Saturday, October 16, 2010

Avraham Avinu, Ha-Yehudi Ha-Rishon

When I was nine years old, in the third grade, we were presented with our first book in Hebrew. It was called Hayehudi harishon The first Jew). It had a drawing on the cover of a family dressed like Arabs, with the children sitting on camels. This was the story of Avraham avinu, the patriarch Abraham.

This was in a Conservative  after-school Hebrew school where we learned twice a week after going to public school from 8:00 till 3:00 PM. For almost all the kids this was a real burden and they did it because their parents forced them. From the beginning I was fascinated by learning another language, an ancient tradition that I was connected to. We were chosen, we were special, and I was part of it. Of course I was well aware that we were Jewish. My granpdparents spoke Yiddish, we celebrated the major holidays and the Christians (who my parents called "the Goyim") had their own holidays. But what did it mean? Until then I had no idea. It was just a fact of life.

After learning the aleph-bet and the basic grammar we got our first book and we started learning, in our own special language, about Avraham who at the age of five, wondered who put out the light in the sky in the evening and lit it again in the morning. When one night he saw a lamp burning in a window and he thought that just as the master of the house lit the lamp,the Master of the World must light up the sun. He didn't accept the explanation that the sun itself was a god, and even less that the clay idols that his father produced had anything to do with it. He knew, there must be a God. This simple faith struck a chord in me. At the time I was much too young to put such a thought into words, but looking back, I think that it was really there.

 Later I identified with the idea of "Lech lecha" Hashem commanded Avraham to "go forth", to leave behind his homeland and his father's house and go to the "land which I will will show you". In my early teens I decided that the lifestyle of my fathers house would not be mine. The commandments of the Torah meant something real to me, without defining for myself the theological basis. When I was sixteen I read an excerpt, translated into English from Orot by Rav Kook. It changed my life. Here was a coherent, all encompassing view of what it meant to be a son of the Jewish people.It said that Torah was part of peoplehood and it all flowed from Hashem.There was an absolute unity of the universe with the Jewish people and the Land of Israel in the center and Hashem above it all.

Another interpretation says that "Lech lecha" means not to go forth, but to go into yourself, to find your inner self. That is what it meant for me as it  had meant for Avraham Avinu, Hayehudi  Harishon.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The struggle of Gush Katif: an exercise in futility

This week is the anniversary of the hitnatkut, "disengagement" from Gush Katif. Thousands of idealistic hardworking Jews including some who had already been expelled from settlements in Sinai, were forcibly thrown out of their homes. Then their once thriving settlements were razed to the ground. The Batei Knesset and Yeshivot were left standing. According to Halacha it is forbidden for Jews to destroy a synagogue. So as soon as we left the Palestinians looted them and set them aflame.May we see Hashem avenge his houses of worship that the sons of Yishmael so wantonly destroyed.

None of the purported goals of the hitnatkut were achieved ; certainly not peace. Instead we got a strengthening of Hamas, a major military campaign (Cast Lead) which destroyed much of what was left of Gaza worsening the suffering of its inhabitants. Then there is the endless suffering of the displaced settlers which continues to this day. The government continually reneged on the promises made to them. Many are still unemployed and live in temporary housing.

With passing years, admittedly with the help of Professor Hindsight, it becomes more and more clear that the struggle to resist the hitnatkut was an exercise in futility. Tens of thousands participated in demonstrations against the government culminating in the march  of over 50,000 from Netivot  to Kfar Maimon on the way to Gush Katif. There they confronted the police and the army but after a few tense hours the leaders decided not to escalate the violence and the demonstration fizzled out. Meanwhile hundreds infiltrated across the border to strengthen the resistance of the settlers.They were all removed by the army in the next few days. Naively they believed that these actions would have an influence on the outcome of events. It was not to be.

The fact is the fate of Gush Katif was sealed the moment Arik Sharon succeeded in pushing his plan through the government and the Knessest. That is how democracy works if you don't have or don't know how to use political power don't expect to twist the arm of the government to do your will.

We lived in the Golan Heights for 20 years. In the late '80s Yitzhak Rabin proposed a peace plan which included offering to give back the Golan to Syria. A grass roots movement sprang up called H'am im Hagolan (the people are with nthe Golan) A well organized media blitz brought the message to th nation. At  the same time political pressure was brought to bear on political elements who had connections to or were sympathetic to the Golan settlements. Within a year Rabin decided that it was politically expedient to shelve his proposals indefinitely.

Why didn't this happen in Gush Katif? The main reason is that while the people were with the Golan, the people were NOT with Gush Katif. It was a struggle waged almost solely by the Zionist-Religious sector. With their moral, political and religious certitude they were convinced that the whole country was behind them but when they looked back they only saw their own soldiers coming to take them away.

Rav Tzvi Tau founder and spiritual leader of Yeshivat Har Ha-mor and the "mamlachti" (statism) trend, said that we must strengthen the state not weaken it. As Rav Kook said "the state of Israel is the basis for the Sechina (presence of G-d) in this world. We can take part in the political process, but once a legitimate government is elected it stands in the place of the Jewish Kings as sovereign rulers of Israel/

I only hope that in the coming struggles in Eretz Israel we will have learn our lesson.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I have always had trouble with davening. I never felt that I was talking with our father in heaven or that my prayers were answered. I never felt that I was standing before the king of the universe because really, who am I that the king should summon me to stand before him. So why, you may ask do I daven three times a day? It is because I believe that there is a supreme intelligence, a force in the universe that chose the progeny of  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as his emissaries in this world to proclaim his presence and do his will.I have no choice, my soul was at the foot of Sinai and the mountain was suspended above us. There we pledged to obey his commandments and that oath obligates us for all time. I daven because I am commanded to daven, not only because I fear punishment but because I am in awe of something that I can never hope to understand.

The Rambam explains that love of G-d can be compared to the love of a man who is obsessed with a women. She is constantly in his thoughts, he will do anything she asks, he would gladly sacrifice all his worldly goods and even his life for her. But how can a human being express love for that which is not human? Our consciousness fills our being, how can we relate to something that is beyond that consciousness?

The only answer is that we must evacuate that consciousness and seek within that spark of the divine that was part of our souls at Sinai.However if the answer is within us perhaps we are not worshiping Hashem but worshiping ourselves? But then again Hashem created Man in his image and .breathed in him the breath of life. He is part of us. If we remember that then davening can become more than a ritual. It can be an attempt at connecting to that which is within us and thereby begin to approach the One who was is and forever will be the master of the universe.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Destiny of the Firstborn

                                               For all the firstborn of the children of Israel 
                                               are mine, both man and beast,on the day I 
                                               smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt I 
                                               sanctified them unto me.
                                               And I have taken the Levites in the place of 
                                               all the firstborn of the children of  Israel.
                                                                      Bamidbar 8:20        

     The Torah calls the firstborn (bechor) "petter rechem"- he who opens the womb. He is the first expression of life of the new generation. The next link in the chain of generations of the Jewish People and as such is sanctified to the service of  Hashem.. This primogeniture  has its expression in all of the living world. The first fruits of the new season, the bikkurim , were brought to the temple on the festival of Shavuot. The firstborn  calves and lambs were sanctified and offered to the cohanim.

   It is very interesting that the Torah has a very ambivalent attitude towards the firstborn. Cain is the firstborn but Abel is preferred by Hashem. Yaakov has to buy the bechora from Esau. Yaakov's firstborn was Reuven, but Yehudah becomes the leader of the tribes. Ephraim recieves Yaakov's blessing instead of his firstborn brother Menashe in spite of the protests of Yosef..David was chosen as the annointed king even though he was the youngest of his brothers.It seems as if the Torah is telling us that biological primacy is not enough. Leadership must be earned and if  the firstborn is not worthy he will not be chosen.

  The most telling example is the displacement of the firstborn of the Exodus by the levites. When Hashem smote the firstborn of Egypt and passed over the firstborn of Israel they were sanctified to the service of Hashem. However when the firstborn of Israel worshipped the golden calf  they forfeited their exalted status. In their place the Levites, the tribe of Moshe and Aharon who did not sin at the golden calf were chosen. In spite of this some primal holiness was retained by the firstborn of future generations.That is why we perform the ceremony of  pidyon ha-ben ( redeeming of the firstborn) when a firstborn baby is one month old.

