Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Kotel - Deja vu all over again

This will be a short post -- mainly because I will point to a longer (too long?) post from last year.

Once again there is much controversy about the Kotel, and the fights between the various movements, over the right for non-traditional prayer at our holiest site.  If one did not know better, one would think that there are new developments and that the "terrible chareidim" have once again blackmailed the government into reneging on its agreements and promises, to the ultimate shame of the Netanyahu government, according to some.

Actually, however, rather than coming to the inevitable compromise that has already been made and is the only realistic way forward, extremists on both sides are determined to fight.  As I wrote about a year ago (please read that detailed article), there is, and has been for a long time, an established place on the southern section of the Kotel for non-traditional prayer.  No one is seriously challenging this.  It is, or should be, a gift to all sides -- except the extremists.

All that happened recently was that the plan to build a more co-equal entrance way to that area was scrapped, and the status quo will remain.

If only the sensible public would realize that the Kotel is a place to pray, and that rather than fighting, everyone ought to go to the area that appeals most to them to pray, life would be much sweeter.

But no - fight we must and fight we shall.

And we wonder what is delaying the Mashiach

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Can this Nation Remain United?

I haven't written in a long while.  I have been going through a lot of personal stuff that has consumed me, which I will perhaps discuss in the future.   However, watching the level of social and political discourse in the USA (and for that matter around the world) descend into deeper and deeper levels of hostility, I want to see if I can contribute something useful.

The horror this week in Alexandria VA, as an evil person tried to massacre Senators and Congressman during their baseball practice in cold blood, shocked some people into silence, at least for a few hours.  I was moved to write the following on facebook, which apparently resonated with many people:

Lots of silence from all my friends on the left today.

Unlike you, I will not blame the horrible act of this Trump hating, GOP hating, Bernie supporting excuse for a human being on the Democrat party, nor will I blame all of the terrible violence, rioting, and horrific hatred that the left has been exhibiting since the elections on the DNC, although there is more than ample reason to do so.

But I hope that -- just for a minute -- you give some thought today to where your terribly hateful, disrespectful, overblown obstructionist speech and attitudes have lead us, and know that there are many more crazies out there, drinking your Kool-aid, who are eager to escalate your civil war.

Time to tone it down, accept the election results, get off the “we will blindly block everything the Republicans propose, even if we are not opposed in principle, just to resist“ platform,let the special counsel do his job and accept that for now there has been ZERO evidence of collusion with the short, be a responsible, patriotic, peaceful opposition who will soon enough have an opportunity to compete in another election and try to sway minds and hearts in your direction without resorting to lies, hate speech, and violence.

Be a proud American, and make it great again, in your own way.
I have since had some further thoughts on the matter, that I would like to record here.

1) Our American Society - I am a big fan of Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street journal, who provides consistently excellent commentary on current events.   In  his June 15 column, Political Disorder Syndrome , he proffered an incisive analysis of the downward spiral of violent social phenomena we have been witnessing in recent weeks, including Kathy Griffin's appalling appearance with a bloody severed head of Donald Trump; New York’s Public Theater's production of “ Julius Caesar, ” in which Central Park audiences watch Caesar as a blond-haired Donald Trump is pulled down from a podium by men in suits and assassinated with plunging knives; campus riots against conservative speakers and other incitements to violence that have certainly contributed to the atmosphere in which the Alexandria shooting took place.  But then Henninger pointed to a fascinating social transformation:
We negotiate much of daily life now in tense, parallel universes: One is overflowing with individual political and social behavior that is deviant—flights from the norm—at a time when broader norms of political and social behavior are enforced with a vengeance. Today you can get shamed, sued or fired for almost any conceivable offense. 
In reaction, millions of people—including the president—seem to regard social media as a kind of wildlife refuge, where they can run naked against society’s dammed-up personal and political opinions.
I find this analysis brilliant -- and incisively descriptive of a deeply troubling phenomenon.   The utter contradiction that we all are aware of  --  that our society on the one hand demands that people stifle themselves and  publicly say only that which is non-offensive, non-challenging, and non-"triggering" to anyone's feelings, while on the other hand is replete with an undercurrent of unbridled chutzpah, outrageous opinions, unheard of lack of inhibitions that find expression in major media, social media, backroom conversation, and the underlying mindset of so many -- is deeply unsettling. There are truly "two parallel universes", making it very difficult for so many, particularly our young people, to develop honest, respectful and balanced views of the world.  These very well may be behind the ferociously partisan unwillingness of people to listen to opposing opinions and to wrestle with complex ideas, preferring to get all of their opinions from sources that are pre-disposed to their unchangeable mindset and to negate anything that does not already fit with their preconceived version of the truth.

It is a frightening time - one in which it may become harder and harder for us to remain a United republic without descending into civil war.   (This was also pointed out by an equally incisive column by Peggy Noonan, Rage is all the Rage, and it's Dangerous .)  It underscores what happens when minds close, and people no longer work on developing a deep respect for the dignity of difference; understanding that those with whom you disagree may well be lovely people of integrity and intelligence who just see the world differently than you do.

2) The Jewish Angle - I have written in the past, and will iy"h write more in the future, of my concern regarding the creeping extremism in the Orthodox world.   The paucity of "Middle of the Road" views that were once prevalent is deeply troubling. It seems that the extreme voices predominate, and they are inordinately influencing the younger generation.  Many very recent examples abound of this; one will suffice for this essay.

When people demonize "the other opinion", when they refuse to see that the others also have their good qualities, intentions, and accomplishments, the road to violent opposition and actions, occurring with growing frequency in Yerushalayim, Bet Shemesh, and other places, is not far.

 Just a few weeks ago, a major milestone was marked by much of the Jewish world - the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War and the Reunification of Yerushalayim.   It seems to me that it was marked, almost exclusively, in one of two ways.   Those with a more Religious Zionist leaning, celebrated grandly.   Parties, gatherings, shul events, magazine articles and other celebrations abounded; there was much talk of the incredible gift that the Jewish people were given in 1967, when virtually overnight, the Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael was delivered from extreme danger and foreboding to an unprecedented quadrupling in size, total decimation of our enemies, restoration to the Holy lands of Yehuda, Shomron, Gaza, and the holy cities of Hevron and Shechem, and -- of course -- the thrilling notion of Har Habayit Biyadeinu.   The younger generation growing up today cannot even imagine what it was like to not be able to visit the Kotel or Kever Rachel, or to be able to live in Ramot or Ramat Eshkol or all of the yishuvim.   They see the enormous achievements that have transformed Medinat Yisrael in the past seventy years with enormous pride and gratitude, while aware of its imperfections and problems.

At the same time, in most of the places that I visited in New York, (that tended more towards the "yeshivish olam"), one was not even aware of the anniversary.   It was totally unremarked upon and ignored.  To the extent that one even brought it up in conversation one was either looked upon as a troublemaking outsider, who ought to know better than to talk about this issue with any seriousness, or written off as a jokester.   Even "out of town", in a community where I had the privilege of serving as a scholar in residence, the Rabbi was afraid to let me talk about the topic, as anything about Yom Yerushalayim was too controversial and would result in disapproval from the other Rabbonim in town.   In "Torah strongholds", the negation is, if anything, more extreme.   Children are taught that the State of Israel has zero or negative religious significance, that it is a place that actively tries to destroy Torah and Judaism.  I was very disheartened this week when my nephew told me that growing up in a Lakewood school, Israel was virtually never spoken of, except by one of his Rebbes who taught them that the Zionists are worse than Nazis; the Nazis after all only killed the physical bodies of Jews while the Zionists are trying to eradicate Torah.  While I am hopeful that this genius Rebbe's views were atypical, they are not rare nor shocking in the Yeshiva world.  (It remains a source of continuing frustration to me that a Rabbi who made similar statements two years ago continues to hold a prominent position in the world's largest yeshiva and is constantly welcomed with honorifics in many communities the Chareidi world, as ads highlighting his speeches constantly in the Chareidi press indicate.  (Yes, under pressure he retracted those statements, saying he was only "joking"; I remain unimpressed.)   Furthermore, these statements are mild when compared to those of the real extremists, such as those who backed and attended the disgraceful Asifa in Barclays Center last week.   I am speaking here only of what is taught, or not taught, in so called mainstream Charedi Yeshivos.)

The "Middle of the Road" approach is almost never heard.  I deeply believe that there are MANY people who, on the one hand, do not consider themselves Zionist, and who believe that there are many stages that still need to happen before the Flowering of the Redemption rises to the level of saying Hallel.  On the other hand, they are deeply appreciative of the opportunity Hashem has granted us in having a Jewish State and care about it and its people passionately. Furthermore, they recognize that the unprecedented flowering of Torah in it and largely supported by it is a tremendous blessing.   Although those who agree with this approach are many, they are blocked out of the public discourse by the loud voices on either side.

This divide is, I believe, not unrelated to the broader societal divide I spoke of earlier.   When people demonize "the other opinion", when they refuse to see that the others also have their good qualities, intentions, and accomplishments, the road to violent opposition and actions, are occurring with growing frequency in Yerushalayim, Bet Shemesh, and other places, is not far.

The season of the Three Weeks and Tisha B'Av is almost upon us.  When we reflect on the themes of Sinas Chinom and the disunity that caused the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, let us endeavor to look at our own thoughts and feelings towards those with whom we disagree, and see what we can do to be able to maintain the dignity and intellectual honesty of holding on to our beliefs, while respecting -- and loving -- our fellow Jews with whom we may have differences of opinion.   Only thus can we look forward to the coming of the Mashiach, speedily in our days.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Great Jewish Women: Maharats, Ivanka . . . or Rebbetzins?

Something special happened to me last week – I experienced what it means to “go viral”.

As measured by “hits” on this blog, some of my essays have proven more popular, and some less, in ways I could not have predicted.   But nothing prepared me for the reaction to my recent essay The Miracle that is Ivanka Trump, which received close to 20,000 hits in a few days.   Not much perhaps, compared to some popular sites, but an enormous reaction for me.   I sought to understand, why; hence today’s essay.

I believe there were two major reasons. (1) Because of the celebrity of Ivanka Trump, and my statement drawing a relationship between her and Queen Esther, and (2) Because it touched on the role of prominent women in the Orthodox world in general.  Let’s take them one at a time.

Ivanka Trump and Queen Esther
The week after publication, I learned that in the Queens Jewish Link, where I regularly publish, my fellow columnist Warren S. Hecht, took me to task on several grounds.   He claimed that my essay, in celebrating “the miracle” of Ivanka was guilty of glorifying intermarriage, albeit with a proper conversion; that I insulted Jewish women of the past 2,400 years by saying that in the intervening time there had not been anyone as great as Queen Esther, and that I had made her into a “tzadekes (righteous woman) for the ages”.  I was quite surprised by this reaction; mainly surprised that an astute reader could so totally misread what I wrote.

I never suggested that Ivanka is a Tzadekes, (at least any more than any person who makes the heroic choice to become a Righteous Convert – גר צדק), by any stretch.  She clearly is aware that others adhere to higher levels of observance and modesty – and she herself adhered to those standards when visiting in more rigorously observant communities – but has chosen to follow the more permissive view of her community.  Clearly some of the "hetterim" she and Jared received are debatable (although I am impressed that they asked a "shyla" for Rabbinical guidance).   She herself has been quoted as saying that Jared & I are “pretty obervant, more than some, less than others.” There was and is, of course, no attempt to compare her observance to that of Queen Esther, one of the great צדקניות (Righteous Women) of all time.

Rather, the main points of my essay were: (a) It is a miracle that a person so close to power identifies proudly as an Orthodox Jew, and (for the most part) does so with dignity and grace that brings credit to us and is thus a Kiddush Hashem, even if she is not in competition to win the Tzadekes award, (b) As far as I can tell, she is the Jewish person, and certainly woman, closest to great power since Queen Esther.  In fact, the only observant men that were even close to that level of access to political power since Queen Esther were perhaps Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi and Don Isaac Abarbanel; she is closer yet.  That is something to be immensely grateful for, and (c) We need to stop the sniping and casting aspersions on her conversion and being guilty of causing pain to a convert.  I referred to the fact that she has become an Orthodox Jew as “a miracle”.  Perhaps this was a little over the top, or perhaps, in the Megillas Esther mode of Hidden Miracles, it was accurate.   (Her conversion is certainly a greater miracle than the very unlikely pair of two-point conversions (!) that allowed for the miraculous result in the Super Bowl.)  Either way, this is what I meant, as I think most readers understood.

Once a person passes through the vetting of a qualified Beis Din they are to be accepted with nothing less than love and open arms
(Parenthetically, I was troubled by the implication that there is something wrong with marrying a convert who has undertaken a proper commitment to Judaism.  Heaven Forbid!  Contrary to what some people think, it is a great mitzvah to accept and welcome Gerim, and they are some of our best and finest people.  Of course, Mr. Hecht is correct that conversion in anticipation of marriage raises a very grave possibility that the conversion is being done primarily for an ulterior motive.   In the past, and in some communities today, this raises an insurmountable barrier to conversion; the candidate would be told "If we accept you, you must marry someone else".  In our communities it is more on a case by case basis. A responsible Bet Din will have the conversion candidate undergo a long and arduous process to make sure that they are fully aware of what they are undertaking and do so with informed consent, and disqualify those who are insincere or whose ulterior motives outweigh their sincere independent desire to live as an observant Jew.  But once a person passes through the vetting of a qualified Beis Din, they are to be accepted with nothing less than love and open arms).

Having said that, I suspect that a reason my essay went viral was due to Ivanka’s glamor and celebrity, and that people were interested to hear that – in contrast to some of the sniping out there – there are Orthodox Rabbis who are appreciative of Ivanka and what she represents, and who look forward to her and Jared playing an important role in bringing our values to the President and being a positive influence.

Already this past week there have been several instances of it.  One prominent example was that several commentators have noted that “It is not a coincidence that Trump controversies come while [the] Kushners observe Shabbat”, or that President Trump tends to get into trouble between sundown on Friday and nightfall on Saturday .  That is perhaps not the type of “Kiddush Hashem” that we are used to hearing about, but I believe it is one that brings honor to Torah and those who follow it, hence a Kiddush HaShem.  It is not at all unimaginable that the moment will come when the words of Mordechai (Esther 4:14) will ring in their ears, 
וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ אִם לְעֵת כָּזֹאת הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת 
"Who knows if  for this moment that you came to royalty".

The Role of Prominent Women in Orthodoxy
This is a huge topic; one that goes far beyond the space I have here.  Ivanka’s celebrity and prominence are a unique case, but there are even larger issues that are brewing in the Modern Orthodox world (and more quietly in some parts of the more “yeshivish” world) in trying to define the appropriate role of women in Jewish communal leadership.  The Maharat controversy is far from over, as Open Orthodox adherents and their counterparts in Israel continue to ordain women as orthodox clergy with a variety of titles, much to the chagrin of Rabbonim, Poskim, and the majority of traditional minded communities around the world, particularly in the United States.
One large unsettled area in this dispute was the lack of clarity regarding the position of the Orthodox Union, the largest umbrella of Orthodox congregations in the United States and Canada.  On the one hand, the Rabbinical Council of America (of which I am on my second term on the Executive Council), which is closely associated with the Orthodox Union has clearly and unanimously resolved that “RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not (1) Ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; (2) Hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or (3) Allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a [female] teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution”.  On the other hand, a growing number of Orthodox Union shuls have, in fact, hired Maharats and other female clergy persons, with no protest from the Orthodox Union leadership.

In major news this week . . . a blue ribbon panel commissioned by the Orthodox Union has rendered a unanimous opinion of the notion of female rabbis

In major news this week, two papers were published that put this issue to rest.  A blue-ribbon panel of very well-respected Rabbonim and Poskim in the Modern Orthodox Community,  including several Roshei Yeshivat, have met for several months, and came out with clear statements about the issues.

The first was a responsum from the panel, which sought to answer two questions:

  1. Is it halakhically acceptable for a synagogue to employ a woman in a clergy function?
  2. What is the broadest spectrum of professional roles within a synagogue that may be performed by a woman?

In a seventeen page learned and sensitive answer, the panel went through the Halachic literature and process, and unanimously ruled that awoman should not be appointed to serve in a clergy position”. 

In a parallel document, the lay leadership of the OU eloquently described the “way forward”, whereby “It is essential that the voices of individuals who are yirei shamayim and committed to Torah values, both men and women, are heard in communal discussion and leadership. Accordingly, the Orthodox Union commits to explore and identify approaches by which the concerns identified herein, and other challenges and opportunities, can be discussed and studied.”  
Furthermore, it announced the forthcoming Department of Women’s Initiatives, and in every way possible and consistent with our mesorah “to encourage women’s involvement in all appropriate areas of leadership and participation within member synagogues”.
Of course, the responses have already started pouring in from the opposition, particularly from the so-called Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and its supporters.  Much more will yet be heard about this.

In the context of this essay, however, I will close with the thought that it is so important that everyone, women and men, strive to find the right place to use the G-d given talents and resources which they were gifted with, for the betterment of Kvod Shomayim and Klal Yisrael.  Whether it is as a Rabbi, or whether it is in the incredibly important role of a traditional Rebbetzin; whether it is as a lay leader, or whether it is as a loyal and dedicated private individual; whether it is as a person who has been given an incredible place to influence the high and mighty or whether it is one who can help a child learn and smile or simply make a suffering person’s day brighter, we all should strive to make the maximum contribution to the greater good as who we are, while appreciating the special contributions that others are uniquely qualified to make – even Ivanka.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Flaw in the Necessary Ban

One thing Donald Trump cannot be accused of is dragging his feet. 
The dizzying pace of Executive Orders booming out of the Oval Office since the first moment has been described variously as a firehose, fevered, a flurry. . . it is hard to catch one’s breath as the pace of change comes fast and furious on so many issues. 

I cannot remember a time like this, where before you digest one major story two more come out, with some dramatic nonsense stories in between ( e.g. crowd size at the inauguration, how many illegals voted, etc); it is hard to keep up.   Given, in addition, the deep division between those who love him and those who hate him it is – at a minimum – non-stop entertainment, and makes it difficult to pull oneself away from all that and focus on learning and other important matters.

The purpose of this article is not to get into politics. While I was not a Trump supporter throughout the campaign, I must say that I mostly approve of his actions so far.  Getting going on the Dakota pipeline, moving ahead with securing the Mexican border, moving to repeal and replace Obamacare, slashing regulations, and many other orders this week are fine with me.   There is one order, however, that must give a thoughtful person pause, even if you are a Trump supporter.   That order, Executive Order # 13, which calls for extreme vetting  of refugees from “terrorist countries” who are attempting to seek asylum in the United States, has created a firestorm of protest and controversy.

Even after stripping away the bias and the spin (no, it was not anti-Muslim, it was anti-terror prone individuals, it does not apply to most of the Muslim majority nations; the seven countries listed were not determined by Trump, but by the Obama administration in 2015; it does not apply to legal immigrants who are already here, etc. etc.) there are still some aspects that troubled many people about this Order.   It was not planned well.  Not only did many affected people find out about the Order after they had already landed in the US, but even the immigration and border officials who were charged with implementing the policy had no notice or training, resulting in chaos and hysteria and unnecessary suffering which could have been avoided.

Due to the fact that it was done so hastily…with so little planning and consultation with the many parts of the huge Governmental systems that would need to implement it, it caused unnecessary hardship not only for the affected individuals, but also for the Administration; the legitimate complaints about the way it was done have given Trump’s opponents much unnecessary ammunition in their quest to discredit him.  In particular, it has caused great consternation in the Jewish community.  All of us remember all too well a time not too long ago when America’s door was slammed shut in the face of refuges attempting to flee from the inferno of the Holocaust.  The idea that America would turn its back on those fleeing from mayhem, persecution and death is reprehensible and would seem to go against the fundamental greatness of this blessed country.   It is thus quite understandable that so many people, particularly Jews, are up in arms about it.

I therefore find the comparison between today and the period of the Holocaust loathsome.

In truth, however, any comparisons between this order and the policies that caused the St. Louis to be turned back to Europe belie a refusal to see some enormous differences between the two cases.   First of all, this is only a temporary ban enacted until the government can do a better job of keeping out terrorist threats. Moreover, the refusal to grant asylum in those days was due to a combination of protectionism of American jobs in the face of the Depression, overburdening of the welfare system, coupled unfortunately with an unhealthy dose of anti-Semitism.   By contrast, this Executive order is a response to combination of the very real threat that a significant percentage of those posing as refugees are in fact Islamic terrorists, which justifies the Administration’s determination that America not suffer the fate of the European countries that allowed hordes of Islamic refugees in, only to find that the rate of murder, rape and other violent crimes skyrocketed, and whole sections of their great cities have been turned into viper nests of hostility and mayhem. 

Furthermore, a fair-minded observer ought to conclude that there is another huge difference between the two cases.  The desperate refugees in the 1930-40s facing almost certain death were asking nothing more than to come to this country and became loyal and appreciative citizens.  There was no Jewish state that should have taken them in.   In contrast, while there clearly are desperate refugees who need shelter, there is a real danger that many of them come not to be loyal citizens of the United States, but rather to take the Jihad to the “Great Satan” and to do harm to our fellow citizens, as has happened too often in the past few years.   One need look no further than France and Germany and Sweden and Norway and everywhere else these refugees have landed to see how much the benefactors of great largesse appreciate and feel loyalty to their host country.  They have brought great and mounting misery to their host, and have proven countless times to be not only ingrates but a source of tremendous harm in insisting that the host country bend to their demands of Sharia Law rather than their blending in to the host culture.  The ones who should be strongly encouraged to take them in are the Arab countries who share their culture, opinions, religion, and values; encouraged with every lever that America can bring to bear.  I therefore find the comparison between today and the period of the Holocaust loathsome.

Given this state of affairs, a majority of Americans supports the President’s efforts.  Rasmussen polls today show that 57% of likely voters support “a temporary ban on refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen until the federal government improves its ability to screen out potential terrorists from coming here” 33% are opposed, and 10% are undecided.

Nevertheless, I strongly believe that such a necessary and important policy goal could have been achieved with far more effectiveness, less chaotic harm to blameless refugees who were caught unawares, and less collateral damage to support for the Administration had been done with more wisdom and deliberation.  Despite the obvious fact the Administration wanted to do this quickly to avoid giving the bad guys notice of what was about to go down, they could have (a) given a five day warning, coupled with intensive scrutiny during those five days, (b) given more notice and training to the authorities at the airports and elsewhere who would have to carry out the directive, (c) coordinated with other branches of the security establishment who were apparently in the dark about this, (d) made a greater effort to explain why these seven countries (it was based on previous law passed by the Obama Administration) , (e) clarify the status of green card holders who were abroad, and why any of them might have a hard time returning, and other items that those far more expert than I could propose.  But it seems that getting this out quickly, letting the chips fall where they would, became the paramount concern.

Which brings me to the Torah Portion of the week.   We read in Parshat Bo of the Exodus from Egypt, and how, finally, Pharaoh not only lets the Israelites out of Egypt, but drives them out in a hurry.  On the Seder night we state, as one of the highlight moments:

מַצָּה זוֹ שֶׁאָנוֹ אוֹכְלִים, עַל שׁוּם מַה? עַל שׁוּם שֶׁלֹּא הִסְפִּיק בְּצֵקָם שֶׁל אֲבוֹתֵינוּ לְהַחֲמִיץ עַד שֶׁנִּגְלָה עֲלֵיהֶם מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים, הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, וּגְאָלָם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיֹּאפוּ אֶת-הַבָּצֵק אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם עֻגֹת מַצּוֹּת, כִּי לֹא חָמֵץ, כִּי גֹרְשׁוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהִתְמַהְמֵהַּ, וְגַם צֵדָה לֹא עָשׂוּ לָהֶם.

This Matzah that we eat, symbolizes what? It symbolizes the great haste with which we left Egypt -- haste such that we could not even wait for the dough to rise as we rushed out of Egypt.

This rushing that occurred is referred to several times in the Torah as חִפָּזוֹן֙ Chipazon, the great haste and speedy urgency with which the Exodus came.

It is very interesting that the prophet Yeshayahu, in referring to the time of the Moshiach says the following:

כִּ֣י לֹ֤א בְחִפָּזוֹן֙ תֵּצֵ֔אוּ וּבִמְנוּסָ֖ה לֹ֣א תֵלֵכ֑וּן
כִּֽי־הֹלֵ֤ךְ לִפְנֵיכֶם֙ ה' וּמְאַסִּפְכֶ֖ם אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

For not with (Chipazon) haste shall you go forth and not in a flurry of flight shall you go, for the Lord goes before you. . .  (52:12)

The contrast is clearly drawn:  While at the Exodus from Egypt, an essential part of it was that you went out in haste, in the future it will be not in haste, but in slow deliberate progress.  Various commentaries, including the Maharal (Netzach 47) and Bnei Yisasschar (Nissan 8), make the point that the hasty exit from Egypt was not ideal, but rather was made necessary by the low spiritual level of the people, who were at the proverbial 49th level of Tum’ah (spiritual defilement); had they not  been taken out at that time, they would have never been able to  leave.  Without getting into that whole issue, the implication is clear that leaving in such a rush was a necessary evil.

The results of this hasty departure were quite evident later in the story.   The people demonstrated time and again that they were not really ready to leave Egypt, and although they were a great generation (Dor Deah), and  reached  awesome spiritual heights at Sinai, nevertheless after one bout of complaints after another, they eventually proved themselves unworthy to go into the promised land, and perished in the desert; only the next generation was ready to truly leave Egypt behind and to go into Eretz Yisrael.   In the future, however, the Geulah will come slowly (Kim’a Kim’a), bit by bit, as we move towards the Final redemption, as “all good things come and develop slowly”.  ( Shem M’Shmuel Shoftim 5676 quoting Midrash Shir Hashirim.  I will write more about this in continuing my series on the Isaac Covenant).

