This is the second chapter of Judaism – it is time for a change.
To continue drawing on the state of Judaism in Israel today, I will open with a short story:
Return to the Heavenly Father.
Many years ago the son of a privileged father was born and the son is deaf and blind from birth. The father looked at the newborn and saw in him something else, like great promise. Since then he has devoted his time and money to his son, his upbringing and his education, loved him as his soul and tried to guide him through the rough ways of the world despite his severe disability.
The son was curious and confident because that’s how the father raised him. On the other hand he was rebellious, and if he realized something was wrong, he would run to do just that. Perhaps this stemmed from the frustration he had over the gap between the magical wealth he experienced in his relationship with the father and the limiting disability, and perhaps this son simply had a bad heart and was ungrateful and rebellious.
One day, despite the prohibition, he got away from home further than usual, got lost and eventually found himself in a faraway country, where he was placed in a suitable institution and was one of many patients with various problems. The institution was generally comfortable and orderly, but no one there tried to connect with him to expand his horizons, understand his special needs, transcend his limitations and understand that behind them he is like any other person. After years of being confined in the institution, he is seen as a lost creature, twisting limbs, making strange sounds and grimacing in repulsive and meaningless ways. There was another patient there with him who liked him, formed a bond that developed over the years, and eventually was able to more or less understand his story. He understood that the son belonged somewhere else, that he had a father who cared for him right, loved him and that’s where his future is folded. Yet the other patient was also disabled and all he managed to convey to the deaf blind was a message of common sense:
‘What you remember as a dream’, the other patient said one day to the son through marks on his palm, ‘About a father you had, hearing and seeing, who cared for you and taught you the ways of the world with devotion, is not a dream! It’s written on your heart. It was a reality.’ Upon hearing this, the son changed drastically. He stopped staring blankly into a mindless, hopeless space but began to live the past mentioned to him as if it were taking place in the present. He would imagine his father next to him, imagine his father guiding him on all sorts of matters, sometimes insisting on doing one thing and then insisting on not doing something else in accordance with the supposed father’s instructions.
Over time, too, this behavior became irrational and its relationship with reality looser than ever. He was then approached by his patient friend who saw his new plight and told him: ‘Remember when you once thought your memory of your father was an imagination and an illusion? Now try to remember again, what way would your father treat you? Wouldn’t you feel on your skin when he would hit you when you did a forbidden thing? Wouldn’t you feel on your skin when he hugged you? And when was the last time you felt these on your skin? But if you haven’t felt these lately, get up now! Shake off your imaginations and go look for your father. You’ll have to be willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to find him, he’s waiting for you. Only with him will you find your destiny and happiness.’
We, the people of Israel, are the blind, deaf, rebellious son. And when was the last time we heard his voice explicitly and knew he was personally speaking to us? Not in imagination or self-persuasion, not in brainwashing driven by fear of denial or empty religious enthusiasm? *Not finding replacements to the commandments in Torah? When did the Priest read to us the living Word of God? When did we see his supernatural presence and unmistakable strength of power in the temple? When did we hear a true prophet whose words can be simply proven? (Not kabalistic mysticism or the mystique of amulets and ‘blessings’ that resemble astrology – things that can always be interpreted here and there).
If we haven’t heard these things recently, we should urgently go looking for the father who has been exiled from his people and waiting for us to call him, as Daniel the prophet who called and begged for the terrible exile to end, and was answered. This search has nothing to do with today’s’ observance of Shabbat’, or any other’ observance ‘ of the ritual work between man and God. The father is not currently interested in the ritual commandments, because the source of power for these commandments is the Temple covenant, but the temple is gone and the covenant has not been renewed. God has never asked us to perform most of the ritual commandments in the separation from the temple (before the temple or the Tabernacle was established they were not obligated), and anyway all the commandments related to purity, and those designed to distinguish the Jew from the Gentile, are irrelevant because without the temple we are all in the impurity and the same status as the Gentile. The father today is interested in one thing: that his son will return home, to a safe, healthy place, to a home where he can hear his voice, feel his hands, only then will it also be useful to hear what his commandments are and how he wants us to adapt these commandments given in Sinai, to life in the 21st century.
The son, while lost in a distant land, is a parable for Israel that has been exiled from the face of their God. The son who has forgotten his past and has become stupid and ridiculed is the people of Israel who have forgotten their God and are trying to embrace the ways of the world – similar to those called ‘secularists’. (Secularists who deny the Father’s existence have always been, also in the time of the Kings and in the time of Greece – the Greeks – in the Enlightenment era of Europe and more). The son who lives in the past and adopts an imagined inner world, as if he has a real connection with his father, are the people of Israel called ‘religious’, ‘ultra-Orthodox’, ‘traditional’. in contrast to the above, the son, when he was in the presence of his father before he was lost, is the original Jewish people who worshiped God while the temple existed – then they felt, on their ‘skin’, the spirit of the Shechinah.
How did the people pray and how did they observe the commandments in the Bible days?
In 539 BC. Cyrus the new king of Babylon declared the first return of Zion and allowed Israel to build the temple. The historic announcement was made relating to the prayer of Daniel, who begged for the return of Zion after reading the prophecy of Jeremiah, who predicted they would return after 70 years. Please note that the return of Zion then was focused on the construction of the temple! Everything else, the construction of the kingdom, the settlement of the land, the material assets and others, were, in a natural way, additions to the construction of the temple.
Also then, only a handful of people initially answered the call to go up. The call then was to go up and build the temple physically. Today the call to build the temple is spiritual and less physical, and the question of how exactly to build the Temple today spiritually rather than physically is a broad topic and should be devoted to another series of chapters. Yet the calling then and today is essentially the same. The call for the return of Zion and the return of the Jewish people to God is first and foremost the call to build the Temple – both physically and spiritually.
At the time, the Second Temple was established by the same handful who came up and settled in Jerusalem for this purpose, and it was small and shabby at first. But the work that Israel commanded in the Torah was done there and so was built the spiritual foundation for the presence of God Himself and his clear personal guidance among the people (the Shechinah). As stated, without the clear presence of God, there is no point in any ‘religious’/ ritual or civil action. It should be noted that the Second Temple, in terms of spiritual power and not just physical, was nevertheless only the shadow of the First Temple, because of the violation of the Covenant. This meant, for example, that the original Holy ark, the golden lamp, incense altar and show bread table had disappeared from the first temple near its ruin and were now missing. Some of these props were restored by the builders of the Second Temple and some, like the tablets of stone, could not be restored. But even in the Second Temple days, the essence of the God of Israel still remained.
The book of Ezra 5 reads: “Then the prophets, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied unto the Jews that were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, even unto them. Then rose up Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and began to build the house of God which is at Jerusalem: and with them were the prophets of God helping them.”
The prophets of God and the true priests (Zarubbel and Joshua in this verse were priests) who build the only infrastructure that can according to the Torah bring His dwelling are the evidence in this verse, that the clear essence we call the God of Israel was present with the people who ascended to Jerusalem from Babylon. But this people, after 70 years of exile, have forgotten what the Torah says. So the leaders stood, read and explained to them from the Scripture, from the written Torah! The Book of Ezra notes that in response to the reading the people cried. They cried both with grief for forgetting the word of the Torah and with excitement, and it is again a testament that the Shechinah itself was there with them and it was not just learning Torah from people.
“Then the leaders replied to the weeping and lamenting people: Why are you crying, it is Sukkot now, and according to the Torah in Sukkot you should rejoice: And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people… So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength. So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them. And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law. And they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written. So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim. And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness. Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner.”
We can learn a few things from the verses above:
How to save the true original Judaism?
“And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people” – Hence Ezra and the leaders of the people read from the Torah book, and taught no oral Torah or Sages tradition. And since all the guidelines that are expressed in these verses, and in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in general, as well as in the entire Bible, are all from the Written Torah only and there is no mention of the Oral Torah. After all, the law of the Pharisees itself is written in books, and they learn it from books, and how do they claim that oral Torah has passed through thousands of years through the generations from mouth to mouth, when they themselves pass on their teachings in books?
“So they read in the book the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” – These people, who did not know the Torah and did not even know what to do on Sukkot “understood the reading.” In other words, the Torah is for ordinary people who have not been taught in Yeshiva and have never been engaged in casuistry. These people, when reading to them from the Torah, interpret the difficult words they may not have known and showed them the simple meaning, they simplified it and then it “gave the sense”, and “caused them to understand the reading“. So, the claim that without oral Torah it is impossible to understand the Torah in writing is not true.
“Neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” – Why is it today that those (who are) dressed in black and ‘ultra-Orthodox’ maintain a mountain of laws and commandments? While the people in the days of Ezra did not keep for years even a basic commandment such as sitting in the Sukkah, still they were worthy to come before God, and when He is with them and their hearts are innocent before him, all is well! (“All crimes shall be covered by love”) And if desired by the Shechinah that they learn to observe the commandment of the sitting in the sukkah, the prophet or priest opens their mouths and the people immediately cry and repent.
But they were also told they would not be molded because “the Lord’s wisdom is their strength.” Therefore, it is not the outer commandments that are the bastion of the believer but the Joy of the Lord that is internal. Such joy is the purpose of the commandments and it cannot come artificially, contrived, as the devotees of Breslau dance on their van in the streets. You don’t see the joy of the Lord but the forced thing and is not a good testament to ‘Hashem’ and not satisfactory. The true joy of the Lord as it was to the people in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah can only come as a result of the living presence and the revelation of God as described.
“And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.” – The result of the Shechinah being present is that the people uphold the Torah with great joy, not because of the severity and emphasis of the smallest detail. And it says here that they have not established Sukkot since the days of Joshua, which means that in all the years including the days of David and Solomon, they have not fulfilled this commandment, and only when they are awakened by the prophets and the priests and the Levites do, they do so with great joy.
