Monday, August 9, 2021

Rav Kook, Teshuvat HaPrat, Teshuvat HaKlal and Shoftim

The Hebrew month of Elul has begun, and teshuva, return, repentance, is in the air. Elul is the penitential month in the Jewish calendar, before Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The third of Elul, was the Yahrtzeit of Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, Chief Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine and the visionary High Priest of Israel’s Redemption. He returned his soul to his creator in 1935. Yet, his immortal words about teshuva and redemption ring on...

“Teshuva comes from the longing of the entire universe to become better and more pure, stronger and more elevated than its current state. At the core of this drive is a life-force that triumphs over the limited, weak character of natural existence. The repentance of an individual, and certainly of the nation, draws its strength from this life-force, which flows unceasingly, at full strength,” (Orot HaTeshuva – Lights of Return, 6:1).

Rav Kook expanded the concept of Teshuva well beyond the individual, encompassing the national and universal dimensions as well. Intertwined, throughout Rav Kook’s thought, are the concepts of teshuva, and the redemption of the nation of Israel.

Rav Kook in Orot HaTeshuva (15:10), talks of return to one’s self, “When we forget the essence of our own soul…everything becomes confused and in doubt. The primary teshuva, that which immediately lights the darkness, is when a person returns to himself, to the root of his soul. Then he will immediately return to God, to the soul of all souls...This happens within the individual Jew, the nation of Israel, all humanity and all of existence, which is regularly damaged, through the forgetting of its basic essence.”

According to Rav Kook, teshuva is returning to our true selves, individually and collectively as a nation, and thus to God.

In Orot HaTehiya – Lights of Revival 9, Rav Kook says, “An individual can sever himself from the source of life, but not so, the entire Jewish nation. The national assets, which are beloved to the nation….are all invested with the spirit of God: her land, language, history, and customs...the spirit of the Lord and the [national] spirit of Israel are one.”

During these early days of Elul, we find the intersection of teshuva, Rav Kook, his redemptive vision, and the ideal national structure of the Jewish people in their homeland, the Land of Israel, described in this week’s Torah reading, Parshat Shoftim. We find both Teshuvat HaPrat (individual teshuva) and Teshuvat HaKlal (national teshuva, i.e. the return of the Nation of Israel to its land, and to its soulful essence).

The Torah shows the Jewish People, the institutions needed, to build a holy society in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), that will then become a shining example for the nations, on how to express Tzidkut (righteousness) on the national level.

“Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof...Justice and Righteousness shall you pursue, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you,” (Deuteronomy 16:20).

In Shoftim, we encounter the Mitzvot to appoint a king, and the laws of war (Deut. 17:14-20, 20:1-20); to establish a Torah-based Legal System (Deut. 16:18) and recognize G-d’s prophets (Deut. 18:15); and issues dealing with the Priests and Levites (Deut. 18:1).

Parshat Shoftim describes policies that Jews should be striving to implement today: Malchut/Kingdom, Sanhedrin/Torah, Nevuah/Prophecy, and Kehunah/Holy Temple. It provides the blueprint to building the Tzadik State of Israel, in the time of Redemption.

What is a Tzadik State?

Just like the Torah sets out the structure, of how an individual Jew can best relate to his Creator (through the Mitzvot), and express his/or her personal example of Kedushah (holiness) in the world, it also does it for the Jewish People on the national level. This national structure sets up the framework for individual Jews and the nation as a whole, to reach their full potential. The purpose of their “chosenness.”

“You shall be for Me a kingdom of priests [teachers] and a holy nation,” (Exodus 19:6).

In our generation, HaShem (the God of Israel), is redeeming the Jewish people before our eyes. Besides prayers, longings and individual teshuva, it’s possible to do actual physical acts, for example making Aliyah (move to Israel), settling and building up the Land, serving in the army, etc., all aspects of national teshuva.

And, what can be done, like working to re-establish the Sanhedrin, and preparing all the materials, to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple), should be done.

Rav Kook wrote presciently, one hundred years ago, “The world order that is now toppling, due to the awesome storms of a sword covered with blood, demands the re-construction of the Jewish nation [in its land].”

