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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘redemption’

Elissa Strauss, Are You on our Side or on the Side of our Enemies?

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

I know it’s the Internet, so people tend to assume they already know what I’ve written, and form an opinion regardless of what’s actually in the text. So for you—and you know who you are—let me state emphatically that the purpose of this article is not to stifle debate, or opposition, or protest, or criticism of Jewish settlements, but to discourage joining with enemies of Jews to boycott Jews wherever they are. Got it? Not stifling debate – stifling open acts of economic warfare against your own people with whom you disagree.

You’re still going to comment that I’m stifling debate, aren’t you.

In her insightful and honest piece in the Forward this week, Confessions of a Disengaged Young Jew – How Birthright and Hillel Turned Me Off to Israel, Elissa Strauss is offering crucial evidence to the fact that the final smelting of the Jewish nation from all the riffraff that have attached themselves to it since the exodus is well on its way.

The people of Israel traveled from Raamses to Sukkot, some six hundred thousand men on foot, not counting children. And the riffraff also went up with them, as well as livestock in large numbers, both flocks and herds. (Ex. 12:37-38)

The Hebrew word, Erev Rav, literally means “mob of disconnected people,” synonym: Assafsuf, meaning rabble or riffraff.

The Exodus was a cleansing moment in human history, and, obviously, in Jewish history. The Midrash tells us that a full 80 percent of the Israelites were not redeemed from Egypt, because they did not slaughter the Pascal lamb and did not smear their doorposts with its blood.

So, only 20 percent of the Israelites dared embark on the road to liberation with Moses. But they didn’t leave alone. Rashi tells us that the Erev Rav were a mix of nations of converts who were swept by the rush of the Hebrew slaves to freedom.

Rashi also offers a telling commentary on Exodus 32:7, right after the orgiastic gold calf episode: God said to Moshe, “Go down! Hurry! Your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have become corrupt!” Rashi notes that the verse doesn’t say “the people” but “your people,” meaning the riffraff whom you accepted on your own, and converted them without asking me, because you said it would be a good thing for them to come close to the Divine Emanation – and they are corrupt and corrupted others.

Those two key phenomena have never ceased to be an essential part of our history. Every century or so, wherever we are, we lose about 80 percent of our people for a variety of reasons, some historical, some emotional, some economical. And throughout our existence, until the arrival of the redeemer, we will have in our midst the riffraff.

Referring to the Pew Research Center study on American Jewry, Elissa Strauss notes that more and more young American Jews “are moving in my direction, distancing themselves from Israel altogether. This isn’t so much about Zionism versus anti-Zionism as it is about not bothering at all.”

That’s the first Jewish phenomenon: as the American diaspora matures, having had a century or so of prosperity, its staggering, original high number of 6 million is plummeting rapidly to about one fifth of that. The combination of simple assimilation and mixed marriages, with the outright canonization of intermarriage by some movements, have been slicing American Jewry into roughly 20 percent observant, meaning concerned about their Jewish extended family and nation, and 80 percent everything else.

Elissa Strauss, though, also represents the other phenomenon as well. “I just couldn’t juggle the experience of Tel Aviv’s lively beaches, the serene intensity of Friday evenings at the Kotel, and the sadness and shame I feel when I hear about life in Gaza and the West Bank.”

Jewish Survival in the Face of Existential Threats: a Focus on Women

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Women have exercised their inherent gift of intuition and bravery to influence the course of Jewish history from the earliest time recorded.

The dramatic confrontation between Sarah and Avraham over the choice of successor, in effect a struggle over the survival of Judaism, was reenacted a generation later between Rivka and Yitzchak. In the face of his own preference, Rivka, just like Sarah, was intrinsically directed to choose the optimal heir to Yitzchak.

Egyptian Exile and Exodus are pivotal landmarks in the history of our people’s struggle for survival. References to Galut Mitzrayim (Exile in Egypt) and Yetziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt) are central to the entire corpus of Jewish socio-ethical teaching. Against such background, the rabbinic dictum that “It is to the credit of the righteous women that our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt” (Sotah 11) is quite remarkable. Our rabbis recognized the roles women played in making redemption possible.

