Monday, May 31, 2010

The Spies and their Sin

A few ideas about the sins that cost Moshe's generation a chance to conquer the land of Israel:

- Ramban focuses on the word אפס (translation: but, BaMidbar 13:28). If this was in fact a factual report, there was no need for a qualifier - stating facts was all that was required. 'But' was a contradiction to their first two sentences, that described the land so glowingly.

- Why was there a need to mention Amalek (BaMidbar 13:29)? Amalek was deliberately mentioned, despite not even being part of the land of Israel, in order to incite fear and doubt.

- Rav Twerski points out that the Spies' report highlighed their lack of belief in the mission at hand: "We were like grasshoppers ... and so we were in their eyes," (BaMidbar 13:33). So lacking in confidence were the Spies that they felt 'small' during the mission, and even anticipated how the residents of the land would view them. Hashem had taken Israel out of Egypt, but their feelings of weakness and inferiority due to the years of slavery had sadly accompanied them. This generation wouldn't have the privilege of conquering the land.

- לא נוכל לעלות (BaMidbar, 13:31) ... The Spies tried to convince the Nation of Israel that the task was not possible ("We cannot ascend"). The mass hysteria that followed on Tisha Be'Av ("the people wept that night," BaMidbar 14:1) has haunted us till this very day.

Dear Boss ...

People who do lots of work ... make lots of mistakes

People who do less work ... make less mistakes

People who do no work ... make no mistakes

People who make no mistakes ... gets promoted

That's why I spend most of my time sending e-mails & playing games at work I need a promotion


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Back in London

While waiting for my flight to London on Sunday, I was looking at our plane when I saw none other than Ehud Olmert putting his bag in a shining Audi with his bodyguard watching. I wonder if our former Prime Minister enjoyed the Champions League final he watched in Madrid Saturday night.


So I’m back in London with IDT. I arrived late Sunday night and was rather startled by the English weather. No it wasn’t snow, or hail, or even a rainstorm. It was warm, t-shirt appropriate weather … at 11pm at night!


So I have a friend who was rather surprised that I was going abroad for almost two weeks, leaving my wife and 18 month old son alone. I do understand where he’s coming from. It’s not easy for me or my wife. It does however seem to be a necessary part of any professional’s routine if s/he intends to climb his/her way up the corporate ladder (or in another world, any eligible reservist in Israel who understands the importance of serving the country, and does so). It is something that deprived me of my father for many weeks as I grew up, and Talya of her dad too. I doubt they would have been able to give their families many of the luxuries they provided were it not for these sacrifices. The question in my mind then becomes how can one strike a balance between his commitments to his career and his family so he can satisfy his desires and be happy & satisfied in both fields.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of Our Fathers - Chapter 6, II

Pirkei Avot 6:11

כָּל מַה שֶּׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בָּעוֹלָמוֹ, לֹא בְרָאוֹ אֶלָּא לִכְבוֹדוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, כֹּל הַנִּקְרָא בִשְׁמִי וְלִכְבוֹדִי בְּרָאתִיו יְצַרְתִּיו אַף עֲשִׂיתִיו, וְאוֹמֵר יְהֹוָה יִמְלֹךְ לְעֹלָם וָעֶד

All that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in this world, He created for His glory, as is said in Isaiah XLIII:7, "...every one that is called by My name; for I have created him for My glory. I have formed him; year, I have made him." And it is also said in Exodus XV:18, The Lord shall reign for ever and ever."

- The first line is saying that everything has been created for a purpose. We all have a role to play, a paint stroke in a master painting.

- The last mishna is a fitting end to Pirkei Avot. We've spent six weeks reading what great figures in Judaism have stressed in order to improve our attitudes, behavior and way of life. All these lessons are rather meaningless if they're not done for a reason. As we are on this planet for a reason (As the first bullet point states), if we don't ensure that our time here is used in order to enhance the greatness of our Creator, then what exactly is the point of our existence?

Another cycle is done ... It's been fun and challenging. Until next time ...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rivlin's comments on Jerusalem Day

Reuven Rivlin, Knesset Speaker, delivered a few interesting words during his speech in the special Knesset session commemorating this national holiday:

Jerusalem Day was created by law as a national holiday. And yet the nature of celebrations in Jerusalem and the identity of those dancing in the streets today teach us that the national holiday in its current form more resembles a sectorial holiday. To be honest, most of the main events in Jerusalem have long been held under the auspices of the religious public.

Rivlin is pointing out a problem that I've raised before on this blog. It's a worrying issue with the secular Zionism movement - a failure to stress Jewishness as an essential part of the Israeli identity, a failure that could have grave consequences for our future ... or as Arik Sharon put it:

I remember back in the 1950s and '60s when I was traveling abroad I felt the desire by others to consider me not a Jew but as an Israeli, to draw the distinction. You are an Israeli, they seemed to say. They, those people over there with strange clothes and strange ways - they are Jews. And in a way it felt easy to be accepted like that. But it was also dangerous. It was a signal that we had lost our Jewishness. And I for one, even then, never believed we would really be able to survive here if we were nothing more than Israelis. For our attachment to the land of Israel, our identity with it, comes through out Jewishness. I am a Jew, I thought then, as I think now. That does not mean I am a religious man. I am not. When it comes to practicing Judaism, there is much I do not know. But I do know for certain that above everything I am a Jew and only afterwards an Israeli and the rest

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

18 months of Nissim

It's crazy how quickly time has flown by. It feels like just yesterday that I was told I have a healthy baby boy, or that Talya & I gave him my late Nonnou's name, or that I started taking photo after photo to capture the many precious moments as he grew up in front of my eyes.

So, as he reaches this small milestone in his life, I'd like to share the below slide show ... Enjoy:


Jerusalem at 43

A nice video courtesy of Aish:


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of Our Fathers - Chapter 5, II

Pirkei Avot 5:16

ארבע מדות בנותני צדקה רוצה שיתן ולא ייתנו אחרים עינו רעה בשל אחרים שייתנו אחרים והוא לא ייתן עינו רעה בשלו שיתן וייתנו אחרים חסיד לא ייתן ולא ייתנו אחרים רשע.

There are four categories of those who give chartiy: a person who wishes to give, but does not desire that others also give; such a person has an evil eye towards others. He who desires that others give, but not he, such a person is stingy. One who gives and desires that others also give; he is pious. One who does not give, and wishes that others would not also give, he is wicked

- The Talmud states that one who gives charity is enriched (This is deduced from Malachi 3:10). Hence, one who wants others to not give charity has an evil eye as he doesn't want others to be enriched.

- The first question one should ask when reading this mishna is how can this mishna be talking about donors when two of the four examples (#2: desires that others give but not he and #4: does not give) do not give? This is explained nicely by Rav Moshe Aleshkar - who says that all four refer to people who do give charity but whose attitudes differ. Rav Twerski (Visions of the Fathers, pg 303-4), using Rav Aleshkar's reasoning, breaks the donors down in the following way:
  1. One who prefers that no one else should give, so that he may claim the entire credit for the project himself
  2. One who ultimately does donate but is a non-giver at the start
  3. One who gladly gives and hopes others follow suit
  4. One who donates begrudgingly
It's a privilege to give tzedakah, and hence it should be done with enthusiasm and consideration - one should try to internalize that so that their giving not be considered as that of a rasha.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Richard, Ron & Tzippi

While I was waiting at the dentist on Wednesday morning, I picked up the Yediot Achronot newspaper on the floor. The main story was about Richard Goldstone, the man responsible for the one-sided report on the Gaza war that even he said was flawed. The story bought to light how Goldstone was responsible for sending as many as 28 blacks to the gallows as an Apartheid era judge in South Africa. By the next day, the story was in the Jerusalem Post and Goldstone defended his decisions, "I was part of a system and had to respect the laws of the state." I was startled a man who's held in such high esteem by the international community could defend his actions that way. No one forced him to be a judge in South Africa - only he is responsible for putting himself in the position where he could do something he claims he was so opposed to (capital punishment). Alas, he did what he 'had' to do ... even if it meant turning his back on his own 'values'.

When Goldstone's name first hit the headlines many months ago, I asked some friends in the Johannesburg community what they thought of the man. They said that Goldstone would do anything to further his own political career. Knowing now how he willingly became an active cog in the Apartheid system and his similar eagerness to be a part of the UN's Gaza War report, their comments seem to have been right on the money.

Does anyone know if Goldstone gave any TRC testimonies?


Last week, Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai caused an uproar by slamming the private Haredi education system (though he did mention similar issues with secular & Arab private schools, he specifically focused on the Haredim). While it seems that his speech stems from hatred, he does touch on an important issue that I think is critical to Israel and her education system, “There is no other democracy in the world where the government funds private schools. If you want to fund a private school, you need to fund it yourself.” If private schools want to follow a different curriculum than that stipulated by the Education Ministry (though I think this curriculum needs ‘refreshing’), they have every right to do so. But they shouldn’t be funded by the government. It's only unfortunate that Huldai's message comes off
as (or maybe is?) so hate filled -


Haaretz's weekend edition contained an interesting interview with Tzippi Livni, the head of Kadima. Two points about the lady:

- I found it very odd that during the political tension between the US and Israel Livni remained so quiet. She's never shied away from taking shots at any of her political rivals, but here was a golden opportunity to do so and she remained mute. My guess was that Livni thought that US pressure would topple Bibi's government and would allow her the chance to establish a government. Now that it seems the US-Israel relationship is back on track and her 'hopes' for Bibi's collapse dashed, Livni is opening her mouth again, slamming Bibi and stating that the Likkud and Kadima need to unite in the Knesset. I wonder what stopped Livni from joining the coalition when Bibi was given the task to create one last year? Oh wait, you were too busy sulking about the election 'loss' or hoping that Bibi's coalition would fall to put the country ahead of your political career?

- Part of the interview revolves around the need to change three elements within Israel - education, military/national service & work. While I do agree with the need to change all three (and I'm happy Livni also stressed 'Jewish studies' along with civic studies for education reform), I just find it rather telling that she's pushing this a few days after Huldai's comments and news that Yair Lapid may be part of a new party pushing for the same reforms. I think this highlights what Shaul Mofaz said about Livni's inability to lead. I just hope she never gets close to being our Prime Minister again.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of Our Fathers - Chapter 4, II

Pirkei Avot 4:1

בן זומא אומר איזה הוא חכם הלמד מכל אדם שנאמר מכל מלמדיי השכלתי (תהלים קיט צט) איזה הוא גיבור הכובש את יצרו שנאמר טוב ארך אפיים מגיבור (משלי טז לב) איזה הוא עשיר השמח בחלקו שנאמר יגיע כפיך כי תאכל אשריך וטוב לך (תהלים קכח ב) אשריך בעולם הזה וטוב לך לעולם הבא איזה הוא מכובד המכבד את הברייות שנאמר כי מכבדיי אכבד ובוזיי ייקלו (שמואל א ב ל). סוף

Ben Zoma used to say, who is wise? He who learns from all men, as is said in Psalms CXIX:99, "From all my teachers I have gained wisdom." Who is strong? He who controls his passions, as is said in the Book of Proverbs XVI:32, "better is the slow to anger than he mighty, and the one who rules his spirit than he who captures a city." Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot, as is said in Psalms CXXVIII:2, "For thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands; happy shalt though be, and it shall be well with thee in this world and in the world to come." Who is honored? He who honors his fellow men, as is said in I Samuel II:30, "For I honor those who honor Me, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed."

- I find it interesting, and telling, how Pirkei Avot dictates we define someone who is smart, strong, rich or honored. Compare how 'we' define the aforementioned in the 'Western world,' and we see one of areas where the Western world and Jewish world constantly clash.

- Surely if one can learn from 'all,' one should be able to learn from a baby too ... but what? One of the things Nissim has taught me is one should do things with excitement. Whenever he gets up, he doesn't lay back down and relax. He wants to start his day an enthusiastic burst of energy. Babies look forward to each morning - a new discovery awaits - while those later on in life sadly lack that youthful passion. If I can learn such a valuable lesson from my 18 month old son, I'm sure I can learn something from everyone.

- Slightly related to our region and the difficulties in making peace, but perhaps he who is strong is one who 'represses the hatred we feel towards an enemy and makes a friend of him or her,' (taken from Rabbi Meir Matzliah Melamed's Pirkei Avot commentary).

- "Self control therefore needs the incredible strength of restraint. It requires holding back for just a few seconds between the things that happen to us and our response, creating a little space to think and process the point of view of the divine voice. It is what Stephen Covey calls the 'pause button between the stimulus and the response.'

We need to train ourselves not to act quickly and instinctively. We need to use the unique ability of the human being to stop and ask ourselves the question: is this wrong or right? It takes amazing strength to wait a few seconds, but those few seconds can be the difference between an animalistic act and a divine one." (How Strong are You? by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie).

- Ah yes, the 'who is rich' statement. Something that my Nonnou lived by, something I would love to master. I think that being 'happy with your lot' is allowing yourself the balance of being grateful for what you've been granted and striving to better your life ... for the right reason. We're a greedy species - and we're always liable to be jealous & ambitious (for the wrong reason), but if the striving is done for the right reason (I think the 'right reason' changes for each individual), it should allow us to handle & hopefully suppress the "look what s/he's got" mentality and fear that we'll not be able to sustain ourselves if what we think we need isn't granted to us.

- The part about honor is perhaps best summed up by Cuban poet Jose Marti, "Honrar, honra, "To honor, brings honor" (Rabbi Melamed).