The Jewish Holiday of Passover (or Pesach) begins this year on Friday night. Even though we are blessed to live in America, an open society that truly grants freedom of religion, unfortunately, many few people—both Jews and gentiles—are ignorant of or misunderstand even the most basic ideas about Judaism. Since we live among each other, a minimal understanding of the basic concepts is important.
Before I explain a few basic concepts of Passover, I want to explain two basic ideas:
1.A very famous rabbi who lived around 1880, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, was once asked to summarize Judaism in one sentence. He said, “The main idea of Judaism is be concerned with your share in the Next World, and your neighbor’s share in This World.” Then he added, “Most of the problems we have now or historically, such as poverty or wars, were due to the fact that people got it the other way around.”
His remarks are quite accurate and quite pithy. Judaism is the only religion that I know of that has not persecuted members of other faiths nor insisted that only members of their own religion have a share in the World to Come. Judaism teaches that there are many paths to G-D, and any righteous person, regardless of religion, can go to Heaven. Judaism teaches that G-D gave the Torah (Pentateuch) to the Jews, as way of life that He feels is best for them. Others are not expected to follow these beliefs and practices, although they may if they want to.
It is not our job to preach to others or to tell them how to live. It is however, our job to be honest with ourselves and others in what believe. For these reasons anything we say below should be taken in this context just explained.
2.Society in general has held many different values that change in time and place. For example, ancient Egyptian society did not consider a marriage between a brother and sister to be incestuous, but ancient Persian society did. Ancient Persian society did not consider marriage between a mother and son to be incestuous, but ancient Egyptian society did. Today, almost all societies consider both relationships to be incestuous. There are many other examples of changing values. Many people want to be “politically correct” and will attack physically or verbally someone who goes strongly against the current trend. Voltare once said “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The values of Judaism have always been at odds, in some situations, with the values of surrounding society. We ask that anyone reading this essay, adopt the policy of Voltaire and not to attack or abuse anyone, including the author of this essay, who will take issue—sometimes very strongly—with the values of society—for, after all, who is allowed to tell someone else what values he or she should hold dear? As explained above, we are honestly explaining our values, Jewish values, and anyone and everyone must make his or her choice what values to follow.
Slavery in Egypt and Miraculous Redemption
The Bible explains the Jews were slaves in Egypt and tortured and treated cruelly for over one hundred years until G-D worked miracles and took the Jews out of Egypt. After they left, He split the waters of the Red Sea, and the Jews crossed on dry land, whereas the Egyptians who followed them were drowned as the waters closed in on them. Passover is, to some extent, a celebration of thanksgiving for these miraculous events—but it is even more, as to be explained later.
Do you believe the Biblical account is an honest record of historical fact? Think for a minute about what your answer is, and then please answer this next question: The University of Pennsylvania, has in its archives a hieroglyphic inscription found at the site the Bible claims the Jews crossed the Red Sea, and describes, almost identically the same story, how the escaped slaves crossed the sea on dry land, and their leader Moses, raised his hands, and sea closed on the pursuing Egyptians and drowned them. Does this fact (that most people did not know) change your view as to the historical accuracy of the Biblical account?
Whom Do You Trust?
For many people the answer is yes—but it should not be?. Why? Here is why:
A person believes a source he feels is reliable.
Which is more reliable? The Bible or Egyptian politicians? Before we discuss the concept of Biblical reliability, let us mention something about politicians. In ancient Egypt, as in most ancient societies, most people did not know how to read or write. Writing or hieroglyphic inscription was done by specially trained experts who were government officials. They wrote exactly what their political bosses told them to. In virtually every society the official history or chronicles was made to glorify the rulers and that country; the historical accounts of the Persian-Greek wars (or any other war, for that matter) varied dramatically between the “historians” of the two countries.
We see the same thing in modern times. Politicians are lying, backtracking, and denying things right and left. This year’s presidential primary debates of both parties has been considered a circus, with virtually every candidate telling bold-faced lies. Without necessarily supporting any candidate I find it amazing that Hillary Clinton, for example, has stated she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the famous British explorer who was the first to scale Mt. Everest, even though she was born about five years earlier!
There were so many problems and rumors concerning what happened regarding the Kennedy assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, that one week later Pres. Johnson recruited Justice Warren, of the Supreme Court to be he head of a blue-ribbon committee to investigate what did happen. He authored the famous “Warren Report,” released about one year later, which was the official document stating the conclusions and the evidence, and it strongly supported the official government version, in spite of the numerous objections and possible inconsistencies. Years later, in the early 70‘s Congress re-opened an investigation. One of the witnesses to testify was one of America’s greatest acoustics experts–if not the greatest—Ernst Ahskenazi, then at Queens College, and a friend of mine. His testimony, as recorded in a New York Times article, stated that with more advanced acoustic techniques that became available since the assassination, it seems almost definite that there were two bullets fired, not one, and from two different directions. Other witnesses and experts were interviewed, and some supported the government theory of one assassin (Oswald), and others did not. It did become clear though, that the FBI, CIA, and secret service had not necessarily released full information to the Warren Committee investigating the shooting.
In an Op Ed in the New York Times, Chief Justice Warren wrote, that contrary to rising public opinion to the contrary, he and the other committee members, worked honestly with great integrity, and dealt as best they could with information provided by the FBI, CIA, and secret service. At that time they had accepted without question the reliability of the information provided. Justice Warren noted that after the Watergate and Vietnam scandals it would be naïve to believe the information provided was accurate, complete, and had not been doctored.
By now, it is estimated that more than 1,000 books have been written about the Kennedy assassination, with more than 90% questioning the official government version. There are numerous conspiracy theories, some of them obviously by quacks, and others that seem plausible. I do not know if anyone knows what the truth really is. It is rather clearly agreed there was some government obfuscation, but who, what, when, where, and why is the subject of much debate.
This is only one example of the government publicizing, today, as in ancient times, only what it wants the public to know. One more example might prove interesting: During the debate for and against Obama’s universal health care bill, quite a number of experts claimed one negative result could be many people not being able to continue with their current doctors. Obama clearly publicly stated that no one would lose his or her physician because of this bill—yet millions of people did. One might think this statement was simply an incorrect analysis, but a few years later, one White House official said he was at the meeting with the president and other proponents of the bill, and they discussed quite clearly that many people would indeed lose their physician. One purpose of this particular meaning was how to present this fact to the public, and in the end, the committee decided they would simply lie about it and deny that possibility—and for that reason, President Obama intentionally lied and misled the public.
Thus the bottom line is whom to believe. And the answer is quite obvious—anyone with great integrity. We know that politicians do not generally fall into that category. Let us see how the great rabbis of past generations fare in this regards:
Some Fundamentals of Jewish Belief
It is taught in many Sunday schools, both Jewish and non-Jewish, that Abraham was the first Jew, because he was the first to believe in G-D, that is the first one to be monotheistic. This idea is not accurate. True, he was monotheistic, and did try to wean the people of his generation from idolatry, but he was not the first monotheist to believe in G-D. Certainly Adam was. Also Noah, who was found to be the most righteous man of his generation was monotheistic—and he lived 10 generations before Abraham! Noah was a prophet—he talked with G-D. Righteous gentiles who follow the path of Noah are called “B’nei Noah”—“children” or followers of Noah. But he was not the first Jew.
To explain why Abraham, and not Noah, was the first Jew, we need to explain an important “side” point first:
According to Jewish tradition, the Pentateuch, or written Torah (“Torah” means “teaching” or “instruction.”) does not comprise the full amount of knowledge imparted by G-D to the Jewish Nation at the Revelation on Mt. Sinai. The “written Torah” is like classroom notes a student takes, which embodies only the essence of the lecture, not the full amount of information. There is more to it—the Oral Torah, or Jewish tradition, dating back to Mt. Sinai, that includes details often omitted from the Written Torah. For example, it says “You shall slaughter as I have shown you.” But no where near this verse, nor anywhere else, is there a description of how to slaughter! Yet this verse is the basis of all the rules and laws pertaining to kosher meat and kosher slaughtering. The very words “as I have shown you” indicate G-D showed something to Moses that was not recorded. The details of kosher slaughtering are very complex, and to become a certified Jewish slaughterer generally takes at least one year of intensive study and practice. All these details are part of the Oral Tradition or Oral Law or Oral Torah. These laws were kept oral and transmitted orally for about two thousand years until the Roman persecutions were so severe, that the leading rabbis of the generation decided to commit them to writing so they should not be forgotten, as the Romans had decreed that any Rabbi teaching Jewish Law to his students will be killed, and all the students will be killed. Thousands of rabbis and students risked their lives (and many were caught and tortured to death) in order to preserve Jewish tradition. They simply defied the Romans. But when the Romans decreed that not only would all students in the Yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) be killed, but every person in the city where the yeshiva was located, the seminaries had to close down, and the once Oral Law, was then recorded as a 60+ volume encyclopedia known as the Mishnah (Hebrew for “Teaching”). But this form was still very abbreviated, and eventually a detailed commentary on the Mishnah, known as the Gemarra (Aramaic for “teaching”) was recorded. The two together constitute the “Talmud” (Hebrew for “study”) and is the main work universally studied by Rabbinical students for over 1000 years.
According to the Written Torah, it says that after the flood Noah was alarmed at how desolate the world was, and he built and altar and prayed to G-D he would not destroy the world again. It does not record G-D’s response to him. The Oral Torah does; it says G-D was angry and said “Now you pray to me? You should have prayed before the flood. I could have saved you without you building an ark. I ordered you to build an ark which took 200 years in order that people would ask what you were doing, and you would explain that I was going to destroy the world. You were supposed to influence the evil people in your generation to repent, and pray to me that I would erase my decree to destroy the world. Instead, you went on your merry way, and did not show proper concern for others or have compassion on my children, the rest of mankind.”
Now, let us compare, on the other hand, the behavior or Abraham. G-D told him he was going to destroy the two wicked cities of Sodom and Gemara (spelled in Hebrew and pronounced differently from the Gemarra above, although it does sound the same in English). What did Abraham do? He immediately got up and SHOUTED, “G-d, you are the Judge of all the earth! Will not the Judge act justly? How can you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” In short, he argued with G-D. He did not take complacently a decree to destroy thousand of people. G-D responded that he would not kill the righteous with the wicked, but would save the righteous people in these cities from destruction. Abraham could have walked away at this point and said “OK.” But instead, the debate between Abraham and G-D continues. Abraham said that G-D should be patient, and NOT destroy even the wicked people, because if he gives them more time, maybe the righteous people living in these cities will be able to influence the evil ones to repent. And Abraham actually extracts a promise from G-D, saying that if He finds there are 50 righteous people in these cities, G-D will not destroy the cities, but save everyone on account of those righteous individuals. Abraham continues to bargain with G-D, until he gets down to 10 righteous people—and G-D agrees. As it was, unfortunately, G-D did not find 10 righteous people, so he rained down on the cities fire and brimstone, and destroyed the cities completely. However, that is not the main point. The main point is the demonstration of Love that Abraham had for all of humanity that he was willing to argue with G-D, and debate, and bargain with him, to save others. That love, is what made him the first Jew.
The single most important principle in the Torah is in Lev. Chap. 19—“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
A little deeper
Now that we have explained the centrality of the importance of love and genuine, heartfelt concern for others in Judaism, the existence and importance of the Oral Law, and the historical dedication at the time of Roman persecutions (and throughout 4,000 years of history for that matter), of the Jewish people, there are still some major ideas that need to be explained. How do we know G-D really exists? How do we know he really communicated the Torah to us? Maybe these are just legends. And doesn’t belief in the Torah contract evolution or modern science?
These are all good questions, that honestly have good, scholarly answers, that would take hours and many pages to explain. Still, I will give a very brief outline—but brief in terms of what information there is. That is to say I am communicating far less than 1% of 1% of the information there is, but just enough to show any honestly intellectual person, that these questions are based upon mistaken views of what the Torah says and what Judaism teaches. Most people who read the Bible do so in English, not Hebrew, and a lot is lost in the translation. Also, they may be unaware of Jewish tradition, or the Oral Torah, so they have a distorted picture of what Judaism is and believes. With a knowledge of the Oral Torah, all these questions disappear or are easily answered.