The Hebrew midwives, who at the risk of their lives defied the edict of Pharaoh “and let the children live” (Sh’mot 1:17), were rewarded for their great courage, and “G-d granted a bounty for the midwives, and the nation multiplied and grew very mighty” (Sh’mot 1:20). The other women also did their share to ensure survival by keeping their appearance attractive and boosting their husbands’ morale.

Within this context the Midrash focuses on the role of Miriam whose admonishment prompted her own father to resume his marital duty. And so, the birth and survival of Moshe, the Divine instrument of Israel’s redemption, was the consequence of intuitive acts by a number of women which included, besides Miriam and Yocheved, even Pharaoh’s daughter who, by adopting Moshe and providing a Hebrew nurse for him, completed the first phase of Israel’s redemption.

Regarding the next phase of redemption, Matan Torah, the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, our rabbis claim that the women were given the Torah first because it is they who teach their children “the ways of the Torah.” The teachers of “the way” to the next generation hold the secret of a people’s survival. They are the bridge to the Jewish future.

The Biblical precedent established a pattern for women of later generations to have a historically defined role as the vanguard in the struggle of Jewish survival. At every crucial juncture women have stepped into the historical vacuum to provide roles as unseen movers based on their prophetic intuition and their ability “to tune into” the existential self of the Jewish people.

From Rebbetzin Recha Freier who spearheaded a movement which evolved into the Youth Aliyah, a major instrument of rescue for Jewish children during the Holocaust, to Rivka Gruber, teacher, librarian, and social worker, who, after her two sons fell in Israel’s War of Independence, became the founder of a string of settlements in the Sharon Valley, women have been silent movers, creating educational, social, health and welfare infrastructures for the Jewish community.

And how about the women in our present situation of surrounding existential threat, the war of terror in Israel?

That chapter is being written even as we speak. Do you remember the name Chava Shatsky? How could you? She is one among innumerable heroines whose children were murdered by Arab terrorists, one name among hundreds. Her 15 year-old daughter Keren was killed by an Arab terrorist in the Karne Shomron mall on Motzei Shabbat, February 16, 2002.

I happen to remember because of a personal connection. Reading in The Jewish Press that Karen and the other casualties were pupils in Kedumim’s Ulpana Lehava, where someone from my family taught English, I immediately contacted her to offer my emotional support. When I started to speak and my words drowned in tears, it was she who comforted me. Yes, Keren was her pupil, she said, and Keren’s mother, Chava Shatsky, was the chairman of the department at Lehava.

“You must speak to Chava,” she advised me. “Chava will give you chizuk, strength… she gave chizuk to all of us. In our grief over Keren, the faith of Keren’s mother gave us all strength,” the young teacher said. When I expressed profound amazement, she continued: “Yes, it is amazing. Yet there are many other women who react similarly. And these women are the guarantee that we will make it,” she said with pride.

The young teacher’s words helped me. They helped me cope with the grief and face the future. Indeed, these heroic mothers, like Jewish women throughout our history of confrontation with existential threats are the guarantee that we will make it.

Rav Kook’s ‘The Caged Lion’

Monday, February 4th, 2013

In addition to having been a master in all disciplines of Torah, and a great visionary, Rabbi Kook also wrote many powerful and inspiring poems, expressing his passionate yearning for God. Here for your enjoyment is a short fable he penned. Unfortunately, my translation can’t compare to the beauty and depth of the original Hebrew, with its rich imagery and multiple nuances. But its symbolism and message to Diaspora Jews are obvious.

Like the lions in Rabbi Kook’s poem, may we also find the longing for freedom, and the courage to shatter the cage of our long exile, to make our way joyously back to the glorious, tree-filled kingdom from whence we came.

The Caged Lion

THE old lion is broken
Tired from his many hunters
Trapped in a narrow cage
He remembers times from his childhood
Memories of freedom
The valor of the forest.

His cubs were born in captivity
Their souls don’t feel his weariness
Yet their souls haven’t grown.
They haven’t been broken by the enemy
Because they haven’t seen battle
And the valor of the forest they don’t know.

