Saturday, 27 January 2018

Torah and Haftarah linked through the Wisdom of our Sages

Anyone who is slightly familiar with Torah (The first 5 books of Moses) knows that it is divided into 52 weekly portions. These portions are read on Shabbat at the synagogue.

However, it is not the only part that is read from the Tanach on Shabbat. Jews also read a section from the other part of the Tanach, namely, the prophets, after the weekly reading of the Torah portion. It is called Haftarah. Haftarah is also read on certain holidays. We should add that only selected passages from the Prophets make it into the Haftarah.

The word, ,הפטרה Haftarah, comes from the Hebrew root פטר, meaning “take leave,” “conclude.” The practice of reading the Haftarah probably started by 100 C.E. although the Talmud mentions that a Haftarah was read in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus. Hyrcanus lived in 70 C.E.

The Haftarah section was selected because it relates to the Torah portion of that week. In many cases, the connection is obvious. In others, it is hinted and is contingent on a word or two. It is also important to note that, unlike the Torah, which is read from a handwritten scroll, the Haftarah is read from a printed book.

What were the origins of the practice of reading the Haftarah?

There are a few explanations to it. The most common one, however, is the one suggested by Chabad and other scholars.

According to them, it started around 168 B.C.E. when the Jews were under the rule of the infamous king Antiochus IV (the one we know from the Channukah story). Antiochus decreed that Jews were not allowed to observe Shabbat, perform Brit Milah (circumcision) and study the Torah which, as stated above, includes only the five Books of Moses. No such decree was issued against reading the other parts of the Tanach.

Jewish brilliance and an unrelenting urge for survival by our Sages instituted that a section of the prophets be read instead, a section that included an idea which was related to the Torah portion of that week.

The practice, evidently, resumed even after it became safe again to read from the Torah.

 In his article dwelling on this subject, Rabbi Peretz Rodman teaches us that “The Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 29b) suggests that a Haftarah should “resemble” the Torah reading of the day. The Haftarah is, in fact, usually linked to a theme or genre from the Torah reading. For example, on the week when the Torah reading features the song sung by the Yisraelites when they witnessed the parting of the Red Sea at the exodus (Exodus 15), the Haftarah includes the Song of Deborah sung in response to the military victory of the Chieftain Deborah and her commanding general, Barak (Judges 5).” Rabbi Rodman brings other examples as support to his claim.

What such a practice boils down to is that Torah is more than the words on parchment.  Torah means “instruction”. And in their wisdom, our Sages, made an addition, the Haftarah, to illuminate, the “instruction”, so that we would better understand the lessons.

While our Sages at one point in history, seeing Jews scattered and being concerned about the consequences of dispersion, allowed the translation of the Torah, they made it very clear that the only authentic version was the Hebrew language one.  That tradition was extended to the writings of the Prophets and the rest of the core library of Jewish tradition.  They understood how translation under the influence of cultural environments could lead to misinterpretation, dilution and distortions of meaning.  The role of the Haftorah, then, became more important as a tool to reinforce the lessons of Torah, to guide our people to seek and grasp the original meaning, important for Jewish cultural survival.

Today, we appreciate the validity of the somewhat prophetic concern of our sages.  We see other religions taking our Jewish literature, translating it, losing up to 30% of meaning, interpreting it in terms of their own cultural outlooks and beliefs, distorting it in doing so. They attach their own source from THEIR gospel to “compliment” the Torah and its related Haftarah, as one can clearly see here,, even though their citation has nothing to do with the original sources.

Furthermore, and that is the real issue, we see Jews accepting these non-Hebraic and non-Jewish interpretations as if they are authentic, in some faulty almost desperate effort to find commonality, to see and define Judaism and Jewish culture in terms of currently fashionable cultural trends. Zionism, for instance, becomes, 20th Century Jewish national liberation and no longer a 3400-year yearning for what is uniquely Jewish while Judaism itself becomes just another belief, another “church of the land” sharing some ill-defined universal values, rather than a special, unique, humane, ethic culture. 

So, as our Sages knew, perhaps it is time to go back to the lessons, to the instruction, to the Torah and the Haftarah, reinforcing one another,  teaching us, in the original language, what we are, what we need to be, to be the “light unto the nations”  in a world that seems to be losing all moral standards.

