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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Temptations, Tests, and the Search for Spiritual Courage

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

I was recently walking down the street when I smelled one of the most amazing unkosher cuisines I could ever remember smelling. As I stared at my food enemy, I had a thought which I imagine most religious Jews have at one point or another. I wondered: Was God testing me with this great smell? Was this amazing scent a way to bring my downfall?

Pondering this trivial “test” led to a greater philosophical and theological question: What is the religious nature of temptations and tests?

The Torah says, “Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He sent hardships to test you.” (Deut. 8:2). We read that G-d has Bnei Yisrael wander in the desert for 40 years as a test.

What is this about? To place a nation (man, woman, and child) through such transient and confused misery for decades as a test? I also often wonder if the Jewish people are being tested today, with our own state in Israel and unprecedented wealth and influence in the US. What will we do with the great blessings we’ve been granted? What does this idea mean that G-d tests us as individuals and as a nation?

It must be more than schar v’onesh (that God is merely keeping our score card) or that G-d is merely flexing power in the world.

I also can’t relate to the cynical answer found in the book of Job, where God tests Job because of a disagreement with Satan. My belief in a benevolent and personal G-d precludes the possibility of random tests.

Still within distance of smelling my temptation of the day, I began to ponder answers:

For years, the most compelling answer to me has been that it is through the struggle of these challenges that we truly grow. These temptations are ways of teaching people about G-d and the incredible human capacity for compassion and spiritual depth. The Ramban argues that this was exactly the purpose of the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac) for Avraham.

Alternatively, perhaps there is a utilitarian approach that more people can learn from a test than the one having to undergo the discomfort of the test. The Rambam and Radak argue that the purpose of the test at the Akeidah was not for Avraham to learn but for the future adherents of the Abrahamic faith to learn. This sets a gold standard for others to try to follow.

Rav Kook goes even further, arguing that Avraham was being tested in order to “prove” to the pagan religions that monotheism can match the religious passion of pagan worship through the act of inward sacrifice, without the need for savage and barbaric sacrifices. One is being tested in order to teach others through its example.

Another utilitarian approach is that tests can provide opportunities for others to do mitzvot to help when we are struggling. It is for the moral good of the community at large.

These explanations may be true and all of them are worth thinking about but Rav Tzadok teaches that just as a person needs to believe in G-d so too one needs to believe in oneself. These days many of us (including myself) are struggling less with why we are tested by G-d and more with how we can overcome our obstacles and challenges to live a happier, more meaningful, more successful life. Do we believe in our own capacity to overcome in the face of adversity?

One tool that we can all consider experimenting with: The Gemara says that the Torah is the seasoning for the yetzer hara (personal evil inclination). The Maggid of Mezritch offers a beautiful interpretation that since the yetzer hara is the main dish and the Torah is the seasoning, we must serve God with the full ecstasy of the yetzer hara. The purpose is not to destroy or subdue the yetzer hara but rather to spice it up – to access its energy and channel it towards good.

This is to say that when we experience struggle we should use that temptation and channel that new energy towards good rather than attempt to dismiss or remove the temptation. This is why the Midrash explains that without the yetzer hara there would be no business or procreation. In a complex way, we need our desire for self-advancement to further societal goals.

Egypt Coptic Christian Leadership Condemns Western Media Coverage

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

In the face of an unprecedented wave of violence directed against Coptic Christians amid the turmoil in Egypt that has left hundred’s dead, the church’s leadership issued a statement condemning the Western media’s biased coverage of the events in Egypt.

“We strongly denounce the fallacies broadcasted by the Western media and invite them to review the facts objectively regarding these bloody radical organizations and their affiliates instead of legitimizing them with global support and political protection while they attempt to spread devastation and destruction in our dear land,” reads the statement, according to a Google translation.

“We request that the international and western media adhere to providing a comprehensive account of all events with truth, accuracy, and honesty,” the statement added.

