Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Core Meaning of Geula

The mekubal and cheesemaker known as the Chalban (The Milkman)

Last night, I participated in a mind-blowing shiur given by Shimon Apisdorf in which he presented nothing less than the core meaning of galut and geula, as taught in the writings of the mekubel known as the Chalban (The Milkman). The Chalban is alive today and teaches in a kollel for kabbalists in Giyatayim. When he's not making cheese.

The shiur was over 2 hours long. It might take a bit of hubris on my part, but I'm going to attempt to summarize the essential message of the evening. It is this:

The process of galut (exile) parallels the process of death and the process of geula is its reversal.

Let's start with the process of death and how it parallels the exile of the Jewish people.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 1: In the body, the first stage of death is when the neshama (the soul) leaves the guf (the body). In the first stage of galut, the Beit HaMikdash is destroyed, removing the neshama (the Shechinah) from the corpus of the Jewish people.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 2: After physical death, burial follows. The parallel of burial for the Jewish people is physically being exiled, being sent away from the Land of Israel.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 3: After burial, worms begin to destroy the flesh. This is a process of deterioration that all are powerless to stop. As contrasted with being masters over our own Land and having our own army to defend us, the parallel is the feeling of powerlessness that Jewish people experience in exile, under foreign dominion.

DEATH/GALUT STAGE 4: After the flesh of a corpse is gone, what remains is dry, unconnected bones that don't even recognize that they are part of something larger. This is the natural consequence of exile. We become focused on ourselves and we lose touch with the fact that we are part of something much larger and grander. We see only ourselves as individual ovdei Hashem.

The Jewish people have spent so many centuries thinking of ourselves as separate dry bones, that we've built walls around ourselves and our camps. These walls reinforce the perception that we have to defend ourselves from Jews who are different from us.

I want to stop and reflect on this point for a moment and say that, shortly after I made aliyah, I became aware, in a whole new way, of the significance of my place as part of the Jewish people. Yes, in America, I spoke of Klal Yisrael. But in Israel, I truly felt it.

Geula reverse the process of death and exile. So first we have to restore the body and then it is time to reconnect the body to the soul.

GEULA STAGE 1: The first stage of geula, of redemption, the first stage of reversing the exile, includes two processes that happen simultaneously.

The first process was rebuilding the tashtit - the infrastructure. As Mark Twain wrote in 1867, "Palestine is desolate and unlovely." Israel was a barren and uninviting land for close to 2,000 years while the Jewish people were in exile. Swamps had to be cleared. Roads had to be paved. Buildings had to be erected. Utilities had to be set up. Armies had to be established. The body of Israel needed to be rebuilt. Today, anyone can plainly see that the bones and the sinews have been knit back together.

The parallel process to rebuilding the infrastructure in the first stage of geula is kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles. This is the returning of the body to the Land. The Jewish people have come home. Literally.

According to the Chalban, the Jewish people have, collectively, completed the first stage of geula. Will more roads be paved? Will new buildings be constructed? Will more Jews make aliyah? Yes, yes and yes, please God. But the goals of the first stage of geula have been sufficiently achieved. We are ready to move into the second stage.

GEULA STAGE 2: Returning the neshama to the guf. In this stage, the belief that Jews are separate from one another is replaced with an awareness that Knesset Yisrael, Am Yisrael, Klal Yisrael, the Jewish people, are all one. Geula is a waking up from the deep slumber of galut. The core issue in this stage of geula is achdut, unity, is seeing all Jews as part of the same global mishpacha.

The same idea, presented in a more Jewish context, can be found in these words from Rachelle Fraenkel, mother of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the three Israeli boys who were murdered in cold blood this past summer and one of the three mothers that Shimon Apisdorf called "today's Gedolei HaDor".

Practically speaking, in these last days before Rosh Hashana, we can (we must!) turn our attention to connecting with other Jews on a human level. Because we are all family. The Beit HaMikdash is our family home. And Israel is our home town.

The more we connect with Jews who are different from us, the more we help heal the world. And the closer we are to concluding the process of geula.

Now, who you gonna call and invite out for coffee today?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Seeing the Whole Picture

Today was one of those days when I fell in love with Israel again.This thought occurred to me in the bathroom of a restaurant.

Okay, restaurant is overstating it. It was a pizza joint. A few greasy tables out front. A tiny bathroom that hadn't been renovated in, well, in forever.

The bathroom was both cramped and, ahem... not overly clean. The lock didn't really work. Nevertheless I was so happy, because there was toilet paper. And when I went to the sink, there was running water and a small bar of pink soap.

I had a fleeting realization that something has switched in my head. Something I associate with living in Israel. I see things differently. So instead of being horrified that the bathroom wasn't up to snuff, I focused on how lucky I was to find toilet paper, running water and soap.

It's all a matter of perspective.

There's a concept that there is a heavenly Jerusalem (Yerushalayim shel mala) and there is an earthy Jerusalem (Yerushalayim shel mata). In the earthly Jerusalem, there are crummy bathrooms and greasy tables. In the earthly Jerusalem, there are thousands of rockets pointed at Israel. There are hostile enemies at every border. There are financial struggles, small apartments, washing machines that take two hours, insanely expensive goods and not one Target or WalMart.

Having said that, when it comes to understanding life in Israel, I believe that we must see both the shel mata and the shel mala. If you only see the shel mata part of the story, you're simply not seeing the whole picture.

The Yerushalayim shel mala - the heavenly Jerusalem, looks completely different. The destiny of the Jewish people looks different. Looking at life in Israel through the vantage point of shel mata is like seeing Disney World for the first time. Looking at life in Israel through the vantage point of shel mala is like taking the 5-hour Keys to the Kingdom, behind-the-scenes tour at Disney World.

Everything looks different once you understand the whole picture.

It's my contention that it's impossible (okay, very difficult) to live happily in Israel if you only see the shel mata. If you only see the harsh realities, life in Israel can seem untenable.

It takes a paradigm shift, the openness to understand that what we see with our eyes is only part of the story.

And it's not even the best part.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Time To Leave?

Many people, including Newsweek Magazine, are convinced that the situation for Jews in Europe has once again become intolerable and that, for Europe's Jews, the time has come once again to flee.

Today, I joined a Facebook group called Time To Leave. The group's mission is expressed in these two sentences. "There are rising violent anti-semitic attacks against Jewish communities around the world. We believe this is a wake up call for the Jews to come home to Israel now."

The group messages are primarily photos and news articles about antisemitic incidents and hate speech throughout the world. Let's say we all, including the Jews in Europe themselves, agree that the worsening situation in Europe is becoming intolerable and it's time to leave Europe.

What's the situation in the US? Here's where it gets tricky. From here in Israel, it's clear. Anti-Israel (a/k/a antisemitic) sentiment has exploded in the US over the past few weeks. Time. To. Leave.

Anti-Israel rallies have been held in the following US cities. These are just the ones I know about. There are likely others. If you click these links you'll see many hateful images and protest chants against Israel.
There are currently terrorist training camps in 22 US cities. Interestingly, there is a very high correlation between the cities where there were anti-Israel rallies and the cities where there are known terrorist training camps. I'm thinking this correlation is more than coincidental.
    Out of genuine concern, I posted the following query on my Facebook Timeline:
    A serious question for my friends and family who live outside of Israel: I, and many friends (all olim), are actually much more concerned for the safety of our family and friends outside of Israel than for ourselves. We see the huge and rapid uptick in antisemitic attacks all over the world and it scares us. Just this morning I read about incidents in a clinic in Amsterdam and in a public school in Chicago. Over the past week, I've heard about at least a dozen in cities all over Europe and the US. Here, we know the enemy and we have an army and tools to fight and defend ourselves. Outside of Israel, Jews have no army. If you live outside of Israel, are you more thinking it's a passing thing related to the war or are you feeling at all unsettled by the bubbling up of anti-Jewish sentiment?
    Without question, the saddest, most painful response came from an individual I don't actually know, but who echoes the feelings of so many of my American friends and family:
    With all due respect to my friends and family in Israel, I beg to differ with you. I am glad that you feel safer in Israel, but the US is a much safer place at this time in history. Two reasons. One is that we do not have missiles fired at us indiscriminately and unknowingly. The USA does not have anything near this type of craziness. We do not have a terror state on our soil building tunnels under our feet infiltrating our land with the intent to kidnap and murder our women, children and soldiers.
    Reason Number 2. The amount of post traumatic stress syndrome is undeniably huge and rampant in the Holy Land. Children are suffering tremendous anxiety and fear on a daily basis. There are not enough psychologists or social services to help them from a lifetime of trauma from sirens, safe rooms, and bombs falling nearby or in our neighborhoods.
    I would not subject my children to that. End of comment.
    It's not hard to understand why he feels this way. But here's the rub.

    He's not reading the current trend, nor is he reading Jewish history, accurately.

    Jews always, always, always stay too long in whatever galut to which we have been sent. We convince ourselves that "it's not that bad" or "it will blow over". And we tell ourselves it's still better where we are, where we've been for hundreds of years, than in the land God set aside for the Jewish people.

    After all, in 1933, which cultured, urban German Jew was willing to leave Germany for the desert of Palestine?

    Sunday, August 03, 2014

    Another Way To Look At It

    When I listen to people speak about the war, they usually speak in terms of what they think ought to be done to solve the problem.

    Often the solutions proposed are military, diplomatic or political. The opinion I hear the most frequently regarding what Israel should do next is an unequivocal one.

    "Level Gaza," people say. Carpet bomb the place.

    Or I hear that we should retake Gaza, pay the remaining Gazans to leave, destroy Hamas and then move Jewish families back in. Other people believe that diplomacy is the solution. Or that more funding for Iron Dome will help. Another ceasefire. And on and on.

    There is no shortage of pundits and armchair quarterbacks and even deeply connected Jews who are desperately trying to think of a solution that will get us out of this mess. Suggestions fill the brains and the speech of so many. And they all, every one of them, have the same common flaw. They are all an expression of the idea that the solution to this matzav, this situation, this war, lies in the power of human agency.

    כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי - My strength and the might of my hand

    It's a fundamental flaw in our perception.

    A month ago, just after the bodies of Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali A"H were discovered, I wrote a post about what I understood was going on behind the scenes.

    A month later, I see the worsening distress in my friends and neighbors. Another soldier gone, another world lost. Another news story that paints Israel as the immoral aggressor, callously gunning down innocent children and mercilessly destroying the homes of ordinary Gazans. Another antisemitic episode on the streets of Chicago, Miami, Paris. It hurts so much.

    There is work for the Jewish people to do here. It's spiritual work. The terrorists have their job. Their job is to humble us. Their job is to get us to the stage of acknowledging that we have erred by putting our faith in human agency.

    Sure, if we're faithful people, we sprinkle our speech with expressions of "God-willing" and "Im Yirtzeh Hashem". And that's at least a start. The embarrassing truth though, is that when you really go deep, for most of us, it's mostly just lip service. We're all still trying to figure out which strategy is the right next thing for us to do.

    At this stage in history, just before the Final Redemption, we are compelled, we are being pushed to the wall by current events, to finally, finally, let go of our faith in the efficacy of human effort. We have to come to believe, in the deepest place in our souls, Ein Od Milvado. There is none other than God.

    Not like a bumper sticker.

    Like life support.

    We have no choice. We are being compelled, by the force of Jewish history and by the impending redemption, to finally wake up, open our eyes and say, "I get it now God. There is only You."

    Tuesday, July 29, 2014

    WAKE UP!! - Guest Post

    A message from Bat Aliyah: This is a very special guest post, written by my daughter, Ariella Mendlowitz. It's strong medicine.


