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September 4, 2015 / 20 Elul, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘exile’

“By the Rivers of Brooklyn”

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

As all readers of The Jewish Press surely know, we are in the “Three Weeks” period leading up to Tisha B’Av, the day marking the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. During these three weeks, certain customs of mourning are observed to emphasize our great sorrow and loss. For instance, weddings are not conducted, and listening to happy music, dancing, and playing musical instruments are not allowed. There is one thing, though, that you could call a break, and that is the recital of Tikun Hatzot, the “Midnight Lamentation,” can now be said in the afternoon. For people who find it difficult to recite the Tikun Hatzot supplications late at night when they are overtired, this is a chance to recite this very powerful rectification with all of one’s concentration and feeling.

Many people think that Tikun Hatzot is something only for devout Hasidim and mystics, but the practice is mentioned on the very first pages of the halachic treatises, the Shulchan Aruch and Mishna Berura, which state: “If one is able to rise at midnight and perform the midnight service, there is nothing more praiseworthy than this, as it says, ‘Rise, cry out, in the night at the beginning of the watches, pour out thy heart like water before the presence of the Lord’” (Lamentations, 2:19). Our Sages tell us that at this time, God cries out, “Woe to My children on account of whose iniquity I destroyed My House, burnt My Temple, and exiled My children amongst the nations” (Berachot 3A). It is the time when the Divine Presence (the Shechinah) weeps for having been cast into the exile with Israel. The holy Zohar compares this to a king who cast his whoring son out from the palace into exile and sent the queen )the Shechinah) along with him to guard him throughout his wanderings. How painful it is for the royal queen to be sullied in foreign impure lands where she must remain with her son until he returns to the palace. So at midnight, we sit on the floor (some don sack cloths), and cry out over the pain of the Shechinah in exile, over the disgraced and exiled Jews, over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. I try to recite Tikun Hatzot at least once or twice a week. Our Sages formulated the prayers to instruct us how we should feel in our ignominious exile from our Land, dispersed amongst the goyim. The Tikun Hatzot begins with the Psalm:

“By the rivers of Brooklyn and Paris and London and Melbourne and Toronto and Buenos Aries and Johannesburg, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion… How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Tehillim 137).

Make no mistake, my friends. America is a foreign gentile land. Canada is a foreign gentile land. England is a foreign gentile land. A Jew in America and Canada and England and France and Australia and South Africa is supposed to feel the terrible pain and disgrace of his outcast and ignoble situation, living as a minority amongst the goyim in a foreign gentile land. If he doesn’t experience his life in exile in this manner, feeling the spiritual emptiness and the strangeness of his foreign surroundings, while always yearning to return home to Zion and Jerusalem, then something is wrong with his Judaism and his identity as a Jew.

How much agony and anguish we are to feel over the Diaspora! Our once proud Nation has been destroyed! We have been stripped of our own Jewish Nationhood (until the establishment of Medinat Yisrael) and scattered to foreign lands. Our Holy Temple lies in ruins! And we are to feel pain for the disgrace of our mother, the Shechinah, for dragging her down into exile in countries polluted with idol worship and Xmas decorations nearly three months of the year. We read the verses that our Sages composed and tears fill our eyes. Shattered by our fallen condition in exile, a despised minority in gentile lands, and with hearts burning in shame for God, who is mocked and desecrated by the goyim who say, “These are God’s children and they are cast out of his Land,” as if to say that God doesn’t have the power to keep His promise to watch over His People in their own Jewish Land. So our Sages instructed us to wake up from our comfortable beds in the middle of the night and recite Tikun Hatzot over the pain of the Shechinah and the destruction of Jerusalem, just as they instructed us to recite this same Psalm after every weekday meal:

“By the rivers of Brooklyn and Paris and London and Melbourne and Toronto and Buenos Aries and Johannesburg, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion….

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

“If I ever forget you, O Jerusalem, withered be my right hand!

“May my tongue cleave to my palate, if ever I not think of you, if I ever not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!”

We are to say this Psalm after enjoying our glatt kosher, triple-decker deli sandwiches with cole slaw, sour pickles, fries and a Fr. Brown’s Celery or Black Cherry soft drink, in order to remind us that Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem are where we really belong, and where our true happiness lies.

How many of you recite this Psalm after eating? How many of you really set Jerusalem over your highest joy? If you do, why aren’t you here now?

The great Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, stated that the main devotion of a Jew is to get up every night for the Midnight Prayer:

“The exile has already lasted so long. God is only waiting for the moment to return to us and rebuild the Holy Temple. It could happen any time. Our task is to see that from our side we do nothing to obstruct the rebuilding of the Temple. On the contrary, we must make every effort to hasten it. This is why we should be careful to get up each night at midnight and mourn for the destruction of the Holy Temple. Perhaps in a previous incarnation we ourselves were responsible for something which brought about the destruction of the Temple. Even if not, it could still be that our sins in our present lifetime are holding up the rebuilding of the Temple, and this is as bad as if we had actually destroyed it. This is the reason why we must weep and mourn every night at midnight. When we do so, it is as if we were actually making a tremendous effort to rebuild the Holy Temple.”

The “Pele Yoetz” states:

“It is true that mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple is something that should be expressed in outward actions, especially during the Three Weeks, when one should put ashes on one’s head at the place where one lays tefillin, and sit by the doorway day and night to recite Tikun Hatzot. Still, the main thing is not the outward actions, but the feelings one has in one’s heart. One should feel brokenhearted, shed bitter tears, and sigh mournfully over the pain of Heaven.

“It may be true that today we have fallen to a very low level, and no one understands the full extent of what we are missing and what we have lost, what we have caused because of our sin, and what the exile of the Shechinah really means. Our very lack of understanding and sensitivity should fill us with anguish. Even so, each person is obligated to do what he can. One should imagine how he would feel if his mother was swathed and garbed in black, and was crying bitterly and shrieking, ‘The pain in my head! The pain in my arm! I brought up children, I raised them, and they rebelled against me!’ One should focus one’s mind and heart on similar bitter images and pour out one’s soul in a bitter cry, and then one may be worthy of seeing the consolation of Zion and the building of our Holy Temple in all of its glory.”

Truly, it is not easy to feel the pain of the exile and shed real tears every time one says Tikun Hatzot. After all, the destruction of Jerusalem happened almost 2000 years ago, and tragically, many Diaspora Jews are so used to the exile, they’ve long forgotten that there can be something totally different. And for the lucky Jews in Israel who have the unsurpassed blessing of living in Israel, with the Kotel only a short ride away, Jerusalem wondrously rebuilt, and a thriving Jewish State once again sovereign in the Land, it is often difficult to enter the proper mind set necessary to experience the terrible pain of the exile.

So to help me feel the anguish of the Shechinah who weeps over her scattered and exiled children, I look at pictures. Before reciting Tikun Hatzot, I sit on the floor and look at pictures of Brooklyn and Toronto and Miami Beach and Palm Springs and Lakewood and Monsey and Moscow. I imagine the Jews there, my brothers and sisters, and I cry over their exile from the Holy Land, over their captivity amongst the goyim, over the shame and disgrace of living in foreign gentile lands (and over the horrible fact that many of them don’t feel it!), and over the terrible plague of assimilation which is devouring the Jews in exile, and they remain there, blissfully denying that it could happen to their children or grandchildren as well. When I look at the pictures of Brooklyn and Toronto, and Boca and Beverly Hills, I pray with all my heart that God open their eyes, and give them a heart of flesh to feel the horror of their plight, living in strange impure lands, living make-believe identities, as if they are Americans and Frenchmen and Australians and Germans, when they are really the descendents of Israelites displaced from their Homeland.

Alas! How foolish and shortsighted we are! For 2000 years, the gentiles made certain to remind us that we were in exile, and made sure that we felt the pain. But today, in the temporary lull, when the gentiles are still resting from the last wholesale slaughter of 6 million Jews, like a rapist who rises from his victim with his lust and violence temporarily spent, we have deceived ourselves into thinking that today in our wonderful exiles, it could never happen again, as if the Almighty has forgotten His vow to return us to Israel, with fury, if need be, dragging us back to Eretz Yisrael by our peyes – chas v’shalom.

May the day come speedily when The Blessed One Holy Be He opens our eyes and give us new hearts to feel the shame and disgrace of our exile in Brooklyn, Boston, Boca, and Beverly Hills. May the flights of Nefesh B’Nefesh begin to be full, day after day, and may this coming fast day and day of mourning turn into a feast of falafel, shwarma, and, yes, yes, even bagels and lox, Israel style, the holiest and most delicious bagels and lox in the world. Amen.

[The full text of Tikun Hatzot, with both Tikun Rachel and Tikun Leah, can be found here]

Mashiach, Mashiach, Mashiach, Da Da Da Da DaDa

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Who is Mashiach? What is Mashiach? What’s he all about? Strange as it may seem, we learn about Mashiach from the wicked Bilaam, in the Torah portion of Balak. While the verses are obscure, the Rambam explains them in The Laws of Kings and Their Wars. Since many Diasporians picture the Mashiach to be some type of fairytale hero who will whisk them back to Israel on some kind of magical carpet when he flies down to earth dressed like Superman, with super powers and X-ray vision, we will try to present a more realistic, down-to-earth picture.

The name Mashiach (often translated as the Messiah) is derived from a Hebrew word meaning the “anointed one” – Hashem’s anointed king. The belief in the Mashiach’s coming is one of the Thirteen Fundamental Principles of our faith (13 Principles of the Rambam, Principle 12). Since in our very time, the Almighty has been gathering our scattered exiles to Israel from all over the globe, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook made a point to explain the concept of Mashiach to his students at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, emphasizing that the Mashiach wasn’t only the ideal Jewish king, but also a gradually developmental process which evolves over time.

The Rambam writes:

“Anyone who does not believe in the Mashiach, or who does not anticipate his coming, not only denies all of the prophets, he denies the validity of the Torah and Moshe Rabenu, our teacher, since the Torah gives witness to him, as it says, ‘When all these things will come upon you (all the tribulations of exile), then the Lord your God will turn your captivity and have compassion on you, and return and gather you from the nations’” (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 11:1).

Believing in the Torah means believing in the Mashiach and yearning for his arrival. As part of the 13 Principles of Faith, we say, “I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Mashiach, and even though he may delay, nevertheless, I look forward to his coming every day.”

This means that when a Jew in the Diaspora is eating a bagel and lox and reading The New York Times, or The Jewish Press, or when he’s going to watch the new Woody Allen movie on Motzei Shabbat, he should be yearning for the Mashiach to come. In the Gemara, Shabbat, it is written, “At the hour when a man faces heavenly judgment, they say to him, did you yearn for the salvation of Israel?” (Shabbat 31A). Yearning for the coming of Mashiach, and the salvation he will bring, is complete Emunah/faith. Thus, the Ramban writes, someone who does not believe in him, or anticipate his coming, denies the prophets of Israel and Moshe, our teacher, since the Torah gives witness to him.

How does the Torah give witness to him? The Rambam answers with the verse, “When all these things will come upon you (all the tribulations of exile), then the Lord your God will turn your captivity and have compassion on you, and return and gather you from the nations” (Devarim, 30:1-3).

Please notice, my friends, that the ingathering of the exiles is proof of the Mashiach. As the Rambam makes clear, the incredible ingathering of our outcasts to the Land of Israel, an occurrence we have witness in our time, this is a revelation of Mashiach, an actual stage in the days of Mashiach, through the concrete aliyah of Jews from all over the globe, and not through miracles.

During the long generation we spent in galut, Mashiach became a misunderstood concept. Partly due to the pernicious infiltration of Xtian doctrines into our collective subconscious, Mashiach was envisioned by many people as a religious superhero who would arrive on the scene in a flash of miracles and wonders, and lead all the Jews out of the ghetto and back to the Promised Land. Helpless and impotent in galut, and constantly at the mercies of the goyim and their governments, we had no way of actualizing our dreams of returning to Zion, and thus this Superman fantasy of Mashiach seemed to be the only way we could be redeemed from the harsh realities of our lives. When centuries passed in waiting and disappointment, a philosophy of passivity arose. We were to pray and wait, and the Mashiach would do all the work when he came. The demand arose that the Redemption occur all at once, and be complete from the start, and not in a gradual, natural, process of historical development and events which came to completion with the passage of time (See our book, Torat Eretz Yisrael, Chapters 11 and 12, from which this essay is condensed.)

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.”

It’s Time to Shut Down The Press

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

The Jewish Press reports that Kosher Delight is closing its doors in New York, the third Manhattan kosher emporium to do so this year. The real question is: when will “Galut Delight” close up shop? When will the exile lose its delight in the eyes of Diaspora Jews? When will we understand that we don’t belong in gentile lands, no matter how delightful and kosher our Jewish communities may be?

Just as it has led the way in so many vital Jewish issues in the past, I call upon The Jewish Press to once again lead the way now. That’s right my good friends, the time has come to close up shop at The Jewish Press and transfer the whole operation to Israel. True, The Press must go on, but in the Holy Land, not in Brooklyn, smoggy LA, or sunny South Florida. It’s time to lead the way by example, to be the Peter Piperman of the Jews in Diaspora, and close down the doors to The Jewish Press building. Pack up the computers, throw all the back issues and archives into crates, register with Nefesh B’Nefesh, and get on the plane! If need be, in order to give the management and staff a feeling of security, you can tear down the building brick by brick, and rebuild it in Talpiot on the outskirts of Jerusalem, or, even better, on a windy hilltop in the Shomron. No more major headlines about kosher delis and neighborhood eruvs; no more Manischewitz wine, Empire Chickens, and High Holidays in the Catskills. It’s time to say goodbye to Columbus and the boroughs of New York, and say shalom to Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaacov in the Promised Land. From this day on, let the word go forth from The Jewish Press that we have to do everything in our power to eliminate the exile, not to enjoy and strengthen it, God forbid.

But why listen to me? Rabbi Meir Kahane was one of the people who helped make The Jewish Press the great beacon of light that it is. This is what he has to say about the imperative to eliminate the exile, in his book, The Jewish Idea.

From Chapter 34, “Elimination of the Exile”

How many souls have been lost and destroyed under the pressure of assimilation in the exile! “For she has cast down many wounded; yea, a mighty host are all her slain” (Prov. 7:26). Surely, this, alone, makes every Jew duty-bound to “cry out, and not hold back!” (Isa. 58:1).

As Isaiah proclaimed, “Depart! Depart! Get out of there! Out of her midst! Touch nothing impure! Be you clean, you who bear the Lord’s vessels” (Isa. 52:11). Isaiah is calling upon Israel, the “bearers of the Lord’s vessels,” because they bear the yoke of God’s mitzvot, to depart the defilement of the exile. Metzudat David comments, “Cleanse yourselves of all defilement, you who bear the Lord’s vessels,” and Ibn Ezra comments:

“Get out of there”: Every single Jew from the place of his exile; “Touch no unclean thing”: Separate yourselves from the nations of the world; “Get out of her midst”: Everyone from the country of his exile.

Rashi wrote, “Get out of her midst: The midst of the exile.”

Likewise, Jeremiah said regarding the Babylonian exile, “Flee the midst of Babylon! Exit the land of the Chaldeans! Be the he-goats before the flock!” (Jer. 50:8). Mahari Kra comments, “Jeremiah told them, ‘I know that in the future, whoever is in Babylonia will die by the spear or sword… so flee first, before calamity comes.’”

Today, when the last Redemption looms before us and the Mashiach’s traces are visible, and when we have already merited, through God’s kindness, to return to Eretz Yisrael and establish a State, God’s cry is heard in all its might. Depart! Get out! Depart the defilement of exile, in order to be separated from the nations and protect the purity of God’s Torah; in order to save Jewish souls from the blight of assimilation; in order to sanctify Heaven’s Name by shedding our reliance on foreign governments.

The very exile is a Chillul Hashem, a desecration of Hashem, and our return to Eretz Yisrael is the opposite — Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of Hashem. The nations’ having control over a Jew, and Israel’s lowliness in the exile, are called Chillul Hashem, in that the non-Jew rules over the People of Israel, and thereby, over the God of Israel, so to speak. I have already made clear that this is Rashi’s intent regarding the verse, “My Holy Name will I make known in the midst of My People Israel. Neither will I suffer My Holy Name to be profaned any more. The nations shall know that I am the Lord, Holy One of Israel” (Ezek. 39:7). Rashi said, “Israel’s lowliness is a Chillul Hashem, in that the nations say of them, ‘These are the Lord’s people, [and they are gone forth out of His land]’ (Ezek. 36:20), yet He is unable to save them.”

The very conquest of Eretz Yisrael by the nations, and Israel’s exile from its land, allow the non-Jew to think that there is no God in Israel, Heaven forbid; because if there were, and if He were truly all-powerful, He would not let the nations destroy His Land and Temple, and exile His People. Even if Israel do not endure real suffering at the non-Jew’s hand, the very fact that they must live in their lands at their mercy, dependent on their tolerance and benevolence, is a Chillul Hashem. Only when Israel dwell in sovereignty and might in their own Land is God’s Name sanctified. If Israel stubbornly refuse to leave the exile, God — with fury poured out — will liquidate their exile in order to blot out the Chillul Hashem. Now is surely the time to “flee before calamity comes.”

In a word, the idea of Israel living under the dominion of the nations and their alien culture, is by definition a Chillul Hashem, and clashes with God’s will to establish a chosen, treasured People in a chosen, treasured Land. There, Israel would be separated and isolated from the nations’ cultures and alien beliefs, fulfill pristine, complete Torah lives, and establish a sovereign, independent state and society under God’s rule, and that is a Kiddush Hashem.

Every Jew has a sacred, absolute duty to live in Eretz Yisrael, because living in the exile contradicts and profanes God’s will.

What mental gymnastics and sophistries are employed to justify loathing the Desirable Land! Just as God liquidated the exile in Egypt and allowed no Jew to remain, killing those who refused to leave for Eretz Yisrael, so, too, in this period of final Redemption, God will liquidate the exile with fury poured out and will annihilate any who refuse to leave it — Heaven help us!

God took the Land from the nations and removed them from it, and He brought Israel into it so that they would keep His Torah and mitzvot. From the moment God decided to give the Land to Israel, it became Eretz Yisrael, the Land of the People of Israel — God’s Land which He gave Israel to use as the Holy Land.

It is a mitzvah and duty upon every Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael, and a Chillul Hashem when Israel lives outside of it. Furthermore, once God decreed that Israel must be separated from the nations and their alien, dominant culture, it clearly is forbidden to let the non-Jew live in Eretz Yisrael unless he is denied mastery and sovereignty over the Land and willingly accepts this. No non-Jew has the slightest right to ownership over the Land, and any non-Jew who denies God’s mastery and the ownership of His People Israel over the whole Land is rebelling against God, denying God’s sovereignty on earth and profaning God’s Name. He has one fate — to leave the Land or to relinquish his right to existence.

Over 1,000,000 Jews in New York and God Weeps!

Friday, June 15th, 2012

A couple of days ago, The Jewish Press reported that there are over a million Jews living in New York. Nearly half of them are “Orthodox.” What’s the celebration? Hashem gazes down from the Heavens at His children in New York City and weeps. That’s right. That’s what our Sages teach in the Talmud. During the night, the Holy One Blessed Be He sits and roars like a lion, saying, “Woe to the children who I have exiled among the nations of the world” (Berachot 3A). It’s like a King who builds a beautiful palace for his children, but they don’t want to live there. They prefer to hang out with the harlots. If we feel proud that there are a million Jews living in New York (when they could very easily be living in Israel), then something is very wrong with our Jewish Identity. On the contrary, we should all hang our heads down in disgrace.

But why listen to me? Let a real Rabbi explain it to you. Rabbi Meir Kahane was a true Jewish leader. For example, he could have gone into politics in America but he chose to go into politics in Israel instead, because he wanted to teach the Jews of America that they belong in the country of the Jews, and not in the countries of the gentiles. He wanted to teach them that Jerusalem was their capital, and not Washington D.C. Rabbi Kahane wanted to show by his personal example that what was really important for a Jew was what was happening in the Eretz Yisrael, and not when a new kosher pizza shop was opened in Boston or Beverly Hills. Yes, the pastrami and corned beef may be better in Brooklyn, but, personally, I’m happier eating a felafel on rye in Jerusalem, knowing I’m in the place where Hashem wants me to be.

Here’s part two of Rabbi Kahane’s chapter on the Mitzvah of Living in Israel, condensed from his book, The Jewish Idea:

Eretz Yisrael is acquired through suffering and devotion. The deterioration in our values, and the blunting of Israel’s emotional attachment to Eretz Yisrael, emerged because we distorted the halachah, due to the wretched exile which conquered our minds and souls. We are also tempted to flee the difficult challenge and duty of isolating ourselves from the nations, and the hardships of earning a living in rebuilding our homeland. It all goes back to our Sages’ comment in Berachot 5a: “God gave Israel three fine gifts and all come only through suffering: Torah, Eretz Yisrael and the World-to-Come.”

A person’s whole life is a test to see whether he will accept the yoke of Heaven and of mitzvot. There is nothing precious that does not exact a heavy price. Eretz Yisrael, a precious gift, requires self-sacrifice, as befits a treasure of the Chosen People.

Wherever we go, we are obligated to prove our faith and trust in G-d, and certainly so in Eretz Yisrael, the Chosen Land, symbol of Israel’s isolation and their belief that “The Lord alone guides them” (Deut. 32:12). Yet time after time we have failed in this. Our Sages learned (Tanchuma, Tazria, 6):

“A kohen who used to observe plague-spots (see Lev. 13) became poor and wished to leave the Land. He summoned his wife, saying… “Let me teach you how to observe plague spots. If you see that the well-spring of a person’s hair has dried up, know that he is smitten, for God created a well-spring for every single hair to drink from”… His wife replied, “If God created for every hair a well-spring of its own, how much more so will He provide a livelihood for you, who are a human being, with much hair, and have children whom you support!” Therefore, she did not let him leave the Land.

Lack of trust in God’s ability to support and defend us was, from time immemorial, the plague that severed us from the great mitzvah of living in the Land, causing us to distort the mitzvah and contrive all sorts of warped excuses to exempt ourselves from it.

How could we as a nation have failed regarding this mitzvah, fleeing the suffering entailed in the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, when ultimately it is the greatest gift God gave us? As it says (Jer. 3:19), “I gave you a Desirable Land.” So terribly has the cursed exile warped our nation, that many see no personal duty to leave the exile, and they do not at all consider it a punishment! What a perversion this is! This is a distortion of the Torah — through love of the Exile.

The Diaspora Has Failed!

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Yesterday, my wife and I visited the yeshiva high school in Maale Hever, where one of our sons will be learning next year. The settlement is located on the edge of the Judean Desert about ten minutes south of Hevron. As we were driving, I remembered back some 30 years ago to my first trip to Israel, how I was blown away by the biblical scenery along this very same road to the City of our Forefathers. The vineyards of Efrata, the terraced landscapes, the holiness shining off the hills, the realization that King David herded his sheep, here, in these very fields, all filled me with the overwhelming understanding, like a bolt of lightning in the darkness, that if I wanted to sincerely embrace a new life of Torah, as Torah was meant to be lived, in all of its freedom, pride, and holy beauty, then Eretz Yisrael was the “Super Bowl” for a serious Jew.

It is impossible to describe the feeling of a visit to Hevron, where we stopped on our way back to Yerushalayim. It’s a little like visiting your mom and dad after a very long absence. This is where our Nation all started. Not in Brooklyn. Not in Los Angeles. Here in Hevron, the history of our Nation begins, in the field of Machpelah, which remains today just as it was when Avraham purchased it. It is impossible to describe the transcendental feeling in the Tomb of the Patriarchs when you recite the Blessing of Avraham at the beginning of the Amidah prayer, and you are standing, trembling with awe and joy, with the realization that Avraham Avinu is here alongside you, with Yitzhak and Yaacov, here, in Hevron, where all prayers gather from all over the world to receive our father Avraham’s blessing before traveling on to Jerusalem, just a short drive down the road.

After praying, I sat with one of my sons and learned the Parsha with him, here in Hevron, where Jewish education all started, feeling that we were a living part of tradition, carrying the mission of the Jewish People forward, educating my son to be a proud Jew in the Land of our forefathers.

This week’s Torah portion of “Bechutotei” states with crystal clear clarity, again and again, that the exile is a curse and a punishment. It equates the exile with a terrible and frightening disease. Its language is brutal and horrific, leaving no room for misunderstanding. Exile from Eretz Yisrael is the worst punishment that can befall the Jewish People.

