Monday, July 28, 2014

seeing the birah dolekes -- and doing something about it

I used to think that the point of the Midrash that compares Avraham’s discovery of G-d with someone who observes a birah dolekes, a burning castle, and wonders where the castle’s owner is, is that question, “Where is the owner of this castle?”  I used to think that what made Avraham unique was the fact that he asked what was going on while everyone else just saw the birah dolekes and moved on. 

I’ve since changed my mind.  I think what made Avraham unique was the very fact that he saw the birah dolekes in the first place. 

I’ve been wondering just what it takes to rouse American Jewry from its state of apathy.  What does it take for people to see that there is a birah dolekes on fire?  Is Israel being in a state of war not enough?  Is the overt anti-semitism of Europe not enough?  Is Chicago Jewish schoolchildren being taunted with pictures of Holocaust ovens and being told to get in enough?  Is the absurd request by John Kerry or Barak Obama for Israel to declare an immediate cease-fire even while its enemies openly declare their intent to continue to wage war enough?

There is a birah dolekes out there.  A quick “shir ha’ma’alos” after davening on Sunday morning before you run to sit by the pool and sip your iced tea or eat an ice cream cone is better than nothing, but let’s face it – if you were in danger, wouldn’t you hope others would do more on your behalf?

There is a birah dolekes out there.  When a building is burning, do you need to check whether the firemen or those who come to help share your hashkafos, or are shomerei mitzvos?  Do you even need to check if they are Jewish?  When the building is on fire, anyone with a water or hose who comes to help is my friend.  Anyone who cares for the State of Israel and is willing to speak out to save Jewish lives is someone I'm willing to join forces with, at least on this issue.   We’ll work out our hashkafic differences some other time.

Read what’s out there in social media, on comments to websites, heck even in some of the mainstream press – this is not about whether Israel has a right to the ‘67 borders or other borders.  It’s about whether Israel right to exist as a country.  It’s whether Jews in France, in England, in Germany, can live without fearing attacks.  It's about whether Jews deserve the same rights as anyone else in the world.

I started writing this in the morning and took a break at lunch to make my way to the rally I posted about yesterday.  I came back filled with a dose of optimism.  Thousands of people were there.  The subways were filled with folks making their way crosstown, uptown, downtown to attend, many if not most of the men wearing kippot and women with hats and sheitels, people carrying signs and flags. 

We take it for granted that our kids will by osmosis develop a love for Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael.  That’s laissez faire chinuch.  You can talk about these ideas at your Shabbos table or send your kids to schools where these ideas are taught (and how many of our schools don’t even talk about current events in Eretz Yisrael?  How many of our kids know more about the Civil War than about the history of the modern State of Israel?), but children learn from our behavior.  Kol hakavod to the parents pushing strollers at that rally today, to the camps that bussed kids in from the mountains, to the young people who were out demonstrating and who showed that idealism and activism are alive in our community.

We talk about the need for achdus during the nine days.  Here was a rally sponsored by the OU, by United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, by the Union for Reform Judaism.  It brought diverse speakers and diverse groups together under one banner, because at the end of the day Jewish life and the Jewish State is something we all believe in.

Kol havadod to everyone who showed up at this rally and/or to the many other events taking places in communities all over.  Kol hakavod to everyone making their voices heard, whether it is at a rally, on social media, writing to a newspaper, calling a Congressman or Senator.  Kol hakavod to everyone adding tehillim, learning, doing more mitzvos, during this time of crisis.  You see the birah hadolekes and are doing something about it.
When you read and see so much hatred out there, it is hard to think that your little bit makes a difference.  But when you see 10,000 or 15,000 people disrupting their Monday afternoon to come together, you feel a little better about our future as a people. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rally tomorrow 7/28 at 12:30

Monday, July 28, at 12:30 p.m. at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza (that's 47th street and 2nd Ave)  

Numerous organizations, including the OU, are sponsoring the event.
I would also humbly encourage everyone to express hakaras hatov by sending an e-mail (it takes 2 minutes to fill out the contact form on their websites) to Senators Schumer, Graham, and Cardin for saying that any ceasefire must provide for Israel's security.  Other Senators, e.g. Ted Cruz, also deserve our thanks and support.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for President Obama and Secretary Kerry.


Friday, July 25, 2014

dedicate your shabbos to toras eretz yisrael

Just as seforim bring down that it’s not a coincidence that Parshas Pinchas, which contains many mitzvos of korbanos haregel, usually falls out during the three weeks when our attention is focused on the churban haMikdash and the loss of korbanos, I’m sure it’s not by chance that we read Parshas Masei, which contains the command to conquer and settle Eretz Yisrael and describes the borders of Eretz Yisrael, during this time period.  It’s a bit scary to think that for hundreds and hundreds of years Jews have read this parsha and could only dream of fulfilling the mitzvah of returning to Eretz Yisrael and securing it’s borders, and here we have the privilege and opportunity to live it.  I have a suggestion: dedicate your divrei Torah this Shabbos to Eretz Yisrael and to add to the zechus of those defending it. 

The Torah uses a peculiar word when setting out the borders of Eretz Yisrael: “V’hisasvisem lachem m’gevul keidma…” (34:10)  Rashi explains that the word “hisavisem” is like the word “tisa’u,” which means to turn, i.e. the border slants.  I’m sure, however, that when you first heard that word “v’hisavisem” your mind associated it with the word: “ta’avah,” desire.  That’s not by chance says the Radomsker.  The Torah is hinting that you have to have a ta’avah for Eretz Yisrael.  Ta’avah is usually a bad thing, but not when it comes to the desire to return to our homeland.  Adds the Radomsker, even if you can’t act on that ta’avah right now, having the desire itself is a tikun for galus.  This Shabbos lets work on arousing our ta’avah for Eretz Yisrael.

It takes an army to win a war, but it takes more than that as well.  Rashi comments on the pasuk, “Zos ha’aretz asher tipol lachem b’nachalah…” (34:2) that Hashem will throw down and tie up the angelic forces of our enemies. We are fighting an enemy that believes in the antithesis of justice and morality (see my wife's post here); we are engaged in a clash of values. Victory depends on our rededication to Torah morals and values that are true and just.  If we do what is right, all the phony and false ideologies that are just pretenders to justice will have no leg to stand on.  The pasuk here hints at exactly how to do that, explains the Maor v’Shemesh.  Asher tipol lachem,” the downfall of the enemy will come “b’NaCHaLaH” = through our fulfilling Nafsheinu CHiksa LHashem.  On Shabbos we have a neshoma yesirah, so we can add a double measure of nafshienu chiksa l’Hashem.

The Torah warns that if we fail to finish off our enemies they will be a thorn in our side and “v’haya ka’asher dimisi la’ason lahem e’eseh lachem.”  (33:55-56)  The Midrash in many places tells us that the word “v’haya” connotes simcha.  What kind of simcha is there in Hashem telling us that what he was going to do to the enemy will come back to us?  And what are we to make of such a promise – Hashem’s covenant with Klal Yisrael is eternal; he would never destroy us the way our enemies are meant to be destroyed?

The Igra d’Kallah explains that in an ideal world we would not have to take up arms against our enemies.  Hashem would do the fighting for us; there would be overtly miraculous victories.  However, Klal Yisrael did not live up to that standard.  Instead of open miracles taking place and our enemies simply dissolving, we have to take up arms, we have to fight.  This is the test Hashem challenges us with.  That being said, miracles will still take place to ensure our victory – just they will be hidden in the derech hateva, hidden behind what looks like our own accomplishments and deeds. 

The pasuk here is telling us is that even if we fail to live up to the ideal of Hashem doing all the work for us, even if the enemy is left as a test for us to do battle with, “v’haya,” Hashem will still have great simcha.  Ka’asher dimisi la’asos lahem,” the fight that I, G-d, personally would have taken care of with overt miracles, “e’eseh lachem,” I will do through you, by bringing about those miracles through the derech ha’teva of your actions.  Out soldiers are living this pasuk.

The parsha ends off with the complaint of the leaders of Menasheh that if girls who inherit a portion of land (like Bnos Tzelafchad) get to marry whomever they want, it would mean that land would pass from sheivet to sheivet, as their husbands/children who inherit them may be from another sheivet.  R’ Tzadok haKohen points out that we have a whole holiday of T”u b’Av to celebrate the day that the shevatim liften the ban against marrying into sheivet Binyamin – having the shevatim intermingle is a good thing!  Nonetheless, the love of Menasheh for Eretz Yisrael, the desire to preserve their cheilek in Eretz Yisrael and not surrender it to anyone else (each of us has a unique cheilek that corresponds to our unique neshoma) outweighs that value.  A new parsha of Torah came into being as a result of their complaint, as a result of their love of Eretz Yisrael.

We have a halacha that whoever mourns for the churban will be zocheh to experience the simcha of geulah, but there is also another path to merit geulah says the Radomsker.  Chazal tell us that the reward for oneg Shabbos is a “nachala b’li meitzarim” --   derech remez, a portion without a bein ha’meitzarim.  Especially this Shabbos we should keep in mind the words we add in bentching: “… she’lo te’hei tzarah v’yagon b’yom menuchaseinu," that there be no pain and suffering for ourselves or for those fighting on our behalf, "...v’hareinu Hashem Elokeinu b’nechamas Tzion irecha…," so that we see nechamas Tzion and all of Eretz Yisrael.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

how the Jewish people go to war

How Klal Yisrael goes to war:

And more here:

Watching these videos is my mussar seder.  This is what love of Eretz Yisrael, Am Yisrael, and G-d are all about, what it means to believe in the destiny of Am Yisrael and have pride to live as a Jew. 

I look at the clips of these soldiers and I think about all the little worries in my day to day that seem like such important issues and take up so much mental energy, and here these folks are singing “Mi shema’amin lo mefached” and “Ivdu es Hashem b’simcha” while preparing to literally put their lives on the line.  It gives one a sense of perspective on what's really important, what emunah is really all about. 

I look at the pictures in these videos and I contrast them with pictures like this (AP Photo/Thibault Camus):

 Rioters face riot police, following a pro-Palestinian demonstration, in Sarcelles, north of Paris, Sunday, July 20, 2014.  French youth defying a ban on a protest against Israel’s Gaza offensive went on a rampage in a Paris suburb, setting fire to cars and garbage cans after a peaceful demonstration. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Pictures from France, a democratic country, a country whose Prime Minister has spoken out against anti-semitism and called on the police to stop the rioting, to little avail.  A country where Jews now live in fear of their lives, where synagogues are firebombed and Jews are attacked in the streets. 

Galus is not our home.  It never has been.  These three weeks culminating in 9 Av reminds us that we are still mourning the churban that, as the Rogatchover learns, is a pe'ulah hanimsheches, an ongoing event, something that continues to unfold.  We see it with our own eyes.

The difference is now we have a glimmer of the geulah just around the corner.  We're not there yet, or we wouldn't be fighting a war.  But we are on the way.  The videos of those soldiers singing "Ivdu es Hashem b'simcha" fighting for our country, for our ideals, under our flag, proves it.
The words to the song in the second clip are here and they’re worth reading.  In the comments to the original YouTube of the song done by the artist someone asked how is it possible that someone who is “lo kol kach dati” could come up with a song like this.  Someone else posted an answer:

הקב"ה קרוב גם לאלה שרחוקים ממנו


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

the mitzvah of building a mikdash

The gemara (Sanhedrin 20) writes that when Bnei Yisrael enter Eretz Yisrael they have three mitzvos to accomplish: 1) appoint a king; 2) destroy Amalek; 3) build a beis habechirah, as the Torah tells us “V’haya hamakom asher yivchar Hashem Elokeichem… shamah tavi’u es kol asher anochi mitzaveh eschem…” (Devarim 12).  The Kesef Mishnah (Beis haBechirah 1:1) cites the SM”G who quotes this as the source for the mitzvah of building a mikdash.   The Rambam, however, quotes the pasuk of “v’asu li mikdash,” and refers not only to the building of the mikdash in Yerushalayim, but to the building of the mishkan as well.  So it sounds like we have a machlokes.

