Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Serial Killer Convert

Scene: You are a judge in a Beis Din (Jewish court), and a man comes to you and says I want to convert to Judaism. But you recognize him, and you realize who he is. He is a serial killer, mass murderer who's killed many people -- many Jews for that matter. 

Do you accept him as a convert? Do you even believe him?? Do you think a person like this can even do teshuva?

Kinah 34 ("Yom Achpi") is about the murder of the prophet Zechariyah ben Yehoyada. People started treating King Yeho'ash like a god. When a lot of people tell someone the same thing over and over, he starts believing it, and lo & behold Yeho'ash then started to believe he was god and started to sin, and have people worship him. Along came Zechariyah on Shabbos Yom Kippur to give the people a little mussar to stop worshiping Yeho'ash as a god. Well, of course, Yeho'ash couldn't take any of that, so he ordered the people to stone him to death, and they killed him right there in the Beis Hamikdash, the holiest place on Earth, and with his last breath, Zechariyah asked Hashem to avenge his death. 

His blood didn't just go away, or seep into the floor -- it lay there bubbling for 250 years until the Babylonians came to destroy Jerusalem. Nevuzaradan, Nevuchadnezzar's general, saw the blood bubbling on the floor and asked what it was. At first the Jews there lied to him and tried covering up the truth. They finally told him the story of Zechariyah, and he tried to appease the blood, and started killing the Jews. First was the Sanhedrin, then the younger talmidei chachamim, then the kohanim and young kohanim. After he killed 940,000 (!!!) people in all, the blood was still bubbling. He yelled out to the blood, "Zechariyah! Zechariyah! I have killed the best of them! Shall I kill them all??" After that, Zechariyah was appeased and his blood stopped bubbling (Gittin 57b, Sanhendrin 96b).

I've written about this story before, but I've never mentioned the continuation of the story. After listening to R' Aryeh Leibowitz today, I thought of it. After Nevuzaradan killed all those thousands of people, he had a thought: if the Jews, who only killed one man, get punished this greatly, then what about me, who killed many more than they did? My punishment must be 1000 times worse! He then decided to do teshuva (repent), and he converted to Judaism.

Wait...he what? He converted to Judaism? Just like that?? A mass murderer like that?!

Well, yes.

That is the power of teshuva. In one moment, the worst of the worst can turn it around. Just like that. And that is what Tish'a B'av is about, teshuva. We all know that's what Yom Kippur is all about, but Tish'a B'av too? Again, yes. Because the Jews didn't do teshuva, the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed. One reason we mourn today isn't that 2000 years ago the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, but that it hasn't been rebult yet. We have the same problem they had -- we keep sinning, and we don't do teshuva. And what better day is there than today to start working on ourselves? It's the day all our problems started in the first place. Just take one characteristic, and work on that, slowly slowly, getting better and better, to just be the best person you can be. That's what life is about -- trying to be the best people we can be, while following Hashem's ways. 

I think we say this kinah not just to mourn this great tragedy, the brazen killing of one of our prophets in the Beis Hamikdash, but to show that yes, anyone can do teshuva, and that this is the time for it. To show that yes, we should accept the serial killer if he wants to convert, to do teshuva, because if God could accept Nevazaradan, anyone could be accepted.

And just in case we might think, well, maybe he didn't actually change, the Gemara confirms: "נבוזרדן גר צדק היה" -- he was a righteous convert! He wasn't trying to fool anybody, he actually changed.

If he can, you can. I can. We all can. Even Obama thinks so.

May this Tish'a B'av be the last one of mourning, and by next Tish'a B'av, may we see the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt.

Friday, October 14, 2011

To Swap Or Not To Swap

I had an epiphany about the whole terrorists-for-soldiers swap. I used to be very against it, until this revelation of mine. Now I think we should do it and it's worth it, and I'll tell you why.

First off, we have to ask, why do people not want to do the swap? Well, what I usually hear is that they don't want to teach the arabs that it's ok for them to kidnap our soldiers. If we do the swap, it shows them we'll just free all of our prisoners to get our boys back, and they'll kidnap more soldiers.

Ok, really think about this for a second. Does this actually make sense? We don't want them to start kidnapping soldiers again? Do you think they ever stopped trying? Do you think they ever thought, "Oh, they're not doing the swap, maybe this kidnapping-soldiers thing isn't such a good idea"? Who actually thinks that arabs think like that? I can guarantee that they have never stopped trying to kidnap soldiers, just like they never stop trying to do terror attacks. Come on, they're arab terrorists, do people actually think they ever stop trying to do anything to hurt us? No. Just because no other soldiers have been kidnapped doesn't mean they don't try. I hate to say it, but kidnapping soldiers is a win-win for them. If we don't do a swap, then they have our soldier, and if we do swap, then they get their terrorists back.

Obviously we should lock up [and give the death penalty to (but that's a different story)] as many arab terrorists as we can. But if by releasing them we get one of our boys back, then I say do it. Besides, how many terrorists are there in Aza? 50,000? 100,000? 1,000,000? Will another thousand make a difference? No, it won't. 1K doesn't make that much of a difference when the number is that big.

What we should really do is implant GPS's into there bodies, and just arrest them all again. The GPS's to cut out all the unnecessary where-are-they?-Let's-get-our-intelligence-going thing.

It doesn't matter what we do, they never stop, never. And not swapping is not going to change that.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Good Lord for foiling our enemies plans, and I pray that they will never again be successful in carrying out attacks.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Carlos Beltran Is My New god

In 2001 Carlos Beltran stole 31 bases, & was caught only once. In 2003 he stole 41 bases, & got caught 4 times. In 2004 he stole 42 bases & was caught only 3 times. In 2004 he stole 28 for Houston. In 90 games, he stole 28 bases & didn't get caught once.
His career stolen base percentage is 88%. EIGHTY-EIGHT (291 for 330)! This dude is my new god...

And he is 11 homers and 9 steals away from the 300-300 club.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Noam Adin Rechter Levy

My sister had asked me to write something about what I had experienced when I heard that my friend, Noam Levy, was killed in action. Tonight and tomorrow is his yartzheit. She had to read it in front of her school, and this is what I wrote:

Noam Adin Rechter Levy z"l
by Tonny Schwarzmer

Thursday May 7, 2009, 6:30 AM. I was getting ready for the day of learning ahead of me. I was in Aish Hatorah Hesder. I had done my army service already, and had returned to yeshiva. I had been in Duchifat, 94 (our unit number), in Kfir Brigade, and was stationed in Ramallah.
I had davened, showered, gotten dressed and eaten. I was about ready to go when my phone rings. It was my friend Avinoam from yeshiva, who was in the draft after me in Duchifat.

"Did you hear?", he asks me.
"Hear what?"
"Someone from our unit was killed. He was even from your draft."
My heart pounded. Did he say a friend of mine was killed? I don't think I heard him right. Can't be.
"What did you say??"
"Someone from your draft was killed."
"Who? Do you know who it was??"
"No, sorry."
I right away made some calls. I started with my commander, Lior, who was now the staff seargent for the August 2008 draft.
"Lior someone told me one of ours was killed? Is that true? Who was it??"
"Yeah, it's true. It was Noam Levy."
So it was true, I couldn't believe it. A friend of mine from the army had been killed. The first thought I had in my head was, "God, please let this terrorist pay for what he did to my friend."
I spoke to Lior for a few minutes asking him what happened, what's going on now. It turns out I knew quite a few people on the mission, the Deputy C.O. Amit, two squad leaders Sergeants Yoni and Mordechai, and of course Noam. In the end this is what happened:

They had went on a routine mission. Obviously, anytime we go into an Arab village, it could potentially turn into a mess, but they never did when I went, so this mission was thought of as a lesser level mission.

While Yoni and Mordechai were leading their squads to other parts of the village, Amit, Noam, and the rest Amit's patrol were driving around the village, making sure everything was quiet. The Arabs had started rioting however, and throwing rocks. Amit tried arresting the leader of the riot, but there was no way the Arab was going to let the dirty Israeli Soldier just take him. He started fighting with him and before they knew it, they were wrestling on the ground. Somehow, Amit's gun discharged by itself. I don't think he really paid attention to where it went at first, but it had shot Noam, and he never had a chance.

