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June 25, 2016 / 19 Sivan, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Man’

How to Give

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Listen to these stories. Behind them lies an extraordinary insight into the nature of Jewish ethics:

Story 1. Rabbi Abba used to bind money in his scarf, sling it on his back, and place it at the disposal of the poor (Ketubot 67b).

Story 2. Mar Ukba had a poor man in his neighborhood into whose door socket he used to throw four coins every day. Once the poor man thought, “I will go and see who does me this kindness.” That day Mar Ukba stayed late at the house of study and his wife was coming home with him. As soon as the poor man saw them moving the door (to leave the coins) he ran out after them, but they fled from him and hid. Why did they do this? Because it was taught: One should throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than publicly put his neighbor to shame (Ketubot 67b).

Story 3. When Rabbi Jonah saw a man of good family who had lost his money and was ashamed to accept charity, he would go and say to him, “I have heard that an inheritance has come your way in a city across the sea. So here is an article of some value. Sell it and use the proceeds. When you are more affluent, you will repay me.” As soon as the man took it, Rabbi Jonah would say, “It’s yours is a gift” (Vayikra Rabbah 34:1).

These stories all have to do with the mitzvah of tzedakah whose source is in this week’s parshah:

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need…Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11).

What we have here is a unique and still remarkable program for the elimination of poverty.

The first extraordinary fact about the laws of tzedakah as articulated in the Oral Tradition is the concept itself. Tzedakah does not mean “charity.” We see this immediately in the form of a law inconceivable in any other moral system: “Someone who does not wish to give tzedakah or to give less than is appropriate may be compelled to do so by a Jewish court of law” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor, 7:10). Charity is always voluntary. Tzedakah is compulsory. Therefore tzedakah does not mean charity. The nearest English equivalent is social justice.

The second is the principle evident in the three stories above. Poverty in Judaism is conceived not merely in material terms: the poor lack the means of sustenance. It is also conceived in psychological terms. Poverty humiliates. It robs people of dignity. It makes them dependent on others – thus depriving them of independence which the Torah sees as essential to self-respect.

This deep psychological insight is eloquently expressed in the third paragraph of the Grace after Meals: “Please, O Lord our God, do not make us dependent on the gifts or loans of other people, but only on Your full, open, holy and generous hand so that we may suffer neither shame nor humiliation for ever and all time.”

As a result, Jewish law focuses not only on how much we must give but also on the manner in which we do so. Ideally the donor should not know to whom he or she is giving (story 1), nor the recipient know from whom he or she is receiving (story 2). The third story exemplifies another principle: “If a poor person does not want to accept tzedakah, we should practice a form of [benign] deception and give it to him under the guise of a loan” (Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:9).

Maimonides sums up the general principle thus: “Whoever gives charity to the poor with bad grace and averted eyes has lost all the merit of his action even though he gives him a thousand gold pieces. He should give with good grace and with joy and should sympathize with him in his plight, as it is said, ‘Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?’ [Job 30:25]” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:4).

This is the logic behind two laws that are otherwise inexplicable. The first is “Even a poor person who is dependent on tzedakah is obliged to give tzedakah” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 7:5). The law seems absurd. Why should we give money to the poor so that they may give to the poor? It makes sense only on this assumption – that giving is essential to human dignity and tzedakah is the obligation to ensure that everyone has that dignity.

The second is the famous ruling of Maimonides that “the highest degree of charity, exceeded by none, is when a person assists a poor Jew by providing him with a gift or a loan or by accepting him into a business partnership or by helping him find employment – in a word, by putting him in a situation where he can dispense with other people’s aid” (Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7).

Giving someone a job or making him your partner would not normally be considered charity at all. It costs you nothing. But this further serves to show that tzedakah does not mean charity. It means giving people the means to live a dignified life, and any form of employment is more dignified, within the Jewish value system, than dependence.

We have in this ruling of Maimonides in the 12th century the principle that Muhammad Yunus rediscovered in our time, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize: the idea of micro-loans enabling poor people to start small businesses. It is a very powerful idea.

In contradistinction to many other religious systems, Judaism refused to romanticize poverty or anaesthetize its pain. Faith is not what Karl Marx called “the opium of the people.” The rabbis refused to see poverty as a blessed state, an affliction to be born with acceptance and grace. Instead, the rabbis called it “a kind of death” and “worse than 50 plagues.” They said, “Nothing is harder to bear than poverty, because he who is crushed by poverty is like one to whom all the troubles of the world cling and upon whom all the curses of Deuteronomy have descended. If all other troubles were placed on one side and poverty on the other, poverty would outweigh them all.”

