Friday, October 09, 2015

"Where are you?"

The few words which parashat Bereshith employs to describe creation overwhelmingly succeed in describing the majesty and perfect beauty of the world G-d created. In six days everything is in place and on the seventh G-d infuses His world with holiness. The repeating phrase, "Let there be..." (in Hebrew, yehi), doesn't describe a process of creation. "Let there be..." tells us that every aspect of creation is informed with Divine purpose. There is no happenstance. In spite of the seemingly infinite multitude contained in creation, every created thing is accounted for. Every created thing serves a purpose in G-d's plan.

The final touch to G-d's creation, His final master stroke, is the creation of man. Man becomes woman and man, and they are placed in a perfected, seamless, blemish free environment: Gan Eden - literally, a Garden of Eden! The happily ever after part of the story, however, is short lived: the snake, the temptation, the grievous error - we all know the story. But what exactly happened? Or more importantly, how and why did it happen?

No sooner than man and woman are standing side by side, we are told, "Now they were both naked, the man and his wife, but they were not ashamed. Now the serpent was cunning, more than all the beasts of the field that HaShem G-d had made... " (Genesis 2:25-3:1) In Hebrew the word for naked, arome, (in this case, plural, aromim), is identical in spelling and pronunciation to the word which describes the serpent, arome - cunning. Leaving the multiple meaning aside for the moment, in the Hebrew scripture it becomes clear that whatever the man and woman were - arome - the serpent was even more arome. Man and woman were at a disadvantage.

Arome means uncovered - naked. Within man's most inner being G-d left an infinitesimally small part uncovered - outside, as it were, of G-d'screation, looking in. This miniscule disconnect from G-d's presence is the seat of man's insecurity, his doubt, his need to question, therefore his susceptibility to temptation, to err, to choose bad and not good. This G-dimplanted vulnerability was no match for the serpent whose being was"most cunning," that is, more lacking a conscious knowledge of G-d'spresence, and therefore more apt to stray.

G-d planted this "flaw" within man for a purpose, and that is for man to learn to choose good, to acknowledge G-d's sovereignty and to perfect G-d's world. In this way G-d makes man a partner in creation. Still, it seems remarkable that the first man and women were so unaware of the beauty and grandeur of their surroundings that they could so easily fall prey to so fatal a temptation. The story degenerates into a blame her, blame him comedy of broken telephone. The serpent approached the women, who after all, had never heard the original G-d given commandment to not eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, but only from man. Nevertheless, she corrected the serpent, who intentionally twisted G-d's words. When G-d questions the man after the fact, man places the blame on G-d, saying, "The woman whom You gave to be with me she gave me of the tree; so I ate." (ibid 3:12) Rejecting responsibility for one's own actions is most certainly the end result of succumbing to temptation and the most blatant expression of negating G-d'ssovereignty. For G-d it was the last straw. Man and woman - Adam and Eve - were sent from Eden to a place of "thistles and thorns." (ibid 3:18) In any case, the story of the serpent in the garden is a story of a very corrupted chain of command. Whatever man's alibi, in the end he was taking orders from a snake.

Forty eight years ago, by virtue of blood, sweat, tears and Divine intervention, Israel found itself placed back on hallowed grounds - the Temple Mount, the place of the Holy Temple, and as our sages teach us, the very place of the Garden of Eden - the very place where man and woman's ensnarement by the serpent took place. The place of the Temple altar, we are told, is the place where the Tree of Knowledge stood, and the place of the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant and its golden Cherubim rest, is the place of the Tree of Life. But what is the Temple Mount today: a Garden of Eden filled with G-d's light, or a place of "thistles and thorns," a hostile, cruel and deadly arena?

We have been blessed with the historic opportunity, nay, responsibility, to do true teshuvah and to correct, at long last, man and woman's error - to right the wrong and to bring G-d's light back to the place where He first placed man. But whose voice are we hearing and whose command are we heeding? Are we hearing G-d's command, "They shall build for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them," (Exodus 25:8) or are we following an inverted chain of command in which the serpent makes the rules?

Israel has a choice, every bit as profound as the choice first man had, and every bit as clear, concerning its potential ramifications should we make the wrong choice. The Temple Mount is literally a place of thorns today, as anyone who ascends the Mount can easily see. How telling it is that the Hebrew word for thorn, dardar, is also the word meaning to descend precipitously - lehitdardar! There are a multitude of snakes today telling us openly and brazenly to defy G-d's command. Take your pick: the King of Jordan, Ban Ki-moon of the UN, President Obama, Ayatollah Khamenei, the anointed Beaurocrats of the European Union, John Kerry, the list goes on. They all have the same message: "You will surely not die. For G-d knows that on the day that you eat thereof, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like angels... " (Genesis 2:4) They are all telling us to reject the Divine promise of the Temple Mount, the very same ever-so-cunning message of the snake.

"Where are you?" (ibid 2:9) G-d called to man when He saw him hiding from responsibility. "Where are we?" we must ask ourselves today. Are we in a place of "thistles and thorns," a place of death and devastation, a place that the world is calling us to be? Or are we in the place of the Holy Temple, the place where G-d is calling us to be? The choice seems easy. Will we make it?

“To Give Them the Nations’ Heritage”

By HaRav Dov Begon
Rosh HaYeshiva, Machon Meir

Rashi starts his commentary on the Torah with the most politically relevant question of our day: If the nations of the world say to Israel, “You are thieves, for you have conquered Eretz Yisrael,” what answer are we supposed to give? “He declared to His people the power of His works, that He might give them the heritage of the nations” (Psalm 111:6). 

Seemingly the verse should read, “He declared TO THE NATIONS the power of His works.” Surely they are the ones who come to us with their claim. Why did the verse say, “to His people”? 

This serves to teach us that it is not important what the nations’ claim is against us. Rather, what is important and decisive is what the Jewish people say TO THEMSELVES in their struggle over Eretz Yisrael. 

We have to know “the power of G-d’s works.” We must realize that He is the Creator of the world, and that within that world He lovingly chose the Jewish People, His intimate ones, and gave them Eretz Yisrael, through which they are to spread light and goodness to the whole world, as it says, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). We also have to realize that we are struggling and fighting over this land in order to expose divine light and goodness to the whole world. If we realize all of this, then even the nations’ claim is no claim, for in the end we will bring them light and faith as well. 

