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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Mashiach’

The Collective Heart Of Am Yisrael

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Those of us privileged to live in Israel are experiencing extraordinary achdus –unity.

I’d like to share with you what it’s like to be here at this time.

The News What’s happening to our fellow Jews, both soldiers and civilians, is of constant concern to us. Is everyone safe? Did anything, chas v’shalom, happen to anyone? I listen to a religious station, Radio Kol Chai, and the news reports are clearly different from other news outlets.

When told of a soldier who has fallen, we are given his name, rank, age, place of residence, and where and when his funeral will be.

When two “lone soldiers” – which means they had no family here – were killed, newscasters urged the public to come to the funerals. Tens of thousands of people of all types and from all sectors came to show appreciation and love to young men they had never met.

When the newscaster reports that in a specific rocket attack no one was killed or injured, he says: “B’chasdei Hashem [by Hashem's kindness] no one was hurt.” When military and police correspondents are interviewed, they also often speak of miracles and Divine providence.

At the end of the hourly news broadcast, a chapter of Tehillim is said for the sake of the army’s success, the wellbeing of the soldiers, and the complete healing of the wounded.

The Home Front Jews of all kinds and all ages are doing what they can to help soldiers and civilians in danger.

Elef La’Mateh, headed by Meah Shearim resident Rebbetzin Yocheved Grossman, matches up names of thousands of soldiers with men who want to pray and dedicate their learning to their specific soldier’s wellbeing. The organization is also encouraging secular Jews throughout the country to do a mitzvah, such as lighting Shabbos candles or using an electric shaver instead of a razor, for the welfare of soldiers and civilians.

Yad Ezra V’Shulamit, Yad Eliezer, and other organizations send copious amounts of food daily to the soldiers and to families in the south who are confined much of the time to shelters.

Men, women, and children have been taking on more mitzvahs and good deeds, from improved tznius to refined speech, for the sake of the soldiers.

There are daily radio programs for children – to keep them occupied and entertained, to talk about and listen to their anxieties and fears, and to offer comfort, suggestions, and solutions. There are also programs to teach parents and teachers how to deal with the children’s concerns.

There’s a hotline adults can call to privately discuss their own fears and anxieties.

Children and teens are sending soldiers letters of thanks, love, and blessing.

There are prayer gatherings in shuls, yeshivas, and study halls throughout the country. Rabbis are telling their congregants, talmidim, and followers that just as there is fire at the front lines, so must there be fire in our prayers, Torah learning, good resolutions, and good deeds. Prayers and learning in yeshivas and kollelim have taken on an added fervor and intensity, with many of the men and boys forgoing breaks for meals, making do instead with a quick sandwich. Many are learning throughout the night.

It is said that tzitzis give protection, and so individuals and organizations have been sending them to soldiers. Cartons with thousands of dark green or khaki talliyos ketanim were brought to the Mir Yeshiva, along with the special tzitzis strings that have to be inserted and strung in a special way according to halacha. Hundreds of yeshiva boys sit and string and tie the tzitzis for the soldiers. Soldiers have been requesting what some call their “spiritual flak jacket.”

Breaking The Fwd:fwd:fwd:fwd:fwd Chain

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

I get the point. We all get the point. There are Jews who act inappropriately. There are Jews who look religious but who commit disgraceful acts when they think no one is looking.

There are Jews who shame us all. No one is denying that. But is it really necessary to forward to everyone we know every article in every newspaper or on every website that describes an incident in which a Jew did something wrong?

Let’s say the stories are completely true. And, for a moment, let’s even put aside the laws of lashon hora (as if that can be done). Is there something to be gained by every Orthodox Jew being aware of the shameful acts of fellow Orthodox Jews? Is there something to be gained by publicizing our own degradation?

It’s not as if we are aren’t aware that such things happen in our community.

