Friday, March 23, 2007

Apologetics and Great People Messing Up - Putting Gedolim on a Pedestal

There are many stories in Tanach about great people making big mistakes, some of them even committing aveiras. The Torah and the Nevi'im do not tell us these stories for our entertainment. They tell us these stories to teach us powerful lessons. Unfortunately, these lessons are lost when apologetics are applied to the actions of these great people, thus destroying the lessons we are supposed to learn. I would like to concentrate on three examples, as well a story I recently heard about Reb Moshe Feinstein to illustrate what I am talking about.

1. Yehuda and Tamar. Yehuda marries off his oldest son, Eir, to Tamar. Eir is so infatuated with Tamar's beauty that he refuses to get her pregnant, preferring instead to be Mashchis Zera. God doesn't like this, so God kills Eir. Yehuda then gives Tamar to Onan to keep alive the name of his brother, Eir, in a process called Yibum. Onan is just as infatuated with her beauty and figure and makes the same mistake Eir had made. God doesn't like Onan's actions any more than he liked Eir's, so God kills of Onan as well. Yehuda then tells Tamar to return to her parents' home and wait for Sheila to come of age so she can marry him. By now, however, Yehuda believes Tamar has some bad mojo and has no intention of allowing Sheila to marry her. Tamar waits, but no Sheila.

Comes along sheep sheering time. Yehuda takes the trip to his flock. Tamar hears of this, dresses up as a prostitute, and waits for Yehuda by the side of the road. Yehuda propositions her, they sleep together, he has no cash, so he gives her his seal and walking stick as collateral and promises payment on his way back from the sheep sheering. Tamar returns home. When Yehuda goes looking for the "prostitute," he can't find her.

Cut to about three months later. Yehuda is notified that Tamar is pregnant! Yehuda pronounces judgement: Take her out to be burned. Tamar sends Yehuda his seal and walking stick with a message: The man to whom these objects belong is the man from whom I have become pregnant. Yehuda recognizes his objects and instead of covering his mistake and killing Tamar, actually says "Tzadka Mimeni." She was right, he was wrong. Yehuda marries her, they have twins, etc, etc.

The lesson: Own up to your mistakes, take responsibility, and if you have to end up with egg on your face, then so be it. Yehuda did exactly that.

2. The Jews wandering in the desert were really thirsty after Miriam passed away and the well following them in her zechus dried up. The Jews complained, as they are sometimes want to do. God tells Moshe: Go talk to the rock and ask it to produce water. Moshe goes, but gets really P.O.ed and instead of talking, hits the rock, which produces water. God says, Moshe, ya messed up. You don't get to go into Eretz Yisrael. Did Moshe say: "But God, it was their fault!"? No. Moshe accepts his punishment, realizing he did not perform the Kiddush Shem Shamayim he was supposed to perform, and accepts his punishment. He does ask God to retract the punishment many times, but God says no, Moshe accepts, and dies on Har Nevo.

The lesson: Same as before. Own up to your mistakes and live with the consequences.

3. Dovid Hamelech and Bas-Sheva - Wow! This is a doozy! Dovid Hamelech is up on the roof of his palace, sees Bas-Sheva bathing, lusts after her, and even after being told she was married, still seduces her and gets her pregnant. He invites Uria, Bas-Sheva's husband to wine and dine and spend "time" with his wife to cover up his mistakes, but Uria, being a man of integrity, refuses when there are battles being fought. So, Dovid sends Uria to the front lines to guarantee Uria's demise, thus allowing Dovid to marry Bas-Sheva and figuring no one knows what happens. Except that God does and sends Nosson Hanavi to give Dovid some tender-loving mussar, and informs Dovid the child will die. Dovid begs for his son's life, to no avail, and the kid dies when he is but seven days old. Dovid accepts the punishment and does Teshuva for his rather grievous aveira.

Wow! What a lesson! Even Dovid Hamelech was human and prone to human failings. The Gemara informs us that Dovid had not done a sin. The Yeshivish world likes to pretend that whatever he did was L'Shem Shamayim and there was no aveira there. If there was no aveira, why was there punishement?! Well, I asked a rav I know about this.

