Monday, August 29, 2005

Photo Blog: Planting, Not Uprooting!

While some people prefer tearing down and uprooting it’s nice to know there are plenty of good people that prefer building up and planting.

I’m proud to say I’m living with many of them at Ulpan Etzion. See, there are signs up all over the country about volunteer opportunities to help the homeless of Gush Katif. (Why CNN doesn’t report the humanitarian crimes committed here and why Amnesty International remains silent as well, is beyond me!)

Well one fine student here organized a group to go and volunteer to pack food and supplies for the victims of the Gush Katif crime. But when we were all set to go there we were told that they no longer needed any more volunteers for that particular task. (The outpouring of help in this country is truly heartwarming!)

But, we were told there were other ways to help. For example there was this farmer from the paradise settlement of Ganei Tal.
He owned no less than 40 greenhouses (often poorly translated from Hebrew as “hothouses”) in Gush Katif. Today he owns just 7!

And so today we found ourselves off to this tiny little blip on the map called T’Kumah (no relation to about a five minute drive from Netivot.

See the farmers were forced to relocate and time was very critical because they were trying to salvage the last few weeks of the summer season.

This particular greenhouse specialized in flowers – in Gush Katif they would export all sorts of flowers all over Europe.

There was a lot of work do to getting the “new” site set up. And they were rushing to get it all done by Friday – not just because the ideal summer season is coming to an end but also because “bein hazmanim” vacation is almost over and many volunteers will be back in Yeshiva soon!

So there were loads of flower pots to fill, with no time to waste.

They had some of us “Bannim” work separately on larger flower pots. In the top picture is a guy from Canada along with a guy from Britain. That bottom picture is my partner from Turkey. And today we all live together in Baka, Jerusalem!

We filled A LOT of pots. (By the way the fertilized soil they use comes from the Golan.)

By A LOT I mean THREE of these tables. (They are even longer than they look!)

With Hashem’s help soon those pots of dirt will look like this! (Truly the Wonders and Miracles of Hashem!)

And this...

Planting sure beats uprooting!

12/27/05 Update: For links to more postings from this photo series click here.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Second Prize: Succos in Berlin!

The classic work on Jewish history, Seder HaDorot, by R' Yechiel Halperin, records the following observation in his entry for the year 5380 (1620):

The author of the commentary Sefer Meirat Eynayim (SMA) on the Shulchan Aruch explained why the Jewish community of Worms suffered far more persecution, pogroms and evil decrees than other congregations. That kehillah was founded by Jewish exiles who made their way to Germany following the Destruction of the First Temple. After seventy years of exile, many Jews returned from Babylon to Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem, but none returned from Worms. The community in Jerusalem wrote to the kehillah in Worms and urged them to join their new settlement in Jerusalem... but the complacent Jews of Worms dismissed this invitation out of hand. Instead, they responded, ‘You stay where you are in the great Jerusalem, and we will continue to stay where we are in our little Jerusalem!' This arrogant response was due to the prosperity and prestige the Jews of Worms enjoyed in the eyes of the local gentiles and their princes.

The success of Worms was its undoing! The prosperity of the Jew in exile is nothing more than a Divine test to see whether it will cause the Jew to forget his homeland and his heritage. Worms and the Rhineland failed and suffered bitterly. In our own times, the vast majority of the German kehillah failed, because, as Meshech Chochmah (Bechukotai) observes, ‘They began to call Berlin, Jerusalem!' (The Artscroll Kinos pp 272-273)

Grand Prize: Succos in Yerusalayim

Second Prize: Succos in Boro Park

Go ahead buy a ticket. It is for a good cause.

Anyway I remarked to my cousin, that still, this raffle makes me cringe every year. And he reassured me it wasn’t so bad – it’s wonderful to always view things from the bright side.

He said think of what they could have done. They could have made the raffle thus:

Grand Prize: Succos in Boro Park

And if Chas V’Shalom you are unable to make it to the holy city of Boro Park at least, at least, at least, you could settle for the next best thing:

Second Prize: Succos in Yerushalayim.
It’s not quite Boro Park but it will have to do.

You know what – it’s sad to say but my cousin is right.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Gush Katif Events In Queens, NY

Posted on the Kumah blog: Click here.

