Tag Archive for Yehoshua ben Nun

Human Dignity – Rosh Hashana

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yissachar frand, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus

It’s in our character to search for an advantage in life; perhaps it is in our genes; perhaps it’s because of how we were raised. Making the optimal choice is thought of wherever we go and whatever we do, because we want the best for ourselves and our children. Our people like to ask a lot of questions to give us an edge in the world. We tend to make fun of ourselves; we tend to put our culture down; “I don’t want to move there, too many Jews”; “we are all Jewish mama’s boys.” These are all famous Jewish put down jokes delivered by none other than Jews, themselves. However, deep down, we know that our people are blessed. In every criterion in life, if we put our mind to it we’re number one. We Jews are a highly competitive nation that has achieved leaps and bounds in every aspect of life.  That frame of mind is ever so important in this most crucial time of the year, when we are judged for our past deeds and potential future. Squeezing the most from our prayers and behavior during the Yamim noraim-days of awe, so G-d may place us in the book of life, is our primary goal.
 The sages ask: what is the best way to approach G-d to receive a sweet, good verdict for the upcoming year? The sages, in their scrutinizing manner, asked a very powerful and obvious question. I’m sure the reader thought of it as well. Why does Rosh Hashanah [the Day of Judgment] comes before Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement]? Logically, it would seem to make more sense – and certainly be to our advantage – for the day of mercy, when we are forgiven for our sins to precede the day in which we are judged for those sins.  If we are to get the edge on a favorable decree, that is how it ought to be.
Once again, I found incredible, uplifting words of wisdom from Rabbi Yissachar Frand, quoting Rav Shimon Schwab (1908-1995). To appreciate his answer, we must first analyze the second chapter of Yehoshua (which we read as the Haftorah for Parshat Shlach).
After spending forty years in the desert and after our great leader Moshe passed on, we were led by Yehoshua, Moshe’s right hand man, who would lead us into the Promised Land.
As the first order in achieving this goal, Yehoshua sent out spies to reconnoiter the land.  Jericho was the first city to be in invaded in the land of Canaan. Yehoshua’s intention was to find out the mood and pulse of the enemy. For this reason, the spies had to travel through an interesting place, to say the least, Rachav’s house. Since travelers from all parts of the land passed through her inn, she was continually aware of the country’s mood. Why was her inn so popular? Well, it wasn’t her inn that was popular; it was she.
There are commentaries who identify Rachav as an innkeeper, basing the word Zonah on the word Mazon (food). However, as the Gemarah implies, the simple reading of the pasukim [verses] is that Rachav was a woman of ill repute – the normal meaning of the word Zonah comes from the word Zenut – (sexual immorality). Interestingly and astonishingly, our assurance and security in entering the holy land of Israel, was on the merit and expertise of a prostitute!
The Gemarah (Megila 14, zevachim 117) says Rachav was one of four of the most beautiful women who ever lived. She was so beautiful she could make an impotent man able to function. She had a uniqueness as to how to make a man perform and she did it through her intelligence, by which she was able to transform herself and act like whomever her client imagined her to be. She was a psychologist par excellence. With those tools, no man could resist her advances. Rachav was a prostitute and the best in the business. In fact, the word Rachav means “to spread,” meaning she would say yes to everybody weather king or commoner. She would sleep with any guest that would travel to her inn.
Rachav provided the spies with the information that they wanted to hear. “I know that G-d has given you the Land, and that your terror has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the Land have melted because of you…” Because of her profession she knew the minds and thoughts of the people, for there was not a prince or ruler in the area, who did not come by and use her services.  She had served as a harlot since she was ten years old. This was her profession throughout the forty years when the Jews were wandering in the wilderness. Therefore, her report that the whole country was in mortal fear was measured with the highest importance, by the Jewish leaders.
At that point of time, at the age of fifty, Rachav repented and actually converted to Judaism. She confessed to G-d that during her years of sin, she made use of three devices to secretly bring customers into and out of her residence: The rope, the window, and the wall. Therefore, she now used these same three items to help the spies escape from her dwelling and from being noticed by the Canaanites, thereby saving their lives. She asked that she be forgiven for her inappropriate use of these devices by virtue of the fact that she now risked her life and used them for a praiseworthy reason. Such is the simple reading of the Gemara in Zevachim.
Rabbi Schwab is not satisfied with this interpretation and asks what is meant by her using the rope, window and wall for people to sin? She ran a house of ill repute for forty years. Everyone must have known exactly what was going on in that house. There was no reason to have a secret entrance by way of the window and rope. After 40 years, who were these princes and kings trying to fool? What were they trying to hide by climbing up the wall and entering through the window? Everyone knew Rachav the harlot and the nature of her business.
Rav Schwab interprets the Gemara differently. The Gemara is teaching us one of the secrets of Repentance. What finally inspired Rachav to repent? Rachav was inspired to repent through the realization that after 40 years in business, there were still people who were embarrassed to walk into her front door! There were still people who would be so ashamed that they would only enter by way of the rope, the wall, and the window. The fact was that after all these years, there were still people who had a modicum of dignity and embarrassment. They possessed some suppressed degree of sensitivity and morality, that at least prevented them from committing sin in a blatant fashion. Despite the fact that the society was immersed in immorality, there were still individuals who at least had a sense of guilt, some remnant intuition of possessing “Tzelem Elokim” [Divine Image]. Teshuvah can only begin under such circumstances.
Teshuvah can only begin if I do not give up on myself. If I believe that I am totally worthless, then I cannot begin to think about repentance. However, when I realize that somewhere deep down inside, there is still the dignity of man, there is still something holy, then I can use that feeling and begin the trek down the road to repentance. This is what Rachav meant when she referred to the rope, the window, and the wall.
The Mishneh states “Don’t be wicked in your own eyes” [Avot 2:13]. This is why Rosh HaShanah must precede Yom Kippur. In order for a person to begin the process of Teshuvah, he must first realize that he is somebody of value. He must take note: I am a son of Israel. I have a King in Heaven. I am a servant of the King. Yes, I may not have been a very good servant, but at least I can say that I am His servant.
The realization that there is a King and that I am His servant, and therefore that I have self-worth, is a prerequisite for the process of repentance. If we would start the Ten Days of Repentance merely with confession – merely with a recitation of all the sins that we committed, we would overwhelm ourselves with our worthlessness and we would not be in a position to repent.
For this reason, one of the busiest times of the year for buying suits and expensive cloths is right before Rosh Hashana. We dress like kings and queens, princes and princesses, for we are what we wear. We feel uplifted when we wear nice cloths and eat the best foods.
That is how we notch up our human dignity; that is how we build our self-esteem.
On Rosh HaShanah, we never say the words “Al Chet” (upon the sins…) or “Ashamnu” (we are guilty). We leave the sins out of it, for the meanwhile. On this day, a person must think about who he is, his vast potential and his goal in life. From such a perspective, repentance may flow forward.
The Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) suggested a beautiful Chassidishe insight on this past week’s portion: “If your dispersed shall be at the ends of Heaven, from there the L-rd your G-d will gather you and take you.” [Devorim 30:4] The Baal Shem Tov comments that we would have expected the pasuk [verse] to read: “If your dispersed shall be at the ends of the Earth.” However, the pasuk says “…at the ends of the Heaven”. The Baal Shem Tov teaches the same lesson that we mentioned above. The only time a person can be gathered back to G-d, is if “Heavenliness” is still present within the person. If a person feels that he still has a Heavenly attachment – despite the fact that he may have sullied himself with the pleasures of Earth, then from there, G-d can gather him back.
It is astonishing. Here we have the most powerful woman that ever lived, having looks, brains, personality, education, class, money, power, charm, and grace. She can get any man she wants and she’s in her prime. There are not many women like her; a master in giving and receiving pleasure. However, she gives up on that life for a life of being a Jewish mama!! She felt it would be more fulfilling, playing the role of building a Jewish home and raising children with her husband. It would be more real and satisfying as a woman. Many famous prophets came out of the union of Yehoshua and Rachav, most notable, Yirmiyahu.
Rachav was a harlot for 40 years, but she eventually married Yehoshua bin Nun, the greatest man of his generation. It all began with her contemplation of the wall, the rope, and the window and her recognition that man – for all of his shortcomings – still possesses holiness. That must be the beginning of the path to Teshuvah.

How to think positive…..for it’s crucial to success

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s  Akiva Grunblatt, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus, Elchanan Poupko,  Yanki Tauber and Rochel Holzkenner

“Be positive, be positive,” blah blah blah. We’ve been hearing that for years. Well, it just so happens that perhaps there are some who don’t wish to take that approach; they don’t feel it’s necessary to put on a façade, a fake smile and feel that the world is shiny bright. As a matter of fact a recent New York Times article, “Tyranny of the Positive Attitude,” reported on a group of psychologists who are attacking the current trend of ‘be positive – be happy’. For several years now, positive thinking has been in vogue. But these good doctors are “worried that we’re not making space for people to feel bad” and feel that a reversal of this trend is in order. There’s been a symposium (“The Overlooked Virtues of Negativity”), a book (Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching), and a push to get psychologists back to doing what they’re supposed to be doing, which is to “focus on mental illness and human failing.”

However, the bottom line is that everyone wants to be positive. It’s a good feeling. We all gravitate towards positive people. We feel warm when we receive a smile from a person. We want to sit next to the person at work, shul, or school who is cheery, who always sees the glass half full, and who sees a shining light in everything. Remember, a broken clock is correct twice a day!!

We humans, after all, are thinkers (well at least some of us are) and we are at liberty to choose what we think about. Thinking is power. There is no reason not to utilize this potent tool to improve the quality of one’s life in general and mental well-being in particular. As an old friend Joe Alibayof once said, “They have a brain; however, they don’t use it correctly.”

The Torah’s attitude, which predates today’s positivist trend by four thousand years and will survive it by much longer than that, is one of unabashed optimism. This is the doctrine of bitachon, or trust in G d. Left to its own devices, the mind will by default tend to fill itself with negative thoughts that spring from its unrectified subconscious. For this reason we gravitate to negative news. When was the last time one paid attention to “no robberies on 47th street today” or “they have a solid marriage”; that’s really pretty boring. Nevertheless, although one pays attention to the news they also tend to distance and alienate themselves from them. What’s the old expression? “Success got many generals and failure is an orphan.”

There is a fascinating incident related in the second chapter of Shemot that opens up a wealth of insight into the Jewish Law of Attraction.

It begins with Moshe, our leader, breaking up a fight. Unfortunately, his intervention was not appreciated.
“Now it came to pass in those days that Moshe grew up and went out to his brothers and looked at their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers. He turned this way and that way, and he saw that there was no man; so he struck the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

“He went out on the second day, and behold, two Hebrew men were quarreling, and he said to the wicked one, “Why are you going to strike your friend?” And he retorted, “Who made you a man, a prince and a judge over us? Do you plan to slay me as you have slain the Egyptian?”

“Moshe became frightened and said, “Indeed, the matter has become known!”

“Pharaoh heard of this incident, and he sought to slay Moshe . . .” (Shemot 2:11-15)

Why does the Torah highlight Moshe’s emotional response? Anyone in his shoes would have been frightened. He’d taken a huge risk when he killed the Egyptian in order to save his brother’s life. And now, if his actions were to be exposed to Pharaoh, he’d be considered guilty of a crime of the highest order.
That being said, it’s unusual for the Torah to spill ink to describe Moshe’s emotional reaction, his fear. We don’t hear about Yitzchac’s fright when being bound on the altar, or Yoseph’s fear of being sold into the hand of strangers. It’s not that they were impassive, just that the Torah, being a book of moral guidance, recounts only the details that will be useful for our spiritual growth and development. Moshe was frightened, but why does the Torah highlight his emotional response? What relevant insight is offered by G d through highlighting Moshe’s fear?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe offers a fascinating insight based on nearness of the above verses. “And Moshe became frightened . . . Pharaoh heard of the incident.” So potent was Moshe’s fear, his “negative visualization,” that his fear blossomed into fruition-his deed was reported to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh wanted him killed.

Moshe is the Jewish hero, righteous and prophetic. And yet G d exposes a subtle flaw of his, his disbelief that things would turn out for the best. If he had been optimistic, he could have averted his own arrest by Pharaoh.

What this means, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is that bitachon, the absolute assurance and conviction that G d will make things good, actually becomes the conduit and vessel through which we draw down and receive G d’s blessings. Positive thinking is not just a way to weather negative occurrences, it’s much more than that – it actually makes positive results happen.

In this week’s parsha quite the opposite happened. Through pressure from the Jewish people, Moshe, the Jewish leader, requested that spies should be sent to inspect the promised land before the Jews entered. Ten out of the twelve spies returned with negative reports. These twelve were righteous individuals but they portrayed Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish people and perhaps themselves in a negative light. The spies described the land which “flows with milk and honey” as a land which eats its inhabitants. They described the land as having an overpowering atmosphere with thick and heavy fruits and the inhabitants as being high and mighty as they discouraged the people from conquering the land. Their unfavorable portrayal of the land caused the entire Jewish people to despair of the possibility of living there and to voice their desire to return to Egypt. God was “angry” at the spies for speaking negatively about the land, and decreed that the entire generation “will die in the desert” (Numbers 14:35). But what they said could have been interpreted in the positive and it actually was by the minority spies Yehoshua ben Nun and Kalev ben Yefuneh..

We find another important incident in the Torah where our forefather Yaacov’s sons reacted negatively to their brothers Yosef’s dream; they felt threatened. The only one who reacted favorably was Rueben, the oldest son, who fell in disfavor with his father for intruding into his father’s private life. Rueben saw a positive in Yosef dream. He was counted among the brothers, implying that he’s still part of the core. But the rest of the brothers failed to see anything positive in the dream and therefore reacted negatively. Interestingly the pasuk then says, “Let us see what will happen to his dream.” We would assume that it’s the brothers who are saying that. However, Rashi indicates it was the heaven’s response to the negativity that the brothers showed.
Furthermore we find by King Yehoshiyahu (649-609 BCE), one of the righteous kings of Judeah, a startling fact. While he was renovating the Temple a Sefer Torah was discovered. It was rare to find a Sefer Torah during that period because Yehoshiyahu’s grandfather the wicked rasha Menashe destroyed the majority of the Torahs. His son Amon fared no better in being a rasha. Can one imagine today no sefer Torahs?

One might think it’s a positive sign from G-d that a Sefer Torah was discovered and in fact many were rejoicing. However they discovered that the scrolled was not rolled to Bereshit, where it usually should be, but to the page dealing with GALUT -exile, implying that the children of Israel were destined to be kicked out. The King ripped his garment in sorrow.
If one would look at it in a positive spin, here is a chance to repent. G-d is showing you a sign. Let’s learn from the experience and change our ways. The fact that the Master of the Universe reached out is an indication that we still have a chance. Unfortunately, it is human nature to gravitate to the negative and the king didn’t see the positive.

One of the most important modern discoveries in the rapidly expanding field of Positive Psychology is recognition of the benefits of gratitude. Much evidence has shown the power gratitude has to make people happier, mentally stronger, and more appreciative of what they have. Research has shown that the simple activity of writing down at the end of each day five things for which one is grateful for has the ability to reduce depression, increase happiness, and improve relationships more than any other positive psychology treatment or technique. College students who consistently exercise gratitude showed to have higher GPAs and better wellbeing. People who actively engage in gratitude practices show better signs of physical and mental health as well as improved relationships.

The principle of gratitude is so fundamental in Judaism that the great renaissance kabbalist the Maharal of Prague (Gur Aryeh, Gen. 2:5) goes as far as saying that it is prohibited to do a favor to someone who will be ungrateful because this introduces the dangerous trait of thanklessness into this world.
Yet at the same time there seems to be a different reputation we have made for ourselves. In his New York Times bestseller Born to Kvetch, Michael Wex portrays Yiddish culture as one of disapproval and complaining, peaking with the statement that “Judaism is defined by exile, and exile without complaint is tourism.” This perspective does not need to remain confined to the era of our exile. A simple look at the Bible shows that, both in the desert and in the land of Israel, the Jewish people were often discontent (e.g. Ex. 14:11-12,16:24-25, 17:2-4).

How do we reconcile the powerful contradiction between the strong positive message Judaism dictates and the longstanding practice of disapproval? How do we explain the paradox between the strong ethic of thanks, gratitude and appreciation that Judaism so strongly advocates and the Jewish tendency toward disapproval and questioning?

The answer lies in one of the most powerful and influential Jewish traits: dissatisfaction.

While Judaism teaches us to believe in the Master of the Universe, at the same time it teaches us another almost contradictory idea: prayer. Jews never accept things as they are; they always hope. Implicit in the concept of prayer, which is so fundamental to Judaism, is the idea that things don’t need to be as they are. Every time we pray, we suggest that no matter how difficult things may be we still believe that G-d can change them (see Brachot 10a; Maharal, Netiv Ha’avodah chapter 2; R. Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha’ikarim 4:18). When Moshe was told by G-d that he will not enter the land of Israel, one of the first things that Moshe did was beg for permission to enter from the very same G-d who told him that he will not be going in. Implicit in the Jewish tendency to kvetch is the belief that things can be changed for the better. Along with our strong belief in a G-d who is looking out for us and is willing and able to intervene is the belief that things don’t have to be the way they are, and thus we ask G-d to change them.

This attitude of change has encouraged Jews to be at the forefront of improvement in the modern era. It is very much reasonable to suggest that Jewish innovation, demand for social justice, and intellectual creativity all originate in this deep-seated belief that things can always be changed, and in our refusal to accept things as they are no matter how fixed they seem to be. The reason Jews were always suspected of being social revolutionaries – as was true in many cases – is because Jews did not believe in the world that is as much as they believed in the world that ought to be. And it is for this reason that Jews have been so associated with change and development. This is not because of a complacent dissatisfaction but because of a responsible dissatisfaction. It is because of the belief that there can be a better world.
What is scary is the thought that just as one can create positive in the world so too one can create a negative vibe that will last. What the spies created was a negative energy that was brought down which exists till this very day.

In conclusion we have to remember, that besides the ability to change through prayer, and besides the appreciation one has to show, one of the fundamental pillars of Judaism is to trust G-d for He foresees the world with a much larger lens than we could even imagine. Rabbi Yossi Bilus told me over an effective story to illustrate this:

There were two gentlemen who worked as water carriers. However one of them was given a bucket with a slight hole in it and as he shleped through the field to get to his destination half the bucket was already empty. The other worker would laugh at his friend at the frustration of having a whole in the bucket. When he went to complain to the boss, the boss retorted, “I know about the hole and it was designed that way. Come, let me show you.” He proceeded to go over the path where he would carry the bucket. “You see, your friend’s path is clear and smooth, but your path is full of flowers. Your journey required you to irrigate the field. For that reason a hole was placed in your bucket.” One has to look at things positively as there always is a bigger picture.

The Spy Who Loves Me