Sunday, February 19, 2006

new site: Balashon - Hebrew Language Detective

Hi everyone,

I've started a new site where I'll be regularly writing short pieces about Hebrew words and phrases. I'll be dealing with both modern and classic Hebrew, slang, new terms, and the influences of other languages. I'll be particularly focusing on the origins of the words and phrases and how they passed from one language to another.

You can visit the site here:

(If you're interested, the RSS feed is at )

I'm really interested in your feedback, criticism and comments, and also questions or ideas for new entries.

Looking forward to hearing from you and seeing you on the site.

Friday, January 06, 2006

praying for Sharon

I’ve been running into more and more people lately, who’ve been saying things like “I can’t pray for Sharon” or “I don’t hope he dies, but he’s getting what he deserves.”

I’ve been trying to think of my response to such folk. I think I’ve got it: You have no idea what Judaism is.

First of all, it’s just silly to say that it’s divine punishment that Sharon has fallen ill now. Besides the ridiculous level of chutzpa to assume to know God’s plans, I wouldn’t say that it’s very rare that 78-year olds have strokes! Are all the other ones divine punishments as well? Are you prepared to tell the child of another 80 year old that their father’s stroke is due to divine punishment?

But more importantly: Sharon has both merits and faults. We all do. For those who opposed his policies, particularly the disengagement plan – his faults are many, perhaps greater than any other Israeli leader. But he has so many merits! He’s saved us in wars, led the settlement enterprise, put down the intifada. While his faults might be greater than ours, his merits – his actions on behalf of Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael – are greater than any of ours! Even his greatest critics! How many of you can claim to done anything for this country on the same level? So a little modesty. That’s Jewish.

But maybe you say that his faults outweigh his merits, and therefore he deserves what he’s getting. I have one question for you. When exactly did you get your hands on God’s record book? I’d really like to see it. How do you do in there? You have simply no idea. The Tanach and Chazal are full of examples where people get credit for certain deeds that outweigh seemingly more evil ones. We need to thank the Egyptians despite our slavery. There are evil kings who get Olam Haba because of building one city. How many of you live in towns that Sharon helped build? Bottom line – we don’t know what counts for what. We can’t.

So what’s left? Maybe I haven’t convinced you. Maybe you feel that the evil of the disengagement certainly outweighs any good he’s done for the country. Destroying settlements cancels out building them. The pain of the displaced is far greater than the comfort of those who have found homes. And therefore you can not pray for his health! What you are asking God to do is implement Midat HaDin. Come down in judgment! Punish the evildoer! Well, guess what. Midat HaDin is not a precise weapon that you can choose to affect one person. It affects us all. Can you handle it?

אם עוונות תשמור י-ה ה' מי יעמוד

How dare you call for Midat HaDin! Can our country handle it? We need to ask for Midat HaRachamim, to look at our merits and not our sins. Haven’t you ever prayed on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur? What do you think the whole tefila is about? Do I actually need to quote the tefilot?

But maybe you say that perhaps I’m right, but emotionally you can’t bring yourself to pray for Sharon. Well guess what – we have a system that helps us frame our emotions with proper actions. It’s called halacha. Say the tefilot. Pray for his health. And maybe, listen to the rabbis. Did you hear Rav Grossman talk about Sharon’s dedication to Jewish education and families? How about Rav Batzri’s call for prayer? Do you think Rav Ovadia Yosef doesn’t care about the destroyed batei knesset and schools? What about Rav Elnekave? The Rav of Gush Katif who’s been sitting in a hotel since the summer? When he called on all Jews to pray for Sharon, not just because another Jew is ill but because of his merits – was he wrong?

And if for some reason all this hasn’t convinced you, and you still can’t bring yourself to pray for his health – at least have the decency to do so in a way that nobody else can hear it. Some of us are actually busy worrying about the health of the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, retired General, Ariel (ben Vera) Sharon.