Though the cage is narrow
It doesn’t oppress them so much,
It inhibits the wildness of their youth,
But the cubs don’t moan
Over this small matter,
And the glow in their eyes
Over this doesn’t darken.

The cubs are angry with their father,
Why is he so sunken in his thoughts
To have forgotten about life?
There still is room to frolic a little
Even in this narrow cage.
The children are astounded
When they look upon the aged lion
So stooped over and sighing.

ONCE the old lion awakened
And told his tale to the playful youngsters,
“There is a world filled with light
A place filled with liberty and freedom
A forest of great expanses,
And towering trees
How pleasant are those cedars of G-d!
The scents of the forest restore the soul
A myriad of living creatures dwell within
And everything is enlivened with the pleasures of freedom.

“And when I was your age, children,
It was there that I ruled with pride and strength
All of the forest’s warriors bowed before me.
And if not for my pursuers who shattered my bones,
And if not for this narrow cage
I would still now be ruling in the forest
And you too would be filled with freedom and pride.”

These words came forth from the old one
And the youths ceased to frolic.
Instead of joy in their eyes
A flash of revenge shone in them,
Eyes filled with fire and blood,
And with an embittered spirit and hidden rage
They tried to break
The narrow cage.

THE soul of mighty lions roared inside the cubs
And their eyes also saw
With all the same force
The kingdom of the forest.
The longings in them grew stronger
To reach the open expanses,
To the place where their old father ruled.

They couldn’t keep still in the cage
The scent of the oak trees of the forest
Filled their nostrils and lungs,
The colors of budding flowers
Held their hearts captive

Their spirits didn’t fall
And they didn’t groan
Like the elder
Whose bones had broken,
And the light of his life turned gloomy
Because of the oppression of his captors
Who turned his world upside down.
And with a yearning of spirit
Like billowing flames
Their hearts yearned for the forest.

“IF in sincerity and innocence
The forest is loved,”
The old broken lion once said,
“Then the soul of proud lions
Still beats within you,
And this the narrow cage
Won’t be your home
For you will always belong to the forest kingdom.”

The words of the elder
Strengthened the hearts of the youth,
And with the power and valor of young lions
They began to smash at the cage’s bars
With their claws, their teeth, and their roars
Frightening the captors
From their routine guard.
And with a fierce spirit raging with love for the forest
They broke and shattered the walls of the narrow cage.

SEEING the boldness of the cubs
The old broken lion was filled with courage,
And a spark of the proud lion inside him was kindled anew.
Taking a place in the front of his sons
All of his being filled with valor,
And together with a spirit of freedom
They fled to a place with freedom and light.
Hearing the roar of lions, their captors trembled in fear,
And with a proud spirit the lions went on their way
Until they came to the place of the oaks
To the castle of the lions
As it had been from time immemorial.

It was as if the old lion regained his youth
And his broken insides
Became bonded together in joy.
And he together with his cubs
Spoke victoriously to their enemies at the forest’s edge
And all the lions returned
To raise up the forest kingdom.

Visualizing the Beit HaMikdash

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Coming soon…

Visit The Muqata.

We Ain’t Got a Soul in America

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

In our previous blog, where we saw how the prophets of Israel and our greatest Rabbis described the exile as a zombie-like existence for the Jewish People, because when we are scattered in foreign lands, our national format is destroyed, and we are left like dry lifeless bones. To understand this more deeply, we will continue with our translation of the book, “Binyan Emunah,” by Rabbi Moshe Bleicher, a longtime student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, and Rosh Yeshiva of the Shavei Hevron Yeshiva in the city of Hevron.

Please note that these are very deep matters, and our condensed excerpts from the book don’t present the total overall picture that readers will glean from the entire book itself.

From the Chapter, “Exile and Redemption”:

In order to understand why the exile is a situation of death for the Jewish People, we have to first meditate on the meaning of life. As much as life is familiar to us, there is a secret of life which we cannot fathom, and this is the force of life itself, a Divine Creation.

