Unjustified means

Unjustified means

Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things. -Russell Baker

backstabberJacob, the Patriarch of the nascent nation of Israel lies on his deathbed. He convenes his twelve sons, the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. He addresses them as a unit and individually. His language is flowery, poetic, prophetic.

He chastises his first three sons, Reuven, Shimon and Levi. The remaining sons receive positive pronouncements and predictions.

Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 49:7 analyzes Jacob’s reprimand of Shimon and Levi. Jacob is upset with these two sons for their deception and brutality when they massacred the residents of Shechem. It went against the norms of justice and morality. Rabbi Hirsch attacks the popular belief that all is fair in statecraft. He claims that the concept that the end justifies the means runs counter to the principles of Judaism. What is reprehensible if done by one individual to another for their own personal consideration is equally reprehensible if done in the name of the state. Morality applies in politics and diplomacy. It is not only the purview of private affairs.

Rabbi Hirsch takes this interpretation a step further:

“The last will and testament upon which the Jewish people was founded pronounces a curse upon all acts of deception and brutality, even if they are committed for the most legitimate interests of the nation, and it sets down for all time the doctrine that even in public life and in the promotion of the common good not only the ends but also the means used to attain these ends must be clean.”

“However, it is only the anger and outrage of Shimon and Levi that are cursed. The curse is directed neither against Shimon and Levi personally, nor against their aims as such.”

Government reactions of anger, outrage and deception, while understandable or even politically justified, are often ineffective or counterproductive as matters of public policy. Once we’ve identified the correct aims, we need to reach them through correct and straightforward means.

May we have a leadership that will take the correct path, see that justice is done to those that promote and insight terror, and is not swayed by the political winds of expediency.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

In memory of Erez Orbach of Alon Shvut. God will avenge his blood.

Party Sacrifice of Peace

Party Sacrifice of Peace 

Joys divided are increased. -Josiah Gilbert Holland

banquet

Up until the time of Jacob, the animal sacrifices that our ancestors brought to God were completely consumed by fire. The entire beast was burnt in a ceremony known in Hebrew as a Korban Olah. This act demonstrated a total submission and entreaty to God. It all went to God. Jacob does something different.

Jacob is informed that his beloved long-lost son Joseph was alive and not dead as he was lead to believe for twenty-two long years. As he rushes down to Egypt to reunite with Joseph, Jacob offers a different type of sacrifice, which is called Zevachim and also Shelamim (peace offerings). In this sacrifice, part of the animal is burnt upon the altar, but here man also partakes of the meat of the sacrifice.

In the words of Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 46:1:

“[The peace offerings] express a loftier concept, that of “God coming into our midst.” They are therefore offered in the happy awareness that wherever a family lives in harmony, is faithful to its duty and feels that it is being upheld by God, there God is present. That is why the spirit of the Shelamim, the “peace offerings” of a family life blessed by God, is so typically Jewish. The concept of surrendering to God and permitting oneself to be absorbed by Him has begun to dawn also upon non-Jewish minds. But the thought that everyday life can become so thoroughly pervaded by the spirit of God that “one eats and drinks and while doing so, beholds God,” that all our family rooms become temples, our table altars, and our young men and young women priests and priestesses – this spiritualization of everyday personal life represents the unique contribution of Judaism.”

“The reason why Jacob-Israel at this point did not offer a Korban Olah, but Zevachim, is that now, for the first time, Jacob felt happy, joyous and “complete” (“Shalem” in Hebrew also means “complete” or “whole”) within the circle of his family. It was under the impact of this awareness and this emotion that he made a “family offering” to God.”

Part of the point of the Shelamim sacrifice was to share it with family and friends in a festive celebratory spirit: to consecrate the meal, to make the meal itself holy and have God as part of the celebration.

May we have many causes of celebration and holy festivities.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

On the engagement of our son Eitan to Rebecca Charytan who complete each other. We are filled with joy that we look forward to sharing.

 

Joseph, Social Economist

Joseph, Social Economist

But while they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings. -Franklin D. Roosevelt

crops

Joseph correctly interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, warning of seven years of plenty followed by seven year of famine. Pharaoh was so impressed by Joseph’s abilities that he appointed Joseph as his Viceroy and put him in charge of the Egyptian empire. Joseph takes the reins of the kingdom and distinguishes himself by creating storehouses for the grain, overseeing the orderly sale and distribution of the grain during the famine, and successfully managing and developing the overall Egyptian economy.

Rabbi Hirsch, in his commentary on Genesis 41, points out two noteworthy economic policies that Joseph instituted during the years of famine.

The first policy was that people had to pay for the grain that he distributed. Though the storehouses of Egypt were overflowing with “uncountable” amounts of grain, Joseph still charged the starving population for it. Rabbi Hirsch explains that had Joseph handed the grain out for free, it would not be valued by the population. People don’t value or appreciate handouts as much as something that they have to pay for.

The second policy was that Joseph sold only enough grain to each family to feed that family. He did not sell wholesale. There were only retail sales. He wanted to prevent a situation of hoarding, speculative buying and enterprising capitalists cornering the grain market.

Although socialists may have preferred free handouts and capitalists would have preferred freer access to wholesale deals, investments, a fluctuating market, speculation, and letting their capital work for them, Joseph’s policies insured that Egypt survived the famine.

A balanced economic policy seems to have been exactly what the country needed.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanuka Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the irrepressible Pieprz family for a glorious Shabbat in Karnei Shomron.

Clueless Joseph?

Clueless Joseph? 

Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm. -Graham Greene

clueless

Joseph recounts to his brothers his fantastical dreams which seem to imply that he will rule over them. The brothers don’t take this well at all. If they detested him before for being their father’s favorite, now they outright hate him.

After this episode their father Jacob orders Joseph to meet up with his brothers who are tending their sheep far to the north, around the area of Shechem. Joseph appears to go without hesitation or concern.

Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 37:13 explains that Joseph had no fear of his brothers because he had no ambition whatsoever to rule them. His dreams were just dreams; not anything that he planned or foresaw might come to fruition. Therefore, in his innocent mind, he had nothing to fear from his jealous brothers.

The brothers, on the other hand, took his dreams very seriously. They believed that the apparently chosen son did intend to rule over them and saw him as a clear and present danger to themselves and how they hoped to conduct their lives, free of tyrants or rulers. Hence, the acts they took, first of planning to kill Joseph and then the decision to sell him as a slave, stemmed from purely defensive motives. They were protecting themselves from the mortal threat of Joseph the tyrant. The fact that this was the furthest thing from Joseph’s mind did not have one iota of effect upon the brothers’ fears or actions.

Joseph, though he did suffer over the prolonged enslavement and separation from his family, always seemed to have God with him, and the very actions the brothers took are what eventually lead Joseph to rule over them, thereby inadvertently fulfilling his prophetic dreams.

God often protects the innocent, but it doesn’t hurt to be less naïve.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the subscribers and those that have encouraged and promoted the launch of my Daily Torah Tweets. Thanks!

The Darkness Will Pass

The Darkness Will Pass

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. -Carl Gustav Jung

pre-sunrise

After twenty years, Jacob escapes from his treacherous father-in-law, Laban, only to approach his deadly brother, Esau. The night before his fateful meeting he is accosted by an angel. They wrestle the entire night, and only with the approach of dawn does Jacob get the upper hand on his otherworldly opponent. It is at that momentous encounter that Jacob is named Israel, the name we carry to this day.

Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 32:27 explains that throughout the night, the adversary appears to be stronger. With daybreak, suddenly Jacob sets the terms to end the conflict. The single request is the recognition that Jacob is deserving of a blessing and not of persecution. Rabbi Hirsch elaborates: “…only by paying him such recognition will the nations bring blessings also upon themselves, and only thus will the promise, “and through you will all the families on earth be blessed, and through your seed” [Genesis 28:14] be fulfilled.”

The enemy fights ceaselessly throughout the night to destroy Israel. When morning approaches the enemy is ready to give up, but Jacob will not cease his struggle until he is accorded recognition by being blessed.

Rabbi Hirsch continues:

“The goal of history is not that Jacob should be forced to merge into the mass of nations, but the reverse. The nations must come to understand that precisely those principles which Jacob has championed and held aloft amidst all these struggles hold also the happiness of those nations which adopt them as their own.”

The night will pass, daybreak shall come. We will emerge stronger and victorious and will both receive and bestow blessings. It is already coming to fruition.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication 

To Bob Dylan on his Nobel Prize

God Starts At Home

God Starts At Home

The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest. -Thomas Moore

home

Jacob departs from his parents. He travels to Haran to establish a family, a home. He travels empty-handed. He stops for the night and has a divine revelation in the midst of his dream. He sees a staircase with its feet in the ground yet reaching the heavens. Angels ascend and descend. God speaks to him, giving him encouragement and making promises.

Jacob wakes up, startled and amazed by the revelation and the realization that he is in a holy place. He takes a rock, anoints it with oil and declares it the House of God (Bet El).

Rabbi Hirsch on this scene in Genesis 28 states the following:

“Jacob goes forth in order to establish a Jewish home, and to this end he takes with him nothing except his own person, the qualities inherent in his personality. This fact is introduced at this point in the narrative, for everything that follows is concerned solely with the establishment of that home. For Jacob was the first to declare that God must be sought, above all, within the home. He was the first to articulate the lofty concept, “the house of God,” which simply means that the place within which the souls of man grow and flourish, and to which in turn brings all that he has accomplished and transforms into life-building activity, is the greatest and nearest place where God may be found and revealed.”

May we have and build homes with God.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Yehuda and Hadar of Krakow on their marriage.

 

Customized Teaching

Customized Teaching 

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. -Sir John Lubbock

frustrated_studentModern parents have mostly outsourced the education of their children. We send them to schools and charge the teachers with the often thankless task of educating the next generation. Within the school system there have been endless debates as to how in fact we should educate our children, what the curriculum should be, what’s a reasonable class size, what are the best methods of instruction, what qualifications the teachers need and much more. None of this, however, absolves the parents of the responsibility of educating and raising their children as best they can.

Rabbi Hirsch on Genesis 25:27 sees fault in the righteous Isaac and Rebecca in their raising of Esau, who the Rabbis named “Esau the Evil”. He explains that they gave their twin boys, Jacob and Esau, the exact same education, without consideration of their very distinct personalities. Jacob was a natural bookworm, comfortable with studying texts, remaining absconded within his tent; a student ideally suited for explorations of the religious and the spiritual. Esau however, was an outdoorsman. He loved nature and the wild. He was physically strong, liked the rugged life, the life of a hunter and perhaps that of a warrior. The study of texts and the spiritual was completely lost on him.

Rabbi Hirsch explains that the boys’ saintly parents forgot or did not heed the dictum, immortalized around 3,000 years ago by King Solomon in Proverbs 22:6 “Instruct the child according to his own way.” Every child (even a twin) has his own unique personality. He will have his own interests, things that excite him and things that bore him. By providing Esau with the same educational curriculum as they did to Jacob, they almost guaranteed that he would come to abandon their beliefs and way of life. Rabbi Hirsch claims that if they had developed a unique curriculum that spoke to Esau’s love of nature, that took into account his strength, skills and courage, it may have directed him to become a mighty man of God, as opposed to merely a mighty hunter.

May we pay attention to and respond accordingly to our children’s’ differing educational needs.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Hebron Fund, for an incredibly inspiring Shabbat in the City of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs.