Thursday, September 8, 2022

Gorbatchev

                                                                                                                        B-H

Mikhail Gorbachev has many zchusim but there is one more which can be added to the list. If not for my desire to write chesped for him my above essays would still sit in the folder of my computer.

Last time, I think, I wrote chespaidim on political figures, for Vaclav Havel and Kim Ir Sen who departed on the same week.

I have no illusions; I don’t think there is anybody these days waiting for my essays or being curious what Matys Weiser thinks about events. It was maybe the case 10 or so years ago when I was really active, and not only on this blog. Today I still write occasionally but many times it ages unread in the folders of my computer for months or years.

So now I have this strong impulse to deal with a significant period of my life due to the passing of the ex-leader of the Soviet Union, once I opened my blog, there are some more material to be published. And I think those essays are much more important than one which I’m going to share now. Enjoy.

I grew up in communist Poland in 70’s and 80’s.

The world at first was pretty stagnant around me for the first 10 years of my life. Or rather at the age of 4, I was not aware of political events taking place in the Polish dockyards. 41 people were killed, over 1,000 injured in strikes against the government. The Polish government of Party Leader Gomulka collapsed as the result of riots and strikes. 10 years under the First Secretary of Polish United Labor Party (Communists) Edward Gierek began.

I have said many times in my writings that my political awareness awaked in 1976, when I was 10 years old. Another wave of social unrest took place in Poland. I was old enough to understand that the ruling party may be united but not to the benefit of the exploited working class. Just the opposite: Communist elites installed themselves as the owners of means of production, running basically what Prof. Noam Chomsky calls “State Capitalism”.

Then in 1980 Gierek’s government was changed in an unprecedented wave of strikes and as a result of the formation of an independent workers union “Solidarnosc” or Solidarity.

18 months later the Polish army was deployed on Polish streets. A State of War was declared by Communists in Poland against its own population. A year and half, when for the first time in generations people could breathe freedom, was ending with the tanks on the streets of the cities and forcibly entering factories on strike.

The Solidarity opposition was arrested, or a few managed to go to hiding, some of them for years.

I was 15 then but had my share in participating and even organizing some small-scale protests.

Then my spiritual evolution began and few years later my participation in politics ended and interest in it dwindled.

One thing was constant during all those years of my growth – Leonid Brezhnev in the Kremlin.

It is impossible for someone growing up in that part of Europe under Soviet influence not to remember his bushy eyebrows, slower and slower speeches and multiple microphones which we firmly believed were serving him with oxygen as he barely stood at the podium towards his older years. Of course, his age and deteriorating health were topic of an endless number of jokes, as humor is the strongest defensive weapon for a conquered or controlled population.

He passed away or was murdered at the order of the head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, who replaced him as the head of the country. It didn’t change much for the rest of inhabitants of 12 time zones from Vladivostok to the Laba River. Andropov was old himself and by taking the position of the leader of the Communist party he preserved the system for another few years between himself and the Stalinist Konstantin Chernenko.

When Chernenko passed away in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev was chosen as the head of the Communist party in the Soviet Union and as such the de facto head of the country.

He was considered to be a reformist within the Soviet Communist party, but at the time, no one, not even Gorbachev himself, dreamed that reforms would permanently end the Soviet system in just few years.

Because this is what happened just a little bit over a year after beginning of Gorbachev’s tenure:

At 21:02 the evening of 28 April, a 20-second announcement was read in the TV news program Vremya: "There has been an accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. One of the nuclear reactors was damaged. The effects of the accident are being remedied. Assistance has been provided for any affected people. An investigative commission has been set up.”

At the time, I was serving a 2-year term as a janitor in the military hospital due to the my refusal to be drafted into the army. Working in the pediatric clinic I was preparing a mixture of berry juice and iodine to prevent the possible development of cancer as our territory was also affected by the nuclear cloud.

I don’t know what Tversky’s did here or in heaven if anything, but cracks had opened in one of the most restrictive empires in the history of the mankind, cracks which began to crumble in Polish stockyard but were patched by brute force in 1981 and 82 with the tanks on the streets., Those patches could not survive the nuclear explosion in the town of Chernobyl.

Communists were still trying to hide the real size of the catastrophe but soon the era of Glasnost, openness, began as the reformist Gorbachev understood that not this and not anything after the Chernobyl fallout could be hidden anymore.

Perestroika, reconstruction, was another Russian word heard in the background of the events of Chernobyl.

What supposed to be little more than cosmetic changes in the Soviet system, because of Chernobyl, Glasnost, and another wave of strikes in Poland, Gorbachev initiated what ended in total collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet system.

In spring of 1988 workers in Poland strike again. They issued their usual call for social democratic changes with an additional demand to release the opposition members from jail.

In early summer, Polish Communists reached out to some opposition leaders in the country through the mediation of the Catholic Church,

In the fall of the same year, the Round Table was convened and negotiations ended in early spring of the following year with a partial return to Democracy and a free market economy.

This time neither the Polish Opposition nor the Polish Communists were afraid of “brotherly” intervention from “beloved” nation in the East.

On 4th of June 1989 the first partially free election took place in the Communist block with the result of filling all allowed spots in Polish parliament by the members of Solidarity movement.

Communists understood that they had no legitimacy representing the population not only of Poland but of other countries of the Soviet bloc, including the Soviet Union itself.

Gorbachev, who from reforms turned to supervisor of the dismantling an empire guilty of the taking of tens of millions of human lives.

The day of the Polish election was also the day when the Communist party of China decided to smash protesters in Tiananmen square, many of them burned alive with flame throwers.

Would Gorbachev choose the Chinese path of defending the system?

In the past Communist regimes didn’t hesitate to invade countries or even carpet bomb their own villages for refusing to give up their land to the Communists. The starvation of millions of Ukrainians was within the pattern of their understanding of the Marxist “dictature of the Proletariat”.

But he didn’t.

He managed to release country by country and republic by republic to take their own path for the future.

And it wasn’t only because of the weakness of the crumbling economy. Empires in such situations are worse, more dangerous for their populations than those disassembling in a peaceful manner. In fact, I can’t really recall any instance of an Empire being dismantled without the cost of significant loss of population in civil wars, independence wars or the collapse of the administration.

Living as young man under the Communist system, as all citizens of my country, we didn’t expect the system to end in our lifetime, much less almost without the spill of human blood in “Communist proportions”.

But it ended.

Mikhail Gorbachev is hated by many Russians. We are witnessing an attempt to restore at least partially the Russian empire. But for all the nations previously conquered and controlled by the Tzar or the First Secretary of the Party, Gorbachev will remain a hero.

Hashem should bring more rulers as him in the path to complete Geula leading to the days of Mashiych Tzidkayni.

Do not kill.

                                                                                                                        B-H

Do not kill.

וְאַ֨ךְ אֶת־דִּמְכֶ֤ם לְנַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶם֙ אֶדְרֹ֔שׁ מִיַּ֥ד כָּל־חַיָּ֖ה אֶדְרְשֶׁ֑נּוּ וּמִיַּ֣ד הָֽאָדָ֗ם מִיַּד֙ אִ֣ישׁ אָחִ֔יו אֶדְרֹ֖שׁ אֶת־נֶ֥פֶשׁ הָֽאָדָֽם׃

But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man!

שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱלֹהִ֔ים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם׃

Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed; For in His image Did God make man.

וְאַתֶּ֖ם פְּר֣וּ וּרְב֑וּ שִׁרְצ֥וּ בָאָ֖רֶץ וּרְבוּ־בָֽהּ׃ (ס)

Be fertile, then, and increase; abound on the earth and increase on it.”

Both Onkelos and Rashi explain these verses as a statement from Hashem that He will impose justice on a person who killed another person in a situation where a Bays Din is unable (due to insufficient witnesses or other halachic restrictions) to sentence the killer to death. In the second verse there is a commandment to bring the killer to justice and sentence him to death. Only a Bais Din, a Chalachic court with an unbroken chain of Smicha – can sentence a person or persons to death. This is the interpretation of Onkelos and Rashi.

Rabeinu Bahya writes: “The Torah continues ומיד האדם, “and from the human being, etc.” This refers to instances where there are witnesses to the murder. In other words: man must judge murder when there are witnesses, whereas G-d will judge the murderer when there is no evidence which is admissible in a human tribunal.” “שופך דם האדם באדם דמו ישפך” when someone spills the blood of a human being his own blood is to be spilled by a human being.” The word באדם, means: “before a human tribunal.” There have to be witnesses who can testify. If so, the guilty person is subject to execution. This is also the thrust of the Targum’s translation: דישוד דמא דאינשא בסהדין על מימר דיינא דמיה יתשד, Onkelos clearly translates the word באדם as “in the presence of witnesses.”

Radak: “ ומיד האדם, if man kills man, G’d reserves the right to exact retribution from him either in this life or in the hereafter.”

Chizkiuni explains why the punishment for killing a person should be done by the court: “ עשה את האדם, He appointed man on earth to be judge so that fellow man would be deterred from committing sins and crimes.”

Rav Miller also points to the necessity of action from the human court “because failure to react to a sin causes one to became apathetic to sin.”

Even a human corpse has an aspect of Divine image but only a living person is close to G-d in his/her potential. When this potential is made impossible by the action of another man, that man also loses completely his Tzeilem Elokim – resemblance to G-d. See Sfrono: “It is this “divine attribute” of man that makes him sufficiently important for his Creator to demand an accounting from those who destroy that divine image by killing a human being.”

Ramban quotes the Sages from Buve Kamma 91b that a person who commits suicide is also accountable for murder as he ends that potential given to him/her. See also Bechor Shor.

The consequence of this act is obviously not physical death. Chizkiuni on this topic: “The passage is intended as an answer to people who deny that G-d operates vis a vis man through a system of reward and punishment, i.e. reward after the body has died and punishment after the body has died, and who therefore see in suicide a way of avoiding being held responsible for their actions on earth. Clearly a system of reward and punishment, unless it included posthumous reward and punishment, would be meaningless, and would not act as deterrent not to sin.”

Further, Ramban writes that the consequence for killing applies to Noachides and Jews in the same way “In court or by the Hand of Heaven”.

In a fascinating commentary on this pusik, Baal Haturim derives the meaning of the verse from the word וְאַ֨ךְ – “However, any form of self-harming is prohibited in this statement, including harmful speech!”

If this is a case in regard to person himself, obviously any form of violence, physical or even verbal toward other person is prohibited.

Alshich, who lived not long after Baal Haturim, comments on this pusik: “The person who embarrasses his fellow man to the extent that he blanches, causes the Tzelem Elokim (Divine Image) to be impaired, and is therefore himself guilty of death, though he has not actually killed anyone at all.”

And a final comment on the pusik שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם comes from Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch:

“The whole value of our being human rests on our associating, not bodies with bodies, but spirits with kindred spirits and recognizing such spirit in every human being. The life, the Nefesh of every human being is entrusted to the care of every other human being. And if, through the guilt of a human being, a human soul departs from this world earlier than God, who had placed it here, had willed it, then God misses it here and is Doresh Midoi  – (Exact in measure). Every tiny minute of the earthly existence of even the most miserable human being is sacred to God, and whosoever shortens his own or anybody else's life by one second is responsible to God.”