  My grandfather and father were the firstborn in their families. I am a firstborn myself, I have a firstborn son and he also has a firstborn son. We are five generations of bechorim. Each of us in his time has expressed the special character of the bechor "he who opens the womb" by breaking out of the mold, not being satisfied with living within the circumstances into which he was born. My grandfather David Fenster was born in Eastern Europe where very likely our ancestors had lived for the past thousand years.He was the first in his family who realized that there was no future for the Jews in Europe. He emigrated to America at the beginning of the last century. My father, Henry Fenster grew up the son of immigrants in Philadelphia. He was the first in his family to join the U.S Army to fight the Nazis and was probably the first Jewish soldier in our family since the Exile. He was seriously wounded in France but baruch Hashem survived the war and came home married and started a family. I grew up in a typical suburban, middle class Jewish home, but for some reason at a very early age the fact of being Jewish became the most important, driving force in my life. I heard the same call as the patriarch Abraham "Go out of your land, the place of your birth, out of your fathers house to the land which I will show you" As soon as I finished high school and turned eighteen I emigrated to Israel.My son Efi was the first in our family to go to Yeshiva and dedicate himself to the study of Torah.

  I don't know yet what challenges my first grandson, Oz, will face. I pray that he will be the first to greet the Mashiach, may Hashem send him speedily and in our days.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Shabbos Gedempte Hin (boiled shabbat meal)

Here is a recipe for the shabbat brunch meal (seudah shniya)

One whole plump chicken
3 Tblsp olive oil
3 tblsp canola oil
5 medium onions
5 medium potatoes
1 cup kasha
1cup hummus beans (soaked overnight)
4 cloves garlic
black pepper , paprika, cumin

photo by Isramom
1-heat oil in  a large pot

2-cut up 2 onions and fry them until golden, add the garlic chopped

3- brown the chicken in the same pot on all sides- remove the chicken

4-stir in and lightly fry the the kasha

5- stuff the kasha and onion mixture in the cavity of the chicken and sew it closed

6-place excess kasha in the pot and put the chicken in

7-place the hummus beans, potatoes and onions around the chicken

8- add water to cover 2/3 of the chicken

9- bring to a boil then place on a shabbat hotplate to cook slowly overnight

            Feeds six  ( or four kineinhurra good eaters!)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Post-Pesach HH

Go visit Frume Sarah's World where she posted the Haveil Havalim Blog Carnival and see what's going on in the Israeli/Jewish blogsphere.

Click here.

Remembering Chaim-Memorial Day 5770

I wonder how he would have looked today. Would he be like me, hair grey and thinning, on the heavy side, looking all of his 59 years? Would he have turned out to be a Torah  scholar? A professor? Maybe a doctor?
I'll never know, because 40 years ago Chaim Rosenblum HY"D was killed on the bank of the Suez Canal.

I wish I had a picture of him, but It doesn't matter. I remember him as if we had just seen each other this morning. He was a fresh faced kid just a year out of  yeshiva high school. We had just finished basic training. Since we were in the N. A. CH. AL (Fighting Pioneering Youth) brigade, we were sent to a new settlement in the lower Jordan Valley. Our job was to patrol the border with Jordan and prevent Al Fatah terrorists from infiltrating.  We did a pretty good job along with reserve forces in our sector killing 13 in the first two months, mostly in night ambushes. But this was spring '70 and the real action was in the "war of attrition" with the Egyptians. This was a static war, the two armies dug in on either side of the Suez  Canal. Over 30 soldiers were killed there since the beginning of the year. From June our unit had to send a certain number of men to the Canal to reinforce the reservists who were stationed there. Who would go was determined by lot. When the name  of one of the guys who wasn't in training with us came up, he said that he had a personal problem, that his only sister was getting married the next week and his leave had already been approved. Everyone knew that this didn't matter, all leaves were cancelled for those who were picked to go to the Canal. Then Chaim stood up and said that he would go in his place. Our commanding officer looked at him and asked if he was sure that he wanted to do this. Chaim said that sure, if he could help this guy, why not? Some of us tried to talk him out of it. Why should he put himself in such danger for someone he hardly knew? It wasn't as if we weren't doing our part where we were. I should explain that Chaim was no gung-ho macho type always looking for action, Just the opposite. He was quiet and spent most of his free time learning Torah.  In the end his request was approved and Chaim left the settlement for the Canal.

