The Person Behind The Posts

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Major Paradigm Shift - Addendum

In my last post, I inadvertently left out an important aspect of the process.

There is a back door to avoiding, or at least diminishing, the negative impact of having the sar of the country in chutz l'aretz strengthen its dark side by taking a portion of the kedusha we've generated.

Here's how we can retain the kedusha generated by our mitzvot, even when they are done in chutz l'aretz.

If a mitzvah is completed outside of Israel, but the Jew who does the mitzvah really and truly yearns for geula and also yearns for Eretz Yisrael, the kedusha is able to retain its strength on its journey to Eretz Yisrael, thereby accomplishing something spiritually similar to what it would have accomplished if the mitzvah had actually been done in Israel.

So if you can't, for a halachically-valid reason, live in Israel right now... yearning for it, and longing for the Redemption, are your best spiritual defense.

There now. Isn't that better?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Major Paradigm Shift

Is the decision of whether to live in Jersey or Jerusalem, Baltimore or Beit Shemesh, Monsey or Modi’in one of personal choice? After all, in Teaneck, in Baltimore, in Monsey, all the necessities of Orthodox life can be found in abundance. Here in Baltimore, there are six restaurants where you can get a taste of kosher pizza (seven, if you count pizza bagels). The American cities where religious Jews tend to congregate are rich with resources – day schools, synagogues, mikvaot, chesed organizations, kosher groceries, eruvin, etc. etc.

It’s really a matter of where you feel the most comfortable. Where your family is. Where your parnassa is the most certain and secure. Most of us know, on some level, that Israel is a religious ideal. And maybe someday, we’ll get there. Or maybe our children. Or grandchildren. But we don’t speak the language and fear that we’ll never learn at our age. And it’s so hard to make a living there. And we just built an addition on our house. And our shul is in the process of expanding again. And the government in Israel is so anti-religious. At least in America, the government tolerates, and even protects, religious people.

Rabbi Pinchas Winston was here in Baltimore teaching last Sunday. He gave two sessions, both of which I was privileged to attend.

At the first session, he met with a small group of people, all religious women, and as he spoke, as I realized the significance of what he was saying, my head started to spin.

Here’s what he described, according to my understanding. The simplicity of the language is mine. His was much more scholarly.

Each nation, except Eretz Yisrael, has a sar, a representative angel which has the power to intercede on behalf of its nation. Eretz Yisrael is overseen directly by Gd. Tefillot (prayers) spoken in the Land of Israel go straight up to shamayim (the heavenly realm). Torah study and other mitzvot completed in the Land and the kedusha (holiness) they generate go straight up.

The kedusha of prayer, Torah study and mitzvot done in other lands takes a more circuitous route before it can get to shamayim. It must pass through the sar of other nations, and when it does, each sar, each representative angel, retains a portion.

Which means that every bit of kedusha generated outside of Israel feeds the koach, the strength, of other nations.

So, according to this paradigm, to be a Torah-observant Jew outside of Israel actually works to strengthen the host nation which may use (and often has used) that strength against the Jews in its midst. It also greatly diminishes the spiritual strength of the mitzvot done outside The Land.

If what he's teaching is really so, Jersey or Jerusalem, Baltimore or Beit Shemesh, Monsey or Modi'in is hardly a pareve choice anymore.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Doing Jewish Stuff in Israel

I'm a little behind in my reading of The International Jerusalem Post. So it's an interesting confluence that today, after I just wrote about how jarring it can be to really pay attention to all the ways we adapt our traditional Jewish ways to life in America, I see this article in the November 30-December 6, 2007 issue.

Herb Keinon writes about the exact corollary to my point:

ONE OF the things we take for granted here [in Israel] is that you can do all that Jewish stuff that looks extremely odd to the uninitiated without feeling overly self-conscious.

You can walk out of synagogue on a cloudless Saturday night once a month and pray while glancing at the moon [Kiddush Levana] without people thinking you a lunatic. You can use a cup to alternately pour water three times over each hand before eating bread without people thinking you obsessive-compulsive. And you can walk with tzitzit sticking inadvertently out of your pants without someone believing your undergarments are in disrepair.
Years ago, while a university student in Boulder, Colorado, a few tzitzit strands were sticking out of my pants as I traipsed across the campus. A fellow student, obviously thinking she was doing me a great kindness, stopped and said, "Sucker, yo' underwear be unraveling."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Not a Joke

Motzei Shabbos, we were driving around running errands while I talked to my endlessly patient husband about how, as observant American Jews, we don't even realize how much of our environment we censor out. Think of it: restaurants we can't eat in, clothes we can't buy or wear, holidays we don't celebrate, recipes we can't make, magazines we subscribe to whose content becomes irrelevant to us several times a year, fast food we can’t eat, month-long Christmas music festivals on radio stations we no longer feel comfortable listening to, etc. etc.

We are so used to automatically censoring our environment that we don’t even realize we do it.

Right now, there is a very popular YouTube music video called Chinese Food on Christmas, which bemoans the that fact that, for American Jews, there’s not much to do on Christmas day except eat Chinese food and go to see a movie.

It’s not a joke. We really do live in a Christian country.

Many of us like to see America as a place of liberty for all people. New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind recently called on the US government to grant refugee status to European Jews who are victims of increasing acts of anti-Semitism.

Dov Hikind is an Orthodox Jew who wants America to absorb European Jews running from skyrocketing anti-Semitism in Europe.

Not in 1937.


If it weren't so scary that Hikind, an Orthodox Jew, doesn't see the irony of what he's proposing at this time in Jewish history, I would assume it was a joke.

