Monday, July 30, 2012

The Connection Between Aliya to Israel and Repentance in Accordance to Rav Kook Z"TL

I'm almost finished reading Sparks of Repentance by Rav Kook Z"TL. It's a revolutionary work that espouses the central ideas of repentance (on the idividual, national, and global level). I'm extremely grateful to Gabe and Nehemia of Yeshivat Ha'mivtar in Efrat for helping and inspiring me to continue my in-depth study of Sparks.

Rav Kook uses fundametally socialist ideas (H/T Nehemia) in his approach to repentance. He traces both the progress and the premenitions of tshuva to a global approach, one in which the Jewish nation needs to be united in mission and purpose in order to achieve its calling. Whereas socialism was destined to failure and misery from the go, Rav Kook's teachings have inspired an entire generation of followers. A majority of these have taken it upon themselves to spread the light of Torah in Israel and abroad.

R' Kook stresses the connection of living in Israel with an individual's ability to repent--in the broadest sense of the term. "Repentance" for R' Kook isn't limited to feeling sorry for stealing an apple or paying the owner for his loss. The highest level of repentance is when stealing that apple is construed as the thief's merit. He has, in essense, not only repented for his sin, but in effect carried out an act of kindness towards himself and the entire world. The process of turning a petty theft, for example, into an act of selfless kindness, may occupy a lifetime to accomplish. It's not an easy one and one is likely to feel the "pangs of repentance" along the way. He has the innate ability to turn bad into good however.

R' Kook views the return of the Jewish People to their historic homeland as the beginning of a universal Redemption. While we're responsible for this process, we're also held accountable for being a "Holy People, a Nation of Priests." Based on Parshat Dvarim, Rav Yitzchok Snyder of Baka has conveyed the message that "Those of us living in Israel are undoubtedly held to a higher standard."

He's absolutely right: on a personal level, I know what the results of moral depravity in the Holy Land are capable of leading to. The fact that there are a few million Israelis who've settled in North America is telling when it comes to making this point. Who's left the country? I'd like to stipulate that it's been mostly those whom the land has "vomitted out."

Universal redemtion and repentance may be construed as one and the same. A congregant at the Baka Chabbad told me yesterday that there's an important reason I've come home and that those living abroad are simply "missing the point," that it's not about Moshiach being here (it's widely believed he's already here and hasn't appeared due to a lack of unity amongst the Jewish people) or not, that the very essence of Judaism, what every mekubal in every century has tried to instill in our "heavy-necked" people, is the return to Israel. This return is tantamount to the "return" of tshuva, of "returning" to a Torah way of life and it's the "return" my close friend and Rabbi, Shlomo Epshteyn was privileged to make a few weeks ago.

May we all merit to repent in the full sense of the word soon in our day. May we return to the land "Hashem sets His eyes upon from the beginning to the end of the year."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Arab MK's Should Be Outlawed Along With Their Political Parties

When right wing Jewish political parties are banned from the Knesset by liberal Israeli governments, when all of Europe is crying because a young, innexperienced Israeli soldier head-butts an Arab who's not even supposed to be in a military zone in Hevron and because the army makes a few soft-handed arrests here and there, when the world is blind, we need to fight back and strike where it hurts most. Arab parties should--no, must be banned from the Knesset.

Today, MSN Israel News reported that MK Zuabi blamed Israel for the Burgas bombing and claimed that the Munich Massacre of 1976 was Israel's fault as well. Of course! What more can be expected of a terrorist wannabe mascarading as an open-minded intellectual (the majority of Political Science staff at Tel-Aviv University would agree with her)!? Zuabi should be arrested for incitement along with the rest of the Arab MK's in the Knesset. There's absolutely no reason I can think of this should not happen.

But the Supreme Court will block any incentive to ban Arab parties, siting these as "racist."  The Supreme Court here is a trojan horse, a cancer that continues coming back like an undesired ex-girlfriend. Moshe Feiglin has long been battling the Supreme Court because he realizes that with it dictating to the government, nothing can be done. Literally nothing. There will simply be no real progress made until the Supreme Court has either ceased to exist, or is stripped of its choke-hold on Israeli real politik.

Zuabi, Tibi and the crew are using the Knesset as a podium to voice their rabid anti-Semitism. Their words and actions shouldn't go unnoticed. The Palestinians are noticing their elected leaders calls to annihilate us, and are heading these. Why shouldn't we notice when our land and the country that signals the beginning of the Redemption of the entire world is in danger?
Finally a quote: "We left Minsk and we left Pinsk and we came back to Minsk and we came back to Pinsk."

May we know only good times, good deeds, and may we merit the Redemption soon in our day! Have a meaningful fast and may the Temple be rebuilt ASAP!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On Prayer and Terror in Bulgaria

I had an opportunity to learn with a wonderful young man by the name of Mordechai yesterday. We went over some passages from the Shulchan Aruch/Mishna Brura on prayer. It's written that all our thoughts should be focused on G-d while we pray. Prayer should be a special time in one's day dedicated solely to our relationship with Hashem. We should try to get rid of all foreign thoughts, espcially thoughts dealing with worldly matters.

Mordechai related to me how meditation may be used towards strengthening one's ability to focus on G-d during prayer. He stressed that it shouldn't be the other way: we shouldn't pray to be able to meditate better, but rather, use meditation as a means of improving the quality of our prayer. We should beseach Hashem to grant us all our prayers whether we're asking for seemingly trivial things or matters of life and death.

I've often felt that prayer has provided me a time to reflect on the day and on my plans for the future. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch teaches that we should stop praying when foreign thoughts infiltrate our minds.

Jews have prayed for their daily needs, trusting in G-d to provide for them for as long as we've existed. Our forefathers did it. Our kings and prophets did it and today, we continuing praying. Perhaps, it's the longest-standing tradition in the annals of humankind.

Today, I'm going to pray for Jewish blood to be avenged. Yesterday's suicide bombing in Burakas, Bulgaria cannot go unnoticed. Like the Munich Olympics massacre of '76, it will be ignored by the world, but at least we can do something about it.

I'm not calling for us to take matters into our own hands, but for the Israeli government and the IDF to clamp down on terrorists wherever they may be. The army should conduct pre-emptive strikes in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and the Mossad should not feel restrained to hit terrorist targets abroad. We're in the middle of a war being waged against us on all fronts whether it be in the press, amongst our civilians or on foreign soil. We must be first to strike lest we're forced to strike after a terrorist act has already taken place, G-d forbid. We must make our enemies realize that Jewish blood is not cheap; that terrorism will not be taken for granted.

May the lives of the pure and righteous victims of the Burgas terror attack be avenged. May we use our power to pray for good!

11th Anniversary of Aliya to Israel

This past Tuesday, I marked the 11th anniversary of my Aliya to Israel. It was a special occassion for me. I took the time to reflect on how much has happened since I came here on July 17th, 2001. It was a tumultous move and a difficult time at first. I felt lost, not knowing what to do and where to begin. There were people who helped me along the way. Many people. But I still ran into trouble. I got into a lot of unnecessary fights with people I hardly knew. I was extremely aggressive and unsettled. I was a troubled young soul looking for a place to fit in.

Then there were the years in Ramat Aviv and Ramat Hasharon, the university studies, the dating scene and everything that followed. I had jobs, I lost jobs, I had a peace of mind, only to lose that as well, and finally, I had a woman I loved only to realize our ways were meant to seperate. I came closer towards organized Judaism, and drew away. The time wasn't ripe. I wasn't there yet.

I returned to America in a state of dizziness. I didn't know where to go or whom to turn to. I felt lost and far from home. My home was now Israel and I was a stranger in this land. I stayed there for four years, recooperated from everything that had happened, and eventually rekindled my love for the Jewish way of life. I came closer to organized Judaism, attended a yeshiva in N.J., read everything I could get my hands on, and gained strength. I made lots of good friends who provided the moral support I needed at the time.

