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August 30, 2016 / 26 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘exile’

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!

Yishai Fleisher

Here’s My Problem with the Dalai Lama

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

That’s right.  I’m calling out the Dalai Lama.

I have worked with the Tibetan diaspora, met privately with the Dalai Lama (see the picture, above), he grasped my hands and sent energy racing up my arms (no lie), and His Holiness even put a Tibetan prayer scarf (Kata) around my neck, which I still have to this day.  I get it.  He’s the Dalai Freaking Lama.  And everyone loves Mr. Lama.

But here’s my problem with His Holiness in particular, with Buddhists in general – and it also happens to be one of the first things that drew me to Judaism:

Jews understand evil.  Buddhists do not.

As Sara Yoheved Rigler wrote, “Judaism does not just resign itself to a world of darkness.  Judaism advocates jumping into the fray, facing evil head-on.”

“Facing evil head-on” is the defining characteristic of my life.

Wherever and whenever I see evil, my first reaction is to run at it and punch it in the face.  I do this for a living: on behalf of Tibetans, Falun Gong, Israeli Jews, and against anyone who threatens America.

What did the Dalai Lama do when Tibet was threatened by the evil of Communist China?  He retreated into exile.  Since then, Tibet has been virtually destroyed and consumed by its invaders.  That does not mean there were no courageous monks.  A number of them fought valiantly against the Chinese.  But the Dalai Lama was not among them.  He followed the example of Buddha and retreated.  As Maurice Lamm wrote, “buddha, upon seeing death, sickness and poverty, retreated from the world into a life of contemplation.”  In that way, Buddhism is more attuned to peaceful retreat than to facing evil head-on.

When Israel was threatened by its neighbors with destruction, Israel did not retreat.  It faced evil head-on.

That is not to say that all Jews, or even all Israelis, are 100% badasses who fully understand how to deal with evil.  Many Jews today still believe that they can get along peacefully with those whose only aim is to wipe all Jews from the map.

But Judaism, as I have come to understand it, is profoundly “of this world.”  It demands that we take action in this world.  And sometimes that means facing evil head-on.

By contrast, Buddhists believe that “enlightenment” means elevating one’s self out of this world.  Buddhist monks retreat from the world into monasteries, and this particular monk – the Dalai Lama – retreated from his country in 1959 and has lived in exile ever since.  Perhaps the Buddhist lack of understanding of evil is what led the Dalai Lama in May 2010 to declare “I’m a Marxist,” or to say in January 2012 that he was still seeking a “middle-way” policy with the Chinese communist thugs who took over his homeland and butchered his brothers.

That’s my problem with the Dalai Lama.  When evil crawls up your leg with a knife in its teeth you don’t retreat, you don’t meditate on it, and you don’t try to find a “middle-way.”  You kill it.

Jews love life.  But the world’s most evil people (who just happen to be the world’s biggest Jew-haters) proudly declare “we love death more than you love life.”

How do you deal with bad people who love death?

You give them what they love.

http://notajew-jew.com/?p=92

Not a Jew -> Jew

The Audacity of Redemption

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Natan Sharansky, famed refusenik and former Knesset Member who today heads the Jewish Agency, spent nine years in prison and labor camps in the former Soviet Union. His crime? The desire to live in his ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel. When asked in an interview how he survived the terrible conditions of the Russian Gulag, including 400 days in punishment cells, he answered that his faith, his Book of Tehillim (Psalms), and his feeling of “inner freedom,” gave him the strength and courage to go on. Behind the steel bars, he said, he felt freer than the prison guards who held him captive.

Freedom is a state of mind. And real freedom requires a little chutzpah, audacity.

It has been said, ‘It is easier to take the Jew out of the Exile, than to take the Exile out of the Jew’. While in Egypt, the Jewish people could not even hear Hashem’s promise of Redemption because of their “shortness of spirit” (Exodus 6:9). Even the name Mitzrayim implies constriction and limitations, from the Hebrew meitzar. The bondage in Egypt wasn’t merely a physical bondage, but a mental one. And so, while still in Egypt, Hashem began the process of taking the Jew out of the psychology of Exile, ridding him of his slave mentality.

