Tuesday, September 29, 2009


A few years ago, when I had just started learning at Yeshivat Hakotel, I discovered something about the Old City of Jerusalem. Although I was residing there and had a bedroom in the Old City that I could call my own, I soon realised that I didn't quite have the same rights as most people around the world have.

The yeshiva year starts with the Hebrew month of Elul and continues to Tisha'a B'Av, just over eleven months later. Coincidentally, the month of Elul is when Sefardim start observing the Jewish custom saying Slichot, in preparation for the impending Days of Judgment.

And so, when living in Yeshiva, I quickly had to re-adjust to a reality in which my bedroom, that sanctum of calm and relative solitude, was regularly pierced by the sound of dozens of Jews traipsing their way through the Old City's central square, strumming guitars and pounding drums, as they made their way to the Kotel. Yes, this was my bedroom and I hoped to sleep properly, but I quickly came to the realisation that my bedroom was located smack in the middle of one of the world's greatest heritage sites. The right to quiet during the night is a given for most people, but not for residents of the Old City - certainly not during the Slichot period.

Interestingly, I happened to visit the Old City the Shabbat before Yom Kippur, as I was invited out to eat there. While I was there, somebody told all present that at midnight that night, the last night before Yom Kippur, there would be a mass Slichot at the Kotel. He explained that the last night of Slichot before Yom Kippur is typically the "Sefardi Slichot;" and that Rav Ovadia Yosef (Israel's Sefardi Chief Rabbi) would be taking part, and claimed that literally thousands of people would be there. I knew that he wasn't kidding, but the claim didn't really excite me all that much, as I'd been at the Kotel in previous years during Slichot and witnessed thousands of people filling the plaza.

I ended up going back to my home in Nachlaot; I had to get up in the morning and I didn't really want to be up till 2am. I took my normal route home, passing through the centre of town on my way. There were lots of people around, which was fairly normal. What wasn't normal was that as I got closer to home and walked down the street that mine branches off, Rechov Agrippas, I noticed lots and lots of people walking in the opposite direction to me.

There were all different types of people, and I was trying to figure out whether there was some big event going on in town that I didn't know about... and then it hit me. These people were all Sefardim and were headed in the Kotel's direction. It was the biggest, best night of Slichot and to many of these people, there was no question that they would be taking part.

Some of the people were religious, some not. Some men wore kippot on their head, some were bare-headed. Others elected to use a hooded top as a makeshift head-covering, and still more walked while clutching a Kippa which they would later don. The ladies were not exactly homogeneous, either. While some dressed in the Haredi way, covering up flesh and obscuring curves, many were wearing clothes that would be deemed entirely inappropriate and incongruous with the Haredim who frequent the Kotel on a regular basis.

By their dress alone, I would never have guessed that these people feel a connection to their religion at all. I pictured these people standing at the Kotel, wanting to make a link to their religion, and striving to forge a connection with God. It makes me happy to know that this country, secular as it is, maintains such a strong link to religion. People talk of the increasing Haredi demographic in an almost bitter way, but it gives me hope to know that the average "secular" Sefardi Jew connects so strongly to his roots.

Monday, September 28, 2009

An interesting Yom Kippur experience

This year I went back to Yeshivat Hakotel for Yom Kippur, and fully expected to join the Yeshiva davening, but it would seem that God had different plans for me.

I was more or less on schedule on Sunday at just after 2:30, and knew that if I left then I would manage to join the Yeshiva for Mincha (the afternoon prayer) at 3:00. I didn't end up leaving for another twenty minutes, though as my Grandma called from England and once I was off the phone I realised that it was now too late to get there in time and instead resolved to arrive by 3:30 -in time for the pre-fast meal.