We are charged to love every Jew. Granted, it’s not always easy to do so. But as any psychologist will tell you, it’s a matter of focus and perspective. In a cynical and sarcastic society, where we all suffer from jealousy, fantasies about everyone else having it better than we do, and all manner of inferiority complexes, we often zero in on the negative. We are quick to judge and condemn others, without seeing the whole picture.

But even when Jews have indeed acted reprehensibly, how can we love our own people if all we talk about is how they are doing things wrong, cheating, acting immorally and being lousy citizens?

If a person tells a therapist he feels lowly and worthless, the therapist will instruct him that for every negative thought he has about himself he must counter with five nice ones. The therapist may even insist he write the positives down and keep it logged in a journal for constant review.

Perhaps whenever we receive or read about yet another terrible story concerning frum Jews, we should remind ourselves about how much good there is in our community. What about those beautiful articles depicting the chesed, the heroes, the love and passion exhibited in furthering our service to Hashem? Those articles circulate, but not nearly with the same speed as the negative ones.

The level of Torah study and mitzvah observance today is beyond compare. Recently, a neighbor related that she arrived home from a tzedakah event and remarked to her husband that she was so proud to be a part of such a special people. Though she had attended many such events before, that night it struck her just how remarkable it is that they are so commonplace in our community. Virtually every night there are similar events taking place for the benefit of a myriad of organizations.

Tanna D’vei Eliyahu speaks glowingly about the intense pleasure God has, as it were, when we speak kindly of our fellow Jews. Rav Avrohom Pam, zt”l (quoted in Haggadas Mareh Kohain), dolefully noted that it is common to hear people, even people of stature, bemoaning the spiritual degeneration of our time.

Rav Pam said we must realize that God has no pleasure from such negative speech, adding that he wasn’t referring to one who rebukes or admonishes others. In such a case it is surely fitting to explain to someone (in a genial and gentle fashion) what he has done wrong. Rather, Rav Pam explained, he was referring to those who stand together “conversing about things.” While speaking, they begin to discuss people and events and they lament the spiritual erosion of our time.

If one wishes to find fault with Jews, “iz duh vos tzu g’foonin” – “there is what to find.” But if the purpose of one’s words is simply to speak negatively, he is doing a great disservice to the world.

Is Judaism Past or Future?

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Jewish tradition proposes that there are three lights that illuminate the world:

1. Or Bereishit – the light of creation

2. Or Sinai – the light of revelation

3. Or Mashiach – the light of redemption.

Typically, mystics engage in Or Bereishit, and therefore this light can be left out of the intellectual history of time for the moment. The competing lights that will be discussed are Or Sinai and Or Mashiach: one light pulls us back and one light pulls us forward.

I think that what is so unique and meaningful about the Jewish religion is that while we keep creation and revelation burning brightly and strong, we are focused primarily on redemption. Theologically, we are focused on cultivating and taking the light of Or Bereishit and Or Sinai. We then utilize these lights to ultimately move us toward Or Mashiach a redeemed soul, a redeemed Torah, a redeemed society, and a redeemed G-d, so to speak.

For many Jews, the idea of modernity runs counter to our tradition, our livelihood, or even worse, our religion’s very survival. However, to be “modern” does not mean that that we are situated in the present – that perspective is reactive and reveals a potentially short-sighted religiosity. To be modern means that we are situating ourselves in the future at the forefront of social change and paradigm shifts guided by Torah and fueled by Or Mashiach.

Traditionally, Jewish thinkers embraced the idea of yeridat hadorot, that man has been in descent since revelation and that we have been rendered impotent. Yet even if this idea is embraced, there is still some virtue in being a small and impotent, but still elevated, people (i.e., “midgets on the shoulders of giants”).

Religion and its tradition primarily situated in the past can give birth to a comfortable religious stagnancy and instill an exclusionary spirit in the people. This enables one to simply retreat from modernity into the ghetto. The brilliant Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once taught, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” In a similar vein, Oliver Wendell Holmes, the great Supreme Court Justice, once admonished a young colleague that “it is required [that you] share the passion and action of [your] time at the peril of being judged not to have ever lived.” We must leave our comfort zone to engage in our time and strive for a better future.

In the fifth century BCE, Protagoras led the philosophical transition from focus on the universe toward focus on human values. This monumental shift in philosophical thinking and understanding helped set the intellectual stage for important philosophers such as Socrates and Plato to explore eternal truths, including virtue, justice, and the nature of human experience. Protagoras was responsible for a paradigm shift that proved crucial for the development of intellectual history and character development. Since the Era of the Enlightenment, however, we have swung too far toward individualism, while neglecting the import of collectivism and our individual responsibility to society and the world in general. Today, we must work to interweave the two more deeply and meaningfully: a focus on the meta-picture (the cosmos, universe, globe, nation, society) from the perspective of the individual.

In Carl Stern’s interview with Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel (NBC-TV on Sunday, February 4, 1972), Rabbi Heschel said:

I would say, let them remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Let them be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power, and that we can, everyone, do our share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and all the frustrations and all disappointments. And above all, remember that the meaning of life is to build a life as if it were a work of art. You’re not a machine. And you are young. Start working on this great work of art called your own existence.

When we focus on redemption, we are stirred to remember our true significance that every little action we take has an effect that matters. One of the great tragedies of the human condition is that millions of people live honest and earnest lives filled with love and dedicated to the service of others, but pass from the world never fully appreciating their own greatness and holiness, since they don’t fit within our society’s current definition of “hero,” nor did these people ever seek accolades for doing what they simply considered to be the right thing. Societally, we can keep a high standard for excellence while concurrently supporting and honoring those who contribute to the true betterment of our society by serving others. All of us are unique and blessed with ideas, gifts, skills, and feelings that we can contribute to making the world a better place, and our uniqueness means that our contribution is one that no one else can make!

Religious Right and ACLU Protest Judge’s No Messiah Ruling

Monday, August 19th, 2013

It began when Jaleesa, 22, took the father of her baby, Jawaan P. McCullough, 40, to family court in Tennessee, to establish paternity and to set child support. Oh, and the baby’s name was Messiah, according to the LA Times.

In court it was revealed that the father had wanted to name the baby Jawaan P. McCullough Jr., but he no longer objected to calling the boy Messiah Deshawn. But the judge decided to change the baby’s name anyway.

“It is not in this child’s best interest to keep the first name ‘Messiah,’” Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew wrote in her decision. “‘Messiah’ means Savior, Deliverer, the One who will restore God’s Kingdom. ‘Messiah’ is a title that is held by only Jesus Christ.”

An entire Jewish family of Iraqi extract named Mashiach would argue differently, but you don’t get many Iraqi Jews in Tennessee. But even without that Iraqi-Jewish input, “Messiah” is an increasingly popular American baby name, according to the LA Times, as are the names Lord and King.

The name would impose an “undue burden on him that as a human being he cannot fulfill,” the judge wrote, although she really didn’t know just how spiritually gifted the baby Messiah was.

She also noted that in Cocke County, Tenn., where the new Messia resides, there is a “large Christian population” as evidenced by its “many churches of the Christian faith.”

“Therefore,” the judge concluded, “it is highly likely that he will offend many Cocke County citizens by calling himself ‘Messiah.’”

Maybe, maybe not – there’s a slew of Jesus’s out there and no one seems to mind, and then, come to think of it, using that same logic, the name David should also irk some people. So the ACLU of Tennessee got on the case, and, surprisingly, received many calls of support from the religious right, which typically threatens to blow up their offices over abortion cases.

“I got the classic call the other day,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, told the LA Times. “They said, ‘I really don’t like the ACLU, but I support what you are saying and doing about the baby Messiah.”

