Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement
Toward the beginning of Parashat Vaera, we read the prophecy known as the "Arba Leshonot Ge'ula" – "four expressions of redemption."
G-d tells Moshe to convey to Beneh Yisrael His promise to bring them out of Egypt, and employs four different expressions in presenting this promise:
"I shall take you out [Ve'hoseti Etchem] from underneath the suffering of Egypt";
"I shall rescue you [Ve'hisalti Etchem] from their labor";
"I shall redeem you [Ve'ga'alti Etchem] with a mighty hand";
"I shall take you [Ve'lakahti Etchem] for me as a nation."
These four expressions have been understood as referring to the four distinct stages in which Beneh Yisrael were freed. First, they were excused from painful, backbreaking labor ("the suffering of Egypt"), but they were still forced to work as slaves. The second stage marked their exemption from slave labor altogether ("I shall rescue you from their labor"), and the third stage was the actual Exodus, when the nation was "redeemed" and finally allowed to leave Egypt. The fourth and final stage came when G-d formally "took" Beneh Yisrael as a nation at Mount Sinai, at the time when we received the Torah. The four cups of wine which we drink at the Seder were instituted to commemorate these four expressions. Just as wine causes a change in a person, affecting the way he thinks and conducts himself, each stage of redemption brought about a significant change in Beneh Yisrael's condition, and we therefore drink wine to commemorate these various stages of redemption. With this in mind, it is worth exploring a curious Halacha relevant to the four cups of wine at the Seder. If a person wishes, he is allowed to drink in between the various cups of wine. For example, if a person feels thirsty and wants to drink some wine after Karpas – which is in between the first and second cups – he may do so. The exception to this rule is the period between the third and fourth cups – from after Birkat Ha'mazon until after Hallel. It is forbidden to drink any wine in between these two cups. Apparently, the Rabbis wanted to emphasize the strong connection between the third and fourth cups, and they therefore issued a prohibition against making an "interruption" by drinking in between. The idea behind this connection becomes clear in light of the analysis presented above. The third cup of wine, which corresponds to the third expression of redemption, represents the Exodus, our departure from Egypt, the moment we became a free, independent nation. The fourth cup, which corresponds to G-d's promise to "take" us as His nation, represents Matan Torah. Our Sages sought to teach us that there can be no "interruption" between these two events; we must not sever the Exodus from Matan Torah. We did not become truly "free" when we left Egypt. At that time, we still did not have a clear direction for how to live. And such an existence can hardly be called "freedom." True freedom is the freedom to pursue a goal, to achieve, to live the way we are meant to live. And this kind of freedom became possible only once we received the Torah, when we were given the laws and guidelines for how to live a meaningful life. If we had not received the Torah, we would not have been free; we would not have had any clear direction or sense of purpose. And thus there must not be any break between the third and fourth cups. We must understand that the redemption that we experienced on the night of the Exodus was not complete until we stood at Mount Sinai seven weeks later and received the Torah. It was only then, when G-d gave us a clear path to follow to achieve greatness, that we became truly free.
Image In Nahariya, a bridge on the old train line leading up to Israel's northern border at the cliffs of Rosh Hanikra, where the tunnel to Lebanon was cut in 1948.
Ghost rails of the HOLY LAND
Once you start noticing them, ghost rails are everywhere in Israel: tracks rusting in weeds, empty limestone stations. On the Jordan River, railway ties run across a graceful bridge of black basalt that connects nothing. Under slopes of olives and pines at the banks of the Yarmouk, a tributary of the Jordan, there's a station house used as a storeroom by fish farmers and eight abandoned rail tunnels leading to Syria.
On maps of the Middle East of 2020, the most important features are the borders — the lines dividing states in conflict, and people in conflict within states. But on the old maps, those from 80 or 100 years ago, different lines stand out: rail, the kind of lines linking people to one another.
Following the dead tracks around Israel, as I've been doing for a few years now, brings to life a fluid Middle East that used to exist and throws into relief the constricted frontiers of the present. It gives you time to contemplate other places in the world, places where people take for granted things like international trains and free movement across borders — and to consider how much is lost when the human mood turns from rails to walls.
If you take the modern train north from Tel Aviv, for example, you'll have to get off at Nahariya, a few kilometers below the Lebanon border. That's the last stop, but it's not where the tracks end, and you can keep walking north if you like. The old British line is still visible here and there, cutting past stucco buildings and eucalyptus trees before disappearing into a tunnel through the chalk cliffs that mark Israel's northern extremity. In the 1940s, you would have continued out the other side and up the Lebanese coast to Beirut. But now the border is impassable and the tunnel is blocked halfway.