“The building of the nation and the discovery of its spirit are one concept, linked to the building of the world, which is disintegrating and longing for a force filled with unity and loftiness...the spirit of God pervades her [Israel]...The voice of God calls loudly, and from the interior of our soul and life’s movements we distinguish it.”

“Israel must uncover the source of its life, to stand apprise of its spiritual character...World civilization totters, man’s spirit weakens, darkness covers all the peoples...But the hour has arrived, the light of the world, the light of the true God, the light of the God of Israel, revealed by his people...must be revealed in consciousness, and the consciousness must be internalized within the nation, to recognize the unity of her talents….When she will recognize that there is a God within her, she will understand how to tap the wellspring of her life, and how to orient her redemptive vision to her essential source.”

“All the world’s civilizations will be renewed through the renewal of our spirit...The blessing of Abraham to all the nations of the earth will commence...with our rebuilding in the Land of Israel. The present destruction, is the preparation of a profound renascence [of Israel and the world].” (Orot MeOfel – Lights from Darkness, 9).

“...To be a light unto the nations, that My salvation may come to the ends of the earth,” (Isaiah 49:6).

Ariel Natan Pasko, an independent analyst and consultant, has a Master's Degree specializing in International Relations, Political Economy & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites and in newspapers. His latest articles can also be read on his archive: The Think Tank by Ariel Natan Pasko.

(c) 2021/5781 Pasko


Thursday, July 22, 2021

Consolation: Ben and Jerry’s or the Return of the Jews to Israel?

This week’s Shabbat, is known as Shabbat Nachamu, based on the week’s Haftarah reading from the prophet Isaiah. The Haftarah follows the weekly Torah reading Va’etchanan in synagogues around the world. It begins seven weeks of prophetic readings of consolation (Sheva D’Nechamata); starting after Tisha B’Av (the Jewish people’s national day of mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem, the Beit HaMikdash on the Temple Mount, their murder, and exile from the land), till Rosh HaShanah (the Hebrew calendar New Year).

This same week, Ben and Jerry’s announced their boycott (more on that later).

The prophet Isaiah opens with, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her time [of exile] has ended...” (Isaiah 40:1-2).

Va’etchanan itself, follows last week’s Torah reading Devarim/Deuteronomy, where Moses began his five week long sermon to the Jewish people, before his death. In it, he summarized the forty year desert experience, reminding the younger generation about to enter the Land of Israel, of the failed mission of the spies. And why, God punished their parent’s generation (for lack of faith in Him and His promise to give them Israel), (Deuteronomy 1:19-46).

In this week’s reading, Va’etchanan, we find nineteen references to the Land of Israel. They include entering, inheriting (a euphemism for conquering), possessing and living in the Promised Israel, or as the Torah calls it several times, HaAretz HaTova (the good land).

Proving the centrality of the Land of Israel to Judaism, and probably the most references to the land, of any parsha in the Torah.

Moses begs God, “let me go over, and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, that goodly mountain (the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – Rashi), and the Lebanon (the Holy Temple – Rashi), (Deuteronomy 3:25).

But God answers no, “ shall command Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land...” (Deuteronomy 3:28).

Then Moses tells Israel, “...hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land, the Lord, the God of your forefathers, is giving you,” (Deuteronomy 4:1).

Moses continues, “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession, (Deuteronomy 4:5).

“...the decrees and laws that you shall perform in the land that you are crossing [the Jordan] to inherit,” (Deuteronomy 4:14).

Then Moses returns to why he won’t lead them, “The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land, the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance. I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land,” (Deuteronomy 4:21-22).

Moses then warns against sinning and its consequences, “...and have lived long in the land, if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol...that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 4:25-26).

Then Moses tells the Jews, “Because He loved your forefathers and chose their descendants [you] after them, he brought you out of Egypt… [He will] drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you, and bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance...” (Deuteronomy 4:37-38).

He again warns, “Keep His decrees and commandments, which I am giving you today...that you may live long in the land that the Lord your God gives to you for all time,” (Deuteronomy 4:40).

