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The Lamplighter Weekly

Volume 22 Issue 3
Jan. 19-25, 2020 - 22-28 Teves5780
Torah Reading: Va'eira
 Candle Lighting: 5:38 PM
Shabbos Ends: 6:35 PM
Blessing of New Month: Shevat
 

Parsha Synopsis · A Word From the Rabbi
Essay ·
Thoughts That Count
Once Upon A Chassid · Tid Bits · Happenings · Notes From Israel

 

Parsha Synopsis

Va'eira
Exodus: 6:2-9:35

G‑d  reveals Himself to  Moses. Employing the  “four expressions of redemption,” take out the Children of Israel from Egypt, deliver them from their enslavement, redeem them, and acquire them as  His own chosen people at  “Mount Sinai”; He will then bring them to the  land He promised to the Patriarchs as their eternal heritage.

Moses and  Aaron repeatedly come before Pharaoh to demand in the name of G‑d, “Let My people go, so that they may serve Me in the wilderness.” Pharaoh repeatedly refuses. Aaron’s  staff turns into a  snake and swallows the magic sticks of the Egyptian sorcerers. G‑d then sends a series of  plagues upon the Egyptians.

The waters of the Nile  turn to blood; swarms of  frogs overrun the land lice infest all men and beasts.  Hordes of wild animals invade the cities; a  pestilence kills the domestic animals; painful  boils afflict the Egyptians. For the seventh plague, fire and ice combine to descend from the skies as a  devastating hail. Still, “ the heart of Pharaoh was hardened and he would not let the children of Israel go, as G‑d had said to Moses.”

A Word From the Rabbi

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A TIME TO GET MAD
The Downside of Unholy Tolerance

While in search of a new community in which to relocate, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev had arrived with his followers at a particular village. Upon looking around, it seemed that the place was right for the Rabbi and his growing Chassidic sect to set up shop, at least from their viewpoint. As for the townsfolk, they appeared to have a slightly different perspective.

In a not-so-subtle display of emotions, the locals greeted their prospective new neighbors with a generous pelting of raw eggs. Upon witnessing this, the Tzaddik turned to his entourage and said: "Ah! We chose well, this is the sign I was waiting for."

In response to their dumbfound reaction, he added, "At least the people here cannot be accused of being apathetic… they possess true enthusiasm for what they believe. I find this rather refreshing."

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Anger and intolerance seem to have lost all place in modern civilization. Such emotions are considered taboo; entirely unacceptable in any shape or form. In fact many a brilliant career has gone down the tubes – instantly shattered – in a moment of unmitigated and heartfelt emotion.

People who suffer from the need to express such raw and primitive emotions are regarded as flawed and relegated to a rehabilitation program. There are anger management classes for the anger challenged and sensitivity training for people who are tolerance impaired.

Our societal "Correctness" is best expressed in a Yiddish axiom: “It’s okay that blood should spill, as long as one speaks diplomatically.” An adage closer to home declares: "Don't get angry; get even!"  

But what does tolerance really mean? Is it intended to be absolute; at all times and all costs, or does it have its limitations? Perhaps we should take a closer look at the idea of tolerance versus intolerance. Where best to start than Wikipedia? Here then is what Wikipedia has to say about the meaning of tolerance or toleration: “A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry.”

Freedom from bigotry we could all agree is a good thing; all the time. But a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion… etc., differ from one's own? That’s clearly a subjective statement. What is the meaning of fair and permissive? How fair and permissive? Who’s definition of fair…? One must obviously take this with a dose of subjectivity.

It is hence perfectly within bounds to suggest that while intolerance and indignation are generally not positive emotions, especially in the form of uncontrollable outbursts, there are 

times when these types of expression are not only appropriate but even necessary – the only just response to a given set of circumstances and conditions. In situations when such expressions are required, the lack thereof is arguably equally as bad, or perhaps worse, than exhibiting such emotions unjustifiably.