The Coptic Church also reaffirmed its support for the military-backed government, calling on the army and security forces to continue their fight against the “armed violent groups and black terrorism.”

One of the oldest communities in Christianity, Coptic Christians have survived numerous persecutions in the past. But the recent violence is unprecedented. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent human rights organization, has documented 39 attacks against Coptic Christian churches, schools, monasteries and businesses since late last week, NPR reported.

Coptic Christians constituted a majority of Egypt’s population until the Middle Ages, when Islam, introduced by the Arab invasions in the 7th century, eclipsed their religion. Today, Coptic Christianity comprises nearly 10 percent of Egypt’s 85 million people, making it the largest single Christian community remaining in the Middle East.

Calendar Of Events

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

What: Israel Bonds Aventura Turnberry Brunch (honoring Ursla Kersh and Myrna and Robert Kopf; guest speaker – foreign policy analyst Dr. Ralph Nurnberger)
Where: Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, 20400 NE 30th Ave, Aventura
When: Sunday, Dec. 9 at 10:30 a.m.
Cost: $36 per person Contact: 305-937-1880

* * * * *

What: Chabad of Kendall/Pinecrest’s fun-filled Chanukah celebration (face painting, bounce house, arts and crafts, bbq, hot latkes and doughnuts)
When: Sunday, Dec. 9 starting at 12:30 p.m.
Where: 8700 SW 112 Street, Miami
Contact: 305-234-5654 ext 10, or e-mail woolfson@chabadofkendall.org

* * * * *

What: Chanukah party at the MAR-JCC (musical performance, delicious latkes, arts and crafts projects)
When: Sunday, Dec. 9 from 3 to 6 p.m.
Where: 18900 NE 25th Ave, North Miami Beach
Cost: Free admission – open to MAR-JCC members and their guests
Contact: 305-932-4200 (ext 128) or e-mail marjccdavid@aol.com

A Big-Time Pollster In The Making?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

I come across Yair Michaeli standing amid the bustle of an Israeli shopping mall, a clipboard in his hand. He appears to be a serious-minded Israeli haredi. What is he doing in a place like this?

Yair, a 22-year-old graduate of prestigious Lithuanian and Sephardic yeshivot, is a licensed realtor but hopes one day to be the man all Israeli politicians turn to at election time – the premier pollster of Israeli politics.

“I was always interested in politics, even as a child,” says Yair. “First I made personal connections with all the haredi and religious parties and their leaders. Eventually I became interested in all the parties. Israeli politics is an amazing mix of personalities, ideologies and sheer energy. It is the most fascinating political process in the world, without a doubt.”

“So,” I ask him, “what is your method for polling?”

“As you know,” he replies, “there are many others working in the field, and there is no shortage of polls. First I gather all the recent polls done by other groups and factor the results together, arriving at an average score for each party running. Then I use my own special method.”

“Which is what?” I ask.

“Other pollsters try to get a random sampling of the population based on all kinds of statistical models. Then they call people on the phone. However, many people when polled by telephone don’t respond seriously. Sometimes the questions don’t resonate. So the results are inaccurate. What I do is more down to earth. I choose a sampling of locations and take my teams directly to places where people naturally come together. There we ask the relevant questions face to face. People get to consider the questions carefully and ask for explanations or clarifications.”

I look at him questioningly. “Is this really a superior method?”

“In a face-to-face encounter you can always see if someone is being serious with you or not,” he sys. “Sometimes people share their thoughts and feelings, and we take special note of this information. After tabulating the responses, we can see how far our results correlate with or diverge from the other polls. Sometimes there are big differences, which make us go back and retry our polling method. When we retry several times and our results remain consistent, we know we are on to something important which the other pollsters might have missed.”

As the Israeli election draws near, Yair works almost around the clock. He visits population centers and party activists. He is always eager to share his unique insights.

“In this upcoming election,” he says, “there are several new parties that have entered the race. This happens every election and ordinarily it is not statistically significant. New independent parties don’t usually register with Israeli voters. Most successful politicians have his or her power base in some pre-existing social context. This means that in Israeli politics the people end up getting more of the same old stuff term after term. But this time around it seems that something fundamental has shifted in voters’ attitudes. People are tired of running over the same ineffectual solutions time and time again. There is a breath of fresh air blowing this time, and I believe that at least one independent party has a fighting chance of getting into the next Knesset.”

“Which party is that?” I ask.

“The Calcala Party,” he responds. “But of course there are still lots of polls to be taken between now and Election Day, and Calcala has an uphill battle ahead of it.”

I ask him to sum up his own personal and professional goals.

“First, my goal is to provide accurate information to the politicians I consider worthy of my help. Second, I intend to become the main pollster for the Israeli political system.”

“You seem pretty confident,” I tell him.

“Yes, I’m confident I can do it. How? Well, if after the upcoming elections it turns out my polls were the most accurate at predicting the various parties’ performance, that will pretty much seal the matter.”

Maybe a little too skeptically, I press him: “So you really think you can pull this off?”

He replies with a smile: “Time will tell, time will tell.”

Sdei Avraham Woman Fought off Gaza Terrorist Singlehandedly

Monday, November 26th, 2012

YNET has published a report with the details of the terror attack this morning in Sdei Avraham.

The terrorist from Gaza entered the home of Yael (39), where she was sleeping with her 4 children.

The terrorist attacked Yael with a knife and iron rod, and she single handedly fought him off, saving the lives of her children and herself.

She was stabbed in the face and shoulder in the process.

The terrorist ran away from the through a window after she managed to lock him in the bathroom. Yael called the Kitat Konninut (Rapid Reponse Team).

Police and IDF caught up with the terrrorist 2 kilometers from the house and shot and killed him.

The IDF are examining how the terrorist got in from Gaza.

In the Matter of Susan Rice

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Getting at the truth of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi is a work in progress and this is certainly a story with legs. Why U.S. personnel were not given adequate protection despite danger signals for weeks prior and why the Obama administration, in the face of intelligence information to the contrary, downplayed any terrorist dimension in the assault, urging instead that the attackers were ordinary Muslims upset about an anti-Muhammad video, is sure to be the focus of intense congressional attention.

But the brouhaha over the role of our UN Ambassador Susan Rice in promoting the deception has assumed a life of its own as she appears to be President Obama’s choice to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. To be sure, Ambassador Rice’s appearances on news programs touting the video scenario raises some serious questions. But there should also be concern over her comments to the UN Security Council in February 2011 when, ironically, she cast the U.S. veto of a resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion.

It will be recalled that there was a concerted effort on the part of the Palestinians and their allies to have the Security Council pass a resolution condemning Israel’s settlement growth. President Obama indicated early on that the U.S. would not go along with this and, if necessary, block the measure by voting against it. (Because the U.S. is a permanent member of the Security Council, this meant the measure would not pass.)

Video of the Security Council session show an obviously upset Ambassador Rice as she cast the negative vote. Her body language and facial expressions send an unmistakable message. Here are excerpts of what she said that day:

The United States has been deeply committed to pursuing a comprehensive and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In that context, we have been focused on taking steps that advance the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, rather than complicating it. That includes a commitment to work in good faith with all parties to underscore our opposition to continued settlements.Our opposition to the resolution before this Council today should therefore not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity. On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. For more than four decades, Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel’s security and corroded hopes for peace and stability in the region. Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace….

While we agree with our fellow Council members – and indeed, with the wider world – about the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this Council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians. We therefore regrettably have opposed this draft resolution.

So, separate and apart from her role in the Benghazi aftermath. we have serious reservations about what it would mean for Israel should Ms. Rice become secretary of state. As for Benghazi, President Obama has defended Ms. Rice in the face of criticism that she misled the public. He has said she was following his orders. A similar defense was offered by members of the Black Congressional Caucus who insist that any criticism of Ms. Rice is racist and sexist since she was simply following the president’s directive.

