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Amb. Alan Baker
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Prof. Phyllis Chesler
The Jay Shapiro Hour
Before making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbi Kook, Eretz Yisrael, Art of T'shuva, War and Peace, and Torat Eretz Yisrael.
It’s that time of year again when everyone seems to be rushing to buy plane tickets to celebrate Rosh HaShanah at Rebbe Nachman’s holy gravesite in Uman.
To tell you the truth, it isn’t for me. Not that I’m against it. If people want to leave Eretz Yisrael to spend Rosh HaShanah in Russia alongside their Rebbe, that’s their business. Live and let live, I say. They are all sincere people, seeking to get closer to G-d. More power to them. Some of my sons have gone on this special spiritual excursion. But for me, after taking so long to reach Eretz Yisrael, I just can’t seem to drag myself away from the Holy Land for Rosh HaShanah.
Before my parents came on aliyah, I would go down to America to visit them. But after they were living in Israel, I no longer had a reason, or any desire, to leave the Holy Land to visit America. I mean, I go to the bathroom when I have to, but it isn’t a place I go to hang out.
That holds true for the Diaspora in general. In contrast, the holy gravesites of holy tzaddikim possess a unique holiness, even those outside of Eretz Yisrael. But just the thought of having to leave Israel and go through all kinds of impurity to get there, makes the voyage too traumatic for me.
Concerning Rebbe Nachman of Breslov himself, I love his teachings. When I started out on my path to t’shuva, his writings were a great inspiration to me. They are even now. My copy of “Likutei Etzot,” (known as “Advice” in English) is filled through and through with my fervent under-linings. No one is better than Rebbe Nachman at cutting through all the smokescreens and illusions of the material world and leading a seeker directly to G-d. But I’m the type of person who has an eclectic nature, and I believe in taking the best from everyone, so in addition to all of Rebbe Nachman’s writings, my library is also filled with the books of other masters of Jewish thought and learning. As they say, there are 70 panim to the Torah.
Regarding the halacha, according to Jewish law, it is forbidden in all generations to leave Eretz Yisrael, except to learn Torah, marry, rescue Jews or Jewish property from the gentiles, or do business, and then one must return to Israel, for dwelling outside the Land is forbidden (Mishna Torah, Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, Ch9). It is also permissible to temporarily visit family in the Diaspora, or to attend to some other mitzvah. It is also permitted to leave Israel to visit the holy gravesides of holy Tzaddikim as part of one’s religious devotions. Seeking medical treatment in the Diaspora is also allowed, and there are halachic authorities who allow visits outside the Land for reasons of mental health, where a change of scenery and rest is needed. But a mere fun excursion to the Diaspora is forbidden, as the verse of Tehillim implies, “How can I sing the L-rd’s song in a foreign land?” (Tehillim, 126)
So, anyway, I’ll be celebrating Rosh Hashanah once again this year in Jerusalem, thank G-d. Rebbe Nachman himself was full of praise and yearning for Eretz Yisrael. He writes that a Jew’s service of G-d can only be complete in the Land of Israel, and that everywhere he went, he was on the way to Eretz Yisrael. In fact, his teachings about Rosh Hashanah explain that the essence of the holiday is completely immersed and dependent upon in the special treasures of the Holy Land. This is because on Rosh Hashanah, we declare G-d’s Kingship (Malchut) over our lives, and over the world, and Eretz Yisrael embodies the concept of Malchut, where G-d’s Kingship is most gloriously manifested. Nothing more fervently expresses the acceptance of G-d’s Kinship over oneself than living in Eretz Yisrael, the Land where G-d’s eyes rest upon from the beginning of the year (Rosh Hashanah) to the end.
Here are a few samples of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching:
“The principle element of a Jew’s holiness is that he merit to rise higher and higher in the service of G-d, and this comes from the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. And the principle victory in the battle that must be fought and won in this world is to come to Eretz Yisrael. And all this is the essence of our Divine worship from Rosh Hashanah unto Shimini Atzeret, everything is to reveal the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, in order that we might merit to come speedily to Eretz Yisrael. And this is the essence of the establishment of Malchut that we are engaged in at this time, as explained in the writings of the Arizal, because the principle building of Malchut is to reveal the Kingship of G-d to everyone in the world, which we fervently pray for during these days, and the principle revelation of G-d’s Kingship is in the Land of Israel. Thus, the essence of Israel’s holiness is revealed on Rosh Hashanah, as it is written in the Torah, ‘The eyes of the L-rd your G-d are constantly upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end’” (See Likutei Etzot HaMishulash, Vol.4, pg. 238; also, Halachot, Seudah, 4:1-1).
