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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘felafel on rye’

Father’s Day

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

For a Jew, every day is Father’s Day, not just once a year. The mitzvah to “Honor thy father and thy mother” is one of the most fundamental commandments of the Torah. Interestingly, the commandment of honoring one’s father and mother is on the side of the Tablets dealing with commandments between man and God. This is because our parents are our gateway to God. It is they who teach us about God and the Torah. Therefore, honoring them is essential to the preservation and continuity of the Torah from father to son, generation after generation.

The full wording of the commandment is: “Honor thy father and mother that thy days may be long in the Land which the Lord thy God gives thee” (Shemot, 20:12).

Not many commandments come with a clearly stated reward. Please look closely at the reward for keeping this fundamental commandment – “that your days may be long in the Land” – that means in the Land of Israel. Isn’t that interesting!

What’s the connection? Well, if you honor your father and mother, you will respect what they teach you. Since Jewish fathers and mothers are obligated to teach their children the Torah, they will naturally teach their kids that a Jew is supposed to live in the Land of Israel, just like it repeats over and over again in the Torah dozens of times. Part of respecting one’s parents is by obeying them when they instruct you in the ways of the Torah. Thus a child who honors his parents will live in the Land of Israel, in line with the Torah’s teachings.

Though my parents were not happy when I told them that I was moving to Israel, I made aliyah anyway. While honoring one’s parents is an essential tenet of Judaism, if parents do not want a child to move to Israel, the child does not have to listen to them, since going on aliyah is a mitzvah, and parents are not allowed to prevent a child from carrying out a commandment of God. To my parents’ great merit, even though they were upset with my decision, they always helped me out when I needed their assistance in fulfilling the commandment of living in Israel, which our Sages tell us is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah.

Later, when my aging parents became ill, I had the good fortune of bringing them to Israel to live adjacent to my family in Shilo, and then Jerusalem. When my aunt phoned me from Florida, informing me that my mother was developing the early-warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease, and that my dad couldn’t handle her outbursts of anger, I immediately flew to Boca. We visited some retirement communities, but when we learned that my mom wouldn’t be allowed to live with my dad because of her condition, I persuaded my dad to let me take them to Israel where my family could watch over them. My uncle agreed to sell their house and car, so I packed up their bags and some cherished belongings, and we drove off to the Miami airport, telling my mother that she was going to Israel for the bar mitzvah of one of my sons.

Thus, my father, of blessed memory, spent his last nine years in the Holy Land. At the end of his sojourn in this world, he merited to be buried on the Mount of Olives, alongside the Prophets and great Rabbis of Israel. After, my dad passed away, we moved my mom into a nursing home nearby, so that I can visit every day.

I can’t say it was easy running back and forth between my mom and dad, and my own topsy-turvy home, having to take care of sick and anxiety-ridden parents and a house with seven energetic children, but, Baruch Hashem, I am grateful that I merited observing the mitzvah from alef to taf. My trials and tribulations became the basis for my latest novel, a comic and moving tale of a family situation we all go through sooner or later, when the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents takes on its greatest weight and meaning – when they are older and need us the most. It’s a wonderful family adventure, filled with Torah and the love of Jewish values. I set the story in New York, at my daughter’s request, so that people in Israel (her friends) wouldn’t say it was about our family. Since it’s still Book Month in Israel, here’s an excerpt from the novel for your reading pleasure, based on the time I (“Joseph”) took my parents (“Harry and Lizzy Friedman”) for a Pesach vacation at a resort hotel, to give my overtaxed wife (“Rivka”) a break. Also, since Dad’s yahrtzeit is coming up, it’s a chance to thank him again for helping me on my journey back to Torah and to Eretz Yisrael. May his memory be for a blessing.

Diaspora Youth – It’s Time to Come Home!

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Continuing our Israel Book Week survey of top Torah classics, here’s a chapter from the perennial bestseller, Torat Eretz Yisrael.

The teachings of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, founder of the Gush Emunim settlement movement in Israel and longtime Rosh Yeshiva at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. The chapter is based on a class he gave to Diaspora youth during their visit to Israel. Since the sin of the Spies was in despising the pleasant Land and not wanting to live here, the only way we can rectify their great sin is by doing the very opposite – loving the Land of Israel and making it our home. Instead of building Jewish life in the exile, the tragic mistake of the Spies, each and every one of us needs to do what he or she can in building true Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Kook stressed again and again that this is what the Torah is all about, as it says, “For from Zion the Torah shall go forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” From Zion, and not from Brooklyn or Boca Raton.

Diaspora educators – stop deceiving your students! Jewish mothers and fathers – stop leading your children astray! Tell them the truth that their futures are in Israel. But you don’t have to listen to a simple blogger like me – here’s what one of the greatest and most influential Torah leaders of our times told a group of young Diaspora Jews just like your sons and daughters:

From the book, Torat Eretz Yisrael:

Our connection to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) is not solely based on the fact that it is our homeland. There is a reason that it is our homeland. The Almighty created it especially suited to us.

