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November 22, 2014 / 29 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘redemption’

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.)

“Why Should I Live in Israel? America Has Everything I Need”

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

I seem to remember the lyrics of an old Bob Dylan song, “Something is going on Mr. Jones, but you don’t know what it is.” That’s exactly what it’s like for a Jew today if he hasn’t studied the book Orot, by Rabbi Kook. Something is going on with the Jewish People and he doesn’t know what it is. Why? Because for the first time in nearly 2000 years, Jews have risen up with great courage, taken up weapons, and fought for the right to live in our own Jewish Land. There’s another thing equally as startling to many devoutly religious Jews – the fact that the pioneers who risked their lives and largely led the way in rebuilding the Land of our forefathers were often far from Torah observance. Obviously, something very big was taking place. But because they didn’t understand it, or couldn’t accept that God had chosen to bring about the beginnings of Redemption in this seemingly traif manner, many Ultra-Orthodox Jews rejected it. It was Rabbi Kook, with his towering Torah vision, who taught us to recognize that, indeed, the long-awaited Redemption was unfolding before our eyes, even if Hashem decided to bring it about through our secular brothers.

What causes many Jews in the Diaspora, as well as communities of Haredi Jews in Israel, to have a negative to modern Zionism and the Land Israel? Rabbi Kook informs us the reason – it stems from an alienation from the secrets of Torah. Here are excerpts from Chapter Two of the book, Lights on Orot – Eretz Yisrael,   a commentary by Rabbi David Samson and yours truly, on Rabbi’s Kook’s classic work Orot. Take your time reading it. Print it out. Study it thoughtfully on Shavuot night when you have the time. Surely, it will help you to understand what is going on, Mr. Jones. (And for readers, like me, who prefer shorter, more bloggier blogs, we will be getting back to them soon, Bezrat Hashem, after our pre-Shavuot mini course in Orot.)

In the first essay of Orot, we learned that Eretz Yisrael is not a secondary, external acquisition of the Nation, but rather an essential, life-giving foundation of Clal Yisrael. Rabbi Kook emphasized that the future of the Jewish People depends not on strengthening the Diaspora, but rather on strengthening our connection to Eretz Yisrael. In this second essay, Rabbi Kook explains in greater depth how an alienation from the secrets of Torah causes a distortion in our comprehension of Judaism and a crisis in Jewish life. He writes:

“By being alienated from the recognition of the secrets of Torah, the Kedusha (holiness) of Eretz Yisrael is understood in a foggy, unfocused fashion.”

The secrets of Torah which Rabbi Kook refers to are the deep Kabbalistic understandings which chart the inner spiritual blueprint of the Jewish Nation. We are not speaking here about the Tree of Kabbalah which can be found illustrated in popular books on the subject. While this metaphor for the Sefirot, or differing levels of God’s manifestation in the world, is a central understanding of Kabbalah, many other secrets of Torah appear throughout the Aggadah, and the Midrashim of our Sages. Works of wisdom such as the Zohar are the esoteric understandings of these writings. Rabbi Kook’s great genius was in applying this tradition of knowledge toward understanding the development of the Jewish People in our times. His writings illuminate the inner workings of the National Israeli Soul as it awakens to Redemption and physical expression in the rebuilding of the Nation in Eretz Yisrael. The book, Orot, is in effect a deep esoteric study of these themes.

Surfing the Asifah, Now That’s a Roundup

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Every opening to the outside world is a calculated risk. Every time we open a window we chance being shocked by something vile. Every time we ride in our cars, take the subway, even go to shul – something terrible can offend our senses and even influence our very being.

Opening a book – are you kidding me?

Answering the phone – who can it be?

Turning on a radio? Forget it.

Don’t want to bring up television.

As I understand my own religion, my job in this world is to sanctify that which is mundane with my actions. The entire world is open before me, a Jewish woman or man, to set an example of how it should be used righteously. All of it, every last part of it.

We can’t all do it, some of us don’t have the emotional or psychological mettle. That’s fine. I’m happy and proud to belong to a segment of religious Judaism which simply does not fear new things. And I understand and support those who aren’t available for that experiment.

More power to them and to us.

CAN WE HAVE DAILY CULTURE SHOCK OR DOES IT GO AWAY?

It was heartening to see how many folks were seriously trying to come to terms with the Asifa’s main message. And what they thought the message really was.

Internet: A Plea for Common Sense Dad pointed out a few things. However much we all enjoy and use the internet, using the internet can become an addiction. If you don’t believe me, look up the studies. I haven’t seen anything good come out of an addiction to anything. Even Torah. An internet addiction, though, isn’t like being an alcoholic. Alcoholics might be “dry drunks” as long as they don’t drink, but as long as they don’t drink, they’re ok. Not great, but ok. This is more like gluttony. You might be hugely overweight, but you still have to eat. It’s a lot harder to control yourself and give yourself a tiny portion of something you really want then to avoid it completely. (Dad’s analogy)
Sparrow’s Musings

Internet Asifa a Great Kiddush Hashem In the final remarks, the rabbis pledged to move forward with the continuous forging of new ideas. Future gatherings will probably be at a lower cost and scale but focused on actual changes and improvements the community will need to make. Future agendas will include problems and questions such as attitudes towards education and employment, proper allocation of charity funds, funding Jewish education as a community, today’s shidduchim system, agunos, extremism and intolerance, segregation of Ashkenazim and Sefaradim, participation in the Israeli workforce and armed forces, the system of Halachic rulings in Israel and America, reliance on subsidies, and integrity and honesty.

Many of the attendees left the event feeling invigorated about their future and that of their children and grandchildren, echoing the sentiment that through justice and kindness we may merit the coming of the Messiah.
Yosef Drimmel, Rationalist Judaism

Ignorance is Sacred …. To Whom The Internet is terrifying to the rabbanim perhaps because of porn, perhaps because it exposes youth to foreign ideas, but even more importantly, because it enables open dialogue and an honesty they cannot afford if they are to survive as a community, the community they insist they are; pure, innocent, and above their own frailties. And if a few children must be sacrificed for this wholesome lie, then so be it. It is better than any broken truth.
Judy Brown, Rare View

Satmar and the Asifa – Achdus or Isolation? The organizers of the Asifa are desperate to make this about Achdus even more than they are about fighting internet. They therefore felt it was more important to have Satmar involved than to have women attend.

This despite the fact that it is the mother who is in the trenches. Mothers are the guardians of the home. Their husbands are all in the Beis HaMedrash. Morning, noon, and night. Unless they have fallen so low spiritually that they now work for a living. Either way it is the woman that is on the front lines. Not the man.
Emes Ve-Emunah

Sefiras Ha’Omer – Why We Count, What We Count

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the rest day, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving – seven weeks, they shall be complete.” – Vayikra 23:15

Sefer HaChinuch: The Torah commands us to count the Omer so we can relive the Exodus from Mitzrayim. Just as the Jews back then anxiously anticipated the great day when they were to receive the Torah, so too we count the days till Shavuos, the Yom Tov that commemorates the giving of the Torah. To the Jews then, accepting the Torah on Har Sinai was even greater than their redemption from slavery. So we count each day to bring ourselves to that sense of great enthusiasm, as if to say, “When will that day come?”

With these words the Sefer HaChinuch defines the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer. The difficulty with this is the statement that “to the Jews then, receiving of the Torah was even greater than being freed from slavery.” It seems hard to imagine that anything would be greater to a slave than being freed. This concept is even more perplexing when we envision what it was like to be a slave in Mitzrayim.

The lives of Jews in Mitzrayim were defined by misery and suffering. They had no rights. They had no life. They couldn’t own property, choose their own destiny, or protect their own children. They didn’t even have the right to their own time. A Mitzri could at any moment demand a Jew’s utter and complete compliance to do his bidding. If a Jew walked in the streets, it was every Mitzri’s right to whisk him away, without question and without recourse, and force him into slave labor for whatever he saw fit.

Waking in the early morning to the crack of the Mitzri’s whip, the Jews were pushed to the limit of human endurance until late at night when they fell asleep in the fields. Without rest, without breaks, the Jews lugged heavy loads and lifted huge rocks. Sweat, tears, and bloodshed were their lot. In the heat of the sweltering sun and in the cold of the desert night, at the risk of life and limb, the Jew was oppressed with a demon-like fury. A beast of burden is treated wisely to ensure its well-being, but not the Jew. He was pushed beyond all limits. Finally, when Pharaoh was asked to let the Jewish people go, he increased their load, taking it from the impossible to the unimaginable.

How could anything in the world be more desirable to the Jews than freedom? How could it be that anything, even something as great as receiving the Torah, could mean more to them than being redeemed from slavery?

The answer to this question lies in understanding the great level of clarity that the Jews reached by living through the makkos and the splitting of the sea.

For ten months, each Jew saw with ever-increasing clarity that Hashem created, maintains, and orchestrates this world. With absolute certainty, they experienced Hashem’s presence in their lives. This understanding brought to them to recognize certain core cognitions.

Every human has inborn understandings. Often they are masked and subdued. Whether by environment or by desire, the human spends much of his life running from the truths that he deeply knows. When the Jews in Mitzrayim experienced Hashem’s power and goodness, they understood the purpose of Creation. They knew we are creations, put on this planet for a reason. We were given a great opportunity to grow, to accomplish, to mold ourselves into who we will be for eternity. We have a few short, precious years here, and then forever we will enjoy that which we have accomplished. Because they so clearly experienced Hashem, their view of existence was changed. They “got it.”

Because of this, the currency with which they measured all good changed. They recognized that the greatest good ever bestowed upon man is the ability to change, to mold himself into something different so that he will merit to cling to Hashem. They recognized that everything we humans value as important pales in comparison to the opportunity to grow close to Hashem. Because they understood this point so vividly, to them the greatest good possible was the receiving of the Torah – Hashem’s word, the ultimate spiritual experience.

And so, while they anxiously anticipated the redemption from slavery as a great good that would free them from physical oppression, they valued the reason they were being freed even more. They were to receive the Torah.

This concept has great relevance in our lives, as we have the ability to tap into this instinctive knowledge of the importance of learning. When a person gets caught up in the temporal nature of this world, the currency with which he rates things changes. The value system now becomes honor, power, career, or creature comforts. That is what he views as good, and that is what he desires. The more a person involves himself in these, the more important they become, and the less precious the Torah becomes. Our natural appreciation of Torah becomes clouded over by other desires and an ever-changing value system.

Five Terms Of Endearment – So Why Only Four Cups Of Wine?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

The number four seems to play a major role in the Pesach Seder. We have four questions, four sons, four terms of endearment and, of course, one of the major features we soon will be enjoying – the drinking of four cups of wine.

The Mishnah is very specific about those four cups, requiring the community to see to it that even the poor have them, even if it comes from public charity (Pesachim 10:1).

Since the Torah says nothing about wine in describing the Pesach ritual, the question arises as to the origin and meaning of this practice. Why wine at all and why four cups?

To begin with, wine does appear in the Torah in ritual contexts. It was used as libations on the altar (Exodus 29:40) and was considered a special drink that caused people to rejoice.

As we read in Psalm 104:15, “And wine makes the heart of man joyful…” This is why it was taken from the Temple rite into the synagogue and the home, so that Kiddush is recited over it, as are Havdalah and the Birkat Hamazon. Weddings are also solemnized with wine and it is used in the ceremony of the brit milah.

It would only have been natural, then, for the festive Pesach meal, like any holiday feast, to begin with wine and conclude with it. Two cups.

However, at the Seder the third cup is associated with maggid – the telling of the story. The fourth cup is recited over Hallel and is a special addition unique to the Seder.

Different explanations were offered in the writings of the sages, the gaonim, and the later rabbis as to the significance of the number four. Among them are: four expressions of redemption, four empires that oppressed Israel, four cups of punishment of those empires, four cups mentioned in connection with Pharaoh, four cups of fury, four cups of salvation, four decrees of Pharaoh against Israel, four exiles.

The most popular and most generally accepted explanation was that the four cups stand for the four promises of redemption that God uttered: I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements, and I will take you to be My people (Exodus 6:6-7). The Hebrew words are vehotzeiti, vehitzalti, vegoalti and velakahti.

Once these four promises had been accepted as the reason for the four cups, the question arose about the fact that there was a fifth expression of redemption in Exodus 6, verse 8 – “And I shall bring you to the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” – veheiveiti.

And so Rabbi Tarfon taught, “On the fifth cup one finishes the Hallel and says the Great Hallel (Psalm 136).” This is found in the Talmud Yerushalmi, Pesachim 10:1, and also in the manuscript reading of Pesachim 118a.

This is also probably the origin of the Cup of Elijah. Since not all were agreed that we should drink a fifth cup, it was set aside until Elijah would come and decide that issue and all other halachic issues. It may be that the majority of the sages demurred because that promise was painfully unfulfilled after the exile of the year 70 CE. That may also explain why in the verses elucidated in the Haggadah, the verse “He brought us to this place and gave us this land” (Deuteronomy 26:9) is absent.

Both Rav Amram Gaon and the Rambam mention using the fifth cup, though they see it as optional but not required.

Rabbi Menachem Kasher, in his edition of the Haggadah, strongly advocates the drinking of the fifth cup. The Cup of Elijah can be passed to all the participants as the fifth cup.

