Yom Yerushalayim

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman z"l. May it be an aliyah                                                               for his neshama.

By Jackie Ross

Walking through Jerusalem today, it's hard to imagine the city any other way - the light rail that runs through both the eastern and western neighborhoods, the easy stroll to the Kotel, the luxury shopping along Mamilla. While today the area directly across from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, Yemin Moshe, is the most expensive place to live in Jerusalem today, it wasn't always the case. Prior to 1967, life in Jerusalem wasn't so easy, or so complete. Jerusalem was slated by the UN to be an international city when the British empire left the region in 1948, fighting over the Holy City inevitably ensued. Jordan seized control of the Old City, along with the easter half of Jerusalem, until it's ultimate reunification.

Yom Yerushalayim doesn't just celebrate the reunification of the Holy City on the 28th of Iyar, in the late 1960s, it's a celebration of the beginning of the return to Jewish glory in Israel. As we've talked about before, Iyar is a month of modern miracles for the Jews in Israel and around the world. With the founding of the state on the 5th of Iyar the month is capped off with the reunification of the most important place in Judaism - a completion that has been 2,000 years in the making. Since the Roman expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash (The Temple) in 70 A.D. the Jewish presence in the Old City has been minimal and never long lasting (most residents of Jerusalem lived within the safe walls of the Old City). For the past 2,000 years all residents of Jerusalem, regardless of their religion, have been subject to the ebb and flow of various rulers - the Byzantine Empire, The Ottoman Empire, The Crusaders, Suleman the Great, etc. Life in Jerusalem has always been fraught with danger, but whenever they were allowed, there was always a small contingency living here, keeping the Jewish people's presence alive. That is, until 1948. It was such a phenomenal loss - for the first time Jews had sovereignty over Israel, but sadly not the most sacred area.

While a couple of other religions also lay claim to Jerusalem as a holy place for them, Jerusalem isn't appreciated by anyone quite like the Jews. Notably, no matter who occupied Jerusalem, the city was never the capital of any nation other than for the Jewish people. When a Jew prays, no matter where they are in the world, they turn to face Jerusalem. And if you are fortunate enough to be in Jerusalem, you turn to face the Kotel - the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. Throughout Tehillim (Psalms) there are references to Jerusalem as the House of G-d and the place worthy of the utmost sanctity. Constantly throughout the Amidah, the prayer said three times a day by religious Jews, we ask G-d to restore Jerusalem to its former glory and allow the Jews to return to their service in the Beit Hamikdash.  In the writings of the later Prophets there are constant promises that Jerusalem will be restored, and both the young an old will be able to walk down her streets safely. B'kitzur (in short): the reunification of Jerusalem is a big deal. Globally, it isn't even celebrated to the minimal extent Yom HaAtzmaut is, which is a shame. It's not a national holiday in Israel, although there are official celebrations and ceremonies. The day is acknowledged, although perhaps not to the degree it should be.

Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Reunification Day, is a special day, regardless of how it is or isn't perceived by the rest of the world. It is a reminder that G-d keeps His promises to the Jewish people and only great things are in store for them!

Yom Yerushalayim

By Samantha Hulkower

Jerusalem Day, known as Yom Yerushalayim in Hebrew, is the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chief Rabbi of Efrat, says that Jerusalem is as important to the State of Israel as Shabbat is to the Jewish people. What is it about Jerusalem that makes it so contentious, yet so celebrated by Jews all over the world? 

There is a song "Jerusalem of gold" (Hebrew: ירושלים של זהב‎, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav) is an extremely popular Israeli song written by Naomi Shemer in 1967.  The original song described the Jewish people's 2,000-year longing to return to Jerusalem; Shemer added a final verse after the Six-Day War to celebrate Jerusalem's re-unification, after 19 years of Jordanian control.

A friend of mine recently broke two of the fingers on her right hand in a kick ball league accident (file under first world problems). While she could still function, it was very uncomfortable - not in a painful way necessarily, but awkward. She had to peck out emails instead of her usual speedy typing, cutting food took forever, and she gave up trying to blow out her hair. She told me that such a small injury was made all the more frustrating because it was having such a huge impact on her life.

That's what it means for Jews when the Psalmist says, "If I forget Jerusalem, let my right hand forget what it's supposed to do."  Sure, the Jewish people survived, from 1948, until Jerusalem was reunified in 1967, but it was not their natural way. There was something missing. Others might not see the necessity of a united Jerusalem being the capital, but for the rest of us, the distinction is obvious: since Israel won the city back after being attacked, Jerusalem, and the rest of the nation, has flourished. 

