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June 26, 2016 / 20 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Holy’

Redeeming Relevance: Parshat Naso: Holy Negativity is Still Negativity

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

You’d think that a ‘holy man’ wouldn’t be so controversial. And yet… The Talmud (Taanit11a), offers different opinions on whether a Nazir, who chooses to abstain from that which is permissible, is doing something inappropriate.

Following one approach in Nazir (3a), Kli Yakar suggests an interesting compromise position: The objection to nezirut is only operative when it is not carried to term, due to pre-mature contact with the dead. In such a case, writes Kli Yakar, the days that the nazir took on the prohibitions of nezirut had no halachic value. And in that case, his abstinence was essentially meaningless.

We learn from Kli Yakar that once meaningless, abstinence is not only neutral, it is actually destructive. We would expect, however, that the same be true of the reverse – if the problem is something being meaninglessness, then meaningless indulgence should also be destructive. Yet the Torah does not require atonement for it – why not?

Perhaps the answer is that indulgence of wine, etc. can never be totally meaningless. For enjoyment of God’s world always comes with some innate meaning – something which is lacking in the case of abstinence. In his ‘For the Perplexed of the Generation,’ Rav Kook points out that negation is, by its very nature, lacking any intrinsic meaning. That is because negation is not about any positive value. Instead, it is about staying away from something potentially destructive. Positive action, on the other hand, generally involves at least an admixture of added value.

With the enjoyment of the good tastes or smells, etc., one necessarily appreciates what is given to us by God. And with this appreciation, one automatically praises God, even if that is not his intention. Those who cook know this – if diners enjoy their food, it is a tribute to the cook, even if those diners don’t know who cooked it. All the more so is this true with God, who has greater involvement with what we enjoy than could be the case with any human being.

There is another insight that can be drawn from the comments of Kli Yakar as well. Ifnezirut is terminated early, it is as if nothing meaningful occurred at all. This deserves our reflection, as it is not immediately intuitive. Generally, processes are gradual – if the entire process is meaningful, part of it should be meaningful as well. Yet sometimes there are thresholds – and if the threshold is not passed, the entire process remains sterile. Going back to the kitchen, if a potato is taken out of the oven too early, it is no more edible than if it were raw – except now, it is also hot, and painful to hold.

It is true that starting a meaningful trajectory is often worth doing, even if we don’t know whether we will take it all the way to the end. But this is not always the case. In a finite life, it is important not to waste precious time on projects we know we are unlikely to finish and which, by being half-baked, will bring no new meaning. Like the potato in the analogy, we will have only wasted precious resources (of time and energy) yet produced nothing that can nourish us.

Rabbi Francis Nataf

The Jewish Holy Land

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

{Originally posted to the author’s website, FirstOne Through}

Roughly 3300 years ago, the Jews received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.  Those commandments were designed for all Jews to follow at all times, whether the positive commandments like respecting one’s parents, or the negative commandments like not murdering.

One of the positive commandments included a reason for the order: keeping the Sabbath:

8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. “ Exodus 20:8-11

God told the Children of Israel to not work on the seventh day of the week, just as God rested on the seventh day when He created the entire world.  By doing so, He made that seventh day holy, and commanded the Jews to make it holy as well.

The other nine commandments did not have explanations; the commandments were simply stated such as “You shall not steal.”  The second commandment of not taking the name of the Lord in vain “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children…” reveals more about the ramifications of ignoring the commandment, when no such threat was made in the text for the Sabbath.

Jews were told to actively remember the Sabbath, so, in turn, they can actively remember God’s creations and His decision to stop, rest and make the seventh day holy. The reason is not so much of an explanation, as it was meant to focus what should be remembered.

Shmita

God gave the Jews other commandments beyond the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

The Jewish tradition is that the Torah contains 613 commandments, all of which were given at Mount Sinai.  The sages conclude this from Leviticus 25, where God commands Jews to observe shmita on Mount Sinai. The biblical commentator Rashi (1040-1105) stated that clearly mentioning that such law was given on Mount Sinai was to show that all of the commandments were given there as well.

1The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.”  Leviticus 25:1-7

The commandment of shmita resembled the commandment of keeping the seventh day a day of rest.  In this case, the people may work the land for six years, but must not work the land on the seventh year, as the land must be given rest.  However, unlike the commandment for remembering the Sabbath day, the underlying reason for giving the land rest was not given.

Further, this commandment was localized to the Holy Land.  Only “when you enter the land I am going to give you,” when the Jews crossed the Jordan River, was the commandment relevant.

