Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Does Money make you happier?

Well according to the Economist, it does! They found a nice link between GDP and reported levels of happiness.

Personally I'm slightly surprised that grey Britain is up so high. I've not been able to find the full statistics, so I've no idea which one of these dots is Israel.

Weirdly I had a look at the legatum project, which aims to do the same thing. It ranks Israel 10th in Average life satisfaction Rankings, but only 36th in the overall prosperity rankings. Basically there is a big gap between the expected and real happiness of Israelies.

Not fasting for rain II

Rav Raffi Feurstein one of the founders and Chairman of the Board of Tzohar has published an opinon piece in Ynet, detailing why he didn't fast yesterday. As opposed to Harav Moshe Lichentstein on whom I blogged yesterday, it seems that his main point of contention is that the Chief Rabbinate is irrelevant. He points out that the Haredi communities do not listen to the chief rabbinate, and were on the whole unaware of the call to fast yesterday. He (correctly) points out that the only community that still cares about a ruling by the Rabbinate is the Religious-Zionist community. However the Rabbinate ignores that communitie's institutions, and as such has little influance over them. 
In his words it is a Rabbinate without followers. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Death of Honi and our modern wars

Continuing with our theme of rain, is this little known story of Honi the circle drawer's demise. The story is told in Josephus:
Now there was one named Onias, a righteous man and beloved of God, who, in a certain drought, had once prayed to God to put an end to the intense heat, and God had heard his prayer and sent rain. Now seeing that this civil war would last a great while, he had hidden himself, but they took him to the Jewish camp and desired that just as by his prayers he had once put an end to the drought, so he might in like manner call curses down on Aristobulus and his supporters.
And when, having refused and made excuses, he was nonetheless compelled by the mob to supplicate, he said, "O God, king of the whole world! Since those that stand now with me are your people, and those that are besieged are also your priests, I beseech you, that you will neither hear the prayers of those others against these men, nor to bring about what is asked by these men against those others."
Whereupon the wicked Jews that stood about him, as soon as he had made this prayer, stoned him to death.
But God punished them immediately for their barbarity, and took vengeance on them for the murder of Onias…He did not delay their punishment, but sent a mighty and vehement storm of wind that destroyed the crops of the entire country, until a modius of wheat at that time cost eleven drachmae. (Antiquities 14.2.1 21)

The civil war that is taking place is the wars between the different branches of the Hasmonean dynasty. Honi is unwilling to pray against other jews, and is killed for his neutrality. In continuation of my last post, (And in a contrary spirit to it) I can but speculate that the rain did not  fall that year, because of the ongoing civil war between the Jews. Perhaps there is an ironic kernel of truth in what certain Rabbanim are preaching that our modern day drought is because of Rav Amsalem. Is it not possible, that our current drought can be attributed to the "war between the Jews"?

On a side note..this is poster from Israel's Water Authority. The writing reads "Don't wait for miracles- Start saving water!"

Should we or shouldn't we fast for rain?

On the Contrary quotes a letter of R. Moshe Lichtenstein arguing that we should not be fasting for rain. I summarized his main points:

  • A. Lack of danger - In the current situation we are not actually in physical danger (yet) from the lack of rain. The fasts are meant for real life and death situations. 
  • B. “Rainfall is livelihood” - Arguing that the connection between rain and economic status has dissapeared "So how can we decree a fast now, when the stock exchange went up significantly over the past year, unemployment went down (even though it remains troublingly high), the currency maintained its value, and the Israeli economy functioned better than that of most developed nations in recent years?"
  • C. Providence and nature -Our spiritual level is not one that allows a direct link between rain and our actions. 
  • D. Sincerity - "Fasting and crying out are mitzvot of the heart. Just as rending a garment when it is not a climactic moment does not constitutekeri’ah, and just as prayer without intention is meaningless, so too fasting, when there is a significant gap between its external expression and internal feeling, is inappropriate."
  • E. Inflation - "If you ask me what harm there is in fasting, even if it does not achieve the levels of intensity described above, I would answer with one word – inflation. Just as inflation ruins the value of a currency, it has a similar effect spiritually."
    •  F. The status of the Chief Rabbinate -"I will not expand on this, but merely assert that for all sorts of reasons the status of the Chief Rabbinate is very far from the reality described in the gemara in Ta’anit in which the decree of the exilarch obligated the entire community. I do not view the status of the Chief Rabbinate or its heads as being binding on the community nowadays. I wish the situation were different, but it is not."

