Monday, April 23, 2007

Tfila LeShlom HaMedina

YOM Ha'atzmaut

A Sermon delivered by Rabbi Barry Gelman, Associate Rabbi, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY on the first anniversary of Prime Minister Rabin's Assassination.
I recall learning about President Kennedy as a young boy. My mother and father told me that they remember exactly where they were when they heard about the assassination. Many surely share this same memory. I also remember not believing my parents and going around asking may parents friends...where were you on the day that President Kennedy was assassinated?" Almost as if I was asking them to offer an alibi to me.
As a youngster it was hard for me to believe that one event had the power to make such a lasting impression on someone. I could not believe, that the news of any one event could carve out such a permanent spot in ones consciousness.
Now, somewhat unfortunately, I finally believe my parents. I understand exactly what they are referring to. I remember as I am sure many do... exactly where I was when I heard the news of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin.
It was exactly one year ago today. It was a Shabbat afternoon and I was, as many were, preparing to daven Mincha.
The more people I speak to, the more I hear the same story..... In comes someone, running, running with the news that "He was shot!!, Rabin was shot!!" and as everyone waits in shock, nervous, wondering, who did it? Who could have done it? Was it an Arab? Was it a Jew? .... and a few long minutes later someone else comes running in with more news: Yitzchak Rabin had died from wounds inflicted by a Jew, a Jew wearing a kipa.
On a national level, as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin put it this week, the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin was the single greatest Chilul Hashem in all of Jewish history.
The Rambam clearly defines the gravity of a Chilul Hashem by the number of people who hear about it. And in this case, CNN, the Associated Press, and in fact every news media outlet throughout the world, was able to send images of the assassination and it's aftermath to billions of people across the globe instantaneously.
On a personal level, and I am sure that I am not alone. The fact is that assassination of Yitzchak Rabin has changed my life. My opinions on tolerance, politics and in fact my entire world view is now seen threw glasses tinted by this tragedy. Needless to say, my life as a Jew has been irrevocably altered by it as well.
Never again will I allow myself to take for granted concepts such as "love your neighbor as yourself' or "what is hurtful to you to do not do unto your neighbor," or "all Jews are responsible for one another, and for the actions of their fellow Jews." Never again will I be able to allow my family, my friends or my congregants to take these core Jewish concepts for granted either.
Having said all that, I really do NOT want to speak about the assassination this morning. We all have heard and read much about it and I could not possibly hope to add to the words of such great Jewish leaders as Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, Rav Yehuda Amital, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, or Rabbi Avi Weiss, Rav Herschel Schecter and so many others.
However, I do want to talk about the state of affairs in Israel, and the rest of the Jewish world, exactly one year after this abhorable event. Allow me to put it in terms that are very close to home. How many of us who watch TV chose to watch the baseball playoffs instead of the Presidential or Vice Presidential debates?
It seems to me that no one cares anymore about the elections or about politics in general. Newsweek magazine reports that this year more than any other year, apathy afflicts the American political scene, and I sense that a similar phenomenon is taking place in Israel. One year after the one of the most dramatic events in the history of the State of Israel, the one word that describes the emotional status of the people in Israel is despair.
Now...please understand that such an attitude, if only applicable to only one side of the political fence would be acceptable, not ideal but not at all out of the ordinary. But what's going on in Israel now is across the board despair, from left to right, from frum to secular from young and old, new immigrant and vatik.
Basically it goes like this. The right wingers feel that Netanyahu is to soft, to hear them talk it sounds like he has turned into a DOVE. After all he plans to go ahead with the Hevron withdrawal doesn't he?
The left wingers are basically, still unwilling to believe or accept the results of the democratic elections which took place in May and have thrown up their hands in disbelief. Many still regard Shimon Peres as the "true" Prime Minister.
Now you would think that if all the Jews are unhappy, then at least the Arabs would be somewhat satisfied! Nope. They also feel that nothing of substance is happening and that Israel is basically spinning it's wheels in the negotiations and implementation of the Oslo accords.
Despair, Discouragement and depression have set in to all segments of Israeli society.
The truth is, that this is nothing new to our nation. Avraham Avinu himself underwent similar, if not greater setbacks in his attempt to settle peacefully in Eretz Yisrael.
All started off very rosy for Avraham. "Lech lecha meartzecha…" "Go forth from your the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse."
And when Avraham finally gets to Eretz Yisrael G-d again tells him. Lezaracha eten et ha'aretz hazot," To your offspring I will give this land." And in thanks Avraham builds an alter and offers sacrifices to G-d.
That's where the good stuff ends.
Almost immediately upon Avraham's arrival into the PROMISED land we read "And there was a famine in the land," and Avraham was forced to leave the land of Israel.
What kind of promise is that? Why would G-d bring a famine precisely at the moment of fulfillment of the promise? And as if that's not enough, after the famine when Avraham is able to return to E"Y he is met by yet another traumatic event .... WAR. "Four kings against five." A war that did indeed affect him personally in form of the kidnapping of his nephew Lot.
"And when Avraham heard that Lot had been taken captive, he armed his disciples.....and pursued the captures as far as Dan.
Avraham was deeply involved in this war. In fact the Midrash comments that Avraham's strength was weakened due to this chase.
So. We must ask the same question again. Why? Why all of these calamities in the promised land. Why can't Avraham simply receive the promised land in tranquillity?
We can even add to the question. Why would our promised land be the one place that is coveted by so many different nations? As the crossroads between Asia, Africa and Europe, there has always been strife surrounding the Holy Land. In our own lifetime we have seen war, and terrorism in a land we believe to be promised to us.
Why indeed.
Like so many other mysteries, the answer lies hidden in the question. Hakadosh Baruch Hu is using these events to teach Avraham a fundamental lesson. The land of Israel is not naturally equipped to bear crops or to bring forth independence or nationhood. As Rav Hirsch said... and please listen carefully to his words, how clearly he speaks to us all today. "The land of Israel, if left unnurtured is prone to famine and political upheaval. It is specifically because of despair, that it is destroyed!" This is the message that G-d passes on to Avraham very early in his career in Eretz Yisrael. It may not be easy, you will not be handed this land or even peaceful existence in this land, on a silver platter. Building a nation takes time ----- never lose hope ----- never despair.
A recently published article was entitled "A failure named Netanyahu." Please understand this is not a Netanyahu pep rally, but would anyone think of naming an article "The failure named Abraham?"
After all Avraham literally deserted the Holy land because of a famine. Perhaps Avraham's separation from Lot caused Lot's capture, Avraham apparently puts Sarah's life in danger by telling Pharaoh that she was his sister. Yet no one calls Abraham a failure. Did he make mistakes? Perhaps according to some, but a failure -- never.
Desperation is a terrible enemy of a Jew. It has no place in a Jew's vocabulary. If Avraham did make mistakes at least he never gave up hope. We never hear Avraham express that he will never succeed, that the promise from G-d is doomed to failure. He did not throw up his hands in disgust and walk away.
What have we learned since the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin? We have learned the negative trait called despair. We have not learned to untie or free ourselves, rather we have learned to tie our own hands.
I can't imagine that Avraham could have expected to be exiled from Eretz Yisrael or to face war almost immediately. Nonetheless, Avraham did not fall into depression, he took action.
It may sound like I am trying to wake up sleeping tigers but that's not the point. The point I am trying to make is not political, nor is it an attempt at a call to action, it is the simple statement that despair, the losing of hope, should not and cannot be our way.
Our hope, our Tikva, for 2,500 years was to have a homeland. Now our hope, our Tikva, is to have peace in that very same homeland, given back to us by the graces of HaShem 50 years ago. Just as our hope for a homeland was Bat Shnot Alpaim, 2000 years old, and we never let go, so should we never let go of our Hope, our Tikva, for peace.
If on the American front we as a society have given up caring, we dare not let the same attitude afflict us when it comes to our homeland, our Israel.
I don't dare claim to know the answer to the problems that Israel is facing today. But that's not the point. If we have in fact tied our own hands with despair, then the only way to untie them is with Hope, Tikva.
With our hands free we can reach out and embrace the future and all the good it promises with open arms.
There is a man in Yerushalayim named Rabbi Shlomo Aviner. He is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ateret Kohanin in the Old City right around the corner from The Kotel. This is one man among us who may have had good reason to give up hope on the government. He is an ardent right winger with strong political feelings. Listen closely to his words, written during the days of the Rabin/Peres Government. They are poetic and so meaningful to us today and I will try to so them justice with my translation:
"The time on Shabbat between Shacharit and Mussaf when the shliach tzibur prepares to say Tfila LeShlom HaMedina (The Prayer for the safety of The State) is the most joyous moment of my week.
"When I hear 'Avinu SheBashamayim Tzur Yisrael VeGoalo' (Our father in heaven, the rock of Israel and its savior) – I jump up like a spring – and I refuse to change one word.
"All the proofs in the world don't matter one bit, and the more ridicule I hear, the more I say this wondrous prayer.
"I feel like jumping up and telling the shliach tzibur (cantor) to say it again! and again! and again! I feel like getting up and kissing him.
"Even when the State and the government desecrate the sanctity of the Shabbat, I continue to pray for their safety. And even when they desecrate the sanctity of our land Shabbat, I continue to pray for their health. And I will not stop!
"Because it is my country. It is my State. It is my land, I have no other and I love it just the way it is. And this is my government, yes, THIS IS MY GOVERNMENT! and I'll repeat that thousands of times.
"I have serious reservations and criticisms about her, I have significant pain because of her, but it is my government.
"And when she is replaced by a better government, I will be very happy, but in the meantime it is my government and I will continue to pray for her with all my heart.
"And when she is replaced, I will pray for the next government and I will still say - This is My Government! and I will express my pride for all the world to see.
"We are no longer a downtrodden nation which has the government of a foreign nation to make decisions for us, I have a government of my own.
"Are you listening nations of the world?? Governments come and governments go but my pride is forever eternal. And if someone made a sticker that said "I say the Tfila LeShlom HaMedina" I would stick it on my briefcase and on the lapel of my jacket and the lapel of my coat. I would stick it on with pride.
"Pride is a loathsome attribute but this kind of pride is as pure as a newborn flower.
"And if this State and this government shall, Heaven forbid, enact laws that go against our Torah, I will cry bitterly of course and I will tell everyone that these laws are as the dust of the earth but I will continue to say the Tfila LeShlom HaMedina with joy and happiness.
"There are those who see shadows, and there are those who see the light that goes before the shadows. But isn't it obvious that where there are shadows there must be light? And this light is so, so sweet.
"This is precisely why I say, and will continue to say, the Tfila LeShlom HaMedina."
These are hardly words of despair. This are hopeful words, positive words. Words spoken by the lips of one man. Words I hope and pray to hear from the lips of many, many more Jews for many years to come.
Andre Moshè Pereira,

Koah, Presidente
Ceimom, Director


Rabbi Dovid Siegel

This week's haftorah presents the Jewish nation in a most unique context. In his last words of prophecy the prophet Amos describes the Jewish people in a very peculiar manner. He says in the name of Hashem, "Aren't you likened to the Kushites, to be Mine?" (9:7) Who are Kushites and in what way are the Jewish people compared to them? Chazal inthe Yalkut Shimoni (157) interpret the term Kushites to refer to the Ethiopian community whose skin color is distinctly different than all other nations. This physical distinction renders it virtually impossible for the Kushites to intermingle with anyone without maintaining their national identity. Chazal continue that in this same manner the Jewish people are distinctly different than all other nations. The moral and ethical code of the observant Jewish people inhibits them from intermingling with the nations of the world. The drastic skin color contrast of the Ethiopians serves as a striking analogy to the drastic ethical contrast between the Jewish people and all other nations.The prophet continues and reminds the Jewish people that it is this distinct ethical conduct which renders them Hashem's chosen people. After likening the Jewish people to the Kushites, the prophet completes his analogy with the profound words, "to be Mine". The Metzudos Dovid (9:7) explains this to mean that we are Hashem's people exclusively because ofour distinguished ethical conduct. He adds that we will remain Hashem's special nation as long as we possess elevated ethical standards. The prophet then draws our attention to our earliest origins and says, "Didn't Hashem bring you up from the land of Egypt?" (ad loc.) Malbim explains that these words allude to the distinguished qualities of the Jewish people in whose merit they were liberated from Egypt. Although they existed for two hundred years in the corrupt and immoral Egyptian environment they remained a distinct and distinguished entity. Their moral code of dress and speech reflected their pure attitudes about life which made intermingling with the Egyptians a virtual impossibility. For the most part, their Jewish values were not corrupted or distorted which allowed the Jews to remain distinguished and elevated. The prophet concludes our haftorah with this theme and promises our ultimate redemption from our extended exile. Amos says, "On that day I will establish the kingdom of Dovid.... so that you, upon whom My name rests, will inherit Edom and all nations." (9:11,12) Our identity with Hashem as a nation upon whom His name rests, will play a significant role in our final redemption. The Jewish people will inherit their archenemy Edom soley because of their identity with Hashem. Our elevated standards of morality will truly earn us the title of His people and in this merit we will be finally liberated from the world's corrupt influence and environment.This special lesson reflects the essence of this week's parsha, Kedoshim, which embodies Hashem's lofty call to us for spiritual elevation. The Torah begins and says, "Be holy for I, Hashem, am Holy." (Vayikra 19:2) Nachmanides (ad loc.) shares with us his classic insight into this mitzva."Be holy", says the Ramban, "refers to the introduction of sanctity and spirituality into every dimension of our lives." Even our physical and mundane activities should be directed towards Hashem. We are forbidden to excessively indulge in worldly pleasures and are expected to limit our passions and pleasures to productive and accomplishing acts. Morality and spirituality should encompass our entire being and our every action should ultimately become the service of Hashem. This philosophy is diametrically opposed to that of the nations of the world. To them physical pleasure and enjoyment have no restrictions or limitations and religion does not govern their passions or cravings. As said, our standards of morality are truly unique and it is this factor that elevates us and distinguishes us from amongst the nations of the world. The parsha concludes with this message and says, "And you shall be holy unto Me for I am holy and I have separated you from the nations to be Mine." As stated, we are Hashem's people because of our holiness -elevated moral and ethical standards - which truly separate us from the nations of the world. And in this merit we will soon experience our final redemption and be a nation unto Him, privileged to remain in His presence for eternity.


Rabbi Dovid Siegel

Kollel Toras Chaim Kiryat