha. His entire existence was focused against holiness. Eretz Yisrael is a land that has an enormous amount of kedushah and cannot tolerate wickedness; it is highly sensitive to tumah. Eisav’s very presence in the land should have been intolerable. So what type of merit would he have from being in that land? It would seem the opposite. His many years of defiling that holy land should work against him, not for him.

The answer to this question can best be understood with a perspective on capitalism.

If a man owns a successful small business, he might do a million dollars a year in sales. But that is the gross revenue, not the amount he takes home. As a rule in business, 15 percent of revenues is a reasonable profit margin. So if his mark-ups are strong and his expenses are in line, he might bring in a net profit of $150,000. Eighty-five percent of the money he earns goes to expenses. And this illustrates an interesting phenomenon. While his only motivation may have been to earn a living for himself, he is providing a substantial gain to those he does business with. In this scenario, $850,000 of his efforts are going to vendors, suppliers, and employees. And while it may not be his intention, he is making a substantial contribution to the economy as a whole.

In the same sense, Eisav was engaged in the building of Eretz Yisrael. While his interests may have been strictly his own, he maintained sheep, owned fields, hired workmen and built fences. His efforts directly benefited the land. It was cultivated and improved because of him. And this was Eretz Yisrael, the land that Hashem chose as the site for the Jewish people to settle, the home of the eventual Beis HaMikdash. Its very ground is holy. While he may not have been a credit to the land, and may not even have felt an attachment to it, because of him the land was built up – and that is a great merit.

Yaakov did not in any sense think that Eisav had more merit than he did as a person. He was well aware of the different lives they led. But Yaakov understood that Eisav had a tremendous zechus: he was responsible for building the land, and because of this Yaakov was afraid. In times of danger a particular merit can stand up for a person, and that can change the outcome of a confrontation.

We Don’t Belong Here

This concept is very relevant to our lives. While we patiently await imminent coming of Mashiach, one of the concepts that must be in the forefront of our minds is that we are in a foreign country. We don’t belong in chutz l’aaretz. It isn’t our home. While the United States is one of the most benevolent lands that has ever offered us residence, a Jew doesn’t belong in Brooklyn. When we build up this land, whether with palaces or impressive businesses, we are building other people’s land.

How Did Yaakov Marry Sisters?

16 Kislev 5773 – November 29, 2012

Note to readers: This column is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Shlomo Eliezer ben Chaya Sarah Elka.

At the beginning of this week’s parshah Yaakov sent a message to Eisav. In the message were the words, “im Lavan garti – I lived with Lavan.” Rashi explains that Yaakov was informing Eisav that he had kept the entire Torah, as the word “garti” is the same numerical value as the amount of mitzvos in the Torah: 613. The following strong question concerning this statement has been discussed by the Rishonim and Acharonim: How could Yaakov say that he kept the entire Torah when he married two sisters, Rachel and Leah, which is biblically prohibited? Additionally, the Gemara in Yuma 28 says that Avraham Avinu kept the Torah; presumably the other avos did as well. How then did Yaakov marry two sisters?

The Ramban, in parshas Toldos (26:5), says that the avos only kept the Torah in Eretz Yisrael. He explains that it was for this reason that Rachel died before Yaakov entered Eretz Yisrael, so that when he entered Eretz Yisrael he was only married to one sister.

Although this answers the second question of how Yaakov married two sisters, it does not answer the first question. For how then could Yaakov say that he kept the entire Torah when in fact he did not keep any of it, as he was not obligated in it while he was chutz la’aretz?

Similarly, the Rama (Teshuvos 10) and the Maharal (Tiferes Yisrael 20) say that only Avraham kept the Torah. Yitzchak and Yaakov did not. This too does not explain the statement made by Yaakov informing Eisav that he kept the Torah in its entirety.

The Radvaz (Teshuvos 696), the Marshah (Yuma 28) and the Perashas Derachim write that Rachel and Leah had to undergo conversion before Yaakov married them. The halacha is that a convert is not considered related to their biological family members. Therefore, a convert may marry a biological relative. Two biological sisters who converted can marry the same man, since they are not considered sisters.

The Nefesh Hachaim suggests that the avos kept the Torah based on what they perceived as necessary for making tikkunim in the world. Once the Torah was given, one is not allowed to make such calculations. However, prior to mattan Torah the avos would violate certain commandments if they believed it was necessary for their avodah. Yaakov married two sisters because he felt that it was necessary in order for him to accomplish his spiritual goals.

