Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The True Cause of Antisemitism

Gilad Field shared this on his Facebook page. It's worth reading, sharing and internalizing.

On the verse: "An [Esav] fell on [Yaakov's] neck and he kissed him and he cried, Rashi quoted the Midrash: Said Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: It is a halachah (a ruling): It is known that Eisav hates Yaakov.
Hagaon R' Menachem Ziemba (who was killed in the Holocaust - for a bio of Rav Ziemba, see here - thanks Rabbi Uri Cohen!) explained:
It is well known that Rabbi Shimon consistently attemted to derive the underlying explanation for the verses, and her wished to give a reason why Eisav hated Yaakov, and more broadly, why do the nations of the world hate the Jews. The "intellectual" reasons that the nations always give always contradict each other. In one instance the explanation is because [the Jews] follow the commandments, and another time its because they abandon the Torah and try to emulate the nations. In one instance their great wealth is the reason, and at the same time they accuse the Jews of being poor and lazy, etc, etz.
In the end, Rabbi Shimon arrives at the conclusion that the hatred of the nations for the Jewish people has no rational explanation. Rather, it's a halachah - a stated ruling, issued by God, so that we do not assimilate among the nations.

Audio Shiur: Parshat Vayishlach - The Burial of Rachel (in memory of Beth Isaacs, a"h)

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Vayishlach - The Burial of Rachel (in memory of Beth Isaacs, a"h)

Why did Yaakov bury his beloved wife on the side of the road? What seems at first glance to be troubling, is actually a sign of something much, much deeper. This shiur is dedicated to the memory of Beth Isaacs, whose hakamat hamatzeivah was this week. She is very much missed, even from afar.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

Click to play the Shiur (or right-click to download)

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Winners and Losers - A Thought for Vayishlach

Following the recent "exchange" with Hamas in Gaza, the world seems preoccupied with the question of who "won" and who "lost"? My fourteen-year-old son asked me this very question last night: who won? How can we say that we won if they can still shoot at us?
My answer was simple: we're not trying to "win" - at least not by the standard definition.
After all, it seems like we - Israel and Hamas - are playing a very different game. They're trying to kill as many of us as they can, and we're trying to kill as few of them as we can. How do you define "winning" and "losing" when the two sides are playing with different rules? How do you fight a war when you're trying specifically not to kill people.
And yet, we're not the first Israelis who had an aversion to fighting. Actually, the first Israeli to demonstrate such an aversion was Yisrael - Ya'akov himself.
As he returns from Haran towards Canaan, Ya'akov sends a message of peace to Eisav, hoping to avoid a confrontation. Yet, when he learns that Eisav too approached, with 400 armed men, we read that, ויירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו - "and Yaakov was greatly afraid, and he was distressed." Essentially he was frightened twice. What's the difference between ויירא - "he was afraid" and ויצר - "he was distressed"? Rashi explains,
ויירא שמא יהרג, ויצר לו אם יהרוג הוא את אחרים
He was afraid of being killed, and he was distressed that he might kill others.
Ya'akov wants to have his cake and eat it too. He'll fight if he has to, to protect his family. But he's particularly disturbed about the prospect of having to kill others, no matter the justification.
That's the way of the Jewish people. We'll fight if need be, to defend ourselves. But there's no thirst for blood, and whenever possible, we will try and protect the even the lives of those who despise us and wish us ill will. Ya'akov was distressed not just about the possible deaths of innocents; rather, he worried about having to kill anyone - even among Eisav's four hundred warriors.
The fact that we didn't "win", I told my son, isn't a weakness. If anything, it's a source of strenght, and a badge of pride worn proudly by the soldiers of Israel. I go to sleep well at night knowing that, if need be, our soldiers will do what they must to protect us. But, first and foremost, whenever possible,
דרכיה דרכי נעם וכל נתיבותיה שלום - "Her ways [of the Torah] are ways of pleasantness, and all of her path are peace."

