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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Dr’

Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Each year, amid the ebullient joy manifest during the holiday of Sukkot, we read the megillah of Kohelet. With its realistic perspective on the world, Kohelet provides us with the means to not only properly calibrate our joy, but to accurately understand the role of joy and happiness in the world.

The Gemara in Mesechet Shabbat (30b) relates that the rabbis feared people would misunderstand the true message of Kohelet due to its seemingly contradictory aphorisms. To prevent the dangers inherent in such misunderstandings, Chazal considered removing the megillah from circulation. Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook explains that it wasn’t that Chazal doubted the holiness and importance of Kohelet. Rather, they were concerned that, due to its complex nature, people would fail to understand its true message and be misled by their own misunderstanding.

The Gemara describes how Chazal ultimately kept Kohelet in circulation because it both begins and concludes with the ideas of the centrality of Torah and Yirat Shamayim. People would question any interpretation that undermined these ideas. Armed with this reality, the Gemara quotes several examples from rabbanim who resolved some of the apparent contradictions, thus demonstrating that with study all of the contradictions could be resolved.

Thousands of years after Shlomo HaMelech wrote Kohelet its message still resonates with us. Like all sifrei Tanach, Kohelet not only spoke to the generation of its writing, but continues to speak its universal message to all generations.

In history, the truly great works and speeches are those that proved not only relevant to their contemporary audiences but have continued to inspire future generations as well. A classic example of such a speech is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address delivered on November 19, 1863. Among the most interesting factoids regarding this speech is that it was not the main speech. The official oration was delivered by the nation’s leading orator of the day, Edward Everett. Lincoln, as President of the United States, was invited almost as an afterthought to what was perceived as a state, not federal, affair.

Everett prepared extensively for his speech. In fact, the dedication of the cemetery was delayed nearly a month because Everett needed more time for his preparation. On the day of the dedication Everett spoke before Lincoln. And speak he did—his speech lasted for two hours, which was the norm for public orations at the time. Everett’s job was to explain what happened during the battle. He explained the significance of the battle in the context of the broader campaign and overall war. His oration “Was like a modern docudrama on television, telling the story of recent events on the basis of investigative reporting” (The Smithsonian Collection Edition: The Ultimate Guide to the Civil War, “From These Honored Dead” by Garry Wills, p. 84). By all accounts Everett did an outstanding job. His oration was well-received and had accomplished its set goals.

Following Everett, Lincoln stood up with his sheet or two of paper. Lincoln understood the moment as well. He had been looking for an occasion to lay out his war aims and give meaning to the war. The fact that so many state governors and other notables would be at Gettysburg that day convinced Lincoln of the importance of the opportunity. With a mere 270 words Lincoln proceeded to ensoul the war through the departed souls of the soldiers. Lincoln also set out to change how people viewed the Constitution and the purpose of the country. “Everett succeeded with his audience by being thoroughly immersed in the detail of the event he was celebrating. Lincoln eschewed all local emphasis. His speech hovered far above the carnage…Lincoln was after an even larger game—he meant to ‘win’ the whole Civil War in ideological terms as well as military ones. And he succeeded: The Civil War is, to most Americans, what Lincoln wanted it to mean” (p.85).

After the Gettysburg Address the Civil War was no longer a war about slavery or states’ rights. It became, as Lincoln framed it, a far loftier war, imbued with universal and perennial significance as to whether: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

To write and deliver a speech that transcends its local time and place requires a leader who not only understands what his immediate constituents need, but one who has universal and long-term goals. Without local vision the leader’s speech and comments will seem meaningless to the immediate audience. Without the vision to see the universal in the local and the future in the immediate, the speech, no matter how important to the local audience, will remain a citizen of its original time and place.

Letters To The Editor

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Presidential Politics: Readers Face Off

No Impression

As a Jew and a strong supporter of Israel, I sometimes think there is just no hope for some of President Obama’s detractors. He instructs the dunderhead Democratic Party apparatchiks to restore to the party platform references to an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and says that this reflects his personal view as well.

Yet the big story for you and others was that the reference was taken out in the first place. Doesn’t this tell you that he means it when he says he will always have Israel’s back? What do all of you want from this man? Even the unprecedented increase in military aid and intelligence cooperation with Israel during his presidency makes no impression at all.

Robert Gelb
(Via E-Mail)

Democratic Loyalty

I accuse Jews who continue to support Barack Obama of maintaining a loyalty to the Democratic Party that exceeds all other loyalties. I accuse them of a blatant blindness to the danger confronting Israel because they have hitched their wagons to the Democrats and nothing else comes closer to their hearts than that symbiotic relationship.

I would be much more cautious in my accusation if Obama took the time and trouble to at least pretend he is a friend, but he doesn’t. His loathing of Benjamin Netanyahu is public, open and undisguised. The trap, for us as Jews, is to quibble about Netanyahu’s policies instead of seeing the reality of the horrors that are looming.

Obama blithely speaks publicly about Israel returning to the 1967 lines and instead of withdrawing 100 percent of their support, Jews debate internally about Netanyahu’s policies. Should such a catastrophic move be forced on Israel, will it really matter who the prime minister is?

We no longer have a Zev Jabotinsky to sound the alarm, but I’ll gladly settle for Bibi’s warnings in this crisis. I envision Mitt Romney as a strong and honest supporter of the Jewish state, but the overriding point is crystal clear: Barack Obama is nowhere near that position and, accordingly, should not get the vote of any Jew who loves Israel and fears for its safety, well-being and future.

Myron Hecker
New City, NY

‘Lies And Misrepresentations’

I voted for John McCain on 2008 and am leaning toward Mitt Romney this year, but I simply cannot stand the misrepresentations and lies about President Obama’s record thrown around by so many in the frum community.

It was Obama who, in his 2009 Cairo speech that everyone loves to trash, told the Arab world that the Israel-U.S. alliance is unbreakable. Obama backed Israel during the Goldstone Report and Gaza flotilla controversies. Obama has increased defense and intelligence aid and cooperation to and with Israel. Last year Obama literally stood against the international community at the UN and said “no” to a unilaterally declared Palestinian state.

As for Obama’s 2011 statement that U.S. policy supports a return by Israel to the 1967 lines “with land swaps,” that is precisely what American policy has been since the Six-Day War. George W. Bush said that any final settlement would have to take into account realities on the ground – meaning Israeli population centers that have been developed in those areas over the past four decades – and this is what Obama meant when he spoke of “land swaps,” as he immediately elaborated when his initial remarks were met by a firestorm of criticism.

Besides, anytime Israel and the Palestinians have negotiated, it’s about the 1967 lands won by Israel in 1967. What territories does even the most vociferous Obama hater think they’re talking about? In fact, Israel has already given back most of the territory it won in ’67 – namely, Sinai and Gaza.

Eli Ross
(Via E-Mail)

Barack And Bibi

The fact that Obama and Bibi don’t get along has no bearing on the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship – Reagan did not like Begin or Shamir and he’s regarded as a pro-Israel president (by the way, Reagan condemned Israel at the UN and held up arms shipments to Israel – two things Obama has never done), and Bill Clinton detested Netanyahu during Netanyahu’s first term in office, to the point of meddling in Israeli politics by sending his campaign gurus to Israel to work on behalf of Ehud Barak, who defeated Bibi in 1999.

Parshat Nitzavim

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Colin Powell, despite reaching the pinnacle of power, has never forgotten his simple roots in the Bronx. This proud connection to his past manifests itself in many ways, ranging from his work ethic to his love of hotdogs. It also manifests itself in his appreciation of what the “regular guy” brings to the table in every organization. All too often people focus on the leaders and big players who are on everybody’s radar. But in a certain sense, it is the people in the trenches—the ones nobody knows—who are the real heroes; the people who really drive society forward.