While I agree with the general sentiment, I'm going to have to argue point C. The lack of rain is a punishment for sins. As such it would seem to me that it is used exactly when the spiritual level of the nation is low. I can speculate however, that what is troubling R. Lichtenstein are the lowly and demagogic uses in recent years of certain Rabbanim of the lack of rain and other natural disasters: In recent years we've heard that the lack of rain is because of Rav Amsalem, Earthquakes are because of gay pride parade and Katarina was because of the Hitnatkut (as was the Tsunami I believe). 

"The whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the absence from [ ancient ] Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum." (Havelock Ellis - I was certain this was a Mark Twain quote, but Google thought otherwise)

The art of knowing god's will, or rather reading god's will from the elements is clearly one that has been abused. There is also the weird question, of why none of these rabbanim are able to warn us of advance of these natural disaster if the connection is so clear to them. Just once I'd like one of them to come and tell me "Whoa that gay pride parade..I hope those Haitians have earthquake proofed their house, cuz next week.." It is also somewhat weird, that the natural disasters are always linked to that week's agudah/shas/Mafdal political cause. I am sure that god does punish sins, and I don't doubt that the correct Jewish response to natural disasters is looking at ourselves and asking what have we done wrong. However, some humility is needed.

I am not able to worship a G-d Whose ways are all crystal clear to me – attributed to the Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859)

 The overall affect of these dramatic statements is just a loss of faith by the people, and a general loss of respect for the Rabbanim involved.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A step in the right direction..

Well Harav Amsalem is no longer Amalek. He's just the cause there hasn't been any rain yet..

Prophecy and the Price Of Real Estate

Recently I was at an office overlooking Gay-Henom In Jerusalem. When I commented that he will have a great river view soon, he stared at me blankly. The same comment produced some more blank stares, even from religious Jews. I then explained that he can expect his real estate to go through the roof, once the messiah arrives, for it is prophesied that a river will come out of the temple mount and flow all the way to the Dead Sea:

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. Going on eastward with a line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the loins. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. 

And he said to me, "Son of man, have you seen this?" Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw upon the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes every living creature which swarms will live, and there will be very many fish; for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea; from Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing." (Ezeikel 47:1-12).

Of course if this prophecy comes true, the Dead-Sea  (Stagnant sea= the Dead Sea) Hotels are more or less doomed. However considering the current situation of the dead sea, I'd say this was a vast improvement. I can't help but wonder if as a religious Jew I should start thinking seriously about investing in property in Ma'aleh Adumim which I think is roughly on the route of the river.

Other noteworthy legal end of days conundrums can be found here.

Oh Tony..

Kikar Hashabat is running a story about a Yeshivah Bachur, who sold his house. Not wanting the money to lay idel, he called the bank and told them to buy stock of "sony". The bank misheard him, and bought him shares in a company called Tony. End of story..5.5 Million Shekel richer. I'm sure his children have just been bumped up a few notches in the shidduch list.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dream Solving

Starting with Joseph's own dreams in this week's parasha, we are presented with 3 sets of dreams. In each of these sets there are 2 dreams. Joseph "solves" two of these sets, but does not appear to spell out the meaning of his own dreams. The explanation for the dreams is given by the brothers, and then by Jacob - but it is an explanation that Jacob himself knows is incorrect (The moon can not be Rachel).

Let us see what happens if we try and apply some of Joseph's own techniques on his own dream. 

When Joseph solves Pharaoh's two dreams, he explains that the reason Pharaoh dreamt two dreams was because the dream's solution has been "established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass. ( Gen 41:32). So, why isn't the same thing true with Joseph's dreams? Joseph had two similar dreams too, wouldn't their repeating signify that his dreams were meant to be fulfilled quickly?

The other rule of thumb in both the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker, as well as Pharos dreams is that a repeat of an object signifies time. 3 baskets = 3 days, 3 cups = 3 days, 7 cows = 7 years etc. What about Joseph's dreams? (This point is first made by  Rav Spieglman's weekly parasha shiur. I've kept his basic ideas, but have changed some of the particulars.)

