Category Archives: Anti-Semitism

Terumah — What’s in The Name

Although there are several explanations in various midrashim for the word li in the phrase viyikchu li (“And have them take for Me”), Rashi, famously, simply comments “lishmi” – “for My sake” [literally, “for My name”].

On a basic level, Rashi is likely saying that, unlike general charity, which can be born of personal motives (e.g. “so that my son will live…” – [Pesachim 8a]), the terumah, or donation, for the Mishkan must be offered wholeheartedly lishmah, for Hashem’s sake.

But the word lishmi, as noted above, literally translates as “for My name.”  Which raises the possibility of another approach to Rashi’s comment.

Back in parshas Bishalach, after Amalek’s attack on the newly freed Jewish people, we find an abstruse pasuk: “For there is a hand on the throne [keis] of Yah, [there shall be] a war for Hashem against Amalek from generation to generation” (17:16).

Rashi there, echoing the Midrash Lekach Tov (and Midrash Tanchuma in Ki Seitzei), explains that the use of “Yah,” the first two letters of the Tetragrammaton, and the word keis for throne, missing the final aleph of the word kisei, indicates that: “[Hashem’s] name will not be complete and His throne will not be complete until the name of Amalek is completely obliterated.” 

According to the Megaleh Amukos (in his derasha for Purim), the first two letters of Hashem’s name represent His interaction in the higher realms; and the final two, in the lower realms. (The contention is alluded to in the pasuk “The heavens will be glad and the earth will rejoice” [Tehillim 96:11], where the first letters of the first phrase spell Yah and the first letters of the second one are vav and heh, the final two letters of the Tetragrammaton.) Amalek’s existence prevents Hashem’s full manifestation in the human realm.

The Gemara in Megilla (13b) recounts how Haman’s 10,000 silver ingot bribe of Achashverosh for the privilege of destroying the Jewish people was “pre-empted” –and Haman’s plan undermined – by the shekalim the Jews willfully donated to the Mishkan centuries earlier. .

Haman, of course, was an Amaleki, and sought to further the goal of his ancestors. But his plans were frustrated by the willful donation to holiness of his targets’ own ancestors. Thus, the terumah of the Jews in Moshe’s time were, quite literally, lishmi – “for My name” – for the goal of “completing” the Tetragrammaton.

May it quickly be realized.

© 2023 Rabbi Avi Shafran

Vayishlach – Laws of Nature and of Human Nature

“As surely as I have established My covenant with day and night – the laws of heaven and earth – so will I never reject the offspring of Yaakov…” (Yirmiyahu 33:25-26)

There are laws of nature, and of human nature. And one of the latter is, according to Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, in a beraisa brought by Rashi (Beraishis 33:4), the “halacha” that “Esav hates Yaakov.”

When the sar shel Esav wrestles with Yaakov, our forefather asks him “Tell me your name” and Seforno comments that the question’s intent was, “What sin of mine allowed you to attack me?”

No answer to the question is recorded or, presumably, offered.

Something poignant inheres in that. When hatred of Jews is manifest, we often try to understand what begat it, what “reason” there is for it. But, even though the haters might claim there are reasons, when looked at closely, their “reasons” are illogical. There’s simply no “there” there. 

Because the hatred isn’t “caused” by anything.  It just is, as an expression of animus inherent in Esav’s and his spiritual descendants’ essence.

It is, in other words, a law of human nature. And rather than criticize ourselves for doing this or that wrong, or not doing this or that right, we do best to just smile at the demonstration of that “law,” and, even as we fight, as we must, to counter the unwarranted anger and slanders, try to accept that, at least among some people, it will absurdly persist until Mashiach arrives.

And at the same time, we must recognize, too, that, despite Esav’s evil intentions, another “law,” another reality, is that Hashem “will never reject the offspring of Yaakov,” will never allow Esav and his spiritual progeny to win.

© 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran

Grayer But No Wiser

Isaac and Yechiel Bitton in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY 1991.

A kind person might characterize the New York Times’ seemingly insatiable interest in Orthodox Jews as a simple, even laudable, recognition of the community’s importance. 

The less benevolent would characterize it as an obsession – and not a healthy one, either for the obsessed or the object of their obsession.

Much well-deserved criticism has been offered – most recently in a masterful essay in the October issue of Commentary by Yeshiva University Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education Professor Moshe Krakowski – of the Gray Lady’s hissy fit several weeks ago over chassidishe yeshivos’ curricula. 

More recently, though, the Times scored another fix for its addiction to things Orthodox. This one was less incendiary, but still objectionable in several ways. 

Titled “How the Hasidic Jewish Community Became a Political Force in New York,” the 2300-plus-word piece seeks to explain, well, just that. And it does a decent job of describing the evolution of Orthodox political activism.

The article’s subheader, though, only reiterates the paper’s longstanding, and apparently incurable, Orthodoxophobia.

“Elected officials,” it reads, “rarely embrace positions that could antagonize Hasidic leaders, who typically encourage their community to vote as a unified bloc.”

The subtle picture thereby painted by the Times for its readers is of craven politicians kissing the rings of sinister bearded Jews who direct their minions (and, thereafter, the politicians) to do their bidding. A less fevered image, one that would have truly been fit to print, would be, simply, politically engaged citizens voting in accord with their self-interest. A phenomenon usually known as democracy.

Leaders of other groups – be they progressives, Hispanics, Asians or communities of color – also encourage their constituents to vote for candidates of their choosing. Somehow, though, they are spared the slander of being characterized in the paper of record as “unified blocs” that inspire fear in candidates. Which is why you may have often read about, say, the “black vote” but never about the “black bloc” (despite the phrase’s mellifluousness).

What’s more, it was particularly reckless that the Times published its recent article at a time when Jews (once again) have been accused by unstable cultural figures (each with tens of millions of fans) of controlling the world.

But what really stuck in my craw was the piece’s description of the “pivotal moment” in the emergence of Orthodox activism in New York in 1991: the “Crown Heights riots [that] shook the city.”

When, in the article’s words, “Brooklyn streets had turned into combat zones, pitting groups of Hasidic Jews against mostly Black men” [emphasis mine].

Makes it sound like a showdown between rival urban gangs, not a vicious, hate-fueled attack by one ethnic group against another, whose members sought only to repel the onslaught and defend itself.

Although the article musters the sympathy to acknowledge that “Hasidic leaders in Brooklyn pleaded with city officials for more police intervention and protection, but the help did not come until days later,” the description of the pogrom itself is odiously misleading.

And, as it happened, it echoed the paper’s description in 2012 of the 1991 events as having been “riots that exploded between blacks and Hasidic Jews” [ditto about the emphasis] – as if marauding gangs of Jews and blacks had spent four days attacking one another, when, in fact, the besieged Jewish residents of Crown Heights cowered and prayed as their non-Jewish neighbors attacked them and their property. (Has war “exploded between” Russia and Ukraine?)

And if, back in 2012, the description of events smelled not only rancid but familiar, that’s because a full decade earlier, in a report about the reversal of the federal civil rights conviction of Yankel Rosenbaum’s murderer, the Times called the riots “violence between blacks and Orthodox Jews” [yes, ditto again].

After that description appeared in 2002, I called the reporter whose byline appeared on the report, and asked him whether he felt that his wording really reflected what had happened on those horrific days in 1991.

To his credit, he admitted that his choice of phrase had “not been the wisest.” I responded that I appreciated his honesty and trusted that a more accurate description of the pogrom would be used in future Times reports.

Well, the Gray Lady is 20 years grayer now, but, frustratingly, no wiser.

© 2022 Ami Magazine