08 April 2020

Ask the Right Question This Pesach

14 Nisan 5780

We usually have Four Questions at Pesach, this year another has popped up...

My opinion:  Do not ask, "Why is Hashem doing this to us?"  Rather ask, "Why is Hashem allowing our enemies to do this to us?"

My opinion:  This might be the response...
...all the nations of the world will shout from terror, fall upon their faces in fear and undergo such horrible pains as strong as labor pains.

And the Jewish people will shout from fear and say, "To where do we turn?! To where do we run?!"

And HKB"H will say unto them, "My children, do not be afraid; all that I have done here, I have done only for you. What do you fear? The time for your Redemption has arrived!"
Soon,  b'ezrat Hashem!!


07 April 2020

Wishing Klal Yisrael the Most Meaningful Pesach Ever

13 Nisan 5780

If you have not already heard it or even if you have, please don't miss Rabbi Yehudah Richter's latest shiur on Burning Chametz, the War on Corona, and the Messiah. (It is also posted on the right column under a different title.)

With prayers for the final downfall of "Egypt" and our going forth from "slavery to freedom" once again to serve Hashem as He has commanded us...

06 April 2020

Are We Now in the Nine Months of Foreign Rule?

12 Nisan 5780
Rabbi Yehuda said: (Moshiach) Ben David will not come until the wicked Roman kingdom will spread throughout the World for nine months.
...It is written in the Zohar, that Chevlei Moshiach will be divided into two separate periods: a period of seventy years... and a period of nine months...In the last nine months of the golus, the troubles shall greatly increase, and, at the end of this period, there will be a great fear, and then the Moshiach will be revealed.
It is my opinion that this nine-month period may have started this Rosh Chodesh Shevat, but before I explain why I think so, allow me to back up to Israeli Independence Day 2019.  The 5th of Iyyar fell on May 10th.  That ended 70 complete years since the founding of the modern State of Israel.  Clearly that was the end of Erev Rav rule as there hasn't been an actual sitting government since!

Five days later on the secular anniversary date - May 15th - a fancy ceremony took place in Jerusalem to celebrate the opening of an embassy for the United States of America in Israel's capitol.  It seems this should have been the beginning of the nine months of foreign rule, but Israel's successive failures to elect a government prevented it, giving us an extension of time in the interim.  But, finally, on January 27, 2020 - Rosh Chodesh Shevat - unable to restrain himself any longer, US President Donald Trump revealed the political part of his Peace Plan to the Israeli leadership and with their approval, it was made public the following day.

Among many other details, what matters most is what it has to say about the Temple Mount and Jerusalem because we know from the Prophets that the nations want to rule from there and that this is the ultimate "red line."
And it shall come to pass on that day that I will make Jerusalem a stone of burden for all peoples; all who bear it shall be gashed, and all the nations of the earth shall gather about it. (Zechariah 12:3)
From the Peace to Prosperity Document aka "The Deal of the Century"... 

(Click to enlarge)

The United States recognizes the heightened sensitivity surrounding Jerusalem, a city that means so much to so many.
Jerusalem is a city unique in the history of civilization. No other place on earth can claim significance to three major religions. Each day, Jews pray at the Western Wall, Muslims bow in prayer at the al-Aqsa Mosque and Christians worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Throughout history, Jerusalem has been subject to war and conquest. It has been used to divide people and to instigate conflict by those with evil intentions. But it does not have to be this way.
Jerusalem must remain a city that brings people of all faiths together to visit, to worship, to respect each other and to appreciate the majesty of history and the glory of God’s creation.

After the Six Day War in 1967, when the State of Israel took control over all of  Jerusalem, the State of Israel assumed responsibility for protecting all of the city’s holy sites. Those holy sites include, without limitation, the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the Western Wall, the Muslim Holy Shrines, Church of St. Anne, Via Dolorosa (Stations of the Cross), Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Church of Viri Galilaei, Church of St. Stephen, Dormition Abbey, Tomb of the Virgin Mary, Room of the Last Supper, Augusta Victoria Church of Ascension, Garden of Gethsemane, Church of Mary Magdalene, Dominus Flevit Church, Pater Noster Church, Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, Church of the Ascension, The Russian Church, Secours Catholique ‘House of Abraham,’ Mount Scopus, Hurva Synagogue, Tomb of Absalom, Tomb of Zechariah, Second Temple Pilgrimage Road, Tomb of the Prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, Gihon Spring, City of David, Mount of Olives, Sambuski Jewish Cemetery, and the Pool of Siloam.

Unlike many previous powers that had ruled Jerusalem, and had destroyed the holy sites of other faiths, the State of Israel is to be commended for safeguarding the religious sites of all and maintaining a religious status quo. Given this commendable record for more than half a century, as well as the extreme sensitivity regarding some of Jerusalem’s holy sites, we believe that this practice should remain, and that all of Jerusalem’s holy sites should be subject to the same governance regimes that exist today. In particular the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif should continue uninterrupted.

Jerusalem’s holy sites should remain open and available for peaceful worshippers and tourists of all faiths. People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.
Four days earlier, on January 23, 2020, Wuhan, China was "locked down" due to a viral pandemic.  From then until now, the virus, as well as the resulting "lockdown" effect, has spread worldwide, each nation instituting the exact same measures along the exact same time frame, obviously in accordance with a pre-determined global plan.   

In Israel, it has reached a point where chareidi religious Jewish neighborhoods and cities, as well as some Arab villages, have complete restriction of movement in and out.  We have been informed that all of Israel will be under curfew on Leil HaSeder.

I will be looking for some big move on Jerusalem during the coming days as the three world religions with connections to Jerusalem will be celebrating their biggest holidays of the year - Passover, Easter and Ramadan.  And it looks to be something that will be especially upsetting to chareidi Jews and Arabs.

If I'm right that we are now in the nine months of foreign rule, The Powers That Be will want to make some public show of their new sovereign status in Holy Yerushalayim, God forbid and save us from the Evil Ones!!

03 April 2020

The Tenth of Nisan - Shabbat HaGadol

9 Nisan 5780
Erev Shabbat Kodesh
Parashat Tzav - Shabbat HaGadol

As it did at the time of Yetziat Mitzrayim, the tenth day of Nisan this year falls out on Shabbat.

One of the reasons given by Chazal for why the Shabbat just prior to Pesach is called Shabbat Hagadol is that this is the day the Hebrews brought the Passover lambs into their homes and the Egyptians did not take retribution against them.
Shemot 8:22~

Pharaoh summoned Moshe and Aharon and said, "Go - bring offerings to your God in the land." Moshe said, "It is not proper to do so, for we will offer the deity of Egypt to Hashem, our God - behold, if we were to slaughter the deity of Egypt in their sight, will they not stone us?"
As we all know, Pharaoh did not let the people go and the lambs were taken into the Hebrews' dwellings for four days until the time came to slaughter them and roast them whole over an open fire for all the world to see and know that Hashem is God over all.

Can you imagine the sound of the bleating up and down all the streets? This was quite an in-your-face insult to Egypt, but they bore it without repercussion and Chazal considered it a miracle. Hence - Shabbat Hagadol.

Remember this:  Faith only becomes real when it is put to the test.


For those with enough time to read, here is a very interesting and more detailed account by Daniel Pinner...
Shabbat ha-Gadol, “the Great Shabbat”, the Shabbat immediately before Pesach, commemorates our final Shabbat in Egypt, 3,324 years ago, just five days before the Exodus.

G-d had commanded the erstwhile slaves: “On the tenth of this month they will take to themselves – each man – a lamb for each father’s house…it will be for you to guard it until the fourteenth day of this month; then they will slaughter it – the entire assembly of the Congregation of Israel – at the onset of twilight.” (Exodus 12:3-6).

