Friday, June 29, 2007

Our House in Israel III

Well, the building is almost done. We should have the kitchen and granite in by next Friday. Here are some interim pictures:

Above, you can see the front entrance, which is actually on the right side of the house. The overhang is not finished yet.

Here, you can see the entrance area. There is a double-ceiling, which allows people on the second floor to look down from the balcony. The wood has not yet been put up on the bannister top.

This is a picture inside our kitchen, before the cabinets are put in. The electrical and water sleeves will be inside lower cabinets. After the cabinets and granite are installed, the walls will be finished.

With God's help, the house should be done by the first week in July. I will try to post pictures when it is completed. Good Shabbos!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bilaam's Secret Weapon

Bilaam desperately wanted to destroy the nation of Israel. The midrash quoted by Rashi teaches that he hated Israel even more than Balak, the king who hired him. Balak only wished to chase the Jews from his area (ואגרשנו מן הארץ), while Bilaam planned to wipe them off the globe.

And so, Bilaam set out, and with the help of Balak, tried time and again to curse the Jews. However, each attempt was thwarted by God, who withheld his mystical moment of anger each day (See Brachoth 7a), and forced a blessing out of the mouth of the evil prophet. In one instance, Bilaam was inspired by the privacy each Jewish home provided its neighbors, by having windows that specifically faced away from other homes windows. In another, the prophet described the Jews as a nation that dwells unto itself.

Balak saw Israel's strength precisely in their ability to draw distinctions and boundaries between things that need to be separate. This is, in fact, one explanation of the symbolism behind שעטנז and the dietary laws, according to Rabbi Hirsch. The Beit Halevi says that man's ability to preserve physical distinctions like keeping meat and milk separate is a reason that the Torah was given to us, and not to angels. The maintenance of boundaries that God sets, both in the natural law (ex. כלאיים) and in the moral Law He delivered at Sinai (ex. שעטנז and בשר בחלב), is a major task given to Israel. By doing so, we bow to His greater wisdom, and keep order in this world. Keeping this in mind, Israel has the capacity to become a shining city atop a hill, and lead the world towards God by example of a perfect society. A light unto the nations must dwell apart from them, to provide a goal and structure.

Indeed, the order that God placed in nature is a model for the order that exists in morals and ethics. Just as it is naturally wrong to place an ox and a ram in a yoke together, causing them both stress and pain because of their different gaits, so it is morally wrong to blur the line between what is mine and what is my fellow man's.

The Jewish nation was able to maintain their aloof nobility in the face of Bilaam's attempts to curse them. In fact, throughout history, our nation demonstrates the ability to keep its distance when threatened with hate and rage from the nations. However, Bilaam realized after three attempts, that his very blessings to the Jews were their Achilles' heel.

And so, Bilaam decides to change tactics. Instead of threatening the Jews openly, he decides to help them blur the line between Jew and Midianite, between morality and sin. He sends girls to seduce the Jews. Acceptance and toleration are experiences that cause Jews to lose the demarcations that God's law demands. Sin ensues, and the spiritual walls of protection have been breached.

Throughout the generations, Bilaam's blessings and scheming serve to remind us of the two sides of the same coin. Boundaries, natural and moral, allow Israel to fulfill its national calling, bringing spirituality and שכינה into this world. The blurring of these boundaries ultimately leads Mankind astray, and disaster follows closely in the wake.

When Israel recognizes its uniqueness and destiny in the scheme of history, it will proudly march before the nations, bringing them to an awe-filled appreciation for Godliness. As the Talmud states (Yoma 86a), "ראו כמה נאים דרכיו כמה מתוקנים מעשיו עליו הכתוב אומר (ישעיהו מט) ויאמר לי עבדי אתה ישראל אשר בך אתפאר." May we all work to bring this realization to our whole nation, and bring about the fulfillment of our purpose as an אור לגוים.

Olmert Reveals The Truth

Ynet reports:

רה"מ: לא ניתן לספק בטווח הקצר את כל הביטחון לעוטף עזה
ראש הממשלה, אהוד אולמרט, התייחס בכנס קיסריה בחיפה למצב התושבים בשדרות וביישובי עוטף עזה ואמר: "איננו יכולים לספק בטווח הקצר את כל הביטחון שהיינו רוצים לספק לכם.
"מי שרוצה לחיות בישראל צריך לקחת סיכון מסוים. סיכון זה הוא עדיין פחות ביחס לזה שיש בקיום חיים יהודיים במקומות אחרים", הוסיף אולמרט

Olmert admits that he does not have the ability (desire, really) to protect those Jews living surrounding the Gaza Strip. He says that living in Israel comprises certain dangers, which are still less than living outside of Israel as a Jew.

What an incompetent, evil man. The first purpose of a government is to defend its citizens! If he can't do it, then he has lost his right to the premiership. Let someone govern who respects his duties.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Chukas: The Staff and the Word

In one of the most famous parts of the Torah, the Jews, yet again, complain to Moshe about their lack of water. Thirty eight years ago, in a similar situation, God commanded the leader of the nation to strike a rock with his staff. Doing so freed a spring of water that accompanied the people miraculously through the desert. However, this time, God instructs Moshe to speak to the rock. Midrashim explain why, but the fact is that Moshe disobeys God's express word, and strikes the rock.

This seemingly small mistake is cause for great rebuke. Because Moshe and Aharon 'lost faith in God, and did not sanctify His name in the eyes of the nation', Moses loses his right to enter the Land of Israel. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 90b) tells us that God punishes and rewards us measure for measure. Why did Moshe's mistake warrant this strict punishment?

Rabbi Hirsch discusses the symbolism of the staff that accompanied Moshe on his mission to redeem Israel from Egypt and beyond. Moshe, the reluctant leader, was chosen by God, and plucked from a comfortable life as heir to the Midianite priesthood, to change the course of nature and history. The staff represents God's direct intervention in the mundane matters of Man and the physical laws of nature. It is the staff of miracles.

When the nation came to Sinai, God gave them a written and oral law, words which instructed them how to lead their personal and national lives. Life is not meant to constantly be lived in direct contact with the miraculous suspension of the laws of nature. The Torah teaches us how to live within the laws of nature, and without direct Godly intervention in the course of history.

Immediately following the exodus from Egypt, the nation was completely governed by the miraculous divine intervention in every aspect of its life. It was not prepared for a natural mode of existence, where action is governed by the law of God. And so, God told Moshe to strike the rock with his staff. However, thirty eight years later, the people were on the brink of entering Canaan. They needed to learn that the miraculous mode of guidance was about to end, and they must turn to the word of God instead of the staff, for counsel.

When Moshe struck the rock instead of speaking to it, he reinforced the wrong message to the people. To correct this, Moshe now must teach the lesson of the word over the staff with his very life. Moshe transfers his power to Joshua. He is the first link in rabbinic tradition. His reception of the Torah is as a tradition from his master, and not from God Himself. Thus, the one who takes the people across the Jordan is one who is totally grounded in the word of God as a tradition from his teachers, the beginnings of rabbinic authority. It is this persona that will sustain Israel throughout history, beginning with their entrance to Israel. By leaving the people at the border of Israel, and transferring power to the rabbinic tradition, Moshe teaches the people the lesson they missed in the striking of the rock.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Baruch Shekivanti?

In the beit midrash, it is considered an exciting delight to find that one's original thought was actually innovated by an earlier source, unbeknownst to the current thinker. This is usually taken to be a vindication of the thought patterns of the learner, and an exoneration of his logic. The happy student may exclaim, 'baruch shekivanti!', which ostensibly means 'blessed is He who directed me [to the same conclusion as source x]'. This phrase has become of modern parlance in orthodox circles, and is used in situations removed from torah learning, as well.

However, it is interesting to note that the Hebrew phrase does not mean what we hope it to mean; it is grammatically incoherent. 'Kiven' means 'directed'. It is the פיעל form of .כ.ו.נ. The 'ti' at the end simply appends the subject, I. Taken together, 'kivanti' means 'I directed'. 'Baruch' is a word that connotes blessing or thanks to the subject. So, 'baruch shekivanti' means 'blessed is it that I have directed'.

Obviously, this is not what users of the phrase mean to say. The speaker means the blessing or thanks to be directed towards God, who has directed him to the thought at hand.

To be as forgiving as possible, one might suggest that the pharse simply means to bless the very fact that the thinker has been directed to this thought. However, this also falls apart, because the subject of the Hebrew formulation is the thinker himself! It is improbable indeed that a student would be so full of hubris as to bless the fact that he himself directed the thought into his own mind. In any case, that would not require a blessing.

Rather, it seems that the proper formulation in Hebrew should be, 'Baruch Shekivnani'. 'Kiven' still means 'directed', but the suffix 'ani' makes the speaker the object, not the subject. Thus the subject is God (who is commonly taken as an implied subject in phrases of blessing*), and the thinker is the object of the directing that God has done. Thus, 'Blessed or thanks to He who directed me'.

*For example, ברוך דיין אמת, or ברוך שפטרני מענשו של זה, which are shortenings of the standard blessing formulation, and imply God as the subject.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Red Heifer and Purity of Will

When impurity is contracted by contact with a dead body, seven days of waiting are mandated. On the third and seventh day, the subject must be sprinkled with a special preparation of water and heifer-ash. After this, he may immerse in מים חיים, and is considered pure. Rashi quotes the midrash and states that this is one of those laws whose understanding is beyond human ken, and therefore is a חק. However, Nachmanidies attempts an explanation, and the Talmud itself (Menachot 19a) does not see the word חק as an exhortation against attempts at divining ratio dei, rather as a description of how fundamental each aspect of this law is to its fulfillment.

Rabbi Hirsch's general view of ritual purity and impurity has been discussed before. Freedom of will in spiritual and moral matters are the sine qua non of our ability to see the commands of the Torah as binding. Only if we truly have the ability to hallow our lives can we strive for purity of action in the way of God's law. This moral freedom is questioned when Man comes into contact with death. A human corpse seems to tell our physical senses that all is predestined, and that our moral choices end with the whole of man dead, as any other living thing. This would leave no room for an immortal world which finds transcendent meaning in the moral decisions of humanity while it lives.

The preparation of the red heifer solution is a public negation of this notion. Outside of the היכל, the whole nation witnesses as the Kohen prepares the solution which symbolizes Man's ability to ultimately triumph over death. Demonstrated is the fact that Man is not made up solely of the physical; the important part of Humanity, the spirit, lives on and is immortalized by moral and Godly action.

The sprinklings also contribute to this meaning. The third day of creation was when animals were created, submitting themselves to the natural law of God's creation. The seventh day symbolizes the infusion of Godliness into the world. No longer is creation seen as a physically complete unit. Instead, the Law is introduced, and Man is tasked with obeying God, not out of nature, but out of will.

When an impure person is sprinkled on the third day, he hallows his physical being for service of God. On the seventh day, the spiritual component is re-dedicated, and Man's return to moral free-will is complete. The dedication of the spirit cannot be complete without the dedication of the physical. Only a complete organic creature can be imbued with the holiness of free-willed service of God.

Thus, the moral turpitude of pre-destined action is replaced with the liberating of Man's will to serve God. This is accomplished fully when the whole of Man, in all his dualities, spiritual and physical, transient and immortal, are dedicated to the free-willed service of God.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Gaza Today

This article from Maariv really shows the blood-thirsty Arab treatment of their political opponents. I would not suggest the faint-hearted to watch the clip.

For all you peace demanders out there, this is how they treat each other. Do you really think they will treat the Jews of Israel any differently if we do not staunchly defend ourselves against them?

Never forget who your enemy is, and more importantly, that you are your enemy's enemy. He will treat you like this if he has the chance.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Revisionist History

The way Israel is portrayed today, looking back at the Six Day War, is an example of hostorical revisionism in action. Just look at how Time Magazine saw the war back then. Thanks to Jameel at the Muqata for the article.

Rambam's Argument from Contingency

1) Existence comes in two flavors. An object exists necessarily or contingently.

2) Contingent existence means that it is theoretically possible for it to not exist.

3) Necessary existence is when it is not possible for the object to not exist.

4) When we look at the universe, we see many things (including the universe itself) that exist.

5) Why do they exist?

6) Well, something exists either because a) it must exist (necessarily exists) or b) it was brought into existence by something whose existence we can already explain.

7) As stated in 4, we know things exist.

8) This can only be explained by something that exists necessarily, however far you have to go back.

9) We therefore conclude that Something exists necessarily.

This argument is similar to the first cause argument, but it deals not with temporal contingency, but logical contingency. (This leaves open the door for an eternal universe.)

PS. XGH claims that infinite regress is just as logical to posit as a first cause. However, in fact, if one denies the impossibility of logical infinite regress then one is really denying logic as a formal system. Our whole concept of logic is based on the premise that the world we see around us is founded on cause and effect. This is what gives us permission, given a premise, to infer a conclusion. One who denies this has entered the realm of mysticism and if one has entered mysticism, she is in a very weak position to criticize any form of Emuna whatsoever.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

12 for 12

In contribution to Nefesh B'Nefesh's new project, here are my 12 reasons for loving Israel:

1) The state that does, bar none, the most of any country in the world to further the study and dissemination of Torah. Israel supports countless בני תורה who learn full-time, and provides structure for others who want to incorporate torah learning into their lives otherwise.

2) A country that experienced open miracles and demonstrated God's existence and continued concern with our Nation's wellfare. The Six Day War is the most obvious example of this.

3) The land where all 613 mitzvot can be kept, even theoretically. More than half the commandments in the torah are dependent upon the land (תלויות בארץ).

4) A place every Jew, no matter who, is welcome and given immediate citizenship and a bundle of rights and benefits. In the history of the world, there is only one country that sees its mission as the protection and flourishing of every Jew.

5) A place about which the Chazon Ish said, "there is no greater mitzvah than the working of her land." (Censored out of all but the first edition of his writings.)

6) A place that the very act of breathing and living is a mitzvah.

7) A place where people really act like extended family to one another. Don't believe me? Go to any makolet and tell the owner that you don't have money, can you take milk and eggs, and pay tomorrow.

8) A place where the act of working and producing is not a self-centered activity, but one that contributes to our national economy and vitality.

9) The place where, when shopping at a mall, you can catch a mincha minyan at the mall's beit knesset.

10) A place where you automatically feel at home.

11) A place that fulfills prophecies, Like Amos's (9:13-15). " הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים, נְאֻם-יְהוָה, וְנִגַּשׁ חוֹרֵשׁ בַּקֹּצֵר, וְדֹרֵךְ עֲנָבִים בְּמֹשֵׁךְ הַזָּרַע; וְהִטִּיפוּ הֶהָרִים עָסִיס, וְכָל-הַגְּבָעוֹת תִּתְמוֹגַגְנָה. וְשַׁבְתִּי, אֶת-שְׁבוּת עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּבָנוּ עָרִים נְשַׁמּוֹת וְיָשָׁבוּ, וְנָטְעוּ כְרָמִים וְשָׁתוּ אֶת-יֵינָם; וְעָשׂוּ גַנּוֹת, וְאָכְלוּ אֶת-פְּרִיהֶם. וּנְטַעְתִּים, עַל-אַדְמָתָם; וְלֹא יִנָּתְשׁוּ עוֹד, מֵעַל אַדְמָתָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָהֶם--אָמַר, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ".

12) A place that doesn't suffer you, but needs you!