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Audio Shiur: Parshat Vayeitzei - Faith in the Face of Falling Rockets

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Vayeitzei - Faith in the Face of Falling Rockets

The morning of the shiur, we sent our kids back to school despite the ongoing semi-war raging around (and above) us. The initial story of Yaakov's flight from his brother, his suffering, and his lingering doubts - convey critical lessons for all of us, struggling to find a sense of footing with rockets flying, sirens blazing, and soldiers massing at the edge of Gaza. This week, a little less text analysis - and a little more Chizuk.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

Click to play the Shiur (or right-click to download)

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Wings of Doves: Another Way to Protect the People of Israel

If you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, I can guarantee you had you lived in Yad Binyamin (or Gadera), this morning you would not have had a problem. For the first time since the Gaza War (soon to be war? Mini war?) broke out, a siren jolted us out of bed in the middle of the night. Actually, we had no idea what time it was, because no one thought to look at the clock until after we got into the safe room. Thank God, we're fine, but when I checked the clock and realized that it was 5:20am, that was it for the day. I checked the news sites to learn that they hadn't reached a cease-fire agreement yet (go figure), and then went to catch up on the Daf. I'm glad that instead of going back to bed I learned the daf, because today's daf (Shabbat 49) relates a well-known story that lifted my spirits. The Gemara relates a halachic fact about a man named Elisha Ba'al Cnafayim (Elisha the Man of Wings), and then wonders why he had that strange nickname. The Gemara answers by relating a story:
שפעם אחת גזרה מלכות רומי הרשעה גזירה על ישראל שכל המניח תפילין ינקרו את מוחו והיה אלישע מניחם ויוצא לשוק ראהו קסדור אחד רץ מפניו ורץ אחריו וכיון שהגיע אצלו נטלן מראשו ואחזן בידו אמר לו מה זה בידך אמר לו כנפי יונה פשט את ידו ונמצאו כנפי יונה לפיכך קורין אותו אלישע בעל כנפים ומאי שנא כנפי יונה משאר עופות משום דאמתיל כנסת ישראל ליונה שנאמר (תהילים סח) כנפי יונה נחפה בכסף וגו' מה יונה כנפיה מגינות עליה אף ישראל מצות מגינות עליהן:  
And why is he called the man of wings'? Because the wicked Roman government once proclaimed a decree against Israel that whoever donned tefillin should have his brains pierced through; yet Elisha put them on and went out into the streets. [When] a quaestor saw him, he fled before him, whereupon he gave pursuit. As he overtook him he [Elisha] removed them from his head and held them in his hand. 'What is that in your hand?' he demanded. 'The wings of a dove,' was his reply. He stretched out his hand and lo! they were the wings of a dove. Therefore he is called 'Elisha the man of the wings'. And why the wings of a dove rather than that of other birds? Because the Congregation of Israel is likened to a dove, as it is said, "as the wings of a dove covered with silver::  just as a dove is protected by its wings, so is Israel protected by the mitzvot. (translation from here)
I opened Facebook this morning to find a wonderful message from friend in Michigan:
rabbi spolter,
hope you and your mishpocha are doing well and the tumult ends quickly and safely. please let us know if there's anything (besides davening and correcting misinformation) we can do for for you.
First of all, those messages really do help. We don't feel alone in this at all, but it's always nice to hear from friends. But if you want to help, I can think of two other ways (in addition to the davening and correcting information - both of which are important):
Advocacy: While we all say that Israel should act irrespective of world opinion (and sometimes must), world opinion is undeniably a fact that Israel faces. To that end, American support for Israel's self-defense has been critical, not to mention the financial support that provided the amazing Iron Dome system that's saved countless lives, literally. That support, both political and financial, is the direct result of an ongoing, never ending lobbying campaign that depends on committed Americans communicating with their elected officials. So, if you want to make a real difference on the ground here, short of Aliyah (which I continue to recommend highly), get involved with AIPAC.
Yet, we must also heed the Gemara's message about the defensive power of mitzvot. Living here, listening to the radio, hearing about the constant rocket barrage, I wonder about our national "bank" of merit. We're using up a heck of a lot of credit upstairs. We need more mitzot - and none better than the mitzvah that protected Elisha himself. So, if you're not usually so great about wearing Tefillin, put on Tefillin and fulfill that mitzvah. If you are good about tefillin, pick something else. In the words of the Talmud, the Jewish people are "like a dove" because, like the wings of the dove, which protect her from danger, our fulfillment of mitzvot, as much as any missile system, tank or soldier, offer yet another, critical way to protect the Jewish nation.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Is the Torah Really for Terror Victims?

It's a pretty reliable phenomenon. As soon as the rockets start flying, emails begin flooding our mail asking for donations. Sometimes the emails are relevant, like the OU email asking for donations to help flood victims. But sometimes they seem at best only tangentially related to crisis itself.
For example, this morning I received an email titled, "Please help write a Sefer Torah," which stated that,
With the missiles falling in the South, over 1 million of our brethren have come under this blanket of terror. Please join with me in a project that was started before the current 'rain' of terror, but is dedicated to Victims of Terror.
I really wanted to be fair about the email and appeal, which bothered me - and still does, so I sent a letter to the originator of the email, (Hillel Levin - hillel at israelchesed dot com) that said:

Dear Hillel,
I'm really sorry, but is this really the time to be raising money for a Sefer Torah? If people want to send money, perhaps they can do so to alleviate the suffering of the people in Sderot, the families of those killed in Kiryat Malachi, or the many other causes actually related to the rockets themselves. Where is this Sefer Torah even going to be housed? How is it helpful, other than in some kind of pseudo-mystical way that no one can really understand?
I could even accept sponsoring additional learning of some kind during this challenging time.
This really smacks of tzedaka opportunism, and leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth. I was going to post this on my blog, but felt that you should have the opportunity to respond. If you want to raise money for chesed, that's great! But use it for chesed.
Reuven Spolter

I'm sharing his prompt answer with you in full with his permission:
Dear Rabbi Spolter,
I appreciate your questions and the opportunity to respond.
First, I think that you should know that I made Aliyah 6 years ago and spent 4 of those years working for an amuta which connected Jews all over the world to both Chayalim and to families/children in Sderot. So I am sensitive to the needs of those groups.
The motivation behind this particular Sefer Torah is to honor the neshamot of terrorist victims. It was started about 3 months ago by an amuta: Ahavat Chinam, which provides services: education, dormitory, counseling etc to girls at risk and girls coming back from relationships with arabs, drugs, lack of observance etc. These problems exist before, during and after the current escalation of this 64 year ongoing war with the world around us.
While the project was started 3 months ago, the efforts have only resulted in a handful of complete Parshaot being sponsored. I was asked to assist in the effort 2 weeks ago.
Timing is such, but one can sponsor a psuk in the merit of our chayalim.
This is a time for us to do t’shuva, t’filla and tzedakah. Out right, this is a tzedakah opportunity, they have received p’sak that funds for this Sefer Torah can come from one’s Ma’aser Funds. In addition, since part of the funds will go to the amuta to assist these girls in their personal t’suva process and one of the things that these girls do is t’filla, supporting the writing of this Sefer Torah is a means to support all 3 things that we need to do every day, but especially during this particular Matzav.
One of the things that I have seen some Rabbis say is that we need to continue life as much to normal as we can as a means to show HKBH that we have emmunah and bitachon in Him and our enemy so that he sees that we trust in HKBH.
I know that Yad Binyamin is a lot closer to the missiles then Shiloh is, but travel to Shiloh has always been under attack and while, not missiles, the rocks and boulders that are thrown and the fire bombs that are tossed have increased in frequency on the roads to and from Jerusalem.
At the same time that we here in Israel are under rocket assault, our brethren in the Eastern US are pumping and digging out of Storm Sandy. So they also have a tremendous need for funds, even if only for a temporary fix as they all pack up and make Aliyah. Is it insensitive to ask them for help in writing this Sefer Torah? They need a connection with HKBH also. They lack both the walking, breathing and living in Eretz Yisroel as a z’scut as well as being outside of HKBH umbrella of protection, where He neither slumbers nor sleeps.
This particular Sefer Torah will be housed at the Kotel, the center of the world and the place that the survivors of Terror turn in their prayers. It is also a global fund raising effort, so for both these reasons, I believe that this is an appropriate location for this Sefer Torah.
Rabbi Spolter, we are not a lot of money for participation in this Sefer Torah only US$ 18 or 72 NIS, so one can participate in this project and other chesed projects as well.
One of my correspondents, on Moshav Shokeda, which is a lot closer to Aza then Yad Binyamin has asked for assistance to purchase a migunit-shelter which runs 70-80,000 NIS. Here is another opportunity to do Chesed: how much can you and your ‘community’ (local and on-line) raise for this project?
If you are going to post to your blog, please share this.
Hillel Levin

Of course it's nice to sponsor a sefer torah. But, first of all, does the Kotel really need more Sifrei Torah? More importantly, the money really isn't for the Torah. Rather, it's to raise money for an organization doing other wonderful work - but the Sefer Torah is the means, not the end. Why not just ask for money for the organization? Probably because that hasn't worked so well. Finally, while the charity is wonderful, it really has very little to do with the current situation. The money raised goes to help girls at risk - an important cause, but one that has no connection whatsoever to terror victims. Intimating that it does seems questionable, at best.
Perhaps I'm over-reacting, but I don't think so.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Not Your Normal Shopping Carts

shoppingI’m at the grocery store trying to buy food for Shabbat. Trying, because half the check out counters are empty. Many of the checkout people didn’t show up. Usually its packed with people, but not tonight. All of the other stores in the strip mall are closed; only Rami Levi is open. After all, war or not, rockets or no rockets, you still need food for Shabbat.
As we’re waiting on line alarms sound over the radio. The first rush of adrenaline passes quickly, when you hear that the alarm is for somewhere else: Ashdod, Netivot, anywhere but Kiryat Malachi. Everyone seems nicer than usual. The lines at the checkout aren’t competitive. Everyone gets it. We all just wait for our turn to check out, and get the heck out of dodge.
Then, another alarm – but this time, the announcer does say “Kiryat Malachi.” Most people sprint for one of the two sealed rooms – actually not so much sealed, but at least concrete reinforced. The first time, I didn’t make it into the room when I heard the boom in the distance. The second time I did.
On the way back to the checkout line (yet again), we passed through a storage area, and I noticed one of the workers pointing to three shopping carts with a sign that said, “Don’t touch. Don’t move.” She explained that the three equally loaded carts – mostly with drinks and cups and such, were put together for the three shiva homes of the three people killed today in Kiryat Malachi.
Not your regular shopping carts.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Audio Shiur: Parshat Toldot: Rivka, Yaakov, Eisav, and Flying Missiles

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Toldot: Rivka, Yaakov, Eisav, and Flying Missiles

The Midrashim focusing on the text at the end of Toldot, when Eisav wants to kill Yaakov and Rivkah sends Yaakov away, convey a nuanced message about how to deal with our adversaries.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Article in Mekor Rishon

I got published today in Mekor Rishon. If you don't believe me, click here and scroll to page 5. Yes, I know that most people don't know that the paper is published daily, much less read the daily paper, and it is a translation of this post, but it's still pretty cool to be published in Hebrew in the paper.
Enjoy! (Click on the picture to view it in full size and perhaps read it.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Spirituality of Sarah

Parshat Chayei Sarah begins with some very unusual language:

וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים--שְׁנֵי, חַיֵּי שָׂרָה.
And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.
I'd like to focus on the phrase at the end of the verse: שני חיי שרה – "these were the years of the life of Sarah." Obviously, this phrase screams out for interpretation and clarification.

Netziv, in his commentary Ha'amek Davar, offers a unique insight into the difference between Avraham and Sarah that explains this unusual language. He explains that the word חיים has two meanings, the first being "life", the normal interpretation of the word. But the word חיים can also refer to a sense of joy, and excitement – what the French called "joie de vivre." 

Netziv notes that according to Chazal, Sarah was greater that Avraham in prophecy, which is somewhat difficult to believe. How could it be possible that Sarah, who never spoke directly with God (to our knowledge), could be a greater prophet than Avraham Avinu, who communicated with God directly numerous times?

To answer this question, Netziv distinguishes between two types of "prophecy." In the first type, direct communication with God, Avraham clearly outshone Sarah. But Sarah excelled in a second form of prophecy called רוח הקודש – "divine inspiration"

הוא מה שאדם מתבודד ומשרה עליו רוה"ק ויודע מה שרואה. אמנם לא דבר עמו ה'.
This is where a person secludes himself and the spirit of God dwells upon him, and he knows what he is seeing, but the word of God is not with him.
Why was Sarah greater than Avraham in Ruach Hakodesh?

הוא משני טעמים. א' שאברהם בצדקו היה מנהיג העולם ומדריכם לעבודת ה'...ומי שעסקו עם המון רבה אינו יכול להתבודד כ". משא"כ שרה היתה יושבת באהלה בקדושה וטהרה (וע' מש"כ הגאון חתם סופר בהקדמתו בזה דברים ראויים אליו ז"ל). שנית דאין רוה"ק חל אלא מתוך שמחה...ושרה זה צדקתה להפלא שהיתה באמונתה...ע"כ לא נתעצבה בכל ימי חייה והיתה שקועה ברוה"ק.
For two reasons: First of all, Avraham in his righteousness, was a world leader who guided the people to the service of God…And one who deals with the masses cannot isolate himself that much, which is not true of Sarah who sat in her tent in holiness and purity. Secondly, Ruach Hakodesh only rests upon a person through joy, and Sarah was exceedingly righteous in that she had great and wondrous faith…for this reason, she was never saddened nor worried throughout her life for all of her days, and she was therefore immersed in Ruach Hakodesh.
Sarah, explains the Netziv, was a woman of חיים – she had a joy for life, a deep faith and a positive attitude. Thus, the meaning of the phrase, שני חיי שרה is, "the years of a life of joy of Sarah."

This beautiful depiction of our great matriarch also challenges us today. With the confusing division of roles prevalent in modern society, we no longer laud the concept of התבודדות within the "tent." (And, to be honest, it's not really feasible today either.) But, we must acknowledge that this reality does have a cost, as we no longer have a sense of deep faith and often lack the חיים – the joy of life – that can only come from התבודדות.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Audio Shiur: Parshat Chayei Sarah - Inside vs. Outside the Tent

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Chayei Sarah - Inside vs. Outside the Tent

From a strange nuance in the text at the beginning of the parshah, we then turn to the end of the Parshah, and then back to the beginning of last week to focus specifically on the unusually accurate description of the choreography of the angels' visit. That brings us back to an amazing commentary of Netziv at the beginning of Chayei Sarah, which describes what made her special and unique, and has a lot to teach us about politics, ourselves, and what's missing from our homes today.

Click here to navigate to the shiur on YUTorah.org.

Click to play the Shiur (or right-click to download)

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Monday, November 5, 2012

More Israeli RZ Politics - 2012 Edition

They didn't even pretend the sheet was about Torah
Aside from race for the head of the party (the election is this Tuesday), on the following week we'll pick the slate for the full list of candidates for the party. So, the weekly Alonei Shabbat (supposedly parshah sheets, but it's all politics now) are full - really full of ads for the different candidates running for office. These things really don't belong in the shuls, and the people who make these weekly rags are clearly the big winners in this race - as is Rav Chaim Drukman, who appears in almost every ad.
The most popular weekly is called Olam Katan (you can download it here for yourself, or if you prefer Giluy Daat), which is supposedly aimed at young people, with type so small you can barely read it. I say supposedly, because while the target audience can't really vote, the paper is full of ads for people that you've never really heard of running for the Bayit Hahehudi list.

