Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Surrounded by Angels

Every action we do creates an angel. A good action creates a defending angel, a bad one creates a prosecuting angel.

One lie will lead to many more lies, creating more and more prosecuting angels.

Every day contains the potential for the creation of good angels who will defend and assist you in times of need.

The path you choose to follow is the path along which you will be lead. Good deeds will lead to more good deeds.... while lies and deception bring about a continuing cycle of lying to cover up the previous lies.

There is a way to break the cycle, and that is to about-turn, and retrace your steps. This is teshuvah - returning to the right path. This path ensures a continual helping hand from Above.

Any obstacles encountered whilst retracing your steps are called "tikunim" - corrections. Each one is a test, tailored to suit your needs. Passing each test is achieving a tikkun in that area, or with a particular person.

Sometimes tests come all at once, and sometimes they are few and far between. Each person will be given exactly what they require at exactly the right time.

Tikunim can also relate to actions done in past lives. You may have owed someone an apology from another lifetime. You have met up now, in order to achieve a rectification.

As long as you are on the right path, the obstacles will be easily taken care of. The key is to have trust [bitachon] in Hashem and never give up or be side-tracked. But even if this does happen, you can again retrace your steps and return. Teshuvah is never out of anyone's reach.

A life without bitachon leads to worry and anxiety:

ביטחון - bitachon - trust

דאגה - deagah - worry or anxiety

דאגה contains the first 5 letters of the alef-beis, minus the letter "beis" - which stands for "bitachon" showing us that a life without trust in Hashem will result in worry and anxiety.

באר - baer - is the Hebrew word for "well"
בור - bore - is the Hebrew word for "bore/pit"
Whilst they sound the same, and have similar meanings, there is a major difference between the two.
A Baer is a living well, a well containing water that is "alive".
A Bore is a hole, containing dead stagnant water or worse.
The difference between the two words in Hebrew is the Aleph in the centre of the word באר.

The Aleph represents Hashem [Adon Olam]. If you have Hashem in the middle of your life, you will access the well of the living waters. If you remove Hashem from the centre of your life, it becomes a bottomless pit.

Shoftim: Identifying False Witnesses

"And they shall judge the people with righteous judgment" [Shoftim 16:18]

A group of wicked individuals in the city of Vilna libeled one of the city's distinguished citizens. To ruin the man's reputation, they even hired false witnesses to substantiate their claim.

When word of the scandal reached the Vilna Gaon, he immediately suspected that the witnesses were hired to slander the man. He therefore requested to personally examine the "witnesses".

The witnesses appeared before the Gaon and related their testimony. The Gaon kept his eyes closed throughout their testimony and waited for them to finish. When they concluded, the Gaon rose to his feet and declared "They are false witnesses!"

The imposters, terrified by the Gaon's declaration, quickly admitted their guilt and revealed that they had been hired to deliver a false testimony.

The judges of the Beth Din were amazed. "How did Rebbeinu know that they were false witnesses?" they asked the Gaon.

"The answer lies in a Mishnah in Maseches Sanhedrin [5:4]" he replied.

"The Mishnah states that the judges first listen to the testimony of one witness. When the witness has concluded, the judges invite the second witness to testify. The Mishnah then states "If the words were found to correspond" then they are believed.

What does "if the words were found to correspond" mean? Either the testimonies match up or they do not; what need is there for the judges to figure out if the testimonies correspond?

"The reason" explained the Gaon, "is as follows: Every individual has his own style and approach when it comes to relating that which he has seen. Therefore, when judges hear two testimonies that differ slightly from one another, if they can find a way to reconcile them, the testimonies will be accepted by the Beth Din. For although the two witnesses expressed themselves in different manners, the two testimonies are one and the same. In fact, it is a sign that the witnesses are honest.

"However, when these witnesses testified before me" concluded the Gaon, "there were no discrepancies between their testimonies. If two people recount the same story, using the exact same words, it is a clear indication that they are false witnesses!"

Source: Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Floods of Irene [video]

Tropical Storm Irene which hit the US east coast has caused flash flooding in upper New York state and Vermont.

Surging water levels have left a trail of devastation in places like Margaretville and the Catskills, destroying bridges and damaging properties

Jim Avila reports for ABC News.

Opening The Gates

Judges and police officers you shall appoint in all your cities..... [Shoftim 16:18]

Source: Mipeninei Noam Elimelech
Translated by Tal Moshe Zwecker

This verse can be understood in the light of the teaching found in the Talmud in Berachos [61b] that "Tzaddikim are judged by their yetzer tov [good inclination] and the wicked are judged by the yetzer hara [evil inclination]. The average person is judged by both."

The righteous have an admonisher inside them who reproves and reprimands them even about the good deeds that they perform. He points out the defects and shortcomings of their actions, how they are lacking and how they should have been performed for the Almighty Creator. In this way they are "judged by their yetzer tov".

The wicked are just the opposite. Not only do all their actions appear good in their eyes, but their evil inclination shows them that even the evil deeds they do are good. Thus, the wicked are judged by the yetzer hara.

