Rabbi Rael Blumenthal

#Naso #תשפא

The State of Israel is not nice to the Palestinians. There is no way around this incredibly obvious reality.

If the State of Israel was nice to the Palestinians, there would be no bombs dropped on Gaza. No children dead children. No reason for Hamas to fire rockets at Israeli schools, shuls and towns.

If Israel was nice to the Palestinians there would be no unrest. No war. No violence. No looting in the street. No Sifrei Torah desecrated. If Israel was nice to the Palestinians there would be no BDS movement. And certainly no international condemnation.

Of course, if Israel was nice to the Palestinians, it is quite likely that there would also be no State of Israel. This too, is an incredibly obvious reality. At least to us, the Jewish people, who have had a front row seat to the centuries of destruction of our people, and the deafening silence of the world.


#Bamidbar #תשפא

This week we have all been scolded.

Fights about masks, vaccines, inside versus outside? It all seems so trivial when Hamas is firing rockets at our parents, children, brothers and sisters. When rioters are looting Shul in Israel. It feels silly. We feel silly.

And of course it's silly in comparison. When faced with the ancient question of Jewish survival or even existence, everything else is trivial.

In the eery calm before the storm, or perhaps it's the quiet in the center of the hurricane, Hashem gave us the the great blessing and curse of living with cognitive dissonance.


#Behar #Bechukosai #תשפא

A young father once came to the Beis Yisroel of Ger and asked him for a bracha for his son. The Rebbe replied “I give you a bracha that your son should be like all the other boys.”

The young man was taken aback. “Rebbe!”, he exclaimed, “that's not a bracha at all! I want him to be a talmid chacham, a Chassid and a tzadik!”

The Rebbe replied: “If you would only know what life is like when your child is not like the other children, you would understand the importance of my bracha.”


#Emor #תשפא

The Space Between Resilience and Empathy

Much like any other year, as Shavuos approaches, students begin to realize that finals are coming. But this year is not like any other year. This year, there have been a myriad of interruptions to the course of study. And despite everyones best attempt, nothing has been normal.

All of this coalesced into a singular, anguished cry from a group of students last week:

“But Rebbe, you can't possibly expect us to review all that?! It's COVID?!”


#AchareiMos #Kedoshim #תשפא

Not a day has gone by in the past few weeks without some conversation about COVID policy. In many ways, we know so much more than we did a year ago. We have a far better understanding of how this virus spreads. Our doctors, baruch Hashem, know far better how to treat COVID patients. With the greatest of thanks to the Ribbon Shel Olam, we have vaccines which have overwhelmingly staved off the worst effects of this disease. Right now, we know that we are somewhere between the horrors and tragedies of last March, and a safe and maskless future.

But where exactly are we on that journey? It's hard to say. Because after all we have learned in the past 18 months, there is so much we still don't know.


#YomHaatzmaut #Tazria #תשפא

When I was in middle school, there was a program to promote zionist education. Students were given a book and curriculum to study the history of zionism and at the end of a few months, there would be a test on the material. The top three students would win a free trip to Israel to participate in an International Zionism quiz.

I had never yet been to Israel. And while the commitment to studying copious amounts of detailed history was unappealing, the possibility of visiting Israel was too tempting to pass up.

So I signed up. Along with me were the most academically motivated Jewish kids from schools across South Africa. For months, I studied, until the day of the test arrived.

With sweating palms I completed the test, unsure of a number of my answers, but ultimately, pleased with my effort. And we waited for the scores.


#Shmini #תשפא

(Some of these ideas were shared during the drasha in shul on the first day of Pesach.)

​A few days before Pesach, I wrote an article in defense of my grandmother and yours. The basic idea that I wanted to convey is that our grandparents understood that there is a deep value in commitment, dedication and hard work. Especially, in the performance of mitzvos. It's a value that has fallen out of fashion in Yiddishkeit as we have endeavored to find more frictionless avenues for mitzvah observance (many for good halachik and hashkafik reason.)

In that article, the example I gave was of the voluntary acceptance of chumros in preparing for Pesach on the part of our grandmothers. The reason for this example was in part because of the timeliness of it. But also because this subset of the Jewish people – our maternal ancestors – are often robbed of any agency in our retrospective of history. This is true on the right and left.