Parshat Bechukosai - Admonitions (The Disclaimer Parshah)

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama.
By Shoshana Rosa

This week is also Parshat Bechukosai, the concluding Parsha in the book of Leviticus finishes off with a grand listing of the blessings and admonitions. If Bnei Yisrael (the Jewish nation) keep the covenant, we will receive the graces of seasonal rain, crops and a victory over our enemies. If we don't, well, the blessings are followed by an account of the frustrations, rebuke and curses that Hashem will use to punish those who fail to follow His commandments.Thus, the first verse declares, "If you follow my decrees, and observe My ordinances and perform them" (Leviticus 26:3). 

Over the generations, commentaries have pored over the exact wording in the  weekly Parsha; perhaps we may render some personal meaning from the ideas they've written down about this week's sidra (parsha portion). To start, a shallow glance at the first verse finds what appears to be a redundancy. However, a deeper glance uncovers treasures of meaning. Rashi and Sifra explain, First, one must follow G-d's decree to study Torah so that, second, he will be able to guard G-d's commandments (ordinances) properly. Third, once the first two conditions are fulfilled, and one has the tools available to perform the mitzvot (commandments), then, "I [G-d] will provide your rains in their season, so that the land will give its produce and the field its fruit" (Leviticus 26:4). Lesson for life: G-d wants to give us everything, but He will not fork over eternal reward (or worldly enjoyments) if we do nothing to deserve  it. This is why the bread of charity is also called the bread of shame. One can feel proud of a hard day's work. Therefore, G-d provides us the where with all to fulfill our inner potential from the very first pasuk (verse).       

Another question that might be asked on this week's parsha is "Why do the curses go on for pages when the Parsha starts with only thirteen verses worth of blessings?" Since this query is based on the premise that quality equals quantity, it would behoove us to rewire our mode of thinking.The blessing are given in wide, sweeping statements which is why they are given with brevity. "I will provide peace in the land, and you will lie down with none to frighten you; I will cause wild beasts to withdraw from the land, and a sword will not cross your land. You will pursue your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword. Five of you will pursue a hundred and one hundred of you will pursue ten thousand..." (Leviticus 26:6-8). On the flip side, the curses are proclaimed in great detail because Hashem wanted to sober the Jews into obedience. "If you consider my decrees revolting and you reject my ordinances, in order not to fulfill all my commandments etc." (Leviticus 26:15). What follows is a register of the consequences one must face if he makes choices that strain against G-d's word.  

Fine, we made our bed and we're being told to suffer the consequences. Is that all: is the relationship over? Apparently not. By the end of the Parsha, G-d reminds us that in spite of it all, "...while they [the Jews] will be in the land of their enemies, I will not have been revolted by them nor will I have rejected them to obliterate them - to annul My covenant with them..." (Leviticus 26:44).

With this last phrase in mind, "to annul My covenant with them...," one can see the mercy underlying Hashem's curses. Though we may stray from G-d, He will never truly throw us away. He will never allow us to fall into obscurity like other nations from bygone times fell into obscurity (consider ancient Egypt, Greece, Italy and Rome). Ever since G-d made a covenant with Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, the forefathers of our religion, Hashem regarded our relationship with Him as permanent.One of the reasons G-d gave us the written Torah and Oral law at Sinai was so that it would act as the glue that would keep our nation attached to Him. It matters not whether we want to forget the Torah or to dilute its laws, Hashem will not allow us. Yet even as He pushes us away with his left hand (a symbolizing of His harsh justice), He reels us in with His right hand (mercy) by bringing us back on track.       

parshat behar

This post is dedicated in memory of Shlomo ben Aryeh Zalman. May it be an aliyah for his neshama.

 Elisheva Maline

At the end of The Six Days of Creation, G-d forged a day of rest for the the seventh day. Rashi, a famous commentator on the Torah from the 1100's, quotes Breishit Rabbah (10:9) saying that on the seventh day G-d created rest. "The only thing the world lacked was rest. Shabbos (the Sabbath) is a time of rest and a halting from the week's labors. This weekly occurrence is meant to serve as a metaphor for this world and the next. "Whoever prepares himself for Shabbos on erev Shabbos (Friday afternoon) will merit eating on Shabbos i.e. those who fulfill the Torah's commandments will enjoy the fruits of their labors in The World to Come" (avodah zara 3a). This world is a temporary place; Shabbos serves as a consistent reminder. Don't sweat the things that don't matter. 

In this week's Parshat Behar, G-d takes things to another level as the Torah goes into detail on the laws of shnat shmittah (the sabbatical year). When the Yidden (Jews) entered the Land of Israel they immediately began counting seven year cycles. Every seventh year would be deemed a year of letting the land lie fallow. "You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard and gather its produce. But in the seventh year the land [of Israel] shall have a complete rest; it shall be a Shabbos for Hashem (G-d). you shall not sow your field nor shall you prune your vineyard" (25:3-4). Not only must the landowner refrain from farming the land s/he must "open" its gates to all persons whose fancy strikes them to enter and eat from the produce that grows wild during the seventh year. This mitzvah (commandment) is one of the few that pertains specifically to the land of Israel. Whoever does not live there cannot keep the laws of shmittah; however, s/he can participate in this mitzvah by supporting those farmers who are commanded to observe it.

