Pragmatic Fish Eaters

Many are familiar with the ancient parable about the slave who cooked for his master a stinking fish. The master gave his slave three options: Either eat the stinking fish, receive 100 lashes, or pay with his money for the fish. The slave opted for the punishment to eat the stinking fish, but after eating more than half the fish with great effort, he could not take it anymore, and announced to his master that he can’t continue, and would like to receive the lashes. The master began thrashing the slave, and after several lashes, again the slave could not stand the pain, and chose the third punishment – to pay. And so, in the end, he ate the fish, received lashes and paid a high price to atone for his sin….

One can easily remember this parable when watching Prime Minister Netanyahu in action. While one may pity the poor Prime Minister, one can not forgive his wretched and dangerous deeds. Behold, at the beginning of last week, the Prime Minister apparently had made a positive decision concerning the settlements. What was the decision? It wasn’t what he had originally intended, which was to add a new neighborhood to Bet-El, because America and the Shin Bet vetoed the move. And so instead, he decided to give the settlements preferential housing incentives. To all the settlements? No. According to reports, only 20% of the settlements were to fall in such preferential categories. Did this decision have any practical ramifications? Probably not, since the government itself publicly informed the United States that the decision was only a “declarative” one.

But none of this helped in the slightest. For a full week the entire world, from the U.S. to the U.N., to the Arab world, to the Israeli left, to part of the Likud party rose up and sharply attacked and condemned the Netanyahu government in a fashion we have not yet seen, as if the Israeli government at the very least had began an all-out war against the Arab world at large, expelled the Arabs from Israel, and as a late-night snack, annexed all the territories. Ah, the eaters of stinking fish – suffering the lashes and having to pay for it in the end, anyway.

In the middle of last week, an announcement was made from the office of the Prime Minister that could have made one think that we have a government which could bring the Messiah. Here is the exact “Maariv” headline story quote a week and a half ago: “Israel: American Criticism Will Not Dictate To Us Our Way Of Life”. Awesome. Tremendous. Just what we had been waiting for! But only a few hours passed, and Israel was already back on it’s knees, pleading to the U.S. they “didn’t mean it”, and there was a “misunderstanding”, and “things were taken out of their context”. Did this groveling impress the U.S.? Hardly. This was the reaction of the American foreign department to the Israeli children who had the audacity to almost raise their heads up: “This is not a polite way to relate to the words of the President. President Clinton is friendly to Israel, and when it expresses it’s opinion, we hope that friendly governments will treat it respectably.”

As of this moment, the Israeli government has backed down completely. If a week ago it had appeared that someone in the government had some idea about building houses in the Land of Israel, nothing of the sort will be raised today. It’s like we said: Eat stinking fish, receive the lashes and in the end, pay full price.

If the Israeli government had a modicum of pride, it would casually remind Mr. Clinton about his blatant interference in the Israeli elections in support of the losing candidate, and that he should “chill out” a bit. In the meantime, a normal Jewish government would establish new settlements as something taken for granted. For in the Land of Israel, Jews settle the land. The world gets excited? Condemns? The U.N. security council will stay up all night to draft up an Israel-bashing decision? Great. That’s precisely what happened last week, and unfortunately, it was all about nothing. If they are going to condemn us anyway, shouldn’t we at least get something out of it, like start some new settlements? If the security council is going to stay up all night to discuss Israel, wouldn’t it be preferable to give them a good reason to do so – for instance, to expel a few hostile Arab villages near Ramallah from the borders of Israel?

What is there to be afraid of? Did not King David say in Tehilim (2): “Why are the nations in an uproar, and people utter a vain thing? The kings of the earth raise themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His annointed, saying, Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision”.

Goyim? America? The U.N? It is dandruff you brush off, for the Master of the World stands with us, and it is He who changes the hearts of kings and determines the destinies of the nations.

This is what Netanyahu does not understand. Anyone whose world outlook is not based on faith in G-d can never understand this. And so, Netanyahu looks as he does only six months after taking office. He is deteriorating every step of the way, and taking the State of Israel down with him. And he has no other option – because if he is afraid of what America will say, then he will constantly be rubbing them the wrong way no matter how much he tries to placate them, and by doing so, he will bring our country to greater tragedythan the Labor party would have brought us to.

Our sages taught us that the redemption is dependent on faith. And when we finally seize onto this weapon of faith, we will realize that no one and nothing is relevant, other than our firm decision to go in the way of G-d, even if the way of G-d means provoking the gentiles.

Pesach: Divrei Torah

“And Pharaoh called to Moses, saying: Go and worship the L-rd. Only your sheep and cattle will remain – your children will also go with you. And Moses said: You will also give us offerings and sacrifices for the L-rd our G-d, and our flocks will go with us…” (Shmot 10:24-26)

The ninth plague-darkness – has struck Egypt with a vengeance and Pharaoh breaks. Step by step he has retreated and after the eighth plague – locusts – he was prepared to allow the Jews to leave except for their children. Now he surrenders almost entirely as he agrees that all the Jews can leave. He only asks one thing, one compromise, one small victory for himself, that the Jewish cattle remain behind.

