Thoughts of Unity and Redemption

To my dear son,
Hashem promised Bnei Yisrael after they cross the Jordan ,

‎“You shall cross the Jordan and settle in the Land that Hashem, your God, causes you to inherit, ‎and He will give you rest from all your enemies all around, and you will dwell securely”.

The text is repetitive; if Hashem “gives you rest from all your enemies” then surely “you will dwell ‎securely”?‎

Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz explains that the first part of the verse, “rest from all your enemies”, ‎refers to the blatant enemies from surrounding nations and the threats from foreign countries. ‎However the second part of the verse, “you will dwell securely”, refers to peace and unity from ‎within; there will be unity amongst the Jewish people themselves which, at times is far more ‎challenging to achieve. In fact Rabbi Yehonatan explains that this second part of the verse is ‎conditional; when the Jewish people “dwell securely” with one another, than Hashem will assure ‎that they will “rest from all their enemies”. ‎

This understanding of Rabbi Yehonatan is quite appropriate as Rashi explains that the context of ‎the verse denotes that after conquering the Jordan and Israel, the land would be divided between ‎the twelve tribes of Israel. Often inheritances and land portions can be divisive even amongst the ‎closest families. The Torah assures us that when Eretz Yisrael is divided proportionately everyone ‎will accept the apportionment and respect each tribe’s territory. ‎

It must be comforting to know that all of you as chayalim contribute to Tzahal; the only institution ‎in the Jewish world which exemplifies unity, and that these are the efforts which will facilitate the ‎security and ultimately the redemption of the entire Jewish people. ‎

Shabbat Shalom ‎
With love and admiration ‎
Abba ‎

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Small Minded People in High Places

People sent me various comments of support regarding my recent post on Datlashim but there is one particular comment I want to share with you because it reveals just one of the symptoms of this endemic predicament. (I post this with my friends permission who sent it to me without mentioning names or communities).

This friend of mine belongs to a Modern Orthodox shul, and many of the congregants themselves are not shomrei Shabbat but would consider themselves traditional and are certainly interested in affiliating. My friend told me that she had recently attended a “shiur” given by the shul rabbi, who, as she puts it, “loves rules”. This rabbi gave an entire shiur on the halachic ramifications of doing laundry on Hol Hamoed and his premise was that one who does laundry during Hol Hamoed will not have a place in Olam Haba – the world to come. Aside from contemplating whether this rabbi has given any thought regarding his choice for subject matter, one has to wonder whether he has given any thought as to the reactions of members of his community to such audacious statements. One can only reason that a person, particularly an authoritarian, should think before they “air their dirty laundry out in public”. As a side note, my wife has a different take; she says that if I don’t help her do the laundry, I will not have a place in Olam Haze – this world!

Following the shiur, my friend posted the following to her rabbi,

“Excellent as always – I worry though that your very logical arguments fall on deaf ears because the basic premise is that there is a G-d in whose name you follow these Mitzvot. Throughout history our faith has been challenged primarily by Christians and Moslems; it was our method of worship that was challenged, not the basic assumption that there was indeed a G-d. ( even the Greeks and Romans had what they called “gods” and so a higher spiritual power was not in question). However, now with the rise of secularism – whose proponents are the likes of the very brilliant Yuval Harari (and many others whose arguments are disturbingly beguiling), we will need to defend the faith at grass roots first. I think this is where the challenge of our times really lies – people are doubting the very existence of G-d and if we don’t re- establish that foundation all other argument merely becomes conjecture”.

Here is the reaction of my friend’s rabbi verbatim (I emphasize that, lest anyone think this was edited)

“Very valid indeed. I am not sure what you think but I think that those who deny the existence of G-d deserve little attention. It is not the product of sound intellect but the product of a mind warped by its desire to live life unencumbered by any limitation or subservience. Pure intellect can’t but see a creator everywhere it pays attention. As always I look forward to and enjoy your feedback”.

After reading this rabbi’s response, I would have liked to say that I was shocked, but unfortunately I was not because I see and experience this kind of drivel all the time. I was not shocked by his statement “I am not sure what you think, but I think…”, because it is true. If the rabbi had any interest in other people’s opinions or challenges for that matter, and if he wasn’t so absorbed in self-righteousness, then he would know very clearly what my friend thought because she wrote it to him and was genuinely interested in engaging in authentic dialogue, but he is not interested in what she thinks, and so unfortunately it was not shocking at all to read that this same rabbi would dismiss those who deny Gods existence as “deserving of little attention”. Really? One has to wonder why exactly he became a rabbi in the first place? Who exactly is deserving of his attention; those who espouse belief in God by refraining from doing their laundry during Hol Hamoed?

You get my drift? Reading things like this and knowing that these kind of people are leaders of Jewish communities makes it easy to understand how and why so many choose to leave the fold. The only conundrum that remains is understanding how we allowed such people to ascend to heights of Jewish leadership in the first or second place.

My friends response to her spiritual leader:

“I don’t think that’s necessarily correct – I think we need to consider all viewpoints and never under estimate our detractors – furthermore we can’t just write off the many with whom those opinions will resonate – backing down from an argument, particularly with other Jews, is not the Jewish way!”

I could not agree more.

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Inherit the Land My Son

To my dear son,

The Torah uses the word “Ekev – heel” to introduce the brachot and reward which Am Yisrael will ‎receive if they “hearken and follow the ordinances” of Hashem; this usage is peculiar.‎

One can explain the word literally; committing to the mitzvoth begins with “Ekev – the heel”, as it ‎requires picking up one’s heel and moving one’s legs in order to perform the mitzvoth themselves.
‎ ‎
The Kotzker Rebbe refers to the end of the verse which says,‎
‎“…Hashem, your God, will safeguard for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your ‎forefathers”. This “covenant” is the assurance Hashem gave to our forefathers that their ‎descendants, Am Yisrael, would inherit Eretz Yisrael. Therefore the entire context of the beginning ‎of the Parsha refers to one specific mitzvah, the mitzvah of inheriting and settling the land of Israel.

‎“Ekev” – to walk and patrol the land of Israel for the sake of inheriting and conquering it ‎undoubtedly poses many challenges as we have witnessed in our past and continue to experience ‎today, as you have learned to appreciate during your service in TZAHAL. Yet if we “hearken and ‎follow the ordinances” of Hashem, we will succeed in our endeavor and be privy to the greatest ‎reward of all; to secure and settle our land. ‎

While I will miss you over Shabbat, it is comforting to know that you have embraced the mission of ‎‎“Ekev”. While your service in the army may obstruct you from fulfilling Shabbat in its full halachic ‎context, remember that during all of your patrols, while you are guarding and running to secure a ‎post, you consistently fulfill with your “Ekev” the essential mitzvah of ensuring that all of the ‎Jewish people can walk in the land of our ancestors. ‎

Shabbat Shalom ‎
With love and admiration ‎
Abba ‎

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I Would Like to do Something About it

I have written extensively (although seemingly not enough) about the “Datlash Conundrum”; so many youth within the Orthodox community in Israel have left the fold and have chosen to completely reject a life of Torah and Mitzvoth. In fact, many opt not to remain traditional and quite a few no longer believe in God. In my neighborhood alone of approximately 250 families, I am not exaggerating when I say that every other household has at least one child who has become a datlash. Although many theories can be proposed regarding this alarming phenomena (I do not believe there is one specific reason, rather an amalgamation of many) the facts remain disturbing and it appears that a solution, if there is any, remains elusive at best.

This week I was speaking to two different friends on two separate occasions, who expressed how distraught they were over the fact that one of their children was no longer observant. Both friends made Aliya a number of years back, neither of them know each other to the best of my knowledge and each one said the same thing. They expressed how disillusioned they were and how terrible it was that nothing was being done to at least analyze and thoroughly address the issues. At the end of our conversation each one concluded in the same way saying that if they had known that this was going to happen to their child they would never have made aliya in the first place because the sacrifice is just to great. Although I sympathized with their position the best I could, I was taken aback and it hurt me to hear such a conclusively discouraging statement.