The danger of acting with chipazon is discussed earlier in the Torah as well, in the case of Reuven.  He is censured by his father in Parshas Vayechi, instead of getting a blessing, for acting Pachaz Kamayim , swiftly as water, and not properly thinking through the implications of his actions, resulting in tragic results.

This is a lesson that the Trump Administration might well take to heart.   It was important to hit the ground running, and to show that the President intended to take action and deliver on his election promises.  However, when issuing orders that have such huge ramifications, affect so many people, and  can be criticized so easily if things do  not go smoothly, time should have been taken to get it right.   The order was taken with too much chipazon, and thus caused unnecessary hardship and received avoidable criticism.  With his ill-planned haste, Trump did himself and those who could have easily seen the importance of this order a great disservice.

It is a lesson we all should take heed of and apply in all of our dealings, following the advice of the very first Mishna in Pirkei Avos: “Hevu Mesunim Badin”, be deliberate in judgment.   Although it is, of course,  often important to move quickly and not  delay unnecessarily, at the same time it is crucial to take the time to think things through and plan properly, for the betterment of all.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Miracle that is Ivanka Trump

Virtually every Rabbi started their sermon this past Shabbos with a similar theme, I am quite sure.  The juxtaposition of the inauguration of President Trump with the verse from Parshat Shmos “And a new King arose” was too providential to ignore.   No matter what one thinks, in this very divided country, about the new President, it is certainly an exciting time to be living, with great promise of change in the air.

In the Orthodox Jewish community, of course, there is particular excitement, given that, for the first time, Orthodox Jews have such proximity to the most powerful human on the planet (at least for the next few years).   The long list includes Jason Greenblatt, special representative for international negotiations, David Friedman, Ambassador to Israel, and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is clearly Trump’s most trusted advisor and right hand man.   The President has made it abundantly clear that he is very pro-Israel and intends to try to undo much of the damage that the Obama administration has been complicit in; Nikki Haley, his choice for UN Ambassador, could not have given a more pro-Israel speech at her confirmation. (It increasingly astonishes me how willfully blind the Jewish left is in accusing Trump of being anti-Semitic, of all things.)   Surely this is yet another manifestation of the "Isaac Covenant" times that I have been writing about lately (Please see here for more on this important topic).

She brings honor and respect to Torah and our way of life in a way unparalleled perhaps since Queen Esther

But, of course, the Orthodox Jew who is closest to him – and who we are most blessed to have as one of us – is his amazing daughter, Yael (Ivanka) Trump.  Extraordinarily well-spoken, intelligent, beautiful and successful, she is a walking Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d - the highest mitzvah a Jew can do) as she brings honor and respect to Torah and our way of life in a way unparalleled perhaps since Queen Esther.

Having written those words, I know that while hopefully most readers will agree with them, there are those who will feel that I have gone too far.   “Kiddush Hashem?” they will exclaim.  “Many of her clothing choices do not conform to Halachic standards of Tzniyus that we expect in our communities.” “She doesn’t cover her hair as a married woman should”.   “She does not seem to be as careful about physical contact (negiah) with members of the opposite gender as we generally consider acceptable.”  And this week, a new charge.   She and Jared sought and got a “Hetter” (Rabbinic Ruling) allowing them to be driven in a car on Shabbos (Sabbath) to attend the inauguration festivities, including photo sessions and even going into a church.     Most unfortunately, some even went as far as to question the validity of her conversion, given these deviations from the standards that they are accustomed to.

This attitude is most unfortunate, and (potentially) extremely harmful.   It shows an ignorance of some basic Hilchos Geirus (Laws of Conversion) and – as is all too often the case among us – belies a lack of tolerance for those with other viewpoints and standards than our own.   

This short article is not the place to go into this complex area of Halacha, but even a cursory look at Yoreh Deah 268 will show that – at the most basic level – what is required for a proper conversion is a deep desire to become a part of the Jewish People, to seek to share in their destiny with all of its difficulties, coupled with a complete acceptance of the obligatory nature of Halacha (Jewish Law) as presented to the potential candidate by the converting Rabbi and Bet Din, who themselves must be properly qualified to be Dayanim.

In the case of Ivanka, the Halachic community that she was introduced to by her potential husband (a graduate of the co-ed Modern Orthodox Frisch school) was the Modern Orthodox community of the upper East Side of Manhattan.   The shul that she attended and wherein she received her training in Judaism and Halacha was Kehillath Jeshurun, led by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein.   In that community, as opposed to many communities that I have been privileged to be part of, standards of tznius, negiah and hair covering are quite liberal; what is considered perfectly acceptable – and in fact modest and dignified  there, would be considered wholly unacceptable in most other Orthodox communities.   Those are the standards that she was presented with, and it is on the basis of a completely sincere acceptance of those standards that the Bet Din converted her.

My aim in this essay is not to discuss the propriety of the standards of that community; that is between them, their spiritual leaders, and the Almighty.[1] 

Rather, I seek to make a simple point.  When Ivanka undertook a commitment to follow Halacha upon completing her conversion, I have full confidence (more below) that she fully accepted on herself to follow all of the Halacha as presented to her by the teachers that she had.   Given this, and the fact that she has, in fact, lived by those commitments, she is 100% fully Jewish.  As such, she must be accepted with love by us as a Ger Tzedek (Righteous Convert), who we are commanded on twenty six separate occasions in the Torah to love and cherish – and not Heaven forbid to cause pain to – by questioning her integrity and Halachic validity.

Why am I so convinced that this was a proper Geirus?  What about the questions raised above? Is it not well known that the Bais Din Harabbani HaGadol (BHG -The supreme Israeli Rabbinical Court) recently questioned Rabbi Lookstein’s conversions?  My conviction is based on one important reason:  The Conversion was done by the Manhattan chapter of the Beth Din of America under the GPS (Geirus Policies and Standards) system.  Permit me to explain.

While it is true that Rabbi Lookstein has a long and distinguished career of not only being the Rabbi at KJ, but of also being the Head of the Ramaz school and a professor of Rabbinics at Yeshiva University, and is considered a Rabbi’s Rabbi, he has nevertheless taken certain public positions that were viewed as quite controversial over the years.  As I have no desire, nor am I in any position, to judge him, I will not go into any detail here.  Nevertheless, one position that he took is important in understanding this issue.   That was his public opposition  to the call of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) to have all of its member Rabbonim perform their conversion through the auspices of the GPS system.

