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October 26, 2016 / 24 Tishri, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Unshakable Faith

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

The year was 1909 and my grandmother, Perel Tunis, ob”m, was expecting a baby at the age of 35. The doctors told Grandma that carrying a child at such an “old age” would put her life in danger but Grandma believed that G-d should be the one to decide her fate. With unshakable faith, she told the doctors that if G-d wanted her to live, she would and if not, G-d forbid, she wouldn’t, but she felt strongly that she would indeed give birth and it would be to a son, who would be in her words, “the best one of them all!”

Grandma’s belief was, thank G-d, fulfilled. She gave birth to my father, ob”m, Avraham Moonish (Manny) the baby, an only son, because her other little boy, Henoch, passed away, unfortunately, at a very young age.

Daddy had the most amazing sense of humor. He used to joke that his four older sisters were so busy fighting amongst themselves that they had no time to give him any grief!

When he was 11, his oldest sister took him aside and informed him that as the only son, he would be responsible for supporting Grandpa and Grandma in their old age.

He most certainly fulfilled his parental obligations but this did not keep him from being a fun-loving kid!

He loved to take bread and butter sandwiches out to the fire escape so he could read to his heart’s content.

A teenage athlete of some note, Daddy was excellent at track and handball. However as Sabbath-observant Jews, Grandpa Tzvi forbid Daddy from participating in a track meet scheduled to take place on Shabbos.

­It is not surprising therefore, that Daddy was an amazing dancer.

When my parents married off their last child, my younger sister Civi, we honored them by performing a dance especially for them. After we finished dancing, Daddy, already in his 70’s, proceeded to dance in front of Civi and Jeff! The photographer captured the shock and delight of the onlookers who clapped their hands in time to Daddy’s agile steps!

Daddy loved to write poetry as well. One of his pieces was published in The New York Herald Tribune newspaper.

But most importantly to us, Daddy, an accountant, was as honest as they come.

He and my mother were on the same page, when it came to believing that Hashem sees everything one does every moment of the day. One must be honest and straight in business dealings and in any interchange involving another person, no matter what his color or creed.

Daddy was disturbed to have found many errors in the (accounting) books of the company where he was working. He felt a sense of pride in knowing that he saved the company a good sum of money when he straightened things out.

But most importantly, Daddy’s insured that a minyan was available especially if there was a mourner who was required to say kaddish.

His resolve in this respect would come into play the very last time that I saw him.

It was a hot Friday afternoon. Daddy and Mommie had done their monthly shopping in Brooklyn and afterwards came over to see their pride and joy: their grandkids. Daddy had just resumed driving after having undergone cataract surgery. He had also undergone cancer surgery within the past year. He looked very tired so I entreated my parents to stay with us for Shabbos.

Daddy told me that he couldn’t because if he wasn’t in shul, there would be no minyan as many families went to their seaside homes for Shabbos.

I still wanted to do something for him. He loved chocolate so I ran to the fridge and got him a bar to take home.

Penina Metal

Faith Over Reason

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Amongst the hundreds of commandments that God bestows upon the people of Israel, are many that on the surface are difficult to understand. These are classically called “Hok,” or “Hukim” in the plural. King Solomon himself, that most wisest of men, is quoted as stating that the law of the Red Heifer, featured in this week’s Torah reading, was beyond his comprehension.

The Temple rite of the Red Heifer consisted of a rare cow, completely covered in red hair, that was ritually slaughtered and subsequently burned. The resulting ashes were then mixed in water and that water was sprinkled over individuals, purifying those who had been ritually impure because of contact with the dead. What was perhaps most ironic about the rite was that the Kohen doing the sprinkling and having been ritually pure beforehand, became impure by the end of the rite, even though he was the source and cause of purification in others. It’s as if by purifying the other, he absorbs some of the impurity himself.

Nonetheless, the Sfat Emet in 5632 (1872) explains the path to understanding these perhaps incomprehensible commandments. He states that of course every commandment has a reason, but that we can’t understand the reason until after we accept the commandment without an explanation. Then, according to the level of faith, of acceptance of the commandment and the willingness to perform it without understanding, so too will be the level of understanding we achieve.

He further explains that the reasons behind these commandments are actually spiritual matters as opposed to merely intellectual exercises and only the spirit has the capacity to understand, or more accurately to “sense,” the reason behind the commandments.

May we develop the capacity to believe so that eventually we may understand.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dedicated to the Jewish Community of Uruguay on the celebration of its 100th anniversary.


Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz

Elie Wiesel: From ‘Night’ To Faith

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

In his seminal Faith After the Holocaust, Eliezer Berkovitz argued that only those who experienced the Holocaust can authentically respond to it; only those who were there may properly express what he characterized as “authentic rebellion” or “authentic faith.”

