Monday, September 24, 2012

Preparing for the Yom Kippur Fast

How should one prepare for the Yom Kippur fast?

First of all, one should know why he is fasting. It is important to understand that the fast is not a nuisance! It is a mitzvah, and this mitzvah facilitates all of the good that we will derive from this holy day. Personally, I am really looking forward to this chance to divorce myself from worldly matters and to concentrate on spiritual things.

I always tell anyone who is willing to listen that it is much more important to drink before the fast than to eat before the fast. Here is someone who agrees with me:
While a healthy adult can generally survive for weeks without food, dehydration can set in within a few days. It's no surprise then that most of the discomfort of fasting is caused by lack of water not the lack of food. To help reduce the effects of dehydration during a fast it is critical to properly hydrate beforehand.
Not eating for a day makes your stomach growl. Big deal! However, if you did not drink enough before the fast, do not be surprised if you get a nasty headache or worse! So drink!

G'mar Hatimah Tovah!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Asshur Will Not Save Us

I am sure I am not the only one to notice this. Take a look at the beginning of yesterday's Haftarah:
2 Return, O Israel, unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast stumbled in thine iniquity. 3 Take with you words, and return unto the LORD; say unto Him: 'Forgive all iniquity, and accept that which is good; so will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips. 4 Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we call any more the work of our hands our gods; for in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy.'
Presently, there is an argument taking place in Israel. Some people here in Israel think that the IDF should act to disrupt Iran's nuclear program. Others say, "We can't go it alone. Only the United States has the military power to destroy Iran's nuclear ambitions."

I could not help but hear an echo of that argument in the Haftarah. The prospect of a nuclear Iran, plus the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood all over the Middle East, are certainly a cause for concern. When one sees rulers whose decrees are like those of Haman, it is impossible not to think of Teshuvah. Hosea is telling us what to say to God when we return to Him:
'Forgive all iniquity, and accept that which is good; so will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips. 4 Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we call any more the work of our hands our gods; for in Thee the fatherless findeth mercy.'
"Asshur will not save us". I hear, "The Unites States of America will not save us. President Obama is busy engaging the Muslim world. Not only that, he cannot even defend his own embassies."

"We will not ride upon horses". I hear, "The IDF is not going to help us either."

Who can we rely upon? Our Father in Heaven!

Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Now That I'm Done Laughing at the DNC's God/Jerusalem Debacle

Here are some serious thoughts that others had about that bizarre chain of events:

Government Ordained VS G-d Ordained :
You can try, but you just can not separate a nation from the Creator. And, if you do, it is always a losing proposition.

When the name of G-d was re-introduced back into the Democrat platform, the vote was booed by those who wanted no part of that. And, despite what was said, those who heard the vote knew that it was equal on both sides. Those for and against were in almost equal numbers! It was all about removing the competition.

Well, that is not the United States of even 20 years ago. Instead, it is a new mind set, a new people who have a completely different vision of what America should be.
G-d and Jerusalem:
The DNC rammed through the motion to reinstate G-d and Jerusalem being Israel's capital in their party's platform, notwithstanding the more-than-one-third of delegates who opposed the motion. It's good that they did so because had they not done so, I would have told them that I hope G-d does not remove Democrats from His platform.

Anyways, it was quite interesting that these 2 concepts - of Hashem and Yerushalayim - were constantly together. The 2008 platform had both together. Before the reinstatement, the Republicans complained about the absence of both of them - together. And they were both reinstated - together. As if Hashem and Yerushalayim were - and are - inseparable. And that would be correct.
Column One: God, Jerusalem and American foreign policy:
Significantly, rather than treat the deletions of God and Jerusalem as separate issues, the media and the Democrats themselves presented them as two sides of the same coin. When on Wednesday the party’s leadership decided to restore the language of the 2008 platform on God and Jerusalem – but not on Hamas, the so-called “right of return,” and Israel’s strategic significance to the US – they opted to do so in the same amendment.

The widespread perception of God and Jerusalem as related issues tells us something important about the American character. And it tells us something equally important about Obama and the party he leads.

Prof. Walter Russell Mead described Israel’s place in the American mindset last year. As he put it, “Israel matters in American politics like almost no other country on earth. Well beyond the American Jewish and the Protestant fundamentalist communities, the people and the story of Israel stir some of the deepest and most mysterious reaches of the American soul. The idea of Jewish and Israeli exceptionalism is profoundly tied to the idea of American exceptionalism. The belief that God favors and protects Israel is connected to the idea that God favors and protects America.”

Mead continued, “Being pro-Israel matters in American mass politics because the public mind believes at a deep level that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith. Substantial numbers of voters believe that politicians who don’t ‘get’ Israel also don’t ‘get’ America and don’t ‘get’ God.”

By removing both God and Jerusalem from the platform, Obama and his fellow Democrats stirred the furies of that American soul at its foundations.
Delegates boo adding “God” and “Jerusalem” back to the Democratic platform:
“First of all, the Democrats are not booing God. They are not booing God here. They are booing the system that is obviously corrupt. This is the Barack Obama system. It really is. We’re going to put it out to a vote and let the people say what they want to say and we’re going to go around and we’re going to listen to your opinion. Then they’ll pole vault, they will go under the fence, they will jump over the fence, climb through the window, they will do whatever they have to do. They are going to do what they want to do,” Glenn said.

“This is one of the greatest signs ever. I love this. This is going to make you feel really good. They are terrified of you. They are absolutely terrified. Do you remember, how many times did we say, ‘Hey, don’t, don’t feel like you’re alone. You’re not alone. WE Surround Them.’ And we had to convince each other that there are more of us than them. They never believed that. They just keep going and doing exactly what ‑‑ and they just jam it down everybody’s throat. They’re no longer jamming it down your throat. They’re jamming it down their own people’s throat now. The good Democrats, they’re just jamming it down their throats. And they are afraid,” Glenn said.

“They expected their people to just go along. They didn’t. Half of them, the good common sense Democrats, half of them said, yes, put that back in. The other half, the militant half, said absolutely not,” Glenn explained.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

He That Sitteth in Heaven Laugheth

And I, who sitteth here on Earth, laugheth as well:

1 Why are the nations in an uproar? And why do the peoples mutter in vain?

2 The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together, {N} against the LORD, and against His anointed:

3 'Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.'

4 He that sitteth in heaven laugheth, the Lord hath them in derision.

5 Then will He speak unto them in His wrath, and affright them in His sore displeasure:

6 'Truly it is I that have established My king upon Zion, My holy mountain.'

7 I will tell of the decree: the LORD said unto me: 'Thou art My son, this day have I begotten thee.

8 Ask of Me, and I will give the nations for thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for thy possession.

9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.'

10 Now therefore, O ye kings, be wise; be admonished, ye judges of the earth.

11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

12 Do homage in purity, lest He be angry, and ye perish in the way, when suddenly His wrath is kindled. {N} Happy are all they that take refuge in Him. {P}

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Dvar Torah for Ki Tavo - Happiness in the Land of Israel

What makes you happy? Different people would probably answer that question differently. Rabbi Chaim Ben 'Atar, in his commentary on the Torah Or HaChaim at the beginning of this week's portion, tells us that there is no happiness like the happiness of coming to the land of Israel. You will not find happiness in a bigger house or a fancier automobile. If you are looking for happiness this is the place to be.

When a Jew would bring Bikkurim, the first fruits to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he would recite a special text. This text is probably one of the most familiar texts in Judaism, as it plays a central role in the Passover Haggadah. Here it is in the context of the parasha:
1 And it shall be, when thou art come in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and dost possess it, and dwell therein; 2 that thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that the LORD thy God giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there. 3 And thou shalt come unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him: 'I profess this day unto the LORD thy God, that I am come unto the land which the LORD swore unto our fathers to give us.' 4 And the priest shall take the basket out of thy hand, and set it down before the altar of the LORD thy God. 5 And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: 'A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. 7 And we cried unto the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders. 9 And He hath brought us into this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the land, which Thou, O LORD, hast given me.' And thou shalt set it down before the LORD thy God, and worship before the LORD thy God. 11 And thou shalt rejoice in all the good which the LORD thy God hath given unto thee, and unto thy house, thou, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in the midst of thee.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of the land of Israel. When a Jew would bring the first fruits, he would thank God from many things: how from few we became many, how He saved us from the Egyptians, etc. We also thank God for the land. Our appreciation of the land is repeated over and over again in the text. When we say Birkat HaMazon, the grace after meals, "the land" receives a place of honor: 'Al HaAretz Ve 'Al HaMazon.

I've been living here in the Land of Israel for a long time. Sometimes, as I walk down the streets of Jerusalem, I have to figuratively pinch myself. Is this really happening? I, my children and grandchildren, are living in the land of our ancestors, the Holy Land which the Jewish People have dreamt about for hundreds of years during the long and bitter Diaspora. This is certainly something to be happy about. Miracles do happen.