The Brisker Rav and Reb Moshe Feinstein (Even Haezer 4:9) offer a different approach in answering both questions. They say that although the avos kept the entire Torah there were several discrepancies. Certain concepts did not yet exist prior to mattan Torah, and regarding those things the avos did not keep the Torah. The Torah only prohibited marrying two sisters via kiddushin. Before mattan Torah the concept of kiddushin did not exist. The Rambam writes in the beginning of Hilchos Ishus that when one wished to marry a woman before the Torah was given, they simply lived together without having any kiddushin. Under those circumstances, one may “marry” two sisters.

The Gemara, in Pesachim 119b, says that Hashem will make a meal for all the tzaddikim. They will ask Avraham Avinu to bentch and he will refuse, saying that since Yishmael came from him he should not bentch. Yitzchak Avinu will refuse because Eisav came from him. Yaakov Avinu will refuse to bentch, for he will say that he married two sisters that the Torah would eventually prohibit. But according to the previous two answers (of the Brisker Rav, Reb Moshe, the Radvaz, the Marshah, and the Perashas Derachim) the Gemara is not understandable. Based on their answers Yaakov had done nothing wrong. Why would he feel that he should not bentch based on his marriage to two sisters who converted, or for simply living together with them without kiddushin? What he had done would have been permitted – even after the Torah was given.

According to the Ramban, that the avos did not keep the Torah outside Eretz Yisrael, and according to the opinions that hold that Yaakov did not keep the Torah at all, we can understand why Yaakov said that he was unfit to lead in bentching, since what he did would become forbidden after the Torah would be given. Similarly, the answer of the Nefesh Hachaim fits well with the Gemara since what Yaakov did would not have been permitted after the Torah was given.

The Secret To Defeating Our Enemies

15 Kislev 5773 – November 28, 2012

Events have been unfolding so rapidly. First it was Hurricane Sandy, which attacked with merciless fury and left multitudes homeless, their cars and belongings swept away. Power failed, not for a day, or for a week, but in some cases for several weeks.

When I was told I could safely return to my house, the power was back on and the poisonous water mixed with sewage that invaded the lower level of my home had been removed. When I reached my community it was evening and before I even arrived to my destination the lights went out again. You couldn’t see anything.

I’d had experience with power failures in the past but this darkness that now enveloped us was totally different. Imagine driving on a street where the streetlights are off and you cannot even see little bright lights flickering from windows.

“Where am I?” you ask yourself. “Is there a car coming toward me? Am I backing into something? Where is my street? Where is my house?”

My regular readers know I connected Sandy, as I have several other unusual occurrences, to the ten plagues that befell Egypt. Our Sages taught us that the manner in which we departed from Egypt would be replayed in the pre-Messianic period. As I was trying to make my way home it occurred to me that this dense darkness was reminiscent of the darkness that enveloped Egypt in the ninth plague. The Torah teaches us that the darkness was so thick it was almost tangible – you could actually feel it and didn’t even know who or what was standing before you.

As I was contemplating all that was going on around me, the news from Eretz Yisrael reached us of deadly rockets and missiles raining down on our brethren. While in the United States many lost their homes, in Israel – may Hashem have mercy – not only were homes destroyed but the very lives of our people were on the line. And then we heard the so-called good news of a cease-fire.

But isn’t that really good news, you ask? I invite you to consider why a people bent on annihilating Israel would desire a “cease-fire.” And why would Prime Minister Netanyahu agree to it? Surely we Jews know that in no time at all the savage murderers will resume their attacks.

The answers are simple. Hamas needed a small break to replenish its deadly arsenal. On the other hand, Netanyahu, like so many of Israel’s past prime ministers, felt he had no choice but to succumb to the pressure exerted by other nations. Some of you are no doubt asking what else Israel could have done – one nation versus the world. Logically speaking the objection makes sense, but there is nothing logical about Jewish survival. From the very genesis of our history we have been attacked by virtually every nation, every great empire, of the world. We were and are “one little lamb” lost among seventy ferocious wolves. What chance did we have for survival?

Was it not just yesterday that Hitler proclaimed his “final solution”? He harnessed 20th century know-how to build gas chambers and crematoria. But as always, we, the Jewish people, defied the odds. Hitler is long gone but we are here and shall always be here, for that is the will of our G-d.

What is our secret weapon? I’ve written about it frequently but it bears repeating – for we simply don’t get it. It is all found in one easy word: “Torah.”

The voice of Jacob, of Israel, is the voice of Torah and the voice of prayer. Yes, the power of our people is in our voice and in our supplications. It is found in our Torah studies, in our observance of mitzvos and in our commitment to Hashem.

