Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why do we like to imitate the nations?

One of the principals of our faith in Torah is that whatever happened to the Avois – our fathers, happened later to Klal Yisroel. In other words, the events and experiences of the Patriarch’s lives have prophetic meaning in understanding the history of the Jewish people, past, present and future. The traits of character of the Fathers can be recognized in their descendents. The traits of other prominent figures described in the parshios of Sefer Bereishis – the book of Origins, can also be recognized in their descendents and in the history of mankind in general.
Examples of these connections between events described in the stories of Avraham, Yitschok and Yaakov describing their encounters with their contemporaries and the events of later Jewish history are countless. Some of them are described already by early Chazal and others are deciphered as history goes on.
I will write about some of these connections which are more popular and known to the general public but I will also try to bring some chidushim – new nuances discovered while studying this subject at length B-H. These thoughts are based on Chazal and are expressed with great clarity in the commentaries by Rav S. R. Hirsch. Some of them were posted previously on my blog.

“Man recognized that he is naked” “ Hashem Elokim made them clothes out of “Ohr” skin.  As result of his sin Adam HaRishon – the first man, recognized his nakedness, the animalistic nature that prevailed in him and it became imperative for him and his wife to cover themselves with fig leaves. He felt separated from his Creator and soon the Creator himself manufactured for them new clothes to cover their bodies. This remnant of the sinful nature of man is called by Chazal as “begged haohr” - the clothes of light and “begged cohanim” – priestly clothes. The fact that we need the cohannim as intermediaries to help us to establish a better connection with HY is a stark reminder of the separation between us and G-d.

The Torah is using the two names of G-d in this verse; the first is - Hashem – the name of Creator which expresses his love and compassion. HBH did not sever the relationship with his fallen creations permanently. However the use of his other name – Elokim, suggests that din – judgment, must be carried out. Clothes seem to symbolize this ‘separating connection’ but they will stay in our consciousness forever as sign of sin.

Nimrod was the first man to establish an oppressive government. He built his capital and said to the people – You don’t have to worry anymore about nations or people stronger than you! I’m the strongest of all and I will protect you! What I want from you in return is that you become my subjects; you will pay me taxes and give me honor. The heaven is far away, now I will be your king, and we will build a tower to make a name for ourselves.
They say “name for ourselves” as they are still dreaming that they are a community of free people under the G-d and not subjects of King Nimrod. Or perhaps he is saying this to them to give them an impression of still being free, to deceive them and make them became even more dependent on his military force and power which  he just introduced to history of mankind.
Nimrod built not only a city but an entire kingdom! He conquered land after land, tribe after tribe, family after family and individual after individual.  As a proof of his superiority he used the clothes of the “first man” which he had in his possession. Nimrod owned the very clothes which Hashem Elokim gave to the first man.

One man and his family discovered the deception of false religions and the suppression of the freedom of individuals. For approximately four hundred years humanity had a opportunity to build a new civilization based on the service of the Creator by the mutual collaboration of free people, the opportunity to see in other individuals the creation of G-d and His image. Collaboration based not on power, force and subjugation but on love, understanding of their differences and respecting others.. The man who understood the fallacy of Nimrod’s mode of civilization was Avraham our father.
The Talmud in mesechtas Avoida Zurah divides history of the mankind in to three periods. “Two thousand years of nothingness, two thousand years of Torah and two thousand years of Mashiach, but Mashiach didn’t come because of our sins” – states the Gemurah.  The tefillah of Musaf of Shelosh Regulim says that not only did we delay the coming of Mashiach but we were expelled from our land because of our sins. We didn’t do our mission in our land now we must to do it in Golus – exile! We didn’t learn humility in an environment created for this task, now we have to learn it in harsher environment.
Avraham was born 1948 years from the creation of the world. When he was three years old he recognized the Creator and it took him several decades to develop his discovery to become a prophet of G-d and later father of G-d’s chosen nation, The Gemura states that with Avraham began the age of Torah. The glimmer of hope shined for humanity, that the day will come, when people will learn again the truth of God’s requirements for humanity – they should live separately but be united at the same time, united in their recognition and service of the Creator. They will learn this from Avraham as well as from his descendents.
However, one of Avraham’s descendents had something else on his mind from the very beginning of his life. Avraham’s grandson Esaw. Esaw to a certain extent recognized the righteous ways of his grandfather and father but he was influenced by something else in his life which was more important than the humble training in the self-control of his thoughts, words and acts. He was impressed by Nimrods power! He liked the idea of a kingdom and saw himself perhaps as the ruler, as the lord over other people regardless if they liked it or not. He couldn’t understand his grandfather serving unknown wayfarers and giving, giving and giving. Esaw desired to conquer! But one thing was blocking his desires, Nimrod himself. Esaw was a “hunter by his words” deceiving his father with his words and causing him to believe that he Esaw is the man worthy of continuing the legacy of Avraham. What he really was, was a hunter –a strong man taking by force what he wanted.
One day, Esaw went to kill the king of Buvel. He defeated Nimrod and as his trophy he took from him the very clothes given to the “first man”. The clothes of separation, the clothes which he believed would give him even more power, clothes which will assure his domination forever.
He didn’t care anymore about being firstborn to Yitschok, he found an alternative. He did desire however his father’s blessing, a blessing giving him spiritual power as well. He saw himself and his descendents and followers as eternal rulers of the nations and the world, including the nation descending from his brother Yaakov.
Their mother Rivka was better able to recognize the true colors of her older son. She convinced Yakkov to go and receive his father’s blessing instead of Esaw. Perhaps she recognized the danger of the powers connected in Esaw where spirituality would be subjugated to physicality.
Bookshelves are filled with commentaries about what happened that day when Yaakov came to his father dressed in the clothes of Esaw. The very same clothes which were worn previously by Adam after his sin and then worn by Nimrod as the sign of his military power and subsequently taken from Nimrod by his brother Esaw so as to get these powers of conquest and domination.
Yitschok not only recognized the deceit of Yaakov but also the truth about the future of his sons and their descendents.
Kol – kol Yaakov Vyadaim yadei Esaw says Yitschok at probably the most important moment in the history of mankind. The domain of my son Yaakov is his voice! – he will build civilization of thought, ideas and ideals. It will be nation of learning, teaching and discussion. A nation divided within themselves but united in their service of G-d. A nation restraining themselves from power by force preferring rather the power of their conviction and knowledge.
Yaakov’s descendents by their own example will bring humanity back to peace with the Creator and will foster Shuloim - peace among the descendents of Adam. Jewish success will be the cause of the lamb and lion lying together as Yeshayahu Hanuvi predicts it. Jews will teach other nations by their example, to build a reality where nations “will beat their swords in to plowshares”. In the future, killing other human being will be so ridiculous in their eyes, as ridiculous as feelings of subservience to pieces of wood or metal considering them as expression of divine powers, as Rav Nachman from Bratslav puts it in Likutey Moharan.
We are still waiting for this time, we still have much work to do. Meanwhile something else is happening.

Esaw got his power of dominance “He will live by sword” states the Torah.
Cherev - Sword which was prohibited even to carve the stones of the Jewish Altar, a tool which can not be used to take the life of animals to serve us as food. It is our tradition to remove the knife from the Shabbos table when we say kidush or the blessings after the meal. We are prohibited with certain exceptions to trade weapons, or even to sell it to people of other nations. The only exceptions for us to use it is in self-defense and in the times of existence of Jewish government in Eretz Yisruel we were allowed to go to the war after permission from prophet as given to the king.
Through the ages the civilization of Esaw- Edom was always busy with domination, conquering and bloodshed. Many times it was blood of his brother Yaakov but it was always Yaakow who was the winner in the end. One dominating nation of Edom civilization was falling after another, kingdoms known to us only from the history books. The nation of “voice” however, not only survived but after many years of education conquered some of the great minds to this progressive mode of civilization.

For one day, maybe for less than hour, Yaakow was playing Esaw. He dressed himself in the clothes of his brother Esaw.
This one event was fatal not only for his relationship with his brother but also left a deep imprint in the soul of his descendents. Since then we are always looking what they eat in Tokyo, how they dress in Paris, what they are performing in Vienna, what they drive in Los Angeles, how do they live in New York …!

The Bnai Yaakov inherited this hidden desire to be like Esaw. Just like Nimrod impressed Esaw, in a similar way the children of Yisrael are attracted to the ways of goim. Already in Egypt they filled up theaters and circuses as they were looking in those places for entertainment. That is what Chazal is telling us. Even if Mitzraim is the descendent of Cham, the Jews followed the ways of the goim because of the susceptibility of Klal Yisroel to want to follow the goim!

Later in the time of Judges they came to the prophet Shmuel and asked him – give us a king like all other nations. All other nations have kings to represent them in their affairs. They forgot that the task of a Jewish king was not to represent them to other nations. The task of a Jewish king was to make it possible for the Jewish nation to keep the Torah and perform the mitzvois. It was not the task of the Jewish kings to be like “other nations” and it ended with catastrophe with the first Exile.
After coming back from exile it was only a short time when misyavnim – Jewish Hellenists desired to become Greeks. Not only for themselves, they convinced Antioch to transform all Jews to become goim. After a short time of the dominance of the Torah spirit under the rule of the Chashmonuim, we were attracted once again to the Roman-Edom ways of building a civilization. Once more we wanted to be like them, like the goim.
It was again necessary to destroy our Temple, to expel us from our land to enable us to head back on the track of learning of who we are supposed to be. After the devastation of the Beitar and the Bar Kochba uprising, our true leaders told us for then and for all time. 
Never again! See Talmud Kesuvos 111a.

If only Yaakov wouldn’t have worn the clothe… If only …

Matys Weiser

P.S. Thanks to my new editor but old friend and havruso - Menachem.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lech Lecha by Rav Hirsch

Some difficulties in regular posting but i promise improvement B-H.
Meanwhile one of he greatest pieces from Rav Hirsch's comments on Chumash.

