emunah, tefillah, a little mussar, and a shmeck of geula

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sinas Chinam 201

In EmunahSpeak: Sinas Chinam 101 Rabbi Mordechai Willig explained, in the name of the Netziv, that the sinas chinam that our rabbis have tagged as the prime reason for the destruction of the Bayis Sheni was not limited to those who (were imagined to have)"wronged" a person. Rather, it extended to those who served Hashem differently. If one would see a halachic leniency, he would brand it heresy, and distance himself from that person. He would then mistakenly justify attacking that person, even to the point of murder.

Rabbi Willig went on to bring it a little closer to home by adding that The Netziv lamented that such internal hatred within the observant community existed in his time (the late nineteenth century) as well. Hating someone who "wronged" us is necessarily limited. With how many people can we fight over money or honor? But if we hate those who differ with us on matters of halacha or hashkafa, the sinas chinam is unlimited. Unfortunately, Orthodox individuals and communities with different halachic practices and/or ideologies are still guilty of this type of sinas chinam, which is preventing the ge'ula.

That was the good news.

The bad news is that Netziv lived over a hundred years ago and we have been in a free fall ever since.

If recent events in Eretz Yisroel are any indication we may have reached bottom, which in turn brings a ray of light in its train because it is difficult to fathom how it could get much worse.

This is how Jonathan Rosenblum described the action in a recent column:

I watched footage of police rescuing a chareidi man who made the mistake of wandering in his IDF uniform into Meah Shearim on the way to visit relatives. He had to barricade himself in a building after being surrounded by an angry mob, and required a phalanx of policemen to get him out.

The phenomenon of chareidi soldiers in uniform, or even out of uniform, being verbally accosted and made to feel otherwise unwanted has spread far beyond Meah Shearim. Wallposters against "chardakim" (chareidim da'at kal) can be seen in chareidi neighborhoods around the country, with religious soldiers in uniform portrayed as missionaries. These attacks by chareidim on one another recall nothing so much as the bitter internecine fighting in Jerusalem that preceded the destruction of the Second Temple.

And in case you’re wondering, you read it right the first time.  Jonathan Rosenblum is not given to hyperbole.

This term, chardakim, is a cute little addition to the balkanization of what used to be known as Am Echad.  We now have Dati Leumi, Chareidim, Chardal, Chardakim, and Chilonim amongst other designations. 

In light of both the Netziv’s lament and Jonathan Rosenblum’s recent observations we need to add at least one more category, and to fill that slot I would like to put forth Chareilonim .

For generations we have made Shabbos observance the threshold by which we bestow the designation of Orthodox upon a Jew.

That’s not good enough anymore. 

Too many people for all too many years have been slouching under the radar with that seal of approval.  Shabbos was meant to be a minimum threshold, but all too often as of late it is representative of a maxed out Yiddishkeit head to toe in black and white.

The litmus test for religiosity should be defined in terms of how one conducts oneself in relation to the halacha as opposed to how one dresses, and the halacha takes in a lot more territory than Shemiras Shabbos.

Query:  What business do we have with Jews who have shamelessly dislodged the laws of Loshon Hora and Richilus from their moorings in the Torah as if they didn’t exist and who treat chilul Hashem as if it were a mitzvah assay (positive commandment)?  And what business do we have with those who conduct themselves as mafia thugs by raising a hand to a fellow Jew?

Enough already.  This is not what we’re supposed to be about.

So who are the Chareilonim anyway?

Just like the Chareidim that they appear to be, the Chareilonim  tend to be strict in their Torah observance, but all too often the Torah that these Chareilonim observe is not Moshe’s, but their own.

It’s time to cut ‘em loose.

We have to walk away from this halachic and hashkafic car wreck and close the door behind us.

In EmunahSpeak: Ahavas Chinam 101 we said that: 

it’s not enough simply not to hate those amongst us who vilify the State of Israel or who believe that the establishment of Medinat-Yisrael is the atchalta-degeula.  

We also have to love them.  

And who said it was going to be easy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

It’s Emunah!

We have it on good authority from the Navi, Habakkuk, that the righteous man lives through his emunah.

And we’re not talking here about being on automatic pilot, in the sense that your emunah comes to you as a result of your upbringing, by which you presume to claim that you are a believer who already has the principles of faith tightly nailed down.

Rav Itamar Shwartz explains in Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh that this emunah that we carry from our youth is only intellectual knowledge (two dimensional emunah), and as the Alter of Novaradok tells us, intellectually knowing about something is nothing like experiencing it.

If one glides his hand over two dimensional emunah nothing sticks to it because it has no substance.  In order to establish Hashem as an absolute reality we need to be able to wrap our heart around three dimensional emunah which is the palpable emunah of walking with Hashem.  This is the real essence of emunah.

