Removing Adam’s Curse

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita update: Ilan is doing great. He is scheduled for surgery tomorrow to put back parts of the skull. He still has issues with word recall and difficulties moving his left side, but otherwise there is good daily progress in his movement and functionality.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Vezot Habrachah

Removing Adam’s Curse

At the very beginning of the Torah we are informed that humanity is to suffer eternally because of Adam’s primal sin, for his inability to control himself:

“Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.” Genesis 3:17

The result has been that we have to work hard for a living – very few individuals enjoy a paradisiacal existence.

At the very end of the Torah, the tribes of Joseph are blessed extravagantly:

“And of Joseph he said: Blessed of the Lord be his land; for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep waters that crouch beneath. And for the precious things of the fruits of the sun, and for the precious things of the yield of the moons. And for the tops of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of the everlasting hills. And for the precious things of the earth and the fullness thereof, and the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush; let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the crown of the head of him that is prince among his brethren.” Deuteronomy 33:13-16

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) explains that this blessing comes to free Joseph’s descendents from Adam’s curse.

What made Joseph unique among his brothers that his descendents should inherit such a blessing? That they should be the only ones amongst humanity absolved from Adam’s curse and blessed with easy wealth and bounty?

The sages called Joseph “The Righteous” based on a single act of his. He resisted the seduction of Potiphar’s wife (remember Genesis 39:12?).

Apparently the path to an effortless livelihood is leading a life of overcoming and resisting temptation.

May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, Health, Happiness and Success. May we overcome the many temptations around us and thereby enjoy the resulting hassle-free financial reward.

Gmar Chatimah Tovah, Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the memory of R’ Yisrael Kimche z”l, father of R’ Alan and R’ Shlomo Kimche. A pillar, he left 113 descendents. For article (in Hebrew) with much more on this incredible man click here.

Delusional Blessings

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita update: Recuperation continues. Ilan is able to speak in full sentences. He is able to walk with a cane or walker. He is eating solid food and we hope that his trach will be removed tomorrow.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Nitzavim

Delusional Blessings

Humans are the only creatures that can make things up. This has given rise to art and literature, poetry and prose, architecture, technology and all the advances the human race has benefited from. However, there is a self-destructive side to imagination as well. Humans are also the only creatures that can deny reality.

All other creatures, when confronted with danger, instinctively react. Man has somehow neutralized this primordial instinct in itself.

“Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turns away this day from the Lord our God, to go to serve the gods of those nations; lest there should be among you a root that bears gall and wormwood; and it come to pass, when he hears the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying: ‘I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart–that the watered be swept away with the dry’; the Lord will not be willing to pardon him, but then the anger of the Lord and His jealousy shall be kindled against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven.” Deuteronomy 29:17-19

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) explains that when the stubborn man hears the word of God, hears the warnings, hears the punishments, he blesses himself and says “it won’t happen to me.” He thinks perhaps others may fall victim to the consequences of their actions, others will feel the wrath of God. But for some egocentric reason, he will be spared. He will be the lucky one who is immune to God’s judgment, who will escape the consequences of his actions.

But it is exactly that man (or woman, or family, or tribe) that will receive the harshest punishment of all. They will receive ALL the curses. To top it off, they will receive the curse we only lay on our worst enemies – their name will be erased from existence.

In this period of repentance we need to wake up from our self-delusions. We need to honestly confront ourselves. That way lays the path to forgiveness, redemption and blessing.

May we all successfully prepare ourselves for a New and Sweet Year.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the young women who have come to Jerusalem for a year, to study Torah together with the Arts. By combining these two areas they are making healthy, rooted use of their imaginations. Hatzlacha Rabbah.

Nation vs. Religion

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita update: Thank God, we are seeing consistent progress. He is able to speak more and remembers and follows more of what’s going on. He is also moving more, though he cannot walk yet unaided. He has just started eating real food.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Ki Tavoh

Nation vs. Religion

Everyone has got it wrong. And it is this error that has created confusion. People think of and define Jewishness as a religion. In this, they are mistaken. Jews are a Nation.

In a related way, people are making a fatal mistake about Islam as well. When the Jihadists start spilling Christian blood in the streets of Europe, people may realize their mistake – or then again, perhaps not – or maybe we’ll see the resurgence of the Crusaders.

It may not be politically correct, but by calling these Nations “religions” politicians and the media make believe that it is just a matter of spiritual beliefs or ritual practice. They don’t understand that we are talking about National allegiance to a people, a cause and a geopolitical reality. The current nation-states are merely a backdrop to these conflicts.