God then tells Moses, “...all the commands, decrees and laws that you shall teach them to do in the land I am giving them to possess.”

And Moses tells Israel, “Be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess,” (Deuteronomy 5:28-30).

Moses reminds them again, “These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live...”

“Listen Israel, and be careful to perform [the commandments], so that it may go well with you, and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your forefathers, promised you…When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you...” (Deuteronomy 6:1-10).

Moses then tells them, “Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it will be good for you, and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised to your forefathers, driving out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said...”

“And in the future, when your son asks you, What is the meaning of the testimonies, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you? Tell him, We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders – great and terrible – on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. He brought us out from there, to bring us in and give us the land he promised on to our ancestors,” (Deuteronomy 6:18-23).

Moses concludes, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations, the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you, and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you, and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.”

“Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy,” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).

Earlier God had told Moses to warn Israel, “But if you [Israel] do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Numbers 33:55).

Sounds a lot like today; think, recent riots across Israel.

So, thirty nine years earlier, the spies destroyed the Jewish people’s enthusiasm to enter the Land of Israel. Then, Moses describes God’s promise to bring them into the land, the conditions to successfully live there, i.e. keep His Torah and Mitzvot; conquer the land and drive out the evil inhabitants. Moses then warns that sinning will bring exile, and finally the prophet Isaiah promises consolation will come. He descibes the time the exile will end and the Jewish people’s return to the land will begin.

We today, are living those prophecies of return to Israel… that’s the real consolation to the Jewish people, not whether we eat ice cream or not!

So recently, when Ben & Jerry’s announced that it planed to boycott “the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” it should have caused Jews around the world to laugh with joy…

It seems, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield’s ice cream, like themselves, will not be sharing in the consolation any longer. Their loss!

“The Occupied Palestinian Territories,” it was assumed, meant Jewish towns and villages in Judea and Samaria, (West Bank settlements), and Jewish neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem. Anuradha Mittal, chairwoman of Ben & Jerry’s Independent Board of Directors, later clarified, “The statement released by Ben & Jerry’s regarding its operation in Israel and the Occupied Palestine Territory, does not reflect the position of the Independent Board, nor was it approved by the Independent Board.”

Truth be told, the Ben & Jerry’s Board, wanted to boycott Israel entirely, but was stopped from doing so by Unilever, the parent company. Pity, just after Tisha B’Av, the spies’ sin has been repeated again, and just after we read about it last week in the Torah, how interesting.

Avi Zinger, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s Israel, the franchise owner in Israel, said he was unwilling to boycott Israeli citizens in Judea and Samaria, and was legally prevented from doing so. As a result, Ben & Jerry’s plans to cancel the franchise in 2022.

Ben & Jerry’s decision might cause them problems in the US though. Thirty four states in the US have “anti-boycott of Israel” laws, that mandate their state governments to stop doing business with companies that boycott Israel, and 21 of those, explicitly include in their boycott definition, towns in Judea and Samaria.

Officials in five states, Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey and Illinois are already checking into whether the move, will require divestment from Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever, under their various state laws.

So whether we eat this or that ice cream, the unfolding Redemption of the Jewish people continues unabated. Jewish national life has returned to the Land of Israel, and will continue long past the extinction of Ben & Jerry’s, and their founders.

Now that’s real consolation!

Ariel Natan Pasko, an independent analyst and consultant, has a Master's Degree specializing in International Relations, Political Economy & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites and in newspapers. His latest articles can also be read on his archive: The Think Tank by Ariel Natan Pasko.

(c) 2021/5781 Pasko

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Rambam and Aliyah to the Temple Mount

Earlier in the week, the 20th of Tevet, marked the Yom Hillula (day of festivity) or Yahrtzeit, of the Rambam (Maimonides). He died in 1204. So, I thought it would be interesting to look at a major event in his life, that might have been missed by some, back at the end of October.

The Torah reading was Parshat Noah, the Hebrew date was the 6th of Cheshvan. It marked 855 years since the Rambam, made Aliyah (went up), to Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount), in the Old City of Jerusalem, and prayed...

Something the Israeli government officially forbids Jews to do today!

Jews that go up to the Temple Mount today, are warned by Israeli police, not to pray, yet they are still regularly harassed by Arabs and Wakf officials. The Wakf people commonly make a commotion and then get the Israeli police involved, who then often remove the Jews from the mount. For example, last month, a Jew youth was detained in a humiliating manner (Chillul HaShem – showing weakness in the eyes of the enemy – the Wakf), and removed from the Temple Mount, after he was found with tefillin in his pocket, according to Temple Mount activist Arnon Segal.

It’s not only the Wakf officials on the Temple Mount, but the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs, who regularly work against Jewish rights on the mount. In a report issued by them, they alleged that there were more than 24 cases of “desecration of the al-Aqsa Mosque by Occupation forces and settlers,” during the month of December, 2020. They also claimed that Israeli security forces prevented the Muezzin (call for prayer) from being sounded in the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron) from being heard 46 times.

But the Palestinians don’t just harass Jews... 

Recently, Abdul Rahman al-Lahim, a Saudi lawyer with a quarter of a million Twitter followers, called “to free the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Palestinian brats,” in a post on his Twitter account. He Tweeted, after Palestinian Arabs cursed other Arab visitors to the Temple Mount from Arab states, which had recently signed normalization agreements with Israel. “It is very important that the Emirates, Bahrain and Israel seek, after the peace agreements, to find a tool to liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Palestinian brats, in a way that will ensure that visitors to Al-Aqsa are protected from Palestinian bullying,” he wrote. He called the PA control of the Temple Mount, “the rape of Al Aqsa.”

On the 6th of Cheshvan, in the Hebrew year 4926, 1165 CE, the Rambam made Aliyat HaRegal (pilgrimage) to Har HaBayit, visiting other areas around Jerusalem and Hebron as well.

The event was so special to the Rambam, that he vowed to make it a personal holiday and commemorate it annually.

Jews still commemorate it till today… Ascending the Temple Mount on Rambam Day, 5780

The Rambam, wasn’t just another radical, right-wing political rabbi. But one of the greatest rabbis of all time, both in Halacha (Jewish law), and Jewish thought. His most well known work, is the 14 volume Mishneh Torah, (literally, The Repetition of the Torah), which was the first comprehensive, systematic codification of the entire Halacha, including, Hilchot Beit HaBechira (the Laws of the Temple – the Rambam assumed Jews would rebuild it). His work became the basis for later codifications, most notably, the Shulchan Aruch, written by Rabbi Yosef Karo in the 16th century. Yet, the Shulchan Aruch didn’t even cover all the areas of Jewish law that the Mishneh Torah did.

The Rambam in describing his pilgrimage to Israel said:

“We left Akko (the port city of Acre), for Jerusalem under perilous conditions. I entered into ‘the great and holy house’ and prayed there on the sixth day of the month of Cheshvan. And on the first day of the week, the ninth day of the month of Cheshvan, I left Jerusalem for Hebron to kiss the graves of my forefathers in the Cave of Machpela. And on that very day, I stood in the Cave and I prayed, praised be God for everything. And these two days, the sixth [when he prayed on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem] and the ninth of Cheshvan, I vowed to make as a special holiday, in which, I will rejoice with prayer, food and drink. May the Lord help me to keep my vows....” (translation, courtesy of the Temple Institute).

What was this “Great and Holy House” the Rambam talks about?

Many believe that this place was the synagogue that existed on the Temple Mount, a house of worship that had remained empty and deserted ever since the Crusaders occupied the mountain sixty-six years earlier. Others suggest that he didn’t pray in the synagogue on the Temple Mount, because it had been destroyed by the Crusaders, instead, he prayed on the Temple Mount at a place that was near where the Holy Temple once stood.

Either way, it’s clear he prayed on the Temple Mount and at the Cave of Machpela; something that Jews are still struggling with, to do, today.

Ariel Natan Pasko, an independent analyst and consultant, has a Master's Degree specializing in International Relations, Political Economy & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites and in newspapers. His latest articles can also be read on his archive: The Think Tank by Ariel Natan Pasko.

(c) 2021/5781 Pasko