Today, when we are struggling over our hold on Eretz Yisrael, we must all unite, not just out of our common survival interest, but also, especially, out of a clear knowledge and recognition of what we are doing here in Eretz Yisrael, what Israel’s destiny is here and what we are fighting for. We have to know and to recognize that the issue here is a war between light and darkness. The Jewish People being in Eretz Yisrael and in Jerusalem means great light for the world, the light of faith and of hope. As the Rabbis said, “Jerusalem is the light of the world.” By contrast, the intention of the Arabs and those nations who support them in their war to take control over Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael, is to extinguish the light of the world and to place their religion and faith in control, G-d forbid. 

The Muslim world, backed by the Christian world, has not yet resigned itself to the rebirth of the Jewish People in Eretz Yisrael, but “He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lrd has them in derision” (Psalm 2:4) when He sees how “the kings of the earth join ranks, the rulers take counsel together against the L-rd and against His anointed” (Ibid. v. 2). 

The day is not far off when “G-d will break them with a rod of iron and dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel” (v. 9), for “the L-rd has said to me, ‘You are My son. This day have I begotten you. Ask of Me and I shall give you nations for your inheritance, the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession’” (v. 7-8). 

Looking forward to salvation, 
Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Separation is the Key to Creation

A Torah Thought for Parashat Breisheet 

By Moshe Feiglin

“And G-d separated between the light and the dark” (ibid 4)
“And G-d said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide…’ (ibid 6)
“ And G-d made the firmament and He divided…” (ibid 7)
“And G-d said: ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night” (ibid 14)
“…and to separate between the light and the dark” (ibid 18)
Before the world was created, before life was poured into its mold, everything was mixed together. It  was unformed and void. The secret of the Creation, the secret of life – can be found in one word: Separation. The separation between light and darkness,  between the sea and dry land, between animal and plant.  When we look through a microscope and see the beginnings of life forming, we see how the cells separate again and again. Life is created through separation .
The state of void and unformed is death. It is the natural state to which all creation is drawn. In order to preserve life we must constantly invest energy – to separate. Without separation, all living organisms would revert to their unformed state. Without investing energy, all substances on earth would mix together once again. Without investing energy, the house will revert to its former, messy state. On the other hand, a tidy home testifies to the presence of its dwellers.
The Creator sees us – humans – as partners in the building and safeguarding of the world. The Creator allowed Man to decide the names of all the animals.  As opposed to the animals,  Man was graced with creative talent. He is appointed to work and safeguard the land.
This constant investment of energy to safeguard the separation, to safeguard life and the world is the participation of man in the act of creation. But just as nature will always attempt to return to void – to death, so the aspiration to die constantly exists within man.
Imagine a world with no separations, John Lennon sang. No heaven, no hell. No states, no nations, no identity. No national identity, no territorial identity, no familial identity, no gender identity. Even human identity that separates mankind from animals is being rapidly eroded.
Will we be wise enough to preserve the separation? To preserve our identity? To preserve our lives?
Man’s creative talent turns him into a creator; on the surface, just like G-d. Animals form things, as well. A spider spins a web that no man can spin. And a bird’s nest can be amazingly complex. But it is not creation. G-d implanted the nest in the bird’s brain, and that is all that it is capable of doing. It cannot imagine and create a triangular nest, for example. A spider will not suddenly decide to weave a psychedelic web.
And man said, ‘Let there be a fork’ and there was a fork. ‘Let there be a jet-plane’.  And there was a jet-plane. ‘Let there be an iphone 7′ …
Man creates in a manner similar to G-d. That is why it is so easy for him to forget G-d and to begin to think that he, himself is G-d.
That is why the Creator commanded us to keep the Shabbat. It is one day in the week in which we do not create. We rest from creating, because that is what G-d commanded us to do. We take a break from creating and remember and testify that there is a Creator in the world. We are His witnesses, we are His children.
We have a G-d.
Shabbat Shalom.

Who or what is “Elokim”? HaRav Nachman Kahana on Parashat Beraisheet 5776

Parashat Beraisheet  5776 
By Rabbi Nachman Kahana

Beraishiet 1,1:
בראשית ברא א-לוקים את השמים ואת הארץ
In the beginning Elokim created the heavens and the earth.

Yirmiyahu 16,19:
ה’ עזי ומעזי ומנוסי ביום צרה אליך גוים יבאו מאפסי ארץ ויאמרו אך שקר נחלו אבותינו הבל ואין בם מועיל:
…the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, “Our ancestors bequeathed us false gods, worthless idols that bring no benefit”.

Who or what is “Elokim”?

Who or what is “Elokim”? What is His nature? Is He loving, caring, or is He angry, zealous, spiteful, vengeful? Is he demanding, never forgiving our iniquities? Are human beings valuable and necessary in His eyes?
There is an ongoing battle between Islam and Christianity, each of whom claims over one billion adherents, regarding the nature of God. They do not believe in the same God, to be sure; because their Gods differ in the extreme.
The Christian god is all love. Sin as much as you wish. And when you tire of the pleasures of murdering, stealing, raping and embezzling, confess to your local priest, who has been vested by the one man on earth who is infallible – the Pope, with the authority to forgive all your sins. God, the possessor of infinite love, looks aside at the sins of lowly man, especially those who come to church to beseech God’s shepherds – the priests – for forgiveness. Did J. not suffer on the cross so that in the future all believing Christians may sin and lust as much as they wish, without compromising their guaranteed place in paradise?
And in the name of this god of love, millions of Jews have been murdered. In the spirit of what a devout Christian once said, “I don’t believe that J. every lived, but I believe that the Jews killed him”.
The god of Islam is radically different. He is enraged, impassioned, indignant, irate, fierce and above all hates Jews; the god of Islam is the ultimate anti-Semite. He created Jews from pigs and monkeys, as stated in the “holy” Koran.
However in the name of fairness, it should be stated that in addition to hating Jews, their god hates all people who are not Islamists. However he hates Jews the most.
But after all is said and done, the god of Islam does have a warm spot of love in his heart. He loves young women who strap on stylish dynamite belts and blow themselves up in public buses and restaurants. He loves Moslem men who plunge knives into the hearts of Jewish men and women and receive extra points for every resulting orphan. For this they have been promised the gift of 72 virgins in the world to come. He is proud of his brave soldiers who have become expert at beheading without a guillotine. A simple knife does the job as well.
Are these the gods that created this world? Would any normal human being wish to be born into a world dominated by a god who condones the worst crimes and then suffocates the perpetrator with kisses of love in turn for a little confession?
Who would want to live in a world created by a god who is impelled by hatred of those who he himself created, and condones the most barbaric acts capable by human beings? Wholesale indiscriminate murder, rape, torture, slavery; all these are taught by the Imams in the mosques —- the world over, as they quote verbatim from their unholy koran.
However, as different the gods of Christendom’s Aisav and Islam’s Yishmael are from each other, they agree on one point: The Jewish people will never return to the Holy Land between the ocean and the river. And if in some unspeakable way they will return, it will be our never ending task as gods to uproot them from the land even if it takes many human generations.
 But the Jewish God, our God, makes demands of human beings: 613 mitzvot for the Jewish nation and 7 Noachide mitzvot (and more) for humanity at large. Demands of moral and just behavior between people. Respect for the life and property of others, with society guided by just laws.
One can appreciate the essential goodness of HaShem even from the Seven Noachide laws:
1- Monotheism – the Trinity according to most rabbis is a violation of this mitzva.
Prohibitions on…
2- Incest – stressing the sanctity of marriage and the prohibition on same sex relations.
3- Stealing – including dishonesty by banks and investment houses, unfair taxation, falsifying pollution data in cars, exorbitant profit taking in the drug market, bribes, and so much more.
4- Murder – outright, including the destruction of human beings in slow and subtle ways.
5- Cursing God – for interfering with our freedom by creating within human beings a conscience.
6- Dismembering an animal before it is dead, thereby stressing the respect for life in all its forms.
7- Obligation to pass moral laws to govern each respective society.
Chazal teach us that initially the Creator planned to relate to humanity with the quality of harsh justice (midat hadin). However, HaShem saw that humans would not live up to the high standards of harsh heavenly justice, so He mitigated the midat hadin by merging it with the midat harachamin (the quality of mercy).
The God of Beraishiet does not act with unbridled love nor with excruciatingly harsh sharia laws. He is our Father and our King, merging the demands of a monarch over his subjects with the compassion of a father to his children.

Fear God and Keep His Commandments

As in the words of Shlomo HaMelech at the end of Kohelet:
סוף דבר הכל נשמע את האלהים ירא ואת מצותיו שמור כי זה כל האדם:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

After all the thoughts of man and their theologies will be considered, it will be the Jewish God who will be proven to be the only God. The proof is the survival of the Jewish nation after 2000 years of exile, and our return to the Land of Israel as stated by HaShem’s holy prophets.
The world will unfortunately have to go through many more bitter days before the gentiles awaken to the fact that they have been duped, as the prophet Yirmiyahu says (16,19-21):
יט) ה’ עזי ומעזי ומנוסי ביום צרה אליך גוים יבאו מאפסי ארץ ויאמרו אך שקר נחלו אבותינו הבל ואין בם מועיל:
(כ) היעשה לו אדם אלהים והמה לא אלהים:
(כא) לכן הנני מודיעם בפעם הזאת אודיעם את ידי ואת גבורתי וידעו כי שמי ה’:
19 – Lord, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in time of distress,
to You the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say,
“Our ancestors bequeathed us false gods, worthless idols that bring no benefit
20 – How does man make his own gods, who is not a god?”
21 – Therefore I will teach them this time, I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the Lord

Shabbat Shalom,
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5775/2015 Nachman Kahana

Stern: ‘Stand Up for What You Believe and F*** Those Who Can’t Get with You’

Howard Stern

Howard Stern / AP
BY: Adam Kredo
Radio host Howard Stern offered up another vociferous defense of Israel during Wednesday morning’s broadcast, just a day after he condemned Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters for backing economic boycotts of the Jewish state.
Stern, responding to media attention over his comments about Waters, called Israel a “necessity” and urged other supporters of the Jewish state to “stand up for what you believe and f*** those who can’t get with you.”
Waters penned a letter to rocker Bon Jovi, criticizing him for performing in Israel. Waters accused Israel of being an apartheid state and lent his support to the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“Don’t be so f***ing afraid,” Stern said to those who silently support Israel. “You know what happens when you’re afraid … Stand up for what you believe and f*** those who can’t get with you.”
“Don’t stand silently by when others will sit there and condemn and throw out words like apartheid and all that bullshit,” Stern told his audience. “Fight the power. You hear me?”
Stern admitted that he got a flurry of supportive emails from fellow celebrities and other “prominent people,” thanking him for his defense of Israel and fierce cut down of Waters.
“I am a supporter of Israel. I am a fan of Israel. I believe Israel is a necessity,” Stern said. “It’s a place where people have hope because they had no where else to go.”
“I receive many, many emails from prominent people thanking me for my comments,” the veteran host added. “They say to me thank you for sticking up for Israel.”
However, many of these individuals did not want to be named, leading Stern to question their silence.
“It’s odd to me that people who are prominent, businessmen, other entertainers, who feel similarly to me are very afraid to speak out for some reason,” he said.
“If you feel Israel is a friend to the U.S. as I do, our only friend in the Middle East, the only ones we can actually count on if the real sh*t goes down, which it will one day,” he continued. “If you believe that and you believe in what I say, and I don’t care if you’re a Jew or not … but if you believe that this is a country that certainly shouldn’t get sh*t from the Roger Waters’ of this world, from Pink Floyd, then speak out.”
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) condemned Stern’s remarks on Wednesday, demanding that he apologize for his defense of Israel.
Listen to the full audio here:

Constant Strife on the Temple Mount

By Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

"And I will bring them to My Holy Mountain and I will make them happy in My House of Prayer... for My House will be called a House of Prayer for all the nations" [Yeshayahu 56:7].

"'Har Hamoriah' – from there teaching ('horayah') goes out to the world... from there fear ( 'yir'a') goes out to the world.

