Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Auditive balance
Our weekly Torah section contains one of the fundamental pillars of the Jewish faith: the "Shema Israel".

For that reason, I would like to talk about the centrality of the sense of hearing in the Jewish tradition.

Our People are overwhelmed with visual and auditive reminders. We can mention the tefillin, the mezuzah, the tzitzit, and the Chanukah candles among the visual reminders and the Shofar is an outstanding example among the auditive ones. These reminders work in the same way that a compass works in the open sea. They point to us the way to follow and they make us remember who we are and towards where we go.

However, our people always believed more in its ears than in its eyes. When a people hear, he can transmit, and when the ear fails, the Jewish People are in danger.

A very graphical example appears in the book of Be-Midbar. In Parashat Be-Haalotcha it is told about the signals that our people had during its march in the desert. A cloud marked the exact site in which the People of Israel had to encamp and two trumpets of silver helped to congregate to the People at the time of their departure. (see Numbers 9:15 - 10:10).

Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut comments this passage:

"The cloud was a visual, the trumpets an auditive reminder of G-d's presence. Somehow, Jewish instinct never quite trusted the witness of the eyes. Moses performed signs, but these could be duplicated – what he said could not. At Sinai the emphasis was not so much on what the people saw but, more importantly, on what they heard. The true key word of Judaism is not "Reeh" (See) but "Shema" (Hear). The cloud is gone, the sound of the Shofar remains".

The Rabbi says that if the Jewish People loses its capacity of hearing not just becomes deaf…but also becomes blind! In that instant the people lose the compass. It is not accidental that the center of the human balance is close to the ears. The Hebrew language, with its well-known wisdom, teaches us that the word "Izun" ("Balance") contains the same linguistic root of the word "Ozen" ("Ear").

The balance and the future of the People of Israel resides in maintaining the millenarian capacity to exercise the "Shema", to hear, to transmit and to teach to those who follow us in the chain of life.

Monday, July 20, 2009


The longest lamentation

Parashat Devarim is always read the Shabbat before Tishá BeAv, the anniversary -among other things- of the destruction of both Temples of Jerusalem.

The weekly portion begins taking about the meraglim, the spies who visited the Promised Land and that frightened to the people of Israel at their returning, sinking Israel in the hopelessness and the lamentation.

That night, according to the Talmud, was Tisha B'Av. G-d, looking at the people crying, condemned them to travel for forty years in the desert, and decreed that the generation won't enter the Promised Land. "You cry without reason!", said G-d. "I will establish a crying for the generations!" (Ta'anit 29a).

According to the Talmudic tradition, the Temples of Jerusalem, not only were destroyed by the invaders, but also the people motivated the destruction with their own conducts. Jerusalem not only was destroyed by the will of others, but also by own errors. The paganism, the bloodshed and the illicit sexual relations caused the destruction of the First Temple, whereas the Second was destroyed by the baseless hatred and the excessive love to the money (Ierushalmi Iomá).

Four thousand years after that critical night in which we cried that vain weeping to the return of the twelve meraglim, we are still alive. Many times we have been knocked down; many others we returned to life.

Perhaps in our days, when we are the page of the history that will be studied in one hundred years, we can learn this lesson of G-d and of our history. We should understand that the destruction of Jerusalem was triggered by a number of sins that are still present in our lives. Even today, there is baseless hatred between brothers and many enemies from outside and from inside can ignite -Jas V'Shalom!- the flames of a new destruction.

We must understand in these crucial times we are living, that we cannot be indifferent with this situation…because the indifference is criminal. Also for that indifference Jerusalem was destroyed. And mainly, we must understand that there is no future for our people if we do not exercise Ahavat Israel (the authentic love to Israel). For that reason we have been wondering for two thousand years in the uttermost parts of the world.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Aaron's Peace

Aaron the priest ascended Mount Hor at the command of G-d and died there (Numbers 33:38)

This week we will read about the death of Aaron.

Aaron is a strange personality within the Torah. Many times, he seems to have an inexplainable passivity. We would have expected for a different attitude in the episode of the golden calf or a greater commitment in circumstances where the leadership of Moses was in doubt.

However, the people of Israel felt Aaron's death much than Moses' death. Aaron was loved by Israel because he was much more than Moses's brother: he was the brother of Israel. As it is suggested in Pirkei Avot (1, 13): "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and bringing them close to the Torah.".

Nobody can sympathize with such passivity. Passivity exasperates many people and indifference makes them angry as well. But Aaron was not passive. He was a consensus seeker and was the only one in that generation who could live in peace during forty years in the desert.

When the people fought with the phantoms of the past and with the fears of the future, Aaron not only could live peacefully but also knew how to pursue the peace for others.

There once was a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace.
Many artists tried. The king looked at all the pictures, but there were only two he really liked and he had to choose between them.
One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains were all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought that it was a perfect picture of peace.
The other picture had mountains too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell, in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall. This did not look peaceful at all. But when the king looked, he saw behind the waterfall a tiny bush growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird on her nest in perfect peace.
The king chose the second picture. He said: "Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace."

That was the meaning of Aaron's peace.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


The Blessing of an Enemy

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

"How goodly are thy tents o' Ya'acov, thy tabernacles o' Israel" (Numbers 24:5).

This well known verse that appears at the beginning of the prayer book is the verse said by Bilam the wicked, the enemy of Israel.

If this is the case, why have Bilam's words received such a prominent place in the siddur?

There is the famous joke about the Jew who read an anti-Semitic newspaper every morning.

Once his friend Shmulik met him and asked him: "Tell me Yankel…aren't there enough jewish newspapers that you are reading an anti-Semitic one?

He said to Shmulik , "Look…I read in the Jewish newspaper about the number of Israelis living under the poverty line, about how we dare not move a finger without the authorization of the United States and about the fact that soon there will be more Arabs than Jews living in the State of Israel. Then I open an anti-Semitic newspaper and I read that there are tens of millions of Jews in the world, that we dictate the policy in Iraq to the United States and that all Jews are millionaires…you tell me: Which newspaper would you rather read??"

There is a large gap between the image that a person or a people have of himself and the image of a person or a people in the eyes of the world.

I do not know how many Jews would be willing to say "How goodly are thy tents o' Ya'acov, thy tabernacles o' Israel".

If this is so, then why Bilam's words received such a special place in the siddur?

Rabbi Acha said in the name of Rabbi Haninah: It would have been more worthy to put the reproaches in the mouth of Bilam and the blessings in the mouth of Moshe. But if Bilam had reproached them, then Israel would say, it is our enemy who reproves us, and if Moshe had blessed them, then the world would say one who loves them has blessed them. The Holy One said: Moshe who loves them will reproach them and Bilam who hates them will bless them, thus Israel will demonstrate the validity of the blessings and the reproaches.

There is no value to the reproach of an enemy. Of course that there is a very important value to the blessing of one who loves us (A parent's or a Rabbi's blessing, by example), but the very fact that it is the enemy who gives the blessing, grants the blessing legitimacy.

Everyone knows that in the natural course of events, enemies tend to curse and friends are wont to bless. But when an expression of benevolence is uttered by an enemy, it has a completely different meaning.

The blessing of an enemy is a true blessing.

Previous Drashot
Balak 5766 - Opposite Ends