I arrived a few minutes early, and realised that as I had quite a few things to do before the fast (including picking up stuff from my brother's yeshiva, also in the Old City,) in order to rejoin the Yeshiva on time for Kol Nidrei at 5:15. I had to leave the meal as soon as it was over, go to my brother's place, come back to wherever I would be sleeping, change, make my bed, quickly rush down to the Kotel to catch a minyan for Mincha and then finally head back up to my yeshiva. It was a lot to do, but not too much.

I ate the meal, and met with friends who I hadn't seen in long time, which was nice. During the meal, I repeatedly tried calling my brother to let him know that I wanted to pick up my bedsheets, which I had left with him the previous night, but my calls were diverted to answerphone again and again. After finishing the meal, I walked to his yeshiva but when I got there my brother wasn't there. I took a peek at the bed and the area around it but couldn't see my stuff straight away. Just then, I got a call from my mother. It was certainly nice to speak, but her call came at a really bad time. After we finished talking, I tried calling my brother again - I really did want to speak to him before the fast, but once again my call went unanswered. Moments later, I received another call from home. This time my father was on the phone, and he warned me that my sister wanted to have a word, too. Again, it was nice to hear from them, just not then!

After being delayed for 10 minutes, I got off the phone, managed to clear my head and went to look for a second time for my stuff. This time I saw it immediately, and was quickly on my way. I headed back to my bedroom, dumped my stuff, changed and made a dash down to the Kotel.

Unfortunately instead of catching a minyan immediately, as is normally the case at the Kotel, I realised after 5 minutes that I would have to whip one together. After 5-10 minutes, I corralled enough people together to proceed. By this point I was very much behind schedule, having been delayed by missing my brother and the unexpected phone calls. As Mincha started it was getting close to 5:15 - the time that my yeshiva were due to be starting Kol Nidrei . I realised that I wouldn't be able to rejoin them without missing parts of the prayers and instead would have to stay at the Kotel. I wasn't too happy at my situation, but there was nothing to be done. In any case, I told myself, it's still an incredible experience to pray on Yom Kippur next to where the Bet Hamikdash stood.

And so after Mincha, I went to look for a minyan for Kol Nidrei and Maariv. I noticed that one had started not far away from where I had been standing up until then, but when I got closer, I realised that the majority of the group were young irelligious men, save one middle-aged man standing in the middle who was wearing a Tallit. The irreligious men turned out to be visiting Israel from South America, and the gentleman wearing the Tallit was an American immigrant living in Jerusalem. Although our American-Israeli friend was more religiously observant, I judged by his appearance that he was either conservative or on the more modern end of modern orthodox and guessed that he would be much relieved if I were to volunteer to take over from him. Wearing a loud checked shirt, sporting long hair and with sunglasses perched above his head, I got the distinct impression that he wasn't too comfortable leading a Yom Kippur service and while his reading of the Hebrew text was perfectly acceptable and fluent, it was quite clear that this man wasn't exactly a regular Shaliach Tzibbur, let alone one would had ever lead a Yom Kippur service before.

After reaching the end of the Kol Nidrei prayer, I asked him if he wanted to do all of Maariv, too. He looked at me and asked me if I knew how to. I answered by saying that while I had never done it before, I'd be happy to give it a shot. After exchanging banalities ("Oh, that's so nice of you; you really don't have to" and "Ah, that's quite alright - it should be fun,") the man quite happily stepped aside. I guess all the delays were part of God's plan for me to end up here and not in the Yeshiva. The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur, but I'm happy to report that it went rather well. One moment that does stand out was when I realised in the middle of my prayers that although I don't think of myself as being that well-studied or knowledgeable, we all have something to impart to others, and that I had indeed managed to provide a service for these young men.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yom Kippur - יום כפור

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, we stand before Hashem to confess our sins and attempt to mend our errant ways.

In each of the Amida prayers we say, we recite a major part of this confession in the form of "Al-Cheit" - a prayer which goes through many different types of sins. At its end, we read the haunting words, "אלוהי, עד שלא נוצרתי איני כדאי, ועכשיו שנוצרתי כאלו לא נוצרתי - My God, before I was formed I was unworthy, and now that I have been formed, it as if I had not been formed."

While the literal translation of these words seems perfectly understandable, Rav Kook saw a problem in the wording of this line. We say that before we were born we had no worth; well isn't that obvious? Something that doesn't exist quite clearly has no worth. Similarly, Rav Kook sees a problem in the words "as if I was not formed;" do I exist or not?

Rav Kook's understood this passage in rather unique manner. Although we can take the passage to mean that humans are practically worthless when compared to Hashem, and that our achievements are essentially zero, Rav Kook reads here a deep insight into the meaning of our existence.

Rav Kook explains the troubling words, "Before I was formed, I was of no worth" as meaning that each and every one of us was born at exactly the right moment. Before that moment, there was no need for us to have been born. Before our births, there was no need for our presence in this world. Nothing in this world required our existence, and had we been born we would have had no purpose - before we were born we were of no worth. This phrase, previously so hard to comprehend, now reveals to us a deep insight as to our existence. If we were deemed worthless before we were born, then it is implicit that now that we have been born, there is a reason for our existence. We have each been born for a reason, and each of us has a mission to complete in our lifetimes.

Now to the next part of the sentence, "And now that I have been formed, it is as if I had not been formed." Now that Hashem has seen fit to breathe live into our bodies, there must be some mission for me to accomplish. But because of our willfull abandon of Mitzvot and Hashem's rule as a whole, our whole reason for existence is called into question. As long as we are engaged with mitzvot and performing the task that gave rise to us being born, we are fulfilling our role in this world. The moment we forsake our burden, there remains no reason for our continued existence other than Hashem's mercy.

[Adapted from Olat Re'iyah vol. II, p. 356]

It is my hope that we all have a meaningful and constructive Yom Kippur, that we rectify our wrongs both towards one another and to Hashem and that we all realise and be strengthened in finding our roles in life. Fast well!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Parshat Ha'azinu - פרשת העזינו

I have two Divrei Torah this week; one is my own and one is adapted from R' Ari Kahn of Aish Hatorah.


העזינו השמים ואדרבה ותשמע הארץ אמרי פי - Listen, o' heavens, and I will speak; and the earth shall hear the words of my mouth.

The words of the pasuk above are Moshe Rabbeinu's words as he stood before Bnei Yisrael not long before his passing. Moshe calls on the heavens and the earth to heed his words; not to testify but simply to take note. It seems a rather strange request - what was his intention?

If we look closely at the wording of the pasuk, we may notice that Moshe uses different commands to the heaven and the earth. With regards to the heavens, Moshe uses the word העזינו, (listen,) and when dealing with the earth, he uses the word ותשמע(and hear).

As well as instructing the heaven and earth to listen and hear, two different modes of receiving his words, Moshe also employs two differing types of communication; he says "ואדרבה" (and I will speak), to the heavens but says that the earth should take note of אמרי פי (the words of my mouth).

I've mentioned a few times in my Divrei Torah that there's a nuanced difference to be understood when the Torah elects to use one of the words "Hear" and "Listen" over the other. In this case, Moshe speaks to heaven and earth and tells the earth, the lower of the two, to hear him. Hearing, as I've mentioned before, is relevant to us, as we who do not understand this world have to try and piece together the truth from what is happening around us. When one hears something, he takes in a word at a time until the full sentence is understood. So Moshe uses the word for hearing to tell the earth (and by way of reference, all that is on it) to stick to this particular task.

But what of the heavens? Why should Moshe tell the heavens "העזינו" - to listen? What is implied here? To answer this, we have to look at the word he uses to describe his own speech, "ואדרבה". The root of this word is דבר, "davar," which also means a "thing" in Hebrew. There is a vital connection here. This kind of speech can be compared to a thing, in that it is complete. Moshe mentions the simpleאמרי פי, "the words of my mouth," to the lower sphere. This kind of expression is incomplete, but when speaking to the celestial sphere, Moshe is able to employ more complete terminolgy, as we learn that the higher worlds are more "in sync" with Hashem.

At the beginning of this week's Parsha, Parshat Ha'azinu, Moshe breaks into song. R' Ari Kahn notes that this moment in Sefer D'varim seems an odd time for Moshe to start singing. Moshe's contemporaries, the generation that left Egypt, have mostly died in the desert and Moshe too is to soon pass away. Although Moshe has famously sung before in the Torah, (namely Az Yashir after safely crossing the Red Sea,) why should he sing now, unprompted?

R' Kahn explains Moshe's greatness by brining an example from the Gemara:

"Our rabbis taught: 'When the wicked Nebuchadnezzar threw Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah into the fiery furnace, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Ezekiel: 'Go and resurrect the dead in the plain of Dura.' This being done, the bones came and smote the wicked man upon his face. 'What kind of bones are these!' he exclaimed. They [his courtiers] answered him, 'Their companion is resurrecting the dead in the plain of Dura.' Thereupon he broke into utterance, 'How great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation!'" Rabbi Isaac said: "May molten gold be poured into the mouth of that wicked man [Nebuchadnezzar]! Had not an angel come and struck him upon his mouth he would have eclipsed all the songs and praises uttered by David in the Book of Psalms.' "
(Sanhedrin 92b)

At the moment that king Nebuchadnezzar wanted to praise Hashem, Rabbi Isaac stoppped him. Nebuchadnezzar was stunned by this incredible moment and wanted to praise God, but nevertheless Rabbi Isaac issued a stinging statement and barred him from doing so. Why was this?

The Kotzker Rebbe understood the reason for Rav Isaac's actions and summarised them thus:
"You wish to sing praise while the crown is on your head, I would like to hear how you sing after being slapped in the face. (Emet miKotzk Tizmach pg. 37)"

Many of us have experienced an incident in our lives where we are dazzled for a moment. We wish to sing and praise God, but although this is certainly laudable we should take the time to ask ourselves, would we be as ready to praise God after experiencing pain? This is Moshe's great strength - even when he is about to die, he realises that it is appropriate to give praise to his creator.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom u'mevorach from Jerusalem!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A cause for hope (Part II)

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, (yes, I do realise that I have posted since then, but I wanted to keep things in chronological order,) I was invited out to lunch at a friend's house about two minutes away from where I live. Unfortunately, for me, I had to walk about 30 minutes instead, as I was staying at my old yeshiva, Yeshivat Hakotel in the Old City for chag.

On the way back to the Old City, at around 5 'o clock, I walked through Ben Yehuda, which would normally be buzzing at any other time of year apart from Shabbat and the other chagim. There were a few people milling around who didn't seem to be observing the day in accordance to Jewish law, but really it was very quiet. As I approached the square at the bottom where Ben Yehuda and Yafo meet, I noticed a man blowing a Shofar. Not so unusual, I thought to myself - I'd been at the Kotel earlier in the day and heard and saw people come with their own Shofarim and blow them, almost for fun. I particularly remember seeing one twenty-something man, around my own age, who had brought his own Shofar with him, and who seemed intent on making quite a show of himself. So to see a few Haredi men standing in the square in town didn't seem to be much to take notice of.

But as I came closer, I realised that they weren't blowing "for fun," but were blowing for an elderly irreligious man. It made me smile to see the dedication these men have, to take time out on Rosh Hashana to hit the streets and do something for their follow Jews. All too often, we are bothered by the Haredis begging for money. In Jerusalem, there have been umpteen stories over the last few years of Haredis who have forced separation of the sexes on the street and on buses, and other stories of how Haredi men have rioted against Shabbat desecration. As a "dati leumi" (this term literally means national religious, but also encompasses a lot of Modern Orthodoxy) Jew, I despair when I hear how Haredi Jews use strict and dogmatic methods to make a point. And at the same time, when I see how important it is to them that every last Jew hears the Shofar, I find cause for hope.

These people knew that on Rosh Hashanah they wouldn't receive payment or a donation to their cause, but they went out anyway because they cared. Trying to scare other Jews into following the Torah will never persuade them to reconsider a change in their lifestyle, but doing things like this out of love, and without demands can.

I was reminded of how I was in a pub in downtown Jerusalem with a friend a couple of years ago on Chanukah. The pub had Christmas lights and decorations up, and there was no indication that any of the patrons of the pub cared that this was Chanukah and that to an observer, this could have been a pub in a Christian country. But in the middle of my visit, a Haredi man walked in and asked the pub staff if they wouldn't mind turning down the blaring music for a minute. They complied, and as the entire pub looked at the incongruous man in the strange clothes, he took out a menorah and candles, set them down on the side of the pub counter and started to recite the blessings aloud.

Immediately the atmosphere changed, and everyone started singing along with him. When he reached the end of each of the brachot, an almost-fierce "Amen" was heard from all around me. While most people in that pub would never have lit candles by themselves, they really, genuinely cared to see somebody come in and light for them. I only hope that the Haredi world adopts this approach more often and shares it's brand of Judaism with others rather than shunning them and criticising them for not complying.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A cause for hope

Although I blog fairly regularly, I don't think I've ever posted an entry of a personal nature here. Last week, I attended the Nefesh b'Nefesh International Jewish Bloggers Convention in Jerusalem (read my report for the Jerusalem Post here) and one of the speakers mentioned that while blogs often have specific topics, it's still nice to write those "slice of life" entries and share your experiences with others. The speaker went on to explain that for a person living in Efrat, for example, it might not seem all too interesting at first to describe one's daily commute, but to someone living on the other side of the world the idea of waking up and facing the Judaean hills, driving through biblical landscape on the way to work in the knowledge that the only traffic jam one might encounter would be from a wayward flock of sheep - well, that might be almost exotic to some. With this in mind, I've decided that it's high time that I share some of my experiences.

The first thing I want to relate is an event that occured last Monday. I had locked my bike outside the Shuk and after retrieving it, noticed that somebody had touched my gears, as they had been reset from 21st gear (3 and 7) to something like 8, as the numbers were lower around 2 and 4. I was a little bit annoyed, but I soon became genuinely irritated when I saw that the gear chain had been knocked off, too. For those readers who haven't had to put a bike's chain back on the gears, I should explain that you get your hands dirty and oily from touching the greasy chain. After realising that I had no option, I set about fixing the bike.

Just as I was about to get started, an elderly man stopped to ask me if I could help him by taking his heavy bags as he walked to the bus stop on the other side of the road. I told him that I needed to fix my bike, but that I would be with him in a second. The man was rather insistent, but I explained that I would need a little time first.

Putting a bicycle chain back in place (illustrative)

After fidgeting with the bike's chain for a few seconds to no avail, an Arab teenager, almost certainly one of the many Arab workers in the Shuk, strode towards my bike, took it from me gently and in a split-second had the chain back on. Hugely impressed and appreciative of his kindness, I thanked him and shook his hand. It was truly heartening to see that despite what the media makes out to be total disharmony between Jews and Arabs, there's still co-operation between the two groups and away from the media spotlight, there are still instances like this that give you hope. But the boy, unaware of my goofy smile, then turned round to the old man, took his bags and walked him across the road. If there's one thing I can take from this it is that while we can never work with extremists, there will definitely be people "on the other side" who are not extreme and who want peace too. It is up to us to find a way of working with them and alienating terrorists and those who incite hatred and violence against us.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rosh Hashana - ראש השנה

The sound of the Shofar is one of the central themes of Rosh Hashanah. The intense blasts issued from this horn, so we learn, are meant to cause us to think of a cry out to the heavens; a cry for mercy, a cry for help.