Eretz Yisrael is the land of Clal Yisrael, the land of the nation and community of Israel.

To properly understand our connection to Eretz Yisrael, we first have to know who we are.

We are the nation created by Hashem to proclaim His Name in the world. And just as all other nations belong to a particular land, we belong to a particular land. This is part of the order of Creation that this air, these mountains and hills, these stones and plants in this portion of the globe are uniquely connected to us. Just as Hashem chose us from all of the nations, He chose our land from all other lands, “For the Lord has chosen Zion” (Tehillim, 132:13). The Divinely chosen nature of our nation and of our Land is integral to understanding who we are.

Herein lies the difference between Am Yisrael and the nations of the world. We are a nation brought into existence by the Creator of heaven and earth. Our whole nation is holy. All of our meaning and value is as a holy nation, a holy Clal. And the specifically designated place on this planet for this segment of mankind is here in the Land of Israel.

When Jews meet they customarily exchange “shaloms” and ask, “Where do you come from?” The usual response is, “I come from Belgium, I come from Brazil, I come from Colorado. The Rebbe of Obstrovtza said, “Every Jew is obliged to answer – I come from Eretz Yisrael.” This is a very deep insight telling us that every Jew in his innermost essence belongs to Eretz Yisrael.

Because of our long exile amidst the impurity of the gentile nations, we have become accustomed to think that our life in the Diaspora is normal, and we forget that Eretz Yisrael is our natural, healthy, Divinely-intended place.

Hashem said to Avraham, “Lech Lecha, Get yourself forth…” commanding him to journey to a specific place, “To the land that I will show you.” Even without knowing where he was going, Avraham picked up his family and went to find the place where he was to serve Hashem. There is an expression in Latin – ex orient lux – the light comes from the east. So too, spiritual light comes from the East, from our Middle East. From this spot on earth, Hashem educates mankind. To do this, Hashem wants us here in Israel. We don’t belong in other places. Haven’t we already sufficiently tasted the life in Europe and Auschwitz?

To the Leaders of Diaspora Jewry – Come on Aliyah!

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Since the Sin of the Spies was perpetrated by the leaders of the generation, in order to rectify their sin, today’s Diaspora leaders must rally their congregations and constituents to come on Aliyah. All Rabbis, teachers in Jewish schools, presidents of synagogues, chairmen of Jewish organizations, leaders of the RCAs, OUs, NCSYs, AIPACs, ADLs, Bnei Briths, Hadassah Chapters, Emunah Women, Jewish writers, pop stars, movie directors, and Jewish comedians must all speak out in a clear voice that the time has come to bid farewell to gentile lands and lovers, and come home to the Land of Israel.

For leaders of Diaspora Jewry who try to refute the truth of this call by saying, “Who is a mere blog writer to tell us what we should do?” we answer with the words of the Torah giant, Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal. He was one of the respected leaders of Orthodox European Jewry before World War Two, the head of the Beit Din in Budapest. Witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust, he discarded his fierce anti-Zionist ideology, and wrote a brilliant scholarly treatise on the vital necessity for Aliyah. To continue our celebration of “Book Week” in Israel, we will take a peek at his revolutionary classic, “Eim HaBanim Semeichah,” with the recommendation that it be studied by every Jew who cherishes the truth and who truly longs to serve God.

Rabbi Teichtal writes:

“Furthermore, my brother, know that in order to rectify our ancestors’ sin, everything must be exactly as it was then. At that time, the leaders of the congregation spread evil propaganda against Eretz Yisrael. Therefore today, as well, the leaders of the congregation must propagandize for the sake of Eretz Yisrael in order to pay off their ‘bad debt.’ They must be the first ones to open the nation’s eyes. They must explain that there is no reason for us to remain in the foreign, impure, and polluted atmosphere of the Diaspora, nor to expend our energies in vain while the gentiles rob the fruits of our labor from before our very eyes. The leaders must speak to the people in this fashion and arouse within them a fire and a spark of love for our desirable Land. This alone will make of worthy of Redemption.

“This follows the words of our mentor, the Or HaChaim. He writes that Israel’s leaders throughout the generations will be held responsible for the fact that we are still in exile, because they should have inspired the Jews to love Eretz Yisrael. The leaders of the generation must inspire the Jewish People to help bring the Redemption closer by using the natural means that God has prepared for us. We are not worthy enough for it to occur with manifest miracles, rather only with miracles disguised in seemingly natural events, as in the days of Cyrus.

