Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Psalm 39: When Will I Die?


In this chapter, the psalmist speaks of terrible suffering and pain - suffering so terrible, that he feels he must forcibly 'muzzle' his mouth to restrain himself from questioning God's justice in the world. In desperation, he beseeches God: when will it end?

"O God, inform me of my end! What is the measure of my days?" [Psalms 39:5]

According to the Talmud [Shabbat 30a], God did not accede to this request. "I have decreed that the end of flesh and blood is not knowable." King David tried a second time. "Then what is the measure of my days?" But again God replied, "I have decreed that the measure of one's days is not knowable."

Why did David ask twice? What is the difference between knowing one's end and the measure of one's days? And what is the reason for this heavenly decree that we may never know when we are to die?

Our Physical End

Theoretically at least, there are two ways in which we should be able to determine the end of our lives. The first method would be to calculate our lifespan by carefully examining the various organs of the body, all of which can only function for a finite period of time. Either through scientific or prophetic knowledge, we should be able to accurately predict how long we will live according to the functioning and usage of our bodily organs.

God, however, created the world so that the factors affecting our physical powers are varied and complex to such a degree that it is impossible to determine when the body will cease to function. In response to David's first request, "Inform me of my end," God replied that "the end of flesh and blood is not knowable" — specifically referring to the duration of our physical side.

Why is this knowledge not granted to us? If people could calculate the length of their lives, then corrupt individuals would feel free to use their allotted years to commit immoral acts, secure in their knowledge of future years to come. Without such assurances, on the other hand, there is a certain measure of vulnerability that weakens evil inclinations. Even if the wicked in their arrogance refuse to admit it, the truth is that this ambiguity serves to enervate evil, thus limiting the forces of cruelty and immorality.

Measuring Our Days

There is, however, a second way that should allow us to determine the length of our lives. This method is a more elevated path, requiring great wisdom. Stated simply, all things are placed in the universe for a set purpose. Since they exist for this purpose, they will last only as long as they need to accomplish their specific goal. This is certainly evident for those matters which are merely a means towards a higher level. Once they achieve their goal, they are no longer needed.

Each of us has a particular mission to fulfill in this world. When King David asked, "What is the measure of my days?" he was referring to this loftier method of estimating one's lifespan. The phrase "a measure of days" should be understood like the Torah's description of Abraham's full and accomplished life — "ba beyamim" - "advanced in days" [Gen. 24:1]. If we could attain clear knowledge of our mission in life, knowing the actions that we need to perform, then we should be able to determine the length of our lives in this world.

Unlike the first method, an investigation of this nature would certainly bring many ethical benefits. Whenever people reflect on the ultimate purpose of their lives within the framework of God's providence, this contemplation allows them to transcend their baser desires, and prepares them to serve God and work selflessly towards spiritual perfection.

For this reason, David thought that this method of measuring one's days would meet with divine approval. But once again, God denied his request. For the Creator of the human soul knows that the best path for human development is precisely through a life lived with uncertainty as to the length of its days.

Necessary Ambiguity

This inherent ambiguity helps balance the world between "do not be too evil," a danger for the masses, and "do not be too righteous" [Ecc. 7:16-17], a risk for the spiritual elite. Just as foreknowledge of one's future years could lead an immoral person to unrestrained levels of evil, so too, clear knowledge of one's spiritual mission could lead the spiritually sensitive to a life devoid of anything outside the narrow realm of his spiritual goals.

The physical world is also part of creation, and needs to be built up and prepared for its divine purpose. If everyone cared only about spiritual matters, the world's physical development would be neglected.

Thus, both of these divine decrees — not knowing the lifespan of our physical bodies, and not knowing our spiritual goals — combine together to protect the world from these two extremes: excessive evil and excessive piety.

[adapted from Ein Aya vol. III pp. 89-90]

Friday, April 21, 2006

Psalm 81: Aiming for Greatness


This psalm charges us to sing out in joy, as God answered our prayers and rescued us from the bondage of Egypt.

"I am Hashem your God Who raises you up from the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I will fill it." [81:11]


What is the connection between acknowledging the redemption from Egypt and "opening our mouths wide" to receive God's blessings?