Not long ago, at the other end of the country, I camped out with my kids in a tamarisk grove by a Turkish military line from 1915 — a high earthen berm that still swoops through miles of the Negev desert, running over a bridge across a desolate ravine before hitting the razor wire of the Israel-Egypt frontier. The barrier was built a few years ago because of smuggling and terrorism, but when the tracks were laid there was nothing there. Following the old route toward the fence, we were warned off by the army and turned back. The line just kept going, pushing obliviously into the desert on the other side, as if there were no border at all.
The country's most storied ghost line is the Valley Railroad (El-Afula) , built in 1905 by order of the Ottoman sultan as a logistic branch of the grand Hejaz Railway project, meant as a leap into modernity for the Turkish Empire. The Valley Railroad made a connection, entirely logical and yet now inconceivable, between the port of Haifa in modern-day Israel and the town of Daara for the city of Damascus, now in Syria. (The train got its name from the Jezreel Valley, which contained much of the route.) The Haifa train met the main imperial line at Dara'a, a sleepy Syrian junction. Dara'a became known to the world only much later, in 2011, as the site of the crackdown that helped ignite Syria's civil war, signaling the breakdown of more of the region into hostile enclaves, and also severing the vestiges of the Turkey-Syria rail link.
Israel and Syria became enemies 72 years ago, but when the railroad was built, neither existed. According to a rail schedule I found from 1934, you could steam out of the Haifa station at 10 a.m. and reach Damascus that evening at 8:02.
Remnants of this line are visible at Kibbutz Gesher on the Jordan River, where a third-generation kibbutz member, Nirit Bagron, showed me around. The basalt rail bridge from 1905 lies behind a formidable army gate topped with barbed wire; this is now the frontier with Jordan, and the bridge is in a buffer zone. Nirit just kicked the gate open with her sandaled foot and assured me the area had been cleared of mines.
In the spring of 1948, the war around Israel's creation changed the bridge's meaning from a welcome connection to a threat — a crossing point for an Arab expeditionary force from Iraq. In the battle, a team of kibbutz defenders disabled it with an explosive charge, and you can still see the damage over the second of the bridge's five elegant arches. The train hasn't run since then.
An abandoned train wagon on a bridge at the old Gesher Railway Station in Israel.
Israel has a peace agreement with the Jordanian government, as it does with Egypt, but most Jewish Israelis don't dare visit either country. For us, land travel is limited to the confines of a state the size of New Jersey. When we leave we use the airport. The country might as well be an island.
The vanished lines, and particularly the Valley Railroad to Syria, left behind a sediment of folktales, many of them jokes about the train's relaxed attitude toward schedules and speed in the days before everyone was in a hurry. There's the one about passengers in the first car hopping off while the train was moving, brewing a pot of coffee beside the track, drinking it slowly and hopping onto the last car as it passed. Another is about the Jewish pioneer who became despondent, lay down on the tracks and ended up dying of starvation.
One story I always assumed was myth concerns German pilots based here during World War I who were so frustrated by the train's leisurely pace that they bolted one of their propeller engines to a railway carriage and broke a speed record. This story is actually true: Photos of the wondrous contraption can be found, along with other arcane facts, in a vast train history published in 2015 by Yehuda Levanony, a retired intelligence officer.
Mr. Levanony tracked down stationmasters, drivers and other ordinary people who remembered the heyday of the train, like Shaul Biber, who grew up in the 1930s near the station at Tsemach (which was recently restored and now sits, lovely and useless, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee). Mr. Biber remembered the exotic comings and goings of his childhood, before the empires died and the borders closed in: the seaplanes that used to land in the Sea of Galilee carrying British ladies to India, and the colorful carriages clacking down the track from distant places, bringing with them "the smell of the great world."