“I know that the humble ones who separate themselves from the building effort do so for the sake of Heaven. They fear that they and their children may be harmed by joining people whose ways have strayed from the path of the Torah. Behold, we can say about such people that although their intentions are acceptable, their actions are not, for many reasons. First of all, the prophet Yeshayahu said to King Chizkiyah, ‘Do as you are commanded! Why do you involve yourself with the Merciful One’s hidden matters?’ The same applies here. All Jews must be united in order to fulfill the positive commandment of the Torah of building and settling the Land. This cannot be accomplished individually. Therefore, do as you are commanded! Further, no harm will come to a Jew who participates in this great and exceedingly lofty mitzvah. On the contrary, if a large number of Orthodox Jews join in, they will enhance the sanctity of the Land, as I previously cited in the name of the holy Rebbe of Gur and the Ramban. Since we are commanded to build the Land and raise it from the dust, it is forbidden to be overly pious and undermine this endeavor, God forbid. Rather, we must build with whomever it may be and concentrate on enhancing the sanctity of the Land. Then Hashem will assist us.

This Sunday, Don’t Read the New York Times – Read The Kuzari

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Since the second part of Rabbi Kahane’s chapter about the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael, from his book, The Jewish Idea, is so hard-hitting, we are going to post a few preparatory blogs to get readers ready.

Arguably one of the Top Ten books on Judaism ever written, The Kuzari, by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, is universally accepted as a classic of Torah scholarship.

Written in the form of a conversation between a Rabbi and a gentile king who is looking to find the true religion, The Kuzari lucidly explains the foundations upon which Judaism is based. What better time than “Book Week” to take another look at this wonderful classic? If you never studied its teachings, you’re missing a building block in your understanding of Judaism which the Gaon of Vilna made top priority for his students, saying that all of the essential foundations of Jewish Faith are contained in it. I had the merit of writing a condensed and illustration version for young readers, which is used widely in religious schools in Israel. Below are excerpts from The Kuzari dealing with Eretz Yisrael. Since we are now in the Torah portion Shelach, where we read about the Spies who brought disaster upon their generation by not wanting to live in the Land of Israel, we will devote our blogs this week to books which praise the great mitzvah of living in the Land, a commandment equal in weight to all the precepts of the Torah. After studying The Kuzari no one can say that it isn’t a mitzvah to make aliyah. Let our cherishing the pleasant Land be a tikun for their having despised it.

After the Rabbi explains the role of the Jewish People as God’s Chosen Nation, who are commanded to be an example to the nations by living a holy national life of Torah in the Land especially chosen and favored by God, the King of Kuzar asks: “I understand what you mean about His People, but less so about His Land.”

The Rabbi:

You will have no difficulty in perceiving that one country may have higher qualifications than others. There are places in which particular plants, metals, or animals are found, or where the inhabitants are distinguished by their form and character, since perfection or deficiency of a person are produced by a mingling of the elements.

The King of Kuzar:

Yet I never heard that inhabitants of the Land of Israel are better than other people.

The Rabbi:

How about the hill where you say that vines thrive so well? If it had not been properly planted and cultivated, it would never have produced grapes. Priority belongs firstly, as we have stated, to the People who are the essence and kernel of the nations [those who have been chosen by the Lord to be the bearers of His Word]. Secondly, it belongs to the Land, on account of the special Divine acts that are connected with it, which I would compare to the cultivation of the vineyard. No other location would share the distinction of the Divine Influence, just as no other mountain may be able to produce good wine.

The King of Kuzar:

How could this be? In the time between Adam and Moses were there not prophetic visions in other places, those granted to Abraham in Ur Chasdeem, to Ezekiel and Daniel in Bablyon, and to Jeremiah in Egypt?

The Rabbi:

Whoever prophesized did so either in the Holy Land, or concerning it, like Abraham, in order to reach it. Ezekiel and Daniel prophesized on its account. Adam lived and died in the Land. Tradition tells us that in the Cave of the Patriarchs are buried four pairs: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. This is the Land which bears the name “before the Lord” and of which it is stated, “the eyes of the Lord are always upon it” (Devarim, 11:12). It was also the first object of jealousy between Cain and Abel, when they desired to know which of them would be Adam’s successor and heir to his holy essence and perfection in order to inherit the Land and to stand in connection with the Divine Influence, while the other would be overlooked. When Abel was killed by Cain, the Land was left with an heir. It is stated that Cain went out of the presence of the Lord (Bereshit, 4:16) which means that he left the Land, saying, “Behold, You have driven me out this day from the face of the earth, and from Your face I shall be hid” (Bereshit, 5:14). In the same way it is said, “But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the Presence of the Lord” (Jonah, 1:3), but he only fled from the place of prophecy (Israel). God, however, brought him back out of the belly of the whale and appointed him to be a prophet in the Land.