UC Davis constitutional law professor Carlton F.W. Larson said the judge’s “entire line of reasoning totally violates basic freedom of religious purposes. This kid can’t be a Messiah because the Messiah is Jesus Christ? Judges don’t get to make pronouncements on the bench about who is the Messiah and who is not.”

The ACLU’s Weinberg agreed: “The judge is crossing the line by interfering in a very private decision and is imposing her own religious faith on this family. The courtroom is not a place for promoting personal religious beliefs, and that’s exactly what the judge did when she changed the baby Messiah’s name to Martin.”

On the other hand, if a certain Miriam from Nazareth had gone ahead and changed her own child’s name to Martin, we’d all be spared a lot of embarrassment…

Turks Praise Israel’s Apology

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

It is unpleasant when two long-friendly countries behave like enemies. Many have been uneasy seeing Israel and Turkey growing distant, even if only in the political arena. Friendship, love, trust and affinity are most valued universally, so I would like my Israeli friends to know that we, the Turkish nation, cherish our friendship with the Israelis and thus appreciate the prime minister’s apology as a virtuous act, and we are excited to leave this regrettable incident behind and to be able to move forward.

Although as a general principle I am against any preconditions for peace and friendship—since true friendship is unconditional—this apology was still important for the Turkish people, we heard an affirmation that Israel cares about Turkey. And we see this move as a dignifying act, a gesture that will glorify Israel in the eyes of many.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did the right thing in the right manner and with the right words. We take this as a direct message to the Turkish nation rather than to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan alone.

However, there will be people who would take this as an opportunity to create ugly propaganda against Israel. I condemn the comments and news trying to devalue this virtuous act by Israel. Loveless people are free to issue their comments, however they only reflect their inner world by expressing their hostility and by looking at everything in a negative manner rather than thinking with wisdom and compassion. If we look at things through the prism of rage and allow ourselves to hold on to grudges, no one could ever be friendly with anyone else. What happened in the past stays in the past; if one does not evaluate things with this mentality, no country could ever be friends with any other.

So let us look at the future rather than getting hung up on the past, because we are both living in an unstable region and we need unity now more than ever. I believe Israel and Turkey’s alliance will definitely help to bring stability to the region because unity and unconditional friendship are a strong deterrent against terrorism and radicalism, and against all those who promote violence and hatred. Let this be a message to all the countries in the region that we are moving forward and we—as Turkey and Israel—will not let any provocation, propaganda or mischief destroy peace and friendship in the region.

On the other hand, I humbly ask from my fellow Turks to be kind and unconditionally compassionate, and to act with dignity, and disallow the negativity of those who seem to follow a policy of promoting tension. The friendship of Israel and Turkey is crucial, and we will spread this friendship to the whole region together. Therefore, let us see things positively and use this opportunity in the best way. Israel made a move that is precious to the Turkish people, and we surely hold it dear.

Additionally, preserving peace for a few days is very easy, but to preserve peace over a lifetime is very hard to do. To preserve peace until the very end, patience and persistence are needed. Upholding peace, brotherhood and love unconditionally may seem hard or progress slowly, but it never comes to a deadlock as long as we continue to make efforts persistently and determinedly.

On this occasion I also would like to share my Passover wishes with my Jewish friends around the world. In these day, we, along with our Jewish friends, remember the exodus of the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) from the oppression of the Pharaoh, and their rescue and their amazing journey with God’s help. We pray for the blessings of God upon all His servants. May God bring the Days of Mashiach (Yemot HaMashiach) soon; the times that we can altogether make Korban (sacrifice) in peace and joy in the Holy Land.

“[God said:] And remember, We delivered you from the people of Pharaoh: They set you hard tasks and punishments, slaughtered your sons and let your women-folk live; therein was a tremendous trial from your Lord. And remember We divided the sea for you and saved you and drowned Pharaoh’s people within your very sight. And remember We appointed forty nights for Moses, and in his absence you took the calf (for worship), and you did grievous wrong. Even then We did forgive you; there was a chance for you to be grateful. And remember We gave Moses the Scripture and the Criterion (Between right and wrong): There was a chance for you to be guided aright.” (Qur’an, 2:49-53)

The Maccabees’ Response To ‘World Opinion’

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

“Israel has bad public relations.”

This is the perennial cry. “Israel must improve its image to convince the world of the justness of its cause.”

As I write, a cease-fire is holding around Gaza, but let’s consider the whole story. In the past few weeks, hundreds of rockets rained down on millions of Israelis. I was there. My wife and I heard the sirens in Yerushalayim. We entered the shelter and waited for the explosions. Lives of millions in Israel became torture and a nightmare.

Israel reacted with surgical strikes against known terrorist leaders. The air force dropped thousands of leaflets and even took over Arab television, warning Gazans to keep away from military sites that, as we know, are planted intentionally in the middle of heavily populated civilian areas. Israel also mounted an expensive, brilliant defensive system called Iron Dome that knocked out hundreds of incoming missiles.

What was the result?

Granted, Israel received support from some Western governments. At the same time, the secular media lamented the pathos of the “tragic deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza.” In midtown Manhattan, a man with a yarmulke was called “dirty Jew” as he walked past an anti-Israel demonstration.

It is a very old story. Consider (Rashi on Bereishis 21:9 and Bereishis Rabbah 53:11 with ArtScroll commentary):

“Sarah saw [Yishmael], the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Avraham, mocking,” on which Rashi says, “[mocking] connotes…murder…. [Yishmael is associated with murder] because he would contend with Yitzchak over the inheritance and say, ‘I am [my father’s] firstborn son, and [am entitled to] take a double share [of the inheritance].’ They would go out into the field, and [Yishmael] would take his bow and shoot arrows at [Yitzchak]…like one who tires himself shooting fireballs and says ‘Am I not merely jesting….’ ”

Yishmael is still playing the game some 3,700 years later, sending “fireballs” and “arrows” at Yitzchak, this time from Gaza, and the game is still murder. Rocks and firebombs are also thrown at drivers near other Arab areas. Deadly missiles fall like poison rain. And those who shoot these fireballs and throw these rocks are termed “innocent civilians.”

“Why,” they ask, “is Israel massing war equipment on the border of Gaza? Why is Yitzchak so upset? Are we not brothers? Yitzchak always overreacts to our little games. Why is he so sensitive?”

And the world sheds tears for the “innocent civilians” in Gaza who are being subjected to such “suffering.”

* * * * *

Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, zt”l, legendary mashgiach of the Mirrer Yeshiva, stated (as quoted in the book Redemption Unfolding): “In the final war before the coming of Mashiach, all the Jews who fear Hashem will survive. Hashem will say to them: ‘All those who are removed from the secular, worldly culture, you are Mine….’ ”

It is easy to be carried along by the powerful societal currents that have enveloped us since the beginning of our Exile almost two thousand years ago. I too am a victim of this weakness. I too worry about what “world opinion” says about Israel. It is in fact difficult to imagine how Israel would survive without support from the rest of the world. We tell ourselves, “We need all the friends we can get.”

But are we correct?

No, we most certainly are not.

“Return, O Israel, to Hashem your God, for you have stumbled through your iniquity. Take words with you and return to Hashem. Say to Him, ‘Forgive every sin and accept goodness and let our lips substitute for bulls. Assyria cannot help us; we will not ride the horse nor will we ever again call our handiwork our god. Only in You will the orphan find compassion’ ” (Hoshea 14:2-4; haftara Parshas Vayeitzei). Or hear the words of King David: “It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on man. It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on nobles…” (Tehillim 118) We lean on a broken reed when we rely on the other nations, even when billions of people are on the “other side.”

Avraham Avinu’s name comes from the word “ivri” because he stood on one “eiver,” one bank of the river, with the entire rest of the world on the other side. This has characterized his children to this day. We are a nation apart – “a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9).