In case you missed the comments to yesterday’s post, someone pointed out that R’ Soloveitchik (essay in Koveitz Chiddushei Torah) learned that the Rambam in fact agrees with the SM”G.  The Rambam agrees that there is a mitzvah of building a beis habechirah in Eretz Yisrael learned out from the pasuk of “hamakom asher tivchar,” but the Rambam adds that there is an additional mitzvah learned from the pasuk of “v’asu li mikdash.”  Hamakom asher tivchar” refers to the mikdash in Yerushalayim, an eternal place of kedusha; “v’asu li mikdash” refers even to building a mishkan.  This would explain the change in language that I noted yesterday.  The Rambam in his title to the halachos refers to “beis habechirah,” because he is discussing the laws as practiced in the mikdash in Yerushalayim.  However, in his list of mitzvos he refers to “beis hamikdash” and in the first halacha he refers simply to making a “bayis l’Hashem” in order to encompass the kiyum mitzvah of making a mishkan as well.

Yesterday I also noted that the Rambam switches verbs from “livnos beis hamikdash” in his list of mitzvos to “la’asos bayis l’Hashem” in the first halacha.  R’ Chaim Kanievsky (Derech Chochma) writes that “la’asos” does not mean to build – it means to see that something is done.  The mitzvah of “v’asisa ma’akeh l’gagecha” does not mean you need to take a hammer and nails and build a ma’akah.  You can hire a contractor, you can move into a house that already has the ma’akah in place – so long as there is a ma’akah there, you have fulfilled the mitzvah.  In that same way, “v’asu li mikdash” does not mean you need to take a hammer and nails and build something.  It means you need to help ensure that there is a mikdash built, whether it is by helping in the planning, contributing money, or doing anything else that helps complete the project. 

The Rambam writes (1:12) that construction of the mikdash can only be done during the daylight hours and cannot be done on Shabbos or Y”T.  In that very same halacha, the Rambam says that women are chayavos in the mitzvah as well as men.  If the mikdash can only be built at certain times, why is it not a mitzvas aseh she’hazman gerama – why are women not exempt?  R’ Chaim answers that although the actual construction, the livnos,” can only be done at specific times, the “la’asos” of participating in other ways has no time boundary.

What remains unclear to me still is why the Rambam would use the term “livnos” in the mitzvah list if the mitzvah is really “la’asos,” with different gedarim, as R” Chaim sets out.  It is tempting to try to shoehorn this issue into the previous discussion and say that the mitzvah of “livnos” applies to beis habechirah, but “la’asos” is a din in “asu li mikdash.”  I don’t know of any source or reason to draw such a distinction.  I was wondering if perhaps in the list of mitzvos the Rambam wanted to define the mitzvah by its ultimate goal.  Any number of activities may be a kiyum mitzvah of “la’asos,” but ultimately there has to be a building built, or the “la’asos” has no meaning.  Livnos” is the purpose; “la’asos" is the means.  Anyone have a better explanation?

ba'al milchamos, zore'a tzedkaos, matzmiach yeshuos -- one process

R’ Eliezer Melamed quotes a comment in the name of R’ Tzvi Yehudah Kook on the words we say every morning in davening describing Hashem as the “ba’al milchamos, zore’a tzedakos, matzmiach yeshu’os.”  War is tragic.  We cannot understand why Hashem puts us through such trials.  But we have to trust that “ba’al milchamos” goes hand in hand with being “zore’a tzedakos” and “matzmiach yeshuos.”  There will be justice and yeshu’a that will ultimately come out of what is going on.  You have to be a big ba’al bitachon to see things that way, but that’s the way it is.    

