The Survivor

The following parable is a figment of my imagination, and it carries a message that many will not understand; out of those who understand, many will not want to heed. This post is for those who want to understand and heed:

The ship was destroyed at sea but a lone survivor miraculously swam to the shore of an island, where he found refuge. The island was blessed with abundance and the survivor was able to gather sufficient fresh fruit and nuts to satiate himself. There was one disadvantage, though. The island was dominated by the three brothers of the Canis family.

The Canis family was full of strife and bickering. The eldest brother, Canis Lupus, usurped the throne and terrified his two younger brothers. The younger twin brothers, Canis Familarus Moderari and Canis Familiarus Ductus, neither of whom had the power own their own to overcome Lupus, joined together and plotted a coordinated attack against Lupus. Familarus Moderari pounced on Lupus's throat while Familiarus Ductus dug his jaws into Lupus's thigh. Lupus was no match for his two younger brothers, although he fought with the fierceness of a wolf. Badly defeated and sorely injured, Lupus escaped their death-lock and retreated into the forest, still alive and living on hopes of revenge.

All over the island, Familarus followers rejoiced, ushering in what they thought was a new age with the downfall of the iron-fisted Lupus. Moderari, the older of the Canis Familarus twins became the leader, designating a ministerial position for his half-hour younger twin, Ductus. Ductus didn't mind being a minister just as long as Moderari would implement his policies, many of which negated the statutes of the Great Book.

Many of the birds, animals and reptiles on the island were Lupus supporters. They came together in loyal support of their dethroned leader and in the meanwhile invented a theory that eventually became a blood libel, all based on circumstantial evidence and half-truths. They told their dethroned leader, "King Lupus, did you ever notice that your downfall occurred right after the shipwrecked survivor came to the island?" Lupus nodded in the affirmative; the accusation solidified into fact in his mind. 

Meanwhile, back in the palace, a war was brewing between Moderari and Ductus. Ductus, with much power on the island especially among the Hominoids, organized demonstrations against the Moderari regime, which often led to violence, arson and looting. Strangely enough, both Moderari and Ductus supporters blamed the ills of the regime on the Survivor, just like the supporters of Lupus did.

The Survivor, unable to maintain a moment's peace of mind, was belittled, vandalized and attacked by extremists of all sides. He was the sole blame for all the island's ills, so they all thought. The Survivor yelled out in prayer to the Great Spirit (see Psalm 139:5) , "I am pursued both sides, please help me!"

The Great Spirit had mercy and compassion on the Survivor, who had endured many stormy seas. He sent the Survivor a rescue ship, shaped like the wing of an eagle. The captain of the ship sent six sailors ashore to rescue the Survivor, bring him aboard, and take him back with them to Terra Promissa, their home country.

Survivor refused. "Here I have bananas, coconuts and papaya, all I want. I have a lovely bamboo shack right on the seashore. I eat fresh sea bass for Shabbat. How shall I make a living in Terra Promissa?"

The six sailors did everything they could to convince the Survivor. "You can't stay here. There is no future here for you have no true friends - the armed Lupus followers are against you and so are the Familarus clan, especially the violent Ductus ones. This island belongs to them and not to you. Let them fight amongst themselves but you must escape, quickly, while you still can, for you will always be the scapegoat here, no matter who is in power. The Great Spirit wants you to come home, and Terra Promissa is the home of your ancestors and your homeland as well. There, the Great Spirit personally tends to all our needs, especially those of us adhere to the Great Book."

Will the Survivor listen to the six angels? Will he trust in them and get on the boat to Terra Promissa? Only you know how the story ends and we certainly hope it's a happy one.

The Turkey Prince, Starring Yehuda Barkan, ob"m

As soon as Shabbat was over, I got word that Yehuda Barkan, ob"m, returned his sacred soul to Hashem during Shabbat, my third cherished friend this month who succumbed to COVID-19 (the first two were the Pittsburger Rebbe zatza"l and Dovid Raphael (Ben Ami) Feinshil zatza"l. Yehuda, one of Israel's leading film stars and producers, changed his lifestyle about a dozen years ago when he made teshuva. I used to teach Torah classes in his house when he was making his first steps back to Hashem.

In loving memory of Yehuda, I'm sharing with you one of his last films, a delightful rendition of Rebbe Nachman's story of the Turkey Prince. Some of the people appearing in the film are dear friends, including my inlaw Yisroel Dagan who plays the guitar and Daniel Dayan who plays the tzaddik that heals the turkey prince. Enjoy this, and may your enjoyment help Yehuda's soul rise higher and higher.

The Balance Scale of Baghdad

Today's 8-minute podcast is a 4-in-1:

1. It's a preparation for Succoth, telling about the significance of the Four Species;

2. It tells a traditional story, well known to Iraqi Jewry;

3. It's an ethics lesson, and -

4. It has a special message about rescinding the harsh decree of the Corona-virus pandemic.

Enjoy it, and feel free to share and download it at no charge, thanks to our wonderful supporters.

The Last Laugh

"If we knew that a rare gift was concealed within our difficulties, we could laugh; but with emuna, we start laughing even before we discover the gift." 

Shavua Tov! An old parable about a donkey in trouble gives us a different perspective on life's difficulties. Here's two-and-a-half minutes of encouragement:

Thanks to our wonderful supporters, you can download this mp3 here, free of charge, share it and listen to it on whatever platform you desire.