Our guys were assigned to a lookout built on a bluff above the canal. Their job was to spot the muzzle flashes of the Egyptian artillery and report back so that air strikes could be called in. They were told that if the shells fell within the perimeter of their position they should get down into a fortified dugout called the "rabbit hole" One night soon after he arrived Chaim was in the lookout, manning the telescope when the barrage began. The shells started falling closer but Chaim couldn't see where they were coming from. When the the shells started coming closer the others in the position yelled at Chaim that he should get into the dugout but he said that now he could see the flashes, he had to call them in ! Two minutes later the ground shook as a shell exploded 20 meters from the lookout. When Chaim didn't come into the dugout the others went to the lookout to see what happened to him. They found him unconscious on the floor.a shard of shrapnel had hit him behind the ear and penetrated his brain. He died before he could be evacuated to a hospital.

  I have asked myself many times, why him? Although it might sound like a cliché, he was the best of us. I can only say that his death in defense of Israel makes me look at myself and think: have I, in my life, lived for the things he and all the others died for? We all have a lot to live up to.

So  along with the people of Israel who remember all the thousands who have fallen, I will remember Chaim.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Passover of the generations

There are two different Passovers. One is Pesach Mitzraim, the historical Pesach as described in the torah. The other is Pesach dorot, the Passover of the generations, as celebrated by the Jews to remember that first Passover in Egypt.Until the destruction of the temple the central feature of Passover was the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb and the family feast. Today we have the Seder where we fulfill the mitzvah "And you will tell (vehigaditta) your son on that day saying" and the sages of the Talmud explained, when should you tell him? When the matza and maror are before him.. It is at this time and with these symbols that one generation passes on to the next the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

. Some of the fondest memories of my childhood are of  our family's sedarim. These were family gatherings where all the aunts and uncles and cousins got together for a big feast. The theme was - Pharaoh tried to destroy us, God saved us - LETS EAT! The kids would compete to see who could eat a spoonful of chrain without smoke coming out of his ears, there would be once a year foods like charoset, hard boiled eggs in salt water and knaidlach, and of course "hide the afikoman. Not an uplifting religious experience, more an ethnic festival. Actually one of the things that sticks in my mind is my uncle Max, a staunch Socialist (maybe even a COMMIE, although no one would say it out loud) .He explained to me how the Passover story was really a saga of the struggle of the workers who had been enslaved by the ruling classes. He might have said something about Moses and Lenin but I cant really remember, I was only 8 or 9 at the time.

This year my son Efi decided that it was about time for him to make a Seder of his own. My parents also made the trip from Philadelphia and we all made the trip south to Mitzpeh Ramon. Later as I looked around the table it struck me. Here we were four generations; my father myself, Efi and his son Oz. It also struck me that we were all bechorim, first born sons. Had we been in Egypt the angel of death would have passed over us as he struck down the first born of Egypt. I had the almost palpable feeling that besides the four generations at the table there were other former generations with us.My father in law Abe alav hashalom who passed away ten years ago on the eve of  Pesach had the nachas of his namesake Oz-Avraham asking questions about the Haggadah. And maybe the spirit of David Fenster who I am named after. He was a frimmer Yid and I wonder if in his lifetime he dreamed that his progeny would be sitting around the seder table in the Negev mountains in the Yiddishe medinah singing the same "chad gadya" that he brought over from Europe to America. And over their shoulders all the genereations from a thousand years in Europe and before, back to the second temple and the first exile , and the first temple all the way back to that first Pesach in Egypt.

The cycle of exile and redemption has in this unbroken chain of generations come full circle.On the seventh day of Pesach we had seudat mashiach. He hasn't come yet, but I believe that at the seder we could hear him knocking at the door

Monday, March 8, 2010

Litvishe Purim, Chasidishe Purim

I am of mixed Ashkenazi descent. My maternal grandparents hailed from Poland-Ukraine where the gefilte fish is  sweet, a noodle pudding is called "kigel" and most of the people were followers of the chassidic Rebbes. My father's side were Litvaks, that is they came from the land of Lithuania-Latvia north of Poland on the Baltic sea.They like their fish spicy, they say "kugel" and they were Misnagdim (opponents of the chassidim). The Litvaks were known to be serious, studious and sceptical while the chassidim were pictured as being lighthearted and carefree and somewhat naive in their adoration of their Rebbes. 

This year on Purim I was able to get in touch with both sides of my spiritual and cultural heritage.On the Fast of Esther we had a guest speaker at the kollel where I learn. He was the mashgiach ruchani (spiritual mentor) of one of the leading Litvishe yeshivas near us. He gave a mussar schmues (ethical discourse) whose central theme was that Purim is a special time for spiritual reflection and repentance. He used a play on words-Purim Kippurim. Just as the gates of repentance are open on Yom Kippur so they are open on Purim. 

The salvation of the Jewish people in the time of Mordecai and Esther and the punishment of Haman and our enemies comes to emphasize how much we are dependent on the grace of God in order to survive in a hostile world. He said that we must reflect on the question of why the Jews of Persia were threatened by a holocaust. How did they incur the wrath of God? 

The Megilla tells us that the Jews of Shushan despaired of salvation and did not believe that God would bring them out of the exile.This even though the return to Zion with Ezra had already begun with the proclamation of  Cyrus.The Temple had yet to be rebuilt and the new king Achashverosh was hostile to the Jews. When the Jews were invited to the kings inaugural feast they did not even protest when the holy Temple vessels were displayed and desecrated. It was only because of the great sacrifice of Mordecai and Esther and the fact that they gathered the Jewish people together in a moment of unity to plead for Gods mercy, that the decree was annulled."And the Jews had light and joy and gladness and honor". 

He continued by explaining the mitzva of drinking on Purim "until one can't tell the diffeerence between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai." This is to be taken as an allegory. All year we must act with reason and control our feelings and imagination.On Purim with the help of wine we can let our imagination reign. Reason alone cannot explain the Purim story.We must use the power of imagination to see how God who is not mentioned explicitly in the Megillah worked behind the veil of seemingly natural events to save his people. 

It was with this somewhat somber, Mussardik messaage that I started the Purim holiday. The next day I went to the tisch (holiday table) of Rav Avraham Rubin, a Slonim chassid and spiritual leader of our neighborhood shul. He sat at the head of a long table, decked out in a large fur shtreimel and a long brocaded caftan. People told stories of how the rebbe's blessing on Purim worked wonders. By virtue of being a neighbor I was honored with a seat at the table close to Rav Rubin. A large beaker of wine was poured for the Rav. He blessed it  drank from it and passed it around the table. A giganic baked salmon was set before him he ate a piece and the rest was passed around. Fat baked chickens were brought to the table which the Rav tore apart and handed out to those sitting at the table.Others crowded around him trying to get a portion that he blessed. The atmosphere was joyful and even boisterus. Every few minutes someone raised a glass lechaim and the Rav said" a freilichen Purim". There was wine, brandy and 100 proof slivovitz..Here the drinking wasn't allegorical and sining took the place of spiritual reflection.

Which is the right path? Litvishe Mussar or Chassidishe celebration? Our great teacher Harav Kook ZTZL believed that there was a synthesis of the two paths. He said that now is the time for the disciples of the Vilna Gaon to join hands with the disciples of the Ba'al Shem Tov to bind the wounds of past struggles and  come together to take part in the redemption of Israel.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fringes Of Royal Blue

In Parashat Teruma it is written" Make a sanctuary for me and I will swell within you" This is usually interpreted as meaning not that I will dwell within IT but I will dwell within you,  in your hearts. Rashi however interprets more literally Make a sanctuary for me:Make me a holy house and I will dwell therein.

