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Facing the truth brings one closer to God

Posted on 29 January 2020 by admin

This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Bo and I have to admit that I’ve never really understood it. I mean, I understand it, but I don’t get it. In my kishkes, it just doesn’t make sense. Last week, we read about the first seven plagues sent against Egypt. This week, the portion starts off with God speaking to Moses:
“Then the Eternal said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his courtiers, in order that I may display these, My signs, among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and of your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them — in order that you may know that I am the Eternal.’”
I really don’t get it. Why does God have to harden Pharaoh’s heart? The first seven plagues weren’t enough? Why does God need to make a mockery of the Egyptians? Couldn’t God have freed us from slavery without such extreme measures?
Or, perhaps it’s that Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelites go is so inconceivable that they had to make up an excuse for why he wouldn’t set them free without such extraordinary measures. For a People who don’t believe in a devil and can’t say “the devil made me do it,” perhaps we have to say God hardened his heart? Because no other explanation of Pharaoh’s behavior makes any sense at all?
Even Pharaoh’s courtiers knew the jig was up and confronted him: “How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let the men go to worship the Eternal their God! Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?” “How can you be so blind?” they seem to be asking. “How can you be so indifferent to the destruction and the suffering? Can you only care if it affects you personally? Will you only care after the 10th plague when it is your child lying dead before you? How can you be so blind?”
Sometimes we blind ourselves precisely because we are not directly affected. I remember a saying: when your neighbor loses their job, it’s a recession, but when you lose your job, it’s a depression. Kal v’chomer, all the more so, if it’s someone across town whom you don’t even know who loses their job, it doesn’t mean anything at all. We shouldn’t have to be directly affected to be aware of the suffering in the world and wish to end it.
Sometimes we blind ourselves because we want to believe what we really know can’t be true. Scammers depend on our willful blindness, offering enormous, outsized gains, guaranteed, without any risk. Bernie Madoff relied on his clients’ greed to maintain his Ponzi scheme, but it all came tumbling down. If it’s too good to be true, it isn’t, no matter how much we want it to be true.
Ultimately, when we blind ourselves, we deny the truth and embrace what is false. Truth is something that is unchanging. Truth is something you can rely on. Truth is something you can believe in. And as Maimonides taught us, God is truth, Absolute Truth, the truth upon which all of reality depends. When we blind ourselves, we are denying God, which is precisely what Pharaoh did. We must do better, opening ourselves to the truth, embracing the truth, accepting God.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano and the vice president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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Knowledge at its highest and deepest levels

Posted on 29 January 2020 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
In religious school, we have been discussing: What is the meaning of knowledge? It seems to be different when we think about objects that we can sense with our five senses, that we can really know everything there is to know about those objects, so that seems we have real knowledge about those things. But when it comes to something more abstract, like knowing about yourself, that’s more “thought” than knowledge. It seems to be the same about God also, that we can’t see Him with our five senses so He’s more thought than knowledge.
Do you agree?
Thank you,
Sean and Mikey

Dear Sean and Mikey,
Although there is truth in what you say to distinguish between knowledge of tangible things versus conceptual things, Judaism teaches us another way to look at this. At first glance, it seems counterintuitive but, when you think about it, you will see that it becomes a whole new way to look at knowledge.
In the secular world knowledge is rated by whether it is absolute or relative. Things which we have proven by trial and error to be a certain way become axioms; other knowledge is measured with the axioms as benchmarks to ascertain whether the next step is true or false. Something which we know to be absolutely true is the highest level of knowledge, as opposed to something which is relative knowledge, which may depend upon varying factors or someone’s opinion. That knowledge is subjective and not considered to really be knowledge at all, rather an opinion or a theory.
This is true in the world of science, where everything that is known was proven to be so, be it either the five senses themselves or some extrapolation of the senses, sometimes using intellect, like mathematics, to extend our senses.
In the world of science that we are discussing, the knowledge of something less scientific, like the knowledge of one’s self, would not be knowledge at all, rather a thought, an opinion or an emotion.
We must realize, however, that all scientific knowledge, by definition, does not delve into the essence of things. It can measure them and tell you everything about their physical structure but it does not attempt to address their inner meaning.
According to the Torah, however, precisely that level of knowledge — the inner meaning — is defined as real knowledge. The knowledge attained by the five senses (essentially all of science) is important, of course, but is external knowledge. External knowledge, however important it is, in some respects is considered inferior to the knowledge of the essence of things.
This is not meant to minimize the crucial importance of science and all that we perceive with our five senses. That is the world we live in and we need to study it, understand it and enjoy it! We still need, however, to put things in proper perspective and realize the shortcomings that exist even in the most important of things.
Knowledge of one’s self, according to Judaism, is actually a higher level of knowledge, because it flows from the understanding of one’s very essence. Although it can’t be seen with a microscope or measured in a laboratory, the essence of one’s self, their very existence, is something very real and present. The knowledge of the essence of things is a much deeper, more meaningful level of knowledge and is totally real to those who have it.
Another way to say this is that each person has within him or herself a spark of Godliness and knowing one’s self is to be in sync with the essence of one’s own unique Godly spark.
Extending that knowledge further is to know God Himself, which is the deepest level of knowledge which exists in the world and flows from one’s knowledge of their own Godliness. It also includes seeing the essence of things beyond what is perceived by the five senses.
Although, as I mentioned, all this might seem counterintuitive, give it some thought and I think you will enjoy the realization of a deeper dimension of knowledge which you, and all of us, possess.

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A good library is a hallmark of community

Posted on 29 January 2020 by admin

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about libraries. I started out trying to find a particular book to share with my rabbi: We are going to begin Daf Yomi, reading a page a day of Talmud for the seven or so years it will take to complete, and the book I was looking for was written by an Israeli woman who did just that — on her own. But I couldn’t find it.
Not really a surprise. I’ve tried my best to organize my library, which is pretty extensive for one person, but many new volumes come in, few go out, and some get lost in the process. While I was searching, the mail brought my latest copy of The Rotarian, with a compelling story called “More Than a Library.”
Rotary, originally a businessmen’s organization, has been dear to my heart, and inspired my efforts, ever since women were admitted to membership. I especially like its emphasis — and the contributions all members make to it — because there are clubs throughout the world filling important world needs, like eliminating polio and providing clean water to dry outposts of civilization, items high on the current agenda. But I didn’t know how high on the agenda libraries are until I read the story that began: “After the genocide of 1994, Rotarians led a successful campaign to build Rwanda’s first public library. A bastion against ignorance and tyranny, it has become a gathering place where a culture of reading, the arts, and democracy thrives.”
My father saw to it that I was a library lover early in my life. I read in kindergarten, skipped first grade because of that, but was denied access to our school library, which was granted only to fourth graders and above. So he began picking me up after school every Tuesday and taking me to Pittsburgh’s main library: the imposing old building that was my city’s own Andrew Carnegie’s first contribution to literacy for all. I treasured those afternoons, and my library card. In all the years that followed, the library only let me down once: I was in high school working on a paper about Liege, Belgium — we had been assigned to find a place we’d never heard of before and write about it — and I looked no further when I heard one of my uncles talk about being stationed there as a World War II soldier. But the sources I wanted were only available in a special collections area reserved for graduate students. I did find enough elsewhere to write a good paper, but the first thing I did after beginning graduate school was to get those previously forbidden materials for myself, to find out what I’d missed. (Cold fact: not much!)
True confession: I’m not a library user! I prefer to buy my books so that I can dog-ear pages, underline whatever I like, and make notes inside the covers. This accounts for my overlarge collection, which is destined for a happy home when — if my future plans materialize as I hope — I’ll be moving into the new Legacy at Midtown now under construction, and all the books will move with me into its library!
But somehow, I’ve never been able to live in a neighborhood without a library. I occasionally stop sometimes to visit the small one near my home, just making sure it’s still there. And I’m overjoyed that ground has recently been broken even closer to where I live for a brand-new, much larger one.
Today, I’m especially saluting the Dallas JCC’s Tycher Library, which soldiers on while sharing its space with all who were tornado-dislocated from the nearby Federation building and are now conducting business from there. So please be sure to visit Tycher’s “pop-up” library — a table in the Center’s lobby with a librarian ready to serve you. Every community deserves a good library, every place from Rwanda to the one we have right here in Jewish Dallas! (P.S.: Rabbi — I’m still looking…)