Field in Israel declaring its observance of shmita in 2008

Field in Israel declaring its observance of shmita in 2008

Nachmanides, or the Ramban (1194-1270), noted that there was a similarity of the Sabbath day and shmita when he wrote that shmita is about remembering this world and the world to come.  He derived that from Avos 5:9 which described that Jews would be punished with exile if they did not keep shmita. Ramban added  “whoever repudiates [shmita] shows that he does not acknowledge the truth of Creation and the World to Come.”

However, during his long explanation, the Ramban did not delve into the local nature of shmita.

Was the intention of the command’s preface to just let the Jews know that shmita was not necessary during the time from standing at Mount Sinai until they arrived in the Holy Land?  Or was there a message behind the land itself?

The Holy Land for the Jewish Nation

The commandment to observe Sabbath day became effective immediately when it was received on Mount Sinai.  Throughout the wanderings of the desert before they entered Israel, Jews kept the seventh day holy.  They did so, because they continued to live and benefit from God’s creations – even the desert itself.  Jews continue to observe Sabbath when they are not in the Holy Land for the same reason: the commandment’s underlying reason was to remember God’s creation of the entire world.

Was the commandment of shmita about memory too? Was it about remembering the “World to Come” as Ramban suggested?  If so, why did the commandment need to only be kept in Israel and needed to be delayed until they arrived in the Holy Land?

Perhaps the parallel of memory in the Sabbath day and shmita was not about “the truth of Creation and the World to Come,” but about God’s gift of the land of Israel to the Jewish people.

God included the reason of keeping the Sabbath day as a remembrance of the world’s creation within the command itself.  Keeping the Sabbath included remembering the story of creation.

In the commandment of shmita, maybe there was also an explanation inside the text: “the land that I am going to give you.”  It was not just an explanation of when to begin observing the law, but the reason of observing the law: the land was God’s gift to the children of Israel.

דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם וְשָׁבְתָה הָאָרֶץ שַׁבָּת לַיהֹוָה:

The Hebrew biblical text is different than God’s other promises of the promised land in the Torah.

  • When God promised the land to Abraham, it was described as “the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1), not give you.
  • In Exodus chapter 3, God described leading the Israelites to a land flowing with milk and honey that is occupied by many other nations.
  • In Exodus chapter 33, God told the Jews to go to the land that He promised their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Only in Leviticus did God change the language as giving the land to the Children of Israel themselves (Leviticus 20:24).  It was a gift for them, not just a promise made to forefathers.

That is why the commandment is localized in the Holy Land.  The commandment is not to just let the land lie fallow every seven years, but like the Sabbath, it is to remember that the land is God’s gift to the Jewish people.  It would be an insult to that special present of Israel for Jews outside of land to celebrate shmita.

God’s gift of Israel to the Jewish people is not limited by time, but an eternal present.  That is why even on the seventh year, when Jews cannot work the land, they can still enjoy the fruits of the land.  The gift never stops, even while Jews pause to remember the gift itself.

Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.”

Like the Sabbath day that is commanded to Jews, but to be respected among non-Jews that live with Jews, so is God’s gift to the Jews of the land of Israel.  The fruits of such gift may be shared broadly among those living in the land together with the Jews.

Enjoy and actively remember the gift of the Holy Land every day.  Try not to wait every seven years.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Today’s Inverted Chanukah: The Holiday of Rights in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria

The Nation of Israel Prevails

The Journeys of Abraham and Ownership of the Holy Land

“Flowing with Milk and Honey”

From Promised Land to Promised Home

Wearing Our Beliefs

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Paul Gherkin

For I Am Holy

Friday, May 13th, 2016

In Parshas Kedoshim the concept of holiness is mentioned three times:

“Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem your G-d’” (Shemos 19:2).

After the Torah warns about the severe prohibition of worshipping idolatry the verse states, “You shall sanctify yourselves and you will be holy, for I am Hashem, your G-d” (20:7). And at the conclusion of the parsha, after the Torah states that one may not “render your souls abominable” by eating non-kosher birds and any crawling insect, it says, “You shall be holy for Me, for I, G-d, am holy; and I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine” (20:26).

The Nesivos Sholom explains that these three verses correspond to the three chief detractions from holiness: immorality, idolatrous beliefs which enervate one’s faith, and partaking of forbidden foods. In regard to these three areas one must go beyond the actual prohibitions of the Torah. One must erect personal safeguards and stringencies to ensure that one does not fall prey to these egregious sins.

Conversely, there are three main sources of holiness from which one can elevate oneself: the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvos, the holidays and special times which are propitious for spiritual growth, and the overcoming of physical desires and inclinations. The more a person transcends his desires for physicality and the pleasures of life the more control he maintains over his evil inclination. These three areas represent the cadre of holiness in the life of a Jew.

The centrality of the commandment of being holy is evident. Becoming a holy, G-dly person is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a Jew. Therefore, it is difficult to comprehend why this injunction seems to fall by the wayside even amongst scrupulously observant Jews.

The Nesivos Sholom explained this enigma by citing a Medrash (Tanna D’vei Eliyahu 16:9) that relates a parable about a king who wanted to determine the extent of the allegiance his many servants and sons had to him. He wanted to ascertain who truly loved and feared him and accepted his monarchy with reverence. In order to do so, the king ordered an architect to construct a palace with an eccentric entranceway. To enter the palace one had to pass through a narrow room, which led into an even narrower room, which led to a third even narrower room. A person would literally have to squeeze his body, slowly pulling and pushing himself through the little room, limb by limb. Beyond the small room was the majestic and opulent throne of the king in a vast beautiful royal chamber.

When the palace was completed, the king summoned his servants and sons. He sat on his throne and waited. He watched as each individual approached walked through the increasingly narrower rooms. He watched as some plunged on into the increasingly narrow constraints, while others just walked away. Only those who were willing to suffer the pain of the struggle were his true servants and loyalists.

The Rebbe explained that the narrow rooms symbolize the obligation of a Jew to transform himself into a receptacle of holiness. The responsibility of becoming a holy person is arduous. It encompasses every aspect of a person – body, soul, thoughts, emotions, desires, and even the things he yearns for. Only a person who truly loves his King and wants to be in His embrace would accept on himself such a Herculean undertaking.

It is for this reason that the obligation to be holy is not counted among the 613 mitzvos. Prior to giving the Torah at Sinai, G-d declared to Klal Yisroel, “You shall be for Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation” (Shemos 19:6). Those words were not stated as an obligatory commandment, but rather as a revelation of G-d’s will. G-d was expressing His newfound expectation that the nation receiving the Torah strive for holiness and devoutness.

Rabbi Dani Staum

Redeeming Relevance: Parshat Achrei Mot: Nameless Heroes and the Holy Path

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Parshat Achrei Mot represents a transition in the book of Vayikra. We now go from the first half with its emphasis on Aharon and his sons to the second part which is generally addressed to the Jewish people as a whole. It goes from the model of Torat Kohanim (The Law of the priests) to that which is extrapolated from it – that which I call Torat Mamlechet Kohanim (The Law of the nation of priests).

Before speaking about the priestly service on Yom Kippur which is told from the perspective of atoning for the various impurities that this section culminates, the Torah engages in an unusually stylized flourish. It tells us that these laws were given after the death of the Aharon’s two sons. Of course, this could be just a time marker, though there would be other ways to denote such a marker; for example, “In the second week of the operation of the Mishkan.” That it does not use such a phrase, strikes us a clear maneuver to recall and emphasize one of the Torah’s most dramatic and difficult events. Before we get to that, it is worthwhile to not only note the fact that the event is mentioned, but also how it is mentioned.
We have often pointed out that the Tanakh artfully describes people in different ways depending on what it wants to emphasize. Here Nadav and Avihu are described without their names but solely as Aharon’s two sons. Each word is carefully chosen here. Their identity is that they are Aharon’s sons. Moreover, there is an implication is that they are his only sons, or at the very least his main ones. (Finally the fact that they are two sons is something that we already know, hence the word, two, here is also presumably meant to add significance.)

So why is it that they are identified as Aharon’s sons? It is well known that Aharon was more popular than Moshe. As such, he may have been the most popular man in the nation, certainly the most popular senior leader. This is easily understood. He had been Moshe’s public figure and in charge of speaking to the people. And, paradoxically enough, his failure at the golden calf might have added to his popularity, rather than taken away from it: He was the man on the spot and tried hard to bridge the people’s needs with God’s demands. There was no easy way out and he showed the people his willingness to take great personal risks to maneuver through an untenable situation..

Now we understand the significance of their being called Aharon’s sons. Sometimes we care about a person more for their parents than for themselves. Given Aharon’s popularity, Aharon’s tragedy was no doubt one that the entire people felt on a very personal level. And if they were his main sons, all the more so. It is thus no doubt the fact that it was Aharon’s sons that were the ones taken by God that affected the people so profoundly.

This brings us back to the point of mentioning this detail now in the middle of Vayikra, several chapters after it occurred. There are many laws that the Torah will now discuss that are related to earlier laws in the book of Shemot. And there are even more laws that could have easily found their place there, along with all of the other particulars that one finds in Parshat Mishpatim. Yet the Torah waited with all of these, because the Jews were not yet ready to hear about the importance of detail for their national mission. Some laws, primarily dealing with civil law had, to be heard right away for the smooth ordering of their society and these were already recounted in Shemot. But when it came to going beyond the ethical into the realm of the holy, the Jews needed to wait for certain things to happen This is because it is not intuitive that attention to detail can make us a holy people. And yet, on some level, this is what the laws addressed to the Jewish people in the book of Vayikra are all about.

Because the spiritual dimension of attention to detail it is not intuitive, it needed particular emphasis. The Torah does this by showing us that the greatest and most beloved Jews tried the road of not paying attention to detail. If it would have worked for anyone, it should have worked for them. The fact that it didn’t should tell us that there is truly only one road.

Millennia later, we all know that attention to detail is at the heart of the Jewish experience. It can even be described as Judaism in a nutshell. Moreover, this did not start with the rabbis. It started with a seminal tragic event necessary to put the holy nation on track for that very special historical mission that is taught in this book of Torat Mamlechet Kohanim.

Rabbi Francis Nataf

Russian Orthodox ‘Holy Fire’ Flown to Russia from Jerusalem

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

A special aircraft carrying a flame of “Holy Fire” from Jerusalem landed at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport Saturday, TASS reported. Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Apostle Andrew the First Called Foundation Vladimir Yakunin delivered a capsule containing the fire to a Moscow Cathedral for the Easter service officiated by Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church.

The Holy Fire is described by Russian Orthodox Christians as a miracle that occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Great Saturday, or Holy Saturday, the day preceding Russian Orthodox Easter.

Traditionally, hundreds of believers meet the fire carrying delegation at Vnukovo airport, to bring the fire to parishes in Moscow, then to the Moscow region and finally to other Russian regions. The 2016 “Holy Fire” will be distributed among believers in thousands of the Russian Orthodox Church’s parishes within the country and beyond its boundaries.

The Foundation of “the Apostle Andrew the First Called” will deliver some “Holy Fire” to Mount Athos, in Northern Greece, to mark the 1,000-year-old presence of Russians on the Holy Mountain.

Andrew the Apostle, also known as Saint Andrew, or the First-called, was a Christian Apostle and the elder brother of Peter. The name “Andrew” was common among the Jews, Christians, and other Hellenized people of Judea. No Hebrew or Aramaic name appears to match it. According to Orthodox tradition, the apostolic successor to Saint Andrew was Patriarch Bartholomew I.

The Foundation has been organizing a trip to Israel as part of its pilgrim program “Ask Peace for Jerusalem,” which has been operating since 2003. In 1992 the “Holy Fire” was airlifted to Moscow from Israel for the first time in the history of modern Russia.

JNi.Media

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

Vatican: Papal Visit to Show IDF ‘Imprisoning’ Christian Population

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Fr. Peter Vasko, President of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land (FFHL), heralded Pope Francis’ announcement that he may visit the Holy Land next year as an opportunity for the “whole world to see the plight of Christians in the area.

Vasko said the pontiff’s presence would also “shine a light on the dwindling Christian population in the Holy Land, and hopefully help ease living conditions in the area.” Christians, once a majority in the area, have diminished to less than two percent of the population as restrictions on travel, education and work have increased.

In Palestinian controlled areas, including Bethlehem, what remains of the Arab Christians population are virtual prisoners in their own homes. At the same time, Israeli controlled areas are the only places in the entire Middle East where the Christian population has been rising.

Pope Francis said the visit – his first as head of the Church – would mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s trip to Jerusalem in 1964. The announcement came on the heels of Israeli President Shimon Peres’ recent visit to the Vatican. During that visit, Peres urged the pope to come to Israel, adding, “The sooner you visit the better, as a new opportunity is being created for peace, and your arrival could contribute significantly to increasing the trust and belief in peace.”

Peres added, “I turn to you and ask that within your sermons in front of millions of believers in the world you include the hope for peace in the Middle East and the whole world.”

Vasko said the Vatican has long supported FFHL programs, which provide education, housing and work opportunities for thousands of Palestinian Christians. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI visited Israel during their tenures.

Pope Francis accepted Peres’ invitation, but no date has been set for the trip.

Jewish Press News Briefs

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