Thursday, December 11, 2008

Parashat Vayishlach: Financial Advice From the Midrash

In this week's parasha, Yaakov, fearful for the safety of his "camp" - his servants and livestock - decides to divide them into two different groups. He said: "If Esav attacks one camp, the other will escape."

The Rabbis in Midrash Rabba applied this to the most elementary piece of financial advice, namely a diversified portfolio!


בראשית רבה פרשה עו ד"ה ג ויחץ את

ויחץ את העם, לימדך תורה דרך ארץ שלא יהא אדם נותן כל ממונו בזוית אחד ממי אתה למד מיעקב, שנאמר ויחץ את העם וגו'

The Torah has taught you about worldly matters: A person should not place all his money in one corner (of his house). From who do we learn this if not from Jacob, as it says "He split his camp etc."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I just love the things that people will do to make a Jewish festival relevant and to link it to causes which they care about. This is a great one... a friend of mine directed me to the group on Facebook. It is by
Read here from their Facebook page:

Let's celebrate Hannukah 5769 by
1) cleaning up the world!
2) sharing Jewish environmental teachings
(והשנה גם בעברית )!
3) ...and lighting the Hannuka candles!

On the 1st day of Hannukah, pick up 1 piece of litter and put it in the trash can / recycling container.

On the 2nd day of Hannukah, pick up 2 pieces of litter and place them in the trash can / recycling container.

On the 3rd day of Hannukah, pick up 3 items of litter and ...well, you get the idea.

In the spirit of Limud U'Maaseh, every day of Hannukah, Eco Lights participants will receive a daily Jewish Environmental teaching from incredible guest writers!

If you pick up one more item each day, then by the end of Hannukah's 8 days, you will have picked up 36 items of litter and helped make our world a better place to live (If you live in Israel, you get extra points for beautifying Israel - Mitzvat Yishuv Eretz Yisrael :) )

And I love the important caveat at the end!

** Please do not pick up the garbage while your Hannuka candles are burning. Use this time to reflect on how even a small flame (or act) can light up the darkness.**

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Thundering Silence

Last week, a house in Hebron was evacuated amidst extreme protest and violence. (link) I am aware that the legal status of that house is under discussion and contention. And yet, whatever the circumstances, the violence was shocking and more than troubling.

What we are seeing is a new violent streak in the Religious Zionist community, and new in two ways:
1. That it delegitimises the government , police and army. Since the Disengagement it has decided that the legal representatives of the State are undermining our Jewish presence in Israel and are thus illegitimate.
2. They now feel it is perfectly OK to smash Arab graves, set their homes on fire and to frighten and intimidate the Arab people around them

Just read this story from Hebron (from Jpost - link) and that is BEFORE all this mess.

So let's get this straight.
There is NO WAY that this violence by the Hebron settlers against soldiers, and Arab neighbours can be legitimised. Olmert called it a pogrom. That is what it looks like to me! It is violent. It is lawless. It involves awful crimes of abuse, intimidation, violence and destruction of property. I am embarrassed as a Jew to see Jews act in this way. Their Judaism has little in common with mine!

So where are the leaders?
Where are the Rabbis?

Where are the Rabbi Riskins, the Avi Gissers, the Tzohar Rabbis, the heads of the Yeshiva High schools, the Rav Aviners? The Yesha Council, The Yesha Mayors? Why is there absolute silence?

Today in the newspapers quite incredulously, there were two pieces lending support to these hooligans! (here and Here)

I'll tell you - these leaders and Rabbis are scared that if the talk out, they will be branded as leftists and enemies of eretz Yisrael etc. Well, they must not be intimidated! They must stand up and represent the Right Wing, and at the same time, reject violence and lawlessness. If the settler movement act with restraint, morality, dignity and legality, they will achieve far more. They will also control the moral high-ground. They might even be a Kiddush Hashem.

This violence needs to be decried in the most absolute fashion, or else, we are really dealing with a most dangerous momentum that will end in tragedy. Once it is legitimate to shoot at Palestinians and burn their homes, Jews will be next. Once it is legitimiate to intimidate and riot, there are no boundaries.

The time to act is NOW. It is already late. Leaders - speak out!

UPDATE (Wed Dec 10): Thank God, some leaders are speaking out. Here is a piece from Ynet about a letter from (Mori VeRabbi) Rav Lichtenstein expressing the Hillul Hashem of last week's events in Hevron and calling upon parents to direct and guide their children. - LINK. The article also talks about a conference tomorrow at Kehillat Yedidya. Unfortunately it is being sponsored only by far left-wing religious-zionist groups and hence it is likely that they will be preaching to the converted.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Can we Create a Tolerant Society in Israel?

Here is a topic that has been troubling me for a number of weeks. It started with this video.

It is pretty gruesome watching. It shows Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint taunting a kneeling bound and blindfolded Palestinian. They are doing it for fun. I watch the video and I am embarrassed. How can our soldiers humiliate and torture a fellow human being. These people have crossed a dangerous line.

So, I was watching this video and I showed it to my wife. I remarked, "look what happens when you have absolute power over another individual!" To which she replied: "It's not about power. These kids are just plain rascist."

My feeling was that when you put 19 yr olds in that powerful situation, there is bound to be abuse."The Occupation Corrupts!" - so goes the slogan, and I believe that it has great potential to do so. I know that i will be talking to my son as he nears enlistment age as to the respect to be given to any human being.

But my wife had a point. Is it just plain old Racism?

which brings me to the next point. Obama! I, like many others, was delighted when Obama won. I won't go into all the reasons but we all realised that this was Historic. After slavery, after seperate busses and park benches, a black man would be the President of the United States. what a victory for tolerance and equal rights. what a success for the civil rights movement! But it took years! It took over 100 years to get that process happening. It took marches and protests and legislation and lobbying, and positive discrimination and television to create black heroes (and presidents - see 24 for example which I imagine DID influence people that a black man could be president.)

