Monday, May 24, 2010

Saifa v'Safra and Nachal Chareidi

The gemara in Avoda Zara (17b) talks about Rabi Elazar ben Parta who was captured by the Romans along with Rabi Chanina ben Tradyon. The Romans accused him of being both a thief and a scholar. (The gemara implies that he ran a Gemach - a free loan fund - and as such, the Romans suspected monetary mischief). As his defense Rabi Elazar ben Parta exclaimed a cryptic statement:  
אי סייפא לא ספרא ואי ספרא לא סייפא

If one engages in the profession of the sword סייפא (i.e., thievery), one cannot engage in the profession of the book ספרא and if one engages in the profession of the book, he cannot engage in the profession of the sword.

This is the simple explanation of Rabi Elazar's statement (it got him off, by the way!). But some commentators (notably the Sefer HaAruch in the entry for סייף ) maintain that the Romans were supposed to understand it one way and we are supposed to understand it another way:

If there is a sword אי סייפא, it means we have let go of the "book" לא ספרא, but if we adhere to the book, there will be no need for the sword.

The Sefer HaAruch suggests that this is meant by the pasukim in Yeshaya 1:19-20 that we read on Shabbos Chazon:

אִם תֹּאבוּ וּשְׁמַעְתֶּם טוּב הָאָרֶץ תֹּאכֵלוּ: וְאִם-תְּמָאֲנוּ וּמְרִיתֶם חֶרֶב תְּאֻכְּלוּ כִּי פִּי ה' דבר:

If you want and you listen, the best of the land you will devour. ספרא
If you refuse and you rebel, by the sword you will be devoured, for the word of Hashem has spoken. סייפא

Well, last week was the swearing in ceremony (Tekes Hashba'ah) for the March, 2010 recruits of the Netzach Yehuda troop in the Kfir betallion (Nachal Haredi). Of course, this featured my Yaakov.

As one of the Rabanim of the betallion (Harav Yoel Schwartz) spoke out, the Nachal Chareidi plays the game both ways and makes sure to equip the men with both the סייפא (M-16) and the ספרא a Koren Tanach. The highlight of the ceremony is when the men are issued the סייפא and the ספרא .

The ceremony for Netzach Yehuda takes place in the Ammunition Hill National Park (we reserve the Kotel for סידרא - davening).

We went out there with the gantza mishpacha (minus two boys who are in full time ספרא ) and beheld the ceremony. I thought it was very inspiring and that everybody should see a Nachal Haredi Tekes Hashba'ah whether or not they know any of the soldiers. It was also a bit amusing because a lot of things went wrong and there were many crossed signals. Yaakov told me that they only rehearsed the ceremony twice and that it wasn't adequate. Understatement.

The enclosed video of the סייפא and the ספרא ceremony was taken by my brother. Yaakov is the one in the center of the threesome (who looks the most serious). His formation fell apart on the retreat march because the front guy (the one to the left) started the forward march on the wrong signal. Then the other two guys had to recover and catch up.

Looks like they could use a little more discipline!

(If you have trouble viewing the embedded video, click HERE for download.)


Thursday, May 20, 2010

The One World Economy


It seems my previous post about the "findings" of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel was off-the-mark enough for Rabbi Harry Maryles to take out the time to set me straight. Evidently, it's not about statistics, it's about poverty.

And from his perspective, he is right. But from the perspective of the few people who have followed my writings and understand the hashkafos of the chareidi world - the ameilim b'Torah - as I have described them, it becomes clear that we are dealing with a different set of issues. It's not about poverty and it's not even about statistics.

It's about Emes and its about Emunah.

I will deal with the Emunah first.

The Emunah that we have is the Torah's perception of social economics and this does indeed address the issue of poverty. But, more accurately, it addresses something else Rabbi Maryles emphasized in his post - what is it that G-d wants?

I don't know if there is any point in discussing the issue of poverty. There is nothing new to say about it. I have discussed it so many times in so many previous posts. Evidently, it's a much different perspectve than the secular-minded world - which includes Rabbi Maryles and Professor Dan Ben-David - can relate to. It is based on a few principles as follows:

  • The learning class is going to be needy. Period. This is for their benefit and for ours (for this discussion I will include myself in the non-learning class). The benefits that they enjoy I discussed in detail in a very recent post. The benefits that we enjoy (if we choose to) I discussed at length in several other posts (HERE and HERE).
  • G-d wants us to implement a highly interdependent system so as both classes can mutually reap the full scope of benefits.
  • The "takers" are actually the givers because it is their ameilus that brings us sustenance. Only, that the sustenance that they bring is delivered to us (the mach-"givers") first. Our job is to forward to them their share.
  • Since we all stand to benefit from this system (and the "takers" are in actuality the "givers"), there is no limit to how many people can or should be on the "receiving end" since, as I said, that they are really on the supply end. In fact, the more "receiving end/givers" there are, the better off we are. The more we receive for ourselves.

  • There is really no such thing as a chareidi community. Chareidi means living up to the standards of the Torah (as explained in my book) and all Jews are required to meet the standards. Non-chareidim are chareidim who don't understand that they are supposed to uphold Im B'chukosai telechu (and the rest). Thus, when we say that G-d wants the working class to be the support base for the learning class, He doesn't mean "Orthodox" Jews of which there are probably no more than 2 million in the world, He means all Jews of which there are about 12 million in the world. (In truth, the 2 million is more than enough to get the job done.

I have repeated these principles on numerous occasions but they can only be appreciated by people who take the words of the Torah and Chazal at face value. People who believe Moshe Rabbenu when he says (Devarim 8:3):

וַיְעַנְּךָ וַיַּרְעִבֶךָ וַיַּאֲכִלְךָ אֶת-הַמָּן אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַעְתָּ וְלֹא יָדְעוּן אֲבֹתֶיךָ לְמַעַן הוֹדִיעֲךָ כִּי לֹא עַל-הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם כִּי עַל-כָּל-מוֹצָא פִי ה' יחיה האדם:

HKBH can send us mahn to eat if He wants. In our day, He doesn't allow us to subsist by supernatural means but He is sending us the mahn all the same. He requires us to seek "physical" means to find our bread but no matter what we do, we only get our עומר לגולגולת. "The one who collects more does not have a surplus and the one who collects less does not have a shortfall." (Shmos 16:18). And also by people who believe that for those who keep the mitzvos, there will always be what to eat: נער הייתי וגם זקנתי ולא ראיתי צדיק נעזב וזרעו מבקש לחם.

This is what we call Emunah. Yet, Rabbi Maryles and Professor Ben-David do not subscribe to these principles.

Oh, and one more principle:

  • The future of our children lies in their adherence to Torah and Yiras Shamayim and not to their earning power. We are more concerned about their welfare in the eternal world than their welfare in this temporary one.

So this is our Emunah. Poverty is a test and an opportunity both for the "haves" and for the "have nots". The "poverty" of the ameilim b'Torah is our opportunity get a piece of the action. And even so, at the end of the day, there doesn't need to be any real poverty. Chazal gave us a "system". It's up to us.

And so many of us pass up the opportunity!

That's not what G-d wants. G-d wants all Jews to be chareidim l'dvar Hashem. He wants all Jews to contribute a mere 10% of their net income to help support the learning class and to help boost their own net income.

But, the non-chareidi Jews don't play along. They are too busy reading Harry Maryles's blog and reading the hawkish statistics from the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel and are convincing themselves that (1) a majority of members of the chareidi world are abjectly destitute, (2) this is twice as much as a generation ago, (3) they (i.e., Rabbi Maryles and his chevra) are entitled to judge whether any learning can be called "mediocre" and thus unworthy of support, and (4) ushering the few Jews who can linger in the beis midrash to the exit is the best way of combating this well documented poverty.

And so, what is the Emes?

The Emes is that it is only the working class chareidim who implement the system. And to a large extent, it works. With a mere 10%, we contribute heavily toward the learning class, and, lo and behold, it hasn't been making us any poorer.

Both the Taub Center and Harry Maryles seem to be complaining that the Jews of Eretz Yisrael are not financially independent. The numbers are not important. It's the picture that they want to paint with the numbers. They are predicting some kind of a "crash" and pretending that it is twice as bad as it was a generation ago.

But a generation ago it was worse than it is now, and a generation before that it was even worse than that.

Ever since the fall of Beitar, the land of Israel has been a place of financial hardship. By the decree of our exile, the Jewish people were required to sojourn throughout the four corners of the Earth and HKBH gave us a special gift of survival. מלמד שהיו מצויינים שם . Wherever we have gone, we have been outstanding. We have been the leaders in commerce and industry and we were blessed with success and affluence. Except in Eretz Israel. HKBH didn't want us coming back too quick so He made sure that there would be no wellspring of wealth. And that it would require a great deal of mesiras nefesh to live in Eretz Yisrael. But the Jewish people always had to have a remnant in Eretz Yisrael. And so, many centuries ago, the Jewish people of the diaspora took upon themselves to support the brave Yishuv in Eretz Yisroel. In this way, the Jews of the diaspora were able to be מקיים the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisroel from many miles away.

In the early 1800s this sytem of support became more modernized and it was given a name: Chalukah. Perhaps the name was modeled after the original distribution of Terumah to the Kohanim in the time of the Beis Hamikdash. The gemara calls it: החולק בבית הגרנות the distribution from the grain silos. The funds were managed by the various Kollelim al shem R' Meir Baal Haness: Kollel Chibas Yerushalyim, Kollel Shomrei HaChomos, Kollel America, and others.

The concept of the Jews of the diaspora supporting the Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael still exists today and it will continue to exist until the true geula. It is the network of the religious Jews to the diaspora Jews throughout the world that keeps the economy alive, and not just for the chareidim. The State itself relies on foreign funds to stay afloat. They have always relied on Jewish philanthropies and State of Israel bonds for ready cash and are still handcuffed by their reliance on American foreign aid. But they also need the economy of the Chareidim. The average chiloni (or American) doesn't understand this, but if all the chareidim in Israel would be rounded up and "sent back to Poland", the economy of the state would go into a tailspin.

For as much as they put up a show that they are so generous to the chareidim, they benefit far more than they give. Because the chareidim are magnets of foreign money.

We can start with the Yeshivos. The great Yeshivos of Mir, Ponovizh, Chevron, and Brisk attract students from the four corners of the earth, most of them bringing piles of dollars, pounds, and euros to spend and taking very little from the state. They remain in Kollel and and bring in the money from their well off parents who come to visit and spend more. The yeshivos themselves subsist on tuitions and donations from overseas that far outshadow the subsidies of the State. The same goes for the great Mosdos of Belz, Ger, Vizhnitz, Tchebin, Slonim, and Chabad. Imagine if these institutions did not exist, where the Israeli economy would be?

Now let's add to the pile the great Baal Teshuva yeshivos of Ohr Sameach, Aish HaTorah, Neve Yerushalayim and many smaller ones. The Kiruv organizations are an industry in itself. Aside from saving many Jewish souls, they bring massive foreign donations to this country and the students themselves spend their dollars and euros and those of their parents. As a bonus, some of these students who have higher educations stay on within the chardeidi community (and society at large) and provide professional services and revenues.

After that, let's talk about Judaica and tashmishei kedusha, Sifrei Kodesh and STA"M. And of course, Esrogim and hadassim (Lulavim are regulated by the government) produced here and sold here and abroad.

The shops on Malchei Yisrael and Meah Shearim bring in so much foreign money that it is worthwhile for the city to provide brand new garbage cans on a daily basis.

Now, let's take into account the staggering amount of money over the decades that the chareidi community has pulled in from abroad to pay for the real estate that they live in and use as shuls, schools and yeshivos. There is no HUD in Israel. No subsidized housing in the haredi centers. And it is the realtionship of the local chareidim with those abroad that saves the government from having to provide it.

And the state gets a good deal from the chareidim in other areas too. Even though everyone likes to complain about that chareidim get educational funding and don't teach a "core curriculum", the education expenditure is still less per capita than those who attend mamlachti schools. We save the state money. Of course people complain that most charedim don't join the army. From a social standpoint there is what to debate, but from an economic perspective it saves the state a bundle. Do you know what every soldier costs the state? The chiloni who goes to the state schools and then the army and then the stae subsidized colleges cost the state tons of money up front. The expectation is that they will produce a high return on the investment but this is not always the case. Conversely, the chareidi who goes to the less subsidized chareidi school, doesn't go to the army and state colleges cost the state a lot less up front. The conventional wisdom (from the Taub Center) is that then they are permanent complete parasites, but many of us do just fine without a college education and those that need assistance get more from the chareidi support system than from the state.

And now we will add some social services that the chareidim provide on a volunteer basis thus saving either the state or the consumer (secular or otherwise) from having to pay for them. These include ambulance services (Hatzalah, Chovesh Har Nof and other local branches), medical equipment (Yad Sarah), referrals (Ezra LeMarpeh), and disaster relief (Zaka). Of course we can add all the general charities (Yad Eliezer, Chasdei Naami, Vaad HaRabanim) that reduce the need for state welfare.

Can you imagine the financial state of the state without the charedim?

And after all this, there is still a limited but potent modern trend for the chareidim of Eretz Yisroel to be more cosmopolitan now that they are powerful enough to do it on their terms. Thus the success of Nachal Haredi and a blossoming of chareidi vocational schools both innovations of the past decade. As such, I feel that, proportionately, there is less dependence on the "chaluka" than there was 3 decades back.

The megillah about the Chaluka and about the "magnetism of foreign money" is meant to point out something that the Taub Center - and I daresay, Rabbi Maryles - do not understand. There is no such thing as the Israeli chareidi economy. The chareidi economy in Israel is and always has been totally interactive with the chareidi economy of the diaspora. The chareidim of the diaspora are far from destitute and, for some Heavenly ordained reason, the chareidim of Israel are. But the two economies interact and balance each other out. For the chareidim, it's a one world economy!

