130907 – Parshat Hazinu Shabbat Shuva /Rosh HaShanah

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT HAZINU – SHABBAT SHUVAH – ROSH HASHANAH

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-31:30

Haftarah – Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27

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Our Parsha begins with the words: “You are standing today, ALL OF YOU, before HaShem, your G-d…to pass into a covenant with Hashem, your G-d…and to establish you as His people, and He as your G-d…Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this obligation, but also with whoever are not [yet] here with us today” (Devarim 29:9-14).

The implication is clear, an everlasting covenant is being made not only with that generation of Israelites about to enter the Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel), but with all future generations of Jews – that Hashem and they will be faithful, committed and conscious of each other.

How appropriate to read this Parsha before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, which begins this coming Wednesday day night.  Many of us believe that Rosh Hashanah is the holiday acknowledging the anniversary of G-d’s creating the universe; however, this is a common mistake.  Rosh Hashanah marks the sixth day of creation – the creation of Man – the day spiritual consciousness came into being.  It is fitting therefore, that we utilize this holy-day to elevate our consciousness to the pursuit of goodness, for that is what Hashem expects of us.

One of the major difficulties in changing our patterns of life is that we basically consider ourselves “good people.”  We are civilized, charitable, loving and kind people.  We don’t see ourselves as evil wagers of war upon G-d and His definitions of good and evil, we are basically generous promoters of our definitions of goodness, so, what is there to change?

We can gain an insight from the Torah’s description of the meeting between our Patriarch Avraham and Avimelech of Gerar.  The Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (B’rayshit [Genesis] 21:1-34) ends with a renewed peace treaty made between Avimelech and Avraham.  But in order for there to be a renewal, we must first understand the original peace treaty made between them.  Let me set the scene for you from B’rayshit 20:1-18, the chapter immediately prior to the reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

Avraham and Sarah were relocating their home after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  They had to travel through Gerar, a province of Philistia, which was known for its “law-abiding” adherence to an upstanding code of civil law, under the jurisdiction of King Avimelech.  Now, Avimelech was known to have an eye for beautiful women, in fact, included in his harem were women who were once married to other men.  Avimelech was not so ghastly as to take a married woman, no, he was a civilized man, and would never consider bedding the woman of another man.  But, somehow that woman’s husband would conveniently lose his life, leaving the door open for Avimelech’s now legitimate advances.

Protocol forced Avraham to pay his respects to Avimelech, and to avoid any threat to his life, he introduced Sarah as his sister.  Avimelech immediately desired Sarah and had her brought (against her will) to his harem.  Before he could do anything with Sarah, Avimelech fell asleep and had a strange dream.  In his dream, G-d came to him and warned him that Avraham was a prophet of great stature, and any abuse to Sara his wife, would of anger G-d.

AviMelech got up from his sleep and with great indignance called for Avraham and Sarah, demanding to know why Avraham lied to him, almost causing him to sin with Sarah.  Avraham answered AviMelech; “And Avraham said: ‘…there is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will slay me over the matter of my wife‘ ” (Bereishit 20:11).

Avraham came to a civilized part of the world, known for their law-abiding character, these were good people, and yet he eluded the truth about his relationship with Sara because he knew that his life was in jeopardy. “There is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will slay me over the matter of my wife.”

Being civilized is a wonderful framework to live by, but what happens when there is a conflict with what I want and being civilized?  My desires and not necessarily my morality may win out.  It is the “awe” of G-d that holds man back from his own hungry desires.  Morals based on civilized behavior can change, as we in this generation have seen so often.

I grew up in the sixties, when the call words of my generation were, “make love not war.”  Those words to my parents generation were “prost,” or boorish.  For instance, in my youth, abortions were wrong and practically unheard of for upstanding members of the community.  If one did submit to an abortion, there was a prevailing sense of shame and one tried to keep the deed secret.  Today, abortion is a moral right, and if someone actually verbalizes that it is wrong, she /he is immediately labeled a right-wing fanatic.

Acquiring the fear of G-d, or let us use a more pleasing terminology, becoming G-d conscious, is the main message of Judaism – to Jew or to Gentile.  Realizing His presence in the most mundane or secular aspects of our daily lives is what Rosh Hashanah is all about.

Being a civilized individual is wonderful, if that is all that you can reach for.  But we the Jewish people have more than just being civilized to offer the world, we offer G-d consciousness – which has responsibilities that go beyond just being basically kind to your wife and children, or concerned about the ecology.  It is our obligation to discover our own place in a created world, that is watched over by none other than the Melech Malchay HaMelachim (the King of kings), HaKodosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One Blessed Be He).  This responsibility can only be acquired by adhering to laws and principals that go beyond human sensibilities – His Torah and Mitzvot.

So when we are about to put food in our mouths, we must be G-d conscious.  When we ponder our observance of Shabbat or holidays, we must be G-d conscious.  When we consider throwing that tissue out the car window, we must be G-d conscious.  When choosing a mate, we must be G-d conscious. And when considering the worth being a member of a Shul (synagogue), or part of a Jewish community, we must also be G-d conscious.

I believe that what stops many from seeking a committed path to Hashem is the fear of becoming an extremist.  But as the Torah teaches about its own character: “Dera’cheha Darchei No’am, – its trails are always pleasant, V’Chol N’tivoteha Shalom – and all her pathways lead to peace” (Mishlei [Proverbs] 3:18).

Let us mark the year 5774 as a year when G-d consciousness is an acceptable goal to all of mankind and not an expression of extremism.  Let us come together and question our existence and our role in G-d’s plan.  Let us provide every opportunity for our children and our grandchildren’s generations, to successfully traverse the trails and pathways of life.  And let us all pray for a year of blessings, a year of health and a year of peace for all mankind.

