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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Prophetic Words...

This past Shabbat Parshat Breishit, the 1st Parsha of the Torah was read. On the very 1st word of the Torah, "Breishit" ("In the Beginning"), Rashi - Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (February 22, 1040 ? July 17, 1105), the unequaled Biblical commentator, asks the following famous question:
R. Yitzchak said: The Torah should have begun with [the verse] "This month shall be [your first month]," it being the first precept that the Israelites were commanded. Then why does it [the Torah] begin with "In the beginning"? This is because [of the concept contained in the verse,] "He declared the power of His works to His people in order to give to them the inheritance of nations." Thus, should the nations of the world say to Israel, "You are robbers, for you have taken by force the lands of the Seven Nations," they [Israel] will say to them: "All the earth belongs to G-d. He created it and gave it to whomever He saw fit. It was His will to give it to them and it was His will to take it from them and give it to us."

Anyone reading this Rashi can appreciate how appropriate his words are today, where not a moment goes by that the Jewish People and State of Israel are forced to justify their right to the Land of Israel.

However, consider that Rashi wrote these words at some point before the year 1100. From the year 1100 until 1948, a period of nearly 850 years, this Rashi made almost no sense.

Can you imagine a Jewish father teaching this Rashi to his son in the midst of the Crusades, the Inquisition, pogroms, persecutions and the Holocaust. For 850 years, the conversation might have gone something like this:
Father: So, Rashi is teaching us that the reason that the Torah starts with the story of creation (even though the Torah is not meant to be learned as merely a story book), and not the 1st commandment that the Jewish People were commanded in, of sanctifying the new moon, is because one day the nations of the world are going to say, "You are robbers, for you have taken by force the lands of the Seven Nations"...

Son: Abba (father), what in the world is Rashi talking about?

Father: What do you mean?

Son: Well, Abba, here we are, living in Exile for the last thousand+ years, under daily persecutions, living in a ghetto, and you're telling me that one day the Jewish People are going to be able to move to Israel, a place where we will not be a minority but sovereign, and that the nations of the world are going to call us thieves?

Come on...

Father: I know it sounds too fantastic to believe, but son, we must continue to pray to Hashem, 3 times a day in the direction of Jerusalem, and the day will come when Hashem will finally answer our prayers, and return the Jewish People to the Land of Israel.

You're just going to have to trust me on this one...

Son: OK, Abba... Can I go outside and play now?

Father: Sure, but do me a favor and play inside today. You know, after what happened last night, it might be safer, until things calm down.

Son: Oh... alright.

Look how far the Jewish People have come. With all of the challenges that the Jewish people face today, we must put htings in their proper perspective. It is only in the last century that we have merited to truly appreciate these prophetic words of Rashi, and just as these words of Rashi have come true, so too will all of the other prophecies of the Torah will come true...

May it be speedily, in our days!

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
Full post and comments...

Friday, October 28, 2005

American Aliyah and Cupid's Arrow: A Match Made in Heaven or A Recipe for Disaster?

I have been following with great interest the debate that has been raging over: Is Religious Zionism Destructive For Orthodox Singles? by Passionate Life. I strongly recommend reading the post in its entirety, as well as all of the comments and responses that it has generated.

There is so much that I would like to respond to of what Passionate Life wrote, but I will limit my response to two ideas that were raised:
If someone believes they can only have happiness in Israel and they would be unhappy here, then of course what else can they do but move to Israel.

My main point is how did they get that burning desire in the first place. When there is an indoctrination such as that a Jew MUST live in Israel, do the teachers and proponents realize the damage that is being done to the single population by splintering it? (Taken from Passionate Life's response to this post)

From these words, one might get the impression that Jewish educators were committing a heinous crime by educating their students to live in Israel. As if to say that the yearning of every Jew, both as an individual and as part of the greater Jewish People to return to Israel is something foreign to Judaism (as opposed to part of its very essence). This must truly be an upsidedown world, if those who remain true to the heritage and traditions of the Jewish People, who really mean it when they pray to Return to Zion, are labeled as the guilty party, while those who willingly choose to remain in Exile are portrayed as the innocent victims of Aliyah fanatics.
Singles should be encouraged to state:

?I would love to live in Israel but I won?t allow that one issue to get in the way if in most other ways we are compatible.?

Can we all agree on that statement? (Taken from comment to original post)

No, we can't all agree on that statement. At least, I can't agree with it.

Living in Israel is not just another issue that might appear on someone's checklist of what they are looking for in a prospective spouse. A person who says that they want to live in Israel is not merely saying that they would prefer to live in one location instead of another (for instance, someone insisting that they will only live in Brooklyn or Toronto), but of someone making a statement that they can't live a complete live as a Jew without being in the center of the Jewish world, of Jewish history and of the Jewish future, namely, the Land of Israel.

Someone who says that they want to live in Israel is saying that they want to take an active role in shaping the destiny of the Jewish People. They are saying that they want all future generations who will come from them to be born and raised in the one true home that he Jewish People have. Someone who insists upon living in Israel is saying that they want to leave the Exile and take part in bringing the redemption of the Jewish People closer.

This person, who truly wants to make Israel their home, can not possibly be satisfied by finding a nice guy / girl and settling down in Teaneck or the Five Towns. There will always be a gaping void in the heart of this person, they will be living a life full of potential unfulfilled, of an essence that is being forcibly locked in the closet.

I do not doubt that it is difficult for singles today, and the frustration only grows with artificial barriers that only separate potential Jewish couples instead of creating them. However, Aliyah is not on the same level as someone who will only go out with someone who uses a white tablecloth on Shabbat, or even, as someone who will only go out with someone who is willing to learn in Kollel...

According to the Talmud, living in Israel is one of a very short list of Mitzvot that are equivalent to all the other Mitzvot in the Torah combined. Aliyah is not some type of whim or personal fancy, but something that each and every Jew should be aspiring towards - whether in the short or long-term.
You might ask, why shouldn?t I consider moving to Israel as well? For myself, and I know for many other men and women, the notion of moving away from friends and family, our shiurim and rabbis, from our hard fought and well established careers and livelihoods, from our community and chesed involvements, and most of all not being able to see our darling nephews and nieces grow and blossom, is counterproductive to the kind of lives we seek.

For those who share this outlook, the issue is not of Jewish educators teaching their prospective spouses to make Aliyah, but that they haven't been taught this message themselves.

True, there may be particular circumstances that prevent the individual Jew from making Aliyah (and this should be discussed with ah halachic authority - preferably one who lives in Israel or recognizes the centrality of living in Israel), but let us not mistake those exceptions to the rule with Jews who have grown complacent and comfortable in the American Exile, and let us not place the blame of the singles crisis at the feet of those who still have the courage and idealism to follow their hearts and take an active role in fulfilling the destiny of the Jewish People - in the Land of Israel.

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
Full post and comments...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sukkot "This Year In Jerusalem"

If you haven't made Aliyah yet what are you waiting for? Here are some pictures of Sukkot 5766 in Jerusalem to show you what you're missing!

Well if there was a lulav shortage you couldn't tell by visiting the "Arabah Minim Shuk" (Four Species Market)on Rachov Strauss...

There were "Simchot Beit Hashoavot" (Sukkot Parties) all over the Land. Here's the band "Simply Tsfat" playing at Shappel's.

And of course the traditional "Birchot Cohanim" at the Kotel where thousands of people from all over our Land are "Oleh Regel" and "rise up" to visit Jerusalem. Here the Cohanim bless us.

(Photo Credit: Woman Section Photos taken by "Leah").

Rain Threatened...

...But the sun persevered.

The Chief Rabbis were on hand...

...and in the Sukkah nearby.

A concert in the Old City's "Rova."

Ahh...cotton candy and popcorn. It must be Sukkot!

Singing and dancing at the Mir Yeshiva...

And at any of the many random enormous Sukkot around...

Sometimes even with a "Rebbe."

Yep... cotton candy and popcorn.

And at the Kotel on Hoshana Rabba Night...

...reading "Sefer Davarim" for the traditional "Mishana Torah" custom...

...While at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue Rav Herschel Schecter teaches Torah as part of the custom to learn Torah all night.

Next Year - experience it LIVE!
Full post and comments...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Strangers at Home

This morning, I happened to find myself in the lobby of the Inbal Hotel, located in the heart of Jerusalem, which happened to be filled to capacity with primarily American Jews who were visiting Israel for the Succot holiday.

Today was an interesting day here in Israel, as for those of us who live in Israel, it was Isru Chag (the day after the holiday), while for Jews who do not live in Israel (whether they happened to be in Israel or anywhere else in the world) today was Simchat Torah - since Jews who don't live in Israel must keep Yom Tov Sheini shel Goluyot - the 2nd day of Yom Tov for those who reside in the Exile - [perhaps as a reminder that they are not celebrating the holidays where they are meant to be observed).

I wondered to myself if any of these Jews, found themselves feeling a little bit uncomfortable during their holiday prayers this morning. After all, among the prayers that were recited were:
And You gave us, Hashem our God, with love, appointed festivals for gladness, Festivals and times for joy, this day of the Shmini Atzeret Festival, the time of our gladness, a holy convocation, a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt.

If I'm not mistaken, the appointed day for Shmini Atzeret was yesterday...
But because of our sins we have been exiled from our land and sent far from our soil... Our Father, Our King,... Draw our scattered ones near, from among the nations, and bring in our dispersions from the ends of the earth. Bring us to Zion, Your City, in glad song, and to Jerusalem, home of Your Sanctuary, in eternal joy...

I can't help but feel a bit of sadness towards these Jews, who, although they are celebrating the holiday right in the heart of Jerusalem, are unable to open their eyes and recognize that the Jewish people have come home, and that all of their prayers are telling them that they should do likewise...

Among the many things that the Jewish people must pray for these days, let us find room in our prayers for our fellow Jews still living in Exile, that they should find the strength to open their eyes and their hearts, and may Hashem bless them with the understanding to recognize that all of their prayers can be answered in an instant, if only they truly want it.

Next Year in Jerusalem (on a permanent basis, for the entire Jewish People)!

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
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Friday, October 21, 2005

You Know It's Sukkot in Jerusalem Because...

Courtesy of Judy Lash Bailint - Jerusalem Diaries

You Know It's Sukkot in Jerusalem Because...

1. You can't get on a bus without being poked in the rear a dozen times with someone's stray lulav.

2. The sweet smell of etrogim in Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda (Yehuda Market) is overpowering. Huge crowds descend on the parking lot near the market to vie for the best lulav and etrog.

3. An enterprising bookstore is offering "Machzor rentals" for tourists who inadvertently left their holiday prayer books at home.

4. You've never seen such gaudy sukkah decorations in your life---unless you've been to Wal-Mart on Xmas eve. Kiosks manned by bearded Haredim in Meah Shearim are selling gold, green and red tinsel hangings---exact replicas of Xmas decorations in the Old Country.

5. Huge piles of schach (palm fronds for the roof of the sukkah) cover major city squares, and citizens are invited to take as much as they need for free.

6. The usual throngs are expected at the Western Wall for the thrice yearly observance of the ancient ritual of Birkat Cohanim--Blessing by the Priests--that takes place during the intermediate days.

7. Hotels report almost 100 percent occupancy as Israelis join foreign tourists in celebrating the weeklong holiday.

8. Sukkot of every size and description can be seen on balconies, rooftops and in courtyards in every neighborhood of the city. Every kosher restaurant in town has one and boasts bigger and better holiday specials to entice customers.

