Shabbat B' Shabbato

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Volume 1678: Korach  30th of Sivan 5777 24/06/2017

As Shabbat Approaches

“I did not Take One Donkey from Them” /Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh Yeshiva, Kerem B'Yavne

Datan and Aviram accused Moshe of some very serious faults, such as not keeping his promise to bring the people to a land of milk and honey. An even worse accusation was that he took on himself to become “a ruler over us.” [Bamidbar 16:13]. From Moshe’s reply, we can see what they claimed: “I did not take one donkey from them” [16:15]. As Rashi notes, “Even when I went from Midyan to Egypt and put my wife and son on a donkey – when I could have taken one of their donkeys, I only took one of mine.”

Moshe, our first leader, teaches us how to lead the public. This is also what the profit Shmuel said near his death: “Now, behold, answer me before G-d and before his anointed one – whose ox did I take, whose donkey did I take, whom did I defraud, whom did I oppress?” [Shmuel I 12:3, from this week’s Haftorah]. Shmuel’s behavior and his wariness of taking any physical benefits were evidently part of the education he received from his mother.

In the beginning of the book of Shmuel, we are told, “And his mother made him a little coat which she brought to him from year to year” [Shmuel I 2:19]. Evidently the verse is trying to contrast this behavior with what we are told about the corrupt customs of the sons of Eli, who took advantage of their high positions for their own personal benefit. The late Chanan Porat correctly wrote that this little act of giving Shmuel his own personal coat was an act of defiance against the behavior of the sons. It was as if she said: “My son will not benefit from public property, he will not wear a coat that was bought from public funds, even if in a formal sense this would be permitted. My son will not make use of ‘a grandiose government vehicle, added pay for clothing, or free electricity.’ He will not strike to improve his physical benefits. My son will wear his own little coat.”

I remember when I was very young, when an electric refrigerator was still considered a luxury, somebody advertised that he had a refrigerator to sell. Paula Ben Gurion, the wife of the Prime Minister, called the man and asked about the terms. The two of them settled all the details. However, a few hours later she phoned the man to call the deal off, since David Ben Gurion refused to let her buy the refrigerator. He said thst most of the people were still using ice boxes, “and what is good for everybody else is good for us too.”

It is written in the Tosefta about the era of the Second Temple that the people “loved their money.” The Natziv explains that the main problem was with the leaders of the nation, adding, “And this evil inclination is still extant among us.”

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Point Of View

Goodbye – Until we Meet Again /Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

What should I Write about This Time?

At the end of almost every Shabbat, I sit down in front of the keyboard and ask myself, “What should I write about today?” I find that I stare at the computer screen for long periods of time, sometimes even two or three hours. “What should I write about today?” This time I sat down wondering as usual, but today the answer is obvious: I am duty bound to discuss the possible demise of this bulletin, which we at Zomet Institute have been editing for more than twenty years. I can tell you that I personally will miss the recurring anguish of choosing a topic for my weekly column, “Point of View.” I feel that I have filled a role as a representative of a large segment of the classic religious Zionist camp, based on concepts that are nationalistic and true to the Torah.

I am drawn to issues related to current events, with echoes of the weekly Torah portion and its relation to the communications media. Should I say something – for or against – about providing electric power to Azza? Should I take a stand – for or against – about the decision to build thousands of new homes in Kalkilya while similar plans for Gush Etzion have been shunted aside for years? Perhaps I should comment – for or against or both – about the Bedouin takeover of large tracts of land in the Negev. And then suddenly I think of the new academic “Ethical Code” which we have not mentioned in past articles, that was requested by the Education Minister, who wants to teach nationalistic and patriotic values to the academic world in Israel, which spends so much of its time undermining these values with an ever-present eye on the outside world. And what about the treatment of the unfortunate children ill with cancer who seem to be caught in a dispute among top physicians based on prestige or possibly linked to financial issues? And what about the stubborn dispute within the religious Zionist camp that has broken out between different yeshivot on the scale of religious observance? That is certainly worthy of a “Point of View” column or two. And then there are recurring themes, such as the status of the States Attorney, who has almost unlimited powers. This too is a fateful nationalistic/governmental issue.

