Friday, July 15, 2016

A Letter to the KJ Community Regarding Conversion

Dear Friend:

A few weeks ago, a rabbinic court in Petach Tikvah, Israel refused recognition to one of KJ's converts. The Rabbinic court claimed that they did not "know" Rabbi Lookstein, and therefore could not validate his conversions. His convert was unable to get this ruling reversed, and she had to repeat the conversion ceremony before the rabbinate would issue her a marriage license.

We know that many of you are now concerned and have many questions: will this case affect my conversion? Will I be accepted as Jewish by potential spouses? Will my children be accepted by their peers? And some of you have said you feel humiliated as if you are not true Jews.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It bears repeating a fundamental Jewish teaching: converts are beloved members of the Jewish people. The great Rabbinic sage Maimonides writes in his Letter to Obadiah the Convert that "no difference exists between you and us." Not only that, Maimonides recognizes the enormous sacrifices converts make to join the Jewish people, and says "While we (i.e., naturally born Jews) are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you (converts) derive (your Jewish identity directly) from Him through whose word the world was created." The spiritual journey you have taken is inspiring and heroic; no one can impugn your Jewish identity in the eyes of God. Indeed, anyone who insults you insults God, who cherishes the convert. And at KJ, our Rabbis, leadership and congregants are here to support you unconditionally.

Sadly, this convert's situation is due to the bureaucratic pettiness and religious fanaticism in one Rabbinic Court. However, several organizations are now working to change the way the Rabbinate in Israel treats sincere converts. In fact, in the wake of this case, both of Israel's Chief Rabbis announced that they accept Rabbi Lookstein's conversions.

Most importantly, any convert who intends to move to Israel should please consult with the Rabbis at KJ, to ensure that they present their credentials to a rabbinic court that is familiar with Rabbi Lookstein and our standards for conversion. We believe that we can prevent this from happening again.

We know this is a troubling issue for everyone. Please let us know if you would like to speak further about this.

May God bless you and support you in all of your endeavors.

Sincerely,

Haskel Lookstein      Chaim Steinmetz       Elie Weinstock      Daniel and Rachel Kraus

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Where You Go I Shall Go

(originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News)

It was a daring rescue in hostile territory, where even the smallest mistake could have doomed over a hundred lives. Yet this remarkable military operation succeeded; and forty years ago, on July 4th 1976, Operation Entebbe became the stuff of legends, with multiple movies and books recounting this dramatic military mission.

What is overlooked is that Operation Entebbe is much more than a heroic military rescue. Former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has said that Entebbe was not the most difficult or dangerous operation he was a part of in during his military career. So what made the Entebbe raid special? To Ashkenazi, it was the look on the faces of hostages. As the Israeli commandos burst into the terminal, the hostages initially reacted with fear, thinking the commandos were Ugandan soldiers coming to execute them. A few seconds later, when the hostages saw the Israeli insignia on the commandos’ uniforms, the look on the hostages faces suddenly changed to pure relief; they knew their brothers had come to the rescue. Ashkenazi says that is when he learned what it means to be an Israeli and a Jew: that each one of us must take care of each other no matter what. To be a Jew, you need to be loyal to your people.

Loyalty is a difficult virtue to understand. Ethical obligations are generally understood as categorical and universal. Ethics teaches that you cannot murder all people, and you must be respectful of all people. But loyalty is different, because it means we give special treatment to those closest to us. So why do we consider it a virtue to act with loyalty towards our family and friends?

Loyalty may be a troublesome concept for philosophers, but it has never been a question for Jews. To be a Jew means to be loyal to a community and to a tradition. We understand that we have to go above and beyond for those close to us, because this is critical in creating families and communities. Without loyalty, the Jewish community would have crumbled a long time ago. The Biblical character who is the paradigm of loyalty is Ruth. Despite being encouraged to return to a comfortable life in Moab, she insists on going with her mother in law Naomi and says: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God...nothing but death will separate you from me”. This is the most eloquent statement of loyalty ever spoken, as Ruth declares that her dedication to Naomi and her people knows no bounds.

