שמע ישראל יי אלהינו יי אחד

צִיּוֹן, בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה; וְשָׁבֶיהָ, בִּצְדָקָה

עוּרִי עוּרִי לִבְשִׁי-עֹז, זְרוֹעַ יְהוָה--עוּרִי כִּימֵי קֶדֶם, דֹּרוֹת עוֹלָמִים

31 August 2009

Why I Choose To Come Home: Part I

Whenever I mention to a non-Jew that I am going to move home to Eretz Yisrael they invariably ask one of two things: "Are you from there?" and, "Isn't it dangerous over there?"

To the first question I answer, "Yes. My family got exiled from Jerusalem by the Romans and ended up in Spain. When we got kicked out of Spain we're pretty sure we ended up in Turkey, and then eventually crossed the Black Sea and settled in Ukraine until we moved to America in the early 20th century." Then they look at you for a minute while they take it in, and then say, "Wow, that's so cool," or something similar.

As to the second question, which is no doubt a question about terrorism, I answer that I have a far better chance of getting hit by an Israeli driver crossing the street than I do being killed by an act of terrorism.

The question they seldom ask, unless they are really curious, is, "Why do I want to move there?" Truth is that I have always known that at some point in my life I was going to make aliyah. I was just a matter of when.

There has never been a point in my life that Israel has not been at the center of my consciousness. My great-grandmother used to sew dolls and clothing for the children of the Halutzim back in the days of the Mandate. She and my grandmother were very involved in raising funds and awareness about both Shaare Zedek and Hadassah Hospital. And, speaking of bad drivers, most Israelis have no idea how close you came to losing Golda Meir when she came to our city back in the 50's on a fundraising tour for Israel bonds. My grandmother was responsible for chauffeuring her around town. No doubt when she returned to Israel Golda told harrowing tales of riding in a car with a short Jewish woman white knuckling it around corners on two wheels while sitting on top of a pile of phone books. I kid...a little. There weren't any phone books. Let's put it this way, when it came to driving, my grandmother, may the Holy One bless and keep her eternal soul, could have taken on anyone in Israel in a bad driving competition.

My mother carried on the tradition; raising money for the hospitals, UJA, Federation, you name it. I stuffed my blue JNF box, which I still have, with change and turned it into trees. When the UN voted in '75 that Zionism was racism, we were out in the streets. I'm pretty sure my mom still has our "Zionism is not racism" buttons.

I think you get the idea.

But the most important reason is obvious, at least it is to me. It's where I'm from. It's my home.

So you're probably wondering how it is I'm still in America at this point.

Don't rush me. I'm getting there.

29 August 2009

I Will Make You A Great Nation There כִּי-לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשִׂימְךָ שָׁם

This past week I read something that I can't recall ever hearing out of the mouth of any Jew; that Israel does not have a religious claim on Jerusalem, only a nationalist claim, as it is the capital of Israel. I found it simultaneously disheartening, and maddening.

Dan Meridor was quoted as saying this in Der Speigel. Now I've read an account of the interview during which the statement was made, in which the "journalist" doing the interview was overtly belligerent, steering the interview in an attempt to make Meridor defend Israel as being racist, fascist, whatever the attack du jour was at the time. But what does it mean when a Jew says there is only a nationalist claim, not a religious one?

Isn't that the point of the Jewish people being in Jerusalem...Ir HaKodesh?

I saw this as an attempt to divorce the State of Israel from the spiritual connection that the People of Israel have with the land, with Jerusalem. I have felt for a long time that this attempted division has essentially been Israel's biggest problem; not the Arabs, not the Jew hating world community, but Israel's inability at the highest level to fully embrace the notion that Eretz Yisrael is the land of the Jewish people. It is not ours to give away, to divide ourselves from. It is ours to make bloom. It is ours because it is the one place over the last 3000 some-0dd years that we have had control of our national destiny...because it is our home. It is our home as it is the physical embodiment of our covenant with the G-d of Israel.

Refusing to say that is why we have successive governments ending up in negotiations with avowed killers of Jews while removing Jews from their lands, uprooting their communities, and destroying the work of their hands...instead of uprooting and destroying our enemies. This is why Olmert didn't lead the country in defeating Hezbollah, or Hamas, and why Israel allows Fatah, the PLO, the PFLP, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs, and the rest of the alphabet soup to continue to operate and exist. They were just allowed to hold their international Plot the Destruction of Israel convention in Beit Lechem, voted that destroying Israel is at the top of the "To Do" list, and yet the Prime Minister is still entertaining negotiations with them. To what end? They will commit a mass act of Tshuva and embrace Israel and the Jewish people?

Then I began to rethink Meridor's statement. He is right, we do have a nationalist claim to Yerushalayim...it is our capital. But our nationalist claim is our religious claim. It was then that I fully understood something. I had always seen the Jewish people of having a duel identity; as a nation, and as a religion. It's really a false division. There really is no Jewish "religion." We are in fact a nation. We live by a set of laws, like any other nation. But Am Yisrael's laws not only serve to guide us in issues of how we are to conduct ourselves, but are designed to establish and maintain our nation's relationship with the G-d of Israel.

We wear tefillin, pray three times a day, keep kosher, celebrate certain festivals, not because the nation of Israel created a religion, but because it is prescribed that our nation do these things. These are things the nation of Israel just does, or is supposed to do anyway. So, when a Jew is asked what religion they are perhaps it is more accurate to say that he or she does not have a religion, but that they are of the nation of Israel. The only problem is that most goyim are not going to have any idea what you're talking about so you're going to have to give them an explanation like I just did.

I have a feeling that if the Jewish state operated more like the Nation of Israel it would be less difficult for goyim to understand, and Israeli politicians wouldn't be so willing to discount or misrepresent the relationship between Israel and Jerusalem, and the Land of Israel.

Shavuah Tov

24 August 2009

Loaner Tefillin

My local Chabad rabbi, and dear friend, has leant me a pair of tefillin while I wait to have my parshiyot inspected. If they're still kosher they will get enclosed in new gassot batim, akin to the pair I am using now.

I've never worn gassot before. Let me tell you, it's like I'm wearing tefillin for the first time. Some serious cages are going to be rattled with these things on.

Thank you Rabbi for all your help, and lending these tefillin to me. L'chaim!

When I picked up the tefillin from him we talked a bit about the Haftorah for Shoftim, how incredible it is, like a shockwave that knocks your soul into gear.

In that brief chat I realized something that I hadn't really put into words. I love Torah. It's so laden with treasure, for me mostly undiscovered. But the Naviim...that's where I feel the soul of HaShem unfiltered, unmasked, speaking to us directly through these amazing avatars.

On Shabbat we touched on the question of why there are no prophets now, why is HaShem not speaking to us? In other words, where are the Yeshayahus, the Yechezkels? So I anwered that the problem is not that HaShem is not speaking to us. The issue is our ability to hear what the G-d of Israel is saying to us.

I need to make more time for that.

23 August 2009

Where Is Nachshon?

In her latest post at Shiloh Musings, Batya decries the spinelessness of the Israeli government in its failed attempts to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, who is about to celebrate another birthday in captivity this Wednesday.

No one from the Red Cross has seen him in all the time of his captivity, and let's be honest, people make more of an effort to say "G-d bless you" to a sneezing stranger than the Red Cross has made to try and see Shalit. But then, he's just a Jew, right?

She goes on wondering why it is that Israel in turn coddles her enemies in her prisons with internet access, television. Even Barghouti is allowed regular contact with his henchmen via telephone. The world tears clothes and dons sackcloth and ashes for these murderers, while Shalit, who was on the Israeli side of the border, not even engaged in a combat situation when he was kidnapped, doesn't even register on the roster of human rights organizations, nor is his name uttered by the Resident in the White House, or his Secretary of State while she announces the US is transferring $200 million into the pockets of his kidnappers' enablers in the Palestinian Authority.

Successive Israeli Governments have just been embarrassments and failures. It's time to stop and use the strength G-d has given us. Nachshon, where are you?

Batya is right. The Israeli government, regardless of who has led it, has failed to stand up for the Jewish people, our right to our land, our right to be free of violence and genocide, and for the freeing of our soldiers.

But who is Nachshon?

The Sefer HaAggadah tells us that when the Israelites were pinned between the oncoming chariots of Pharoah and Yam Suf, the tribes were bickering among themselves as to who would be the first to enter the water. In the midst of this Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Yehuda took it upon himself to enter the water. When the water reached his nose the waters receded and the whole of Israel entered.

Is there a more appropriate reference to what Israel requires now? The politicians argue back and forth, the games get played over and over. Meanwhile the international community, led by a racist baffoon in the White House, bears down on the Jewish state, and her enemies on her borders lick their lips, waiting for the opportunity to end Israel once and for all. While Israel once again stands between the chariots and the sea, who among the nation will take the leap of faith required to undo the schemes of our enemies, and help clear a path to achieving the kind of Israel the Jewish people want, and that HaShem desires?

Do we wait for a Nachshon to instigate the parting of the waters, or does that spirit reside in all of us? The Midrash goes on to say that while all this was happening Moshe was praying. G-d asks why he is wasting his time praying when the people are in mortal danger. Moshe replies that he doesn't know what else to do. HaShem tells Moshe to bid the people to enter the water, and to lift his rod. Essentially G-d tells Moshe to lead. There are leaders in Israel with the vision, but in the end it is up to the people to rise up, to leap into the waters, and clear the path, to do what the politicians cannot.

Here in the States, the American people face the same dilemna. The Constitution is assaulted and people wonder who is going to lead them to take it back. Now they are finding they will have to do it themselves. Israel is no different.

One person can make a difference. One person can set events in motion, have the vision, but the will must live in the hearts of the people. The love of Eretz Yisrael, and the love of G-d that dwells in the heart of Israel must emerge, without fear, and make the waters part. In that place Nachshon will be found.

Maybe it's this guy. We'll see. Regardless, the People of Israel are going to have to release the power of their love of the land, and of HaShem, to see the changes that need to be made, to see the liberation of her captive sons, and the liberation of the land.

Tefillah on Har HaBayit

Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, of the Temple Institute, led a group of Jews to the Har HaBayit today to pray at our holiest site. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa naturally attacked the rights of Jews to pray there.

From Arutz Sheva:
[Moussa stated]"For the first time since '67, Jews are holding prayers in Al-Aksa during Ramadan in violation of international law, and we condemn it." He called the prayer "a hard blow to the [Muslim -ed.] holiness of the place, with no connection to it being during the month of Ramadan or another day."

Why is it that when Arabs and Muslims choose to condemn the Jews they always invoke non-existent international law? There is no international law banning Jews from Har HaBayit at Ramadan, or any other time. Muslims would do well to remember that they even have access to their mosques due to the policies of the Israeli government.

When a political or religious body denies the Jews access to their holiest sites for contrived reasons that are purely based in racism toward, and hatred of the Jewish people they themselves demonstrate they are unworthy of having access to the site themselves, the Jewish blood they have on their hands aside.

When Jordan joined the Arab armies in invading Israel in 1948 they divided the city of Jerusalem for the first time in its history, forcibly evicting the entire Jewish population to the western side of the city. Our holy sites were desecrated and Jews were of course forbidden to enter. Now the world stupidly believes the Arab lie that there were never any Jews in Jerusalem, and that there was never a Temple.

When Israel forced the Jordanians out of Judea and Samaria, Jewish lands the Arabs claim as "Palestinian," Jerusalem was reunited and the Temple Mount reclaimed. But even in victory, and in the face of this miraculous event, Israeli leaders decided to kowtow to the Arabs and give the administration of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf.

Now the Arab League invents the new lie of a fictional international law preventing Jewish worship on Har HaBayit.

When will we have leadership in Jerusalem that will remove Waqf control? It is an afront to HaShem that we have given over this place to the Muslims who seek our death. No prayer on Har Habayit? A synagogue should be built there as the first steps to rebuilding the Temple.

While we wait Jews should pray on Har HaBayit. They should go in greater and greater numbers. How can we merit rebuilding the Temple when too many of our people are afraid to go there, when the leadership of Israel will most likely allow Jews to be assaulted for turning out in great numbers to pray there?