Perpetual Elevation

A careful reading will note two things about the word hama'alcha, "Who raises you up." First of all, it does not say that God "took you out" of Egypt, but that He "raises you up." It was not merely the act of leaving Egypt that made its eternal impact on the fate of the Jewish nation, and through it, all of humanity. The Exodus was an act of elevation, lifting up the people's souls — "Who raises you up."

Additionally, we may note that the verse is not in the past tense but in the present, "Who raises you up." Does the psalm not refer to a historical event? We may understand this phrase in light of the words of the Midrash [Tanchuma Mikeitz 10] concerning the creation of heaven and earth. The Midrash states that when God commanded the formation of the rakiya, "an expanse in the middle of the water" [Gen. 1:6], the heavens and the earth began to expand, and would have continued to stretch out indefinitely, had the Creator not halted the expansion by admonishing them, 'Enough!' In other words, unless they are meant only for a specific hour, divine acts are eternal, continuing forever. So too, the spiritual ascent of "raising you up from Egypt" is a perpetual act, constantly influencing and uplifting the Jewish people throughout the generations.

There is no limit to this elevation, no end to the attainable heights of our spiritual aspirations. The only restriction comes from us — if we choose to limit our wishes and dreams. But once we know the secret of hama'alcha, and internalize the message of a divine process that began in Egypt and continually raises us up, we can always aim for ever-higher spiritual levels.

It is instructive to note the contrast between the word 'Egypt' (in Hebrew, Mitzrayim, meaning limitations), and "opening up wide." God continually frees us from the narrowing constraints of Mitzrayim, allowing us to aspire for the broadest, most expansive goals.

Now we understand why the verse concludes with the charge, "open your mouth wide." Let us not restrict ourselves. We need to rise above all limitations, and overcome smallness and petty goals. If we can "open our mouth wide" and recognize our potential for greatness, then "I will fill it" — God will help us attain ever- higher levels of holiness.

[adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. I pp. 219-220]

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Psalm 90: Teach us to Count Our Days


What value is there to our lives, which "stream by like a dream"? What significance can there be to mortal man, who sprouts like the grass in the morning, only to wither away by nightfall? What consequence can there be to a fleeting life of seventy years, "or with strength, eighty years," compared to the eternity of God — "From the beginning of the world to its end, You are God" [90:2]? This psalm, "a prayer of Moses," confronts these fundamental questions of life.

The Other Side

The first eleven verses are indeed discouraging, stressing both the futility of our transient existence, and God's disappointment and anger at how we waste what little time we have. "For all our days pass away in Your fury; we waste our years like an utterance" [90:9]. The word fury (in Hebrew, evrah) comes from the word "eiver", meaning "the other side." This fury reflects a divine frustration that we expend our efforts on inconsequential matters — on "the other side." We toil for fleeting goals that are the opposite of what should be our aspirations.

What does it mean that our years are "like an utterance"? When our days are filled with deeds that contradict "ratzon Hashem," God's intent for the universe, then even the sum of all our years will be but a single, incoherent noise. Our deeds over the years are like numerous sounds and noises, an expression of our varied strivings and labors. But their combination contains no significance, no true meaning; the sounds do not form intelligible words and sentences, since each individual deed was squandered in our labors for "the other side."

We are sadly prone to delusions. "The days of our lives are seventy years .. and their pride is toil and deception" [90:10]. When compared to eternity, any finite length of time is of no value. If we know how to direct our ephemeral lives towards eternal goals, then they can be uplifted and permeated with significance. But when human pride and glory blind our eyes, we can be misled into thinking that there is ultimate meaning to temporal life, in life's superficial and external aspects. Such a mistaken viewpoint brings a terrible toil and deception, for there is no limit to human greed in chasing after a life dedicated to worthless goals.

The Light of Prophecy

But how can we know what is God's purpose for the universe? If our minds could grasp the God's intention as to the purpose of life, then we could use our intellectual powers to connect our lives to their sublime foundations. But our knowledge and powers of reasoning are limited, while the content of God's purpose in creating the universe is boundless. We are not even aware of the extent of the disparity between our physical wants and the great light of divine will by which God governs His world.

