Monday, August 22, 2016

The 9th of Av: It's About the Temple!

It turns out that I am not the only one who disagrees with Rabbi Cardozo, who wrote an article on why he does not read the Book of Lamentations on the 9th of Av. British United Synagogue's rabbi in Israel, Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, also wrote a rebuttal to Rabbi Cardozo, making some of the same points that I made, but making others that go in a totally different (and IMHO incorrect) direction.

Maybe it is me, but I had the feeling after reading Rabbi Sylvester's article, that he was trying to market the 9th of Av more as a "Tikkun Olam" kind of thing and less as a day of mourning the loss of the Holy Temple. He writes:

This day prises open the heart of darkness forcing us to confront historical tragedies and current failings. Thankfully, our suffering does not compare with the horrors facing Jewry 2,000 years ago or even 100 years ago, but all is not perfect, and in reading the Book of Lamentations, we probe our situation asking Eicha? Why?

Why do some of our neighbors refuse to accept Israel’s existence and daily plot its destruction? Why must we live with the constant fear that they will develop nuclear capabilities and hold the world to ransom? Why are we forbidden from murmuring a short prayer on the Temple Mount — our holiest site? Why across Europe is terror and anti-Semitism on the rise forcing many Jews to leave their homes and abandon their countries?

Beyond the confines of our Jewish state and Diaspora communities, we live in the shadow of refugees, flood victims, child slaves and those surrounded by scarcity, war and disease.

I met some of them on my American Jewish World Service’s delegation to Ghana; wonderful people who live in abject poverty, with no toilets or running water and little access to medicine except for the local witch-doctor. It shocked me to the core; but these were not the most deprived. Every single day, approximately 20,000 people die for lack of food and medicine. It would not take much to stave off their hunger and save their lives.

In these circumstances, we have no right to complacency and no room to relinquish the biblical book reminding us that life has had and continues to have threads of tragedy.

Towards the end he adds:
In our generation, many people struggle to relate to the loss of the Temple and its service. But responsible rabbis should not call for us to forget our tragic history, and the ritual of one of our holiest days. If we want to understand Tisha B’Av, let us reflect on what a world of decency, justice and compassion would look like.
"In our generation, many people struggle to relate to the loss of the Temple and its service", the rabbi writes. I say, yes this is true, and it is the job of rabbis, educators and anybody who has the ability, to teach the Jewish People how to relate to the Temple and its service! Our enthusiasm for the Temple and the laws pertaining to it should not fall from our enthusiasm to other mitzvot! If we are of this state of mind, which is really what the Torah requires of us, mourning on the 9th of Av and reading The Book of Lamentations will be meaningful as our prophets and sages meant it to be.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Should We Still Be Reading the Book of Lamentations on the 9th of Av?

Let me say this as simply and concisely as possible: As long as the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple is not rebuilt, Jerusalem cannot be considered rebuilt, and the reciting of Eichah (The Book of Lamentations) and kinot is still quite relevant. You do not have to be a man of great erudition to know this.

Therefore I was quite surprised to see this piece from Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo. After begging his forgiveness I must disagree with what he wrote:

But in the here and now, where I live, Yerushalayim is a city of splendor, full of life, and contradicting everything I read in Eichah.

How can I, in good conscience, utter or even listen to words claiming that I live in a desolate city, when in fact I look out of my window and am amazed to see Yerushalayim rebuilt so splendidly, as if mocking the Scroll of Eichah?

There is something totally wrong about this. Isn’t it a slap in the face to the Holy One blessed be He, Who granted our generation such a magnificent, colorful, and lively city, with its spectacular views, parks full of beautiful flowers, impressive museums, and luxury hotels, to name just a few attractions?

And then we publicly read aloud that all this is not true, as if denying this divine blessing bestowed upon us after thousands of years of disaster and exile?

Rabbi Cardozo is correct in that we have been blessed that we have a "lively city", with "spectacular views, parks full of beautiful flowers", etc. We should certainly be grateful for this constantly. Being an ingrate is a terrible thing. Where I learned, we recited Hallel on Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day in order to thank God for the wonders he has wrought for us.

However, all this does not diminish the deep pain and mourning that dwells in the heart of the Jew who longs for the Temple. In some ways it even deepens the sense of loss. “The Temple Mount is in our hands”, however, in spite of this, two legged "foxes walk upon it" (Lamentations 5:18). We are so close, yet so far away.

Reciting Eichah on the 9th of Av is in no way a "slap in the face to the Holy One blessed be He", as Rabbi Cardozo suggests. Rather it is the genuine expression of mourning, still relevant today perhaps more than ever, of the loss of our Temple, and the ability to fulfill God's Will that was lost along with it. The return to Zion and the establishment of Jewish sovereignty over part of our holy land is wonderful indeed, but we are still far from where we really want to be.

May we merit to see the return of the Davidic dynasty and the building of the Holy Temple speedily in our days!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

More Evidence of America's Moral Decline

About a month ago, while I was pondering whether Donald Trump can make America great again, I wrote the following:
America's economic, military and political decline is a product of its moral decline. The United States of America is a country that still prints "In God we trust" on its money but has slowly but surely turned its back on God.

One of the expressions of the abandonment of God is America's embrace of illicit sexual relations and those that engage in them. This sordid embrace reached its culmination in the infamous OBERGEFELL v. HODGES decision.

Therefore, in answer to my original question,"Can Donald Trump make America great again?", the answer is a loud, resounding no. He does not seem to be a man of high enough moral fiber to pull Americans out of the sleazy cultural mud that there are drowning in. The change in America is going to come from the bottom up, if it is to come at all. It would take a miracle for the USA to reverse its moral decline, and only a miracle will make America great again.

I just read something that reinforces what I wrote a month ago. America really does need a miracle. The decline is steeper than I thought:
Monica Mares reunited with her son Caleb Peterson 18 years after giving him up for adoption, and just weeks later, the duo claimed to be "madly in love." Since incest is a fourth degree felony in New Mexico -- and illegal in all 50 states -- the couple faces trial in September after being charged with the indiscretion on February 25. If convicted, Mares and Peterson could each face 18 months in the slammer.

Mares, 36, and Peterson, 19, are not only fighting for their "love" in court, but asking the public to help fund their fight for mothers to sleep with their sons all around the country.

Yes, it is called incest. I do not know how all those who support homosexual relationships between consenting adults can logically oppose this. If this case makes it to the SCOTUS, will they be able to uphold laws against incest after sanctioning homosexual marriage?

Those of us who have taken upon themselves the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and the yoke of the commandments will continue to strive to be close to God. We shall continue to ascend, while others slide down the slope of their evil inclinations. "Blessed are You LORD, our God, King of the universe, who has given us a Torah of truth, and has implanted within us eternal life."

Friday, July 22, 2016

The "Gay Pride" Parade Leaves Its Impurity in Jerusalem

I already posted that taking part in these "gay pride" parades is in and of itself a sin. Recently a Torah scholar showed me a passage from the Chacham Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, which further illuminates this matter.

The Gemara in the tractate Taanit 11A states the following:

בשעת פטירתו של אדם לבית עולמו כל מעשיו (נפטרין) לפניו ואומרים לו כך וכך עשית במקום פלוני ביום פלוני

...when a man comes into the world beyond, all his deeds are laid before him in detail, and he is told where and on what day he committed them.

The Ben Ish Chai, in his book Ben Yehoyada, explains:

שם כו״כ עשית במקום פלוני. י״ל מה צירך לסיים המקומות. ונ״ל בס״ר דידוע אם אדם עשה עבירה הוא מניח כח טומאה באותו מקום שיהי׳ שורה שם תמיד ואז גורם נזק לאחרים אח״כ לאותם הבאים לדור שם באותו מקים, שיהי׳ להם אותו כח טומאה למכשיל להכשילם בחטא, וכן במקום שעשו בו תורה ומצות ג״כ שורה שם קדושה, ויהי׳ עזר להדרים שם כידוע, ולכן מםיימץ לו מקים שעשה בו עבירה, כי מלבד עונש שיגיע לו מגיף העבירה שלו, עוד יגיע לו עונש מסיבח המקום שטמאו ועשה בו כח טומאה, ועי״כ הי׳ מכשול לאחרים שבאו בו אח״כ.

The Ben Ish Chai has a question: Why is a person told where he committed his deeds? He answers that when a person transgresses he leaves the power of impurity in the place he sinned. This impurity lingers there constantly and harms others that come to live in that place, by being a stumbling block for them and causing them to sin. He adds that the original transgressor is punished not only for his sins but for the sins that he caused others to commit.

We can learn from this that these "gay pride" parades, wherever they are held, while they are in and of themselves impure, they leave impurity in their aftermath. The Ben Ish Chai mentions that the converse is also true: When people are involved in Torah learning and Mitzvot, they cause holiness to dwell in that place.

Thank God here in Jerusalem, much Torah is being learnt and many Mitzvahs are being done. Let's hope that the holiness will push out the impurity.

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