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An Unbroken Chain

June 26, 2015 at 11:35 am

We read this week about the passing of Aharon, the first Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. At the time of his passing, G-d tells Moshe to ascend the mountain with both Aharon and Elazar, his son — and to remove the vestments of the High Priest from Aharon, and place them upon Elazar before his father’s passing.

IMG_1802_1__61147.1423773883.1280.1280The Sifsei Chachamim points out that this is a unique moment. It was forbidden to leave the Temple Mount wearing those unique garments — so why was Aharon told to ascend the mountain in them, and Elazar to return wearing them?

Aharon was special to the Jewish nation in two ways, which we could perhaps describe as “personal” and “professional.” He, Aharon, was a pursuer of peace, the one who helped people to reconcile their differences. But he also held a critical office in the leadership of the Jewish people, as the High Priest.

Every time a great leader or teacher passes away, it is natural to worry that no one can fill his place, that he was irreplaceable. By having Elazar descend back to the Jewish nation in the Priestly Vestments, HaShem was sending us a message — that as much as every individual truly is unique, the nation will not be leaderless.

Hashem had to order them to ascend the mountain. None of the three, of course, wanted to see Aharon pass away. But Moshe was also ordered to dress Elazar. The impression given is that Elazar would not, otherwise, have wanted to put them on. He would have hesitated, but HaShem showed him that he should wear them. He would never be Aharon, his father — but he would be Kohen Gadol.

Just last year, following the passing of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, who had been the leader of Sephardic Jewry around the world, Rav Shalom Cohen, Dean of Yeshivat Porat Yosef in Jerusalem, was appointed to succeed him as the head of the Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah, the council of scholars that guides Sha”s, the Sephardic party in Israel. While Rav Cohen was a member of that Moetzet since its formation over thirty years ago, many pointed out that he always invested his time in scholarship and in teaching his students, rather than political matters.

It has been this way throughout our history, that the true leaders have not sought leadership, but only to dedicate themselves to God and the Jewish people. They find leadership thrust upon them, often by their own predecessors if not by that predecessors’ other students. HaShem promised us that just as the Jewish people will always survive, we will never find ourselves like a ship without a rudder. The two go together — we will always find ourselves with leaders, to guide us forward through history.

Police Can’t Do Their Jobs

June 15, 2015 at 10:12 am

The Baltimore Police — officials, union leaders, and officers themselves — are coming forward to confirm my analysis of the situation last week. As one person told the Baltimore Sun, “They’re not afraid of dying. They’re afraid of going to jail.”

Quote from Baltimore Sun

See also the interview with two officers on CNN:

The officers are afraid to do things, because you have a State’s Attorney right now that’s unpredictable. You don’t know what she’s going to do. When she came out with the statement, when the six officers were charged, she already convicted them in the public view. They have been tried and convicted in public opinion…

Q: Do you feel like those officers acted appropriately?

A: They’ve done nothing different than what we’ve always done as police officers on the street. Those type of arrests happen on a daily basis.

Q: … You would have done the same thing?

O1: Absolutely. It’s being compliant. If you are compliant, you will not have to be engaged by officers. Force has to be used with equal force. If you’re not compliant, you know, that is why police were able to restrain subjects that are non-compliant. The officers did nothing wrong.

On Princeton and BDS

June 13, 2015 at 11:18 pm

My letter to the Princeton Alumni Weekly:

Somewhere during my education, I was taught that you get to have your own opinions, but not your own facts. This being the case, the recent divestment letter (Inbox, April 22) and referendum are still more troubling than previous letter-writers have allowed.

According to both its American and British authors as well as the text itself, UN Resolution 242 expects Israel to withdraw from “territories” – not all, but rather some, and only upon conclusion of a peace agreement giving Israel secure borders. Israel already has withdrawn in order to make peace with Egypt and Jordan, and even without a peace agreement, from the Gaza Strip.

Said resolution also requires “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every State in the area.” The PLO, which immediately rejected Resolution 242, stated as recently as 2010 that “the Palestinian Authority will never recognize Israel as the Jewish state.” Hamas, of course, seeks genocide, the extermination of every Jew, in its charter.

So we are left to confront the reality that 76 professors ignorantly or deliberately falsified the record and inverted the facts in order to satisfy their personal biases. This, along with a student referendum based upon this and similar falsehoods, risks sacrificing Princeton’s reputation for academic integrity on the altar of political correctness.

The Land of Israel

June 12, 2015 at 7:25 pm

EinGediThis week, we read the portion of the spies, send by the Children of Israel to go spy out the land that they would enter. This wasn’t, as Rashi tells us from the Medrash, a Commandment — but rather “if that’s what you want to do, send them.” G-d knew, of course, that this was going to be counterproductive, but He allowed them to make their own decision. As we know, they returned with an evil, destructive report.

The Ba’al HaTurim comments that there is a hint to future exile in the very word “send” — the numerical value of “Sh’lach” is 338, and the First Temple was destroyed in 3338.

It seems that speaking ill of the Land of Israel doesn’t go out of style. I was there recently, and a daughter just completed a year of study. A close relative, one much less familiar with today’s reality in the Holy Land, described this as having sent my daughter to a war zone. [We live in Baltimore; need I say more?]

It is sad to contemplate how many Jews now believe that not only is Israel a war zone, but that Israel is warlike, responsible for the ongoing conflict. On campuses across America, Jews unfamiliar with the history of anti-Semitism now lend credence to its modern iteration — the delegitimization of Jews living in our ancestral homeland.

Instead we are told that native “Palestinians” are Arab, and Jews — who never left that land except by force — are “immigrants.” That Jews anxious to simply live in peace are the problem, while those who celebrate murders are simply “resisting occupation.” That terror attacks against Jews should be ignored, while efforts to neutralize those terrorists are Israel “attacking” Gaza.

Reverse the error of the spies — go to the Holy Land and see for yourself. You will see how safe it is, generally speaking. Learn how Israel defends Jewish lives in a more humane fashion than any other army in the world, including those of the US and its allies. And above all, appreciate what it means to be able to stand on holy ground.

47 Homicides and Counting

June 9, 2015 at 6:12 pm

“Judges and officers shall you appoint for yourselves, in all your gates…” [Deut. 16:18]

Here’s what’s happened in Baltimore since charges were announced against six police officers: 47 murders in the past thirty days — three on Monday alone. That’s 128 so far this year, compared to less than 100 at this time last year. 37 victims were black, and 9 were “unknown.” Only one was white. All but 9 were under 35. Six were within 1.5 miles of my house.

WBAL TV reported a 32% drop in arrests since charges were filed — and homicides are up nearly 40%.

The lack of arrests and the rise in homicides go hand in hand. Why aren’t the arrests happening? As they say, “it’s not rocket science.” And whether or not the average cop is ready for law school or astrophysics, he’s no dummy.

He went through the Police Academy, perhaps graduated with honors, and has risen through the ranks as a dedicated officer who follows orders. When the DA asks for “enhanced” policing of a streetcorner, he’s the one who has been ready to do that job. And in the past, were he to see a suspected drug dealer handing off a package to someone else on that corner, he would pursue and detain that suspect. And then, in the past, he would detain the perp, and, were he to be found carrying an illegal knife, the officer would cuff the perp and send him off in the paddy wagon, having done everything right, having acted with the best of intentions to make the city safer for law-abiding residents.

But now the cop knows that should that drug-dealing criminal be hurt, without the arresting officer being in any way present or involved — much less responsible — that officer may be charged with murder by the very same DA who asked them to watch that corner in the first place.

That’s exactly what happened to the three officers who arrested Freddie Gray, and that’s not what police officers sign up to do. So let’s not be all that surprised when police aren’t doing the sort of policing necessary to stop those murders from happening.

Is it any wonder that residents say that police are not as responsive, not as available? They are “behaving differently.” They feel “anxious about what’s going on.” They are “reluctant to respond aggressively.”

Because the cops now know that if they follow their guts, if they detain and frisk someone who looks suspicious, the DA will not only cut them loose, but charge them with a crime if things go wrong. The City of Baltimore will not back them up — never mind that the cops are usually right.

It is no wonder that the “criminal element is feeling empowered.” Far better that the drug dealers know that they can be out there carrying a gun, and no cop will be willing to search them. Far better that they be gunning each other down, with open gunfights on the streets of Baltimore — because black lives matter, right?

Knowing Half the Story

June 7, 2015 at 10:53 pm

The video is horrifying. A bus driver, with just a few kids left on his route, stops at the side of the road. He throws a kid’s bag out the door onto the grass, and orders the kid off — and drives away, with other kids screaming how he can’t leave a child blocks away from home, or simply sobbing in distress.

Unsurprisingly, the school district demanded the driver be fired for this horrific act of cruelty.

Then the bus company released video of its own, showing the lead-up to this incident. Not only was one kid kicking and punching another, but a second, burly eighth-grader used his hockey bag to strike the driver while the bus was on the road. He had jeopardized the life of the driver and every student on that bus. Afterwards, the first kid, who had directed his fists towards another student, kept up a running diatribe against the driver for another mile or so — at which point the driver had had enough, and threw the kid and his bag off the bus.

As predictably as was its first reaction, the school district changed its tune. It apologized to the bus company and the driver for its rush to judgment, and disciplined the students instead of the driver.

How often are we prepared to judge, based upon knowing half the story?

Ignite a Soul

June 5, 2015 at 11:52 am

match-lightIn this week’s reading, Aharon is Commanded to light the Menorah in the Temple.

What happens when you light a flame? Lighting a second candle takes nothing from the first one. Doing so merely spreads the light, adding to it.

If you’ve ever seen a building constructed with old stone walls, you may have noticed that the windows are wider on the inside, to allow the sunlight from the outside to spread inside the building. The Temple, though, was constructed the opposite way. The windows were narrower on the inside, so that light from within the Temple should spread to the outside.

We read in Proverbs (20:27) that “The light of HaShem is the soul of man.” We are to not only to light candles… we are supposed to give light to souls, as well. Rav Asher Z. Rubenstein zt”l pointed out that G-d doesn’t need our help, in this as in anything. But He wants us to take part in spreading the light.

The Commandment is to light “until the flame burns by itself.” It is not enough to simply see a little spark of light; the job isn’t completed until the light is able to burn brightly by itself — and able to “pay it forward” and ignite other flames as well.

We should all do our part, every day, to light the lights not only within ourselves, but others.