But we must ask the question:How can G-d's presence be limited to one place? Does not G-d's presence imbue the whole world? The tabernacle was a microcosm symbolizing the whole world of creation. It was constructed from all the basic components of creation: 

Mineral-gold silver and copper
Vegetable-acacia wood and linen
Animal-wool and skins
Every component comes together in perfect harmony as in G-d's universe.

The great nineteenth century commentator MALBIM  explained that every detail of the tabernacle reflects a detail of the six days of creation. But it seems we have left something out, the most important component: Man the pinnacle of creation. This is the inner meaning of  “make me a sanctuary and I will dwell within you”  make me a place for my presence to dwell and you will be able to get in touch with the divine spirit within you.

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explained that the colors of the tabernacle were also illustrative of the building blocks of creation 
white linen-vegetable
scarlet thread- animal (a dye extracted from worms)
purple- human the color of flushed skin
and last techelet (sky blue) representing that which is above the comprehension of our senses - the Divine. The techelet dyed in the wool of the priestly garments and coverings represents the divine element which can be seen by our eyes. It is the divine which connects with the pure human spirit which looks upward to the blue of the heavens.

Techelet is also the royal blue as is described in Megillat Esther.  “And Mordecai was led out in royal attire of techelet...”

Of course there is the techelet of Tzitzit. We say in the kriat shema and you shall make fringes on the corner of your garments and you shall put on the fringe of the corner a thread of techelet you will see it and remember my commandments.
About twenty years ago a group of researchers and rabbis announced that they had discovered the source of the biblical techelet extracted  from the Murex snail found on the Mediterranean sea shore. 

There is much dispute among halachic authorities  on the matter of the newly discovered techelet. Some were against others said it is a mitzva to put a string of techelet in the tzitzit. There are two arguments against techelet one expressed by Rav J.B.Soloveitchik ZTZL who said it is impossible to renew a mitzvah which had been lost for over a thousand years since there is no chain of tradition. Rav Avraham Kahana Shapira ZTZL said that we can use science and technology to reconstruct the lost art of dying with techelet.  Another argument against using techelet was expressed by Rav Shlomo Aviner who said it is arrogant to wear techelet when so many torah luminaries have not accepted it. Rav Dov Lior answered Rav Aviner saying that Arrogance (yuhara) is a subjective concept determined by the the mindset of the wearer and the beholder and therefore should not be taken into account. Today important Rabbis such as R' Lior,  Drori, Simcha Hacohen Kook, Re'em Hacohen And Rabbi Herschel Shachter  all wear techelet.

Rav Kook ZTZL said that techelet is the color which intensifies and focuses our sense of sight. A few years ago scientists did a study on the nature of colors. They measured the frequency of light waves that were refracted through different colors and put them on a scale from 1 to 1000. The number of the color techelet was...613 corresponding to the number of commandments in the torah.

The Rebbe of Ruzhin who thought that he had discovered techelet at the end of the nineteenth century said that when the mitzvah of techelet is renewed  it is a sure sign that the mashiach is on his way. May Hasshem bring him speedily in our days!!!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pharaoh's plea to the heavenly court: "G-d made me do it"

And G-d strengthened Pharaohs heart and he pursued them 
Parashat  Beshalach Shemot 14:4                                                              

Every year at the Pesach seder, after reciting the plagues Hashem visited on Egypt the wise son says " Why should Pharaoh be punished ?.Hashem hardened his heart so he had no choice. Isn't free will one of the central ideas in Judaism?"

This is a very difficult question which has occupied Jewish thinkers from the time of the sages of  the talmud to our times.

Rambam explains that since Pharaoh hardened his own heart in the first plagues Hashem punished him by revoking his ability to repent.The problem with this interperetation is that it negates the idea of freedom of choice without which reward and punishment are meaningless.
The chassidic view is that  Hashem hardened Pharaoh's heart in  order to bring more plagues upon him thereby weakening his evil inclination, and allowing his conscience which is part of his soul created in the divine image to assert itself. This is similar to how the halacha deals with a recalcitrant husband who refuses to grant his wife a divorce. The problem is that the halacha says that the husband must give the get (bill of divorce) of his own free will. What can the court do? They can flog him until he says " I will" (grant the divorce) How can this be considered  acting of his own free will? We believe that deep down every Jew wants to do the right thing,that is commanded by Hashem in the torah and ruled by the court, but the layers of gashmiyut (corporeality) prevent his soul from expressing the divine spark inside him.The lashes break down his physical resistance so that his real spiritual self will break through.

The great nineteenth century commentator Malbim, does not accept the premise that Hashem revoked Pharaoh's free will.He said that on the contrary any normal person after suffering such terrible plagues would have broken down and done whatever Hashem ordered him. Hashem strengthed his heart so that in spite of the plagues he could search his conscience and repent, or decide to continue his evil rebellion against G-d and try to destroy the people of Israel as they were fleeing Egypt.This is expressed in the torahs use of the word chizakti-stregthened, to describe how Hashem inflenced Pharaoh's actions.

But is there such a thing as absolute free choice? The great scholar and thinker, HaRav A.I. Kook answered this question in two ways.First he said that it is a fundamental principle that the very essence of our nature is our total free choice. However he also said that the free choice of everyday life is never absolute, every free movement is comprised of a multitude of compulsions which hinder its freedom and force it in certain directions. He explains that the only entity in the universe with absolute unfettered free will is Hashem. Man, created in his spiritual image has free choice within the confines of the human condition to choose between good and evil. An example of this is that I did not choose to be born a Jew, but I chose to embrace my Jewishness, to choose a life of torah and mitzvot.

Another point that Harav Kook makes is that only the individual has free choice. On the other hand the collective, and espescially the Jewish people, is driven by the Divine choice of the people of Israel to recieve the torah and bring the word of Hashem into the world. As a people we cannot escape our destiny. In this sense Pharaoh really did not have any choice. In the end he could not stand in the way of the destiny of the Jewish people. He thought of himself as a god. He thought that he could impose his will on the world and on its Creator. 

He found out that there is one Supreme Will which was, is, and forever will be the master of the universe.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Whats in a name ?

And these are the names of the children of Israel 
                                                                       Exodus 1:1  

And I was seen by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and known to them as) E-l Shadai but by my name 
Y-H-W-H I was not known to them
                                               Exodus 6:2  

     I have been following with some interest and not a little amusement the ongoing discussion in America on the following question: What do American Jews who are neither Charedi or Conservative or Reform or unaffiliated call themselves ?                                       
    There is MO (Modern Orthodox),LWMO (left wing Modern Orthodox),RWMO(you guessed it) PO(post Orthodox, or maybe perhaps Orthodox) and finally OO ( open Orthodox).
    Confused? Me too. Although to be fair here in Israel we have or own names: Charedi, Dati leumi, Chardali(relatively new) and mesorati.

Are there any  names that have a real meaning? Exodus is Shemot, the book of Names. It begins with the names of the tribes, the sons of Israel , each having a special meaning relating to a special destiny, and continues with the names of  G-d who we can only know through His attributes as expressed  in His names.

HaRav Kook  ZTZL explains (in Midbar Shur derasha 32)That the different names of G-d express the interaction of G-d with the Jewish  people, its land and its destiny. Abraham Isaac and Jacob were spiritual giants chosen by G-d to bring His word into the world.G-d promised each of them, in turn father son and grandson That He would give them the land of Israel as an eternal posession but instead we see that Jacobs sons were forced by famine to leave the land of Israel and go down to Egypt. Why was this so? G-d was revealed to the 3 forefathers from behind the veil of nature. This  is the meaning of the name El Shadai. In Hebrew the word Dai means enough. It was enough for G-d to reveal Himself to them through his attribute as the master of  nature "El" Only later after slavery, exodus and receiving the tora on Mt Sinai when Israel became a nation could G-d reveal Himself as the master of  time Who was, is and and forever will be as expressed in the name Y-H-W-H. Only then would his promise to Abraham be fulfilled. The eternal G-d would give the eternal land to his eternal people, the People of Israel.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Dati Dillema