    For those of you who don’t know me, I typically am someone who keeps her political opinions off social media. Why? Because people who want to believe that Israel is an oppressor and Gaza is the victim are not people looking for information. Rather they are looking for more and more ways to criticize the Jews, to show the world that we are evil, money grabbers who want nothing more than to dominate non-Jews and we start by oppressing the weakest of the weak in our immediate vicinity. I know the truth, my immediate circle knows the truth, and most important: G-d knows the truth. So why waste my time?

    When it comes to aliyah, I have a similar approach: people living outside of Israel, in my opinion, have every right to live where they so choose. There is no reason they should be forced to live in a country where they don’t speak the language, where the culture is so strongly contrasted against the one they know, where even the cuisine is of a different flavor (literally).

    Just because I chose to make Israel my home nearly 5 years ago doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right place for everyone and I respect that. But my motto has always been: you should at least have in your heart the yearning to be in the Holy Land that Hashem promised to our ancestors thousands of years ago. If you do not choose to live here at this moment, never forget that, as a Jew, this is truly where you belong. The truth is that every Jew does belong here. But there is no point in me harping on you to make one of the biggest decisions to uproot yourself and your family from your friends, your memories, your comforts and come to an unfamiliar country. The important thing is I know the truth, my immediate circle knows the truth, and most important: G-d knows the truth. So why waste my time?

    This is how I felt.

    Until June 12th, when three of our boys (Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer) whose names are forever imprinted in our minds, were kidnapped while waiting for a ride home for Shabbat. For three weeks, Jews around the world saw all kinds of unity: challah baking, concerts, rallies, endless acts of chessed, taking on new mitzvot and more! All in the merit that our boys should be found quickly, alive and unharmed. Then on June 30th (while I was in the middle of hosting a sheva brachot for a friend of mine), we got the shocking news that the boys had been found-dead, in a field. And all evidence pointed to the truth: that they had been killed within minutes of their capture and that all of our mitzvot, all our tefillot, all our hard work was for naught.

    Shortly after their burial, when the Jewish world was still pumped with unity, doing whatever it could to help the mourning families, several radical Jewish boys allegedly brutally murdered an Arab kid, an act which was condemned nationwide, and especially by the Prime Minister himself, and was an embarrassment to Jews worldwide. What followed was absolutely unbearable: riots broke out in countless neighborhoods in Jerusalem, light rail stations were destroyed, Molotov cocktails and burning tires were thrown at police forces. Roads were closed down as a result, buses were not allowed to travel past a certain point, the light rail was out of service, preventing entry even to Jewish neighborhoods in the area.

    With the riots came the rocket fire, more powerful and ruthless than ever. Cities miles away from Gaza, including where I live, started hearing the blaring siren, causing everyone to run in a panic to the nearest shelter, waiting for Iron Dome to take out the threat.

    And then, the Operation began. First with the Air Force, taking out as many Hamas targets as it could, including tunnels, terrorist homes, weapon arsenals. We began an endless barrage of missiles, intending to destroy the terrorist infrastructure Hamas has spent the last nine years building up, since the land was emptied of Jewish presence in 2005. Only a few days later, the decision was made to invade Gaza on foot. The mission was no longer to simply restore a temporary peace, but to completely raze Hamas to the ground, removing every single missile launcher, discovering endless collections of guns and rockets (which would have been used to kill Jews) and destroying tunnels used for weapon smuggling or sneaking into Israel underground.

    The mission has been in operation for three weeks with massive success on Israel’s part. To date, 30-40% of Hamas weapons have been discovered, over 240 terrorists have been killed, dozens of terror tunnels have been destroyed, and a mass attack which was planned for this coming Rosh Hashana was thwarted with the arrest of over 150 Hamas “employees” who confessed to the true reasons behind the tunnels. Yes, this has come at a price. We have lost over 40 of our brothers and several civilians. But it is undeniable that we are at a crucial moment in history, one which may see the very end of radical terrorism in the Gaza strip. This should be cause for endless celebration!

    And yet… with the conflict in the Middle East at a perpetual high for the last six weeks, the world is in utter chaos. Let me correct that: the Jewish world is in utter chaos. Over the last month and a half alone there have been nearly 20 anti-Semitic acts around the world (not including the United States or Canada). These include incidents such as:
    • anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed all over shuls and Israel culture centers in Argentina
    • anti-Israel demonstrations in France where worshipers were trapped inside their shul surrounded by violent protestors
    • stones that were thrown through the living room window of a Holland rabbi
    • a rabbi in Morocco who was beaten mercilessly
    • the destruction of Jewish cemeteries in Britain with tombstones uprooted and smashed to pieces. 
    I’ve only chosen to write several of the incidents I read about that happened since the abduction of our boys. There are dozens more in 2014 alone, which you can read about here.

    To my readers in Canada and America, I’m pretty sure right now you’re thinking, “Well, what do you expect? Europe has always had anti-Semites performing outrageous acts. Of course that kind of stuff happens there. But the Land of the Free, where the freedom to practice religion is a right? Nah, we’re safe. Canada, where our Prime Minister has vocalized unequivocal support for Israel? It’ll never happen here.”

    It is finally time to voice the feeling I have been repressing for years now. Dear Jews in Canada and America, WAKE UP AND GET OUT FROM THE ROCK YOU ARE LIVING UNDER!!! 

    History repeats itself, over and over and over again. We have been kicked out of every single host country we have ever lived in: Italy, France, England, Switzerland, Netherlands, Prague, Austria, Kiev, Vienna, Russia, Germany, Poland and more! Some of them have expelled us more than once! Each and every time, the Jews thought: this time we’ll be safe; this time we have high positions in the government; this time we are friendly with our non-Jewish neighbors; surely it cannot happen in this day and age.

    Well guess what? It IS happening in "this-day-and-age"!

    On July 26, a Pro-Palestinian rally was held in Chicago which boasted over 13,000 in attendance.

    On July 28, the Torah V’emunah Shul in North Miami Beach was sprayed with swastikas and the Hamas name.

    Also on July 28, an Israeli Discount Bank in New York City had its windows smashed and defaced.

    On July 23, a bus stop in Thornhill, Ontario was sprayed with a swastika and Israel profanities.

    I don’t care what you tell yourself that lets you sleep at night, reassuring yourself that ‘Never Again’ means never again. It doesn’t matter that you take off your kippah before going into work with your non-Jewish buddies. It doesn’t matter that you wear a sheitel so as to not stand out by wearing a scarf. It doesn’t matter that you don’t keep Shabbat or you send your kids to McDonald’s for a birthday party. It does not make one cent of difference that we live in 2014.

    History is coming full circle.

    Antisemitism is showing its ugly face once again, this time under the mask of anti-Zionism. When Israeli flags are burned in the middle of Toronto at an anti-Israel protest and you think “Oh, they’re only anti-Israel, not anti-Jews,” I have a newsflash for you: it is a very, very thin line.

    With the position of President of the United States now filled by the most anti-Israel leader American politics has ever seen, with the countless anti-Semitic acts happening almost daily around the globe, including comments made on YouTube or Facebook, with the world shaking with the fear of the takeover of Radical Islam, it is so clear that something truly big is happening.

    Why did I open this post describing in detail the reality those of us in Israel are facing today?

    Because despite every rocket, despite every unknown tunnel, despite the fact that we are surrounded by our enemies on every border, Israel is THE safest place in the world for Jews. You may say I’m crazy, but I believe with unshakeable confidence that I am in the best place for any Jew to be at this time in history.

    I will end with this: if you live in the West, if you think you are safe from any form of antisemitism that has plagued Europe for centuries, think again my friend. You were never meant to live outside of Israel.

    If you think there is anywhere in the world is safer than Israel, if you are putting your roots in America, if you are establishing yourself in Canada, you are in for a very, very rude awakening.

    And if, for whatever reason, my comments fill you with anger, if I have caused you to react with outrage at my claims, then I urge you, before writing or commenting, to take a long, hard look at the facts and then tell me: are you truly angry at me or are you too blind to see what is right in front of you?