Over-tolerance runs the risk of becoming dishonest and apathetic. There are ways to be respectful of another person while remaining honest to one’s own beliefs and values. We can disagree with a person by respectfully voicing our views and even indignation.

Yet, today that honesty is often perceived to be politically incorrect. We live in a society that says it stands for free speech, but does not always like when it is expressed. Even the most carefully chosen words can be labeled as harsh and intolerant.

It is fine to be tolerant when the differences are inconsequential, it is a whole other thing when the differences are large or involve individual beliefs. Yet the fear of being insensitive and judgmental, or being perceived as insensitive and judgmental, makes it easier sometimes to tolerate the negative behavior than to stand up for our morals and ideals; especially for our religious principles, since the involved party may not share our religious values or may even scoff at them. Still, there are times when we need to make a judgment call; to judge a person or at least a situation. None of us should have to compromise our beliefs to be "politically correct." For example, we should never become tolerant of religious or other wrongful, intolerance.

This, of course, should never become confused with hate. G‑d does not call upon us to hate people. We do not have to like what they do, we can even speak out against it with passion, but hate is an entirely different emotion; one that is unholy and dangerous.

That said, our cultural intolerance of any expression of intolerance is not only a denial of our true human dimension, which inherently and rightfully rejects and opposes certain adverse ideas and behaviors, but it also plays into the ever-growing war against personal responsibility and action.

For if any expression of intolerance is politically unacceptable than intolerance itself is unacceptable. If intolerance and discernment is unacceptable in any form then, by definition, everything is tolerable. Accordingly, there is no ideology or conduct that is categorically bad or wrong.

This warped mindset, in addition to being as diametrical to Judaism as can be, has led to new lows in our society’s standards of personal accountability. Our legal system, for example, has become replete with the most absurd rationalizations in defense of inexplicable criminal behavior. Psychoanalysis is often used as a means to rationalize all types of harmful, immoral and inhuman conduct and trends; avoiding thereby personal accountability.

Notwithstanding the fact that on the surface such tolerance may seem like an expression of kindness on the part of civilization, in reality it is the result of misguidedness and delusion. The notion that no one is ever wrong and nothing is ever wrong is tantamount to chaos and anarchy; an idea which contradicts everything G‑dly, holy and Jewish.

Often what lies behind this so-called compassion might very well be the extreme opposite. It is entirely possible that beneath the altruistic facade of "Live and let live," lurks a selfish desire for social promiscuity and permissiveness; an environment in which the advocator himself is free to live recklessly, without accountability or shame.

It is only a person who himself does not wish to tow the line of morality and order, that would rationalize and defend injustice and immorality.

The denial of one’s aptitude for full responsibility of his actions is in reality the greatest affront to man’s essential being. It is hence noteworthy that in reference to the laws of torts and damages the Talmud maintains that the human is always liable, even for damages caused while asleep.

Human conscience is what distinguishes man from beast, it endows man with an ability to discern and choose right from wrong. To disavow man’s intrinsic capacity for behavioral discrimination and responsibility is to degrade him. It is to effectively strip him from his unique human dimension. This mistaken form of “Tolerance” is a prime factor in the current breakdown of civilization and the ensuing madness.

In this week’s Parsha, Va’eira, when G‑d promised to take the Jewish people out of Egypt, He declares: “And I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt” (Exodus 6:6). The commentators point out that the Hebrew word for “Burdens,” Sivlos, can alternatively be translated as “Forbearance.” The verse would then read, “And I will take you out from the 'tolerance' of Egypt.”

After years of slavery and drudgery the Israelites found themselves in the deepest troughs of ungodliness. Even worse, they had sunk into a terrible state of “Tolerance,” perceiving their situation as acceptable. They had learned to grin and bear the exile and darkness. They had come to terms with a life devoid of spiritual fulfillment and human dignity – unable even to think about the transcendent qualities of higher existence.

