Archive for January, 2015

So for those of you that don’t know, while by night I’m crazy Internet Torah blogger, by day I’m a 1st and 2nd grade Judaic Studies teacher.

Been playing around with some video lesson recordings. Here’s my first one — lemme know what you think!

antiisrael

We constantly hear in the media and from left-leaning individuals and groups, as well as from the United Nations and the spokespeople of the various world nations, about the evils perpetrated by the State of Israel any time it takes defensive actions against the groups or individuals that have sworn to destroy it. The enemies of Israel, which include terrorist organizations, various Arab countries, as well as radicalized Muslims within its borders, continually attempt Israel’s destruction through targeting, endangering and murdering its citizens through aggressive acts of war or terrorist attacks.

Yet the heat in the media and the world stage is always directed against Israel. She is always the culprit, the aggressor, the criminal, the abuser, the genocidal murderer. It has long been decried in the pro-Israel media the blatant bias and hypocritical double standard of Israel’s detractors. The same defensive actions by any other country are hailed, while vicious genocides taking place routinely in Muslim countries are ignored. It is only Israel that may not defend herself. It is only Israel that must turn the other cheek to its would-be slaughterer, and that evokes the anger, hatred and condemnation of the world for defending itself and overcoming its attackers.

Well folks, it may surprise you to know that this is NOT a phenomenon unique to the modern State of Israel or to our “civilized” age. Rather, so has it been from the very beginning of our history. Since the inception of the Jewish nation in ancient times, the ire and rage of the nations has been directed at Israel for the simple crime of not getting stomped underfoot by those who would destroy her.

Imagine my shock at finding this phenomenon articulated ever so openly in a midrash — an ancient Jewish oral tradition — concerning the events in this week’s Torah portion.

This week we read B’Shalach, in which, after the crushing cataclysm of the Ten Plagues destroys the once-mighty Egypt, the nation of Israel emerges, under Divine protection, and crosses the Red Sea amid indescribable miracles, even as their former oppressors pursue them to bring about a “final solution.” We all know the story — the Egyptians drown in the Sea, the Israelites are delivered safely upon dry land, and the scene climaxes with the simultaneous outburst of prophetic song known as “the Song of the Sea.”

In that song, the people of Israel declare, “The nations heard and became enraged (שמעו עמים ירגזון)!” Why would the nations become enraged when they hear of Israel’s miraculous delivery from Egypt at the sea? Wouldn’t they be awed? Inspired? Humbled?

The Midrash comments:

MechiltaBShalach

‘The nations heard and became enraged’ — When they heard that G-d lifted Israel [above its enemies], they became angry. G-d said to [the nations]: ‘How many kings have been appointed among you, yet my children (Israel) did not become enraged? … How many sovereign governments have been established among you, yet my children did not become angry? … Now [that Israel is ascendant] you are angry? … I will give you cause to be angry that you do not desire!’

The midrash calls out the nations for their own devilish hypocrisy and shameful double-standard. Every nation has the right to independence, sovereignty, security — except the nation of Israel? Where was your indignation when they were an oppressed minority in Egypt? Now that the Egyptians are under the foot of Israel, you shout about “war crimes”? Have the actions of the nations ever held a moral candle to those of Israel or the Jewish nation? Can any nation claim a superior record of the defense of human rights or contributions to the betterment of the condition of humanity than the Jews? Turn your words toward yourselves, you hypocritical fiends! For when you defend evil and point the finger of blame at those who are just, you invite that evil upon yourself.

How sad for the world that the lessons of history continue to be ignored.

Dear Readers,

I recently published a piece describing how King Achav (Ahab) of Israel captured his enemy, Ben-Hadad, the King of Aram, and was ordered by the prophet to kill him, but preferred to be merciful, and let Ben-Hadad free. The prophet censures Achav for this, and tells him he and his nation will suffer for this misstep.

Indeed, in the following chapters, we find Ben-Hadad again and again breaking his promises of peaceful brotherhood with Israel (which he offered to Achav in exchange for his life), mounting numerous war campagns against Israel. Achav is killed in one of these wars, after which his son becomes king.

In another incident of Aram mounting a war against Israel in II Kings, Ch. 6, the secret position of Aram’s army is exposed to the King of Israel by the prophet Elisha. Finding out about this, Ben-Hadad orders that Elisha be found and captured. In the attempt, Elisha puts the Aramean army under a trance and leads them straight into the city of Shomeron where the entire army is captured by the King of Israel.

This time, the King of Israel asks Elisha, “Shall I strike, my master?”

MelachimB6-21-22

Based on the prior incident, in which King Achav was rebuked for not destroying his enemy when given the chance, one would think that this time the King of Israel had asked appropriately and would be granted permission to dispose of his enemy, thus securing safety for his people. In that light, Elisha’s answer is puzzling:

Do not strike. Do you strike the one you have taken captive by your sword and by your bow? Put bread and water before them, let them eat and drink and return to their master!

Suddenly the message of the prophet is one of mercy! What changed? Why is this situation different? Indeed we will find that just as before, the enemies are allowed to escape, and this once again becomes a prelude to another invasion from Aram later on. Why did Elisha instruct the king to let the enemy go?

I have a few thoughts but I’m not entirely certain. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

Saving the World

Posted: January 1, 2015 in Israel, Mussar (Ethics), News

Here are some posts about the especial quality of Torah learning (that is, the study of Torah for it’s own sake) to heal the world and bring about its perfection.

Saving the World, part I

The True Zionists — Saving the World, part II

Kollel: A Dirty Word — Saving the World part III

Some random chasidish kollel.

I recall a number of years ago, while learning in the kollel at Yeshivas Toras Moshe (for a time underneath the guidance of Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Hy”d), a conversation I had with another great sage who taught at the yeshiva, Rabbi Michel Shurkin. Rabbi Shurkin is famed as a close disciple of both Rabbi Yosef Dov (Joseph Ber) Soloveitchik and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, both revered leaders of the Jewish people in their time.

While I initiated the conversation (I don’t recall about what), Rabbi Shurkin turned the topic toward myself, asking about myself, my background, etc. It came up that I was from a small Jewish community in Brooklyn in the neighborhood of Manhattan Beach, which I had been away from during my (at that point) five plus years studying in Israel. Yet, I related, the community had gone through a sort of renaissance under the leadership of its (then) new rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Plutchok, and that I had heard it continued to expand and expand since I had left it, particularly following the opening of a kollel in the neighborhood.

Rabbi Shurkin offered this sentiment in response to my remark about the kollel. “When I was young, ‘kollel’ was a dirty word. But today, everyone understands — kollel is the key!” I can still remember Rabbi Shurkin’s distinctive hand motion as he said those words, like he was turning an imaginary key in the air. In other words, Rabbi Shurkin was describing the modern phenomenon of the successful growth of Jewish communities correlating to the opening of “community kollelim.”

However, Rabbi Shurkin also referred to the negative sentiment toward kollel that was prevalent in his younger years, though it certainly still exists in great force today, even within communities of Jews who self-identify as Torah observant.

So what is the view of authentic Jewish tradition toward Torah scholars being supported by a stipend in order to continue Torah study? While this topic is too large to tackle all at once, let us catch a glimpse of the traditional position as I discovered it while continuing my daily Tanach study.

My chapter of Tanach for today was I Kings (Melachim Aleph) ch. 21. It describes the tragic story of how the abominable King Ahab (Achav), together with his irredeemably wicked wife Jezebel (Izevel), desiring the land belonging to his neighbor Navoth the Jezreelite, conspires to have Navoth framed for a capital offense and executed. Once this is done, Ahab confiscates Navoth’s land. The prophet describes the diabolical Ahab as follows:

Melachim21-25

“Only there was none like Ahab, who sold himself to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty, who was led astray by his wife Jezebel” (21:25).

So it sounds like Ahab was THE WORST — “there was NONE like Ahab who SOLD HIMSELF to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty”!

Yet, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102B) makes a surprising statement about this same Ahab:

Sanhedrin102B

“Rav Nachman said: Ahab’s sins weighed equally to his merits.”

WHAT!?!?!? How can this be? This question is not lost on the Talmudic sages, who follow up this radical statement with just this question.

“Rav Yoseph challenges this: The person about whom it is written, ‘Only there was none like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty, whose was led astray by his wife Jezebel,’ and about whom we have learned (via oral tradition): ‘Every day she would weigh out golden coins to idols’ — and you say his sins weighed equally to his merits!”

Good question, eh? Now hear the Talmud’s astounding answer:

“Ahab was generous with his money, and since he benefited Torah scholars with his possessions, that atoned for half of his wickedness (so that he was considered half righteous).”

As I understand it, this means that just as Ahab allotted of his money to be donated to idol worship, he equally gave of his money to benefit the learning of Torah scholars. In other words, his monetary support of kollelim was a mitzvah of such great weight that it atoned for his great wickedness, about which the text is so emphatic.

In conclusion, it certainly seems that support for Torah study is a cause of the greatest merit, and should be valued by all Jews, even, or perhaps most of all, by those who have much to atone for.