So What will it be Today?

All of these are subjects worthy of much thought. But what can we do if circumstances lead us in another direction? The company that publishes this bulletin has declared that the gates of “Shabbat B’Shabbato” will now be closed, for absolutely justified economic reasons. If this would be a heavenly decree to immediately stop publication of all the Shabbat bulletins I would swallow the bitter pill willingly, and I would even support such a move. I wrote as much in this column in the past. But what can we do in the face of the current reality – when a multitude of new bulletins have appeared all competing for pieces of the same advertising “cake” and therefore eating away at the economic basis for our bulletin? On principle, we agreed with our publishers not to open our pages to journalistic articles or to public relations praise of people or public institutions. We have remained strictly within the bounds of serious Torah study (except for my own opinion column). Evidently there is a price to pay for such a decision in the advertising market, and I leave it to our readers to judge what is best.

So this is how it is: We have been told by our publishers that this issue of Shabbat B’Shabbato will be the last one, barring unforeseen circumstances, in the old format of a religious-Zionist (Mafdal)-Poel HaMizrachi “brand name.” That is the way of the world, “some wither away while others grow,” and it is certainly true in today’s ever-changing universe, where one innovation quickly follows on the heels of another, day after day.

On the other hand, I ask you to “read my lips:” I have a feeling that “Shabbat B’Shabbato” will return to the stage after a short pause of a few weeks. We have hopes that the bulletin will come back to life, either through efforts of a different publisher, or perhaps (as has been hinted) our publishers “Gal Oren” will find a way to once again take on this important religious Zionist mission as in the glorious early days of its predecessor, “Oren Publishers.” At the time, this project was actively promoted by the founder of the family-owned company, Maish (Meir) Elimelech, Of Blessed Memory.

For the time being, we are deeply involved in rejuvenation efforts. It has been proposed, for example, that educational or cultural religious Zionist enterprises might “buy” a page which will be filled with Torah insights by their members, with short summaries of the activities of the sponsoring organization. Is anybody interested in taking on such a challenge?

In my heart I feel that we can find a way out of this crisis, and we already see some indications of new beginnings... We are looking for organizations that will purchase a weekly page in the bulletin for a minimum of one year. If this interests you, contact Dan Marans, General Manager of Zomet, phone 052-4295294.

We will be happy to meet again, and I hope it will be very soon...

(Written after the end of Shabbat, Torah portion of Shelach.)

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Zionist Chassidism

An Optical Illusion/Rafi Ostroff
Head of the Religious Council of Gush Etzion

A Passage without a Clear Meaning

Rebbe Yaacov of Husiatyn begins his commentary on the Torah portion of Korach with the following:

When we study the story of the dispute with Korach and his followers, we stand full of wonder and without any understanding.

This introduction emphasizes the great distance and the disgust that the rabbi felt from any hint of dispute, pride, or dishonesty. The difficulty is even worse because those who argued with Moshe were great men of the generation and not worthless people:

However, a great moral lesson and a warning appear in this story, in that at a time of such great Divine revelation it was possible for the leaders of the nation to be led astray by the lust for power and the desire for honor together with their evil character. These were the princes of the community, well-known leaders, men with a reputation. Yet they still dared to cry out against Moshe, the father of all prophets. So much more so must we be wary of such matters, at a time when the face of G-d is hidden from us.

The Rebbe notes some important lessons. The sin of Korach and his followers stemmed from the evil trait of lusting for power and the pursuit of honor. In the mind of the usual religious person, sins tend to be in the realm of religious activity: Shabbat desecration, sexual aberrations, kashrut, and so on. A lust for political power? This is something that is so very hard to detect. Who can tell if what motivates a public figure is a lust for power or a true desire to serve the people? Who can tell when a rabbi or a mayor is pursuing honor or if he truly wants to serve a holy nation? Does the Rebbe of today (or in the distant past) who rides in a very expensive car costing hundreds of thousands of dollars do so because he wants to glorify the Torah or because he enjoys his own honor? Does a bit of the love of power creep into the heart of an important rabbi when he sees thousands of people lining up to meet him?