Before the Children of Israel could be freed from Egyptian bondage, G‑d had to first free them of their own inner bondage and slave mentality, which is the more serious and cruel form of enslavement. G‑d's first and foremost promise was thus that He would take them out of their soporific state and revive their spirit with freedom so that they would no longer be able to tolerate the darkness and evil.

This had to be the first stage of their redemption, for otherwise they would forever remain slaves, albeit without masters. The second stage could then follow. The Almighty would pursuantly break the chains of Egyptian civilization and raise the Jewish people up to unimagined heights.

In our present exile we are, thank Heaven, no longer physically enslaved, but our spiritual senses have been dulled – we have become immune to the pain of exile. We lack, to a large extent, the desire to break free. We are content not to “rock the boat.” As long as we enjoy the comforts offered by contemporary civilization, we do not feel deprived of our true spiritual potential. It is a deprivation to which we have been immunized by the long and dark exile.

We need to realize that, no matter how comfortable we are, the world we live in is far from G‑d's ultimate dream house and purpose for creation. Strife and hatred, ignorance and bigotry still run ramped. We must look beyond our own comfortable little niches and see what is really missing.

Yes, patience and tolerance are great virtues, but we cannot allow ourselves to become overly tolerant of intolerable situations. Before G‑d can take us out of our modern "Egypt," we need to banish the slave mentality from our own headspace. In order to become truly free we must first remove the shackles of our modern servitude from our own mentality. We must stop being so patient and accepting of all the evil and madness in the world.

The cultural notion that it's not acceptable to be incensed by evil and G‑dlessness, or to even define it as such, has got to be shattered. We can become masters of our own destiny if we want to. But we first must realize that, yes, there are some things worth getting mad about – that getting mad over depravity and evil is as G‑dly and virtuous as the love and admiration of goodness and righteousness.

In the merit of our intolerance of this dark exile, we will merit the coming of the righteous Moshiach BBA.

Gut Shabbos 

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Rabbi Kahanov is the founder/director of Chabad in Northeast FL, consisting of 6 Chabad Centers
He is also the author of "What Chabad Really Believes"
If you like this, you might be interested in purchasing his book click here for more information 

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Whacking the River

"Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Animals, Plague, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness, Smiting of the Firstborn."

The above list, familiar to every seder participant, is of the ten makkot which G‑d inflicted upon the land of Egypt prior to liberating the Children of Israel from Egyptian slavery.

What is a makkah? The Hebrew term is often translated as "plague," as in "The Ten Plagues." A more precise translation of the word makkah is "blow" — blow as in "whack!" We're not just punishing Egyptians and liberating Jews; we're also bashing and smashing something.

One thing that seems to be getting many of the blows is the Nile: most of the makkot are either inflicted upon the river directly (its water turning to blood or spawning millions of frogs) or else they are enacted on its banks.

Why whack a river? Because the Egyptian Nile is not just a river. It is an idea, an approach to life. And whacking this idea out of our heads is what the Exodus is all about.

 


 

Forty years after they exited Egypt, on the eve of their entry into the Holy Land, Moses says to the Children of Israel:

For the land into which you are entering, to inherit it, is not like the land of Egypt from which you are coming, that you sow your seed and water it with your feet like a vegetable garden.

The land into which you are crossing to inherit is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water of the rain of the heavens.

A land which the L-rd your G‑d seeks; constantly the eyes of the L‑rd your G‑d are on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. (Deuteronomy 11:10-12)

The commentaries explain that "the land of Egypt does not drink rainwater; rather, the Nile rises and waters it." The Egyptian surveying his source of sustenance sees a mighty river that rises, regular as clockwork, to flood its banks and fill the reservoirs he's prepared for it; walking circles with his feet he pushes a wheel round and round to raise the water to the irrigation ditches that criss-cross his fields. Never once, in his entire career as a farmer, does he lift his eyes upward.

