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September 24, 2014 / 29 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘words’

For Better or for Worse

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

It’s time to move out of our homes and into our holy humble sukkahs. Now is the time when we renew our relationship with God, who has chosen us to form an inseparable eternal union – a marriage between the children of Yisrael and the Master of the Universe.

The Torah portion of Nitzavim, which is read just before the New Year, reveals to us that Hashem is our personal “husband,” for better or for worse. Rashi explains (Devarim 29:12) that we were presented with a covenant and a curse: “Since we are forever bound together, let Me teach you how to make Me happy.”

Nitzavim goes on to prophesize everything that has transpired during these thousands of years. This is highlighted by non-Jews gasping and stating, “Why has God caused this land to become desolate? Because they have forsaken God’s covenant.” Thus, on Rosh Hashanah we think of our past year’s sins. The sound of the shofar awakens our emotions. Then ten days of introspection and repentance bring on the great and awesome day of Kippur, of Atonement.

Consider: our God is perfect, and we are anything but. We may have been envious or lustful, or worshipped money, status or a host of other vices. Now we humbly return home to our Love. If we repent out of fear, our sins are forgiven. But if we repent because we truly love our Maker, he gives us an amazing reward – our sins become mitzvahs!

Hashem simply goes beyond the letter of the law in His love for us.

The Holy Ben Ish Chai points out that if you go beyond the four letters of the Hebrew word hadin (the judgment), you get to the Hebrew word sukkah. (The four Hebrew letters that come after the letters in hadin are the letters in the word sukkah). The sukkah is where we arrive after Yom Kippur, free of sins, under the wings of God’s Holy Presence.

Note that the first time sukkah is mentioned in the Torah, it is referring to the stalls our forefather Yaakov built for his animals. Why? Because when Yaakov arrived in Shechem with his family, he built a beis medrash for himself for Torah learning, but for his animals, his “wealth,” he built simple huts.

Yaakov took his children to the window and said, “Look at how I treat my wealth, dear children. Wealth is temporary; like the sukkah, it doesn’t go with you to the next world. But here in this house of Torah, we accumulate the mitzvahs that stay with us – which are eternal.”

We have now received our “new heads” for the coming year, as implied by the words Rosh Hashanah, head for the year, and Yom Hazikaron, a day of resetting our memory apparatus. We are cleansed of our sins on Yom Kippur, after which we enter, with our entire body, into our sukkah. We enter this mitzvah where we achieve oneness with our Lover – Hashem, Blessed be He.

What is it about the Nation of Israel that attracts the love of the One God Who rules the universe?

I came upon an answer on Rosh Chodesh Elul as I prayed the silent benedictions. We bless the day in the following way: “Mikadesh Yisrael v’roshei chodoshim – He sanctifies Israel and the first day of all months.” But it can literally mean “He sanctifies Yisrael and “brand new heads.”

Our nation is forever ready to admit our mistakes and begin all over. With the coming of each new moon, we are aware that we may start afresh.

This is also evident in our morning declaration of Modeh Ani, the origin of which is in the book of Eichah (3:23) which states, “Hashems kindness is new every morning – great is Your belief [in us, to improve in the coming day]. One of the reasons Hashem loves His people is that they are always willing to start over.

Two small examples that are actually big were related to me by Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, shlita, head of the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, where I am currently studying.

The first: A man survived hell in a concentration camp only to discover that his entire family had perished – parents, siblings, wife and children. Everyone.

What’s Wrong With the Star-K Kosher Phone?

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

About a month ago the Star-K, a world renowned Kashrus agency, announced that they were certifying kosher phones. These phones have no access to the Internet, cannot place or receive text messages, cannot take photos, and most importantly, cannot be hacked to perform any of these tasks.

It’s not troubling to me that people would want a phone that is insulated from certain tasks. Although I think it is an unnecessary measure and perhaps counter productive, I don’t begrudge people their personal self control restraints.

What is troubling is that a kashrus agency is part of this initiative. A kashrus agency should be concerned with one thing and one thing only. Their singular concern should be the kosher status of the food. I don’t even think that a kashrus agency must concern itself with humanitarian or other ethical issues that may arise. I have no problem with a secondary agency coming in and providing a secondary level of supervision. But the kosher status of the food cannot be affected by anything other its status as kosher food.

So when I see a kashrus agency entering into the phone market, I see an agency that should be worried about kosher status of food but is now legislating morality. It’s not even as if the technical skills involved in kosher supervision overlap the neutering of cell phones. They have nothing to do with each other. I don’t think it is smart for kosher supervision to be intertwined or even related to morality supervision.

