Sunday, December 30, 2007

Live The Dream! - Of Dreams, Reality and Fantasy!

I have recently taken on a new job. I have been contracted by Nefesh B'Nefesh (link) to create, market and run educational seminars for groups of Gap Year (Shanna BaAretz, Yeshiva, Midrasha, other) programs. It is an exciting project, as we attempt to raise awareness to the fact that Aliya is an attainable goal, that it is a realistic option for a young person's future. We feel that most of the students who have spent a year or two in Israel feel that it would be wonderful if only they could live here, but that for some reason (finance, family, language, who knows?) it is not practical. We'd like to suggest that it is more possible than people think. That their life goals can be fulfilled here, and that they can live a comfortable and happy life here. Hat is the educational goal. Wish me luck!

Nefesh B'Nefesh (NBN) have the motto: "Live the Dream!" The objective of the catchphrase is to suggest that your dream of living in Israel, of realizing an age old Jewish yearning, can become your reality, your everyday life.

I think that the motto also aims to hint that our everyday prosaic, humdrum routine lives, can be imbued in some manner by the dream – היינו כחולמים! That every day here in Israel can feel inspired and elevated, that it can resonate with a deeper and wider vision of the Jewish past, present and future.


I began thinking about this a little more after talking to one particular school in preparation for my NBN work. It is a program that integrates Israelis and Americans. The school representative spoke to me and said something like this:

"Our students really need this project. You see, in certain schools they are in a bubble. They give them shiurim about how they can walk outside and see the spark of spirituality as they walk through the streets of Jerusalem. But our students are living in Israel as Israelis, amongst Israelis. They see just how normal things are here. They hear about the problems and difficulties, the strains and regular life. You need to give them more of that spark; that dream."

And I thought to myself, Is that our choice? Are there only two possibilities: The day to day reality of Israeli living – flat, hard and frequently under strain; or a vision of dream, but possibly dislocated from the normal experience of life here?

ירושלים של מטה- ירושלים של מעלה

And at the same time, the Annapolis conference and its aftermath are in full swing and, of course, the future of Jerusalem is on the chopping board. Will Jerusalem be divided? What will be the status of the Arab neighborhoods, the Temple Mount?

We – a good, Religious Zionist home – were discussing the issues, when my 11 yr. old son (who holds moderate right wing views) commented: "I don't get it! Isn't Jerusalem already divided? We all know that there is an Arab part of Jerusalem and a Jewish part!" Sobering words!

At the same time the OU in America issue a pronouncement condemning the possible division of Jerusalem expressing their:

"deepest concern over recent statements …. that your Government is prepared to divide the holy city of Yerushalayim …Our relationship to Yerushalayim is one that transcends time, space and other physical constraints … Mr. Prime Minister, we cannot state strongly enough our belief that the Government and peopleof the State of Israel hold Yerushalayim in trust for the Jewish People no matter where they may live, for we all have a share in the holy city."

In Israel, a great number of Israelis are willing to contemplate the prospect of ceding certain parts of Arab populated Jerusalem to the PA in the hope of Peace.

And I couldn't help but be impressed by the disconnect here. The Israeli government and many Israelis are being forced to grapple with Jerusalem as a practical problem in the here and now, an issue that must be addressed for the wellbeing of the future of Medinat Yisrael. It is very much a pragmatic view of Jerusalem as the capital of a modern Jewish State. Whereas the OU has a more idealized view of a holy city, in trust for all Jews of all ages, transcending time, space and anything worldly.

Is Jerusalem the city of the dream or must Jerusalem face up to reality? Is Jerusalem the city of all Jews, or is it the Capital of Israel? Are we dealing with ירושלים של מעלה or ירושלים של מטה? Is the OU's view simply a shortsighted fantasy, a virtual reality in an already divided city? Or is the Israeli government blinded by the here and now, not facing up to a stronger meta-historic pulse of the eternity of Jewish History?


But we are, after all, the people of the dream. Even Herzl's famous line אם תרצו אין זו אגדה rests upon a 2000 year dream – the Hope התקווה שנות אלפיים – that we return to our land. We talk about this every Tefilla, every musaph, every broken glass at a wedding, every Tisha BeAv, every Mevarchim Hachodesh. Our prayers voice the dream. Dare we shatter the dream and turn it into a reality? Dare we bring the dream down from the stars and let it exist upon Earth?

There is an apocryphal story about the Talmidim of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav. That they decided to travel to Eretz Yisrael. They spent the entire sea voyage to the Holy Land spiritually preparing themselves for their meeting with the purest the holiest of lands. They prayed and meditated in anticipation. And then one day, the boat sighted land! The ecstasy grew in intensity, the spirituality felt palpable, the Hasidim were filled with emotion.

Upon landing they could not contain their disappointment. "There are trees here just like in Poland. The earth is like the earth in Poland! There are hills just like in Poland!" They could not withstand the thought that this Land, this Holy Land, existed within the realm of the physical! How could a spiritual land be simple rocks and grass and trees?

And do you know what they did?

They turned around and sailed back home.

Sometimes we must realize that the dream is a reality. We must know that even dreams come in the guise of human decisions, in bricks and mortar, in sweat and toil, in wars and soldiers, in the clods of earth of Eretz Yisrael.


And so, how do we retain the dream while keeping our feet firmly planted? Do we give up on a pristine dream-like image when we settle for the here and now practicalities of life?

On a personal note, despite the fact that we go to work, wash the dishes, do the laundry and what have you, I believe that we do experience the dimension of the dream on a frequent basis. Personally I palpably sense the privilege of living in our Holy Land whether it is the fact that I can listen to the radio and speak to my children in Hebrew, whether it is the fact that I drive to work passing through bona fide Biblical landscape, whether it is pride in our chayalim, or simply the fact that these are MY people and this is MY land and these our OUR problems. There is a gratifying sense of belonging. When each and every place resonates with historic significance, life is suffused with a rich texture of significance. We DO "live the dream!" somehow in my life there is a balance, a fusion.

At some level in grappling with this problem – and I am aware that it fails to solve the Peace Process - I frame this problem in the language of dialectic.

Woe to the person who fails to have dreams, to reach for truth. And yet the person who will never live his dream because reality fails to match perfection, is a person who will have missed out on life, will have failed to achieve. We cannot build and grow in a world of dreams but only on this planet, in our homes, and communities even if they fall short of some theoretical ideal. But we can still dream.

Feel free to add your comments:

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holy Veg.

Shemitta is beginning to kick in as we now begin to see vegetables with Kedushat Sheviit in special shemitta stores. These carrots were planted prior to shemitta but were picked in a special manner called Otzar Beit din, allowing them to be harvested and distributed without violating Shemitta. In addition, the supplier of these carrots is "Otzar Haaretz" which tries to minimise reliance upon the famous Heter Mechira and yet, will make every effort to buy only from Jewish farms rather than Palestinian produce.

I love the packaging here as it informs and warns that the carrots have special sanctity and hence must be treated in a particularly respectful manner. And yet it also informs us that "it shall be for you to eat" - a verse from Vayikra ch.25 - that tells us that fruit may be eaten during the Shemitta year... and according to Nachmanides, one fufils a mitzva every time one consumes Shemitta fruit!

From the outside, Shemitta may appear as an annoyance. However, today we do not consume korbanot, nor Teruma or Maaser Sheni. we have no access to any of our "holy foods". Except Shemitta food. It is the only opportunity to consume food categorised as sacred or holy.

And that is a special opportunity that living in Israel can afford us. It puts a big smile on my face just seeing this packaging.
Related posts... see here and here

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Is the Old thinking the Best?

Two pieces caught my eye on Ynet today. Here is the first (link) by satirist Jackie Levy. This time he was being serious:

The events of this past week should be remembered. After the Qassam attacks on Sderot have become a natural law; after we got used to it, and thought that Gaza-region residents also got used to it; after we got accustomed to the fact there is no need to look for a motive for each and every Qassam, as they simply keep on pouring down one by one.

After our eyes were opened and we realized that Sderot is a price that the government of Israel is willing to pay; after all this, suddenly the IDF utilized high-level intelligence, coupled with impressive execution ability, and hit the enemy with a lethal and accurate blow. This time, it was done without impassioned speeches and silly words such as “Haniyeh will never forget etc. etc.”

And suddenly, Haniyeh proposed that we all sit down and talk. His
Hamas emissaries were interviewed by Israeli media outlets and said that we must not forget abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, and that we can talk business.

The events of this past week should be remembered, because we tend to forget quickly. It is not nice to say that someone only understands force, particularly if that someone is Arab. Yet what can we do, this is how it is with enemies... They only understand force. Otherwise, they apparently would not be enemies.

Is this dated old thinking? Or is it good old straight up common sense that we used to think before we were blinded by new ideas?

Here is another couple of news items that I would like to link together:

From Ynet:

Poll: One-third of Israeli youth want to live abroad
A poll carried out by the Smith Institute at the behest of the Israeli Zionism Institute found that 35% of Israeli youth would be interested in moving abroad if they had the opportunity compared with 48% who believe it is better to live in Israel.

And from Haaretz:

Immigration to Israel in 2007 down 6%, at its lowest since 1989
The number of new immigrants arriving in Israel in 2007 was 19,700 - a decline of 6 percent over last year, according to the Absorption Ministry end-of-the-year statistics released on Sunday. This is the lowest number of immigrants since 1989, after the wave of immigration following the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Forecasts for 2008 do not show an increase in newcomers.

35% of youth want to leave. few desire to come.

In short... Gentlemen! We have a problem!

In other words, it is time for Israel and Israelis to wake up. Israelis have lost faith in israel! If we do not invest more in educating people as to why they are here, if we fail to realise that post-Zionism in the Education system is like a cancer in our body eating away at society, then we are doomed to failure. If we fail to attack our basic problems in society - the integration of Israeli Arabs, Education, lawlessness and corruption, a lack of valued in public life - if we fail to make life worthwhile and meaningful here, then we are in BIG trouble.

When will our leaders realise that unless we are proud of Israel, of Judaism of our actions and achievements, unless we stop celebrating America and begin to celebrate Israel, we will have a constant state of Yerida bleeding our society.

We have just experienced a 50 day teacher strike. We are experiencing a deep University strike that threatens the semester in Israeli Higher education. Israeli academics are flocking abroad. Why? some say due to the lack of funds and prestige of Higher education in Israel. I do not know the solution. But I do know that education is essential to the national spirit. We cannot disenfranchise education from Israel, from Zionism, from Judaism. How can we not realise that education is key to a healthy society?

But a further point. society must be healthy, vibrant, empowered and proud. Sometimes we marginalise good and valuable groups in Israeli society like Settlers and people who share their views (15% of country) Haredim (15%) or Arabs (15%). There are those who feel that only the liberal-secular view is legitimate and that is the main persona of the Israeli media. How can we have a society with so many people feeling on the fringes? Can we alienate such wide sections of our loyal population without risking internal collapse?

When will our leaders stop putting out fires and begin to look ahead to the long term view? When will they realise that we have to educate and build Israeli society for a future together, and that is the most important thing or else there will be no society worth defending?

Back to Old thinking maybe? Maybe teach good old-time zionism? That we deserve to be here. Taht we are Jews. That we have a rich Jewish tradition. That we care deeply about books, education, higher cukture, morality, community, kindness, compassion, contribution, land, social Justice, etc. etc. Could that be a cure???


I have lots of things to post about and little time/energy. I am working pretty hard lately and am not always finding the extra hour to write an articulate posting. Nonetheless I do hope to be posting soon on
  • the dangers or advantages of the Internet and in particular, the "anonymity" of the Internet.
  • the dilemmas and tension between inclusivism vs. exclusivism in Israel/Judaism/and beyond.
  • The Israeli Constitution which is being formed as we speak!

Interesting Rav Soloveitchik Evening in Efrat

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What is the Quality of your Street?

I heard a speech once in which a rabbi was lamenting the transition in society from a spirit of collectivism and community to a world of individualism. He said: ' Look at our food! We once had kreplach and kneidlach. It was all about lach - (trans.) "to you!" We were looking at the other, how we could contribute to society. But now we have Bis-li, Kef-li, kin-li! It is all about li - =(trans.) - to me. What can I take for myself.'

Now this is simply a cute pun, but there is no doubt of course that we have become more individualistic and look to exercise our personal choices wherever we can. At certain smachot people do not dance in a circle anymore, doing the same step. It is all about my individual style. Society doesn't encourage people to conform and belong to a community, an act that often engenders personal sacrifice. Rather we are told to find our inner selves and to express ourselves etc.

But this speech was dragged up from my subconscious this Shabbat when one of our Shabbat guests brought us a box of English chocolate called "Quality Street." Quality Street has a lovely selection of brightly wrapped chocolates mixed together , each chocolate with different tastes, and you have to decide which one to pick etc. etc.

Now when I was a kid, Quality Street wasn't kosher. When they were added to the famous "list" (link) it was certainly a Yom Tov for Anglo Jewry. But when I was a kid, the motto of Quality Street was:

"Made for Sharing"

I looked on the box and saw that the subtitle, the motto, the marketing pitch has altered. It now reads:

"What's your Favourite?"

