About Rabbi Elie Mischel

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So far Rabbi Elie Mischel has created 68 entries.

Yom Yerushalayim: When Streams of Tears Carried Us to the Wall

For two thousand years of exile, our people have prayed.  We have prayed – not to return to the land of Israel, but to return to the holy city of Jerusalem, Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh!  “Please turn Your wrath and anger away from Jerusalem, Your holy mountain…And now, our G-d, heed Your servant’s prayer and pleas, and let Your face shine on Your desolate Sanctuary, for Your sake, O Lord…” (Tachanun Prayer)
When Jews began to return to the land of Israel after the destruction of the first temple, Nechemiah came to the land of Israel and saw a community in crisis.  What was the cause of their difficult situation?  Nothing other than the degradation of Jerusalem: “The remnant that are left of the captivity there are in great affliction and reproach; the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire…” (Nechemiah 1:3) When Jerusalem is desolate, so are we; only with its rebuilding can our people regain its strength.
When the Independence War ended in 1948 with the Old City of Jerusalem in Jordanian control, our joy was muted; when Jerusalem was liberated nineteen years later, our joy knew no bounds!  Even today, 53 years later, every Jewish heart beats faster when we hear those awesome words: “Har HaBayit b’Yadeinu”, “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”
Yom Yerushalayim, the return of our people to our holy city, is not merely a miracle of our generation; it is a miracle that belongs to all generations.  As R’ Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “We did not enter the city of Jerusalem on our own in 1967.  Streams of endless crying, endless praying, clinging, dreaming, day and night, midnights, years, decades, centuries, millennia, streams of tears, pledging, waiting – […]

By |May 22, 2020|

A Corona Jubilee?

Imagine a world in which no sale of property is final; a world in which, every fifty years, a nation’s economy is turned completely upside down as land is returned to its original owners.  Real estate empires would crumble, with massive land holdings divvied up into small farms overnight.  Thousands of impoverished tenants would be transformed into landlords, with each family reclaiming its ancient heritage.

It sounds fantastical, but this is an accurate description of Yovel, the Jubilee year described in Parshat Behar.  Every fifty years, on Yom Kippur day, the shofar was blown throughout the land of Israel.  With the call of the shofar, each man returned to his family’s ancestral land, and all Hebrew servants were set free.  And for the entire Yovel year, the land would lie fallow; “for it is a jubilee; it shall be holy unto you.” (Vayikra 25:12).

Although the Yovel year has not been practically operative for close to 2,500 years (since the destruction of the first Temple), it nevertheless demands explanation.  Why does G-d call require a dramatic restructuring of the economy every fifty years?  And what are we – 21st century Jews – meant to learn from the Mitzvah of Yovel?

When our ancestors first crossed the Jordan River and entered the land of Israel, each family received its own portion of the land.  From that time forward, every Jew was bound up with his unique piece of earth, working and developing it and ultimately passing it on to his children.

In Jewish thought, the ownership of land represents something more fundamental than an economic asset, something deeper than rock and soil.  Each portion of land symbolizes its owner’s unique “portion” in life; for just as every plot of land is unique, so […]

By |May 14, 2020|

After the Cave: A Lesson from Rebbe Shimon for the Post-Corona World

As the Talmud famously relates, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was once overheard criticizing the Roman regime, and when his comments were reported to the Roman authorities, he was forced to flee for his life.  Without telling anyone of their whereabouts, Rabbi Shimon and his son hid in a cave, where they were sustained by a spring of fresh water and a carob tree that had miraculously sprung up at the entrance to the cave. For twelve years, Rabbi Shimon and his son studied and prayed without interruption, until they became the holiest sages of their day.

After twelve intense years, the prophet Eliyahu brought them good tidings; there was a change in the Roman government, and it was now safe to emerge from the cave and return to society.  Rabbi Shimon and his son left the cave, and soon passed a field where they saw Jewish farmers working the land.  Shocked by such mundane activities, they said, “How can people give up the sacred study of the Torah (חיי עולם, eternal life) for worldly matters (חיי שעה, temporal life)?!”  As soon as they uttered these words, all the produce of the field erupted in flames!  Immediately, a voice from heaven spoke to Rabbi Shimon and his son: “Have you come out to destroy My world? Go back to your cave!”  And so they returned to the cave for another twelve months, only leaving when they heard the same heavenly voice calling them to leave.

Upon leaving the cave for the second time, they saw an older Jew carrying two bunches of myrtle, rushing to get home on Friday afternoon.  Curious, they asked the man what the myrtle was for. “It is to adorn my house in honor of the Shabbat,” the […]

By |May 11, 2020|

The Shabbat of Greatness

A “Great” Shabbat?

Every year on the Shabbat before Pesach, I give a Shabbat HaGadol drasha on (what I hope is) a compelling topic relating to the holiday of Pesach.  Over the last several years, we’ve studied the ‘four sons’ in depth, as well as other Mitzvot and customs of the Seder.  But often overlooked, in both my own speeches and others, is the status of this Shabbat itself – the “Great Shabbat”, Shabbat HaGadol.  Why, exactly, is this Shabbat so great?

Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, in his classic Halachic work, the Tur, explains:

The Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat.  The reason for this is that on this Shabbat, a great miracle occurred.  On that first Pesach celebrated in Egypt, there was a special commandment to set aside a lamb for the Passover sacrifice on the tenth day of Nissan (four days before the sacrifice was actually brought), as the verse states: ‘In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.’  The people of Israel left Egypt on Thursday (the 15th of Nissan), and so the tenth day of Nissan fell on Shabbat.  On that Shabbat, each Israelite family took a lamb and tied it to the legs of their bed.  When the Egyptians asked them why they were doing this, the Israelites answered: ‘These lambs will be slaughtered as a Passover offering according to G-d’s command.’  Hearing this, the Egyptians ground their teeth (in anger), for the Israelites were planning to slaughter lambs, which they considered to be gods.  But the Egyptians were not able to protest.  Because of this great miracle (that the […]

By |April 2, 2020|

The Lulav Jews: Rediscovering Pride in Modern Orthodoxy

Orthodox Lite?

For as long as I can remember, anxious leaders and thinkers in our community have been asking the same question: can our community – the Modern Orthodoxy community of America – survive?  But in recent years, as the broader American population has become increasingly polarized in its political and cultural views, “centrist” orthodoxy seems, more than ever, to have lost its luster.

Numerically, the Modern Orthodox make up only 3% of American Jewry – perhaps 175,000 Jews altogether – a number which has remained static for some time, and which is far smaller than the growing Yeshivish and Chassidic communities.  Some of our children leave Orthodoxy altogether – an all too common, and painful, phenomenon – while others join the Yeshivish community, which also weakens the community they leave behind.  Finally, many of our most dedicated young people make Aliyah, a source of great pride for our community, but one which deprives American Modern Orthodoxy of its most passionate and idealistic future leaders.

But beyond numbers, the more significant question is whether there is a compelling reason to remain a part of this community altogether.  Why, exactly, would one choose to live their life as a Modern Orthodox Jew?

The financial pressures that go hand in hand with Modern Orthodoxy, with yeshiva day school tuition at the top of the list, are enough to make many people think twice before joining the community.  Compared to public school, or even right wing yeshivas, the costs are astronomical.

And in return, what do we get?  Though we enjoy schmoozing with our friends at Shul, the Tefillah experience itself isn’t exactly inspiring, to put it kindly.  Lacking the passion and joy found in many Chassidic communities, many adults join their […]

By |October 16, 2019|

The Holy Struggle of Marriage

A Relationship Under Pressure[1]

Along with all the awe-inspiring and history-altering moments of Avraham and Sarah’s life, there is another, parallel story – the story of their relationship.  It’s a more subtle story, certainly, and easy to miss.  But it’s a story, I believe, that we were meant to notice.
 A little bit of context that is all too easy to forget: Avraham and Sarah lived a hard life.  Torn away from their families, Hashem promised blessing and abundance – but there was plenty of hunger, hardship and stress along the way.  And all too often, these hardships placed a tremendous strain upon their marriage.
 In Parshat Lech Lecha, when Avraham and Sarah traveled to Egypt during a famine, Avraham makes a strange comment to Sarah:
 “הִנֵּה-נָא יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי אִשָּׁה יְפַת-מַרְאֶה אָתְּ”
Now, I just realized what a beautiful woman you are.
On a simple level, this is beautiful – our zeide Avraham is telling our Bubbe Sarah how beautiful she is (a good reminder for all of us!)!  But what does Avraham mean when he says “I just now realized that you are beautiful”?
Rashi explains, astoundingly, that Avraham and Sarah were so modest that Avraham never realized Sarah was so physically beautiful!  But it seems there is a formality, a distance between Avraham and Sarah.
Now, because Sarah was so beautiful, Avraham was afraid the immoral Egyptians would kill him and take Sarah as their own.  And so he asks Sarah to present herself to the Egyptians as Avraham’s sister instead.  Predictably, Sarah was taken by Pharaoh to be a part of his harem.  Now it’s true that, in the end, God saved Sarah and returned her to Avraham.  But the stress must have been terrible!
Years later, when […]

