Making Jewish Nation Great Again
Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
What Kind of New Leader
In this week’s sidra of Shmos, we find this verse: “there arose a new king who did not know Joseph (Ex. 1:8 )- obviously a change for the worse. Sometimes, though, a “new king” could be a change for the better. So, Israel is now preparing for another round of elections. Will Israel finally deserve to be run by Torah-observant individuals at the top of the elective echelons? Or are such questions in the realm of futile imagination? Over the past 2 years we have heard a motto of “Making America Great Again”. The same motto can be applied to the Jewish people which was definitely great in past history at the time of king David and Solomon, with its greatness subsequently diminishing in the ensuing centuries of Galus and its tribulations. But how do you really define “greatness”? And what would it mean for the Jewish people to be “great again”? Is it merely the recent establishment of the country of Israel—and all the accompanying political problems it engendered?
G-d said to the first Jew, Avraham Avinu, “I will make your name great” (Gen. 12:1), after commanding him to “leave your land and father’s house etc…--an obviously great reward. But why aren’t Avraham’s great accomplishments prior to that time mentioned at all in the Biblical text? Isn’t Noach described as a “righteous man” meriting therefore to be spared from the Deluge? Why not mention Avraham’s confrontation of the idol worshipers in Ur Kasim, his victorious philosophical debates, his self-sacrifice when thrown into the furnace etc…? The implication of “leave your land” followed by “I will make your name great” is that what is crucial is not all the great spiritual feats accomplished by Avraham’s individual recognition of G-d and his gradual ascent by dint of his own efforts. What is crucial at this point is G-d’s command to him—“leave your land”—and Avraham obeying that command. This is the first time that he has had a direct command from G-d and that is the sole cause of the reward “I will make your name great”. The implication is that the most effective way for finite man to connect to and cleave to the infinite Creator is through the mitzvah-command channel. Indeed, Torah and Mitzvot observance are the sole determinants of the greatness of the Jewish people. History has amply demonstrated that the Torah’s predictions of Jewish destiny to be determined by such observance (or lack thereof) are thoroughly exact. Jewish greatness, indeed, will come back to Israel once it becomes the theocracy G-d wants it to be, with all its inhabitants abiding by Torah directives. The USA from its inception was “great” in terms of the democratic freedoms and balance of powers it is based on. While there always was a separation of State and Religion, the USA had always been a society acknowledging G-d in a basic monotheistic way and living according to religious values. Over the past 50 years or so, there has been a diminishing trend in this area due to various factors. Hence, in my opinion, this represents a factor which has clearly diminished America’s greatness. A return to religious values, especially the Seven Noahide Laws—Mitzvot incumbent upon non-Jews—would go a long way to “Making America Great Again”—along with whatever political and economic advancements expected of a new administration.
King David the First Moshiach?
The Rambam whose yahrzeit is this week, writes (hil. Melachim 11:1) that the verse in Parshat Balak (Num.24:17) is referring to two Moshiachs, the first one being king David and the second one, the final Moshiach. We have to understand: a) why is king David referred to as a Moshiach? If only by virtue of his having been anointed (moshiach=anointed), there were many others anointed kings and he wasn't the first one to be thusly anointed. It would seemingly make more sense to say that Moshe Rabbeinu, known as the "first redeemer", would qualify as the first Moshiach. (b) why does the Rambam (ibid:4) not mention the great qualities of Moshiach in this passage? What he mentions here is: “Moshiach will be delving in Torah, involved in Mitzvot like David his father, according (to the instructions of) the Written and Oral Torah, he will force all of Israel to “go in it and to strengthen it” and he will wage the wars of G-d....will build the Holy Temple and ingather all Jews (to Israel) …and rectify the whole world to serve G-d together.”
Both questions can be answered by analyzing what is the principal function of Moshiach, both the first and final, according to Rambam's opinion. His wording indicates that it is neither his ability to perform miracles, bring about changes within the course of nature nor even his possessing prophetic ability of the highest caliber -- though we know that Moshiach does possess all these abilities also. Rather, it is the fact that he will coerce (!) all of Israel to uphold all the laws and Mitzvos of the Torah in their entirety and thus raise the banner of Torah and the glory of G-d throughout the word. Rather than stressing changes within nature through miracles, Moshiach will bring the whole world to a state of unchanging spiritual consistency. Having done that, he is readily acknowledged and safely assumed as the spoken for Moshiach. And upon completing this main task and function of his through the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash and the ingathering of all the exiles to the Holy Land of Israel, he will be declared Moshiach with utmost certainty. Therefore, the only one first to establish the firm foundation of Israel as a unified theocratic Holy Land, imposing G-d's will over all of its inhabitants, upholding Jewish pride and glory, and setting the path for the building of the Beis Hamikdash and the establishment of G-d's kingdom on earth, was King David. He therefore, is clearly the first Moshiach alluded to in that verse. Thus Moshiach's credentials are established through his ability at, and actual strengthening of Torah and Mitzvos observance throughout the Jewish world and also the non-Jewish world-- for the Seven Noahide Laws are also Torah-mandated-- and is thereby proceeding towards the fulfilment of G-d's Will in Creation to make this earth a dwelling place for his revealed Glory. Consequently, as there are those who will oppose this process, there is the need for Moshiach, as king and ruler, to overcome all such opposition by "waging G-d's battles", in the same manner that King David did. Thus the only one who can fully implement all the laws of the Torah is a benevolent but all powerful Jewish king, of the stature of King David, and that the culmination of this process occurs with the emergence of the greatest and most powerful king of all, Moshiach Tzidkeinu, . He will apply his G-d-granted powers to eradicate all forms of evil from this world, not swerving one iota from before pressure coming from any quarter and establish G-d's Kingdom on earth.
based on Likutey Sichos vol. 18 pp. 271-284
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PHAROH AND THE FROG---
AN UNSEEMING BUT FITTING PAIR
Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
THE THREE DENIERS
There are 3 general ways in which the denial of G-d is professed by some nations and individuals:
A) Denier A:
The least of the deniers still acknowledge G-d as the Creator and as the Sustainer of Life, so that everything is dependent on G-d. What they deny is G-d's Unity. As a result, they believe in the possibility of G-d granting independent power to constellations, which become accessories to the Principal Deity and act in 'partnership' with G-d, and as such, are entitled to be worshiped as idols, as entities independently powerful by virtue of G-d wanting them to be so. Because of their acknowledgment of G-d as the Supreme Source and Master, this type of deniers, as a rule, transgress G-d's Will only because of their misguided views which lead them to idol-worship.
(B) Denier B:
Those, as Pharoh, are the ones who acknowledge G-d as 'the G-d of gods", as a Higher Power, but who deny originating from Him. In the same way that G-d has no preceding cause, so do they believe that they too have no preceding cause, that they were not created by Him and that they are self-contained within their existential parameters, and feel that "I made myself", as it were.
(c) Denier C:
Those who, as Sanheriv, completely and forcefully deny the existence of G-d altogether.
WHO IS THE WORST DENIER?
At first glance, Denier C is the worst of the bunch. However, the very fact that the total denier C makes such a hue and cry in his professed denial of G-d's existence indicates that the concept of G-d has touched him and he is therefore kicking about it. To him, G-d is an Existential entity if only by virtue of his vigorous attempts at denying Him! Pharoh's tacit acknowledgment of G-d's existence, on the other hand, does not really touch him: 'G-d is in His corner and I am in mine';
he is indifferent and not touched, positively or negatively, by His Existence, which to him is far off and removed.
A parallel can be drawn between the 3 deniers and 3 types of animals whose purpose in Creation is not readily apparent:
a) insects such as the fly and mosquito etc.. : although they seem to be superfluous, they do possess constructive functions which can be easily construed, as mentioned in the Gemara Shabbos 57b. This corresponds to Denier A, the minimal denier, who acknowledges his dependence on the Creator and Sustainer.
b) dangerous and damaging animals such as snakes, scorpions etc..: while it is more difficult to perceive their constructive dimensions, these dimensions are eventually discovered. These animals do proclaim the existence of The One Who fashioned them with plan and purpose. These correspond to Denier C: he initially is 'dangerous' in his 'kicking' and loud denial of G-d. But he has been touched, if only to react negatively, and he'll hopefully come around.
c) the frog fits 'neither here nor there': it seems to have no positive or redeeming aspect
nor is it dangerous and damaging. It just is, and has no function that would readily reflect the presence of He who fashioned it nor deny it. It exists in its own private pond, being "king of the puddle". It corresponds to the attitude of Denier B, Pharoh, not vociferous in denial, just totally indifferent and seemingly innocuous. However, this type of 'ignoring' and indifference is the toughest nut to crack.
IT HAD TO BE THE FROG
This is why it is precisely the plague of the frog which has to be involved in 'breaking' Pharoh's attitude. All other animals (of the 10 plagues) possess either some inherent positive benefit or present some danger to man. They are destructive to crops but not directly dangerous to man, and have the benefit of being edible. The lice, seemingly innocuous, is really not only a thoroughly annoying pest, but also inherently dangerous. It is only the frog which poses neither danger nor possess a clearly discernible constructive function (the destructive powers attributed to the frogs of the 2nd plague were miraculous and totally atypical of the normal frog). Only when the frogs, corresponding so precisely to the mentality of Pharoh--Denier B--, exhibited such courage in doing G-d's bidding (to the point of even jumping into hot ovens) --- only then was Pharoh's kelipa broken by its exact counterpart--- the Frog--- acting in such a way. It then became evident that the real reason why Pharoh viewed his own existence as totally independent of G-d is precisely because of his inherent connection to the G-d he chooses to ignore (!): G-d is the only One who has no preceding cause, and, having created man in His image and wanting him to also have the feeling of 'no beginning,' He granted man the ability to experience the feeling of 'no strings attached'. Otherwise, there is no logical reason for puny man to espouse such grandiose feelings.
The western world has in large part become monotheistic, and by and large the Sanherivs of the world have disappeared. But there are many Pharohs left, each king of his own puddle, ignoring the larger picture of the whole universe and Its Maker. What is blocking recognition of G-d's pervasive Unity and causing one to remain indifferent to the concept of G-d, giving it mere lip-service, is one's ego and lack of bittul (self-abnegation). Chassidus Chabad, paving the way for the eventual recognition of G-d' Unity by the whole world, is known for its recurring stress on bitul, bitul, and again bitul-- for this is indeed the ingredient which will finally turn around even the frogs and Pharohs of the world, causing them to jump in the fiery ovens of G-dly revelation speedily in our days.
based on Likutei Sichos vol.21 pp. 38-44
MERELY DEFENSIVE OR PRO-ACTIVE—
THAT IS THE QUESTION
Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
What in the World Did Rabbi Shimon Mean?!
Our generation is a stressed-out generation. The primary cause of stress is uncertainty. Today we are uncertain whether: Iran will develop nuclear arms and use them; whether the conflicts in the middle East will ever be solved; whether terrorism will ever become contained; whether Islam in general poses a threat to universal stability; and whether rising indications of anti-semitism in the world are something to become concerned and worried about? The common denominator of all these doubts is concern about the presence of some would-be enemy, his intentions, and how to deal with him? What does the Torah instruct us about how to deal with such situations?
We find a strong statement of Rabbi Shimon, quoted in Masechess Soferim (Chapter 15) and Mechilta (Shmos 14:7) on the verse speaking about the 600 chariots with which Pharoh pursued the Jews at the splitting of the Red Sea. The question is first raised: whence were these horses left in Egypt to pull these chariots, since all domestic animals had perished during the plague of Arov/’wild animals, while the Jews had taken all their animals with them? The answer is that they originated from the “G-d-fearing from among the Egyptians who had gathered their slaves and flocks in the houses” during the plagues of Arov and the plague of Hail. “From here would Rabbi Shimon say: the good ones from among the goyim (non-Jewish nations), kill them! The best from among the snakes, crush its brain!”
Rashi (Shmos 14:7) likewise quotes verbatim this statement of Rabbi Shimon. Such a statement has raised the ire of non-Jews in the course of history, with various scholars, such as Rabbi Yechiel of Paris during the middle ages, and later on Abarbanel, interpreting this statement in various ways. Obviously, this statement runs against the grain of common decency: how can you justify killing all the Egyptians, even the good ones. On the contrary, these few good ones should have been spared . How is this different than the few good ones (10,20,30,45,50) in Sodom that would have been able—would they have existed-- to even have the 5 wicked cities spared?!