“The entire essence of the blessings of Malchiot, Zichronot, and Shofarot on Rosh Hashanah, everything is to reveal the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. For this is the central place of the ingathering of the exiles, through the blast of the shofar, as it says, ‘On this day, a shofar will be blown.’ For all of our Divine service on Rosh Hashanah is to reveal the holiness of Eretz Yisrael and to merit to return speedily to our Land” (Ibid, 5-7).
Come Rosh Hashanah, the followers of Rebbe Nachman may be in Uman at his gravesite, but Rebbe Nachman himself is here in Eretz Yisrael.
(More of Rebbe Nachman's writings on the Daws of Awe and his famous Tikun HaKlali can be found at jewishsexuality.com)
That’s what the famous Rabbi, the Chofetz Chaim, said when a Torah scholar asked him if he should make aliyah, even though there was danger in the Land of Israel.
Now the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen from Radin, was known for never having said an unfair or untruthful word about anyone, yet he insisted that if an Arab be a professor, he will be a subhuman professor. Or if he be a lawyer, he will be a subhuman lawyer.
Accordingly, if he be a President or Prime Minister, whether of the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Syria, America, or Iran, he will be a subhuman Prime Minister.
May this story about the Chofetz Chaim, whose yahrtzeit is this Friday, be a memorial for the holy victims of yesterday’s terrorist attack in Israel, may the Almighty revenge their murder with a swift and devasting vengeance.
The story is recorded by Rabbi Dichovsky, in his book,” Neot Desha,” on the subject of concluding a tractate of Talmud. In the introduction, he recounts his visit to the Chofetz Chaim in order to ask him about moving to Israel at a time of clear and present danger.
“I saw it proper to record a statement made to me by the most pious of all of the Kohanim, the Rabbi of all Israel, the glory of the generation, the holy of all Israel, may he be blessed in memory, in the matter of Aliyah. I asked him about this question, and the following are the details of our encounter:
“It was the beginning of the year, 1933. There was a group of Torah scholars who had organized themselves to go together to Israel to learn Torah. I too was amongst them, but I had many doubts, because I knew that many of the great gedolim (Torah scholars) were opposed. The heads of my Yeshiva were especially opposed to the idea that Yeshiva students would go to Eretz Yisrael, even for the sake of studying Torah. They said that the proper conditions had not as yet been established in order to facilitate Torah study with the proper diligence in the Holy Land, to the extent that we are able to study Torah in the Yeshivot in the Diaspora. Therefore, I said in my heart, that I must not ask my rabbis in this matter, for obviously the answer will be no.
“Like Rabbi Zera, who ran away from his teacher, Rav Yehuda, when he wanted to make Aliyah to Israel (Tractate Ketubot, 110B,) I decided to go and ask the counsel of the righteous man of our generation, our revered Rabbi, and to receive his blessing before I departed. Therefore, just before the Day of Atonement, I journeyed to the yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim in the town of Radin, where I stayed in the shadow of this great, righteous individual. This was, as is known, the last Yom Kippur of this special Tzaddik, for at the end of the year, in the month of Elul, he was taken to the Yeshiva Above, may his merit be a shield to us and all Israel.
“In spite of his great physical weakness, a Heavenly Providence was with me, and I merited to see him the day after Yom Kippur. I told him my situation, and that I had a good chance of making Aliyah to Israel as a Torah student, only I had lingering doubts if I would be able to learn Torah with the same diligence with which I was learning now. Immediately, he answered, in his famous sweetness of speech, that there was no room at all for my worry. Why in the world would I not be able to learn Torah there with absolute diligence – just the opposite would seem to be true, for the Land of Israel, without question, was more conducive for steadfast immersion in Torah. He recited the verse, ‘The gold of the Land is good,’ (Bereshit, 2:12) on which the Midrash says, ‘This gold is the learning of Torah in Israel, for there is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael; and there is no wisdom like the wisdom of Eretz Yisrael.’ (Bereshit Rabba, 16:7)
“Before I could express the rest of the doubts that I harbored - especially the fear of the danger in Israel because of the children of Ishmael who were marauding violently against the Jews, for only a few years had passed since the end of the Hebron Massacre in the year 1929, which made clear to everyone the wild, bestial nature of the Ishmaelites, who with savagery and unbounded cruelty massacred Yeshiva students and showed no mercy even to the women and children - before I was able to confess all of my apprehensions, the Rabbi answered the question himself.
“In the following words of Torah, he said: ‘The holy Torah tells us regarding Ishmael that he is a ‘Pere Adam,’ a wild beast of a man. It is known that our Torah is eternal, and if it says about Ishmael that he is a wild beast of a man, then Ishmael will remain forever a wild beast of a man. Even if all of the cultured nations of the world will gather together and try to educate Ishmael and transform him into a cultured individual, so that he will no longer be a wild beast of a man, obviously this will be impossible in every fashion or form. They will not be able to do this through any means whatsoever, because he is not capable of being a cultured individual, for behold, the Torah testified regarding him that he is a wild beast of a man. This means that forever, for all eternity, Ishmael is by definition a wild beast of a man. Even if Ishmael will be involved in intellectual endeavor, like being a lawyer, or some similar profession, then he will be a beastly lawyer. If he will study diligently to be a professor, then he will be a beastly professor. This means that the bestiality of Ishmael will never cease.’
“Then the Chofetz Chaim let out a long, painful sigh and said, ‘Who knows what this wild beast of a man is capable of perpetrating against the Jewish people in the end of days?’
“Concluding his words to me, he said, ‘Nevertheless, fear not – there is no reason for this to prevent you from making Aliyah to the Land of Israel.’
“Then he blessed me, saying, ‘Go in peace, and the L-rd will bless your path.’
“So I left him, and journeyed in peace to the Holy Land.”
This, in my humble opinion, must be our response to the savage murders, and a proper memorial to the victims – to hunt down and kill the subhuman beasts and those who sent them; to further building in all the Land of Israel; and to increase aliyah to the Land, to prove to the subhumans and to all world that our bond to the Land of Israel will never be broken.
A reader has questioned my “hang up” with the jewish sexuality.com website, and suggests I should more productively channel my energy by protesting against the latest round of “peace talks.”
First of all, I have already explained that I don’t write very much about the political situation in Israel because most of my readers live in the Diaspora and they, by and large, don’t have any influence on what takes place in Israel, so what purpose would it serve? It would be like delivering a bombastic speech in an empty room. So, in the time and space allotted to me in this blog, I try to concentrate on matters that can have a real impact on people’s lives. One of these things is encouraging aliyah by showing the many spiritual advantages of living in Israel; and another focus is on living a healthy and holy sexual life, which someone can do wherever he or she lives.
Why focus on sex and not on Shabbat or learning Torah? That’s a fair question. On one hand, I suppose it has something to do with my background and my discovering how damaging sexual transgression is to one’s body and soul, to one’s spouse, and to one’s children. Also, with the widespread use and incredible speed of the Internet, a person can fall prey, in a matter of split seconds, to the most horrible habits and addiction, polluting his holy Jewish soul and cutting him off from G-d. And today, this terrible danger has infiltrated our holy Jewish homes, a finger-click away.
Never have the Jewish People been exposed to such a devastating plague. And if you pretend that this problem doesn’t affect you and your children, you are very, very deluded.
Our Sages have repeatedly warned us that the Holy One Blessed Be He hates immodesty and licentiousness more than anything else. Among other things, improper sexual behavior causes exile from our Land. Masters of the secrets of Torah emphasize that sexual immorality is the prime cause of most of the tragedies, afflictions, and plagues which fall on individuals, and on the Jewish Nation as a whole.
And if you say, “Well, I only look at some girly pictures now and again, what’s the big deal with that?” well, my good friend, you are deceiving yourself, or perhaps you simply haven’t learned about the serious Torah infractions you are transgressing, and the devastating consequences of your behavior on yourself and your family. And while not everyone falls prey to the wiles of Bilaam and Amalek so accessible today in our homes, a vast uncountable amount of our People are victims to the disease.
