Unusual Success

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ekev-unusual-success/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Ekev

Unusual Success

“The supernatural is the natural not yet understood.” -Elbert Hubbard

As modern men of science, we are in love with the laws of cause and effect. This is true not only in the physical laws, but also in the social and economic laws. This linear thinking certainly dominates the world of business, where one expects that thorough research, good planning, intelligent decisions, skilled personnel and hard work should ostensibly lead to success.

While all these things are generally prerequisites, we are still witnesses to abysmal failures of well executed and well funded ventures as well as the uncommon successes of businesses that one can only say that extreme “luck” was on their side.

The Netziv on Deuteronomy 7:13 introduces another unusual source of success. According to the Netziv the study of Torah, the daily encounter and familiarization with Jewish law and tradition is an uncommon source of blessings. He states that by learning Torah, God bestows blessings over and above the laws of nature. There is some supernatural power in the study of the Torah that can have an influence beyond the rational.

Let’s take advantage and reach for those supernatural blessings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Robin Williams. You were an uncommon success who made us laugh. We will miss you.

For a speedy recovery of Jackeline Denise Eliana bat Ana Osnat.

Seeing is Doing

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vaetchanan-seeing-is-doing/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Vaetchanan

Seeing is Doing

“To perceive means to immobilize… we seize, in the act of perception, something which outruns perception itself.” -Henri Bergson

The Observer Effect is a physical phenomenon that posits that the act of observation affects in some fashion whatever is being observed. This has been confused with the related Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which makes different but related claims.

At the end of his life, Moses begs God to allow him to enter the Promised Land and retract the punishment prohibiting him from entering Canaan. God remains adamant, but as some type of consolation grants Moses the privilege of seeing the land of Israel.

The Netziv on 3:27 claims that God granted Moses the ability to “sense” the land with more than just his eyes. That somehow his vision enhanced his other senses and that Moses perceived the land in some fashion as if he were walking on it. Furthermore, Moses’ viewing of the land was so powerful and had such an effect, that it actually ensured that Joshua’s conquest of the land would be successful.

May all those who come to view the land of Israel and walk on it, may all those who come to support its soldiers, merit to see the success, security and safety of all our people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the bereaved families of the fallen soldiers. To the mothers, fathers, wives, fiancées, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. We are with you in your mourning.

Bursting with Pride

August 4, 2014

The smell of the salty sea always brings back fond memories. We walked from the Haifa shore into the Naval Base. I identified myself as the father of the soldier; my in-laws as the grandparents of the soldier. We joined the progression of other parents and family members to the bleachers around the concrete field, facing the sea.

Eitan3

Then we heard them. “Smol, Yemin, Smol, Yemin, Smol, Yemin, Smol!” Hundreds of white uniformed soldiers chanted as they marched. There was a power and energy that radiated from these young men and women that reached the entire crowd. The march turned into an energetic run to their positions on the concrete field. They lined up, like…soldiers — backs rim-rod straight, gaze ahead, navy-blue berets at just the right angle. However, the Israeli informality soon ruled over the stoic soldiers as many mothers, fathers and siblings ran to their children in the formation to hug them, kiss them and take pictures with them. Officers called for order, and eventually, after several attempts, the family members returned to the bleachers.

Eitan2Besides the constant “amod dom,” (stand at attention) and “amod noach” (at ease) commands, there was a progression of the various levels of naval officers as they marched onto the field. The sunset over the Mediterranean and the crashing waves were a gorgeous backdrop to the event. There were short but inspiring speeches by the commanders, there was an emotional reading of Joshua Chapter 1, which is worth reviewing and realizing how impressive it is that a “secular” army should read this at their ceremony.

Then for me, the most powerful part was the swearing-in ceremony. The new soldiers swore their allegiance to the Israel Defense Forces; they swore to give up their lives in defense of their country. They yelled their promise loud and clear. They yelled it all together. Then, each soldier individually came forward and received his rifle and a Tanach (Hebrew Bible). They placed the Tanach on their chest next to their rifle and yelled “Ani Nishba!” (I swear).Eitan1

We all sang Hatikva (the national anthem). The commanders and officers marched back out. At the end of the ceremony, the commander calls a young woman out of the crowd. One of the new soldiers, runs to her, gets on his knees and offers her an engagement ring, which she lovingly accepted. The soldiers are freed and the stands empty out to meet them.