Rashi’s Understanding at Simple Level of Interpretation
The way Rashi seemingly learns is that this statement is connected to two factors: (a) The fact that the “G-d-fearing” Egyptians whose animals had been spared, had nonetheless given over their spared animals to the army and (b) had joined them in the pursuit of the Jews. However, upon analysis (as explained by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Likutey Sichos vol. 16 pp. 148-160), the truth is that Rashi attributes their drowning in the Red Sea more to (b) their initial giving up their animals for the common cause than to their subsequent joining the Egyptian army. This is because the obvious reason why the Egyptians were all culpable is not this present battle at the Red Sea, but because of the Egyptian subjugation and enslavement and ill treatment of the Jews for so many years of extreme bondage. In this, all Egyptians were culpable, even the best of them. Giving their horses for the cause at this time is merely a continuation of their common culpability of centuries length. They thus are all comparable to a poisonous snake , which has already established his evil nature by ample precedents.
The Egyptian Snake and the Snakes of History
Rashi is thus limiting Rabbi Shimon’s statement to the Egyptians of that era and it obviously cannot be extrapolated to other generations, unless they be comparable to the situation under discussion, i.e. the Egyptian army at the Red Sea, where all of them, even the good amongst them, were in the category a poisonous snake whose brain has to be crushed. Why the brain? Because that is the seat of the evil Egyptian intellect, which started nefarious “brainy” schemes when Pharoh declared (Shmos 1:10 ):”Come let us deal wisely with them”. This is why Rashi adds the phrase: “the best of snakes, crush its brain” (for Rashi does not usually quote all the statements of sources unless for a reason) in order to imply that, though Rabbi Shimon’s statement is limited to the Egyptians of that era, there is still room to extrapolate and apply it to subsequent generations wherein there are societies who demonstrate their vicious and poisonous hatred of Jews over extended periods. In such cases, the advice given is to “crush its brain” vs. waiting for this enemy to first rear its ugly head (as Golda Meir did during the Yom Kippur War). When dealing with poisonous snakes, the advice is to take the pro-active, vs. the defensive, stand of crushing its nefarious “brainy” schemes ASAP , rather than to wait and act only defensively. In the course of Jewish history Jews were confronted by such “snakes” and their brainy schemes, such as Haman, the Romans, the Crusaders and all their European counterparts, culminating with Hitler and the Holocaust. The Warsaw uprising was a feeble attempt at crushing a poisonous snake, for Jews of that era did not possess the power to crush the scheming snakes. In this present era, with Jews possessing a defensive army having the function of protecting Jews from established poisonous snakes of all colors ----it would seem that the Torah directive to be derived goes beyond the well-known Halachic directive “he who comes to kill you, rise and kill him first”. For that directive implies that before you strike to kill him, he has already come to kill you and has thus put you on a defensive stance, at which point you rise to strike him. What Rabbi Shimon is adding, according to this exposition of Rashi, is that if that snake is already established by virtue of past behavior as a poisonous implacable sworn enemy who harbors only nefarious schemes designed to eventually topple you down completely---don’t wait merely defensively but strike and crush its brain ASAP. Who would fit the definition of poisonous snakes in this current era? In my opinion: the current leaders of Iran; the Palestinian leadership who, without exception, wish for the eventual eradication of the Jewish homeland; convicted terrorists who, rather than be imprisoned and eventually exchanged in lob-sided types of exchanges running against all logic---should be summarily crushed and executed upon being determined guilty of wanton crimes.
Time for Israeli leaders to wake up to the reality of the world situation and start to follow Torah directives for the continue preservation of the Jewish land promised by G-d to our ancestors.
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KIDUSH HACHODESH--THE DUAL GOAL OF CREATION
Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
ROSH CHODESH AND NOVELTY
Rashi (Gen.1:1) quotes the Midrash: "the Torah could have started with the Mitzvah of Kidush Hachodesh"—mentioned in this week’s sidra of Bo-- (establishing the date of each Rosh Chodesh).
A question can be raised: if the Torah would have chosen to start with a mitzvah (vs. the description of Creation), shouldn't such a mitzvah be at least of a comprehensive character, such as the first of the Aseres Hadibros (Ten Commandments), wherein the Jewish people are enjoined to accept the yoke of the King? Only upon accepting this
yoke can their observance of His Mitzvos be done properly, since Kabolas Ol Malchus Shomayim (acceptance of Heavenly yoke) is a prerequisite to proper observance.
The answer is that, indeed, Kabbolas Ol comes first in terms of observance. However, in terms of G-d's ultimate goal and purpose in Creation, and in terms of the results desired from the observance of Mitzvos, Kidush Hachodesh plays a primary role and it feasibly could have been stated at the beginning of Torah. For, in addition to two witnesses having to bear witness to the fact that they saw the new moon, the determination of Rosh Chodesh is also aligned with the truth of astronomical calculations which verify that indeed the new moon is supposed to have appeared at such and such time. If so, one can ask, why are witnesses altogether necessary?
