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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Yaakov Yosef’

Israeli Left’s Mind-Numbing Hypocrisy On Freedom Of Speech

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

The assault on freedom of speech in Israel by the leftist establishment continues, manifested in a series of arrests of rabbis merely for expressing opinions.
 
Rabbis Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef (the son of Rav Ovadia Yosef) were both arrested for the “crime” of approving a book. In response, Rabbi Lior’s followers rioted violently. I strongly oppose such behavior, but I know it was triggered by the anti-democratic zeal of the prosecution in its attempts to suppress freedom of speech.
 
This is all about a 230-page esoteric book written by Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur concerning the halachic rules under which non-Jewish non-combatants may be killed during wartime. (The question of collateral harm to civilians arises in halacha as it does in other real-world ethical debates.)
 
The publication of the book was foolish and has served to needlessly antagonize non-Jews. Predictably, it is being featured on anti-Semitic websites as “proof” that Jews connive to murder gentiles (al-Jazeera ran a piece claiming rabbis approve the murder of gentile babies).
 
As one prominent Orthodox Israeli rabbi has said regarding the book, some rabbis should be prohibited from taking pen to hand. Just because something should theoretically be protected speech doesn’t mean it’s smart to say it or write it.
 
(Of course, the position of Israel’s leftist elite is that the book is not protected speech, and that even praising the book or recommending that others read it is illegal “incitement” and “racism.”)
 
Having said that, and given that the book was published, potential provocation notwithstanding, the Israeli judicial establishment has been using it as an excuse to suppress freedom of speech. The authors of the tract themselves have not yet been indicted but are expected to be.
 
Meanwhile, the leftist SWAT teams in the Ministry of Justice are going after any rabbi with anything positive to say about the book.
 
The persecution of rabbis for expressing an opinion on someone else’s book stands in sharp and dramatic contrast to the treatment of Sheikh Salah. Head of the Islamofascist movement in Israel, the sheikh regularly and openly calls for the annihilation of Israel.
 
Two years back, he spoke at the University of Haifa and called for Arab students to become suicide bombers. He is so openly genocidal that he was just arrested in Britain when he slipped through passport control and managed to enter the country. But with the exception of one incident when he punched a policeman, he has never been arrested or indicted in Israel.
 
Persecuting rabbis who exercise their freedom of speech about a controversial book is not all the anti-democratic left is up to. According to Haaretz, authorities are preparing to prosecute rabbis who call on Jews not to sell or lease property in Jewish neighborhoods to Arabs. This is “racist,” cry the leftists.
 
But it is evidently not racist for leftists and Arabs to call for the prohibition of sales and renting of property to Jews in Sheikh Jarrah and other parts of East Jerusalem. There is no thought of prosecuting or indicting anyone for that.
 
The hypocrisy of the left when it comes to freedom of speech is mind numbing. At my own university (Haifa) the tenured left is obsessed these days with justifying and celebrating the decision by the law school to prohibit the singing of the Israeli national anthem lest it offend the delicate sensitivities of Arab students, some of whom regularly hold rallies with Hamas banners and who distribute photos of bin Laden.
 
Scores of tenured leftists are posting support for the decision on an internal university chat list. Some of those express the opinion that the anthem is a racist anti-Arab song and should be banned altogether. At least one Jewish faculty member called for the singing of the PLO anthem “Baladi Baladi” at the university. I have no doubt most of these people would also like to ban all Israeli flags from campus.
 
Now as it turns out, most of the tenured leftists so upset by the idea of Arab students having to be present when the Israeli national anthem is sung also just sent a petition to the university rector and president demanding that Sheikh Salah again be allowed to speak at the university. After that last incident on campus, when the genocidal sheikh called for suicide bombers, the university decided he would not be allowed to speak on campus again. (Tel Aviv University came forward to fill the void and hosted Salah a few weeks back.)
 
So here we have scores of tenured university faculty members insisting, in the name of freedom of speech and academic freedom, that the genocidal sheikh be allowed to speak on campus and call for mass murder of Jews. Many of those signing were faculty members of the law school.
 
So guess how many of those same people, including the law school’s tenured left, have expressed protest and indignation over the arrests of Rabbi Lior and Rabbi Yosef? How many objected to that infringement of freedom of speech?
 

That’s right, not a single one.

 

 

Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at the University of Haifa. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

Hanging In the Balance: Nightmare in Japan

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

           The loneliness is overwhelming. Yoel G., Yaakov Yosef G., and Yossi B. have spent ten months in solitary confinement, sitting on a hard concrete floor, their mobility severely restricted. They have no contact with anyone they know, except for their lawyers. No visitors are permitted, with the exception of parents, whom they may only see briefly and infrequently. Even these visits are held through a glass partition, and monitored by guards and interpreters.

 

And the fear. How long will they have to remain in these forbidding jail cells, thousands of miles away from their homes and yeshivos? Will they be sentenced to a decade of forced labor by a judge who cannot comprehend the naivet? of innocent yeshiva bachurim cruelly exploited by ostensibly pious Jews? Will they ever again lead a normal, Jewish life after being “reformed” by the highly efficient Japanese corrections system?

 

Yossi was only 17 at the time of his arrest; Yaakov Yosef was 19. Lack of kosher food has caused one of the boys to lose 100 pounds, and another to lose 60.

 

It started out as an innocent favor for a friend. Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi were kindhearted yeshiva bachurim who spent their spare time doing chesed for sick people in Bnei Brak, and when someone they knew and trusted approached them with an assignment of a different nature, they had no reason to think anything was amiss.

 

“I have a friend who is an antique dealer,” the person told them, “and he needs to deliver some antiques to Japan for the Tokyo 2008 Art Fair that will be taking place in a few weeks. He is unable to go himself, due to family obligations, so he asked me to find three bachurim to each take one parcel containing valuable antiques. He is willing to pay $1,000 to each of you on your return for the effort.”

 

The boys recognized the name of the antique dealer, a prominent and respected member of the religious community in Eretz Yisrael. Nothing about the assignment sounded suspicious, and the promise of some bein hazmanim pocket money was inviting.

 

The boys were told their assignment was 100% legal and that the antiques they would be delivering did not have to be declared at Japanese customs. Instead of receiving a parcel, they were each given an empty suitcase and instructed to put their personal belongings inside. The antiques, they were told, had been placed in a sealed compartment inside the suitcases as a precaution against theft, damage or accidental loss.

 

They did not dream the sealed compartments of the three suitcases contained narcotics worth $3.6 million. They did not dream the favor they were being asked to do was a mask for a crime punishable by ten years of imprisonment and forced labor. And they did not dream that instead of the $1,000 in pocket money they had been promised for their effort, Jews the world over would have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to wage a massive legal battle on their behalf.

 

Upon arrival at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the three unsuspecting boys placed their luggage onto the x-ray machine. Japanese customs officials spotted the hidden compartments, cut open the suitcases, and discovered a total of over 50 pounds of narcotics cleverly concealed inside. The boys were immediately arrested and placed in solitary confinement.

 

For the next 21 days, the three were subjected to grueling interrogation. The 2,500-page record of this interrogation, as well as the results of polygraph tests, showed clearly that none of the boys had any knowledge of the hidden contents of their luggage. But the law is the law, especially in Japan, where there is a zero-tolerance attitude to crime. The Japanese stance on illegal substances is one of the toughest in the world, and 99.9% of people caught smuggling drugs into Japan are convicted. Sentences can range between 10 and 15 years of prison and forced labor.

 

            By the time Japanese prisoners are released, they are fully “reformed,” usually with drastically diminished physical and mental capabilities. The Japanese corrections system is designed to act as a powerful deterrent to crime, and indeed, the crime rate in Japan is infinitesimal compared to other westernized countries.

 

Ten months in jail have taken their toll on the boys physically and emotionally, and they and their families tremble at the thought of what ten years of imprisonment and forced labor will do to them. Experts estimate that young, sheltered yeshiva bachurim like Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi would not survive even one year of prison without permanent damage.