Consider; the Jews have been slaves for 210 years. They have lived in misery and persecution. They suffered decrees such as the one casting their male children into the sea. They cried out unto the L-rd for freedom and salvation. Now, apparently the great moment has arrived! Pharaoh agrees that they shall go free! What does it matter that he asks for their cattle? Give it to him! The main thing is peace and salvation and we are willing to give up cattle for peace!

But Moses knows that this is not the purpose of the freedom of the Jewish people and of the story of the slavery and exodus. He is not prepared to compromise one inch because he knows what the purpose of G-d is. When Moses first entered the presence of Pharaoh and said: “The L-rd, G-d of the Hebrews, has said: Let my people go!” Pharaoh contemptuously answered: “Who is the L-rd? I know not the L-rd and will not let Israel go!” Here is where the battle was joined. Here is the purpose and aim of creation – to have the world recognize the dominion and kingship of the L-rd being challenged. Pharaoh must be made to recognize and totally acknowledge the sovereignty of the L-rd over him and his people. He cannot make compromises; he cannot strike bargains. He must submit totally!

“And I shall be glorified through (the defeat of) Pharaoh and his army and Egypt shall know that I am the L-rd.” Only the total defeat of the wicked can raise and honor the name of the L-rd, says the Biblical commentator Rashi. This is why there will be no compromise with Pharaoh. He must totally submit, he must totally surrender.

And even when he apparently does this, after the plague of the first born, when he runs to Moses and says: “Get out, take your flocks with you, just leave and ask the L-rd to bless me!” Moses refuses and in the words of the Mechilta; “And he called unto Moses and Aaron in the middle of the night and said: get up and leave! Said Moses unto him: No, we have been ordered not to leave our houses until morning. What are we, thieves that we should slink out in the night? No, we will leave only in the morning with an upraised arm before the eyes of all the Egyptians!”

Not one inch of retreat here. The lesson of the L-rd being the Omnipotent, king of the universe must be seen and acknowledged.

The lesson is an eternal one and must be learned in our time, too. The question of peace in the Middle East is a question of the Arabs and the world acknowledging the total sovereignty of the Allmighty. There can be no compromise on this. It is only a peace that comes with Arabs submitting to the yoke of the heavenly kingdom that will be a permanent one and the Jew who gives up part of his land as a compromise, violates the entire purpose of the rise of the Jewish State and the demand of the All Mighty that the nations acknowledge Him as King. There can be no retreat from land because that is in essence a retreat also from the Kingship of the L-rd.

Special thanks to Barbara Ginsburg for circulating this article.

Pesach: The Great Sabbat

It is the necessary, the indispensable preface and introduction to Passover.  It is the explanation that cries out the ultimate message of the holiday, the basic lesson of the feats of our freedom.  It is the foundation of foundations that raises Passover from an insipid, saccharine social custom beginning and ending with recipes printed in the New York Times women’s section; from a golden opportunity for Manischewitz to return to Jewishness through capitalist Passover profits even as the truly frum, raise their level of religiosity by raising the level of prices; from a Jewish people that marches on its Seder stomach even as it moves on to the annual national lie. “Next Year in Jerusalem.”  It is the Great Sabbath, which attempts to save Judaism from myopic ritualism, to make the Jew, Jewish and the Orthodox, religious.

Sabbath Hagadol, the great Sabbath.  The Sabbath preceding the Passover, the Sabbath that cries out the basic, the ultimate message of the enormous Exodus from Egypt, of Passover itself.  Sabbath Hagadol that gives us the lesson without which Passover, the Jewish people itself, lose all reason for being.  Sabbath Hagadol commemorating the basic lesson of Judaism: Faith, real faith, faith in G-d who really is greater than the mighty Pharaoh, or the regal Reagan of the burningless Bush – Sabbath Hagadol. The great Sabbath, that began more than 3,000 years ago on a Sabbath in Imperial Egypt.

“Speak unto all the congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month, they shall take to them every man a lamb…”

It is a special, an awesome commandment, one that is given to every Jew, hence the unique words “Speak unto all the congregation.”  Take a lamb and bind it up for four days.

You believe that this is a simple commandment.  Hardly.  The lamb is more than an animal; it is the very god of Egypt.  It is a deity, a hallowed creature before whom the Egyptian bows and whose meat dare not touch his mouth.  And the Jews, “every man” thereof, are commanded to take this lamb, this Egyptian god, the deity of their masters, and tie it to their beds, to their posts, bind it up.  And when the astonished and outraged Egyptian masters will ask: “What are you doing? The answer shall be: We shall soon slaughter this lamb, the deity, your god, and eat it.

