Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Metoch Shelo Lishmo Bo Lishmo, says NPR News!

I heard an interesting piece from the NPR Morning Edition today (link here). Tovia Smith was interviewing different professors and business people about whether it is better to give charity for the wrong reason or not give at all (unless you're doing it for the right reasons). The story said that these days it pays a lot more for companies to give to charity and that these days it's a must for most businesses!

Since the Torah has the same question about learning Torah, doing mitzovs and tzedaka, this piece caught my attention. The Talmud says that a person should learn Torah even when it's not for its' own sake in order that eventually he will come to learning Torah for its' own sake (lishmo). I once heard that chassidus says that the wording metoch shelo leshmo bo lishmo can be read as within (metoch) the shelo lishom is already bo lishmo meaning that even when a person does a good thing with the wrong intention inside, on a deeper level, he is really doing it with the right intentions also. Which brings me to the main point, the reporter said in the end of the piece:

"It may be increasingly hard to fool both consumers and college admissions officials, but it's also true that those who start out giving for the wrong reasons are often changed by the experience and end up wanting to give more for the right ones."

These are the Torah's sentiments. This really shows that the Torah has penetrated the deepest levels of society that also non-Jews understand these Torah values and ideals very well and speak about them. This shows, of course, that we have preapared the world fully down to the "lowest of places" for the revelation of God in this world, and are standing ready for the complete and final redemption. All we need now is for the King Messiah to come and redeem us all out of this dreamy state of exile that we are currently in.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chabad - the Closest Religion to Judaism by Adam Reiss

A friend of mine recently sent me an article about a rabbi in England who was arrested after a week long binge of cocaine and hedonism (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article6924293.ece). A wealthy man, a prominent figure in the community. Something was upsetting enough about the story to make the international news circuit. Now, conspiracy theory set aside (that a latent or not so latent antisemitism in the media picked up the story to prove the hypocrisy of orthodox Judaism), there is something disconcerting about the fact that after the passing of his wife this fellow sank into a depraved life of drugs and women. In spite of all of his religiosity, or some may say as a consequence of it, something was missing and that something he tried to make up for by other means. But the question still remains, something is missing from many people's lives and their stories don't make it all the way into my email inbox. So what is so bothersome about this man, a rabbi, falling prey to his baser instincts?

The Chassidic movement of the Baal Shem Tov began as a revivalist movement about three hundred years ago with a conscious goal. The false messianism of Shabtai Tvi, the pograms of Tach v'Tat, and the European Enlightenment had left the Jewish world in shambles. Education was very possibly at an all time low. With all the best intentions the rabbis of the day forbade the studying of kabbalah because Shabtai Tzvi's movement validated itself on the basis of heretical interpretations of certain passages in the Zohar and the teachings of Isaac Luria. All of these factors combined to create an atmosphere of rampant poverty, both materially and spiritually. The rabbis conglomerated their power to keep Judaism alive in the face of its oppressors, and advocated an approach of the most limited observance and unflinching obediance for the peasant class. The vicious cycle begun, the fate of the simple folk to live in ignorance was all but sealed when the Baal Shem Tov arrived. The true mark of genius is that the paradigm shift it engenders appears after the fact as having been totally common sensical from the outset. Thus, to describe his message is difficult, because it was neither radical nor conservative, novel nor traditional. Like a sculptor chiselling away at a stone to reveal a new form the Baal Shem Tov did not innovate in the true sense of the word. His message, that the spirit of the law and the letter of the law are inextricably bound and that one cannot exist nor substitute for the other is the fundament of all of Judaism. That God communicates with man, and that his chosen method for doing so is through the Torah, and that through its proper observance man can achieve a contact with the Divine even unto the level of prophecy – that is the message of Abraham and Moses, David and Maimonides.

There was another time in Jewish history when similar problems threatened the Jewish people. Foreign occupation, ecclesiasticism, and false messianism. It is a time we don't like to think too much about, perhaps because it's problems are similar to our own. One solution which presented itself at the time was the total abrogation of the Torah. The Christian movement claimed that the spirit of the law was in contradistinction to the letter of the law, and at that point it ceased completely to be Jewish. Confronted with a Jewish world that looked much like the one leading up to the destruction of the Temple, the Baal Shem Tov offered a solution that the proper observance of the Torah requires more than the routine performance of empty rites. He offered this solution, however, only after recognizing that there was a problem.

A rabbi in England hooked on drugs, so-called Chasidim in Jerusalem throwing stones at their fellow Jews on Shabbos, and Jewish family men sitting in Federal prison for embezzlement – how have things come to this? Does it mean that the Torah is a lie and its exemplars hypocrites? How can it be that less than five hundred years after the redaction of the Shulchan Aruch we can ease our consciences by living in a manner which is externally flawless and yet completely out of touch with the sentiment that Yosef Caro took for granted we would have when studying and trying to live by his work? I hear many people joke that Chabad is the closest religion to Judaism. A joke being like a frog (when you dissect it you kill it) notwithstanding, I can assume that what they are driving at is with its departure from many of the popular customs of European and American Jewry and its strong Messianic leanings Chabad looks like something new. But the truth is often said in jest and they have a point. Chabad recognizes that there is a problem with rote and feelingless observance. As spiritual heirs of the Baal Shem Tov our solution to that problem is recognizing that the letter of the law needs the spirit of the law and vice versa—the beginning is wedged in the end and the end in the beginning—and that this is not something close to Judaism, that this is Judaism.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Israel Can Learn From Obama's Nobel Speech

Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize- that’s right, the leader of a nation in the midst of two WARS won a PEACE prize. If you ask me, this all makes a lot of sense. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Israel has a lot to learn from the commander-in-chief of the greatest army on the planet.
For one, some wars are Just. If an attack in New York can justify a war on the other side of the planet, certainly Israel can justify against an enemy much closer to home. Secondly, war is sometimes the only way. In the words of our President, “Negotiations cannot convince Al-Qaida's leaders to lay down their arms.” Let us all please do our part to convince our Israeli brothers and sisters that terrorists cannot be reasoned with, and that “Evil does exist in the world,” as Obama said. Thirdly, war as a preventative measure has been SUCESSFUL in bringing peace: “…the plain fact is this: The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.”
Indeed, one who pursues such a ‘Just War’ is worthy of receiving a PEACE prize because war can actually lead to peace. It may seem paradoxical, but you don't have to quote me! Obama has supported a war, won a peace prize for it, and was not ashamed to justify this war in front of the whole world. It is therefore quite fitting that Obama’s speech happened to occur so near to Chanukah, a celebration of a victorious Jewish war. May our Israeli brothers stand strong in what is most certainly a JUST WAR. And may the next peace prize go to the Israeli leader who has the guts to face the truth and make peace through war.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Moshiach Mystery

Can You Solve the Moshiach Mystery?

There has been a long standing mystery surrounding Moshiach, or Jewish Messiah: Does the King Moshiach have to perform miracles for us in order to prove himself? Doesn’t every Jew you ask on the street just know that Moshiach has to do miracles? Being that the Rambam is the accepted legal authority on the who, what, where, and how of Moshiach, the answer should be easy… yet here is where the real mystery begins:
In the Rambam’s legal magnum opus, he declares, ‘Do not think that the King Moshiach will make miracles, or create new things, or perform resurrections and the like. It is not so.”(Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, Chapter 11, Law 3) Ah, it looks like we have the answer: Moshiach doesn’t have to do miracles after all! But wait: when one reads the Rambams letters entitled, ‘Iggeret HaTeimani,’ the Rambam states that a certain man who was claiming to be Moshiach must not be the one because he has not performed any miracles. What is going on here? Is this the same Rambam? Must Moshaich perform miracles or not? I’ve seen Rabbi Velpo give a very satisfactory resolution to this mess in his sefer, ‘Yechi HaMelech.’ I shall do my best to give over his answer:
First of all, lets make one thing clear: the Mishneh Torah, where the Rambam states that Moshaich need not perform miracles, is the final and authoritative ruling on the matter. Therefore, Moshiach need not perform miracles. However, Moshiach must be victorious in the ‘Wars of Hashem,’ build the temple, and gather in all of the Jews to Israel. All this is stated pretty clearly by the Rambam. In other words, Moshiach is defined by his active pursuit of, and his ultimate victory in, the above stipulations. Therefore, Moshiach does not have to perform a miracle if and only if it is possible to fulfill the above stipulations by natural means. Being that Moshiach can come at any moment, then even in an era where it is impossible for one to build the temple without a miracle, Moshaich can still come in a supernatural manner. Or as the sages put, “If we merit, Moshiach will come riding the clouds of glory [now that’s a pimpin‘ ride!]. If we don’t merit, he will come riding a donkey [somewhat of a less cool way to roll].”
Now lets put ourselves in the Rambam’s shoes and ask ourselves, ‘Is it possible for someone to build the temple without a miracle in the historical period that he lived in? During the Rambam’s time, there was no significant Jewish presence in Israel. In fact, some sort of Sultan ruled over our land at that time. So while it is true that Moshiach does not have to perform a miracle, nevertheless, he does have to build the temple, among other things. Now, was it possible for any Jew at that time to build the temple without a miracle?? The answer, as all can see, is ‘No, it was impossible to build the temple without a miracle because there is a foreign king in control of the temple mount at this time, and the Jews have no army with which to drive him off our land.’
By contrast, during the time of Bar Kochba, the Jews had a large army, as the Gemara in Gittin states, and it was quite feasible, at that time, that Bar Kochba could have kicked out the Romans [which in fact he did for some years] and build the temple, all without performing any miracles. Therefore, being that Bar Kochba was poised to fulfill the stipulations required of Moshiach, he was not pressed to perform miracles. All he needed to do was encourage all Jewry to follow the Torah, defeat the enemies of the Jews, build the Temple, and gather in the exiles. All these conditions were within reach; no miracles were required for him to attain these goals.
In the Rambam’s times, however, things were quite different. Being that there were hardly any Jews living in Israel, and the Jews had no army, the only way someone could build the temple was through miraculous means. There simply was no way for anyone to conquer the land of Israel through a natural war. It just wasn’t possible at that time, in contrast to the time of Bar Kochba. Being that there was no other way, at that time in history, the Rambam required a miracle of anyone in his time claiming to be Moshiach. How else could Moshiach build the temple at that time?

Now, one may ask: in which type of period do we live in? Do we live in a period like the Rambam’s time, where it would take a miracle to gain control of Israel and, especially, the Temple Mount? Or, do we live in a time more like the era Rabbi Akiva lived in, where the Jews had a large presence in Israel, and a great army at their disposal? Right after the Six Day War, control of the Temple Mount was in Jewish hands. Furthermore, Israel’s army has had the reputation of being invincible, at various times.
Therefore, I say that we live in a time similar to the time of Rabbi Akiva, in this respect. Moshaich need not perform a miracle to gain control of the Temple Mount. Most people have a misconception that Moshiach is synonymous with great miracles. It is not so. In fact, Chassidus explains that if we truly merit it, Moshiach will come in a natural manner. May Moshiach reveal himself now and rebuild the Temple!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Truth and Life - a 19 Kislev Post.

Truth and Life are two things that a person wants by nature. If you were to offer somebody a perfect life on the condition that he would be put to sleep, he would be in a dream state for the rest of his life. He would have dreams and fantasies be put into his subconscious for the rest of his life. Who would ever agree to such a thing? Nobody. But why? it would be seemingly perfect. There are two problems with such an arrangement, it is not emes, truth, and it is not chaim, life. G-d is called both Truth and Life.

The Rebbe Rashab wrote "the 19th of Kislev...is a festival on which "He redeemed our soul in peace," and our soul's illumination and vitality were given to us, this day is Rosh Hashana for Chassidus bequeathed us by our sacred forebears, identical with the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov."

Light (Ohr) and liveliness (chayus).

Chassidus is that which gives us light which illuminates for us the truth of the world.
Chassidus also gives us liveliness (chayus) to live a life full of vitality.

Happy Yud Tes Kislev.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

nervous about economy - nervous about fulfilling mitzovos

nervous about economy - nervous about fulfilling mitzovos