 

             Both Yossi and Yaakov Yosef are considered minors by Japanese law, but they are nevertheless being tried in adult court in light of the severity with which the Japanese authorities view their alleged crime. Yossi’s trial was held at the beginning of February; he is now awaiting sentencing. The trials of Yoel and Yaakov Yosef are due to begin shortly, but it will be several months before all of the verdicts are delivered.

 

Yoel and Yaakov Yosef are managing to learn Torah and have completed a number of masechtos in the detention center as they await trial. The three boys struggle valiantly to adhere to halacha, despite their circumstances, and have sought rabbinic guidance in how to cope with the unique halachic challenges they face.

 

Askanim in Eretz Yisrael, the U.S., England and Belgium have worked tirelessly to provide them with kosher food, religious articles and medical attention. More importantly, they have invested tremendous efforts into putting together top-notch defense teams for each of the boys. These teams are composed of both Japanese lawyers and experts in international law such as Mordechai Tzivin, an Israeli and international lawyer; the well-known Dayan Chaim Yosef Dovid Weiss of Antwerp; Rabbi Jacob Bleich, chief rabbi of Ukraine; Rabbi Aaron Nezri of London; and Rabbi Elimelech Bindiger. Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi are not just three boys sitting in jail in Japan. They are our brothers, they are our children. If you or your child were in their situation, you would desperately want kind Jews to come to your aid. That’s how these boys feel. They are totally dependent on the mercy of the Ribbono Shel Olam, the mercy of the Japanese judges, and the mercy of Klal Yisrael.

 

The first way we can help the boys is by intensifying our tefillos on their behalf and begging Hashem that the judges be fully convinced of their innocence. The full Hebrew names of the boys are: Yoel Zev ben Mirel Reesa Chava; Yaakov Yosef ben Raizel; and Yosef ben Ita Rivka.

 

The second way we can help is by shouldering some of the costs of the legal and humanitarian assistance they require. These costs have already surpassed $800,000, and askanim project that a minimum of $500,000 more will be needed until all the trials are over.

 

The mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim overrides Shabbos and takes precedence over all other forms of tzedakah. Whatever our financial situation, whatever other obligations we might have, we must remember that boys are relying on our kindness and generosity.

 

The cost of legal and humanitarian assistance has already surpassed $800,000, and askanim project a minimum of $500,000 more will be needed. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to the rabbonim listed in the ad on page 11 of this week’s Jewish Press.

Hanging In the Balance: Nightmare in Japan

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

           The loneliness is overwhelming. Yoel G., Yaakov Yosef G., and Yossi B. have spent ten months in solitary confinement, sitting on a hard concrete floor, their mobility severely restricted. They have no contact with anyone they know, except for their lawyers. No visitors are permitted, with the exception of parents, whom they may only see briefly and infrequently. Even these visits are held through a glass partition, and monitored by guards and interpreters.

 

And the fear. How long will they have to remain in these forbidding jail cells, thousands of miles away from their homes and yeshivos? Will they be sentenced to a decade of forced labor by a judge who cannot comprehend the naiveté of innocent yeshiva bachurim cruelly exploited by ostensibly pious Jews? Will they ever again lead a normal, Jewish life after being “reformed” by the highly efficient Japanese corrections system?
 
Yossi was only 17 at the time of his arrest; Yaakov Yosef was 19. Lack of kosher food has caused one of the boys to lose 100 pounds, and another to lose 60.
 
It started out as an innocent favor for a friend. Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi were kindhearted yeshiva bachurim who spent their spare time doing chesed for sick people in Bnei Brak, and when someone they knew and trusted approached them with an assignment of a different nature, they had no reason to think anything was amiss.
 
“I have a friend who is an antique dealer,” the person told them, “and he needs to deliver some antiques to Japan for the Tokyo 2008 Art Fair that will be taking place in a few weeks. He is unable to go himself, due to family obligations, so he asked me to find three bachurim to each take one parcel containing valuable antiques. He is willing to pay $1,000 to each of you on your return for the effort.”
 
The boys recognized the name of the antique dealer, a prominent and respected member of the religious community in Eretz Yisrael. Nothing about the assignment sounded suspicious, and the promise of some bein hazmanim pocket money was inviting.
 