Do you still think this is a simple, bland commandment?  It is a commandment fraught with danger to life, a commandment that surely sent fear down the spines of the Jewish slaves, that, without a doubt, led scholars to rush and ponder whether pikuach nefesh, danger to life might perhaps demand the postponing of the dangerous commandment…

Nor does the Almighty stop there.  He insists on a policy of extremism, of goading the gentile.  Not content with a commandment that cries desecration of the Egyptian god, that taunts him with the sight of his deity bound up, the G-d of Israel insists that the Jew add salt to the wound.

“And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roasted with fire… eat it not partially cooked, nor boiled in water, but roasted with fire, its head with its legs and with its insides complete.”

Awake and consider!  This is what Passover is all about; only this! This is Judaism what Judaism is all about; only this!  This is what the duty and the role and the essence of the Jew is all about; only this!  To affirm to the world, but first to ourselves that the L-rd, the G-d of Israel, is.  That He truly does exist, that He is the One, the only One, that He, only He, directs the world, the fate of man, the destiny of His people.  That whatever will be for the Jew will be only because He so decrees.  That the gentile has no relevance to the Jewish fate, that the Pharaohs of all time, the ones in Egypt and the ones in Washington are utterly irrelevant to what will be with the Jew.

On the Great Sabbath in Egypt, the L-rd taught us the lesson that we trampled in the dust, the dust of secularism and the dust of the yeshiva world alike: The lesson that the Jew must raise high, must flaunt the glory and Omnipotence of his G-d.  That the world must be compelled to see their deities, their gods and idols, bound up and humiliated and destroyed.  That one must goad the gentile in order to raise high the banner of the L-rd.  That Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of the Name of the G-d of Israel, demands an open, fearless, flaunting sacrifice of the idols and deities of the gentiles that deny the uniqueness of the G-d of Israel, His exclusiveness, His Oneness!  The lamb is openly tied and those who tremble and whisper: “But we dare not goad the gentile,” are silenced with thunderous contempt.  The lamb is slaughtered and roasted whole and fully and openly.  It cannot be hastily covered in a pot where it will not be seen.  Its identity cannot be disguised by cutting its body into pieces.  We cannot escape the danger of the gentile by avoiding confronting and goading him.  No.  Precisely the opposite!

The same gentile who thundered and thunders: “Who is the L-rd?  I know not the L-rd and will not let Israel go!” must be taught the eternal lesson of: “The L-rd is G-d, the L-rd is G-d!”  The gentile does not wish to “know” G-d, to acknowledge His exclusive kingship.  He must be taught that lesson in an open and bold and humiliating way.  He and his idols must be humbled and broken.  The lamb is taken openly.  The lamb is slaughtered openly.   And those who cringe in populism and whisper:  “But one dare not goad the gentiles…” are silenced by the thunder of the L-rd, whose commandment is eternalized by the Rabbis of the Great Sabbath, Sabbath Hagadol.  So, let that Sabbath be understood and appreciated and embraced.  For without it, there cannot be a Passover, an understanding of what that Passover really is.  And without that, when the Jewish child asks for the meaning of this night, the pathetic father who knows not what to tell him will doom his child to become a pathetic as he: practitioner of Jewish ritual, but never, never a religious Jews.

Kahane Resources would like to thank Barbara Ginsburg for providing the text of this article.

Hanukah: The Power of the Precious Few

What was miraculous about the victory of Chanukah? Any child in kindergarten knows that the miracle was the shorthanded, weaker Jews defeating the numerous and powerful Greeks. Indeed, it is an historical fact that cannot be denied. But our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Meir Kahane, z”tl, sought to delve a notch deeper into the miraculous victory of the few against the many, and by doing so, resolve a famous question regarding Chanukah.

The “Miracle Within The Miracle”
Rabbi Kahane would say: Remember, before the victory of the Macabees over the Greeks and hellenists took place, there was the actual war itself. When the Macabees went out to battle, they had no feasible chance of winning. Not only were the Jews fewer and weaker than the well-oiled Syrian Greek war machine, but amongst the Jews themselves, only a sparse few went out to battle under the command of Yehuda Macabee and his brothers. And so, to enable such an inconceivable victory to occur, there had to be, first of all, a few “crazies” who dared to rise up in arms against this invincible empire! Here, Rabbi Kahane would say that the essential miracle of Chanukah was not the war victory, but rather the very fact that a few Jews realized that “things just cannot go on this way”, arose, and with immense faith in the Almighty, declared war on the superpower of their day. For given the fact that they were able to miraculously overcome their awesome enemies, prior to that miracle they surely did not know that the Almighty would perform the miracle for them. Nevertheless, they went out. That in itself, the Rav would say, was an act of immense courage, “the miracle within the miracle.”

