Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Preparing for Geula


A few years before making aliyah, I belonged to a group of women who met regularly to discuss the impending geula. These were women who, like me, followed the blogs and the dvrei Torah and the rumblings in our own souls that told us something big was happening in the world.

Back then, I truly felt something was imminent. But, of course, three years later, daily life is pretty much still unredeemed.

The Rambam reminds us that belief in the coming redemption is one of the 13 principles of the faithful Jew: "I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah. Even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come." 

At the same time, I totally get why some people have the attitude of, "I'll believe it when I see it." Because how many times in Jewish history have we been assured that Moshiach, and thus the final redemption of the Jewish people, is imminent? And how many times have our hopes been dashed?

For awhile after this intense period a few years ago, things got quieter in the world of geula watchers. The Geula Watch listserv that I moderate slowed way down, from a high of 130 messages a month to a low of 2 messages a month. Like many others, I turned my attention to other things.

Ah, but today, things are heating up again. Iran (previously known as Persia) makes no secret of their threat to wipe the "Zionist regime" off the map. Today, we are just a week away from the holiday of Purim when, in the time of the Persian empire, the Jews were saved from Haman's threat to annihilate us all. How extraordinarily coincidental eerie significant it seems that the Jewish people are threatened again from the very same place. Indeed, there are voices predicting something very big coming very soon, even that Israel is facing war with Iran in the very near future, a war that could be the catalyst for the war of Gog u'Magog.

There are Torah lectures that bring example after example of sources predicting that this year, the Jewish year 5772, will be the year we meet Moshiach.

There are projects designed to help us bring the geula with compassion.

There are increasingly urgent calls for the Jews in the diaspora to make aliyah or at least to prepare spiritually for what's coming.

In short, there's a lot of talk, a lot of predictions, a lot of energy in certain circles of the Jewish world focused on the impending geula.

I'm just a simple Jew. How can I know whether we are really living in the last days of the world as we have always known it? Perhaps we really, truly are on the precipice of a time when, in the wake of the revelation of Moshiach and the complete redemption of the Jewish people, the whole world will come to believe in the God of the Jewish people, as we pray, "Before You Hashem our God, they will bend every knee and cast themselves down and to the glory of Your Name they will render homage, and they will all accept upon themselves the yoke of Your kingship that You may reign over them soon and eternally."

But maybe it's all just a lot of hype and the world will continue as it has for a long time to come.

Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski teaches that there is, ultimately, nothing bad in the world. There may be things that are bitter, just as medicine that heals us is sometimes bitter, but bitter is not the same as bad. So if Moshiach doesn't reveal himself by the end of this summer, and if I sit in shul on Rosh Hashana in an as-yet unredeemed world, it will be bitter, but I must believe it will not be bad.

On the other hand, we are promised in the Torah that eventually, we will greet Moshiach. Nu, maybe "eventually" really is going to be very soon.

So, to prepare, I'm nudging myself along the path of spiritual growth. I took on an additional daily prayer. I'm deleting the daily emails that offer free, and often cheesy, novels to read on my Kindle. In general, I'm trying to cut down on the vacuous things in my life and replace them with more substance. I'm learning more Torah. I'm thinking about God more. Trying to be nicer to the people in my life. Trying to talk to God more, praying for the safety of my family in turbulent times and for the opportunity to live in holiness. Strengthening emuna.

So even if, God forbid a bajillion times, the entire rest of my life, I will live with the unceasing undercurrent of messianic anticipation, at least I will have spent my time growing toward God.



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Delights



Walking home from work tonight, I was tempted to take off my jacket. It was that warm. I felt thankful for the hint, even if it's more of a tease, that spring is certainly coming. It got me thinking about the things I see every day that delight me and make me feel thankful to live in Israel.

On the train yesterday, I stood across from a young Arab woman wearing skinny jeans and a pale blue hijaab headscarf that wound all around her head and neck. She had a beautiful young face with an extremely heavy application of makeup, more like stage makeup or face paint. I'm no expert, but I understand it's a custom in certain Arab women's circles. There's even a YouTube channel called MakeUpAdikt with videos made by an English-speaking Arab woman on how to apply heavy makeup in this style.




In 2005, during the time of the disengagement from Gush Katif, it was common to see orange ribbons on cars, knapsacks and windows. 



We still have one on our rear view mirror. There are rare today, but not wholly absent. On the bus on Tuesday, there was a man in his late-50s. Clearly a hard-working man with a physical job, wearing blue cotton pants, dusty with soot, and a torn blue work shirt. As he stepped off the bus, I noticed that, tied to the handle of his lunchbox, was an orange ribbon. Made me smile to see it in such an incongruous place.

Riding the bus into Jerusalem another morning this week, I looked up from my Tehillim, saw a lone camel on a hill in the distance and marveled at how camels are something of an ordinary site when you live in the Middle East.

Not the exact camel I saw, but you get the idea.
Some other small things that delight me about living in Israel:

Medjool dates grown in Israel. They may look homely, but they taste like something magical from Gan Eden. And the bracha after eating them refers specifically to the fruits of Israel.

