Friday, February 5, 2021

Mizbeah - Altar


Among many ways to categorize Mitzvois – Biblical commandments, that of differentiating them between those regarding a person’s relationship to Creator and those regarding person to person relationships is probably one of the most known.

Ben Adam le Mukoim and Ben Adam le haveiro are clearly visible in Atzeres Hadibres – the Ten Commandments.

 אָֽנֹכִ֖י֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֧ר הוֹצֵאתִ֛יךָ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֣֥ית עֲבָדִֽ֑ים׃

“I the LORD am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage”

The first Mitzva of the ten  instructs us to act as a free people and free individuals. This along with the following four commandments including Kuvoid le Aim ve Av are categorized by Chazal as those setting our relationship with G-d.

The following five commandments clearly regulate our relationships with our fellow humans.

The parsha Mishputim following the Ten Commandments continues in setting detailed regulations of human behavior toward others. Only at the end of the sequence are Yomim Toivim listed, but the argument can be brought that even those commandments are more human-centered than focused on our Creator. The rest of the commandments of the Parsha are clearly Ben Adam le haveiro.

But there are few lines right between Ten Commandments and following parsha which, after the excitement of reading the text written on the Luchois HaBris – Tablets of Covenant, we might be paying less attention to. This is commandment of building Earth Altar – Mizbeah.

That insert clearly interrupts the flow of continuity between second part of the Ten commandments and the detailed laws of human interactions. It sticks there like a giant “BUT” – You should do all those commandments BUT under these conditions, or being restricted by these conditions or setting these as principals when you are doing the rest of the commandments, those listed on the Tablets as well as those following in Parshas Mishputim.

Rav Hirsh notice that three commandments following the Ten from the Luchois are in fact rephrased commandments from the Luchois itself. For these three commandments we must rather give up our earthly existence than break them in any form.

לֹ֥א תַעֲשׂ֖וּן אִתִּ֑י אֱלֹ֤הֵי כֶ֙סֶף֙ וֵאלֹהֵ֣י זָהָ֔ב לֹ֥א תַעֲשׂ֖וּ לָכֶֽם׃

“With Me, therefore, you shall not make any gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves any gods of gold”

This is clearly a rephrase of the commandment prohibiting any form of idolatry.

But then a really strange thing happens. Hashem gives the commandment of building the Altar or rather certain details of how the altar has to be constructed and operated. Specifically, there are two details.

מִזְבַּ֣ח אֲדָמָה֮ תַּעֲשֶׂה־לִּי֒ וְזָבַחְתָּ֣ עָלָ֗יו אֶת־עֹלֹתֶ֙יךָ֙ וְאֶת־שְׁלָמֶ֔יךָ אֶת־צֹֽאנְךָ֖ וְאֶת־בְּקָרֶ֑ךָ בְּכָל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַזְכִּ֣יר אֶת־שְׁמִ֔י אָב֥וֹא אֵלֶ֖יךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּֽיךָ׃

“Make for Me an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you.

וְאִם־מִזְבַּ֤ח אֲבָנִים֙ תַּֽעֲשֶׂה־לִּ֔י לֹֽא־תִבְנֶ֥ה אֶתְהֶ֖ן גָּזִ֑ית כִּ֧י חַרְבְּךָ֛ הֵנַ֥פְתָּ עָלֶ֖יהָ וַתְּחַֽלְלֶֽהָ׃

And if you make for Me an altar of stones, do not build it of hewn stones; for by wielding your sword upon them you have profaned them.

וְלֹֽא־תַעֲלֶ֥ה בְמַעֲלֹ֖ת עַֽל־מִזְבְּחִ֑י אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹֽא־תִגָּלֶ֥ה עֶרְוָתְךָ֖ עָלָֽיו׃ (פ)

Do not ascend My altar by steps, that your nakedness may not be exposed upon it.”

As the Mizbeah is being build and operated, not even the symbol of violence which is the sword should be used in the process and not even a slight exposure of the body should happen.

Those are clearly referencing Shivas Dumim and Giluy Arayos -- two of the Ten Commandments as Rav Hirsh will explain below.

But before we go to the detailed commentaries let’s look at the Rashi.

מזבח אדמה AN ALTAR OF EARTH [SHALT THOU MAKE] — i. e. an altar attached to the earth, meaning, that they should not build an altar upon columns or upon a base, but it must rest upon the actual ground.”

After a general explanation of the commandment of Mizbeah, Rashi explains the further meaning of not using a tool of violence or giving indecent exposure of the body.

“THEN YOU HAST PROFANED IT — Thus you may learn that if thou liftest up thy iron tool above it thou profanest it. The reason of this it, because the altar is created (its purpose is) to lengthen man’s days and iron has been created (one of its purposes is) to shorten man’s days, it is not right that an object which shortens man’s life should be lifted up above that which lengthens it. And a further reason it: because the altar makes peace between Israel and their Father in Heaven, and therefore there should not come upon it anything that cuts and destroys. Now, the following statement follows logically, à fortiori: How is it in the case of stones which cannot see nor hear nor speak? Because that they promote peace Scripture ordains, “Thou shalt not lift up against them any iron tool!” Then in the case of one who makes peace between a man and his wife, between family and family, between a man and his fellow, how much more certain is it that punishment will not come upon him.”

“THAT YOUR NAKEDNESS BE NOT UNCOVERED — because on account of these steps you will have to take large paces and so spread the legs. Now, although this would not be an actual uncovering of one’s nakedness (of the parts usually kept covered), since it is written, (Exodus 28:42) “And thou shalt make for them (the priests) linen breeches [to cover the flesh of their nakedness]”, still the taking of large paces is near enough to uncovering one’s nakedness that it may be described as such, and you would then be treating them (the stones of the altar) in a manner that implies disrespect. Now the following statement follows logically à fortiori: How is it in the case of stones which have no sense (feeling) to be particular about any disrespect shown to them? Scripture ordains that since they serve some useful purpose you should not treat them in a manner that implies disrespect! Then in the case of your fellow-man who is made in the image of your Creator and who is particular about any disrespect shown to him, how much more certain is it that you should not treat him disrespectfully!”

Now after reading Rashi’s commentary we can go further with Rabbi Hirsch’s commentary. As we will see, his understanding is very much parallel with Rashi however Rav Hirsch brings some other details of Mesoira which hopefully will help us understand this out of place insert of the commandments apparently not fitting to the sequence of the Mitzvois Ben Adam le haveiro.

“You shall not make images, shall not form the likeness of the sun or moon or anything that is with Me: but I do allow you to form for yourselves things that are with you; what you are to do, is not to bring heavenly things down to you on earth, but to elevate all earthly things up to Me. When you wish to come to Me, you have not to represent to yourselves things that you imagine are with Me in heaven, but rather to ponder on how I wish things to be carried on by you on earth. It is the earth not heaven that concerns you if and when you wish to come near to Me.

The altar that you build up to Me should represent the earth raised up to God by Men's deeds, Men's action. "An altar of earth "מִזְבַּ֣ח אֲדָמָה֮ direct and immediately from the earth is to arise, even an intervening space of a handbreadth would make the altar invalid. The temporary altar of the Mishkan was itself a freshly erected heap of earth, which was then enclosed in hollow box.

And when you will have finished your wanderings and entered into your permanent State, and then will have also to change your "wandering" altar into a permanent one of stone, then every stone of your altar is to preach to you the holiness and dedication to God of the whole of your national life. No steel may have touched a stone out of which you wish to build your altar, no steel may touch any stone out of which you have built your altar. The stone over which you have swung your steel becomes desecrated thereby for the altar of God.”

Not destruction, not sacrifice, nor giving up life, is the meaning and purpose of the altar, and the sword, the instrument of force and violence cannot get any consecration at the Jewish altar, right and humanity must build the altar, and the realm of rights and humaneness, not the mastery of the sword, is to spread from it. In the "Hall of Stone" adjoining the altar of stone, Jewish Right had its permanent citadel (the Sanhedrin was housed there.I.L.) and not the sword, the altar is the symbol of Jewish Justice. V. 23.

And just as the altar is to be a preacher of right and humaneness, those twin spirits of society striving upwards to God, be a preacher of modest decency, that fundamental trait of godliness in humanity without which justice and humaneness will be sought for in vain in human society. With Giluy Arayos – Forbidden relationships –  the heights of the altar will never be mounted! וַתִּשָּׁחֵ֥ת הָאָ֖רֶץ לִפְנֵ֣י הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַתִּמָּלֵ֥א הָאָ֖רֶץ חָמָֽס׃ The earth became corrupt before G-d; the earth was filled with lawlessness. (Gen. VI,12) is the oldest and the most serious experience of the history of Man. ("The world became morally corrupt before G-d, then the whole world became full of injustice and inhumanity." I.L.).

To summarize this epilogue to the "Ten Commandments" : the three main sins which undermine our relation to G-d are countered, and to banish them, to expel the very last trace of them from our midst is the object of the Divine Lawgiving. These are Avoida Zura, Shvichas Dumim and Giluy Arayos, the culmination of sin against God, of sin against one's fellow-man, and of sin against oneself. V.20 and V 21 A’Z, V.22 S’D and V.23 G’A. God, society and the human being are the subjects of the Divine Torah, and this epilogue announces that just as our relation to these form the contents of the Lawgiving, so it, and it alone, is to form the subject of the symbolism of the Sanctuary, as a whole, and of all its parts. The altar and the Torah itself have solely human beings as their subject matter and meaning as well as the godly building up and extending of all that true humanity should be .” Rav Hirsch, Parshas Yisro.

Back in Parshas Noach Rav Hirsch comments on the same topic of Mizbeah in following words:

“To take a single slab of stone and sacrifice thereon would mean recognizing God from the standpoint of Nature; whereas the built מִזְבַּ֣ח expresses the conception of first working oneself up above the bound character of Nature to the godlike free-willed standpoint of Man, and, from that point of view, strive upward to God. So that inasmuch as Noah built an altar to God on the fresh gift of the earth, he, as the Ancestor, dedicated this newly-gifted earth to be a place on which the future activity of mankind is to add stone to stone until ultimately the whole becomes a holy mount of God. When other nations tried, and try, to get near their God, they get away from human surroundings and believe they can find God nearer to them out in nature. Certainly, one can find God there too, but He is much nearer in all His Glory in the sphere of a human life. There, in Nature, His Omnipotence, His infinite Power is revealed, here His infinite Love .”

One of the first Talmudic Mesechtois learned by very young students in the Haider is ‘Mesechtas Succa’. One of the first subjects which they learn is ‘Lulav Goizel’ – stolen Lulav and the concept of ‘Mitzva abube aveira’ – Mitzva performed by means of Aveira – sin.