The Torah teaches that one must not do what is hateful to oneself to others. The corollary to this must be that one who treats others with hatred, racism, and contempt, should not expect to receive kindness and respect in return. I expect the Muslims to gnash their teeth, spit, and curse when a Jew takes their rightful place on Har HaBayit for tefillah. It is hateful to me that the government of Israel serves as an additional obstacle to Jewish prayer. Let the Waqf be banned from there and let the Muslims petition us for permission to come to a place that is not even mentioned in the Koran.

!הִתְעוֹרְרִי הִתְעוֹרְרִי, קוּמִי יְרוּשָׁלִַים

21 August 2009

What Would The World Be?

In The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel asks:

What would the world be without Sabbath? It would be a world that knew only itself or G-d distorted as a thing or the abyss separating Him from the world; a world without the vision of a window in eternity that opens into time.

So enjoy the view, and Shabbat Shalom!

20 August 2009


This Shabbat we will read parshat Shoftim, on the establishing and structure of just courts, and other legal issues. But at the moment I am more interested in the Haftorah, which comes from Sefer Yeshayahu, a reading particularly appropriate for Rosh Chodesh Elul.

הִתְעוֹרְרִי הִתְעוֹרְרִי, קוּמִי יְרוּשָׁלִַים, אֲשֶׁר שָׁתִית מִיַּד יְהוָה, אֶת-כּוֹס חֲמָתוֹ

Awaken yourself! Awaken yourself! Arise O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of HaShem the cup of His fury...

We are three weeks out of Tisha b'Av, the darkest period of mourning and now, as we enter Elul, when we move to purify ourselves, to shake off complacency, and sound the shofar to stir the soul to teshuva, the Navi calls on us to awaken, and though we faced the wrath, it is Hashem that will be our comfort...

כֹּה-אָמַר אֲדֹנַיִךְ יְהוָה, וֵאלֹהַיִךְ יָרִיב עַמּוֹ, הִנֵּה לָקַחְתִּי מִיָּדֵךְ, אֶת-כּוֹס הַתַּרְעֵלָה--אֶת-קֻבַּעַת כּוֹס חֲמָתִי, לֹא-תוֹסִיפִי
לִשְׁתּוֹתָהּ עוֹד.

HaShem takes the cup of fury from our hands, and we will never drink of it again. And then, in the final verses of the reading

כִּי-הֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵיכֶם יְהוָה, וּמְאַסִּפְכֶם אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

HaShem will go before us, the G-d of Israel will be our rear guard.

Not a bad way to walk into Elul, the time when we renew our relationship with HaShem. And something to look forward to...

19 August 2009

Rosh Chodesh Elul

It is erev Chodesh Elul, the night the Hebrew month of Elul begins. This month gives us thirty days to prepare for the Yomim Noraiim, the Days of Awe of Rosh Hashanah, and the 10 days leading to Yom Kippur.

It is a time for reflection, for preparation, meditation, and for storing up one's strength for the days that lie ahead when we will stand before HaShem and account for what we have accomplished, what we have not accomplished, the wrongs we have committed, and what we resolve to do about all those things moving forward.

To mark the month of Elul, and awaken the Jewish soul, the shofar, the horn of our people, is sounded every day of the month. What I dearly wish I could hear this year, when being in Galut is particularly difficult considering all that is happening in Israel, is the sound of the shofars of my people echoing through the hills of Yehuda and Shomron as they did in the days when the Mishkan, the Tabernacle resided in Shiloh. The ancient seat of our power is blooming again. It is alive with vineyards again, and song, and dancing, and for this month the shofar will sound and declare that we are here. We are in our lands. We are here to stand before G-d and be seen.

May the sound of the shofars of Yehuda and Shomron confound the minds of our enemies. May they know that HaShem is with His people, with all Am Yisrael. May it shake them to their bones with the knowledge that we are in the land and in the land we will remain.

May the thunder of the shofars of Yehuda and Shomron be heard in the halls of the Knesset and remind them of their obligation to remain steadfast for those who have placed their lives on the line, and in the land, and have risked everything for the safety of Jerusalem, and the future of the Jewish people.

And may the alarm of the shofar be heard in the White House and remind the power hungry and foolish that they have no right to dictate to the Jewish people what we can do in our land; whether it is legal or illegal to build in the land that we have called home for 4000 years, land for which we pray for rain, and dew, year after year, century after century.

May the blasting of the shofar strengthen our resolve to be defiant, be strong, and resolute in the face of our adversaries.

May it all be so.

18 August 2009

Shir HaMaalot: Part II

On my last trip to Israel (I can't bring myself to say how long it's been...it's too depressing) when we visited Har HaBayit, we were not allowed to go up to see the Foundation Stone. But we did get to see the excavations on the south side. Since I had been there last, archeologists had uncovered the steps that worshippers used to enter the Temple complex, and visitors could see the site. Three times a year, on the pilgrimage festivals of Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot the people would climb the steps sing the songs of ascent, the songs of the steps; the shir hamaalot.

I had a much more profound experience on the steps than I did at the Kotel, which Jews often mistakenly say is our holiest place. The Kotel is really just a retaining wall. It's a barrier. It's a reminder that we cannot get to our holiest place, that we cannot pray and worship the way we are supposed to because there are mosques on our holiest place. If one feels exiled living in a land outside Eretz Yisrael, you ironically can feel it more intensely standing at the Kotel, where you are in exile from the Beit Hamikdash, and all that it is for us.

The south side of the Temple Mount

The steps. As I said, I had a much more profound and meaningful experience there, and yet, like davening at the Kotel, it is a bittersweet place to be. A group of us started singing Shir HaMaalot as we made our way up. There are a series of psalms that are referred to as the Shir HaMaalot, which I referred to above. What we sang was the amalgam of those psalms that are sung at the beginning of the Grace after the Shabbat meal.

The first lines in English roughly translate:
When HaShem returned us to Zion from exile we thought we were dreaming, then our mouths filled with laughter and cheers were on our tongues.
That's exactly how it was for us, a bunch of Jews who came from America to visit our homeland. It was one of those magical moments that bring you right smack into your faith and history and fill you with everything good that being home represents. And then we got to the top of the steps.

At the top of the steps one can see the gates of entry were the people would enter. They are completely filled in, and above is Al-Aqsa. And just like that, joy and laughter turned to sadness because, like standing at the Kotel, there is a barrier keeping us from our holiest place.

The steps

Sadness gave over to anger. And at the bottom of the stairs, the anger gave over to hope; hope for the coming of the day when those entrances are unblocked, and all of Israel will come with lulav and etrog and dance the way we used to in Ir Hakodesh, the holy city.

I have got to get back to Yerushalayim. We all do.

To see a virtual model of the Herodian Temple Mount go here.

17 August 2009

A Sign Upon Your Arm

We are in a weird place right now. It's as if we have seen the lightning flash, the air mass has been split, and we are waiting for it to crash down and bring the thunder. It's not an easy place to be. I think that perhaps it is easier in Eretz Yisrael, because at least you are there. Here in Galut it is much more difficult to watch and wait.

We know where the White House stands. Marack wants Jerusalem divided. He wants Yesha evacuated. We know what Fatah and Hamas want; every Jew dead. We know what the Jews of Yesha want, to be able to live in the heart of the land given to us by HaShem so the Jewish people can live out their role in the redemption of Am Yisrael. What we don't know is what Bibi Netanyahu wants. And I cannot say what Kol Yisrael wants...really what it will do when the chips are down.

Peace cannot be made with Fatah and Hamas. Only the most stupid on the left know that now in light of what has happened since the destruction and expulsion of Gush Katif, and at the Fatah Genocide Jamboree last week in Beit Lechem. We also know that Fatah and Hamas will not make peace with Israel, in spite of Hamas' lie that they would make peace with Israel if they accept the 1967 border. Their charter remains unchanged. Their declaration to destroy Israel remains unchanged.

Now we must ask, what will the UN do. Israpundit had a post up yesterday outlining the steps that might be taken to unilaterally create Palestine in Judea and Shomron since neither Israel nor the Arabs can make peace with the other. Israel cannot make peace with bodies dedicated to slaughtering every last Jew, and the Arabs cannot make peace with a country it wants to destroy. So the question is, will the UN, the largest anti-Israel NGO on the planet move to create Palestine, creating its borders, determining who gets to live where, and what happens to Jerusalem? And if it does this, how will Israel respond?

Will the government mobilize the people to defend the communities of Yesha? Will it be silent? Will the IDF and the citizens of Israel rise up to fight any international force that attempts to enforce such a ruling? Will Jews in Galut rush to Israel's aid to help repel the invasion? Or will none of this come to pass?

One thing is certain, if one believes in the word of HaShem as delivered by the Naviim (a word commonly translated as prophets, but I think it is more accurate to say they were Avatars, channelling the word of G-d so that the people could hear it), then regardless of what happens, those who are faithful to HaShem, and desire to restore that relationship to the way it was, and elevate it to a new level, will see the redemption of Am Yisrael.

But will we be slaughtering each other in the streets as we were before the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple and Holy of Holies, or will we hear the call of the prophet Yeshaiyahu:

עוּרִי עוּרִי לִבְשִׁי-עֹז, זְרוֹעַ יְהוָה--עוּרִי כִּימֵי קֶדֶם, דֹּרוֹת עוֹלָמִים
Arise! Arise! Array yourself in strength, O
arm of Hashem--arise as in days of old, in generations past.

The Navi is clear. I believe that if we stand strong now in Eretz Yisrael, and in Galut, make our intentions known that we will not give in, that we will not yield, then perhaps we can avert bloodshed. I have a great deal of worry for Am Yisrael. We have faced many tests. We have survived and endured. I pray for the safety of all of Am Yisrael, in the land, and in exile. But most of all in Yehuda and Shomron. They are on the front line. They are most at risk. Will we stand with them and hold the line, or will we drive the bulldozers?

Arise! Arise!


This past Tisha b’Av I came to terms with a sad reality. My tefillin are pasul. I knew this was coming. I’ve worn these tefillin for a long time…all the years since my Bar Mitzvah. I wore them every morning at camp, and when I davened at home. Granted, it wasn’t always daily, but still, they got good use at home. I davened with them at the Kotel, and on top of Masada. I wore them when I helped make a minyan for Rabbi Joseph Telushkin so he could say Kaddish at Mincha on Tisha b’Av several years ago. They have served in times of joy and sadness, and have marked my times, as well as my arm. Considering the time, and that they are not gassot (thick ones), I’m pretty impressed at how well they held up.

For my non-Jewish readers I should probably explain what tefillin are. It is a pair of boxes made from the hide of a kosher animal. The thick ones are made from oxen. One is for the arm and one for the head. The boxes (batim) each contain parchment with verses from the Torah written on them (parshiyot). The box for the head has four separate chambers for the four verses, which are placed in a specific order. The one for the arm has one chamber with all four verses written together on one piece of parchment. Leather straps, retzuot, are used to bind them to the head and the arm. The box for the head (tefillin shel rosh) is made with the retzuot knotted to form the letter daled, which sits on the back of the head at the point where the medula oblongata passes through the foremen magnum. The box for the head (tefillin shel yad) has a knot made to form the letter yud, which should be pointing toward the wearer's heart. The letter shin appears on the tefillin shel rosh; one with 3 branches and another with four. These three letters form one of the names of G-d. When the tefillin shel yad is wrapped properly, these three letters are made on the hand as well.

Unfinished Batim

My retzuot, though still in good condition were getting shorter and shorter. I can still get them wrapped, but not as securely as in years past. But there isn’t a crack in the color at all, at least to my untrained eye. I need to have the parshiyot inspected, as at this time I don’t know whether they are still kosher. It’s the batim that have gone south. They are horribly warped. This happened over the last year or so. I thought I had noticed it before, but it was almost imperceptible. Now, it’s obvious.

Tefillin shel yad

It’s odd. I’m not going to pretend that I daven regularly. I don’t, not in the conventional sense. Is it strange that on my way to work I find myself saying the Birchot HaShachar in my head…or am I saying it out loud? But no, I don’t always daven daily, and sometimes go months at a time. But as Tisha b’Av was coming I resolved that I would get myself into better practice, and be more regular about it, daven daily again, and now I have no tefillin. I feel exposed, like a soldier at the front whose weapon has malfunctioned. Let this be a cautionary tale.

So what is the message that I am receiving from this, that I find my tefillin are pasul as I prepared to embark on this renewal? I suppose it is that I need to do more than simply reengage in ritual. The tefillin are a physical manifestation of the words of the Shema, which commands us to carry the word of G-d in our hearts at all times, wearing them as sign upon our hands, and frontlets between our eyes (there are deeper, mystical purposes for the tefillin but I won’t get into that here). As we approach the month of Elul I’m getting a message that I need to try and renovate from the bottom up, recommit myself to what is important.

And, bottom line, I need a new pair of tefillin. There are a lot of places to get them, some more reputable than others. I know the type of batim, the ktav of the parshiyot, the knots…and I want them to have been made in Israel. They are not cheap, but considering they are made by hand, and the parshiyot are not only time consuming to write, and must be done precisely, it is not a surprise that a fair bit of money must be spent to acquire them.

For example, if a letter in a word is found to be wrong in the middle of sentence that has already been written, the sofer, the person who writes the Torah verses on the parchment that is placed within the batim, has to bury the parchment and start over. It is an expensive proposition, and one that a sofer who possesses the true spirit necessary to carry out such work, expends an incredible amount of energy to complete, spiritually and physically.

Certainly a sofer can correct words they have written and no one would know, but the sofer knows. And HaShem knows. A true practitioner of the art understands that they are fashioning a spiritual tool used to inspire the wearer to serve something higher than them. If the sofer cares about this he abides by the law, regardless of the expense in money paid for the parchment, and the time it took to write the words. And it pays to invest in a well made pair of tefillin. If treated well, they will last for years.

As the universe works, I was talking to a friend of mine, a veteran of the IDF. I told him about all this and he said, “Before you buy new tefillin, let me get you my father’s.” His father passed away a few years ago and his tefillin are sitting unworn. Before I could suggest that he should wear them he said, “I know you’re going to say that I should wear them, but I won’t, but you will, and I want you to have them.” So now I await the arrival of these tefillin. I do not intend to take them from him. I'm going to teach him how to wear them. They belonged to his father. Even if he never davens, he should say the blessing, put them on, and be closer to him. For my part, I am saving what money I can so I can buy a new pair of tefillin for myself.

Am Yisrael fights a spiritual war, in addition to it's battles to survive from one generation to the next. A warrior needs the proper gear.

16 August 2009

Shir HaMaalot

When I was a boy I travelled to Eretz Yisrael for the first time for my brother's Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel. It was one of those bus tour extravaganzas. Luckily it was not a propaganda tour...everything in Israel is perfect and great and nothing bad ever happens was not the message. It was an historical journey that left me with an incredible understanding of the fact that this is our home. The places mentioned in the Torah exist, it's not just some story in a book somewhere.

I went to Elonei Mamre, where Avraham built an altar and hosted the three angels; the cave of Machpelah where he is buried with his kin; Rachel's tomb; Solomon's pools; Masada, where the first rebellion against Rome ended by our own hands rather than being taken in chains by the Romans to be enslaved again. And of course we went to Har HaBayit.

We were not limited by theological restrictions on where we could go there. Since the precise location of the Holy of Holies is known to but a few, most religious Jews will not approach the areas where it might have been as only the High Priest could enter.

In my opinion two things are true:
  1. Muslims defile the Temple Mount on a daily basis, keeping Jews from praying there, cursing us and our return to our land. This being true, our presence should be made to sanctify it as best we can in this time.
  2. The Shechina has abandoned this place. We sanctify this place for what it was, and deservedly so...it is a holy place. But it is empty, and if you truly wish to mourn for Zion, and yearn for the Shechina's return then you must see it and feel it to truly understand what happened.
So our group ascended the stairs to the upper plaza where the dome sits. It is a beautiful structure. It has to be to make up for the absolute desolation that exists inside. The Muslims cannot understand this. They think this is the spot where Mohammed ascended to heaven so they decorate it with tiles and lamps and rugs. But no adornment can hide the fact that inside this place is the ultimate emptiness.

I took off my shoes before entering and left my group to start wandering to find the best place to see the stone. There has been debate over time as to whether this is the Foundation Stone. It looked to me that if you ripped it from the earth the world would come apart. Whether it is or not, what I experienced there was tremendous. Did I feel anything, a holy presence, a vibration of energy? No.

When you sit in a forest you cannot help but feel life's vibrations all around you. The trees, plants, animals...all of it is alive and you can feel it. On Har Habayit, in the presence of the stone I felt nothing but desolation.

What I felt was a complete emptiness. It was as if it was a non-place. As I wrote at Shiloh Musings, it felt like an empty vessel, a great something waiting to be filled. The Shechina is not there. There is no trace of that Holy Presence. It has been abandoned utterly. But it waits.

My group was getting ready to leave. Our next stop was the tomb of David melech, king David. Can you imagine? Going from the stone to the tomb of David? Tremendous. My memory is that before I left I took one last look and said the Shema under my breath. I don't know if I can trust that memory or not. The whole experience there was like a dream, like being alone on the moon. It is an impression I have so perhaps I did. Whether I did or not, Jews should do that.

The stone waits. And while it is in this state of desolation I think every Jew who can should ascend, and if they can get into the dome and see the stone they should. And they should close their eyes, focus their minds, and under their breath recite the Shema, and bring comfort to this empty place while it waits so that when the Shechina does return, and we are no longer able to enter, it can be said that we brought comfort to the place while it waited, and perhaps made it feel a bit less empty.

What Is This?

Muse at Shiloh Musings asked if anyone had been to Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount. I told her I had been and my impressions of what I found there. Thinking back to that moment in time sent reverberations of memory up out of my well. Oy...My Valve! didn't feel like the place to deal with all that as it is a place for rage when there is too much to be angry about. But there are other forces at play, and they need a place for me to deal with them, so here is The Foundation Stone.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, the Foundation Stone is the place on which stood the Holy of Holies, the chamber where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, the place where the High Priest would enter on Yom Kippur to offer the sacrifice, and utter the hidden Name of HaShem to facilitate the purification of the Jewish Nation. It was also the seat of the Shechina, the Divine Presence, the place where HaShem connected with the corporeal world. It is the rock on which Abraham bound Isaac. It is considered by many to be the stone on top of which is a golden dome.

I've been there. I've seen it. It is the place from which my thoughts on this blog will flow if I'm doing this right. The dome serves no purpose to me, or any other Jew, but one. It's a marker. It's a reminder of what was, and what will be if we get this right.

So along the way I'll tell you about my thoughts on Yerushalayim, Har HaBayit, the land of Israel, as well as share legends about the land, and lessons and bits of wisdom that I have picked up from teachers of mine, and the masters that inspired them.

If I am very diligent (that can be a pretty big if) I will post on the Torah portion of the week, Ha Parshat HaShavuah, and the corresponding Haftorah, the weekly reading from the book of prophets. It's not really possible to convey the Jewish connection to the land of Israel without Torah and the Prophets. I'm no master by any stretch, and I would be a big time liar if I told you I have read and studied the entire Tanach...a very big liar. But I am undertaking the effort to rectify that, and this blog is part of the process.

This blog, and OMV will be closed on Shabbat, but I will put up a post on Friday afternoons that will feature excerpts from my favorite book on the subject, Abraham Joshua Heschel's The Sabbath or thoughts or stories on the Sabbath from masters like the Baal Shem Tov, Reb Nachman, and the Ari.

The codex of Jewish law is referred to as Halacha. It literally means, "the walk." It denotes that the study of the law, and the evolution of the debate, discussion, and exploration of it, is a journey. My walk has been engaged in varying degrees. As I make my way, and point my sights on returning to Eretz Yisrael, after my family's exile from Jerusalem some 2000 years ago, I invite you to come along and see where this goes.

For those of you who are not part of Am Yisrael I hope that I can convey to you what it is about our people, our history, and our path that fills me with a love for the land, and the need to lend my voice and, if need be, my body, to defend it.

The site itself is a work in progress so bear with me while I tweak it.

For misguided evangelicals, this is not a blog for messianic jews, jews for yeshki, anyone else hedging their bets on divine matters, or lunatic dingdongs who otherwise want to convert us to their breed of lunacy.

שמע ישראל יי אלהינו יי אחד

Hear O Israel! The Lord our G-d, the Lord is One.

Deal with it.