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Why I’ve made it my life’s work to invest in Israel

Why I’ve made it my life’s work to invest in Israel

Posted on 22 January 2020 by admin

Ken Goldberg addresses Israel Bonds leaders from several countries at the organization’s International Leadership Conference (Photo:  Peter Halmagyi)

Long before I understood the significance of the Jewish state and its unique place in history, I knew about the need to support it. Growing up as a third-generation member of Congregation Shearith Israel, I remember hearing stories from Holocaust survivors, watching local leaders speak movingly of their connection to Israel, and participating in campaigns held by Development Corporation for Israel/Israel Bonds.
During this time, I had the opportunity to hear famed optometrist and businessman Stanley Pearle speak at our congregation in Dallas. To this day, I remember his remarks, discussing his many meetings and conversations with the likes of David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, relating the small but important part Pearle was able to play in building the Jewish state in its earliest days. I knew then and there that I, too, wanted to have a similar role in ensuring Israel’s continued success, and I started looking for ways to get involved.
It didn’t take long. When I was just getting my start as a young professional, I came across an Israel Bonds representative at an event in Omaha, Nebraska, where we exchanged contact information and promised to keep in touch. After returning home to Dallas, I wondered when or even if we might see each other again, but it wasn’t long before I received a call: The Israel Bonds representative was in town, and looking to reconnect. We got together, and very quickly I was sold, joining Israel Bonds as a member of its burgeoning New Leadership Division, which strives to get young people involved in supporting the Jewish state.
Here in Dallas, there was a lot of work to do. New Leadership was just getting started, and very few young people had heard of us; most had little or no investments of their own, much less investments in the Jewish state. So we got to work organizing, holding events and talking to students, recent graduates and early-career professionals about the importance of investing in Israel. Israel bonds are not charity, they are a means of supporting the Jewish state that pay you back — with interest. We quickly found support growing with more than $10 million in Israel bond investments from across the Dallas area.
At one event — among the largest in Israel Bonds history — we brought together more than 1,500 individuals to hear former President George W. Bush speak about his support for the Jewish state, and share fond memories he made over the years with Israeli leaders. At others, we helped grow the next generation of Israel Bonds frontrunners through boot camps to hone their skills in networking, and getting the word out about this critical work.
Over time, I gradually took on more responsibility — first as chairman of the Israel Bonds National Campaign Advisory Council, and then as a member of the national board of directors, the position I currently hold. However, I have always taken care to keep in touch with those doing the indispensable work on the ground, where it all began for me. To this day, I still work closely with Dallas New Leadership to ensure that a new generation is joining the cause of partnering with Israel through investment in Israel bonds.
And yet, despite Israel’s immense progress, I still occasionally hear people ask: Why? Why make it your mission to invest in the Jewish state, with so many other worthy causes around? For me, this is personal. I participated in a delegation to Israel during the Gulf War, when we were handed gas masks and emergency syringes upon arrival, and told to be ready for the worst. Those memories endure to this day. And so the answer to this question is simple: I’ve seen firsthand the threats Israel faces, and without showing our support — and putting a dollar figure to it — we risk abandoning the Jewish state when it may need us most. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take, and that’s why I’ve made it my life’s work to invest in Israel.
From my current role as a national board member, this work can feel like it’s taken on a 30,000-foot view, but I’ll never forget the impact it has for those whom it touches. Thinking back to my time as a kid at Congregation Shearith Israel, I still remember the pride I heard in the voices of those who spoke about their support for Israel through Israel Bonds, and the importance they placed on preparing the next generation to carry that legacy forward. Today, I share this conviction completely, and remain dedicated to doing my part to ensure tomorrow’s Israel Bonds investors and supporters have every opportunity that I did to make a difference.

Ken Goldberg is a national board member for Development Corporation for Israel/Israel Bonds and former chairman of the National Campaign Advisory Council.