For the last of the three psukim quoted at the beginning of this essay we will share only one comment in continuation of the spirit of the above quotations from the commentaries of the Sages. Also from Rav Hirsch:

“Inasmuch as here the procreation and propagation of the human race have this designation added, the term would represent a swarm of the most manifold different kinds of men. It would accordingly be a description of a diversity and infinite variety of human races, and moreover בָאָ֖רֶץ on the earth, and by the earth, under the influences of the differences of the various lands. And not only שִׁרְצ֥וּ בָאָ֖רֶץ but also רְבוּ - the whole physical, moral and intellectual education equally בָֽהּ under the same influences. (…)Noachian mankind is given the mission to spread over the whole world, and under the most diverse conditions and influences of climate and physical nature of the countries, to become Men and develop the one common real character of Man; a diversity and a multiplicity which appeared to us in the above connection as God's new plan for the education of mankind, to avoid the necessity for any fresh total catastrophe. The diversity is to balance the deficiency and so pave the way to progress to the goal. Hence say our sages on this sentence "God has provided the most differing zones and climates with a special dispensation", (or perhaps more literally : The general covenant of God with mankind is spread over the most diverse districts) — -Blessed be God, Who has given every country an attraction to its inhabitants", and they point out how every race feels at ease in its homeland even under the most inhospitable circumstances, and the most unfriendly districts affect their sons with home-sickness when they are away from them, and in strange lands disturbs their spiritual development. Man, who thinks he is master of the land is, in many ways, in his innermost self, in his mind, feelings, understanding and speech, mastered by his native land, and this variety of countries has a purpose. Everywhere a man can conduct himself as a human being, everywhere be happy, everywhere pure human qualities can be developed in people. Only no man may judge others by his own standards. That is why, at the end of this new conditioning of the world and mankind it says: "diversify your-selves on the earth and multiply yourselves on it, by it, in it, with it etc.”

Martin Buber in his essays, “I and Thou” but especially “The face of the other,” points out that the greatest challenge for a human being is to recognize another human as such. The more different the “other” is, the more difficult it is for us to recognize Godliness in that person. Diversity among people creates a natural obstacle in making connection, and if turned to the “Other Side” it may cause animosity leading in extreme cases to murder.

It is precisely that natural factor which national leaders can exploit to cause a group of young people from one nation to kill people from different nation, religion, or so-called race. In Rav Hirsch’s words, diversity was instituted for precisely the opposite reason. Variety within the human race, in his words, is the vehicle for moral and spiritual growth. More so, it is actually the prime vehicle to connect to Hashem by recognizing the “other” as reflection (Tzeilem Elokim) of the ultimate “Other”.

Even fact that humanity was created in two forms has precisely the same reason. By recognizing the Divine in our spouse, we are ready perform the ultimate service of Hashem (“Garden of Peace” – Rav Shalom Arush).

We can clearly see that Buberian philosophy was not developed in vacuum, as a German philosopher and Biblical Scholar he was familiar with writings of Rav Hirsch.

It is not only Rav Hirsch who describes the goal of humanity, the essence of struggle through the history in those terms. In further essays B-H we will look in the writings of the Nuvim (Prophets) and even to some of our daily prayers. But already at this moment we have an obvious question: how in this context can we understand, not the existence of violence, which comes from corrupted Gevura/Din, as it was explained in the previous essay, but how it is sanctioned by the governments, historic Jewish governments in the Holy Land and even by Toira itself. We will not talk about why violence exists, but rather how it can be used in progress toward a united humanity under the spiritual guidance of the Jewish people in recognition of The Creator.

Corruption of Chesed and Din

                                                                                                                        B-H

All of the Creation on all of its levels, this in three-dimensional reality, this in the area of intellect and spirituality, and those levels which are above our grasp are channeled to us through different channels or Emanations – Sefirois or Midois, which were revealed to Moishe, the Prophets and the Sages of blessed memory.

Those Emanations of Divine energies are generally presented to us in the form of two columns, of which on one side there is Chesed – Lovingkindness, and the other column is called Gevura (Strength) or Din (Judgment/Justice).

