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November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘felafel on rye’

“Why Should I Live in Israel? America Has Everything I Need”

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

I seem to remember the lyrics of an old Bob Dylan song, “Something is going on Mr. Jones, but you don’t know what it is.” That’s exactly what it’s like for a Jew today if he hasn’t studied the book Orot, by Rabbi Kook. Something is going on with the Jewish People and he doesn’t know what it is. Why? Because for the first time in nearly 2000 years, Jews have risen up with great courage, taken up weapons, and fought for the right to live in our own Jewish Land. There’s another thing equally as startling to many devoutly religious Jews – the fact that the pioneers who risked their lives and largely led the way in rebuilding the Land of our forefathers were often far from Torah observance. Obviously, something very big was taking place. But because they didn’t understand it, or couldn’t accept that God had chosen to bring about the beginnings of Redemption in this seemingly traif manner, many Ultra-Orthodox Jews rejected it. It was Rabbi Kook, with his towering Torah vision, who taught us to recognize that, indeed, the long-awaited Redemption was unfolding before our eyes, even if Hashem decided to bring it about through our secular brothers.

What causes many Jews in the Diaspora, as well as communities of Haredi Jews in Israel, to have a negative to modern Zionism and the Land Israel? Rabbi Kook informs us the reason – it stems from an alienation from the secrets of Torah. Here are excerpts from Chapter Two of the book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael,   a commentary by Rabbi David Samson and yours truly, on Rabbi’s Kook’s classic work Orot. Take your time reading it. Print it out. Study it thoughtfully on Shavuot night when you have the time. Surely, it will help you to understand what is going on, Mr. Jones. (And for readers, like me, who prefer shorter, more bloggier blogs, we will be getting back to them soon, Bezrat Hashem, after our pre-Shavuot mini course in Orot.)

In the first essay of Orot, we learned that Eretz Yisrael is not a secondary, external acquisition of the Nation, but rather an essential, life-giving foundation of Clal Yisrael. Rabbi Kook emphasized that the future of the Jewish People depends not on strengthening the Diaspora, but rather on strengthening our connection to Eretz Yisrael. In this second essay, Rabbi Kook explains in greater depth how an alienation from the secrets of Torah causes a distortion in our comprehension of Judaism and a crisis in Jewish life. He writes:

“By being alienated from the recognition of the secrets of Torah, the Kedusha (holiness) of Eretz Yisrael is understood in a foggy, unfocused fashion.”

The secrets of Torah which Rabbi Kook refers to are the deep Kabbalistic understandings which chart the inner spiritual blueprint of the Jewish Nation. We are not speaking here about the Tree of Kabbalah which can be found illustrated in popular books on the subject. While this metaphor for the Sefirot, or differing levels of God’s manifestation in the world, is a central understanding of Kabbalah, many other secrets of Torah appear throughout the Aggadah, and the Midrashim of our Sages. Works of wisdom such as the Zohar are the esoteric understandings of these writings. Rabbi Kook’s great genius was in applying this tradition of knowledge toward understanding the development of the Jewish People in our times. His writings illuminate the inner workings of the National Israeli Soul as it awakens to Redemption and physical expression in the rebuilding of the Nation in Eretz Yisrael. The book, Orot, is in effect a deep esoteric study of these themes.

Don’t Ask What Israel Can Do For You – Ask What You Can Do For Israel

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Book Week is coming soon in Israel. In America, there’s also a book week, but it’s called Jewish Book Week to distinguish it from Chinese Book Week, and Italian Book Week, and Afro-American Book Week, and Puerto Rican Book Week, and Comic Book Week. In Israel, since everyone is Jewish, except for the Arabs who don’t read books, it’s simply called Book Week.

Actually, it’s really Book Month; since the “People of the Book” love books so much, stores continuing running their discount sales for weeks. For me, Book Week is starting today, when a newly published French translation of my book of short stories, Days of Mashiach,  is being featured at an all day “French Book Fair” being held at the Menachem Begin Center in Jerusalem. The collection of wry and humorous stories about Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora is being put out by a non-Jewish publisher who compares my writing to Kafka and Voltaire. My prize-winning novel, Tevye in the Promised Land also appeared in a French translation, and it seems that I have a somewhat of an avid following in France.

