Yirmiyahu & A New Beginning

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Michael Franco

Yirmiyahu and a New Beginning: A. What went wrong? (Jer 9)

.םיִדְגֹבּ תֶרֶצֲע ,םיִפֲאָנְמ םָלֻּכ יִכּ :םָתִּאֵמ הָכְלֵאְו ,יִמַּע-תֶא הָבְזֶעֶאְו ,םיִחְרֹא ןוֹלְמ ,רָבְּדִמַּב יִנֵנְתִּי-יִמ .הָוהְי-םֻאְנ ,וּעָדָי-אֹל יִתֹאְו וּאָצָי הָעָר-לֶא הָעָרֵמ יִכּ .ךְֹלֲהַי ליִכָר ַעֵר-לָכְו ,בֹקְעַי בוֹקָע :ץֶראָָב וּרְבָגּ הָנוּמֱאֶל אֹלְו ,רקֶשׁ ֶחאָ-לָכ יִכּ :וּחָטְבִתּ-לאַ חאָ-לָכּ-לַעְו םָתְּשׁק ַםָנוֹשְׁל-תֶא וּכְרְדַיַּו ,וּרֵמָשִּׁה וּהֵעֵרֵמ שׁיִא Problem= self interest, deceit

B. How are we to understand evil? How did the leaders of different generations deal with evil? What is the nature of the covenant and what are its intrinsic features? 1. Moses and the Golden Calf Debacle

ָתְּבָתָכּ רֶשֲׁא ךְרְפִסִּמ ָ,אָנ יִנֵחְמ --ןִיאַ-םִאְו ;םָתאָטַּח אָשִּׂתּ-םִא ,הָתַּעְו .יִרְפִסִּמ וּנֶּחְמֶא ,יִל-אָטָח רֶשֲׁא יִמ :הֶשֹׁמ-לֶא ,הָוהְי רֶמאֹיַּו יוֹגַּה ךְמַּע ָיִכּ ,הֵאְרוּ ;ךיֶניֵעְבּ ָןֵח-אָצְמֶא ןַעַמְל ,ךֲעָדֵאְו ָ,ךֶכָרְדּ-תֶא ָאָנ יִנֵעִדוֹה ,ךיֶניֵעְבּ ָןֵח יִתאָצָמ אָנ-םִא הָתַּעְו . הֶזַּה . ךָל ְיִתֹחִנֲהַו ,וּכֵלֵי יַנָפּ :רַמאֹיַּו .הֶזִּמ וּנֵלֲעַתּ-לאַ ,םיִכְלֹה ךיֶנָפּ ָןיֵא-םִא :ויָלֵא ,רֶמאֹיַּו רֶשֲׁא ,םָעָה-לָכִּמ , ךְמַּעְו ָיִנֲא ,וּניִלְפִנְו ; וּנָמִּע ךְתְּכֶלְבּ ָ,אוֹלֲה-- ךֶמַּעְו ָיִנֲא ךיֶניֵעְבּ ָןֵח יִתאָצָמ-יִכּ ,אוֹפֵא עַדָוִּי הֶמַּבוּ .הָמָדֲאָה יֵנְפּ-לַע .ךֶדֹבְכּ-תֶא ָ,אָנ יִנֵאְרַה . םיִעֵבִּר-לַעְו םיִשֵׁלִּשׁ-לַע ,םיִנָב יֵנְבּ-לַעְו םיִנָבּ-לַע תוֹבאָ ןוֲֹע דֵקֹפּ...ויָנָפּ-לַע הָוהְי רֹבֲעַיַּו

,יִלּ הָחיִנַּה הָתַּעְו... אוּה ףֶרֹע-הֵשׁםֵלַּכֲאַו םֶהָב ק-םַע ְהֵנִּהְו

רֶצֵי-לָכְו ,ץֶראָָבּ םָדאָָה תַעָר הָבַּר יִכּ ,הָוהְי אְרַיַּו יִפּאַ-רַחִיְו

םוֹיַּה-לָכּ עַר קַר ,וֹבִּל תֹבְשְׁחַמ

אוּה ףֶרֹע-הֵשׁק-םַע ְיִכּ וּנֵבְּרִקְבּ ,יָנֹדֲא אָנ-ךֶלֵי

ְרוּבֲעַבּ הָמָדֲאָה-תֶא דוֹע לֵלּויָרֻעְנִּמ קְל ַףִסֹא-אֹל וֹבִּל-לֶא הָוהְי רֶמאֹיַּו עַר םָדאָָה בֵל רֶצֵי יִכּ ,םָדאָָה 2. Abram and the Covenant of the Parts יִריִרֲע ךֵלוֹה ְ,יִכֹנאְָו ,יִל-ןֶתִּתּ-הַמ הִוהְי יָנֹדֲא . הָנֶּשָׁריִא יִכּ עַדֵא הָמַּבּ ,הִוהְי יָנֹדֲא . רָתָב אֹל ,רֹפִּצַּה-תֶאְו .לָזוֹגְו ;וּהֵעֵר ,רֹתְו תאַר; שָׁלֻּשְׁמ קִל ְלִיאְַו , תֶשֶׁלֻּשְׁמ זֵעְו , תֶשֶׁלֻּשְׁמ הָלְגֶע יִל הָחק ְ,ויָלֵא רֶמאֹיַּו ,וֹרְתִבּ-שׁיִא ןֵתִּיַּו ,ךֶוָתַּבּ ְםָתֹא רֵתַּבְיַו ,הֶלֵּא-לָכּ-תֶא וֹל-חַקִּיַּו .םָרְבאַ ,םָתֹא בֵשַּׁיַּו ;םיִרָגְפַּה-לַע ,טִיַעָה דֶרֵיַּו הָנֵּה וּבוּשָׁי ,יִעיִבְר רוֹדְו ...הָנָשׁ , תוֹאֵמ עַבְּראַ .ןֵב הָרָשְׂלוּ--הָיַּח תֵעָכּ ,ךיֶלֵא ָבוּשׁאָ דֵעוֹמַּל ; רָבָדּ ,הָוהְיֵמ אֵלָפִּיֲה

3. Jeremiah and the Destruction of the Temple Jer 25:12

וֹתֹא יִתְּמַשְׂו םיִדְּשַׂכּ ץֶרֶא־לַעְו םָנוֲע־תֶא הָוהְי־םֻאְנ אוּהַה יוֹגַּה־לַעְו לֶבָבּ־ְךֶלֶֽמ־לַע דֹקְפֶא הָנָשׁ םיִעְבִשׁ תואֹלְמִכ הָיָהְו ׃םָֽלוֹע תוֹמְמִֽשְׁל Jer 29:10, 30:11 ,םֶכְתֶא ביִשָׁהְל ,בוֹטַּה יִרָבְדּ-תֶא ,םֶכיֵלֲע יִתֹמִקֲהַו ;םֶכְתֶא דֹקְפֶא , הָנָשׁ םיִעְבִשׁ לֶבָבְל תאֹלְמ יִפְל יִכּ ,הָוהְי רַמאָ ,הֹכ-יִכּ הֶזַּה םוֹקָמַּה-לֶא ָךיִתְּרַסִּיְו ,הָלָכ הֶשֱׂעֶא-אֹל ָךְתֹא ְךאַ ,םָשּׁ ָךיִתוֹצִפֲה רֶשֲׁא םִיוֹגַּה-לָכְבּ הָלָכ הֶשֱׂעֶא יִכּ :ָךֶעיִשׁוֹהְל ,הָוהְי-םֻאְנ יִנֲא ָךְתִּא-יִכּ . ָךֶּקַּנֲא אֹל הֵקַּנְו ,טָפְּשִׁמַּל 31:7 הָנֵּה וּבוּשָׁי ,לוֹדָגּ לָהָק 31:27 .הָוהְי-םֻאְנ , ַעֹטְנִלְו תוֹנְבִל םֶהיֵלֲע דֹקְשֶׁא ןֵכּ :ַעֵרָהְלוּ דיִבֲאַהְלוּ--סֹרֲהַלְו ץוֹתְנִלְו שׁוֹתְנִל ,םֶהיֵלֲע יִתְּדַקָשׁ רֶשֲׁאַכּ הָיָהְו 32:17,18,, 27

. רָבָדּ-לָכּ ,ָךְמִּמ אֵלָפִּי-אֹל :הָיוּטְנַּה ָךֲעֹרְזִבוּ לוֹדָגַּה ָךֲחֹכְבּ ,ץֶראָָה-תֶאְו םִיַמָשַּׁה-תֶא ָתיִשָׂע הָתּאַ הֵנִּה ,הִוהְי יָנֹדֲא ,הָּהֲא .וֹמְשׁ תוֹאָבְצ הָוהְי ,רוֹבִּגַּה לוֹדָגַּה לֵאָה :םֶהיֵרֲחאַ םֶהיֵנְבּ קיֵח-לֶא , תוֹבאָ ןוֲֹע םֵלַּשְׁמוּ ,םיִפָלֲאַל ,דֶסֶח הֶשֹׂע . רָבָדּ-לָכּ אֵלָפִּי ,יִנֶּמִּמֲה --רָשָׂבּ-לָכּ יֵהֹלֱא ,הָוהְי יִנֲא הֵנִּה Chapter 34

.שׁיִא ,וּהיִחאָ יִדוּהיִבּ םָבּ-דָבֲע יִתְּלִבְל :םיִשְׁפָח--הָיִּרְבִעָהְו יִרְבִעָה ,וֹתָחְפִשׁ-תֶא שׁיִאְו וֹדְּבַע-תֶא שׁיִא חַלַּשְׁל תוֹחָפְשִׁלְו םיִדָבֲעַל ,(םוּשְׁבְּכִיַּו) ויָלָע יִמְשׁ אָרְקִנ-רֶשֲׁא ,תִיַבַּבּ ,יַנָפְל ,תיִרְב וּתְרְכִתַּו ןיֵבּ וּרְבַעַיַּו ,םִיַנְשִׁל וּתְרָכּ רֶשֲׁא לֶגֵעָה--יָנָפְל וּתְרָכּ רֶשֲׁא ,תיִרְבַּה יֵרְבִדּ-תֶא וּמיִקֵה-אֹל רֶשֲׁא ,יִתִרְבּ -תֶא םיִרְבֹעָה .ויָרָתְבּ

4. Elijah at Mt. Horeb

.תיִנַּרֹחֲא ,םָבִּל-תֶא ָתֹבִּסֲה הָתּאְַו ;םיִהֹלֱאָה הָוהְי הָתּאַ-יִכּ ,הֶזַּה םָעָה וּעְדֵיְו ,יִנֵנֲע ,הָוהְי יִנֵנֲע הָרָעְמַּה -לֶא םָשׁ-אֹבָיַּו . בֵרֹח ,םיִהֹלֱאָה רַה דַע , הָלְיַל םיִעָבְּראְַו םוֹי םיִעָבְּראַ וּהָיִּלֵא הֹפ ָךְלּ-הַמ ;בֶרָחֶב וּגְרָה ָךיֶאיִבְנ-תֶאְו ,וּסָרָה ָךיֶתֹחְבְּזִמ-תֶא--לֵאָרְשִׂי יֵנְבּ ָךְתיִרְב וּבְזָע-יִכּ ,תוֹאָבְצ יֵהֹלֱא הָוהיַל יִתאֵנִּק אֹנַּק הָּתְּחַקְל יִשְׁפַנ-תֶא וּשְׁקַבְיַו ,יִדַּבְל יִנֲא רֵתָוִּאָו רֵבֹע הָוהְי הֵנִּהְו ,הָוהְי יֵנְפִל רָהָב ָתְּדַמָעְו הָקַּד הָמָמְדּ לוֹק ָךיֶתְּחַתּ איִבָנְל חַשְׁמִתּ ,הָלוֹחְמ לֵבאֵָמ טָפָשׁ-ןֶבּ עָשׁיִלֱא-תֶאְו

5. The suffering of Joseph

םֶכְתֶא דֹקְפִי דֹקָפּ םיִהֹלאֵו...ףֵסוֹי יֵכְּרִבּ-לַע ,וּדְלֻּי--הֶשַּׁנְמ-ןֶבּ ריִכָמ יֵנְבּ ,םַגּ ; םיִשֵׁלִּשׁ יֵנְבּ ,םִיַרְפֶאְל ףֵסוֹי אְרַיַּו Num 32:29, chronological end of the Torah ריִאָי תוֹוַּח ,ןֶהְתֶא אָרְקִיַּו ;םֶהיֵתוֹוַּח-תֶא דֹכְּלִיַּו ,ְךַלָה הֶשַּׁנְמ-ןֶבּ ריִאָיְו

6. Job and Hannah Job 42:14,17

,הָעָבְּראַ --ויָנָב יֵנְבּ-תֶאְו ויָנָבּ-תֶא ,(הֶאְרִיַּו)... ְךוּפַּה ןֶרֶק ,תיִשׁיִלְשַּׁה םֵשְׁו ;הָעיִצְק תיִנֵשַּׁה םֵשְׁו ,הָמיִמְי תַחאַָה-םֵשׁ אָרְקִיַּו . תוֹרֹדּ Prayer of Hannah

וֹחיִשְׁמ ןֶרֶק םֵרָיְו C. The non ego:

● Concern for future generations

● Jeremiah buying a field he will never use

● Elisha understands he is carrying on legacy of eliyahu

● Yonah and qiqayon

● רמתכ/בשע

● Abram setting up JCC’s, ןעמל ויתעדי יכ...

● 400 years and 4 generations, 2000 years of exile, process of stages

● Jer 34:20 and the vultures -- we must emulate Abram to ensure the covenant takes effect

● Moses’ desire to be closer with God not only for its own sake, but also to plead from a superior position

The concept of God forgiving Israel “because they are a stiff-necked nation” connects nicely with God deciding not to destroy man after the flood “because the forms of his heart are evil from his youth.” In Parashat Noah it was almost as though God Himself was noticing that, although man is limited and is inclined to evil, he has a man like Noah with whom He can work. Similarly, in Parashat Ki Tissa, God prods Moses to notice a similar limitation in the very nature of Israel. Once Moses learns of God’s 13 attributes, he is able to go a level beyond his previous acknowledgment of, “this nation has sinned” and clearly state the root cause of the problem, “because they are a stiff-necked nation.” In both contexts, the reader learns that God is willing to work with mankind, so long as He has a Noah or a Moses with whom He can work. The reader also gains an invaluable insight: God’s patience and forgiveness exist because of man’s limitations. This is a fundamental fact of human existence. We do not and cannot possess all the answers. One who claims enlightenment is not truly enlightened. The credit rather belongs to he who everlastingly seeks enlightenment. “Proper being is process, not a state, a journey, not a destination.”

