Sunday, January 22, 2012

Judge Every Person Favorably, III

** In light of recent tensions in Israel, I thought this would be worth sharing **

There's a man who joins us for mincha (afternoon prayer) every few weeks. He's always wearing the same attire - black pants and a white shirt. He has short peyot (long side burns) and a black kippah. He's haredi - one of 'them.'

I saw this man at arvit (evening prayer) a few weeks ago. He came in a minute or so late. His attire? The green pants and shirt of the IDF. His ranking? Segen (Platoon Commander). What's this 'them'?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Full of Torah but ...

The great Talmudist, R' Pinchas Horowitz, author of the monumental Talmudic commentary, Haflaah, heard of the chassidic master, the Maggid of Mezeritch, and was curious to investigate Chassidut. He visited the Maggid, and was unimpressed by what he observed. When he took leave of the Maggid, the latter suggested that he engage R' Zusia in a scholarly discussion.

R' Zusia kept his erudition a secret. No one ever saw him studying. Rather, he was sweeping the floor or stoking the fire, or otherwise tending to the needs of the house of study. When R' Pinchas approached him, R' Zusia said, "There must be some mistake. I am not a scholar and there is nothing you can discuss with me." At R' Pinchas' insistence, R' Zusia said, "I can only tell you something I overheard the others say."

"I heard the students reading a portion of the Talmud where R' Huna says, 'Nine men and the aron kodesh (the ark containing the Torah) can constitute a minyan.' R' Nachman challenges this, saying, 'Is then the ark a person?' (Berachot 47b). Now what kind of a question is that? R' Huna knew full well that the ark is not a person, yet he felt that it could be counted toward the minyan. If R' Nachman wished to disagree with him, he should have simple said so. To ask, 'Is the ark a person?' makes no sense. R' Huna made the statement even though he knew very well that the ark was not a person. Perhaps you can explain that to me," R' Zusia said.

R' Pinchas was taken aback. In spite of his enormous erudition, he had no answer to such an obvious question.

R' Zusia shrugged his shoulders, "Maybe the Talmud meant it this way," he said. "R' Huna was of the opinion that since the ark was full of Torah, it could contribute to a minyan. R' Nachman's challenge was, 'Granted, the ark is full of Torah, but can you can be full of Torah and still not be a mentsch.'"

This is taken from Rabbi Twerski's Visions of the Fathers.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Secret of our Strength

One Friday, we were here on the Mt. of Olives with a group of soldiers from officer training school, and late Friday afternoon we went down to do Shabbat prayers at the Western Wall with a little dancing. We made a huge circle around the whole square. 284 cadets, officers, the whole battalion. We danced and sang 'Am Yisrael Chai.' A huge circle. We came in close and sang a few more songs. 'Shabechi Yerushalayim.' 'Kol Ha'Olam Kulo.' We danced and sang for 20 minutes. And after that, whoever wanted stayed for prayers, and whoever wanted went on a tour. After Shabbat, we did a concluding program. Some of the cadets spoke about their thoughts.

Near the end, a cadet got up and said, "Hi, may name is Awad. I am a Druze from Kfar Yaka in the Galilee, from the Herev Battalion. All Shabbat people were asking me, 'How do you feel here ... Shabbat is for Jews ... Jerusalem ... etc. And I didn't answer them. But now I will answer you. Here in front of everyone. This was the most amazing Shabbat of my life. But the most amazing moment was watching you dance at the Western Wall. I stood and watched religious, secular, Sepharadim, Ashkenazim, Olim (immigrants), natives, left wingers, right wingers and Haredim (ultra-orthodox) who joined the circle. And suddenly I understood the secret of your strength. When you are together, no one can beat you. And the strength, you get from here ... from Jerusalem ... from the Western Wall.

Rabbi Yonatan Milo, senior lecturer to the IDF (From this video).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Begin on 'Coming Home'

לא פעם שאלתי את נפשי: לו מותר היה לנסוע לבריסק, כפי שאפשר לנסוע ליוהנסבורג או לנוי-יורק, ההיית קם ושם פעמיך אל העיר בה בילית את שנות הנעורים השמשיות? מדי שאלי את השאלה הזאת תתעטף הנפש אבל ותלחש מרה: לא תבוא עוד בשערי העיר בה נולדת ולמדת וחלמת וסבלת ושמחת - כי איננה. אומנם, ייתכן כי הבית הקטן בו אור האהבה ותוגת העוני שימשו בערבוביה עודנו עומד על תילו; אך הבית, בית אמא ואבא, איננו ולא יהיה. מה כי אבוא "הביתה", אשוט ברחובות, אשאל ולא איענה, אבקש ולא אמצא. צללים ילווני; אך הם אפילו לבית קברות לא יביאוני. כי אנחנו, בני דור-ההשמדה, אף זה לא זכינו: לקבר-אבות.

לא, לא אלך אחרי הצללים; בתוכי המה. הם לא נטשוני מן היום בו הגיעתני זעקת הדמים, אשר מרה הימנה לא נשמעה מיום בריאת העולם; אני לא אעזבם עד יומי האחרון עלי אדמות. צללים חיים הם; לא ימושו. צללים חיים הם; לא ימותו. בי הם; מה כי אלך בעקבותיהם

This is taken from מנחם בגין דיוקנו של מנהיג

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Begin's Lesson for the Left

Begin didn’t jump ship because he couldn’t get his way; he worked to effect change.

In last week’s column, I discussed the lessons Israel’s far right ought to learn from Menachem Begin. But the left is no less in need of Begin’s wisdom today – and once again, the Altalena incident shows why...After 2,000 years of exile, Begin understood that any Jewish state was better than none, and that civil war would be its death knell – a lesson, as I noted last week, amply proven by Jewish history, but that right-wing hooligans clearly haven’t learned: Their irresponsible attacks on Israel Defense Forces soldiers could easily spark an escalating cycle of fratricidal violence.

Yet it seems leftists haven’t learned it either, judging by how easily they advocate civil war – something you almost never hear rightists doing. For the more people talk of civil war as a reasonable option, the more likely it is to someday come to pass.

It’s bad enough coming from the radical leftists of Haaretz, who have been urging civil war against the settlers for years now. But it’s truly frightening when it spreads to the mainstream, moderate left – like former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor), who last month said, unblushingly, that IDF soldiers should have opened fire on stone-throwing right-wing extremists. Or Jerusalem Post contributor Daniel Gordis, who equally unblushingly urged the government last month to deal with right-wing and ultra-Orthodox extremists the way Ben-Gurion dealt with the Altalena – in other words, to shoot them.

...Indeed, most leftists would be appalled at the suggestion that soldiers shoot Palestinians engaged in non-life-threatening hooliganism; they would correctly insist on sticking to routine law enforcement techniques. Yet they unabashedly advocate the use of live fire to suppress Jewish hooliganism, even though most of the vandalism, arson and rioting to date, while outrageous, hasn’t been life-threatening. Are Jewish lives worth less to them than Palestinian lives? Has it not occurred to them that opening fire in such circumstances could easily drive the extremists to retaliate with far worse violence, since these hooligans don’t have a Begin to restrain them? Or have they simply not grasped Begin’s key insight: that civil war is always the worst option?

But that isn’t the only lesson the left needs to learn from Begin. Equally instructive was his behavior after the Altalena bloodbath: Instead of saying “if this is the kind of Jewish state we’re going to have, I want no part of it,” he sent Irgun troops into the thick of the fighting in the War of Independence and then spent three decades serving as the government’s loyal opposition, patiently using the tools of democratic politics to try to bring Israelis around to his views. This effort finally paid off only in 1977, with his election as prime minister.

But too many on the left aren’t willing to work patiently to get their views accepted. They present their fellow Israelis with an ultimatum: Accept our dictates as to how the Jewish state should look, or we’re all going to jump ship.

Gordis made this threat implicitly when he said that many Israelis prefer to “live in America because what’s unfolding in Israel is so thoroughly unappealing to them.” Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit, another moderate leftist, has repeatedly made it explicitly. In June, for instance, he declared that the left’s willingness to fight in Israel’s defense depended on the government’s willingness to accept its policies on the peace process. In November, he went even farther, declaring that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t kill various bills opposed by the left, then left-wing scientists, intellectuals and entrepreneurs would all emigrate: “That elite will simply not be here. It will hand over the keys to the Putinists, the Shas party and the settlers, and leave them to enjoy one another's company.”

This brings us back to Begin’s insight that any Jewish state is better than none. First, this is because, even if Israel were as “illiberal,” “medieval” and “undemocratic” as its leftist critics claim (which I don’t for a moment accept), it would still fulfill functions that moderate leftists like Gordis and Shavit deem important. For instance, Israel still offers sanctuary should any Jewish community worldwide ever need it – a role no other state, even friendly America, can be counted on to play (if you doubt it, just look at how America closed its doors to Iraqis who helped it during the Iraq War).

Secondly, however, no country is immune to going through bad patches; look at the current woes in “enlightened” America and Europe. The question is how its citizens respond: by saying “my way or the highway,” or by engaging in long-term political efforts to make things better. The latter option is obviously preferable for any country, but it’s particularly vital for the Jewish state.

Because as long as the state exists, so does the possibility of reforming it, assuming opponents of its current policies are willing to invest the time and effort that Begin did. But if we abandon this Jewish state out of disgust with its flaws, we may well have to wait another 2,000 years to try again.

H/T Begin Center Diary

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Haaretz's Silence

Haaretz has always been eager to quote R' Ovadia Yosef when he makes controversial comments, often times deliberately misrepresenting his words to slander the Torah sage. I was expecting them today to quote R' Ovadia when he slammed the idea of hadarat nashim (exclusion of women), "There are Haredi people who are committing acts that are not allowed. That our Torah forbids us from doing - we need to denounce them". R' Ovadia continued, "The actions of a few that are creating hatred between Haredim and non-Haredim is chilul ha'shem (desecration of G-d's name)." Ynet, Maariv and Nana ran the story as it is important - the Gadol Ha'Dor (leading Torah scholar of the generation) denounced the actions of these 'religious' Jews - and yet, quiet from Haaretz (it's already past 8:00pm). If this doesn't show their sickening agenda and bias towards the man, nothing will.