"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

Friday, June 09, 2017

"Frum" Jews driving away Mashiach

I have said it before...Chazal tell us that one of the questions we will be asked after 120 years is, "Have you eagerly anticipated the Mashiach?", and I will have a hard time saying yes.

Most frum Jews believe, based on the Rabbinic interpretation of "b'ita achishena" (Yishayahu 60:22) that, sooner or later (by the year 6000 according to most views), Hashem will send us the Mashiach whether or not we deserve it.  I know at least one person, who spends his time trying to calculate Hashem's timetable for this, who says, "It's too late for achishena."  In other words, we can never be worthy and we must rely on that time that Hashem has held in reserve since the beginning.  (A very Christian attitude which I will try to discuss further in the near future.)

If all of frum Am Yisrael was busting it's collective gut to try to bring the Geula and just couldn't make it, I could believe in b'ita.  But when we thumb our collective noses at Hashem, going on destroying the world with our hateful ways, I can't believe or accept it for a minute.  It makes all of Torah a sham.

Last night in a chat group of local teenage "frum" girls, of which my daughter was a member (no longer), one of them posted that the murder in 2015 of 2-year old Palestinian Arab Ali Dawabsha was a "mitzva."

This is not the first time, and I'm it sure it won't be the last, that I have heard "frum" Jews advocating hate and genocide.  As if (you have heard this from me before, and will again) Hashem will stop punishing us for our sins if we can just get rid of the current instrument of His punishment.  It is an insult of the highest order to the intelligence of the God they claim to worship and believe in.  The reason this one hits home so hard is because of the impact it has had on a member of my family, who suddenly has been exposed to the hate that can lurk beneath the surface of seemingly good people.  Also, it grieves me at the deepest levels that my neighbors are raising their children to be steeped in such hatred.

Murdering children is not Torah. Murdering adults who are not directly implicate in a crime is not Torah.  They are the tactics of terrorists; exactly like the Arab suicide bombers who seek out innocents, especially women and children, when they explode their bombs. How can we ask the world to care about attacks against us when we are advocating the exact same behavior?

(There were specific cases...with Hashem's direct judgment that the society was so bankrupt, the evil morals so ingrained, that women and children were to be killed...Amalek is the chief example.  But as much as the haters decide that this group or that is a spiritual Amalek, the only one who can make that decision as far as taking any action is a fully constituted Sanhedrin.  Without that, if you see an Arab, say "He's Amelek!", pull out your gun and shoot him, you have just committed murder according to Halacha.)

Ironically, in the case of children, the hypocrisy is even stronger.  I usually talk mostly about p'shat, but the people we are dealing with are people who believe in the literal truth of Midrash.  And the Midrash says they're wrong.

When Avraham sent Hagar and Yishma'el away, Yishma'el was about to die in the desert.  The Midrash says the angels begged Hashem to let him die...listing all the horrible things his descendants would to to B'nei Yisrael in the future.  (Up to the time the Midrash was written; Rav Ya'akov Love has said that if Chazal knew of all the additional problems we have had up to today it would have been included in the Midrash.)

Hashem asked the angels if at that moment, "ba'asher hu sham" (B'reishit 21:17), Yishma'el was innocent or guilty, and they were forced to answer innocent.  (Teasing his brother is not a capital crime.)  So Hashem said he couldn't allow someone to die if he was innocent, no matter what may happen in the future.

Most of us, when we think of that story, think of Yishma'el as a baby or toddler at the time.  But that's wrong.  Yishmae'l was 14 when Yitzhak was he was probably 16 when they had the weaning party, after which he and his mother were sent away.  Post-Bar Mitzva age; a fully functional young and responsible adult in that society.

Hashem Himself said it was wrong to even passively allow a young adult to die for crimes he may commit in the future...and the people under discussion here say we should even kill a 2-year old just for belonging to a race some of whose members commit crimes!  Something isn't Kosher here.

When the Am HaNivchar, the Goi Kadosh, the Or LaGoyim, sinks to the level of Amalek, there is no way we can expect to be rewarded with Mashiach.  All we can expect is more difficult times, more terror attacks, until we wake up and start working in the right direction.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A tale of two yidn...and ayin hara

This Shabbat we will be reading the shorter Tochecha...and in my shul, at least, the idea of ayin hara is having a strong influence.

As I wrote several years ago, the previous Gabbai in our shul would give me the aliya because he knew I consider it an honor, not a curse.  We took it one step son, who feels as I do (at least in this matter), was visiting and asked for the aliya even though I was layning.  The Gabbai agreed, and as far as I know the Rav did not object.

Now we have a new administration in my shul.  Once again I am layning the tochecha, and once again my son is visiting and requested the aliya...and was refused. It's important, I was told, for chinuch, that the children see the unbroken tradition of the Ba'al K'riya getting the aliya.

However, I have a very strong suspicion (I have a basis for it, but I can't speak of all the evidence) that the underlying reason is a fear of ayin's 'bad luck' to be called up for that aliya, and no matter how much someone asks for it it's wrong for them to have it.

So I want to share a story with you...the story of two identical men, Reuvain and Shimon.

Before I start, I want to mention one rock-solid foundation of Jewish belief (even though some people have distorted it in the recent past.)

When Avraham argued with God to save S'dom and Amora (B'reishit 18:17-33), the conclusion is that he WON the argument...the outcome of the debate was the acknowledgement that HaShofet Kol Ha'aretz KEIN Ya'aseh Mishpat...the Judge of all the Earth WILL do Justice.  If some of Hashem's actions seem unjust to us, we just aren't seeing the whole picture.

Back to our friends.  Reuvain and Shimon were both good people, ba'alei midot and loving fathers and husbands, and very much alike in every way.

On this particular day, they were both going on trips...on identical routes, with identical cars and identical loads.  Both had a large amount of cargo tied to their roofs, with identical ropes.  And in each case, one of the ropes was starting to fray...

As they got into their cars to start the trip, they both saw the frayed rope.  Reuvain made a mental note to replace it before his next trip.  Shimon, on the other hand, thought to himself, "I hope it doesn't break."

Uh-oh.  Shimon just "opened his mouth to the Satan."  He tempted the ayin hara.  In secular terms, he invoked Murphey's law.

So does that mean that, during the trip, Shimon's rope is more likely to break?  Nonsense!  The chances are the same for both ropes...the fact that each man expressed his worries about the rope in a different manner makes no difference.  Any other conclusion leads us to the idea that there is no Justice...and I, for one, refuse to believe that.  (Other factors may influence the Divine decision on whether any ropes break, and if so, which...but not it has nothing to do with ayin hara.)

The Tochechot represent to us the millennia of suffering we have endured; and I understand how much it has hurt through the generations; so I understand the growth of the 'bad luck' mythos.  But it is anathema to a part of Hashem's word can be called an ayin hara...ESPECIALLY one that ends with the ringing reaffirmation that this is our B'rit with Hashem.

So I will take the aliya this Shabbat...and even though it is because I am the Ba'al K'riya, I will take it with pride, knowing I am honored to have a share in the signing of our Eternal contract with Hashem.

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