Jordan Peterson discusses this line of thinking in his 12th rule; it is not despite, but because of an individual’s limitations that we love him or her. He discusses his thoughts when his son was 2 years of age: although he is extremely vulnerable and there is a lot of potential for pain, he would not rather his son be 10 feet and made of steel to avoid injury. He realizes that what makes his son so lovable and cute are exactly the things that make him susceptible to suffering.

On a grander scale, it may be that God loves humanity, invests in it and has faith in it not despite, but because of man’s vast limitations and even his capacity for great evils. Peterson remarked at one point in the book how we must appreciate that the (patriarchal, yes this is a good thing) world in which we live was built by many flawed and imperfect, yet courageous individuals. But it is exactly that which makes them and their accomplishments great. It is the ability to dare greatly in the face of great difficulty and pain that truly grants human achievement its greatness.

On some level, says Peterson, this train of thought can provide insight into the question of evil. He discusses reading a midrash on Genesis.

Imagine a Being who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. What does such a Being lack?

Limitation.

If you are already everything, everywhere, always, there is nowhere to go and nothing to be. Everything that could be already is, and everything could happen already has. And it is for this reason, so the story goes, that God created man. No limitation, no story. No story, no Being.

Similar idea in Adon Olam:

1. Adon Olam asher malakh

Beterem kol yesir nibra 2. Veahahre kikhlot hakkol

Lebaddo yimlokh norah Kibyakhol, God was only (recognized as) God when he created existence.

What makes us human is our vulnerability. Without this vulnerability, would our achievements really mean anything? Being cannot be without limitation, the same way a triangle cannot, by definition have 4 sides. Why is there so much limitation? Well, perhaps this is where humanity comes in. Why couldn’t God create a world where no limitations exist, yet we enjoy achievements as though there were limitations? It seems that such a thing is simply impossible, by definition.

So, may we love and appreciate ourselves for the limits we have, for the things we cannot do, and the perfect beings we cannot be. Maybe if we do that, we can begin to love and appreciate others for the very same reasons.


To Sacrifice or Not to Sacrifice? That Is the Question of Lot, Avraham, and the Pilegesh B’Giveah’s Husband

lit house.jpeg

Jordana Maged

This Parsha contains one of the most morally confusing stories in the entire Torah – the story of Lot and the angels. In Chapter 19 of Bereishit, two angels (appearing to Lot as men) arrive in Sodom and are hosted by Lot. The evil-doers of Sodom hear of his hospitality and make the unanimous decision that this type of kindness will not be tolerated. So, all the men of Sodom, young and old, appear at his door, demanding that he hand over his guests so that they may sexually abuse them. Lot, in his twisted sense of morality and in a feeble attempt to protect his guests from imminent harm, offers the angry mob his two daughters instead of the two men. Not satisfied with the offer nor impressed by Lot’s efforts to defend his guests, the men of Sodom declare that they will deal worse with Lot than with the guests. Yet, before these brutish men can have their way with Lot and his visitors, a miracle occurs: a bright light emanates from the house, blinding all the men of Sodom, preventing them from attacking anyone. Thus, Lot, his guests, and his daughters, are saved.

This story closely parallels another story in Tanach; namely, the story of Pilegesh B’Giveah (the concubine of Gibeah) in chapter 19 of Sefer Shoftim. To highlight all the similarities between these two stories would be beyond the scope of this D’var Torah. But in a nutshell, the story of Pilegesh B’Giveah is about a Levite man and his concubine who are looking for a night lodging. Similar to the two men in Bereishit they end up spending the night at a local citizen’s house, rather than their initial plan of spending the night at the town square. Shortly after bathing their feet and feasting, the men of the Israelite town start pounding the front door, demanding that the owner of the house hand over his guests so they may sexually abuse them. The man of the house responds that he cannot do such a thing, though he would be prepared to hand over his virgin daughter, as well as the Levite’s concubine, if they so desire. These men, like the men of Sodom, do not listen to the man’s pleading. However, unlike the story of Lot’s guests, no miracle occurs, and the husband pushes out his concubine to the men, who take her and abuse her all night, ultimately killing her. These stories form one of the most obvious parallels in Tanach, coming to show how low Bnei Yisrael sunk in their level of morality nearing the end of the period of the Shoftim, when “there was no king in Israel,” so all the people did as they pleased (Shoftim 19:1). The language as well as the structure of the story in chapter 19 of Sefer Shoftim is paralleled to chapter 19 of Bereishit to indicate that the author of Sefer Shoftim finds Bnei Yisrael’s moral depravity in this specific era comparable to that of the men of Sodom.

Yet, as powerful as this comparison is, its primary purpose is to provide insight into the nature of the mobs themselves. It does not lend itself for as much discussion of what happened in the aftermath, when the stories become focused on the individuals rather than on the mobs, nor does it really explain the behaviour of the main actors of the stories. Even without reading the twinning story in Sefer Shoftim, we can recognize that Lot’s perception of hachnasat orchim is clearly distorted. But if the purpose of the parallel was to compare who is the ‘host with the most,’ then we definitely cannot compare Lot and the Levite, since the Levite is not a host, but is rather a guest in the story. Rather, the paralleling point between these two men is how they treat the women in their lives: both are prepared to cast out the women of their households in order to mollify the monstrous mobs, regardless of what the consequences mean for their wives and daughters. However, there is a key difference in their motivations: Lot, having lived amongst the people of Sodom, has partially adopted their code of immoral conduct. The men banging on his door have no initial interest in bother him; rather, they want to harm his guests. Lot voluntarily offers his daughters as substitute, believing it more proper to protect his guests, who are essentially two strangers that he picked off the street and has never met before, over his daughters, whom he raised and cared for since they were born. Lot could have cast out these guests. Yes, it would also be immoral, but he could have tried to protect his daughters. The Levite, on the other hand, doesn’t have this ‘luxury’ to choose. The angry mob is pounding on the door, demanding that the owner of the house cast out the two guests, namely, the Levite and his concubine. The owner of the house offers his own daughter and the concubine, but the crowd is not pleased. Without a moment to think rationally, the Levite grabs his concubine and hands her over to the crowd. Although his actions are far from noble and his actions resemble those of Lot, we cannot equate him to Lot on the same level, because he is in under attack, and therefore, in panic-mode. If he did not toss out his concubine, the bnei bli’al would have grabbed the both of them. He was acting in order to save his own life.

Interestingly enough, there is another episode in Tanach where we see a man put his wife on the line in order to save his own life. In fact, this same man puts his wife on the line in order to protect himself twice: once in last week’s parsha, and once in this week’s parsha. Yes, this man is in fact Avraham Avinu. Now, you might be wondering, how could we possibly compare one of the most tragic stories in Tanach, a story that depicts the epitome of immoral marital misconduct, to our first forefather and foremother, Avraham and Sarah, and their holy union? The answer, quite simply, is that it is in the pshat. The text tells us that on two occasions, Avraham pretends Sarah is his sister so that he will live. He pulls this ruse once in Bereishit chapter 12 when he goes down to Egypt, and once again in chapter 20 when he goes down to Gerar. He utters this lie when he arrives at the Egyptian boarder because he is afraid that the people of the land will see his beautiful wife, and kill him in order to be with her. Thus, he feels justified in declaring that she is his sister so that he will live, even though the implications are clear: the people of the land will take her and use her to satisfy their sexual desires. True, some mefarshim suggest that this was a last-resort, that he realized this was the only option he had in order to save his life. But others (such as Ramban) suggest that Avraham should not have even headed down to Egypt in the first place, because he should have had faith that Hashem would provide for him. Luckily for both him and Sarah, the text tells us that Hashem afflicts Pharaoh and his household because of Sarah, and therefore, Pharaoh lets her go free (Gen. 12:17-20). If not for God’s intervention, who knows how long Sarah would have been trapped in Pharaoh’s palace? Yet even if we were to suggest that Avraham was not aware that the Egyptians would seize her based on his lie, then surely we would expect him to know how the Philistines in Gerar would react to such a lie: they would also take Sarah! We would thus expect Avraham to have learned the error of his ways and not try to say Sarah is his sister again. Rather, we would expect him to either try to procure food in a different manner to tide him and his wife over during the famine (perhaps by going to a different country, or davening to Hashem) or, we would expect him to sacrifice himself, rather than sacrificing his wife! After all, Hashem saved Sarah once, but who is to say that Hashem will save Sarah again if Avraham tries this trick once more?

Luckily for Avraham, God does in fact save Sarah again, by appearing to Abimelech the king of Gerar in a dream, warning him to leave Sarah alone (Gen. 20:3). However, he loses the opportunity to fix the error of his ways. He finally has the chance to correct his behaviour from last week’s parsha, and he misses the boat. He sacrifices a loved one in order to save himself. Now, although some may be tempted to ignore his misconduct, I would like to suggest that Hashem doesn’t. Even though God does not verbally reprimand Avraham for how he treats his wife, the text seems to hint that God tries to show Avraham the error of his ways, rather than simply tell him. I would like to suggest that the test of the Akeida comes as a response to Avraham’s sacrificing of Sarah.

Till this point, Avraham has sacrificed a loved one in order to protect himself. Now, this is where God comes in to reprimand Avraham and say, “You want to know what it really means to lose a loved one? I can arrange that.” The very nature of the sacrifice here will be entirely different than the two preceding sacrifices that Avraham has made. In this sacrifice, Avraham will be called upon to take his son to the altar. This is the son that he has been praying for and longing for to have as his heir, and as his successor of monotheism in the world. This is not Avraham asking his wife to sacrifice her integrity, but rather, this is Avraham sacrificing his son. This is not a sacrifice that Avraham needs to make in order to save himself from danger or to acquire goods like he did in Egypt, but rather, this is a sacrifice that he needs to make because God is commanding him to do so. This is his sacrifice. Rather than gaining from this sacrifice, he is in fact losing everything he has lived for – his son Yitzchak.

Avraham is being asked to part with the most meaningful thing in his life –his progeny, his child of his old age, Yitzchak. But was exactly is the point of this test?

 

To answer this question, I would like to revisit the chapter of Pilegesh B’Giveah and note some more details as well as some surprising parallels to the Akeida that were overlooked in our initial recounting of the story:

 

·       The Levite’s concubine leaves him, going to her father’s house. The Levite sets out on his journey to her father’s house to woo her back. The text tells us he sets out with his attendant (na’aro) and a pair of donkeys (chamorim) (Judges 19:3). Similarly, when Avraham sets out for the Akeida, he takes his donkey (chamoro) and his two attendants (na’arav) (Gen. 22:3).

·       Once the Levite arrives at his father-in-law’s house, he initially stays with him for a duration of three days (Judges 19:4), just as the text informs us that Avraham saw the designated place from afar on the third day, indicating that his main journey takes three days (Gen. 22:3).

·       On the fourth day, when the Levite intends to leave, he gets up early (Vayishkemu ba’boker), just as Avraham gets up early to set out on his journey (Vayishkem…ba’boker) (Judges 19:5; Gen. 22:3).

·       The father-in-law convinces the Levite to remain in his house for a few more days, thereupon the text tells us that on the fourth day and the fifth day, the two of them ate together (vayochlu shneyhem yachdav), which is a clever phonetic play on the famous description of Avraham and Yitzchak’s journey, that “the two of them walked together” (Vayelchu shneyhem yachdav) (Judges 19:6; Gen. 22:6). Moreover, it is interesting to note that in both stories, similar/shortened versions of these phrases are repeated again in each of the stories (Judges 19:8; Gen. 22:8).

·       Both stories reference places in Yerushalayim: the Levite and his concubine travel to the vicinity of Yevus, which the text explains is Yerushalayim (Judges 19:10), and the Akeida takes place on Har HaMoriah, which is known today as the Temple Mount/Har HaBayit in Yerushalayim.

·       Both journeys are interrupted by a younger person asking a question/saying a comment to an older person, related to the journey: the attendant (na’ar) says to the Levite, “Let us turn to the this town…to spend the night” (Judges 19:11); Yitzhak asks his father Avraham, “Here are the wood and the firestone, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). In both cases, the older person responds in a way that indicates that he has a different image of the journey in mind; the Levite replies that they will not stop, but rather spend the night in Gibeah (Judges 19:12); Avraham responds that even though they would usually bring the items that Yitzhak is inquiring about, this time, “God will see to the sheep for the burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8).

·       Both stories contain the phrase, “Vayisa…Einav Vayireh” (“and he lifted his eyes and saw”); the Levite, in regard to seeing the old man who would eventually host them for the night (Judges 19:17), and Avraham, in regard to seeing his destination from afar (Gen. 19:4).

·       When the Levite finds his concubine dead in the morning, he cuts up her body into twelve parts, and sends out her limbs throughout Israel. It is interesting to note that the phrase used to describe the Levite preparing for this gory slaughter is the same phrase used to describe Avraham preparing to sacrifice his son: “Vayikach et Hamalechet” (he picked up the knife) (Judges 19:29; Gen. 22:10). Both are also raising knives to their family members.

·       At the end of each story, the text mentions others seeing with regards to the event that just took place, using twice the verb for seeing in one verse (reish-aleph-hey): “vehaya kol ha-roeh ve-omer….velo nirata kazot” (and everyone who saw it said…such a thing has not been seen), (Judges 19:30); “Vayikra Avraham shem hamakom hahu Adonai Yireh…, asher yeamar hayom bahar Adonai Yireah” (And Avraham named the place God Will See, as it is said to this day, on the mountain, God will see).

 

We should also note the conclusions of each of these stories: in the Akeida, an angel swoops down just before Avraham can slaughter his son in order to stop him. Instead, Avraham sacrifices a ram, and God blesses Avraham for not withholding his son from him. However, in the aftermath of the story of Pilegesh B’Giveah, the people of Israel see the concubine’s body limbs and are mortified; the Levite cries for the people to take action, and thus, a civil war breaks out.

