Friday, Jul 19, 2024

The Sun Rises Over Yerushalayim

In his introduction to sefer Shemos, the Ramban refers to it as the Sefer Hageulah. The parshiyos of Shemos recount our subjugation in Mitzrayim, the miraculous exodus, Kabbolas HaTorah and then, finally, the construction of the Mishkon. These are all parts of a process. The Jewish people were at their lowest point, with seemingly no escape, and then, with the help of Hashem, they triumphed.

Today, as we find ourselves in golus, we wait for the next step in the process leading us to redemption. If we are attentive, we find indications that we are making progress toward exodus and geulah.

Last week, my wife and I traveled to Eretz Yisroel. We happily went through the airport lines, the security checks, and the commotion at the gate, as travelers waited to head home to the greatest land on earth.

We boarded the flight and headed to our seats, only to find that they were not together. There was an Israeli man sitting next to my wife. I offered him my aisle seat, assuming that he would have no problem switching with me, one aisle seat for another, so that I could sit near my spouse.

It didn’t work out that way.

The hard-edged Israeli with disgust in his eyes saw me, a chareidi with a beard, suit and tie, and shook his head.

A kind American woman seated nearby offered to switch seats and the incident was over. But it wasn’t. I took my seat, buckled up, and the airplane rose into the sky. I wanted to go over to the Israeli and talk to him. I wanted to tell him what it means to be a Jew. What it would mean to have love in his heart. What he is missing in life. But I didn’t bother. I was afraid that he would cause a scene, so I kept quiet.

I got off the plane without telling him what was in my heart.

I wonder why the secular liberal Israelis hate us so much. Why are they so like the American leftists, who can’t get over Donald Trump’s victory and continue to proclaim him as illegitimate? They prefer to divide the country than come together. They’d rather wallow in hatred and self-pity than face reality.

Sanctimonious liberals seek rights for everyone except the religious and those on the right. We are minimized, vilified, and shunted to the back of the bus. Because we follow the moral creed of the Torah. Because we are decent, honest, G-d-fearing people.

All throughout Barack Obama’s term in office, the media and politicians admonished everyone to work together in unity. Whoever didn’t was guilty of racism and was deemed unpatriotic. That has all changed with the recent election. Obama will be ever-present, remaining in DC, inciting division, and so will many others. Their dishonesty and intolerance will propel them to lie and engage in shrill threats to keep alive the anti-Trump madness.

The Democrat party has been decimated and lost dozens of congressional seats, which you wouldn’t know from following the media. The media and Democrat leaders, such as Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, create the fictitious narrative that they represent the majority, while Trump, his agenda and supporters are in the minority.

Please don’t fall for it. Stop kowtowing to the left and those who advocate on behalf of the deviants, causing harm to our community.

And so it is in Israel. From following the media, you would think that the religious community is an anti-social group, universally derided. Interactions with leftist Israelis are too often uncomfortable.

It is upsetting.

Then I read an article in Ha’aretz that was somewhat comforting. Shlomo Sand writes: “Zionism as a national movement that rebelled against historical Judaism was mainly atheistic…” After some time, “Beginning with the first stages in the consolidation and settlement or the Zionist movement, it was forced to meticulously sort and thoroughly nationalize some of the religious beliefs in order to turn them into nation-building myths.”

But that didn’t work out too well. Firstly, since they denied religion, Eretz Yisroel, for them, was not a holy land given to the Jewish people by G-d, and Yerushalayim was not a holy city that housed the Bais Hamikdosh. Consequently, everything that made the Promised Land special dissipated.

The atheists also had a problem identifying what a Jew is. That wasn’t as important pre-’67, when Israel was a small, nascent country. After the Six Day War, in 1967, as the country grew, Sand says, “the justifications for the appetite for renewed settlement also relied less on the Zionist demand for independent sovereignty and far more on the biblical idea of the Promised Land. That’s why it is no coincidence that the clerical establishment became increasingly inflated at the same time.”

And finally, “The synthesis of Zionism and socialism has disintegrated totally, making way for a winning symbiosis of religion and strong ethno-nationalism. For pseudo-secular Zionists – and not only for them – this new situation is difficult and oppressive. But…they do not have answers to the identity problems and contradictions that have been part of Israeli society since its inception.”

Therefore, the secularists will have no choice but to continue to rely on religious explanations, theory, laws and customs in order to give their country an argument for existence as a Jewish state.

And that worries them. They despise us and “our” religion. They despise our religiosity and the way we lead our lives, but they cannot exist as a Jewish country without us and what we stand for.

Rav Moshe Shapiro would relate that when he was a child, Rav Eizik Sher once asked him, “Zukt mir mein kind, tell me, farvoss zennen alleh Yidden brudder, why are all Jews brothers?”

The Slabodka rosh yeshiva answered, “Veil mir hubben ein Tatte, because we have one Father.”

I read the article and understood that this is the paradox of that country, of life, of our people.

That man on the airplane hates us because he needs us. He knows that because we are brothers, he has a claim to his piece of land. And that upsets him. The argument he uses to justify his existence in his country would seem to also obligate him to live life differently, so he gets angry.

The Gemara in Maseches Kesubos (66) relates that Rabi Yochanan was stopped by a hungry young woman. “Rebbi, please give me food,” she pleaded. She was so starved that she was picking through animal waste in a bid to find kernels of nutrition. Rabi Yochanan learned that she was a daughter of the fabulously wealthy Nakdimon ben Gurion, who had been very generous to the less fortunate back in the good days.

“Ashreichem Yisroel,” he called out, “praised are you, Am Yisroel. Bezman she’osim retzono shel Makom, when you do the will of Hashem, ein kol umah… no nation can triumph over you. But if you don’t, bezman she’ein osim retzono shel Makom, mosrom beyad umah shefeila, you are given over to a lowly nation. And not just that, you are less than the animals of that nation.”

The obvious question is why he considers how low we can fall praiseworthy. The meforshim explain that his term “ashreichem” refers to the fact that we are a nation outside the realm of nature. When we rise, no one is higher than us, and when we fall, no one is lower than us, because we don’t belong to the regular order of things.

My encounter, while unpleasant, was a perfect introduction to my short trip. It was a welcome to the land of paradox, where light and dark exist side by side.

Eretz Yisroel is blessed with layers of incredible chein. It has a special flavor, beneath which lies a fierce struggle for its character and the hearts of its people.

You see it everywhere.

We arrived Wednesday night. On Thursday, we went up north to see Rav David Abuchatzeira, a man who seems to make the extraordinary seem ordinary and the supernatural appear natural.

He stands on his feet for hours at a time, greeting every person who comes to see him with care, concern, love and respect. He seems to look into the heart and soul of each Jew who appeals to him and find the right words and brochah for them. Heir to a royal rabbinic tradition, he exudes the sanctity and purity that have given that dynasty worldwide respect. I always leave his home feeling richer than when I entered.

On the way, we stopped at a place called Mivtzar Afeik, a town conquered by Yehoshua after entry into Eretz Yisroel. Later, Hordus built a palace there for his father, Antipatrus.

The place lies in ruins. Archeologists dug up remnants of the town Yehoshua conquered. It is fascinating to view a building that stood at the time of Yehoshua Bin Nun over 3,000 years ago. It brings Nach alive. It portrays us as the eternal people with an eternal connection to Eretz Yisroel. A Roman cardo lies nearby in ruins, barely recognizable but for a few broken columns and paving stones.

It tells us so much about who we are and who we have never stopped being.

Many countries subjugated us and thought that they would rule over us forever. Many more had advice for us throughout the ages. They are all gone. Their memories are gone except to scholars of extinct peoples. We are here and we flourish, though we continue to be reviled and recipients of much advice.

As we traveled and saw road signs for Chadeira, I thought it would be a great opportunity to see the work of the Fund for French Children. We pulled into the town and made our way to a school where the Fund supports efforts to educate and integrate olim from France.

The Chinuch Atzmai school where the group set up shop is ultra-modern and beautiful. Although we had no appointment, the staff was very welcoming and happy to give us a tour of the facilities. They were not only confident and proud of their school, they were also very competent. The French children we spoke to were quite impressive. Interestingly, when asked if they miss France, they all replied in the negative. They love it in Israel. “I’m never going back there,” was a common refrain. They are picking up Hebrew and making new friends as they learn about Torah, Yahadus, and other subjects.

Pakod pokadeti, from father to son, a tradition passed down that we all have a destiny.

It was comforting to see those children and hear their sweet voices, knowing that they will grow up to be shomrei Torah umitzvos. They will be part of the eternal chain stretching back to Yehoshua, and just as he overcame challenges to ensure that the Jewish people would be able to take root in the Holy Land, so will these children of France. With the help of generous Jews, these children are being placed on the path stretching back to the avos and forward to the days of le’asid lavo.

The journey through the glorious north continued with a visit to Rosh Hanikrah, at the northern tip of Israel. Mountains jut out along the sea and the waves whip at them. Throughout the ages, the water has etched out grottos along the cliffs. You stand there and hear the waves crashing against the grottos and lapping at the walls of the grotto caves. You know that although it is imperceptible, the water is breaking through rock. With very little imagination, you think of the people assumed lost and those whose minds seem blocked by walls of stone. And you know that one day, they, too, will be reached and the Torah will permeate their beings.

The waves of water are the good people at that school, and at so many schools and kiruv centers and shuls, working steadily and lovingly to pierce hearts in which the flame is near hidden. The learning of Torah continues on a remarkable scale, flooding the country with kedushah.

We read in this week’s parsha of Hashem’s promise to the Jewish people, using five leshonos of geulah to convey that they will be redeemed from the burden of Mitzrayim. Fantastically, the posuk says that when Moshe conveyed the promise of freedom, the enslaved Jews refused to accept his words of comfort. This is attributed to “kotzer ruach” and “avodah koshah,” a shortness of breath brought on by hard work (Shemos 6:2-9).

The Ohr Hachaim (ibid.) explains that the cause of their inability to accept Moshe’s words, that they had been waiting centuries to hear, was that they were lacking in Torah, which expands the hearts of man.

Those who are devoid of Torah lack the ability to accept the words of Hashem, as well as thoughts and concepts that could greatly improve their welfare.

If we encounter sad people, such as my brother from the airplane, don’t misjudge their anger and bitterness. We know who they really are.

We have seen their country, their land of coarse sand and hard white stone, and the wall of secrets and tears, and we know where they come from. The waves continue lapping at the stones, eventually breaking through. The words of Torah enter and melt hearts.

I awoke early Sunday morning to leave for home. I looked out at the beautiful sight of the sun rising above the holy city, knowing that within minutes, its golden reflection would brighten the city as it came to life. I wanted to photograph the magnificent scene, but upon lifting my camera, I noticed a crane blocking the image of the sun.

Then I realized that the crane wasn’t blocking the sun. There in my lens was the portrayal of life today in the holy city and Holy Land, namely light, life and growth.

May the sun continue to shine, may the construction continue, may the holiness increase, may the Torah widen hearts, and may water pierce the stones until the day we merit the realization of the fifth lashon of geulah.

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