Category Archives: Israel
All Hail the High Court!
Much hair is being pulled out of heads because of one of the proposals that the Netanyahu government has embraced; reform of Israel’s highest court. But the furor over what some feel is an attack on democracy is largely based on misunderstanding the nature of that court.
To read what I mean, click here.
What does it say…
Vayechi – In Praise of Diaspora
Eretz Yisrael is the desideratum to which the Torah’s entire narrative leads.
From Hashem’s promising the Land to Avraham’s descendants, to our ancestors’ exodus from Mitzrayim and years of wandering in the desert, the path of the Torah’s account leads inexorably to the Land.
Even the Torah’s description of the universe’s creation, as Rashi expounds in his very first comment in parshas Beraishis, is intended to establish that Eretz Yisrael is ours.
Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin (Pri Tzaddik, Vayechi) notes that the first word in our parsha indicates that Yaakov’s true “living” took place during his final 17 years in Mitzrayim, after all the challenges he had lived through. Now he was free to attain his spiritual goals. In Egypt.
Similarly, he continues, the main expansion of Torah Shebe’al Peh took place… in Bavel.
Har Sinai, too, is not in Eretz Yisrael.
“In every generation,” writes Rav Tzadok, “souls decline.” Yet “we see what happened to the Jewish people especially when they were in exile… In exile they arrived to the exalted levels of holiness, because this is the will of Hashem.”
And he cites Rav Simcha Bunim of P’shischa as having said that “even though the souls of each generation progressively decline, the essence of the heart (hanekudah shebilev) becomes progressively purified and rarified (nitaheres umizdacheches yoser) in each successive generation.”
I don’t claim to know what those phrases truly mean. But that they mean something can’t be denied.
Why Jews living and developing in places other than their ancestral home is a vital part of Hashem’s plan is not something we can fathom. That fact, Rav Tzadok explains, is symbolized by the parsha’s being sasum, “closed off,” with no space before it. Spaces in the Torah indicate opportunity to absorb and understand. There can be no understanding of the need for galus.
But the need for Torah to develop outside of the Jewish homeland is clearly established, even if inscrutable. Galus and giluy (revelation), after all, share the same root letters.
© 2023 Rabbi Avi Shafran
Fringe is Fringe
Democratic Congressmen Hakeem Jeffries and Ritchie Torres are two people worth looking at closely. They give the lie to the contention that the blue sky is falling.
To read what I mean, click here.
Israel’s Haredi parties’ politics aren’t what you think
A piece I wrote for Religion News Service about a misunderstood element of Israeli politics can be read here.
NItzavim – The Holy Land Has a Name
“Hashem… will return and gather you in from all the peoples to which [He] has scattered you… and He will bring you to the land that your forefathers possessed and you shall possess it…” (Devarim 30: 3-5).
Eretz Yisrael isn’t its name. It is our description of the fact that it was bequeathed to Klal Yisrael.
But it did have a name: Cna’an. We don’t call it that anymore, but that was its name, and presumably has some meaning. And its meaning must be meaningful.
In his sefer Nachalas Tzvi, Rabbi Meshulam Fayish Tzvi Gross (who had a weekly chavrusa in Kabbalah with Rav Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn and whose sefarim had haskamos from some of the greatest Gedolim of his time; and who, as Herman Gross, patented several inventions) ventures an answer.
He sees the name rooted in the Hebrew noun hachna’ah, “deference” or “submission.” While other lands, he explains, are overseen by malachim – divine middlemen, not Hashem Himself – Eretz Yisrael is different; hence the palace of the King demands a special degree of hachna’ah.
He cites the fact that the phrase “me’od me’od” is used both to refer to the goodness of the land (Bamidbar 14:7) and to the degree to which we are to feel shfal ruach, lowly (Ravi Levitas in Pirkei Avos, 4:4).
What occurs to me as well is the idea that, when in possession of Eretz Yisrael, we Jews are to be constantly cognizant that it is a yerushah, a bequeathal, to us from Hashem. And that, even when we rightly tell the world that the land is divinely meant for us, we must ourselves always fully and humbly remember that it isn’t our political or military power that maintains our possession of the Holy Land, but Hashem’s kindness in having allowed us to return to it.
© 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran
Her Father’s Daughter
You might not recognize the name Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro, but you surely know the lady by her current name: Nancy Pelosi.
Her original surname, though, resonates with some of us Jewish “Bawlemorians.” If you’re interested in knowing why, click here.
Ending Violence at the Western Wall
A piece I wrote for Forward, about ending violence at the Kotel, appeared before Tisha B’Av and can be read here.
No Tolerance for Hooliganism
My thoughts on the obnoxious actions of a group of young Orthodox Jews at the Robinson’s Arch area of the Western Wall, and on some of the reaction to them ,can be read here.