Lech Lecha
12;2 Veescha legoy gadol – And I will make you a great nation.
Even looked at quite superficially, it is already evident that Abraham was to receive back from God everything that he had given up, and indeed in a considerably enhanced measure. By renouncing meartzo – from his land, he gave up his nationality. But instead of having to attach himself to another one, God says that he himself is to be the founder of a new one. By giving up his birthplace – moladeto he is not to miss the civic rights which are the natural source of prosperity for v’averachecha, in God will he gain the right to prosper on earth. And inasmuch as he forsakes his family, and thereby gives up the respect and honor given to well-known old families egadlo shemecho – I will make great your name, a new name is to grow to great renown.
Our sages in Midrash Rabbah Berieshis 30:9, reminds us that it does not say that God will be the protector of and look after the national development of his descendants similarly to the way He directs and guides the growth of nations in general, but “I will make you, create you to a great nation”. All external natural conditions shall speak against it, and here it shall be strikingly apparent that God is the creator of this nation as such. Already the age and the barrenness of the pair who were chosen to be the roots of the future nation denied the presumption of the promised future, according to all natural assumption. God alone could make Abraham to a great nation. So already beforehand, the very existence of this people was to be a revelation of God.
But numerous descendants do not yet constitute a nation. That any mass of people should become a goy, a nation, there must be some uniting bond. Everywhere else this is a common land, living together under the same influences and conditions. But the descendants of Abraham are also to become a nation, but not through a common land, but again only through God.
Abraham's spirit is to repeat itself in his descendants: what their country is to other nations, that, you yourself are to be to your descendants. With their descent from you they are also to inherit the uniting element that forms a nation. By the fact that, still today, we call our God Elokey Avraham. God as Abraham knew him, as He revealed Himself to him, showed Himself in the guidance of his life — and we need this designation, not as a God Who shows us any particular favor, but, on the contrary, just to keep the Abrahamitic and most comprehensive conception of God as Koineh shomaim v’aretz, clear from any tendency of particularization — by this common heritage that we have received from Abraham we are a people still to-day long after we have lost the bond of a common country. And in the fact that not only Abraham, but that also his son and his grandson became such personalities in whose lives God's direction was so manifest that they too remained models for the whole Jewish nation and we speak not only of Elokey Avraham but also of Elokey Yitzchok and Elokey Yaakov, in that our sages see primarily the blessing and the greatness that Abraham attained. And just in Elokey Yaakov the V’egadla shemecha becomes realized. In Jacob's fate and position in the world above all is the example given that the Jewish calling is independent of outward greatness and outward show. The less a man has the greater does his personality appear. The greatness, the blessing that a person without means spreads can only be attributed to his personality. If a Yaakov is great, if a nation becomes outstanding, which for centuries has won no fame by battles etc. then this prominence can only be due to their spiritual personality, just Yaakov is megadol shemecha.
Considered more closely, the whole sum of Jewish history is given to Abraham in a nutshell in these three sentences. In Lech lecha meieretz, Abraham appears merely as an individual "dare to be alone, to stand by yourself". In v’escha l’goy, the nation already appears, but still by itself and without external contact or relation to the rest of the world. In v’avrechehu, the Jewish nation is shown in connection with other nations, the blessing of Abraham Is already dependent on others blessing him, yea others can already venture to curse him. Abraham's task was to isolate himself, to live alone with God. Then a second stage, to create a people out of this Abraham. If it is to come to pass that the existence of this people is to be a second creation of God's in history then this people can only come to be a nation by Way of homelessness, of golus and geirus.(…).
God can bless people and nations, but that they shall attain such spiritual greatness to become called a model man, a model nation, that God can only I wish, that depends on the faithful loyalty which is given to the laws of God. In the same way it does not say veheyisa brocha or vetihye brocha but vehiye brocha -  "become a blessing".
In these two words the whole moral task is summarized the accomplishment of which is the condition for the fulfillment of God's wish. "O that your name should become great, that you become a blessing". I would make you into a nation to which other nations have only to look to become conscious of what their task is, and this task, which you are to accomplish, in contrast to the efforts of all other nations, is "to become a blessing"!
All others strive, not lihyos brocha, to be a blessing, but lihyos berochim to be blessed. And this is especially the case with nations. The honesty, humanity and love which one still demands from individuals is regarded as folly in the relation of nation to nation, have no meaning in diplomacy and politics. Deception and murder which in individuals lead to prison and gallows, if exercised on a grand, scale in the "interests of the state " are crowned with laurel and medals. The Abrahamitic nation is to know nothing of a these national institutions, is to have no national politics and, no political economy. The One Who would be the bearer of their national prosperity need give no subsidies, has not to reckon on any coalitions or treaties. At His command rain and sunshine, strength and life, power and victory stand. Im bechukoysay saylayhu, is the one condition, then everything else goes by I itself. In the midst of a world of men who stamp naaseh lanu shem as the motto I on all their endeavors, and self-aggrandizement and ruthless extension of their own well-being the deciding goal for all their efforts, the People of Abraham, are, in private and public life to follow the one calling: hoya brocha - to become a blessing. To dedicate themselves with all devotion to the Divine purpose of bringing happiness to the world and mankind, thereby as models, to re-establish Man to its original pure calling of adam - man, then God will grant His blessing to fresh activity of life and to the awakening and education of the nations to similar efforts and make the name of the People of Abraham shine forth far afield : v’avrechecha v’egadlah shemecho. This second stage was to have become a reality in Eretz Yisrael, there Israel was to have become in its isolation not only the blessed nation, but in the first place, the spreader of blessing, a source of blessing, a well from which the world would draw its blessing — vayishkon Yisroel betach budod ayin Yaakov, Had we lived up to our mission, then all that, which only beckons to us b’acharis hayomim, in the distant future, would have been realized thousands of years ago, and the history of the world would have worn a very different aspect.
But this first promise to Abraham seems to point to a third stage. We have already remarked that the optional v’agadloh makes the realization of the second stage, not a definite promise, but only a conditional wish that the promise could be fulfilled.
Now the third clause seems to indicate a stage in which the blessing or the reverse of the Abrahamic people would be dependent on men, where men would have the power to bless them, men the power to curse them. This would be the stage of golus which would await this people if they would forget their mission, and instead of striving lehiyos brocha would give themselves up, like the other nations lehiyos berochim. And here for this Golus, where it is scattered amongst the nations and dependent on them and apparently abandoned to them for their blessings and curses, God pronounces this weighty Word : v’avarcha mevarachecha "those that bless thee, will I bless", those that bless you, help you, who recognize and appreciate your principles, and submit to your moral sensibility and your honoring God, those will I bless. Here too the optional is again used, may Israel behave in the dispersion in such a manner that furthering their well-being may mean furthering the well-being and happiness of the nations in general.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Avraham – father of many.

We have been reading in the recent Torah portions the story of  our father Avraham, life. It is significant that born Jews as well as geirim can equally call him their father. How many of us, however, think about Avraham not as an iconic figure from the Bible, as this gigantic spiritual personality whose name itself sounds thrilling, but as a father, grandfather, and family man who, besides living a very active public life thought also about the future of his children.
Every father does this, every father thinks, worries, and spends sleepless nights trying to figure out how to give his children a good life.
He thinks about bringing up his children in ways where they will not have complexes about their family wealth, or lack of wealth; he plans his work or his business in a way that brings him enough resources to raise his children and provide for the family, that they should never feel lack of anything in their material well being.
But fathers who are themselves also the children of Avraham also think about the children's spiritual upbringing. These parents understand the temporal character of this life and they spend much of their resources in order to put their children in an environment where their children may be exposed to the spiritual path of their forefathers. In the case of Jewish parents, it is a yeshivah or Jewish girls' school.
We will not dwell at this moment how much of the above is result of their own upbringing or pressure from the broad religious society they are exposed to. There are people who make many of their life decisions because of this societal pressure. In fact, I dare to say that these people are not making any decisions at all. We assume that for most of Jewish parents, sending their kids to religious schools is a conscious decision based on information acquired in their own home and schools; not a blind decision, but a decision undertaken after analysis and thoughtful examination.
It is not always easy, the money is not even a consideration here, but all the hassle, all the dealing with the principals and administrators, sometimes involving self-humiliation beyond borders of human dignity.
And why do these parents do this? Is it for their self-fulfillment or even pride? It doesn’t make sense to spend resources like this for one's own fulfillment, when there is no direct self fulfillment. It doesn’t make sense to humiliate yourself either.
What is the mechanism of this self-sacrifice on the part of parents devoting their lives to the sole goal of bringing up their children with the awareness of G-d and His law?
Admittedly, there is a powerful desire within us to extend our lives through our descendents. After our departure from This World, we leave behind those who continue part of our legacy, part of our life. Then after another 20 or 30 years, our grandchildren carry on, extending it even more. If our legacy is strong enough, it can be carried for generations. It doesn’t have to be service of the Creator that parents try to impose on their children; people who are not too busy with their relationship with their Creator are very proud when their children can name every passing car or can distinguish between various entertainers. Parents impose on their children all kinds of lifestyles, hobbies, likes, and dislikes. They are leaving a part of themselves in their descendents, as we said.
In this light, this way of understanding, we are leaving a part of ourselves when we depart from this part of our existence. It is about us!
Does this mean that our legacy is not about our children? Is it only dictated by our egoistic feelings and perhaps even by instincts of self-preservation?
I think the answer is both yes and no. Ha, another dialectic divagation to go.
Please let me explain.
Yes — because we are indeed thinking about ourselves.
No — because we consider our children as ourselves.
By doing anything for them, we actually are doing it for ourselves, as they are blood of our blood and flesh of our flesh. They are us!
I know, if any teenager is reading this he will say, “Ach, another frum selfish parent trying to convince me about how important it is to follow in my fathers' footsteps.”
Well, I cannot write this any better. If you are not convinced, I can promise you that when you will have your own children you will understand.… 