This article was written jointly by Roger Froikin and Bat-Zion Susskind

Saturday, 20 January 2018

That Land, That Place, That World

There is a Hebrew poem by a well-known Jewish poet, Shaul Tschernichovsky. It is called אומרים ישנה ארץ"” (They say there is a Land). In it, Tschernichovsky describes a Land bathed in sunshine, A Land where all that each hoped and wished for will come true (“ארץ אשר בה יתקיים כל אשר איש קיווה”). Though, he never mentions that Land by name and only hints at it, some of us, Jews, know which Land it is. That Land is Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Yisrael.

This poem which I read last weekend prompted the recollection of two very popular English songs. The first, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The second, “What a wonderful world.”

It is no secret that the first song, written in 1939 by two Jews, Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen has long been associated with Eretz Yisrael. According to Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, “In writing it, the two men reached deep into their immigrant Jewish consciousness – framed by the pogroms of the past and the Holocaust about to happen – and wrote an unforgettable melody set to near prophetic words. Read the lyrics in their Jewish context and suddenly the words are no longer about wizards and Oz, Jewish survival.

Somewhere over the rainbow/Way up high/ There’s a land that I heart of/ Once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow/ Skies are blue/And the dreams that you dare to dream/Really do come through
Someday I’ll wish upon a star/ And wake up where the clouds are far behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops/ Away above the chimney tops/ That’s where you’ll find me.”

As a person who, like Harburg and Arlen, was reared and brought up in the Yiddish language and culture, I heard and sang several Yiddish lullabies about the yearning to That Place, Eretz Yisrael, the Land where my ancestors ached to live in for a very long time.  Harburg echoes similar sentiments to those of Tshernichovsky when he describes that Place where, “Skies are blue [and] the dreams that you dare to dream Really do come through.”

Walking the streets of my city, Herzliya, here in Eretz Yisrael, has brought about the reminiscence of a third, more recent and well-known song, “What a wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.

Similarly to Armstrong, when I look around me here in Eretz Yisrael, “I see trees of green, red roses too,” in a place that once, not too long ago, was barren and deserted. As I raise my eyes I see the same “blue skies” that Armstrong is talking about.

Like him, I look at the faces “of people passing by, I see friends shaking hands singing ‘How do you do?’” Those who live here know that in a place like Yisrael, where people are bound by the same faith, same fate and same history, where people share a great love for the Land and similar experiences, one almost always comes across familiar faces of family members, friends or mere acquaintances.

Then, of course, there are “the babies,” the ones I hear “cry,” laugh or see smile, the precious future of our People, each a miracle on their own. “I watch them grow,” knowing that “They’ll learn much more than we’ll know.” I feel blessed living in That World.

True, This Land, This Place, This World, Eretz Yisrael, is far from perfect. For me and for many of my fellow Jews, however, it is as close as a Jew can get to it.

And in the words of Yip Harburg, “That is where you’ll find me!”

Saturday, 13 January 2018

My Kind of Hero

There is a Hebrew saying that reads:
"איזהו גבור? -  הכובש את יצרו"
 (who is a hero? One who controls his urge)

Avi Dorfman is a survivor of a terror attack carried out by Hamas. 
Survivors of terror attacks are all special people who lived to tell their horrific story. 

Avi, however, is unlike many of them. Avi was dealt the blow because he was trying to SAVE a friend, Tal Kain, and he did. Avi overcame a selfish urge to run for cover, an inherent human urge to avoid getting hurt. Instead, he chose to ensure that a friend is removed from harm’s way and himself ended with serious injuries.

You will rarely hear Avi tell his great story of survival. He is a modest young man who has never turned his victimhood into a means of survival let alone promote himself as a hero. In the words of my dear friend Roger Froikin: “today, people who are victims, who merely survive, are being called heroes – and they are not.”

Here is Avi’s story of miraculous survival, a story that has inspired many including my students who heard him speak and many more. Special thanks go to Yael Pedhatzur and to Michal Dar-El for their inspirational comments.

“My story is short & simple (and horrible in the middle). I had a perfect kind of childhood: no bullies, no fears, and I excelled in studying at the toughest levels both in school (math, computer science, pre-med, physics, and more) and by myself. I taught myself photography from the 8th grade (I took the annual yearbook's photos, guitar playing, computerized music (I started and manned the Audio-Visual control board for my school in ceremonies and events!), and computer science at least at a Master's degree level by the time I was 14. I knew all about Israel (biblical & modern history), it's neighbours, and it's technological prowess. I had simply excelled and was technically one rank below Valedictorian (one girl had a higher GPA but lacked these other fields of expertise). I was also aware of terrorism - two buses had exploded, and Prime Minister Rabin was shot right next to my house. I was destined to go to an elite IDF unit.
September 11, 2007 (...Twin Towers, different year...) was our last night at the IDF basic training base in the south. 1:30am. Tzeva Adom (red alert). Rocket alarms sounded. The Islamic Jihad launched a rocket to our area. We were in the 15 second impact range. We all woke and ran for cover. I noticed that a long-time friend of mine, Tal, who did basic training with me, was still sleeping. I nudged him and waited for him outside our tent, looking at the nearby empty tent. I suddenly saw a very quick white flash and heard the words "NOT YET!" ("od lo!"). Then, I had what *seemed to be* 20 seconds of seeing a soup of colors - just red, yellow, orange, black, and white, swirling around.
It was a Qassam rocket. These are the lighter artillery rockets of Hamas, and they are packed with shrapnel to maximize Israeli casualties and deaths (just look at Sderot). 68 soldiers were hit, 9 of whom were injured badly (e.g. lost a leg), and I was the worst: critical injury due to shrapnel. One piece went into the neck (2 millimeters away from killing me), one cut my index finger, and one went through the eye and into the brain. I had seen the previously mentioned colors for 20 seconds before I heard the rocket explode - from a meter away. My brain had managed to squeeze 20 seemingly seconds before the sound had reached me from only a meter away. I blacked out. I was technically awake, but I "woke up" as in regained consciousness while I was standing and telling a word salad to the base doctor (not a word salad as in confusion of words, but literally a salad - panicly saying onions, tomatoes, lemons, and the like). I again blacked out and woke up an estimated 5 weeks later. Keep in mind that I was awake through the entire time - but I was blacked out and cannot and could not know or remember a single thing (e.g. if you asked me "how are you?" then I would answer that I am fine - regardless of the tons of blood flowing out from my head). Both brain hemispheres were hit and my brain's linguistics section was the worst area damaged as far as they could see. The rocket had also removed my sense of smell and made it extremely difficult to cry (I only shed tears twice from that date). I was immediately evacuated (the first one out) to Barzilai Hospital and flown (love 669 (S&R) helicopters!) to Tel HaShomer Hospital - I owe these two places my life, as well as Ichilov Hospital for returning my forehead bones (they were removed so the brain would have the needed space to expand from the injury).
Light brain injuries (e.g. concussions) take 2 months of hospital & rehabilitation stay to officially pass. My injury was critical. I was, at the best-case scenario, supposed to take a whole year to recover and only then start my rehabilitation stay. But, this is assuming the worst-case scenario did not happen and the best case did - there was also a 30% chance that I would die within 10 days.

I thank God for what had happened since the rocket impact. Literally. I now know there is a God - no more assumptions, but facts. I had moments of consciousness, but it was a "different" consciousness - I had experienced actual death (no past memories, no senses, no thoughts, simply seeing black). But, then I woke up one morning around the fifth week (four weeks of hospital stay were done - this was the first week at rehabilitation!). I saw a hospital staying room, with the IDF casualties officer (for that woman!) smiling at me, and my parents sitting nearby. I did not know at the time how I was hit, but my memory and abilities had remarkably stayed (and so I can tell you this), and I actually had perfect control but slightly worse hand-eye coordination because of losing an eye (a white piece of plastic was there so I did not notice anything wrong - despite the fact it did not have an iris or cornea), and I did not notice that my forehead was boneless (because the skin was still there - although I could see the brain's patterns on it). I did not notice that I could not smell (until I came home and immediately made and omelet - I judged their readiness by their smell). I also had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in my leg, essentially blocked blood flow in an artery, and that had resulted in me being in a wheelchair for a while. I also slept for almost 16 hours every day. I had various other considered-permanent disabilities (e.g. single colored blindness - I saw green instead of a bright brown shade), but they had passed extremely quickly (miracles!!!). I was given various experimental medications (love Factor Seven enhancement!), and I recovered almost completely within a total of 7 weeks. I was home then, after 7 weeks, walking and talking and seemingly able. Much faster than light brain injuries! I was EXTREMELY happy (especially when I learned of how I was injured). I did not notice it until then, but my long-term memory was intact - but the very short-term memory (e.g. my parents are sitting behind me) was not. I then volunteered to return to the IDF of my own accord and to my commander's encouragement and the Medical Corp's massive suggestions. I got amazing gifts (gold medal, statuette, #1 medical miracle ever gotten by the IDF Medical Corp), and I had an incredible service in the IDF. LOVE!” 

Friday, 5 January 2018

The Missing Link

For a long time many of us, especially those who are involved in Jewish education in Yisrael and elsewhere, have been perplexed and frustrated as we try to understand where we went wrong in that realm, because we have. Many young Jews, nowadays, seem to have lost the compass and the road map which connects between our ancient inevitability and its path towards a fulfilling future. They feel lost. They are easily influenced by foreign creeds and quickly fall prey to manipulations and disinformation that are abundantly funneled by elements that wish to bring both a Spiritual and Physical destruction to our Jewish existence.

I recently read an article (in Hebrew) by Uri Heitner entitled “The dwindling of the Spirit in Yisrael.” In it, Heitner sheds light on some of the conditions and circumstances that might have speeded up and contributed to that process which has been going on for sometimes now.

Heitner claims, and justifiably so, that since the 70’s there has been a substantial devaluation of the Tanach in the Yisraeli culture. He continues to surmise that this sad reality stems from our desertion of the Oral Law and two thousand years of Jewish existence and cultural survival in the Diaspora.

As a teacher in Eretz Yisrael, I can attest to that. Secular Zionism (for Zionism, the several thousands of years old concept, has many facets), whose staunch supporter was David Ben-Gurion, claims that the return to Eretz Yisrael requires reconnecting only to our Tanach roots and disengaging from the Diaspora legacy and Post Tanach era. Ben Gurion suggested that in order to create a new modern Jewish identity, a leap in Jewish history and culture was vital, thus wiping out two millennia of a fruitful tradition that assisted and strengthened the spreading of Jewish roots in a fertile ground called Judaism.

That was a grave mistake.

It was a mistake since that essential link is what is missing from today’s Jewish education. It is the cause for ignorance about the concept of Zionism and other important concepts and land marks in our evolution as a nation, as a culture and as a civilization. Its absence has opened up the doors to wrong interpretations of our heritage, by foreigners who likewise, are, and not surprisingly so, uneducated about this great important link in our history as a Jewish nation.

 Judaism and its related concepts, like all cultures, are built on layers, each one supported by the layer underneath it. Trying to jump from “Tanach to Palmach”, as Heitner describes it, is like “trying to build a ceiling over a floor without having the support of pillars and columns between the two.” Disengaging from the wealth of the abundant and remarkable Jewish cultural layers that were conceived between the Tanach era and the current Yisraeli identity, was a great injustice. Any real effort to connect to the Tanach while ignoring the compelling culture and history that developed during the Diaspora era, in post Tanach times is doomed to failure. It has resulted in a culturally handicapped modern day Yisraeli and Jewish generations. Not only do they have difficulty understanding the Tanach, they face similar hurdles understand the poetry of National Poets like Bialik who was reared in that culture and whose poetry is saturated with that great heritage. Such a leap has culturally paralyzed our modern day Yisraeli culture to such an extent that Bialik needed to be translated into “Yisraeli Hebrew. “

By now many of you know my sentiments that any efforts to translate our Hebrew/Jewish culture into any language will result in a tragedy. In fact, it was Bialik himself who suggested that reading poetry in translation is akin to “kissing through a handkerchief.” He must be turning in his grave, as I am certain many of our great minds and cultural giants, such as Yehudah Halevi, Tschernichovsky and many others who kept our great Jewish Spirit going through all the years of separation from Eretz Yisrael, the Cradle of Our Civilization, must be.

They are probably mourning the loss of Jewish continuity, one of the pillars of our strength. They must be shedding their heavenly tears as they witness the misinterpretation, innocent or otherwise, of a few millennia old Jewish tenets such as Zionism, Halacha,  The Oral Law and other strongholds that have sheltered our people against the storms of history.

Recently, I read that Minister of Education, Bennett, boasted about the great changes he has made in our Yisraeli educational system. Not enough, I say. Bring back that badly needed missing link. Teach our young ones the meaning of Jewish pride and in the original language.

I have nothing against translation as a means of bridging between cultures and nations. I am all for it. However, by all means do not try to kiss the original through a “handkerchief.” That “handkerchief,” in many cases, is tainted and infested with germs of misunderstanding, disinformation and someone’s well planned and well-oiled agenda.

May we all have a Meaningful Shabbat and a Peaceful weekend.