The Israelite farmer, in contrast, drinks water of the rain of the heavens. His source of sustenance is neither regular nor predictable. It does not well up from a channel grooved in the earth, nor is it treaded up from a hole in the ground. His eyes are forever trained upward, in hope and expectation, and in faith that life will, indeed, shower from Above.

It is true that rain also comes from below; according to Genesis 2:6, "A vapor rises from the earth, and quenches the face of the land." G‑d did not create us to be passive recipients of a unilateral flow of sustenance from heaven. Our toil and effort, our initiative and creativity, prompted by the warming sun of divine empowerment and inspiration, rise as mists from the earth to float as clouds before the heavens, from where they return as the blessings of life. But ever-present is the awareness that it's all orchestrated and driven from above. The point of reference is not earth but heaven.

Whack the river, G‑d commanded Moses. We need to beat the Nile out of the heads of My people, so that we can bring them into the land that drinks water of the rain of the heavens.

 

Yanki Tauber

Thoughts That Count
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And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob... I have also heard the groaning of the Children of Israel (Exodus 6:3-5)

Moses was concerned that after 210 years of slavery in Egypt the Jewish people would have grown too accustomed to the exile to fully absorb the message that their redemption was imminent. G‑d's answer about our Patriarchs thus reassured him that his worries were unwarranted; the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob can never accustom themselves to exile, for to them it is an unnatural state. Every day that passes is as bitter as the very first. The same is true for us today. Despite the fact that this present exile has lasted more than 1900 years, the Jewish people is more than ready to accept the message that the Final Redemption is indeed imminent. (The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Shemot, 5751)

Why does Rashi comment that G‑d appeared "to the Patriarchs"? To teach us that G‑d revealed Himself to them not because of their great virtue, but solely because they were the fathers of the Jewish people, and would thus pass on everything they received to their descendants forever. (Likutei Sichot)

Behold, the Children of Israel have not hearkened to me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me? (Ex. 6:12)

To Moses' claim that the Jews were unwilling to hear him talk about redemption, G‑d replied, "These are the heads of their family divisions." In other words, it isn't the Jewish people's fault that they are unwilling to listen; it is the fault of their leaders, who are so far removed from the concept of redemption that they don't allow anyone to even mention it. (Ohr HaChaim)

And Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh (Ex. 7:7)

Why does the Torah need to tell us the ages of Moses and Aaron? To refute the common misconception that only young people can carry the banner of liberation and redemption. Older people, too, can be "revolutionaries," if G‑d determines it is necessary and the proper time. (Shaarei Yerushalayim)

Once Upon A Chassid

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To the Point of Self-Sacrifice

And the river shall swarm with frogs. They will come up and enter your home, your bedroom, and your bed…, your ovens, and your kneading bowls.

Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah learned self-sacrifice from the frogs, who entered the ovens of the Egyptians to carry out the will of G‑d. (The Talmud, Pesachim 53b)

The world maintains that if one cannot go under (circumvent an obstacle) then one is to go over; but I say, in the first place, go over. (Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch)

At a gathering on July 1, 1985, marking the 105th anniversary of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson's birth, the Lubavitcher Rebbe shlita related the following incident from the life of his illustrious predecessor and father-in-law:

It was during Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok's younger years, when the czarist regime still ruled the Russian Empire. A new decree against the Jewish community was in the works, aimed at forcing changes in the structure of the rabbinate and Jewish education. Rabbi Sholom DovBer dispatched his son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok, to the Russian capital of Petersburg to prevent the decree from being enacted. When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok asked how long he was to stay in Petersburg, his father replied, "to the point of self-sacrifice."

Upon his arrival in Petersburg, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok learned that the decree had already reached the desk of Stolypin, the interior minister of Russia and arguably the most powerful man in the Russian Empire. The ruling Czar's intelligence (or lack thereof) made him a virtual rubber stamp for whichever minister the prevailing political climate favored; at that particular time, His Highness was led by the nose by Interior Minister Stolypin, a heartless tyrant and rabid anti-semite who was personally responsible for many of the devastating pogroms which were 'arranged' for the Jews of Russia in those years.

