Thursday, August 31, 2006

Parashat Ki Tetze

Parashat Ki Tetze is an amazing Parsha. It skips from topic to topic with seeming abandon. From planting a vineyard to Amalek, from tzitzit to divorce, from conversion to honest weights and measures, from the laws of the army camp to conditions for builng a roof, it is all there.

But it is such a mix! What ordering principle lies behind Parashat Ki Tetze? On what basis does the Torah select the sequence of the particular Mitzvot? The Torah is a carefully structured book, however when we reach Parashat Ki Tetze many of the familiar ordering mechanisms elude us.

Through Rav David Zvi Hoffman, Rav Menachem Leibtag, and back to Rashi, we shall investigate this question. Read the shiur.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Jerusalem Anecdote

Yesterday I was in the Malcha Mall picking up some school supplies for my daughter. School starts on Sunday throughout Israel and it was a veritable festival of excited schoolchildren (and harried parents) as the mall was filled with colourful stalls displaying every kind of pen and notebook, eraser, glue and pencilcase, and much more.

As I went to pay, I spotted out of the corner of my eye, a familiar figure. It was Nobel prize winner, Prof. Yisrael Aumann. He was there with his grandson, and apparently purchasing a new school backpack for First Grade. You could see an oversized sparkling new "tik Kitta Aleph" on the back of a rather little boy. And Yisrael Aumann bent over and gave his grandson a tender kiss on his head as he was now fully equipped to attend his first day at school.

What can I say? I was emotionally moved by the scene. It's not every day that you run into an Israeli Nobel prize winner, and it was a very touching moment to see this intellectual giant send his little grandson happily on his way to First Grade. Yisrael Aumann who is so clearly religious, really inspired me when he accepted his prize last year, and this was just a wonderful moment.

So I excitedly pointed him out to the lady behind the checkout,

"Do you know who that is?" I said, "It's Yisrael Aumann!"
"Who's he?" She asked.
"He won the Nobel Prize" I said.
"What did he win it for ?" She asked with a totally blank and bored expression.
"Economics, Game Theory," I said.
"Well, did he get any money for it?" She remarked.

And suddenly I realised that this lady had no clue who this man was, and maybe didn't even know what a Nobel Prize was!

The moral of the story? - Get an education!

Another Difficult Rashi on the Parasha

“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.” (22:8)

Rashi is bothered by the unusual wording of the passuk here: “ki yipol hanofel.” This phrase is refers to the person who tragically falls off a roof which does not have a railing. The phrase talks about : “when the faller falls.” Why does it not say: “when a person falls”?

Rashi comments:

“He deserved to fall. However, despite this, you should not be the one to cause his death; for good things are brought about by the agency of the innocent, and bad things are brought about by the guilty.”

Now Rashi is saying something incredible here. Why is the person who falls from the roof described as “the faller?” Because he was destined to fall. He is a guilty! And you should be careful not to bring about his death even if he deserves it.


Rashi expresses a similar view in his comments to Shemot. There, the passuk is talking about a situation of an accidental murder. The verse states:

“He who fatally strikes a man shall be put to death. If he did not do it by design, but God forced his hand, I will assign you a place to which he can flee” (21:12-13)

Clearly, these pesukim talk about accidental murder and even hint at the institution of the refuge cities.

Rashi is moved to explain the unusual phrase here: God forced his hand. This is what he says:

“God forced his hand: He arranged that it would fall into his hands… And why should this act emerge from him? This is what the Biblical David refers to (Shmuel I 24:13) ‘As the ancient proverb states: from the wicked will come evil..’ That “ancient proverb” is the Torah… and where does the Torah state this? - ‘and God forced his hand.’ What is the verse referring to? There are two individuals. One killed accidentally and another murdered in cold blood. There were no witnesses for either act, and hence this one was not exiled (to the refuge city) and the other was not put to death. God arranges that they both convene at a particular venue. The accidental murderer is climbing up a ladder, and the deliberate murderer is sitting underneath it. The man on the ladder falls down and kills the man underneath; people witness the event, and hence the man on the ladder is sent to exile. He who killed by accident goes to exile, and he who was the cold-blooded killer is killed.”

Now, this view of divine justice is quite mind-boggling. Is Rashi claiming that each and every murder is truly part of a divine chain of punishment? Is it possible that every fatal work accident, every death, is a direct act of God?

I think that this is precisely what Rashi is saying. That every death is destined. Every accidental death is not accidental at all.

If we accept this point of view, just one question remains, and this is the question raised by the roof and the parapet. This person who falls is already sentenced to death. That is why he is called a “nophel” – the falling one. When the person falls, it is because he was destined to fall. But the question is – who is going to be the killer? Who is going to be the person to cause his death. The Torah says; it should not be you! Or in R. Hoffman’s words:

“We may not cause the death of any man, even if God has decreed it, due to his sins”

This is raised in a famous Mishna about Hillel in Pirkei Avot:

“He saw a skull floating upon the water (of a river?) He said to it: Because you drowned somebody, you were drowned; and the person who drowned you, will find his end by being drowned.” (2:7)

Once again, the philosophy works in the following way. You are responsible for your actions. You are forbidden to do an un-ethical act EVEN IF you are absolutely certain that a certain person “deserves” it. You must keep the law. God will worry about sorting out the system so that everybody receives his or her just desserts, his reward or punishment.


I have always found this Mishna, and these other sources quoted here, rather thought provoking. Is the world so perfectly run, so well balanced? Don’t we feel that there are many unjustified deaths? Is it true that every person leaves the world at precisely the right time? It is not impossible to say that this is indeed the case. But the age-old question of “Tzaddik v’Ra Lo”, the philosophical discussion of theodicy, is a reflection of the fact that from our human perspective, the world (- God?) at times seems grossly unfair and sometimes, brutally cruel.

But from the positive side, these sources have always boosted the side of moral integrity in certain moments of pressure. There are always those moments when we are about to do something irresponsible – to break a rule, to yell at somebody, to act wrongfully – because “he deserves no better” and “anyway that is the standard that everyone has around here.” This mitzva teaches us that we have to watch our actions irrespective of the excuses. We have to retain our sense of what is right and act upon it, because we know that this is what is right, that which God demands from us. This, even if the environment in which we find ourselves seems grossly unfair. We bear a heavy load of moral responsibility.

Image of God

In our Parasha, Ki Tetze - we read:

"If a man is guilty of a capital offence and is put to death, and you hang him, you must not let his corpse hang overnight. You must certainly bury him the same day. For a hanging body is an affront to God; you shall not defile the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess." (Devarim 21:22-3)

In this rather strange situation, we hear the instruction that a corpse not be left haniging overnight, but should be buried[1]. The suggested reason is: "For a hanging body is an affront to God"

Why is it an "affront to God?" Rashi's explanation is quite radical:

"For an insult to God is a hanging person" - this is an insult to the king, for man was created in the mold of his image and Israel are his children. This may be compared to two brothers who resembled each other, one became king, and the other was apprehended in robbery and hung; all who see him say 'The king is hanging.'

There are times when Rashi takes an unusual approach. On the page of the Mikraot Gedolot, no commentator[2] accepts Rashi's reading. I have studied this Rashi ever since I was a child and the corporeal imagery her is startling. After all, when Rashi suggests that God and man are "twins" as we are created in God's image, is he saying that we "look like" God? That there is an external connection?

Another comment from Rashi seems to swing in this direction. In the creation of man "in God' image" – see Bereshit 1:27, Rashi comments:

"In our image: In the mold that we were formed in."

Rashi quotes the phrase "Israel are his children," which reminds us of the passuk that we read in Parashat Re'eh:

"You are children to Hashem your God. Do not gash yourselves nor shave the front of your heads because of the dead, because you are a holy people to Hashem your God…"(14:1)

Once again, is there something PHYSICAL here?

Obviously my Maimonidean, philosophical brain instructs me that "He has no form of a body, and no matter at all –אין לו דמות הגוף ואין לו גוף" and yet Rashi's notion that someone sees a human corpse and suddenly confuses it with God is amazing. Are we so obviously Godly?

I will end this with a great excerpt from Rav Immanuael Jakobovitz z"l, the Chief Rabbi of England, who I so respected and admired. In 1982 in York, England, an ancient cemetery was cleared in order to make way for the construction of a new supermarket. It was widely believed that the cemetery was a Jewish one, dating back to the 13th Century, before Jews were massacred in York and expelled from England. The skeletal material, the bones, were transferred to the University of York for scientific examination.

When this had been proceeding for some time, the nature of the research was reported to the press and Rav Jakobovitz protested the scientific research. His pronouncement became a classic statement regarding the conflict of science with the reverence for the dead:

"Whatever the scientific and historical loss, I hope that you and the general public will appreciate our paramount concern for the reverence due to the mortal remains which once bore the incomparable hallmark of the Divine image, and which, we believe, have an inalienable right to rest undisturbed. We are convinced that the dignity shown to humans even centuries after their death can contribute more than any scientific enquiry to the advancement of human civilization and the enhancement of the respect in which humans hold each other."


[1] There is some debate as to the Halakhic scope of this parsha (Who is hung – R. Eliezer argues with the Chachamim in Sanhedrin 45b. See the debate between Rashi and Ramban here,) but the Gemara, and afterwards, the Chinuch and the Rambam agree that this is the source of the Mitzva of burying the dead. This is rather a prominent Mitzva.

[2] The Ramban says that Rashi misunderstood the idea here and that it must be understood in a Kabbalistic sense!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Iran. What's The Plan?

We have all heard President Ahaminajad's frequent threats (plans?) to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
We all know that Iran is well on the way to nuclear capability.
And the logical outcome of all of this is that all Israelis, all Jews, should be extremely worried. If you read today's Jerusalem Post, you will read the following headline:

'Ahmadinejad would sacrifice half of Iran to wipe out Israel'

We should be exceptionally worried.

And indeed, Israeli newspapers yesterday reported that Dan Halutz has made an appointment of Israel Air Force Commander Major General Eliezer Shkedi as "GOC Iran Command"... in other words, to plan for any possible military attack by Iran.

Today Ha'aretz ran an editorial entitled "Now is the Time For Sanctions Against Iran" And that is the Western consensus: sanctions. Iran must be pressured as much as can be, and must be stopped.

But can they be stopped? Two methods are possible: Military, and economic.

Military? Apparently their nuclear instillations are deep underground and dispersed in several locations. How can we terminate their nuclear program?

Economic? Sanctions? They have enormous revenue coming in from oil. And the Western World will never cut off their oil, because then the price of a barrel of oil will skyrocket and lead all the Western economies into ruin.

So how does one stop Iran?

The Times ran this piece suggesting that a different strategy must be adopted. I will quote a piece of the article:

"What then should America and its allies do in the face of Iran’s nuclear defiance? The answer is clear: concede defeat. Iran has won this tussle and there is no point in pretending otherwise. Instead of trying to stop Iran’s nuclear programme, the international community must bring Iran back into the civilised world. The only way to do that is to stop issuing empty threats and to start offering Iran real incentives for co-operative behaviour : non-aggression guarantees from America and Israel, removal of the residual US economic sanctions dating back to the 1980s and the prospect of steadily improving treatment in investment and trade."

Is this simply naive thinking? Or is this a practical realistic approach? If the Jerusalem Post is correct, then this guy sounds like a Chamberlain! You can not tame Iran! But is there a possibility that the carrot could work rather than the stick?

Hizbolla is not weaker after this recent war. They are now rebuilding Lebanon with Iranian money and simply getting more and more popular. Ideological organisations are exceptionally difficult to defeat. Even if they are smashed, they proclaim victory for the cause.

In the acclaimed book by Bernard Lewis - "What went wrong" - He claims that the Islamic world is experiencing extreme frustration as it sees the "infidel" West lead industrially, technologically, economically, and defining the world order. And yet, if I was a religious Moslem with that perspective, I would certainly view the Islamic Republic of Iran as a means of restoring that sense of pride. The first step in that process is gaining that nuclear bomb!

So, once again I pose the question. How do we stop Iran?

Oh! Apparently Bernard Lewis has written about this! see Here. Hat Tip - An Unsealed Room

Thursday, August 24, 2006

It's Rosh Chodesh Elul! Wake Up!

ד] אף על פי שתקיעת שופר בראש השנה גזירת הכתוב, רמז יש בו: כלומר עורו עורו ישנים משינתכם, והקיצו נרדמים מתרדמתכם; וחפשו במעשיכם וחזרו בתשובה, וזכרו בוראכם. אלו השוכחים את האמת בהבלי הזמן, ושוגים כל שנתם בהבל וריק אשר לא יועיל ולא יציל--הביטו לנפשותיכם, והטיבו דרכיכם ומעלליכם; ויעזוב כל אחד מכם דרכו הרעה, ומחשבתו אשר לא טובה
"Even though the sounding of the Shofar is mandated by the Torah, it contains a hidden message, namely: Wake up! Awake from your slumber! Emerge from your state of drowsiness and examine your life! Do Teshuva! Remember your creator! Here we address people who lose sight of the Truth in the frantic rush of life, always busy with one thing or another; things that in the final analysis are insignificant…" (Hil Teshuva 3:4)

Parashat Shoftim - Creating Justice

This week in Israel, we have been wallowing in an unpleasant series of scandals involving the highest officials of our country. One certainly wonders what is going on in government if so many politicians and public figures have so low a sense of moral conduct, such a lack of self control, an apparent total absence of responsibility towards the public, and frighteningly degenerate personal lives.

I firmly believe that there are deep connecting lines between the low ethical standards and warped priorities of our leadership on the one hand, and the dire national situation in which we currently find ourselves, on the other. From a Torah perspective, high ethical conduct and integrity are the most elementary condition for our leadership.

Our shiur this week deals with precisely this theme. The Parasha opens:

"(18) Appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. (19)You shall not judge unfairly, you shall show no partiality, you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and falsify the word of the just. (20)Justice, justice, shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you." (16:18-20)

I recall some years ago when Israeli politician Aryeh Deri was convicted of bribery. One of his colleagues in the Shas party said on TV, "How could Aryeh Deri be convicted of bribery? He is a Tzaddik!" And my thoughts immediately turned to these lines in Sefer Devarim:

"Bribes blind the eyes of the wise, and falsify the words of the righteous (Tzadikim)"

Bribes effect even a Tzaddik!

Our Parsha is a study of four modes of leadership within the Jewish nation state. They are: the judge, the king, the prophet and the priest. For each of these public figures, the Torah would seem to be interested less in the RIGHTS and the powers of the authority figure, and concerned more with their LIMITATIONS AND RESTRICTIONS - what they may not do, their pitfalls and weaknesses!

Read the shiur here.

This Is A Fun Site!

This is a weekly 2 minute Jewish History spot

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

War Crimes, or, Who is a Civilian?

According to the newspaper today, Israel is being accused by Amnesty Intl of war crimes. This is for

"...Deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure"

They complain that Israel attacked villages:

"In some cases, cluster bomb impacts were identified. Houses were singled out for precision-guided missile attack and were destroyed, totally or partially, as a result.

Business premises such as supermarkets or food stores and auto service stations and petrol stations were targeted, often with precision-guided munitions and artillery that started fires and destroyed their contents."

Now see this article in the nations and this one.

In South Lebanon the local population IS HIZBOLLA. There are no civilians! They are all the army of Hizbolla, and their supporters.

When the world criticise Israel for attacking civilians, we have to understand that the Hizbolla are both military and civilian front. Like Hamas in Gaza and elsewhere, they do an enormous amount of education, working with the poor, welfare, and municipal work. This is precisely their strength. They understand that if you help someone when they are needy they will be indebted to you for eternity.

And so, what choice do Israel have if they wish to destroy Hizbolla? I saw a piece on Israeli TV a week ago where they went through a Hizbolla village in S. Lebanon and showed the stockpiles of katyushas in every second house.

In the (London) Times I read this:

"Instead of stockpiling its munitions in a handful of arsenals, Hezbollah dispersed them in private homes, garages, basements, bunkers and caves, giving ready access to small Hezbollah units. The group is also thought to have night-vision goggles and a stash of Israeli military fatigues for ambushes."

Who is a civilian?

In war, what is the aim? To get the enemy to surrender. In ancient times, when there was no difference - just like in S. Lebanon, and Gaza - between soldier and civilian, they simply engaged in a siege war and everyone suffered. The aim was to break the enemy.

Just like the 9/11 terrorists were "civilians" and the terrorists arrested in London were good citizens, so are these people in South Lebanon.

One of the reasons why Israel suffered such casualties in Lebanon was precisely because Hizbolla operates under a civilian cover. As many newspapers reported , a man will go out into his garden for 10 minutes, and fire a rocket and go back to his living room to watch TV or have dinner!

What is a civilian?

No! I believe that the demarcation between civilian and soldier in contemporary warfare is slowly being erased.

And one last point.

Against whom did Nasralla release over 3000 missiles? - Civilian or Military?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Where We Messed Up In This War. Mistaken Concept.

In Today's Haaretz. There was an interesting piece by Reuven Pedatzhur (who I usually disagree with.) Today he said something that struck a chord with me.

He claimed that part of the failure of the war is rooted in a mistaken "concept." The notion of an error in concept goes back to the Agranat Commison of inquiry to the failures of the Yom Kippur War. They assesed that the country, leadership and army, were simply in a psychological trance - believing too much in the power of the army, and seeing the enemy as incapable of mustering a fight. The mistake lies, not in training, nor management, but something deep in the mindset that underlies the entire army mechanism. With all the obvious differences between the two wars, he compares 1973 to 2006. This is what he says:

The commission of inquiry that now hopefully will be set up will quickly conclude that on the eve of the second Lebanon war, the IDF - and consequently policy makers - were working with two mistaken concepts.

First, over the past six years, Israelis came to believe a large-scale fight against Hezbollah would not be necessary: Any military actions in southern Lebanon would be limited and short. Second, if a war arose against Hezbollah, the IDF would dismantle the organization within a few days, break its command backbone and end the fighting under conditions favorable to Israel.

And this is how we entered the war.

The army led the prime minister and his cabinet to believe that the air force would annihilate Hezbollah's fighting capability within several days and that thereafter a new situation would prevail in Lebanon.

On the basis of these promises, Ehud Olmert set ambitious objectives for the war, which of course were unattainable. Just as before the Yom Kippur war, there was a destructive combination of arrogance, boastfulness, euphoria and contempt for the enemy. The generals were so certain of the air force's success that they did not prepare an alternative. And when it became clear after about one week that Hezbollah was not disintegrating and that its ability to fire rockets had not been significantly thwarted, the IDF found itself in a state of acute distress and embarrassment. This is the reason for the hesitancy in using force and the lack of determination in the use of the ground forces.

This is all pretty worrying. He continues:

.....The arrogance and the overconfidence that characterized the top brass left the home front unprotected. If it was clear that the air force would destroy the rocket launch pads within a few days, why call on the residents of the north to prepare the air raid shelters and stockpile food? We know the outcome: More than one million people sat for more than one month in stinking shelters, some of them without food or minimal conditions.

The second critiques goes to the lack of preparedness in the Army, and apparent waste of funds:

.... the inquiry commission should look into the home front command. Millions of shekels were invested in this command. A major general, brigadiers general, colonels and many other officers and soldiers man this command. And what was its contribution to the war? Warning notices broadcast over the radio and televisions about alarms and sirens. That's it. For more than a month, the entire command made do with drafting public notices about seeking shelter and staying in interior rooms. Where was this command over the past six years? Was it not its task to examine and check whether the shelters were satisfactory?

...The state allocates some 11 billion dollars annually for the defense budget. Almost 15 percent of the GNP is devoted to security. (The official figure is 10 percent, but this does not include all the investments in security issues). But when the reservists are called up, they discover that they lack basic equipment: flak jackets, helmets, vehicles and even stretchers. Entire units were forced to fight more than 24 hours without food or water. Where did the money go?

And I think we are all waiting for some good answers.

Well, at least, to get the ball rolling, a review committee has been set up. Is this simply a goverment sponsored cover-up, or will it seriously and objectively examine the war. Let's see.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I always thought that leaders were supposed to set an example.

Look at these wonderful men in our leadership:

A Chief of Staff who sells his shares as he declares war.

A Transport and Road Safety minister who speeds and avoids the Police.

The head of the Knesset Defence Committee who goes on vacation in the middle of the war.

Something smells here!

(and certain Biblical verses about ministers come to mind!)

Monday, August 14, 2006

On The Other Hand

The Times declares Israel as the outright victor in this war.
See here.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Was The War a Mistake?

It seems that there may be a ceasefire today. Maybe it won't last. Who knows?

I have no doubt that Hizbolla want us wiped off the map.
Obviously it is not a mistake to confront and try to destroy , or even weaken Hizbolla.
The question is whether this war, in this way, at this time, has been mis-managed.
See this and this, and draw your own conclusions.

Israel's achievements are:
- Driving Hizbolla back to the Litani and away from our border
- Deterent - They will think again before trying anything again in the near future
- Smashing a great deal of the Hizbolla infrastructure

BUT we didn't
- Get our soldiers back
- Destroy Hizbolla

And Hizbolla will claim victory:
- As it fought like a real army and "embarrassed" the Israeli army.
- Had Israel in bomb shelters for a month
- Claimed over 120 lives!

And how will a Peace Keeping Force, however well armed, keep Hizbolla at bay when they function in a totally secret and civilian guise?

And where are our kidnapped soldiers?

Maybe only the coming months will tell. But from my current perspective, in preferring the cease-fire, Olmert and Peretz were expressing their fear of "Lebanon Syndrome" - getting stuck deep in Lebanon with mounting losses and no real military advantage. But then again, should they not have thought of that from the start? How can we end this war, when Hizbollah have effectively kept Israel at bay for an entire month? (On the home front and the front line.) Either fight to win, or don't begin a war! Israel cannot afford anything but a resounding victory. Any perception that Hizbollah have won is simply an invitation for the next war.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Parashat Ekev - Two Shiurim

Two shiurim this week.

1. Gradual Conquest.
The people of Israel are about to conquer the Land. Moshe promises the people that God will fight for them, and that He will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy. But God also informs them that the war will be slow and gradual. A lightening war or a slow process? How do we deal with the contradictions?

2. The Blessing of Israel's Rain.
Rather than a river, Israel is dependent on rainfall. This shiur illustrates the manner in which Israel's water resources constitue a vital ingredient in the spiritual promise of the Land of Israel.

Food for the North

Look at this volunteer incredible work up North (see the video):,7340,L-3288828,00.html

and here is the place to donate:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

On Nationalism and Multi-Culturalism

Yesterday I wrote about the recommendations of the QCA regarding Education in Britain. See the post "Right and Wrong etc."

Here is a second topic. The Times quotes that QCA as suggesting the following:

The requirement to teach Britain’s “cultural heritage” will also be removed. The present version states: “The school curriculum should contribute to the development of pupils’ sense of identity through knowledge and understanding of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural heritages of Britain’s diverse society.”

So let us just reject nationalism, patriotism and the like! Who cares about the heritage of one's country?Now I know that I left the UK 15 years ago, and yet, I strongly believe (to paraphrase the Mishna in Avot) that one should know "from whence one came." A person should value the rich traditions and the worthy cultural heritage of the culture in which he lives. Britain would lose out in a devastating manner if the British lost pride and faith in their traditions and Historic figures simply because they became forgotten, irrelevant and ignored!

Once again, if we do attempt to be balanced, we should ask ourselves whether there is not some place in a country of many immigrant groups, for a multiplicity of identities. We should have a tolerance of dress, accent, food-style, of basic personal identity along with allegiances to place of origin and cultural mini-communities. Jews have formed sub-communities all over the world, and in these close-knit cultural nests, they have frequently thrived. IS the melting pot such a boon? Why should a society try to assimilate the constituent ethnic communities? Each to his own! Vive le difference!

But here, I would like to make a distiniction. Each society has to have certain values, certain ideas in order to hold it together. Every nation must have a certain glue that consist of language, a heritage, maybe certain dress and foods, certain mannerisms; a national culture! And one must be proud of it. America is known as a melting pot, and indeed contains Italian, Polish, Latin American, Jewish, Japanese and Russian ethnic groups. And yet there are grand ideas of what is America. The Freedom and Democracy that make America great. Sweden is a very tolerant liberal country and yet has a clear sense of its own identity.

There cannot be a obfuscation, an eclipse, of national identity and pride in an effort to respect the different identities of the sub-communities in society. Because if the ethic of acceptance and respect is the course one sets, and if that becomes the exclusive compass of a society, then that trajectory leads a society to a place in which there is an absolute loss of self. Then we are talking about national suicide, a country who loses its shared purpose, its collective identity.

There must be a healthy balance between these two values: tolerance and respect for difference on the one hand, and a healthy, coherent, productive, vocal, proud, colourful national culture on the other.

In my beloved Israel, there are groups on the left who are so cosmopolitan, so in need of belonging to the community of nations, the global village, the liberal world, that they are virtually blind to any issue that defines us as what we are: A Jewish State. They wish to remove any law that reflects a Jewish identity in the name of equality, tolerance and Human Rights. This in areas of citizenship, the Sabbath, the Pork Law in Knesset, and many, many other issues that come up. Some have even suggested changing the National Anthem because it is a Jewish National Anthem, and "How can an Arab identify?"

On these discussions I have no doubt where I stand. In the public sphere, in our national education system, we must instill a knowledge of Israeli History, of Judaism. We must inculcate a love for these things and a pride in this identity. Students must become familiar with the literature and great discoveries in the world of Jewish philosophy, the Bible itself, to the Chalutzim and the bio-technologists of today's bio-tech start-ups.

And incidentally, I believe that this is a prime factor in National Security. Soldiers will fight to protect a country that they love and cherish, value and respect. Moreover, the sorry state of Yerida is also a symptom of the phenomena of total ignorance and discredit of all that is good in Israel and Judaism. If you value none of it, then why not go to New York or Paris. And indeed, many do. We need to reverse that tide.]

And none of this has even an ounce of contradiction with the importance of tolerance for all. Part of that proud Israeli-Jewish culture should be the value of "love the stranger" which instructs us to respect every human being precisely because of the honour that is conferred upon him by his very existence in the "image of God" his very humanity. We believe in that too. As Jews.

So don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Nationalism is not the enemy of tolerance. A healthy national culture will empower all citizens to live up to something, to seek purpose and to sense the value of life. Through it they will have the strength to rise to the national challenge and to achieve individual greatness.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

War Refugees

Yesterday as I was driving to Jerusalem, I was thinking about the Lebanese refugees. I have seen figures suggesting that there are even 800,000 civilians who have fled their home. Anyway, I was feeling bad about it.

And then it dawned upon me.

WE, here in Israel, have 1 million refugees! We have had families staying in Alon Shevut, in Efrat, in Midreshet Lindenbaum. We have the entire North in bomb shelters. 20% of our country are under attack! MOST of them have become refugees.

So why does no one mention the Israeli refugees? Because we take care of them, clothe them, house them. They are not living in the street, and not starving. So they are not visible. Not a picture of wretched suffering that can be broadcast worldwide.

And that reminds me of something.

In 1948 and the years following, there were 800,000 Arab refugees and 800,000 Jewish refugees. The Jews are now proud, stable, productive, happy citizens of Israel. Why? Because they were absorbed, housed , educated and given a positive purpose in life. And the Arab refugees became the Palestinians living in refugee camps; misreable, seething, bitter, homeless. Why? Because their own people, their Arab brethren who pride themselves in their ethic of hospitality, abandoned them!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Right and Wrong; Is It All Relative?

I came across this article on the London Times website:

It describes a new set of principles upon which to base the National Curriculum – a guideline for all schools in the UK. Here is an excerpt.

"SCHOOLS would no longer be required to teach children the difference between right and wrong under plans to revise the core aims of the National Curriculum.
Instead, under a new wording that reflects a world of relative rather than absolute values, teachers would be asked to encourage pupils to develop 'secure values and beliefs.'"

Initially I felt appalled! My initial reaction was one of criticism and disdain. After all, have the teeth of relativism sunk so deep into the flesh of our education system? How can we not educate regarding "right and wrong?"

After some thought, I began to realise that as an educator these philosophies are increasingly challenging, in real ways, everyday in the classroom. One can talk, from a Jewish perspective about the value of the Family. But can we talk about it with the same confidence when half our students are from divorced families? In a Western world in which homosexuality is an equal lifestyle choice, can educators assume the same clarity as they had twenty years ago? In an age that is tolerant of all difference, how do we teach the Birkhat Hatorah "who chose us from amongst the nations"? In the Zionist, Diaspora classroom, is Aliya taught as an obligation or an option? I have spoken to colleagues who tell me that in their Modern Orthodox schools they cannot teach about certain Halakhot because the community do not support those standards.

On second thinking, the British education system is not eroding values in the classroom. It is simply responding to a blurring of moral clarity and communal values in our post-modernist world. In a post-modernist world there is no belief in right and wrong. There is a belief that these are MY values, that this is the tradition in which I have been raised and educated, and that these are the principles that govern it, its rites and ceremonies.

This clearly is a product of multi-cultural society and the openness to other cultures. In most classrooms in Europe one will encounter children from a potpourri of ethnic backgrounds. Where one encounters difference one realises that MY perspective is not the only truth. Relativism is very tangible in the multi-cultural classroom, or in the global village, (ever more global since the internet.)

I feel that these issues are becoming more complex. What are our Truths? Do we define Right and Wrong by the standards of the families that our students come from, or alternatively, on the basis of their Synagogue affiliation, or possibly from the Shulkhan Arukh?

So how do we progress? How do we educate?

In the Times, the article provoked many interesting responses on the
letters page.

This particular letter attracted my interest:


Of course children should learn right and wrong. They should learn it at home, at school, in churches, mosques, synagogues and temples. The question for those of us who are reviewing the aims of the curriculum is how this should be expressed in a practical way which helps teachers to do their jobs.

The curriculum aims should be more prominent so that they underpin all that goes on in schools and are as accessible as possible. Our aspiration is that all young people become successful learners who enjoy and achieve, confident individuals who lead safe and healthy lives, and responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.

Chief Executive, QCA

I found it interesting first, because of who wrote it: The CEO of the QCA – the very organisation quoted! Second, the fact that he looks to home and religious institutions rather than public schools to instil those very truths.

So, are we saying that everyone should be educated within their tradition, and live with their own Truths as well as tolerance to others?

And then other questions arise?

1. What about when there are clashes between MY truth and yours? What gives?

2. Where is the collective? Where are the shared values? Or are we simply a strange mix of very different sectarian groups?

Here in Israel, I feel that sometimes we have exactly that. There is a national-secular education system, and separate school systems for Arabs, Haredim, Religious Zionists, Sephardi-Shas. Each group teaches different values. Each group answers to a different call. There is precious little contact between the groups in wider society frequently they live separately, think differently, and have very little in common. They fear each other, at times hate each other (in varying degrees.) And the question that we have is where is the glue that unites society?

3. And back to philosophy… What happens to the very NOTION of TRUTH in a world governed by relativism? Have our contemporary Jewish thinkers (with the exception of the mystical thought of Rav Kook, and the recent writings of
Rabbi Sacks) addressed this question? Are we the only ones who are right and is everyone else wrong? And who is we? – Modern Orthodox, Zionist? Religious Zionist? Haredi? Etc.) IS everything OPINION, or is there really something called good and bad, wrong and right? I personally feel that there is. Or is it just my own personal perspective?

… and tomorrow, part 2 of this posting … National Heritage Education.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Parashat Vaetchanan : "Shema Yisrael"

Parshat Vaetchanan:
Shema Yisrael

Maybe it is the most famous Jewish line of all: "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad."

It would be no exaggeration to state that this verse is the ultimate Jewish pronouncement of faith. After all, this is the final pronouncement that a Jew will make on his deathbed. Ever since Rabbi Akiva, this passuk has become the determined proclamation of the Jewish martyr. And lehavdil, this is the text that we recite twice daily in order to (in a wonderful oxymoron) willingly impose God's sovereignty and authority in our lives – to perform the act of "Kabbalat Ol Mulchut Shamayim."

The Shulchan Aruch[1] instructs us to have full focus, absolute concentration, as we recite this verse. But, what exactly should I be focusing upon as I recite it? If I am supposed to be thinking about God's "one-ness," what exactly does that abstract concept imply?

Chavruta Study

1. Dedicate a few minutes to examining this phrase. In a chumash it may be found in Devarim 6:4
· What textual difficulties are apparent in this line? Or, in other words, how might the line have been expressed in simpler language?

2. Study the classic mepharshim on this passuk: Rashbam, Rashi, Sephorno. How do their translations differ?
· An interesting experiment is to pick up a few different translated siddurim/chumashim, and to observe the different translations on offer.

Here are some pointers for the textual problems.

1. There is a change in the grammatical form mid-sentence. "Listen Israel" is the "third person" form. The verse then switches to 1st person plural as it states "Hashem is OUR GOD." What is the nature of this transition?

2. The four letter name of God – The Tetragammaton – is repeated twice: "Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad." Why not simply write: "Hashem Elokeinu Echad?" What is the meaning behind the double phrase: Hashem Elokeinu/Hashem Echad"?

3. Why not state that Hashem is THE God - "Hashem hu HaElokim"?


RASHBAM – Singular Worship.

"Hashem Elokeinu: Hashem alone is our God. We have no other god in conjunction with Him. Similarly in Divrei Hayamim (II 13:10) "And we have Hashem our God and we have not forsaken Him," that is to say that you (Yerovam) have the Golden Calves, but for us, Hashem is our (exclusive) God…
Hashem Echad: We will serve Him and we will not adjoin any other deity, even to engage in divination…"

For the Rashbam, The opening line of the Shema contains a theological statement followed by a related instruction. First, we have only one God; that God is a single power with no attachment, no subsidiary. Second God is to be worshipped without any associated mini-gods, physical representations, intermediaries, and the like.

The parallel verse that the Rashbam quotes sheds interesting perspective upon our passuk. He refers to the famous story of Yerovam (see I Melachim ch.12-13.) Yerovam rebelled against the kingdom of Solomon, and established a new kingdom in Northern Israel. His big worry was that with the Beit Mikdash in Jerusalem, his subjects would always be drawn to the kingdom of Yehudah. His solution involved setting up two new religious centres, one in Dan And one in Beit El, and states "These are your Gods, Israel, who brought you up from Egypt." With this reference (clearly echoing Aharon at the Egel) he establishes the fact that the calves will be physical representation of God. The northern kingdom didn't abandon God as their deity, but they introduced some "accessories" some physical forms that represented Hashem. And so when Yerovam is criticised for making the calves as "gods (Elohim)" (Divrei Hayamim II 13:8) the counter statement is made:"…we have Hashem our God (HASHEM ELOKEINU) and we have not forsaken Him" (ibid.)

The Rashbam reads the Shema as: Listen O Israel. God is our exclusive deity. God alone (is to be worshipped.)

And actually, his explanation fits comfortably into the entire context of our chapter here in Sefer Devarim, Chapter 6, which discusses the limits and appropriate form of faith in God: "Do not forget God … do not follow other gods of the people around you … do not test God …" (6:12-17) The entire context is one of warnings regarding absolute loyalty to God.

RASHI – A Historical Process.

"Hashem, who is OUR God at the present time, and not the God of the gentile nations, he will at a future time be – Hashem Echad – as it states: "Then I will transform all nations to a single speech that they will all call out in the name of Hashem (YHVH) (Tzephania 3:9) and it states: "On that day God's will be one (Yiheye HASHEM ECHAD) and his name will be one." (Zecharia 14:9)"

Rashi reads our verse historically. After all, why repeat the YHVH name of God twice in the passuk? Why do we state that Hashem is OUR God rather than THE God? Rashi answers (based on the Sifrei) with this reading. Nowadays, ONLY Am Yisrael recognise God, hence he is OUR God. However, in future times in which all Civilisation will recognise Hakadosh Baruch Hu as the supreme God, then "Hashem Echad," God will be one in that everyone will call out his name. The entire world will be as one in that they will recognise his dominion.

Notice how Rashi scans Tanach for another context in which we can find the enigmatic combination, "Heshem Echad." After all, what does the Torah imply by such a statement? Rashi finds parallels in Tzephania and Zecharia in an eschatological (End of Days) context, a future era of worldwide recognition of God, and this contextual reference forms the base for his commentary to this passuk.

Shema then is not so much a religious instruction as our hope for the world, a belief in the future, a testimony to an era of Redemption and Truth. Shema tells us that the Jewish people stands apart in this imperfect world. Indeed it is only Am Yisrael who, at this time, recognise Hashem. However, there will be a different future. In an era of redemption, God will then be evident to everyone.

MALBIM – Love and Fear, and the dangers of Dualism.

We haven't really spoken yet about the difference between the names YHVH and Elokim in the context of Shema. This is one of the key themes for the Malbim.

Traditionally the name Elokim represents the harsh, rule-based, "din" aspect of God, whereas YHVH signifies the more worldly, human, sensitive, Rachamim features of God. The Malbim bases himself upon this difference.

A second observation by the Malbim is that he takes note of context, focusing our attention on the fact that the Torah prior to the verse of Shema Yisrael (see 6:2) instructs us regarding FEAR of God, whereas immediately after this passuk, we begin to speak (VeAhahavta) of the LOVE of God.

The Malbim comments:

"After he (Moses in Sefer Devarim 6:2) has stated that the objective of the Mitzvot is FEAR of God, - "These are the commandments, statutes and judgements that Hashem your God commanded to teach you … that you may fear God…" – he now comes to raise them to a higher level of LOVE of God…

All ancient societies believed in polytheism. A common factor between them all was that they had a god of good acts and a god of bad events. They could not imagine that the good and bad in the world could emerge from a single source. Hence they feared the "bad" god, and loved the "good" god."

This is a theology that we now call Dualism. It is the fundamental layer of all Polytheism. As presented by the Malbim, pagan theology sees God as forces of nature. But forces of nature sometimes clash. Imagine a farmer in the ancient Near East. Maybe it was a good year agriculturally – so the gods are favouring me. But yesterday, my prize cow died – so god is angry with me. How can both be true? Is god happy or angry with me? The pagans explained that there are in fact, two gods, two addresses. There is a god of "good" and a god of "evil", and that these two forces govern human existence. (In certain other systems, the division became more sophisticated with a fire god, a war god, a rain god etc. but this dual division is the basis of the polytheistic mindset.) The force of good gives me the good things in life, and the force of evil punishes and precipitates disaster and misfortune. Naturally one begins to characterise the forces of good and evil, as forces, one of which is worthy of love and the other worthy of fear. And this is the root of all polytheism.One fears the bad god, and loves the force of good.

The Malbim says then, that in the Torah's transition from Fear to Love lies a theological need to restate and stress the unity of God. We state that God is the source of good and evil, the source of everything.

"…As the Torah comes to teach the unification of Fear and Love to the true God it needs to precede the believe in the unity – that the God of the world is One , that there is none besides him, and that he is the source of all existence in all the worlds…

In addition the Malbim states that:

"…there is no true evil in the world for from the one good God, only good will emerge, and that which appears to us as evil is … all for a purpose of good. Hence its states:

HASHEM ELOKEINU, HASHEM ECHAD: Hashem (YHVH) refers to the attribute of mercy – the force of good – and Elokim refers to the force of Judgement (Din) and punishment – the force of bad – IT IS ALL ONE, all good, and in truth, only goodness and kindness; hence HVH is repeated a second time. And after this statement of the absolute unity of God, we can say: You shall LOVE the Lord your God …"


We have seen Rashi and also the Malbim. I wonder if we might simply adjust things a little. In this shiur and on previous occasions we have remarked on the fact that God may be viewed from a variety of vantage points. One perspective of the world sees God as the master of order (as in Bereshit ch.1 - Elokim) in which all events of the world have a planned and organised mechanism and where life follows a correct pattern. This is a world in which we experience a God of Justice, a God of truth and order. Here the world makes sense.

But then sometimes, life doesn't go to plan. Sometimes, we experience hardship in this world. Even then, God has a place; God supports us, he challenges and tests us (God as YHV"H – Bereshit ch.2). At these times, the experience of Justice and order are distant and elusive. But God is very much present even in our flawed human existence, as the source of our humanity despite its pitfalls, its pain and injustice.

God can be manifest as master of order, and also the God of disorder? If "Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad," then possibly we can (in a sort of Rashi way) perceive Shema as a prayer, a plea. We can read Shema and request that we be allowed to witness and experience Unity of Hashem and Elokim, the caring God, and the God of Truth. That we may behold the God of history in a manner that will be truly evident of His values of truth, caring, peace, justice and holiness.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] Orach Chayim 60:5.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Truth is Slowly Emerging

Last night Israeli commandos worked 100 km beyond the Litani, taking Hizbolla leaders from a hospital. As one ex-IDF commando said on the radio:

"Imagine if a helicopter landed at Kikar Hamedina (in north Tel Aviv) and soldiers ran to Ichilov (a major nearby hospital) and siezed wanted men. The psychological blow is enormous."

It shows that they are exposed. That they have nowhere to hide. That Israel intelligence is all over them.

See this from today's Ha'aretz. From inside sources in Lebanon.

"The IAF bombing of the Dahiya neighborhood was a hard and humiliating blow to the Hezbollah leadership," the sources stated. "This is not only because the offices were destroyed. The offices were equipped with command, control and computer systems and valuable intelligence. But the psychological blow was just as important. They were surprised by the attack and by the precise information Israel possessed. The headquarters was their pride and joy. Its destruction served as a painful reminder of the gap, one that no Lebanese can miss, between their pretension of power and the truth."

Who said that Israeli intelligence has failed? And who says that we are not winning this war?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

My Shiurim for Tisha BeAV

Here are two shiurim for Tisha BeAv

God in the Midst of Suffering. A study of Eicha
The first is a study of theology in Eicha. How is God viewed from a perspective of suffering? We shall see that each chapter of Eicha offers a different perspective.
Click here.

Jerusalem before its destruction - A Midrashic Critique
Click Here

An IDF Pilot Speaks Out

I wrote last week regarding the state of the Israeli media and the manner in which their extreme criticism was causing harmful negativism.

In today's Maariv, a fighter pilot writes a column in which he calls for the media to focus on Israel's victories. See the article here.

"Throughout the fighting, the media has created a feeling that 'we are losing!' It does this by the hysterical and over-the-top coverage of the home-front, and also correspondents who rely less on hard facts and more upon their personal beliefs, estimations and imagination."

He points to a series of successes; first among them being the surprise and resolute Israeli response to the initial Hizboalla attack.

"There is no doubt that Nassralla is sitting in his bunker, pulling his hair out, and wondering why this is happening to him, and how he didn't predict it.

True! They still retain some of their missile capability, but the number of hits in open fields and countryside is an achievement which is a product of the colossal pressure felt by those who launch the missiles and their fear of being hit.

Can you try to imagine the management of an organization whose institutions are all destroyed to pulp, their military positions have been eradicated entirely, and the homes, and apartment buildings of their activists…have been wiped out?

Try to imagine the Lebanese government weighing up the cost to its country, in the future, when it needs to decide whether to allow Hizbollah to take control; and all this without the IDF having harmed their major national infrastructure (water, electricity, ports, gas)…"

He continues:

"I do not want, in a democratic country, to see a media that is one-sided or a journalism that follows the party line. However, there is no doubt that solidarity and national responsibility are definitely things that I would expect from every citizen and certainly the media in wartime."

He calls for realistic expectations:

"…it is impossible to fight in an environment that offers no tolerance for casualties and mistakes, despite the titanic efforts expended in preventing errors. "It is not on a silver platter"….And anyone who has reached the point of weariness, or thinks otherwise, I beg him to wake up and open his eyes."

He ends with the following:

"If you want to help Tzahal and the country in its current effort – fly an Israeli flag on your balcony, smile at us in the streets, believe in us. We believe in ourselves: the country, the people, the army, in the justice of our cause, in the enormity of our achievements thus far, and in the greatness that we shall achieve."

A Pleasant Surprise from London

Is the London Times working for Israeli Hasbara?
See this!
It is always nice when people outside Israel understand us.