An example will make this clear. A human being’s body contains many organs, some of which are extremely complicated and sophisticated. For instance, the eye is an advanced optical mechanism which functions in a wondrous manner. However, if we were to remove the eye and mount it on a wall to serve as a security camera, the eye wouldn’t work at all. Only through its connection with the body, and with the general life force that exists in it – the soul – can an eye fulfill its function.

Why is this? Isn’t the eye sophisticated enough to operate by itself? Is the fact that it can’t function apart from the body a sign that it is a more primitive mechanism than some electronic optical devise which can? No. The reason that the eye cannot function without it being attached to the body is because the eye isn’t a private organ which exists by itself. This is also true for the other organs of the body – the ear, the brain, the heart, etc. If you were to take out all of the organs of the body and connect them together, a man wouldn’t result – only a big, lifeless doll. The thing which gives man his essence as a man is the general life force inside of him. This is what enlivens and operates all the organs of the body, determines their function, and also gives man his consciousness as a man. Isn’t the eye which sees, and the ear which hears, but rather, the general force of life in a man, his soul, which hears via the ear, and sees via the eye.

Just as a life force animates an individual, the same is true for the Clal, for Am Yisrael, as a Nation. Hashem created us as a Nation at Sinai, to sanctify His Name in the world – precisely in our National format in Israel, and not in the wilderness of Sinai, or in other foreign places in the world. Am Yisrael is capable of illuminating existence by revealing the Divine Ideal in life, and through this, to raise existence out of its darkness, and to attach it to its Divine Source. The nations of the world also call upon the Name of God and praise His greatness, but in the very same breath, they are capable of murdering millions and carrying out the most savage and bestial acts. In contrast, when Am Yisrael calls upon the Name of G-d, it is to reveal and establish the Divine Ideal and Morality in the world, with the altruistic aspiration of bettering the life of all mankind.

This lofty moral recognition is the innovation which Am Yisrael brings to the world. “This Nation have I created for myself, they will declare My praise.” The ability of Am Yisrael to declare the praises of Hashem, to illuminate the world and liberate it from its truncated framework of private interests and egotistical concerns, from its bondage to individual lusts, by attaching all of the forces of life to their ideal Divine Source, this stems from the unique vision of Am Yisrael that recognizes the existence of a single unifying Divine Goal which stands at the foundation of the world – the recognition that there is a single unifying force of life that lends ideal meaning to all of the details of life. This is a great Kiddush Hashem, the ability to reveal in life the Universal Unity which gives life to everything.

The Soul of Existence, the Ideal Goal which stands at the foundation of life, is not a mere spiritual thing, but rather a powerful and dynamic life force which activates all of the wheels and gears of existence, pushes them toward greater and greater perfection and expression in life. For example, with an apple tree, the “goal of the tree” isn’t an abstract matter, but a concrete life force which dictates the stages of the tree’s development up till the appearance of its fruit. Similarly, the soul of a person isn’t a spiritual entity disconnected from the body and its powers, but is the very life force which activates and gives meaning to every organ and faculty of life. This same understanding holds true for the Soul of Existence as well.

Applying this metaphor to the world, Am Yisrael is the “body” which is able to absorb this Inner Truth that there is a Divine Soul to existence, and which is able to attach all branches of life to their inner, general, all-encompassing, Clalli, Source. This Clalli Soul appears in Am Yisrael as a dynamic and empowering life force. This is what gives the Nation its life, and from its driving force, the Israelite Nation has the motivation and willpower to establish and build a State in its Land, an army, and a thriving economy. All of its National life surges forth from this inner, exalted Truth, to the point where the Nation of Israel has no private, egocentric interest in attaining glory and accolades on the stage of history, but only to sanctify the Name of God in the world, and to reveal how all of the systems and frameworks of life, with all of their details, stem from the ideal, universal, Divine Life-Force which activates all of existence.

As we mentioned, the principle Kiddush Hashemoccurs when we reveal how the Source of Divine Unity stands behind all of life, uniting everything. Am Yisrael was created to illuminate this Truth, to declare the praises of God. When Am Yisrael gathers in its Land, every Tribe in its inheritance, and with the Beit HaMikdash rebuilt on the Temple Mountthis Clallilife-force appears in the life of the Israelite Nation, in all aspects of its National existence, in their most ideal and healthy format.

