Monday, September 29, 2008

Rosh Hashanah

Much is made of Elul and the Yamim Nora'aim being times of Teshuvah, and rightly so. However, we don't do to Teshuvah for its own sake. Teshuvah is a tool to reconnect with Hashem. On the Yamim Nora'im, the main themes and Zichronot, Malchuyot and Shofarot. Let's explore these themes.

The Artscroll Siddur and Machzor have become ubiquitous in Jewish homes worldwide, and not for no reason. The translations of the text is clear and understandable in colloquial English, and there are plenty of notes and explanations to enlighten those not familiar with the services. Unfortunately, often missed are the fantastic introductions penned by Rabbi Nosson Scherman. I remember how I read the introduction to the Rosh Hashanah Machzor a few years ago, and being genuinely enlightened. A fantastic discourse is given explaining the main theme of Rosh Hashanah, and the month of Tishrei as a whole. Throughout the Aseret Y'mei HaT'shuva, starting tonight, we make repeated reference to Hashem being our Melech, our King. We add in the word "Melech" in our every Shmonah Esrei, and at other points of our Tefillot. What is so special about Hashem being a King? After all, there are many titles we may rightfully call him, what is so special about a Melech?

The Artscroll quotes the Vilna Gaon, who explains that there's more than one kind of leader. There is a מלך, a King, and a מושל, a ruler. The fundamental difference between the two is though, that a Moshel, the ruler, is "a sovereign who reigns against the wishes of his subjects; he is someone we would call a dictator or a tyrant." On the other hand, we have a Melech, who "though he may be an absolute monarch, rules with the consent and recognition of his subjects. His rule may be strict, even harsh. He is not subject to recall or re-election. Nevertheless, he rules wisely and his power is buttressed by the citizenry's acknowledgment that he is worthy of his rank and that a rudderless and leaderless society cannot function."

The Artscroll continues a page later,"Although God lacked no power before the creation of man, He had no one voluntarily to proclaim Him as King. The key word is 'voluntarily.' The angels had been created before man, and God can create infinite numbers of them at will." But angels are so close to Hashem that the exposure to His Kedushah is dazzlingly bright. The angels are fortunate enough to completely understand their purpose in creation and their free will is effectively nullified. Angels do possess free will, but they see the Emet of reality in such obvious terms that there is no room left for doubt or for sinning. They are compelled to do God's will, and have no real choice. Angels do not have debates over whether to do God's will or not; He is right in front of them! Angels do not debate the existence of God in the way that humans do, such a concept is laughable in their eyes!

As the Artscroll continues giving us an inkling of the Jewish perspective on the meaning of life, "To the angels, God is a ruler, a Creator, a Master. - but not a King. But man is different. Man can choose to recognise God and His sovereignty, or deny them. If man accepts Him, God has become man's King."

Humans on the other hand, have been plunged into a world of "אלמא דספיקא - Alma d'Sfaika," A world of doubt. Debate has raged since time immemorial about the existence of God, and man will never be able to absolutely, conclusively prove such a thing. God doesn't want us to. He wants us to live in a world of darkness, a world of doubt. If we are able to declare Hashem as our God, read "our King," in such a world, we will have succeeded in our mission. The assignment Hashem has tasked us with is to see through all the falsehood, and see God's hand orchestrating everything from underneath. We all understand the concept that if money fell from heaven every time we did a Mitzvah or avoided an Aveirah, we could effectively have no free choices. We know that the point of this world is to ignore the temptations around us and not deviate from the true path. But do we take the message on board? Do we think twice before we speak Lashon Harah, or talk while at Shul?

Actually, often enough we do. But then we suppress that though. We think to ourselves, "Yeah, whatever," or "It's not really important," and dismiss the nagging voice in our head and go ahead with the Aveirah. It is obvious outside of any particular situation that we must not do any sins, but when we are caught up in the moment, and we really want to make that joke at somebody else's expense, we perpetually set aside our consciences and continue regardless. We know better, and yet we succumb almost every time. Truly, this is a world of doubt. By the way, it is no coincidence that the nation of Amalek, the nation that historically has tried to destroy us at every opportunity, has the Gematria value of 240, which is the same as that of ספק, doubt. (עמלק = 100+30+40+70, ספק = 100+80+60) Let there be no doubt that when Am Yisrael has let itself come into a state of doubting, we are in deep trouble. If we allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the pretences of this world, we are in serious difficulties. The answer to this problem, fortunately, is especially accessible on Rosh Hashanah. Malchuyot, Kingship is one theme of Rosh Hashanah. Another is Zichronot, Memory. If we are able to remember accurately the times we are absolutely clear and see Hashem's presence plainly, then we can overcome all doubts. That is what Emunah is about. Emunah is not about blind faith, it is about faithfulness, faithfulness to something that we know deep inside of ourselves. If we can remember our way out of moments of doubt, we can truly accept Hashem's kingship.