But the average person is judged by both, and as the Tanna taught, "we are average people" - that a person should always consider himself a beinoni, average, as someone who walks on both paths. On the one hand, he should constantly rebuke himself, debating his own actions; he should consider himself to be falling short of properly serving Hashem and fulfilling his obligations. When doing mitzvos, he should understand well that he has not acted properly with true clarity and purity as befitting the service of the Almighty; he should be humble and lowly in his own eyes.

Even so, one should not consider himself wicked, Heaven forbid, as our Sages taught: "Do not be wicked in your own eyes" [Avos 2:18] Otherwise if one does consider himself wicked, he will have no motivation to perform the mitzvos, not to learn Torah or pray or perform any good deed. He will give up hope, resigned that he is not worthy enough to do these things. Therefore, one must hold on to both paths at the same time in order to be complete. Then he will fulfill the teaching of our Sages "With all your heart" [Devarim 6:5] - with both inclinations. This is the meaning of "we are average people" and the "average person is judged by both".

Thus it says "Appoint for yourself judges and police officers". This refers to the two judges we spoke about, the good and evil inclinations. The good inclination is an "officer" since it polices the nation, preventing them from committing any offence, and so the good inclination admonishes and rebukes man for his misdeeds and shortcomings in serving G-d.

"In all your cities" [literally "gates"] - every mitzvah and holy act has its own gate. When a person learns, prays, or does any other act of holiness in this world, he opens the gates to that specific mitzvah above.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Shoftim - The Spiritual Significance of Cities of Refuge

"You should separate three cities for yourself within your land...." [Shoftim 19:2]

Any sin shares qualities with murder itself, since the abuse of energy for the purposes of evil is like the spilling of blood. However, a sin is only like accidental murder, since the true intention of every Jew, as Rambam testifies is "To fulfill all the commandments and to avoid any sins".

Furthermore, the act of sin is considered to have been done "unintentionally" for "a person does not commit a sin unless he is possessed by a spirit of folly".

The atonement for this is to study Torah, which is analogous to the escape to a city of refuge - because "the words of Torah protect". In other words, just like a city of refuge is a haven to protect accidental murderers from "avengers of the blood" (relatives of the deceased who seek revenge) so too Torah is a refuge from one's personal "avenger of the blood" - the evil inclination.

Furthermore, Torah study is effective in achieving atonement for the "spilt blood" since one's energies become re-devoted to holiness and Torah, which is described as the "Torah of life".

However, in the Messianic Era, the Cities of Refuge will fulfill a diferent purpose altogether.

Despite the perfect global refinement which will occur in the future, the first stage of the Messianic Era will not witness a total elimination of evil, since the possibility of evil occurring will still remain. Only afterwards, in the period of the resurrection, will G-d completely eliminate the existence of evil from the world, when "I will cause the spirit of impurity to depart the earth" [Zechariah 13:2].

Consequently, Cities of Refuge will be required as a mechanism to eliminate even the possibility of sin, which exists as a result of the residual evil within the world (similar to the state of the world before Adam's sin, when there was no actual evil - just the potential for sin).

This prevention of the possibility of evil will be achieved by the introduction of a new type of city of refuge, the three new cities - which allude to a new dimension of mystical knowledge, which will provide protection against even the possibility of evil.

Source: Sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shavuot 5751

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gilad's Birthday

Lemon just reminded me, it's Gilad Shalit's birthday. Thanks Lemon, I knew the 28th August was something, but couldn't think what it was.

Gilad's birthday..... another one in captivity..... and Irene bearing down on N.Y.
I'm sure there's a connection there somewhere.

The History Channel's Irene Scenario for New York

This is scary folks, if you're in New York, our thoughts and prayers are with you.

History Channel Mega Disasters: Hurricane Irene Predictive Programming?
Is this History Channel documentary on mega disasters a form of predictive programming for what is about to happen when Hurricane Irene hits? [quoting The Intel Hub]

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene in Bible Codes

Elul Month 5771 Crucial To Israel in Bible Code

Will You Be Judged on "Judgement Day"?

What is the “Great Day of Judgment” and who will be judged on it? Three Answers from the Arizal, Ramban and the Frierdiker Rebbe.


Question:  What is the “Great Day of Judgment” and who will be judged on it? 

Answer:  In classical Jewish sources, there are three opinions about the “Great Day of Judgment” referred to in the Prophets. According to Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel, there will be no grand Day of Judgment when Moshiach comes, since each person is judged individually after death. The sources referring to a “day of judgment” are talking about a day of punishment and retribution.

According to the famous Kabbalist, the Arizal, there will be a day of judgment, but not for the Jewish People: “Since the soul has already been through the Day of Atonement, and suffering cleanses, and then the soul has been through a number of transmigrations, why is there a need for the soul to return and be judged on a Great Day of Judgment!” In the book Nishmat Chaim, he adds: “And if you say, what will be with those who die close to the time of resurrection, and they have not yet been through the cleansing process or transmigration?... My answer is that instead of a lengthy process of judgment, they will receive their punishment in one intense burst of short duration.”