Irony of ironies I think, Noam was the head medic of the platoon. He was a great guy. He made aliyah with his family from Canada when was about 10 years old. In training, he would help out whenever he could, in whatever he could. When I found out he was Canadian (after about 4 or 5 months with him), I couldn't believe it, he was so Israeli. He would help me out with my Hebrew though, whenever I had needed it. He always would help us with getting a minyan if we ever had trouble. Just an overall amazing friend.

His family is unbelievable. While the army had forcibly discharged Amit for what had happened, the Levy's had embraced him. They could have just blamed him, "you killed our son!" and all that, but they didn't. They realized it wasn't his fault and there was no way in the world he would've let it happen if he could have stopped it. They pleaded with the army to let Amit back in, but the army wouldn't budge. You'd think that if the family of the dead soldier forgave him, the army could too. "No," was the answer.
On the first Yom Hazikaron after, Noam's father told me the conversation he had with General Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of the army at the time. He said to him, "I know there are many initials and special army names, Mem"Peh, SamechMem"peh, etc. But I only know of one -- Kuf"Ayin, Kodkod Olam -- The Master of the World," he said, pointing a finger up to the Heavens. [ed. note: Funny thing, the head of the army in army lingo is called Kodkod Olam.] General Ashkenazi just looked at him, dumbfounded.

In the end, it wasn't some arab terrorist like I had thought (or hoped, I guess). It was his friend, his officer. Because of that we don't say "Hashem yikom damav -- Hashem shall avenge his blood," we just say, "Alav hashalom -- upon him shall be peace," or, "Yehei zichro baruch -- May his memory be blessed." Ours isn't to look for a reason as to why this happened, just to accept it ("HaTzur tamim po'alo ki kol dirachav mishpat..." Dvarim 32).  I heard a story about one of the soldiers who was killed by friendly fire in the 2nd Lebanon War. The soldier's family sent a letter to the  tank soldiers that had killed their son by mistake, and said to them, "at least he was killed by you, tzaddikim, and not by the evil hands of our enemies." Ours is to trust in Hashem that "Gam zu l'tovah -- also this is for good." Noam had accomplished his mission in this world, whatever it may have been, and we have to accomplish ours. By doing that we can all become better people, and bring Mashiach very soon.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Search For...No, Not Spock, Chametz

Tonight is the night before Pesach, and the night we search for chametz throughout the entire house, in every single crevice to make sure no chametz is left, as per the halacha and per what the Torah says. Somewhere along the line, people started putting out 10 pieces of bread, so that the bracha we make (as with basically every other mitzvah, we say a bracha) wouldn't be a bracha levatala, a wasteful bracha.

I have seen though, that over time, this particular mitzvah, the searching for the chametz, has been warped. Instead of looking through everything, some people only look for those 10 pieces of bread. I was once in my step father's house on the night of Bedikas Chametz, and he literally finished in 3 minutes. He found all of the pieces of bread, and that's it. Do you know how long it takes to properly search everything in a regular house? It should take at least an hour (at the very least, more than 3 minutes). To look in every draw, every cabinet, every couch cushion, every space behind all the beds, everything. People are bound to find chametz during the bedika -- even though they're sure they cleaned it already.

Just think, because of 10 little pieces of bread, I bet thousands of people throughout the years have lived through a Pesach with chametz. Wouldn't it have been better to not put out those 10 little pieces of bread?

I'll tell y'all a little secret though, a source, to not put them out. The Vilna Gaon says that one shouldn't put out those pieces of bread. But what about the bracha levatala you ask?

Well, what's the mitzvah called? ........ Yes, it's called BEDIKAS chametz (the SEARCH for chametz) not METZI'AS chametz (the FINDING of chametz). We're supposed to make sure that there isn't anymore chametz, not to find it. The bracha levatala would be if you said the bracha, then went and watched tv. That's a bracha levatala. Not when you searched but didn't find anything. Does that make sense? You didn't find chametz, and therefore it's an aveira? Please.

Besides, let's say you hid the pieces. Or better, you let your young boy or girl of 4 or 5 years old hide them. A pretty good idea, teaching them about the mitzva and all, while having fun at the same time. I actually like that (kind of like having the kids steal the afikomen. Keeping them up, learning about Pesach. To digress, I heard on Shabbos that Lubavitch don't have their kids steal the afikomen. They don't want to teach them to steal and become thieves). But picture, they're kids hiding things from you, maybe they will try a little extra hard to put it in a really good place to make sure you looked everywhere? Well, what if it was too good of a place and you couldn't find it? What if no one could find it? Not only did you make a bracha levatala (according to the custom, right? I mean, why else 10? Doesn't that mean less than 10 would be a bracha levatala?), but now you KNOW there's chametz in your house over Pesach! And it's not just a crumb, that maybe you be say isn't anything. It's a substantial piece, not small. That's a huge problem. Not only is there chametz in your house over Pesach, but you know about it.

So, for those of you who haven't done Bedikas Chametz yet, please, do the bedika (baseball...?) the way it outta' be.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Nusach HaGra

Once again it has been a long time since I wrote. I get home from work and just want to collapse. Now I know what it's like having a job. Hm...

Anyway, I'm writing today about the Vilna Gaon's nusach for davening (prayer). It's basically Nusach Ashkenaz, but with a few changes (not like Nusach Sfard). A lot of them are vowel changes on words, (from "v'shivchacha" to "ushvachacha" for example), he takes out whole t'filos (Tehillim 30 before Baruch She'amar, Shomer Yisrael in Tachanun). In a lot of these changes, the explanation on the bottom says "In every old siddur, it's like this, but then the [Arizal/Shlah/Ravah] changed/added this." There is a general rule that once the Gemara was closed, we're not allowed to argue with the rabbis in the Gemara. The one's who put together the davening which we know today was put together by the Anshei K'neses Hagdolah, right before the 2nd Beis Hamikdash was built. Therefore, no one had the right to change the davening.

One thing the Vilna Gaon says is very weird, and I never understood it. He says we're not allowed to say Tehillim in public, which means to two things: 1) no Kabbalas Shabbos on Fri night (he says to say it at home if you want to say it at all), and 2) the Shir Shel Yom is only one Perek of Tehillim. Meaning, on Rosh Chodesh you just say Tehillim 104, instead of the regular Shir Shel Yom in addition to Tehillim 104. On Shabbos Rosh Chodesh we only say Tehillim 104 (this is the only Shir Shel Yom that pushes off Shabbos's SS"Y), etc. etc.

As I said before, I never understood as to why he would say that, and in what capacity. Does that mean that we can't have tehillim rallies, like we had during the intafada, or that are most probably going on right now for the fire? Are those not allowed? Or just tehillim added later to davening, like Kabbalas Shabbos?

I don't remember when, but I realized at some point that it might be to make sure that people realize that Tehillim isn't really part of the davening. Except for the SS"Y and Pesukei D'zimra, which was established by the 120 Tzaddikim of the Anshei K'neses Hagdolah.

To illustrate this point, I am going to relate to you something that actually happened a few Shabbosim ago. I was at shul one Fri night a few weeks ago when a guy came in really, really late to Maariv. Late as in, right before Shmoneh Esrei. And what did he start with? Not with Shmoneh Esrei with the shul, as the halachah states he should (and after Shmoneh Esrei he would say the rest of Maariv), and not even Shma. He started at Lechu N'ranina! And that's the point! He actually thought that Lechu N'ranina was part of davening! Is it? Of course not, it was added by the Arizal in the 1500's. It's a nice thing, but not actually davening. It's just Tehillim.

Now understand, when I say "just Tehillim," I don't mean to take anything away from it. Obviously it's holy, it's part of the Tanach and all that, but if someone says it, it doesn't take him out of his obligation of davening.

