מי כעמך ישראל גוי אחד בארץ

I don’t know where Thisbe from, my daughter in law sent it. Uplifting!

A soldier on the border writes:

What’s happening here in the staging area [area where soldiers prepare to enter Gaza] is beyond comprehension, not rationally, not emotionally and begs the imagination.

Almost every hour a car shows up overflowing with food, snacks, cold drinks, socks, underwear, undershirts, hygiene supplies, wipes, cigarettes, v backgammon and more. They’re coming from the North and the Center, from manufacturers, from companies and private businesses, from prisons, Chareidim and Settlers, from Tel Aviv and even Saviyon.

Every intersection on they way down here we get stopped, not by the police, but be residents giving out food. What is amazing is that the entire situation b organized and everyone is coming on their own without coordination between the folks coming.

They’re writing letters and blessings, how they’re thinking of us all the time. There are those who spent hours making sandwiches, so they’re as perfect and comforting as possible.

Of course representatives of Chabad are here to help soldiers put on Tefillin and distributing Cha’Ta’Ts (Chumash, Tehillim, Tanya) for every troop transport and Breslov are showing up to the border and dancing with the soldiers with great joy.

The Chareidim are coming from their yeshivot to ask the names of the soldiers with their mothers’ names so that the whole yeshiva can pray for them. It should be mentioned that all of this is done under the threat of the terrorist tunnels and rockets in the area.
Soroka Hospital (in Be’er Sheva) today looks like a 5 star hotel. A wounded friend who was recently discharged told us how the MasterChef truck is parked outside and is preparing food for the wounded.

It goes without saying the amount of prayer services that are going on. On the religious front as well, there are lectures and Torah classes, all the food is obviously Kosher. Shachrit, Mincha, and Maariv with Sifrei Torah. They’re giving out tzitzit and Tehilim by the hundreds. It’s become the new fashion! The Rabbi of Maglan [Special Forces unit] told me that almost the entire unit has started wearing them, because the Army Rabbinate has been giving out tzitzit that wick away sweat. They’re gaining both a Mitzva and a high quality undershirt. We’ve started calling them “Shachpatzitzti” (a portmanteau of the Hebrew term for body armor and tzitzit). We’re having deep conversations late into the night without arguments, without fights and we find ourselves agreeing on most stuff.

We’re making lots of jokes at Hamas’s expensive and without politics. There’s lots more to add but my battery is running low and the staff has been requesting someonekm give a class on Likutei MoharaN (Breslov).

How happy is the nation that is like this.

Give us back our boys (Part 2)

After the Caulfield Shule event there was much murmuring from sections of the community about aspects that they didn’t like. This is not to imply they had a problem with the event. The feeling was positive.

I’d like to consider each one (that I know of) and that have been broadly canvassed, and offer my view, for what it’s worth. These are in no particular order.

  1. Umbrage was expressed that the Rabbinic President of the RCV and ORA was using his phone from the daïs to take panoramic pictures/videos from his place while people were involved in the event.
    My view is that this was ill-advised, and not in keeping with the solemnity and angst of the event. There were adequate photographers and the ubiquitous Channel 31 fellow quite able to take pictures and video as need be.
  2. Offence was expressed that some Rabbinic figures failed to sing HaTikva
    My view on HaTikva was formed many decades ago when I discussed the matter with a Rav from Mercaz HaRav, as a young Yeshivah Bochur during the summer break at Moshav Keshet. That is a story in of itself. The Rav was fiercely Religious Zionist, and our site was literally on the border with Syria. When we threw a rock over the barbed wire fence near where we worked each day, it was common for a mine or some other incendiary device to detonate. The Rav was obviously very spiritual. I remember waiting twenty minutes for him to finish davening Mincha after we had all finished to engage him in discussing the matter. His view was that it was unfortunate that God’s name is not mentioned therein and that there was no seeming connection to Torah. Nonetheless, he felt that when in a place where people were singing it as an anthem, not doing so, would likely cause some to make the wrong reading, and that this itself could estrange Jews from Judaism, so to speak. He told me that he made one substitution when he sang it in such situations. Instead of Lihyot Am Chofshi, he used Lihyot Am Torah B’Artzenu and suggested I focus on Hashem’s hand and Ein Lecha Ben Chorin Ela Mi Sheosek BaTorah. Since that time, I have tried to do so. Chofshi, can mean many things, but to secularists this can range from freedom to possibly freedom of the yoke of religion/heaven (from the vantage of a more Charedi reading). As my own children grew up, they noticed me making this substitution. Whether they do, is a matter for themselves. 
    That being said, it is unwise to be standing there in public view without one’s lips moving even if someone is theologically opposed. I understand that some might turn their back so nobody would notice. I understand that some have other objections. I could even foresee the bleeding left-wing objecting to the anthem on the grounds that it is difficult for an Arab Israeli to sing (this has been in the news in fact). Either way, one should absent oneself in an inconspicuous manner so as not to create heat. I saw one Rabbi leave as soon as Tehillim was over. That’s his right. It’s for his congregation to interpret. Nobody forces a Rabbi to sit anywhere they don’t want to.

    In of itself, there is nothing holy about an anthem, of course. This does not imply that one is opposed in some way to the notion that the birth of the State was Yad Hashem and a miraculous event. Let’s face facts. The majority of the RCV are not Religious Zionists, including the President nor do they need to be in terms of any constitution or mandate that I am aware of.

  3. Some from the more Charedi spectrum, who made an effort to attend in name of unity, felt that the Tefilla Lishlom HaMedina was contentious.
    It is true that Charedim, Chabad, Litvaks et al do not agree that the birth of the state implied that one should say Reishit Tzmichat Geulateynu. Some add the word “Shtehe” (rumoured to be R’ Moshe Feinstein’s suggestion) or Smichat Geulatenu.Having finished a book about the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Amiel ז’ל, of the Gush, a holocaust survivor himself and ardent Zionist, and having a copy of his seminal book המעלות ממעמקים which I read decades ago, it is clear that even some Religious Zionists (like Rav Amiel) have problems with the issue of certainty when it comes to predictions of redemption. It is also for this reason also that I am uncomfortable when people say that XYZ is Mashiach. This type of eschatology, to me, is unimportant. The end is the goal. Exactly who and when and how things happen, as noted by the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim is unpredictable. Having said that, one wasn’t forced to say this prayer. One could easily have just stood like everyone while it was being said. Those who felt that it was just too theologically uncomfortable, could have attended a Tehillim event that was apparently held at Adass Israel on a previous day, although it would be good if they publicised these things in a better manner: they know how.
  4. There were comments about allowing a Conservative Cantor recite Tehillim.
    To be honest, I didn’t know who the (Sefardi) Cantor was. I only noticed the errors in Tehillim that he had made and wondered whether he had bad eye sight. Either way, unless the person is a Kofer/Apikorus, I don’t see an issue with saying Tehillim after him (I haven’t asked my Rav). I would assume the President of ORA checked this out and was satisfied that he wasn’t a Kofer/Apikorus.

To end on a positive note, [Hat tip BA] listen to this excellent speech from the Chief Rabbi in London.

Achdus=Unity or Sloganeering?

We have emerged from an intense month. Starting from the Ellul lead in, through Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur, onto Succos/Hoshana Rabba and culminating in Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah. I use the word culminating, because in a pristine existence, it is meant to be a culmination after which ויעקב הלך לדרכו, the newly inspired and invigorated Jew “goes on his way”.

In the days of old, when distractions of worldy existence were minor and inconsequential, and when tomorrow was simply a new day, it was arguably less of an issue to exult in finishing the leyning of the Torah. (It wasn’t always the case that we completed the Torah each year, but I digress).

I fondly remember dancing the night away at (the Religious Zionist) Mizrachi Shule only to arrive in the late evening at (the Chabad) Yeshivah Centre. We were young, restless and more daring back then and attempted to hijack the singing by introducing “Tziyon Halo Tishali” (a Satmar tune for those interested in trivia, and one which connotes sadness vis-a-vis Kinos on Tisha B’Av). This song, was akin to a Religious Zionist anthem, and we were determined to show that “we have arrived” and perhaps, just perhaps, we could all sing together. We got away with it, and the singing and dancing continued in the usual uplifting vein.

Rabbi Groner ז’ל  together with other “elder”  Chassidim, hosted all with a classic Farbrengen on Shmini Atzeres. Regaling us with stories of his youth, and more, we sat spell-bound for hours. Snippets of Chassidus were spoken, and anyone could pipe up and say something. Some interloping comments were interesting whilst others displayed the result of someone who was less able to hold their liquor. There was, however, a feeling of Achdus and inspiration.

In later years, Rabbi Groner would be wheeled in, but the Farbrengen continued as long as he had an ounce of strength left in his body. To be sure, there were other significant iconic Chassidim of yore, R’ Zalman, R’ Nochum, R’ Chaim Serebryanski,  to name a few. It was like a pseudo-pantomine. They often criticised each other, under the influence of some Mashke (alcohol) and although we sometimes witnessed Rischa D’Orayso (heated interchange, for want of a better description) it was never acrimonious and, importantly, nobody pulled rank. Indeed, Chabad is a binary system as far as people go. There was the Rebbe and then the rest. It was, as in the beginning of Parshas Nitzavim: from the Rosheichem, the leaders, right through to the water drawers.

Mashke was a lubricant. It released the inhibitions. It facilitated an ability to dispense with the Tirdos (worries) of Olam Hazeh, the world we live in, and temporarily immerse in something more corporeal. In short, it was a means to an end. It was never an end of itself. Personally, I found that as I got older, Mashke helped me to “lose” the relative trivia that might be occupying my neurones and focus. It sounds contradictory, but it’s the reality. Mashke is sufficient, but it is by no means necessary, so to speak.

Fast forward. It’s Shmini Atzeres. Nusach Sfard and Chassidim perform Hakofos in Chutz La’aretz. There is a Kiddush (in the Chabad Yeshivah Shule where I have davened for eons) and many said kiddush (in the Succa) ostensibly to resume Hakaofos, somewhat liberated by the Mashke. In the last few years, I have felt decidedly uncomfortable going into the Succa for this preparatory libation. I do not refer to the issue of under age drinking. That is a separate item and not the topic in this post. The atmosphere of late, especially this year, seems to have become one more akin to a tavern/pub (lehavdil). Many never return to Hakofos, and the kiddush on mashke, has become an end, and not a means to an end. It is true, that my attention was also somewhat “distracted” as I was learning about Cohanim, Air Planes, Tumah, Moving Tents and floating carpets, and came to the realisation that I was close to clueless about the intricate Dinim of Tumas Ohel and Kelim, so I could be described as “preoccupied”.

The next day, as a Cohen, I duchened. I was somewhat psychologically affected by a Halachic question I had been reading from R’ Oshry ז’ל regarding a Cohen in the Ghetto whose voice box had been dismembered by the Nazis, may their memory be blotted forever. I felt strangely inspired to “give it my all”. I had a voice box. I wasn’t tormented. All I needed to do is have thoughts of אהבה and ask Hashem to give everyone everything they needed.

We then retired to the Shmini Atzeres farbrengen. I made kiddush, and then a little more, and waited with pregnant excitement to hear words of wisdom. It was probably me. All I heard was sloganeering and seemingly parroted thoughts that I had heard so many times before. There was no “git vort”, no “geshmake mayse”, not even a new Chassidic insight into the day we were meant to be only happy.

I began to question things being said our of sheer frustration. Perhaps if I hadn’t been exposed to the “good times” or had been more tolerant towards this somewhat more mediocre experience, I would have stayed silent.

I wanted to say something. It was to be my attempt to steer the ambient discussion towards some Tachlis. It had been on my mind during davening, and while there could have been an opportunity to do so in the good old days, and did, it sadly had no place anymore.

The shutters were up. The Arba Minim are meant to signify a unity and tolerance of all types of people and philosophies. Call it a symbol of Achdus or Unity, the personification of ואהבת לרעך כמוך. I felt that it was relegated to sloganeering. There was no action. One kind soul, attempted to assuage me

Isaac, if you were sitting in a Belzer Succah, do you think they would allow a non Belzer to say a Dvar Torah?

It was then that I realised he was right. This is, sadly, what we have become (in most places). We have compartmentalised to an extent where everyone thinks they have the (sole) mortgage on the truth. It’s my way or the highway. There seemingly can no longer be more than one path to serving Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Eventually I left.

As I walked home, I reflected on the words of the first Amshinover Rebbe, R’ Yaakov Dovid ז’ל

The Rebbe asked about the well-known Passuk in Tehillim:

הנה מה טוב ומה נעים שבת אחים גם יחד

Behold it is good and pleasant when brothers are sitting also together

The verse should have read:

הנה מה טוב ומה נעים שבת אחים יחד

Behold it is good and pleasant when brothers are sitting together

The word גם—also—is superfluous and misplaced. The Rebbe explained that there are many occasions where brothers (and sisters) sit together. However, it’s only good and pleasant when they are also together, sharing a commonality.

I wondered how each original Rebbe, who was a student of the Magid of Mezeritch sat around the same table. They had nuanced differences in their outlooks. Were they together? Of course they were. In our day, each Chassidic group is basically in its own cocoon. The same is true of non Chassidim.

On Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah, one would have thought that the uniting element, the Torah itself, would have the pulling power to create the גם יחד.

Maybe next year. I’ll be positive. There is no other choice.