An End to Exile; The First Step to Redemption

132. Take the First Step

A group of friends once made a trip together. On the way to their destination, they saw someone standing with a backpack on a desert crossroads. Seven days later, on their way home, they encountered the same person with the backpack standing on the same desert crossroads in the hot sun. The group of friends asked the backpacker, "Why are you standing here?"

"I want to go to Jerusalem," responded the backpacker. "I'm waiting for a ride."

"How long have you been waiting?" they asked.

"More than a week," he answered.

They laughed. "Jerusalem's only a two-day walk from here. If you'd have started walking, you could have been there and back four times already!"

Many of us want to change, yet we expect it to happen automatically, with no effort on our part. Life doesn't work that way. An old Hebrew expression says, "Even a journey of a thousand kilometers begins with a first step."

The Yerushalmi Gemara in tractate Yoma 5a says that a generation that fails to build the Holy Temple is as if it destroyed the Holy Temple. People think that the Gemara is a little too severe here; let's see...

The Babylonian Gemara in tractate Yoma 9b says that the generation of the Second Temple was learned in Torah and exacting in mitzva observance. The Gemara even tells us that they engaged in charitable deeds. Despite all that, the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam, baseless hate.

The first Diaspora, the period that lasted for seventy years between the destruction of the First Holy Temple and the rebuilding of the Second Holy Temple, was an atonement for the three terrible sins that led to the destruction of the First Holy Temple - idolatry, bloodshed and debauchery. According to the Gemara in tractate Sanhedrin 74a, these are the three worst sins in the Torah, which a person must give up his own life rather than violate. Yet, the generation of the First Temple was punished for 70 years only? In the Second Temple, there was none of those three. On the contrary, people were super observant and learned too. Yet, they've been in Diaspora for almost 2000 years, with Inquisitions, pogroms, Holocausts and pandemics on the way. Is that fair? Where's the proportionality? We're still part of that prolonged exile and Diaspora! We must ask ourselves, why is the punishment and subsequent exile of the Second Temple already thirty times worse than the first. And it's not over yet!

The generation of the Second Temple they hated each other. Sure, they fed the poor, built luxurious mikvas and study halls and educated the orphans, but they were jealous of each other and they spoke slander day and night. Comes along the Gemara in tractate Arachin 15b and tells us that lashon hara is just as bad as idolatry, bloodshed and debauchery put together. Even worse, the Yerushalmi in Tractate Pe'ah says that those who speak evil are punished in this world and the next, and their punishment is no less severe that the punishment for the three nasty sins that one should die rather than violate.

It's therefore easy to understand while we're still in Diaspora - our generation is still full of lashon hara and sinas chinam, slander and intramural hate. We can now realize what the Gemara means when it says that a generation that fails to build the Holy Temple is as if it destroyed the Holy Temple. Hashem won't rebuild the Temple another time and then let it be destroyed again because the core sin is still there. So we have to get rid of the core sin!

A person called me this week, very upset. He told me that his boss is so cruel to him that he's constantly nervous and he's lost his joy in life. I asked him why he doesn't sit down and discuss the ill treatment with the boss. He said it won't help, because the boss treats all the workers like that. I then asked why he doesn't seek the advice of a local rabbi who might be able to influence the boss. He told me that no one will believe him, because his boss gives millions of dollars to charity. The organizations think he's an angel. That's the type of thing that went on in the Second Temple - people would fund yeshiva and kollelim but they'd murder their employees or their competitors.

Anyone you ask will say that they await Moshiach and the Geula, with the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, once and for all. Yet, we have to ask ourselves: have we taken the first step to bring Moshiach? Have we done the very first thing to reduce the lashon hara or the sinas chinam in the world? How many groups within Judaism carry a flag of hate? For one group, it's a mitzva to hate Zionist Jews. For another group, it's a mitzva to hate non-Zionist Jews. A third group hates people who wear a different style kippa than they do and a fourth group hates all Jews who wear kippas while a fifth group hates all Jews who don't wear kippas. All these groups don't call it hate - they call it ideology. How can the Chassidim get along with the Litvaks if they can't get along with each other? I could go on and on, but this is distasteful.

It's a lot easier to sit on the floor and lament with tearful eyes about the destruction of our Temple and the calamities that have befallen our people than it is to commit to refrain from saying anything derogatory about a fellow human. This Tisha B'av, I am deciding to take the first step. I'm not going to wait for anyone else but you're more than welcome to join me. I ask Hashem to help me avoid saying or writing anything uncomplimentary about a fellow human, much less a fellow Jew. I ask Hashem that not a single syllable of slander or evil speech should appear in my blog or podcast, or anything else I say or write. Hashem, I don't want to perpetuate the exile and Diaspora. I do want Moshiach, redemption, the ingathering of the exiles and our rebuilt Holy Temple. Help me take this first step, Hashem, and help all my wonderful brothers and sisters who are joining me. Show us Your mercy and Your miraculous salvation, and bring us all home to our rebuilt Holy Temple and the glory of Your Holy Presence in Zion, speedily and in our days, amen!

Hear the above lesson on mp3, which you are welcome to download, courtesy of Emuna Beams: