Monthly Archives: July 2011

Hinduism’s Message to the Jewish People

(Hat tip to for the link)

Also see this post (There is only One)

A Silent Tear

Dear Rabbi:

Today I read the horrifying news of the young boy brutally murdered in Borough Park. I know there are plenty of horrors in this world, but this one won’t let me rest or think of anything else.

Do you rabbis have answers?

—Y. T.


I have no answer to calm your soul and let you rest. But I can share the thoughts I have written to myself this day.

We believe that G‑d is good. And yet He has created beings that commit horrific evil, acts He Himself despises in the most ultimate sense of the word. Things about which we can only recoil in horror while turning to the heavens in indignant outrage, screaming, “Why did You allow this? How could You?!”

And all we receive from heaven is a silent tear.

Of all the questions we ask, why does this one never receive a satisfactory answer? We believe our Torah is a Torah of truth, of divine wisdom, yet of all the questions it answers, why on this one does it fail us?

We are told that good cannot come without evil, just as darkness cannot come without light.

But, G‑d, dear beneficent and all-powerful G‑d, could You not do whatever You please? Could you not create light without darkness, good without evil? At the very least, did You have to create an evil so hideous?

We are told that commensurate to the darkness will be the light, commensurate to the pain will be the reward. Looking at this world and the pain we have suffered, the reward must be beyond any measure.

But, my G‑d, you are good! Does everything have to be measured so precisely? Can a G‑d who is good allow such horror, even if ultimately it will become good?

We are told that human beings must be given free choice. That this is the ultimate kindness of G‑d to humankind, that He grants us the space to fail, and the opportunity to achieve greatness on our own.

But if this is kindness, then what is cruelty? Are there no limits? Even the most liberal parents, if they care, they will have limits on the freedoms they grant their children. And here, in our world, we see ugliness without bound.

My G‑d, each day I am surrounded by Your wonders. Each day, I see Your miracles, one after the other, Your unending goodness to me and to each of us. I will not lose faith, I will not stop praying to You. But if I will not stand up and demand, “Does the Judge of all the earth not do justice?” if I will not declare, “Why have you done evil to your people?”—then what kind of a creature am I? And in what sort of a G‑d do I believe?

One day, we will understand. Until then, we must be outraged. We must recoil with horror, we must reach deep inside ourselves, we must protest to G‑d Himself. For only the righteously indignant can heal this world.

That is our answer for now: That we cannot be allowed to understand. For if we would understand, we would not be outraged. And if we were not outraged, then why would we ever stand up and do all that is in our power that such horrors could never happen again? And then there would be no one to heal G‑d’s world.

And so the answer is only a silent tear, falling from heaven, into our hearts.

(Source: Coping With Tragedy in Borough Park – R’Tzvi Freeman)

Dance; the song of the body

 All my bones shall say: ‘LORD, who is like unto Thee – Psalms: 35:10

Redemption amidst the darkness

I was recently reminiscing over Pulp Fiction, a cult-classic movie from the early 90’s. Phenomenal film, it is ranked as the #5 movie of all time and won the Palme d’Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. [1]

Now I wouldn’t watch the film again, unfortunate as it may be, its decadence is not conducive to the realm of kedusha and hence must remain on the “other side”. However, there are many potent images and motifs brought to mind, that I consider it meritorious to “redeem some sparks from the husks” and delve into one of the characters, Jules Winnfield.

Jules Winnfield is a hired hit-man, who feeling no qualms about his chosen profession, enacts vengeance upon those who dare disrespect the domain of his boss, Marcellus Wallace. However, following a close encounter with near death, Jules feels that a miracle has taken place and that is a wake up call from G-d to “quit the life”. He tells his partner Vincent, that he feels the need to “walk the earth, like Caine from Kung Fu”,  and keep on wandering  “Until God puts me where he wants me to be”.[2]

While in the midst of conversation with Vincent [3], they are held up by Ringo and Hunny Bunny, who demand that they hand over the “suitcase”. Jules, grabbing his pistol, enters into a Mexican standoff, and begins to reveal his soul, a poetic confession cloaked in the darkness of profanity fused with holiness.

“There’s this passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. [4]  “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is The Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.”

I been saying that s*** for years. And if you heard it, that meant your a**. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded s*** to say to a m****** before I popped a cap in his a**. But I saw some s*** this morning made me think twice.

See, now I’m thinking, maybe it means you’re the evil man, and I’m the righteous man, and Mr. 9 millimeter here, he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous a** in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. I’d like that. But that s*** ain’t the truth. The truth is, you’re the weak, and I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.

A similar tale of redemption amidst profanity is the tale of R’Eleazar ben Durdia, who following a strange encounter with a prostitute begs G-d to forgive him, the pangs of guilt bringing him to an early death, but a place as a redeemed man in the World to Come.

“They said about Eleazar ben Durdia that there was no prostitute in the world with whom he did not have intercourse at least once. He heard that there was one particular prostitute in a town near the sea who would receive a purse full of dinars for her services. He took a purse full of dinars and went to her, crossing over seven rivers. During intercourse she passed gas. She said: Just like this gas will never return to its place so too Eleazar ben Durdia will never have his repentance accepted (literally – will never return).