Like with an individual man, whose soul gives life to all of his organs and limbs, so too, when Am Yisrael returns to Eretz Yisrael, its unique, Clalli life-force,which only comes to life within the Nation when it dwells in its Land, radiates its powers to all of the national faculties of the Nation, and to every vista of its life. The more the Nation is true to its inner essence, and knows how to direct its varied endeavors to draw vitality and strength from the Source of its life, the healthier it will be, and it will succeed in achieving its mission in the most complete and ideal fashion.

This is a life of national Kiddush Hashem, where the Divine Presence is revealed in our midst, through the realization of the ideal, universal, Divine Goals and Aspirations in the life of the Nation as we live our National Torah life in our unique Holy Land.

However, when the Nation of Israel is exiled from its Land, and its general, Clalli, life force is lost, all of its life undergoes a drastic descent. Its general, Clalli soul ascends to the celestial heights, and no longer functions as the battery source of the now scattered and splintered Jewish People. Now, exiled from its Land, and unable to exist in its National format, the individual, private side of life becomes dominate, and the forces of life appear separately, seemingly independent, one from the other, without stemming from a unifying, general life-force. In this way, the level of life changes, and the entire observance of Torah and its commandments falls into the category of“Set way-marks up for yourselves,” (Yirmeyahu, 32:20), as described in the vivid words of our Sages, concerning a verse found in the second paragraph of the Shema“And you will quickly perish from the Land….” (Devarim, 11:17).

Our Sages teach: “Even though I am exiling you from the Land to outside of the Land, be distinguished by the mitzvot, so that when you return they won’t seem new in your eyes. This can be compared to a king who became angry with his queen, and sent her back to her father house, telling her to continue to wear her royal jewels so that they would not seem new to her when she returned to the palace. Thus said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Israel: My son, keep adorned with the mitzvot so that when you return they will not seem new. This is what Yirmeyahu told them, ‘Set up way-marks for yourselves’ – these are the commandments by which Israel is distinguished”

These words of our Sages are eye-opening and even staggering. Concerning the performance of the commandments in the Diaspora, the inner truth of the matter is that outside of the Land of Israel, where theClalli, life force of the Nation doesn’t appear, there is no essential meaning in observing the commandments. The only reason for our still keeping the precepts inChutz L’Aretz is because of our past connection to theClalli soul of the Nation which vitalized us when we lived in our Land, and because of our connection to the future when the Clalli soul will return and reveal itself in our resurrected national life with the ingathering of our exiles to Zion.

A living holiness, filled with vitality, is the “electricity” which activates the soul of the Nation and the general,Clalli, life force within it. This force is what gives life to the details of the Torah and to its commandments. Thus, when the Nation isn’t living, when it is exiled from the Land and its organs are scattered throughout a netherworld of impure and unholy places, there is no essential value in keeping the mitzvot, and we are commanded to continue to perform them only so we don’t forget how to do them, so they won’t seem new to us when we return to our own Holy Land, where theClalli soul comes to life with the union of the Nation and the Land.

It is important to understand that the startling new insight revealed by our Sages is not that the precepts practiced in the exile are merely road signs to help us remember the way home, as indicated by the Prophet’s command, “Set up way-marks for yourselves,” but that it is possible at all to learn Torah and perform commandments in our altered and “decomposed” situation in exile, where we merely exist, without life, like in the prophesy of the valley of lifeless bones. The ability to do so only stems from our deep inner, historic, and genetic connection, even in our disintegrated situation in exile, to our complete, former, national, Clalli life as a Nation in its Land.

All of our life changes when we are in Galut. Not only does our Clalli soul disappear, but every detail of our life is affected. Regarding the teaching of the Gemara, “Everyone who dwells outside of the Land of Israel is like someone who has no God” (Ketubot 110B), Rabbi Pincus HaLevi Horewitz, author of the commentary,“HaHafla’a,” writes that this is speaking about a person who observes the Torah and mitzvot in Chutz L’Aretz – but because he doesn’t live in Eretz Yisrael, he is like someone who doesn’t have a G-d. The reason behind this is that outside the Land of Israel something profoundly essential is missing – our general, Clalli soul.

Therefore, in the exile, Jewish Belief (Emunah) and the worship of God appears in an incomplete form. If Emunah was merely a philosophical and intellectual discipline, there wouldn’t be any meaningful difference between its revelation during the Galut or at the time of Redemption (Geula). However, as we shall continue to explore, Emunah is the encounter with Divine Existence as it is revealed in our midst when we are a sovereign Nation in our Land. Thus, during the time of exile, when the general, Clalli life-force is withheld from us, and where God only appears in “the four cubits of Halacha,” in the life of individuals, the entire encounter with the lofty goals of the Torah, which appear in a dynamic living fashion in the national life of the Nation in our Land, is lost. It follows that the deeper levels of Emunah also are missing, and the individual Jew encounters his Maker on a shattered level, which is only a shadow of true and complete Emunah.

T’shuva Brings Healing to the World

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Shut the latches of the spaceship. Fasten your seatbelts. Get ready for another magic mystery tour through the galaxies of t’shuva, as illuminated for us in the writings of Rabbi Kook.

If you were like me, you’d order the book, “The Art of T’shuva” (available online) already today, so you can hurry up and do as much t’shuva as you can before the Almighty searches you out in His Big Computer in the sky and views all the personal youtubes you’ve starred in during the year when you thought no one was watching. But you’re not like me, and so you probably won’t buy the book. That’s one of the reasons why I’m in Israel and you’re still in Flatbush or Boro Park.

As we learned, mankind is always involved in t’shuva. The fact that there are many non-religious people today should not be held as a contradiction. T’shuva must be looked at in an encompassing perspective that spans all generations.

A story about Rabbi Kook may help illustrate. One day, Rabbi Kook was walking by the Old City in Jerusalem with Rabbi Chaim Zonnenfeld, one of the leading rabbis of the Ultra-Orthodox community.

“Look how awful our situation is,” the Rabbi observed. “See how many secular Jews there our in the city. Just a few generations ago, their father’s fathers were all Orthodox Jews.”

“One must look at Am Yisrael in a wider perspective,” Rabbi Kook answered. “Do you see this valley over here, the Valley of Hinom? This was once a site for human sacrifice. Today, even the crassest secularist will not offer his child as a human sacrifice for any pagan ideal. When you look at today’s situation in the span of all history, things do not seem so bad. On the contrary, you can see that there has been great progress.”

The Rambam, at the end of the Laws of Kings, refers to this same development process of redemption which encompasses all things in life. He asks the question — if Christianity is a false religion, why did God grant it so much dominion? In the time of the Rambam, Christianity and Islam ruled over the world. The Jews suffered miserably under both.

The Rambam’s answer is based on a sweeping historical perspective which finds a certain value in Christianity, even though the Rambam himself classifies Christianity as idol worship (Laws of Idol Worship, 9:4, uncensored edition). On the one hand, he emphatically condemns Christianity, and on the other hand he maintains that Christianity has a positive role in the development of world history. How are we to reconcile this contradiction?

The Rambam writes that Christianity serves as a facilitator to elevate mankind from the darkness of paganism toward the recognition of monotheism. In effect, it is a stepping stone enabling mankind to make the leap from idol worship to the worship of God.

The belief in an invisible God does not come easily to the masses. Christianity, weaned mankind away from the belief in many gods to a belief in a “three-leaf clover” of a father, a son, and a holy ghost. Once the world is accustomed to this idea, though it is still idol worship, the concept of one supreme God is not so removed. Furthermore, the Rambam writes that Christianity’s focus on the messiah prepares the world for the day when the true Jewish messiah will come.

Today, because of Christianity’s influence, all the world, from the Eskimos to the Zulus, have heard about the messiah, so that when he arrives, he will have a lot less explaining to do. “Oh, it’s you,” mankind will say on the heralded day. Though they will be surprised to find out that it’s not Jezeus, they’ll say all the same, “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Thus, when world history is looked at in an encompassing perspective, even Christianity, with all of its many negative factors, can be seen to play a positive role in mankind’s constant march toward t’shuva.

When we understand this historic, all-encompassing perspective, we can see that a world movement like Christianity, despite all of its evil, can influence the course of human history toward a higher ideal. But how does one man’s t’shuva bring redemption closer? How does a person’s remorse over having stolen some money bring healing to the cosmos as a whole?

T’shuva is the Real Tikun Olam

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Now that we recognize that t’shuva is an independent force which God has implanted into the fabric of Creation, we must ask, what does it do?

Throughout his writings on t’shuva, Rabbi Kook has to clothe his profound understandings in a wardrobe of metaphors to express the workings of t’shuva.

“The individual and the collective soul, the world soul, the soul of all worlds of Creation, roars like a mighty lioness in agony for complete perfection, for the ideal existence; and we experience the pain, and it purges us like salt sweetens meat, the pain sweetens our bitterness.”

Rabbi Kook emphasizes that the soul has a built-in motor that guides it toward perfection. The perfection it seeks is the union with God. This is what King David is expressing when he says, “Of Thee my heart has said, Seek My Presence. Thy Presence, Hashem, I will seek.”

One unites with God when one has a knowledge of God and performs His will. God’s will is housed in this world in the Torah and its commandments. Thus, the reunion with God, for the individual, and for the Jewish People in its ideal national format, means a return to the Torah, in the place where the Torah is meant to be kept – the land of Israel.

What empowers the soul to seek out its Maker? What gives it fuel for the quest? The power of t’shuva. Rabbi Kook explains:

“Through the force of t’shuva all things return to God. By the existence of t’shuva’s power which prevails in all worlds, all things are returned and reconnected to the realm of Divine perfection. Through concepts of t’shuva, understandings of t’shuva, and feelings of t’shuva, all thoughts, ideas, understandings, desires, and emotions are transformed and return to their essential character in line with Divine holiness.”

Before continuing, it may be beneficial to say a few words about the concept of returning to God. What does this mean? Where have we gone that we need to return? This is a very profound question, and only the beginnings of an answer will be given here. The soul, in its essence, belongs to the world of souls. When it is placed in this world, in a physical body, it naturally longs to go home. For the soul, going home is being reunited with God. One of the great innovations of Judaism is the teaching that this reunion is not limited to the return of the soul to Heaven after the death of the body. Unlike other religions, Judaism teaches that the soul can find union with God in this world. This union is brought about when a Jew performs the Torah’s commandments.

The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden describes man’s existential plight. In effect, the sum of world history is mankind’s journey to return to the Garden. Not only man, but the world itself wants to return to its original state. This yearning is one of the most powerful forces of Creation. Thus the world “roars like a mighty lioness” to return to its original, ideal closeness to God.

Once we understand that the goal of existence is to be reunited with God, and that the force of t’shuva is at work all of the time, we can understand that the t’shuva of the individual over specific sins, and the encompassing t’shuva of the world longing for perfection, all stem from the same essential drive.

“General t’shuva, which is the uplifting of the world to perfection; and specific t’shuva, which relates to the particular personality of each individual, including the smallest items needing improvement in all of their details… they are both of one essence. So too, all of the cultural reforms which lift the world out of moral decay, along with social and economic advancements, and the mending of all transgression… all of them comprise a single entity, and are not detached one from the other.”

The perfection of all of the different people and ideologies in the world really represents one giant unified t’shuva. To understand this deep idea, it may help to momentarily substitute another word for t’shuva when we speak about the t’shuva of culture, society, and ultimately of the world. Instead of the word t’shuva, let’s use the word geula, or redemption. To Rabbi Kook, t’shuva and redemption share the same direction and goal — to bring healing to a suffering world. Redemption is the ever-active historical process which brings the Nation of Israel and the world to perfection and completion. The zenith of redemption is reached at the End of Days with the arrival of Mashiach and Israel’s great material and spiritual Renaissance. When this great day arrives, the Kingdom of God will be established throughout the world; Israel will be recognized as His truly chosen people; the nations will flock to Jerusalem to learn the laws of the God of Jacob; and Divine truth and justice will reign supreme. In this glorious future, prophecy will be reestablished in Israel, and life itself will experience the zenith of t’shuva when the dead are resurrected from their graves.

Mashiach, Mashiach, Mashiach, Da Da Da Da DaDa

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Who is Mashiach? What is Mashiach? What’s he all about? Strange as it may seem, we learn about Mashiach from the wicked Bilaam, in the Torah portion of Balak. While the verses are obscure, the Rambam explains them in The Laws of Kings and Their Wars. Since many Diasporians picture the Mashiach to be some type of fairytale hero who will whisk them back to Israel on some kind of magical carpet when he flies down to earth dressed like Superman, with super powers and X-ray vision, we will try to present a more realistic, down-to-earth picture.

The name Mashiach (often translated as the Messiah) is derived from a Hebrew word meaning the “anointed one” – Hashem’s anointed king. The belief in the Mashiach’s coming is one of the Thirteen Fundamental Principles of our faith (13 Principles of the Rambam, Principle 12). Since in our very time, the Almighty has been gathering our scattered exiles to Israel from all over the globe, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook made a point to explain the concept of Mashiach to his students at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, emphasizing that the Mashiach wasn’t only the ideal Jewish king, but also a gradually developmental process which evolves over time.

The Rambam writes:

“Anyone who does not believe in the Mashiach, or who does not anticipate his coming, not only denies all of the prophets, he denies the validity of the Torah and Moshe Rabenu, our teacher, since the Torah gives witness to him, as it says, ‘When all these things will come upon you (all the tribulations of exile), then the Lord your God will turn your captivity and have compassion on you, and return and gather you from the nations’” (Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 11:1).

Believing in the Torah means believing in the Mashiach and yearning for his arrival. As part of the 13 Principles of Faith, we say, “I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Mashiach, and even though he may delay, nevertheless, I look forward to his coming every day.”

This means that when a Jew in the Diaspora is eating a bagel and lox and reading The New York Times, or The Jewish Press, or when he’s going to watch the new Woody Allen movie on Motzei Shabbat, he should be yearning for the Mashiach to come. In the Gemara, Shabbat, it is written, “At the hour when a man faces heavenly judgment, they say to him, did you yearn for the salvation of Israel?” (Shabbat 31A). Yearning for the coming of Mashiach, and the salvation he will bring, is complete Emunah/faith. Thus, the Ramban writes, someone who does not believe in him, or anticipate his coming, denies the prophets of Israel and Moshe, our teacher, since the Torah gives witness to him.

How does the Torah give witness to him? The Rambam answers with the verse, “When all these things will come upon you (all the tribulations of exile), then the Lord your God will turn your captivity and have compassion on you, and return and gather you from the nations” (Devarim, 30:1-3).

Please notice, my friends, that the ingathering of the exiles is proof of the Mashiach. As the Rambam makes clear, the incredible ingathering of our outcasts to the Land of Israel, an occurrence we have witness in our time, this is a revelation of Mashiach, an actual stage in the days of Mashiach, through the concrete aliyah of Jews from all over the globe, and not through miracles.

During the long generation we spent in galut, Mashiach became a misunderstood concept. Partly due to the pernicious infiltration of Xtian doctrines into our collective subconscious, Mashiach was envisioned by many people as a religious superhero who would arrive on the scene in a flash of miracles and wonders, and lead all the Jews out of the ghetto and back to the Promised Land. Helpless and impotent in galut, and constantly at the mercies of the goyim and their governments, we had no way of actualizing our dreams of returning to Zion, and thus this Superman fantasy of Mashiach seemed to be the only way we could be redeemed from the harsh realities of our lives. When centuries passed in waiting and disappointment, a philosophy of passivity arose. We were to pray and wait, and the Mashiach would do all the work when he came. The demand arose that the Redemption occur all at once, and be complete from the start, and not in a gradual, natural, process of historical development and events which came to completion with the passage of time (See our book, Torat Eretz Yisrael, Chapters 11 and 12, from which this essay is condensed.)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/mashiach-mashiach-mashiach-da-da-da-da-dada/2012/07/13/

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