 

When we made Aliyah in 1997, I expected that our children would eventually join the IDF. However, to see it happen in such a profound and moving ceremony made my heart burst with pride.

Striking While Hot

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/dvarim-striking-while-hot/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Dvarim

Striking While Hot

“There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.” -Niccolo Machiavelli

Millennia ago, perhaps the first technological profession, blacksmithing, taught us to strike iron while it’s hot. If you wait too long, if you wait until the red-hot metal has cooled down, your blows will be ineffective, your effort wasted, your resources spent, your time lost.

On the retelling of the journey of the tribes of Israel from Egypt towards Canaan, there is a curious statement which claims that the Jewish nation was only eleven days away from their destination, if they crossed into Canaan from the south. For a journey that eventually took forty years, it is an unusually short amount of time, making the decades-long trek particularly tragic, especially to an entire generation of soldiers that died in the desert and never merited to see the Promised Land. Furthermore, the direction the Israelite people finally entered Canaan was from the eastern border and not the southern one. So why does the Torah include this ironic and geographically misleading reminder of our wasted opportunity?

The Netziv on Deuteronmy 1:2 explains that at the time of the Exodus, the nations of the world were terrified of Israel. They had all heard of the ten plagues, the parting of the sea and the miraculous and complete destruction of the armed forces of the Egyptian Empire, the mightiest nation on the planet. The countries on the border of Canaan, specifically the nation of Seir on the southern border, would have scattered out of the way to let the Children of Israel cross through their territory. However, forty years later, Israel was no longer feared. Seir stood fearlessly in the path of Israel. Israel had to take the long road. They needed to march all the way around, eastward and northward and then to head back west towards the Jordan River and only then start their long withheld conquest of the land.

May our leadership and our soldiers strike well, strike hard, strike fast, and may all enemies of our people be destroyed quickly and thoroughly.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Captain Roni Kaplan for his own work against the media terrorists, to all our troops and to the entire family of Israel that supports them.

It’s not the journey, it’s the purpose

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/masai-its-not-the-journey-its-the-purpose/

Netziv Numbers: Masai

It’s not the journey, it’s the purpose

There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but only one view.  -Harry Millner

In my mad rush to book a last minute flight to Israel, I had to study multiple itineraries, websites, schedules and jump through too many web hoops. Flights that I finally managed to reserve suddenly changed prices and eventually disappeared altogether. Reservations that were made were then canceled by the airline. Finally, I got a flight which, as of this writing, I hope will still see me through on my journey to the Holy Land.

Netziv on Numbers 33:1 notes that the term “their journeys” is repeated three times at the introduction of the summary of the stops which Israel made since leaving Egypt until they were about to enter Canaan. He explains that each repetition represents a different purpose for the journey, that the purpose defines the journey and each journey or path requires a separate introduction.

The first leg of the Israelite journey was the Exodus from Egypt with a stopover at Mount Sinai to receive the divine revelation of the Torah, with the final purpose of entering the land of Canaan. However, the mission of the spies went awry and doomed the tribes of Israel to wander in the desert for forty years. The wandering was the second leg of their journey. The third and final leg of the journey was the resumption of the initial purpose – to enter the land of Israel.

Sometimes the journey is defined by its purpose, and to fulfill it, you have to reach the destination. The journey itself becomes secondary.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Dani Baruch of Adventour, for helping me with my journey.

After the Foxhole

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/matot-after-the-foxhole/

Netziv Numbers: Matot

After the Foxhole

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

We understand the concept of there being no atheists in a foxhole, of the rediscovery of God in the midst of danger. However, what is curious is our attitudes once the threat or need has passed. There is an example of a man late for an important meeting, urgently seeking a parking spot. He prays to God: “God, please help me find a spot and I promise I’ll give a thousand dollars to charity.” He keeps looking and prays even more fervently. “God! Help me with a spot and I’ll give two thousand dollars to charity!” Suddenly, a spot opens up. The man parks and then calls out to God: “God, don’t worry about it. I found a spot on my own!”