Maimonides went to the heart of the matter when he said (The Guide for the Perplexed 3:27), “The well-being of the soul can only be obtained after that of the body has been secured.” Poverty is not a noble state. You cannot reach spiritual heights if you have no food to eat or a roof for your head, if you lack access to medical attention or are beset by financial worries.

I know of no saner approach to poverty, welfare, and social justice than that of Judaism. Unsurpassed in its time, it remains the benchmark of a decent society to this day.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

A Ray of Light Behind the Clouds

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Some years ago I was invited to speak at a secular high school for exceptionally bright students. The student body was mostly non-Jewish. Since I am a Holocaust survivor, they asked that I address that subject. After my presentation the principal asked if I would agree to a Q&A session. “By all means,” I answered.

The first student at the microphone asked a question that I sensed was on the minds of many there. “Where was G-d?” he asked. “How can you keep your faith?”

I replied:

“You asked me a question and I will respond with a question of my own. Where was man? And I do not refer only to the satanic Nazis but to all the nations that were complicit in this unspeakable evil.

“As far as faith goes, in what and in whom could I have placed my faith? In twentieth-century enlightenment, education, culture, science? I saw university graduates use their scientific know-how to create gas chambers where millions of lives were snuffed out. I saw doctors maim, torture and kill. I will simply ask once again, ‘Where was man – where was modern Western civilization?’

“Whenever I seek answers I turn to the pages of our Torah, for everything is to be found within it. I invite you to meet the very first family who lived on this planet. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. They lived in paradise. No one had to go to work. The climate was perfect – not too hot, not too cold. There was no illness and no death. G-d intended for man to live forever but then man debased himself. He became corrupt and evil.

“Cain and Abel made a deal. ‘Let’s divide the world between us,’ they said. And so they did. Livestock was to belong to Abel, real estate to Cain. But no sooner had Cain received his portion than he said to Abel, ‘The land is mine, get off it.’ And with that he killed his brother. G-d asked Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ To which he responded, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’

“To this day Cain’s question echoes in the wind. Man plunders, kills, rapes – but instead of accepting accountability for his heinous deeds he shifts the blame to G-d and asks with audacity, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’

“Thousands of years have passed and man has yet to respond, ‘Yes G-d, I am my brother’s keeper. Forgive me. It was all my fault. I take responsibility. Almighty G-d, give me another chance. Allow me to try again.’

“The question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ means, in essence, ‘You, G-d, created the world; You, G-d, are in charge. Why did You allow this to happen? Where were You? How can I believe in You if You allowed this monstrous atrocity to occur?’

“Has anything changed in thousands of years? Yes, things have changed. Cain killed his brother with his hands or a primitive instrument but today modern man has harnessed his scientific brilliance to create hell on earth. The way of the first murderer Cain has become the reality by which modern man justifies his abominable deeds.”

* * * * * Recently I shared with readers my experiences when I spoke in South Africa. More than 5,000 people gathered for Torah study at the Sinai Indaba organized by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein. In one of my presentations I spoke about the Holocaust. After the program a distinguished gentleman came over and introduced himself. He was a Christian living in Johannesburg. With tears he spilled out his heart.

“Rebbetzin,” he said, “we need to repent, to make atonement for the sins committed against the Jewish people. And we have to make that real, not just an empty declaration. I would like to convene multitudes of people and have you address them. Tell them about the Holocaust so they might all know and pass it on to future generations.”

This glimmer of light amid the dark clouds of anti-Semitism that once again are engulfing the world reminds us that dormant within the human heart is the spark of G-d. We must only plug into it and the voltage could light up the entire world. Whether or not that convention of Christians in Johannesburg will take place remains to be seen but the words were said, the call was made, and that in itself is significant.

Let’s return to the question that bright young student asked me: Where was G-d? Let us understand once and for all that G-d is not a puppeteer and we are not puppets. We have choices; that is what separates us from the animals. It is all recorded in this week’s parshah. “Behold I give you today blessing and curse.”

That choice is the challenge to every generation. The Torah speaks for all time. When will man choose good over evil, blessing over curse? Is it possible that that day will ever come? Of course it is.

There is a spark in the hearts of all men and I believe that one day that spark will burst forth into glorious light and banish all evil – and the world will know that “G-d is One, His Name is One.”

May that day soon come speedily in our own time.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

When Palestinians Blow Themselves Up, Before Reaching Israel

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Here’s a small and modest experiment.

Since we believe Palestinian Arab casualties that result from Palestinian Arab mis-handling or misfiring of Palestinian Arab explosives, guns, rockets, mortars and the like almost never get reported in the mainstream news media, we will be watching to see how much coverage this incident below gets. It appears at this moment on a Bethlehem-based (and somewhat Hamas-hostile) Palestinian news site.

Shooting themselves and their families, friends and neighbors is an everyday event in the catastrophic societies (both Gaza and Judea/Samaria) occupied and created by the Palestinian Arabs. But the news channels wake up only when there’s an Israeli party to blame.

Man wounded in Gaza explosion  (updated) 08/11/2012 10:35 GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — A Palestinian man was wounded on Thursday morning when a home-made bomb exploded in central Gaza, a medical official said. Ashraf al-Qidra, Gaza ministry of health spokesman, said that a 23-year-old was moderately wounded in al-Maghazi refugee camp. He was transferred to al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah.

We don’t know but It’s possible this 23-year-old Gazan’s injuries are related to one of two incidents, both evidently self-inflicted, reported at this hour on the GANSO site:

Separately:

* 11/08/2012 – 07:50: MU, 08 NOV: Overnight, 1 HMR fired from E of Rafah toward the Green Line. No injuries reported.

* 11/08/2012 – 10:45: 08 NOV, 1010hrs: An explosive device went off E of Al Bureij, MA. 1 Pal. injury reported.

Visit This Ongoing War.

Frimet and Arnold Roth

Court Imprisons Haredi Man for Refusing Wife a Get after He Dated another Man

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

They were married for more than five years, reports Ynet, they raised two children, and generally lived a happy life together – until she discovered that he was going out with another man. She caught him “red-handed,” and immediately filed for divorce with the chief rabbinate, except he is refusing to divorce her.

On Tuesday, ten years after the initial filing of the case, the rabbinical court sent the husband to prison – until he gives in and gives a get.

The couple, who live in central Israel, are both Haredim. Their marriage snapped when it was discovered that the man has proclivities which he hid from his wife for years.

The Rabbinical Court ruled that the two should divorce, and ordered the man to give his wife a get. Then, for years, despite his refusal to give the get, the judges did not use their authority to impose sanctions on him.

The husband was trying to extort concessions from his wife, as a condition for granting the get – including foregoing the damages she was awarded by the court, and a better visitation arrangement with the children. But even after he got what he wanted, the husband continued to refuse the get.

At one point, the court was already processing a get on the husband’s behalf, with his consent, when suddenly he changed his mind, leaving his wife in the position of an aguna, making her unavailable to a new suitor.

Then, unexpectedly, on Tuesday, during a discussion of a side issue not directly related to the get, the judges unexpectedly responded to the request of the wife’s counsel, Executive Director of Mavoy Satum (dead end) organization attorney Batya Kahana-Dror, and ordered the arrest of the husband – until he gives the get.

A police car was summoned to the court and the cops arrested the husband on the spot. This is an exceptional move, possibly a precedent, on the part of the rabbinical court, to impose an arrest before lighter sanctions have been tried.

Attorney Kahana-Dror welcomed the arrest and said the wife had almost lost hope of ever getting a get through this court. She was even considering asking for an annulment of the marriage, on the grounds that she agreed to the marriage contract based on false claims, since the husband did not reveal his sexual deviation.

If successful, the wife would have still been considered married by the state, but at least halachically she would have been permitted to remarry.

Attorney Kahana-Dror said she regrets that “the court isn’t using jail more often as an incentive,” adding, “It’s illogical, unreasonable and contrary to halacha.”

She described the prison experience as the most effective means of convincing husbands to grant their wives a get: “95 percent of the get objectors are ready to give a get after a few nights in the Russian Compound (Jerusalem city jail) or in Abu-Kabir (Tel Aviv). It works great.”

Tibbi Singer

Florida Holocaust Museum Hosts Several Exhibits

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

The Florida Holocaust Museum of St Petersburg is proud to present the following exhibits:

Humanity Beyond Barbed Wire: Hitler’s Soldiers in the Sunshine States – on view through October 27, this exhibition is based on a book by Robert Billinger. It illustrates the principles of a democratic nation and the humane treatment of enemy combatants during World War II.

Letters to Sala: A Young Woman’s Life in Nazi Labor Camps – on view through December 31. Sala Garncarz saved items including postcards, photos and official documents from the time she entered a labor camp in 1940 until her liberation in 1945.

Reflections on Man’s Fate: The Art of Judith Weinshall Liberman – on view through Jan. 20, 2013. Drawn from the Florida Holocaust Museum’s permanent collection, this exhibition is made up of paintings and textile work by award-winning artist Judith Weinshall Liberman. The collection includes wall hangings and works on canvas.

Commemoration: Kristallnacht, the pogrom of 1938 – Thursday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m.

