Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Jewish welfare

Parshat Ki Tetze

In chapter 24 we read a series of mitzvot that delineate aspects of a welfare society and social concern. The verses talk about leaving parts of your fields and crops for the downtrodden, the convert, the widow, etc.. We also find the Torah give reasons for these mitzvot. In verses 18, 19 and 22 we find the reason: You should remember that you were once slaves in the Land of Egypt, etc.. This is in addition to the multitude of mitzvot we find throughout the Torah that are to remind us of our days in Egypt.

A Jewish community is not meant to be purely capitalistic. Social rules must be built into society. We have to care for the needy and less fortunate among us. It is not only to be left for the philanthropic feelings – when a person feels like donating. The commandments tell us the rules of what we have to leave for the poor.

In Egypt we were the lower-class of society. We were the slaves. We were the people who were not taken care of. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to think back to Egypt – remember those times, imagine what it was like. Think back and understand how difficult it is for the widow, for the orphan, the convert, the poor, etc. By doing that, you will be sensitive to his needs and you will be able to treat him properly, with the proper care every Jew deserves.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Positive Chinuch

(this article has been cross-posted at DafNotes (in the sidebar and) directly here )

Masechet Yoma 82a

NOTE: no halachic conclusions should be drawn from this article. A competent Orthodox Rabbi must be consulted regarding any practical questions that might arise. The following is a discussion for hashkafic thought alone and has not been fully researched for the purpose of psak.

On daf 82a of Masechet Yoma we have a discussion in the gemara regarding what age a parent must begin training his child to fast on fast days, specifically Yom Kippur.

The Tosefos Yeshanim asks an interesting question: There is a rule in halacha that says if one sees a child eating neveilos (non-kosher food) one must not (or need not) stop him. So what is the big discussion on what age to train him to fast, we should be discussing what age to stop him from actually transgressing something assur!!??

The Tosefos Yeshanim answers the question by bringing the opinion of R' Eliezer from Mitz. R' Eliezer from Mitz is of the opinion that the two issues are completely separate. There is an inyan of "chinuch" which entails training and educating the child to do a mitzva - to do what is right. Then there is an inyan of abstaining from issur. Chinuch, he says, has no bearing on abstaining from issur, only doing mitzvos. That is why we are discussing training him to fast rather than stopping him from issur.

The idea R' Eliezer is telling us is mind boggling (to me). The mitzva of chinuch is only for positive mitzvos, not to stop him from doing something wrong (though that too might be admirable to teach a child when possible). If one sees the candy-man in shul give a child a candy with a questionable hechsher (or even no hechsher), one should talk to the candy-man about no longer providing those candies, but he should not take away the candy from the child! Let the child finish eating it. To me that is an amazing chiddush in chinnuch!

Why is that so?

I was thinking about it and considered this thought. We want to give our children a positive outlook on Yiddishkeit and mitzvos. The obligation of chinnuch incorporates that idea. The obligation to educate your child in mitzvos is, on the one hand, to train the child in the habit of actually doing the mitzvos. On the other hand, it is also to engender within the child the positive attitude towards doing mitzvos. We urge him to do mitzvos, but we do not stop him when he does issurim. We want to give over the positive aspect and not the negative.

Again, this should not be used as a halachic guide. It is simply a thought on an idea presented by R' Eliezer from Mitz in the Tosefos Yeshanim. If the question arises and you need to know whether to stop your child from doign something that is assur, you must consult with your Rav.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

War and Peace

Parshat Shoftim

Starting with 20:10, the Torah describes the way the Jewish Nation goes out to war. It delineates how we fight, the terms we offer for peace, and how we settle things properly.

In 20:10 the Torah says “When you come to a city to wage war upon it, you first offer it peace.” Fighting is never meant to be the ideal solution to our problems. We are meant to first look for peaceful resolutions to our disputes.

In 20:11 the Torah continues by letting us know what peace is: “If they respond for peace, all the residents of the city will pay taxes to you and will have to serve you”. Peace is not a fictitious set of achievements that allow situations to continue and let resentment fester and build up. Peace is a method of achieving a situation without having to kill all sorts of innocent people. The only way to have peace with our enemy is by having them be subservient to us.

In 20:12, 13, 14 the Torah continues: “If they reject the peace with you, you shall wage war upon the city. You should kill every male by sword. Only allow the women children and cattle to live. All that is in the city will be yours as spoils of war, etc.”

The Torah tells us how to fight and it tells us how to make peace. The prerequisite for this to happen is that we must be coming from a position of strength, not weakness. If our goals are clear and the opposing people are in fear of our strength and unity, then we will be able to achieve our goals, even peacefully. If we are weak, they will not accept our terms and we will not resort to the appropriate methods of warfare, and we will end up paying the cost in lives of our soldiers and more.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Executioner

Parshat Shoftim

This sounds like the title to a John Grisham novel, or a Harrison Ford movie. but it is not.

The passuk tells us in 17:7 that if one worships other gods, etc., we bring him t judgement with witnesses, etc., and when the death sentence is meted out, "the hand of the witnesses will be first to kill him, and then the hands of the ntion, You shall remove the evil from your midst."

Why must the witnesses get their hands dirty and also play the role of executioner? Why not have the executioner of the Beis Din perform the execution?

It is a fairly easy thing for two people to show up in court and testify against someone else (truthfully of course. I am not talkign about them possibly fabricating their stories). There would be no reprcussions and nothing for them to worry about. By making them follow through and carry out the execution, we are making it much more serious. They have to realize that they are not one small part of a process, but everything is hinged on them and they will be the ones up front getting their hands dirty performing the execution.

If that does not sober them up, nothing will.

They, and the rest of the nation if necessary, must be prepared to act on their findings and eradicate evil from amongst them.

Righteousness and the Land

Parshat Shoftim

In the beginning of this weeks Parsha, the Torah instructs the nation to appoint judges and police. to judge the nation properly, not to show favor in judgement or take bribes. Then in 16:20 it continues by saying, "Seek out righteousness so that you will live and inherit the land that Hashem has given to you."

The question is, and it is asked by many, what is the connection between judging righteously and inheriting the land?

Rashi, with the help of the explanation of te Sifsei Chachamiim, explains that ,"So you will ive and inherit the land" is not referring to the Seek out righteousness statement, rather it is going back on the appoint judges to judge properly and not take bribes. if you appoint such judges they will be worthy of bringing the nation to inherit and live in the Land of Israel.

I think that it is all one continuous flow of pesukim, and there is no need to relate this part back to the previous passuk.

If the judges act righteously and do not take bribes, there will be a sense of morality among the people. When the leaders are righteous it filters down to the regular people. They too will seek out to live righteously. When everybody is living properly with the proper moral and ethical codes, then the nation will be worthy of inheriting the Land of Israel.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The war and the parsha

The lessons in this parsha that weigh on the war are staggering. This parsha speficially talks about our attitude about Eretz Yisrael. Moshe warns the nation not to fall into the trap and think that they have inherited the land due to their own efforts and merits. Do not forget Hashem took you out of Egypt, the manna, the wars you won were directed by God, etc. He warns they should remember Hashem and not say "Kochi V'Otzem Yadi" (8:17) - by the strength of my hand I have inherited the land.

Many times throughout the parsha Moshe mentions this idea again and again, and says you are inheriting not by your own rights. Hashem wanted to destroy you a number of times, when you did x, y and z in the desert. In 9:5 Moshe clearly says, "Not by your merits do you come to inherit the land, rather because of the wickedness of the other nations Hashem promised to your father Avraham, Isaac and Jacob, etc..."

In the current war we (our government) have been declaring such things as "We will dictate the terms of the peace" and "We will make them fear us" and other things of the sort. Clearly we have fallen into the trap Moshe warned us so strongly against in this weeks parsha.

If we would be more humble in our attitude and give Hashem some of the credit, he would look more kindly upon helping us out of our problems and helping us live here peacefully.. The parsha concludes with Moshe saying, "Nobody will be able to stand before you. Hashem will place on you fear and trembling in all the lands you will tread upon."

If we would do our part, He will do His.

Israel (could be) better than Egypt

Parshat Ekev

In 11:10 Moshe tells the nation, “For the land to which you are going to inherit, is not like the land of Egypt from which you departed, that you would plant the seed and water the garden with your foot.”

Rashi explains that Moshe was saying it is not like Egypt, but better than Egypt. In Egypt you had to bring water from the Nile River, as there is no rain. In the Land of Israel it will be easier, as all you have to do is plant and then wait for the rains.

I don’t know about you, but last time I checked, there are always problems of droughts in Israel. There is usually not enough rain and the farmers are always complaining of crops dying from lack of water. The government is always working to find alternative sources for water, such as importing from Turkey, desalination, etc.. So what makes this land so much easier? Sure there is no water to take and we just have to wait for the rain, but there is generally not enough rain!!!???

I was thinking that Moshe’s statement must be dependant on the behavior and attitude of the Jews. Life in Israel can and will be easier and better than it was in Egypt. It will be easier to water your crops. But only if you listen to God and do what He wishes. If we fulfill our side of the commitment, He will make our lives easier and provide the water we so dearly need. Rain is even one of the items specifically mentioned in the “tochacha” section of the curses in the Torah, in the sense that if we do not keep the Torah, the rain will be withheld.

That is why Moshe continues and says ”The land is constantly being watched by Hashem… (and continues) and I will bring the rains on your land in their proper time, etc..”.

It is not simply an easier life in Israel. However, if we would fulfill our side of the deal with Hashem, it would be.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Teaching a lesson

Parshat Eikev

In Chapter 8 Moshe goes through many of the miracles that Hashem performed in the desert on behalf of the Jews. He mentions in verse 3 the Manna. He says, “Hashem made you hungry and then fed to you the manna that was not known to you or to your fathers.” Then he says something interesting. He says, “In order to let you know that not on bread alone does man survive, but on whatever Hashem dictates a man will live.”

The purpose of the manna was not to sustain the Jews in the desert because there was no other food to be had. Hashem could have provided for the Jews differently, as he did with the quail or bring some other seemingly natural type of food.