God Controls the Laws of Nature

But where does the “miracle of the oil” come into play? Let us ask the question differently: There is some confusion concerning the reason we celebrate Chanukah. Do we celebrate Chanukah to commemorate the oil that was sufficient for only one day, and continued to burn through eight days, or are we celebrating the war victory? It is clear that the essential miracle of Chanukah, its real central theme, is not the miracle of the oil. Indeed, the special Chanukah prayer, “Al Hanisim”, coined by the rabbis, does not even mention the miracle of the oil. The theme and heart of Chanukah is the concept mentioned in “Al Hanisim”, of “rabim b’yad m’atim”, “the many (“Syrian Greeks) who fell into the hands of the few (Jews).” And the very miracle of the oil represents that concept, i.e., the little oil able to “overcome” the many days and continue to burn. The miracle of the oil symbolizes how God controls the laws of nature: Just as oil sufficient for one day can burn for eight, if He wills it; so, too, are numbers irrelevant when Am Yisrael goes out to war. By the same token, just as we said that the miracle of the war victory was the very fact that Jews went out to battle in the first place, so, too, the oil symbolizes “the miracle within the miracle”. After all, in order for the meager quantity of oil to last for eight days, there had to be Jews who lit it in the first place – Jews who were not discouraged from the outset; Jews who did not say: why bother lighting the candles of the Temple if they are going to go out anyway…? No. You do your part, with the means available to you, and Hashem will do His part. “Open for me an opening like the point of a needle, and I will open for you gates like the gates of the sancturary.”

The Question of the “Bet Yosef”

Now we can ask the question posed by the Bet Yosef (Yosef Karo): There is a source which says that the length of the holiday of Chanukah is eight days because oil that was sufficient for only one day, lasted eight. The Bet Yosef asks: Why eight days? Since the oil was naturally sufficient in itself to burn for one day, the miracle was actually only in the additional seven days that it continued to burn. In reality, therefore, in order to commemorate the “miracle”, the rabbis should have established a holiday of seven days. Various and varied reasons are given. Rav Kahane says: Indeed, we celebrate eight days because the first day was a miracle as well. It commemorates the very fact that they dared to go out to battle! The very fact that they dared to “light the candle”. That’s also a miracle, “the miracle within the miracle”.

The Holiday of Our Times
Chanukah is not a childrens holiday of “dreidels” and donuts. It is a holiday that is meant to rekindle our trust in the Almighty, to reinforce the understanding that when Jews go out to battle in an obligatory war with faith in God, they come out victorious, even if they are the underdog.

Chanukah is the holiday for these days. Days when masses of Arabs arise against us, and Hashem stands at our side. But what happens when the official Jewish leadership from left to right is overcome with fear, crippled by lack of faith and thereby incapable of action? Then the torch is passed on to the few. It is passed unto those who are ready to cling onto Eretz Yisrael at any price. And then the day comes in which they are told by the non-believers: “If you are not ready to pull out, that’s your choice. But deal with the enemy by yourselves. Because we are afraid, we have no faith. You claim that you have faith?! Fine – let’s see what you can do.” And those precious few, inspired by a pristine faith in the Almighty, will arise to repel the enemy.

Those with Jewish vision foresee the Macabean war in our generation. In this war, at least at the outset, only a few will take part. Those Jews of rock-solid faith in the God of Israel, who sincerely believe that God is a loyal defender of His people Israel – they will be an example to the multitudes who will eventually follow. “In those days, at this time”.

Succot: Sitting in the Succah and Feeling Secure

It is crucial during these days of “peace and security” to stress the central message of Succot. And what is the message? Security or “bitachon” in Hashem, even in situations where such trust seems totally illogical to the naked eye.

But there is something about the succah itself that arouses curiosity. Here we are thanking G-d for sheltering us in a succah in the middle of the desert, and King David, too, praises G-d by proclaiming, “He will hide me in His succah”. And the question that begs asking is: Why is the succah, which is by its very nature a flimsy and unstable structure, the symbol of G-d’s protection over us? Would it not be more appropriate to sit in a “fortress” in order to portray G-d’s ability to safeguard His people?

Indeed, precisely in this succah there is a tremendous lesson to be learned, a lesson which we must internalize during these days of “peace” that have come upon Israel. After all, what really motivates them to turn over territories and succumb to the enemy’s demands? One thing only: Fear. And at first glance, they are right! Here we are, sitting in this tiny country, a lamb amongst seventy ravenous wolves who do not hide their teeth, their tanks, their airplanes, and the millions of soldiers they have at their disposal to march on Jerusalem. And then there is us. With all the talk about our “strong army”, what are we really? How many tanks do we have when compared to their huge arsenals? How big is our “qualitative advantage” versus their gigantic quantitative advantage? How many more wars can we expect to hold out against them? They can lose a hundred wars, but all they need is one victory to fulfill their dream of liquidating us and thus finally rid themselves of the Jewish problem in the Middle East.

