Monday, September 24, 2007

To Bollinger

"It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas or our naiveté about the very dangers in such ideas." -- Lee Bollinger, President, Columbia University

Bollinger represents the dangerous tendency we have to be so open-minded that our brains fall out. We so passionately defend the despot's right to be heard, that we forget to destroy him when we can. We protect the free speech of tyrants more than we abhor the tyrant himself.

The opportunity to speak freely (which Ahmedinejad refuses to all dissenters in his country) is exactly what he desperately desires. Providing a platform to evil affords it legitimacy.

You do not argue with evil, you crush it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Please Pray for Rabbi Shapira

HaRav Avraham Elkana HaKohen ben Henna Raizel, former chief Rabbi of Israel and present Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz Harav has taken a turn for the worse. Please pray for this tzaddik and gaon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Is Something Brewing?

YNet and CNN are reporting that the Israeli incursion into Syrian airspace last week was accompanied by supporting ground troops. It seems to have been aimed at Hizbollah armament, passing through from Iran.

May God protect Israel and the soldiers of the IDF, and grant them a year of clear, ethical orders, and the strength and moral will to destroy the enemies of the Jews.

May we usher in the redemption this year!

Shana Tova Um'tuka!

We pray for a happy and healthy new year for all of Am Yisrael. May we merit to see the fulfillment of the prophecies, and may we all bask in the light of the גאולה, now!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

S'lichot: A Path to Reconstruction


Day is the natural time of humanity’s activity and creativity. It is by day that we fulfill our role set out by God to Adam, to ‘settle the world and conquer it.’ (Gen. 1:28) In contrast, night is the time when Mankind retreats from his dominant stance and hides from real and imagined dangers. It is a time of אמונה, but also a time of humility, when the bravado and temerity of כחי ועוצם ידי vanishes into the dusk, and Man scurries back to his protector, God. This shift is evident in the prayers of each time of day. Morning-man states with confidence, אמת ויציב, while night-man hesitates, and assuages his confusion with אמת ואמונה.

In his essays, Rabbi S.R. Hirsch discusses the season of the Days of Awe. He writes about the industrious preparation that the animal and plant kingdoms begin in autumn. Nature itself, by design, is sensitive to the impending winter months, and begins to carefully prepare for them. Bears store energy in fat deposits, and begin months of hibernation. Squirrels hoard nuts and even insects make sure that they are ready for winter. The natural order is an ethical lesson to humanity. Do not allow life to deceive you, ‘that youth will last forever…that strength will never wane…at wealth is secure, that earthly greatness is eternal!’ This time of year turns our thoughts to assuring our spiritual sustenance, for the future. It is a season in which we are no longer able to revel in the abundance and decadence of summer; the plenty we have must be carefully preserved for the night-season of winter.

This is the season that begins our s'lichot tonight. Interesting indeed that this autumn season is one in which the nights are long, and days short. As Rabbi Hirsch points out, night leads to night, with day only a short reprieve. The season reinforces the message of dependence and humility of night-time. And it is in this double night that we congregate here, to officially begin our season of repentance and, ultimately, atonement.

Both night and autumn-winter lead us to shed any pretenses we may have developed. In our fear for our personal survival during the natural times of danger and scarcity, we are forced to recognize our stark dependence on God. We know better than ever that we need our relationship to God.

Throughout the year, in our active conquering of the world around us, it is almost inevitable that we veer from the path God has commanded us to travel. The word חטא itself means running afoul of one’s target, as an arrow that misses its mark. As nature turns us back to thoughts of God and our ultimate reliance on him, we contemplate our neglected relationship with Him. In these days, the lessons of un’taneh tokef guide us. Three things erase our sins and lead us to a sweet year: תשובה, תפילה, and צדקה. I would like to touch on these three concepts briefly, and discuss what I believe to be the central theme of the triad, the reconstruction of the broken relationship between a man and his God.


In his Essay on prayer, R’ Soloveitchick describes a new approach to the concept of t'fillah. Prayer does not only make us better people, more deserving of favorable judgment. Neither is prayer simply Man's attempt to beseech God for his needs. It is a fundamental way that Mankind interacts with God, a medium through which we encounter the divine. T'fillah is not focused on God, but on Man. However, it is not only anthropocentric, because it is a dialogue between Man and God. By creating that emotional connection that prayer instantiates, Man brings himself into communion with God. By realizing that life in the absence of God is empty and cold, a person brings himself to prayer, in order to draw God back into his realm of existence, so to speak. We are commanded to find God through prayer. Thus, the very act of prayer is a form of interaction and דביקות with the Divine. When we pray, we develop a connection to God. Much as each interaction between a husband and wife pave the strength and depth of connection in their marriage, so does prayer lay a foundation of familiarity and intimacy.