Similarly, when kosher supervision agencies make demands on the clientele or ambience of an eating establishment I believe they are overstepping their bounds. There are restaurants that are not allowed to be open at certain hours because they will lose their hechsher if they are open. This is far beyond the scope of kosher supervision. Tell me if the food is kosher and I will decide if I want to patronize the restaurant. That is all we need from a kashrus agency. The stretching of their authority serves no important purpose for the public. It seems to me that it is merely a self-serving, self-righteous way to legislate their morality. If they can legislate phones and who can eat where, what’s next?

I am not making a slippery slope argument. I am pointing out that there is no logical connection between the kosher status of food and the kosher status of a phone. There is also no relationship between the kosher status of a restaurant and whether teenagers are hanging out. In other words, the kashrus agencies are already legislating their morality. There is no reason to think it only will apply in these two instances because there is no connection between these two things and the kosher status of food.

We need to stop using the word kosher for things other than food. Yes, the word is a general term but it has evolved into a word that describes whether food can be eaten by orthodox Jews who keep kosher. We don’t eat anything that is not kosher. Using the word kosher for phones and Internet implies that the non-kosher versions are not allowed to be used. This is sophomoric and divisive.

If anything, the kashrus agencies should be concerned with the ethics and morality of the actual food. This is something they have resisted time and time again. I am not recommending they get into the ethics of food business, but if they must expand their business and purview of supervision I think that is the first place they should be looking to legislate seeing as they have the knowledge and expertise to monitor and report on that aspect of food production. But teens mingling and phones? They don’t belong there at all.

Visit Fink or Swim.

The Internet, Halacha, and Olam HaBah

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

It’s simply not possible. I don’t believe it. Nonetheless it is being reported as fact. Rafi’s blog, Life in Israel, has linked to the Hebrew language website B’Chadrei Charedim that quotes Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s response to a question about smart-phones.

There is a Gemarah in Brachos that tells us that a man will lose his portion in Olam HaBah if he walks regularly behind a woman down a river. Rav Kanievsky was asked if this applies to someone who has in his possession an I-phone or the internet. His one word answer according to Chadrei was ‘ B’Vadai’ – absolutely! Anyone who uses an I-phone or the internet is in a category of losing his Olam HaBah – his heavenly reward in the world to come!

If this is true, then yet again, I think we all ought to all just go over to MacDonald’s and have a cheeseburger… or violate any other Miztvah in the Torah we want to violate. Why bother observing Halacha if you’ve lost your Olam Habah?

I happen to know Gedolei Torah and Roshei Yeshiva  who use I-phones and the internet. Are they all doomed?

Once again we have what appears to be a huge dis-connect between what a great Torah sage supposedly said – and reality. Either Rav Kanievsky does not know the extent of internet use among a great number of devoutly observant Jews, or this is a gross distortion or mischaracterization of his views. I think that both things are true. I don’t believe he said it and meant it to be interpreted as simply as that one word answer indicates.

I would not be surprised if this is yet another instance of Kanoim – religious zealots twisting the views of a elderly rabbinic leader to fit their agenda. I’m sure his position is far more nuanced than the one word answer (B’Vadai) he supposedly gave to a simple question.

The Agenda is obvious. There are people who are eager to destroy other Jews in a fit of self righteousness. They do not have these devices and do not want anyone else to have them either. So they make sure to twist the words of Gedolei Yisroel to assure it.

They may think they are doing the right thing. But they are by far doing far much more harm than good. They may in fact be responsible for pushing more religious Jews out of observance than saving them from using the internet.

By putting people who have smart-phones into a category of losing their Olam Habah, it is not too difficult to see many frustrated Frum people who have so often been put upon with comments like this say, ‘the heck with it!’ I may as well live a life of ease and not worry about violating Halacha. I won’t make to Olam HaBah anyway.

The Gemarah upon which this one word response attributed to Rav Kanievsky was based upon does not forbid the incidental following of a woman down a river. The loss of Olam Habah  that the Gemarah speaks of is only to those who purposely do so with lascivious thoughts and the intent to sin in that regard. And even then only if it is done on a regular basis.

I would add that even if someone regularly does things like that and has some sort of sexual addiction, he can get help… and do Teshuva. I find it very difficult to believe that the Gemarah’s intent is that someone loses his Olam HaBah permanently if he does that. It is also known that the Gemarah sometimes exaggerates to make a point. Which may be the case here.

If there is any comparison to be made between following a woman down a river and the world of the 21st century and the internet – it is in the area of purposely viewing pornography on it. The problem is not the internet. It is the websites one frequents… if those websites are pornographic. That is the comparison that Rav Kanievsky no doubt meant – if he said anything at all.  Accidentally accessing a pornographic website is not a cause for losing one’s Olam Habah.

But the Kanoim who publish stories like this do not want to be confused with the nuances of truth. They want convey the message that I-phones and any other device that can access the internet is so evil that one should not even touch it! For if they do, their Olam HaBah is at stake.

Sen. Leahy: Obama Secretly Suspended Egypt Military Aid

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

The office of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), head of the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, told The Daily Beast that military aid to Egypt has been temporarily cut off.

“[Senator Leahy’s] understanding is that aid to the Egyptian military has been halted, as required by law,” said David Carle, a spokesman for Leahy.

If it’s done as required by law, why is the U.S. government keeping it a secret that it believes the regime change in Egypt was a military coup? If it is, indeed, temporarily suspending most of the military aid to Egypt, where is the public announcement that we don’t send money to governments that were installed by a coup?

After skewering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hard—through the good services of the NY Times—for his attempts to preserve stability in Egypt and the integrity of the peace treaty, now the administration is attempting to punish the naughty Egyptian generals, but without making a big deal out of it.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked on Monday about the suspended aid, and told reporters the aid is not officially suspended.

I suppose the Egyptians can use the officially unsuspended aid money the same way Israelis can live in the officially unfrozen homes in East Jerusalem…

“After sequestration withholding, approximately $585 million remains unobligated. So, that is the amount that is unobligated,” Psaki said.

I looked up “unobligated” and means funds that have been appropriated but remain uncommitted by contract at the end of a fiscal period. In other words, an I keep, you don’t get kind of relationship.

“But it would be inaccurate to say that a policy decision has been made with respect to the remaining assistance funding,” Psaki clarified.

In other words, I keep, you don’t get, but it’s not forever.

The Daily Beast quotes two Administration officials who explain it was the government lawyers who decided it would be more prudent to observe the law restricting military aid in case of a coup, while not making a public statement that a coup had taken place.

Bret Stephens, a deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, wrote on Monday (A Policy on Egypt—Support Al Sisi):

“What’s realistic and desirable is for the military to succeed in its confrontation with the Brotherhood as quickly and convincingly as possible. Victory permits magnanimity. It gives ordinary Egyptians the opportunity to return to normal life. It deters potential political and military challenges. It allows the appointed civilian government to assume a prominent political role. It settles the diplomatic landscape. It lets the neighbors know what’s what.”

By taking the opposite approach, making it harder for the new Egyptian government to bring the internal conflict to a conclusion, the Obama Administration is promoting and prolonging chaos in yet another country. Which is why, I suspect, Senator Leahy has spoken to the Daily Beast in the first place, to stop this blind march over the cliff.

Middle East analyst Brian Katulis from the Center for American Progress, told the Beast he thought the Administration was “trying to maintain maximum flexibility,” but he suggested that this horse is long out of the barn. “Egypt’s struggle has become so intense, polarized, and violent, and I worry that no matter what move the United States makes now, the competing power centers in Egypt might continue down the dangerous course they’ve headed.”

Unless, of course, the U.S. is making clear, with loud noises and a light show, that it supports stability in Egypt, and in order to hasten new elections, it will not suspend military aid to Egypt. In fact, with its financial and military might, the U.S. will do everything it can to restore stability and democracy in Egypt.

But that would require President Obama to get over the insult of the Egyptian nation ignoring his wishes and dethroning his favorite Muslim Brother president.

Failing in Order to Succeed

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The rabbis teach that we can only truly understand Torah when we allow ourselves to fail at it (Gittin 43a). Unless we push ourselves to reach for deeper understanding, where we inevitably get it wrong before we can get it right, we will not grasp the very essence of the Jewish enterprise. Rashi here seems to think that it’s the public shame of getting it wrong (and the concomitant rebuke) that strengthens one’s intellectual rigor. It is not hard to think about giving constructive feedback (“rebuke”) when it comes to moral matters, but do we care enough about ideas that we (respectfully) challenge others when ideas are misinterpreted or misapplied? How much do we really value the marketplace of ideas and the assurance that we as individuals and as a society get it right?

History is full of examples of leaders who acknowledged that persistence in the face of failure was more important than individual failures. President Abraham Lincoln, whose army suffered many crushing defeats in the early years of the Civil War, said: “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.” A century later, Robert F. Kennedy echoed the optimistic spirit of youth when he said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Besides for being tragically assassinated, what these presidents have in common in that their causes lasted, their legacies carried on, and they are remembered as being among the greatest and most successful men to occupy the Oval Office.

Very often, one can be lured by the traps of conformism (just follow others’ ideas or practices) or isolationism (just follow one’s own marginal ideas and practices). Our job as Jews is to break free from these ploys for mediocrity. We must challenge ourselves and the status quo to reach higher by engaging with societal ideas but without blindly accepting them.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement) and founder and intellectual-spiritual leader in his own right, was anything but a conformist. He not only told his followers to be happy, but he also encouraged them to do silly things, highly unusual for a religious leader. Rebbe Nachman stated that each person had to fall in order to rise, and stressed the universality of this concept:

[E]ach person who fell … thinks that these words weren’t spoken for him, for he imagines that these ideas are only for great people who are always climbing from one level to the next. But truthfully, you should know and believe, that all these words were also said concerning the smallest of the small and the worst of the worst, for Hashem is forever good to all.

However, Rebbe Nachman went further, stating that it is “a great thing for a person to still have an evil inclination.” Even the tendency to evil could serve G-d, as people worked through these passions and eventually overcame them. To Rebbe Nachman, it seems, spiritual stasis is the only unacceptable path.

We must be willing to learn and debate with others. Ideas matter. Inevitably that will lead to some level of shame when we get it wrong, but the promise land afterwards is much greater. It offers a culture of more honest, informed, connected individuals who are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of truth and who are willing to be wrong in order to get it right. Our great rabbinic and presidential leaders wouldn’t have it any other way.

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.

What if They Mean What They Say?

Monday, March 11th, 2013

The U.S. generally makes allowance for verbal excesses from foreign governments, but if expressions of hatred and incitement to violence are actually harbingers of behavior, destruction and murderousness cannot be far behind.

At the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations [sic], Turkey’s Prime Minister equated Zionism with crimes against humanity. The American response was swift; speaking for himself and the administration, Kerry called the remark “objectionable.” But after expressing dismay, he called for nicer play.

“That said,” he commented, “Turkey and Israel are both vital allies. We want to see them work together to go beyond rhetoric and take concrete steps to change their relationship.” A State Department official concurred, saying the comment was “particularly offensive” and “complicates our ability to do all the things we want to do together.”

But what if Ergodan doesn’t want what the U.S. wants him to want — that is to say, he doesn’t want a changed relationship with Israel? What if harsh rhetoric and open political and financial support for Hamas — a U.S. designated terrorist organization — are part of Turkey’s regional Sunni Islamic ambition, which does not include Israel? What if Turkey’s prior cooperation was a phase to allow it to acquire political and military benefits?

In a similar vein, a few weeks ago, a North Korean diplomat told the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, “As the saying goes, a new-born puppy knows no fear of a tiger. South Korea’s erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction.” He added, “If the U.S. takes a hostile approach toward North Korea to the last, rendering the situation complicated, [we] will be left with no option but to take the second and third stronger steps in succession.” A North Korean general warned of the “miserable destruction” of the United States.

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Conference on Disarmament called the comments “profoundly disturbing,” and the Spanish ambassador said he was “stupefied.” Why?

Beginning with President Carter, American administrations have treated North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear capability as defensive: designed to keep South Korea and the U.S. from overthrowing the cultish regime of the North. The U.S. tells itself that since it harbors no plans for any such invasion, it can reassure North Korea on that point and thus lessen its determination to have nuclear capability – hence the U.S. offers food, fuel and a light water reactor, thinking those “gifts” will reassure North Korea of America’s benign intentions.

But what if North Korea is not defensive, but rather Kim Jong Un, like his predecessors, believes that the unification of the peninsula should happen under governance of the North? How then should we understand the diplomat and the general? And how should we understand North Korea’s latest nuclear test?

The British ambassador said of the North Korean diplomat’s remarks, “It cannot be allowed that we have expressions which refer to the possible destruction of U.N. member states.” That is, of course, patently untrue. The U.N. tolerates and sometimes applauds Iranian representatives who have called not for the “possible” destruction of a U.N. member state, Israel, but for its outright annihilation.

“The Zionist regime and the Zionists are a cancerous tumor,” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said. “The nations of the region will soon finish off the usurper Zionists in the Palestinian land… In the new Middle East there will be no trace of the Americans and Zionists… Cancer must be eliminated from a body (the region).” For Qods Day last year Ahmadinejad told the Iranians, “Any freedom lover and justice seeker in the world must do its best for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the path for the establishment of justice and freedom in the world.”

The P5+1, the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany who are negotiating with Iran, still seem to presume that Iran is pursuing nuclear capability for some reason other than to use it, and that it can, therefore, be dissuaded from developing it. But what if “annihilation of the Zionist regime” really is topmost in the minds of the Mullahs? What if they believe Israel has to disappear and they can make it happen? What will happen, then, when they get nuclear weapons, if they still really believe that?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/what-if-they-mean-what-they-say/2013/03/11/

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