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August 31, 2014 / 5 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘moshe’

Keeping The Ego In Check

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

In this week’s portion, Moshe is told he would not enter Israel because he hit the rock instead of speaking to it. Immediately afterward, Moshe sends a delegation to Edom asking that the Jewish people be allowed to go through his territory on their way to Israel (Numbers 20:14).

Commenting on this juxtaposition, the Midrash states: In the usual way, when a man is slighted by his business partner he wishes to have nothing to do with him; whereas Moses though he was punished on account of Israel did not rid himself of their burden, but sent messengers (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:7).

Nechama Leibowitz reinforces this idea by noting that the text states that Moshe sent the delegation to Edom from Kadesh. This fact is unnecessary. In the words of Leibowitz: “Wherever no change of locale is recorded in the text it is presumed that the event described took place at the last mentioned place. Kadesh is mentioned again to emphasize Moshe’s adherence to his mission of bringing the people to the land even after his rebuff in spite of the fact that he had been explicitly excluded from it.”

An important lesson may be learned here. Leaders must be careful to subdue their ego. The cause is larger than the personal concerns of any one person. Although Moses is condemned to die in the desert he continues to help the Jews enter Israel by sending messengers to Edom.

Compare this to the haftarah, the prophetic portion read this week. Yiftach promises God that if he is victorious in war whatever he sees first upon his return will be offered to God. Alas, he returns victorious and sees his daughter.

Here the Midrash (Tanchuma) notes that Yiftach could have gone to Pinchas the high priest to annul the vow. But Yiftach said, “Should I, the head of tribes of Israel, stoop to go to that civilian? Pinchas also did not go out of his way to go to Yiftach, proclaiming, Should I, a high priest, lower myself and go to that boor?”

Unlike Moshe, who was without ego, Yiftach and Pinchas were filled with it and it cost the life of that child.

A story is told of a chassidic rebbe who carried two notes in his pocket. One stated “The world was created for me.” The second declared “I am like the dust of the earth.” The first statement does not resonate unless balanced by the latter. Indeed, if ego is not kept tightly in check it can overwhelm or subtly subvert the endeavor to which one is dedicated.

Sharon’s Message of Faith to Netanyahu

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

I would guarantee that there wasn’t a Jew in Israel eight years ago, including the most leftist, cynical and secularist, who didn’t, even if for just one moment, think to himself that Arik Sharon was being punished by God for the crime of the Gush Katif expulsion.

Whether they afterwards denied or ignored it is irrelevant. For an instant, every Jew in Israel understood Sharon’s debilitating stroke as a sign from the universe.

That’s the problem with miracles and signs, and why we Jews don’t use signs as foundations of our faith: they’re fleeting.

Last Shabbat’s parshah–Beshalach–is full of stories of massive, yet ephemeral miracles. We learn how Bnei Yisrael would experience a miracle, and then simply ignore it a few days later, or worse, experience miracles everyday (like the manna) and regard them as commonplace.

It would seem that the purpose of miracles is not to create blind faith, because it fails miserably in that direction, but to serve as a teaching moment, and occasionally for a course correction.

The manna taught Bnei Yisrael about keeping Shabbat and about trusting in God to provide our “daily bread.” The tearing of Yam Suf helped Bnei Yisrael take their first steps away from fear and servitude under the Egyptians and toward trusting in and serving God.

At the end of the Parsha, Amalek attacks Bnei Yisrael, and we see the miraculous and inexplicable interaction between Moshe’s raised hands and the battle with Amalek. The Parsha ends with Joshua “weakening” Amalek, and us, the Jews, being commanded to wipe out any memory of Amalek from the face of the Earth.

Why was Amalek the first to attack Israel after all the miracles and Egypt’s destruction?

Because Amalek is the antithesis of Israel.

Amalek doesn’t believe in divine providence or divine intervention. Amalek believes in coincidence (“Kerry” in Hebrew). They attacked Israel to prove the ideology of a universe with no direction, judge or justice, where all events are random and hence where morality is inconceivable. The only morality of that ideology is the survival of the strongest. There are no values other than those of the people in charge.

And their kerry-coincidence approach to reality constitutes a very strong belief, which is why Joshua, despite his victory, was only able to weaken it, and why it is something we must continue to fight in every generation.

It is only our trust in God, our belief in Divine intervention, that will allow us to win the latest round of this ongoing war against the ideology of coincidence.

John Kerry said about Sharon, “He was prepared to make tough decisions because he knew that his responsibility to his people was both to ensure their security and to give every chance to the hope that they could live in peace.”

He wants Netanyahu to forget that Sharon failed miserably in his pursuit of both peace and security. His mad retreat from Gaza, deporting thousands of Jews, destroying homes, synagogues, fields, equipment, resulted in a lot more bloodshed and destruction than ever before. How can anyone look at Sharon’s abysmal record in Gaza and say they would like to repeat it, but this time make it five times or ten times more terrible?

Our modern day prophet of kerry–aptly named Mr. Kerry–wants Netanyahu to forget about God’s guiding hand in Jewish history, and the retribution that befell the late Ariel Sharon.

It’s no coincidence that Sharon died this week, when it appears that Israel is under dire threats, and fateful decisions lie in the hands of one man who must now choose to have faith in the God of our history, or in the man of coincidence and happenstance.

Netanyahu is our Joshua, and we must be his Moshe, holding up our hands to strengthen him, and to remind him of the One who fights our battles, the true source of our strength, victory and survival.

Zechut Avot : An Eternal Birthright

Monday, August 5th, 2013

The first time was many years ago. I had just concluded explanations about Yeshivat Knesset Yisrael” which arrived in Hebron from Slobodka, in Lithuania in 1924. The Hebron Heritage Museum at Beit Hadassah features an exhibit about this illustrious Torah-learning academy, nicknamed the ‘Hebron Yeshiva,’ which includes a ‘class picture’ from 1928.

As I finished my brief account, an older man approached me, put his finger on a picture of one of the yeshiva students and asked me, ‘do you see him? That’s me.’

That was Rabbi Dov Cohen, a phenomenal Torah genius, who, following my tour, came back to Hebron and gave us his tour.

I always thought that this was a ‘once in a lifetime event,’ having someone point themselves out in a photo taken so many decades ago, here in Hebron.

But it happened again.

On Friday afternoon the Farbstein family came into Hebron for Shabbat. Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, today dean of the ‘Hebron yeshiva,’ now located in Jerusalem, arrived with his wife and many grandchildren. And his mother, Rabbanit Chana Farbstein.

Chana Farbstein was born in 1923. Her father was Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, a Torah giant. Her grandfather was the legendary Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, dean of the yeshiva, located then located in Slobodka, which, a year or so later, moved to Hebron. Chana lived in Hebron until the 1929 riots, in an apartment next to Eliezer Dan Slonim and his family.

Friday afternoon, before Shabbat, the Farbsteins took a short tour of Hebron, which began in the museum. When we approached the Hebron Yeshiva exhibit, she moved, as hypnotized, to one of the photos on the bottom row, stared at it, and then pointed to a small girl in the right corner, saying, ‘that’s me.’ To her right, a young woman had her hand on little Chana’s shoulder. ‘That’s my mother.’

A ‘once in a lifetime event.’ And it happened to me for a second time.

Chana later told us that she must have been about four years old at the time the photo was taken.

Even though she was barely five and a half at the time of the riots, she remembered them quite clearly: “I remember a big truck going through the streets. They were throwing rocks at our house and calling out my father’s name ‘Chezkel.’ They were looking for him. It was our good luck, he was in Jerusalem.”

“Do you remember what was told to you, what was going on?”

“No one had to explain. We knew exactly what was happening.”

She said that on Saturday afternoon, her family was removed from Hebron and taken to the ‘Strauss Building’ in Jerusalem, across the street from ‘Bikor Cholim hospital. Asked when she ‘left’ the city,’ she replied: “We didn’t leave. The British came, on Shabbat, and took us to Jerusalem.”

Later she also spoke about remembering the pain of having to pray at the 7th step at Ma’arat HaMachpela, not being allowed to enter the structure. “We would stand there for a few minutes, and then leave.”

Were relations with Arabs always poor? “No, when we went shopping in the market an Arab with a large round basket would go with us. We would put the produce we wanted into the basket, he would carry it and later bring it to our home.”

Chana Farbstein is a phenomenal woman. She also stood with us on Friday afternoon, at the cemetery in Hebron, where 59 of the 67 massacre victims are buried. Her son, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein, recited two Psalms at the site, his voice breaking, sensing the atrocities and pain of the events occurring 84 years ago.

The next morning, Mrs. Farbstein walked from Beit Hadassah to Ma’arat HaMachpela for morning prayers, and later in the afternoon, to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood to attend a special class presented by her daughter-in-law, Dr. Esther Farbstein, an expert on Holocaust studies, author of the book, “Hidden in Thunder.”

After Shabbat, as I arrived to interview her, I found her sweeping the floor.

Her son, Rabbi Farbstein, told me that that last winter she had been very ill, and there was grave concern that she might not recover. But recover she did, and despite only meeting her for the first time, her inner strength and iron will were quite obvious.

Fast of 17th of Tammuz On Tuesday

Monday, June 24th, 2013

On Tuesday, Jews commemorate the 17th of Tammuz. The day is a fast day in which we recall the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem before the Second Temple’s destruction.

In addition, in Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 39:2 and 52:6-7 it says that the walls of the First Temple were breached, though the Talmud Yerushalmi 23A says that the actual date was also the 17th of Tammuz.

Four other significant events occured on that day, including Moshe breaking the two Tablets.

The fast marks the beginning of the 3 week period called “Bein haMetzarim” which ends on the fast day of Tisha B’Av, throughout which certain expressions of happiness are reduced.

Why Not Stay in Egypt?

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Since in our weekly Torah reading, we’re right in the middle of the Exodus drama, getting ready to leave Egypt on our way to Israel, we can ask the question – why did the Jews have to leave Egypt? What was so important that they had to pack up all their belongings and go? Why make such a big tumult? Why couldn’t they have just stayed in America, I mean Egypt, where they were?

In fact, as we mentioned in our previous blog, four-fifths of them asked this very same question. They saw no reason at all to pack up and leave. After all, they had gefilta fish in Egypt, kosher bakeries, Empire chickens, plenty of shuls in the neighborhood, local Jewish newspapers, Jewish Community Centers, Federations, mikvahs, and rabbis who told them they didn’t have to listen to Moshe and make aliyah. Plus all of the fleshpots in Egypt were open to them for their enjoyment – what could be better? They enjoyed the best of both worlds. What did they lack?

In the eyes of 80% of the Diaspora lovers , it was one huge headache when Moshe showed up with the news that Hashem wanted them to leave Egypt and return home to the Holy Land. Moshe tried to explain, but they didn’t catch on. They didn’t want to listen. They wanted to stay right where they were in Egypt, and so they all died in the plague of darkness. Four-fifths of the Jews in Egypt missed out on the Exodus because they didn’t want to say goodbye to the exile. Four-fifths of them!

And so, we ask the question they asked – what was so bad with their life in Egypt that Hashem insisted they leave? True, they had to work hard in Egypt, but, from their point of view, they had everything it takes to be good frum Jews.

Well, it turns out that their understanding of being Jewish was different from the understanding that Moshe wanted to teach them. Their understanding of Torah was different from the Torah that Hashem wanted them to follow, a Torah that is not merely a list of private, ritual commandments, but the Constitution of the Jewish Nation, which, in addition to keeping kosher, includes serving in the Israeli army, going off to war, appointing kings and a Sanhedrin, listening to prophets, performing agricultural laws unique to the Land of Israel, and celebrating the Festivals three times a year at the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem. Hashem wanted the Jews to leave Egypt, because He doesn’t want His People to go to shul, eat glatt kosher, and build the economy of gentile lands. Hashem wants His People to go to shul, and eat glatt kosher while they are building their own land – and that can only be done in the Land of Israel, the special Holy Land that Hashem promised to the Jews. Hashem didn’t want the Jews to stay in Egypt under the rule of Pharaoh, because He wants His People to serve Him as an independent Jewish nation, in its own Jewish homeland, and not as scattered individuals and communities interspersed amongst the goyim around the world. Hashem doesn’t want His People to be frum Jewish Egyptians. Hashem wants them to be the frum nation of Israel in the Land of Israel because that is how His Name is sanctified in the world, when the Jews have their own powerful Torah nation – not when His People are scattered minorities in other people’s lands keeping the few mitzvot they can – even if a Jew is appointed to be Secretary of the Treasury for a few years – whoop-dee-doo!

That’s the meaning of the Exodus. Hashem chose us to be His special Holy nation, and took us out of the exile of Egypt, separating us from the goyim, in order to bring us to His Holy Land, just as He promised He would.

Is that so hard to understand?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/why-not-stay-in-egypt/2013/01/14/

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