Sadly, it's not a joke.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Playground Too Few Play In

This past Friday night, we had wonderful Shabbos guests – smart, committed, articulate Jewish friends who appear to welcome engaging in discussions about Israel almost as much as I do. Or at least they have great patience with my obsession.

We were talking about how Gd might view the fact that some of us love Israel, really love Israel, from a distance, but aren’t planning to live there anytime soon. My husband, a master of analogies, responded with this:

Imagine you are a wealthy philanthropist. You endow a beautiful playground in a poor neighborhood in your city. Over time, you notice that, although the people of the neighborhood talk a lot about how much they love and appreciate the playground, virtually no children actually use it.

So you, as the wealthy philanthropist, warn the members of the neighborhood that you are going to have the playground dismantled because it is clearly under appreciated. “Oh please, no! Don’t take away our playground!” they plead. “We love it. It’s a highlight of our neighborhood.”

And what might you, the wealthy philanthropist say to those upon whom you’ve bestowed the gift of a lovely playground?

“If you really appreciate it,” you’d say, “don’t just give it lip service. Don’t just tell me how much you like it. Use it! Bring your children there to play. That’s how I will know that my gift is truly appreciated.”

How can our lip service possibly be enough? How can Gd appreciate Tehillim said in groups of 400 Jews who plan to visit Israel every other year, or even every year, but to live, raise their families, and die in Baltimore?

The secular State of Israel isn’t perfect so we prefer to stay in America where things are easier, all the while crying “Uvenei Yerushalayim ir hakodesh. birnheirah ve’yameinu” – rebuild Jerusalem The Holy City rapidly in our lifetimes!

Maybe we’re in jeopardy of having Jerusalem dismantled and given over to our enemies because Jerusalem is Gd’s playground.

Where too few of us want to play.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Stirring Up Flaming Coals

I know it sounds like I'm ranting sometimes. My new rabbinic hero, Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, says, "I am well aware that he who touches upon this delicate subject [reminding Jews about the centrality of the Land of Israel to Judaism] is as one who stirs up flaming coals - he never goes away without being burned."

At the risk of being burned by flaming coals, I must ask. Doesn't it seem plausible to you that the reason dominion over Jerusalem (and Yehuda and the Shomron) is being threatened is because the majority of the world's Jews don't care enough to even live there?!

Love for the Land of Israel

First published in 1957, nearly a decade after the creation of the modern State of Israel , Ish U’Beiso, officially translated as The Jew and His Home, is the book that made Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov famous. Rabbi Kitov was born in Poland and made aliyah in 1936, at the age of 24.

In the section called "Love for the Land of Israel", he writes:

When a child lives outside the Land of Israel, his parents and teachers must imbue him with a love of the Holy Land and its centrality in the relationship between God, His People and the Torah. If his eyes and heart are always turned to the Holy Land, seeing it as the cradle of his identity, and if his hopes for the future are centered there, it is a positive sign about his education….

A Jewish youngster must realize that he is out of place outside of the Land of Israel and that he is living in exile. He should look forward to the Ultimate Redemption, and naturally desire it, as much as he wants to grow up and be successful in life! …

A child must live this promise [of eventually leaving the exile and returning to the Land of Israel], and always have it fixed in his mind. He must have the feeling that his present existence is far from the ideal, and is lacking reality, as if he were sleeping and waiting to be awakened. This must be one of the first lessons that he learns, and it must be repeated to him, in many ways, every day.

I can forgive his old-fashioned use of the exclusively masculine pronoun to refer to all Jews, because his ideas are so delectable.

There’s more.

Indeed, who would argue the point that every Jewish child should yearn for our Homeland? Every Jew should yearn either for the Land of Israel of today, or for the Land of Israel of tomorrow. But where, in fact, do we find such yearning? People can find a hundred different explanations as to why the Land of Israel is not on their mind. Some of these explanations are truthful, but many Jews are simply fooling themselves and rationalizing what they know is wrong.

Even though Rabbi Kitov doesn’t actually come out and say, “Make aliyah!”, he does remind his readers that: “[A Jew] must have the feeling that his present existence is far from the ideal, and is lacking reality, as if he were sleeping and waiting to be awakened.”

Really, how big a leap is it from realizing that your life in exile is, by definition, spiritually wanting, to seeing that your destiny, as a Jew, is a life in Israel?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Completely Unmoved By Jerusalem

Last night, I went to a Tehillim rally much like the one held here in August of 2006.

This time, the rally was billed as a Community Wide Gathering for Yerushalayim. The last time, I was moved by the sense of klal but troubled by the silence of the women. This time, I knew to expect silence from the women.

I didn’t know I would be completely unmoved.

There were several big name rabbis who spoke about the importance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people. Normally, I’m a sucker for any topic remotely related to Israel. But these talks didn’t move me. They covered lots of Torah sources, reminding the crowd of the importance of Jerusalem in our tefillos and reminding us about the power of tefillos to change Hashem’s decree regarding the proposed division of Jerusalem, Gd-forbid.

But not once was it suggested that actually leaving galus and going to live in Israel was a way to influence the ultimate destiny of Jerusalem.

What a wasted opportunity! Hundreds of religiously-committed Jews in a room and not one mention of aliyah as a possible response to threats to Jewish dominion over Jerusalem.

And yet, can you imagine the impact of 100,000 or 200,000 Torah observant American Jews opening up aliyah files with the Jewish Agency and planning on making aliyah in the next five years?

This point was made quite powerfully in a recent article by Rabbi Barry Leff. “I would say that for the serious Jew, the ultimate philosophical question is aliyah. If you believe all the stuff you say in your prayers, why aren't you here?”