On the extreme right, our mothers are often portrayed as saintly: Accepting the challenges of poverty and pain with unimaginable grace from which we could only hope to be inspired. They are rarely given the credit for struggling with their challenges.

On the extreme left, these same women are viewed as ignorant victims of a patriarchal society that intentionally sidelined female voices.


#Tzav #תשפא

Over the past few weeks, in shiurim, on social media, and in polite conversations, I have noticed a significant uptick in trash talking our grandmothers.

Specifically, we seem to be maligning that our grandmothers would spend weeks and months with palpable anxiety over the upcoming Chag HaPesach, and the crumbs they would need to find and destroy.

As we all now know, none of that was necessary. Our generation, with our unparalleled access to information, knowledge and wisdom, can safely assure our matriarchal ancestors that their efforts were in vain. Bedikas Chametz is simply not the same as spring cleaning. It never was.

And if only they would have been as wise, knowledgable and educated as we are, they too could have entered the Chag with more sleep and less stress.


#Vayikra #תשפא

When I was in 11th grade, I was privileged to spend a few weeks learning in the Yeshiva Gedolah of Johannesburg as part of their winter vacation program.

Like many teenagers, I was trying to figure out a system of priorities in life and Yiddishkeit. I realized, already then, that it's not always intuitive to understand what's important, what's extraneous and what's incorrect. This challenge is constantly compounded by multiple factors: community standards, family customs and differing opinions.

Even today, I'm working to establish rubrics and perspectives through which I should see the world. I imagine that this will be a life long project.

But I recall that winter that I approached the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Azriel Goldfein זצ״ל and asked him what he thought about me taking on the custom of Chalav Yisrael. He looked at me intently and then asked: “If you decide to eat only Chalav Yisrael, what will that mean when you spend Shavuos at your aunt? Will you be able to eat her cheesecake?” “No, I suppose not,” I replied. “Do you think that will upset her?” “Probably.” “Well then, it seems that you have a choice to make. Are you going to be Machmir to observe Chalav Yisrael, or are you going to be Machmir to have Derech Eretz for your aunt?”

“Always remember,” he concluded, “There is no such thing as a Chumrah (a stringency) that doesn't come with a Kulah (a leniency) somewhere else.”


#Pekudei #HaChodesh #תשפא

Some 70 years ago, construction and development work was happening in Yerushalayim as Jews were slowly retuning home. But Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap, the Talmid of Rav Kook, who was the Rabbi of the Sha'arei Chesed neighborhood, was lying in bed at his home, sick.

Digging and drilling machines were being used right under his bedroom window. His family members were thinking to do something about it and move the source of the noise away to a more distant place, but Rabbi Charlap told them: “Until recently I was privileged to go out of the house and see Jerusalem being built. Now I am bedridden, and can no longer go out, but when I hear the noise that the machines make, I know that Jerusalem is being built. Do not take away from me this privilege, let me at least hear Yerushalayim being built once more.”

This Shabbos, Hashem is letting us hear the the echos of the building of the Mishkan; a sound that was heard thousands of years ago, and that we will never need to to hear again. Why? Because the Mishkan is still standing.

Chazal (Yoma 72a) tell us:

אָמַר רַבִּי חָמָא בְּרַבִּי חֲנִינָא מַאי דִּכְתִיב עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים עוֹמְדִים ... שֶׁמָּא תֹּאמַר אָבַד סִבְרָן וּבָטֵל סִכּוּיָין תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר עוֹמְדִים שֶׁעוֹמְדִין לְעוֹלָם וּלְעוֹלָמִים Rabbi Chama, son of Rabbi Chanina, said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “And you shall make the boards for the Mishkan of acacia wood, standing”?... “Standing” is written to hint at the following: You might think that since the Mishkan is no longer in use, the boards would rot and decay. Therefore, the verse states “standing” to indicate that they will last forever and ever.

The Seforno (ר׳ פר׳ פקודי) adds: > Not only did the Mishkan last forever, none of the utensils used in the Mishkan ever fell into the hands of our enemies.

But then the Seforno pivots: > This is the opposite of what happened to the “permanent” Temple, בית עולמים, built by Shlomo HaMelech.

He continues to explains that Shlomo's Beis HaMikdash needed regular repair, and that it was eventually, and tragically destroyed.

Why Was Yerushalayim Destroyed?

What could account for this discrepancy? The Seforno's answer here is biting: The Mishkan was built by Jewish hands. The Beis HaMikdash was outsourced to foreign laborers from Tzidon.

His point is clear: If you want to create something that will stand the test of time, you need to do it yourself. We dare not outsource the things that are most important in our lives: Torah, mitzvos and relationships.

But the comments of the Seforno require explanation on two counts. Firstly, if the tragedy of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash could've been avoided by communal engagement, then why did Shlomo HaMelech – the wises of all men – not insist on it? Secondly, and perhaps more painfully, what difference does this make for us? The Beis HaMikdash is destroyed, and the Mishkan is hidden. Either way, we have no access to them?!

To this the Alshich HaKadosh notes that there were fundamentally different emotions driving the building of the Mishkan and Mikdash.

The Mishkan was build by Jewish hands because it was a project borne out of Love of Hashem, Love of Torah and Love of the Jewish people. They wanted to build it. They wanted to get their hands dirty.

By contrast, the purpose of the Beis Mikdash was to inspire a sense of awe and fear. Walking into the Mikdash was entering the Palace of the King. Royalty. Sovereignty. Majesty. It could not simply be cobbled together by volunteers; even if they wanted to. It needed to be perfect – so the greatest artists and architects were hired. And that meant foreign labor.

Tragically, and ironically, the attempt to create a fixed, permanent, awe-inspiring edifice resulted in the disenfranchising of the very people it was meant to inspire.

Solving an Intractable Conundrum

This is the tension at the heart of everything we do in life: marriage, raising children, building a business and cultivating a community. Do we do it ourselves or do we outsource to professionals?

Of course, we all know that there must be a balance. We cannot do everything ourselves, that's a recipe for burnout. But by handing over every task, we make ourselves obsolete.

Amazingly, Chazal pondered and resolved this centuries ago by understanding that everything we do creates a change in us and a change in the world. But that the primary orientation of a Jew is first to focus on the change in ourselves.

Let's understand this in context of Pesach.

Our Sages teach us that a מצות הגוף – a mitzvah on ourselves – cannot be outsourced. No one can eat matzah for you. No one can drink the four cups on your behalf. Just like no one can exercise for you, or loose weight on your behalf.

But then there are mitzvos that create an effect: You need a chametz-free home. You need a seder prepared. These can be outsourced. But they should not be, since מצוה בו יותר מבשלוחו – there is a greater mitzvah to do it ourselves. Yes, of course, a professional might be able to do it better. But the goal is changing ourselves far more than having a “perfect seder” (whatever that might mean to your mother-in-law...)

And what if we really, truly, have no idea how to do a particular mitzvah? Chazal do not leave us in the dark. They instructed halachik mechanisms, for example: appointing a Shaliach (an agent) and שומע כעונה (listening to a text rather than saying it).

But the point is clear: We should err on the side of doing it ourselves. An outsourced Yiddishkeit does not last, even if it is perfect.

Preparing for Pesach – And Life

The Eretz Tzvi notes that while neither Mikdash not Mishkan are available to us today, the truth that the Mishkan still stands somewhere is deeply meaningful. In the world of Galus, neither love nor fear are readily accessible. But the Mishkan of love still exists – it's hidden, but it's there. It is the only tool we have to build a relationship with Hashem if only we would uncover it.

This understanding is essential in imbuing our children with a commitment to Torah and Mitzvos. By getting them involved in Pesach we ensure that they know that Yiddishkeit is about passion and enjoyment – not perfection and fear. And that makes it last.

But it's not only about our kids and grandkids. Somehow, we have developed this false narrative that kids need to do mitzvos with love while we just need to get it done – to be “Yotzei”.

What happens to good parents on Seder night when the kids fall asleep? Does the seder loose steam, and fizzle out? Or do we, as adults, engage deeper and more meaningfully?

The next two weeks are about getting rid of the Chametz in our hearts, by getting rid of the Chametz in our homes. It's about preparing to leave the Mitzraim of our lives, by preparing for Seder night.

Ultimately, the goal of all of Yiddishkeit is to pour our passion, excitement and engagement into changing ourselves, and deepening our connection to the Ribono Shel Olam.

Hashem should help us to live lives of love and engagement. And this year, it should last.

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