According to the Midrash, during the plague of Darkness, the Jewish people searched under the cover of night in their Egyptian neighbor’s homes for valuables. Later, when it was time for the Jewish people to ask the Egyptians for those possessions, they would not be able to deny owning them (Shemot Rabbah 14:3). While the image of Jews snooping around for gold and silver always bothered me, this brazenness was necessary to take the ‘Exile out of the Jew’.

A slave’s time is not his own. So the first mitzvah that Hashem gave the Jewish people was to proclaim the New month (Exodus 12:2) – empowering us to create the calendar and proclaim the festivals – making us the masters of our own time and the masters of our destiny.

And in the greatest act of chutzpah, Hashem commands the nascent Jewish nation to slaughter the Egyptian god, and roast it over fire. The Torah is not a recipe book, but requires that the Passover Offering be roasted. Why? Because when you are having a barbeque in your backyard, the whole neighborhood knows! Just imagine what it must have smelled like that night in Egypt, as the Jews prepared to leave.

A little chutzpah is also necessary in our service of God, as individuals.

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (16th C. Poland) writes at the beginning of his commentary to the Code of Jewish Law, “One should not be ashamed in front of another who mocks him in his service of Hashem.” If you are always looking over your shoulder, you’re not free. As Jews, we take pride in eating our unleavened bread and bitter herbs, along with all of the other mitzvot we observe, without wondering what the neighbors will say.

Audacity, or brazenness, got us out of Egypt. That attitude kept us going for 2,000 years without a homeland, and it’s that same attitude that founded the State of Israel against all odds.

No longer are we ‘shtetl Jews’. As of the founding of the State of Israel, Jews are finally free to live and practice their Judaism without looking over their shoulders. But today, the State of Israel is in desperate need of leaders with some chutzpah. Leaders who don’t cower at international pressure or capitulate to the demands of the White House. Leaders who will do what is in the best interest of this country’s safety and security – at all costs. Leaders with some backbone.

The next time you hear someone repeating the old stereotype that Jews are pushy, remember that Jewish survival has always required a little chutzpah.

Rabbi Shimshon HaKohen Nadel

Arab League States Propose Exile for Assad

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Arab states have floated a proposal to US and European diplomats whereby Bashar al-Assad would agree to resign and he and his family would be sent into exile, according to a report by Reuters.

There is heavy skepticism that Assad would agree to such an arrangement, but the proposal reveals the extent to which Arab states and the West agree that the only and inevitable solution for the 10-month turmoil in Syria is Assad’s ouster.

While the exile option may be premature – considering the ongoing UN Security Council debate on a draft resolution – three countries have already expressed willingness to give Assad sanctuary in order to end the crisis. Although a European diplomat insisted that there was “no way we’d have him in our countries,” sources said the United Arab Emirates is among those states that would.

Should Assad even agree to exile, the issue of immunity would pose another problem, as Syrian opposition and human rights organizations would likely oppose any deal that grants him immunity for the brutal violence perpetrated in the name of his regime.

“We understand that some countries have offered to host him should he choose to leave Syria,” an Obama administration official was quoted as saying, but “there are significant questions of accountability for the horrible abuses that have been committed against the Syrian people.”

The current Arab-Western draft resolution urges Assad to transfer power to his deputy to allow for a peaceful transition to unity government. Russia insists that it would veto any resolution on Syria that does not explicitly rule out foreign military intervention.

The violence in Syria has resulted in the deaths of almost 5,000 people in the past 10 months, and dissidents reported this week that the regime’s forces have intensified operations on Syrian opposition positions.

Jewish Press Staff Writer

Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk (Part III)

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Wherever the two holy brothers went on their self-imposed exile they generated a spirit of repentance. Their standard routine was to admonish themselves out loud for their supposed crimes, when in fact their “sins” were precisely the ones that the villager within earshot needed to rectify.

“Mellech, Mellech,” Reb Elimelech would reprimand himself, “how will you ever be able to face your final judgment knowing that you took advantage of your customers’ naiveté?”

“I am certainly no better,” Reb Zusha would join. “How could I,” he mourned, “have avoided davening with a minyan?”

The two of them used their clairvoyant abilities to determine exactly what it was that the locals had transgressed, and then elaborated as to how they would personally be punished for those very same sins. Invariably, this caused the true sinners to be filled with remorse and rectify their sinful deeds. Countless individuals improved their lives this way without having their dignity compromised or having been humiliated in the process.

Wandering from town to village, the holy brothers neglected their physical needs and were sustained solely by meager coins or scraps of food that were donated along the way. One Sunday night they found themselves in a new town on a cold wintry night. The tavern keeper offered to lodge them behind the fireplace that heated the pub.

The two of them took their places on the floor, with Reb Zusha, as always, offering his older brother the preferred spot nearer the fire. No sooner had Reb Elimelech and Reb Zusha retired their weary bones when the tavern began to fill up with Gentiles who had come to celebrate nothing other than their inebriated state. Wobbling and singing as drunkards do, they made themselves merry until they stumbled across a real cause for celebration.

Right before their eyes, innocently sleeping on the floor, was a Jew who could serve as the evening’s entertainment. As many of them were wagon drivers, they were equipped with whips and staffs that could readily enlist the sleeping Jew’s cooperation.

“Up and dance!” they ordered, as they snapped their whips and beat their staffs to ensure immediate compliance. Reb Zusha sprang to his feet and danced energetically for the leering drunks. The wagon drivers were not looking for a quick performance – they had all night – and they unsparingly utilized their appurtenances to assure protracted amusement.

Eventually, however, the drunkards grew tired and allowed Zusha to collapse to the floor. But it wasn’t just one Jew that they had savagely beaten. Reb Elimelech felt every blow on his own back and urgently pressed his brother to exchange places with him. “They’ll be back and then it will be my turn to suffer their indignities.” But in no way did Reb Zusha feel that he was getting the worst part of the deal. Being beaten simply because he was a defenseless Jew was good for the soul, he maintained. And he knew his brother did not dispute this point.

Still, Reb Elimelech would have none of it. He was insistent that they switch places so that when the drunks would decide again to be entertained, he would be the butt of their vile behavior.

And indeed the wagon drivers returned, eager for another dance performance. Not for naught had they entered a tavern.

But in a display of uncharacteristic egalitarianism, they announced that it would only be fair to wake the Jew lying nearer to the fireplace, for the outer one had already made his contribution to the night’s festivities.

Reb Elimelech stood up and explained, or at least tried to explain, that the outer Jew was previously the inner one, for they had switched places. But his entreaties fell upon drunken ears.

Reb Zusha sanguinely accepted his lot and commented, “Mellech, don’t feel bad. You see that one who deserves to be beaten cannot avoid it. Your desire to switch places was willed from Heaven.”

Eventually the wagon drivers tired of their entertainment and they crashed to the floor in a drunken stupor. The brothers arose to recite tikun chatzos and to thank the Almighty for having separated them from inhumane derelicts. Blessed were they to be servants privileged to worship the Almighty.

The holy brothers never forgot those that extended themselves on their behalf while they were in their period of exile. One such individual was Reb Aharon in the village of Ludmir who served as their host whenever they visited this town. Reb Aharon lived in abject poverty, but this never stopped him from extending hospitality and sharing his meager crumbs.

Once Reb Elimelech and Reb Zusha were revealed as famous tzaddikim, and their followers were everywhere to be found, they returned to Ludmir – this time in a horse-drawn carriage. Just as in the past, they turned to Reb Aharon for lodging, which he graciously offered, as always.

Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk (Part II)

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

The parents of Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk, Eliezer Lipman and his pious wife, Mirish, emanated from families that could trace their lineage all the way back to Rashi, Rav Yochanan Hasandlar of Talmudic fame and even King David. They lived in the townlet of Lapachi, not far from Tiktin.

As Mirish was illiterate in the holy tongue, she would recite her blessings by heart. Reb Zusha testified that at the time that his mother prayed, the Divine presence could be found in the home. On Erev Shabbos she would travel to Tiktin to dispense alms.

One story tells of a group of destitute beggars who came to her home, including a leper covered in ghastly boils. While everyone else distanced himself or herself from this wretched discomfiture, Mirish reached out and saw to his needs. Just before the group’s departure the leper blessed her: “May your children be like me.”

Before she could respond to this worrisome blessing, the entire entourage vanished. She then understood that she had been tested from Heaven.

One day, the Baal Shem Tov – who would travel from town to town and address assemblies of the commoners regarding the value of prayer and the sanctity of the synagogue – visited Eliezer and Mirish’s village. This marked a turning point in their lives. From that day on, they faithfully provided candles to the shul and were meticulous in prayer, as they beseeched the Almighty to open the hearts of their four sons and one daughter to the Torah.

On the sad day that Eliezer Lipman passed from this world, his children gathered for the week of mourning. At the conclusion of the shiva the sons divided their father’s inheritance in the following way: Avraham received the cash and the house was given to Nosson. The jewelry and housewares went to Elimelech and the outstanding debts were to be collected by Zusha.

The division had been thus contrived for Zusha, who was very clever at disguising his ways and who appeared to have plenty of time on his hands. It only seemed fitting that he should be the one to go out and collect the debts.

However, Zusha was in no way suited for this mission, and without a penny from the inheritance, was left destitute. Bereft of any means of support, he decided to travel to his uncle who was an assistant to the Maggid of Mezeritch.

Lodging with his uncle meant constant exposure to the Maggid and, in no time, Zusha became an ardent chassid. In the meantime, Elimelech had moved to his wife’s hometown of Shineva.

After his stay with his uncle in Mezeritch, Zusha departed for his brother, Elimelech. The very long and arduous journey took its toll on Zusha’s attire. His worn-out tatters were far shabbier than those that clad the poorest of beggars.

Ever vigilant of the honor of his in-laws, Elimelech was ashamed to allow his dreadfully-appearing brother into his home. He therefore arranged accommodations for him at the home of a local baker.

However, Zusha’s night was not earmarked for mundane sleep. Those precious hours were devoted to learning, prayer and the loud recitation of tikun chatzos. Zusha’s nocturnal agenda effectively brought an end to his tenancy at the baker’s house and Elimelech had no other recourse but to invite his brother into his own home.

It was there that he was able to observe Zusha’s ways first-hand. This sparked within Elimelech the desire to draw close to the Maggid of Mezeritch.

Reb Zusha convinced his older brother to join him in a self-imposed exile that they would devote to elevating the people that they would encounter. Attired in the clothes of exile, they would travel from village to village to persuade, direct and inspire the people to desist from sin and return to their holy roots. The exile would also, as the Talmud teaches, purify their souls.

Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Again? Yes, Again

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

“Not again!” you may say. To which I respond, “Yes, again!” I say this as I write once again about the most heinous tragedy that could have befallen us, so even though it may not be popular – even though your reaction may be, “We heard it already” – I am nevertheless writing because I fear we have returned to business as usual.

Hashem has been sending us wakeup call after wakeup call, but we remain deaf to all of them and have yet to sound the alarm, have yet to see the hand of G-d beckoning us. This time, however, is different. This time, no one can avoid seeing that what has befallen us is so incomprehensible, it can only be interpreted as a message from the Almighty Himself.

A Jewish child is slaughtered by another Jew – in, of all places, Boro Park, a glittering stronghold of Torah.

