21 February 2018

The Cult of Personality

7 Adar 5778

Today is both the birthday and the yahrtzeit of the holiest and most humble man who ever lived - Moshe Rabeinu. This status is attested to by the very fact that no cult of personality ever developed around him. Baruch Hashem! HKB"H saw to that. Nothing would have grieved him more.

The most extreme examples of the cult of personality are, of course, Christianity and Islam, which became world religions built around the figures of Yeshu and Mohammed.

Unfortunately for us, we see quite a lot of this sort of thing in the Jewish world today. The lower the generation goes, the more cults seem to develop, r"l. The most well-known and visible examples of this in Judaism today are Chabad and Breslov. It would seem that Hasidism is particularly prone to developing cults of personality. But, perhaps that is because it started out as such, centered as it was around the person and teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov.

That is not at all to say that there are not good and valuable lessons to be learned from the Besht or other Hasidic teachers, but one must be aware and on guard against the negative side of it as well.
The Besht also taught that the Tzaddik (the religious leader of the Hasidim) should serve as a model of how to lead a religious life. However, he did not emphasize the doctrine of the Tzaddik nearly as much as some of his successors, particularly Dov Baer of Mezrich, who made it central to Hasidism. Dov Baer, the leader of the Hasidim after the Baal Shem Tov's death, taught that God revealed Himself through the Tzaddik's most trivial actions; one of Dov Baer's followers said, "I didn't go to him to learn Torah, but to see him unbuckle his shoes." Dov Baer taught that the ideal Tzaddik had a closer relationship to God than the average Jew, and could bestow blessings on people. In return, it was understood that the Hasidim must bring their Tzaddik gifts.
The belief in the power and greatness of the Tzaddik became one of Hasidism's strongest-and most controversial-ideas. Hasidism's opponents charged that the Tzaddikim (plural) often enriched themselves at the expense of their followers. In the generation after Dov Baer, numerous new Hasidic groups were formed, each with its own Tzaddik, referred to as a rebbe. These rebbes became a kind of Jewish royalty. When one died, he was succeeded by either his son or son-­in-­law. Those Hasidic groups that established eminent family dynasties became successful. Many Hasidic groups, however, went into decline when their rebbe died and left behind less capable successors.  (Source)
Hasidism only developed in the mid-18th century and was bitterly opposed by many of their fellow Jews from its inception, including leaders of the generation like the Vilna Gaon. The Hasids themselves came up with the term Mitnagdim (opposers) to describe those who objected to the new and controversial movement.
The first communal opposition to the Hasidic movement came from the Jewish community of Shklov in Belorussia during the winter of 1772. Rabbis and communal leaders communicated their concerns about the alleged heresies of the Hasidim, who were making rapid inroads into Belorussia, to the renowned Vilna Gaon, Eliyahu ben Shelomoh Zalman. Although some scholars differ, a majority agree that it was the Gaon who in turn galvanized the leading Jewish communities of Lithuania and Belorussia, such as Vilna, Brisk, and Minsk—in addition to Brody in Galicia—into a major battle with Hasidism. This battle was initially engaged through rabbinical letters of excommunication forbidding the establishment of Hasidic prayer houses, ordering the public burning of Hasidic literature, encouraging the humiliation and even imprisonment of Hasidic leaders, and banning contact with them or their followers.
...A public letter from the Jewish community of Vilna, bearing the signature of the Vilna Gaon, is the first document included in Zemir ‘aritsim ve-ḥarvot tsurim. It appeared shortly after the Passover festival of 1772, and accused Hasidim of a variety of religious offenses, focusing in particular on the allegedly phony and supercilious nature of their displays of piety—characterized by ecstatic prayers, recited in unsanctioned, breakaway synagogues, that included twirls and somersaults—along with their dancing, smoking, and drinking. Generally, the ban that was the subject of this letter condemned what was deemed as the Hasidim’s inappropriate, irreverently joyful demeanor in the service of God and their disregard for Torah study and disrespect for rabbinical scholars. All this stood in sharp contrast to the ascetic, dour, and severely scholarly demeanor of the Gaon and his disciples. The main reason that Hasidism ultimately made far fewer inroads into northeastern Europe—western and northern Lithuania in particular—was the enormous and enduring influence of the Vilna Gaon in that region, and the attribution to him of the fiercest opposition to the new movement.
The death of the Gaon in 1797 and the decision of the tsarist government in 1804 to legalize Hasidic prayer houses and severely restrict the anti-Hasidic measures of the Misnagdim had the combined effect of dashing the Misnagdim’s dreams of utterly destroying Hasidism. These setbacks initially led to even more vitriolic anti-Hasidic sentiments in the polemical literature, however, along with harsher, at times desperate, Misnagdic communal measures that continued well into the nineteenth century, both in Eastern Europe and in Palestine. (Source)
If you find yourself uncomfortable with much of Hasidic teaching or practice, you are not without a prominent leg to stand on. But, the best proof of my contention that it is based primarily on the cult of personality is the fact that no one is allowed to question any aspect of the movement and no criticism is allowed. To even suggest that one is opposed to anything about it results in being utterly and completely cut off with no further contact.

What is happening now with regard to Breslov Rabbi Eliezer Berland is another example of what I term the excesses of Hasidism related to the cult of personality. I have been urged by a few people to make some statement on this matter via my blog. As a response to this urging, I will enumerate my concerns.
  • The charges brought against this rabbi are extremely serious and they come from several women from within his community.
  • The rabbi is reportedly on tape confessing his crimes.
  • The rabbi ran all over the world to escape extradition when he was originally only wanted for questioning.
  • At the same time, I am unaware of any rabbi of standing speaking publicly against him.
Therefore, I take no position with regard to guilt. I'm not on a beit din and have not been made privy to the testimony of witnesses, so that's not my place. However, I have heard his defenders claim that he "falsely confessed' in order to preserve his life. I find two problems with that: 1) where is the great Tzadik's faith that his fate and his healing is ultimately in Hashem's hands, and 2) what about the halachah that one is obligated to give up his life rather than create a public desecration of God's name? Is it possible that a man on the exalted level that is claimed for this rabbi could really have been coerced into making a false confession? 

Thank God, I do not feel the need to answer these questions. I have rabbis whom I consult regarding questions which directly impact my life, but I have no need for a "Tzadik" to be my intercessor with HKB"H

I keep a distance from all things Hasidic in any case because of its history and because of what I see from its representatives. I didn't escape one cult just to fall in with another. 

It is my personal opinion that any benefits it might have had to offer are far outweighed by the problems it presents. One can be a Litvak and experience every bit as much joy and devekut with HKB"H without the controversial baggage. 

One thing I am certain of in my own mind. Mashiach will not be someone who runs all over the world to escape answering criminal charges that have been brought against him, deservedly or not. And I can't imagine what kind of Mashiach he would be if he falsely confessed to crimes he did not commit in order to obtain medical treatment.

I'll close this subject with a general warning which appears to be in order. Do not be impressed by miracle healings, miracle blessings and miracle results to prayers. ALL of these can be accomplished by fakers, because "...the Lord, your God, is testing you, to know whether you really love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul."

Ein od milevado.

20 February 2018

Israel's Vulnerability to An Attack By Iran

6 Adar 5778

This is the week of Parashat Zachor: "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way." But, it's not enough to remember what Amalek did. We have to also remember why he was successful against us.
Idolatry in the camp of Israel (The Book of Our Heritage, Eliyahu Kitov)
You followed me in the wilderness in a land that was not planted (Yirmeyahu 2:2) – The Sages explained: This [the complete dependence on G-d that characterized Israel’s existence in the desert] is only temporary and will last only as long as you are on the way [to the Land of Israel] and until the Torah is permanently implanted within you. Afterwards, you shall enter the land which is My place, and you will plant at the time of planting, sow at the time of sowing, and harvest at the time of harvesting, and I shall grant you bounty greater than any other nation or land.
However, the imperative to remove all traces of idolatry and to serve only G-d—this is incumbent upon you now and for generations to come. Have you removed the foreign gods from your midst? Have you brought yourselves under My wing and shattered all of your idols? Let Amalek come and examine you. If your hearts are completely with Me, you have nothing to fear. But if there is among you a man or woman whose soul still clings to the idols of Egypt and their abominations, let them [the idols] come and save you from the wicked Amalek! The verse therefore states: And Amalek came (Shemos 17;8)…and he tailed after you [striking] all the weak who fell behind (Devarim 25;18).
After he tailed after you—R. Nachman explained: All those whom the “protective cloud” cast out were caught by Amalek. The Sages explained: This refers to the tribe of Dan who were cast out by the “protective cloud” because they were all idol-worshipers. The idol which Michah had created was in their midst, and there were many among them who had not wholeheartedly resolved to serve God alone (Yalkut Shimoni, Parashas Ki Setze).

The complete obliteration of Amalek will occur at the time of the final redemption, immediately preceding the month of Nisan. A trace of that obliteration is felt each year during Purim, which falls in the month preceding Nisan. The reading of Parashas Zachor was therefore prescribed for this time of year.
Now, Amalek comes to threaten us again, davka this week at this time of year...

And sinners among our people have allied themselves with idolatry at the center of power in our country, davka now, this week before Purim, Parashat Zachor, in the shadow of the threat of war with Amalek.

May all the enemies of God and Israel fall, never to rise again.

We've Lost Their Minds

5 Adar 5778

In the war for hearts and minds, we've lost the minds of the vast majority of people already. They are so far gone that I don't see any possible way to get them back. Take this story as a case in point...
Shocking: IDF Accused of Coordinating Settlers’ Expulsion with their Arab Neighbors
...Samaria residents were astonished to discover Monday night that the Arab village of Baita had posted on its Facebook page that the IDF had informed them ahead of time about the evacuation of the Evyatar outpost, News 0404 reported.

Evyatar was established in April 2016, near the Tapuach junction, by some 50 families, in memory of Evyatar Borovsky HY’D, who was stabbed to death at the Tapuach junction five years ago.

The first post, at 8:18 AM Monday, declared: “By the promises of the occupation army on Friday… The outposts are scheduled to be removed today from mount Sbeih…” (sic)
Amazingly, Monday night the outpost was evacuated, which suggests the IDF move had been coordinated with the village that produced the very murderers of Evyatar Borovsky. The evacuation of seven homes was violent, and three Jewish residents – while the murderers looked on.
Have they become so inured to the fact of these "uprootings" that they are only "shocked" that it was done with so little compassion and regret?
...The Samaria Settlers’ Committee meanwhile issued a statement saying, “It is inconceivable that the Civil Administration would coordinate the evacuation of a settlement with a village of murderers … The Civil Administration seems to have forgotten who is an enemy and who is a friend.”
Do their ears even hear what their mouths say??? Does a "friend" (not to mention a "brother") violently uproot a person from his home??? 

I call on these people to reclaim their lost minds and return to sanity!! Those who come to uproot are also the enemy. Do not be shocked or surprised when they make common cause with those who do not appear in the guise of friendship or brotherhood. 

18 February 2018

Wine Season Is Upon Us

3 Adar 5778

I recently heard from Rav Richter the following which he brought from the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, if I am not mistaken...

There are two issurim regarding Jews, gentiles and the drinking of wine: 1) Jews may not drink wine together with gentiles; and, 2) Jews may not drink wine served by gentiles.  [See further here and here.]

The resulting separation that this brings about between Jews and gentiles is what saved us during this season of time on two different occasions.

The two "Peh" holidays - Purim and Pesach - feature the drinking of wine prominently in their narratives. 

In Egypt, we kept our language, our Hebrew names and our distinct mode of dress, remaining separate and apart from the Egyptians, hence we merited to drink the four cups of wine at the Pesach seder.

On the other hand, in exile in the Persian Empire, the Jews sat and ate and drank wine in the presence of King Achashverosh and his nation at a grand banquet and were nearly destroyed as a result. Now, every Purim, when we sit and drink wine in holiness with our fellow Jews at the Purim seudah, we are making a tikun for that sin of mixing with the gentiles and drinking wine with them.

With this in mind, it is no mystery why the ovdei avodah zarah of Hayovel attached themselves davka to the wineries of Eretz Yisrael. Their stated goal from the very beginning was to eliminate the separation between Jews and gentiles.  As admitted and even admired by one Jewish writer: "As a group of Christian Zionists, Hayovel acts as a bridge between the two religions in a totally unprecedented manner,...."

Further to the wine, their idolatrous worship of the man-god Yeshu is indivisible from their volunteer work davka in Israel's vineyards!
HaYovel Ministries has designated "worship leaders" to guarantee that "praise and worship" is ongoing continuously in the vineyards during the working period. 
Volunteer Nate Taylor: "A group of worship leaders who have taken different times throughout the day to make sure that there's continuous praise/worship and prayer throughout the vineyards. These vineyards belong to our Abba (God, the Father) in that our praise and worship is an important part of that cycle to recognize who Ha-Shem is. I believe it does motivate and encourage others, not only to work harder and faster, but they're not even thinking about that, they're thinking about how we praise Ha-Shem throughout the day, not only with our words and our lips, but with our actions."  
An affiliate of HaYovel encouraging their followers to volunteer writes:
I have drunk the wine from the hills of Samaria. That is the wine that, one day, the Messiah will drink at the great reunion in Jerusalem for all His Believers!!
...What if you were among the workers, who picked the grapes, of the winery from which the Messiah picks that big bottle of wine??!! 
HaYovel writes in a newsletter:
At HaYovel we absolutely love weddings! .....and because we believe the vineyards have been and are being prophetically planted, pruned and harvested on the mountains of Israel specifically for the wine served at the great wedding feast in Jerusalem .....we feel it is important for us to do anything and everything we can to help.    [See further here.]
The WINE is a running theme with them in their end times vision, right up to the present day.

 More about wine and avodah zarah here...

May all the true Jews merit to do teshuvah and present themselves a pure and holy, completely separate nation to HKB"H, especially at this season which mirrors our redemption.

14 February 2018

The Only Way To Go Is Up

30 Shevat 5778
Rosh Chodesh Adar א

When Adar comes in, joy is supposed to increase, but this being the tenth anniversary of the Mercaz HaRav Massacre clearly indicates that is not always the case. We can only count on such things when we are being all that we can be. The following shiur by Rav Yehuda HaCohen Richter of Elon Moreh points out where we are lacking. It's up to us to make the necessary corrections to insure that Klal Yisrael will indeed see only happy times in the month of Adar.

The only solace this generation is assured is that once we have hit rock bottom, and we're pretty close now, the only way left to go is up.

09 February 2018

"What Kind of Mashiach Will We Have?"

24 Shevat 5778
Erev Shabbat Kodesh
Parashat Mishpatim - Sh'qalim

If you are looking for a different Mashiach from the one portrayed here, you will find yourself on the wrong side of the future...