Also, why is this mitzva addressed to both Moshe and Aharon?
To answer these questions, we must first analyze the word (Rosh) Chodesh. It originates from the word 'Chadesh' or 'Chidush' = renew, renewal, novelty. The reason is that the whole concept of Rosh Chodesh is connected to the ultimate purpose of creation, which is connected to elements of novelty, as is explained below.
PURPOSE OF CREATION AND ITS TWO CHIDUSHIM
It is explained in Tanya (chap. 36, quoting Midrash Tanchumah 7:1) that the purpose of creation is Hashem's desire to have "a dwelling within the lowest spheres of Creation" through our observance of all the Mitzvos. This entails two novelties, chidushim:
a) the fact that the physical world can eventually become seat to such lofty G-dly revelation is quite a novelty, even greater than creation itself: creation is something emerging out of nothing (Yesh from Ayin), while through Mitzvos we generate a reverse process: we change the existing substance of this world from 'yesh' into a state of bitul (nullification) to the G-dly realm (from Yesh into Ayin, a feat more difficult, as related in the Gemara Taanis 25a).
b) the fact that He, Hashem Himself, His Essence, desires and obtains this 'dwelling' (the term “dwelling” implies that the “person” dwells there completely) and revelation within the 'lowly spheres' is also a tremendous 'chidush', since only a mere Emanation and Radiation of His Essence is initially involved in Creation (the Divine Speech at the time of Creation).
This, then, is the deeper meaning of the opening verse of Kidush HaChodesh:
"This month (Chodesh) shall be unto you" can be read thusly: "this ability to
generate chidush, the dual novelty involved in carrying out G-d's purpose in
Creation, i.e. His dwelling in the lowest spheres, was given to you, to the
entire Jewish nation through the medium of Torah and Mitzvos observance.
This is why, would the Torah have begun with the Mitzva of Kidush Hachodesh,
it would indeed have been dealing with a Mitzva of encompassing nature, in
terms of the purpose of Creation.
TWO ARE BETTER THAN ONE
This also explains why Kidush HaChodesh was addressed to both Moshe and
Aharon: Moshe epitomizes the process of descent and revelation of the One on
High descending and being drawn below (the chidush of Essence coming down),
while Aharon epitomizes the process of elevation towards the Source (as reflected in his service of lighting up the Menorah), the chidush of 'tachtonim' (the lower ones) becoming elevated. The Chidush of the moon, waxing from a smaller size to a bigger size, also reflects the elevation generated in every Jew through Mitzvos:
a) his/her inner faculties of intellect and emotions become permeated and elevated through serving Hashem.
b) his/her essence, which transcends these inner faculties, becomes thoroughly nullified to G-d's Will, and thus elevated beyond its own existential parameters.
This explains why Kidush HaChodesh requires both witnesses and also alignment with calculations of the moon's rotations. Witnesses having sighted the moon are operating on the level of sight which really transcends reason (we don’t always fathom what we see). This correspond to the essence of the soul, which is in turn drawn into the inner faculties which correspond to the calculations which are very logical and precise. Both aspects of the soul are thus involved in generating the chidushim which constitute its mission and purpose on earth.
The Tzemach Tzedek points out that the chidush of elevating the lower spheres will occur mainly in the days of Moshiach (vs. the main thrust of Mattan Torah which was the descent and revelation of G-d on Mt Sinai). This would explain why Chassidus Chabad is a prerequisite preparation paving the way for this type of elevation, for through its study and application one is able to refine (=elevate) the coarseness inherent in one's faculties and gradually have them become attuned to, and recipient of G-dly revelation.
Based on Likutey Sichos vol.21 pp. 62-67
L’iluy Nishmas Esther Hadas bas Harav Sholtiel Isaac Halevi, yahrzeit on Teves 29
L’iluy Nishmas Shlomo Ben Avraham Dov Hakohen, yahrzeit on Rosh Chodesh Shvat
L’iluy Nishmas Shimon Ben Yechezkel, yahrzeit on Shvat 2
In honor of Yom Holedes of Chana Malka bas Chava Sheina, on Shvat 2