THE JERUSALEM JEWISH VOICE
THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
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THE BIRTH OF THE JEWS, THE BIRTH OF THE BLUES, AND THE REBIRTH OF EDEN
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WHAT'S UP DOC? Beggers in the horrible bad old days in Eastern Europe eagerly waited months for a wedding, their one chance for a good feed. Imagine their consternation when 2 weddings were scheduled for the same time! They couldn't possibly consume so much food at the same sitting-- yet how could they pass up such an opportunity? Their solution-- eagerly eat one meal, force themselves to throw up, and then tackle the second with equally great gusto!!-- what's your response? What would you do if you were in their torn shoes? So I wish a hearty--
A. THE UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND, AND AN OVERVIEW, OF LECH L'CHA
Avraham proclaimed one world before The Holy One (Eleazer Hakappar, Tanchuma, Lech L'cha, #2, ed. Buber 30a).
Man (Adam & Co.) has been "on the run", since he rejected Divine intimacy to eat an incredible piece of fruit (or a Jerusalem MacDonald's cheeseburger-- may they soon go kosher or fail). Expelled from God's Garden, his Divine Image gradually deteriorated with disuse-- he more and more resembled other mammals, tho far less adroit instinctively. Violently aggressive religionist Cain was further exiled from Divinity and his true self; man's agricultural battle against unyielding nature, now cursed, saps his strength and spirit, leading to idolatry and slavery (S. R. Hirsch).
Noach's resettled after a year at sea, but his babbling Babelian descendants are scattered all over the earth. So last week's reading, Noach, ended the Torah's tale of wandering universal Man, as Terach, Avram's dad*, left his home in Ur Kasdim with his family, without explanation, heading toward Canaan-- his steps were the first steps in mankind's return to Eden, via Zion.
King David describes himself as a "pursued man" in Psalm 23:6-- ONLY GOOD AND KINDNESS WILL PURSUE ME ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE; I'LL RESIDE IN GOD'S HOUSE FOREVER. God's good and kindness CAN be found everywhere, but Man constantly runs away from them; so they must pursue him (The Kotzker Rebbe)! Adam founds a brave new world, seeking self-realization-- but it's really the onset of his rapid regression; he was indeed originally hesitant to enter Eden, feeling inadquate (Genesis Raba 15:5). Eden was a definite earthly site-- paradise is attainable in this world, if man works hard enough at it, per S. R. Hirsch; his own modern religious Hamburg family sent him to public school, rather than to a traditional cheder; he stressed Bible and Hebrew more than Talmud, in his successful lifelong fight against Reform, led by his friend, Geiger, and against Historic (Conservative) Judaism, led by the son of his teacher, Bernays; w/o their heretical stimulus, Hirsch might have just been another rabbi-merchant (see the true-- rather than goody-goody hagiographic-- tale of Hirsch and his own inner struggles in Tradition in An Age of Reform, Noah Rosenbloom).
*Amatlai bat KAR-Nevo (Kar means sheep, a ritually pure animal) was Avram's mom; Haman's was Amatlai bat ORBATI, meaning the daughter of a ravan, an unclean bird; David's ma was Nizbet bat Adael; such facts are only important as a reply to heretics, minim, who ask why the names of the mothers of important figures aren't given in the Bible; we show them that we Jews indeed have them in our Divine Oral Tradition, upon which the Bible relies to convey such info (B.B. 91a; v. Hereford, Christianity, p. 326); so God tells the Jews to slaughter animals "as I commanded you" (Deut. 12:21), tho no such instructions or commands appear in the Written Torah-- but He's referring them to the Oral Law, Tractate Chullin, as to how to do so. So Rav Yitzchak claims that the Book of Genesis and the first 11 chapters of Exodus are written in the Torah (rather than being taught individually, via the oral tradition-- JBS) only to establish Israel's Divine legal title to Israel (see Rashi, 1:1).
When the Holy One contemplated the generations of Enosh and the flood, He said: "How can I build a world with such wicked material?" But when he envisioned Avraham, He said: "I have found a rock (petra) on which to build the world" (Is. 51:1, per Yalkut #766 to Num. 23:9).
THE LONG ROAD BACK TO MYSELF: We now leave universal man to focus on God's choice of Avram, who strove to be an ideal man (as Adam should have been); his descendants are to be role models to the rest of humanity. Avraham too is ostensibly sent into exile by God, painfully leaving his land, culture, and family. His "exile", however, begins to pave the road back home to Eden, via Israel; indeed Avraham only leaves his "other self", Achar, an artificial identity absorbed from his family and environment. He's headed toward his truest self, Father, and land. Finding God is finding oneself-- GOD SAID TO AVRAM: "GO TOWARD (or FOR) YOURSELF, AWAY FROM YOUR LAND, BIRTHPLACE AND FATHER'S HOUSE, TO THE LAND WHICH I'LL SHOW YOU" (indescribable?- 12:1; Rav Gafni strikingly transmitted this teaching from the Zohar, I from my own God-given intelligence, one of Rav J. Soloveichik's favorite sources of Torah truth)-- cf. our Torah blessing: ... "... Who's given us a Torah of Truth and planted within us ETERNAL LIFE (or THE LIFE OF THIS WORLD). Rav Gafni added that "going", constant exploration, movement, protest and progress, was the way to find and develop one's true inner self, as opposed to Noach's stand-still lackadaisical complacancy, discussed by him last week.
God may be telling Avram to "leave", transcend, this earth (YOUR LAND), where his Father, the Lord of Nature, dwells in constricted form-- unlike Noach, Avram's to connect with God's higher Infinite Self, in Israel, the land of eternity, where He "dwells", appears more openly (Ps. 135), tho He, like a multi-national C.E.O., has glorious offices everywhere-- "... the whole world is filled with His glory" (Isaiah 6). So Avraham later tells the Hittites: I'M A STRANGER AND A SETTLER WITH YOU (23:4)-- Avraham and his descendants are fully active participants in this world, but their hearts and souls should and will be way above and beyond it.
We can also translate 12:1-- ..."TO THE LAND WHERE I'LL APPEAR TO YOU". God only APPEARS to Avraham when he gets to Israel (12:7). Only there will he achieve his destiny: I'LL MAKE YOU A GREAT NATION AND BLESS YOU AND MAKE YOUR NAME (essence) GREAT AND YOU WILL (or SHOULD) BE A BLESSING (12:2). ALL FAMILIES OF THE EARTH WILL BE BLESSED THRU YOU (12:3). The U.S. or Russian olah ultimately benefits the U.S. and Russia too.
IT SHALL BE AT THE END OF DAYS-- THE MOUNTAIN OF GOD'S HOUSE SHALL BE ESTABLISHED ON THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAINS (not the not-so-high Temple Mount?-- see Artscrolls' wonderful Ezekiel, Chs. 40, 45, and 48, re the eventual 45 mil distancing of the 3rd Temple from Jerusalem), LIFTED UP HIGHER THAN THE HILLS, AND ALL NATIONS SHALL STREAM TO IT. GREAT PEOPLES WILL ADVANCE AND SAY: "GO, LET'S RISE TO THE MOUNTAIN OF GOD, TO THE HOUSE OF YAAKOV'S GOD-- HE'LL TEACH US (not v.v.-- missionaries are to learn from Jews, not teach them) (SOME) OF HIS WAYS (the 7 laws of Noach?) AND WE'LL GO IN HIS PATHS"-- FOR TORAH SHALL EMERGE FROM ZION AND GOD'S WORD FROM JERUSALEM (Is. 2:2-3).