How then can we know how to live a meaningful life? As the psalmist pleads, "Teach us how to count our days" [90:12] – reveal to us how we may make our days count!

Our actions are the product of limited human understanding, constrained by our physical nature. Our only deliverance is through the enlightenment of Divine knowledge, i.e., the faculty of prophecy. When the light of Godly knowledge shines on all aspects of life, then all of our actions will have eternal import. The details of life will take on true significance, and the overall direction of life will be governed by divine wisdom.

Now we can understand why this psalm is "a prayer of Moses, the man of God." Such a psalm is appropriate for a unique personality like Moses, whose overriding desire was to cleave to the Life of all worlds. Only Moses, who demanded at Sinai "Please show me Your ways," truly grasped the connection between human existence and "ratzon Hashem." The master-prophet of the Torah understood that living a life of meaning requires prophetic knowledge of God's will. "Teach us how to count our days so that we will attain a heart of wisdom" [90:12]. The phrase "we will attain" (in Hebrew, navi) could also be translated as 'prophet': "Teach us how to count our days – as a prophet (with) a heart of wisdom."

Awareness of Divine Purpose in Our Lives

A superficial view of life is the result of unawareness of the Divine purpose in the universe. During certain periods we may have difficulty sensing the ultimate purpose, but this meaning will be fully revealed in future generations. Thus we pray, "May Your work be revealed to Your servants" ; yet we recognize that it is possible that "Your splendor will be revealed (only) to their children" [90:16] — in future times.

The psalm concludes with a prayer that our actions should correspond to God's intent for the universe. Then we will feel a divine pleasantness in our lives. "May the pleasantness of God be upon us; Let the work of our hands be established for us; the work of our hands, let it be established" [90:17]. Why the repetition of the phrase, "the work of our hands"? It is not enough that our actions will advance positive and significant goals. We pray that the actions themselves should have a sublime sweetness due to the Divine light infusing them, as their inner worth is revealed.

[adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. II, pp. 69-74]

How Does One Properly Tell the Passover Story...



By Binyamin Zev Kahane hy"d (1996)

Translated by Lenny Goldberg

It is clear that the major goal of the Seder night is to recite the Hagaddah and to fulfill the mitzvah, "and you shall tell yourchildren." That is, by recounting to our children and to ourselves as well, the Exodus from Egypt, we actualize in our minds these events of history, and as a result strengthen our "emunah". But no matter how convincing one tells the story about the PAST redemption, he misses the point if he ignores the discussing the subject of the FUTURE redemption.

Rabbi Menachem Kasher, ZT"L, in his book "HaTkufa HaGidola" (The Great Era) brings down an important "chidush". He says that during the nightof the Seder, one is obligated to include thanks to G-d for themiracles that we have witnessed in our generation. As proof he brings the words of the Rashba, who says that the mitzvah of remembering our Exodus from Egypt is to glorify G-d's Name and to teach trust('Bitachon') in G-d. This being the case, these same lessons can be learned by the miracles we have recently witnessed in our times -miracles of the Final Redemption.The Hagaddah recites a story that sharpens the point: "It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarphon were reclining (at a Seder) in Benei Berak. They were discussing the Exodus all that night, until their students came and told them: "Rabbis! It is time for the morning prayer "Shma!"

The obvious questions which have already been asked are: How could the rabbis not have paid attention by themselves that the time for the reading of the "Shma" had arrived? In addition, what were these rabbis doing sitting together on Seder night, when each had a family and a Yeshiva of his own in different parts of the country? Why were they sitting in Bnei Berak, the place of (the student) Rabbi Akiva?

Before giving the answer, some historical background is necessary: Only a few years had passed since the Destruction of the Second Temple, and the Land of Israel was controlled by the Romans. But secretly, the planning of the revolution had begun - a revolution which saw Rabbi Akiva play a central role as the "arms-bearer" of Bar-Cochba (see Rambam, Hilchot Milachim). The rest of the Rabbis were also quite active in the rebellion, as the Rambam writes: "and he (Rabbi Akiva)and ALL THE RABBIS OF HIS GENERATION thought that he (Bar-Cochba) was the Messiah". And so the rabbis with Rabbi Akiva were sitting together on the SEDER NIGHT to learn and discuss the FUNDAMENTALS OF THE REDEMPTION AND TO MAKE PREPARATIONS FOR THE REBELLION. They were learning in secret, covertly, perhaps in the famous Caves of Bar-Cochba. If so, it would be clear why their students would need to inform them that morning had broke. (It is worth pointing out a nice explanation for "the time for 'Shma' has arrived: "Shma Yisrael" is a symbol for "Kiddush Hashem", and the students were saying to their rabbis: OUR RABBIS! THE TIME FOR KIDDUSH HASHEM HAS ARRIVED! - REBEL AGAINST THE ROMANS AND BRING THE REDEMPTION!) Here is the crucial lesson: The rabbis understood that the purpose of the Seder night was not just to retell a story that once was. The Exodus from Egypt is the source and inspiration for the Future Redemption as well, and that is why our sages tell us that the first redemption is a sign for the Final Redemption. Since the rabbis believed that there was a real possibility then to bring the Final Redemption (and that Bar-Cochba was a feasible candidate for Messiah), they sat on the Seder night to plan the tactics and natural stages of the redemption, which they hoped would come through this planned rebellion. This generation has merited to see what our ancestors did not merit since the Destruction: A rebuilt Land of Israel, the ingathering of the exiles, and miraculous victories over our enemies. Surely we are not more worthy than our ancestors and somehow deserve it, but rather it was done for G-d's Holy Name which had been so desecrated during a 2,000 year exile. Unfortunately we witness a redemption that is not one of "Achishena" (swiftly and with glory) but rather one of "Bi-Eta" (slowly, in its time), which is a redemption accompanied by great suffering and pain. It is the type of redemption that G-d brings upon us against our will, since we refuse to participate in it. Moreover, Israeli leadership has only worked to toss a monkey wrench in the works...

This Passover night, let us not only discuss the past, but the following two items as well:

1. We must contemplate the miracles which we have witnessed in our generation, with an understanding that it is G-d's Hand and the expression of His Will to bring us the Final Redemption.

2. If the great sages sat on the Seder Night and occupied themselves with the revolution which had not yet begun, certainly we are obligated to sit and engross ourselves with the redemption process that has already begun. We must sit and think how in a PRACTICAL WAY we can remove the monkey wrench that the wicked have tossed in the wheels, and must contemplate how we can quicken and advance the process with acts of "Kiddush Hashem", "Emunah", and "Msirut Nefesh", which are the keys to redemption. May we merit to properly fulfill the mitzvah of telling the Passover story, and to act upon the practical conclusions derived from learning about the First Redemption.

Have a happy and kosher Passover.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Setting Things Right


By Rabbi Yehuda Richter

(Read this article and many more at www.hameir.org/dst )

Three participated (in the scheme to throw the Jewish babies into the Nile), and they are: Bilam, Job, and Yitro. Bilam gave the advice and was eventually killed. Job was silent and suffered great affliction. Yitro fled, and his children merited to sit in the Sanhedrin (Sota 11)

The belief based public is stunned. "For what has the Lord done this unto the land? What meaneth the heat of His anger? (Nezavim) Those who specialized in giving wicked Israeli governments the benefit of the doubt, in "learning zechut" - find themselves today as the most hated sector in Israel, a virtual state enemy! The public who spoke optimistically and constantly about "adding light", "strengthening the good" and "the Am" (nation) – ended up with a party called "Kadima." If Shinuy was a party intended to fight the haredim, know that "Kadima" is a party that was established specifically to fight the national religious public. We can make a new sticker: "With (misplaced) Love, We Have Lost"

The head of the Ulpana in Maale Levona stated recently: "The haredim of today have committed the sin of the spies in their relation to Eretz Yisrael. The national religious sector has committed the sin of the Golden Calf in their relation to the state." Indeed, the state has become an entity of worship and the IDF uniform has become intrinsically "holy". Yet, these are precisely the two bodies which threaten the national religious sector! The Golden Calf has risen against its maker!

