End of Elul 5767
- Part One: Elokim Mail
- Part Two: Yishmael Has a Case!
Part One: Elokim Mail
To the Exalted One, Creator of All Things, Rebono Shel Olam;
I am sending You my yearly E-Mail (Elokim Mail) to report on the state of Your people as perceived from my virtual world, which of course is quite different from what is perceived from Your real world.
There are two points I humbly wish to raise; but since You know my thoughts even before I, You know that they are in fact one.
It’s that time of year when Your children withdraw a bit from the distractions of this life in order to introspect on what we have or have not done properly this past year.
It is a time when seeing in the mirror a few more white hairs does more than just affect a shrug of the shoulders. It’s that time of year when we realize our frailty before the heavenly judgments, which will be meted out in a few short days. Who shall live in this world and who will be taken away to another dimension; who will rise and who will fall; who will smile and who will weep?
It is a time when life is not taken for granted, and the “I” of each person becomes the most essential thing for us who are insecure in the knowledge that our futures are being determined by forces over who we have no control.
But, Father in Heaven, there are people who, in addition to their pains and longings, are very much aware that You, the Judge of all things, are not exempt from pain. Of course, You put up an impressive show of strength and glory before the myriad of angels and other creatures ever present in the seven heavens. However, we know about that very secret room called “mistarin” into which You enter every day alone to cry for the glory of Am Yisrael and Your glory, which was lost to the gentiles; and of course, for the Bet Hamikdash which You had to destroy. Don’t be surprised that we know about Your secret room. In fact, it is right there in Masechet Chagiga 5a for all to see.
At this time, I have to confess to an ongoing sin, which I was unable to rid myself of until a little light of understanding flickered. How can I explain? After reflecting on the events of human history, I thought to myself that if anyone would run their business the way You run the world, he would be quickly bankrupt.
You created Adam and Chava and placed them in the most perfect setting imaginable, Gan Eden. Within the first three hours of their lives, they sinned, were sentenced to die and were driven out of Paradise. The next generation was even worse. Kayin killed his brother Hevel. Ten generations down the line, You destroyed all living things except for a small remnant enclosed in a floating pea pod.
Then You destroyed the five cultural centers of the world – Sedom, Amora and their sister cities.
Indeed, it took 1948 years for the first person to be born – Avraham Aveinu – who was capable of acknowledging You.
However, as time goes by, I realize Your infinite “business sense”. You made the “best deal” ever possible where You always win and never lose! The gentiles, starting from Adam, were never intended to be profit-making merchandise. The first 2000 years of history is the time it takes to set up a business when, traditionally, one always loses. The real “sechora” begins with Avraham and Sara. Since then, Your capital and interest have soared to heavenly heights.
No matter what You bring upon Your chosen people, Am Yisrael, we always come back for more. Our loyalty to You is not dependent on Your actions towards us. The destruction of two Temples, 2000 years of Galut, inquisitions, crusades, pogroms, concentration camps, world anti-Semitism, and more were never able to extinguish the flame. Who else is capable of making such a perfect business choice!?
On the one hand, I can understand Your need to retire to the “room” in anguish over our suffering, as expected from a parent whose children are not well. But, on the other hand, You have every reason to be proud of Your loyal children. They are the source of Your joy.
Just observe us at any given moment. We have returned to Your holy soil, from which the world was created. Your children in Eretz Yisrael cling to every available meter of land, building and restoring it to its former glory prior to it having been devastated by the now extinct Romans. Your children are bringing the voice of Torah to all parts of the land. I think it is safe to say that there have not been so many Yeshivot and Batei Knesset in the land since the time of Hillel and Shamai. The agricultural mitzvot of shmita, truma, ma’aser, etc., for which Your servant Moshe so much wanted to enter the land, have come alive.
The holy army – Tzahal – of the future Mashiach daily brings the call of Torah to the air and under the waves – places where they never were before. The brave soldiers of David Ha’melech protect Your holy people as has never been done in the last 2000 years. From the youngest boys in boot camp up to the highest officers, they are all imbued with the feeling that they are Your messengers in establishing Your new-old kingdom in Yerushalayim and in all of Eretz Yisrael, from the River Prat to the “great river of Egypt”.
The knowledge that we are surrounded by hundreds of millions of enemies does not deter Your children from fulfilling Your wish that the Holy land be rebuilt as the spiritual center of the world.