And before we can even catch our breaths, a sage in the holy land of Israel, in an enclave of Torah, is savagely murdered – by a Jew.

Is there anyone among us who should not be trembling? Is there anyone among us whose heart should not be shattered – whose eyes should not overflow with tears? With these murders, something has changed, something that never occurred before, something that should frighten each and every one of us.

Every yeshiva child knows our First Temple was destroyed because of three cardinal sins, as a result of which we were taken into the Babylonian exile. Through the mercy of Hashem, after seventy years of exile we returned to our land and rebuilt the Temple.

The Second Temple would eventually be destroyed as well, though for an altogether different reason. While we were careful in our observance, unwarranted hatred permeated our lives. Walls of animosity, controversy and jealousy divided us. It was this fragmentation that catapulted us into the Roman exile, and it is in this exile that we still languish.

For almost two thousand years we have been suffering in this darkness. We have traversed the four corners of the world, tasted the bitter sting of the lash, experienced oppression, torture, inquisition and the Holocaust. Centuries have passed and we remain in exile. Why did G-d not redeem us as he redeemed our forefathers?

The answer to this question is painfully simple – we never repented. Stubbornly, we clung and continued to cling to our hatreds and animosities and in every generation, in every society, we found different reasons to justify it…so much so that the hatred has taken on a life of its own. We no longer see anything wrong with it and consider it a normal way of life.

But these recent heinous, unprecedented events alter our reality.

Our generation continues to stubbornly cling to the sin of unwarranted hatred that is at the root of our present exile, and we concede we are guilty of two of the cardinal sins that led to the destruction of the First Temple: immorality and idol worship (idol worship does not only connote “idols” but anything that is like an idol (money, etc.) and removes us from the true worship of G-d.

Nevertheless, we were secure in the knowledge that the third sin – murder – never penetrated our sanctuary.

Now, with the savage murders of an innocent child and a Torah sage, that illusion has been forever shattered. Overnight, we became the generation that carries on its shoulders the heavy burden of the sins that led to the destruction of our two Temples and sent us into exile. Just take a moment to think about it. It is a catastrophe that has never befallen our people. The sins that led to those destructions are now identified with us. Is that not reason enough to tremble? Is that not reason enough to examine our lives before it is too late?

The Rambam taught us that when suffering is visited upon us, we are commanded to cry out, awaken our people, sound the shofar. Everyone must be alerted to probe his or her life and commit to greater observance of Torah and mitzvos. The Rambam warned that if we regard the tragedies that befall us simply as “the way of the world” – “natural happenings” – we will be guilty of achzarius, cruelty.

At first glance, it is difficult to understand why the Rambam would choose to ascribe “cruelty” to those who view trials and tribulations as “natural happenings.” Such people may be unthinking, apathetic, blind or obtuse, but why accuse them of cruelty? The answer is simple. If we regard our pain and suffering as “mere coincidence,” we will feel no motivation to examine our lives, abandon our old ways, andchange. So yes, such an attitude is cruel, for it invites additional misfortune upon ourselves and others. It would be the height of cruelty to dismiss what is occurring in the world today as mere happenstance.

As Jews, we all know (even if we do not want to admit it), that nothing on earth occurs by accident. G-d’s guiding Hand is always there. In the holy tongue, the very word “coincidence” is kara, meaning kara me Hashem – “it happened from G-d.” G-d has sent us a wakeup call so loud that even a deaf person must hear it. But somehow we manage to console ourselves with distractions and blame some mental or emotional sickness to explain away this savage brutality.

We are a generation that no longer recognizes terms such as “bad” or “sinful.” Rather, we tend to rationalize it all away with psychological jargon. At the end of the day, however, no matter what psychological illness we attribute to these heinous deeds, the tragic, shameful fact remains – they happened! And they were done by our own! Now if this is not enough of a wakeup call, what is?

In the face of all this, what are we to do? What can we do?

(To Be Continued)

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/again-yes-again/2011/08/10/

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