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The facts on the ground, about converts and corruption in Latin America.

The last few days, I’ve been up to my eyeballs investigating a whole bunch of things related to what’s going on with corruption and converts in Latin America, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • The straight up halacha of performing an orthodox Jewish conversion appears to be much more simple than I realized.

According to this article, by Rabbi and Dayan Yirmiyaho Kaganoff, all you need is three orthodox Jews – not necessarily even Rabbis! – and a commitment from the would-be convert to do their utmost to keep the Torah, and abide by its commandments for the conversion to be valid.

“The basic requirement for becoming a Jew is accepting Hashem’s commandments, since a Jew is, by definition, someone who has a covenant with G-d to observe the Torah.”

“As mentioned before, conversion is an act that requires a proper beis din, meaning minimally, three fully-observant male Jews.”

  • There is a difference between an ‘halachically correct’ conversion, and a conversion that is recognized by the local orthodox community and / or the State of Israel Rabbinate.

Long story short, the whole situation with the anousim and with conversions generally, has become horribly politicized, and there seems to be a lot of vested interests who don’t want to see hordes of newly-orthodox Sephardic Jews in their communities and / or moving to Israel; and who especially don’t want to see millions of orthodox Sephardim suddenly upsetting the political balance and challenging Ashkenazi dominance in the worldwide Jewish community.

  • Latin America countries have had a takana, or agreement in place since the 1935 which was first introduced by the expat Syrian community in Argentina, that they won’t accept any new converts.

I had never heard of this before, so I did some digging and this is what I found:

“[T]he 1935 Takana… forbids marriage to those who convert for the purpose of marriage… [with] subsequent reaffirmations issued by Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, the Brooklyn, NY Syrian Jewish community’s Chief Rabbi, and the Rabbinical Council of the Syrian community.

“Such marriages were not to be recognized by the community. Children of such marriages could not attend community yeshivot. Further, rites of passage such as bar mitzvahs, weddings and the right to be buried in the community’s cemetery were denied, as well as synagogue honors.”

It’s important to note that this Takana was first introduced to discourage insincere converts who only wanted to marry a Jew. But now, it’s been wholesale applied to the Bnei Anousim in Latin America who have Jewish roots, and want to return to their faith.

And ironically, the only people who can get around this Takana today tend to be the wealthy, connected Jews who dafka are trying to get someone converted just so they can marry them.

  • This Takana is making it very hard for potential converts to meet the requirement set out by the Israeli Rabbinate, that they have to have spent at least 9 months living in an active, orthodox Jewish.

Their local communities are totally shunning them, so even though their conversion may be halachically valid, they can’t meet the requirements to have their conversion recognized by State of Israel.

  • The current position with the State of Israel’s Rabbinate is that they will not accept any orthodox conversion done in Latin America.

The convert will either have to move for a year to the US and convert there, or try to move to Israel for a year and convert here. If you don’t have money and connections, clearly neither of these routes are really so viable. (As a side note, there has been so much corruption going on with selling conversions that in some ways, this is a sensible approach to take, as far as it goes. But not enough is being done to help sincere converts find other ways to meet the criteria.)

  • People with money in Latin America are often finding ways to convert ‘orthodox’ – by hook or by crook – in any case.

People without money – even if they are totally sincere and have been living as orthodox Jews for a few years already without formal recognition of their conversion – are basically stuffed.

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Of course, this is totally the olam hafuch, or the upside-down world!

Moshiach is meant to be overseeing the ingathering of exiles and a lot of them can’t get on the plane because all the politics and conversion corruption in Latin America (and elsewhere…) is preventing them from being recognized as Jews, and they don’t have the money required to beat the system.

This is what one of my readers sent me, when she got in touch with one of her local Orthodox Rabbis to discuss the problem:

Screenshot of a text message from a rabbi talking about conversions

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I also learnt that there is a difference between Bnei Anousim and Bnei Conversos.

Bnei Anousim are secret Jews who kept many of their Jewish customs, albeit it secretly, often without knowing why, and who were usually very strict about marrying into each other’s families.

These people are considered to be Jewish (if they can prove their traditions and geneology), but will often have to undergo an immersion in a mikva without saying a bracha.

Meanwhile, the Bnei Conversos are people who started off as Jews, but who converted to Catholicism and totally assimilated into the non-Jewish society. The descendants of these people are considered non-Jews, and will have to undergo a full conversion.

There is a lot more to be said about the subject of converts and corruption in Latin America. The more I’ve been researching, the more unbelievable corruption at every level I’ve been uncovering. It’s been very disappointing, to be honest.

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The last thing to tell you is a story I heard about someone who converted through a Beit Din that’s known as one of the strictest in Chutz L’Aretz.

For four years, this person learnt halacha, went to shul, did everything they were told. (They had a Jewish boyfriend who was very keen that they convert properly before they got married, but who really doesn’t believe in the Torah.)

The man had been raised in an orthodox family, so he and his wife-to-be played their part beautifully for the four years required by the conversion process.

Very soon after the wedding, the wife returned to her roots, and can now be found back in church on an Easter Sunday.

You tell me: Is this woman really Jewish? Are her kids really Jewish?

But this is the woman with orthodox papers from the ‘strictest’ Beit Din in the world, for converts.

It’s the olam hafuch. And until Moshiach shows up to ‘sniff out’ who is really Jewish and who isn’t, it’s probably going to continue. And when that birur process starts in earnest, I think there are going to be a lot of very surprising things coming to light, in a whole bunch of different ways.

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Photo by MCML ➖XXXIII (steal my _ _ art) on Unsplash

It’s getting scarier and scarier in America and chul for Jews – but it’s also pretty scary in Israel too. What’s a person to do?

