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Parshas Chayei Sarah 5779 - In Memorium

2018-11-03 08:04:33 PM


Daniel Korobkin

(in memory of Joyce Fienberg, Yehudis Balche bas Abba Menachem,
sister of Dr. Robert Libman, murdered in the Pittsburgh Massacre, and in memory of the other 10 Kedoshim, all of whom died al Kiddush Hashem)


  1. First, we recognize all of our dignitaries, political, religious, and community leaders who are here today. We know that you are here to honor the Jewish community and show your solidarity with us. We deeply appreciate your friendship and support. We have seen this support from strangers over the entire week, people walking up to us and extending to us condolences just because we are Jewish. It is heartwarming. It’s also sad that we sometimes don’t feel that friendship and unity until a tragedy like this strikes. So let’s all remind ourselves that it shouldn’t take a tragedy to spur us to reach out to someone who is not from our community, to extend to them a piece of our humanity and offer a smile, a kind word, a small gesture. Society today has lost so much of its civility, its kindness, and yes, its very humanity. It is up to people like us, who are part of a faith community, to help restore civility and humanity to our communities.


  1. It’s times like this that I recall the famous words of the German Lutheran Pastor, Martin Niemöller, who wrote:


First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


  1. I’m personally reflecting on my own guilt contained in the sentiments of this poem. I remember the mass shooting of the black church in Charleston, SC, in June, 2015, and I did not speak out loudly enough, because I was not a black Christian. I remember the mass shooting of the mosque in Quebec City, in January, 2017, and I did not speak out loudly enough, because I was not a Muslim. Then they came for me, they came for 11 of my brothers and sisters, they came for my fellow Canadian Jew, Joyce Fienberg, sister of our member, and only now do I realize that I should have spoken out more loudly, with more concern, sensitivity, and greater outrage.


  1. It is very difficult to find the right words after such a massacre. Let us learn a halacha from our parsha. After describing Avraham’s great emotional response from the death of his beloved Sarah: “וַיָּבֹא֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם לִסְפֹּ֥ד לְשָׂרָ֖ה וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ:”, the Torah then states (23:3):


(ג) וַיָּ֙קָם֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֣י מֵת֑וֹ וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר אֶל־בְּנֵי־חֵ֖ת לֵאמֹֽר:

Avraham arose from the presence of his dead, and spoke to the Children of Ches, saying…


  1. Our sages in the Midrash, point out an interesting use of language. As Midrash Sechel Tov states, the word “מתו”, that Avraham arose from being in the presence of “his dead,” sounds so impersonal. Why not say that he arose from being in the presence of his beloved “Sarah”? The Midrash answers that the word “מתו” can be read as “מותו,” death itself, a reference to the Angel of Death:

ג) ויקם אברהם מעל פני מתו. היה לו לומר מעל פני שרה, ומה ת"ל מתו, כלומר מותו, מלמד שהיה רואה מלאך המות עומד ומתריס כנגדו:

That is, the Angel of Death was taunting Avraham. You see, Avraham, look at what came of all the good you and Sarah did in your lives. Look at what came as a result of all the tests and trials you passed, of all the righteousness you practiced throughout your life, of all the people whom you and Sarah positively affected: Sarah still died! What good is all your piety if it can’t save you from death? Avraham had to rise above the taunts of Death, move on, and bury his wife.


  1. Midrash Rabbah, picking up on this, then says we learn the following halacha about the state of Aninus, when one must first deal with the burial needs of the loved ones (58:6):


ו [כג, ג] ויקם אברהם מעל פני מתו, מלמד שהיא רואה מלאך המות מתריס כנגדו, א"ר יוחנן מן הן תנינן מי שמתו מוטל לפניו פטור מק"ש ומן התפלה ומן התפילין וכל מצות שבתורה מן הכא ויקם וידבר,


When someone is engaged in the needs of the burial, they are exempt from all other mitzvos. They don’t recite the Shema, they don’t daven, they don’t don tefillin, and are exempt from all other positive commandments. The simple understanding of this law is that we don’t want the Onen to be distracted from his task at hand of burying his dead, so we exempt him from all other mitzvos. But perhaps, in connection to the prior line of the Midrash, part of the reason why we exempt the Onen is because of the scoffs of the Angel of Death, who is proverbially standing in front of each Onen, taunting us and saying, “Where did all of Joyce’s goodness go? How did it help her? If G-d could allow this terrible tragedy to claim her, what good was all her piety if it couldn’t save her from death at the hands of a synagogue shooter?!” Perhaps we give the Onen some time off out of sensitivity that he may be having a bad day, harboring some momentary doubts and questions because of the Angel of Death’s arguments.


  1. Fortunately, that has not been the response of the Libman family. That has not been the response of anyone in the Pittsburgh Jewish community with whom I’ve spoken. Yes, there’s a lot of anger and finger-pointing, but it’s being done by people whom I believe have succumbed to the cynicism of that Angel of Death. These people who are politicizing a tragedy instead of growing from it. Fortunately for most of us, not only are we united over this as a community, but we resolve to redouble our efforts in Torah and mitzvos, of goodness, of piety, and of emulating Joyce’s goodness. I’m sorry if you didn’t have an opportunity to know Joyce. But I can tell you that if you know Dr. Bob Libman, then you know a little bit of Joyce, because as Bob stated in his hesped, Joyce, his older sister by 5 years, was his role model, and a person from whom he learned so much kindness and goodness.


  1. We are planning an azkara service at the end of November for Joyce, to mark the Shloshim of Dr. Libman’s mourning period, and I’m sure you’ll hear more remarks about Joyce then.


  1. But I’d like to share with you two small vignettes, which will give you just a taste of Joyce. First of all, she was always busy doing for others. Although she was a Reform Jew, who practiced her Judaism differently from the way we do in our community, she was still devout in her own way. There’s a 99-year old man in her kehilla, whom she drove to morning minyan every single day. And she was modest about it; the Libmans only knew about it because the man told them so.


  1. Second, we should learn from the Libman family what it means to maintain a loving relationship despite our religious differences. Much of this was due to Joyce and her extreme sensitivity. Joyce’s niece, Bob and Esther Libman’s daughter, had a baby last year, and Joyce ordered a gift for them. Before mailing it off, she included an envelope with an additional cheque. Why? She explained in her note that after receiving the gift in the mail, she realized that it was electronic, and that perhaps the parents wouldn’t feel comfortable with their baby playing with it on Shabbos. So she was adding some money to the gift so that they could buy her an extra gift that didn’t have electronics which could be for Shabbos. Joyce was not a “Shomer Shabbos” in the way that you or I use the term, and yet she was deeply sensitive and attentive to the needs of those who were. She kashered her house for her niece and nephew and always put herself out for others’ religious needs. How many of us are prepared to make the same kinds of accommodations for others who have different religious sensitivities, both to the right and the left? We should never allow our religious differences to divide us, but sadly, I see this too much within our own community. “They’re too frum,” or “they’re not frum enough,” divides our families and our communities. Enough! Learn from these two loving siblings what it means to respect the other regardless of their personal choices in serving G-d.


  1. There’s so much more to say, but we’ll save it for later. Let’s come together as a community, let’s reaffirm that “never again!” will not be just an empty slogan. We will not stand idly by while our brothers’ and sisters’ blood is spilled. We will learn to mobilize as a community, redouble our efforts in becoming closer to Hashem, protecting our community’s security, and reaching out to other faith communities who are also experiencing racism and intolerance. We must stand together, both internally and externally. This is the only way we will succeed in suppressing the hate.


  1. Allow me to conclude with a story said over by Reb Shlomo Carlebach (I have yet to find the rabbinic source):[1]


Give me permission to say a few words It's half a story, half a prayer....


Everybody knows the first tragedy in the world:


Cain and his brother, Abel.


Now the truth is, Cain never wanted to kill Abel; He just got angry at him. But he didn't know There was such a thing as killing somebody. He didn't even know there was such a thing as dying.


Abel fell to the ground And Cain regretted already that he hit him. He fell to the ground next to his brother, And he began to cry from one corner of the world to the other.


And he said, my dear brother, my most precious brother, I'm begging you, please open your eyes. Please forgive me, I'm begging you a million times -- Please come back, and open your eyes.


Then for three days, Cain was lying next to Abel, begging him. All of nature, the whole world, was crying with him.


On that great day we are waiting for The most unbelievable thing will happen All the Cains of the world will lie next to the Abels they killed And they will begin to cry....


And they will say, my precious brother, forgive me Forgive me..I am begging you, forgive me for being angry at you. I am begging you, come back.


I am begging you, come back.


So on that great day, the miracle will happen: Abel will open his eyes. And he and Cain -- what a moment... The world has not been privileged to feel the love Between brother and brother Between one human being and the other that will be on that day.


Then Cain and Abel will begin to dance And the whole world will join them. And all the creatures of the world will begin to dance. Let it be soon...let it be soon...let it be soon... bb”a.


Just Plain Chicken

2018-10-18 03:13:59 PM


Daniel Korobkin

[A signed copy of this letter on shul letterhead is available here.]

9 MarCheshvan 5779
October 18, 2018

To All Members and Friends of the BAYT: עמוש"ט   

Over the last several weeks, a number of you have asked either my wife or myself my opinion on the new kosher chickens from Premier Kosher Inc. (, the only kosher chicken producer in Ontario. Firstly, it’s important to know that Premier’s hekhsher bears the names of Toronto’s three senior rabbonim, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Lowy, Rabbi Mordechai Ochs, and Rabbi Dovid Schochet, shlita. It’s surprising that anyone would even question the kashrus of anything certified by these distinguished rabbis, and it’s completely superfluous and unnecessary for me to endorse anything to which they’ve already lent their names. But because of all the questions, I decided to put the issue to rest and, because “aino domeh shemia lir’iyah” (seeing is better than hearing), decided to pay a visit personally to Premier’s facility just south of Hamilton so that I could report back to you what I have witnessed firsthand.

I am delighted to report that Premier has a superlative operation, both from a kashrus standpoint and from a quality standpoint. The facility is new and extremely clean, the chickens are free range, and they are treated humanely. The shochtim and bodkim are truly mumchim (experts) in their work. I am including some photos of my visit at the end of this report to give you a small idea. I had a chance to speak with the shochtim, check their chalafs (slaughter knives), speak with the sgan rosh hashochtim, Rabbi Shimon Malik of Chicago, and witness the entire production of the chickens from shechita to packaging (due to scheduling and mechanical issues, the only part of the process that I wasn’t able to witness directly was the melicha (salting)).

I want to assure you that the very highest standards of kashrus are utilized for these chickens. Many chumros (stringencies) have been adopted beyond the kosher industry standard, including checking a significant percentage of the birds’ tzumos hagiddin, the part of the leg that has a cluster of sinews. One sign of the chickens’ high quality and overall health is the relatively minor number of chickens which have presented with kashrus problems. In addition, the chickens are cleaned and dried using a state of the art technology so that the consumer is receiving an excellent quality kosher product.

I thank Rabbi Kalman Ochs for giving me the tour and for all his dedicated work in ensuring that our Shabbos tables have such an excellent product, truly worthy of Shulchanos Melachim, the tables of kings and queens.

I encourage you to support Premier Kosher Chicken and to feel good about eating a healthy, kosher chicken.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin

PS Disclaimer: I have not received nor will I receive remuneration of any kind for this endorsement.