Hand-delivered simcha invitations. A uniquely-Israeli custom.

Taking the light rail from the bus station to the shuk, shopping at the shuk, taking the light rail back to the bus station and onto a bus home for the same NIS 6.60 fare (about $1.75)

The colors, sounds and smells of shopping at the shuk, an experience that never, never, never gets old.
My husband faithfully mops the floors every Friday afternoon for Shabbat.

The way Israelis encourage one another during tough times.


The view into Jerusalem from our mirpeset.

I only need open my eyes and look up. There is always, always, always something to be thankful for.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Guest Post: The Courage to Tell the Truth

Rabbi Nachman Kahana has long been one of my rabbinic heroes. In his parsha commentary this week, he responded to a certain rav's comments last week about the seriousness of the Iranian threat.

What I always appreciate about Rabbi Kahana is how unhesitatingly clear he is about his perspective. In this dvar Torah, he critiques the comments made last week in Boro Park.

GUEST POST by Rabbi Nachman Kahana

BS”D Parashat Terumah Rosh Chodesh Adar 5772

We find in our holy sources a much quoted principle:
יש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת
One may acquire his place in the next world through one dramatic act (of kiddush HaShem, sanctification of the Holy Name).
And its reverse:
ויש מאבד את עולמו בשעה אחת
One can lose his place in the next world through one dramatic act (of chillul HaShem,desecration of the Holy Name).

The following is an incident in the life of one man who had in his hands the opportunity to acquire a huge portion in the world to come with one single act, but faltered at the last leap of faith.

I was informed by e-mail of a prominent rav in the galut of America who called his congregation to a “non-scheduled” mid-week meeting to discuss the silence of American orthodox Jews in the face of a potential war with Iran.

I was told that the rabbi is a good man, frum and dedicated to his calling. But after reading his message, I believe that he and many other religious leaders there have, unfortunately, “missed the boat”.

The indentations the rabbi’s words, the wider lines are my comments.

The good rabbi said:

"Why are we quiet? Where is the awakening? Why is everyone so apathetic?... Everyone is busy with narishkeiten, we don't hear the alarm? We don't know that we have to pierce the heavens for rachamim from the Ribbono Shel Olam?"

"Everyone knows that there is currently a growing danger from Iran - and it is a great error for whoever does not know this. "Why should a Yid not know what is happening to [other] Yidden? Everyone must know what is happening in regard to other Yidden. Everyone must know what is happening in Eretz Yisrael."

Indeed, we must pray to HaShem. But can any thinking, learned Jew take seriously the idea that the tefilos coming out of 13th Avenue in Boro Park, or President Street in Crown Heights or even Forest Ave. in Lakewood N.J. have an iota of influence in the Shamayim on the fate of the holy Jews in Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisrael?

The person who sent me the speech added that the rabbi, “began talking this past Shabbos about the dangers from the Iran crisis, when he stopped and said that it was not a subject to discuss on Shabbos. He said he would continue the topic during the week.”

That postponement certainly contributed to emphasizing before the congregation the “clear and present danger” to Am Yisrael.

The letter writer continued, “The last time he (the rabbi) called for a special asifah (gathering) during the week to discuss current events was in 1991, prior to the Gulf War. Rav... started his address, which was carried live by Kol Halashon, with the famous Rambam, who writes that it is a mitzvah to daven during troubled times. "If you don't daven," the Rambam says, "then it is a cruelty, since it will get worse."

I am happy to learn that from 1991 until the present there was peace and serenity in the Holy Land, with no major issues, in the rabbi’s view, to bring before the community consciousness.

"The leader in Iran says clearly - he repeated it this week - that he wants to kill, Rachmana litzlan, every Yid in the world, just like Haman... If he will be successful, chas v'shalom, in getting the nuclear bomb - and experts say he will have it by the summer - it will be a great danger for Klal Yisrael."

"A good part of the world's Jews live in Israel, and the government there says that they will attack Iran first, before they could get the nuclear bomb. If that happens, everyone knows that that will cause a world war." The rabbi quoted Harav Yosef Rosenblum, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Shaarei Yosher who said, “... that during this eis tzarah, Hashem is judging us on every klal and on every prat (every principle and every detail)”.

The rabbi continues:

"We don't have to be in a panic... Hashem will perform miracles for us. But efsher takeh. Maybe the time for the Geulah (redemption) has arrived. We must prepare for the Geulah. Hashem has performed great miracles for the Yidden. Eretz Yisrael, which today hosts most of the world's Yidden and most of the Torah world, merited supernatural siyatta diShmaya during its wars. When the Palestinians shoot missiles from Gaza, they land mostly in empty areas and cause little damage. When then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein shot 39 Scud missiles during the Gulf War, only one Yid was killed - that man had previously received a klalah (curse) from the Chazon Ish.”

I can’t verify that the man who was killed was cursed by the Chazon Ish; I believe that he was born after the Chazon Ish passed away. But the rabbi is correct that it was a time of great miracles for the holy Jews in Eretz Yisrael. I know.  I, my wife, children and grandchildren lived through it, as we have done with all the wars here in the past 50 years.

The rabbi continues:

"This a hashgachah niflaah that is reserved only for Yidden who learn Torah, who keep the mitzvos and who will ultimately do teshuvah,"

Correct. HaShem blessed the Yidden who “learn Torah, who keep the mitzvos," etc., so much so, that the nearest missile to the yeshivos in the USA was 10,000 kilometers away.   

The rabbi said,

 "Hashem wants to do nissim for us. Israel is surrounded by 300 million Arabs and WE are still there; that means Hashem wants to do yeshuos. We must prepare for yeshuos."
“Israel is surrounded by 300 million Arabs and WE are still there”.

Interesting that the rabbi is capable of being in two places at one time.

But just like Eliyahu had to daven on Har Hacarmel even though Hashem had already promised to bring rain, Hashem still wants the tefillos of Klal Yisrael today, even though He had promised to bring yeshuos. In order to qualify for these miracles, the Rav... said,

“We must strengthen in Torah, tefillah and chessed. He specifically suggested saying Tehillim 46 every day, adding that he is asking his own kehillah to have the kapitel printed out and stuck to the back of every siddur. During the Suez campaign in 1956, the Belzer Rebbe asked that people say that particular kapitel, since it is a segulah to prevent warfare. “

I wonder. In the year leading up to the military miracle of the Megila, when the Jews had to defend themselves on the 13th and 14th of Adar, did they just say Tehillim 46 or did they also train for warfare?

"Everyone has to be mispallel (pray) that Klal Yisrael should be saved from chevlei Moshiach, that he and his family should be saved".

Here lies the great divide. I also pray for my family. But my family includes not only our son who is a senior officer in Tzahal and our grandchildren who are soldiers. It also includes Shimon, the son of a good friend who is in a tank battalion, and Yankele, the grandson of another friend who pilots an F-15I, and all the other holy soldiers defending our Jewish homeland in the air, on the land, on the sea and below.

The rabbi continued,

“Yidden should keep in mind that we live in momentous times, and we should prepare for the upcoming era with emunah and bitachon. In the next couple of weeks there will be news," Rav... said, "and with the help of Hashem, it will be good news for Yidden”.

In these tumultuous times of danger to world Jewry, can any erudite and sincere Torah person believe that HaShem will bring about huge miracles in order to permit the Jewish communities in the galos to continue in their ignorant bliss? The miracles will be directed to bringing the confused people of the galos back to Eretz Yisrael.

As the prophet Yecheskel states (36:22-24):
לכן אמר לבית ישראל כה אמר ה' ה' לא למענכם אני עשה בית ישראל כי אם לשם קדשי אשר חללתם בגוים אשר באתם שם:
וקדשתי את שמי הגדול המחלל בגוים אשר חללתם בתוכם וידעו הגוים כי אני ה' נאם ה' ה' בהקדשי בכם לעיניהם:
ולקחתי אתכם מן הגוים וקבצתי אתכם מכל הארצות והבאתי אתכם אל אדמתכם:
“Therefore say to the House of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.
I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I sanctify through you before their eyes.
For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.

Now, had the rabbi concluded his address by stating, “Our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael are facing enormous dangers on the scale of a modern day Purim. Therefore, dear students and congregants, I and my family are leaving this week to join the Yidden in Eretz Yisrael. As Moshe Rabbeinu when he said to the tribes of Reuven and Gad (Bamidbar 32:6)
... האחיכם יבאו למלחמה ואתם תשבו פה:
Will your brothers come out to war while you remain here?”

Had the good rabbi taken that leap of faith, he and his family would have been among the heroes of our people whom our rabbis qualified as:
יש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת
One may acquire his place in the next world through one dramatic act (of kiddush HaShem, sanctification of the Holy Name).

משנכנס אדר מרבים בזשמחה
With the advent of the month of Adar we increase the joy in our lives
May we merit to see the destruction of our enemies, who are also the enemies of people of good will the world over.

And just as the miracles at the time of Mordechai and Esther paved the way for the Second Bet Hamikdash, so too may the present events in our lives result in the building of the Bet Hamikdash on the Temple Mount, the restoration of the Davidic Monarchy, the reconvention of the Sanhedrin, the return of all Jews to Eretz Yisrael and the possession of all Eretz Yisrael according to the Biblical boundaries.

Shabbat Shalom ve’Chodesh Tov ve’Samaiach
Nachman Kahana


Sunday, February 19, 2012

On The Cusp of Geula

After Shabbat, my husband wanted to go to Kever Rachel to pray for success on an upcoming business venture. It still leaves me breathless that we can hop into the car and, in less time than it takes me to commute to work, we can pull into the free parking lot and step into the recent, lavishly renovated building that surrounds Kever Rachel.