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Gov. Abbott blocking refugees violates Texas tradition

Posted on 22 January 2020 by admin

Since 1820, when pioneer Moses Austin petitioned the Mexican government for vacant land for a colony to be developed and sold to settlers, Texas has been a land of opportunity for those with the ambition and perseverance to succeed. Do not confuse this issue with that of President Trump’s attempts to restrict entry through our southern border of Mexican and other Central American citizens.
The president’s executive order allows state governors to “sign on,” if they wish, without approval by their legislatures, to legally block entry of legal immigrants attempting to resettle in their state.
One result would be the inability of immigrants to join family members who are already established within the state and could probably provide much of the newcomer’s needs.
As of this writing, Greg Abbott is the only governor to agree to block refugee resettlement.
No rationale is given by the governor other than a vague reference to a slight increase in illegal crossings at the southern border, which is a completely separate issue from the Resettlement Program consisting of “legal” immigrants.
It appears that the governor’s political loyalty to the president has blinded him from the traditional will of the people in Texas to accept refugees into their community.
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) has joined other aid groups in suing to protect this longstanding refugee resettlement program they have assisted since its inception in 1980.
Here are just a few reasons why the Resettlement Program should be continued and perhaps, even expanded.
Pardon all the statistics, but they are necessary to help explain how immigrants are such a positive addition to the Texas population.
•One of every six residents is an immigrant, while 15% are native-born citizens with one or two immigrant parents.
•Over a third of all immigrants in Texas are naturalized citizens.
•Sixty-three percent are reported able to speak English “well” or “very well” and are represented in educational levels from high school graduates to college graduates.
•Immigrants are a vital part of the Texas workforce and contribute toward the Texas communities in which they reside.
A pending decision by the courts hopefully will block the governor and return Texas to its historic tradition of acceptance for those seeking refuge.
Hopefully, the federal courts will find that President Trump’s executive order violates the Refugee Act of 1980, which set up a uniform, federal system for refugee resettlement encompassing all the states. President Trump’s order appears to violate the 1980 law. Hopefully, Texas will continue to welcome its immigrants.

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Shema and mezuzah basics

Posted on 22 January 2020 by admin

Dear Families,
This week my lesson at the J was about the
“Shema” and the “mezuzah.” The Shema is one of the first prayers we teach our children because it is said first in the morning and then right before bed. It is a wonderful part of many bedtime rituals that families have. The Shema is not a prayer to God but is a statement about God, about us, and about the connections binding us with God and with each other. It says that there is one God for all of us.
The custom is to cover your eyes when saying the Shema so that you can really think about what you are saying. At the J Early Childhood Center, many classes make it part of their day in different ways.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
Hear O Israel, Adonai is Our God, Adonai is One.
The Shema is inside of the mezuzah, which we also talked about this week. We talked about the Shema inside the mezuzah, and our children created their own mezuzah. (We did not include the parchment, just an English translation and advice to purchase your own kosher scroll.) Here are some of the details to remember:
·A rabbi does not need to put up your mezuzah — here is the prayer: Baruch Atah Adonai Elohaynu melech ha’olam asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu likboah mezuzah. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy with mitzvot and instructed us to affix the mezuzah.
·Face the door from the outside. Touch the right doorpost — that is where to place the mezuzah about 2/3 of the way up with the top of the mezuzah tilted in.
·A mezuzah may be placed on every doorpost in the house except for the bathrooms and the closets.
·The parchment includes the Shema and Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-31.
·Become a mezuzah kisser — first touch your hand to the mezuzah, then bring your hand to your lips and kiss it.
·Mezuzah literally means “doorpost” but is normally taken to refer to the case which holds the parchment. On the outside of every mezuzah is a single Hebrew word — one of God’s names: Shaddai. The rabbis turn this into an anagram: Shomer Delatot Yisrael, Guardian of Israel’s Doors. When we put up a mezuzah and reconnect with it every time we enter, a sort of nonverbal prayer for protection is pointed in God’s direction.
A final story is a legend on the rabbinic “argument” on whether to hang the mezuzah vertically or horizontally. The story tells of the typical argument back and forth, ending with a compromise to hang it at an angle. The important message for all times is that sometimes we need to compromise and that each time you enter your home (or school or business), the mezuzah is reminding us that we need to meet each other in peace!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Enrich your understanding of Talmud with joint study

Posted on 22 January 2020 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I was inspired to hear about the recent celebration of the completion of the Talmud held in MetLife Stadium. Even though I’ve never studied Talmud (and am not exactly sure what it is), it made me proud to be part of a People that tens of thousands of come out in the freezing cold for hours to celebrate Jewish studies. It makes me want to tap into Jewish studying myself, but I am not sure how. I don’t do well with classes; is there a way to study with someone who could teach me at my level and where we could discuss the material together one-on-one?
Mark K.

