"May your ears hear what your ears are hearing"

If you are new to my blog, I suggest you start with my introductory post, The Story of the Meturgeman

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Location: Kochav Yaacov, Israel

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tisha B'Av addtional thoughts--5776

Each year I pick up on different parts of Eicha and the Kinot.  This year it was right near the beginning...Eicha 2:1-9.  It talks about all the things Hashem has done to destroy Tzion.  The destroyer was not Babylon...not Nebuchadnezzar...but Hashem.  Our enemies are only the tools He uses...rather than hate the tools, we should take away His reasons for using them.


I am pleased to report that this year, for the first time in many years, listening to the New York news during the Nine Days did NOT produce any Chillul Hashem stories.  Either they are too busy with local troubles, the Olympics, and those two unfit-to-be-president people that they don't have time, or there are actually less frum Jews making bad headlines.  IY"H it's the latter and will continue.


There WAS Chillul Hashem at the Kotel again on Rosh Chodesh Av, but it didn't make the international news, and, thank Hashem, no one called the Torah a "questionable object" this time.  The anti-women-of-the-wall people, intent on destroying this most evil group of women, blew whistles all through their davening.  (I guess whistles aren't as exciting to the New York press as thrown bottles and diapers.)

We all know the stories about simple shepherds who could only reach Hashem by whistling, but I don't think that's the case here.  Rather, I think that in their irrational, relentless drive to destroy an evil-that-isn't, these "anti-"s have disrespected their fellow Jews, the Kotel, and Hashem.


As I write this it is only a few more hours until Tisha B'Av is over.  As I say almost every year in one way or another, if we can get our acts together and start behaving like true Torah Jews, we can make this the last Tisha B'Av of mourning, and meet next year on Har Habayit for a Korban BBQ.

Inviting Bar Kamtza to Kinot--Tisha B'Av 5776

I mentioned this as a minor point several years ago. In our shul, and I'm sure many others, they give out an extra "kina" mourning the "churban" of the hitnakut.  This year and last they preceded it with a speaker...either someone who lived there or someone who was there at the end to provide chizuk, to give first-hand testimony of this "churban."  They ended up spending as much, or more, time on this than on the Shoah.

A Churban?  Equating Gush Katif to the destruction of the Temple?  How ridiculous is that?  Adding this to the Tisha B'av Kinot is a political act, not a religious one, and it has no place here.

It doesn't even fit the pattern of the the Hitnakut, NO JEWS DIED, and NO JEWS WERE FORCED TO LEAVE ERETZ YISRAEL.  It also wasn't our enemies that did it, but our fellow Jews, some of them frum, who believed they were doing it for the best of reasons.  (More on that shortly.)

(Disclaimer:  I had relatives who lived in the Gush Katif region and were evacuated on that day, and it took years and years for them to finally be permanently resettled, so I know how painful it was.  That does not in any way change the wrongness here.)

The Tisha B'Av davening, in addition to containing many kinot about the destruction of the Batei Mikdash, has added kinot for tragedies that befell various Jewish communities  through the Middle Ages.  Then it stops.  No more kinot were added until the ones commemorating the Shoah

It makes sense to say that other tragedies should be noted in kinot also.  But which ones?  Since those last Medieval tragedies, there have been hundreds of others in which multitudes of Jews have suffered and died.  A very minuscule and random sample include the Inquisition, the Chevron massacre of 1929, and the Pesach Seder massacre of 2002.  The list goes on and on.  Shouldn't the victims of the current intifada like Rav Miki Mark and Hallel Yaffa be remembered in a kina?

But all we can come up with to add to our lists is this one, little, thing that doesn't even fit the rules.  How sad is that?

It's worse than that.  The kina itself lament that soldiers and police were changed from "beloved brothers" to enemies.

Calling soldiers of the IDF enemies?  A Jew calling another Jew his enemy?  That's tragic.

The phrase "beloved brothers" also implies that we are talking about the frum soldiers who took part.  They, or their rabbis, decided that it was better to go along than to tear Israel apart in a civil war.  There were also frum Jews not related to the actual decisions that felt it was better to go along, and even some few that thought it might in the long run have positive effects.  And so this kina, and the inclusion of it in the Tisha B'Av davening, also seems to be yet another attack on "any Jew who disagrees with me."  (There were, in fact, at the time, public slanders and some threats made against those frum Jews who participated/supported the participation.)

There are two words for that:  Sinat Chinam.  And the perfect example of Jew against Jew that brought about tragedy is the Kamtza-Bar Kamtza story.

So we spend hours on Tisha B'Av morning lamenting the terrible things that have happened to us, and admitting (see my previous posts about the p'shat of Eicha and some of the kinot) that we are to blame, and we wrap it up by doing more of the thing that got us in trouble!  (K'tovel v'sheretz b' a person who goes into the mikva still carrying a rat. )  And tomorrow morning we'll wake up and wonder why all our kavana and sincerity hasn't brought Mashiach yet!

It makes perfect sense, if you realize that most of us have not really taken the bull by the horns and admitted, deep down to the bottom of our hearts, that we are the cause, and only by changing our attitudes can we bring the solution.

When I got home from shul I caught the tail-end of the live webcast of Kinot at the Yeshiva University Israel campus with Rav Dovid Gottlieb.  He was talking about Sinat Chinam, and he said that if you ask enough you can get Jews to admit to most other sins...maybe they broke Shabbat once, or ate treif...but never sinat chinam, because every time they hate it's for a good reason so it's not "chinam".

But usually it IS chinam...there's no problem with our fellow Jews that can't be solved without hate.  (Non-Jews, too, at least after we re-establish ourselves as a true or lagoyim and my favorite pasuk comes true.)  And only when we all come to that realization can we get out of this evil cycle and bring Mashiach.  במהרה בימינו

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Tisha B'Av thoughts -- 5774 (into 5775)

I have said some of this before. It's hard for me to be extra gloomy on Tisha B'Av because I dwell on these matters all year round.  In fact, this year I found something somewhat refreshing in the words of Yirmayahu and the paytanimThey don't blame anyone but ourselves!

The biggest problem we have today in our attempts L'taken Olam b'Malchut Shakai is that it's far easier to blame everyone else for our problems.  "It's Bush/Obama/the EU/the UN's fault...they're all anti-Semites who hate us."  "It's the Arabs...kill them all and we'll be fine."  "It's the chilonim trying to destroy Torah."  "It's the government bowing to foreign pressures."  And on, and on, and on.  If we do whisper that there are problems with Sinat Chinam or anything like that, it's always "that other group." As Tom Lehrer might say, "The Chareidi hate the Dati Leumi, and the Dati Leumi hate the Chareidi, and the Belzers hate Chabadniks, and everybody hates the Jews."

Not so Yirmayahu, and not so many of the piyutim.  They admit that the punishments come because WE sinned.  This year I especially noticed this year the evening piyut "Z'chor Hashem Meh Haya Lanu."  Beginning with the forth verse, it lists point by point the various bad things that happened during the churban, and mida k'neged mida explains what sins they were punishment for.  That kind of cheshbon is exactly what we need before we can even begin to work on our problems.

Think for a minute.  Do you really think that God is stupid?  If He sent the Arabs/foreign governments/chilonim to punish us for our sins, and we go and wipe out those groups, do you really think He will say, "All right then, I'll let you off the hook this time?"

I don't think so...and I think that if we accomplish that destruction in anti-Torah ways, the next wave of punishment will be far worse.

I wrote this a year ago and was too tired from fasting to finish.  I don't remember exactly what else I wanted to say specifically, but you know what my inclination is. Suffice it to say...we can't fool Hashem...if we somehow weasel out of one of His punishments without actually fixing our evil behavior,  He will send something else.  So let's listen to the N'vi'im and the paytanim and start correcting our own mistakes; then this can be the last Tisha B'Av.

Red Mad Cow Disease

This news came in less than two weeks ago:  the Temple Institute is trying to raise $125,000 to partially cover the cost of their project to breed a Halachic Para Aduma (Red Heifer.)

What?  $125,000? I'm (almost) speechless.  Such a misguided use of money and a distortion of the idea of anticipating the Redemption.

I can understand if you find a natural-born Red Heifer that fits all the Halachic requirements, you keep it and take care of it.  Without trying to read signs and portents, there is at least a chance it was born for a higher cause than exciting all the fanatics, so you do what you can to preserve it and pray that Hashem will bring about the need for it.

But spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to breed more?  No.

Anticipating the Yeshua doesn't mean sitting around waiting.  It means working towards that end, and at the same time hoping and praying and believing that enough others are doing the same thing that at any second the balance could tip in our favor and we will hear the Shofar of Eliyahu.

What kind of work?  Helping the poor.  ($125K would do a lot of good there.)  Stopping dishonesty and hatred among the frum community, because we are the ones Hashem is judging by.  Changing our behavior so that we truly become an Or LaGoyim, and so that D'varim 4:6 comes true.

If we do all that, the Red Heifers and all the Kelim for the Mikdash will follow smoothly.  If we don't, we can breed all the cows we want, and make all the vessels we want, and nothing will come of it.

I should mention that I've had a problem with the Temple Institute for years.  Unfortunately, I no longer have exact links or articles, but I remember that during the Hitnatkut (10 years ago), someone very high up in the Institute made public remarks that were, in my opinion, very hateful towards the frum Jews who supported the frum soldiers who decided not to start a civil war and participate. They were not, obviously, the only ones making such comments, but it struck me as horribly ironic. Bayit Sheni was destroyed because of sinat chinam, and here we have people trying to build the third Mikdash while spouting the same sinat chinam! I would be horribly upset if such Kelim were used in Bayit Shlishi.

(Another side irony...I've seen the Menora they looks just like the one on Titus' Arch.  But I learned in my Yeshiva University art classes that there is evidence that the actual Menora had a 3-legged base, and the massive square base was fitted by the Romans as a travel base.  So the new Menora intended for Bayit Shlishi was partially designed by the destroyers of Bayit Sheni!)

On this Tisha B'Av, let's keep our priorities straight.  It's wonderful that we want to meet Eliyahu Hanavi with physical things prepared for the time of the Geula, but if we don't make the spiritual preparations he won't even be there to meet!

I'm still hoping for that barbecue next year.  Together we can make it happen.

Mishenichas Av, Marbim b'Chillul HaShem? --Tisha B'Av 5775

Same old story, for the third time. Rosh Chodesh Av comes, so I can't listen to music.  I switch to a live stream of my old favorite New York news station, and wham!...there's a piece about frum Jews acting badly.

In this case it's about developers in the Satmar town of Kiryas Joel allegedly bribing New York Governor Cuomo to veto a bill that would stop the town from easily annexing surrounding land.  He vetoed the bill, and within a week $250,000 in campaign contributions were made to his campaign account, all from accounts linked to one developer who apparently has much to gain from the annexation. (See this article.)

This may not actually be a bribe according to U.S./N.Y. law. But it looks and quacks like a duck, so what else can it be? You can bet that's how people hearing the news are reacting...and that's enough to make it Chillul HaShem.

There was another item on Rosh Chodesh, but this one at least didn't make it across the pond...I saw it on the Jerusalem Post site here.  In the continuing war of the Hareidi world against the Women of the Wall (as if destroying them, many of whom are sincere, frum women, would solve all our problems), the Women tried again to smuggle a Sefer Torah into the women's section at the Kotel for their Rosh Chodesh davening. The woman who tried was arrested for "trying to bring a 'questionable object' to the Western Wall."

A Torah is now defined as a "questionable object?" By hareidim?  I thought "v'nahafoch hu" was for Purim?

The answer is, that once Sinat Chinam takes hold, nothing else matters.  The Women of the Wall never started any trouble...but their very existence is such an anathema to the Hareidi world that anything goes...including physical violence, throwing dirty diapers right under the Kotel, you name it.  And that leads to public Chillul HaShem.

We are supposed to anticipate the coming of Mashiach every day.  Every year there are people who invite others to their Tisha B'Av barbecues, in the event that Mashiach does come right before and the day changes to a Yom Tov.  Well, I didn't get my barbecue this year...and as long as frum people keep acting that way, I find it hard to believe I will even next year.

But I know that it can change; we just have to turn our focus back where it belongs.  Acheinu B'nei Yisrael.  The non-frum have to be loved, and respected, and encouraged to learn.  And the frum have to stop the hating and the hypocrisy, and set the kind of example that will help the others, and the entire world, to learn.  Only then will we be ready for Mashiach.  במהרה בימינו.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Another Av, the Same Old Story -- Tisha B'Av 5773

For a few years my favorite NY news radio was blocking international streaming, but it's back.  So once again this year, when the Nine Days started, I switched from music to news.  And, just like four years ago, I immediately heard Hillul HaShem B'Farhesia.  This year it was even worse...a one-two punch on Rosh Chodesh and the second of Av.

On Rosh Chodesh, of course, it was the monthly brouhaha at the Kotel.  It's a chazaka now that the soi-disant "Woman for the Wall" will, while claiming the purest of intentions, make an international Hillul HaShem every month.  It doesn't matter how pure their motives are (and, while I have suspicions about hidden agendas, I have no doubt that the motives of many of those involved are pure, albeit misguided), nor how evil they perceive their enemy, the Women of the Wall to be (a perception with which I completely disagree), the RESULT is Hillul HaShem, and that's all that counts.  It doesn't even matter that, as the Woman for the Wall claim, some of their members try to stop some of the other hareidi protesters from cursing, spitting, throwing dirty diapers, rocks, and bottles.  The world doesn't see that...the world sees 'thousands of Ultra-Orthodox protesters' trying to stop the poor 'liberal women' who only want to pray their own way.  As RebbeYochanan Ben Broka says (Avot, 4:5), "In Hillul HaShem, accidental and purposeful [commission] are the same."  It's done, and there's no way to take it back.

(Dirty diaper throwers versus women who want to do what Rashi's daughters did, all at our holiest site, and the diaper throwers are the good guys?  I hope to have more to say on all this in the near future.)

The next day, Av 2 (July 9, 2013), there were new reports about an old scandal:  homosexual abuse by frum teachers of frum students at Yeshiva University High School, and alleged coverups by YU.  It was in the news because of the victims' lawsuits. This is at least the second such scandal relating to the non-hareidi OU/YU world (the first being several years ago involving the director of NCSY), and we know it happens in the hareidi world as well.  (Nice to know there are things that unite both worlds.)

Yet we piously posture and point at the evil Western world for allowing same-sex marriage.

The saying of Rav Tarfon in Erechin 16b needs to be updated: if we say to the secular/non-Jewish world to take the speck out of their eyes, they can respond to us that we are covered head-to-toe in shmutz.

And people wonder why we're fasting today, instead of having a barbeque on Har HaBayit.  We can and will have that barbeque, when we wake up to what HaShem is telling us and return to His work of Tikun Olam.  במהרה בימינו.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Ethics of Exodus

Pesach is coming. The birth of Am Yisrael as a nation. All births are difficult and involve pain and suffering. But they do not involve injustice. Most especially, the birth of the Nation that is destined to bring Hashem's Torah to the world and thereby perfect it in His kingdom cannot possibly be brought about by injustice...but many seem to think that it can. There are three main aspects of Yetziat Mitzraim that are often misinterpreted in this light, and I want to discuss all three.

The Guiding Principle

Avraham Avinu set the standard way back in Parshat Va'yera. In debating with God to save the people of S'dom and Amora, he asked (B'reishit 18:25), "...Shall the Judge of all the Earth not do justice?"

Avraham won that debate with God...there is no other way to put it. If only there had been 10 righteous men in the cities of the plain they would have been spared. And the principle was established for all time...Hashem will only act justly. If something He does seems unjust, it is we who do not understand. This is the basis for our understanding of the Exodus story, as well as all the others in the Torah and later.

The Three-Day Request

Shmot 3:18: " and the elders of Israel will go to the king of Mitzrayim and you will say to him, 'Hashem, the God of Israel has called to us; and now let us please go three days journey in the desert, and we will sacrifice to Hashem our God.'"

That's all we asked for...a three-day vacation...with an unspoken implication that we would come back. Over and over again, that's what Moshe talks about. But when we finally packed up and left, we never came back.

Isn't that deception? We lied to Paro and then took advantage of it! Some of the commentators even say that when Paro was told "that the nation had fled" (Shmot 14:5) that it meant B'nei Yisrael had continued moving away from Egypt after three days, instead of turning around as expected. So what gives?

The answer is, three days was just an opening bargaining position. Even Paro understood that we wanted more; hence his attempts to limit who would go each time he was ready to concede after bad plague experiences. And the fact that even such a reasonable request was refused (three days off after over 200 years of service?) shows just how imperative it was for us to get out of there.

But the clincher is, the three day idea was dropped by the Mitzrim at the end! The horror of the deaths of the firstborn made them want to get rid of the Jews forever, and they kicked us out for good! Hashem told Moshe it would happen: "And Hashem said to Moshe, 'One more plague will I bring to Paro and to Mitzraim; after that he will send you from here. When he sends you, he will surely completely drive you away from here.'" (Shmot 11:1) After the plague, Hashem says, Paro himself will tell you to leave and never come back. Then in 11:8, Moshe tells Paro the same thing...when Paro's servants come to kick the Jews out, they will tell them to leave...period. No more discussion of a three-day pass...Moshe clearly tells Paro we are leaving for good. So there is no deception.

And in fact, in 12:22-23, we see that both Paro and the Egyptians only want to kick the Jews out...they don't say anything about returning. And finally, when Paro hears that the Jews are leaving (despite the commentaries I mentioned earlier), he doesn't complain that the Jews broke their word. He bemoans the fact "that we sent away Yisrael from serving us." (14:5) We told them to go away and never come back, and now I regret it. That's what Paro means here.

So there is no injustice here. We started with an opening proposition that would let Paro show if he would respect Hashem and Yisrael; when he failed the test we told him the deal was off and that we were going for good, and that is what happened.

The "Spoiling" of Egypt
(based in part on an original Meturgeman Drasha, Parshat Bo, 6 Sh'vat, 5762)

Shmot 3:21-22: "I will put the favor of the this nation in the eyes of Egypt, and it will be that when you go, you will not go empty. Each woman should ask of her neighbor and of the one in whose house she dwells vessels of silver and vessels of gold and clothing; you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; ונצלתם Egypt." (See also 12:35-36)

The word I didn't translate is the stickler. It's usually translated, 'you will spoil.' As in, the spoils of war. Compare the Purim story, where we fought our enemies but did not touch the spoil. Our purpose is not to be common marauders, but to win/maintain our freedom as a Nation.

It's made worse by the fact that the Hebrew word for 'ask' is usually translated 'borrow.' It looks like Hashem is telling us to lie once again to the Egyptians...ask for a loan that we don't intend to pay back.

I don't know about you, but my God doesn't work that way. While it's true that the Hebrew word for ask also can be used for borrowing, it is anathema to say that is what happened here. It also goes against logic...we just explained that the Egyptians wanted to be rid of the Jews forever...why would they want to see them again, even to get their loans back?

Rather the Jews asked their Egyptian neighbors for fair and just compensation for centuries of slave labor. Just as the owner of a Jewish slave has to compensate him liberally when he releases him (D'varim 15:13-15,18), so too the Egyptians had to make good for the services they had received. And they did, willingly.

So what is ונצלתם? There is an excellent analysis in the Hertz Chumash...he makes it very clear that the word means, not spoil, but SAVE! There is no other place in Tanach or in modern Hebrew where the root נצל is translated any other way. (You've heard of Hatzolah, the Jewish volunteer ambulance corps...they SAVE lives, they don't spoil them.)

The Egyptians did a horrible thing to the Jews...and they received their punishment in full with the plagues. They didn't need additional punishment for not compensating their released slaves properly. Even more, they didn't need the continued hate and resentment of B'nei Yisrael. We are commanded not to hate them, and to allow them to convert (D'varim 23:8-9). How could we do this if, in addition to everything else, they had turned away empty handed? This is what they were saved from.

(I should note that in light of the clear meaning of the Torah text that the Egyptians gave willingly because Hashem made them like us at the end, I have great difficulty with the Midrash that says we used the Plague of Darkness to find all the things they had tried to hide from us.)

The Hardening of Paro's Heart

Shmot 7:3: "I will harden Paro's heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt."

This is the big one. It sounds like Hashem needs a straw dummy to prove His strength; so He keeps setting him up and knocking him down. Poor Paro, then, shouldn't be reviled. He should be pitied. Over and over again he was prepared to surrender, but Hashem wouldn't let him. He lost his free choice, and was punished for it. What kind of justice is that?

But the Ramban makes it all very simple. He says, God wasn't taking away Paro's free will, he was giving it back! The Plagues were so overwhelming, Paro had no choice but to admit to Hashem's power and give in...and being forced to be good is no less a loss of free will then being forced to do evil. So when he reached that point (it wasn't until the sixth plague), God restored the balance...He gave him enough strength/stubbornness to make his own choice as before! And he chose evil.