Nations on the other hand are classically defined as a collection of people within a certain geographic area and/or with a certain common genealogy. Judaism gives great value to both geographic connections (namely the Land of Israel) and genealogy (how many peoples trace their ancestry back thousands of years?). But that is not nearly the whole picture.

“On this day you have become a Nation.”

Deuteronomy 27:9

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach makes a very simple statement on this verse. When the Israelites accepted the Torah – that is when they became a Nation. What defines the Jewish Nation are not borders or genetics – it is the allegiance to the Torah – to God’s word and mission for us on Earth.

That is what unites us. It is not the language or the geography or even the common ancestry, though we may share many of those things. It is the commitment to the principles, laws and details of the Torah. The Torah and the Jewish Nation have transcended empires, continents and time itself. Jews individually and through their ethical teachings have served as a beacon of light to civilization and history. That’s a Nation I’m proud to be a part of.

May we always be united in our nationhood and call a spade a spade.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the Rebbe of the Shomer Emunim. He has been preaching some of the above for many years now. Especially the doom and gloom bits of the coming global clash between Islam and Christianity – over Israel. Don’t say you weren’t warned…

Competitive Comparisons

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita Update: Fantastic progress! He’s walking (with assistance) and talking (with some difficulty). He is doing intensive rehabilitation and we look forward to more progress every day. Keep the prayers going.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Ki Tetze

Competitive Comparisons

There is something healthy about pitting oneself against an opponent, striving, pushing to reach one’s potential, and via the competition reaching new heights of personal performance.

On the other hand, there is always the danger of comparisons, of feeling better or worse than someone as a result of the competition. The Bible repeatedly compares the performance of people (see Kings, where each descendent of King David is held to his standard of devotion). However the Torah does seem to draw the line when there is a major difference between who is being compared.

Amongst the plethora of commandments in Deuteronomy, there is at least one that looks out for inter-species relationships and potential competition:

“Thou shalt not plow with an ox and a donkey together.”

Deuteronomy 22:10

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) gives a number of reasons as to why God should care and legislate such a particular commandment.

One of Hizkuni’s reasons is that God wants to spare the feelings of the donkey. One cannot compare the strength of an ox to the strength of a donkey. To have them work side by side, doing the same work, plowing the same field, would embarrass the donkey. In order to spare the feelings of the donkey or any other weaker animal, the Rabbis legislated that animals of different species shall not plow, pull or otherwise work together.

The Torah recognizes that not all animals are created equal and situations which highlight the difference to the detriment of one of the parties need to be avoided. For creatures that just don’t have the inborn capability to compete with each other, it is plainly unfair to stand them side by side.

However in areas where we are equal or closely so, it seems it is fair game to ask, “If he can do it, why can’t I?”

May we only engage in healthy competition – and win.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To my children starting their school year. Go get ‘em.

Long live the politician!

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita Update: Great progress! He is awake and aware, though not talking yet. He has been moved to the Rehab Clinic at Mt. Sinai Hospital in NY. He is able to move his body and can even walk with assistance. We’re hoping to see even more progress while in the clinic.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Shoftim

Long live the politician!

“The King is Dead. Long Live the King,” is a phrase whose origin is shrouded by the mists of time.  Its usage is noted as far back as 1272 England upon the death of King Henry III and the succession of his son Edward I.

The Bible hints at such thoughts in Deuteronomy 17:20:

“May he (the king) prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel.”

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) teases out an additional lesson from the verse. Hizkuni explains that once the mantle of leadership is thrust on a king, his aging accelerates. The worries, the responsibilities, the burden of carrying an entire people are so heavy that the king will die faster then he would have otherwise.

For that reason as soon as the old king has died and the new king takes his place, he requires the blessing of “Long Live the King.”

We have seen a similar effect of accelerated aging on modern day presidents, prime ministers, politicians and other people carrying the burdens of the many.

This effect seems to be independent of political views, intelligence or even altruistic tendencies. In any case, we wish that these leaders always do more good than harm and may they have long lives to continue to serve their public. (And the evil, corrupt, damaging and outright inept leaders can go ahead and die at an accelerated rate.)

May the leaders that God sends us be better than what we deserve.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To my nephew, Saadya Epstein, on the occasion of his Bar-Mitzvah. We wish him both leadership and a long, healthy life.

Staking Eternity

Tzvi Ilan ben Gita Update: He is breathing on his own and is completely off sedation. He is considered conscious, is completely responsive to pain stimulus and somewhat responsive to commands. He is able to open his eyes and follow things and people across the room. The hope is to move him from the hospital to a rehabilitation clinic where we pray for further progress and good developments.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Re’eh

Staking Eternity

There are few things as heinous to the Torah as Idol Worship. We are repeatedly warned away from the worship of strange and foreign gods. The Talmud tells how the sages from more than two millennia ago prayed to God to take away the pervasive and unrelenting desire for this strange worship. God acceded to the demand. The burning desire was removed from humanity. As such we are told we can no longer even imagine the pressure and the passion of that particularly major sin.

I have a theory that we have found many other things we worship and are fanatical about that have taken the place of statues, but that is a topic for another day.

In any case, Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) points out some curious laws relating to idols and specifically to their destruction.

Idols are considered so evil and so corrosive, that the Torah demands they be destroyed completely and one may not gain any benefit whatsoever, whether direct or tangential from the worship or the material of idols.

Man however has the ability to ‘nullify’ the power and the status of an idol. If an idol-worshiper somehow defaces, shows disrespect or in any way demonstrates that the object he formerly worshiped is no longer worthy of such tribute – that act according to Jewish law can remove the status of ‘idol’ from the object.

Hizkuni points out an exception to this rule. Jewish idols.

An idol that is bought, owned, used or somehow attached to a Jew can never be nullified (which is another reason it needs to be destroyed completely). The spiritual energy, the spiritual bond and importance that a Jew gives to an idol has eternal power. Nothing (save destruction) can remove that eternal, spiritual link and the importance and status of the idol.

The sages like to say: “If that is the case for bad, imagine how much more so for good.”

If for the most odious crimes a piece of (bad) eternity is created, then how much more so for doing what’s right. The corollary is that for every good deed, kind word and thoughtful act we create another piece of eternity. It follows that the positive bonds of friendship, of family, of community will last forever.

May it always be so.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To Pinhas Lustig on the occasion of his Bar-Mitzvah. To his parents, family and the wider Lustig and Geller families on this happy occasion. May our eternal bonds only be positive and joyous.

Staff of Faith

Ilan update: He has been off of sedation (very good) and is responsive to pain stimulus including opening his eyes (great) but is still unconscious (less good). This is excellent progress so far. The next target for the doctors is to get him off of the respirator and have him breath on his own. He has started initiating breathing on his own which gives us much hope. For anyone wanting further updates, when you email me I’ll email back what I know at the time.

Deuteronomy Hizkuni: Ekev

Staff of Faith

For forty years, the Children of Israel looked heavenward for their sustenance. Literally. One accounting of the miracle of the Ma’an was that it descended from the sky sandwiched between layers of cloud. When the cloud/Ma’an combination reached the ground, the upper cloud dissolved, revealing a cream-colored doughy food – their daily bread.

In Western culture, bread is referred to as the ‘staff of life’. It is the basic sustenance that supports man in his endeavors (in the East it is rice – the ‘bowl of life’? – I need someone from the Orient to give me the cultural references…).

Rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoach (Hizkuni) explains that the Ma’an needed to be a daily experience. By making us dependent on the Ma’an for nourishment it cultivated the faith of the Children of Israel.

Hizkuni makes use of the famous Talmudic dictum “you cannot compare a man with his pita in his basket, to one without a pita in his basket.” If we are provided for ahead of time, if our ‘baskets are full’ then we naturally feel less dependent on God. If our basket is empty, if we need to look heavenward daily for support, then we connect with and even feel God with greater intensity. We cultivate faith to see God providing for us actively and consistently on a daily basis.

That is what the generation that grew up in the desert experienced. In our modern age only a small percentage of the population reading this wants for food daily (if you’re illiterate or don’t own a computer, then you indeed may be amongst the masses that rely on God for your daily ration). However, there are multiple other things in our lives that we lack daily and we may beseech God for. God wants this reality. He wants us to connect with Him. He wants us to turn to Him for the areas in our life that require assistance.

A major area of assistance that we have called on this week is health. We have prayed daily, intensely, with great emotion for the healing of Tzvi Ilan ben Gita. His daily lack of health has spurred a call to God. It has engendered the faith in God that He is The Provider of Everything – health not the least of them.

May we see God’s hand and munificence in all our daily needs and in the complete recovery of Ilan.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To all of our friends and family that have reached out to us and given us tremendous help and caring. You are providing our daily Ma’an of support.