Prayer, then, not only provides a venue for us to petition God for help with the minutiae of life. It also provides us with a life-line to God, Who acts as a shoulder to cry on. As Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein writes (Jewish Perspectives on the Experience of Suffering, Ch. 2), we can always turn to God at a time of crisis, and He comforts us even when he does not immediately alleviate the suffering. T'fillah reconstructs this important aspect of the divine relationship.


The recreation of our shattered relationship to Hashem as a beloved supporter is also the fundamental aim of t'shuvah.

There are two concepts used in Jewish thought for atonement. The first is כפרה, the absolution of sin. This is the cut and dry idea of penance: the correction of our propensity to break God’s word. It is affected by sacrifice and rite.

However, there is another concept, developed most clearly by the prophets, that of תשובה. This is the rectification of our damaged emotional relationship to Hashem. This requires service of the heart and mind, and a change in attitude. We realize the beauty of closeness to God – קרבת אלקים לי טוב, and mourn the actions that have placed an iron curtain between us and our Father in Heaven.

In Chagiga (15a), we read the tragedy of Elisha ben Avuyah, apostate par excellence. Goaded by R’ Meir, his faithful student, to repent, he stated, ‘I have already heard a בת קול that everyone may do teshuvah, but I am barred.’ We can imagine the sort of sins he must have done, and incited others to do, in order to be barred from repentance by heavenly decree. Even so, says the Maharsha, Elisha should have repented, for nothing can stand in the way of תשובה, even a בת קול.

I believe Elisha’s mistake was that he saw t'shuvah simply as a means of attaining atonement. He missed out on the relationship with God that t'shuvah aims to rectify. This is an emotional bond, like one between a man and wife. Imagine a situation where your wife tells you, ‘do not even ask for forgiveness, I cannot forgive you.’ The emotional bond and intimacy of the relationship does not allow you to accept this. You beg, even demand forgiveness, and it is granted in the end. This is the relationship that Elisha should have been trying to attain through t'shuvah . He did not possess it, and so he missed the fundamental lesson, and the opportunity for forgivness.

Another explicit example, the story of Elazar ben Dordia (Avodah Zara 17a) stands out in contrast, as one who learned the value of this relationship. A man who visited every harlot he could, Elazar was once confronted by a woman who told him that he would never reach עולם הבא because of his many sins. He sat and cried, begging the mountains, valleys and all of nature to intercede on his behalf. Nature refused to help him. In the analogous situation, Elisha ben Avuyah gave up on his atonement. Not so Elazar ben Dordia. אין הדבר תלוי אלא בי, he cried, taking his repentance into his own hands. As he died from the intensity of his emotion, a בת קול proclaimed that he had been accepted. His refusal to live without reconnecting his relationship to God was so strong, it overcame the seemingly impossible. (Paradoxically, it is a heavenly voice that proclaims him worthy, the same medium which claimed that Elisha would find no forgiveness.)

In הררי קדם, R’ Soloveitchik speaks of the tremendous power of repentance out of love. Since it comes from an internal need to rectify a shattered relationship with God, it has the power to transcend ordinary rules of t'shuvah such as the levels of penance and categories of sin. It is able to affect immediate and unconditional purity in the pennant one. When we utilize this internal connection to God and repent from love, we are able to reach the t'shuvah that can defeat even a heavenly decree against it.

When a woman sins against her husband, his natural love for her causes him to wish to take her back. Indeed, this analogy is not lost on the prophets. Thus, Hoshea is told to take a harlot as a wife. When she is unfaithful, God tells him to leave her and their children. When Hoshea hesitates, God remarks on his natural desire to remain with her. He says, ‘how can you tell me to abandon the Jews because of their sin, when you are unwilling to abandon your wife?’ The love and intimacy between man and wife, reflected in the bond between God and Israel, is able to transcend the chasm created by the most vile offence. אין דבר עומד בפני התשובה.


Lastly, we turn to צדקה. If תשובה and תפילה are so powerful, why do we need this third part?

The singularity of the communal Yom Kippur offerings is that they atone for Israel’s sins even without any effort on the part of the nation. The communal offerings create a national forgiveness that trickles down to the individual Jew.

In order to be forgiven on our national level, we must demonstrate to Hashem that we are unified. We love each other, and care for one another. This bond is demonstrated most powerfully by the giving of charity and kindness to the less fortunate. By demonstrating our national bond and showing love and respect to God’s people, we show our desire to be treated as part of the עם סגולה, with all the rights and privileges that brings. Thus, the final element of national teshuvah is completed by חסד and צדקה to one another.

Gerard Manley Hopkins writes of the estrangement sin engenders, and the subsequent intimacy reignited by repentance. And what action does Hashem demand of us, so that our penance may be accepted? 'But thou bidst, and just thou art/Me shew mercy from my heart/Towards my brother, every other/Man my mate and counterpart.' Demonstrating mercy and love to our fellow man is our way of deserving the same treatment from Heaven.


Through the season and time of day, may we be moved to realize our close connection to God. The סליחות we are about to say will melt our hearts and help us return to God with love. Let us read the english translation, and be moved by the traditional tunes that accompany out thoughts of return and love for God. May this awesome time leave its impression on our future.

May our application of prayer, repentance and kindness lead us to a wonderful, sweet, safe and spiritually uplifting new year.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Nitzavim and Faith

In this week's portion, God warns us to keep His commandments. If we do not, we will be sent into exile, and 'we will be singled out for suffering' (Deut 29:20). The nations will stand in wonder at the torture and destruction of God's beloved nation, and they will say, 'it must be punishment for turning away from God's covenant' (29:24). And yet, no matter how far we fall, God will redeem us. 'God will return with our exiles, and have mercy; He will gather us from the lands of our dispersion', into Israel (29:3-5). God promises us this.

In Amos (9:13-15), we are again promised the vision of salvation, this time even more clearly and in far more detail:

"יג הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים, נְאֻם-יְהוָה, וְנִגַּשׁ חוֹרֵשׁ בַּקֹּצֵר, וְדֹרֵךְ עֲנָבִים בְּמֹשֵׁךְ הַזָּרַע; וְהִטִּיפוּ הֶהָרִים עָסִיס, וְכָל-הַגְּבָעוֹת תִּתְמוֹגַגְנָה. יד וְשַׁבְתִּי, אֶת-שְׁבוּת עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּבָנוּ עָרִים נְשַׁמּוֹת וְיָשָׁבוּ, וְנָטְעוּ כְרָמִים וְשָׁתוּ אֶת-יֵינָם; וְעָשׂוּ גַנּוֹת, וְאָכְלוּ אֶת-פְּרִיהֶם. טו וּנְטַעְתִּים, עַל-אַדְמָתָם; וְלֹא יִנָּתְשׁוּ עוֹד, מֵעַל אַדְמָתָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָהֶם--אָמַר, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ."

"'When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,' says the Lord your God."

I think these quotes are especially important to read and allow to permeate our souls in our present day, when so much of our tradition is under attack by skeptical elements. In the past millennia, Jews and gentiles have accepted prima facie the authenticity of the Torah and other books of the Bible. Even without the fulfillment of the positive prophecies of reconstruction, they have survived with their faith in God and His word. They lived and died for a day when their children and grandchildren would be able to witness the fulfillment of God's promises. They needed no proof.

However, around the turn of the last century, scholars and skeptics have begun to question, not only the dating of certain works, or the exact authorship of certain parts of some books, but the very concept of God's revelation of His will and future plans to Mankind. Whole sections of Jews may not believe in the divinity of our scripture, or even in the existence of God! Humanity has become cynical, and so, have chosen to question God's revelation.

However, we must pay attention to the historical currents that surrounded this movement. The return of Jews to Zion with the intent of rebuilding the land and Jewish culture gained steam. Eventually, European Jewry was destroyed, and out of the fire, like a phoenix, the modern state of Israel rose. The remnants beat back blood-thirsty hordes of Arab soldiers, intent on destroying them. This happened, not once, but five times. Jews returned and continue to stream to their land, and even the anti-Zionists admit that, if not ראשית צמיחת גאולתינו, we are living through, at least, עיקבתא דמשיחא.

This is God's most poetic answer to the skeptics. God counters their questions by making the living word of His books come true! Hashem always keeps us open to faith. Sometimes we are sustained by faith in the word, as the generations before us. However, if we begin to question its authenticity, he makes it come true, so we can no longer doubt it.

In Nitzavim and Amos, God promised us redemption, and placed his name on it as a seal of truth. It happens now as we watch! And yet, we are blinded by its shining light, even as we live through it. Future generations will ask us, did you not see the obvious fulfillment of God's word?

I realized, while speaking to a skeptical friend, that what we are witnessing with our own eyes is the irrefutable realization of the prophecies of God. These verses are our generation's personal Har Sinai experience; this is our revelation! We ourselves bear witness to the fact that God exists, and that He keeps his promises to Israel.

God's hand forces history, and history, against all odds and against all precedent, favors Israel (by all accounts a dead nationalism) and the nation of Israel rises again in the land of Israel, just as the Torah and prophets foresaw.

May this coming year be one in which all prophecies come true, and the floodgates of knowledge, light, and peace open wide. May the world bask in the glow of our redemption, and may mountains and valleys ring with the song of global salvation.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

New Additions to the Blog

We now have, on the side-bar, an atomic clock with Sabbath times below it.

I hope this helps people!