What happened at Entebbe 40 years ago is an exceptional example of Jewish loyalty. Yiftach Atir, one of the soldiers on the mission, told me that in the days of preparation before the raid, the commanding officers sat everyone down and explained how risky the operation would be. They asked the soldiers if they wanted to go; immediately every soldier raised their hand. Like Ruth, they were saying “where you go I will go”.  

The lessons of loyalty are not just for IDF; they are for all of us. I thought about this recently when our son Eitan made plans to join the IDF.  Our friends have asked us whether we would try to stop him from enlisting. Well, we certainly hadn’t planned on Eitan enlisting in the IDF. And we are both quite nervous about him enlisting; so is every Israeli parent. But there is no escaping that loyalty to our brothers and sisters in Israel meant we had to answer yes. So with a mix of nervousness and pride, we gave Eitan our blessing. After all, Ruth taught us to be a Jew is to say “where you go I will go”. The IDF follows Ruth’s path; how could we do any less?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Two Quick Posts From Israel: June 2016



Davka.
Tonight, young residents of Tel Aviv came to shop, eat, and chat at the Sarona Market, just two weeks after a horrible terror attack.
They came because it was a beautiful evening.
They came because it is a beautiful mall.
And they came because of “Davka”.
“Davka” translates as “in spite of” in English, but it means a whole lot more. Davka reflects a courageous spirit and a sense of purpose, the remarkable stubbornness of a people that has refused to abandon their mission no matter what they encounter.
Davka is the Sarona Market. Davka is the Jewish people.



Tonight, on June 22, 2016, I officiated at a special wedding in Caesarea, Israel.
The bride is the granddaughter of my friend John from Montreal. John is a survivor of the Holocaust lucky enough to have been in the Russian Army during the Nazi onslaught; his entire family, except for his mother, were murdered by the Nazis.
When I arrived in Israel, John told me he was up a couple of nights thinking about the date June 22nd. Like all weddings, the couple had chosen the date for logistical reasons, but in the back of John’s mind he knew June 22nd was also a very important date; he just couldn’t remember why. Then 2 days before the wedding, John realized that on June 22nd, 1941, the Germans had invaded Russia. On that day the Russians came to take him for military service, and it was the last day John saw his father, brothers and sister. June 22, 1941 was a terribly tragic day in Jewish history, and on that day, John’s young life was torn apart.
But now 75 years later, something else was happening on June 22. His granddaughter was getting married and living in Israel, to a veteran of an elite IDF unit. John could barely imagine that he would survive, and now his granddaughter was getting married in the Jewish state.
Jeremiah prophesied that והפכתי אבלם לשמחה “I will turn their mourning to joy”. On this night, I saw this come true with my own eyes. It was a miraculous moment, and I was privileged to be a part of it.
Mazel Tov Brittany and Mickey!!

Am Yisrael Chai!!


Friday, June 17, 2016

War and Peace

(This originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News on June 7, 2016)

The pro-BDS movement infuriates supporters of Israel. On university campuses, students in search of a cause condescend to Israel, protesting the lone democracy in the Middle East. They demand moral perfection from the Jewish State, while ignoring the the actions of ISIS and Assad, and scapegoat a Western style democracy in order to atone for the colonial sins of their ancestors. Yes, the involvement of a few Jewish students in anti-Israel activism seems shocking, but that’s because we underestimate how attractive self-righteousness can be.

The posturing of privileged college students who have never taken shelter from a Katuysha or attended the funeral of a terror victim is both absurd and reprehensible. But in response, we need more than angry rhetoric, because justifying Israel’s self-defense deserves more than cliches. Indeed, the question of what is moral during wartime has been debated for centuries and remains a hot topic of debate in contemporary Israel .

Idealists strive for moral purity, and there is nothing purer than non-violence. The only way to categorically avoid violence is to embrace pacifism, to meekly respond to aggression by turning the other cheek. Remarkably, some groups have been steadfast pacifists; Mennonites have refused to support the military in any way, and will flee if under attack, refusing to protect their families and property.