Sadly, we have forfeited these precious gems. We no longer know how to sing to our G-d and have allowed Yishmael to seize our weapons. Yishmael prays five times a day. How many times do we pray? The answer should be at least three – but to our shame we pray zero.

I imagine many readers are asking, “Rebbetzin, how can you say that?” Just look around and be honest. Ask yourselves, how many Jews really pray three times a day? How many Jews go to minyan? Yes, the Orthodox do, but how many are they? The Orthodox are just a very small minority. If we are to survive the seventy ferocious wolves we – all of us – must take our weapons into our hands.

After A Few False Starts, A Match Made In Heaven

15 Kislev 5773 – November 28, 2012

I almost never met the man I married.

No, I am not from a very strict chassidishe home where dating is taboo and a brief meeting suffices before the engagement is announced. My husband and I actually dated for a few months, by which time my parents were beginning to grow concerned and the neighbors were having a heyday gossiping about us. But if not for a significant helping of siyata dishmaya, we never would have managed to get together in the first place.

First of all, I was only redd to my husband on the rebound. My brother-in-law had been learning in Lakewood for many years and was in a prime position to scout out prospective chassanim for me. He did some research, came up with a very promising candidate, approached the boy, and suggested the shidduch. Bingo! The bachur was interested in pursuing the shidduch, except for one minor hitch: He had just started dating another girl. I was next in the queue – except that my turn never came. Baruch Hashem, he ended up getting engaged to the girl he was seeing.

So it was back to the drawing board for my brother-in-law. He mentioned the dilemma to his wonderful chavrusah of many years and the two of them brainstormed together. Actually, they just raised their eyes a row or two ahead of them in the huge beis medrash and spotted the chavrusah’s first cousin. He had serendipitously just returned to the U.S. from learning in the finest yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael, in order to start the shidduch parshah. After a brief interlude of “botteling,” the deed was done; they had decided to set up the sister-in-law with the cousin.

The bachur readily approved of the suggestion, and the ball quickly passed to my court. Ordinarily, after past dating blunders, I was generally very fussy and discriminating about the boys I dated, and usually came armed with an exhaustive list of questions and demands, one more trivial than the next. He should not be too tall or too short, too thin or too heavy, beards were definitely out, etc.

This time, however, I either forgot or skipped the interrogation, and accepted the suggestion without launching an FBI investigation. Had I followed my usual pattern, we probably would not have made it to the first step.

The next hurdle was the boy’s name. I had no problem with his unique and cool-sounding first name, but my two very yeshivish brothers were up in arms. That is, until they read that week’s sedrah and encountered that very name in black on white. They then offered a sincere apology along with their blessings.

I later found out that when my mother-in-law was in the hospital following my husband’s birth she had asked her mechanech husband to bring her something to read. He did. A Chumash! She read through several parshiyos and ended up selecting a biblical name that was far from run-of-the-mill.

Kishmo kein hu, like his unusual name, my husband had likewise always been unique in many ways. Following the orchestrations of the exalted Shadchan on High, he also became uniquely mine.

The rest, as they say, is history.

A Masterwork Completed – 84 Years Later

15 Kislev 5773 – November 28, 2012

How long does it take to write and publish a book? One recently released work took some eighty-four years to see the light of day in Jerusalem. But with its publication the Torah world has been blessed with a new, vowelized edition of the Torah Temimah, complete with the supra-commentary Meshivat Nefesh – a work begun in the 1920s by a prolific rabbi among whose works was a weekly column several decades later in The Jewish Press.

Our story begins in 1921 in London, then moves to Los Angeles, Pinsk, Brooklyn, and, finally, Yerushalayim. A 25-year-old yeshiva bachur from London named Yaakov Moshe Feldman encounters a copy of the Torah Temimah and is immediately enthralled. Torah Temimah is an encyclopedic edition of the Chumash with relevant Talmudic and Midrashic passages cited on each verse and a brilliant commentary explaining and interpreting each passage.

It was authored by Rav Baruch HaLevy Epstein of Pinsk; his father, the author of the famed Aruch HaShulchan, wrote about Torah Temimah: “Anyone who delves into it will marvel and wonder how this great work could ever have come about, if not for special grace shown from Above.”

The work quickly became popular and to this day is frequently consulted in homes, synagogues and yeshivot throughout the world.

The young bachur, soon to become Rabbi Moses J. Feldman, learned in London’s Eitz Chaim Yeshiva, where his chavruta was Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi Herzog, who later would serve as chief rabbi of Israel.

The bachur was in close contact with various leading rabbis even at his young age. He spent much time in the London home of HaRav A. I. Kook, another future chief rabbi of the Holy Land, who was stranded for five years in Great Britain when World War I prevented his return to Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbi Feldman (RYM) went on to become a leading rabbi in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, which was then the largest Jewish community west of Chicago.

