It all begins with our fellow man…

To my dear son and daughter,

Hashem destroyed the world by means of the mabul; but why did He decide to do so? The Torah provides us with one reason,

“…for all flesh corrupted its way upon the earth”; the world was filled with what the Torah calls, “Hamas”, which Rashi explains means thievery and plundering.

Nowhere does the Torah say that the world was destroyed because of a lack of belief in Hashem or even because of the idolatry which they practiced. The destruction of an entire world was caused by the disregard towards another person’s property, what we call a lack of “bein adam lechavero – man’s conduct and respect towards his fellow man”.

This is a pattern which repeats itself consistently throughout the Torah. Many people are enthralled by “God” and “spirituality” but pass on the basics of Derech Eretz, they are inconsiderate and insensitive towards their fellow. The Torah “says” that if one wants to get through to Hashem, they have to first learn how to deal with their fellow man (usually more challenging).

It is for this reason that prior to Yom Kippur one must ask forgiveness from the people around him and this is also why almost all the mitzvoth given to Bnei Yisrael following their receiving of the Torah at Sinai, have to do with “bein adam lechavero”.

There is no greater institution today in the Jewish world which demonstrates dedication and devotion to “bein adam lechavero” more than TZAHAL. Your service in TZAHAL and that of your comrades therefore represent the means of rebuilding a world that can only get closer to understanding God.

Shabbat Shalom

With love and admiration

Abba

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Russian Convert and the High Holidays: To Begin Again…

What are the Yomim Noraim/High Holidays and what should they mean to us? Pose that question to an observant Israeli Jew and I imagine they will sum it all up with one word, “Teshuva – Repentance”; but pose the same question to a secular Israeli and you are bound to hear something different such as festival, or apple and honey, or perhaps a new beginning. All the responses are correct but  there is a common thread which encompasses the meaning of the High Holidays and binds us all together.

I have mentioned in the past about my student Niko from Mechina Asher Ruach Bo; a pre military academy for young men who can be classified as juvenile delinquents but who are interested in turning their lives around, which is precisely what the Mechina offers.  Niko is not Jewish – and he opted to do the conversion course through the army called Netiv but he had no support from his parents and very limited connection with them. Through his connection with me at the Mechina, he called me and asked if I would serve as his adopted family and teach him about Judaism and Shabbat. During his conversion course Niko would meet me in shul on Friday night and join us in our home quite often for seudot Shabbat. Yet, towards the end of the course I began to hear less from Niko and, while I wondered why he became scarce, I did not want to confront him and cause him to feel uncomfortable, so I decided to give him the breathing space that he may have needed. Nonetheless, I wondered what had become of him and particularly of his quest to become a Jew.

A week ago I went to speak at the Tzanchanim/Paratroopers base. I was asked to speak twice but I was told that there would be an hour window between the two shiurim and if I wanted I could opt to leave after delivering the first Shiur. I told my wife, Gabi, that I would probably just stick around to deliver the one shiur to which she advised that I stay for both as I would find something to during the hour in between (I suspect she was weighing the advantage of having me out of the house for an extra hour). The first shiur was off base in the surrounding fields and when I returned to the base to wait for my second shiur I noticed that I received a message from none other than Niko who asked if I was still in the Tzanchanim base. He reminded me that he was serving in Tzanchanim and that he knew I was on base and wanted to come speak with me.

When I saw Niko we gave each other a warm greeting and he began to explain to me that he was forced to leave the Tzanchanim combat forces for various reasons. He was given a job to monitor who enters and leaves the base. When I arrived at the base the soldiers at the main gate radioed ahead to the monitoring station asking if a rabbi named Shalom had clearance to enter the base; Niko was the soldier on duty at the station and he explained to me that he was the one to give the ok for me to come on base because as far as he knew, there was only one rabbi named Shalom who went around speaking on bases. Niko then told me that he ran out of his station and started chasing my car because he wanted to talk to me, but I had not noticed and I drove on at which point he texted me. He explained that the reason he lost contact with me was because he was not sure now whether he wanted to go through with becoming a Jew and he did not want me to be disappointed. He said that all the obligations one has as a Jew are burdensome and too restricting and he was just not sure he could make such a commitment; besides he was unsure where God fit into the entire picture, if at all.

I thanked Niko for making the effort to find me in order to discuss the matter. I then told him that he was always welcome in our home regardless if he was Jewish or not; but then I told him of how Gabi convinced me to stay for both shiurim,  and were it not for her having done so, I may not have had the opportunity to meet up with him again. Happenstance? I think not. Was it a coincidence that Niko was in charge of monitoring the base that day and that he happened to be by his station at the very moment they radioed in about my arrival? I was given ample opportunity to explain to Niko that he should not be overwhelmed by the opportunities Judaism had to offer, and that sincere spiritual growth can only be accomplished one step at a time because at the end of the day all Hashem expects from us is to try to take the next step. While he wasn’t completely convinced, Niko was overcome with relief and willing to consider his affiliation with the Jewish people once again.

The Yomim Noraim are about  apples and honey, festivals and family, and they are also about recognizing that for reasons we usually don’t understand, we somehow are graced with the encouragement to take a deep breathe and start again .
As we concluded our conversation, I asked Niko if he would come join us again next Shabbat, and he said that he would but I was not convinced that he meant it and so towards the end of the week with admittedly a bit of skepticism, I texted him to find out if he was coming to join us for Shabbat. Without pause Niko texted me back,

“Are you kidding me? I’ve been looking forward to Shabbat at your house the entire week ”

Ahhhhhh…..to begin again

Shana Tova

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“…and He will Gather you in from all the peoples…”

To my dear son
Nitzavim is a script regarding the need for the Jewish people to remain committed and loyal to our covenant with Hashem to ensure a bright future. There is reference in the Parsha to the concept of “teshuva – repentance” and in fact the Ramban derives that there is a mitzvah of teshuva from these same pesukim. In the heart of this discourse Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael in the name of Hashem,

“Then Hashem , your God, will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you, and He will gather you in from all the peoples to which Hashem, your God, has scattered you”.

Why is it necessary to say that Hashem will bring them back from captivity and that He will gather them in from where they were scattered; are these two statements not one in the same?

The Meshech Chochma explains that the first statement, “Hashem will bring back your captivity”, refers to those Jewish people who have always longed to be in Eretz Yisrael and have taken measures and made sacrifice to do so; precisely why Hashem says that He “will have mercy upon (them)”. However there are parts of the Jewish people who do not yearn to be in Israel and have grown comfortable with the notion of remaining in the diaspora; to these people Hashem vows that “He will gather (them) in from all the peoples”, foreign nations and strange lands, where they are scattered and they too will dwell in Eretz Yisrael.

As a chayal in TZAHAL you have the opportunity to fulfill both promises of Hashem, you protect those Jews who long to live here and have taken initiative to do so, but you also secure the land upon which all of the Jewish nation will ultimately dwell; you secure the land upon which Hashem has promised to bring all His people and you thus merit as an active participant in ensuring the future of Am Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom

With love and admiration

Abba

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The Reactions make it all worthwhile

Makom Meshutaf limud tonight in kibbutz Revivim down south. Following the session on Rosh Hashana, a lady came over to me and said,

“I love when u come to teach Torah, it brings me back to my father’s traditional home” ;
a few words make it all worthwhile

On the same note, another woman from secular Kibbutz Revivim attending the lecture came to me following the talk and said,

“I wish you could find a way to teach these concepts to my grandchildren”….

“Time is short and there is lots of work to be done”

kibbutz revivim

 

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Yesterday Makom Meshutaf ran a program hosted by the Jordan Valley Council, for all women from the surrounding secular kibbutzim. It was a fantastic event of music and learning and I gave a shiur on “the national message of a good year”, in which I explained why the Jewish people wish each other “Shana Tova – good year” as opposed to “happy new year”.

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Makom Meshutaf program Jordan Valley

Following the event a participant from one of the kibbutzim wrote me the following,

“Rabbi Hammer I left your lecture on a high, encouraged by your optimism and your mission. May Medinat Yisrael be blessed with more rabbis like you for if it was, the rabbinate and our state would look different; it would be tolerant and understanding of all Jews, it would be sympathetic towards young couples who want to marry without feeling coerced, and it would be benevolent towards those Jews who are interested in their roots but who do not want to be made to feel harassed or uncomfortable because of their non-observance. Sadly this is not the case today in our wonderful country, but I hope and pray that you succeed in doing more to get the Jewish people to a Makom Meshutaf, that common united place we all long for.

May you have a blessed, inspiring and good year

Like everything in life that is truly meaningful, making a difference is a slow and often painstaking process, but letters like these make it all worthwhile.

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Why we do what we do…

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Kibbutz Kfar Glickson

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Kibbutz Gezer

Quite honestly, I never enjoyed posting and talking about what I do because I am really not into “self-promotion” (maybe I’m wrong and I am not criticizing those who are). I do however like to promote a cause and to inspire people when possible, which is why I am sharing this with you.

This morning en-route to a program of Makom Meshutaf (A Place we share in Common); an organization I started 4 years ago, which advocates tolerance and unity between religious and secular Jews in Israel through positive programming on Judaism, I got a call from Nitzan, the head of children’s education in Kibbutz Gat, a completely secular kibbutz which we frequent often. She explained to me that her son is getting married but he will not consider a halachic marriage with a hupah and he certainly will not register with the rabbinate. She then explained that although she is secular she wants her son to have a traditional wedding and, having known me for two years through Makom Meshutaf, she feels that I am the only rabbi who has a chance of speaking with him and explaining to him why he should have a hupah. My associate was with me in the car and after the conversation I turned to him and said,

“You know sometimes we are just not sure whether or not our work impacts the people around us, but then a phone call like this surfaces and we must realize that our entire year’s work was all worth it for this one phone call”.

Perhaps this is the true meaning of a “Shana Tova”.

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Rosh Hashana on Base: Time to Inspire Them

NOTE: ANY FUNDS CONTRIBUTED BEFORE SEPTEMBER 27TH WILL BE ‎MATCHED BY AN ANONYMOUS DONOR‏ ‏

Shavua Tov to all

As those of you who follow my posts know, I am a senior lecturer for the Jewish ‎Identity Branch of the Rabbanut of TZAHAL; what is known as ‎התודעה היהודית‎. We ‎are responsible for the “soul” of TZAHAL, offering daily shiurim for chayalim and ‎chayalot, classes and counseling throughout the IDF prisons, supplying all bases ‎with religious supplies for the chagim, purchasing tefillin for any chayalim who ‎would like a pair, supplying siddurim, running seminars on taharat hamishpacha, ‎marrying off chayalim and chayalot, sending couples and families to spend ‎Shabbat and yom tov on base with chayalim to offer proper Avira and offer chizuk, ‎and finally motivational shiurim and talks as well as supplies prior to combat ‎בעת ‏מלחמה חלילה

this year, I am running our campaign to send over 60 families to spend ‎ימים נוראים ‏‎ ‎on bases throughout ‎צהל ‏‎ and we need your help to fund this program. Many of you ‎have children, friends or relatives who are currently serving or will be soon serving ‎in TZAHAL and will be the beneficiaries of these efforts. ‎
Please see below, follow the link, and please contribute generously and send to ‎other family members or friends who you feel can help out. ‎
As mentioned above, any contributions received before September 27th will be matched by an anonymous donor.

On behalf of ‎חיילינו הקדושים ‏‎ I want to thank you for your time and consideration
Shana Tova and may we know peace in all of Israel

For contribution in Israel
https://web1.yaad.net/p/…

For contribution in USA
https://www.uskisrael.org/Donate_Ezrat.htm?ac=hammArmy Campaign

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