Therefore, the Arizal establishes that the Great Day of Judgment will be only for the gentile nations of the world.

The Ramban holds that a massive Day of Judgment will be held before the resurrection of the dead. In his opinion, the judgment will be held for every person to determine “if he is worthy of resurrection and the pleasantness of body and soul in that time.”

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, offers his view of the ultimate Day of Judgment: “The judgment will be made by Moshiach himself, on whom the verse was said, ‘He will not judge by the sight of his eyes or rebuke by the sound of his ears’…. Moshiach will place himself into the difficulties of the Jewish People in exile, and will arouse mercy upon them and find merit for them, that they did not desire to sin but could not withstand their evil inclination.”

Busy With Personal Troubles As Disaster Looms on the Horizon


"Eretz Yisroel is in Sakana [danger]." We've been hearing this from our gedolim for the past few years and never have things seemed so ominous. We are not talking about a doomsday scenario of nuclear war which is a bit beyond our capability to grasp. We are talking about easy to imagine threats from those next to us. We have already suffered from these in small doses in the past, including terror and outright attacks from those living inside our borders, as well as missile barrages from our neighbors. Even those were very painful and now we are facing all that and much more, in a way that make those outbreaks look pale in comparison.

Yet as we approach this very real fear, no one seems to seems to really be concerned about it. Why? Will history judge us as naive as we have judged our predecessors who sat idle in the face of annihilation? The truth is that history only sees big things and does not possess the tools to see the fine lines. Nowadays how could anyone be concerned about potential threats when we live with real problems, daily? Who doesn't have them. Some families are struggling with parnassa, while others R"L are dealing with illness. Most of us are struggling with the Chinuch of our children in a world gone mad, and all of us are working on improving ourselves as we watch our generation sink into a moral abyss and we ourselves don't seem to match up to generations gone by. We simply don't have any room on our overflowing plate of tzorus for doomsday predictions on the political front.

This makes you wonder. Why then in this critical juncture of history, when Hashem is preparing a huge storm on the horizon, potentially the biggest storm ever, would He distract us with so many of our own personal problems. Why wouldn't Hashem awaken our hearts to focus on how we can head off a catastrophic future?

The answer seems simple and the fact that we are so quiet seems to indicate that deep down we understand this. It is clear as our Gedolim have told us over and over again the past few decades, we are living in Ikvisa Meshicha, the generation that bridges the galus and the days of Moshiach. We are living in the absolute physical and spiritual blackness before the dawn. To successfully cross the bridge and skip over this deep and dangerous ravine we need two things. First we need to show we have rid ourselves of the cause of the destruction many years ago, Sinas Chinam. Second in order to be zocheh to greet Moshiach we must fill ourselves with complete Emunah in Hashem.

If we are actually standing at the threshhold of the last and most painful step that will herald the Geula, Hashem has indeed done us a tremendous service by sending us these waves and waves of distractions. Focusing on potential war would be not only fruitless as we are not in the position to to do anything about it, but it would even be counter productive. What would we do, go on a PR offensive? Take self defense courses? Arm ourselves and prepare to defend our lives? Nonsense. It would just serve to exacerbate our lack of emunah.

The generation before Moshiach is called Chevlei Moshiach because Chevel means rope. We are all hanging by a rope that is shaking violently trying to throw us off. Only those who manage to hang on will survive this brutal period. Only the strongest among us will hang on, the rest will fall into the abyss. And what is this rope attached to, that will save us? Emunah! The rope has never shaken so violently in history. Mankind has determined we are the masters of the world. For money, dial education and acumen. For health, see modern medicine. For model children, choose from an assortment of self help books. We are the self help generation. We truly believe that we can have whatever it is we set our heart on. It is up to us! And it is, each man to his own, stoking the flames of Sinas Chinam.

So instead of letting us lead tranquil lives and let us focus on winning the next big war, Hashem has let us sink so low in Sinas Chinam that we no longer follow the news, and unfortunately we are the news. Instead of shedding light on the nations, we are enveloping the world in darkness that no one has ever expected from Hashem's chosen nation, murdering our own children and murdering our own Holy men. Maybe Hashem is taking us to lowest point so we can finally after 2,000 years understand the implications of Sinas Chinam.

Maybe our health, livelihood and families are crumbling around us so that despite our mighty efforts, we understand before tragedy strikes, that we must live a life of self responsibility but not self help, as help comes only from one place high above us.

Our personal lives are not a distraction from the events ahead, they are the perfect lead up to them. We should appreciate these lessons, as only a true recognition of what we are being taught us will save us from the ultimate day of rage. And then with our Ahavas Yisroel and Emunah in hand, we will survive that day and live to dance before Moshiach Tzidkeinu in a world of Giluy Shechina, bimheira biyameinu, Amen!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Irene Threatens New York, Long Island

Time to batten down the hatches if you're on the East Coast.

