Torah Thought

On the Back of a Whale

If you don't think that our Talmudic sages saw far into the future with their crystal-clear spiritual vision, then hear today's podcast, which shows just how the holy Raba bar Bar Chana saw what would happen in our generation in general, and with the upheaval of COVID-19 in particular.


The Few Against the Many

Here's today's emuna news: the preoccupation with Coronavirus has taken the focus away from Israel's northern border, where an acute threat of hundreds of thousands of Hizbolla and Iranian missiles are aimed at us right now. Moses saw all this in this week's Torah portion. Today's podcast is ideal to say over at your Shabbat table - enjoy it and have a wonderful Shabbat!


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:


Bar Kamtza and COVID-19

What possibly does COVID-19 have to do with Kamtza and Bar Kamtza? The key to the puzzle is Shalva Zalfreund, of blessed memory, a kindergarten teacher in Petah Tikva, passed away from coronavirus this past Friday, July 17, 2020. Shalva was an amazing teacher who educated several generations of Petah Tikva's children. Before she died, she wrote a letter to the parents of the children in her kindergarten. If you take a close look, the letter should be required reading for all of us, especially during the Three Weeks, a time when we're supposed to feel the lack and loss of our Holy Temple. Here is the letter and its mindboggling message to all of us.


Living Your Torah

Noam, an IDF soldier from a "hesder" tank unit, asked me: "I recall in one of your online Torah lessons, you said that if someone learns the right way, then the words of the Gemara come alive. How do you learn Torah in such a way that the holy words come alive right in front of you?" Here's my answer to Noam, which in his credit, others can benefit from also. We pray for Noam's safety and the safety of all of our dedicated soldiers:


One Soul, an Entire World

Our message today is intended to be a spiritual antidote to all that's trying to pull us down and to enable us to truly feel good about ourselves. The "Three Weeks" period is a time to yearn for Moshiach and the Holy Temple, but not a time to be sad or depressed. Enjoy this and have a wonderful new week: