Thursday, August 30, 2007

God and the Wicked

Here is yet another classic question that was thrown in my direction by a sweet 12 year old at BA camp. He said: "We just learnt in a shiur that God loves all his creations. Well, I was just wondering then. Did God love Hitler?"

- Gulp! Try answering that "on one foot."

Now I don't know where we know that God loves all his creations, but there ARE a multitude of places in which God talks about hating evil. Now, there is the famous Gemara (Berachot 10b) with Beruria in which it is suggested that God hates evil, rather than evil people. One can examine texts such as these: eg. ה' צדיק יבחן ורשע ואוהב חמס שנאה נפשו (תהילים י"א) and אוהבי ה' שנאו רע, or even better - Mishlei 11: באבוד רשעים רינה.

On the one hand:

(ט) טוֹב יְדֹוָד לַכֹּל וְרַחֲמָיו עַל כָּל מַעֲשָׂיו:

But on the other:

(כ) שׁוֹמֵר יְדֹוָד אֶת כָּל אֹהֲבָיו וְאֵת כָּל הָרְשָׁעִים יַשְׁמִיד:

But I learnt a Mishna this week that seems to tip things in favour of God's concern for ALL his creations, even criminals. When talking about Capital Punishment, the Mishna in Massechet Sanhedrin says:

משנה מסכת סנהדרין פרק ו משנה ה
אמר ר' מאיר בשעה שאדם מצטער שכינה מה הלשון אומרת כביכול קלני מראשי קלני מזרועי אם כן המקום מצטער על דמם של רשעים שנשפך קל וחומר על דמם של צדיקים

In other words, God loves all people. He hates evildoing. And yet, even the suffering or death of the evildoer gives Him distress.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ki Tetze - Eshet Yefat Toar and War Conflicts

Much has been said about the "beautiful woman" seized as a prisoner of war, and forcefully taken as a bride by an Israelite soldier. Many have been troubled by this seeming lapse of morality on the part of the Torah. Can the Torah sanction such an abuse of Human Rights?

Rashi talks about a concession to human weakness, and that in fact the efforts of the Torah are to ensure that this woman is NOT taken as a wife, but is instead returned to her family and nation. Admittedly, here the concern is for the spiritual integrity of Israel rather than the woman in question. But see this shiur by Rav Sabato who presents the Rambam's view (who suggest that this woman has already been raped,) that in fact the entire parsha is expressing some form of humanity and sensitivity to this woman rather than abandoning her.

I had a new insight on this topic reading an article about female refugees in the current current Iraqi situation. The reports talk about widescale prostitution in the wake of major war and population displacement, as women are destitute and have no other recourse to income and finance. This put the parsha in a new light. Rashi says that the women went to the battlefield to seduce Jewish soldiers. But maybe, this is simply a reality of the fallout of war situations. And if these women are indeed in this situation, maybe the Torah is being realistic in its attempt to grapple with this very tragic but a most probable reality.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shaatnez Awareness

This week's parsha contains the Mitzva of Shaatnez. In short, a Jew may not wear clothing that contains a mixture of wool and linen. Even a single thread of linen in a wool suit or sweater will disqualify that garment. Wearing it constitutes a Torah transgression (DeOraita.)

Recently when buying a new suit, I looked for local Shaatnez testers. I found a very useful list here. However when looking at the (Israeli) list I was surprised that pretty much all the checkers are in Haredi communities. Here is a Mitzva Deoraita! Where are the Shaatnez checkers in Efrat, in Beit El, in Petach Tiqva and the like? Are people simply unaware of the mitzva?

Now admittedly checking for Shaatnez is a pain. who wants to rip apart a new garment? We want to wear a new piece of clothing. Who wants to send it away for yet a further 3-5 days to have it checked? And yet, this "pain" is part of what being frum means. I remember that once a bought a jacket. i wanted to wear it for a simcha and I said to myself that once or twice wouldn't hurt... after all what were the chances that it had Shaatnez? Sure enough, when I DID check it, they found Shaatnez in the small material that lined the inner seam of the breast pocket! So this is not a place to take risks!