Since the liquidation of Gush Katif, the belief based sector has pledged to do some self-introspection. More face-to-face meetings. More involvement in the IDF. More reaching out to those in Tel-Aviv. Without getting into the validity of these slogans, there is a basic mistake being made. When one wants to do "tsheuva" or make amends for wrongs committed, there is a natural tendency to run to those farthest from you: to make amends with the neighbor, with the store owner, with an acquaintance. But sometimes we forget the most important "tsheuva" – with those closest to us who have been hurt. This is why Rav Chaim Vital says: "Man is judged mainly on how he treats his wife." For it is always easier to do tsheuva with those who are distant, and to forget about those closest.

Almost a year ago, a young man in yeshiva approached me and said: "This mass mobilization against us is in essence a repeat performance of what was done to Rabbi Kahane and his students. But we were silent then. Now, measure for measure, God is bringing the same war upon us." This young man astutely grasped what is written in Masechet Sanhedrin (106, Etz Yosef) – "He who is able to protest against the evil and does not protest, will be punished with the same type of evil."

The police and army behaved cruelly in Amona? Good morning! For decades the army and police have behaved similarly towards the haredim at demonstrations for Shabbat or desecration of graves. They behaved with the exact same cruelty towards Rabbi Kahane and his students, before and after his death. And the belief-based sector was silent. We are stunned at the travesties of justice of the Israeli judiciary? That children of 12 and 13 are held for weeks or months in prison on petty charges? That Jews are routinely burdened by restriction orders, house arrest and administration detention? But that is what Rabbi Kahane and his students had suffered for decades. And we were quiet.

Twenty years ago, the authorities banned the Kach party from running for Knesset. The right wing parties were in cahoots with the left, from fear that Rabbi Kahane would take away their seats. Rabbi Kahane said then: "You are not banning me, you are banning Torah. Today they banned Kach, tomorrow they will ban somebody else." Before the Supreme Court ban, Rabbi Kahane students requested from rabbis in Israel to sign their names on a statement that Rabbi Kahane was simply quoting from the Torah. The rabbis refused to sign.

When the authorities decided to close the "Center of the Jewish Idea" on Jaffa Street, we were quiet. When they shut down the Jewish Legion, what did we do? Who protested? Who cared? Can we be surprised that the government of Israel today threatens to close down three hesder yeshivas which called for refusing orders? After all, God punishes us measure for measure.

For years, the belief based public did not accept Rabbi Kahane's followers into their institutions, yeshivas, newspapers or even settlements. And so, it is easy to talk about "ahavat Yisrael" or "to settle into the hearts of the Tel Aviv residents", but much harder to make amends and fix relationships with the "black sheep" of our family.

That is what Job did. At first, he was indifferent towards the suffering of others. But at the end of his life, the midrash teaches that "he gave his soul for the downtrodden." We must acknowledge the truth: Rabbi Kahane saw 30 years ago what we see today. The time for tsheuva has come.

Sing a Song of Vengeance

(Read this article and many others at www.hameir.org/dst)

Sing a Song of Vengeance (A Pocket Full of Knives)

Adapted from an article in Hebrew by Rabbi Moshe Tzuriel

It was incredible to see. God struck Sharon down with a stroke, and rabbis across the board, from the Zionist Camp to the Haredi Camp, were praying for his welfare. Yeshivas were learning Torah for his "refua shleima"; tehilim were being recited for his quick recovery; "mikubalim", mystic rabbis were doing a "tikun nefesh" for him, as the head rabbis of Israel were calling for a day of prayer, to open the holy arc and bequeath the Lord for mercy…

Where did they get this from? The prime source they quoted to justify the festivities, was the saying of our sages: "in the fall of your enemy, do not rejoice." They added the Talmud, in Sanhedrin 39, where it says that the Almighty isn't happy with the fall of the wicked. Some said that the honor of the state of Israel was at stake, and we must always pray for the health of its leaders. Even Jews with normal instincts were starting to get confused regarding how one should react when this "moser" (a Jew who turns over Jews or Jewish property over to the goyim), who destroyed 22 Jewish educational institutions and wiped out another 16 shuls, was abruptly tossed out of the political arena. How can we be sorry about what happened to him? The man himself proclaimed, just two hours before his stroke, that he planned to continue his program of unilateral withdrawal, which means forfeiting 90% of Yesha! Are we supposed to pray for the welfare of a man who, if he recovers, is going to cause irreparable Chillul Hashem and personal damage to 200,000 Jews?

The fact is, that Jewish sources teach that one should ask God to punish the wicked. This concept is all over the book of Psalms, as David curses his tormentors – those who slandered and incited against him. David is referring to Jews, such as Doeg and Achitopel! Here are but a few samples: "His mischief will return upon his own head, and upon his own skull will his violence come down" (7:17); "Let them be as chaff before the wind; and may the angel of the Lord cast them forth" (35:5); "For yet but for a little while, and the wicked shall be no more" (37:10); "Behold, those that hate you, I ever hate, Oh Lord! And those that rise up against you, I feel loathing. With the utmost hatred do I hate them" (139:21-22) This is but a tiny sample of David asking God to punish the wicked. Again, according to almost all the commentators, like the Radak, the Mezudat David, and Sforno, David is talking about Jewish enemies.

So what about the widely quoted Sanhedrin 39, where upon the drowning of the Egyptians, God tells the angels, "The creation of My Hands are drowning in the sea, and you sing a song?" Unfortunately, the falsifiers didn't finish reading the text. The very next line says: "He is not happy, but He commands others to be happy". That is, God is not happy that the evil people died without doing "tsheuva", but those who have been rescued certainly must give praise and thanks.

All this bring us to Passover, where many quote the very rare midrash ("Harneinu") which says that we do not say a full Hallel on Passover, because of the Egyptians who drowned, thereby putting a damper on our happiness. But the Talmud, the source for Jewish halacha, gives us another reason: Unlike Succot, where the musaf sacrifice is different each day, the number of animals sacrificed each day for the musaf of Passover remains a constant. This is the only reason mentioned for our saying a half-hallel on Passover!

But we haven't yet explained what is brought in Pirke Avot "in the fall of your enemy, do not rejoice." This is also brought in Mishle, (24:17). How does this reconcile with what is brought in Sanhedrin 39: "When your enemy perishes, be joyful." No problem. The "enemy" spoken of in Pirke Avot is a personal enemy, who causes you trouble regarding personal issues. It is not referring to an enemy of God. On such an enemy, the verse "When your enemy perishes, be joyful" applies. Rabbi Yaakov Emden in his commentary on Avot, says similarly: "This is referring to an enemy who is not rebelling against his Maker. An enemy who rebels against his Maker – the righteous person should be happy when he perishes. About him it is said: "happy is the man who saw vengeance".

No doubt, Ariel Sharon enters this category of a national enemy, an enemy of God. If we learn in the Talmud that there was joy amongst Jews when King Ahab was killed even when fighting the enemies of the Jewish People, all the more so we should not shed a tear for Sharon, who committed irreversible Chillul Hashem and caused personal grief for thousands. And so, all those rabbis who expressed their grief for his downfall and called for massive prayer to restore his health – must do some seriously thinking. If they are saying that they are praying he does "tsheuva", does it not say that "Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for the fear of Heaven?" (Brachot 33) God doesn't get involved in Sharon's tsheuva, for that is entirely up to Sharon. Indeed, any expectation of Sharon doing "tsheuva" is dubious. But the damage he had in store for us is certain.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Hu-rah for Olmert!...

(Written by Rafael V. Rabinovich)

A law of physics first exposed by Sir Isaac Newton states that for every action there is an equal, opposite reaction. It was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the German philosopher, who first applied that law to the social arena. Karl Marx, his disciple, capitalized on the idea, but it was Mikhail Bakunin, the father or Anarchism, who refined it to its maximum, declaring that in order to obtain a desire result, one must support the opposite idea, so as to deepen the contradictions which would, ultimately, bring down the edifice of the wrong and allow for the right to emerge.

In short, the idea is a twist on Aesop’s principle of “if you can’t beat them, join them”. Bakunin would have expressed it like this: “if you want to beat them, support them in order to make them fall”. If you think the idea sounds insane, I agree. But is an idea, nevertheless.