The Rebbe answers all of these questions at the same time. If at the time when the Shechina was openly revealed to the people the people who saw the glory of G-d on Mount Sinai and the miracles Moshe performed could still err in this way, how much more so are we liable to fall into such a trap in our times?

Looking through Korach’s Eyes

How then does a man at such a high spiritual level make such a disastrous mistake about such a simple matter, and start a dispute with Moshe?

The Rebbe of Husiatyn explains that Korach was inflicted with evil traits that interfered with his thinking. That is, a person may well be wise and full of understanding, but on the other hand he might misinterpret what he understands because of his evil traits.

And that is what Rashi wrote, “What happened to Korach, who was so smart? The answer is that his eyes misled him (where the eye is a symbol of good or bad traits).” Korach’s eye was not satisfied with what it had, rather it was full of lust and evil desires, and it deceived him. That is, due to his pride and his burning desire to be a leader, his eyes lost their ability to see clearly and his heart lost its wisdom, his thinking was damaged, and it goes without saying that this impaired his ability to achieve spiritual greatness.

Ever since we have seen the great optical illusions made by Maurits Cornelis Escher, we can better understand that such illusions can be created in a way that seems to contradict what we see with our own eyes. Korach saw with his own eyes, but because he looked through the prism of evil traits he did not see correctly. What did he see?

The demands of Korach and his followers and their lust for leadership power made them blind and confused their minds, so that they thought that Moshe was the same as they were. And that is why they said, “This is too much for you, for the entire community is holy... Why should you rise up above the community of G-d?” [Bamidbar 16:3]. And from the words of Moshe, “I did not take one donkey from them” [16:15], we see that in their evil they suspected that he received something from the people but had no influence on them. And they suspected him not only in physical matters but also in spiritual matters – that he only received from others and gave nothing in return.

Some people measure those around them only according to their own traits. One who pursues wealth is convinced that no person alive will ever do anything if not for a lust for wealth. One who has sexual lusts is sure that everybody else sins in this matter. And this is also true of Korach, who lusted for power, control, and honor, and therefore he was confident that such lusts and desires were the basis for Moshe’s political power. And therefore it was natural for Korach and his followers to suspect that Moshe was involved in sexual sins. However, their mistake was that Moshe was in a class of his own, and we must never judge another person based on our own faults. That is how Korach sinned, and this remains a challenge for us to this very day.

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The Roots Of Faith

Holy and Secular in the Redemption of Yisrael /Rabbi Oury Cherki, Machon Meir, Rabbi of Beit Yehuda Congregation, Jerusalem

The national rejuvenation of the Yisrael, which was expressed in a practical manner by the existence of the Zionist movement and the State of Israel, encompasses many different levels, which can be divided into two categories: bringing the secular to life and bringing the holy to life. Rejuvenation of the secular includes returning to all of the realms that we were unable to develop during the bitter days of the exile. This includes political, economic, and military existence, as well as our own culture and the arts.

In the early days of Zionism, religious people objected to having the Zionist Congress concern itself with culture and religion, fearing that this might inhibit cooperation between different sectors of the nation and interfere with achieving the desired political goal of establishing a viable country. Rav Kook was opposed to this approach, and he felt that it was not possible to have an authentic national awakening without a corresponding cultural rejuvenation. This means that it is necessary to become involved in culture in spite of the danger that this might force us to struggle in order to form its proper characteristics (Igrot Re’iyah, 158).

And what constitutes holy rejuvenation? We might have thought that it would consist of returning to traditional religious behavior, which is concerned only with the spiritual fate and the happiness of each individual and not with political rejuvenation – that is, that the nonreligious sector would repent and begin to observe the mitzvot. However, while it is certainly important for every Jew to observe all of the mitzvot, that is not the main focus of the “holy” rejuvenation.

The holy without the secular is weak, and it does not have the power to lift up the lives of the community and of all humanity. Secular living itself contains hidden within it a power of holiness which could not break through during the exile, the “sanctity of nature.” This will be revealed by the process of redemption (see Orot, page 45, and Orot Hakedusha Section 2, 23). This leads us to the conclusion that rejuvenation of the secular is in itself a form of renewal of sanctity and not merely a preliminary step towards the goal.

The denial by religious people of the value of the rebirth of the secular and the view of participation in the Zionist enterprise as a dangerous adventure which is liable to exact too high a price while at the same time raising the banner of religious isolation – all this will lead holiness to become weaker, since it cannot stand alone without the vitality of the secular life. Rav Kook writes:

“In religious circles on the other hand (that is: as opposed to the drying up of the holy sources by the academic secular sector), this can lead to a weakening of force, because of a lack of the secular influence... We must therefore reveal the program of unified spiritual force, since this is our unique secret which will never be revealed to any other nation.” [Igrot Har’iyah, 748].

Religious holiness, which Rav Kook describes as “regular holiness,” is no more than one aspect of true exalted holiness. Exposing the exalted form of holiness, which operates in all realms of life and appears in all its perfection through the combination of the various identities that make up the public face of Yisrael - religion, nationalistic feeling, and a cosmopolitan outlook (see Orot, pages 70-72) - is the mission of the generation of rejuvenation.

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When The Children Open Their Hearts

Is it an Angel or a Man? /Meirav Maggeni,
Author of Content and Stories in Chemed, the Religious School System

I took a deep breath, and I counted: One... two... three...

That’s it, we go into the hall. I am so excited that I find it hard to breathe. I am at the center of things, it is my Bar Mitzva.

The band strikes up a lively tune in my honor. Many guests have come, from near and far, to make it a happy event. My classmates are waiting for me at the door.

“Hi, there!” It is Uncle Micha, and he gives me a huge bear hug. “You have become a man, absolutely!” And I think, “What does that mean, a man?? I am still short and little...”

I must say that I love Uncle Micha very much. He is very funny, and he really loves all of his nephews. He never forgets when I have a birthday, and I can always feel his love for me. And the best thing that I love is Uncle Micha’s riddles. For example, “What is it that you can do but you cannot see?” Or: “There is a refrigerator in an insulated room, connected to an electric plug. Its door is open. What will happen to the temperature in the room after a long time?” Or: “What is it that has a neck but no head?”

Today too he came at me with a riddle. He said, “Here is a Bar Mitzva present for you.” And he laughed. “What is more exalted and more important – an angel or a man?” I said right away, “Of course it’s the angel. They are holy and serve G-d directly... Your riddle is too simple. That’s the right answer, isn’t it?” Uncled Micha started to speak, but just then Gal and Shai grabbed me and pushed me into the circle of dancers. Sabba lifted me up on his shoulders, and nobody could have been happier than I was. Then they told all the guests to sit down, and I delivered my speech, which I had been practicing for days. Everybody clapped, they shook my hand, they hugged me and kissed me.

Uncle Micha was right there hugging me. He whispered to me, “Well? An angel or a man?” I wanted to ask him what he meant in more detail, but just then Imma called me to wash my hands and to sit down for the meal. I was so excited I couldn’t eat very much. Luckily for me, the band started playing again and I found myself in the middle of a circle of my friends. And then, right before the end of the party, there was a surprise waiting for me.

Uncle Micha stood on the stage, dressed up as an angel, with a large halo over his head. Abba was standing next to him, wearing his festive suit. Micha took the microphone. He said, “And now, I want to give you all a riddle: What is more important? An angel like me, or a man?” He pointed at Abba, who was trying very hard not to laugh. All my friends shouted out, “An angel! An angel!”

Micha called out, “First listen to what the angel and the man say, and then you will be able to decide!”

So Micha the angel gave a little bow, and he described how he spent a typical day. “Every morning I take my position in front of G-d and listen carefully to hear what mission He has given me for the day. As soon as I understand what I must do, I flap my wings and hurry to do what G-d commanded me. I know that G-d is very happy when I do His will. I never hesitate about whether to do what G-d has told me to do, I always run to accomplish my mission.”

And Micha cried out, “Let me hear your applause for the angel!”

And then the man (Abba) gave a bow and described his day: “Every morning I decide that today I will be better than I was before. I will help my wife, I will study Torah, I will concentrate on my work, I will be good to my children... But it’s not always that easy. Sometimes my evil inclination convinces me to sleep late, or just to be a bit lazy. There are times when I run out of patience... On the days when I manage to choose a good path, I know that G-d is happy with me.”

And Micha cried out, “Let me hear your applause for the man!”

Micha asked again: “Well, who is more important? The angel or the man?” And now, the answers to the riddle that the audience shouted out were different. Some said, “The man!” And others shouted out, “The angel!”

And then Uncle Micha turned to me, and asked, “What does our Bar Mitzva boy say about this?”

I said, “The angel is perfect. He never makes a mistake, and he always succeeds. But this is because he doesn’t have free will! He has no evil inclination to interfere. I am sure that if man didn’t have an evil side he would be just as perfect as the angel.” I stopped to breathe, and I was greeted by a loud round of applause.

I went on. “But it seems to me that G-d is happiest when somebody overcomes his evil inclination and accomplishes his task. That is real wisdom! That is why G-d gave us our will, so that we will really be able to choose what we do!” Abba came down from the stage and kissed me on the head. Uncle Micha was so happy with what I said that he began his own speech. “And now, my dear nephew, on this very important day, you join all the other adults who freely choose how they act. From today you are a man! You observe the mitzvot because you choose to do so, not because you were told to do them. You overcome your evil inclination and that is how you advance... And how happy G-d will be with you!”

And then I finally understood what Uncle Micha meant when he said that I had become a man.

And from then on, whenever I make the right choice I understand that this is the most important thing of all. And when I miss (which does happen now and then), I say to myself: “Hey, you’re not an angel! Don’t give up! Next time you can make a better choice!”

And when I do make the right choice, it is not only G-d who is happy.

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Straight Talk

Pray with One Eye on the Bulletins/Yoni Lavie
Manager, "Chaverim Makshivim" Website

There is no doubt that this phenomenon comes as a great surprise. Who would have believed just a few years ago that a weekly bulletin of Torah insights about the Torah portion would within a mere decade become one of the most annoying elements in the religious sector? Who could predict that bulletins which are distributed free of charge, with the content mostly written by rabbis, would have such a great and powerful influence on the conversations within the religious sector? Whoever has not seen a group of religious adolescents rushing to get to the prayers in time, just because they want to get their copy of the newest bulletins before they will be gobbled up like fresh hot buns – has never seen a refreshing scene in his life.

There is no doubt that we can give credit to these bulletins for some very important achievements: the volume of talk in the synagogues has been drastically decreased; men weary from their toils manage to stay awake even during the weekly sermon; and the concept of “text-message responsa” has become a desired brand, the mark of a high rating. It is true that many of the bulletins are adorned with a warning, “Do not read this material during the prayers and the reading of the Torah,” but this is seen as of no more significance than the standard declaration to Waze, “No, I am not driving.” There were some synagogues where the gabba’im made a daring decision: Only siddurim would be available during the time of prayer, and the distribution of the bulletins would be put off until the end. But the loud objections and the wall of strong opposition served merely to teach these leaders the truth of the adage, “Prayer without Shabbat bulletins is like Shabbat Kugle without pickles...”

An Escape Route

What is the secret of these bulletins? What is the basis for their huge success? First of all, the complaint that they interfere with the ability of the people to pray is not really accurate. The bulletins are not really the problem, they are the solution. They may not be a good solution, but it would be wrong to put all the blame for the situation on them. The reason that they are so attractive is that the alternative, sadly, is not such a great idea either.

It is no secret that many people find it difficult to pray. This is just as true for adolescents as it is for their parents. The generation of the smartphone and WhatsApp, which is so addicted to fast channel-hopping and obsessive multi-texting, feels that it is at a loss when it must put all this aside and focus on spiritual improvement and an encounter with the Creator. Such people have forgotten how to speak this language. For this person, the Shabbat bulletins are a vital escape hatch. This is especially true since the bulletins have been upgraded in recent years, and in addition to Torah insights many of them now include other information, such as restaurant reviews, gossip columns, and much more. In these bulletins, the Torah content is not much more than a fig leaf for an advertising journal about such subjects as snowy (and kosher!) vacations in the Carpathian Mountains and attractive land investments in St. Louis.

The “captive audience” in the synagogue is easy prey for the copywriters, who know very well how to exploit the platform that has been provided for them. The robot has turned on its creator, and the Torah elements which should by all rights be the main content, as is proper for a bulletin distributed at the time of prayer in a house of prayer, have become a field to be mined by the marketing industry (but don’t mention this on Shabbat – “nisht in Shabbos geret”).

Quality Time

After all this, would it just be best to give up on the Shabbat bulletins? I suggest that this is not a good idea. For many of the people, the quality time they spend with the bulletins is their only weekly time of Torah study! Working people who are busy earning a living all week long might find in a bulletin their only weekly opportunity for connecting to something on a higher and deeper level than the mundane flow of life during the week.

And we must not forget the remarkable positive effect on young people. It has become clear that once this generation is disconnected from smartphones and WhatsApp for a full 24 hours, they really do know how to read printed matter even if it doesn’t appear on a screen, and they are even able to connect to ideas and figures that can enrich their spiritual world. Parents who are in the know can even exploit this resource to get the children to participate in Shabbat table talk, and to continue after the end of the meal. They can share an article or a story that they read in a bulletin, and they can be part of lively discussions about these matters. We can bring up fascinating educational discussions, life dilemmas, and interesting halachic issues by making use of these pages, if we only know how to do it properly. In fact, the bulletins have served to broaden the scope of religious Zionism by giving voice to opinions which do not always have the opportunity of being heard on other platforms.

The Time for Parting has Come

Among the sea of bulletins which has clamored for our attention during the last 33 years, the one that you are now reading has stood out as being something special. With determination, for a continuous string of one thousand, six hundred, and seventy-eight weeks, Shabbat-B’Shabbato has managed to maintain a quality-Torah backbone, and it has refrained from stooping to populism and from allowing the commercial aspects of the market to take over from the Torah-true kernel. At the time of this writing, it seems that this bulletin has reached the end of the line, and that for economic reasons it will not be able to continue to present its voice to its many loyal readers. For the last seven years, we have had the privilege of meeting every other week in order to share our thoughts, insights, and revelations about life and how to cope with various struggles. I take this opportunity to thank you, my readers, for paying attention and for showing your appreciation, for much positive feedback, and for lively discussions which we have held about the subjects which interested us. We hope that we will find other ways to continue our contact in the future.

This column may have reached its end, but much work remains.

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Zomet At The Crossroads

A Conversion Court under the Auspices of Zomet /The Zomet Institute

Zomet Institute has established a private conversion court headed by Rabbi Gidon Perl and Rabbi Yisrael Rozen, who both served 15 years in the system of conversion courts set up by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

This court extends a helping hand to candidates for conversion to Judaism who are worthy in all aspects of the process including knowledge of Judaism and performance of the mitzvot, as is accepted by the courts of the Chief Rabbinate. The only element that they are missing is that they are not given the opportunity to convert since they are not Israeli citizens. There are hundreds of such candidates for conversion every year. They are true converts, but they do not pass muster for the Ministry of the Interior of Israel, which acts out of a stark fear of dishonest candidates.

These converts are sent to us by official conversion Ulpanim and by recognized organizations of Ulpanim, on the recommendation of rabbis of communities where they live, by families who have “adopted” them, and by friends who testify to their serious approach and honest desire to become Jews.

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Riddle of the Week

Korach/Yoav Shlossberg, Director of "Quiz and Experience"

- Answers for last week, the Torah portion of Shelach – the riddle was: What does “my ship of the desert” have in common with a creature that lives in the water?

- Answer: the “ship of the desert” is “gemalli” – my camel. The word in Aramaic for a fish, which lives in water, is “nun.”
- These two words appear as the names of the fathers of two of the scouts: “For the tribe of Dan, Ami’el Ben Gemalli” [Bamidbar 13:12]. For the tribe of Efraim, Hoshaya Bin Nun” [13:8].

(With thanks to Shulamit Tzitron from Bnei Berak, who sent this riddle.)

     * * * * * *

Do you have a bar/bat mitzva coming up? Are you looking for a special quiz?
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