I wish you all a K’Tivah V’Chatima Tova, May you all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Reb Yosil

130803 – Parshat Re’ay

Beggar********************

VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT RE’AY

Devarim (Deut.) 11:26-16:17

Haftarah – Isaiah 61:10-63:9

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Because we suffered continuous religious persecutions since the destruction of our second Temple (in 70 C.E.), the Jews have become tolerant of other religions. However, this was not always the case. In ancient times, the world was very tolerant of others’ religions; people thought that gods were territorial, when one left the boundaries of ones’ own gods’ influence; he entered the confines of new gods. Being tolerant of other religions was a necessary survival technique. One never knew when the gods of another territory would come in handy. What was always important was not to upset the local gods.

Along came the Jewish people who antagonized the world by preaching that not only was their

G-d invisible and all-powerful, but their G-d was the only legitimate G-d. The ancient Jews were not very popular among the nations because they rejected any and all tolerance for the worship of wood, stone and natural phenomenon.

This obsession with the pursuit of religious truth finds its source in this week’s Parsha: “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you are driving away worshiped their gods; on the high mountains and on the hills, and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their altars; you shall smash their pillars; you shall burn their sacred trees in fire; you shall cut down their carved images; and you shall obliterate their sacred names from that place” (Devarim 12 2-3).

In ancient times, when one nation conquered another nation, it would try not to destroy the vanquished nation’s religious sites and objects. The conquering nation often used these edifices (which were usually beautifully constructed and very ornate), for their own purposes. The fact that the nation of Israel had to destroy the Temples, the idols and the religious symbols of the former inhabitants, was a revolutionary concept.

Our Parsha explains that HaShem declared that the seven nations occupying Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel) had no right to worship as they pleased. Eretz Yisra’el had to be emancipated from any religious pollutants. Whether conquered or driven out, the non-Jewish resident aliens or wayfarers had no right to worship their gods or practice their religious beliefs while on this holy ground. To make sure that these religious places and symbols did not infiltrate the conquering society, they had to be – “destroyed,” “broken apart,” “smashed,” “burnt,” “cut down,” and “obliterated.” Any and all traces of these artifacts had to be eradicated lest they influence the Jewish population.

But all this destruction had a price. The very next verse reads: “You shall not do this to HaShem, your G-d” (12:4).

RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 – 1105) teaches us three different lessons:

  1. Offerings to HaShem can only be presented from the Mishkan (Tabernacle), or later, from the place that HaShem designates (the Temple on Mt. Mori’ah in Jerusalem).
  2. It is forbidden to obliterate the name of HaShem. For this reason we do not write His name (G-d) unrestrictedly so that (if the page is thrown away, discarded or desecrated) His name will not be erased.
    • RaShI brings a Sifri (a Halachic [legal] Midrash [interpretation] of the Books of BaMidbar [Numbers] and Devarim) that warns: “Rabbi Ishmael said: Would one even think that the Israelites would destroy their own religious places and artifacts? Rather, do not do anything that would CAUSE your religious places TO BE DESTROYED.”

Rabbi Ishmael asks if one could imagine Israel doing such a terrible thing. But in the history of our nation and in the very days of Rabbi Ishmael, such things did happen. Our Temple was desecrated by Hellenist Jews bringing in Greek idols and offering non-kosher animals as sacrifices (during the Chanukah period of our history). Rabbi Ishmael knew very well that terrible acts of desecration were committed by the Sadducees during the Roman period. Even recently, in modern Israel, acts of desecration are perpetrated by Jews against Jews and their religious institutions. Rabbi Ishmael, who was martyred by the Romans and whose miserable death was cheered on by Jews who were Roman sympathizers, knew full well what Jews were capable of. How could he say, “Would one even think that the Israelites would destroy their own religious places and artifacts?”

I found an interesting answer to this question from Rabbi Ya’acov Haber formerly of Melbourne, Australia, who mentions that the first Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law) is: “…if the performance of a Mitzvah will embarrass you (for example, praying Mincha [afternoon prayers] on a public highway, or saying grace at a board meeting, perhaps sporting a Kipa [skull-cap] at your place of work), you should still do it.

However, the Mishnah Berurah [an updated version of the code – written by the Chafetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisra’el Meir HaKohen Kagen, 1838-1933] quotes the Beit Yosef [Rabbi Yosef Caro, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, 1488-1575] as saying that, ‘…one should not go out of their way to antagonize people even in the performance of a Mitzvah (for example, deliberately praying Mincha on a public highway when it is unnecessary), since that will give one’s personality the characteristic of Chutzpa (insolence) [in the words of the Beit Yosef] YiK’neh B’Nafsho Midat HaAzut (one’s soul will acquire the characteristic of insolence), which will then be used for less than noble purposes’ ” Reachings – Talks on Torah, page 172).

What Rabbi Haber means is if one performs Mitzvot either in an antagonizing manner or specifically to antagonize, then that behavior will continue in non-Mitzvot situations which will be destructive.

When I lived in Israel, I served in the Israeli Army reserves. During my short basic training (I was 35 years old, married with 3 children and established in business) I served with other immigrants from similar backgrounds and ages. Clearly one-third of our group was religious and many were from the “ultra-orthodox” camp.

I began noticing that the more physically challenging and strenuous our training got, the more our sophisticated and personally disciplined group began to act in a boorish manner. Our characters began to change, we began using rough and profane language, and sometimes we behaved in a manner that would have been unacceptable in polite society. I realized that in civilian life, we suppress certain feelings, desires and forces, but in the army those very forces are encouraged and relied upon. The increase in physical activity and extreme conditions had a powerfully negative effect on us. As civilized human beings and religious Jews, we were forced to keep ourselves in check, otherwise we were capable of Chutzpa (unbecoming behavior).

This is what Moshe was saying to us. Am Yisra’el (the nation of Israel) will spend considerable time conquering the land and making it suitable for Jewish existence. In the process, we might become crass and boorish, which would make us insensitive to one another.

In the post Holocaust era, Am Yisra’el also had to lift itself up out of the ashes. A state had to be founded, and wars unfortunately had to be fought. The battles for independence were conducted in the Sinai desert, the Galilee and on the West Bank. But there were other battles that Am Yisra’el also fought spiritual battles in America and in the Soviet Union, on campuses in Berkeley and Jerusalem, in the suburbs of our great cities and in the outposts of Siberia and in the disengagement of Gaza. Our leadership spoke about tolerance and acted with intolerance, decried injustice and meted out inequity. We expounded community and acted as segregationists. And today Eretz Yisra’el has become our battleground for self-righteous and self-centeredness.

It is one thing to understand a problem and another to rectify it. That is the real Tikkun Olam (world rectification) that very few of us are attempting. We must demand dialogue among our Rabbis and lay leaders. When we use these hidden and subdued forces within us they take a toll on how we think and how we behave. Our very souls have become inundated with self-righteous insolence and we aren’t even aware of it.

Moshe is warning us to be very careful with the use of necessary force. While it was imperative to destroy the idols and the holy places of the Canaanite nations, he cautioned us that those forces could also be used against each other and against HaShem. Even today, as we battle for our homeland and for the very souls of our brethren, we must use extreme caution. Otherwise, the results can be tragic.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120818 – Parshat Re’eh – Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT  RE’EH

SHABBAT ROSH CHODESH

Devarim (Deut.) 11:26-16:17

Haftarah – Isaiah 66:1 – 66:24

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As a result of the Jewish people suffering continuous religious persecution since the destruction of our second Temple (in 70 C.E.), Jews have become tolerant of other faiths and religions. However, this was not always the case. In ancient times, most of the world was very tolerant of other religions. People believed that gods were territorial, therefore when one left the boundaries of ones’ own gods’ influence; one therefore entered into the province of new and unfamiliar gods. Being tolerant of other religions was a necessary survival technique. One never knew when the gods of another territory would become demanding or, benevolent. Tolerance was necessary to not upset the local gods.

Along came the Hebrews who antagonized the world by not only preaching that their G-d was an invisible and all-powerful G-d, but equally important was that their G-d was the only legitimate G-d. The Hebrews were not very popular among the nations because they rejected any and all tolerance for the worship of wood and stone gods and other natural deities.

This obsession with the pursuit of religious truth finds its source in this week’s Parsha. “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations that you are driving away worshiped their gods; on the high mountains and on the hills, and under every leafy tree. You shall break apart their altars; you shall smash their pillars; you shall burn their sacred trees with fire; you shall cut down their carved images; and you shall obliterate their sacred names from that place” (Devarim 12 2-3).

In ancient times, when one nation conquered another nation, it would try not to destroy the vanquished nation’s religious sites and objects. Just the opposite, the conquering nation often used these edifices which were usually beautifully constructed and very ornate, for their own purposes. The fact that the nation of Israel had to destroy the Temples, the idols and the religious symbols of the former inhabitants, was a revolutionary concept.

Our Parsha explains that HaShem declared that the seven nations occupying Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel) had no right to worship as they pleased. Eretz Yisra’el had to be emancipated from any religious pollutants. Whether conquered or driven out, the non-Jewish resident aliens or wayfarers had no right to worship their gods or practice their own religious beliefs while on this holy ground. To make sure that these religious places and symbols did not infiltrate the conquering Hebrews, they had to be – “destroyed,” “broken apart,” “smashed,” “burnt,” “cut down,” and “obliterated.”  Any and all traces of these artifacts had to be eradicated lest they influence the Jewish population.

But all this destruction had a price. The very next verse reads: “You shall not do this to HaShem, your G-d” (12:4). RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 – 1105) teaches us three different lessons:

  1. Offerings to HaShem can only be presented from the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and later from the place that HaShem designates (the Temple on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem).
  2. It is forbidden to obliterate the name of HaShem. For this reason we do not write His name (G-d) unrestrictedly so that if the page is thrown away, discarded or desecrated His name will not be erased.
  3. RaShI brings a Sifri (circa 400 C.E., a Halachic [legal] Midrash [interpretation] of the Books of BaMidbar [Numbers] and Devarim) that warns:
    • “Rabbi Ishmael said: Could one even think that the Israelites would destroy their own religious places and artifacts? To be more precise, do not do anything that would CAUSE your religious places TO BE DESTROYED.”

Rabbi Ishmael asks if one could imagine Israel doing such a terrible thing. But in the history of our nation and in the very days of Rabbi Ishmael, such desecrations did happen. Our Temple was desecrated by Hellenist Jews (during the Chanukah period of our history) by bringing in Greek idols and offering non-kosher animals as sacrifices. Rabbi Ishmael knew very well that terrible acts of desecration were committed by the Sadducees during the Roman period. Even recently, in modern Israel, acts of desecration are perpetrated by Jews against differing Jews and their religious institutions. Rabbi Ishmael, who was martyred by the Romans and whose wretched death was cheered on by Jews who were Roman sympathizers, knew full well what Jews were capable of. How could he say, “Could one even think that the Israelites would destroy their own religious places and artifacts?”

I found an interesting answer to this question from Rabbi Ya’acov Haber formerly of Melbourne, Australia, who mentions that the first Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law) is: “…if the performance of a Mitzvah will embarrass you (for example, praying Mincha [afternoon prayers] on a public highway, or saying grace at a board meeting, perhaps even sporting a Kippa [skull-cap] at your work place), you should still do it.

“However, the Mishnah Berurah [an updated version of the code – written by the Chafetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisra’el Meir HaKohen Kagen, 1838-1933] quotes the Beit Yosef [Rabbi Yosef Caro, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, 1488-1575] as saying that, ‘…one should not go out of their way to antagonize people even in the performance of a Mitzvah (for example, deliberately praying Mincha on a public highway when it is unnecessary), since that will give one’s personality the characteristic of Chutzpa (insolence) [in the words of the Beit Yosef] YiK’neh B’Nafsho Midat HaAzut (one’s soul will acquire the characteristic of insolence), which will then be used for less than noble purposes’ ” (Reachings – Talks on Torah, page 172).

What Rabbi Haber means is if one performs Mitzvot either in an antagonizing manner or worse doing so specifically to antagonize, then that behavior will continue in non-Mitzvah situations which will become physiologically and spiritually destructive.