The GPS system is, in my view, the single greatest achievement of the RCA.   While all know of the infamous “Who is a Jew” question regarding Conservative and Reform conversions, it is less well known that there are serious problems within the “Orthodox” Rabbinate, where for a variety of unfortunate reasons, some Rabbis “convert” people who do not have a sincere Kabbalat (acceptance of) Mitzvot and  thereby cause enormous problems.  From the RCA website, “GPS was established to aid potential converts to Judaism, while at the same time diminishing thorny questions of personal status. For years, conversion had been performed in ad hoc fashion by local rabbis, but without detailed mutually agreed upon standards and procedures. While the vast majority of conversions were handled appropriately, some were not. As a result, in recent years even those who had fulfilled the halachic requirements were finding their conversions unfairly questioned and scrutinized - not just in Israel but in many Orthodox communities to which they or their children had moved.”  To solve this problem, the GPS set up a system of regional Courts with policies and standards that will allows converts to be confident that their conversion will be recognized and prevents Rabbis from being put under pressure to convert people for ulterior motives.

For his own reasons (although Rabbi Lookstein was originally involved in the GPS formation) he is unhappy with what he sees as its rigidity, and has joined with some other RCA Rabbis in opposing it.  From what I am able to gather, this was perhaps the main reason that the BHG did not want to accept his private, non-GPS conversions.  Be that as it may, when it came to the very high profile conversion of Ivanka Trump, Rabbi Lookstein wisely chose to guide her conversion through the GPS system and the conversion was officiated by the Bet Din of America.

And that is good enough for me, as it should be for everyone in the Jewish community.

And that is why I think that all the “frum police” who are engaging in commenting and yenta-ing, whether on online forums such as Facebook and Twitter or at the shul Kiddush need to stop.   They have no right to question or criticize her level of observance, or the choices that Jared and Ivanka have made, any more than any of us
  who are so imperfect in our treatment of others, and lashon hara, and limmud hatorah, and tefilla   have a right to criticize anyone else.   

For those interested, there certainly is halachic precedent, brought in the Bet Yosef YD 178:2  (and the Taz and Prisha and Darkei Teshuvah ad. loc.) for one who is  קרוב למלכות  – in a position of close proximity to the ruler, where they can avert trouble from the Jewish people – that certain Rabbinic prohibitions, e.g. being driven on Shabbos in a car, may be set aside if need be to maintain their position with the ruler.  I do not know if this was the basis of the hetter they obtained, but one should be דן לכף זכות (assume the positive)  that they asked the Shayla (Halachic Query) of a legitimate Rov who gave them this answer.  

Certainly, the famous maxim  אַל תָּדִין אֶת חֲבֵרְךָ עַד שֶׁתַּגִּיעַ לִמְקוֹמוֹ (Do not Judge another until you stand in their place - Avot 2:4) ought to apply.  None of us can know what sorts of intense pressures from the media, family, and everyone around them they are living with every day, and what sorts of compromises they are constantly being pressured to make.  And they have come through in a way that is making  שם שמים מתאהב , making Hashem and Torah look beautiful to the world while living under that incredible spotlight.

One might wish that instead of getting a “Hetter” to attend the inaugural ball on Friday night and be driven home (ostensibly because of the pikuah nefesh situation caused by many who were expressing their fear of how Trump will destroy America by destroying what they could of a great American city) they would have stayed home and perhaps have the President drop by for a l’chaim.  One certainly wishes that the spiritual and Torah aspirations of Jared and Ivanka will grow over time, leading them to take on more of the traditional ways of Halacha.   I do not know what the future will bring, nor any more details about where “they are holding” right now.   I take them at their word that their commitment to Halacha as they understand it is strong and deep.

One thing, however, I can predict with great certainty.  None of the snarky comments and questions about the legitimacy of her conversion or the level of their observance will draw them closer to observance; they are far more likely to drive them in the other direction.

Let us celebrate wonderful this gift that Hashem has given us in having such attractive and prominent models of serious Jews in our time.   My readers know that although I had many misgivings about Donald Trump as President, I think that if he can hold his negative side in check he is capable of being a great force for the good.  It is well known that the person who can influence him best in this direction, is “our” Yael.   

May she have the strength and courage to help her father stand up for all that is good in the very strange times in which we live, and may we come to properly appreciate Hashem’s putting her neshama in this very special place as she works for the betterment of the USA and Am Yisrael.

[1] I also will not discuss in this essay the difference between the “Very Modern Orthodox” community and “Open Orthodoxy”, which I consider to be beyond the pale, in that their deviations extend beyond mere levels of observance to fundamental matters of faith.  I have discussed related matters elsewhere .

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Isaac Covenant part IV: Time to Stand up for ourselves

My children have been declared criminals.  And I couldn't be prouder.

 It was truly a watershed event, when the President of the United States reversed five decades of policy and allowed a resolution to pass in the Security Council that, under international law, criminalized any “settlement activity” in any area that was captured by Israel after June 5, 1967, very specifically including East Jerusalem.   This means that my daughter, who lives in the East Jerusalem neighborhood "settlement" Neve Yaakov (population 25,000), and my son and daughter, who live in the city "West Bank settlement" of Betar Ilit (population 50,000), are criminals, who had best stay away from The Hague, lest they be arrested and tried in the International Court of Justice (sic).

 The (Dis)Honorable Mohammad Abbas is already licking his chops, salivating about the possibility of proclaiming Israel’s illegitimacy in every possible forum and at every turn, while preparing to prosecute every Israeli they can at the International Court of Justice [sic], having made absolutely zero concessions to receive this long sought prize. As our outgoing Nobel Laureate President savors this hopefully last stab at Israel (the despicable ex-President Jimmy Carter has been urging him to recognize a State of Palestine before he goes), many have written, and will write about the tremendous damage that has been caused.

   Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon,  remonstrated to all present at that very meeting about the hypocrisy of this and so many General Assembly resolutions singling out Israel, in the midst of the massive abuses of human rights otherwise ignored, predicting that this resolution will have the opposite effect of bringing not peace, but more terror and war. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been scathing in his criticism (more about that later). But much of the commentary has revolved around trying to predict what President-Elect Trump (who deserves enormous credit for stopping the resolution, only to be thwarted by Obama) means when he tweeted “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.” 