The idea of shmittah is a challenging one, especially in a Middle Eastern country where one is liable to starve if s/he doesn't look after his wheat stalks.Was G-d essentially commanding us to enter into an existential crisis? Heaven forbid! Keeping shmittah, the Shabbos of Shabbosos, is an opportunity to allow Divine Providence into one's life. There is a rule of thumb in Judaism: the less you do and the stronger your faith, the more you will see G-d playing a role in your life.

There's a lot of literature going around concerning farmers who abstained from working the land during shmittah and merited to see and understand the blessings that came after. For some, these brachot (blessings) come in surprising packages. I heard several stories, in the name of Rabbi Fischel Schachter, about people who struggled to keep shmittah, were successful and saw miracles unfold. There was a locust epidemic one shmittah year and the little monsters devoured everything. One small village called Komemius where The Rav was unwavering in his observance of shmittah was left untouched. Another anecdote: a group from keren hashvi'is (supporters of those who became poverty stricken in the seventh year) approached one of the farmers who kept shmittah at the end of the year and asked him if he'd suffered any financial losses. When he said yes, they asked if he saw any miracles happen in his field. He said, "No! But I kept shmittah! That's the miracle. I lost everything, my field got wiped out but I kept it." He went on, "My wife and I have been married for fifteen years without children. She's pregnant now." When one shows mesiras nefesh (puts himself on the line) for shmittah, s/he can watch miracles unfold.

Parsat Emor

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.

Elisheva Maline

In 1896, one of the greatest mussar yeshivot (centers of Torah) created was called Novardock, after the city in which it was established, Navahrudak. The style of learning there placed a strong emphasis on self perfection through acts of הפקרות (contextually translated as "total negation of the ego and the physical self"). The students there "participated in deliberately humiliating behavior, not to put themselves down as is mistakenly thought by some, but to acquire emotional freedom from the chains of public approval. The bachurim (young teenagers) did things like wear old patched clothing, don fur coats in the summer and one particular story tells of how a boy walked into a pharmacy, slapped down some money and asked for a bag of nails. When the Bolsheviks seized Lithuania (which included the little town in which the Jews of Novardock learned), the yeshivah students' soul work proved beneficial against the sway of communism in Poland.

In this week's Parshat Emor, the idea of serving G-d from a state of indifference to social pressures can be derived from the words, "And the Kohen haGadol (High Priest), who is elevated above all his brothers, upon whose head the anointed oil has been poured..." (Leviticus 21:10). The Ba'al HaTurim  defines the word 'elevated' to mean built, in physical strength, wealth and years. Initially, many might find this explanation puzzling; aren't we supposed to serve G-d from a place of total nullification of the ego? And doesn't all of the above inspire the exact opposite? The Or HaTorah, a commentator on the Torah, explains that here is when a person must define the difference between humility and ego. Humility means that while I recognize my strengths as well as my weaknesses, I acknowledge that everything I have is G-d given and therefore, essentially, I am nothing and no one without Him. Ego, on the other hand, is the mistaken perception that, "My strength and the might of my hand accumulated this wealth..." (Deuteronomy 8:17). Okay, but why did the Torah require these physical trappings? What made them necessary? They made the High Priest impervious to social pressure.

There are still people with the Novardock spirit around, men and women who form an opinion so strong, nothing will dissuade their belief system. In Judaism, we call this mesirat nefesh (contextually translated as putting oneself on the line for the sake of sanctifying 
G-d's name). An act of mesirat nefesh could be anything, ranging from people who refused to work on Shabbot even though it meant the uncertainty of hunger to college students who openly wore star of David necklaces even though that might have invited ridicule.

So how do we reach such a lofty level? Public approval has always been and will always continue being something that defines us, at least, it defines us insofar as the way we conduct ourselves in the street. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Our environment goes very far in keeping us from toeing the line, breaking the law and hurting one another. Let's look at it this way: all people are cut from the same cloth, yes? While our most basic needs include things like food, sleep, shelter, we also crave love, connection and self actualization. What makes us different from one another is our self definition (and how we relate to G-d and the people around us, whether they be family members, friends or that guy who hands out the newspapers in the subway entrance). Naturally, our growth processes differ as well. As the saying goes, "All roads lead to Rome," and if one's focus is clear, all approaches lead to G-d. 

Yashar LaChayal

The majesty of the Western Wall

Nefesh B'Nefesh