The boys were told their assignment was 100% legal and that the antiques they would be delivering did not have to be declared at Japanese customs. Instead of receiving a parcel, they were each given an empty suitcase and instructed to put their personal belongings inside. The antiques, they were told, had been placed in a sealed compartment inside the suitcases as a precaution against theft, damage or accidental loss.
 
They did not dream the sealed compartments of the three suitcases contained narcotics worth $3.6 million. They did not dream the favor they were being asked to do was a mask for a crime punishable by ten years of imprisonment and forced labor. And they did not dream that instead of the $1,000 in pocket money they had been promised for their effort, Jews the world over would have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to wage a massive legal battle on their behalf.
 
Upon arrival at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the three unsuspecting boys placed their luggage onto the x-ray machine. Japanese customs officials spotted the hidden compartments, cut open the suitcases, and discovered a total of over 50 pounds of narcotics cleverly concealed inside. The boys were immediately arrested and placed in solitary confinement.
 
For the next 21 days, the three were subjected to grueling interrogation. The 2,500-page record of this interrogation, as well as the results of polygraph tests, showed clearly that none of the boys had any knowledge of the hidden contents of their luggage. But the law is the law, especially in Japan, where there is a zero-tolerance attitude to crime. The Japanese stance on illegal substances is one of the toughest in the world, and 99.9% of people caught smuggling drugs into Japan are convicted. Sentences can range between 10 and 15 years of prison and forced labor.
 
            By the time Japanese prisoners are released, they are fully “reformed,” usually with drastically diminished physical and mental capabilities. The Japanese corrections system is designed to act as a powerful deterrent to crime, and indeed, the crime rate in Japan is infinitesimal compared to other westernized countries.
 
Ten months in jail have taken their toll on the boys physically and emotionally, and they and their families tremble at the thought of what ten years of imprisonment and forced labor will do to them. Experts estimate that young, sheltered yeshiva bachurim like Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi would not survive even one year of prison without permanent damage.
 
             Both Yossi and Yaakov Yosef are considered minors by Japanese law, but they are nevertheless being tried in adult court in light of the severity with which the Japanese authorities view their alleged crime. Yossi’s trial was held at the beginning of February; he is now awaiting sentencing. The trials of Yoel and Yaakov Yosef are due to begin shortly, but it will be several months before all of the verdicts are delivered.
 
Yoel and Yaakov Yosef are managing to learn Torah and have completed a number of masechtos in the detention center as they await trial. The three boys struggle valiantly to adhere to halacha, despite their circumstances, and have sought rabbinic guidance in how to cope with the unique halachic challenges they face.
 
Askanim in Eretz Yisrael, the U.S., England and Belgium have worked tirelessly to provide them with kosher food, religious articles and medical attention. More importantly, they have invested tremendous efforts into putting together top-notch defense teams for each of the boys. These teams are composed of both Japanese lawyers and experts in international law such as Mordechai Tzivin, an Israeli and international lawyer; the well-known Dayan Chaim Yosef Dovid Weiss of Antwerp; Rabbi Jacob Bleich, chief rabbi of Ukraine; Rabbi Aaron Nezri of London; and Rabbi Elimelech Bindiger.
 
Yoel, Yaakov Yosef and Yossi are not just three boys sitting in jail in Japan. They are our brothers, they are our children. If you or your child were in their situation, you would desperately want kind Jews to come to your aid. That’s how these boys feel. They are totally dependent on the mercy of the Ribbono Shel Olam, the mercy of the Japanese judges, and the mercy of Klal Yisrael.
 
The first way we can help the boys is by intensifying our tefillos on their behalf and begging Hashem that the judges be fully convinced of their innocence. The full Hebrew names of the boys are: Yoel Zev ben Mirel Reesa Chava; Yaakov Yosef ben Raizel; and Yosef ben Ita Rivka.
 
The second way we can help is by shouldering some of the costs of the legal and humanitarian assistance they require. These costs have already surpassed $800,000, and askanim project that a minimum of $500,000 more will be needed until all the trials are over.
 
The mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim overrides Shabbos and takes precedence over all other forms of tzedakah. Whatever our financial situation, whatever other obligations we might have, we must remember that boys are relying on our kindness and generosity.
 

The cost of legal and humanitarian assistance has already surpassed $800,000, and askanim project a minimum of $500,000 more will be needed. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to the rabbonim listed in the ad on page 11 of this week’s Jewish Press.

Golden Flames Of Illumination

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Illuminating melancholic winter nights, Chanukah flames have been lit all over the world for better than two thousand years – whether in menorahs of resplendent silver or humble wood and metal, opulent homes or dreary surroundings, days of glory or times of oppression – commemorating our spiritual ascent from the darkness of the Syrian-Greek decadence.

Keshet, the arching bow, is the sign of the month of Kislev, its three arrows symbolizing the three mitzvos revived by the Chashmonayim – Shabbos, Torah study and circumcision.

Sagittarians are an adventurous and energetic lot, filled with optimism and willing to fight for what they believe in. They are deep thinkers who exude confidence, spiritually alert and gifted with foresight, wisdom and organizational ability.

The Chashmonayim, it is well known, were hale and hearty. Why, then, the reference to chalashim (the weak), in Al HaNissim? (“Masarta giborim b’yad chalashim” – You gave the strong into the hands of the weak…) The Kedushas Levi notes that the Chashmonayim were tzaddikim, righteous individuals, who recognized that without Divine intervention and assistance they would be helpless and would stand no chance of vanquishing the enemy, their physical prowess notwithstanding.

Man’s greatest challenge (nisayon) lies in acceding to and being mindful that his personal achievements or extraordinary success is due not to his own qualifications or genius but the power and might of God.

* * *

Sixty-four years ago, the Nazis, perceiving their imminent defeat, escalated their barbarity. Hungarian Jews were systematically delivered to Bergen-Belsen to be processed for destruction – that is, those who had not already succumbed to the scourge of hunger or feebleness.

One among those prisoners was a 60-year-old scholar who was exceptionally friendly to everyone around him and would lend words of encouragement to the dispirited souls, inspiring them not to lose faith in the Almighty.

Reb Shmelke, as he was affectionately known, would infuse his fellow captives with nostalgic memories of a time gone by. As they consumed their Shabbos repast, consisting of a ration of dried old bread, Reb Shmelke would create a semblance of an oneg Shabbos by regaling them with words of Torah and recounting fascinating tales of the Baal Shem Tov as well as of his great-grandfather, Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg.

Momentarily, at least, the physically and spiritually starved inmates, distracted from the reality of their circumstances, would be uplifted from their despondency.

His amiable ways garnered Reb Shmelke an “in” with the ruthless officers at the top, allowing him freedom of movement among the barracks and, to some degree, beyond. Reb Shmelke used this rare privilege to ensure the proper burial of his fallen comrades. He furthermore kept a record of the names of the deceased by scribbling them on small scraps of paper, using the charred tips of discarded matches that he collected for this purpose.

His aim was to avert disastrous consequences to war widows who would be spared the agony of having to endure an agunah status. (Reb Shmelke’s selfless act of chesed did indeed prove invaluable after the war, when many widows were enabled to substantiate claim of their husbands’ demise to the bais din.)

With the advent of Chanukah, Reb Shmelke was determined to illuminate the hearts of the downtrodden by celebrating the holiday, yet could not fathom how he would go about securing the means to carry out the lofty mitzvah of Chanukah candle-lighting.

The dilemma weighed heavily on him, even as he was in the process of burying a poor departed soul. Reb Shmelke found himself short a couple of stones to complete the partitioning of the gravesite and scoured his immediate surroundings, to no avail. But from a distance a pile of rocks caught his eye. As he removed some of them, he was shocked to uncover a small bottle of oil. Shoving aside some more of the stones, he discovered cups – and soon he unearthed a pack of wicks.

A stunned Reb Shmelke could hardly believe his good fortune; moreover, that night would be the first night of Chanukah. He lifted his eyes in a silent prayer of gratitude. Later that evening, when the guards were finally out for the count, a chorus of stifled but heartfelt amens greeted Reb Shmelke’s fervent blessing of “Shehechiyanu ve’kimanu ve’higiyanu lazman hazeh.”

