Tag Archives: Israel

Struggling to Pray

On today’s amud we find that one should have intense kavanah when saying uva l’tzion. The gemara tells us that since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, the world rests upon the careful recital of this kedushah. Unfortunately, many people fail to maintain proper focus during prayer in general.

One day in the beis medrash, as the prayers were drawing to a close, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev zt”l seemed to be observing a group of his chasidim. While everyone was busy wrapping up their talleisim and tefillin, he made his way over to them. To their surprise, he approached them with a hearty greeting. “Shalom aleichem!” he thundered.

They looked somewhat puzzled to hear their rebbe offer the greeting traditionally given only after returning from a journey of at least three day’s duration. “But Rebbe,” they protested, “we haven’t been anywhere! We’ve been here in Berditchev all along!”

Rav Levi Yitzchak continued to make the rounds, shaking their hands vigorously, as if they were newly-arrived travelers, all smiles.

Suddenly, he turned serious and said, “From the way you were praying, it was clear that your minds were elsewhere! So, welcome back from Odessa, welcome home from the market in Lodz! Since none of you were actually here while you prayed, I was glad to welcome you back upon your return!”

Mishnah Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“Shalom Aleichem!”
Siman 132 Seif 1

Ouch. That’s embarrassing. I suppose God always notices when during prayer, our minds wander, but if we’re so obvious about it that someone watching us knows as well, then where is our kavanah; our intention? OK, I’ll admit it. During lengthy sessions of prayer (and some not so lengthy), it’s hard to keep focused on God or at least on honoring God in the manner He desires (not that anyone is perfect at this). Often, my mind drifts into a sort of monologue as if I were “talking” to God rather than entering into formal prayer in the presence of the King. I catch myself and try to redirect my thoughts but after another small bit of time passes, my mind starts to wander again. I suppose that’s one reason why praying with a siddur is an advantage. The prayer-book acts as a compass and a guide, directing prayer to where it is supposed to be traveling.

I know Christians tend to criticize the use of liturgical prayer as “lifeless” and “rote”, but I’ve just described the dangers in both liturgical and extemporaneous prayer. In either situation, we must strive to stay within the light and to pray with intention and dedication. Letting yourself “wander” in prayer is as if you are talking to your spouse about an important topic and little by little, you begin rambling about whatever thoughts happen to enter your head at the moment. Imagine what would happen if God were talking to us about something important (and when He “speaks”, it’s always important) and our minds started to wander, recalling the events of the day or planning out our tomorrow.

So how should we pray?

Luke 11:1 records such a request from Christ’s disciples.

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

In contrast, Matthew 6:1-4 gives us a teaching of the Master on prayer and without any intervention from the disciples, Jesus launches into instructing them (and us) how to pray (Matthew 6:5-15).

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

In either case, Jesus is providing the disciples with something they apparently lacked: a template for how to pray to God. I can only conclude (this is just my opinion) that human beings need some sort of “form” to prayer to keep us focused. Adding on to that concept, we must make sure not to allow the form to take on a life of its own and become our intension. It’s a structure or a framework to help us from wandering, but it can, if we let it, substitute for our intension in prayer, as we see in Rav Levi Yitzchak’s criticism to his Chasidim.

However, according to Rabbi Moss at be-true.org, perhaps our difficulties in prayer are exactly what’s supposed to be happening.

Prayer can be a confronting experience. And that is exactly what it is supposed to be. Prayer is an inner battle waged between two distinct sides of your personality. Your spiritual self and your physical self, your body and your soul, are each vying for control over your mind. And it is not a quiet confrontation.

In yesterday’s meditation, I wrote:

We see that happening all of the time, even within the context of the Talmud itself. Judaism isn’t always about “getting it right” but rather, it’s sometimes about struggling with the Torah, other Jews, and God.

I was talking about the struggle in understanding God from the perspective of study, but here we see this struggle can be applied to prayer as well. Although we have the famous example of Jacob wrestling with the Angel (Genesis 32:22-32) as an illustration of how Jews in general struggle in their relationship with God, I think this can apply to anyone who encounters God through faith. As much as we may not want to admit it, we do struggle with God in a “wrestling match” that pits our humanity against our holiness, as Jacob was perhaps pitted between those two aspects of his existence (and I commented on this about a month ago when studying Torah Portion Vayishlah).

According to Rabbi Moss, the more difficult the struggle in prayer, the more effective our prayer actually is.

On the contrary, the more intense the distractions, the more effective the prayer must be. Your soul is being fed, and your body is getting nervous. Don’t give the body the attention it seeks. Rather gently tell it that now is not the time. You are feeding your soul, and there will be plenty of time to feed the body later.

Is there a dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual? This is a common theme in Christianity but it’s not always presented as such in Judaism. A person who is very advanced spiritually should experience virtually no dissonance between his day-to-day life in the world and his life with God. Most of us aren’t that advanced, and so, like Jacob, we “struggle with the Angel”, so to speak, but without a clear-cut winner in the contest. Jacob “won” not because he was so strong as to literally, physically defeat a supernatural being in hand-to-hand combat, but because he was (this is interpretation and midrash) able to defeat his yetzer hara or “evil inclination.” Holiness won and as a result, Jacob became the father of Israel; a man bridging heaven and earth (Genesis 28:10-19) as evidenced, not only by his dream, but by his dual names of Jacob and Israel.

Every time we pray, we build a bridge between heaven and earth and we struggle to keep it stable enough to maintain the connection between us and God. Sometimes building that bridge is like trying to construct a span made of bamboo across a mile wide canyon during a typhoon. Other times, we seem to be able to create the Golden Gate Bridge out of solid steel on a calm day in late spring. Most of the time, for me, my “bridge building” experience is somewhere in-between.

As with all other aspects of our faith, the struggle itself is not the failure. That we have difficulty concentrating and keeping our mind on Him is not the problem. Only surrendering and ceasing our prayers is the failure. If, like Jacob, we continue to struggle against impossible odds, we too will see our dawn…and receive a blessing.

The Cheated Convert

The 252nd prohibition is that we are further forbidden from verbally causing emotional distress to a convert, i.e. ona’as devarim.

The source of this prohibition is G-d’s statement (exalted be He), “Do not wrong a convert.” In the words of the Mechilta: “The verse ‘Do not wrong a convert’ means doing so with your words.” This prohibition is repeated a second time, in the phrase “[When a convert comes to live in your land,] do not hurt his feelings.’ “

In the words of the Sifra: “You should not tell him, ‘Yesterday you were an idolater and now you have entered under the wings of the Divine Presence.’ “

Sefer Hamitzvot in English
“Hurtful Words to a Convert”
Negative Commandment 252
Translated by Rabbi Berel Bell

The Interior Ministry has rejected an application for permanent residency by an Orthodox convert, after the Chief Rabbinate informed the ministry it did not recognize her conversion.

After the rabbinate’s decision, the ministry first rejected her aliya application. She does not want her name published.

The woman converted in 2005 under the auspices of the rabbi of one of the oldest established Orthodox synagogues in the US (located in New York). The rabbi is a well-respected Orthodox religious leader.

-by Jeremy Sharon
“Orthodox convert from US ordered to leave Israel”
The Jerusalem Post

I know I’m probably interpreting this all wrong in a Rabbinic sense so I don’t doubt I’ll get some Jewish folks pushing back on my opinion, but I’m getting just a little annoyed at the state of Jewish converts who want to make Aliyah (emigrate to Israel). I’ve never understood the perspective of the Rabbinate on this matter. OK, I understand that they don’t want to grant the “right of return” to a person who may be only marginal in their Judaism and even have ulterior motives for conversion and Aliyah, but once the conversion has been examined and the convert has established some sort of track record of “being Jewish”, isn’t that enough? Beyond a certain point, isn’t the Rabbinate violating the 252nd prohibition (not that it would be seen that way from their viewpoint, of course)?

Besides, there’s another matter to consider.

The decision by the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority to consult the Chief Rabbinate violates a June agreement between authority director Amnon Ben-Ami and Knesset Committee for Aliya, Absorption and the Diaspora chairman MK Danny Danon (Likud).

The agreement stipulated that the ministry would consult with the Jewish Agency regarding the eligibility of Orthodox converts for aliya, instead of the Chief Rabbinate.

This was due to a series of aliya applications by Orthodox converts that were rejected by the rabbinate because it did not “recognize” their conversions.

I guess violating an agreement is different than violating a law or a Torah commandment, but it doesn’t speak well of you if you agree to something and then go back on your word, even if it’s less than an iron clad law written into the penal code. Of course, it’s not like everyone in Israel has suddenly turned against this woman.

She turned to ITIM: The Jewish- Life Information Center, for help, which subsequently appealed the decision to the Interior Ministry. She has been allowed to remain in the country while the case is under consideration.

“We have reached a new low for converts,” ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber said. “The insensitive attitude of the Interior Ministry is unconscionable and counters Jewish tradition which forbids Jews from persecuting converts.

“Converts are exceptionally vulnerable and have nowhere to turn. The Torah mentions being kind to the convert 36 times! “ITIM sued the ministry in June, and we will be forced to do so again if they won’t abide by the agreement. In the past 24 hours ITIM has reached out to Amnon Ben-Ami – who signed the agreement – and has given them the opportunity to rectify the situation without having to involve the court.”

According to a 1988 Supreme Court decision, the criteria determining the aliya eligibility of converts are that the community and rabbi through which they converted must be recognized as legitimate, and that in turn, the community and rabbi recognize the convert as a Jew and a community member in good standing.

Ironically, part of the problem is that this woman converted to Orthodox Judaism. According the the news story, unlike the Reform and Conservative movements, there is no central authority for the Orthodox, which makes it more difficult to confirm the conditions of their conversion and their eligibility for Aliyah. However, this woman’s conversion would seem to be open and above board as I previously quoted from this news report.

The woman converted in 2005 under the auspices of the rabbi of one of the oldest established Orthodox synagogues in the US (located in New York). The rabbi is a well-respected Orthodox religious leader.

Somewhere between God, Moses, the Torah, and the mess of politics and religion in the modern state of Israel (and I admit, I am far from familiar with the maze of its inner workings) lies not just one Jewish convert, but many who either have their applications to make Aliyah reversed or who have their applications completely rejected before they even have a chance to pack their bags and buy a one-way ticket on El-Al to Tel Aviv. I fully confess that this blog post is written with more emotion than information, but I see a great deal of injustice being done in the name of who…God?

Given modern Israeli politics, would even Ruth be admitted to the Land today? What happens when the Mashiach comes? Will he not be Jewish enough for the Chief Rabbinate? He’ll certainly be more Jewish than the vast majority of Christians imagine him to be.

I’ve explored the idea of converting in the past and I’ve even fantasized about living in Israel (even if I never converted, since my wife is Jewish, if she made Aliyah, I could go with her), but something is wrong in Israel today. When is a Jew good enough to be a Jew in Israel as opposed to the rest of the world? God knows, but does the Chief Rabbinate?

Following God isn’t easy for anyone. Certainly making the commitment to convert to Judaism and making Aliyah, committing to living in the Land (which is not always a comfortable place to live) isn’t easy. In fact, it’s fraught with challenges, setbacks, and disappointments as well as the immeasurable rewards for every Jew, convert or not. But to borrow from some of the best that Judaism has to offer, I present this quote from Rabbi Tzvi Freeman (who, for all I know, might agree that the convert mentioned in this story should not be allowed to make Aliyah), who almost always provides me with encouragement by citing the teachings of the Rebbe.

Ultimately, Darkness will meet her end. Our choice lies only in the form of her demise:

If we meet nothing but success at every stage of our mission, Darkness will helplessly surrender, delivering to our hand all the sparks of G‑dliness that she has so jealously held.

When we fail, however, we have taken upon ourselves to wrestle Darkness face-to-face to her utter annihilation. She will not surrender, but no trace will be left of her. She herself will be transformed to light.

And there is no greater light than Darkness herself transformed to light.

Like I said at the beginning of this “extra meditation”, I expect some push back from folks who disagree with my rant and that’s OK. I don’t pretend to understand everything about Israeli politics or the whole process of Jewish conversion and Aliyah. It just seems to me from my generic Goy point of view, that the woman who is the focus of this news article is being treated unfairly. I know the news media isn’t always the best and most accurate source of information (ironically), but it’s all I have to go on.

The comments box is open. Feel free to use it.

Lech Lecha: Choices of the Heart

avrahamThe Torah portion of Lech Lecha relates how G-d commanded Avraham to circumcise himself and the members of his household. By doing so, Avraham became the first and primary individual to adopt the sign of the holy covenant that exists between G-d and every Jew.

This connection between circumcision and Avraham is so strong that the blessings for circumcision include the phrase: “to enter him into the covenant of Avraham, our father,” i.e., the circumcision currently taking place is directly related to our patriarch Avraham. Since Avraham is our father,he makes it possible for all of us, his children, to inherit the privilege of entering into an eternal covenant with G-d.

This kind of inheritance is not at all dependent on any preparations or qualifications on the part of the inheritor — a one-day old infant can inherit everything.

Commentary for Torah Portion Lech lecha
“The Covenant of Avraham”
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, pp. 44-47

The Brit Milah, the covenant of circumcision is something that no one can ask for and no one can reject. Jews males are circumcised on their eighth-day in accordance to the commandment and become part of Israel, and Israel becomes a part of them. But Ishmael was also a son of Abraham. Does the older son inherit along with Isaac? The commentary continues.

The following, however, must be understood: In explaining the commandment of circumcision, the Rambam states: (Commentary on Mishnayos, Chulin conclusion of ch. 7) “We do not engage in circumcision because our father Avraham, of blessed memory, circumcised himself and his household, but rather because G-d commanded us through our teacher Moshe to circumcise ourselves.”

And where are these commandments?

For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. –Genesis 17:12

On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. –Leviticus 12:3

The Abrahamic covenant is “honed” and applied within the context of the Mosaic covenant, passing from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to the Children of Israel. Then passing to every Jew across history and to this very day.

But what does it mean besides being a sign of a Jew’s perpetual inheritance of the land of Israel?

Significantly, Avraham was given this name in connection with the mitzvah of circumcision. Circumcision an act which affects the most basic physical aspect of our being, demonstrates that our spiritual quest is not an attempt to escape worldly reality, but is rather an attempt to refine it. Circumcision represents a “covenant in the flesh,” and endows even our physical bodies with sanctity.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“A Journey To One’s True Self: Avraham’s Odyssey As A Lesson For His Descendants”
Commentary on Lech Lecha
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 57ff; Vol. XX, p. 59ff, p. 301ff;
Vol. XXV, p. 52; Sefer HaSichos 5750, p. 96ff.

We are all faced with a physical and spiritual journey in our lives that starts the day we are born and continues until our death. This journey begins and progresses whether we want it to or not. It exists regardless of our religious orientation or lack thereof. Atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Taoists, and Jews all walk upon the path of spirit as well as the path of life. No newborn infant can ask to proceed on a spiritual path nor can they refuse it. For a Jew it is the same with the unique sign of the covenant. An eight-day old boy cannot ask for nor refuse the Brit Milah. It is the mark of God separating him from the hoards of humanity and signaling that his spiritual journey is unique among the peoples of the earth. He is a Jew and things will be different for him than for the rest of us. It is not a matter of choice.

Abraham had a choice but in choosing, he also chose for his children, his grandchildren, for Isaac, for Jacob, for the twelve tribes, and for all Jews throughout the corridors of time. He chose for Jews today. And in spite of legal decisions made by men such as Yoram Kaniuk, a Jew can never become a “not-Jew”.

spiritual-journeyThe rest of us have a choice. People who convert to Judaism have a choice, and one of the reasons that Judaism is reluctant to convert others is that the converts, under persecution, can decide to renounce their Jewish identity. Not so the born Jew. The Christian who accepts Christ as Lord and Savior can, under duress or discouragement, choose to renounce Jesus, join another religious tradition, or enter into atheism, acknowledging no God except himself. There is no sign on our flesh marking us as set apart. The circumcision we undergo is on our hearts.

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. –Romans 2:28-29

But this is really confusing. Who is Paul talking about here?

Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. –Deuteronomy 30:6

These aren’t the only examples of “circumcision of the heart” in the Tanakh (Old Testament)  and the Apostolic Scriptures and certainly not the only illustrations of such a circumcision applied to the Jews. So who is circumcised and what does it mean? Has “circumcision of the heart” replaced the Abrahamic and Mosaic commandments for physical circumcision?

Or does one symbolize the other?

The way I see it, the physical circumcision indelibly marks a Jew as a Jew beyond all undoing. However, not all Jewish individuals dedicate themselves to the service of God and in obedience to the mitzvot. You can’t decide to be or “un-be” a Jew (except if you’re a convert), but you can decide, as a Jew or a Gentile, to serve God or not to serve God. You can make a conscious decision to allow the circumcision of the heart. You don’t get to decide to be born or to start on the journey of spirit and life, but you can decide the specific paths to take between birth and death (and beyond).

Small plantThe uniqueness of the Jewish people in the Kingdom of God is beyond question. How we decide to serve God or to fail God is entirely up to us, as a Jew, Christian, or anyone else. In that, we are like Abraham. God tells us to go somewhere and to do something. How we answer God is up to us.

The Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him. –Genesis 12:1,4

If the world did not need you and you did not need this world, you would never have come here. G-d does not cast His precious child into the pain of this journey without purpose.

You say you cannot see a reason. Why should it surprise you that a creature cannot fathom the plan of its Creator? Nevertheless, eventually the fruits of your labor will blossom for all to see.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Waiting for Fruition”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Good Shabbos.

The Tannaitic Rabbi

tannaim1Rabbinic schools of tannaitic times are more accurately characterized as “disciple circles” than academies. There were no school buildings, hierarchies of positions, administrative bureaucracies, curricula, or requirements. Because study was oral, there was no need for books or libraries either. A few disciples gathered around a rabbinic master and learned traditions from him in his home or in some other private dwelling that could serve as a school. But such formal instruction in the memorization and interpretation of texts constituted only part of the educational experience.

It was supplemented on a daily basis as students served their master as apprentices, observing his daily conduct and emulating his religious practice as he passed through the market, journeyed to various villages, performed his personal hygiene, or ate his meals. After years of learning, having reached a certain level of proficiency and perhaps (though not always formal) “ordination” from their master, disciples might leave their master and strike out independently, attempting to gather their own circles of disciples. If their master died, they would have to seek a new master elsewhere as there was no institutional framework to provide continuity or replacement. As opposed to an academy, the disciple circle was not an institution in that there was no ongoing life or continuity of the group beyond the individual teacher. The “school” was essentially the master himself.

-Jeffrey L. Rubenstein
“Social and Institutional Settings of Rabbinic Literature”
from The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (p. 59)

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”Matthew 13:16-23

I admit that I’m stretching things a bit. The Tannaitic period of Jewish learning didn’t formally begin until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. (and extended to about 220 C.E.) but if you look at Rubenstein’s description, read the “sample teaching” from the Master, and recall other examples of how Jesus interacted with his disciples, you’ll see a lot of similarities. Although the Talmud talks about the “House of Shammai” and the “House of Hillel” (see Pirkei Avot), these ancient sages didn’t teach in formal institutions named after them but rather, in their own homes, or in rooms provided by wealthy patrons (and it should be noted that both Shammai and Hillel also taught during the Second Temple period and preceded Jesus by a generation or more).

Why am I telling you all of this?

I want to paint you a picture. It will be a portrait, actually. The portrait is of someone you believe you know very well, if you’re a Christian. The portrait will be that of Jesus Christ. There’s only one problem. When you actually see the portrait, it will look nothing like you expect. It will look like a middle-eastern man of Semitic heritage in his early thirties, the oldest son of a rural carpenter living in a tiny nation occupied by a vast foreign power. Don’t expect a picture of Jesus that you can buy in any Christian book store or the image of some non-Jewish actor with blue eyes and fair complexion you may be familiar with from the movies or television.

I want to put Jesus..uh, Yeshu or Yeshua, back where he belongs. I want to put him back in the early first century of the common era in what the Romans would one day call “Palestine” (to mock the Jews). He looks and sounds and moves and teaches like an itinerant Rabbi who has gathered a small group of men for disciples and who teaches in the same manner as the Tannaitic Rabbis would a few decades later.

Recall the example from Matthew I previously quoted. Jesus was teaching a group of “lay people” in a public area but later provided a more detailed interpretation privately to his inner group. This also is described by Rubenstein (pp. 67-8)

Rabbis and their students also interacted with non-rabbis in a teaching forum that the Bavli called a pirka. This seems to have been a sermon or lecture delivered by a sage to a lay audience: Several such descriptions being “Rabbi So-and-so expounded (darash) at the pirka”.. Some sources draw a distinction between that which should be taught at the pirka and that which should be made known only to sages.. Despite teaching his students in private that the law follows the lenient view, Rav taught the stricter position at the pirka due to his concern that non-rabbis in attendance might not behave scrupulously and violate the law.

the-teacherWhile the specific content of each of these two examples doesn’t match absolutely, the teaching dynamic of the Tannaitic rabbis and Jesus fits hand and glove. The master teaches one, less detailed and more conservative lesson to the public and provides the inner, more intricate details to his disciples. As you switch back and forth between your New Testament view of Jesus and the portrait of a Tannaitic period teacher, can you see the similarity between the two? If you can, does that mean the “inner portrait” of Jesus you carry around with you is beginning to change just a bit? Is he not quite the same man you first met in a church sanctuary or in a Sunday school class?

All I’m saying is that, to understand Jesus, we need to see him in action in his “native element”. We need to see him doing what he did, teaching his disciples as a Jewish master wherever he happened to be. His students followed him everywhere, watching his every move, listening to his vocal inflections, seeing how he treated others, imitating him in every way possible…just like students of a Tannaitic period Rabbi.

With one possible difference.

If their master died, they would have to seek a new master elsewhere as there was no institutional framework to provide continuity or replacement.

When Jesus died, his disciples did not seek a replacement. To be fair, only three days passed before he rose, so there really wasn’t any time, but I still doubt they could have cast the Master aside so easily. But after he rose, they still did not go elsewhere in search of a new teacher, but then again, he was no ordinary Rabbi.

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Moshiach, the Son of the living God.” –Matthew 16:16

Rubenstein wrote: “After years of learning, having reached a certain level of proficiency and perhaps (though not always formal) “ordination” from their master, disciples might leave their master and strike out independently, attempting to gather their own circles of disciples”, which the disciples did do. In fact, they were commanded to do so.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” –Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)

the-teacher2Without realizing it, we are all struggling to become disciples, not just of the “Christian” Jesus Christ, but of a sort of “proto-Tannaitic” period Master. We are all in search of the true face and voice of Jesus. We long to sit at his feet under a fig tree listening to a parable, to walk along a hot and dusty road watching him heal the sick, to rest with him as guests in the home of a sinner and tax collector who amazes us by turning from his corrupt life to the God of his fathers. We want to be with him as he really was, and as he really is.

2,000 years removed, we have to work on it. We have to remove the mask that has been placed over his face. We have to get past the surprise at how different he looks; how “Jewish” he looks. But he is our Master, our guide, and our shepherd. If we are his, we already know his voice.

Release from Darkness: Gilad Shalit

Gilad and Noam ShalitThe Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisonersIsaiah 61:1

A teary-eyed Israel, headed by the Shalit family, welcome Gilad back home to Israel Tuesday after 1,941 days in captivity at the hands of Hamas and allied terrorists, some of whom continued to urge more kidnappings. He has undergoing [sic] medical tests before returning to his family home in the Galilee.

-From IsraelNationalNews.com

I’m writing this “extra meditation” because I have a selfish reason for being glad Sgt Gilad Shalit was finally released from his captors. My son David is the same age as Gilad and for the entire time Gilad was a captive of Hamas, David was in the United States Marine Corps. David was deployed twice, including a seven month deployment in Iraq. My son, thank God, was never in combat, never shot at, never captured, never injured in an act of war, and was honorably discharged just a little over a year ago. He now lives here in Idaho with his wife and 2 1/2 year old son.

But on David’s dog tags, along with the other usual information about him, it identified him as a Jew.

I’m not Jewish, but my wife is, so that makes my children Jewish. That makes David Jewish. Of course I feared for my son’s safety when he went into war zones but I especially feared that, if captured by the enemy, he would be treated with particular cruelty because he’s Jewish.

I have some small idea of how Gilad’s father, Noam Shalit must have felt when Gilad was in the hands of Hamas.

I also have some small idea of the elation Gilad’s parents must be feeling right now, seeing their son alive and whole for the first time in over five years. Gilad was only 19 years old when he was captured by the terrorist organization Hamas. I can’t imagine what he was put through, though in the days and weeks again, I’m sure the full story of how he was treated in captivity will be released.

But amid the joy of Gilad’s return to his homeland and his family, there are these sobering consequences as reported by the IsraelNationalNews.com story:

The happiness of the fulfillment of the mitzvah of bringing back a Jew from captivity was mixed with the pain and fear that more Israelis will be murdered by the 1,027 terrorists and security prisoners who were freed in exchange for Shalit.

In Gaza and Ramallah, thousands of Arabs wildly celebrated the return of the first batch of terrorists, except for those to be deported.

Hamas leaders, including one of those released from jail, continued to call for more kidnappings of Israeli soldiers to gain the freedom of terrorists who were not included in the swap.

What will happen and how will Gilad and his family feel the first time one of the freed terrorists commits another murder? I’m not saying that Israel shouldn’t have accepted the deal. As a parent, I selfishly would have done anything to free my son from the band of murderers who were holding him and tormenting him daily. But this young soldier’s freedom comes at a very high price.

Gilad is free and he’s home and he’s safe and I thank God for His kindness and His providence, but I must now pray that the criminals who had to be released in exchange for this one young man are prevented from hurting anyone else. I must also pray for all the other IDF soldiers who are in danger of being kidnapped by terrorists, held, tortured, tormented, and finally released years later in exchange for another thousand killers who are dedicated to the extermination of all Jews and the eradication of Israel.

“A Jew never gives up. We’re here to bring Mashiach, we will settle for nothing less.” –Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh

How many sons and daughters will be killed and kidnapped before the Messiah comes? We want Meshiach now.

Words and Drawn Swords

Tisha b'Av at the Kotel 2007Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Barack Obama he’s willing to make some compromises to achieve peace in his nation, but that returning to Israel’s 1967 borders is not an option.

Netanyahu met with Obama in Washington, D.C., Friday, on the heels of the president’s public call to return Israel to the borders the state held before the 1967 Six Day War, as a concession for peace with the Palestinians.

CBN News Story
“Netanyahu Tells Obama 1967 Borders ‘Indefensible’
by Jennifer Wishon

My companion attacks his friends;
he violates his covenant.
His talk is smooth as butter,
yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
yet they are drawn swords.
Psalm 55:20-21

On Tisha B’Av, five national calamities occurred:

  • During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 10 Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE)
  • The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and millions more exiled. (586 BCE)
  • The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus. Some two million Jews died, and another one million were exiled. (70 CE)
  • The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar — the Jews’ last stand against the Romans — was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered. (135 CE)
  • The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city — renamed Aelia Capitolina — and access was forbidden to Jews.

-Rabbi Shraga Simmons
“Overview and laws of the Jewish national day of mourning”

I sometimes wonder what keeps the Jewish people going. I know, the “politically correct” answer is “God”, but think about it. You are Israel. You are surrounded by nations who have wanted to completely destroy you since the day you arrived in the modern world. Within your ancient and historic borders is a people group who demands that you give up more and more of your land and if you don’t, they’ll keep on killing your citizens. Even your biggest “ally”, the United States, for decades has continued to demand that you “give up land for peace”, even when you’ve already shown (think Gaza) that doing so only results in more terrorism; the opposite of peace.

Not only does the world hate Israel, the world hates Jews. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Sweden, Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada, Anti-Semitism is on the rise all over the world.

If you’re a Jew, you’re not really safe anywhere. Sooner or later, someone is going to turn on you.

Why go on?

You can sort of see why assimilation has always been a forbidden but attractive alternative for Jews in the diaspora. Tisha b’Av is a reminder of just how much the world hates the Jews and how many times throughout history, everyone else has tried to kill the Jews; to wipe them out of existence.

Why go on? Why not either give in and let the world have their way, or assimilate and quietly disappear into the pages of history, as so many other ancient people groups have done (ever hear of a Canaanite, a Hittite, or an Edomite anymore)?

Why go on?

In the times of the First Temple lived very lofty souls. It was their thirst for spiritual ecstasy that led them to worship foreign gods.

Thousands of years later, the holy Ari taught, in the 500 years of forced conversions from the Crusades until the Spanish Expulsion, these souls returned so they could be repaired.

Many of the martyrs of that time were men of reason—and for a philosopher to give his life for the sanctity of G–d’s name is a very great test. Many did, and so they were healed.

When the Ari came, however, he revealed the secret wisdom and repaired the world so that all souls were healed and no repairs were left to be made. It follows that all the suffering of the Jewish people since the Ari are neither punishment nor repair. If so, what are they?

We do not know.

One thing we do know: That we do not know.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
“Beyond Punishment and Repair”

Were you hoping for something more uplifting? So was I.

I’m not Jewish, so I lack any real understanding to be able to answer the question. The Hamasonly thing I know is that the Jews have endured and they continue to endure. Is it God’s will that the Jews should continue to exist and that they should also continue to suffer?

“I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” -Teyve from the film Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

There are times when individuals get so discouraged they want to give up. Some quit their jobs, some get divorced, some simply withdraw into themselves and we call that depression, and some do the ultimate “quitting” by committing suicide. In these cases, the people involved feel trapped and alone and hopeless. Whether it’s true or not, they feel like everyone is against them and that there’s no where to turn. They feel out of control of their environment and their lives and they want to make the pain stop.

They’re willing to do anything to make the pain stop because life doesn’t make any sense.

I know you’re reading this a day later, but I’m writing this on Tisha b’Av. I know that hope is supposed to be mixed in with mourning and loss, but mourning and loss are a vital and inescapable element on the 9th of Av. The hunger of fasting is a reminder of how empty the world is of justice and mercy:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.” –Matthew 5:3-6

Tisha b'Av at the Kotel 2011The Master might as well have been talking about Tisha b’Av…or about life.

Maybe the only answer is the one provided by the Rebbe as interpreted by Rabbi Freeman at Chabad.org:

We are imprisoned because we have exiled our G-d.

As long as we search for G-d by abandoning the world He has made, we can never truly find Him.

As long as we believe there is a place to escape, we cannot be liberated.

The ultimate liberation will be when we open our eyes
to see that everything is here, now.

If the Jews are in exile, if the Jews suffer and mourn, God suffers and mourns with them. They aren’t alone. Even in torment, they are never alone. However, based on the words of Jesus quoted above, does that also apply to the rest of us? In mourning, where is our promised comforter? In sorrow, where is our peace?

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
And is bowed down within me.
Therefore I have hope.
The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
For the salvation of the LORD. –Lamentations 3:19-26 (NASB)

As it is said, every descent is for the sake of an ascent, and so we have this Kabbalistic interpretation of Tisha b’Av from Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh:

The Seer of Lublin passed away, at the age of 70, on the 9th of Av 5575 (1815), a day of national mourning, but also, according to the sages, the birthday of the Mashiach. Long before his passing he hinted to his followers that he would pass away on the 9th of Av.

The passing of the Seer of Lublin joins together with the “passing” of the Divine Presence from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem on the 9th of Av (the day of the destruction of the Temple – only its physical body “died” but its soul ascended to heaven) to arouse God to bring the Mashiach (who will permeate reality with Divine revelation, bringing redemption, peace and goodness to all) – now!