Friday, August 29, 2008

Who Put the Goat in the Aron Kodesh? - Ellul and Cheshbon HaNefesh

The last post that I wrote is supposed to be a preamble to this one. The message of that post was that Moshe is telling us the we have to evaluate everything that is in front of us. It can be more substantial than meets the eye. And everything we do is a choice that can bring us to other places we may not have thought about.

There is one more thing that he teaches us. And this revolves around the question that all of the commentaries ask:
Why does the pasuk start off in the singular - Re'eh - you see; and it continues in the plural - I have put in front of you - לפניכם - the plural you?

I have seen a myriad answers to this. But one that came to my own mind is as follows (similar to an explanation by Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk):

Moshe is commanding each individual to open his eyes and see that the Bracha and Kellala is here in front of all of us. In other words, each individual has his own bechira but he must be aware that his bechira doesn't affect him alone - it effects others as well.

And I don't mean just some of the time. I mean all of the time.

And now, I want to tell you this story. I heard this story on a tape from Rabbi Paysach Krohn. The story he told is probably how it really happened. But I am going to amend it a drop. Amend it to show how it should have happened.

He tells that a few centuries ago in one province in Russia there was a young yeshiva bochur who was a bit free-spirited and mischievous. More of a prankster than a scholar (sounds familiar?). One morning he wanted to have a bit of fun so he tucked a goat in the Aron kodesh of the bais midrash before davening. It was a day with krias haTorah so when the Aron was opened in the middle of davening out pops a goat and starts prancing all over the bais midrash.

It didn't require much investigation to identify the perpetrator. In short order the case was taken up by the faculty. The overwhelming opinion was to expel the young man but such a move would have drastic implications. This was not the place or era of today's "there's-a-yeshiva-for-every-kind-of-boy" philosophy. If a boy was expelled from yeshiva - his yeshiva career was over.

As this was a very weighty decision, the case was referred to the posek acharon of that province who at that time was none other than Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal HaTanya. The Baal HaTanya asked to see the boy personally, and he was brought before him. The Baal HaTanya asked him some questions and then asked him if there is any reason he should not be expelled from the yeshiva.

The quick-witted prankster responded, "If you expel me from the Yeshiva, you are not only expelling me. You are also expelling my children and my children's children and their children for all generations."

The Baal HaTanya was impressed with this boy's out-of-the-box reasoning and so he told him, "You are a bright boy. If you promise to buckle down and to desist from these pranks we will let you remain in yeshiva."

This is the story as I heard it from Rabbi Krohn. But I was a bit let down. I think , if this is what actually transpired, that the Baal HaTanya missed an opportunity to make a forceful point. In my opinion, his words would have had more impact if he told the young man as follows:

"I see that you are a bright boy and that you have much potential. If you desist from these antics, I am more than willing to give you another chance. But, know this: When you put a goat inside the Aron Kodesh, you are not the only one that is putting the goat inside the Aron Kodesh. Your children and your children's children and their children for all generations are also putting the goat inside the Aron Kodesh..."

Seeing What is Right in Front of You - Parshat Re'ei

When I tried think about all of the hidden messages in Parshat Re'ei I couldn't get past the first pasuk. Actually, I couldn't get past the first word. Re'ei - look and see. Why "see"? Why not "listen"? Or, better yet, why anything at all? (See Ohr HaChayim) Let Moshe simply say - הנה אנכי נותן לפניכם - Here, I am putting before you... If it's right here in front of you, won't you see it?

Evidently not.

The first lesson I learned from Parshat Re'ei is that something can be right there in front of you and if nobody tells you to see it you won't. Secondly, seeing involves more than what meets the eye. One has to look at the whole picture - both sides of the coin.

So here, Moshe is telling us that we must see the entire picture. The Bracha and the Kellala. If it's not Bracha it's Kellala. It's not neutral.

Parshat Re'ei is referring us to Parshat Bechukosai. Therefore it says את הברכה . The word את means from Alef to Tav. That is the Bracha that begins with Alef - אם בחקתי תלכו and ends with tav - ואולך אתכם קממיות . The kellala is והקללה from vav to heh. That is the kellala that begins with a vav - ואם לא תשמעו לי and ends with a heh - בהר סיני ביד משה .

Parshat Bechukosai is the premise of my book because it is the main place in the Torah (among numerous others) that most clearly lays down the "terms of the deal". It tells us in 8 words how to live and how to survive and how to succeed.

In 8 words.

If you don't look at it - I mean, really look at it, you don't see it.

I described in a recent post how and when I was enlightened to what it really means. I was over 40 years old! Until then I didn't really see it. Oh, I saw it all right - it was לפניכם - right there in front of me. But all the time, I didn't really see it.

This is the mitzvah of Re'ei - to see, to look, to understand.

Moshe commands us Re'ei. It is a mitzvah like all of the rest. Yet, for some reason, this mitzvah does not meet the criteria to be included in the official list of 613 mitzvos. And because of that, many of us do not see it. We cannot see that it is a mitzvah to see.

Even though it is right in front of us.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A False Treasure - Shidduch Woes

The gemara in Sanhedrin (100b) says:

A daughter is to her father a false treasure. For worry of her he will not sleep at night. In her childhood - perhaps she will be abused; in her adolescence - prehaps she will be promiscuous; if she matures - perhaps she will not be married...

Nobody with daughters is immune to the Shidduch crisis and we all have tales to tell. I live in Eretz Yisrael yet I am American. E"Y has its mishugossin and America has its mishugossin (I think, right now I'd be happy with a solid boy from Somalia). I had already gotten used to the Israeli mishugossin but, since my first born "treasure" (just shy of 21) is still unhitched, we thought we should let her spend the summer break (which includes Ellul) in the US so she can swim in a different pond (a much more densely crowded one, from what I hear).

My daughter is a quick witted on-the-ball intuitive young lady. I would say that she takes after me in that respect. This would be terrific if she wore pants and tzitzis (I know girls like her that do), but coming from the F side of the mechitza makes it a bit more challenging. She really needs somebody who is well rounded and mature. The 22-23 year old Americans in Israel generally fell short of this profile and older (25+) more sophisticated Americans are in very short supply here. You know what they say - Go to Rome to marry a Roman - so off to the US of A it is.

She arrived about one week ago. So far, all we have accomplished was trade one set of mishugossin for another.

Her itinerary is to spend about 10-11 days in my original non-East Coast community where my parents and happily married sister will look out for her. From there, barring miracles, she will go to her grandparents in Queens for Ellul zman to do some honest to goodness soul-searching before Yom HaDin.

Current update: For her brief stay in the hometown community, my sister has been trying to rope in a 27 year old medical student with a healthy Yeshiva background. Undoubtedly, she tried to put the gears in motion even before my daughter arrived. But it is 5 days into her 11 day stay and still there is no progress. Apparently, the mother is holding it back until she finishes her high-grade detective work (or perhaps, until she finishes my book and she is only up to page 84).

Now, it's quite normal and important to do the proper checking, but this shidduch prospect is a bridge relative. That means related with one marriage as a bridge. It seems that he is a cousin to my brother-in-law's wife. As such, not only is all the information and references at everybody's fingertips, but there are a whole slew of mutual acquaintances vouching for the shidduch and the fellow is already 27, and as far as I know he is not "busy" nor is he located on the East Coast where appropriate shidduchim are available - to a boy - as frequently as the Subway trains. My sister is trying to deliver the message: "Come on - she's leaving town in 5 days. This guy is Dateless in Seattle. Let them meet and see if there's substance."

And the mother isn't ready - and the boy is silent.

My wife and I are holding by withdrawing even if the mother finally agrees. She is not helping her image as a potential in-law. And I have a very strong feeling that this guy is going to reach 28.

Meanwhile - out in the Wild Wild (Take no Prisoner) East - my in-laws are hard at work on the range with those lassoes. But now we are getting our first taste of American style shidduch ransom - one prospect is demanding a support guarantee of $15,000 /year for seven years. I heard that this is not unusual (it may actually be considered "reasonable"). Of course, here in E"Y we can circumvent these demands with only 75% of a $300,000 apartment. Anyway, I might consider the $15K demand if somebody would guarantee me to have the $15k/ year to pay it. That withstanding, I have to kindly pass on this generous proposal. But I did not want to sound too chincy so I told my father-in-law to respond to the offer that: "I am prepared to meet the request of a guarantee of $15k /year in return for a guarantee of 300 blatt /year plus one seder of Mishna and Shnayim mikra v'echad targum with Rashi for seven years."

I am waiting for the response.

Note - If any readers know a solid well rounded young man whose family is foolhardy enough to be my mechutan and doesn't need $15K/ year, please email me at

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Treppenwitz and Truth - Stairway to Heaven

I have previously voiced my reservations about my involvement in the Blogosphere. I see it as a lawless frontier - the Wild West of Cyberspace where one shoots from the hip and asks questions (or posts comments) later. Where suspected "horse-thieves" are hanged without trial and strangers are run out of town. One-on-one duels and mob lynchings are daily occurrences. And the sheriff is drunk. Before long, one learns who the quick gun slingers are, who to stand next to and who to steer clear of.

Now, for the bad part.

The Blogosphere is very time consuming and seductive. It does not take much effort to get "sucked in" and networked to a vast range of very vocal people, some of whom have very hostile opinions toward the Torah oriented Orthodox community. In short, it is not the most favorable venue for Avodas Hashem. I can only justify my presence in the Blogosphere on three accounts: (1) Commercial - I wrote a book so I have a product to sell. This is the main reason that I plug the book wherever I can (oh, no --- again with his @#$%^& book? Won't he talk about something else for a change?...) and (2) Spiritual - I try to convey Torah thoughts as much as I can and (3) Ideological - it does provide me with an additional (low cost) forum with which to communicate my message and to accomplish my "mission" (more on this later).

That said, I didn't know how to react to the International Jewish Bloggers Convention. For the most part, if I cannot really justify blogging to myself, I cannot justify participating in a convention of bloggers (mosif chet al pesha!) but yet it did tempt me because:
  • I am an American Oleh
  • I am a nascent blogger (whether I am proud of it or not)
  • I live in Har Nof and Beit Ophir and Nefesh B'Nefesh are right up the block.

I made Aliyah shortly before NBN opened for business but I have a strong affinity for NBN. One reason is that I admire their goals and their accomplishments. Secondly, I have benefited from some of their services in Post Aliyah. Thirdly, one of my siblings is a key member of the organization and was a key member of the broadcasting team for this event. Beit Ophir, besides hosting NBN, also hosts the Mercaz Haredi L'Hachshara Miktzoit (Chreidi Center for Vocational Training). My guess is that most bloggers do not even know that this place exists. In any case, I have paid numerous visits to both offices.

Despite these tempting circumstances, I never seriously considered attending it. I have quite a life outside of my book and blog (although you would never know it) including learning sedarim. Nevertheless, I did register for the live webcast so I could tune in and "lurk". I thought it would be of interest to see what some of these feared gunslingers look like.

I did not tune in at all on that evening but a follow up email informed me that the webcast is stored and available for viewing at my convenience. Last evening I thought it may be convenient , so I tuned in. I didn't expect to make it a long visit, but I wanted to hear the pointers for successful blogging. Hey, if I'm blogging, I might as well succeed. That would have been about a half hour investment, but the ante was upped when Bibi Netanyahu got up to speak. I was thoroughly transfixed for an additional 40 minutes.

It was Bibi and one of the first three panelists who made my visit worthwhile because these two provided the most useful advice. The panelist that interested me was David Bogner from Treppenwitz. Two interesting concepts came from him.

The first was the meaning of the term treppenwitz. It is a German term that literally means "stairway wisdom" and is an expression for the better response one should have given after it is too late to give it (when he is already out the door and on the stairway). I will come back to this shortly.

The second concept was his entreaty to "be nice". This can be quite challenging for cynics like me when we are discussing highly charged topics. Yet, believe it or not, it is still one of my goals, whether I achieve it or not.

Bibi's message spoke more to my soul. He said we as Israelis, and we as Jews, and we as bloggers, have one invincible weapon which, if we use it properly, will guarantee our survival in the lawless Wild West of Cyberspace. It is the power of Truth. The truth cannot be refuted, but it can be bullied away if it does not assert itself. As such, one must speak with Truth and conviction.

Now I want to return to David's flagship concept - treppenwitz. My guess is that all bloggers suffer from it. I don't think I have published a post yet that did not need fixing after I pressed the "Publish" button. (This does not mean that I always fixed it!) In my previous post, I mentioned that if I would have been more familiar with blogspeak before I put out my book, I might have used better ways of expressing myself.

That's treppenwitz.

Another aspect of some of my most recent posts is my elaboration on my "1A7B Mission". After I closed the last post, it occurred to me that perhaps I can summarize the main mission of 1A7B in three words. Another treppenwitz. But, because it is so important, I am coming back up the stairs to knock on the door.

My mission with 1A7B - in three words - is: To Neutralize the Acid. Of course, this is what I clearly wrote in the Introduction of the book that it is to "reduce the hating and shunning".

But how to do it?

Bibi gives the answer: with Truth and with conviction.

That has always been my goal and that has always been my method. To look behind the facades and distortions and to see what is really going on.

But it is dangerous work. Acid is caustic. It is painful to handle. It will burn through everything unless it is neutralized. It must be neutralized with Truth. Unfortunately, the neutralizing Truth may also be caustic. It may also be painful to handle. And it has to be presented with conviction.

And, if we listen to David Bogner, we also have to be nice.

In the Wild West, it isn't easy.

רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר: על שלשה דברים העולם עומד: על הדין ועל האמת ועל השלום, שנאמר (זכריה ח, טז) " אמת ומשפט שלום שפטו בשעריכם".

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Holy Language - The Mission of 1A7B - A Perspective on Parshat Eikev

I have noted in my book that Rashi on Chumash is in most places merely relaying to us the words of Chazal. There are many great benefits to being aware of this fact. One is to appreciate the authority behind Rashi's words. A second benefit is that by studying Rashi's source material, we can get a better feel for what Rashi means.

This second benefit has its limits. When Rashi is quoting a passage of Talmud, we have the privilege of looking it up and studying the various commentaries such as Tosafos, Maharsha and even Rashi himself. However, when Rashi is quoting the Midrashic sources we are at a loss. There is very little commentary on the Midrashic material and there is much less on the Halachic Midrash - (Mechilta, Toras Kohanim, Sifri, and Sifra) than there is on the Aggadic Midrash (Mirash Rabba and Tanchuma). Thus, I had a bit of a struggle in my book in defining the ameilus b'Torah that is sourced in Toras Kohanim. Thankfully, there is Pirkei Avot, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch and a host of other sources to rely upon.

Yet, numerous other statements do not come with so many accessories and we are mainly left in the cold. Oh, if only there was Rashi on Rashi (although Sifsei Chachamim, RE"M, and Gur Aryeh give us a lift)!

With this in mind, let us look at a Sifri that Rashi quotes in last week's Parsha - Parshat Eikev - and examine what it says to us.
The pasuk says:

יט ולמדתם אתם את בניכם לדבר בם בשבתך בביתך ובלכתך בדרך ובשכבך ובקומך

And Rashi explains the words לדבר בם with the words of the Sifri (in English) :

...From here they (the sages) have said that as soon as an infant begins to speak, his father converses with him in the Holy Language and teaches him Torah...

What does it mean that "his father converses with him in the Holy Language"?

Well, the plain understanding is that he must teach him what we call Lashon Kodesh which is the language of Tanach so that the son can study its words. This is why many "Torah" Jews make a big ceremony when their three year old boy is first ushered into cheder and begins learning alef-bet.

There are those who even take this more literally and make it their business to speak to their children in Hebrew (though there is difference of opinion as to the "holiness" of Modern Hebrew) or, alternatively, to speak in a distinctly Jewish dialect which could be Yiddish, Ladino, or even today's American "Yeshivish" (it's takkah the heintiga shnit).

Yet, in addition to these two basic connotations, I would like to suggest an additional, more profound "Chareidi" interpretation. At first glance, it seems that "conversing with him in the Holy language" and "teaching him Torah" are two related but independent activities. I don't see it that way. I see them as as a single activity. How so?

From my forays into the Blogosphere (that has only spanned a few months) and from the norms and rules of socio-political debate that it comprises, I have learned some prevalent expressions and idioms that I was not apprised of when I wrote the book. Would I have known them, I could have employed this terminology in applicable parts of the book and perhaps made it a bit clearer to the Blog oriented readership. Two of my favorites are: apologist and triumphalist.

Apparently, an apologist is anyone who defends a position you do not support no matter how sound his defense is. As such, I am a Chareidi "apologist" in general and specifically in the Miriam Shear controversy despite the fact that so far, nobody has effectively refuted my premise that (a) if one can judge the accused (in absentia), one may judge the accuser - who has presented a first hand account and (b) that each Human being has bechira and is responsible for the decisions that they consciously make and what comes out from them. So I am an apologist, yet, I have never seen any Miriam Shear supporter being called a "Miriam Shear Apologist".

The Blogosphere is full of one-way streets.

On the rare occasions that someone like me can present a strong debate that cannot be deemed "apologetic", then I am a "triumphalist".

There is a Murphy's Law edict that reads: Win or lose, you lose!

But what is relevant to our discussion is the term that I have seen - promoted primarily by the scant chareidi writers - called: Halachic Language. This means that when we make our case for our viewpoint, we support it with the pasukim and maamarei chazal that underwrite the viewpoint. The term "Halachic Language" is what I have seen most frequently but since it implies "Halacha based" it seems a bit inadequate to me. This is because it may miss ideas that are scripture based (which would be called "Scriptural Language") or Aggadic based. As such, I would prefer a more comprehensive term which encompasses the whole chulent: Talmudic Language. Either way, it implies a way of speech and thought that conveys Torah values.

As an application, a true Torah Jew (what I call Chareidi) does not say to his little son: "Don't tease your sister." He says: "Don't tease your sister, it is onaas devarim." He doesn't say, "Help your brother clean his room." He says, "When your brother cleans his room, you do azov taazov and help him out." And, of course, not, "Doing that is a waste of time" but "Doing that is bitul zman and/or bitul Torah." I believe that this is what the Sifri means when it speaks of "talking to your son in Lashon Kodesh" and "teaching him Torah". You must speak to your son in the language of the Torah. In Talmudic Language, whether English, Hebrew, Yiddish, or what. From the chareidi perspective, there can be Torah in everything we say because there is Torah in everything we do.

This is the message that I was marketing on page 223 of my book when I wrote that the chareidim speak Isaiahish and that it is a foreign language to most consumers.

Shortly after my book came out, a young blogger - an idealistic RYBS apologist (hey, two can play the same game) - came out with a critical review. Because I felt that the review totally missed the target and did not address or refute the main mission of the book, I did not feel that it is worth my time (excuse me, I mean that I thought it is bitul zman and/or bitul Torah) to invest in a protracted response. But so as not to leave the antagonism totally unneutralized, I submitted the following statement:

The mission of One Above and Seven Below is to promote understanding. It is meant to enable those who do not understand how chareidim think and who would like to understand how chareidim think, to do so. To point out that non-chareidim (or even non-conventional charedim) think differently does nothing to infringe upon the thesis about the conventional way of chareidi thinking. If you are interested in learning about how chareidim view Judaism, read the book. If you are not interested or if you already know about how chareidim think, then do not waste your time or money on this book. Learn Chumash and Rashi, instead.

What I wrote is indeed the main mission but I want to elaborate a bit on this mission statement and rephrase it as follows:

The mission of 1A7B is to promote understanding (as above). It is meant to counter those who denigrate the chareidim without justification by presenting the chareidi perspective using Talmudic Language.

Talmudic Language - is very powerful. As long as it is not misused and manipulated, it is rock solid. Just as only a diamond can cut another diamond, a statement of Talmudic Language can only be refuted by other statements of Talmudic Language. That is why I use it in my book and I use it in my posts.

But it comes at a price. Many people in the Blogosphere do not relate to Talmudic Language. This is because they are not fluent in it. And accordingly, they are intimidated by it. And so, for want of refuting the substance of the hashkafa, they present a vague brush-off using choice terms such as "condescending" or "arrogant". Thus, in general one who pushes an argument using Talmudic Language is commonly accused of being "condescending". Numerous times I have stood on the receiving end of this epithet transmitted by people who had nothing to say about the points expressed. So, although it may in fact be condescending (if they say so), I am far from convinced that I am the one to blame for it.

My most confrontational post was the one wherein I reviewed the Miriam Shear incident using Talmudic Language. How do this woman's actions match up to what the Torah and Chazal and Shulchan Aruch tell us is the way for a Jew to act? The way Chazal explain Kedoshim Tihiyu, the way they explain Chillul Hashem, and the way they explain Din v'Cheshbon? I chose to dramatize it in a setting that would measure the case solely by this criteria. I had to rely on a Heavenly court because I found that these criteria were not being employed anywhere on Earth.

It was not surprising that a number of readers took me to task for the temerity to predict such celestial procedings but almost nobody (minimal exceptions) had anything to say about the points couched in Talmudic Language except that it is condescending.

Yet, a true chareidi will always speak his mind in Talmudic Language. And we will teach our sons to do it when they sit at home and when they journey on their way and when they lay themselves to sleep and when they arise. Why?

למען ירבו ימיכם וימי בניכם על האדמה אשר נשבע ה' אלקיכם לתת להם כימי השמים על הארץ

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Yaakov's Story - The Birth of 1A7B

In the Acknowledgements page of my book, I wrote:
A special note of recognition goes to my oldest son, Yaakov, who inspired me to the main premise of the One Above and Seven Below.

To date, only one person has ever inquired from me how exactly did Yaakov inspire me to this premise. And that person was Yaakov. And what exactly did Yaakov do?

The story goes back to the late fall of 2001 when Yaakov was half past 12, about five months before his Bar Mitzvah. Yaakov approached me and announced that he intends to complete all of Shisha Sidrei Mishna for the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah. I told him that he is not realistic. This is a much bigger and tougher job than it looks, you will never get it done in five months. As an aside, we were studying a short masechet of Gemara (Taanis) and we were very nicely on track to complete it in time for the Bar Mitzvah - so we had a siyum already lined up.

Yaakov, as usual, was quite adamant. He said that he calculated the time available and if he makes sure to learn about 5 perakim each and every day he will get it done. I told him that 5 perakim is no small quota and there can be all kinds of distractions that will cause some days to go by before he can fill it.

Yaakov was undaunted. He is just that kind of a guy. When he wants to do something, he doesn't let anything stop him. Incidentally, I am not always thrilled about this - but I digress... In short, he sure enough got the job done. And I was proud as a peacock.

When the Bar Mitzvah did indeed roll around in February of 2002, we held a standard Kaballas Panim reception and featured a siyum on Shisha Sidrei Mishna in place of the planned siyum on Masechet Taanis. As would be expected, the siyum was initiated by reciting the last Mishna in Uktzin that says: "In the future, G-d will bequeath to each and every tzaddik 310 worlds..."

Toward the end of the affair (when it looked safe), I took the floor to speak. Rest assured, I am not the strong silent type! I blessed the simcha and remarked as follows:

This siyum that we made on Shisha Sidrei Mishna was not the one we planned. We were planning a more modest siyum on one of the smaller masechtos of Shas. The story behind the change is that Yaakov told me about 5 months ago that he intends to complete all of the 6 Sidrei Mishna. I thought Yaakov was off his rocker and told him so. I said that it is a bigger job than it looks. You will never get it done on time.

Well, Yaakov persisted and got the job done. I can't believe it but you did it, Yaakov. But what exactly did you do? How did you get this done?

This is what is called "ameilus b'Torah". Yaakov, what you did was pure ameilus b'Torah. There is no question about that. But do you really understand what ameilus b'Torah is? Do you really know what ameilus b'Torah can achieve?

At this point, I want to talk about what is currently on everybody's mind. It is what we here in Eretz Yisrael call "the matzav" - the situation. We are all concerned about the matzav and we all see that right now the matzav is far from rosey.

What do I know about the current matzav? Not all that much. But I am sure that we will agree that were we to list our most urgent problems, the following four problems would top the list. If we could spontaneously solve these four problems, any other problems after these would be a cake walk. What are the four most pressing problems?

  • The water shortage - Explanatory note: There had been a series of very dry winters and the water reserves were at threatening levels. It was a serious shortage although the current drought is much worse.
  • Unemployment - Explanatory note: This was shortly after the great dot-com crash of 2000-2001. Although the Israeli economy has since recovered to some extent, that was the lowest ebb since the prosperity of the 90s.
  • The security situation and the hostility of our enemies - Explanatory note: During the last half of 2001 and the first half of 2002 (and actually on to the end of 2003) we suffered some of the most vicious and fatal terrorist attacks in short succession including the Sbarro Pizza shop attack, the Motzai Shabbos Bais Yisroel attack, the Seder night attack at the Park Hotel in Netanya among others.
  • The discord that we unfortunately have among ourselves - Explanatory note: No need to explain.

These are our most difficult problems. If we can only get past these problems, we have it made!

Does anybody have a suggestion on how to solve all these problems? Well, I do! I have had it for years. The solution is right here --- in this book (I held up a Chumash Vayikra). Now here is what it says in this book (Vayikra 26:4-6):

And I will give your rains in their times... - Do you hear that? End of water crisis!
What else?
And your threshing will last until the grape harvest and the grape harvest will last until the time for sowing...- No more unemployment here, folks!
And the sword shall not pass through your land...- Hamas and Fatah go into retirement.
And I will put peace in the land...- There are those who say this means peace within the land among ourselves.

So there you have it! G-d Himself is offering to solve all of our problems. And what is the price? Do we have to give away all our land and let ourselves get blown up in Machaneh Yehuda?
No- that's not what it says here. It says that the price is:

ג אם בחקתי תלכו ואת מצותי תשמרו ועשיתם אתם

and, do you know what that means?
Well, according to Rashi, here is what it means:

הא מה אני מקיים אם בחקותי תלכו שתהיו עמלים בתורה

Did you get that? Ameilus b'Torah! That's the price. And for ameilus b'Torah G-d promises to solve all of our problems!
And you, Yaakov, by making this siyum on Shisha Sidrei Mishna, you have shown all of us and yourself that you can succeed at ameilus b'Torah.
And you know what you can do with it? You can solve all of our problems! You can bring HKBH into this world. You can acquire for yourself 310 worlds of your own....
blah, blah, blah, blah.......

After I gave that speech, my head was spinning. Have I realized until now what this pasuk is telling us? Has anybody? How can we let something so profoundly valuable slip by us?

Of course, those of us who have some connection to ameilus b'Torah have always known this secret. But it shouldn't only be our secret. It should be everybody's secret.

So, I set out upon a course to disseminate this secret to whoever is willing to hear it. And One Above and Seven Below was born.

Pay attention to this secret. The troubles you solve may be your own.

PostScript: Yaakov who was 8 years old when we made Aliyah, did not acclimate to the Yeshiva Ketana system here in Eretz Yisroel, so we sent him to learn in America. Currently, he is in a post high-school Yeshiva/College program. He is one seder away from finishing Mishnayos for the third time.

One Above and Seven Below - The Yom Kippur Connection

Many publishers have told me that as a rule, one of the last steps of producing a book is assigning the title. The title is the main conduit for informing the potential reader - who is outside of the book - as to what is inside the book and much care and deliberation needs to go into formulating a title. The book companies devise titles in order to sell the book.

I am a bit of a dyslexic thinker. I work backwards. As soon as I started my project, I knew what I wanted to title it. I just wrote the rest of the book to sell the title.

Throughout the time I was writing the book, and telling my friends, relatives, mentors, investors (same as relatives), and potential publishers about it, I was constantly asked what I will be calling the book. That was an easy question to answer because my title was etched in stone even if none of the rest of the book was.

Then they would ask me what it means. And that was a much tougher question to answer.

Almost everybody was able to immediately catch on that the title is taken from Chazal's description of one of the most reverent parts of the special Yom Kippur service performed by the Kohen Gadol as referenced in Rashi Vayikra 16:14. But how does this relate to the book?

To the sharp-eyed reader, I disclosed this secret on page 81 where I wrote:
Incidentally, the title of this book is based on a passage from the Talmud that Rashi quotes in Leviticus 16:14 in conjunction with the commentary of the Chizkuni (ad loc).

The Chizkuni, in his exceedingly brief style, comments on the seven drops: לכפר על שבע חטאתיכם . In other words, the seven drops that are sprinkled on the lower part of the Kapores are meant to atone for the seven levels of deviance that are discussed in Parshat Bechukosai. And since the entire premise of the book is to scrutinize and promote HKBH (G-d the Father)'s unrefusable deal in Parshat Bechukosai, the connection was very appropriate.

The more important question is: what led me to take note of the profundity of Parshat Bechukosai to begin with?

For this, I have my oldest son, Yaakov, to thank. Yaakov's role in this project is very special but I think I will close this post at this point and tell the story in a separate post.

Stay tuned for Yaakov's Story.

Monday, August 18, 2008

"G-d the Father" and "Father the god"

It's time to do a little cheshbon haNefesh. Not for myself - I have another few weeks for that -but for my Blog. My Blog is about one month old and what has it accomplished?

Some of the hard statistics are as follows: My site counter reports 1140 visitors, an average of about 40 hits per day although I myself may account for 5-10 of those daily hits. So far I have posted 32 items. Half of which did not draw any comments. The remainder drew on the average 1-3 comments. Almost nobody suggested answers to my Parsha challenges and nobody likes my jokes. My conclusions: I have a very modest amount of viewers who are very modest about posting comments.

But there are some exceptions. One notable exception was an item that I posted on August 6 which was itself about doing cheshbon haNefesh entitled We Are Not Judging Him, We Are Judging You. In this post, I dramatized how a session of the heavenly court would be conducted. Not unexpectedly, this post drew a higher than average amount of comments from my more modest than average viewers. In these comments, I received numerous compliments - condescending, presumptuous, arrogant, sickening, disgusting, azus panim, and (off line) playing with fire. How can I have the chutzpah to personify G-d?

I followed up that post with a second one in which I expressed my true feelings about cheshbon haNefesh but was no less presumptuous and condescending as the first. I truly expected to see the next morning another onslaught of modest compliments.

But I got silence. Save for a single inquisitive (though challenging) comment by one loyal reader who - if he doesn't watch his step - may wind up becoming a genuine fan, I got total silence. It was like you could hear a pin drop in cyberspace.

What happened?
Did my message get through or did my antagonists sign out?

I suppose that I may never know. Nevertheless, for those few who are still with me, I still want to deal with the main complaint:
How dare I be so condescending and presumptuous (aside from this being a common trait of a card carrying chareidi)? How can I pretend to know how G-d passes judgement?

Well, the answer is quite simple. I am a god (note - small "g").

No, of course I am not an Infinite, Divine, Immortal, All-Knowing, Omnipotent, Merciful G-d (HKBH). There is only One of Him.
I am a limited, mundane, clueless, powerless, self-serving god. But still a kind of a god, because....

I am a parent. And a parent is god, or, at least, a surrogate god!

We refer to G-d (HKBH) as Avinu Malkenu - Out Father and Our King. G-d's relationship to us is sometimes as a father (midas harachamim) and sometimes as a king (midas hadin). We chareidim are taught (I can not present sources right now, but so I was taught) that the reason that G-d (HKBH) created a world where there are parents and children is so that by our experiencing the parent-child relationship, we can know how to relate to G-d and how G-d relates to us. Likewise, He created a world with kings and servants so that through experiencing the master- servant relationship, we can further understand our subservience to G-d.

As long as this is so, then those of us who are fathers and those of us who are kings (or despotic Prime Ministers) need to look up at G-d to figure out how to do our jobs. If G-d is the supreme parent, then a parent is a surrogate god. And any parent can gage the feelings and attitudes that G-d has toward us by way of the natural feelings that s/he has toward his/her children. That's why G-d made these the natural feelings.

Now, I can really relate to this because I am a full time parent. In a few places in my book, I refer to HKBH as "G-d the Father". And frequently I see myself as "Father the god (small "g"). I wrote in the Acknowledgements of my book that I need more than two hands to tally up my kids. I wasn't joking. I have quite a brood. And they are very close in age (no multiples). My job is to be the father, but I have to learn the technique from G-d (B"H, I did get some great training from my biological father, AMV"Sh. He taught me all the basics and the key rule that once you are in it, you are in it for "the duration").

A father is a surrogate god with all the bells and whistles: he must "create" his children, he must provide for his children, he must impart knowledge to his children, he must nurture his children, he must heal his children. He also plays the "king" part. Especially when he's got lots of children. He must form his children into a society, he must set rules, he must enforce the rules, he must judge and he must reward and he must punish.

Part of being a parent is being a judge and the Torah calls a judge "god" (Shmos 22:8): עד האלהים יבא דבר שניהם אשר ירשיען אלהים ישלם שנים לרעהו

As the legislator, enforcer, and judge in my house I have a few rules of my own. One of them is אי תפיס לא מהני . No kid can grab anything out of another kid's hand even if the item belongs to the grabber. This is in an effort to avoid the case of "Shnayim ochazim b'library book" so that the case does not get resolved in "yachloku" before the dayan even gets there.

Likewise, when my kids have a spat, there are rules. The first rule is: Tatty doesn't like to settle spats. I do not allow one kid to tell me lashon hara on another for no purpose. If the spat is over, I don't want to hear about it. Complaints are only valid when an issue is unresolved. In that case, we convene a bais din (usually presided by a yachid mumcheh - yours truly) and it follows the Halachos of bais din. One kid cannot present his case until the other one is present. The תובע speaks first. If there are עדים, we call them. No עד מפי עד .

My kids all know one thing - no one is more of a yachson than another. And they know that they are going going to get grilled. When each kid is asked, "Why did you have to do that?" they know that it won't pay to answer, "Because first he ..." Each one has to answer for whatever they contributed to the spat. Each one is also asked why he could not be mevatter (forfeit) on his position. He understands that that is expected of him as well. If I do determine that one party is the primary perpetrator, I administer godly justice. Usually the wrongdoer is ordered to ask mechila from the wronged.

Incidentally, although there are no yachsanim among my horde, there are still incongruences. I expect more restraint and forfeiture from an older child than a younger one and I have differing expectations from the boys to the girls.

And there is one thing that I do not countenance at all. If one kid thinks that another kid did something wrong, he has no business blabbing about it to any of the other kids. This kind of infraction can earn a kid the worst punishment imaginable - a tongue-lashing from Tatty. And anybody who has read my Blogs can tell that I know how to give one.

All of these rules have a startling effect. When the combatants know up front what's in store for bringing a spat to Tatty, they quickly realize that being mevatter has its advantages.

This is how a Human father, father the god (small "g"), deals with his children. He doesn't like to see his children not getting along and he holds all of them responsible for it.

G-d the Father doesn't like to see his children not getting along either. Why should He deal with them any differently?

בנים אתם לה' אלקיכם, לא תתגדדו

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Delicacies From Yechezkel's Shabbos Table - Solving Tomorrow's Issues Today

One of my recent posts spelled out how we can learn so much from words or terms that are surreptitiously added or mysteriously omitted. This applies to the language of the Torah in a theological sense and to the slanted expressiveness of Human beings in a socio-political sense.

In last week's Parsha, Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, ZT"L, one of the sharpest scriptural sleuths of the modern era, presents an example that may be applicable to both of the above mentioned realms. Rav Sorotzkin, ZT"L, passed away 42 years ago, but it seems like this observation was meant for today.

In Parshas V'Eschanan, the Torah recounts the dialogue that the Haggada attributes to the wise son, the Chacham. Hence the Torah (Devarim 6:20) says:

כ כי ישאלך בנך מחר לאמר מה העדת והחקים והמשפטים אשר צוה יהוה אלהינו אתכם

Here, the Torah tells us that the wise son will ask this question מחר - tomorrow. Rashi explains that the term "tomorrow" is not meant to indicate the very next day but rather a more distant "tomorrow" implying a future generation. A generation after the one that personally experienced the Exodus from Egypt.

The Oznayim L'Torah notes that this is not the first time that the Torah employs the term מחר when discussing the father-son dialogue concerning the Korban Pesach. The Torah already used this language in Parshat Bo (Shmos 13:14) in the verse that is attributed to the simple son (the Tam):

יד והיה כי ישאלך בנך מחר לאמר מה זאת ואמרת אליו בחזק יד הוציאנו יהוה ממצרים מבית עבדים

There, as well, Rashi makes the same comment concerning the term "machar". He (Oznayim L'Torah) further notes that there are 2 more verses that the Haggadah attributes to the wicked son (Rasha) and the ignorant son (Eino Yodeah Lish'ol) in Parshas Bo (Shmos 12:26 and 13:8) that do not employ the term מחר .

Why by the wise and simple sons does the Torah say מחר and by the wicked and ignorant sons the Torah does not say מחר ?

He explains that there is an intrinsic distinction between the wise and simple sons on one hand and the wicked and ignorant sons on the other. The wise and simple sons are looking to participate, they want "in". The wicked and ignorant sons are looking to distance themselves, they want "out".

In today's terms we would categorize the sons as follows:

Wise Son = FFB

- He was brought up in a religious environment and wants to observe mitzvos to their fullest extent. He wants to know all the Halachos and kavanos to the mitzvos that he has been doing all his life.

Simple Son = BT

- He is a disciple of the wise son. He was not raised in a religious environment and he has never truly observed the mitzvos. Yet, he feels he is missing out on something and is genuinely interested and asks "what is this all about?"

Wicked Son = OTD

- He was brought up in a religious environment and was trained to do mitzvos. Yet, he never felt that they were meaningful to him. They do not apply to him. So he removes himself from the Klal. "This burden (avoda) is for you, not for me."

Ignorant Son = Chiloni (Secular)

- He is a disciple of the wicked son. He was not brought up in a religious environment. He knows very little about it and is not interested in knowing more. All he knows is that the religious exist but he takes his cue from the wicked son to write them off as meaningless and "irrelevant" in today's world.

The Oznayim L'Torah goes on to say that the generation of Moshe Rabbenu was complete in its observance. Those who were "looking in" could see the whole picture. It is only in future generations when we begin to lose some of our mesora that we must endeavor to preserve the basic tenets for those who get pulled away and do not wish to get lost. As such, the wise and simple sons of the Torah will not yet exist in Moshe's generation. They will only be here מחר - tomorrow.

Conversely, those who want out – those who are looking to get lost – can do so even in the greatest of generations. As such, there is no need to employ the term מחר because such people can exist even in the generation of Moshe Rabbenu.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hidden Treasures - Parpraot L'Chachma

The sefer Niflaos M'Torasecha from Rav Mordechai Nachman Aranovsky, ShLiT"A, is full of hidden treasures that lie beneath the surface. He finds words and phrases that are encrypted in the Torah mostly in consecutve Roshei Tevos and Sofei Tevos and connects them to the places where they are found. There are some very special ones in last week's Parsha that I would like to share.

1. Torah

The word Torah does not appear in consecutive Roshei Tevos in all of Tanach. In consecutive Sofei Tevos it appears 32 times but only 6 times in the Torah (Chumash) itself. One of which is in the following Pasuk from last week's Parsha (Devarim 4:13):

יג ויגד לכם את בריתו אשר צוה אתכם לעשות עשרת הדברים ויכתבם על שני לחות אבנים

Aside from the obvious connection of this rare occurrence in a pasuk that discusses the 10 commandments and the written law, as it says ויכתבם על שני לחות אבנים , the sefer Niflaos M'Torasecha wants to say that this is also a reference to the Oral Torah based on the preceding words ויגד לכם to comply with the gemara in Gittin 60b that says:

א"ר יוחנן לא כרת הקב"ה ברית עם ישראל אלא בשביל דברים שבעל פה שנאמר כי על פי הדברים האלה כרתי אתך ברית ואת ישראל:

and this is enforced in the fact that the same pasuk encrypts the word "Gemara" in the first 5 words at 4 letter intervals:

ויגד לכמ את בריתו אשר

2. Halacha

This word occurs in consecutive Roshei Tevos only 5 times in the Torah (16 times in all of Tanach). Again, one of the rare occurences is in last week's Parsha in the following pasuk (Devarim 6:24):

כד ויצונו יהוה לעשות את כל החקים האלה ליראה את יהוה אלהינו לטוב לנו כל הימים לחיתנו כהיום הזה

I think the connection of this hidden word to the pasuk is self-explanatory.

3. Zohar

The word Zohar (no "vav") does not appear in the Torah at all in consecutive Roshei Tevos (2 places in Tanach) or consecutive Sofei Tevos (3 plaaces in Tanach). But it does appear twice in the Torah in consecutive letters hidden in other words. One is in this pasuk (Shmos 18:20):

כ והזהרתה אתהם את החקים ואת התורת והודעת להם את הדרך ילכו בה ואת המעשה אשר יעשון

and the other place is in last week's Parsha (Devarim 5:21):

כא ותאמרו הן הראנו יהוה אלהינו את כבדו ואת גדלו ואת קלו שמענו מתוך האש היום הזה ראינו כי ידבר אלהים את האדם וחי

Niflaos M'Torasecha quotes from the Zohar (Shmos 94a) that at Mount Sinai, HKBH revealed his glory (כבדו) and all the secrets of the Torah and that these secrets were from within the fire (מתוך האש ) . Also the word שמענו also spells out שמעון and is a reference to the author of the Zohar - rabi Shimon Bar Yochai. He also notes that the word Zohar is again hidden in the following pasuk in a 3 space ELS again in last week's Parsha (Devarim 4:44):

מד וזאת התורה אשר שם משה לפני בני ישראל
4. Shema

Last week's Parsha is well acclaimed for the location of the opening paragraph of the Shema. The 3- letter word "Shema" actually appears in consecutive Roshei Tevos about 17 times in the Torah (though 11 of them are repeats of the phrase במספר שמות מבן עשרים in Parshat BaMidbar) and 53 places in total in Tanach. Yet, it seems ominous that one of those 53 places is the beginning of the concluding pasuk of the Haftarah that is always read in Parshat V'Eschanan (Yeshaya 40:26):

כו שאו מרום עיניכם וראו מי ברא אלה המוציא במספר צבאם לכלם בשם יקרא מרב אונים ואמיץ כח איש לא נעדר

אם תבקשנה ככסף וכמטמונים תחפשנה: אז תבין יראת יהוה ודעת אלהים תמצא

Friday, August 15, 2008

L'Chvod Tu B'Av - An Old Favorite

A young man was wrapping up a sit-in date when the shadchan popped in to see how things are going.

In a very low voice the suitor gave it to him straight:

She's crosseyed and pigeon-toed. She has a terrible lisp. Her hair is stringy. Her nose can hold two dollars worth of nickles. She can't remember my name. She barely made it through high school. She doesn't know how many days of Chanuka there are. I don't think she even took a shower...

The shadchan rejoins:

You don't have to whisper. She's deaf, too.

May all of the singles out there find their true barshets, b'karov.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lo Tosifu V'Lo Tigrau - A 1a7b Perspective

The Objective of the Subjective Adjective

I wrote in a previous post that many people do not know how to think. I can imagine that some readers may have been offended. "What, me? I don't think? Who are you kidding? I think about everything under the sun."

Well, firstly, allow me to apologize and say that I certainly do not mean to offend anybody. Perhaps, I should have been clearer. I should have used some modifiers: "Many people do not know how to think objectively" or "Many people do not know how to think analytically".

There, I throw in a modifier (an adverb, in this case) and it looks much different. Now I have only offended half as many people.

Choice of words is important. It takes a trained eye to notice when something is extra or missing. Of course, for those of us with a learning background, this is rather elementary. The entire structure of drush is the art of noticing what words or letters needn't be here or what should be, but isn't. Thus we are told that every time the Torah throws in the word את it is including something. Meforshim notice that it says "V'Eileh Shmos" and "V'Eilah Hamishpatim" and they say that "Vav indicates an appendage to what was previous". But in last week's Parsha, it says "Eileh HaDvarim". There is no "vav" (see Ohr HaChaim). They notice that at one point in Tazriah it says the leprosy is in "Ohr b'saro" - the skin of his flesh - and at another point it is in "Ohr habasar" - the skin of the flesh (see Bartenura, Negaim 2:1). Of course, one of the most classic examples is where HKBH commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and Chava said, "not to eat from it and not to touch it." It's a small change that made a big difference.

And so, our Parsha - Parshas V'Eschanan tells us לא תספו על הדבר אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם ולא תגרעו ממנו we must not add or subtract from what I have commanded you...

It's clear that the simple meaning of the pasuk implies not adding to or subtracting from the mitzvos. Especially since those are the next words in the pasuk. But some commentaries (see Kli Yakar) offer a more exigetic meaning: Do not add to it so as not to detract from it. Kol HaMosif Goreah! Whoever adds things that do not belong, diminishes it's true context. And, whoever subtracts from what is true, augments its context.

This is what we call manipulation and it is the heart of a different art. The art of propaganda. Propaganda means influencing perceptions by distorting the facts. Putting too much emphasis on what is not significant and overlooking what is. I wrote about it in Chapter 8 of 1a7b where I discussed Korach's tactics to inflame the masses against Moshe. He did not say anything untrue, but by leaving out a few details (as I pointed out in a footnote on page 198), he paints a rather sordid picture. The spies used the same tactics. They did not say anything untrue but we all know- it's not what you say, it's how you say it.

In the anti-Torah, anti-Chareidi propaganda war, modifiers can make all the difference. A strategicly placed modifier, or the absence of one can change the entire picture. One of my jobs is to notice when these things happen and to point them out so we can learn how to read between the lines and see the true picture. So, if you will allow me, I will present a number of examples that I have come across in my work where both a single added modifier or one that was intentionally omitted, can give the whole situation a different slant.

Example 1 - Added subjective adverb

This comes straight out of my book and it's on page 126. Here I am commenting on a story related by Noah Efron in his book, Real Jews:

Soon after the war, I flew El Al to the United States. I was squeezing back from the bathroom through a crowd of ultra-Orthodox Jews noisily praying in front ofthe emergency exit, when a flight attendant caught my eye and, smiling slyly,whispered in Hebrew, "You open the door, I'll push." I smiled back and found myseat.

Although it was not the focus of quoting the passage, I did comment in a footnote about one extra word. The word noisily. Here is what I wrote:
This adjective (Note - it is really an adverb; both I and my editors were sleeping on the job) is very telling. As it lends nothing to the story, it only serves to cast aspersions on the activity and, thus, to compromise Efron's claim to objectivity. I have both observed and participated in these "crowds" and I can attest to the fact that the participants typically make every effort not to raise their voices, that they can be barely heard above the din of the jet engines even at ground zero and that virtually no uninvolved passengers are even aware that the prayers are going on – unless they need the bathroom.
In this example, the adverb did not effect the story much, but, aside from its truthfulness being at issue, it betrays the sympathies of the teller and compromises his claims to objectivity.

Example 2 - Omitted adjective

Here is an example of the Lo Tigrau side of the coin. This comes out of Noah Efron's book as well but, as of yet, has not made it into mine. On page 60 of his book, Real Jews, he writes:
But the Jerusalem that produced Ginsburg is gone. To celebrate his wife's seventieth birthday, Ginsburg took her and several friends on a walking tour of the Jerusalem of her youth. When they went to visit her old school, a haredi vandal doused them with a bucket of water from the rooftop, because one of the women wore a sleeveless shirt. A couple in their seventies. They cannot even walk around what used to be their city. It is ruined.
Hmmm. Something doesn't seem right here. Where is there any indication that they cannot walk around what used to be their city? It seems there was a problem because somebody was sleeveless. If nobody was sleeveless, they can walk as much as they want. So, who says they can't walk in their city? They just can't walk sleeveless in their city. Efron seems to have forgotten to mention this one little detail. The fact that they are in their seventies he does not hesitate to remind us again. (BTW, Efron is a great great great nephew of the Bais HaLevi - the first RYBS- and is no total am haaretz. Why should he think there should be a cutoff date for tznius?) But in the course of that 5 word sentence, he forgets all about the sleeveless. And why is the Jerusalem that produced Ginsburg gone? Who says that she was able to walk around sleeveless 60 years ago? I tend to doubt it. Efron is wrong. Jerusalem is still here. It's Ginsburg that changed.

So let us rewrite his passage and insert this one little missing word:
They cannot even walk around sleeveless in what used to be their city. It is ruined.
Loses a bit its pizzaz, don't you think?

Example 3 - Added subjective adverb

The next two examples will touch on to an issue that I have been writing about extensively in my recent posts, the Mehadrin bus lines and the commotion that has been stirred up over them. Believe it or not, I have not committed myself to declaring a firm position on the issue though my inclinations are quite obvious. All that I have written to date is that those who deliberately obstruct the implementation are at least as guilty of incitement and Chillul HaShem, if not more so, than those who try to enforce it.

That said, I wish to comment on one of the news items that described one of the "celebrated" bus-brawl incidents. This is the Oct. 20, 2007 incident on the 497 Beit Shemesh bus as reported in the Jerusalem Post. The news item reads as follows (I italicized the keywords):

A haredi woman was attacked on a Beit Shemesh bus by five haredi youths Sunday for refusing to move to the back of the bus, police said.

SEPARATE SEATING for men and women on Egged bus lines is becoming more prevalent as haredi families increasingly move to outlying areas.

The woman, who was seated at the front, asked an IAF soldier to sit next to her for protection. The attackers then turned on the soldier.

"They started beating me murderously," the soldier said in an interview.

The midday attack on the Egged 497 bus culminated in a clash between several dozen haredi men and police. During the melee, the suspects fled and the rioters were dispersed by police.

There were no injuries reported in the incident, but the tires of a police vehicle were punctured.

This article genrated over 100 Talkbacks. As to be expected, most of them were comments suggesting all kinds of places the chareidim should "go back to". But two of them caught my attention, and, I must say that I am a bit ashamed that I did not notice this myself. These 2 Talkbacks relate to the quote from the IAF soldier about being beaten "murderously":

99. Hareidi BashingHzev - Israel 10/22/2007 10:52

I do Condemn the actions of these hooligans - but still stand astounded by the outpouring of hatred against chareidi world ! Reading the article it says : "There were no injuries reported in the incident" so how does that fit with the previous line "They started beating me murderously". This just serves as another example how some rare events - with no real injury - about chareidim can bring out all this hatred whereas the daily violence in the secular world can fill this website every day again

Notice the term "rare events". We will talk about that a bit in the last example. Here is another similar one:

81. No injuries were reported, Why Was a Haredi Woman Sitting With Men? Even weirder than the last hoaxEfox - United States 10/21/2007 20:43

Yes the last one was a hoax with everyone else on the bus not noticing and the American Woman not being able to ID the men, but this one is different. This woman is supposedly Haredi but didn't act like one, yet there was clearly chaos when the police arrived, but no one was hurt? Just what kind of an attack leaves no one hurt?

I didn't write these Talkbacks, folks, and I am not claiming that any incident is a hoax. But they are valid points which do indeed indicate that these incidents do not always fit the print.

Example 4 - Omitted adjective

In this final example, I will actually critique a passage from a "friendly" source. Here, I feel that the lack of a qualifying adjective is very misleading. This comes from the Jewish Observer article by Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum that I commented on in an earlier posting. Rabbi Rosenblum was saying that there are deficiencies in the universality of the chareidi impulse to reach out to non-chareidim. He qualifies this remark with this line:
There are segments within the diverse chareidi public to whom it does not occur to weigh the impact of particular behavior-burning garbage cans, stoning cars, assaulting women sitting in the front of the bus- on the perception of Torah and Torah Jews in the world.
Though his point is poignant and well taken, and I agree fully that these types of incidents should be avoided as much as possible, I still took Rabbi Rosenblum to task for helping to foment this negative perception. What bothered me was the unmodified use of the term "assaulted". I do not think it is an accurate term. The prevalent dictionary definition of the term assault is: attack - verbal or physical. Although technically it is not limited to being one-sided and unprovoked, this is the overwhelming connotaion in regular usage.

Since I began my work in June of 2004 I have been monitoring the news on a daily basis, gathering relevant items and storing them in a digital scrapbook. To date I have found three documented incidents of "assaults" on buses - one involving Naomi Ragen in July 2004, one involving Miriam Shear in Nov 2006, and one involving this unnamed passenger in Oct 2007. That is three incidents in more than 3 years and none since. Moreover, as any faithful reader of my Blog knows, I have analyzed these incidents. My findings are that 3 out of 3 cases (that comes to 100%) involve women who were "urged" (I do not know how politely) to relocate and steadfastly refused. At least 2 cases involved "religious" women who knew exactly where they were (I have a feeling that the JPost description of the Oct 2007 woman as Haredi was a mistake, but that says a lot about their credibility) and one where the woman expected trouble. Since these are the only incidents in over 4 years now that resulted in an "assault", I reach the conclusion (based on chazaka) that this needless defiance had something to do with it. When no one was obstinately defiant (note the modifier), there was no "assault".

What is more significant is, technical definitions aside, I am not sure if these cases can even be termed "assault". They are altercations that escalated into physical activity but the details are vague. When the situation came to blows, I cannot even see clear evidence of who hit first. All I have is the "victim's" report, and they all contain some "confessions". I think a confrontation is a more accurate term. In other words, when Wile E. Coyote pounces on the Roadrunner (or tries to) I would call that an assault. But when the Jets and the Sharks are having a rumble, that's a confrontation (or, perhaps, a mutual assault).

Of course, the non-chareidi world insists on viewing it as a flagrant assault and when a chareidi publication adopts this terminology, it does nothing to dispel this distorted (modifier again) perception.

Therefore, I maintain, that in the name of accuracy it would have been in order for the text to read "assaulting defiant women sitting..." or perhaps "confronting women sitting..." His point would stay the same, but he would be telling a truer story.

And with this I conclude my sermon of Lo Tosifu V'Lo Tigrau. These little nuances are inserted into the account to give it more flavor. But candying it up only masks the real flavor. I am just amazed at how many people take these things at face value. In my experience, noticing these distortions actually assists me in seeing the real truth. It doesn't come naturally but it is not too difficult.

All it takes is a little practice.

K' Mayim Panim el Panim

I saw the following exchange on the Cross-Currents forum and I was very amused. I think it is a clear reflection of the attitudes in today's society.

Original Post:

the secular israeli society has the right to demand that the haredi community share in the economic and defense burden–and not just by davening and learning. there can be a solution to the secular education and army issues, if the kanoim would be silenced. if it was muttar at one time in the US to be haredi and secularly professional , a similar model could work in israel. of course , if the haredi community is working, they will have less time to do the kiruv work they do– and that alone might be a reason to shoot down the idea. but secular israel is tired of carrying on its back haredi neighbors who keep batting them down…..

Comment by lacosta — August 11, 2008 @ 7:08 pm

Responding Post:

the haredi israeli society has the right to demand that the secular community share in the learning and davening burden – and not just by working and fighting. there can be a solution to the defective secular education and anti-religion issues, if the radical left would be silenced. if it was muttar at one time in the US to (be) pray in public school , a similar model could work in israel. of course , if the secular community is learning, there will be less need for the haredim to do the kiruv work they do– and that alone might be a reason to promote the idea. but haredi israel is tired of carrying on its back secular neighbors who keep batting them down…..

Comment by Naftali Zvi — August 12, 2008 @ 4:12 am

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

About this Blog - Tips and Rules for Comments

Welcome to the Achas L'Maala and Sheva L'Matta Blog

About this Blog:

This Blog is a supplement to my book One Above and Seven Below: A Consumer's guide to Orthodox Judaism from the Perspective of the Chareidim (1a7b). This Blog follows the philosophies of 1a7b. If you have not read 1a7b, you may have a hard time relating to 1a7b perspectives. To understand more about the book and what are its goals, please see the FAQs section of the book.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Because of Kamtza and Bat Kamtza was the House Destroyed

With regard to my earlier post about We Are Not Judging Him, We Are Judging You there was somebody who I respect deeply who called me to task for overstepping the boundaries. This post was originally the email response that I sent. Most of the text is unchanged, but I have ammended it a bit for the purpose of this forum:

Thank you for your concern and your advice. I understand your message and I will tell you that I do not do things like this on sheer ("Shear") impulse. I admit that I do not really have a mentor in my work. There is a big problem with this kind of confrontational work (and I am sure you encounter it yourself) that the people we look up to are conservative in nature and when we ask them for "approval" it is more than "is this right or wrong" but also "can I blame you for it". You are also involving them in it and throwing on them achrayos which they do not seek or need (or deserve to be burdened with). I would not really expect a mashpia that I respect to approve of me maintaining a blog to begin with (I have mixed feelings, myself - see this post). Much more so, a post on a confrontational issue. I have determined to, for the most part, ride my conscience - and on this, my conscience is clear. No, I do not feel that I am giving G-D advice - nor did the dramatization go so far as to "pass judgement". It stopped short of that.

I have a lot to say with regard to this post and my entire project. And I don't think that I can do justice in an email. I do not know how much of my book you read. Trust me, it is not (solely) for my personal satisfaction that I keep urging you to read it.

To understand where I and my work is coming from, note that the entire premise of my book is this: The true definition of a sincere chareidi is one (any Jew whatsoever) who subscribes to and lives up to "Im bechukosai telechu". When extended, it is paramont to Rabbi Grylak's definition of "a Jew who pledges full allegiance, with no reservations, to the Halacha as determined by the Shulchan Aruch and a consensus of its commentators". In short, a chareidi is one whose life is focused on "doing my job" or "doing what G-d wants".

The emotions that motivated me to write my book were out of growing up in an atmosphere, and then coming to Israel where it is even more pronounced, where so many "frum" "religious" "Mitzva observant" "Shomer Shabbos" Jews actually berate chareidim IN PRINT for the crime of ---- DOING THEIR JOB!! And my Torah education led me to the conclusion that most of these crusaders were basically ignorant of what the Shulchan Aruch and Shas say is our job to do. They live and breathe Western standards.

We all acknowledge that there are those among us who don't know properly how to do their job, and some miscreants who exploit the Shulchan Aruch and pervert its meaning for selfish motives. But, this generally occurs on an individual basis, not a communal one. And those who do the criticizing are generally those who do not even attempt to do their job with full allegiance to Shulchan Aruch.

My task is different than yours. Yours is to improve the image of the Torah world in the eyes of those who are not connected to it. I think you do a terrific job. Mine is a lot harder. It is to improve the image of the Torah world in the eyes of those who claim to uphold it, but have not really invested the requisite amount of input to truly understand it. Most of these people simply do not think. I was pleasantly surprised when Rabbi Leff agreed to write a haskama for my book. And do you know what he told me why he liked it? He said, "It forces people to think."

So, many frum people are afraid to think because they kind of know in advance that they may - Heaven forfend - reach the same conclusions as those who spend their time thinking.

Now, let's discuss this incident:

95% of the population are mindless robots who don't take schar v'onesh seriously and don't really look at what happened. And if they don't look, they don't see. But schar v'onesh means that we will all face a din v'cheshbon. Meforshim say "din" is what you did - was it the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do. "Cheshbon" is what you could have done instead and also an accounting of what came out of your actions. We are judged for what we have done and what we could do. The other guy is not our concern.

Here, I see a woman who, by her own admission, willingly parked herself down in a part of a bus which is normally occupied by the men. This, when the women on the bus were already congregated in one general area in the back. She did this with full knowledge that this is typically a men's section and that she should expect to be asked to move. It has resulted in altercations in the past - though, up till now, not with such "violent" repercussions. She knows full well that she is trampling the sensitivities of those who try to uphold Even HaEzer 21:1 just by sitting down there. And her explanation for doing it is: "I don't feel like sitting in the back". Also that it is a public bus, which means that she should fight to maintain the standards of the secular public even though she is (a visitor, no less) in an environment that does it's utmost to uphold Shulchan Aruch.

My question: Did she do the right thing or the wrong thing?

I hate to say it, but I cannot see any justification for this action from a religious person of any stream whatsoever.

Will she get a medal from G-D?

Not according to the Torah that I follow.

Now, comes along a man and instructs her to leave the men's section for the men and join the other women.

My question: Did he do the right thing or the wrong thing (hint: nobody did any spitting yet)?

Again, I hate to say it, but I see him in perfect compliance with Even HaEzer 21:1 and truly and sincerely expect him to get a hearty Yashar koach from the Boss. He was doing his job!

At this point I can clearly see one thing. She sat down in that area looking for trouble. She as much as said so in her Rosenblum interview where she said that it was during the "brouhaha of the gay parade" episode. I am very unsympathetic to her rationalization. I am also very skeptical about how she always managed to be in the middle of every "battleground" (she must have Press credentials). But I am really taken by this quote, "The most I expected were some heated verbal exchanges. I honestly did not believe that frum men would beat up on a woman on a public NON-Mehadrin bus over the seating arrangement." She knows what kind of bus this is and she "knows" that chareidim can get a bit physical when ticked off. Why start up with them? And what kind of a mitzva is it to get into "heated verbal exchanges" at 4:30 in the morning (or any time)?

This is a hero??

I have no doubt that she was looking for trouble. It wasn't that she was "not [going to] capitulate to anyone – even over a seat". She chose that seat. And she knew better. But I have a very hard time assuming that any man gets on a bus at 4:30 in the morning on the way to the Kotel HaMaaravi saying to himself "Oh, I sure hope I can find some unsuspecting innocent lady to beat up this morning. that will really make my netz davening have so much more meaning..."

Next, she refuses to comply. Is this the right thing to do?

If anybody ("anybody" means a religious person who has ever set eyes on Even HaEzer 21:1) thinks it is, please explain to me why.

What happens next? According to her statement, he spat at her. Was he doing his job?

Remember, this guy is not carrying bleach or acid. He is going to the Kosel for netz. He is NOT interested at spitting at women. Most likely he is not anglo-saxon and, if my hunch is right (and knowing the population of Har Nof who go to Netz at the Kosel by bus) odds are better than even that he is a Sefardi.

You called it "an assault'. But I am not so sure. All I will concede is that it is a situation that should never have reached this point that got out of control. Here is how I read it. The guy didn't know what to do. Whoever would think that a frum woman wearing a snood could even conceive of refusing to sit in the women's section? In every function that people call themselves "Torahdig" even where they don't call themselves chareidi - even in Efrat and Beit El, every kiddush, every bris, every vordt, every kinus (that is not already uni-gender) has a men's section and a woman's section. Would you ever think of a frum woman indiscriminately parking herself in the middle of the men's section at a kiddush? It's not a shul!

Ironically, if she was dressed like a prutza, he very likely would have left her alone - what should he expect her to understand? But this? He expects a little yiras shamayim from a "modestly dressed" woman.

I am sure his blood boiled. Mine would too.

Now, why did he spit at her?

It may be because he felt personally affronted at her insolence. He did it for the sake of his own self esteem.

If so, it was a mistake.

But, believe it or not, we are not talking about a 15 year old hooligan. It may have been because he was truly hurt at this flagrant breach of tznius and chillul hashem (when I say chillul hashem, I mean before he spit at her) and this was his reaction for the breach of Kavod shamayim. In this case, the spitting was more reflex than aggression. And, if this is the case, then I honestly do not see why this is different than Pinchas. If Pinchas gets a Yashar koach for stabbing somebody who is promoting pritzus in public, I think she may have got off easy by being spit at.

He was DOING HIS JOB - He deserves a medal!

Most of the people who have written about this episode do not think such a person can exist. This is because they certainly cannot be one themselves. I, however, have a little more faith in the sensitivity of Torah Jews.

Everybody, you included, is rushing to judge this unknown guy by our liberal Western standards. Are we entitled to? But this lady who undeniably instigated it all, is the victim. Like all those poor Palestinians who have to wait at the roadblocks.

Then what happened? She called him a colorful epithet (did she not already expect that as part of her expectation of heated verbal exchanges?) and spat back at him. from which point, all bets (and snoods) were off. I don't know who hit first and, at this stage, it doesn't really matter. Here it is no longer a question of whether these actions were justified or not. They can only be justified if the actions that led to it were l'shem shamayim.

What inspired me to write this post at this time was when I saw this issue reignited in the JO which was understandably exploited in the Emes VeEmunah blog. But, perhaps it was min haShamayim that it came out 2 days before Tisha B'Av.

In the post I alluded to the Kamtza / Bar Kamtza incident. What happened there? Bar Kamtza is shamed in public. So what does he do? He denounces the Jews to the Romans and brings about the churban habayis. Who was right and who was wrong? Alright -the one who shamed him was certainly wrong and probably does not occupy such a grand place in Olam HaEmmes.

But what about Bar Kamtza? Does anybody think that just because he was on the receiving end of the shame that he is the biggest tzaddik for denouncing the Jews and bringing about the churban? Was he ushered straight to the Kisei HaKavod?

Is Bar Kamtza anybody's hero?

I have yet to see the commentator to think so.

I think this incident is a bit like Kamtza / Bar Kamtza. Bat Kamtza certainly reacted the same way to being shamed. She publicly denounced all the chareidim to the world!

But yet I see a small difference between Bar Kamtza and Bat Kamtza. Bar Kamtza was invited to sit where he did. Bat Kamtza wasn't.

I wrote this post and the one about geirus and my whole book to get people to think. Judasim is no game. We are not only answerable to what we do, but we are answerable to what comes out of it, even if it was "the other guy" who made it worse.

Quit blaming the other guy. If nobody is entitled to judge you, you are certainly not entitled to judge him. Besides, you may just be blaming him for doing his job.


Open Responses to some of the more Critical Commenters:

To Shaul Behr:

Thank you for your reference to Choshen Mishpat -whatever it was. It throws me a bit because this is an issue of Even HaEzer.
In terms of Halacha vs. chumra, it is more than clear from Even HaEzer 21:1 that men and women must distance themselves from each other wherever it is possible and practical. This sure looks to me like Halacha. Rav Moshe Feinstein is known to have teshuvos regarding public transportation in goyish places where such separation is neither possible nor practical. In that environment, there are certainly grounds to be lenient. There is no reason to apply this in a situation where the prescribed separation is in actual practice such as the Netz #2 bus. And the idea of taking a situation where it was being applied in practice and deliberately disrupting it is unconscionable and unjustifiable.

To anonymous:

Yechezkel is the Seer who beholds the Chariot of Glory.
In terms of myself, I am a self-appointed preacher and a preacher is, by definition, condescending.
I'm doing a great job, aren't I?

To M.D. from Pravda Neeman:

Is that the best you can do?

To Garnel Ironheart:

Pardon my feeblemindedness, but I do not see the connection between my post and child abuse. Can you please explain it to me in easy words so I can understand?

If you have trouble understanding how the Heavenly tribunal works, it's really very easy. They go over your life and they take you to account for your actions. I have to explain this idea to my kids all the time (when they come before the parental tribunal).

I get this from Pirkei Avos 3:1 and 4:22 plus certain gemaras in Rosh HaShannah, Yoma, and Sanhedrin and countless mussar sefarim.

To all,

As Yoda would say: Condescending I am. Apologetic I am not.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Pilpul Chaverim Bulletin - Rashi is the Gaon of the Ages

In my Parsha Challenge for Parshas Massei, I pointed out that according to Rashi who advocates a one-date-fits-all (RH) method for calculating ages for the national census, it is impossible yto say that this applies to when the Torah reports the ages of Moshe and Aharon in Shmos and BaMidbar. We prefer not to say that the Torah is needlessly inconsistent. So, either we find an explanation for the inconsistency, or we have an issue with Rashi. This would be in addition to Ramban's issue with Rashi that the Gemara in Arachin 18b explicitly says that the age definition for Arachin is the precise date.

As I left off, I had no explanation for Rashi or the inconsistency. Fortunately, I am currently learning Arachin, and with a brilliant chavrusa to boot (Rabbi Yehoshua B.). He wanted to suggest that perhaps the Torah bases age on the precise date when dealing with an individual. But, when dealing with a tzibbur, such as the national census, only there does the Torah work with a single collective "birth date". For Arachin, wherein one points to an individual and vows his value to hekdesh, we calculate him as an individual.

This would alleviate Ramban's challenge to Rashi and give an explanation for the Torah using different systems. It does not fully answer our problem with Moshe's age at Shmos 7:7 assuming that the audience was before 7 Adar 2448. For this we must still accept that the Torah is willing to Fall back on the Miktzaso K'Kulo method. Perhaps, we can say that since no Halacha is involved in Shmos 7:7, the Torah is more flexible with age calculations.

I hope Rashi is smiling.