By comparison, getting to the Kotel is much more complicated. Parking in the Old City can be very difficult. The distant walk from the parking to the Kotel plaza in cold and rainy weather can be uncomfortable. For all these reasons, praying indoors at Kever Rachel seemed much more appealing.




This is the classic image of Kever Rachel, located on the outskirts of Beit Lechem, the Arab controlled city that non-Jews call Bethlehem just outside of Jerusalem. Kever Rachel doesn't look anything like this today.

We have visited Kever Rachel several times over the years. Each time, the entrance is somewhat reconfigured.

Today, the entrance is fortified by huge concrete walls. To enter the area of the kever from the main road, one must drive down a long, womb-like path with high walls on either side. It feels like entering a prison or a well-guarded military base. This is the sad downside to visiting Mama Rachel. Nevertheless, I am able to imagine the joy we will feel when the day comes that God will save us from our enemies and we will be free to tear down these walls.

For now, it's a reality of life in Israel, just like being stopped outside the mall while the police check on a report of a hefetz chashood - an abandoned package that may contain a bomb. This actually happened to us after we left Kever Rachel and went to make a few purchases at Office Depot. From the highly spiritual to the mundane...

Sitting in the kever, I spoke to no one except God, reciting the eight chapters of Tehillim that I say every day. I requested blessings for those I love. And then I began to speak to God about geula.

For years, I've been moderating a yahoo group called Geula Watch which posts articles that relate to the themes of redemption, Moshiach and kibbutz galuyot. I am a kli - a welcoming receptacle for every tiny hint, every bit of news and every Torah source that points to the possibility that we may be on the cusp of Redemption. I have felt something shifting for the past three or four years and the feeling has only increased in recent weeks and months.

Everything today seems to hinge on Iran (Persia/Paras), the location of the Purim redemption that occurred 2400 years ago. The exquisite irony of the Jewish calendar rapidly approaching Purim does not escape notice.

So there I am, among prayerful Jewish women who came out on a cold, windy, rainy Saturday night to pray at the tomb of Mother Rachel, considering that maybe, maybe this really is IT and asking God to help me grapple with what this might mean on a practical level.

How should I prepare my kids?

What will happen to the people I love who don't yet live in Israel?

Will we have to go to work anymore?

Should we keep making future plans?

Will this be the last Pesach in Jewish history?

What will life feel like when the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, is vanquished?

Will we spend all our time learning Torah?

Will Moshiach communicate with us through email (moshiach@moshiach.org) and Facebook?

Will all the sick and injured be healed?

Will I see my father and my grandparents again?

How should I set things straight in our economic life?

Will the bill I pay in tashlumim (monthly payments) be cancelled?

Will I even have to worry about money anymore?

Am I, and all Jews alive today, really and truly the reincarnated souls of those who were alive at the time of the Exodus from Egypt?

What will happen to all our enemies?

Is the world going to change so much in the the next six months that life as we know it will eventually become a distant memory?

What will we have to lose before we reach the stage of eternal peace?

If you stop for just a moment to ponder it, the implications of actually being on the cusp of geula boggle the mind.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Time To Say Tehillim Chapter 46

I saw this article a few times yesterday, on different blogs and in several emails forwarded to me. I have to admit, I'm not familiar with HaRav Moshe Wolfson, but his affiliation with Torah Vodaas means that he is a Torah leader that many people take very, very seriously. It isn't that he's saying anything that others haven't been saying for weeks, months and years before. But he is a new voice in the geula conversation, representing a different segment of world Jewry being awakened. I wish he would have said something about the urgency of making aliyah, but even without that, it's refreshing to hear this message come from the yeshiva world.

'WHY ARE WE SILENT?' HARAV MOSHE WOLFSON ASKS

 By Yochonon Donn 

BROOKLYN - Harav Moshe Wolfson, shlita, spoke Tuesday night in a rare mid-week assembly for his kehillah, Emunas Yisroel in Boro Park, asking bluntly why there is no greater uproar within the community over the potential for war over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"Why are we quiet? Where is the awakening? Why is everyone so apathetic?" asked Rav Wolfson, who is also mashgiach of Yeshivah Torah Vodaath. "Everyone is busy with narishkeiten, we don't hear the alarm? We don't know that we have to pierce the heavens for rachamim from the Ribbono Shel Olam?"

Rav Wolfson told the packed beis medrash of nearly 1,000 people that the potential for a war encompassing Iran, Israel, Europe and the United States over the next few weeks is a real one, and Klal Yisrael must prepare itself spiritually.

"Everyone knows that there is currently a growing danger from Iran - and it is a great error for whoever does not know this," Rav Wolfson said. "Why should a Yid not know what is happening to [other] Yidden? Everyone must know what is happening in regard to other Yidden. Everyone must know what is happening in Eretz Yisrael."

Rav Wolfson began talking this past Shabbos about the dangers from the Iran crisis, when he stopped and said that it was not a subject to discuss on Shabbos. He said he would continue the topic during the week. The last time he called for a special asifah during the week to discuss current events was in 1991, prior to the Gulf War.

Rav Wolfson started his address, which was carried live by Kol Halashon, with the famous Rambam, who writes that it is a mitzvah to daven during troubled times. "If you don't daven," the Rambam says, "then it is a cruelty, since it will get worse."

"The leader in Iran says clearly - he repeated it this week - that he wants to kill, Rachmana litzlan, every Yid in the world, just like Haman," Rav Wolfson said. "If he will be successful, chas v'shalom, in getting the nuclear bomb - and experts says he will have it by the summer - it will be a great danger for Klal Yisrael."

"A good part of the world's Jews live in Israel, and the government there says that they will attack Iran first, before they could get the nuclear bomb. If that happens, everyone knows that that will cause a world war."
Rav Wolfson said that he heard that Harav Yosef Rosenblum, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Shaarei Yosher, spoke recently about the crisis with Iran - he said that during this eis tzarah, "Hashem is judging us on every klal and on every prat."

Rav Wolfson quoted the Pesikta, who says that the year when Moshiach will come all nations will battle each other. The spark that will set it off, according to the Medrash, will be when the king of Paras - which is modern-day Iran - will threaten "Arabia," presumably Saudi Arabia, such as is happening today.
Arabia will go for an alliance with Edom - the culture of Edom is today's Western world, Europe and United States. Paras will then destroy the world and the Yidden will be thrown into turmoil. Hashem will then say: "Do not fear, the time for your Geulah has come."

Rav Wolfson noted how eerily similar this Medrash is to what is occurring today.

"We don't have to be in a panic," Rav Wolfson said, "Hashem will perform miracles for us. But efsher takeh. Maybe the time for the Geulah has arrived. We must prepare for the Geulah."

Rav Wolfson said that since the Holocaust, Hashem has performed great miracles for the Yidden. Eretz Yisrael, which today hosts most of the world's Yidden and most of the Torah world, merited supernatural siyatta diShmaya during its wars. When the Palestinians shoot missiles from Gaza, they land mostly in empty areas and cause little damage.

When then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein shot 39 Scud missiles during the Gulf War, only one Yid was killed - that man had previously received a klalah from the Chazon Ish.

"This a hashgachah niflaah that is reserved only for Yidden who learn Torah, who keep the mitzvos and who will ultimately do teshuvah," Rav Wolfson said. "Hashem wants to do nissim for us. Israel is surrounded by 300 million Arabs and we are still there; that means Hashem wants to do yeshuos. We must prepare for yeshuos."

But just like Eliyahu had to daven on Har Hacarmel even though Hashem had already promised to bring rain, Hashem still wants the tefillos of Klal Yisrael today, even though He had promised to bring yeshuos.
In order to qualify for these miracles, Rav Wolfson said, we must strengthen in Torah, tefillah and chessed.

He specifically suggested saying Tehillim 46 every day, adding that he is asking his own kehillah to have the kapitel printed out and stuck to the back of every siddur. During the Suez campaign in 1956, the Belzer Rebbe asked that people say that particular kapitel, since it is a segulah to prevent warfare.

"Everyone has to be mispallel that Klal Yisrael should be saved from chevlei Moshiach, that he and his family should be saved," he said.

Rav Wolfson also spoke about kevias ittim for Torah, not interrupting even "if the cell phone rings."
"I heard from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt"l, that when a Yid sits down to learn it should be like Shabbos," Rav Wolfson said. "That is the only time that one is pattur from work."

"In a beis medrash it is Shabbos. ... If someone interrupts his learning and he picks up the phone, he brings the marketplace, he brings the office into Shabbos. He is mechallel the Shabbos."

But above all, Rav Wolfson said, Yidden should keep in mind that we live in momentous times, and we should prepare for the upcoming era with emunah and bitachon.

"In the next couple of weeks there will be news," Rav Wolfson said, "and with the help of Hashem, it will be good news for Yidden."
 

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The First Flowering of our Redemption?



Just before Chanukah, I met Devorah Fastag who wrote a brilliant, original sefer that influenced my thinking about the status of women in Judaism very deeply. I met her in December at a Torah lecture that she gave and, because I was so impacted by her book The Moon's Lost Light, I took the opportunity to ask her if she had written anything else.

She told me about a lengthy essay she had written about the establishment of the State of Israel and its relationship to messianic times. It was difficult reading, she warned me, not a sugar-coated, romantic picture. What she wrote was ill-suited for a feel-good Yom HaAtzmaut program. I was warned that it would be emotionally hard to read and might create cognitive dissonance for me as a religious Zionist.

There are three themes in Torah that are endlessly fascinating to me: Jewish women, Eretz Yisrael and geula. Like her book about women in Judaism, this essay wove together several of my most personally compelling Torah topics. I would not be deterred.

Concerned that it might lessen my simchat Chanukah, she sent me the essay in two parts - one before Chanukah and one after.

I swallowed Part I in one huge gulp and was anxious to read the rest. After I read the essay as a whole (it's 76 pages - the length of a small book), I knew that this Torah needed to be read by other people as well.