Let us look at just a few ideas, although there are literally thousands of examples. How old is the universe? Is evolution true? In Hebrew, there are different verbs for “creating” or making. Only one of them means “creating ex nihilo,” creating from nothing. That verb is used three times in Genesis. All the other verbs indicate not an act of creation per se, by G-d, but a causation of events to evolve on their own. This is noted in the Oral Law thousands of years ago. The three cases are in the very initial act of creation, in the creation of the great sea monsters, and in the creation of Man.
Moreover, the sun, moon, and stars, were not created and put into position until the 4th day of the seven days of creation, so how did they measure time before then?
According to Jewish Tradition, the Oral Torah, time was different in the beginning. There was a flash of infinite light, that traveled at an amazing speed, and gradually things slowed down. This concept fits well within the beliefs of modern physics. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity can explain it by the “Twin Paradox.” The following is an explanation copied from Wikopedia:
In his famous paper on special relativity in 1905, Albert Einstein deduced that when two clocks were brought together and synchronized, and then one was moved away and brought back, the clock which had undergone the traveling would be found to be lagging behind the clock which had stayed put.[A 4] Einstein considered this to be a natural consequence of special relativity, not a paradox as some suggested, and in 1911, he restated and elaborated on this result as follows (with physicist Robert Resnick‘s comments following Einstein’s):[A 5]
If we placed a living organism in a box … one could arrange that the organism, after any arbitrary lengthy flight, could be returned to its original spot in a scarcely altered condition, while corresponding organisms which had remained in their original positions had already long since given way to new generations. For the moving organism, the lengthy time of the journey was a mere instant, provided the motion took place with approximately the speed of light.
If the stationary organism is a man and the traveling one is his twin, then the traveler returns home to find his twin brother much aged compared to himself. The paradox centers on the contention that, in relativity, either twin could regard the other as the traveler, in which case each should find the other younger—a logical contradiction. This contention assumes that the twins’ situations are symmetrical and interchangeable, an assumption that is not correct. Furthermore, the accessible experiments have been done and support Einstein’s prediction.
In 1911, Paul Langevin gave a “striking example” by describing the story of a traveler making a trip at a Lorentz factor of γ = 100 (99.995% the speed of light). The traveler remains in a projectile for one year of his time, and then reverses direction. Upon return, the traveler will find that he has aged two years, while 200 years have passed on Earth.
Dr. Gerald Schroeder, a physicist who used to teach at MIT, has shown, in his book Genesis and the Big Bang that the first several billion years of the universe, were compacted into a smaller time-frame of exactly six days!
According to the Oral Torah, the “true” age of the universe, in modern terms is 14.8 billion years—an exact fit. How did our sages know that? They said that they had a tradition from Moses that G-D told him on Mt. Sinai. Is there any religion or society before modern science that claimed the universe is billions of years old? Before Einstein, just 150 years ago or so, would not anyone have been thought of as crazy if he said the earth is billions of years old? Yet Jewish tradition, and ONLY Jewish tradition, is the only source in the world so claiming!
Here is another one. Jews are commanded in the Bible to say a certain prayer at the beginning of every month the new moon first appears. The Babylonians worshipped the moon, and for 500 years they send people in the fields at night to observe when does the new moon first appear. According to Dr. John Newton, professor of history of astronomy at the prestigious John Hopkins University the Babylonians used these 500 years of observations to make calculations, but still they were significantly off—however their error was understandable based upon the level of science and math at that time. In the Talmud, it mentions we have an oral tradition dating back to Moses on Mt. Sinai, that G-d told Moses when the new moon appears—every 29.point so many days. This figure was later found to be accurate to six decimal places, that the mean synodic month is exactly that long. This figure, however, was not known by scientists until 1972, when they put a special mirror on the moon, and bounced a laser light off it, and timed its return to the earth carefully, and were thus able to measure distances and orbits more carefully. Someone who told this to Dr. Newton said he nearly fainted when he heard this—it is amazing that the Jews have a tradition that more accurate than anything science knows for 4,000 years! How could the Jews know a certain number, to six decimal places, almost 4,000 before scientists did? The only rational answer is that the Torah really was given by G-D, the Creator of the universe.