R' Akiva Tatz in Living Inspired (which in turn is based on "Michtav M'Eliyahu," by Rav Eliyahu Dessler z''tl,) explains that "Zichronot represents the idea of remembering in true spiritual depth the points of origin of the world and of the Jewish people and its destiny. This deep form of memory is a re-entering the male phase of conception - to go back to the initial flash or spark and re-live it vividly and literally. The root of זכר zachor, 'remember,' is identical with זכר zachar, 'male.' The connection should be obvious. Maleness is exactly that: a carrying over of the distilled essence of all previous generations in a seed which will form the next generation. The seed is a 'memory' of the past. In fact the word זכרן memory and זרע seed are numerically equivalent. The work of memory, re-living the flash of creation, is perfectly fitting and necessary for Rosh Hashanah."

So we had the bad, and now here's the good. I'll close with the words of R' Tatz, "Rosh Hashanah is the flash at the start of the year, and as such is a blueprint for it. If we live Rosh Hashanah correctly, we can experience a fantastic year! The genes of the year are being laid down now, we could say. The first Rosh Hashanah ever was the day of the creation of man. That day of creation was the world's first Rosh Hashanah, and its climactic event was the creation if the human. That is why the day always retains it power to re-create man! When we genuinely and intensely decide to elevate our personalities on Rosh Hashanah become inspired to live the coming year as higher beings we are using the day's deeply-rooted energy as the day of human creation. The day has the power to energise real change and help a person become unrecognisably different."

I hope that every one of you, and indeed all of Am Yisrael experience a beautiful, deep Rosh Hashanah, that you connect with your Tefillot and open up your hearts to Hashem, that he may accept your prayers, and that we may be granted our requests. May we come closer to Hashem and understand his ways, and may the Moshiach come soon in our merit. Shana Tova U'Metukah!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Parshat Nitzavim - פרשת נצבים

"אתם ניצבים היום כולכם לפני ה' אלוקיכם ראשיכם זקניכם ושוטריכם כל איש ישראל."
"You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem your God: Your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers - all the men of Israel."
(D'varim, 29:9)

" love Hashem, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." (D'varim, 30:6)

This weel's Parsha, Nitzavim, is always read the week before Rosh Hashanah. It is not surprising to see the theme of T'shuva appear often in this specific Parsha. In the two quotes above we may focus on the words "כולכם - Kulchem - all of you," and on "למען חייך - L'ma'an Hayecha - So that you may live."

Judaism is unlike Buddhism, for example, in that it is a very active religion. To somebody who is not Jewish or non-observant, it can seem very ritualistic. Judaism has many actions that have to be performed, and many otherwise mundane activities, eating for example, are to be brought into a religious framework by reciting a Bracha. The idea is that we may enjoy from the bounty of this beautiful world, but we have to realise the source of this blessing, we have to thank Hashem for providing us with even the most basic nutrition. It is not enough to simply understand this, it is a continual process. There are two words for an angel in Ivrit, one is "מלך - Malach," and the other is "ניצב - Nitzav." Nitzav means standing, not moving stagnant. That is certainly not a human quality. Man is a progressing being, we continually have to work on ourselves. One of the names for man in Ivrit is "מהלך - M'halech." M'halech comes from the root Halach, mean to go forward. If we allow ourselves to stagnate, we are not fulfilling our purpose. One of the main causes for depression in this world is the feeling of stagnation, of being stuck in a rut. No wonder that our name indicates exactly what we want, what we should truly be; a creature that progresses, a being that builds.

This week's Parsha quotes God as saying: "Behold! I have put before you this day, life and good, death and evil... the blessing and the curse. Choose life in order that you will live, you and your descendants." (Deut. 30:15 - 19)

Both life and death are in front of us. Both are equally available. But how do we "choose life?" Surely we don't "choose" life - that's like saying we "choose to breathe!" The difference is really in how we choose to live. Do we merely soldier on, or do we build, create, really live? Existing is easy, but living requires active participation and choice. We can go through a whole year just existing, but living requires 365 days of choosing life. The Torah is telling us that mere existence equal death. Because if we're not growing, we're decaying. I recently learned a great lesson.

If somebody asks you to tell them who you are in one minute, you will most likely laugh in their face. It's impossible! How can a mere 60 seconds hold everything that's happened to you, that is currently happening to you, and that you hope will happen to you? Now suppose they gave you 5 minutes? Or how about 10, 15 or 20? An hour? A day? It's still impossible.

Now suppose they gave you a lifetime. God gave every one of us a lifetime in which to tell the story of our souls, to get to know ourselves, perfect ourselves, and make a real contribution to the world. That is what life is all about.

You cannot have a meaningful life if you only occasionally do something meaningful. Meaningful lives require many meaningful moments. But how can you make meaningful choices every day? What is there to choose from? For choices to be real and meaningful, there have to be consequences. Choices that have the greatest consequence are the most meaningful. For example, the day you decided to get married or the day you decided on your career were your most meaningful days. You grew as a person because you made choices. People who don't make choices... don't change and don't grow up!

I quote the following from a message I received from Dan Illouz, the creator of

The time of the year we are now in is a time of Teshuvah. Teshuvah is often translated as repentance. However, in Hebrew, Teshuvah really means return. What are we exactly returning to?

We all know about the regular Teshuvah – you sin, feel bad, decide not to sin again and therefore "repent". However, there is a much deeper level of Teshuvah. Rav Avraham Itzhak Hakohen Kook explains that when the world was created, God purposely create a discrepancy between his plan for the world and the outcome of the creation. The example that Rav Kook often gives is called Sod Hanesira – the secret of the separation. We are taught that when men and women were first created, they were linked together back to back. However, afterwards, God moved away from his plan and separated men and women. Now, it has become our job to re-connect with our soul mate. When we finally reconnect with our soul mate and get married to them, our connection is so much stronger because it is not a simply physical connection, but it also has a strong spiritual component. On top of that, it is a connection which was created by us, not by God – this makes it much more powerful because we are the ones who have aligned our own actions to God's original will.

The same is true of the whole world. I won't go into textual proofs but the text of the torah itself shows us that the world as created was different than the world as planned by God. Rav Kook teaches that the reason for this discrepancy is that the world would be created not in a static way, but as a constantly evolving world, a dynamic world which evolves towards going back to the world God wanted it to be at first.

With that in mind, I wish you a Shabbat Shalom, and a good lead-up into Rosh Hashanah.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

BBC Bias?

I had barely heard news of the latest terrorist attack in Jerusalem, and I immediately picked up my mobile phone to check the latest news online. The BBC Website at the time of going to 'press' bears this headline.

As far as I aware, this was a bone fide attack. The use of "scare quotes" really bothers me; why on earth should the BBC be so wary of calling a terrorist attack an attack? For crying out loud!

Make your own minds up.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Another T-Shirt

If you liked the T-shirt post I made last month, you might like this one. Much like the manner in which we see vans with a sticker asking fellow road users to report bad driving like the sticker below.

The shirt below is styled in similar fashion, and the words translate to mean, "How am I behaving?" and then gives the child's parent's phone number.

How am I driving in Hebrew is "?איך אני נוהג - Ech Ani Noheg?"
The words here, "?איך אני מתנהג - Ech Ani MitNaheg?" mean "How am I behaving?"

Great pun. Loved it!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

L3373r than you! And we've got the stamp to prove it!

Like any country, Israel has postal stamps. Like any country, Israel celebrates it's culture through many media, including these stamps. Last year, a collection came out in celebration of Israel's 60th Anniversary. It is a well known-fact that Israel has one of the world's leading technology industries, so I was not all that surprised to see it being captured in this particular medium.

What was surprising was that, when I was given a letter by my grandparents last month to deliver for them, I noticed that said stamp was decorated by Leet markings. At this point, I fully expect you to ask what on earth is Leet? Well, here is the Wikipedia definition:

Leet or (sometimes rendered l33t or 1337), also known as Leetspeak, is an alphabet used primarily on the Internet, which uses various combinations of ASCII characters to replace Latinate letters. The term is derived from the word "elite", and the usage it describes is a specialized form of symbolic writing.

So there you go. It's a semi-authentic hacker language. And Israel has most likely given it it's first appearance on a Postage Stamp, cue geeks worldwide beaming.

The text on the stamp reads "Ani Ohev Et Yisrael - I love Israel!"

Here is a selection of the stamps:

It is obvious that the internet has tremendous potential, but we all know how easily it can be subverted and used for the evil. Its power is obvious to all. Having seen such incredible power, many Haredim havedeemed it not worth the risk of bringing into their own homes. I spoke to a friend a few weeks ago about the differences between Modern Orthodox philosophy and Haredi philosophy. (I am talking about real Modern Orthodoxy, not when it is abused so as to excuse laxness and lapses in Halacha.) He said that we both recognise the inherent potential for evil in things like the Internet. The Modern Orthodox Hashkafa is that we have more to gain than to lose, and if properly controlled, we can cut out the bad element. The Haredi Hashkafa takes no risks, and totally cuts it out.

There is a concept that states that the higher the capacity something has for Kedushah, the higher it's capacity for Tumah. For example, the Bet Hamikdash when destroyed was subjected to vile, lewd behaviour. The very place that was the focal point for Kedushah in this world was besmirched and utterly defiled. The awesome potential of the internet for the good is easily achievable. All we have to do is harness it and use it correctly. If it is viewed in a skewed manner, where it can only do damage, we are limiting ourselves. So it really shouldn't take a great leap of imagination to think how it could be used to spread Torah. The sooner the Haredi world understands this, the better. Already, sites dedicated to Torah are springing up all over the web. Take a quick look at and; irrespective of whether or not you agree with their perspectives on Judaism, these websites deserve a place on every Jew's bookmark list. Additionally, there a great many blogs that provide us with beautiful Divrei Torah that you can find nowhere else.

With this in mind, I've been doing some thinking recently, and thought of an idea for a website. I have realised that we could really make use of an online Halacha compendium. Jewish law is probably one of the most complicated things in the world, and an online database would be a highly valuablel tool. So, I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that a group called "The Sha'arei Dayah Foundation" have launched a new enterprise, to fulfill precisely this need.

They have taken a part of what needs to be built, and made it "Open-Source," so anyone can post and edit pages on T'shuvot on Halacha. Take a gander over to their URL to get the lowdown...

If you can contribute any T'shuvot that would of course be helpful for all of us, but even if you have nothing to add at this moment in time, be sure to bookmark the page for future reference.

And pass on the word!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Parshat Ki Tavo - פרשת כי תבוא: Say It Out Loud!

This week's Parsha provides an important tool for admitting our mistakes, "When you have finished taking all the tithes of your grain ... make the following declaration before God: "I have removed all the sacred portions ... I have given the appropriate portions to the Levite, the orphan and the widow..." (Deut. 26:12-13)

The Torah is telling us that to evaluate our spiritual status properly, the key ingredient is to speak it out loud. "Make the following declaration before God" - i.e. articulate verbally where we have succeeded and where we have failed.

When we read the second Parsha of the Sh'ma, we are supposed to be thinking of the concept of reward and punishment. We say "And it shall be if you shall hearken to my commandments that..." that XYZ will then happen. But what is X, Y and Z? It continues a verse later by saying, "And I shall give you the rain for your land, in it's time, the early and the late rains, and you shall gather your grains, your wine and oil harvests." What on earth? What do we care about all that? We want money, or peace, or anything else! Yes, it's very nice to get our crops in on time, but is this truly our reward?

Everyone knows that Adam and Eve made a bad mistake in the Garden of Eden. But was their primary mistake eating from the fruit? No. A look at the verses (Genesis 3:8-13) reveals something much deeper:

"[After eating, Adam and Eve] hid themselves from God among the trees of the Garden. God called to Adam and said: "Where are you?"
"I heard Your voice in the Garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid."
God asked: "Who told you that you are naked? Did you eat from the tree which I commanded you not to eat?"
Adam replied: "The woman that you gave to be with me - she gave me to eat from the tree."
So God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?"
The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

Rashi explains the sequence: God obviously knows what Adam has done, yet He does not attack with an accusation. Rather, God strikes up a conversation, asking in a gentle, non-threatening way: "Where are you?" He gives Adam a chance to admit his mistake, and express regret. Instead Adam hides and blames it all on Eve. Eve passes responsibility off to the snake. Everyone claims they did nothing wrong!
That was their worst mistake.

God knows we're not perfect - He's the one who created us this way! But He does expect us to take responsibility for our actions and admit when we've done wrong. Because without doing so, there is no hope to correct it in the future. (Incidentally, the deeper meaning of "Ayeka - Where are you?" is that God asked us where we are, and our response is that we chose to hide. So God decided to play ball. We wanted to be hidden, so he let us hide away from him. He became from hidden from us. After all, one can't hide when the one you are trying to hide from is breathing down your neck!)

This lesson can be applied to raising children. Imagine walking into the kitchen to find your child up on the counter and reaching his hand into the biscuit tin. Don't accuse, don't attack, and don't back him into a corner. The deed of snatching cookies is already done; the only question that remains is how he will deal with the mistake. Try a casual, "Hey, what's going on with the biscuits?" This gives him a chance to state the truth without feeling threatened.

I have heard it explained that the agricultural terms in the Sh'ma are merely an allegory for what's happening above. Our harvest is really in the world to come. If we listen, and are deserving of a reward, then whereas other nations will receive a worldly reward, ours is a spiritual one. We shall have a good crop. Conversely, if we do not hearken to Hashem, then we will have to suffer as "Hashem will be angry with us, and will stop the Heaven, and there will be no rains, and the ground shall not give it's yield." We shall not merit what is due us. If we commit ourselves properly, entirely, to the point where we can admit our mistakes honestly, we shall then merit.

In Western society, aversion to apology is a widespread malady. Whether somebody cuts another off in traffic, or destroys a marriage, admitting guilt is out of vogue. In fact, pop psychology has done all it can to remove whole concept of "guilt" from our lexicon. It's much easier to rationalize our mistakes away. And it's unhealthy to feel guilt, they say. "Suppress it!"

The ArtScroll Machzor explains, "As an intelligent, thinking, imaginative being, man has all sorts of thoughts flashing constantly through his mind. Even sublime thoughts of remorse and self-improvement are not strange to him, but they do not last. For his thoughts to have lasting meaning, he must distil them into words, because the process of thought culminates when ideas are expressed and clarified. That is not as easy as it sounds. It is usually excruciatingly difficult for people to admit explicitly that they have done wrong. We excuse ourselves. We refuse to admit the truth. We shift blame. We deny the obvious. We excel at rationalizing. But the person who wrenches from himself the unpleasant truth, 'I have sinned,' has performed a great and meaningful act."

This lesson is crucial as we approach the High Holidays, the time when we stand in front of the mirror and see the stark reality of who we are. Maimonides explains:

"For every Mitzvah in the Torah that a person transgresses, he needs to confess before God ... What does this consist of? The person says: 'God, I have sinned before you; I have done this specific act; I am ashamed of my actions; and I will never do it again." (Hilchot Teshuvah 1:1)

In Judaism, confession is a totally private matter, between you and God. In fact, the Hebrew word for confession - l'hit-vadot - is the "reflexive" form which connotes acting upon oneself. Though we speak to God, He knows the truth already.

The problem is when we're not willing to admit the truth to ourselves. As the prophet Jeremiah says, "God will judge us when we say 'I didn't sin.'" Incredibly, the incident of Adam and Eve occurred on the very first Rosh Hashana, the day that humanity was born. Rosh Hashana is thus the most opportune day to repair that mistake.

Shabbat Shalom, and let it be that the coming month of Tishrei be a time of spiritual growth and renewal for us all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"The Special One" is already at home in Italy!

Just read an article online, and although not Israel-related, I thought that for the football-fans among us it was funny enough to warrant a mention.

Apparently Jose Mourinho's move to Italy has been about well received by his fellows in the trade. It would seem that already the self-dubbed "Special One" has already managed to irk Catania director Pietro La Monaco to the extent that he felt that he had to launch an incredible stinging attack on the new Inter Milan boss.

Prior to the win, Mourinho stated: "We want to win, we have to win, and I think we will win because, we're better, both as a team, and on an individual level"

After the 2-1 win, the Portuguese rogue then commented, "Catania played their game, but on the night the right result should have been 3-1, 4-1, or 5-1."

This arrogance, not atypical to Mourinho, as many an Englishman would testify, has not sat well with Jose's new Italian counterparts. After an Inter Milan team that was reduced to 10 men won 2-1 by a very dubious goal, Catania's director Pietro La Monaco was asked what he thinks of the new Inter Milan manager.

And while his team had lost to goal that may not have crossed the line, he was in no doubt that Mourinho himself had done so, the fuming La Monaco accusing Mourinho of a lack of respect. "Someone who says these things has no respect for his adversaries. He deoesn't respect the host nation (Italy), or the coaches. If he doesn't win this year, he should pack up his suitcase and go back to his country."

"Mourinho is simply someone who should be smacked in the mouth."

Evidently, the Special One seems to have made himself quite at home in Milan. Didn't take too long did it?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Parshat Ki Tetzei - פרשת כי תצא

Parents Have Great Influence

(Disclaimer: I am not using this D’var Torah to attack parents; I have no idea what troubles and challenges a parent encounters. Much less my own parents; G-d knows I was a terrible child, and teenager! I don't envy their job, much less crictise.

I am, however, permitting myself a wry smile when I think of the mischievous younger incarnation of myself, and how almost every year at this Parsha, there would be some kind of scolding and a reference to my being a true Ben Sorer U’Moreh. Oh happy days!)

Anyway, this week's Parsha talks of the rebellious son, the Ben Sorer U'Moreh. This wayward child is punished because, "he does not hearken to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother." As King Solomon says, "Carelessness is bound to the heart of the youth, and the 'staff of rebuke' will remove it from him," in Mishlei (22:15) Often parents refrain from rebuking their children, even when they know their child has done something wrong. True, it's wrong to constantly criticise and be negative, but a bit of well placed rebuke is a necessary part of a child’s education. Especially, we must remember that part of education is to teach children the laws of Derech Eretz (proper conduct): to respect their parents, teachers and elders. The Ben Sorer U’moreh "never heard the voice of his father and mother," rebuking him, and admonishing him for something he did wrong.

The Gemara derives from these words ("he does not hearken to our voice") that if one of the parents were deaf, the son can then not become a Ben Sorer U'Moreh. This is difficult to understand: The words "he does not hearken" refer to the son, not the parents.

If, however, explains Mayana shel Torah, the parents turn a "deaf ear" to their own Mussar - i.e. they chastise and criticize their son, yet they don't "practice what they preach", then their words will surely fail to make any lasting impression. To make use of the overused yet poignant example; it is comical to see a father interrupting his own 'shmooze' to snap his fingers at his son to "Stop fooling around, and get back to your Siddur."

As the cliche goes, children do as we do, not as we say.

Even though a Talmid Chacham will learn or teach Torah all day long, this does not free him from his responsibility to train his own children; these rules apply to him too. Even a Talmid Chacham has to keep the Mitzvot, and it is written explicitly in the Sh’ma, "And you shall teach them to your children." We must take time from our own learning to help our children become Talmidei Chachamim.

Coincidentally, our Sages assure us that we will not suffer any loss when we take time from business to teach our children Torah. G-d guarantees that we will be reimbursed in full! (Masechet Beitzah 16a)

Unfortunately, there are parents who give top priority to their business career over their children. They may not admit it, but their actions show it. They spend long hours at their jobs and come home very late, or do not come home for days at a time. When they are home, they are always on the phone planning their next business deal. Women, too, sometimes put their careers before their families by spending long hours at work.

Everyone must have an income, but our children come first. When your child sees that you have no time to talk to him or to listen to him, he understands that he is not as important as the business. You do not have to say this to him. Your actions proclaim this message loud and clear.

In a similar vein, the Darchei Teshuva explains in Tiferes Banim, "he does not hearken to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother," i.e. the wayward and rebellious son became this way because he never heard the voice of his father learning Torah. And he never heard the voice of his mother praying or saying Tehillim. When Daddy came home from work, all he was interested in was the newspaper and his supper. Mummy preferred spending her spare time hearing the latest gossip rather than praying that her children should grow up to be Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars) and Yirei Shamayim (Be in awe of and fear Heaven).

No matter what a child has done, the fault can almost always be found in the parents. The child who knows that his parents love him and are proud of him cannot stray far, since he feels an obligation to live up to his parents' expectations. But when the opposite is true, he looks for ways to get their attention, often through negative behaviour. This may be his only tool for getting them to show concern for him.

If we want children to grow up with love of the Torah, we must ourselves love the Torah, and show this to them. Can we really blame the child for not wanting to follow the true Torah path when his own parents found it so tedious? This lesson is very much applicable today. Parents and teachers unfortunately take this opportunity to reference naughty children, but it is themselves they should take a look at. If children are exposed to a true love for Torah, there is every chance that they will love it. A teacher who tells a child to be quiet and get on with his learning Perhaps it is not entirely by coincidence that the rebellious son is called Ben Sorer u'Moreh. Moreh means rebellious, but it also means teacher. There is a lot for parents to learn from the never-to-be case of the Ben Sorer u-Moreh. We have just barely scraped the surface.

Have a beautiful שבת שלום!

*This week’s D’var Torah is dedicated to my little brother who just completed his first “Shvua Milchamah” with Golani. Kol Hakavod, and rest easy this Shabbat, Josh!

Another D'var torah I found online

And here’s an adaptation of another D’var Torah, this one from Torah Web.

The Ben sorer u'Moreh is not punished at any time in his life, it is particularly between the ages of thirteen and thirteen-and-a-half that the rules of Ben sorer u'Moreh apply. Why is this? We could be excused for thinking that a man at the age of 40, one who has seen a lot in his lifetime, and should therefore be able to discern between right and wrong, surely he should be held more liable to sin than a mere child?

Apparently this is not so.

It is precisely in his youthfulness that Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch sees an important message regarding Chinuch. The thirteen year old child new to his responsibilities and contributions should naturally feel within in him some thrill and excitement in them. The newly arrived yetzer hatov with its attendant interest in doing good and with the maturing sense of self, give the fresh bar or bat mitzvah immeasurable potential. This potential and optimism should happily inform his ambitions even as it shapes the nachas that his elders envision. A portal to all of this is the care with which new bar mitzvah boys don their Tefillin which we hope will last for a very long life. Similarly we have come to expect that a fresh bar mitzvah will be quick to pray with a Minyan and we pray that this becomes a lifelong routine practice. Even if not sustained due to the busyness of life and competing interests, rahcmana litzlan, this initial excitement shows a natural affinity for the Mitzvot. It bodes well for the future and can surely be built upon, at later moments of inspiration and periods of spiritual growth.

However the Ben sorer u’Moreh which only applies during the first three month post bar mitzvah, indicates a total disregard for the natural uplift of the nascent Yetzer Hatov. Hedonistic pleasure has successfully disconnected the young man from any excitement or simple sense of newness that should inform his disposition at this time. It is that emotional flatness and total indifference to spiritual growth which sadly predicts that the Torah will uncharacteristically never touch his heart or mind.

Rav Hirsch's insight should certainly give us direction as we celebrate our children's entry into "Ol Mitzvot", as well as all their milestones and ours. How important it must be to encourage the excited anticipation of the privilege and distinction afforded to us by His Mitzvot.

Perhaps this helps us understand the upcoming Rosh Hashana better, which has us celebrate even as we grow anxious pondering the judgment that we face and the standards to which we will be held. As concerned as we may be, the fresh start and the newness of the upcoming year with all its potential and optimism indeed gives us much reason to celebrate. This optimism may be a very potent prayer for Hashem's kindness and compassion as we stand before Him.

Parshat Ki Tetzei, a small D'var Torah

Here’s an interesting post I read online...

The Parsha of Ben Sorer U’moreh, which we just read, is quite bizarre however you slice it. It is no wonder that Chazal essentially expound it out of existence, including among other hopeless requirements that the parents suffer no physical disabilities and (according to Rabbi Yehudah) even have identical voices. A careful reading of the P'sukim and the Gemara in the eighth Perek of Sanhedrin suggests that this Parsha is not, as is commonly thought, about the young delinquent at all. It’s about the parents.

The parents are the actors in the story. They drag their son off to the Bet din and announce that they’ve given up on him and are handing him over to the court to deal with him. The Bet Din’s response is a rebuke to the parents. The court tells the parents, “Don’t count on us to raise your kid for you. If you’ve given up on him, we’ll just have to kill him.” It’s a rhetorical flourish and the gemara makes sure that it isn’t taken literally. In fact, some of the requirements listed in the gemara add to the message. We say to these parents, “So you’ve given up on your kid, have you? Let’s see how perfect you two are before we lay this mess on him. And did you as parents speak with a single voice?”

Pasted from

You gotta love Saudi Arabia!

Hat Tip to Elder of Ziyon : The following is a direct quote from his site.

Daily life in Saudi Arabia
From Arab News, a story meant to show the quirkier side of life in Saudi Arabia:

BAHA, 1 January 2008 — You’re out shopping with your wife and children and you get into a disagreement with your wife. What do you do? One man did the unthinkable, he announced to hundreds of shoppers that he was divorcing his wife, the Al-Riyadh daily reported yesterday.

According to the report, the man left his wife and children to do his own shopping. As he was coming back to rejoin his family, he saw a young man approach his wife and give her his cell phone number on a small piece of paper. The wife took the paper and put it inside her bag and continued shopping as usual, not aware that her husband saw what happened.

When he approached her and asked her to give him the bag, she refused. He forcefully took the bag and dug out the piece of paper. Enraged, the man walked over to the cashier and grabbing hold of the store’s microphone, he announced to shoppers that he was divorcing his wife and had no intention of ever getting back with her.

He then stormed out of the shopping mall and left his wife and two children behind.

This is a funny story, emblematic of a place where all you need to do if you want a divorce is proclaim it. But things turn darker with the next, explanatory paragraph about what daily life is like in a theocracy where women are so highly "honoured" that they have to cover themselves in public:

Women being harassed in public places is a common occurrence in Saudi Arabia and the harassers can often get very aggressive and insist that the women pay attention to their advances and take their telephone numbers. Women often resort to accepting telephone numbers so they will be left alone.

Doesn't this demolish one of the major reasons that Muslims use to justify the hijab?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Parshat Shoftim - פרשת שופטים

Judaism is a very practical religion. Unlike Buddhism, Judaism realises that we cannot isolate ourselves from the world, rather we are intended to engage it, and make a "Kiddush Hashem." (To act in a way that inspires people and reflects portrays His name and those who follow Him in a good light.) It is therefore pertinent to deal with the laws of engagement, to lay down rules for war. One of the first rules set down deals with the soldiers that we may send to do battle, who may and may not go. In my time in the IDF, I was exposed to the "Mashakit Tash", the soldier's welfare representative, but ut appears that she was preceded by the Torah!

When our ancestors would mobilize their forces for war, they were addressed by a high ranking priest. First he would offer brave words of encouragement and confident predictions of victory. “Let your heart not be faint; do not fear the enemy nor enter into panic and do not be terrified for G-d will vanquish your enemy for you.”

The military officers would then announce: “Any man who has built a home, but has yet lived in it... planted a vineyard, but has yet to render it fit for use... betrothed a woman, but has not yet married her... should return home, lest he die in war....” (Deuteronomy 20) This is an astounding time for such announcements. The priest has just bolstered the morale of the troops and the officers; yet now, it seems, he proceeds to demoralize them by thinning their ranks!

(There are a number of explanations that are offered by the commentaries for these announcements. Ibn Ezra argues that this was strategically wise. Men with such concerns on their mind will worry about their affairs at home and will be unable to keep their mind on the battle. Filling their ranks with such unmotivated troops would weaken the military and undermine their prospects for victory. Abarbanel argues that since these men did not have opportunity to fulfil the respective Mitzvot associated with their endeavour (the house builder has yet to build his parapet, the vineyard planter has yet to offer the priestly gifts and the betrothed has yet to sire children) they would not merit the miracles required for victory.)

The Talmud remarks that the order of these announcement reflect the proper conduct of life: First we ought to build a home, then plant a vineyard, or establish alternative sources of income, and only then should we marry. This remark indicates that our sages viewed these three announcements as a reflection on the ordinary routine of life.

Why does an army go to war? To protect its national interest. What is a nation's primary interest? It's citizens' unhindered pursuit of life's ordinary routine. When an enemy threatens the ordinary pursuit of day to day life, the nation's very fabric is undermined. In this way, perhaps we can explain the priest's public announcement of these exemptions from battle immediately following his words of encouragement. The troops were reminded of their exalted purpose. Why are we going to war? To enable our comrades to pursue the normal routine of life. So they can build homes, plant vineyards, and establish families.

The troops that were sent home knew that they were entitled to recuse themselves from military draft, but they came anyway. How could they not come? They could not sit home while their brothers fought for their country. It was not easy for them to abandon their brothers and go home. Yet they were told to do just that. These soldiers, with their departure, validated their comrades' efforts on the battlefields. If they went to war, their comrades would die in vain.

When the enemies of Israel threaten our cities with rockets, when they threaten our lives with suicide bombers, when they send our citizens to bomb shelters and destroy our way of life, the nation is justified in going to war. No argument can justify a cease fire that does not achieve the goals for which the nation set out to war. If our soldiers are not safe, if our borders are still violated and if our cities are still under attack then our war is not over.

We mourn the loss of innocent lives on all sides, our Torah ethic demand it. We pursue the war with a vengeance, till peace can be restored, our Torah ethic demands that too. We do not seek a peace that will lead to another war. We seek a war that will lead to a lasting peace. This is the unfortunate reality fostered upon us by our enemy.

Shabbat Shalom!

Adapted from

It's come to this...

Chinese double act
A little girl who sang at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was miming to a song recorded by a less "pretty" girl.

Apparently, Lin Miaoke charmed the world with a rendition of "Ode to the Motherland". But the singer was Yang Peiyi, who was not allowed to appear because she is not as "flawless" as nine-year-old Lin. The show's musical director said Lin was used because it was in the best interests of the country. The revelation follows news that a fireworks display used during the opening ceremony was apparently faked.

Speaking on Beijing Radio station, musical director Chen Qigang said the organisers needed a girl with both a good image and a good voice. They faced a dilemma because although Lin was prettier, seven-year-old Yang had the better voice, Mr Chen said. "After several tests, we decided to put Lin Miaoke on the live picture, while using Yang Peiyi's voice," he told the radio station.

The above were selected quotes from what is an old story now. It's an article from the BBC dated Tuesday, 12th August:

What is interesting is that this issue provoked a raging debate on the internet. Apparently, children lip-synching upsets people. When a little girl is deemed too ugly to represent her country, all hell breaks loose. Yet the same society refuses to condemn plastic surgery and the objectifying of women. Society today has totally embraced the blatant sexualisation of women to the point where they represent little more than a shell. And the same people criticise China for considering a young child ugly as being insensitive?

When Britney Spears cavorts and prances on our television screens (not that this Yeshiva boy has access to one, btw) is it because she is trying to entice us into sitting down with her and deliberate the meaning of life or discuss rocket science over a nice cup of tea? No, of course not! It is because she reckons her body to be the best thing about her. How sad is that?

So when the Western World feels affronted by China's lack of sensitivity and level of respect to humankind, well there is one phrase that springs to mind: " Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!"