What Is Wrong with Self Hating Jews?

There is one word that screams out volumes of psychological insight into Joseph's brothers. After their father Jacob had passed away, the brothers convince themselves that Joseph was going to seek revenge. They said amongst themselves, "Perhaps (lu) Joseph will now hate us and return the evil that we did to him upon us." They then send a message to Joseph in the name of their deceased father begging him to forgive them. When they come before him, they throw themselves on the ground and proclaim, "We will now be your slaves." Joseph cries when he hears this. He reiterates that they should feel no guilt, that this was God's plan to save an entire nation.

The word is "lu," which is translated as meaning "perhaps." In truth, this word is never used to mean perhaps other than here. Usually, it means "would that it were so!" It is an expression of wishing! A subtext here is that the brothers actually desired Joseph to take revenge upon them. Indeed, the distasteful scene where they throw themselves on the floor and offer themselves as slaves indicates a desire on their part to get back what they gave. They wanted Joseph to take revenge, for some deep psychological reason. What was it?

I remember encountering this unhealthy feeling when visiting one of the concentration camps in Poland. As we left Birkenau, the friend I was traveling with made an extraordinary comment. "Why do we deserve to be able to walk out of here alive and free?" Had we been there in the early 1940s, we probably would have been murdered.

I was taken aback by the question. I understood it, and the underlying mindset bothered me greatly. Our living a normal life should not have been the question. The question should have been "How was it that they could not walk out of here alive and free?" The question he asked almost assumed that Jew hatred was normal, that Auschwitz was the way things should have been. I'm sure he didn't mean this, but some element of it was implicit in that question.

The brothers were seized by guilt, about that there is no question. But had they properly and completely reconciled with Joseph? No, they had not. Why? Because they could not forgive themselves. That is strange, too. If Joseph had not shown any grudge towards them, why did they show it towards themselves? If Joseph seemingly forgave them, why could they not forgive themselves?

Perhaps it is because they never understood what it means to be a brother. They never understood what it means to be part of the human race. They saw Joseph's dreaming and favoritism as a threat to themselves. It was a zero sum game, and if Joseph was the victor, then they must be the vanquished. They could not conceive of a win-win situation, and therefore Joseph has to take revenge upon them. They are almost begging him to do so! This is because it is harder for a person to change his worldview than it is to become enslaved in Egypt. Internal slavery, to a mistaken ideology, is much harder to escape.

There is an astounding quote attributed to the ancient sage, Hillel. "If I am here, everything is here. If I am not here, who is here?" On the surface, this saying seems extremely egotistical! That is diametrically opposed to Hillel's modest and pleasant demeanor. What does it mean?

My teacher, Rabbi Ahron Soloveitchik, ZT"L, explains its brilliance. "Here" is a physical location that must be defined by other physical locations. There is no place that is disconnected from the rest of the universe. If I say I'm on Main Street, I must define Main Street as being in the town of Pleasantville, in the state of New York, in the country of America, on the continent of North America, on the planet Earth, in the solar system, etc...

So it is with us as people. We are defined by our relationships to other people. In Judaism, a person's name always includes their parents name. Family names are simply based on either ancestry or a town or a profession. Everything about us is defined by where we fit in in the universe. What Hillel is teaching us, then, is a very powerful lesson. We must define ourselves by our place in the world. No one else can occupy our place, "if I am not here, who is here?"

That entails a deep responsibility. Rabbi Akiva taught us that the main rule of the Torah is "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." In order to love our neighbors, we must love ourselves. And in order to love ourselves, we must realize that we are of tremendous value to our neighbors. We must know that we are the creations of God, and we alone occupy our space in the universe. If we set to ourselves the task of improving our neighborhood, of uplifting and helping all who come in our contact, 24/7, for a whole lifetime, we are fulfilling the core of the Torah. According to Hillel, a human being must love themselves and use their space to share that love with the rest of the universe.

There are two aspects of human behavior that are required: turn away from evil, and do good deeds. There is the carrot and the stick. There is justice, which is the righting of wrongs, and there is kindness which is seeking out to do good. The former is cause and effect, and has value in keeping society from anarchy. But it limits each person to their own space, and disconnects them from the rest of the universe. "As long as I don't hurt you, you won't hurt me."

How does this relate to Joseph and the brothers? Joseph brothers were stuck at the level of "Turn away from evil." They lived disconnected from their brother, and really wouldn't have minded had he kept to himself. But Joseph saw his role as being a font of good, and he interpreted his own dreams of leadership as being for the benefit of the family, and of mankind. That is why he told the brothers his dreams, because he really believed he was giving good news for them as well. He was sharing a win-win vision with people who lived in a zero sum world. The result was the tragic sale of Joseph.

So even when they were again reunited in Egypt, the brothers had not significantly changed that internal feeling. "There must be revenge, we must become slaves, because otherwise our zero sum world makes no sense!," the may have thought. If they would only internalize Hillel's message. If the brothers would say to themselves, "yes, even Joseph's sale was a good thing, it saved an entire nation," their guilt would disappear. It wouldn't even occur to them that Joseph should seek revenge. They would see in Joseph a true partner for fixing the world.

