Thursday, April 24, 2008


Going Nowhere Fast

-- A thought provoking article worth reading. BUT, Mystical Paths does not recommend the positions mentioned. Rather, we post it for thought provoking and discussional purposes. --

Going Nowhere Fast

Rabbi David Bar-Hayim

Machon Shilo - Torah La'am VeLaaretz

Clueless Leaders

Israel is lost and directionless. Its political leaders lack vision and aspire to nothing.

Judaism is lost and directionless. It rabbinical leaders lack vision and aspire to nothing.

Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky once illustrated his criticism of mainstream Zionism with the following analogy: “I see a man limping down the street, using only one leg, even though it is apparent that nothing is wrong with the other one. I turn to him and ask: ‘Why don’t you walk on both legs?’ He replies: ‘Is there something the matter with the one that I am using?’”

Jabotinsky referred of course to the policy of “one more dunam, one more goat”, whereby the Zionist Establishment focused on building up the land piecemeal, living from day to day, all the while refusing to enunciate its vision, the goal for which it was ostensibly striving: a sovereign state for the Jewish people in their historical homeland within clearly defined borders. Thus the most fundamental issues – what kind of state were the Jewish people demanding, where would its borders be, and within what time frame? – remained unaddressed. Jabotinsky’s insight was that the leadership preferred it that way, like a man who opts to use only one of his legs.

The result of this (lack of) policy was that the typical Zionist spoke fervently of the Jewish people’s right to the Land of Israel but could not explain, even to himself, where the borders of his beloved homeland lay or on what basis he defined that territory. In the end, observed Shabtai Ben-Dov, it was the acceptance of the armistice lines of 1948 that “clarified” for most Zionists where the Land of Israel for which they had fought actually was. It was only “logical”, therefore, for one time Education Minister Shulamit Aloni to refer to Hebron as “Hutz Laaretz” (overseas), and for the post-Six-Day-War Left to view a return to the very heart of our homeland as an “occupation”.

I once came face to face with the results of just such a Zionist education. The year was 1993 and I was doing reserve duty on the Jordanian border. Four of us were in a command car patrolling the border, and the discussion turned to then Prime Minister Rabin’s stated willingness to negotiate with the Syrians about relinquishing the Golan Heights. The driver announced that he supported handing over the Golan for peace, at which point I asked him: “Tell me, all other considerations aside, to whom does the Golan belong, us or them?” He thought for a moment and replied truthfully “I have no idea.” Why would he? Was he, a product of the State school system established by Ben-Gurion, ever taught what territory the Jewish people claimed and why?

Israel’s political leaders are just like that driver: they truly don’t know where we belong or why, nor where we are supposed to be headed. Everything is negotiable, nothing is clear, the future is a black hole.

Israel lost its way not in 1967 but in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, before there was an Israel, by thinking small, by refusing to see the big picture, by denying the Jewish nation’s destiny. By choosing mediocrity over greatness.

Israel and Torah Judaism: Missing in Action

The same can be said for Judaism. Have you ever noticed how some religious Jews refer to themselves as “Lithuanians”? Or that there is a Jerusalem suburb named “Poland Heights”? Treat the reality of over 5 million Jews living as a sovereign nation in their homeland for the first time in 2000 years as a continuation of Dvinsk, Minsk or Pinsk; insist that Jews in the Land of Israel must all behave, in terms of their customs and Halachic practice, as if they were still in Warsaw, Sanna or Marakesh; preach that the divisions of the Diaspora must be maintained today and for all time, thus perpetuating a seriously flawed Galuth mentality indefinitely; convince yourself that the Judaism of the Galuth is the real McCoy, that there is nowhere to go from here – and that’s precisely where you’ll go. Nowhere. No greater purpose. Nothing.

When the Beth HaWa’adh beth din (Jewish court) of Machon Shilo announced last year that all Jews in Israel may consume kitniyoth (rice, corn, legumes etc.) during Pesah, some thought that it was all about doing whatever is convenient. Not so. It’s about getting Torah Judaism back on track.

At the core of any authentic conception of Torah Judaism is its Halachic system. Halacha is the practical implementation and realization of those values and concepts that the Torah teaches and that the Jewish nation holds dear. An Halachic system always reflects the philosophy and vision that a particular ideology aspires to actualize in the real world. Halacha is never neutral; it is either a help or a hindrance. It either drives the Jewish people upwards and onwards, or it weighs it down and holds it back.

One who refrains from eating rice, or soy beans, or corn starch on Pesah is not a better Jew than one who does. Halachically there is no question that it is permissible. On the other hand, one is not required to consume these items on Pesah, or at any time during the year. So what’s the problem? It focuses the mind on a non-issue. And the more meaningless Pesah stringencies are promoted, the more meaningless Judaism becomes.

Galuth Mode or Geulah Mode?

Human beings are limited. We cannot be different people at one and the same time. A Jew can function in either Galuth mode or Geulah mode; you can’t have both. If we concern ourselves with maintaining our Galuth-based identities, we have no time or inclination to wonder how it is that each Pesah we beseech Hashem that next year we might participate in the Pesah sacrifice and yet do nothing whatever to actualize this deep-seated aspiration in the real world. We have to make a choice: authentic, full-flavoured Torah, or a pale, watered-down substitute.