I got another email from a long-time reader on the topic of moving to Israel, which (with her permission) I’d like to respond to publically, as I think it will hopefully help more people out there get some clarity on what’s really involved with moving to Israel. My correspondent, who lives abroad, but who is a very sincere Jew who does a lot of work on really trying to connect to Hashem, and really trying to have some emuna,  sent me this:

“My question is as follows. When Caleb came back from spying on Eretz Yisrael he says the following:

‘Only Caleb, who was 40 years old, and Joshua son of Nun disagreed. They said (Numbers 14:7–9): “The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us; only you must not rebel against the Lord. Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey: their protection has departed from them, but the Lord is with us. Have no fear of them!’”

My correspondent continued:

“It clearly states that if Hashem is pleased with us He will bring us into the land that flows with milk and honey… but then it says very clearly but you must not rebel against Hashem.

“The State of Israel is clearly rebelling against Hashem, in that case do we still have an obligation to move there? Will we be protected there? Are consequences going to follow, being that we are rebelling? I am honestly scared, I am scared for the States that are currently rebelling but I am also scared of Eretz Yisrael because we are rebelling there as well….

“So where do we go?

I love the holiness of the land, I love the land, my Neshama yarns to be home. I know that America is coming to an end and that Hashem is calling us home. However the corruption of the state of Israel is what scares me. At the times of the spies it was the Amalekites who were corrupt, but Caleb says we will have protection if we cling to Hashem.

“But this time, the Jewish nation is doing corrupt things, so what does that mean for us?… All these questions are coming from a genuine place. Please enlighten me.”

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I’ve known this person for years, and they are not someone who is looking for an ‘easy out’ or to duck mitzvahs, or to avoid coming out of their comfort zone.

This is a very committed Jew, who is asking some very serious questions about moving to Israel, and they require a serious response. So with God’s help, here’s my best shot at providing it.

As is my way, I’m going to break down the points above and answer them one by one. Let’s start with this:

“It clearly states that if Hashem is pleased with us He will bring us into the land that flows with milk and honey… but then it says very clearly but you must not rebel against Hashem.

“The State of Israel is clearly rebelling against Hashem, in that case do we still have an obligation to move there? Will we be protected there? Are consequences going to follow, being that we are rebelling? I am honestly scared, I am scared for the States that are currently rebelling but I am also scared of Eretz Yisrael because we are rebelling there as well….”

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The STATE is not the LAND

The first thing to clarify about moving to Israel is that the STATE of Israel, and the LAND of Israel are two totally different things. The STATE of Israel is the secular institution and government that happens to be in control of the LAND of Israel.

While the STATE of Israel likes to dress it itself up in Jewish clothing, it’s honestly been anti-God, anti-Torah, and anti-orthodox Judaism right from the very start. You don’t have to take my word for that! Yair Lapid himself will tell you this in this video, where he describes how Ben Gurion and all the rest of them basically thought the haredim in Israel would totally disappear within a couple of generations, which is why he wasn’t so bothered about granting yeshiva students exemptions from serving in the IDF.

The Labour Zionist Communists who pretty much ruled Israel with an iron fist for its 50 years (and who are still ‘ruling’ it today by way of the courts, the media and the STATE’s institutions…) were vehemently ‘anti’ orthodox Judaism, and ‘anti’ a Torah observant lifestyle right from the start.

They were rebelling against God right from the start, and God has had an awful lot of patience with them.

Why?

Because they were the ‘shell’ around the fruit, as Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook writes.

The STATE was the shell, the husk, that had to be in place while the far more beautiful spiritual dimension of the LAND of Israel was developing. People couldn’t move to Israel en masse until the place had proper roads, sewage facilities, places for people to work, water pipes, schools built.

So the STATE fulfilled a very important function in enabling more Jews to move to Israel, and God will definitely give a full measure of reward to all those who participated in that process, religious or not.

In terms of the obligation to move to Israel – I’m not a posek. But I can tell you for sure, the LAND of Israel didn’t disappear just because the STATE of Israel took over. Back in the desert, the spies could have made the same argument:

“Look, guys, the people running the show in the Land of Canaan are totally corrupt! And they’re ‘anti’ God and the Torah lifestyle! And they will be fighting us every step of the way if we try to move in there, and telling us we’re trying to ‘take over’ their neighborhoods, and they’re going to write demeaning, hate-filled things about us and our children in the press, and openly discuss ways of reducing our population, and trying to make life hard in a billion different ways….

“So maybe, let’s forget the whole idea of moving to Canaan, and let’s just stay here in Monsey.”

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God said no.

God said – move to Israel any way, and go and help build the land into the beautiful, holy place it’s destined to be. All that stuff about the place being full of scary chilonim who think haredi people are no better than grasshoppers – it’s just an illusion! If you’re with Me – with Hashem – there is nothing to fear.

As it was then, so it is now.

Nothing has changed.

Except to say that in 2019, there are more orthodox Jews in Israel, and more Jews who believe in God, and more Jews becoming mitzvoth observant than at any other time in the last 100 years.

If God protected the God-less, yucky atheists and communists back in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 – after everything they did (and notably didn’t do…) in World War II, He’ll continue to protect the Jewish people as a whole.

But there are clearly some caveats to that answer, so read on.

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Q: Will we be protected there?

Short answer: I don’t know. I’m not God. Good people still get killed in road accidents in Israel, good people still drown in flash floods, they still get murdered by terrorists, God forbid, lo alenu.

If someone has a soul correction that requires them to be taken from the world at an early age, presumably that’s going to happen wherever they live. But the other ‘bad stuff’ that happens usually comes as a result of not living life in alignment with God’s plans for us.

