Tuesday, September 19, 2017

5777 Wrap-up: 35 Points for Contemplation

BS”D 
Rosh Hashana 5778
By HaRav Nachman Kahana


5777 Wrap-up

The following is a synopsis of many of this year’s (5777) weekly messages.

The messages were variations on one sole theme – the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to everything Jewish, and its corollary that the galut is dying and every Jew must return home.

Eretz Yisrael is not one more item in the ‘tool shed” of a Torah true Jew; it is the shed itself. The Holy Land determines the quantity and quality of our mitzvot. There are quantitatively more mitzvot to be fulfilled here than in the galut, and the quality of a mitzva observed in the galut compared to its observance in Eretz Yisrael is like a weed to a rose.

Our land is the border crossing between this world and the next. And when we sinned, HaShem exiled us to the brutal galut where our books and bodies were burned and our thoughts perverted.

Eretz Yisrael is the focal point of Judaism; the holy precinct which is directly under the kisei hakavod – the holy throne.


35 Points for Contemplation

1) Chareidi ideology professes to represent authentic halachic Judaism, when in reality its position regarding military service exposes a profound theological flaw.

In theory, the Chareidi way of life is dedicated to upholding Halacha to its minutia. However, the most basic factor is blatantly omitted in their lives – HaShem!

In the Chareidi way of life HaShem exists in the siddur, in the Biblical and Talmudic texts, and in the material objects necessary for performing mitzvot. But where HaShem is not to be seen or felt in the miraculous historical movements and changes that surround our people in Eretz Yisrael. For them HaShem is missing from the reality of life. Yom Ha’atz’maut is a day of semi-mourning in many of their circles. They cannot see that the miraculous military victories of Tzahal are on a par and even more impressive than many of the great miraculous victories recorded in the TaNach.

2) There is an immutable connection between every Jew to the collective Am YIsrael, even one who is far from Torah observance. A Jew can never cease being a Jew no matter what he does, because one cannot erase his essence.

3) We are members of the small, elite group of people whom the Creator selected to be His “Chosen Nation”. We are the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, the nation that crossed the Red Sea and stood at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the Torah from the Creator Himself. Children of a nation 3500 years old whose blessings to humanity have no equal. It is the pride of being a Jew that echoes in one’s soul proclaiming, “I am a prince, a son of HaShem, and as such how can I betray the 150 generations of my family, beginning with the revelation at Mount Sinai, who sacrificed so much that I could be born a Jew today?

4) The Mashiach will be a military person or a rabbi who is knowledgeable in military strategy and tactics. He will lead the nation to victory in the wars of Gog King of Magog. He will be a charismatic individual who will return the Jews to the Torah, and rebuild the Bet HaMikdash.

5) The Zohar, at the end of parashat Beshalach states that the descendants of Yishmael are destined to cause three major world wars; one on the sea, another on land, and the last close to Yerushalayim.

6) Were it not for Ya’akov and his children, the concept of God would have long been forgotten. Christianity would have diluted into atheism and Islam into avoda zara (idolatry).

7) Our father Ya’akov experienced two dreams. In the first, which occurred on the Temple Mount, Ya’akov saw HaShem’s angels ascending to heaven and descending to this world. In the second dream, he sees how he can increase the number of animals in his herd. The first one with angels occurred when Ya’akov was in Eretz Yisrael; while in chutz la’aretz, even the great Ya’akov dreamt of animals and wealth.

8) The holy people of this land – dati and not – are living the words of our prophets that HaShem would restore us to this land. They are more “Jewish” than the most observant person in Lakewood, New Jersey, USA. We are the followers of Yehoshua Bin Nun who liberated the Holy land, but those in the galut are followers of the other 10 spies.

9) The Jews in galut are oblivious to the dangers they will be facing very soon. My heart goes out to them, but there is nothing we can do to move them as long as they follow the false messages of their leaders.

10) The Medina is the natural platform for HaShem to exhibit His love for the chosen people via the ingathering of Jews from 100 lands, the unprecedented military victories, the ongoing return to the Torah in all segments of our people, and the unprecedented economic growth. Do not take lightly the fact that we are the only country in the Middle East that has a water surplus. Medinat Yisrael, through our holy army of Tzahal, is the ‘extended arm’ of HaShem aiming to implement the annihilation of evil in the world.

11) A Jew who remains in galut when the gates of the Holy Land are open, is testifying that he does not trust that HaShem will provide for his sustenance. It is a tacit admission that he doubts if HaShem will protect His people in the face of so many enemies. It is an acknowledgment of doubt in the legitimacy of the word of our prophets that HaShem will return us to the Holy Land. Where is the one eminent rabbi in the galut who will call out to his people to TRUST HaShem and leave the galut and return home?

12) The term Avoda Zara does not refer exclusively to nature or idol worship. It is a generic term for all beliefs that run counter to the will of HaShem. One can be an observant halachic Jew, yet be guilty of the most severe Avoda Zara, if he or she functions or adopts ideals and ideologies that clash with the will of HaShem.

13) A wise and sensitive rabbinic leader should be able to feel the direction of the winds of history, and coordinate his leadership according to its flow. To fight HaShem’s dictates in a changing world is tantamount to Avoda Zara. To use the Torah as a tool to refute HaShem’s initiatives is the Jewish version of an autoimmune disease.

14) There are spiritual leaders who act as an autoimmune disease within the nation by using the Torah to destroy the Torah and the fabric of Jewish unity and our return to Eretz Yisrael. Their false interpretation of Torah verses and Talmudic ideas, and the use of their material wealth to control the consciences of otherwise God-fearing people, are indeed a disease that must be eradicated or sidelined for the sake of our nation’s future.

15) The yeshiva world in Israel must stop criticizing and belittling the Medina. Their rabbis and students must acknowledge that their entire existence and growth is dependent on the Medina.

16) Am Yisrael is not first among equals of the nations. We are the only nation with whom HaShem has an intimate relationship, and it is only through us, and because of us, that the Creator deals with what is known as “humanity”.

17) In 1936, the Rabbi of Munkatz, Hungary published a book called Tikun Olam, in which he called for the Jews to refrain from going to Eretz Yisrael. The book opens with the names and letters of 150 leading Chassidic rabbis who endorsed the book’s imperative that Jews were prohibited from returning to Eretz Yisrael until the arrival of the Mashiach. He and those who endorsed his position, opposed the creation of new settlements, even religious ones, and even attempted to convince Jews who were in the Land to return to Europe.

The murder of 6 million plus Jews in Europe, and the miraculous establishment of the Medina are it seems, insufficient to disprove the Munkatcher rabbi and his colleagues. For today, we hear in many Chassidic and yeshiva circles in the galut the very same voices repeating the same blind dangerous ideologies of yesteryear.

18) The organized mistreatment of Jews on the U.S. campuses will spread to your workplaces, to your streets, to your shuls, to your supermarkets and to your summer homes, until you will have no choice but to come home. So why wait when you can come here now with pride, rather than as refugees? It sounds audacious, insolent and quite impossible that this could happen in these “good old United States”. But what is — happening now around the U.S. sounded audacious, insolent and quite impossible just two years ago.

19) The Reform and Conservative movements, after having “successfully” completed their “scorched earth” crusade of destroying holy Jewish souls in the United States through the Shoah of intermarriage, are now attempting to repeat their “successes” in the Holy Land. These two breakaway destructive movements are attempting to infiltrate into the religious life here in a manner similar to an HIV virus that infiltrates into the nucleus of a healthy cell and then takes control of the cell from within.

20) I am opposed to recruiting anyone into the military who is not motivated, whether it be a Chareidi yeshiva or kollel student, a secular person, a pacifist or just an ordinary batlan (idler). To serve in the army of Israel is an immense privilege and a mainline mitzva. To protect, defend and preserve our ancient-new homeland after 2000 years of being trampled upon, crushed, oppressed and subjugated at the whim of any goy in the galut is a miracle of biblical proportions. We have a small but technologically advanced army able to defeat any and all enemies, with the help of HaShem, of course. From my own experience, I can say that whoever does not experience serving in Tzahal will have lost the opportunity to acquire or develop those attributes that contribute so much to the making of a ben-Torah: determination, endurance, firmness, resoluteness, and tenacity.

21) The war erupted in the early hours of Monday morning, the 25th of Iyar (June 5th) when Israel made a preemptive attack, destroying the air forces of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan and Saudia. The ground war commenced. In 6 days we liberated Yehuda, Shomron, the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights and Azza. On Wednesday, the holy soldiers of Tzahal liberated the Old City and for the first time in 2,000 years the Temple Mount was in our possession. Tzahal, with the aid of HaShem, did more in six days than what Yehoshua Bin Nun had accomplished in seven years!

22) The State of Israel is the first sign of the redemption of our people. Only a fool can imagine that HaShem will send the Mashiach to a desert land empty of Jews. The Medina is performing what it was set about to do – to bring willing sons and daughters back to Eretz Yisrael.

23) There will be no overt Divine intervention at the early stages of the Mashiach’s appearance. It will be up to the Jews in Eretz Yisrael to initiate actions against our enemies. The Jewish-Arab conflict will be resolved when the anger and rage of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael will reach a boiling point, as the Arabs grow in numbers and — audacity, impertinence and hatred, which will peak because of the rabid, fanatical religious incitement they are fed in their mass media, mosques and schools.

24) To illustrate the perversity of the situation in the galut, I put forward a simple question: Torah-observing people condemn a Jew (man or woman) who commits his/her future to a gentile rather than to a Jewish spouse. Why is this different from the more than one million observant Jews who refuse to cast their lot with their brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael; preferring to commit their future with the 330 million gentiles in the galut of the United States?

25) We are 6,377,000 Jews spread across 1255 cities, towns and villages.

In 2015, 195,000 Jewish children were born here. 3.2 million olim have arrived here in the last 68 years, including 30,000 last year. There are over 10 thousand batei knesset in Yisrael with a million and a half regular daveners, not to mention the thousands of mikvaot.

We have over 130,000 young men studying in the various yeshiva systems. Yearly, over 10,000 men and women come from the galut to learn in our yeshivot and seminaries.

2,187,296 children went to schools in the various educational systems here last year.

Annually, we produce thousands of new volumes in the many areas of Torah, an unprecedented production of Torah material.

And all this within the shadow of war, which drains human and material resources that could be put to productive use.

26) There are observant Jews in Israel (our brothers and sisters in the galut are a non-factor in the future history of the Jewish nation) who refuse to acknowledge and appreciate the miraculous nature of the Medina because it is not a Torah led State. How could it be when the major rabbis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries opposed Zionism, so that only a minority of the religious came here.

27) I am certain regarding the spiritual leaders in the galut and their great grandchildren. I am certain that the spiritual leaders will complete their years as observant Torah Jews, and I am equally certain that their great grandchildren will be married to gentiles. I am not certain if the communicable disease of assimilation will impact on their children and grandchildren.

28) My premise is that the rabbinic leaders of 120 years ago opposed the creation of a Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael because of the halachic challenges inherent in a religious State. Had they been here to see our lives today in the Medina, they would have surely joined hands with the secular Zionist organization. With the help of HaShem, the great poskim of today’s Medina are proving that the halachic challenges have advanced and developed the Halacha in a way that has prepared the Medina for the advent of the Mashiach.

29) The “unique singularity” of a Jew cannot express itself in the galut. We in Eretz Yisrael are not family to the Jews in the galut. A family unit has shared experiences and emotions of gladness and sorrow, celebrations and disappointments. When a mortar shell falls in the western Negev, all Israel recoils; but it is not felt by a Jew in Kansas or in Johannesburg. A nation is defined by shared borders and common language. The western border of Israel lies somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean. It does not extend to Providence, Rhode Island or to the Jericho Turnpike.

The basic bond that joins a nation together is its language. The mother tongues of the galut Jews are the languages of their birthplace; our children speak Ivrit.

We don’t even share the same religion. The mitzvot which are in effect here are not to be found in the galut. Not only are the agricultural laws of Shemita, Teruma and Maaser not in effect in the galut, but even the determination of the fundamental laws of Shabbat and kashrut are different. The illustrious Ramban stated that HaShem gave the Torah to be fulfilled in Eretz Yisrael with the mitzvot in the galut – in effect in a preparatory capacity – so that one should not forget how the mitzvot are kept upon returning to the Holy Land.

30) In the book of Midrashim [expository explanations] called Yalkut Re’uvaini, it is brought that in the future, HaShem will gather in the Jews from the various exiles and provide them with fabulous wealth. And for those Jews who will have resided in Eretz Yisrael, in addition to great wealth, HaShem will open before them the gates of the earthly Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) and reveal the esoteric secrets of the Torah.

31) Our beautiful and holy children who serve here in defense of this holy land and its holy people, do not think of careers, shiny cars, or skiing weekends at Aspen; they are too busy cleaning their rifles and tank cannons in preparation for the next challenge.

32) RaMBaM (hilchot Melachim) states that the Mashiach will lead us in our final wars. That is to say the Mashiach will have a military background, which puts an entirely new perspective on who to expect will be HaShem’s messenger to redeem His people.

33) Discernment, insight and conscious awareness are the adhesives that bind the building blocks of Judaism.

34) Coincidence is HaShem’s way of controlling the world while remaining anonymous.

35) Two questions every Jew should ask himself: Is there a grading system to know what HaShem thinks of us? If one hundred years ago, all Jews in the world were on my present level of observance, would there be any Jews in the world today?


Blessings to all Am Yisrael that just as we have seen the beginning of our final redemption, may we merit to see in this coming year the total fulfillment of the prophets’ words.

Shana Tova
Nachman Kahana
Copyright © 5777/2017 Nachman Kahana

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Earth – Where Time is Measured


By HaRav Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

(Based on Siach Shaul for Yamim Noraim, p. 101-2)

We place points and lines on the endless procession of time, thus breaking it up into pieces, such as days, weeks, months, and years. However, in the greater world, in an existence that seems eternal, time passes in a manner that seems to not have borders. Yesterday was 5777; today is 5778. If you look at the natural world, you do not see a difference. The sun rises and sets, and there is nothing new or different.

However for man, whose life is fleeting like a shadow, time plays a major role. The passing of a year is significant, and for man a new year and the Rosh Hashana that begins it are important concepts. The midrash (Devarim Rabba 2:14) relates that when the angels enter to ask Hashem when Rosh Hashana will be, He answers: "You and I will go down to the court on Earth …" In addition to the simple meaning, there is also an explanation along the lines we have set forth. Only for man is it possible to really talk about a new year, whereas in Heaven, which is above time, there is no such distinction.

The simple meaning of the midrash as well, that the Heavenly Court has to follow the human court in this matter, is also based on man’s connection to time. The greatness of our world and of mankind is an offshoot specifically of the fact that we have the weakness of being slaves to time.

"The earth and all that is in it is Hashem’s" (Tehillim 24:1), as we announce in the Rosh Hashana tefilla. This message is antithetical to what the idolatrous nations of the world teach. Those nations try to go up to the heavens and have earthly elements rule there. They proclaim that earthliness is everything in the universe. Judaism tries to have the heavenly rule throughout the world. This is a major theme in the giving of the Torah, as the midrash tells us that Hashem lay the heavens over the land (Mechilta, Yitro 9).

What was the first thing the Russian cosmonauts did when they reached the moon? They put their flag with its symbol of the sickle and the hammer, representing the workers and the peasants, on the moon to claim it for themselves. These symbols represent their idea that only that which is used for physical sustenance is important. We, so to speak, place Hashem’s flag of spirituality on Earth.

Our approach is based on our understanding of our transience. When we view the meeting between our fleeting nature and Hashem’s eternity, we become committed to connect ourselves to the eternal. Other nations do not want to recognize eternity. They want to deal with it with "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die." There is nothing of value to live for, so just enjoy, and claim as much as you can for physicality.

Hashem told the angels to set Rosh Hashana based on man’s decision. We are the ones who are able to do teshuva and thereby go up to the Heavens. That is why we can draw inspiration to go up to the Heavens and bring back Torah.

The Essence of the Days of Awe


By HaRav Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

In the course of the High Holiday liturgy, we approach God with a most unique request - a request for fear. We pray, "And so, God our Lord, place Your awe upon all Your works, and Your dread upon all that you have created; let all Your works fear you..." Three words, each one expressing a different nuance of the same basic concept - the concept of submission and self-negation of man before his Maker. Only after this do we arrive at the sort of subservience that results from man's own earnest desire and understanding: "[And let] all creatures prostrate themselves before You... Let them all become a united body to do Your will wholeheartedly."

From here, then, we learn that the process of drawing near to the Almighty cannot come about in skips and bounds; rather, it must play itself out step by step: first comes service based upon fear; and then, only afterwards, service deriving from love. Without properly sensing our nothingness, without properly recognizing our true insignificance before God's divine might, we are unable to attain "wholeness of heart" - to do God's will wholeheartedly.

This is the real challenge when it comes to serving God. It is easy for an individual to say: "I am willing to do that which I understand. I am ready to fulfill that which my intellect demands." Yet one who takes this approach is in fact saying: "It is pleasing for me, and I am prepared to fulfill my own desire; it is difficult for me, and it is not pleasing for me to fulfill His desire."

Fear precedes love. Man cannot attain perfect inner unity without labor and effort, refinement and purification, for "the evil inclination dwells in us." True, man was created "in God's image," yet the Scriptures also inform us that "the longing of man's heart is evil from youth." And just as enhancing and bolstering man's Godly image calls for serious effort, so too it is necessary to exert oneself in order to discard the "longing of man's heart" which is "evil from youth." As sure as the crops of the field will not grow unless the thorns and thistles are painstakingly weeded, so too the seeds of goodness that reside in man's soul will not bear fruit unless the seeds of evil are uprooted. Moreover, evil can only be subdued through fear and awe. One who is not willing to allow fear and awe to enter his heart should not expect to reap fruit from his inner "seeds of good."

It was an act of kindness on God's part to establish the High Holidays at the beginning of the year. These are days of fear and awe, days in which the heart is torn so that it may be mended; instead of a severed and broken heart, instead of opposing inner forces at battle with one another - one pulling this way, one the other - we strive to attain a unified heart, to direct our inner forces in one unified direction - "a united body," whose goal is "to do Your will."

Praiseworthy is he who demonstrates a willingness to listen and to see. Praiseworthy is he for whom these days are indeed "Days of Awe," for such a person shall merit both becoming purified by these days, and attaining an upright heart. And the reward of such will be gladness.

"Light is sown for a righteous person, and for the upright of heart - gladness."
May it be God's will that we all be signed and sealed for a good New Year.

The Story of the “Unetaneh Tokef” Prayer


By HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Yeshivat Har Bracha

Dedicated to the memory of Hana Bat Haim

Transmitters of the Tradition of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz
The tragic story of the events leading up to the composition of the liturgical poem "Unetaneh Tokef" is brought in the work Or Zarua, which was written by one of Judaism's leading early Torah authorities, Rabbi Yitzchak ben Moshe of Vienna.

Rabbi Yitzchak of Vienna, who lived from 4940-5010 (1189-1250), was a student of Rabbi Avraham ben Azriel and a number of other Tosafists in Ashkenaz (Germany). He was considered one of the leading authorities of his generation, disseminating Torah in Bohemia (today's Czech Republic), and, during his last years, in Vienna. It was there that he died at the age of seventy. Amongst his many students was Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, known as the Maharam of Rothenburg, who, in his later years, was considered the leading rabbi in all of Ashkenaz.

The work Or Zarua is considered one of the most important books of Jewish law written by early Ashkenazi scholars and often cites preceding authorities. Chapter 276, the Laws of Rosh Hashanah, cites: "From the handwriting of Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn ben Rabbi Yaakov [we learn] that Rabbi Amnon of Mainz established 'Unetaneh Tokef' because of the terrible incident which he experienced."

Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn, born in 4893 (1133), was the student of Yoel HaLevi and seceded him in his position as rabbinic chief justice. He wrote Tosafot, legal responsa, and commentaries to blessings and other customs. He also composed liturgical poems, of which about twenty-five have come down to us. Rabbi Yitzchak of Vienna was too late to learn directly from Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn, but he studied his legal writings, which constituted a kind of collection of Torah lessons from his mentors.

At the end of the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz mention is made of a Rabbi who lived at that time and who received the exact version of "Unetaneh Tokef" in a dream. This was "Rabbi Klonimos ben Rabbi Meshullam ben Rabbi Moshe ben Rabbi Klonimos." Rabbi Klonimos was known to many, and his name is mentioned in books of Jewish law. Based upon his name, the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz is estimated as having taken place around 4780 (1020), about seventy years before the decrees of 4856, during which the large massacres which accompanied the First Crusade took place. In other words, Or Zarua recorded an event which took place about two hundred years before his time.