The righteous man lives by his emunah, and Habakkuk means it quite literally because the only life that has legs, that’s going the distance, that’s in it for the long haul, that’s grounded in bedrock as opposed to the ephemeral banalities of this world, is a life of ruchniyas, and when the Navi says lives he means it in the sense of drawing sustenance.

From this, Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh infers that from the get go you have to instill in your mind that the focal point of life is emunah. 

And therefore?

Rabbi Shwartz lets us know what it means to live as a Jew as seen through the lens of emunah:

Just as you understand that if someone blocks another person’s mouth and nose so that he cannot breath, he will immediately die, chas veshalom, so must you understand that emunah is the very life breath of a Jew.  This is really how a person must live.

This was the way of Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe and all of the tzaddikim, because their work in this world was emunah.

He tells us that our thought process must be as follows: “What do I seek?  What do I want?  What is my purpose right now in this world?  What must I think about during my life?  And most important of all, you must contemplate and know that the essence of life is emunah.

Even if someone awakens you in the middle of the night and asks you, while your mind is still half asleep,

“What is the purpose of life?...”

…your instinctive answer must be, 

“It’s emunah!” 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


As we were waiting for the light to change at the point where the service road to that man made horror, otherwise known as the Van Wyck Expressway, intersects Jamaica Avenue, I noticed a disheveled man holding up a crude cardboard sign that conveyed that he was a Vietnam Vet down on his luck and out of work. 

From the looks of him I would say that he had been down on his luck long enough to have forgotten what luck means.

And did I say it was raining?

We’re talking buckets here, and there he was totally exposed to the elements that appeared to have him between the cross hairs.

So the great tzaddik in the passenger’s seat asked his wife for a dollar which he in turn handed over to the soggy vet thereby almost drowning in the process due to the intrusion of the said elements during the few seconds that the window was open.

But before the great tzaddik could retreat into his controlled and very dry environment the soggy vet said: 

G-d bless you!

And so we proceeded on our way, all the while internally preening over the good deed that we brought to the table of humanity.

The truth is that we messed up big time, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

As we all know, Sara Imainu was criticized by the Torah for laughing when she was told by angels that appeared to be Arabs that she would give birth in the coming year.
What did the Torah want from her anyway?  Here she is, about 72 years or so out of seminary and what appears to be three marauders from the desert get a little carried away from the three bottles of wine that the Torah omitted to tell us were on the menu. 

Rabbi Tuvia Lief relates, in the name of the Ramban, that a Jew should never consider anything impossible.
Amain is huge and Sara should have said it on the spot.
And even if you are blessed by a bum in the street say amain, kain he ratzon.


I heard this particular shiur about five hours after I forked over the dollar to that nebach of a veteran, and in response to my inquiry as to whether either of us answered amain to his brocha the best my wife could do was to shake her head…


I thought about going back to that intersection armed with a twenty dollar bill but it wouldn’t have helped because tests are not for sale. Their timing is not of our choosing nor do we set the terms. The best we can hope to do is to respond affirmatively when the opportunity presents itself. If we do, then mazel tov.  If not, then Hashem should strengthen us for the next round.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sharing the Burden

When I was growing up it was not uncommon to hear the expression, shver zol sein a Yid which, for the uninitiated, means it’s difficult to be a Jew, as if it were some kind of a burden.  A few years ago I heard a much respected rabbi declaim against that proposition stating that it was a shtick apikorsis to even say such a thing.

Those who talk of burdens are am haratzim who haven’t the slightest concept of what it means to be a Jew.  If we replace the word responsibility for burden then maybe there’s what to talk about.

In Parshas Bechukosai we’re given the Torah’s version of a heads up, otherwise known as the Tochacha.  And for those of us who are a little dense or were perhaps talking during Krias HaTorah that week, Hashem tops the first heads up by standing our hair on end in a second Tochacha in Pashas Ki Savo. 

One ignores these admonitions at our collective peril.

In the Tochacha of Bechukosai the Torah says: 2)You shall keep My Sabbaths and fear My Sanctuary. I am the Lord. 3) If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them…

Everything that follows is predicated on these two verses.  If you keep the Torah Hashem will give you big time.  If you don’t, you’ll get whacked…big time!

The Torah continues: 4) I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit. 5) Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your food to satiety,…

In current vernacular it means that if you keep the Torah there won’t be any economic problems.  There won’t be any need for a VAT tax.  There won’t be any water shortages.  No one will even give a thought to how high the Kinneret is because the rain will simply fall from Shomayim as needed.  Everyone will eat to satiety so there will be no need for a welfare budget.