So, the more we make teshuva, the more we have emuna, the more we stay close to Hashem and His true tzaddikim, the more our chances go up of living a blessed, happy, healthy life.

Rebbe Nachman tells a parable about a man who was set a task by a king of moving a massive, heavy stone from place to the other.

The man tried, but couldn’t do it – it was impossible! So then the king said to him: “I didn’t mean for you to move that heavy stone in once piece. I wanted you to break it up into small chunks, and to transport it that way, instead.”

When a person moves to Israel and starts to live here, they are working on refining their character and polishing their souls 24/7. Every time you have to deal with a rude government clerk, or ridiculous bureaucracy, or stabbing terrorists, or awful loneliness on Shabbat because you just can’t socialize here in the same thoughtless way, or a tremendous fear about making parnassa – you are breaking off a little bit more of the ‘stone’ in your soul, and transporting it from arrogance to humility. Or from not seeing God in your life to having more emuna. Or from ‘controlling’ to accepting.

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Day to day life can be so very challenging in Israel.

Just ask the people who live with incendiary balloons down by the Gaza border, or regular rocket attacks, or stabbings. But also in the small things, like not being able to talk the language properly, feeling like a perpetual outsider, missing a place, a persona, a store that you can no longer access.

God does that on purpose.

It’s part of the ‘soul clean-up’ program that is living in the Holy Land. To be challenged on a daily basis, and to keep looking for God behind it all.

Can a person do that outside of Israel?

Sure!

But it’s so much harder. Life in chul is much more superficial, the bubble is padded so much better, the whole society is geared far more to materialism and arrogance and ‘doing’ instead of being.

The soul’s voice gets very smothered and so very easily distorted in chul.

Can a person totally ignore God in Israel?

Sure!

But they aren’t happy. Look at all these secular politicians, look at all these ranting journalists, look at all these hi-tec entrepreneurs with their shaved heads and angry, hard faces. It’s much, much harder to ignore God here, even when you’re trying so hard to do that.

That’s why so many of the ‘anti’ people – or their kids – end up moving away, ultimately.

Are there consequences for rebelling?

Of course, yes. But God is fair, and no-one will have to ‘pay’ for someone else’s mistakes or sins. Does that guarantee safety and a good life? Nope. But it means that nothing will happen to a person that isn’t 100% what is meant to happen. But here’s the thing:

There are also consequences for ‘rebelling’ out of Israel, too.

It’s the stone analogy. The people who aren’t shifting that stone bit by bit end up having to deal with all their ‘rubbish’ all at once, one way or another. God pays the rope out for years – for generations – hoping that someone will wake up and return to Him.

But His patience isn’t infinite, and there are far more Jews spitting in God’s face in the US and chul than in Israel. There will definitely be consequences to face, wherever a person happens to live, whether they move to Israel, or not. The question is, will the consequences be ‘dropped’ on a person all at once, or will they be paid out slowly, drip drip, every single day?

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Honestly?

Sometimes, I also feel a bit scared about all the corruption here. When I was researching the book on the Rav, and when I realized what was really happening in Israel, it was the only time in my life that I had the fleeting thought that maybe, I’d made a mistake by moving to Israel.

Thank God, it only lasted for two days, but it was a very hard challenge to go through.

Very quickly, God reminded me about the hundreds and thousands of ways Jewish life in Israel is so much better here than anywhere else.

This morning, I passed the little orange Lottery Booth down the street, and I saw the lottery guy squished in there with his tallit and tefillin on, praying. That made me so happy.

It makes me so happy that even the graffiti on the wall here often makes me think – like some I read today, that said:

“I [expletive] love Jerusalem, but the people here really talk to you!!!”

I love having the Kotel so close, having holy graves to visit, I love that even the secular looking man in the underwear shop on Jaffa Street gave me a whole, fat Torah class on the importance of having emuna.

I love that I can go to my kid’s school, and see 50 Jews there from such different backgrounds, all talking about what they can do to build a Jewish school, and a Jewish community, in the Holy Land.

I love that so much of the country is kosher, that my kids can quote Biblical passages easily, by heart, because they are written in their language.

I love the craziness, the warmth, the realness, the way it just feels like ‘home’ the way no other place in the world does.

I love the lack of violence on the street (terrorists and crazy drivers notwithstanding). I love the way the sky seems so close in Jerusalem, you can reach out and almost touch it.

Heaven is within arm’s reach here.

And if that’s important to you, you won’t find that proximity to holiness anywhere else.

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There’s a lot more to say on the topic of moving to Israel, there always is.

BH, I will put together my more practical guide to the pros and cons of moving to Israel and living here.

But here’s kind of the take-home message:

While there are Jews rebelling against God all over the world at the moment, God forbid, only in Israel are they also returning to Him in such tremendous numbers.

Teshuva is in the air here, holiness is in the water.

And sooner or later, people will return.

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You might also like these articles discussing other dimensions of moving to Israel:

WATCH: Yair Lapid gave this speech in 2011, before he even entered politics.

Why am I bringing a 25 minute talk by Yair Lapid, from 2011?

Because it explains so, so much of what’s really going on in Israel right now, both politically, but also all the hatred you find expressed against the haredi community, and the settlers, and the right-wingers, and everyone else in Israel who isn’t them, in the [still almost entirely secular, still almost entirely Ashkenazi] Israeli media.

The clip has good English subtitles, that were done by an organisation called Makom that says it’s the:

“Israel Education Lab of the Jewish Agency for Israel”.