Elie Wiesel was there. And he expressed both.

This column not going to be about Wiesel’s biography and life’s work, which are already well known and in the wake of his passing well-covered by hundreds, if not thousands, of obituaries and articles. Suffice it to say he is best known as a Holocaust survivor who, as unofficial spokesman for Jewish Holocaust survivors, dedicated his life to implanting the Holocaust into the world’s consciousness and keeping the memory of the Six Million alive.

Rather, we will attempt to highlight Wiesel’s philosophical and theological voyage – his journey from rebellion against belief in God because of the Holocaust to his embrace of faith in God notwithstanding the Holocaust.

This transition may perhaps best be demonstrated through a comparison of Wiesel’s black despair and anger at God in the very bitter Night, his first book, with his ultimate acceptance of the eternity of the Jewish people as a manifestation of Jewish faith in God, as expressed in Ani Maamin, his lesser-known masterpiece.

Night, which establishes the basis for all Wiesel’s subsequent work, is a dark memoir based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. He describes his loss of faith arising out of the ashes of the crematoria and, in one of the rawest and most often quoted paragraphs of the book, he concludes:

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.

Singer-071516-Ani-MaaminThe story of Wiesel’s Ani Maamin, however, begins with the great codifier of Torah law and Jewish philosophy, Maimonides (the Rambam), who compiled the Shloshah Assar Ikkarim, or the Thirteen Fundamental Principles of the Jewish faith, which he characterized in his Mishnah commentary as “the fundamental truths of our religion and its very foundations.” The Principles include belief in the existence of God as the perfect Creator who is absolutely unique, non-corporeal, eternal, and omniscient; a God who alone must be worshipped and who communicates with man through prophecy and who created a Torah that is divine and immutable and a just system of reward and punishment. The final two principles are the belief in the arrival of the Messiah and in the resurrection of the dead.

Many Jews recite each of the Thirteen Principles beginning with the words Ani Maamin – or “I believe (with a perfect faith…),” a formulation that constitutes the basis of Wiesel’s cantata, Ani Maamin: A Song Lost and Found Again. Written as a poem to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Wiesel emphasizes the Twelfth Principle – the coming of the Messiah and of the Messianic Age – and dramatically frames that belief against the devastating historical reality of the Holocaust.

After writing the poem, Wiesel presented it to composer Darius Milhaud, who wrote the music. He actually met with Milhaud only once, when he went to Geneva to see him and sang the chassidic version of “Ani Maamin” to him because Milhaud, the descendant of a Sephardic family, had never heard the chassidic rendition of the famous song. The completed work was performed in Carnegie Hall in November 1973.

Saul Jay Singer

Faith is the Joy of Religious Doubt and Uncertainty-Part II

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

Faith means striving for faith. It is never an arrival. It can only burst forth at singular moments. It does not arise out of logical deduction, but out of uncertainty, which is its natural breeding ground.

To have faith is to live with unresolved doubts, prepared to rise above ourselves and our wisdom. Looking into the Jewish tradition with its many debates, one clearly understands that those who deny themselves the comfort of certainty are much more authentic than those who are sure.

Faith means that we worship and praise God before we affirm His existence; we respond before we question. Man can die for something even as he is unsure of its true existence, because his inner faith tells him it is right to do so. This honest admission of doubt is not only the very reason why it is possible to be religious in modern times; it is the actual stimulus to do so.

We need to understand that faith is “the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises” (1), and “we can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand” (2).

To believe is not to prove, not to explain, but to yield to a vision.

Of course belief cannot be credo quia absurdum est. It has to make sense and have a lot to say for itself in terms of knowledge and wisdom. Still, just as no building stands on rock-bottom, but on unsure pillars deeply driven into the ground so as to resist an earthquake, so must belief have enough strength to prove its worth without ever reaching absolute certainty.

Faith is like music. It is true because of its beauty not because of its intellectual certainty. Is it not created from impossible paradoxes, as well as a great deal of imagination that surpasses rationality and scientific or historical facts?

The truly great need no synthesis. They absorb whatever experience offers them. Their intensely creative personalities act like a fiery furnace, melting away contradictions. What emerges is either a harmonious whole or a creative parallelism with parts that mutually fructify and supplement each other. The truly great do not need to trim edges, as it were, to make genuine experiences fit with each other. They preserve them intact. And if their experiences appear contradictory, they build an emotional bridge spanning them allowing both the landscape and the water to be seen. Lesser mortals resort to logical means of harmonization (3).

The aim of halacha is to teach us the art of living with uncertainty. Halacha was not meant for those who are sure, because nobody can act out of certainty.

