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August 28, 2016 / 24 Av, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘power’

The Power Of Prayer

Friday, August 19th, 2016

While studying in Israel many years ago, I hitched a ride in Jerusalem with two friendly fellows who offered to drive me to where I needed to go. It was a relatively short distance, yet a lively discussion ensued and within moments they knew my life story. As they asked about my studies, I excitedly began to share a Talmudic dictum I had just learned. I was totally surprised when they joined in to finish off the saying: “Even if a sharp sword is on one’s neck, one should not stop seeking mercy!” Even as a young man I recognized the powerful belief expressed in these words, that one’s fate is never sealed and that we have the power to change our fate. In Parshat Va’etchanan, Moshe Rabbeinu prays to G-d attempting to change his fate, despite being told numerous times he is not going to enter the land of Israel. Moshe did not believe anyone’s fate was sealed, he knew there was always hope and possibility. And yet, G-d does not relent and Moshe does enter the land of Israel.

If we can alter our fate as the Talmud suggests, how is it that Moshe, the grandmaster of prayer, could not change his own? Moshe performed miracles in Egypt, split the sea, bested the angels in a heavenly debate and delivered the Torah to mankind, yet he could not change his own fate? He had changed the fate of the Jewish people numerous times! When G-d said He would annihilate the Children of Israel, it was Moshe who altered our nation’s fate. That Moshe did not change his own fate makes us question his spiritual abilities and undermines the axiom that one’s fate is never sealed. What kind of a grandmaster of prayer cannot change his own fate?

Let us appreciate Moshe in the context of his siblings.

A Midrash quoted by Rashi famously relates that Miriam, Moshe’s sister, stood up to her father when he instructed all of the Jewish men in Egypt to separate from their wives to avert Pharaoh’s decree of casting Jewish male infants into the Nile. By divorcing their wives, no children would be born and Pharaoh’s decree would be obviated. Miriam approaches her father and indignantly claims he has gone farther than Pharaoh. Pharaoh only decreed against males while Amram had acted against both males and females. As a result of Miriam’s intervention, Amram and Yocheved remarry and Moshe is born.

Years later, when Moshe separates from his wife Tziporah, the Torah tells us that Miriam was distressed and spoke about her. The Midrash elaborates that Miriam questioned Moshe’s separation harshly; both she and Aharon were prophets, yet they remained with their spouses. With these two stories Rabbi Dovid Yosef Klein develops the theme that Miriam is the healer of separation between a man and his wife.

Aharon is famously known as the lover and pursuer of peace. We well know the midrashic tale of two friends who had a disagreement and were visited by Aharon. He would tell each one how heartbroken the other was over their spat. The two parties would then meet and exchange hugs of friendship and ask forgiveness from one another. The Midrash accentuates the idea that Aharon is the healer of separation between man and man.

Despite all G-d had done for us, we still made Him distraught, angered and aggrieved by turning to alien gods and walking in sinful and unappreciative ways. It was Moshe who, in the words of the Midrash, “stands in the void.” He cleaned us up, made us repent and fell before G-d in prayer for 40 days and 40 nights. It is Moshe who still, even after his death, helps to protect us from harm. It is Moshe who heals the separation between G-d and the children of Israel – between man and G-d.

Rabbi Donn Gross

The Power Of Why

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

In a much watched TED talk, Simon Sinek asked the question: How do great leaders inspire action? What made people like Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs stand out from their contemporaries who may have been no less gifted, no less qualified? His answer: Most people talk about what. Some people talk about how. Great leaders, though, start with why. This is what makes them transformative.

Sinek’s lecture was about business and political leadership. The most powerful examples, though, are directly or indirectly religious. Indeed I argued in The Great Partnership what makes Abrahamic monotheism different is that it believes there is an answer to the question, why. Neither the universe nor human life is meaningless, an accident, a mere happenstance. As Freud, Einstein and Wittgenstein all said, religious faith is faith in the meaningfulness of life.

Rarely is this shown in a more powerful light than in Va’etchanan. There is much in Judaism about what: what is permitted, what forbidden, what is sacred, what is secular. There is much, too, about how: how to learn, how to pray, how to grow in our relationship with God and with other people. There is relatively little about why.

In Va-etchanan Moses says some of the most inspiring words ever uttered about the why of Jewish existence. That is what made him the great transformational leader he was, and it has consequences for us, here, now.

To have a sense of how strange Moses’ words were, we must recall several facts. The Israelites were still in the desert. They had not yet entered the land. They had no military advantages over the nations they would have to fight. Ten of the twelve spies had argued, almost forty years before, that the mission was impossible. In a world of empires, nations and fortified cities, the Israelites must have seemed to the untutored eye defenseless, unproven, one more horde among the many who swept across Asia and Africa in ancient times. Other than their religious practices, few contemporary observers would have seen anything about them to set them apart from the Jebusites and Perizzites, Midianites and Moabites, and the other petty powers that populated that corner of the Middle East.

Yet in this week’s parsha Moses communicated an unshakeable certainty that what had happened to them would eventually change and inspire the world. Listen to his language:

Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation by miracles, signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? (Deut. 4:32-34)

Moses was convinced that Jewish history was, and would remain, unique. In an age of empires, a small, defenseless group had been liberated from the greatest empire of all by a power not their own, by God himself. That was Moses’ first point: the singularity of Jewish history as a narrative of redemption.

His second was the uniqueness of revelation:

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? (Deut. 4:7-8)

Other nations had gods to whom they prayed and offered sacrifices. They too attributed their military successes to their deities. But no other nation saw God as their sovereign, legislator and law-giver. Elsewhere law represented the decree of the king or, in more recent centuries, the will of the people. In Israel, uniquely, even when there was a king, he had no legislative power. Only in Israel was God seen not just as a power but as the architect of society, the orchestrator of its music of justice and mercy, liberty and dignity.

The question is why. Toward the end of the chapter Moses gives one answer: “Because He loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them” (Deut. 4:37). God loved Abraham, not least because Abraham loved God. And God loved Abraham’s children because they were his children and He had promised the patriarch that He would bless and protect them.

Earlier though Moses had given a different kind of answer, not incompatible with the second, but different:

 

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me … Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deut. 4:5-6)

 

Why did Moses, or God, care whether or not other nations saw Israel’s laws as wise and understanding? Judaism was and is a love story between God and a particular people, often tempestuous, sometimes serene, frequently joyous, but close, intimate, even inward-looking. What has the rest of the world to do with it?

But the rest of the world does have something to do with it. Judaism was never meant for Jews alone. In his first words to Abraham, God already said, “I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you, I will curse; through you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Jews were to be a source of blessing to the world.

God is the God of all humanity. In Genesis He spoke to Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, and made a covenant with all humankind before He made one with Abraham. In Egypt, whether in Potiphar’s house, or prison, or Pharaoh’s palace, Joseph continually talked about God. He wanted the Egyptians to know that nothing he did, he did himself. He was merely an agent of the God of Israel. There is nothing here to suggest that God is indifferent to the nations of the world.

Later in the days of Moses, God said that He would perform signs and wonders so that “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 7:5). He called Jeremiah to be “a prophet to the nations.” He sent Jonah to the Assyrians in Nineveh. He had Amos deliver oracles to the other nations before He sent him an oracle about Israel. In perhaps the most astonishing prophecy in Tanakh He sent Isaiah the message that a time will come when God will bless Israel’s enemies: “The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance’ ” (Is. 19:25).

God is concerned with all humanity. Therefore what we do as Jews makes a difference to humanity, not just in a mystical sense, but as exemplars of what it means to love and be loved by God. Other nations would look at Jews and sense that some larger power was at work in their history. As the late Milton Himmelfarb put it:

Each Jew knows how thoroughly ordinary he is; yet taken together, we seem caught up in things great and inexplicable…The number of Jews in the world is smaller than a small statistical error in the Chinese census. Yet we remain bigger than our numbers. Big things seem to happen around us and to us.

We were not called on to convert the world. We were called on to inspire the world. As the prophet Zechariah put it, a time will come when “Ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you’ ” (Zech. 8:23). Our vocation is to be God’s ambassadors to the world, giving testimony through the way we live that it is possible for a small people to survive and thrive under the most adverse conditions, to construct a society of law-governed liberty for which we all bear collective responsibility, and to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly” (Micah 6:8) with our God. Va-etchanan is the mission statement of the Jewish people.

And others were and still are inspired by it. The conclusion I have drawn from a lifetime lived in the public square is that non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism. They find it hard to understand why Jews, in countries where there is genuine religious liberty, abandon their faith or define their identity in purely ethnic terms.

Speaking personally, I believe that the world in its current state of turbulence needs the Jewish message, which is that God calls on us to be true to our faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith. Imagine a world in which everyone believed this. It would be a world transformed.

We are not just another ethnic minority. We are the people who predicated freedom on teaching our children to love, not hate. Ours is the faith that consecrated marriage and the family, and spoke of responsibilities long before it spoke of rights. Ours is the vision that sees alleviation of poverty as a religious task because, as Maimonides (The Guide for the Perplexed, III: 27) said, you cannot think exalted spiritual thoughts if you are starving or sick or homeless and alone. We do these things not because we are conservative or liberal, Republicans or Democrats, but because we believe that is what God wants of us.

Much is written these days about the what and how of Judaism, but all too little about the why. Moses, in the last month of his life, taught the why. That is how the greatest of leaders inspired action from his day to ours.

If you want to change the world, start with why.

Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem, in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The Power Of Prayer

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

And the congregation will save the killer from the redeemer, and they shall return him to the city of refuge where he will sit until the death of the kohen gadol who was anointed with the holy oil.” – Bamidbar 35:25

 

If Reuven unintentionally kills Shimon, he is called a “shogeg killer” and must flee to a city of exile.

The Mishnah (Maakos 11a) tells us that since shogeg killers could only return home when the kohen gadol died, the mother of the kohen gadol would bring the killers food and clothing. By acting with great kindness, she would create in them a sense of appreciation so they would not pray for her son to die.

This Gemara is rather difficult to understand. The kohen gadol is considered one of the greatest men of his generation, certainly a tzaddik. The shogeg killer, on the other hand, is viewed as someone who can’t even remain among the nation; he must be exiled. Yet it appears that if the shogeg killer would daven, his prayers might be answered, and the kohen gadol would die. Why? The kohen gadol is an innocent man, and this killer is only praying for his death so that he can go free. Why should anyone’s prayer have that effect – especially when praying for the death of such a righteous man as the kohen gadol?

The answer to this question is based on understanding that Hashem created two systems of judgment: the system of din, which is strict justice, and the system of rachamim, which is mercy. The system of din demands exact accountability: you were capable of resisting the temptation and you didn’t, so you are responsible. There is no leniency, no leeway. It’s strict cause and effect. You brought about the consequences, so you are responsible.

The system of rachamim is very different. It takes into account many other factors: the difficulty of the situation, the effect of the generation you lived in, the circumstances that led up to the event. And while it is still true that you did what you did, you are held much less accountable because of the mitigating factors.

The World Created With Mercy

When Hashem first thought (if it could be) about creating the world, the middah of din was in operation. That is the system of absolute truth, and it should be what guides all judgments. However, the world couldn’t exist under that system. The standards are too high, the demands too great. No man would be found righteous, and the world itself could not continue. Therefore, Hashem created the world with the attribute of rachamim as the primary system. Now manywith other factors weigh in, and judgment is much lighter.

However, while the rachamim system may sound nicer and kinder, in a real sense din is far more proper and appropriate. After all, a person is responsible for what he does. And that is the conundrum. Judged with 100 percent din, no human would stand. But judged with complete rachamim, no person is responsible for his actions, and justice would be destroyed. For that reason, a balance must be struck. The din remains in this world, but it is mitigated by rachamim, and the relative levels of din and rachamim are affected by many factors.

Because of this, both systems function. Any judgment becomes a balance – how much rachamim and how much din? Almost like a slide rule that moves across a beam, the balance will shift across the spectrum from din to rachamim depending on many factors – sometimes 30 percent rachamim, 70 percent din, sometimes 60 percent rachamim, 40 percent din, etc.

One of the things that affects the balance between mercy and justice is prayer. When we daven, a big part of what we request is for Hashem to show mercy, meaning Hashem should shift the balance from justice to mercy. Without abdicating responsibility for my actions, I ask Hashem to judge me with a greater measure of mercy, taking into account all the extenuating factors that lessen the severity of the judgment. If, in fact, my prayers are effective in changing the balance, then the same act that might otherwise have been severely punished may now be overlooked. Judged by a different standard, it isn’t as egregious.

This seems to be the answer to the question. As great as the kohen gadol might be, if he were judged with complete din, even he would not survive. At some point in his life he must have done something wrong. If that action would now be judged with strict din, he would die.

When the shogeg killer davens, he is asking Hashem to have mercy on him and let him go home. The only way this can happen is if the kohen gadol dies. But according to the current system of judgment, the kohen gadol is an innocent man and deserves to live. The prayers of the shogeg killer change the system of judgment that is used. With more din in force, even the kohen gadol becomes guilty. Under those exacting standards, he deserves to die. For that reason, the mother of the kohen gadol would do everything in her power to prevent the shogeg killer from davening. She was aware of the power of prayer.

Why Should I Daven?

This concept is very relevant to our lives. Often we may find ourselves thinking, “How much of a difference can my davening make? If I am destined to get this, then Hashem will give it to me. If I am worthy of it, Hashem will provide it for me. What difference do my tefillos make?”

The answer is that they make a huge difference. Not with regard to me, and not with regard to whether I merit that which I am asking for, but with regard to the system of judgment that is applied to me under the circumstances. Judged with favor, I might merit great things. Judged with strict justice, I might merit very little. We daven to Hashem to change the system; He should use mercy and not justice.

 

To view Rabbi Shafier’s parsha video, click here.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

The Power Of Jewish Women

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

The immense power of Jewish women has been documented from time immemorial, but there is one cataclysmic episode in the Torah that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been utilized as a prime example of exemplifying the absolute necessity of the presence of the woman/mother in Jewish history.

Before that episode is brought to bear, let us examine some prior history, as the Torah, in its inimitable wisdom, uses the iconic mother/heroines Sarah and Rivkah to delineate the incalculable preeminent position of women in the Jewish home.

Sarah, with her gifts of prophecy, not only knew that Yishmael was a mortal threat to Yitzchak’s existence, but also knew that as the son of an Egyptian woman, he could never identify as a Jew. Long before Ezra, she anticipated the necessity of matrilineal lineage, casting Yishmael out and making it clear to Avraham that only her son, only the son of a Jewish woman, could continue the line of the Jewish people.

As difficult as that action was for Sarah to take, the fact remains that Sarah was not rejecting her own son; Yishmael was Hagar’s, and thus the pain Sarah may have felt at Avraham’s own suffering at the loss of his son was not compounded by Yishmael being her own child.

Sarah’s difficulty may seem severe, but it pales next to Rivkah’s, as Rivkah had to reject her own son in order to preserve Jewish lineage. It is no accident that the episode in which Rivkah advises Yaakov to trick his father immediately follows the passage in which Eisav chooses wives from outside the Jewish people. Rivkah well knows that Eisav’s betrayal makes him unfit for preserving the Jewish line, and thus even though Eisav is her own son, she has the courage to reject him and make certain that Yaakov is chosen to become the progenitor of the Jewish people.

Yet even Rivkah’s test pales next to the unsung heroine of the Jewish people, Leah. The cataclysmic episode referred to above revolves around this utterly selfless woman who rarely gets enough credit for her critical part in the genesis of the Jewish people.

Just as it was Yaakov’s mission to keep his family together, to ensure that all of his children stayed Jews, it was Leah’s as well. Not only did she have to raise six sons of her own, but six others who weren’t hers; not only did she have to supervise the children of Zilpah and Bilhah, she had to raise the sons of her deceased sister, Rachel.

It is this dynamic – the raising of sons not her own and keeping them Jews –that elucidates the power of Leah and the crucial necessity of the Jewish woman in the home more clearly than any other instance in the Torah.

For centuries, the question has been asked: How could the sons of Yaakov have behaved so brutally toward Yosef, throwing him into the pit, selling him as a slave, letting their father believe his precious son was dead? Many explanations have been offered, including the thought that Yosef had threatened the preeminence of Yehuda with his dreams of supremacy, but the question remains: How could the sons act in such a way while their father was alive?

The answer is simple and instructive.

The brothers, led by Leah’s sons, were not disinclined to act in the fashion they did even though Yaakov was alive. His presence had little or no effect in dissuading them from their brutality.

The one whose presence was needed was Leah, their mother.

And Leah was dead.

According to Seder Olam Rabbah, Leah did not live over 45 years, which means she died the same year Yosef was sold. Rachel had died eight years before.

How do we know Leah died before her sons sold Yosef? Because in Bereishis 37:35, the Torah states, “Vayakumu chol banav v’chol b’nosav l’nachamo” – “And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him.”

There is no mention of Leah, for she was already niftar.

Now it finally makes sense. Why did the brothers treat Yosef so brutally? Why did they wait as long as they did to sell Yosef? It was because their mother was no longer there to say to them, “Treat your brother/cousin with respect. Behave yourselves. I know you are angry, but remember we are all one family.”

It is the very absence of Leah in which we realize the tremendous power and centrality of the mother in the Jewish home. Had she been present, the incident with Yosef may never have occurred, and the whole history of the Jewish people may have been different.

Yes, Sarah’s test was difficult; yes, Rivkah’s superseded Sarah’s, but only Leah – the unsung heroine, the woman enjoined with keeping her massive family on the straight and narrow – managed to keep Yaakov’s fractious family together as long as Hashem gave her life. When she was gone, everything came asunder.

The Torah’s emphasizes Rachel’s beauty, but in Leah we see a deeper beauty – in essence, the true beauty of the Jewish people. In Shmuel Bet, 1:19, David laments the death of Shaul and Yehonatan, crying, “Hatzvi Yisrael al bamosecha.” The word “tzvi” is variously translated as beauty, honor, or precious, implying the words’ synonymity. The closeness of “tzvi” to “tzaddik” can be seen in Yishiyahu 24:16, when Yishiyahu states, “Miknaf haaretz z’miros shaman t’zvi latzaddik” – “From the edge of the earth we have heard songs ‘Glory to the righteous.’ ”

Thus beauty and honor are quite closely related to righteousness. This concept goes to the heart of being a Jew. For Jews, unlike for others, true beauty is found in righteousness – and only righteousness.

And Leah, with her heroic struggle to raise 12 sons, six of whom were not hers, and knit them into one Jewish family after her sister had died, exemplifies the kind of selfless righteousness that is the essence of who we are as a people. Hers was the kind of exalted beauty that the Jewish woman and mother offers the world as a beacon in the murky darkness of immorality and violence; hers was the presence that inspired her sons to behave as just men, and her absence left a void that precipitated cataclysmic events.

It is the presence of the Jewish mother, with her selfless role in engendering harmony and peace, that is the fiercely burning flame within the holy light of the Jewish people.

David Shapiro

The Power Of The Spoken Word

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

“Send forth menand let them spy out the land of Canaan that I give to the Children of Israel” – Bamidbar 13:2

 

The parshah of Shelach opens up with the story of the miraglim. Rashi notes that the previous parshah ended with the story of Miriam getting tzaras and being sent out of the camp because she spoke lashon hara about Moshe. Since this parshah begins with the miraglim, it implies that these two events are connected. But Rashi is bothered that they did not happen in chronological proximity. The events of the Korach rebellion were sandwiched in between.

Rashi explains that the Torah took these two events and juxtaposed them to teach us a lesson: Had the miraglim not been so wicked, they would have learned from what happened to Miriam, and that would have prevented them from saying their negative report about the land. However, says Rashi, “These wicked people saw what happened and didn’t learn from it.”

The problem with this Rashi is that the miraglim’s sin had nothing to do with lashon hara; it emanated from a lack of trust in Hashem. When they entered the land, they saw giants occupying fortified cities. They witnessed people dying left, right, and center. In their minds, if the Jewish nation attempted to conquer this land, they would be slaughtered wholesale.

Clearly, they were lacking in bitachon. Their faith in Hashem was deficient. But they weren’t guilty of speaking lashon hara.

First, there is no prohibition against speaking lashon hara about land. Land is inanimate. We are forbidden from derogatory speech about people, not rocks.

Of even greater significance, once the miraglim made their mistake and concluded that Hashem wasn’t powerful enough to bring the people into the land, what they then spoke wasn’t lashon hara at all. In their calculation, they were saving the Jewish people from utter destruction, in which case it wasn’t forbidden speech – it was a mitzvah.

Why does the Torah Forbid Lashon Hara?

The answer to this question stems from understanding why the Torah forbids lashon hara. The Rambam defines lashon hara as words that hurt, words that damage. Whether they cause a person embarrassment, loss of income, or sully his reputation, the very definition of lashon hara is words that cause harm. That is the reason the Torah forbids us to speak it – not because the Torah is so strict, but because words can have such a harmful effect.

To appreciate the damage words can cause, imagine that I discover a cloak of invisibility. When I put this cape on, I can walk around freely without anyone seeing me. Imagine for a moment that after I find this cloak, I decide to have some fun. As I walk around the beis medrash, I take a sefer from one fellow and turn it upside down. Then I walk over to another fellow and close his Gemara. I am having a jolly time!

After a while, I get a bit bolder. As someone is walking by, I leave my foot in the aisle. He falls to the floor with a crash.

“This is fun,” I think to myself. And now I really start to get into it.

As a fellow walks by, I give him a punch in the stomach. The next guy, I smash in the back. Before you know it, guys are really getting hurt. The joke is no longer funny.

The Chofetz Chaim points out that the Torah reserves a curse for one who “hits his neighbor while hiding.” Chazal explain that this refers to someone who speaks lashon hara about his friend. Why am I so cavalier about what I say about him? Because he isn’t here. If he were standing right nearby, I would never say what I said. I say it only because he isn’t around. And in that sense, I am hitting him while hiding.

One of the reasons we have difficulty controlling our speech is that we don’t see it as truly damaging. “What is the big deal if I tell an interesting story or two?” we say. While I would never dream of physically harming you, when it comes to ruining your reputation, damaging your business, or causing you harm in the way people perceive you, then I am much less concerned. The Torah is teaching us that lashon hara is forbidden because of the power of the words and the damage they can cause. That is why they are forbidden.

The Power of Speech

The answer to the question on the miraglim seems to be that they should have seen what happened to Miriam and learned one lesson from it – the power of speech. Why did Hashem act so harshly with her? It must be that what she did was far more egregious than we realized. It must be that her words – while merely speech – are a powerful force.

Had the miraglim learned this lesson, they would have been far more careful in their speech. They would have thought many times about the consequences of their words, and that would have made them stop and think to themselves, “Before we bring back this report, are we sure? Are we a hundred percent certain the Jewish people will die trying to conquer this land? Didn’t Hashem bring us out of Mitzrayim? Didn’t Hashem split the sea for us?”

Understanding the power of speech would have caused them to think about the consequences, and the results might well have been very different.

This concept has great relevance in our lives. Most of the damage we do through speech isn’t malicious or with bad intent. We speak without thinking about the consequences, without contemplating the results. The Torah is teaching us the power of those words and how careful we have to be with what we say, not because the Torah is machmir when it comes to sins of speech, but because of the power speech has to help or to harm.

 

To view Rabbi Shafier’s parsha video, click here.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

The Power Of A Kippah, For Better Or Worse

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

If you wear a yarmulke or a sheitel or display any other distinguishing Jewish characteristics (beard, peyot, etc.), you wield great power and influence in ways you never knew possible.

By wearing a yarmulke or a sheitel and dressing modestly, we show our adherence to Torah. And indeed the world sees us as representatives of Torah-observant Judaism. But that’s a double-edged sword. Because when we behave kindly, justly, and honestly, the yarmulke or sheitel we wear magnifies the Kiddush Hashem – the sanctification of God’s Name – inherent in our actions. But when, God forbid, we don’t act like a mensch should, the Chillul Hashem – the desecration of God’s Name – is all the worse.

I’ll never forget the time I observed a frum Jew drive his car into a gas station, leave it in the gas line, and proceed to shop at a neighboring kosher market. He pretended not to hear the many drivers who were honking their horns in frustration and anger at this bearded and clearly frum Jew who cared about nothing or no one but his own shopping.

I went inside, found him, and politely requested that he move his car. He refused until I point-blank asked him if he realized that because of his clear identification as a frum Jew he was causing a massive Chillul Hashem.

Not long ago I was in shul and speaking with someone between aliyot. Of course, the ideal is to keep quiet and I was wrong for not doing so, but what happened next was worse. Someone in the shul proceeded to berate me, asking “Why are you here anyway?” Before I could reply he declared, in a contemptuous voice, “You shouldn’t come to shul!”

Later, as I was leaving, a visitor to the synagogue who was not frum came over and said to me, “I would never come back to shul again if I were you.” Note that he did not say “this shul” – he said “shul,” as in any shul.

A few months later someone I know told me about the time he decided to drive six hours (three each way) and be menachem avel a dear friend who was sitting shiva for his father. Upon his arrival, he sat next to his friend for a while. The friend, knowing he’d driven a long way, told him to go get some food in the kitchen. He proceeded to the kitchen with some other guests and, in order not to feast in a shiva house, limited himself to two very small helpings of Chinese takeout.

He’d barely taken his first bite when a religious-looking woman abruptly stopped him and gave him the third degree, demanding to know who he was. He explained that he was a close friend of the son of the niftar. She retorted, ” I’m asking because the food isn’t for just anyone to eat. It’s for family and close friends.”

Embarrassed, he started to leave, only to be told by some people there that the woman was a “very big tzadeket [righteous person]” and meticulously frum.

As he made his way to the door, he heard her half-hearted apology: “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you.” Instinctively, he responded “Well, you did.”

With that, this “tzadeket” exclaimed: “Well, maybe next time you should identify yourself in a shiva home so people will know who you and whether or not you can eat.” (Imagine what this woman would be like if she weren’t a “tzadeket”…)

A few years ago, I sold a pair of earrings to a woman whose check bounced. I called the lady. She refused to pay and refused to return the jewelry as well. After I filed a lawsuit, she actually asked me, “How can I pay you when I’m paying for two married kids learning in kollel?”

Unfortunately, it seems that many frum Jews are not ashamed to act this way. But why? Are they not aware that in the very Torah they study and teach their children, Chillul Hashem is considered the very worst sin?

When we put on our Jewish “uniform,” people watch to see whether we are acting like a sincerely observant Jew or a religious hypocrite. And believe me, they are watching.

