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.)