And that is the lesson for the self hating Jews. They are stuck in the world of guilt, of needing to feel hated and persecuted. They can't understand how the world could recognize that the Jewish people, unlike any other nation, lives to make the world a better place. It is ironic that we are accused of the exact opposite of what we actually do. We are more humane, more concerned about the value of human life than anyone, yet the same self haters are blind to this and accuse us of the opposite, of cruelty.

When every Jew, indeed when every human being, says to himself, "how can I improve all of those with whom I have contact?", the world will be on its way towards healing.

Macabbees, settlers, zealots and successful rebellions

The Bible tells the tragic story of Joseph and his brothers. There is one character who plays a critical role in the whole story, but is hardly mentioned. This is none other than the angel Gabriel. Where, you may ask, does Gabriel come into the picture? He's the guy that gives directions.

You see, Jacob had sent his favorite son, Joseph, to check up on his other sons who were away with the flocks. Joseph travels north, and can't find them. According to the Bible, a "man" finds Joseph wandering lost in the field. He asks him what he wants, and Joseph says he's looking for his brothers. The "man" proceeds to give Joseph directions. End of story. Without that man, Joseph might not have found the brothers, and might never have been sold into Egyptian slavery. The whole thing could have been completely different.

Earlier in the Torah, we met another such "Man." This was the man whom Jacob fought with before his confrontation with his brother, Esau. However, that "man" is not identified as the angel Gabriel. Instead, he is identified as the guardian angel of Esau.

How do the sages know that one "man" is the angel Gabriel, while the other is the guardian angel of Esau? What was the difference?

A Hasidic rabbi gave a somewhat lighthearted answer, which is not so lighthearted at all. He pointed out that the "man" whom Jacob struggled with was in a hurry to leave Jacob and fly back to heaven in order to sing the praises of God. Jacob had to force him to remain and give him a blessing. In other words, this angel put singing God's praises ahead of helping another being.

Contrast that with the "man" who meets Joseph. He is willing to help, has the patience to give directions and be of service to another being. Thus, the "good" angel Gabriel is always willing to help out. His own songs of praise can wait. The other "man" disdains helping others, especially if it interferes with his own service of God. That is the guardian angel of Esau. Esau was someone who took care of number one. He saw the world is there to take care of him, and did not see himself as there to take care of the world.

I believe that is the difference between the two revolts. In the first case, the Maccabees represented the silent majority of the people. Most of the Jews were appalled by the open anti-Semitism of the Syrian Greeks. They had defiled the temple, forbidden observance of circumcision and the Sabbath. They put an altar to Zeus right in the Jewish Temple. Even the less religious among the Jews were appalled. Only the completely assimilated elites identified with Antiochus and the Syrian Greeks.

Thus, their rebellion reflected the will of the majority, silent or otherwise, of the Jewish people. They were connected to their fellows and not focused on their own particular spiritual interests.

In the second Temple, however, the main rebels were a minority in their own people. They were known as zealots, and in one tragic incident burned the food supplies in Jerusalem in order to force their fellow Jews to do battle with the Romans.

Now, there is no doubt that the Romans were an oppressive power. However, they did not stop the Temple service as the Syrian Greeks had two centuries before. They did not ban Judaism. There were still sages and Torah study amongst the people. One of the great leaders was rabbi Jochanan ben Zakai, who urged accommodation with Rome. He did not want to see the bloodshed of an unnecessary battle, and feared it would bring great tragedy on the people. And history was soon to speak.

So in this second revolt, the main rebels were disconnected from their fellows. They did not have unity of support. Instead, they forced themselves on the people. Like the guardian angel of Esau, they put their focus on themselves. They wanted a certain type of spirituality, and everyone else be damned. Our sages claim that the second Temple was destroyed because of the sin of baseless hatred. I suspect that this is what they referred to.

So in order for the Jewish people to strengthen their homeland, they must be unified. I think it is of prime importance that the so-called "settlers," the Jewish residents of the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria, reach out to all Israelis and Jews worldwide. Instead of appearing to the less connected as being fanatics and zealots, they must make those Jews understand who they really are. They are fine, peace-loving, ethical citizens who would love nothing more than to have peace and friendship with their Arab neighbors. (Of course there are fanatics on every side of the map, but they do not represent the masses of people -- unless they seize power.)

In other words, they need to work like the Maccabees, to inspire the entire nation. It's a tough job. The best way to do it is through personal contacts. We need to talk to each other. We need to have a dialogue. We need to be guests in each other's homes. We need to visit the communities of Judea and Samaria, and see firsthand just who lives there!

Dialogue, connection, understanding, and unity will be the secrets of our success.

How to Have Super Powers

He saw his cousin, Rachel. That vision gave him super strength. And it was not just because she was pretty! Let's examine this.

This was not Jacob's first encounter with a stone. As he was fleeing Esau's threat, he came to a place to be called Bet El, and slept there. He put a stone under his head, and then dreamed a great prophecy of a ladder stretching from Earth to Heaven, with angels ascending and descending. God then appeared and promised Jacob that He will be with him as he goes to his mother's home town, and that He will return him to The Promised Land after all has blown over.

Jacob, upon awakening, takes the stone he slept upon and makes it into an altar. He then promises that, if God will fulfill His pledge and give him protection and bring him back home, then this stone will become a House of The Lord. Indeed, this would some day be the site of the Holy Temple.

This "promise" Jacob makes is hard to understand, because he conditions it on God fulfilling His word. Is there even a question? God's word is as good as done. What was Jacob doubting?

Jacob was doubting himself. The vision he saw in his dream was no less than a clear representation of the way this world works. There is a physical element, the Earth, and a spiritual element, Heaven. Heaven, the spiritual part of our existence, has the power to defeat any physical limitations. Viktor Frankl, the psychologist who was a prisoner in Auschwitz during the Holocaust, sought to understand how the prisoners, in flimsy garments and suffering from malnutrition, could stand for hours in the Polish winter at roll call and still survive. He came to the conclusion that a spiritual sense of purpose, an overpowering Why, gives a man the power to deal with almost any obstacle and find the How.

Jacob, in distinction from his father, knew his lot was to live in the physical world. Isaac had been deeply sheltered, by his parents and by God, and his interactions with the mundane were none too successful. God had to intervene for him quite a bit. For Isaac to be spiritual was relatively easy, as his whole life had been spirituality. But for Jacob, it was not so clear. His brother Esau was completely "Earthy", and he knew he'd have to deal with all types.

So I believe Jacob doubted himself. He doubted that he would keep the "stones", the earthiness, connected to the "Heaven", his spiritual direction. He was afraid that the ladder he saw in the vision would disappear. Thus, he conditions his promise on God helping him, being with him, keeping him connected.

Thus we see the significance of the stone. It represents the earthy part of our existence. On its own, it is heavy, almost unliftable. But when a powerful spiritual call is heard, the earthy must yield. Jacob, as he first arrives at the well, inquires about his mother's family in town. He is told by the local shepherds that, indeed, they know his uncle Lavan, and behold his daughter, Rachel, is now approaching with his flocks.

So Jacob knows who this pretty girl is! She is his cousin, and she is someone whom his parents have urged him to find to marry. He sees, in that instant, that God is truly with him, and that he has fortuitously come to the right place. Jacon's Ladder is still in place. The excitement of that discovery powers his lifting of the stone.

And so it is with all of us. Our worlds our filled with earthy challenges, with heavy stones to lift. If we are depressed and doubtful, they are heavier still. But if we are inspired with a spiritual mission, if we are overjoyed by the faith that God is connected to us, those stones become light. We can lift them, we can be superhuman.

So it is with the State of Israel, which by all logic should not exist. Surrounded by hostile nations that outnumber her by 30:1, she should never have been able to survive th onslaught. And yet here she is, growing and thriving! That is only because of Jacob's Ladder, of the power of the spiritual connection. As long as the Jewish People sense

Using Emotions to Make Decisions

Esau and Jacob were very different voice. Esau was a hunter, a man of the fields. Jacob was a scholar, a man of the tents. Their parents also differed on their approach to the boys: "Isaac loved Esau, for his hunting was in his mouth. And Rebekah loved Jacob." Later in life, when Isaac came to give the blessing of the firstborn to Esau, Rebekah engineered Jacobs receiving that blessing through deception. It is this story that is the most edifying, so we shall look at it in great depth.

Isaac told Esau to go out into the fields and hunt for him a feast. Thereupon, Isaac would give the blessing to Esau. Esau duly went out to do his father's bidding, while Rebekah overheard the entire exchange. She called Jacob in quickly, encouraged him to pose as Esau and receive the blessing. This could work because Isaac had grown blind at this point in his life.

The trick works, Isaac is fooled and gives the blessing to Jacob. Just as he leaves, Esau arrives with his feast. When he hears his father tell him that someone else had come and received the blessing, Esau is distraught. He begs his father for some blessing, any blessing. After Isaac gives him a secondary blessing, he leaves his father's tent with a promise upon his lips: to kill his brother Jacob after his father Isaac has departed.

Along with the sale of Joseph, this is one of the tragic tales of the book of Genesis. I wish to understand one thing. Why did Isaac require Esau to bring him hunted meat in order to bless him? Was physical enjoyment so important to Isaac? That is certainly impossible to believe. And yet, as in the quote above, we know that Isaac's love for Esau was due to his "hunting in his mouth." What was the significance of this?

Now, Esau was, according to our sages, an evil person. He stole, he killed. We see this in his desire to kill his brother after his father passes away. Why, then, does Isaac wish to bestow the blessing upon him? Why does Rebekah have to conspire with Jacob to get the blessing for him, who truly deserves it? What was Isaac thinking?

I had an intriguing thought on this: perhaps Isaac knew all along that Esau was not nearly as righteous as Jacob, and that he did commit violent acts. Perhaps he also saw that Esau had potential, that he could repent and become a great person. I know people who were completely out of control in their high school years, who became very serious and respected teachers of Torah. I wonder if Isaac was not trying to nudge Esau in that direction.

Very often, responsibility changes in person. The incident early in their lives when Jacob got Esau to sell him his birthright in exchange for some lentil soup may have been what set the tragedy of Esau in motion. Perhaps had Esau kept the birthright, and the responsibility of leadership that comes with it, he might have developed into a different man. As it was, after Jacob had procured it, Esau walked away "and despised the birthright."

According to a rabbinical source, when Isaac sent Esau to get the hunted meat for him, he included a proviso that the meat not be stolen. Firstly, this interpretation indicates that Isaac was aware of Esau's behavior. Secondly, it seems to me that this might be a test. Isaac knew that Esau excelled in honoring him, and this gave him great satisfaction and hope. Perhaps, even if in the outside world he misbehaved, is respect and honor for his father might transform him. It might indicate that there is strong good within him. Thus, Isaac gave him a simple instruction: nothing stolen.

And when he returned, he returned with stolen goods. The blind Isaac senses the opening of purgatory the moment Esau enters. When Jacob had entered, Isaac had smelled the aroma of the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden, there was no theft. Everything belonged to Adam and Eve. But purgatory is for sinners. Thus, Isaac knew that Esau had failed the test, and he then reaffirmed the blessing for Jacob. He had hoped to reform his older son, but realized it was not happening.

I wish to add a new twist to this whole story. Our sages tell us that there are two types of love: 1. A love which is dependent upon a physical factor. 2. A love which is not dependent upon anything physical at all.

The first half of love lasts only as long as that physical factor does. Then it can turn into hate or indifference. The second type of love will last forever. I believe that Isaac and Rebekah represent these two types of love. Isaac loved Esau for a reason, because of the "hunting that was in his mouth," because of his deep respect for his father. An alternative translation of the phrase, "because of the hunting that was in his mouth," could be "as long as the hunting was in his mouth." The word "ki" can mean "because" and it can also mean "during" or "as long as."

I believe that Isaac loved Esau for deep psychological reasons, although he knew intellectually that it was not a well-placed love. Nonetheless, he sought out physical reasons, signs of hope, indications of a goodness that was not there, to justify the love. And, perhaps with the right influence, Esau might have been reformed. Had Jacob not bought his birthright, had the blessing been delivered as planned, maybe Esau would've stepped up to the plate. Much later, when Jacob is returning to the land of Israel, he hides his daughter Dina, lest Esau desire for a wife. Some rabbis are critical of this, claiming that she would have succeeded in reforming him. It is speculation, although Esau did moderate as he aged.

Rebecca, on the other hand, loved Jacob unconditionally. The Torah as no criteria that caused it. That is the difference. A strong emotion can be an indication of a true course of action, as long as the emotion is not accompanied by nagging doubts, and as long as it does not require any justification. Rebecca's internal sense was that Jacob was thoroughly good, and Esau was not. Isaac wanted to loved Esau and favor him, and had to justify it by his remarkable honoring of his father. That wasn't enough.

So be careful when the emotions are not pure, when you feel you need to justify them to choose a course of action. Many women married men who were abusive in nature by justifying their love and grasping at straws to believe that they are not the monsters they are. On the other hand, a true emotion, with no doubts and no need of justification, is a true indication of where the heart is and should be taken seriously.

The Best Disguised Happy Song

A colleague of mine, Cantor Ira Rohde of New York, contrasts The Song at the Sea with Haazinu. The former is an expression of joy, meant to be sung loudly to the whole world. The latter is meant to be an internal song, as Moses is commanded to teach it to the Israelites and "put it into their mouths." In other words, this song goes inward, not outward. It doesn't convert its Sabbath to a Sabbath of Song. It is memorized, and placed into the heart.

Even so, where is the happiness? Does it not need to be happy?

Maybe it doesn't, or maybe the last verse, which prophecies the end of the exile and how "The land shall atone for its people," is enough happiness to justify its designation as a song. Perhaps. Maybe we can look further.

Rabbi Levy Yitschak of Berditchev claims that the entire song has an undertone of happiness to it, perhaps a deeper happiness than even The Song of the Sea. He quotes the Talmud saying that the purpose of exile was for the Jewish nation to attract converts. He continues to explain that those converts were the sparks of holiness among the nations which gave them the merit to contest Israel.

Once those sparks leave the nations and cleave to Israel, the nations have depleted their holiness and will cease. That is the meaning of the phrase, "And he taught it to the Israelites until their completion." The completion referred to is that of the nations. Thus, the exile itself prepares the ultimate redemption. That is happy.

The Torah, however, gives other reasons for exile. Specifically, it is punishment for sins of idolatry, to a certain extent sexual licentiousness, and the violation of the Sabbatical Year. So what does the Talmud mean when it says that exile is for Jews to attract converts? How can the Talmud contradict clear verses in the Torah?

These three sins, idolatry, the sabbatical year and sexual immorality all have one thing in common: they represent a subordination to the physical world, rather than to God, who is above the physical creation. Sexual immorality is an addiction to physical pleasures. It is devoting one's actions to material things. The sabbatical year represents a recognition of God's dominion over the land, by extension over physical possessions. One who violates that has put their material possessions over God's dominion. Idolatry, at its core, represents obedience to the forces of nature. The pagan gods are gods of nature, of the sun, of the River Nile, of fire and water, and so forth.

Another strange reading that we do is the book of Ecclesiastes, a fairly depressing work about the futility of pursuing material things. Why is this strange? Because we read it during the holiday of Sukkot, a holiday called "the time of our rejoicing." Why read such a depressing book?