Anyway, with Book Week around the corner, it’s a great time to devote the blogs we will be writing in the upcoming month to talk about some of the most important books in the world – Jewish books of course. I love books and I hope you do too. While many of these book reports will be scholarly in nature, and not regular blogs, I will try to intersperse the heavy stuff with my normal spicy felafels on rye.

This week, between our celebration of Jerusalem Day and Shavuot, in order to better understand the supreme importance of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People and Torah, we will be examining a series of poignant essays written by Rabbi Kook in his classic work, Orot. Presented here are condensed versions of the full commentaries which appear in the book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael, which I had the privilege of co-writing with the distinguished Torah scholar, Rabbi David Samson of Jerusalem.

Certainly one of the most important Torah treatises of our times, the book, Orot, explores the deepest understandings of the Nation of Israel, and Israel’s Redemption. In beginning his treatise with a series of essays on Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Kook explains that a proper understanding of the Nation of Israel and Torah can only be obtained after one first recognizes the significance of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish People. To understand who we are as a Nation, and to actualize our role in the world, we must first understand the special relationship between the Divinely-Chosen People and the Divinely-Chosen Land.

Rabbi Kook’s unique style is both poetic and deeply intellectual, and so you will have to bear with me as I endeavor to explain his writings with the seriousness that is due them. As I mentioned, Rabbi David Samson, one of Israel’s top educators, and a longtime student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, aided my understanding of Rabbi Kook’s immensely deep and incomparable writings.

The first essay of Orot is not only a study of our connection to the Land of Israel, it is also an introduction to the Segula of the Nation, one of the main themes of Rabbi Kook’s writings. This Segula, a Divine inner attachment to God, unique to the Jewish People, is the key to understanding the unity of the Nation of Israel, the Torah, the Land of Israel, and God.

Jerusalem in the Twilight Zone

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

I came on aliyah in May, toward the end of Iyar, just in time for Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day. As we mentioned in an earlier blog, the same Rabbi Yehuda Hazani, of blessed memory, who co-founded the Volunteers for Israel/Sarel project, also began the joyous flag-waving parade through the streets of Jerusalem to the Kotel on Yom Yerushalayim. While Yom HaAtzmaut was widely celebrated throughout the country, Jerusalem Day, the day marking our re-conquest of the Old City and the Kotel hadn’t yet become the gala, inspiring event that it is today. After the Six-Day War, under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva would hold a festive dinner with speeches from government leaders and leading Rabbis. After midnight, students would join the Rosh Yeshiva in a joyous march to the Kotel. With each passing year, students would gather from other yeshivot around the country for the festive procession. Seeking to turn the march into a national event which would express the Nation’s eternal attachment to its Holy City, and proclaim to the world that Yerushalayim would never be divided again, Rabbi Hazani, who was studying at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva, organized another parade for the following day. Plastering the billboards of the country with posters, he handed out hundreds of blue-and-white Israeli flags and had the crowds follow a lively band from Emancipation Park across from the United States consulate to the Kotel. Every year the crowds increased, swelling to fifty thousand and more. Women entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, while men and families walked along the walls to the Shechem Gate, where they paraded through the narrow main street leading through the Old Jewish Quarter, who’s name had been changed to the “Moslem Quarter” after the pogroms of 1929, when Arabs had slaughtered dozens of resident Jews and chased the Jewish population out from the Old City. How wonderful it is on Jerusalem Day to see Arabs cowering in their doorways and windows as the Jews swarm through all the gates our eternal Holy City!

That first year, being a greenhorn in Israel, the happy parade blew me away, walking side-by-side with so many proud Jews into the Old City, along the alleyways of the Moslem Quarter. When we arrived at the Kotel Plaza, Rabbi Hazani grabbed my hand and pulled me up onto the bandstand where a band led the joyous flag waving and dancing. Introducing me to the huge crowd as the director of Volunteers for Israel in America, who had just come on aliyah, he had me read out a Psalm in English for the foreign press. Talk about an aliyah! I felt 100 feet tall, as if I had suddenly become a giant Jew in my connection to Jerusalem and Clal Yisrael! That year, and every year since at the incredibly festive gathering at the Kotel, the joy is supernatural, above time and space, a spiritual high like no other, illuminated by the Divine Presence which still shines forth from the stones of the Kotel, and by the great light of Redemption that fills the air over the Old City as tens of thousands of Jews from all corners of the world pay tribute to God for His transcendental kindness in bringing us back to our beloved Holy City in fulfillment of prophecies of old.

I couldn’t imagine that there could be anything like it until the following week and the arrival of Shavuot. After the evening holiday meal at the home of Rabbi Hazani, I learned with Rabbi David Samson, the English-speaking hevruta he had arranged for me at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. In the wee hours of the morning, all of the students set off for the Kotel. As we walked along Jaffa Road toward the Old City, more Jews appeared from every direction, thousands of them, young and old, men, women, and children, Haredim, Hasidim, Religious Zionists with knitted kippot, even secular Jews. It was amazing! By the time dawn arrived, the Kotel Plaza was full!

Here I was, just out of New York, not knowing Hebrew, not knowing what the Torah was really about, surrounded by tens of thousands of ecstatic davening Jews, with the choruses of “Amen, yihe shamai rabbahs” ringing in my ears like the blasts of the shofar on Mount Sinai, standing beside Rabbi Hazani and a sea of Moses-like beards. What can I tell you? New York and Hollywood were blown out of my brain, like a dream that never happened, just like the Psalm says: “When the Lord brings back the captives of Zion, we were like those who dream.” I felt like I had been Star-Trekked into another time and planet – into another galaxy and totally different reality, into a living, vibrant, electrifying Judaism I had never experienced before.

Luckily, Avraham Wasn’t a Complainer

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

A lot of people are complainers. They love to complain. Often, you can spot them in restaurants making a lot of noise. They don’t come to eat. They come to complain. They drive the waiters crazy. First, the steak is too well done. Then it’s too rare. Then they complain that the air conditioner is freezing them to death, and when the waiter sets them up at a new table, there’s so much cigarette smoke in that section, they can’t even breathe.

A lot of people are the same way when it comes to Israel. They’re complainers. They complain about everything in order to justify why they don’t come to live here. I’m not talking about people who have legitimate reasons for not coming, but about the complainers who could come but don’t.

Thankfully, our forefather, Avraham Avinu, wasn’t a complainer. Just imagine what would have been! Jewish history would have been totally different!

AVRAHAM! GET THEE FORTH TO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU!’

Which Land is that?”

THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU.”

I’m not going anywhere till I know where it is.”

DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU’RE TALKING TO?”

Of course I know.”

THEN GET GOING!”

Not until I know.”

TO THE LAND OF CANAAN.”

The Land of Canaan? You’ve got to be joking!”

AM I A JOKER IN YOUR EYES?”

Well, no, of course not. But the Land of Canaan? It’s loaded with mosquitoes!”

MOSQUITOES?”

And swamps!”

YOU’LL DRAIN THE SWAMPS.”

Me?”

YES, AVRAHAM, YOU.”

But there are hookers in Tel Aviv.”

GET THEE FORTH TO THE LAND!”

What about Eilat? It’s loaded with immodest women and preetzut!”

GET THEE FORTH TO THE LAND!”

The apartments don’t have built-in closets.”

GET THEE FORTH TO THE LAND!”

The taxes are murder! That is, if you can even find a job!”

AVRAHAM!”

And the government is trafe! The secular run everything!”

I’M WARNING YOU!”

What about all the missionaries? You want me to be in a place crawling with missionaries?”

AVRAHAM, GET THEE FORTH TO THE LAND!”

But the Canaanites blow up women and children in buses!”

GET THEE FORTH TO THE LAND!”

Face it. You need me here to spread the Torah.”

GET THEE FORTH TO THE LAND!”

GET THEE FORTH TO THE LAND!”

GET THEE FORTH TO THE LAND!”

To get to the point, the real Avraham Avinu packed up his belongings without saying a word and hastened to the Land, even though it was loaded with savage heathens, prostitutes, idol worship, murderers, and rapists, even though there wasn’t one synagogue, kosher butcher, or luxury villa to be found.

Avraham came to Israel without complaining.

As it says, “Avraham believed in Hashem.”

Dear Not a Jew -> Jew

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Dear Not a Jew – Jew, Beware!

I am enjoying your blogs at The Jewish Press about your journey to become a Jew. The question is – what kind of a Jew will you become? Will you become a proud builder of Israel, living a complete life of Torah in the Land of the Jews, or will you become a Jew of the exile, living as an outsider in a gentile land, surrounded by a gentile culture, voting for a gentile President, speaking a gentile language, and not knowing whether your children will remain Jewish or marry outside of the faith?

As the poet, Robert Frost, wrote: “Two paths diverged in a snowy wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

To help you on your journey, I would like to invite you to read my blogs, right here at The Jewish Press, where I will try my best to clarify just who we are as a People and what is the true meaning of Torah.

For instance, strictly speaking we really aren’t “Jews.” We are the “Children of Israel.” The word “Jew” doesn’t appear in the Torah. The word “Judaism” is an invention of the exile, meaning the “ism” of the People of Judah – which was the last tribe to be exiled from our Homeland – the Land of Israel. The real name of our religion is “Torah,” and Torah is much more than a list of ritual commandments and eating bagels and lox. The Torah is the NATIONAL CONSTITUTION of the NATION OF ISRAEL, including dozens of laws concerning the monarchy in Israel, the army of Israel, the judges of the Sanhedrin, the Holy Jerusalem Temple, and all of the laws that apply uniquely to the Land of Israel – and which cannot be practiced anywhere else. Let me ask you a simple question – can you have a Jewish government in America, or a Jewish army in Lakewood, or will the official language and calendar of the United States ever be Hebrew? Of course not. America is a gentile country. These basic elements of the Torah can only take place in Israel, where the Torah is meant to be observed.

So beware! Some people will tell you that if you put on tefillin in Brooklyn, you’ve reached the pinnacle of the Jewish journey, but it isn’t true. Other people will tell you we have to stay in exile until Mashiach arrives. But that isn’t true either. Hashem isn’t waiting for Mashiach. Before our very eyes, Hashem has brought millions of Jews back to Israel on His own, without waiting for Mashiach to do all the work. And be very careful what you read. You’ll find lots of books about Judaism, and lots of Jewish websites that have taken Eretz Yisrael out of the Torah completely. They’ll tell you everything about Yiddishkeit, but the Land of Israel isn’t mentioned. Yet the whole goal of the Torah, and the focus of our prayers for Redemption (Redemption from the exile), is to build a Torah society in the Land of Israel – and not in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, or Timbuktu.

As a convert-in-progress, seeking your path to Torah, the road which you choose at the beginning of the journey is very important. If you are skeptical about my advice, then let the Torah be your guide. When God first appeared to the father of the Nation of Israel, Avraham, He didn’t tell him to keep Shabbos, or put on tefillin, or to only eat in glatt kosher delis. The very first thing God told Avraham was to journey forth to the Land of Israel, to the Holy Land, the Land which God gave to the him and his descendents, Yitzhak and Yaacov, forever. The Land of Israel is the foundation of all the Jewish Nation, and the place Hashem wants us to be – just as it says again and again and again in the Torah.

So what happened? What went wrong with the game plan? Why are there so many Jews in America, and England, and Australia, and Mexico City? Now that God has once again opened the gates to our Homeland, and gathered millions of our scattered brothers and sisters from the four corners of the earth, and brought them back to the Land, just like He promised He would, just like the Prophets foretold, why don’t all the Jews in Diaspora come home? Why don’t they all rush to the airport to get on the next El Al plane, in order to actualize the yearning of 2000 years, “NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM!” which is happening right now, in our time, for everyone to take a part in the dream?