Given this terrible predicament, the task of Diaspora Jewry was to survive the exile and prepare the wandering and homeless Jewish community for its awaited return to the Land of Israel. The goal of returning to Israel is emphasized in the Torah, and in the visions of our Prophets again and again, more than any other theme. For nearly 2000 years, we prayed and dreamed about returning to Zion. Then something went terribly wrong. When the State of Israel was established, and we finally had the chance to return home to our Land, the vast majority of Jewish communities in the West turned their backs on the opportunity. Instead of wanting to escape the exile, they chose to stay. In defiance of the clear promises of the Torah, the Prophets, and 2000 years of prayers and dreams, in defiance of the clear discernible fact that God was gathering His outcasts back to Zion, and miraculously rebuilding the new State of Israel into one of the superpowers of the world, the Diaspora communities in the West decided to remain where they were, living amongst the gentiles in foreign lands. Instead of rushing to rebuild Israel, and take part in the long-awaited Redemption that was unfolding for everyone to see, they continued to build and strengthen their bastions in golus. After 2000 years of yearning, when the time came to return, they got cold feet. Yes, with their money, they helped a great deal. Out of love for our homeland and concern for the Jews who were rebuilding it, they reach deep into their pockets and gave. They exerted political pressure on Israel’s behalf. But in the matter of coming themselves, by and large, they failed to heed the call and join the hundreds of thousands of secular pioneers, Sefardi Jews, Yemenite Jews, and Holocaust survivors who were returning to Israel, in accord with ancient prophesies, age-long prayers, and the eternal command of the Torah.

Rejoicing Proud Jews: Reflections on Lag B’Omer

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Driving through Israel on a packed bus heading for Meron on Lag B’Omer. Along the way I see small fires lit everywhere, the radio talks about the holiday, the police are directing the public transportation system to bring a million Jews to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Many, however, do not know what this celebration is all about. Why do we put so much emphasis on one great rabbi? Why do we make fires all over the country and Jewish world? Why do we go up on mass to Meron, while Jerusalem is emptied?

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rashbi, was a rebel. He rebelled against the Romans, and repudiated their culture. He saw nothing positive about the Roman physical and cultural occupation and was vocal and active against them. The Romans, ever vigilant, closed in on Rashbi and he was forced to flee. His flight was marked by a prolonged period of hiding, and while in a cave, Rashi and his son began writing down the Kabbalah, Jewish esoteric wisdom.

The Romans won. They put down the uprising led by Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon. They killed millions of Jews and exiled millions to Rome, selling them as slaves. They destroyed the Temple and sacked Jerusalem.

Judaism, now bereft of land and Temple, with millions dead and dispossessed, seemed to be on the brink of utter destruction.

But Rashbi and his colleagues put into place a system of surviving the exile. For the next 15 centuries, Judaism would become portable and just as Rashbi went into hiding, so did the Kabbalah, the internal life spirit of Judaism. For fifteen-hundred years did the Kabbala hide, passed secretly amongst the sages. This transmission kept the Kabbala alive through the persecution and the darkness of the exile.

But around 1550 CE a man came to the land of Israel who saw that the era of the exile had come to an end and that the spirit of the Kabbala could now be resurrected.  The man was the Ari HaKadosh, Rabbi Yitchak Luria, and from the holy city of Tzfat, he called on the Jewish people to do two things, to return to the land of Israel and to study the Kabbala – the two things the Romans had taken away from the Jewish people.

The Ari began teaching the Zohar, the Kabbalistic legacy of Rashbi, and he instituted Lag B’Omer, the day that marks the passing of Rashbi as a day of celebration, celebrating the victory of Rabbi Shimon’s war against the Romans 1500 years later. The Holy Ari saw that victory was at hand — the Jews will return to the land and the true Torah will be studied once again.

Indeed, the victory of the Jewish idea is celebrated on Lag B’Omer. It neatly fits between Israeli Independence Day and Yom Yerushalayim. These three days together all have the same spirit which drives them:

*  the liberation of Jewish peoplehood,

*  the return to the land, and

*  the reemergence of authentic Jewish culture which the Romans sought to suppress.

Our fire burns bright in the night, it shall not be extinguished. They sought to extinguish our flame in Rome as in Auschwitz. But we persevered. On Lag B’Omer we celebrate the victory, and we honor the great Jewish fighters who fought for liberation and lost, who hid away our the precious cargo of our holy Torah, who passed it hidden through generations, and who pined away for the great day when we could once again live on our land as proud Jews.

That great day has come.  Chag Sameach!

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/rejoicing-proud-jews-reflections-on-lag-bomer/2012/05/09/

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