The most challenging question in all of life is what do you do and what do you believe when you are not sure. It is that notion that moves the scientist, the philosopher, and most of all the religious personality. We must destroy the security of all conventional knowledge and undo the normalcy of all that is ordinary. To be religious is to realize that no final conclusions have ever been reached or can ever be reached.

Halacha is the upshot of un-finalized beliefs, a practical way of living while remaining in theological suspense. In that way, Judaism doesn’t turn into a religion that either becomes paralyzed in awe of a rigid tradition, or evaporates into a utopian reverie. This dynamic can only come about when Jewish beliefs consist of fluid matter, which halacha then turns into a solid substance. The purpose of halacha is to chill the heated steel of exalted beliefs and turn them into pragmatic deeds without allowing the inner heat to be cooled off entirely. Jewish beliefs are like arrows, which dart hither and thither, wavering as though shot into the air from a slackened bowstring, while halacha must be straight and unswerving but still adaptable.

Indeed, we should be careful not to make faith into an intellectual issue. It is much more than that. The moment we look down on those who continue to have unshakable faith, considering them primitive in face of the many challenges, we have overlooked an important dimension of real faith. Besides the fact that such an attitude reflects arrogance, it also misses an important point: Faith is always more than just thinking about faith. Yes, those people who have lost their faith yet still hold on to it, honestly attempting by way of discussion and study to give their lost faith a new shape, should be deeply respected. At the same time, we should not forget that they are searching for something that the “simple” believer already has.

When we place the reflection on faith higher than the direct experience of faith, we are involved in a purely intellectual endeavor. The search for faith can only be genuine when it is personal, deep, and emotional, and the intellect only plays a small part. The accompanying qualities must be humility, the notion of inadequacy, and a strong urge to find authentic faith.  Genuine belief is a way of living, not an academic undertaking. It is an experience in which the whole of the human being is engaged.

Doubt only appeals to the intellect. The intellectual approach to faith is always a barer form of existence than faith itself. The reason is obvious. Besides our critical assessment, the other human faculties remain idle. Trust, hope, love and the notion that one is part of something bigger no longer play a role. Instead, life becomes nothing more than only itself. When doubt and skepticism are no longer the most important faculties through which one seeks religious faith, only then is it possible to actually find it. Skepticism, though it has its place, should not be at the center of one’s search. In today’s climate there is a certain gratification in going to the extremes of genius and brilliance until one nearly loses that which one would like to discover.  Intellectual thought and scientific discovery can never cover the sum total of the inner life of man. When one prays, one is involved in something that the intellect can never reach. When one studies Torah and hears its divine voice, it becomes something different than what academic study can ever achieve. It is in a separate category, which is closed to the solely scientific mind.

It is crucial that we see these facts for what they are. Only when we realize that intellectual certainty is not the primary path toward finding religious truth, will we be able to deal with our new awareness that the transitional phase we now experience has great purpose and has to be part of our religious struggle and identity. It won’t be easy. Novelty, as always, carries with it a sense of violation, a kind of sacrilege. Most people are more at home with that which is common than with that which is different. But go it must.

1. Samuel Butler and Francis Hackett, The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (Nabu Press, 2010)

   p. 27.

2. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2010) p. 81.

3. Rabbi Professor David Weiss Halivni, “Professor Saul Lieberman z.l.,” Conservative

   Judaism, vol. 38, (Spring 1986) pp. 6-7.


Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Critically Wounded Police Officer Resumes Duty 5 Months Later, Offers Prayer of Thanks at Western Wall

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

A critically injured Border Guard Police officer has returned to duty after being stabbed by a Palestinian Authority terrorist in Jerusalem.

Officer Raz Bibi returned to active service on Monday, five months after he nearly lost his life in the terror attack at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. Just 20 years old, he went back to the Old City — the place where he was attacked — to offer prayers of gratitude at the Western Wall for his miraculous recovery.

Border Guard Police Officer Raz Bibi offers a prayer of thanks for his life being saved, at the Western Wall.

Border Guard Police Officer Raz Bibi offers a prayer of thanks for his life being saved, at the Western Wall.

Upon his arrival at the Western Wall Plaza, the officer found a touching surprise, when the members of his unit greeted him with cheers and applause for his bravery.

Just before he lost consciousness on that terrible day five months ago, the courageous officer had managed to shoot and kill the vicious terrorist who stabbed him.

“I was very happy to see this special military unit that has stood by the door at the hospital since [Bibi] was wounded, and supported him and prayed for his recovery together with all the people of Israel,” said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall.

“Now [the unit] is once again with him, this time with thanks for the great miracle that happened to him, and his surprising recovery against all the predictions,” the rabbi told the soldiers who were gathered around the officer.

