Growing in Eretz Yisroel

This post is courtesy of the winter storm of 2015 currently hitting Yerushalyaim. I’m currently visiting my son who is learning here. I was staying in Yerushalyaim and my flight is scheduled to leave Thursday, but a predicted 4-8 inch snow accumulation with accompanying road closures made me change my plans and head to snow-less Ramat Beis Shemesh for the last 2 days of my trip and an easier passageway to the airport.

Fortunately, we know many people here in Ramat Beis Shemesh and I am staying with David Levin, a friend for many years from my Shul in Kew Gardens Hills. I asked him what has had the biggest impact on his spiritual growth here. He mentioned three things: the extra mitzvos that are observed like terumah, maaser and shmitta; the variety of Jewish people you come across on a daily basis; and the learning opportunities. However, like all areas growth, it only happens if you apply yourself, growth *doesn’t* just happen.

With regard to the mitzvos there are many opportunities to learn and observe them. The more you apply yourself to them the more of a growth impact they will have.

There are over six million Jews in Eretz Yisroel and wherever you live, you will be exposed to a larger variety than in the states. However, if create self-imposed barriers between yourself and other groups you will not be able to take advantage of giving and learning from this wide variety.

There is much more Torah learning going on in Eretz Yisroel than in the states. More Daf Yomi, more chavrusas more shiruim, more Yeshivos. But as we all know, Torah only has an impact if you learn it. Having more shiurim in your neighborhood doesn’t really benefit you, unless you attend them.

Eretz Yisroel is the best place in the world to increase our emunah of Hashem through Torah, Avodah and Gemilas Chasidim. G-d willing more and more of us will be able to take advantage of that as years go on. Those of us still living in Chutz L’Aretz still have many growth opportunities on a daily basis in all areas if we take advantage of them.

The Cry of the Decaying Kernel

Why does Mikra Bikurim-the declaration accompanying the bringing of the first fruits/produce begin with a review of the Egyptian exile and exodus? In particular, why is there an emphasis on the population explosion during the Egyptian exile? Why do these pesukim-verses; serve as the opening of the maggid section of Pesach evening Haggadah-telling? Is there a common denominator between the two?

And then you shall respond and say before HaShem your Elokim: “my patriarch was a wandering Aramean. He descended into Egypt with a small number of men and lived there as an émigré; yet it was there that he became a great, powerful, and heavily populated nation.

Devarim 26:5

 … This was to teach you that it is not by bread alone that the human lives, but by all that comes out of HaShem’s mouth.

Devarim 8:3

According to the Jewish mystical tradition all of creation is divided into four tiers domem –silent (inert); tzomeach-sprouting (botanic life); chai-animate (animal life); medaber-speech-endowed life (human beings). Each tier of creation ascends to higher tiers through an upwardly mobile food-chain by nourishing, and thus being incorporated into, the level directly above it until, ultimately, it is assimilated into the human being, the creature that can face and serve the Creator. Minerals nourish plants and are absorbed through the roots buried in the soil and through photosynthesis. Plants are eaten by herbivorous animals providing nutrients for the animals’ sustenance and growth. Animals are ingested by carnivorous humans supplying the calories, vitamins and minerals human beings need to live and flourish.

This upwardly mobile food-chain has a spiritual dimension as well.

Man is more than highly developed biological machine that expires when enough of the moving parts wear down.  Man is endowed with a cheilek elokai mima’al-a spark of the Divine; and it is the union of soul and body that defines human life. Superficially the external symptoms of death may appear to be too many of the moving parts breaking down; in truth human death occurs as a result of the dissolution of the marriage between body and soul. This begs the question: If there is a spiritual element inherent in human beings what is it that nourishes the soul?  Eating food is often described as “keeping body and soul together” but how is this accomplished?

The Rebbe Reb Chaim Chernovitzer cites a teaching of the Arizal in response. Our sages teach us that even the smallest blade of  grass here below has a guardian angel on High that “bangs it on the head and exhorts it to grow”(Bereishis Rabbah 10:6). In other words, even the lowest tiers of creation have a spiritual element that animates them, lending them existence, form and substance.  In the case of grass, being a plant, a tzomeach-that which sprouts and grows; the grass’ “soul” demands growth. Presumably for animals the soul would demand and promote movement and vitality and for soil and all inert creatures the soul would demand and promote silence and stillness. Such that all food substances are also composed of both a body and a soul, albeit inferior to the human body and soul both physically and spiritually. The manifest, visible food is the “body” of the food, while the sacred emanation from on High exhorting it “to be” and not revert to nonexistence lending it form and substance is the foods “soul”.  When absorbed or ingested the physical element of the food nourishes the consumer’s material component while the “soul” of the food, i.e. its spiritual element, nourishes the consumer’s spiritual dimension.

This is the meaning of the pasuk “that it is not by bread alone that the human lives, but by all that comes out of HaShem’s mouth.” The motza pi HaShem-that which emanates from HaShems mouth; refers to the Divine Will that this thing/ foodstuff exist. It is the motza pi HaShem lending tzurah-form; and spirituality that is indispensable for human beings to live, not the corporeal, apparent bread alone.

 

Read more The Cry of the Decaying Kernel

Blinded by the Light

Toldos 5774-An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

Yitzchak had grown old and his eyes grew dim, so that he could not see.  He summoned Esav his older son.

-Bereshis 27:1

“so that he could not see” alternatively;  “(his eyes grew dim ) on account of seeing”.  When Avraham bound him upon the altar, Yitzchak gazed at the Shechinah-Divine Indwelling…at that time G-d decreed that his eyes be dimmed.

-Midrash Bereshis Rabbah  65:5

 HaShem appeared to [Yitzchak] and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall assign for you.

Remain an immigrant in this land, and I will be with you, and bless you…

-Bereshis 26:2-3

“Do not go down to Egypt.” You are [as] a perfect burnt offering, and being outside the Holy Land is not fitting for you.

-Rashi Ibid

 [Moshe]…Climb to the top of the cliff, and gaze westward, northward, southward and eastward. See it [the Land of Israel/ Cana’an] with your eyes [only]; since you will not cross the Jordan.

-Devarim 3:27

“See it with your eyes”: You requested of Me “Let me… see the good land” (Pasuk 25). I am showing you all of it, as it says: “And HaShem showed him all the Land” (Devarim 34:1).

-Rashi Ibid

And Moshe was a hundred and twenty years old when he died: but his eyes had not dimmed, nor had his natural powers faded away.

-Devarim 34:7

The Izhbitzer observed that Moshe and Yitzchak were polar opposites. While Yitzchak was forbidden to ever leave the Land of Israel he was, ultimately, unable to see it.  Whereas Moshe was denied permission to set foot in the Land of Israel but was allowed to look at the Land in its entirety!

His son, the second Izhbitzer adds an enigmatic wrinkle to his father’s thought-provoking observation: Moshe Rabenu is the Talmid Chacham-Torah scholar par excellence of the Jewish People. Talmidei Chachamim are, by definition, beings driven by keen perception and intellectual clarity. They channel the Divine will through precise, acute consciousness.

In contradistinction Yitzchak was, to use the contemporary parlance, “unconscious”.  Even when completely oblivious to his surroundings and what he was actually doing he channeled the Divine will.  Without consciously intending to do so he blessed Yaakov and this was, unknowingly, dare we say-blindly, consistent with HaShems will.

Imagine two archers both hitting one bulls eye after another. One was endowed with 20/10 vision and peerless hand-to-eye coordination while the other was myopic and all thumbs, but every arrow in his quiver had been fitted with a GPS  device guiding it to its target, his arrows were mini “smart bombs”. Yitzchak was like the latter archer. HaShem had granted him the ability to see without seeing, to know without knowing.

While not contrasting Moshe and Yitzchak, Rav Tzadok, the Lubliner Kohen, offers a deeper understanding of Yitzchaks blindness stemming from his binding upon the altar.