Dear Mark,
The event you mentioned, called the Siyum HaShas, or Completion of the Talmud, was truly one of the most inspiring Jewish events to be held in years. My wife and I as well as numerous members of our community had the good fortune to be present with some 90,000 Jewish men and women who gathered together, from around the world, to participate in the greatest and largest celebration of Torah in Diaspora history! Numerous concurrent celebrations were held throughout the world, bringing together about a million Jews in celebration of the Talmud. No words could describe the incredible feeling of celebrating, praying, singing and dancing with that many fellow Jews!
The Talmud is the fusion of the Mishna, codified in Israel in the third century CE, and subsequent discussions, called the Gemara, codified in the sixth century. The Talmud is the sum total of all Jewish law, thought and philosophy. It has been called the portable homeland of the Jewish people, keeping Jews connected through its study and teachings throughout the exile of our people.
The Jewish people worldwide unite through the study of a daily folio, or Daf (two sides of a page). This cycle, which was instituted in the early 1900s, is a 7½-year cycle to complete the 2711 folios of the Talmud. This celebration was the bar mitzvah celebration, the completion of the 13th cycle since its initiation.
A few years ago, in Berlin, a Holocaust museum was built with a series of stone structures to walk through, attempting to show the enormity of the loss of 6 million Jews. Of course, the artist, a non-Jew, constructing this could not actually erect 6 million structures, and created as many as possible given the space constraints, to convey that feeling. All in all, the arbitrary final number was 2711! The meaning wasn’t lost on anyone who noticed; what is keeping our people, the “People of the Book,” going throughout the trials and tribulations of our exile, is that 2711, the pages of the Talmud which bind us up together for all time.
This event has been an inspiration for untold thousands of Jews worldwide. Many have initiated their own Talmud study and attempt to join world Jewry for the next celebration in 7½ years. Many more have begun some sort of Torah study, at whatever level he or she may be on.
What I would recommend for you is one recently launched in Dallas called “Partners in Torah.” It is the local branch of an international organization,
partnersintorah.org, which matches up Jews around the world with a study partner, a mentor, to study by phone weekly. The local branch is run by my organization DATA, meeting weekly Monday nights 8-9, featuring refreshments and a warm, inviting atmosphere. Dozens of “partners in Torah,” men and women all join together with a mentor. The mentor, assigned by the program, works out to study whatever area of Judaism interests the student, at their own level. With the one-on-one discussion that ensues, there’s no comparison between studying alone and studying with another! Especially in a room filled with like-minded Jews, all seeking a better understanding of our tradition.
To join this wonderful, meaningful (free of charge!) program or for more information, please contact Binyomin Epstein,
binyomine@gmail.com.
May the inspiration of the Siyum HaShas bring you and many others to renewed learning and growing in our rich heritage!

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Take the time to listen to our veterans