The manuscript needed a bit of editorial attention and it needed a home on the internet where people could access it. Through the kindness of Jewish-e-books, which also sells The Moon's Lost Light, Mrs. Fastag's essay, "Whatever Happened to the Aschalta Degeula?: The hidden reasons behind the events of the pre-messianic period" is now available for free in three different formats. 

If you don't have an ereader like a kindle or a nook, you can read it on your computer by downloading the PDF version.

Here's the official promo:

Why does the State of Israel resemble the "beginning of the redemption" physically, yet not spiritually? This booklet delves into the hidden reasons behind the events of ikvesa demeshicha--the pre-messianic period--to unravel the mystery of the State of Israel.

Free download is available from Jewish-e-books.com.

The essay doesn't cost money, but it does require an investment of time and thought. It's a powerful essay that just might change the way you understand what was going on spiritually at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel.


Monday, February 06, 2012

What's Our Job If We Can't Make Aliyah Yet?

Rabbi Lazer Brody explains that if you really, really can't make aliyah right now (e.g., because you are caring for elderly parents, have joint custody of children or are in debt, etc.), there is still important spiritual work you can be doing to help facilitate your eventual aliyah.

This clip starts with a 1-minute commercial and Rabbi Brody begins to discuss this topic at about 8:35.  The whole clip is about 12 minutes long.


Guest Post: The Not-So-Famous Famous Four-Fifths

by Rabbi Pinchas Winston



And the Children of Israel were armed — chamushin — when they went up from Egypt. (Shemos 13:18)
Chamushim [can be understood to be derived from chamishah — five — alluding to the fact that only] one out of five left [Egypt], and [the other] four-fifths died [in Egypt] during the three days of darkness. (Rashi)
IMAGINE DISCUSSING HOW THE JEWISH PEOPLE emigrated from Europe to America during the Twentieth Century and omitting all discussion about the Holocaust. Not only would it be inaccurate to do so, but it would be considered a terrible travesty and affront to the 6,000,000 Jews who perished mercilessly at the hands of their Nazi murderers, as well as to their surviving families and the Jewish nation in general. 

Losing fifty percent of a people, especially as a result of genocide, and in the course of only three years, is just too major a historical event to be ignored, at least by the people to whom it occurred. Though it can be expected that anti-Semites will deny the Holocaust, it would be dangerous for mankind as a whole to do so, and especially the Jewish people. 

Yet, four-fifths of the Jewish people died in the ninth plague of darkness in Egypt, about 12,000,000 Jews (3,000,000 survived and left Egypt), and there is no mention at all of this unmitigated catastrophe anywhere in the Torah. Consequently, the Jewish people do not pay much attention to this fact, even celebrating the redemption from Egypt each year on Pesach as if everything went according to plan. It’s as if, from the Torah’s perspective, the four-fifths never existed at all!

Even had they been evil people, one would assume that there is something to learn from their quick and dramatic demise. However, they hadn’t been murderers, or even thieves, and like the one-fifth that did survive, they probably hadn’t changed their names, their clothing, or their language. They merely hadn’t wanted to leave Egypt with Moshe Rabbeinu, and for that they were not only removed from the world, they were removed from history!

Even more amazing is the fact that the one-fifth did not feel much differently than the four-fifths, as they later revealed:
The Children of Israel cried to God. They said to Moshe, “Because there are no graves in Egypt you took us out to die in the desert? What did you accomplish by taking us out of Egypt? Didn’t we tell you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone so we can serve Egypt?’ It was better for us to serve Egypt than to die in the desert!” (Shemos 14:10-12)
    In fact, in the end, they rejected Eretz Yisroel during the incident with the Spies and died off in the desert, as their brothers had in Egypt.

Furthermore, if their lives and deaths are not important, then why mention them at all in the Midrash? If they are meant to be ignored, ignore them completely. And, if we’re meant to know about them, then at least tell us who they were, so that we can learn something from their mistake as we do from the sin of the Spies, especially since the Talmud ominously warns:
Just as the coming to the land was with two of the 60 myriads, so too was the leaving of Egypt with two of the 60 myriads. Rava said, “It will be likewise in Yemos HaMoshiach ...” (Sanhedrin 111a)
Equally astounding is the way that the four-fifths do not seem to show up in history again. Even people like the evil Bilaam, and many others like him, reincarnate through history, as is mentioned in works such as Sha’ar HaGilgulim. However, the 12,000,000 souls that were removed from the Jewish people back in Egypt do not seem to return in any generation; their gilgulim are not mentioned anywhere.