Fifty three years ago, on the eve of Purim, the Lubavitcher Rebbe gathered the Chabad Chassidim at the Lubavitch headquarters, the famous 770 Shull, for a traditional Chassidic farbrengen. After reciting a ma’amar, classical Chassidic discourse, the Rebbe told a joke in the spirit of the holyday. It was an anecdote about a chassid who was sent by his rebbe to a certain place with a strange mission: to register as a local resident, and to vote in the local elections. The Rebbe has had not told the chassid whom to vote for, or what was the relevance of such action. But the chassid listened and went there.

When the elections came, the chassid still didn’t know whom to vote for. On his way to the voting booth, he saw a candidate being held on one of his supporter’s shoulders, as a crown cheered him: “HURRAH! HURRAH!” The chassid followed the crowd for a few blocks and suddenly understood: “hu-ra”. By Divine Providence, the message was clear to him! “hu-ra”, in Hebrew, “הוא-רע”, means “he is evil!” THAT was the message. The chassid voted for the opposite candidate.

I’m not that good with telling jokes, especially when I have to explain why they’re funny, but the Rebbe had no problem telling it to the Chassidim, they all laughed. Then the Rebbe asked the crowd to repeat, cheerfully; “Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!” several times over. The crowd grew louder and louder. Then the Rebbe asked for silence, and gave over a second ma’amar – something quite unusual, since those discourses traditionally given only one per farbrengen, and only on special occasions.

It was later learned that in the very moment the Rebbe had the crowd repeat the hurrahs in the Shull in New York, back in Moscow, Stalin, who had secret plans to deport over a million Jews from Western Russia to Siberia, simply died.

In his day, Stalin looked like a hero to the world: he defeated Hitler on the Russian front, brought education and electricity to the smallest and most remote town in the far provinces of the USSR, and – his propaganda machine had everyone believe – created a just society of equality and resources for all.

Today the world is, once again, deep in the darkness of terrible misgivings. The Jewish nation is, like in Stalin’s last day, existentially threatened, while the world believes the opposite. The horrors of the silent Holocaust are hidden from the world. But the Jewish people are threatened with extinction.

The same Lubavitcher Rebbe that help save the Jews of Russia back in 1953 warned us since 1967, and thereafter, about the terrible dangers that threatened the Jews of Eretz Israel, and of the rest of the world, if the lands miraculously liberated in the Six-Day-War were to be ceded to the so-called “Palestinian” Arabs for them to create there a State. The Rebbe spoke of the danger to the lives of at least three million Jews if such a plan was even spoken of.

Yet, as it sadly happened in the day of Yeshayahu HaNavi (the prophet Isaiah), those in power did not listened, and set the scenario for a catastrophe. “Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? When I called, was there none to answer?” (50:2). Ignoring the warnings of Yeshayahu cost the Jewish people the destruction of the First Temple, and the Exile of Babel. Ignoring the Rebbe’s warnings may very well, rachamanah litzlan, cost us a new Holocaust.

Yet every government of Israel has chosen to ignore the Rebbe’s warnings, coming up with erroneous calculations which are leading us to the worst self-inflicted wound of our history. Begin gave up the Sinai Peninsula against the Rebbe’s explicit directives, and got Israel stuck in the Lebanon quagmire instead of leading the quick campaign the Rebbe explained was necessary. Shamir though himself very smart when, instead of the PLO, he found a newly-founded alternative for “Palestinian” Arab rule with whom to negotiate: Hamas. Back then it seemed the sensible thing to do, choosing to ignore the Rebbe’s warning, that is.

Then the Oslo debacle came up. The misnomer of “peace process” that ensued came accompanied by the choir of Chabad Chassidim that echoed the Rebbe’s warnings about the dangers of negotiating with that which must not be negotiated. But the governments of Israel and the media chose to ignore the warnings, and instead cast a shadow of disinformation, having the public believe that things were heading for the better, that peace was right around the corner, that the land could be safely shared by “both peoples”, and that diplomacy and democracy held the key to our final redemption.

Karl Marx was wrong, amongst other things, when he said that religion is the opium of the masses. The opium of the masses is the media. People read newspapers, listed to the radio, watch TV, or read/watch/listen to the newscasts on the Internet. They feel they have the world at their fingers, that they know it all, and become reduced to cheerleading whatever is sold to them as “good and progressive.”