Ariel Tzvi Fogelman notes that universal and global catastrophes only occur during our first 2 (Jew-free) Torah readings, B'reshit and Noach-- human mortality, the flood, and the post-Babelian dispersion. Perhaps the merit of Avraham and his descendants, the Jewish kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6), saves the world from destruction-- YOU'LL BE A BLESSING... The Righteous are the Foundation of the World. Jewish observance of God's Israeli Torah agricultural laws (today's rabbinic ones too?) affects the safety and prosperity of the whole world (Avot 5:8-9, see Abarbanel; cf. the blessing over bread: You're the source of blessing, God, Our Lord, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from The Land-- of Israel, per the Vilna Gaon).
OUR SHORTHAND BIBLE: Last week's portion ended with 4 seemingly irrelevant details: 1) The death of Avraham's brother. 2) Identification of the wives of Avraham and Nachor. 3) Sara's barren state. 4) The family move, headed toward Canaan, led by Terach. This week's first tale, in contrast, seemingly lacks background and detail. God suddenly appears to Avram and chooses Him at 75, with no explanation. Such enigmas constantly confront those who wrongly view the Bible as a self-contained unit. For 40 years, Moshe taught Israel an ORAL tradition, which God taught him: ... FOR BY THE MOUTH OF THESE WORDS I'VE MADE A COVENANT WITH YOU AND ISRAEL (Ex. 34:27; see Gittin 60, Jer. Peah 2:4); the written Torah resembles shorthand notes, only truly understandable by those who attended (or got tapes of!) the original lectures. K'TAV V'KABBALAH, TORAH T'MIMAH, and HIRSCH'S COMMENTARY all show how the Written Law reflects the oral tradition, that part of God's Eternal Word which non-Jews can learn only from its Jewish possessors (see Isaiah 2 and Grunfeld's introduction to the abridged Hirsch Chumash).
The Talmud (e.g. Eruv. 53a, Pes. 118a, Avot 5:4, B. B. 91a; see Rashi, Ramban on 11:28, Guide 3:29) explains how those seemingly irrelevant details, ending last week's portion, indeed fill lacunae at the beginning of this week's. Last week's brief notes on Avram's family's moving back and forth between Charan and Ur Kasdim are explained by his earlier career in U.K.; Emperor Nimrod cast anti-idolatry activist Avram into a fiery furnace (Ur= fire) of Kasdim; he was miraculously saved and thus earned his Divine choice; some non-Jewish traditions say he was just threatened with imprisonment and deported. His own father, Terach, allegedly turned him in, in loyalty to his gods; this may be why God has to later teach Avraham NOT to sacrifice his son to Him, tho he's ready to do so. In the process of "sacrificing Yitzchak", Avraham relives (and rejects?) such child sacrifice in his own experience.
Perhaps Terach's moving about was to avoid embarrassment and harassment, due to Avraham's heretical views, and to escape Nimrod-- cf. secular reactions to an observant Jew today, who preaches and teaches that one's body is NOT her own, that sex is not a snack, that everyone's private life DOES affect everyone else (and is therefore their concern), and that making children is more important than making money. Avram's brother, Charan, wavers between Avraham's truth and Chaldean conformity; he only risks rebellion and the furnace after Avraham's saved; but he dies in the furnace. His orphaned son, Lot, adopted by Avram, continues Charan's ambivalence. We end this week's reading with the first prediction of Yitzchak's birth to barren Sara; he, true heir to Avraham's heritage, eventually marries Rivkeh, descended from Nachor.
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Lech L'cha covers Avraham's development from 75 to 99; it opens with religious Zionism, and ends with God's Covenant of circumcision, reflecting Israel's unique mission-- A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION (Ex. 19:6). Avraham's formative years in Babylonia, from 3 to 75, are depicted by Maimonides (M. T. Idolatry 1:2); perhaps God left Avraham's diaspora beginnings to the oral tradition, to focus on 2 messages to the universal reader of the O.T. (Only Testament)-- 1) Israel's land and Covenant is the basis for true intimacy between Man and God. 2) Everyman must relearn Torah and its 7 universal commandments, latent in every foetus, from Avraham's folk-- a prerequisite for universal redemption.
B. SYNOPSIS: ZIONISM-- GOD'S 1st MITZVA
Like a vial of perfume, Avraham could give fragrance only when moved. So God said: "Get you out", "become a wanderer!" (R. Jochanan, S. of S. Raba, 1:3:3; see Abin, Tan. Lech Lcha 3, cf. Berekia, Genesis Raba to 1:3)).
God burst upon 75 year old Avram, who sought Him since early childhood; without introduction, He proclaims: GET OUT, LEAVE FOR ISRAEL, I'LL SEE YOU OVER THERE! Zionism precedes any other "religious" commandment; circumcision and the akadah come much later. So today, Israel's gradual return to Torah FOLLOWS its physical rebirth. In Ezra's day, intermarried ignorant Sabbath violators began Israel's resettlement-- finally the land was filled with its children; today too, we have to awaken to God's voice, calling all dispersed Jews back home (HaNtziv, Shivat Tziyon: 2:5). Jews lamented, when asked to book a Zion Song Fest in Babylonia's citadel of civilization: HOW CAN WE SING GOD'S SONG ON ALIEN SOIL? (cf. U.S. Chassidic Music Festivals). IF I FORGET YOU, JERUSALEM, LET MY RIGHT HAND BE FORGOTTEN (true Jewish power must be connected to Israel); LET MY TONGUE CLEAVE TO MY MOUTH IF I REMEMBER YOU NOT (the Jewish message to the world will only be fully broadcast from Israel-- by satallite?), IF I DON'T PLACE JERUSALEM ABOVE MY HIGHEST JOY (Ps. 137).
We break a glass to remember the still-destroyed Temple at weddings (originally a magic practice, to ward off evil spirits, per Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic & Superstition; rabbis struggled against folk superstitions, but often transformed them into meaningful religious symbols-- if you can't beat them, join them; mezuzot were used as amulets in the middle ages); every Diaspora dedication of a synagogue or yeshiva should be viewed as only a temporary panacea; I was shocked at the lack of any mention of Israel and our eventual soon-as-possible return home, at the dedication of a Jewish Day School in Sharon, Mass.-- a prime function of Jewish schools abroad should be to aid and abet aliya.
Avraham Rosenfeld, an inspired and inspiring modern Orthodox Zionist Rav and Chazan**, was born and bred in a large Chevron family; most of his brothers were massacred by Arabs in 1929; their grandchildren, aided and abetted by alleged "liberals", are doing their best to make Chevron Judenrein again today. Rosenfeld couldn't tell a lie-- he changed rebuilt Jerusalem's description from "the desolated city" to "the city that had been desolate", in his famous english Kinot for the 9th of Av; he added holocaust passages, as in his english selichot. He consecrated Wellington, N.Z.'s new shul and community center (all Jewish activity, religious and secular, under one roof-- weak, but wholesome) in 1977; but even he, an ardent Zionist, could only allude to Jerusalem, and Wellington's temporary role, as a far-off goal, at the end of his address-- "And finally, O God, grant that, thru many generations, parents may bequeath to their children This House as a Sacred Centre... until a higher Sanctuary be... established in Jerusalem, and the Law shall go forth from Zion, and Thy word from Jerusalem"-- he himself, as many of his flock, didn't wait for that great day and returned to Israel shortly thereafter . Today many Jews CAN return, but don't! Every Diaspora Tisha B'Av mourning over "our exile and desolate land" should end with 3 resounding words-- ONE WAY $500!
