Thursday, October 31, 2013

Audio Shiur: Parshat Toldot - Blind to the Truth

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Chayei Sarah - Peripheral Biblical Figures

I began the shiur by playing the attached video. Chazal and the commentators provide a wide range of explanations to a simple question: Why did Yitzchak lose his sight? Their answers, from the obvious to the surprising, can teach us a lot about what we see, don't see, and sometimes don't want to see.

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Rabbinic Competition and the Tzohar Law

An old rabbi joke you might have heard:
A man walks into the rabbi's office to talk. After exchanging pleasantries, he finally gets down to business.
"Rabbi," he says, "I want you to make me a Kohen."
"Make you a Kohen?! We don't do that!"the rabbi responded.
"I thought you might respond in this manner," the man said, reaching into his pocket and removing his checkbook. "So I'm prepared to make a ten-thousand dollar donation to the synagogue in exchanging for your helping me."
Ten thousand dollars was a lot of money, and the shul certainly needed it, but the rabbi held firm.
"Sorry, but I can't help you."
A week later, the man was back.
"Rabbi, I really want you to make me a Kohen. And I've thought about it, and I'm willing to up my donation to a fifty thousand dollars, straight to the synagogue's general fund. Will you do it?"
This time, the rabbi took a moment. He thought about it, but decided that he couldn't go through with it.
"Sorry," he told the man, "But I just can't help you."
A week later, the man returned once again.
"Rabbi," he said. "I truly need to be a Kohen. I'm willing to up my offer to a hundred thousand, straight to your discretionary fund, no questions asked. Please, I'm begging you."
A hundred thousand dollars. The rabbi lost himself in thought for a few moments, and then said softly, "I think I can help you."
"Terrific!" the man said excitedly, as he begun scribbling out the check. "Wonderful!"
"But there's one thing I need to ask you." the rabbi interrupted. "I don't understand. Why is it so important for you to be a Kohen?"
"Simple," the man explained. "My grandfather was a Kohen. My father was a Kohen..."

Throughout my years in Detroit, I appreciated the fact that I never felt the need to troll for members. On one hand, I certainly felt a responsibility and obligation to increase membership. My salary and livelihood depended upon it. At the same time, our shul occupied a unique space in our community. In contrast to the other shuls in the neighborhood, the Young Israel of Oak Park really is the only Modern Orthodox large shul in the Oak Park community. If you were looking for that kind of shul, we were there for you. My job, as I saw it, was to make the shul the most welcoming, inviting shul that it could be - which would hopefully drive membership.
Most of my friends, I think, were in the same position.
Others, though, found themselves in neighborhoods with multiple shuls competing for the same members. Sometimes this would result in a "cold war", with shuls subtly competing for members by offering attractive programming and even financial discounts. At times though, this process degenerated into outright pilfering, as rabbis openly courted members of other shuls. (They would, of course, deny it, claiming a prior "relationship" that they wished to nurture. But pilfering happens, and it isn't pretty.)
What I have never heard of, at least in recent decades, is a case where an Orthodox rabbi relaxed his halachic standards in order to increase his membership. Perhaps I'm naive, but we're really not in it for the money. Most rabbis I know could have gone into other careers which pay far better, but entered the rabbinate out of a sense of idealism and devotion to Klal Yisrael. So the suggestion that rabbis would relax their standards for their own financial gain rings hollow to me.
I mention this in light of the recent Tzohar Law which gained final passage in the Knesset this week. The Tzohar Law says simply that instead of having to register to marry in the municipality in which one lives, a couple can register to marry in any rabbinate of their choice.
Before the law was passed, standard regulations from the Chief Rabbinate require a couple to register for their marriage license in the local rabbinate in which they reside. These rabbinates are essentially deregulated and determine their own procedures and halachic guidelines. Certain rabbinates refuse to register converts of any kind; others will not permit most Zionist rabbis to conduct weddings. No less important is the quality of the service and hours of operation.
Over the past decade, this reality has been a significant and major factor prompting many halachically Jewish Israeli couples to choose civil marriage in Cyprus or Prague over navigating the challenging bureaucratic maze of their local rabbinate. Moreover, many couples simply forgo formal marriage, preferring to live together without bothering with the hassle of Chuppah and Kiddushin. Without the benefit of Chuppah and Kiddushin and a kosher Ketubah, the children of these couples will face great challenges in proving their Jewish status in the future. This reality, combined with hundreds of thousands of halachically Jewish Russian immigrants who cannot prove their Jewish status, has created a wave of assimilation that threatens the Jewish nature of the State of Israel.
In a meeting in late August, the new Chief Rabbinate decided to publicly oppose the proposed law, citing unspecified halachic concerns associated with the law. Last year, then Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger came out strongly against the law, claiming that it would "dramatically increase the number of mamzerim in the Jewish people."
Chareidim have long argued that the law would encourage people to seek out the most lenient rabbinate, and encourage rabbis to permit inappropriate kulot. I find the entire argument troubling. Essentially, this argument stipulates that rabbis can't be trusted, and will race to the "bottom" chasing after the most possible marriage registrations.
Really? Do we suspect the local rabbinates to such a great degree that we fear that they'll compromise halachah for financial gain? Why then do we trust them to perform the weddings in the first place? I truly never fully understood the Chareidi opposition to the law, especially since Chareidim never registered themselves with local rabbinates, and have no use for them. My suspicion is that they fear that people will shy away from utilizing them for weddings, preferring to hire rabbis that more fit their "style" or outlook. Essentially, the law will cause rabbis to lose wedding fees (which they were not legally allowed to charge) to competing, more accessible rabbis.
That's a legitimate fear.
While I don't believe that rabbis should or would compete in the area of halachah, they most certainly should compete in the areas of service. I hope that this new law will encourage local rabbinates to compete to be more accessible, more open, friendly and positive. I hope that they'll attract couples based on accessibility and ease of use. I hope that they'll begin to think about ways to make the marriage ceremony more spiritually meaningful, so that they're friends attending the wedding will ask them, "Who was that rabbi? We want him to marry us as well."
That happens at Tzohar weddings all the time.
Rather than harm Judaism, this law will go a long way towards making traditional marriage friendlier and more engaging.
And that's a good thing for the Jewish people.

