Ugly Language

Ugly Language

The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it. -George Washington

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One of the most defining characteristics of human beings are their ability to speak. And in a sense, the words we use define us, but not only the words that come out of our mouths, but also the words that we hear, the words that infuse our being. And in that area, like in so many others, we have free choice. We can choose both what to speak and what to hear. There are few situations where we are forced either to say something or to listen to something.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 23:14 warns about this matter and specifically about “nivul pe”, literally “the disgustingness of the mouth”. He states clearly and simply that if we suddenly find ourselves exposed to foul language, to things that are not appropriate to be spoken, we should simply stick our fingers in our ears or get up and leave.

We would not subject ourselves (or our children) to harmful fumes, substances or dangerous situations. The same is true regarding foul language. It is toxic, corrupting and disgusting. The fact that it is widely used and accepted by the masses does not make it any better. Do not accept it. Do not stand for it. Let it be known that you disaprove. You will be surprised by the positive reactions people will have to this small stand of principle. And if they don’t get it, spend your time with more refined people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the incoming class of Midreshet and Yeshivat Torah V’Avodah. I expect you will hear many beautiful words from your teachers and administration.

Lions of Judah

Baal Haturim Deuteronomy: Shoftim

Lions of Judah

There is something behind the throne greater than the King himself. –William Pitt, The Elder Chatham

royal lionThe Bible itself as well as subsequent Rabbinic commentators have mixed feelings regarding a monarchy. On one hand it seems to be a command that the nation of Israel should have a king. On the other hand, it seems that a monarchy may only be established if the nation desires one. If the nation wants a king, then there are certain guidelines as to the qualifications of a king as well as what he can and cannot do.

Not much after the nation of Israel conquers the land of Israel, we have the death of Joshua and the loss of centralized leadership. That time period is known biblically as the era of the Judges when over the course of a few hundred years the nation of Israel descends into civil war, chaos and anarchy. However, with the subsequent establishment of the monarchy of Israel, we relatively quickly get to corruption, idolatry and oppression, and a few hundred years after that, destruction and exile. In the long term, the difference between not having a monarchy and having one seems to be the difference between social madness and organized social madness.

Nonetheless, the Bible gives a tremendous amount of respect and importance to the historical monarchy. The desire for a king and the need to follow one to the people’s liking is the source of much drama in the biblical books of Samuel and Kings and leads to the schism between the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) that remained loyal to the House of David and the ten northern tribes that went through various non-Davidic rulers. The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 17:15 points out to us that the kings of Israel are meant to be descendants of the tribe of “Lions”, the tribe of Judah (as David, Salomon and their descendants were – and would indicate the northern tribes were ostensibly in the wrong in following non-Judean rulers, despite God’s command and repeated intervention in the election (and assassination) of the kings of the ten tribes).

The error of non-Judean kings was repeated again during the second Temple era after the Hasmonean Revolt, where the successful Maccabees took the helm of political leadership despite being a Cohanic non-Judean family. The initial victory turned to ashes generations later as the Hasmonean line became corrupt and ends with Herod, who while an impressive builder, was a greater enemy of the Jewish people.

May we merit leadership of noble traits and correct pedigree, be they kings or otherwise.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the two lions who included Montevideo in their courageous Halachic Adventures: Dr. Ari Greenspan and Rabbi Ari Zivotofsky.

The Metaphysics of Charity

Baal Haturim Deuteronomy: Reeh

The Metaphysics of Charity

There never was a person who did anything worth doing, who did not receive more than he gave. -Henry Ward Beecher

giving saplingBeing charitable is a Jewish value that is recorded already from the stories of our Patriarch Abraham. In the time of Moses it is codified as law, including the requirement to tithe. The Rabbis give further clarification as to the percentage and measurements of different agricultural donations that each farmer was expected to contribute.

The Baal Haturim on this week’s Torah portion provides a number of pointers as to the metaphysical reality of charity. He states in Deuteronomy 12:19 that the act of giving charity leads directly to increased wealth. In Deuteronomy 15:8 he explains that if a person listens to and provides for the poor, God in turn will listen to and provide for the charitable person. The inverse is also true. If a person ignores the plea of the poor, God is likely to ignore the potentially charitable person.

Finally, the Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 15:10 details that we should be careful to provide the solicitant what they need. He brings as an example the story of King David who when he was seeking refuge from the ire of King Saul escaped to the Cohanic city of Nov where they provided him with bread and a sword, two things he was in dire need of.

May we have the capacity and opportunity to be generous to those in need and may we see our generosity divinely and abundantly rewarded.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Rachel and Shalom Berger on their abundant celebrations.

Fashionable Resurrections

Baal Haturim Deuteronomy: Ekev

Fashionable Resurrections

If that vital spark that we find in a grain of wheat can pass unchanged through countless deaths and resurrections, will the spirit of man be unable to pass from this body to another?  -William Jennings Bryan

vampire coffin

It is a principle of Jewish faith that at some point in the future, the dead will come back to life. We have it listed as 13th of Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith: “I believe with complete faith that there will be a revival of the dead when it will rise up the will from the Creator, blessed be His Name.”

This precept raises multiple questions:

  • In what body will we return?
  • Will we return old or young?
  • If we suffered the loss of a limb, will we return whole?
  • If you believe in reincarnation, which person will return?
  • And finally, will we return dressed or naked?

While I have faith that all of these questions will be taken care of satisfactorily, the Baal Haturim does provide in Deuteronomy 8:3 the answer to at least one of the questions. He states that the resurrected will return fully clothed. He gives the analogy to wheat. If a seed of wheat can be buried in the ground “naked”, decompose, and return fully grown and “clothed” then so too, those destined to return from death will return fully clothed.

One less thing to worry about.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all innocent victims of violence.

Anti-Demon Laser

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/anti-demon-laser/

Baal Haturim Deuteronomy: Vaetchanan

Anti-Demon Laser

Only when your consciousness is totally focused on the moment you are in, can you receive whatever gift, lesson, or delight that moment has to offer. -Barbara De Angelis

monsters inc 3

We are all chased by demons at some point in our lives. Either real ones, or metaphorical ones. They may gnaw at your consciousness. They may invade your dreams. They may dominate your nightmares. However, when they intrude upon your daily life, it becomes a dangerous threat.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 6:4 provides a prescription for the banishment of demons. It is the age-old prayer of “Shma Israel”. It is the prayer that our Patriarch Jacob is said to have recited upon his emotional reunion with his long-lost son, Joseph. It is the prayer that countless Jewish martyrs throughout the ages stated with their dying breath as they were hung, flayed, burned, shot and gassed to death. It is the rallying call of the Jewish faithful to our one God.

The Baal Haturim explains that when a person recites the prayer of “Shma Israel” with earnest concentration, not only does it ward off and protect a person from demons, it actually causes demons to flee from that person.

May we choose to focus and concentrate on the important and meaningful moments in our day.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Zlatkin family on their return to Israel. Godspeed.

Sufficient Scholars?

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/devarim-sufficient-scholars/

Baal Haturim Deuteronomy: Dvarim

Sufficient Scholars?

Excess generally causes reaction, and produces a change in the opposite direction, whether it be in the seasons, or in individuals, or in governments. -Plato

one-in-a-crowd

There is a belief in Jewish tradition, that the merits of a Torah scholar, of a “Talmid Chacham”, that dedicates himself exclusively to studying Torah the entire day, provides a physical protection to the Jewish population around him. The mere act of profoundly and deeply reading and reviewing the ancient texts, of immersing oneself in the sea of Torah scholarship affords to others a divine safeguard against the evils of the world.

While this is an old, long-held belief, in recent decades it has become a more popular and underlying philosophy for growing segments of the Jewish nation. One question that may be asked is what is the ideal required ratio of these “spiritual defenders” as compared to the population being protected. How many of our sons should dedicate themselves to what otherwise might be considered activities that don’t contribute materially to society? How many Torah scholars do we require as compared to active soldiers? How many people should be working for a living and how many should confine themselves to the four walls of the study hall as a career path?

Interestingly enough, the Baal Haturim provides an answer. He states on his commentary to Deuteronomy 1:3 that one “Talmid Chacham”, one true Torah scholar, has the capacity to “protect” 40,000 people. For every 40,000 residents, one Talmid Chacham is enough. So for example, for a population of 8,000,000, the math would indicate that we would want 200 full-time professional Torah scholars.

One would therefore hope that the quality, commitment and seriousness of thousands upon thousands of men who ostensibly dedicate their lives exclusively to Torah study will afford us great protection.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the true Torah scholars out there.

A Leader’s Vow

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/matot-a-leaders-vow/

Baal Haturim Numbers: Matot

A Leader’s Vow

 Vows are made in storms and forgotten in calm weather. -Thomas Fuller

yiftahs daughter

One of the more disturbing stories in the Bible is that of the Israelite leader, Yiftah, in the Book of Judges. He was an outcast, but apparently with some leadership qualities. He attracted and led a band of ruffians. When the people of Israel are threatened, the elders turn to Yiftah for military assistance.

Before battle Yiftah takes an oath, that if God gives him victory over his enemies, in thanksgiving, Yiftah will sacrifice to God the first thing to greet him upon his successful return home. Perhaps Yiftah imagined a lamb would run to him, or some other livestock would cross his path. However, upon Yiftah’s successful victory and subsequent return, none other than his beloved daughter, his only child, runs out to greet her victorious father. Yiftah tears his clothing in anguish, and the simplest reading of the verses indicate that he does kill his daughter as a human sacrifice to God.

The Baal Haturim on Numbers 30:2 explains that it is the nature of Israelite leaders to make vows and call for divine intervention when their people are in trouble. However, all the Rabbis are in agreement that Yiftah erred grievously, first, in making such a poorly worded vow, and second, in fulfilling such a dastardly act that is abhorrent to God. There is a procedure in Jewish law for rescinding poorly made vows that Yiftah should have availed himself of.

May we avoid vows. But if we make them, we should make them wisely and fulfill them honorably.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Miriam Cohen of Melbourne. May any and all vows be filled with blessings.