It should be clear to everyone after reading above commentaries of Rashi and Rav Hirsch on topic of the Mizbeah inserted in this strange place, out of flow of the Mitzvois concerning human interactions, why it is there.

We learn from the words of Rashi and Rav Hirsch that the construction of the Altar is raised from below up. It is constructed with our actions, where stones of that Altar are elevated by our submission to G-d‘s Law. We learn that the altar can not contain any elements of intermediary between us and our Creator. No form of violence is justified in building this Altar on the individual or national level (Except actions commanded by Prophets and Sanhedrin). No form of promiscuity should be used to achieve higher goals. 

The commandment of building an Altar with provided guidelines in this place and as explained by our commentators constitutes a general rule for all the other commandments listed in both Atzeres Hadibres and parshas Mishpatim.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Line, Crescent, Cross and Swastika

I don’t remember in which book of Hoimar Von Ditfurth I saw first time the picture of virus under microscope. I was either 10 or 15. Instantly I knew – that think did not assemble itself, the complexity of what I saw required Assembler. There is no other way about it.
It still took some time and study to establish my personal relationship with Assembler. It took years until I found the path designated to approach Him and ultimately to accomplish complete Unity in Him.
But then, first time in my life I saw a pattern, something undeniably to complex to exist without supervision. A mark for those with open eyes and honesty, to challenge own ego in admission of this Higher Power.
Once the personal relationship was established, I was no in need to see those marks as I experienced them in my personal life. Yet, time and time again He gave me enjoyment of finding such revelations.
In addition to that, once I began to learn the commentaries and Sefurim written by Rav Shimshon Refuel Hirsch I quickly developed a great love to every mark of his pen.
He exposed me to the essential idea that the Creator of the universe reveals himself in three methods. Besides the Torah and nature, He reveals Himself in human History as well. Any keen, intelligent, and sensitive mind can see His guiding actions in the development of mankind.
The earliest days and years of our history are known to us only through the revelation of Torah and our oral tradition recorded in the Medrish. As such, historic component of the Midrashic literature should be treated as a part of the revelation given to the Jewish people and not as the third component of general revelation accessible to rest of the humanity. It must be stated though, that parts of the Sinai revelation were addressed to all children of Noah, all humans. Scientific research on nature and history is accessible to all humanity, if they seek the Truth.
In certain parts of humanity’s development, the Creator of Man can be easily, so to say, detected by anyone possessing any Knowledge of history, culture, and religion. There are certain patterns which only stubborn individuals can deny as something random and “natural”.

My aim in composing this essay is to discuss these phenomena. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

G-d and Nimrod

Abraham, a man of flesh and blood is bargaining with the Creator of the Univerese in an attempt to save the cities Sdom, Amora, Adma and Seboim from destruction. Sodom and Gomora are the two that are most known from this account.
We Jews, know this conversation very well.
Those who attend any kind of services on Sundays or Saturdays, know this story as well. At this moment, we can talk about it without the risk of overexaggerating, that most of our fellow Americans know this story.
I would even take a risk and say that some self-declared atheists may know this story as well.
In the world, in philosophical literature (but not limited to) some of the events that are described in the Bible are considered to be fundamental in human history for developing ideas of justice. This particular conversation may be familiar to most of humanity.
We do not judge, or even worse, harm the majority on the account of deeds or beliefs of the minority. This is the moral teaching coming from this dialog.
But there is a part of this story that is not known to public.  I will describe a quiet different chat, which I imagine, took place before G-d came to our father Abraham.

Nimrod the First known also as Amraphel, was the emperor of Babylon, the first city and government organized in a way that later in history was described as Hegemony.
Nimrod the First was killed by Abraham in the battle of the four kings by supernatural means described in detail in the Midrash.
After the death of his father, Nimrod the Second approached G-d with a complaint against his enemies from the Valley of Shittim. Which is where Abraham came to rescue and save his nephew Lot, and in process killied the first Nimrod - Amraphel.
Nimrod the second called:                           
-          G-d?
-          Yes, my servant Nimrod.
-          Oh, you call me a servant now but you allowed my father to be eliminated by this enemy of social order Abraham?
-         Don’t you know? Lev Hamelech be yadaim Hashem. Your heart is in my hands so of course you are my servant like all the other Nimrods in the future – Cesar, Napoleon, Hitler. Those are the big ones but there are pages of the future filled with names of all small Nimrods. Anyhow we will not talk about what is to become of history now and why I allow them to act in the way they do. What is you Issue Nimrod?
-         G-d, did you hear about the evil perpetrated in the cities of the Valley of Shittim? The lack of hospitality, their laws against any immigration that would undermine the wellbeing of the citizens, and then cardinal sins against the first commandment in your Torah, that about marriage? I think they deserve to be eliminated from the rest of the healthy society for they may endanger the rest of us with their misdeeds, it is potentially danger her in Bavel and for my relatives in Canaan.
-         Yes, something came to me, but I can’t eliminate such a large population on the account of some bad individuals…How many bad people do you think live there in the five cities of Shittim Valley?
-         I don’t know but let me ask you G-d, if there would be 10 evildoers then would you consider eliminating them?
-         Nooo …can’t destroy human lives on account of 10 bad individuals. You talking about my creation and well… if I created them that means I love them and it would cause me tremendous suffering if I would have to harm them in any way.
-         What about 20 bad guys, would it be enough for You to act?
-         Of course not, I can’t do it.
-         What if 30 are evil?
-        Where is this going Nimrod? What are you trying to achieve? Of course, my Justice Love would not allow Me to harm the population on the account of 30.
-         What about 40, would you send angels of destruction then?
-         No.
-         45 G-d, 45 bad guys and You say it would not justify the elimination of those cities’ populations?
-         No, Nimrod! I said No!
-         Let me tell you G-d. I’m quite sure that there is at last 50 bad individuals in those cities, that makes 10 bad guys per city. I appeal to your Justice to destroy the lives of the inhabitants of those cities.
-         It will not happen Nimrod, the only condition is that all the members of those societies must be evil to be eliminated, otherwise My Attribute of Chesed will not allow to harm those people.
-         But G-d they are pagans, they don’t believe in You, is this not enough to destroy them and erase them from under the heaven?
-         Nimrod! Enough! They are mistaking perhaps with their intellect, while you and your father rebelled against me in action, and I still allowed you to exist. I myself will go and learn what are you crying about and then I will ask my friend Abraham what he thinks about whole thing. Then I will make my decisions.

I wonder, did I make this story up from scratch or some people already heard it before and are siding with Nimrod?

By Matys Weiser

Sunday, March 29, 2020


So, it happened. 
At the age of 97 Cheshanover alte rebetzin passed away.
I knew this day would come.  Thinking so many times, how will I get to New York for the levaya, as I am so often on the west coast. I Couldn’t imagine not to be there at the funeral which according to the Jewish law, must happen within a day of passing.
For me, a person that is away a big part of year, half of a day of driving from the closest airport with direct flights to NY, it may be a matter of concern – how will I do it. And there are those places where I go, which are almost day from the airport.
HBH decided to take her away when I’m just two hours away from the place of the levaya and I cannot attend it due to the Corona pandemic restrictions.
Now, at the hour of the levaya, I sat to write this. I could not attend the funeral of my own mother who passed away in Poland four years ago, now I can’t listen to the words of hespaidim about a person who was like a mother to my family in the crucial years after our immigration to United States.
Thinking, making Cheshbon haneifesh – soul account. I don’t know. I don’t know.
That’s how she was – a mother not only to her family but mother to yesoymim who she found on the path of her life. I know that our family was not only the case.
She was born in Sadovne, Mazowsze (Mazovia) district of Poland just few years after Poland regained its independence after 130 years under the control of foreign kingdoms. Mazowsze was under Russian control and Polish and Jewish populations developed their own culture, distinctive to other parts of the Polish land.
There is a reason why we have Poilishe and Galitziane Hassidim, as well as Russishe and Hungarians.
Cuisine is only one of many aspects of cultural differences.
Rebetzin was at the entry to her life, just 16, when the darkest years of human history approached.
Somehow her mother with, I hope I know it correctly, four children, managed to escape to the Russian side of occupied Poland. As most Polish citizens they were considered by Sovyetska vlast (Soviets) - enemies of the people – burjuy. As such they were send to Siberia and trough seven years there, they were dumped from one labor camp to another. Rebetzin’s mother didn’t survive, giving her life in Janbul – Kazakhstan.
After the war, four siblings came back to Poland – three sisters and one brother.
The three sisters became three rebetzins – Sadovne, Cheshanove and Aleksander – Boro Park.
Only one of three got married to a Galitziane family, not a common mix before the WWII.
How did she fit in to the Rubin-Helbershtam family? I can humbly attest from my few years close to the family – she was one of them – perhaps most important, most influential in the decades after the passing of her husband and the father of my rebe.
Now I have to say few words about Cheshanov itself, and I will try to be restrained in my words for two reasons – you never know what can be offensive to others; and I know, I can be if not controversial personality at least inconvenient for some so I will try my best.
Cheshanov comes from the straight line of descendants of Santzer dynasty. And it can be heard and felt there in many aspects. But probably even more that Santz – Nowy Sacz, it is the spirit of Shinov – Sieniawa, which is dominant in Hasidic life philosophy of Cheshanov, than any other influence.
It is not only because every third man or boy in the Shul is Yechezkiel Shraga for this name is used in the family for generations after the original Yechezkiel Shraga of Shinov.
He was a son of Santzer Rebe, probably the most influential among his other siblings, even he did not continue in the place of his father in Santz.
He took a post of the Rav and at this time in Galitzia it was also the post of the Rebe, in Shinov in 1855.
When the “whole town” came to listen to his Third Meal derusha – Torah Comentry at the end of Shabes, which in Hasidic custom is the moment when position of Rav takes effect; the new Shinover Rav opened the Chumash and red from the Parsha – Torah portion of the week.
In his later years in Shinov, he began to deliver customary sedua shides derusha but the way how he approached some Minhagim was symptomatic to his general approach to Hasidus.
This Derech – path, was expressed probably the best way by the Satmar Ruv Reb Yoel Taitelbaum – Derch Baal Shem Tov is lost, and we don’t understand it. This is what I heard from his Talmidim – students.
It was controversial a few decades ago, and even if at the time of the Shinover Ruv it was only a little taste of this approach, it should be self-understood, that it was not popular among other Hasidim.
It is not the place perhaps, but it must be mentioned that in the following centuries after the Ball Shem Tov, different Hasidic groups developed distinctive cultures, life philosophies and minchagim which are not necessarily rooted in the teachings of the first master of Hasidus. Some of them seemingly expressing philosophy in direct opposition to the original Hassidic teachings.
Cheshanov respects minhagim, recognize the power of the Hasidic movement, teach great thoughts of Hasidic masters from different streams of this philosophy, but – all of this with feet strongly standing on the ground, with a square head and skepticism famous among other Hassidim.
Cheshanover Rebetzin was a small postured person, especially among her sons and grandsons of six feet and more, but she was great in precisely this kind of approach to life and yidishkeit so characteristic for this place.
She was a champion of self-sufficiency; man has to work to support his family.
She was a hard-working woman, cooking the best kugels already from the beginning of the week, some of this food she delivered to lonely persons just hours before Shabes.
I have to mention the parve cholent. It was best parve cholent in the Universe, parve because in 1950ties, some Singers and other vegetarians use to come from Manhattan to visit family in Boro Park. Yes, those Singers – Yitschak Bashevis and Yisrael Yehoshua.
Rebetzin’s Shabes fish – you can smell the town of Belz in that fish – she told me that she learned the recipe from her mother in law, daughter of the Belzer rebbe.
But the most important mida - trait which I observed in the years as a neighbor, was yashrus -straightforwardness.
She used to say – “Good thing you should learn from the pastuch – a simpleton, the bad thing you should not learn from the rebe.”
She didn’t hesitate to call some of the rabbis – ‘’galuch”.
Well…not the most pleasing name or description of some leaders in our own fold. Mildly translated, galuch is the person making a living from spiritual services. But to really understand the word you should ask Yiddish speaking children.
I have a great privilege to befriend some of her grandchildren and of course consider her son as my personal Rav.
I understand how atypical person I am in the Hasidic world in general and in Cheshanov in particular.
But I don’t have to hide or play someone else, there is no inconvenient mold which I have to push in to.
Thanks to that yashrus which she implemented in to the following generations I feel at home.
She was the one who asked me almost quarter of century ago to come and open the door.
Rebetzin with her clear head and straight understanding of life and human characters was Cheshanover as rest of Cheshanov – she was just Cheshanov

Monday, March 23, 2020

Freedom of individual

I can’t believe that it’s been already year since I posted last time.
I wrote few essays since then and this is one of them. I titled it “Freedom of individual” as B-H I hope to write separate essay on topic of Personal Freedom – the Freedom achievable only by progressing control over our body and heart, guided by commandments of Torah.
Below some words about Freedom of Individual or citizen if you will.

A street of a European city, could be day, could be after dusk. Four or five story buildings, some trees on the edge of the sidewalk. Streets paved with cobblestones, sometimes smooth on the surface sometimes corrugated as they came straight from the riverbed.
And then the steps. First quiet but then louder and louder as the somebody walking on the sidewalk progresses quietly closer toward a rhythmic sound. He can’t turn back, he knows, this would put him in danger. Now we see the boots and then persons marching with weapons on their shoulders.
Then loud command – Ausweis bytte, Papiren.
Man and woman are showing ID’s, but it doesn’t end there.
One of the soldiers or policemen are sniffing trough the belongings of the person who a minute ago was walking minding his or her own business but now he/she is a suspect. For a petty crime, it can end with a jail sentence or even worse.
This is a common scene from many movies that I remember watching as a child depicting the Nazi occupation of Poland. This is how it was described to us, born a few decades after the war.
Millions of people were still around who remembered those years of the German fascist invasion.
When in December 1981 the Polish communist government instituted a State of War up on Polish the population, these scenes came to our lives as a generational Deja Vue.
There was no doubt in our mind that we had a Nazi like regime reincarnated and now dressed in the Polish uniforms, asking for our ID in our native language, just as original Nazis sniffing through our belongings.
After major riots in the cities, patrols were walking in groups no less the five, two police and three soldiers, in fear of their own population.
I will never forget the scene which I observed from the city bus on the way back from school.
The bus stopped to pick up some passengers, and in the tall grass separating the road from the sidewalk, a few boys, aged less than ten, were shooting from their sticks toward such patrol.
The whole bus, the whole street burst with laughter. But in less than minute it was in the air, people felt sorry for the young officers protecting the regime from the hate of the population. Kind of a hate – pity situation.
Seventeen days after the Nazis entered Poland from the west, the Red Army took the entire eastern Poland as it was agreed between Hitler’s and Stalin’s diplomats.
Lvov was a capital of eastern Galitzia and now become a Soviet city.
Under communist rule every citizen is supposes to work, not necessarily in the profession acquired or practiced in the past. Rabbis definitely didn’t have it easy under an atheist government, so they got a profession which was fitting them somehow or if they got some ‘protektzia’ then some easier job.
Rabbi Shlomo Helbershtam, son of Bobover rebbe and after the WWII Bobover rebbe himself, got that kind of easy profession – a factory guard. His job was to check workers ID as they were entering the factory as it is a practice in many large businesses until today.
Soon, the local population learned the soviet ways of life, stealing became a widespread practice, including stealing from the factories and places of work.
Reb Shloime was asked by his supervisors to check the belongings of some workers leaving the premises of the factory after work hours. The Bobover rebbe refused as he saw such behavior humiliating and inhumane.
He didn’t learn this idea from Voltaire or Kant, it was not a “humanism” where he was rooted in his ethics.
It was the Toira which he learned from his father and grandfather and all the way to the Moishe and Avruchom.
Freedom and personal dignity is a fundamental Jewish value, indispensable and equal for all G-ds creations. It is a first condition to even think about service of the Creator as a Jew and as a Goy.
We will not dwell in this place about chalachic ramifications of basic minimums given in historic environment. We are talking about the idea given first at the time of creation, and then again as an introduction to Atzeres Hadibres – The Ten Commandments.
The idea of personal freedom and human dignity was obvious for the Bobever rebbe, for some – this backward Jew from a small town in an even more backward Galitzia, Poland.
Not long ago, I was sitting by a table with bunch of my fellow Americans talking all the things Americans talk about. I still don’t know much about Baseball or Football, but I was always hoping that on the other hand, sharing ideas of American political and social system written in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution will do.
Then topics switched to security, and as I was quiet before for lack of knowledge about sports, now I was just stunned listening where we hold as a society.
For my fellow Americans it was fine when the police stop and frisk… as long as this is not one looking like one of us. It was ok to look in your pockets when you enter an office building, because who knows.
It was ok to take the belt off of your pants in the middle of airport, because…I don’t even know!
I was horrified that no one is even hinting how to build a society where no one is in need of ‘protection’.
No one analyzed why do we need this ‘protection’, everybody just knew from whom do we need it – from enemies of our freedom.
You don’t have a freedom when security government can listen to your conversations and look in to your correspondence.
Communists in Poland under the Martial law were at least informing us that your conversations are under surveillance. Here, the person who informed us about surveillance became a political refugee!
You don’t have freedom if the cops can look in your pockets!
You don’t have freedom if TSA can put you in situation where you don’t know what to hold, your falling pants or your suitcase that is soon to be checked.
You don’t have freedom if you deny the same privilege to people living in your or other countries.
And no! They don’t hate us for our freedom, they hate us because we normalize taking their freedom away.
I will even go further.
There is no freedom if we can’t protect the wellbeing of our citizens, and by wellbeing, I mean their health and sometimes lives.
We don’t have a freedom if we can’t educate our children to prepare them to be contributing members of society, there is no freedom if we cannot do it using our school taxes in the way we wish.
And no, no parent will send a kid to the school teaching anything against the wellbeing of the general society, be it a religious or secular school.
There is no freedom of an individual or a society, if work of the government is not reflecting wishes of “we the people”. Instead every politician on every level of government is only looking how to appease the donor class which by Darwinian nature, protects only their own interest.
No freedom there.
Instead I was sitting there with my fellow Americans listening to ideas of betterment of methods of security.
Only… what is there to protect and secure?