** he was also President of his Bnei Brith lodge, a Rotarian and Mason, and held an annual Masonic service in his shul! As most British clergy then, he donned black clerical garb (Rav Ralph Genende of Auckland later refused!). His son, Lionel, one of our readers, became a chazan at Marble Arch Synagogue. See A Standard for the People, Stephen Levine.
From our Noach study: The Zohar (Vayera 107), written in Spain in 1278 by Moshe DeLeon (possibly based on much older traditions), predicts that the heavens will again open up, with waters of knowledge, in 5600 (1840-- the year Avraham Hort set sail from London to N.Z., where he founded a fine Jewish community in Wellington; tho quite righteous and pious, his daughter Margerit married a non-Jew, Francis Dillon Bell, becoming ancestress of a future P.M.; Hort wouldn't sanction, but didn't oppose, it, as she had no Jewish men available; a grandson forsook God's eternal covenant for Christianity); do moderns generally know more than ancients? Per Rebbe Mendele of Kotsk, both secular and Torah knowledge indeed burst forth in 1840; the forces of evil, however, wrested knowledge away from its potential for fixing the world (tikkun), and twisted it for evil (e.g. misuse of psychoanalysis to justify promiscuity, of science to forge weapons of mass destruction, of TV for trash, and of Torah to justify hate, anger and intolerance; The Common Denominator is now trying to reconcile opposing Jewish groups in Israel, in a sort of personal Discovery Program).
Rav Benyamin Blech dramatically portrayed how the whole 6000 year course of human history is pre-programmed; events in the Patriarchs' lives are paradigms for the future of their sons. The first 2000 years, called TOHU, chaos, is the state of the world until Avraham begins teaching Torah at 52. The next 2000 years, until 172 years after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, is when TORAH flourished. The last 2000 years (only 244 to go) is the gradually growing Messianic Era (San. 97a); our sins have prevented Messiah's coming until now-- let's hope it'll be soon, maybe Rav Lau! (San. 97b).
The Shoa and State of Israel are the beginning of the end. The Zohar predicts Jewish return to Israel in 5708 (1948), quoting Lev. 25:10: YOU SHALL... PROCLAIM LIBERTY IN THE LAND TO ALL ITS INHABITANTS... A JUBILEE HOMECOMING YEAR TO YOU (see our B'har study); YOU'LL RETURN-- EACH MAN TO HIS TRUE POSSESSION AND EACH TO HIS FAMILY-- YOU'LL RETURN (--TASHUVU, written here w/o a vov, = 708= '48!!! Deut. 30:3 is verse #5708 in the Torah: GOD YOUR LORD WILL RETURN WITH YOUR CAPTIVITY AND HAVE MERCY UPON YOU-- HE'LL RETURN AND GATHER YOU FROM ALL THE NATIONS, TO WHICH GOD YOUR LORD SCATTERED YOU. It's preceded by verse #5705 (= 1945), perhaps our only correct "understanding" of the Holocaust: SECRET THINGS BELONG TO GOD OUR LORD (e.g. HaShoah), BUT REVEALED MATTERS (e.g. Zionism) ARE FOR US AND OUR CHILDREN AS LONG AS THIS WORLD'S HERE-- TO DO ALL THE THINGS OF THIS TORAH (YF: WOW!). May God help Rav Blech implant his message in the hearts of all his disciples in the Y.U. U.S. oasis of Torah, and quickly bring them to Israel.
Rashi translates our first words, Lech L'cha, as GO FOR YOURSELF.. TO THE LAND..., implying "FOR YOUR GOOD & FOR YOUR BENEFIT"; Ramban rejects this-- L'CHA is commonly used with Lech, go, with no special meaning. Perhaps Rashi isn't translating L'cha, but simply noting that the hardships of Avram's aliya will ultimately rebound to his benefit; he doesn't so comment on LECH L'CHA, GO, when God tells Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak (22:2). Avraham's long slow process of faith development begins with simple faith that God will reward him, as promised- "for his own good". He ultimately grows to unquestioning identity with God's Will-- God Awareness, Yiras Hashem-- at the sacrifice of Yitzchak; there he's to destroy his greatest reward and the sole hope for the future of his mission, with no explanation or compensation. GO "BY YOURSELF" implies that he who really loves Israel will even go there and explore it on foot, as many Yemenites did (Rav Nachman). Hirsch translates: ISOLATE YOURSELF from your country...-- Avram's journey is to both separate him from his decadent origins and bring him to the Holyland.
"THE LAND WHICH I WILL SHOW YOU" may imply that he was to continue Terach's journey toward Canaan, until God would say STOP; how far he'd get might depend on his conduct. Others say he already knew of Israel, THE LAND-- God tells Avram that only there will he find what he seeks-- God's revealed Presence (translating: "WHERE I'LL APPEAR TO YOU"). Perhaps he is to keep travelling until God appears to him (Sporno). Picture long separated lovers, who finally reunite and marry; as they enter their luxurious honeymoon hotel, the groom suddenly discovers mold and cobwebs beneath the lusture; he tells his bride: "Honey, let's delay our honeymoon a bit; we'll celebrate in simpler, but purer and cleaner, lodgings (cf. Jerusalem w/the West Side and T.A.)". The head of a multinational corporation may have offices all over the world, where you can meet him; it's quite different if he invites you to his home, especially to his den, where he chats with his pipe and slippers . So... THE WHOLE UNIVERSE IS FILLED WITH HIS GLORY (Is. 6:3), but BLESSED IS GOD FROM ZION, WHO LIVES IN JERUSALEM... (Where His intimate Presence and Providence are more keenly and easily felt-- Ps. 135:21). God judges folks by how they relate to Israel.
AVRAM TOOK SARAI HIS WIFE, LOT, HIS BROTHER'S SON, ALL THE PROPERTY THEY ACQUIRED, AND THE SOULS WHICH THEY MADE IN CHARAN... (12:5). THE SOULS refers to returnees to the universal Noachide religion (Ibn Ezra, Rashi), or to servants (Rashi), or to Avram & Sarai's "making", developing, their own souls in Charan (Sefer Yitzirah 6, Rivad-- cf. God's address to potential man: LET US MAKE MAN IN OUR IMAGE...-- 1:26); spiritual hachshara should precede Aliya! Dick Gregory told me, about 20 years ago, that he didn't yet feel holy enough to come to Israel. At Sh'chem, God briefly reveals Himself as promised: I'LL GIVE THIS LAND TO YOUR DESCENDANTS (12:7); today too, many olim serve as a transitional generation-- only their kids will be true Israelis. Avram builds an altar there, and east of Bet El, near Jerusalem; expressions of his gratitude for God's Revelation, they're also sites to proclaim God's reality to the Canaanites, whose lease hadn't yet expired; they may have been more receptive to the message than sophisticated Babylonians, who worshipped human achievement (Cf. Jewish Press readers with those of Commentary & Tikkun); sometimes simple folk are more in touch with life's most important basic truths, than their complex clever brethren (cf. hassidut, Rav Nachman's tale "The Wise Man and the Fool", and Oslo). Yet Avraham sends Eliezer back to the "old country" to find a wife for Yitzchak.
Rav J. Soloveichik (THE RAV SPEAKS) views each sacrificial altar as symbolic of a sacrificial aspect of Avraham's life and trials. The first represents his abrupt break with his past and identity to make aliya. Once in Israel, he makes sacrifices to acquire the land; so we pray in musaf-- ... AND BRING US UP TO OUR LAND AND PLANT US IN OUR BORDERS; AND THERE WE'LL SACRIFICE BEFORE YOU THE CONSTANT SACRIFICES, PER THEIR ORDER (e.g. high prices and miluim?), AND ADDITIONAL SACRIFICES (e.g. Israel's wars and Scud attacks?), PER THEIR LAWS; Avram's greeted, upon his aliya, by economic crisis (famine) and war (the acts of the fathers are a guide to the children). Yet God's called Lord of the Land, the Lord of (belonging to) Avraham-- anyone, even those Zionist pioneers who were anti-religious on a conscious level, automatically acquires a share in Divinity when he builds an altar of sacrifice in resettling Eretz Yisrael; the unconsciousness holiness so acquired will eventually emerge, after worldly needs of sustenance and self-defense, ignored in the overspiritualized exile, are satisfied; a great sense of emptiness will then fill the soul of the otherwise secular Jew (or his kids), who, at heart, IS a "soul person". They'll then return to themselves, God and Torah, w/o withdrawing from the world, ending Israel's conflict between body and soul (Rav A. Y. Kook; cf. Israeli returnees to Tora today, e.g. Rav Steinsaltz, Uri Zohar, Pupik).
Avraham moved southward, symbolizing his gradual move from material to spiritual orientation (in the tabernacle, the table, symbolizing kingship, material mastery, was in the north; the menorah, symbolic of wisdom, was in the south-- B.B. 25b, Munk). Per Zohar, the 2nd altar was in JERUSALEM, AT THE TEMPLE SITE, where Avraham best experienced God's Presence and started his preaching mission. Famine drove him to Egypt; beautiful Sara had to pretend to be his sister; the Egyptians were likely to take her and kill any husband in the way; as his father's granddaughter, she would indeed be called his "sister". She was 65 (cf. M. Dietrich). Pharoah indeed took her. God plagued Pharoah to save her; he then sent them out of Egypt with great wealth. This tale is a model for, or beginning of, the Exodus saga.
Avraham immediately returned to his altars and preaching; he now had trouble with his independently wealthy nephew Lot. Avraham (cf. Peres) suggested a peaceful parting and Lot chose the lush Jordan Plain. Tho morally corrupt, it was a real "garden of God" before its destruction (cf. Peyton Place and the wistful nostalgia of British and New England olim for their former countryside and beautiful fall foliage-- the JNF should replicate it here).
C. TO MIX OR NOT TO MIX?
"AND-GOD SAID TO AVRAM, AFTER LOT SEPARATED FROM HIM: `PLEASE LIFT UP YOUR EYES (= have deep spiritual insight?) AND SEE FROM THE PLACE WHERE YOU ARE***-- NORTH, SOUTH, EAST AND WEST. FOR ALL THE LAND WHICH YOU SEE, I'LL GIVE YOU AND YOUR SEED FOREVER (perhaps only if Avraham's insight permeates it; cf. Sinai, left to moral abandon, and then returned to Egypt); AND I'LL MAKE YOUR SEED AS DUST OF THE EARTH... ARISE, TRAVERSE THE LAND, TO ITS LENGTH AND WIDTH, THAT I SHALL GIVE IT TO YOU-- Israelis hike!'" (13:14-17). The link between God's speech and Lot's departure suggests that Avram sinned, losing Revelation, by retaining corrupt Lot in his entourage, not completely "leaving his father's house"; others say he sinned in rejecting Lot and leaving him to terrible Sodomite influence! (Catch 22?); a peculiar expression-- AND GOD-- precedes the verb "said", a hint that God and his Divine Court were judging Avram's impatience (Munk; Jer. Ber. 9:7). Its hard to determine when to stick with the misbehaving, to influence them, and when to leave them, lest they influence you and yours. Rav J. Soloveichik claims that many such basic ?? are never really decided-- they depend upon evaluation of the situation in each age; Avram then built an altar in Chevron.
*** where else? Perhaps He means "from your new perspective"-- only now can Oleh Avraham truly appreciate Israel's innate superiority over Babylonia & Egypt; he had now returned to Israel from Egypt on his own, w/o any Divine command, having already experienced and appreciated it as a sine qua non for his mission.
D. THE SYNOPSIS CONTINUED
Avram was a friend and good neighbor to all in Mamre, tho detached from their culture (Hirsch on 14:13; so were Wellington's many great rabbis). Lot was captured in the revolution of 5 subject kings, including S'dom, against the 12 year rule of their masters, the kings' quartet, after the fall of Babel (Seder Olam Rabbi 1). The 4 came up to crush the 13 year revolt, conquering all in their wake. Rev. Lot, rebellious nephew and former student of Avram, was Rabbi Emeritus or Judge of S'dom. Avram and his 318 trainees (hesdar students per Rashi, Tzahal per Ibn Ezra) left their self-imposed isolation and risked their lives in hot pursuit; they beat and routed the 4, capturing both property and souls, and saving Lot. Targum Yonaton: 318 means Eliezer (whose name= 318), converted son of wicked Nimrod (i.e. Amraphel, leader of the 4-- Eruvin 53a), now the pupil and righthand man of Avram. Nimrod's the first mad empire builder, perhaps a bigger threat to Avram than S'dom (cf. USSR of yore, Israelis who call their kids Nimrod). Canaanite post-Babelians, sunk in comfort, luxury, and sensuality, were happy to pay off kings to insure their happiness-- their kings, in turn, submitted to the new powerful emperor; their subsequent rebellion failed; Avram showed them that one who conquers himself can get rid of external conquerors too-- Hirsch; cf. Israelis and Russians who emigrate to the US, Israel vs. the intifada.
"THAT NIGHT" (14:15) was Passover, forever a Jewish Victory night (see M. Kasher's Hagada). Avram stopped chasing the kings at Dan (lit. "he judged") and, later, at Chovah (lit. "obligation"). No pacifist, he chastised sinners to save them from self destruction. Judaism IS judgmental of behavior, while wary of ultimate judgment of another, a Divine function. Avram returns all the goods and folk captured-- Jews bring both humanity and the physical world back to God. MalkiTzedek, literally "the King of Justice", an allusion to God, rewards Avram and his descendants-- He's personified, on a earthly level, by King Shem of Jerusalem, who brings out bread and wine (Zohar Chadash; Avram deals with both necessity and luxury, work and pleasure, relating all to God; so his descendants sanctify their bread and wine every Shabbat). Shem's repute may have been Avram's incentive, when he first headed toward Canaan-- Hirsch. The 4 tyrant kings represent the 4 earthly elements (or 4 physical senses?), which enslave man his first 12 years. In the 13th (bar mitzvah), spiritual forces, latent in the soul, rebel; man, now ruled by 5 senses, 5 kings, engages his restrengthened 4-fold physicality in battle in his 14th year. Avram (literally "great father") personifies the Divine force which finally helps the soul to win its self-liberation-- Rav Efrayim of Luntshitz. He, as Ibn Ezra, claims that the 5 Canaanite kings served Chedorlaomer 12 years, rebelled in the 13th, and were captured in the 14th; Rashi claims they rebelled FOR 13 YEARS.
After his victory, Avram is blessed by Rev. MalkiTzedek, to whom he gives tithes of the booty for God, refusing to take anything for himself. Rav Yochanan (Ned. 32b) CRITICIZES his illustrious ancestor and predecessor Avram for not taking the souls and training them as God's servants-- putting Divine Dignity, kiddush hashem, above Divine Missionary activity to Mankind was wrong; it engendered Israel's later exile to Egypt, where the Jews experienced real human degradation. The Torah later teaches that a Jew's alien servant must be circumcised or dismissed. Would modern leaders so criticize their predecessors? Could the Lubavitcher Rebbe have rejected former rebbe Shalom Dov Ber's anti-Zionism, and agreed with Rav Kook that the State of Israel is indeed the beginning of our gradual redemption? Could he have commanded his chassidim to sleep in their sukkot, together with their wives, in pleasant Israeli sukkot, even tho they followed the Mitler Rebbe, who didn't sleep in cold European sukkot, despite Jewish law, for allegedly spiritual reasons? Avram didn't impose his piety on his aides, who took their share of the spoil.
AFTER Avram won the war with honor, God told him: "FEAR NOT AVRAM, I'M YOUR SHIELD. YOUR REWARD'S VERY GREAT"! (15:1). Avram feared he'd exhausted his Divine credit, or that he'd sinned by killing the enemy (as today, such a conscience arises only in Israel-- cf. the events of Oct. 8, 1990, when Arabs attacked innocent Jews and others at the Wall, and their recent murderous rampage after the harmless opening of an ancient tunnel). Per Rav J. Soloveichik, Avram was discouraged by the meager acknowledgment of those he saved, who continued their evil ways. Now keenly aware of the eons needed for his mission, he tells God his life is worthless w/o an heir; at 50, you can advise the young (Avot 5:24), as you begin to realize how little of your task you're likely to complete. Lot abandoned Avram for his wealthy Temple in S'dom; Eliezer never quite got Nimrod out of his soul. God now promises Avram a natural heir; He took him outside, showing him the stars-- so his descendants will illuminate and guide mankind thruout the long dark night of human history. God appreciated Avram's strengthened faith in the fulfillment of His covenant, tho it would occur only long after his departure.
In a prelude to the Temple, Avram brought sacrifices, vivdly conveying HOW his descendants would get the land. They were halved (except the birds). He drove away the birds of prey (a symbol of wicked nations), who interfered with Divine sacrifice. Avram knew sacrifices were not for the birds (vs. some modern religionists!). Dread and sleep fell upon him in a 2nd vision (Avraham lies dormant for long periods of history)-- God predicted the long hard road of Jewish exile, ending in exodus with great wealth, judgment of the enemy, and conquest of Israel-- round 1 in the great fight between good and evil.
CHRONOLOGIC LOGIC: "400" represents wealth in Western culture, e.g. THE Fortune 400 top companies and my elegant old Packard 400. But God tells Avram: "Know for sure that your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and they'll enslave them and afflict them 400 years (15:13)"-- worldly critical Abarbanel (the best medieval commentator for modern man) asks: the Jews were only 210 years in Egypt**** and they weren't enslaved or afflicted until all 12 brothers died! Seder Olam Raba and Rashi contend that the 400 years of "exile" begin with Yitzchak's birth ("your seed"), since he never lived in his own land (it was controlled by others, e.g. the Philistines-- see 20:1, 15:1, 21:33, 26:6, 47:4, Ps. 105:23-- Sporno, Rashi). Thus the text doesn't refer to "the land of Egypt", only "a land not theirs". But Yitzchak was never enslaved!
Thus Arye Kaplan follows Ramban, who applies the words "400 years" only to the exile, not the affliction and slavery, in effect transposing "400 years", placing it before "and they'll enslave them..."; he cites other examples of such transposition of phrases from the end of a verse, but all could be read as additions or qualifications to what precedes them, w/o transposing them. We needn't so distort the text-- God may refer here to the inevitable spiritual enslavement and pain suffered by Jews who live in a land controlled by others, who set its tone, no matter how much they flourish and prosper, even in the holy land-- e.g. under the Philistines, Turks and British. God promises to punish all (Rashi) nations which so enslave Israel, and to give the freed Jews riches (15:14). Ibn Ezra interprets the 400 years as the outer limit to the forthcoming periodic Jewish exile, enslavement and affliction (in that order, per Abarbanel, who sees exile as the Divine plan, harsh enslavement and affliction as later additions, due to sins, e.g. the sale of Yosef), starting from this covenant, when Avraham was no older than 86; thus the Egyptian exile was no more than 187 years.
**** from Yaakov's arrival until Exodus! Yaakov tells his sons: "r'du", "go down", to Egypt in Gen. 42:2; the letters of r'du = 210 (200 + 4 + 6). Yaakov was born to Yitzchak at 60, and he descended to Egypt at the ago of 130, so 190 of the 400 years of exile, since Yitzchak's birth, had already elapsed, leaving 210 in Egypt. Also, Yocheved, born as Yaakov entered Egypt, was 130 when she gave birth to Moshe, who was 80 at Exodus (Ex. 7:7); thus the Jews were 210 years in Egypt.
Should we include the 70 years of Jewish exile in Babylonia, "a land not theirs", in the 400 years of exile, we're left with a maximum of 140 years in Egypt. Yaakov's grandchildren and some great-grandchildren are born before his descent to Egypt, where 3 generations are born before Exodus, e.g. Amram, Moshe and his sons or Ram, Amminadav, and Nachshon (see Gen. 46:8f, Num. 1:4f, ICh2); God tells Avram: "and the 4th generation (of Jews) will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete" (15:16, per Rashi and Ibn Ezra); but there are 6-7 generations from Yitzchak to Exodus! Ramban translates: "by the 4th generation of the Amorites, they (the Jews, after becoming a people in Egypt) will return". 70 souls (46:27, Ex. 1:5), plus wives of no accounting, grow to over 600,000 soldiers, excluding women and children, within 127-210 years. If the 70 each had 10 kids on the average (the Torah and midrashim testify to Jewish fecundity in Egypt), the next generation would contain 700 souls, the following, 7000, the third 70,000 and the fourth 700,000, not quite enough, as the 600,000 excludes women and children. So we must raise the average family size. But the 70 souls may only be the future leaders, accompanied by a much larger entourage. So, ICh.2 lists only the leading Israelite males born in Egypt, not the 600M+.
Tho we've resolved "400 years" in context, our resolution must jibe with other passages, e.g. Ex. 12:40-41: "And the settlement of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was 30 years and 400 years; at the end of 30 years and 400 years, on that very day, all of God's hosts left the land of Egypt". But we just showed how no more than 210 of the 400 years of exile occurred in Egypt! And what are these extra 30 years? To avoid Ptolemy & Co. deriding God's Torah, its rabbinic translators into Greek added "and other lands" to "who dwelt in Egypt..." (Meg. 9a), but we Jews must somehow work it out.
Hirsch claims "Egypt" is a general term for harsh lands of exile; otherwise the Torah would just write: "The children of Israel lived in Egypt 430 years"! He translates: "And the Egyptian (exile) lifestyle of the children of Israel lasted 430 years". The extra 30 years may refer to Avraham's own wanderings and alienation, tho in Israel, before Yitzchak's birth-- but he was 75 when he arrived, 100 when Yitzchak was born; thus there are only 25, not 30, such years. Some assume Avram came to Israel 5 years earlier, went home, and returned again 5 years later, a most difficult claim. Ibn Ezra concludes that the other 5 years are those during which Avram, already isolated from his upbringing, wandered from Ur Kasdim with his dad Terach, before reaching Israel. But how could we call Avraham and Yitzchak "Bnei Yisroel", children of their own descendant Yaakov-Yisroel? Perhaps God uses that term also for precursors of the people, just as the Temple is called David's sukka, tho he only planned it. 30 years may have been added to the 400 for sins of Israel in Egypt, e.g. idolatry and ignoring circumcision (see Abarbanel, Me'am Lo'ez); they were only redeemed when they cried out to God, the onset of repentence. Josephus postulates 215 years of Israel in Egypt.
Encyclopedic Me'am Lo'ez, tho often far-fetched, far more credulous than highly sophisticated Abarbanel and Hirsch, also relates Torah to life and is highly imaginative. He seriously suggests that the 430 years is not literal, but existential, a reflection of a rabbinic teaching that 80% (others teach 99%+) of Egyptian Jewry died in the plague of darkness and that their servitude was 86 years. At Exodus, their memory is recalled by 5 X 86, or 430, years of slavery!!!-- but they're called years of "settlement", not slavery. His slightly better suggestion: True Jewish Egyptian settlement starts with Efrayim and Manasha, the first Jews born in Egypt, 5 years before Yaakov's arrival; God doubles their 215 years of day and night exilic affliction, in the merit of the Patriarchs, to arrive at 430 years of Jewish settlement in Egypt!!!!. His good guess: "Shana" denotes any time cycle, not just a year (cf. the "days" of Creation). So the 30 "years" of Jewish settlement in Egypt may be 30 seven year sabbatical cycles, 210 years, culmination of the 400 year decreed exile-- "and 400 years".
After 10 years in Israel, still childless Sarai gives Avram her maidservant Hagar; she bears him (he's 86) wild passionate Yishmael. God orders Hagar to submit to Sara's harsh leadership, despite her superior fecundity; yet Sara's descendants are punished for Hagar's affliction. Jews must be kind and just leaders. Yishmael will be first to follow Israel and Torah in the end of days-- when the Jews will listen to God, the Arabs will listen to them. Zohar (32a; cf. 119a-b) predicts that Yishmael's descendants will occupy Israel until the Jews return, followed by major wars with Edom. A 3 month W.W. will culminate in Edom's destruction and Yishmael's power; afterwards the world shall be directed by Yisrael's supernal power (see Munk on 17:18).
God gives Avram, 99, the covenant of 8th day circumcision; He changes their names to Avraham and Sara; He promises him a true successor, Yitzchak, from Sara (90); she's not informed. Avram laughs and prays for Yishmael; God says He'll multiply him "very much" (bim'od m'od= 92= Mohamad; Rambam rejects this hint in his Letter to Yemen), and make him a great nation too-- but Avraham's universal impact will be from Yitzchak (The Koran distorts Gods' words here). All of Avraham's males were circumcised, a sign of Jewish (or Avrahamic) uniqueness, a symbol of man's completing God's unfinished work, in body and in spirit.
E. THE MESSIANIC HAFTARA, ISAIAH 40:27-41:16
Isaiah predicts the failure of a selfish Godless UN; true human unity will only come from a truly Jewish Israel. The Jews are discouraged by a cruel insensitive world, by the long delay until God even begins to fulfill His promises to Avraham; the prophet foresees eventual victory, as Avram's, over all Israel's enemies. Those who cleave to Divine hope, as Avraham, have inexhaustive energy, despite their apparent lack of success. (M. Hirsch)... YOU'LL REJOICE IN GOD, AND PRAISE YOURSELF IN HE WHO MAKES ISRAEL HOLY.
Maimonides ends Mishneh Torah (Judges 12): LET NO ONE THINK THAT, IN DAYS OF THE MESSIAH, ANY LAWS OF NATURE WILL BE SET ASIDE... ISAIAH 11:6 MEANS THAT ISRAEL, THE LAMB, WILL LIVE SECURELY AMONG WICKED HEATHEN WOLVES (i.e. nations; does this verse support Rav Kook's belief in messianic vegetarianism?). ALL WILL ACCEPT THE TRUE RELIGION... ELIJAH WILL JUST COME TO BRING PEACE TO THE WORLD, NOT TO CHANGE ANY HALACHIC DECISIONS... NEITHER THE EXACT SEQUENCE OF THESE EVENTS NOR THEIR DETAILS ARE RELIGIOUS DOGMAS... KING MESSIAH WILL DETERMINE ISRAEL'S PEDIGREES & TRIBES... THE SCHOLARS AND PROPHETS DIDN'T YEARN FOR THE MESSIANIC ERA THAT ISRAEL EXERCISE DOMINION OVER THE WORLD... OR BE EXALTED... OR EAT, DRINK AND REJOICE (cf. Eilat). THEIR GOAL WAS THAT ISRAEL BE FREE TO DEVOTE ITSELF TO THE LAW AND ITS WISDOM, WITH NO ONE TO OPPRESS OR DISTURB IT, AND THUS MERIT THE WORLD TO COME. THEN THERE WILL BE NO FAMINE OR WAR, NEITHER JEALOUSY NOR STRIFE. BLESSING WILL BE ABUNDANT, COMFORTS WITHIN THE REACH OF ALL (cf. 47th St. Camera). THE 0NE OCCUPATION OF THE WORLD WILL BE TO KNOW GOD... FOR THE EARTH WILL BE FULL OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, AS THE WATERS WHICH COVER THE SEA (IS. 11:90). THE TREATISE ON KINGS AND THE ENTIRE CODE ARE COMPLETED. BLESSED BE WHO SPOKE AND THE WORLD... CAME INTO EXISTENCE.
F. THE HOLY LAND IN HOLY LORE
God said: Israel and the people of Israel are beloved by me-- I'll bring My beloved Israel to My beloved land (Genesis Raba 23). Rashby says: The Holy One blessed be He gave Israel 3 good gifts-- Torah, the Land of Israel, and the world to come-- together with great trials (Ber. 5a). 3 things are given conditionally-- Israel, the Temple, & the Davidic royal dynasty (Michelta Yitro-- cf. our claims to Israel today). Our rabbis taught: Let one always dwell in Israel, even in a predominantly heathen town (e.g. Bethlehem), rather than dwelling abroad, even in a basically Jewish city (e.g. Monsey)-- for one who dwells in Israel is as if he possesses God, whereas one who dwells in the diaspora-- it's as if he has no God! (Ket. 110b; cf. L.A. w/T.A.). I WILL GIVE THE LAND OF YOUR WANDERINGS TO YOU AND YOUR SEED AFTER YOU-- THE ENTIRE LAND OF CANAAN-- ...AND I'LL BE TO THEM A GOD-- R. Yudan said: If your children enter the land, they'll accept my Lordship: if not, they won't (Genesis Raba 46; is ultimate mass assimilation inevitable abroad? Marx comes from Rashi). R. Elazer said: Anyone living in Israel is naturally w/o sin (unless he really tries!-- Ket. 111a). AND YOU'LL DWELL SECURELY (only) IN YOUR LAND (Lev. 26:5)-- not abroad (cf. restless Jews, ADL; Sifra B'chukosei).
G. AVRAHAM-- A COMPLEX SAINT
Avraham was a prototype. His experiences were symbolic of what happened later to Israel (Levi, Tanchuma, Lech L'cha #12, ed. Buber 35b).
Ramban criticizes Avraham for descending to Egypt and lying about his wife-- but one should leave Israel rather than starve, shouldn't rely on miracles; Egyptians would take Sara anyway-- why die?-- a dead Avraham certainly can't rescue Sara! Ramban, tho an MD, generally urges man to transcend nature, praising asceticism; he implies that seeking medical treatment implies a lack of faith (was Ramban a precursor of Lichtenstein, who founded the Jewish Science faith healing movement?). Tho Hirsch defends Avraham, he praises Ramban's Jewish non-deification of any Man, no matter how great (cf. Rav Kook's advice-- be most critical of your rebbe, whose faults you are most likely to copy-- cf. attitudes to The Rebbe, Rav Shach, The Chofetz Chayim, The Vilna Gaon, etc.). Israel might have been far closer to its goal, had the Rebbe and Rav Soloveichik settled here.
Rav Yehudah Henkin was taken aback by Avram's plea to Sarai-- to say he was her brother, that the Egyptians treat him well for her sake, and (#2!) not kill him (12:13). Would Avraham profit from his wife's abduction and abuse? He answers (as Munk & Hirsch) that it was then customary for the brother of a prospective bride to negotiate a financial settlement from the would-be husband. By assuming this role, Avram hoped to protract negotiations long enough to spirit Sarai away, when Israeli famine ended. To his great surprise, Pharoah himself took her, wrecking his plan.
Avram refused reward from the King of S'dom, lest he say "I've made Avram rich" (14:23). Yet he took Pharoh's gifts! Perhaps he foresaw an obligation to fight for the king of S'dom again, should he take money; also, unlike Pharoh, the king was in Avraham's parish. His only motive in war was to save Lot and stop the powerful empire from conquering Israel. The picture of Avram which emerges is not only a righteous man, of great faith. He's also clear-sighted, pragmatic, realistic and just plain smart. Indeed, he might have made a better Secretary of State than a Minister of Religion. Should Rav Henkin, Rav Riskin and Rav M. Gafni be MKs?
Rav Gafni, based upon hassidic sources, claims that Avram put his potential profit even before his life, as he eagerly awaited fulfillment of his Divine blessings of prosperity and success, bestowed by God (12:2)-- not for his personal benefit, but as a prerequisite for his destined impact upon the rest of the world; so, with the rise of the successful prosperous State of Israel, Jews are much more respected and heeded throughout the world, than when they were but objects of persecution; so early noachides turned to anti-semitic Christianity when the Jews were exiled and their temple destroyed (Prof. Irving Agus). Our right hand, our power, withers in exile, and our tongue, our message, cleaves to the roofs of our mouths. But using another person, e.g. Sarai, to achieve one's own ends, even his most noble dreams of Divine mission and destiny, is, in effect, to treat that person as a mere tool, to enslave them, to ignore their own mission and uniqueness; thus Avram and Sara's descent into Egypt is not just a prelude or sign of Israel's enslavement, but its very cause, as Avram's manipulative attitude toward Sara eventually results in Joseph's sale into slavery by his brothers; this reflects a negative Jewish mindset, which could only be rooted out via Israel's own slavery in Egypt, implanting eternal internal Jewish empathy for fellow sufferers.
But I reject this hassidic exegesis, which, as so many others, isn't clearly the message of the text, however ingenious its exposition (cf. Maharal)-- I'd assume that Sara's Divine mission was indeed to help Avram fulfill his Divine mission, of her own free will; also, as above, Avram needed both life and power to save Sara from Pharoh-- a dead or poor and powerless Avram meant that Sara was condemned to be just another of Pharoh's harem. But, like many hassidic drashot, from the Baal Shem Tov on down, deep and brilliant ideas may lie behind the questionable exegesis; indeed each of us who has a sense of Divine mission-- rabbis, roshei yeshiva, kiruv folks, sincere politicians, etc.-- should heed this message and make sure that we don't abuse or coerce others into aiding our cause, ignoring their own agendas and missions.
This sense of respect for others' integrity, tho we think they're dead wrong, is a salient characteristic of the Shalom Hartman Institute, which celebrated the dedication of its tasteful and magnificant new Jerusalem campus this week. The corridor between the high school and the Bet Midrash, and their blending of all God's kids and their cultures with His Torah, remind me of the famous Bet Yaakov Jewish Quarter Yeshiva several hundred yeasrs ago. Hartman's is often far more effective in involving folks in Jewish learning and practice than "heavier" or "frumer" institutions, who lack respect for those whom they hope to influence-- this is especially true of attempts to transform those whose lives and accomplishments are basically OK, as opposed to failures and misfits, who seek any warm nurturing womb. At the inspiring and impressive dedication, Rav Dr. Dovid Hartman distinuished between pluralism, the interchange of insights and values, to everyone's enrichment, with relativism, which recognizes no values, which assumes that Hitler and Mother Teresa simply have different styles and tastes.
H. GENTLE PERSUASION
Avraham TOOK and circumcized Yishmael and his servants and household members (17:23). TOOK means PERSUADED. Avram didn't FORCE any adult to be circumcized; he wanted them to accept the King's command of their own free will-- "AS THE LORD SPOKE WITH HIM" (ibid): God doesn't want to be represented by holy avengers (Ohr Hachayim); it may also mean that he obeyed AS SOON AS God spoke. Contemporary Israeli Orthodox leaders should contemplate this passage. Rav JBS asked why many Israelis despise Orthodox Jews, whereas Americans like, and want to learn from, them; his conclusion-- thank God, we have no power in America, to force anyone to do anything! We can only teach and be an example. Avraham's to circumcize all those BORN into his house-- his greatest chances for successful soul influence were with those whom he reached while still young and untainted. So Rav Schonfeld and Judith Grunwald saved young Jewish WW II refugees and brought them up as models of Torah with Worldliness.
I. EXPECT NO MIRACLES
When God first promised Avraham a son from Sara, he assumed that He referred to an adopted son, raised in her spirit-- cf. Moshe and Batya. We always presume God won't violate His own natural law, in interpreting prophecy; it would be incredible for such old folks to have a baby! (17:16-17). So Rambam interpreted the Messianic Age (see D above). Thus God had to add explicitly that Sara indeed would give birth (19; Klie Yakar).
J. POLITICAL FAITH
History repeats itself! Even then, little Canaan had 5 kings, 31 by the time of Yehoshua! Rav Shubert Spero urges religious voters to support the major parties-- defense and economy ARE prime religious issues. An important criteria is the ethical quality and demeanor of religious political aspirants. Israel desperately needs MKs who, as Avraham, are religious zionist models for our youth. Perhaps their deportment is more important than their stand on particular issues, determined by the major parties. I pick Motti Alon for our next PM!
K. JEWS & ARABS
The tension between Yishmael and Yitzchak, between Arabs and Jews, continues to this day; today this tension appears to be mainly political, but strong religious conviction underlies the political dispute. Behind the Arab murders of young Islraeli soldiers, provoked by an absolutely harmless opening of an ancient tunnel, probably lies their unconsciousn or semi-conscious knowledge that their Koran is a falsification and distortion of the Tanach, and that it, together with their mosques, will eventually be undermined, perhaps by Moslem converts to Judaism or Noachism, and replaced by the Torah. Meanwhile, let's take a look at--
Arab and Jewish Nationalism: U. of Chicago Prof. Rashid Khalidi stressed the layers of modern multiple group identity, in exploring The Origins of Palestinian Nationalism at Van Leer (1995; chaired by Prof. Nechemia Levtziyon). Most local arabs identified primarily with their family, clan and city, to a lesser extent with the Ottoman Empire, in the 19th century. In the 20th century, he claims, following recent European trends, all Middle Eastern Arabs, including Palestinians, gradually acquired national identity; but a hiatus of about 20 years followed their 1948 defeat and subsequent pan-Arab infatuation, peaking with the Nassar years.
Khalidi criticized insensitive Israeli denial of Arab Nationalism (e.g. Golda's); I commented on his own greater insensitivity, in failing to mention the far more severe and pernicious Arab denial of Judaism and their attempts to destroy the Jews-- e.g. the pogroms in Chevron and Jerusalem, the destruction of Jewish Holy sites, the desecration of the Wall and the cemetary on the Mount of Olives, eradication of Jewish history and prayer on the Temple Mount, and the evil chutzpah of Arafat's Minister of Religious Affairs; even today, he'd deny Jews the right to pray at their holy sites, e.g. the tombs of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and Joseph, if he could. I recently heard an arab shopkeeper in the shuk try to convince a tourist that the Western Wall was the western wall of the Al-Aska mosque!
Khalidi's response, tho sophisticated and oratorical, was weak and evasive; he then challenged my statistics on the early Jewish majority in Jerusalem, by questioning the census takers' definition of Jerusalem, e.g. excluding Arab suburbs; he couldn't deny, however, the innately far greater Jewish attachment to Jerusalem and Israel, the only possible national center of Judaism and Jewish Civilization; Palestinian Arabs, despite their nationalist aspirations, have over 20 other nations which express their religion, history and culture. As a very bright, charming, suave and knowledgeable spokesman for his folk, Khalidi's forthcoming book merits our careful scrutiny; it also demands our public refutation of its biases and distortions, while honestly granting its valid points (so Rav Kook noted that we needn't always assume and argue that observant Jewish historians are correct; we must, in fairness, acknowledge that sometimes Graetz, Baron, & Co. are right, Yavetz and Halevy wrong). Impressive Sheikh Raji Abdu of Jericho urged separation of politics and religion, and condemned Islamic violence as a gross distortion of Islam. He should be featured on Israel TV, especially on Arabic shows. Arabs and Jews might learn more about themselves if they study and contrast their civilizations, both of which arose in the ancient middle east, with their languages having so much in common.
L. BRING 'EM BACK TO LIFE.
Two major motifs this week are Outreach and Religious Zionism; ideally, like Avraham, we ALL should promote and promulgate both, sending forth Torah from Zion and the Word of God from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2). This is a good week to learn how to do it. The best in-depth review of the recent return to Judaism is Return to Tradition, Herbert Danziger, Yale 1989; he shows how Judaism is just now emerging from an authoritarian medieval orientation (e.g. Satmar), toward a major paradigm shift to modern personal autonomy and individuality (e.g. Gafni and the Hartman Institute); tho 5 Jews left traditional Judaism for every returnee, as of 1989, the spirit and insights of the latter, the first generation of "Jews by Choice", herald Torah's re-emergence as a major cultural force in the modern world; more and more modern Jews, both outsiders and insiders, will freely choose Torah, when it is presented as rational and relevant; as the Torah world tries to so present it so to the rest of the world, it transforms its own society in the process. We now have an organization of Jewish Outreach Professionals, with its own journal, and periodic overviews of the kiruv movement appear in popular publications. A few years ago, The Jerusalem Report featured the efforts of 3 leading Jerusalem "pickup artists"-- myself, working mostly with adults, stressing the religious Zionist viewpoint, and Jeff Seidel and Meir Schuster, working mostly with students, stressing the American hardei Yeshiva outlook.
The most recent such article, which you'll really enjoy, is by Yeshara Gold, of our Jewish 1/4; she wrote a fast-paced, engrossing and allegedly comprehensive account of those doing "Avraham's work" in Israel today, restoring lost souls to the Jewish fold (Head, Heart, Soul and Pocket, JP Rosh Hashana Magazine, 1996). Gold highlights their common sense of a great emergency, to save what we can of a rapidly assimilating Jewry; their efforts are often financed by those themselves alienated from their own tradition, who most keenly sense the problem; they're concerned that their own descendants remain, in some sense, Jewish, and their contributions help preserve their own weak Jewish identity.
But the article is somewhat skewed: 1) The religious Zionist world is given short shrift; she didn't even mention its long established, large and highly successful religious Zionist outreach program, Machon Meir-- it tries to integrate Western returnees into Israeli society, teaching them Hebrew and encouraging aliya and army service, unlike Aish and Ohr Somaach, to which she gives lots of space; Machon Meir also focuses on Israelis, w/o alienating them from their own society, often the case when they enter haredi institutions. TOP's own active Jewish 1/4 Religious Zionist Jerusalem Jewish Information Center, which sends many alienated Jews to Isralight, is also completely ignored, while the nearby dynamic Jewish Student Information Center and Heritage House, which tend to channel their neophytes to haredi institutions, are featured.
2) She writes that Lubavitch "just never got off the ground as a major force locally"; true, the Jewish 1/4's Chabad House, opposite us in Tzemach Tzedek, doesn't have many activities; several of its own leaders have indeed left Chabad; but Israel's outstanding Chabad outreach activists aren't formally affiliated with Chabad; Gold again completely ignores one of the most effective outreach organizations in the world, linked to Chabad-- Ascent, in Safad; she also ignores the work of her neighbor, Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, whose highly effective Chabad group works with religiously deprived Jewish students at H. H. U. (Heretical Hebrew University-- their dangerous and biased Bible Department, on the whole, undermines the foundation of the Jewish people and the State of Israel-- the belief in a Divine Torah and faith in its eventual Messianic Revelation from the State of Israel). Dynamic Rabbi Dovid Stern's Jerusalem Connection, which she lists without description, is indeed gung-ho Chabad.
3) She does feature the small, but intense and inspiring, Jewish Quarter hardei yeshiva, Bircat Hatora, where her husband teaches, and notes its concentration on Talmud, the "meat and potatos" of Judaism and Jewish learning. But the Rosh Yeshiva, affable Rav Shimon Green, explained to me that the yeshiva is not in the kiruv business at all, and thus had no place in the article; he takes only 1 in 8 applicants for his highly intensive 1-2 year program, which is to train males, already committed to traditional Jewish belief and practice, to be able to study talmud on their own. But just as a diet of only meat and potatos, with no fruit and vegetables, with little roughage and vitamins, is likely to cause problems, so a Yeshiva diet of Talmud, with little or no intensive study of Tanach, Midrash, Jewish history and thought, and secular knowledge, especially scientific, is likely to cause spiritual constipation, insularity, and make one out of touch wiuth both his inner and outer worlds.
Avraham dealt with the religious lowest-of-the-low, idolators; yet he, as all the tolerant patriarchs, reached out to them with love and kindness, and spoke with them in their own lingo, the major theme of Genesis (see Haamek Dvar, Introduction to Genesis). So Rav Yosef Soloveichik, z"l, allowed mixed male-female seating at his famous Saturday night parsha classes at the Maimonides school, tho frowned upon in the insular "Yeshiva World". So do Rav Gafni, Ezrat Yisroel, the Bet Yisroel Shul in Yemin Moshe, the Israel Center, Israelite, Yakar and Heichel Shlomo; they thereby attract those most in need of "with-it" highly sophisticated and dynamic Torah learning, who may not attend lectures with separate seating. It's also often much more pleasant for husbands and wives on their evening out, and for couples dating, who'd rather do something elevating together than sit around a hotel lobby.
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