Living in Petersburg was an elderly scholar, a former teacher and mentor of the Interior Minister. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok succeeded in befriending this man, who was greatly impressed by the scope and depth of the young chassid's knowledge. For many an evening the two would sit and talk in the old man's study.

One day, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok told his new friend the purpose of his stay in Petersburg and pleaded with him to assist him in reaching the Interior Minister. The old scholar replied: "To speak with him would be useless. The man has a cruel and malicious heart, and I have already severed all contact with this vile creature many years ago. But there is one thing I can do for you. Because of my status as Stolypin's mentor, I have been granted a permanent entry pass into the offices of the interior ministry. I need not explain to you the consequences, for both of us, if you are found out. But I have come to respect you and what you stand for, and I have decided to help you."

When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok presented the pass at the interior ministry, the guard on duty was stupefied: few were the cabinet-level ministers granted such a privilege, and here stands a young chassid, complete with beard, sidelocks, chassidic garb, and Yiddish accent, at a time when to even reside in Petersburg was forbidden to Jews. But the pass was in order, so he waved him through.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok entered the building and proceeded to look for Stolypin's office. Those whom he asked for directions could only stare at the strange apparition confidently striding the corridors of the interior ministry. Soon he located the minister's office at the far end of a commanding hallway on the fourth floor of the building.

As Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok walked toward the office, the door opened and Stolypin himself walked out and closed the door behind him. The rebbe's son and the interior minister passed within a few feet of each other. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok made straight for the office, opened the door, and walked in.

After a quick search, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok located the documents pertaining to the decree in Stolypin's desk. On the desk sat two inkstamps, bearing the words 'APPROVED' or 'REJECTED' above the minister's signature and seal. Quickly, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok stamped the proposed decree 'REJECTED' and inserted the papers into a pile of vetoed documents which sat in a tray on the desk. He then left the room, closed the door behind him, and walked out of the building.

Tid Bits
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Is the Cosmic Crisp Apple Kosher?
tid bit
It’s not often that a fruit gets so much attention.

I can’t remember exactly when and how I heard about it (was it on NPR or Quartz?), but around two years ago I found out about a new apple being developed that was poised to be one of the biggest fruit launches in recent memory. Called the Cosmic Crisp, it was being touted as the best apple ever, and consumers were going to love it.

Of course, my kids had already heard about it (social media, obviously), and we were stoked. We kept updating each other on the timeline, and the “end of 2019” launch date could not come soon enough to get our hands on them.

Finally, last month, news outlets reported on the first shipments of 450,000 boxes that were being delivered to stores nationwide. Alas, none of our New Jersey chain stores carried it. I was ecstatic when my wife saw on Facebook that my brother-in-law, Shloime, who owns Mr. Greens, a gourmet fruit store in Brooklyn, got his hands on an early shipment! Naturally, I picked up a few on the way home from work (right down the block from the Chabad.org Brooklyn offices) and waited to share the experience with my kids when I got home.

On the subway ride home, it suddenly struck me: Orlah!

Orlah? What’s that, you might be asking. Well, living outside of Israel, we almost never have the opportunity to confront this little-known Jewish law. So here are the basics:

Within the first three years that a tree produces fruit, that fruit may not be eaten. (In ancient times, the fruit of the fourth year would be brought to Jerusalem and eaten there. From the fifth year onwards, the fruit could be eaten anywhere.)

What is not so well known is that this law applies even nowadays and outside of Israel. The obvious question is how then can we simply walk into a grocery store and purchase fruit? There is no kosher symbol verifying that the fruit is beyond the third year. The explanation: the halachah (as passed down from the time of Moses) is that outside of Israel, if there is a doubt that the fruit might be orlah, we are lenient, and one may eat it. So that takes care of all commercial fruit. Or so I always assumed.