'Aron' (the Ark) – from there light ('orah') goes out to the world... from there curses ('arirah') go out to the world.

'Devir' – from there a plague ('dever') goes out to the world... from there, commandments ('dibrot') go out to the world." [Talmud Yerushalmi Berachot 4:5].

Kayin and Hevel

In recent weeks, the Temple Mount has become the focus of violent Islamic riots, with religion and politics thoroughly intermingled. To make the situation clear: Islam as a religion is being exploited in the service of Palestinian nationalism. And the international community stands against Israel. The believers of Islam are being incited by false propaganda about Zionist intrigues to destroy Moslem holy sites, and the Arab statesmen and their supporters in the world have rushed out, calling for a campaign against Israel.

Our situation in the arena of international advocacy is extremely low. Our enemies are good at lying, at blood libels, and at distributing false propaganda video clips. Even if we can garner the services of our best propaganda experts, it is very doubtful if we can compete successfully with evil forces which intentionally lie, callously, without batting an eyelash. This is weaponry which we are not capable of using, and in the tournaments of international lies we will always occupy the lowest position. Actually, this should give us a feeling of satisfaction! We cannot defeat the Moslem media liars who deny the existence of our Temple on the Mount, and their belief that the El-Aksa mosque preceded the Temples of Solomon and of the Chashmona'im.

At the foundation of the world, from the time of Creation itself, this small area of 500 by 500 Amot on the Temple Mount, was the arena of the struggle between Kayin and Hevel. According to the tradition of the sages, the very first murder occurred at this very site, in the wake of a frightful dispute about the control of this mountain (Bereishit Rabba 22:7). It would seem that this event left a mark of the dispute that has lasted through the generations. The words of the Midrash which are quoted at the beginning of this article also indicate that holy words that are related to the Mount – Moriah, Aron, Devir – can be interpreted in two ways: positive and negative, light and darkness, a blessing or a curse...

A Family Dispute

We have another very difficult problem. The Israeli leftists and part of those in the center do not feel that the Temple Mount is important, not in terms of sovereignty or with respect to allowing Jewish prayers there. They accept – either openly or deep in their hearts – the wretched historical decision made by Moshe Dayan: the Western Wall for the Jews, the Temple Mount for the Moslems! To add to the tragedy of political Zionism, prominent men from the Chareidi sector support this approach – either openly or deep in their hearts – and they are joined by the Chief Rabbis and some of the rabbis of the "Chardal" (Chareidi religious Zionist) groups (who, as far as I am concerned, can be more troublesome than the others). The Or Hachaim cried out about those who hold such opinions: "All the masters of the land, the great scholars of Yisrael, will be called to account for this, and G-d will demand retribution from them for the insult of the neglected house." [Vayikra 25:25].

In spite of everything I have written above, we cannot allow the political defeatists among us to raise their hands in surrender and to abandon the Temple Mount, if for no other reason than my firm belief that any surrender leads to another one! The Temple Mount is "the home of our lives," and as far as I am concerned whoever gives it up is "heartless" and pitiable. ("Let my eyes and heart remain there for all the days" [Melachim I 9:3].) I have such people in mind when I hear the blessings of the Haftarah: "Have pity on Zion for it is the home of our lives, and help the pitiable ones with all due haste."

Divide and Conquer!

I had a dream... In my vision, we arrived at an accommodation for enforced schedules of prayer and access on the Temple Mount, in the spirit of the arrangements at the Machpelah Cave in Chevron. After much struggling and the "Goldstein massacre," arrangements for "dividing" the time in the Cave were forced on the "two sides" by the government of Israel and the IDF. At the Machpelah Cave, there is rigid "territorial" separation, with separate entrances and control points. And, behold, the level of friction has been reduced dramatically. In addition, several days a year have been set, based (I think) on mutual symmetry, when every "side" has the privilege of occupying the entire area. It will be very easy to propose a similar arrangement for the Temple Mount, and to enforce it. (Well, I admit that it may not be easy, but it will probably be quite hard to implement!)

But I woke up, and it was merely a dream! In order to fulfill the prayer of Shlomo when he dedicated the Temple as "Your place of residence, where You will do whatever the Gentile calls out for You to do" [Melachim I 8:43], and to implement the vision of Yeshayahu quoted above, "My house will be a House of Prayer for all the nations" – to do that we will need cooperation among all the religious wise men and their representative leaders. At this point, at the top of the exalted mountain, it will be impossible to enforce a political arrangement without the brave involvement of the leaders of the antagonists. To tell the truth, what is needed is not necessarily active participation but perhaps only for the leaders not to object. And here I see an image of the Chief Rabbinate.

And now my dream returns... Behold, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel (under the leadership of Rabbi David Lau?)does not oppose the idea. And the government of Israel and the IDF enforce the arrangement – and the Temple Mount will indeed be in our hands too!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Race

By Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

In America, the saying goes, anyone can grow up to be president. Well, “anyone” did, and now it seems like everyone else wants to try.
One of Barack Obama’s few accomplishments as president is that he has substantially lowered the bar for future aspirants. In retrospect, it is still mindboggling that citizens of the most powerful nation on earth, presumed leader of the free world, risked its governance on a community organizer of little note, a less than one term Senator with no legislative achievements to speak of. It would be like the Mets deciding to pitch in the opening game of the World Series a soccer player with an attractive personality. It should not be a surprise when the country that elects such a neophyte struggles with tepid economy, a smaller work force, and a global environment in which former US allies look to Russia for leadership and vision. Indeed, today’s news that Russia is trying to eradicate any vestige of US influence in the region suggests the triumph of Putin’s craftiness over Obama’s bluster and naiveté.
Any one of the Republican nominees would be superior, and a few dozen others could also serve quite capably. Another part of Obama’s legacy is the surprising popularity of the three non-politicians in the race. It is as if the American people have realized that if “experience” has produced today’s political climate, then we might as well try a different type of inexperience. It can’t be worse, can it? Probably not, as long as the novice politician retains a sense of humility, a willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them, and an openness to diverse sources of information. Of the three novices in the Republican race, two – Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina – certainly qualify from that perspective. The third – the Donald – does not, and awakens ghosts from the distant past.
Almost all presidents have ascended to the office after serving as Vice-President or Governor. Obama is the first Senator since JFK to become President directly from the Senate and only the third in history (Harding was the other). Eisenhower was the last President who entered office as a non-politician but he had merely been the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces that won World War II. Ross Perot was the last non-politician to mount a serious campaign for the presidency, and probably cost George Bush (I) his reelection in 1992, although analysts spin the numbers both ways. But Trump replicates another individual who sought the presidency as his first elective office, and the similarities are fascinating.
Wendell Willkie was also a former Democrat and a successful businessman (frequently described as a “Wall Street titan”) who wrested the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1940 from several better known competitors, famed politicians all: Senators Robert Taft (Ohio)and Arthur Vandenberg (Michigan), and Thomas E. Dewey, then District Attorney of New York County. (Dewey gained the nominations in the 1944 and 1948 while serving as New York Governor.)
Willkie had the misfortune of opposing a sitting President – FDR – but the 1940 campaign saw FDR running for an unprecedented third term, with an economy still struggling, and Nazi Germany rampaging through Europe. It was a winnable election, but Willkie, while a likable chap, was not an especially enthralling campaigner. He also labored to find the right message that would balance the Republican Party’s isolationist tendencies with its internationalist wing. Notwithstanding that Willkie and FDR had almost identical views on World War II – full support for the Allies short of entering the war – Willkie was lambasted by FDR’s running mate Henry Wallace as the “Nazis’ choice for president.” Dirty campaigning is not a modern invention. Ironically, Wallace himself was later exposed as a Communist sympathizer. Willkie never did connect with the voters.
In the end, Willkie won more votes than any Republican in history to that point but lost to FDR 55%-45%. Even more oddly, Willkie died suddenly in October 1944, so had he won the election, he would not have completed even one term (and his running mate died eight months earlier in 1944!).
Willkie did not have strong roots in the Republican Party and that certainly cost him in the general election – a note of caution for Mr. Trump. Lacking a political base, he was unable to overcome the master of appealing to disparate voting blocs, FDR.
Yet, the differences are also dramatic, starting with the political environment. Politics has always been raucous, but today’s widespread exposure of candidates, the incessant campaign season, and the “president-as-celebrity” that has both dumbed down politics and precipitated Obama’s elections have brought all campaigns into uncharted territory. Politicians nowadays have an enormous capacity to bypass traditional media and communicate directly to the people, not only through speeches but also YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other such dominant entities. Trump’s real fame is not as a businessman – he has had ups and downs like most businessmen – but as an entertainer. I once thought that people who want an entertainer or beer buddy or perpetual candidate as president do not vote, but I have been proven wrong. Trump’s appeal is that he can speak in  bombastic generalities to an audience that, to date, is largely intrigued by it.
Will they vote for him? Who knows, and here’s what has brought me to (almost) the point of revulsion: the campaign is just too long, and as it is too long, it lends itself to producing not the best candidate or potential president but the shallowest and most superficial (not to mention, best financed). There is something wrong when candidates drop out more than a half-year before anyone has actually voted! Yes, it is an endurance test, but why? In theory, a President need not be a great debater; Obama certainly isn’t, and the only times he was actually challenged publicly and in person by anyone (Paul Ryan and Binyamin Netanyahu come to mind), he just became snarky. But it’s not as if the next President will have to debate Putin, Merkel, Assad or anyone else. That’s not how policy is made.
In theory, too, a president need not be telegenic or even a good speaker. Abraham Lincoln was not especially handsome and he had a tinny voice (although a legendary way with words). These campaigns produce the best candidates but being a good candidate often has little connection with being a good president; the proof of that proposition dwells in the White House today and he still cannot resist making at least five stump speeches weekly even though he can’t run again.
The good candidate and the good president have almost opposite skill sets but today’s campaigns are almost designed to reward the better candidate and penalize the person who would be the good president. So the campaigns must be shortened dramatically – even six months seems too long – and the party conventions (four days of hot air and balloons) should be eliminated. Here’s the ideal campaign: no candidate can announce, raise funds or mention the word “President” until June 1 of the election year.  Have one national primary – both parties, same day, in July – and one day for the election in November. (Or maybe September 1 and October 1, for the campaign beginning and the national primary.) The top two candidates are the presidential and vice-presidential nominees (unless the latter declines). Stop giving tiny states like Iowa and New Hampshire disproportionate influence over the outcomes of presidential elections. Campaigns would not be as expensive but would be more meaningful. And – I beg – eliminate all polling. Taking daily polls is like taking your pulse every ten minutes; it is both obsessive and worthless. It is mind-numbing – as is the daily punditry. No other country in the world has such an extensive election process. Bad process, bad results.
Everyone knows where this is headed already – so why not vote this November?? Hillary Clinton is ethically-challenged with a cackle that makes one’s skin crawl, and will struggle – thankfully – to overcome Joe Biden. It says something about the state of American Jewry that the first Jewish candidate to be leading the polls in several states this late in a campaign is an intermarried, unaffiliated Socialist. The Democrat candidates are weak, but weak Democrats have won in the past by drawing heavily from the fear chapter in the Democrat handbook. They’ll accuse Republicans – any and all – of being anti-woman, anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-elderly, anti-poor and anti-middle class and promise to hand out more free stuff. I would quite enjoy a Fiorina-Carson ticket being labeled anti-woman and anti-black.
The Republican slate is filled with qualified candidates. None are without flaws, but then, who is anywhere in life? Whom do the Democrats fear most? Judging by the level of attacks, the answers in no particular order would be Christie (for his campaigning skills, his ability to get things done with a hostile legislature, and his knack for communicating his positions in a way that voters understand); Rubio (bright, young, dynamic Hispanic with a keen grasp of the issues – and young almost always beats old in presidential elections); Kasich (for his record of achievement as a Congressman and as a Governor of a critical swing state; and, somewhat less, Jeb Bush (who is suffering from Bush fatigue but whose war chest will not allow the Democrats to steamroll him at any time during the campaign).
Democrats should fear Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and even Donald Trump – the first two because they cut into indispensable Democrat blocs and the latter because, well, he is unpredictable and all the rules of politics have changed in the last decade. Trump will most likely flame out shortly after the voting starts. Democrats may wish for Ted Cruz because he is very conservative; be careful what you wish for, as there is no brighter, more articulate candidate than the Texas Senator. Win or lose, he will be around for a long time. Mike Huckabee is a sage and folksy presence, a good combination. Almost all the candidates project what is most needed in a president: firm, sensible  convictions that are grounded in reality and a reasonable way of implementing them.
The shame is that there are so many quality people – Graham and Jindal, to name two other  – that there are just too many people running for president to really get a fair hearing by the voters.
Down the road, we can evaluate each candidate’s approach and feelings towards Israel, if only to irritate Ann Coulter. For now, the race is on – even if it is just about a year too early.