Rabbi Kasher believes we have been privileged to live in a time when the fifth expression of redemption has actually come to pass, as the Jewish people have returned to their own land and established the state of Israel. Therefore, it is right and proper that we drink a fifth cup to recognize that reality and express our gratitude and thanksgiving to God for it.

Considering that so great a sage as Rabbi Tarfon advocated the fifth cup and that such great authorities as the Rambam and Rav Amram Gaon permitted it, it would seem that not to drink the fifth cup would be an act of ingratitude to God for the partial redemption represented by the state of Israel.

How many cups does it take to express our gratitude to God at the Seder? I believe the answer is five.

By Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Closing Our Eyes To The New Haman (Part I)

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

There is a new Haman on the world scene – Iran’s Ahmadinejad, who unabashedly proclaims his determination to annihilate Israel, and he is preparing to do so. Some say he is a few months away from nuclear capability, others say it will be a year or so, and still others say he already has it in his hands.

And what are we doing about it? Shockingly, nothing; we go on with business as usual.

And should you be among those who take this threat to heart, you will quickly be assured that Ahmadinejad is a madman, not to be taken seriously.

Yes, I agree, he is a madman, and that is precisely why he should be taken seriously. Madmen are mad enough to carry out their satanic plots. Trust me. I saw Hitler in action and I also saw a cruel world accept and participate in the barbaric extermination of our people.

Prior to Hitler’s conflagration, Hashem sounded the alarm. He sent us many wakeup calls, but we went back to sleep until the inferno consumed six million of our people. One would have imagined we learned our lesson and would not allow this tragedy to be repeated. But Hashem’s wakeup calls have once again been sounded, and once again we have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye. I have been speaking about this for some time, and there are those who advise me to focus on “happier subjects” – subjects that are “entertaining” and “light.”

But I dare not remain silent. I dare not ignore the wake-up calls and the catastrophe they portend. So I ask you to read my ensuing columns on the subject with open minds and receptive hearts. I will limit myself to the wake-up calls we have witnessed over the past couple of years, though they began considerably earlier.

The number of catastrophes has multiplied to such an extent that we have all but become immune to them. Natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes (even in New York City), global warming, dead birds falling from the skies, dead fish washing up on the shores; the world economic crisis, accompanied by crippling unemployment and high oil prices; hitherto unknown diseases; barbaric acts of terror; nuclear spill in Japan and today’s nuclear threat from Iran – all threaten the very survival of our civilization.

And we take it all in stride. “It is what it is,” we tell ourselves with resignation and go on with our lives as usual.

But can all this be attributed to mere coincidence? Shouldn’t these afflictions give us pause? Shouldn’t we stop and take stock of our lives?

There is a story about a chassidic rebbe who was walking with his disciples when he noticed a little boy behind a tree, crying bitterly.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

“Because I’m hiding, and no one is looking for me.”

The words of the child were like a sharp knife in the heart of the rebbe. “Woe is us,” he said to his students. “G-d is waiting for us to find Him, but we have failed to search for Him. Woe is us!”

Maimonides taught that when suffering is visited upon us, we are commanded to cry out and awaken our people with the sound of the shofar. Everyone must be alerted to examine his or her life, and commit to greater adherence to Torah and mitzvos. Maimonides warned that if we regard the tragedies that befall us simply as “the way of the world” or “natural occurrences” we will be guilty of achzarius – cruelty.

At first glance, it is difficult to understand why Maimonides would choose the term “cruelty” to describe those who view trials and tribulations as “natural occurrences.” Such people may be unthinking, apathetic, foolish, blind or obtuse, but why accuse them of cruelty?

The answer is simple. If we regard our pain and suffering as mere coincidence, we will feel no motivation to examine our lives, abandon our old ways and change. So, yes, such an attitude is cruel, for it invites additional misfortune upon ourselves and others.

It would be the height of cruelty to dismiss that which is occurring in the world today as mere happenstance. Great Torah luminaries of past generations such as the Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman told us we were entering the final stages of history – a period of time called Ikvesa DiMeshicha, footsteps of the Messiah.

Our Torah foretells four exiles through which our people would suffer: Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome. (The latter exile is the one in which we presently find ourselves, for it was the Romans who exiled us when they destroyed the Second Temple.)

In Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, an early midrashic work, it is written that before the coming of Messiah we will have to contend with a fifth source of tribulation that will come from Yishmael – the Arabs – who will inflict terrible suffering on the world and on our people. This teaching is reaffirmed by Rabbi Chaim Vital, the illustrious disciple of the Arizal, who wrote that before the final curtain falls upon the stage of history, Yishmael will inflict torture on our people in ways the world had never seen.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/closing-our-eyes/2012/02/29/

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