Guest speaker: Sigmund Tobias, author of Strange Haven: A Jewish Childhood in Wartime Shanghai. The event is free to all; no RSVPs are necessary.

Always on view: History, Heritage and Hope – the museum’s permanent exhibition. Kaddish in Wood – Dr. Herbert Savel’s wood carvings.

For more information call 727-820-0100, or visit the museum’s website (www.flholocaustmuseum.org) for directions and further details including holiday closures. Limited free parking is available.

Shelley Benveniste

How Shall We Live?

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

It is the most famous, majestic and influential opening of any book in literature: “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.” What is surpassingly strange is the way Rashi – most beloved of all Jewish commentators – begins his commentary:

Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah should have begun with the verse (Exodus 12:1): “This month shall be to you the first of the months,” which was the first commandment given to Israel.

Can we really take this at face value? Did Rabbi Isaac, or for that matter Rashi, seriously suggest that the Book of books might have begun in the middle – a third of the way into Exodus? That it might have passed by in silence the creation of the universe – which is, after all, one of the fundamentals of Jewish faith?

Could we understand the history of Israel without its prehistory, the stories of Abraham and Sarah and their children? Could we have understood those narratives without knowing what preceded them: G-d’s repeated disappointment with Adam and Eve, Cain, the generation of the Flood and the builders of the Tower of Babel?

The fifty chapters of Genesis, together with the opening of Exodus, are the source book of biblical faith. They are as near as we get to an exposition of the philosophy of Judaism. What then did Rabbi Isaac mean?

He meant something profound, which we often forget. To understand a book, we need to know to what genre it belongs. Is it history or legend, chronicle or myth? To what question is it an answer? A history book answers the question: what happened? A book of cosmology – be it science or myth – answers the question: how did it happen?

What Rabbi Isaac is telling us is that if we seek to understand the Torah, we must read it as Torah, which is to say: law, instruction, teaching, guidance. Torah is an answer to the question: how shall we live? That is why he raises the question as to why it does not begin with the first command given to Israel.

Torah is not a book of history, even though it includes history. It is not a book of science, even though the first chapter of Genesis – as the 19th-century sociologist Max Weber pointed out – is the necessary prelude to science, because it represents the first time people saw the universe as the product of a single creative will, and therefore as intelligible rather than capricious and mysterious. It is, first and last, a book about how to live. Everything it contains – not only commandments but also narratives, including the narrative of creation itself – is there solely for the sake of ethical and spiritual instruction.

It moves from the minutest details to the most majestic visions of the universe and our place within it. But it never deviates from its intense focus on the questions: What shall I do? How shall I live? What kind of person should I strive to become? It begins, in Genesis 1, with the most fundamental question of all. As the Psalm (8:4) puts it: “What is man that You are mindful of him?”

Pico della Mirandola’s 15th century Oration on Man was one of the turning points of Western civilization, the “manifesto” of the Italian Renaissance. In it he attributed the following declaration to G-d, addressing the first man:

“We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgment and decision. The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws which We have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature.

“I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.”

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

UPDATE (2): Anti-Terror Unit Kills American who Shot and Killed a Man in Eilat

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Second update from Benjamin Rutland, Spokesperson to the Foreign and English Language Media, The Jewish Agency for Israel::

In response to the tragic incident in Eilat, the Chairperson of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky expressed his deep sorrow at the loss of life and has appointed a panel to examine the processes by which the American participant was accepted to the Oranim program in Eilat.

The Oranim program is one of 200 long term programs which are funded by Masa Israel, a joint project of the government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Since 2003, over 70,000 young Jews from around the world have participated in Masa programs, which include volunteer work, study and internships.

Update from Benjamin Rutland, Spokesperson to the Foreign and English Language Media, The Jewish Agency for Israel:

The shooter in the incident which took place in Eilat today was a 23 year old from New York. He arrived in Israel two months ago and was participating in a program in Israel which is supported by the Jewish Agency. The program’s staff is in contact with the Israel Police.

A tourist in the southern Israeli city of Eilat on Friday morning overcame a Leonardo hotel security officer, grabbed his weapon and fired at another hotel employee and killed him. The armed man then holed up (according to a report, with several hostages) inside the hotel and refused to talk to police.

According to police, the shooter was drunk. According to a report in Walla, the shooter was fired from his job at the hotel kitchen a few days ago.

Police and IDF forces that arrived quickly at the scene began searching for the shooter’s exact location, and an anti-terror unit confronted the man and killed him (with no injury to the hostages, if there were any).

The entire incident lasted one hour.

Jewish Press Staff

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/anti-terror-unit-kills-american-who-shot-and-killed-a-man-in-eilat/2012/10/05/

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