Daylight Savings Time in Israel

For years, Daylight Savings Time was the subject of a huge fight in the Jewish State. The Interior Ministry, under the control of chareidi parties, routinely rolled the clock back on the Saturday night before Yom Kippur, in order for the fast to end an hour "earlier" than usual. This, of course, prompted outrage from secular Israelis who claimed that the Chareidim were advancing their own religious agenda at the expense of the broader society. Each year, they'd get into a fight, promise to "study" the issue, and then, after exhaustive study, keep the status quo. Welcome to Israel.
This year things finally changed. Actually, they changed last year - but the change only went into effect this year. Instead of changing the clocks in September, we kept Daylight Savings time for an extra six weeks, and only changed the clock this past Saturday night. And...the sky hasn't fallen. There weren't widespread reports of famished Israelis breaking their fasts at ten minutes before 7:00pm on Yom Kippur.
The one place Israelis felt the change was on our cellphones and computers. For some reason, my phone couldn't adjust itself properly, and was consistently an hour off. For the last month, my online calendar was sometimes an hour off, sometimes not. I wondered why they couldn't just reset the clocks to change later, like everyone else. Is it that hard to change the clocks on the system?
I never really understood the Yom Kippur issue. Last I checked, the fast lasts for twenty-five hours. If you start the fast at 5pm, it lasts for 25 hours, and if you start it an hour later, at 6pm, as we did this year, it still lasts for 25 hours.
In fact, I kind of like the longer Daylight Savings Time.
I liked driving home at 5:00pm when it was still light, instead of having night fall before my commute home. I liked making it home for Ma'ariv, which I now cannot do. I enjoyed that extra hour of daylight in the afternoon, instead of "wasting" it in the morning.
True, the sun rose significantly later in the morning (about an hour), making life more challenging for those who schedule requires them to get up early and daven. It can be challenging getting the kids out of bed when the sun hasn't fully risen. And some rabbis complained that it was pitch black when they got to shul in the morning. (The government did pass regulations allowing men to arrive late to work if they needed to daven later than normal though. What a country!)
I don't think that the extra daylight saves any energy, by the way. I just like it better.
But, I would make one suggestion. Instead of ending standard time at the end of March, I think that we should wait until after the first night of Pesach. The Pesach Seder is a ritual observed by the vast majority of Israelis. On that evening, there's a legitimate halachic argument to begin the Seder as early as possible, to include the children for as long as possible. It really does make a difference whether you start the Seder at 7:00pm or at 8:00pm.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Audio Shiur: Parshat Chayei Sarah - Peripheral Biblical Figures

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Chayei Sarah - Peripheral Biblical Figures

In Chayei Sarah we meet two peripheral biblical figures - Eliezer and Dvorah, the wet nurse of Devorah. What do we really know about these people? More importantly, what roles did they play in the development of the Jewish people, and what can we learn from them?

