Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Is the Modern State of Israel The Final Redemption

In Kings 2 Chapter 14 it says:

"23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel began to reign in Samaria, and reigned forty and one years. 24 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD; he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, wherewith he made Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath unto the sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which He spoke by the hand of His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher. 26 For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter; for there was none shut up nor left at large, neither was there any helper for Israel. 27 And the LORD said not that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven; but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. 28 Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, and all that he did, and his might, how he warred, and how he recovered Damascus, and Hamath, for Judah in Israel, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? 29 And Jeroboam slept with his fathers, even with the kings of Israel; and Zechariah his son reigned in his stead."

It is important to note several things here, but the most important idea to focus on is that within 40 years of G-D helping the kingdom of Israel restore it's borders, the king of Assyria came and wiped out all of the kingdom of Israel. The Jewish kingdom was not worthy of redemption, but G-D, in His kindness, decided to help them out and maybe they would repent. However, even after G-D granted them amazing victory after victory, they were unable to turn around their bad habits. They still worshiped the idols that the original king of Israel had set up and they did not follow the proper path.

My Rebbe, Rav Parnes, once quoted this section of the Tanach to tell us a very disturbing idea. He said that he loves Israel and hopes that it is the beginning of Moshiach. However, he was hesitant to put all of his eggs in one basket. He told us that this verse shows that even when the Jewish people are granted redemption, as the kingdom of Israel was, it might only be temporary. The only thing that we can know for sure is that G-D has a plan, but we are not privy to that plan. He hoped, as well as most Jews hoped and still hope, that the state of Israel will bring the final redemption, but what if it doesn't? We can never be totally certain. Take a look at the Shabtai Tzvi incident. Everyone thought he was the Moshiach, everyone was certain! However, he ended up converting to Islam and many, many, many Jews were lost and discouraged because of this hope. Although, it was well intentioned and meaningful, it caused so much heartache and grief.

Obviously, every Jew should support the state of Israel if just for the fact that it is the only Jewish state in the world. Calling for its destruction is like asking for millions of Jews to be murdered. In fact, the Jewish State has brought so much more Torah learning into the world than there has ever been before!

Rav Aharon Soloveichik wrote in "Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind" that once the state of Israel was created, Judaism transformed in a way that it needs the state of Israel to survive. In fact, Rav Aharon was a huge Israel supporter. However, if this is true, then I pray that the Jewish state is the beginning of the redemption and not just some relief of pain, like by Jeroboam son of Joash.

In all truth, there are two ways to look at the incident by which Jeroboam the son of Joash was able to return all of the land to the kingdom of Israel and relate it to the modern state. First, we can see the negative, no one repented and the only reason G-D gave them this temporary reprieve was because they cried out in anguish. However, on the positive side, we see that G-D told Yonah, the prophet, that he was going to save the Jewish people at this time and He kept His word even though they were undeserving. Looking at the modern state, we could also say that we received Israel only after 2000 years of suffering that culminated with the Holocaust. Perhaps the suffering was the only reason we were granted this reprieve? However, there are also the prophecies that tell us, (In Ezekiel 38) that there will be a giant war in the end of days. Do you know who is involved in that war? The Armies of Gog, the king of Magog and guess who he is fighting? Yup, the Jewish people, IN ISRAEL. Therefore, according to this prophecy, the Jewish people have to have a standing army in Israel BEFORE the Moshiach arrives! Therefore, if G-D is to keep his word, which He always does, the Jewish people MUST have a standing army IN ISRAEL, or the prophecy can NEVER come true.

This idea gives me hope, but who says that this will be the time? There have actually been a few autonomous Jewish kingdoms. After the second temple was destroyed we had the kingdom of Bar Kochba (Kosiba) in the 130's CE. Then there was the minor kingdom in Syria mentioned in the Gemorah in Tractate Succah (Queen Heleina). The most famous of all, the Jewish Kingdom of Kahzar, made famous from the book the Kuzari. All of these kingdoms had standing armies. Bar Kochba actually had a huge army in Israel. I am unsure of the minor kingdom in Syria, but the Kahzar's (located in the area between Russia and Turkey next to the black sea) wrote letters detailing how they desired to march to Israel and conquer the land.

All we can do today is hope and pray that the modern state is the beginning of the redemption and pray for its well being and success.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tradition and Religion

I was having a discussion with a friend about tradition in Judaism. Specifically, someone he knows decided that he and his family would celebrate Chanuka a day after the holiday was officially over. Essentially, they lit the Menorah a day after Chanuka was over so they could celebrate Chanuka as a family. So, did they celebrate the traditional holiday of Chanuka?

I think that this was a complete disregard for tradition. Someone wanted to change the tradition based on what they wanted to do. No one before them had ever thought that lighting the Chanuka menorah the day after chanuka was celebrating the traditional holiday of Chanuka. So in what way is this following the tradition?

If this idea caught on then the traditional holiday would eventually be meaningless because it would lose its set day. Sure, one could celebrate the lighting of the menorah, but the holiday would be lost.
This brings me to the disconnect that has arised between tradition and religion. Tradition is based on the religion, so how can one celebrate the tradition without any regard for the religion? Hence, I believe that even though there is cultural relevance to keeping tradition, there is no reason to keep a tradition unless there is some real belief in the underlying religion.

For example, I had a friend in college that was a reform Jew. He was very invovled with his temple, he would read from the Torah weekly, teach hebrew school and learned chumash all the time. He was someone who really believed in the principles of reform Judaism.

I also had a friend that said he was reform, but the only thing he did that had any Jewish tinge to it was that he had a friday night meal once a month. Now, I am not saying this is a bad thing at all. It is very nice that he was keeping himself involved somehow. However, would one say this person is keeping with tradition? Maybe you would say that he wants to keep to his cultural inheritance, but he is clearly not a traditional Jew.

However, my first friend, the one who was extremely involved, would be called someone who cares about tradition. He believes that the proper path of Judaism is reform Judaism. He follows the guidlines of that sect and does not do whatever he wants.He bases everything he does, with regard to Judaism, on the tradition that he was given and did not do whatever he pleased.

A traditional Jew is someone who strongly believes that they are following the practicies of the word of G-D. These people exist in all forms of Judaism. However, there are also Jews in all types of Judaism that are not keeping with tradition.

My point is simply this, to be a traditional Jew one has to connect the tradition with the religion. To separate the two makes no sense (to me).

(Aaron, you should have some good material now).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mishpatim- Understanding the Reasons

In this week's parsha G-D starts enumerating many of the laws that govern Judaism. However, when describing how G-D gave over these commandments to the Jewish people, the Torah gives us a very unique description. It says (Shemos 21:1):

וְאֵלֶּה, הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים, לִפְנֵיהֶם. 1 Now these are the ordinances which thou shalt set before them.

The Torah tells us that G-D wanted Moshe to set these commandments before the Jewish people. In fact, the Torah used this language previously when discussing how Moshe was supposed to tell over the laws and commandments to the elders of the Jewish people (Shemos 19:7):

ז וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה, וַיִּקְרָא לְזִקְנֵי הָעָם; וַיָּשֶׂם לִפְנֵיהֶם, אֵת כָּל-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר צִוָּהוּ, יְהוָה. 7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD commanded him.

Also, when Moshe was giving his final speech, in Devarim, the Torah describes his teaching of the Torah in a similar manner. This verse can further help us understand why this type of language is used and can be found in Devarim (4:44):

מד וְזֹאת, הַתּוֹרָה, אֲשֶׁר-שָׂם מֹשֶׁה, לִפְנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 44 And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel;
These verses show that when the Torah is taught the language of "setting" the Torah "before" the pupil is used. What is the significance of this type of language? How is it being taught by the teacher and how is it being absorbed by the student? Perhaps this language is used to teach us how one should teach, or perhaps it is teaching us about how one should learn the Torah? The question is, simply put, what is the significance of setting the Torah before the Jewish people, why not say that Moshe taught (Lilmoed) the Jewish people Torah or anything similar to that?

To answer this question we must bring down a Gemorah found in Eiruvin (54b) that states: (Soncino translation)

R. Akiba stated: Whence is it deduced that a man must go on teaching his pupil until he has
mastered the subject? From Scripture where it says: And teach thou it to the children of Israel.32 And whence is it deduced that it must be taught until the students are well versed in it?33 From Scripture where it says. Put it in their mouths.34 And whence is it inferred that it is also his duty to explain to him the reasons?35 It has been said: Now these are the ordinances which thou shalt put before them.36

((32) Deut. XXXI, 19; emphasis on ‘teach’.
(33) Lit., ‘arranged in order in their mouth’.
(34) Deut. XXXI, 19: emphasis on ‘put . . . mouth’.
(35) Lit., ‘to show the face’. . . that it is not enough to teach dogmatically.
(36) Ex. XXI. 1, emphasis on ‘put before’ (cf. Rashi). )

Rabbi Akiva is telling us something very unique about the words "set before" (or put before). G-D, in his infinite wisdom, realized that man must understand before he can perform actions. There are different levels of understanding, but in order to do something worth anything, there must first be understanding. Without any type of understanding, there is no purpose to the action. This is why we see that G-D commanded Moshe to set the Torah before the Jewish people. Moshe had to explain and give the reasons for the laws in the Torah.

This is one of the reasons why I believe even the laws that we have nowadays, like ritual slaughter, that seemingly have no reason, must have originally been taught with the reason. Everything in Judaism needs to make sense, logic is an integral part of the Jewish religion. Without logic there is no understanding and without understanding there is no true learning.

People nowadays are all to content with just learning the basic halacha, how to pray and go through the motions without ever understanding what they are doing. These actions are essentially worthless without deeper understanding. That is why G-D gave the Torah and specifically told Moshe, "Place it before the Jewish People." G-D was saying make sure they understand what they are doing and the reasons behind these actions. Knowledge leads to a closer connection to Torah and to G-D.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Moshe's Judaism vs Yisro's Judaism

In this week's parsha Yisro comes and meets up with Moshe and the Jewish people. The most interesting event that occurs between Moshe and Yisro is a conversation where Yisro gives Moshe advice as to how Moshe should lead the people. The conversation goes like this (Shemos 18:14):

יד וַיַּרְא חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-הוּא עֹשֶׂה לָעָם; וַיֹּאמֶר, מָה-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה לָעָם--מַדּוּעַ אַתָּה יוֹשֵׁב לְבַדֶּךָ, וְכָל-הָעָם נִצָּב עָלֶיךָ מִן-בֹּקֶר עַד-עָרֶב. 14 And when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he did to the people, he said: 'What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand about thee from morning unto even?'
טו וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה, לְחֹתְנוֹ: כִּי-יָבֹא אֵלַי הָעָם, לִדְרֹשׁ אֱלֹהִים. 15 And Moses said unto his father-in-law: 'Because the people come unto me to inquire of God;
טז כִּי-יִהְיֶה לָהֶם דָּבָר, בָּא אֵלַי, וְשָׁפַטְתִּי, בֵּין אִישׁ וּבֵין רֵעֵהוּ; וְהוֹדַעְתִּי אֶת-חֻקֵּי הָאֱלֹהִים, וְאֶת-תּוֹרֹתָיו. 16 when they have a matter, it cometh unto me; and I judge between a man and his neighbour, and I make them know the statutes of God, and His laws.'
יז וַיֹּאמֶר חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה, אֵלָיו: לֹא-טוֹב, הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה, עֹשֶׂה. 17 And Moses' father-in-law said unto him: 'The thing that thou doest is not good.
יח נָבֹל תִּבֹּל--גַּם-אַתָּה, גַּם-הָעָם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר עִמָּךְ: כִּי-כָבֵד מִמְּךָ הַדָּבָר, לֹא-תוּכַל עֲשֹׂהוּ לְבַדֶּךָ. 18 Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee; for the thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.
יט עַתָּה שְׁמַע בְּקֹלִי, אִיעָצְךָ, וִיהִי אֱלֹהִים, עִמָּךְ; הֱיֵה אַתָּה לָעָם, מוּל הָאֱלֹהִים, וְהֵבֵאתָ אַתָּה אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים, אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים. 19 Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God be with thee: be thou for the people before God, and bring thou the causes unto God.
כ וְהִזְהַרְתָּה אֶתְהֶם, אֶת-הַחֻקִּים וְאֶת-הַתּוֹרֹת; וְהוֹדַעְתָּ לָהֶם, אֶת-הַדֶּרֶךְ יֵלְכוּ בָהּ, וְאֶת-הַמַּעֲשֶׂה, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשׂוּן. 20 And thou shalt teach them the statutes and the laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.
כא וְאַתָּה תֶחֱזֶה מִכָּל-הָעָם אַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל יִרְאֵי אֱלֹהִים, אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת--שֹׂנְאֵי בָצַע; וְשַׂמְתָּ עֲלֵהֶם, שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת, שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים, וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת. 21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.
כב וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת-הָעָם, בְּכָל-עֵת, וְהָיָה כָּל-הַדָּבָר הַגָּדֹל יָבִיאוּ אֵלֶיךָ, וְכָל-הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפְּטוּ-הֵם; וְהָקֵל, מֵעָלֶיךָ, וְנָשְׂאוּ, אִתָּךְ. 22 And let them judge the people at all seasons; and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge themselves; so shall they make it easier for thee and bear the burden with thee.
כג אִם אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, תַּעֲשֶׂה, וְצִוְּךָ אֱלֹהִים, וְיָכָלְתָּ עֲמֹד; וְגַם כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה, עַל-מְקֹמוֹ יָבֹא בְשָׁלוֹם. 23 If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people also shall go to their place in peace.'

This seems so strange. First off, Yisro says that Moshe is doing a great disservice to the people by making them wait on line to speak with him. Next, Yisro says that Moshe himself will not be able to continue this ill begotten practice for much longer. Then Yisro tells Moshe to teach "them" the Torah and laws. Finally, he tells Moshe to set up leaders of thousands, hundreds and tens that can guide the people. The question here is, simply put, what exactly is going on. What was Moshe doing before Yisro suggested these changes?

If one takes a closer look at the verses he or she will notice something strange. It seems like Moshe, at this point, had not taught anyone any Torah or laws whatsoever. This is seen in verse 20 where Yisro tells Moshe, "Teach them the Torah and its laws!" This is then followed by verse 21 where it says, After you teach them appoint leaders for them that are the best and the brightest to answer any further questions. However, how could Moshe not have taught the Jewish people the Torah at a point where they already had the Torah and it's laws?

It seems to me that Moshe Rabbeinu and Yisro had different ideas as to how the Jewish religion was supposed to exist. Moshe thought that there was supposed to be one person that connects to G-D and tells everyone else what to do. No one can make a move without asking G-D how to behave. In essence, he thought the Jewish people were supposed to be like angels. This makes sense because they had just experienced so many miracles and such high levels of prophecy.

Yisro, on the other hand, came from a completely different background. He had just come from Midyan where life was very humanistic and filled with physicality. If Moshe had continued treating the Jewish people in a purely spiritual manner, they would have never been able to survive in the land of Israel. Living like angels was only possible in the desert where the hand of G-D is seen continuously and constantly. Therefore, Yisro told Moshe to wake up and smell the coffee. He told Moshe, like any good father-in-law would, that he was living in a fantasy world. "You and these people will grow weary of this," Yisro said.

How can the Jewish people consult Moshe on every detail of their life? Yisro was arguing that human comprehension and choices must be allowed and encouraged. Also, the point yisro was trying to bring across to Moshe was that his place was not as a puppet master where every action must go through him and ultimately G-D, but the people must have free choice and their own logical input. "Teach them the Torah and let them figure it out." However, Yisro did not want Moshe discontinuing his leadership role, no, no, no. Yisro was telling Moshe that there must be guidance and therefore, the best and the brightest should guide when there are simple questions and Moshe should be consulted when no one else can figure out the halacha.

Yisro was setting up a nation that could survive in a world where prophecy would not be constant. Yisro knew how the world outside of the desert worked and how to set up a community. That is why the verse tells us that Yisro was the priest of Midyan, because he understood how to lead a nation. One can not act as a leader by controlling every move of his subjects, rather one must teach the subjects how to make the right choices. That is the only way to lead without becoming weary yourself and without making your subjects weary of you.

To make this relevant to today, like I always try to do, let's ask how can it be that people feel like they always need to ask their Rabbi everything? "Rebbe, can I get a job?" "No my talmid, you must study forever." However, in the meantime this man's wife and he are stressed because they have no money. Unfortunately, I have heard this story many times. Also, the countless amount of times that one must ask a Rabbi about every little thing he or she does. We should learn from this story in Yisro, G-D wants us to figure out the halacha with our own knowledge. We have the Shulchan Orech, Aruch Hashulchan, Igros Moshe, Mishnah Berurah and so on. These are tools that allow us to figure out the halacha and know what to do. Serious questions like Niddah questions, certain kashrus questions and the like require a Rabbi, but we need to be able to know what to do in everyday life.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Jewish Laws: The Categories

I enjoy thinking about the origins of Judaism, how it has evolved and the current mentality of the religion. It is amazing to see how much Judaism has been effected by other cultures and how Judaism has shaped those cultures around it. However, when one does this type of research it opens the door for many questions. Namely, how is the current state of our religion, orthodox Judaism, the heir to the original form of Judaism. How can we claim that this is the proper path for us to be following? Many people claim that the Pharisees perverted the religion and others say the more modern Rabbis have completely distorted the way of worshiping G-D. So, why should we believe that "halachic" Judaism is the proper way? Are these laws really from G-D?

One must realize that many of the laws that we follow, like a man wearing a head covering, is completely made up by the Rabbis without any source in the Torah. It is a custom that was accepted by the Jewish people, but was not a command from G-D. Why then do we follow these types of laws without fail?

There are also laws that are stated explicitly in the Torah, like no kindling a fire on Shabbos. These are clear commands directly from G-D that require no interpretation. It is obvious why these commands must be followed, they are from G-D!

A third category of laws are those that are derived from the Torah by the Rabbis. Meaning, they were directly from G-D, but they were oral traditions that G-D told to the Jewish people. A good example of this are the prohibitions on shabbos, namely the majority of the thirty nine melachos (39 Jobs that were done in the temple or mishkan). The Torah says that one can not do melacha, work, on shabbos, but never defines what work it is talking about. The Rabbis tell us that through the oral tradition G-D made known to us what melacha He was speaking of.

These are the three types of halachas that we have: directly from G-D that can be understood straight from the Torah; from G-D that was transmitted orally and the Rabbis tell us the oral tradition; and laws that are completely made up by the Rabbis without any input from G-D.

Everyone who believes the Torah was given by G-D should agree that anything commanded straight in the Torah should be followed because it is the direct words of G-D. Anyone who does not can not reasonably claim that they, either, follow judaism or believe that G-D gave the Torah. That means that on shabbos, anyone who believes G-D gave the Torah and they want to follow Judaism can not light a fire. There is no differentiating betweek any type of actual fire, because G-D says do not kindle a fire. Anyone kindling a fire is not following Judaism, doesn't believe G-D gave the Torah or they realize they are sinning.

The next two categories deal with the Rabbis interpretations and their own laws. These two ideas are less clear cut with regard to what the halacha is in actuality. Whose interpretation do we follow as being the words of G-D? There are many arguments within the Gemorah itself and even after that there are many doubts. Wy should the Jewish people follow anyones interpretation? How are we to know that it is authentic? Also, if it is not authentic, then are we actually going against G-D's will?

To explain this, one needs to look at the verse in parshas Shoftim (Devarim 17:11) that says "According to the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do; thou shalt not turn aside from the sentence which they shall declare unto thee, to the right hand, nor to the left."

This verse tells us that G-D expects us to listen to our leaders. However, how far does this go? Does it give them a right to interpret the Torah only? Does it give them the right to add on safeguards to the Torah's law? Does it give them the power to make any law they decide without any real foundation in the Torah? What are the parameters of this law?

Hopefully, since this post is getting a little long, I will discuss the different ideas of how far the Rabbis can go and how far they have gone in the past with regard to their authority at a later post.