Moshe is telling Bnei Yisrael that when Hashem sent them the Manna, it was a means to an end. It was meant not just to sustain them but to teach them a lesson. To teach them that Hashem can, and will, provide for their needs.

As the Jews are about to go into Israel, they are at risk of forgetting all these lessons they had experienced in the desert. The desert was a magical place for them. All their needs were taken care of. They saw miracles openly.

As they are about to enter Israel, they are also about to lose that lifestyle. They are now going to have to begin working for their food and living basically normal lives. They could fall into the trap of thinking they are providing for themselves and they are earning their own way.. That is why Moshe says all this now. To remind them of who is really behind it all. That is why he continues by saying that Hashem is bringing you to the land and you will eat and be satisfied and bless Him for the good land that He has given you. And then he continues to warn them from falling into the trap of saying, “Kochi V’Otzem yadi” – that their accomplishments are because of their own efforts and they provided for themselves.

Remember the manna and all the other miracles and you will see that Hashem is really behind all the sustenance you have.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Kina 23

UPDATED - after adjusting the text a number of times, this is the adjusted text that indicates what I actually said.
Tisha B’av 5766
In my shul we have a program which has become quite common among anglo communities in Israel. Instead of reading all the kinot published as was commonly done, we select a number of the kinnot to read (a lot of them, but not all of them). Before each kina one of the members will give a brief introduction to the kinna, an explanation, some words of inspiration, etc. The idea is that instead of mindlessly reading a bunck of kinnot that nobody understands, we say less but it is more infused with meaning and understanding.
I was asked to give the introduction to Kinna 23, entitled “V’Es Navvi”. Below I am posting what I plan (more or less to say as the introduction.
Kina 23
In 23 we will be lamenting the story of the children of R’ Yishmael Ben Elisha. The paytan relates the tragic story of how these 2 children, a son and a daughter were captured by separate captors. The captors were bragging to each other about the special beauty each one saw in his respective captive. They came up with a plan to have the two captives mate and they would share the offspring, which they assumed would be tremendously beautiful children.
The paytan goes on to describe how they were put together in a dark room and they stayed apart the whole night ashamed that this is what could come of the child of such a great man. By daybreak they each realized who the other was and they held each other and their nashamos left them together.
Truly a tragic story. Bit it is difficult, at least for me, to relate to a story of a kidnapping from about 2000 years ago and be moved to tears.
If one has a hard time relating to a story from so long ago and crying about it and simply reads it as a tragic story, there is no lack of similar stories from more modern times.
If you must, think about Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev who are being held by barbaric captors under who knows what type of conditions. Think of Ron Arad whose daughter never had the opportunity of knowing him because he has been held captive for so long. Think of all the other MIA’s who we have no idea of their whereabouts. Think of their parents who have no idea if their children are alive or dead or what kind of condition they are in. Think of the turmoil these people are going through.
If that is not enough, think of the holocaust. Think of the children who were snatched away from their parents. Think of the families that were separated and decimated and destroyed.
The ArtScroll explains that we are not crying specifically about the capturing of these young adults, rather we are crying about the hillul hashem. We are including this story in the kinnos because they were less concerned with their personal fate and more concerned with the hillul Hashem of their being forced to such degrading acts.
But if you have a hard time crying about a hillul Hashem that took place 2000 years ago, think of the hillul hashem that we have gone through daily, throughout history, since the destruction of the beis hamikdash. All Jews are princes and princesses and we all come from great yichus of Avraham Avinu. Yet the blood of jews, the children of Jews, have been left for hefker for the pillaging of the goyim. We have suffered throughout history bloog libels and progroms and holocausts. Killing and kidnappings. Even to this day.
Think again to the holocaust. Think of all the children who were given refuge and protection by the church, only to never be returned to their families, but to be raised as Christians.
Think of what is perhaps the most famous of uch stories, the story of Edgardo Mortara. Edgardo was a young 6 year old child in Italy in the mid-1800s. he fell ill and was on his deathbed. The families youngle Christian maidservant was concerned the child would die without ever having been saved and he would remained damned for eternity. So she baptised him, without telling the family. Edgardo eventually recovered from his illness, but it did not matter. The church found out about the baptism, and despite it being unauthorized and illegal, he had been baptized. They came and removed him from his parents care. After all, it was illegal for a Jew to raise a Christian child. No amount of pleading and fighting with the church and with the courts was able to bring Edgardo back home to his parents. he later went on and became a Catholic priest.
That is something everybody can relate to. If thinking of children being kidnapped 2000 years ago creating a hillul hashem does not move you to tears, think of the more modern instances of the same events, and that should move you.
As Jews we are all princes and princesses with the great yichus of being children of Abraham. Every tragedy that has befallen us is a tragedy but is also a hillul Hashem. If you cannot cry about the tragedy and hillul Hashem of 2000 years ago, it is all too easy to think about more recent tragedies and let those move you.
The paytan says, - woe Hashem has such decreed, he says and he fullfills his word. אוי כי זאת גזר אומר ועושה . If we do not let these kinnos move us to be inspired to improve our ways, Hashem has promised what will happen, and we should know that He fulfills His word.