Mainz
The Mainz Jewish community was one of the three largest and oldest communities in Ashkenaz, which were known collectively by the acronym "Shum" - Speyer, Worms, and Mainz. Mainz was the oldest of the three communities. The Klonimos family, which came from northern Italy, established a large talmudic academy there, and from it grew the Jewish community of Ashkenaz.

Non-Jewish sources from that period note that the city of Mainz was controlled by a bishop-governor. This fact is confirmed by the account of Or Zarua and lends strength to the accuracy of the narrative.

That city was ruled by a senior clergyman, and therefore the ruler was known by the title of governor or bishop. Bishop is from the Greek "episcopus" which means "overseer" and "watcher." At that time, there were quite a few cities that were given over to the control of the church by one of the kings in return for a pardoning of sins, or in order that the church pray for him. Only hundreds of years later was secular rule reestablished in Mainz.

The Connection Between the Governor and Rabbi Amnon of Mainz
This is how Or Zarua relates what transpired:
"Here is the story of Rabbi Amnon of Mainz who was the leading Torah sage in his generation, wealthy, of praiseworthy lineage, handsome, and who the ministers and governors began to attempt to convert - yet he refused to listen to them."

It appears that the governor of Mainz at that time was interested in attaining wisdom and in learning about the sources of Christianity. Most clergymen were ignorant, and very few were enjoyed attaining wisdom and speaking with the Jewish scholars. The Jews had little choice but to agree and to maintain good relations with the governor. And so they would meet in order to talk from time to time. As time went by, the governor and the ministers began speaking with Rabbi Amnon. They did not use force; they "merely" requested that he abandon his faith:

"They spoke to him day after day, but he would not listen to them, and the governor implored him. When they became insistent with him, he replied, 'Let me take council and consider the matter for three days. He did this in an attempt to repel them."

Such discussions were carried out in a calm and routine manner, however, every such discussion involved repeated petition and request. They met on a daily basis. The educated church leaders were looking for company on their own level. The Jews, especially the Jewish sages, were potential partners as far as they were concerned. Furthermore, every governor considered it a challenge to cause a Jewish sage to abandon his faith and convert to Christianity.

The church heads learned from their own sacred books that the founders of the church, aware of the fact that the Jews are the people of God, targeted the Jews for conversion, but the Jews rejected them. The resulting frustration was great. Therefore, great efforts were invested, sometimes by sweet enticement, sometimes by force, to cause a Jew - and how much more so a Jewish scholar - to disparage his faith and become Christian.

Rabbi Amnon is Forced to Establish Relations with the Governor
It is clear, then, what interest the governor had in making relations with Rabbi Amnon. He wanted the company of an educated man, and he also harbored the hidden hope of convincing the rabbi to abandon his faith. Yet what interest did Rabbi Amnon have? After all, he had no need of the knowledge or wisdom of the governor.

It must be understood, however, that we are dealing with a small Jewish community in the midst of a hostile non-Jewish environment. The Jews had no choice but to depend upon the kindness of the ruler, for he was the only individual who could defend them from the anger of mob or the scheming of the knights. The Jews had no rights per se. There were no soldiers or fighters in their midsts. They had no ministers that could use their authority to protect the community. They were few. They had no allies that would come to their defense from elsewhere.

The plight of the Jewish communities was dismal to say the least. Their entire physical wellbeing was dependent upon the goodwill of the ruler, for with the aid of his soldiers and by the laws which he laid down, he was able to protect them. Therefore, it was to the benefit of a Jewish sage or leader to see to it that relations with the governor remain positive and stable. This is what allowed the community as a whole to exist in relative tranquility: to pay their taxes and to lead a normal life of commerce, craft, Torah study, and preservation of community institutions.

Rabbi Amnon had to protect the community, and it followed that he could not reject the governor in a harsh manner. Such relations, in various places and in various periods, were extremely delicate, like explosives. The fonder a leader was of his Jewish subjects, the greater the pressure upon him to convert them. Noncompliance with the imploring of such leaders would be interpreted as ungratefulness, betrayal. The Jew would have to navigate with great skill, walk on the razor's edge; he could neither get too close nor distance himself too greatly. The slightest slip could result in a serious blow to the existence of the Jewish community.

The Pressure Mounts
After many days and repeated requests, the situation became worse. The governor and his ministers applied much pressure and it was difficult to reject them outright. Therefore, Rabbi Amnon asked to to be given a number of days to take council and consider the offer. This is a reasonable response. It is an acceptable request. Until now, the course of things is understandable and expected, especially when we take into account the stress of survival.

Jewish Survival
We now arrive at a most incredible development in our story. This development can explain how it is that Judaism has succeeded in surviving amidst a sea of hatred and scheming. Not only has Judaism survive, but it has amassed great spiritual power.

Rabbi Amnon, in his personality, represents the entire Community of Israel. He is wise, of praiseworthy lineage, handsome. He is a man of many virtues. If he had agreed to convert, he himself could have become a governor. He had all of the necessary traits. There is only one thing he could not be even if he were to accept the governor's offer - he could not be himself. He could become a minister or an important clergyman, but the Jew in him would not survive. The Jew would not live. This is what rested on the balance:

"And it happened that as soon as he parted with the governor, he reflected upon his having voiced uncertainty, that he was in need of council or time to think over the question of disavowing the living God."

His Judaism was his complete essence, his entire being. How could he have made such a statement? True, there is great importance in securing the necessities of physical existence, peace and quiet. But what does it involve? It is even possible that somebody in the world should think that this matter calls for taking council or consideration?

"He Would Not Be Comforted"
"He returned home and he was unable to eat or drink, and he became ill. All of his relatives and friends came to comfort him, but he would not be comforted, for he said, 'I will go down to the grave mourning because of what I said.' And he cried and became very depressed. And it came to pass that on the third day, as he was paining and distraught, the governor sent for him, and he responded, saying, 'I will not go.' And the oppressor sent many additional ministers, more prestigious than they, yet he refused to go to him. And the governor said, 'Go quickly and bring Amnon against his will.' And they went quickly and brought him to him. And he said to him, 'What is this Amnon? Why did you not come to me on the day that you designated to me so that you could take council and give me an answer and fulfill my will?

Note the words of the governor, "fulfill my will." It is already clear to him. If it is possible to consider and take council on this matter, then the answer is clear. If it is possible to even think about abandoning the Jewish faith, then there is every reason to arrive at the "correct" conclusion. Why remain a persecuted minority, weak, despised, denigrated, and subject to plunder when you possess wisdom, good lineage, majesty? You have all of the important traits. Why be satisfied with so little?

I Shall Determine My Own Sentence
"And Amnon answered, saying, 'I shall determine my own sentence'" - Indeed, I did not come to you, and I know that you are angry with me, and because I have no intention of fulfilling your will, I know that you will punish me. Yet, "I will determine my own sentence." I will decide what my punishment will be, because I misled you. I should not have instilled false hope in you that I would abandon the Jewish faith. True, I am to blame for this and I shall determine my own sentence. Rabbi Amnon does not wish to endanger the entire community, and therefore he endangers himself alone:

"The tongue which spoke and misled you shall be cut off" - now I reveal to you that I only said what I did in order to repel you, and this really was not correct, for you are the governor and ruler. This tongue "shall be cut off."

It is important to realize that under the tyrannies of that age such punishments were accepted. They used to cut off people's tongues, noses, ears, and hands. But Rabbi Amnon had an additional reason to decree such an awful punishment upon himself:

"For Rabbi Amnon desired to sanctify God for having spoken in such a manner" - he wished to sanctify God in the eyes of the Jews, and, indirectly, in the eyes of the non-Jews. He wished to make it clear to all that a Jew who promises to somebody to consider abandoning his faith can do nothing but disappoint. It is unthinkable. There is no reason to think about such a thing. There is no point in trying to persuade Jews into doing this.

The Decree of the Oppressor
"And the governor answered, saying, 'No, the tongue shall not be cut off, for you spoke well. Rather, the feet which did not come at the time that you told me, they shall I cut off, and the rest of your body I shall torture.' And the oppressor gave the command and they cut off his fingers and thumbs."

Yet not all at once - "And with each finger they would ask him, 'Perhaps now, Amnon, you would like to join our faith?' And he answered, 'No.'" The axe was raised twenty times, on each finger and toe. We are not talking here about the pain of the cut alone, but also of the horrifying anticipation of the one to follow. And it is possible to stop the process. He need just say the word. But Rabbi Amnon repeats twenty times "No!" to the conversion proposal, twenty times to continue with the cutting, to continue the torture, to continue the irreversible damage to his body, and, in fact, the hastening of his end.

"And when they finished the cutting, the wicked governor gave the order to lay Rabbi Amnon in a bed and to place all of his dismembered fingers and toes at his side and to send him to his home." This was done, of course, so that all see and become fearful. It was done to show everybody what happens when one does not abide by the governor.

However, the transmitter of the story writes, "This is why he was called Rabbi Amnon, for he had faith ["He'emin"; from the same Hebrew root as "Amnon"] in the living God and suffered great torture lovingly due to his faith, just because of that which left his mouth.

Rosh Hashanah in the Mainz Synagogue
"After these things, the holiday approached and Rosh Hashanah arrived." He rolled in torment. From one such wound it was difficult to recover in those days because of infections, blood poisoning, swelling, and abscesses. Yet he had twenty such wounds. This was no quick death. For many days his body was inflamed, languishing, bleeding, and he could see and feel everything. He writhed. This was the punishment. The oppressors knew very well that a quick death would be an act of compassion. And so, he lay this way, in his sickness, his suffering, with the knowledge that his death was approaching. And here, "the holiday approached and Rosh Hashanah arrived."

"He asked his relatives to bring him to the synagogue with all of his dismembered organs and place him by the prayer leader, and they did this." We can well image the atmosphere in the synagogue. Everybody knew what had happened to Rabbi Amnon, and now, here, they were bringing him in on a stretcher, and placing him next to the prayer leader at the head of the congregation.

"And as the prayer leader was about to to say the Kedusha prayer, 'VeChayot Asher Hena,' Rabbi Amnon said, 'Wait a moment and I will sanctify the great God.' And then he said in a loud voice, 'And so the Kedushah prayer shall ascend to you,' i.e., that I have sanctified Your name upon Your kingship and Your unification. Then he said 'Unetaneh Tokef Kedushat Hayom,' ('Let us now relate the power of this day's holiness)." Now he was able to relate the power of this day's holiness.

"Then he said, 'It is true that You alone are the One Who judges,' in order to declare God's acts as just, that God take note of these dismembered fingers and toes and the whole episode. And he mentioned 'and everyone's signature is in it' and 'consider the soul of all the living,' because it was thus decreed upon him on Rosh Hashanah, and when he finished the entire prayer ("siluk"), he passed away (nistalek)."

