יום שישי, 31 בינואר 2014

המקדש שבתוכנו ובסביבתנו - The Sanctuary within ourselves and netween us and the Other

לבני משפחתנו, חברותינו וחברינו היקרים,
מחר, בפרשת תרומה, מתחילות הפרשות העוסקות במשכן, המקדש הזמני הנייד שהוקם במדבר.
המשכן והמקדש מעלים את שאלת האפשרות לצמצם את נוכחות האלהית, את השכינה לממדים אנושייים ואולי היא אתגר ליכולתנו לחוות רוחניות בתוכנו וביחסינו עם האחרים שבסביבתנו, לא בשמים.
בשת שלום וחודש טוב לכולכם
פנחס, ציפי ומשפחתם

להרחבה ולהעמקה, אפשר לקרוא:

Dear Family and Friends,

Tomorrow, we'll read about the Tabernacle, the temporary Sanctuary of the Desert.
This raises the question about the possibility of confining Divine Providence into human dimensions, or maybe it challenges us to perceive and establish spirituality within ourselves and in our relationship with others, not in Heaven.
Shabbat Shalom  and Hodesh Tov  to all,
Pinchas, Tzippie and Family

if you want to read more on this topic:

יום רביעי, 29 בינואר 2014

Transforming the Earth into Heaven

"And they shall make me a Temple- so that I may
dwell among them."

Pinchas Leiser
(translated by Janine Muller)

In Psalms (115:16), we read: "The heavens are God's, but the earth He has
to humankind". We are told that the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of
Kotzk) was wont to interpret the latter half of this message according to
the drash:
".....but the earth He has given to human beings to tranfrom it into heaven".

Thus, in Parshat Yitro, we find that the Revelation on Mount Sinai
ends with the commandment of building an altar of earth. Rashi, following in
the tradition
of the Rabbis in the Mechilta, explains the juxtaposition of Parshat Yitro
to Parshat
Mishpatim in this manner: "Why does the section that deals with judicial
immediately follow the passage that deals with the altar? To teach that you
should put the
Sanhedrin (the High Court) adjacent to the Temple." The Institutions of
Justice, according
to this approach, are an inextricable part of the temple, and historically,
the High Court in
Jerusalem was, in fact, situated in the section of the temple known as
"lishkat hagazit".
(or "The Chamber of Hewn Stone"). From this juxtaposition we learn that it
is impossible
to conceive of the existence of ritual in the absence of a judicial system.

A similar connection exists between the last passages of "Mishpatim" (24:
"And the glory of God rested on Mount Sinai and the cloud enveloped the mountain
for six days, and God called to Moses on the seventh day from within the cloud
and the appearance of the glory of God was like a consuming fire at the peak of
the mountain before the eyes of Israel", to the passage in chapter 28:8,
"And they
shall make Me a temple so that I may dwell among them". We see here that
the glory
of God resting on Mount Sinai, that is revealed to Moses alone, passes from the
"heavens" to the "mountain", and from the "mountain" to the temple, which
was built
through the donations of the people of Israel, "from every man whose heart will
motivate him".
The textual and conceptual question that arises from this passage is:
What is the connection between the first half of the passage, ("And they
shall make
Me a temple") and the second half of the passage, ("so that I may dwell
among them")?

On the surface, it would seem from this passage, that we are obligated to
a temple for God. Rashi, however, specifies in his interpretation that it
means that we
should make a "house of sanctity dedicated to my name", lest we think that
what we
build will automatically become a holy sanctuary wherein God dwells. We are
able to
fulfill this commandment to construct a temple only if the following two
conditions are
met: that we have the proper intentions ("to My name") and that we proceed
to build
according to the specific dimensions outlined in the Torah. The second half
of the
passage, "so that I may dwell among them" is contingent upon our fulfillment
of the
first half of the passage. However, it is still unclear whether our
fulfillment of the first
half of the passage guarantees that God will fulfill His role (and dwell in
our midst)
or whether it merely enables God to do connect to us in this manner. In any
case, it
is important that we understand the connection between our actions and the
for the glory of God or the "Shechina" revealing itself in our world, or in
the words
of the Kotzker Rebbe: "how we can transform the heaven into earth".

The Rabbis ("Avot de Rabbi Natan" 11:1) view human effort as a necessary
precondition for God revealing His presence in the world and condemn
idleness (as casting
God away) In their words: "The Holy One Blessed be He Himself likewise did
not cause
his Shechina to rest upon Israel before they did work, as it is written
(Shmot 25): "And
they shall make for me a temple, so that I may dwell among them". Rabbi
Yehuda ben
Betaira says: "What should one do who is not preoccupied with work? If he has
a neglected yard or field, he should go and occupy himself with it as it says:
"For six days you may labour and do all your work". Why is it written "And
do all your
work?" (Apparently, this statement appears redundant). So that he who
has neglected yards or fields should occupy himself with them. Rabbi Tarfon
"A man only dies only through idleness, as it is said (Bereishit 49) "And he
and was gathered unto his people." (Gen. 49: 33)

In the Mechilta, the Rabbis take a different approach to explaining the
importance of work, (Mechilta, Parshat Bo, Masechet D'Pascha: 16): "And
they shall
make Me a temple" Why is this written (i.e. Why is this commandment
necessary?) For it
has already been written: "The Heavens and the earth I fill". So how can it
be that "they
shall make Me a temple" (since my Presence encompasses the heavens and the
earth)? In
order to grant an award for the doing! Thus the Divine presence does not
among us as a
result of the mere construction of the temple, for God's presence fills the
entire heaven
and earth("There is no place devoid of His presence"). We are commanded to
build a
temple and to perform other mitzvot in order to earn a reward for fulfilling

Professor Nechama Leibowitz, of blessed memory, in her "New Studies
in Shemot", presents an overview of the classic commentaries on the tabernacle
(the Mishkan) and includes the commentary of the "Tzeida Laderech" who draws
our attention to the precise wording of our text: "And let them make Me a
that I may dwell among them"--The text does not say "that I may dwell in its
midst " (be-tocho) but "among them" (be-tocham), to teach you that the Divine
Presence does not rest on the sanctuary by virtue of the sanctuary but by
the virtue
of Israel "for they are the temple of the Lord."
Furthermore, Nechama Leibovitz poses the question asked in the Mechilta
in the name of the Abarbanel:"Why did God command us regarding the construction
of the tabernacle saying: "I shall dwell among them", as if he were a corporeal
being limited in space---which is the opposite of the truth, for He is not
and is not related to space. Of Him it is said in Isaiah (66:1): "The heaven
is My
throne and the earth My footstool---where is the house that you may build for
Me? and where is the place of My rest?" King Solomon likewise said: "Behold,
the heavens and highest heavens cannot contain You and surely not the Temple
that I have built!"

Abarbanel answers his question thus: "God desired the construction of
the temple and its vessels so that people would not come to believe that "God
has abandoned the earth"...and that His throne is in the heavens far from
In order to remove this mistaken belief from their hearts, God commanded that
Israel construct for Him a tabernacle as if he were dwelling among them so
that they would believe that the living God is in their midst and that His
Presence rests upon them. And that is the essential message emerging
from several similar passages, "And I shall dwell in the midst of
I will walk in their midst..."...He who dwells in the midst of their
all of which are metaphors for the Divine presence resting upon Israel
and Providence binding Itself to them.

It would seem that the allegorical approach of the Abarbanel is close
to that of the Mechilta (mentioned above) that views the tabernacle as a
structure required by man in order to deepen his relationship with God. In this
way, one can view this commentary as following in the tradition of those who
maintain that the sin of the Golden Calf preceded the building of the
and that the tabernacle itself was God's concession to the human need for
concrete symbols in relating to the Divine.

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsh introduces his commentary on the building
of the temple with these words:

"The meaning of "So that I may dwell among them" extends far beyond the
actual resting of God's presence on the tabernacle itself but emerges from
His covenant with the people of Israel, which is expressed through His
and blessing of individuals and of the community as a whole.
Moreover, God does not rest His presence, protection and blessings upon us as
a result of our meticulous construction of the Temple alone but rather
as a consequence of our maintaining lives of holiness in the private and public
spheres. Thus we find historically that God removed his Shechinah (presence)
from the tabernacle at Shiloh and from both of the temples in Jerusalem once
the people of Israel ceased to conduct themselves as a holy people and
transgressed the three most serious sins of idol worship, sexual immorality and
Nevertheless, according to the text "I will dwell among them" will come
only on the condition that "They will make Me a temple". Therefore, we
must explain
"mikdash" or "temple" as a concept that includes within it the necessary
for the resting of the Shechinah upon Israel, as promised. The verse: "And
they shall
make Me a temple so that I may dwell among them" includes two concepts for which
the actual building of the Temple will be their symbolic expression. The
are: "Mikdash" and "Mishkan". "Mikdash" expresses the totality of the tasks
that we
must fulfill in the service of God; "Mishkan" conveys the rewards that we will
achieve through the fulfillment of our duties. "Mikdash" points towards the
sanctification of our private and public lives in the service of God on the
of His Torah, while "Mishkan" conveys the presence of God that will be
designated for us and revealed through God's blessings of prosperity. The
"Tent of
Meeting" is the "Mikdash", the place of holiness, while the "Mishkan" is
the place in
which God brings His presence close to us".
The Rabbis, who lived after the destruction of the Second Temple and
faced the challenge of developing a life of the spirit in the absence of a
physical temple
commented: "From the day that the temple was destroyed, God only exists within
the "four amot" of halacha".
(Berachot: 8:71)

It is possible to see these "four amot" as restrictive and confining if we
relate to them in the technical sense alone. However, these same four amot
can also encompass an entire world, if we demand of ourselves, in the spirit of
Rabbi Hirsch and the "Tzeida La'derech", to view every aspect of our
lives--and all
our interactions with others, with our children, our peers, our colleagues-- as
opportunities for creating a "temple", for infusing our lives with a holiness,
that has the ability to transform, in the words of the Kotzker Rebbe, our earth
into heaven.

יום שישי, 24 בינואר 2014

מדינה יהודית ודמווקרטית? A Jewish and Democratic State?

לבני משפחתנו, חברותינו וחברינו היקרים,
מדינת ישראל מצהירה שהיא "מדינה יהודית ודמוקרטית". יש הרואים בהגדרה זו אוקסימורון, כאילו יש סתירה מהותית בין יהדותה של המדינה לבין אופיה הדמוקרטי. ואולי, פרשת משפטים מלמדת אותנו דבר מה על מהי חברה יהודית המבוססת על צדק ועל כבוד לאדם בכך שהיא מסמיכה את הסנהדרין (המוסד החוקתי העליון) למזבח? אין ערך לפולחן ללא צדק וחמלה והקמתה של חברה צודקת המכבדת בני אדם היא מעשה יהודי מהמעלה הראשונה.
שבת שלום לכולכם
פנחס, ציפי ומשפחתם

 להרחבה: http://pinchaspeace.blogspot.co.il/2009/02/blog-post_14.html?spref=fb 

Dear Family and Friends,
Some people believe that defining the State of Israel as a "Jewish and Democratic" State is an oxymoron, as if Judaism and Democracy are necessarily contradicting values.
Maybe the Parasha we'll read tomorrow teaches us about the imperative of establishing a Jewish Society based on Social Justice, Empathy and Ethics.
Even by starting the Section about Laws immediately after the section dealing with the Altar, we may be able to understand that there is no value to ritual worship without Justice and Empathy and Respect for all Human Beings and establishing a Society based on these values is a Jewish Imperative.
Shabbat Shalom to all,
Pinchas, Tzippie and Family

For a more elaborated article on this topic, read:


יום רביעי, 22 בינואר 2014

Between Worship and Social Justice


Pinchas Leiser

Bible commentators, beginning with Chazal, frequently tended to refer to “juxtaposition of parshiot”, seeking significance in the adjacency of Torah parshiyot. Well-known is the question (which has become proverbial) “What is Shmitta doing near Mt. Sinai?”  Rashi, commenting on the beginning of our parasha, asks, as per the Mechilta:             “And why was the parasha of adjudication (dinim) placed next to the laws pertaining to the alter [found at the end of Parashat Yitro]”  Rashi’s answer: “To inform you that you should place the Sanhedrin near the altar [Alternate reading “near the Temple”].”

One can, of course, relate literally to this drasha quoted by Rashi, seeing it as concrete instruction to place the Sanhedrin in the Office of Hewn Stone. But even this topographical explication, which interprets textual juxtaposition into geographical proximity, invites us to investigate the significance of this proximity, in the sense of “Expound, and reap reward.”

The Mechilta - apparently the source for Rashi’s midrashic interpretation - brings additional support for the placement of the Sanhedrin near the altar:  

That your nakedness may not be exposed upon it – These are the rules that you shall set before them”. From this we learn that the Sanhedrin is found alongside the altar. Even though there exists no proof for this, there is an allusion to it, as is written: “And Yoav fled and held on to the corners of the altar” (I Kings, 28).

This midrash ostensibly relates to the geographical proximity of the place where Yoav ben Tsruya was judged (“the Sanhedrin”) to the place to which he fled for safety.  If, however, we relate to the Biblical context and to additional Talmudic contexts, we can discern an addition plane connecting the story of Yoav to our parasha.
In one of the opening passages of our parasha (21:14), we read: When a man schemes against another and kills him treacherously, you shall take him from My very altar to be put to death.”

Chazal and other commentators on the Bible noted the connection between the Biblical law and the story of Yoav; they found in it the Halakhic justification for the slaying of Yoav despite the fact that he held on to the corners of the altar. Similarly they derived from this tie that a priest who murdered and desires to participate in the Temple service, is prevented from approaching the altar; he is put to death. The altar cannot protect one who has intentionally murdered.

This exegetical approach, too, is anchored in Shemot 20:21 (also at the end of Yitro):
If you make for Me an altar of stones, do not build it of hewn stones; for by wielding your sword upon them you have profaned them”.

The Tanchuma expounds: “for by wielding your sword upon them you have profaned them’ – From this our rabbis derived: The altar was created to prolong man’s life, iron was created to shorten his life; it is not right that that which shortens be raised against that which lengthens.”

The altar, then, cannot tolerate bloodshed and cannot serve as protection against punishment for murder.

Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, commenting on the first passage of our parasha, elaborates upon Rashi’s midrashic commentary:

And these” – Immediately preceding, in the construction of the altar, the symbolic expression of the fundamental basic principle was given, viz., that our whole relationship to God is to be taken as one through which justice and humanness for building up human society and morality and decency for the work of each individual on himself, are to be gained and formed, on a firm unshatterable basis. To that principle, the ‘vav’ (‘and’) adds the Mishpatim, the legal laws by which the building up of Jewish society on the basis of justice and humanness is first of all ordered.  “Cherev” – the ‘sword’, force and harshness are thereby to be banned from the Jewish State, only then can they be worthy to erect an altar to God in their midst. That is why these Mishpatim come before the building of the Mishkan.”   (Translated from the original by Isaac Levy).

Rabbi Hirsch, then, sees in the establishment of a just and ethical society, sans force and brutality, an essential stage which must precede the erection of the altar.

Additional study of the order in which laws are arranged in Chapter 21, teaches us that this chapter deals with:
1.      The laws of the Hebrew servant and maidservant (1-11).
2.      Various gradations of violence, intentional and unintentional, and resulting physical damage (11-27).
3.      Damage to body and possessions perpetrated by one’s property (28-37).

Ibn Ezra (in his short commentary on Shemot) was mindful of this order:
The main lesson is that man should not employ violence, coercing one less capable than himself. It [Scripture] begins with coercion affecting the body, i.e., enslaving a servant; following this it mentions the maidservant . . .”           
This parasha regarding the Hebrew servant which opens the chapter and the order of  “mishpatim”  provides the ethical foundation for a just and moral society.

We cannot divorce the concept of the “eved Ivri”, the Hebrew servant, from its historical context, a period in which slavery was accepted; we cannot evaluate the phenomenon with the criteria of modern times. But, even so, Chazal look upon the desire of the servant to remain indentured to his master after six years with a disapproving eye, as is evidenced by different midrashim (“For the Children of Israel are servants unto Me’ – but not servants unto servants.”)

In other words, Chazal already understood that the Torah itself does not approve of the phenomenon of servitude. The wording “should you purchase a Hebrew servant” and other passages similarly worded (“Should you go out to wage war on your enemies . . . and see among the captives a beautiful woman”; “Should a man have a wayward and defiant son” and numerous other examples) does not describe an ideal situation, but rather an existing reality, sometimes even an undesirable reality. If we continue to expound the juxtaposition of passages and parshiot, we can deduce that the Torah wanted to each us that a just society must base itself upon freemen, upon servants of God, not upon “servants of servants.”  A situation in which the servant is dependent upon the institution of slavery – or alternatively, in which the master creates a situation of dependency and cannot free himself of the situation in which he enslaves others – this is a debased and corrupt social situation which gives rise to violence, murder, and disrespect for man’s person and property. In such an environment, no wonder we find men having a dispute injuring a pregnant woman (21:20), or people killing their fellows unwittingly or by design (21:12-13)

It may be that the root of the evil is a double one, and transgression drags transgression:
a.       Failure to execute faithfully the details of construction of the “altar”  without raising a sword (20:22)
b.      The illusion that one can erect an altar not in the framework of an enlightened, well-run society, based on the rule of law and on basic rules of morality in interpersonal relations.

It may be that in our times the rules of the eved Ivri  have few direct ramifications, but the moral and ideological principles which we are able to deduce from the proximity of the  parshiot of the alter and of mishpatim and the parasha of the Hebrew servant are most important.

A society that strives for spirituality is based first and foremost upon the absolute negation of subjugation of man by man, upon absence of violence, upon rule of law, and upon respect for all men created in the image of God.                                           

יום שישי, 17 בינואר 2014

מה שחשוב באמת, הוא הסמוי מן העין... The important issues are "Hidden"

לבני משפחתנו, חברותינו וחברינו היקרים,

מי שהקשיב לחדשות השבוע בארץ - או נחשף אליהם - יכול היה לחשוב שמה שחשוב הוא מותו של שרון וההספדים, חלקם רדודים, חלקם צבועים, חלקם מרושעים והיציאה האומללה של בגוי יעלון, שר הביטחון שלנו (אולי הוא רוצה להיות שרון כשיגדל...) נגד קרי, אך לשטויות אלו יש חיי מדף קצרים ובעוד שבוע או שבועיים, כל זה יישכח ויפנה מקום לדברים אחרים. 
מה שחשוב באמת, כפי שנאמר ב"נסיך הקטן" הוא "הסמוי מן העין"...יתרו הגיע - לא ברור אם הוא הצטרף לתמיד; אם זה קרה בגלל התפעלות מנס קריעת ים סוף, אם מתוך סולידריות עם העם שהשתחרר מעבדות והותקף ע"י עמלק, או אם מדובר בהזדהות ערכית ורוחנית. 
בעולמנו הקטן, אפשר היה לראות קומץ של אנשים המפגינים בשקט למען השלום, אחרים המציינים את "חג האילנות" כאירוע  הנועד לשמר את הטבע (לעבדה ולשמרה) ולהפוך את עולמנו למקום טוב יותר ובלוח המודעות מטעם מרכז שטיינזלץ מודעה על שיעור בתלמוד בנושא : גר תושב בהלכה היהודית שיינתן על ידי ערבי ישראלי...ימות המשיח? אולי לא, אבל סנוניות של תקווה? הלוואי.
שבת שלום לכולכם
פנחס, ציפי ומשפחתם 

Dear Family and Friends,
Sometimes, the media try to attract our attention to events, like the death of Sharon (after he wasn;t really with us for 8 years) and some stupid declaration of our Defense Minister, Yaalon. Somebody wants us to believe that this is important, but we all know that in another week or two,  probably nobody will ever remember this.
What is really important, as mentioned in "The Little Prince" is "the Hidden"; Yitro joined us in the desert - maybe for ever, maybe temporarily. We don't know what attracted him; the Splitting  of the Read Sea, the solidarity with the people attacked by Amalek, the symbol of Absolute Evil or maybe Spiritual and Moral identification with the values of Sinai.
In the  "small world" of our neighbourhood, a nice crowd of people held a silent rally for peace; others for a better world in the ecological sense and there was also an announcement  about a Talmud lecture at the Steinsalz Center given by an Arab Israeli on the topic of : The non-Jew in Jewish Law"...
Messianic Days? Maybe not, some signs of Hope? Let it be... Inch'alla

Shabbat Shalom to all

Shabbat Shalom to all,
Pinchas, Tzippie and Family


יום שישי, 10 בינואר 2014

העמלק שבתוכנו ובסביבתנו - Amalek within us

בני משפחתינו, חברותינו וחברינו היקרים,
על המילים בפרשתנו "והיה כאשר  ירים משה את ידיו וגבר ישראל, וכאשר יניח את ידו, וגבר עמלק" שואלים חכמים (במשנה ראש השנה):"וכי ידיו של משה עושות מלחמה? וכי ידיו של משה שוברות מלחמה?!  אלא בזמן שישראל  היו מסתכלין כלפי מעלה ומשעבדים את לבם לאביהם שבשמים, היו מתגברים"
אולי בא הדבר ללמדנו שאת מלחמה החשובה נגד העמלקיות שבתוכנו ובסביבתנו אין מנצחים עם הידיים, אלא באופן שבו אנחנו מסתכלים על עצמנו, ועל זולתנו במבט של ענווה ואהבה.
שבת שלום לכולכם
פנחס, ציפי ומשפחתם 

 This week,the English "thought for Shabbat" is not identical to the Hebrew. 

