17 July 2018

Derekh Eretz: The Foundation of Humanity and Judaism

5 Menahem Av 5778

Derekh Eretz Series part 1 | part 2

This post was inspired by this Myrtle Rising post on the Pele Yoetz (she has more about him there, as well.). I commented there, in part: "The first thing I would tell people now is that in doing teshuvah, one must acquire a good heart, if s/he doesn't already have one, *before* acquiring religion (not implying that religion should not be sought at all, just get the heart in the right place first.). Derekh Eretz kadma laTorah...

Her reply prompted this post and the next one.

A Wikipedia editor found this on King David Street... "proper behavior precedes the Torah"

 Everything in this post includes me, and my gentle readers should also take this message to heart during these difficult times that we live in. Some of it may seem obvious; but today, nothing is obvious. Gray areas abound when it comes to what is termed acceptable. Many already say that black has become the new white, and vice versa. This post should not be taken as the last word on the topic, as much as I would like it to be; consult your Local Orthodox Rabbi for details and sources.

In Israel, we're praying for the society around us — that it should become, and then remain, good for our people to dwell together (based on Tehillim 133:1). That's one main reason why we all need to be decent people, and we need everyone else around us to also be decent.

While I was writing this post, I found a Torah-observant blog that takes decency as its primary mission.

My friend Daisy of Israel Truth Times recently posted a video by R' Gutman Locks, in which the Rav said to the pastor, in essence: Who should you greet, the Prince or his father the King? Of course, the King! It's only derekh eretz...common courtesy or common decency. (It includes more than that, but I don't want to make the article even longer than it already is.)

My dear colleague Devash of Tomer Devorah has been seeking ways to protest the invasion of toevah promoters in the Holy Land so that we may not be at fault for standing by, as people did at the Sin of the Golden Calf.

And Neshama of Going Home...to Yerushalayim reblogged concerning a slap to the face of a little Jewish boy already traumatized by the sniping murder of his big sister. More on that, next post.

So, of late I have been seeing the primary issue of derekh eretz in all these places...and more! I hope I can do some justice to this topic, particularly during these last 9 days leading up to the (delayed, thank G-d) Tisha b'Av fast.

If you think about it, everything that is considered gracious, courteous and considerate  — and downright correct — comes from this principle. Giving credit where credit is due, being grateful for everything you're given, taking opportunities to give, not taking credit for someone else's work, not accusing people falsely, and so on. For Jews, even all the commandments we are given are haShem's gift to us, to enable us to complete our mission while here in this world — ultimately uniting the physical and spiritual worlds. All this depends on common courtesy and decency; it (the Hebrew term derekh eretz דרך ארץ in all its meanings, implications and consequences) is the very foundation of all that is good in our world and in all creation.

Who is obligated and appropriate applications
Who is obligated in derekh eretz? Boiling down the sources, at the risk of oversimplification: Essentially, everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, from children of the age of understanding until extreme old age, when any number of diseases and disabilities can occur to prevent its expression. This includes the vast majority of human beings, regardless of age according to maturity level; gender-identification and actual gender; family status; financial status; health status, including many disabilities; and intelligence, both intellectual and emotional.

This is also why children are under their parents' constant supervision until they are able to internalize and reliably produce appropriate behavior — usually before attending school or being allowed to socialize outside their parents' presence; and even then, "the village," including school, serves as an extension of the parents (hence the Latin expression in loco parentis).

Regarding animals and animal rights: Because they are not capable of it on their own, they don't have any obligation to concepts like courtesy and decency, which is why domesticated animals are under human supervision, care and, yes, ownership; and why people are often held legally responsible for their animals' aggression against others outside their home (a guard dog's aggression against a home invader, such as a burglar, is an appropriate use of this behavior, enabled by the animal's instinct.).

It is also derived that even the poorest of the poor are obligated to charity. So, others who may lack in other areas are also obligated to contribute the necessary ingredients for a successful society.

A Word on Exemptions
In fact, any condition which prevents the expression of common courtesy and decency can exempt one from it at any time. Usually, these limitations also prevent people from fully participating in life, making them virtually harmless (but not always...people who are mentally ill and always looking for something to throw around and break in their anger, for example, are in need of external controls. People in this unenviable position must cry out strongly to haShem and dig deep for resources to make the effort to marshal their own self-control, to whatever extent they can, to relieve their personal hell-on-earth. I am not saying this is easy, or making light of it.).

Definition Summary
In short: Derekh Eretz is primarily meant to produce good hearts and the resulting peace in order to hold together human society, according to G-d's will. In order for our lives on earth to continue, and to prevent the Creator from destroying His creation and starting all over, we need to bring it back to the forefront of personal and collective behavior. It is the first step to teshuvah, even before taking on religion and observing the commandments; and it underlies every single commandment in the Torah!

At its best, it also protects against chaos and evil. If we don't go by objective standards and norms, such as those of the Torah, we have to give a lot of thought to what kinds of people and behavior should be given the open door of courtesy and acceptance, and which, not. (This seems to be beyond most people because we are decent and kind, and therefore give a lot of leeway to people and practices that end up harming society, not to mention our own families. We are easily convinced, and even coerced, early on to believe that certain forbidden practices should become normative that had previously been hidden (one of the signs I saw when looking for pictures was: "A shred of decency for marriage equality"), and we will see the results over time as these ideas take root and mature; and, we have seen some of these results already. We need to ask ourselves whether we're going in the right direction by encouraging these trends, or by standing by and watching them take effect.

End of Introduction

A word to the LGBTQ+ crowd: You are also obligated to common decency, as above. Parading your cultural and moral norms in places where they are NOT normal at all, and in fact considered the opposite (Yerushalayim being the epitome of such a place, but there are many others as well) is outright aggression, not to mention a violation of common courtesy to a place and people you are visiting. To paraphrase an old saying: When in Yerushalayim, do as normative Yerushalmis do. Do not come here and flaunt in front of us.

Similarly to the feminists, the BDS-ers, the NGOs that are paid with foreign money to keep Israel's hands tied behind her back, and the political-correctness police, whether in Israel or from outside. What business is it of yours to hold Israel's feet to the fire for self-defense and land use issues that would be no problem for people anywhere else? Standards are either standards for everyone, or they are not standards at all (law and custom being expressions of standard, if you will).

If decency means that you respect other people's cultures, laws and history, Jewish and Israeli culture, law and history must also be respected, or it means nothing to anyone and certainly doesn't help nations to be our friend, as many claim in order to give us bad advice.

I hope these words will strengthen the rabbis who are the spiritual mainstay of our people here. I read an excellent suggestion, that they should call their talmidim to the entrances to the city in time to prevent these parades from taking place; but, I don't remember where. It might have been a comment. This is just one of many things that would help reverse this downward trend;  the right people must be involved and leadership must be taken.

Here's a personal illustration on the place of derekh eretz: I once took a college acting course, decades ago. I don't remember the name of the book, but I remember one thing from it that applies to this topic. When studying a script, before memorizing the part, the actor is advised to look at the relationships between his/her character and the rest of the characters s/he interacts with, and ask at each scene: Where is the love?

Applied to our topic: Every time Jews study Torah, Talmud and their associated texts and documentation, we must ask at each juncture: Where is the derekh eretz, the common decency, the common courtesy?

It's all hidden in the text and between the lines, like mortar between the bricks of a magnificent building, holding it together.

Which brings me to the question of how to deal with people who expect proper behavior and respect for themselves and their actions without regard for the impact these may have on the world, but refuse to expend effort in kind to specific individuals or groups of people, or who seek to provoke such people. That very difficult topic is next. I cannot promise to solve it all, but we need to give it our best shot.

*Common decency and courtesy, or proper, appropriate behavior, came before Torah: from Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 9:3.

13 July 2018

Where Have You Gone, Aaron haKohen?

1 Menahem Av 5778
Likhvod Yom Neshmat Aharon haKohen
לכבוד יום נשמת אהרון הכהן

by R' Ephraim Sprecher
very light editing by CDG

Pic from Amazon - it was for sale and most likely sold. Sorry, philatelists!

To paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel’s great song, “Where have you gone, Aaron haKohen, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you!”

Why is Aaron haKohen's Yahrzeit the only one mentioned in the Torah? None of the Avot or the Imahot were accorded such an honor and not even Moshe Rabbenu. Only the date of the death of Aaron is mentioned. Why?

Aaron's Yahrtzeit is the first day of the month of Av, and the Jewish calendar is structured so that Parshat Masei which records Aaron's death is read before Tisha B'Av. Why?

The Mishnah in Avot states that "Aaron loved peace and pursued peace." With his passing, disputes and divisiveness increased. The Talmud in Yoma 9 attributes the destruction of the Second Temple to "baseless hatred," Sinat Chinam, and divisiveness among Jews.

The destruction of both Temples was on Tisha B'Av.

The Yahrzeit of Aaron alone emphasizes the critical importance of his character traits, which are "loving peace, pursuing peace" and avoiding Machlokot. Thus, his Yahrzeit is in Parshat Masei, which is read before Tisha B'Av, to teach us that Aaron's exemplary behavior is the TIKUN (repair) of SINAT CHINAM, which caused the tragedies of Tisha B'Av.

Why did G-d choose Aaron to be the Kohen Godel and to wear the Golden Vestments?

The Torah states, "And Aaron shall bear the judgment of the Children of Israel on his heart constantly before G-D" (Shemot 28:30). This verse is a reference to the CHOSHEN-BREAST PLATE, which Aaron wore over his heart. This breast plate was folded in half to form a pocket into which was placed a parchment containing G-D's Ineffable Name. This was called the Urim VeTumim, which caused the letters of the names of the Tribes of Israel which were inscribed on the CHOSHEN to light up with answers to questions of national importance.

The merit of wearing the CHOSHEN was given to Aaron because of his special character. When he went to greet Moshe, after Moshe had been selected by G-D to lead the Jews out of Egypt, he came with a smile and a glad heart. As the Torah states, "And when he (Aaron) sees you (Moshe) he will rejoice in his heart" (Shemot 4).

This remarkable love for a younger brother, who will replace him as leader, was rewarded with the CHOSHEN that Aaron wore over his heart that rejoiced for his younger brother.

Was it so difficult to rejoice for a younger brother's good fortune? Does Aaron deserve such an amazing tribute just for being happy for his kid brother?

HaRav Nebentzahl, maintains there are various levels of selflessness. It is one thing to defer to one's brother. It is a totally different level, when a person has been the leader of Israel throughout the years of persecution, pain and sorrow as Aaron was, and to have his younger brother take over, and be happy about it!

This character trait is exceptional and amazing. Aaron had pure selfless joy for Moshe's good fortune, even though he was now demoted from his position of leadership of Israel.

Only a person who possesses such a loving heart of gold, had the merit to wear the golden CHOSHEN over his heart!

 In the merit of this article, may HQB"H give us the wisdom and courage to follow His will to the letter and spirit so that the peace Aharon haKohen pursued may come upon the world at last, and that these three weeks each year would be weeks of joy for Israel and the whole world.

Mashiah Go'el Yisrael, NOW!

06 July 2018

Why the FAST will Become a FEAST...

23 Tammuz 5778

...by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher

First published here and here.

Zechariah 8:19 states, “Thus speaks Hashem of Hosts, the fast of the fourth month [Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz] and the fast of the fifth month [Tish’ah B’Av] and the fast of the seventh month [Tzom Gedaliah] and the fast of the tenth month [Asarah B’ Teves] will one day turn into days of joy and celebration for the House of Yehudah, provided that the people will learn to love truth and peace.” The theme that sorrow will one day not only give way to joy but actually turn into joy is a basic principle of Judaism.

An example of this idea appears in Yirmiyahu 31:12. “Then [in the Messianic Era] the young women will dance joyously; young men and elders together. I [G-d] will turn their mourning to joy. I [G-d] will comfort them and cheer them in their grief and sorrow.”

This verse echoes clearly the statement that we saw expressed by Zechariah. Yirmiyahu is not predicting some new, joyous celebration with no roots in the past. Rather, G-d will turn the mourning of centuries of exile into joy and celebration.