(I'd go, but I made Aliyah - plus I'm a bit busy. A group of us here volunteered to help built houses. Houses they lied to the world about and said were already built! Why doesn't CNN ask the PM to give them a tour of all the new homes. Where are they exactly?)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Fishy Sign End of Days Approach

The Barbus grypus - not the "grybus" as the Jerusalem post reported.

This has already been throughly blogged about elsewhere last week. But bloggers seemed to omit the fact that this fish is yet another sign the "Days of Mashiach" quickly approach.

The Jerusalem post article reports:

According to Midrash Shimoni, a compilation of rabbinic writings, "Seven hundred pure [permitted] fish were exiled with Israel to Babylonia, and all returned except for the shabut – and in the future it will return."

"In the future" in Midrash talk means one thing: "In the days of Mashiach."

From The Jerusalem Post:

Kosher 'pork of the sea'

By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich

A kosher fish mentioned in the Talmud that tastes like pork has been identified by Bar-Ilan University researchers and brought here surreptitiously from Iran.

Called shabut in Arabic, the fish lives in the rivers of Iraq and Syria as well as Iran.

The fish was brought over from Iran, preserved in formaldehyde, by Dr. Zohar Amar of BIU's department of Eretz Yisrael studies and archeology and Dr. Ari Zivotofsky of the Inter-Disciplinary Center for Brain Studies. They, along with experts from the Agriculture Ministry, are now studying the possibility of raising shabut (known scientifically as Barbus grybus).

Making the fish available here, they say, should gladden the hearts of immigrants from Iran as well as Israelis who keep kosher but would like to know what pork tastes like.

The Babylonian Talmud, which contains numerous discussions about the fish, specifically notes that some of its organs taste like pork (although how the sages were able to make the comparison is not clear).

The great commentator Rashi wrote that it was the brain of the fish that tasted like pig meat, and that it served as a kosher option for people who yearned to eat the forbidden meat.

Most modern researchers believed that the shabut, which can grow to up to two meters and 60 kilograms, was one of several species of fish surviving in the Mediterranean Basin and in Europe. But the BIU researchers, who specialize in the study of animals mentioned in Jewish holy books, maintain that their fish is the shabut. Rabbi Yosef Haim, known as the Ben-Ish Hai, and other Iraqi sages of recent generations recognized it as kosher.

According to Midrash Shimoni, a compilation of rabbinic writings, "Seven hundred pure [permitted] fish were exiled with Israel to Babylonia, and all returned except for the shabut – and in the future it will return."

An anonymous resident of Iran served as the liaison for the researchers, who spent six months finding and researching the fish. Fish farmers in the Beit She'an Valley are already investigating the possibility of breeding the species.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Advantages of Living in the Land of Israel

Today, the 19th of Av, is the Yartzeit of Rav Yaakov Culi ZT”L, the conceiver and original author of the Holy Work, the “MeAm Lo’ez.” In honor of this we present a short excerpt from the MeAm Lo’ez on last week’s Parsha as translated by Rav Aryeh Kaplan A”H. (This section was not written by Rav Culi but by Rav Yitzchok Behar Argueti ZT”L, however it is in line with Rav Culi’s vision of the massive “MeAm Lo’ez” project.)

The Advantages of Living in the Land of Israel

From here we see the advantages of living in the land of Israel and its holiness. Moses prayed repeatedly to be allowed to enter the land of Israel and to be able to live there. We likewise find that the patriarchs all lived in the Holy Land.

The reason is that Israel is not directed by any angel, but by G-d Himself. It is thus written, “It is a land about which L-rd your G-d is constantly concerned” (Deut. 11, 12). Even when people sin very much, G-d does not give it over to the angles of destruction for punishment, so that they should not have any power over it.

Our sages teach, “The land of Israel makes one wise in Torah. This is because all this land, all the air as high as one goes, is not given to the power of any destructive angel which can confuse the mind and blind the eyes so that one will not understand the Torah.”

It is thus written, “The gold of that land is good, there is the bdellium and the onyx stones” (Genesis 2:12). There is no Torah study like that found in the land of Israel.

The logical inferences and mental structures that one can arrive at in the Holy Land are better and greater than that of any other place. This is the “gold of the Holy Land.”