When I lived in Israel, I served in the Israeli Army reserves. During my short basic training (I was 35 years old, married with 3 children and established in business) I served with other immigrants from similar backgrounds and ages. Clearly one-third of our group was religious and many were from the “ultra-orthodox” camp.

During that time I began noticing that the more physically challenging and strenuous our training got, the more our sophisticated and personally disciplined group began to act in a boorish manner. Our character began to change, we began using rough and profane language, and sometimes we behaved in a manner that would have been unacceptable in “religious” society. I realized that in civilian life, we suppress certain feelings, desires and forces, but in the army those very forces are encouraged and relied upon. The increase in physical activity and extreme conditions had a powerfully negative effect on us. As civilized human beings and religious Jews, we were forced to keep ourselves in check otherwise we were capable of Chutzpa (unbecoming behavior).

This is what Moshe was saying to us. Am Yisra’el (the nation of Israel) will spend considerable time conquering the land and making it suitable for a Torah based population. In the process, we might become crass and boorish, which would make us insensitive to one another.

In the post-Holocaust era, Am Yisra’el also had to lift itself up out of the ashes. A state had to be formed and wars unfortunately had to be fought. These battles for independence were fought in the Sinai desert, the Galilee and on the West Bank, but there were other battles that Am Yisra’el also fought: spiritual battles in America and in the Soviet Union; on campuses in Berkeley and Jerusalem; in the suburbs of our great cities; in the outposts of Siberia; and in the disengagement of Gaza. Our leadership spoke about tolerance and acted with intolerance, decried injustice and meted out inequity. We expounded community and acted as segregationists. And today Eretz Yisra’el has become our modern battleground for self-righteousness and self-centeredness.

It is one thing to understand a problem and another to rectify it. That is the real Tikkun Olam (world rectification) that very few of us are attempting. We must demand dialogue among our Rabbis and lay leaders. When we use these hidden and subdued forces within us they take a toll on how we think and how we behave. Our very souls have become inundated with self-righteous insolence that we aren’t even aware of it.

Moshe is warning us to be very careful with the use of necessary force. While it was imperative to destroy the idols and the holy places of the Canaanite nations, he cautioned us that those very same energies could also be used against each other and against HaShem. Even today, as we battle for our homeland and for the very souls of our brethren, we must use extreme caution. Otherwise, the results can be tragic.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120630 – Parshat Chukat

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT CHUKAT

BaMidbar (Numbers) 19:1‑22:1

Haftarah – Judges 11:1-33

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It seems as if strife and disunity followed the B’nei Yisra’el everywhere in the desert. A few weeks ago in Parshat B’Ha’Alotecha we find the nation complaining because they didn’t have meat to eat, only Manna (BaMidbar 11:4 – 6). Of course HaShem “struck a very mighty blow,” (verse 34) to the Israelites for their “murmuring” and their display of faithlessness. In Parshat Shelach-Lecha the disharmony and tension caused by the “evil” report of the spies caused an entire generation of Israelites to die off during their now 40 year sojourn in the desert (14:29 – 35). And in last week’s Torah portion, Parshat Korach, the dissension stemming from both Yisra’el’s leadership and from among the people caused both the earth to “open its mouth” and swallow Korach and his 250 wannabe-leaders (16:30) and later a plague that took an additional 14,700 Israelites – “Those who died in the plague were 14,700, aside from those who died because of the affair with Korach” (17:13 – 14).

In our Parsha, “And the Canaanite king of Arad who dwelled in the south heard…” (21:1).He mistakenly “heard” of the lack of water and the disappearance of the Cloud of Glory from the camp of Israel and assumed that because of the many transgressions made by the B’nei Yisra’el, HaShem had suspended His miraculous supply of water (that flowed from the rock) and the protection provided by the Cloud of Glory, the B’nei Yisra’el were ripe for attack.

I say mistakenly because Tractate Rosh HaShanah 3a teaches us that in the merit of Miriam water was provided for and in the merit of Aharon the Cloud of Glory protected and led them on their journeys. Upon the death of these two great leaders and Tzaddikim (righteous ones) the miracles were suspended. The “king of Arad who dwelled in the south” assumed that they were suspended because of the transgressions of the B’nei Yisra’el and therefore attacked the B’nei Yisra’el. Why did he make that assumption?

The covenant between HaShem and Israel stated that if Israel observed HaShem’s commandments then prosperity and security would be the reality in which Israel would dwell (VaYikra – Leviticus 26:1-4). However, if they did not follow His ways, then HaShem would “…turn My attention against you; you will be struck down before your enemies…” (VaYikra 26:17). Another point, who was this Canaanite king of Arad that dwelt in the south? We know that the arch enemy of Israel, Amalek, dwelt in the Negev which is in southern Canaan (BaMidbar 13:29).

We learned back in Bereishit (Genesis) that there was strife between our patriarch Avraham and his nephew Lot which eventually led to their separating: “And there was quarrelling between the herdsmen of Avram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock – and the Canaanite and the Perizzite were then dwelling in the land…So Avram said to Lot: Please let there be no strife between me and you, and your herdsmen and between my herdsmen, for we are kin. Is not all the land before you? Please separate from me: If you go left then I will go right and if you go right then I will go left” (Bereishit 13:7 – 9). Why suddenly are the Canaanites and Perizzites mentioned? Rabbi Mordechai Rogov (1900-1969; Rosh Yeshiva Beit Medrash LaTorah in Chicago) writes: Aharon HaKohen was an Ohev Shalom V’Rodef Shalom – a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace (Mishnah Avot 1:12), who preserved peace in K’lal Yisra’el. Once Aharon was gone, MaChloket – arguments and fights began. Therefore, the B’nei Yisra’el became vulnerable to attack from outside.
What is the significance of the “Canaanite was then in the land?” As long as there was peace between the shepherds of Avram and Lot, their unity was a guarantee of protection from external enemies; but as soon as quarrels broke out, there was a cause for worry about the Canaan being in the land. When there are quarrels among the Jewish people, they become vulnerable to attack from external enemies.”

RaShI teaches us that when “…the Canaanite king of Arad who dwelled in the south heard…” that the king of Canaan was actually the king of Amalek (21:1).The Amalekites confused the Israelites because though they dressed as Amalekites, they spoke the Canaanite language. They knew much about the relationship between the B’nei Yisra’el, they thought that HaShem was angry with the Israelites and that Israel’s prayers for aid against the Canaanites would not be answered because they were not Canaanites, they were actually Amalekites. However, since there was confusion over who these warriors actually were, they requested from HaShem: “If you will deliver THIS PEOPLE in my hand, I will consecrate their cities [give all their booty to the Tabernacle]. HaShem heard the voice of Israel, and He delivered the Canaanite…” (21: 2 – 3).

Amalek, the arch enemy of Israel, knows that we are most vulnerable when we quarrel and desecrate G-d’s Name. As Jews we too must be aware of our vulnerabilities. With so many enemies trying to destroy individual Jews around the world and also the State of Israel, we need to show the traits of Aharon and become pursuers of peace. Though this seems to be a ridiculous notion, it is historically true. With the attitude that many Jews of various streams of Judaism have, namely, that their brand of Judaism is the only true brand, leads us into very dangerous territory. When certain Jews refuse to acknowledge the validity of other Jews, we all are in danger.

Now more than ever we must unite and respect each other even though we are different. We must actively search for paths of peace rather than denigrating our difference. As Avot D’Rabi Natan, chapter 12 teaches us: “How to be a Rodef Shalom? The phrase teaches us that a person should be a pursuer of peace among the Jews, between each and every one. If a person sits in his/her place and is silent, how can s/he pursue peace among Jews, between each and every one? Rather, one should go out from one’s own place and go searching in the world and pursue peace among all the Jews.” Some versions of this teaching read “people” rather than “Jews.”

With the world forming alliances against us, political and social solutions just won’t work. We must become a united people showing love and respect between us. Every derisive remark, every act of violence and disrespect causes a stone to be thrown, a rocket to be launched and evil forces to unite against us. Amalek is confusing us; they are dressed as enemies but speak a language that disguises their true identity.

Behold how good and how pleasing it is if brothers (people) could sit together in unity” (Psalm 133:1) is not just a song; it is the formula for peace. Give peace a chance.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120317 – Parshi’ot VayaKel/Pekudei & Parshat Para

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

Parshi’ot VayaKel/Pekudei

Parshat Parah

Shemot (Exodus) 35:1 – 38:20

Maftir: VaYikra (Numbers) 19:1 – 22

Haftorah – Ezekiel 36:16 – 38

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Our sages established four special Shabbat Torah readings to commemorate special events of the pre-Passover season prior to the expected great Roman exile as a Zecher LeChurban – a remembrance of the Temple destruction. The four Parshi’ot are:

  • Parshat Shekalim – Feb. 18, 2012 (dealing with the half-Shekel tax, Shemot 30:11-16), this portion is read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar or Adar II in a leap year to remind us that in Temple times we would participate in the census that funded the communal offerings in the Temple.
  • Parshat Zachor – March 3, 2012 (remembering and not forgetting the evil nation of Amalek), is read the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim. The portion of Amalek Devarim (Deut.) 25:17-19 is read, since the Purim villain Haman was a descendant of Agag, King of Amalek.
  • Parshat Para – March 17, 2012, VaYikra (Numbers) 19:1-22 (dealing with purifying one’s contaminated body via the sprinkling of the ashes of the Red Heifer so that one may enter the Temple area to sacrifice and eat the Pascal lamb offering) is read on the Shabbat following Purim.
  • Parshat HaChodesh – March 24, 2012, finally, on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Nissan, (recalling the first national Mitzvah of our special lunar/solar calendar, we read the special Maftir from Shemot 12:1-20. These verses contain the commandment to make the month of Nissan the head of all months. This was the first Mitzvah given to the Jewish people while still in Egypt.

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I am not going to analyze a particular passage of our Parsha this week in my usual manner. I have decided instead to explain how the thirty nine forbidden actions on Shabbat were determined, because the Mitzvah of Shabbat is so central to the Jewish experience. Let me begin by saying that from the time that the commandment of Shabbat was given (at Mareh, prior to receiving the Torah, see RaShI Shemot 15:25), the 39 “forms of creative labor” were revealed. However, after 1,500 years, the transmission of the law was muddled and a biblical reference needed to be determined.

Our Parsha begins with Moshe assembling the B’nei Yisra’el and teaching them the Mitzvah (commandment) of observing Shabbat. To put the event into perspective, we know that Moshe ascended Mount Sinai on the 6th of Sivan (which we celebrate as the festival of Shavu’ot) and returned on the 17th of Tamuz (observed as the day that the sieges of Jerusalem took place in both the first and second Temple periods). He broke the tablets on the 18th and carried out the judgment against the transgressors.

On the 19th of Tamuz he again ascended Mount Sinai (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 9:18), this time to plead for mercy for the Israelites, and returned on the 29th of Av, when HaShem agreed to forgive the people and give them the second tablets. Moshe ascended Mt. Sinai (for a third time) on Rosh Chodesh Av, again, for a period of 40 days and nights and descended with the second tablets on the 10th of Tishre (Yom Kippur), which now puts Yom Kippur as a Day of Atonement into perspective, since HaShem forgave us for the sin of the golden calf and continues to forgive those who call out in prayer, repentance and charity.

The very next day, the scene of assembly takes place. RaShI (Shemot 35:2) emphasizes that despite their enthusiasm to show their love and gratitude to HaShem by building the Mishkan (the tabernacle), the B’nei Yisra’el were instructed not to allow the erection of the Mishkan to take preference over observance of Shabbat.