There are other Divine energies within this framework, each of which can coexist within other energies in some amount. For example, there may be some amount of Hoid – Glory, or Netzach  – Eternity, Perseverance in Chesed or Gevura.

Everything we experience in our existence is made up of a combination of these energies or Emanations.

There is no other source of existence or other channels causing reality than those Emanating from The Source.

If so, how evil is possible?

We will not enter the discussion about the originality of Evil as it is a difficult and broad topic and if someone is interested, I suggest going straight to the writings and shiurim of Rabbi Akiva Tatz.

Without deeper explanation we will say that source of the evil is man himself.

It is a man in whose power is to use and develop those energies in accordance with the will of the One who provides us with those tools, but it is also a man who by corrupting the powers provided to him through the channels of Chesed and Din, restricts the flow of Divine energies, causing evil to appear.

The history of mankind begins with the description of the act of Creation, followed by certain rules for the created in two forms of man. Creation is quickly followed by the rebellion of man.

Libraries of books were written on this topic, as it is the most potent one and every touch of the quill on the scroll of Toira often contains coded meanings understood by Carriers of the Toira Shbealpe – the oral tradition.

Since most of those teachings are in the area of Kabalistic tradition, I have no expertise in the character of the first sin beyond the general idea that it was sin within the area of promiscuity.

Michtav mi Eliachu explains topic of promiscuity in his comment on parsha Lech Lechu. Rav Dessler based this idea on Seifer Baal Shem Toiv and the verse from the Chumash itself (Vaikru 20:17).

“A person whose main quality is Chesed is in danger that, he may spend more money than he can afford. Then, he will borrow from others and spend it in turn. Eventually it will be found that his excessive desire to do Chesed was counterproductive, for it led him to cause others loss because he could not repay his debts. There is also the possibility that he will eventually "be merciful to the cruel," leading to "cruelty to the merciful," as we find in the example of Shaul Ha-melech. There is also another more insidious danger that, by becoming accustomed to acceding to everyone's requests, he may then come to accede to the demands of the yetzer hara. This is why certain forbidden marriages are referred to as Chesed (The whole institution of marriage is, of course, a great Chesed. Through it, people bestow a great bounty on mankind by allowing a new generation to emerge. But when this deviates from the bounds set down by Creator, by a person acting simply to gratify his desires or by way of sin, God forbid, then it is called "the Chesed of defilement.") Such is the lot of Chesed, which is not limited by the quality of Gevura.” (Strive for Truth)

The aveira – sin in the pusik, one of many aveiros in category of Giluy Arayos, as well as other possible aveiros of which Rav Dessler provides examples, are defiled or corrupted forms of Middas Chesed.

The very second aveira in the history of man, is act of violence resulting in death of Hevel, one of the first two sons.

Vilna Gaon in his Saifer(…) says that even anger is a corrupted form of Din. It is needless to say that violence is nothing, but anger brought to its extreme level.

Violence on individual level is expressed as anger, stealing, harm, jealousy, physical and verbal abuse and many many other forms.

Then there is social violence, in which personal anger coming from the overgrown egos of political maniacs throws groups or entire nations into violence. “Hunters of tongue,” as Nimrod and Eisav are described, can manipulate societies to conquer, to suppress, to humiliate, to control by force, surveillance, or social engineering; to kill and to be killed.

Violence is corrupted form of Gevura/Din, and that action of violence is always presented by them as Din - justice. There is action and presentation which perhaps could be considered corruption of Truth – (Emes/Tiferes/Rachamim).

It is true that Justice itself may sometimes appear as an act of violence…sometimes. But even the greatest acts of violence committed by the man in his history are always presented as an act of Justice.

B-H, this corrupted form of Din was, and I-H will be a topic of many of my essays.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Mizbeah - Altar

                                                                                                      B-H

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


                                                                                     B-H
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

Rebetzin


                                                                                              B-H
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?