   Some have offered suggestions on how Trump can reverse the resolution. Some have said it is irreversible, but Trump can help Israel in other ways, and if his selection of David Friedman as Ambassador is any indication, he will do so tremendously. (I think that many Jews, whether they would admit it or not, would echo the sentiments of a friend of mine who said that they have moved from #NeverTrump to #ThankGodforTrump). 

   Personally, although I previously wrote about my non-support for Trump, I am greatly heartened to see the direction he has taken post-election – particularly regarding Israel – but nevertheless remain wary. We say in the Pesukei D’Zimra every morning
             אַל תִּבְטְחוּ בִנְדִיבִים בְּבֶן אָדָם שֶׁאֵין לוֹ תְשׁוּעָה
Do not trust in gracious donors, nor in a human being 
for he holds no salvation  (Psalms 146:3).
 Relying on Trump alone to make things better may be a recipe for (to use one of his favorite words) disaster. 

 The Haftarah that we will read for Shabbat Chanukah is from the prophet Zecharya (Chap 2-4) who lived at the beginning of the Second Temple era, and it contains a famous paradox. It begins with a glorious picture of the future: 

:רָנִּי וְשִׂמְחִי בַּת-צִיּוֹן כִּי הִנְנִי-בָא וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְתוֹכֵךְ נְאֻם ה
 וְנִלְווּ- גוֹיִם רַבִּים אֶל-ה' בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא וְהָיוּ לִי לְעָם 
:וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְתוֹכֵךְ וְיָדַעַתְּ כִּי-ה' צְבָאוֹת שְׁלָחַנִי אֵלָיִךְ 
:וְנָחַל ה' אֶת-יְהוּדָה חֶלְקוֹ עַל אַדְמַת הַקֹּדֶשׁ וּבָחַר עוֹד בִּירוּשָׁלָם 
:הַס כָּל בָּשָׂר מִפְּנֵי הֹ' כִּי נֵעוֹר מִמְּעוֹן קָדְשׁוֹ 

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for, behold! I will come and dwell in your midst, says Hashem. And many nations shall join Hashem on that day, and they shall be My people; and I will dwell in your midst and you shall know that the Lord of Hosts sent me to you. And the Lord shall inherit Judah as His share on the Holy Land, and He shall again choose Jerusalem. Silence all flesh from before Hashem, for He is aroused out of His holy habitation.

   Clearly, this time has not yet come, and it describes the Messianic period, may it come speedily in our days בב"א.

 the central theme of בהעלותך, as well as the central theme of the Second Temple era as a whole, is that of a missed opportunity

But then the rest of the haftarah, including the beautiful image of the glowing menorah, seems to refer very much to the contemporary period of Zecharya and Yehoshua Kohei Gadol, and Zerubavel . . . it is like suddenly Zecharya is snapped away from rapture about the future to a not very pleasant present, a time when Jerusalem, the אוּד מֻצָּל מֵאֵשׁ (an ember plucked from the fire) is yet under threat . . .a time that even the High Priest is very imperfect and has to remove his uncleanliness . . . and the great vision recedes to the distant future. 

    Space does not permit a full treatment of this magnificent Haftarah, familiar to us not only from Shabbos Chanukah, but also for בהעלותך (Numbers Chap 8-12). As my Rebbe in Eretz Yisroel taught, the reason for the shared hafarah it is not only due to the mention of the menorah in both Torah readings. Rather, the central theme of בהעלותך, as well as the central theme of the Second Temple era as a whole, is that of a missed opportunity. 

    In בהעלותך , we read of the time that  Am Yisrael finally left Mt. Sinai and was on the road to Eretz Yisrael when . . . the nation seems to fall off the spiritual cliff.   We meet kvetchers (מתאוננים), complainers about the food (קברות התאוה) and other nudniks leading to Moshe almost giving up on them, followed by the disaster of the Spies (מרגלים) when their doom was sealed. They had a golden opportunity to go and inherit the Land, but they blew it. 

   Similarly, the Second Temple era has been described with great pathos by Rav Yehuda HaLevi in the Kuzari (2:24) [1]. After a rapturous description of the special nature of Eretz Yisrael, and how the Torah can only be properly kept there, the King asks him, “Excuse me . . . why do you not live there?” Here is an excerpt of his answer: 
This is a severe reproach, O king of the Khazars. It is the sin which kept the divine promise with regard to the second Temple, viz.: Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion' (Zachariah 2:10), from being fulfilled. Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they had all willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so, whilst the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, and unwilling to leave their houses and their affairs. . . Divine Providence only gives man as much as he is prepared to receive; if his receptive capacity be small, he obtains little, and much if it be great. . . When [in our prayers] we say: 'Worship his holy hill-- worship at His footstool--He who restoreth His glory to Zion' (Psalms 99:9, Psalsm 99:5), and other words, this is but as the chattering of the parrot and the nightingale. We do not pay attention to what we say by this sentence, nor others, as you rightly observe, O Prince of the Khazars . . .
  In other words, the beginning of the Second Temple was a missed opportunity, and thus it ended badly.  And we still have not learned the lesson; we don't really want to seize the opportunity that Hashem gives us to live in Eretz Yisrael, and when we pray for its restoration we are just chattering words like a parrot.  [2]

    The story of Chanukah  in the midst of the Second Temple era is not only part of the larger picture painted by the Kuzari, but a particularly poignant example of a great missed opportunity.  The Hasmonean victory  a moment of true renewal of Avodas Hashem and national pride  was followed very rapidly by a descent into deep corruption and debasement.  When it got so bad that the grandchildren of the Hasmoneans actually invited the Romans into Eretz Yisrael to settle their internecine disputes, the Divine verdict of our long expulsion into Golus was sealed, closing off that grand opportunity for a very long time.  

    A more extensive read of the book of Zecharyah (particularly chapters 8, 12), will show predictions of the war at the End of Days, where Jerusalem be under attack from all the nations.  There will be no one to help us, and it will lead  into the war of Gog and Magog.   Of course, I make no claim to knowing anything at all, and certainly not when prophecies will be fulfilled. But it has seemed to me for a long time, and this week’s events only confirm that trend, that history is leading into a vortex concerning Israel. 

   On the one hand, more and more of the Jewish people (close to 50%) are already living in Eretz Yisrael, and experiencing miraculous, unprecedented growth in a vibrant, wealthy, powerful, nation that is leading the world in many areas afer existing such a short time.   On the other hand, Israel is being isolated ever more  politically and economically, and the diplomatic, military and nuclear threats from Iran, ISIS, and the international community are growing exponentially. Her “great friend”, the United States, has shown this week that it is not as trustworthy as once thought, no matter what may happen in coming administrations. 