Because it is not really depressing. It is liberating. Once we learn that true happiness and human fulfillment lie in a Godly life of spirituality, we can feel that true happiness.

I think the same thing is implicit in Haazinu. When the Jews go into exile, they live among the nations that are unburdened by the Torah and its laws. A Jew who looks at all of the restrictions that his religion places upon him may feel jealousy towards his Gentile neighbors. They can indulge freely in physical pleasures. The Canaanite nations created religions that sanctified orgies. They can dedicate their deeds to physical pleasure, and dedicate their property to material desires. Jews might be jealous.

And then, something incredible happens. Converts to Judaism arise. Jews do not proselytize, and yet there are Gentiles who either join the Jewish religion, or adopt many Jewish ethics and practices. Indeed, many evangelicals subscribe to the exact Torah values of spirituality and the subjugation of materialism to it that we have talked about.

A Jew may find himself in Los Angeles, for example, where he sees the palaces of the rich and famous. And then he finds out that that rich and famous person is studying Kabbalah. He looks at a billionaire like Donald Trump, and then he finds out that Trump's daughter has converted to Judaism and leads an observant lifestyle. And the Jews says to himself, "perhaps this materialism thing isn't enough, perhaps I have everything a human needs in my own traditions!"

I believe Rabbi Levy Yitschak is telling us something deeply significant. He is telling us that Haazinu is showing us the true power and joy of the Torah lifestyle. Wherever the Jews go, their presence awakens the sparks of spirituality among the nations they live. They raise up those sparks, and the ones who reach highest convert. It leaves the pagan ideology to wither and die, "until their completion." The exile represents the victory of Torah over all other ideologies.

That is a truly happy message. That's why it's a song, because the rebuke of the section implies the wonderful treasure that we have. "Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, who has chosen us from amongst the nations and gave us His Torah." Just as Ecclesiastes is a truly happy book, because it shows us that true happiness is not in material things, so too is this chapter.

Responsibility For Each Other

As the children of Israel prepared to enter the holy land, they are commanded to go to the two mountains near Schechem, Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval. There, they are too divided into two by tribes, with half of the tribes ascending Mount Gerizim, and the other half climbing up Mount Eval. The former are then to bless the people of Israel, and the latter are to issue the admonitions/curses. These include such things as, "Cursed is the man who worships idols in secret..." Other things being cursed include certain incestuous relationships.

The Torah only enumerates the admonitions, and does not list the blessings. This is strange. But what is more strange is the entire ceremony. Moses repeatedly warns the people of the consequences of their sinning, so why is this dramatic ceremony on the two mountains necessary? And why are only certain behaviors cursed, while others, such as murder, adultery, and the like, are not mentioned? What is the criteria?

The commentary Ohr Hachaim perceives a common thread among the things listed: they are done away from the eyes of the public. These are private sins, which the sinner does not wish anyone not directly involved (such as the relative with whom the incestuous relationship is taking place) to know about. Nonetheless, says the commentary, all of Israel are responsible for one another, and even private sins impact the nation.

Now we can understand why the tribes of Israel must be the ones to deliver these blessings and curses. If the sins have been public ones, the justice system would've dealt with them. Because they are private, and the perpetrators are not caught, the communal responsibility that the Jewish people have would kick in and the entire nation could be held responsible. Thus, it is the people themselves who must publicly warn and admonish the would-be sinners that their actions have a deep impact on the entire people of Israel.

Now, on the surface, one could say that a society where sinners only do so in private is actually in good shape. There is no anarchy, there is no public lawlessness. Such a society has seemingly fulfilled the basic commandment to have a system of laws and justice. Individuals recognize that and take care not to be caught. And, yet, the Torah gives us a resounding "no." Such a society is not the ideal, and it is not sufficient to achieve that level. We must build a society where people do not sin even in private. We must strive for a world where people fear the Lord, not just the policemen.

To achieve that, education is critical. Many, if not most, people never progressed beyond the basic level of moral development where fear of punishment is the prime motivator. In other words, many people never grow past childhood, where bad behavior is avoided in order to avoid the spanking. Those who do, reach a level where good behavior is its own reward. They reached the stage where they can be tested and withstand the test, just as Joseph did with Potiphar's wife. At that moment of temptation, say the sages of the Talmud, Joseph saw the vision of his father's face. He remembered his mission, and he remembered the education that his father had given him. He stopped cold and did not sin.

Jacob's education of Joseph is the paradigm for the society we wish to build. A place where all people are inherently moral is a wonderful place to live.

I wish to go a little further in understanding this concept of mutual responsibility. It is a difficult concept, because it seems unfair. If someone in my people commits a private sin, why should I be responsible?

The Hebrew term is roughly translated as guarantor. In practical terms, it means that we are interchangeable. If Jack lends money to John, and John has Jeff become his guarantor, Jack can reclaim the money directly from Jeff if John is unable to pay. Jeff, therefore, takes John's place in the transaction.

Translating this into society, it means that we must build a society based on a deep love of our fellow beings. Jeff would only be a guarantor for John if he had a caring relationship with him. He must wish to help him. So, too, we must wish to help each other. If someone sins, even privately, it may indicate that we have not reached out strongly enough. We have not touched them with the love of the right, but only with the fear of the law. That is not sufficient.

While this may not seem to be an easy level to reach, there may be a very simple but immensely powerful way to do it. I will summarize it in three words: keep it positive. When someone misbehaves, the natural tendency is to be critical of them. Let's face it, we get a perverse pleasure out of complaining and condemning. But what does that accomplish? It just pushes the other person in further down, and makes those within earshot disdain them even more.

Now, imagine if we try to the other way. Imagine if we reached out to the sinner, showed them acceptance, and strove to teach them a better way. Imagine if we felt sadness when someone sins and is caught, not pride and mirth. While it might not change their behavior now, it leaves the path open for them to return later. That is what a spiritual guarantor would do. Such a person cares deeply about his or her fellow, and feels sadness, not joy, if the fellow stumbles.

For this reason, it is the people themselves need to pronounce the blessings and the curses. Where are the blessings? There are too many of them to pronounce at that ceremony on the mountains. That is because the blessings are the daily encouragement, the ongoing acts of kindness, the persistent caring of one human being to another. All of those little deeds, performed millions and millions of times, are the true blessings of a blessed people. The curses, on the other hand, are a formal ceremony to publicly put on notice all would-be sinners. But in private, one-on-one, it is the blessings that must predominate.

Look Who's Watching

Jethro wanted to go home. His son-in-law, Moses, did not want him to leave. Jethro had come to the Israelites immediately prior to their receiving the Torah, and had witnessed the revelation. Now he wished to return to his land, the land of Midian, and this made Moses concerned. "Please do not leave us," he said, "for you have known our encampment in the desert, and you will be for us [like] eyes."

The commentators are divided on the question of whether Jethro agreed with Moses and stayed with the Israelites or returned to his land. There are also a number of interpretations as to why he Moses wanted him to remain. The Torah gives great emphasis to this dialogue, so it must be of tremendous significance for the future of the Jewish people. What is that significance?

The most literal reading implies that Jethro would be helpful as a guide in the desert. I have trouble accepting this, as the Israelites were led by God sending a pillar of cloud to direct them through the desert. There must be more to it than that.

The Kli Yakar suggests that the phrase, "encampments," implies more than geographical locations. Every place where the Israelites encamped, they struggled with God. They misbehaved, they complained, they staged minor rebellions. Jethro had proven his worth earlier by urging Moses to revamp the judicial system of the Israelites. He proposed a system of smaller and larger courts, so that no Israelite was too far from justice.

Moses saw that Jethro had unique insight into the social fabric of the children of Israel, and that he might have the key to preventing his episodes of misbehaviors and minor rebellions. "You shall be for us [like] eyes," means you will guide us to be more faithful to our God. The Kli Yakar implies that Jethro remained with the Israelites, agreeing with Moses. The observation I have on that is that it seems to not have worked. Immediately after this section in the book of Numbers, the rebellions begin in earnest, culminating with the sin of the spies and with Korach. It would be easier to say that Jethro left, and that's why everything fell apart.

Perhaps, according to this interpretation, the lesson is that even though the plan was implemented, it failed. Often, we plan everything as best we can to succeed, but success does not come. The big question is, what does one do after the disaster? Give up? Try the plan again? Try a new plan? There is no one proper answer, although I am sure the giving up is the wrong one.

The Oznaim Latorah follows the Seforno who claims that Moses's intention was actually directed outwards, towards the rest of the world. Jethro was a great theologian, who had explored all the other religions before arriving at Judaism. Indeed, he converted. Moses was concerned, however, that should he leave the Israelites, the Gentile world would take that as a sign that he was also rejecting the Israelites Faith. This would constitute a great desecration of God's Name.

Jethro responded to Moses by saying that he intended to convert his people to the Jewish faith, and that's why he wanted to return unto them. This, however, did not alleviate Moses's concerned, but Jethro had a solution for it. His children would remain with Israel, thus no one would doubt that Jethro had indeed embraced the God of Israel and his Torah. He, himself, would then be free to travel amongst the nations of the world and share the Divine message with them. A worthy compromise.

These two interpretations have Moses looking inward and outward, respectively. He looked inward by seeing Jethro as a positive influence on the children of Israel, and he looked outward by seeing Jethro as a role model for the nations of the world. My feeling is that Jethro chose not to remain, but did leave his children with the Israelites, as the Seforno writes. Why, though, did Moses not think of this compromise? Did he not feel that it was important for a Jethro to reach out to humanity?

I am sure he did, but I believe he also was greatly afraid of the potential disintegration of the Jewish people. The Kli Yakar's concern was a valid one. How would Jethro ensure that they improved? By being there and being Jethro. When Moses says, "you shall be for us [like] eyes," I believe he is saying something very powerful. The eyes he refers to are not Jethro's, but the people of Israel's. The literal translation would be then, "You shall be for us, for our eyes [to look upon]." The Israelites will look to you, and realize that this great theologian is watching them. That will make them behave better. If, indeed, Jethro left, Moses's plan was never implemented and never tested. If he remained, then it failed, as we mentioned before.