The problem with gazing at the Divine Indwelling is that it is fatal. “HaShem said: ‘You cannot have a vision of My Presence, for no man can have a vision of My Presence and live.’”(Shemos 33:20).  This begs the question; we know that the Akedah-the Binding of Yitzchak, was a near-death experience. But if Yitzchak beheld the Divine Indwelling at the Akedah why did it not result in his actual death?

A darkness exists that can become more visible than light “He made darkness His hiding-place, His Sukkah surrounding Him; the darkness of waters, the thick clouds of the heavens” (Tehilim 18:12). The blind can “see” as well in a pitch-black room as in a brilliantly illuminated one. This may be among the meanings of teaching of our Sages OBM that “one who is blind is considered dead” It is the tzimtzum of Yitzchak, his powerful personal restraint/constraint and self-abnegation, his trait of יראה –Awe of HaShem that allowed him a ראיה-a vision, of the invisible. (The two terms, יראה and ראיה, in Lashon Kodesh-Biblical Hebrew, are word jumbles of one another.) Yitzchak’s eventual blindness of the material world was a direct result of his visual perception of the spiritual world. To enter and perceive that supernal World is to cross the threshold of the surrounding darkness.

This metamorphosis of Yitzchak’s vision not only allowed him to see HaShem but to see kiv’yachol as Hashem does. “for it is not as men see: for a  man gazes at the outward appearance, but HaShem sees into the heart.’” (Shmuel I 16:7).  Although he saw into Esavs heart and understood his hypocrisy he still summoned Esav and intended to bless him, and not his younger brother. He knew that Esavs pretense of piety was the homage his vice was paying to virtue and imagined that the blessings could redeem Esav, while Yaakov did not need them.  Yet through his unconsciousness and blindness to the material world he marched in lockstep with the Divine will.

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach I Toldos D”H Vehee

Bais Yaakov Toldos Inyan 35 (pp 223-224)

Yisrael Kedoshim page 86 D”H  V’Noda & V’heenei

 

Is Torah Everything…or is Everything Torah???

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

For series introduction CLICK  

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz

You shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground, produced by the land that HaShem your L-rd is giving you. You must place it in a basket and go to site place that HaShem will choose as the place associated with His name.  There you shall go to the Kohen-priest officiating at the time, and say to him: ‘Today I am telling HaShem your L-rd that I have come to the land which HaShem swore to our fathers to give us.’  

-Devarim 26:2-3

When referencing a Thesaurus it is imperative for the writer or speaker to discern the precise shade of meaning that he wishes to convey and to have a nuanced understanding of the differences between near synonymous words. Loping, jogging, sprinting, fleeing, chasing, scurrying, dashing, trotting and galloping are all forms of running.  Yet each verb retains a distinct and specific meaning and using the appropriate word paints a more accurate word picture.

In Lashon Kodesh there are many verbs for speech; amirah, dibur, sipur, hagadah and kriah to name a few. Each of these has a specific meaning and these words cannot be used interchangeably. Commenting on one of the preamble pesukim-verses to the Aseres HaDibros-the Decalogue; “This is what you must say (somahr) to the house of Jacob, and tell (v’sahgayd) the children of Israel” (Shemos 19:3) Rashi famously delineates the different meanings of the terms; amirah and hagadah: “to the house of Jacob: These are the women. Say it to them in a gentle language. — [from Mechilta] and tell the children of Israel: The punishments and the details [of the laws] tell the males, things that are as harsh / tough as tendons.” -[Mechilta, Tractate Shabbos 87A] (Rashi Ibid). So, in Lashon Kodesh, when the style and/or the content of the spoken message are harsh the correct verb to use is a conjugation of Hagadah.