He went and sat between two mountains and hills. He said: Mountains and hills, request mercy for me. They said: Before we request mercy for you we have to request mercy for ourselves, at is says (Isaiah 54:10) “For the mountains will be moved and the hills will falter…”

He said: Heavens and earth, request mercy for me. They said: Before we request mercy for you we have to request mercy for ourselves, at is says (Isaiah 51:6) “For the heavens will dissipate like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment…”

He said: Sun and moon, request mercy for me. They said: Before we request mercy for you we have to request mercy for ourselves, at is says (Isaiah 24:23) “The moon will be humiliated and the sun will be shamed…”

He said: Stars and constellations, request mercy for me. They said: Before we request mercy for you we have to request mercy for ourselves, at is says (Isaiah 34:4) “All the host of the heavens will dissolve…”

He said: This matter depends solely on me. He put his head between his knees and began to tremble from crying until he died. A heavenly voice declared: R. Eleazar ben Durdia is ready for the world-to-come.”

– Tractate Avoda Zara 17A [5]

There are many lessons to be learnt from these narratives,  tales that give a man hope, faith and the promise of a better tomorrow. It teaches us that no matter what level we are are on, or how far we have fallen,  there is always the possibility of redemption, a returning to the lights of holiness and submersion in the realm of the One.

To quote Reb Nachman of Breslov:

Regardless of what happens, he should remain strong and follow the guidance of King David: “If I ascend to the Heaven, there you are and if I make hell my bed, behold you are there.” (Psalms 139.8). Even in the lowest pit of hell, a person can draw himself closer to God Almighty, for even there he can be found. This is the meaning of the words of the Psalm: “If I make hell my bed, behold You are there”.

– Likutey Moharan I:6

[1] See the IMDb Top 250 listings []. I find it interesting to note, that all top 5 films deal with the theme of redemption, perhaps expressing the latent draw of humanity towards visualising the ultimate redemption of mankind and physical existance.

[2] I have not seen the TV series “Kung Fu”, but the idea appears to be reminiscent of the Biblical Cain, who after killing his brother Abel is forced to walk the earth as a “wanderer and an exile in the land”. See Genesis 4:14

[3] Vincent Vega, played by John Travolta, the film was instrumental in revitalising his career

[4] Ezekial 25:17. The actual verse as quoted is a fictional conglomeration of multiple verses, rather the full verse is “And I shall wreak great acts of vengeance with rebukes of fury, and they will know that I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon them.” See []

[5] See the “Real Story of Rabbi Eleazer” by Rabbi Gil Student []

The Rabbi and the Paratroopers

Avodah Zarah – Practical implications

Below is an extract from the introduction to the Artscroll edition of Avodah Zarah. It is most welcoming that this introduction was written, as this is a very sensitive and possibly dangerous area of halacha, that if applied today could have terrible repercussions in the realm of peaceful relations with our neighbours.

It is clear that the negative remarks in this tractate about the morals of idol worshipers were descriptive of the pagans whose depraved behaviour the Sages observed, and should not be construed as pertaining to any of the cultured societies in which we reside nowadays. [9] On the contrary, Rabbinic luminaries in recent centuries spoke and wrote extensively about the responsibility of Jews to appreciate the kindness of the modern nations who recognize God and are hospitable to people of all religions, and about the obligation upon Jews residing in these nations to pray for their welfare. [10)

With recognition of the benefits that modern society has provided us, and retrospection as to the tribulations our people faced in earlier times, we begin our study of this tractate with the prayer that it be the Will of Hashem for us to speedily witness fulfilment of the verse (Isaiah 11:9), “They will neither injure nor destroy in all of my sacred mountain, for the world will be as filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the seabed. Fervently, we await realisation of the prophecy (Zecharia 14:9), “Hashem will be king over all the world – on that day Hashem will be One and his Name will be One)

[9] – Noda BiYehuda writes (in his preface.. ): I hereby announce and publicize – not only regarding my own publication, but also regarding all [Talmudic and halachic] works – that wherever there is a derogatory statement about “idol worshipers”, “gentiles” or the like, one should not erroneously interpret it as applying to the peoples of our times, for whoever explains it in this manner is grossly mistaken and distorts the law of the Torah, Rather, the intent is for the people of earlier times who worshipped the stars and constellations. See also preface to Kreisi U’Pleisi

[10] – See, for example, Derashos Chasam Sofer Vol II, pp. 789-797, where Chasam Sofer’s numerous sermons in this regard are recorded. See also Teshuva Mabit II:199, Alshich, Introduction to commentary on the Torah …. , Be’er HaGola, Noda BiYehuda ibid, Kreisi U’Pleisi ibid , R’S.R Hirsch ibid pp. 226-8, Tiferes Yisrael Boas, Bava Kamma 4:1

The foremost halachic authority of our generation, R Moshe Feinstein called upon American Jews to appreciate the compassion and goodwill of the American populace and to thank God for his kindness in letting many of his people find refuge under the auspices of this “Government of Benevolence (Igros Moshe Chosen Mishpat II:29)