Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fumbling the Ball in the Red Zone - A Chanuka Parable

I have never been much of an athlete. I was always chosen in last and, even then, only if I was the one who brought the ball. It took me longer than most of my friends to develop a taste for sports and to understand what's going on. I will be forever grateful to one of my former classmates who was one of the first to explain to me the finer points of American football. This classmate was also the "first string" quarterback for the schoolyard touch football we played at recess.

Her name is Rebecca. (She now lives in Efrat with her husband and six kids. I don't think she plays football any more but she does run marathons.)

From these humble beginnings, my taste for American football matured until I came to respect the sport. Subsequently, I became a diehard Lakewoodist and I am currently a neo-chareidi mussarist pushing ameilus b'Torah. What's more, I have been removed from the American scene for over 12 years. And besides, the team I used to root for (the Natwich Nutcrackers) haven't won a Super Bowl in over twenty years. And despite all that, I still respect the sport. Or maybe, it's because of all that.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think that any religious Jew should ever waste 3 hours of his life watching a football game. It's not just bittul zman. In recent years, the high quality field level cameras give us close up views of what goes on not only on the field during plays but also revealing glimpses of what goes on on the sidelines between plays. Still and all, there are a few valuable things we can learn from the philosophies of the sport.

For example, I learned to appreciate the precision teamwork that is necessary to execute a successful play. The players of each team are specialists in their roles. Be it the quarterback, the running backs, linemen, receivers, tight ends, linebackers, or safeties. The entire roster is about 45 people but only 11 can participate in any play. For every play, the coaches determine what needs to be done and picks out which players are the specialists for the particular mission of the play. Each player has a distinct assignment and the success of the play depends on how he carries it out. No matter how insignificant a position may seem to be, nothing can be neglected. No matter how talented are the quarterback, the running back or the receiver, a single well placed block or a single missed block can spell the difference between winning or losing. Every player's moves count!

I always thought that a well executed play looks like a perfectly choreographed ballet (I taught Rebecca about ballet!- just kidding!)

Another pearl of wisdom is a remark I heard an analyst say in the name of Jerry Glanville (anybody remember him?) who coached the Houston Oilers during one of their few winning seasons when they barely made the playoffs:

Do you know what NFL stands for? Not For Long!!

I have never forgotten this witticism because it applies to so much more than professional sports.

But I really want to discuss the main object of the game. The object of the game is to conquer the playing field by advancing the team to the goal line. If the team conquers the entire field, they are awarded a touchdown and earn 6 points. And how does a team advance?

By moving the ball.

In other words, the team is where the ball is. And this brings me to my main point. In order to score any points, your team has got to have the ball. Only the team with the ball can score points! And only the team that can score the most points can win the game.

So in American football - as in many other sports - the most important rule for any team is:

Hang on to the ball! Whatever you do, don't lose possession of the ball!

We all know that there is one thing in football that will guaranteee any team, no matter how talented it's players, many tallies in the losing column: turnovers.

A turnover is when the team that controls the ball mishandles it so that they wind up losing the ball and it winds up in the hands of the opposing team. Remember, only the team that is controlling the ball scores points.

Because of this, you will notice something that happens in football. If my team is controlling the ball, I have ten players who will have no trouble advancing to the enemy's goal line un-opposed. That's right, nobody from the other team will stop them. Or will even try to stop them. Unfortunately, the ten players in question will be the ten players who do not happen to be the one holding the ball. For the one fellow who currently has the ball, life is different. The entire opposing team will do everything in their power to stop him. First order of business is to make sure that this one fellow doesn't get the opportuinity to advance the ball.

And, if they can, they are going to try to do something else. They are going to try to cause him to "cough up" the football. To lose control.

To fumble!!

When the player is a klutz and coughs up the ball on his own, we call this a fumble. But when the other team helps expedite the process, we call this stripping the ball or a forced fumble.

Now, even though a vigilant defensive player will always look for an opportunity to force a fumble, the defensive players become all the more vigilant when the controlling team gets near their goal line. When a team is within 20 yards of the opponent's goal line we say they are in the red zone. They are very close to scoring. When this happens, the defending team gets a bit tougher. And they look harder for a chance to force a fumble. Thus the team trying to score has to be ever more watchful about hanging on to the football. Because they must score to win. And the most devastating thing that can happen is if they fumble the ball in the red zone.

Now, what's the significance of all this?

The significance is that this is the story of the Jewish people. Or better yet, this is the history of the Jewish people.

You see, we are playing one big game. A game of football. We must conquer a field. But it is not a field of distance. It is not a field of 100 yards. It is a field of time. It is a field of 6000 years. We must advance through this field of time and reach the goal line. If we don't, we will not win the game.

And, in order to do it. We must maintain control of the ball! The Torah is the ball. And the only way to win is if we are still holding on to it when we reach the goal line. the only way to win the game is:

Hang on to the ball! Whatever you do, don't lose possession of the ball!

The Greeks were great athletes. They knew the rules of football. They knew that as long as we don't cough up the football we will eventually reach the goal line and score. So they tried their hardest to make us "fumble the football". To make us lose control of the "ball".

להשכיחם תורתיך ולהעבירם מחקי רצוניך.

They tried to outlaw Rosh Chodesh - our calendar, Shabbos - our testimony that HKBH created the world, bris milah - our visible sign of identity, family purity - the Waters of Eden and to write on the horn of the ox that "we have no portion in the G-d of Israel". And the line had us as 30 point underdogs.

But we won that game because we were the receiving team and we never gave up possession of the football. Even the Lions can beat the Vikings if they can only keep the ball out of the hands of Brett Favre (no small feat).

But that was just one game. It wasn't the Super Bowl and the season isn't over. The "Greeks" came again and again just under a new coach and wearing a different color jersey each time. No they are not outplaying us but they are all trying for the same tactic - forcing us to fumble the football.

Until recently it wasn't all that difficult to hang on to the football. Because we weren't in the red zone.

But we are now.

And so the "Greeks" are trying harder and harder to make us cough up the ball. And it's getting harder and harder to hang on to it.


Because just like in American football, we must execute each "play" with precision teamwork. Each person must carry out his assignment flawlessly. Whether it is a spotlight role like passing or carrying the ball, or whether it is a supportive role like throwing blocks. Every person's assignment is essential to successfully completing a play.

But it looks like many players are neglecting their assignments. They think that their job is to get to the goal line. And they say that it is so easy. Nobody seems to be stopping them.

They have forgotten that they are not the player that is carrying the ball.

From the whole "team" of Klal Yisroel barely one out of 11 is still carrying the ball (actually, less). These are the One-Aboveniks, the Im-Bechukosai-Telechuniks who are Ameilim b'Torah. Only they have the ball. And 11 out of 11 of the "opponents" are ganging up on them trying to stop them and trying to strip the ball. And they are trying very hard.

Because we are in the red zone.

And those who are supposed to be blocking for them are not carrying out their assignments.

So when we see people in the chareidi world stumbling and fumbling and losing control of the football it is because, since they are the only ones carrying the ball, all of the forces of the opposing team focus on them as the gemara says in Sukka 52a:

ת"ר ואת הצפוני ארחיק מעליכם זה יצה"ר שצפון ועומד בלבו של אדם והדחתיו אל ארץ ציה ושממה למקום שאין בני אדם מצויין להתגרות בהן את פניו אל הים הקדמוני שנתן עיניו במקדש ראשון והחריבו והרג תלמידי חכמים שבו וסופו אל הים האחרון שנתן עיניו במקדש שני והחריבו והרג תלמידי חכמים שבו ועלה באשו ותעל צחנתו שמניח אומות העולם ומתגרה בשונאיהם של ישראל כי הגדיל לעשות אמר אביי ובתלמידי חכמים יותר מכולם

For those who don't read fine print, this passage is saying that the Yetzer Harah forsakes all of the nations of the world and only starts up with the Jews. Then comes the Amora Abayeh and he adds: And to the Talmidei Chachamim - those who study Torah - he (the Yetzer Harah) incites more than to any other Jews!

And those Seven-Belowniks who think they are reaching the goal line unimpeded do not realize that the opposing forces do not bother them. They are not carrying the ball. They will not score any points. And instead of executing a successful play, they are botching their assignments.

It is those who carry the ball who must reach the goal line in order to win the game and everybody else on the team has to block the opponents and enable the ball carrier to advance.

If they do, they can wear the same Super Bowl ring as the ones who advance the football. If they don't, they will be as famous as Jerry Glanville.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's All Greek To Me - Purim Repost L'Chvod Chanuka

The following post is a repost from last March 9th. I originally wrote it in response to the referenced article which was current at that time. Though I titled it and laced it with a Purim motif, it is as much if not more relevant to Chanuka. So I am reposting it now in honor of Chanuka. I changed nothing from the original post except for the closing line in Hebrew.

A freilichin Chanuka to all:

Original Title: Yefes in the Tents of "Shame"

יונים נקבצו עלי אזי בימי חשמנים, ופרצו חומות מגדלי וטמאו כל השמנים

There is an interesting discussion going on over at Emes Ve-Emunah. The discussion revolves around an entity that I had never heard about until I tuned into blogs: the Orthoprax.

If you are not sure what that is, you are not alone. Last I checked there were 76 comments posted to the initial piece many of which are debating the proper usage of the term. So after reading the post and perusing the comments, I for one, am still plenty confused. But the confusion does not start here.

We Jews are so-o-o creative! We always like making up new discriptive terms (see my post about chareidim and wings). Reform, Conservative, Traditional. Those are pretty easy to understand because they are in plain English. But here's a really hard one one: Orthodox.
Where did this term come from?

The Greeks, for Heaven's sake. It came from the GREEKS! (As does the term Hypocrite).

So what does it mean? Well, it's Greek to me.

Our sages were not very fond of the Greeks. The first step of Hellenization was when we translated the Torah into Greek. This is one reason why we fast on the 10th of Teves. The next step is when we refer to our hashkafas in Greek terms. First there is Orthodox. Then there is Heterodox and Conservadox. (These last 2 are just one plain pair-a-dox) and now there is Orthoprax.

But getting back to the term Orthodox, I think I have finally figured out what it means. It means: keeping the Torah like a Greek. How so? Consider the following about an "Orthodox" Jewish female NCAA basketball player at the University of Toledo. This comes from a recent Jerusalem Post article entitled Holy Toledo:

Shafir is not only a leader on the team, but she has become a role model in the Jewish community as the first female Orthodox Jewish athlete in the NCAA Division I competition, the top level of American collegiate athletics.

"One thing that we figured was to get in touch with a rabbi in town to find out what was most important. We then spoke to her uncle and father, who gave us a list of what Shafir would need. This included access to kosher food, a T-shirt under her jersey, not riding in a motorized vehicle on Shabbat and not practicing on Saturdays," says Cullop. "The list was not long, and we knew she would observe the holidays. Luckily the calendar works out in our favor. They were more concerned with school and appreciative of everyone finding solutions."

The Rockets have postponed all of their Saturday afternoon practices to Saturday evenings after sunset. However, Rabbi Chaim Bogonski and Shafir worked out a deal four years ago allowing her to play games on Shabbat. When Shafir was on the Israeli National Junior Team, she was the only Orthodox player. Bogonski ruled that since practice was work and games were fun, it was acceptable to take part in games that fell on Shabbat. This was important, since a majority of the games for Toledo are on Saturday afternoons.

So this is Orthodox? An Israeli girl coming to Chu"l to play basketball in public on Shabbos!? Oh yes, she is acting under complete Daas Torah a la Rabbi Chaim Bogonski. And, certainly, she wears a tee-shirt under her tank top and from the waste down she wears gym shorts just like the Kohen in the Bais HaMikdash! And she is a role model because she is an "Orthodox" Jewish athlete?

This may be Orthodox but it is Greek Orthodox. Antiochus would be proud. But I have my doubts about Mattisyahu (NOT the rapper!!!).

This is kneeling and bowing!

In a book entitled Where Heaven Touches Earth by Rabbi Dovid Rosoff, in the Glossary on page 611 he has the following entry: Chareidi: Orthodox.

I don't think so.

If this is Orthodox, then please do not call me Orthodox. In any case, I don't speak Greek.

What's a better term? Well, Yeshaya didn't speak Greek either. Not to us, at least. And he has a term for the Jews who do the right thing. You know what he calls them?


He actually coined the term. He certainly must have been referring to somebody. He had a term for Orthoprax, too. But not in Greek. You know what he calls them? He calls them מִצְוַת אֲנָשִׁים מְלֻמָּדָה (Yeshaya 29:13) - those who perform mitzvos by rote.

So the Orthoprax are actually nothing new. They've been around for quite some time. Just like the chareidim.

G-d fearing Jews don't need to act like Greeks. And we do not need Greek terms to describe ourselves. We do not need to bring Yefes into the tents of "Shame". And we are forbidden to kneel and bow.

For us, there are many old Biblical or Talmudic terms in Hebrew. Terms like tzaddikim, yesharim, anavim, yereyim, chassidim, kedoshim, perushim, chaveirim, chareidim or...just plain Yehudim. Like Mordechai HaYehudi (or Yehuda HaMaccabee). I'll take any one of them.

The bearers of any of these terms have one thing in common. They will not kneel and they will not bow. They will not send their daughters from Eretz Yisrael to Eretz HaAmim to play basketball on Shabbos in front of men wearing shorts and T-shirts.

כי ארכה לנו השעה ואין קץ לימי הרעה. דחה אדמון בצל צלמון הקם לנו רועים שבעה

100,000 Battered Women

In the course of reading up on the Yaacov Neeman fiasco for my previous post, I looked primarily at the Jerusalem Post version of events. Interestingly, JPost has two almost identical articles on the subject. The first is dated Dec 8 and is found HERE. But you won't find this version on their site anymore. It's been shelved and replaced by the updated version which is available on the site and right HERE.

The first version is the more interesting one because it is graced by no less than 180 Talkbacks. A great deal of them express a lot of support for an Halachic based society and for Sar Neeman. The more titillating portion reflects the absolute paranoia of the non-Halachic world. A sight for sore eyes, R"L. Jews who are terrified of Judaism!

One interesting exchange really got my goat. It begins at Talkback #133 by one Miriam:

133. Over 100 thousand orthodox women are battered each year in Israel.

Its a big problem, 40 thousand of those are hospitilized. So do we want more halachic laws in Israel?

Miriam - New York (12/08/2009 19:40)

Do you believe that? 100,000 battered Orthodox women!! 40,000 hospitalized!!

Well neither did some other readers, notably numbers 149, 160, and 181. After being challenged by #149, Miriam came back at #155 sticking to her guns:

155. #149 Denial is not a river in Egypt, google it yourself.

Its a huge problem in the Frum community, your just not aware of it. I have no axe to grind, I worked to open refuge center in Israel for Frum battered women.

Miriam - (12/08/2009 23:54)

And the duel is on....

עד שיבא הכתוב השלישי ויכריע ביניהם

Here comes talkbacker 179 and sets the record straight:

179. Clarification of Miriam #133

For those who may have misunderstood Miriam (#133) and her astronomical numbers, she obviously means the following:
In Israel, over 100,000 Orthodox women a year have marital relations with their husbands and 40,000 of them are hospitalized in the maternity wards.
Life can get rough for an Orthodox woman!

So the awful truth is out. 100,000 Orthodox women per year are "taken advantage of" by their spouses and 40,000 of which wind up bed-ridden at places like Maayanei Hayeshua. And when I see these brutal numbers, my veins surge with rage at the cruelty of this phenomenon and I scream out:

Is that all???

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bechol Beisi Neeman Hu

There seems to be much fanfare surrounding a sentiment expressed by Justice Minister Yaacov Neeman at a rabbinical conference in Jerusalem as reported in numerous media (click HERE for current JPost item).

As to be expected, all of the leftists in Israel who get spooked by rabbinical conferences rushed to the podium demanding his head. Certainly, no leftist wanted to be left out as the scramble for votes within the ever shrinking leftist camp is at stake. And it seems that my "Centrist" buddy, Rabbi Harry Maryles is right there with them (kind of makes me think of "When Rabbi Harry Met Rabbi Sally"). And the shark feeding frenzy is on.

Now, I don't actually know what Sar Neeman really said because he spoke in Hebrew and the news media that I follow speak English. But it seems to me a foregone conclusion that he is being taken way out of context. You see, the setting was a conference for Rabbis and rabbinical judges (dayanim) on Jewish monetary laws. And whatever he really said was in relation to Jewish monetary laws and it was being said to Rabbanim and dayanim. It was not a public policy statement even if he is a public official. It was not said to the public.

But, of course, as long as it is not taken as a public policy statement, it is not newsworthy and the anti-religionists (and Centrists) would be lacking crucial misinformation with which to smear the religious in their papers and blogs. And so, they treat it as if it was a public policy statement and, to boot, color it with the most extremist, far-right, fundamentalist hue on the palette. Thus, all the Talkbackers on the JPost edition are petrified that we are going to start stoning adulterous women.

At least one talkbacker had the sense to calm everybody down and ensure the readership that there will be absolutely no stoning for adultery - the penalty for adultery is strangling, not stoning.

Of course, I think it's a good idea to abstain from committing adultery no matter what kind of government we have but I guess old habits are hard to break.

Now, Rabbi Maryles is a bit more learned so he doesn't seem to be concerned about stoning for adultery, but he is concerned about being stoned for Chillul Shabbos. And rightly so, for stoning is the proper punishment for this infraction. He is also obviously concerned about things like mehadrin buses, chas v'shalom, or geirim being required to keep "basic Halacha", chas v'shalom, and he is convinced that in a halachic society, the religious Zionists and the chareidim will not be able to find common ground.

What a pessimist!

I don't want to be too harsh. What Rabbi Maryles seems to be saying is that he himself would like a halachic society - on his terms, of course - but that it is not something that we can implement by force.

This much I can readily accept especially insomuch as (1) it's no chiddush. This is what we are praying for moshiach for and (2) this is not what Sar Neeman meant in any case.

The part that got me about his post was this:

So as much as I believe that the nation of Israel should be guided by Halacha, I also believe that Mr. Neeman’s statement is a foolish pipe dream that will - not only not happen - but will have the effect of alienating the vast majority of its citizens to the point that it could actually threaten the very existence of the state - via a mass exodus of its secular citizens.

First of all, if it will not happen, how can it have any effect? But, moreover, he projects that if it would happen "it could actually threaten the very existence of the state - via a mass exodus of its secular citizens."

Do you hear this? Don't chas v'shalom implement a halachic society because even though we will have observant Jews living in Eretz Yisrael, we might not, chas v'shalom, have a "State"!

Obviously, to Rabbi Maryles, the "State" is more important than Halacha and Judaism.

I don't understand. If the State should remain secular, what do we need a state for? Isn't the State supposed to be "reishit tzmichat geulatenu"? Wasn't the whole Mizrachi rationale for the creation of the state that it will become a halachic state - by their standards at the very least - and we rebuild the Bet HaMikdash, etc., etc., etc.?

Or is "Mizrachi" no different than Herzelian Zionism of "lets be like all the nations"? Let us neglect and abandon our Judaism for the sake of a "State"!

By the way, I have news for him - there has been a mass exodus of its secular citizens for over 60 years. It hasn't done them any good and it hasn't done us any harm. From what's going on now I am convinced that the only thing that will save the state is a mass exodus of its secular citizens, starting with Tzippi and Ehud.

Now let's look at what the Torah says.

My Torah says: Im b'chukosai telchu - If you observe Halacha (I call this One Above), THEN v'yishavtem lavetach b'artzechem - you will dwell peacefully in your land.

If we all keep the mitzvos, we get to stay in peace. State or no State.

BUT - Im b'chukosai timasu - if you will loathe my Halacha (I call this Seven Below), THEN v'eschem ezareh b'amim v'harikosi achareichem cherev - I will scatter you among the nations and empty out behing you the sword.

If we don't keep the mitzvos, we'll have to go at the point of the sword. State or no State. And, if I am reading the winds (and the newspapers) right, Ahmadinijhad, Mashaal and the UN (compliments of Richard Goldstone) are fixing to do just that.

Harry is worried that if there is an Halachic society, the Seven Below who refuse to comply with Halacha and bring upon us keri and galut will make a mass exodus - AND THAT WILL THREATEN THE STATE!!!

The fact that the One Above who keep the mitzvos will be able to stick around and live in peace doesn't seem to impress him.

In my book, getting the Jews to keep the mitzvos, by hook or by crook, is sound advice. This is what G-d says.

But that's not what Rabbi Harry says. He tells us not to even seek to implement an Halachic society so the State will remain intact and all of us can (chas v'shalom) go to galus chased by swords!!

Harry is waiting to welcome us with open arms in West Rogers Park.

My Torah says that an Halachic state is a good idea. And so does Yaacov Neeman's.

But evidently not Rabbi Harry Maryles's.

G-d help us all!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Delights from the Shabbos Table: Why I Must Honor Judge Goldstone

Most of us know the famous dictum from Pirkei Avos (6:3):

הַלּוֹמֵד מֵחֲבֵרוֹ פֶּרֶק אֶחָד, אוֹ הֲלָכָה אַחַת, אוֹ פָּסוּק אֶחָד, אוֹ
דִּבּוּר אֶחָד, אֲפִלּוּ אוֹת אַחַת צָרִיךְ לִנְהוֹג בּוֹ כָּבוֹד

If one has learned a single item of Torah from a fellow Jew he must confer upon him honor.
As such, I hereby pay tribute to the "Honorable" "Judge" Richard Goldstone for shedding new light on a puzzling Rashi commentary that has plagued the scholars for centuries. In this past week's Parsha the Torah tells us:

וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ

And Yaakov was very frightened and it was distressing to him...

Rashi explains based on the Midrash:

And Yaakov was very frightened - that he be killed
And it was distressing to him - that he may kill others
The question is obvious: We well understand that Yaakov will be concerned about being killed. But why should he be so distressed about killing those who are his enemies?

Rivers of ink have been dedicated to explaining this Rashi and many sharp explanations have been posited. But now, thanks to this learned Jew, the "Honorable" Grudge (er- I mean Judge) Goldstone we have a simple and pertinent insight into the words of Rashi:

Yaakov knew that should he kill anybody else, he would be charged with war crimes and sent to Azazel!

As they say: Win or lose - you lose!

Rashi was clearly ahead of his time. And kudos to our teacher, "Rabbi" Goldstone for unlocking this mystery.

Yaakov truly had reason to be distressed - ויצר לו.

And once again it is an עת צרה ליעקב -

וממנה יושע!!