One of the responsibilities of a leader is to articulate a vision and sense of purpose for the organization. This includes ensuring that every member of the organization understands the vision, buys into the vision, and appreciates his personal role in actualizing the vision. To illustrate this point Powell relates an interesting anecdote in his new book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership (2012). He was once watching a documentary about the Empire State Building. Most of the documentary focused on the building’s history, architecture and construction. But towards the end the camera showed a large room filled with hundreds of filled and tied black garbage bags. Deep beneath the powerful offices, majestic lobbies and observation deck was the trash room. Although it was obvious what the room’s function was and what the jobs of the men working there were the narrator nonetheless asked one of the workers, “What’s your job?” The man looked back, smiled and said, “Our job is to make sure that tomorrow morning when people from all over the world come to this wonderful building, it shines, it is clean, and it looks great” (p.24). Powell explains that this man got it. He was not merely a custodian. He was a key cast member of the Empire State Building.

I always wonder when I read stories like this if the writer truly believes what he’s writing or is just writing what he thinks sounds good. However, in this particular case Divine providence provided me an answer. The week before I read this book I had visited a private school in Manhattan to discuss curriculum issues. Amid our discussion the headmaster related that his daughter worked for the State Department; she had been initially hired by Colin Powell who was then secretary of state. Though she was a Democrat and Powell a republican there were a number of things that convinced her to take the job; what clinched it however, was this: at the conclusion of the interview, Powell showed her around the Department of State. Entering a hallway, they encountered one of the custodians cleaning the floor. Powell stopped, and addressing him by name asked how he was doing and how his wife’s doctor’s visit had gone. The man responded in kind. She saw how Powell genuinely cared about this person and viewed him as a valued player in the State Department. The headmaster told me that his daughter decided right there that Powell was the kind of person she wanted to work with.

The necessity for leaders to articulate a clear vision, explain it to the masses and inspire them to believe that they all have a role in its realization is underscored by the Torah at the beginning of this week’s Parsha. The Torah describes (29:9-11) how all of Bnei Yisrael were assembled in front of G-d to make a covenant with Him. The assemblage included the chieftains, constables, children, women, and converts – the full strata of Israelite society, from its leadership to its physical laborers. Nobody was excluded. The commentators discuss the Torah’s careful delineation of all the different categories of people present that day.

The Alshich comments that the Torah wanted to emphasize that in truth it is impossible to determine who is more important than whom. While it may seem evident to our earthly senses that person A is more distinguished and honorable than person B, the Heavenly perspective might be very different. The person who seems honorable to us might in fact have played a less significant role in the progress of history than the person who seems simpler. When Moshe assembled all of Bnei Yisrael that day as one group, people realized that they would each be accorded equal respect and attention.

Tears For Shavel

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Recently, my wife Clary and I traveled to Lithuania to experience what remains of one of Judaism’s most magnificent centers of learning. My journey, organized by Zvi Lapian of Israel and led by the eminent historian and distinguished scholar Dr. Shnayer Leiman, took me to what was once the world’s center of Torah learning.

Had it not been for these pre-Holocaust citadels of Jewish learning in Lithuania – magnificent yeshivas inspired by the likes of the Vilna Gaon and Rav Chaim of Volozhin that included Telz, Ponoviez, Radun, Mir, Kletzk, Grodno, Slabodka, and Baranovich – today’s Torah learning, methodology and yeshiva approach would simply not exist.

Indeed, but for the brilliance of Lithuanian Jewry, modern observant Judaism would look very different.

Vilna’s history was as noble as its downfall was horrific. Dubbed the “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” Vilna boasted a pre-Holocaust Jewish population of nearly a quarter million. More than a hundred shuls, both stately and modest, served the prayer and study needs of this wonderful community.

Choral Synagogue in Vilna

And now? There is but a single shul remaining, the Choral Synagogue. In a place where once hundreds of thousands raised their souls to God, it struggles to gather a minyan of paid “worshippers” even on Shabbos. The ghost of a magnificent community remains, with fewer than 3,000 Jews living in Lithuania.

The cold math is enough to make one shudder in grief. Of a quarter million souls, 220,000 were murdered. Wherever one travels in Lithuania, he is forever reminded of the death and destruction, of the wickedness of man that brought down one of history’s great Jewish communities.

During my visit, I found myself gazing upon the beautiful forests of Lithuania. Such natural beauty! How the air was perfumed with the scent of spruce, fir, pine and alder trees! How strong the trees rose into the sky!

In the face of such natural splendor I could not help but recall that these same trees stood silent witness to the blood spilled and horrors perpetrated in their midst. A mere ten miles from Vilna, the Panerari forest rises like an emerald from the fertile earth. A place of growing things. Of soaring trees and fragrant blossoms. It is also a place where 70,000 Jews were shot as they stood at eleven oil storage pits dug by the Russians.

A small group of Jews was “spared” so they could burn the bodies. The murderers wanted to ensure that no physical evidence of the massacre would remain. As if the crying out of murdered souls would not be evidence enough! Panerari, magnificent forest, its name forever cursed as the site of the first phase of the mass extermination of the Jews. Ten miles from Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lithuania. Tens of thousands of Jews hauled away and murdered.

In Kovno, seventy miles from Vilna, the Ninth Fort rises on a hill just outside the city. This ancient fortress was used by the Nazis and their local collaborators as a prison with cells and torture chambers. On October 28, 1941 9,000 Jews were brutally murdered here. On May 18, 1944, 900 French Jews were slaughtered.

As we passed, I could fairly hear their cries for mercy in my ears, calling out from the forbidding, cold earth. I heard those voices as I led Minchah, davening at the one remaining Kovno shul. I sensed those souls hovering nearby, crying out “Amen,” begging never to be forgotten.

I was awed by the evidence of Torah knowledge, scholarship and spirituality that still emanated from the stops on our visit; at the same time, of course, there was overwhelming sadness at the horrors and destruction that befell these communities and their Jews.

In most of the towns where Jews were exterminated, a lone monument recalls the number with grim objectivity – 1,742 Jews murdered in one place, 2,734 Jews slaughtered in another, 3,265 wiped out in yet another – all transported from this world into mass graves by the cruelty of the Nazis and their local collaborators.

Mere numbers on the monuments but living, breathing souls in our hearts and memories, stolen from their modest homes and taken to their horrific deaths, in most cases together with their rabbanim, geonim and tzaddikim as exemplified by Rav Avrohom Komai, the last rav of the Mir, or Rav Elchanan Wasserman of Baranovich. It was all too much to bear. How could such a thing occur? One word comes to mind: Eichah. Tragedy.

Parshat Pinchas

Friday, July 13th, 2012

When national tragedy struck on November 22, 1963 Vice President Lyndon Johnson was inadequately prepared to assume the presidency. The Kennedy people had done their best to sideline him throughout the first three years of JFK’s term. Thus, he was not in the know in regards to many of the important initiatives Kennedy had proposed, but that would now become his responsibility. Additionally, there was substantial personal ill will between LBJ and Kennedy’s people – especially JFK’s younger brother Bobby, the attorney general.

Despite this handicap, LBJ managed his transition to power in the most professional way possible. According to Johnson biographer Robert Caro, the six weeks following Kennedy’s assassination represented LBJ’s finest time as president (The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, 2012). He used all the different types of power at his disposal to assume the presidency, stabilize the nation’s nerves and pass some of the last century’s most controversial and important legislation.

There are many lessons we can learn from this episode about ensuring a proper transition of power—even if the need arises suddenly. First, whatever the personal and political issues involved in a relationship, the person selected to replace the leader must be informed of all major issues. That LBJ succeeded so well in this area, is a testament to his abilities.

A second lesson involves LBJ’s successful effort to encourage a good number of JFK’s people to remain in his administration. This not only enabled a continuity of government but allowed LBJ to tap into their talents and intelligence. Following his return to Washington D.C. from Dallas and his televised remarks to the nation, LBJ flew with National Security Advisor Bundy, Secretary of Defense McNamara and Deputy Secretary of State George Ball, back to the White House.

During the ride LBJ discussed with them the impact of the assassination on the country’s national security. Realizing that he could not afford to lose them, Caro describes how, “leaning toward the three Kennedy men, hunched forward in his intensity, he said, ‘President Kennedy did something I could never have done. He gathered around him the ablest people I’ve ever seen—not his friends, not even the best in public service but the best anywhere. I want you to stay. I need you. I want you to stand with me.’ The job had been done” (p.365). LBJ had found the words to appeal to these men’s sense of patriotism and ego. In the eleven-minute helicopter ride he succeeded in enlisting these three able people to remain in his administration and stay the course.

A third lesson on power succession can be learned from LBJ’s young military aide Lt. Richard Nelson. He realized the difficult situation the new President was in. He was now the president and needed to perceive himself and be perceived as such by others as quickly as possible. To this end he removed the seal of the vice president from LBJ’s office door in the Old Executive Office building. “Dragooning a White House guard to help, Nelson ran down to the basement, found an old presidential flag and some seals, and installed them in 274 (Johnson’s office)—‘just the symbols, that when he walked into the Executive Office Building office he was walking into the office of the President, not the Vice President’” (p.367).

These important aspects of leadership transition are highlighted in this week’s parsha. Following the events surrounding the daughters of Tzlafchad’s request for a land grant in Eretz Yisrael, Moshe turns to Hashem to appoint a new leader. Realizing that a new era was approaching rapidly Moshe wanted the new leader appointed while he still had the opportunity to train him, inspire him and inform him of all the national and religious issues he would soon be responsible for. Moshe understood that for the best transition possible, nothing could be left to chance. The new leader had to be brought up to speed. Proof of this is seen in the beginning of Sefer Yehoshua when Yehoshua reminds the leaders of Reuven and Gad about their obligation to serve as the lead troops in the conquest of Israel. Yehoshua’s command of all the details of this arrangement, demonstrate how Moshe kept him in the leadership loop.

Yeshiva University High School Reunion in Israel to Celebrate Rabbi Abraham Zuroff’s 90th Birthday

Monday, June 18th, 2012

A reunion for Yeshiva University High School graduates will take place on Friday, June 22, 2012 at 10 AM, at the YU Gruss Center in Jerusalem. Some 200 Yeshiva University High School alumni residing in Israel will honor Rabbi Dr. Abraham Nelson Zuroff at the event.

Rabbi Dr. Zuroff was the principal of the Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Brooklyn for more than 30 years. He was one of the most important figures in modern Orthodox Jewish education in the United States. Under his guidance more than 2,000 young men received a first class education both in classical Jewish studies and  secular studies in general. Year after year, the Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Brooklyn placed very high (many times first) in the number of students attaining a New York State scholarship, based solely on a competitive exam, for higher education. The school also had an outstanding record in its students winning National Merit Scholarship recognition and in the very prestigious, very competitive Westinghouse scholarships in science. Virtually all YUHS graduates went on to higher education, and had exceptionally high acceptance rates at Ivy League schools, MIT, etc.

After serving as principal of YUHS in Brooklyn, Rabbi Dr. Zuroff went on to become the supervisor of all four Yeshiva University High Schools (boys and girls – Manhattan and Brooklyn). Thus, he was responsible for the education of approximately 400 high school students per year.

Rabbi Dr. Zuroff also published his dissertation on Maimonides’ Responsa Literature as well as a study of Jewish life in Egypt during the 12th Century. He compiled a book on questions concerning modern life and halacha, called Question Market. He also made an important contribution to the publication Shema in which he set out the philosophy of modern Orthodoxy.

Rabbi Dr. Zuroff’s son is Efraim Zuroff, the famous Nazi Hunter. His wife, Esther Zuroff, was affiliated with Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University for several decades.