Half a year ago, I returned to the land of my dreams, a land I plan on staying in, marrying in, having a family and growing as a person in. I love this land with all my heart and soul and wouldn't be against volunteering for the army here at some point after I've worked for a period of time. I feel that everything is ahead of me. I've gained new strength and new inspiration. I'm back to writing poetry and running: two of my favorite hobbies. I'm working. I'm reading a lot. I'm back home.

I want to thank Israel for everything this country has given me. The country and the the state because I love the country and state just as much as I love the land. It's a special place and a special society. No, we're not perfect and Moshiach hasn't arrived yet, but we have a deeply-rooted obligation to settle the land. We can never reach completeness living in the Diaspora. It's pretty simple. I want to thank Israel for being there for me. It's great to be back!

Monday, July 16, 2012


I posted last about a week ago. It's been a busy time since then. I found some work, and it's been pretty good. There are things that bother me to no end like PA Head, Fayyad and US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton visiting in Jerusalem (heads up to Josh Hasten for posting about this on FB).

Hillary's husband, Bill, was key in forcing Rabin's hand at Oslo and propelling Bibi out of office in the '98 elections when the self-hating Ehud Barak was elected. Despite his close ties to Jewish groups, Bill has caused more damage to Israel than any other American president (Obama included). Hillary's achievements include serving under an anti-Semitic president. As for Fayyad, it's all too simple. The guy's a terrorist responsible for thousands of Jewish casualties.

Why does the clearly right wing Israeli government (arguably the most right wing government ever even with Kadima on board) continue appeasing murderers and dictators (Putin visited here last month)? Why do we allow any world dignitary who wants to visit into Israel? I don't get it. I'm sick of posting about these things and coming up with empty answers whereas I have no idea why things take place. Maybe you have some ideas....

From Jerusalem,

Eitan Divinsky

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On Running

My second wind, my second chance at life,
For you I beckon,
For mere burden and strife--
Cannot accomplish what love can,
I long for you,
My second wind,
In this here, Holy Land.

I run,
No stops, I run for running's sake.
I run to end all running,
To cease all that is fake,
I run for promises of better days to come,
I run because I can,
I run because I love to run!

And if you see me running one Jerusalem night,
Yell out to me,
Tell me of my peoples' might,
The might to keep on going,
To run when everyone around's sitting still,
To run without fear of running from an ill,
To run and not know how to harm, injure, kill,
How to be the best one can and yet,
Allow others to be that too,
To run and know that even though you can outrun others,
You shouldn't follow through.
To run,
To feel the sweat upon your face, the wind upon your back,
To always run,
To never crack.
To keep on steady,
"All aboard" the captain shouts!
To keep on running
As the pressure mounts.

You know, you can keep on running from the things you fear,
Or you can run for running's sake alone,
Whichever one you choose,
You're not alone!
I've run my whole life and you have probably too,
I run to keep on running,
Why do you?

On Parshat Pinchus

This post should be a z'chut to my grandmother's, Yulia bat Berta's speedy recovery and was inspired largely by Rabbi Yitzchok Snyder's d'var Torah today.

People, sometimes those from our own communities, may sometimes lead us astray. This sounds like an oversimplified axiom, right!? It is, but it's also one to reflect upon. How many times have you seen things taking place right under your nose that you thought were simply outrageous? How many times have you witnessed fellow Jews performing public acts of hillul Hashem--the defamation of G-d's name?

This week's parsha's first Rashi evokes a situation in which while G-d approves of the actions of Pinchus, the Jewish community does not. I'd assume some members of the community did, in fact, approve of Pinchus' slaying the Jewish tribal chief, Zimri and the Midianite princess, Kosbi who were openly fornicating in the Israelite camp, but from the simple pshat, it seems that the majority were strongly opposed to it. Why else would the Text list Pinchus' lineage dating back to Aharon the Priest, known for his ability to settle family feuds and instill ahavat Yisrael, the love for the Jewish people amongst his nation in the opening verse of the parsha?