Friday, March 22, 2019

Yomim Toivim

“This month will be the beginning of the months for you”
In the middle of the first month it was declared to us that we are independent people.
Released from bondage by other human beings we are now in the position to take the route of our own choice, to shape our own future.
The hints where to go were given, but to get the tool to complete freedom, it takes some work; some preparation. We got 50 days to climb the steps to be worthy of the treasure, we got the guidebook to freedom. Now we have freedom not from other human beings, but freedom from ourselves, our own earthly character.
Freedom engraved-written on the Tablets containing as the sages explain, all of the Toira.
Engraving and freedom spells the same way in Hebrew.
We said “Naaseh ve nishma” – “We will do, and we will listen”.
This declaration and readiness from our side was unprecedented and still is unprecedented but the gloomy days and weeks of summer came, and we lost it, we messed up.
The Awakening came later in the summer. We made a cheshboin haneifesh - the introspection and its culmination came after a month of preparation at the beginning of the civil year, on Rosh Choidesh Tishrei, when we accept once more the Sovereignty of the King.
We made a proper attempt to see ourselves in our full misery and after ten days in anguish we came to ask for forgiveness.
It was granted to us.
Now we were ready to renew our bond to the Giver of life, so we showed our complete trust going out and living without physical protection for seven days.
By dwelling in flimsy structures without a real roof we declared to our Father in heaven and to humanity our confidence and conviction that He is the one who protect us from any harm, and we can’t be harmed unless He withdraw His protection. But we knew that it is ultimately in our own hands. Our deeds have a power to alternate this protection, i.e. we may, in our madness ruin the pledge of His shield.
At this moment of the calendar however, we are too high to fail and after the affliction and cure of Av, Elul and Tishrei we come back to the Source, and once more in the year we take the gift of Torah to dance with in excitement, to learn the steps of the ultimate dance of existence
But first we must understand that it is not an easy task, that besides our own physical corruptive powers there are also outside influences. We must see it in clarity that to fulfill our individual and national task we must carefully separate ourselves from foreign persuasions.
We don’t withdraw from the general society to achieve this, quite the opposite, we declare to the public our confidence in our own values and the power of light invested in us. We declare the readiness to serve the rest of humanity sharing the guidelines to achieve a bond with the Creator, a bond that is uncorrupted by human imagination.
If we achieve this level of understanding…another holiday is given to us, almost at the end of the year, a holiday closing the cycle and concluding the path we stepped on still as slaves.
This one is a true gift, it reveals all what was hidden till now. And the name of the Book that we are reading on this day is precisely such “Megilas Esther” - “Revelation of the Hidden”.
Of course, to get to the heights of this last Yom Tiv we must properly follow and prepare ourselves through all the days preceding Purim. Otherwise we will experience a superficial day of rigid commandments with a slight taste of fun.
What we will miss is the understanding of what the mask is really hiding, what is the true character of reality.
Mathematics, chemistry, biology and music are declaring unfathomable harmony in every aspect of the creation, a harmony impossible without the hidden hand of the Creator.
Theoretical physics are telling us that all three-dimensional surroundings exist against the very same laws that keep this world in existence; that what we see, and experience is nothing but a mask showing or declaring existence but behind the mask there is Truth. Hints of it is given to us in the form of this mask.
If you are not ready for them, you don’t have to go to Sifrey Kabula to understand, that this world is just a virtual reality serving one and only purpose – to find the way back to Eden.

Monday, March 4, 2019

From Alturas to San Francisco, or from San Francisco to Alturas?


In my previous essay I suggested to look for this writing as it is also inspired by the city of San Francisco.
I wrote this essay four years ago but for some unknown reason, I never had it published.
So …here it is:

California is not the state where I usually work. Nevertheless, I was quite happy to find myself in that state at a time when my fellow New Yorkers were experiencing a few weeks of snow blizzards, followed by ice storms.
Alturas is a town that has quite a distance from any other town and requires at least a two hours’ drive to or from its nearest neighbor. Due to the higher altitude, it can be quite cold over there. In Spanish, Alturas means ‘higher place.’
Interestingly, the main route, Route 59, in my home town of Monsey shares the name with this Californian, predominantly Bask and Native American settlement. But Route 59 in NY is quite flat and its altitude is not too high, geographically speaking. I guess something else puts Monsey on a higher plane.
The day after I left Alturas the town was shut down due to a tribal dispute that took the lives of four individuals.
A few days later I was at a business meeting in a store in downtown San Francisco.
While my customer perused my merchandise, I observed the street through the front glass window. Maybe 25 feet in front of my line of vision, there was a fellow seated on the sidewalk. With worn clothing and tired eyes, this unusually skinny Caucasian man in his mid twenties was sitting there without any support to his back. Somebody brought him some cookies to eat, but what he was doing there was simply watching. Watching a busy street of a big city. People were rushing in all directions, cars were passing by, trolleys were ringing their bells while making squeaky noises on the tracks that were barely visible upon the pavement of the street.
He was seated there and just watching.
That could have been me a little bit over thirty years ago. In a politically different reality but a visually similar tableau, people were walking, running, and chasing something that they will never manage to catch in their lifetimes.
In the brief hippie period of my life, I used to sit on the sidewalk or in the mall or at a train station and just watch. I studied people’s walks and tried to understand where all of them were going and where I myself should go.
Now, on that street in San Francisco, a few groups of hippies passed whose appearances were vastly familiar to me. They looked like relics of the sixties, with long hair, loose garish clothing, and badly in need of a shower. I was sadly reminded of my own hippie phase. For a while, I saw being a flower child as an alternative to the conformist society in which the individual didn’t really count and in which rules were forms of restriction.
There I sat in the San Francisco business district, a part of the soulless business world. Am I soulless? I would be, if not for those memories and whole new set of convictions.

Then I noticed someone on the street going from business to business, even stopping passersby on the sidewalk. In a plastic cup he had something that looked like a piece of worthless polished brass, but apparently, he thought he had some precious metal to sell. In his daydream, perhaps this man already counted the money he earned from his sale and imagined all it would buy him. But in reality, everyone else saw something very different in this object of his affection. While he saw treasure in his cup, they saw only a cupful of despair.
I looked at the man, but he couldn’t return my glance, for his eyes kept shifting in all directions. They could not stop and focus on anything for longer than a second. He was on drug hunger; his young but plowed-with-pain face showed everything. There was no human anymore inside of that human-looking shell, but just an animal chasing after something which would fill the emptiness that caused him to look for artificial happiness in the first place. But now, the very result of the chemical consciousness enhancements was this vacuum - a vacuum of humanness, a vacuum of self-consciousness, a vacuum of anything but the animalistic hunger. He was not chasing after a moment of happiness anymore; now he was only chasing after a moment of forgetfulness, in his desire to kill the pain.