Welcome to the New Middle East

By Moshe Feiglin

Just last week, Putin’s puppet “Parliament” – authorized the deployment of Russian troops outside Russia’s borders, “strictly to preserve Russia’s vital interests and not to implement foreign policy”.  Or as they would have us believe, Russia is acting out of self defense and not out of an expansionist policy. Russia’s military action is Syria, however, has everything to do with expansionism.
This is completely expected. There is no vacuum in geopolitical reality. The Middle East cannot be emptied of its old order without drawing in different forces. When France sends bombers to aid the refugees in Syria, its actions don’t stem from boundless mercy. France (like all the other countries involved) is simply taking advantage of the humanitarian claim in order to say to the world, ‘I am not just a state being dragged along; I have military might, which I am using (for humanitarian reasons, of course). When the pie is being cut up once again, be sure to take me into account…
There are, of course, isolationist states. First and foremost among them today is the US, which boasts the largest army in the world. But history teaches us that an isolationist ideology does not stave off an historic tsunami. The pre World War I Wilson was no less isolationist than Obama. It was not Roosevelt who declared war on Hiter, but just the opposite. In both cases, the US was sucked into the war. Ultimately, we will also find the battle-enthusiasts together with the isolationists spinning in the Middle Eastern whirlpool. Not only Russia, China and Europe, but the US (and who knows who else?) as well.
As opposed to Putin and the non-isolationist countries that are already involved in the war in Syria – Israel really does have an existential interest in what is taking place literally on its border. On the surface, we should have been the first country to get involved in Syria. First off all, to defend ourselves, thereby preventing the slaughter of innocents.  Israel, though,  truly does not have any expansionist aspirations.
In the face of the collapse of the Arab sovereign frameworks together with their armies, in the face of the chaos and horrors crying out for the intervention of cultured forces – literally in the midst of the pandemonium –  is an enlightened, progressive country – economically sound and boasting the strongest army in the Middle East (at least on paper). Why then, can France bomb in Syria and no one blinks an eye, while we do not even consider Israeli intervention on our own border? Why, for example, did no one propose the establishment of a safe haven for refugees inside Syria under the protection of Israel’s air force and artillery? Why can’t Israeli elite forces take control of strategic junctions in Syria and prevent weapons supplies to ISIS, Hizbollah or the other ‘bad guys’ there? (You know, the forces that shoot at us from time to time.) In short, why haven’t even the most extreme rightists in Israel thought of doing what other countries do and try to take advantage of the changing strategic reality to improve Israel’s position?
The answer, of course, is that the last thing that we want is to endanger our soldiers in a war that is not ours. And that is a very real consideration. But last week, when the IDF responded to another ‘errant’ shell that landed in Israeli territory, Putin sent a sharp rebuke and essentially began to cement the consciousness of the new Middle East. “Now you are dealing with me!” said Putin. An array of Israeli politicians, from the Prime Minister and Defense Minister down to more minor ministers hurried to make it clear that Israel would respond without taking Putin into account. Their reaction was more a reflection of the hysteria in Israel’s defense apparatus than any ability to deal with the new reality.
We will now be dealing with an entire lineup of states on our border, an entire array of ‘errant missiles’ that will intensify – with no return address and with a lot of addresses that will know how to send us the same messages that Putin has just sent. So when do we endanger our soldiers more? When we take responsibility and create a sphere of influence now? Or when we leave a vacuum that will draw all the ‘Israel lovers’ to our borders?
Despite the clear answer, the question is purely theoretical. Israel is not emotionally or mentally built for any strategic initiative that is not directly and immediately of a defensive nature – even if it is the most logical, ethical and obvious initiative from every possible standpoint.
Israel is not France, Turkey or Russia. We are not a state that has already consolidated its identity. We are a state that flees its identity, a state that flees its own message to the world.
Our flight from our identity has led us to a mental state in which we constantly apologize for our very national existence in this expanse. Since we recognized the ownership of another ‘nation’ over our Land and its beating heart, Jerusalem – our collective subconscious has adopted the mentality of guests in our own Land. As if we are just temporarily here.  The bedrock of existence in this Land belongs to those who bear a solid identity; in other words, to the Arabs, the ‘dignified wild men’ who grew up here in the desert. We have no identity and thus no history. We are the colonialists, the new Crusaders. And so, we are living here on borrowed time and we must constantly pay to maintain the sin of the occupation of Ashdod and Haifa – Jerusalem and Hebron.
Ever widening circles in the enlightened world negate the legitimacy of our national existence with increasing venom. The only claim that we manage to muster against them is the security claim. In other words, self defense. The Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, has become our holy Temple. We have hinged all the justification for our existence upon it. But after 70 years, it doesn’t work anymore. The grandchildren in Germany do not feel guilty. For them, we are the new Nazis.
The defensive mentality to which the loss of our identity has led us cannot fathom the initiation of strategic measures beyond Israel’s borders. Not only that, it does not even allow us to defend our internal borders – particularly in the heart of our capital.
So take a long, deep breath. Now that the holidays are over, we will be needing a lot of oxygen to deal with the challenges that are waiting for us right around the corner.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Sukkot 5776: HaRav Nachman Kahana

Sukkot 5776
An excerpt from my book “With All Your Might” dealing with the holiday of Sukkot:
Reb Yisrael and his sons erected their succah adjacent to the kitchen door, as they had done for many years.
But this year was different. Reb Yisrael had just learned from his rabbi that one of the reasons for residing temporarily in a succah is in case one’s destiny was to be expulsion into galut on Rosh Hashana, then the departure from the comforts of home into the succah should be considered to be that galut.
Reb Yisrael, his wife and children left the warm comforts of their beautiful house and entered the succah with the knowledge that by taking up temporary residence therein, they would be absolved of any galut-related sins.
As the family continued to reside in the succah, they got quite used to the pleasant smell of the schach and the pretty pictures on the walls and the overhanging decorations and were content to remain there even after the chag! They were able to peer into their permanent home with its luxurious amenities, electrical gadgets, state-of-the-art under-floor heating units, thick hanging drapes, lush carpets and much more, but entertained no interest in returning there.
As odd as it may seem, the family became accustomed to the crowded cold interior of the succah. Their relatives and neighbors tried to point out the irrationality of what they were doing, but the very idea that this was galut did little to encourage them to return to their spacious home.
When their rabbi came to visit, it was surprising that he encouraged them to remain in the succah rather than to return home; because it was in the succah that the family felt comfortable and closely knit.
In the meantime, several strangers noticed that the previously brightly-lit home was vacant, and they decided to move in as if it were indeed their own!
Reb Yisrael and his wife and children saw the strangers living in the house; but in veneration for the succah, they stubbornly bonded with the thin walls and dried-out schach and refused to leave.
The whole thing was so absurd. To leave such a beautiful home for the feeble, fallible construction of the succah, despite the fact that their beautiful home was beckoning was beyond the understanding of any rational person.
Then came the stones thrown by the local anti-Semites who wanted to rid the neighborhood of this eye-sore, but Reb Yisrael and his family dodged them one by one and steadfastly remained in their fragile dwelling.
Then came the terrible night when one third of the succah was torched by the local bullies.
Reb Yisrael and his family were aware of what was happening, but their minds had become so warped that no amount of reasoning could move them.
To them the succah was home and their home was galut.
Eventually the succah came crashing down, killing Reb Yisrael and his entire family – in their beloved galut!


By Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
We are commanded this time of year to dwell in Succot (booths) “so all generations should know that G-d had us dwell in Succot when He took us out of Egypt: (Vayikra 23:43). We have been dwelling in Succot ever since –    a sign of G-d’s love and protection from hostile natural elements, and from hostile human forces as well. Our Sages famously disputed whether these Succot were real, actual booths or the divine clouds of glory. But how far does the protection extend?
Rav Rami Berechyahu (the fine Rav of Talmon in Samaria and founder of the organization “Maaminim Bamishtara,” an educational network for religious police officers in Israel) was once asked the following question: a fellow said that he was building his Succa and he injured himself, broke his finger when he smashed it with the hammer. He wanted to know how such a thing was possible when the Talmud (Sota 21a) states that when you are involved in the performance of a Mitzvah, you are protected from harm. So how was he hurt?
The Rabbi first answered that building the Succa is not the mitzvah but a hechsher mitzvah  (preparation for the mitzvah, which is dwelling in the Succa), so the aforementioned principle doesn’t apply) We might be tempted to dismiss such a question altogether but for the fact that many people live their lives according to such signs, omens, premonitions. This action brings good luck, and this brings bad luck. I’ll be successful if I wake up at a certain time, or the weather is a certain way, or this person calls me. As is well known, there are people who do this with mitzvot as well – if I observe this mitzvah, then that entitles me to this reward, or even this: if I do this mitzvah, then I can transfer my reward to someone else.
All of this is alluring but essentially baseless – we can daven for someone else (the primary way of helping another, aside from actually helping them) or even learn extra Torah for someone else. I’ve never seen an authoritative source suggest that I can assign my reward for wearing tefillin (or taking challah) to someone else, anymore than the Jets can assign extra points they have scored to the Giants (not that it would help). And if the transference of reward did work, would the converse also work – that someone else becomes responsible for my sins? (“I’m doing it for him, not for me.”)
Yet, interestingly, the notion that we can interpret events or signs is not unknown even in the world of Halacha. Two famous vignettes suffice: the Vilna Gaon long desired to implement the recitation of the Priestly Blessing every day in the exile, and not just on Yom Tov as we currently do. He tried several times but stayed his hand, until one time he decided that he would do it the next morning. That same night, he was arrested on slanderous charges (part of the Chasidic-Mitnaged wars of the 1700’s); when he was released he took it as a “sign from Heaven” (Aliyot Eliyahu, 44) that he should not make this change in the liturgy. Some years later, the Gaon’s disciple tried the same thing – and the night before it was to happen, the Bet Midrash in Volozhin burnt down.
So, too, the Chatam Sofer ruled that if a person ate meat late at night and arose early the next morning, it is permissible to have coffee with milk even before six hours have elapsed since he last consumed meat. One need not wait the customary six hours between consumption of meat and milk, as sleep speeds digestion. Most others disagreed, but having ruled, the Chatam Sofer decided to act in accordance with his ruling, ate a late night meat meal, rose early the next day, poured himself coffee, added milk, and… promptly knocked over the whole cup. From here he deduced that the halacha is not in accordance with his opinion.
What does this all mean? Are we mystics? Do omens matter? Rav Yisrael Salanter rejected all of these, arguing that the Torah is not in Heaven. Halachic questions must be decided based on halacha and not based on signs or wonders. The Bet Midrash in Volozhin was burnt down not by an act of G-d – but man, Rav Yisrael contended; it was arson by people who resented the change in minhag. (Some Jews will do anything to defend a custom – even violate several Torah prohibitions!) Perhaps on the level of the Vilna Gaon or the Chatam Sofer different rules apply. But who knows? Clearly such an approach is not normative. We can’t live that way.
Not everything has a deeper meaning. Rav Shlomo Aviner was once told by someone that he was trying to write a check for charity to a poor person when his pen ran out of ink. What message, he asked, was G-d sending him? Rav Aviner answered that G-d was telling him that he needs more ink in his pen. So too, Rav Berechyahu told his interlocutor that the signal the latter was sent from Heaven when he broke his finger while building the Succa was this: when you use a hammer, you have to be careful. That is also a divine message.
The Succa is a demonstration of faith on our part and of love on G-d’s part. The Vilna Gaon explained that the 15th of Tishrei was the day on which the divine clouds of glory returned to shelter the Jewish people after the sin of the golden calf.  Those divine clouds of glory do not hermetically seal us. But without them, the actual Succot could also not protect us. They reflect the special Providence through which G-d preserves His people, and His love in giving us the Torah and Mitzvot, a land and a way of life, that doesn’t prevent harm but give us guidance in dealing with harm, especially the harm caused by G-d’s other creatures, human and otherwise. We don’t need a greater demonstration than Succa; we just need the Succa. It is our shelter of faith.
In so doing we find our deepest connection to G-d, our purpose in life, and our source of true happiness, and hastens the day of redemption, when G-d’s kingship will be recognized by all mankind.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Jew Can Never Cease Being a Jew: HaRav Nachman Kahana on Parashat Ha’a’zinu and Erev Yom Kippur 5776


Parashat Ha’a’zinu and Erev Yom Kippur 5776

A Jew Can Never Cease Being a Jew

The Tanach in Melachim 1 chapter 20 relates a very telling incident in the life of Achav, King of the ten northern tribes of Israel.
Achav, to be sure, was far from a tzadik. He, Yeravam ben Nevat and Menashe were the three kings who, according to the Mishna in Sanhedrin, lost their inherent places in Gan Eden.
Ben Hadad King of Aram (today’s Syria), threatened Achav with war if he did not deliver to him his gold and silver, his wives and children. Achav was forced to capitulate and sent to Ben Hadad all that he demanded.
The following day, Ben Hadad sent anther demand to Achav. This time Achav was to deliver to him “machmad ay’necha” - that which is the most precious in your eyes.  Achav and all his ministers rejected the demand and agreed unanimously to go to war.
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 102b) asks, that after relinquishing his gold, silver, wives and children, what was left that could be described as the “most precious thing” in Achav’s eyes? And surprisingly, the Gemara answers “a Sefer Torah”.
Why would Achav who totally rejected the Torah, choose to go to war over a Torah scroll?
I believe that despite Achav’s rejection of its spiritual message, the Torah in Achav’s eyes was the universally recognized symbol of the Jewish nation. For him to relinquish the royal Torah scroll to an enemy was tantamount to eliminating the national soul that bound all Jews together. Achav was prepared to die in battle rather than to commit an act of betrayal against the nation and against his own personal “Jewishness”.
This incident defines Achav's inner character and thoughts. Despite his glaring faults and weaknesses, he can serve as the leading teacher in two areas:
1- There is an immutable connection between every individual Jew to the collective Am Yisrael, even one who is so far from Torah observance.
We learn from Achav that the skeletal-infrastructure of every Jew is the undeniable fact that the Creator brought his unique soul to this world when born to a Jewish mother, or converts who were born with a Jewish soul and for some unknown reason had to be born to a seemingly gentile mother. It is for this reason that, halachically a Jew can never cease being a Jew no matter what he does, because one cannot erase his essence.
2- We learn from Achav the great pride there is in being a Jew. He relinquished everything of value - family and wealth - but was willing to die before infringing on his and on his nation’s Jewishness.

A Third Type of Tshuva

The Rambam in his laws of Tshuva discusses two motives for one’s decision to do Tshuva - love of HaShem or fear of divine retribution.
I would like to submit a third motive, one which is unfortunately grossly lacking in the education of Jews in the galut and in some non-observant schools in Israel.
It is tshuva not purely out of love for HaShem - which is in the realm of a few learned and highly spiritually developed individuals.
It is not tshuva out of fear of punishment - which is a product of an egotistical mind that is not even close to the spiritual ideal of a “Priestly kingdom and a sanctified nation”.
This third tshuva is out of pride in being a member of the small, elite group of people who the Creator appointed to be His chosen nation. Pride in being the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov. A descendant of the people who crossed the Red Sea and saw HaShem’s miracle, and stood at the foot of Mount Sinai while receiving the Torah from the Creator Himself.
Children of a nation 3500 years old whose blessings to humanity have no equal.
It is the pride of being a Jew that echoes in one’s soul proclaiming:
I am a prince, a son of HaShem. How can I betray the love and confidence HaShem has lavished upon me, by committing a sin?
How can I betray the 150 generations of my family beginning with the revelation at Mount Sinai, who sacrificed so much that I should be born a Jew today?
It is beneath my dignity as a Jew to act immorally or not in good faith with my fellow man, or to infringe on any of HaShem’s mitzvot.
It is beyond my conception as a Jew to deny or minimize the great miracles HaShem has performed for His people in the last 67 years in Eretz Yisrael.
The Holy Land acts as a magnet for me to return home to be part of HaShem’s master plan for the world and the universe.
The prophet Yeshayahu says (40,15):
הן גוים כמר מדלי וכשחק מאזנים נחשבו הן איים כדק יטול:
Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
and as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
HaShem revealed to the prophet that the eight billion gentiles in the world pale in comparison to the numerically minuscule Jewish nation.
How can we not burst with pride at the knowledge that we are Jews, in whose veins flow the blood of the righteous of the world - that we are the Jewish nation that was presented by HaShem with the promise of eternal life in the next world and the holy land of Israel in this world!

Jewish Pride

When I still lived in the galut and had not yet made Aliyah, I recall every time I would recite the morning blessing about HaShem not making me a gentile, it would come to my mind that He did not have to make us gentiles. He left it to us to do the job.
We spoke their language and were steeped in their culture. Life was centered around sports, with the great sportsmen our heroes and not the heroes of Jewish history. Entertainment, food, vacations, career - I and my fellow yeshiva students were very much a part of the gentile scene in whose land (unknown then to us) we were considered as non-Christian, unwanted guests, while we felt that we were home.
We were devoid of any Jewish pride!
There were many moments in my life when I felt proud, but the one which has left the greatest impression was at the IDF induction center, when I saw myself in the mirror dressed in the uniform of Tzahal.
I was now a true son of Eretz Yisrael, prepared to even give my life in the defense of the Jewish people, who with the compassion of HaShem have returned home.

Gmar Chatima Tova & Shabbat Shalom,

Nachman Kahana

Copyright © 5776/2015 Nachman Kahana