Photos of my visit:

Getting suited up to go on the floor:

Some of the schochtim:

Some of the chalafs getting ready for Shechita:

Shochet sharpening his chalaf:

A shochet about to slaughter a chicken:

One of the bodkim checking the intestines of each chicken for any abnormalities:

Freshly slaughtered, chickens are conveyed to a cleaning and defeathering machine:

Chickens on a conveyer, which will clean out the innards:

Chickens on the conveyor:

The special coarse sea salt used for kashering the chickens:




Parshas Noach 5779 - Watching and Feeling Dirty

2018-10-13 08:58:18 PM


Daniel Korobkin

  1. So much happens in a very rapid news cycle. Many have already moved on from the US Supreme Court confirmation hearing for now Justice Brett Kavanaugh (especially in light of the terrible act of terror at the Barkan industrial park in Israel, it seems like a triviality by comparison). But I’d still like to reflect on one aspect of these unfortunate hearings, because there’s a larger societal issue at stake: how they represent a societal breakdown of some sort. Something is broken, and we need to address it in order to know how to fix it.


  1. I was speaking with one of my children who lives in the US and asked him if he watched the hearings. He told me he did, but that he “felt dirty” after watching a few minutes. I felt this was a great expression of how I felt as well, and why I couldn’t bring myself to watch more than just a few snippets of the testimonies by the respective parties.


  1. There’s a tragic event that happens shortly after Noah and his family exit the Ark. We know that Noah planted a vineyard, got drunk, and that his son, Cham, witnessed the whole event and told his brothers about it (9:22-25):


(כב) וַיַּ֗רְא חָ֚ם אֲבִ֣י כְנַ֔עַן אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אָבִ֑יו וַיַּגֵּ֥ד לִשְׁנֵֽי־אֶחָ֖יו בַּחֽוּץ: (כג) וַיִּקַּח֩ שֵׁ֨ם וָיֶ֜פֶת אֶת־הַשִּׂמְלָ֗ה וַיָּשִׂ֙ימוּ֙ עַל־שְׁכֶ֣ם שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיֵּֽלְכוּ֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וַיְכַסּ֕וּ אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אֲבִיהֶ֑ם וּפְנֵיהֶם֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וְעֶרְוַ֥ת אֲבִיהֶ֖ם לֹ֥א רָאֽוּ: (כד) וַיִּ֥יקֶץ נֹ֖חַ מִיֵּינ֑וֹ וַיֵּ֕דַע אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָ֥שָׂה־ל֖וֹ בְּנ֥וֹ הַקָּטָֽן: (כה) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אָר֣וּר כְּנָ֑עַן עֶ֥בֶד עֲבָדִ֖ים יִֽהְיֶ֥ה לְאֶחָֽיו:

Cham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned the other way, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah woke up from his wine and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; the lowest of slaves Shall he be to his brothers.”


  1. It’s quite strange that Cham’s son, Canaan, is invoked in this story – first by identifying Cham as Canaan’s father, and then by Noach actually cursing Canaan instead of Cham – since he doesn’t seem to have played any role in the story. Some mefarshim say that Canaan did play a role of some kind, by tagging along with his father and witnessing Noach’s intoxicated state. Others (see R’ Hirsch) explain that Canaan was not involved, but that the reason he’s invoked is because the Torah is being written and given by Moshe to the Jews of the generation of the Exodus, who are not familiar with the man Cham, but are all too familiar with the Canaanite nation, who possess certain traits and proclivities. It’s important for Bnei Israel to know Canaan’s history, and why the Canaanites should rightfully be ejected from the Holy Land.


  1. Let’s go deeper. When we observe Cham’s behavior, it seems that we can divide his sin into two parts: (a) First, he gazed at his father in his debased state, without trying to cover him up or look away. (b) Second, instead of keeping what he saw to himself, he went ahead and told his brothers about it, to publicize his father’s shame.


  1. Indeed, Chazal pick up on the dual nature of the sin. The Torah tells us that when a Jew owns a Canaanite slave (the name for any gentile slave; Canaanites in particular were known to have a large slave class in their ranks), if the owner knocks out either his eye or his tooth, the slave goes free (Ex. 21:26-27). Why these two body parts in particular? The Midrash answers (B”R 36:5) that it was because the father of all Canaanites, Cham, used both his eyes and his mouth as a weapon against their father. Thus, by losing either an eye or an extract of the mouth (a tooth), the slave has “atoned” for his needing to be a slave and therefore goes free.


  1. I suggest that our generation is guilty of this double crime of Cham, of both “gazing” and “talking” about the sins of the fathers. There’s a fascinating idea expressed by the Baal Shem Tov. Each person’s face is like a mirror; you see in the other person that which is a reflection of yourself. If you see something ugly in the other person, it usually means that there’s an aspect of that very same ugliness within yourself that is reflecting off of that other person. The Lubavitcher Rebbe[1] and others use this idea in the context of what Cham saw. When the Torah tells us that Cham saw his father in his debased state, it doesn’t just refer to a physical viewing. It means that Cham was obsessed with debasement, and that is why he fixated on that state within his father.


  1. In our generation, we’ve become fascinated by other people’s secret lives, what goes on in the bedroom, and other types of very personal information that until recently was no one’s business. We know more details than ever before about people’s private lives. This is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it used to be easier to cover up one’s crimes. But today, both because of technology and a zero tolerance policy for the exploitation of others, it’s become much harder for people, especially men, to exploit others and get away with it. We b”H have taken many measures to protect women in our society, and this is manifest in the way that so many of us do business, such as having windows on all our doors, and having security cameras throughout our work place to protect vulnerable individuals from being harmed or exploited.


  1. But it’s also a curse. In our zeal to protect and avenge victims, we’ve become fixated on this particular aspect of the human condition, to the point where for many in society today, we presume that someone who was in a high school frat 30 years must have done something lewd and licentious. We “gaze” with fascination and zeal at what was done by our “fathers,” an earlier generation, years ago, casting the accusatory finger of guilt, with the presumption that we are so much more enlightened than they were back then.


  1. But our fascination doesn’t just lead us to gaze with interest. Instead of doing a private investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, we feel free as a society to air this on national news and to make it part of our daily conversation. This is why so many people have felt “dirty” watching the proceedings. Even if we put aside the fact that much of what we watched was staged by politicians for political gain, the fact is these politicians found in us, the public, willing and eager accomplices to see this circus of accused debauchery, because, like Cham, we looked, we couldn’t turn away, and we just kept on wanting to discuss it further.


  1. And this is why I think that Cham was identified as Canaan’s father, and why Canaan was the one cursed. It’s not that Canaan did anything wrong, but he was still, alas, condemned to a tragic and accursed fate. Noach’s reflection about Cham was: If you could so cavalierly disregard your father, be so quick to judge me for being a debased person, without taking into account what I’ve gone through, what I’ve lived through, the differences in our generational perspectives, and if you could further so easily disregard my honor by openly discussing my private life in public, then your son, Canaan, will have the same attitude toward his father. Because once you’ve modeled this disrespectful and brazen behavior against your father to your son, he’ll be quick to do the same to you.


  1. It’s only a matter of a few years before the new generation becomes the old generation. 30 years from now, the media will be publicly attacking and humiliating the actions of our generation. And this can’t be good for society as a whole. Because when we tear down the previous generation, and we do it in such a brazen and crass way, we essentially destroy our own foundation, so that no matter what we build on top of that foundation, the structure will not stand.


  1. It used to be that we used to call the generation who lived through WWII, “The Greatest Generation” (based on a book by Tom Brokaw of the same name). Today, in our efforts to deconstruct the past, we are open to gazing upon the debasement of our parents and grandparents and tearing down that greatness. In many instances, like the recent conviction of actor Bill Cosby and others, this has been a necessary and just effort. But in many other ways, this has proven to be very destructive not only for the “greatest generation,” but for our future.


  1. I’m proud of my son for feeling “dirty” watching the Kavanaugh hearings. It means that we did something right in instilling within him a sense of modesty and propriety that are contained part and parcel of our Torah. But I worry about my son’s children, and whether they, too, will feel “dirty” when the next scandal hits the media. I worry that so much in the public sphere has become contaminated, and that we are all within the radius of that caustic fallout. These events remind us why we are Orthodox Jews, and why we’d do well to redouble our efforts in inculcating within our children the teachings and values of the Torah, at every available opportunity.


  1. It is yet one more reason why we pray for the Redemption to occur, may it happen speedily in our days, bb”a.

[1] See Likutei Sichos vol. 10, Parshas Noach 2.

Commemorating the Balfour Declaration and November 29, 1947

2017-11-28 12:44:30 PM


Parshas Vayetzei 5778 – Permission to Return

  1. When Rachel finally gives birth to Yoseph, Yaakov realizes that he’s now equipped to face Esav and return to Eretz Israel (see Rashi to 30:25). He comes to his father-in-law, Lavan, and asks him for permission to leave and return to his homeland (30:25-26):

(כה) וַיְהִ֕י כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר יָלְדָ֥ה רָחֵ֖ל אֶת־יוֹסֵ֑ף וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יַעֲקֹב֙ אֶל־לָבָ֔ן שַׁלְּחֵ֙נִי֙ וְאֵ֣לְכָ֔ה אֶל־מְקוֹמִ֖י וּלְאַרְצִֽי: (כו) תְּנָ֞ה אֶת־נָשַׁ֣י וְאֶת־יְלָדַ֗י אֲשֶׁ֨ר עָבַ֧דְתִּי אֹֽתְךָ֛ בָּהֵ֖ן וְאֵלֵ֑כָה כִּ֚י אַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֔עְתָּ אֶת־עֲבֹדָתִ֖י אֲשֶׁ֥ר עֲבַדְתִּֽיךָ:

  1. We all know that all of the Torah’s narrative is relevant to us in some way. Rashi on this pasuk also states something cryptic:

(כו) תנה את נשי וגו' - איני רוצה לצאת כי אם ברשות:

What is Rashi coming to teach that isn’t in the pasuk already? Obviously, Yaakov wanted to show derekh eretz to his father in law, but would have left anyway had Lavan refused. So what’s Rashi adding? We’ll come back to this in a moment but let’s discuss some more recent history first.

  1. Earlier this month, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, where Lord Arthur Balfour, in a terse 67-word document, proclaimed on Nov. 2, 1917, that “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”


  1. This coming week, we will be celebrating another November milestone, this one occurring 70 years ago to the day. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution, which adopted the plan for the partition of Palestine, recommended by the majority of the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). 33 states voted in favor of the resolution and 13 against. 10 states abstained. This became known as UN General Assembly Resolution 181. It was a time of great joy in every Jewish community throughout the world, where people were literally dancing in the streets.[1]


  1. The reason why we need to reflect on these events is because many rabbis who lived during the time of the Balfour Declaration saw within this declaration the beginning of the ingathering of the Exiles and of our redemption. The Chafetz Chaim, Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, and many others noted that when it was time to build the Second Temple, Hashem instilled with the Persian ruler, Cyrus, the desire to invite the Jews back to Eretz Israel and help in the rebuilding of the Temple, as recorded at the very beginning of Ezra (1:1-3):

וּבִשְׁנַ֣ת אַחַ֗ת לְכ֙וֹרֶשׁ֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ פָּרַ֔ס לִכְל֥וֹת דְּבַר־יְקֹוָ֖ק מִפִּ֣י יִרְמְיָ֑ה הֵעִ֣יר יְקֹוָ֗ק אֶת־ר֙וּחַ֙ כֹּ֣רֶשׁ מֶֽלֶךְ־ פָּרַ֔ס וַיַּֽעֲבֶר־קוֹל֙ בְּכָל־מַלְכוּת֔וֹ וְגַם־בְּמִכְתָּ֖ב לֵאמֹֽר: (ב) כֹּ֣ה אָמַ֗ר כֹּ֚רֶשׁ מֶ֣לֶךְ פָּרַ֔ס כֹּ֚ל מַמְלְכ֣וֹת הָאָ֔רֶץ נָ֣תַן לִ֔י יְקֹוָ֖ק אֱלֹהֵ֣י הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם וְהֽוּא־פָקַ֤ד עָלַי֙ לִבְנֽוֹת־ל֣וֹ בַ֔יִת בִּירוּשָׁלִַ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר בִּֽיהוּדָֽה: (ג) מִֽי־בָכֶ֣ם מִכָּל־עַמּ֗וֹ יְהִ֤י אֱלֹהָיו֙ עִמּ֔וֹ וְיַ֕עַל לִירוּשָׁלִַ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֣ר בִּיהוּדָ֑ה וְיִ֗בֶן אֶת־בֵּ֤ית יְקֹוָק֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל ה֥וּא הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר בִּירוּשָׁלִָֽם:

  1. These rabbis felt that just as HKB”H had begun the redemption in the times of Ezra with permission being granted by the leader of the free world, who also controlled the Middle East, so, too, in modern times, Lord Balfour was representing the British Empire that controlled the Middle East, and he had invited the Jews to return to their land.