A "siluk" is a liturgical poem. In Aramaic it means an ascension. Any such poem in prayer is called a "siluk" because its purpose is to elevate the supplicant to a higher level. "And when he finished the entire prayer, he passed away." "Nistalek" has a similar meaning, i.e., that he ascended to the upper world.

"And he disappeared from the world before the eyes of all, for God took him, and regarding him it says, 'Oh how great is Your goodness, which You have hidden away for those who fear You' (Psalms 31:20)." It would appear that immediately after he finished his prayer his soul ascended to Heaven.

The plain description of this event is shocking. How is it possible to torture an individual of such greatness who is completely innocent? After all, he did not wish to be a king, ruler, governor, or plantation owner. He merely wished to live according to his faith. For having performed no injustice he was tortured in the most painful manner. Yet he accepted this decree and sanctified God.

The Accurate Version
The congregation in the synagogue was no doubt startled. This man's prayer as he lay dying on his bed and his subsequent death left them shaken, and they could not accurately recall all of his words.

"After these things, wherein Rabbi Amnon was elevated and called to the Academy on High, on the third day after his sanctification, he appeared in a dream of Rabbi Klonimos ben Rabbi Meshullam ben Rabbi Moshe ben Rabbi Klonimos, and he taught him this prayer, 'Unetaneh Tokef Kedushat Hayom,' and he commanded him to send it to the entire Diaspora, that it should serve as a testimony and a remembrance. And the rabbi did this."

It is interesting to note that a version of the prayer "Unetaneh Tokef" with minor differences was discovered in the Cairo Geniza. Apparently this prayer was sent from Ashkenaz to many communities in the exile, and it was even sent to Cairo. And indeed, the prayer also reached the communities of Spain, though it did not commanded so central a role in their prayers as it did in Ashkenazi liturgy.

Born of Torment
It is the torment itself that gives birth to the prayer "Unetaneh Tokef Kedushat Hayom." What depth of soul and what power of spirit are called for in order to create such a wonderful prayer while in a state of extreme pain. Sensitive, gentle, exact, and clear:

"Let us now relate the power of this day's holiness, for it is awesome and frightening. On it Your kingship will be exalted."

Not the kingship of the governor, not that of the king, and not that of the kaiser. Sanctity is the kingship!

"And your throne will be firmed with kindness, and You will sit upon it in truth. It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, proves, knows, and bears witness; who writes and seals, (counts and calculates); Who remembers all that was forgotten. You will open the Book of Chronicles - it will read itself, and everyone's signature is in it."

Rabbi Amnon can no longer sign his name, but his signature is in the Book of Chronicles on high, Rabbi Amnon declares God's actions as just and accepts them lovingly, and sanctifies God:

"The great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin sound will be heard. Angels will hasten, a trembling and terror will seize them - and they say, 'Behold, it is the Day of Judgment, to muster the heavenly host for judgment!' - for they cannot be vindicated in Your eyes in judgment. All mankind will pass before You like members of the flock."

One mustn't make the mistake of thinking that these terrible killers will be absolved, that God forgets. Everybody, from an angel to the very last of creatures, will be judged. God is the seeing shepherd. It is not the bishop, or "episcopus," who oversees matters. It is not the governor that rules and controls things.

"Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the fixed needs of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict."

The Secret to Jewish Survival
The threat which hovered over the Jewish communities was terrible. From period to period mass murders were carried out, and in the midst of such events there were frightening stories not unlike that of Rabbi Amnon. During the time of the Crusades, about seventy ears after the death of Rabbi Amnon, terrifying massacres took place in Ashkenaz. Jews were ordered to abandon their faith or face death, and thousands died sanctifying God's name. During the calamities, neither possessions nor intellect were of any avail in helping the Jews save their lives.

In the eyes of their foes, a Jew's life was worthless. It did not matter whether it was a man, woman, or child. Such harsh conditions normally cause nations and communities to disintegrate and disappear, or, at least, to be rendered an insignificant element. This, however is not the case with the Jews. Jewry commanded a central position in European culture, and also in the Islamic lands. Members of the Jewish community were shining examples, full of intelligence and wisdom, poetry and knowledge.

The secret of Jewish survival is connected to self-sacrifice in sanctification of God. Attachment to faith until the end, spiritual might beyond description. Rabbi Amnon's story is not an exception; there were hundreds and thousands like him. The willingness to receive upon oneself manners of torture which are hard to even imagine, this was the means to survival! This is the wonder of the sanctification of God's name. This is the secret of maintaining an existence full of vitality.

Who created this wonderful prayer? Not the handsome and striking Rabbi Amnon, but the stricken, tortured, infected, and poisoned Rabbi Amnon, as he lay on his deathbed. Could one imagine anything more astounding than this? How is it possible that states of such darkness and terror gave rise to the Tosafists, the commentators, the liturgical poets, the Kabalists, the sages and the righteous, people who knew how to aid and show compassion upon others.

This heritage has continued for thousands of years, since the Binding of Isaac and the Egypt bondage, events which gave birth to the nation which would stand at the foot of Mount Sinai and receive the Torah. During the course of generations an especially unique Israeli identity has crystallized with an inestimable capacity for perseverance, capacity for creativity containing morality and greatness, vision and anticipation of better days, the days of the Messiah.

This is the inner continuity of Jewish history, despite all of the geographical and political twists and turns which the Jewish people have experienced since the time it was settled on the soil of the Land of Israel and throughout the long period of exile, dispersed and dismembered amongst the nations - humiliated and contemptible, yet towering and extraordinary.

Addendum
Most of the above article was given as a lecture by my knowledgeable friend, Rabbi Zeev Sultanovitch, at the Har Beracha Yeshiva. It will appear in its entirety in the second volume of the "Bina Le-Itim" series which will be published, God willing, this coming winter. This volume will focus on the period following the Mishna until the end of the period of the Early Authorities ("Rishonim"). After this, there will appear two volumes on the modern era.

Understanding Repentance


By HaRav Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Yeshivat Beit El

Dedicated to the memory of R. Avraham Ben David

It is Possible to Repent for Anything
a. "That which is crooked cannot be made straight."

The Torah teaches us that it is possible to repent and repair the misdeeds of our past. Repentance, or Teshuva, is capable of atoning for any transgression whatsoever, even the most extreme sin imaginable - even murder. Yet, how is it possible to repair, through Teshuva, an act like murder? Obviously one cannot bring the dead back to life. In this vein the Book of books itself attests that, "That which is crooked cannot be made straight."

b. Providence or Free Will?
Answering this question calls for us to clarify the nature God's providence in light of man's free will. On the one hand, God bestows man with free will; man may choose good, or, if he like, the opposite. The freedom to do wrong to another person is also included in man's free will.

On the other hand Divine Providence governs the world, and nobody is harmed unless it has been decided upon from above. One man's desire to injure another cannot come to fruition without God's having decreed it first, for man is not punished unless he sins. - It is not, teach us our Sages, the wild ass that kills, but man's own iniquity. Similarly, it is not the wild ass in the form of a human being that kills. Either man's own misdeeds bring about his death or, for reasons hidden from us, his hour to die has simply come. Man does not die as a result of another person's - be he wicked or righteous - decision to kill him.

If so, where is man's freedom? How can freedom of will be resolved with Divine Providence?

c. The Paradox Resolved
God runs the world in such a way that when an evil person wants to transgress "Thou shall not kill," a person whose time has come to die is placed at the murderer's disposal. In this way the one who is murdered is done so according to the divine plan, while the free will of the wicked murderer is in no way violated.

The sages, as a matter of fact, teach that, "Merit is brought about through the meritorious, condemnation through the condemnable." That is, that for a man who is deserving of punishment God finds an evil person who wants to perform evil and allows him to carry out the "condemnation of the condemnable."

The same is true with regard to good. For the one who is deserving of reward God finds a benevolent person who desires to do good, and has the good carried out through him. As such, the one who is deserving of reward according to the divine scheme, receives it, and the one who wishes to do good is allowed to do so in accordance with his free will.

d. Pinpointing Man's Freedom
Rabbi Moses Nachmanides, The Ramban , explains, with regard to a pair of corrupt witnesses, why it is that witnesses who bring about an innocent man's death through death sentence, are not, according to Jewish law, themselves sentenced to death. Once the accused has been put to death, says the Ramban, it becomes clear that his death came as punishment for his own transgressions, for had he been worthy God would not have abandoned him in his time of need, as it is written: "The Lord will not abandon him in his hand, nor allow him to be condemned when he is judged" (Psalms 37:33). That is, there exists a Divine plan, and the will of a wicked person can't bring about the death of another unless it has been decided so by God.

Concerning this the sages teach that, "Everything is foreknown, yet freedom is granted." What is meant by this famous maxim is not merely that God knows in advance how man will act. Rather, the Almighty himself arranges his world; everything is directed by Him and nothing escapes His providence. One of the things which God arranges is man's freedom to do good or bad. Man's will is completely free, yet the form which this will actually takes is directed by God, and remains in keeping with the Divine plan.

According to this, the area of man's responsibility his will, and his will alone. It does not include repercussions, since they would have at any rate transpired. Man is declared guilty only for having chosen bad.

e. How Repentance Works
Now we can understand how a person can repent for an act which is impossible to fix, for the "crooked," as the verse says, "that cannot be straightened." He can repent and fix his will changing it to good. By doing so he separates himself from the act which had been carried out, for the act would have at any rate transpired. When, then, a person repents it is as if he had not done the evil. This is because he was responsible for willing and desiring the evil, and now he has repaired this desire, and therefore his repentance is accepted.

Of course, the greater the evil which a person desired to perform, the greater the repentance which is needed in turn. Yet even so, upon fulfillment of the four stages of atonement, one's repentance is accepted "...and return and be healed" (Isaiah 6:10).

Believing in the Power of Repentance
a. Beyond the Line of Strict Justice

Common sense dictates that one who transgresses must be punished, and it seems illogical that through repentance one be exempted from paying the price for his actions. All the same, the sages of the Jerusalem Talmud teach us:
Wisdom was asked, "A sinner, what be his punishment?" and he answered, "Evil shall pursue the wicked."
Prophecy was asked, "A sinner, what be his punishment?" and he answered, "The one who sinned must die."
Torah was asked, "A sinner, what be his punishment?" and he answered, "Let him atone by bringing a sacrifice."
God was asked "A sinner, what be his punishment?" and He answered "Let him atone through repentance."
The above expository tale, or Midrash, teaches us that although it seems illogical that repentance atone for our sins - Wisdom says, "evil shall befall the wicked" - all the same repentance does atone, for such is God's desire. The Almighty takes personal interest in our repenting and therefore goes lightly on us when it comes to returning to Him through Teshuva. And even though prospective repenters may not be worthy of the atonement offered them, God is willing, because of the effectiveness of this method in bringing sinners to repent, to forgive them. Similarly, the State of Israel, in order to persuade Jews who have left the country to return, offers them special benefits, despite the fact that they really don't deserve them. So it is with repentance: despite its irrational nature, it assists in the Divine objective of fixing the word. In the words of the Psalms: "Good and upright is the Lord, therefore he instructs sinners in the way." God is good in that he guides man, returning him to the straight path. God is good and He influenced man to be good, pulling the lovingly to Him.

And so, atonement granted in return for repentance is a favor which extends beyond the line of strict justice; it is the result of God's desire that we return to Him. The Sages, too, instituted reforms in order to allow wrongdoers to mend their ways. For example, the Sages, acting leniently towards thieves, freed them from the obligation to return the object which they had stolen, allowing them to return money instead. This was done in order to make the act of returning easier.

b. Thoughts of Repentance
We must, then, view the strength of repentance in light of what the Torah teaches us and not according to human logic. According to the Sages even thoughts of repentance are enough to repair a lot. The thought alone, even though it hasn't resulted in any action, already changes a person from evil to righteous. You may be saying to yourself, "These are simply words of consolation in order to encourage the sinner to repent, for what change can mere thoughts effect. I could understand if a person repented completely, stood the test and refused to repeat his sin - this could be termed repentance which had transformed the man from evil to righteous. But of what value are mere thoughts of repentance?"

The Sages, though, established that the thought of repentance alone transforms the man, by definition, from evil to righteous. This has implications when it comes to Jewish law. If we could imagine a man proposing to a woman by saying, "Behold, you are betrothed to me on the condition that I am righteous," even if he is actually completely evil, she would, according to Jewish law, be considered betrothed - for perhaps he had thought of repentance.

If, after deciding to repent, one does not manage to live up to his decision, stumbling, once again, into transgression, the effect of his repentance is not nullified. He hasn't merely returned to where he started out from, rather he has fallen anew. Repenting for sins is like laundering clothing. One doesn't refrain from washing children's clothing because, "Why bother, as soon as the children put them on they'll be dirtied all over again." The purpose of washing them is so that the filth not accumulate. So too, repentance purifies, refines, and prevents the accumulation of sins, even where it's not complete and perfect repentance, from which one never stumbles.

Therefore, one should not think to himself, "What good are these decisions I make to improve myself, and to repent completely, if I'm not capable of maintaining my repentance?" One should not say, "Last year, during the High Holidays, I decided to abandon forever my repulsive ways, and in a short time I had returned to my old self. Should I lie to myself, taking on resolutions which I'm not capable of living up to?" This sort of thinking is incorrect despite its apparent honesty.

Every thought of Teshuva has significance. Every positive desire has value, even if it is never fully played out; the desire itself has tremendous impact. We have already mentioned the fact that the estimation of Teshuva's strength cannot be gauged according to human rationale. Rather, it must be viewed in light of God's Will. God desires our repentance and is happy at our mere thoughts of Teshuva. In deciding to repent man has already done God's Will. This fact ought to fill man with great joy. One should be delighted by his own virtuous desire to return to God. The more a person believes in the value of thought, the more the strength of thoughts of repentance will grow. These thoughts will become more powerful, and will eventually bring in their wake positive actions.

Ignorance and Certainty


By Rabbi Dov Berl Wein

The appalling truth about most Jews, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, is that they are complete ignoramuses about their Jewishness, Judaism and their understanding of self. The hoped-for generation of knowledgeable non-believers that the early Jewish secularists strove to create has instead turned into a generation of Jews completely ignorant as to the values, traditions and beliefs of Judaism and the Jewish past. Most of the "People of the Book" are unaware of what book is being spoken about. My experience, anecdotal as it is, is that the average secular Israeli who never attends a synagogue service or has no real background in some sort of Torah education has absolutely no concept as to the core beliefs of Judaism or the purpose of the Jewish people’s survival in the global scheme of things. In the Diaspora the situation is even more dismal. Ignorance breeds disattachment from the Jewish community and the State of Israel. It inevitably leads to intermarriage and eventual departure from the Jewish community itself. Why be Jewish when one knows nothing about Judaism and its traditions, destiny and purpose? Jews who know more about Amos Oz and Woody Allen than about Maimonides are at risk of they and their children eventually being completely severed from Jewish life and beliefs. Jews who are ignorant of Judaism thus believe it to be a form of Christianity without Jesus or of social action and welfarism without Marx. If this be the case then truly why should one want to identify with the Jewish people. The world is one big happy family - I am ok and you are ok - so let us just join it and have a good time.

I notice that even those Jews who renounce Jewish tradition in spite of having been raised and educated in a religious environment, in the main do so out of personal hurt but not out of true knowledge of what is now being rejected. The fundamental error of Jewish ignorance is the confusion in the mind of the beholder of behavior and attitudes of religious Jews with the core beliefs of Judaism itself. Judaism does not guarantee perfect people. Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, thirteenth century Spain and Israel) ruefully admits that one may easily be an awful person "within the confines of Torah observance." But that awful person is not Judaism, though he or she may be very visibly Jewish in rote behavior and costume. The ignorant will identify that person with Judaism itself, simply out of ignorance as to the true values and teachings of Judaism. The current spate of books and movies by bitter and frustrated, and to a certain extent self-hating Jews who have left their religious upbringing and come from dysfunctional family situations is an example of this insidious form of ignorance. Not liking one’s father’s eating habits or behavior towards his wife does not justify blaspheming God, Judaism and Jewish tradition. There was a time when Jewish values - values, not merely knowledge - were part of Jewish society. Kindness, charity, the centrality of the Land of Israel, the holiness of Torah, all were natural byproducts of living in a Jewish milieu. Not so today, where ignorance of those values and confusion of them with non-Jewish apparent look-alikes reigns in a Jewish world of ignorance and lost pride and identity.

One obvious answer to Jewish ignorance is Jewish education. Even if a child does not attend a Jewish religious school, somehow some sort of Jewish education must be delivered to it. Otherwise that child and its descendants will be lost to the Jewish people. The traditional schoolroom is failing at its task as the current educational crisis here in Israel and in the Diaspora as well testifies. Education today is television, DVD’s, books, concerts, movies etc. It is almost heretical for me to write this but I feel that teaching core Jewish values - again, our history, the place of Torah in Jewish life, the importance of the Land of Israel, kindness and concern towards others, tolerance of differing viewpoints, the truly apolitical nature of Judaism - will help achieve a modicum of self-worth and Jewish pride within Jews of all ages and stations, in a way that facts, textbooks, homework assignments and strict demands about behavior will not. And our professors and archeologists whose weird and unscientific attitudes to debunk the Bible and the Jewish past should be ignored to the extent possible. They, who are also so boastfully educated, are truly victims of their own ignorance of Judaism and its values. In New York there was a famous store that advertised: "An educated consumer is our best customer." A Jew educated in Jewish values and traditions and way of life is our best Jew.

Friday, September 15, 2017

An Invitation to the Whole World

By HaRav Shaul Yisraeli, zt"l

“All the nations clasp hands, call out to Hashem with the voice of songs of praise” (Tehillim 47:2).

Before we begin the day’s main mitzva, shofar-blowing, whose purpose is to declare the dominion the King of the World, we invite all of humanity to join us. In every place over the seven seas that Jews find themselves, in shuls, batei midrash, and squalid barracks of DP camps behind barbed wire, we repeat this call seven times. We turn to great and powerful nations who rule over waterways and land masses, and to nations who are preoccupied with trying to raise their crowns over those of other nations. We even turn to hateful, jealous nations, who are busy sharpening their weapons and preparing for yet another war. The Nation of Israel calls them to join us as we coronate Hashem. We urge the clasp of the hand of other nations, obligating them to leave the acts of wickedness and violence. Let them unite under the crown of the exalted King and announce that we all together accept the yoke of His Kingdom.

Unfortunately, we know that our call will, this year as well, be like one who calls out in the desert, echoing in the wind of desolation. We will fulfill, “The volunteers of the nations gathered, the nation of the G-d of Avraham” (ibid. 10). We are the descendants of that wonderful man. We carry the word of Hashem, and for that we are subjected to scorn, hatred, detention camps, and crematoriums. We are the great grandchildren of the first converts, of Avraham the Ivri, the name that hints at the fact that all of the world was on one side and he was on the other. We gathered, we declared, and we heard.

We are not deterred. We blow the twisted ram horn, an instrument with power in its “mouth.” Our entire existence and emergence in the world came about through self-sacrifice. We call upon sealed ears: “Hashem came to rule over the nations” (ibid. 9).

Whether or not they want they recognize it, Hashem’s dominion is greater than theirs. His providence determines their fate. Even if they continue to deny it, try to strangle the word of Hashem, make the life of His nation difficult, and even turn the whole world into one big prison, it is “Hashem who is King.”

We not only have faith that “He will be King,” but that “He did rule.” Nothing the nations will do, with deceit and wickedness, will displace Divine Providence in the world. The will of G-d will always prevail! If they shut their eyes, “When the banner over mountains is raised, they will see” (Yeshaya 18:3); if they cover their ears, “When the shofar blows, they will hear” (ibid.).

There is one condition for us. “Hashem sat on the holy throne” (Tehillim 47:9). The Nation of Israel is Hashem’s throne. Sometimes we limp along, but we proceed toward a state of completion. This happens with the blood of millions of their sons and daughters who were slaughtered and with the anguish of those from whom all was plundered. We complete it with thoughts of repentance and by accepting the yoke of His Kingdom at holy moments like Rosh Hashana, when Hashem requests: “Say before Me the p’sukim of Malchuyot so that you can coronate Me over you” (Rosh Hashana 16a).

Let us hear the voice of the shofar, including the one that will be sounded when Mashiach comes. May it be blown soon, so we shall hear and see when Hashem returns to Zion. Amen.

Ingredients of Jewish Leadership

By Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz 

A good leader needs to have a compass in his head and a bar of steel in his heart. -Robert Townsend

Leadership and the struggles around it are an ongoing theme in the Torah. Whether it’s the leadership of a family or of the nation, the Torah reveals to us, the good, the bad and the ugly of those who seek power and those who ultimately wield power.

One of my favorite phrases in the entire Torah is from the parting words of Moses to his disciple Joshua (and subsequently repeated by God to Joshua). Moses is about to die and Joshua has been appointed to lead the stiff-necked people of Israel into the Promised Land and to conquer the entrenched Canaanite nations. Moses tells him “Chazak Veematz” which can be translated as “be strong and courageous,” or as Rabbi Hirsch translates it “be steadfast and strong.”

Rabbi Hirsch on Deuteronomy 31:7 explains that the ideal Jewish leadership is predicated on a steadfast commitment to the Torah and a resolute determination to enact the principles of the Torah in our lives. In his own words:

“‘Be steadfast and strong;’ this is interpreted in Berakhoth 32b (Babylonian Talmud) as follows: “Be steadfast in keeping the Torah and strong in good deeds”; remain steadfast in looking to the Torah for an understanding of your tasks, and be strong in overcoming any obstacles to the fulfillment of these tasks. Be steadfast in adhering to your principles and be strong in carrying them out: these are the most important qualities required of a leader.”

The Torah is the rulebook of the Jewish people. In order to provide leadership to the Jewish people one must be not only familiar with the rulebook, but embrace it, internalize it and live it, despite the constant struggle and challenges of performing what it asks of us “with all our hearts and all souls.”

May we each be leaders in our own homes and communities.


Shabbat Shalom.

To Pass into the Covenant of Hashem

By Harav Mordechai Greenberg
Nasi HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh


It says in Parshat Nitzavim: "Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this imprecation, but with whoever is here, standing with us today before Hashem, our G-d, and with whoever is not here with us today." (Devarim 29:13-14)

The obvious question is: How can one generation accept upon itself an oath and thereby obligate all future generations?

Furthermore, what is the nature of this oath that G-d imposes upon His nation, not to annul the covenant with Him? G-d already decreed that he will not reject Israel: "For the mountains may be moved, and the hills may falter, but My kindness shall not be removed from you." (Yeshaya 54:10) Similarly, Yirmiya says: "If the heavens above could be measured or the foundations of the earth be plumbed below, so too would I reject the entire seed of Israel because of everything they did." (31:36)

Chazal explicitly teach that when the Elders of Israel came to the prophet Yechezkel and expressed their opinion that they were no longer under the rule of G-d, and became like all the other nations, Yechezkel answered them: "As for what enters your mind – it shall not be! As for what you say, 'We will be like the nations, like the families of the lands to worship wood and stone,' as I live – the word of the L-rd Hashem – I swear that I will rule over you with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath." (20:32-33) Thus, Israel are without choice in regards to their relationship with G-d, so what is the value of an oath if they don't have free choice to violate it?

The Akeidat Yitzchak and the Maharal explain that this oath that G-d imposes upon Israel is not a halachic issue that is prohibited to violate, but rather it expresses a reality that is impossible to change. The connection between Israel and G-d is not one that is dependent on the decision of the nation. We did not decide to choose G-d, but rather He created us and chose us: "This nation I have fashioned will say My praise." (Yeshaya 43:21)

Just as it is built-in that a living being will not willingly commit suicide, and even if there are exceptions, psychologically sick people who do so, still, society and the nation is prevented from self-destruction. So, too, it is the rule and nature of the Jewish nation not to separate from its G-d, who is its very life. "You, who cling to Hashem, your G-d – you are all alive today." (Devarim 4:4) The nation's inability to separate from Him, is called an oath: "You are standing today, all of you, before Hashem, your G-d ... for you to pass into the covenant of Hashem, your G-d ... in order to establish you today as a people to Him and that He be a G-d to you." (Devarim 29:9-12) Based on this, the Rambam writes in Hil. Teshuva that Am Yisrael are assured that they will repent.

This rule is said also regarding each individual. Chazal say in Masechet Nidah (30b) that when a baby comes forth from its mother's womb, "It is sworn: Be righteous and do not be wicked." Here, also, the meaning of the oath is that a person has the ability to be righteous, and the oath signifies the strength and the ability to be connected with G-d, making this nature hard to violate. This is the source of the expression "Teshuva," repentance. The demand to return to the proper path is not something beyond man's nature, but rather a return to his initial nature. Therefore, the parsha emphasizes: "It is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven ... Rather the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and your hearts – to perform it." (30:11-14)

This is the natural tendency of the Jewish nation, of each of its members, and for all generations. This is what the Torah says: "With whoever is here, standing with us today before Hashem, our G-d, and with whoever is not here with us today."

Parshiot Nitzavim Vayelech: Return

By Rabbi Ari Kahn

Parashat Nitzavim is always read in close proximity to Rosh Hashana. This choice of reading is not coincidental; rather, the division of the parshiot is carefully constructed to ensure that certain messages are conveyed at specific junctures of the calendar.

During this season teshuva ("return to God") is in the air; personal and collective introspection are the order of the day. In this context, it is evident why this Torah, Nitzavim, is the chosen message.
The term "return" (teshuvah) and its Hebrew root (shav) are utilized in numerous verses:

דברים פרק ל, א-י
(א) וְהָיָה֩ כִֽי־יָבֹ֨אוּ עָלֶ֜יךָ כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה הַבְּרָכָה֙ וְהַקְּלָלָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָתַ֖תִּי לְפָנֶ֑יךָ וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ֙ אֶל־לְבָבֶ֔ךָ בְּכָל־הַגּוֹיִ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֧ר הִדִּיחֲךָ֛ ה֥' אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ שָֽׁמָּה: (ב) וְשַׁבְתָּ֞ עַד־ה֤' אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֣ בְקֹל֔וֹ כְּכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם אַתָּ֣ה וּבָנֶ֔יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ: (ג) וְשָׁ֨ב ה֧' אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ אֶת־שְׁבוּתְךָ֖ וְרִחֲמֶ֑ךָ וְשָׁ֗ב וְקִבֶּצְךָ֙ מִכָּל־הָ֣עַמִּ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֧ר הֱפִֽיצְךָ֛ ה֥' אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ שָֽׁמָּה: (ד) אִם־יִהְיֶ֥ה נִֽדַּחֲךָ֖ בִּקְצֵ֣ה הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם מִשָּׁ֗ם יְקַבֶּצְךָ֙ ה֣' אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ וּמִשָּׁ֖ם יִקָּחֶֽךָ: (ה) וֶהֱבִֽיאֲךָ֞ ה֣' אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֛רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יָרְשׁ֥וּ אֲבֹתֶ֖יךָ וִֽירִשְׁתָּ֑הּ וְהֵיטִֽבְךָ֥ וְהִרְבְּךָ֖ מֵאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ: (ו) וּמָ֨ל ה֧' אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ אֶת־לְבָבְךָ֖ וְאֶת־לְבַ֣ב זַרְעֶ֑ךָ לְאַהֲבָ֞ה אֶת־ה֧' אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ לְמַ֥עַן חַיֶּֽיךָ: (ז) וְנָתַן֙ ה֣' אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ אֵ֥ת כָּל־הָאָל֖וֹת הָאֵ֑לֶּה עַל־אֹיְבֶ֥יךָ וְעַל־שֹׂנְאֶ֖יךָ אֲשֶׁ֥ר רְדָפֽוּךָ: (ח) וְאַתָּ֣ה תָשׁ֔וּב וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֖ בְּק֣וֹל ה֑' וְעָשִׂ֙יתָ֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹתָ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּֽוֹם: (ט) וְהוֹתִֽירְךָ֩ ה֨' אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ בְּכֹ֣ל׀ מַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָדֶ֗ךָ בִּפְרִ֨י בִטְנְךָ֜ וּבִפְרִ֧י בְהֶמְתְּךָ֛ וּבִפְרִ֥י אַדְמָתְךָ֖ לְטֹבָ֑ה כִּ֣י׀ יָשׁ֣וּב ה֗' לָשׂ֤וּשׂ עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ לְט֔וֹב כַּאֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֖שׂ עַל־ אֲבֹתֶֽיךָ: (י) כִּ֣י תִשְׁמַ֗ע בְּקוֹל֙ ה֣' אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ לִשְׁמֹ֤ר מִצְוֹתָיו֙ וְחֻקֹּתָ֔יו הַכְּתוּבָ֕ה בְּסֵ֥פֶר הַתּוֹרָ֖ה הַזֶּ֑ה כִּ֤י תָשׁוּב֙ אֶל־ה֣' אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ: פAnd it shall come to pass, when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you shall return to your heart [while in exile] among all the nations, where the Lord your God has driven you. And you shall return unto the Lord your God, and shall obey his voice according to all that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart, and with all your soul. Then the Lord your God will [re]turn your captivity, and have compassion upon you, and will return and gather you from all the nations, where the Lord your God has scattered you...And the Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and he will do you good, and multiply you above your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you may live. ... And you shall return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments which I command you this day. And the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in every work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your land, for good; for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, as he rejoiced over your fathers. If you shall listen to the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the Torah, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul.
(Devarim 30:1-10)

The repetition of the term "return" is a peculiarity which has served as a challenge for the classical commentators, who sought to explain the various "returns" -- both on the part of man and the part of God.

TOTALITY OF HISTORY

One solution offered is that the text refers to the totality of history; it includes various exiles, from the Ten Tribes and takes us to the eschatological ingathering and the end of days.

The Hebrew words shav and teshuva have often been translated as "repentance," yet the Hebrew word teshuva is both more powerful and simpler.

"Repentance" is derived from the word "penance," which primarily means "remorse." The feeling of remorse may be private, personal, even egocentric, describing the feelings of an individual who knows that he has failed himself, and perhaps his family or society. When a person feels remorse and utilizes these feelings to spur action or at least a resolution to redouble his or her efforts and not return to one’s erroneous ways, we call this process "rehabilitation."

The only thing lacking with the process we have described is God. The Jewish concept of return is a return to God. It is a theocentric phenomenon, which serves, in most cases, to heal an egocentric perspective. The defining verse is found in this week's Torah portion and was cited above:
וְשַׁבְתָּ֞ עַד־ה֤' אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ "And you shall return to the Lord your God."

Teshuva is a gesture which returns man to his pure state, by virtue of connecting him with God. This idea lies behind the insistence of the rabbis that teshuva possesses a metaphysical element. Teshuva, they say, is not part of this world; it predates creation:

בראשית רבה (וילנא) פרשת בראשית פרשה א
בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, שִׁשָּׁה דְבָרִים קָדְמוּ לִבְרִיאַת הָעוֹלָם, יֵשׁ מֵהֶן שֶׁנִּבְרְאוּ, וְיֵשׁ מֵהֶן שֶׁעָלוּ בַּמַּחֲשָׁבָה לְהִבָּרְאוֹת... רַבִּי אַהֲבָה בְּרַבִּי זְעִירָא אָמַר אַף הַתְּשׁוּבָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים צ, ב): בְּטֶרֶם הָרִים יֻלָּדוּ, וְאוֹתָהּ הַשָּׁעָה תָּשֵׁב אֱנוֹשׁ עַד דַּכָּא וגו',Six things preceded the creation of the world; some of them were actually created, while the creation of the others was already contemplated ... Rabbi Ahabah ben Rabbi Ze'ira said: "Repentance too, as it is written, Before the mountains were brought forth, and from that very moment, You turn man to contrition and say: Return, children of men."
(Midrash Rabbah - Bereishit 1:4)[1]

זוהר כרך א (בראשית) פרשת תולדות בדף קלד עמוד ב
כַּד בָּעָא לְמִבְרֵי אָדָם אָמְרָה תּוֹרָה קַמֵּיהּ, אִי בַּר נָשׁ יִתְבְּרֵי, וּלְבָתַר יֶחטֵי וְאַנְתְּ תִּידוּן לֵיהּ, אַמַּאי יְהוֹן עוֹבָדֵי יְדָךְ לְמַגָּנָא, דְּהָא לָא יֵיכוּל לְמִסְבַּל דִּינָךְ. אָמַר לֵיהּ קוּדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא, הָא אַתְקִינַת תְּשׁוּבָה עַד לָא בָרָאתִי עַלְמָא, When God was about to create man, the Torah remonstrated, saying: "Should man be created and then sin and be brought to trial before You, the work of Your hand will be in vain, for he will not be able to endure Your judgment." Whereto God replied: "I had already fashioned teshuva before creating the world."
(Zohar Bereishit 134b)[2]

Prior to the creation of the world, God created an idea called teshuva -- a process that brings man in touch with God, the definitive metaphysical being. Thus, an idea which eluded many great philosophers becomes clear.

Certain philosophers cast aspersions on the idea that remorse could uproot past transgressions. If existence were exclusively physical, the objection would be appropriate. However, Judaism insists that there is a metaphysical reality called God, who created and sustains the universe.
Additionally, God created a procedure which allows man to relate directly to Him. As God transcends time, so can man's relationship with God transcend time, rendering yesterday's failures a blot in a black hole of time, irrelevant to one's current relationship with God, which is itself transcendent. This is the power of teshuva.

METAPHYSICAL RELATIONSHIP

This metaphysical relationship may explain several other teachings in this week's Torah portion, and help explain the dynamics of the future redemption. Parshat Nitzavim begins with a covenant drawn between man and God:
דברים פרק כט, ט-טו
(ט) אַתֶּ֨ם נִצָּבִ֤ים הַיּוֹם֙ כֻּלְּכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֖י ה֣' אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם רָאשֵׁיכֶ֣ם שִׁבְטֵיכֶ֗ם זִקְנֵיכֶם֙ וְשֹׁ֣טְרֵיכֶ֔ם כֹּ֖ל אִ֥ישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל: (י) טַפְּכֶ֣ם נְשֵׁיכֶ֔ם וְגֵ֣רְךָ֔ אֲשֶׁ֖ר בְּקֶ֣רֶב מַחֲנֶ֑יךָ מֵחֹטֵ֣ב עֵצֶ֔יךָ עַ֖ד שֹׁאֵ֥ב מֵימֶֽיךָ: (יא) לְעָבְרְךָ֗ בִּבְרִ֛ית ה֥' אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ וּבְאָלָת֑וֹ אֲשֶׁר֙ ה֣' אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ כֹּרֵ֥ת עִמְּךָ֖ הַיּֽוֹם: (יב) לְמַ֣עַן הָקִֽים־אֹתְךָ֩ הַיּ֨וֹם׀ ל֜וֹ לְעָ֗ם וְה֤וּא יִֽהְיֶה־לְּךָ֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים כַּאֲשֶׁ֖ר דִּבֶּר־לָ֑ךְ וְכַאֲשֶׁ֤ר נִשְׁבַּע֙ לַאֲבֹתֶ֔יךָ לְאַבְרָהָ֥ם לְיִצְחָ֖ק וּֽלְיַעֲקֹֽב: (יג) וְלֹ֥א אִתְּכֶ֖ם לְבַדְּכֶ֑ם אָנֹכִ֗י כֹּרֵת֙ אֶת־הַבְּרִ֣ית הַזֹּ֔את וְאֶת־הָאָלָ֖ה הַזֹּֽאת: (יד) כִּי֩ אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֨ר יֶשְׁנ֜וֹ פֹּ֗ה עִמָּ֙נוּ֙ עֹמֵ֣ד הַיּ֔וֹם לִפְנֵ֖י ה֣' אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ וְאֵ֨ת אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֵינֶ֛נּוּ פֹּ֖ה עִמָּ֥נוּ הַיּֽוֹם: You stand this day all of you before the Lord your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel... That you should enter into covenant with the Lord your God, and into his oath, which the Lord your God makes with you this day. That he may establish you today for a People to himself, and that he may be to you a God, as he has said to you, and as he has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And not with you alone will I make this covenant and this oath. But with him who stands here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him who is not here with us this day. (Devarim 29:9-14)

The idea of a covenant "with those not here" is of particular interest. The various commentators explain that this refers to future generations still unborn. They, too, must live up to their side of the covenant or suffer expulsion. In that event, the Torah speaks of the eventual return of man to God.
דברים פרק ל, ב
וְשַׁבְתָּ֞ עַד־ה֤' אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֣ בְקֹל֔וֹ כְּכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּ֑וֹם אַתָּ֣ה וּבָנֶ֔יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֖ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ:And [you] shall return to the Lord your God, and shall obey his voice according to all that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart, and with all your soul.
(Devarim 30:2)

The idea of "both you and your children" returning to God seems strange. Either you or a subsequent generation will need to return, why both? In a terse, enigmatic statement the Ramban says that a great mystical secret centers around the teaching that the Son of David cannot come until all the souls are completed.[3] His source is a passage found in numerous places in the Talmud:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת יבמות דף סב עמוד א
דְּאָמַר רַב אַסִי: אֵין בֶּן־דָּוִד בָּא עַד שֶׁיִּכְלוּ כָּל הַנְּשָׁמוֹת שֶׁבַּגּוּף, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: (ישעיה נז) "כִּי רוּחַ מִלְּפָנַי יַעֲטוֹף וּנְשָׁמוֹת אֲנִי עָשִׂיתִי". Rabbi Assi stated: "The Son of David will not come before all the souls are completed; since it is said, For the spirit that wraps itself is from Me, and the souls which I have made.
(Yevamot 63b)[4]

The ultimate return will take place when all souls reach completion. These souls represent both past and future generations, all of which are part and parcel of the metaphysical nature of the Jews' relationship with God.

INCOMPLETE SOULS

Rav Eliyahu Dessler[5] explained this concept by citing a mystical teaching that in the generations prior to the arrival of the Messiah, there are precious few "new" souls, the majority being "used," incomplete souls who have returned in order to complete their task.

Other mystics have attempted to "explain" calamities by stating that prior to redemption all souls need to be elevated. The generation of people who died in the desert, despite seeing the work of God with greater clarity than any other generation, failed to sanctify God's name. Therefore, they needed to return, and die sanctifying God's name.

However, it is also taught in this week's Torah portion, that there are many things that defy explanation:
דברים פרק כט, כח
הַ֨נִּסְתָּרֹ֔ת לַה֖' אֱלֹהֵ֑ינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹ֞ת לָ֤נוּ וּלְבָנֵ֙ינוּ֙ עַד־עוֹלָ֔ם לַעֲשׂ֕וֹת אֶת־כָּל־דִּבְרֵ֖י הַתּוֹרָ֥ה הַזֹּֽאת: The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Torah.
(Devarim 29:28)

Rav Yehonatan Eybeschutz combines these teachings when he explains the significance of the verse:
דברים פרק ל, ג
וְשָׁ֨ב ה֧' אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ אֶת־שְׁבוּתְךָ֖ וְרִחֲמֶ֑ךָ וְשָׁ֗ב וְקִבֶּצְךָ֙ מִכָּל־הָ֣עַמִּ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֧ר הֱפִֽיצְךָ֛ ה֥' אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ שָֽׁמָּה:That then the Lord your God will [re]turn your captivity, and have compassion upon you, and will return and gather you from all the nations, where the Lord your God has scattered you. (Devarim 30:3)
Rav Yehonatan Eybeschutz writes:

ספר תפארת יהונתן על דברים פרק ל פסוק ג
זהו הענין חבלו של משיח שיהיה סמוך לגאולה עד שרבים מחכמי ישראל אמרו יתי ולא אחמיני' והטעם כי השכינה עמנו בגלות אם על הבנים רטושה לשמרנו ולעת הגאולה לא ישוב השכינה אתנו בפעם אחת רק השכינה ישוב מקדם לא"י ואח"כ נשוב אנחנו לשם כי צריך הרבה דברים קודם לקיבוץ גליות ואי אפשר אם לא השכינה במקומו וא"כ כשאנו בגולה וה' אין בקרבנו יהיה עלינו צרו' מצוקות כי אין כאן מגין וזהו מאמר הקרא ושב כי מתחילה ישוב ה' לא"י ואח"כ וקבצך ולא יהיה בפעם א':This refers to the birth pangs of the Messiah which will be in close proximity to the redemption, [which are so severe] that many sages said "Let him [The Messiah] come, but let me not see him" (Sanhedrin 98b). The reason is that the Shechina is with us in exile (Megila 29a) taking care of us like a mother cares for a child. At the time of the redemption the Shechina will not return together with us at one time; rather, first the Shechina will return to the Land of Israel, and then we shall return. For many things must take place in order for the ingathering of the exiles to take place, and this is impossible without the Shechina in its proper place. Therefore, when we remain in exile and God is not in our midst, we will have the most severe horrors, for we will be without a protector. Therefore, the verse teaches that first God will return, and only then will He have compassion and gather you from all the nations, where the Lord your God has scattered you.
(Tiferet Yehonatan 30:3)

This is reminiscent of the idea of the "hiding of God's face" which is also described in this week's Torah portion:

דברים פרק לא, יז-יח
(יז) וְחָרָ֣ה אַפִּ֣י ב֣וֹ בַיּוֹם־הַ֠הוּא וַעֲזַבְתִּ֞ים וְהִסְתַּרְתִּ֨י פָנַ֤י מֵהֶם֙ וְהָיָ֣ה לֶֽאֱכֹ֔ל וּמְצָאֻ֛הוּ רָע֥וֹת רַבּ֖וֹת וְצָר֑וֹת וְאָמַר֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא הֲלֹ֗א עַ֣ל כִּֽי־אֵ֤ין אֱלֹהַי֙ בְּקִרְבִּ֔י מְצָא֖וּנִי הָרָע֥וֹת הָאֵֽלֶּה: (יח) וְאָנֹכִ֗י הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר פָּנַי֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא עַ֥ל כָּל־הָרָעָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה כִּ֣י פָנָ֔ה אֶל־אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֲחֵרִֽים:Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day...
(Devarim 31:17-18)

According to Rav Yehonatan this is part of the process of redemption.

RETURN TO ISRAEL

Rav Yehonatan then goes on to explain the “deeper” purpose of the return to Israel. The verse states:

דברים פרק ל, ה
וֶהֱבִֽיאֲךָ֞ ה֣' אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֛רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יָרְשׁ֥וּ אֲבֹתֶ֖יךָ וִֽירִשְׁתָּ֑הּ וְהֵיטִֽבְךָ֥ וְהִרְבְּךָ֖ מֵאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ:And the Lord your God will bring you into the land your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it, and he will do you good, and multiply you above your fathers.
(Deut. 30:5)

Rav Yehonatan explains that the return to Israel is an opportunity for rectification. The failure of the people took place in the Land of Israel while the Shechina was in their midst.[6] One of the principles of teshuva is not repeating the same transgression in the same situation as before:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת יומא דף פו עמוד ב
הֵיכִי דָּמִי בַּעַל תְּשׁוּבָה? אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה: כְּגוֹן, שֶׁבָּא דְּבַר עֲבֵרָה לְיָדוֹ, פַּעַם רִאשׁוֹנָה וּשְׁנִיָּה וְנִצַּל הֵימֶנָּה. מַחְוִי רַב יְהוּדָה: בְּאוֹתוֹ מָקוֹם, וּבְאוֹתָהּ אִשָּׁה, וּבְאוֹתוֹ פֶּרֶק. How is one proved a repentant sinner? Rav Yehuda said: "If the object which caused his original transgression comes before him on two occasions, and he keeps away from it." Rav Yehuda indicated: "In the same place, with the same woman, at the same time (stage of life)."
(Yoma 86b)

According to this approach, the ingathering of the exiles is the re-creation of a situation where the Jews may heal the spiritual damage caused by their ancestors years ago.

Significantly, this was the context where the Ramban mentioned the mystical idea of souls reaching completion. Future generations are bidden to follow the covenant forged with a previous generation and to complete the mission of the previous generation as they heal the damage which was unleashed by virtue of sins committed in antiquity. If the Temple was destroyed due to hatred, the generation brought back to the Land of Israel must rise above the petty jealousy and hatred, and repair the souls tainted in previous generations.

Rambam writes[7] that at the end of days the Jews will do teshuva and return to God. He adds that all the prophets commanded Israel regarding teshuva, and the Torah has already guaranteed that the people will come back to God. His proof is drawn from the verses we have already examined from this week's Torah portion. Rambam also cites these verses when describing the task of the Messiah.[8]

According to Rambam, for a Jew not to believe in the collective teshuva of the Jewish people, he must reject the promise of the Torah, and the belief in the Messiah. Rabbi Soloveitchik added that the naysayer also rejects the Jewish People, and has lost belief in them as well.[9]

IN OUR DAYS

In our days, these teachings are all the more poignant and powerful. This past century has seen horrific events, and we pray that those were the worst of the birth-pangs which the sages foresaw and prayed to be spared. We have lived to see an ingathering of the exiles, and we are aware that our communal and personal life in Israel is an incredible opportunity to mend the damage of previous generations. We must never lose faith in the Torah which promised the return, nor faith in the people of Israel who will perform the complete return to God.

For just as we are imbued with a metaphysical soul which allows us to relate to God as individuals, the collective community, too, has an incredible spiritual capacity which is far more powerful than the sum of all its individual parts. Likewise, just as the individual can perform an act of transcendence by doing teshuva, so can the entire community. The Torah has already promised that this will happen, it is just a question of time.

דברים פרק ל, ח-ט
(ח) וְאַתָּ֣ה תָשׁ֔וּב וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֖ בְּק֣וֹל ה֑' וְעָשִׂ֙יתָ֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוֹתָ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּֽוֹם: (ט) וְהוֹתִֽירְךָ֩ ה֨' אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ בְּכֹ֣ל׀ מַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָדֶ֗ךָ בִּפְרִ֨י בִטְנְךָ֜ וּבִפְרִ֧י בְהֶמְתְּךָ֛ וּבִפְרִ֥י אַדְמָתְךָ֖ לְטֹבָ֑ה כִּ֣י׀ יָשׁ֣וּב ה֗' לָשׂ֤וּשׂ עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ לְט֔וֹב כַּאֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֖שׂ עַל־ אֲבֹתֶֽיךָ:And you shall return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments which I command you this day. And the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in every work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your land, for good; for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, as he rejoiced over your fathers.
(Deut. 30:8-9)


[1] A similar teaching is found in the Zohar Vayikra 34b
[2] The same idea is taught in Zohar, Vayikra, Page 70a
[3] Ramban Devarim 30:2
רמב"ן דברים פרק ל:ב
ולפי דעתי יש בו סוד גדול, כי ירמוז למה שאמרו (יבמות סג ב) אין בן דוד בא עד שיכלו כל הנשמות שבגוף, וכבר דברתי בו:
[4] This idea is explored in the Zohar Bereishit, Page 28b.
[5] Michtav Me'Eliyahu volume 4 page 120
[6] Tiferet Yehonatan Devarim 30:5
ספר תפארת יהונתן על דברים פרק ל פסוק ה
והביאך ה' אלוקיך אל הארץ וגו' והטיבך והרבך מאבותיך. כי ישראל חטאו בא"י והיכי דמי בעל תשובה באותו מקום ולכך אמר הפסוק שיבואו לא"י והטיבך הוא מענין כיצד מטיבין המדה היינו שמשליכין הקוצרים והזרעים רעים מתוכו וכן יהיה שהרשעים ימותו כדכתיב שנים מעיר וגו' ומ"מ לא תהיה מועט רק תהיה הברכה בך והרבך מאבותיך:
[7] Mishna Torah Laws of Teshuva 7:5
All of the prophets commanded concerning repentance; Israel will not be redeemed save by repentance. Indeed, the Torah long since assured us that in the end, at the close of the period of exile Israel will turn to repentance and be momentarily redeemed, even as it is said: "And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessings and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt bethink thyself among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God had driven thee, and shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and hearken to His voice according to all that I commanded thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul; that then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the peoples whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee" (Deut. 30.14).
רמב"ם הלכות תשובה פרק ז הלכה ה
כָּל הַנְּבִיאִים כֻּלָּן צִוּוּ עַל הַתְּשׁוּבָה וְאֵין יִשְׂרָאֵל נִגְאָלִין אֶלָּא בִּתְשׁוּבָה. וּכְבָר הִבְטִיחָה תּוֹרָה שֶׁסּוֹף יִשְׂרָאֵל לַעֲשׂוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה בְּסוֹף גָּלוּתָן וּמִיָּד הֵן נִגְאָלִין שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ל א) "וְהָיָה כִי יָבֹאוּ עָלֶיךָ כָּל הַדְּבָרִים" וְגוֹ' (דברים ל ב) "וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ" (דברים ל ג) "וְשָׁב ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ" וְגוֹ':

[8] Mishna Torah Laws of Laws of Kings 11:1.
רמב"ם הלכות מלכים פרק יא הלכה א
הַמֶּלֶךְ הַמָּשִׁיחַ עָתִיד לַעֲמֹד וּלְהַחְזִיר מַלכוּת דָּוִד לְיָשְׁנָהּ לַמֶּמְשָׁלָה הָרִאשׁוֹנָה. וּבוֹנֶה הַמִּקְדָּשׁ וּמְקַבֵּץ נִדְחֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. וְחוֹזְרִין כָּל הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים בְּיָמָיו כְּשֶׁהָיוּ מִקֹּדֶם. מַקְרִיבִין קָרְבָּנוֹת. וְעוֹשִׂין שְׁמִטִּין וְיוֹבְלוֹת כְּכָל מִצְוָתָן הָאֲמוּרָה בַּתּוֹרָה. וְכָל מִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ מַאֲמִין בּוֹ. אוֹ מִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְחַכֶּה לְבִיאָתוֹ. לֹא בִּשְׁאָר נְבִיאִים בִּלְבַד הוּא כּוֹפֵר. אֶלָּא בַּתּוֹרָה וּבְמשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ. שֶׁהֲרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הֵעִידָה עָלָיו שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ל, ג) "וְשָׁב ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת שְׁבוּתְךָ וְרִחֲמֶךָ וְשָׁב וְקִבֶּצְךָ" וְגוֹ' (דברים ל, ד) "אִם יִהְיֶה נִדַּחֲךָ בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמָיִם" וְגוֹ' (דברים ל, ה) "וֶהֱבִיאֲךָ ה'". וְאֵלּוּ הַדְּבָרִים הַמְפֹרָשִׁים בַּתּוֹרָה הֵם כּוֹלְלִים כָּל הַדְּבָרִים שֶׁנֶּאֶמְרוּ עַל יְדֵי כָּל הַנְּבִיאִים.
The King Messiah will arise and re-establish the monarchy of David as it was in former times. He will build the Sanctuary and gather in the dispersed of Israel. All the earlier statutes will be restored as they once were. Sacrifices will be offered, the Sabbatical and Jubilee years will be observed, as commanded in the Torah. Anyone who does not believe in him or one who does not anticipate his coming not only denies the Prophets, but also the Torah and Moses our Teacher. For the Torah has given testimony about him saying, “And the Lord your G-d will turn your captivity and have compassion with you. He will return and gather you from all the peoples…If any of you should be dispersed at the ends of Heaven, from there G-d will gather you, from there He will fetch you. And the Lord, your G-d will bring you…” (Devaim 30:3-4). These matters are explicit in the Torah and include everything said by all the Prophets.

[9] See "On Repentance" page 132ff