I find that statement somewhat troubling, as Makom is clearly run by a number of Jews who are affiliated with Reform, Conservative and the other non-Orthodox ‘pluralist’ organisations who are funding so many of the legal challenges to the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate in the High Courts, and who are behind so many of the legal attacks against the Torah way of life in Israel.

Maybe this is why so many orthodox Jewish converts are currently having such a hard time trying to get their plans for moving to Israel accepted by the Jewish Agency?

‘Pluralist’ organisations can’t get enough of Yair Lapid, and Yesh Atid. They parrot each other’s words an awful lot, and when you start to see the exact same sentiments being expressed by different people using exactly the same terminology – alarm bells start to go off that this isn’t just a grass-roots ‘uprising’, but something that is being carefully planned, and carefully orchestrated behind the scenes, from America.

There’s more to be said, as always. For now, I’ve transcribed the first half of Yair Lapid’s speech, which he gave to a group of Haredi adult students at Kiryat Ono College, in 2011. I’ll share more of his speech in the next post, where I hope to take a proper look at what’s really going on with the draft controversy. There is a lot of obfuscation of the real issues (as always…) but with a bit of careful digging, I think we’ll be able to get a clearer picture of what’s really going on in Israel, and what the implications are.

In the meantime, here’s the first half of Yair Lapid’s speech:

You won. There was a competition in Israel for ‘Israeli-ness’ that lasted over 100 years, since the 2nd wave of Jewish immigration. And in the end, you won. We lost and you won.

For decades here, it was a Mexican Shootout, where each one waits for the other guy to give in…

According to Avi Ravitsky:

The status quo was based on the false assumption which was accepted by both sides that the opposition camp was doomed to dwindle away and perhaps even disappear.

I know that’s what the haredim always thought about the chilonim (secularists), that they’re doomed to extinction.

But, that’s what we thought about you, too. That you’re a sort of living museum, like the safari park in Ramat Gan. There’s a place where they have this rare species that’s almost extinct, and that has to be protected, so we can take our grandchildren there and show them and tell them: “You see, kids? That’s how Jews used to look!”

Let me remind you that when Ben Gurion agreed to exempt yeshiva students from military service, the original number was 700. That was supposed to be the entire yeshiva population, 700. In the State of Israel today, in the Mir yeshiva alone, there are more than 3,500 men…

[100 years ago] Secular Jews came in two different types, the maskilim (‘enlightened”) and the Zionists…

The chilonim and the haredim were in constant conflict, until the reached the point of confrontation. And you won that confrontation. You won not only in terms of numbers, but also in relation to the haredi presence in politics, and the settlement movement, and as a consumer force, and in the street and the culture, and in the educational system. You won in all these places.

I’ve heard the stats, and looking at you here, I expect you to win in the job market, as well.

Because it turns out, there is no way to build ‘Israeli-ness’ without you.

The Founding Fathers had a vision of Israel as a socialist, secular European State. That was the main vision, and it held out for 50 years. But different ‘tribes’ gradually fanned around this [socialist, secular, Europeanized] mainstream:

The Haredi-Ashkenazi Tribe; the Haredi-Sephardi Tribe; the National-Religious; Beitar; then in the 50s, ‘tribes’ came here from North Africa, that became the tribes on the periphery; then in the early 90s, the Russian ‘tribe’ came here; and then the Ethiopian ‘tribe’.

And each tribe had its needs and demanded something from the mainstream. Religious demands, political demands, economic demands, and so they ate away at the mainstream. And these tribes gradually infiltrated all the traditional, [socialist, secular, Europeanized] axes of power. First, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Then academia. Then business.

And when the [socialist, secular, Europeanized] mainstream of Israeli-ness tried to defend itself…these others said: “Look, you oppressed us! You denied us our rights and we won’t accept this. And they were right, that the [socialist, secular, Europeanized] mainstream really did oppress them, and denied them their rights. And they really shouldn’t have had to tolerate that.

And something else also happened:

The [socialist, secular, Europeanized] mainstream was no longer the majority. By the late 1970s, there were more Sephardim in Israel than Ashkenazim. And since the 1980s, there are a lot more people who consider themselves traditional or religious, than secular.

Jerusalem is a much bigger city than Tel Aviv. And since 1977, the capitalist right-wing [i.e. the Likud party] has been in power most of the time, for 34 out of the last 40 years.

A survey from 1994 showed that 56% of the [Israeli] public believes that the Torah was given at Mount Sinai. It’s clear that the balance between the ‘tribes’ and the [secular, socialist, Europeanized] mainstream has been upset. The [secular, socialist, Europeanized] mainstream is no longer the majority, not numerically, not economically, not politically and not idealogically.

In the late 1990s, something predictable happened.

The [secular, socialist, Europeanized] mainstream got fed up. The [secular, socialist, Europeanized] mainstream looked to the left, and looked to the right, and said: “I’m sick of everyone demanding things from me. If they don’t want me to leave the country, then let them lead it themselves, because I have a new solution. From now on, I’m a ‘tribe’ too – the “middle-class” tribe.”

It said: “I don’t need the government in order to do business. I can get married in Cyprus in a civil ceremony, and I have to defend democracy, because these other tribes [i.e. the haredim, right-wingers, Sephardim, Russians and Ethiopians who make up the majority of the population] are instinctively either non-democratic, or less democratic.

“And I’m sick of the fact that a boy in Bnei Brak, and a boy in Um El-Fahm whom I’ve never met are funded by my taxes. And I certainly don’t need to be told that I ‘oppressed’ them.

“If they’re so ‘oppressed’, let them get along without me. I’ll do what everyone else does. I’ll look out for Number 1. I’ll take care of myself, and my people.” And that’s how it’s been over recent years.