Judaism’s rabbinical leaders are just like that reserve duty driver: they truly do not know who and where we are or where we are supposed to be headed. They have no clue how to move on to the next stage. They are unsure of themselves, vague and uncertain about everything, preferring the familiar, downtrodden Galuth version of the Torah for the majestic, vibrant and uplifting Torah of the Land of Israel, the Judaism of Abraham, Moses, David and the Maccabees. Little wonder that when Jews once again controlled the Temple Mount in 1967, the rabbinical establishment had nothing to say other than to forbid all Jews from going there. If the truth be told, they breathed a sigh of relief when it was tossed back to the Moslems like an unwanted bone.

Judaism lost its way not in 1967 but 2500 years ago when the Jewish nation declined to take up the offer of the Persian emperor Cyrus to return to its homeland. By thinking small, by refusing to see the big picture, by denying the Jewish nation’s destiny. By choosing mediocrity over greatness, Galuth over Geulah. From that day to this, as R. Yehuda HaLevi wrote in his masterpiece The Kuzari (2:24), “our prayers for redemption are like the mindless cawings of rooks and ravens”.

If we think small, we shall indeed be so, particularly in the eyes of our enemies.

If we think big, we shall indeed be great – in the eyes of Hashem, in our own eyes, and in the eyes of the whole world.


Shiloh said...

Most of the article hits the nail on the head. We must return to derech haShem, not "religion". We have focused on non-issues for the last 2000 or so years. We have made them inflate our ego's thinking how holy we have become. Its only the opposite. It's nonsense and surely not derech haShem! Orthodox Judaism, maybe! Replacement theology (Oh how we complain about the other movements of "judaism", when we have also changed the path haShem gave to us with rabbinical excesses). We need to clean house, correct how we have strayed off the path, and we have gone far. I hope we get more brave souls correcting the mess. Its part of the geulah mode by the way. No wonder the 'religious' don't want change, they are afraid of the geulah where the Mashiakh will repair the breaches of the Torah. Moshe had it easy!! Pesach Sameach.

yid said...

Can't help but agree with his points. It's a step in the right direction. Although, the obvious question is: "That's how the reform movement stated, they first did away with minhagim, then derabanan's and then deoraisas... Ayayayayay!!!!! Gevalt!" Well, the reform movement's GOAL was to be like the goyim!!! The reform movement's beliefs from the begining were that the Torah is not mishamaim C'V! So let's not compare this to the reform movement...

Yes, Judaism, the way it is today, must be HEALED. And this especially applies to the Ashkenazi practice. Ashkenazim have overdone it with minhagim, to the point that their (our, I'm an Ashkenazi) version of Judaism hardly resemples the original one... Pesach is an excellent example. Kitneos, thin matzos, cleaning that could (and does) drive you mad (Ashkenazim clean much more thoroughly than Sefardim). And for what? FOR WHAT????? Because your name is Horowitz and not Hazani? Seriously, is that what G-d wants from us? Trust me, if it were a mitzva to torture oneself Pesach time, I would gladly do so. We do have one mitzva like that, to torture (afflict) oneself on Yom Kippur, "v'initem es nafshoseichem", and I do it with great joy, because that's what G-d wants...

How many fights families go through Pesach time? No wonder why, when the wife is about to collapse from cleaning... And then, you have to go shnorrer for $$ to buy the very expensive commertially made thin matzos, which tend to cause constipation!!! IT'S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THAT!

You want to FEEEEEEEL Pesach? Go bake your own matzos... Ah, but to bake Ashkenazi matzos is very difficult, and VERY slow, because an average matza is about 50 gram... You need a team of a few people to roll it very thin, do the redlach, etc. Not many people are able to bake matzos for the Seder, much less entire Pesach. BUT IT'S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THAT!!! Thick Sefardi matzos are much simpler to make, because you don't need to roll them so extremely thin and punch holes into them... In fact, they look more like bread, which is how it was at Yetzias Mitzraim... or in the Bais Hamikdash... In fact, anyone who has an access to outdoors, can build an earth oven, and bake his own matzos... Pesach expenses therefore would be cut dramatically... Now, wouldn't that be better then shnorring and humiliating oneself Pesach time? Wouldn't it be better if more people ate matzos they themselves baked, and feel like free men? COULD THERE BE MORE LOVE FOR THE MITZVAH THAN DOING IT YOURSELF? Not like slaves, constipated from white flour commertial mazta baked by arab workers, but with a Badatz hechsher? No wonder many people don't like Pesach... No wonder many people go off the derech...

Yeah, we got something to think about...

Chag Sameach and may we become truly liberated.

yid said...

P.S. It is with great sorrow that I made statements which seem to degrade mitzvos (like saying mazha and constipation in the same sentence), but what can I do, something needs to be done to change the situation...

Jon Saboe said...

It looks like someone has been reading The Three Crowns: Structures of Communal Politics in Early Rabbinic Jewry (Paperback)
by Stuart A. Cohen

shira0607 said...

Since the Torah portion from a few weeks ago when Aaron's sons were consumed by fire, the phrase alien fire has been going through my mind.

One of the commentaries I read said that the alien fire Aaron's sons brought into the inner sanctuary was excessive piety.

This commentary seems to be born out later when Aaaron's other two sons didn't follow the steps for some of the sacrifaces. They were not consumed by fire but were told to be more careful.

I actually like the preparations for Pesach. All the cleaning seems to clear my mind and has me focus on the items that I may hold onto that is keeping me in slavery.

But last year, when I learned about kitniyot, I was dismayed. Since it is a three hour trip for me to purchase kosher meat, I have been using soy based products. I was confronted with the prospect of not being able to eat much of anything during Pesach. I don't think it Pesach was intended to be this way. It is a festival!

The matza is to be a sign of the affliction we faced in mitzrayim but to me, it is also a symbol of our freedom and the making us into a Nation.

Anonymous said...

Boker Tov to all.
I have not commented in a long time. Rabbi Akiva, I hope you and your family are well in Eretz Yisrael.

Shira, your comment held the answer in the last word: Nation.

All of your comments here have been well placed. Jon Saboe, I am not familiar with the book; nevertheless, I am sure you have seen a similarity (as it is written in Kohelet there is nothing new under the sun).

Let me return to the "Nation" principle. The comments by Rabbi Bar-Hayim are very accurate, albeit a generality regarding "leaders lacking vision" comment. Such unspecificity can lead to confusion and blame, when we, as a Nation, are called upon to act as individuals, bearing individual responsibility and as individuals leading collectively.

The best way to lead is to lead by example, not merely by directive. I consider the "leaders lacking vision" comment to be off because I see so many who are doing the right thing. Look at this blog. Are not these men of G-D leading us...into thought-provoking discussion and discourse? And look at Rabbi Lazer Brody! Leading from the front, day by day, by example.

We are a Nation: a Holy Nation of individuals ALL placed in the responsibility of a leadership position. As it is written d'rabbanim, one who teaches one letter of Torah is as a rabbi.

The Rambam's letter to the Jews of Yemen in the 12th century common era summed it up: (I paraphrase)If is should be neccessary to retire to a desert wilderness or inhospitable area to follow the tenets of our faith, then do so."

Denominations destroy. The word "Jews" (what we are) is a noun, but can be an implied verb...those who follow HaShem, follow the mitzvot to the best of their ability. Forget the adjectives...Ashkenazim, Sephardim...Lubavitcher...Breslover...for they modify the noun, but they cannot change the noun.

We, as Jews, must return to the "grass roots" of our faith. Such does not entail apostasy, but instead, an apprehension of those sacred elements we left behind when we abandoned the tents for the house, the city, town, or shtetl. Who cares about the adjective? Match up the behavior and practice to Torah...that is our guideline, and G-D is our judge.

Avraham Yehoshua Heschel summed it up eloquently: "When I was young I admired people with wisdom. Now that I am old, I admire people with kindness."

Be kind to one another. Never denigrate your brother, your sister. We're Jews! Let us rekindle the flames of our faith. We are all in it together! All of Nation, klal Yisrael.
(By the way, Shira, I have about two hours round trip for my meat as well. Yid? Made my own matzot...kept a supply of domestic Manischewitz Ashkenazi Matzot....shemittah year, remember...and made my own in the manner of the Sephardim...13 minutes from wetting to oven...under 18's the rule! And Shiloh? Yes, derech El-him Chayyim is just that: not "religion," you are so right.
A good book for all to read: "Gonzo Judaism." Although I don't agree with all, it has great ideas, such as celebrating Kiddush with a group in the Alaskan wilderness, etc.

Our people were a nomadic Nation, and as it is written, HaShem will restore us to the tents, the flocks, and the herds. Let us now start at our a Nation. Shalom, b'l'chayyim
B'ahavat yisrael,
Yesha Galluzzo

Anonymous said...

It is true… as it is written, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Moreover, paradoxically, sometimes the greatest kindness is to confront and address a delicate matter frankly and honestly.

Yeshayahu HaNavi (29:13) is speaking, I believe, directly to the heart of the issue afflicting Klal Yisroel today:

וַיֹּאמֶר אֲדֹנָי, יַעַן כִּי נִגַּשׁ הָעָם הַזֶּה, בְּפִיו וּבִשְׂפָתָיו כִּבְּדוּנִי, וְלִבּוֹ רִחַק מִמֶּנִּי--וַתְּהִי יִרְאָתָם אֹתִי, מִצְוַת
אֲנָשִׁים מְלֻמָּדָה.

And the Lord said: Forasmuch as this people draw near, and with their mouth and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear of Me is a commandment of men learned by rote…

Jewish Person said...

Interest points. I just realized, what makes a leader a leader? And when and who decides that its time to look elsewhere?

Perhaps it is time but everyone is waiting for the other one????

I certainly look to Rb. Lazer Brody. Admittedly I don't know too much about his personal life. But he seems like a mensch.

Actually, aside of a halachic rav, I've been really focused on the Likutey Moharan.

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