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May 6, 2016 / 28 Nisan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Hashem’

The Merit Of Trusting Hashem

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

And Hashem said to Moshe, Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Jewish people and let them travel.” – Shemos 14:15

 

After months of witnessing the Hand of Hashem, the entire Jewish nation marched from slavery to freedom with flourish and fanfare.

Escorted by clouds of glory, walking through a desert made smooth by overt miracles, they traveled as one. It seemed the troubles of the Jewish people were finally behind them, and they were being escorted to their final redemption…until the clouds directed them to a dead end: the sea.

Stopping there, the Jewish people looked up and saw the Egyptians chasing after them. With nowhere to turn, they waited while Moshe called out to Hashem, Who answered back, “Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Jewish people and let them travel.” At that point, the entire nation crossed the Yam Suf.

Rashi is bothered by the expression Hashem used. What did Hashem mean by that? How could they travel when an entire sea was in the way? Rashi explains that Hashem was saying there is nothing that will stop Klal Yisrael because they are worthy of the greatest miracles ever known to man. Rashi then enumerates the reasons they are so worthy. 1. The merit of the Avos. 2. Their own merit. 3. The merit of the trust they had in Hashem at that moment.

The difficulty with this Rashi is that he lists all three reasons in same breath as if they are equal, and clearly they aren’t. The first two, the merit of the Avos and the Jews’ own merit, refer to overall perfection across the gamut of human activity. The avos were living, breathing sifrei Torah. We learn from their every action and thought. Their combined merit is hard to imagine.

And even the second cause, the merit of the entire Jewish people, was stupendous. While not every member had remained on the highest level, as a nation they had remained loyal to Hashem. After spending months witnessing Hashem’s direct involvement in their lives, they had grown to great levels across many different areas: chesed, emunah, ahavas Yisrael, emes.

How can we compare one single aspect – their trust in Hashem – to the merit of the Avos or to the merit of all of their actions put together? It would seem to be dwarfed by comparison. Yet Rashi put these together as if they are all equal reasons Hashem would create miracles for the Jewish people.

Hashem’s Involvement in the World

The answer to this question is based on understanding Hashem’s relationship to this world. The Chovos HaLevavos explains that because Hashem created this world, Hashem feels a responsibility, if it could be, to sustain it. Much like if I invite you to my home, it is my obligation as host to take care of your needs, so too Hashem feels almost obliged to support all of His creations. However, there are different levels to Hashem’s direct involvement in the running of this world, what the sefer Derech Hashem calls hashgacha klalis and hashgacha pratis.

Hashgacha klalis, or general intervention, refers to Hashem’s involvement in the “big picture” issues: famine, war, epidemics, natural catastrophes, and maintaining the multitude of systems that allow for life as we know it. It is a given that Hashem is constantly and permanently involved in the running of this world at that level. However, the specific details and the day-to-day running of the world Hashem has given over to a host of forces He created and maintains but allows to actually carry out the laws He set. These forces determine much of what befalls humanity.

Hashgacha pratis, or personal intervention, is very different. This refers to Hashem’s personal involvement in a nation’s or a person’s life. It includes Hashem actually supervising directly, watching over and taking care of the needs of those individuals.

General intervention is a given; it is something Hashem assures to all of creation as a birthright. Personal intervention is quite different; it must be earned. By dint of being the children of the Avos, the Jewish nation merits personal intervention – provided they keep certain conditions. One of these is that they must recognize Who runs the world. In this regard, it functions on a continuum. The more a person trusts in Hashem, the more, if it could be, Hashem feels an obligation to take care of that person, and the more Hashem will be directly involved in that person’s life. It is almost as if Hashem says, “How can I not take care of him, he relies on Me, he trusts in Me.

This seems to be the answer as to why the “merit of their belief in Hashem” was so pivotal at Krias Yam Suf. In terms of the objective weight, there is no comparison between the merits of the avos and their current trust in Hashem, but trust in Hashem operates on a different level. It alone can be the reason Hashem will save a people. It was almost like Hashem was saying, “How can I not take care of them? They trust in Me. They rely on Me. I have to save them.” And that trust alone was reason enough to split the sea.