It was this ultimate evil of Paro...the basic nature that always went to the evil choice when given half a chance...that brought about the need for all ten plagues. And so, in the final analysis, his punishment was just and deserved, as are all punishments from God.

It seems clear to me from these three cases; if we only take the time to understand the situation, Hashem always is the God of Justice. Since we are commanded to imitate His attributes, it behooves us as well to increase our efforts to act justly; to drop the petty hatred and bickering, and to once again become a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation, and a true Light to the Nations. Only then can we truly bring the Geula.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Painful Reevaluations

It has been raining here in Israel. A lot. I don't know if it's above or below average, and I'm sure it's not enough to completely alleviate the effects of five years of drought, but it's a phenomenal improvement over the past several years.

And when it started, I was upset. Here I had just written a 'fire and brimstone' post attributing the drought to Divine anger, and, in defiance of not only my post but the long-term forecasts of the Water Authority here, it looks like we have a respite.

I have had to admit to myself that I had become just like some of the people I complain about, who try to force every situation into their view of the Jewish version of Armageddon, gleefully anticipating the deaths of tens of thousands or millions (in the case of one person I know, possibly billions) of people in order to bring the Geula.

Between that and several other recent traumatic events in my life, I had been thinking of giving up this blog. However, I think it more important for me to continue...with some changes.

I have been forcibly reminded of a quote from Rav Yaakov Love of Passiac, NJ (which I heard indirectly from my good friend Alan Schleider): I am not God's CPA. We know the general guidelines that Hashem gives us for reward and punishment, but we are not the ones to determine how those guidelines are applied. We certainly don't have the ability to see all the ramifications of all of the actions of all the people in the world and how they impact on what will happen to one person, one group, or one nation. That's all up to Hashem, and while we can speculate and try to see how He is applying the guidelines in this world, it is absolute chutzpa to thing that we know.

The facts that I stated in that previous post are still the same. Drought DOES come to Israel because of the sins of the Jews, and there is much seriously wrong with our behaviour as "frum" Jews. But how this is applied to the real world, whether the drought was because of that or something else, and why we now have a respite, are much harder to pinpoint. I will still speculate about these things, but I will attempt to be far less pompous and certain about it, and I will certainly try to stop gloating. It hurts me when anyone suffers, even if they deserve it. I would much rather that everyone do T'shuva and we can end all of the punishments now.

I will attempt to return to my main focus, as I said in my very first post:
Most of what I speak about is towards that one goal: we need to get back on track. Stop blaming the goyim and the chilonim, stop blaming outside influences. Concentrate on ourselves and what we need to fix.

Because there is one thing of which I am still certain: If EVERY Jew can return to the ways of Hashem as He wishes, if we keep ALL the Mitzvot in joy and gladness, most especially the Mitzvot Bein Adam L'Chavero, if we return to being a true Or La'Goyim, a Light unto the Nations, then the Geula will come. No ifs, ands, or buts. במהרה בימינו

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Wake up and Smell the Parched Earth

As I have pointed out many times, people are all too willing to place the blame for our problems elsewhere. It's the chilonim, the eirev rav, the Arabs, the Americans, maybe even little green men from Mars. We concentrate on digging up obscure Midrashic references to prove that such and such an enemy is Edom, or Gog, or some other enemy that the Nevi'im predicted. After all, goes the argument, we are close to the time of the Geula now, and it will come whether or not we deserve it, so lets just try to fit the current situation into the prophecies so we will know what to expect, and whom to hate the most.

I suppose I should be comforted that so many people know what God is thinking, but I'm not. I also think I have some small inkling into His thinking, but it differs radically from the others.

Let's skip the obscure Midrashim and look at the simple P'shat in the Torah. We just read the second paragraph of the Sh'ma, in Parshat Eikev. The main difference between the first two paragraphs of the Sh'ma is that this one speaks quite clearly of the concept of s'char v'onesh, reward and punishment. And it is very clear (as the Hebrew version of the saying goes, black on white) in what it is saying: (D'varim 11:13-17)

If you do the Mitzvot, you will have plentiful rain and plentiful harvests. IF YOU SIN, THERE WILL BE NO RAIN AND YOU WILL BE LOST FROM THE LAND.

It doesn't say, if the goyim hate you. It doesn't talk about a few apostates. It is talking collectively to ALL of B'nei Yisrael, meaning especially US, the ones who actually believe and claim that we are keeping the Torah!

(You will tell me it talks about idolatry specifically; however it is clear from all the sources in the Torah and Chazal that any major failure to listen to the Torah works the same way.)

As I pointed out in regards to Tochecha, Israel is in the midst of it's worst drought in modern times. (Here's a recent audio link from Rusty Mike Radio with good information.) Yet I have barely heard a peep from the finger-pointers about it! You can't blame this on Dubya or Obama; Arafat and Abbas didn't stop the rain; and Sharon and Olmert didn't 'disengage' the rain clouds from our skies. So who is left to blame? They don't want to say it.

Drought comes to Israel because of the sins of the Jews. Period. Yes, there is global warming involved, and yes, water is wasted here, and yes, the government could do more towards desalinization, but the bottom line is it hasn't rained much in five years. There can only be one reason.

One other point. Last year was a Sh'mita year in Israel. One of the causes, according to Chazal, for the first Churban and Exile was the neglecting of Sh'mita...the Tochecha speaks of the land finally getting it's rest while we are gone. (Vayikra 26:34-35) The Sh'mita year we just passed through was rife with an increase of sinat chinam, poor Rabbinic decisions leading to forged Kashrut certifications, people being hoodwinked to go against the beliefs of their own Rabbis, and more Israelis eating actual forbidden produce than any time since the chalutzim started returning to the land. So while more people were able to follow the laws as they were done in the time of Chazal, it was at the cost of all that evil. I don't think Hashem was very pleased with us last year. (I will try to find time for another post on this subject.)

How many wake-up calls do we need? As long as we frum people are full of hatred, as long as we cheat in business, as long as we do all the other sins that we like to cover up, the situation can only get worse. We need to start changing, NOW.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sh'ma Yisrael -- Back to Square One

This week's Parsha, VaEtchanan, is the source of the Sh'ma, which we say in our davening at least twice daily...along with the Amida, it is the centerpiece. When we say it, we are supposed to concentrate on what it means, as well as on the fact that by saying it we are accepting upon ourselves Ol Malchut Shamayim, the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.

So what exactly does this little phrase mean? The words seem simple enough "Listen Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One." But there are many, many interpretations as to what it is actually saying to us.

I would like to share one that I heard from Rav Shlomo Riskin at one of his Motzaei Shabbat T'shuva drashot in Yerushalaim. (I may have heard it earlier in my life, but this is the time that it stuck.):

"Listen Yisrael, right now Hashem is OUR God, but someday Hashem will be One for the entire world."

Our task in the world is to MAKE Hashem One for the entire world. (Like the end of Aleinu, quoting Zechariah 14:9 "...On THAT DAY Hashem will be one and His name One.") It won't happen until we make it so! That is the charge that Moshe gave us in the Sh'ma. We have the Torah as our tool, and we must become a true Or LaGoyim to bring it about.

We are not doing that job very well. But worse, I think we have fallen back and are now failing at the FIRST part, "Listen Yisrael." Israel isn't listening to Hashem!

I'm not talking about the non-religious. I'm talking about the large number of frum Jews who keep the mitzvot for themselves, but could care less about anyone outside of their communities. Treif they won't eat, Shabbat they won't break, but anyone different from them they won't care about. Or more likely they look down on them. Not just non-dati Jews or non-Jews, but any dati group that has a different level of observance.

Many years ago in New York, before he made Aliya, Rav Riskin spoke of "Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Jews." They carry around a checklist, he said, of the behaviors that they think you should have. If you match up with the checklist, you're acceptable, and if not you are to be looked down on. They think, he said, that they have God in their back pocket!

People who think they are in control of Hashem, instead of the other way around, aren't listening. And if they are not listening, then Hashem isn't even One for the Jewish people. In that case, how are we supposed to make His Name One for the entire world? So the entire Sh'ma is cast aside and forgotten, no matter how loudly they shout it in shul.

We need to go back to the beginning. Forget our own arrogant judgementalism (remember, I'm talking to myself here as well...I know what I sound like) and join with the rest of Yisrael in listening. That will make Hashem One for us again; then we can go on to make His Name One for the universe.