  1. More than that, the Avnei Nezer, Rav Avraham Bornstein of Sochatzov, saw in the Balfour Declaration an alleviation of a prohibition that had been placed on Bnei Israel from leaving the Diaspora en masse to come back to Eretz Israel. The Gemara (TB Kesubos 111a) states that one of the three oaths that HKB”H placed on the world was that the Jews may not force their way en masse, “ba-chaomah,” back to Eretz Israel:

אחת, שלא יעלו ישראל בחומה

  1. The Avnei Nezer (Shu”t YD 456:1) argued that because the nations granted us permission to return to Eretz Israel, we were no longer in violation of that pledge placed upon us to not ascend “as a wall”:

דבר מה שכתבתי באות נ"ו שאם יותן רשות לכולם לעלות לא יהי' שבועה דרש"י פירש בחומה יחד ביד חזקה ואם ברשות אין זה ביד חזקה

  1. I believe that in keeping with Ma’asei Avos Siman L’Banim (the actions of the forefathers are a portent for their descendants), Yaakov Avinu actualized this idea that it was first necessary to receive permission and blessing from our captor in Exile before returning to Eretz Israel. This is why the Balfour Declaration was such a big deal, and why UN Resolution 181 was such a big deal.


  1. What’s also fascinating is that Chazal observe that Yaakov actually waited for two parties to give him permission to leave. The first was Lavan, and the second was HKB”H, as it says later on that Hashem told Yaakov to return to the Land (31:3):

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְקֹוָק֙ אֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֔ב שׁ֛וּב אֶל־אֶ֥רֶץ אֲבוֹתֶ֖יךָ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֶּ֑ךָ וְאֶֽהְיֶ֖ה עִמָּֽךְ:

Here, too, Chazal say (Tanchuma (Buber) Vayetzei 23) that Yaakov was waiting for Hashem to grant him permission to return:

אמר יעקב ברשות יצאתי, אם איני נוטל רשות איני חוזר, אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא רשות אתה מבקש, הרשות בידך, שוב אל ארץ אבותיך

  1. So yes, we can certainly understand that if someone has been sent to Galus by HKB”H, he should request permission to return. But why is it necessary to get our captors’ permission? Furthermore, why did Yakaov seek out Lavan’s permission BEFORE getting Hashem’s permission to leave?


  1. I think the answer is simple. We are not all privy to prophecy, but what we are all privy to is the ability to see Hashem’s hand in the natural world in which we live. By recognizing that our captors in our Diaspora need to acknowledge that it’s time for us to return, we are also de facto affirming that our entire Galus experience was orchestrated by Hashem with “Hester Panim.” That is, even though we didn’t see Him on a daily basis, He was there with us all the time, using the gentiles of our Exile as his proxies to hold us until it was time to return.


  1. By getting permission from Lord Balfour and the UN to return to E”Y, we are acknowledging that Hashem has been with us this entire time, even in the darkest of times, and that every single Diaspora character who has interacted with the Jewish people has done so with the direction of HKB”H. When it came time for us to return, Hashem spoke through the mouth of Lavan and through the mouth of Lord Balfour, beckoning us to return. Yaakov recognized that, and that’s why he wanted to hear from Lavan’s mouth that he blessed him to return to E”Y.


  1. I believe there’s one more lesson we can take from our story today with Yaakov and Lavan. Yaakov first asked permission to leave. Lavan freely granted his blessing… at least temporarily. Lavan said, you’ve been working here for so many years without compensation; tell me what you’d like to leave with. Yaakov told him what he wanted, some speckled sheep, and Lavan said, “Deal!” But then, when it was time to leave, Lavan changed his mind. Maybe, he thought, I’ve made a mistake. Maybe I’ve given away to Yaakov too much, maybe all his family that he’s raised here in my home are too vital to my home interests to allow them to leave.


  1. The same has happened to the Jews in modern times. The Balfour Declaration was issued, but then there was the Palin Commission of 1920 and Churchill’s White Paper of 1922, both attempting to nullify or severely diminish the Balfour Declaration.[2] There was UN Resolution 181, but then the reaction against Zionism was even harsher emanating from the UN for decades, culminating in UN Resolution 3379 in 1975, declaring that “Zionism equals Racism.”[3]


  1. And so it seems that world leadership is both a tool of good and of bad for the Jewish people. Just as Lavan was an instrument for keeping Yaakov in Galus, he was also a tool of trial and tribulation for Yaakov, pursuing him as he left and seeking his injury. It’s as if Hashem is using these nations to remind us how precious Eretz Israel is. It’s not going to come to you easy; you’re going to have to struggle to get it, so that when it is in your hands you’ll truly appreciate it for the great gift that it is.


  1. If there’s a message from our story of Yaakov, it’s this: We need to be aware that all that happens to the Jewish people in our Galus is at the hands of Hashem. We need to open our eyes and see the blessings of redemption that are occurring during our lifetimes, of the resurrection of Eretz Israel that we see 100 years after the Balfour Declaration and 70 years after UN 181. But we must also see the efforts to injure us as also a message from Hashem. You want Eretz Yisrael? You want your own State? You’ll need to fight for it, fight for it passionately and with mesirus nefesh, sometimes and tragically literally, sometimes figuratively.


  1. May we all merit to continue witnessing the blessings of Hashem’s tools in the Diaspora. It doesn’t really matter which political leader occupies government. Let us appreciate that it is Hashem who is really running the destiny of Bnei Israel. May we be witness to the ultimate redemption, speedily in our days, bb”a.

Shemini 5777 - Orthodoxy, Happy Socks, and Individual Expression

2017-04-23 06:04:06 PM


  1. In 1908 Rav Kook wrote a letter to a friend who was captivated by the liberal anarchist political ideology of his time and who had solicited Rav Kook’s opinion about it.[1] Rav Kook responded by discussing the concept found in Chazal, that in the future, bodily mitzvos will be annulled and there will no longer be an obligation to observe all the mitzvos, at least not in the way we know them today. Rav Kook acknowledged that such a belief exists in Judaism, in that at some point in the evolution of man’s perfection, he will no longer be bound be restrictive laws and halachos, because he will have perfected himself so much so as to make mitvah performance redundant.


  1. However, he remarked, the most tragic error that could be made by any political movement is to believe that that glorious future has already arrived, when in reality it has not. Many times in history great leaders may have thought that man had already achieved his apex, only to be proven that we have a long way to go until we reach that sublime period of world peace and the cessation of all evil. This was Rav Kook’s way of explaining why political anarchy was a terrible mistake, born from a liberal desire to see the eradication of all evil in our time. Ridding ourselves of governmental restrictions can only work in a utopian society, and we’re quite far from that point.


  1. If you’ll recall from Shabbos HaGadol, we had remarked that this is one way of understanding the question of the wicked son at the Seder: “מה העבודה הזאת לכם” (“Why are you doing this service?”), on a deeper level, means: Why is it necessary for you to do mitzvos anymore? I can understand when you were a primitive slave class in need of guiding principles, but now we have evolved so much as a people and a civilization, it should no longer be necessary for us to have to observe mitzvos, since perfection can be attained without them.


  1. Rav Kook then remarks that great Jewish leaders have also made this mistake. This was the mistake of Hellenized Jews in the times of the Greeks and Romans, who felt that mitzvah observance was no longer necessary. It was also the mistake of the Sabbateans who followed Shabbetai Tzvi and committed all forms of sin. But we also find this pattern in the Torah. This was, ultimately, the sin of Nadav and Avihu, and why they felt at liberty to bring a “foreign fire” before Hashem.


  1. Nadav and Avihu believed that they had reached such a high level of connection and perfection that it wasn’t necessary for them to wait to be commanded, and that they could spontaneously bring whatever was in their hearts, because of their perfected states of holiness. This is what our Sages (Sifra Shemini 24) mean when they say that they were “מורה הלכה בפני רבם”. That is, they took the liberty of transcending the protocols that were put in place by their teachers.


  1. The Zohar (Shemini 37b) uses a slightly different language to describe this sin. It states that they were “דחקו שעתא”, literally, “pushing the moment” by taking the law into their own hands instead of going through proper channels of authority. The Zohar also states that their crime was offering incense at the wrong time (“דלא הוה שעתא כדקא יאות”), because the incense is only supposed to be offered in the morning and in the afternoon, and they offered it at the wrong time. From the Zohar’s standpoint, the effort was a virtuous one, but the timing was all wrong. This is an allusion to Rav Kook’s depiction of their mistake: to act as if we are living in utopia when that time has not yet arrived.


  1. Some commentaries offer that part of the wrongness of the timing was that this was the very first day of the Kohanim’s service in the Mishkan. If there was ever a day when exact protocol had to be observed, it was at the beginning. This was the time for HKB”H to demonstrate His coming down into the world through His mitzvos. That’s why, at the climax of the inaugural process it states (9:24), “ותצא אש מלפני ד'” – the fire emanated only from Hashem. Specifically at this juncture, it was vital that Hashem’s commandments be fulfilled. Granted, there’s a time for Bnei Yisrael to offer their self-initiated service, but on this day, the day of dedication, exact protocol had to be followed.[2]


  1. This is especially so because they were the Kohanim, the priests who are charged with carrying out Hashem’s specifications in front of the nation. This is why their clothing was uniform and why so many sacrificial laws were in place, to demonstrate that in order for man to reach Hashem, he needed to abide by Hashem’s specified laws, not by man’s extemporaneous innovations.


  1. A constant tension exists within religious man, whether to be an innovator or to be an obedient servant. This tension was described by Rav Soloveitchik in his essay, “Lonely Man of Faith,” where he describes the two Adam’s of creation: one, from chapter one of Genesis, which he calls Adam I, and is descriptive of “majestic man,” the man who utilizes his G-d-like and creative faculties to master the world around him. The other, from chapter two, is Adam II, and is descriptive of “covenantal man,” who surrenders himself to the will of G-d. It is man’s responsibility to synthesize his two personas in his service of HKB”H in this life. The error of Nadav and Avihu was to exercise “majestic man” at a time when “covenantal man” was supposed to be the only persona present. Had their timing been different, however, then it’s altogether possible that their service would not only have been accepted, but even desired by Hashem, since Hashem loves man’s majesty and creativity as a part of his service.


  1. I noticed over Yom Tov, especially while duchening, that many kohanim were wearing “happy socks,” that is, very colorful and unique sock designs. In discussing this with my family, we all agreed that part of the reason for this new phenomenon, especially in the very conservative yeshiva world, is that despite the uniformity of dress, despite the “bigdei kehunah (priestly garments),” if you will, of the Orthodox Jewish man, there is a need for creativity and individual expression. We put out a brief survey on Survey Monkey. The results show that people both like the extra color in their wardrobe, and see these socks as a way of expressing their individuality. In asking people why they wear happy socks, we had some interesting answers (One Kohen wrote: “Since I am a Kohan socks must be taken to a higher level!” Another person wrote: “Just to remind me not to take myself too seriously.” My personal favorite was the respondent who wrote: “They match my happy underwear!”)


  1. We’re witness in society today that mankind is pushing for more and more autonomy in the way we live our lives. One of the reasons people are turning away from religion in dramatic numbers is because by its very definition, religion defines a mode of worship that requires some level of uniformity among its adherents. And while it may be that society’s notion of personal autonomy has run amok, that doesn’t mean that we should dispose of autonomy altogether. Within every human being lies the ambition and desire to be an individual and to express oneself as such. We need very much to keep this in mind, especially in an Orthodox community, when we often expect or demand of our community to conform to one set of values, behaviors or mode of dress. There needs to remain some arena of personal choice and expression. Of course, happy socks is really just a symbol of that, but it should cue us in to the need for the individual’s needs of expression on much bigger things.


  1. For example, there’s an expectation that if you’re involved in advanced Torah study and you’re a male, you’ll obviously be learning Gemara either exclusively or for most of your day. But what about those individuals who’d like to focus on Midrash, or Nach, or Machshava? Should they be discouraged from these divergences or should they be allowed their “happy socks” of learning? Or, we all know that the traditional chesed and charity organizations revolve around helping other Jews who are less fortunate. But should there not be an outlet for those who’d like to focus on more universal causes, like helping the blind, or feeding the homeless downtown, and the like? What about expressing one’s Judaism through art, theater, and music? All of these represent unconventional outlets of religious expression, but should they be shunned or celebrated? Isn’t that what those who are wearing happy socks are expressing, a desire to be different, if only in a bit of a defiant, yet private and unassuming way?


  1. I think you already know the answer. In order for us to continue making Judaism relevant for our children and grandchildren in this ever-changing world where personal autonomy is the new Golden Calf, we need to find larger happy socks for our children. Let’s allow those around us to be creative within the four cubits of halakha and to experiment and explore new ways of expressing our love of Judaism.


  1. Admittedly, perhaps the synagogue is the last place for those innovations to take place. Like Nadav and Avihu’s Holy of Holies, the shul is a place for tradition and convention to prevail. But there are so many outlets outside the sanctuary where innovation is possible. I believe not only is this possible but it is indeed necessary if our Yiddishkeit will continue for our children and grandchildren.


  1. May we all discover new ways of making Torah Judaism relevant and meaningful to ourselves and our children. May our happy socks of Judaism bring us to the redemption, bb”a.

[1] אגרות הראי"ה א' עמ' קעג.

[2] See Rashbam commentary to 10:1.

Trump and Ahasuerus (Purim 5777)

2017-03-12 10:25:22 AM


  1. Let’s discuss three pieces of Gemara that characterize King Ahasuerus. The first (TB Megillah 11a):


"המולך" אמר רב: שמלך מעצמו. אמרי לה לשבח, ואמרי לה לגנאי. אמרי לה לשבח - דלא הוה איניש דחשיב למלכא כוותיה, ואמרי לה לגנאי - דלא הוה חזי למלכותא, וממונא יתירא הוא דיהב וקם.

[Ahasuerus rose to power on his own. Some state that as a compliment, others as an insult. As a compliment, it means that there was no one else more qualified than he. As an insult, it means that he was completely unworthy to be king, but he used his financial influence to buy the monarchy.]

  1. The second and third appear back to back (TB Megillah 12a):

"בהראתו את עשר כבוד מלכותו" אמר רבי יוסי בר חנינא: מלמד שלבש בגדי כהונה: כתיב הכא "יקר תפארת גדולתו" וכתיב התם "לכבוד ולתפארת."

"ובמלאות הימים האלה" וגו' רב ושמואל; חד אמר: מלך פיקח היה, וחד אמר: מלך טיפש היה. מאן דאמר מלך פיקח היה - שפיר עבד דקריב רחיקא ברישא, דבני מאתיה כל אימת דבעי מפייס להו. ומאן דאמר טפש היה - דאיבעי ליה לקרובי בני מאתיה ברישא, דאי מרדו ביה הנך - הני הוו קיימי בהדיה.

[Ahasuerus wore the Priestly Garments.

Rav and Shmuel debate: One opines that Ahasuerus was wise, the other, that he was foolish. The one who thinks he was wise observes his political decision to invite the outlying citizens to his party before inviting the citizens of Shusan as a wise decision. This was because he reasoned that he could appease the Shushanites at any time, but not so for the outlying citizens. The one who thinks he was foolish believes that he should have invited the Shushanites first, since if the outliers were to rebel, he’d be able to stave them off with loyal locals.]

  1. The first question is: Of what relevance is it for us to know whether Ahasuerus reigned because of money or because of any other reason? Why did he wear the Bigdei Kehunah? And finally, who cares whether he was wise or foolish, and why does that debate come immediately after his wearing the Bigdei Kehunah?[1]


  1. The overarching issue that the Gemara wishes to undertake is: What political conditions led to the rise of a Haman? To answer this question, we need to see who the political leader was at the time. The reason why this question is relevant is because there will be many iterations in Jewish history where we will find ourselves ruled by different kinds of government, and we need to know what to look out for.


  1. So the first issue is – how did Ahasuerus rise to power? Was it through the popular vote, or was it because he was cunning and Machiavellian, and knew how to exploit the system – either through financial means or through some other method – to rise to power? This is important, because on either side of this equation there can arise a charismatic anti-Semite who will be able to influence the king and thereby infiltrate all of society. If the king is clearly recognized as being the supreme leader, then whatever he says, goes. So we have to look out when we have someone who is extremely popular as a leader, someone like, say, Pres. Obama, in that since most of the country will listen to him because of his great talent, his stature as a statesmen, he’ll command great respect.


  1. On the other hand, even a king who is recognized to be unworthy of his title can sometimes command influence if he knows how to work the system. So if we find someone who buys his way in to the kingdom, we have to be wary that perhaps he, too, will allow an anti-Semite to gain power. Furthermore, when a political leader is in disfavor, sometimes the public just gives up and assumes that if he was cunning enough to beat the system, there’s no way for us to go up against him.


  1. Next: Why did Ahasuerus wear the priestly garments? Let’s recall that the previous Gemara had taught us that his rise to power was as a political outsider. What he was demonstrating by wearing these garments was to show that there are times when greatness was originally bestowed on one group of people, and then, because of their unworthiness, it was taken away from then and granted to the underdog, the person no one thought would rise to greatness. So, just as originally the Kehunah was given to the first-born, and yet it was taken away from them because of their complicity in the Golden Calf, I, too, as Ahasuerus, may have been the political outsider, but because the “business as usual” career politicians became corrupt, they’ve forfeited their Priestly Garments, and I now take up their mantle.


  1. This leads to our next issue, which is whether Ahasuerus was wise or foolish in inviting the more distant subjects to his party first, and then only afterwards inviting the citizens of Shushan to the party. This debate is about the king who rises to power through unconventional means and who has bypassed all the Washington insiders. The question then becomes: Whom should he warm up to first? Should he warm up to the populist vote, the farmers and the middle class who voted him in, or should he try to endear himself to all of those insiders and media elites in Shushan who spurned him and made fun of him?


  1. One opinion is that Ahasuerus was very smart in first inviting the outsiders. After all, they were the ones who voted him into power, and so he needed to keep his voter base happy. He already knew that the Shushanites were against him, so there was no point in going through all the effort of trying to endear himself to them. He therefore reasoned that it made more sense to continue his role as the outsider, the underdog, the populist candidate, and satisfy the voters who were like him.


  1. But the opinion that says he was a fool takes the opposite approach, the approach of Confucius, who said, “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies even closer.” Ahasuerus should have made the first and supreme effort to endear himself to those who had spurned him, to show that there were no hard feelings and that he wanted to keep the entire empire together.


  1. But how does this relate to Haman and to the rise of anti-Semitism? The answer is that when anti-Semitism is on the rise under such a king, and the king says, “Everything is fine, and we condemn all hatred and all racism,” can you trust him, because he knows what he’s doing, and he’ll be able to be reasoned with and to control the forces of evil, or do you have to be concerned that he’s foolish and is going to allow his peaceful and benevolent kingdom to be overrun by hateful and destructive people?


  1. If we are going to make any further comparisons to the Esther story and our modern times, let’s also remember that just as Esther was responsible for preventing the Haman massacre, we also have an Esther in government today. Her name is Yael (Ivanka), who was also a strong biblical female figure, who emerged out of nowhere and brought great salvation by destroying the enemy of the Jews. I don’t think it matters whether it’s a daughter or a wife; as long as the Ahasuerus of our time has an Esther or a Yael in his court, we should feel secure, provided that we do our part in destroying the Amalek in our midst.


  1. One of the greatest threats that Amalek presents to us is that he divides us (As Haman said, “This nation is scattered and divided among the nations”) and makes us doubt our greatness. The Jewish people today are divided politically, religiously, economically and in many other ways. Some Jews love Ahasuerus, some hate him. Some love the fact that there’s an Esther in the king’s court, some Jews hate it.


  1. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Amalek is well-poised to strike today, but specifically because of our internal strife and divisions. We are experiencing rising threats of anti-Semitism. Hundreds of JCC’s and Jewish facilities have received bomb threats, Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated, and we have every reason to be concerned that there will be more to follow. However, just as Mordechai was able to say to Haman, “I’m not afraid of you, I won’t bow to you,” we, too, should hold our heads high, not be afraid, and place our trust in Hashem and in the strength and fortitude of the Jewish people.


  1. If the story of Purim teaches us anything, it’s that accompanied with Torah and mitzvos must come a political astuteness and an effort to conciliate with whatever government is currently reigning. For Canadians, that means that we need to work with the liberal government and show friendship and respect to the Prime Minister and his party. For Americans, it means that Jews are most unwise if they are at the forefront of all of these counter-productive protests that are taking place on the streets today. The president of the United States is the supreme leader and is in the position to either accept Haman’s offer or to reject it. Jews who publicly and loudly condemn the president and hurl insults at him are doing a grave disservice to the Jewish people – regardless of whether the president is a “pike’ach” (wise man) or a “tipesh” (fool).


  1. Finally, the very next piece of Gemara that follows the deliberation as to whether Ahasuerus was wise or foolish states from R’ Yochanan b. Zakai: You know why the Jews deserved to be killed in Persia? Because they bowed down to idolatry. There are many forms of idolatry in the world today. Sometimes idolatry is hyper-patriotism, but it can also be hyper-antagonism. If you place too much trust in our political leaders, that’s idolatry, and if you place too little trust in HKB”H to save us from bad leaders, that’s also idolatry.


  1. Let’s allow ourselves on Purim to shirk that extremism of our ideologies and place our trust only in Hashem. May we all celebrate Purim responsibly and spiritually, and may this Purim usher in the ultimate redemption and salvation from all the Haman’s of the world, bb”a.

[1] There’s a fascinating drush by R’ Yosef ben Hayim Zarfati in his Sefer Yad Yosef, written in the 17th century, who uses homily to explain what’s going on. Much of our explanation works off of his interpretation, found in his commentary to Parshas Tetzaveh, Drush 7.