So, intoxicated by the media, and misguided by the delusion of arrogant governments, masses of people believe that the recent election of Ehud Olmert – in power by a record-low percentage of a record-low voting turnout – is a good thing. Olmert has announced the end of the “dream of a Biblical Israel”. He has a list of Jewish towns to be destroyed, which in the very first stage would render some eighty thousand Jews homeless. He has expressly renounced to “all ideologies”, including the basic principals of Zionism. He is now planning a perverse reverse of and old slogan. He plans to give the Arabs “dunam after dunam”, till much of Judea and Samaria fall in the hands of Hamas.

I will sound like a Bakuninite, except to those who remember the story told somewhere in my rambling: Hurrah, Olmert, Hurrah!

May the Almighty save us from the present calamity.




“הוא-רע”

A Fatal Mistake


Baruch Duvdevani served as the Executive Director of the Jewish Agency's Aliyah department. He recounted this frightful story:

It was the winter of 5716 (1956), immediately following the Sinai Campaign. Poland and the USSR had just signed a treaty allowing all Polish citizens who had fled to Russia during World War II to return to Poland. Jewish or not, they had the right to return, as long as they were Polish citizens on September 1, 1939, the day the War broke out. As a result of this treaty, thousands of Jews throughout Russia returned to Poland, and the majority of them subsequently immigrated to Israel.

I was privileged to spend that year, and the next, in Poland, helping organize this mass aliyah to Israel.

One December morning, when the temperature in Warsaw reached 19 degrees below zero (Celsius), I arrived at the Israeli embassy where we were stationed for our immigration work. The courtyard was filled with scores of people who had come from Russia to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. I stopped and talked to each and every one of them at length. Our hearts were so filled with joy that we did not feel the cold.

I noticed an old Jew standing in the corner of the courtyard. He was bone-thin, with practically no flesh on his body. His dim eyes lacked any spark of life; his cheekbones protruded profusely; and his clothes were tattered and torn, despite the bitter cold. I realized immediately that the man wanted to speak with me and that he was simply waiting for me to finish talking to the others.

When I finished, the man approached me and asked if I was from Jerusalem. I told him that I was, and then he asked me if I knew Rav Kook, of blessed memory. I answered that I had been privileged to benefit from his exalted Torah and inspiring discourses. At that moment, the man burst into tears and said, "What a shame! What a shame that I did not listen to him."

He continued to sob for a while, and when he finally calmed down a bit, he told me his story.

Lack of Da'at

'In the early 1920's, I was a big manufacturer in one of Poland's famous industrial cities. One day, I decided to take a trip to Eretz Yisrael and spend Passover there. Being a religious Jew, I visited Rav Kook zt"l immediately upon my arrival. He welcomed me warmly and encouraged me to seek out the good of the Land and consider settling there. After a few weeks of touring, I returned to the Rav and asked him, among other things, what I should do regarding the second day of yom-tov, seeing that I was a tourist. The Rav answered with a smile: Decide right now to bring your family here and to build a factory in the Land. Then, you can keep one day of yom-tov already this Passover, like all inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael.'

'I took his answer jovially, and since the holiday was still a few weeks away, I decided to return at a later date and pose the question again, when it was more practical.'

'A few days before Passover, I went to Rav Kook and asked him the question once more. This time, the Rav answered sternly: I already told you that you should move here; then you may keep one day of yom-tov starting now, even if you must return to Poland after Passover to settle your affairs.'

'I said to him: Excuse me, dear rabbi, I have thought about it at great length; but in the end, my intention (da'at) is to return to the Diaspora. How, then, can I celebrate like the residents of Eretz Yisrael?'

'The Rav banged his hand on the table and said with great emotion: Your da'at (intention) is to return? That is nothing but lack of da'at (sense)!'

The man continued in a broken voice: 'I did not listen to the Rav. I returned to the Diaspora and remained there. I lost my wife, my children, and my grandchildren in the Holocaust, and here I am today, lonely and desolate. I have come back here with nothing, after wandering for years through Russia. And I constantly recall Rav Kook's prophetic words: "That is nothing but lack of da'at!"

[from 'An Angel Among Men' by R. Simcha Raz, translated by R. Moshe Lichtman, pp. 257-259]