From this we learn that there are also commandments that arise in the Torah at certain times, and in each period there are commandments that are more fundamental to that period. For centuries, we have not heard a single prophet admonish the people for not sitting in Sukkot even though they did not sit, yet we have heard many admonitions for not taking care of the orphans and widows at the time. Even today there are specific stresses, sometimes new to the ears of the believers, which should be dredged from the Torah, but this should be done by the Shechinah through the prophets and priests and not by rabbis who have neither the tools nor the authority to do so.
“Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.” – The call to bring species of leaves and branches to comply with the commandment of building the sukkah is clearly the call in the Torah to bring the four species to the sukkah. Some of the plants mentioned are clearly from the four species, but the other part is not from the four species (even today it is not really clear what “citrus tree fruit“ is mentioned in the Torah) because in the entire list of plants that the heads of the people mentioned to collect, there are only leaves and no fruit, so it is clear that they were not ordered to bring “citrus tree fruit“. And so it is clear that the list given is not exactly the four species but something similar. Yet it cannot be argued that the priestly heads of the people did not know the Bible. Just a moment ago it was noted that they had read the bible to the people and explained it to them.
Well, as strange as this may sound today, against the background of the strict religion we know, it turns out that in Ezra and Nehemiah and even in the days before that the approach to the commandment between man and God was completely different: because even though they knew that the Torah was talking about a different list of plants from the one they mentioned (the exact knowledge of citrus tree fruit, for example) they instruct the people to go and collect from what was available to them, from what was simple and in reach, not clever, not rare or expensive, and not difficult for the poor. Citrus fruit was nowhere to be found then but olive branches and date leaves were plentiful. Therefore, the purpose of the commandment as bringing the 4 species to the Sukkah is not to puncture the mountain with the din and sanctify the dead written word nor is it to glorify the commandment with something rare and precious. The goal is for us to experience the spirit of things and specially to implement it with understanding! (“Peace of mind“ as it says) And joy! (“The joy of the Lord is your strength“). Yet again, only priests and prophets appointed by God have the authority to interpret the Torah in this way, not from their own opinion but in the name of God Himself, who was present there with the people in the form of the Shechinah.
“On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law.” – How do you get the people to be educated and to be happy? Well, it is not enough to teach the Torah or to uphold the commandments, but it is necessary that those who lead and who teach and who uphold the ritual commandments be those whom God has specifically appointed. The heads of the people according to this verse are priests and Levites as required. Of course, it’s not just people whose last name is Cohen, but people who have engaged in the work of the temple as it is described in the Torah, named and appointed from above. That’s the fundamental thing that we don’t have today. And how can it be if we don’t ask for the priest, the prophet and the temple but just pointless substitutes? God doesn’t give what man doesn’t ask for. Even the exodus from Egypt occurred only after 400 years, because “they shouted to the Lord from the hard work.”
How to restore ‘Crown to its old glory’?
In conclusion, I suggest to the people of Israel who believe today – those who truly want to ‘restore a crown to its old glory’ and not just as an empty slogan – to start asking for us to be restored to the basic means specified (temple, priests, prophets). These are the means to restore the spirit of the Dwelling. Do as Daniel the prophet who at the time fasted, begged and formulated these requests before his God and in accordance with Jeremiah’s prophecies. Today, it is necessary to know what the prophecy given to the building of the Third temple says in order to know how to pray accordingly. And it is needed to pray for it in groups rather than in private as Daniel, because that is what suits our times.
Regarding the question of maintaining the tradition of our ancestors and connecting to the faith of Israel through deeds and commandments, I would suggest following the guidance of the heads of the people as in the days of Ezra to say: Observe Passover or Sukkot or Shabbat according to what is available to you and what makes sense to you (“Understand the reading” without aggravating the laws and commandments, without adding new taboos, without crucifying the written word and trying to let justice be done though the heavens fall. This is not the way of the God of Israel and not what the Torah teaches.
It should be emphasized that everything spoken here refers only to the ritual commandments. As for the moral commandments and the relationship of man with his friend, the God of Israel never, during history, intended to be compromising, neither with the children of Israel nor with any of the peoples of the world. Therefore, also today, regarding the laws of morality established in the Torah, there is no room for expansive interpretation but to uphold as a whole (“thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bleach thy friend’s face“, et cetera). It is not necessarily because we are Jewish but because we were created in their own image and there is no point even trying to be Jewish if we do not have the same moral and true humanity.
As for the ritual commandments, their stated purpose is to bring us to stand in His clear presence and so that we will be filled with joy and be very close to Him. In order for this to happen, one must ask for it in group prayers aimed only at this, and do the only thing that according to the Torah brings his presence: build the temple. And until we wake up to do these, those who care to keep the tradition of their ancestors will do so as in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah: happily, with common sense and without wriggling, or trying to cover up the absence of the Shechinah with strictures that are not even in the Torah. Those who demand it from you are not qualified to do so and do not seek your best interests.
The English version of this post was translated from Hebrew by Roman Shargaev. If you need a highly skilled & recommended translator you can contact him here: [email protected].
I want to thank Eliyahu Greenwald that helping a lot with editing the text