The Merit Of Eretz Yisrael

Friday, November 30th, 2012

“And Yaakov became very frightened, and it caused him much pain, and he split the nation that was with him, as well as the sheep, the cattle and the camels, into two camps.” – Bereishis 32:7

Yaakov Avinu received word that his brother Eisav was coming to greet him. He understood fully well that this was not to be a warm family reunion. Eisav came accompanied by a band of four hundred armed men, bent on revenge. The Torah describes Yaakov as “very frightened,” so he prepared for war.

The Rishonim are bothered by why Yaakov would fear Eisav. After all, Hashem had promised to return him to his father’s house in peace. Throughout the many years, Hashem was right there protecting him, guarding him, keeping the promise. Why should he now fear a mere mortal?

The Dos Zakainim answers that Yaakov was afraid of the “zechus of Eretz Yisrael.” For the previous twenty years, Eisav had been living in Eretz Yisrael while Yaakov had not. Therefore, Yaakov was afraid that if he engaged in mortal combat with Eisav, that merit might win the day for him, and Yaakov might die in battle.

This Dos Zakainim is difficult to understand on a number of levels. First, the reason Yaakov wasn’t in Eretz Yisrael was not that he had abandoned the land, but that he fled from Eisav. He spent the first fourteen years in the yeshiva of Shem, and then he worked for Lavan.

But even more pointedly, what possible merit could Eisav have from living in Eretz Yisrael? He wasn’t practicing Torah and mitzvos. Quite the opposite, he was a rasha. His entire existence was focused against holiness. Eretz Yisrael is a land that has an enormous amount of kedushah and cannot tolerate wickedness; it is highly sensitive to tumah. Eisav’s very presence in the land should have been intolerable. So what type of merit would he have from being in that land? It would seem the opposite. His many years of defiling that holy land should work against him, not for him.

The answer to this question can best be understood with a perspective on capitalism.

If a man owns a successful small business, he might do a million dollars a year in sales. But that is the gross revenue, not the amount he takes home. As a rule in business, 15 percent of revenues is a reasonable profit margin. So if his mark-ups are strong and his expenses are in line, he might bring in a net profit of $150,000. Eighty-five percent of the money he earns goes to expenses. And this illustrates an interesting phenomenon. While his only motivation may have been to earn a living for himself, he is providing a substantial gain to those he does business with. In this scenario, $850,000 of his efforts are going to vendors, suppliers, and employees. And while it may not be his intention, he is making a substantial contribution to the economy as a whole.

In the same sense, Eisav was engaged in the building of Eretz Yisrael. While his interests may have been strictly his own, he maintained sheep, owned fields, hired workmen and built fences. His efforts directly benefited the land. It was cultivated and improved because of him. And this was Eretz Yisrael, the land that Hashem chose as the site for the Jewish people to settle, the home of the eventual Beis HaMikdash. Its very ground is holy. While he may not have been a credit to the land, and may not even have felt an attachment to it, because of him the land was built up – and that is a great merit.

Yaakov did not in any sense think that Eisav had more merit than he did as a person. He was well aware of the different lives they led. But Yaakov understood that Eisav had a tremendous zechus: he was responsible for building the land, and because of this Yaakov was afraid. In times of danger a particular merit can stand up for a person, and that can change the outcome of a confrontation.

We Don’t Belong Here

This concept is very relevant to our lives. While we patiently await imminent coming of Mashiach, one of the concepts that must be in the forefront of our minds is that we are in a foreign country. We don’t belong in chutz l’aaretz. It isn’t our home. While the United States is one of the most benevolent lands that has ever offered us residence, a Jew doesn’t belong in Brooklyn. When we build up this land, whether with palaces or impressive businesses, we are building other people’s land.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-merit-of-eretz-yisrael-2/2012/11/30/

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