The next day as I pondered the conversations above, I received a text from yet another acquaintance from my neighborhood saying,
“I am troubled by the number of kids in the country who have decided not to be dati. Even though it is a tough subject to tackle and perhaps too big for me, I would like to do something about it and was wondering if you might have a few minutes for me to pick your brain”? (picking my brain by the way, would only take a few minutes).

I was impressed not only by this person’s desire to converse but more so by his declaration “I would like to do something about it”. The truth is we really should be wondering why is it that so few of us (including myself) aren’t making this same declaration? Why aren’t more Jewish leaders and organizations addressing this issue and creating think tanks, conducting seminars and offering programs on how to deal with this issue and possible solutions? There are so many seminars and programs which are intent on connecting people to their Jewish roots but why aren’t any Israeli programs focusing on strengthening the foundations for those who are already connected? How come the Minister of Education, school administrations, and religious educational institutions seem unaware or uninterested in dealing with these problems?

Truth be told time is of the essence and it is time for more of us (including myself) to assert “I would like to do something about it”.
To be continued….I hope

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Shabbat Nachamu: Comfort in the Army

To my dear son
The Shabbat following 9AV is referred to as Shabbat “Nachamu”. “Lenachem” in Hebrew is to find ‎comfort; we attempt to comfort ourselves following our period of mourning over the destruction ‎of the Batei Hamikdash. Parshat Vaetchanan is consistently read on Shabbat Nachamu as well. ‎What is the intrinsic connection between nechama – comfort, and Vaetchanan?‎

On 9AV one is not allowed to immerse themselves in Torah study because it initiates “true” ‎happiness. However following 9AV and the state of sorrow we had found ourselves in for the ‎three weeks prior, we are encouraged to slowly return to a state of bliss once again. Therefore ‎immediately following 9AV the Parsha of Vaetchanan is read; the Parsha which describes the ‎events that transpired at Har Sinai and Am Yisrael’s acceptance of the Torah which is the most ‎authentic source of happiness. ‎

There are many people who are infatuated with pleasing themselves, but they may never ‎experience happiness. Happiness is the result of meaning, purpose and fulfillment, and the ‎greatest facilitator of such aspirations is the Torah itself. It is for this reason that immediately ‎following the three weeks we turn to our greatest source of nechama, the comfort of knowing ‎how to expedite our reconstruction; the comfort of knowing that we can experience meaningful ‎purpose and fulfillment in this world; a comfort that can only be provided by accepting the Torah ‎and what it stands for. ‎

Serving in TZAHAL is the greatest means of dedication in the Jewish world today. Serving in TZAHAL ‎with a kipah on your head and tzizit strapped around your body, is the greatest way to ‎demonstrate that you are privileged and feel happy to make that commitment. ‎

May your service bring you happiness and may your continued commitment to our source of ‎happiness bring comfort to our entire nation. ‎