   The vortex seems clearly to be leading to the time predicted by the Gemara (Sotah 49b) [3]
 In the (Ikvesa D’Mashicha) footsteps of the messiah chutzpah will increase and honor dwindle . . . the government will turn to heresy and there will be none [to offer them] reproof. . . the fearers of sin will be despised, and the truth will be lacking; youths will put old men to shame, the old will stand up in the presence of the young. . . a son will not feel ashamed before his father. So upon whom is it for us to rely? Upon our father who is in heaven. 
The prediction at the end, that we will have no one to rely upon at the end except our Father in Heaven, is often cited as proof that we will ultimately be brought to a place whereby we will be forced to understand that we can only rely on Hashem, and only then will the Redemption come. That, of course, is true. But there is more to the story. 

    In a surprising twist, the Lubavitcher Rebbe (and similarly the Brisker Rav) said that this final prediction is not a blessing, but rather, a curse. 

   The negative predictions cited in that Gemara grow progressively worse.  Not only chutzpah will be rampant, but the econom will be terrible and ... and .. and a son will not be ashamed before his father, and – worst of all we will feel that we are able only to rely on Hashem.  That, said the Rebbe, is the worst of all, as people will use that feeling of helplessness as an excuse for inaction. 

We were brought into this world to do and accomplish.  On the verse in Bereishis (2:3)
אשר ברא אלוקים לעשות
That G-d had created to do

Rashi quotes the Midrash, saying that the word  לעשות (to do) means לתקן (to fix and correct).   We were brought into an imperfect world, and Hashem wants us to take action to fix and correct that world.    It is famously said that הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים, that All is in the hands of Heaven, but the Fear of Heaven.  When it comes to something that we can do to increase our own Yirat Shamayim or that of otheres; when there is something that needs to be done to bring the world closer to Fear of Heaven, we are not to look to Hashem arranging for it, but it is in OUR hands, with G-d's help to endeavor to accomplish it.

"Enough of this exile (mentality)
 There is no political wisdom to being obsequious"

Included in this is to seize the opportunity we have in living in such a remarkable time.  A time when history is so clearly being made, when our people have been given the gift of leaving the exile behind and living once again in our homeland.  A time of the Isaac Covenant, when we no longer need to live in fear of "what will the Goyim say", and we can with Hashem's help – move forward in actualizing the gift of our unfolding redemption. 

I congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu for having exactly the right response. After taking several strong actions which showed his contempt for the UN resolution, he said, 
"This morning I read in several newspapers that the aggressive stand I took with the countries that voted against us has been accepted. Israel is a country with national pride, and we do not turn the other cheek. Our response was rational, resolute, and responsible. It was the natural response of a healthy country which makes clear that the United Nation’s action is not acceptable to us . . .” "Enough of this exile (mentality),” said Netanyahu. “There is no political wisdom to being obsequious. Not only were our relations with the countries of the world not hurt by this event, but they will actually improve over time. Countries respect strong states that stand on their own and do not respect weak states that are obsequious and bow their heads. Israel under my leadership is a strong, proud country. We will continue to defend our country and we will continue to develop our country.” 
   This, he said, after proudly lighting the Menorah in newly declared criminally occupied territory, i.e. the Kotel HaMaaravi. 

   Continuing a theme I have been developing, Netanyahu’s response was in keeping with our time – the time of the Isaac Covenant. A time when we may be hated and vilified by the Nations of the world, but one in which we can and must stand up for ourselves, given the new found power and ability and opportunity we have. We need to strive to liven in Eretz Yisrael, build Eretz Yisrael, stand up for Eretz Yisrael, and seize this enormous opportunity that G-d Almighty has given us. 

Happy Chanukah!

[1]   Text of Kuzari

כד. אמר החבר: הובשתני מלך כוזר, והעון הזה הוא אשר מנענו מהשלמת מה שיעדנו בו האלוקים בבית שני, כמה שאמר: [זכריה ב' י"ד] "רני ושמחי בת ציון", כי כבר היה העניין האלוקי מזומן לחול כאשר בתחילה אלו היו מסכימים כולם לשוב בנפש חפצה, אבל שבו מקצתם ונשארו רובם וגדוליהם בבבל, רוצים בגלות ובעבודה, שלא ייפרדו ממשכנותיהם וענייניהם. 

ושמא על זה אמר שלמה: [שיר השירים ה' ב] 'אני ישנה ולבי ער', כינה הגלות בשינה והלב הער התמדת הנבואה ביניהם. 'קול דודי דופק', קריאת האלוקים לשוב. 'שראשי נמלא טל', על השכינה שיצאה מצללי המקדש, ומה שאמר: 'פשטתי את כתנתי', על עצלותם לשוב. 'דודי שלח ידו מן החור', על עזרא שהיה פוצר בהם ונחמיה והנביאים, עד שהודו קצתם לשוב הודאה בלתי גמורה, ואמרו כשל כוח הסבל (נחמיה ד, ד) ונתן להם במצפון לבם, ובאו העניינים מקוצרים מפני קיצורם, כי העניין האלוקי איננו חל על האיש אלא כפי הזדמנותו לו, אם מעט - מעט ואם הרבה - הרבה. ואילו היינו מזדמנים לקראת אלוקי אבותינו בלבב שלם ובנפש חפצה, היינו פוגעים ממנו מה שפגעו אבותינו במצרים. 

ואין דיבורנו 'השתחוו להר קדשו', ו'השתחוו להדום רגליו', ו'המחזיר שכינתו לציון' וזולת זה, אלא כצפצוף 
הזרזיר והדומה לו , שאין אנחנו חושבים על מה שנאמר בזה וזולתו, כאשר אמרת מלך כוזר

[2] It is important to note that those words were written when travelling to Eretz yisrael and living here were "just a little more difficult" than today, when one can fly there on a luxurious airplane and live wih all the comforts of modern life ...

בעקבות משיחא חוצפא יסגא ויוקר יאמיר הגפן תתן פריה והיין ביוקר ומלכות תהפך למינות ואין תוכחת בית וועד יהיה לזנות והגליל יחרב והגבלן ישום ואנשי הגבול יסובבו מעיר לעיר ולא יחוננו וחכמות סופרים תסרח ויראי חטא ימאסו והאמת תהא נעדרת נערים פני זקנים ילבינו זקנים יעמדו מפני קטנים בן מנוול אב בת קמה באמה כלה בחמותה אויבי איש אנשי ביתו פני הדור כפני הכלב הבן אינו מתבייש מאביו ועל מה יש לנו להשען על אבינו שבשמים