I  want to share with a quote from a post on Israel Matzav:
Maybe this explains why 78% of American Jewry voted for Barack Obama - his non-support of Israel notwithstanding. Because to them, being Jewish isn't about joining their lives and fate to that of the Jewish people, including by supporting Israel. It's about liberalism and liberal values and not seeing the basic goodness and morality embodied in the Jewish state.
I couldn't have said it better myself.  Events in Israel have brought about a certain moral clarity.  Some people who otherwise identity with certain liberal values have suddenly woken up and see the anti-semitism of the left for exactly what it is.  Other people have dug deeper into their shells, twisting themselves into a pretzel to come up all kinds of justifications for castigating Israel.  When the seforim talk about the process of birur, is this what it means? 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

beis hhabechira / beis hamikdash / bayis l'Hashem -- why three terms for the same thing?

The Emergency Committee for Israel put out a statement in response to Obama’s call for a cease fire yesterday that has a gem of a line in there: “Israel does not need a mediator.  Israel needs an ally.”  So true.  

When I read that the US will give close to 50 million to Hamas for “humanitarian aid” even as they continue to fire rockets at Israel, I wonder: are Obama and Kerry really that naïve as to believe that this money will not be used for weapons, are they incompetent, or is it a calculated and deliberate attempt to once again undermine Israel’s interests?  (I ask myself that question about a lot of the things this administration does.)

I mentioned the Shmira Project yesterday, but there are many other things you can do to help Israel in this time of crisis.  I see A Mother In Israel has a helpful post with 21 suggestions.

A few weeks ago, before the latest round of fighting started, my wife and I visited the NY Historical Society (a small, overlooked museum that is really worth a visit if you’ve never been there) where there is a new exhibit celebrating the centennial of the JDC, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.  You probably know the JDC helped in the relief efforts after WWII, but the organization is far older than that and it still exists, doing important work around the globe. Anyway, a telegram displayed in the exhibit caught my wife’s eye.  This message was sent from someone in Germany in 1933 to the JDC in NY, and it said (I’m sorry we did not copy it word for word) that the situation was not salvageable – instead of relief for those inside Germany, all efforts should be focused on getting as many people out as possible.  My wife could not believe that already in 1933 there was such certainty of impending doom.  Her own father’s family did not leave Germany until a few years after that.  I told her it’s no surprise.  20 or 30 years from now G-d forbid people will look back at the articles in the news that we read almost daily about the situation of Jewry in France and other European countries, the articles we dismiss as alarmist, as right-wing extremism, the calls to get out that people have begun to act on in small measure while others delay, thinking there will always be time to run when things get really bad, and we will wonder why more was not done sooner, why so many failed to act when the anti-Semitisim was so clear, when the barely repressed violence was already evident.  Of course I hope and pray that things don't come to that...

Maybe someone from CAIR can help me here, but I am just wondering how many mosques have been firebombed by Jews in response to events in the Middle East, or how many Moslems had to call the police to protect them from riots?  Just curious.

Let me end off with some Torah.  The first set of halachos the Rambam covers in his Sefer haAvodah is titled “Hilchos Beis haBechira.”  The Rambam lists the mitzvos covered in that section, first of which is “livnos beis hamikdash.”  The first halacha starts off, “Mitzvas aseh la’asos bayis l’Hashem…”  I don’t know what to make of it (if anything), but within just a few lines the Rambam introduces three completely different terms for the same thing: 1) beis habechira, 2) beis hamikdash, 3) bayis l’Hashem.  Now, true he uses the term “beis habechira” in Sefer haMitzvos, which is the groundwork upon which Mishneh Torah is built, but if consistency is the goal, then why not continue to use that term?  Why use it only in the header for the halachos and then change to something else?  And while we are being nitpicky, what do you make (if anything) of the switch in verbs from “livnos beis hamikdash” to “la’asos bayis l’Hashem?” 