At least they have not returned in any recognizable way. Yet curiously, throughout Jewish history, there has often been a large contingent of Jews lost at the end of most exiles, or at least that stand apart from the rest of the Jewish people. Apparently, it will happen again at the end of this exile as well:
For thus said God: Sing, O Ya’akov, with gladness, exult on the peaks of the nations; announce, laud [God], and say, “O God, save Your people, the remnant of Yisroel!” Behold, I will bring them from the land of the North and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, the pregnant and birthing together; a great congregation will return here. With weeping they will come and through supplications I will bring them; I will guide them on streams of water, on a direct path in which they will not stumble; for I have been a father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn. (Yirmiyahu 31:6-8)

At the end of their exile, the oppression will be removed from them, and they will be joyous because they will be on the peak of the nations. The gentiles will give them honor and they will be their heads, instead of being disgraced and lowered amongst them as they were at first. Ya’akov will be the masses of the people, and the lesser amongst them; Yisroel are the great ones. The joyousness from being at the peak of the nations will be Ya’akov’s only, and not Yisroel’s, because they will want to return His Presence to Tzion. However, at that time they will announce and publicly proclaim, and praise God when they say, “O God, save Your [righteous] people, the remnant of Yisroel,” because they will want the true salvation of the ingathering of the exile and return to Tzion. Then God will return them: “Behold, I will bring them …” (Malbim)
It is more than fascinating that an ideological split will occur in the Jewish people at the End-of-Days, and that at issue will be whether to remain in foreign lands or to return to Eretz Yisroel. Even more interesting is the fact that it will be the vast majority of Jews at that time who will choose the Diaspora, and only a minority that will still long for the true national goal of the Jewish people: Tzion. 

This is the question: Is this a new split, or an old one going back all the way to Egypt, and the four-fifths who lost the right to leave Egypt, and to be a part of God’s Torah? The following might be a clue to the answer:

Now you can understand the meaning of, “Behold, you shall die with your fathers, and this people will rise up” (Devarim 31:16), which is considered to be one of the verses that has no apparent explanation (Yoma 56a). However, it can be explained with the words “rise up” referring to that which comes before and after them, and both explanations are true. For, in the future Moshe himself will reincarnate and return in the final generation, as it says, “you will die with your fathers and rise up.” However, in the final generation, the Dor HaMidbar will also reincarnate with the Erev Rav, and this is what the verse also says, “this people will rise up.” (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 20)
According to the Arizal, the souls of the Jewish people, at the end of history, are those of the Jewish people from the beginning of history. What might the purpose of this be, if not to give these souls a chance to make amends for what was left unrectified in their own time? If so, might those souls include, not only the one-fifth that left Egypt but rejected Eretz Yisroel, but also the souls of the four-fifths that remained in Egypt because they rejected redemption altogether, to give them a second shot at being part of the Final Redemption?

This would make sense for a variety of reasons, the most compelling one being that the Final Redemption is really the completion of the first one. After all, one of the names given to the end of the final exile is Keitz HaYomim—the End-of-Days, which actually means, “end of those days.” Those days? Which days?

We already know that the Jewish people left Egypt 190 years earlier than foretold to Avraham Avinu, as mentioned earlier. The assumption might have been that, even though we left Egypt early, the Egyptian exile came to an end once the Jewish people left and Egypt was destroyed. However, given that the gematria of the word keitz is 190 (Ben Ish Chai), it seems that the 190 years had not merely been cancelled, but rather, divided up over the course of the rest of history until the arrival of Moshiach. 

After all, the Haggadah says:

Every Jew is obligated to see himself as if he too left Egypt. (Haggadah Shel Pesach)
It is true: Every Jew continues to leave Egypt in every generation. Apparently, Yetzias Mitzrayim is a work in progress, which is why, perhaps, it is not mentioned together with the Babylonian, Median, Greek, and Roman exiles, all of which had fixed periods of duration.

If so, then perhaps this is why the period of Techiyas HaMeisim at the end of history, according to Rebi Yehudah, will be 210 years long, preceded by a 40 year period during which the Jewish exiles are ingathered from around the world. This would mirror the 40 year period of time the Jewish people spent in the desert before entering Eretz Yisroel, after spending 210 years in Egypt, a very obvious correlation in light of the above.

However, the most compelling reason of all is mentioned in the Talmud itself, which says:
It was taught in a brisa: Rebi Simai said, “It says, ‘I will take you to Me as a people’ (Shemos 6:7), and it says, ‘And I will bring you to the land’ (Ibid. 8). Just as the coming to the land [of Israel] was with two of the 60 myriads, so too was the leaving of Egypt with two of the 60 myriads.” Rava said, “It will be likewise in Yemos HaMoshiach, as it says, ‘She will dwell there as in the days of her youth, and as on the day of her ascent from Egypt’ (Hoshea 2:17).” (Sanhedrin 111a)
Hence, according to the Talmud, the leaving of the final exile is a replay of sorts of the leaving of the first exile from Egypt, and the Arizal concurs:
Thus, the Generation of the Desert along with the Erev Rav reincarnate in the final generation, “like in the days of leaving Egypt” (Michah 7:15). (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 20)
This is certainly not to be taken for granted, particularly by Jews in the Diaspora who not only lack a desire to live in Eretz Yisroel, they completely reject the idea of it. This is also true for Jews who live in Eretz Yisroel, but either long to live in Chutz L’Aretz, or who have a difficult time to leaving it behind, even after having made aliyah

For, there are people who understand and appreciate the importance of Eretz Yisroel with respect to geulah and personal completion, but have fears regarding living there at this time. They admit the problem is theirs, and not to do with Eretz Yisroel, and that they have to work on their trust in God to overcome their personal obstacles to making aliyah. God understands such people and will work with them to help them grow in the right direction.

However, there are also Jews whose hearts are not in Eretz Yisroel, but firmly planted in the Diaspora. Like the four-fifths who were lost in the Plague of Darkness, or the one-fifth that died off in the desert as a result of the incident of the Spies, they don’t understand that bring frum, even Charedi, does not free them from the need to yearn for redemption, including yearning for life in Eretz Yisroel

Hence, before a person rationalizes their lack of desire to live in Eretz Yisroel, especially at this time, when it is more readily attainable than every before, he has to ask himself, “What is the basis of this lack of interest? Is it really based upon what God wants, or is it the result of a soul that can be traced back to Egypt, and the four-fifths that never lived to see the light of redemption?” 

The person who fails to ask himself this question may well lose the only second chance such people will get to rectify an ancient sin. If this opportunity for rectification is lost, they may also lose their chance to be part of the Final Redemption. Who knows: Perhaps all those people who are destined to live in Eretz Yisroel are here already, and those who remain firmly planted in Chutz L’Aretz, with little or no desire for redemption, just aren’t destined to make aliyahever

It’s a scary thought, for some, and it has motivated them to at least get the process of making aliyah in motion, even just a little bit. If the past has proven anything at all, it is that Jewish history is far more complicated and complex than people make it out to be. To oversimplify it is to miss its life-saving lessons and the opportunity to be a maker of history, instead of just a pawn in it.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Is Aliyah Still A Personal Choice?






Here's something interesting to note.  When you do a Google image search for "Holocaust", every single picture is black and white.  Why in the world am I, just two hours before Shabbat candelighting, online doing a search for Holocaust images?

A trail of circumstances led me to the book Perfidy. It's a book I held in my personal library for 20 years and never actually read. It was one of the casualties of the move to Israel. So when I finally wanted to read it, I had to borrow a copy from a neighbor.

Perfidy tells the controversial story of a trial that rocked Israel in the 1950s, when an ordinary Hungarian survivor accused Rudolf Kastner, an important member of the ruling party in the infant Israeli government, of collaborating with the Nazis when he should have been busy saving Hungarian Jews. I realize that it might sound dry and historical, but it's a fascinating read, especially because, understood in its larger context, it has spiritual implications for the times in which we are living.

I finished Perfidy and quickly stumbled up a novel, The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. I knew the novel was of Jewish interest, but I didn't realize the main characters were Hungarian Jews in the 1930s. The reader gets to know them well before the war begins and, as the incredibly skillful novel continues, the war marches on. The reader knows where it all ends, but the characters don't, so history unfolds from the perspective of those living through it.

My in-laws are Hungarian survivors.  Over the years, I have heard snippets of their stories. I especially hear my mother-in-law spitting the words "Arrow Cross", officially a Hungarian political party, but in practice, bloodthirsty Hungarian Nazis. Everyone in my husband's immediate family speaks Hungarian. I knew Hungary didn't enter the war until 1944, which was relatively late. And yet, 70% of Hungary's Jewish population were murdered, a total of 450,000 Hungarian Jews. So these books have personal resonance.

Layered above all this is an additional fact. At the crack of dawn Sunday morning, my daughter leaves for Poland on a school trip.

All the while these things are rolling around in my head, I am baking challah for Shabbat in my apartment which overlooks the hills surrounding Jerusalem.

My rabbis are all writing and teaching about the mother lode of anti-Semitism that's headed for Jews outside of Israel like an on-coming train. Their warnings become more strident each week. Once the Shechina leaves the galut, there is no more protection for the Jews who remain. World economies are wobbling. The possibility of a nuclear Iran is real.

I'm not the least bit worried for myself and for the Jews who are already living here, or for the ones whose eyes are open and who on their way here. I'm not anticipating another Shoah, Gd-forbid. But the next chapter of Jewish history is being written, and I don't believe it will treat the Jews outside of Israel well.

I am often accused of being judgmental, of acting as if the choice I made to leave the good life in America and come to Israel is the only respectable choice a serious Jew can make, of imposing my perspective on others.

But, with the memory of the Holocaust worming its way through my brain and the the Torah that ascends from Tzion through the teachings of my rabbis burning in my soul, I worry for the Jews who are not yet with us here in Israel. Again and again, history has proven that things can quickly sour for Jews who have lived in a particular place in peace and prosperity for generations.

I know there are serious, committed Jews who still think aliyah is a matter of personal choice. I know there are serious, committed Jews who assume that the US economy will right itself, that things will go back to the way they were, right after the next presidential election, right after Israel strikes Iran, right after the Mets win the World Series. I know there are serious, committed Jews who are, even now, investing in homes and synagogues and building playgrounds for their kids in Baltimore, Brooklyn and Boston.

And that reality breaks my heart.