I discussed at lenght with this rav how I feel about these apologetics. I told him these stories mean so much more when taken at face value: Someone messed up, got punished, did Teshuva. What a lesson! These people weren't infallible angels! They are humans who sometimes fail and have to pick themselves and the pieces up, live with the consequences, and keep going! And you know what? They are still great people! From Yehuda came Bais Dovid, Moshe was still the greatest Navi who ever lived and who ever spoke to God "face to face." Dovid was still Dovid Hamelech, who wrote Tehillim and died a Tzadik. From him will come Moshiach! But they were human! I told him it really bothers me that there are apologetics for these great people that mitigate their actions. This lessens the impact of what we are supposed to learn from these stories.

Well, this rav leaned back and told me something I didn't know before. He told these apologetics, which he agrees absolutely lessen, if not destroy the lesson we are supposed to learn from these stories, are wrong. Unfortunately, the Yeshivish world, which has a tendency to place all Gedolim on a pedestal of infallibility, especially people from Tanach, Mishna, and Gemara, does just that. They can't imagine that these great people messed up, so there must be some other explanation. When the Gemara says Dovid did not commit and aveira, it doesn't mean that what Dovid did wasn't wrong. It means there is one aspect of what he did, said this rav, for which we can find a technicality that will show Dovid did not actually sleep with a married woman. It was a time of war. In those days, a married soldier would write his wife a Get, a divorce decree, that would go into effect retroactively to the moment he gives her that Get, should the soldier get killed or go missing. Well, since Uria died in battle, the get technically went into effect from the moment he gave it to Bas-Sheva, and thus, Dovid did not actually sleep with a married woman. That's it. No apologetics. Dovid still did the wrong thing. Absolutely, 100%. Even sleeping with a married woman, and he took care of that technicality by having Uria killed on the front lines. But Dovid did Teshuva, said the rav, and continued to be Dovid Hamelech.

The problem with the Yeshivish/Chareidi approach is this, continued the rav. It's that when you put someone on a pedestal of infallibility, there is no way to aspire to be like that person. How can someone become a Malach? How can someone aspire to be infallible?

The Netziv, he told me, was not some genius child. He was not exceptional in any way. But he worked hard and became the Netziv. He was a human being who overcame some difficulties to become the great talmid chacham he became.

Putting people on a pedestal is the perfect set-up for a crash. Gedolim, past and present, are not infallible and they are not perfect. In the story of Kamtza/bar-Kamtza, everyone, including the chachamim sitting at the seuda, and Rabbi Zecharya for not allowing a korban from the emperor with a blemish on it to be sacrificed in the Bais Hamikdash because of appearances, all messed up. There is no way around it. The only person who didn't mess up in the story was the Roman general sent to lay siege to Yerushalayim. He realized this isn't something with in which he should be involved and became Jewish instead. He learned the lesson the Egyptians didn't: Just because a tragedy is decreed upon the Jewish people, doesn't mean you have to be the one to carry out the sentence. Let someone else take that responsibility.

This rav ended by telling me a story about Reb Moshe Feinstein. The story is related in the Artscroll biography on Reb Moshe, but it is related wrong. In the Artscroll biography, it tells the story of Reb Moshe preparing to get into a cab. The cabbie accidentally slammed the door on Reb Moshe's hand and Reb Moshe, in great pain said nothing and allowed the door his hand to remain in stuck in the duck for the duration of the ride. The Artscroll biography here tries to show the middos of Reb Moshe that he did not want to embarrass the cabbie.

Here's the story, as related to my rav, by a close relative of Reb Moshe. Reb Moshe did not keep his hand in the door, and the cabbie was aware of what had happened and immediately opened the door to release Reb Moshe's hand. When Reb Moshe arrived at the yeshiva and people saw he was in pain, he said he had accidentally closed the door on his own hand, thus deflecting blame from the cabbie and avoiding the cabbie being embarrassed or yelled at.

In the first version, Reb Moshe is not human! No one would have been able to stand that kind of pain for so long. What lesson is learned here?

In the true version, look what a great man Reb Moshe was! He made sure the cabbie would not be blamed, yelled at, or worse. He took the blame himself. After all, everything that happens is from Hashem! Why should the cabbie take the blame for that?

Instead of putting Gedolim under some kind of halo of perfection, perhaps, if we see them as the humans they were and are, we could learn so much more from them! Nobody but God is perfect, and we can learn from the imperfections of the gedolim how conduct ourselves.

See follow-ups on this article here (Part II) and here (Part III).

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Yoatzot Halacha - What They Are Really About

About three or four years ago, when I still belonged to a certain shul in Los Angeles that was on its way to going the way of the Yeshivish Chareidi, chumras and all, the rabbi of the shul went up to give his Shabbos Drasha. Now, usually, these drashas are supposed to be divrei Torah that deal with that week's parasha and maybe even tie in the parasha to current events. The best reason, and my favorite, I've heard for rabbis being very dliigent in giving a drasha every shabbos, or in their absence, making sure someone else did, was that for many people, this was the only time they had any kind of learning during the entire week. B"H, this is no longer the case for most people, but the "Mesora" goes on.

That week, Rabbi S, as we'll call him, stepped up to the lectern and began railing against this group of women who have decided to bypass all the rabbanim who have spent years, sometimes even a decade or more, learning for their semichas in Yoreh Deia and Mar'os, and paskin halacha for women who have Niddah questions (or, in the vernacular, Shailos). These women, he said, are overturning the system we've had in place for years! They are paskining halachah that took rabbanim years to learn! This is the danger of such institutions as Nishmat (from which arose this organization) and evil women like "Rabbanit" (read quotaion marks in his words, not mine) Henkin and her ilk!

The women against whom Rabbi S railed are known as Yoaztot Halacha. Their orzanization exists solely to help women with Nidda questions.

Rabbi S went on for about twenty minutes, making it very clear what he thought about this organization and these women. Unfortunately, he made a big mistake. He should have checked his facts before making accusations that women are becoming rabbis and are undermining the authority of rabbanim worldwide. His facts were wrong, and the loshon hara he accepted unquestioningly and relayed with the utmost confidence as truth was false and was meant only to put these women in a false light.

You see, my wife went to Nishmat and when I asked her about Yoatzot Halacha, she had nothing but good things to say about them. She said they are a wonderful, anonymous organization to which women who are otherwise embarrassed to ask these types of questions may turn and ask their questions anonymously, without any embarrassment at all. This is an organization for women who might otherwise not ask the questions they need to ask. It is an organization that prevents so many people from transgressing the extremely severe sin of having marital relations while still a Niddah! And, most importantly, my wife told me, these women, no matter how knowledgeable, never, EVER take halacha into their own hands and never, EVER answer a question without first consulting with one of the many rabbanim on staff and telling those rabbanim, without ever revealing the identity of ther person asking the question, in minute detail exactly what each situation is.

The way the organization works is that a woman will call in, ask her question, and will be asked specifics about her case. Armed with this information, they will then relay the question and all its details to a rav who is an expert in this area. If the rav needs more information, he will tell the Yoetzet what information he needs. The Yoetzet will call the woman back, ask these questions, and will go back to the rav with the additional information. The rav, always making sure he has the information he needs, will then make an informed decision and will instruct the Yoetzet exactly what to say. The Yoetzet will then call the woman back with the answer to her question. At no time will a Yoetzet just answer a question without first consulting a rav. Further, if the woman prefers, the Yoetzet Halacha will even contact that person's rav and ask him the question! Hence, no rav's authority is threatened and no power is being taken from any rav.

Finally, are these women any different than a rebbetzin was in the old days in Europe? When a women in the shtetl had a question along these lines, she didn't go speak to the rav! She asked the rav's wife, who asked her husband! How is this any different?

So, this puts a totally different light on what a Yoetzet Halacha does! She is not interested in undermining rabbinic authority or in becoming a rabbi herself. That's silly. The entire purpose of this organization is simply to help women who would otherwise be embarrassed to ask this type of question. One must then ask: How many people have been saved from commiting a grievous sin because of these amazing women? Was it really worth wasting an entire Shabbos Drasha railing against something for which Rabbi S had faulty information at best? This Rabbi S of Los Angeles went and ruined the reputation of an organizatoin that does vast amounts of good for Klal Yisrael, all based on false accusations!

Once again, I say and truly believe, Rabbis need to know what they are talking about before they open their mouths, be it to give advice or to talk about organizations about which they really know nothing, or anything else, for that matter. Many rabbanim have a great power in their hands - they have their Kehillas collective ears and can influence them greatly. They should know all their facts before saying anything. It is not only the right thing to do, it is their responsibility and if they can't be bothered to be responsible for, then they should also not bother or be bothered to be rabbanim because when they don't act responsibly, they are no better, as I've mentioned before, than a butcher trying to perform surgery with a cleaver.

B"H for these Yoatzot Halacha. May we be zocheh to many more such women in our communities who help to make sure couples do not commit, b'shogeg or b'meizid, such a grievous aveira.

For more information about Yoatzot Halacha, click here to visit their website.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

We Must Unlearn What We Have Learned

To paraphrase Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, "We must unlearn what we have learned." We have all been raised with misconceptions about what is halacha and what is minhag, what is a mitzvah d'Oraisa and what is a chumra. And I think this is conclusion I've been headed toward since I began this blog last year; it is a conclusion toward which I will continue to head as I continue posting about these issues.

Many of the practices we follow today are minhag or chumras. Among them, to name a few, are glatt, second day Yom Tov, Kitniyos, and how long we keep between meat and dairy. Some of these issues are subjective as to how one should hold, but rabbanim today are afraid of banding together and saying we need change. I understand that the Chareidi world would never change what came before, and that's their choice. But for the rest of the Jewish world, with certain changes, we might even be able to bring people who have strayed from Yiddishkeit out of frustration back to the fold.

I think rabbinic leaders in the Modern Orthodox and Centrist camps need to stop being afraid of what groups to the right of them will say if the rabbinic leaders or the Modern Orthodox and Centrist camps certain rules, especially ones that are minhagim or chumras. Certain of these things would not even involve getting rid of minhagim that have been in place for hundreds of years, like having non-glatt kosher meat with a good hechsher on the market.

Someone said to me in a comment on Rabbi Maryles' blog,, that for people like me there is Hebrew National. The truth is, if Hebrew National had an OU, OK, or other reliable hechsher on it, I would eat it, happily! From what I've heard, they make really good stuff. Someone from Chicago told me that Best's Kosher lost its CRC hechsher because the CRC began insisting that any meat to which they give a hechsher MUST be glatt, and Best's Kosher refused to capitulate! Is this a reason to punish someone, just because they don't want to take on a chumra that will incur higher production costs and thus cause the price of their products to jump in price as well?

In a dialogue I've had with a rav, his response to me was that we just don't have the authority to change what Chazal put in place, but I cannot accept this. Not because I don't believe Chazal knew what was best for their generation and perhaps a few generations down the line from them. Certainly they did. But I don't think they knew what be good for people living two thousand years after they had all died. I truly believe they would have made different decisions had they lived in our times. I truly believe second day of Yom Tov would not have even been a suggestion or an idea in their minds with the technology we have today and I think it was real Chutzpah to force people in Golus to continue to keep second day Yom Tov once the calendar was set. The truth is, even those living in Eretz Yisrael at the time and all the down to today are also in Golus and will continue to be in Golus until Moshiach arrives. Why shouldn't they keep two days' Yom Tov if they are using the same calendar as us?!