For this reason, I joined with a few well-meaning, G-d fearing tzaddikim to initiate the jewishsexuality.com website in order to educate people to the great dangers of sexual laxity and error.
In the Haftorah this past Shabbat, we read about Isaiah’s great vision of the Redemption of Israel. The prophecy ends: “The smallest one shall become a thousand, and the youngest shall become a mighty nation – I, the L-rd, even within the appointed time would bring it about in haste” (Isaiah, 54:22).
Relying on this verse, our Sages explain that the awaited Redemption - when the Jewish People will be re-established in the Land of Israel, triumphant over their enemies, and living a life of Torah who’s teaching will be beamed throughout the world, elevating mankind to the service of G-d - this magnificent climax of our history can come about in two ways: either in its appointed time, or in haste. If it comes in its appointed time, the time the Almighty decreed upon the commencement of the exile, then it will come with great sufferings and tribulations, through a seemingly “natural” historical chain of events, including terrible oppressions and wars. If, on the other hand, the Jewish People turn back to G-d in repentance, the Almighty will hasten the End of the exile, ushering in the Redemption with open miracles, in a glorious and joyous manner.
To all appearances today, we are undergoing the first process of the Redemption, in its appointed time, with our return to nationhood in Israel, marked by the horrible nightmare of the Holocaust and the wars which followed in the Land of Israel against hordes of cruel enemies, may all of the haters of G-d and His Chosen Nation be erased!
However, there is always the possibility and promise that G-d will yet hasten our salvation if we seize the initiative and turn back to the Torah and to our Land. What is the key?
If Wikipedia were to ask Torah scholars to compile a list of the top ten influential Rabbis of the last 300 years, certainly the Gaon of Vilna, otherwise known as the “Gra,” or the Vilna Gaon, would appear on everyone’s list. In more cases than not, his name would probably be found in the top five slots, and on a great many lists, the famous Vilna Gaon would no doubt be number one.
The Gaon writes that the Redemption will come speedily, in haste, if the Jewish People are true to the laws of sexual holiness, known as “Shmirat HaBrit,” the guarding of the covenant (See the commentary of the “Gra” to the “Tikunei Zohar,” Tikun 21, Folio 56, Column 3). Our whole speedy Redemption, free of suffering and pain, is dependent on this.
From his words, we learn the great importance of sexual holiness. This is the reason that I frequently write about “Shmirat HaBrit” and encourage readers to study the many informative articles, and questions and answers, posted on the jewishsexuality.com website, including English translations of many profound essays written by revered Kabbalists and masters of Torah throughout the ages. You will also find sections dealing with pornography addiction, selections from the holy Zohar, and an overview of Rabbi Kook’s writings on the subject of t’shuva.
Clicking on to the jewishsexuality website is also a worthwhile rectification and tikun for the times that the little devil of a mouse tempted us into clicking on things that G-d doesn’t want us to see.
This Elul, as Rosh HaShanah approaches, jewishsexuality.com should be a part of everyone’s t’shuva.
As for the "peace talks" - the outcome doesn't depend on Bibi and Obama. It depends on us.
Today marks the yahrtzeit of the holy Rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidic movement. May his great love for Torah and the Jewish People come before the Almighty to open the fountains of Divine mercy, washing us from our sins and returning us to a life of Torah in our Land.
The Baal Shem Tov revealed to his students that it was due to his mikvah immersions that he attained his transcendental levels of holiness. And even though it is also said that he attained his exalted stature due to his fervent praying, both explanations are true, for it is precisely the purification of the mikvah that brought an awesome holiness to his prayers.
Since it is the month of Elul when we are engaging in tshuva and spiritual purification, it is a fitting time to remember the powerful purifying powers of a mikvah. In doing so, we will draw from the fountains of insights found in the wonderful book, “Waters of Eden,” written by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, may his memory be for a blessing.
Conveyed in the word mikvah is the work mikaveh, meaning hope and the belief in a better future.