Dear Family and Friends,
Maybe TuBiShvat reflects the first signs of spring, which sometimes are hard to detect. It's as if, when the Israelites came out of Egypt and stood in front of the Red Sea, only a minority saw the option of Liberation and Freedom.
Sometimes, a little light, if we pay attention to it and believe in its potential, even there is a lot of darkness around, will grow and have a cumulative inlfuence on our attitude and experience. 
It's all about being attentive enough to observe minor signs and have enough faith and patience to delay gratification and being able to appreciate processes of growth, even you the outcome isn't close.
Maybe the Renewal of Nature could be a source of inspiration and hope for a renewal of human spirit and empathy.
Shabbat Shalom
Pinchas, Tzippie and Family

יום שלישי, 7 בינואר 2014

Amalek - origine and essence

Amalek came - where did he come from?

Pinchas Leiser
To my little grandchildren Michal and Aviatar
and to their parents Yael and Nati
In prayer for their health and development.
May they merit to grow up in times of peace, in a just Israeli society.
With gratitude to the wonderful team
of the premature baby care unit at the Shaarei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem,
for their dedicated treatment.
Since the verb form "came" describes a situation of arriving from "one place" to "another", the question is sometimes asked about the origin of the "coming". I put double quotes around the word "place", because sometimes, there is meaning to the place where a person comes from, and it's not necessarily a physical or a geographical place.
For example, in the parasha of Chayei Sarah it is said of Avraham: "Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her.Rashi there explains: "From Beer Sheva.", as opposed to the midrashim(Bereishit Rabba Noach 5, and others):
Avraham came to eulogize Sarah- Where did he come from? Rabbi Levy said: "[He] came from Terach's funeral to Sarah's [funeral]." Rabbi Yossi said to him: "Did not Terach's funeral predate Sarah's funeral by two years? Where did he rather come from? From Mount Moriah, and Sarah died from that very grief. Therefore, [the story of] the binding of Itzchak directly precedes 'Sarah's lifetime was...'".
It seems to me that also regarding the episode of Amalek (17:8-16) which is mentioned at the end of our weekly portion and starts with the words "Amalek came" - there is room to ask "where did he come from?" In other words: What is the context in which this story appears in the Torah? Is it sudden, and for no apparent reason that Amalek comes and attacks Israel? Is the cause for this inherent in Amalek's wickedness alone?
Bible commentators in different generations dealt with this question in different ways. Rashi (following Bereishit Rabba) connects these matters to the previous verse, where the children of Israel express the feeling that Hashem is not in their midst:
Amalek came... - this episode immediately follows the preceding verses to say: "I'm always in your midst and ready [to provide] for all your needs, and you say 'is Hashem in our midst or not?' - I swear that a dog will come and bite you, and you will cry out to me and you will understand where I am." This is likened to a man who placed his son on his shoulder and walked on his way; the son saw an object and said: "Father, pick this up and give it to me", and he gave him; and so it happened a second time, and a third. Then, they met a man, and the son asked him: "Did you see my Father?" Now his father told him: "You don't know where I am?!" He threw [his son] off, and a dog came and bit him.
Divine providence depends on a person's faith, and man's abandonment of God hands the man over to the forces of evil. In the Mechilta of Rabbi Yishmael (Beshalach, tractate of Amalek, a), another interpretation is brought down, expressing a similar idea:
Amalek came and battled Israel in Refidim... others say: "Refidim" means nothing other than "Refion Yadaim" (=weakness/slackness), indicating that [the children of] Israel became careless about the words of Torah. Therefore, an enemy came upon them, for an enemy only comes [as a punishment/consequence] of carelessness with the Torah.
According to this view, the People of Israel are vulnerable when they abandon the Torah. Rabbi Chizkiah ben Manoach, the author of the commentary "Chizkuni" (1250-1320), and also the Tosafot view the attack by Amalek, grandson of Esav, as an act of revenge for the birthright sale, and these are the words of Chizkuni:
Amalek came - where did he come from? It refers to the above "[Esav] went to a land because of Yaakov his brother(Bereishit 36:6)Rashi interpreted this as follows: "[Esav] left because of the certificate of indebtedness regarding the decree 'that your offspring will be aliens' (Bereishit 15:13), which is upon the offspring of Yitzchak. He said: 'I'm leaving this place; I'm neither interested in the gift (that this land is given to him), nor in paying off the debt', and also because of the shame that he sold his birthright to Yaakov. Therefore Amalek, the son of his son, waited till Israel leavesEgypt and the debt of 'they will serve them and they will oppress them four hundred years' (ibid.) is paid off. And battled Israel - because of the hatred caused by the birthright sale; but before that, [Amalekites] did not come near [Israel], for fear that the payoff for the debt of 'they will serve them and they will oppress them four hundred years' (ibid.) would be placed upon them [as well].
And the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 99b) also gives an explanation about the roots of Amalek:
And Lotan's sister was Timna? - Timna was a royal princess, as it is written, aluf [duke] Lotan (Ber 36:29)aluf [duke] Timna (Ber 36:40), and by 'aluf' an uncrowned ruler is meant. Desiring to become a proselyte, she went to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, but they did not accept her. So she went and became a concubine to Eliphaz the son of Esav, saying, 'I had rather be a servant to this people than a mistress of another nation.' From her, Amalek was descended who afflicted Israel. Why so? - Because they should not have repulsed her.
In this case, Amalek "comes" as a consequence of rejecting Timna by our forefathers (could this be our sages' criticism of rabbinic courts that are stringent in matters of accepting proselytes?)
By contrast, the Italian commentator Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Reggio connects the Amalek battle story in our weekly portion to what is said in the weekly portion of "Ki Teitze":
It is explained in Mishne Torah that Amalek's coming was neither from fear of Israel nor because of an evil that the children of Israel did to him, nor for booty. Rather, this villain came because ofhaughtiness of his heart, out of denial of Hashem and his wonders, and to mock the strong hand that Hashem showed over Egypt and at [the splitting of] the sea. And the scoundrel said in his heart that all [those things] are tricks done by humans, and so he came to fight Israel, to announce to everyone that one should not fear them and that there is nothing divine about them. All this the Torah expresses using the phrase "and he did not fear God." (Dvarim 25:18) For he was from the group of Hashem's enemies who are wise in their own eyes, and so Hashem commanded that his memory be wiped out.
This reading of Reggio sees in Amalek's attacking Israel a provocation of the God of Israel by those who deny his existence. It is talking about a kind of a "religious war", without a political or military reason.
It seems to me that the majority of commentators understood that if we are commanded to remember Amalek yet also wipe out his memory, then the commandment does not relate to the memory of the historical event but rather to Amalek as the ultimate enemy of Hashem in the world, and this is what the Netziv writes in his commentary "Haamek Davar(Shmot 17:14):
"Write this as a remembrance in the Book..." which I am telling you "that I shall surely erase the memory of Amalek..." Write it in the Book and also "recite it in the ears of Yehoshua." This is the issue. And apparently, this is superfluous. After all, every word of Hashem to Moshe is written in the Book of Torah, even without [explicit] words of Hashem that he should write it as a remembrance. Also, the matter of "recite it in the ears of Yehoshua" is not clear. But first, let us explain the essence of the statement "that I shall surely erase the memory of Amalek". If this is talking about the kingdom of Amalek, then why did our sages establish the commandment to remember it for generations, after this evil kingdom had already been erased? And even if there are some people from the offspring of that nation in the world, what difference does it make? And if it means that his name and memory be forgotten - this is impossible! After all, the Torah is eternal, and it is mentioning him. Rather, what is meant here is the legacy of Amalek in the world. For it is clear that Amalek challenged Israel with a purpose. He undoubtedly knew that it would not be easy to overcome him. He interfered with a fight not his own. The reason being that Amalek is the "first among nations", as Bil'am said when the light of the Spirit of Holiness appeared before him. This is not to say that [Amalek] is a more successful and happy nation - after all, Amalek had always been an inferior kingdom. Rather, just like the war of Amraphel and his coalition was against Avrahamour father alone, as becomes clear from a careful reading of the scripture in Sefer Bereishit. And he is known as the symbol of judgment [שעל ידו נעשה עין משפט], by way of bringing downProvidence which works according to one's deeds. Thus, from the moment that Israel left Egypt and was ready to receive the Torah, things have become much worse for the nations of the world.And Amalek, the first among nations, deeply hates Providence. And the Holy One Blessed be He promised that the time will come when He will wipe out the memory of Amalek, meaning his purpose and legacy that the ways of nature should be free from Providence [which behaves] according to one's deeds. This drive will be forgotten by the nations of the world and the Lord shall be king over all the earth (Zecharia 14:9). And these are the days of Mashiach who shall come soon, in our days. And Hashem said to Moshe "write this as a remembrance in the Book", like a person who tells his son a story in order to bring his heart closer to morality, and when he comes to a most essential matter, then in order for [this matter] to be rooted deeply in his heart, the father is most careful and says: "remember this, my son." Even though he wants his son to remember the whole story, he still draws his attention especially to the essential matter of the story. Likewise, we are supposed to remember the whole Torah by writing a Book of Torah, but where we see that the Holy One Blessed be He told Moshe "write this as a remembrance in the Book", we must understand from it that we must remember this matter especially well. For this is the requested goal, that the Glory of the Lord will fill the whole earth, and we must have faith that the time for the coming of Mashiach will arrive. And precisely regarding this, Hashem added: "recite it in the ears of Yehoshua" - this is about uttering a secret matter, the [time of Mashiach's coming], which he revealed to his ear. And of course, [Yehoshua] will also reveal this to someone worthy of it.
The Netziv, it seems, sees here an eternal struggle in our world between the believers in a world with Providence, meaning a world where there is a relation between man's behavior and Divine Providence, and the deniers of such belief. He also compares the war of the kings against Avraham to this struggle, where ultimately, we must remember and educate towards a world where everyone will recognize the triumph of Hashem over Amalek.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch famously sees in 'Amalek' a spiritual position which does not characterize a certain group of people or nations, but rather a moral danger which lies in wait for every person and every people, and these are his words:
'Do not forget' - Do not forget this thing if the day comes and you will want to become like Amalek, and, like Amalek, you fail to recognize your obligation and do not know God. Rather, you only seek opportunities, in matters small or great, to exploit your advantage in order to harm your fellow men. Do not forget this if the day comes and you ask to relieve your heart of its role and its mission as Israel that you have taken upon yourself amongst humanity. Do not envy the laurels which a foolish world throws to those happy with having destroyed the happiness of others. Remember the tear-soaked soil which nurtures the laurels of those wreathes, do not forget this thing when the day comes and you yourself suffer Amalek's violence and coarseness. Keep standing straight! Preserve the humanity and values of justice that you learned from your God. The future belongs to them, and in the end humanity and justice will overcome coarseness and violence. You yourself were sent in order to announce and to bring near - with your very example - that overcoming and that future.
Do not forget - and in order that you not forget, "remember" from time to time, renew in your heart the memory of Amalek and what you have been told of its future. (From Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's commentary on Devarim 25:19, written circa 1860!)
It seems to me that these words, written by RaShaR Hirsch in the second half of 19th century are still valid today, and we can understand them without a need for explanation. There is a tendency to see in Amalek the ultimate external enemy, and the evil and hatred that were directed against us from various "Amalekites" must not be belittled, but a different reading enables us to observe the "Amalek" in ourselves, in the inclination to take advantage of our fellow man's weakness, in every single one of us, as individuals and as a people.
If so, where does this "Amalek" come from? What are his roots?
Sometimes, he emerges from vengeful feelings towards someone who hurt us; he can also come from a sense of rejection, which causes us to project the evil onto others. However, we cannot ignore the fact that he sometimes comes from a lack of strength. We are given the choice, as individuals, as a group, and as a people, of whether Hashem is "in our midst" or if it's Amalek who is "in our midst". Sometimes, there is a struggle between these two forces, and may we be wise to make the right choices.

יום חמישי, 2 בינואר 2014

לבני משפחתנו, חברותינו וחברי היקרים,
לפני המכה האחרונה, במכת החושך, נאמר: "ויהי חושך אפלה "..."לא ראו איש את אחיו".
"חושך מצרים" פגע רק במצרים, ולכן מדובר בתופעה מיוחדת במינה. היא פגעה רק במשעבדים. לכן, ניתן אולי להבין שמדובר כאן בעוורון רגשי ומסרי, שהוא דבר מובן כאשר אדם משעבד אדם אחר או כאשר עם משעבד עם אחר: אז, כבר אין רואים את האחר (וגם לא את האח) והעולם מסביב חשוך...
שבת שלום וחודש טוב לכולכם
פנחס, ציפי ומשפחתם

Dear Family and Friends,

Before the last plague inflicted tthe Egyptians, we'll read that "there was a thick darkness" and "they saw not one another".
Since this "darkness" was a very special phenomenon, afflicting only the Egyptians, who were the oppressors, maybe it can be understood as emotional and moral blindness, which is an understandable phenomenon when one person oppresses another person or a nation oppresses another nation; you don't see the other anymore and the world around you becomes dark.
Shabbat Shalom to all,
Pinchas, Tzippie and Family 


יום רביעי, 1 בינואר 2014

Hard to Liberate and Hard to Liberate Oneself

Pinchas Leiser

It seems to me that the terms for slavery and for freedom are central motives in the book of Shemot (Exodus); they are described in the parshiyot, Shemot, Vaera and Bo, during the history of the Children of Israel while they were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.
In the parsha Mishpatim the laws of the Hebrew slave and maidservant are delineated, as well. In addition, in many places in the Torah, we are told in different ways: “And you shall remember that you were slaves in Egypt,” among others, when the Torah warns us many times not to deceive the stranger.
We can say, therefore, that the Torah deals with the subject of slavery and freeing the slave on a narrative level; while we were slaves in Egypt is our founding narrative, and also on a normative-halachic and value level, in parshat Mishpatim and in the continuation.
When we observe the unfolding of events from the beginning of parshat Shemot, we can see several verses that describe the transformation of the status of the Israelites in Egypt.

We read at the end of the book of Breishit: So Joseph settled his father and his brothers, giving them holdings in the choicest part of the land of Egypt, in the region of Ramses, as Pharaoh has commanded. (Genesis 47:11)
As opposed to the “old” Pharaoh who was grateful to Joseph, a new king arose “who did not know Joseph,” and this is the language of the text:
Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation. But the Israelites were fertile and prolific; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them. A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so they may not increase, otherwise in the event of a war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and arise from the ground.” So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor; and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh: Pithom and Ramses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out, so that the (Egyptians) came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians ruthlessly imposed upon the Israelites the various labors that they made them perform. (Shemot 1:6-13)

The Torah describes to us, briefly, what crossed the mind of the “new king’ – as is known, Rashi presents the polemic between Rav and Shmuel, possibly, according to one of the methods that is referring  to the same Pharaoh who knew Joseph, but renounced all his promises after Joseph’s death, “and all that generation. “
The Netziv, in his commentary “Haemek Hadavar”, is precise in the language of the text and writes:
And a new king Arose.  Shouldn’t it say a different king? Moreover, the meaning of “new” – with new opinions. He did not know Joseph, from whom the country had benefitted so much, and had so much faith in the kingdom. As a result of this, the king was wary of him. (Haemek Hadavar,ibid)

In any case, the policy of the ruling Egyptians changed; the resident aliens that were entitled to a generous political asylum up until then, multiplied. This proliferation in population bothered the new king. Possibly, he indeed felt threatened and suspected that the alien people would take over the rule, for had not the former deputy king belong to this nation!

Possibly, as other commentators thought (among them the Italian commentator R. Yitzchak Shmuel Reggio) that the new king did not really suspect that the Jews would take over the rule because he would have expelled them rather than enslave them, as Avimelech had done to Isaac. His demagogy was targeted to his own people, in order to stir up hatred toward the Children of Israel, so that they would collaborate with his wish to enslave them.

It can be asked, what was the purpose of the torture described at the beginning of parshat Shemot; was the torture meant to denigrate the nation and transform them into slaves, or, rather, is the torture here for its own sake and for the gradual elimination, among other ways, by killing all the first born sons?

In any case, when the gradual elimination did not succeed, the denigration, the exploitation, and the enslavement became the exclusive objectives. We are witness, like every national minority which is oppressed by another nation, to the existence of collaborators. Are they not the “Hebrew Hawks” (according to the Midrash: Dotam and Aviram) who tattled to Pharaoh about the killing of the Egyptian by Moses. Pharaoh’s and the Egyptian economy’s dependency on the labor of the Hebrews is illustrated also, by his unwillingness to free them. (Shemot 5:2-5) It could be to create a divide between Moses and Aaron and the people. Pharaoh decides to increase the burden of the slavery. This burden causes the loss of hope.

Parshat Vaera and Bo are characterized by frequent meetings of Moses and Aaron with Pharaoh, the encumbering of Pharaoh’s heart, and all of the plagues of Egypt. How can we understand this hardening of the heart? The commentaries that tackle the problem of Pharaoh’s free will are known; however, since “the Torah is written in human language,” it is possible to observe the mechanism of the mind that is behind the stubbornness of Pharaoh, and all the rulers who continue to subjugate other nations, in opposition to all logic.
Indeed, Pharaoh’s flippant reaction to his first meeting with Moses is understood.; in theory time is working in his favor, and if he succeeds in transforming his own peoples’ suffering and oppression into a nation that oppresses another nation by stirring up hatred of that nation - an act that ensures the continuation of his own reign, there is no reason that he should respond to the call of Moses and Aaron, in the name of a God unknown to him.

Pharaoh could deny the plague of blood, as it did not affect him directly, and because it seemed to stop after seven days, and his wizards also succeeded in turning water to blood.

It seems that the plague of frogs did affect Pharaoh personally. Here is a phenomenon that is not in his control, as the frogs were everywhere, also in his house and in his bed. The wizards of Egypt were able to produce frogs, but were not able to eliminate them successfully. We are witness here (Shemot 8:4) to a moment of fragility. The impression is given that Pharaoh is ready to understand that it is not worth his while to oppress the Hebrews. However, in verse 11, when the frogs perished as a result of Moses’ prayer, Pharaoh returns to his wicked ways and denials and continues to believe in his ability to continue oppression. The rational reader will doubt his wisdom and will find it difficult to comprehend Pharaoh’s reaction. It seems to me, though, that oppression and occupation have an addicting aspect, and every ruler who oppresses another people finds it difficult to give up the lust for dominance.

The lice were perceived by him and the wizards “as an act of God”, that is, a national disaster (Rashbam) that has no connection to the God of Israel, and, therefore, allowed the continuation of the denial.

The eruv (predatory animals) that also struck Pharaoh’s household is an additional turning point, and the Netziv learns from the precision of these words “…And would not let the people go.”(Ibid, 8:28) – “because Pharaoh became wise to the fact that he was being punished because of them, and he could not be so stern, but thought it was enough that he lifted some of their hardships…”; that is Pharaoh understood that there is a connection between his behavior towards the enslaved people that were under his rule and the plagues that he endured, but he thought that a gesture was enough to appease them, and that there was no necessity to free them.

Some of the commentators are of the opinion that with the plague of hoof and mouth disease, not all of Egypt’s cattle perished, but the majority did (Ibn Ezra) or that all the dead were from Egypt’s cattle (Hiszkuni). This hoof and mouth disease did enable the continued denial. Moreover, it seems, Pharaoh, himself, did not suffer directly.

The plague of boils did indeed strike the wizards and all of Egypt (Shemot 9:11) but it is possible that it did not strike Pharaoh himself, and, maybe as a result, it may have been difficult to keep up the denial, and maybe because of this, it was difficult to consistently deny, but with the help of God (Shemot 9:12) and against all logic, Pharaoh became more entrenched in his position.
After the plague of hail, Pharaoh’s reaction is unprecedented, “I stand guilty this time. The Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.” (Shemot 9:27) In theory, this is an insight that points, not only on Pharaoh’s will to stop the punishment, but also, that his behavior is not “justified.” This reaction is temporary and fleeting with the cessation of the hail; Maybe Pharaoh returned to his wicked ways because “the wheat and the buckwheat were not hit” (according to Rashi’s commentary and Hanetziv, based on the Midrash) or, perhaps, because of “no surrendering to terror” and concession is seen as a weakness.

The pattern of surrender and then “strengthening” continues to accompany the narrative also in Parshat Bo in different ways until the final surrender of Pharaoh, following the plague of the first born sons that strikes all the Egyptian first born “from Pharaoh’s first born who sits on the throne to the first born of the slave girl…And there shall be a loud cry in all the land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again.” (Shemot 11:5-6)

It seems to me that Pharaoh’s obstinacy to free the Children of Israel, against all logic, is not only typical of Pharaoh. Almost every leader that was enticed to oppress another people became addicted to oppression. At the beginning, the leader and his nation, in theory, enjoy the fruits of the oppression from the cheap labor and from the control itself. Afterwards, the  “Golem” turns on his creator, and there are many mechanisms that blind the eyes of the leader, who oppresses, and the oppression continues even when there is no actual benefit, also when the oppressing nation and its leaders sustain many and varied blows.

This phenomenon repeats itself throughout human history. Generally, the nations have not learned from their experience and the mistakes of other nations. The narrative of the exodus from Egypt comes to instruct us that a nation oppressed will always be liberated from the iniquity of oppression, because this is the will of God. It is in our grasp to be active partners in fulfilling God’s will. May we be deserving of this.