Let us answer the first question. God did act fast to make sure Joseph becomes king. God made sure that Joseph finds his brother by sending an angel (as is commonly interpreted) to direct Joseph to his brothers. He then makes sure that an Ishmalite/Midianite caravan is travelling right next to the pit in which his brothers threw him into - quickly enough that the sale of Joseph happens before Reuven comes back to save him. Sending Joseph to Eqypt was the beginning of the path the will lead to his dreams coming true. In effect God makes sure that Joseph reaches Egypt

The answer to the second question is more speculative. Joseph's two dreams do not match up. In his first dream there are 12 brothers, and 12 Bundles of wheat (The number of bundles is not specified in the dream). In the second dream we have the Sun, the Moon and 11 stars. Let us focus on the second dream. All together we have 13 objects/stars. If we were to interpret each star as a year (including the sun and the moon) we have an interesting possible solution. Joseph was 17 when he was sold into slavery. He is 30 when he is made King over Egypt. (Gen, 41:46). 13 years would match up nicely to becoming king of egypt - ruler at that time of the the biggest empire on earth. What about dream #1? there are only 11 bundles of hay bowing down to Joseph own bundle! well two years before Joseph became king, Joseph solved the dreams of the baker and the cupbearer. We all know the famous Rashi that will open next weeks parasha, stating that Joseph was punished for 2 years because he did not have Bitachon in Hashem. 

If the repeating of a dream is meant to signify that they are to become true quickly, why are the two dreams not identical? A possible answer is that the dreams represent two close but different possible outcomes. In both of them Joseph will become a king. However in one of them he will rule in 11 years, and in the other only in 13 years. The same is true for Pharaoh's dreams. The two dreams are not identical. In Pharaoh's first dream He tells Joseph :
41:20  The lean and ill-favored cattle ate up the first seven fat cattle,

41:21  and when they had eaten them up, it couldn't be known that they had eaten them, but they were still ill-favored, as at the beginning.

In the second dream there is no corresponding mention that no memory was left of the first seven heads of grain.  The first dream was what would happen if Pharaoh did not gather the grain during the first seven good years. The famine would have been so terrible that no one would have remembered the years of plenty. The second is what will happen if he does. (The explanation of this last point is longer in Rav Spieglman's article).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

We finally have an Amelek

In continuation to Rav Amsalem vs Shas. Shas has published its weekly newspaper, that is full of rabbanim trying to one up each other in the language they use against Rav Amsalem.Rav Amsalem is referred to as "that man" a term normally used for Jesus, called a  reform rabbi, a "purim rabbi" and placed in the camp of Korach and Geiger. However the point where they went over the top is where they called him an Amalek. Even children know that we are commanded to kill Amalek. Its even worse then calling him a Nazi (We probably would kill Nazis, but we are not commanded to). The Knesset has already assigned Rav Amsalem a security detail. I can't help but wonder what the writer of that piece will say if (when?) someone decided that he must fulfill Halacha, and kill Amalek. 

When did the second Intifada end?

I recently read "The End of the Second Intifada?" by Jonathan Schachter (page 63 in the link), which asks when did the second Intifada come to an end. The thesis of the article is that the second Intifada was characterized by suicide bombings, and hence ended when they did. The article hints at another solution:
"It is telling that even these attacks appear to be considered “postsecond-
intifada,” insofar as al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and other Fatah
officials threatened to launch a third intifada already in 2005. It is
unlikely that they would make such a threat if they thought the second
intifada were still in progress."
In other words, the second Intifada can be seen as over, when the Palestinians started threatening a third one.

Hands off our Hummus

So recently a "Hummus war" is being fought in Princeton. I am not going to get into the boycott argument, since I'm sure enough has already been written about it. I will however add my two cents on one completely irrelevant point:
"Committee President Yoel Bitran wrote that his group objects to the fact that Sabra is the only hummus brand that is offered in most university stores and that students who wish to eat this traditional Arab food are forced to buy a product that is connected to human rights abuses against Arab civilians." (Via Huffington Post) 
Traditional Arab food? well maybe. However Hummus has a long long history with the Jews, so I think we should claim it as our own. It is little known that Hummus is actually mentioned in the bible. Via Hummus 101:

On the first time Ruth and Boaz had met in Bethlehem, he offered her some humus: “And at meal-time Boaz said unto her, Come hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar” (Ruth 2-14).
This is a mistranslation of course. The original word in ancient Hebrew, is “Hometz”. Which not only sounds a bit like “Humus”, but also resembles the word “Himtza”. The Hebrew name of chick-pees. 

You can add to that argument that no one has ever normally dipped their bread in vinegar, especially I would imagine workers in the field who are hungry for their food.