Conversion to Judaism requires immersion in a mikvah, highlighting the power of the waters of the mikvah to bring about transformation and change.
In Jewish law, a mikvah is more important than a synagogue. It is the first thing that a Jewish community must establish, even before a synagogue is built.
A Jewish bride must immerse in a mikvah before her wedding.
At the end of a woman’s monthly menstruation, she must immerse in a mikvah before she is permitted to have marital relations with her husband.
Both men and women converts to Judaism must immerse in a mikvah before their conversion is valid.
The pious immerse before the Sabbath and Jewish holidays to reach a higher level of holiness.
It is proper for a man to immerse in a mikvah to cleanse himself of the spiritual impurity caused by sexual transgressions.
In the days of the Jerusalem Temple, immersion in a mikvah was a necessary part of the Temple services, and still today, before a Jew can ascend to the permitted areas on the Temple Mount, he must immerse in a mikvah.
The power of the mikvah comes from G-d. It is His decree that mikvah is the path to spiritual purity. While human intellect cannot fathom all of its esoteric workings, our Sages have unveiled some of its many mysteries:
The purpose of mikvah is not physical cleansing, but rather spiritual purification and change. Mikvah is the gateway to spiritual elevation and attachment to G-d.
When the High Priest immersed himself on Yom Kippur before entering the Holy of Holies, it was not to cleanse himself of spiritual impurity, for he was already pure. Rather it came to elevate him to the exalted spiritual stature needed when approaching the transcendental holiness of the day.
The mikvah then, is not only a means of purification from impurity, transgression, and spiritual pollution, it is also the pathway to elevation, transformation, hope, and rebirth.
This can be readily seen in conversion. Here, the issue is not uncleanliness or impurity, but rather a change in status, from a non-Jew to a Jew.
Immersion is a process of rebirth. A person merges from a mikvah like a newborn child. In this light, the mikvah symbolizes the womb. When a person enters the mikvah, he or she is re-entering the womb. Emerging from the mystical waters of the mikvah, the person is as if born anew. In this light, he achieves a completely new status.
In the story of Creation, the world was in an original state of water. The word used to convey the gathering of the waters into seas is mikvah. Thus, the water of the mikvah represents the womb of Creation. When a person immerses in a mikvah, he is returning to a pure, original state of Creation. He is returning to his source. In a spiritual sense, he is returning to G-d. Emerging from the waters of the mikvah, from this metaphorical womb of Creation, he spiritually purged and reborn.
This phenomenon of rebirth is the reason why mikvah is an essential part of the process of repentance. By abandoning transgression and his errant ways, the penitent is born anew. In returning to the waters of Torah, he is returning to his true identity as a Jew.
WATERS OF EDEN
In the Biblical account of Creation, it is written that “a river went out from Eden to water the garden.” These Divine waters are the waters of the mikvah. In the language of the Kabbalah, this river is identified with the sefirah of Yesod, the channel that brings Divine blessing into the world.
The Zohar emphasizes that sexual sins block the flow of this river, cutting off a person from the blessings of G-d. Kabbalists stress that the majority of man’s tribulations, hardships, and illnesses stem precisely from sexual sin, which pollutes the river and clogs up the flow of blessing from Eden.
The Talmud teaches that all of the water in the world has its origins in the river that emerged from Eden. In submerging himself in the waters of the mikvah, the penitent reunites with this channel of blessing, reactivating its flow and rectifying the damage which he has caused himself and upper spiritual worlds. Thus mikvah is man’s way of reuniting with the pristine waters of Creation, to re-establishing a link to man’s perfected state. It is his pathway back to the Garden of Eden, and to spiritual and physical healing.
This explains why the mikvah must be linked to natural water. Even though man has been expelled from the Garden of Eden, a link remains. The waters of the mikvah.
Out of the blue, an old friend from Hollywood wrote me an email. He said that his son is having a bar mitzvah in another few months and they are thinking of celebrating the event by taking him on a trip to Israel. My friend wants to know if I have time to arrange a Torah reading at the Kotel and show them around Jerusalem.
The trouble is that my friend married a gentile.
My knee-jerk reaction is to write him the truth – that his wife isn’t Jewish, and that the reform or conservative conversion she may or not have had is totally invalid, and that his son isn’t Jewish either. At least this way my friend will have the option of correcting the mistake and terrible transgression he made and put an end to the charade.
On the other hand, I used this straightforward approach many years ago with a relative from America who also married out of the faith and was making plans for a big bar mitzvah. When I suggested that if the bar mitzvah was truly important to him, he should at least let his son study some real Judaism first and get an Orthodox conversion. Angered, my relative didn’t speak to me for years. Now, when we exchange an occasional email, the subject isn’t mentioned at all.
My wife thinks that I shouldn’t be brunt with my friend from Hollywood, and that I should meet them when they get to Israel, and try to influence them in a patient, loving, and positive manner. She’s probably right, but I keep feeling that it’s better to tell the guy the truth up front, with the hope that maybe he’ll have an awakening before carrying on with the masquerade.
What do you think?
To tell the truth, outside with an occasional Shabbat meal with some Birthright kids, I don’t have much contact with assimilated American Jews, and it could be that my “thunderbolt from Mount Sinai” approach is too heavy for them.
The situation is really a mess. So many people I knew in America ended up marrying gentiles. The relative I mentioned always told his son that he was Jewish, and that he should marry a Jew. So when the kid got older, he married a nice Jewish girl, who thinks she has a kosher husband when she’s really married to a man who isn’t Jewish at all.
The same thing happened with my relative’s daughter. She married a Jew also. Of course, thei r children aren’t Jewish, since the mother isn’t Jewish. But the kids were raised Jewish, with lavish bar and bat mitzvahs, and they’ll probably go on to marry Jews too, or people who think they are Jews, when in reality, none of them are Jewish at all.
Like I said, it’s a nightmare.
Thank G-d, in Israel, marriage is controlled by real rabbis who adhere to the Torah and officiate over real weddings, so at least you know who you are marrying.
G-d wants the Jewish Nation to continue. That’s why He commanded Jews to marry Jews, and why the prohibition of marrying gentiles, and having sexual relations with them, has always been forbidden.
A Jew is supposed to marry a Jew, just as a giraffe is supposed to mate with a giraffe, and a horse with another horse. If a horse mates with a donkey the result is a mule which can’t have progeny of its own. It’s the end of the line. Thus a generation-spanning pedigree of horses comes to an end with the birth of a mule.
It’s a little like a rope bridge stretching over a canyon. If one of the segments of the rope breaks, then all of the bridge plummets to oblivion into the chasm below.
Or you can think of this way - the generation after generation survival of the Jewish People is like a human bridge stretching over the cavern of history, father holding on to the feet of his child who holds onto the feet of his child in turn, on and on and on. But if one great great great grandson breaks the chain by losing his grip and marrying out of the faith, then all of the generations that came before him, his father and grandfather and great grandfather before him, generation after generation of his family for thousands of years, they all plunge into the abyss of the canyon with a horrifying scream that echoes and echoes throughout the caverns of time.
The problem with this explanation is that it requires a feeling of collective responsibility. Americans often have a very self-centered, egotistical view of life. Bernie marries Bridgette because she makes him feel good. Blinded by his lust, he doesn’t think about his great grandfather or his future children. He thinks about himself. He knows he can pay a little “rebbe gelt,” to a make-believe rabbi, buy a phony certificate of conversion, and have a make believe bar mitzvah when the times comes down the road. To assuage his guilty conscience, and with the endorsement of the assimilated world he lives in, he comes to believe that the party is real.
In contrast, in Israel, even the most secular Jew has a feeling of collective responsibility and sacrifice for “Clal Yisrael,” the all-encompassing community of Israel, past, present and future. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t stay here. After all, military service and reserve duty don’t always come at the most opportune times, and taxes can be straining, and living in a region surrounded by hordes of primitive barbarians aren’t the easiest challenges. Though diehard leftists may be willing to give up huge chunks of the country to enemies, they think they are doing so in the best interest of the Nation, so that our children can live in “peace.”
Anyway, I don’t know exactly what approach to take with my Hollywood friend. My wife is probably right, but I’d like to hear what you think, especially you silent (and perhaps more mentally balanced) readers who usually don’t send in talkbacks. In the true spirit of democracy, I’ll do what the majority recommends.