These joyous prophesies of Zechariah and Yirmiahu will be fulfilled in the Messianic Era.

Why is it that in the time of Mashiach these former mournful fast days, commemorating the CHURBAN, will become joyous festivals and not just ordinary days? Why will these FAST DAYS become FEAST DAYS when Mashiach comes?

The answer is that these sorrowful tragic days will assume their original intent.

The 17th of Tammuz was the date of the giving of the Tablets of the Ten Commandments that was supposed to be a day of great joy and celebration, when G-d gave us His Luchot written by the Finger of G-d”. However, that is also the very day that we worshipped the Golden Calf and Moshe smashed G-d’s Holy Tablets.

Moshe has to re-ascend Mt. Saini and plead for G-d’s forgiveness for the Jewish People. The Second Tablets were not given until Yom Kippur. When we do Teshuvah and Merit the arrival of Mashiach, we will have fully rectified and repaired the Sin of the Golden Calf. Thus, in the Messianic Era, the 17th of Tammuz will assume its original character, a day of joyous feasting celebrating the giving of the First Holy Tablets.

Tisha B’Av also was supposed to be the day that we resolved to enter the Land of Israel and conquer it. The Sin of the Spies, in slandering the Holy Land, took place on Tisha B’Av. The spies negative report prevented the Jewish people from entering the Land of Israel on Tisha B’Av.

When Mashiach comes, we will have rectified this Sin of the Spies also.

Thus Tisha B’Av will also assume its original intention of joyous national celebration of appreciating and cherishing the Holy Land of Israel!

27 June 2018

3, 2, 1...Thirtysix.org Charidy Campaign is Live!

15 Tammuz 5778

Sorry I'm somewhat late, but there's still time to participate. I am privileged to receive emails in advance of events like this from the Rav. This campaign began yesterday, the 26th of June, and ends Erev Shabbat the 29th.

From R' Pinchas Winston...

"I started writing books back in 1985. It was just my way of sharing information that I believed everyone had to know in order to live a more fulfilling life. The introduction of the Internet made that even easier, and by 1993 I was writing an essay on the weekly Torah portion, sending it to people around the world via Project Genesis, now Torah.org.

"The more I learned, the more I felt a need to share what I was learning, especially when it came to ideas that I knew many might never see, but should. This became an imperative for me when a lot of that knowledge had something to say about our particular period of time, Jewish history in general, and redemption specifically.

"By 2004, I had started by own non-profit organization, Thirtysix.org. Kabbalistically, the number alludes to the “Hidden Light of Creation,” the basis of all Torah knowledge. It was chosen with the hope of Thirtysix.org being a vehicle to share the depth, beauty, and wisdom of Torah learning with every person I am able to reach, which over the years has amounted to tens of thousands. There have been essays, books, videos, podcasts, etc., and judging by the feedback, they have positively impacted the lives of many.

Now I’d like to intensify and expand that impact. This is why Charidy.com has agreed to help me run this 72-hour, $72,000 campaign. Your support makes you a partner in my work, and together we can have an amazing impact on the future of the Jewish people."

 Click here to contribute! Thanks to their generous matchers, our donations are worth TWICE AS MUCH!

...and may R' Winston reach the goal and more, be"H! Here's to Geulah b'Rachamim!

22 June 2018

On the value of the cow...and R' Sprecher's shiur on Parashath Hukat

9 Tammuz 5778

in honor of my wedding anniversary (Hebrew) and my sister's birthday (secular), which were both yesterday...

There are many reasons why one of the Jewish People's greatest sins (but by no means the greatest) is called Het haEgel חטא העגל, Sin of the Golden Calf. The Red Heifer, Parah Adumah פרה אדומה, is said to be the repair of this sin, as in, the mother cow comes in and cleans up her baby calf's mess. (The Temple Institute is still working on getting our 10th Parah Adumah.) Other than that, we don't fully understand the commandment of the Red Heifer.

Here's more on that: "A Strange Commandment" (may this be for the merit of its author, who passed away shortly after giving birth to her 10th child...); also from My Jewish Learning and Eretz Hemdah.

The cow is perhaps the most valuable creature on the face of this earth! Why do you think that, in English, we have an expression for anything that is a consistent source of a large amount of money compared to what was invested: cash cow?

Bulls are good for two things: being the other half of producing more cattle, and their meat and hides (and maybe other products) when slaughtered. So I wonder why the male calf gives the sin its name, rather than the female (the feminine of "calf" in Hebrew is eglah עגלה). After all, the Wikipedia link above confirms that the term cash cow refers to the dairy cow, the female of the species that remains alive to continually provide for our (as well as her baby's) welfare. Feed her, give her space and a herd to enjoy it with, protection in the winter, and let her get pregnant every year, and you get a lot back for it. (The factory farms and those who use a lot of artificial insemination and feeding their cows foods they are ordinarily unaccustomed to are not the model to think of. They invest a lot, so their return-on-investment isn't as great - also considering that many people think their methods are abusive to the animals. I am thinking here of the homestead — the family farm and animals associated with it - which I'd like to see more of in Israel.)

Cattle in general are so valuable in so many ways for so many things in this world that it makes sense that the story of one of our biggest sins has to do with them. However, they are creations just as we are, and so is money and everything material; we have no reason to try to appeal to them to bring us only what their, and our, Creator, can and will, if we ask Him, and do what He asks of us.

 A tiny sampling about cows, farms and homesteading:

Keeping a Family Cow (cow section) | Domestic Felicity | Dairy Moos | Facts About Cows (Google search) | Howell, NJ Parah Adumah (Red Cow): P'sulah!

R' Sprecher: Parashath Huqat

18 June 2018

On the Rights of the Jews of Israel - and an inner look at Parashath Qorah by R' Sprecher (VIDEO)

5 Tammuz 5778

Soldier removes flag from a fellow soldier's condemned home. Hebrew sign: "I'm on reserve duty and they're destroying my home!" (My rough translation - CDG) (source)

Last week, on Tuesday the 12th of June, the last day of Sivan on the Jewish calendar (also known as Rosh Hodesh Alef Tammuz), witnessed the destruction of 15 homes owned by Jews in a small town called Netiv haAvot, by Israeli soldiers. I'd thought this was over now that we have the Regulation Law (but some think this is the last one before the law takes effect - if so, it had better be THE LAST.). It seems that even with the best of intentions, no law that was meant for the welfare of the Jewish People in the Jewish Homeland will stand against the forces of evil. The Arab who was supposedly the owner of the land still has not given his proof, and yet the homes on it will be destroyed anyway. See more about him, below.

What kind of craziness is this? David Bedein calls this, along with the destruction of Amona, Migron and Gush Katif, the process of YESHACIDE. I agree, but more likely it will be called NATIONAL SUICIDE in the end. Because our own Supreme Court (Baga"tz), which promotes this sort of thing, doesn't seem to realize that it is in the process of destroying itself and the country by acting in this manner in the periphery. Great timing, guys. Way to go...this is, in a way, worse than Ariel Sharon's timing of the expulsion of Gush Katif. Right on Rosh Hodesh.

What, are we supposed to somehow go along with them even though they have reversed course many times in our short history as a modern nation? Even the worst kings of Israel in Bible days weren't as bad as these people are now. Some of them, like Omri, actually accrued merit for ADDING a city to Israel*. That's right: This evil king and his army, with the blessing of HQB"H (G-d Himself!), conquered a place and made it part of our blessed land (and if I understand correctly, that city was SAMARIA/Shomron/שומרון). Nowadays, agenda-makers here have been competing to SUBTRACT land, and the cities and towns that would be built upon it, for decades. Since 1967, at the very least. Shame on them!

I would not like to go back to Omri's day and age, thank you. We need to move FORWARD, towards REDEMPTION.

Several observations:

1. Instead of allowing things that should not be in "G-d's country" (gay pride parades and Xians who feel that they are to take over our fair state for their mangod (or godman, or whatever way they want to call him this week) for whom we are just a placeholder), the Jews of Israel, including in the Tel Aviv bubble, ought to be paying attention to what is going on here. After all, the Israeli government promised us a law that would prevent Gush Katif from happening all over again. And it's happening again, in stages! WHY?