Now admittedly, Haredim wear suits daily and the Rel-Zionist community barely wear suits. In addition, certain Israeli firms sell suits already Shaatnez checked. For example if you buy a "Bagir" suit, it will invariably have label affirming that it is free of Shaatnez. And yet, I still get a sense that there is great lack of awareness of this important Mitzva in our circles. People do buy wool suits, sweaters and trousers/skirts. Some of these should be checked. I wonder if Dati-Leumi schools have Shaatnez checkers come to the school to present their trade? Again, the lack of local Shaatnez labs in Dati-Leumi areas gives me a worrying feeling here.

Let me know if I am wrong.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Another Thought for Elul

This is from a simple book by Martin Buber called "The Way of Man" based on Chassidic ideas. This is the opening Chapter.


Rabbi Shneur Zalman, The Rav of Northern White Russia (died 1813), was put in jail in Petersburg, because the mitnagdim had de­nounced his principles and his way of living to the government. He was awaiting trial when the chief of the gendarmes entered his cell. The majestic and quiet face of the rav, who was so deep in meditation that he did not at first notice his visitor, suggested to the chief, a thoughtful person, what manner of man he had before him. He began to converse with his prisoner and brought up a number of questions which had occurred to him in reading the Scriptures. Finally he asked: 'How are we to understand that God, the all-knowing, said to. Adam: " Where art thou?"

'Do you believe,' answered the rav, 'that the Scrip­tures are eternal and that every era, every generation and every man is included in them?'

'I believe this,' said the other.

'Well then,' said the zaddik,' in every era, God calls to every man: "Where are you in your world? So many years and days of those allotted to you have passed, and how far have you gotten in your world?" God says something like this :"You have lived forty-­six years. How far along are you?",

When the chief of the gendarmes heard his age mentioned, he pulled himself together, laid his hand on the rav's shoulder, and cried: 'Bravo!'

But his heart trembled.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Life Insurance (and Rosh Chodesh Elul)

On my recent visit to Bnei Akiva camp, I had a fabulous conversation with one particular 13-year-old. We were sitting at lunch on the same table. With myself being one of the few adults over the age of 22 in the vicinity, I imagine that he assumed I knew a little about life, and so he asked me a question:

"What is life insurance?"

Now, I have to say that I was more than a little surprised by this of all questions coming like a flash out of the blue. I mean, we were sitting in a rather raucous Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall) in a random field somewhere in Kent. Life insurance seemed quite far from everything around. But I answered him, and explained what life insurance is in a sort of basic way.

And then I asked him why he was interested in life insurance. He answered:

"Well, I was thinking... because, y'see, I have insurance on my laptop, and if it breaks they fix it for free. So I was wondering, what is life insurance?"

And I thought; what stunning logic! I love the way these children's brains function.

And here we are, approaching Chodesh Elul and the 40 days that lead up to Yom Kippur, the 40 day period of God's grace and our personal introspection, Teshuva, and improvement.

We all want life insurance. On Rosh Hashanna we ask, "Who will live and who will die?" We all want life. We want to somehow security taht we will be signed and sealed for a good year. How can we ensure this? We are not laptops! We cannot pay a monthly fee to be fixed, to be refurbished. No! Our life insurance - that which will keep us living a quality, meaningful existence in this world - is when we go to work on ourselves. Only through sincere and contrite self-examination and personal control can we restore our factory settings! If we desire life, it isn't $29:99/month, but hard work on our personality, our bad habits and failures. Through Teshuva we receive assurance of life.

Virtual Shemitta - Virtual Israel

Today I came across a the most absurd article. It says that Jews around the world are being offered the chance to Keep Shemitta! Yes... even if you live in London, Melbourne, Monsey or Beverly Hills, you can purchase tiny plots of land for $180. Thus, you can stay in chu"l and "keep" shemitta limehadrin!

What a load of nonsense. Shemitta is a massive challenge. Both individually and nationally, the questions that it raises, both Halakhic and theological, are enormous. However, you have to be here to keep Shemitta!

We live in a world where we don't ever want to miss out, where the Internet connects us into a global village. But this is too much! How can you remain there and "fulfil" Shemitta here? Shemitta is something that is embedded in the clods of earth, the economic and social environment of a living breathing land. If you want to keep Mitzvot Hetluyot Bararetz (religious laws that regulate agriculture) , then live BaAretz!