YUHS in Brooklyn has many famous graduates in many fields: the Rabbinate, politics, the judiciary, science, law, business. Among them are: Professor Alan Dershowitz, who is delivering long-distance greetings by video to the reunion, and the late Rabbi Meir Kahane.

In Israel, YUHS graduates including many Rabbis, roshei yeshiva, judges, professors, lawyers, physicians, scientists, etc.

Parshat Shelach

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Captain Chesley Sullenberger, of “miracle on the Hudson” fame, recently wrote a book on leadership entitled, Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage From America’s Leaders. Instead of focusing on his own heroic performance, landing Flight 1549, he decided to focus on a number of contemporary leaders who have influenced events in some way. The first person he wrote about is Admiral Thad Allen, former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Allen is best known for assuming command of the government’s rescue and relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

What fascinated me about Admiral Allen was his description of an advantage the Coast Guard has over other organizations when it comes to leading inter-agency operations. “One of the things we are really good at—and this is an ‘Allenism’—is being bureaucratically multilingual…. We can talk military to military, we can talk incident command system to local fire chief, we partner across the federal agencies, we can work with state and local governments. We are really good at partnering and collaboration” (p.15).

Every organization has its own priorities, ways of doing things and professional jargon. Fire Departments think in terms of fire houses and ladder and engine companies. Military organizations think in terms of Forward Operating Bases and armored personnel carriers. Fire departments worry about the number of alarms, incident safety and back burning. Military organizations worry about infiltration, reconnaissance and encirclement. It is therefore little wonder that when these disparate groups find it necessary to work in a joint effort, their differences can impede progress. The Coast Guard, by virtue of its versatility and broad mission portfolio, is able to effectively communicate with their partners allowing for greater and more efficient integration.

Sullenberger explained that Admiral Allen is a firm believer in such integration. “When individuals, departments, or organizations act in isolation without regard to their impact on others, it is known as a silo mentality. I noted that Allen seemed to be a leader who specialized in breaking down silos and organizing a united front when faced with chaos” (p.15).

A leader must not only know how to communicate, but he must know how to do so with different groups of people in ways that are appropriate and effective for them. When it comes to leadership communication—one size does not fit all. Yehoshua, who together with Calev were the only spies to remain loyal to G-d and report the truth about the land of Israel, ultimately became the communicator par excellence. In fact, in Parshat Pinchas, when Hashem instructs Moshe to appoint him as his successor, Yehoshua’s primary qualification for the job is his ability to deal with people on their own level and in accordance with their unique personalities. Throughout his career, Yehoshua always seemed to know exactly what to say and how to say it.

After the spies delivered their terrible report about the land of Israel, Bnei Yisrael panicked. Despite Calev’s attempt to thwart the rebellion, they continued to cry and demand a return to Egypt. At this point the Torah relates (14:6) that Yehoshua and Calev made one last try to limit the damage caused by their co-spies. Since the Torah mentions Yehoshua first, we can safely assume that he was the initiator of this last effort. Before they spoke, Yehoshua and Calev tore their clothes as a sign of mourning. The Or Hachaim Hakadosh explains that this was a tactically significant move. Had Yeshoshu and Calev not been part of the mission, tearing their clothes would not have meant that much. But since they themselves had seen the land of Israel and then tore their clothes as a sign of mourning, it impacted Bnei Yisrael in some small way – it made them stop and consider the significance of their actions. If two of the spies disagreed so vehemently with the others, maybe the other spies’ report should be reevaluated.

After they got Bnei Yisrael’s attention, Yehoshua and Calev proceeded with their argument. “If Hashem wants us, then He will bring us into this land and give us this land that is flowing with milk and honey” (14:8). The Or Hachaim Hakadosh explains that Yehoshua and Calev carefully worded their argument. They did not begin their argument with a definitive statement. Bnei Yisrael would never have let them continue. By beginning with the word “if,” they caught Bnei Yisrael’s attention and made them curious as to where they were going. That is why they were able to continue talking to them.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/parshat-shelach/2012/06/14/

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