Friday, July 18, 2008

Goldwasser and Regev = Joseph

My mother sent me the following article that was written by Dr. Erica Brown. I find it to be rather profound and true. This article most definately puts a rather delicate subject into perspective.

Weekly Jewish Wisdom

Seeking Closure

By Dr. Erica Brown

“Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.’”

Genesis 50:25

This week, all eyes turned to the Middle East as a prisoner swap shook Israel and Lebanon. The remains of two Israeli soldiers abducted in 2006 – Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev (may their memories be for a blessing) – were exchanged for 5 living Lebanese prisoners. The word “swap” communicates an evenness of exchange. Nothing could have been more uneven. There are people on every side of the political spectrum arguing about the controversy of this painful arrangement. Will it stimulate more kidnappings? Was it fair? Was Israel too soft? Too harsh? Too late? Did they hold out long enough?

All of the politics may mask some of the profoundly human questions we ask about death at times like this. We may get lost in debate and lose sight of the respect owed the actual body and the last wishes of those who can no longer communicate them to us. We often wonder, as we contemplate death, where we will go in the fullness of time. Some people take great comfort in buying burial plots simply because it is a small way to control that which is beyond our control. It is a way of envisioning some physical end when we have little understanding of what spiritually lives after us.

The idea of having one’s remains brought back to Israel for burial is as old as the book of Genesis itself. Abraham and Sarah and their children are buried in Israel; they also died in Israel. Jacob, however, bemoans the fact that he is to die in Egypt. He feels himself unworthy of the legacy of his ancestors because he did not live out his days in the Holy Land. Consequently, he makes a request of his sons: “Bury me with my fathers…” and then enters a lengthy description about the burial plot of his father and grandfather.

In a remarkable act, Joseph asks Pharaoh for permission to return to Canaan with his brothers to bury their father with dignity following Jacob’s last wish. The text conveys the formality of the procession; “all the officials of Pharaoh” came with Joseph on this mission. The group stays in Canaan for seven days and returns. This trip is striking on many fronts, not least of which is that they make this journey there and back so quickly; in only one chapter’s time, we begin the book of Exodus that presages the same return. This time, it takes forty years.

In the very same chapter, Joseph approaches his own death and utters with his last breath the request that his remains be carried back to Canaan. He tells his brothers that they will not stay in Egypt forever but will make their way back following a covenantal promise to Abraham. At that time, they are to take Joseph’s bones back to where they truly belong. Joseph understands that this process may take years but that eventually his remains will reside eternally in the land where he could not live in his lifetime.

This wish enables Joseph to die in peace. In the biblical text, both Jacob and Joseph die immediately after assurances that this promise would be kept. The promise is a comfort and a hope. It is a plea for continuity with the land for those who live after them. It is a way of keeping the memory of these individuals alive by having a marker in a place where their memory will stay sacred. It is also a way for each of them to put closure to a life spent in a place not of their own choosing. It is a way to imagine the rest in resting place.

This week, Israel kept an ancient tradition through tears. Putting aside the politics of it all, this enormous sacrifice offered closure to waiting families and friends. It offered Jews around the world the closure of our open prayers. It helps us understand that there really is no price for a life. It offered dignity to death and gave memory a place to live.

Shabbat Shalom

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bais Ovi: Tefila For The Israeli Government in Shul During Davening

A Rav in Amsterdam wrote a letter to Rav Yitzchok Isaac Liebes saying he was concerned that Shuls say a Mi SheBeirach during davening for the Israeli government. Even more worrisome to him was that they use the language "Medinas Yisroel, Reishis Tzemichas Geulaseinu", the State of Israel the beginning of the sprouting of the redemption.

Rav Liebes in Shu"t Bais Ovi (5:69) addresses the issue of davening for the government and the origins of the Minhag. He says that it is a very old minhag in Germany and in all of Europe to bless the King, Queen, and the heir to the throne each Shabbos by davening, whether they are friendly or even antagonistic towards the Jews, because of Sholom Malchus. This Minhag is brought in the Abudraham and some say the even the Machzor Vitri, a Talmid of Rashi. The Mekor for this Minhag is the Mishna in Avos (3:2) where Rebbi Chanina Sgan HaKohanim says to daven for the peace of the kingdom (although Rebbi Chanina never said to daven publicly).

Even when monarchies were replaced by democracies and the tefila became less relevant, there were still communities that continued to say this tefila. Therefore in these places, if they choose to add a tefila for the state of Israel one should not start a tumult over it. As far as the language of Reishis Tzemichas Geulaseinu, he doesn't see it as a Kefira in Bi'as HaMoshiach. He says that the Imrei Emes of Ger said during the 1947 war, "Kach He Geulasam Shel Yisroel, Kim'ah Kim'ah" that is the nature of the Geula, slowly slowly.

Therefore he concludes, do not feel bad and do not make calculations and get involved in politics. He who goes innocently will rest securely.

* As seen on

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Parshas Chukas - "Holy Cow"

Systematically this weeks Parsha begins with the laws and parameters that surround the Para Aduma (Red Heifer). It then follows with the death of Miriam and Klal Yisrael's insistence that they receive water. As a result Moshe Rabbeinu hits a rock to draw water instead of speaking to it, which he was commanded and is punished by being forbidden entry to the Land of Israel.

The seminal topic of discussion in the weeks Parsha is the Red Heifer. At the beginning of his commentary of this weeks Parsha the Baal HaTurim offers an explanation for the laws that surround the red heifer. He says that the laws that surround it are a kappara (repentance) for the sins that occurred at Sinai. His proof is that the gematria of Para Aduma is the same as the words "Al Avon HaEgel - on the sin of the calf."

When mentioning the topic of the red heifer one cannot help but recall the famous story involving Dama Ben Nisina:

Dama Ben Nisina was approached by the Chachamim as they wished to purchase (for an exorbitant amount of money) a jewel that was to be used for the Kohein's breastplate. Upon researching the wearabouts of the jewel Dama realized that the key to the vault inwhich the jewel was located was under his fathers pillow. Refusing to wake up his father regardless of the loss that the family would incur, Dama turned away the Rabbis because of the dire respect which he had for his father. Years passed and Dama's family was repayed by Hashem by having their cow give birth to a Red Heifer. The Rabbi's returned and paid Dama's family a tremendous amount of money for the heifer so that it could be used in the temple.

One can't help but ask, why was Dama's family specifically repaid with a Red Heifer Hashem could have repaid Dama by giving him direct exorbitant wealth or by giving him power?

The Chiddushei HaRim answers that after Dama refused to wake his father, angels in heaven started criticizing the Jewish people. They claimed, "why don't the Jews treat their parents like this? Would they incur a tremendous loss to do a mitzvah?" To quite the angels Hashem provided Dama with a Red Heifer. To most, a red heifer is nothing more than an odd looking cow. Nothing more and nothing less. To Jews however a Red Heifer holds much value. So much so that one cannot possibly put a price tag on how much it is worth. Hashem quieted the angels by showing them that the Jews would go out of their way and even pay exorbitant costs for a simple cow. Something that non-Jews would never do!

You are Sorely Missed!

You are Sorely Missed!