The bdellium (bedolach) and onyx (shoham) stones denote erudition in Talmud, Tosfta, and Aggadah.

The Torah is likened to gold, as it is written, “It is more precious than gold and the finest gilt” (Psalms 19:11). It is also likened to precious stones as it is written, “It is more precious than jewels” (Proverbs 3:14).

The reason is as we have said earlier, that there are not destructive angles in the Holy Land to confuse the mind, and the Divine Presence also rests there.

Abbaye who was one of the greatest sages in Bavel praised the sages of the land of Israel and said, “One sage there is as good as two of our sages in wisdom and sharpness. Since they live in the land of Israel the air there helps sharpen their minds. This does not indicate that we are lacking any mental agility, but the very air and holiness of that land makes them wise.”

His contemporary, Rava, said “If one goes there (to the Holy Land), two of them are not like one of us.” The proof is that when Rav Jeremiah, from the Holy Land was here, he could not understand what our sages taught. But when he went to the Holy Land he did not consider us great at all and he called us ‘foolish Babylonians.’” (Talmud Ketubot 75a)

This is even true with regard to other subjects. The people who live in the Holy Land are much sharper.
When a person left Jerusalem and came to another city, even if he was an ordinary person, the gentiles gave him much honor and placed him on a throne and set him down to hear his wisdom and his knowledge of all types of science as well as his understanding. (Midrash Echah I)

Therefore, G-d chose the Holy Land and gave it to us. G-d said, “This land is very dear to Me. It is not directed by any angelic overseer, but by My hand. The Israelites are also precious to Me as it is written, ‘Out of G-d’s love for you. . .’ (Deut. 7:8).” The Israelites are also not directed by any angel but by G-d Himself as it is written, “For G-d’s portion is His people” (Deuteronomy 32:9). G-d said, “I will bring the Israelites who are precious to Me to the land that is precious to Me.”

Similarly, it is taught that “Whoever lives in the land of Israel is like one who has a G-d.” This is because as soon as he prays he is answered, since no angelic being can denounce his prayers. Similarly, it is taught “Whoever lives outside the land is like one who does not have a G-d.” When such a person prays because of any trouble, many denouncing angels hold back his prayers and examine him to see if [his] prayer should ascend on High. If they see that it is not fitting he can call out and not be answered.

Whoever is worthy to live in the land of Israel is worthy of having the Holy Spirit (ruach ha-kodesh) rest on him and his body is sanctified. If one is worthy of dying in the land of Israel, his soul immediately ascends to its place under the wings of the Shekhinah.

If a person is worthy of living in the land of Israel it is a sign that he is a righteous person.

Such a person automatically has a portion in the World to Come, even though people do not deem him to be a virtuous person. However, if he was not saintly, the land would not accept him but would emit him as it is written [the Torah says that if people commit sins “the land will vomit you out” (Leviticus 18:28)]. Just as a stomach vomits out improper food the land vomits out improper individuals.

The reason for this is that if a person lives in the land of Israel he is without sin. The suffering that he experiences there atones for all his sins. His body is therefore cleansed of sin, since he lives in a place where the Divine Presence rests and therefore his body must be pure.

Therefore if a person is not ready to keep the commandments when he is in the land of Israel, his sin is greater than that of a similar person in other lands. It is like two people whom the king commanded to do something. One lives in the king’s palace and the other lives outside the palace. If the two of them then violate the king’s commandment, with whom will the king be more angry? Certainly he will be more angry with the one who lives in his palace and sees the king every day. The anger will be greater than against the one who lives outside the palace even though both of them violated the commandment. Still, the punishment for the one who lives in the palace is greater.

Although our sages teach, “Whoever walks four cubits in the land Israel atones for all his sins,” and the land itself has the power to atone for sin, it is only true if someone comes from outside the land of Israel. Then as soon as he steps on the ground of the land of Israel and walks four cubits his sins are forgiven, as it is written “His land shall atone for His people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). However if a person commits sins while in the Holy Land itself, the punishment is much worse than while elsewhere. If a person is buried in the land of Israel it is exactly the same as if he were buried under the altar, which was the place where all sin was forgiven through the sacrifices. Therefore happy are the righteous who live in the land of Israel, since they have no sin either in life or death. The land itself has a special power of atoning for a person’s sin.