"We are commanded to inheret the land that Almighty G-d gave to our forefathers and not to leave it to other nations or desolate as it is written in the tora (Num 33:53) 'And you will conquer the Land and settle it for to you I have given you the Land to settle it' " (RAMBAN,lacunae to Sefer HaMitzvot,4) 
"Do not hate your brother in your heart.Rebuke, rebuke your fellow and you will not bear his sin" (Leviticus 19,17)
On my recent trip to the visit family in the US during the Hanuka holiday I felt very alienated. Not so muich from Santa and Xmas trees but from the American Jewish community and specifically from the Modern Orthodox community. They seemingly have it all - affluence,successful torah institutions, good relations with their Gentile neighbors, great influence and impact on American society, economy and culture. But on closer inspection we see that Orthodox Judaism in America is in a great dillema and to put it bluntly is living an illusion.

How can a religious Jew in America say three times a day "and He shall gather us together from the four corners of the earth to our land" and each time we finish a meal say   " the Merciful One will break the yoke (of foreign domination) from our neck and lead us upright (to independence) in our land"

What can this be compared to? A child asked his father to take him to the circus. After much pleading the father agrees. As they reach the bus, the child starts crying "But Daddy, you said you were taking me to the circus!" They finally arrive but the child is still screaming "Take me to the circus!!" This is when he receives a well deserved slap from his father. "Ungrateful son, I have brought you to the place you wanted, bought the ticket and made others give up their seat so you could have a place to sit." This is how Rav Teichtel in his book "Eim Habanim S'meicha" tried to explain the cause of the Shoah - the KBH arranged history so the return to Zion could take place in time to save the Jews of Europe but unfortunately the vast majority including all geddolei tora refused to acknowlege the clearly miraculous turns of history that eventually brought the State of Israel into being.

A notable exception was Harav Kook ZTZL, head and shoulders above the others of his generation who in 1923 implored the Jews of Europe to come to Israel to avoid destruction (see derasha b'Hurva, Yerach Eitanim, Mossad HaRav Kook) It is hard to see today a physical Shoah taking place in America, however a 'silent holocaust' is taking place. In fifty and certainly 100 years the 5 million plus Jewish community will most likely dwindle to a few hundred thousand Haredim and Modern Orthodox.

If a large number of American Orthodox Jews would make aliya it would  have a unique and very positive effect on Israeli society.
The return of the  Jewish People to the Land Of Israel is no longer a dream.Sixty years and more of struggle and sacrifice have made it a reality.Every Jew has a part to play  in the saga of the return of our people by the grace of G-d to our land.

As Rav Kook ZTZL said over 80 years ago in his holy spirit. The shofar of redemption is sounding who can ingnore it??

Monday, January 11, 2010

My New Blog!

"And G-d said to Noah ...make a tzohar for the ark" Gen6-16
Rashi explains-tzohar, some say it was a window others say it was a gem that gave them light.

By some strange coincidence, the same week that I decided to set up my own blog several leading rabbis of the charedi community declared a cherem (ban) on all use of the Internet. They think that they can build an ark, for their community, seal it hermetically and thus save themselves from the flood of the degenerate culture raging around them. But they forgot one important part of the ark-the tzohar, that miraculous portal, made of precious stone which filtered and amplified the meager light during the darkness of the flood so those inside would not be totally cut off from the world outside. The tzohar was not a one way mirror, it was also meant to take the light of the righteous inside and return it to the world outside. The tora by using the word teiva for the ark shows us how this can be done. The Hebrew word teiva also means the written word. The word of G-d given to us in the tora is our tzohar, the prism through which we see the world. The tora lets in and amplifies those sparks of holiness in the world and through it gives that light back to the world.

I hope that with G-ds help I will be able to share some of the insights that Ihave learned from my teachers. In the profile I stated my occupation as "talmud scholar" but I am only a scholar(talmid chacham) in the sense that I have had the privilege of learning from scholars much greater than I (talmid shel chachamim.)