The Seforno's approach makes another powerful point. I believe that Moses was saying to Jethro that he can still accomplish this goal of converting his people, and, at the same time, make the Israelites better. How?

The answer is Purpose. As long as a person has a Purpose in life, a goal that inspires them, all other things become secondary. I rarely feel hungry on Yom Kippur, because I'm so focused on the prayers and rituals of the day, that my attention and energies are elsewhere. As soon as the day is over, I can think about my stomach, and I realize how much I would love to have that bagel and lox.

Jethro reminds the Israelites of their mission in the world, to spread knowledge of God and adherence to His morality. When the Israelites look at him, they see the whole world looking back at them. They realize that their actions send a message. If they are committed to fixing the world, they will take care to send the right message. A responsible parent will not behave dangerously or foolishly if their children are watching.

But once a mission is no longer ones focus, indulgence in temporary pleasures becomes very tempting. When Jethro left, even if he left his children behind, the immediacy of the mission of Israel became weakened, and they started to slip into materialism. First, they rebelled against the Manna that God provided for them and, instead, craved meat and fish and other foods. Then came their ultimate rejection of mission, in the form of the sin of the spies and the people's refusal to go up into the Promised Land.

Having a life mission is not a luxury, is the only way to ensure that one lives and inspired life of meaning and high ethical standards. Having a Jethro to remind us of this is an important part of having that mission.

No Work in the Fields This Year

In contemporary Israel, some of the laws of the sabbatical year are dealt with by temporarily selling the fields to a non-Jew. Since, according to Jewish law, fields belonging to a non-Jew are exempt from the sabbatical year limitations, this allows crops to be planted and harvested, albeit with some restrictions. This process, known as the "Heter Mechira", is quite controversial. On the surface, it seems like we are exempting ourselves from the laws of the sabbatical year by use of a technical loophole. Is this the ideal way to serve God?

While I am opposed to the widespread use of this technique, there are times and places when it may be the only solution. This is not the topic of this article, so I will cut to the quick and deal with a question that this sale brings up. It is a legal question, to be sure, but it has deep spiritual implications. The question is a practical one: How are we to treat the produce of fields that were sold for the sabbatical year?

Crops that grow in a Jewish-owned field in the sabbatical year have what is called "the sanctity of the Seventh Year." They must be eaten in a certain fashion, and treated with a degree of respect. They may not be thrown in the garbage, and they may not be used for other purposes. Does this status of sanctity of the fruits and crops also applies to those that grow in the field of a non-Jew? The rabbis are divided on this issue.

This question is an example of a larger question. What is the nature of the sabbatical year? Is it an obligation for the fields to be rested, or for man to refrain from working? Do I say that the obligation is for man, and therefore only applies to Jews, who are obligated in the Torah? If so, it makes sense that there is no sanctity in the produce of a field owned by a non-Jew. But if I say there is an element of granting the land its rest, then it is the land that generates the sanctity, not its particular owner.

At the end of Leviticus, God cautions that exile will result if the children of Israel do not observe the sabbatical year. The total proclaims that the land will "appreciate her rest during the time she is abandoned by (the children of Israel, while they are in exile)." This verse implies that it is the land that requires the rest and generates the sanctity. It implies that the land has developed a "sleep deficit" that it needs to make up during the exile. The assumption here is that there will be nobody else in the land working the fields, and indeed the lands shall rest.

History has largely borne that out. During the long years of exile, the land of Israel was mostly desolate. Mark Twain's description of a barren landscape nearly 150 years ago was a constant for centuries. Nonetheless, the commentator Kli Yakar is bothered by the possibility that others may indeed work the fields. If so, how will the fields rest? The Torah must not be making claims that may not pan out.

Rather, he says, the fact that others may work the fields is of no consequence. The sabbatical year has a more elevated purpose. It is to frame all of our worldly endeavors with faith in God. The greatest challenge to faith is not suffering, but success! The successful businessman begins to believe, "my strengths and skills of hand have made for me all of this fortune." Thus, says the commentary, God tells us to stop all the work, and see what happens.

What will happen? The fields will produce more than double the produce in the sixth year. Same effort, same business plan, dramatically different results. Similarly, the children of Israel were forbidden to collect the Manna on the Sabbath. They did not know that, and when they got home on Friday morning from gathering in their daily food, they realize that they had taken twice the usual amount. That's strange? They thought they had done their usual Friday shopping.

God is teaching us a powerful lesson here. The lesson is not that we are completely insignificant in making our fortunes, that it is all God. That is not true, because if it would be, we should never have to work the fields, not in the seventh year nor in any year! We should not have to rest just on the Sabbath, but rather all week long! If it is a lesson of faith, let it be absolute.

What is the true lesson of faith here? Not that God makes our fortune for us, but rather he gives us the strength and ability to make our own fortune. The fields in the sixth year will only give us extra bounty if we bother planting them in the first place. If we don't plan to fields, certainly nothing of significance will grow. God wants us to do our part, but realize that it is He who grants as the power to succeed.

When you think about it, you realize that this is the perfect arrangement. Why? Because if I know that it is God who gave me the gifts I have, I will take care to use them responsibly. If God gives us the ability to make our fortune, we must use our fortune for purposes that God would approve of. We must support the weak, we must build a lifestyle of morality and balance. We must avoid the bottomless pit of materialism. God wants us to make a difference, that's why He has faith in us and gives us strength.