9. Since the entire week of Sukkot is a national holiday you'll have a tough time deciding which festival/event to take part in. There's the first ever Festival of Israeli Comedy in Kiryat Shmona; the New Age Bereishit Festival at Dugit beach; The Tamar music and arts fest at the Dead Sea; Acco's acclaimed Fringe Theater Festival and a revival of the Carlebach Festival at Mevo Modi'in, to name just a few.

10. Touring the country is another favorite Sukkot activity and every political group is promoting trips to "See For Yourself." Hevron is a perennial favorite for Chol Hamoed (intermediate festival days) with a special opening of the Isaac Hall in the Cave of the Patriarchs that's normally off-limits to Jewish visitors.

11. Not to be left out are those Christian friends of Israel--the International Christian Embassy will bring 5,000 members from 80 nations (including China and Russia this year) to attend the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration. Opening ceremonies this year will take place in the majestic Sultan's Pool outdoor space just below the walls of the Old City.

The Christian contingent will also take part in the Jerusalem March, another annual Sukkot event, dressed in costume of their countries of origin.

Organizers claim that the Christian event will pump $15 million into the local economy, taking up 15,000 hotel room nights during their stay.

12. Another prominent group of tourists set to arrive are refugees from the young frum singles scene who make an annual migration to Jerusalem from the Upper West Side for Sukkot. Discreet meetings of earnest, well-scrubbed, modestly dressed twenty-something?s take place in all the major hotel lobbies.

13. And speaking of refugees--spare a thought for those 1,700 families expelled from their homes in Gush Katif in August. Most of them have still not been rehoused nor received the promised compensation, and are trying to maintain some semblance of family life in hotel rooms and dormitories all over the country. This year they won't need to be reminded of one of the essential messages of the Sukkot holiday--the flimsiness of our physical existence and our reliance on God for sustenance and shelter.

May we all experience the true joy of Sukkot and merit to see the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash.

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
Full post and comments...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Sharon says he will bring 1 million Jews to Israel


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hosted 51 recent IDF inductees in his Succah Wednesday.

Most of the soldiers were new immigrants from the FSU, Argentina, Ethiopia, and India, Army Radio reported.

Sharon, speaking to the soldiers, declared that he intended to bring one million Jews to Israel over the next 15 years.

Full post and comments...

Succot: What's There Really To Be Happy About?

Rabbi Natan Lopes Cardozo, in his book, "Thoughts to Ponder", as a question that strikes at the very essence of the holiday of Succot:
Perplexing, however is the fact that the festival of Succot is considered to be the highlight of joy and happiness. Speaking specifically about Succot, the Torah states: "And you shall be happy on your festival" (Devarim 16:!4). This means that we should experience the most exalted form of happiness at a time when we have to dwell in structure which is far from being secure!

In fact, Jewish law makes it abundantly clear that the Succah must be built in such a way that it is not able to stand up against a strong wind, that its roof must be leaking when it starts to rain, and that it must contain more shadow than sunlight.

These conditions should, in theory, make us feel distressed since the Succah seems to represent the vulnerability of man. So why command us to be joyful, precisely at a time when one is confronted with all that can go wrong in life?

However, Jewish law holds a great surprise. It stipulates that the Succah's interior should reflect a most optimistic lifestyle. Its frail walls should be decorated with beautiful art... Its leaking roof, made from leaves or reeds, should be made to look attractive by hanging colorful fruit from it. One is required to bring one's best furniture into the Succah... One should eat from the most beautiful plates... Meals should be more elaborate than usual... All this seems to reflect a feeling that this world is a most pleasant place made for our enjoyment and recreation.

So why sit in a weather-beaten hut?

Rabbi Cardozo answers this question by making a distinction between the exterior walls of the Succah and the interior of the Succah, and it is from this basis that I would like to suggest my own answer to the question.

The Vilna Ga'on says that there are two Mitzvot that a Jew is able to fulfill with his entire body: 1) The Mitzvah of sitting / living in a Succah, and 2) The Mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel.

It is from here that we see the strong connection that exists between the holiday of Succot and the Land of Israel, and I believe that it is this connection that can help us to answer the original question.

Generally speaking, when one reads a newspaper, listens to the radio or watches the news on TV, what one hears about Israel is less than positive and can give one good reason to despair over the future of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel. This feeling of despondency could lead a Jew who currently is not living in Israel to reject the notion of him visiting Israel, let alone considering living there. For the Jew in Israel, it can cause despair, that all hope is lost, and that the future is going to be bleak.

More often than not, the external face of Israel is not pretty. There is the Arab - Israeli conflict, the religious - secular conflict, the economy, and corruption... Yet, when one is able to look past the exterior, and look within, when sees a totally different picture.

Israel today (and Jerusalem, in particular) has become the world center for Torah study. Israel is on the verge of becoming the largest Jewish community in the world, where in a few short years, the majority of the Jewish People will be living in the Land of Israel - something which has not happened since the period of the 1st Temple. Israel is one of the only Jewish communities in the entire world today that has a positive growth rate. It seems that not a day goes by where we hear of another new breakthrough or development in the field of medicine, technology or the environment that has come out of Israel. Just this past week, an Israeli professor (a Religious Zionist) from the Hebrew University was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics (which follows last years Israeli Nobel Prize winners for their work in chemistry). The list goes on and on...

The reason why the holiday of Succot is referred to as "our time of happiness" is specifically because it forces us to look past the exterior, and to look within. Both Israel and the Succah, at first glance, don't inspire a feeling of confidence and security, but when one gets a closer look, one realizes that there is much to be seen that lies just beneath the surface, and once one is able to reveal the inner beauty he sees that there is much to be thankful for, and many reasons to express happiness... in spite of all of the challenges that we may be facing.

May we all be blseed, this Succot, to be able to find the good that exists within all of our lives, both on the individual level and the national level, and may we merit to have this feeling of happiness carry over into the rest of the year.

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
Full post and comments...

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Symbolism of Succot

Succot is the most prayer and mitzva laden holiday on the Jewish calender. It is also full of the symbolism which makes Jewish life so rich.

A Succah, a booth of sorts, must have at least 3 walls, but its most striking feature is the SCHACH.

Schach, or the roof of the Succah, must be made of plant material like tree bark, bamboo, reeds, or palm branches. The Schach must come from the earth, yet be detached from the earth. The Schach is not meant to be a very useful roof - you must be able to see sky through it. It is this unusual thing called Schach which make the Succah unique and filled with symbolism.


The Womb: The Succah, with its peaceful inner-sanctum and its semi-permeable Schach, resembles the womb. Inside its safety the Jew is protected from the slings and arrows of persecution, and manages to reproduce spiritually and physically generation after generation.

The Chupah: The wedding canopy is the Succah of Peace which descends upon a bride and groom at their wedding day. So too, the Succah is the canopy of the marriage of the Jewish people and Hashem. The Holiday of Succot is the wedding which follows the cleansing period of Yom Kippur.

The Grave: the Schach above our heads, made of earth-grown plants, also symbolizes the earth itself. We are buried under the earth, and yet we are still alive. The message of Succot is the cycle of life: we are born, we marry, we die, and we continue on through the next generation and through our faith in Tchiyat Hameitim, the Resurrection of the Dead.

Yechezkel 37:
1. The hand of Hashem was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of Hashem, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones.
2. And he caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
3. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord, thou knowest.
4. Again he said unto me, Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah.
5. Thus saith the Lord unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live.
6. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am Hashem.
7. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and, behold, an earthquake; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
8. And I beheld, and, lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them.
9. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.
10. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
11. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.
12. Therefore prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.
13. And ye shall know that I am Hashem, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, O my people.

It is because of this life cycle focus of Succot that we read Kohellet, Ecclesties, which laments exactly this very cycle:

4. One generation goeth, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth for ever.
5. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to its place where it ariseth.
6. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it turneth about continually in its course, and the wind returneth again to its circuits.
7. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place whither the rivers go, thither they go again.
8. All things are full of weariness; man cannot utter [it]: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9. That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
(Chapter 1)

It is also for this reason that we invite the Ushpizin, the Holy Guests Avraham, Yitchak, Yaakov, Aaron, Moshe and Yoseph, into our Succah. Tzaddikim pass away, but they never die. They are bound up in the great cycle of life and they join us again and again every Succot.

The Seed: Looking up from our Succah we see the Schach, but now instead of being buried, we are planted. "A person is like the tree of the field" (Deut. 20:19) We are a seed planted beneath the soil, and rain is coming soon. G-d is giving us the gift of life, the chance to make the most of this world - to reach out of the Schach and into the world beyond.

The Bird Nest: Seeing Jews prepare for Succot is like seeing birds prepare their nests. Everyone is fluttering around looking for material for their nests. Indeed, we are but chicks, and it is Hashem who "Like an eagle arousing its nest hovering over its young; he spreads his wings, he takes it, he carries it on his wings." (Devarim 32:11)


Yaakov: Jacob is the forefather associated with Succot. Immediately after Jacob's successful duel with his brother Esau it is written: "And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him a house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth." (Bereishit 33;17) Jacob originally ran to Haran to escape his brother's wrath - coming to Succoth signaled the end of his personal exile and his return to the Land of Israel.

The Succah's characteristic is of an impermanent mobile structure. Jacob's characteristic too is always to be mobile - always on the go: "How fair are your tents, O Jacob" (Bamidbar 24;5) Settling down is not for him, he goes from place to place in the Land of Israel and in the world - his is always a spiritual journey.

Bereishit 28 reads:
20. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear,
21. and I return to my father's house in safety, then the LORD will be my God.
22. and this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God's house"

Yaakov asks for three things: food , clothing, and protection on the journey. But what is missing??? A request for permanent housing of course! Yet this construction of permanent housing, Jacob reserves for He Who needs no housing - for the Lord Himself. This is Succot - we, the Jewish people, will live in impermanent dwelling all our generations so that our journey could lead to us to the construction of His permanent dwelling.

Mishkan/Mikdash - The Tabernacle and the Temple: the Succah resembles the Mishkan in that it too was an impermanent structure, and sadly our Holy Temple in Jerusalem was impermanent as well for it was destroyed twice because of our sins. "In that day I will raise up the fallen Succah of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old" (Amos 9;11) The fallen Succah of David, is a term of endearment for the Temple - may it be rebuilt in our lives.

The Clouds of Glory: Our rabbis tell us that the Succah represents the clouds of glory that escorted the Jewish people in the desert. The clouds kept our cloths clean, and kept danger away from us. These clouds were also a form of womb, raising a new Jew to enter the Land of Israel. They also directed us:

Shemot 40:
36 And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys.
37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up.
38 For the cloud of HaShem was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

Aaron Hakodesh - the Holy Ark: The wings of the Cherubs above the ark acted like the Schach of the Succah, protecting the Holy contents within. It is written in "And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on high, screening (Sochechim) the ark-cover with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the ark-cover shall the faces of the cherubim be" (Shemot 25; 20) In the Succah, we are the Holy objects which G-d protects with his wings, we are the carriers of the living Torah.

Hashem sends His canapy to us to nurture us, to marry us, to protects us. Through the sliver of sky seen through the Schach we are reminded of G-d's nearness: "My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he is standing behind our wall, He is looking through the windows, He is peering through the lattice. (Song of Songs 2;9) No wonder this holiday is called Zman Simchateinu - the time of our happiness.

May we merit the words of the Sabbath prayer:

"Safeguard our going and coming, for life and for peace from now to eternity, and spread over us the Succah of Your peace. Blessed are you Hashem, Who spreads the Succah of peace upon us, and upon all of His people Israel and upon Jerusalem.
Full post and comments...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Trick Question...

What is the holiest site of the Jewish People?

Easy. No sweat.

Of course, everyone knows, the holiest site to the Jewish People is the Kotel (Western Wall), right?

Of course, that answer is incorrect, as the holiest site of the Jewish People is in fact the Temple Mount, of which the Western Wall is merely a supporting wall (and it is only from its connection to the Temple Mount that the Western Wall derives its sanctity). Yet, if one were to read today's Ha'aretz, he would come across the following:
In 1985, when the design of the newly opened Western Wall Tunnel excavated along a buried section of the wall was being debated among rabbis, archaeologists and architects, the main point of debate was how the place of the Temple would be presented during tours of the site. In those days, the chief rabbi of the Western Wall was Rabbi Yehuda Meir Getz, to whom kabbala was very significant. Twenty years on, another controversial figure, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, now holds the post, and the Temple is hardly mentioned in the visitor?s center adjacent to the tunnel, which runs beneath the present-day Muslim quarter of the Old City.

Discussion revolves these days around a more modest goal: bringing the Jewish public, especially the younger generation, to the Western Wall.

It has been found that a significant percentage of Jewish youth in Israel have a minimal connection with Jerusalem and the Western Wall, and as such, a new exhibit is being designed to reach out to this population:
For many young people today, the Western Wall serves as a backdrop to the Memorial Day ceremony they watch on television once a year," he says. "This presentation tries to reach young people in the language and tools of the 21st century, but with content that will make it clear to them that they are links in a magnificent chain that began in the days of the patriarch Abraham and continues to our time."

I think that the motivation behind this project is terrific, and long overdue, but if we are already investing the money, why not connect these Jewish youth to the real deal - the Temple Mount - where the two Holy Temples stood, where Abraham bound Isaac, the true focus of all of our prayers relating to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.

The Western Wall is great, don't get me wrong. But why settle for 2nd best, when you can have it all?

If the goal is to inspire Jewish youth in Israel today, then why not given them a vision, both of a glorious, royal past, and of what the future holds in store for the Jewish People... and it's all happening on the Temple Mount.

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Yom Kippur Eve - Getting Ready For Yom Kippur III

It's that time of year again...

Yom Kippur Eve...

At the Kotel...

There was singing and dancing!

And in nearby Meah Sharim...

Chickens, chickens, everywhere!

And guess what? It's beginning...

To feel a bit like like...

Chag HaSukkot!

Don't you just love the holiday season?!
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Monday, October 10, 2005

Soaking up the Land - Getting ready for Yom Kippur II

The beautiful grave of Rabbeinu Bechaye in the Galil

The great mystics: The Ari"zl and the Alkabets buried in Tzfat

This Jew, Yeshua Ledee, was a fan of Israel National Radio living in Florida, and we became friends. One day he sent me a little sample jar in the mail and I was puzzled until I read the letter. Yeshua was asking me to fill the jar with a bit of Eretz Yisrael, so that he can be inspired by it, until one day, he would return it to the Land itself, after making Aliyah. That day came. Yeshua emptied out the jar here in Beit El. Soon he will refill it with earth from his area in Israel, and send the jar to America again, to inspire someone else.

Our good friends Leah, Shmuel, and their kids, Aliyah fanatics like ourselves, live in Eshchar in the Galil. It has become a tradition for us to spend Rosh Hashanna with them.
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Being a Jewish Superhero - Getting Ready for Yom Kippur I

On a trip to the north, Eretz HaGalil, Malkah and I visited the grave of the Prophet Habakkuk who wrote: "the righteous shall live by his faith."

My friend, and Radio co-host Eli Stutz had never been to Hebron. We went with his family, Tziona and Shoham, to pray at the Maarat Hamachpela and the grave of Ruth and Yishai.

We prayed Mincha, the afternoon prayer, at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the great Kabbalist, in Meron

The grave of Rabbi Yoseph Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, in the ancient Tzfat cemetary.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

5765: The Year of Return - Part I

5765 will be remembered most for the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from their homes in Israel at the hands of the government of the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Force. However, there was some very good news that also came out of 5765 which deserves mention:
The Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency (a semi-official body dedicated to settling Jews in Israel) have reported that 23,124 Jews settled in Israel in 5765, as compared to 21,604 in 5764.

Nearly 3,000 Jews (2,928) from North America made their home in the Jewish State in 5765, up from 2,269 last year. Slightly more Jews, 2,975, came from France, which has witnessed an upsurge of anti-Semitism in recent years. That number was significantly higher than last year?s total of 2,389 Jews.

If our goal (and purpose) as Jews is to strive to become close to Hashem, then there is no place more conducive to achieve this goal than Eretz Yisrael. Teshuva (whose root is the Hebrew word for Return) should be defined not merely as repentance, but as an actual call for the Jewish People to return home - to return to the place where we can experience true closeness with Hashem.

"Hashiveinu Hashem Eilecha V'nashuva, chadeish yemeinu kikedem" - "Return to us Hashem, and we shall return to you, restore things to how they once were". Hashem has returned to us - He has given every Jew in the world the chance to come home - it is up to us to make the move.

May 5766 be a year of a true return for the Jewish People, one in which we will be able to witness the fulfillment of the verse: "V'shavu banim l'gvulam" - "And the children (of Israel) will return to their borders (Land of Israel)".

Shanah Tova!

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
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American Zionism and Israeli Demography

In a recent posting, I highlighted the grave demographic threat that the State of Israel is faced with - within the pre-1967 borders.

I ended the posting by stating the need for Israel to take action to overcome this threat. In particular, I called upon the Jewish People, all over the world, who care about the future of Israel as a Jewish State to answer the call.

In response, I received the following comment from a well-intentioned Jew living in New York:
There are a few ways that come to my mind. Complete Aliyah of Ethiopian Jews still in Ethiopia. Complete Aliyah of Bnei Menashe in India. Complete Aliyah of Russian Jews. These two alone increase the population by several thousands, and we know they are Jews.

Yet, the biggest issue is over whether Israel is a secular state vs. a religious state. If it is secular it doesn't matter who becomes the majority. If there is some sort of religious context for us as Jews being there, then it does matter. I guess the answer lies in the hands of every Jew collectively and individually.

While these suggestions are certainly a step in the right direction, I found it to be fascinating that he did not also mention the importance of Aliyah from North America, the last Jewish community left in the world that has a sizeable enough Jewish population to make a major difference in the demographic reality here in Israel. (This type of suggestion fits in with other creative ideas on how to solve Israel's demographic dilemma).

Sadly, I think that this attitude reflects traditional American Zionism: We're willing to give money, to write letters, hold rallies, and give good ideas as to how to solve your problems... anything but come to Israel (and make Aliyah) ourselves - that's more appropriate for the Russians, Ethiopians and Bnei Menashe...

As the reader correctly notes, if Israel is a Jewish State, then it needs a Jewish majority (among other things). The time is fast approaching (if it hasn't arrived already) where Jewish bodies will be of much greater value to the Jewish State than American $$$. The choice will then be upon each and every American Jew to decide himself what is more important to him - his comfortable lifestyle in America, or the future of the Jewish State and destiny of the Jewish People...

Think about it... You may have to answer sooner than you think...

Cross Posted at Israel Perspectives
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Saturday, October 01, 2005

A New Way To Kummunicate!