In reality, of course, the ambassador has shown herself quite capable of communicating her personal disagreement with presidential policy when she feels the need to do so, as witness the above transcript.

We also note in this connection that as a cabinet level official, Ms. Rice had access to classified intelligence information concerning Benghazi that contradicts the administration’s initial video narrative. And how in the world did she overlook or dismiss the fact that the attack came on 9/11?

Over Here, my Rain Is Happy!

Monday, November 12th, 2012

“I’m singing in the rain, I’m singing in the rain, what a wonderful feeling, I’m happy again!”

Before Shabbat, the Heavens opened with a symphony of thunder and lightning, and the great blessing of rain washed over the Land of Israel in answer to our prayers. Like I do every year with the very first rain, I hurried outside and danced in joy, laughing happily as the raindrops splashed on my face.

“Raindrops keep falling on my head… da da da da da da da da da da da… nothings worrying me!”

Back in the house, I opened the door to the terrace so I could hear the splattering of rain on the aluminum roof. What a wonderful sound! “What a glorious feeling! I’m happy again!” The clatter of raindrops sounded like the clinging of coins in a beggar’s cup. “Rain, rain, don’t go away – stay with us another day!”

When lightening lit up the sky and thunder shook the heavens, I recited their special blessings with exuberant joy. What a privilege to be in the Holy Land when it rains! It’s like every drop is a kiss from Hashem, assuring us that He loves us.

Yesterday, driving to Tel Aviv, it was pouring. I sang all the way! What a blessing to be stuck in a long traffic jam in Israel because of the rain! For nearly 2000 years, we’ve prayed to come home to Israel, and now that Hashem, in His infinite kindness, has allowed us to rebuild our Land, what a joy that we have long traffic jams! It’s a sign that the country is booming!  Would Moshe Rabanu have complained to sit in a traffic jam in Israel? Would Rashi have grumbled? No way!

I can’t help comparing our great joy in Israel over the rain to the recent devastating rains in New York. There it was a disaster. You want to know why? Look at this, from the Torah giant, the “Ohr Somayach,” Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen from Dvinsk, from his famous commentary on the Torah, the “Meshech Chochmah,”

“If a Jew thinks that Berlin (New York) is Jerusalem, then a raging storm-wind will uproot him by his trunk – a hurricane will arise and spread its roaring waves, and it will swallow and destroy, and flood forth without pity” (Meshech Chochmah, Pg. 171).

In the same light, the Torah giant, Rabbi Yaacov Emden, writes in the Introduction to his famous siddur, “The Beit Yaacov,”

“When it seems to us, in our present peaceful existence outside of the Land of Israel, that we have found another Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem, this is to me the deepest, most obvious, most outstanding, and direct cause of all of the awesome, frightening, monstrous, unimaginable destructions that we have experienced in the Diaspora.”

In the meantime, I’m yours truly, just singing and dancing in the rain.

French Imams in Jerusalem For Anti-Anti-Jewish Campaign

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

A campaign by a group of 12 French imams to portray themselves as friendly to Jews is set to take place on Sunday when they arrive in Israel for a five-day visit.

Imam Hassan Shaljoumi told Maariv newspaper that the imams spreading anti-Semitism in the name of Islam are a minority, and that there are Muslims who want to live in peace with Jews.

Shaljoumi told Maariv that his interfaith work has subjected him to threats, and that he kept the trip a secret until the end to prevent enemies to his cause from thwarting the project.

The imams will meet with President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and other Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders, and visit Muslim sites throughout Jerusalem.

Group members issued a statement saying “our image in the world has been sullied and we must remedy it in the name of tolerance – we are the true face of French Muslims.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/french-imams-in-jerusalem-for-anti-anti-jewish-campaign/2012/11/11/

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