Posted on 22 January 2020 by admin

The headline of a story in the most recent Seniorific News, a free monthly paper always available at the Dallas JCC, caught and held my eye: “Last Witnesses to the Greatest Generation,” it’s called. That means me!
Those who served in World War II are commonly referred to today as “The Greatest Generation.” Other generations also have other names: My children are “Baby Boomers,” those born between 1946 (after the vets came home, married and started having families) and 1964. I’m a member of what has been called “The Silent Generation,” born in 1945 or before and including those who defended our country and saved the world from Hitler. Some of them have really been silent ever since they came home from war, but some have spoken out about their experiences.
I was born in 1934; as a 7-year-old, I learned firsthand about Pearl Harbor, and have clear memories to this day of Dec. 7, 1941, and the chaos that ensued. I knew that my mother’s five brothers all enlisted in an assortment of service branches (Army, Air Corps, Merchant Marine) the very next day, and were inducted immediately. I consider myself lucky to be one of those “Last Witnesses.” But that is also scary. How can we — who are aging or already aged ourselves — keep alive the realities of that time for the generations who have come after us?
My children knew their great-uncles well after they returned home, and heard their stories firsthand, and have never forgotten them. And my grandchildren and great-grands, members of cohort Generations Y and Z, are fortunate that one of my uncles — the youngest of the five — lived long enough for all of them to know him well, and to hear his stories. Because of his longevity (he was almost 96 when he passed away last year) we made up, for a too-brief time, a rare five-generation family. But were those youngsters old enough to understand those stories, and retain them? I doubt it. It’s now my job, as one of the Last Witnesses to that Greatest Generation, to keep those stories alive by retelling them as I learned them from that generation before me.
So now, I’m making a pitch here for the local Jewish War Veterans’ Posts, and their Auxiliaries. Every Jew who has ever served in the U.S. Armed Forces — any service branch, in any year — war or peace, any place — overseas or stateside — any amount of time — at any age from teen to senior, should be a member. As should every woman who has ever served in uniform, or kept the home fires burning while her husband or children were away on duty, or was widowed during her husband’s wartime service, or has outlived him since his return. Please use your Google to find meeting dates and locations in both Dallas and Fort Worth and just walk in: you will be warmly welcomed, and hear some great stories!
Someone once told me that the quality of a war is found in its songs. “Keep the Home Fires Burning” emerged from World War I, as did the “smile trio”: “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag,” “Smile Awhile,” and “There Are Smiles That Make You Happy.” The Greatest Generation gave us “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer,” and “Roger Young.” If you don’t recognize any of these, please look them up. But I dare you to find any song from the Korean War that hit the pop charts, and those from Viet Nam that did were mainly about peace. However, the greatest song of all time — in war and in peace — for all of us is “God Bless America,” by our esteemed Jewish composer Irving Bailin, a Russian immigrant who adopted the last name “Berlin” to sound less ethnic. In 1911, who could have known? That not-knowing in advance is itself the biggest story of history!
Harriet Gross can be reached at harrietgross@sbcglobal.net.

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American Jews must stop living in exile

Posted on 20 January 2020 by admin

I spent a lot of my time over the past several years explaining to friends, family and strangers why I made aliyah and why I encourage others to do the same. Usually my well-rehearsed elevator pitch on the richness of Jewish life in our homeland is accepted warmly by American Jews who are quick to recount to me their trips to Israel and affection for the country. But what I don’t mention — for the vast majority of interlocutors would either disagree, take offense or both — is that not only did I move to Israel because I believe in Jewish life here, but because I do not believe in Jewish life in America.
I’m an ardent believer in shlilat hagalut, the negation of the exile, or “the Diaspora” as most TJP readers prefer to call it. This concept, one in which most of my fellow Israelis themselves do not believe, is that life in exile is unsustainable, hypocritical and and irresponsible. It’s not a popular opinion, but it’s key component of my Zionism.
Before I explain the multiple reasons that I am against Jewish life in America — for there are many — it’s important to say that my beliefs in no way diminish the respect that I have for my community, friends and family who feel differently and who have every intention of living proud Jewish lives in the United States. The following reasons that I believe in shlilat hagalut are shared not out of animus but out of love.
First, Jewish life is religiously and culturally designed to be lived in the land of Israel. Our festivals reflect the seasonal progression of Levantine agricultural life, synagogues worldwide are built to face Jerusalem, and many of our commandments can be fulfilled only in Israel. Rav Kook, the founder of modern Religious Zionism, said, “A Jew cannot be as faithful to his ideas, feelings, and imagination in the exile as he can in the Land of Israel.”
In fact the thousands of Texan Jews who have never questioned their identities as Americans have themselves prayed to make aliyah every time they’ve participated in services. “Sound the great shofar for our freedom,” we say during the Amidah prayer, “raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land. Blessed are You Lord, who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel.” And every year at the Seder we pray to be swiftly returned to our land, to be “Next year in Jerusalem.”
In the past these prayers were the expression of our people’s yearning to see our commonwealth reestablished, to be free once more. Now, in an era in which the State of Israel exists, with its arms stretching outward to the Jews of the world, ready to accept us with love and with thousands of shekels in cash on arrival at the airport, these prayers are said in vain. These pleas to be brought back to our homeland are completely void of meaning, for the American Jews who utter them have no real intention of carrying them out.
Second, Jewish life in the exile is dangerous. One of the most beloved pastimes of the nations of the world is to torment us, to expel us from our homes, to take advantage of our minds and then kill us for the fun of it. And America, with its synagogue shootings, swastika graffiti, and daily harassment, is no different from Europe, the cursed continent of our past. For though its crimes are fewer and certainly less fatal, the principle remains the same: In the exile, we depend on others for our rights and safety. Only in Israel do Jews take arms in our protection, only here are we the guarantors of our destinies.
Third, Jewish life in the exile is unsustainable. According to sound data, the majority of American Jews, who lack significant knowledge of Hebrew, Jewish literature and practice, are marrying goyim and raising their children to be either “half Jewish” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) or not Jewish at all. The only group of American Jews that is actually growing is the ultra-Orthodox population. But living such an insulated life, one in which women are second-class citizens, men don’t participate in the workforce, math and science are taboo, and intellectualism is seen as an enemy, is no way to preserve our people.
Last, aliyah is a responsibility. In Israel we sacrifice for the sake of our people, we fight on land, in the air and on the sea against the enemies of our people so that every Jew in the world can live without fear. And why is it that Israelis are the ones burdened with securing the Jewish future? Because they had the misfortune of not being born in America, the golden medina? Because their grandparents chose our people and Zionism over American materialistic opportunism?
Make no mistake — there are millions of Jews in America and around the world who live Jewish lives, at day schools and youth groups and college campuses, who are more committed to our people than the average Israeli may ever be. My love for our people was fostered at Levine Academy and Shearith Israel, at Camp Ramah and in BBYO and AIPAC. These communities are strong and they love our heritage and our God.
And I am in fact grateful for the 2000 years we spent in exile, for it transformed the Jewish people. The humanism and the ethics that we developed as a hunted minority have helped shape our people’s modern value system. Our experience in the exile is our greatest weapon in the fight against the elements of nationalistic chauvinism and anti-Arab racism that are spreading throughout Israeli society.
But the fact of the matter is that the next chapter of the Jewish story is being written where it all began, in the land from which we came. The problems are our problems, the triumphs our triumphs! To those Jews who care deeply about living Jewish lives, who see themselves first and foremost as Jews — the time has come to return home. To “go forth from the land of your birthplace to the land that God will show us.” To a land of milk and honey, a land that is ours.
Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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Transitioning into a harsh life in Egypt

Posted on 20 January 2020 by admin

This week, we begin the second book of the Torah, Shemot (Exodus). Moving on from Bereisheet — the rich and vibrant verses relating the mysteries of creation, the human portraits of our patriarchs and matriarchs, through Joseph’s majestic triumph in a foreign land — is a rough transition. We shift from a mood of fruitful accomplishments into scenes of cruelty, blood, sweat and tears.
This opening parasha is heavy and dark, detailing the rise of an evil ruler who enslaved the Children of Israel and caused them unthinkable suffering. When 30 years of harsh labor could not break the Jewish spirit and they continued to grow, Pharaoh intensified their workload. But in the middle of this bitter exile comes a beam of light. Moses, the redeemer of Israel, is born.
This idea emerges as a pattern through the generations. Whenever a period of terrible hardship and persecution arises for the Jewish people, the soul of a special leader descends into this world to counteract the darkness. Furthermore, there is a principle in Judaism that “God creates the cure before the illness” — it’s already there but needs to be discovered.
In this story, Pharaoh’s astrologers discerned that the Jews’ future savior had arrived, and so to prevent this event, Pharaoh “charged his people, saying: Every son that is born shall be cast into the river…” Describing Moses’ birth, the Torah mentions that after the delivery, his mother Yocheved looked at her newborn baby and “she saw that he was good.” (Exodus 2:1) Then she hid him away for three months.
The commentaries wonder what this seemingly extraneous phrase — “she saw that he was good” — tells us. After all, it’s natural for any mother, upon seeing her newborn baby, to immediately be overcome with an intense feeling of love, joy and gratitude and to embrace the child — so, of course, he was good in her eyes. But because every word is precise and relevant (how much more so concerning the focal figure in the Torah), there must have been some unique goodness that she noticed.
One interpretation, brought by the Aramaic translation of Targum Yonatan, is that Moses was born in the seventh month of pregnancy, an early birth that could have resulted in death. Nevertheless, he was complete and strong. Another explanation, cited by the most literal commentary of Rashi, is that this additional comment of “she saw he was good” is reminiscent of (and linked to) the very first time the Hebrew word “good” is used in the Torah:
God’s first creation was light, whereupon the verse in Bereisheet (1:4) states: “God saw that the light was good.” Just as God created light, then saw that the light was good, so too Yocheved gave birth and saw that he was good. This remarkable similarity, therefore, hints at some connection between the birth of Moses and the appearance of newly created light.
The Talmud explains that the moment Moses emerged from the womb, the entire room was suddenly filled with light, a sign that a special soul had entered the world.
The heroine
The backstory of Moses’ birth involves a discussion with Moses’ sister, Miriam. Jewish tradition recounts that when Amram, Moses’ father, first learned of Pharaoh’s decree, he reasoned (and likewise persuaded others) that any procreation would be in vain — their children would be killed anyway. After hearing this, Miriam, his daughter, strongly opposed his reasoning. She argued that the fundamental mitzvah “to be fruitful and multiply” is a definite reality that must be heeded without any calculations of future outcomes, which are merely possibilities. As a result, Amram and other men reunited with their wives, providing the impetus for the Exodus.
The Jewish Sages declare: “By virtue of the righteous women of that generation our ancestors were freed from Egypt.” And a key characteristic is reflected in this story. Imagine the strength that it took for a mother to make such a dreadful decision, knowing that her newborn son would immediately be killed. Yet, the cosmic effect of such faith — inspired by Miriam — brought about the redeemer and most famous spiritual leader in history.
One simple message is clear: Each child is an entire universe, unlocking channels of blessing for its family and the world at large.
A double decree
Like the abovementioned hint at the light that entered the room, there is another revealing subtlety in a famous verse, quoted in the Passover Haggadah, regarding the attempt to prevent the Jewish redemption. “Pharaoh charged all his people, saying: ‘Every son that is born you shall cast into the river; and every daughter techayun (you shall sustain, keep them alive).’” The precise wording sparks an inquiry: If Pharaoh’s sole concern was for all Jewish boys to be drowned in the river, why bother adding the obvious ending — “and every daughter you shall sustain”?
The superficial understanding of this phrase is that the fate of the girls did not interest Pharaoh; “just leave them alone.” Yet the juxtaposition — two instructions within the same verse — suggests the concluding phrase, too, involved some harsh decree. Picking up this nuance, the commentaries point to the meaning of the word techayun — “you shall sustain them, keep them alive.” They explain that the additional wording — “to sustain” — connotes a more active expression, an instruction to raise every daughter in the ways and practices of Egyptian culture.
Thus, Pharaoh gave two messages, one related to killing the bodies and the other to the souls: Pharaoh ordered his people drown the Jewish boys in the river in order to bring about physical death. Those same Egyptians were commanded to actively “sustain” (i.e., raise) the girls as Egyptians, by immersing them in the prevalent culture, and thereby causing them to forget their roots.
Egyptian traps
Since Egyptian exile is mentioned as the root of all subsequent exiles, its harsh decrees — as well as its recipes for persevering — apply (in some form) to all periods in our history. In this regard, we may encounter a prevailing attitude and pressure to immerse children in the popular way of life, even if it runs contrary to essential Jewish values. More specifically, Jewish children are often taught more about the modern political figures and heroes, before they can explore their own roots. In this week’s parasha, we have two heroes to celebrate and educate about: Moses and Miriam.
Rabbi Dan Lewin is director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. For information, visit www.maayanchai.org.

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