In the fleeting second of my existence in this world, and the limitations You have imposed on my ability to comprehend, I can still discern the wondrous qualities of the people You have chosen.
Father in Heaven – You have every reason in the universe to be delighted with Your choice of the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. We, in Eretz Yisrael, will be eternally loyal to You, no matter what You in Your infinite wisdom deem proper and necessary to mete out to us. If there are signs of weakness or frailty in parts of our nation, it can be blamed on the difficult nature of our existence and not on their desire to rebel against Your kingship.
We know that this coming year, 5767, will be critical for the history of Your world. Terrorism, Iran and Islam are, thank G-d, Your problems and not ours, because You have revealed to the prophets (Yoel 3:5 and Ovadya 1:17) that in Yerushalayim and Tzion “there shall be refuge”.
So this Rosh Hashana, when You open the books of our lives, remember what the gemara in Ketuvot writes, “Whoever resides in Eretz Yisrael is in a state of non-sinning (sharuy belo avon).”
While trying to be as impartial as possible, I can say in all frankness that You have every justification before the many prosecutors of Am Yisrael in the shamayim to:
- Forgive our wrong-doings.
- Ignore our shortcomings in light of the love we feel for You and our meseerat nefesh (sacrifice).
- Inscribe Your children in Eretz Yisrael, and those of the nation not yet here, in the Book of Life.
- Bless us with feelings of inadequacies so that we should constantly strive for perfection in the performance of Your Torah.
- Open our hearts and eyes to see the positive qualities in every person, as stated by the great Hillel as being the essence of the Torah.
- Have a great Eternity;
Nachman, son of Harav Yechezkel Shraga Hakohen of Tzfat and Sarah Chana of Dvinsk, zichronam livracha.
Part Two: Yishmael Has a Case!
Once again the Muslim month of Ramadan will coincide with the holy month of Tishrei. During this period, the prayers of Yitzchak and Yishmael will ascend before the Almighty, each claiming superiority and preferential acceptance. What will be the heavenly judgment when the angel which represents Yishmael presents his case? And Yishmael has a case!
He was here for 1300 years while the Jews were wallowing in the ghettos of Europe and the mellas of North Africa and Yemen. Yishmael clings to the soil, knows the terrain and works the land. In addition to his own tongue, he also speaks fluently the holy language of the Bible. He will defend to the death his status on the holy Mount Moriah, in the heart of Yerushalayim. And his religious leaders, to a man, speak the same message, without stammering or stuttering, that there is a religious obligation to be present and to control the entire holy land.
When the turn comes for our angel to speak up, he will have to deal with half of the Jewish nation languishing in chutz la’aretz. This includes close to one million “practitioners” of halacha, who have no intention or desire to come here. It also includes the many religious leaders who, in the best case, ignore Eretz Yisrael and, in the worst case, speak out against leaving the golden galut.
And, of course, he will have to defend many people here who feel that they are too holy to pick up a gun to defend their own lives and the lives of their families and fellow countrymen.
So what happens now in the shamayim?
Lets go back about 3500 years ago to an incident which occurred on the day of Rosh Hashana. It is known as akaydat Yitzchak. We sound the shofar to “remind” Hashem of the ultimate sacrifice Avraham was prepared to make on that day.
In the pasuk, Avraham is commanded by Hashem :Take your son, your single unique son, the one you love – Yitzchak. Chazal explains the redundancy as follows:
Hashem: ‘Take your son”
Avraham: “I have two sons”.
Hashem: “The single unique son”.
Avraham: “Both are single and unique to their mothers – Yitzchak for Sara and Yishmael for Hagar”.
Hashem: “The son you love”.
Avraham: “I love them both!”
The implication here is that Yitzchak is the one who is recognized by Hashem as being the son of Avraham, whereas Yishmael, although he is a biological offspring of Avraham, is from that time on halachically unrelated.
This becomes more apparent in a later pasuk where Avraham says to the “young men” accompanying him and Yitzchak, : “And Avraham said to his helpers (identified by chazal as Yishmael and Eliezer), sit here with the donkey and I and the youth (Yitzchak) will go forth (to Mt. Moriah) to pray and we shall return.” Yishmael and Eliezer are at that moment relegated to the status of “donkey”, totally devoid of spirituality.
From his vantage point south of Mt. Moriah, Yishmael’s hopes are uplifted that Avraham will have no choice but to restore him to his status of spiritual and material heir when Yitzchak will be no more. (Note: Avraham came to Yerushalayim from Chevron which is south of Yerushalayim. The area where Mt. Moriah first comes into sight from the south is the ridge of East Talpiot, which is the present site of UN headquarters in Eretz Yisrael. It is as if history were coming full circle. It begins with Yishmael, who viewed from afar the drama transpiring on the mountain, where Avraham picks up the knife to kill Yitzchak. Yishmael feels exhilaration in the knowledge that soon, with Yitzchak out of the way, he will return to be Avraham’s heir. So too today, the vast majority of the nation members of the UN are hoping for the demise of our Medina so that they can return to their false beliefs without the prompting finger of Yiddishkeit saying, “Your elders passed on to you false beliefs.” See Yirmiyahu 16,19).
But Hashem’s command is rescinded and Yitzchak returns to this world intact. Yishmael cannot reconcile himself to the status of spiritual bankruptcy. Not only is he no longer spiritually superior to Yitzchak, he is not even spiritually inferior to Yitzchak. He is totally outside the spiritual world. He is “Am Ha’do’meh Le’chamor” – the progenitor of a race which is human in physiognomy but without a Jewish soul.
Yishmael prepares his revenge and enlists the help of another “reject,” Esav, another first born. Like Yishmael, he loses his spiritual nature and becomes Yishmael’s son-in-law.
Yishmael and Esav know that, in their lifetime, they will not be able to regain what was taken from them because of Yitzchak’s intense spiritual energy. So they prepare their children and children’s children to hate Yitzchak and his offspring, and to wait for an opportune time to vent their venom. This will be done when Yishmael replaces Yitzchak on the mountain.
Hashem, of course, knows what is in the mind of Yishmael; and in a pasuk of the Akayda, we are warned that our fate is in our hands. The pasuk says: “And he (Avraham) took in his hand the fire and the knife to slaughter his son, and they went together.” And I ask, to whom is the Torah referring when it says “and they went together”? It cannot be Avraham and Yitzchak, because two pasukim later it says again “and they went together”.
I suggest that “and they went together” in the pasuk of the fire and the knife refers to the very same fire and knife. At that moment, Hashem brought down a decree that for now, as far as the Jewish nation is concerned, fire and knife will always go together. If we abide by the Torah, it will be the shechita knife of the sacrifices in the Bet Hamikdash and the fire on the altar. However, if we rebel against our spiritual calling, exile will ensue and we will be punished by fire at the hands of Christianity and by knife at the hands of the Arabs. The Christians burnt our books, our homes and our bodies; and the Arab descendants of Yishamel killed us with their swords, in fulfillment of the verse “And he took in his hand the fire and the knife to slaughter his son, and they went together.”
The message the shofar is sending is to remind us of the fact that HaShem chose Yitzchak and rejected Yishmael.
And even if we find ourselves at this time in our history very far from what we should be, nevertheless, Hashem has chosen us.
Dear friends: During the year 5767, I have tried in my small way to send a message which could decide the difference between life and death for the people in galut. The message is simple: We are God’s chosen people. He commands us to reside in His holy land and create a society based on His holy Torah.
Those who will heed the message will merit the blessings promised by Hashem, but he who evades the responsibilities incumbent upon a Jew will pay the price in this and the next world.
So at this time, when a Jew is obligated to apologize for causing pain to his fellow Jew, permit me to say:
If any of my writings of the past year regarding not coming home to Eretz Yisrael have aroused in you feelings of discomfort, shame, anger, sadness, sorrow, melancholy, grief or failure, or if I have caused you to wonder about your rabbi who spoke from the pulpit on Shabbat about what tuna fish to buy while war was being waged in the Holy Land, or if I caused dissension in an otherwise happy family when a son or daughter announced the intention to forego a scholarship to Harvard in order to come on aliya, – I have succeeded in a small way in my duty as a Rav and a Kohen.
May we merit in the coming year to close behind us the door on the 2000-year disaster called “galut” in order to continue our interrupted history to serve Hashem in Eretz Yisrael.
Ketiva v’chatima tova, Nachman Kahana
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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