Shabbat Shalom
With love and admiration
Abba ‎

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Message for 9Av

I am currently in the USA lecturing and I want to share with you something that happened to me while in New York which I found quite remarkable and which I believe offers a message quite apropos to 9AV.
The day after I arrived in New York, someone very graciously gave me a ride from the Five Towns to Brooklyn (one may wonder why anyone would go to Brooklyn in the first place; a legitimate question). Sitting in the back seat of the car I noticed that in the seat pocket there was a Sefer/book on Tefillah which was sponsored by the family of the person giving me the ride and so I decided to have a closer look. After further inspection I was disturbed to find the following inscription on the cover page,
“Tefillah: Inspirational Insights into our daily prayers by HaGaon VeHatzadik Rabbi…..” (who will go unnamed for the obvious purpose of this post).
The same prayer described by Dovid Hamelech in Tehillim as,
“a prayer of the afflicted man when he swoons, and pours forth his supplication before Hashem”, to which Chazal explain that only one who feels “afflicted” and broken is truly capable of sincere prayer; is the same prayer commentated on by a “rabbi” who pretentiously refers to himself as “the genius and righteous rabbi…”. I could not make this up even if I wanted to.
Unfortunately the Jewish world has become immune to these occurrences; these types of references have not only become commonplace, but unfortunately many people are impressed and enthralled by these so called rabbinic “luminaries” who claim to honor us with their insight but in actuality seek to honor nothing or no one more then themselves. It is truly sickening, but what is even more tragic is the fact that unfortunately we have learned nothing from our history.
We are all familiar with the story in the Talmud which describes certain events which may have lead to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash (at least symbolically). The Talmud tells of Bar Kamtza who was mistakenly invited to a feast by a host who was his adversary. In the end, the host has Bar Kamatza forcibly removed from his premises, causing Bar Kamtza tremendous embarrassment. The Talmud describes how as a result of his embarrassment Bar Kamtza became an informant on the Jewish people to the Roman empire, but when Bar Kamtza explains why he decided to do so he declares,
“since the rabbis stood idly by and witnessed this provocative scene without any protest”; hence he became an informant which lead to the breakdown of diplomacy between the Romans and the Jews and consequently the destruction of the Temple. The fact that the rabbis would stand by and witness such atrocious behavior by the host, can only be the cause from one thing; their lack of concern for the welfare of the people around them. These rabbis were self-absorbed, arrogant and concerned with self-promotion. The rabbis who were present at the party probably offered many “inspirational insights into our daily prayers” while consistently referring to themselves as “Hagaon Hatzadik – the wise and righteous”.
As 9AV approaches we should search for meaningful and productive ways with which to emphasize communal promotion as opposed to personal promotion. We should understand that the way to finding inspirational insights into our daily prayers begins with recognizing not only who we are standing in front of, but that we are hardly worthy to be able do so.

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Jewish Leadership Exemplified by Action

To my dear son
The book of Devarim introduces the discourse that Moshe imparts to the Jewish people as follows,

“It was in the fortieth year …when Moshe spoke to Children of Israel…after he had smitten Sihon king of Amorite and Og king of the Bashan…”

Why was it necessary to preempt Moshe’s dialogue by first reminding us that “he had smitten Sihon and Og”, these two great kings who were sworn enemies of the Jewish people?

The Torah is demonstrating not only an obvious connection between Moshe’s impending speech and his military actions and successes of the past, but a vital lesson to us all regarding leadership. To be a successful leader one cannot simply “talk the talk” but you must also primarily “walk the walk”. A genuine leader is someone who understands that while talk is effective when used properly, it is also cheap and ultimately we are judged by our actions. Therefore to further legitimize Moshe’s leadership, prior to Moshe’s discourse in which he would “talk” to the people and remind them of their obligations to Hashem and their Torah, Am Yisrael are first reminded that Moshe was a man of action. Moshe is not merely a spokesman but he is the one who lead successful military operations against the most powerful enemies of the Jewish people; this is Moshe the preacher who was first and foremost the pragmatist.

Typically the famous cry which is often associated with military leadership and with reference to officers of TZAHAL is, “Acharai – after me”. An officer in TZAHAL is not only expected to give orders to soldiers under his command, he is expected to lead them through example; he is in front of his men, he is the first one into battle eagerly prepared to fulfill a mission for the sake of the Jewish nation and the land of Israel.

Jewish leadership is active leadership; we believe that the most effective way to teach is through example that we serve.
Devarim, literally means “words”; the words of Moshe are premised upon his actions, because only then is one worthy of becoming a great leader.

As a sergeant preparing new chayalim for their duties to TZAHAL, you will instruct, direct and even order but always remember that what gives you the right to serve in this capacity, is your preparedness to translate those orders into actions.

With love and admiration


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