Why Help Build America When We Can Help Build the Land of the Jews?

Friday, May 11th, 2012

In his current article in The Jewish Press, “A New Song,” Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt advocates finding “a new rallying call, a new idea with which to inspire the troops and turn values into action.”

“Each generation speaks its own language and needs its own message,” he writes.

So far, so good. However, I would like to offer a different rallying call than the one he ultimately chooses.

“Hewed by Hashem into the core of our soul is the need to effect change in the world we inhabit,” he continues.

This too is very true. In my opinion, however, the question is, where should we, in this generation, focus our efforts? In strengthening Jewish life among the gentiles in a foreign land – as he proposes – or in striving to build a Torah society in the Land of Israel, as advocated by the Torah and the Prophets of Israel? What is the message that we should teach our children? That their future is in America, being productive American Jews, or in Eretz Yisrael being productive Jews in the Holy Land?

Rabbi Rosenblatt wrestles with this question in the course of his thought-provoking article, writing, “I feel a primal need for perspective, to understand who I am, who we are, and where our community is headed.”

In my mind, the meaning of “our community” should not only be America’s Orthodox/Haredi community, but the community of all of American Jewry, for, as our Sages teach, every Jew is responsible for his fellow. It is no secret that American Jewry is being decimated by assimilation. The longer the Jewish community remains in America the more the assimilation will grow. So I ask – what’s the point in working to strengthen something that is destined to dwindle out and end? The exile is a curse which is not supposed to continue forever. Now that Hashem, in His great kindness, has re-opened the gates to the Land of Israel and has given us our own Jewish State, isn’t it time to come home? True, for adults who are already established in their ways, moving to a new country is a difficult challenge, but our children have the wherewithal to fulfill the great mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel, a mitzvah which our Sages teach is equal in weight to all the commandments of the Torah (Sifre, Reah 80).

Encouraging Jewish youth to be accountants, or businessmen, or scientists in America, is well and good, but it can’t be compared with playing a part in the Redemption of Israel and becoming of a building of the Jewish Nation in Eretz Yisrael. In my humble opinion, this is the new call we need to rally and inspire our troops!

Yes, in recent generations, the Orthodox Jews of America have done wonders in guarding and strengthening the observance of Torah. As Rabbi Rosenblatt notes, his parents’ generation built Flatbush, and his generation built Lakewood. Certainly, these are praiseworthy achievements. But that was before the establishment of the State of Israel and shortly after its birth, when we didn’t have a choice. But in the face of the subsequent modernization and miraculous development of Medinat Yisrael, instead of adding on to Flatbush and Lakewood, or sending out battalions of Haredi “laypeople” to win a spot in the American marketplace, as the author of the article advices, why not put our efforts into re-locating these holy and talented young people to Eretz Yisrael?

This is especially true when the author writes: “As a result of our weak secular education and greater insularity, our generation is struggling to make ends meet. Parnassah options are often limited. If not employed in klei kodesh, most of us work for or start small businesses, frequently competing with each other to service the needs of our community. We are often recipients of governmental aid, a possibility our parents’ generation wouldn’t have considered.”

Rabbi Rosenblatt writes a great deal about Kiddush Hashem, but being dependent on handouts from the gentiles is the very opposite. In fact, as the Prophet Ezekiel teaches, the presence of Jews in the Diaspora is one big problematic disgrace:

“And when they came to the nations into which they came, they profaned My Holy Name, in that men said of them: These are the people of the Lord, and they are gone out of His land” (Ezekiel, 36:20).

This prophecy informs us that the unnatural situation of Jews living outside the Land of Israel is a desecration of God. Why? Because in the eyes of the gentiles, our presence in the Diaspora proclaims that God lacks the power to keep us in His Land. That was back then in Ezekiel’s days. Now, in our time, when God has returned the Land of Israel to the Jews, the situation is even worse, for it seems, in the eyes of the gentiles, that in clinging to our Diaspora communities, we prefer foreign lands to His.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/why-help-build-america-when-we-can-help-build-the-land-of-the-jews/2012/05/11/

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