The arguments of the secular nationalists fall like a house of cards when matched against the above contentions. How feeble and ineffective are the “bitachonist” (security-related) arguments of Bibi, Sharon and Raful when
relating to the Arab problem. The left is 100% correct when they say that the right wing is out of their minds for insisting to live by the sword, thinking Israel can hold on forever against hundreds of millions of Arabs.

Nu, have we become leftists in our old age? Have no fear of that. We will continue to fight in the front lines for our land as our forefathers did, and as the generation before us did. It’s just that our reasons for “the greater Israel” are entirely different than the reasons given by Bibi and co.

The Holy One Blessed Is He sends us out to sit in a flimsy succah which is vulnerable even to a strong wind. He does this in order to tell us: Jew – to protect you, there is no need for fortresses or even a regular house. A succah is enough. This is what the Holiday of Succot is all about.

One can say to a certain extent, that G-d in this generation sent us to sit in a succah! G-d took a battered and humiliated people, gathered us from the four corners of the earth, and placed us in the middle of a volcano –
surrounded by millions of Arabs who dream and lust to wipe us out. And then, G-d comes and demands of us: “Bitachon!”. With all their power and intimidation; with all their weaponry and massive armies, they are not
capable of moving you. And the test is: Will we, in our “succah”, feel secure enough not to be intimidated by those who attempt to frighten us from outside our succah and from inside as well?

Video: Rabbi Kahane at National Press Club

Rabbi Kahane at National Press Club

Ki Tavo: Should A Jew Be An Ostrich?

We all recognize that familiar picture before the reading of the parsha of the “Tochacha”. The “Ba’al Kore” shifts into high gear, lowers the volume of his voice, until he reaches the conclusion of his speed reading rendition of this “not so nice” part of the parsha. This custom was originally practiced so that the curses won’t G-d forbid fall upon the listeners. Today, though, there may be something else behind this custom – something quite dangerous and unfortunately very characteristic of Jews.

And what is that? Jews simply don’t want to think about unpleasant things! There is a tendency to think that if one looks away, the problem will go away. This allows people to continue to live in their illusions.

This is why the most popular expression in Israel is “Yiyeh Tov” – everything will be O.K. But those who say with such ease, “everything will be O.K.”, simply do not grasp a most basic tenet of Judaism: The world is not “hefker”. Judaism actually believes in such concepts as reward and punishment. The refusal to come to grips with this concept has caused many Jews to even doubt the existence of G-d throughout the years. When reflecting upon shocking tragedies in history, they wonder: How could G-d have been so cruel? This crisis in “emunah” reached its peak after the Holocaust, where so many Holocaust survivors stopped being observant Jews, saying that if something like this can happen, then G-d forbid, there is no G-d.

But if one takes a closer and objective look into the matter, without letting his emotions get the best of him, he should arrive at exactly the opposite conclusion! There is no greater proof of the existence of G-d than the fact that every one of His curses, warnings and chastisements in relation to the Jewish People which are conveyed in the Torah have been fully realized. It serves as proof to G-d’s awesome and precise supervision. It is evidence of His ability to fulfill His promises and threats.

Indeed, the sages tell us, “Anyone who says that G-d forgets, let his life be forgotten.” (Baba Kama 50). How does this jibe with the fact that Hashem is merciful and slow to anger? There is no contradiction. Of course Hashem is slow to anger – but he does not forget! He waits, sometimes for long periods of time, and takes into account all kinds of circumstances that may be. But eventually, if G-d forbid we do not do “tsheuva”, the curses of the “tochacha” will befall us. Have we not already witnessed the destruction of our Temples and the holocausts that accompanied it before the most recent Holocaust in Europe?

In these times this message is a vital one, for Rabbi Meir Kahane (may G-d avenge his blood) warned and urged world Jewry of the need to do “tsheuva” – to trust in Hashem, not to fear the gentile, and to sanctify G-d’s Name. When Rabbi Kahane said, “there is no time”, and if we do not do what G-d wants, then we will suffer greatly from the labor pains of “Giula Bi-eta” (The slow, painful redemption), there were always those who mocked him as a “prophet of doom”. They claimed that there IS time, and one should not be so pessimistic. This need to delude oneself is nothing new,as our prophets heard much of the same: “You say, because I am innocent, surely His anger has turned from me. Behold, I will punish you because you say, ‘I have not sinned’.” (Jeremiah, 2:35) And, “Behold the House of Israel say: the vision that you prophesied of is for much later days…(Ezekiel 12:27) These same prophets, unlike the Jewish leaders of today, warned and reproofed the nation, and were willing to sit in jail for it. This, after all, was their mission in life. Did Jeremiah back down after King Tzedkiyahu jailed him and almost killed him for his prophecies? Of course not.