The instinctive search for God in times of distress seems to be counterbalanced by the just as natural tendency to forget about God once things are on an even keel. The Netziv on 30:2 warns about this phenomena when the Torah discusses the theme of vows. He explains that it is normal to make vows when distressed and just as normal for those earnest, heartfelt vows to slip our minds just moments later.

But God remembers the vow. According to Jewish law, the promises we make are binding. It has the weight and strength of a contract. We are morally obliged to fulfill our word even if it was uttered in a time of crisis. We must beware of oath-breaking.

May we feel free to call out to God in need, be careful with what we say, and have the perception, memory and will to deliver on our promises.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the victims of the AMIA terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires, twenty years ago, this week. And to the continued safety and protection of all those under threat in Israel.

Multitasking during War

Montevideo, July 9, 2014

Multitasking during War

Given my position, my long-time residence in Israel and having children in Israel and one recently enlisted in the army, I have been asked by congregants my position on the current “operation.” What attitude should we take? What can we do? How do we understand and interpret these events? Is it safe to visit Israel?

As Israelis like to say, “we’ve seen this movie before.” Israel has been the ongoing target of terror attacks for decades. When the country’s tolerance level is superseded it mobilizes its forces in a temporary attempt to quell the attacks to a suffer-able level. The Israeli attack pushes the Arabs to empty their arsenal against us. Arab civilians in Gaza will die. World media will accuse Israel at a higher pitch than usual. Israeli residents, this time in a larger radius, including Tel-Aviv and its environs, find themselves in the firing range and having to decide how seriously to take the frightening air raid sirens warning of a missile headed in their direction. Do they take cover in the few seconds they have before impact, pray fervently the missile doesn’t have their name on it and/or try to ignore the piercing unnatural noises and try to go on with whatever activity they were in the middle of?

In the next stage (if it actually gets that far) there will be a ground invasion. How far we go, how much damage to the terrorists we do and how many of our soldiers die will be a function in part of the backbone and determination of our political leaders and the ever present concern as to world opinion.

In between the air sirens, following news as to where missiles landed, worrying obsessively about our brothers, sisters, fathers, sons, daughters, cousins, neighbors, students and friends in the army and in the target zones, we have a life to live. Businesses and organizations to run. Families to feed.

A friend on Facebook noted that today the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange had positive gains on good volume. For those under the more frequent barrage of missiles, it is very difficult to function. But for the rest of the country, life goes on. For the soldiers and reservists on duty, now is a moment of truth. But for the millions of other Israelis, it’s another day on the job.

For those that are far, it can often seem confusing. Have the Tel-Aviv stock brokers no soul? How can they trade in the middle of a war, you might say. Is the car salesman, and for that matter the buyer, so heartless as to buy a new car while our brothers are risking their lives? Is the falafel vendor in Afula so insensitive as to peddle his food with a smile as children in Sderot cower at any loud noise?

The truth is that Israel has been at war with its neighbors since its very inception and our enemies have never stopped. We have tried very hard to live “normal” lives knowing very well that we are surrounded and have in our midst enemies whose only desire is to destroy us. There have merely been lulls in their efforts. That is all. Escalation should neither be a cause of panic or surprise.

I worry for every single resident of Israel. But then again, I’ve always worried. I read the reports with anguish and anxiety, but I continue with my day and the things I need to do. I pray fervently for divine protection and salvation, and think of ways to strengthen and support the country and those working towards its defense.

Years ago, during one of the many escalations in our ongoing war, a figure who I admired advised me to stay in Israel, against my parents wishes. He said that even during war, Israel is the safest place for a Jew. I still believe that today.

I pray that God will continue to protect us, that our forces will cause long-term, if not permanent damage to those that wish to kill us, and that the day will come soon where we no longer need to send our loved ones to battle.