Monarchical Vacillation

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/shoftim-monarchical-vacillation/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Shoftim

Monarchical Vacillation

“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” -Sir Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons, November 11, 1947

The Bible seems to be of two minds when it comes to the topic of Monarchy. On one hand it appears to be a command, that the people of Israel should appoint a king to rule them. On the other hand, both in God’s messages to the people, and as we have seen throughout history – a king is more often than not a greater curse for his subjects than a blessing.

When trying to imagine a Messianic future, there are some as well that picture the return of the Monarchy. It is prophesied that a descendant of King David will rule Israel, but will it be as King, as some benevolent tyrant, or will his powers be circumscribed by some other government institutions creating a balance of power?

The Netziv on Deuteronomy 17:14 explains that the commandment to appoint a king is an optional one. It is only if the people desire and demand a king. If there is a king in place, then the Torah provides certain guidelines, restrictions and privileges for the king. But it is not a necessity for Israel to have a monarch.  It is perfectly permissible for the people of Israel to choose some other form of government for self-rule. It can even be a democracy.

May we improve the governing institutions we have and be grateful that they are not worse.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our elected officials in all their functions and capacities. May God bless them, give them wisdom, compassion and good judgment.

 

 

Inseparable Pair

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/reeh-inseparable-pair/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Reeh

Inseparable Pair

There is one evident, indubitable manifestation of the Divinity, and that is the laws of right which are made known to the world through Revelation.” -Leo Tolstoy

The Bible details and repeats the account of the divine revelation of God to the entire people of Israel, where He, in His Awesomeness, speaks the famous Ten Commandments in front of the multitude of the Jewish nation who heard and accepted and survived the direct and powerful encounter with God. The giving of the commandments at Mount Sinai was probably the most extraordinary moment in all of human history.

However, Jewish tradition tells us that much more than ten commandments were conveyed at Sinai. In fact, the entire corpus of what we know as the Five Books of Moses, including all 613 commandments were transmitted directly to Moses at Sinai. Moses painstaking writes down, verbatim, the words of God to the world.

Yet there is even more. The Netziv on Deuteronomy 12:1 explains that not only was the Written Torah given to Moses at Sinai, but also the Oral Torah was delivered. There is an entire field of knowledge, much more expansive, deeper, filled with mysteries and secrets, that was given over to Moses during his personal encounter with God. The Oral Torah explains the Written Torah. The Oral Torah is inseparable from the Written Torah. The Written Torah cannot be understood, and in places does not make sense, without the explanations of the Oral Torah.

While it is true that the Written Torah is a fundamental, sacred document for us, it is just one part of the puzzle. It is incomplete, even defective, when studied alone, without the complementary Oral Torah. Parts of the Oral Torah were eventually committed to writing. The process started around 2,000 years ago with the Mishna, followed a few centuries later with the Talmud and subsequently with the written codes of law and rabbinic commentaries and explanations.

Both the Written and Oral Torah are our tradition. If we are to embrace our tradition, we should do so fully, completely, understanding it holistically, keeping the inseparable pair united.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the new banim and bnot sherut (young volunteer teachers from Israel) that have arrived in Montevideo. May they have much success in transmitting our written and oral traditions and having a positive impact on our community.

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.