Threat of Irene exposes New York's vulnerability
* Latest track models suggest Long Island hit on Sunday
* 1821, 1938 storms show potential for severe loss

* Some already warning of $10 billion-plus disaster

NEW YORK, Aug 24 (Reuters) - In the annals of natural disasters, it doesn't get much worse than a major hurricane directly striking New York City and Long Island.

Hurricane Irene is on a course that will take it up the East Coast from the weekend. While there is still uncertainty about where it will hit and when, the forecast models increasingly suggest some parts of the greater New York area will face some type of storm or hurricane impact. 

According to New York City's Office of Emergency Management, the last hurricane to pass directly over the city was in 1821 -- and it caused tides to rise 13 feet in one hour, flooding all of lower Manhattan to Canal St.

Source and more: Reuters

Richard, Kate, His Mother.... and Irene

Hurricane Irene's first casualty was Richard Branson's magnificant island paradise known as "Great House on Necker" which was struck by lightning and burnt to the ground last Monday.

This smouldering wreckage is all that remains today of Sir Richard Branson's luxury Caribbean home after it was razed to the ground by fire. The multi-million-pound Great House on Necker, the Virgin tycoon’s £60million private island, caught fire after it was struck by lightning in the early hours of Monday when the region was battered by Hurricane Irene.

Richard himself "ran naked through the house to rescue Kate Winslet and my mother" [surely he should have said "my mother and Kate Winslet..."] - actually it was Kate Winslet who rescued Richard's mother, so in hindsight his naked dash seems a bit pointless.
Today's Daily Mail gives many insights into life at "Great House on Necker" -  after reading it, some people may not find it so strange that it was hit by lightning and destroyed. Richard, however, plans to rebuild immediately, G-d willing....

Earthquake in Virginia: Torah Codes

Same Hebrew date as Hurricane Katrina.... !

Testing Times

[Eleanor Roosevelt]

One of the basic teachings of the Torah is that G-d does not expect of a human being anything which is beyond the human capacity to carry out.  This is quite understandable, for even a human being, who is very far from absolute perfection, would not expect of a tool that he has fashioned any more than he has put into it.  Certainly G-d, the Creator of man, knows man's capacities.  

From this, it immediately follows that when a person faces any kind of a test of faith, it is certain that he has been given the capacity to overcome it.  And the more difficult the test, the greater are the individual's capacities.  

The reason that an individual is tested is not because G-d wants to know how he will acquit himself, but in order that this person be afforded the opportunity to realize his potential, even that which is unknown to him.  And when one's potential capacities are released, and activated, they become part and parcel of his or her arsenal, to be used for personal as well as communal benefit.

The stronger one's faith in G-d remains even under adverse circumstances, the sooner it will become clear it was all a matter of a testBut this faith should not be merely a matter of lip service, but must have the full force of conviction.

Some people are born with greater natural capacities, and consequently they are faced with greater challenges and trials.  Others are born with lesser capacities, and therefore the challenges and trials that G-d presents to them are also lesser, in keeping with their strength.... If you truly have great trials, this in itself is proof that you possess a great capacity and strength to overcome them.

When it is seen Above that one is strong in one's faith in G-d, and one rises in the general observance of Torah and mitzvos, the test is nullified and there is an increase in blessing, salvation and success.

Source: Excerpts from letters written by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What is the blessing for an earthquake?

The Gemara [Brachos 54a] tells us that whoever witnesses an earthquake, as well as a number of other natural phenomena in which Hashem’s awesome power is apparent, should immediately say either one of the following two brachos:
Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam osei ma’asei bereishis.
Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who reenacts the works of creation.

Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam shekocho ugevuraso malei olam.
Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, whose power and might fill the world.

This helps bring into focus how the forces of nature are all truly from G‑d and expressions of His majesty.

Source: Menachem Posner, Newscenter

Hurricane Irene

Projected path of Hurricane Irene as it moves up the East Coast of America.

All you need to know about Irene here: ACCU Weather

Blessings in Disguise #2

"See! I am giving to you today a blessing and a curse" [Re'eh 11:26]

Hashem did not want the soul to eat "bread of shame" [i.e. sustenance given gratuitously, without having been earned by the recipient]; He therefore made it possible for man to serve Him in a meaningful way with toil of body and soul. Through our endeavors in avodah [service of G-d] we are Divinely enabled to earn all manner of goodness.

The difficulties, trials, and tests of life are themselves the means by which we are to attain our ultimate objective - that the soul achieve the lofty spiritual level it once possessed before it descended into the body: "The soul that you have given me is pure."  The purpose of life is for the soul to regain that level of original "purity" and even transcend it - for one hour of teshuvah [repentance] and good deeds in this world is worth more than all the lifetime of the spiritual World to Come [Olam HaBa].

So you see that life's trials, tragedies, and difficulties actually bring us closer to our goal, our raison d'etre; they are part of the Divine system of toil and endeavour enabling us, finite mortals, to reach the highest levels of rewards and goodness - which can only be earned by meaningful "labor" and effort.  It follows that one must not allow the difficulties of life's trials [or even one's failure from time to time] to overcome the double joy of being G-d's children and of having received His promise "Your people are all righteous".

Source: Excerpt from a letter written by the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rav Kanievsky: Stay Away From Sakona!

HaGaon HaRav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita has instructed avreichim vacationing in the center of the country not to return to their homes in Moshav Tifrach, in the heart of the area being targeted in the renewed rocket attacks from Gaza.

The avreichim asked the Gadol HaDor what they should do, with the Rav responding “You should not return to the makom sakona, the dangerous area”.

[HT Theresa]

Source: The Yeshiva World

Blessings in Disguise

"See! I am giving to you today a blessing and a curse" [Re-eh 11:26]

How could G-d, who is the very essence of good, issue a curse?  Are we not taught that "no evil thing issues from Above?"
In truth, however, G-d does not issue curses at all, and only blessings are "issued from Above".  The problem lies "below" in our ability to receive G-d's blessings.  If a person is not a fitting receptacle for the goodness which G-d bestows upon him, he will simply be unable to accommodate G-d's blessings.  The result will be that after its downward path through the spiritual worlds, the blessing is received in a way that appears, to our human eyes, as a curse.

As least that is how it appears in the spiritually  dampened moments of exile.  Thus Onkelos, who authored his work amidst the Babylonian exile, interpreted the word קללה as "curse".  However, Targum Yonason wrote his commentary in the Land of Israel during Temple times, when even the average person could easily appreciate that "no evil thing is issued from Above".  Thus he rendered קללה   as חילופּא - "substitute"  - indicating that G-d Himself only issues blessings, but His blessings may later become "substituted" by something else.

And this also explains why, in the Messianic Era, we will not only forgive G-d for the sufferings of exile, but we will thank Him [See Isaiah 12:1 ] for then it will be evident how even G-d's "curses" were in fact blessings in disguise.

Source: Likutei Sichos Lubavitcher Rebbe

Monday, August 22, 2011

''Terror in Eilat'' Torah Codes

No Support for Israel

London 1940, Israel 2011
Israelis facing similar onslaught to London blitz, but without world’s support
by Giulio Meotti - Ynet News

Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba....All major southern Israel cities are now under a heavy rocket offensive from Gaza. There are Jewish dead, babies wounded, schools and synagogues destroyed, entire cities and towns terrorized.

There is only one historical precedent of a modern democracy besieged under rocket attacks. During the afternoon of Sept. 7, 1940, 348 Nazi bombers appeared over London’s skies. For the next 57 days, London was bombed day and night. Fires consumed many portions of the city. Residents sought shelter wherever they could find it - many fleeing to the underground that sheltered as many as 177,000 people during the night.

However, there is a big difference between the two situations: While the West backed the British resistance against the Nazi monster, Israel is alone in fighting a battle for all of us. And Sderot’s fate has become the fate of the whole of Israel.

Israeli intelligence reports indicate that estimated warning time for a rocket attack on the greater Tel Aviv area has declined from two minutes to just 90 seconds. From Gaza, a couple of years ago, the terrorists were able to strike at most of Sderot, which is just three kilometres from the Gaza Strip. Then they reached Ashkelon (20 km), Beersheba (40 km) and Ashdod (31 km), also hitting the outskirts of Rehovot (42) and Rishon Lezion (58 km).

Missiles did not hit so close to Israel's main population centre since 1991, when Saddam Hussein launched his missiles from Baghdad. The next target will be Tel Aviv (68 km). In the north, Hezbollah is even more deadly. The Greater Tel Aviv area, where a quarter of the entire Israeli population lives, is the target of the next war. Nobody knows if and when it will begin.

Continue reading at: Ynet


Israel faces growing hostility   

As Israel and Gaza continued to exchange rocket and missile fire, the diplomatic fallout between Israel and its regional allies worsened, with both Turkey and Egypt hardening their stance against Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

Thousands of Egyptians rallied outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo for a second day of protests over the deaths of five Egyptian soldiers, killed during Israel's furious response to Thursday's multiple attacks in which eight people died near the country's border with the Egyptian-controlled Sinai.

''Israel should know that the era in which our sons are killed without a harsh response on our part is over for good,'' Amr Moussa, a former secretary-general of the Arab League who is now a presidential candidate in Egypt, wrote on Twitter after the incident.

Continue reading at: Sydney Morning Herald


by Rabbi Yisrael Bronstein

A simple man once approached the Chofetz Chaim and asked "Rebbe, why must there be different groups of Jews in the world? For example, there are chassidim and there are misnagdim; some Jews focus primarily on prayer, others on Torah study, and yet others dedicate their Divine service to serving Hashem with joy.  Why is it necessary to have so many different divisions within Judaism?

"Why are you asking me?"questioned the Chofetz Chaim.  "Go and ask the Russian czar why he needs so many different divisions of soldiers in his army.  For instance, there are soldiers who fight on horseback, soldiers who man the cannons, pilots, sailors, and infantrymen!"