To get an idea of how great this miracle is, take a look at Rabbi Eliezer Papo's classic book of ethics, Pele Yoetz. Turn to the chapter entitled "Eretz Yisrael", the land of Israel. Here is a small segment of what this great rabbi wrote:
ארץ ישראל הצבי ישראל (כתובות קיג, א). ידוע מעלתה כי רבה, כמבאר בזהר הקדוש (ח"ג דף עב) ובשאר ספרי הקדש, אשר יבחר בו ה' יקריב אליו לחזות בנעם ה' ולבקר בהיכלו. וצריך כל אדם שיהיו עיניו ולבו שם כל הימים, על דרך הכתוב (תהלים מב א) "צמאה נפשי לאלהים לאל חי מתי אבא ואראה פני אלהים". ובכן ישתדל בכל עז לקבע דירתו בארץ ישראל, רק יפקח עיניו תחלה שלא לבוא להיות תוהה על הראשונות ושלא להצטרך לחזר ולצאת. וגדר לזה שלא לילך אלא לעת זקנה לאחר שחדל מהיות לאשתו ארח כנשים ואינה יולדת, ולא יוליך עמו ילדים בנים או בנות. ואם הרחיב ה' את גבולו יוכל להוליך בת, שהיא מוצאת ונצול הימנה, אבל בן לא יוליך כלל, שמתרבה הטף ולא ידע מה ילד יום. והן אמת שאוירא דארץ ישראל מחכים (ב"ב קנח, ב), אבל לפי מה שעינינו הרואות קשים מזונותיו של אדם בארץ ישראל, ועל הרב הם נצרכים לצאת עד שחוטפים השליחות של מצוה לצאת קרית חוצות כעשר שנים או יותר, וחיי צער יחיו הם ונשותיהם יותר מהם, ורבה רעת עוברי דרכים לגוף ולנפש, כידוע. לא כן היושבים בחוץ לארץ, מוצאים כדי פרנסתם במקומם. וכשילכו זקן וזקנה כאשר יאות, יוכלו לחיות שם בשיבה טובה, ואפלו אם חיי צער יחיו, לחיים טובים יחשב לפי רב הטובה
I apologize to those that do not read Hebrew for not translating this. In short, Rav Papo describes the spiritual loftiness of the Land of Israel. However, he also warns the prospective immigrant to the Holy Land that it is very difficult to find physical sustenance there. He was describing the situation that existed about 150-200 years ago.

My point in quoting this passage is to remark how things have changed for the better in the most dramatic way. The shuk in Mahane Yehuda and the supermarkets are full of produce! One who is willing to work, live modestly and endure the affliction that the land of Israel is acquired with, can almost surely find his place here. May all of you Jews who are still living in the Diaspora merit to experience the happiness that the Or HaChaim described: the happiness of living in the land of Israel!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Is it Easier Today to be Religious in the IDF?

I have blogged in the past about the serious issues a relgious soldier who wishes to serve in the IDF must face. Rabbi Eliezer Melamed discusses the issue in his Dvar Torah for parashat Ki Teitzei:
לפני כחצי שנה השתתפתי בדיון ב'כנס ירושלים' של 'בשבע'. המנחה, עמית סגל, שאל את משתתפי הפאנל אם המצב כיום בצבא טוב יותר לחייל הדתי מאשר לפני כעשרים שנה. עניתי שככלל, המצב כיום יותר טוב. לאחר שעברו כמה דקות, חשתי לא שלם עם תשובתי. ביקשתי מהמנחה רשות לתקן את דבריי, ואמרתי כי אמנם מבחינות רבות יש התקדמות, אך למרות זאת לא בטוח שהמצב כיום יותר טוב. אולי לדתיים הרגילים המצב יותר טוב, אבל לציבור התורני (המכונה 'חרדי-לאומי') המצב יותר גרוע.
My translation:
About half a year ago I took part in BeSheva's Jerusalem Convention. The master of ceremonies, Amit Segal asked those on the panel if the situation today in the army is better for the religious soldier than it was twenty years ago. I answered that in general, the situation is better. A few minutes passed, and I did not feel fully satisfied with my answer. I requested permission from the MC to "fix" my words. and I said that in many respects there is progress, however in spite of this I am not sure that the situation today is better. Perhaps for the regular religious soldiers the situation is better, but for the Torani public (aka. as chareid leumi) the situation is worse.
Rabbi Melamed goes on to explain that with regards to certain matters, for instance kashrut and receiving time to pray, the situation has improved. However, the army is now putting women together with men in the fighting units. This, together with the growing permissiveness in the secular community, has caused a great decline in the IDF's "modesty" situation.

Rabbi Melemad also states the following:

1) Fifty years ago, the overwhelming majority of Israeli religious abandoned religion in adulthood. The for most of them this happened as a result of the social pressure they experienced in the IDF.

2) Even today, more than 20 percent of the relgious soldiers in the IDF "take their kippah off" and stop keeping the Sabbath during thier army service.

I highly recommend this article. In the meantime it is available in Hebrew.
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