When the war ended, Reb Shmelke returned to Hungary where he would become widely known as the Tchaber Rav. He eventually immigrated to Israel and made his home in Jerusalem.

Upon a subsequent visit to America, the Tchaber Rav looked up an old acquaintance, the Satmar Rebbe, R. Yoel Teitelbaum. At some point in their emotional reunion, the Satmar Rebbe quietly remarked to Reb Shmelke, “I heard of your Chanukah lighting in Bergen-Belsen and of your tremendous Kiddush Hashem. Allow me to enlighten you now – it was I who hid the oil, cups and wicks beneath the stones, hoping that the right person would discover them at the right time, with God’s help. And that is exactly what happened.”

Words failed the Tchaber Rav as tears flooded his eyes.

* * *

The Jewish nation is likened to the olive tree. Olives produce oil by being beaten and squeezed; the more suppressed by other nations, the more we cry out to Hashem and forge ahead by intensifying our performance of good deeds. The Greeks attempted to goad us into assimilation, but like olive oil that does not mix with other liquids, we separated from them and – as is the nature of pure olive oil – we rose to the top.

* * *

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, known as the Sharigrader Rebbe, owned the most magnificent silver menorah anyone had ever beheld. The candelabrum stood nearly five feet tall and was etched with engravings of the holy places of Eretz Yisrael. Each of its eight arms depicted the shivas haminim, the seven species of fruit native to the land of Israel; the shamesh was topped by the luchos habris (the two tablets of the Covenant); and a golden crown inlaid with semi-precious stones was inscribed with the words “le’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.”

The majestically sculptured work of art was kept safely concealed in a cabinet of the rav’s court, carefully swathed with wads of cotton and draped with a large clean cloth. It was only on erev Chanukah that the Sharigrader Rav would remove the menorah, burnish it to a lustrous sheen in preparation for lighting and place it adjacent to the entrance door of his home.

One might wonder how R. Yaakov Yosef – of such moderate means that his wife would light Shabbos candles in tin candlesticks and the family would eat out of earthenware (R. Yaakov Yosef himself would virtually fast from Shabbos to Shabbos) – came into possession of such a treasure. Actually, the menorah had been an inheritance from his grandfather – the Prager Rav, the Tosfos Yom-Tov – who had purchased it from a Strassburg resident who had obtained it from a Spaniard of Toledo. Legend had it that the menorah had been the property of Shmuel HaNaggid, who had been chief minister in the king’s court.

One day a merchant arrived at the home of R. Yaakov Yosef to try to entice him to sell the valuable menorah. The rebbetzin prevailed upon her husband to strike a deal that would enable them to marry off and provide for their children’s needs. R. Yaakov Yosef proceeded to retrieve the menorah from its storage place. Just then, a stranger unexpectedly walked through their door, his mere presence casting a luminescence about him. The rebbetzin instinctively covered her face while the Sharigrader Rebbe felt the stranger’s gaze piercing the inner chambers of his heart.

The newcomer spoke briefly. “How can one possibly conceive the sale of such a holy artifact to this person?” he asked, and then promptly left. Needless to say, the transaction was aborted. The next day, R. Yaakov Yosef was startled to discover their prospective buyer had been an agent dispatched by the local monastery to obtain the menorah for its cloister.

On a Shabbos morning not long thereafter, the Sharigrader Rav arrived in shul only to find hardly anyone there; it seemed all had gathered outdoors to listen to the words of some orator. When R. Yaakov Yosef went out to satisfy his own curiosity, he was taken aback at finding his congregants entranced by the same personage who had arrived at his home and urged against the impending sale of the menorah.

The erudite speaker held his audience spellbound. “Hashem shomrechah, Hashem tzilchah – Hashem is your guardian and your shade . God is like your shadow that follows your every move, His ‘shade’ safeguarding you like the branches of a tree that offers shelter from the scorching sun,” he admonished.