I'm not even against Kabbalas Shabbos, mind you. It's actually a nice idea. According to R' Yaakov Kaminetzky, Tehillim 90 - 100 was written by Moshe Rabbeinu (Tehillim 90 starts with "a Prayer to Moshe...") and said every Shabbos by B'nei Yisrael when we were slaves in Egypt.

My point is that people have to realize what's important, and what isn't. Saying Shmoneh Esrei with the congregation, is. Lechu N'ranina, not so much.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Let Us Search And Examine Our Ways And Return To Hashem."

"Let us search and examine our ways and return to Hashem.
Let us lift our hearts with our hands to God in heaven.
'We have transgressed and rebelled -- You have not forgiven...'"

-Eicha 3:40 - 42

We have a bunch of things going on in this country now. The building freeze, pressure from Obama for everything, Gilad Schalit deal/no deal, stupid supreme court, etc.

You know, some people are for giving away terrorists for Gilad, and some are against. I understand both sides, and people protest, yes, no. In the end though, it's not our decision, it's Netanyahu's decision. He might be swayed one way or the other, but in the end, he's the decision maker. Which then made me realize that we can't change the outcome, because what it really means is that Hashem is going to decide, as the Gemara states (and as I have talked about before) world leaders don't have free will. The real way to protest, is to daven to Hashem, to do teshuvah, that Hashem may forgive us for our misdeeds.

We're not really supposed to rationalize why Hashem has certain things happen, but I feel like maybe the building freeze happened because we didn't deserve it, maybe K'lal Yisrael as a whole was rejecting the land. So Hashem says, "That's how they feel? Ok then..." and here we are, no building for 10 months, may it not be longer. I could be totally wrong, and you can argue with me, but that's how I feel.

Truth is, we don't know what's a punishment -- is giving back the 1,000 terrorists the punishment, or the not giving? On the one hand, BH Gilad would be back with us in one situation, and the other, at least the terrorists aren't let out. On the other hand, Gilad would still be in captivity, and in the other situation, the terrorists would be freed and would have the potential to do more attacks, ch"v. If one of those terrorists is someone who I personally caught, and now he's let go, it's like, then what the hell did I catch him for in the first place?

Anyway, my point is that really we don't know what a punishment is from Hashem and what isn't. We never really know. Someone lost their job. Punishment? Well...he got a new job and now he's happier than ever. Maybe it wasn't a punishment...? Maybe the firing was the punishment...? Who knows?
I digress....

I believe we are indeed, being punished, as a whole, by the fact that Mashiach isn't here yet. We're not on that level. We haven't done enough mitzvos, enough acts of kindness, etc. We have to daven, ask forgiveness, learn the lessons from 9 B'Avs that came before us. The Ultimate day of forgiveness, Yom Kippur, is coming soon, 2 months from Wednesday. No better day to start than today.

I can never not mention the story of the navi, Zechariya ben Yehoyada (another topic I have spoken about before), who was killed in the Beis Hamikdash (B"M) by Klal Yisrael, for protesting King Yoash's placement of an idol there. Can you imagine how corrupt, how sinful, how evil they were to have done that? They placed an idol in the Beis Hamikdash, and, in the Beis Hamikdash, killed the guy who protested the action. The most holiest place on Earth, now desacrated by a dead body. Not just a dead body, murder! And this wasn't right before the B"M was destroyed -- it was 250 years before. This still amazes me...

I would like to finish by quoting the end of R' Nosson Scherman's introduction to Artscroll's Eicha:
נפלה לא תוסיף קום בתולת ישראל
"The maiden of Israel has fallen; she shall rise no more." (Amos 5:2)
A tragic, frightening prophecy.
In Eretz Yisrael, they punctuated the verse differently and read it this way:
נפלה ולא תוסיף - She has fallen, she shall not fall again.
קום בתולת ישראל - Rise up, oh maiden of Israel! (Brachos 4b)
After more than nineteen centuries of fall, May Mashiach, born on 9 B'Av, finally come to redeem the buried holiness of this day and say to us, "You have fallen enough! Rise up, oh maiden of Israel!"