Monday, July 21, 2014

tnai kaful and a few other points

1) On Friday I mentioned that when the Bnei Reuvain and Gad consented to the terms Moshe presented for their receiving Eiver haYarden, they first referred to those terms as the words of “adoni Moshe” and then, after Moshe presented the agreement in public with all the formality of a tnai kaful, they referred to the terms as “es asher dibeir Hashem.” Ramban explains that the Bnei Reuvain and Gad wanted to emphasize that they saw Moshe’s words as coming from G-d, and therefore they would respect the terms of agreement even without a formal tnai kaful.

The Ohr Sameiach and Rogatchover add a halachic dimension to the point.  They quote the view of the Shi’ilitos who says that tnai kaful is only necessary when there is an agreement directly between party A and party B.  However, where one of the parties is acting through a shliach, even without tnai kaful, any condition that is not met voids the shlichus and m’meila voids the agreement.  At first the Bnei Reuvain and Gad thought that Moshe was acting as G-d’s agent, so to speak, and they therefore addressed Moshe as an independent actor, as “adoni Moshe.”  However, when Moshe made a tnai kaful, they realized that Moshe was not simply an agent, because agreement with an agent doesn't require tnai kaful.  It was as if Shechina m’daberes m’toch grono, G-d was speaking through Moshe, and their agreement was being made directly with G-d.  Therefore, they rephrased their consent to “es asher dibeir Hashem.”

Technical details aside, Ralbag sees a moral lesson in the fact that Moshe framed the agreement in the formal terms of tnai kaful and did not just seal the deal with a handshake.  Unless terms and conditions are spelled out up front, parties can wind up disagreeing later as to what was meant; each side may think the other is in the wrong – even if that other side being questioned is Moshe Rabeinu.  Sure, we would give him the benefit if the doubt, but the greatness of Moshe is that he leaves no doubt.

2) Rashi writes that sheivet Levi participated in the war against Midyan.  The GR”A, however, had a different girsa in the Sifri and opines that Levi did not participate.  You could try to reconcile the two positions by saying they did not participate directly in battle but still contributed to the war effort.  We once discussed the Rogatchover’s sevara that the battle against Midyan was an act of nekamah and did not fall into the formal halachic category of milachama, with all is various rules.  This may be the point of the machlokes.  Sheivet Levi did not participate in milchama (Rambam, end of Hil Shemita), but this may not have been a milchama.

3) The Tosefta writes that the “klei kodesh” taken out to battle was either the aron or the bigdei kehunah.  The Netziv back in Parshas Beha’aloshecha (10:9) in the parsha of chatzotzros writes that the pasuk there of “v’nizkarten lifnei Hashem Elokeichem” teaches that the chatzotzros may only be blown in the presence of the aron or the tzitz (which had the shem Hashem on it).  This perhaps explains the view of the Ba’al haMaor who writes that blowing chatzotzros on a ta’anis, as opposed to on Rosh haShana, is only a din derabbanan.  What about the pasuk in chumash that says there is a mitzvah to blow at a time of tzarah?  It could be that the Ba’al haMaor is talking about blowing outside the mikdash, outside the presence of the aron.  The mitzvah d’oraysa, as the Netziv explains, is only in the mikdash when the aron is present.  (R' Soloveitchik quoted here suggested that the Ba'al haMaor of course holds that tekiyas chatzotzros is d'oraysa; what he meant is that you cannot say mitzvos lav lehenos nitnu on the mitzvah of chatzotzros because it is a chovas hatzibur, not a chiyuv on each individual to blow).

4) If anyone does not know about the Shmira Project, please check out their website   It's wonderful to say tehillim or learn or do mitzvos in the zechus of our soldiers in general, but the shmira project goes a step further and will pair you with a specific person in whose zechus you can learn, daven, do mitzvos.