But the question remains, what is forbidden to be done on Shabbat? The Torah mentions in many different places that “MELACHA” (creative labor often mistranslated as “work”) is forbidden. But a definition of Melacha is not provided. However, from the juxtaposition of the Shabbat and the Mishkan in this week’s Parsha, the Talmud in Tractate Shabbat 97b deduces that the 39 Melachot (plural of Melacha) that went into the construction of the Mishkan define the forbidden actions on Shabbat.

To understand this connection, we must understand that our Halachic (legal) tradition helps us to understand obscure words or phrases in the Torah. These traditions were passed down orally from Moshe Rabbeinu until the time of the Talmud. When the oral tradition was written down so that it would not be lost, Rabbi Ishma’el authored a Beraita (authoritative draft of the law, some of which were refined to become Mishna – the written oral tradition). His Beraita was included in the introduction to the Sifra (a Midrashic work that exhaustively clarifies the Book of Vayikra – Leviticus). The B’raita lists the Thirteen Rules by which the Torah can be properly interpreted within the context of our oral tradition (the Thirteen Rules are similar to the axioms of geometry).

The second of the thirteen rules is the Gezerah Shavah (similar words in different contexts are meant to clarify one another). In our case, regarding Shabbat, the word Melachah (…”do not do any form of Melachah.” Shemot 35:2) is undefined, while in connection with the building of the

Mishkan the word Melachah or Malechet is defined by 39 forms of creative labor. The Talmud then reinforces our traditional understanding of Melachah with a biblical passage proving the connection. A list of the Thirteen Rules can be found in the Morning Service of any Siddur (prayer book) after the review of the daily sacrifices. In the Artscroll Siddur, it can be found on pages 48 – 52 (with an excellent overview and description) and in the Birnbaum Siddur on pages 41 – 45.

I have listed below the 39 Melachot and the purpose of the Melachah:

1. Plowing 2. Planting 3. Harvesting 4. Gathering 5. Threshing 6. Sifting 7. Selecting 8. Winnowing 9. Grinding 10. Kneading* 11. Baking. Purpose: To grow and process plants needed to make dyes to color the wool and skins used in the Mishkan. The Jerusalem Talmud holds that the purpose of kneading and baking were to prepare the 12 “show-breads.”

12. Shearing 13. Bleaching 14. Dyeing 15. Spinning  16. Weaving 17. Combing 18. Separating thread      19. Threading a loom 20. Threading a harness 21. Tying a knot 22. Untying a knot      23. Sewing 24. Tearing. Purpose: To prepare the wool and weave it into curtains.

25. Trapping 26. Slaughtering 27. Skinning 28. Tanning 29. Smoothing 30. Marking 31. Cutting to a shape. Purpose: To prepare the skins for the Mishkan covering.

32. Writing 33. Erasing. Purpose: To rebuild the Mishkan properly, letters were written on the courtyard pillars to identify their position. Letters were often erased and rewritten.

34. Building 35. Demolishing. Purpose: To assemble and disassemble the Mishkan when traveling.

36. Kindling 37. Extinguishing a fire. Purpose: To light the fires needed for dyeing the wool and smelting the metals. Fire was also extinguished to produce charcoal.

38. Final hammer blow (completing). Purpose: To complete the metal construction

39. Carrying. Purpose: To move the pillars from the wagons to a Public Area and vice versa; to bring the tithes from the tents to a Public area.

The above listed Melachot are the sources of all Torah and Rabbinic Law regarding what is permissible and not permissible on Shabbat and Biblical holidays. However, categorizing certain areas of technology has become confusing. For instance, where does the use electricity fit into a category of Melacha? There are two main schools of thought: The first is that it is fire and since kindling and extinguishing are forbidden, the use of electricity is also forbidden. Another school of thought holds that while electricity can be used for light, it is but a minor use of electricity. Electricity is used to heat and to cool, to power engines and to power utensils, all of which are activated by a switch. The activation of a switch completes a circuit which allows the electricity to flow and therefore falls into the category of “the final hammer blow” or, completing something (the circuit) on Shabbat that was incomplete prior to Shabbat.

Shabbat is central to the Jewish experience. Without it our Jewishness begins to fade. Its observance is our way of expressing that HaShem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh; that He took us out of bondage and gave us the right to choose between good and evil; it allows us to be unhindered by the labors of life in an ever increasing technological world; and, it allows us to interact with those most dear to us, HaShem and our families.

The Zionist philosopher Achad HaAm once said: “More than the Jews keep the Shabbat, Shabbat keeps the Jews.” Shabbat is our lifeline to eternity. The more we put into our Shabbatot the more we receive in return.

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Parshat Para: While the additional Torah reading deals specifically with the Laws of the red Heifer, our special Haftarah contains passages that are most inspirational, for I have seen this prophesy coming true. The awakening of the Jewish people after what seems like HaShem disbursed and forsook us among the nations is coming to an end. “And I will sanctify My great name, which was profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the HaShem Elohim, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you from all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water (a reference to the Red Heifer) upon you, and you shall be clean from all your filthiness; and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put inside you; and I will take away the heart of stone from your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit inside you, and cause you to follow My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them. And you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:22 – 28).

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120218 – Parshat Mishpatim – Shabbat Shekalim

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VORTIFY YOURSELF”

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT MISHPATIM/SHEKALIM

Shemot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18

Maftir Shemot 30:11-16

Haftarah – II Kings 11:17 – 12:17

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This Shabbat is special because it is the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh (the new month of) Adar (next Thursday and Friday) and it is also called Shabbat Shekalim. On Shabbat Shekalim we recall that while the Temple stood a census was taken of all men 20 years old and over; each man was required to donate a half Shekel of silver (Shemot 30:11-16). The money collected was used for the upkeep of the Temple and for the various communal offerings. Every year, on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Adar by reading a special Maftir (the last Aliyah) and a special Haftarah, we remind ourselves that this is not where we should be, our Galut (exile) is only temporary and when we finally return to our land, to our king and to our Temple, then our lives will again be complete.

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One of the greatest events in Jewish history was documented in last week’s Torah portion: HaShem giving the Torah to the entire nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai. This week, Parshat MiShpatim begins with the Jewish civil laws dealing with the many aspects of living together as a community. At the end of our Parsha the Torah suddenly returns to the day BEFORE the revelation on Mt. Sinai. Last week, we discussed the concept of Ein Mukdam U’miUchar BaTorah (there is NO chronological order to the Torah). This week again we see events unfolding in the Torah that do not necessarily follow a chronological order. Why?

The simple answer is that the whole Torah, not only the rituals of Judaism is binding upon us. Describing the Sinai revelation out of sequence stresses this point to us. This concept is reinforced by the famous declaration in Chapter 24:7 of our Parsha: “He [Moshe] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in earshot of the people, and they said, ‘Na’aseh V’niShmah – we will do and then we will obey.” In other words, first we accept the Torah in its entirety (without scrutinizing all of its laws), then we will obey and cherish all of these laws.

There is a beautiful Sifrei (Midrashic commentary) in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 343 that details the process of the Israelites acceptance of the Torah. “When HaShem revealed Himself to give the Torah, He revealed Himself not only to the B’nei Yisra’el but to all other nations as well. First HaShem went to the Children of Esau. He asked them: ‘Will you accept the Torah?’ They said right to His face: ‘What is written in it?’ He said: ‘You shall not murder.’ They replied: ‘Master of the Universe, this goes against our grain. Our father, whose ‘hands are the hands of Esau (Bereishit 27:22),’ led us to rely only on the sword, because his father (Yitzchak) told him, ‘by your sword shall you live’ (Bereishit [Genesis] 27:40).’ Therefore, we cannot accept Your Torah.’

He then went to the children of Ammon and Moab, and asked them: ‘Will you accept the Torah?’ They said right to His face: ‘What is written in it?’ He said: “You shall not commit adultery.”

They replied: ‘Master of the Universe, our very origin is in adultery, for it is written, “And so were the daughters of Lot with child by their father’ (Bereishit 19:36).” Therefore, we cannot accept Your Torah.’

He then went to the children of Ishmael, and asked them: ‘Will you accept the Torah?’ They said right to His face: ‘What is written in it?’ He said: “You shall not steal.” They replied: ‘Master of the Universe, it is in our nature to live off what we steal and what is gotten by assault. Of our ancestor Ishmael it is written, “And he shall be a wild-ass of a man, and every man’s hand against him’ (Bereishit 16:12).” Therefore, we cannot accept Your Torah.’

There was not a single nation among the nations to whom HaShem did not go, speak, and knock on its door, asking whether it would be willing to accept the Torah.

At long last He came to Israel and asked them: ‘Will you accept the Torah?’ They said, “We will do and we will obey (Shemot 24:7).”

Of HaShem’s successive attempts to give the Torah, it is written, “HaShem came to Sinai – having shone forth to them at Se’ir [with the children of Esau] and having appeared at Mt. Paran [with the children of Ishmael], finally approaching the holy myriads [the children of Israel] – from His right hand He presented the fiery Torah to them (Devarim 33:2).”

How can this be ? On one hand we are praised by the Sifrei for accepting the Torah without questioning its contents, and on the other hand, the Talmud claims that Mt. Sinai was uprooted and about to be dropped on the heads of the nation, burying them in that place. What choice did they have? Who would have or could have chosen otherwise?

The answer is that we didn’t have a choice. The mountain held over us is symbolic of the fact that without our willingly accepting the Torah, there would be no enlightened nation of Israel, there would be no “People of the Book,” “Chosen People,” or, “Light unto the Nations.” For all intents and purposes, without accepting the Torah, a mountain could have fallen upon us and history would have recorded our presence in museums like all other extinct nations. Our distinction as a nation lies not in our skills as doctors, lawyers, accountants, film directors, finance ministers, presidential advisors or philosophers. Our uniqueness is found in our holiness, our message to the world, our strength in the face of disaster. A secular Jewish nation void of Torah, will be buried in its own arrogance and mentioned in passing in the history books of civilization.

Great nations and empires have come and gone like shifting sands on the shoreline. But Israel, insignificant former slaves, the smallest of all nations, radically changed a pagan world into one that has come to acknowledge HaShem, and did so not by might or by force, but through the power of Na’aseh V’niShmah.

Na’aseh V’niShmah – we will do and then we will obey, is our anthem and the source of our power.  The Gemara tells us that when HaShem heard the B’nei Yisra’el’s response, He exclaimed: “Who revealed this secret to My children, the secret of the angels?”

King David commented on this angelic distinction when he wrote in the Book of Psalms: “…for the angels have the same order of priorities, they are called, strong warriors who DO His bidding to OBEY His word” (Psalm 103:20).

Na’aseh V’niShmah – we will do and then we will obey, is the greatness of Am Yisra’el. The Torah’s placement of Na’aseh V’niShmah in our Parsha after the recounting of Jewish civil law (the Mitzvot dealing with slavery, lending money, concern for the helpless, the judicial system) emphasizes that the whole Torah, not just the Ten Commandments is important and relevant to all Jews.

Unfortunately, so often some of us accept the “moral and ethical” laws and reject the ritualistic and unfathomable Mitzvot. We think that by only observing those Mitzvot that are rational we become more sophisticated and live by the true essence of Judaism. History has proven time after time that in the long run, these selective Jews disappear from our nation. Where are the Kararites, the Sadducees or even the original Hebrew-Christians today? There are only traces of them in museums and history books. Mt. Sinai, with all 613 Mitzvot has fallen upon them and their sacred longevity has been terminated forever.

That is why we remember the giving of the half Shekel at this time of the year. Though the Mitzvah is no longer applicable for there is no standing Temple of God, we annually remind ourselves that this onetime Mitzvah will one day come back to life.

While we may not always live up to the standards of Na’aseh V’niShmah, it remains our heart and soul, our saving grace, our raison d’etre. By reinforcing these aspects of our spiritual makeup, namely the performance of Mitzvot, the rituals, the meaningful insights, the mundane everyday civil laws between man and his fellow man and even those many Mitzvot that we do not comprehend, we reflect His will and connect to His eternal existence.

Na’aseh V’niShmah – to do and to obey, remember the message, for it is the source of our longevity. Without it – we might as well have been buried alive.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

120204 – Parshat B’Shalach/Shabbat Shira

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“VORTIFY YOURSELF”

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT B’SHALACH

SHABBAT SHIRAH

Shemot (Exodus) 13:17-17:16

Haftarah – Judges 4:4-5:31

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The word Shira is often mistranslated as song and as we all know very song has both music and lyrics. The lyrics being the poetry of the song, therefore I have translated Shira as Poem. This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shira – the Shabbat of the Poem. During the fourth Aliyah the “Poem” of the [Reed] Sea is read. Due to its extreme importance, it is customary to rise during this reading.

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The Torah portions up until this week have revealed many insights into our history and the spiritual development of our people. The infinite knowledge that the Torah provides and the myriad of levels through which it can be grasped are designed to touch the souls and the minds of anyone who desires to comprehend its secrets. Some episodes in the Torah are so profound, so fundamental, that they were included in our daily prayers to be repeated every day of our lives so that they may become incorporated into our beings.

One such passage is the “Poem” of the [Reed] Sea (Shemot 14:30 – 15:19). This event which occurred on the seventh day of Passover brings an end to the exile and rule of Egypt and takes us on a spiritual journey that climaxes at Mt. Sinai. After 210 years in Egypt and almost a century of enslavement and despair, the mighty Hand of HaShem was revealed at the Reed Sea in such a profound manner, that it even swept away the profundity of the 10 Plagues. In fact, the Haggadah of Pesach goes to great lengths in comparing the value of the 10 plagues versus the event at the Reed Sea.

Prior to the poem begin read its introduction states: “And Israel saw the mighty Hand which HaShem [used] upon the Egyptians; and the people were awed by HaShem, and they believed in HaShem and his servant Moses” (Shemot 14:31). After everything that they experienced and everything they saw: the degradation of their slavery; the 10 plagues that crippled the Egyptians while the Israelites were unaffected; the humbling of Pharaoh and his hosts; the generous “lending” of clothes and money after the ninth plague; the inability of the Egyptians react to the sacrifice of their god used for the Pascal offering; the death of every firstborn male, man or beast, while HaShem passed over our homes and finally, standing on the opposite side of the Reed Sea when they beheld the decimation of the mighty Egyptian army, suddenly “they believed in HaShem.” How is it possible that they did not “believe” before that moment?

The Hebrew language is the mindset of the Torah. It defines and gives light to understanding God’s word. No translation can accurately portray the true meaning conveyed in the words. Hebrew is a root based language. Every root has a specific meaning and is often lost in translation. There are no synonyms in Hebrew, if a different Hebrew root word is used it is because it has a different meaning. So, it is important for us to understand the meaning of VayaAMINu – “and they believed.

The root of VayaAMINu is Amen. Commonly, when one recites a blessing, the proper response is Amen – it is true. But Amen means so much more. The root is also used in the word Oman – master craftsman, and Omanut – art. Art is a representation of truth depicted through the eyes of the artist. Not everyone who draws or sculpts is a master artist, they might be talented but the “truth” of their portrayal is not yet refined enough. It takes years and years of hard work and discipline to sharpen one’s craft to the point that one can be considered an Oman.

As many of you know I am a musician, and though many people praise my playing, I am not a master of my craft. What I do is good in a limited field of music, but a master guitarist, an Oman, knows his instrument and has expertise in all aspects of technique. He interprets the truth in his music. This mastery in any of the art forms comes after working diligently, obtaining the discipline and sensing the soul of the art form.

This is also true with belief in HaShem. Without the absolute knowledge of His existence and involvement in our lives and all matters in all the dimensions of reality, we may have Bitachon – trust in Him, but we have not yet attained His truth in our lives. Emunah – which we translate as faith or belief is not a leap into unproven reality. It is the knowledge that He is real. After many hints and signs we know with absolute certainty that He is true and He is the basis of our reality.

As modern, intelligent beings we are assaulted daily by the scoffers of the world. We are told that belief in Him is at best an uncertainty which clings superstitiously to a primitive explanation of the unknown. As Jews, we have a unique perspective on history and our experience in the world. Countless times we have been put in dangerous situations that might have led to the total annihilation of our nation. By the Grace of God we have been saved from this outcome while other civilizations have disappeared. Have you seen a Hittite or a true Roman lately? The Egyptians of today are not descendants of the true Egyptian race of past history, nor are the Greeks or the Babylonians or the Persians, just to name a few.

Every conquering nation assimilated the vanquished by many different means and the replaced occupants of those countries no longer carried the genes that once distinguished the former inhabitants. The Jewish people have survived history and have remained a race with the same ideals and character that exemplified our ancestors.

Sociologically and militarily, we have no business existing. HaShem’s hand in history has shown itself over and over as His chosen people’s salvation. Even the holocaust of the past century couldn’t destroy European Jewry, let alone world Jewry. After so many instances we have seen and experienced the “the mighty Hand which HaShem [used] upon the Egyptians” and we know with the proof of history that He exists and oversees our existence. Unfortunately, history has also taught us that those Jews without this “knowledge” of Emunah will eventually assimilate and disappear from existence.

This “knowing,” this “truth”, has guided us and allowed us to survive the most destructive forces in every era of our long history. It is this “knowledge” that is the basis of our faith. It is not an acceptance of the unknown that has kept us true to our purpose and our destiny rather; it has always been our leap into the world of Emunah, the world of truth and knowledge. As the Haggadah states: Lo Et Avoteinu BiLvad Go’al HaKadosh Baruch Hu, Elah Af Otanu Go’al ImaHem – Not only did the “Holy One Blessed Be He” redeem our ancestors, rather, we too were redeemed with them. Like them we must see the truth and incorporate it into our very beings in order for the words of the poem within us can be heard throughout history. Let us raise our voices and sing the poem that will lead to the final redemption.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

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