 

After reviewing the parallels between these two chapters, the logical conclusion we could draw at this point would be to say that the text is trying to teach us that human sacrifices for any purpose other than proving our devotion to Hashem is wrong. The Levite was wrong to push out his concubine so that she would be killed and he would be saved, just as Avraham’s twofold betrayal of Sarah in both Egypt and Gerar was wrong. Both these men are given chances to redeem themselves: the Levite, now seeing his wife lying dead before him, can at least save her body and give her the proper burial that she deserves. However, he “sacrifices” her once more – he sacrifices her body, cutting up her limbs in order to shock the Israelites and rally the troops. This, of course, is viewed as the incorrect choice of action, as the result is the outbreak of a civil war, rather than the bestowal of blessings from God, as we see in the Akeida. Thus, the Levite does not redeem himself. However, when Avraham is given the opportunity to sacrifice a family member once more, he does redeem himself. This time, the sacrifice is not to save himself – rather, it is to fulfill God’s command. Thus, we could argue, that he redeems himself, by recognizing that his initial sacrifices were inappropriate, while sacrificing his son to please God is appropriate. Since Avraham’s actions were so that God would see (Adonai Yireah), his actions were deemed acceptable; but since the Levite sacrificed his wife so that the Israelites would see, his actions were deemed unacceptable.

 

So, to return to our question of what was the purpose of the Akeida test, the answer, according to this particular flow of logic, would seem to be that it was a test of Avraham’s devotion. Would Avraham be able to recognize that sacrificing people is generally considered cruel, but for God, a sincerely devout believer should even sacrifice his beloved son? If this is the purpose of the test, then Avraham has passed with flying colours. There is no question that Avraham is a firm believer in Hashem.

 

            This is certainly a valid opinion. It is what we have been taught since we were children. Pirkei Avot 5:3 teaches that the purpose of the Akeida was to prove how much Avraham loves God. The Beis HaLevi highlights Avraham’s greatness even more by commenting that Avraham had a harder trial than Yitzchak did in this event because it is harder to live without your loved ones than to give up your own life. Thus, Avraham’s actions represent the epitome of self-sacrifice and commitment to following Hashem’s word. The story of the Akieda has thus traditionally been used to inspire more commitment in our religious observance.

 

…But was this really the purpose of the test? We have acknowledged the fact that Avraham aced the loyalty-to-God test, but what if he was taking the wrong test? What if he misread the questions? Does God really want us to go to the extreme of demonstrating our devotion to Him by offering our children as offerings upon an altar? Certainly not! In fact, the Torah itself condemns child sacrifices, forbidding the practice altogether (Lev. 18:21, 20:2-4, Deut. 18:10). Additionally, if God really wanted Avraham to offer Him his child, why would He not allow Avraham to go through with the act and actually kill his son? Moreover, what lesson would Avraham have learned? After inappropriately sacrificing Sarah, God wants Avraham to redeem himself for his mistakes. If God wanted him to kill his son, it is true, perhaps Avraham would have finally understood what it means to sacrifice and lose a loved one, and Avraham would have learned his lesson. However, the Akeida is called a test (“God tested Avraham” – Gen. 22:1). Meaning, God’s intentions were not simply to show Avraham the error of his ways, but to give him a chance to redeem himself. How then would killing a different family member prove that Avraham had finally grasped the importance of not sacrificing his family members, and the value of protecting them?

 

            So, now we are face with the question of how can Avraham redeem himself for sacrificing Sarah? The answer is by questioning God, by petitioning like he did for the people of Sodom (Gen. 19). He could challenge God, to attempt to save the life of his son Yitzhak, to make up for the two times that he did not petition on Sarah’s behalf. If he has the courage to question God in order to try and save a city of evil-doers, should he not make an effort to raise his voice to save his own family members? In other words, the real test of the Akeida is not whether Avraham will have the devotion to God to sacrifice his son, but rather, whether he will recognize the error of his ways and the value of protecting his family members, and not sacrifice Yitzhak.

 

If this is the purpose of test at hand, does Avraham pass? Unfortunately, he does not. He does not petition on Yitzchak’s behalf. Instead, he treats Yitzchak like a korban, putting him on the altar in preparation to slaughter him like an animal. He is not thinking about Yitzchak here. He is thinking of himself and of his own personal loss. He is not thinking of the larger ramifications of his actions. Sure, we have been taught to look to Avraham as the hero who was brave and selfless enough to almost sacrifice his own son to God, but did we stop to ask ourselves how Yitzchak’s life was affected by this near-death experience? This event not only impairs their father-son relationship, (as would seem to be indicated by the fact that there are no further interactions or meetings noted in the Torah between Avraham and Yitzchak until the day Avraham dies), but it also takes a serious toll on Yitzchak’s mental well-being. In Shmuel Klitsner’s book, Wrestling Jacob, the author demonstrates how Yitzchak suffers psychologically after the Akeida. He notes that the text mentions Avraham returning to his attendants (after he is blessed and offers a ram), and then making his way to Be’er Sheva; however, there is no mention of Yitzhak, indicating that Yitzhak is still on the mountain, both literally and psychologically speaking. To summarize and analyze his entire argument as to why this is true is a project too large for this essay. I am merely making mention of his work because it raises a curious question for our purposes: did Avraham not consider any of the possible consequences for his son before bringing him to this near-death experience? I would like to suggest that maybe he did not think of this. Maybe, in his anguish and shock, did not stop to realize that if he loses Yitzchak, he is not losing something valuable to him, but rather, he is losing, someone valuable to him.

 

Perhaps, understood in this way, the parallels between the Akeida and the story of Pilegesh B’Giveah can be reinterpreted. I believe that the Navi who authored Sefer Shoftim is trying to hint that, like Avraham, the Levite is clearly not keeping the interests of his family member in mind. He is not thinking about her before he sacrifices her; he is merely focusing on himself and his personal loss and sacrifice. Furthermore, it should be noted that when we line up the stories, although Avraham and the Levite match in their roles in their respective stories, the concubine and Yitzhak do not: in the Akeida story, the main actors are Avraham and Yitzhak. Therefore, the main interactions are between them: when the text says, “the two of them walked together,” (22:8), it is referring to Avraham and Yitzhak, and when there is a stop in the journey for a short dialogue, the conversation that takes place is between Avraham and Yitzchak. Yet, in the paralleling verses in Sefer Shoftim, it is the Levite and the father-in-law who sit and eat together, and it is the Levite and the attendant who converse on the journey, rather than the Levite and his concubine. The exclusion of the concubine would seem to indicate that the Levite not only does not consider his wife’s needs, but even objectifies her, viewing her as useful for his hedonistic purposes, but not really a valuable member of his household otherwise. This idea also appears in the Gemara, in Gittin 6b, which states that the concubine ran away because he instilled a fear in her, or that alternatively, he kicked her out because she accidentally left a fly or a hair in his food. This Gemara shows that their relationship was not smooth-sailing, which would further explain why he makes such an effort to retrieve her, yet displays no concern for her general well-being; it is because he does not truly value her as a family member. Moreover, after her death, instead of regretting his decision to sacrifice her in order to save himself, and instead of providing her with a proper burial, he disgraces her further by spreading her lifeless limbs throughout the country. We must also question the authenticity of his alleged ‘cry for justice’ – how can we take his claims for retribution for her blood seriously, when he was the one who grabbed her and threw her out to the crowd that would rape and kill her (Judges 19:25)? Thus, even his desire to avenge her blood cannot be used as a proof of his genuine care for her. It is obvious that the Levite’s story is much more horrific than Avraham’s, and his level of consideration for others is much less, as we are well aware of the fact that Avraham loves his son Yitzhak (Gen. 22:2) and is just trying to display his love for Hashem, while the Levite is acting out of self-interest and a lack of love for his concubine. Nonetheless, the Navi compares him and his story to the major shortcomings here of Avraham, as well as to Lot, to demonstrate the kind of society the Israelites lived in at the end of the Shoftim time period: it is a period filled with total anarchy, filled with individuals just like the Levite, acting with only their own interests in mind, and not thinking of one another. The Navi’s dual comparison thus helps give insight into the famous phrase, “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did as he pleased” (Judges 21:25).

 

            In this three-way comparison between Avraham, Lot, and the Levite, there are of course some stark differences, which are evident in the plain words of the text. Thus, we cannot claim that Avraham acted as immorally as Lot or as the Levite did. After all, Hashem did bless him after the Akeida, while He does not bless the other two for their sacrifices. That being said, we can compare their stories on some level. Ultimately, they have all sacrificed family members, and, on varying levels, have neglected to consider the needs of those family members. Avraham is prepared to sacrifice his son, and it not only strains their relationship, but it also leaves Yitzhak in a traumatic state. Similarly, Lot is prepared to sacrifice his daughters, and it complicates their relationship as well – the daughters now view it as acceptable to make their father drunk in order to have him partake in an act of incest, since they understand the implications of what their father was prepared to do to them. As for the Levite – he actually sacrificed his wife, and his actions affected the entire county, as his ‘sacrifice’ led to the outbreak of a civil war.  Thus, these stories not only come to teach us that ‘sacrificing’ others, especially our family, is immoral because it demonstrates a lack of sympathy and consideration, but it also comes to teach us that regardless of the purpose of the sacrifice, it is wrong. This three-way comparison is reminding us to recognize the value of our loved ones, especially our family, and not ‘sacrifice’ them. In a rush or in a panic, we may be tempted to focus on ourselves and lose sight of the fact that our actions affect others. But we need to stop and ask ourselves, can we sacrifice our own dignity, rather than embarrassing our loved ones? Can we offer our criticisms in a constructive way? Can we sacrifice our own comfort momentarily in order to make sure someone else is comfortable? This comparison between these three figures in Tanach and their various sacrifices comes to teach us that sacrificing your family members, regardless of whether it is for yourself (like Avraham sacrificing Sarah, or the Levite sacrificing his concubine), for others (like Lot sacrificing his daughters), or even for the sake of demonstrating your religious devotion (like Avraham sacrificing Yitzhak) is uncalled for and improper. We need to not only appreciate our family members verbally, but also in our actions, by learning to perhaps sacrifice ourselves at times for them and their needs, acting in a way that reflects and demonstrates our interest in their well-being.

Shabbat Shalom!

Hi Sichati Dvar Torah archive for Parshat Vayera 5777. First Published on Wednesday November 16, 2016

Stairway to Heaven

ladder.jpg

 

EDWARD BENJAMIN

It is in the beginning of Parashat Vayesse that Yaaqob finally receives his first prophecy. The contents of this dream/vision are well-known, but the pessuqim that come before it, and their meaning in terms of the prophecy, are less clear.

The opening pessuqim of Veyesse go painstakingly out of their way to paint the picture of a very active Yaaqob.

            "And Yaaqob left Be'er Sheba and he travelled to Haran. And he arrived at the place,             and he laid there because the sun had set, and he took from the stones of the place                       and he placed them under his head, and he slept there. And he dreamt and                behold there was a ladder standing on the ground and it's top reached the heavens, and behold there were angels of God ascending and descending upon it." (Bereshit 28; 10-12)

No other Parasha in the Torah even comes close to opening with as many verbs to describe one person's actions (8 out of the first 22 words are verbs). What's fascinating is that every first of the pairs of verbs is completely superfluous. In each instance, had the Torah just used the second verb, the first would've been understood implicitly. For example, had the Torah described Yaaqob on his way to Haran I would've known that he left from Be'er Sheba. The same is true of the verbs: arriving and lying down, taking and placing, sleeping and dreaming.

 

I believe the verbose description of Yaaqob's actions, as well as their seeming redundancy, serve as the perfect preamble to the prophecy that directly follows. This preamble is the Torah's subtle intimation to the fact that no matter what Yaaqob did, no matter how mundane or ordinary an action he took, it had a much deeper meaning beyond the surface. Yaaqob's actions are being presented to us as taking place in two spheres: what he did, and the meaning therein.

This introduction is the perfect lead into Yaaqob's first prophecy. On a fundamental level, when Yaaqob saw the angels ascending and descending the ladder, he saw, he understood, that the earth and heavens are connected. Yaaqob now understands that there is a level of interaction between the land he is asleep on and the sky he is looking up to. The land is not some isolated plane that is devoid of any connection with the Holy, and the Heaven not a conceptual world that belongs to God alone. The two realms are deeply connected and interrelated.This experience instilled in him a deep appreciation for the earthly world, a desire to be an active participant in the here-and-now, and, at the same time, a commitment to the grand perspective and a love for the world of the Divine.

This explains why right when Yaaqob wakes up, he takes immediate action to sanctify the physical objects around him, the place he slept, and the possessions he receives.

"...and he took the stone he had placed under his head and placed it as a monument..." (28; 18)

"and he called the place the house of God..." (28; 19)

"and he made a vow saying... everything I am given I will surely tithe" (28; 22)

What Yaaqob now understands is that we can infuse our actions with meaning because our actions in this world are not isolated from the higher world, the world of meaning. By sanctifying the world we live in, we can break out of the confines of our local lives and kiss the heavens. We, as human beings, have the ability to fuse the earthly and heavenly, and when that happens, we will have transformed our world, and most importantly, ourselves.

Rolling Our Eyes at Redemption

Daniella Lieberman 

They say that heartbreak leads to cynicism. We’ve all seen it; we’ve all experienced it. Maybe not with love per se but with another promise that was broken. When we believe so strongly in something and then it doesn’t come true, it is difficult for us to put our faith in it again, and even when people wave proof in our face, we push it away, saying it’s a fairy-tale, it cannot be. Love? Nope. Peace on earth? Nope. True democracy? Nope. Neighborly Kindness? Nope. Been there, tried that… it failed us. We turn to disbelief. After a while we begin to want to believe in those truths again but don’t fully because our jadedness holds us back. Thus is human nature.

 

The specific example to show the outcome of this jadedness is the following:

 

We want Mashiach now! (Insert many exclamation points here)

 

Did you just roll your eyes? If not, did you say with such belief that you honestly are ready for Mashiach to come this second? Did you say it while thinking of your plans tonight and those plans didn’t involve Mashiach?

We’re jaded. We’ve screamed this as kids, sometimes scream it as adults with kids but do we believe it as strongly as we did when we were kids?

 

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Va’Eira, Hashem promises Bnei Yisrael that we’re going to be taken out of slavery and going to finally be brought into the Holy Land. And how do we respond? We roll our eyes, we focus on our work, we plan the next pyramid – we’re jaded. The passuk literally says “but they did not listen to Moshe because of their shortness of breath, because of their hard labor (6:9).” Rashi comments that they did not accept consolation, meaning they despaired completely of being redeemed.”

 

We can ask ourselves how it was possible for Bnei Yisrael to despair when Hashem was telling them directly that they were going to be redeemed. Us, Hashem isn’t telling us directly – they have a message that is so clear – how could they not believe?! Well, I would humbly argue that we do as well. The message is just as clear, the problem is we’re just as jaded: we have Eretz Yisrael, miracles are happening all around us, technology is enabling us to become closer and closer to each other and Hashem which will bring the Geulah.

Just as the message is the same, so too is the shortness of breath. When there is this shortness of breath, when there is this cynicism, it is impossible to see the possibilities.

Hashem introduces Himself to us in this week’s parshah as Y-H-V-H while He was only known to the Avot as K-el Shakkai. Rashi explains that as Kel Shakkai, Hashem made the promises to the Avot, as Hashem (Y-H-V-H), He fulfills them. We refer to Hashem now as Y-H-V-H (Hashem), we are therefore living in a time when it is possible for the promises to be fulfilled.

We have to be sure that we don’t give up on the promise that was given to us. Although it hasn’t happened yet, it can very easily and when it does, our cynicism, our shortness of breath, shouldn’t block us from seeing it.

Have a great Shabbos and may we all be able to look past our cynicism and see the real possibilities. 

The Jewish Spirit

Ezra Doueck


IT WAS A CRISP SPRING EVENING IN JERUSALEM. Newly-sprouted olive trees lined the winding cobblestone streets as the sun set, children scurrying through the alleyways to make it home for dinner. It was nearly dark as I walked out of my school in the Parisian neighborhood of Bayit Vegan, my six-foot-five roommate Oren lethargically in tow. On board the 21 bus and over the Begin Expre ssway, past the central bus station and through the narrow corridor of Ma'ale HaShalom, even Oren looked small in the presence of the majestic Western Wall.

It was quiet. Strangely quiet for a day of such historical significance. Yom Ha'atzmaut is the Israeli Independence Day, commemorating the unlikely founding of the state 64 years earlier. Surely on a night like this, Israelis would flock to the sacred remnants of the second Jewish Temple to celebrate the occasion. I had successfully argued this to Oren hours earlier in our apartment. However, the atmosphere at the wall remained eerily still. Oren looked down at me through glaring eyes. Let's go home.

 Yet my mind was elsewhere. Looking down at my feet, I noticed a small pebble, dancing along the concrete. The ground beneath me began to shake. I heard roaring sounds in the distance grow closer, louder, stronger. It was the unmistakable beating of a drum. The audible fury of an oncoming mob. I felt my heart pound, a chilling fear racing up my spine. In the distance, I spotted the ferocious wave of people, charging directly at us. A single man led the surge. Wide eyed in fervor, he sprinted, a flag raised in his hand.

 Yet on the flag was the Star of David. The group was an outpouring from a nearby Yeshivah, and the hundreds of smiling Israeli students now swept us into a swirling flurry of song and dance. Rhythmic Middle Eastern music bounced from the loudspeakers as the pack grew larger and larger still. Streams of people rushed in from every direction, a sea of blue and white. The jubilant sound of drums filled the air and Israeli flags swayed from above as tens of thousands filled the enclosure. I was in a trance; my mind overwhelmed as I danced, sang, and celebrated with the Jewish Nation.

I linked arms with row upon row of Israeli soldiers; my head raised, my eyes wet. On my right stood Chaim, his black velvet yarmulke barely containing the flowing braided hair spilling down from his temples. On my left smiled Amsalu, his head closely shaven and his hand clutching the Ethiopian emblem on his uniform. Marching down the moonlit streets of Jerusalem, we sang with the force of a thousand armies. Yet as we sang, my mind drifted into a deep, distant place. As I looked around, my thoughts began to wander. What does it mean to be a Jew?

 I STARTED TO THINK of my arrival to Israel eight months earlier. It had begun with a heaping portion of uncertainty, a splash of apprehension, and just a pinch of excitement. I had lived in Brooklyn, New York for all my life, rarely stepping outside the 'bubble' of my community. I had interacted with people that were, for the most part, just like me. Yet I was lost. I received a Jewish orthodox education for 12 years, but after graduation, I was left searching for a religious identity. In school, I was given constant subtle messages not to become too involved with Jews of different denominations or worse, non-Jews, lest I should intermarry. Yet I was unconvinced. Unconvinced that the world was as limited to me as my teachers made it out to be. Unconvinced that being a Jew is merely about strictly observing the rituals. So I left. With raw excitement, I left my community of safety and familiarity in search for something new. I was searching for meaning and for inspiration and for people through whom I could find the answers to my dilemma of Jewish identity. I was prepared to live the next eight months in Jerusalem, away from everything I knew, with all the opportunity in the world at my fingertips.

 I remember how my grandmother used to warn me: "Be careful." Be careful of getting too close. As if the impure beliefs of a different type of Jew would slowly crawl into my head, infecting my brain. I used to wrinkle my nose and quickly shrug off the notion. Yet over time, I realized that the world has truly seen the dark side of religious diversity. Minute interpretations of an ancient text or a slight difference in a prophecy were all that was needed to ignite intense and bloodstained fury within a people. Hellenist Jews slaughtering Maccabees. Quaker sons set in flames by their neighboring Presbyterians. Hundreds of thousands of rotting Syrian bodies ruthlessly left astray by their Muslim cousins. Religious diversity has been pivotal to the conception of hatred and violence.

 Difference was nothing new to me. In every way of life, there are few religions more fiercely disjointed culturally, religiously, or behaviorally, than Judaism. I witnessed the fanatical disputes between Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or secular Jews rage on with unreserved force every day.

 However former Chief Rabbi of England Lord Jonathan Sacks once said in his Dignity of Difference, "But religion is not what the enlightenment thought it would become --mute, marginal, and mild. It is fire and, like fire, it warms, but it also burns and we are the guardians of the flame." In many ways, argument fuels Jewish growth. It challenges us, and makes us feel connected. Argument is not a sign of disorder or of doubt, but of passion. Diversity not a sign of weakness, but of freedom.

 As I marched at the Western Wall that night, I started to reminisce. I have come to believe that the defining characteristic of Israeli culture is its diversity of Jews. The stunning complexity carefully interwoven into everyday Israeli life is a testament to genuine acceptance and understanding. In the first few weeks in Israel, I made a conscious effort to encounter all that the country had to offer, especially its people. I met every type of Jew possible; Nationalist, Ultra-Orthodox, Reform and Secular, whom all seemed determined to tell me everything they thought about anything. And I was hooked. I found myself bargaining with cab drivers over fares, or discussing products with a bellowing vendor by the markets. I spoke politics with the beggars by the Western Wall and debated over Israeli sports with bus drivers. I ate falafel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner I and danced in the streets of Jerusalem with complete strangers, simply because we were alive.

 I found that the concept of Jewish identity has been rapidly changing. As generations have passed more Jews have removed religion as a means of defining themselves as Jews . Two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue. Forty-four percent of Jewish marriages are intermarried. One-fourth of Jews do not believe in God. I was shaken. How can one be Jewish if not through religion of Judaism? How can we not be mindful of the clear dilution of our sacred tradition? What will the future bring?

 These questions were on my mind one week earlier as I walked through the doors of Yad Vashem on a muggy April afternoon. On this day of memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, I walked with hundreds of stiff faced American tourists silently trudging through the dimly lit Jerusalem museum. Slowly, carefully, I moved from section to section. One by one, horrible images of death seized my attention. Hundreds of emaciated prisoners awaiting their final fate in the bitter cold, a huddled group of living skeletons staring at me through photograph. My body seized, heart pounding nearly out of its chest. My mind swirled with anger and confusion and pain and overwhelming emotion.

 I stormed out of the museum, and I ran. I didn't know where I was going or why but I kept running, a light rain beginning to descend from the sky. I reached a highway overpass, cars streaming below as the rain intensified. In a moment, a sudden piercing sound permeated the air. For decades on this day, an air raid siren would wail throughout the country, commemorating all who had perished in the Holocaust. In this spontaneous moment, the siren had begun to consume me. Gradually, the flood of cars beneath me slowed to a complete halt. Their owners stepped out of the cars and stood in the rain, eyes closed in solemn reflection. In this surreal moment, time had stopped. All was still as the siren continued to blast, a nation standing quietly together as one.

 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A JEW? Slowly but surely, my mind refocused. I am here, marching arm in arm with Israeli soldiers under the Jerusalem moonlight. It is here where I finally discover the answer. The Nazis cared not what type of Jew one was, or how many times they went to synagogue. Yet in reality, the beauty of Jewish culture is its splendid diversity. We are defined not by differences in our customs, beliefs, or denominations, our ethnicities, cultures, or religious observance. It is the fiery spirit of the Jewish nation that defines us. It is a power that makes a country freeze at the sound of a siren, the force that links the most unlikely of soldiers together by the arm. It is a spirit deeply rooted in 5,000 years of tradition, hardened through persecution and challenges, and centered around a land that after generations of wandering, we could finally call our home. This life has taught me not only to appreciate my own individuality, but also to celebrate the unifying diversity of the Jewish nation. Under the strikingly clear Jerusalem sky, I sang the Israeli national anthem, together with my brothers.


You Before Me

       

 


Ralph Serouya

       Every day I humbly pray for the recovery of the individuals in Klal Yisrael who happen to be sick and need our Tefillot. Why do I do this ? I do this because I think, how would I feel if I were in these people's shoes? This thought is especially prevalent after volunteering in the hospital and seeing many sick people everyday.

Our Hachamim (Rabbis) of blessed memory say in the Gemara (Baba Kamma 92a):


the lesson that our Rabbis taught us, that whoever prays (to Hashem) for mercy on behalf of his friend, while he himself is in need of the same thing, he will be answered first.”



I once was pondering over this Gemara and asked myself:


“Why should I get answered first if I pray for my friend?”

    Then I realized something.  How can I pray for someone who is G-d forbid sick if I myself am G-d forbid sick? It must mean that through me wanting to pray for others I by virtue can not get sick because then I won’t be able to pray for these sick individuals. So Hashem will answer me first so that I have the proper strength to pray for them. So too, if I pray for any other need of a friend before myself, like for an income or clarity, it is possible that Hashem will answer me first so that I can pray for my friend without any of my own troubles distracting my kavanah. This of course is my own humble opinion.  


    May we merit to learn and understand all of the sayings of our Rabbi’s and thereby be able to fulfill the Misvot correctly and have meaning in everything we do!


    May Hashem relieve the sicknesses that people might have and through this allow them to fulfill the Will of Hashem in a complete and perfect way.


Loving Your Fellow: Easier Said Than Done

Steven Gotlib

On Sunday, November 15th, 2015 my university took part in the Global Day of Jewish learning along with several other campuses and communities around the world. The theme of the  day was love, so I decided to give a shiur on the topic of what it means to love G-d and to love each other. Since I unfortunately could not record the shiur, this is a brief summary of what I felt to be the main takeaway message.  

The Gemara (Meseches Shabbos Daf 31a) presents the story of a non-Jewish man who went before Hillel and demanded that the great rabbi teach him all of the Torah while he stood on one foot. If Hillel was able to do this, the man would convert to Judaism. Previously in the story, Shammai had kicked the man out, but Hillel was up for the challenge. Hillel converted the man, saying “דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד זו היא כל התורה כולה ואידך פירושה הוא זיל גמור”. Artscroll Gemaras translate this as “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow; This is the entire Torah; The rest is an elaboration. Go and learn.”

This line is apparently a paraphrase of the following verse (found in Sefer Vayikra 19:18), “לֹא-תִקֹּם וְלֹא-תִטֹּר אֶת-בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ, וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ" which translates as “do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge against the members of your people; You shall love your fellow as yourself.” The relevant part of this verse is וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ- You shall love your fellow as yourself. Why does the Torah word this in the positive while Hillel words it in the negative? Marshah suggests that this is because the preceding part of the verse (לֹא-תִקֹּם וְלֹא-תִטֹּר אֶת-בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ) is already worded in the negative, implying that loving one’s fellow as themself is already defined according to what one should not do for their fellow as opposed to what one should do for their fellow.

What if there is more to it than that, though? Think about what וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ is asking someone to do. Loving your fellow like you love yourself is a lot to ask someone, especially if that someone is a convert who probably knows next to nothing about the religion to begin with. On top of this, social psychology says that humans are cognitive misers. Essentially, that means that human beings want to exert as little effort as possible when they negotiate with the social world (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_miser). In any situation, it takes less effort not to do something than it does to do something.  In this scenario, not doing to others what one does not want done to himself is far easier for this convert to start out with than actively putting in the effort to do things for others and really love his fellow like himself.

I think that the idea here is a simple, but powerful one. Everything starts somewhere. the biggest tree in the whole forest still started as just a seed. דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד is far easier to follow for a beginner than וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ. But it’s also only the beginning. The new Jew will leave Hillel’s presence and go learn Torah in more detail. While he is doing that he will have in his mind not to do things to others that he would find hateful to himself. The absence of this negative behavior combined with his studies and knowledge will hopefully lead him to grow and become a better person while he is building up his knowledge, and one day learn how to truly love his fellow like himself.

In life,  people are constantly in transition. Whether it’s starting a new relationship, or a new  job or entering a new school, or moving to a new community, people are always given opportunities to start again. Unfortunately, people are often scared to take their first steps and make the most of those opportunities. I believe that an important lesson that can be taken out from this is that one does not need to hold themselves to the highest possible standards all the time. Even the smallest of steps can be great and have great impacts in life. The smallest pebble still makes giant ripples when it is thrown into the water. Every person in the whole world is capable of doing small things, even if those small things are only deciding NOT to do something bad as opposed to actively doing something good. The smallest actions can have the biggest potential for greatness.  EVERY LITTLE BIT COUNTS. It is my sincere hope that everyone who reads this finds some small thing that you can add to your life, and does it. Eventually all of these small actions will pile up and the world will become a more loving place.