What about the Cosmic Crisp? I recalled reading that millions of these trees were planted in the spring of 2017—which would now place the recently shipped fruit in their third year!

Seems we’d have to put our feast on hold. Was this “new fruit” kosher?

With the help of Rabbi Google, I dug deep into the reporting and fact sheets of this product launch, learning about the various planting and grafting techniques used, what rootstock is (old trees on which buds are grafted), and the history of this wonderful new fruit.

Breeding began in 1997 at Washington State University to combine the characteristics of preexisting apples, namely that of Honeycrisp and Enterprise: to have Honeycrisp’s texture and juiciness, along with the qualities of late-ripening and long storage of Enterprise. Cosmic Crisp is characterized mainly by dark red skin, dense and firm flesh, with an improved shelf life. The look of the apple's light dots (known as lenticels) against its wine-red skin reminded focus groups of a galaxy against a night sky, which led to it being named the Cosmic Crisp.

The New York Times described the apple as “dramatically dark, richly flavored and explosively crisp and juicy,” making it “the most promising and important apple of the future.” FoodRepublic.com called it “firmer than the Honeycrisp, but not too firm. And it is high in both sugar and acidity, making it far superior to the Red Delicious, Gala and Fuji varieties as well.”

But as reported extensively in The California Sunday and other sources, the trees are all very new. Six-hundred thousand trees left nurseries in 2017 and were planted in orchards throughout Washington State.

Would orlah restrictions apply?

Needing an expert opinion, I turned to those more knowledgeable than I. The conclusion was that it was kosher, for several reasons:

Some trees must be older than three years, which means that every individual fruit may very well not be from a non orlah tree, which is sufficient to permit it outside of Israel. In fact quality, commercial-grade fruit are always beyond the orlah stage.

Also, grafting a stem onto a rootstock of the same species is permitted and doesn’t usually affect the orlah count since we generally follow the age of the rootstock (unless the rootstock was extremely short).

Essentially, notwithstanding a coordinated large-scale planting in 2017 and product launch in late 2019, enough time had elapsed with the trees’ preparation and mixing of stock to render all fruit as doubtful orlah, which is permissible. (In the case of your backyard tree, however, you must still be mindful of orlah!)

A few hours later, my brother-in-law Shloime, from Mr. Greens, called me: “I was not satisfied enough to sell this product until I confirmed it for myself. So I reached out to my vendor who put me in touch with [one of the largest growers of Cosmic Crisp - name withheld]. I said, ‘Ma’am, this is going to be the most interesting question of your week. Maybe of the month.’” I proceeded to describe the Biblical laws of orlah and how it might relate to their new product. ‘I’ll pass a message to a VP,’ she said.

“Not an hour later, I received a call from Mike, the VP. He was super helpful and explained in detail how in order to ensure the quality of the fruit, they may not sell the fruit of a tree within the first four production years. In addition, they have been planting Cosmic Crisp trees in their massive chain of orchards since 2009.”

So what takeaways did I glean from this experience?

  1. The food production industry is more complex than meets the eye.
  2. Torah agricultural law can have practical applications even today outside of Israel in our super-commercialized food supply chain, in ways we may not expect.
  3. Thankfully, we have excellent resources to deal with issues that arise.
  4. Don’t miss an opportunity to share new mitzvahs with your kids—it’s our duty as parents to make the Torah real to them in as many ways as possible.

So did the apple live up to the hype? Absolutely! Its sweetness, crunchiness, and overall complex flavor is unparalleled. We enjoyed them down to the core, and shared them with friends too! So go out to your local supermarket (or Mr. Greens, if you’re in Brooklyn) and get yourself some 100% kosher Cosmic Crisp apples, and enjoy what G‑d, science, and modern agriculture has provided to us at the dawn of 2020, the “future.” As my 10-year old daughter, Freida, remarked, “This makes me like apples again!”

Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg, a 20-year veteran at Chabad.org, manages the platform of sites for chabad centers worldwide among other duties. 

 


Happenings

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