Obviously, the course Orthodox Judaism has been wrong, especially since the emancipation of European Jewry nearly three hundred years ago. Otherwise, we wouldn't be in a situation where about 98% of Jews are not shomrei Torah U'Mitzvos. The time for change has come and it's time for rabbis to stop being afraid of standing up and executing the changes needed. And anyone who wants to bring up the Slippery Slope idea, well, so far, the most slippery slope of all has been the rigidity and lack of taking initiative to make the changes necessary to retain and help Yiddishkeit grow.

Hashem gave us the guidelines in Torah She'B'Ksav in the form of 613 Mitzvos. Many have been added by Rabanan to create Gedarim necessary for their times. We were empowered to make Halacha and make changes when necessary. Chazal did so when they changed the system the Nevi'im had in place and the Nevi'im changed the system the Shoftim had in place. Some of these changes were disastrous, and some were not. I believe, with careful consideration and the intention of making changes L'Sheim Shamayim, that the "Slippery Slope" can be avoided and even reversed.

Am I an Apikores? That's for you, the reader to decide. I don't believe I am. I believe I'm trying to be practical and create an atmosphere of Ki Karov Eilecha, as I've mentioned in earlier posts.

The Term "Hashkafa"

"Hashkafa" is an interesting term many people fall back on, both from the right and from the left, when discussing their Jewish ideological outlook. In truth, however, this word is a bad word! It comes from the same root as the words Lehashkif, Vayashkifu, Vayashkaif - that root being Shin Kuf Peh - Shakaf.

We see this word and Rashi's first commentary on it in Parshas Vayeira, when the malachim finish their mission to inform Avraham that he will have a son from Sarah a year later. The Possuk says "Vayashkifu Al Pnei Sdom" - they gazed toward Sodom. Rashi, in discussing the word Vayashkifu - and they gazed, tells us any place it used this word, or any form of it - except for one place in Torah when we ask God to gaze down upon us from Shamayim and bless us - usually foresees something bad about to happen.

Unfortunately, we see the very nature of this word taking place within klal Yisrael today. We see people saying their Hashkafa doesn't allow such and such, it only allows for more and more chumras. We see people hiding behind their Hashkafa to give them an excuse to perpetuate inexcusable behavior, be it creating the concept of "mehadrin" busses in Israel, throwing bleach at people not dressed according to their standards (I deliberately left out the term "high standards" because I don't think this is what Tznius is about). The concept of Hashkafa allows the continued lifestyle of married men learning in Yeshiva/Kollel indefinitely, leaving the entire onus of parnassa upon their wives, parents, and in-laws. The concept of Hashkafa allows certain rabbanim and shuls to be exclusionary when a Jew not of the same "Hashkafa" as them tries to join, be it anything the person not wearing a black hat to a person not willing to send their children for indefinite yeshiva educations.

I find this behavior deplorable. I've known rabbis who hate, and I mean really HATE people not of their Hashkafa, and I've seen their talmidim swallow up these rabbis' diatribes as if they were Torah M'Sinai.

It's time to stop hiding behind this artificial, and as I see it, evil curtain called "Hashkafa" and start behaving toward other Jews with love and kindness, not with bitterness and hatred just because one person doesn't meet another's criteria for being "frum." Frum doesn't mean wearing the uniform. It really means how one acts toward a fellow Jew, and if one person steals from, tells Loshon Hara about, or in any way mistreats another Jew, be it physically or spiritually, then that person needs to reexamine their "Hashkafa" because the one they have is not working.

Perhaps the solution is to chuck out the word "Hashkafa" and look for another term that does not have such negative connotations to it. The way the Orthodox Jewish world is fractured today, I don't think anyone can take the one time the word hashkafa is used in the Torah and apply it to what people widely lilke to call their "Hashkafa" today.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Glatt Meat and Chalav Yisrael: Chumras and the Kosher Tax

Having done a bit of research about the halachas of glatt meat, here is the conlusion I've learned: Glatt is not a halacha for Ashkenazic Jews. It is a minhag widely held by Sephardim. In Europe, Ashkenazic Jews ate both Glatt and non-glatt meat. A full article can be found at the Star K's site. Having spoken to many people who have worked in the kosher meat market, I've found out the reason glatt meat is so expensive: Approximately 70% of all cows shechted al pi halacha are considered to be non-glatt for various reasons and are thrown into the Traif pile to be sold at a loss as traif meat (you know, the kind you find at any supermarket and costs about 1/3 or 1/4 the price of kosher meat). Add to this that since Ashkenazim do not have a Mesora of Traiboring, we also lose the entire back half of the cow to traif. All this is at a loss, since the meat considered not glatt and the back half of the cow has to meet the price the non kosher vendors are willing to pay for meat they buy elsewhere for less. However, the shochtim and mashgichim still need to be paid, so for each cow lost to it being non glatt and for each back end of the cow, we, as the end use consumers, pay for through the nose. And this only applies to meat. Poultry is a whole other reason I've yet to discover as to why we pay at least triple the price of non kosher poultry since there is no such thing as glatt where poultry is concerned.

What does all this mean? It means that the rabbanim and the kosher slaughterhouses have done a wonderful job of marketing over the last 30 or so years in saying it's not really kosher if it is not glatt. The proof: Can anyone out there find non-glatt meat that has a reliable hechsher on it sold in the same quantities as glatt meat? The answer: No. Because the glatt meat never has a chance to be sold as kosher! Instead of throwing all those non glatt but perfectly kosher cows into the non-glatt but perfectly kosher pile, a pile from which many perfectly orthodox Jews, including myself and my rav, are very happy to buy, cook, and eat in their houses.

Essentially, glatt meat is a Chumra that caught on to the extent that the rest of us who don't want to keep this chumra are forced to keep this chumra because there is no non-glatt meat available! Now, if someone wants to keep glatt kosher, I'm not one to say don't do it. But why do I have to pay the kosher tax for someone else to hold by a chumra?

Now, the same thing didn't happen with Chalav Yisrael. This Chumra, while widespread, especially amongst Chasidim and, more recently, the Yeshivish (which is interesting, considering I remember the days when the Yeshivish used to deride Chalav Yisrael as a silly Chumra that Reb Moshe Feinstein said need not be kept any longer). The reason Chalav Yisrael never really took over as the kosher dairy standard the way glatt did as the kosher meat standard is that there are far too many dairy products out there that people weren't willing to give up and were already kosher and cheaper than Chalav Yisrael and didn't spoil as quickly as Chalav Yisrael products. Besides, given the choice between Leiber's sandwich cookies and Oreo cookies, which would you take?

So, because frum organizations did not have a monopoly over non-Jewish-yet-kosher dairy products, Chalav Yisrael never caught on, while the meat, which only came from frum companies that held a monopoly over kosher meat, were able to force glatt meat to become the only standard available to orthodox Jews since there is no non-Jewish company that produces kosher meat. Thus, these frum companies were able to force any price they want for kosher meat.

At the end of the day, with the excellent marketing these meat companies have done, we are all forced to pay way too much money for meat. One realistic solution is for these companies to take the non-glatt meat they shecht and put it on the market as non-glatt, but perfectly kosher meat! Thus, anyone who wants to be machmir and buy glatt meat can do so and pay the price, while the rest of us, who are sick of paying so much money for glatt meat, will happily buy non-glatt meat, and if you don't want to eat in my house because I don't keep the glatt Chumra, then don't eat in my house. People who keep Chalav Yisrael have chosen not to eat dairy from my house, including my parents and my sister. Does this make me any less frum in their eyes? No.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Shushan Purim...

Rabbi Harry Maryles, on his blog Emes Ve'Emunah, posted a very funny, totally satirical post yesterday, and commenting on it was lots of fun, and even people who for the rest of the year do not get along with each other had a fun time dialoguing with each other. I posted a comment there I would like to repost here. You can see Rabbi Maryles' post here.

Once you've read the post, if you go to the comments, you will see some fun poking and jabbing, but everything in good nature. The 16th post is mine and is reprinted below, with some revision:

I hate to inject a serious note into all this, but wouldn't it be great if we could all get along like this the rest of the year as well? Wouldn't it be great if when one person said something controversial, instead of attacking that person, a dialogue was held with cooler heads prevailing (pardon the pun)? Many frum people today have lots of questions as to the validity of many things we do that are done just because they've been done for hundreds or thousands of years, and some just for a couple of decades. I've touched on many of these before, like second day Yom Tov, Kitniyos, Glatt meat, etc, and I will discuss them at greater length in the future as well.

When my grandfather was a young boy in cheder, if he asked a question the rebbi didn't like, he got smacked. If he was on the wrong page, he got smacked. He grew up to absolutely hate yiddishkeit, all aspects of it, because he was left with such a bitter taste in his mouth. I'm saying he was right, but he wasn't the only one. My father in law had the same experiences and is still alive and isn't very fond of Orthodox Judaism either. And he doesn't see the difference between MO, Centrist, RW, Yeshivish, or Chareidim. To him, it's all Orthodox. The attitude of "We don't like what you're saying and instead of discussing we're going to attack you" has caused the loss of many neshamos.

My grandfather, in his hatred of Judaism, had himself cremated after his death, and because his wife was alive at the time (not my grandmother), there was nothing we could do, at all to stop the cremation. My father ended up with no shiva, no shloshim, no kaddish, no nothing because when his father asked a question, he got smacked. And smacking doesn't necessarily mean physically today. It also means with words.

I think this is the lesson of Purim: It starts off with Yeshno Am Echad Mefozar U'Meforad, and ends up with everyone celebrating the same thing, the same cause, the same victory - with no machlokesim in sight. In fact, I think it's likely the original Purim, right before the formation of the Knesses Hagedola, marked the last time there were no Machlokesim. Instead, as it was the time when Bnai Yisrael accepted the Torah voluntarily, without a mountain hanging over their heads, the last time there was total Achdus.

Yehi Ratzon that we should be Zocheh to celebrate that kind of original Purim again B'Meheira B'Yameinu.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Happy Purim! A short idea from Parashas Zachor...

The third posuk in Parashas Zachor is Hashem commanding the Jewish People to destroy Amalek once they have inherited the land He has given them. The word used for inherit is "L'Rishtah," with a dagesh, a dot, in the the letter Hey. Without the Dagesh, the posk would translate as "in the land Hashem, your God, is giving to you as an inheritance." With the Dagesh, and with the correct translation, the posuk translate as "in the land Hashem, your god is giving to you to inherit." The difference is that in the case with the Dagesh, Hashem is not giving the land as a gift. He is going to make us work for it. We are going to have to inherit it, put in our hishtadlus, conquer it and hold on to it and only after this is achieved can we go about the work of eliminating Amalek.

What is that Hishtadlus? We have to work not only to keep the land but to be deserving of the land and all that comes with it. It doesn't mean sitting in Kollel and expecting it to be given to you. It doesn't mean that just because we are sitting on the land that we deserve it automatically. It DOES mean we need to work for it every day and every night. We need to work for what we need and want. And this was Mordechai's message to Esther. She was afraid to go before the king. Mordechai admonished her and told her not to expect to just sit back and be saved just because she is the queen. If she wants to survive this crisis, Mordechai tells her, she will have to work at it just as hard as everyone else and the protection of the king will not help her. Esther takes this message to heart and decides to put in her hishtadlus and work to save not just herself, but her entire nation.

This is the message of Purim. It is the time the Jews finally accepted the Torah voluntarily - Kiyimu v'Kiblu - they upheld and accepted, and once they did, this led to the return to Eretz Yisroel and the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash. And when that message got lost, with all its nuances on how to work to retain the land Hashem was giving them to inherit, they lost it again, forgetting that inheriting the land was, and still is, a continuous struggle against the Yetzer Hara, in whatever form it takes, and involves great Mesiras Nefesh.

Yehi Ratzon that in the Zchus of all of us accepting and understanding the message of Purim, we will merit to return home to inherit our land permanently b'meheira b'yameinu.

Chag Purim Sameach