"The czar would undoubtedly answer," continued the Chofetz Chaim "that each group of soldiers is essential for his army, for each unit contributes in a different way and serves a unique purpose.  Infantrymen are not equipped with the skills necessary to wage aerial combat.  A soldier adept at manning a cannon is unique in that he can target enemies that are long distances away.  Even the soldiers in the army's band serve a unique purpose, as they lift the spirits of the soldiers at war."

"This is the reason," concluded the Chofetz Chaim, "that the Jewish people have also been divided into many different groups. Each one of the groups has its own unique characteristic and contributes in its own invaluable way to the battle against the yetzer hara!"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Terror in Eilat and Countdown to Palestine

by Rabbi Y. Y. Jacobson

Why Israel must reclaim its soul now

Israel is once again reeling from a savage quadruple terror attack near Eilat, which claimed the lives of eight Jews and wounded dozens more. The twenty terrorists involved in the attack came from Gaza and smuggled themselves into Israel via Egypt.

Next month, the Arabs are reportedly preparing to present their bid for United Nations membership, with Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas personally presenting the request to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the first day of the annual opening gathering at UN headquarters in New York, September 20, 2011.

The second Israeli bus attacked this Thursday near Eilat.
If 150 states recognize the Palestinian state, a moment after the declaration Mahmoud Abbas and his comrades will be telling us: Now that we are an independent state entitled to do whatever it wishes, we shall import missiles, rockets, cannons and whatever else we want.

Today's attack -- on the eighty-third anniversary of the Hebron Massacre in August 1929 (on the 18th day of AV) which claimed the lives of 67 Jews -- took place in the Negev desert, far from Israeli heavy population centers. Now think about the reality of a Palestinian State only 10 miles from Tel Aviv, governing around 350,000 Israelis living in the territory of this new State?

How should Israel preempt this potential crisis? What should be the position of the Jewish people? How should Prime Minister Netanyahu confront this situation?

Let us attempt to gain perspective, as we embark on a journey through biblical thought, Talmudic wisdom, Zionist doctrine and the facts on the ground.

Grace after Meals
In Deuteronomy, in this week's Torah portion (Eikev), the Bible instructs us to bless G-d after eating a satiating meal. "You will eat and you will be satisfied and you will bless your G-d for the wonderful land that He gave you (1)."

Thus was invented the ritual of "benching" (Yiddish for blessing), or "grace after meals," recited after every meal of bread, and consisting of a number of sections, or blessings. In the first blessing we express gratitude for the resources G-d created in the world to nourish His creatures. The second blessing is a thank you for the beautiful land that He gave the Jewish people. In the third, we give thanks and pray for Jerusalem. These three blessings were fashioned to echo the biblical injunction "You will eat and you will be satisfied and you will bless your G-d for the wonderful land that He gave you," linking gratitude for a meal with gratitude for the soil which produced the meal (2).

Yet there is a strange law associated with this ritual. The Talmud states (3) that the second blessing, in which we express our gratefulness for the land, must include a few words about the Covenant G-d made with the first Jew, Abraham. In this Covenant, recorded in Genesis, G-d promised Abraham that He would give the land of Canaan as an inheritance to his descendants (the circumcision of every Jewish male baby represents this Covenant). What is more, in this blessing we must also make mention of the Torah, the divine constitution for the Jewish people, which promises -- scores of times -- the land of Canaan to the Jews.

In other words, the sages are suggesting, it is necessary not only to thank G-d for the beautiful land itself, but we also must articulate the source for our rights for this land: the Abrahamic Covenant and the Torah. Hence, the standard version of the grace after meals: "We offer thanks to You, Lord our G-d, for having given us as a heritage to our ancestors a precious, good and spacious land... for your Covenant which you have sealed in our flesh, and for Your Torah which You have taught us."

Benching vs. Hatikvah
The Talmud is so emphatic about the inclusion of these two concepts-the Covenant and the Torah-that it states (4): "Whoever did not mention the Covenant and the Torah in the blessing for the land (the second blessing in the grace after meals) did not fulfill his obligation." This person must repeat his grace after meals.

This seems strange. The Bible merely states, "You will eat and you will be satisfied and you will bless your G-d for the wonderful land that He gave you." The Torah just wants us to express appreciation for the land. Period. Why the absolute necessity to mention the Abrahamic Covenant and the Torah? What is wrong with a simple offering of thanks for a beautiful national homeland?

In fact, the Israeli national anthem, adorning countless Jewish functions over the past 63 years, does just that. It speaks of "the 2,000 year old Jewish hope to be a free people in its land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem." It makes no mention of G-d's Covenant with Abraham or the Torah as the moral grounds for establishing the modern State of Israel.

Similarly, the signers of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, drawn up in May 1948, made no mention of G-d or Torah. After much debate, it was agreed upon to insert the ambiguous phrase "The Rock of Israel (Tzur Yisrael)," to be interpreted as one desired. "Placing our trust in the Rock of Israel, we set our hand and testimony to this Declaration, here on the soil of the Homeland, in the city of Tel Aviv, on this day, the eve of the Sabbath, 5 Iyar 5708, 14 May 1948."

This seems like a rational approach. Why mix religion and statehood? For a democracy to flourish, liberal pluralism must be maintained. Church and state need to be separated. Introducing biblical notions into the Zionist endeavor would only undermine Israel's success as a liberal democracy.

Nachman Syrkin, the preeminent theorist of Zionist socialism, once remarked: "Religion is the major impediment confronting the Jewish nation on the road to culture, science and freedom."  

Torah vs. the UN
Yet the Talmudic rabbis, 1,700 years ago, apparently understood something about the Jewish psyche, and Middle Eastern politics, which may have eluded the founders of modern Israel.

The contemporary political conversation has many of us convinced that if Israel would withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, Palestinians will at last make peace with the Jewish state. All the Palestinians really want is independent nationhood. Hence, the praise in the world and Israeli media for the Gaza evacuation in August 2005: It is a step in the right direction, the beginning of the end of Israeli occupation, the first mile in a road toward reconciliation and co-existence.

Yet these hopes totally insult Palestinians by making mockery of their explicitly stated dreams and beliefs. Their words, repeated by their leaders time and time again, leave no room for doubt. "All of Palestine belongs to us," is the Palestinian message. Palestinian leader Abbas said that the Gaza departure was the beginning of a process that would result in all of the Arab refugees returning to their homes of pre-1948.

That is why there was no peace before the 1967 war, a time of no Jewish settlements and no settlers. Gaza belonged to Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Jordan, and the Golan Heights to Syria. Why did six Arab countries decide to invade and exterminate Israel? Because, in their belief, the entire Zionist entity is illegal. All of Israel rests on occupied Arab land. According to the Koran, Jews have no right to establish a self-governed homeland on Islamic soil.

This is why following the Gaza evacuation exactly six years ago, Israel did not enjoy a day of serenity from the new residents of Gaza. Instead of showing the slightest appreciation for Israel ceding all of Gaza, thousands of rockets have been launched with the intent to murder as many Jewish civilians as possible.
The terrorists today infiltrated Sinai from Gaza. There has not been a single Jew in Gaza nor any Israeli occupation in Gaza for six years. Why the drive to murder as many Jews as possible?

Have you heard any Muslim leader suggest that Jews are not, by their very existence on Middle Eastern soil, occupying land that does not belong to them?

Only when Israel ceases to exist will the occupation cease. Which is why ceding Gaza and even all of the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem to Palestinians will not bring about peace. Peace will not come about by Israel giving away territory. Peace will arrive when responsible Arab leaders will reform Palestinian culture so as to not see the Jew as the "devil" and Israel as the "enemy of Allah." Peace will come when the world, instead of pressuring Israel to cede territory, pressures Palestinian educators and parents to teach tolerance, respect and civil morality. Till that day comes, Israel's giving away of land will only intoxicate Palestinians with the hope that their agenda of freeing all of Palestine from the Zionist enemy is doable.

The Obama administration is apparently not daunted by the "minor" detail that half of the eventual "Palestine" is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas, which clearly states its objective to exterminate all of Israel. Is this the State the UN will embrace next September?

Whose Home Is It?
Yet here is what makes this apparently straightforward idea so complicated. If Muslims in Detroit would begin blowing up busses or pizza shops and demanding a Palestinian State in Michigan, no one would question America's right to eliminate the terrorists and not cede even an inch of land to them. When an enemy is driven to destroy you, you must eliminate it. The reason Israel is treated so differently is because many see Israel as "partners in crime:" Some Palestinians may be terrorists but Israel, too, shares in the guilt. It is an occupying state.

No one doubts that Michigan belongs to the United States. Hence, their right to fight for it and squelch any attempt to seize it. However in the case of Israel, the question persists, does Israel have a right to defend itself while dwelling on stolen property?

Where exactly does Israel draw the line and declare, "From here on we are legal?" And based on which moral grounds can these lines be drawn?

The distinction between post-1967 Israel and pre-1967 Israel is popular but mythical. The Arabs say that all of Israel is occupied. We must confront the painful truth: If the Jews living in Gaza, West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem are occupiers, then the Jews living in Tel-Aviv, Yaffa, Haifa and Rosh Pinah are the same occupiers. Many a city in pre-1967 Israel used to be Arab settlements, now occupied by Israel.

According to Arab doctrine, Jews, especially European Jews, are a foreign implant, outsiders who have colonized and occupied native Arab land since 1948. All the reasonable arguments in the world and all the UN resolutions combined will not change the belief that Jews are thieves, occupying the land of millions of displaced Arabs. Is it fair that because the Europeans were guilt-ridden after the Holocaust and were kind enough to give the Jews a slice of the Middle East, the Arabs have to pay the price and suffer?

The Moral Foundation
Here lies one of the greatest failures of secular Zionism. Its philosophy did not possess the tools to instill within its children the moral foundations for calling Israel a Jewish homeland.

If the Jewish people's connection to the soil between Jordan and the Mediterranean stems merely from Theodore Herzl's Zionist dream to give displaced and exiled Jews a national identity, endorsed by the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the 1947 United Nations' partition plan, their connection to the land remains fragile and ambiguous. When Palestinians scream "You are stealing our land," and the international community thunders, "Stop the occupation," we have lost the argument. Israel can scream all day, "we have the right to defend ourselves," but in the mind of the world we are defending ourselves while sitting on stolen land.

Yet the critical point is missing. For 3300 years Jews breathed and lived with the conviction that the Creator of the world designated one piece of earth for them. Even in the most hellish moments of Jewish exile, the people of the Book clung to their faith that one day they would return to their divinely promised land. The only reason Jews returned from Odessa, Vilna and Warsaw to Israel was because of their passion and belief that the Creator of the heaven and earth chose to give his Holy Land to the children of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, as stated hundreds of times in the Bible. There are three billion people in the world who believe in the Bible, who live with the Bible and who quote the Bible. Secular Zionist should not have been afraid to bequeath this tradition and faith to their children, for this, and only this, is the moral justification for a Jewish presence in the Holy Land-in Jerusalem, Hebron, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Gaza all the same.

Paradoxically, it seems the world is waiting for this. Not only the Christian and Islamic world, who view the Bible as the definition of truth. Even the secular world, seems to respect Jews who respect themselves and their faith. The world is waiting for Israel to treat the Land the way Israel should be treated, as G-d's personal gift to the Jewish people.

Blessing or Curse?
That is why the sages said that "Whoever did not mention the Covenant and the Torah in the blessing for the land did not fulfill his obligation." If our sense of gratitude and connection to the land is based on the divine Covenant with Abraham and the Torah, it will remain passionate, morally inspired and eternal. If not, our loyalty to our homeland hangs on a thread.

The Talmudic sages keenly grasped that if the thankfulness of the Jew for the Land of Israel is not based on the covenant G-d crafted with Abraham some 3,700 years ago, and on the Torah, the 3,300-year-old blueprint for Jewish existence, we might one day feel unappreciative -- rather than grateful - for the homeland flowing with milk and honey. We might feel compelled to rid ourselves from it.

The Sun and the Moon
The Talmud states (5), "Moses is the face of the sun; Joshua is the face of the moon." What is the symbolism behind this poetic statement?

One explanation might be this:

Moses represents Torah; Joshua embodies the Land of Israel. Moses gave us the Torah; Joshua gave us Israel.
The light of the moon is beautiful, soothing, and romantic. Moonlight has inspired many an imagination and a heart. Yet the glow of the moon is merely a reflection of the sun. As long as the moon reflects the sun's glow, it casts upon the earth its own unique poetic luminescence; if the moon is separated from its source of light-as is the case in a lunar eclipse-it becomes a large chunk of dark and rocky matter.

The relationship between Moses, the face of Torah, and Joshua, the face of Jewish statehood, is that of the sun and the moon. As long as Israel reflects Torah-its faith, its dreams and its passions-it is hard to find something more beautiful and inspiring. When Israel, however, ceases to see itself as a reflection of Torah, but rather as a secular national homeland for Jews, a member of the United Nations, it loses much of its inner glow and beauty. Its very identity and future is put into question.

Every human needs a soul; every nation needs a soul. Even Israel. And the soul of the Jewish people for 4,000 years has been the Torah.

We cannot afford to lose our soul now. Obama and the United Nations will get it - if we forget it.

1) Deuteronomy 7:10.  2) Thus, the first three blessings are biblically required. In the city of Yabneh, around 100 CE, the sages added a fourth blessing, thanking G-d for His kindness during the times of exile following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (Talmud Berachos 48b).  3) Talmud ibid.  4) Talmud ibid. 49a.  5) Bava Basra 75b.

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The Wisdom of the Rooster

by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie

Every day prayers begin with thanking G-d for our basic needs like the power of sight, the ability to walk, our clothing, shoes and all other essentials. However, there is one blessing that seems to stand out a little. In this prayer we thank G-d "for giving the rooster understanding to distinguish between day and night."

There are two difficulties with this blessing. Firstly, all the other blessings thank G-d for providing our basic needs. While it is an amazing phenomenon that roosters crow at the beginning of each day, it does not seem to be a basic need. Secondly, telling the difference between light and dark is not so difficult. Why does it require special understanding to distinguish between day and night?

A friend once shared with me a great thought. Although a rooster crows at the beginning of each day it actually happens some time before it gets light. When it senses that dawn will break soon, and light is on the way to substitute the darkness, he emits the crowing noise that became the ancient alarm clock.

In every day there are periods of light - clarity, blessing, peace of mind and prosperity; but there are also sometimes patches of darkness - challenge, confusion and difficulty. It takes special strength not to be caught up in the moments of challenge. It takes maturity to look beyond the darkness and see the light that awaits us. A wise person learns from the rooster. He/she knows that the darkness is only temporary and light is on the way. The rooster is symbolic of an attitude filled with optimism, hope and belief. The rooster teaches us to envisage and celebrate blessing even before it comes.

Every day we thank G-d for the wisdom of the rooster. It is the rooster's lesson that will carry us through every part of the day.