Thursday, January 19, 2012

What's Beautiful But Not for Gazing At?

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As I was driving to Bet El on a recent sunny/rainy afternoon, a beautiful rainbow burst forth from the clouds and its arc descended beyond a hill landing right where my house is located in Bet El.

A rainbow descending on Bet El

I got out of my car, opened the prayer book in my Iphone and recited the Hebrew blessing for seeing a rainbow. I sped home to claim the pot of gold waiting for me at the end of the rainbow, only to find that a neighbor must have gotten to it first.

But something bothers me. Despite the beauty and splendor of the rainbow, Jewish sources instruct us not to gaze at it. It's a law similar to seeing a gorgeous woman: Jewish law forbids us to gaze at her because of the sexual currents that might be aroused in us, but if one sees a phenomenally attractive woman, he can make a blessing to G-d thanking Him for creating such beauty (consult with a Rabbi for the exact circumstances under which the blessing is made).

But why can't we gaze at a rainbow? It's so beautiful, and doesn't awaken within us any base desires!

I found a few explanations, the best of which was on the site. Based on a passage in the Zohar (kabbalistic work), Rabbi Asher Meir explains that the light of the sun represents spiritual blessing in the world. The more that a person sinks into pursuit of materialism, he increases the dark clouds which block spirituality from his life.

The ideal Jewish life is one based primarily of spiritual pursuit, but not by any means a negation of the material world. Rather, with just a smattering of the physical - similar to mist in the sky, the light of Hashem will illuminate a person's existence in all of its glory, color and splendor - parallel to the rainbow.

So why not gaze at this beautiful rainbow? Answer: The mist represents the moderate portion of worldly affairs that a righteous person endeavors himself in. If a person focuses on the rainbow, he is, in effect, focusing on the mist, the material and risks losing sight of the divine source of the light.

So by aspiring to reach the Divine - the source of all light, our lives will be filled more and more with a colorful glow. But we must keep our focus on spirituality and not pause for more than a brief gaze at the material.

See Rabbi Asher Meir's full explanation.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

The Brutal 80-20 Shmot Redemption Rule

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When Moshe was ordered by Hashem to bring the Jewish People out of Egypt, he said, "They will not believe me, nor hearken to my voice, for they will say, The Lord has not appeared to you." [Shemot 4:1]. G-d allayed his fears and armed him with signs to show the nation.
Moshe arrived in Egypt and joined by Aharon, "gathered all of the elders of the Children of Israel." [Shemot 4:29]. Aharon stated Moshe's mission, Moshe performed the signs, and here came the test: would the nation accept it or no?

The next verse says it all: "And the people believed." Hashem was right! The plan worked! All of the elders of the people were there, and they bought into the Divine plan as presented by Moshe and Aharon.

Ten plagues later in Shemot 13:18, the Torah tells us, "the Children of Israel went up hamushim from the land of Egypt." Rashi explains that only 20% of the Children of Israel left Egypt because the rest of them died in the plague of darkness.

What happened? The Torah itself testifies in chapter 4 that the whole nation believed in the plan. What went wrong?

What went wrong is that 80% of the nation lost their faith and perished in the plague of darkness. Because they no longer believed, they were buried in Egypt.

What transpired in the meantime that so many changed their loyalties? What turned so many people away from the Divine Plan?

The question is strengthened when we consider what transpired during the time that elapsed. The Jewish People witnessed the greatest miracles and wonders by Hashem in the history of mankind. Anyone who had any doubt from the outset, could only be strengthened in his faith in Hashem's redeeming power after witnessing the ten plagues. What happened?

Know that both Hassidic masters and Torah giants from the misnagdim say that before the coming of Mashiach, there were be great tests of emunah, and only a few will maintain their faith. This is difficult for us to imagine in our time. 80% of Jews in the world won't be a part of the Mashiach?

But, we have proof from the book of the Shemot, that even though the whole nation expressed a desire to go along with Hashem's plan initially, only the few held fast and were redeemed.

Is the 80-20 Jewish redemption rule a must?

Acharit k'reisheet – we can learn about the final redemption from the first redemption from Egypt. In other words, the first redemption is recorded in the Torah for future generations to learn from it, why some retained their faith, and others did not, so that ALL of the Jewish Nation will bezrat hashem cling to their faith, despite the real and tough choices and challenges that will face each and every one of us.

After Moshe's first appearance before Pharaoh, the situation for the Jewish People deteriorated greatly. The workload was increased, and the people were whipped by Pharaoh's taskmasters. Ouch!

They met Moshe and Aharon and said, "G-d will pay you back!" for the troubles you are causing us.

What an about face! Just beforehand, the whole nation believed in Moshe's mission. And now, not only do they not believe, but they said that Moshe is the cause of all the nation's problems!

We see here that it's not an easy path. Expressions of faith are a good start, but each and every one of us must know that no one in this world will reach any level of closeness to Hashem without being ready to pass through some difficult and challenging tests. There's no other way. Only those who are willing to encounter these tests of faith, and stand steadfast in their commitment to Hashem, will merit to be redeemed. The majority of Jews, say the Hassidic masters, will not have the spiritual courage to pass.

When someone is faced with a test in faith, and he strengthens himself in emunah, then Hashem will raise him up. As the Zohar tells us, when a person stands steadfast in his commitment to do hashem's will despite the real pressures upon him to do the opposite, then the letter "samech" in the word nisayon (a test) changes to the letter "sin". The meaning of the word thus changes from "test" to "raise up."

If, on the other hand, the Jew caves in to what appear to be unavoidable pressures and extenuating circumstances, the Jew will fall.

The redemption is not immediate. It's not in minutes, hours, days, or months. It is a prolonged process filled with trials and tribulations. Those that cling with simple faith sometimes against logic, will merit to be redeemed. At each impasse, at each hurdle, a few more will stumble citing cogent reasoning and logic for their not overcoming the obstacle.

It seems paradoxical but what the Torah is telling us is that even though a person will see around him G-d performing revealed miracles for the Jewish People on the level of the ten plagues, if he wants to merit the Land of Israel, he must be prepared to have his "workload increased and be whipped for it." This is each person's test of faith in Hashem. As the gemara tells us in the Tractate of B'rachot, the Land of Israel can only be acquired through trials and suffering.

Take, for example, the Spies sent by Moshe who faced a great dilemma. They perceived that if they lead the Jewish People into Israel, then quickly their positions of prestige would be marginalized. New leaders in the fields of agriculture, commerce, the military and government would take prominence. The spies, who were the greatest Torah scholars of each tribe, would no longer feel that they were having as great an impact. So they opted to remain outside of Israel and were erased from Jewish history.

I remember visiting in Kfar Adumim, sitting in the caravan (mobile home) of a pulpit Rabbi from Westchester County, New York. He told my friend and I that he was a successfull Rabbi of a large, prominent, and wealthy shul, making a large salary, and feeling proud about the impact he was making on so many people. He wanted to come to Israel, and after much investigation and research realized that when he makes aliyah, he will be "diminished" to teaching grade school or high school. He did just that. I mamash felt like I was sitting in the presence of a saint, a person who was rectifying the sin of the spies.

Unfortunately, some of our brothers have fallen into the mindset of the spies. When a potential oleh inquires about life in Israel, parents, teachers, and friends tell him he is crazy for considering aliyah. They list reasons about how hard it will be for him, and why it makes no sense for him to walk away from a solid and promising future in the West. "It is enough to be connected and visit Israel," they say.

There are even many leading world class rabbis who are caught in the net of the klippah of the spies. So says the Vilna Gaon in chapter 5 of Kol HaTur. They discourage many from coming to Israel, and thereby delay the redemption.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would say about these rabbis that they are "tzadikim that have no faith." This is a reference to the Talmud Tractate Sota 48b in which the "smallness of vision of tzadikim (the righteous) caused them to lose faith in G-d." Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook said that those who leave Israel and discourage others from coming think that they are expressing their own free ideas. But, Rav Tzvi Yehuda says that in fact the opposite is true. He said that it is the Land regurgitating them from its midst because they are not spiritually fit.

To understand this point, he compared it to a young man and woman on a date. If the woman decides that this guy is simply not for her but doesn't want to hurt his sensitivities by telling him straight out, she seeks an alternative way to end the relationship. She arrives at the next date without a shower; no deodorant; her hair is a mess; her clothes are wrinkled; and her conversation is disconcerted. At the end of the meeting, the guy says to her, "I think you are a great person, but we are simply not fit."

So, too, the Land will appear tough and difficult to those whom the Land deems unfit. Only after much teshuva, faith, and raising one's vision to a perspective of generations, they will merit to return to settle in Israel.
Dear friends, aliyah is the only option for a Jew. It will happen sooner or later and better sooner. I know many people who have changed professions after arriving is Israel, e.g. a lawyer who became a museum guide, etc. Whatever will be Hashem's will, one must rejoice in it. And rejoice in the fact that you are a Jew in the Land with a wife and family and engaging in your new-found profession of being a real servant of the Master of the Universe in his terrestrial home - Israel.

Many developments can occur, and Hashem's outstretched arm can perform wonders. As the Yiddush expression goes, man plans and G-d laughs.

The 80-20 redemption rule is brutal. Don't be left behind. Start thinking of practical steps today. Purchase an apartment in Israel if you can afford it, spend your vacations in Israel, start to master the Hebrew language as though you are returning to your mother tongue, check out job options in the holy land and keep smiling no matter what happens.

Your place is here no matter what type of Jew you are.

Welcome home to Israel!

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