Both Rashi and Nachmonides stress the fact that Pinchus' zealotry was the one factor that saved the Jewish people from G-d's wrath after they'd sinned with the Midianite women and after thousands of them had already been doomed to death. Nevertheless, the majority of our people were strongly opposed to Pinchus' actions, deeming them innaprorpriate in light of his lineage. They correctly believed Pinchus' maternal grandmother had been an idol worshipper and were up in arms because Zimri, the Jew he'd slayed was a tribal prince. Thus Rashi explains the verse's review of Pinchus' lineage.

We can learn a very important lesson from all this. Just because a majority of people, be they Jews or Gentiles, believe in an ideology, this doesn't, by any means, make this ideology true in the eyes of G-d. We can believe in the underlying themes of the French Revolution: equality and brotherhood, but while these are beautiful ideas, they haven't passed the litmus test of history. Millions, perhaps billions of people have been murdered in cold blood as a direct result of the French Revolution, the October Revolution, the spread of Socialism and the erosion of the Torah way of life.

We can blame Haredim for "picking" on women, for not paying taxes, or not serving in the army, but at the end of the day, they're in large part responsible for carrying on Jewish tradition. We can blame the Zionist establishment for enroaching on the human rights of illegal aliens and Arabs, but the Zionist establishment is largely a halachic entity that cares about sanctifying the Name of G-d and performing good deeds.

Point is, we have to be very careful what positions we take. We need to try to fashion ourselves in accordance with what G-d wants of us--not with what mere mortals would have us believe.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Insights From This Shabbat

May this post/d'var be a z'chut to my grandmother's, Yulia bat Berta's return to health.

Jerusalem, 7/8/12: Shabbat Parshat Balak was one of the more spiritual Shabbatot I've experienced thus far in Israel. Friday night dinner at the R. home was exceptional. Mr. R's brilliant recap of the parsha was the focal point. He made an emphasis on Bilam's blessing to the Jewish people which states: "How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel..." aluding, as he stated, to the modesty of the Children of Israel. This modesty, coupled with our upkeep of tradition, according to Mr. R., is what has allowed the Jews to maintain our national character, and persevere in the face of overwhelming odds while in the Diaspora.

The high point of Shabbat came just before Mincha/Arvit at a nearby Sephardic synagogue I've made a point of frequenting. The Rabbi there is a very soft-spoken, learned man whom I've come to appreciate. The d'var he gave touched on the merit of being able to be grateful for the bad along with the good and accepting both as Divine providence.

He told us of King David's biggest sin: when he sent Uriah, who had been Goliath's arms carrier, and who had provided the young David Goliath's sword so that the latter could slay him in return for "whatever he asked" to certain death on the battlefield. David had agreed to grant Uriah his wish and Uriah had asked for Batsheva's (by some accounts, the most beautiful woman depicted in the Mikrah) hand in marriage. Batsheva had been "designated" for King David and while Uriah gave the king reason enough to sentence him to death (Uriah at one point alluded to David's nemesis as "my lord" in the king's presence, thus, in fact, openly rebelling against the king), this death should have come at the hands of the Sanhedrin--not an enemy army. David ended up marrying Batsheva when she was three-months pregnant with Uriah's child. He thus pre-empted Divine will.

David ended up sending not only Uriah, but his entire brigade (Uriah had been appointed the equivalent of a modern-day general, second only to the "Chief of Staff,") into a trap layed by the enemy in which they were all slain. Shmuel visited King David and produced one of the most powerful monologues in Nach, in which he compared Uriah to a shepherd whose one "little sheep" has been stolen from him by a rich man. He asked David what the punishment for this crime should be and David's ready answer was that the rich man should be sentenced to death. Shmuel then disclosed to David that he, himself, was the "rich man" who'd stolen Uriah's "sheep."

The Rabbi related to us how David would suffer greatly due to his sin. He'd lose 16 children and Avshalom would sleep with his concubines (only the king was allowed to have concubines after revelation of the Torah at Sinai) while he was away. Avshalom would also claim the throne and pursue David and his flock of loyalists till he, himself, died a painful death when his hair got tangled in a tree and he ended up hung upside down). But while being pursued by his own son, David composed a psalm that reads: "A song to David in his fleeing his son Avshalom."

The quesition of "Why is the word 'son' emphasized here begs to be asked and may be answered as follows: David preferred to be pursued by his son rather than by a more "natural" enemy. Why? Because the fact that his own son was trying to kill him allowed David to realize that G-d was behind the action--no one but G-d, and that a decree from Above was being carried out (and how much better to be in the hands of G-d than mortal man?, as David, himself, stipulates in another psalm).

What's the lesson to be learned here? When something bad happens that's within the realm of the "natural," we may be prone to be angry and upset, but when we know G-d is behind our troubles, we should have the strength (and this is far from easy) to be grateful to Him for providing us trials in this world and not the world to come. This is an important principle in halacha.

Shavua tov and may you have a meaningful (not necessarily easy) fast! May we all merit the pure faith to be grateful to our Creator for the good along with the bad!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Happy (Belated) Birthday, America!

The land of all, of all for one,
America, you let us in when we were weary,
You showed us the sun,
You fed us, gave us drinking water, you clothed us, you bathed us,
You gave us everything we needed,
You saved us!

To you I'm grateful today!
Your name rings true to me till my last day!

Your open fields, rolling hills, eye-opening expanses,
Your majestic cities, your multitude of sights and senses,
All excite me and all at once
For you, America, I laugh and cry,
For your mighy, mighty arms,

I yearn to see you,
To feel your warmth and glory,
Great men shall yet write chapters
Of your amazing story.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On Parshat Balak

Parshat Balak appeals to me for its multi-facetness and its extraordinary connection to modern times. Reading the parsha with Rashi's commentary, I had two questions: 1st: Balak and Bilam don't end up hurting or, for that matter, negatively affecting the Jewish People. Why are the stories of Balak's trying to pursuade Bilam to curse the Jewish People, then of the elders of Balak coming to Bilam and appealing to him for his help in staving off the Jews, then of Bilam and his infamous donkey, then Bilam's three "curses," and finally of Balak giving up on Bilam and their parting ways appear in the Text at all? How are they relevant to our national history?

And 2nd: How's the episode of the daughters of Mo'av and their attempt to tempt the Children of Israel towards promiscuity and idol worship related to Bilam's "curse"? I also had another question of "How can we tell Bilam is evil/anti-Semitic at all from the pshat", but I won't delve into this right now.

Rabbi Y.S. from the shul I learned in this evening, told me the following: "Bilam's "curse" and the attempt of the daughters of Mo'av to temp the Children of Israel is directly related (I should probably be quoting Rashi and not Rabbi Y.S. but hey, I'll give you the credit, Rabbi!). While Bilam failed in cursing the Jews, he ended up striking them where it "hurt most," where we, as Jews, and as human beings are most succeptible. Rashi relates that Bilam was behind the Moavite women enticing the Children of Israel.

How can we related this scenario to modern day? That's the question we should always try to answer when trying to disect the parsha.

We see the immense damage that assimilation and inter-marriage have caused our people--especially  in the Galut. This is one of the biggest reasons for living in Israel. Western culture, or Edom, attempted--and continue to try to take the "winds out of our sails" following the inferno of Nazi Germany. American society, with its unmistakable appeal towards diversity and pluralism, has, perhaps unintentionally, brought out the worst traits the Jewish People are known for. Intermarriage is perhaps at its peak in America and assimilation runs rampant in Western society.

Balak and Bilam, in their attempt to curse and then tempt the Jews towards promiscuity have all the bearings of Edom--modern-day America. Notice how they don't try to destroy us by fighting us head-on but rather, take a more cunning approach. And notice, how they end up succeeding in a big way. Until Pinchas has his say that is.

Who's the more dangerous enemey: the Islamofascists or Hollywood, the Internet and modern Western values? This, I believe, is one of the key issues in parshat Balak, or at least one of the issues we're faced with when trying to make sense of events from the Tanach.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Road Signs and Not Giving Up

I've had a very difficult time finding a job. This has had its effect on my relations with friends and family. I've become more irritable. I've noticed that my irritability has taken a toll on relations with my closest friends; it hasn't spread farther out into the spectrum of people I either hardly know or don't know at all. This always seems to be the case and I believe this is in accordance to human nature.

I've had messengers and road signs sent my way "telling" me not to give up and to keep on pursuing my goals. These have come in the form of people not getting mad at me, of me making new, unanticipated friends in places where I would have never expected to have met them, of amazing people suddenly appearing in my life. In general, I've been extremely privileged: to be living in Israel, to have two wonderful parents, and three amazing grandparents, to have a large number of caring friends, and most of all, to be alive! All too often, I've taken these gifts for granted, but I realize that I need to continue reminding myself of just how privileged I am.

A few Shabbatot ago, my dear friend, rabbi, and mentor whom I met while livng in Ramat Hasharon during the hardest period of my life, told his yeshiva students about the "road signs" he'd seen when first coming to Ramat Hasharon from Beit-El. He'd left Beit-El, the site of Jacob's dream, and one of the holiest sites in Judaism, to resettle with his young family in a neighborhood of Tel-Aviv where religious life had been, up till now, either not very previlent or simply unheard of. As he sat there, he revisited his (and my) past in a calm, collected voice that's so telling of the immense person he is.

He told them of how after they'd come to Ramat Hasharon and were about to sign the lease on an apartment in Morasha, the land lady asked him and his wife whether they had come there to "spread Judaism." This was after she'd related to them how her sister had been elected to the Knesset having run on the Shinui (virulent anti-religious party that has since disappeared) ballot. My Rabbi gathered his strength and decided he'd tell her the truth.

"Yes, we moved here to spread Judaism" was his answer. You can imagine his utter disbelief when the landlord replied that she was proud of them for taking on this mission and that the State of Israel needed more dedicated individuals like them; that her sister actually studied Torah at times.

He also told his students, who sat there with their mouths agog, how he'd met "Eitan" his first day in Ramat Hasharon (nodding to me), and how I'd helped him carry his second son, Y, then a toddler, up the stairs of our apartment building in a baby carriage, how I'd offered him my friendship, and how I'd been the first to begin studying Torah with him. "These," he said, were his "road signs." He'd left the only home he'd known up till now to travel to a strange place. Yes, this was the country he knew and loved, but Tel-Aviv is no Beit-El.

I've had many people "show me the way" and this post is dedicated to my best friend, A.D., my mentor A.T. and my Ramat Hasharon friend and Rabbi, A.A. May their acts of kindness be a merit for the coming redemption.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Interesting Torah Lesson I Heard Last Week

I heard this Torah lesson from a rabbi at a nearby synagogue last week, was really impressed, and wanted to relay it to you:

It says that "Hashem looked at the Torah and created the world." From this we may deduce that the Torah is perfect; that it has no deficiencies and that it takes all factors into account. This (last) week's parsha talks about the red heifer, and how ritually sacrificing it and then mixing its ashes with water; then sprinkling this mixture on the "contaminated" party gets rid of the contamination. The interesting thing is that the priest doing the sprinkling would become contaminated in the process. This sounds dubious: why should someone perfoming a cleansing ritual become impure?

We find another apparent incongruity in the Ways of the Righteous. We're taught that pride is the axiom to G-d; that G-d and pride "cannot exist in the same world." At the same time, however, we see that pride is a significant asset when it comes to some very specific situations. I forget who the rabbi that presents this idea was, but he claimed that one needs a certain amount of pride in certain situations.

Perhaps, we see this when Moshe, known as "the most humble of men," stands up to Korach and those who join him in his rebellion. It would appear that anyone--but especially a leader of international proportions needs to be proud to a certain degree in order to withstand pressure from within.

We see from these two ideas that while pride is definitely a negative quality and the red heifer has the property of being able to purify, these ideas don't always hold true. The same may be said for just about anything. Besides the existence and onenness of G-d, there are no absolutes in the world. As Mahmonides teaches nothing is "black and white." We should always take the middle--or "golden" path.
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