From a family sharing a box of chocolates together, we have moved to each person picking their personal favourite. It's not made for sharing any more. It's about me! Well- that sort of sums it all up!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Parashat Vayigash. Puzzling Midrashic Approach

The parasha this week opens with Yehudah's dramatic speech. Joseph's cup has been discovered in Binyamin's sack. The brothers know that it is unthinkable to return to Canaan without Binyamin. they must plead their case before Joseph, the enigmatic Egyptian. The brothers seem absolutely helpless. Joseph holds all the cards. Yehudah courageously steps forward to seek a way to pull upon Joseph's heartstrings.

This is the peshat.

However there is a certain strain in the Midrash - brought partially by Rashi - that takes a rather different vantage point. As I have presented things, the brothers are desperate and guilty. They must appeal to Joseph's compassion, his humanity, as they present him with an image of their aging and ailing father.

But the perspective from Midrash portrays the brothers as threatening; aggressive. In Rashi's words:

...and let your wrath not be kindled - From here you
learn that he (Yehudah) spoke to him (Joseph) harshly.

For you are like Pharaoh - This is its simple meaning. Its midrashic meaning is, however: You will ultimately be punished with Leprosy because of him, just as Pharaoh was punished because of my great-grandmother Sarah for the one night that he detained her (Gen. 12:17).

Another explanation: Just as Pharaoh issues decrees and does not carry them out, makes promises and does not fulfill them, so do you. Now, is this the “setting of an eye,” concerning which you said [that you wanted] “to set your eye upon him” ? [See verse 21.]

Another explanation: For like you, so is Pharaoh-if you provoke
me, I will kill you and your master. [From Gen. Rabbah 93:6]19.

My lord asked his servants - From the beginning, you came
upon us with a pretext. Why did you have to ask all these [questions]? Were we looking to [marry] your daughter, or were you looking to [marry] our sister? Nonetheless, “we said to my lord” (verse 20). We did not conceal anything. [From Gen. Rabbah 93:8]

If we adopt this reading as seen in these comments of Rashi, the brothers are talking tough with Joseph, threatening him and making all manner of accusation. They talk with a superior tone as if they are in control. Of course, from the vantage point of peshat, the circumstances hardly support the possibility of the brothers - themselves guilty of stealing Joseph's goblet - being in a position to bargain with, let alone threaten, Joseph. (...and see the Ramban who makes this point.)

so where does the Midrash come from?

In Bereshit Rabba there are some more extreme depictions:

"When Judah got angry his hairs stood on end and protruded, and he put iron
balls into his mouth and they emerged as dust... Judah turned to Naftali and asked: 'How many marketplaces are there in Egypt?' 'Twelve,' He replied. 'Fine! I'll take three and you each take one, and we will destroy every man in Egypt.' The brothers
responded: "Egypt is not like Sh'chem...'"
Destroying all the men of Egypt? Grinding iron balls in your mouth. This is certainly entertaining. But what are Chazal trying to tell us?

Again. Why does the Midrash portray the brothers in this confident aggressive stance? Is it tenable with the text? and if not, what is the Midrash doing here? Of course I do know that Midrashim may be metaphorical or express a deeper philosophical idea. But this empowerment, the agression and defiance, is so disonant with the text that I am feeling rather stretched to suggest a reasonable rationale or explanation for this approach.

If you have any ideas or suggestions, please add them in the "comments".

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Lighting at a Chanukah Party - With a Bracha?

This week, I spent some time researching an interesting Chanukah question. It is a question that I have had for some time. I received the question - via Facebook – from a student of mine that read something like this:

"I want to try to organise a Chanukah party in my university this Thursday, but no one will be sleeping there … but the thing that's worrying me, is can we light if no one will be sleeping there? Otherwise, I really don't know if my fellow campus Jews will have any form of candle lighting over Chanukah... once again any suggestions??"

This question is a common one, especially in Israel where there are lots of office Channukah parties. Many religious people don't quite know how to act. In the office they say to them:

"You're religious, why don't you light for us?"

And they, nervous about Bracha Levatalla (making a non-mandated blessing, and hence uttering God's name without sanction) pass on the honour to someone less religious.

So, what does a person do?


Let me highlight the problem. The Talmud states that Chanukah lights be lit in the home – נר איש וביתו – and that ideally they be lit at the portal of the home[1]. If one lives in an apartment, they should be lit in the window facing the street. In times of danger – anti-Semitism in the streets – the Channukiah may be lit indoors. It is quite clear that the home is the arena for lighting. Moreover the Talmud specifies that a guest – a person in transit who lacks a fixed abode - must find a technique of enjoining the household. It would appear as clear that there is no Chanukah lighting in the absence of a home[2].

In order to relate to our problem we have to find a model of Chanukah lighting that transpires OUTSIDE the home.


The poskim (Religious legal experts) look towards the Minhag (custom) of lighting Chanukah lights at Shul (The synagogue.) In every shul, between Mincha and Maariv, Chanukah candles are lit with all the berachot. Now, the Halakhic literature is puzzled by this Custom because it post-dates the Talmud. What is the basis of this custom?

Various reasons are suggested:
· That there were times in which the synagogue was used as a place for wayfaring Jews to stay. Hence this WAS a "home" of sorts for some Jews.
· That the Custom was instituted during times of oppression when Jews were forced to abandon the public street oriented lighting, and lit indoors. Seeking an outlet for a public lighting, communities began to light indoors.
· Independently of any historic circumstances, the Beit Halevi stresses the two advantages of this approach: 1) The Pirsumei Nisa – publicity of the Chanukah miracle; and 2) To educate the public about the appropriate blessing and lighting of the Chanukah lights.

The Shulchan Aruch[3] tells us to light at shul WITH brachot but that an individual does NOT fulfill his mitzvah there and must light on his return home!

In our given situation of a Student Chanukah party, what factor applies? Generally, students are not sleeping in the University building, but although if they are – if the party takes place at one of the dorms - then there is NO problem! Regarding the argument that there is NO public lighting, in today's world many Jews DO light in public places. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that lighting at Chanukah parties educates and adds a focus of the Chanukah miracle to a gathering that would otherwise be secular in nature.


The modern Authorities are divided on the issue. Some say that the Custom of lighting at shul is SPECIFICALLY at a synagogue which constitutes a "Mikdash Me'at" (a mini Temple) and resembles the ancient Chanukah miracle (of the Menorah in the Temple.) Others say that we have to look primarily at the potential for spreading the miracle and wherever this can be fulfilled.

Many heavy-weight poskim (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Wosner, Rav Yitzchak Weiss, Tzitz Eliezer) all say that at a Chanukah party , brachot may NOT be recited. On the other hand, many poskim like Rav Ovadia Yosef, the Rabbis of Chabad-Lubavich, and many Religious Zionist authorities (Rav Rosenthal, Rav Melamed, Rav Sherlo) ALLOW brachot to be recited with an audience that is not religious and who will not otherwise light candles.

(Of course this is contingent on the party being held in the evening after sunset!)

And of course, here is an educational dilemma. Are we educating more by demonstrating Chanukah lighting? Or possibly we should be stressing that the Mitzva is connected to the home?

(Of course there is a deep message in connecting the Mitzva of candle lighting to our homes. We are somehow stating that the true resilience of Judaism against Hellenism is in the Jewish home. What gives a Jewish person the wherewithal to resists the culture that surrounds him and to continue with pride, his Jewish practices? It is the Jewish education that he carries from his family, from his being raised in a home filled with Jewish enthusiasm, practice, knowledge and joy.)

In the end, I told the student concerned that if she could be pretty certain that various participants of the party would not otherwise be lighting, then she should happily light at the Chanukah party with brachot.

Afterwards, I thought that maybe there is another basis to allow the brachot here. In an educational setting, like an explanatory minyan, one is allowed to pronounce God's name in order to TEACH a bracha. To an audience which one is educating as to the elementary practice of Chanukah lighting, one may be allowed to light purely on the basis of the Mitzva of Chincuh and our responsibility to teach other Jews about their traditions.

[1] תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף כא עמוד ב
תנו רבנן: מצות חנוכה נר איש וביתו... תנו רבנן: נר חנוכה מצוה להניחה על פתח ביתו מבחוץ. אם היה דר בעלייה - מניחה בחלון הסמוכה לרשות הרבים. ובשעת הסכנה - מניחה על שלחנו, ודיו.
[2] By home, we usually define the place that one is sleeping and eating.

[3] . שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן תרעא סעיף ז
ובבה"כ מניחו (מ) בכותל דרום ((מא) או בדרום המנורה, (מב) ומסדרן ט ממזרח (מג) למערב) (ת"ה סי' ק"ד ב"י), (מד)
... ומדליקין [י] ומברכין (בבית הכנסת) משום פרסומי ניסא. הגה: ואין אדם יוצא בנרות של בהכ"נ, (מה) וצריך לחזור ולהדליק [יא] בביתו (ריב"ש סימן קי"א)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Fabulous Israel Story

David Bogner over at Treppenwitz blog is a tremendous story teller. However in his recent post about a taxi ride from Beer Sheva to Gush Etzion (via Ma'arat Hamachpela) he exceded himself. It really is one of those "Only in Israel" classics.

Read it here (link)

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.

If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin'.

So sings Bob Dylan.

We watch the world changing before our eyes! We watch as the Glaciers melt and the temperature rises. We watch on as the new global power constellations take shape (Christianity vs. Islam with the Jews in the thick of it?) Even in as short a period as a single decade we have witnessed the changes in the economic world map as China develops as a new world economic superpower. We watch as Hezbollah and Hamas rise in their strength, as Iran threatens. We know that the times they are a-changin'

And the amazing thing is that despite the changes that we know and see, we frequently feel powerless to intervene or guide a response. I wonder why? I feel that frequently we lack the perspective, the ability to adequately comprehend the processes as they take place. In many cases we only see the symptoms when the momentum is in full swing.

Well, as we all know the environment is one area in which things are already advancing (or declining) rapidly. I have to admit, that sometimes I worry for my kids, coming into a world that feels way more complicated than the world in which I grew up. I read the newspapers with trepidation, wondering how we could have been so irresponsible for so long, and how we continue with our recklessness. If we take the model of an individual, we know that we would be quite criminal of we saved a few shekels and thereby endangered our lives (and others) by driving a dangerous car etc. How can the world continue to pollute and ignore the depleting world resources just to boost the economy, blind in the face of economic greed? As regards global warming we dare not ignore the warning signs lest we accelerate the damage already done.

A further question is the reliance on fossil fuels. Not only is it having devastating ecological effects but the politics of oil can be no less problematic. We watch the pressure that certain Arab countries can exert upon the world with their oil money. Iran would not be so smug if it lacked oil. The effects can frequently be destabilising. Moreover limited oil supply and growing global consumption threaten economic stability and growth.

It is clear that a solution to these problems presents a pressing ethical and economic imperative.

That is why I love this idea (link).
It is great because it:
1. Uses solar power
2. Helps arid countries with its water problems.

I fully endorse this programme and I suggest that Israel be at the forefront of development of this sort.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thank You!

I just wanted to thank all of you who kindly donated to Alyn for my wife's Tel-aviv to Jerusalem bike ride.

she brought in $1915.04 for Alyn, and the charity raised well over $2 million.

One wonderful story that aliza told me was that there were over 600 riders at the starting line just waiting to speed away. And then someone got on the PA system and said tefillat Haderech and the entire throng responded with a resounding "Amen!". This was not a religious group by any means, and yet this is Israel, and before they set out, Tefillat Haderech was said. A beautiful kiddush Hashem.

To everybody who supported Aliza's ride, thank you and tizku lemitzvot.

(Next year I think she is going for the 5-day ride. she has caught the bicycle bug! )

Monday, November 26, 2007

Annapolis - Part 2

In our parsha (Vayishlach) we read how Yaakov prepared for a threatening adversary with unknown intentions in three methods: Prayer, Diplomacy, War.

1.Olmert is doing the diplomacy.
2. War: I sincerely hope that the army is prepared.
3. I guess that I just have to pray!

Whether one is left-wing or right-wing there is what to pray for. We don't need to tell God what the outcome should be. But we can pray that it be the best possible result for the Jewish People.

אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ, בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל ...הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ וּפְרֹשׂ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ וּשְׁלַח אוֹרְךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ לְרָאשֶׁיהָ, שָׂרֶיה, וְיוֹעֲצֶיהָ וְתַקְּנֵם בְּעֵצָה טוֹבָה מִלְּפָנֶיךָ.

Annapolis Thoughts Part 1

I am genuinely confused as to what to write regarding Annapolis. In theory it could be nothing - simply a photo-op - and on the other hand they can potentially make an agreement there to make me homeless and give back the entire West Bank - even the Old City!

The greatest probability is that they will declare the kick-off of negotiations with a year-long schedule to reach a "final" Peace Agreement.

So, what is there to say?

Today I went through a very comprehensive video presentation on Guardian website. (link) Look at it. I have a couple of comments.

1. I find the Palestinian positions so extreme, that I think we need to listen more closely to Palestinian speakers. They won't compromise on Jerusalem. They won't compromise on the "right" of return. what exactly will they give us?

2. Kasaam: Nothing is mentioned about Kasaam rockets. For me this is my central worry. Nothing is mentioned about the fact that with the West Bank in Palestinian hands puts all central Israel under Hamas rocket fire. With the best intentions can it work?

Did you see Nadav Shragai's piece in HaAretz (link)? He shows how a split Jerusalem signals the end of Jerusalem. worrying to say the least!

Did you know that today (Monday) TWO kassam rockets fell on Sderot. Just an average day for a border town.

3. How can we make Peace with Fatah when they have no power over Hamas who control Gaza? We envisage democracy for the West Bank and the future Palestinian State. And if Hamas is voted in? they will simply revoke all signed Peace agreements!

Today's headline from Hamas: ""The Land of Palestine ... is purely owned by the Palestinians," senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar said in a speech. "No person, group, government or generation has the right to give up one inch of it." "Anyone who stands in the face of resistance or fights it or cooperates with the occupation against it is a traitor,"

4. On the other hand, can we really let the situation just "sit"? We all know the demographic equation. We all realise that the more time progresses, the more a solution becomes difficult. No one wants to rule over a million Palestinians who don't want us. Do we want to be manning roadblocks for the next 40 years? Do we want to be an occupying army for the foreseeable future? Maybe we have to make a painful cut and just have it be over and done with.

But at what price? Land? the Old City? the Kotel? at the price of missiles in our cities?

5. I fear that the Palestinians do know what it means to stop this. They will agree to something and then press on with further claims and more and more. And the world will simply back them.

See the post with Shlomo Ben Ami (below)

I fear that Olmert is doing this to gamble that he can strengthen Fatah over Hamas. Haven't we learned (from Lebanon and PA) that we are powerless to manoeuvre and meddle in Arab politics?

I fear that some of this is about Iran. Olmert thinks that if we "solve" the Palestinian "front" it will give no justification for Iran to threaten us with Nuclear Weapons. I think he is fooling himself. They will simply cook up a reason.

As you can see, I am rather fearful of this conference.

Palestinians Unable To Compromise?

On the eve of the Annapolis conference, please see this excerpt by Shlomo Ben Ami. He was the chief negotiator and FM at Camp David in 2000, the last , failed Peace Summit. he is a unfailing left winger and Peace Activist. This is what he said in a Haaretz interview on Sept 13 2001 about the failure of Camp David:

"Intellectually, I can understand their logic. I understand that from their point of view, they ceded 78 percent [of historic Palestine]at Oslo, so the rest is theirs... But when all is said and done, after eight months of negotiations, I reach the conclusion that we are in a confrontation with a national movement in which there are serious pathological elements. It is a very sad movement, a very tragic movement, which at its core doesn't have the ability to set itself positive goals.
At the end of the process, it is impossible not to form the impression that the Palestinians don't want a solution as much as they want to place Israel in the dock of the accused. They want to denounce our state more than they want their own state. At the deepest level they have a negative ethos. This is why unlike Zionism, they are unable to compromise...."

His comments (BTW that relate to Fatah) basically relate to the fact that the Palestinians do not have a positive State building culture. Their entire national mindset is based upon the psychology of the victim. The world Bank have given them billions. we gave them Gaza. They didn't transform Gaza into housing projects, rivieras and Hi-Tech development parks as they promised. Where is the infrastructure, the institution-building? But they DO have a pathetic culture of self-victimisation. Can they emancipate themselves from it?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Israelis ARE connected to religion!

Some people, and much of the Israeli political elite and media like to think of Israel as a cosmopolitan, liberal, secular country. Well, in a recent study it is absolutely clear that a vast majority of Israelis have a significant connection to religion. (see the study here).

HaAretz put it this way:

Just 20 percent of Jews in Israel describe themselves as secular, according to a recent poll. Since the early 1970s, surveys that have measured Israeli Jews' affinity to tradition have fluctuated among various communities. But the recent figures represent a new low point for the secular community. For example, in 1974, the number of those describing themselves as secular stood at more than 40 percent. The new Democracy Index conducted by the Guttman Center at the Israel Democracy Institute, is based on 1,016 interviews.

... (amongst the population those who claimes) some form of religious affiliation (Traditional, were) 93 percent of Mizrahim (sephardi Jews) and 64 percent of Ashkenazim.

I found another statistic fascinating. Of those BORN in Israel today, 85% stated that they have some connection to Judaism. Of those 36.7 say they are Dati, and 48.3 are Masorti (Traditional.)

To me, there is enormous potential here. anyone who sees Israelis as "secular" or devoid of religion is certainly making a mistake. However, we should also not get carried away here. Even the religious will be easily deterred with religious coercion, a bad religious educational system, religious role models that are corrupt. Without insistence upon a principled, moral, sensitive, loving and caring, rigorous and intelligent Judaism, religion will still lag far behind in the public consciousness.

Shavua Tov!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

When To Speak Out

"Shimon and Levi are brothers;
Their weapons are tools of lawlessness.
Let not my person be included in their council,
Let not my being counted in their assembly.
For in anger, they slew a man,
And they uprooted an ox.
Cursed be their anger so fierce,
And their wrath so relentless.
I will divide them in Yaakov,
And scatter them in Israel." (v.5-7)

These are Yaakov's words to his two sons, as he lies dying on his death-bed. This is his parting message and it is quite the indictment! Yaakov curses Shimon and Levi, or more accurately, he curses their anger and violence. He tells them that they should be scattered and dispersed in Israel. This is a damning condemnation.

If the issue is so clear to Yaakov, then why does Yaakov remain so silent in our parasha? Why does he speak only years later? If Yaakov seems so sure that their acts were harmful, immoral, then he should have said something at the time that the atrocity occurred, not to wait forty years![1]

One approach might suggest the following resolution. The true moral voice is Bereshit 49 in which Yaakov's condemns Shimon and Levi. As for his silence at the time, it might simply follow the proverb that we know from Pirkei Avot:

"Do not (try to) placate a friend in his moment of anger;
Do not (attempt to) comfort him while his dead relative lies before him." (Avot 4:23)

In the heat of the moment, one cannot discuss the moral implications. Shimon and Levi will not be open to Yaakov's ethical rebuke. Years later, when the passions have calmed, Yaakov takes his final moments to sound a clear moral message for all time, putting his personal moral opinion before his sons, and with the writing of the Torah, before all of Am Yisrael. There is no ambiguity here, no hesitation. One simply has to find the correct moment in which to issue a rebuke of this magnitude. Yaakov knew that he had to wait for such an opportunity. He found it only on his deathbed.

So this is one possibility.

Rav Yehudah Shaviv (a prolific writer, who lives and teaches in the Gush,) saw the dichotomy differently. He focuses upon Rashi's comments to verse 6:

"For in anger, they slew a man: This is Sh'chem and Chamor
And they uprooted an ox: They sought to uproot Joseph, who is called an Ox (Deut 33:17)"

Here Yaakov draws a direct connection between the Sh'chem episode and the sale of Joseph. At the time, Yaakov saw certain justifications for the actions of Shimon and Levi. He didn't condemn their actions. Maybe there is a certain guilt to a town that harbours criminals, not bringing them to justice.

But after the Joseph affair, Yaakov sees things differently. Once you have murdered, a further murder seems less intimidating. Murder becomes a realistic option, not an unthinkable crime. The fact that Shimon and Levi had killed Sh'chem allowed them to consider murdering Yoseph[2]. They had learned that they could channel insult and indignation in the direction of violence, homicide. They began by killing criminals, they tried to kill their brother.

At the time, their actions seemed justified. In hindsight, the violence in Sh'chem came to be viewed as the moment in which the brothers lost their innocence, they became jaded and morally clouded[3]. It was indeed, a crime.

Yaakov realises that a direct linkage connects the Sh'chem killings, with the attempted murder and subsequent sale of Joseph.

According to the first explanation, Jacob was correct in not issuing a rebuke in our parasha. According to the second argument, Yaakov's lack of response was a total lack of moral guidance, which was in error. The devastating effects of his silence became clear only much later.


[1] At least 40 years, and probably longer. 22 years of Yoseph's exile and a further 17 years during which Yaakov lived in Egypt. There are at least 40 years between the Sh'chem affair and Yaakov's death.
[2] Rashi in Bereshit 42:24 suggests that Shimon and Levi were the prime instigators in suggesting the option of murdering Joseph.
[3] If I recall correctly, Rav Shaviv intimated that had Rabbis been more forthright in absolute condemnation of Baruch Goldstein's massacre of Arabs, the legitimacy would have never been found for Yigal Amir's assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Or – if we are quiet when a Jew kills a non_jew (Shchem), then the next stage will be a Jew killing a Jew! (Yoseph)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Northern Exposure

In Shabbat's Haaretz, there was a worrying article by Meron Rappaport. (I have searched for the article online and not found it ... I wonder why they chose not to post it?) The article says something like this.

The govt. is offering lots of incentives to move to Yishuvim (villages) in the Galil. This, all with an aim to Judaise the Galil. Nice idea, don't you think? Well, listen to this!

What is REALLY happening is that most people who take these benefits are not from Tel Aviv. They are actually already living in Galilee towns. They are moving out of Carmiel and Natzeret Illit and Maalot to nice houses with gardens in nice moshavim and yishuvim.

And who is buying their homes in the cities? Arabs. So the worry is that if this continues, Natzeret Illit, Maalot and Carmiel will soon be "mixed" towns. Or as one Galil Arab put it, in 10 years time, there will be an Arab mayor of Natzeret Illit!

already 62% of children born in the Galil are Arab. Worrying to say the least. Here we are discussing the West Bank and annapolis and before our very eyes, the Bedouins are populating the Negev and the Israeli Arabs are moving into our prime Galilee towns. And even the govt. initiative is backfiring!!

And do you know what the mayor of Natzeret said when faced with these statistics? - "Don't worry, we'll open a neighbourhood for Haredim... look what they did in Beit Shemesh?"

Anyhow, yet another worrying phenomenon in our lovely land. (in case you were feeling like theer was nothing in particular troubling you today.) Boy! sometimes the sheer number of challenges seems way too much!

UPDATE (Nov 21) - see this article in Jpost. Demographic threats. Worrying indeed! Most worrying line says that in TWELVE years "Jewish and Palestinian population figures in about 12 years from now will be equal, he said, but two years later, the Jews will be a minority. " What implications does this have for the Peace process?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

King and Country

I was amazed this week to read about the marriage, 60 years ago, of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. This is what the archives - recently opened - tell us about their wedding:

"Princess Elizabeth, as she was then, and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten were married at the height of postwar and rationing; like all brides at the time the Princess had to save up her clothing ration coupons for her wedding dress.

The book says that the government gave the couple the standard extra 200 clothing coupons, allowed to all brides, but that they were also inundated with coupons sent by women from all over the country - all sent back because passing on coupons was illegal. Among gifts from abroad were 131 pairs of nylons and 500 cases of tinned pineapples from the governor of Queensland. The New York Institute of Dress Designers sent 25 dresses as a gift, 20 of which were given to other brides getting married at the same time.

…Anxious not to appear too extravagant at a time of rationing, the royal family limited the wedding breakfast to 150 guests and three courses, with partridge as the main dish since it was not rationed."

I was amazed because I didn't realise that even the queen was rationed during/after WWII. It is incredible to see the Royal family as bound by the same rules of the rank and file, sharing in the distress and suffering of the nation, having to exercise a degree of restraint and modesty in difficult times.

Indeed, this is the true Jewish way. The king is instructed (Devarim 17) לבלתי רום לבבו מאחיו - "that he not raise his head above his brethren". A Jewish king must be accessible to the nation and not be so aloof, allowing himself to become detached from his nation.

I was connecting all this with our current leadership here in Israel. Sometimes I really get this sense of an ivory tower.

A friend said to me today; how is it that Olmert hasn't spent a few days living in Sderot? The city is daily under rocket fire. How can he not go there and share at least symbolically in their daily torment?

Likewise, I was jarred by the arrogance of this statement today. The High School teachers have been on strike for a month now. For over a month kids have not attended school. Does Olmert care enough to come off his high-horse? This is a quote as to why Olmert sees no reason to engage the teachers in conversation

"With all due respect, there is no reason why the union head should meet with the prime minister in person," he said. "The finance and education ministers have my full backing in carrying out the negotiations and reaching an agreement. The teachers must take part in our plan to reform the education system and make it better. The strike is uncalled for."

If students have not been in school for a month, then however much faith and belief you have in your Education and Finance minister, one would imagine that the PM might care enough to intervene. This is a national crisis of extreme proportions.

Or maybe he is simply so out of touch that he doesn't quite get it?

I love the accounts of Begin who lived in a 2 room Tel Aviv apt. which would be filled with the Likud faithful - the Amcha, rank and file - every Shabbat afternoon to talk and debate ideology. Leaders have to lead. They need to be above the nation in some way, and yet they also must know how to be in touch with the people, to share in their pain, to empathise, to be connected.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Running on Faith (The Treadmill Prayer)!

This, by Yedidya Meir in Haaretz is a lovely satirical piece about Tefilla, and beyond the satire, has much depth and truth. I have been teaching Prayer in my Jewish Philosophy class at Eretz Hatzvi. So I think I will be giving it to my Talmidim to read and comment upon this Tuesday. Enjoy and Shavua Tov!!

Run for your life
By Yedidya Meir

One of the remarks a religiously observant person hears most in his life is "Let me tell you what bugs me most about religion ..." Usually the speaker begins by praising Judaism and its ways: "Listen, Judaism has really beautiful things to offer. The shiva [week-long mourning period], for example, is utterly enthralling." Then comes the bit that irritates them. For example, this unnecessary prohibition on traveling on Shabbat. Why? Who needs it? Or all this gobbledygook about "fruits of the sea." A complete nonstarter.

I have a great many responses, believe me, but sometimes I too get the urge to say what bugs me most about religion. It happens almost every day. You are standing and reciting a prayer that is important to you, that speaks to you and which you had planned to recite with total intentionality - and suddenly it's over. You felt nothing. That is, you were definitely concentrating, but on completely different things: the kids, the bank account, why there is still no replacement for the Channel 2 news anchor.

A brief explanation is in order for those readers who by chance do not pray. In contrast to the Sukkot lulav (palm branch), the Shabbat candles or the tefillin (phylacteries), prayer itself is a non-physical commandment. It is difficult and challenging spiritual work. For the greatest rabbis and for righteous people, those for whom prayer is a way of life, it may be easy, but for a rank-and-file Jew, it is very hard to recharge the prayer with new meaning each time. But that is exactly what the person is required to do. Someone once wrote that good prayer should be like a train journey: the landscape doesn't change, yet at every moment you see it from a different vantage point. So it is in prayer: The text is the same text, but a person journeys all his life, he does not stand in one place, and on each occasion he is meant to experience the prayer from the inner point he has reached.

That's the theory; now for the reality. I come to the synagogue on Shabbat morning, recite "Nishmat kol hai" ("The breath of every living being") - one of the most meaningful prayers - but feel nothing. And then, on Monday evening, while on the treadmill at home, clad in shorts and an undershirt, at the third kilometer, I hear via the iPod the song "Nishmat kol hai" - the same words - sung by Shlomo Carlebach, and am suddenly seized by tremendous excitement and potent intentionality: "The breath of every living being shall bless thy name, O Lord our God, and the spirit of all flesh shall ever glorify and extol thee, O our King. From everlasting to everlasting thou art God. But for thee we have no King, Deliverer and Savior to rescue, redeem and give sustenance and to show mercy in all times of trouble and distress; yea, we have no Sovereign but thee".

And the Jew goes nuts. Why? Because on Shabbat, when this prayer is part of the service, I wanted it so much, I absolutely craved it, but it just didn't happen. And now, of all times, on a treadmill in shorts - suddenly it comes? That, people, is the most annoying thing about religion.

According to a sample poll I conducted, I am not alone. Other observant Jews also find it easier to connect with God while cooking, driving, shopping, even while doing the dishes, with Jewish music in the background. For just that reason I recently decided to change my approach: When the Shabbat morning prayer arrives as you're running on the treadmill Monday evening, just to flow with it. If not on Shabbat, let it at least be on Monday. Athletic prayer is fine, too.

And then, after the song ends, after the thrill of the words "Therefore, the limbs which thou has fashioned for us, and the soul which thou hast breathed into us, and the tongue which thou hast set in our mouth, lo, they shall thank, bless, exalt and revere thee. They shall proclaim thy sovereignty, O our King" - I wipe off the sweat with a towel, tuck the undershirt into the shorts - for dignity's sake - and say in my heart:

"May it be thy will that this treadmill be as important to thee as though it were my seat in the synagogue, and this iPod as though it were a prayer book, and this towel that is wrapped around my neck as though it were a tallit, and may the thrill I felt in this song be as important to thee as though it were a prayer at its time and its place."

And then I go on running.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Technology Woes

Yes - You might have noticed that I am barely blogging. No. Nothing is wrong. In fact I have a ton of thoughts on the Israeli constitution, the Annapolis Conference, Global Warming, and what have you. I have lots of blogs in my mind. But no time to write.

Why - you may ask? I am crazy busy. I am also barely sleeping. And I will tell you the reason. Yes Doctor, I have a problem with my bandwidth.

The story started when I agreed to give webcasts for Torah in Motion, a wonderful intelligent Torah organisation in Toronto. To use the technology,I had to upgrade my bandwidth. That's fine.

I called the phone company, and my Internet provider to upgrade. They told me that it needs requested in writing signed and faxed. "Faxed? But I don't own a fax! Can I use email?? - No! Only Fax. So fine, I used the neighbours fax. 24hrs passed. No upgrade was evident. I called them. "We didn't get it. Fax it gain!" they said. I had to fax it in 3 times.

That was 10 days ago!

I'll cut a long story short. They upgraded. My uploading is fine. My downloading is faster than the standard (yipee!) BUT there is still some problem with my video connection. It freezes and delays and is non-functional and I have spent at least 20 hours on the phone to Barak (the Internet provider), Bezek and you name it! Every evening I have been on the phone for hours (yes, hours!) with the techie people and crawling on the floor reconnecting wires and modems and what have you. It has totally absorbed all my blogging time, sleep time, class preparation time, and my sanity!!!!

At last, today they are sending a technician! Now they are saying that it may be the modem, or the phone connections in my house.

I am actually really looking forward to my webcast (this evening) but technology is driving me nuts.

And boy - do I hate those automatic call systems they are simply infuriating!

One of the frustrations of technology mess-ups is the feeling of helplessness. If my bicycle breaks, I know what is wrong even if I cannot fix it. My vacuum cleaner broke, so I opened it and I could at least diagnose where the problem was. But with computers, it is all a black box. I haven't the first clue how the Internet works, never mind how my computer could be experiencing a download/upload problem.

But let's look at the bright side.
I know what ping is.
I know how to do a trace to an address on my computer.
I have some idea about PPoE and routers and modems and bandwidth.

It is all a learning process (sigh!) I guess.

I'll be back soon!


Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Joke to start the week

The Israeli Ambassador at the U.N. began, 'Ladies and gentlemen before I commence with my speech, I want to relay an old Passover story to all of you..

'When Moses was leading the Jews out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, he
had to go through whay seemed like a nearly endless Sinai desert.

When they reached the Promised Land, the people had become very thirsty and
needed water.

So Moses struck the side of a mountain with his staff and a pond appeared with crystal clean, cool water. The people rejoiced and drank to their hearts' content.

'Moses wished to cleanse his whole body, so he went over to the other side of the pond, took all of his clothes off and dived into the cool waters.

Only when Moses came out of the water, he discovered that all of his clothes had been stolen. 'And,' he said, 'I have reasons to believe that the Palestinians stole my clothes.''

The Palestinian delegate to the UN, hearing this accusation, jumps from his seat and screams out, 'This is a travesty. It is widely known that there were no Palestinians there at that time!'

'And with that in mind,' said the Israeli Ambassador, 'let me now begin my speech.'

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Television, the Internet and Bittul Zman!

When we got married, I told my wife that I didn't want to buy a T.V. It wasn't so much a religious decision but rather a practical one. You see, I have a very good track record of wasting vast amounts of time in front of televisions. I have years of experience at it, throughout my High School years and even during college. I can watch almost anything. Bad quality never used to be much of a deterrent. Something about the passive entertainment is just great for me. I love it. But it is such an awful waste of time. I didn't want to spend hours and hours just wasting time watching nothing particularly significant on the T.V.

A further T.V. anti-social habit is that I frequently spend time with the remote just switching back and forth between channels. It is as if one thinks that if I switch over there may just be something better. But in fact, one eventually turns off the T.V. with an empty feeling having spend far too much time watching absolutely nothing. (In the end, we did buy a T.V. which I barely watch, but that is another story.)

Why do I mention this? Because I do fear that the Internet has taken all those negative habits and now, I surf for hours , switching back and forth and it is wasting a great amount of my time. I flick back and forth between sites as if there might be something that I haven't seen yet. It is as if I am expecting the computer sites to thrill or entertain me. I could be learning pages of Gemara and instead I am reading the NY times or the weather or who knows what??

The problem of wasting time on the internet is compounded because I do use the computer to prepare classes, both typing notes and worksheets but also using the internet as a research tool. So I don't want to be offline. But then I just wander around my favourites list and other links, blogs and what have you. I just waste a phenomenal amount of time. The computer should be a tool that we control, not a machine that controls us.

What is to be done? Am I an internet addict? How does one cure oneself? Can I exhibit self-control? Should I move my computer out of my study? Are there any good rules out there to help a person restrain oneself from endlessly being attatched to being online? hmmm!

Something must be done!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Please Say Tehillim

For a very dear friend and student who has just been diagnosed with Leukemia.
His name is:
Shimon Elimelch ben Sima Rivka
שמעון אלימלך בן סימה רבקה

רפואה שלמה

Parashat Chayei Sarah: Yitzchak's Conversation

In the famous scene at the end of the parsha, Avraham's servant returns from Padan Aram. He brings home a very special woman, the woman who is to become Yitzchak's life partner.

"Isaac had just come back from the vicinity of Beer Lachai Ro-ee; He lived in the Negev. And Isaac went out to converse in the field towards evening, and looking up, he saw camels approaching. Raising her eyes, Rivka saw Yitzchak. She alighted from the camel and said to the servant, 'Who is that man walking in the field towards us?' And the servant said, 'That is my master." And she took her veil and covered herself."

Chazal in a famous passage suggest that Yitzchak was praying.

"Isaac instituted the afternoon prayer, as it says, and Isaac went out to meditate in the field towards evening, and 'meditation' means prayer, as it says, 'A prayer (tefilla) of the afflicted when he faints and pours out his meditation (sicho) before the Lord.'" (Berachot 26a)

Rashi adopts this reading of the verb "lasuach" - that Yitzchak was praying in the field.[1] However, from a purely textual basis, the words fail to specify that Yitzchak is engaged in prayer. Is the verb "lasuach" necessarily indicative of prayer, or possibly Yitzchak was conversing with another individual?

The Ibn Ezra suggests that Yitzchak

"Went to walk through the plants."

He sees the verb "lasuach" as related to "siach" – a plant! Hence Yitzchak goes out in the cool evening hours for a walk in nature[2]! The Rashbam takes a similar approach:

"He went out to plant trees and to talk to his workers."

Or the Ramban who suggests that we are dealing with an actual conversation:

"He conversed with his associates and friends."

It would appear that the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban have a good textual basis for their translations. They seem more literal somehow. We wonder why the Rashi chooses the unusual option of prayer. How did Rashi decide that prayer was the appropriate meaning here?

Now some might suggest that Rashi frequently resorts to Midrash. However I believe that in this cirumstance , there is a more solid foundation for Rashi's choice. Nechama Leibowitz[3] notes that the word "siach" as in plant, or tree, never appears in the grammatical form of a verb. It has only the Noun form. However, if you open a Concordance (or use the Bar Ilan disk!) and look up the verb "siach" as a verb. you will see that the verb as it appears in Tanach comes up almost exclusively (20 times!) in the context of self contemplation (in a religious context) or talking about God. The form of the verb is never used to describe a mundane conversation between people. And so, from a "Bekiut" knowledge of Tanach, Rashi deduced that Yitzchak must be meditating or thinking about God.

Possibly the Sephorno's reading is the most suitable:

"Yitzhak went to meditate in the field: He went off the path in order to 'pour out his conversation' to God. (He choseto pray specifically in) the field so that he would not be distracted by passers-by… and even before he prayed, he was answered (by Rivka's arrival.)"

Yitzchak knew that Avraham's servant was on a mission to find him a suitable wife. He was davening for a good "shidduch." And sure enough! He had barely started to pray and his prayers were answered!

[1] A view shared by theTHE Rasag and Rabbeinu Chananel
[2] See Radak
[3] In her book on Rashi's Commentary – a University course for the Open University (written with Moshe Ahrend)

Friday, October 26, 2007

She is Riding 80 km! Feel Free To Sponsor Aliza

My wife Aliza (I think in a moment of temporary insanity) has decided to ride on a 1-day charity bike ride on November 1st. It is to raise money for Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem. The ride goes from Tel Aviv to the hospital in Jerusalem (80 km). She has been in quite a training routine schlepping up and down the hills of Gush Etzion. I even accompanied her on one 15km ride. Never Again! I have never been so exhausted!

Anyhow, this is a call for Tzedaka and sponsoring. Please hit this link and donate. Anything would be happily accepted. It will boost Aliza's riding power next Thursday and provide funds for a wonderful hospital.

To Donate: Go to this site. Decide in which currency you wish to donate. Then look up the name Aliza Israel and donate generously!

Alyn is an incredibly impressive rehabilitation hospital for children and teens. Aliza and the big kids visited it earlier this year (at their own initiative, I might add) on Purim, when they distributed Mishloach Manot provided by our friends and neighbors in Alon Shvut to the kids there. Alyn is one of the world's leading specialists in the active and intensive rehabilitation of infants, children and adolescents regardless of religion or ethnic origin and is affiliated with a broad range of physical disabilities. (You can read more about the hospital itself at

Thanks in advance and – wish Aliza lots of luck on this hills!