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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘purpose’

Temptations, Tests, and the Search for Spiritual Courage

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

I was recently walking down the street when I smelled one of the most amazing unkosher cuisines I could ever remember smelling. As I stared at my food enemy, I had a thought which I imagine most religious Jews have at one point or another. I wondered: Was God testing me with this great smell? Was this amazing scent a way to bring my downfall?

Pondering this trivial “test” led to a greater philosophical and theological question: What is the religious nature of temptations and tests?

The Torah says, “Remember the entire path along which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the desert, He sent hardships to test you.” (Deut. 8:2). We read that G-d has Bnei Yisrael wander in the desert for 40 years as a test.

What is this about? To place a nation (man, woman, and child) through such transient and confused misery for decades as a test? I also often wonder if the Jewish people are being tested today, with our own state in Israel and unprecedented wealth and influence in the US. What will we do with the great blessings we’ve been granted? What does this idea mean that G-d tests us as individuals and as a nation?

It must be more than schar v’onesh (that God is merely keeping our score card) or that G-d is merely flexing power in the world.

I also can’t relate to the cynical answer found in the book of Job, where God tests Job because of a disagreement with Satan. My belief in a benevolent and personal G-d precludes the possibility of random tests.

Still within distance of smelling my temptation of the day, I began to ponder answers:

For years, the most compelling answer to me has been that it is through the struggle of these challenges that we truly grow. These temptations are ways of teaching people about G-d and the incredible human capacity for compassion and spiritual depth. The Ramban argues that this was exactly the purpose of the Akeidah (the binding of Isaac) for Avraham.

Alternatively, perhaps there is a utilitarian approach that more people can learn from a test than the one having to undergo the discomfort of the test. The Rambam and Radak argue that the purpose of the test at the Akeidah was not for Avraham to learn but for the future adherents of the Abrahamic faith to learn. This sets a gold standard for others to try to follow.

Rav Kook goes even further, arguing that Avraham was being tested in order to “prove” to the pagan religions that monotheism can match the religious passion of pagan worship through the act of inward sacrifice, without the need for savage and barbaric sacrifices. One is being tested in order to teach others through its example.

Another utilitarian approach is that tests can provide opportunities for others to do mitzvot to help when we are struggling. It is for the moral good of the community at large.

These explanations may be true and all of them are worth thinking about but Rav Tzadok teaches that just as a person needs to believe in G-d so too one needs to believe in oneself. These days many of us (including myself) are struggling less with why we are tested by G-d and more with how we can overcome our obstacles and challenges to live a happier, more meaningful, more successful life. Do we believe in our own capacity to overcome in the face of adversity?

One tool that we can all consider experimenting with: The Gemara says that the Torah is the seasoning for the yetzer hara (personal evil inclination). The Maggid of Mezritch offers a beautiful interpretation that since the yetzer hara is the main dish and the Torah is the seasoning, we must serve God with the full ecstasy of the yetzer hara. The purpose is not to destroy or subdue the yetzer hara but rather to spice it up – to access its energy and channel it towards good.

This is to say that when we experience struggle we should use that temptation and channel that new energy towards good rather than attempt to dismiss or remove the temptation. This is why the Midrash explains that without the yetzer hara there would be no business or procreation. In a complex way, we need our desire for self-advancement to further societal goals.

The Purpose Of The Melachah

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

The link between the laws of Shabbat and the Mishkan not only defines the 39 Melachot but also determines the conditions for liability. One of these conditions is intent. The other is purpose.

The melachah must be performed for a similar purpose as the act performed in the Mishkan. Accordingly, one might, intentionally, perform the same act performed in the Mishkan and yet be exempt from biblical liability if it did not have a similar purpose.

For example, digging (a derivative of plowing), was performed in the Mishkan for the use of the hole itself, in which tent pegs were sunk. Therefore, one who digs for earth and has no use for the hole has not performed a melachah in the Torah sense of the term, a melachah de’oreita.

Similarly, extinguishing a fire, a primary or av melachah, was performed in the Mishkan to produce glowing embers needed to smelt metal. Therefore, one who turns off the light in order to sleep, or to save electricity, has not performed a melachah de’oreita. Such an act is known as a melachah she’eina tzericha l’gufa. Although biblically exempt from liability once performed, a melachah she’eina tzericha l’gufa is rabbinically prohibited, a melachah derabbanan and should not be performed in the first place.

What is the difference between a melachah de’oreita and melachah derabbanan if both are prohibited? The answer is that generally there is more room for leniency in melachot derabbanan. For example, melachot derabbanan may, mostly, be performed during twilight, bein hashmashot, on Erev Shabbat; they may, with certain restrictions, be performed by a Jew on Shabbat to alleviate substantial pain; they may, in certain situations, be performed by a Jew on Shabbat in order to avert a substantial financial loss; they may, in certain circumstances, be performed for a Jew on Shabbat by a non-Jew; and they are not themselves subject to protective legislation.

Because the melachah she’eina tzericha l’gufa is closest to a melachah de’oreita, in that it only lacks the element of common purpose and because there is a dispute with regard to its definition, the rabbis are less lenient with it than with other melachot derabbanan. Accordingly, it enjoys some but not all of the flexibility described. For example, a melachah she’eina tzericha l’gufa may not be performed bein hashmashot. Such a melachah may, however, for the most part be performed by a Jew on Shabbat for the sick, even the not dangerously sick; and in certain situations may be performed for a Jew on Shabbat by a non- Jew.

Based on these principles, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Braun, in his work Sha’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha, writes that sparks ignited by plugging in or out of electricity is akin to a melachah she’eina tzericha l’gufa, in that it is a psik reishe delo neecha lei, which means an inevitable melachah arising from a permitted act that is of no use to its performer.

Accordingly, to avoid substantial financial loss one may ask a non-Jew to reconnect a well-stocked freezer that became disconnected from its electricity on Shabbat. Similarly, one may ask a non-Jew to turn off an appliance which, if left running all through Shabbat, would overheat and burn out.

Extensive Damage to Terrorist Long-Range Launch Capabilities

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

5:34 PM, Israel Time: The IDF carried out an extensive attack damaging to the long-range launch capabilities (over 25 miles) of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The attack caused significant damage to underground launch systems and weapons and ammunition storehouses belonging to terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. The purpose of the attack is to disrupt the launch capabilities of terrorist organizations and damage terrorist network buildup.

Source: Egyptian Police Officers Kidnapped and Sold to Islamists in Gaza

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

According to an Egyptian source, three Egyptian police officers and one senior police official who were kidnapped by gunmen in the Sinai in February, 2011, during the rebellion against former President Hosni Mubarak, are most likely being held by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip, Yoni Alpert’s Terror Watch reports.

The four hostages are Mohammed Mustafa Johrei, Sharif Al Adawi, Mohammed Hussein Walid Saad El-Din.

Based on information obtained by sources associated with the Egyptian security system, and which has come to the attention of the kidnapped men’s families, it appears likely that a force comprised of Bedouins and Islamist extremists kidnapped the officers close to the town of El Arish in the northern Sinai, while the officers were securing the Egyptian border with Gaza in Rafah. The same source speculate that the officers were later sold to the of Army of Islam terror organization, headed by Mumtaz Durmush.

The Army of Islam , affiliated with the Salafi movement and the Global Jihad, is based in Gaza but also operates extensively in the Sinai. The purpose of imprisoning the officers for such a long time is to pressure the Egyptian leadership to release radical Islamists from prisons in Egypt, and to remove the restrictions on the free movement of Muhammad al-Zawahiri, leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the younger brother of Al Qaeda’s top man.

Al-Zawahiri was released from an Egyptian jail in March. Since his release, he has been stating that nothing has changed after the toppling of Mubarak, and that he has no faith in the regime of Mohammed Morsi or in Egyptian democracy. He also advocates waging a religious war against the Jews and Israel.

Egyptian sources suspect that Hamas officials have known about the kidnapping and even took part in it. Among the suspects is senior Hamas commander Ayman Nofal, who served as commander of the Hamas military wing in central Gaza when he was caught by Egyptian security forces in 2008 after infiltrating into Egyptian territory and attempting to launch terrorist attacks there. Nofal escaped from Egyptian prison and fled back to Gaza Strip during last year’s upheaval in Egypt.

The Families of the kidnapped officers blame the Egyptian leadership for neglecting to investigate and seek the release of their loved ones using the new regime’s close ties with Hamas. They also condemn President Morsi, himself a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, off refusing to meet with them and shirking his responsibility for the safety of Egyptian officers.

Some Likud MKs Explain Their Positions to Voters – in English

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

On Tuesday night, around 100 English speaking Likud members and supporters got to hear MK Tzipi Hotoveli, MK Gila Gamliel and Jerusalem City Council member Yair Gabai address some of the major issues of the day, in English.

The event, which was held at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem, and lasted over two hours, was organized and M.C.ed by Fred Moncharsh and Danny Gottlieb.

Part of the purpose of the event was to allow the MKs to present their platforms and positions to English speaking Likud voters ahead of the upcoming Likud primaries, which is when their jobs go on the line.

While more MKs had originally said they planned to show up, only two showed up in the end.

It was clear that Hotoveli, Gamliel and Gabai appreciated the opportunity to speak to an English speaking audience, and Gamliel clearly put in the extra effort to ensure she had coherent and comprehensive answers ready in English, a language she speaks less fluently than the other two.

After the event, JewishPress.com spoke with MK Hotoveli and asked about some of the outstanding issues that the Likud never managed to complete in this term.

Where was God When Hurricane Sandy Struck?

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

What was G-d thinking when he sent Hurricane Sandy and what could have been its purpose?

In truth, I don’t much care, because our role as humans is not to understand G-d’s plan in the face of horror and tragedy, but to challenge God and demand that human life always be protected and preserved.

Did I say demand? Yes, humanity has rights before God. We are His children. He commanded us to preserve and promote life always. “Choose life,” Moses orders the Israelite nation in God’s name, on the last day of His life. And the Creator must abide by the same dictates He expects His creatures to.

Reading The New York Times story today about the approximately 39 people who died in the storm, I was sick to my stomach. I read it out loud to my kids over our candlelit dinner in a home with no electricity or heat. They could not listen any more. There was the Manhattan woman whose only sin was to walk her dog and was killed by a falling tree. There was the woman whose iniquity was to take a picture of a downed power line. She did not see the puddle in front of her. Her body, the Times reported, was on fire for half an hour before rescue workers could salvage what was left of her. There was the young Jewish couple killed walking a dog in Brooklyn. There were the two boys in New York state killed when they walked just outside their house to peer at the storm briefly.

Did any of these people deserve to die?

In the face of these natural disasters there are always those who are trying to divine the mind of God when really their role as humans is to argue with God. That’s exactly what the name Israel means, He who wrestles with God. Isn’t that what Abraham does in this week’s Torah reading where he raises his fist to the heavens and proclaims, in the face of God’s announcement that he is destroying all the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, “Will the judge of the entire earth not Himself practice justice?” Would God really allow the righteous to die along with the wicked?

Is this not also what Moses says to God after he is told that the Jews will be annihilated for the sin of the Golden calf? If you do so, says the great prophet, “then I beseech you, erase my name from the Torah You have written.”

And when God had earlier sent Moses to free the Jews from Egypt but Pharaoh had instead intensified their suffering and servitude, Moses, defiant, says to God, “Why have you behaved wickedly to this people, and why have you sent me… You have thus far not saved Your people.”

The role of human beings in the face of seeming divine miscarriages of justice is hold God accountable and demand clemency for humanity. God is all powerful. He does not need a defense attorney. But humans are fragile and vulnerable and they need all the protection they can get.

Today me, my family, and our campaign staff toured the devastation of our district. We saw cities deluged in flood waters, homes with trees crashed down on their roofs. We witnessed long lines of cars of people trying to buy gas, including tens of people with gas canisters waiting in line for hours. And as far as our campaign is concerned,, it has been reduced to me and our staff sitting in the Garden State Mall tonight plugged into a single outlet on the floor trying to charge our laptops and phones. All this is an inconvenience and, God willing, we’ll dig out. But the people who buried children, the residents who will never again see a spouse, the citizens will mourn parents, my God, my God, what are they to do?

I have grown weary of those who say that suffering is somehow redemptive, that it carries with it a positive outcome. I do not deny that this is at times so. Those who suffer can sometimes emerge humbler, wiser, gentler. But let’s get real. There is nothing beneficial that comes from suffering that could have not been achieved far more effectively through a positive means. To the contrary, suffering leaves us broken and cynical, disbelieving and forlorn, miserable and depressed.

It is time we human beings agreed to wage an all out war on suffering so that it is never excused as something blessed again.

Never again should we say that earthquakes in Haiti are caused by a compact the Haitians had earlier made with the devil. Never again should we say that Israeli soldiers die becauseKibbutznikim eat rabbit and other non-kosher meat. Never again should we say that innocent Palestinians, who are used as human shields by the terrorist monsters of Hamas and Hezbollah, die because of the wrath of Allah. And never again must we say that the Jews of the holocaust died because they wanted to be cease being Jewish, choosing to be German instead.

Because I am disgusted with this kind of thought, I wrote a full-length book that is to be published in November called The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. But I could not have divined, when I wrote it, that the place I live would have experienced such immense devastation.

The Bible in Deuteronomy is clear. “The hidden things are for G-d to understand, but the revealed things are for us and our children.” Why G-d allows good people to suffer is a secret known to him. But we human beings ought to have no interest in knowing the secret. What we want, what we demand, is that the suffering stop completely so that God and humanity can finally be reconciled, after a long history of human travail and agony, in a bright and blessed future, bereft of suffering, absent of tragedy, and filled with blessing.

The Uniqueness Of Modern Orthodoxy (Part I)

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Question: What is unique about Modern Orthodoxy?

Answer: In the Middle Ages, theologians analyzed Judaism to assess its essential nature. Their concern was to locate a component that, if missing, would render Judaism something other than Judaism. A modern example of such an inquiry would be to seek the essential component of a car. A car without air conditioning or a radio is still a car. A vehicle without a motor, however, is not.

What is the essential component of Modern Orthodoxy? Some have suggested chesed. But chesed is not unique to Modern Orthodoxy. Many Jews and non-Jews consider kindness essential to their way of life. Anyone hospitalized in New York City will attest to the wonderful service of Satmar women who provide kosher food to patients free of charge. I still recall one woman who travelled with two different busses for over an hour each way to bring kosher food to my wife.

If not chesed, then, what makes Modern Orthodoxy different than other streams of Orthodoxy?

First, we must narrow down the possibilities. It is well known that we say a berachah upon meeting a great scholar in worldly wisdom. HaRav Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l, however, argued that we don’t say this berachah if the great scholar is a Jew (Pachad Yitzchok, V’Zot Chanukah, 9:2 and 9:5). One only says a berachah over a Jew who possesses Torah knowledge, not a Jew who wins the Nobel Prize in chemistry, for example. Conversely, one does not make a berachah over a non-Jew who possesses tremendous Torah knowledge.

Rav Hutner argued that this is implicit in the wording of the Shulchan Aruch, which list two separate halachos: that we say one berachah over a non-Jewish scholar with worldly wisdom and another berachah over a Jewish scholar. The two berachos are “Blessed are You…who has given of His wisdom to those who fear Him” and “Blessed are You…who has given of His wisdom to human beings.” The two berachos are separate and should not be confused. One only makes a berachah over a Jew with Torah knowledge and only over a non-Jew with worldly knowledge.

Why? In regards to berachot, there is a guiding principle of ikar and tafel (essential and secondary). For example, one only recites a blessing over spices if the spices were originally designated to provide fragrance – their main purpose. If the spices, however, were designated for another purpose, one would not recite a berachah over them even if one enjoyed their fragrance.

So too, contends Rav Hutner, in regards to the blessings over scholars. The prime purpose of a Jew is to learn Torah. This is the goal of his existence. Everything else, including secular scholarship or scientific knowledge, is of secondary value to the Jewish soul. It may be important. It may even be vital to life, but it is still secondary to Torah. As such, one only recites a berachah over a Jew who excels in his primary role – Torah. So too with non-Jews. One does not say a berachah over him if he is an expert in Torah because Torah is not his primary role in life.

Getting back to Modern Orthodoxy: Since Torah is the distinctive character of a Jew, the uniqueness of Modern Orthodoxy must lie in Torah. We then must reformulate our original question. What makes the Torah of Modern Orthodoxy uniquely different from the Torah of the yeshiva or chassidic world?

(To be continued)

Rosh Hashanah: A National, Not Personal, Holiday

Friday, September 21st, 2012

We are used to assuming that Rosh Hashanah is a holiday of repentance and atonement, a holiday of judgment, and the holiday when our fate for the coming year is determined. The Selichot prayers before and after Rosh Hashanah add to the sense of personal days of judgment, an obvious truth.

But from a simple look at the prayers, we can see that the focal point of the days is completely different. The main thing that we are supposed to be doing on Rosh Hashanah is crowning the Creator as King of the world. This is also the main reason for the central mitzvah of the day: the blowing of the shofar. That is first and foremost an announcement that the coronation is about to take place.

How did the focal point of Rosh Hashanah turn into something private? The answer is simple: The Torah states, “Due to our sins we have been exiled from our land and we have become distant from our earth.” Just as the entire Torah has transformed into a religion that hovers above reality, not really a part of it, so Rosh Hashanah no longer expresses our national aspirations. When we lost our sovereignty and we lost Jerusalem, when the royal palace on the Temple Mount was destroyed, the nation of Israel also lost the possibility to actualize the purpose of its existence – to perfect the world in the Kingdom of Heaven. From a national holiday, Rosh Hashanah morphed into a personal holiday, just as Judaism as a whole became a system of personal reminders outside of reality.

Even now, after we have returned to our land and after we received the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War (six days of miracles), we continue with our private – not national – Rosh Hashanah ritual.

However, we who have declared our goal to perfect the world in the Kingdom of Heaven and who are working toward that goal politically – from within reality – can make the coronation of the King of the world a palpable event.

May we perceive G-d’s rule over the entire world, and may we merit a year during which we are favored and loyal tools to make that happen.

I wish all of you a sweet and blessed year.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/moshe-feiglin/rosh-hashanah-a-national-not-personal-holiday/2012/09/21/

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