The Midrash expounds: “The Jews would tie [the lamb] to their bed-posts from the tenth of the month on; when the Egyptians would enter [the Jews’ houses], they would see the lambs thus, and their souls would explode in rage” (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, Parashat ha-Chodesh s.v. dabru; Yalkut Shimoni, Bo 191).

The lamb was the Egyptian god, and for the Egyptians’ former slaves to show such contempt for their god and their religion drove them insane with impotent fury.

Obviously, the corollary was that for the Jews to openly treat their former masters’ god with such contempt took tremendous courage and faith in G-d. Keeping this god tied to a bed-post for four days was a continuous challenge to Egypt; it demanded far more dedication than a single impetuous act of bravery in a moment of excitement.

The Midrash continues: “‘Moshe called to all the elders of Israel, saying to them: Draw forth the flock and take it to yourselves’ (Exodus12:21) – every single one must drag around a god of Egypt, and slaughter it in front of them”. They had to extend this brazenness into the public squares and streets of Egypt, by slaughtering and roasting the Egyptian god in front of the Egyptians.

G-d commanded them to “eat it roasted over fire…do not eat of it raw [partially roasted], or cooked in water – only fire-roasted, its head with its legs with its innards” (Exodus 12:8-9).

Why this specific way of preparing the meat? – “Because it was an abomination for the Egyptians, slaughter it. And so that no [Jew] would say, We won’t roast it thoroughly lest it infuriate the Egyptians, it says ‘do not eat of it raw [partially roasted]’. And so that no Jew would say, We will cook it and thus conceal it in a pot, it says ‘do not eat of it …cooked in water’. And so that no Jew would say, We will cut off its head and its legs so they won’t recognise it, it says ‘its head with its legs with its innards’” (Da’at Z’keinim mi-Ba’alei Tosafot, Exodus 12:9). The Pesach sacrifice was a massive act of defiance against the idolatrous Egyptian oppressors.

The Midrash (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana ibid. and Yalkut Shimoni ibid.) further continues: “Their taking of the lamb stood by them at the River Jordan, and their eating of it stood by them in the days of Haman: they had eaten the flesh on this night– the night when ‘the king’s sleep eluded him’ (Esther 6:1)”.

The day they took the lamb, the 10th of Nisan, was the day that they would cross the River Jordan into Israel forty years later (Joshua 4:19). And the day that they ate it was the day that Achashverosh’s sleep would elude him 957 years later, in the days of Mordechai and Esther: Haman had promulgated his decree of genocide on the 13th of Nisan (Esther 3:12), so the three days of fasting that Esther decreed (4:16) were the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Nisan.

Hence the day that Esther risked her life by donning royal apparel and going to King Achashverosh (Esther 5:1) was the first day of Pesach, so the previous night, when ‘the king’s sleep eluded him’, was the night of the 14th of Nisan (see Esther Rabbah 8:7; Yalkut Shimoni, Esther 1056; Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 50; Seder Olam Rabbah, Chapter 29; Targum, Esther 5:1 et. al.).

The Talmud (Shabbat 87b) and the Midrash (Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishma’el, Beshallach, Masechet de-Vayasa 1) record that the day of the Exodus, 15th Nisan 2448 (1312 B.C.E.), was a Thursday. “So they slaughtered their Pesach sacrifices on the Wednesday, and it was on the previous Shabbat that they had taken their Pesach lambs, because that was the tenth of the month. And it is therefore called Shabbat ha-Gadol – the Great Shabbat, because a great miracle was wrought thereon” (Tosafot, Shabbat 87b s.v. ve-oto yom).

The Shulchan Aruch cites this as practical halachah: “The Shabbat which is before Pesach is called Shabbat ha-Gadol because of the miracle that happened thereon” (Orach Chayim 430:1). The Mishnah Berurah (ad. loc.) explains: “In the year that they left Egypt, the 10th of Nisan fell on a Shabbat. Every single Jew had taken the lamb for his Pesach sacrifice and tied it to his bed-post… The Egyptians saw this, and asked them ‘Why are you doing this?’ They responded, ‘In order to slaughter it for the purpose of Pesach, as Hashem has commanded us’.

Their teeth were set on edge because they slaughtered their god, yet they were unable even to say anything to them. And because the tenth of the month then was a Shabbat, the Shabbat before Pesach was ever after to be called Shabbat ha- Gadol”.

The Haftarah reading for Shabbat ha-Gadol is the very last prophetic vision ever – the concluding 21 verses of the prophecy of Malachi, the last prophet, who prophesied during the early Second Temple era. After castigating Israel for their lack of gratitude to G-d and their defiling of the Holy Temple with their sub-standard sacrifices, Malachi portrays the Messianic era.

The Haftarah begins by contrasting the future glorious time with our past misdeeds: “Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to Hashem, as in days of old and as in former years” (Malachi 3:4). In his final message – the message which seals prophecy for all time – until the coming of the Messiah - he exhorts Israel: “Remember the Torah of Moshe My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, decrees and statutes. Behold! I send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of Hashem comes”.

An obvious question arises: why did our Sages select just this prophecy as the Haftarah for Shabbat ha-Gadol? If they wanted to link the redemption from
Egypt with the final Messianic Redemption, then why not select one of the more impressive prophetic passages from Isaiah? Or why not one of Jeremiah’s magnificent descriptions of the final Redemption, which he depicts as being even more majestic than the redemption from Egypt (for example, 16:14 onwards, or 31:30 onwards)?

I suggest the following answer:

The Targum (Malachi 1:1) identifies Malachi as Ezra, which is also the opinion of two Talmudic sages, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha and Rabbi Nahman (Megillah 15a; Yalkut Shimoni, Malachi 586). Later sages, however, disagree: the Radak and the Ibn Ezra (commentary to Malachi 1:1) are of the opinion that Malachi was a separate prophet. The Rambam (Introduction to the Mishneh Torah), Rashi (commentary to Sukkah 44a and Bava Batra 15a), and Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartinura (commentary to Pirkei Avot 1:1) all state that Malachi was part of Ezra’s Beit Din (the Men of the Great Assembly).

On the 15th of Nisan they were redeemed from Egypt; and on the 15th of Nisan they will in the future be redeemed from subjugation to exile” (Tanhuma, Bo 9).
What is undisputed is that the prophet Malachi lived through the second redemption – the return of the exiles from the Babylonian/Persian exile and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Malachi was born during a period of exile, of destruction, when the majority of Jews were in foreign lands and the Land of Israel was under foreign occupation, with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem lying desolate.

Malachi witnessed King Cyrus’ proclamation, granting the Jews the right to return to Israel and rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra1:1-3, 2 Chronicles 36:22-23); he was part of the second redemption, the end of the Babylonian/Persian exile.

It was no coincidence that during the second redemption, the first festival that the Jews celebrated was Pesach (Ezra 6:15-22); neither was it coincidence that Ezra began his Aliyah journey on the 1st of Nisan (7:9), and led his followers from the River Ahava – the last leg of the journey to Israel – on the 12th of Nisan (8:31).

Malachi’s prophecy, then, is the synthesis between the first, second, and third redemptions, and is therefore the perfect reading for Shabbat ha-Gadol. Malachi had a unique perspective on Redemption, because he had experienced redemption in his own life.

“On the 15th of Nisan…[G-d] spoke to Abraham our father in the Covenant between the Parts; on the 15th of Nisan the ministering angels came to announce to him that his son Isaac would be born to him; on the 15th of Nisan Isaac was born; on the 15th of Nisan they were redeemed from Egypt; and on the 15th of Nisan they will in the future be redeemed from subjugation to exile” (Tanhuma, Bo 9).