This Biblical scholarship is normally attributed to the author Meir Shalev. However I will add that I personally asked the known Hebrew scholar Avshalom Kor about this, and he gave his opinion that this interpretation makes a lot of sense.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On what has happened to SHAS

I'll begin with a personal confession. I am in awe of Rav Ovadia Yosef. This might not be that terrible a confession, however being in awe of someone, especially a rabbi is clearly out of fashion.In the house I grew up I was certainly taught to respect rabbanim, but be in awe of them? that would probably be a little much. However I think that anyone who has read any of his halachic writings can't help but acknowelge that Rav Ovadia is unique. He is not just a great rabbi, he is a GREAT rabbi. He is probably the leading candidate to be the rabbi whos work will still be quoted 100 years from today. And so over the years, I've constantly defeneded his numerous badly worded outbursts, and kept saying that he should be judged by his psaks and not by his public "lighter" drashot.

Recently a weird scandal has broken out in Shas, regarding their Knesset member Harav Haim Amsalem. Harav Amsalem was quoted a few weeks ago in Ma'ariv as stating his views on a few subjects, as reported by the Jerusalem Post:

Amsalem’s message is straightforward and enlightened: Aside from an elite group of truly gifted scholars, most haredi men should serve in the IDF and seek gainful employment; haredi school children should be taught to respect the State of Israel and its institutions; they should also be taught math, sciences, languages and general knowledge that will prepare them for a productive life of self-sufficiency and dignity; conversions to Judaism for new immigrants from the former Soviet Union who came to Israel under the Law of Return and who serve in the IDF should be performed in a friendly, open, encouraging atmosphere; discrimination against Sephardi schoolchildren enrolled in Ashkenazi haredi schools must stop.
This led quickly to him being branded a traitor, and a psak written by Harav Ovadia himself calling him a thief if he does not resign from the Knesset. The problem is - It is not that easy to spot which ones of these doctrines is that far from Harav Ovadia's own psaks! 

Shas originally was not a standard haredi party. It used to pride itself that all of its Knesset members have served in the army. Its raison d'être used to be to fight discrimination against Sephardi jews. As pointed out in this article by Harav Beni Lou, Amsalem's views regarding conversions and  going out to work match those of Rav Ovadia (and are a continuation of the sepharadic tradition). So what is going on?

Due to my self addmitted awe of the man, I find speculating about him a little hard. However I think these  uncomfortable questions need a good answer.

Harav Lou seems to think that Shas has lost its way, and accepted the Ashkenazic haredi lifestyle. This seems to be an argument that Shas has sold out and ergo no longer holds the moderate views it did in the past. The other argument hinted in the article, and the one that seems to me to ring true is that Rav Amsalem has touched a much more sensative nerve. In this Haaretz piece (for some reason none of this story is being translated on their english website) Rav Amsalem voiced his views that rabbies should not be active in politics. The reason he gives is somewhat surprising - The rabbanim are just puppets, with people controlling their access to information. I strongly suspect that this is the real reason that Harav Amsalem has been kicked out of Shas. A dangerous idea such as free thought must be suppressed.

A little bloodlust.

An interesting comment by Former IDF Chief Rabbi Yisrael Weiss in his new book "Blood of my heart" ("בדם לבי") regarding the  treatment he feels he has received by the Religious - Zionist community following the Hitnatkut (withdrawl from Gaza)  as reported by NRG (and translated freely by myself):

"I turned into the enemy of the people, the enemy of the settelers. For months we couldn't go home with safety," Writes Harav Weiss as he targets the blame towards the Religious Zionist community "Not a handful and not  marginal (members of the community - BT)," he writes "But a mob searching for blood, Jewish blood"
"הפכתי לאויב העם, אויב המתיישבים. חודשים לא יכולנו להיכנס הביתה בבטחה", כותב הרב וייס ומפנה אצבע מאשימה כלפי הקהילה הדתית-לאומית. "לא קומץ ולא שוליים", הוא כותב. "כי אם המון אדם שמחפש המון דם, דם יהודי". 

Rabbi Weiss was the head of the IDF's Rabbanut during the Hitnatkut. As such he is perceived as having had a part in it. I can't say I was surprised by the gist of the comment, but rather by the severity of it - clearly those who have been hounding Rabbi Weiss have gone well past any legitimate protest. 

Jewish Knights

There have now been three recent blogs in the last few weeks, showing that medieval Jews were a lot more chivalrous than I previously suspected. Onthemainline brings us a Tosfot justifying the minhag of young men to joust for the entertainment of a new bride and groom (and did the bride have to give a champion a scarf I wonder?). The next to jump on the horse, per say was Ben Din Ledin who brought a Responsa from Rav Yisrael Bruna allowing the watching of Jousting Tournaments. The shocking thing for me, was that the watching of jousting was allowed since he thought that it was basically "good learning" for everyone, who learn through watching how to better use their arms. He clearly states that Jousting tournaments are not about having fun. Right. I'm guessing the popcorn and the cheering are normal training events.  This slightly reminds me of a case where Rav Aviner (A Modern-Orthadox rabbi known to be extremely strict on issues of Tznius - Modesty) was asked if one could watch the Israeli version of Survivor since you can learn from it many social talents!

Last and not least Torahmusings brings us an earlier Rabbinic answer from the Ra'vyah (1160-1240) regarding a case where a suit of armor was leant for the use of a tournament. The Ra’avyah’s responsum deals with a halakhic question relating to the laws of interest. He does not even comment on the facts of the underlying transaction, i.e.,  that one Jew lent a suit of armor to another Jew for use in a tournament.

The good news for us Jews with a Chivalious nature (all 2 of us) is that a quick search on google found that 4 years ago, Ireland has repealed its law, enacted in 1181, which forbade Jews from possessing armor.

About the picture - taken from the Tripartite MachzorThis manuscript was written in Southern Germany (in the region of Lake Constance, Bavaria or the region of the Upper Rhine) around 1320. Three copies are known to exist, one in the David Kaufman collection and two in the British Library. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Estonia in the Holy Land

What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?

This thought experiment was performed at  bigthink. This is the resulting map:

Some of the more interesting consequences:
Strangely enough, the US itself would not have to swap its population with another country. With 310 million inhabitants, it is the third most populous nation in the world. And with an area of just over 3.7 million mi² (slightly more than 9.6 million km²), it is also the world's third largest country (2). Brazil, at number five in both lists, is in the same situation. Other non-movers are Yemen and Ireland. Every other country moves house.

And for those of us interested in the Middle-East, I've enlarged that corner of this new globe:

So let's see. Israel gets to move to Greece, which is clearly a win, assuming the debts and the riots leave with the Greek. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Palestinians are not that far away, and you get a big Iran right across the Mediterranean. The actual land of Israel has now been occupied by Estonia who gets to enjoy Sweden as its neighbor to the north.Clearly the Middle-East as a whole is a big winner here, with most of its more troublesome members leaving!

X marks the Spot (or rather his footprint)!

Via CNN :

"Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israeli archaeologists have discovered an ancient Roman bathhouse that was probably used by the soldiers who destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday.
The surprise discovery includes the mark of Rome's Tenth Legion -- as well as the paw print of a dog."
I'd love to claim I really was excited about this dogprint, but to be honest I think ancient dog prints are slightly over rated. However I can already see the tourists line up to see the holy Jerusalem Paw Print!


DovBear: The Rachel's Tomb that is now a mosque, is probabl...: "I see from the newspapers that UNESCO has designated Rache's Tomb as a mosque...the proper and correct Jewish reaction to this is: WHO CARES."

As always DovBear manages to annoy his readers, a skill I desperatly need to develop. However, he (yet again) seems to be missing the point, or rather making the wrong one. Dovbear is rallying that Rachel's tomb is either A. Not Rachel's tomb, or B. Not significant religiously even if it was the real Rachel's tomb. Ignoring the fact that the two points are somewhat contradictaroy in spirit, Dovbear is missing the larger picture. UNSECO's decision is irrelevant religiously but not politically. This is just one more attempt to deny any Jewish right to the land of Israel. This is similar to the Palestinian claim that the temple never existed.

On a few side notes, and mostly because I do like to bash Dovbear (it makes me feel that my blog, which no one reads is important) I think we can add a little to the question of just how ancient the identification of the current tomb really is. I should probably disclose that I have a strong affinity for the place having spent months as a soldier sitting on the tombs roof with a machine gun.

Admittadly there are a few problems in the biblical location of Rachel's tomb - The bible itself seems a little confused. However the current identification goes back almost 1700 years. That is probably as good as you can expect from any Jewish identification in Israel.  The following are two Christian sources:

Itinerarium Burdigalense 598 (333 A.D.)
Four miles from Jerusalem, on the right of the highway to Bethlehem, is the tomb in which was laid Jacob's wife Rachel.

Hieronymus, Ep.108 (Peregrinatio Paulae) 10 (385 A.D.)
Going on towards Bethlehem, she paused where Rachel's Tomb stands on the right of the road, the birthplace of Benjamin - 'not Benoni', 'son of my sorrow' as his mother named him as she lay dying, but Benjamin 'son of my right hand', the prophetic name which his father gave him, inspired by the Holy Spirit..."

