The Deluge of Youth

What do mankinds greatest and worst generations have to do with one another?
“The Fountain of Youth” … why has mankind been searching for it from time immemorial?

And HaShem said: “My Spirit shall not keep on judging man forever, for he is nothing but flesh.  His days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

— Bereshis 6:3

I will be slow to anger for 120 years. If they do not repent I will bring the Flood upon them.

— Rashi ibid

Where is Moshe alluded to in the Torah? — In the verse: “For he is nothing but flesh” [the gimatriya-numerical value; of the Hebrew words משה –“Moshe” and בשגם  – “For (he) is nothing but” are equivalent. Moshe lived exactly 120 years]

— Chulin 139BR

Go [My prophet] and call into the ears of Jerusalem, declaring: HaShem says as follows: For you[r sake] I will remember the affection of your youth, the love of your nuptials; how you followed Me into the wilderness, into an uncultivated land.

— Yirmiyahu 2:2

Remember, HaShem, Your compassion and Your loving-kindnesses; for they began before time. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions …

— Tehillim 25:6,7

Who Satiates your old age with good; so that your youth will be renewed like the eagle.

— Tehillim 103:5


Youth is an uncanny time in our lives.  While imprisoned within it we want nothing more than to escape it. Once we have escaped it we spend the balance of our lives yearning wistfully and futilely to return to it. By turns we long for the carefree times, irresponsibility, limitless possibilities, direction-changing impressions, dependence
on-others, physical attractiveness, good health, idealism and the simplicity of time when we were young.  From ancient and 16th century legends of Ponce de León searching for the Fountain of Youth to the contemporary multibillion dollar cosmetics and cosmetic surgery industries; vast swaths of mankind have never ceased looking for ways and means of recapturing youth.

Most of all we long for the sheer vitality, power and strength that marks our early lives.  When we were young we had the speed, strength, stamina, mental acuity, inquisitiveness, reckless courage and optimism to accomplish great and meaningful things.  Many used their youthful, robust powers for good. However, lacking the skill and wisdom of age and experience; youth is also characterized by catastrophic mistakes, crimes and misdemeanors. Accelerating at youthful takeoff velocity, the young often take forks in life’s road that make U-turns impossible. The lion’s share of crimes is committed by the young.  Maturity and old-age are marked not only by longing for the restoration of youthful energy, but by remorse and regret over youthful indiscretions and catastrophic misdeeds.

Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, teaches that this is not merely true of individuals but for mankind as a whole. In its youth mankind was capable of great virtue and good — chessed neurim-the lovingkindness of youth; and of incredible transgression and evil — chatas neurim-the sins of youth.

Read more The Deluge of Youth

Denying G-d and Denying Humanity

Beshalach 5774-An installment in the series of adaptations
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

 This weeks From the Waters of the Shiloah is dedicated in memory of Gitel Leah A.H. bas Menachem Mendel HY”D; Mrs. Lidia Schwartz, the authors mother, whose yuhrzeit is Thursday, 8 Shevat.
Please learn this dvar Torah l’ilui nishmasah.

HaShem will wage war for you [against Egypt] and you must remain silent. And HaShem said to Moshe, Why do you cry out in prayer to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel.

-Shemos 14:14,15

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “This is no time to pray at length, when Israel is in distress.” Another explanation [of God’s question (Why do you cry out to me?) implies]: “The matter depends on Me and not on you,”

-Rashi ibid

And so it was that as long as Moshe held his hands up Israel would be winning but when he let his hands down then the battle would turn in Amalek’s favor …  and his hands remained faithful; steady until sunset. 

-Shemos 17:11,12

All is foreseen, yet autonomy is granted

-Avos 3:14

And Rabi Chanina said “all is in the Hands of Heaven except the awe of Heaven”

-B’rachos 33B

There are two conflicting approaches to confronting the enemy that appear in this week’s Sidra.  Towards the beginning of the Sidra, when the Jewish people literally had their backs against the wall with the pounding surf of the Sea of Reeds before them and the Egyptian cavalry giving chase from the rear, the Divine command for silence came.  Not only were the Jews not allowed to wage war against their enemies; they were not even permitted to pray for Divine intervention.

In sharp contrast to this, at the end of the Sidra, we find that prayer was the weapon of choice when the Jews were waging war against the Amalekites. Our sages teach us that during the Amalek war, when Moshe had his arms outstretched in prayer, the tide of the battle would turn in the Jews favor (Targum Yerushalmi ad locum).  When the hands would drop and the prayers stop, so would the military advances.  The Mei HaShiloach asks: why were there such a drastic difference in tactics and strategies for confronting these two mortal enemies?

His answer is based on the succinct epigram that encapsulates kivayachol -if you will, the “division of labor” between HaShem and human beings. “All is in the Hands of Heaven except the awe of Heaven IE how one serves HaShem.” This means that absolutely everything in our lives; our health, our wealth, our popularity and the success of our relationships is up to HaShem.  The only area in which we enjoy a true autonomy is in exercising our human free-will to make moral and ethical choices.

Both halves of the axiom are equally true.  To claim that “not everything is in the Hands of Heaven” is patently heretical.  This position advances a false theology that would limit HaShem’s Infinite Power.  But in Judaism it is not enough to have an accurate and true theology.  One must maintain an accurate and true “humanology” (for want of a better word) as well.  To deny the second half of the axiom by saying that there are no exceptions to the rule; that ALL is in the Hands of Heaven, period, including “the awe of Heaven” IE including how one serves HaShem, is no less heretical.

The Mei HaShiloach explains that, historically, the nations of the world that have opposed, antagonized and oppressed  Klal Yisrael-the Jewish people have been proponents of one of these two heresies.  Their cultures, their weltanschauungs, their very collective national beings, were predicated either on the proposition that not everything is in the Hands of Heaven or that, on the contrary, all is in the Hands of Heaven including human awe of Heaven IE that human free choice is an illusion and that all human behavior, even apparent moral and ethical choices, are entirely controlled by HaShem .

The Egyptians under the Pharaoh are archetypes of the first heresy.  Having positioned himself as a deity in his own right Pharaoh could hardly have conceded exclusive and absolute control of the cosmos to a “rival” deity.  On the contrary Pharaoh portrayed himself as the one in total control of all the transpired in Egypt as he declared; “The [Nile] river is mine, and I have made it.”(Yechezkel 29:9).  He was a living incarnation of “It was my own might and the personal power of my hand that has brought me all this prosperity”(Devarim 8:17)

The nation of Amalek is the quintessence of their progenitor, Esav. Esav is portrayed by our sages as a yisrael mumar-a Jew who has traded true faith for heresy (Kiddushin 18A). There are as many ways to become a heretic as there are heresies and the precise nature as of the Esavs heresy is unclear.  However, Chaza”l (Sanhedrin 60A,Berachos 10A-Hagahos HaBac”h footnote 2) use this term, yisrael mumar, to describe another Biblical character; Ravshakei.

He was the one who said to the emissaries of King Chizkiyahu “Did I now arise against this land to destroy it without HaShem? HaShem said unto me: go up against this land, and destroy it.” (Yechezkel 36:10). Ravshakei and the emperor he represented, Nebuchadnezzar, had exercised their free-will to arrive at the decision to destroy Chizkiyahu’s kingdom.  Yet he did not consider himself accountable.  He attributed his own choice to G-d.  In his soliloquy Ravshakei asks many rhetorical questions.  Expecting no answers, he was actually telling Chizkiyahu’s emissaries “don’t rely on your military alliance with Egypt.  But don’t rely on HaShem either, for it was He who sent me to destroy you.   I am no more than a knight in the hands of the Divine chess master.”

The Izhbitzer asserts that Ravshakei’s ostensible affirmation of emunah is, in fact, a denial of humanity, of the grandeur of human free-will and that this denial of humanity is the precise heresy of Esav and Amalek as well. Esav/ Amalek is a mumar because of believing that all is in the Hands of Heaven, there is no “except etc.” Amalek maintains that all of the evil that he does is, chalilah, the Will of G-d, that absent HaShem’s Will he would never have been able to have done it.  Superficially, it is almost as if Amalek accords greater honor to HaShem than K’lal Yisrael does.  The stance of Amalek-Esav is that HaShem’s control and authority is absolute.  They deny that humanity has any autonomy at all.