That's how it works now and that's how it worked 3 decades ago and that's how it worked 3 centuries ago. The "system" was never flawless but the system has always functioned. Mr. Emes Ve-Emunah can participate in it or he can disassociate himself from it.

But reports of a "crash" are greatly exaggerated.

Monday, May 17, 2010

If Figures Don't Lie, Who Does?

64% of all statistics are made up! And that's a conservative estimate. 26% of the population actually think that the true number is higher although 47% think the number is lower. *

Now I can usually tell if a statistic is accurate or not because I believe in Hirshman's Law of Statistical Probability. Hirshman's Law of Statistical Probability states:

When people claim statistical figures on information that is next to impossible (improbable) to obtain, it is probably bunk.

And this is true 87% of the time. Of course, if the subject is the Chareidi world, it is true 98% of the time. Why?

Because 76% of the people you ask will not have an inkling on how to define what is a chareidi.

I will get back to this point shortly but first, a little insight as to what statistics is all about. And for this, we can learn a lot from our Amaleiki cousins (Yimach shmam v'zichram).

In the sanctity of my most intimate chambers, I am working through a book that is fascinating as it is tediously boring titled IBM and the Holocaust. The book discusses how the Nazi campaign to annihilate the Jews could not have been so efficiently executed without the technology for census and statistics that was provided all throughout the war from American based IBM.

Here is a brief excerpt from the introduction:

Mankind barely noticed when the concept of massively organized information quietly emerged to become a means of social control, a weapon of war, and a roadmap for group destruction. The unique igniting event was the most fateful day of the last century, January 30, 1933, the day Adolf Hitler came to power. Hitler and his hatred of the Jews was the ironic driving force behind this intellectual turning point. But his quest was greatly enhanced and energized by the ingenuity and craving for profit of a single American company and its legendary, autocratic chairman. That company was International Business Machines, and its chairman was Thomas J. Watson.

I was haunted by a question whose answer has long eluded historians. The Germans always had the lists of Jewish names. Suddenly, a squadron of grim-faced SS would burst into a city square and post a notice demanding those listed assemble the next day at the train station for deportation to the East. But how did the Nazis get the lists? For decades, no one has known. Few have asked.

The answer: IBM Germany's census operations and similar advanced people counting and registration technologies. IBM was founded in 1898 by German inventor Herman Hollerith as a census tabulating company. Census was its business. But when IBM Germany formed its philosophical and technologic alliance with Nazi Germany, census and registration took on a new mission. IBM Germany invented the racial census--listing not just religious affiliation, but bloodline going back
generations. This was the Nazi data lust. Not just to count the Jews--but
to identify them.

©2001-2010 Edwin Black
All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here under Article 17 of Intl. Copyright Law.

So we note that to compile statistical information there are two primary stipulations:

  • An accurate method of counting - In other words, you have to know how to count
  • Identifying the subject - In other words, you have to know what to count
Let's illustrate. Suppose we want to know if redheads are more prone to committing murders than non-redheads. We will need three things:

  • A definition of "murder"
  • A population of such murderers
  • A definition of a "redhead"

Now, the first 2 items may be relatively easy to come by. First, let's define murder any which way and then check the prisons to see how many inmates were convicted for whatever we defined as murder. After that, all we need to do is tabulate how many of them are redheads and check their proportion against the national average. Simple!

But, what's a redhead? Does a reddish brown count? Does a strawberry blonde count? Is it somebody who was nicknamed "Gingi"? Do they need freckles to go with it or not? What about somebody who used to be red but is now brown (or gray or bald)?

This assignment may be tougher than we think.

When it comes to compiling statistics about the chareidim we face similar challenges. And I will repeat what I said earlier that 83% of the population has no idea on how to define a chareidi. I wrote about this at length in my book.

In my book, I discussed that two of the most widely acclaimed academic ethnographers, Professor Samuel C. Heilman of Queens College and Professor Noah J. Efron of Bar Ilan University, both wrote complete volumes about the "Haredi" entity without presenting a definition anywhere in their books. I was able to excuse Prof. Heilman for it because he was not comparing the chareidim to another population. But Prof. Noah J. Efron I could not excuse. Here is what I wrote:

In contrast to my stated vindications of the other authors, Prof. Efron cannot be excused for overlooking this essential issue. This is because in the course of his work, Efron is compelled to play the numbers game. Hence, innocently tucked away on page 90, in the course of his discussion on educational funding, Efron casually declares one of the most pivotal statements of that section of his thesis as an undisputed established fact, “Haredim represent approximately 7 percent of the population…” [emphasis mine – YH]. This chapter is not the place to deal with the integrity of this figure,[4] yet it escapes me as to how we can assess the quantity of chareidim if we are not apprised as to what constitutes a chareidi to begin with?[5]

Pay special attention to footnote [4]. Here is the text of the footnote:

[4]Suffice it to say that the Israeli government has not conducted an official census since 1995 and the next one is scheduled for 2008. The best current indicator that we have is the electorate. In the two previous elections (2003 and 2006) the combined constituency of the two chareidi parties, UTJ and SHAS, were 16 and 18 seats respectively. Even the lower figure reflects representation of over 13 percent of the population. Bear in mind that the chareidim [exclusively] include some factions that maintain that it is Halachically forbidden to vote! Additionally, Efron himself notes on the following page that the chareidi population is child-heavy which means that a greater proportion of the chareidi population is below voting age. Also note that Efron writes on page 145 that “the purchasing power of the Hareidi community … is somewhere along the line of 15-20 percent of the population.” Not bad purchasing power for a mere 7 percent, the poorest to boot!

After I wrote all this, I reached page 242 where the percentage magically changed to “one in ten Israelis”. That’s a 43% increase over the 7 percent on page 90.

Seven per cent, ten per cent...what's the difference? (I know- 43%!)

Let's check out footnote [5]:

[5]This same problem haunts us to the very conclusion of his book. On page 273, 2 pages before the finish line, he writes, “…according to Boston University economist Eli Berman, for almost 25 years, rates of childbirth among the ultra-Orthodox have been 2 ½ to 3 ½ times as great as secular birthrates. Yet… the populations of ultra-Orthodox relative to secular have grown far less than childbirth rates would suggest. To parse this data accurately would require complicated analysis and the collection of new data…” Don’t you think it might also require a clear definition as to what counts as ultra-Orthodox? It’s been 273 pages and we still haven’t got one.

Don't hold your breath for one, either.

My point is that even before you know how to do your counting, you have to know what to count. The Nazis knew this. Efron doesn't.

This brings me to the point of this post. One of my favorite blogs seems to be making much ado about a report published by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel. He is obviously taking the whole dessert made out of artificial ingredients and swallowing it whole. Then copying the recipe and serving it to all his unsuspecting guests.

The Taub Center makes a number of scurrilous (or is that spurious?) claims. (1) One is that the percentage of haredi men between the ages of 35-54 who are non-employed is 65%. Secondly, this is double the amount from three decades ago. It also mentioned something about welfare payments going up 400% in three decades and juxtaposed it as if it is related.

Now, Hirshman's Law of Statistical Probability cannot sustain these claims. Especially since (1) a recent finding was released by the Central Bureau of Statistics with noticably different figures (2) it is doubtful that there can be accurate data about the haredim from three decades back because, three decades ago, the term "Haredi" was not the umbrella term that is used today and (3) there are barely any welfare payments here in Israel (though there are numerous welfare services).

I noticed a few other holes in this study and even commented about it (first HERE and then HERE). But I suppose as much as there are chareidi apologists, there are at least 58% more silly statistics apologists. "Oh for sure," everybody seems to claim, "they must have used very scientific methods of compiling their data."

So, I said to myself, why not check this out? So I contacted the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel (a local call). I dialed the extension for Prof. Dan Ben-David but I reached Hedva Elmackias who told me that Prof. Ben-David is in a meeting. I requested an interview with Prof. Ben-David and Hedva suggested that I email to her my credentials and my issues. I was only so happy to comply. (She also suggested that I check out the complete report which is available on their web site. I did that as well.)

To follow is an exact copy of the email (except for the cell phone number):

Letter to Taub Center_051610

Well I did indeed receive a reply from the Taub Center and here it is:

Dear Mr. Hirshman,
These are the answers Prof. Ben-David prepared for your questions:

Answers: The data source for the study on employment is the Labor Force Survey conducted by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics. Need to ask them how they conduct their surveys. The whole issue of how haredim are defined in our study is explained in detail in the labor chapter of the book, including the pros and cons of our approach. In the Hebrew report, the graph on page 40 was translated directly into English in the press release. Hence, the Hebrew word "tashlumei" is translated into the English "Payments".

All the Best,

Hedva Elmackias
Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel

One of the more interesting things that I learned from this response is that the Taub Center did not conduct an independent survey but was merely analyzing data that was compiled by the CBS. That wouldn't be too bad... if not that CBS reported different figures!

As for the issue of defining "Haredim", the "detailed explanation" she referred to must have been inadvertently cut out of the final draft, as i couldn't find it. Incidentally, CBS's definition for Haredi is "those who call themselves haredi". This is actually a fair definition because most people who consider themselves part of the haredi community usually are. Nevertheless, this forces us to classify the category as subjective rather than based on specific measurable properties (scientific or empirical). Furthermore it very much complicates the idea of comparing data from three decades ago even if there is any.

Another interesting thing was that their reference to Welfare was not a reference to Chapter 7 of the report which discussed Welfare but did not use the word "payment", but rather it referred to a 3 page segment from Chapter 1 which did, in fact use the word "payment". Only problem is that it doesn't use the term "Welfare".

I noted these issues in my response to them for more clarification. Here it is:

Letter to Taub Center2_051710

That was a mere 24 hours ago and I haven't heard from them since. Based on past experience, there is a 97.8% chance that I am not going to hear from them again. And I think that I can already say that Professor Dan Ben-David is declining to be interviewed.

I don't know if anybody has learned anything from this essay. I can tell you that 68% of readers gave up after the fourth paragraph and, from the remainder, 53% will still swallow anything they're fed.

But I can tell you one thing - 100% of studies like this are what we call "chaval al haz'man".

*All statistics for this essay were painstakingly compiled by the Hirshman Institute for Common Sense, a very small grassroots organization in Jerusalem.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Shimu D'Var Hashem: The Art of Listening - The Chareidi of Yeshaya

Yes, folks, it's that time of year again - Parshas Behar - Bechukosai where One Above and Seven Below comes to life. Before anything else, I want to provide for the newer readers links to some of the great posts from last year.

For Parshas Behar we have the analysis of Hetter Mechira at:

Ki Li HaAretz - This Land is My Land - Eminent Domain

and for Parshat Bechukosai we have the classic

The Secret of Parshat Bechukosai which includes Yaakov's Story

And for those who are interested, Yaakov is indeed in Nachal Chareidi and is doing quite well, בלע"ה.

For now, I want to zero in on an excerpt from my pilot chapter with a discussion that was partially inspired by the divrei kvushim of Harav Hagaon Asher Zelig Weiss, Shlita from this week's shiur in Har Nof.

I have always maintained that the true definition of chareidi - and the one that those who are proud to call themselves chareidi lay claim to - is the definition provided by Yeshaya HaNavi who introduced the term. And what exactly did Yeshaya say?

שמעו דבר ה' החרדים אל דברו

Hear the word of G-d, those of you who are anxious toward His word...

Here is how I wrote it in the book (pp. 49-50):
I think that if one really wants to know what a chareidi is, the first thing to do is to consult with the one who coined the term – the prophet Isaiah. If I remember correctly from the Introduction, a chareidi is one who is anxious to hear the Word of G d which, at first glance, would seem to indicate one who is anxious to do what G d wants.

As simple as this may be, it doesn’t really work in practice. This is because anybody and everybody who claims to be religious is convinced that they are doing precisely what G d wants. Be it the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Masorati Jew, any flavor of Orthodox Jew and even religious non-Jews. Everybody is certain that everything he does is just hunky-dory with G d.

But if we take a closer look at the words of the prophet, we may notice something a bit more profound. It’s not so much that we do what G d wants as much as it is that we make it our business to know what it is that G d wants us to do. The prophet is talking about somebody who is anxious to hear what G d has to say; somebody who is listening to what G d wants.

These are the chareidim.

Being a Jew isn't easy. You know why? Because before we do anything else, we have to know what to do. And in order to know what to do, we have to listen. Listen to G-d. And listening is very hard.

Those of us who are married know how hard it is to listen! I have been taking extensive training to do marriage counseling. And what is the most common problem in marriage that brings couples running to counselors?


Do people not know how to communicate?

Of course, they do. They communicate loud and clear. Sometimes so loud that the whole neighborhood can pick up the communication. The problem is seldom in the transmission. It's in the reception. It is very difficult to listen.

And why is it so difficult to listen? It is because HKBH in His infinite wisdom gave us, as part of our anatomy, barriers that prevent us from listening. These are our ears.

Yes, you heard me right.

Ears are excellent instruments for hearing but not much good for listening. Because we don't listen with our ears. We listen with our hearts. The problem is that the only way for words to get to our hearts is through our ears. They are the sentries that filter out everything we hear. Whenever the ears hear something they must decide what to do with what they've heard. What they do is they check the switchboard to see which circuits are open. If the circuits to the heart happen to be open, they can forward the data there. But usually that circuit is blocked. So it looks for the next open circuit. That is usually the Recycle Bin.

And the words never reach our hearts.

So a true chareidi is one who can listen to the Word of G-d. It means that he has the circuits to his heart in On mode. He has an open heart. A heart that listens. A לב שומע .

I always say that a chareidi is one who is mekayem אם בחקותי תלכו . The prophet Yeshaya says it means one who listens to the Word of G-d. Says Harav Asher Weiss, Shlita, they are the same thing.

How so?

Because אם בחקותי תלכו means to be עמלים בתורה . And what does עמלים בתורה mean?

Says the Mishna in Pirkei Avos (6:4):

כך הִיא דַּרְכָּהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה: פַּת בַּמֶּלַח תֹּאכֵל, וּמַיִם בַּמְּשׁוּרָה תִּשְׁתֶּה, וְעַל הָאָרֶץ תִּישָׁן, וְחַיֵּי צַעַר תִּחְיֶה וּבַתּוֹרָה אַתָּה עָמֵל; וְאִם אַתָּה עוֹשֶֹה כֵן, "אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ" (תהלים קכח, ב) אַשְׁרֶיךָ בָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, וְטוֹב לָךְ לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא

Such is the manner of Torah: One must [be willing to] eat only bread with salt, and drink water by ration, and sleep on the ground, and live a life of discomfort, and in the Torah he is toiling...

To acquire Torah, one must minimize his indulgence in luxuries and creature comforts. These things stand in the way of Torah.

There are two ways of understanding this. The simple explanation is that luxuries and comforts do not come by themselves. One must put in effort to acquire them or the means to obtain them. For things that cost money, one must toil - work long hours - to amass the money to afford nice things. And there is only so much toil available. If his toil goes toward earthly pleasures it cannot be applied to Torah and so he will never acquire Torah. The pleasures will be fleeting and will not give him long-term satisfaction, so not only will he be unworthy for the delights of the next world, but he will be dissatisfied even in this world. He will lose both worlds.

Conversely, if he applies his toil to Torah and forgoes worldly pursuits, he will be satisfied with simple pleasures in this world (which are abundant) and will merit the delights of the next world as well.

But there is another explanation as to why one must eschew the pleasures of this world to acquire Torah. The pleasures of this world close the circuits to the heart.

We see this in the gemara in Shabbos 147b. The gemara discusses a place called Diyumeset that had wonderful healing waters and another place called Progiyatha that had exceptional wine. The gemara comments that the wine of Progiyatha and the water of Diyumeset stunted the ten tribes. Rashi explains that "they were pleasure seekers and they indulged in these (luxuries) and they did not indulge in Torah study and so they fell into decadence." And then the gemara tells of the following strange tale:

Rabi Elazar ben Arach went to there and he was drawn to them (i.e., to the wine and the bathing - Rashi) and his Torah was dislodged from him. When he returned to his home town he was called up to the Torah reading. He was supposed to read החדש הזה לכם (This month shall be for you...) and instead he read החרש היה לבם (Their hearts were made deaf...). The Rabbis prayed on his behalf and his Torah knowledge was restored.

What is the significance of this strange term: החרש היה לבם - Their hearts were made deaf?

Says Harav Weiss that when King Solomon first assumed his tenure as king of Israel, HKBH appeared to him in a dream and asked him what special gift he wishes for. King Solomon replied (Melachim I 3:9): And if you may give your servant a לב שמע - a heart that listens - to judge your nation...

A לב שמע - a heart that listens. A heart that understands.

Says Harav Weiss, if there is such a thing as a לב שמע there must be also such a thing as a לב חרש - a heart that is deaf. Rabi Elazar ben Arach found the לב חרש . A deaf heart is found in one who is drawn to the pleasures of this world, to the waters of Diyumeset and the wine of Progiyatha. For the pleasures of the flesh close the circuits of the heart from being able to hear the Word of G-d.

And so, if one subsists on bread and salt and meager water and applies his strength to the toil of Torah - ובתורה אתה עמל - then he can avoid the לב חרש and be worthy of a לב שמע , a heart that can hear the Word of G-d.

He can be what Yeshaya Hanavi calls a chareidi!

A chareidi is one who can hear the word of G-d, and a non-chareidi is one who cannot. Even one who does mitzvos, if he is not עמל בתורה , if he does not distance himself from the pleasures of this world, he closes his heart from hearing.

And so, the Tochacha begins: ואם לא תשמעו לי - If you do not listen to me...

If you have a deaf heart.

And what does this mean? Says Rashi: To be עמלים בתורה . Even if one does mitzvos, if he is not עמל בתורה he does not have a heart that can listen.

Pirkei Avot 2:9:

אָמַר לָהֶם: צְאוּ וּרְאוּ אֵיזוֹהִי דֶּרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה שֶׁיִּדְבַּק בָּהּ הָאָדָם. רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר: עַיִן טוֹבָה. רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ אוֹמֵר: חָבֵר טוֹב. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי אוֹמֵר: שָׁכֵן טוֹב. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר: הָרוֹאֶה אֶת הַנּוֹלָד. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר: לֵב טוֹב. אָמַר לָהֶם: רוֹאֶה אֲנִי אֶת דִּבְרֵי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲרָךְ, שֶׁבִּכְלָל דְּבָרָיו דִּבְרֵיכֶם.

He (Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai) said to them: Go out and see what is the straightforward way that one should adhere to. Rabi Eliezer (ben Horkynos) said: A good eye. Rabi Yehoshua said: A good friend. Rabi Yosi said: A good neighbor.Rabi Shimon (ben Nesanel) said: One who can understand what has newly developed. Rabi Elazar (ben Arach) said: A good heart - לב טוב . He said to them: I see the words of Rabi Elazar ben Arach [to be prevalent] for your words are included in his.

There are 49 days between Pesach and Shavuos. 49 days in which to rise 49 levels from slavery until we can accept the Torah. We must acquire the 49 levels. The לב טוב .

לב טוב = 49

A לב טוב is a לב שומע. It's the heart that Rabi Elazar ben Arach used to have until he bathed in the fine waters and drank the fine wine. It is the heart of one who is עמל בתורה. It is the heart of one who listens to the Word of G-d.

It is the heart of a chareidi l'dvar Hashem.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lipkin's Parallelogram

All of my steady readers know that I follow Emes VeEmunah. Not that I think anyone should read his blog, but, for my line of work, it goes with the territory. Rabbi Maryles has made it his mission in life to find, expose and amplify every "defect" in the chareidi world - real or imagined - and to criticize his poor misguided brothers.

Only he calls it - "making a macha'ah".

I don't want to digress too far from my subject and express what I think about it. Let's just say there are many issues that people don't know about, won't know about, and won't care to know about until people like him first broadcast it on the Internet just so that they can "make a macha'ah". I don't really think there is any mitzvah to first meet the classical pashut pshat of לא תלך רכיל בעמך (the heter of 3 people definitely does not apply according to the Chofetz Chaim in Shmiras HaLashon 2:2) just to be mekayem הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך . But that's just my opinion.

Still, in my line of work as official chareidi apologist, I have to know what he says. Whether his kavanos are לשם שמים or not, he is clearly a קטיגור a "prosecutor". And I am a סניגור , an "apologist". I will take the saneigor position over the kateigor position any day.

So I follow his blog and I comment on it when I feel I have something to contribute. I try to be brief. My method is to merely make a point, not to "prove" it. It never pays to elaborate in the comments section. So if I want to elaborate on a subject I do it here. If I need to impress a point on somebody else's blog (like Harry's), I try to draw the reader to what I may have already written in my own forum. (Play with home field advantage!)