The Shofar is used to produce four distinctive kinds of noises; the Tekiah, the Sh'varim, the Teruah, and finally the Tekiah Gedolah. It is instructive to note that the Shofar's noises are grouped together in sets of three, with the first and the last always Tekiah (apart from the two occasions when a Tekiah Gedolah replaces the standard Tekiah.)

The Tekiah (and the Tekiah Gedolah) is a single drawn out noise. The other sounds, the Shevarim and the Teruah, are sandwiched in between the Tekiah blasts. These two sounds are supposed to be of equal length to the Tekiah sounds on either side of them, but are broken up into three or nine pieces. Indeed, the word Shevarim means "broken," indicating that there is an intrinsic link between these broken noises and the whole, complete Tekiah. In actuality, the Tekiah sounds and whatever comes in between them are all equal. The Shevarim and the Teruah are broken up, but we must not forget that though they are broken, they will come whole again. Hence, the pattern of whole-broken-whole reveals the process that our Teshuvah will follow; if we make a concerted effort to return to Hashem, we will make ourselves complete again.

The Shofar has a deep connection to Rosh Hashanah in other ways, too. The two days of Rosh Hashanah, the days of judgment, are two of the holiest days of the year. The Netivot Shalom teaches that over the two days, we must try to elevate both our levels of Yirat Shamayim and Ahavat Shamayim.

The Kol Shofar, the sound of the Shofar, has two distinct qualities that we can say are appropiately match these dual aspects of Rosh Hashanah. While the sound emitted by a Shofar is often referred to as being like a cry, it is also often called a Shofar "blast".

Shofar blasts are not blown only on during the period of Rosh Hashanah; in times of war, we make a Teruah with chatzotzrot to ready the camp. In this situation, the sound of these noises are very much connected to the aspect of Yirah, fear. At other times, too, these blasts are made - we learn that the same chatzotzrot are used to make a Tekiah sound while offerings were joyfully brought to the Beit Hamikdash. In this situation, these noises are instrumental in causing Bnei Yisrael to feel their ahavah for Hashem.

The Shofar's noise is both a powerful "blast" and also a "cry" for mercy. It is call for battle, but also part of the pomp and ceremony when a new Jewish King is crowned. And here too we show our great love for Hashem, and simultaneously our tremendous awe of Hashem, when we blow the Shofar and crown Him as our King on Rosh Hashanah.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hitler’s VW Beetle actually designed by a Jew?

Up until now, it has been an acknowledged truth that the ever-popular Volkswagen Beetle has a tainted history, having been originally designed and commissioned by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. But could the history behind one of the most fashionable production cars in history be somewhat more complex? Paul Schilperoord, a Dutch journalist and historian, certainly seems to think so.

Schilperoord alleges in his new book Het Ware Verhaal van de Kever ("The True Story of the Beetle"), released later this month, that Ferdinand Porsche’s iconic Beetle, officially commissioned by Hitler, may well have been taken from a design by a Jewish engineer called Josef Ganz, who never received due credit.

In 2004, Schilperoord picked up an old edition of a magazine called Automobile Quarterly. In it, he discovered an article which claimed that contrary to popular belief, the Beetle’s original designer was not Hitler but rather a Jewish man; Josef Ganz. Intrigued by this assertion, Schilperoord embarked on what ended up as five years of extensive research which ultimately led to him publishing his forthcoming book.

Over the course of his investigations, Schilperoord unearthed the Beetle’s true history – one vastly different from the one that the Nazi regime had us believe. Whereas the Nazi version of the Beetle’s origins is that Hitler came up with the idea of a “People’s Car,” a car that would both cost less than 1,000 Reichsmark and simultaneously carry up to 5 people across the country at speeds of up to 100km per hour. But Schilperoord’s account differs sharply. He claims that Josef Ganz had outlined the Beetle concept a decade before Hitler claimed to have conjured up the idea of the then revolutionary automobile.

According to Schilperoord, “In 1929, Josef Ganz started contacting German motorcycle manufacturers for collaboration to build a Volkswagen prototype. This resulted in a first prototype built at Ardie in 1930 and a second one completed at Adler in May 1931, which was nicknamed the 'Maikäfer' ('May-Beetle').”

Ganz’s design was greatly innovative, and with features such as an independent suspension system for each wheel, which was “a revolutionary step for the 1920’s,” Schilperoord notes, along with a rear-mounted engine and a unique, streamlined chassis, his car was highly distinctive, too. Although Porsche and Hitler made no mention of Ganz’s contribution, Schilperoord claims that “Hitler’s” Beetle, which came into production 10 years later could only have derived from Ganz’s work.

Lacking the financial backing to put his project into action, Ganz was appointed editor-in-chief of a car magazine, Klein-Motor-Sport, and simultaneously took up positions as a technical consultant to both Daimler-Benz and BMW, where he “developed his first cars featuring independent suspension with them,” Schilperoord told The Jerusalem Post over the telephone last week.

In 1933, Schilperoord claims, came the decisive moment when Adolph Hitler happened to be in attendance at the IAMA (Internationale Automobil- und Motorradausstellung) Berlin motor show in which Ganz unveiled the Maikäfer’s successor, the “Standard Superior,” which was built by German company Standard Fahrzeugfabrik.

Hitler liked what he saw, and tasked Porsche with the job of creating a similar car, but in line with his anti-Semitic philosophy, “he obscured the fact that a Jew was behind the car’s design,” Schilperoord told The Post.

Schilperoord also claims that there are too many of Ganz’s hallmarks to be in any doubt that the Beetle that was eventually mass produced in the 1930’s was derived from his original design. “Even the name Volkswagen was originally Ganz’s,” noted Schilperoord, before adding that Ganz “was already working on the Volkswagen in the 1920’s in Germany... already using the name [Volkswagen] in the Twenties.”

Later on in May 1933, the Gestapo arrested Ganz on falsified charges, accusing him of blackmailing the German automotive industry . “Hitler had only been in power for a few months and was already setting about arresting people and creating the dictatorship he dreamed about” explained Schilperoord.

Even though Ganz had friends in high places and was released soon after being taken into custody, his career had been dealt a fatal blow. His contracts with BMW and Mercedes were terminated, he lost his job as editor-in-chief at the magazine. The Standard Fahrzeugfabrik, which had recently released a new model with place for a family with two children, was now forbidden to use the name Volkswagen in its advertising; Ganz’s livelihood had been destroyed.

If the Nazis were discouraged by the setback of Ganz’s discharge from prison, they didn’t show it. During The Night of the Long Knives in June 1934, when the regime carried out a series of political executions, with most of those killed being members of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the paramilitary Brownshirts, an assassination attempt was made on Ganz’s life. Fortunately for Ganz, his pet dog, an Alsatian, heard the would-be attacker enter the house and jumped on him, thus saving his master’s life.

Not long later, a second assassination attempt was made. Again Ganz had a lucky escape; he happened to be in Switzerland at the time on vacation. When friends warned him that it was not safe to return, Ganz decided to stay on in Switzerland till after the war.

While in Switzerland, Ganz fought to restore his name and claim ownership of the Volkswagen concept, but to no avail. Schilperoord claims that even once the War was over and Ganz was free to work on “a new small car for Automobiles Julien, he could no longer compete with the German Volkswagen - his own vision - which was now conquering the world in its hundreds of thousands and within a few years in its millions. A weary Ganz moved to Australia in 1951 and lived there till his death in 1967. Hopefully now, history will restore his name as the true designer of one of the most revolutionary cars in history.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Parshiot Nitzavim and Vayelech / פרשיות נצבים-וילך

Unfortunately, this week again has been rather hectic. (I actually was social over the last seven days, and went to two events arranged by Nefesh b'Nefesh on Wednesday and Thursday night, meaning that I got to sleep well past my bedtime.) Consequently, once again, I am rushing to get my D'var Torah in before Shabbat. Will I ever learn?!

ושב ה' אלוקיך את שבותך ורחמך ושב וקבצך מכל העמים אשר הפיצך ה' אלוקיך שמה.

In addition to its simple meaning, this pasuk, so the Chafetz Chaim writes, speaks of the Geulah. Here the Torah assures us that the day of redemption will surely come, and we must expect it to arrive at any time. And even though this long-awaited day is perpetually delayed, continues the Chaftez Chaim, we are obliged to wait because it will come.

One of the biggest problems with faith is that all the time we wait in exile, it is very hard to keep on "doing the right thing" without any sign to encourage us. If anything, all we have is discouragement; the once mighty Jewish kingdom might not be destroyed, but it certainly seems to be at the will of its foes. Given our glorious history, it doesn't seem innacurate to describe the Jewish people as distressed and even disgraced - in such a low, maybe all we can do is hope!

The Rambam, in his seminal work, "Mishnah Torah," calls on the pasuk above when outlining the obligation for each and every Jew to wait and expect Moshiach's arrival. He explains that anyone who doesn't believe in him, or in his imminent coming, is not only going against the words of the jewish prophets, but also against this very verse from the Torah. (Hilchot Malachim 11:1)

I don't want to make this a slur on other religions, (I clearly believe in Judaism and I have no need to knock other people's beliefs, even if I hugely disagree with them,) but I really do like how in Judaism we don't merely cry out "I believe!" in the manner of one who doesn't know quite what he believes in. One of the most famous songs we Jews sings is that of "Ani Ma'amin," and the last few words we sing demonstrate the point I want to make beautifully. We say, "I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Moshiach. And even though he may tarry, I will wait for at any day he will arrive." These last few words are a perfect example of some of the defining qualities needed of a Jew - persistence, tenacity and patience. We don't merely believe, but we await something that will happpen; something that we must prepare ourselves for.

The opening words of Parshat Nitzavim, "ואתם נצבים היום," are ones that have been commented on a lot - there is a much to be learned from the idea of the nation of Israel standing together. And yet, at the same time, there are many divisions - Am Yisrael is split into various groups following these words.

It often taught that when the Torah mentions standing, we are to understand that those who are standing are evaluating; taking stock of themselves. I would like to suggest that it is no coincidence that as Parshat Nitzavim always falls in Elul, in close proximity to Rosh Hashanah, that it should be obvious to all of us that at this time of year we engage in a little "Cheshbon Hanefesh" and refine our characters before we stand before Hashem on the Yamim Neraim.

For this reason, מרן רי"ז הלוי points out, we read the words, "כי לישועתך קוינו כל היום" in the Shmonah Esrei. These words translate as "For we have hoped for your redemption all day," which doesn't seem to flow all too well. A more natural choice of words would be to say that "we have hoped for your redemption every day, but the point is made better by expressing how we are constantly waiting.

The Yalkut Lekach Tov mentions a comment by the Chafetz Chaim on another pasuk further along in Parshat Nitzavim. To summarise briefly, the Chafetz Chaim explains that if one were to be approached by an angel and told that his judgement would be a negative one, that person would do all he could to change his ways. So, the Chafetz Chaim continues, why doesn't this person stop of his own accord? This question is one that challenges each and every one of us, and as I mentioned above, is at the essence of what it is to be a Jew. For when a person stops and takes account of himself, he realises that the activities he engages in are all too often pointless and a waste of time. Coming back to the original pasuk, can we truly say that we believe in the Geulah? If we do then we wouldn't just believe - we would wait anxiously, checking ourselves again and again to ensure that we are ready.

From Jerusalem, wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!