With this in mind it seems odd that the Mikrah Bikurim declaration accompanying the bringing of the first fruits is described as a “telling”; “Today I am telling HaShem your L-rd that I have come to the land which HaShem swore etc.” Superficially there does not seem to be anything particularly tough or acerbic about either the style or substance of this declaration. The Mikrah Bikurim declaration is, by turns, grateful, joyous, melancholy (when speaking of the crucible of the Egyptian exile), reverent and exultant. But nowhere in Mikrah Bikurim do we find anything overtly harsh.

The Izhbitzer maintains that this “telling” is indeed harsh and he reveals the hidden subtextual tough talk of Mikrah Bikurim .

By Torah design the Kohanim and Levi’im were not part of the homesteading act  in ancient agrarian Israel.  The Torah constructed a society in which eleven of the tribes would till the soil, ranch or sail the seas to earn a living while one tribe, the tribe of Levi (including the Kohanim) would be totally dedicated 7/24/365 to Torah study, Mitzvah performance and Avodas HaShem. With no significant land of their own to farm this tribe could not possibly be self-sufficient. So a system of societal largess through Matnos Kehuna and leviya is mandated by the Torah to sustain the Levi’im and Kohanim. This system unburdened them of the earthy, materialistic concerns of  cultivating the soil and enabled them to dedicate themselves completely to the rarefied activities of advanced Torah study, additional Mitzvahs and sacrificial service in the Mishkan and Bais HaMikdash sanctuaries.  This kind of tribal apartheid led to them feeling a sense of spiritual superiority over the balance of the Jewish People. For the Kohanim and Levi’im Torah was everything.

But when the lowly Jewish farmer from one of the other tribes brought his first fruits to the Bais HaMikdash, gifted them to the Kohen and declared Mikrah Bikurim he was telling a tale that the Kohen did not want to hear. Back bent from too many rough rows to hoe, fingernails cracked from plow and sickle repair, hands callused from demanding physical labor, perhaps even vaguely redolent of the dung he spread to fertilize his fields, the farmers persona and  lifestyle implicitly passes judgment on the kohens. He is “telling” the Kohen (off) “Even though you toil in the Bais HaMikdash while I toil in the fields with every furrow that I plow, with every weed that I pull and with every branch that I prune I perform the Mitzvahs bound to the Land, and actualize the Torah that you study. In hindsight, now that I’ve brought my Bikurim,  it has become so clarified that everything that I did to bring forth these fruits from the Holy Land and every earthy, muddy even dung-covered place that I interacted with were suffused with the holiness of the Bais HaMikdash.  For me everything is Torah!”

When the Kohen who practices the lifestyle of “Torah is everything” is forced to hear that, in fact, “Everything is Torah”  that’s tough, really tough for him to hear.

Adapted from Mei HaShiloach 6:17 (D”H higad’tee) 

Yom Hazikaron

Yom Hazikaron. Remembrance Day or Memorial Day for the fallen of Israeli security forces and victims of terror. For me, sitting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this may be the loneliest day of the year.

In front of me, on the wall behind my desk, is a bulletin board with all manner of important mementoes and reminders. A photo of my wife painting the scenery as viewed from Manara, overlooking the Hula Valley. A panorama of the view from our apartment in Kiryat Shemonah. A photo of Rav Tzvi Yehudah Hacohen Kook. The chief medic symbol from my IDF service. My IDF dog tags. The photo of a grave.

The headstone reads: דניאל (דני) האז. בן שושנה ומאיר. “Daniel (Dani) Haas. Son of Shoshanah and Meir. Born in the USA, made aliyah in 5739. Fell in battle in Lebanon in Operation Peace for Gallilee, the first day of Av, 5742. Age 26 when he fell. May his soul be bound in the bond of life.”

Danny was my friend. He came from Cleveland, Ohio to live and build in Ofra, Shomron, Israel. We had common friends in Ofra. We started our army service together in the Nahal brigade. He died in battle with terrorists in southern Lebanon during his first reserve duty call-up. A Jew committed to building a Jewish society in Israel based on Hashem’s Torah. A Jew committed to building that society with his hands, and his blood.

In Israel, when the observance of Memorial Day and Independence Day was being established, the Chief Rabbinate determined that if either day fell on Sunday, they would both be pushed off into the coming week to avoid desecration of the Sabbath with people rushing to ceremonies and preparations on Saturday night. In America, there is some discussion if Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) and Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) should similarly be pushed off as is done in Israel. Why not? Because ‘Memorial Day isn’t so relevant to American Jewry’, and so we aren’t concerned with the practical issues of possible Sabbath violation.

‘Memorial Day isn’t so relevant to American Jewry’! What a horrible thing. But sadly true. When I first came to the USA to teach, I found myself embroiled in a controversy. The Jewish Community Center in our city was hosting a Yom HaAtzmaut/Independence Day celebration the night starting the Hebrew date of the holiday. The event was starting well before sundown, with music and dancing. This was a desecration of the solemn and sacred nature of Memorial Day! How could this be? I contacted the organizers, and they were completely unaware of the significance of the day before Yom HaAtzmaut. They also said they couldn’t or wouldn’t change the planned start of festivities. So I told my students that year to boycott the event if it weren’t changed. My students, God bless and keep them, pressured the organizers and some modifications were made at the last minute.
Read more Yom Hazikaron

Redefining the Weekend

One of the major things that Israel unique is a rather unexpected one — the weekend, or lack thereof. The standard Israeli work week is from Sunday to Thursday, and some offices, as well as schools, have abridged hours on Friday, too. This means that a day of rest is pretty much limited to its Torah origins — Shabbat.

There is a movement underway and recently backed by Prime Minister Netatnyahu to reduce the work week to four days plus a half day on Friday. The idea is to get Israel will be in sync with other “developed” countries, which don’t work on Sundays, while being sensitive to those who observe Shabbat. I’m uncertain that this will be feasible for every industry and long-distance commuters, but it sure sounds nice. Sometimes I feel that one of the biggest sacrifices I’ve made by making aliyah is giving up my Sundays — the day for brunch, picnics, hikes, and sleeping in.

Though working Sunday through Thursday produces the same number of hours of work and rest as the traditional Monday through Friday schedule, the result is not the same. With Shabbat just hours away, especially in the winter, Friday becomes a day of chores and preparing for Shabbat for many families. Stores close early and buses stop running hours before Shabbat, so day trips for folks like me without cars are limited. And when Shabbat ends, it’s back to work. There is something nice about making havdalah and then preparing for the work week, rather than facing another day off, but when we say “Hamavdil ben kodesh l’chol”, I sometimes think that I’d like to get a little bit more out of my chol.

In the United States, Sunday used to be the day for shopping, getting together with friends, and enjoying the outdoors. Of course these things can be done on a Friday or on Shabbat, but in a much more limited way. Fridays are crunched, and Shabbat is limited by melachot and the special nature of the day. One of the most difficult things for me initially when beginning to observe Shabbat was to pass on my Saturday hikes. Ironically, upon moving to Israel, I’ve had to pass on the Sunday ones too.

Ilene blogs at www.ilenerosenblum.com

The Baal Teshuvah and Israel

by Reb Akiva of Mystical Paths

As you become interested in Judaism and start reading the tefilot (prayers), you notice reference after reference to Israel. As a Jewish American (order intention) who’s looking to learn more about religion, the constant mentions of Israel are downright confusing.

Learning a bit more it gets even more confusing! Why do we say “moreed hatal” or “mashiv haruach umoreed hageshem” (who makes the dew fall or who brings the wind and rain) at different times of the year which may not match the local weather pattern? Because that’s when it rains or doesn’t rain in Israel!

Sitting back as an American, why am I suddenly expected to be praying about Israel all the time? Isn’t this kind of a political thing? Do I have to instantly become a zionist and supporter of the Israeli government to be religiously Jewish?

It takes some time to learn the proper balance and perspective. That is…Israel is the Holy Land and G-d’s gift to the Jewish people. Judaism is intimately tied up with Israel, such that over half the commandments can ONLY be fulfilled in Israel, every set of prayers and even birkat hamazon (blessings after a meal) mention Israel and the mystical side of Judaism teaches that all our prayers must travel via Israel on their way to the kisay hakavod.

While it is possible to be Jewish and religiously Jewish in any part of the world, Judaism is designed around Israel, Jerusalem, and the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple currently in ruin with a mosque sitting on the site). This is not a political statement, this is religious statement that is a fundamental part of Judaism and Jewishness.

Now how Jews should deal with this in relating to a secular Jewish Israeli government operating a secular Jewish nation-state with a majority Jewish population in PART of the historical and biblical Land of Israel and incorporating Jewish culture and holidays is another question altogether.

But regardless of one’s political position there’s two things that can’t be denied. Judaism and Jewishness is directly tied to the Land of Israel. One cannot deny this without denying the Torah, the Mishnah, the Gemora, the Mishneh Torah and the Shulchan Aruch.

And the current State of Israel has a whole lot of Jews living there. Just about 1/2 the Jews of the world currently live in Israel, with Jews from 63 different countries making their home there. The threats to the State of Israel are existential, meaning life and death, existence or genocidal slaughter.

So one quickly learns as a religious Jew that the Land of Israel involves every Jew and every Jew’s essence of Judaism. And while the State of Israel as a political entity is a separate matter, the threats to the Jews living there make it a matter of Ahavas Yisroel (love of your fellow) to support their safety.

Yom Yerushalayim

Tonight starts the date of 28 Iyar. This is the date that the holy city of Jerusalem was reunited, and her children who had longed for her were finally able to return to the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and all of the Old City and Mount of Olives.

The Arabs had for 19 years prevented Jews from visiting these holy sites, and had desecrated places of worship and Torah study, and the even the ancient Jewish cemetery. On this day, Zion’s children returned to her. Within another 24 hours, longing children would also return to Gush Etzion and Hevron.

To tell the truth, one shouldn’t have to say anything about Jerusalem and Jerusalem Day. Devoted Jews have faced Jerusalem in prayer daily since the time of King Solomon. All over the world and all throughout our history, our eyes and hearts have been turned only to the place the Torah calls ‘the place God chooses’.

But something must be said.

So I will refer us to a famous narrative concerning Rav AY Kook, when the nations of the world questioned the Jewish place in Jerusalem, and the place of Jerusalem in Jewish hearts and Judaism.

“Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook recalled the tremendous pressures placed upon his father that evening in 1930 in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“How intense, how grave, how terrible were the threats and intimidations at that time, with all of their bitter pressure, from two nations [the Arabs and the British] goading us with lies and murderous traps for the sake of an agreement to relinquish ownership over the Kotel, the remaining wall of our Holy Temple…” (LeNetivot Yisrael vol. I, p. 65)

The infamous Hajj Amin al-Husseini was appointed Mufti of Jerusalem — the spiritual and national leader of the Arabs — already in the days of the first British High Commissioner. One of the many devices that he and his cohorts employed in their struggle against the Jewish Settlement was the repudiation of all Jewish rights to the Kotel HaMa’aravi, the Western Wall.

The Arabs gained a partial victory in 1922, when the Mandatory Government issued a ban against placing benches near the Wall. In 1928, British officers interrupted the Yom Kippur service and forcibly dismantled the mechitzah separating men and women during prayer. A few months later, the Mufti and his cohorts devised a new provocation. They began holding Muslim religious ceremonies opposite theKotel, precisely when the Jews were praying. To make matters worse, the British authorities granted the Arabs permission to transform the building adjacent to theKotel into a mosque, complete with a tower for themuezzin (the crier who calls Moslems to prayer five times a day). The muezzin’s vociferous trills were sure to disturb the Jewish prayers.”

The rest may be read here: www.ravkooktorah.org/YOM_YER65.htm

See too this excellent and unique post with photos from shortly after the liberation: www.templeinstitute.org/temple_mount_liberation.htm

Also posted at www.kolberamah.org.