[up to 8.40 mins, then skipping a little. Yair Lapid continues:]

When the Zionist Founding Fathers came to Israel, they said they wanted to build a ‘melting pot’ for the Jews.

And they sincerely looked for a broad ‘base’ of agreement between the different sections. They ignored the fact that the Jewish people already had such a base…They wanted to build a secular, socialist ‘melting pot’, and they ignored the fact that the Jews had an ancient Father who maintained and protected them for 2,000 years, i.e. the God of Israel.

I want to emphasize that I’m not talking about emuna, faith, that’s something else. I’m talking about the question of what is the social and cultural foundation of the Israeli ethos.

The Founding Fathers tried to skip straight from the Bible to modern times.

They wanted a Biblical ethos, not a Talmudic [i.e. Rabbinic] one, because the Bible happened here. King Saul went to find his donkeys on Highway 443…

For them, the Talmudic tradition belonged to the exile. So, they decided to skip over the Mishnah and Midrash, the Talmud, the Golden Age of Spain, the Ramchal, the Chatam Sofer, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, to establish their ‘Biblical’ ethos. And instead of a multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral vision that could include all different types of Jew, they created an ethos that suited secular, Ashkenazi socialists. And they wanted all the other ‘tribes’ to submit to this ethos.

This wasn’t done out of malice or stupidity, it was just secular thinking. They thought like this: “If God hasn’t brought the Jews to Israel in 2000 years, it’s time to let someone else have a go. It’s time to create a new myth.”

And when the holocaust came, they saw it as proof that you can’t rely on the God of the Jews, because He’s unreliable. We can only rely on ourselves.

So we tried to rely on ourselves, but the experiment failed.

It failed because it caused everyone who wasn’t secular, Ashkenazi and socialist to withdraw even more into his tribe. Especially when he realized that the ‘vision’ being offered to him had no room for what was most precious to him – his God.

It failed even more, because the Founding Fathers explanation was unsatisfactory. It didn’t justify us being here [in Israel]. Because if you take our ‘Father’ [i.e. God] out of the picture, what are we doing here? Why would a secular person choose to live in the worst neighborhood in the world, amongst a billion Muslims who hate him, in this this heat, if he doesn’t believe in an external Power that makes it worth living here?

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Yair Lapid didn’t have an answer for this question, btw, which sums up a lot of the problem that his ‘tribe’ are now facing, and why so many of them are turning into raging ultra-lefty, anti-Israel lunatics. But in the second half of Yair Lapid’s speech, he touched on a few issues that the religious Jews in Israel do have to grapple with, however uncomfortable that may makes us feel. And we’ll look at what these issues are in the next post.

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Rebbe Nachman explains the difference between Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David

Over Shabbat, I was reading one of Rebbe Nachman’s stories, which I realized is describing the difference between Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David. I’m bringing an abridged version of it below, together with the commentary that goes together with it from Rav Natan, and from Likutey Moharan I:20 [in bold, square brackets]. My own comments will be underlined.

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New Stories: #209 in Tzaddik, by the Breslov Research Institute

 

The beginning of the Summer, 5564 (1804). The Rebbe said: I will tell you what I saw. And you tell your children.

There was someone lying on the ground and around him people were sitting in a circle.

This is Moshiach ben Yosef.

Around this circle was another circle. And around that circle was another circle, and so on – many circles. Then around them were sitting more people in no particular order. The circles contain Moshiach ben Yosef’s followers.

The one who was sitting in the middle – he was leaning on his side – was moving his lips and all those around him were moving their lips after him.

[This refers to teaching / learning Torah – this soul is the source of all the Torah explanations.]

After this, I looked and he was not sitting there – the one in the middle, that is. And all those sitting around stopped moving their lips. I asked, “What is this?” They answered me that he had become cold and had expired and he had stopped speaking.

After this, they started to run, and I ran after them. I saw two palaces – very fine, beautiful buildings. Sitting there were two commanders. They all ran to these two commanders and started arguing with them.

[This refers to the concept of machloket and controversy – the opposition which is aroused against the Tzaddikim when the power to draw forth Torah explanations is withdrawn.]

“Why did you deceive us?” They wanted to kill them.

The followers of the original Moshiach ben Yosef are very unhappy that they didn’t actually get Moshiach / geula, in the end. Rebbe Nachman now explains the spiritual reasons for this, by way of a parable.

The commanders fled outside. I saw them, and their nature was very good in my eyes. I ran after them and I saw in the distance a beautiful tent. From there they cried out to the commanders: “Turn back and seek out all the merits you have and take them in your hands and go to the light which is hanging there. There you will accomplish everything you want.”

They turned back and took their merits – i.e. all their mitzvahs – there were bundles of merits there – and they ran to the light. I ran after them and saw a gleaming light suspended in the air. The commanders came and threw their merits to the light.

[They mentioned their merits and good deeds, and tried to get the geula that way.]

From the light, sparks fell into their mouths. Then the NoR, lamp, turned into a NahaR, river, and everybody drank from the river, and creatures were formed inside them. When they started to speak the creatures came out of them and I saw them running and returning. They were neither men nor any kind of animal – just creatures.

[These creatures are angels, who get their strength from Edom, who has been appointed over all the punishments of the wicked.]

After this they decided to go back to their place.

This is referring to Eretz Yisrael / Beit HaMikdash / the state of spiritual purity that existed at the time of the Garden of Eden, and which will exist again in the world-to-come.

But they said: “How can we go back to our place?” Somebody said: “We should sent to the one who stands there holding a sword which reaches from heaven to earth.”

[This is a reference to the angel of Edom, Esav’s angel, aka the Samech Mem himself.]

Edom, i.e. the West / Christianity is what’s stopping the Jews from returning to Israel en masse and rebuilding the Bet HaMikdash, and also has the ‘power’ the Jewish people requires to punish and subdue the wicked.

They said: “Who should we send?” They thought they should send for the creatures, and the creatures went there. I ran after them and I saw him. He was terrifying. His stature reached from the heaven to the earth. In his hand was a sword reaching from heaven to earth. It had many blades.

One of them was sharp – this was for killing. One of them was for poverty, one of them for weakness. There were also many other blades for other punishments.

They started pleading: “All this long time we have been suffering at your hands. Now help us and bring us to our place.” He said: “I cannot help you.” They pleaded: “Give us the blade for death and we’ll kill them.” But he didn’t want to. They asked for a different blade, but he did not want to give them a single blade.

[He didn’t want to help them to subdue the wicked people, because of the mistake they made by trying to ‘force’ the geula via good deeds etc, instead of breaking their hearts, begging and entreating Hashem to bring it.]

They went back.

Either back to ‘normal’ life, forgetting all about Moshiach / geula, or back to their bad habits before they made teshuva as a result of learning the Moshiach ben Yosef’s Torah teachings.

In the meantime, there was an order to kill the commanders, and they cut off their heads.

[The ‘head’ can refer to daat, internalized spiritual knowledge, as well as the more obvious connotation as the ‘head’ of a particular movement or group.]

Meanwhile, the sequence of event returned to what it had been before – namely that someone was lying in the ground surrounded by circles of people, and so on.

This is now referring to Moshiach ben David, and his followers.

They ran to the commanders – everything happened as described before – except that now I saw that the commanders did not throw their merits to the light. They simply took their merits and went to the light and broke their hearts i.e. did some hitbodedut, which Rebbe Nachman frequently characterizes as spending an hour being broken-hearted before Hashem, while you do a cheshbon hanefesh and acknowledge your faults, flaws and errors.

And they began to beg and make entreaties before the light-  another reference to praying – and sparks fell from the light into their mouths. They entreated more and the light turned into a river, and the creatures were formed etc.

They told me, “These ones will live” – i.e. Moshiach ben David and his followers will actually make it through to geula and the world to come – because the first ones deserved to be killed for throwing their merits to the light and not making entreaties like these latter ones. I didn’t know what this meant.

They said to me: “Go into that room and they will tell you the explanation of this.” I went and there sat an old man. I asked him about the matter. He took his beard in his hand and said to me: “My beard is the explanation of what happened.” I still don’t know,” I said. “Go to that room,” he replied, “and there you will find the explanation.”

I went there and saw a room infinitely long and broad, entirely filled with writings. Wherever I opened I saw the explanation of the story.

[This vision is connected to Lesson 20 in Likutey Moharan Part 1.]

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HERE IS SOME OF WHAT REBBE NACHMAN WRITES IN LESSON 1:20:

“When one prays before giving over a [Torah] lecture, one must pray with supplication, begging God for gratis instead of asking for one’s due….

“But Moses [i.e. the redeemer / Moshiach ben Yosef] did not do this. He rather cited his own goodness and righteousness…as one who grabs something forcefully and without consent, for he sought in the power of his good deeds….

“…whoever tries to ‘force the moment’ (literally, ‘pressures time’) – the ‘time’ pressures him, causing one to die before one’s time. [This is why Moshiach ben Yosef died ‘prematurely’, before the job of bringing the geula was completed.] For this reason, one should never pressure oneself for anything, but beg with supplication. If God grants it, good, and if not, not.”

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Next, Rabbenu turns to the subject of attaining the Land of Israel.

“[T]he land of Israel is one of the three things that can only be attained through suffering (Brachot 5a) and the main suffering is the obstacles of the wicked, who slander the land. These wicked must first be subdued with a sword and death, and only then can one enter the Land of Israel.

“However, the power to punish the wicked can only be acquired from the power of Edom, for that is his power, as in: “You will live by your sword” (Genesis 27:40), and he draws sustenance from the astrological sign of Mars. [Which is related to bloodshed and war, and the Jewish month of Nisan – the month of redemption.]”

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Rebbe Nachman now explains that the Angels which can defeat and kill the wicked are formed from the original Torah insights of the Tzaddik / Moshiach ben Yosef / Moshiach ben David.

But, when the Tzaddik’s followers don’t put an emphasis on personal holiness – i.e. guarding the brit, guarding the eyes, modest behavior and dress – these Angels then lack the power to actually destroy the wicked people who are slandering the Land of Israel.

Depending on how ‘weak’ these angels become, in descending order:

They can’t kill them; then they can’t punish and intimidate them; then they can’t rouse the nations of the world against them; then they can’t even silence them from speaking evil in our presence “so that their words do not enter the ears of the masses. And sometimes even this power they lack – all according to the degree of holiness that is lacking.”

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Rabbenu then goes on to explain that the lack of personal holiness amongst the Jews is the main thing empowering the wicked people who are slandering the land, and preventing the Jews from returning to the Land of Israel.

Moshiach ben David succeeds where Moshiach ben Yosef failed, because he prays before he gives over his Torah lessons, and he focuses on increasing personal holiness amongst his followers, not just doing more good deeds and mitzvahs.

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Rebbe Nachman then explains the nine rectifications of the beard, and how they lead to the Land of Israel, as follows:

  • Take the staff – this refers to the Tzaddik’s Torah lectures that he gives over to his followers. This Torah has to be drawn with prayer, not with ‘force’, in order for the rest of the process to work.
  • Gather the people together’ – to subdue the evil elements the community contains.
  • Speak to the rock with supplications’ and prayers – this refers to the need to have yirat shemayim, or Fear of Hashem.
  • ‘In their presence’, to bond with them – the Tzaddik’s soul has to become ‘bound up’ with his followers / the Jewish people.
  • To draw fiery words – actually an allusion to drawing down Divine mercy on the Jewish people.
  • To draw Torah – the Tzaddikim are judged to a hairsbreadth, and if they are blemished in some way, they can no longer draw the Torah required to bring geula.
  • To create angels.
  • To receive power from Edom to subdue the enemies / wicked who are slandering the Land of Israel.
  • To enter the Land of Israel.

If any of these steps are missing, we can’t ‘enter the Land of Israel’ / truly get to the geula shleima.

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Ad Kan.

There is so much more to say about all this, and it seems to me that so much of what we’ve been discussing here on the blog is alluded to in this lesson in quite an awesome way.

(If you want more insights into the very deep concepts being brought in this story, take a look at Day 3 of Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the Seven Beggars. The ‘heart of the world’ also seems to be refering to Moshiach ben Yosef and his followers.)

Moshiach ben Yosef failed to bring geula, because the emphasis was on stressing how many mitzvoth and good deeds were going on, as opposed to praying heartbroken prayers that God should bring the geula, as a free gift. Trying to force the issue just led to the Moshiach ben Yosef dying prematurely, leaving his movement without a ‘head’, i.e. a real direction, or daat, internalized spiritual knowledge of what to do next.

Hopefully, Moshiach ben David will have more success.

These things are so awesomely deep, there are so many spiritual rectifications going on. It’s totally beyond us to understand what’s really happening by ourselves, and only our true Torah sources and real rabbis can guide us in the right direction.

Why ‘aliyah bullying’ is just a massive red herring.

For most of us who live in places where Chabad has a presence, we’ve got used to their ubiquitous little tables set up with tefillin, and the inspiring way they encourage so many Jews who otherwise wouldn’t give the mitzvah of laying tefillin a second thought, as they run around their busy lives.

Come rain or shine, those Chabad shlichim don’t miss an opportunity to call Jews over to them on the street, and ask them if they’d like to lay tefillin.

Let me ask you something:

Is that ‘tefillin bullying’?

I mean, there are 613 mitzvahs, and not everyone is going to have the privilege of doing all of them in one lifetime. Surely, when the Chabad shlichim are coaxing people to spend a few precious moment connecting to God, and putting God’s mitzvah of laying tefillin ahead of what they themselves wanted to be doing at that precise moment, that is a good thing, isn’t it?

Let’s explore another example.

Say, we have a guy who doesn’t eat kosher. Say, that guy has a ‘religious’ sister who is trying to encourage him to swear off the pork, and to only eat kosher meat. Let’s eavesdrop on that conversation, a little:

Sister: You know, my dear brother, every time you eat another rasher of bacon, it’s disconnecting you from God and doing terrible damage to your soul. You are such a refined Jewish neshama! Eating pork products is so beneath you, sweet brother. And also, God doesn’t like it very much.

Brother: I find your comment to be kosher bullying. You telling me that God doesn’t like it when I eat pork doesn’t help me to feel good about myself as a Jew, and it doesn’t help anyone.

Do we agree with him?

What about the Jewish boy who is seriously dating that nice, non-Jewish girlfriend? His mother realizes that things are getting serious, and arranges to have a last-ditch talk with him:

Mother: I know I didn’t raise you right, I know I didn’t take the Torah seriously, I know I put what was easy and comfortable for myself ahead of what God really wanted me to do, and how He really wanted me to live, as a Jew – but please, I’m begging you, don’t marry that girl! It’ll devastate me, and end 3,000 years of Jewish continuity, because your kids won’t be Jewish!

Son: Mother, I feel intimidated by these kind of comments. I’m fed up with all your nonsense about your grandchildren not being Jewish. I’m standing up for my rights to live exactly how I want. There are many, varied reasons why I just couldn’t find a Jewish girl to date, and at this stage, I don’t believe I need to.

[Mother bursts into heart-wrenching sobs].

Son (increasingly defensive…): I’m just defending my right to live my life and not be attacked because I can’t just break up with the woman I love and marry someone Jewish instead. Well done to you, mother, that you married a Jew, but spare a thought for those who have tried and failed to find a Jewish spouse. I had to date outside the faith just to get a girlfriend, and I have other Jewish friends who won’t even consider marrying a Jew now, because it was so hard for them on the Jewish dating scene.

Is this “don’t marry out” bullying?

And if the answer is ‘yes’, is that a bad thing?

If something is a mitzvah, if something is a Torah commandment, then surely we should be encouraging other Jews to do it, with all our strength? Part of the reason I’m so in awe of my local Chabad shlichim here in Jerusalem is that they are actively encouraging Jews to do mitzvahs every single day.

Come listen to the Purim Megillah!

Come join us for the Pesach Seder!

Come participate in Kaparot, come listen to a lecture on the Tanya, come give some tzedaka to build our new shul!

Do I have the wrong end of the stick here?

Instead of thinking how awesomely inspiring it is that they are constantly encouraging me to move out of my comfort zone, and to move past my laziness and apathy and yeoush and disinterest, I should be accusing them of mitzvah bullying, instead?

That doesn’t sound right to me.

Everyone has their reasons why certain mitzvahs are hard for them. For example, the mitzvah of covering my hair as a married woman is really, really hard for me. It was so hard for me, I didn’t do it for the first eight years I was married.

But that doesn’t meant that I started justifying what I was doing to myself, and explaining how my ‘mission’ in life didn’t include covering my hair, or how my big, important job working for the British government meant I had a free pass on covering my hair.

I didn’t cover my hair because I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to cover my hair, and my personal circumstances, outlook, work (and crazy, crazy big hair!) all made it very difficult to do.

But I still acknowledged I was in the wrong, and that God really did want me to cover my hair.

And, I was still very impressed by my friends and acquaintances who were covering their hair full-time, because I knew how much inner strength and determination that required.

So what changed?

Things changed when we finally got to Israel, and my parnassa hit the skids, and I started to realise that me not covering my hair – as well as a whole bunch of other ‘little’ things, like not benching after bread, and wearing jeans, and going to the movies – actually had some serious spiritual consequences, and was causing me a lot of issues in my actual day-to-day life.

I started covering my hair with such a bad grace – but my shalom bayit picked up instantly, and my parnassa also rebounded (not immediately. God likes to maintain something of an illusion with these things, to preserve our free choice.)

So now, I happily choose to cover my (still crazy….) hair, not because I like the mitzvah, not because it’s easy – it’s still so very, very hard, and I’ll post about all that another time – but because:

I realized this is what God wants.

And that doing what God wants makes my life so much easier and nicer.

There are certain spiritual rules God put in place for how He wants Jews to live, and how Jews can best maximize their spiritual potential. Sadly, plenty of Jews today don’t even know about these spiritual rules, and the mitzvoth that they are clothed in.

The fewer of these ‘rules’ a Jew operates by, the more difficult, stressful and challenging their lives inevitably will be.

So let’s ask this again, is it right to ‘lecture’ other Jews about doing mitzvoth?

That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? When people put out memes with “love your fellow Jew as yourself”, is that considered ‘lecturing’? How about if they share a shiur on avoiding sinat chinam and lashon hara?

Is that considered ‘lecturing’?

Couldn’t every single one of us turn around and say something like:

Nice for you, that you’re managing to avoid slandering people all the time and hating other Jews who are different, but some of us just couldn’t get there, hard as we tried. Some of didn’t have the strength to avoid participating in all the juicy gossip on Facebook. Some of us just couldn’t continue seeing the good in other people, some of us just had way too many bad middot to overcome to have the energy to start working on our own sinat chinam, even though we know deep down that’s preventing the geula and causing us so much suffering in our own lives.

But God is surely going to save me, despite all my bad middot and unrepentant aveirot! I don’t doubt that for a moment!

Couldn’t we all make that same argument about every mitzvah we find hard, and that we don’t really want to do?

And then what? Where does reward and punishment fit into this picture?

If a Jew can do anything they want, pick and choose their mitzvahs, then state that for sure, God is going to reward them exactly the same regardless of the mitzvahs they’re actually striving to do, or are saying they are ‘exempt’ from doing, that totally negates the concept of reward and punishment.

This is Judaism 101. This comes from Jewishvirtuallibrary.org:

The doctrine of reward and punishment is central to Judaism throughout the ages; that man receives his just reward for his good deeds and just retribution for his transgressions is the very basis of the conception of both human and divine justice.

Rambam states in the 11th of the 13 Principles of Faith that:

“God gives reward to he who does the commandments of the Torah and punishes those that transgress its admonishments and warnings. And the great reward is the life of the world to come; and the punishment is the cutting off of the soul [in the world to come]. And we already said regarding this topic what these are. And the verse that attests to this principle is (Exodus 32) “And now if You would but forgive their sins – and if not erase me from this book that You have written.” And God answered him, “He who sinned against Me I will erase from My book.” This is a proof that God knows the sinner and the fulfiller in order to mete out reward to one, and punishment to the other.”

Can you see the problem, here?

Moving to Israel is a mitzvah. (I know there are apparently ‘frum’ people who are so confused they are even doubting that, so please take a look at the daas Torah in this post, Deconstructing Aliyah, which sets out a whole bunch of real, actual Torah sources on the subject, if you’d like a change from all the ‘daas me‘ flying around the internet.)

So, if we’re going to start accusing other people of ‘aliyah bullying’ then we have to be consistent, and also start accusing other people of ‘kosher bullying’ and ‘tefillin bullying’ and ‘not marrying out’ bullying too, because as you can hopefully see for yourself, the same arguments are effectively playing out in each of these arenas.

It’s always hard to keep mitzvahs, in some ways. God expects us to keep striving out of comfort zone, to keep trying to give Him what He wants, and to not give up on the mitzvoth even when we can’t quite reach them.

I have so many mitzvoth I’m still struggling with, not least my own problems with lashon hara and anger.

I could turn around and give God a bunch of excuses why I still flip out and go ballistic – and they’d all be true! But that doesn’t change the picture that God says that getting angry is a very bad thing, and that He wants me to carry on working on it, until 120.

Sure, I can justify my bad behavior all I want.

But that doesn’t change the fact that God wants me to do better, and He wants me to get Him involved in really solving the issue.

So unless we’re also going to start accusing God of being a “good middot bully”, or a “keeping the Torah bully”,  it seems to me this whole ‘aliyah bullying’ idea is really just a massive red herring.

What’s stopping you from moving to Israel – take the quiz

 

I think I’ve covered most of the main challenges and concerns people have about moving to Israel. If there’s something I missed, please feel free to add it in to the comments section, and let’s start to figure this issue out a bit more, together.
For sure, there are some very real, very solid concerns and obstacles in the path to getting to the Holy Land. I know many people who really do want to come, but can’t seem to get here, for one reason or another. So let’s see what’s the biggest issues that are standing in the way, and then I will do my best to put some resources together here on the site, that might help you to find a way past them.
Also, take a look at the aliyah category, for some more pertinent information, discussion and background.