Hashem Takes Care of Us

This is a powerful lesson. While we are obligated to act in the ways of this world, we are equally obligated to trust in Hashem. We have to go out and do our part, follow the laws of nature, knowing all the while that exactly that which Hashem has decreed will come about – no more, no less, no sooner, no later.

However, the amount of our trust in Hashem will directly affect how much Hashem will intercede on our behalf, and this may have a huge difference in many situations. For example, there may be times we don’t warrant receiving that which we need. Whether it’s health, success, or sustenance, it may well be that according to the letter of the law we don’t merit special assistance, and certainly not the right to ask Hashem to intervene on our behalf. In that situation, it may be our trust in Hashem alone that will bring Hashem’s help. When we rely on Hashem and trust in Him, Hashem, if it could be, feels obligated to take care of us.

Trust in Hashem is the basis of our belief system. It is one of the most comforting thoughts a human can have. And it is also one of the most effective ways for us to secure Hashem’s direct involvement in our lives – even in a manner we might not otherwise deserve.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Tefillah: A Meeting With Hashem – E-ZPass To Olam Haba?

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Anyone who wants to avoid tollbooth lines knows that an E-ZPass device allows you to go through without any delays. And actually, on a recent trip I borrowed one and whizzed past the booth. Suddenly, I noticed a sign telling me to slow down to 15 MPH, but it was too late. A screen notification told me that my E-ZPass had not registered.

Hmm. Okay, I’ll be more careful at the next booth. When I reached tollbooth #3843, I made sure to creep through at 5 MPH, sure that this time the light would turn green. But to my chagrin that same gloomy message informed me that I could expect another fine in the mail. What did I do wrong this time, I wondered? Oh, my E-ZPass was sideways, so the sensor didn’t detect it. I began to realize that the E-ZPass is only e-z if you know how to use it.

This reminded me of the Gemara (Brachos 4b) that seems to offer an E-ZPass straight to Olam Haba. Rabi Yochanan said: “Who inherits the world to come? The one who follows the Geulah immediately with the tefillah.” At first glance it seems quite easy. I just have to start Shemoneh Esrei immediately after I say the blessing of “Ga’al Yisroel” and presto: Instant entry to Olam Haba! But this seems quite strange. We all know that good things take hard work – so how could someone become a “ben Olam Haba” through one small action?

Indeed, the students of Rabbeinu Yonah (Brachos, ibid.) ask this question and answer that only if one understands what he is doing will one receive this reward. Here is one of their explanations as to how it works: “When a person mentions the redemption from Egypt and then immediately turns to Hashem in prayer, he shows that he is putting his trust in Hashem through these prayers. One who does not place faith in his friend will not ask him for anything.”

Through this seemingly small action, a person shows that he trusts Hashem. Since this trust is the basis of all our service to Hashem, he has turned himself into a member of Olam Haba. Let us explain.

 

Three Seminars

It states in Parshas Ha’azinu (Devorim 32:11) that Hashem came “ke’nesher ya’ir kino – like an eagle arousing its nest.” The Vilna Gaon explains that this refers to the exodus from Egypt. During the days of enslavement, Klal Yisroel had emunah, but they were in a state of slumber. When a person is asleep, even if he is blessed with the greatest skills and talents, he is doing nothing. In order to entice the Jews to sin, the Egyptians offered a brief respite from the harsh labor and oppression to any Jew who agreed to worship idols. Many succumbed to the pressure until they eventually became complete idol worshippers.

Nevertheless, deep in their hearts, a spark of faith could still be found. Witnessing the ten plagues, that spark was fanned into a roaring flame of faith, and they woke up, until they actually lived based on that faith. How?