In our parsha the Torah spills forth the awesome fury and the curses that Hashem has in store for us, without holding back a single detail. Not only does the Torah mention the possibility of tragedy, but it goes out of its way to expand upon it much more than it expands upon the blessings. What graphic and brutal scenarios are given: Sickness, breaking down of the social and economic fiber, exile, etc. For when it comes to choice between good and evil, or between truth and falsehood, the Torah pulls no punches, making it perfectly clear: If we will be good, numerous blessings will be bestowed upon us, and if we will do evil, there will be great tragedy. In these days before redemption, we must not evade this subject simply because it is uncomfortable to deal with. For years, we have unfortunately been walking in blindness and lack of faith, headed for tragedy, towards the actualization of the bitter prophecies, G-d forbid. We must say the truth clearly without trying to smooth things over. Only in such a way will the people be moved and shocked into action.

During this month of “tsheuva”, we must not forget about this national “tsheuva” which Hashem demands of us.

Re’e: “Both Evil and Good Do Not Emanate from the Almighty”

Three weeks ago, on Tisha B’Av, we read a verse in the book of “Eicha” which one might think contradicts a basic tenet of our faith: “Both Evil and good do not emanate from the Almighty”. How can this be? Do we not believe that everything comes from Heaven?! The explanation is given by our sages in the midrash (Dvarim Raba, 4:3): “Rabbi Elazar said: when G-d uttered the verse,’behold I place before you this day a blessing and a curse’, at the same time, the following verse was also said: ‘Both evil and good do not emanate from the Almighty’, rather the evil comes from the one who does evil and the good from the one who does good.” We will expound upon this later.

We often hear people who are suffering through difficult times say: “What can I do? Everything comes from G-d. This must be for the best.” At first glance, this is a praiseworthy attitude which expresses a very high level of faith in G-d. Such a person has accepted G-d’s decrees upon mankind. Here alizes that there are no mere coincidences or “pot luck” in this world,and that everything emanates from the Almighty.

However, upon closer inspection, we find that this is in essence a distorted type of faith. For this person does not contemplate his deeds and say: I have sinned, and because of this has misfortune come my way. Rather, like a parrot, he comforts himself by uttering cliches, without examining the inner recesses of his heart. And so what such a person is actually saying is:”This misfortune comes from G-d, and I have no control over it.” With this, he terminates his “spiritual accounting” without examining the real causes of his suffering. In the scheme of things, such a person takes little responsibility for his situation. By making G-d out to be the “heavy”, man becomes nothing more than a helpless pawn, and there is no real justice.

“Forcing G-d’s Hand”
And so we have the passage in Eicha, “Both evil and good do not emanate from the Almighty”. This verse tell us that we must not throw the blame onto G-d for our misfortunes. For the moment that G-d said at Mount Sinai: “Behold, I am placing before you this day a blessing and a curse”, he placed before us the freedom of choice between good and evil, between whether we will be blessed or cursed. From that moment on, the blessing and curse come automatically, via the actions of man

We can see an almost extreme example of how this concept works. The person who brings his first fruit offering proclaims the following: “We have done what You,G-d, have decreed upon us. Now do what is incumbent upon you to do.” (Rashi, Dvarim, 26:15) The question that begs to be asked is: How can we, mere mortals, demand from the Creator of the Universe to do what is incumbent upon Him? Is this not “chutzpah”? However, this is precisely the idea behind, “both evil and good do not emanate from the Almighty.” If we fulfill what is requested of us, we can actually demand that G-d fulfill His part of the bargain, and bestow upon us the goodness He promised. Not only can we demand it, but we can even decree upon Him right back to do what He promised, for He has no choice, so to speak.

The Sin Which Causes Jews to Be Killed
Just as this holds true for the individual Jew, so it is the case in the national sphere as well. We must understand that when the Jewish People suffer, it is forbidden for us self-righteously to proclaim: “It is punishment from the Heavens”, or “So is the will of G-d.” Certainly,everything is from G-d, but it is necessary to realize that the punishment was brought upon ourselves because of our own deeds. This is the true meaning of the term, “measure for measure” – that the punishment is the direct result of man’s sin.

The implications for today are as follows: If the Ishmaelites are killing us, we cannot simply say, “everything is from G-d”; nor can we say, “we must strengthen ourselves in Torah and mitzvot.” This is not enough! We must look for the sin which is directly causing this punishment, and then act to correct it. Indeed, there is a sin of not expelling the evil gentiles out of the Land of Israel. If Jews are being murdered, it is a direct result of our failure to oust the murderers, which is simple halacha. There is the sin of handing over territories to murderers, and thereby standing idly by our brother’s blood. This is the sin which directly causes Jewish blood to be spilled. It is indeed a grave sin, one which is caused by lack of trust in G-d. It is only fear of the nations which causes us to make these terrible national decisions, bringing us closer to destruction. Jews are murdered for it, and we must remember that it is not a random form of punishment, but rather the direct result of a particular sin. By ignoring this and pointing to other general sins is not much better than saying: “It’s all from G-d”,without drawing practical conclusions to stop it.

Selective Soul Searching
To what can this situation be compared? To a thief who has been caught and placed in prison. He decides that since he has ended up in prison, he must be doing something wrong. And so he decides to examine his deeds, to do a”cheshbon nefesh”. After tiresome soul-searching, he reaches the conclusion that this punishment must have come about because he was not scrupulous enough in observing Shabbat, or keeping Kosher. It does not occur to him to place the blame for his misfortune on the direct action which caused the punishment to be meted out in the first place. Hence, he continues to steal.

By examining other deeds before correcting the sins that are directly causing the punishment, the entire concept of “tsheuva” becomes a big joke. Only when we correct that which is required of us to be corrected, will we receive the blessings and goodness mentioned in the Torah.

Tazria-Metzora: Faith, Faith, And There Is No Faith

The entire subject of the various skin disorders that are dealt with in Parshat “Tazria” and “Mazora” is perceived as one huge mystery by many. What is the possible importance of all this?

A story brought down in Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat “Tazria” teaches us a tremendous idea that lies behind this entire subject of skin disorders and blemishes dealt with in the parsha. The midrash tells us about a certain cohen in the Land of Israel who was greatly impoverished. Due to his economic stress, he decided to do what so many do today for the same reason – to go overseas. Since the occupation of the cohen included diagnosing skin blemishes (only the cohen can examine the disorder and determine if it is pure or not), he felt a responsibility towards his “clients”, and proceeded to teach his wife the tricks of the trade so she could cover for him while he was out of town. The cohen taught her the basic principle of skin disorders: “If you see that the water source of one of the person’s body hairs dried up, know that he has been stricken. Because for each and every strand of hair on the body, Hashem created for it its own life-source from which it nurtures. If the well dries up, the hair dries up.”

The midrash continues to tell us that when his wife heard this rule, she sharply criticized her husband the cohen and said, “And G-d created for each and every hair on the body its own individual life-source or well from which to drink from – you being a human being with lots and lots of hair, and your children depend on you for support, isn’t it all the more so that G-d will provide for you sustenance?” And the midrash concludes: “And thus she did not let him leave Israel!”

Though this cohen might have been dealing with skin disorders his entire life, he only understood the technical side of this mitzvah. What his valiant wife taught him was the idea or lesson that lies behind this matter, that despite all his knowledge of the details, he did not grasp. And what is the idea? That even in something that at first glance might seem trivial and mundane like skin blemishes, there is concealed the concept of G-d’s incredibly precise “Hashgacha” (Divine Providence) over every thing in this world. What may seem to us as some “coincidental” stain with hair, takes on an entirely different meaning when we understand that a “little” thing like that exists for a reason, and there is Someone up there running the show even when it comes to individual cuticles – for everything has a purpose. This woman came along and immediately corrected her husband by saying: You want to try to outsmart Hashem? Well, if Hashem decreed that you will suffer poverty, all attempts to evade G-d’s Will will be fruitless, and certainly if it includes leaving Israel which is against the “Halacha”.

This cohen is nothing more than an example of most religious Jews today. Without a doubt, he too awoke each morning and went to synagogue. He too said “I believe”, and set a fixed time each day to learn Torah. But in both instances when it comes to the moment of truth on both a personal and national level, all the “emunah” that is proclaimed remains just lip service when it has to be applied in real life situations. Even righteous Jews are not spared from this trap. The sages tell us in Trachtate Sota (48): “What cause the righteous to receive less of a portion in the Next World? Smallness (small “emunah” – Rashi) that was in them!”

He who gets up and says that parts of the Land of Israel which we are commanded to conquer must be handed over to the gentiles because of “Pekuach Nefesh”; that it is forbidden to perform certain acts of “Kiddush Hashem” because “what will the world say”; that the fulfillment of the Divine Commandment, “And you shall disinherit the inhabitants of the land” are not practical because America will stop supporting us – such people fall into the same category as the above cohen. For they suddenly “forgot” that the same Master of the World who commanded us to live in the Land of Israel and to conquer it, also sends us “parnassa” and “bitachon”.

What is missing today is that simple woman of simple faith to get up and shout: If God has Divine Providence over every single hair on the body and determines by Himself whether that hair will live or die, for sure he is watching over his Chosen People! And if G-d indeed watches over His people, could anything possibly go wrong if that people cling to His commandments, even those that seem “dangerous”?!

If one claims that fulfilling God’s Will is “dangerous” – it really does not matter if that person wears a yarmulke, a strimel, long coat or none of the above, for he is just like that above cohen — of little faith and with little to teach us.

Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

    If we would like to know the heart of the tragedy of Israel, of the Jewish-Arab struggle, of the reason why peace eludes a Jewish State that so desires it, of the cause of the ongoing suffering and tragedy, of the immutable rule that there will not be tranquility and peace for the Jew or his state, let me explain. Some time ago, an opinion poll was given to Arabs and Jews by sociology Professor Ephraim Ya’ar of Tel Aviv University. The professor gave his respondents a list of 14 factors that may or may not influence the course of peace between Israel and the Arab states, and asked each of them to rank the list in importance from one to 14. The results? The Arabs placed “the will of G-d” first; the Jews placed it last. Or another example: Yet another Tel Aviv University project was conducted by its Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies. Respondents were asked to comment on the Biblical verse, “The Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.” They were asked who, in their minds, represented the Guardian of Israel. Fifty-seven percent replied “the Israeli army” and 17% declared that it was G-d … And that, dear Jew, is the reason and the source and the cause of a tragedy that is building up, and that, unless swift, radical change takes place in Jewish thought and action, will bring down horrors upon the Jew and his state, Heaven help us.

    The truth is that the Jew has long since become the most unbelieving of all people, the most atheistic of nations. Deluded by his intelligence and intellectualism, believing that he inhabits the heavens, he turns into the most arrogant and proud of men. Like some modern-day Adam, he has eaten from the Tree of Knowledge and dreams of Divinity. Like some modern-day builder of Babel, he is convinced that he can climb to the heavens and conquer. His cleverness and brightness that so persuaded him that he is the wisest and most perceptive of men, insures that he will be the blindest and most obtuse. No people and no faith is so convinced that its destiny is essentially its own, in its own hands. None has relegated G-d to the bin of antiquity, to the shadow of irrelevance, as the Jew. There are those who are convinced that He does not exist. There are those who invent Him as a Being who, indeed, has a place, but it is conveniently limited and He had better know it. There are those who pay prodigious amounts of lip service and ritual to G-d and whose religion fills their lives as long as there is no need to place their “belief” on the line in time of danger. Few are the Jews who sincerely believe that victory in war is totally in the hands of G-d, who are prepared to take the difficult and dangerous steps their religion demands, lest they have to put their faith where their claims are.

    The people that were the most religious of all have become the most indifferent to G-d. The People of the Book place more faith in that of the check than the Bible. In time of crisis, the Jew does not believe in anything, except that which he can see, touch, feel. He can see the U.S. President; he believes in him far more than in the G-d of Abraham. He can feel the Arabs; he fears them more than the intangible G-d he pays lip service to as long as there is no crisis. He can touch the tanks of the Israeli army, and so he prays that there will be enough of them instead of believing that One is enough of Him. “For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2). The truth is that we will swear our belief in the Omnipotence of the G-d of Israel as long as this remains in the abstract, in the realm of theory. We show our fervent belief in the miracles that happened YESTERDAY, but we shrink from testing them today or tomorrow. That which we need not do ourselves is easily believed in and avidly taught or sermonized. Yesterday is always smoothly dealt with – who needs to place himself on the line? Who must be tested? The belief in the GENERAL Omnipotence of G-d easily fills our hearts. It is only when we must get down to specifics, to real and actual implementation of faith in our own lives, that the hypocrisy becomes a stench which is overpowering.

    The G-d of Israel is not a Santa Claus. The religion of Israel is not a plaything. If there is one thing above all that the Almighty desires of us, DEMANDS of us, it is FAITH. “Therefore, the L-rd heard and was wroth; and a fire was kindled against Jacob and anger also came up against Israel, because they believed not in G-d and trusted not in His salvation” (Psalms 78). That is the Jewish Iron Law: Belief and trust in G-d, rather than looking to and raising Jewish eyes unto the gentile. There can be no greater Hillul HaShem, desecration of the Name of G-d, than when the Jew places his faith in the power of the gentile. For what he is saying by this is that there really is no G-d; and this is the end of Judaism, and this is the end of any reason for the existence of the Jew. Jews have long sighed, ” It is hard to be a Jew.” As with most things, this too is a statement of hypocrisy. They do not really believe it. They really do believe that they can mold for themselves a good and happy life and at the same time gild it with a thin covering of comfortable Judaism.

    Of course, it is nonsense. Of course, it really IS hard to be a Jew, the kind of Jew that the Almighty demands – the kind of Jew who is the son and daughter of Abraham, who faced the furnace for his belief and did not flinch; the kind of Jew who is the son and daughter of Mordechai, who faced the gallows and did not bow; the son and daughter of the Jew whose entire Torah rests on the one commandment: “And the righteous shall live by his faith.” That is difficult. That is a Jew. King David turned, in his day, to G-d and lamented: “My G-d, my G-d, why hast Thou forsaken me?” If one listens carefully, the voice of the G-d of Israel can be heard in this era of Jewish neo-atheism, calling softly: “My people, My people, why have you forsaken ME?”

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