In late 1928, RYM wrote to Rav Epstein of the great importance he ascribed to Torah Temimah and proposed to compile an index for the work. Rav Epstein “in his great humility, responded immediately” in two postcards, RYM related. In one, Rav Epstein stated he would be “grateful” for such a work, and asked to see a sample. In the second, written two months later, he praised what he saw and concluded with a blessing for success in whatever manner RYM would choose to carry out the work.

In reviewing the Torah Temimah, RYM noted that it was replete with technical and other errors, mainly bibliographical, due to the author’s having worked mainly from his memory (encyclopedic as it was widely acknowledged to be). RYM realized a complete critical review of the work was required, in addition to expanding many of the scholarly points raised by Rav Epstein.

In 1933, RYM sent several samples of what was to become the Meshivat Nefesh to a renowned Torah scholar, Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Hilman. Author of the Ohr HaYashar on the Yerushalmi, Rav Hilman founded the Ohel Torah yeshiva in Jerusalem, whose students included Rabbis Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.

Rav Hilman praised the Meshivat Nefesh samples he saw – but there it stopped; the work barely progressed for the next five decades. This was largely because RYM was busy with various responsibilities, including his monumental four-volume work Areshet Sefatenu (with two additional volumes still in manuscript). The title page describes it as a “Concordance, Interpretive Anthology, Dictionary of Biblical Quotations and Idioms, Source Book of Hebrew Prayer and Proverb.”

Finally, toward the end of his life, RYM got to work once again on Meshivat Nefesh, completing its last pages while on his deathbed. Two of his sons – Rabbi Dr. David M. Feldman, longtime beloved rabbi in Brooklyn and Teaneck and prolific author specializing in medical ethics, and the late attorney Eliot B. Feldman – lost no time in publishing Meshivat Nefesh in 1982.

As they wrote in the preface, RYM “completed the sacred task just prior to his death, on the 8th day of Pesach 1981…. [and was] delighted to have fulfilled his promise to the author of the Torah Temimah. He has, as well, fulfilled admirably his unspoken pledge, to the scholar and student, to render this monumental work whole in substance and accessible in form. Torat Hashem Temimah Meshivat Nafesh.”

Exploring The Hills

9 Kislev 5773 – November 23, 2012

One of the off the beaten track areas in Eretz Yisrael that I enjoy taking adventurous visitors to are the southern Hevron Hills.

As we drive south from Yerushalayim, passing through the very cradle of Jewish history, with its rolling green hills along the Patriarchs and Matriarchs path or the “Road of Heroism” as it is some times called, we resist the magnetic pull to stop at Gush Etzion or Hevron and continue south, fully cognizant that more Jews walked on this path than on any other road in history.

Soon, after passing the turn off to Hevron, the rolling vineyards give way to another dimension of the Land. The rich vineyards and orchards become sparser and give way to a gradual descent into a dryer, wider expanse. We are entering the borderland of the Judean Desert.

The southern Hevron hills stand as a sentinel facing east and the desert as it rolls down towards the Dead Sea.

Here one can see the desert as far as the horizon.

It is to this land, suspended between civilization and wilderness, that young David sought refuge from a jealous King Shaul. Here he locked horns with Naval HaKarmi and met his wife to be, the wise and beautiful Avigayil.

Mosaic in the Synagogue

To think that we are gazing at the very same hills and ravines where this drama took place. The very same hills! It is a place where the Bible truly comes to life.

There is even a new Jewish pioneer town, Carmel, situated just where it was in ancient times. Talk about “the children returning to their borders!” I always find it inspiring to visit one of these villages unannounced. Invariably the residents are only too happy to answer all questions and, more often than not, invite you in for a visit. The smaller and more vulnerable the village, the more hospitable its residents. I have some favorite tiny ones that I just love to bring unsuspecting visitors to. They can not help but be affected, indeed bitten by the spirit.

View of the synagogue in Susya

We come to our destination, Susyia. Today Susyia is a thriving village that attracts students form across Eretz Yisrael to their prestigious schools Its field school is home base for those who come to study the region for a day or a month where. They take their touring very seriously.

Next to modern Susyia is the excavated ancient town of Susyia. In the centuries when Jews were banned from Roman and Byzantine Jerusalem, and from the center of the country, they were forced to cling toan existence on the fringes – like in the South Hevron hills.

Unearthed recently is an entire Jewish town dating back to the times of the Talmud. Homes, ritual baths, guard walls and towers to warn of approaching bandits, wells, burial caves, underground work shops and escape tunnels – an entire town

Perched on the upper part of the town is the synagogue. Resplendent with an intricate weave of moasiac floors depicting Jewish symbols and Hebrew dedications and blessings, it was lovingly revealed by Israeli archeologists a few years ago. To think, a robust Jewish community lived right here where we sit. They prayed and conducted their business just where we stand. For hundreds of years Jews clung to the place until the Moslem conquest and the final expulsion or forced conversions in the seventh century. And today we are back. What a country!

Tefillah L’Shlom Medinat Yisrael: A Plea For Prayer

8 Kislev 5773 – November 21, 2012

Minutes after candle-lighting, sirens rang out in Jerusalem, disturbing the peace and tranquility ushered in by Shabbat. Earlier that day, my wife and I assured our parents that we are far from the rockets in our home in Har Nof, a quiet suburb nestled in the Jerusalem Forest.

But in the middle of Kabbalat Shabbat I found myself taking cover, together with other members of my community, near the stairwell of our shul. When the tefillah resumed, the tone was intense. Before Ma’ariv we recited Tehillim, a prayer for the IDF, and the Tefillah L’Shlom Medinat Yisrael (the Prayer for the Welfare and Security of the State of Israel).

Overnight, members of our kehillah were called up for reserve duty. And when we said the Tefillah L’Shlom Medinat Yisrael again Shabbat morning, it was with more kavanah than is usually the case.

After Shabbat we learned that rockets had fallen near Mevaseret and Gush Etzion, just miles from the heart of Jerusalem. Baruch Hashem, no one was hurt – but that is not the case elsewhere in the country. And while we can’t possibly imagine what our brothers and sisters in the South are going through, the feeling that no one is immune persists.

How can it be, I wondered over Shabbat, that some communities here in Israel and abroad do not recite the Tefillah L’Shlom Medinat Yisrael?

The text of the prayer first appeared in the religious newspaper HaTzofe on September 20, 1948, less than half a year after a nascent nation declared its independence. Written by Chief Rabbis Herzog and Uziel, together with author and Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon, it was adopted by many congregations in Israel and abroad. Even the famed rabbinic journal HaPardes (October 1948) published it and encouraged readers to adopt it.

Praying on behalf of the government is not a new practice. The prophet Yirmiyahu instructs the Jewish people, “Seek the peace of the city to which I have exiled you” (Jer. 29:7). And throughout Jewish history, we have. Halachic works from Kol Bo to Abudraham to Magen Avraham to Aruch HaShulchan codify the practice of praying for the king. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes that it is an obligation and mitzvah to express gratitude for the place where we live, and to pray for it.

We Jews have composed texts on behalf of everyone from the king of Spain to Napoleon. Sometimes, depending on how a ruler treated the Jews, the prayer took an ironic turn, asking for protection from the king. (As when the rabbi in “Fiddler on the Roof” asks God to “Bless and keep the czar – far away from us!”)

The Mishnah (Avot 3:2) stresses the importance of praying on behalf of the government: “Rabbi Hanina, deputy high priest, said: Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for fear of it, people would swallow one another alive.”

So why doesn’t everyone recite the prayer for the state of Israel?

Some object to the fact that the prayer calls the state the “first flowering of our redemption.” They are uncomfortable with the notion that a secular government, founded by secular Zionists, can be part of the redemptive process. But a little research reveals the truths of history: In the early years, following the founding of the state, many rabbis (not all of them Zionists) indeed believed that the state of Israel was the “first flowering” of redemption.

A letter titled “Da’at Torah,” later published in Rabbi M.M. Kasher’s HaTekufah HaGedolah (pp. 424-429), begins, “We thank Hashem for what we have merited, because of His abundant mercy and kindness, to see the first buds [nitzanim] of the beginning of redemption [atchalta d’geulah], with the founding of the state of Israel.”

This letter, encouraging participation in elections for the first Knesset, was signed by the leading gedolim of Eretz Yisrael, among them Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav Yechezkel Sarna, Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. In fact, as David Tamar noted in a Jan. 2, 1998 article in HaTzofe, Rav Shlomo Zalman would stand during the recitation of the Tefillah L’Shlom Medinat Yisrael.

The Prayer for the State of Israel was not composed strictly for the Religious Zionist camp – it was composed for all Jews to recite. Perhaps it was written during a simpler time in history, when Jews of every stripe and political or religious affiliation fought for an independent Jewish state. They did not have the luxury of sitting back and being sectarian. How things have changed.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/tefillah-lshlom-medinat-yisrael-a-plea-for-prayer/2012/11/21/

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