When Seth was born, he was like Adam and took Abel’s place, giving him claim to the Land, which is the next step to the Garden of Eden. The Land was then the object of jealousy between Isaac and Ishmael, till the later was rejected as worthless. Although he was blessed with worldly prosperity, the birthright was established with Isaac, as it says, “My Covenant I will establish with Isaac” (Bereshit, 5:21) which refers to his attachment to the Divine Influence and eternal life in the World To Come. Neither Ishmael nor Esau could boast of this Covenant, even though they were otherwise prosperous. Once again, jealousy arose between Jacob and Esau over the birthright and blessing, but Esau was rejected in favor of Jacob, in spite of his physical strength.

Prophecy was granted to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam in Egypt [to free the Jews to bring them to Israel] and Sinai and Paran are reckoned as a part of Eretz Yisrael because they are located on this side of the Red Sea, as it says, “And I will set your boundaries from the Red Sea, even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river” (Shemot, 23:31).

The “binding” of Isaac took place on a desolate mountain [in the Land of Israel] Mount Moriah. Not until the days of King David, when it was inhabited, was the secret revealed that it was the place especially prepared for the Shechinah [Divine Presence] as it is said, “And Abraham called the name of the place ‘The Lord shall see’ as it is said to this day, in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen (Bereshit, 22:14). In the Book of Chronicles it is stated more clearly that the Temple was built on Mount Moriah. These are, without out, the places worthy of being called the Gates of Heaven.

Look how Jacob ascribed the vision that he saw, not to the purity of his soul, nor to his faith, not to his true integrity, but to the place, as it says, “How awe-inspiring is this place” (Bereshit, 28:17). Prior to this, it is said, “And he lighted upon a specific place” (Ibid, 11) that is to say, the chosen one.

Was not Abraham also, after having been greatly elevated, brought into contact with the Divine Influence, and made the chariot of this essence, removed from his birthplace to go forth to the place where his perfection could be complete? So too, when an agriculture finds the root of a good tree in a desert region, he transplants it into properly tilled ground, to improve it and cause it to grow; to change it from a wild root to a cultivated one, from a tree that bore fruit by chance to one which produced a luxuriant crop. In the same way, the gift of prophecy was retained among Abraham’s descendants in Israel, their property as long as they remained in the Land and fulfilled the required conditions of purity, worship, sacrifices, and above all, the reverence for the Shechinah. For the Divine Influence, one may say, singles out him who appears worthy of being connected with it, such as prophets and pious men, and is their God.

The King of Kuzar:

Continue your discourse on the special advantages of the Land of Israel.

The Rabbi:

It was appointed to guide the world, and apportioned to the tribes of Israel from the time of the confusion of the languages, as it says, “When the Most High divided among the nations their inheritance” (Devarim, 32:8). Abraham was not fit to gain the Divine Influence, and to enter into a Covenant with God until he came to the Land of Israel. The Land was even granted its own Sabbaths, as it is said, “Sabbath of the Land” (Vayikra, 25:6) and “The Land shall keep a Sabbath unto the Lord” (Ibid, 2). It is forbidden to sell it on perpetuity, as it says, “For Mine is the Land” (Ibid, 23). Observe that the “feasts of the Lord” and “the Sabbaths of the Land” belong to the “Land of the Lord.”

Thus the “Sabbaths of the Lord” and the “Festivals of the Lord” depend on the Land which is the “inheritance of the Lord.” It is also called “His holy mountain,” “His footstool,” “the Gate of Heaven,” and it says, “For the Torah shall go forth from Zion” (Micah, 4:2). Our Forefathers endeavored to live in the Land while it was in the hands of pagans, they yearned for it, and had their bones carried there, as with Jacob and Joseph. Moses prayed to see it, and when this was denied him, he considered it a profound misfortune. Thereupon it was shown to him from the summit of Pisgah, which was to him an act of grace.

Persians, Indians, Greeks, and peoples of other nations, begged to be allowed to bring sacrifices there and to pray in the Holy Temple – they spent their wealth at the place, though they followed laws not recognized by the Torah. They honor it to this day, although the Shechinah no longer appears there. All nations make pilgrimages to it, long for it, excepting we ourselves, because we have been punished and are in disgrace. All which the Sages speak about its great qualities would take too long to relate.

The King of Kuzar:

Let me hear a few of their observations.

The Rabbi:

One teaching is “All roads lead to the Land of Israel, but none from it” (Mishna, Ketubot, 13:11). Concerning a wife who refuses to go there with her husband, the court decries that she is divorced and she forfeits her marriage settlement (Ketubot 110). On the other hand, if the husband refuses to accompany his wife to Eretz Yisrael, he is forced to divorce her and also pay her marriage settlement amount. The Sages further state: “It is better to swell in the Holy Land, even in a town mostly inhabited by heathens, than abroad in a town mostly populated by Jews; for he who dwells in the Holy Land is compared to him who has a God, while he who dwells in the Diaspora is compared to him who has no God. Thus said King David, ‘For they have driven me out this day from dwelling in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go serve other gods,’ which means that he who dwells outside of the Land is like someone who serves strange gods” (Ibid).

Another say is: “to be buried in the Land of Israel is as if buried beneath the altar (Ketubot 111). They praise him who abides in the Land more than him who is carried there dead (Ibid). They say concerning he who could have live there, but did not do so, and only ordered his body to be carried there after his death: “While you lived you made My inheritance an abomination, but in death ‘you come and contaminate My Land’” (Jerusalem Talmud, Ketubot, 12:3; Jeremiah, 2:1). It is told that Rav Hananyah said, when asked whether it was lawful for a person to go abroad in order to marry the widow of his brother, “His brother married a pagan woman – praised be God who caused him to die – now this one follows him” (Ketubot 111). The Sages also forbade selling estates or the remains of a house to a heathen, or leaving a house in ruins. Other sayings are:

Fines can only be imposed in the Land itself (Sanhedrin 31). No slave can be taken abroad against his will (Mishna Gitten, 4:6), and many other similar regulations. Furthermore, the very air of the Holy Land makes wise (Baba Batra 158). The Sages expressed their love for the Land as follows, saying, “He who walks four cubits in the Land is assured happiness in the World to Come (Ketubot 111; Pesachim 113). Rabbi Zera answered a heathen who criticized his foolhardiness in crossing a river without waiting to reach a ford in his eagerness to enter the Land, “How can the place which Moses and Aaron could not reach, be reached by me?” (Ketubot 112).

The King of Kuzar:

If this be so, you transgress the commandment laid down in your Torah by not endeavoring to go up (make aliyah) to that place, to make it your abode in life and in death, although you say, “Have mercy on Zion, for it is the house of our life,” and believe that the Divine Presence shall return there. And had it no other preference than that the Shechinah dwelt there five hundred years, this is sufficient reason for men’s souls to retire there and find purification there, as happens near the abodes of the pious and the prophets. Is it not “the Gate of Heaven?” All nations agree on this point. Christians believe that the souls are gathered there and then lifted to Heaven. Islam teaches that it is the place of ascent, and that prophets are caused to ascend from there to Heaven. Further, you believe it is the place of the gathering on the day of Resurrection. Everybody turns to it in prayer and visits it in pilgrimage. Thus, your bowing and kneeling in its direction is either mere appearance or thoughtless worship. Yet your forefathers chose it as their abode in preference to their birthplaces, and lives there as strangers, rather than as citizens of their own country. This they did even at a time when the Divine Presence was not yet visible, when the country was full of unchastity, impurity, and idolatry. Your fathers had no other desire than to remain in it. Neither did they leave it in times of dearth and famine except with God’s permission. Finally, they directed their bones to be buried there.

The Rabbi:

This is a severe reproach, O king of the Kuzars. It is the sin which kept the Divine promise with regard to the Second Temple “Sing and rejoice O daughter of Zion” (Zecharia, 2:10) from being fulfilled. Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they had all willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so, while the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and subjugation, and unwilling to leave their villas and their business affairs. The words, “I have put off my coat” (Shir HaShirim, 2-4) refer to the people’s slothfulness in consenting to return to Israel. The verse, “My beloved stretches forth his hand through the opening” may be interpreted as the urgent call of Ezra, Nechemiah, and the Prophets, until a portion of the people grudgingly responded to their call. In accordance with their unwillingly disposition, they did not receive full measure. Divine Providence only gives a man as much as he is prepared to receive – if his receptive capacity be small, he obtains little, and he receives much if it be great. Were we prepared to meet the God of our Forefathers with a pure mind, we would have found the same salvation as our Fathers had in Egypt. If we say, “Worship at His holy mountain – worship at His footstool, He who restores His glory to Zion” (Tehillim, 99:9) and other words to this effect, this is but as the chattering of the starling and the nightingale. We do not realize what we say by this sentence, nor by others, as you rightly observe, O prince of the Kuzars.

[The conversation between the Rabbi and the king of the Kuzars continues, covering all aspects of Judaism. At the end of the book, moved by his own teachings about the centrality of the Land of Israel to Torah and Am Yisrael, the Rabbi decides to make aliyah himself.]

The book concludes:

The Rabbi was then concerned to leave the land of Kuzar and betake himself to Jerusalem. The king was displeased to let him go and spoke to him as follows:

The King of Kuzar:

What can be found in the Land of Israel nowadays since the Divine Presence is absent from it, while, with a pure mind and desire, a person can approach God in any place? Why put yourself into danger on land and sea, and in encountering dangerous peoples?

The Rabbi:

The visible Shechinah has indeed disappeared, because it does not reveal itself except to a prophet, or to the chosen people in the chosen place. This is what we look forward to in the verse, “Let our eyes behold when You return Your Shechinah to Zion.” As regards the invisible and spiritual Shechinah, it is with every born Israelite of virtuous life, pure heart, and upright mind before the Lord of Israel. The Land of Israel is especially distinguished by the Lord of Israel, and no function can be perfect except there. Many of the laws of the Torah do not apply to those who live outside of the Land. The heart and soul are only perfectly pure and immaculate in the place which is known to be specifically selected by God. Thus the longing for it is awakened, for the sake of selfless motives, especially for him who wishes to live there, and to atone for past transgressions, as the Sages teach, “Exile atones for sins” (Makkot 2), especially if one leaves his country to go to the place of God’s choice. The danger such a person risks on land and sea does not come under the category of “You shall not tempt the Lord” (Devarim, 6:16) since this verse refers to risks which one takes when traveling with merchandise in hope of gain. He who incurs even greater danger on account of his ardent desire to obtain forgiveness is free from reproach if he has made an accounting of his past deeds and is satisfied to spend the rest of his life in seeking the favor of the Lord. He braves danger, and if he escapes, he praises God gratefully. But should he perish through his past sins, he has won the Divine favor, and he may be confident that he has atoned for most of his sins by his death.

The King of Kuzar:

I thought that you love freedom, but I now see you finding new religious duties which you will be obliged to fulfill in the Land of Israel, which are not in force here.

The Rabbi:

I only seek freedom from the service of the numerous foreign people whose favor I do not care for, and shall never obtain, though I worked for it all of my life. Even if I could obtain it, it would not profit me, the serving of men and courting their favor. I would rather seek the favor of the One whose favor is obtained with the smallest effort, yet it profits in this world and the next. This is the favor of God, it is His service which spells freedom, and humility before Him is true honor.

The King of Kuzar:

Since you believe in everything you profess, behold, God knows your mind, which is open before Him, who knows all that is hidden.

The Rabbi:

This is true only when action is impossible. But a man has free will in his yearnings and in his acting on them. A person deserves blame if he expects concrete reward without performing the actual deeds that lead to it. For this reason it is written, “You shall blow an alarm with the tumpets, and you shall be remembered before the Lord your God” (BaMidmar, 10:9). God need not be reminded, but our actions in doing the mitzvot must be performed in their completeness to merit reward. This is similar to prayers which must be recited in wholeness and with the proper intentions to be considered worthy supplications, for only when both intentions and actions are complete, is reward granted. If the action is minus the intention, or the intention missing the action, the expectation for reward is lost. It is only when the deed is impossible to perform, then there is benefit when a person guards the desire firmly in his heart, while apologizing to God for not being able to perform the deed. This is the intent of our prayer, “On account of our sins, we have been driven out of our Land” (Festival Musaf).

Furthermore, the person who stirs the hearts of others to be aroused with a love for this holy place is worthy of reward, beyond any doubt. He brings closer the day for which we hope, as it says, “You shall arise and have mercy on Zion, for the time to favor her, yea, the set time is come. For Your servants take pleasure in her stones and embrace her very dust” (Tehillim, 102:14-15). This means that Jerusalem will only be rebuilt when the children of Israel yearn for it to such an extent that they embrace her stones and her dust.

The King of Kuzar:

If this be so, it would be a sin to hinder you. It is, on the contrary, a mitzvah to assist you. May God grant you His help, and may He be your shield and savior, and His kindness be upon you.

So ends The Kuzari with the Rabbi heading off to Eretz Yisrael. Don’t you think it’s time to follow his example. See you here soon!

WARNING! Living in Israel is a Commandment of the Torah

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

No one refutes the Torah greatness of the Ramban. He established that the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel is commandment of the Torah. An Orthodox Jew who doesn’t live in the Land of Israel is like an Orthodox Jew who doesn’t put on tefillin, or an Orthodox Jew who doesn’t keep Shabbat, or like a Frum Jew who doesn’t keep kosher or study Torah. True, if a person wants to fulfill a positive commandment of the Torah, but is prevented against his will, his inability to perform the mitzvah is not considered a transgression. For example, if a man travels to some faraway island where his tefillin are stolen, and there is no other set of tefillin around, then his not putting on tefillin is not held against him. Likewise, if a person wants to live in Israel but is unable to because of circumstances beyond his control, then he or she is freed from the obligation as long as that preventing circumstance lasts. But if he or she could make aliyah and doesn’t, then that person is transgressing a positive commandment of the Torah.

Which bring us to another must book which belongs in every home library: The Jewish Idea, the opus, two-volume work of Rabbi Meir Kahane, in which he clarifies the foundations of Torah.

In addition to his path-breaking struggle on behalf of Soviet Jewry, his unparalleled and fearless activism and total self-sacrifice on behalf of the Jewish Nation and Eretz Yisrael, and his bringing myriads of Jews to Torah Judaism and a new spirit of Jewish pride, Rabbi Kahane was a Torah scholar par excellence, whose banner was TRUTH, the whole TRUTH and nothing but the TRUTH.

For any reader who may be confused about the obligation to live in the Land of Israel, this sweeping halachic and Talmudic overview of Rabbi Kahane will surely put all uncertainty to rest. Because of its vital importance to each and every Jew, we will be presenting it in two installments.

From The Jewish Idea, Volume 2

LIVING IN ERETZ YISRAEL is a mitzvah de’oraita – a mitzvah commanded by the Torah itself. Not only that, but it carries equal weight to all the other mitzvot combined. In fact, it supersedes them in importance, because all of them are dependent upon it, since we are commanded to perform all the commandments there, in the Land of Israel.

The Torah says, “When the Lord your God cuts off the nations whom you are approaching to inherit, you shall expel them and live in their land” (Deut. 12:29). This verse explicitly states the two mitzvot tied to Eretz Yisrael. The first is expelling the non-Jews. The Hebrew corresponding to, “whom you are approaching to inherit,” is rendered by Onkelos as, “Whom you are approaching to banish.” The second is “You shall live in their land.” It is a mitzvah to live in their land, in Eretz Yisrael.

Regarding this verse our Sages said (Sifri, Re’ei, 80):

“You shall expel them”: R. Yehudah ben Beterah and R. Matia ben Cheresh and R. Chanina ben Achi and R. Yehoshua and R. Yonatan were leaving the Land, and they arrived at Paltum and they remembered Eretz Yisrael. Their eyes brimmed over and their tears poured forth, and they tore their garments and they recited this verse: “You shall inherit it [the Land] and dwell therein, and you shall carefully keep all the laws” (Deut. 11:31-32). They returned to their place and they said, “Living in Eretz Yisrael equals the combined weight of all the mitzvot in the Torah.”

Here our Sages state explicitly that living in Eretz Yisrael is not just a mitzvah but such a great mitzvah that it equals all the others in their combined value. Likewise, it emerges clearly from here that the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael does not depend on the existence of the Temple. After all, the anecdote above occurred after the Destruction. All the same, the scholars of the Mishnah established that living in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah from the Torah, and so is the prohibition against leaving Eretz Yisrael.

Our Sages said further (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah, 5:2):

“A person should live in Eretz Yisrael, even in a city whose majority is idolaters, and not outside the Land, even in a city that is entirely Jewish. This teaches that living in Eretz Yisrael is of equal weight to all the mitzvot of the Torah combined. If someone is buried in Eretz Yisrael, it is as though he is buried under the altar. One should not leave Eretz Yisrael unless the cost of wheat rises to two se’ah for a sela. Rabbi Shimon said, “This refers to where one lacks the wherewithal to buy it, but if he has the wherewithal, then even if it is one se’ah for a sela, he should not leave.”

Letter to a Reform Jew

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Suppose a lecturer in medical school taught that the most effective treatment to cure a disease was to remove the patient’s heart. Obviously, you couldn’t call this person a professor of medicine. Similarly, if a reform “rabbi” teaches that a Jew doesn’t have to follow the commandments of the Torah, obviously he isn’t a real rabbi.

I was going to write about the poisonous decision of the Attorney General of Israel to force the government to pay salaries to imposters who pretend to be rabbis. But why listen to me when you can get the explanation from the world’s first and best blogger of all time – Rabbi Meir Kahane, of blessed memory, may the Almighty avenge his murder.

Of course, his thirty-year column in The Jewish Press wasn’t called a blog back then. Since its establishment, The Jewish Press hasn’t simply reported the news like other newspapers, week after week, The Jewish Press made the news. I wrote about the important role which The Jewish Press played in the initial success of the Volunteers for Israel/Sarel, and in helping free the “Jewish Underground.” With holy boldness, The Jewish Press has led scores of campaigns on behalf of the Jewish People and Israel. But, perhaps more than anything else, The Jewish Press has been a beacon of Torah to millions of Jews, and perhaps the greatest light of all came from the pen of Rabbi Meir Kahane, who spoke the truth and nothing but the truth about Judaism and the Jewish People for 30 years in the pages of the Press.

As Book Week begins, it is only fitting that we dedicate a series of blogs to the incomparable writings and books of Rav Kahane. This essay, “A Letter to a Reform Jew,” which first appeared in The Jewish Press, has been reprinted in an incredible set of seven volumes, Beyond Words, a collection of articles written by one of the greatest Jewish leaders of our time. These books belong in every Jewish library and in every Jewish home. Rabbi Kahane’s insights into Judaism and Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora are as fresh and true for today as they were when he wrote them. In upcoming blogs, we will speak more about the Rabbi and dig through the archives of The Jewish Press to republish some more of his mindblogging writings. First, in answer to the latest issue of the day, “A Letter to a Reform Jew” …

From Rabbi Meir Kahane

My dear Brother/Sister Jew,

This letter is long overdue and for that I apologize. But its lateness is compensated for, I hope, by my love for you and for all those who describe themselves as “Reform Jews,” a love that motivates the letter and that permeates its every word. In short, it would not have been written did I not care for you as my brother/sister. And, most important, it is written as a cry to you to help prevent the greatest of all tragedies: the permanent division of the Jewish people into two camps, separate and forever apart. And so, I beg you to have the patience and courage to read this letter fully, and think it over carefully.