Hana Levi Julian

The Voters’ Prayer: May the Almighty Save Us from our Politicians

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Dear Eternal and Almighty God, Who brought Avraham Avinu out of a burning furnace, Who saved Daniel in the den of ions, Who brought your People out of slavery, gave us the Torah and brought us into the Promised Land, Who gave us the Holy Temples and led us not only to survive 2,000 years until the re-establishment of the State of Israel but also survive the harsh decree of having to suffer political leaders, many of whom are in prison and even more who should be behind bars, may You save us as this time of peril;

May you grant us protection from politicians who lead us into folly while they imagine it is they and not You leading us to peace and prosperity;

May you grant them the wisdom to know they are puppets being pulled by their own egos;

May you speedily bring us through this period of danger and have pity on our souls; apparently we have sinned because how else can one explain being oppressed with stupid campaign commercials that are beneath the dignity of apes You created;

May the God of our forefathers  grant Tzipi Livni the wisdom and vision to realize she is an idiot;

May you grant Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu the understanding that his wife needs a better psychologist than she is;

May You, the Creator of heaven and earth, grant a speedy recovery to Bujie Herzog and return to him his marbles, and while You are it, please wake up his grandfather and former Chief Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi Herzog to tell his grandson to repent;

May you teach several learned rabbis that living in Judea and Samaria does not make them or me any holier than someone living in Tel Aviv, even if he is Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer, may he return to sanity;

May You, our Eternal Protector, drive some sense into the minds of national religious voters who cannot bear to be represented by a party such as Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) because its leader wears  a small kippa, no beard and thinks that a secular nationalist Zionist is not treif, even if she is a woman;

May You have mercy on the chronically ill left-wing and remover their suffering and pain in their final days and bring its soul to eternal rest;

May you put a few grey hairs on Naftali Bennett’s balding head so he doesn’t look like a little kid acting as a grown-up;

And lastly, dear God, Who split the Red Sea and kept the sun from setting for Joshua, could you possibly make March 17 come a bit sooner, like tomorrow?

Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu

Wounded IDF Soldier’s Faith Shows How Israel Survives

Monday, December 29th, 2014

Second Lt. Aharon Karov, less than 24 hours after his own wedding, left his bride and returned to his vase in southern Israel to serve as a commander and led his soldiers into battle at the start of Operation Cast Lead.

He was critically wounded on the night of January 12, 2009, when Karov and his soldiers entered northern Gaza. They followed detailed intelligence information which led them to various houses and structures where terrorists were hiding. When they arrived at one of these houses, a powerful explosive was activated.

Between 300 and 500 metal fragments penetrated his body, and he suffered from a major injury in his head and upper body.

Moments later, a complex rescue mission began to save the wounded officer. IDF medics performed life-saving procedures on the battlefield and in the air as Karov was evacuated by helicopter.

Over the next 12 hours, Karov underwent a set of complex and dangerous surgeries in order to remove part of his skull. His family was told that he was in critical condition and Karov was named the most severely wounded soldier during Operation Cast Lead.

Three weeks later, against all odds, Karov was released from the hospital to begin rehabilitation.

Karov began his recovery with a deep commitment to the treatments prescribed to him by the doctors as well as a bundle of support from his family. The process was long, exhausting, and touched the heart of the entire nation. Thousands of letters of encouragement and blessing strengthened him and aided him during his journey towards recovery.

This officer’s remarkable improvement is considered a miracle. When he regained the ability to speak, Karov’s first words were dedicated to his wife. He called her on the phone and told her, “Tzvia, I love you.”

Roughly two months after the incident in Gaza, Karov’s soldiers finished their training. Karov, who insisted on being a part of the ceremony for his soldiers, stood on his legs for almost 2 hours despite his physical condition. At the end of the ceremony, he pinned his soldiers with a pin declaring them fighters, and was then promoted to the rank of Lieutenant by the Paratroopers’ Brigade Commander.

Step-by-step, word-by-word, Karov inspired the entire nation. His condition improved faster than anyone would have believed and not long after his injury Karov did the impossible and participated in various races and even a marathon. The young couple also grew their family and Karov’s wife gave birth to two children: a girl who was born a year and a half after the incident and a boy a few years later.

Today, Karov shares his story across the country, mostly with young men and women who are about to join the army.

Even though the physical injury was deep and severe, his spirit was strengthened.

Operation Cast Lead restored quite in southern Israel for a couple of years, but the legacy established by Karov and many other soldiers will last for many generations to come.

Aharon Karov leaving the hospital.

Aharon Karov leaving the hospital.

IDF Spokesperson's Office

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/aharon-and-tzvia-karov-prove-that-faith-and-belief-in-a-better-future-is-what-keeps-israel-alive/2014/12/29/

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