As a final sidenote I'd just like to add a small personal story. One night in the wee hours of the morning, while I was as previously mentioned doing guard duty on the roof of the tomb, I found that a woman screaming loudly inside was disturbing my sleep. She kept screaming loudly "Mama Rachel, Don't stop screaming." I let this pass for at least 10 minutes, but after that I opened up the trapdoor in the roof and called down "Rachel cries, she doesn't scream."
I was quite pleased with myself, and was rewarded by a minutes silence, until the same woman started calling with refreshed vigor "Mama Rachel don't stop crying."
I was also kind of amused later that morning, hearing the same woman telling her friend that while she was praying she had heard a heavnly voice from above, telling her that Rachel was crying...what can I say my voice is quite deep and could be mistaken for an angel.
(I confessed to the woman, not wanting to be the cause for some kind of "Miracle Story".)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Missing the point.

On America's offer to Israel - this foreign policy piece  points out that America's latest offer to Israel - including a promise to veto in international forums any attempt by the Palestinians to unilaterlly create a state is actually a major shift in policy by America, against Israel's interests. Previously America veto'ed  more or less automatically anti-Israel motions  at the U.N. Security Council. For the first time America's veto has become linked to the peace process. A similar point is made by Ben Dror Yemini (In Hebrew). I am somewhat shocked that this has attracted so little notice.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And more about hating your brothers

It's dangerous to get between a mother bear and her cubs, and so it is with a slight unease that I dare to add my 2 cents to Dovbear's holy grail of saving Esav's reputation.

In his post what-esav-soneh-lyaakov-really-means Dov Bear quotes R. Shimon b. Yochai's (Rashbi) famous saying:
"R. Shimon b. Yochai said: "It is a known fact (halacha b'yaduah) that Esav hates Yaakov, but, his mercy was aroused at that moment and he kissed him with all of his heart."

Dovbear goes out of his way to attempt to prove that contrary to the common interpretation, that Rashbi is talking of Esav as EDOM-ROME-CHRISTIANITY, Rashbi is actually just talking about good old physical Esav. In Dovbear's colorful words:

"The words Esav sonei le’Yaakov, therefore, should be understood as a straightforward, statement of fact about the nature of Yakov's relationship with his brother;"

This isn't the first time Dovbear has argued this. It was pointed out that the words "Halacha"(translated above as "known fact") would seem to point to a more metaphysical interpretation, rather then the mild, almost boring one that Dovbear is arguing for.

However DovBear can relax. He could have spared himself all the effort had he done his homework. Rabbi Benny Lou points out that in all the original manuscripts what is written is
"והלא בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב"
Literally "but it is known that Esav Hates Jacob". So how did the word "Halacha" enter the later versions of Rashbi's saying? In Hebrew you can abbreviate both the word "והלא" and the word והלכה as "והל'" . Some naughty scribe misinterpreted the abbreviation, and caused poor DobBear hours of needless worry.

Don't go searching for your brothers..

There is a recurring theme in the bible that if one is traveling with the purpose of reuniting with his brothers, one will inevitably meet an angel on the way - and normally not a friendly one.

It happened with Jacob on the way to meet with Esau -
וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב לְבַדּו, ֹוַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר

Gen: chapter 22, 22.

This meeting had the effect of both wounding Jacob, and possibly stopping him from escaping in the middle of the night from his brother. (see חזקוני).

It happened to Joseph in this weeks Parasha, while he is searching for his brothers who are supposedly in Nebulus:
וימצאהו איש והנה תעה בשדה
Gen: chapter 37, 16.

Without this enigmatic meeting, Joseph would not have found his brothers, and ergo not have been sold into slavery. Not exactly the angelic visit he would wish for.

It happened to Moses as he was heading back to Egypt to meet up with his brother Aron - and on that instance the angel wasn't playing around and straight out tries to kill Moses:
וַיְהִי בַדֶּרֶךְ בַּמָּלוֹן וַיִּפְגְּשֵׁהוּ יְהֹוָה וַיְבַקֵּשׁ הֲמִיתוֹ

The moral of the story seems fairly obvious:
  1. If you are a biblical character, try and avoid meeting your brothers at all costs.
  2. Any angels you meet on the way are not trying to help you. Do the opposite of whatever they tell you, and you might just avoid 400 years of slavery.