Again the Torah continues: …and you will live in security in your land. 6) And I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten [you]; I will remove wild beasts from the Land, and no army will pass through your land; 7) You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you;  8)Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

With peace in the Land, Peace Now and the rest of the “peace loving” Leftists who incessantly babble about land for peace and the like will be out of work.  And with no prospects of gainful employment in sight it’s doubtful that they will be in a position to share any of the national burdens.

Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Iran, the EU, the UN, the State Department and all of the other would be genocidists that currently endanger the lives of Jews in the Yishuv will be toast. We also see from this that there will be no need for reserve duty in the IDF.  There will also be no need for the IDF and the IAF but maybe a skeleton crew will be kept on for ceremonial functions and such.

And to punctuate all of this good news the Torah goes on to tell us that:  12) I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people.

Now how’s that for a Divine bit of political incorrectness?

As we said above, this is all going to happen if You shall keep My Sabbaths and fear My Sanctuary…..and If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them…

But as we all know, the Torah ends off the Tochacha by relating to us the flip side of being good boys and girls with:

14)…if you do not listen to Me and do not perform all these commandments,
15) and if you despise My statutes and reject My ordinances, not performing any of My commandments, thereby breaking My covenant
16) then I too, will do the same to you; I will order upon you shock…

Anyone reading this knows how the Tochacha ends and it’s not good.

Hashem, in His Torah, has very clearly laid out what our responsibilities are.  We are all individually and collectively responsible for doing His Will.  Those that do so are sharing the collective (or national) responsibility.

But those that don’t share this responsibility or burden as they see it are, at the very best, shirkers while a less benign take on their status would view them as traitors, for by separating themselves from the public good they will, chas v’shalom, bring us all to disaster just as their ideological progenitors did some 2,000 years ago.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Ahavas Chinam 101

We learn from Rav Kook z”l that: 

"If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love — ahavat chinam.

So how can we overcome our hatred anyway?


Rabbi Chanan Morrison tells us that If we can uncover the depth of good in what we perceive as negative, we will be able to see how good will result even from actions and ideas that we oppose. We will then recognize that our reasons for hatred are unfounded, and transform our hatred into love and appreciation.

If only our collective depth of feeling could this moment even tangentially approach Rav Kook’s profound sense of connection with and love for every Jewish soul, tomorrow would be day two of Moshiach’s arrival.

What is ahavas chinam?

Rav Kook lets us hear:

Listen to me, my people! I speak to you from my soul, from within my innermost soul. I call out to you from the living connection by which I am bound to all of you, and by which all of you are bound to me. I feel this more deeply than any other feeling: that only you — all of you, all of your souls, throughout all of your generations — you alone are the meaning of my life. In you I live. In the aggregation of all of you, my life has that content that is called 'life.' Without you, I have nothing. All hopes, all aspirations, all purpose in life, all that I find inside myself — these are only when I am with you. I need to connect with all of your souls. I must love you with a boundless love....

Each one of you, each individual soul from the aggregation of all of you, is a great spark from the torch of infinite light, which enlightens my existence. You give meaning to life and work, to Torah and prayer, to song and hope. It is through the conduit of your being that I sense everything and love everything.

Ahavas chinam is our ticket to Moshiach, but it’s not going to get punched just for the wanting of it.  As we said in EmunahSpeak: A Burning Need:


In its terminal passivity, the wanting of Moshiach in and of itself will do nothing to bring the Geula. If he comes, he comes.  If not, we’ll keep on wanting until he does, whereas the need for Moshiach will inevitably push Klal Yisroel in innumerable directions that will create the conditions to bring the Geula ever so closer, speedily in our days.


And one of those directions will have to be ahavas chinam and your GPS won’t be able to track it.  It’s a very big stretch of rough road which takes us right through the very worst of sinas chinam as we detailed in EmunahSpeak: Sinas Chinam 101 in the name of the Netziv:


Hating someone who "wronged" us is necessarily limited. With how many people can we fight over money or honor? But if we hate those who differ with us on matters of halacha or hashkafa, the sinas chinam is unlimited. Unfortunately, Orthodox individuals and communities with different halachic practices and/or ideologies are still guilty of this type of sinas chinam, which is preventing the ge'ula.


As difficult as it may be for some of us not to fall into the sinas chinam trap, that battle is actually the good news. The bad news is that to reach the level of ahavas chinam that will bring Moshiach to your front door you’ll have to love without condition or restriction all those that lost their balance and fell in.


In other words it’s not enough simply not to hate those amongst us who vilify the State of Israel or who believe that the establishment of Medinat-Yisrael is the atchalta-degeula.


We also have to love them.