“Every action of man is repaid ‘midda kenegged midda.’ Every act of kindness is repaid in kind. A happy disposition creates an aura of happiness in the heavens on your behalf. ‘Sur meirah v’asseh tov’ – do away with evil and do good. There is good in everything; it is up to each individual to extract the good from the bad. The Jews in the wilderness could not drink the water from Marah; because they were bitter, the water tasted bitter to them.”

The lecturer was none other than the holy Baal Shem Tov, and from that day onward R. Yaakov Yosef became one of his ardent supporters and adjusted his lifestyle accordingly, altering some of his theretofore self-denying practices, such as frequent fasting.

Years later, R. Yaakov Yosef, formerly a staunch opponent of chassidism, authored the influential chassidic sefer Toldos Yaakov Yosef. By that time, he was rav of Polanya in the Ukraine.

Once, during a period of unrest, officers were dispatched to various districts of Polanya to restore and maintain order. It was erev Chanukah when three officials canvassing the area happened upon the rav’s home. Mesmerized by the extraordinary sight of the menorah that had just been polished and placed by the door, they took the liberty of entering the house. After plunking a couple of rubles down on the table, they attempted to abscond with the menorah. The rebbetzin sent one of her children to quickly fetch the rav who had gone to shul.

When R. Yaakov Yosef arrived home, his mere glare rendered the three hoodlums motionless on the spot, mouths agape, eyes glazed, arms dangling at their sides. The rav washed the menorah, repositioned it by the door, filled a receptacle with oil and proceeded with the blessing of the first Chanukah light.

In the meantime, General Pototzky wandered the streets, puzzled at how his three officers had simply vanished into thin air. When he finally located them at the rav’s home, they were still “frozen” in their tracks, while R. Yaakov Yosef was sweetly absorbed in the melody of Maoz Tzur.

The general entreated the rav to have mercy on his officers, who were desperately needed for duty elsewhere, and to forgive them for coveting the precious menorah. The rav raised his eyes in the direction of the three stony figures and exhorted them to leave his home without further ado. As if emerging from a hypnotic state, they shuffled their way outdoors.

* * *

The attribute of Kislev is sleep. The Sagittarian is psychically inclined, attaining vision and understanding through dreams.

“I am asleep but my heart is awake (Shir HaShirim 5:2).” Though we were immersed in a spiritual slumber, we awoke from our lethargy and, like arrows shot from the archer’s bow, our prayers reached the heavens and revitalized us. For even as we sleep, our heart is awake – God is in our hearts, keeping a constant watch on us.

* * *

The element of the month of Kislev is fire; the nature of fire is to rise upward. Of the thirty-six lights kindled during the eight days of Chanukah, six are representative of the number of days of the holiday that are celebrated in Kislev, while the balance of thirty correspond to the thirty days of the month of Teves that follows.

Teves is the month that marked the beginning of the destruction of Jerusalem. On the eighth day of Teves the Greeks forced the seventy-two Sages of Israel to translate the Torah into Greek – a most unfortunate occurrence that brought spiritual darkness upon the Jewish people. The lights of Chanukah lit in the month of Teves serve to illuminate all of its days and nullify its forces of evil.

The attribute of the month of Teves is anger – rogez, numerically equivalent to yirah, fear. Yiras Hashem (fear of God) is the purpose of our existence and transforms the negative element of Teves into positive, spiritual fulfillment. For though the constellations rule and govern the mundane world, the people of Israel are not under the absolute rule of the astrological signs.

A total of 15 lights are lit the last two nights of Chanukah, observed in Teves. Intriguingly, the reduced numerical value (mispar katan) of 15 (1 plus 5) equals 6. With the insertion of just one letter – vav (six) – the month of Teves would become tovas, goodness.

As we contemplate the golden flames that permeate the atmosphere around us with their warm and magical glow on each night of Chanukah, we can almost hear them whisper of the hidden light of Creation that illuminates the souls of those who allow the light of Torah to guide them through life.

It is only then that we are able to rise above the stars – to be under the sole dominion of God, Who reigns supreme above and beyond the zodiac.

Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page//2008/12/24/

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