Each ad lists:
1. The candidate's qualifications
2. How he served in some elite military unit
3. What a great guy he is
4. Which Rav endorses him (It seems that Rav Druckman has endorsed pretty much everyone)
5. How he will unite the party. In fact, the ads seem to be endorsing each other, with each candidate claiming to get along with both Orlev and Bennett.
What's the difference between each of them? No idea. None whatsoever. Again, it's all about who you know. Although if you're reading this, I'm going to vote for Jeremy Gimpel. He seems like a really good guy, and he speaks English.

My favorite ad by a very wide margin? I love the ad for Harav Rachamim Nissimi. It proclaims: OUR POWER IS IN OUR UNITY! Sounds great, doesn't it?

Again, I know nothing about Rav Nissimi. He seems like a good guy, and he's a Sfardi running on the Bayit Hayehudi list.
His ad claims that he's the man to unite the party. After all, look at that great picture! He's standing there with Orlev AND Bennett, and they're all holding hands in the huddle, ready to break and start playing football! Hike!
But then you read the words, and he tells you: For the head of the party, vote for Zevulun Orlev. Then, vote for Bennett and Nasimi high on the list for the Knesset the next week.
So now you know what team he's on.
The best part of the ad? Look at the tiny words on the side when I have circled in red, which I'll help you with: התמונה הינה הדמיה בלבד - which means, "picture for illustrative purposes only", which really means, "This picture never happened. It's a fake that we Photoshopped."
I love it! Can Rav Nissimi unite the factions of the party? Sure he can - with Photoshop.
In real life? That's another question entirely.
But this isn't real life. It's politics.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

November 2012 in Israel: All Politics all the Time

Obama vs. Romney? Hardly. It's go time in the Bayit Hayehudi.

In one corner, we have MK Zev Orlev, who successfully overwhelmed the current party head Minister of Science and Technology Rabbi Dr. Hershkovitz, so now they're running on the same ticket. Mr. Orlev's slogan is, מוביל ת'עניינים - loosely translated as "Making things Happen", which I take to mean, "taking care of people who I know who ask me to help them with their local issues."
That's not a knock, actually. He's known as a very caring member of Knesset, who's apparently quite willing to use his power to help people in the RZ community. Sadly, he's also been on the job while the party's power has consistenly waned over the past few years. See this ad, which has thoughtfully provided a nice visual aid charting the party's decline.

In the other corner is Naftali Bennett, a former Likudnik who made $140 million selling his software company, now vying for the party's leadership. He's trying to make the Bayit Hayehudi more of an "open tent", which as I understand it means seeking the votes of people who aren't necessarily Orthodox per se, and also addressing issues other than the settlements. Also, Bennet promises to finally unite the different factions together into a single party, which he claims has a chance of getting eight or more seats in the Knesset.
Actually, politically, I have no idea whether the two "sides" disagree fundamentally about anything. It's more about personalities now. Welcome to Israeli politics, where people vote more for people than for ideologies. How else would former media personalities have any chance of getting elected? Can you imagine Tom Brokaw getting a serious look in politics? Really?
In any case, the way I see it, it's boiling down to an election of old vs young. The old guard, (read here: over age 40 - or maybe 45?) who know Orlev, just don't trust Bennett. Sure, he's a good guy, but let him work his way up the ladder and earn his keep. They're all in for Orlev.
Anyone younger than that is simply fed up with the old guard, and the fact that they can't seem to get along with each other. The "Young Rabbi" wrote this morning that he doesn't know anyone in his circles who will vote for the Bayit Hayehudi if Orlev is elected. Young people are sick of the old way of doing things, and want someone new, who didn't make a life in politics to give things a try.
Will Bennett really do things differently? Will he really succeed in uniting the party? Who knows? I always feel like new people claiming to be able to do things differently (read here: Barack Obama) quickly discover that politics is a rough world, and idealism and promises don't always pan out as you'd hope. But at least they offer something different.
More of the same means even greater irrelevance for the Religious Zionist community in the coming government.