The Haggada states that Rabi Yehuda divided the ten plagues into three groups: Detzach, Adash, and Be’achab. The commentators explain that these three groups were in truth three different seminars in emunah. Each one began in Pharaoh’s secret riverside bathroom with an introductory lecture by Moshe, who explained the theme of that session. This was followed by the three plagues that taught that lesson.

The first seminar was to teach that Hashem is the master of the world and that there are no other powers. Therefore, Moshe began (Shemos 7:17), “Bezos teidah ki ani Hashem – Through this you will know that I am Hashem.” The Egyptians worshiped the Nile River as their source of life. When Hashem turned it into blood, He demonstrated that if He so desires, it can be a source of death. They saw the same when the Nile spewed out millions of frogs that wreaked havoc and made their lives miserable. And to prove that Moshe was not just a great sorcerer, Hashem turned every speck of dust into disgusting and painful lice. (Sorcery does not work on something smaller than barley.)

Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus

Why Must Jewish Women Wear So Much Black and Gray?

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

So you and your husband get stranded on a deserted island. Your clothes are tattered. Everything besides what you’re wearing is lost at sea. You need to go shopping. No one is going to see you, but of course you’re going to need to dress tzniusdik and even in the spirit of the law regarding tznius.

In the distance you see a structure. As you come closer, you see that it is a building. You walk in and lo and behold it is an abandoned women’s clothing store. Not only that, but as you look through the clothing you realize that everything there is absolutely tznius and in style. WOW! This is like Gan Eden and it’s all free.

Be totally honest, which section of the store would you go to? Would the black and white with a few shades of grey section immediately catch your eye? Would you almost not be able to contain yourself with the mere thought of the fun of matching so many different shades of black?

How surprised would you be to find yourself more attracted to the section with a diverse selection of colors? Would you start getting creative with matching different colors and trying on all sorts of different combinations or would you stick to black and white and feel like that is perfect and a true reflection of yourself and your taste?

My hunch is that the majority of women would choose to look at all the different colors and try on numerous creative outfits until they find what they feel really suits them and fits their personality. I do also think that some women would go to the black and white and some shades of gray section. Not because they feel like they have to go there, but because they really like it. That is more than perfectly fine. But again, for most women I believe they would go to the colorful section.

So now I ask you; what section do you go to in the store when you go clothing shopping? Don’t answer that, but do ask yourself which sections you pass up that you really want to go to. So why are you going to the black and white with a few shades of gray section?

My wife tells me that black makes people look slimmer. Is that the reason? I can hear it, but I don’t think that’s the prevalent reason. Is it because of a tznius issue? I don’t think so. Unfortunately, my hypothesis is that you go to that section because everyone else is going to that section. If you were to go to the colorful section, you would stick out and not be part of the system any more. It has gotten to a point where many women have been doing this for so long that they can no longer even get in touch with the part of themselves that wants to wear something colorful.

Hashem created such a beautiful world. The Gemara says there is no artist like Hashem. Look at the way Hashem chose to express Himself in the world. It is so vibrant and full of color. Look at the trees, the animals and the birds. There is nothing more exotic, diverse and stunning. Even when creating people, Hashem was so colorful and creative. Every single person was created different with different tastes and personalities. Women were created with a sense for beauty and aesthetics. Men only get as far as feebly attempting to match a tie to their suit.

When you buy flowers for Shabbos, do you buy black and white flowers with some grey ferns? How would you sensitively tell your husband that the next time he buys you black and white flowers, he’s doing all the cooking for Shabbos? What colors do you choose for bar mitzvahs or weddings? How about furniture and carpets? How did you dress your daughter before she began dressing in black?

What made you switch from pinks and purples to dressing her in black on black with black shoes? Do you connect more to the joy of dressing her at a young age or to the way you have to dress her in 6th grade? It is truly amazing that wherever you turn, you’re choosing all different types of colors, but when it comes to clothing, your taste suddenly changes to black and white with a few shades of gray. Does this bother you?

Bezalel Perlman

Fatherless and Leaderless

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Our tears have yet to dry. I am not sure they ever will. We have all been thrown to the ground, pinned down by a loss of spiritual support.

Why is this so? It is because Maran HaRav Ovadia Yosef, zt”l, was larger than our generation. Or perhaps the generation is too shrunken, too beaten by the wind, to fully appreciate Maran’s greatness. It is still unclear.

One thing is clear. For the Sephardic Jew, this century is divided into two distinct periods – one with Maran’s presence and one that is no longer graced by it. The second period trembles with its own uncertainty because the greatest and strongest of us are incapable of filling the shoes of Maran, who served as posek and leader in an era rife with instability and danger.

Throughout the week of mourning, people spoke of our being orphaned. We feel a deep, unfathomable loss. With all our modern skills and technological know-how, we have yet to develop the device that can measure Maran’s monumental contributions to us, to our generation, and to many generations to follow.

It is not in our power to describe, so soon after his passing, the greatness of such a Torah giant. People will write about his amazing Torah knowledge, the power of his prayers and his outstanding acts of chesed, those he made public and those he hid from the public’s eye. But we will never know, certainly not in the near future, the true extent of Maran’s influence on the history of the Jewish people, how much he shaped the direction of the state of Israel, and how he gave countless Sephardic Jews a different perception of themselves. We are still feeling the effects of his efforts; perhaps we are still at the very beginning.

* * * * *

Maran was the standard-bearer of the movement to restore Sephardic Jewry to its former status in the hierarchy of Torah greatness. Five or six decades ago, Porat Yosef was basically the only higher yeshiva for Sephardic young men. The roshei yeshiva perceived the enormous potential in Maran when he was still a youngster. They did everything to equip him with the tools to realize their vision and bring their hopes to fruition. They placed their hopes in him to return the lost members of our people to the flock by igniting the spark of faith and pride in their hearts.

Maran’s heart was fertile soil for planting the seeds of a revolution among Sephardic Jewry. Even as a youth, his power to pluck lost souls from the depths and carry them on his wings was apparent. Already then, children ran to find places in synagogues and batei midrash with his encouragement.

If the streets of Yerushalayim could eulogize him, they would recount how he gathered the children in all the synagogues, large and small. They would tell how he strode from Musayoff to Geulah and to Beit Yisrael, offering yet another lesson in practical halacha, another page of Gemara, another study in the weekly Torah reading. Every lesson was delivered with his special grace and humor, with a smile and with wit. His lectures were attended by nine-year-old children and ninety-year-old codgers, sharp-minded kollel students and simple laborers after a long day of work.

Yes, this is the way it was long before the politics began, before there was an issue of appointing people to positions, status and jobs. Maran was tilling the ground so that he could sow the seeds of faith – not only in Yerushalayim but in Beersheva, Ashdod, Dimona, Tel Aviv, Tirat HaCarmel, Haifa, Acre and Nahariya. He took it to little settlements and forgotten communities. He never told anyone “No, I don’t have time for you.”

Maran planted the trees of Torah so that their branches would cast the shadow of emunah and yirat Shamayim on the new generation. At the same time that atheistic Mapai activists danced over their success in pulling Sephardic Jews away from their faith, Maran was already laying the groundwork for the counter-revolution to bring them back home. He counted his successes one person at a time. He found them in urban centers and in Zionist establishments, simple people and influential people alike.

How did he do it? Primarily, through the power of his personal Torah study. The energy he put into learning Torah was something unmatched in this generation and, apparently, going back several generations as well. Further, he did it through his sincere, faith-filled prayers that undoubtedly pierced the highest Heavens. His prayers were accentuated by his tears, flowing freely and silently in the hope his wounded brethren would be healed spiritually, step by step until they achieved perfect health.

It would not be right to describe Maran’s public service as beginning with his establishment of the Shas political party. With due respect to Shas and its accomplishments, it was Maran who prepared for it with decades of hard work. He breathed life into the movement; he pushed and encouraged the young men he appointed to fight the battles, instilling courage and confidence where none had existed before. “You can do it,” he said. “It is within reach. We are not powerless.”

“Open more yeshivas and institutions,” he would insist. “Don’t worry. Hashem will help. You won’t run out of money.” He implanted solid faith in his people, telling them Heaven’s help was right around the corner. From his lofty position he brought the horn of plenty to the Torah world, to all who were in need and to all who hungered for Torah. All we had to do was to come, to participate, to reach forward. The blessings of the gadol hador were available. He had envisioned it and sowed the seeds for it more than sixty years earlier. We are witness to his revolution today.

* * * * *

It is crucial for us to emphasize that Maran not only created a monumental edifice of Torah and halacha, but that he also built people. He was there for the youth, for families, for one Jew after the other. He gave people advice they needed in making important decisions in life. He gave his blessings. Maran was the key in helping them to connect with Hashem.

His home was always open, as was his sensitive heart. He was always ready to listen to barren women, widows, orphans, the ill and downtrodden. Whoever they were, he served as their loving father. He was everyone’s father. When he pinched or slapped someone’s cheek, that person knew that it came from his father. Everyone knew that he loved us all, that he prayed sincerely for us all.

It was such a wonderful feeling to know we had a father who was so wise, who possessed such yirat Shamayim, who was no doubt beloved by Hashem. This feeling gave us strength and spirit. When someone left Maran’s presence, he invariably was stronger than before and committed to building himself anew with Torah and emunah. The future appeared rosier because his father had blessed him and encouraged him.

For me personally, Maran was my guide in life, my leader, my authority. Now I feel I have lost my father. The pain is far greater than when I lost my biological father.

* * * * *

Maran, we were privileged to stand by you for decades. We saw your self-sacrifice and stupendous efforts to raise the Sephardic world of Torah. How can we describe it?

There is a type of pride that is proper and a type that is despicable. It is wonderful when a Jew feels pride for going in the ways of Hashem. With his inimitable wisdom, Maran did his best to raise the honor of Sephardic halachic rulings so that we could be proud to know them and follow them. He showed us that we had no reason to feel ashamed of our heritage, that we could be proud to follow the rulings of Maran HaRav Yosef Karo, author of the Shluchan Aruch.

Thanks to the work of Maran, we have a clear understanding of the ways of halacha, and thousands of Torah students have adopted them with pride and confidence.

During Maran’s lifetime, our bookshelves became filled with sefarim of halacha and responsa. Once, the Sephardic yeshiva world was silent. No more. It is a world that has been completely rebuilt, replete with roshei yeshiva, teachers, rabbinical judges and rabbis who are fluent in the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch and the Acharonim. Before Maran, we lacked all this.

Sephardic pride. It is not just an expression; it is an anchor for values and sentiment. For decades, Sephardic Jews were downtrodden and scorned. They did not receive the recognition they deserved. People did not understand the greatness of their own halachic traditions. Maran expertly guided us out of that quagmire. He brought an entire generation of Torah scholars to hold fast to the wisdom of Sephardic Jewry, the wisdom of generations of great scholars who built themselves on the Shulchan Aruch and Rav Yosef Karo.

* * * * *

Today we are confused, bewildered about our future. Our ship has been cast astray and we don’t know where it is headed. Despite this, let us remember how Maran, our leader, always remained confident about the future. He was a born optimist. He knew he was doing the right thing and he always told us to remain on course while seeking to enhance Hashem’s honor.

We are incapable of telling the future. And even though Maran has been taken from us, we must have full faith that Hashem will continue to provide us with the proper leaders. We will continue to follow leaders who will go in the ways of Maran, the spiritual giant who built Sephardic Jewry, placed the crown of Torah on our heads and taught us to love and cherish that Torah.

We pray that we will continue on the road for the sake of our children and grandchildren until we will be privileged to see our Final Redemption.

Jack R. Avital

For Better or for Worse

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

It’s time to move out of our homes and into our holy humble sukkahs. Now is the time when we renew our relationship with God, who has chosen us to form an inseparable eternal union – a marriage between the children of Yisrael and the Master of the Universe.

The Torah portion of Nitzavim, which is read just before the New Year, reveals to us that Hashem is our personal “husband,” for better or for worse. Rashi explains (Devarim 29:12) that we were presented with a covenant and a curse: “Since we are forever bound together, let Me teach you how to make Me happy.”

Nitzavim goes on to prophesize everything that has transpired during these thousands of years. This is highlighted by non-Jews gasping and stating, “Why has God caused this land to become desolate? Because they have forsaken God’s covenant.” Thus, on Rosh Hashanah we think of our past year’s sins. The sound of the shofar awakens our emotions. Then ten days of introspection and repentance bring on the great and awesome day of Kippur, of Atonement.

Consider: our God is perfect, and we are anything but. We may have been envious or lustful, or worshipped money, status or a host of other vices. Now we humbly return home to our Love. If we repent out of fear, our sins are forgiven. But if we repent because we truly love our Maker, he gives us an amazing reward – our sins become mitzvahs!

Hashem simply goes beyond the letter of the law in His love for us.

The Holy Ben Ish Chai points out that if you go beyond the four letters of the Hebrew word hadin (the judgment), you get to the Hebrew word sukkah. (The four Hebrew letters that come after the letters in hadin are the letters in the word sukkah). The sukkah is where we arrive after Yom Kippur, free of sins, under the wings of God’s Holy Presence.

Note that the first time sukkah is mentioned in the Torah, it is referring to the stalls our forefather Yaakov built for his animals. Why? Because when Yaakov arrived in Shechem with his family, he built a beis medrash for himself for Torah learning, but for his animals, his “wealth,” he built simple huts.

Yaakov took his children to the window and said, “Look at how I treat my wealth, dear children. Wealth is temporary; like the sukkah, it doesn’t go with you to the next world. But here in this house of Torah, we accumulate the mitzvahs that stay with us – which are eternal.”

We have now received our “new heads” for the coming year, as implied by the words Rosh Hashanah, head for the year, and Yom Hazikaron, a day of resetting our memory apparatus. We are cleansed of our sins on Yom Kippur, after which we enter, with our entire body, into our sukkah. We enter this mitzvah where we achieve oneness with our Lover – Hashem, Blessed be He.

What is it about the Nation of Israel that attracts the love of the One God Who rules the universe?

I came upon an answer on Rosh Chodesh Elul as I prayed the silent benedictions. We bless the day in the following way: “Mikadesh Yisrael v’roshei chodoshim – He sanctifies Israel and the first day of all months.” But it can literally mean “He sanctifies Yisrael and “brand new heads.”

Our nation is forever ready to admit our mistakes and begin all over. With the coming of each new moon, we are aware that we may start afresh.

This is also evident in our morning declaration of Modeh Ani, the origin of which is in the book of Eichah (3:23) which states, “Hashems kindness is new every morning – great is Your belief [in us, to improve in the coming day]. One of the reasons Hashem loves His people is that they are always willing to start over.

Two small examples that are actually big were related to me by Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, shlita, head of the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where I am currently studying.

The first: A man survived hell in a concentration camp only to discover that his entire family had perished – parents, siblings, wife and children. Everyone.

Dov Shurin

Failing in Order to Succeed

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The rabbis teach that we can only truly understand Torah when we allow ourselves to fail at it (Gittin 43a). Unless we push ourselves to reach for deeper understanding, where we inevitably get it wrong before we can get it right, we will not grasp the very essence of the Jewish enterprise. Rashi here seems to think that it’s the public shame of getting it wrong (and the concomitant rebuke) that strengthens one’s intellectual rigor. It is not hard to think about giving constructive feedback (“rebuke”) when it comes to moral matters, but do we care enough about ideas that we (respectfully) challenge others when ideas are misinterpreted or misapplied? How much do we really value the marketplace of ideas and the assurance that we as individuals and as a society get it right?

History is full of examples of leaders who acknowledged that persistence in the face of failure was more important than individual failures. President Abraham Lincoln, whose army suffered many crushing defeats in the early years of the Civil War, said: “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.” A century later, Robert F. Kennedy echoed the optimistic spirit of youth when he said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Besides for being tragically assassinated, what these presidents have in common in that their causes lasted, their legacies carried on, and they are remembered as being among the greatest and most successful men to occupy the Oval Office.

Very often, one can be lured by the traps of conformism (just follow others’ ideas or practices) or isolationism (just follow one’s own marginal ideas and practices). Our job as Jews is to break free from these ploys for mediocrity. We must challenge ourselves and the status quo to reach higher by engaging with societal ideas but without blindly accepting them.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement) and founder and intellectual-spiritual leader in his own right, was anything but a conformist. He not only told his followers to be happy, but he also encouraged them to do silly things, highly unusual for a religious leader. Rebbe Nachman stated that each person had to fall in order to rise, and stressed the universality of this concept:

[E]ach person who fell … thinks that these words weren’t spoken for him, for he imagines that these ideas are only for great people who are always climbing from one level to the next. But truthfully, you should know and believe, that all these words were also said concerning the smallest of the small and the worst of the worst, for Hashem is forever good to all.

However, Rebbe Nachman went further, stating that it is “a great thing for a person to still have an evil inclination.” Even the tendency to evil could serve G-d, as people worked through these passions and eventually overcame them. To Rebbe Nachman, it seems, spiritual stasis is the only unacceptable path.

We must be willing to learn and debate with others. Ideas matter. Inevitably that will lead to some level of shame when we get it wrong, but the promise land afterwards is much greater. It offers a culture of more honest, informed, connected individuals who are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of truth and who are willing to be wrong in order to get it right. Our great rabbinic and presidential leaders wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz

Living Respectfully among Non-Jews: an Open Letter to Jewish Parents

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

What would you do if you learned that a small group of people threatened to make Jewish life in our communities less inviting and secure? Would you be concerned enough to learn about them, warn your children about them, and try to blunt the damage these people are doing? And what if “these people” turned out to be ourselves?

The dismissive, uncivil, and disrespectful attitudes and behavior too many of us show to our neighbors threaten our collective future.

Our job at the Simon Wiesenthal Center is to stay on top of trends around the world. Our work takes us around the globe, advocating for Jewish and for human-rights causes. We meet with world leaders, government officials on all levels, and elite cadres of civil society. We have seen the hydra of anti-Semitism regenerate with renewed strength, too often met in the mainstream with apathy, even acceptance.

Campaigns against shechitah need not always be anti-Semitic, but they have been inspired by Norwegian politicians who simultaneously defended whale-hunting while calling kosher slaughter “a blood orgy.” Some people may decide hey are not interested in the medical advantages of milah, but when a national ombudsman for children’s rights in Oslo tells you to your face that it cannot be justified as a religious ceremony because it is a form of “barbaric abuse,” it is time to worry.

Across Europe, the lid has come off the demons repressed for a few decades after the Holocaust.

Yes, you might say, but we live in North America, far from those forms of overt and dangerous threats. But that is our point. We live, b’chasdei Hashem, in a bubble – one that we threaten to burst ourselves.

Not that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist in the Goldene Medinah, but its harshest manifestations are mostly relegated to the margins, and it has not derailed the decades of remarkable Orthodox growth since World War II.

We have, baruch Hashem, built thriving, bustling communities, full of schools, shuls and social service providers. We in the U.S. and Canada have learned to be more confidently assertive. Through the pioneering efforts of Agudah and the OU, we are a presence in state capitol buildings, in the White House and in Ottawa. Kippot appear on the heads of public officials and in sitcoms, and Yiddishisms don’t need to be explained to our fellow citizens.

We have built up huge amounts of good will with many neighbors and politicians and don’t think twice about leveraging that hard-earned good will to accommodate our needs. We ask for – and expect – that testing schedules will revolve around our holidays, that garbage pickups will bend for Pesach, that parking tickets will not be issued when halacha won’t allow us to move our vehicles.

More important, we have come to rely on the largesse of the government and our neighbors for all kinds of support we now take for granted: reimbursement for mandated school services, textbooks, welfare and housing stipends, grants for senior centers and special-needs children. To ensure that the perks keep coming, we build upon our network with politicians, appear at the right public forums, and bundle contributions – just like every other organized interest group.

Observant Jews are no longer seen or treated as a small, quaint, community clinging to its ancient ways on America’s margins. We are mainstream, swimming alongside others in a fishbowl. Our neighbors, the media, and politicians pay attention – not because they hate us but because we are part of society’s fabric. No one should be surprised, then, that our faults and foibles – true or exaggerated – are splashed across headlines and cable news.

Most good people (and the bad ones are in the minority) do not expect perfection. They do expect menschlichkeit and respect – respect for laws and for the rule of law itself. They expect us to show pride in the appearance of our houses and streets, and other good-neighborly behavior. They expect to be valued and treated as respected human beings, just as we expect that of them.

Too often, though, we don’t think in these terms and we do not deliver. The resulting chillulei Hashem, both miniscule and large, weaken our Torah values, erode our shem tov, and potentially threaten our future.

We entirely understand the derision and contempt displayed to non-Jews by some Holocaust survivors. They experienced firsthand unfathomable atrocities, often committed by non-Jewish neighbors they had trusted. But we, the children and grandchildren of those survivors, know full well the difference between their experience and ours – yes, even the difference between one group of people and another. We also know of many survivors whose personal experiences were also horrific and yet they always displayed impeccable graciousness to all human beings.

Some of us, however, continue to speak – and think – disparagingly of every non-Jew. Besides being wrong in a Torah context, this attitude, in our opinion, is suicidal. It will bring catastrophe upon us, as the realities of the new economy will mean more and more groups competing for a shrinking pot of available public funds and resources. We are going to need to generate greater good will from our neighbors. The near-daily allegations of financial irregularities and cheating on government programs don’t help, making the forging of long-term coalitions that much more difficult.

Please don’t get us wrong. We are not saying that what we have described is the majority attitude in our community. Far from it. It is a minority one, but it threatens to engulf us all.

So why are we writing this? Because the attitudes children develop about their neighbors is considerably more reflective of what they learn from family than what they hear in school.

We both had elders in our extended families who survived the violent and genocidal hate of Tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany. Yet we were inculcated to show derech eretz to all people, not only “unzere.”

That is why we are taking this plea to Jewish parents. As parents, you try to give your children every advantage. If, God forbid, Mashiach does not arrive soon, and your children spend years of their lives in what Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, called the “medinah shel chesed,” you want them to live in a hospitable environment. But that will not be the case unless you educate them better than they have been educated until now in how to live respectfully among non-Jews.

Teach your children how different Americans are relative to, say, people in Saudi Arabia, Greece, or Spain. Speak to them about our great mission of Kiddush Hashem, and the severity of Chillul Hashem. Speak to them also about the practical consequences of being part of a minority whose future will be rockier without strong alliances with our neighbors.

An aphorism of a previous generation was, “If Jews won’t make Kiddush, non-Jews will make Havdalah.” It meant that if Jews, who have a special mission to live by Hashem’s instructions and be an ohr lagoyim (a light to the nations), don’t live up to His expectations, He will use non-Jews to remind us – sometimes in unpleasant ways.

Today those words have additional meaning. If we won’t act toward our neighbors with Kiddush Hashem, we will be spurned and shunned by them. This will impact negatively on so much that has been so important in the building of our Orthodox communities.

Bottom line: Let parents lead the way in raising our children to always show humanity and decency. It’s time – for those of us who have not already done so – to mensch up.

Rabbis Yitzchok Adlerstein and Abraham Cooper

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/living-respectfully-among-non-jews-an-open-letter-to-jewish-parents/2013/08/07/

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