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Thursday, June 29, 2006


More death and destruction

It's so hard not to be cynical about the 'cycle of violence' in Israel.

They kill two of our boys and kidnap a third. All of a sudden they've got a bargaining chip that people care about.

Israel rattles its sabers. The PRC (and who are we kidding here? Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the PRC, and all these other clowns share information, resources, and a healthy hatred of Israel) says, "Hey, we've got your boy. And we also have a settler."

How can we not be cynical? Who's worth more? The settler kid or the soldier kid? We all know Olmert's answer. He and Sharon answered that question when they pulled out of Gaza last year.
Can you imagine the conversation?

Aide: They kidnapped a settler, Eliahu Asheri, in addition to Gilad Shalit.
Olmert: We are going to marshall all our resources and make an international stink about the soldier.
Aide: And the settler?
Olmert: Hmmm. Well, popular opinion is that they're a bunch of wild-eyed zealots who are asking for trouble. So they got some. Who am I to argue? We'll focus on the Shalit boy. Asheri is just another tragic sacrifice in the quest for peace.

So they killed Eliahu Asheri, and now Hamas knows that settlers are fair game - and not valuable as bargaining chips.

They also know that it's a matter of time before Olmert orchestrates his 're-alignment' and pulls settlers out of the West Bank, too. Because that's how much Israel values the sacrifice and dedication of the mitnachlim.

And so, the terrorist murderers win. They have no reason to stop. Israel has been "pounding positions in Gaza City," but you know what? They HAVEN'T HURT OR KILLED ANYONE!

Am I the only one who finds this astonishing?

They've arrested, or detained, a few dozen high-level Hamasniks. You think those guys are being tortured and beaten and threatened? You think their families and friends are being rounded up and held as bargaining chips? Nope. Olmert is playing this way too softly.

I'm not a violent person, but when I see stories like this, I want to see carpet-bombing. I want to see massacres. Honestly. Let the enemy know that they can't get away with this. There are no 'innocent non-combatants' in these territories.

How many times do we have to scream it? They don't want peace. They don't want peace. They don't want peace!!!!

Golda Meir said, "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us." But at this point, peace will come when Israel loves its children more than this pathetic desire to be accepted by liberal Europe. Shamir understood this, to a degree. Rabin and Peres and their ilk didn't. They honestly thought they could make peace and then be invited to Stockholm and Paris and the Hague for tea. Idiots. We're not going to be accepted by the corrupt and empty oligarchs in Europe. Our enemies are bloodthirsty murderers, not theoretical or ideological opponents. We need to take care of our own, because nobody else will.

Until then, we'll see more kidnappings, more murders, more Jewish blood spilled for nothing. And more futile posturing from an ineffectual and soulless government that's lost its moral and spiritual foundation.

We have no one on whom to rely, except on our Father in heaven.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Save the Russian Children!

Following the thread of tzedaka organizations that employ questionable tactics in marketing and soliciting funds, I present the latest mailing from Shuvu. (Which added "Chazon Avrohom" to its name, so as to drive home the implicit haskama of R' Avrohom Pam, zt''l. And then, to make sure you get the message, they put "Shuvu & Rav Pam An Eternal Bond" on the organizational masthead.)

But I don't know that R' Pam would have approved of this latest campaign.

Listen, the group provides Jewish education and positive experiences for Russian kids in Israel. What could be bad, right? The problem is, they've pitched their summer program as follows:

1. You must send the Russian kids to summer camp.

2. Because otherwise they're going to hang out in malls and restaurants.

3. And that's where the TERRORISTS USUALLY STRIKE.

They've moved beyond the traditional, "We have positive role models and the alternative is a secular or negative experience." Now they're saying, "Send the kids to camp, or else they're going to DIE!"

Some choice quotes:
"Once, summer camp was a luxury. Now, it is not!"
"The Shuvu summer camping experience... can mean the difference between life and death."
"For $100 a child, you can save a life!"

They've taken great pains to point out that we're not just talking about spiritual life--we're talking about physical life.

So what are they actually saying? It's okay if Sephardi or chiloni kids get blown up? Or are they saying that they have an agreement with the terrorists, and Shuvu campers are automatically safer than any other children in Israel?

Of course not.

But what they are doing is painting a camp fundraiser as a matter of life and death, and that's irresponsible.

You want to save lives? Give blood. Send bulletproof vests to the soldiers. Help the people living in Karnei Shomron build a hospital.

And by all means, make sure the Russian children get Jewish educations.

Please know, I'm not writing this as a screed against Shuvu. They do incredible work. But their ad campaign rubbed me the wrong way, and I felt the need to vent about it here.

Maybe Kupat Ha'ir has a segulah to help cure me of this negativity?

Thursday, June 15, 2006


A Tale of Frustration

Editor’s note: In the interests of protecting the innocent and guilty, I’m going to change the names in this story. You’ll see what I mean as the narrative moves along.


Last night, a major tech company whose name rhymes with Bewlett Backard threw a little Hawaiian-themed, gadget-preview, open-bar, fun-filled press event. Needless to say, I was there.

I brought my knapsack, which contained (among other things) some very important papers, my talis and tefillin, assorted electronic devices, and my jacket. I checked it in at the coat check. I went to mingle and learn about the company’s upcoming products.

Bewlett-Backard was very generous to us press folks, and the gift bags we received upon departure were both large and well-stocked with goodies. (I think the Elite chocolate Chanukah coins were a very nice touch, by the way. Good stuff!)

Of course, in my excitement over the goody bag, I left my knapsack unclaimed. I mentioned there was an open bar, didn’t I?

So I got home later that evening and realized my mistake. I called the (rhymes with) Best Bide Boft, which is where the event was held, and I left a message there. I also e-mailed the event organizers at (rhymes with) Borter Bovelli.

I figured that the bus stops near the Boft, so I got off there this morning instead of riding all the way to work. I called the Boft and spoke to someone whose name rhymes with Bichael. He said, “I don’t see it anywhere. You have to call the caterer. Here’s their number.”

So I called Bean & Beluca, the caterer. I left a message, and in the meantime, I took the train down to work. A woman whose name rhymes with Bava called back, said she’d contact the guy who ran the coat check. I called back an hour later, and she said, “He says he put it in the coat check room.”

I call back the Boft, and I speak to someone named (rhymes with) Bicki. “It’s not here. I got your message first thing this morning and I checked the coat room and it’s not there.”

“Can I come by and check?” I asked.

“Sure. But come soon, because there’s a wedding being held here tonight.”


So I shlep back up to the Boft. All the way uptown, I'm mumbling tehillim and "Omar Rav Binyamin..." to myself (sorry, DB), and I'm considering calling Kupat Ha'ir on my cell and making a 180-shekel donation, but I don't.

I go up to the sixth floor, which is where the event took place. And takeh, it's empty. But I check every closet, every cabinet, the kitchen, the bathrooms (men's, women's, and handicapped), the fire escape, the janitor's closet, you name it. My bag is really and truly not there.

So I call Bicki again. "Are you sure nobody turned it in to the main office?" I ask.

"I *am* the main office," she retorts. "Nobody gave me anything. But, Borter Bovelli left some boxes here on the 11th floor, so if you want, you can come up and check them."

So I proceeded upstairs and checked the pile of boxes (some $50,000 worth of hardware, if I had to guess), but my bag was not among them. Then I decided to find Bicki. She was in a back kitchen, with papers and a phone spread out on the steel countertop. This was the 'main office.'

I said, "Hi. I'm Michael. I haven't located the bag... but... wait a minute. That's it!"

"It is?" she replied.

My bag was sitting on the shelf of the steel countertop at which Bicki was working. It was *8 FEET away from her the ENTIRE TIME.*

"Ummm, I asked you if anyone turned it in to your office, didn't I?" I said, trying to be polite. "Has it been right here on your desk the whole time?!"

"Maybe," she said. "Nobody called me, and nobody left me a note. This is a very busy office, and nobody told me to look for it in here. But I'm glad you came up and found it!"


Thank you very much, Bicki. Next time something like this happens, look to your left and glance over the items on your desk before telling the person on the phone that their unclaimed objects are missing.

And I'm also left with a question: What would have happened if I'd taken her word for it, and just given up? At what point would she have noticed the strange black bag on the shelf under her desk? And would she have made the connection and thought to call me, when and if she did notice it?

I guess everyone is blind until Hashem opens their eyes, right? And 2 hours and some 40 blocks later, I have my bag. Happy ending.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Har Sinai: Blissful union or shotgun wedding?

Hello all -

I realize Yomtov's over, and I hope you all enjoyed, but the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Kehilas Sassov suggested I post some discussion material I put together for learning on Leil Shavuos. Some of these ideas are covered elsewhere in the blogosphere, but here's my $0.02.


שבעות – 5766 – Shavuos – 2006

טז וַיְהִי בַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי בִּהְיֹת הַבֹּקֶר, וַיְהִי קֹלֹת וּבְרָקִים וְעָנָן כָּבֵד עַל-הָהָר, וְקֹל שֹׁפָר, חָזָק מְאֹד; וַיֶּחֱרַד כָּל-הָעָם, אֲשֶׁר בַּמַּחֲנֶה. יז וַיּוֹצֵא מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הָעָם לִקְרַאת הָאֱלֹקים, מִן-הַמַּחֲנֶה; וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ, בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר. יח וְהַר סִינַי, עָשַׁן כֻּלּוֹ, מִפְּנֵי אֲשֶׁר יָרַד עָלָיו ה', בָּאֵשׁ; וַיַּעַל עֲשָׁנוֹ כְּעֶשֶׁן הַכִּבְשָׁן, וַיֶּחֱרַד כָּל-הָהָר מְאֹד. יט וַיְהִי קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר, הוֹלֵךְ וְחָזֵק מְאֹד; מֹשֶׁה יְדַבֵּר, וְהָאֱלֹקים יַעֲנֶנּוּ בְקוֹל.

Free translation:
(Shemos 19: 16-19) And it was on the third day, in the morning, and there were noises and thunder and thick clouds on the mountain, and a very strong shofar sound, and the entire nation, who were in the camp, trembled. And Moshe took the nation out toward Hashem, from the camp, and they stood beneath the mountain. And Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because Hashem had descended upon it in fire, and the smoke rose like that of a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And the sound of the shofar grew increasingly strong, Moshe spoke, and Hashem answered him with a voice.

יד וְכָל-הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת-הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת-הַלַּפִּידִם, וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר, וְאֶת-הָהָר, עָשֵׁן; וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ, וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק.

(Shemos 20:14) And the whole nation saw the voices, and the flames, and the sound of the shofar, and the mountain, smoking, and the nation saw and shook, and they stood at a distance.

1. Hashem spoke to each person, according to his/her capacity.

מדרש שמות רבה
אנכי ה' אלקיך, הה"ד (דברים ד): השמע עם קול אלקים. המינין שאלו את ר' שמלאי, א"ל: אלוהות הרבה יש בעולם? אמר להם: למה? אמרו לו: שהרי כתיב, השמע עם קול אלקים! אמר להם: שמא כתוב מדברים, אלא מדבר. אמרו לו תלמידיו: רבי לאלו דחית בקנה רצוץ, לנו מה אתה משיב? חזר ר' לוי ופירשה, אמר להם: השמע עם קול אלקים, כיצד? אילו היה כתוב קול ה' בכחו, לא היה העולם יכול לעמוד, אלא קול ה' בכח,
בכח של כל אחד ואחד. הבחורים לפי כחן, והזקנים לפי כחן, והקטנים לפי כחן.
אמר הקב"ה לישראל: לא בשביל ששמעתם קולות הרבה, תהיו סבורין שמא אלוהות הרבה יש בשמים, אלא תהיו יודעים שאני הוא ה' אלקיך, שנאמר (שם ה): אנכי ה' אלקיך:
[Hashem’s voice spoke at the] level attuned to each person: The young men at their level, the elderly at their level, and the children at their level.

2. Each person attained clarity, certainty, and freedom from doubt, accepting the Torah with love.

מדרש שיר השירים רבה
ישקני מנשיקות פיהו, אמר רבי יוחנן:מלאך היה מוציא הדיבור מלפני הקדוש ברוך הוא, על כל דיבור ודיבור ומחזירו על כל אחד ואחד מישראל, ואומר לו: מקבל אתה עליך את הדיבור הזה? כך וכך דינין יש בו, כך וכך עונשין יש בו, כך וכך גזרות יש בו, וכך מצוות וכך קלים וחמורים יש בו, כך וכך מתן שכר יש בו. והיה אומר לו ישראל: הן. וחוזר ואומר לו: מקבל את אלקותו של הקדוש ברוך הוא? והוא אומר לו: הן והן, מיד היה נושקו על פיו,
ורבנין אמרין: הדיבור עצמו, היה מחזר על כל אחד ואחד מישראל, ואומר לו: מקבלני את עליך? וכו'

Free translation:
R’ Yochanan said: An angel brought out each commandment from before Hashem and presented it to every single Jew. And [the angel] said: “Do you accept this commandment? It includes such-and-such laws, such-and-such punishments, such-and-such decrees, such-and-such mitzvos, both easy and difficult, and such-and-such reward.”
And the Jew replied, “Yes.”
[The angel] replied: “Do you accept Hashem’s G-dliness?”
And the Jew answered: “Yes, yes!”
Immediately, [the angel] kissed the Jew…
And the Rabbis say, [it was not an angel, but] each commandment presented itself to each Jew…

3. Each person found the aspect of Torah that resonated with him/her.

וכל העם רואים את הקולות... The whole nation saw the voices

מסכת אבות פרק ב,יב: אמר להם, רואה אני את דברי אלעזר בן ערך מדבריכם, שבכלל דבריו דבריכם
מסכת שקלים פרק ד,ז: אמר רבי עקיבה, רואה אני את דברי רבי אליעזר מדברי רבי יהושוע
“Seeing,” in the Mishna, implies agreement and acceptance.

4. Hashem forced us to accept the Torah by threatening us with immediate destruction.

מסכת שבת, דף פח.: ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר א"ר אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא מלמד שכפה הקב"ה עליהם את ההר כגיגית ואמר להם אם אתם מקבלים התורה מוטב ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכם א"ר אחא בר יעקב מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתא אמר רבא אעפ"כ הדור קבלוה בימי אחשורוש דכתיב (אסתר ט) קימו וקבלו היהודים קיימו מה שקיבלו כבר

Free translation, bold text:
Hashem covered them with the mountain …and said to them: If you accept the Torah, fine. But if not, your burial will be there.
How can we reconcile these conflicting ideas?
Tosfos: Even though they had already said “נעשה ונשמע,” it was possible that they’d renege on that promise when they saw the great fire and experienced the overwhelming revelation.

Ramban: נעשה ונשמע did not happen until the day after מעמד הר סיני, as it is recorded several chapters later in פרשת משפטים.

Maharsha: נעשה ונשמע didn’t count as a full acceptance. A formal treaty and oath were also required.

Midrash Tanchuma: נעשה ונשמע covered only .תורה שבכתבThey needed to be forced into accepting תורה שבעל פה, because it is far more complex and difficult. דעת זקנים מבעלי התוס' brings a similar explanation.

Aish Kodesh (building on the Midrash Tanchuma): The תורה שבעל פה that actually defines and explains the written Torah was included in נעשה ונשמע. The additional rules, boundaries, restrictions, and stringencies placed on us by the חכמים of each generation are what we refused to accept until Hashem threatened us. And this shows us how important these restrictions are; our very lives are forfeit if we violate them. Conversely, we are entitled to rewards in this world for the additional observances we take on.

Kli Yakar: This was no coercion. Rather, Hashem was telling us that we can only achieve true life through the Torah, and if we refuse it at any point, we are doomed to living meaningless lives in this world and we gain no reward in the next. (He explains the continuation of the גמרא’s discussion as well.)

Maharal: Even though we accepted the Torah with love, Hashem had to demonstrate that our acceptance wasn’t a matter of choice, because had we not accepted the Torah, the world would have ceased to exist (see the גמרא above). To offer the Torah to the Jews based on their willingness to accept it would create the erroneous assumption that the Torah was dispensable. Thus G-d had to force them to accept it despite their ready consent, to hammer home the idea that the alternative of living without it simply does not exist. (For further discussion, see

Meshech Chochmah: The revelation at Sinai was so intense and undeniable, our ability to exercise free will disappeared. Our psyches became angelic; accepting the Torah was the only choice we could possibly make (as explained in the גמרא). Thus, allegorically, Hashem covered us with the mountain. (He explains the continuation of the גמרא’s discussion as well.)

Contemporary Rabbanim seem to take the “Mamesh both” approach:

R’ Avraham Kalev of Yeshivat Bet El: Accepting the Torah isn’t something we can choose to do on our own, nor is it something we can be forced into. The bond between Hashem and the Jewish people had to be created from both sides – with Hashem forcing His rule upon us, and our accepting it willingly.
(For more discussion, visit www.yeshiva.org.il)

R’ Asher Weiss of Yeshivat Bet El: We didn’t run away when Hashem put the mountain over us, which demonstrated the depth of our commitment and love. Also, Hashem put the mountain over us to establish the fact that we are obligated to observe the Torah even when we’re not inspired, uplifted, and on the spiritual level where we accept it wholeheartedly (see the Kli Yakar, above).
(For more discussion, visit www.yeshiva.org.il)

May we all merit to see the holy words of Resh Lakish fulfilled במהרה בימינו – let it be tonight.
אמר ר"ל עתיד הקב"ה להחזירן לנו שנאמר (ישעיהו לה) ופדויי ה' ישובון ובאו ציון ברנה ושמחת עולם על ראשם-- שמחה שמעולם על ראשם
שבת שלום וחג שמח

Gutt Shabbos Gutt Yomtov!!
Gutt Yomtov Gutt Shabbos!!

Thursday, June 01, 2006


I found my Gedolim

Shlomo Hamelech says it's better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting, because it's hard to be introspective at a party.

Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to visit a 'shiva' house yesterday, and I understand, in a limited way, what Shlomo Hamelech meant.

My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Berel Wein, Shlit''a, is sitting shiva for his wife, Rebbetzin Jackie, Yocheved bas Harav Eliezer.

Yesterday was his "Monsey" day, and people from throughout the tri-state area came to pay their condolences.

The stories being exchanged in that shiva house, and the wry and heartfelt and poignant comments coming from the mourners and visitors alike, could fill a book. I joked, somewhat tastelessly, that the Yeshiva could create a new tape series just from the shiva conversations.

But the truth is, I could have sat there for hours. Rabbi Wein was reminiscing with some of the older visitors who were close with his wife, and telling stories about her father's struggles to support his family, and about their emigration from Lithuania, which was orchestrated by a non-religious relative. "There was a time in Jewish life when family meant something, regardless of how religious you were," Rabbi Wein said.

A few minutes after I arrived, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, shlit''a, came in. "Oy, Shia," Rabbi Wein said. "You have a lot of fans, but Jackie was your number-one fan."

The dozens of other visitors sat in respectful silence, as is appropriate in a shiva house, but it was inspiring just to see these two men sitting together. R' Twerski was very subdued as well. Does Orthodox Judaism have anyone more erudite in psychology than he? I don't think so. But he let the mourners take the lead and he conversed quietly with them.

"We were married for 51 years," Rabbi Wein said, "Vayehi b'einav k'yamim achadim b'ahavaso osah." ("And they seemed to him like a few days, in his love for her." A quote from Parshas Vayetze.)

Can you imagine? A Rosh Yeshiva speaking so plainly about loving his wife?

A few minutes later, Rav Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, called to express his condolences. Rabbi Wein said, "Ata yadata es machovi..." ("You know my pain" - a play on a verse in Parshas Shmos). His voice faltered as he thanked the rebbe for calling.

Rabbi Wein talked about the way Jackie always followed him as his rabbinical career evolved - from Detroit to Chicago to Miami to New York to Monsey to Jerusalem - even though she was already popular and well-established in each community. He spoke about her teaching, and the way she made every student feel important and integral to the class. He spoke about how difficult it was to make Aliyah, when all the children and grandchildren are still in the States.

I wish I knew Rebbetzin Wein better. I met her only a handful of times. But I remember clearly her kindness and pleasant demeanor, no doubt from serving as mother and grandmother, teacher and role model to hundreds of students, Rebbetzin to hundreds of congregants, and 'surrogate mother' to hundreds of Yeshiva boys.

The sense I got (and I never really forgot this, but the conversations brought it home more tangibly), is that these exceptional people (Rabbi Wein, Rabbi Twerski, and others) are real. Their parents and their children and their friends all enjoy(ed) normal relationships, despite the rabbinic celebrity of the family and the thankless, oppressive roles of leadership they took on.
And if I want to find role models for myself, and for my children, these are the people I would want to emulate.

That's a very tall order, and rather daunting. But at least I had the opportunity to see them in action -- in joy and in grief, G-d forbid. And I'm grateful to my parents for sending me to Shaarei Torah, where I could learn from Rabbi Wein's Torah and his example, even if I didn't fully appreciate it at the time.

May the Weins be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

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