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Should Monetary Considerations Play a Factor in Deciding Whether to Make Aliyah?

Everyone knows the old joke: "How do you make a million dollars in Israel?" Answer: Come with two million.
Ha. Ha. It's not a funny joke, and actually not really true anymore, at all. But the joke highlights the very real financial concerns that prevent many a potential oleh from realizing the dream of Aliyah. They rightly wonder: should they make the move, irrespective of financial concerns, or should their money-worries play a major role in what is undoubtedly a challenging decision? Netziv, based on the actions of Avraham Avinu, makes a thoughtful suggestion.
Following God's commandment of לך לך, Avraham abandons his homeland for the Promised Land. Yet, according to the Netziv, the journey took place in two distinct stages. The Torah tells us,
 וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָם, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלָיו ה', וַיֵּלֶךְ אִתּוֹ, לוֹט; וְאַבְרָם, בֶּן-חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה, בְּצֵאתוֹ, מֵחָרָן. וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם אֶת-שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת-לוֹט בֶּן-אָחִיו, וְאֶת-כָּל-רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכָשׁוּ, וְאֶת-הַנֶּפֶשׁ, אֲשֶׁר-עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן; וַיֵּצְאוּ, לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן, וַיָּבֹאוּ, אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן. (בראשית יב, ד-ה)
So Abram went, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him; and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. (Bereishit 12, 4-5)
Netziv notes the unusual order of the verses. We first read that Avram went – and Lot went with him, and note his age upon departing Haran. Then, in the very next verse, we learn that Avram took Sarai, Lot, and all of their possessions. Is this not at least a partial repetition of the first verse?
To answer these questions, Netziv explains that these two verses describe not one, but two legs of the same journey. And, while we normally translate the phrase, וילך אברם כאשר דבר אליו ה'  to mean, "And Avram went, as God had spoken to him" (meaning that Avram follow God's commandment), Netziv explains the phrase differently, suggesting that the Torah is telling us not what Avram did, but when he did it.
אלא משמעות כאשר דבר תכף ומיד כשדבר ולא המתין על הכנה הדרושה לזה וכדי שלא יהיו לו עכובים ממכירת הנחלאות וכדומה יצא תכף ומיד ולוט הלך עמו והניח אשתו ושארי בני ביתו בעיר עד שמכרו הכל והוה נתעכב מעט בדרך ומאחר שכבר יצא מעירו והחזיק בדרך ראו אנשיו להכין הכל ובאו כולם אצלו ואז כתיב ה ויקח אברם אז הי' אברם בראש וכל הטפלים כמש"כ
Rather, the meaning of the words כאשר דבר is "immediately and without delay" – that [Avram] did not wait to complete the necessary preparations. So that there would not be unnecessary delays from the sale of his property and similar matters he left immediately, and Lot went with him. He left his wife and the other members of his household in the city until they sold everything, and he tarried a bit on the road. Yet, since he had already left the city and begun the journey, his people saw fit to make the necessary preparations, and then they all joined him. Then it is written, ויקח אברם "And Avram took".
According to Netziv, Avram followed God's commandment immediately, refusing to wait for the sale of his property. Only after he had already left his home did he then slow down enough to wait for his entourage to attend to his affairs, sell his property, and join him on the road.
Yet, Netziv wonders: If Avraham received a direct divine commandment to move, should he not have simply dropped everything and traveled immediately to the Promised Land without delay? Why did he allow himself to be delayed by the mundane matters of his household?
...אחר שהחזיק בדרך וידע שלא יהיה לו מניעה מגוף הליכה שוב ראה לחוש לאבידת הממון וכל היקום - אע"ג שהוא נגד הזריזות לגמר המצוה, מכל מקום גם שמירת נכסים הוא ענין ראוי לחוש...משא"כ בתחלה שהיה משער שאם היה מחעכב בשביל שמירת הנכסים היה יכול להיות מניעה לעיקר הליכה, על כן הוחלט אצלו לצאת תיכף ומיד ויעבור עליו מה. וזה כלל גדול מה שיש ללמוד בדרך המצות.
…Once he established himself on the road, and knew that [monetary matters] would not prevent him from leaving at all, then he saw fit to concern himself with the loss of his money and all of living things – even though this contradicted the value of alacrity in completing a mitzvah, nonetheless maintaining one's property is also a matter of genuine concern…this is not true with regard to the beginning of the journey. He estimated that were he to tarry due to concern for preserving his wealth, this could possibly represent an obstacle to traveling at all. Therefore, he decided to leave immediately, and whatever would happen, would happen. And this is a great rule that we should apply to the fulfillment of the commandments.
Is money an issue when we approach the fulfillment of mitzvot, and especially the challenging mitzvah of Aliyah? It depends. Money worries are indeed real, genuine concerns, and should be considered – even if they delay the fulfillment of the mitzvah. But they cannot be so overriding that they prevent us from fulfilling the mitzvah at all.
So, if you're thinking about Aliyah, and worried about money, first of all, you're not alone. Most Olim, contrary to popular belief, don't have two million dollars in the bank (far, far from it). Financial concerns can and should be part of one's planning when charting the path to aliyah, and, as Avram demonstrated, can even be a legitimate reason to delay the fulfillment of this critical mitzvah.
On the other hand, finances should not and cannot keep us from fulfilling Aliyah, or any other mitzvah. When financial concerns become so great that they're holding us back completely, then we must follow in Avraham's footsteps and, in the words of Netziv, "leave immediately, and whatever happens, happens."
We don't abandon logic and ignore the important factor of money when considering Aliyah. But we can never forget the critical element of faith, and trust that if the Holy One commanded us to fulfill a mitzvah, even if we can't see it, His guiding hand will lead us to success, even when we ourselves cannot see how.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Things I Never Knew About Rav Avraham Tzukerman, zt"l

Rav Avraham Tzukerman, zt"l
This Religious Zionist press reported today on the passing of Rabbi Avraham Tzukerman, a major figure who played a prominent role in the establishment of the Yeshivat Bnei Akiva system, the driving foundation of the entire Religious Zionist establishment in Israel today.

In my relatively young age, I never really knew Rav Tzukerman, although it's clear just from reading about him that he was a major figure who affected many, many people who never even heard of him - like myself.
I'd like to share some nuggets from one of the more meaningful pieces I came across called, "Things You Didn't Know About Rav Avraham Tzukerman".

1. He decided to study in yeshiva at age twelve, after hearing a powerful talk from a young yeshiva student lamenting the fact that too many parents exert all of their energies in the goal of providing financially (but not spiritually) for their children. (It's amazing how a single talk can affect a person - and thus affect countless others. Too often we minimize the power of oratory to affect change.)
2. He studied in Pinsk. He and his friends at the yeshiva would daven shacharit at the local train station among the gentiles in order to teach themselves to overcome the attribute of shame and develop their attribute of courage.
3. His pillow at the yeshiva was wet from tears shed from homesickness.
4. The students at the yeshiva once turned to the Rosh Yeshiva in Pinsk, the famed Steipler Gaon, to expel a student who they considered insufficiently serious. The Steipler told them: "Just as when you sit for many hours learning one's pants wear thin, so too, for someone who spends an extended amount of time in yeshiva, something happens in his heart, even if it's not externally evident." The Steipler's answer made a deep impact on Rav Tzukerman's educational philosophy.
5. After he made aliyah with his father, he studied at the Navardok yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Even though they recognized his Zionist views, they allowed him to remain in the yeshiva as long as he agreed not to share his reading material with other students.
6. He used to say, "A person must worry about his own spiritual needs, and his friend's physical needs."
7. When people would seek advice from him about contentious issues, he would never tell them what to do, but instead would say, "This is what I would do."
8. He would follow the psak of the Aruch Hashulchan, as was the Lithuanian practice, noting that the Mishnah Berurah was hardly known in Lithuania.
9. He would say, "In all of  the yeshivot, in general they invested heavily in the individual, the illuy (genius). It was he who they drew close, and he who they tried to develop and nurture into a Torah giant. What does a yeshiva [such as this] by its nature wish to achieve? [It wants] to raise Torah giants (Gedolim). We, in our yeshiva, did not want to foster the individual, but instead we wished to foster the community. For this reason, there were times when a young man studied in the yeshiva whose abilities were not great, and did not make great strides in his study. But he [was] a young man imbued with fear of Heaven; a good young man; a young man who worried about the community and wished to witness the glory of the community and contribute in community frameworks. It was this student who we fostered, it was he who we raised, because in him we saw blessing. In this way, the yeshiva fostered and raised a communal structure, for it wished to foster communal life."

Yehi Zichro Baruch - May his memory be blessed, and may his soul be bound up in a bond of eternal life.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Audio Shiur: Parshat Vayera - Avraham and Sodom - Living Apart or Living Within?

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Vayera - Avraham and Sodom - Living Apart or Living Within?

Why didn't Avraham choose to live in Sodom, and try and save the city with his chesed? Should we live apart, or try to live together and influence from within?

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A Nice Reminder of Why We Moved Here

This past week, Bezalel's yeshiva, Tzvia Katif in Yad Binyamin, went on what they called a "gibbushon" - from the word gibbush, which means "bonding experience". He came back after the two-day trip tired, sweaty, and in terrific spirits. The trip was designed to honor the fallen soldiers from the six-day war. The boys walked and hiked at least twenty miles over the two days, slept in the open air (unless they brought a tent), spent time with their rabbanim, and ended up at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, where they ran a memorial program for the entire school. (Oh, and he also got a t-Shirt from the trip. Here in Israel, whenever a kid sneezes, they give them a commemorative t-shirt. Leah had an Ezra program this week, and came home with a t-shirt sponsored by a local framing shop. Go figure.)
The video is well done, and watching it (I couldn't find Bezalel) made me so happy that the school trips that my children benefit from are so rich in the essence of our people; they focus on the sacrifice of others, helping the boys grow closer to each-other, their teachers, and their nation. Watching the video (the background music doesn't hurt either), I am reminded yet again why we moved here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

My First Tzohar Wedding

In a previous post, I described the meeting that I had with the secular couple whose wedding I was to officiate at as a representative of Tzohar. This week, I performed the wedding, which for me was a tremendous experience. I'll explain why.
The first thing that you realize immediately is that secular weddings, while they have much in common with religious weddings, are also quite different.  That became clear as soon as I arrived.
I actually came right on time, and made my way to the bridal suite to wish the bride Mazal Tov (and to let them know that I had indeed arrived.) Entering the room, two things struck me immediately. They had just finished a full meal, and were resting before the wedding, and the bride's dress - a strapless wedding gown - wasn't what I was accustomed to. We had discussed the matter of modesty during our meeting at my house, but I didn't remember what we had concluded, and while I tried to maintain a cool exterior, I wasn't entirely sure what to do. I quickly began to think of the stories that I had heard of Rav Soloveitchik conducting a chuppah with his head buried in a siddur. In fact, the kallah had "sleeves" that went with the dress, which she wasn't wearing it at the time. All worked out in the end.
On to the Chosson's Tish. Oh, that's right. There isn't one.
When I finally found the groom (who was practicing a song he had written for his bride with the band), he had to find the caterer, who was holding on to the Ketubah (which the couple picks up from Tzohar and brings to the wedding.) When we finally located him, he brought the ketubah and we sat down to fill out the necessary forms. The caterer kept pestering me about how long the chuppah would take. When I joked that my speech wouldn't be more than twenty minutes, he didn't laugh.
There is no Tenaim (which is a completely unnecessary ritual), so we sat down on some couches (and they pulled over a coffee table so that I could write) while I filled in the Ketubah and associated forms. We called the witnesses (friends of the groom's father), and they watched and waited while I filled in the Ketubah. It took about ten minutes. I had hoped to be able to do this on my own before everyone else showed up, but no luck. Nothing like trying to make small talk while filling in important halachic documents.
When I finished, the witnesses signed, we did a "kinyan" and that was it. Oh, sorry - the photographers then came by. So we did it all again so that they go their "shot." That actually happened a number of times. And they asked me to move out of the way during the chuppah so that they could video. ("Harav, you're blocking the shot!") And they yelled at me for having him break the glass before they were ready (so they made the groom stomp his foot again).
On to the Chuppah!
Like religious weddings, the groom and bride walked down to music that they had chosen - played by the DJ. But the bride had also recorded a beautiful message/prayer to the groom that they played as she walked towards the chuppah. It was quite lovely, and made me wonder whether religious weddings follow the "script" of what your "supposed" to do a bit too closely. Eventually they made their way to the chuppah, and we were ready to go.
Once there, I quickly realized that I had neglected a critical aspect of training to perform the wedding: juggling. Really. God blessed me with two hands, but I had to hold the cup of wine, the card with the brachot, and also the microphone. (when I held it too far during the first brachah, the video guy rushed up to me to tell me to hold it closer. "Harav - bkol ram!" Those who know me know that I usually don't have any trouble making myself heard.) I spent the rest of the chuppah spilling the wine, and moving cards, cups and the mike from hand to hand as I tried to navigate my way through the ceremony.
The rest went off like any other chuppah. I made the brachot. The couple drank. He gave her a ring. She took it. I read a bit of the Ketubah, and he gave it to her. (The photographer then had them hold it up together under the chuppah, grinning.) I said a short dvar Torah, which I hope went over well. Then we called up friends and family for the Sheva Brachot, and it was over.
The family was great. They really appreciated my being there and doing the wedding, and when the groom's father, who himself is religious, asked me whether he owed me anything, I felt wonderful telling him that he did not, and was happy to volunteer.
In truth, it's not a simple matter. Tzohar rabbis take no money for the weddings which they perform, and many people, while admiring the altruism, wonder whether it's really fair. After all, if the couple is paying tens, if not hundreds of thousands of shekels on everything else, from the food to the photographer to the video, why should the rabbi's time be free?
Thankfully, I'm in a position where I don't need to live off of performing weddings, so I was glad to perform the wedding as a chessed for the Jewish people. I feel that I'm helping (and interacting with) a population I would never otherwise meet, and came away enriched by the experience.
While I  was walking away from the chuppah, the groom's brother in law (who is also religious) came over and told me a wonderful Dvar Torah.
Why are we called "Yehudim" (Jews)? he asked me. The answer is because we come from the tribe of Yehudah. And Yehudah's mother gave him that name because she wanted to express her thanks to God for having a fourth son. Realizing that she was one of Ya'akov's four wives and that there would be twelve tribes, when she had her fourth son, she felt a great sense of thanks that she merited to have her "allotment" of sons. So she said, הפעם אודה את ה - "for this [child] I will thank God". We are called Yehudim (Jews) because we carry on this trait of giving thanks, and appreciate the goodness of others. 
"And that", he told me, "is why I'm thanking you for what you did tonight."
Driving away from the wedding, I kept thinking about my early rabbinic career in West Hartford, CT. It was an older shul and many of the members were senior citizens, and I came to know a funeral director in town who happened to also be a member. (come to think of it, that might be why he joined...but I digress.) I did a lot of funerals during those years, both of shul members and also of non-members. And while most brought in some money, I remember doing a few for free - and especially remember one for a lonely Jew who died without any friends or relatives. We buried him almost entirely by ourselves.
Driving away from the wedding last night, I couldn't help but think that while in America I did chessed by conducting funerals, here in Israel, I do chessed by doing weddings. I drove away feeling more Israeli than I have in a while; more connected to the country that I moved to over five years ago, but only now am beginning to give back to in a meaningful and important way. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Audio Shiur: Parshat Lech Lecha - Avram, Lot and the Danger of Money

Audio Shiur:
Parshat Lech Lecha - Avram, Lot and the Danger of Money

What was the underlying cause of the argument between Avram and Lot? What does their argument tell us about our own hopes and dreams?