As morally attractive as pacifism may be, it has an enormous failing: it’s suicidal. If the good do nothing to protect themselves, then evil will triumph, and as Jews, we know that it’s a failed ideology.  In 1938, Mahatma Gandhi wrote the following to the head of the German Jewish community, Rabbi Leo Baeck: “My advice to German Jews would be that they commit suicide on a single day, at a single hour. Then would the conscience of Europe awake.”  Baeck gave a blunt response:  “We Jews know that the single-most important commandment of God is to live.” For Jews, pacifism is immoral, because we have a responsibility to care for our own lives and defend ourselves.

Sadly, some in our community consider the right to self-defense to be an ethical blank check. They argue that if war is unavoidable, any tactic should be acceptable. So they encourage soldiers to execute prisoners, and endorse reprisal killings of Arab civilians. Ignoring morality in the service of self-defense, these extremists are the malevolent mirror image of pacifists, distorting the value of self-defense to immoral extremes.

The path Israel has followed is one that undertakes a double responsibility of war and peace. Israel defends herself vigorously, yet the importance of human life is never forgotten. This “Just War” doctrine is well grounded in Jewish sources. For example, Maimonides notes that the army must open a path for people fleeing a besieged city, because they no longer want to be combatants and should be allowed to save their lives.

The IDF continues to carry this dual responsibility with pride. During the 2014 war with Gaza, a member of my synagogue told me how his grandson, who was in a search and rescue unit, went in to save two young Palestinian children who were pinned down in a firefight between Hamas and the IDF.  “Jonathan”, an IDF soldier serving in Gaza at the same time, wrote a letter to Tablet Magazine about feeding animals in an abandoned house, and dropping off a box of military rations for a hungry Palestinian teen. These actions are the work of an army that takes seriously the dual responsibility to protect Israel and pursue peace.

There are different ways to think about war and peace. Some chant slogans from the safety of a university campus, ready to gamble the lives of millions with naive schemes. But the young men and women of the IDF face danger every day as they carry a dual responsibility of protection and peace, and in doing so, make us proud.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The Jerusalem of the Simple Jew

How do you tell the story of the Kotel to people who haven’t been there before?


Two years ago I was part of a Mega Mission from Montreal that brought nearly 600 people to Israel, including 150 who had never been there before. As we arrived to the Kotel on the second night, my task was to talk to the the group about Jerusalem, and to answer a fundamental question: Why is Jerusalem special?


Well, the answer depends on who you ask.


If you ask one who is immersed in Halacha, the answer is simple: Jerusalem is a place that obligates us with unique mitzvot. One third of the Talmud deals with laws connected to Jerusalem, including the rules of the service in the Beit Hamikdash and the rules of ritual purity. A great deal of the practice of Judaism rotates around Jerusalem.


Envisioning these practices in real life yields a dramatic picture. The three time a year pilgrimage of “aliyah leregel” brought millions of Jews together into Jerusalem for the holidays; Josephus writes of a year when 256,500 Passover sacrifices were brought, and estimates that at least 10 people shared each one, which works out to over 2.5 million visiting little Jerusalem for Passover!! It was a time when people of all classes, countries and observances came together as “chaverim”, colleagues; as the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo put it “countless multitudes from countless cities come, some over land, others over sea, from east and west and north and south at every feast.”. (In addition, there is another law called Maaser Sheni, a kind of “holy holiday”, where 4 out of every 7 years the farmer would bring 10% of the value of his produce to Jerusalem to enjoy meals in the holy city.)


The needs of those visiting Jerusalem required highways, which are being discovered by archeologists, and the importance of maintaining ritual purity led to a huge amount of Mikvaot being constructed; today it feels like every time someone does a construction project in Jerusalem, they unearth a 2,000 year old Mikvah! And in Bat Ayin, along one of the ancient highways to Jerusalem, there is naturally enough an ancient mikvah built for those who were going on a holy holiday to Jerusalem.


So this is the answer of the Halachic Man: Jerusalem is filled with opportunities for mitzvot. And while the answer means a lot to me, I recognize it may not resonate with people who do not share my Yeshiva background and training. So let us turn to another religious personality, the mystic.


For the mystic, the answer is simple: Jerusalem is the center of the universe. The Midrash Tanchuma in Parshat Kedoshim (10) writes that Jerusalem is Umbilicus Mundi - the navel of the world. It then explains:


מציון מכלל יופי אלהים הופיע (שם שם ב).
ארץ ישראל יושבת באמצעיתו של עולם,
וירושלים באמצעיתה של ארץ ישראל,
ובית המקדש באמצע ירושלים,
וההיכל באמצע בית המקדש,
והארון באמצע ההיכל,
ואבן שתייה לפני הארון, שממנה נשתת העולם.  


“The land of Israel sits in the middle of the world, and Jerusalem in the middle of the land of Israel, and the Temple in the middle of Jerusalem, and the heichal in the middle of the Temple, and the ark in the middle of the heichal and the Foundation stone from which the world was founded before the ark.”
Jerusalem is the center of the world, the source of divine creation.


The mystical view is well traveled, and even makes its way into popular culture. There is an old joke, that was actually told by Prime Minister Menachem Begin to President Reagan at a White House State dinner, that reflects this view. Begin’s joke goes like this:


“The President brought me into the Oval Office, and he showed me on the table three phones -- one white and one blue. And he explained to me: ``The white is the direct line to Mrs. Thatcher; the blue to President Mitterrand.'' And then I asked him, ``What is the red phone?'' ``That is a direct line to God.'' So, I asked the President, ``Mr. President, do you use it often?'' And the President said, ``Oh, no, very rarely. It's very expensive. Long distance -- so long a distance. And I cannot afford it. I have to cut the budget and -- -- '' [Laughter]

So, then the President visited Jerusalem, and I showed him my office, and there are three phones. One was white, one was blue. And I said, ``The white is a direct line to President Sadat.'' By the by, I have such a line, and he has such a line. ``And the other, well, to Mrs. Thatcher.'' And there is a red phone. And the President asked, ``What is the red phone for?'' And I said, ``This is a direct line to God.'' So, the President asked me, ``Do you use it often?'' I say, ``Every day.'' ``How can you afford it?'' And I said, ``Here, in Jerusalem, it is being considered a local call.””


(Begin continued quite beautifully by saying: “Now, Mr. President, neither of us has direct lines to God. I only believe that God listens to the prayer of a Jew and a Christian and of a Moslem -- of every human being. But, if I have to continue with the story, then I will say that when you come, as I do believe, to Jerusalem, I will immediately put at your disposal the red phone. [Laughter] On the house. [Laughter] A local call.”)


Such is the mystical view. Jerusalem is different because God lives there, and a call to Him from Jerusalem is a local call.  The great Spanish mystic Yoseph Gikatilla (1248 – after 1305) wrote in Shaarei Orah:


ומבית המקדש היו כל הצינורות נמשכות לכל הארצות כולן .. ואם כן נמצאת השכינה משלחת הברכה כפי השיעור הראוי לכל הארצות מבית המקדש
“From the Temple all the channels of divine influence spread out to the world...therefore, we see the divine presence sends blessing to the entire world through the Temple..”


This resonates quite deeply with many people. When we go to the Kotel we put in a “kvitl”, a small note of prayers. Everyone does: Presidents, Prime Ministers, Actors and Rock stars. (Of course, the note is immediately pulled out by a reporter and published in an Israeli newspaper). All of them are closet mystics, and see Jerusalem as a place very close to God.


But not everyone is a mystic; not everyone feels comfortable putting notes in the wall. However, even rationalists can appreciate the powerful history found in Jerusalem. And if you turn to the historian, they will explain that Jerusalem has a remarkable history.


The personalities who walked through this city, who revered this city, have transformed the world. The founders of Judaism lived here: Abraham and Isaac, David and Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezra and Nehemiah, Judah Maccabee and his sons, Hillel and Shammai, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael; and the list goes on and on. Jerusalem’s influence is not restricted to Judaism; the important personalities of Christianity, Jesus, James, Peter, and Paul all lived in Jerusalem as well.


Because of it’s enormous importance in the Christian world, Medieval maps had Jerusalem at the center. Here is an example of a classic medieval map called a “T-O map” because it looks like the outline of a T in an O. At the center is Jerusalem.



Another example is even more beautiful: The Bünting Clover Leaf Map of 1581, which has Jerusalem as the center of a world shaped like a clover:


Jerusalem has always played a large role in world history. And those who know this history are immediately affected by Jerusalem. Thomas Friedman tells of the time Neil Armstrong visited Israel:

“When American astronaut Neil Armstrong, a devout Christian, visited Israel after his trip to the moon, he was taken on a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov. When they got to the Hulda Gate, which is at the top of the stairs leading to the Temple Mount, Armstrong asked Ben-Dov whether Jesus had stepped anywhere around there. “I told him, ‘Look, Jesus was a Jew,'” recalled Ben-Dov. “These are the steps that lead to the Temple, so he must have walked here many times.”


Armstrong then asked if these were the original steps, and Ben-Dov confirmed that they were. “So Jesus stepped right here?” asked Armstrong.
“That’s right,” answered Ben-Dov.
“I have to tell you,” Armstrong said to the Israeli archaeologist, “I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon.””


If you ask a historian what is special about Jerusalem, they will tell you: it is a place that has changed the world. And it is exciting to walk where some of the greatest figures in history have lived.


So here we have another answer, the answer of the historian. And while I appreciate the answers of the Halachic man, the mystic, and the historian, I believe there is one answer that exceeds them all: the answer of the simple Jew.


I learnt about this answer when I visited Israel when I was 7. My Zaide who was 71 at the time, came with us; it was our first trip to Israel. The look Zaide had on his face upon arriving to Israel and going to the Kotel was the look of a man transformed, a Jew achieving his dream.


Zaide’s dream is our dream, and our dream is an ancient dream. Jews have dreamt of Jerusalem from the moment we left. When we went into exile in 587 B.C.E, we cried for Jerusalem, as it says in Psalm 137:


אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי:
ותִּדְבַּק לְשׁוֹנִי | לְחִכִּי אִם לֹא אֶזְכְּרֵכִי אִם לֹא אַעֲלֶה אֶת יְרוּשָׁלִַם עַל רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתִי:


“If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.”


We never forgot Jerusalem. We pray about Jerusalem every day, we pray towards Jerusalem every day, and at every wedding, we break a glass to remember Jerusalem. At the Seders we sing “next year in Jerusalem”.  We do so in good times and in bad, in the Kovno Ghetto and the Warsaw ghetto, in the Soviet Union and in Syria. In Ethiopia each year, children would look at the storks migrating towards Israel and sing a song to the storks:

Stork, stork, how is our land?
Stork, stork, how is Jerusalem?
Stork, stork, give us the word!”.


The simple Jew has always dreamt of Jerusalem. And to him, it is a field of dreams, where we all connect, where the dreams of the Jewish history and Jewish people all overlap.


Forty nine years ago when we returned to Jerusalem the simple jew was overjoyed. My friend Donnie was in Israel volunteering during the Six Day War, and he told  me that the first night the Kotel opened for visitors, on the first night of Shavuot, people lined up all the way from The King David Hotel to get in. Such is the love of the simple Jew.


It is the love of the simple Jew that makes Yom Yerushalayim special. We know how so many who dreamt of this place never made it there to see their field of dreams; but now we can. Moshe Amirav, one of the the soldiers to reach the Kotel on June 7, 1967, said this:


“I can't help from smiling today when I recall how we searched for the Kotel. There we ran, a bunch of panting soldiers, wandering around the Temple Mount, looking for a huge stone wall…..We pass the Mograbim gate, pushing, hurrying, and all of a sudden we are stopped, as if hit by lightning. In front of our eyes stands, grey and large, quiet and sad - the Kotel. I remember feeling only once before such a feeling, when I was a child, and my dad brought me up close to the Aron Hakodesh…...Little by little I started getting closer to the Kotel. Slowly, as if I was sent to pray in front of an ark. I came closer, an emissary of dad, grandpa, greatgrandpa, and all the generations from all the diasporas that didn't make it here, and so they sent me here. Someone said the Shehechianu prayer, and I couldn't say amen. All I could do was put my hand on the rock, and the tears flowing out of my eyes were not mine...they were the tears of all the People of Israel, tears of hope and prayer, Hasidic niguns, Jewish dances, tears that singed and burned the grey heavy stone.”


This is what the Kotel is about. It is not just about ideas; it is about the simple Jew, the dreams of the Jewish People. It is about hearing the footsteps of previous generations, and feeling moved by their voices, their tears.


Forty nine years ago, our field of dreams became a reality, and the simple Jew could go home again. And that is what is special about Jerusalem, and that is what is special about Yom Yerushalayim.


Chag Sameach!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

All of Jewish History, in Just Two Minutes

Several years ago I returned from a mission to Poland and Israel. At the time, our group was left with one inescapable conclusion: Jewish History is a rollercoaster of horror and happiness. In Poland we saw piles of human hair and cans of zyklon-b pellets. In Israel we saw smiling schoolchildren and maternity wards . In Poland we saw cattle cars. In Israel we saw proud soldiers. In Poland we saw gas chambers. In Israel we saw new construction. Up close, Jewish History becomes an emotionally turbulent experience.

The Israeli calendar is even more chaotic. The day before Independence Day is Memorial Day. Unlike the United States and Canada, in Israel Memorial Day is quite melancholy. Everyone attends a memorial, and the entire country stops when the siren rings. When I asked our security guard, Amit, to say a few words about Memorial Day, he choked up with tears; he had served in a combat unit and had lost friends in battle.

And then, immediately after this comes absolute celebration. As if by the flick of switch, the entire country is transformed into a one big block party, with revelers roaming the streets and families barbecuing in the park. In a uniquely Jewish fashion, we insist on commemorating tragedy immediately before celebrating independence. (Much like the Passover Seder includes mention of both slavery and freedom).

This Jewish need to combine bitter and the sweet memories together is what lies at the heart of an authentic Jewish historiography. Jewish history consists of both exile and redemption. We don’t view exile as meaningless historical time, something we’d prefer to forget. On the contrary, exile is carefully remembered. And this is the paradox of Jewish History: it sees exile and redemption, seeming polar opposites, as deeply connected experiences. And like all good paradoxes, it is meant to be a question that keeps asking questions.

This paradox teaches multiple lessons. It underlines the fact that Israel (and the Jewish people) continue to survive and thrive, despite our challenges. It reminds us that the manifold miracles of contemporary Israel, such as blooming deserts, the return to the Western Wall, and cutting edge medical research are expensive miracles; over 23,000 soldiers paid with their lives for these achievements. And it teaches us that we must continue to claim the moral high ground, and refuse to descend to the level of the terrorists who attack us.

At the end of Memorial Day, I was at a ceremony in which the Israeli flag, flying at half mast, was raised to full height. At that moment, I understood I was experiencing all of Jewish history in two minutes. Jewish history lives at the intersection of exile and redemption, the point of transition between half mast and full glory. It may seem an absurd way to look at history; but wasn’t it also absurd for this small, persecuted people to persist in living on? 

Happy 68th, Israel!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

The Holocaust, 71 Years Later: A Yizkor Sermon

I had a dispute with a friend of mine a few years ago. I had just given a sermon that included an inspiring story that took place during the Holocaust.

My friend, who was a survivor of the Holocaust, came over afterward and said to me: “Nothing about the Holocaust was good. Don’t make it sound so positive.”

And he was right.

There is good reason to believe that remembrance of the Shoah can only be expressed in mourning and grief. Lawrence Langer, in his book Preempting the Holocaust, critiques those who find “positive lessons” in the Holocaust. He cites an incident at Matthausen, when a group of Jews were thrown into a pit of quicklime, and shouted for hours as they died an agonizing, slow death. Langer concludes that “Nothing we hear from well-intentioned commentators about….. the light of human community emerging from Holocaust darkness….or "fellowship of the suffering and the long suffering"... can silence the cries of those hundreds of Jews being boiled to death in an acid bath.”

Langer is correct. The 6 years of the Holocaust are an enormous black hole of barbarity, an inexplicable horror that one can mourn, and only mourn.

But let me explain why I think I am right as well. There is another side to remembering the Holocaust, because memory can focus in more than one direction.

Rav Soloveitchik speaks about this idea in lectures on the Haggadah. He notes there are two statements in the Haggadah that seem to say the same thing in different ways:

 וְאִלּוּ לֹא גָאַל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֶת אֲבוֹתֵינוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם, עֲדַיִן אָנוּ וּבָנֵינוּ וּבְנֵי בָנֵינוּ מְשֻׁעְבָּדִים הָיִינוּ לְפַרְעֹה בְּמִצְרַיִם

“If the Holy One, Blessed Be He, had not brought our ancestors out of Egypt, then we, our children, and our children’s children would still be enslaved..”

וּבְכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר, חַיָּב אָדָם לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם

“In every generation one must view oneself as though one had personally left Egypt..”

The Rav points out the second statement is about reliving the original event, while the first statement is about seeing contemporary events in light of the past.

These two perceptions of the past are actually quite different. In one, we see ourselves as if we left Egypt, and in the other, we see ourselves today as people whose current situation is directly influenced by the Exodus.

It’s not just the Exodus that can be seen from either a narrow or broad perspective. Any moment in history can be seen from two vantage points, which I would call: "telescope time" and "microscope time".

“Microscope time” focuses completely on one narrow moment. What did it feel like the night we left Egypt? What is the experience of a year in Auschwitz like? Like a microscope, this perspective of time looks at one moment only.

“Telescope time” takes a broader view. It looks at an event and considers: What is the meaning of this event in the course of a life, of a history? What perspective do we take after a life of 70 or 80 years? How do you describe the historical experience of an entire century?

Like a telescope, this perspective of time focuses on a large area of time, and looks beyond the moment to consider the past, present and future at once.

Even on the darkest days of the calendar, we never lose the perspective of “telescope time”. The Orchot Chaim (R. Aharon ben R. Jacob ha -Cohen of Narbonne, France, early 1300’s) states that even for Tisha B’Av, which focuses on the tragedies of the past, we need to lessen the mourning in the afternoon, because we always keep an eye on the future. He writes:

אך מנהג קדום שהנשים רוחצות ראשן מן המנחה ולמעלה ביום ט' באב והזקנים הראשונים ז"ל הנהיגו זה ועשו סמך לדבר זה על מה שאמרו בהגדה כי המשיח נולד ביום ט"ב וכמו שעשו זכר לחורבן ולאבלות כן צריך לעשות הזכר לגואל ולמנחם כדי שלא להתיאש מן הגאולה.

“The ancient custom is for the women to wash their heads on the late afternoon of Tisha B’Av, and the elders of blessed memory who instituted this (counter- halachic) custom did so on the basis of the fact that the Aggadah says that Messiah will be born on the 9th of Av. And just like we make a commemoration for the destruction, so too we make a memorial for the redeemer and consoler; and this is done so we never lose hope for a future redemption.”

This is an eloquent statement of “telescope time”. We sit in mourning on the 9th of Av, yet never forget that there will be a future redemption. The Messianic future intrudes on the sadness of Tisha B’Av, and reminds us to remain hopeful and positive.

We know the reality of “microscope time” and “telescope time” from our own experiences.  When we are observing shiva and narrowly focused on mourning our loss, there are still times when we open up and see a larger picture, and smile and laugh at pleasant memories. And at weddings, when the couple focuses on their joy under the chuppah, reality still telescopes in, and with tears in our eyes we remember the people who are missing.

The concept of “telescope time” is why I am right too. Yes, there is no room for talking about the uplifting aspects of the Holocaust when you recognize the 6 million voices crying out in anguish; yes, there is no room for inspiration when you mourn for close to 70% of European Jewry.

But when you see the Holocaust in terms of the last 71 years, there is another narrative.

So what would be the larger narrative of the last 71 years? In terms of world history, little has changed. Over and over political leaders have vowed “never again”; but that promise has proved false. Since 1945, there have been genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Even Samantha Power, who writes eloquently about ending genocide, serves an administration that did nothing for the civilians of Syria. In the last 71 years, the world has not changed very much.

But in terms of Jewish history, things have changed dramatically. The Holocaust was the culmination of two millennia of anti-Semitism, and should have broken our spirits. Survivors should have given up hope, and world Jewry should have collapsed.

Yet nothing of the sort occurred. In the shadows of the concentration camps, orphaned survivors got married and started new families. The “bericha” sent ten of thousands of survivors to Israel, where many went directly to fight for the new state. And survivors around the world built communities, and garnered remarkable accomplishments in business, scientific and political life, including several Nobel Prizes.

Alongside the survivors, the Jewish world reenergized itself. After 1,900 years of exile, Jews returned to their homeland and built a state that is a world leader in multiple areas. The arc of Jewish history since the Shoah has been nothing short of miraculous, with a people rising from the ashes in a manner no one could have predicted.

On Yom Hashoah, we need to keep two perspectives in mind. Our first responsibility is to reflect on six years of carnage, and mourn the 6 million. But at the same time, we must be inspired by the remarkable story of the past 71 years, when the Jewish world was transformed by heroes who toiled quietly, home by home, community by community, to rebuild the Jewish world.

One excellent example comes from an obituary I read last year in a Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. The paper has a column where friends can contribute significant obituaries about people who may not have been famous, but were important. After Pesach last year, an obituary appeared about Eta Birnbaum Chaim, 96. Eta had saved the life of her younger sister in Auschwitz, and then came to Toronto.

The obituary continues:

“Eta was deeply devoted to her religion and family, which included six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren…...Well into her 90s, she walked two kilometers each way to attend shul every Saturday. For five years, she walked the same distance, twice a day, to see Harry in Baycrest Hospital after he suffered a stroke….Last February, she chose to forego surgery when told she had an incurable tumor…..

She continued to prepare and host Shabbat suppers and made her best batches of gefilte fish and egg noodles for 35 guests at Passover, her favorite holiday. Eta took to her bed the following week and slipped gently away, whispering her Shema prayer with her family at her side, leaving a legacy of common values, uncommonly lived.”

Until the last seder, Eta made sure that the story of the Jewish people was told and retold. Because of wonderful women like Eta, Jewish history did not end with the Shoah, and because of her that we can say today “Am Yisrael Chai”.

Today, we are reciting Yizkor for people like Eta, who made a difference in a quiet way, with love and compassion. As we say Yizkor, there is one more thought I’d like to consider about “telescope time”, because the idea of telescope time solves a mystery about Yizkor.

How can we say Yizkor on a holiday; doesn’t it bring us to tears? A Yom Tov is meant to be a time of joy. We even suspend mourning in deference to Yom Tov; so how do we say Yizkor?

This question is cited by the Tzitz Eliezer (12:39) in the name of Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein (the founder of the Chevron Yeshiva).

Perhaps the answer is this: seeing Yizkor through a “telescope” view of time is different. Yes, we cry during Yizkor; but we also can reflect recognize that while we feel a profound sense of loss, this pain we feel is the reflection of a true legacy. The person we grieve for continues to inspire us, and their legacy continues to live with us.

And even if we cry at Yizkor, there is still a feeling of appreciation for a life lived.

Seven months after my mother’s death, my niece gave birth to a baby girl; the baby was to be named on Shabbat morning. That Saturday night, we got a call informing us of the baby’s name. As expected, the name given was named Rochel; this baby was the first child to be named after my mother. I sat down in a corner and cried, overwhelmed by the twin realizations that my mother was both gone, but not forgotten. I cried for my loss, yet at the same time, took enormous pride in the legacy my mother had left us.

These tears are the tears of Yizkor, tears well suited even for the happiest of days. We cry, but at the same take pride in the legacy we have, a legacy that still lives on.