As one great 20th century thinker put it, when our sages taught that Amalek is “one who knows his master and intends to rebel against Him” they don’t mean that Amalek intends to rebel against HaShem in spite of knowing  that HaShem is their Master, but because of knowing  that HaShem is their Master; that their rebellion consists of knowing that HaShem’s mastery over them is absolute.  There is no wiggle room.  Not one small space, albeit a tiny one, for human independence, autonomy and free choice.

We can now resolve the apparent contradiction between the dissimilar tactics of war employed to battle the Egyptians and Amalek.  When the enemy rides under the banner of “not everything is in the Hands of Heaven” then the Jewish response must be to emphasize HaShem’s control.  Against the Egyptians it would’ve been out of place for the Jews to highlight and emphasize human free-will.  Free-will, AKA “the awe of heaven”, human avodas HaShem, is best exemplified through prayer; the “service of the heart”(Ta’anis 2A). So they silenced their prayers, eliminating their part in the “division of labor” and HaShem took total control of the battle. All, absolutely everything, was in His Hands.

But when the enemy rides under the banner of “ALL is in the Hands of Heaven with no exceptions” and that human free-will is a sham, then the proper Jewish response is to exercise our free-will. Human free-will is best exemplified through our service of the heart , our avodas hatefilah.  And so, during milchemes Amalek when Moshe would raise his arms in prayer the Jewish warriors would advance.  When his prayers faltered IE when his arms grew weak so would the Jews military efforts. 

~adapted from Mei Hashiloach Beshalach D”H HaShem yilachem

What’s Kosher, Mate?

Melbourne, Australia is not New York City. This may seem to be stating the obvious, but, shortly after moving here from Brooklyn I would discover in a myriad of ways just how this was so. For instance, say the words ‘shlep’ or ‘shmatte’ or ‘shlamiel’ in mixed company in New York and everyone, even the Chinese, the Latinos, and the Afghanis, all know what you mean, more or less. Say those same words here in Melbourne, Australia and, they are met with curious raised eyebrows. “Is that Swedish?” they might say.

Not that Australians are not worldly, indeed they are. Most of the young people travel around the world before settling down, and Australians love being exposed to other cultures of all kinds. Diversity holds much charm here, being tucked away so far off in this remote corner of the planet. Australians often crave and seek out multicultural education and experiences. Mention a foreign food of any kind, a tradition, a religious practice, or an exotic art form, and most Australians show immediate interest, almost like curious children encountering something new and magical that sparks their imagination. There is a certain endearing naïveté that Australians have managed to maintain in their society that allows them to welcome foreign cultures with friendly ease. While there are narrow minded individuals here, as is so in any place, for the most part, this is an extremely tolerant and non-judgmentally accepting country.

Being a jaded somewhat hardened New Yorker when I arrived, I often misunderstood my new countrymen because I perceived them through my own cultural lenses. During my early days here thirteen years ago, I often misinterpreted the strange reactions I would get from Australians when I mentioned anything related to my Jewish practice. The curious glances I misinterpreted as intolerance. I wondered why they looked at me so funnily, as if maybe they thought I was a freak for being Jewish. It took me sometime to realize that their reaction to meeting me was not out of prejudice, but for many of these people, I was the first openly Jewish person they had ever encountered before. The simple direct questions they asked me I initially misinterpreted as ignorance. I wondered if they were mocking me. It took me quite some time to shake off my defensive New York style Jewish paranoia and pseudo-sophistication. What I discovered was that these Australians were actually wanting to know what my life was all about and what I represented.

Australia is a fantastic modern lovely country, but one cannot exactly describe Australian culture as very spiritual. This is a land where nature, sport, and the good easy life is treasured and enjoyed. This is called ‘The lucky country’, as most of us who live here cannot help but feel fortunate to be living in such a beautiful, bountiful, friendly, easy going, and laid back place. People work only hard enough here but, not too hard, and most are able to enjoy some of life’s frills without too much struggle. Melbourne is one of the friendliest cities in the world. In Melbourne, not only will people stop and give you directions with a nice smile when you ask them, but often they may even take you there. I often tell people I moved from the rudest and coldest city in the world to the friendliest. Nevertheless, Australians as a whole are not particularly religious or spiritual, and certainly not as religious as Americans. Australian culture is a bit like ancient Hellenism in which sport and the pleasures of the body and the material are paramount.