Let me preface my message by saying that I really do not want to refer to you as “Reform.” I really believe that there is no such thing as a “Reform Jew,” (can you really give me a positive definition of this, that goes beyond the anarchy of “a Jew who decides for himself what Jewish laws, customs or idiosyncrasies he will observe?) No, there are no Reform Jews, there are only Reform rabbis and temples; and that is the crux of my words to you.

It is, one might argue, a personal choice that one makes when he decides to abandon the traditions of Judaism (that which you call “Orthodoxy,” another word I abhor). The personal decision of a Jew to cease observing the Sabbath or eating kosher food or adhering to the rituals of the commandments is a source of great sorrow but it is, hopefully, not a national or, certainly, not a permanent tragedy. For on the one hand, this is a personal decision that in no way directly affects other Jews, and, on the other hand, it is a thing that is reversible, that can be changed through personal decision to return to the ways of Torah. In a word, the desecration of the Sabbath this week, by an individual, can, hopefully, be turned into observance next week and the damage repaired. And so, until a certain point in modern Jewish history, the growth of Reform was sad but not necessarily a national tragedy.

You Can be a Giant!

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

I don’t know why some readers get angry at me. I only remind them what it says in the Torah. If you don’t believe me, here’s another remarkable essay by Rabbi Kook, whose vision of the rebirth of the Nation of Israel was light years ahead of everyone else. Once again, we are presenting an encapsulation of a chapter from his classic, Orot. Readers are encouraged to read the full commentary in our book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael.  It may be the most important ten bucks you ever shelled out in your lives.

If we could dissect a soul, what would we discover inside? What would a microscopic examination reveal? What are a soul’s components? Its atoms? When we probe as deeply as we can into the anatomy of the soul, suddenly under our high-powered lens, an Alef comes into focus. Then we see a Mem, and a Taf. If a soul had a genetic make-up, we would discover that its DNA helix is made up of Hebrew letters.

The Hebrew letters are the atoms and basic building blocks of the Jewish soul. The letters which Rabbi Kook describes are not only the outer, graphic shape of the letters, which have meaning in themselves, but the inner essence and content of the letters. In another work, “Rosh Millin,” Rabbi Kook writes in depth on the meaning of each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Unlike the letters of the English alphabet which are mere symbols of sounds with no inner meaning of their own, the letters of the Holy Tongue have an independent existence, and spiritual roots in the celestial worlds above.

In the wisdom of the Kabbalah, letters are understood to be powerful, life-giving forces. The Gemara teaches that the Hebrew letters were used to create heaven and earth. Bezalel knew how to combine the letters which were used in Creation. It was this secret wisdom which enabled him to build the Mishkan.

The Torah itself is made up of letters. Each letter is said to represent one of the basic 600,000 Jewish souls in the world. In addition to their alphabetical form, each letter has a deeper, living nature. Every letter contains a concept, a direction, a will which finds expression in the soul. Beyond a person’s individual ego is the deeper, general will of existence. There is a force of life which is Divinely inspired, and this is what inspires each individual ego and psyche. The inner components of this deeper life-force are the Hebrew letters. Just as the letters are the building blocks of Torah, and of the world, they combine to form the molecular blueprint of the soul. What atoms are to the physical world, Hebrew letters are to the spiritual. Thus, Rabbi Kook writes: “The soul is filled with letters which are infused with the light of life, full of knowledge and will, full of spiritual seeking, and full existence.”

The soul is filled with letters which contain the Divine life-force which grants us existence. They themselves have knowledge and will and a quest for spiritual inspiration. All of a Jew’s primary activities, whether his thought, will, deed, and imagination, stem from the letters of his soul. Different combinations of letters make for different types of souls. There are high-powered combinations, and there are souls of lesser might. According to the brilliance of these life-giving letters, a man’s soul radiates with more and more energy.

“From the rays of these living letters, all of the other levels of life’s building are filled with the light of life – all of the aspects of the will, of knowledge, and of deed, of the spirit, and of the soul, in all of their values.”

Like atoms, these letters exist in a constant, dynamic flow. They are active, full of knowledge, motivation, inspiration, and will, constantly affecting the life of the soul. They are full of vision and imaginative flight. They are filled with full existence, not bounded in nature, containing a blueprint for all of Creation within them; in the same way that a molecule contains a solar system of atoms within it, and a cell contains the genetic structure of the body as a whole. Every soul contains a blueprint for all of the world. Letters activate letters in a constant chain reaction which is the motivating force of all life.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/you-can-be-a-giant/2012/05/30/

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