Many things in the world are double-edged swords. Nuclear power can fuel an entire country, or it can destroy an entire world. So it is with spiritual power. The combination of the children of Israel and the land of Israel is a spiritual nuclear power plant. God wants us to use that power to light up the world. We are to be an example of His morality. But if we fall into the pits of materialism, if we forget that God gave us these powerful gifts, that power could destroy the world. It would send a destructive message to all of humanity, leading to the breakdown of society.

In such a case, God has no choice but to exile his people and thus, save the world. The moment they are ready to return to the land, and fulfill their stewardship faithfully, is the moment that the world can be truly enlightened.

This is the message of the sabbatical year, this is why it was given at Mount Sinai. It is an equal significance of the 10 Commandments, for it is the purpose of the Jewish people in the world. The sabbatical year is about faith, and together with faith comes tremendous responsibility. The other nations were not given the job, so even if they work the fields during the seven years, no affront to faith is committed.

Animal Sacrifices, Modernity and Character

There is a saying: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don't know if I accept that, but I do believe that the road to heaven is NOT paved with good intentions. It is paved with good deeds. Intentions without deeds are sterile and irrelevant. Deeds are where the magic is.

With that as an introduction, let us look at one particular sacrifice called a "Shelamim." The Shelamim is translated as a Peace Offering, and according to most opinions, is not brought as a result of sin and brings no atonement. Instead, it is brought as a celebratory sacrifice. One who is successful in business, has enjoyed a personal milestone or just wishes to bring a sacrifice will bring a Shelamim.

According to Rashi, the great commentator, the Shelamim is so called because it brings peace to the world. That seems to be quite a claim .. and a stretch. Certainly it is a good deed, but how does it affect the world?

On a similar theme, there is a saying we repeat in our Sabbath prayers: Torah scholars increase peace in the world. What does this mean, how is this so?

I believe the answer lies in the interface between thoughts and deeds. The successful businessman did not have to bring a Shelamim. Yet he did. Why? Because he realizes that thoughts without deeds are sterile. They wither and die, like a flower that was never watered. The wise one realizes that to keep the blessings in his life, he must utilize them, and to keep the inner happiness in his life, he must express it. And that, of necessity, affects the rest of the world.

You see, a person who brings a sacrifice as thanks for his good fortune has internalized the importance of sharing. He shares his joy with God, with the Kohanim who get a portion of the offering, and with his friends and family. The quantity of meat from the sacrifice that must be eaten within two days time requires him to share the feast with others.

By sharing his fortune, he sends good vibes out into the world and inspires others to share as he does. That is the core of the saying about Torah scholars as well. They, by their example, inspire others to follow it. That is the way the world is changed.

The Book of Leviticus is also known as Torat Kohanim, the book about the priestly class. The founder of that tribe was Aaron, Moses' brother. About Aaron it is said in the Ethics of the Fathers, "Be (his) disciple. Love peace, pursue peace. Love people and bring them close to Torah." It is not enough to love peace, one must pursue it. It is not enough to love people, one must bring them close to Torah.

Thoughts and feelings are not enough. Deeds are required. That's how the world gets fixed.

The Danger of Greatness

The High Priest's special garments are described in detail in the chapter called Tetzaveh. A fascinating ornament he wore was the interspersed golden bells and material pomegranates he wore on his hem. The Torah explains that he was to wear these so as to make a sound when he entered the Sanctuary. If he does so, he will not die. The implication being, if he fails to wear these bells that make the noise, he will die if he thus enters the Sanctuary.

That's a pretty unusual arrangement! According to the Sages, this was to avoid the jealousy of the angels, who are jealous that man has such a Sanctuary. Why do bells help?

A further question is asked by the Netziv of Volozhin: The other Kohanim (priests) entered the Sanctuary on a daily basis as well, yet they do not have bells on their hems. Why is this danger specifically for the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest?

Oznaim Latorah explains the principle that whomever is more holy or great, has a bigger evil inclination. Thus, an ordinary Kohen is not in the same danger that the High Priest is. How so? What is the danger? And how do the bells alleviate it?

I believe the danger is the most destructive of all character traits: Pride. A great person is easily tempted to become prideful, and, as King Solomon said, "Pride comes before the fall."

It is like a ladder. The higher up one goes, the less forgiving a fall becomes. From the top of the ladder, the fall can be fatal. From one step up, it's nothing. The High Priest, as the title implies, is high up on the ladder. Thus me must remember that he is on a ladder to begin with. If he keeps that in mind, he will be careful to not take chances. He will remember where he is, and act and think accordingly. God is the "Yodea Machshavot," the Knower of Thoughts.

It also reminds me of a dog's collar, where the jingling of the bells lets the master know where the animal is a any time. It symbolizes subservience, and that is exactly what is more demanded from the greater person.

So as we strive for greatness, let us remember to couple it with ever greater humility. We may be smarter, faster, richer and so forth than our neighbors, but we are no more important than them. Let us never forget that. Each soul is created in the image of God and is holy. A person's holiness cannot be measured, thus it must not be treated with disrespect.