Living in the land of Israel is as weighty a merit as the covenant of circumcision.

It is as weighty as everything that was created in the six days of creation. We find that Elimelech was punished with his two sons, Machlon and Chilyon (see Ruth 1, 3, and 5) because they left the land of Israel and lived elsewhere because of the famine that was there.

The Talmud relates that Rabbi Eleazar ben Shamua and Rabbi Yochanan HaSandler once left the Holy Land to study Torah with Rabbi Yehudah ben Bethirah, who lived in Netzivin in Babylonia. When they came as far a Tzarda, they looked up and saw the land of Israel. They remembered that living in the Holy Land is equivalent to all the rest of the commandments. Immediately, they tore their garments and tears gushed down their eyes. With that they returned to the Holy Land.

When a person lives in the land of Israel he is like a child of G-d. If a person lives outside the land of Israel he is like G-d’s servant. The difference between these two appellations is explained in the beginning of the Sidra [Vaethchanan].

The righteous who live in the land of Israel have such power that their merit protects even those that live outside the Holy Land. However the righteous outside the land of Israel only protects those who live in their place.

The reason for this is that there are seven zones in the world. The land of Israel is at the middle ot these seven regions, three to the right and three to the left. Matching these, G-d created the seven major planets, Saturn (Shabethai), Jupiter (Tzedek), Mars (Ma’adim), the Sun (Chamah), Venus (Nogah), Mercury (Kokhav), the Moon (Levanah). Each one of these bodies directs one zone. Essential to all these seven bodies is the sun. Just as the sun shines over the world, so the spiritual influx that G-d sends to the Holy Land is enjoyed by the entire world. People who live in the Holy Land are like a wife whose eyes are fixed on her husband. Therefore the merit of the saints in the land of Israel protects even those who live outside the land. It is like the case of the heart which feeds all parts of the body.

When the Temple existed and we were in our own land, all blessing and bounty came from G-d’s hand, while the other nations only had what was left over, like a slave dependent on his master. However, now, due to our sins, this has changed. G-d gives all good to the nations and we can only hope for what they leave over. However, even now when the Temple is destroyed and the land is desolate, through the merit of the land of Israel all the world is fed.

The land of Israel is known as the land of the living (eretz ha-chaim). At the resurrection, the dead in the land of Israel will rise first. Even Jeroboam and his associates who sinned and caused others to sin will rise. Although they committed the worst possible sins, they will be the first to rise before all the other dead. They already received their punishment when Jerusalem was destroyed and the earth burnt seven years with fire and brimstone. Since G-d has already punished them, they will rise at the resurrection. Moreover, in the merit of their having been buried in the land of Israel they will be saved from the punishment of hell, as we have mentioned. The land has the power to atone as it is written, “His land shall atone for His people” (32:43).

Those who die in the Holy Land also have another advantage in that they die through an angel of mercy. Those who die elsewhere, on the other hand, die through the angel of death.

If a person has a relative in Jerusalem, whether a man or woman, and he is concerned to provide them with food, he has a special merit. This is especially true of those who exert themselves to support Torah sages who live and study Torah in the land of Israel. In the merit of this relative or the Torah scholar, the person who supports them will be among the first to rise at the resurrection.

The land of Israel was sanctified with ten degrees of holiness, one above the other. To match these ten degrees of holiness, when Ezra arrived in Jerusalem from Babylonia, he made ten enactments. Joshua likewise made ten conditions when he entered the Holy Land. These also correspond to the ten degrees of holiness in the land.

The MeAm Loez is published in English by Moznaim.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Rumor: Baba Sali's Watch Struck 12, Moschiach Imminent!

This past Shabbat I was doing the Parsha with the MeAm Lo’ez, and it was talking about how Moshe was davening for Hashem to let him enter Eretz Yisrael even though it seemed too late. He mentions the famous agadata from Berakhot 10 about Yeshaya telling Chezekia he will definitely die and Chezekia replying “I have a tradition from my fathers house that even if a sharp sword is on a person’s neck he should not give up praying.”

Then it said this:

From this our sages teach us how important it is to pray to G-d in a time of trouble. Such a prayer is better even than that of a righteous man who has many good deeds.

The reason that prayer is more important that good deeds is that if a person prays to G-d he shows that he believes with all his heart that no matter what happens to a person, whether good or bad, it does come from G-d. He recognizes that G-d is the master of all this. He only turns in prayer to G-d and knows full well that no one other than G-d can help him. With this he shows that he believes that G-d is one and His name one.

And don’t think our teffilot are being ignored. Rumors are circulating (although I have not read it in print anywhere) about the famous Baba Sali’s watch.

It was blogged about a few months back: Here.

There’s a few months old Q and A post about it: Here.

And in the original Hebrew: Here.

And a Channel One newsclip (in Hebrew) about the watches: Here.

And an English translation of the above newsclip blogged over: Here.

It is told that the Baba Sali ztvk"l, gave over a broken watch (it seems actually two watches) to Harav Mordechai Eliyahu, shlita. The hands on the watch miraculously move. When they hit 12:00 the time for Moschiach has arrived.

That’s old news. But this is the latest update! Rumors are circulating that after all the Teffilot gatherings in the past few months, the hands of the watch moved closer and closer to twelve.

And that at the Massive Teffilah at the Kotel, that took place on the Yartziet of the Ari”zl, the Wednesday before Tisha B’av – which hundreds of thousands (if not more) attended.

Including Rav Eliyahu.

Well at that time – according to the rumor - the hands moved all the way up and are now pointing to 12:00! This means – I was told – that the time for Moshiach has arrived and that he is among us and waiting to reveal himself!

Now we shouldn’t need watches from the Babi Sali to be able to tell Moshiach’s arrival is imminent. And likewise I haven’t even been able to confirm the watches are now pointing at 12:00 (and if anyone read or saw anything about that anywhere else please let me know!).

But I guess the point is, while everything seems to be going so terrible… well, wonderful things are about to take place! So keep davening and make Aliyah today so you can watch them happen LIVE instead of reading about them on my blog!

(Stay Tuned. Blogging Soon About: "The Advantages of Living in the Land of Israel," a brief excerpt from the MeAm Lo'ez.)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Photo Blog: Gush Katif Protests, Where was everybody?

NOTE: If you don't see photos on this post it means the server hosting the pictures is temporarily down. Please check back later. Thanks!

I don't understand what happened! I joined my uncle and a small group of about 30 cars, from Har Nof, that set out for Gush Katif on Monday night. We stopped at a rest stop as we approached the area and hit road blocks.

There we so many people there! There was praying and singing and dancing and everyone was looking at maps and discussing how to take back road and dirt roads to evade the police road blocks. Everyone was pumped!

The plan was to have the small groups all meet up in four location: Ashkelon, Netivot, Sderot and Ofakim. Our group was directed towards Ofakim. I'm telling you - there were so many people there! They had a massive rally and discussed the plans. Spirits were high. We were going to stop this evil thing!

But that's when I started feeling something was amiss. The plan was for us to drive several kilometers then park the car and walk 10 kilometers till we reached an oasis area. There we were going to camp out for the whole Tuesday and head down another 7 kilometers for Gush Katif along will thousands of others as the deadline for the voluntary expulsion expired. The idea was if we simply block all the roads in and out the expulsion can’t happen. At the same time the limited resources involved in the disengagement would have to be devoted to us and with the government coalition as shaky as it is, any delay could ultimately be a fatal blow to the Sharon government and to disengagement forever.

But half the group - or even more than half the group objected to the plan. Camp there for a day?! “We don’t have food, we don’t have water!” Biblical history repeats itself. But I’m being very rough and unfair. They did make a good rational argument. The sun is hot and without adequate amounts of water – the sun would be dangerous – even fatal. It made more sense to go home and return the next night if that was we when they needed us to converge on Gush Katif. The argument to proceed was - how do you even know you will be able to reach Ofakim. Today you are here. Why go backwards? Most of the “Har Nof” group went back, but nine cars proceeded as planed.