2. The world is watching and drooling over our imminent destruction. Death to the Jews, they cry. IT MUST STOP FOR YOUR OWN GOOD. Our destruction now is YOUR destruction shortly thereafter. Better to count on Jeremiah 31 (עברית | English) of the Jewish prophets, the very end of the chapter. Basically, it says that when the last Jew dies or is killed, the end of the entire universe is imminent - and there is not long to wait!

3. My husband told me that people were protesting - tire burning at the Metzarim Bridge, at the entrance to Yerushalayim, and holding up traffic as others have done before and gotten attention. On Wednesday he told me it was about the gerush from Netiv haAvot. It only hurts innocent people, innocent Jews. There must be a better, more effective way to present grievances to the public, and to get our government to stop these g'rushim. Do you know that Magen David Adom is right up the street from where you were? If someone were in need of an ambulance, they would have DIED because you were blocking the way. Getting kicked out of your house is surely bad enough; but being a contributor to someone's death because you were in help's way is FAR WORSE.

I smelled something burning strongly from my apartment that afternoon. Here's the article.

I know that protesting and demonstrating has been the Israeli way (borrowed from the Communists and mocked in Orwell's 1984 download free audio | online PDF) since the beginning, before the state was official. And tire burning gets the world's attention; just look at the Gaza terrorists who burn our fields and deprive us of food in the process, while we send them truckloads of goods, including...food! But we must find a better way to resolve these problems.

Here's one to work on: the ISRAELI LEFT pressured an Arab to claim ownership of the land in question this time. They would not let the Arab take compensation instead of expulsion. Attributed by Mordechai Sones for Moriah Kor of Arutz-7, here's how he responded:

Kor said the Arab responded he would have preferred and would have been happy to receive financial compensation, but since leftist movements under the direction of attorney Michael Sfard had already begun the legal work "it was uncomfortable for him" to give up the expulsion process and make do with compensation.

I see no sense in going further until we can make Israeli encouragement of others' taking over the Land of Israel TOTALLY unacceptable, in any way, on the part of any group of Jews, whether inside or outside the Land: Legally, socially, scripturally and morally are three ways; nay, four, that I can think of. After all, the Jewish rights to the Land of Israel supersede the handing over by any one individual (or any number of individuals or governments) of parts of the Land that was graciously given to us by our Creator. Even one entire generation of this nation cannot speak for all the past and future ones.

Maybe if Israel applies ISRAELI LAW to the disputed territories, thereby asserting sovereignty, we might be able to correct this?

As Avi Abelow of Israel Unwired wrote: "...it is sad to see Jewish homes destroyed in our Jewish homeland. There will always be those who won’t just protest in silence but ensure that the public sees that the destruction of any Jewish home in our homeland is wrong."

With the help of HaQadosh Barukh Hu ! בעזרת הקב"ה

*This Wikipedia article states, likely falsely, that Omri's name is either Amorite or Arabic. Actually, the root עמר that forms his name is Omer, as in Sefirath haOmer - the measurement of barley we bring after Pesah.


R' Sprecher presents an inner spiritual look at Moshe and Qorah's controversy. Here's a question for you, my gentle reader: Regarding the pro-Arab Israelis who incited the destruction, and the judges of the Supreme Court, who decided the fate of the 15 built stone homes - not caravans - of 20 families - in Netiv haAvot (R' Richter, in the video immediately linked to, was there and gives his account of events) and other Jewish communities in Yehuda and Shomron: Are they more like Moshe (reincarnation of Hevel/Abel), or more like Qorah (reincarnation of Kayin/Cain)? Watch and decide for yourself.

13 June 2018

Boy, am I dense sometimes...

Alef Rosh Hodesh Tammuz

...I saw all those other bloggers dashing for their comments awaiting moderation, and didn't think I had any, until I looked a few minutes ago. Please forgive me! 😳 I just uploaded a number of comments that had been pending for a while.

Thank you for hanging in there with me, and all of us.

-Hava haAharona