Another amazing fact: Both the New Testament (a book Jews do NOT believe in) and the Old Testament, are about the same length. The Old Testament is about 4000 years old, and 2000 years older than the new one. It was copied by scribes, often in their spare time, and often under great duress—penalty of death by various persecuting governments or religions. The New Testament was copied by monks in monasteries, who did nothing else and were totally free to do so. Now copying a large book by hand is a tedious and difficult job. Given the size, the age, and the persecutions, which do you think currently has a more reliable text? The NT has over 100,000 versions of changes in words, letters, etc. Those who study history know that such an error rate is perfectly reasonable for a large book 2000 years old. A study was made in Israel by Dr. Breuer about 50 years ago, of hudnreds of Torah scrolls, hundreds of years old, from Morocco, Yemen, Turkey, Poland, Spain, etc. He found only SIX one-letter differences, and they were all similar to alternate spellings in Hebrew such as “honor” or “honour” in English. Truly the Torah is a miracle text. There is no comparable book like it in the history of the world that is so carefully preserved.
Ask any historian, and he will tell you it is impossible for any large amount of text to be preserved accurately for hundreds, much less, thousands, of years. Even the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776 has at least two versions. There is a question as to whether the text is “inalienable rights” or unalienable rights.” I have seen written essays by historical experts on both sides of the issue. Here the text is less than 250 years old, and only a few hundred words, and already there is a dispute as to the original verbiage!
We include a here a list of sources giving more information as well as the biographies of several famous rabbis so anyone can decide for himself or herself about the integrity of the texts or the great rabbis in an n performing a task selflessly without any exterior motivations.
For anyone wanting to know more about proof, based upon Judaism, that G-D really does exist, and He really did communicate the Torah to His people, I suggest the following books as good sources: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt published by Feldheim. (www.feldheim.com). I would further suggest browsing this site for other books on Judaism and science (some by Dr. Levi, former physics prof. at City College and who now teaches in Israel), and other books, such as biographies of famous people—very interesting and inspiring. (These include All for the Boss, The Bamboo Cradle, and others. Perhaps the best is A Tzadik (saint) in Our Time, the biography of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, a prison chaplain, who was an utterly amazing person. He was so effective in helping people that no criminal who ever met him was imprisoned again. Every prisoner he spoke to once was totally reformed! Compare that to our 80% recidivism rate in the US. When the jails were overcrowded the courts sentenced criminals to spend one or two weeks in his apartment. They so loved him they refused to move out, and the police then had to come and remove them. During the Israeli War of Independence, a time, unfortunately, of great hatred of Jews by the Arabs, the Arabs in Jerusalem’s main prison UNANIMOUSLY petitioned the jail that the Arab Mullah chaplain should be removed and that Rabbi Levin should be the Moslem chaplain as well. Rabbi Levin was so helpful to people that anyone who needed a bank loan or a mortgage would ask him to be a cosigner if they had weak credit. He always agreed—many people defaulted, and as a result he was paying out of his own pocket several mortgages for other poor families. He was happy to do so, and he and his children went barefoot and only ate one meal a day because they had no money. The Jerusalem municipality eventually passed a law that no loan is valid if he is a cosigner—they passed that law to save him from starvation. (Have you ever heard of a city passing such a law?)
Similarly, for information about Judaism in general, and how it is different from other religions, there is an excellent book by Rabbi Mordecai Katz, entitled, Understanding Judaism, published by Artscroll (www.artscroll.com) They also have many books that would be of general interest, including some famous biographies, perhaps the best being Guardian of Jerusalem, the biography of an extraordinary rabbi who was well respected by both Jews and Arabs, and successfully made peace between different groups when he was alive.
There was a black rapper from Jamaica, named Robinson, who was into drugs, sex, violence, and other disgusting things as is common among rappers. Someone told him there is a purpose to life. G-D put us here for a reason and gave him a Bible with the commentary of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch. (This book, known as the Hirsch Chumash—Chumash is Hebrew for Pentateuch.) Robinson read it, and it totally changed his life around. He converted and became an observant orthodox Jew. The change was dramatic. All of his acquaintances found that deep beneath his demeanor of violence, was a soft, loving, caring individual. He left “rap” and got a job in a liquor store. Unfortunately he died young and violently, like many other rappers—but for a different reason, he was shot during a robbery in the store as he was trying to protect the customers. I have friends who knew him, as he prayed in a synagogue near where I live. This book, the Hirsch Chumash, is available from Feldheim. It is long and complex—but it is amazingly beautiful. It is the best single source of information of the Orthodox Jewish view of the world, one’s self, the Bible, etc. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to know about Judaism. It might be the single most important work to read.
Similarly I have a friend who used to send two e-mails a week that describe in detail the Jewish view of some topic he is discussing. One of the last series he sent before his premature death (containing over 200 e-mails) is entitled “My Search for the Soul of Zion.” Other series he has written include one on Harmony, one on the Sabbath, one on Animals, and many others. His subscribers include many non-Jews including Christians and Moslems who all think his insights are beautiful and inspiring. Reading these e-mails on a regular basis will give one a good feeling for Jewish thought, belief, and practice. There are only two a week, so it involves much less time than reading the Pentateuch by Hirsch. I highly recommend it. See Hazon – Our Universal Vision: www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/
Some Brief Biographies
1. All for the Boss by Ruchama Shain, published by Feldheim,
The biography of a man (the author’s father) who kept Shabbos in America when almost no one else did, opened his house to the poor, started or gave money to many yeshivas, helped the mentally ill, and was such a kind-hearted man and totally dedicated to keeping mitzvos, that the book is utterly inspiring. For years, this was the best selling book ever in the Orthodox Jewish world.
1. A Tzadik in Our Time, by Simcha Raz, published by Feldheim
Also a biography, of the famous Rabbi Arye Levine. Officially he was the guidance counselor in an elementary yeshiva in Jerusalem, but for many years, including throughout the War of Independence, he was the unpaid chaplain for Jewish prisoners in Jerusalem’s jails. He loved everyone so much that he was a powerful influence, so powerful that Rav Kook ZT”L said if there were just three people on earth like Rav Levine, the mashiach would come immediately.
- He always left his door unlocked so anyone could visit any time who wanted advice or help.
- He had a remarkable recidivism rate of 0%! That is to say that any prisoner who spoke to him personally (even once—and they all did), when the prisoner was released, never committed another crime again.
- During the War of Independence ALL the Arabs in the main prison signed a petition, unanimously, requesting the Moslem Mullah who was their chaplain be dismissed and replaced with Rabbi Levine.
- When jails were overcrowded courts sentenced criminals (including for serious crimes) to stay one or two weeks in R. Levine’s house. He had a small apartment for his wife and 6 (I think) children—kitchen, living room-dining room, and one bedroom. The prisoners slept on the living room floor. When their time was up, they refused to leave, and there was no room for the next batch of prisoners, so the police came and had to drive them out.
- He co-signed anyone’s mortgage who wanted him to, even though his salary at the yeshiva was a pittance. Many people with poor credit ratings could not get a mortgage, so they needed a co-signer. There were others who even forged his signature, and they defaulted, but he paid their mortgages himself. He was so poor that he had no shoes and walked barefoot and fasted several days a week because he could not afford to buy any food. At that point the Jerusalem municipality stepped in and passed an ordinance that any mortgage or loan co-signed by R. Levine would not be valid. Did you ever hear of a city outlawing a person to so-sign a loan for fear he would go broke?
- He cured several people who were in an insane asylum, and considered hopeless cases, just by talking to them.
Be forewarned that the first part of the book is slow, but it is much faster-reading later. Also, even though he was an expert at “V’ahavta l’rei’acho kamocha” he still believed and emphasized that all mitzvos in the Torah should be kept, without compromising or altering them to make them more relevant to the times.
3. Guardian of Jerusalem by R. Sonenfeld, published by Artscroll,
This is a biography of R. Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld (written by his grandson), who was an amazing genius having memorized the entire Talmud, the complete Shulchan Aruch, and dozens of other books at an early age (I think before his Bar Mitzvah). As a young rabbi, he immigrated to Israel in the mid to late 1800’s and helped build up the land. He personally drained the malaria-mosquito infected swamps near Jerusalem, allowing people to settle there safely, helped found Hadassha Hospital as well as others, and was both a rabbi to teach and give rulings as well as to help people in an amazing way. Just for example, when he was over 70 I think, he found a neighbor who always went to Shule on Shabbos was not there one Shabbos. He was afraid the neighbor may have been ill, but his house was surrounded by a tall fence so he could not get in to check. So, on Shabbos, he climbed onto the roof of a neighboring house (with an axe in hand), jumped off the roof to land into the yard of this person, breaking both legs in the process, and with two broken legs, ran to his locked door, chopped it down with axe, found the man unconscious. He called an ambulance which took the man to the hospital and thereby saved his life.
Rabbi Sonenfeld represented the “right wing” of Orthodoxy, but loved and helped everyone to the point Chaim Weitzman (a secular Zionist leader) said it is hard to argue with R. Sonenfeld because of his love for everyone. This book is the BEST history I have seen of the disputes between Zionism and many orthodox, as well as the disputes within orthodoxy. I think it accurately describes the positions, views, and actions of people on all sides, and it is sometimes uncomfortable to read, but I think it is truly an accurate and unbiased account that cannot be readily found elsewhere.
When the Zionist Organization through the Jewish Agency opposed many of the plans and ideas of Rabbi Sonenfeld, one of the leaders gave a scathing speech against the “black hand” or Rabbi Sonenfeld. Another ardent anti-religious Zionist leader got up and corrected him and said, “When the Arabs rioted and attacked and shot you, who was it who went unarmed into the midst of the battle and with his ‘black hand’ lifted you up and personally carried you to the hospital?”
That was Rabbi Sonenfeld. In the midst of the battle, he would go into the battlefield, and single-handedly carried the wounded out to get medical aid. (He was an extremely strong person.)
It has been a while since I read the book, but as I recall:
Rabbi Sonenfeld was also fluent in Arabic and friends with the\ grand mufti of Jerusalem and well as other local Arab leaders. He made an agreement with them to establish a Jewish State (when the British mandate would end) that would give much more land to the Jewish State than the Jewish Agency plan, including all of Jerusalem and significant amount of land to the east including much land across the Jordan encompassing almost all of modern Jordan, and the Arab leaders readily agreed to the plan because they trusted him. The Arab leaders were against the Jewish Agency plan because they did not trust them, but they did accept the Sonenfeld plan..
The British then conducted a vote among the settlers of Israel to accept the Sonenfeld plan or to accept the Jewish Agency plan. The vote was 80% for the Sonenfeld plan and 20% for the Jewish Agency plan. The Jewish Agency then went to the British High Commissioner and had them cancel the vote. This was a shame became the Arabs trusted Rabbi Sonenfeld, but not Ben-Gurion, and the whole picture of the Middle East might have been different had the Sonenfeld plan been accepted. But that is for another time.
So too, there is much more to say about Pesach (Passover)—but that will be left for later, other than one last idea:
The main idea is that the story is historically true, and the celebration is NOT one of “freedom” that we could add to the Passover Seder other stories of slavery and oppression. As important as helping others is, such additions are wrong because they are contradictory to the main theme of the Seder: It is a special story of a contract between G-D and the Jewish people wherein it states explicitly in the book of Exodus that G-D took the Jews out of Egypt and not be servants of Pharaoh on condition the Jews agree to be the servants of G-D—which is not a generic statement left to be defined by anyone the way he or she wishes—but a very specific written contract whereby Jews bind themselves forever to following all the Laws of the Torah, including keeping kosher, keeping the Sabbath, not intermarrying and following many other laws that G-D says best, even if not currently “politically correct.”
G-D did not issues these laws as a dictator declaring a random series of “do’s” or “don’t’s,” but as a loving Father who wants to protect His children. Just as a parent may stop a young child from crossing the street without first looking, or from jumping out a window, or playing with fire—to protect the child physically, so too, even though we cannot see our soul, the soul does exist, does live, and does need to be protected to be healthy, and G-D, who is the only one who can see our souls is giving us loving parental guidance to keep our souls healthy. Passover is the celebration of the Jewish people’s commitment to G-D by following His laws, and G-D’s commitment to the Jewish people to protect them from physical and spiritual harm if they follow his immutable Laws, as described in the Torah.