I did just that about a week ago when Rabbi Maryles was "making a macha'ah" about recent incidences of violence in RBS-B involving some chareidi hooligans . As he often does, Harry took somebody else's post and used it as a launching pad for his fireworks display. In this case it was Rabbi Natan Slifkin's account as related on his blog.

I don't want to comment directly about the incident because (aside that, just like Harry, I wasn't there) that would sidetrack us. Kanaos is a very complicated subject. Let me state for the record, that I am just as apalled and ashamed that this violence is going on as is anybody. Even a trip to the emergency room that doesn't R"L go all the way to the morgue is sh'fichas damim. And Jews have no business encroaching on Uncle Eisav's territory.

I personally do not believe it is proper for anybody to introduce these incidents into the media. Not Rabbi Slifkin even though he lives there and certainly not Rabbi Maryles who doesn't nor anybody. I think that if somebody is close enough to do something - go do it. For those who aren't close, who needs to know about it?

And making sure that everybody - even those who can have no influence on it - knows about it is what Chaza"l call רכילות .

Now chareidim are by definition religious idealists and idealism is just one step away from zealotry. So kanaos comes with the territory. Some of it is לשם שמים and some of it is not. If it is not לשם שמים , it amounts to a street brawl. When brawls like this take place, it is obviously quite a Chillul Hashem. And Chillul Hashems are a no-no.

We learn the concept of Chillul Hashem from the pasuk in Vayikra 22:32 that says:

וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

The transgression of Chillul Hashem and the mitzva of V'nikdashti (Kiddush Hashem) apply to all of Bnei Yisroel. This means that we are all responsible to see to it that there are no Chillul Hashems. All of us. Chillul Hashems are not always the work of individuals. Sometimes there are partners. When people are partners in Chillul Hashem, it doesn't matter who owns more shares in the partnership. 50-50, 60-40, 90-10. It doesn't matter. Just like a business parnership, every partner is 100% responsible the liabilities of the corporation from the perspective of the creditors.

And so, as I question the wisdom of Rabbis Maryles and Slifkin to discuss these issues in the public arena in the first place, I even more question their wisdom and authority to lace it with laying blame as to which partner is liable.

They both are.

When Jews fight Jews we must decry the violence by all means. But not by pointing fingers. Or laying blame. Because, as I have written in post after post after post, there is always enough blame to go around. And, unless the side you are rooting for had absolutely nothing to contribute, and had no alternative but to get involved, their involvement is just as voluntary as anyone else's. And they are a partner in the Chillul Hashem.

I have written numerous posts to try and impress this point. To follow is a brief list of some of the most celebrated entries:

And so, finally, I can get to the point of this post.

When Rabbi Maryles discussed this incident and used it as another pretense for a wholesale condemnation of the RBS-B chareidi (kanai) community, there were a few voices who pointed out that, in this particular incident, there are some valid grounds to assert that there was blatant provocation. Ensuing commenters quickly rejoined with the lame "excessive response" claim which they don't buy when the UN slaps it on the Medinah but it still needs to apply to the chareidim. "Just because I stomped on your toe doesn't mean that you are justified to kick me in the groin".

To weigh in on this, I entered a comment with nothing more than a link to my essay about Absolving the Casualty (link provided above). My site meter tells me that quite a few readers checked out the link.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Slifkin territory, the same debate was being played out led by an anonymous poster who later slightly modified his ID to Ani-Nimaas. This fellow, evidently an avid chassid of mine, was thoughtful enough to transfer my link onto Rabbi Slifkin's thread. When he did transfer the link, it was in response to a gentleman who calls himself Menachem Lipkin.

Well, Mr. Lipkin actually took the trouble to read my essay (which I appreciate) and here are his comments:

According to Hirshman, virtually no terror victim in Israel is truly a "victim" since the terrorists define our being here as a provocation. You realize how bizarre that is? If a woman is walking on the sidewalk in our neighborhood, but in view of theirs and she's not dressed according to their absurd Tznious rules then, according to Hirshman, she's not really a victim.

And this is what I want to comment on here and the subject of this post (finally). Mr. Lipkin is employing a device that I have encountered numerous times in my blogging career. And in the world of mathematics, it is known as Lipkin's Parallelogram. It means taking a concept that I wrote, and drawing a parallel to something that I didn't write and treating it as if I did.

This device was actually invented in 1864 by Yom Tov Lipman Lipkin in St. Petersburg. And, according to one web site, it is a "mechanical device for the change of linear into circular motion" (Wikipedia says the opposite). And ever since, people have been taking things that I have written straightforward (linear) and have been bending and twisting them and thus changing them from linear into circular reasoning.

Let's check what I wrote with the main points emphasized:

A victim is typically an unarmed or non-aggressive party who was the target of an aggressive event (attack) and was physically, financially, or emotionally harmed (as in massacred). A victim is one who had no personal control over the situation and did not have the resources, the opportunity or the presence of mind to avert or flee the scene of the harmful event. Typically, a victim was not confronted and presented with demands and ultimatums before being attacked. Someone is truly victimized when they have done nothing of substance to contribute to the event that harmed them. A true victim is somebody who was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Conversely, one who knowingly and needlessly exposes themselves to a hazardous situation or willfully engages in a physical confrontation (e.g. General Custer) and is harmed, is not known to be a victim but a casualty. Terrorists attack civilians and those civilians are victims of a massacre. Combatants confront each other and inflict casualties. We say that one is a victim of an attack but we do not say that one is a victim of a confrontation. In a confrontation, one is not a victim but a casualty. Thus I have a very hard time calling General Custer and his men victims. Nor would I call Riff of the Jets a victim of Bernardo. Especially since he is the one who called the rumble.

Mr. Menachem Lipkin is applying this device to what I wrote. And, unlike the original device devised by Mr. Yom Tov Lipkin, in this one there are two flaws in how my words are applied. One minor flaw and one major one.

The first flaw, Mr. M. Lipkin almost catches himself:

According to Hirshman, virtually no terror victim in Israel is truly a "victim" since the terrorists define our being here as a provocation. You realize how bizarre that is?

But, evidently, he let it slide. Yes, I also think it's bizarre. So bizarre that I would expect an intelligent person to immediately ascertain that it is not what I meant, especially since it is not what I wrote. Since when did I make any definitions contingent on what the attacker - terrorist - thinks (or "defines")? My definition was totally based on what the victim/casualty does! I wrote that if the subject is non-aggressive, had no personal control over the situation, or nothing of substance to contribute to the event, then they are indeed victims. This definition is not to be mitigated by overly sensitive, trigger happy terrorists.

Now, there was another commenter who called himself "Distant American" who also noticed how bizarre Lipkin's Parallelogram by expanding the naarishkeit even further:

You could argue further and say that according to Hirshman unless you denounce being jewish, there are no victims of anti-semitism. A person who's property is stolen is not a victim, only a casualty because by having the property accessible to a thief, they enabled the thief to take it.

Though I will never know if his intention is to point out to Mr. M. Lipkin his folly and he is a rational thinker or if he is agreeing with him and is just as asinine (oh my gosh, there's two of them?), but I will give him the benefit of the doubt. What I do want to point out is his mashal about stolen property. Because to illustrate my point, just approach your local insurance agent (I did).

To the unendowed, the circumstances in my definition of a non-victim (knowingly and needlessly exposes, willfiully engages) as opposed to the victim (no personal control, etc.) can be summarized in one word:


When somebody is negligent, they are not a victim. Thus, if somebody has a car and a thief breaks into it and steals it, his insurance will cheerfully reimburse him becasue he wasn't negligent. But, let's suppose he leaves the door unlocked, the keys in the ignition and the motor running, unless he can make a good case for human error (which is covered), he will have a pretty hard time collecting from the insurance because they will claim gross negligence.

Since I have noticed that many people including Mr. M. Lipkin and perhaps Distant American have trouble with this concept, I have written these two posts:

Now, that was the minor flaw. But here is what I consider a more significant flaw in Lipkin's Parallelogram:

According to Hirshman...

According to Hirshman?

Does anybody ever notice that Hirshman bases his ideologies (all of them) on pasukim and chazals and whenever Hirshman writes things like this , Hirshman always brings down the sources that he is basing it on?

Many people don't. Lipkin doesn't, Harry Maryles doesn't, Dallas Jew doesn't and two of the fellows who commented on my previous post do not. And the list goes on.

So let's discuss the essay on hand. In this case, when I discussed the Torah's view on victimhood I made a casual reference to the story of Dina in Breishis and the Rashi on pasuk 34:1. There Rashi does not spell out that Dina carries some measure of blame, though it is implied, but my major source is the story of the betrothed virgin in Devarim 22:23. There Rashi (from the Sifri) spells it out in big bold letters. (Other sources I could have brought and did not are Devarim 4:15 and Mishlei 22:5 - see Kesubos 30a).

Though I really wouldn't mind taking credit, if I learn something from Rashi (and Sifri) and use it as my model, then it is truly Rashi's concept. So my question to Mr. Lipkin is twofold:

1) According to Hirshman?? You mean according to Hirshman and not according to Rashi?? What do you have against giving credit to Rashi?

Oh, I know the obvious answer. According to Hirshman I can make a ridiculous extrapolation that I myself call "bizarre". But Rashi obviously doesn't mean that. It is too bizarre.

2) Well, Mr. Lipkin, if Rashi doesn't mean it that way, why on earth do you assume that Hirshman means it that way?

So let me give it to you straight. Hirshman means what Rashi means. If Rashi doesn't mean it, then Hirshman doesn't mean it either. If it's too bizarre for Rashi, it is too bizarre for Hirshman.

Now many people in the blogosphere seem to be intimidated by Hirshman. Hirshman is arrogant and condescending and polemical and satanic and has a "harsh attitude".

For what?

For reminding people what Chazal and Rashi say.

What is the problem?

The problem is that people don't want to hear what Rashi and Chazal say. Because they will have a tough time ignoring them and calling themselves legitimate. So if they pretend that Hirshman is the one who is saying it and it is not really the words of the Tanach or Chazal or Rashi, they can twist it so it sounds bizarre and soothe their consciences. Much harder to do that with Rashi.

There are shelves full of books that remind people about what Chazal say. Things people don't want to know or be reminded about.

They are called mussar books.

For the past 150 years there have been a few brave Jews who are not afraid to study the polemical thoughts of Chazal. And the movement to do so was initiated by a man named Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin.

He was the father of the musser movement. And he was also the father of Yom Tov Lipkin, the creator of the Lipkin Parallelogram. That parallelogram was proven to work. But the parallelogram that was introduced by Mr. Menachem Lipkin has two flaws. The first, as I said, is, instead of changing circular motion to linear (the real effect as documented in Wikipedia), it changes straightforward, linear "motion" to circular.

And the second flaw is that he has trouble acknowledging the basis in Chazal. Sadly, Mr. Lipkin is afraid of Rabbi Lipkin.

There were a number of points that I wanted to make with this post. That said, let me repeat that I am also distressed at what has been going on in RBS-B. My definition of chareidi is one who does mitzvos with ameilus b'Torah and kanaos that is not לשם שמים can have no part in it.


Monday, May 3, 2010

What about the Holocaust, WHAT ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST?

Note - This post is a response to a comment in my previous post Deja Vu in the Clouds. Please read that one first.

This coming Thursday is May 6. And this coming Friday is 23 Iyar. (הבעל"ט). In 1945 these two dates came on the same day.

That's the day that my father, LOY"T, was liberated from Ebensee. That was 65 years ago this week. Here's what I wrote about it in my book (One Above and Seven Below, p. 272-3):

As the Allied Forces closed in, the SS liquidated the satellite camps (and most of the inmates) and they herded the survivors and marched west. The survivors from that region were concentrated at a camp named Ebensee. I have seen photos and have read accounts about Ebensee. It can only be described as the land of the living dead (though there was no shortage of dead that did not happen to be living). By the time my father arrived, in the last weeks of the war, it was total chaos. Very few guards, no work, no food, no room to sleep, nothing but starvation, sickness, and death.

But - it was spring. The guns could be heard and the planes could be seen. For the living there was the dream of imminent liberation. And for the religious, there was G-d. On May 5, 1945 a flag was hung from the watchtower to signify that it was over. The next day my father, 15 years old, stood holding the hand of Rabbi Yehoshua Grunwald, the Rebbi of Chust, as they watched the American tanks roll in.

Shortly before the liberation, one prisoner came across a shel yad from a pair of tefillin. The shel yad was conveyed to the most prominent religious spiritual leader that was present, the Rebbi of Chust. He concealed this treasured find until the day of liberation a short time later. On the day of liberation the Allied Forces brought in a mobile field kitchen and prepared a meal of meat and rice. Two lines quickly formed - a long line at the kitchen waiting for a ration of the hearty food and a much shorter line in front of the Rebbi of Chust waiting to say the blessing and don the shel yad. My father stood on the short line. It seems that the food was too rich for the undernourished systems of most of the inmates. My father relates that many people who partook of the offerings of the long line began to die. Many others who partook of the offerings of the short line began to live.

A little more than 15 years ago, I asked my father how he felt right after liberation when his parents were gone and he was released from Gehinom. He answered: "I felt like I have the whole world open in front of me."

He was young and, despite the atrocities that he witnessed and experienced, he was spared much of the sufferring of so many others. He was from the Carpathian sector that wasn't evacuated to the concentration camps until 1944. He was too young to have been married so he didn't lose a spouse or children and the two sisters that he had before the war (there were no other siblings) survived as well. His parents were gone, his past was shattered, but he knew one thing: There is no point looking back. Only forward. And there was a whole open world in front of him.

Exactly 15 years ago, he made a grand Kiddusha Rabba on Shabbos to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his liberation. There are 7 of us children (3 were married at the time with a combination of 12 grandchildren. Now there are - בלע"ה - more than 35 grandchildren and some great grandchildren en route) and he wanted all 7 of us to say a few words.

When my turn came, I was at a total loss. But I kept thinking about what he told me a short while earlier: "I felt like I have the whole world open in front of me." And so I spoke out the gemara at the very end of masechet Makkos (24b):

שוב פעם אחת היו עולין לירושלים כיון שהגיעו להר הצופים קרעו בגדיהם כיון שהגיעו להר הבית ראו שועל שיצא מבית קדשי הקדשים התחילו הן בוכין ור"ע מצחק אמרו לו מפני מה אתה מצחק אמר להם מפני מה אתם בוכים אמרו לו מקום שכתוב בו והזר הקרב יומת ועכשיו שועלים הלכו בו ולא נבכה אמר להן לכך אני מצחק דכתיב ואעידה לי עדים נאמנים את אוריה הכהן ואת זכריה בן יברכיהו וכי מה ענין אוריה אצל זכריה אוריה במקדש ראשון וזכריה במקדש שני אלא תלה הכתוב נבואתו של זכריה בנבואתו של אוריה באוריה כתיב לכן בגללכם ציון שדה תחרש [וגו'] בזכריה כתיב עוד ישבו זקנים וזקנות ברחובות ירושלם עד שלא נתקיימה נבואתו של אוריה הייתי מתיירא שלא תתקיים נבואתו של זכריה עכשיו שנתקיימה נבואתו של אוריה בידוע שנבואתו של זכריה מתקיימת בלשון הזה אמרו לו עקיבא ניחמתנו עקיבא ניחמתנו:

On another occasion they were going up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus they rent their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount they saw a fox scurrying from the place of the Holy of Holies. They all began to weep and Rabi Akiva began to laugh. They said to him (Rabi Akiva): Why do you laugh? He said to them: Why do you weep? They said to him: The place upon which it states, "And the non-Kohen who approaches must die" and now it is overrun with foxes and we ought not weep? He responded: This is the reason that I laugh. It states (in Yeshaya) "And I will have testify for me trustworthy witnesses - Uriah the Kohen and Zecharia son of Yevarchihu..." How can Uriah be mentioned with Zecharia? Uriah lived during the first Temple and Zecharia lived during the second Temple! But rather the scripture is equating the prophecy of Zecharia to the prophecy of Uriah. By Uriah it is written: "Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed as a field..." and by Zecharia it is written: "There will yet again be elderly men and elderly women dwelling in Jerusalem..." As long as the prophecy of Uriah has not been fulfilled, I was afraid that the prophecy of Zecharia may likewise not be fulfilled. Now that I see the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, it is certain that the prophecy of Zecharia will be fulfilled.

And they said to him: Akiva has consoled us. Akiva has consoled us.

I was not brought up under the shadow of the Holocaust. When I was very little, I was told that Daddy was born in Europe and he "escaped" during WW II and his parents were killed.

When I was 8 years old we took our first trip to Eretz Yisrael and my mother took us to Yad Vashem. That's when I learned about the Holocaust.

And later on I started paying attention to what goes on in shul and I started listening to the weekly parsha. And I listened during Parshas Bechukosai (this week's parsha, BTW) and parshas Ki Savo when they read about the tochacha. And I said to myself, "That sounds just like the Holocaust!" Whoever wrote the Torah knew in advance that there was going to be a Holocaust. The Torah is REAL. Moshe is REAL.

G-d is REAL!

The prophecy of Uriah is real and the prophecy of Zecharia is real and parshat Ki Savo is real and parshat Nitzavim is real.

What about the Holocaust? WHAT ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST?

The Holocaust was our deepest tragedy, but it was also one of our greatest gifts. Because the children of the Holocaust have a Holocaust to tell them that what the Torah says will happen is what will happen. Since the churban habayis, no modern generation had a Holocaust to give us emunah in the Torah. But our generation has it.

And Rabi Akiva - and my father -tell us that we are allowed to laugh.

De'ja Vu in the Clouds

On my previous post, one commenter weighed in with a very legitimate concern. It was a bit windy but I will quote the beginning which basically characterizes the whole comment:

I have a real problem with these stories in general, and I guess this case really underscores why. Just imagine the other stories that are not being circulated on the internet. Young mother/child/groom/ whoever on waiting list, desperate for transplant, the right liver finally available and s/he finally on top of the list - but could not fly to Belgium due to the volcano and, r"l, passed away.

If I understand him right, his question is based on the assumption that this story is meant to be drama with a happy ending which we are celebrating. Thus he is disturbed at the idea of celebrating one person's triumph at the expense of others.

My response was that his sentiment is valid, but his assumption is wrong. Here is part of what I wrote:

In any case, a story such as this one has (at the least) three very important messages; two of wich I expressly emphasized in my post.

1) It shows the gevurah of HKBH that He runs the world and He decides who lives and who dies. And it doesn't matter what policies or lists are set by the Humans down here, it is His list that counts.

2) HKBH treats some of his children with Midas Hadin and others with Midas HaRachamim. And, what's more amazing, the very same instrument that will be Midas Hadin for those of His choosing will be Midas HaRachamim for those of His choosing.

3) As the Gemara in Berachos (10a) says: Even if a sharp sword is laying upon one's throat, one should not abdicate himself from Rachamim.

In other words, the theme of this story is not a drama with a a happy ending, but a very important lesson in Gevuras Hashem. We are celebrating HKBH for showing the world who is Boss, not really celebrating the winning liver recipient for his triumph (though we share his joy).

What took me by surprise was the next comment. I couldn't understand how it was different from the first. And it came a whole day later. An excerpt:

Or how about the waiting potential recipients who lost out...the same questions could be asked about them if they should die as a result of what happened. Maybe they were Jews, or maybe they were Tzadikei Umot HaOlam (Righteous gentiles), and how about their families? How are they supposed to feel?

De'ja vu!

I figured that perhaps he hadn't read the earlier comment when he wrote his but I wasn't sure. So I formulated a response to the second fellow in my comments section. But then I had a sinking feeling that this is indicating a pattern. Who knows how many people read the post and didn't read the long windy comments and are bothered by the same question?

And so, instead of posting the response in the comments, I thought I should do up a new post and "tell it to the world". Here is the response exactly as I had initially written it for the comments:

I am having a lot of trouble understanding your comment. Have you read the existing comments to this post or did you immediately write your comment after reading my post without seeing the comments?

I see your comment as identical to that of NCO Chassid. The exact same taana: "Why are we cheering the winners at the expense of the losers?" Is your comment any different?

And the same response applies: This is meant to be a lesson in Gevuras Hashem not a drama with a happy ending.

But, both of you have helped me understand the answer to a different question that nags me when I hear stories like this:

Why did HKBH need to strike this fellow with a liver ailment and then "move mountains" (literally) to fix him up? Why not just keep him healthy in the first place (and either keep the German out of the morgue or let someone else get the liver)?

And now I see that HKBH does things so that these stories will be told. This unfortunate fellow may not be so unfortunate. He actually has the great merit to be a privileged agent of HKBHs messaging service.

What is more unfortunate is that HKBH needs to orchestrate these performances in this manner. Because, as these two commenters have convinced me… many of us just don't get it.