2017-01-25 04:11:21 PM


[Dear Friends, I normally don't use this blog for posting sermons, but I've gotten so much feedback about this drasha that I thought I'd make it available. Feel free to post on social media. Thanks, -DK]

Parshas Shemos 5777 - A New President, A New Hope, An Uncertain Future

  1. As I am speaking, the new president and his family are enjoying their inauguration weekend. This morning, there is/was a National Prayer Service held in Washington’s National Cathedral. I think it only fitting that we add our prayers on this Shabbos to the millions of voices praying for the same thing: That the new president be imbued with wisdom and fortitude to succeed in making the world a better place and creating a future that is filled with peace and prosperity for all peoples of the world.
  1. Now, of course, rabbis around the world today are also noting that there’s no coincidence that our parsha opens with the words (1:8), “וַיָּ֥קָם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף:”. We are experiencing a “new king” in the world of our own; Egypt is a good metaphor for the United States, a land that has been so hospitable to Jews for centuries.
  1. But if we are going to cull a pasuk from our parsha, how do we reconcile that last part of the pasuk, “אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף”? How can that possibly apply to Pres. Trump? Has there ever been a president in our lifetimes that has shown such open philosemitism? Has there ever been a president with a Jewish daughter, Jewish, yarmulke-wearing grandchildren, who has koshered his kitchens and made Shabbos accommodations for his family? Has there ever been a president who has expressed so much forceful support for Israel and who has expressed so much commitment to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem? Has there ever been a president whose Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will be a senior advisor and will be negotiating directly between Israel and the PA? Has there ever been a president who has appointed such a right-wing hard-liner as (Orthodox Jew) David Friedman to be his ambassador to Israel? Has there ever been a president to appoint such an Israel-supporting ambassador to the U.N. as Nikki Haley, who openly condemned the U.S.’s betrayal of Israel in UN Resolution 2334? Do you recall a president whose presidential oath was followed by a Tanakh-laden prayer from an Orthodox rabbi, R’ Marvin Hier? Is there a president in recent memory who said that we have nothing to fear because, above all, “we will be protected by G-d”? How can this be the king who “knows not Joseph”?!
  1. How can it be, that as we are reading today from the Torah about the descent of the Jewish people into antisemitism, discrimination and slavery, that we celebrate a president who seems fully committed to Israel and its people? How is this consistent to a time when we are seeing not a descent, but rather an ascent from a past administration which, while also embracing Jews in its inner circle (although admittedly a different kind of Jew), betrayed Israel in its final days in office?
  1. You may already be aware of the Midrash cited by Rashi regarding the meaning of “מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ” – the Midrash deliberates if he really was a new king, or if he was the same old Pharaoh who just pretended not to know Yoseph. But there’s a second part to this Midrash (Sh”R 1:8) that isn’t as well known. This Midrash portrays Pharaoh as the same man who knew Yoseph, but who was faced with a quandary. While he recognized the greatness of the Jewish people and their vital contributions to the State, the citizenry grew resentful of the Jews and wanted them out:
רבנן אמרי למה קראו מלך חדש והלא פרעה עצמו היה, אלא שאמרו המצרים לפרעה בא ונזדווג לאומה זו, אמר להם שוטים אתם עד עכשיו משלהם אנו אוכלים והיאך נזדווג להם, אלולי יוסף לא היינו חיים, כיון שלא שמע להם הורידוהו מכסאו שלשה חדשים, עד שאמר להם כל מה שאתם רוצים הריני עמכם והשיבו אותו, לפיכך כתיב ויקם מלך חדש
[The people came to Pharaoh and said, “Let’s gang up on these Jews.” Pharaoh responded, “Fools! Don’t you realize that everything we consume as a nation is because of them, and now you want to gang up on them? If it weren’t for Yoseph we wouldn’t even be alive!” Because he refused to listen to them, the people ousted him from office for a period of three months, until he finally agreed to do whatever they asked.]
  1. This Midrash is powerful for two reasons. Firstly, it indicates that the reason the people became anti-Semites was precisely because of all that Yoseph had done. They were completely indebted and owed their very lives to Yoseph for his revolutionary efforts at social engineering a generation before. People can develop resentment against those who innovate and contribute for their welfare, feeling that they are completely in their debt. It was precisely Pharaoh’s acknowledgment of the gift of the Jews that made the people anti-Semitic. When Jews do too little OR when Jews do too much, the world gangs up on us.
  1. Secondly, regardless of how passionate and committed Pharaoh was to Yoseph and his family of Jews, he couldn’t withstand the will of the people. A king is, after all, just a politician with a crown. He will cave to the fickleness and whims of the masses in order to retain his power. If it means throwing the Jews under the bus, so be it. That is precisely why Chazal tell us (Avos 1:10), “אל תתודע לרשות”.
  1. This week I read an excellent article by Yossi Klein Halevi about the two past presidents, both Obama and Trump, who have prided themselves as the most “Jewish” presidents ever.[1] Both presidents have boasted about having a cabinet of advisors filled with Jews. Obama made not only a Channukah party, but also a Seder every year, and the liberal Jews of America adored him. The problem, states Klein Halevi, is that for both presidents, there are “good Jews” and “bad Jews”. For Obama, the good Jews are J-Street and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and the bad Jews are Andrew Breitbart and Bibi Netanyahu. For Trump, the good Jews are David Friedman and his son-in-law Jared, and the bad Jews are all those New York Times reading liberal Jews in Manhattan.
  1. This is a powder keg of antisemitism waiting to explode. First, of all, Jews can’t even agree upon what the most dangerous anti-Semitic threat is, which only weakens our internal resolve and ability to combat antisemitism. Furthermore, each president has a segment of Jews that they dislike, and so the masses, upon witnessing the two different kinds of Jews, can select their “brand” worthy of demonization and use that to craft the next anti-Semitic trope.
  1. Here’s where we’d do well to look at history. The nineteenth century in Germany saw a period of great acceptance of the Jewish people, something unprecedented in centuries of European history. Jews shared economic and political prosperity with their fellow Germans. By the turn of the century, here’s what New World Encyclopedia states:

    A higher percentage of German Jews fought in World War I than that of any other ethnic, religious or political group in Germany—in fact, some 12,000 died for their country. The chancellor during the first two years of the war, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, was the son and grandson of German Jewish public servants. Ironically, it was a Jewish lieutenant, Hugo Gutmann, who awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, to a 29-year-old corporal named Hitler. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Gutmann left Germany and escaped to the United States.… German Jews enjoyed full equality in the Weimar Republic,[2] many receiving high political positions such as foreign minister and vice chancellor. The Weimar constitution was the work of a German Jew, Hugo Preuss, who later became minister of the interior. Marriages between Jews and non-Jews became somewhat common from the nineteenth century; for example, the wife of German Chancellor Gustav Stresemann was Jewish.[3]
  1. One may also point to the fascinating case study of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Scholars today recognize that while a small portion of his writings are critical of Jews and Christians alike, Nietzsche overall had high regard for most Jews. He even broke his friendship with Richard Wagner, in part because of Wagner’s antisemitism. Nietzsche admired the industriousness of the Jews and actually at one point advocated taking the strongest Jews, whom he regarded as a pure race, and mixing them with the Aryan race.
  1. He wrote about his opposition to anti-Semitism: “The Jews, however, are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race now living in Europe.” Indeed, they fit his aristocratic prescription since they survived “thanks above all to a resolute faith that does not need to feel ashamed in the presence of ‘modern ideas.’” Germany, he continued, would do better to deport the anti-Semites than the Jews who would provide many good qualities.[4]
  1. He writes: “What Europe owes to the Jews?--Many things, good and bad, and above all one thing of the nature both of the best and the worst: the grand style in morality, the fearfulness and majesty of infinite demands, of infinite significations, the whole Romanticism and sublimity of moral questionableness--and consequently just the most attractive, ensnaring, and exquisite element in those iridescences and allurements to life, in the aftersheen of which the sky of our European culture, its evening sky, now glows--perhaps glows out. For this, we artists among the spectators and philosophers, are--grateful to the Jews…. The Jews … are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race at present living in Europe, they know how to succeed even under the worst conditions…”[5]
  1. But then chillingly, he writes words that today especially hearken back to Pharaoh:

    “…That the Jews, if they wanted it--or if they were forced into it, which seems to be what the anti-Semites want--could even now have preponderance, indeed quite literally mastery over Europe, that is certain; that they are not working and planning for that is equally certain.”
  1. And yet, Hitler and the Nazis used Nietzsche’s writings to develop the Nazi manifesto of ridding the world of the pestilence of the Jews. By October 1935 Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels imperiously announced that ‘It is forbidden to list the names of fallen Jews on memorials and memorial plaques for the fallen of the world war.’[7] The Nazis systematically eliminated any and every mention of Jews and their contributions to German society and history.
  1. Especially in light of the strong nationalistic message contained in Trump’s inaugural speech, we should be aware of the similarities between then and now. Of course, for every similarity between pre-War Germany and today, there’s a difference. Still, history should always give one pause. And so, I think we need to celebrate and be optimistic about the future. But I also think we need to be somewhat sober and circumspect. Does this spell the end of the troubles between the U.S. and Israel, or is it only the beginning of new trouble ahead? Is this the beginning of a new era of renaissance for all things Jewish in the Disapora, or does this mark the beginning of the end? Is the pendulum swinging too far in the favor of the Jews? Should we be looking ahead, four or eight years from now, when the pendulum swings just as violently back in the other direction? While President Trump knows Yoseph very well, what resentment of Yoseph will he leave in his wake? What will the body politic have to say about philosemitism, and what is the forecast for Jews in North America 5, 10 and 20 years from now?
  1. Sorry to rain on our parade, but I think that as we ponder these questions we must always remember the fateful words of Obadiah (1:17) quoted by the Chofetz Chaim in 1933:
וּבְהַ֥ר צִיּ֛וֹן תִּהְיֶ֥ה פְלֵיטָ֖ה וְהָ֣יָה קֹ֑דֶשׁ וְיָרְשׁוּ֙ בֵּ֣ית יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב אֵ֖ת מוֹרָֽשֵׁיהֶֽם:
(“Mount Zion will be for our refuge and it shall be holy; and the House of Jacob will reclaim their rightful inheritance.”)
Under the new “melekh” of the U.S., may we see Yeshuos and Nechamos that bring us to the ultimate redemption, bb”a.

[2] The common name for the republic that governed Germany from 1919 to 1933. The republic was named after the city of Weimar, where a national assembly convened to produce a new constitution after the German Empire was abolished following the nation's defeat in World War I.
[5] Beyond Good and Evil, chapter 8, available online here:
[6] Ibid.

2014-07-23 04:20:38 PM



To show our unity with the people of Israel during the Gaza War

Day Three (July 23): Ashkelon, Ashdod, and more


Dearest Friends,

Today was a very emotional day for a number of reasons. Firstly, we visited some injured chayalim, mostly injured by shrapnel. They unanimously told us that all they want to do is leave their hospital bed and get back to the front. Secondly, we visited a family in Ashdod whose home was damaged from a Russian Grad missile fired from Gaza. Finally, we ourselves were caught in the middle of at least five red alerts today and had to scramble to a safe area. I’ll go through our day step by step.

But first off, I must remind you that everywhere we've gone, Canada is the hero to all of Israel today. So many people have been thanking us for having such upright and morally unambiguous leaders, especially in light of the tepid support Israel’s gotten from the US during this offensive.

This morning, we were debriefed by Miri Eisen, former spokesperson of the Prime Minister’s Office. She was very direct and pragmatic about the possible outcomes of this conflict, but emphasized that the resolve and consensus of almost all Israelis is to finish this operation and see it through until Hamas’ tunnel system is completely demolished. Yes, there’s a lot of fear, anxiety, depression within Israeli society right now, and this can't be easily dismissed. But overall, people are optimistic about the operation and the future of our country.

Next, we head to Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon to meet with CEO Dr. Hezi Levy. Throughout our visit, since we represent UJA, we’ve been given different pitches for how we can help. Dr. Levy explains to us that the hospital isn't fortified and wasn't built for being protected from shelling, since it was built back in the 60’s before there ever was a Hamas. Northern hospitals are more advanced in this respect, having already protected themselves from Hizbullah and Syria by fortifying their hospitals (those of you who were on our mission this past December will recall seeing the new fully underground hospital facility at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital). Here's our group in the hospital lobby (you may recognize Sheldon Potter, a BAYT member, who joined us for today):

The Barzilai Hospital serves a population of 500,000, over 600 beds, and over 1500 employees. During this war operation, the hospital is trying to release all non urgent care patients so that they can recuperate in a safer place. This has given rise to many ethical dilemmas as to which procedures to do and not to do during wartime. How to deal with prematurely born neonates, elective procedures, etc. As a result of the war, current hospital occupancy is about 50% of normal due to evacuations.

Dr. Levy pointed out that the hospital is also treating a Palestinian soldier injured in the conflict, and pointed to the Rambam’s prayer for the doctor, posted in the hospital lobby, in which Maimonides pledges to treat everyone, the rich, the poor, the beloved and the hated, all alike. Barzilai also treats and helps deliver many Palestinian babies.

As Dr. Levy was finishing his presentation and we were getting ready to leave the “safe room” where we were convening, the red alert alarm went off. This was our first experience with red alerts, and we quickly returned back to the room. We heard and felt a series of booms – this was Iron Dome anti-missile system deflecting and exploding a series of enemy missiles in mid-air.

When it was safe, we went to see the wartime neonatal unit. The regular neonatal unit is now closed, and has been relocated to the bomb shelter (miklat). Very sad to see these preemies being treated in a tiny bomb shelter. But at least they’re safe from the outdoors. Here's a photo of the miklat "unit", from the outside, and then inside:

Our next stop at Barzilai was to visit injured chayalim. I tell you, dear friends, it was here and at the shiva house yesterday where I really felt that each and every one of you was with me performing the chesed at my side. Each boy/young man had a different story for his injuries; some were injured in Gaza, some just outside of Gaza. Most of the boys were chayalim but there was also a 16-year old who took shrapnel for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We had to leave since the Minister of Internal Security, Yitzchak Aharonovich, came to visit the chayalim:

We left Barzilai hospital and stopped for our lunch break at an outdoor mall. As we were getting ready to leave, once again the siren went off. From Ashkelon, you have 15 seconds to find a safe place to go, and lo and behold, 15 seconds later we heard the loud boom while under a concrete overhang. My heart skipped a beat, I'm sure, but once again iron dome protected us. In the picture below, you may be able to make out the wisps of smoke which show the trajectory of the missile and where it was blown up mid-air.


On to Ashdod, which is a few kilometers further away from Gaza, but is still well within the range of the latest Hamas technology. Our first stop was at the Elta Radar Systems Corporation, an integral part of Israel’s Aerospace industry, and which was instrumental in designing the Iron Dome system. We were fully debriefed with declassified material, but since no cameras were permitted inside, I can’t share any more information with you other than to tell you that we Jews are Baruch Hashem an amazing people, creative, brilliant, innovative, and blessed with some of the greatest scientific minds in the world today (as if you didn’t already know). Where no one else succeeded, Israel is the only country with such an effective system as Iron Dome to defend her citizens from the incessant onslaught. By the way, during our debriefing, three more alarms went off and each time we had to recess to a safe part of the building.

On the road between Ashkelon and Ashdod, we passed several of these signs:

It says: "Eitanim b'Oref, Menatzchim b'Chazit" - "If we're strong on the home front, we'll be victorious on the battlefront!" Wow.

At this time, we said goodbye to one of the members of our group who has a son in the army. Through a contact that our guide Tzvi had, the father was able to get word that his son is on the Egyptian border, and so he took a cab and and was able to go and meet him. The poor father was teary-eyed and anxious for most of the trip and we were all excited and happy for him that he'd get to see his boy, one of our Canadian boys who is on the front lines defending our people.

We then visited Beit Canada of the Jewish Agency in Ashdod, which is partially funded by UJA Canada. We schmoozed in the Miklat with some new immigrants, some from Turkey, some from the FSU, one lady from Cuba!

From there, we went to visit a family in Ashdod whose apartment was hit by a missile and was damaged. Beit Canada gave them a check to help repair the damage and take care of living expenses and they wanted to show their gratitude by having us in their home and showing us where the missile hit and where they’d repaired the damage. Here he is with his daughter, explaining to us the damage. He also pointed out that for the first time, his daughter and son are waking up at night with nightmares, and are scared to leave the house and even to go to the bathroom by themselves. As we were leaving the house, once again the red alert alarm went off and we had to run quickly back in until all was quiet.

Being in Ashkelon and Ashdod, we realize how many immigrants comprise these cities, especially people from the Former Soviet Union. One of the things UJA Canada is involved with funding is helping Hesder Yeshivot help with conversions of young men from the FSU who aren't halakhically Jewish. UJA funds programs in the yeshivot to allow these boys to be a part of a frum chevre in Tzahal and it thus becomes easier for them to convert once they are acclimated to the yeshiva lifestyle. My objective in writing this blog is not to advertise for UJA, but I make this note to remind us all in the Orthodox community that UJA is doing really incredible and wonderful work for Klal Yisrael, both locally and in Eretz Yisrael.

Back to Tel Aviv, where we had to scramble to find alternate plans to get home. As you may have heard, the FAA ruled that all American carriers cannot fly in and out of Israel. As a result, some European carriers, and Air Canada, followed in suit. I am once again grateful to the generous chevra at our shul who authorized an additional expense to get me home before Shabbos with an El Al flight.

We had dinner with David Weinberg, Director of the Israel office of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. David debriefed us about what he's seeing in Israel today and is very supportive of the current operation.

I hope to see you all for Shabbos where I will share with you some of the raw emotion of this overwhelming experience. I feel that you are with me through your prayers, good wishes, and by your reading this blog. I’d also like to encourage you to GO; Israel can use the chizuk, but more, we went to offer chizuk and we leave ourselves strengthened by the greatness of our brethren. I’ve already heard that our member Marcee Rosenzweig is leaving shortly for Israel and will be joining the OU mission next week and I'm sure there are more who will be leaving shortly. If you can get to Israel, by hook or by crook, now’s the time to go!

See you soon, b’Ezrat Hashem, and may we hear besurot tovot, and a quick end to our people’s suffering.


Canadian Solidarity Mission to Israel, July 21-23, 2014

2014-07-22 04:13:42 PM


To show our unity with the people of Israel during the Gaza War

Day Two (July 22): Sderot, Be'er Sheva, and more


The news is changing so rapidly, so I can only report on the latest hour of information.

We leave early for Sderot, and hear the news that there are now over 180 casualties of the war in hospitals, some with serious injuries. 28 chayalim are now confirmed  deceased. There was talk of a humanitarian cease fire today, but that never happened, although we are told that compared to previous days, today was relatively quiet.

The consistent message that we've been hearing from everyone is that it is NOT in  Israel's best interests to stop this operation before the tunnels are completely eliminated, because if we don't get rid of the tunnel network now, we'll just be faced with another tunnel nightmare in the near future. Hamas' tactic is known to ask for a cease fire to give them time to repair the damage and regroup

Tzvi Sperber is our tour guide, a musmach from Hesder yeshivot, who just got back from Poland doing a tour. He runs a non-profit organization, J-Roots ( , dedicated to using Jewish sites around the world as educational tools about Judaism.

We said Tefillas HaDerekh in our armored and bulletproof vehicle with special kavanah, knowing that our protection is in the hands of the Shomer Yisrael.

It was very difficult to read of the funerals taking place now in Israel for the fallen. Last night there was a funeral in Haifa for a chayal boded (a soldier who has no family in Israel), by the name of Nissim Sean Carmeli. Nissim's parents live in Texas and they waited for his parents to arrive for the levaya. The owner of Maccabi Haifa had heard that Nissim was a fan and so urged people to come for the funeral;  20,000 people attended. Nissim's parents were overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy. We heard about this and decided to spend some time at the end of our day to be menachem avel (comfort the mourners). We thus took a detour to Raanana before returning at the end of the day to Tel Aviv and spent a few minutes with the Carmeli family. They couldn't believe that Jews from Canada would care so much about them and their son, and this brought the father to tears.

Back to our trip: Tzvi told us that Israeli intelligence now is truly remarkable, but there are still many holes since we don't have that many people left in Gaza. There are cameras all over the Gaza border and they are manned by women in Sderot who alert the army of what the cameras are picking up.

We come to Sderot on the shuk day where the vendors are selling fresh fruit and vegetables with a few tzatzchke sellers. The supportive signs are all over. The one below reads: "באחדות ובגבורה ננצח!" (With unity and strength we will be victorious!). It's a bit surreal to see people going about their daily lives while at the edge of a battlefield.

We go to an underground bunker in Sderot where there's entire an intelligence office. We meet with Eddie Azran who's the rep for the Toronto twinning to Sderot through UJA.

He tells us: What is going on in the rest of the country is normal for Sderot over the last 8 years, since Gaza was given back. We're told that with each war the enemy is learning more and is readier to fight. We find ourselves paying a higher price to live in peace with the continued threats.

Next we meet with Mayor Alon Davidi. He tells us that artists and singers are coming daily to Sderot to entertain the children in the community centre - very important to preserve the children's emotional health. There are 24,000 residents in Sderot today, which has increased greatly over the last 10 years. All schools, day care centres, markets are open. Sderot is a symbol of the struggle against the radical enemies of Israel. If you're looking for a city to invest in, invest in Sderot!

We are also met by Rabbi Dovod Fendel of the Hesder yeshiva in Sderot, a NY native, and he impresses upon us the importance of the yeshiva to the war effort. We will later travel to the yeshiva and see how it has become a temporary stopover site for the chayalim to get their gear ready and come for a warm meal and some relaxation before going back into Gaza.

Kurt Rothschild meets with us in the bunker office - what a nice surprise to see this Toronto patriarch. Here's us together on the rooftop of the Sderot yeshivat Hesder in front of the famous Menorah made of Kassam rockets.

Went to Bnei Shimon, a network of yishuvim just a bit farther from Gaza than Sderot and on the way to Be'er Sheva.

Then to Beer Sheva. Our first visit was to a daycare centre. While most camps and daycare are closed, those people who are government workers or doctors who serve vital jobs are able to keep their children in the community centre for a day care program. It was great fun handing out "tzchachkes" to them, and I thank my amazing wife, Karen, for picking up some small toys right before I left for Israel.

Afterwards we went to another major planning centre underground, almost like a war room. There are high def screens where a group of ladies watch every single major intersection and field phone calls about emergency services.

It was there that we met the mayor of Be'er Sheva, Ruvik Danilovich, a passionate and charismatic leader. He emphasizes that he speaks for all Israelis who feel unanimously that while the price of fighting this war is very high, to himself, to his city, to all the chayalim, to all the people in Israel, it is vital to complete the operation so that we can finish this once and for all.

We are once again debriefed on our way back to the hotel after being menachem avel in Raanana. The army now estimates that operation will need another 2 weeks and is asking the govt to grant it full freedom to continue.

We're also informed that the despite the fact that Israel is in the midst of a huge war,  Nefesh B'Nefesh just brought 230 olim today from the US! Kol hakavod!

We eat dinner at a restaurant with Michael Oren, a great admirer of Canada and the former Israeli ambassador to the US. He tells us: this is the largest military op since Yom Kippur war. There are many more tunnels than was thought, and they are extremely difficult to detect. Israel was the first to find the solution to missiles, developing the 21st century technology of Iron Dome anti-missile system. But with tunnels we are facing a medieval, primitive threat, which requires a low-tech solution. Oren suggested digging a moat all along the Gaza border, just as was done in medieval times. We need to remember that historically, defensive technology always lags behind offensive technology, so we'll need to get to work asap.

Morale in Israel is hight, although there's an aggregate trauma to all Israelis as a result of the rockets. Additionally, Israeli is suffering major economic losses, with the war already having cost $2 billion. Israel will sustain it, we've been thru worse. Regarding the media attitudes toward the war, it's true that the media has been somewhat more sympathetic this time around, but the media is starting to play to an old Hamas ploy: force Israel to raise the civilian casualties in Gaza, and the world will start to side with them. You can read his full article here.

Finally, we've just been informed that several airlines have canceled their flights to and from Israel, with the exception of ElAl. There was a rocket that exploded not far from Ben Gurion airport today, and with the news of the Malaysia airliner shot down, people are freaked out. We'll keep you posted as this news continues to develop.

In the meantime, Israelis continue along with their lives. Tel Aviv is still bustling, perhaps not exactly as much as a typical summer, but the beaches and restaurants are filled with people. Israelis are a strong people, and confident and optimistic about the future. B'Ezras Hashem we will prevail decisively, very soon!

Canadian Solidarity Mission to Israel,July 21-23, 2014

2014-07-21 04:01:13 PM



To show our unity with the people of Israel during the Gaza War of 2014


Day One


Well, not really day one, since it started with dinner tonight at the hotel in Tel Aviv at 7 pm. But the truth is, my day started in Israel with the limo from the airport to Tel Aviv. My driver was a very animated gentleman who wanted to make sure I knew that in addition to being a driver, he’s a medical clown who performs for children and adults in the hospital. I told him he’s got double Olam Haba: One, because he brings smiles of joy to the sick, and two, because when he drives, he causes everyone to daven. But this is just another piece of the fabric of our holy people who, even in the midst of warfare, are compassionate and caring.

I’m very grateful to UJA Canada for allowing me to join this mission at the last minute. I literally signed up Motzai Shabbos to be able to leave the following day and arrive in Israel on Monday morning. So many others have done the same, and I encourage you to think about this also. I know that there is a grass roots effort afoot in Toronto to bring a delegation of “amcha”, members of our community, to Israel next week, leaving Sunday July 27 and beginning that Monday. If you’re interested, please contact Joseph Fried, at Let us hope that the fighting will be over very soon.

Back to our mission: We had two speakers at dinner: First, Yossi Tanuri, the director general of UJA Canada. He shared with us that the support among the Israeli public is virtually unanimous in its great admiration and praise of the army and the current operation. He showed me a short film of chayalim camped out outside Gaza dancing in a circle, singing the words, “Anachnu ma’aminim b’nei ma’aminim, v’ein lanu al mi l’hisha’ain ela al Avinu shebaShamayim!” (We are believers the children of believers; we have no one to rely on other than our Father in Heaven!) What a moving clip, to see our soldiers, many with kippot and tzitzit dancing with great joy and achdus as they prepare to protect our people. You can see a similar clip of chayalim dancing to the same song at the Kotel, here.

Currently, Israel is working on staving off two threats: the missile threat is baruch Hashem being averted through the technology of the Iron Dome system, another brilliant Israeli invention. But the other threat is the very elaborate tunnel system, hundreds of well-built, cement-reinforced tunnels that run throughout Gaza and many that come underneath land in Israel. This is currently the greatest threat because it’s impossible to know where the next tunnel will emerge from. Israeli intelligence is working on neutralizing this problem as well.

We then heard from Canadian ambassador to Israel, Her Excellency, Vivan Bercovici. The message that resounded from the ambassador and from everyone around the table is that there’s never been a better time to be a Canadian Jew, and the level of support, unequivocal and unqualified support for Israel, is unprecedented in the history of Canadian-Israeli relations. Our prime minister, Stephen Harper, has done an incredible job, together with his foreign minister, John Baird, as well as his entire cabinet, to be beacon of moral clarity to the rest of the western world. So much so, the ambassador explained, that she gets constant calls and emails from politicians of other countries, asking her, “What is Canada saying?” We have, due to a vacuum of unambiguous support from the U.S., become the moral beacon and voice of support. Whereas Canada was out of limelight in the past, being always ancillary to her big sister in the South, Canada is now the voice that is “moving the needle” on the world stage and having real influence. You can see a reminder video of our prime minister’s office’s strong support here.

Ms. Bercovici urged us all to follow her on twitter where she’s getting out the consistent message. It’s important for us to be vocal in social media since Hamas supporters are so vocal in the media today.

You can see a photo of our delegation below. Important for us all to know that two of the men with us on the mission are also fathers of soldiers who are in active duty right now. We also have parents at the BAYT and I’d like to ask us all to be mindful of these children of ours in our daily prayers. The names of the two sons from our mission are: Aryeh ben Sheva and Yaakov Aharon ben Silka Tema. Please also keep our BAYT members, Yirmiyahu Moshe ben Rivka Leeba in your prayers, and for those parents who have children in the army, please send me their Hebrew names and we’ll be sure to add them to the list.

As your representative here on the mission, I feel your warm embrace of support as we move forward on our journey tomorrow. Please keep all of us in your prayers. We will be in Sderot and Beer Sheva and then on Wednesday to Ashkelon and Ashdod. May the Shomer Yisrael continue to watch over His first-born Son, Am Yisrael.



Day 4: A Day for the Birds, Academia, and Saying Thanks and Goodbye

2014-01-22 03:55:57 PM




Today was our last day of this historic expedition with Prime Minister Harper to Israel. We left early from the airport in order to spend most of the day up north at the Hula Nature Preserve, organized and maintained by Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, what you and I know as JNF (Jewish National Fund). The purpose of the trip was to name the Nature Preserve in honour of PM Harper, and the auditorium within in honour of Mrs. Harper.


When Jews first came to the area, they drained the Hula swamp in the hopes of improving the area. What they neglected to realize was that the swamp was necessary for the ecosystem, in that this was a migratory stop for hundreds of millions of birds traveling across Europe, Asia, and Africa via the Middle East. In the last couple of decades, the swamp was replenished and the area is now once again habitable and hospitable to these migratory birds. So hospitable, in fact, that many birds now no longer just use the Hula Valley as a stop on their journey; they instead call it home. Sort of a cool metaphor for our people, eh?


When we first arrived, we were greeted in a make-shift tent auditorium with refreshments, but were quickly ushered onto makeshift tour buses that were led by tractors.


And indeed, although I initially thought that perhaps the guides were exaggerating about the number of birds that come here every fall and spring, we got just a small sample of the birds who remain here over winter, and the number was massive.


We saw birds….


And more birds…


And yet more birds…


(you get the idea). Birds as far as the eye could see.


Mr. Harper, who’s devoted, together with so many Canadians, to the preservation of wildlife and our ecosystem, received a well-deserved honour for an outdoors Canadian. He was presented in a special ceremony by JNF, and graciously expressed his thanks.


This was also a great day to catch up with a number of Canada and BAYT expats, who came out both to Hula and to Tel Aviv U. Here is but a sampling of photos, and forgive me if your photo isn’t yet up on the blog, but bl”n it soon will be.


A special commemorative postage stamp was issued by the Israeli government especially for the occasion, and we all received one as a souvenir:


We then proceeded back on the buses, straight to Tel Aviv University. Because of the big schlep to go all the way up to Hula Valley, which is right near the Lebanon border, we didn’t arrive at Tel Aviv U. until around 6:30. We waited again in an auditorium and the PM arrived and was presented with a number of speakers and musical presentations. He was conferred with an honorary doctorate by the university. A number of the speakers noted how important it was for PM Harper to agree to receive this honour from an Israeli university, because much of the world today is involved in the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement, dedicated to marginalizing and isolating Israeli academia. This, of course, is the type of anti-Semitism that the PM referred to in his historic speech at the Kenesset, which involves singling out Israeli above all other countries in a wave of hypercriticism that is unprecedented for any other country.


The PM graciously accepted his honour, and was also addressed by the mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, a very humorous and good-natured fellow. He had heard how the night before, the PM had rocked the house with his performance, and so he proceeded to play Auld Lang Syne on his halil. We then heard a beautiful quartet perform Antonin Dvorak’s “The American” in honour of the PM (I guess American is short for Canadian).


The PM then answered some important questions from the MC of the evening about Canada’s economy and its foreign policy regarding the Middle East. One of the great things this administration can be proud of is the fact that before PM Harper took office there was a trade agreement between Canada and only five other nations. Today, there is a trade agreement with 42 nations.


When asked about Egypt and Syria, the PM was quite tough, stating about Egypt that while others were overly enthusiastic about the so-called “Arab Spring,” he was more circumspect since free elections should not produce another oppressive and xenophobic regime, but should rather produce democracy. About Syria, he stated that one of his reasons for going to Jordan was to see how Canada could help with the huge Syrian refugee problem that has ensued because of the “heartbreaking” loss of life in Syria. His toughest words were reserved for Iran, however, when he stated that Canada will be watching vigilantly to see if Iran’s words match their actions. Canada will be the first to re-introduce the toughest sanctions and will urge the international community to follow in suit, should Iran fail to deliver on its promises.


The evening was capped with a reception where each one of us got to shake the PM’s hand and take a photo. I don’t have it yet, but when I do, you can be sure I’ll post it! Someone remarked what a tough job it is to just stand there, shake 300 people’s hands, and say a few nice words. I responded, “I do that every Friday night!” (and I love it!). What did I say to the Prime Minister when shaking his hands? I’ll tell you over Shabbos, stay tuned….


So now I’m here at the Ben Gurion Airport, sitting on the floor while my laptop and phone are plugged into the recharge station, waiting for our plane. I’m looking forward to seeing you all over Shabbos, when I hope to deliver a more meaningful message in person.


What I can tell you now is that I’ve never been prouder to be a Canadian Jew. What a country and what amazing leadership! Prime Minister Harper has already promised to return to see the progress of his nature reserve in Hula, and who knows, maybe I’ll get to go back with him someday!


I can't conclude this blog without expressing deep hakaras hatov - gratitude - to all the people who made this amazing and historic trip happen. Of course, to Mr. & Mrs. Harper, but also to all the MP's who advocated for members of their riding, and especially to all the aides and planners, both members of the MP's staff and volunteers, who did a truly outstanding job. One young staffer, David Bellous, was such a good-natured mensch and worked so hard. I also heard that his mother follows this blog. And so, to David's mom, know that your son is a wonderful young man - you raised him well!


Warmest regards from a beautiful and holy country, our country, Israel.

Signing off for now,


Day 3: Yad Vashem, the Kotel, and Rock 'n Roll

2014-01-21 04:12:58 PM


Another packed day, not just with one, but two prime ministers. Our day began with a debriefing by Fmr. Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. This man is extremely intelligent, articulate, and a great statesmen. I remember when he spoke at a university campus at UC Irvine, was heckled by Islamic students, and civil discourse on campus would never be the same. He spoke about the dangers of Iran but the reasons for optimism in a country that has a per capita income rivaling western Europe and a 5-1/2% unemployment rate.


From there, we went on an excursion to Yad Vashem where we'd meet both PM Harper and PM Natenyahu for a ceremony. Of course, most of us have already been, but it’s always fascinating to go with someone who’s never been before and “see” the experience through their eyes.


Of course, it’s never easy being at Yad Vashem, and bringing back all those feelings of our lost parents, grandparent, and the million and a half children murdered during the Shoah.


After we were broken up into smaller groups for private tours, we all gathered into the ceremonial room, a large atrium that is for special ceremonies. We patiently waited for PM Harper to finish his private tour of the museum, imagining his taking in all of the horrors contained with the museum walls.

(With Thornhill MP Peter Kent)


The mood, of course was quite somber, when Mr. & Mrs. Harper, Mr. & Mrs. Netanyahu, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, and other dignitaries entered the room for the ceremony.


First Mr. Harper lit the eternal bonfire. He then laid down a wreath on behalf of Canada in memory of the millions murdered in the Shoah. Finally, we heard a Maley memorial prayer and the ceremony concluded.


We then made our way to the Kotel (Western Wall). Here’s where it all began to be worthwhile. Imagine driving nearly from one end of Yerushalayim to the other without a second’s delay for traffic. Because our bus was part of the PM’s motorcade, all traffic was cordoned off until our procession passed. To drive through the empty streets of Yerushalayim was both exhilarating and unsettling at the same time, but we made it to the Old City and the Kotel plaza in record time!


5:30 pm we’re at the Kotel.

(With MPs Mark Adler and Peter Kent)


(With Rabbi Yehoshua Weber, Clanton Park Synagogue)


A special part of the outdoor section of the Kotel, between the men’s and women’s section, was cordoned off for the PM to have a moment of solitude by the Wall. He entered with the chief rabbi of the Western Wall and a few others. PM Harper inserted a “kvittel” (note) into one of the crevices, said his own personal prayers with his hand on the Wall, and soon we were finished. We quickly davened Maariv and made our way to the buses.



JNF – Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael, who do the annual Negev dinner which this year honoured PM Harper, were hosts of tonight’s lavish dinner, which featured a who’s who of Israeli VIP’s. Both PM Netanyahu and PM Harper made toasts in honour of each other. Bibi thanked Mr. Harper for placing the truth as a higher priority than politics, and Mr. Harper reminded us all that words alone would not be enough to remain strong, that we had to retain our resolve to defend our people and land at all costs.


Then, it was time to have fun, and because the organizers know how much Mr. Harper loves oldies music, they brought in a band called The Sixties, who played really well. Then, Mr. Harper got into the action. He played and sang, “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Hey Jude”. The crowd went wild! Another great cap to a great day.


A song sheet from the evening so that we could help the Prime Minister in his mission:


Tomorrow is the last day of our delegation. We will be traveling up all the way north to the Hula reserve to bestow the official naming of the nature reserve in honour of Mr. & Mrs. Harper.


Then we’ll proceed to Tel Aviv U. where Mr. Harper will be bestowed with an honourary doctorate. Stay tuned!


Layla tov,


Update this content.

Day 2: A Day That Will Live on in Jewish History

2014-01-20 03:46:04 PM


Indescribable. Overwhelming. Euphoric. These are but mere words that cannot truly capture the last few hours, felt by Jews throughout the world, but most of all, Canadian Jews. Stephen Harper's address to the Kenesset today was truly monumental for so many reasons. Today, all Jews are Canadians.


If you haven't watched the address yet, see it here. To read a transcript (which will tell you what he said, but now HOW he said it), click here. Now, let me press rewind for a moment, and go over our day.


Our day began (after Shacharis) with a breakfast that featured Jonathan Medved (a long-time oleh from L.A.), who spoke about the "Start-Up Nation" that has made Israel one of the most sought after countries for high-tech investment, and also providing one of the highest rates of return for its investors. Truly, exciting things are happening in Israel. Also exciting is that he spoke about a changing culture, where corporate Israel is realizing that tzedakah is important, and indeed, more and more start-ups are tithing their earnings and sharing it with the needy of Israel.


In the morning, we were given the option of going to a base near Ashkelon to see the Iron Dome and other defense mechanisms that Israel is utilizing today to keep our people safe. I opted to spend the morning instead with my son, Aharon, who is studying in yeshiva. I had the privilege of visiting my rebbe from yeshiva days, Rav Avraham Kanarak, who is, bli ayin hara, a nanogenarian and who is still active in my old yeshiva, Chafetz Chaim of Jerusalem, where Aharon is studying. We visited Rav Kanarak today, father and son, to visit with this man who studied in the Kaminetz yeshiva in Europe with some of the gedolei yisrael before the war.


At 2:45 pm, we departed for the Kenesset. Here's a beautiful view of some Canadian flags from outside the hotel:


In addition to our regular delegation badges, we were each issued a 2nd badge to get us into the Kenesset:


We arrived at Kenesset, and took note of the beautiful red carpet rolled out for the PM's visit:


Here I am with my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Daniel Friedman of Beth Israel of Edmonton:


As we got closer to the entrance, we could see the beautiful greeting sign that awaiting Mr. & Mrs. Harper:


MK Rabbi Dov Lipman and I had been texting throughout the day, and we had arranged that at some point he'd meet us in the lobby while we were waiting for the PM. It was great to catch up with Rav Dov, and he shared with me some very encouraging news about the latest draft of the new law requiring national service of all Israelis, something that hopefully will be very attractive to all sectors of Israeli society (more on that later).


We waited for some time for the PM's car to arrive, and then finally, at around 6 pm, there he was, entering the Kenesset lobby to great applause. As he was welcomed in front of a beautiful Chagall wall hanging, Mr. Harper was presented with an unprecedented honor, something that has never been done before, a key to the Kenesset. Mr. Harper would later quip in his speech that now he feels he come and go to the Kenesset whenever he likes:


We finally made our way into the Kenesset room, the place where it all happens. At our seats we each found the program:


We were given wireless translation devices, but of course, I wanted to hear Kenesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, PM Binyamin Netanyahu, and opposition leader Isaac Herzog in all their Hebrew glory, as they went on about how Canada is the best friend Israel has in the world today, about how we have a prime minister who puts truth before politics, and who recognizes the great existential challenges that Israel has on a daily basis.


Of course, this is a politics, and it was interesting to hear the subtle and not-so-subtle political posturing that Bibi and Herzog took during their respective speeches in approaching the proposals for a future Palestinian state, including how to deal with John Kerry and other international brokers.


And then it was time for the main event, PM Harper's speech. You must listen to it, again, here. Listen for the moments of applause, and also look for the heckling of these two Arab MK's, pictured in the center:

They heckled Bibi, who took it all in stride - indeed, he noted that this was the only government where heckling was permitted! He further noted that despite all their griping, not one Israeli Arab wants to leave Israel!!


But then they also heckled during Mr. Harper's speech, which was both embarrassing and vindicating. Great, I thought, let the entire international community how these MK's are acting like "chayos" on the world stage. Let the world see how Israel gives a voice to its enemies even when they behave in such a deplorable, uncivilized fashion. Finally, the got up and left, which earned them a very loud ovation.


It was also great to note the great satisfaction and "bromance" between Bibi and PM Harper, which was palpable both during Bibi's speech, and while looking at his face, which was beaming, smiling, and nodding, during most of PM Harper's speech. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if during their private session last night, Bibi helped Reb Stephen write his most salient points!


Mr. Harper's speech ended with the historic words, "Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you." There were so many other historic statements that the PM made, it's hard to extract only a few. He noted that Canadians have a tendency to do what is right even when that decision doesn't provide expedient benefit to Canadians, and sometimes at great personal cost of life to Canadians. True, Canada hasn't always chosen wisely, especially during the years leading up to and during WWII, when many Jews were denied entry as refugees, but Canada acknowledges this mistake and is working to make sure that Israel will remain as strong as possible. His three points of guarantee to Israel were: (1) Canada deplores all those in the U.N. and world leadership who question Israel's very right to exist. (2) Canada believes that Israel should exercise its full rights as a great nation within the U.N. community of nations, and not be singled out for constant haranguing. (3) Israel's being singled out as a violator of human rights and being an "apartheid" state, are not only outrageous and patently false (as witnessed by our Arab MK's), but also is a new form of "sophisticated" anti-Semitism that hides behind anti-Israel accusations.


After this exhilarating moment of history, after everyone had waved their Canadian flags and applauded as loudly as we could, we left Kenesset and came back to the hotel for a beautiful dinner sponsored by CIJA and the Koschitsky family. What an amazing day!


So much more to say, but I've got to get to bed! More tomorrow, be'H.


Layla tov,



Day 1: We Travel to Israel!

2014-01-19 11:59:42 AM


Greetings from Yerushalayaim! We are here now on Sunday evening with the Prime Minister's delegation. About to go to our next event. Flying with Mr. & Mrs. Harper was quite a thrill, even though we haven't really interacted with them yet (PM Harper was working throughout the trip and wasn't seeing the rest of the passengers). But the spirit on the plane was amazing! Imagine a plane full of about 130 Canadians traveling to Israel to be greeted with a red carpet welcome.


Motzai Shabbos we zoomed from our hotel to the special hangar where the PM's plane was waiting. A special accommodation was made for Shabbos observant passengers; we had to drop off our luggage on Friday since the window between Shabbos' end and the departure time was so narrow.


Here I am about to board the plane.


Getting Ready to Board the PM's Plane


Before I left, Karen ordered some cookies from a bakery and I was able to get them to the PM who was at the front of the plane. Even though we haven't had a chance to interact, his aide who brought them sent me back a gracious "thank you" from Mr. Harper.



We took off right after Shabbos and flew to Cologne, Germany, where the plane had to refuel. That's where we also davened Shacharis:



A few hours later, we arrived in Israel to great fanfare! Here's a pic of Mr. & Mrs. Harper disembarking from a distance:



We were driven to Jerusalem, debriefed at a quick meeting, and then fed by a reception sponsored by Colel Chabad. Radio personality Yishai Fleisher interviewed Larry Zeifman, Frank Dimant, and myself tonight for his program, which you can listen to here (




You may have heard about the kerfufle created by a Muslim group about my joining the trip, which you can read about here. I've decided not to comment on this until after the PM's trip is over.


More, b"H, tomorrow!


Warm regards,


Erev Shabbos, Parshas Yisro, in Ottawa!

2014-01-17 01:23:17 PM


Dear Friends,


A guten Shabbos kodesh - just recently arrived in Ottawa, where many of us will be spending Shabbos, since the PM's plane leaves from Ottawa at 6:45 pm. Special accommodations were made for Sabbath observant delegates, allowing us time to arrive at the Hangar where the jet will be taking off. We had to drop off our luggage at the Hangar today, before Shabbos, in order to expedite our coming late.


This trip means missing my family and my kehilla for Shabbos, but it is a sacrifice that I believe is well worth it. I will be back in Toronto, be"H, before next Shabbos, so I only plan to miss one weekend with you.


It's appropriate for me to give a shout out to Raffi Rutman who will be celebrating his aufruf this Shabbos in shul. Mazel tov to Raffi and to the kallah, Chaviva Augenblick, and mazel tov to the Augenblicks and Rutmans, two wonderful BAYT families.


If you'd like to see my past divrei Torah for Parshas Yisro, you can check them out on koshertube, here, here, and here.


Look forward to updating you soon!


Shabbat Shalom, Good Shabbos,



Introductory Message

2014-01-13 05:25:57 PM


Hi, This is Rabbi Korobkin. I'll be using this blog site to update you on how things are going on the mission to Israel with Prime Minister Harper, from January 19-22. Please check back here often and I look forward to having exciting updates for you.


Kol tuv,


Sun, July 5 2020 13 Tammuz 5780