I remember from the shiurim of Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt'l, when he often spoke about our Tzelem Elokim. He said that most people still maintain their Tzelem Elokim – their likeness to G-d - which gives them the potential to climb toward a higher spiritual experience and ultimately to higher spiritual existence. But it was clear from his statement that there are also some two-legged, vertical standing creatures that have lost it.
I didn’t understand it then, I didn’t ask, even though I could have submitted my question anonymously on a piece of paper, as it was customary to give to Rabbi Miller after his shiur. To this day, I still don’t know exactly what he meant.
Is it possible for a human being to lose it all? To lose his soul?
Rashi says clearly that what makes us different from other Nefesh Chai is our intellect and speech. But intellect and speech are only two of the tools to the greatest gift of our Creator – free choice. It is free choice which empowers our Tzelem Elokim. Intellect, along with our means of communication, is just the necessary apparatus without which choice would be impossible.
Are there any Bnai Adam – children of man - who lost the ability for free choice?
I would imagine that a person like the one I described a few lines above is such an individual; but can I say it with certainty?
No. I can’t.
Neither I, nor any other human being has the tools to evaluate the balance between chemical intoxication and the intoxication of our DNA, hormones, and other natural factors which our decisions are influenced by.
We don’t have the tools to measure someone else’s level of intellect to ascertain if it is high functioning enough to overpower the desires of the heart and make them submissive to the intellect, as Sefer HaTanya describes it. This battle between Saichel and Lev is our work of life.
Can we give this evaluation to ourselves? I think this is the first and most basic condition for any spiritual progress in our lives. We must find who we are, and where we are in our lives; which direction we should follow and which utensils we should use. But the most important necessity is our acknowledgment of the One above and our imploration to Him for guidance and help.
In Parshas Netzuvim we learn: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life… - Ivuchartu bachaim.” Many before have directed our attention to the fact that it doesn’t say – choose between life and death, but simply ‘choose life.’
It seems to me, that when we are choosing, when we are using our faculty of Bechira – free choice, the benefit can only be life. But when we follow our desires, when we succumb to our hearts, our bodily requests, we are not choosing at all! We just follow what our body tells us to do, engaging intellect only in the process of justification to see ourselves in a better light than just as thoughtless beasts!
Who are we in times like this? Are we the Tzelem Elokim when we put His gift of Bechira aside? Is our intellect serving the purpose of analyzing reality and following the will of our Creator, the purpose for which life was given to us in the first place? Is our speech used to express where intellectual process leads us, and do we use it to inspire and encourage our fellowmen to do the same – to make choices?
Self-evaluation is a fundamental condition to any effort in our life, any meaningful work.
And this is the only way to get to ‘higher places.’

Saturday, January 19, 2019


A Few years ago, at one of our Bnai Abraham meetings, a newly returned Baal Tshuva attended. His name was Shimon.
Oh! I didn’t explain what Bnai Avraham is? Well, it is nothing, it was an attempt to create an environment where primarily gerim and also Baaley Tshuva can come and share experiences; like for example the integration with their FFB’s communities and all kind of other struggles.
Shimon was ex member of the Israeli commando. He was sent by his government to kill some terrorists in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon.
With great pride, he told us the details of his actions including the fact that after the mission came to an end, he came to the conclusion that since he was one of the two out of twenty commandos who survived, that it was a suicide mission. It caused him to think about life … about the gift of life, about the Giver himself.
For almost an hour in some quiet home in Boro Park, the room was filled with smoke, the loud noise of machine guns, the smell of sweat and human blood. His English was good enough to describe his experience with details describing the death of his enemies and friends. But also, his miraculous survival.
It was painful to hear that he still took some amount of pride from the fact that he killed human beings, people who he didn’t know. Somebody’s husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers.
I was afraid to ask if there were any wives, mothers, sisters, aunts…children.
The action took place in an apartment building and everybody in the way got eliminated. Or as they call killing in the nice way.

I met Arieh not long ago. Arieh was someone whose experience was similar to that of Shimons. In his early fifties he lives in California for around thirty years. Although he was covered with thick layers of tattoos on his skin, I saw a precious Jewish soul yearning to connect with what was taken from him in his youth – the connection with his G-d.
Being on the sharp curve of his life he told me:
“I can’t take it off of my body but, I am telling you, when I get my stuff in order, I will go to the mikva. I will let my beard grow, and also my payos. I will not hide my connection to Hashem. I want everybody to see the kedusha. I will keep Shabes and eat only kosher and put tefilin every day. May Hashem help me…”

I wish him the koach - strength and providence to straighten his life up and fulfill his desire that he expressed while choking on tears. Seeing him like this was enough for me to appreciate the Yidishe Neshuma at work once more.

We shared some difficult life experiences and I asked him in a delicate way, how he got to where he is.
He was also a member of the commandos with a mission in Beirut.
They sent us to die – he told me – we were doing crazy things there…
“After that, I told myself I will not defend this f… country I will not let my children do it either. It was crazy…” hes said.

Exactly a week after my encounter with Arieh, I met the senior rabbi who visited President Reagan in his oval office a few days after blowing up an American military base in Beirut by Hezbollah militants.  Some two hundred young people who were told that they are going to defend their country had died there.
The rabbi, when mentioning Hezbollah used some words that we usually add when talking about our enemies, like those who caused many Jewish deaths, physical or spiritual forms of death.
I raised my head in wonder but kept my tongue behind my teeth, out of respect and due to the presence of other people I didn’t ask – Who sent those kids to Beirut? Isn’t it the capital of the other country? If our American fighters would defend Spokane for example, from North Korean invaders, would we call them terrorists? Why did we get involved? Is a war our Jewish business? Don’t we comprehend that this is the two sides of the same coin, with the picture of the straight sword on one side and a curved sword on the other? Eisav’s and Yishmael’s swords?

Shimon’s and Arieh’s government told them to go and kill. Kill the enemies before they kill you.
But they didn’t know those people!
The Jewish principal of self defense applies only when there is situation of life endangerment, but it can not be used as a practical application of Von Clausevitz doctrine!

The Talmud teaches clearly. When you hear the noise and find someone digging under you house you are allowed killing him in self-defense since you can suspect his worst intentions.
When you see someone digging – taking action, there is no time for negotiation, it is to late, your life is only what you have, and you should defend it even if the cost is the life of another human being. At that moment his life has no value since he intends to spill human blood. However, intentions alone can never serve as a justification to kill!

Before Yaacov met his brother Eisav, The Torah says that he was afraid, and he was in distress.
Rashi explains – He was afraid for his life and his family, but he was in distress that perhaps he will have to take a human life.

 What are we doing there… in Beirut… and other places…?