Working in the business world here is also very different from New York as it is extremely social. Australians expect everyone in the workplace to be good friends, or ‘mates’, as they call it, and that means going out together to restaurants and pubs. The emphasis put on the value of Australian ‘mateship’ cannot be overestimated. For Australians, often when they call you a ‘mate’, it is not just a word, they actually mean you are their friend. This mateship bond is sealed with a meal, or better yet, a drink of alcohol, specifically beer, their national drink of choice. After all, it’s the Aussie way, mate!

One can only imagine the difficulty in navigating one’s Torah observance in such a culture as compared to New York. I found myself having to turn down many invitations to many social occasions, and this did not go a long way to give me my mateship points. Frequently I was asked what I could eat, and why I couldn’t eat this, or that, or the other. At first I would give these questions short shrift. I just thought it would be too complicated to explain the intricacies of keeping kosher to these Aussie work mates of mine. I knew they often felt snubbed by me, but I was stuck in my brazen defensive New York posture and, it took some time to break that down and try a different approach.

After a while, because I can be a slow learner when it comes to social situations, it dawned on me that I had been approaching this all the wrong way. Instead of making myself aloof from my fellow countrymen, I would find ways to answer all their questions clearly and in a way that would satisfy their curiosity. So a typical conversation would often go something like this:

“What’s ‘ kosher ‘, mate?”

‘Did you ever read the Bible?” (typical Jew, answering a question with a question).

“Yeah, I went to church and Sunday school.”

‘Well, you heard of the Five Book of Moses?”

Now sometimes here they would tell me they either went to Catholic school, or they never read it, or they saw the movie with Charlton Heston, and that latter one usually got a good laugh. Whatever their answer, we now had some basis upon which we could define where I was coming from as a Jewish person.

“Moses gave the Jewish people a set of Laws from G-d to live by. These laws cover every aspect of a Jewish person’s life, how to sleep, how to pray, how to dress, and even how to eat.”

By this point in the conversation I have grabbed their interest. What really amazes me is that before when I would just say, ‘It’s my religion and it’s too complicated to explain it” they would look a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t tell them anything about it. But after I began to explain it clearly, every single time I would see their faces light up with real delight that I was actually taking the time to let them in on what we mysterious Jewish people were all about. And they appreciated it. Now is when I go into the short but comprehensive explanation of what keeping kosher means:

“ The laws of keeping kosher means that Jewish people are not allowed to eat meat with milk together, not allowed to eat any creepy crawlies, not allowed to eat any animal unless it has cloved hoofs and chews its cud and has been ritually slaughtered according to the law. Jews can also only eat fish that has fins and scales so that means no shell fish at all. Now, all of this becomes quite complicated in today’s modern world with food technology being the way it is, so we rely on a whole structure of chemists and Rabbis to help us and we can only eat the food that they certify for us. This means all things touching the foods, all utensils and vessels also have to be entirely dedicated to kosher.”

That entire explanation takes under half a minute. Sometimes they may ask me a bit more, but they don’t go into it too deeply because I gave them just enough information to satisfy their curiosity and to make them realize that is is so super complicated that they prefer not to delve any further. Often I get replies like this:

“No shrimp on the Barbie! That’s rough, mate”. A barbie is a bar-b-que and barbequed shrimp is an intrinsic part of the national cuisine. Not being able to partake in such an indulgence is enough to make most Australians pity me greatly. Or else they say something like, “ Oh, thanks so much for telling me all that. Now I understand why you can’t come out with us. It must be so hard…..does the Rabbi bless the food?…..etc” I see that they feel so glad that I had enough regard for them as a person to take the time and make the effort to actually demystify a small part of our elusive Jewish way of life.

Once I started to come up with short non-threatening, clear, and thorough answers to the questions my fellow Australians asked me, without being condescending or making them feel foolish, I felt I gained their respect, not only for me, but for all Jews.

Originally posted on the Repenting Jewess.