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Non-Essential Employees

Imagine writing the following email to your boss:
Dear Boss,
Having noticed that the offices experiencing budgetary challenges, I have come to recognize that I don't need to work over the next several days. I reviewed my job position and responsibilities, and have concluded that my tasks are not really essential to the proper functioning of the office. So, I will be taking unpaid leave for an unspecified amount of time. See you when I get back!
Your Employee

Odds that your job would be there when you return? Minimal. After all, if you yourself don't think that your job is essential, how do you think that your boss should feel?
Now imagine receiving the following note:
Dear Employee,
Having reviewed our budget, we now recognize that we must temporarily suspend all employees that we consider non-essential. After studying your job position, we have determined that your job does not fit the "essential" description. We will let you know when economic conditions improve, and ask you to return to the office at that time.
Your Boss

I wonder: How would I feel if I received such a message? How would I take it to know that what I did was "not-essential"? It can't be a great feeling.
Isn't that just what the United States government is saying to eight hundred thousand of its employees?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Pew Poll and the Elephant in the Room

Dr. Jeffrey Woolf recently published a compelling piece on the recently released Pew Poll on the state of American Jewry and Judaism and its frightening results. It's not really that surprising, and merely confirms what everyone already knows: non-Orthodox Judaism cannot overcome the liberal values of Western society enough to ensure Jewish continuity. For that matter, much of Orthodoxy struggles with it as well.
Dr. Woolf accurately notes that stunning contrast between the American and Israeli Jewish communities, but at the same time, fails to note the "elephant in the room" that has preserved our people in exile for centuries. He writes,
I am, at the same time, thunderstruck by the stark contrast between the Pew Study, and the most recent Guttman/IDI Study of Israeli Jewry. The findings are almost symmetrical opposites. Israeli Jews believe in God (over 80%). There is a Jewish Renaissance (in Study, Culture, and Observance) in Israel that literally boggles the imagination (even as it confounds the usual definitions of Religious and Secular). And, while individualism and individual expression are certainly not absent, the sense of national cohesion, what we call bayachad, is movingly strong. Anyone, who lived here through the Second Intifada, or the various wars and campaigns since then will readily attest to this fact. All that my American brothers and sisters have so readily jettisoned, is held sacred by the Jews of Israel. No wonder that we speak so often at cross purposes. The two communities organize themselves around different value systems.
What he calls "beyachad" I call "anti-Semitism" and Jew-hating. I think that they go hand in hand.
Hapoel Akko Soccer Player Guy Dayan Celebrates a Goal with Shema and a Kippah
While American Jews enjoy an unprecedented period of freedom to live unmolested by their neighbors and the governments in which they reside, Jews in Israel have been the targets of constant and consistent threats that Dr. Woolf himself notes: "the Second Intifada, or the various wars and campaigns." Let's not sugarcoat things: over the past two decades we have endured a devastating campaign of suicide bombings, kidnappings of our soldiers - some of whom survived, some not; a summer of rockets at our northern cities, years of rockets and bombs at our southern cities (and in the last campaign, at Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv); the murder of families and children in their homes; the list goes on and on. It's not "Jewish" news. Here it's national news. And while it can get exhausting, it's a sacrifice to live here, and that sacrifice leads to a search for meaning, and has led to a desire to reconnect to Jewish roots and values. The signs of that reconnection pervade even secular Israeli society, from the celebrities who proudly keep Shabbat to the formerly secular movie stars (here too) to the soccer stars who celebrate goals by taking a kippah out of their sock to recite the Shema on the field.
Describe a Jewish community throughout Jewish history that didn't suffer anti-Semitism, and you'll be describing a community that no longer exists - as it assimilated into the broader culture.
Perhaps, then, the shift of anti-Semitism from Diaspora communities (I've read that Israelis now find Berlin a great place to live) to the Jewish State is indeed fitting. The nations of the world inherently sense the significance of Israel, and the diminishing role of Jewish communities around the world. They focus their hatred on the most powerful Jewish entity that exists at the time. While this trend portends short-term benefits for the Diaspora Jewish community (and long-term tragedy), it reflects a fact we already know: the center of the Jewish world has shifted to Israel, and the Jewish State now drives the Jewish agenda.
One "price" for this shift is the minimal to non-existent anti-Semitism felt in America, and the resulting fact that, to quote Dr. Woolf, "American Jewry is gently committing mass suicide through assimilation."

Audio Shiur: Parshiot Bereishit-Noach: The Attribute of Kayin According to Rav Kook

Audio Shiur:
Parshiot Bereishit-Noach: The Attribute of Kayin According to Rav Kook

Is there a common theme between the people of Migdal Bavel and Kayin? I think there is. From there we turn to Rav Kook's interpretation of what was wrong with Kayin's offering, as we study a long piece from Orot. Source Sheets here.

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