By |November 22, 2017|

Celebrating Loneliness: A People not Counted Among the Nations

In the 1930s, as Hitler consolidated his power in Germany and the “Jewish problem” was a hotly debated issue all over the world, the great Baltimorean journalist, HL Mencken, weighed in on the issue:

 Getting rid of Hitler will not solve the Jewish question, whether in Germany or elsewhere.  [The Jewish problem will continue] until the Jews learn to go from Saturday to Friday without recalling once that they are Jews, just as the rest of us put in whole weeks without recalling that we are Aryans, or Chinamen, or members of Blood Group number 4, or what not… The sharp, unyielding separateness of the Jews, marks them off as strangers everywhere…  The average Jew is Jewish before he is a man, and presses the fact home with relentless lack of tact.  This habit, I suspect, is one of the chief causes of Jewish unpopularity, even among those who are not rationally to be called anti-Semitic.

Mencken’s “insight” – that Jews bring antisemitism upon themselves by being too Jewish – isn’t worthy of discussion.  But he does touch upon an eternal truth; there is something different about the Jewish people.  We don’t “fit in,” we’re not fully comfortable, with the other peoples of the world.  We are, in other words, a people that dwells alone.

When Bilaam the evil prophet rose, ready to curse the people of Israel, he found himself unable to do so.  “How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the Lord has not defied? From the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, it is a people that dwells alone, not reckoned among the nations.”

Instead of cursing the […]

By |July 9, 2017|

Beyond Words – The 50th Yom Yerushalayim

What a joy, and a tremendous merit, to be in Israel for the 50th Yom Yerushalayim!  As Rabbi Riskin said, “You have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to see the miracles of our generation!”  Redemption is on it’s way, much faster than I ever realized before…


By |June 2, 2017|

Parshat Vayeira: Jerusalem and the Holiness of Sacrifice

“Take now your son… and go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there as an offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you.” (Bereishit 22:2)

The great Rav Chaim of Tzanz, author of the Divrei Chaim, points out that God chose two mountains to play a significant role in Jewish history: Mount Sinai, where the Torah was given to the people of Israel, and Mount Moriah, where Avraham bound his son Yitzchak, and upon which the Beit Hamikdash was eventually built.  Both of these mountains were made holy, but it was specifically Mount Moriah, and not Mount Sinai, that was chosen to be the site of God’s house in this earth.  But why did God choose Mount Moriah?  One can certainly argue that Mount Sinai, where God revealed Himself to the people of Israel and gave them the Torah, is a more appropriate location for the Beit Hamikdash!

Rav Chaim answers this question with an extraordinary statement.  “A place where a Jew once stretched forth his neck to be slaughtered, as Yitzchak so willingly did at Mount Moriah, is holier in God’s eyes than a place where God’s presence was revealed to the world and where the holy Torah itself was given!” (Otzar HaMachshavah shel Hachassidus)

In only a few months from now, on Yom Yerushalayim, Jews all over the world will mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Yerushalayim, and the six miraculous days that changed the course of history.  With God’s help, many of us will join the Mizrachi World Movement’s Yom Yerushalayim mission, where together with hundreds of thousands of our fellow Jews, we will march through the streets of the Holy City, our eyes and hearts directed […]

By |November 18, 2016|

Faithful Hidden Lives: A Rosh Hashana Message

Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt”l, grew up as a normal American Jewish boy in Chicago; he went to Arie Crown day school.  He eventually became a revered Rosh Yeshiva at the Mir in Jerusalem, and taught many thousands of students over the years; one of the great Rabbis of the generation.  When Rav Finkel died in 2011, the executive director of Yeshiva, Rabbi Grunwald, gave a eulogy for him at the Yeshiva Gedolah of Teaneck, and told the following story:

About 20 years ago, one of Rav Finkel’s students in New York died suddenly and very young, leaving behind a wife and 5 children.  Rav Finkel, who had been very close to this student, felt a personal responsibility to the family.  He told the children to stay in touch with him through letters, and that they could ask him any question on their minds or write to him about any issue that might come up. Rav Finkel kept photos of these orphans in his pocket as a constant reminder of his “other” family, and he developed a real connection with the children.  The kids would write to him about everything, even inconsequential, small things – a sign of real comfort and closeness.  And Rav Finkel, with great difficulty due to his Parkinsons disease, would always write a letter in response.  This went on for many years until the boys grew up and came to Israel to learn in Yeshiva, where every Friday night, the boys would have dinner with Rav Finkel and his family.

After Rabbi Grunwald completed the eulogy, he was approached by one of the young married men in the Teaneck yeshiva. The man said: “The story about the orphans is an unbelievable one, […]

By |October 10, 2016|