When you put your groceries on the supermarket counter and go back to pick up more items from the shelves, not caring about the shoppers in line behind you, people are watching.

When you cut a line in a store or return an item of clothing after several months and claim you never wore it, they’re watching.

When your sheitel covers every hair but your skirt is so tight it’s nearly tearing at the seams, they’re watching.

When you say the check is in the mail and it never was, they’re watching.

When you don’t honor your word, they’re watching.

And by the way, He‘s watching too.

Avi Ciment

As Hamas Threatens Families and Journalists, Who Blew Out the Lights in Gaza?

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

The lights are out again in Gaza, and as usual the Palestinian Authority is blaming Israel. But making spurious claims is not stopping families from starting to get the point: it’s time to think about staying alive. And journalists are beginning to document what’s really happening in Gaza.

But because of the fog of battle, it is not yet clear whose missile, mortar, rocket or grenade hit the fuel storage tank that knocked out the lights.

There is no confirmation from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit that Israel is to blame for the incident; a spokesperson is “checking the report.”

According to Gaza power company spokesperson Jamal Dardasawi, one of three fuel storage tanks in the plant compound was hit by the shelling — and of course it must have been a shell from an IDF tank. Two, in fact.

Maybe it was. Right now it’s impossible to know anything.

But Gaza’s power plant has been working at reduced capacity for months due to a vastly inadequate supply of fuel and the fact that the plant was already hit last week. To this point, it has been working at about 20 percent capacity, providing about four hours a day of electricity to the region’s residents.

For years, Hamas refused to pay for the fuel it needs to power the plant. It preferred to insist that it had the right to receive the supply either free, or at nearly free prices. If not from Israel, then from Egypt. If not from Egypt, then from anyone else. Egypt finally closed the spigot.

It’s not a lack of money that is the problem either – Hamas is perfectly willing to invest millions in weaponry, and construction of terrorist tunnels with which to attack Israel. That much has become abundantly clear from the photographs taken by IDF soldiers prior to destruction of the tunnels they have conquered.

The intricate network of bunkers and underground infrastructure that exists in the multi-layered subterranean city the IDF has only now just begun to uncover literally stretches from one end of Gaza to the other – a matter of miles, and billions of dollars of investment.

Meanwhile, Iron Dome anti-missile system operators were kept busy Tuesday morning while IDF warriors battled tunnel terrorists in the Gaza City neighborhood of Sejaiyya.

Telephone operators at IDF headquarters warned Gaza residents in eastern Khan Younis at midday Tuesday to evacuate their homes immediately — for their own safety — and move to the central part of the city in advance of an IDF attack in the area. Flyers were also dropped over the city and SMS text messages were transmitted to cell phones to ensure that residents got the message.

There have been numerous reports of Hamas terrorists trying to prevent those residents who actually want to leave from quitting their homes and the combat zones, in order to keep them as human shields. One journalist who was seen photographing such events was threatened by the terrorists, and his equipment confiscated. All three incidents are outright war crimes, of course.

Gaza terrorists still were somehow managing to fire rocket attacks at Israeli civilians from concealed launchers among their own population in the region. Israelis in the coastal city spent hours in their bomb shelters as repeated missile attacks were sent whizzing towards their homes. At least two of the missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. Two others exploded in the Ashkelon coastal region, in open areas.

Residents of the dozens of communities along the Gaza border have spent hours and days in their bomb shelters, and Tuesday was no exception. Shelling and Qassam rocket attacks by midday were flying thick and fast, at one point landing every few minutes. Unperturbed, residents discussed the attacks with Israeli radio interviewers, noting they’d been through it all before. They said they were willing to wait it would for as long as it would take, just as long as the IDF would deal with it “once and for all this time.”

Hana Levi Julian

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/as-hamas-threatens-families-and-journalists-who-blew-out-the-lights-in-gaza/2014/07/29/

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