NOT ALL TRAIN MEMORIES ARE FOND. DURING WORLD WAR I, THE TURKS BUILT A LINE TO TULKARM, A CITY NOW IN THE WEST BANK, AND ALONG THIS LINE, IN APRIL 1948, CAME THE LAST TRAIN. SO REMEMBERED SALEH ABU RAYSIEHEH, A PASSENGER ON THAT TRAIN, INTERVIEWED 50 YEARS LATER BY A RESEARCHER COLLECTING THE MEMORIES OF PALESTINIAN REFUGEES. HE WAS 15 WHEN HE FLED HAIFA AFTER ARAB FORCES LOST THE BATTLE FOR THE CITY. THE TRAIN TOOK HIM TO TULKARM, WHICH WAS HELD BY JORDANIAN TROOPS, AND THEN THE LINE WAS CUT. A HOSTILE FRONTIER APPEARED BETWEEN HIS OLD HOME AND HIS NEW ONE. "FINALLY THE TRAIN STOPPED IN TULKARM," THE REFUGEE SAID, "AND NEVER WENT BACK."
Today Israeli Jews don't go to Tulkarm, and Palestinians go to Haifa only if they brave the checkpoints and permit system. Many people don't know there was ever a train. The same goes for the line that could take you, according to the 1934 schedule, from the junction near Tel Aviv at 11:05 a.m. to Gaza City by 12:40 (and then to Kantara, on the Suez Canal, by 5:30). Today there is hardly any contact between people in Israel and Gaza.
The idea of reviving dead lines has a hold on the popular imagination and occasionally even comes to pass. In Jerusalem, for example, an unused section from the country's oldest line, the Jaffa-Jerusalem train of 1892, has been turned into a bustling park for pedestrians and bikers. There's also a new incarnation of the Valley Railroad, the notoriously slow train of Israeli folklore, that has run since 2016 on part of the original route. It no longer continues to Syria, though there is a plan to extend it one day over a bridge and down through Jordan to the Persian Gulf. Israel's transportation minister pitched the idea last year during a visit to the sultanate of Oman, calling it "tracks of peace." I believe in bridges and trains. But it's hard to know how this one will pan out.
Arab women in Jerusalem walk along old train tracks from the country's oldest train line, the Jaffa-Jerusalem train of 1892, which has been turned into a park for pedestrians and bikers.
If you hike the overgrown line up to Israel's northern border at the cliffs of Rosh Hanikra, where the tunnel to Lebanon was cut in 1948, you'll pass a little sign on which someone has composed a meditation in Hebrew. "The management of the Cairo-Jaffa-Haifa-Beirut railway apologizes to passengers," it reads. "The clock is broken, the track worn down, the locomotive tired, the weeds high, the fuel expensive, the engineer asleep, the tunnel at Rosh Hanikra blocked. And one more little detail — peace is running late. But don't give up: The train is coming. It'll be just a few more minutes." Every time I read that I just want to sit down and wait.
AS HEARD FROM RABBI AVIGDOR MILLER Z'TL
"In order that you should know that I Hashem am in the midst of the world". 'Bekerev Haaretz'. ( 8:18) Here we learn the purpose of all of the miracles, not only in Egypt but throughout history. The open demonstrations of Hashem's presence come to teach that even when not openly visible, yet it is Hashem's presence that constantly fills the world and maintains the existence of the world and manages all the events of the world. Just as these miracles were wondrous demonstrations of Hashem's deeds, so are all the "natural" processes and all the events and even all objects are demonstrations of Hashem's deeds. Every process or object or event is a wondrous miracle, and it is solely due to the blindness of habit that men fail to recognize the miracles that constantly fill the world around us. Seeing is a miracle, hearing is a miracle, thinking is a miracle, eating and digesting are miracles, the birth of a child is a miracle, an enzyme is a miracle, DNA is a miracle, a chromosome is a miracle and an atom is a miracle. Thus every miracle is intended for the purpose to demonstrate that "I HASHEM AM (ALWAYS) IN THE MIDST OF THE WORLD" and that every phenomenon should be studied to discern in it the miracles of Hashem's wisdom and power and kindliness. The Rav taught that the Ten Plagues were especially brought by Hashem for Israel to gain Yirat Shamayim. As it states, "He is Hashem Our G-d, in all of the world are His judgments" (Tehillim). That all of the happenings in the world are only being brought by Hashem in His capacity of 'Hashem Our G-d'. The Makot were ten vitamin pills of Emunah for our Jewish Nation in order for us to gain a sensory perception and a heightened Awareness of Hashem The G-d of Yisrael, the only One we can depend on. Adapted from "A NATION IS BORN" by Rabbi Avigdor Miller
Why is kosher food soaring in popularity? By Dave Gordon
It could have been any gourmet food fair, with lots of delicious things to eat.
The main hall at the Meadowlands Exposition Center, in New Jersey, was bustling with more than 6,000 attendees taking a look at 360 food and drink exhibitors from around the world.
The hundreds of products on show included everything from pizza bases made from cauliflower to salsas, ice cream sandwiches, cider, beef empanadas (a Mexican pastry), Italian sorbets, gins, charcuterie, tequila, and even a range of biscuits infused with cannabis oil.
But this was no ordinary food and drink exhibition. For while there was a vast range on display, everything had one major thing in common - they were all certified kosher. Everything present conformed to kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws.
The event at the end of last year was the 31st annual "Kosherfest", a two-day gathering that touts itself as "the world's largest and most attended kosher-certified products trade show".
While Jewish-owned companies were proudly in attendance, many of the firms who were present are not owned or run by Jews, but had still chosen to go kosher. These included businesses from Pakistan, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Italy.
With the number of people attending up 800 from the year before, and 300 new products on display, Menachem Lubinsky, chief executive of event organizer Lubicom, said that demand for kosher food was growing strongly among non-Jewish shoppers.
"Kosher food appeals to a more health-conscious consumer," he says. "It's like a new generation of kosher. It's different from those who have been there for many years, the basic kosher staples."
Image copyrightDAVE GORDONImage captionKosherfest has now been held for 31 years
Explanations for this include a perception that kosher food is cleaner or healthier, or people's desire for assurance than a product does not include potential allergens such as shellfish. It also offers certainty for vegans, such as in the example of Oreo cookies, which prior to their switch to kosher in the late 1990s contained lard (pork fat).
Led by growing demand in the US, the global kosher food market is predicted to increase to almost $60bn (£40bn) of annual sales in 2025, up from $24bn in 2017. Given those vast figures, it is not surprising that a growing number of food businesses around the globe are seeking kosher accreditation.
"I think firms are coming from the basis that you can't produce an ingredient anywhere in the world, and hope to sell it in the US, without being kosher," says Mr Lubinsky. "There's a significant market, and firms want a piece of it."
A kosher certified product that is marked "parve" contains no meat or diary
But what exactly is kosher food? While most people understand that pork and shellfish are non-kosher, kosher animals such as cows and lambs need to be ritually slaughtered with a sharp knife. Meanwhile, food products cannot contain both meat and dairy. And not all parts of the cow can be consumed.
All kosher rulings have to be carried out by trained rabbis from a kosher certification agency. Richard Rabkin, managing director of COR, the largest such organization in Canada, explains that the process is taken very seriously.
"Some people have this mistaken impression that we go there and bless the food, and that's all it takes," he says. "No, it is more complicated than that.
"We have an initial conversation with a company and get an impression of what they're doing in the food, and take a look at all the ingredients, and find out whether it's kosher or not. Once we have a picture of that, then we inspect the facility itself... We are guarding against cross-contamination.
"Once we ensure all of that, there's an inspection to make sure everything is followed according to kosher standards, and then certification's granted. [But], inspection isn't just time to time, it's an ongoing basis."
Back at Kosherfest in New Jersey, Dakshin Thilina was representing Sri Lankan food group Nexpo Conversion, and its kosher dried coconut milk powder and coconut oil. He explains that unlike some of his company's rivals it doesn't use any sodium caseinate, a milk-derived food stabilizer.
"Without that component our products are lactose-free," he says. "And because they are non-dairy, kosher Jews can use them any time, alongside meat."
Kosher food has been transformed in recent decades, but old classics remain, such as brisket on rye (pictured), potato pancakes, bagels, donuts and cheesecakes
Another Asian firm in attendance was Dewan Sugar Mills from Pakistan, which makes ethanol for mouthwashes. "We wanted to tell people that there's nothing not kosher that ever comes into contact with what we make," says general manager Adnan Pirzada.
And therefrom Dubai was South African ex-pat Elli Kriel who runs a kosher catering company - Elli's Kosher Kitchen. "I was producing kosher food for our family, and people started reaching out to me," she says. "Travellers in particular, moving through the city, needed kosher food.
"I used to invite them to eat in our house, but I realized when more and more people began reaching out, that I was in a good position to offer kosher catering."
Mr. Lubinsky says he is pleased to see kosher food branch out from the Jewish classics and "go upscale". "It's not your chopped liver and stuffed cabbage any more," he adds.
What's Wrong with Teaching Buddhism? by Gutman Locks
A rabbi told me that his Jewish Day School in New York invited a Buddhist monk to give a talk to the students. I told him what I thought about it.