The journey down proved to be a challenge. We drove on all sorts of dirt roads in pitch black darkness in the dead of the night. We drove though some very beautiful villages with large houses that would easily blend in with neighborhoods in Long Island, New York. Then we passed this lovely little Kibbutz - I think it was called Patish. And there were families stitting outside and taking pictures. We spoke to a little girl who was all excited and said they never have seen so much traffic pass through and that cars had been streaming through all night. Indeed as we continued we would spot other groups of cars doing the same thing we were and some groups were even as large as 50-60 cars.

We drove and drove and came to a road that leads directly into an Army Tent City (called Reim I think?). Well the army was not about to let us drive that way, although that’s the direction the plan called for us to head towards. Two army vehicles blocked the road. We turned left. The army vehicles followed us probably to make sure we left the area.

So we stopped to regroup and decide on a new plan. Some of the teenagers in the group went to chat with the soldiers. One of the soldiers was really friendly and gave us all sorts of tips. He even pointed to a map, “take this road here, make a left here – don’t go that other way because they will arrest you, but you could probably get close if you go this way instead.” Ect.

The next leg of the journey, involved more dirt road, and driving off dirt road with headlights shut off at 2 miles an hour so as not to be seen or heard. I wasn’t about to take all too many flash pictures at that point. Not a good idea if you are trying to hide from the police and army. At one point we realized we couldn’t drive any further and decided all the drivers would drive the cars back and the rest of the group would proceed on foot.

We hiked through a farm – I’m fairly certain we were walking on fertilizer at one point. And then something interesting happened. Instead of about 30 of us from “Har Nof” there were about 300 people walking in the same direction. We had merged with two other groups headed the same way – including a large group from Shilo.

The terrain changed from flat farmland to very ridged with deep valleys and steep hills. We proceed as the sun began to rise.

The sun was not our friend. We were supposed to reach the oasis before sunrise. But we were a few hours behind schedule. We would have to contend with the heat.

We met another protester who told us his group headed over the mountain the same way we were headed and met a unit of army troops that promptly arrested them. He escaped to warn us. We took a detour to the right.

There were a few soldiers there as well and they spotted us. We headed, very quickly to the left of our original route instead. This meant lots of extra walking as the sun started heating up.

But then something truly miraculous happened. It got cloudy! There were even some really thick black clouds. And they blocked out the sun for another four hours until we reached a shady area safely. Someone said it never gets cloudy down there in the summer.

We had to cross over the main road into Gaza. A TV News camera crew spotted us and started filming. . .

A police officer also spotted us. “Police, Police, Halt!” he called out. But there was one of him and 300 of us. We proceed with much haste.

I didn’t take a picture of it because I didn’t want to get them in trouble, but a few soldiers ran after us... not to arrest us but the offer encouragement. They even showed some of the younger kids their weapons.

Ahh, nothing like davening Shacharit out in the open field.

We reached a shady area and made camp – and coffee.

And rested... finally!

This is what the sun did to sunflowers!

Bad news. We found out from Yesha central command that we were the ONLY group to get so close to Gush Katif. Everybody else, 5000 people who attempted that first night, were either turned around and sent home or arrested. We had to decide what we could do as we could not stick to the original plan without thousands more with us.

Half the group decides that afternoon to go and block the Kissufim crossing, the main road in and out of Gaza, and get arrested. (The other half would do the same after nightfall.)

Mogen Dovid Adom arrives and supplies us with plenty of water (remember those that complained about water earlier?)

Some of the locals also visit us and bring supplies and words of encouragement.

As sunset approaches another group meets up with us.

He brought a keyboard and played a song he wrote about the whole current situation – and how lots of ahavat yisrael is needed.

Sing Along!

We were off to block the Kissufim Crossing.

Our group wasn’t all that large but it managed to block to road for almost an hour and a half. I slipped away to take some pictures (and video clips.) The police were very gentle and basically a police van pulled up and if you wanted to get arrested you got on and if not you walked away.

Right after our group, another group, apparently very large blocked the other side of the road. I saw loads of troops and police running down the road and then no less than 12 egged busses used to arrest all the protesters.

You can’t tell from the picture but the protesters were all singing and dancing as the bus passed by. They are happy that at least they did everything they could to prevent this evil plan from taking place.

They were there.

The question I have is where was everybody else?

12/27/05 Update: For links to more postings from this photo series click here.