Now, lets get back to Israel. we know that Israel is not an equal society. Arab schools are horribly underfunded. Some villages don't have running water. Arabs are not represented in government ministries and offices. It is certainly true that in Hospitals, Arab doctors and nurses are well represented and Arab patients get exactly the same treatment as Jews. We ARE an equal society! And yet, it is clear that Arabs have a way to go before we treat them on equal ground.

And now I am conflicted. Because on the one hand, I do have to be honest that I do NOT want to see the Arabs gaining absolute equality here. See this piece from Daniel Gordis in this week's Jpost (article link):

"...while Israel must absolutely strive to make race a non-issue (even among Jews, as with Ethiopians, for example) and to accord Israeli Arabs a significantly greater piece of the pie, we ought to be honest: If Israel one day were to have a Knesset in which a majority of the members were Arab, Israel will have failed in its purpose. ISRAEL WAS established as the sole country in which the Jews could flourish as only a majority culture..."

I will add more. If Israeli Arabs do make it to equality , the intermarriage rate will shoot up here. Is that what we want? Do we want a country in which Arab culture is absolutely equal to Jewish culture?

So can we really do both? Can we try to give genuine opportunity and equality to Arabs, stamp out Racism and bigotry and separation? Or, if we wish to remain a Jewish society will we only go so far? After all, the American model created genuine equality, embraced multi-ethnic marriage, dreamed of an American president. Do we? I think not! The American model took 100 years. (Did you hear Obama as he spoke in his victory speech about Ann Nixon-Cooper, the 106 yr old lady?) Do we have 50 years?

But if we don't do that, are we destined to a future of soldiers taunting Arabs?

How does an Israeli-Arab feel when we talk about the Arab birthrate as a "demographic threat" to the existence of the Jewish state. Would they be wrong to imply that we effectively resent every arab baby born! Is that Racism? - even left wing MK's talk that way.

Neither extremes are acceptable. Is the middle ground a possibility? A Jewish state which is still Jewish but absolutely tolerant?

Even European countries after 9/11 and after the bombings in London began to examine whether their Islamic minorities were a threat to the hegemony and tradition of their cultural heritages. On the one hand is equality, tolerance and multiculturalism. On the other hand is the right of a country to continue to exist - culturally - as its majority population wish it to exist. In many European countries, the very raising of the question was so controversial that it simply could not be discussed. But I feel that this is what we are facing.

The calls are growing to giving Arabs full representation in Israel, calls for equality and full acceptance; co-existence, it is called.

Can the Jewish State afford that?

But if we don't are we condemned to a continuation of ugly Racism?


I would just like to add a comment here. after I posted this, I realised that despite giving this much thought, there may be some naieve thinking here. after all, I imagine that despite Obama's election, there are still many rascist pockets of American society. Likewise, many Israelis ARE respectful and tolerant, and isolated incidents cannot be brought to prove the rule. And yet despite that, there is a feeling here that Arabs sometimes get the thin end of the wedge.

Much of this has to do with the "conflict". Some say that Israeli arabs will never be able to feel part of Israel nor us Israelis trust them until there is a resolution of the Palestinian conflict. In the meantime we are torn between seeing them as full citizens and seeing them as a fifth column of sorts. They are torn between Israel where they want to live and their Palestinian cousins, and certainly, there is evidencxe of radicalisation amongst Israeli Arabs.

I am not looking to be simplistic here. Once again I reiterate... coming from a Western culture and mindset that celebrates tolerance and equality, the question of how to instill these values and actualise them here in Israel seems far more complex and fraught with difficulty. Sometimes its difficult to even know precisely what we wish to achieve.

Parashat Vayetze: Yaakov Stoned!

Our parsha would appear to have something of a fascination with stones. Yes! You heard correctly! Stones!

Look at the evidence:
1. Yaakov, in response to his night-time epiphany turns the stone from under his head into a monument.
2. Yaakov proceeds to Aram, where there is an entire drama with the stone that covers the well. Yaakov exhibits unusual strength as he removes the weighty stone with ease “like a cork from a bottle.” (Rashi).
3. And then, at the close of our parsha (31:45-6) as Yaakov and Lavan part ways, Yaakov establishes another monument (matzeva.)
4. Yaakov then instigates the collection of stones, more stones to create a pile so large that he and Lavan can eat upon this artificial “hill!” This mound becomes a monumental symbol, a sign of their eternal separation.

Later in the Yaakov story, we hear of more stones:

5. The stone that he establishes on his return to Beit El (35:14) which would appear to have some sacrificial relevance.
6. and, the Matzeva on Rachel’s grave (35:20) … again mentioned three times in a single passuk. (We have never seen a monument or column/pillar on a person’s burial-place up to this point in the Torah.)

Rabbi Dr. Josh Berman wrote an article many years ago connecting the significance of Jacob’s FOUR matzevot. He suggested that the original Matzeva replicates or animates the dream: The ladder mutzav artza – placed firmly in the ground – with its head “rosha” reaching heaven. Hence Yaakov sets up (VaYatzev) a vertical column and pours oil “Al Rosha” on its head.

The ingredients of the dream are:
1. Yaakov's covenantal status
2. God will protect him
3. God will return him to Eretz Yisrael.

1. At separation from Lavan, he sets up a Matzeva to recognise God's protection
2. At Beit El, he has been returned to the land.
3. Rachel's death marks the birth of his 12th son which he marks with a matzeva recognising God's granting him offspring and his covenantal status.

And even if this is correct (it is a pretty good theory!) it does not explain the other stones.

What is it with Yaakov and stones?

Ideas in the comments please?