Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yom Tzom Kippur: Tzomany reasons!

We are on the eve of the single holiest day of the year. Now you naysayers may try to convince me that Shabbos is holier (as many have tried since I was a young child), but I'm referring to the SINGLE holiest. It is Shabbat Shabbaton, the Sabbath of Sabbaths. It is the only day of the year the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, the only day which he would pronounce the Ineffable Name. It is the only day of the year we pray five Amidot. Should the Tenth of Tishri coincide with Shabbat it is the only day of the year one could fast on Shabbat. And if it doesn't coincide with Shabbat it is the only day of the year that has the same restrictions.

But there are even further restrictions that set this day apart (except for its opposite which we observed exactly 2 months ago, the day of mourning of Tisha B'Av). No eating, no drinking, no leather shoes, no bathing, no washing, no perfume or lotion, no sex. I have I have always been bugged by being wished an easy fast or "tzom kal" on Yom Kippur. The reason we forbid these things is because of the mitzvah of the day from the Torah is "v'initem et nafshoteychem", "and you shall afflict your souls". It's not just a spiritual thing, but also physical. We should suffer for our sins. I think it's the reason that we recite the Eleh Ezkera as the Chatanu Selichah of YK Musaf. This dirge really belongs among the kinot, the elegies of Tisha B'Av. Instead we recite the story of the Ten Martyrs, the accounts of some of the greatest Jews of all time, Rabbi Akiba, Chaninah ben Tradyon, Rashba"g, Rabbi Yishmael the High Priest, and others, all for daring to prevent the evil Roman emperor Hadrian (yesh"u) from snuffing out the flickering flame of Torah in this time of persecution.

But what I'm referring to is the suffering that we inflict upon ourselves on these two days. On Tisha B'Av, the black fast, we abstain from all of these pleasures because we are in deepest mourning, and in addition we sit the floor, praying a subdued state and without melody and are even forbidden to study Torah. On Yom Kippur, the white fast, we abstain for the opposite reasons. "Ki vayom hazeh yechaper aleychem l'taher etchem, mikol chatoteychem, lifnei HASHEM titharu". Today God has given us to atone for our sins. It is on this day Moses decended with the second set of Ten Commandments, a tangible symbol of our forgiveness. Today we become holy. Regarding Genesis 1:26, the verse in which God says "Naaseh Adam b'Tzalmeinu KiDmoteinu", "let Us make man in Our Image", the Ramban, Nachmanides says that humanity emerges from two separate souls: Nefesh Tachton, The nefesh that comes out of the earth from which all living creatures are created, and Nefesh Elyon, that neshamah which comprise the angels so they can perform the Will of God and possess the power of reason. The lower soul has limitations that are inherent in all of the animals, needs for food, sex, sleep,. On Yom Kippur we shed our gashmiyut, our physical needs that limit our potential. We become like the angels who have no such need for sustenance. We are like Moses who shed his body as he ascended into Heaven to plead with God on our behalf.

So we abstain because we are at the level of angels (and thus throughout Yom Kippur we recite the Kedushah that outside of this day is reserved for Shabbat and Festival Musaf, the only one in which we dare to join our words with those of the angels.

Though we definitely need to focus on the daunting task before us, I think we also need to suffer a little. And if fasting is easy for you anyway (as it commonly is for me - I never lost my first wind on Tisha B'Av and even watched the Food network for the last two hours to show my obstinance) then perhaps the Rabbi's sermon or cantorial arias will give you sufficient suffering.

Gmar Chatimah Tov, may we all be forgiven and sealed in the Book of Life for goodness and for peace. May your fast and abstaining be meaningful and allow you to focus and reflect. May it merit the Geulah, the Redemption when we do not need to worry ever again.

(This wasn't meant to be a dvar torah, I originally conceived this as a facebook status update regarding my gripe with people saying Tzom Kal"

Shabbat Sha...bbaton!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Israeli Coalition Scenarios

Kadima wins but Bibi Netanyahu becomes Prime Minister.

This is how I called it last night before I went to bed. It sounds as crazy as Victor Krum catching the golden snitch but Ireland winning the Quidditch World Cup but it is quite plausable.

It's 5:15 AM in Israel and finally all of the votes have been tabulated. Centrist Kadima won with 23% of the vote (28 seats) followed closely by Right-wing Likud with 27 seats. I had expected Likud to win but apparently not. However I wouldn't count Likud out yet. President Shimon Perez will now call on the head of the winning party, Tzipi Livni to form a coalition. I don't think she can do it. To make A coalition government one must have a combination of at least 61 seats out of 120 seats in the Knesset, meaning a combination of multiple parties. If Kadima wanted to form a coalition government with all the leftist parties they would fall 6 short, and that's implying that all of the left wing parties join them (which they won't).

Left & center 28+13+3+4+4+3 = 55
Kadima 28
Labor 13
Meretz 3
Hadash 4
United Arab List/Ta'al 4
Balad 3

They NEED the right wing parties here. Likud trails by only a seat and within the entire right wing there are 65 seats. Likud could conceivably form a pan-right coalition/phalanx without the inclusion of Kadima.

Right 27+15+11+5+3+4 =65
Likud 27
Yisrael Beitenu 15
Shas 11
United Torah Judaism 5
Jewish Home 3
National Union 4

As long as Shas doesn't whore itself out to the highest bidder as it did last time (especially as their spiritual leader pronounces his next controversial statement), Likud has Kadima in a vice grip. Likud is likely going to hold out, as is far-right wing Yisrael Beiteinu and not immediately attach themselves to coalitions. The rest of these parties will follow suit.

When Tzipi Livni tried to form a coalition government after the special Kadima Primary after disgraced Premier Ehud Olmert stepped down last year she failed miserably. And now she has even LESS supportive parties. The Arab parties have said they would boycott any coalition that included anyone who demanded a loyalty oath so there is no way any Arab party (the viable parties being Ta'al/UAL, Hadash, and Balad).

About the loyalty oath. Avigdor Lieberman, head of the third place winning Yisrael Beiteinu party has demanded that all citizens of Israel need to take a loyalty oath to Israel just as one must take a loyalty oath to become a citizen of the United States (or in any elementary school classroom's Pledge of Allegiance). If one refuses to take this oath, they will be stripped of their citizenship, right to vote, and right to run for public office but will remain as permanent residents of Israel.

Labor, once the winningest party in Israel's history (they held control from the founding of the modern state until Menachem Begin's Likud finally wrested control in the 70s) has now fallen to fourth place, and although I like their leader Ehud Barak, I don't know if he will have that much of a role in the coalition.

So there are a number of scenarios that can play out, and as long as Shas stays out of trouble it will be a right wing government. Kadima now needs to decide how much it will capitulate to the right or risk being the head of the opposition. President Peres is mandated to appoint the person he feels most likely to be able to form a coalition to do so, but Livni might be passed over for Bibi Netanyahu because Tzipi is likely to fail once again. We shall see. Whatever happens, I hope it is for the best of Israel.

Oh, and Haaretz seems to agree with my theory