As we begin to celebrate the first redemption, it is especially relevant that the prophecy of the prophet who, during the second redemption, foretold the final and eternal Redemption, resounds in every synagogue.

02 April 2020

Getting Ready to Greet Mashiach - It's Not Easy and It's Not Simple

8 Nisan 5780

Yesterday, I wrote: "With full acknowledgement that Hashem is in control of everything in His world, there are things which are perpetrated by human beings, like the Holocaust for example, that HKB"H, for His own reasons, allows to happen."

To clarify that statement further, there is no question in my mind that HKB"H has sent the coronavirus.  The only question in my mind is whether He sent it directly, like the plagues of Egypt?  Or did He appoint human emissaries to carry it out?  As the prophet Zechariah (1:14-15) tells us.... 
Call out, saying, 'Thus said Hashem, Master of Legions:  I have become zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion, a great zeal; and I am wrathful, a great wrath against the complacent nations, who, when I became slightly wrathful, augmented the evil.  
[Commentary]  When I decreed that a nation be a "rod of punishment" for My people, they exceeded their mandate and magnified the ordained punishment many times over.
Quoting from the book Redemption Unfolding by Alexander Aryeh Mandelbaum (Feldheim Publishers):
In the Torah it states (Devorim 21:29):  "And this trouble has befallen you, in the End of Days, for you shall do evil in the eyes of HaShem to anger him."
In reference to the troubles of Chevlei Moshiach, the prophet Zecharya said (Zecharya 13:9):  "And I shall bring one third into fire, and I shall refine them as one refines silver, and I shall assay them as one assays gold." 
The Malbim comments:  'And I shall bring' - the third of Klal Yisroel that remains at the End of Days will suffer yissurim - fire - to refine and separate them from the dross; 'and I shall refine them' - to remove the dross; 'and I shall assay them' - after their purification, HaShem will assay them a second time, to see if they have been purified as they should have been.  This is the same way one processes gold, which is smelted and refined more than silver, until only pure gold remains.  We learn from here that HaShem will allow only those who are completely righteous (tzaddikim gemurim) to live and merit the Final Redemption.
...It is written in the Zohar, that Chevlei Moshiach will be divided into two separate periods: a period of seventy years... and a period of nine months...In the last nine months of the golus, the troubles shall greatly increase, and, at the end of this period, there will be a great fear, and then the Moshiach will be revealed.
Is what we are experiencing now the "great fear" or is this just the beginning of the nine months with the prophesied "great fear" yet to come at Chanukah 5781?  We may yet look back on this time and say it wasn't as bad as it could get.  But, I really pray this really is the end of the nine months with Pesach 5780!

From Rabbi Pinchas Winston's commentary on Parashat Vayakhel-Pekuday... 
...Redemption is not a door you just walk through. It is one you have be READY to walk through.
Therefore, God increased the slavery of the Jews before the exodus. The time for redemption had come, they had not been ready, and the increased slavery made up for the difference. Therefore, God sent Haman in Mordechai’s and Esther’s time. The time for redemption had come, the Jewish people had not been ready, so God sent Haman to speed things up.

The end is near. Exactly which one, nobody is really quite sure. Personally, based upon what I have seen and worked out, I think the final one. Yes, I know, that sounds too good (or bad) to be true. But that’s what I believe, especially since today’s “Haman” is a global one. It is affecting so many Jews and their ability to get to Eretz Yisroel.

If ever our choices have mattered, it has been over the last few decades. But if this is truly the end, and it should be a glorious one and one we can enjoy, then the choices we make today count the most. Four-fifths of the Jewish people died in the plague of darkness, because they made a very wrong last-minute decision. The Talmud expects a similar scenario at the end of days as well.

Look past the headlines. Look at the Torah’s version of history. Make the right choices. It is those that will separate you out to the side of good, or, God forbid, to the side of bad.