The children of Avraham are aware of something else; they know that their existence will continue after they depart from this world. They are aware that their children have the same opportunity to continue their own existence in the higher reality, existence which in fact is the real life of our real selves.
To get to this level of existence, there are certain conditions that we have been given by the Creator of both our real-spiritual selves and our bodies, bodies that serve as a tool for achieving the goal of prolonging our existence to the dimension of eternity.
These conditions are described in length for the Creator’s chosen people in the Torah. The rest of humanity may think that they have these conditions in much lesser number and that they are less difficult, but this is not necessarily so. I will elaborate on this in the future, im yirtzeh Hashem. The bottom line is that there are conditions to fulfill in order to live happy life in this world and in the eternal world after that.
It is imperative to remember that we cannot offer anything to the Giver of Life; the fulfillment of His will is our natural duty regardless of the fact that He, in His love for us, is offering us eternity. Even if it we are given only 70–80 years on earth, we still owe it to Him. We owe it to Him for every minute, every second of our life. But He wants to give us more than this.
It is possible, however, that if we rebel against His will, if we decide not to follow the dictates of  the Torah, that we could be punished for our insubordination in the Next World.
This is really why - every parent who follows in Avraham's footsteps loses sleep over raising their children. This is the real reason for all of our effort in bringing up our children in the path of the Torah.
Our sages and leaders designed magnificent mechanisms to help us fulfill the wishes of our Creator in best possible way. The siugim and gedarim (fences and borders), the minhagbim and chumros (customs and additional restrictions), all are designated for different Jews in order to serve the sole purpose of distancing the person from aveiros (disobedience of the word of the Creator).
Fulfillment of  mitzvos itself is an extremely difficult task. The yetzer is an internal reality within ourselves; it exists within us in fact, in our bodily existence. Keeping additional restriction is not easier for us, but it makes it easier to achieve our task of submitting ourselves to our G-d.
How we dress, how we look, how we talk or even laugh, is the tool to keep us away from sin, from the possibility of slipping away from the path of truth.
We impose these mechanisms on ourselves and our children not to make our lives harder and our children unhappy. We choose to follow the path of our parents, and in the case of geirim and many baalei teshuvah,  chose the path that promises the best security and is most effective to help us achieve our life goals — to stay on the derech haEmes, close to the Source of life.
Young men and young ladies, if you chose to dispose some of these protecting mechanisms, you have the right to do so. Hashem gives us free choice to sin, if that's really the path we chose.
If you have chosen  to not keep one or more of the things your parents taught to you to ensure your success, please make sure that you have other tools, other protective mechanisms that will serve the same purpose, i.e., will keep you away from aveiros and help you to do the mitzvos.
If, however, your choice puts you in the vulnerable position of coming closer to the evil and away from the good, think twice before you change the way you dress or your hairstyle or any other  chumrah, minhag, or even element of the culture of the group in which you grew up. Those details can indeed be changed according to the situation in general society and the time. But these changes cannot be done unilaterally and without the guidance of those more experienced than we are.
Again, I think it is most important that these changes be replaced with other devices that will serve the same job — to protect us as individuals and protecting Jewish society.
I know you will say that these details do not guarantee success on the spiritual path, as there are many reshaim who are ostensibly dressed in a religious manner, yet they are still evildoers. Yes there are many of them. One answer is that if they would change their appearance they would, in most cases, be even bigger reshaim than now.
The other answer is that according to our sages the religious hypocrite is the worst of all evildoers.
You are not one of them, you are not even close, so preserve what was given to you and one more time, think, think what you are doing.
Every father, every parent, like Avraham our father, is trying to make sure that his children will follow in his footsteps for his own good, but, in fact, it is solely for their own good. 

Matys Weiser